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Whoops, I forgot to post this chapter on this blog. In case anyone is following it here or reading in their emails/feeds, here it is. This is the last chapter of this I will post on this blog.
If you are interested in reading more of Prince, Twins, Dragon, I am currently putting up a chapter a week at https://www.wattpad.com/story/96454834-prince-twins-dragon At the time of posting I’m currently up to Chapter Five there. Enjoy!
Chapter Three: Recruiting
The boy in the scruffy clothes was still talking to Jake.
“Now look here, mister—well, you’re not really a ‘mister’, are you? You’re only a boy really–now look here mister boy, I don’t know how you got yourself down there and all tangled up in the river weeds, but I rescued you, you see, and fair’s fair: I think I deserve some kind of reward. It’s the least you could do, don’t you think, given the circumstances? So? Well…?”
“What?” said Jake. “Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening…” He was still trying to take in his new surroundings.
“I said: I deserve some kind of reward for rescuing you, don’t you think? You look like a wealthy sort of gentlemen,” said the boy, eying up Jake’s school uniform blazer and shirt, “why not help a fellow out for a good deed?”
“Oh, right,” said Jake. “Um, ok then, let’s see what I’ve got…”
He fished around in his wet pockets for something he could give the boy.
“Sorry, I spent all my cash on sweets before the trip. All I’ve got on me is my phone.”
“Your what? Give it here, let me see.”
Jake took out his phone. He had just noticed that the boy was wearing a short knife, which must have been what he used to cut the weeds. He wondered about dialing 999. But his phone, which was soaking wet, appeared to have no reception here.
“What is that?” said the boy as he snatched his phone off him.
“Don’t you know what a phone is?” said Jake. Even though he had just almost died and was totally lost in a strange, unknown land, his rebellious instinct kicked in and he started showing off to the boy. “It’s a device for making calls and sending texts to people. You can also get social media on it and play games.” That was mostly what he used his phone for, anyway. He touched some buttons for the boy to show him. “Look, here’s my high-score on Tetris.” He was really showing off now, but he didn’t want to get the boy too interested in his phone. After all, it was his only lifeline to connect him back to the outside world.
The boy inspected the phone, held up to the light, and fiddled with some buttons, as if he had really never seen one before. Then he said, “Useless,” and threw it over his shoulder, back into the river.
“Hey!” said Jake. He very nearly dived in to get it back, but he stopped himself, remembering the ordeal that he had only just survived. “What did you do that for?”
“It’s just a stupid shiny little brick,” said the boy. “No-one would give me any money for it. That, and I wanted to see if you jumped in after it. You didn’t, so it can’t be that valuable, can it?”
“I didn’t jump in after it because I didn’t want to nearly drown again, not because it’s not valuable!”
“Oh, well, that’s your fault then. It’s probably sunk to the bottom and gotten lost by now, anyway.”
“You idiot!” said Jake, his anger getting the better of both his fear and his politeness.
“Sorry mate. So, you don’t have any money you’re willing to give me for rescuing you, then?”
“No! I don’t know where I am and I don’t have any money!”
Before Jake knew what was happening, the boy was knocking him over and pinning him to the ground. He felt a knife being held to his throat.
“Are you sure about that?” said the boy.
Jake tried to stop his adam’s apple from wobbling. He looked around at the people passing by on the roads. No one seemed to notice or care what was happening to him. They seemed to be ignoring them as a couple street urchins having a scuffle.
“I’m telling you, I really don’t have any money, I swear!” said Jake.
“We’ll see about that,” said the boy. “He rifled through Jake’s pockets, keeping him pinned to ground. When he didn’t find anything, his face dropped.
“You really don’t have any money,” he said. “Well…you seem to be in a bit of a mess, don’t you?”
Jake stood up as the boy let him, then looked down at his wet feet. He was loathe to admit it, but he was in a bit of a mess.
“Well, it was nice meeting you,” said the boy, and walked off.
Jake was too relieved to care or to protest. He took a while to get his bearings and work out what the best thing was to do next. Once he had decided, he tried approaching one of the weird passers-by dressed in the odd medieval clothes and asking them where he was.
“Excuse me,” he said to a slightly younger looking man, “but I’m lost and I don’t know where I am. Do you think you could help me find a way to call my Mum?”
The man just ignored him, and carried on walking by. He didn’t even stop to listen or dignify him with a response. Jake tried two more men, and three women, and got nowhere. Everyone treated him the same way. They didn’t so much as glance at him.
“You really don’t know where you are, do you?”
Jake jumped. The boy who had pulled him out of the river earlier was standing at his side. Apparently he had been watching him try to talk to the strangers and get nowhere.
“Tell you what,” said the boy, appearing to make some kind of decision, “why don’t you come with me? I want to introduce you to some friends of mine.”
Jake thought about his options. As far as he could see, he didn’t have any. This boy had just tried to mug him, but he decided he might as well go with him while he thought about what he should do next, seeing as the people in this backward place were so unfriendly and unhelpful.
“Alright then…” he said. “But no more trying to take money that I don’t have off me. Ok?”
“Great! Follow me,” said the boy.
The boy led him over some of the network of bridges that were built over the rivers and into a maze of streets. After some time, he turned into an especially run-down looking alleyway, walked a way down it, and lifted a large, red, hanging cloth that was hung up on one side of it.
“After you,” he said.
Jake looked at the boy, and then took a cautious step under the cloth.
Beyond it, in a dark, secluded, space, a ring of about ten more boys looked up at him, glowering.
All of them had knives.
“Who’s this?” said one of the ten or so boys, reaching for his knife.
“A trespasser, that’s who!” said another of them.
“What you doing bringing outsiders in here, To’phoro?” said another.
“Wait—” said the boy who had brought Jake here, apparently called To’phoro. But before he could finish his sentence, one of the boys had jumped at Jake and lunged at him with his knife.
With reflexes he had never had to use before, Jake jumped out of the way of the knife. Before his attacker had a chance to respond, he kicked him hard in the knee, so hard that it made the boy cry out in pain and drop the weapon. Without giving him a chance to recover it, Jake saw his opportunity and rushed forwards, tackling the boy in the chest. They ended up on the ground, wrestling. The other boys crowded around them, chanting “Fight, fight, fight!” They were enjoying this, watching to see who would win the wrestling match. But even if Jake won, it wouldn’t be much use to him –all the other boys still had their knives.
