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Gareth Marks was in a world of dream, or nightmare. On a mean little cot in a dingy basement in Pendolis where the 12-year-old was now sleeping he suddenly heard a soft, whispering voice in his darkened mind.
“Gareth, where are you, Gareth? I can’t even see you.”
At first the boy thought that it was his mum but the voice became clearer, delicate but strong and almost beautiful, and he saw his little dragon, the Firecutter, hovering before his eyes again.
“You must get out of there, Gareth, it’s not safe. No where’s safe any more. Not even Pendolis.”
The dragon’s mouth didn’t move at all but she was definitely speaking to him. Gareth Marks felt an awful ache and reached out to the little creature, but like a spirit, trying to escape capture, it flapped its blue wings, pulled backwards in the air, and was gone.
“NO. Don’t leave me. Not again.”
The 12-year-old woke with a jolt, shivering badly, and sat bolt upright, half expecting his step dad to be there. Instead he saw Sao Cheung standing at the end of his cot, smiling kindly at him, although his eyes were red and puffy, and he had obviously been crying.
He was holding some clothes in both hands and his Baseball jersey was gone. Instead, the Chinese American boy was wearing baggy moleskin trousers, leather sandals, and a kind of rough sacking, that looked like it was made of coconut hair with a big pocket at the front. It made him look slimmer.
“Hiya,” he said softly, blinking, “I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Er. They brought us these,” said Sao, holding out the bundle of rough clothes, “They say they want us at work in ten minutes.”
“Work?” mumbled Gareth wearily, half thinking himself back in the flat in London. His back was aching.
“Scullies. Kitchen boys, I guess,” whispered Sao, “The twins have started Dragon training. I saw them through the window, this morning.”
“Morning?” said Gareth, “But how long have I been asleep, Sao?”
“Hours and hours. A whole day and night, and more. I had some really weird dreams. It was horrid.”
Gareth rubbed his eyes, got up and took the unpleasant outfit. He suddenly felt a pang of jealousy for the older twins, joining those tough looking Dragon Warriors, and wondered where Sarissa was. They had taken her to a different room, the morning before. Then Gareth thought of the poor mute boy, and his smuggled FireCutter. He shuddered.
“Gareth, er, it’s going to be ok, isn’t it?” asked Sao Cheung nervously. “Please.”
“Yes,” answered Gareth kindly, not knowing at all, “I promise.”
The poor eleven year old looked a little reassured.
“And I promise something else, Sao, I’ll find a way to get us all home. Somehow.”
“They left us some water and funny biscuits,” said Sao, more cheerfully now, looking to a battered metal tray, sitting on a wooden table in the corner. The room was like a stone cell, with a metal grill over the window. From the light outside, Gareth Marks guessed it was about mid day in Blistag.
“Go and have some, Sao,” said Gareth, yawning but trying to be the adult, “I’ll get changed.”
The 12-year-old boy was used to dealing with himself at home and pleased to get out of his pyjamas, and into some shoes, and proper clothes, although he made sure to collect all the pieces of the very dangerous book and stuff them in his front pocket. As Gareth turned there was a thumping on the thick wooden door that made them both jump.
“Scullies to the ready,” cried a gruff and angry voice. “Bouchebold is waiting and it he doesn’t like waiting.”
“Bouche…what?” whispered Sao nervously.
“Come on, Sao,” gulped Gareth, “Keep your eyes peeled and stick close to me.”
As the two boys pulled open the door and stepped outside into a narrow stone corridor, lit by burning braziers in brackets on the walls, they saw other scullions emerging from their rooms too. From their evident confusion it seemed they were just starting too. They were one or two grimy faced girls amongst them, although they were mostly boys, tall and older than Gareth and Sao, about ten of them in all. They were all silent and nervous, as they stood in their coconut sacking and they looked rather brow beaten and frightened.
“I WON’T. YOU JUST CAN’T TREAT ME LIKE THIS!”
