[Editor's note: the next volume of Twigleg's diary, which presumably detailed the events of December 2015, is missing – perhaps because it contained such important information that he and the Greenblooms took it with them when they moved house. However, this piece of writing, on the plain side of a piece of wrapping-paper, was found along with the first two volumes of his diary in the basement.]
Thursday 31st December 2015
So now, after spending Christmas in Ireland with vampires, we're spending New Year with dragons – not in Pakistan, as we'd expected, but in Norway. Firedrake and Maia set off nearly two weeks ago, as soon as the December moon started waxing, but the best they'd hoped for was to be in Norway by the waning of the January moon at the beginning of February, in order to celebrate Chinese New Year with Slatebeard on February 8th. It's about to go from the year of the Yin Wood Sheep to the Yang Fire Monkey. My real birth date (as opposed to the ones Nettlebrand constantly revised to make our creation earlier and earlier) was in the Year of the Rabbit, which Sorrel thought was hilariously appropriate until I worked out that 1922, when she was born, was the Year of the Dog. Then she just sulked. My Master was born in January 2003, just about managing to be still in the Year of the Horse rather than the Year of the Sheep, which wouldn't suit him at all. Firedrake was hatched in 1820, and Maia in 1808. Dragons normally lay clutches of eggs to hatch in the Year of the Dragon, though Maia says that this time round, with all the petrified dragons waking up and meeting the new ones who've arrived from Scotland, it doesn't look as though people are planning to wait until 2024 to start building nests.
At any rate, Firedrake and Maia flew faster than they had expected, even before they had arrived at Zubeida's village to ask her for some moon-dew, and managed to arrive in time to be with Slatebeard for Hogmanay. Firedrake says he thinks his stamina must have improved a lot with exercise. On the first flight from Scotland to the Himalayas, his wing-muscles ached because he just wasn't used to having the opportunity to fly far in one night – there was too much risk of being seen.
There's deep snow here, and the artificial cave Hothbrodd built for Slatebeard isn't big enough to shelter more than one dragon. Firedrake suggested to Sorrel that she might want to share with Slatebeard, while he and Maia curled up in the snow together to keep each other warm. Sorrel said indignantly that Firedrake was her dragon, and nothing was going to part her from him. Slatebeard whispered something to her which made her fur stand on end, and then she agreed that on second thoughts, maybe she would sleep in Slatebeard's cave after all. And Hothbrodd showed us that he had also built a small cabin just big enough for four humans and a homunculus to sleep in, when we aren't with the dragons.
My Master says this has been the best Christmas he's ever had. The orphanage did its best, he said, even getting members of staff to dress up as St Nicholas and his scary helper the Krampus to bring sweets on 6th December, and making everyone write letters to the Christ Child (who, confusingly, isn't Jesus, but is apparently a girl with blond curly hair, a crown, and golden wings) saying what they wanted for Christmas. But everyone knew that whatever they wrote, everyone would get the same random assortment of presents; and none of the children were allowed to do anything like lighting the advent wreath or helping to bake biscuits or learning poems to recite to St Nicholas, the way their school-friends who had families of their own did. There were just too many of them, or the orphanage was worried in case anyone got burnt lighting the candles or if they fought over whose turn it was, or – whatever.
The Professor and Professora and Miss Guinevere talked about the different countries they'd lived in or visited over the years, with different Christmas traditions, and different Christmases: countries where Christmas is on the 6th or 7th of January instead of in December, or countries where Christmas doesn't happen at all but other celebrations do, like Chinese New Year, and the Hungry Ghost Festival.
From my point of view, this has been the first year in my life that included celebrations, or indeed anything except trying to survive somehow. I told Firedrake and Maia about how Atticus's adopted son Jason, who is eight, struck up a friendship with a neighbour's children his own age, and has decided that he wants to live as a human at least until he un-dies, and go to school, and to church. Atticus has managed to get used to this, even the 'going to church' bit as long as his friend Bridget's parents take him there, but at Christmas, Jason wanted everyone to come along. He was in a play, playing one of the shepherds who came to see the baby Jesus, and he'd volunteered Sofi to play Jesus before going home to ask Atticus whether this was all right.
Atticus had phoned us to discuss what to do about it, and we decided it was simpler to go along with the plan than to try and find the priest and say, 'Actually, that would be inappropriate because we're vampires,' and after all, it's not as if Jason or Sofi look like vampires yet. More importantly, because Lucy, Jason and Sofi hadn't had any kind of religious upbringing, they hadn't been brought up to be afraid of the church, and Atticus is determined that they're not going to be. Some things, like silver, garlic, sunlight, fire and so on, simply are painful or harmful to vampires, but most of the others are learnt fears, in the same way that humans are taught to be afraid of snakes or spiders. All the same, Atticus was uneasy about coming to watch the play, so I'm glad that we could be with him to give him some moral support.
After that, we kept the rest of the festivities at home secular, decorating a Christmas tree with paper bats, singing 'Rudolf the Red-Fanged Vampire', watching The Nightmare Before Christmas on DVD, and feasting on either fallow-deer blood, roast venison, or chickpea-and-cider casserole, depending on species and personal preference. We'd brought presents: games of Monopoly and Mah-Jongg, and a book, The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett, which Atticus read aloud to all of us.
And now, Firedrake, Maia and Sorrel have come bringing presents: but not presents from them. 'Those stupid dwarves you sent over made me fill half my rucksack with their stupid rubbish!' Sorrel announced as soon as we arrived. 'They said it was supposed to be a present for you, to thank you for rescuing them. I didn't have anywhere near enough space for provisions for the journey, and I needed to make room for bottles of moon-dew for the dragons, too!'