“WAIT!” somebody yelled.
Everyone paused and all eyes turned on To’phoro, who had been the one that yelled. Jake lay frozen still, in his opponent’s headlock.
“That’s better,” said To’phoro. “I was trying to tell you, it’s alright. We can let this guy in. He’s safe. Get off him, Yathom.”
Reluctantly, Jake’s opponent, ‘Yathom’, released him from his grip. “Well, alright…” he said. “But are you sure? How do you know?”
“He’s not even from here,” said To’phoro. “He’s lost, says he’s never even been to Dahma before. I pulled him out of the Nahar and he was completely clueless. I think he might have nearly drowned and lost his memory or something.”
Jake, of course, hadn’t lost his memory at all and could remember exactly what had been happening before he had fallen in the river, but he decided to play along anyway.
“Yeah, that’s right,” he said. “I can’t remember what happened to me before I ended up in the river. I’m just looking for a place to stay while I sort myself out.”
“I dunno…” said Yathom, still not convinced, and wanting to justify his hasty attack. “He could be a spy from the militia.”
“Tell you what,” said To’phoro, “I know how to prove to you all he ain’t a spy.”
“How?” said Yathom and the other boys.
“We’ll make him do an initiation.”
“An initiation?” said Jake. “What’s that?”
“Well,” said To’phoro, “if you’re going to stay with us, you’re going to have to run with us too. By that I mean, like, you’re going to have to become one of us—you ’re going to have to show that you can join in with our work.”
“And what’s your ‘work’, then?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” said To’phoro. “We’re thieves!”
“’Mashal’? Where’s that?” said Chloe. “I’ve never heard of ‘Mashal’ before. Or ‘Larakia’.”
“Hang on,” said Hannah, who was more interested in something else she had noticed. “What do you mean ‘Princess Hannah’ and ‘Princess Chloe’? We’re not Princesses!”
“Of course you are,” said the woman with the long white hair who had greeted them when they emerged from the tunnel. “You cannot be here in Larakia without being royalty. I am royal too—Princess Katetheuna Muthageteria is my full name and title.”
“But we’ve never even been here before!” said Hannah.
“It doesn’t matter. You came in through the tunnel, like everyone else. You now have citizenship of Larakia. That is how it works.”
“Really? And that makes us Princesses too?”
“That’s right. All Larakian citizens are adopted children of the One True King. And, since your father is a King, that makes you a Princess.”
“Awesome!” said Hannah. “I could get used to this!”
Chloe was pleased too. In all of her favourite books and films, there were princesses. And she always wanted to be them, though she would never admit this to Hannah. And not weedy, wimpy damsel-in-distress type princesses, but princesses with spark and gusto, who fought too. Warrior princesses. However, she still had some reservations.
“But please, Miss Kath…Miss Katey,” said Chloe politely, still concerned with her original question, “just where is ‘Larakia’?”
“Oh. Sorry, my dear. I was unclear. We are on the other side of the Aythian mountains from Dahma, northeast of Tur and Shaveh.”
“I’ve never heard of those places before. We came here from a tunnel in Oxford.”
“Oxford? Where is that?”
“Er…England. In Europe.”
“My dear, I have never heard of any of those places either… This is most puzzling. It does trouble me somewhat that you have never heard the name ‘Mashal’ before, let alone ‘Larakia’… But here you both are: two young girls, one with dark hair, one with light, just as Hotzeh said you would be…”
“Hotzeh? Who’s that?” asked Hannah.
“Oh, Hotzeh is our head Forthteller at the moment. He has the gift of Sight. He does occasionally get things wrong sometimes though. Like last Winter when he forthtold a polar freeze and we had a freak heatwave. But he’s generally spot on. And, as I said, here you both are.”
“You mean you’ve been waiting for us?” said Chloe.
“Exactly. I’ve been waiting for two young girls, one with dark hair, one with light, to arrive here in Larakia through the Tsaphsaphah Tunnel. It has been forthtold that there is a special mission for you to carry out.”
“Oh, how exciting!” exclaimed Hannah. Royalty and a special mission. It was turning out to be a rather eventful day.
“Sorry,” said Chloe, “but we don’t really have time for any sort of special mission right now. We should really be getting back to our class in Oxford. If we go back through the tunnel, will we end up back where we came from?”
“My dear, to my knowledge, the only place that you will return to if you go back through that tunnel is to the Weeping Tree at the foot of Mount Awmeer and, eventually, to the city of Qereth in Aythia.”
“But then how are we going to get back to Oxford?”
“I apologise. ‘Oxford’, ‘England’ and ‘Europe’ may be real places, but they are not places near here or on any map that I have ever seen. This is most strange. I have heard of people being carried straight to Larakia on the Kingwind before…but this really is most strange. We shall have to go to see Hotzeh to ask him what he thinks about it. Come along.”
Without knowing what else to do, in Chloe’s case, and because she was curious to see who this Hotzeh person was, in Hannah’s, the girls followed Kathetheuna into the city. All the rectangular houses were made of the same white stone as the mountains, decorated with marble and, marvellously, here and there with jewels above their doorframes, looking as though they had taken great time and skill to build. The people were friendly and whenever the girls passed someone they smiled and said “Welcome to Larakia!” They were all wearing the same long white robe as Katetheuna, although each had their own thread stitched into it in its own unique colour and pattern, much as each house had a different coloured jewel fixed above the door. The whole city shimmered delicately, but without being garish or overstated, like a watercolour rainbow.
After a while they came to a small house with a huge ruby set in the wall above the door frame. Kathetheuna knocked on the wooden door and then led Chloe and Hannah inside.
They came into a marble-floored atrium, with doors going off it at either end. In the middle of this was a large, white-marble chair, at which sat a middle-aged man with dark skin and a long black beard. His own robe had a pattern of leaping red and orange, like flames. His eyes were gazing directly forward at them.
“Hello, Hotzeh,” said Katetheuna. “The two girls have arrived.”
“Ah, excellent!” said the Hotzeh. “And not a moment too soon!”
“That’s right. They came today, just as you said they would.”
“Of course, of course! Welcome, young ladies!