Gareth grinned immediately, surprised how glad he was to see Sarissa again, as she came storming out of a door on the right, dressed like Gareth and Sao, although with a kind of white napkin on her head like the other two girls. Sarissa Hallet was addressing no one in particular but she kept looking around frantically.
“I demand to be sent home immediately. I’m Sarissa Hallet and I’ve got a tennis…”
Sarissa suddenly noticed Gareth and blushed and fell silent. He and Sao Cheung lined up beside her as a tall, thin scullion, marched up and down the line. He was about seventeen, with a mean, angry face and he looked at them all in utter contempt, with a definate hint of cruelty in his mean little eyes.
“Buttersqueak fodder,” he snorted scornfully and Gareth Marks wanted to run at him with his head, “Nothing but filthy Buttersqueak Fodder. But know yer place, right, and learn the rules around the Great Bouchebold. Do as you’re told, work yer fingers to the bone, keep quiet, and you’ll be rested and fed, more than water and biscuits too. I takes my cut, mind. Cry, steal, make wave, or mess up and you might be fed to a dragon instead.”
They all looked wretched and bowed their heads.
“But one tip, above all,” said the bullying scully, “While you’re working in the kitchens or anywhere near Bouchebold, never, ever mention Dragon Chefs, right? Now come with me.”
The chief scully turned on his heels and dutifully the ten of them followed down the dingy, flickering corridor, Sao, Gareth and Sarissa taking up the rear. The stone passages seemed to go on forever, as they traipsed along, sensing the weight of an entire citadel above them, and wondering what they were about to face. But at last they saw a blaze of light ahead and heard the sound of shouts and frantic voices, the bustle of hectic activity. The new scullions were all flabbergasted as they stepped into the open room.
The great kitchens of Pendolis were like a huge stone cathedral or a stone vaulted wine cellar, billowing out smoke and steam, like incense, lined with wooden work benches, above which, from metal racks, hung huge spoons and knives, colanders, kettles and saucepans and copper pots, that shone like evening gold.There were people everywhere, cooking over open flames, washing in great stone basins, like cattle troughs, or preparing food, from great mounds of fresh produce, piled everywhere.
In one corner was an enormous bench, completely clear, that opened beyond into a dark hall, while in another was a great stone archway that glowed with a dim orange firelight. A giant carcass that looked like a miniature rhinoceros was slow roasting on a huge spit in the centre of the kitchen as scullies stood around and basted it in oil and fat. But strangest of all the flames seemed to rise out of the ground, with no coal, or wood to feed it, and Gareth noticed a peculiar smell, slightly unpleasant, mixing with the many delicious scents he recognised around him.
To one side of the cobbled kitchen were lined bulging sacks and every now and then cooks would shout and scullies would run to the sacks to bring them more ingredients as they worked over their hobs, where flames seemed to rise magically too, since Gareth Marks was sure Pendolis hadn’t invented modern cooking methods.
The haze was like being in an old-fashioned train station and the place like a little citadel itself. The newcomers noticed that every now and then a cook would turn on the scullies though and shout, clip one over the ear, or give them a kick with a boot.They saw all this through the haze like a magical dream itself, but suddenly a huge shape loomed out of the steam, there was a sharp cry of HALT and everything stopped moving.
The most extraordinary man was standing there now in a shining white chef’s outfit, smeared with blood and gravy. Huge, not for his height, but his girth and his chubby, rubicond face. It was so hot and red it looked like a Halloween pumpkin with a blaze of shock white hair on the top, that made him look like a mad, but rather brilliant professor. His eyes were gleaming, although the strangest and purest blue and he was sweating profusely and looked rather angry. The scullies suddenly looked terrified, even their leader, because he was also holding a huge chopping knife in his gigantic, fat fingered hands. But the chef suddenly smiled and it was like the sun coming out.
