The following was the original (or "fairy-tale") version of Dragontamer's Daughters that I first wrote for my girls in 2003.
Once upon a time, when the world was young, there lived two little princesses: Elisabet, who was eight, and Alisandra, who was five.
Their home was a small island in the middle of the Great Grey Ocean. The island had high stone walls all along the shore. Inside the walls were beautiful gardens and orchards that the girls and their mother tended. A small but comfortable cottage kept them warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Elisabet was tall and very talkative and liked to read and dance. Alisandra was small but fierce and liked to pick flowers and have her mother tell stories to her. They had the same birthday, the ninth of September, which was, of course, their favorite day of the year.
Their father was gone most of the time, roaming the wide, dangerous world beyond. He was a dragontamer, which meant that he caught wild dragons and trained them and sold them to kings and khans and emperors, all of who wanted at least one dragon in their army.
Their mother was a princess, one of several sisters, all of whom knew at least a little magic. She had met the dragontamer when he had brought her father a rare Persian Speckled Dragon. Against her parents’ wishes, she had fallen in love with the dragontamer, and left with him.
One autumn day, however, their mother fell ill. Their Aunt Marzipan, a good witch, came to heal her sister, but even her powers were not strong enough. “I need certain ingredients to make a potion,” she told the dragontamer, and so he left aboard a small boat to gather them.
Days went by, then weeks. Their mother’s health worsened. Still their father did not return.
One dreary day, just for something to do, the girls went to play in the room at the top of the old stone tower that stood in the center of the island. They brought along their tea set, with all its cups and saucers, and they brought along some cakes and punch, and some other things too, all in a large wicker basket. They carried the basket (and all its contents) all the way up the steps inside the tower, stopping every once in a while to rest, or look out a side window, or just to watch a fat gray spider mend its web.
Once they were at the top of the tower, they took flowers from their basket and decorated the round room. There was an iron ladder on one side of the room, and it went up to the wooden roof through a trapdoor. The girls decorated the ladder too, but didn’t go up it: their parents had told them never to go up to the roof without a grown-up. They spread out a blanket and their cups and saucers, and some little plates, too. Then they had their cakes (iced with green frosting, their favorite) and drank their raspberry punch.
“I wish Daddy would come home today,” Elisabet said.
“I hope he brings me something,” Alisandra said. She frowned and crossed her arms, because she liked making faces when she wanted something. “I need a new doll.”
“Daddy always brings us something,” Elisabet replied. “And you have too many dolls already.”
“You can’t have too many dolls,” Alisandra told her. “I need more.”
Elisabet laughed, which made Alisandra frown more, which made Elisabet laugh some more, until finally, Alisandra laughed, too. The girls then played lets-pretend with the dolls they had brought in their basket.
Suddenly, there was a taptaptap at the window. They looked and saw a blue glass bottle hanging in the air, knocking on the windowpane.
“A flying bottle!” Alisandra exclaimed.
“It wants to come in,” said Elisabet. She opened the window and the bottle flew into the room with a low humming sound coming from its open mouth. It flew around the room twice and then settled into Alisandra’s lap.
She looked inside. “There’s a note!” she squealed, and tipped the bottle over. The note fell out onto the stone floor. “Read it, Elisabet.”
“It’s from Daddy,” she said.
I have all the things Aunt Marzipan needs for her potion, but I am about to be captured by pirates. I don’t know where they will take me. Tell Marzipan to send help.
“Oh no!” cried Alisandra. “The pirates have Daddy and my new doll, too!”
Elisabet rolled her eyes. “Don’t worry about your doll, Alisandra. We have to tell Aunt Marzipan what’s going on.”
They ran from the tower and into the house. Marzipan tried to shush them, saying, “Your mother is sleeping,” but then the girls showed her the note.
“Hmmm,” said Aunt Marzipan, putting the bottle and the note on the kitchen table. “This is terrible. We should have some soup.”
“Soup?” asked Elisabet.
“Soup,” replied Aunt Marzipan. “Creamy potato soup is the first step toward solving any problem.” Somewhat dubious, the girls nevertheless fetched bowls from the cupboard and spoons from the drawer. They sat down at the table. The girls were surprised to see their aunt give a bowl to Jack, their big black dog. Even more surprising was that he did not gobble it up right away, but waited.
“I’m not hungry,” Alisandra said.
