Back from London after a busy couple of days. It was great to meet so many enthusiastic, lively, and creative students from Salvatorian College, Elsley, Nower Hill, John Kelly and Bishopshalt. Nice work, all of you! Below, you can see what you and the others accomplished in the workshops. To everyone else - this is what happens when you ask a class of imaginative English boys and girls to use their senses and their ingenuity to get Dina and Nico across the Dragon Pit of Dunark. Enjoy!
I looked into the Dragon Pit. A dragon lay coiled, only about twenty feet away. Green scales covered its enormous body, almost the size of my mother’s entire cottage. A foetid stench reached us from its mouth. It smelled like a creature who doesn’t care whether its meat is fresh or not.
My chest felt stiff and paralysed, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to breathe again. The shock of seeing it, and the thought of what it could do to us if we came close …
“When I say go, we run,” said Nico, his voice tense and somewhat hoarse. “If we stand still, we’re dead.”
I quite agreed. The only trouble was, I wasn’t quite sure I could make my legs move.
Nico slowly pushed open the gate.
“Now,” he yelled. “Run!!”
Nico took off, running like his feet had wings. I just stood there. And the dragon moved in for the kill. It opened its jaws so that I could see its fangs, as long and sharp as butcher’s knives. I could actually hear its hoarse, uneven breath.
I don’t know why I didn’t move. But I couldn’t. And then those fangs came down and closed around my left shoulder.
A sharp, cold, overwhelming pain swept through me. Blood spurted and then began to run down my arm, but I barely noticed, there wasn’t room for anything except the pain.
Distantly, I heard Nico call out.
And then the jaws suddenly loosened their grip, and I fell to the ground. It took me a moment to realise what had happened.
Out of the dragon’s huge yellow eye, something dark now jutted. The shaft of Nico’s spear. The dragon writhed, roaring. Nico grabbed my good arm and dragged me away from it. And while the dragon lay dying, we staggered across the Pit to the gate on the other side. Safe. Alive. But not unhurt.
I looked into the Dragon Pit. At first, it seemed that there was nothing in there except fire – tall, roaring flames were everywhere, jetting out from the great gaping maw of the dragon. There was a rusty smell of blood, just like the way the yard smelled when the miller back home was butchering pigs. Only this, I thought, might not be pig’s blood. It could very well be human. My heart was pounding, and my legs were shaking so badly that I could hardly stand. What on earth would happen to us, once we opened the gate and stepped into the Pit?
“We’ll be fried alive,” muttered Nico. “We have to find some way of making it shut its mouth …”
“Rocks?” I suggested. “Dirt? Anything we can toss into its mouth?”
“Worth a try,” said Nico and picked up a large brick.
Nico threw the brick at the dragon. It disappeared amid the flames, and at first I couldn’t tell whether it had been on target or not. But then the dragon suddenly coughed, shook its head violently, and shut its mouth.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief. This might actually work!
“Now!” yelled Nico. “Run, while it’s still busy coughing!”
We flung open the gate, and began running across the Pit. The ground was cracked, bumpy and uneven – and hot. I could feel the heat of it searing my feet, right through the soles of my shoes.
But the gate on the other side was coming closer. Nearly there now … we were going to make it, I thought, we were really …
And then a sudden pain flared through my shoulder, and something jerked me off my feet. I tried to turn my head and discovered I couldn’t. The dragon had caught me in its jaws and was holding me the way a dog might hold a rat.
The pain was awful. I couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe …
I screamed. I couldn’t breathe, but somehow I could still scream. And faintly, I saw Nico pause, turn …
And then rocks were flying through the air, and Nico was dancing up and down, taunting the dragon. Slowly, the beast turned its head, and I turned with it.
But then it let go of me. I dropped to the ground. And that was the last I knew. It was only much later that I learned how brave Nico had been – how he had drawn away the dragon, then carried me to safety. It was due to him that we made it through the Dragon Pit alive.
I looked into the Dragon Pit. It was very dark in there, except for the flames coming from the dragon’s nostrils. There was a smell of burning and burnt wood, and the stench of dragon smoke – like rotting eggs, only worse.
My body felt cold and shivery all over, and I wished I was somewhere else – anywhere else, really, but somewhere very far from here. I rubbed my hands against my skirt to wipe away the cold sweat that had gathered there.
“I’m scared,” I said. “I’m really, really scared. How on earth are we going to do this?”
“Stay calm,” he said. “I’ll get us through this.” He clutched his spear determinedly, eyeing the dragon.
Its eyes were as red as the fire it breathed, and its nostrils were great caves the size of a wagon wheel. Nico’s spear looked pretty puny compared to that, and I wasn’t feeling very reassured.
Nico pushed open the gate and took a step toward the dragon. He was brave, I had to admit. I hoped he wasn’t also being incredibly stupid. That dragon looked as if it could eat him up in a single gulp.
I backed off a little. He is mad, I thought, he is mad if he thinks he can tackle that monster with just a spear.
The dragon reared up on its hind legs. We could see its scaly belly, a paler green than the rest of it.
Nico advanced. I had to make up my mind. Stay here and let him fight it – or go help. If I could …
I picked up an old stick lying by the gate. While Nico was making his way towards the dragon, spear at the ready, I took a few steps to the right and held the stick into the smouldering fire left by the dragon’s fire snorting exercises. It caught. Could one fight dragon fire with dragon fire? Only one way to find out. I, too, began to walk towards the dragon ….
