The first thing that Alys and Sparky noticed when they arrived in the secret Swiss valley was the lack of snow. Sparky puffed out his cheeks with an accompanying cloud of disappointed dark smoke. The ground shook slightly as George padded round the side of the Edelweiss Paradise factory but there was no sign of Otto and the rest of the gnomes of the valley.
‘Where is everyone?’ asked Alys, wishing she’d worn a warmer robe. Despite the lack of snow, it was still very cold in Switzerland.
‘I’ve already ferried two dozen of ’em up to Lapland.’ He shook his great green wings. ‘Here, put this on.’ He dropped a fluffy sheep’s wool cloak in front of her. ‘It’s freezing up there,’ he said, nodding towards the starry northern sky.
Alys donned the cloak gratefully and Sparky snuggled inside the collar. George stretched out his left wing. ‘Hop aboard and hang on!’ A moment later, the great green dragon launched himself into the air and they began climbing high into sky.
Sparky, of course, was used to flying, although not so high and not so fast, but dragon flight was new to Alys. She sheltered behind the scaly ruff on the back of George’s neck, grimly holding on, while they hurtled through the night sky so rapidly that the stars were just bright blurs. She tried to concentrate on what George was saying.
‘…it’s the lack of snow,’ he was explaining. ‘Santa’s Starlight Snowmobile can’t get off the ground’. His great wings flapped faster. ‘They’ve almost fixed it but now we’re running out of time for the Christmas deliveries.’
Sparky had crawled out from underneath Alys’s cloak and was perching behind George’s left ear. He stared open-mouthed at the glowing green of the Northern Lights arching high above them and a shower of silvery sparks issued excitedly from his nostrils. But there was no time to admire the view. George had already begun his descent, plunging through the inky blackness towards a big brightly-lit barn.
George glided to a graceful halt, extending a wing for Alys to climb down. Sparky flew to her shoulder and they hurried over to where Otto was working on a huge upturned snowmobile. Behind him the barn was a hive of activity with dozens of elves and gnomes securing piles of presents to a long line of waiting trailers.
Catching sight of them, Otto beamed. He called over his shoulder to the unmistakable figure who was standing on the other side of the snowmobile. ‘They’re here, Mr Claus, sir.’
Sparky let of an excited stream of scarlet smoke as Santa as approached them. ‘So pleased you’ve come,’ he boomed. ‘We’ve solved the problem with the snowmobile,’ he indicated a set of shiny silver wheels with big bouncy rubber tyres, which Otto was busy securing in place, ‘but we’ve lost so much time.’ He put his hands on his not inconsiderable hips and glanced up at a set of clocks, high up on the front of the building, which showed all the time-zones across the world.
Alys frowned. Every clock was set to midnight. ‘Surely it’s already Christmas morning in Australia?’
Santa grinned. ‘Ah, well, we do have a little bit of leeway in Lapland, but the tonttus can’t hold the clocks back much longer.’
Alys looked up again. Tiny white-bearded men in pointed red caps were holding onto the hands of the clocks. Suddenly there was a roar of alarm from one of them. The hour-hand on the Australian clock had broken free of his grip. Sparky shot up to his aid, jamming his tail between the hour-hand and the clock face.
Sparky winced through little puffs of purple smoke. ‘I can’t hold it for long, Alys. Try the spell we used at Agatha’s!’
Alys whipped out her wand. She closed her eyes, visualizing the pages of ‘Tweeking Time, a beginners guide’.
A loud groan came from the Japanese clock’s tonttu. More groaning, and the hands of the Indonesian clock broke free.
Alys raised her wand and began the incantation. It was quite a long and complicated spell, but Alys’s memory didn’t fail her. She continued to utter the time-tuning words, speaking slowly and deliberately.
The hands of the clock that governed the time in Pakistan began to spin, as its tonttu lost his grip.
‘Can’t she hurry up a bit?’ asked George in a loud whisper.
Sparky shook his head. ‘The time you take to make the spell is important.’
With a final flick of her wand, Alys completed her incantation. The shrill shriek of seizing cogs rang out, setting everyone’s teeth on edge, and the hands of the clock were frozen in time.
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
‘Bravo, Alys!’ Santa clapped his hands together. ‘Let’s get to work!’
Otto put a final turn of the spanner to the nuts of the shiny new front wheels and George gently flipped the Starlight Snowmobile over. Santa climbed aboard and revved the engine. He let out the clutch and felt the wheels gain traction. ‘Ho, ho, ho! We’re in business,’ he shouted gleefully as he reversed over to the line of trailers. The little army of elves and gnomes coupled up the highly-piled trailers and climbed aboard.
Santa drove carefully drove out of the barn. He looked down at Alys and Sparky. ‘Well, aren’t you coming?’ He looked down the long line of trailers. ‘Take a seat behind Otto, I’ll drop you home at midnight and you won’t miss a minute of your Christmas!’
Alys and Sparky exchanged glances and grinned. It was going to be the ride of their lives.