Wizard Derk of Derkholm is the paterfamilias of a large happy family, and the genetics magician/scientist of his generation. For a long time, he has been happy puttering around developing new types of animals, including stupid cows, flying pigs, smart geese, giant hens, and the enormous sentient griffins. The five griffins he has thus far created contained cells of lions, eagles, cats, and of himself and his wife. These griffins, therefore, are his sons and daughters: Callette, Don, Lydda, Kit, and Elda.
Derk and his enchantress wife Mara also have two human children, Shona and Blade. Except for Elda, who is still quite young, all the children have reached that difficult teen period where they are still growing, but beginning to try to figure out how they'll make it in the real world, which doesn't seem to be adapting itself well to anybody's plans.
Being the Dark LordEdit
The first huge challenge of this experience for Derk was just the complicated series of actions and events he is contracted to orchestrate as the Dark Lord. These include transforming his pleasant home into an Evil Fortress, finding some way to keep his children and his animals safe from the hordes of soldiery & visitors coming every week to try and defeat him, and expending vast amounts of money and energy to persuade all the other actors to do their duty. He is supposed to raise a demon -- something that he has a bad habit of doing wrong. He is expected to have one or more Gods manifest to every Pilgrim Party. He is working with untrustworthy or fallible fellow actors and/or planners. And in the middle of making the plans, he gets scorched by a dragon.
Shortly before he is to begin his first duties as Dark Lord, a very large black dragon is seen flying towards Derkholm from a long distance away. His wings are tattered and flapping, and he has various injuries and weaknesses. Among other things, he seems to be emaciated and very very angry.
It turns out the dragon has been sleeping for a long long time, expecting to die in his sleep. However, something woke him and he discovered that the world was going to hell in a handbasket. It all seemed to be due to some kind of Dark Lord, who was draining the world of treasure and magic at the expense of dragonkind, and the dragon determined to do something about it.
When he arrives at Derkholm, which is only in the middle of being transformed into the Dark Lord's Citadel, he finds Derk, verbally gives him a piece of his mind about his evil intentions and effects on the world, and before Derk or anyone else can explain, the dragon attempts to flame him to death. However, he's so weakened that all he does is scald him with steam, which is actually bad enough.
The efforts of Derk's wife Mara and son Blade serve to stabilize Derk until a healer can be fetched, and Mara goes to work on trying to fix the dragon, who says to call it Scales. Mara feeds Scales several cows, stitches up his wing, and succeeds in getting a healer in to tend to some of the worst of its wounds. She also explains to the dragon that he has steamed one of the good guys -- someone who's a friend to dragonkind and an enemy to the real dark lord, Mr. Chesney. As a result, Scales determines to make up for his mistake by helping Derk and his family in their assignments.
The Kids Take OverEdit
The healer who helps the dragon first sees to Derk, and orders that he be allowed to sleep while his lungs and skin heal. She says it may take several days or weeks, and in the meantime, he can't do anything he is supposed to do as Dark Lord, so Derk's children, primarily Blade, Kit, Shona and Don take over. Together, they figure out ways to put in the initial appearance of the Dark Lord, with things like Leathery-Winged Avians and red-eyed hounds. Scales helps them frighten the convicted criminals who are supposed to fight as the Dark Lord's Evil Army, and Blade manages to get the Base Camp set up for this army, despite the drunken stupor Barnabas has fallen into. Shona sees to the Derkholm animals who are helping to create the illusions, and Kit turns his attention to military tactics and strategy, which he proves extremely talented at. Altogether, they do an excellent job under bad circumstances, and when Derk is finally up and about, he is impressed by what they've managed to accomplish.
However, something that is NOT going well for Derk is the behavior of most of the women in the world. From the lowliest slave girl to the most powerful wizard, the women seem to be up to something, and Derk can't figure out what it is. They are secretive and they are not helpful when it comes to attempts Derk makes to be successful as the Dark Lord. Worst of all, Derk's wife Mara seems to be becoming more and more estranged, which devastates him to the point of deep depression. When bad things start happening to Derk's own children, this loss of his beloved family proves to be the last straw, and Derk holes up in his home (or Evil Citadel, as it appears now) and refuses to do any more. It seems that everything is going wrong. That is, until a foot-tapping all-hands-on-deck Diana Wynn Jones Confrontation Scene happens, and much is revealed.