“Here, now. The new recruits!” he cried, in a rather squeaky, high-pitched voice, “How very splendid. Der-licious. And so much to do today too. I am the Great Bouchebold and this is my little kingdom. We serve the entire citadel, of course, but we’ve a special banquet tonight, for the start of the season. The first day’s often the hardest so we must serve the young Dragon Warriors something tremendous.”
The Great Bouchebold had begun to walk up and down the row slapping that knife rather ominously into his sweaty palm and eyeing his new recruits.
“The Dragoman will be there too, of course, ‘the Man Upstairs’, who adores his food. Though little does he know who’s really in charge, since an army marches on it’s stomach, eh?”
Bouchebold grinned and winked and turned to look back at his little army, hanging on his every word now.
“The Dragon Maidens will be there too,” Bouchebold went on in his odd, breathless voice, glancing at Sarissa and the other girls, “and to please THEM, we’ll have have to be real magicians, tonight, even you scullies.”
The new kitchen scullions were trying to nod and look interested.
“You may not have been chosen as fit to be Dragon Warriors,” said Bouchebold, “but you’re still young, so worthy to do your bit in the kitchens, in the great fight. It’s a war down here too, remember, so just try to do as you’re told and we’ll all get on splendidly.”
The new scullies were all rather relieved since Bouchebold did not seem a bad sort at all, until he stepped up to each and began prodding them, tweaking their cheeks, feeling their biceps, or surveying them carefully, as if they were all the finest cuts.
‘Scrubbing’ he would decree, with a laugh, or ‘Peeling vegitables’, or ‘basting’.
As he did so the elder scully pointed to one part of the kitchen and they filed meekly away, until Bouchebold scowled at him and pointed to a sack of potatoes.
At last Bouchebold came to Sarissa, Sao and Gareth though and it was Sao he was suddenly scrutinizing carefully. At first Gareth Marks fancied there was some recognition at the podginess of the Chinese boy, until he realised he was looking at Sao’s eyes.
“Extraordinary,” the Great Bouchebold whispered with an odd little giggle, “most remarkable. We should send you to see the Great Naturalist. What can you do though, lad?”
Sao Cheung gulped and shrugged.
“Dish washing,” said Bouchebold immediately, looking at Sao’s stomach, “and no pinching food.”
“If I have to work here,” said Sarissa suddenly, straightening her back with immense dignity “I’m not washing or scrubbing, I assure you. I’m pleased to help you cook though. As a Sou Chef,” she added knowledgeably. “I’m nearly fourteen, you know.”
Sao gulped and ducked slightly while Gareth Marks looked nervously at that gigantic knife, but they both sighed with relief as Bouchebold roared with laughter and rocked back on his heels. The roar, it has to be said, was more like clattering saucepans and ended in a high-pitched squeal.
“How splendid,” he cried, “Really delectable. You’ve spirit, girl, and I always like that in the mix. Just can’t get the help any more, so I’ll trust you with some basting, today, if you can lift the ladles. But keep your pretty nose clean and learn, girl, then who knows, in a year or two you…
“A year,” cried Sarissa Hallet in utter horror.
“Time flies like Dragon wing in Pendolis,” said the enormous cook and even as he said it, Gareth thought, at the very far side of the kitchen, he saw something take to the air from a pile of plucked chickens.
Bouchebold was pointing now and Sarissa and Sao were already moving off towards their allotted positions, obediently, but the cook turned to Gareth Marks now. He did not speak for several moments though.
“Hmmm. There’s something keen in your eye,” he said, at last. “Some boldness. Discernment too, perhaps.”
Bouchebold suddenly flipped the huge kitchen knife and offered Gareth the handle.
“Correcting,” he said, looking significantly to a group of scullies in a line, also wielding chopping knives, waiting in front of a bench piled with plucked animals, vegetables and spices.
“Correcting, Sir?” gulped the twelve-year-old nervously, although trying to look enthusiastic too. Gareth wanted to make an impression.
