(the first two chapters are available for your perusal after the blurb, just beyond the ‘where to buy it’, links)
The Last Dragon In London
In the second decade of the Twentieth Century, Mildred Norman, Mildy to her friends, not many of whom are left alive, is broken in body and spirit after a long hard war.
An old friend suggests that she might like, as a bit of a distraction, to spend some time doing a bit of a ‘grand tour’ of all the places named ‘London’ throughout the world.
What begins as a whim, ends with a discovery that challenges everything she believes is possible.
Arriving in the last ‘London’, on her list, a tiny village tucked away in a remote valley, she meets up with a few of the locals and shenanigans ensue.
With the help of a child hunting mythical beasts, the child’s grandmother, and a cast of quirky villagers, Mildy shows how dangerous a stout woman with a lethal arsenal in her pockets can be.
She uncovers a plot to alter the course of history, begun so long ago that no records of the conspirators remain, except for one place, the place she now calls home.
To protect those she has come to love from certain destruction at the hands of a cruel and loathsome cabal, she must battle threats both near and far, and confront the mysterious force guiding it all.
And then, of course, there’s the question of dragons …
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CHAPTER 1 – The Dragon Hunter
Mildy tore her eyes away from the view outside her window and glanced down at her well-worn journal, opened it at a new page and inked the word, ‘London’, in her usual efficient handwriting, at the top.
She caught the book before the rattling movement of the train bounced it off the small pull-down traveling table and onto the not-overly clean floor. The mist-draped mountainous vista beyond the single paned window, streaked with her condensed breath, had distracted her, just as such landscapes always did. She closed her journal, ran her fingers across the embossed design on the soft leather cover with her name, ‘Mildred Norman’, underscored by a tasteful swirl of curlicues, and stowed it in her hand luggage.
Memories badgered her to delve into how the journal came to be in her possession, but she emptied her mind, an old trick, and returned to the scenery streaming past her window.
She snugged a fleecy traveling rug tight around her legs and considered loosening the sturdy laces on her hiking boots to let her blood flow easier to her feet and warm them little. It wasn’t even the end of Autumn and yet here she was, trussed up in her woolen trousers, great-coat and coach-blanket, like an elderly relative set out on the veranda to take in the ‘air’. No point complaining though, so few of her friends who knew at least part of her story remained alive, there was no-one to listen, and no-one to care. She wiggled her toes in her boots as the rickety train swept around another curve and slowed down.
The conductor wove along the corridor with practiced ease and tapped lightly on the open door to her compartment. “We’ll be arriving shortly, Miss. Would you like your luggage taken directly to your lodgings?”
She admired his tactful query that allowed her to maintain whatever facade she might’ve had in mind to account for her decidedly un-ladylike appearance. “I’m not sure where I’ll be staying yet. I only came up here on a whim, really.”
“I can arrange with the station-master to keep them at the station until you’ve had a chance to explore a little.”
“Will they be safe?” The question slipped out before she could catch it, but the conductor didn’t seem to mind.
“Safe as houses, Miss.”
Once on the platform, she slipped a little something extra into the porter’s hand before he trundled off along the cobbled surface of the platform with her well-traveled luggage buried among the pile on his handcart.
Behind her, the train pulled out of the station with a groan of steam-driven energy that set its steel wheels screeching, and clattered off the main line onto a short spur covered with a long red-brick and rusty corrugated-iron shed. Further clanking and cranking sounds could be heard as the engine was swiftly uncoupled from the carriages and turned around on one of those giant turntables Mildy had seen used so efficiently in the past. There was something, wholesome, she decided, to such sounds. One day the automobile would overtake these great metal machines, but she hoped it wouldn’t come too soon.
As the sounds of modern industry trailed away, a silence descended across the misty vale nestled between the two mighty mountain ranges. She stood still, not wanting to break the spell, until the joints on the left side of her body started aching. She cursed under her breath as imagery she was determined to never fully recall fluttered at the edges of her mind’s eye. After a moment of fierce concentration they reluctantly returned from whence they came, and she strode along the platform in the wake of her luggage.
As she walked, the mists that had accompanied her journey from the large town two-and-a-half hours away, began to shred in a light breeze that ruffled her hair loose from her cap, and sent wobbly beams of sunlight across the landscape like a patchwork quilt. She could do naught else but lift her face to bask in the new warmth.
“Ah,” said the station-master, as he came out of the tiny storage room attached to the red-brick station and closed the door firmly behind him. “It looks as though we’re going to have a lovely afternoon.”
