|Dragon Child (2001)
Author: Emerald Viper PM
When Mona turned ten, her mother died. After two years of different boarding schools, she finds herself at Elm House. But Elm House is no ordinary school. All of its students and teachers are refugees from a world of magic.Rated: Fiction K - English - Fantasy/Friendship - Chapters: 12 - Words: 31,929 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 03-16-13 - Published: 02-17-13 - Status: Complete - id: 3101974
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"As the sun rose up, a ball of red
I followed my friend wherever he lead."
"He thought his fast horses would leave me behind
But I rode a dragon as swift as the wind."
Chinese Mother Goose
Twelve-year old Mona Mallory looked out the window of a small charter plane. She couldn't see much through the thick gray clouds below, but every so often, the sky cleared up and a little patch of green caught her eye. Mona liked flying and always looked forward to it, even if getting on an airplane meant that she was moving again.
As far back as she could remember, Mona had lived under the strict rules of her mother, and then Mrs. Weatherbee,who was the executor of her mother's will. Mona had learned that an "executor" made all of the decisions for a person after they died, but she could not shake how similar the word sounded to "executioner". Mrs. Weatherbee was an unpleasant woman. She had never liked children, least of all Mona, and so to keep her out of sight and out of mind, she had decided to send her ward away to yet another boarding school.
Mona didn't mind. She wasn't a girl who made friends easily, so as she saw it, no school was worse than any other, and any school was better than living with mean old Mrs. Wetherbee. Still, she had never been outside of the United States before, and the thought of what awaited her was very exciting. Mona pressed her face to the window, trying to catch a glimpse of the place that was to be her new home.
"I heard it rains a lot in Vancouver," she remarked.
Mrs. Wetherbee flinched at the sound of Mona's voice and turned, avoiding Mona's piercing blue eyes. Mona was used to precisely that reaction. She knew that she made a lot of people uncomfortable, but she never understood why.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to talk," Mona sighed, folding down her tray table and taking her spiral-bound red notebook from her backpack. She shook her felt pen furiously and then began to draw with quick, sharp lines. The picture as it began to take form was of three men hanging with ropes around their necks from the branches of a tree.
Mrs. Wetherbee turned at the sound of Mona's scratching pen and stared, open-mouthed. "Give me that!" She tore the paper from Mona's hands and shredded it to pieces.
"Mrs. Wetherbee!" Mona protested. "It was just a picture!"
"Now Mona! Don't you dare "Mrs. Wetherbee me! You can't go getting yourself thrown out of Elm House like you did Covington!" She warned.
Mona sighed heavily and rolled her eyes. Knowing it was pointless to argue with her guardian, she only shook her head and started a new page in her sketchbook. There was one thing she could always draw. Mona began working on a dragon.
Mrs. Wetherbee wrinkled her nose. "Can't you ever draw anything nice?"
Deciding not to respond, Mona scratched her neck with her pen.
Ms. Wetherbee scowled. "Stop figiting!" She ordered, slapping Mona's hand. "You're too old to be scratching yourself in public! Now I'm warning you Mona, just once! If you ruin things for yourself this time, I'll beat the living daylights out of you!"
"Excuse me?" A voice interrupted.
Mrs. Wetherbee jumped in surprise.
The stewardess looked genuinely concerned. "Could you please put up your tray-tables?" She asked. "We're beginning our descent."
Four hours later, an exhausted Mona and thoroughly frazzled Mrs. Wetherbee arrived in a taxi on the front steps of a large brick building. A sign on the front gate read "Elm House: School for the Gifted".
"Gifted," Mrs. Wetherbee snorted. "Well, I've got another word for it!"
"Nuisance" was the word she usually used, but Mona didn't say it.
Mona stared at the school. To her, it looked like a castle. There was even a tower! The entire campus was surrounded by a stone wall, a thing which seemed more defensive than decorative. The school's front door was very tall and made of rich dark wood. The designs carved into it were like nothing Mona had ever seen before. She reached out to touch the images of various animals and mythical creatures.
Squinting, Mona could see a very large greenhouse on the edge of the forest. The trees seemed to go on forever in all directions. Mona knew that the nearest town was only three miles away, but that didn't ruin the illusion of Elm House being a remote and exotic place. Mona liked it immediately.
Mrs. Wetherbee took the big cast iron knocker in her hand and rapped on the door. For a moment there was silence, and then a smaller door within the big door opened slightly. The entrance wasn't even four feet high. A pair of innocent-looking blue eyes peered through the crack.
"We're here to see the Headmaster," Mrs. Wetherbee said.
The little door opened wider, and Mona realized that the eyes she had seen in the darkness belonged to a skinny blond girl. She looked to be about thirteen, but something about her was very childlike. The girl was wearing a nightdress several sizes too small for her and a pair of tennis shoes, but no socks. She didn't say a word to Mrs. Wetherbee, only staring in horror as if she had just come face-to-face with a monster that lived under her bed. A loud crash came from somewhere nearby. The girl fled without saying a word.