“We don’t need to eat some soup,” Aunt Marzipan told them. “We just need to need to have some soup.” Marzipan waved her hands and mumbled magic words and the steam from the soup began to gather into a small white cloud.
The cloud shaped itself into an image of their father. His hands and feet were chained together. He looked haggard and dirty and half-starved.
Elisabeth shrieked. Alisandra glowered. “Hush,” said Aunt Marzipan. She kept waving her hands and the steam cloud changed into a jagged teardrop shape. An island?
“Yes, an island,” Marzipan said. “Can you smell it?” The girls leaned forward, sniffing. Instead of the good warm smell of potato soup, they smelled a harsh tangy odor, almost like rotting eggs.
“Can you smell it, Jack?” Marzipan asked. The dog’s nose twitched. He barked once, then bounded to the door, where he barked again.
“We’re coming, we’re coming,” Marzipan told him. “Come on, girls. Put on your warmest coats. You’re going to rescue your father.”
“We are?” asked Elisabet.
“What about our soup?” Alisandra asked, suddenly a little bit hungry.
“Your soup will wait until you get back,” Marzipan said. “You girls must go—I have to stay with your mother, and there’s no point in trying to summon any of your father’s worthless brothers. So you’ll have to go save him. But don’t worry. I’m sending Jack with you.”
“Aunt Marzipan, Jack is just a dog,” said Elisabet.
“You say ‘just a dog’ as if that isn’t something good enough to be. Besides, Jack is more than ‘just a dog.’ Aren’t you, boy?” she asked, patting him. He thumped his tail and grunted in agreement. “Elisabet, you’re taller: grab a cup and saucer from the cupboard, will you? Make sure it’s clean and dry.”
While she did, using a chair to help, Marzipan put Alisandra’s coat on and took Elisabet’s down from the peg where it hung. Marzipan took the cup and saucer from the older girl, handed the coat to her, and opened the door. Jack bounded off for the tower and the three of them followed.
They went up the stairs, back to the room where the girls had been playing when the bottle found them. “Go on,” Marzipan told Jack, nodding towards the roof, and he trotted up the ladder just as nimbly as a monkey and nosed open the trapdoor as if he had down it four hundred times before—which, perhaps, he had.
Elisabet went up after Jack. When Alisandra got to the top, she rushed to the parapet and peered over. “Look how high up we are!” she squealed.
“Come away from there, Alisandra. We’re not here to sightsee,” Marzipan told them. She bent down and put the teacup and saucer on the wooden roof beneath their feet.
She closed her eyes and mumbled some words—and the teacup suddenly became as big as five bathtubs. The saucer grew, too, until it was almost as large as the roof it sat on.
“Aunt Marzipan!” Elisabet gasped.
“Teach me to do that!” Alisandra giggled.
“When you girls are older, I might. Now hop in—you first, Jack, so you don’t land on the girls with those paws of yours.”
Jack barked happily—of course, he did everything happily—and sprang inside the cup. Marzipan hoisted the girls inside. “Now listen carefully,” she said, “and pay attention. Half of being smart is just paying attention.
“Alisandra, I’m going to give you a bottle of soap bubbles—don’t open it yet! Open it and blow some bubbles only when you need help,” she said, giving the younger girl a pearly white bottle. “Elisabet, I’m going to give you this silver whistle. Only blow it if you’re in trouble. Understand?”
The girls nodded. “All right, then,” Marzipan replied, stepping away from the teacup. “Up!” she called, and the cup and saucer lifted off the top of the tower, up, up, almost above the clouds. Jack stood on his hind legs, leaning his paws against the rim of the cup, as they began to zoom through the air, out over the Great Gray Ocean.
Even with their coats on, it was chilly. The girls were a little frightened at first, but soon they came and stood next to Jack and watched the world whiz by beneath them. It was fun—and a little dizzying—to see the tops of fluffy white clouds and watch the seabirds wheeling below. Once they saw, far below, bursts of white spray on the sea surface as a pod of great whales swam by.
“Someday I’m going to ride those whales!” Alisandra said. Elisabet rolled her eyes.
The sun was starting to set in the east when at last they came to a tiny island, covered in jungle, hundreds of miles from any shore. As the cup and saucer swung down through the air, the girls spotted a ship anchored in a lagoon. It was like no other ship they had ever seen, for it was shaped like a great sailfish, with eyes painted on the bow, a fish’s tail for the rudder, a long bill for a battering ram, and sails like the fin on the fish’s back.