Chloe and Hannah greeted the man. It wasn’t long before they realised that he was blind. He was still staring straight ahead at them, but his eyes weren’t in focus, and he didn’t track them with his pupils. Instead of the normal irises and whites in his eyes, they seemed to contain a fire from another world.
“Something is strange, though, my brother,” said Katetheuna. “They say that they have never been to Mashal before.”
“Really?” said Hotzeh. “That is unusual. Where have you come from then, young ones? Come now, don’t be shy!”
“We’ve come from Oxford, sir,” said Chloe politely, not knowing how to speak properly to a ‘Forthteller’. “In England. Our class was there on a school trip. A tunnel collapsed on us and when we came out, we were here.”
“Oxford, you say?” The man called Hotzeh thought for a moment. “Never heard of it! Most unusual indeed! Are you telling me that you have come here from a world other than Mashal?”
“I think we are,” said Hannah.
“What should we do, sir? We just want to get back to our own world,” said Chloe.
“Does this change anything about the forthtelling, Hotzeh?” said Kathetheuna.
“There can only be one conclusion,” said Hotzeh, “The One True King must have brought you here from your own world in order to carry out your special mission in ours!”
“But what if we don’t want to carry out this special mission?” said Chloe.
“Young lady, if the One True King really has brought you here, I am afraid you will only be able to return to your own world once you have carried out your special mission.”
“What is this ‘special mission’ you’ve been talking about anyway?” asked Hannah
“Why, I thought you’d never ask! To find and to bring here the lost heir to the steward-throne of Larakia.”
“Just finding someone and bringing them here? That doesn’t sound too difficult. I mean, we got here, and we weren’t even trying.”
“Yes. There are just a few complications.”
“What are they?”
“Well, nobody knows who he is, nobody knows his name, and he is probably hundreds of miles away in a dangerous, hostile, foreign country.”
“Ah,” said Hannah. “That does make things a little trickier.”
When George awoke, he could immediately hear a loud noise, like the sound of heavy rain. He understood after a few moments that it was the sound of an enormous crowd of people cheering. His whole body ached. Of course, it was dark again. But this time he didn’t seem to be in a pit; rather he was inside a small, metal box. He barely had enough room to stand up. There wasn’t space to take one step in any direction.
Without warning, one side of the box slid up as it was opened by some kind of device and light flooded George’s vision. The noise got much louder. He stumbled out onto a sandy floor, blinking and rubbing his eyes. There was indeed a huge crowd of people seated all around him, cheering and bellowing at the top of their voices, almost deafening him. In front of them was a huge wooden barrier, too tall to climb, which made a big circle around the sand. He was in an arena.
“PEOPLE OF NACHASH!” shouted a voice even louder than the crowd. “WELCOME TO YOUR WEEKLY ENTERTAINMENT DEATHMATCH! THESE PRISONERS WILL NOW FIGHT TO THE DEATH! THE LAST REMAINING SURVIVOR WILL WIN A CHANCE TO BE RECRUITED INTO THE ARMY OF SHUL! COMBATANTS, BEGIN! KILL OR BE KILLED!”
There were other figures near George on the sand, not in the crowd, other men who had just been released from their own metal boxes. Across from where they stood, on the far section of the arena barrier that separated them from the crowd, were a number of bladed and close-range weapons mounted on the wall.
“BEGIN! KILL OR BE KILLED!” shouted the voice again.
George spun round to see if there was any other way out. Of course, there wasn’t. Behind him were a number of other soldiers in the same black armour as Khilliarkos, the man who had captured him, though without the spiked shoulders and horns. They were all holding longbows notched with arrows, which were pointed right at George and the other prisoners. The message was clear: If they tried to escape, or didn’t choose a weapon to fight one another, they would be shot.
The other men were already dashing towards the weapons. As soon as George realised this he ran as fast as he could towards the barrier, ignoring the pain in his chest and limbs, trying as hard as he could to tune it out. Some of the others got there first and broke away with the weapons they had picked up, but one of them stayed by the rack of weapons, trying with a huge mace to stop anyone else near him from picking anything up. George stayed out of his way and grabbed the first weapon he came to, a short sword, and then tried to put as much distance between the rack and himself as possible, without getting too close to the archers. As he glanced back behind him, George saw someone cut down the mace-wielder with a horrifying gash to the back from a longsword. He felt as if he was going to be sick. The crowd went mad with noise. George picked out a few calls from close by in the front row.
“Kill! Let’s see some more blood!”
“Chase the stragglers! Don’t let them get away!”
“Break their bones! Spill their guts!”
The rest of the men reached the wall and selected their weapons too. They began to fight with one another with the wild frenzy of people who have nothing to lose, who have no family or friends, no life to go back to, just the single, driving will to stay alive. Kill or be killed.
George kept well back. He wanted to stay alive too and he had one simple tactic: Keep himself out of the way. He could not fight. He could not kill, even to be avoid being killed. His whole body was shaking. He tightened his grip on his sword and gritted his teeth.
The man with the longsword went down to a man with a trident and net. A man with a pair of long knives let out a blood-curdling scream as an axe took off one of his arms. Another man dropped his weapon and made a run for it, then dropped to the ground, a flurry of the black soldiers’ arrows protruding from his back.
George stayed just clear enough of the melee to avoid being drawn into combat, but close enough to it to avoid the soldiers that stood at the perimeter of the arena, threatening to put an arrow in him too if he tried to escape. One of the other prisoners spotted him and made to run at him an attack, but another opponent got in his way and cut him down first.
“Coward!” people started shouting from the crowd.
Sweat dripped down George’s forehead and arms. He didn’t care if what he was doing was cowardly; he needed to stay alive.
The problem was that after what only seemed like a few minutes, there was only one other combatant left. A hulking great man carrying a net and a trident. He was wearing a metal helmet, but George could see ferocious eyes staring out from under the visor. He looked as though he had done this before. He looked thirsty for more blood. He looked around for another opponent, and then saw George. The man started to walk towards him. The crowd roared their approval.
“TWO COMBATANTS REMAIN!” bellowed the impossibly loud voice. “KILL OR BE KILLED!”
The man began walking towards George, net and trident at the ready. The trident’s spikes were dripping. It was useless. They were the only two left. George couldn’t’ avoid it any more. He would have to stand and fight.
“Please!” he called out to the man, loud enough to be heard by him, and he hoped not loud enough to be heard by the cheering crowd. “I don’t want to fight you! We don’t have to do this! I didn’t ask to come here!”