Mildy smiled at him, “It does indeed,” she said as she gazed up at the mountains revealed in all their glory. “I do seem to have got myself turned around though. Which way is north?”
She knew from her map folded into the pages of her journal that the town, a village really, was to the north of the station, but, as she’d discovered a great many times in her travels, what a map could tell her and what her eyes saw for themselves were sometimes two distinctly different things.
“The trip through the lower passes can have that effect,” the station-master opined. “It’s that way, Miss,” he said, nodding toward a well-maintained, but currently muddy road mired in ruts and puddles, that wound next to a willow-shrouded stream. Eventually both stream and road disappeared behind a green hill perched jauntily in front of the much larger mountains towering over it. “But if you don’t mind a bit of a tramp, the driest way into the village by foot would be up and over Wye Hill.”
It was on the tip of Mindy’s tongue to beg off a ‘bit of a tramp’, because of her aches and pains. She refused to call them injuries, but, as she often reminded herself, this trip was to have adventures of a different sort from the ones that had left her broken in mind and body, and she’d certainly had her fill of trudging along muddy roads.
“Tell you what,” the station-master went on as though taking her silence for agreement. “Why don’t you nip down to the canteen at the other end of the station and I’ll have the missus whip you up a bit of a lunch basket for your journey, that way you can take your time.”
“That’s very kind of you,” Mildy said, a bit surprised by a kindness she didn’t expect.
“Never you mind,” he said softly as his eyes flickered to Mildy’s left side and darted away. “We look after our own.”
“What?” A shiver ran down Mildy’s spine.
“I’ve seen many a lad, and lass, over these past years, with that same look in their eyes. Eyes that’ve witnessed what no eyes so young ought to have.”
Mildy laid her hand on his arm for a moment, then squared her shoulders. “I’ll just ‘nip’ down to the canteen then.”
Not fifteen minutes later she stepped off the platform, across the muddy road, over a stile set into a stone fence, and onto the graveled path winding its merry way up Wye Hill. With the contents of her lunch basket safely stored in her satchel slung over her shoulder, she climbed the steep gravel path feeling lighter of heart than she’d had for many long months.
A further quarter of an hour, completely winded and wishing she’d listened to her more indulgent self, she reached the crest of Wye Hill, dropped her satchel to the ground and bent over double, trying to catch her breath. It was, in her current state, a position more likely to induce a bout of vomiting than anything else, so with her hands on the small of her back, she straightened up to a view that took her breath away again.
Wye Hill was merely the toe of a long undulating ridge that eventually joined several others to form one of the snow-capped peaks she’d seen from the train station, which was, she noted as she turned to look back the way she’d come, a very long way below her.
To her left the land fell away to form the narrow valley she’d just traversed by train. Clouds, or mist, she couldn’t tell which from her lofty perch, had closed in again, blocking the train tracks from her sight. On her right the path zig-zagging across the side of the hill and led down to the village of London, the last ‘London’ on her itinerary. The mist had closed in there as well and all she could see were vague outlines of houses and stone-walled fields.
With an experienced traveler’s eye she estimated it would only take her fifteen minutes, or thereabouts, to finish her journey from where she stood. So long as she stayed on the path she wouldn’t get lost on her way down.
She turned again, until directly ahead, the still, thankfully, sun-drenched ridge dipped down to form a small dell punctured by irregularly spaced stone outcroppings. On closer inspection they were irregular, yes, but perhaps not random. She gathered up her satchel and stepped off the well-maintained gravel path to investigate.
It wasn’t long before she paused, pulled out her journal she’d hastily stuffed into the satchel at the station, and made a rude sketch of the dell, only taking time to render the formation of stones precisely.
“Standing Stones,” she muttered as she got closer, but nothing like she’d ever seen before in her travels around the world, only here on this tiny scrap of an unnamed mountain range. It probably did have a name on some official topographical map, in some dim storage room in some dim government office building, and the locals most assuredly had a name for it. So, it wasn’t unnamed after all. She smiled at the places her thoughts, sometimes, took her.
The stones, tall and narrow, pierced the green sward like the serrated spine of a gigantic prehistoric creature, curving first one way and then the other, which was the feature that first caught her eye and prompted her sketch. She completed her drawing with a few lines to indicate where the dell fell away to an escarpment.
“It could be some sort of fossil, given how old these mountains are supposed to be,” she said, amused at her whimsy. However, the day was getting on and, as her stomach gave out a convincing growl, she decided to investigate what the ‘missus’, had packed for her lunch and see about getting in to the village before the sun set.
