Authors: Debi Gliori
This one's for my family, with all my love.
Thank youâa thousand, million Nantoes
for putting up with seven years of
1. Me, writing: Why couldn't I have chosen a “proper job”?
2. Supper being frequently (a) late and (b) inadequate (though delicious, even if I say so myself).
3. Weekends, weeks, monthsâ
, actuallyâhijacked by the Strega-Borgias and their outrageous demands.
4. Promises (as yet unfulfilled) of Yes, yes, we'll stay at the Ritz (and I'm not talking little crinkly-edged biscuits for cheese, either), and Yes, there will be a red carpet, and Yes, yes, I promise I'll introduce you to all the glitterati.
5. Summer holidays waiting for what passes for Mummy's Brain to return from StregaSchloss and resume being a parent rather than a writer.
6. The Munchies, the Drys (aka the Blocks), the Frets, the Weeps, and the Grimms.
7. Inappropriate outbursts, wild hysteria, and dreadful puns accompanied by unladylike snorts of mirth at my own jokes.
8. The sneaking suspicion that your lives might have been filtered, inflated, polished, tweaked, and finally served up as fiction.
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âtheir two-year-old sister
âthe newborn Baby Borgia
âparents of the above
(cryogenically preserved) of Titus, Pandora, Damp, and Little No-Name
âevil half brother to Luciano
âancestor and portal portager
THE GOOD HELP THAT WAS HARD TO FIND
ânanny to Titus, Pandora, Damp, and Little No-Name
âbackup nanny to Damp and Little No-Name
âestate lawyer and tutor to the reluctant assassin
âspider with attitude
âmythical dungeon beasts
âhighly domesticated crocodile
âScottish unreconstructed-male mythical beast
âsalamander and Hadean refugee
âDamp's bat familiar
âdemonic defense minister
âFirst Minister of the Hadean Executive and television chef
âdivine being from the Other Side
In the Land of the Snoke Ween
don't know about this,” the dragon complained. “Are you absolutely positive that we're in the Snow Queen's neighborhood? It's just that it's sooo
. I mean, why would anyone want to live here? Can't we just turn back? It must be nearly time for teaâ¦. Someone'll notice we've goneâ¦.”
The little girl sighed and folded her arms in a fashion that indicated that her mind was made up, even if her companion was having second, third, or even fourth thoughts. The dragon continued, undeterred.
“You know, I think you've magicked us into the middle of a
special Antarctic issue rather than between the pages of one of your fairy talesâ¦.” The dragon slumped and added, “Don't get me wrong, Small. I mean, you're a brilliant sorceress, but next time could you choose a warmer fairy tale? Like âThe Princess and the Pea' with extra quilts, orâ¦umâ¦erâ¦”
Tapping one foot impatiently, Damp sighed even louder, forcing air down her nostrils like a disgruntled duchess who'd just been mistaken for a commoner.
“Okayâ¦okayâ¦” Ffup threw up her forelegs in surrender. “Don't
like that, girl. You mightâ¦uh, accidentallyâ¦
“Make hot hot burny by nax dident?”
“Yeah. And since right now we're tiptoeing across a snowbridge slung between two crevasses, more flames would be a very bad idea. Heck,
flames would be catastrophic.”
The little girl's eyes widened as the meaning of the dragon's words sank in, and she slipped her hand into Ffup's paw for safety. Underfoot, a glassy blade of pale blue ice stretched ahead, its glazed surface pitted in places by rockfalls and avalanches from the surrounding mountains. This was a hostile place, scoured by vicious winds that made eyes water and plucked at clothes and skin with determined tugs; a bleak place with no trees, no grass, and little color; a land of ice and stone and sky that stretched all around.
This land was nothing like Damp had imagined it, back then. However, back then, Damp had been pink and warm, fresh from her bath, wrapped in flannel pajamas and curled up in bed in the nursery, her father's voice as warm as the flames that flickered and danced in the hearth. Back then, the land of ice and snow was just a story. Back then.
