Chapter 1: The phone call
Cody leaped around the bedroom, pausing every few seconds to listen for the faint ringtone coming from his mobile. Muddy T-shirts and pants flew in all directions before he located its glowing screen.
“I found a new cave” blurted Shannon’s very self-satisfied voice. Cody heard faint thuds and knew she was doing the victory dance, “It’s unexplored.” Cody grimaced at the annoying smugness in her voice.
“How do you know it’s unexplored?” he asked.
“Because I do, it’s not far from Ospreys Cliff, along a bit from the waterfall. I noticed the base of the cliff looked a bit different yesterday so I crossed the bridge at Tintern to find out why. The rain must have caused a landslide and behind one of the boulders was a small entrance. I saw bones on the floor, but it was very gloomy and dark, I just got the feeling that something was inside. Bring the cave kit, we need torches and candles, Oh and choccy cos I’m starving so don’t forget the choccy. Come on, come on come on,” she urged when Cody didn’t respond. “Why are you still on the phone?” Cody’s heartbeat began to flutter at the prospect of being first to enter an unexplored cave but he was more than a little bit irritated at the same time. Shannon, yet again, had found a cave before him. The phone call however, could not have come at a worse time.
“I’m grounded again, Mum says my room looks like a car boot sale and I have to tidy it before going out. I don’t know why she’s stressing, it’s like this all the time!”
“Sneak out and meet me by the fishing spot, bring the cave kit and choccy cos I’m starving.” Shannon whispered in case Cody’s mum was standing next to him and overheard.
“Cody! have you started your bedroom yet?” Mums voice called ominously from downstairs just as Cody hung up.
“Yes Mum, almost finished,” Cody slid across the wooden bedroom floor picking his trainers up on the way and headed for the window. Mum however, armed with nearly12 years’ experience of Cody’s little tricks, had already positioned herself outside underneath the bedroom window.
“You’re grounded! that means get inside, now!” Cody’s heart sank; he had barely got his leg through the window. He made a mental note to be less hasty the next time.
He sat on his bed and texted Shannon “Mum caught me!” and proceeded to get very bored, hating every second of his punishment. He was a free soul and loved to be outside. Gazing through the window towards the valley he knew so well was not his favourite pastime.
The clock in his bedroom seemed slower as it continued its never ending circular journey. Before long, his bum was well and truly numb from the hours sat with his head propped up against the window. The more he daydreamed the more he felt spellbound. The evening sunbeams switched on and off as they found gaps in the gold and red foliage of the autumn trees. Each sunbeam that made it through onto the surface of the river transformed into a magical dance of stars.
Cody and Shannon’s playground was the beautiful Wye Valley. It stretched as far as eyes could see, an endless forest linking one eerie glade to the next. Countless autumns had left their leafy carpets on the forest floor, whilst, at the river’s edge, craggy cliffs thrust themselves upwards to meet kestrels floating effortlessly on a whispering breeze that never told its secrets.
Within this vibrant green valley, secret caves waited patiently to be found by explorers who needed a children’s sixth sense to know where to find them. Overgrown pathways to long forgotten destinations lay hidden in the undergrowth, and yet, with all the natural beauty Mother Nature bestowed on this mystical place, there resided an unsettling feeling of never being entirely alone within its leafy embrace.
Nevertheless, it was still Cody and Shannon’s favourite place to explore. They grew up with Mother Nature all around them and quickly learned it was a good idea to be home before dark. Before that unsettling feeling touched them gently on the shoulder causing them to spin around when no one seemed to be there. The Wye Valley forest was indeed a magical adventure playground by day, but it was a very different place when the stars surrounded the moon.
The flip flopping sound of Grandfathers slippers climbing the wooden stairs was accompanied by his gentle cough and signalled that bedtime had arrived in the household. Cody prepared himself for the possibility of a story. The door opened quietly before Gramps nestled himself gently into Cody’s bedside rocking chair. A trembling hand placed his half-filled mug of coffee on the bedside cabinet. Gramps chin dropped to his chest so he could peer over the top of the reading glasses balanced on the end of his huge wrinkly nose. The mole at the end of his nose kept the glasses from falling off completely.
“Now then my naughty little man, where was I?”
“The Dragon Tree Story” replied Cody, acknowledging with a cheeky grin that he was lucky to be getting a story at all. Cody was too old for bedtime stories but tonight he desperately needed something to break the boredom. He was tired and Gramps gentle voice was like hot chocolate after playing outside on a frosty night.
“The warlock had been banished from the castle to live alone in the depths of the forest for unspeakable crimes and practising black magic. However, unbeknown to the castle folk, his new home suited him just fine. He had company, it was his grimoire, an ancient book of spells he had stolen from an 11th century enchanter.”
“What’s an enchanter Gramps?”
