Authors: Eleanor Beresford
Tags: #Young Adult, #Fantasy, #Fiction, #LGBT, #Sorcery, #Coming of Age, #Romance, #Lesbian, #(v5.0)
Pegasi and Prefects
Scholars and Sorcery #1
Published by KoR Cubed, Smashwords edition
For my beloved wife, Isobel.
Scholars and Sorcery Series
#1 Pegasi and Prefects
#2 Elves and Escapades (March 2015)
#3 Mermaids and Misadventures (TBA)
Copyright © 2015 by Eleanor Beresford
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the author
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
The first sight of Fernleigh Manor leaves me with a lump in my throat that is not altogether love, nor altogether excitement. It's a beautiful school, with the smooth green games fields, the pool reflecting back the sky’s pearly grey. The Tudor School House and the newer wings enclose the rose-scattered courtyard, already teeming with buses and girls in navy uniforms. Against the brighter green of the lawns, the deeper green of ancient hedges form a boundary around the grounds.
They are less of a barrier, of course, if you arrive from the sky.
I love to fly, especially on the back of a pegasus. Oh, I enjoy riding the earth-bound unicorns and even earthly horses, of course, and I love riding the dagger-minded carnivorous steeds like dragonlings and gryphons with which my mother has such sympathy. There's still simply nothing like being on the back of my own pegasus, his great wings beating the air and cutting the wind around me, his wild gentle mind wrapped around mine.
The courtyard is not as empty as I hoped when I set out so early. The evening coach carrying the second and largest group of girls, is yet to arrive, but the cars parked on the drive are spilling out schoolgirls and luggage. I can already make out groups of girls standing in groups, exchanging greetings and gossip, while their parents stand patiently back, waiting to be remembered and receive their nonchalant farewells. No girl past the first form would be so silly as to show any distress at parting with their family, at least in front of the others.
When I see just how many girls have arrived, there’s a panicked moment in which I rethink my scheme and almost turn back to take Ember toward Briar Stables again, like a good girl. It passes. Ember is already circling lower, and the figures in the courtyard are starting to look up, point, and bring each other's attention to me. I'm in for it, now. Might as well try to carry it off with style.
Why did I ever think this was a good idea? Me, who hates being the centre of attention. And when I've kept my record clean at school for nearly two years now, to break the rules on my first day in the Sixth in a way the mistresses can't possibly pretend not to notice, in front of a crowd of girls and parents. I don't ever think anything through properly, that's my problem. Like my brothers are fond of telling me, I don't have the horse-sense of a newly born unicorn.
Ember rears backwards, pacing the air, his head high. I lean forward, burying my head in his neck, his wings beating the air, unworried about taking a tumble. Ember would never let me fall. We understand each other too well for that, and not just as steed and mistress.
I have the ability to reach out to fabled beasts and feel their hearts and souls, and communicate what I want. It's my sole magical talent. It's more than just my magical gift connecting me to Ember, though. It's not simply that I can reach into his heart, more that we share the same one. I was present at his birth, and I felt it the moment he slid, wet and pathetic looking, from his dam's body. We belonged to each other right then.
When I feel Ember's rear hooves strike the ground, I relax and let myself sit back as he brings his front hooves down as well, landing in a canter that slows to a trot as the beating of his wings gradually subsides and his strong legs take over. He wheels in a circle, drops to a walk, and folds his wings along his back. A perfectly executed landing, and I barely had to nudge him with my mind. I can hear his smugness in his whinny. I ignore it, given over to my own anxiousness and embarrassment.
I give my audience a somewhat desultory wave and slide from my seat. The girls who had scattered at my approach are reforming into groups and heading to me as if Ember's beautiful wings exert some magnetic attraction. There's altogether too much fuss already for my tastes, too much giggling and shouting, but then, I suppose I was asking for it. It's a relief when Cecily and Esther come to the forefront. Those two won't make a silly fuss.
The other girls, mostly younger, hang back a bit as they come forward, not so much in awe of me, I suspect, as of Cecily. Of course, being a sixth former now, I suppose I too might be an important person in the eyes of the kids. I may not cover myself in glory in either scholastics or magic, but I'm not a bad fast bowler, good enough to hold my own in the first Eleven, in any case, and I've been in the first hockey team since last year. Still, I'm not nearly as impressive a figure as Cecily, Head of the Fifth last year, Senior Prefect and, far more importantly in the eyes of the school, Games Captain. Esther, too, is the best batsman Fernleigh Manor ever produced, as well as being possibly the prettiest girl in the school and a source of deliberate awe and terror to the little ones for more reasons than that.
The crush disperses a little at the sight of my grand company, although I'm still uncomfortably aware that there are a lot of eyes on me—or, at least, on my pegasus.
"Oh, really, Charley, fancy flying him right down to the school courtyard like that!" My friend Cecily has a peculiarly welcoming smile, all straight white teeth, and a an agreeable Colonial accent. She doesn't remind me that it's strictly against the rules to bring magical creatures into the school grounds; she knows very well that I know, and she wouldn’t knock me in front of the younger girls. "Don't tell me that he'll be sleeping in the classrooms."
"It's more likely that she'll be sneaking him up the back stairs to sleep in the dorm. We shall spend all term hiding him under our covers and pretending to Matron that his whinnies and sudden outbreaks of fire are just an unfortunate reaction to school cooking," drawls Esther, reaching up to stroke Ember's nose. He flares his nostrils at her, and I send a calming thought his way.