She found a sun-drenched stone, she didn’t fancy sitting on the damp grass, and heaped blessings upon the head of ‘the missus’, when the first item out of her satchel was a thermos of … she hastily undid the lid and inhaled the delicious aroma, yes, hot chocolate.
Taking a cautious sip, it was almost too hot to drink, and real chocolate as well, she leaned back against the warm stone and sighed. She hadn’t tasted that since … no, those memories were firmly behind her, and it would do her no good to entertain them, even for such a fond reminisce as drinking hot chocolate in bed with …
Saying the admonishment out loud, when alone, was usually enough to put that narrative back where it belonged.
It was a child’s voice, a girl, Mildy surmised, not that she had much experience with small humans, she often found them quite incomprehensible. Only when their minds achieved a modicum of maturity did she consider them worthy of inclusion in any conversation. Her opinion made her an outlier, especially among women of her class, church-mouse-poor, and age, anywhere north of twenty-five, but she’d been rejecting those sorts of attitudes since she was knee high to a grass-hopper.
“It was a private conversation,” Mildy said with some censure. “Now, who are you and where are you?”
“That depends on where you are and who you are. I don’t speak to strangers.”
Mildy approved of the child’s gumption. “Seeing as we have now exchanged interrogative statements I wonder if we’re still strangers? Although I do suspect, judging by your vocabulary, that it’s possible you might be just as strange as I.”
“I’m not strange at all!”
Mildy screwed the lid back on the thermos of hot chocolate and stowed it in her satchel. “Did you think to bring lunch?” She stood up, all the better to pinpoint the location of her mysterious interrogator.
“I didn’t think it would take this long,” came the plaintive reply, issuing from, Mildy cocked her head, behind her. She stepped around the stone outcropping she’d been sitting on and confronted an urchin leaning on a shovel stuck half in the sod, a few meters down the side of the hill.
“That’s often the case when one tries to move mountains by oneself.” Mildy eyed this side of her stone and surmised it to be considerably colder than the sun-warmed one her posterior had recently graced. Fossicking around in her satchel, she pulled out the travel rug she’d snared from the bottom of the lunch basket, thrice blessed ‘the missus’, spread it on the cold stone, and sat down.
“I’m not moving a mountain.” Pique, Mildy noted, had replaced the whine. “I’m digging a trap.”
The urchin wrenched her implement out of the ground, shoved it back in and jumped on the shoulders with both feet to force it through the densely interwoven roots. In her defense she did manage to achieve a respectable depth given her size and weight, before she overbalanced and landed on her rump. The handle of the shovel bounced off the grass and landed with an eye-watering crack across her ankles. A spray of decapitated shrubbery completed her ignominy by parking itself on top of her braided mouse-brown hair.
Mildy prudently ignored the tears that sprang into her companion’s eyes the moment the pain of her bruised ankles filtered through her indignation and embarrassment, and slid over to vacate half of the rug.
“No doubt your ankle hurts more than your bum, so perhaps you might want to come up here, sit on one while I look at the other, just in case you’ve damaged something. Then I will share my hot chocolate with you, and we can discuss what sort of being you intend to catch in your trap.”
Wobbly chin notwithstanding, the urchin hobbled up and did as was suggested. “I’m alright. Really, I am.”
“I know you are.” Mildy said as she poured a generous cup of the not-quite-scalding hot chocolate and steadied it in the child’s tiny not-quite-steady hands. “I wouldn’t’ve invited you to lunch otherwise. Now, ever since we met I’ve been privately referring to you as, ‘urchin’, which isn’t at all polite. In accordance with good manners, I’ll tell you my name and you can tell me yours. When you’re ready,” she added, barely missing a beat as the child paled even further than her recent calamity warranted. Aware she might be treading on some obscure ‘sharing of names’, taboo, she ploughed on regardless.
“My name is Mildred, but no-one ever calls me that, so to keep things simple, I answer to Mildy.” She leaned back and refilled the cup and returned it to the tiny hands that had finally stopped shaking.
The urchin nodded as she accepted the mug. “That’s nearly as good as my Gran makes.”
“Perhaps you’ll mention that to the station-master’s ‘missus’, next time you’re there.”
“He always calls her that, but her name’s Mrs Bodkin, and he’s Mr Taylor.”