“Look there!” exclaimed Alisandra.
“They’re pirates,” said Elisabet. “Look.” She pointed to the top of the ship’s mast, where flew the tattered red flag of the fearsome Bloody Blade Buccaneers. They were the worst pirates of all, fond of taking prisoners and torturing them with dull knives and hot pokers and other instruments of pain too terrible to speak of. And when they were through having their fun with the poor souls they caught, the Buccaneers would toss them alive into the bilge of their ship, to feed the fearsome razor-fanged boar that their hideous captain, Agnatha the Ogress, kept.
“I’m not afraid of them,” Alisandra said.
“Well, you should be,” Elisabet replied. “I bet they’re the pirates who have Daddy.”
“And my doll,” said Alisandra. “Let’s get them!”
“I don’t think that’s a good—” began Elisabet, but the cup and saucer dove for the ship, zooming down so fast that the girls’ long hair blew back behind them and they were almost thrown out. Jack thought this was great fun, barking happily. The cup and saucer skimmed low over the deck of the ship, and the pirates leapt out of the way. Before the girls could stop him, Jack sprang out onto the deck of the ship, growling and snapping his teeth at the pirates.
“Jack!” the girls screamed, as the cup and saucer soared back up into the air. Elisabet looked back and saw the pirates picking themselves up off the deck. A few of them were running away from Jack, one of them climbing the mast to get away. But most of them were drawing their swords and knives and gyrojet pistols and shouting at Jack.
“We have to help Jack!” Alisandra yelled, as the cup and saucer did a loop-de-loop in the air and screeched back down toward the sailfish ship.
“The bubbles!” Elisabet told her. “Aunt Marzipan said to use them when we needed help. When we pass by the ship, blow some bubbles!”
As they hurtled closer to the ship, they could see that somehow Jack had grown to the size of a horse. He crashed into their midst, jaws snapping, scattering pirates here and there. Most of them were still fighting him, but some were trying to get away, climbing into the tiny lifeboats lashed to the sides or simply throwing themselves overboard.
Alisandra tried to blow bubbles with the little wand in the bottle, but the cup and saucer were going too fast. They went zooming past again, then back up into the air, then past the ship again, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get the bubbles to blow. Annoyed, she tipped the bottle upside down and shook it as hard as she could.
Out poured an entire menagerie of bubble animals—ligers and tigons and wombats and orangutans and muntjacs and manta rays and voles and moles and herons and pelicans and buzzards and spectacled sloth bears from the lands of the Great Raja and all kinds of other creatures. All of them made out of soap bubbles, or so it seemed. The soap bubble animals fell out of the sky and onto the deck of the ship and immediately began to battle the Bloody Blade Buccaneers.
At this, the pirates finally lost their nerve. They could deal with a huge flying cup and saucer with two little girls inside. They could deal with a ferocious dog that quadrupled its size and fought them tooth and nail. But they could not accept magical soap bubble animals whose blows struck like hammers and then popped out of existence, leaving a filmy, slippery residue on the deck of the ship. No, that was too much for them. They threw their weapons down, fell to their knees, and begged for mercy.
The cup and saucer landed and the princesses got out. Jack was unhurt, of course, and had returned to his normal size. Alisandra threw her arms around his neck while Elisabet put on her bravest face and demanded to know where her father was.
“The dragontamer is there,” one of the buccaneers said, pointing to the island, now grown dark. “Our mistress, Agnatha, took him in a boat. We don’t know why.”
Elisabet hadn’t expected this, and for a moment she wondered what to do. “Bring me his things, then—all of them! Or I’ll sic my dog on you again.” Jack growled menacingly, and the pirates, most of who having already felt his bite, stumbled over themselves trying to carry out the little girl’s order.
They came back with a bundle of their father’s things: spare clothes, his shaving kit and toothbrush, some herbs carefully wrapped in a brown leather bag. “These must be the ingredients he collected for Aunt Marzipan,” Elisabet said. “But where are Daddy’s tools that he uses to tame dragons?”
“Maybe he has them,” Alisandra said. She was scratching Jack’s head and hoping Elisabet would let Jack bite the pirates some more.