"I wouldn't put it past her," says Cecily, clapping me fondly on the back.
I grin back at them, a little shamefacedly. "I just thought that Ember should see the school at last, so he'd understand better what I am thinking about." I realise how odd that sounds as soon as it comes out of my mouth, so I add hastily: "It's our last year, after all."
"Don't remind me!" Cecily grimaces.
Esther is still admiringly stroking Ember's shining neck. It makes me happy. Ember is—well, he's spectacular, but people don't always properly appreciate that. He's so large, and the glowing red flickering that sometimes flames up in his bay coat can be a little alarming, especially if your clothes start to smoulder a little. "I can't bear to think we have only three more terms left here."
The younger girls are gaining confidence and moving closer. One girl, a fourth former at a guess, but not one I recognise, with long pale hair in two thick plaits and even thicker spectacles, summons the courage to approach Ember. She strokes him well, a good, firm touch, not the nervous tickling a lot of youngsters inflict on magical steeds, afraid of being bitten or flamed. I can feel pleasure and appreciation coming from Ember in response.
It makes me look at the girl more closely. Pointed ears show through her hair, and her eyes are large and round behind her spectacles. Interesting, that. The good families, the ones with heavy streaks of blue elfin blood, often share an affinity with beast magic. The thought crosses my mind that perhaps I can help her out a bit. We're always supposed to be encouraging the youngsters in their talents, and apart from a bit of cricket coaching, I haven't done much in that line.
I spring back into the saddle. So far, the mistresses have yet to interfere with me, but if Ember makes a mess in the school courtyard, my time will be up. Especially if what he leaves behind him sets fire to Miss Carroll's precious roses. "Well, we can't stay at Fernleigh forever, Cissy," I say, just as if it doesn't matter to me whether I go or stay. "Everyone grows up eventually."
"I don't feel particularly grown up," Cecily says slowly. "I can't think that, in a year, I'll be at university. And then back to Australia, or a job, or married. . . " Her voice trails off, her eyes focused on something past Ember's mane, which is beginning to flare a bit as if he's picking up her feelings. He turns from her and pushes his nose at the girl with the plaits, as if she can comfort him. Yes, definitely some talent there.
Esther laughs, her black eyes sparkling. "I, for one, can't wait." She turns on the group of lower formers. "Hi, you lot, back off! Show some respect and give your seniors some room!"
The girls move reluctantly back, the bespectacled girl a little after the others. She looks back over her shoulder at me and I give her a reassuring grin. No good squashing the kids too much, especially not the ones who are picked out for special favour by Ember. She sort of gives me a shy half-smile back and then turns quickly on her heel, as if she's done something disgraceful. Funny kid. If she's new, some well-meaning sage has probably rubbed into her that you're barely seen and never heard on your first days at school.
I make a note to ask Cecily about her at some point. Cecily doesn't gossip, as such, yet she always seems to know, in the kindliest fashion, about everybody. Part of this is her own magical gift, and part of it is just being Cecily. Lost little new girls are right up her street.
I kick Ember first into a walk and then a trot, his wings unfolding. There are cheers from his adoring audience as first his front legs, then his rear lift into the air, and he carries me cleanly over the hedge.
I have to admit, I enjoy it just a little. A bit like returning to the pavilion after a half century, only it's Ember's glory really, not mine. I'll have to pay the piper in the end, but it's fun at the time. The kind of triumphs that only make sense to schoolgirls and seem silly to grownups.
I’ll be part of the grown up world in less than a year. I can't make it seem real; I’m as bad as Cecily that way. I will have to leave Fernleigh Manor soon, of course. I'm a little sorry about leaving school, when it comes to that. Cecily and Esther will go on to university, there's no doubt about it, but I know I don't have the brains or the magical talent for that.
So then, what? Some kind of training in London, perhaps, for some job or other, and Mother had said something in the holidays about trying to manage a few parties for me or something, although I hadn't paid much attention at the time. I hadn't wanted to think about what parties meant, that was the truth. I'd spent all summer trying not to think about a shaming few moments in the stables and how things had suddenly changed between me and my eldest brother's friends. The last thing I want to think about is parties in which the whole point is to meet nice young men.
As Ember circles down to the yard at Briar Stables, my cheeks are hot, and I don't think it’s just the exercise. Whatever I said to the other girls, I don't feel grown up in the slightest. And yet. . . aren't I already more grown up than I was last term? Isn't that why I am suddenly not just a chum to ride with for boy friends, but a girl whose hand to press and whose kisses to steal?
I detest that nonsense. It makes me feel hot and red and somehow as if I've been caught out doing something wrong. I suppose that, when I'm really grown up, I'll want it. Right now it's something I want passionately to put off as long as possible.
The obvious alternative to marriage is a job. Perhaps I could do something with fabled beasts. It's what I'm good at. The gift of communion with magical creatures, the kind the elves brought to Earth with them when they invaded hundreds of years ago, runs very strongly through my family. The problem is, I can't get a job as a groom, even if my family would allow it, not as a girl. Setting up my own place would be expensive, and while the family can stretch—just—to good schools for all of us, I'm afraid setting one child up with stables of her own is far too much to ask. I could work with Father helping to run the stables and train the younger steeds and monsters, perhaps, until I get married.