The desire of youth to know absolutely everything, immediately, radiated from the urchin like the heat of the sun, and it was obvious that she’d been told, probably more than once, not to voice such obvious discrepancies out loud, or at least not in polite society.
“Well, that is a conundrum to be solved another day, because we have a more immediate one right here before us.” Mildy laid her hand on her breast. “Me, Mildy. You …?”
“Gran says names are important and we shouldn’t share them with just anyone.”
The more the urchin mentioned her ‘Gran’, the more Mildy was inclined to like her, sight unseen. She delved into one of the many capacious pockets sewn into her waistcoat like swallows nests, and pulled out a tin of salve. Gently hoisting the urchin’s leg across her knee, and pulling down the scruffy sock, she carefully applied the salve to the now visible bruised ankle. “This is comfrey. It’ll help heal up this very impressive bruise.”
‘Gran uses that too.”
“Very wise woman, your Gran.” Returning the urchin’s booted foot to the ground, Mildy replaced the salve in her pocket and opened her satchel. ” We aren’t friends, but we are, I believe, friendly acquaintances, so, in the spirit of friendly acquaintanceship, I will continue to call you Urchin, until you instruct me otherwise. Shall we see what sort of lunch Mrs Bodkin has provided? By the heft of it I’d say there’s plenty for two.”
Mildy never hesitated to use multi-syllabic language with the young, either they understood directly or by inference, and behaved accordingly, or they didn’t know what the hell she was talking about and also behaved accordingly. So far, she was pleased to note, her new companion had no trouble comprehending her at all.
The urchin readily agreed, so Mildy laid out a pair of faded white napkins and placed on them two doorstep-sized roast beef and tomato sandwiches, two crisp red apples, and a pair of hand-blown bottles with something fizzy inside.
“So, Urch,” Mildy said after a satisfying fizzy-drink burp. “There’s still one part of our conundrum remaining.” Ignoring Urch’s giggle at her new name, Mildy pressed on. “What are you doing up here with a shovel?”
“Dragon,” Urch managed to burble around an heroic mouthful of her sandwich.
CHAPTER 2 – A Flaw In The Plan
Mildy blinked, several times. “Dragon?”
“Mm-mm. A dragon.”
“The shovel is for a dragon?” It didn’t make sense but she had to start her line of inquiry somewhere.
“No, dragons don’t need shovels.” Urch chewed a thoughtful bite of her sandwich. “At least I don’t think they do.”
“Know a lot about dragons do you?”
“Gran’s always told me stories, and I’ve read about them in her books. I could read by the time I was three years old.”
Mildy had no doubt that a child as precocious as Urch could read at an early age, so she just nodded, which seemed a satisfactory response to the slightly defensive statement Urch had just offered up.
“Did you know that this mountain is where a dragon buried herself to escape some hunters?” Urch continued. “I really don’t know why she didn’t just eat them, but that’s what the story says. Anyway, she couldn’t get deep enough so she turned all her bits still above ground into stone. That’s what these stones are. That’s why they’re all in this long bendy row.”
“Yes, I saw that from the path. I made a sketch of them before I came down here.”
Urch stared at her for a moment, then, as though Mildy had passed another sort of test, she smiled, took a Herculean bite of her apple, chewed vigorously, and forged on. “The hunters were afraid to come up here after that, and other dragons visit her bones to this very day. That’s why I think I’ll be able to catch one.” She finished her apple and threw the core over the edge of the scarp. “I know lots of the other children in the village, to say hello to and such, but no-one is really my friend.”
It was the matter-of-fact tone in Urch’s voice that struck Mildy’s heart the hardest. She knew exactly how Urch felt, but she schooled her expression so that Urch would be none-the-wiser.
“I thought that if I dug a big hole, I could make a trap and a dragon would fall in, and then they’d have to be my friend or I wouldn’t help them out. I know the dragon under the ground is probably just a story, but I’m sure there are real dragons somewhere, and I have some gold that I’ll put at the bottom of the hole, because dragons love gold.” It was Urch’s turn to dig into her pocket and pull out a small tin. It rattled as she prised the lid off, and she showed Mildy the few small coins nestled there. “I’ve been saving for a long time, and I think this’ll be enough.”
Mildy leaned back against the stone, thinking quickly. She could make some supportive non-committal noises, pack up, and resume her walk into the village, but the brutal self-honesty that prompted her to begin this adventure, it seemed so long ago now, told her she would never rest easily if she did.