“You think I asked to be here, boy?” said the man with malice. “I’m just trying to stay alive. And you’re in the way of that. So you have to die.”
The man ran at George and threw his net. George struck out at it with the sword he had picked up, but instead of slicing through it got tangled in it and he only succeeded in making it flop the ground in a heap, out of his hand. The trident followed fast. George leapt to one side to avoid being skewered. More thrusts followed. George moved as fast as he could to get out of their way, then ran backwards away from them.
“Please! Have mercy!” yelled George as he ran. “I don’t want to fight you!”
The noise of the crowd grew deafening. He could hear them chanting “Kill the coward! Kill the coward!”
The trident caught George in the arm with a lucky blow from behind. A big red furrow opened up in his tricep. He cried out in pain.
Then George crashed into the barrier. Somehow his legs had carried him back to the rack of weapons. He picked up the first thing his hands settled on, a scythe–a wooden pole with a long curved blade attached to the end, usually used by farmers for harvesting. He turned and struck out wildly with it. The pole of it clanged into the trident, knocking it aside as it came at him again. Where it would have impaled him in the stomach, this time the trident sliced open a cut at the side of his abdomen. George cried out once more. His opponent was showing him no mercy. But this time the trident kept going, and plunged into the wood of the barrier behind George, sticking into it temporarily.
George used his chance to dash away again, running back towards the centre of the arena. But he discovered he couldn’t run properly any more; the wound in his side was too painful. Another shout came from the crowd. George turned round to see what was going on. The man with the trident had wrenched his weapon free from the wood and was bearing down on him, on his way to finish his work and deliver the killing strike.
Panic took George. He stumbled over his feet. The man was nearly on him. It was too late. George was going to fall and leave himself exposed. This was it. As he fell, with one final effort of desperation or instinct, he was never sure which, George flung the scythe around to defend himself. His arms went rigid as the scythe hit something.
George shut his eyes as he hit the ground. He kept them shut and scrunched up his face, readying himself for the worst.
But, to his surprise, nothing happened. The crowd had gone completely silent.
Slowly George opened his eyes. In front of him the man with the trident twitched, the blade of George’s scythe sticking out from deep in the right side of his chest.
The man fell backwards, dead, the scythe still in his body.
There was a vast, confused pause.
“PEOPLE OF NACHASH!” bellowed the announcer. “WE HAVE A NEW CHAMPION OF THE ARENA!”
The crowd went crazy.
“Coward! That wasn’t a fair fight!”
“Bring in the next combatants; let them have a go at him!”
“No, he won it fair and square, no cheating!”
George stood up. He was panting heavily. His side leaked red. He looked down and realised what he had done. Then he threw up. Somewhere he could hear the crowd laughing and mocking him in disgust. But this was drowned out by other thoughts in his mind. He had killed someone. He was a murderer. Even if he had been forced. Even if he had been acting in self-defence. Even if it had been a reflex. He had killed someone.
The world became a blur. Some of the soldiers with the bows approached him and forcibly took his weapon from him. He did not put up a protest. He was led to a podium where a short, fat man with a very loud voice lifted up his hand and bellowed some more announcements that only echoed around faintly inside his skull. Then he was led by more soldiers out of the arena through a passageway and a tunnel and back into the cell that he had been waiting in before the fight had started.
He was pushed in and the door slammed and locked behind him once more. They said something to him before they walked off, but he didn’t listen to it. He hit the floor.
All the while, all that he could think was that he had killed someone. He had killed someone. He was a murderer.
Read here or at https://www.wattpad.com/story/96454834-prince-twins-dragon
Chapter Two: Arriving
Jake thought he was going to drown. He continued to kick out against the weeds that entangled him but this only wrapped him up in them even more. He struggled and squirmed and writhed around with all his might, but it was no use. After some time his body went limp from exhaustion and he lay there suspended in the dark, murky water, bound by the weeds, holding on to the very last of his breath. He was going to die down here, he thought. He felt sad that he hadn’t lived a very long life. He hadn’t really had a chance to do anything much yet. He thought about his Mum, who would be the only one to cry over him. He thought about his Dad, whom he missed terribly. He wondered if there was something he was supposed to do now that he was about to die, like praying or something like that.
All of a sudden an object lanced into the water next to him. He was only dimly aware of it in the darkness, but there was a flash of some kind of metal and he felt the weeds loosen their grip on him. Someone had cut them! Jake kicked upwards with all the small strength that was left in him, willing himself back towards the surface, back towards life, and felt a hand reach out to grab his shirt, pulling him upwards too.
He surfaced above the water and took a big, gasping gulp of air:
He had made it out alive.
There was light all around him, replacing the murk of the river water. For a few moments he was unable to see anything as his eyes adjusted to it, so he stayed where he was, treading water, drinking in more big, greedy gulps of air. He heard a splash as someone got out of the water nearby. As his vision returned, an outstretched hand came slowly into focus in front of him.
“Here, let me help you out.”
Jake took the hand.
He clambered up onto the bank with the help of the kind stranger who had rescued him. To his surprise, the hand actually belonged to a boy not much older than Jake was. At first he thought that he might be one of his classmates, but he did not recognise him. The boy had dark hair and a round, mischievous face currently set in a wide, cheeky smile. He was also wearing a tatty kind of tunic, riddled with holes, like something that might be worn by a peasant out of a historical re-enactment. Jake thought it made him look like a complete prat.
“That was a close one!” said the boy. “I thought you were a goner there for a moment!”
“Yeah, thank you for helping me out and everything,” said Jake.
Now that he was alright again, he felt more than a little embarrassed. He had fallen over by accident and nearly drowned himself in front of his entire class. Mrs Fink was going to be furious, and so was his Mum when she found out later. Aaron would probably find it hilarious.
Jake looked round, expecting to see all of these people. Instead, he nearly fell back into the river from shock. Mrs Fink had vanished. Aaron had vanished. His whole class had vanished. The botanical gardens had vanished. All of Oxford had vanished.