“The produce,” explained Bouchebold a little wearily, “there’s something wrong in Pendolis now the Black Warlock’s slobbering over everything and we have to be careful. Puts everyone off their food too, upstairs, if we don’t prepare and present, absolutely perfectly.”
Gareth Marks looked confused.
“So when a cut of lamb turns up with a sow’s ear or a lamprey starts to look like a lobster, we chop, separate and put things back in order. Order, order, order. It won’t ever go to high table, but nothing’s wasted down here.”
“The Teller,” said Gareth suddenly, his eyes sparking furiously, although his head was starting to spin too, “Because they say the Teller’s wounded?”
“You’re sharp, lad,” said Bouchebold approvingly, “For one so young and lowly. With ears to the ground too. That’s good. Very goos. In training, or down here. But what’s your name, lad?”
“Gareth Mar…. Er, Gareth of the Mark,” corrected Gareth, trying to stand taller.
“Got one, boy?” asked Bouchebold and his pure blue eyes narrowed.
“A mark? Scar, birthmark, lesion, cicatrices, sixth finger?”
“No,” answered Gareth softly and he blushed. Bouchebold seemed rather disappointed as he loomed over him.
“Pity. I thought there was something about you. Everything in life is about the best ingredients but it’s important to stand out in Pendolis too. Mind you, the first lesson in blasted Warrior Training, they say, is always pick the right moment to show your true stuff. It can be really vicious out there, at times, and I mean, we’re making heroes here, not idiots.”
“Yes, Sir” said Gareth, feeling like an idiot and wondering what the twins were getting up to in their warrior training. He was suddenly glad he had been given kitchen duties.
“And stop calling me, Sir, lad. It’s COOKS down here. First Cook, in my case. Got that, Garnet?”
“Yes, First Cook, but it’s Gar.”
“And take a tip from Bouchebold. High or low, whatever it is you do in life lad, do it well. Everything you learn is of use, everything. But here, very few will tell you how it’s really done. Why should they? I mean they have their own dreams and ambitions. So you have to learn on the job. LEARN.”
“Yes,” said Gareth Marks, as BoucheBold seemed to look at him rather significantly, “thank you, Sir.”
“Manners too. I like that. Perhaps we’ll have you serving then, in six or eight months time. Now, musn’t dawdle. They’ll soon be waiting at the Pass.”
Gareth Marks suddenly felt home sick.
“Kitchen Staff of Pendolis,” bellowed Bouchebold though, swinging round dramatically, “Back to work now. Keep it tight and together and Good Luck, one and all. A Working kitchen is a happy kitchen. GET IT DONE.”
Bouchebold flicked his head and started to move off towards the bench as Gareth followed meekly but suddenly there was a flash of red and a bird went sailing over their heads.
“What’s that?” cried Gareth, ducking. The bird had settled on top of an enormous upturned copper cooking pot and he looked around as if he owned the place.
“THAT?” said Bouchebold, looking rather irritated with Gareth for even asking, “THAT is not a THAT, boy, but Herbert, the Kitchen Phoenix.”
“Phoenix,” gasped Gareth Marks, “the mythical bird that rises from…”
A thin wisp of steam seemed to be rising from the Phoenix’s feathers even now while Herbert had a decidedly sour expression in his doleful, watery eyes and his red feathers looked rather old and mangy. In fact one suddenly fell out, drifted into a bowl of jam and burst into flames.
“Mythical!” squeaked Bouchebold, looking very flustered indeed now, “oh, we don’t use such language in Pendolis, dear me, no. You’ll be saying Dragons are mythical next, heavens, or chimera, gorgons and even the Last Unicorn. Herbert would get very steamed up to hear he’s mythical. And Herbert has very good ears, or had, before he started to go a little deaf.”
Gareth shivered and suddenly remembered that horse he had seen running in terror from the Dark Wood.
“Yes, Sir, I mean First Cook,” corrected Gareth Marks quickly, “of course. You don’t use Dragons then, in your kitchen?”