This was why she didn’t like talking with children, sooner or later you had to break their hearts, because if you didn’t the world would do far more damage and with far less compassion. On top of that, and completely out of character, she acknowledged with that same self-honesty, she didn’t want to be the adult who broke this particular little girl’s heart.
Urch peered at the contents of her tin. “What do you think?” She asked in a tiny voice. “Is it enough?”
Mildy realised she’d been silent for a bit too long “Hm, let me think for a moment,” she said with a smile, and be damned to the breaking of children’s hearts. Which was all well and fine, meaning it really wasn’t, because she still had to untangle Urch’s plan as tactfully as she could. “Let’s go about this logically, shall we?”
“Alright,” Urch said, her relief evident.
“You put that tin back in your pocket, because we’re going to start at the beginning of your plan and see where we go from there.” Mildy waited until Urch complied, then held up a single finger. “First we have to determine how big your trap needs to be. So, what sizes do dragons come in?”
Urch stared at her, open-mouthed. “You believe dragons are real too?”
Mildy had seen things in her travels that were beyond her wildest imaginings, so the reality of dragons wasn’t completely out of the question. “What I believe is neither here nor there. We are discussing your plan to capture one. As you’re well read on the subject and I’m not, you are best suited to supply this particular piece of information.” She waited patiently while Urch kicked at the grass with her good foot, then offered a suggestion to get the ball rolling. “If all these stones are a dragon’s backbone it would be a very large dragon indeed. Perhaps your intended target might not be quite as big?”
Urch surveyed the undulating line of standing stones. “Yes,” she finally said, “A bit smaller, I think.”
“Excellent.” Mildy held up another finger. “How big is your trap going to be? Go on.” She made a ‘shooing’, motion with her other hand. “Show me.”
Urch walked halfway to the next standing stone. “About to here.”
“Right then.” Mildy motioned Urch back to her side. “Now we’re getting somewhere. Let’s assume that it will be just as wide and just as deep, shall we?” Urch nodded, and Mildy held up a third finger. “How much have you managed to dig our so far?”
“Well,” Urch drew the word out as far as she could then pointed to the few grass-tufted clods of earth she’d managed to overturn. “I’ve only just started.”
Mildy wondered how many times Urch had mentioned her grand plan in the presence of others, and how often she’d been shamed for it. “What does your Gran think of this?” The question was out of her mouth before she could censure the thought, but she managed to hang a quick smile on the end if it.
“She’d think I was daft, so I was waiting until I could show her my dragon.”
“Probably for the best.” This time Mildy’s smile was genuine. “Right then, the next step is to make some calculations. How’s your arithmetic?”
“I know my times tables.”
“Excellent. Suppose you and I hadn’t met, do you think you would’ve been able to dig out this top layer, with all the grass on it, this afternoon? Be honest now.”
“I’m always honest.” Urch kicked at her tuft of grass again. “Not telling someone something isn’t the same as lying.”
“It’s a close relative, but not close enough to bother us today.” Mildy reassured her. “What do you think, three days?”
Urch’s shoulders drooped a little but she nodded. Mildy sensed the child was beginning to see where she was going, or at least where she thought Mildy was going. “I’ve calculated that given the length of your shovel blade you would have to dig out that much earth, hm, at least twenty-five times to get your trap deep enough. So let’s multiply your three days by twenty-five and find out how long it will take.”
Mildy fished around in her satchel and pulled out her journal. She opened it at a clean page and handed it and a pencil to Urch, who multiplied the numbers correctly and at the bottom of her calculations, very slowly wrote ’75’.
Before Mildy could reclaim her journal Urch tore the page out, crumpled it into a little ball, and threw it away. “It was a stupid, stupid idea, and I’m just a stupid, stupid little girl!” She stood up and stomped the offending scrap of paper into the sod.
Mildy waited for the tempest to subside a little. “I don’t think it’s a stupid idea at all,” she said in her best matter-of-fact voice. “It’s the nature of experiments to fail more than they succeed. All they do is force us to look at the problem from another direction. Then, they only have to succeed once.” She stood up as well. “However, my bum has sat on that cold rock for long enough. What do you say we collect your shovel and relocate to that very warm-looking bit of stone over there, and continue our analysis of this conundrum?” She held out her hand without giving any time for Urch to think about it, as though it was the most natural thing in the world.
Mildy slung her satchel over her shoulder and gave the tiny hand a little squeeze. “Nor do I think you are stupid either, but someone has said as much I think, someone you care about.”