In its place, which was what shocked him, was a totally different city: Instead of the botanical gardens, hundreds of small stone buildings; instead of just the river Isis, a series of numerous crisscrossing rivers and waterways; instead of just the little boats being pushed along using poles, all kinds of boats, rafts and skiffs of all different shapes and sizes, being rowed, sailed and pushed along; and instead of his class, Aaron, Mrs Fink and the rest of the Oxford tourists and population, there were more people dressed in these strange mediaeval-looking clothes, running and bustling about their business.
“Where am I?” said Jake, only just loud enough to hear.
“’Where are you’? Don’t you know?” said his rescuer, looking at him with a puzzled expression. “Why, you’re in Ubal, the finest city this side of the Aythian mountains!”
“What country am I in?”
“In Dahma, you clodhopper! Did you hit your head down there? How did you end up getting all caught up in those river weeds, anyway?”
“Um, I tripped and fell in, I think…” said Jake. He was shaking slightly. How on Earth had he got to this place? What was going on? It didn’t make any sense. ‘Dahma’. He wracked his brains trying to think if he had ever been taught about a country called Dahma in Geography. He had never really paid much attention in Geography, and he couldn’t remember. But even if there was such a country called Dahma, inhabited by these backward people who were still stuck in the Middle Ages, it didn’t make sense. He hadn’t had time to drift all the way to a different country under the water. It was like something out of Dr Who…
A new thought came to him.
“What planet am I on?” said Jake.
“‘Planet’? I don’t know what you mean. You’re in Mashal, if that’s what you’re getting at?”
“You’ve never been here before? Maybe you did hit your head under the water! Well, welcome to Mashal, then!”They had all vanished.
Hannah screamed. Chloe prayed to God for her life.
It had gone completely dark in the tunnel. But to their surprise, the crashing and rumbling of falling rock had stopped. It seemed as though the tunnel had finished collapsing. Everything went quiet. They could no longer even hear the shouts and cries of their teacher and classmates beyond the fallen earth.
Chloe and Hannah lay where they were for a moment in the dark, scared stiff. All they could hear now was the sound of each other breathing.
After a while, Hannah said “Chloe?” For some reason she said it in a whisper, as if she was afraid a louder noise might make the tunnel collapse in on them further.
“Are you alright?”
“I think so. I scraped my arm a bit but I’m okay. You?”
“Yeah, same. But I’m fine.”
“What should we do now?”
“I don’t know. I suppose we just have to wait for someone to come and rescue us. They saw us get trapped in here, didn’t they?”
“Yes. But they could be ages. What if they never find us? What if they don’t get to us in time? What if there’s too much rock to m-m-move?” Chloe’s voice was quivering.
“Don’t worry! I’m sure it will be fine…” said Hannah. She clasped Chloe’s hand in hers in the darkness. She wasn’t sure that they would be fine but she didn’t know what else to say. She was the braver one; she had to be the braver one.
They lay there for a few more moments, as if expecting someone to appear to rescue them in a matter of minutes. It soon became apparent that this was not going to be the case.
“Do you want to play a game or something to pass the time?” said Chloe eventually. “Like ‘I Spy’?”
“’I Spy’?!” Hannah snorted. “It’s completely dark!”
“I Spy With My Little Eye, something beginning with ‘N’. Nothing!”
“Well, have you got a better idea, Hannah? Do you know any other games that work in the dark? Or riddles or something?”
“I do kno—Wait a second.” Hannah stopped.
“What is it? Why have you stopped?”
“I just put my other hand out in front of me and…there doesn’t seem to be any rock here anymore.”
“Hang on a minute,” said Hannah. “There’s some space to move here now!” She let go of Chloe’s hand and Chloe felt her push herself up onto her hands and knees beside her and crawl forward into the tunnel.
“Hey, wait for me!” said Chloe.
They crawled forward together in the dark, Hannah in front and Chloe behind.
“There’s no more rock in front of us anymore,” said Hannah. “I can feel it on either side, but not straight ahead. It’s like it’s just disappeared.”
“That’s strange. Keep going, maybe we can find a way out!”
“Did the tour guide mention anything about another tunnel connected to this one?”
“I wasn’t listening because you were talking to me. But we could see straight down the whole of the tunnel before, there weren’t any more tunnels off of it.”
“Hey! I can see a little bit of light up ahead of us!”
“That’s great! Keep moving!”
The two of them continued to crawl forwards towards the light, which changed from a pin-prick, to a circle, to a wide glow that even Chloe could see from behind Hannah. It lit up the walls and floor of the tunnel, which had changed as well. The blue and white panels had gone, replaced by gray stone. After a little while, the gradient of the tunnel got steeper and they found themselves crawling upwards slightly. Soon they could see that there was enough room to stand up in so they got to their feet and continued walking towards the light. The opening was much more visible now as well. But what was a little odd was that, where they expected to see more of the library through it, instead they could see only the open sky. And snow.
“This is getting really weird now,” said Hannah.
“Why is it snowing in the middle of Summer?” said Chloe.
A gust of cool air blew through the opening. The girls started to run towards it, desperate to be out of the tunnel and also puzzled as to where they were coming out.
As they emerged, they came out into a city made up of buildings built out of white stone and coloured marble.
“Where are we? This doesn’t look like Oxford,” said Chloe.
“I don’t think we’re in Oxford anymore, Chloe,” said Hannah.
She was looking behind them, at where they had just come out of the tunnel. The opening lay at the foot of an enormous mountain. Either side of it more mountains shone majestically in the sunlight. Chloe turned around too and took all of this in, her jaw dropping.
“Greetings!” came a voice from behind them.
They turned to see a tall lady with long white hair tied back in a plait, wearing a white robe interlaced with a swirling blue pattern. It was hard to tell if she was very old or very young; although her hair was white, her face was very youthful, though from time to time you thought you could notice a few gentle wrinkles as she turned her head a certain way. All in all, she did not look very normal.
“Er, hi there?” said Chloe.
“Hello lady,” said Hannah. “Excuse me, but who are you and what are you doing here and where is here?”
“I am called Katetheuna,” said the woman. “What are your names?”
“I’m Hannah, and this is Chloe.”
“Well Princess Hannah, Princess Chloe, welcome to Ayin, capital of the Kingdom of Larakia, greatest of the Kingdoms of Mashal!”
George came up out of unconsciousness very slowly. First, he was simply aware that he was awake, and that he had been having a dream about someone stealing something from him and his being hit by a bus. Second, he became aware that his whole body was aching with pain. He groaned. Third, he remembered that it hadn’t been a dream at all but that this was what had actually happened. It was not a pleasant memory, as you can imagine.