"Mona!" Mrs. Wetherbee ordered. "Don't just stand there looking stupid! Slip inside, won't you, and open the big door. You know how bad my back is."
"Yes ma'am," Mona sighed, doing as she had been told. Once inside the school, she considered closing the little door and locking Mrs. Wetherbee out, but she could already tell that Elm House was an unusual place and she didn't want to get expelled before she had a chance to explore it.
"Wow," Mona entered the foyer and looking up at the ornate animal murals that raced and swam their way across the painted ceilings of the entryway.
"Is someone zere?" A voice wondered, speaking with a very thick, peculiar accent. Mona turned and stared. A pale little man with an immense nose had emerged from a door under the stairs. He waddled to the front door, not seeming to notice Mona where she stood and let Mrs. Wetherbee inside.
"I'm Mrs. Ermine Wetherbee," Mrs. Wetherbee said, shaking the little man's hand. "I've brought you a new student, Mona Mallory."
Mona avoided the little man's gaze. There was something funny about the way he smelled, and his hands looked sweaty. He also had an enormous wart on his chin that made her stomach churn. "Hm. Here for ze test, jah?" The little man asked. He wiped his huge nose with a handkerchief and made a snuffling sound that reminded Mona of a pig.
"Test?" Mrs. Wetherbee sounded concerned. "I wasn't informed of any test."
"All students muzt pass ze test," the little man said. "Zere are no exceptions!"
"We've come all the way from Michigan!" Mrs. Wetherbee argued. "You'll take her as you said you would! I won't buy another plane ticket!"
"Ve vill take her if she is fit to attend zis school," the little man replied coldly, and Mrs. Wetherbee held her tongue. "And if she is not, then you vill both be sent the way you came!"
"I'm right here," Mona said. "You don't have to talk about me like I'm not here."
Mrs. Wetherbee and the little man both ignored her.
"Bah, but vere are my manners? I am Doctor Blucher." He nodded, shaking Mrs. Wetherbee's hand again as he introduced himself. He then turned to Mona,
"And you must be Mona," he observed.
Mona didn't have a chance to respond. She gasped in shock as another man entered the room, passing directly through the far wall. He was very old and dressed in a dark blue suit with a little wrinkled yellow bow tie hanging limply around his neck. His skin looked like old leather, and his hair was very white and disheveled.
"Mona?" Mrs. Wetherbee frowned. "Where are your manners?"
"But a man just came out of that wall!" Mona pointed. She knew she sounded stupid, but she was so shocked that she couldn't think of anything else to say.
"Mona!" Mrs. Wetherbee put her hands on her hips, and it seemed that she was about to start lecturing. Then she caught sight of the old man in the blue suit. He smiled very broadly and she relaxed slightly.
"Ah," Dr. Blucher observed. "Well, of course he did not "come out of the wall", but this is Sir Anton Dee-Aubeene, our Headmaster. He sometimes surprises even me!" Dr. Blucher laughed slightly, seeming very uncomfortable.
"Oh, it's quite all right," Mrs. Wetherbee smiled. The corners of her lips twitched. "Mona can be quite ridiculous sometimes. Talking to cats, dancing around in thunderstorms… and she has this obsession with lizards. Also, she can be positively morbid." Mrs. Wetherbee lowered her voice until it was no louder than a whisper. "And I believe I did mention... the fire?"
"Perhaps she is merely capable of perceiving things which you are not?" The old man interrupted. He had a very faint accent that sounded French, and when he spoke he held his head very high as if he expected that everyone in the room should be looking up at him, although he wasn't very tall.
Mona grinned slightly and then coughed, trying not to seem too pleased with the old man's response.
Sir Anton picked up Mrs. Wetherbee's flabby hand and kissed it like a gentleman. "Personally, I never discount anything a child says solely because I haven't seen it proven. As my colleague has already stated, I am Sir Anton Sayhed D'Aubigne. Welcome to Elm House."
Dr. Blucher watched Sir Anton carefully. His silence frightened Mona. It was as if he knew he'd been caught in the middle of a lie. Mona watched Sir Anton as well. If he had "sir" before his name, did that mean he was a real knight? More importantly, Mona was certain that she hadn't hallucinated the old man's strange and sudden appearance. He really had come out of the wall!
"Come vith me, Ms. Wehthervee," Dr. Blucher announced. "In my office ve can discuss the details while Mona takes the test."
"But I thought she was already accepted!" Mrs. Wetherbee began to protest. "It's been twenty hours since we left and four transfers!"
"Now, now Ms. Wehthervee! This vill not do, you understand? The test is not very hard. She vill pass it easily, I zink." Dr. Blucher covered quickly and led Mrs. Wetherbee away.