“My mum’s new gentleman friend.” Urch scrubbed at her eyes with the sleeve of her scruffy jacket. “I don’t care what he thinks, but mum didn’t say anything. She used to tell him not to talk to me that way, but I think he … he, made her … she stopped. It’s alright though, because I only see her when Gran goes into town to do a bit of shopping once a month.”
Oh, the wounds we carry from such an early age, Mildy mused. By the time they reached their new and warmer seating arrangements, she knew what to say. She sat on the wide flat slab of exposed bedrock and, as Urch snuggled closer, put her arm around the thin shoulders.
“Some mums can make bad choices when it comes to their gentleman friends. Mine did when I was about your age. I can still hear some of the things she said. Awful they were, and not true, of course, but I didn’t know that then.”
“Yes, really, and I’m so much older than you.”
Urch nodded in agreement. “You’re probably as old as thirty, aren’t you?”
It wasn’t a bad guess. “Something like that.”
Mildy let the silence gather its own momentum until Urch’s feelings moved from hurt to immanent fidgeting. “About your dragon,” she said. “I really don’t think any sort of trap is the answer though. If it were me that you’d caught, I’d be far too cranky at you for trying to trap me in the first place to consider being your friend.” She waited a moment, but no response was forthcoming. “I think you know that too, in your heart?”
There was no convenient grass sod to kick so Urch settled for picking up a wafer of stone that had sloughed off the slab and flung it into the air beyond the scarp. “I suppose. But what am I going to do for a friend of my very own then?”
“I have an idea. But, in the meantime perhaps I might suffice, although I’m not very dragonish, until a real dragon does come along. What do you think?”
Mildy suddenly wondered what on earth she had just committed herself to. She looked down at the village below the escarpment bidding adieu to the last beams of the slowly setting sun. The mist had long since drifted away and wisps of chimney-smoke rose and hung in the still air to replace it. Someone, somewhere, was trying to crank up an old donkey engine to no avail. Nothing out of the ordinary captured her attention, and yet here she was, because there was something about this vale. She just couldn’t, for the life of her, put her finger on it, at least not yet.
She gazed at Urch as the light and warmth of the sun, still giving forth its best, bathed them in its embrace. There was also something about this child, but perhaps it was only because Urch reminded her of her younger self she’d recently referenced in their conversation. She leaned back and crossed her legs at her ankles. Whatever it was that had drawn them together, she didn’t believe in the ‘just because’, of coincidence, she was content for it to fill this small moment of time.
She’d reached the end of her list of ‘London’s’, to visit, and would be leaving in a few days, although she hadn’t a clue where, so perhaps a brief friendship with a dragon-hunting child might offer some insights. In spite of herself she was quite looking forward to being Urch’s friend, if Urch agreed.
Letters managed to get themselves from one side of the globe to the other in a matter of weeks these days, so yes, she almost said out loud, this might work.
“I think that might work,” Urch said, leaning back and crossing her legs at her ankles too.
“Excellent.” Mildy gave her new friend a quick hug then released her. “How you planned to dig your trap would’ve required an awful lot of effort. What I’d like you to do is imagine all that industry as a giant ball that you can squeeze down to fit between your hands. Like this.” She held her hands in front of her. “And fill it with all the energy you were going to use on each of those seventy-five days to dig the trap. Can you do that?”
“I think so.”
“Good. Now I want you to think about your dragon and ask, ask mind you, if she might like to drop by, if she was so inclined, and be your friend. Then imagine your invitation inside the ball.”
Urch frowned hard but soon thereafter seemed on the verge of giving up.
“Paint the ball in your favourite colour, that’ll help.”
“Alright. Now what do I do?”
“Push the ball up into the air so that it catches the breeze and floats away, and we’ll see if a dragon answers. It might take a while though, maybe even a day or more, so once you let the ball go, we ought to start getting back.”
Urch clambered to her feet, lifted her arms in the air with an effort that drew a surprised grunt from her. “It’s heavy.”
“Give it a good hard push then, that’ll do the trick.”
Mildy wondered if she imagined the air shimmer a little bit as Urch reached out and pushed something up into the perfect blue sky.
“There you are!” said a decidedly feminine voice from somewhere along the path down to London.
Urch abruptly crouched back down and scrambled behind Mildy. “It’s my Gran!”
Caught unawares, Mildy wondered at Gran’s timing, then she remembered that Gran didn’t know what Urch had been up to. She stood up, pulling Urch with her.
“Don’t worry.” Mildy smiled, and gave Urch’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “I’ll protect you.”