She reached into her bag and dug out a box labelled, 'For the grey-haired human with glass on his eyes, and the black-haired boy who is friends with a homunculus'.
'They could have said it was for you, too!' my Master said to me indignantly. 'And what about Hothbrodd, and Lola?'
'Well, if we open it, we can always share whatever's inside, if it's something they're likely to want as well,' said Professor Greenbloom.
My Master untied the many pieces of cord that bound the box, and opened the lid to reveal two notes, one written in German and the other in Dwarven runes. The one in runes was addressed to me, and read:
I never got round to saying it before, but I'm sorry about talking to Nettlebrand and everything. I didn't know what I was getting myself into, but if what I had to go through was anything like what you'd been living through for hundreds of years, I don't know how you got through it alive and more-or-less sane. I'd have gone to pieces if it'd gone on much longer.
I'm glad you managed to melt Nettlebrand in the end, even if it did involve stealing my hat, tying me up and then lying to me. Thanks for not telling the other dwarves about what happened. I told Stonebeard, but he promised he won't tell the others.
The one in German read:
Most honourable humans,
By my calculation, we owe you at least this much:
Warning us of the impending destruction of our fastness: one sapphire.
Organising transport to a place of safety: two rubies.
Leading us to the richest jewel-mine we've ever encountered: seven diamonds.
Professor Greenbloom stared at the note, then at the glittering, polished stones underneath it. He looked startled, confused, and then horrified. 'B-but – I didn't do it for a reward!' he exclaimed. I was just trying to save their lives, that's all! And Ben's right – it wasn't just us, it was Twigleg and Hothbrodd and Lola – especially Hothbrodd. He was the one who built the plane, and he and Lola were the ones who flew it to the Himalayas and back! And it was Twigleg who risked his freedom to keep those first two dwarves talking until we could explain the situation, instead of panicking and getting us into a fight. Why should we be the ones to get paid?'
Hothbrodd came over to see what was going on, and Professor Greenbloom showed him the note. Hothbrodd shrugged. 'As far as I'm concerned, you're welcome to them,' he said. 'Diamonds can make decent cutting tools, but you want little ones for that, not socking great rocks like those. No, I reckon the dwarves gave you those because they like shiny things, and they know humans like shiny things, and if you ever have to trade with griffins, they might like shiny things, but they're bugger all use to any other species.'
'But – but I don't want to be rich!' protested the Professor. 'I've never wanted to be rich.'
'No,' said the Professora, 'but we have often wished we could do more for fantastic beings, haven't we? Mercer and his friends, and Firedrake and his friends, and Twigleg here, aren't the only fantastic beings who need protection, are they? We could sell these and donate the money to a crypto-conservation charity – maybe help fund Zubeida's research, or that refuge for fantastic beings that Bağdagül runs in Turkey – or we could leave our jobs and set up something similar ourselves.'
'We…' the Professor looked tempted, but then shook his head. 'We couldn't do it in England. Not without people noticing. Ireland might be a bit less crowded, but even so…'
'Why either of them?' interrupted Hothbrodd. 'What's wrong with here?'
Nobody could think of anything that was wrong with here (except Sorrel pointing out that it was knee-deep in snow). Hothbrodd lives in a forest by a fjord in one of the remotest parts of Norway. There's plenty of space for land animals, water for kelpies and selkies to swim in, skies undisturbed enough that nobody would notice dragons or pegasi flying around – and a troll who's actually willing, actually offering, to share his territory with us.
'So, if we built a house here, Firedrake could come and visit us whenever he wanted?' said my Master.
'We could come back when the snow's melted, and stock up on mushrooms!' said Sorrel. 'Burr-Burr-Chan's offered to teach me how to grow them – I totally need to bring back some spores of chanterelles, and horn-of-plenty, and hen-of-the-woods, and honey fungus, and wood ears, and terracotta hedgehogs, and puffballs, and…' (etc., etc., long after everyone else had stopped listening).
'If we lived here, we couldn't go to school, could we?' said Miss Guinevere thoughtfully. 'We'd need to do lessons at home, the way Ben's been doing this term.'
'Would you like that?' Professor Greenbloom asked both the children. 'Or would you rather go on with the lives you're living now?'
'I'd want to be somewhere I can see Firedrake,' said my Master firmly.
'I'd miss my friends at school,' said Miss Guinevere. 'But – well, how many people get the chance to live with mermaids and kelpies?'
'What about you?' my Master asked me. 'Would you mind going on being my teacher? Our teacher? And living here?'
'Why would I?' I said. 'All I've ever wanted is to be with you, but – well, now that nobody's forcing me to work, I want to be useful. I'm getting the hang of computers, and if Professor Greenbloom could lend me his notebooks, I could transcribe the information into a proper database.'
'I'd be very grateful if you would,' said the Professor. 'I've known for years that I ought to get round to it, but – well, I'm not good with technology.'
I think we're all agreed. We need to go home and sort out the details, but then, soon, we'll be coming home again – when this place is our new home. We need to ask the brownies and the fairies, and the Tree People and the Grass People for that matter, if they want to come with us. Mouse seems happy travelling with Lola these days, but we need to discuss this with him – and with Johannes and Professor Spotiswode, when they want to take a break from travelling the world in search of Wights and Hollows.
And there's been one more piece of good news. There isn't much mobile phone reception here, but earlier my Master's phone flickered into life to reveal a text message:
Hi Ben, I've missed U. Been busy rescuing dragons – nothing like Firedrake, or Issiah for that matter! Phone when U get a chance, OK? Ivan.