Gareth was thinking of those recipes in Pendellion’s book and Bouchebold looked at him sharply. His face had suddenly become rather hard and suspicious, but it softened again.
“None to spare, nowadays,” answered Bouchbold almost wistfully, “But Herbert is my real eyes and ears down here,” he added fondly, although he seemed to be talking to himself now, “Quality Control, you see. Could never manage without him, dear creature. Herbert has a perfect palette too. Herbert’s worked and slaved in the Kitchens of Pendolis even longer than I have. And that’s nearly 80 years.”
Gareth was astounded, since the First Cook looked rather young, but even as Bouchebold said it the old bird took wing again and landed next to a cook who had been tasting something with a spoon and was looking rather confused.
The Phoenix stuck his head straight into the saucepan and, when it emerged, it was dripping with a thick, wine dark gravy. Gareth wanted to curl up with laughter as Herbert shook its head furiously and nodded its beak towards a pile of fresh rock salt. The cook looked rather crestfallen but added some obediently, and then some more, as Herbert nodded, rather superiorly too, then flew away in disgust, with a mournful and disapproving screech. The inspecting Phoenix settled by another cook now, chopping huge red onions this time, nearly the colour of its moulting feathers. Rather than do anything though, the bird just stood there, and Gareth suddenly realised huge tears were streaming from its feathery face.
“Is he chopping them wrong?” asked Gareth, holding his knife even tighter, and determined to make an impression today.
“Not at all,” said Bouchebold. “Best slicer in the kitchens. Trained him myself.”
“The onions then,” said Gareth, because Herbert the Phoenix was literally sobbing now, as the bird stood there watching.
“They’re sweet onions, not eye waterers,” answered Bouchebold, grinning. “Thing is, poor Herbert can be rather sentimental and always gets upset at cruelty, especially to vegetables.”
“Oh,” said Gareth Marks, thinking Pendolis the maddest place he had ever been now, and feeling suddenly lost again. He saw Sarissa by that spit-roast rhinoceros thing trying to pick up an enormous copper spoon, very irritably indeed, and poor Sao rolling up his sleeves, by a stone water trough and the most horrendously large pile of filthy plates.
Gareth looked down at the bench they had stopped at. It was ranged with plucked chickens, ducks, rabbits and geese, but they all had something slightly wrong. A rabbit had a frog’s legs, a duck had sparrow’s wings, a chicken had what looked like the comb of a Dragon. Gareth Marks felt rather sick but Bouchebold had suddenly reached out and grabbed one of the chopper’s arms.
“Not like that,” he growled, looking significantly towards that stone archway with the red glow, “or I’ll send you to work cooking for the Dragons, and you wouldn’t like that at all. Be careful and precise.”
Gareth wondered if Dragons really lay beyond and was rather startled by Bouchebold’s change of mood and tone but two men had come bustling across the room now, carrying two large wooden crates.
“Your fish, Bouchebold,” grunted one, “fresh from the Foundless Sea.”
“And a delivery of berries and champignon,” said the other, “from the Dark Wood.”
The Great Bouchebold’s glowing face lit up immediately.
“At last,” he cried delightedly, “The special ingredients. I thought they’d never get through, with the wars. Put them over there and don’t forget to mark them VERY DANGEROUS.”
The men nodded gravely and the great Bouchebold swept away into his kingdom, as Gareth was left with his chopping knife wondering what could be dangerous about food. So it began, their very first day’s work in the great kitchens of Pendolis.
As they worked Sao, Gareth, and Sarissa kept checking on each other’s progress, although they often lost sight of each other in all that smoke and steam. Gareth also kept trying to catch the First Cook’s eye, since he felt they had made some special connection but as he went about, testing, checking and suggesting, and the cooks took out their anger or frustration on the scullions, the Great Bouchebold had completely forgotten who they were.
David Clement-Davies Copyright 2014 – All Rights Reserved Published by Phoenix Ark Press
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