Don’t move, said Rimath’s voice in our heads. I need to think quickly.
There were twelve krakenmen. They were the same height and shape as humans, wearing ragged pirates’ clothing. But their eyes glowed red. Sharp teeth snarled behind immense dark, tangled beards. Shaggy hair was pulled back into greasy braids under battered hats and faded kerchiefs. Their coarse shirts and brocade waistcoats were frayed. Torn trousers revealed green feet with red veins, webbed toes and toenails like talons. Ancient cotton sleeves, some with lace cuffs, rotted on wrists.
But there weren’t enough sleeves for the number of arms the krakenmen had. Or rather, in addition to the arms, each creature had four tentacles which squirmed and twisted through rips in the seams of the shirts and waistcoats. Hands and suckers alike waved weapons: swords, daggers, antique pistols…
One, who wore the biggest hat and carried the largest sword, had bent down to be nose to nose with Dad. His voice was a slow, angry growl.
‘No-one defies Noggler. For the last time: tell…me…where…the…treasure…is.’
Dad squirmed in his bonds and made noises through the gag. Mum was trying to kick him with her foot. Her eyes scanned the room as if trying to catch a krakenmen off-guard and plead for mercy. For one brief second, her glance fell on me as I peeked from behind the detritus. She blinked, swallowed and turned her head in the opposite direction, following the slow lope of a smaller krakenman as it crisscrossed the floor of the cave.
‘I said,’ bellowed Noggler, ‘where… is…the…treasure?’ Another monster leaned in and whispered something. Noggler slapped it and grunted. ‘Well, what are you waiting for, fool? Remove his gag!’
The krakenman did as he was told.
Jane nudged me and whispered ‘oh dear.’ We both recognised the look on Dad’s face.
‘My dear sir,’ he snapped. ‘Where did you learn your manners? Untie us, go to your room and don’t come back until you’re sorry.’
Noggler recovered himself and said with a sneer. ‘Where is the treasure please?’
‘I really have no idea what you’re talking about,’ said Dad. ‘Do I look like a pirate? Although actually, I have to say, I do like your costumes. Where did you get them? We’ve got a fancy dress party coming up haven’t we Bella?’
Mum’s eyes rolled.
Jenith whispered, ‘is your father an idiot?’
Jane and I nodded silently.
‘He who owned the cottage took the treasure and hid it two hundred and fifty years ago!’
‘Do we look that old?’ argued Dad.
‘You own the cottage!’ screamed Noggler. ‘The treasure is rightfully mine!’ There was a grumble from the other krakenmen. ‘I mean ours! You have five minutes to tell us where it is, or you will become one of us: cursed to lurk in these loathsome caves; trying to outwit the dragons; living on nothing but cuttlefish and seaweed; unable to bear full daylight; needing to spend half your time under the waves until eventually the call of the sea drags you out into the westward currents and far, far away to an unknown dooooom.’
‘I think you’ve just used half of my five minutes with that speech,’ said Dad. ‘It was very good though. Have you a piece of paper I could write it down on? Laura would like the bit about dragons.’
‘Where is the treasure?!’ Noggler waved one of his pistols aloft followed by the others. They all shot into the air at the same time and a small shower of rock fell down. Jenith sneezed. The monsters looked wildly round to locate the noise. Mum faked a loud sneeze to draw their attention back to her.
‘We’ve run out of time,’ whispered Rimath. ‘Jenith and I will distract the krakenmen. You untie your parents.’
‘How will we all get out?’ I said.
‘We’ll have to use magic. Now watch out. The pistols can’t be fired again until they’ve been primed and the swords are rusty, but you can still be hurt and the krakenmen’s magic is recharging. We need to move… Now!’