“My feet hurt,” the dragon moaned, the rhythmic
of her footsteps coming to an abrupt halt as she turned round to peer behind her, trying to gauge how far they'd traveled. “It's this horrible snow,” she explained. “It sort of gathers in freezing clumps in between my paw pads, until eventually I'm walking on massive snowballs. It's making it hard to keep my balance. Harder, in fact.”
Wordlessly, Damp tugged Ffup behind her like a gigantic pull-along toy, ignoring the dragon's litany of complaint and forging ahead, seemingly unaware of the weight of wet snow caking her own body from the waist down or of the dizzying drop on either side of the snowbridge.
it's soooooo cold,” Ffup whined. “My nostrils are icing up, you know. Pretty soon I'll have to stop and try to clear them, though without using my nasal flamethrowers, I have no idea how I'm supposed to de-iceâ¦.”
Overhead, the highest mountain suddenly turned gold, reflecting the setting sun, which gilded its lethally steep western face. This brief exposure was enough to thaw a glistening finger of water ice, which started trickling down the mountain, trailing small chips and flakes of loose rock behind it. As these fragments fell, they began to snowball, gathering layers of soft snow about themselves, rolling silently toward the two figures, one large, one small, carefully picking their way across the snowbridge to the relative safety of the glacier beyond.
“Can you hear a rumbling sound?” Ffup stopped, her golden eyes widening with the first prickle of fear.
“Nearly time for supper.” Damp smiled up at the dragon and reached out a mittened hand to pat the scales of the giant beast's belly. “Shush, tummy. Not home yet.”
Now there was a faint vibration in the air, as if the blue of the sky fairly hummed and trembled above them. The insignificant rockfall had become an altogether more serious affair, the patter of tumbling pebbles triggering a vast slab of snow into shearing off a rock face, and it was this that vibrated and rumbled as it plummeted toward the tiny figures on the edge of the glacier.
me or my tummy,” Ffup snapped, stung by this implied criticism of her digestive excesses. “Why
it that you humans immediately assume that any bad smells, loud parps, or distant rumblings are always the product of the nearest beast gut? You lot are perfectly capable of producing some window-rattling, eye-watering little numbers yourselves. And don't go all huffy on me eitherâ¦.” Ffup dug Damp in the ribs with a playful talon, oblivious to the vast wave of snow towering above her back. “
if I recall, were still wearing nighttime diapers until as recently as last nighhhâ”
Spinning round, Ffup registered the oncoming death wall of blurred white, and in the same instant scooped Damp up between her forepaws, her wings snapping open to bear them both into the air, straining and heaving against the heavy suck of snow churning beneath her belly.
A cloud of spindrift boiled up, hiding both mountain and glacier from their sight as they flew up for what felt like forever, gaining height, heading out of the deadly white snow chopping beneath them, devouring the bridge, obliterating their footprints, and turning Damp's vision of the kingdom of the Snow Queen into something far more lethal than Hans Christian Andersen had conjured from words alone. Then the sun vanished behind a ridge, and all at once the snow turned to blue. Beneath them lay a field of darkness, its features completely transformed by the avalanche. The tumbling slabs of snow slowed and juddered to a halt, a vast puff of powdered ice settling on the ground like a shawl. Now silence blanketed the glacier, and overhead the first cold stars began to appear in the sky. In the distance, a far-off cowbell chimed, and from a long way below came the sound of laughter echoing across the ice.
Damp shuddered, blinked, and laid her head against Ffup's neck. Beneath them, hundreds of yards below, the glacier shivered and cracked open. The distant laughter stopped, as if a switch had been thrown.
“Gerda?” came a thin cry from far below. Then the bell. Insistent now, closer and louder, a vibrant summons at odds with the frozen world under Damp and the dragon.
“Gerda?” again, but this time tinged with something close to despair.
“Make it stop,” Ffup whispered. “I hate this bit. Snow, ice, Gerda, Kay, the Snow Queen, all that eternity stuffâ¦eughhh. I just don't understand why humans feel they're obliged to wallow in such sad stories.”
“Not sad,” said Damp firmly. “This story's got a nappy endingâ”
Damp's shoulders slumped. Uh-oh, she thought. Big sister alert. Not
Not when I'm just getting the hang of this. Go
“Damp! For God's sake. I've been going purple in the face from calling and calling and
going to have any when I'm older.”