He opened his eyes, which brought no change as he was in complete darkness. Where was he? Had his collision with the bus killed him? He wondered if he had died and gone to Heaven. Or maybe to…the other place.
But no, wait, it wasn’t complete darkness, not yet. Far up above him he could just make out a dull grey light, and what was possibly the sky beyond.
He wasn’t in hospital then, which was his next guess. He seemed to be lying on a floor of earth. It was slightly damp. With a great effort, he sat up, which brought more pain. There was definitely a light of some kind up above him. He felt around with his hands, to discover that he was lying in a small circular area ringed by walls of soil. He appeared to be at the bottom of some sort of pit, or a well. He had no idea how he had got down here. It didn’t make any sense. What he did know was that he had to get out.
There was a movement in the light above. Voices.
“Here, Commander, there’s a catch in this one!” A crass, grubby voice.
“Bring it up.” A voice with depth. Stern, angry, commanding. Like his father’s, George thought.
A moment, and then George had to shuffle out of the way as a length of rope flew down the pit, almost hitting him in the head.
“Hey you down there!” shouted the first voice. “Tie this rope around you, now! Yank twice when you’ve done it!”
George nearly didn’t do it and was about to shout back asking why he should do what the voice said, when he thought better of it. He didn’t know what the first voice had meant by the word ‘catch’ and he didn’t like the sound of it. But his priority at the moment was getting out of this pit, so he wound the rope around himself and tied it in a tight knot, his body complaining with pain all the while.
He yanked on the rope twice and immediately he was pulled upwards. Roughly. He had to put his arms and legs out to stop himself from banging his head against the walls of the pit, which brought more complaints of pain from them. Soon he was out in the dull light and being plonked onto the ground.
That was when George got the surprise of his life: He wasn’t in Oxford any more. He wasn’t even sure if he was in England. He had been pulled up out of the pit into the middle of a wide, flat plain. Actually, it was more of a wilderness than a plain, with barely anything growing in it, just the odd patch of grass or moss on the grey-brown ground. Thick rainclouds (or was it smoke?) filled the air, blocking out most of the sunlight. It was very hot.
Standing over him where he lay on the floor were two men. The first voice had belonged to a very tall, fat man with a big bushy beard and piercings all over his face. The second voice had belonged to an even taller, but much slimmer, man dressed entirely in black armour the colour of night, complete with spiked shoulder plates and a helmet that covered his eyes, crafted into a two horns at its top. What on earth was going on?
“His legs aren’t broken, Commander. Makes a change!” said the fat man.
“On your feet,” said the man in the armour.
“Can I ask, where am—” said George.
“Silence! You’ll speak when you’re spoken to, slave!” The fat man smacked him around the face.
More pain. George touched his cheek. He felt his lip curl.
“How dare you strike me?” said George. “My father will have something to say about this! I demand that you return me to Oxford at once.”
“I said be quiet!” The fat man struck him again.
Further pain. This time George did not have a reply.
“You thought you could get away, did you, filth?” the armoured man said now. “Thought you could escape from Shul unscathed?”
George said nothing this time, partly because he wasn’t sure if he was being invited to speak, and partly to spite the man. His heart was pounding hard inside his chest. He wouldn’t admit it to himself, but he was afraid.
“Answer!” said the fat man.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about…” said George. It was the truth.
“Address your superior properly! That’s ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about, Commander’!” This time George held his arms up to protect himself, but the fat man only grabbed them, pulled them out of the way, then hit him across the face again.
“How have you ended up wearing that absurd attire?” said the armoured man.
George looked down, wiping blood from his mouth. “What, this? This is my school uniform. Commander,” he added quickly.
“‘School uniform’? What is this nonsense? You are lying. Tell me where you got those ridiculous clothes. Continue your discipline, 000 Doulos.”
Another strike which hit George’s arms so hard he fell over onto the floor. He just about managed to push himself up onto his hands and knees.
“Please, sir…I mean, Commander…I really don’t know what you’re talking about…A little while ago I was in Oxford, and then someone stole my phone, and I got hit by a bus… I have no idea how I got here…I’ve never been here before!”
“More lies. You will suffer for this insubordination.”
The fat man kicked George in the chest this time, with enough force to turn him over. He felt a wave of agony spread across his body. Against his best efforts, George fainted.
The last thing he heard before he passed out was the man in black armour saying: “Little worm must have gone delirious from the heat after falling into the trap. Never been here before, have you? Well then welcome to Mashal, filth!”
I’ve decided to serialise the first three chapters of this, more if people like it. You can read it at https://www.wattpad.com/story/96454834 or here below:
Prince, Twins, Dragon
Young Adult Fantasy Fiction
Gather round the fire, curl up with the book, pull your screen closer to you, turn the volume up on your device—however it is that you are hearing or reading this tale. I have much to tell you: of four children just like you, or like you were once; of a world far away and yet closer than you think; of two warring Kingdoms battling for the hearts and minds of the land caught between them; of a Prince, of Twins, and a Dragon.
Chapter One: Departing
Jake was bored out of his mind.
His class had gone on a trip today away from their school in London. It had been quite fun on the coach up with his mates, swapping sweets and playing games on their phones, but now they were being forced to listen to a tour guide telling them about the Historic Town of Oxford while they followed her around in a big group. And it was so boring. At the moment they were in the middle of somewhere called the ‘Botanical Gardens’, which was basically, as far as Jake could see, just a park full of plants. He couldn’t have cared less about plants. The tour guide had already told them about lots of the different plants, and about this one big tree that was the favourite of some famous author he had never heard of. Now she was telling them about some bench or other that appeared in a book by another famous author he had never heard of. Jake could not have been less interested if he had tried. His mind wandered around, looking for something to entertain him.
Quite nearby there was a fence, which marked off the perimeter of the gardens. Beyond that, there was a path and a river. On this sunny day, people were out on little boats on the river, pushing themselves along with poles, eating strawberries, laughing and generally enjoying the weather. It looked a lot more fun than listening to the tour guide.
“Hey, Aaron,” said Jake, in a whisper, nudging his nearby friend but taking care not to be seen.
“What?” said Aaron.
“Look over there. Reckon we could jump that fence?”