I looked into the Dragon Pit. One of the dragons lay curled not very far away, seemingly asleep. I pushed open the gate. My stomach felt wobbly, and my legs felt like jelly. It looked VERY big, the dragon. There was a horrible smell, sort of like the stench that came from Dunark’s sewers on a hot day. There was an odd sort of muted roar – the dragon was snoring.
“Watch out, Dina. Try not to walk too close to his mouth.”
“Why are we doing this?” said Dina. “Do we absolutely have to?”
I smiled, trying to make a bit of a joke of it. “I dare you to touch his tail,” I said.
“You have to be kidding,” said Dina. “I’m going nowhere near that thing.”
I slowly approached the dragon. Maybe we could climb over his tail, I thought. It was about the size of a tree, but nowhere near as harmless.
“This way, Dina,” I said, “Don’t be frightened.”
It was suddenly very quiet in the Pit. It took me a moment to realise why.
The Dragon had stopped snoring.
I turned around very quickly.
The dragon had raised its head off the ground. Slowly, it turned its snout, snorting, sniffing the air. In a moment it was going to –
“Look out!” I shouted.
See us …
“I think it’s seen us,” whispered Dina in a very small voice.
“I think so too,” I said, not much more loudly.
The dragons lashed out, attempting to snatch Dina with its vicious jaws.
I raised the spear and took aim. There was only one spot that would do – the Dragon’s huge yellow eye.
The spear hit the horny ridge just above the eye and bounced off. And the dragon’s jaws closed around Dina’s left arm.
I could see the blood trickling down her forearm. I had to do something – and soon, or else Dina would be dragon’s dinner. I no longer had the spear.
I started jumping up and down.
“Stupid dragon,” I yelled, “stupid, stupid dragon. Can’t catch me, can’t catch me.”
It didn’t really matter what I said, What mattered was that the dragon turned its attention to me and let go of Dina.
I picked up a stone and threw it at the dragon, drawing its head and neck still closer to me.
“Run, Dina,” I shouted. “Go for the gate.”
She started staggering towards the closed gate. The dragon opened its jaws once more. Smoke curled from its nostrils, and that was the only warning I had.
Two jets of fire shot out, one from each nostril. I leaped back, dodging it, and ran for the gate myself.
Clang! The sweetest sound in the world, the noise that gate made when it closed between us and the dragon. We were safe. Except …
“Is it me or is it suddenly very warm here?”
“No,” said Dina hoarsely, “It’s not warm. It’s probably just because your hair is on fire.”
She was right. I could feel it and smell it. Quickly I rubbed my hands over my head, extinguishing the flames.
“We made it,” I said. “Dina, we made it.”
She didn’t answer. With a low moan, she collapsed against the gate, out cold.
NOWER HILL 1
I looked into the Dragon Pit. One of the dragons lay coiled, not too far away. Its head was the size of a wagon wheel. Green scales covered its horny snout, and its eyes were fiery red. It looked as if it could eat both me and Dina in one gulp and still have room for desert. Please, I thought to myself, can I run away now? But I knew I couldn’t. There was only one way out of here, and that was through the Pit. My hands were shaking so hard the spear I was carrying wobbled. My stomach churned.
“Let’s get out of here,” I told Dina. “The longer we stay, the more dangerous it is going to get.”
“Can’t we just wait until it falls asleep?” said Dina in a tremorous voice.
“That might take hours,” I said. “The guards would get us before that.”
There was a stench of rotting flesh – probably the dragon’s last meal, I thought glumly. Great piles of dragon dung were everywhere – no one had been in there to muck out for ages, and who could blame them?
“Watch your step,” I told Dina. “This place is littered with bones and stuff, and if you trip … well, better not think about that.”
I raised the spear carefully. If the beast made a move … well, there was only one place to aim for. Its fiery red eye.
“Okay,” I said. “When I say go – we run.”
Dina looked at me.
“When are you going to say go?” she asked.
“Well … now?
“Yes. Now. Go!!”
We started running. My heart was pounding and I tried to keep one eye on the dragon and the other on the uneven ground in front of me. I didn’t quite succeed. Suddenly, my foot caught on something, and I pitched forward, slamming into the cracked cobbles of the pit.
For a moment, I couldn’t even breathe. Then, when I tried to sit up, I realised that something was wrong with one foot. The ankle would no longer hold my weight. Broken or just sprained … it didn’t really matter. What mattered was that I could no longer run, and that meant …
That meant I was going to die.
Because the dragon was already uncoiling its long scaly body, moving in for the kill.
NOWER HILL 2
I looked into the Dragon Pit. It was pitch dark in there, and at first I couldn’t see a thing. There was a smell, though … a smell of rotting flesh. And a noise: the noise of something breathing, hoarsely, in the darkness.
“Is there any other way out of this place?” I asked. “Any other way at all?”
“No,” said Nico, and I could hear the tension in his voice. “This is it. You go ahead – I’ll be right behind you, with the spear.”
I fumbled for the lock on the gate, and got it open. My heart was pounding so loudly that I thought the dragons in there would surely be able to hear it. I could feel my legs shaking. How near were the dragons? Could they hear us? Could they smell us?
There was sharp crack a little to the left of us. And suddenly the pit was no longer dark. Fire shot out, fire hot and blindingly bright, from the maw of the dragon coiled no more than ten feet away from us.
“Please,” I whispered. “Can I go home now?”
But I knew I couldn’t.