The sound of approaching footsteps galvanized Ffup into action. “Okay, okay. Let's go, let's get outta here. C'mon.” The dragon plucked Damp off her neck and flapped toward a huge white door that had appeared in the sky ahead of them. The door resembled a detached sail etched against the deep blue of the sky, luffing and flapping as if a strong wind were hitting it side-on. Ffup clung to one edge with her talons and began to poke Damp through the undulating whiteness into whatever lay beyond.
she insisted. “Out. Back.
. You may be the sorceress, but I'm your rear guard. You have to go first.”
you're not supposed to play up here on your own. The attic's out of bounds to tots.”
At this, Damp's bottom lip popped out mutinously, but a stiff shove from Ffup reminded her that if she ever hoped to use her abilities as a baby magus to return to this kingdom of ice and snow, she had to cover her tracks. Scrabbling through the white door-sail, she fell heavily onto the floor of StregaSchloss's biggest roomâa massive attic running the entire length of Damp's ancestral home. Ffup tumbled down behind her in a cloud of dust, her wings sending a rusty birdcage rolling across the attic floor until it came to rest against a slumped and silent set of bagpipes.
The attic trapdoor began to open just as the white door to their ice kingdom began to shrink. When Damp's big sister, Pandora, climbed into the attic, the much-diminished white door fluttered down to the floor before squeezing itself between the well-worn pages of the picture book from which it had come.
at you,” Pandora groaned, catching sight of her little sister and clapping a hand to her forehead. “What a
. What on earth have you two been up to?”
Ffup peered intently at her talons, turning her paws this way and that, as if wondering whether a manicure might be in order.
“Ffup?” Pandora marched across the attic and halted in front of the dragon. Although she only came up to the giant beast's nipples, she radiated such fierce determination that Ffup quailed before her, blinking rapidly and breathing through her mouth in frantic puffs.
“Stop avoiding eye contact,” Pandora snapped. “
“Gosh,” the dragon squeaked, “and don't you look
. What's changed? Hair? Nope, don't tell me. You've taken your glasses off?”
glasses, as you well know.”
thing's different,” Ffup insisted, edging toward the trapdoor, her golden eyes swiveling wildly as she tried to avoid being skewered by Pandora's steely glare. “Oh, please stop it. I
it when you look at me like that. It makes me feel all hotâ¦and squirmy andâ¦andâ¦like I might need to go to the bathroom. Soon. You know, I'll wet the floor if you keep on looking at me like that. Really, I will.”
“Oh, for heaven's
” Pandora snorted. “I came up here to tell you it's teatime, not to torture you. However, that doesn't change the fact that neither of you is supposed to
up here in the attic. Damp, you're too young, and Ffup, you”âthe dragon flinched and attempted a winning smileâ“are too heavy.”
“HEAVY? Are you saying that I'm
?” Ffup's voice rose an octave, leavened by outrage. “I'm
not fat,” she continued, her voice wobbling with indignation. “
am âwith dragon,' actually. There are two of me standing in front of you, in case you hadn't noticed.”
“I could hardly fail to notice,” Pandora retorted. “Even Mum isn't as baby-obsessed as you are, and
“Your mother is expecting her fourth child, which is, you must admit, a bit of a nonevent, seeing as how she's done it all before, and before and before, whereas
only on my secâ”
“Whatever,” Pandora muttered. “Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that the attic was, is, and always will be out of bounds to smalls and beasts. Besides”âPandora smiled as she pointed toward the open trapdoorâ“it's teatime, and Dad's making pizzasâ¦.”
Ffup's expression softened, and her eyes developed a faraway look. Pandora turned to leave, adding over her shoulder, “And if you get a move on, you'll be able to select your own toppings.”
A loud rumbling, rolling twang echoed round the attic, causing Damp to frown and stare at her own midriff. Ffup cleared her throat and scooped the little girl up in her forepaws.
my small mountaineer, was no avalanche,” the dragon whispered, poking Damp's tummy and grinning. “
was a rumble a dragon might be proud of.”
From far off came the distant ringing of the dinner gong.
“Hungry,” muttered Damp, stating the blindingly obvious.