Aaron only smiled. Jake was what some people might describe as ‘a naughty boy’ and at the moment Aaron was his main partner in crime.
“Let’s make a break for it next time the group moves on,” said Jake.
They waited until the lady had finished talking about the bench and started to lead the group off to go and look at something else. Then they ran. They made it to the fence in just a few seconds and at once Jake was atop it, scrambling over the spikes by putting his feet onto the flat bits in between them. He loved to climb.
“Jake Longley! What on earth do you think you’re doing?!”
Oh no. Mrs Fink, their English teacher, had spotted them.
Without wasting time turning around to check what was going on, Jake jumped clear from the fence, landing on the path beyond. Aaron was not so lucky. He had not had time yet to properly mount the fence and Mrs Fink had caught up with him. She grabbed Aaron and yanked him back down into the garden.
“Not so fast, young man! And you come right back here too, Jake!”
Jake took all of this in with a quick twist of his head as he hit the ground. He knew he had to run now. He was already going to be in an enormous amount of trouble, so why not make the most of the situation? He was free of the horrendously dull tour. He wasn’t going to let Mrs Fink punish him now. He would put that off for as long as possible.
His whole class were watching him by this moment, so he better make it look good. He leapt to his feet and made to dash off down the path, away from them all. Only, before he had even run a few steps, his foot snagged on a from one of the trees in the gardens which extended out beyond the fence. Jake tripped then stumbled, then fell headlong. He hit the ground again, tumbled over on his side, and ended up in the nearby river.
You may or may not know that the river Isis, which is what the Thames is called when it flows through Oxford, is not particularly clean. In fact, that is what we in Britain call an ‘understatement’. It is filthy. Murky, grimy, and probably full of all sorts of diseases and rat wee, on the surface it looks just about acceptable, but if you ever find yourself under the surface…well, God help you.
Jake’s body tensed with cold and his vision filled with dark liquid. He could no longer see a centimetre in front of his face. He shut his mouth to stop himself tasting any more of the disgusting water and tried to get his bearings as he sank down quickly, a muffled rushing noise filling his ears. He kicked out, trying to push himself upwards, but at the same time he felt his legs get caught in something. Weeds on the river floor. He kicked harder, but this only got him more tangled up in the weeds. He was stuck. He thrashed about wildly, trying to wrench himself free of them, but only sank down further, deeper, into the river.
Back on dry land, Mrs Fink shouted after him. Some of his classmates screamed. The tour guide, who had a bit of sense, called out to the people on the boats to get them to try to help the boy who had just fallen into the water. One of them stuck his boat pole into it towards where the splash had been in an attempt to offer it to Jake. Another brave soul jumped into the river and swam around looking for him. But it was no use. When the would-be rescuer resurfaced, the boy did not.
Jake had failed to reappear above the water.
Worse than that, he had disappeared altogether.
“Shut up, Hannah, he’ll hear you!”
“No he won’t! And what would be so bad about that, anyway? I know he liiikes you.”
“Will you give it a rest? I’m not interested in boys. I’m going to wait till I’m older for all that.”
“You and I both know that’s not true, Chloe.”
Chloe and Hannah were also on a school trip to Oxford, though not from London but from their hometown in Wales. It was that part of the school year in the Summer when the teachers run out of things to teach, you see, so lots of schools were going on trips to pass the time. And Oxford was a very popular destination, apparently, because it had so much History to it. Right now they were in the middle of somewhere called the ‘Radcliffe Camera’, though it wasn’t a camera at all but rather a massive, domed building, part of something called the ‘Bodleian Library’, and stuffed full of books. Chloe was actually finding it quite interesting. The only problem was, she was being distracted by her best friend Hannah, who was going on and on at her about Johnny, one of the boys in their class, trying to convince her to ask him out. Chloe did in fact have a secret crush on Johnny, which Hannah knew full well, but she was shy and she didn’t want to draw attention to herself. She would be mortified if Johnny found out.
“Look, not here, okay? I’m trying to enjoy the trip,” said Chloe.
“I don’t see what there is to enjoy—it’s just a stuffy old room full of a load of books,” said Hannah.
Chloe was about to reply that actually books could be very enjoyable things when their teacher, Mrs Jones (by pure coincidence, Mrs Jones was actually a distant cousin of Jake’s teacher, Mrs Fink, who had married a Welshman, but that is irrelevant to our story) said “Chloe and Hannah, for the last time, will you stop talking? You are being very rude! Please continue, sir.”
This last comment was addressed to their group’s own tour guide, this time a quite short, young man wearing a ridiculous 19th-century coat who spoke in what was probably the poshest accent that you have ever heard. He pronounced ‘Oxford’ as ‘Oggsfouwrd’. He had been telling them all the famous facts and figures about this odd circular room and now he was going to take them downstairs to another basement room underground. Chloe and Hannah kept quiet to avoid another telling off from Mrs Jones while they plodded down the steps with their class. As they did so, Chloe looked over at Johnny, who was walking a few steps ahead of them. He seemed completely uninterested in her. She gave a little sigh under her breath.
The next underground room was, predictably, also stuffed full of books. Row upon row of books, stacked in strange wiry metal shelves that the tour guide explained had been designed by one of the former Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom. Chloe quite enjoyed reading, which was the only reason she was interested. Hannah didn’t so much, she was more into things like horse-riding and dancing, which is why her attention was currently elsewhere.
“Chloe, he’s looking at you!” said Hannah in a hushed voice.
Despite herself, Chloe looked round. There indeed was Johnny, she was surprised to see, now looking over at them. She caught his eye and he smiled at her. Chloe smiled back for a moment and then looked away. She felt her cheeks blushing.
“See, what did I tell you?” said Hannah.
“He was just looking. It doesn’t mean anything,” said Chloe.
“My arse it doesn’t mean anything!”
“Chloe and Hannah!” said Mrs Jones. “This is your final warning! One more time and I’m sending you back to sit in the minibus!”
They zipped their lips. The tour guide was now explaining that he was going to take them through a tunnel called the ‘Gladstone Link’ that had only been built relatively recently and that connected this library to another one, like a kind of secret underground passageway. Their class followed obediently. The tunnel was very long and panelled all with the same two plain white and blue colours. It was like something out of a computer game or a badly drawn picture of a spaceship corridor in a comic book.