“If he has them,” Elisabet thought out loud, “then maybe Agnatha is trying to make him catch a dragon for her. Let’s go, you two!” The girls and their dog climbed into the cup.
“Errrmm, what about us?” one of the pirates asked. He had taken the kerchief from his head and wrapped around his leg where Jack had nipped him.
“If I were you, I’d be gone when we get back!” Alisandra yelled. Jack barked at them for emphasis, and the pirates blanched.
“We will!” they shouted, and made preparations to sail while the princesses and their dog flew off in the cup.
Night fell. Monkeys screeched and insects buzzed as they soared over the jungle that covered the island. The place had the same sharp, tangy odor that they had smelled when Aunt Marzipan had conjured it out of the steam from the soup. The full moon rose and amongst the trees, the girls could see ancient iron ruins and glittering shards of broken glass that twinkled in the light. Once upon a time, a great city had stood here, but what had happened to it, the girls could not say.
“How are we supposed to find Daddy in the dark?” Elisabet asked.
“There!” Alisandra exclaimed.
A mountain loomed before them, and halfway up, the girls saw a flickering light. Perhaps it was their father?
It was. As they flew by, they could see that it was him, looking thin and dirty. His hands and feet were chained together so that he could only shuffle along. Behind him was a tall, thin, hideously ugly old woman with pointed teeth and nails, wiry red hair that stood straight up, and an electric torch in her gnarled hand. Beside her, on a great iron leash, was a huge red boar with metal quills on its back and curved tusks poking out of its foaming mouth.
Agnatha the Ogress looked up at the girls and shrieked. Pointing a withered finger at them, she fired two bolts of horrible red lightning from her eyes. The lightning bolts hit the cup and saucer, shattering them into hundreds of tiny pieces.
The girls screamed and grabbed each other as they fell. Elisabet noticed that Jack was changing size again, growing bigger—and heavier. By the time he had hit the ground he was the size of an elephant, and when he hit, the trees nearby shook and huge clumps of dirt went flying. His legs crumpled under him and he howled in pain, but he never took his eyes off the girls, who landed on the soft fur of his back and slid to the ground, a little battered but otherwise unhurt.
“My dog!” Alisandra yelled. “You hurt my dog!”
Their father took advantage of the distraction by grabbing the curved sword from the sash around Agnatha’s waist and swinging at her, but at the last moment she saw him and pulled back in time. Then her pet boar charged him and knocked him flat, the scimitar flying from his hand. Their father let out an “Ooomph!” as he hit the ground.
“Daddy!” Elisabet called. Always the cautious one, she realized that they were in a lot of trouble—and then remembered what Aunt Marzipan said about being in trouble. She grabbed the silver whistle around her neck and shouted, “You give us back our daddy right now!”
“Red Rover,” Agnatha called, in her scratchy voice, “eat them!” The boar drooled and pawed the ground with its hoof, ready to charge them and catch them on its tusks and gobble them up.
Elisabet blew the whistle, and it sounded like a peal of thunder. Agnatha and the boar stumbled backward from the blast as a huge gray cloud appeared out of the whistle and formed into an enormous winged shape.
“An Imberyan Storm Dragon!” their father exclaimed.
If he seemed a little afraid, Agnatha and her pet were absolutely terrified. The great gray monster—who looked like he was made from a cloud—opened its mouth, revealing endless rows of teeth, each as long and thin as a spear. Its roar was like a hurricane, so loud that the girls couldn’t hear their own screams above it, and so strong that the trees nearby bent in the wind of it.
The ogress and the boar turned and ran, the old hag’s red wig falling off to reveal her scaly head, with only a few tufts of gray sticking up. They ran down the mountain (because one usually runs faster downhill) and for all I know, they ran straight to the water and swam for their lives. Or maybe they’re still on that island, hiding in a cave somewhere.
Enough about them. The Imberyan Storm Dragon turned its attention to the two little girls, their injured dog (now back to normal size), and their father. Its eyes, like two enormous pearls, regarded them in a very unfriendly way. Jack tried to stand to defend his beloved princesses, but his broken legs couldn’t hold him up. He whimpered as he fell back down to the ground.
“Well…now what?” Elisabet asked. Even Alisandra, normally fearless, was afraid.
“Here, boy! Here, boy,” their father called. The dragon turned to face him. He was holding up something long and shiny and smelly: a fish from Agnatha’s food pack, which she had dropped (along with her wig and the electric torch) in her haste. “Look what I have for you.”