Mona breathed a sigh of relief.
"Better?" Sir Anton grinned.
"Yes sir," Mona nodded.
"Unpleasant woman." The old man wrinkled his nose, glancing in the direction that Mrs. Wetherbee had left.
Mona was surprised that the Headmaster of a school would say something so blunt, but she nodded anyway. She also noticed that Sir Anton was holding a thick folder full of white papers that he hadn't carried with him before. Where had he gotten it from?
Sir Anton read the first page of the packet he was holding with interest.
"You left some lines blank on your admission form," He observed.
"I didn't fill it out myself," Mona admitted. "My mother did. She didn't get a chance to finish it. Mrs. Wetherbee found it in the bottom of a safe deposit box." Mona paused, guessing that Sir Anton already knew what she hadn't sad. As morbid as Mrs. Wetherbee always said she was, Mona didn't even like to say the word "dead". "She was sick for a long time," Mona finished.
"I'm very sorry to hear that," Sir Anton paused. "Where is your father?"
"He left us a long time ago. I can't even remember him," Mona shook her head.
"I also lost my parents when I was very young," Sir Anton said. "And the same is true for some of our students here. This world has not been kind to all of us. Out there we may not have anyone, but inside these walls we have each other.
Mona tilted her head to the side as she watched the old man. Mrs. Wetherbee had boxed her ears on more than one occasion, arguing that Mona's birdlike gestures were 'suspicious', but Mona had never been able to break herself of the habit. In any case, Sir Anton didn't seem to mind.
"But it can't be helped." The old man sighed.
"Well…" He squinted and evaluated her as if he were looking for a certain something. Finally he turned away. "Come into my office. We ought to start your test."
Sir Anton's office was a dark, musty room of many shadows filled with books of every kind. Mona sat slumped low in a red-leather chair and gazed in different directions with each eye, one focused out the window and the other firmly on Sir Anton. It was something she could do because she had a lazy eye. Miss Weatherbee hated it and swore that if she didn't stop, she'd end up cross-eyed or completely blind.
"The test has three parts," Sir Anton explained, passing Mona a sheet of paper and a pencil. "The first section gauges your general aptitude, math and grammar and that sort of thing, just to see about how much you know. Of course, you aren't expected to know all the answers. We accept students from ages ten to sixteen, so some things will certainly be beyond your level…"
Sir Anton stopped short as Mona pushed the paper back in his direction, every question completed.
"That was very quick," He observed, watching Mona with a different expression on his face, a more particular kind of interest. Mona smiled slightly. He would not be so impressed if he asked her to show her work. Mona had failed mathematics both years she was a student at Covington. She could barely add or subtract, but if a test was multiple choice, she could guess nearly every answer correctly.
"The second part is probably not like anything you've seen before," He shuffled a deck of black cards and then held up one at Mona's eye level. "For most students, I lay these cards face up and allow them to choose three that they like best and then ask them to explain why. "But you're… a little different, aren't you, Mona?"
"Don't listen to what Mrs. Wetherbee says about me," Mona avoided the old man's gaze. "She hates me for no reason, and none of it is true."
"Ah, but I wonder about that," Sir Anton paused. "Mona, can you guess what is on the reverse of this card?"
Mona slowly reached out and touched the back of the card. "A lion," She answered without hesitation.
Very slowly, Sir Anton set down the card face-up on his desk. It was as Mora had said, the image of a lion.
"Sometimes I just kind of know things," Mona admitted. "It's not a big deal."
"Sometimes?" Sir Anton wondered.
"Well, it only works for certain kinds of things. If there's something in front of me and I can touch it, I can know what it is," she explained. She did not admit that the same was true for anything someone had written by hand. The fact that she could touch someone's signature and see what they looked like was too useful of a secret to give away. She also didn't want Sir Anton to know that she could beat any multiple choice test because the person who handed her the paper usually knew all of the answers.
"This deck has eighty cards," Sir Anton said. "Every one unique. If you could touch them all, about how many do you think you would know?"
"All of them," Mona admitted.
"Is that so?" The old man seemed intrigued. "Do you mind if we test your theory?"
Mona shrugged and Sir Anton held up another card. "What about this card?"
"A sword," Mona replied automatically.
The test went on for some time and finally Sir Anton held up the last card in the deck.
Mona paused for a very long time. "A black blob," She decided, pushing card far away from her.
Sir Anton frowned. "Is that really what you see?"
Mona bit her lip. "You won't like it."
Sir Anton folded his hands. He gave Mona a knowing look.
"It's a… thing," Mona whispered.
"What… kind of thing?" Sir Anton wondered.
"I don't know exactly," Mona explained. "But it eats rotten and dead stuff, like a vulture."