Chloe and Hannah marched along it, lingering right at the back of their group so that they could continue their conversation without being heard.
“I told you he liked you. He was definitely looking at you,” said Hannah.
“Well so what if he does? What am I meant to do about it?” said Chloe.
“You should ask him out. Boys like it when you make the first move.”
“No they don’t.”
“How would you know?”
Chloe looked up at the ceiling of the tunnel, ignoring the question. She wondered what was immediately above it. Was it the ground? People’s feet? More books? Or just earth, a pile of soil and dirt?
That was when the tunnel started to tremble.
For some reason, everyone froze. This wasn’t a very sensible thing to do, given the circumstances.
“What’s happening?!” said Mrs Jones to the tour guide.
“I…I don’t know!”
“It seems to be some sort of earthquake!”
“But we don’t have earthquakes in Oggsfouwrd!”
“You do now! Everybody, run!”
With this instruction from Mrs Jones, the class rushed forwards to get to the end of the tunnel and up the stairs at the end. Bits of dust and pebbles started to drop from the ceiling as they did so. The trembling got more violent, and soon grew to a loud, rumbling shaking. Then part of the tunnel ceiling caved in. It turned out that what was immediately above it was, after all, soil and dirt. And rock.
The children who were in front of Chloe and Hannah just made it to the end of the tunnel in time. Once they had, a huge chunk of rock fell down behind them, blocking the exit completely.
“Help!” yelled Hannah.
“Wait for us!” yelled Chloe.
Beyond the fallen rock, they could hear shouts, but they couldn’t make out any of the words. Chloe got a quick glimpse of Mrs Jones’s terrified face calling out to them before the gap was plugged up completely by more falling earth. The shaking and rumbling grew louder. They darted back the way they came, trying to make it back to the entrance through which they had come into the tunnel, but the other side had caved in as well. They were trapped. They dropped to the floor and lifted up their hands to try to protect themselves from the earth and rock that continued to fall.
“What should we do?!” cried Chloe.
“I don’t know!” cried Hannah.
Everything went dark.
George walked down the street and then turned into a little alleyway for some privacy. Can you guess where he was? Yes, that’s right, he was on a school trip to Oxford as well. His school was actually in Oxford though, so he hadn’t come very far. His family was considerably richer than those of Jake, Chloe and Hannah, so he had been sent to a very expensive, snooty private school. He was also a couple of years older than them all, which is why he was currently on a trip to a University of Oxford ‘open day’ to try to decide whether he wanted to come to study here when he left school.
He didn’t, but he would probably apply anyway.
He had just been looking around one of the University’s colleges—Pembroke college, it was called—and was now sneaking outside for a quick break and to send a text to one of his friends. It had been decided that George was going to study Law at University. This had been decided by his father who himself was a high-flying lawyer in the city. The choice had been between Law or Medicine. George couldn’t stand the sight of blood, which made him feel queasy, so he had opted for Law. The trouble was, he wasn’t really very interested in Law either. What he was actually most interested in was gardening, in being outside in the open air, among things that grow. But he would never tell his father that.
And he did very well at school. In fact, George was a straight-A student. He had to be, because at his school if you weren’t then you got kicked out. He worked very hard at school, not only to stay in it but also to try to please his Dad. His father was an extremely hard-working man, but also an extremely angry man, and he demanded only the best from George and got angry with him if he didn’t produce it. George’s Mum had passed away from cancer a few years ago and his Dad had only gotten angrier and more demanding since then. If it wasn’t for the expensive school being there to churn the A-grades out of him, who knows what might have happened?
The fact that he went to a very expensive school was also the reason that George was wearing his fancy, expensive-looking school uniform, which included smart trousers, a shirt, a jacket and a tie. This, in turn, was the reason why, at that moment, someone decided to mug him.
The mugger in question was a man by the name of Crazy Pete (don’t ask me why he was called ‘Crazy’ because I don’t particularly want to tell you). He had not had anything to eat yet that day and his morning begging hadn’t been very successful, which meant that he was feeling both hungry and frustrated.
So when Crazy Pete saw this boy in his fancy, expensive-looking uniform standing in the alleyway, listening to music through one headphone, looking down at his new phone which he was texting on with his other hand (the latest Apple iPhone, of course), rather than doing what he normally would have done, which was to say “Got a light?” and ask for some spare change, he did something else: He ran up to George, punched him in the stomach, grabbed his phone out of his hand, and ran.
“Oomph!” said George. And then “Hey, get back here!”
The homeless man could run surprisingly fast. He charged out of the alleyway and then sprinted down Pembroke Street as quickly as he could go in an effort to put as much distance as he could between himself and George as quickly as possible. In other circumstances George would have let the mugger go but he was in a bad mood today and his Dad had been particularly angry with him lately, and he knew that he would be kill him if he found out that he had lost his new phone. Especially while he was down an alleyway, away from his school group. So he took off after the man.
Crazy Pete headed into a nearby Sainsburys to try to lose George. He slipped in through a one-way automatic door just as a customer was coming out of it, hoping that it would close after him, but George made it in just in time, bounding up the stairs beyond it and saying “Watch out!” to another customer that the man had knocked over on the way.
Inside, Crazy Pete ran between the food aisles, still trying his best to lose George. He knocked over some tins to try to slow him down. This was a bad move. Soon a Sainsburys aisle supervisor was running alongside George, saying “What’s going on?”
“That guy nicked my phone!”
The aisle supervisor needed no further explanation, and the chase was joined by another person, then another and another. They shot out of the shop entrance and then through some more doors and back into the street.
Crazy Pete was panicking now. After glancing around and seeing the boy and three more men running after him, he knew he was in trouble. As fast as his legs could carry him, his lungs panting for air, he pounded back down the length of Pembroke Street and then out into St Aldates Street, turning right. His pursuers followed. He stayed on the pavement for a bit, and then, in a mad dash, flew out into the road when he reached the glass doors of a church, aiming to cross it and then turn left, into Bear Lane. There was lots of traffic and a couple of cars screeched to avoid hitting him, beeping their horns in alarm.
The three men from Sainsburys stopped in front of the church. George didn’t. He wanted that phone back. He was determined to catch the mugger.
Unfortunately, this meant that he didn’t see the number 4 bus coming straight towards him.
For George, too, everything went dark, but for different reasons.