“It’s a sort of sorcerer or wizard but far more powerful. Now then, this was no ordinary grimoire; it was older than anyone knew. Enchanters wrote spells onto its pages whilst on their deathbeds. After waiting a lifetime to pass on their knowledge, their secrets would have been lost forever but for this one old book.
The grimoire taught the warlock how to manipulate wind, fire and water. Soon, he became an elemental sorcerer, but the grimoire was such a powerful book it corrupted him with its secrets. His name was Mortazar and he wasted no time making the valley and forest a fearful place to be after nightfall. Silver- eyed grockles began appearing late at night at the edge of the forest. Their eyes glowed in the darkness as they stared menacingly towards the castle. Crops struggled in the harsh weather sweeping through the valley making the children and castle folk hungry. They all blamed Mortazar, but finding a volunteer to seek and kill him was not easy. The prospect of being attacked by hungry grockles or battling an evil warlock in the depths of a gloomy forest was something requiring a hero, but heroes were in short supply. The castle was home to friendly folk weakened by months of hunger. Mortazar’s influence over the valley grew stronger until even during the daytime the forest made you spin around, convinced someone or something was behind you.
“What are grockles Gramps?”
“Well now, grockles lived many centuries ago in the depths of our valley. They were despicable creatures that lived underground in a complicated maze of burrows. Whilst they sleep close to the burrow entrances they hide, waiting and ready to wake up quickly, pouncing on any creatures that strayed too close.
They were always hungry, and ate everything they caught so that by the time the frosty chill of winter arrived they could descend into the lower depths of their burrows with fat hairy bellies. Once there, they would hibernate undisturbed beneath a thick duvet of leaves. The warlocks and witches of the time, knowing how much fear the grockles commanded would sometimes try to conjure them from their burrows but only powerful magic or promises of food would secure their allegiance.
If you ever walk in the Wye Valley forest and think someone is watching you, it might be a grockle, hiding, waiting for you to come within reach. If you are mistaken, consider yourself very lucky,” Gramps laughed at the startled look on Cody’s face. “Anyway little man, all this was happening about a thousand years ago. Witches and warlocks met at night to cast spells and everyone feared them. It was a time when, if you looked towards the moon, you might catch a glimpse of a flying beast breathing fire in the sky to light its way. But even in the old days dragons had become a very rare sight, they had not been seen in the valley for over 100 years.
On one particular moonlit night, the valley must have looked a beautiful place from the sky, an opportunity to find food and rest weary wings. Most dragons were solitary creatures rarely mixing with their own kind. This is why their numbers grew less and less. But the one seen in the sky that night was very special. He was 178 years old and the last of his kind. His name was Azagard.
For a long time Azagard had felt the need to change his ways and spend some time in a beautiful valley somewhere. Terrorizing the skies and barbecuing cows for lunch was ok, a dragon could certainly survive on it, but barbecued beef for every meal becomes a bit boring after a couple of hundred years. Azagard decided that a shoal of salmon or the occasional grockle would be an appealing change to his menu and he needed to find a suitable valley so he could feed himself adequately. However, his arrival in this particular valley was not entirely due to a need for a new diet or change of scenery. For many days, he had felt something drawing him there, something evil that only a dragon could deal with. He could neither understand the feelings nor resist them.
You see Cody, every dragon is born with a secret destiny and only the dragon can sense when that destiny approaches. They can never really rest until they discover and fulfil their own reason for being brought into the world.
As Azagard flew over the valley that night he began to sense something lurking somewhere within the trees below, the emotions were new to him, and so was the dark magic rising from the trees in the forest. The urge to investigate grew stronger within him so he descended through the clouds and landed with open talons on the nearest rocky ledge. From the cliff top, Azagard surveyed the forest with a curious gaze. Slowly, he began to realise that something in this valley may be the reason for his birth.
He was cautious, the very ground he stood upon made him feel strangely unwelcome, but after lonely days flying across strange lands and wild seas his wings were heavy and weary. Unable to continue without rest he tucked his chin around to his side and swept his armoured tail around himself like a cat before its night time rest. Comfy at last, he slowly closed his eyes as darkness fell. Tomorrow would bring the answers he had been searching for all his life.
The stillness of that night changed quickly with the arrival of a ferocious storm thundering its way up the valley. Lightning bolts crashed all around disturbing Azagard’s sleep. Mortazar had conjured up a storm to remind everyone living in the valley of his status, but it was not the only reason he brought a storm to the valley that night. The arrival of a dragon had not gone un-noticed; who did this dragon think he was? Mortazar decided to send this new creature a message, to let him know who held the power in the valley.
Blankets of stinging rain lashed at the earth as the mighty storm bullied its way through the hills. Lightning scorched the very heart of the forest causing two enormous reptilian eyes to open curiously on a dark cliff top. Azagard squinted at the rain and lightning crashing all around him.
Deciding to ignore it, he unfurled his enormous wings one by one and brought them down slowly, cloaking his entire head and body. Leaving the storm outside, he slept again.”