The dragons flew out from our hiding place in opposite directions, firing jets fire onto the krakenmen below. Two hats caught light and the wearers whipped them off to stamp out the flames. Jenith’s tail whisked weapons from the monsters’ clutches and Rimath tipped a bucket into a barrel marked gunpowder. The dragons sang a high-pitched song that echoed and whirled around us. The krakenmen stared up, tried to protect their ears and at the same time flail their limbs to counter the aerial assault. Jane and I ran between them, as they staggered in confusion, picked up a dagger each and rushed to free our parents.
‘Quick,’ I said, ‘we’ve got to go back to the pool.’
Dad was mesmerised and didn’t move. ‘But Laura, look! Dragons! And pirates.’
‘It’s not a play, Dad. It’s real. Come on!’
I dragged him with one arm and Mum dragged him with the other.
As we ran to the pool, the battle wore on. From nowhere, fork beetles came to bombard heads, tangle in braids and fly into furious krakenmen eyes. Beards were on fire, and sparks flew off rusty swords. But fork beetles were crushed underfoot and blood trickled from cuts on the dragons’ flanks. Two krakenmen caught one of Jenith’s legs with their tentacles and started to drag her to the ground. She lashed out with her tail and blew fire in their faces, but the flame was as weak as a candle’s. The pressure in the air was increasing. I caught Rimath’s eye in the second before he went to his sister’s aid. The krakenmen’s magic was nearly at full strength but the dragons’ was nearly exhausted. I scanned the cave. Maybe if Mum and Dad could go back through the tunnel wearing the diving gear to warn Rimath’s father, Jane and I could escape another way. Rain was coming through a small crack in the rocks half way up the cliff wall. Before I explain my plan our shelter blew apart and Noggler stood before us flanked by two of his henchmen. Behind him, I could see that Jenith was nearly on the floor of the cave and Rimath’s tail had been injured. There as no escape.
‘Where…is…my…treasure?’ shrieked Noggler.
‘We don’t have any!’ I shouted. ‘The only treasure we’ve got is each other!’
‘And books,’ said Dad. ‘Don’t forget books. That’s what’s wrong old chap. You haven’t any books. I can recommend some.’
‘I don’t want wormy old books that turn into mulch!’ growled Noggler. ‘I want gold and silver and jewels. I want what’s mine!’
‘It was never yours!’ shouted Jane. ‘You stole it. You were pirates and wreckers. You’re thieves.’
‘You are going to make a wonderful krakenman, little girl,’ Noggler snarled. He raised his hand and started to whisper under his breath. There was a shimmer in the air and Jane’s outline grew fuzzy and started to change and then… and then… the wall of the cave exploded and Rimath’s father stood over us all. He leaned down and stared into Noggler’s face for one second and then from his mouth came a flame of ice-cold pure translucent gold. It engulfed the krakenmen but they didn’t burn. Instead they squirmed and writhed and shrunk until there was nothing but a pile of rags and rust on the floor where they had stood.
‘That was surprisingly satisfying,’ said Rimath’s father. ‘Should have done it years ago.’ Rimath and Jenith limped over. Jane kicked at the rags and they turned to dust in the air. In a shallow rock pool beneath were twelve sea-anemones, clustered together and quivering.
‘They’re not going anywhere now,’ said Rimath’s father and burst into deep, echoing laughter.
Dad was, for once, speechless.
‘Thank you all,’ said Mum. ‘Without you…’
‘Well, I have to say,’ said the dragon. ‘I felt a little ashamed. The human children seemed very honest, even though the slightly cleaner one definitely craves pretty things and the grubby one is definitely naughty. Still, at the end of the day, I suppose it was my fault all these kidnappings have happened over the years.’
‘Wh-what?’ I said.
‘The thing is,’ Rimath’s father scratched his ear with his tail. His expression was a mixture of pride and contrition. ‘That night all those years ago, when the krakenmen battled with the wreckers, in the er… confusion… I … er… borrowed the treasure. After all, it didn’t belong to any of them. It was ours as much as anyone’s. And humans never appreciate treasure. They just want it to become powerful and lord it over each other. Dragons just like sleeping on it.’
