Crispin Scales and the Golden Pearl
CHAPTER 1 PREVIEW
Stupid is as stupid does
I was falling. And fast. Plummeting through the clouds towards the ocean. Apparently your life flashes before you when you are about to die. Unfortunately for me, it was true. My pathetic life up until that moment paraded through my brain as an almighty wind rushed past my ears.
My name is Crispin Leviticus Hawkmoth Petrov Lotan Scales. As is the tradition in our family, my first and last names were chosen by a wise mage (or not so wise in my case). The next two names are from my father and mother, and the last two inherited from my grandparents. It’s a cumbersome burden that offered ample opportunity for ridicule, so of course my brothers, who never passed up the chance to humiliate me, called me Crispy. Which considering I was a dragon, was just downright mean – and wholly unimaginative. Especially when those last three fires were an accident.
So here I was, wings tied together behind my back, heading towards a painful death, with not a lot to think about except my short, uneventful life.
Officially I am a Western Golden Dragon, son of Leviticus, Maekrix (that’s king to you non-dragon types) of the Petrov Jiao Clan and Hawkmoth his consort. Unofficially, and by many written and very embarrassing accounts, I am a klutz. Not your average klutz, but an all out, get clear if you see me coming klutz. And even though I was not yet a fully-grown dragon, being clumsy is not a good attribute if you are three metres tall and ten metres long from nose to pointy tail.
I learned to live with my ludicrously long name. In the big scheme of things it didn’t matter. Because Marlo, my one true friend – who could have called me anything she liked – called me Kit.
I lived in the watery kingdom of Aequor, one of the Five Kingdoms of the Realm. Most creatures throughout the Five Kingdoms lived in relative harmony. Except the harpies. They were born ready for a fight – anytime, anywhere. But they couldn’t really help it, so most creatures just avoided the Islands of Discord and let them fight amongst themselves.
There were five Dragon Clans, one to rule each Kingdom. I say “rule”, but we were more like glorified mascots. The Dragon Clans had grown accustomed to this life, and most dragons lived alongside the human and non-human populace quite happily.
Over the thousands of years of recorded history, dragons had gone from feared, hunted and persecuted monsters, to being worshipped and adored as the providers of luck
None of this helped me of course.
I watched as a large ocean kestrel swooped by me in a wide circle, its elegant wings spread to catch the air currents. I may have been imagining it, but I was sure it squawked “Dope!” as it passed. It was right. I should have known my twin brothers Marcus and Persius had more in mind than flying practice when they asked to meet me high above the Western Ocean.
At least I was plummeting towards a watery death. The Realm’s vast landscape encompassed all manner of extreme places and I could have been heading for the razor sharp rocks that lined the Valley of Knives, or a slow death by dust zombie in the Pinguesco Crus Desert.
I peered down at the ocean far below. A large school of sharks was circling idly in the gentle morning waves.
Waiting for me, no doubt. The kestrel was still flying back and forth above me as I fell, its cries of “Dope, dope,” becoming increasingly irritating.
I wondered if anyone would miss me. Marlo would, of course. Maybe my brothers would miss having someone to torture. But, my father? I doubted he would miss me.
He might even be glad I was gone.
Once, when I was very young, he took me to Solitudo with his diplomatic convoy to set up agreements with the jewel masons to trade ocean pearls, sapphires and emeralds from our Kingdom.
Solitudo was a beautiful city of tiled lookout towers and imposing white domes, deep in the Pinguesco Crus Desert. Each dome had a different gold or brass symbol at its peak, the Guild Marks of the many artisan guilds spread throughout the city. On clear days, they could be seen twinkling in the sun as far away as Salvilocus, the main trading cavern in the Silex Mountains.
As I was too young to fly the entire way, I travelled in a covered palanquin pulled by small six-legged gryphox – cow-like creatures that ate anything and farted constantly. The palanquin had no wheels, and its rectangular bamboo base was balanced across the backs of two gryphox. The stinking creatures walked with an ambling and uneven gait, making travel inside the palanquin a smelly, undulating nightmare.
Needless to say I vomited the entire way, much to my own humiliation and my father’s disgust.
When we finally arrived in Solitudo, the convoy made its way to the Jewel and Precious Stone Guild to pay their respects. Weak with dehydration, I stumbled from my putrid travelling platform straight into the nearest water I could find – a clear pool in the centre of the courtyard. As I flopped into the cooling waters, washing away days of dust and vomit, the building erupted. Crying and wailing rang around the tiled walls as Guild members realised I had contaminated their sacred Making Pool.
My father, angry flames flickering from his nostrils, lifted me from the pool with his sharp talons and tossed me roughly behind him. Swallowing his significant pride, he turned to face the Guild to apologise for his foolish, stupid, clumsy, stinky, ignorant – did I say stupid? – klutz of a son. It took him months to fix the diplomatic
damage and earn the Guild’s trust again. And predictably enough, I was banned from accompanying him anywhere, ever again.
It wasn’t long after, that Marcus and Persius made it their personal mission to bully and taunt me almost daily. But
I still believed them when they said that father wanted me to join them for high-altitude flying practice. Now I knew it was just wishful thinking. A vain hope that I might be included at last. It didn’t take them long to ambush me, tying my wing tips back with a roughly knotted rope.
I pulled and pushed my wings to wriggle free, but the rope only got tighter. I even tried to burn the ropes off, but merely managed to singe my back, and the tail feathers of the very annoyed kestrel.
I sighed. I was a truly hopeless dragon. And soon I would be a dead one.
I knew it wouldn’t be long before I was past the point of no return – when even if by some miracle I did free myself, I wouldn’t be able to fly out of my nosedive. To add to my woes, the kestrel was pecking at my wings now, screeching “Dope, dope, dope!” with such intensity that my ears hurt.
Then I finally realised what it was really saying. It wasn’t pecking at my wings, it was tearing at the rope, pulling at the thick brown threads with its hooked beak. I strained against the rope with my wings, the twine loosening slightly with every determined jab from the kestrel.
“Rope! Rope!” it squawked, urging me to pull harder against the unravelling twine.
With one last, painful yank, the rope broke, the rough threads flying away in the wind in long brown corkscrews. Stretching my wings with a joyful “Yeehaa,” and a cry of thanks to my feathered liberator, I flew into a deep arc towards the ocean, gaining control of my descent with a few rhythmic flaps and a lot of good luck.
Delighting in my freedom I skimmed the waves, letting the clear water cool my claws. The sharks, annoyed their breakfast had not crashed into the water as expected, fought amongst themselves in a disappointed frenzy.
Narrow escape, I thought, as I flew back to Aequor, determined not to get that close to death again. Unfortunately for me, it would become an all too regular, and very