The dragon sniffed. The dragon snorted. The dragon opened its cavernous mouth, with its endless rows of razor-sharp teeth, each as long as a spear, and daintily took the fish from their father’s hand. It swallowed it down like you or I would swallow a tiny sunflower seed.
“Good boy, good boy,” the dragontamer said, his voice low and soothing. He patted the monster on the snout. “Who’s the good dragon? You are, aren’t you?”
The Imberyan Storm Dragon, a terror to sailors—and at least one pirate ogress—grunted in agreement. Then it purred like an enormous cat.
“Daddy!” the girls squealed, and leapt to his arms. He scooped them up and held them tight and kissed them and twirled around with them while Jack and the dragon watched.
“I’m so glad we found you!” Elisabet told him.
“Daddy, you stink,” Alisandra said, holding her nose.
He laughed. “Yes, I need a very long bath,” he told her. “The pirates haven’t let me have one. They caught me on my way home, and once that old hag, Agnatha, recognized the tools in my pouch, she had her men sail here.”
“Why here?” asked Elisabet.
“Because dragons used to use these mountains to make their nests,” their father said. “A long time ago, that is, before the winds changed and the island started smelling nicer.”
“Smelling NICER?” demanded Alisandra. “This place smells like rotten eggs! I can’t stand it here.”
“Yes, but it used to smell a lot worse, the old books say,” their father replied. “And dragons—like dogs—really enjoy bad smells. Speaking of dogs, let’s look at poor Jack.”
They crouched by the whimpering dog. “Is he going to be okay?” Elisabet asked.
“Yes, I think so,” their father said. They gathered up sticks and their father tore some of his clothing into strips and they bound up Jack’s broken legs with splints.
“Let’s get him home,” their father said, hoisting up the dog in his arms.
“We can’t go home!” Alisandra exclaimed. “Mean old Agnafa broke our flying cup.”
Elisabet giggled. “Her name’s AgnaTHA, not AgnaFA,” she said.
“Well, I’m going to call her Agnafa,” replied Alisandra. “Agnafa Monkeybrain!”
Elisabet laughed out loud, and so did Alisandra. Then they thought about it for a moment. How were they going to get home?
But their father had already climbed up onto the back of the Imberyan Storm Dragon, who despite looking like he was made from a cloud was actually quite solid. The dragontamer had taken his rope from his bag of tools and a harness to hold himself and Jack—and the girls, of course—onto the dragon, and he had his ankus (a type of hook you hold in your hand) for directing the great gray monster.
“Our new friend here will fly us home,” their father said, as he reached down and lifted the girls onto the dragon. “And in return, we’ll give him all the salted fish we have, won’t we, boy?” The dragon sighed deeply and happily. “Imberyans love salted fish—the saltier, the better—which is why they often attack ships, to get at the sailors’ provisions. But enough shop talk….”
They flew on through the night, with the girls dozing in their father’s arms. They landed on their little island a few hours later. The dragontamer gave the herbs to Marzipan and carried Alisandra, now fast asleep, to her room. Elisabet stumbled sleepily behind him and went right to bed without changing.
In the morning, their mother was well again, up and out of bed for the first time in weeks. The girls hugged and kissed her and danced around her and told her the story of their adventure. Suddenly, Alisandra stopped.
“What about Jack?” she asked.
They went out to the doghouse where Jack slept. He lay there, his legs bound stiff, his breathing heavy.
“I’m afraid I don’t know much about mending broken bones,” their father said.
“And my healing magic only works on people, not dogs,” Marzipan said.
“Well it’s a good thing that I’ve always liked animals,” their mother said, pulling up her sleeves. “You were always the best at spellcraft, Marzipan, but at last it’s time for your big sister to show you something new.”
Their mother put her hand on Jack’s legs, one after the other, and sang a quiet little song over him. And when she was done, she unwrapped his splints and he stood up, a little wobbly at first, but then with renewed strength.
“And the dragon, Daddy?” asked Elisabet. “Now that you’ve tamed him, will you sell him to some king or emperor?”
“No,” the dragontamer replied. “I let him—her, actually—go this morning, after a big breakfast of fish.”
“Her?” their mother asked, giving their father a quizzical look.
“I may be a dragontamer, but I’m not an expert,” he said, and they all laughed.