Chapter One – The Gathering Storm
Gregory was sitting high up in the castle’s Keep. It was extremely hot and stuffy, and the oncoming storm made the old room dark and airless. He had been sent up to the tower to learn his letters, although he would much rather have been in the castle yard, practising with his wooden sword and play-fighting with the other squires and kitchen boys.
Gregory was the son of an Earl. He and his family lived in a castle in the North of England.
He had been looking out of the casement window for some time now, watching a herd of cows in the meadow across the moat and daydreaming about one day becoming a knight!
Something caught his eye as he looked up at the gathering storm clouds. He thought he saw a strange shape.
‘No, it couldn’t be, it’s just my imagination,’ he thought to himself.
Suddenly there was a flash of lightning, followed by a loud crash of thunder. The cows were immediately panicked and started to run around in circles and jump about, which made Gregory laugh. ‘Silly cows,’ he thought. ‘I wish I could run about in the meadow, storm or no storm.’
Then to Gregory’s horror, he understood why the cows had panicked.
An enormous dark winged creature had appeared out of the clouds and was circling overhead.
As Gregory watched, it seemed to grow in size and was now so huge that its wings spanned either side of the castle. Its shadow darkened the Keep, as it circled lower and lower. It then swooped down towards the herd in the meadow. The cows bellowed in alarm.
Gregory looked up at the creature again and saw that it had singled out the large bull and was flying down towards it. The bull started to run, but it was no use. The creature extended its enormous claws and grasping the bull, lifted it easily, despite its weight. It then flapped its huge wings, to gain height and flew away towards the hills.
‘Wow!’ gasped Gregory in shock. ‘That was no bird, it was a dragon!’ he said to himself. ‘I must go and tell my father, although I don’t suppose he’ll believe me.’
Gregory’s tutor, Master Robert, had fallen asleep and so, opening the door carefully, Gregory tiptoed from the room and onto the spiral staircase which led down to the Great Hall below.
He found his father talking with one of his knights. Gregory waited for a gap in their conversation and not being able to contain himself any longer, interrupted them with the exciting news of what he had just seen.
‘What a ridiculous story, Gregory,’ said his father when he heard his son’s description of events. ‘It’s been more than ten years since we’ve seen a dragon in these parts. Is it just one of your tales to get out of your lessons?’ he continued, laughing, waving him away.
‘It’s not!’ said Gregory indignantly. ‘Why don’t you ever believe me?’
‘Don’t answer back!’ said his father, raising his voice. ‘I’m not prepared to argue with you, so get back to your lessons.’
Gregory knew it was no use arguing and so he bowed and left the Great Hall, returning to the top of the Keep. There his tutor, Master Robert, was still asleep in his chair, snoring loudly. He was clearly unaware that something extraordinary had happened.
‘It is extremely hot, and he is very old, I suppose,’ thought Gregory.
Suddenly, Gregory heard a strange scuffling noise behind him. He didn’t like the top of the Keep very much. He had heard tales of people being locked away up there years before and never being seen again. Anyway, he reasoned, the noise was probably made by a mouse running behind the old oak panelling.
‘Rufus, wake up!’ exclaimed Gregory, pushing him with his foot. Rufus, one of his father’s wolf hounds, was asleep under Gregory’s desk. He was also suffering in the intense heat, not helped by his thick woolly coat.
Rufus had never left Gregory’s side since the time, as a small boy, he had fallen off the drawbridge and into the smelly moat. Rufus had saved him by plunging in and dragging him safely to the bank. What a commotion that had caused, with the whole garrison up in arms and what a scolding he’d been given and no supper!
That was the first time that Gregory had realised that Rufus was no ordinary animal. When Gregory had hugged and thanked him, Rufus replied, “You’re welcome!” and Gregory, in his surprise nearly fell in the moat again.
Gregory heard the scratching noise again. This time Rufus also heard it and lifted his great shaggy head, growled, but then went back to sleep. Once more, he heard the scratching noise, which now came from outside the room. There was also a peculiar green light shining under the door. ‘Something very strange is happening today,’ thought Gregory.
The green light continued to glow. ‘This must be caused by the storm,’ he thought, but then, what looked like tiny green flames outlined the door and his curiosity could not be contained any longer.
Creeping past Master Robert, Gregory
drew his sword and grabbed a surprised Rufus by his collar. Cautiously he opened the door and, crossing the landing, stepped down onto the first step of the spiral staircase, which led to the dungeons.
Gregory knew he would be in trouble again. He’d been banned from going down those stairs since last Candlemas, when he and one of the page boys had jumped out from behind the kitchen door and frightened his father’s old steward so much that he’d dropped the supper tray. That was another night that Gregory went to bed hungry.
Rufus was now fully awake and bravely pushed past Gregory. The huge dog’s shadow was reflected eerily onto the castle walls. The staircase was very narrow and as it twisted round and round, Gregory knew that the ‘trip step’ was coming up soon.
He had been told that ‘trip steps’ were used to confuse an enemy if they had managed to get through the outer defences. The ‘trip step’ was shorter or taller than all the other steps and in the dark, it would cause you to stumble and fall if you weren’t expecting it. Master Robert had pointed this one out to him some time ago, when Gregory was quite young. Yes, there it was, carefully down that one.
Down and down they went until they reached the bottom step and entered a long narrow passage. They hadn’t gone very far, when Rufus started his deep throaty warning growl. Gregory reckoned that they must be near the dungeons by now. The walls were damp and slimy and with each step the green glow became brighter and more luminous.
Suddenly both Gregory and Rufus stopped. In front of them was a small door. Gregory tried the latch and slowly opened the door. Followed by Rufus, he managed to squeeze through the narrow entrance. They were now in a large underground chamber and there, standing in the middle, was the most extraordinary knight that Gregory had ever seen.
The warrior was simply huge. He was dressed in full armour and was armed with shield and sword. But the strangest thing of all was the green light radiating from him, which lit up the whole chamber.
‘Well you took your time,’ said the Knight. Gregory and Rufus just stared at him, frozen to the spot.
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