"I see," Sir Anton reached into his desk drawer, taking out a hidden card. "Now what do you think of this one?"
Mona was silent for a long while. A face was in there… somewhere, a face she remembered only distantly, from a long ago dream. "I know that man," she replied without thinking that her response did not make sense.
"Do you?" Sir Anton laughed, slowly turning the card around for Mona to see. The man himself looked very much as Mona had pictured him, but his clothes were medieval and seemed strange to her.
"Who is he? I'm sure I've seen him before!" Mona wondered.
The old man smiled. "Tell me, where did you meet him?"
"I don't know exactly," Mona shook her head. "But I know I've seen him. I don't even know when it was. A park, I think. In California."
"California?" The old man frowned. "Hm."
"He… he was looking for a girl," Mona bit her lip. "He was telling my mom about her."
"The man you saw was Ithel Leon," Sir Anton explained. "He disappeared a long time ago, but it used to be his job to find students for this school," he paused. "Your mother wanted you to come to this school, did she?"
"Very much," Mona agreed.
"Did she ever say why?" Sir Anton wondered.
"Well, my father went here," Mona explained.
"He did?" Sir Anton grinned. "What was his name? Do you know when he graduated?"
Mona shook her head. "Um, Nat? Nat's what my mother always called him. That's all I know."
"Nat?" Sir Anton frowned and scratched his head. "Hm. I don't remember a Nat. Perhaps we'll look at the old annuals together someday. We'll see if we can find your father's class."
"Am I accepted then?" Mona wondered.
"One more test," Sir Anton replied. He seemed nervous, and Mona wondered if that was because she'd done so poorly on the first exam or so well on the second one.
Sir Anton took a piece of paper from his desk drawer and passed it to Mona. But instead of finishing the test in record time, Mona only stared at the page in confusion.
"I think these questions are in French or... something," Mona admitted. Because Sir Anton had handed her the test, Mona could guess what to write, but the words all sounded strange to her.
"French?" The old man laughed, putting on his glasses and looking at the test. "Oh no, this isn't French! Dear me, I thought I'd given you the wrong exam!" He raised an eyebrow in Mona's direction, "You haven't had any instruction in Animish?"
Mona only shook her head.
"Well, that's unfortunate. You might have some trouble talking to the other students." Sir Anton admitted. "All of them speak Animish, but not all of them know English."
"I've never heard of Ani... imish before." Mona admitted. "Is it like French?"
"French? No, why would do think that?" Sir Anton frowned.
"Because we're in Canada?" Mona suggested.
"Touche!" Sir Anton laughed. "Now that word is French, my dear! It is a term which applies is swordfighting and it means that you have got me. But… no, the location of this school is more of a matter of... practicality." He explained.
"One last question," The old man put down his glasses. "What color are my eyes?"
"Don't you know that?" Mona frowned, and then stopped short.
Something had changed in the old man's face. His irises, which had been a delicate gray were suddenly filled with white light.
"How did you do that?" Mona demanded.
"I do not think this will come as a surprise to you, Mona, considering what you caught me doing earlier, but the fact of the matter is… I am a sorcerer," Sir Anton explained.
"You know magic? Real magic? Magic is real?" Mona stared. "This is a magic school!" She exclaimed, nearly falling out of her chair.
"No, no!" Sir Anton laughed. "Sorcery is very dangerous! Goodness, we have enough trouble here in the gymnasium! A magic school? Dear me, child... I'm afraid you've been mislead by fiction. When you are grown, someone might be willing to teach you sorcery, but it's not a subject for children. If it's magic that you wish to study someday, you should probably start by learning Sylvan, although you will find it's not good for much besides conversing with faeries and elves."
"Faeries and elves?" Mona stared. She would have thought the old man was pulling her leg if she hadn't just seen what he could do.
"Believe what you want," Sir Anton replied. "Though I'm afraid you might run into some trouble with the other students if you insist upon not believing in magic."
"But I do believe in magic," Mona admitted. "Sort of."
"Then why not faeries and elves?"
"Well… I mean, wouldn't people notice?" Mona whispered. She didn't know why she felt the need to lower her voice when there was no one around to hear, but she did it all the same.
"When most people see things outside of their ordinary experience, they usually pretend that they haven't seen them," Sir Anton laughed. "In any case, you're right… there are no dragons, faeries, or elves left in this world. And even beyond the Veil they generally keep to themselves."
"Dragons are real?" Mora asked.
"Many things you may never have believed in before are real," Sir Anton nodded. "As you will discover when you meet your fellow students."
"Am I accepted then?" Mona wondered. Even dealing creepy little Dr. Blucher had to be better than going back with Mrs. Wetherbee.
"You are." Sir Anton nodded. "Go see Dame Leon about getting checked in. I'll see you again after dinner, and I promise, then you can ask all of the questions you like."