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Tom and the Dark Knight
by Tony Bradman
When Tom Bailey claims that his dad is the best jouster in the world, the terrifying Dark Knight is determined to smash the tubby, soft-hearted Sir John to pieces in Creaky Castle’s Grand Jousting Tournament. How can Tom save his father without dropping himself into SERIOUS trouble?
198 x 130mm
Illustrator: Stephen Parkhouse
Thomas Bailey peeked out from behind an old cart in the courtyard of his home, Creaky Castle. A couple of men-at-arms were leaning on their pikes by the main gate, but no one else was in sight. There certainly wasn’t any sign of his mother, Lady Eleanor, and Thomas smiled.
He was feeling pretty pleased with himself. He had managed to keep out of Mother’s way all morning, which meant he hadn’t been given any boring chores to do, so he had been able to focus entirely on having fun.
“Come on, Sparky,” he whispered, continuing to scan the courtyard. “We’ll slip out and go down to the woods. You can roast some chestnuts if you like, although you’ll have to make sure you don’t get overexcited and set fire to any trees this time, okay? Hey, did you hear me, Sparky?”
Thomas glanced over his shoulder…and his blood ran cold. He had expected his enormous pet dragon to be sitting right behind him, but Sparky was nowhere to be seen. Mother was standing there instead, staring at him and seeming none too pleased at what she’d just heard.
“Well, I suppose that solves the mystery of last week’s forest fire,” she said, one stern eyebrow raised. “Of course, I should have guessed you and your dragon had something to do with it. That beast has been nothing but trouble ever since you bought him. Still, you’ve given me a good idea ...”
“Have I?” asked Thomas, a feeling of confusion beginning to creep over him. Mother was behaving very strangely. She should be shouting at him by now, but her cross expression had suddenly vanished. She was gazing at a corner of the courtyard, looking thoughtful and nodding to herself.
“Umm, yes, that might work ...” she murmured at last. Then she turned back to her son. “Anyway, don’t just stand there looking dozy, Thomas,” she said. “Your father and sister are waiting for us in the Great Hall. We could have got started ages ago if it hadn’t taken me so long to find you.”
She marched off, heading for the Keep, and Thomas scurried after her. “Get started on what?” he said, intrigued, but Mother didn’t answer.
Suddenly Sparky appeared from behind the stables. The dragon trailed closely behind Thomas, giving off a plaintive noise, a sort of sad mooing.
“Huh, it’s no good being all pathetic and sorry now, is it?” Thomas hissed. “You could at least have given me some kind of warning.”
“He wouldn’t have dared,” said Lady Eleanor, striding into the Keep.
Thomas followed, Sparky squeezed through behind him, and soon the three of them arrived in the Great Hall. Sir John and Matilda were sitting together on one side of the long dining table. On the table itself were several thick rolls of parchment, a big ink pot and a large quill pen.
Sparky tiptoed quietly over to lie beside Mott, the family’s ancient wolfhound. Mott growled, and moved off to sit under the table near Sir John. Sparky rested his huge head on his paws, puffs of white smoke emerging every now and again from his nostrils.
“Ah, Tom, so your mother finally tracked you down,” said Sir John, stroking Mott. “Sit over here and tell me what you’ve been up to.”
“Actually, I’d rather we just got on with it,” muttered Matilda. “Some of us might have better things to do than to hang around in here all day.”
“Er ... get on with what, exactly?” asked Thomas, taking the seat next to his father. “I wish somebody would just tell me what’s going on.”
“Apparently Mother has an announcement to make,” said Matilda.
“That’s quite correct, Matilda,” said Lady Eleanor in her special serious voice. “Now sit up and pay attention, please. What I have to say is rather important. I’m afraid that yet again we’ve got money problems, but —”
“So what’s new?” said Matilda. “We’re always short of money.”
“Oh no, hardly always, Matilda,” grumbled Sir John. “Just, well ... most of the time. Anyway, money isn’t the most important thing in life, is it? And although it would be lovely to have a little more, we do seem to get by.”
“Personally speaking, I’ve had more than enough of getting by,” said Lady Eleanor. “So I’ve been doing some thinking, and I believe I’ve come up with a way for us to make money. A lot of money, perhaps.”
“Why, that’s wonderful, dear,” said Sir John, beaming at his wife. “I wish I was as brilliant as you. Er ... what exactly did you have in mind?”
“I’m going to put on a Grand Jousting Tournament,” said Lady Eleanor. “We can invite lots of knights, charge each one an entry fee, and —”
“A Grand Jousting Tournament?” squeaked Thomas, utterly amazed. He could hardly believe his ears. “What, right here in ... Creaky Castle?”
It was a dream come true. Thomas was obsessed with tournaments. He had a subscription to CLAAAAANG!, the jousting magazine, and a full set of Top Thumps, the cards featuring pictures of jousters and statistics of their competition performances. But he had never been to a tournament, not once, and he had almost given up hope of going to one. He could hardly believe that a tournament was about to come to him instead.
“Yes, Thomas,” sighed Mother. “As I was saying, I want to —”
“Whoa, how cool is that?” said Matilda, grinning at her brother. Thomas knew she was obsessed with tournaments too. In fact, she liked nothing better than to wear armour, and she was pretty handy with a lance herself. “I won’t have to pay an entry fee, will I?” she added.
“Certainly not,” snapped Mother. “Because you won’t be —”
“Are you quite sure about this, sweetheart?” said Sir John. “After all, these tournaments can be, well ... awfully violent affairs, can’t they?”
Now it was Thomas’s turn to sigh. His father was the reason Thomas had never been to a tournament. Sir John was the least warlike knight in the kingdom. He hated anything to do with fighting, and much preferred reading old books or a quiet afternoon’s fishing. Thomas loved his father, but he wished Sir John were more like the knights who won tournaments. It would be wonderful to have a father he could really look up to.
Mother opened her mouth to reply, but Matilda spoke before her.
“Er ... hello?” she said, rolling her eyes at Thomas. “I think that’s the whole point, Father. The knights won’t be coming here to play games.”
“Maybe they should,” said Father. “They could play chess, although that might be hard for them. I know, how about draughts, or tiddlywinks ...”
“Tiddlywinks?” said Matilda. “What’s that? I’ve never heard of it.”
“Well, each player has to flick these little counters —” said Sir John.
“QUIET!” yelled Lady Eleanor, glaring at them. “I might get violent myself if you don’t shut up! It’s going to be a jousting tournament, and that’s the end of it. And just so there are no misunderstandings, let me make a few things absolutely clear. Matilda, you will not be entering – I simply couldn’t allow a daughter of mine to do anything so unladylike.”
“But ... but ...” Matilda spluttered. Lady Eleanor took no notice.
“And I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on you, Thomas Bailey,” she said, wagging a finger at her son. “If I get even the slightest hint that you’re up to mischief, you’ll be in big trouble, is that clear? Now, I’ve written out a list of tasks for each of you on these rolls of parchment ...”
Thomas had already stopped listening.
Mischief? Him? As if! He was going to be far too busy enjoying himself to get up to any mischief.
Although, of course, you never knew what the future might hold ...
After graduating from Cambridge University, Tony Bradman worked as the Deputy Editor of Parent’s Magazine before beginning to write. He has sold over two million books worldwide and is the author of the well-known Dilly the Dinosaur books.
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