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Chapter One

October 1928

“I still don’t understand why we had to come to France,” Nate grumbled as he dragged his rucksack on the ground behind him. Not liking the bumpy ride, his pet gremlin, Greasle, scampered up the pack’s buckles and pouches to his shoulder.

“We came to France because our lives can’t just stand still while we wait for news of Obediah Fludd to surface,” Aunt Phil explained.

“We still have a job to do, Nate. And today, being a beastologist brings us to France.”

She stopped walking and Nate bumped into her. “Sorry,” he mumbled, embarrassed.

Aunt Phil reached out a hand to steady him. “We have scouts everywhere, keeping an eye out for Obediah. If he’s spotted, we’ll know soon enough. Now, pull yourself together. We’ve work to do.”

Cornelius, Aunt Phil’s pet dodo, sniffed. “If the boy were a true Fludd, he wouldn’t snivel so much.”

As Nate glared at him, Greasle piped up. “Seems to me there was a certain dodo doing an awful lot of sniveling this morning. Something about nots wanting to be left home alone.”

Cornelius raised his beak into the air and fluffed his feathers. “I wasn’t sniveling. I was being cautious. I’d already been attacked once, you know.”

“You weren’t attacked!” Greasle scoffed. “A door accidentally falled on you.”

“Enough!” Aunt Phil said.

“He started it,” the gremlin muttered. 

Nate let himself fall a few paces behind Aunt Phil and lowered his voice. “Bickering with Cornelius is not going to help convince Aunt Phil to let me keep you,” he pointed out.

Greasle’s shoulders drooped. “I know. But I can’t stand it when that overstuffed pigeon be’s mean to you.”

“Are you two planning on joining us any time soon?” Cornelius drawled.

Nate looked up to see that the dodo and Aunt Phil had reached the farmhouse and he hurried to catch up. A flock of chickens had stopped scratching in the dirt to stare curiously at Cornelius.

Nate sent the dodo a sly look. “Relatives of yours, Cornelius?”

The dodo clacked his beak in annoyance.

“Don’t worry about him,” Greasle told the chickens. “He’s just a big, fat chicken who can’t even lay eggs.”

Just as Aunt Phil whirled around to give everyone another scolding, the farmhouse door burst open. A short, round man tumbled out into the yard. He wore a black cap and smelled of garlic and sausage. “Dr. Fludd! I had nearly despaired of your arrival!”

“I’m sorry Monsieur Poupon. We came as soon as we got your message. It does take an hour or two to cross the channel—even in an airplane. Now, what’s all this about a guivre infestation?”

“Le dragon showed up in my well two days ago and won’t budge.”

“One guivre can hardly be considered an infestation," Aunt Phil pointed out. Besides, you are having an unseasonably warm autumn. Perhaps he just needs to cool off for a bit—”

“Non! He may not cool off in my well. Le guivre, he carries disease, the plague! All my family, my animals, will become sick if you do not remove him at once.”

“Nonsense.” Aunt Phil bristled. “That is merely an old rumor started in the Middle Ages. It has long been proven false. Guivres carry no diseases.”

The farmer’s face grew red and he clenched his fists. “Are you saying you won’t remove him?”

“No. I am simply pointing out that you have nothing to fear but inconvenience. Come along, Nate. Let’s go see to the guivre. We’ll let you know when we’ve finished, Monsieur Poupon.”

With that, Aunt Phil headed back down the walkway. “I don’t want that poor guivre around you any longer than necessary,” she muttered to herself.

She was so annoyed with the farmer that she marched right past the path leading to the well. Not wanting this to take any longer than it had to, Nate stopped and called her back. “I think this is the way,” he said, pointing to a low wall of thick gray stone.

“Now that is clever,” Cornelius drawled. “Finding a well in plain sight. I take back everything I ever said about your lack of Fludd skills.”

“If you can’t say something helpful, then don’t say anything at all,” Aunt Phil told the dodo. To Nate, she said, “Thank you.”

When they came to a stop in front of the well, Greasle whispered in Nate’s ear, “What’s a guivre, anyway?” 

“I don’t know,” he said. “But we’re about to find out. Now be quiet so I can pay attention.” He didn’t want to miss a thing. Aunt Phil might quiz him on it later. Or it could turn out to be a matter of life and death. One never knew with her.

She set her pack on the ground then leaned over the well. “Hello?” she called out, her voice echoing down into the dark depths.

In answer, a great gushing stream of water shot out of the well. Aunt Phil leaped back, avoiding the hosing. Unfortunately, Nate didn’t. The jet of water cascaded down on his head.

“Sorry about that,” Aunt Phil said as he wiped the water from his eyes. “I should have warned you.”

Nate wrung the water from his coat, glad they were having a warm autumn. On his shoulder, Greasle gave a quick shake, flinging the water from her oily skin.

Aunt Phil turned back to the well. “Thank you, dear, but I didn’t need any water today,” she called down. “I actually wanted to have a little chat with you. Do you have a moment?”

The splashing stopped, then slowly, something big and slithery began to rise up out of the well’s depths.