‘So how do we get home?’ asked Jane. She was back to her normal self, no sign of a beard or tentacle.
‘Don’t worry,’ said Rimath’s father. ‘I am full of magic. You can depend on me to get you back to normal.’
The next day we woke up to blazing sunshine. The smell of slightly burnt bacon wafted upstairs.
I rubbed my eyes and got up to look outside. It might have been a different place. The luscious green grass rolled under blue skies up onto cliffs and down towards the beach, where lacy waves tickled the sand and then retreated.
I caught sight of myself in the mirror and wondered how my hair had got into such a dusty tangle. I must have been tossing and turning all night with that awful dream.
Jane was apparently asleep in her own room. Her socks, black on the soles and stiff as cardboard were discarded on the floorboards. She stirred as I prodded her.
‘Come on girls!’ Dad’s voice boomed from the kitchen. ‘I’ve made some bacon and fried egg sandwiches. Someone’s come to put a cooker in.’
Jane opened the other eye and we looked at each other.
Without speaking she got out of bed and together we went onto the landing. The door to the end room was slightly ajar and through it came the sweet smell of the sea and a golden light. The two pointless cupboards faced each other. The small one in the wall was criss-crossed with an enormous web and in the middle a spider more or less shook its fist at us as we wrenched the door open. Inside was a small square whitewashed cupboard with a stone back and a wooden base.
‘I had the weirdest dream’ whispered Jane. She went back to her bedroom, picked up the socks and contemplated them. ‘One more day? What do you reckon?’
‘No,’ said Mum, coming in and whisking them away. ‘You’re disgusting. Now get washed and dressed and come downstairs.’
In the kitchen workmen were sweeping out the space for the cooker. There were cobwebs staining the plaster on the wall which almost looked like the outline of a square, but as they brushed the mark faded to nearly nothing.
We had breakfast on the beach. Above us, the cliffs loomed in an absent minded sort of way, sea-heather sparkling in the sun and wafting in the breeze.
‘There was a village up there once apparently,’ said Dad. ‘I wonder what happened.’
‘Dragons,’ said Jane.
‘Ha ha!’ said Dad. ‘Plague more likely. Although funny you should mention dragons, I had a bit of a nightmare.’ He frowned. ‘Anyway, I’m sure you’ll be disappointed but we’ve decided too much work is needed on this cottage. I’m going sell it and get a caravan. Use the spare money for books.’ He lay back on the blanket and closed his eyes. Within seconds he was snoring. Mum packed away the picnic, settled against a rock and started to read.
Jane and I walked barefoot along the beach until we found a cave entrance and clambered through.
We found ourselves in a huge, gloomy space like the inside of a stone tent. At one side there might have been a fissure. The lower half was blocked with boulders and when we climbed to the top, there was no entrance for anyone bigger than a cat. What might have been a gap on the other side, too narrow for anything bigger than a mouse, seemed to glow a little.
‘Was it a dream?’ said Jane.
‘Wait!’ she said and bent to delve in the pebbles at our feet.
She pulled out a slender pendant with a tiny emerald drop and a small bangle, studded with garnets.
‘Our birthstones,’ whispered Jane as I slid the bangle onto my wrist.
‘You don’t think we should people tell there might be treasure in another cave?’ whispered Jane.
But she already knew my answer.
‘Don’t worry, Rimath,’ I whispered. ‘Your secret is safe with us. I promise.’
I traced my hand over the rock face. It seemed to sparkle as if the quartz and fossils came to life under my fingers and for a moment, through a translucent doorway, I thought I saw a smiling autumn green dragon with trusting topaz eyes wave before it faded away.
Words and photograph copyright 2018 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.
If you enjoyed this story you might be interested to know that Laura & Jane are main characters in ‘The Cluttering Discombobulator’ (some of which is true) and turn up in ‘Kindling’ (in a true story) and in ‘The Advent Calendar’ (in a story which is half true – you’ll just have to guess which half.)