A School for Sorcery
By E. Rose Sabin
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2002 E. Rose Sabin
All rights reserved.
"Tria! Tria, come into the house right away!"
Tria looked up from her egg gathering and saw her mother standing at the back door, shouting the summons. Whatever she wanted, it must be something serious. She never allowed Tria to leave her chores undone.
"Coming," she called back as she added two last eggs to those already in the basket.
She walked fast, carrying the basket carefully so as not to break the eggs.
"Run!" her mother called again.
Something terrible must have happened. With one hand over the eggs to keep them from bouncing, Tria ran.
"What is it?" she panted when she reached her mother. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," her mother said, taking the basket of eggs. "Come inside, quickly, before your father sees us."
Her father was mending fences in the far field. She thought it unlikely that he would return for some time, and he certainly could not see the house from where he was working. Puzzled by her mother's unwarranted concern, she followed her in through the screen door and waited impatiently while her mother set the basket of eggs on the kitchen counter and led the way into the small living room.
"There!" Her mother pointed to a thick, white envelope that lay facedown on the small table by the sofa, a circle of red sealing wax closing its flap. "It's for you."
"For me?" Tria stared stupidly at the envelope and wondered who could be sending her a letter. She knew very few people outside of this small town where she had lived since her birth. In all her sixteen years she had never received a real letter, though friends had sent postcards, and farm-supply catalogs and quotes for hog and poultry prices arrived regularly for her father, while her mother occasionally got a letter from distant relatives in Wickton in Plains Province as well as a brief note from Kate, Trias older sister, who lived in the next town.
"Pick it up and open it," her mother urged, her face alight with eagerness.
Tria reached for it slowly as though afraid it might vanish or dissolve when she touched it. She turned it over and saw her name written in elegant black script: Miss Tria Fay Tesserell. Below it was inscribed the name of the town. "Carey," it read, "Inland Province, Arucadi." The postal mark on the letter indicated that it came from Castlemount Province, and Tria was certain that no one in the family knew anyone from that far away.
She couldn't break the wax seal with her short fingernails. Her mother handed her a letter opener, and with it Tria lifted the seal, opened the flap, and drew out a letter and a colorful brochure. The letterhead said in fancy lettering, The Lesley Simonton School for the Magically Gifted.
Intrigued, she read the letter.
Dear Miss Tesserell, it began formally.
It has come to the attention of the Lesley Simonton School that you are among the minority of Arucadis population who are Gifted with magical powers. You are surely aware of the importance of receiving training in the use of those powers. The Simonton School specializes in helping untrained Talents like yourself develop your powers within the ethical guidelines set forth by the Community of the Gifted. We prepare our students to take places of responsible leadership in a society that has all too frequently been intimidated by those with special Gifts. It is our earnest hope that you will consider joining our student body in the forthcoming academic year, which begins on the first day of Harvest Month.
The enclosed brochure will provide you with full information about the school, its distinguished faculty, the course offerings, and tuition costs, as well as an application form that you should complete and return immediately if you decide to take advantage of this unique opportunity.
Because an Adept who performs special services for us from time to time has determined through divination that you are a suitable candidate for Simonton School, you need only send with the application a down payment of 25 triums toward your first years expenses, and your acceptance is assured.
Miryam Vedreaux, Headmistress
Tria looked up from the letter and saw her mother watching her with an odd intensity.
"Momma, did you know about this?" Holding back the brochure, she handed her mother the letter.
Her mother read through it quickly and nodded, smiling. "I mentioned to a friend that I would so like to see you trained in your gifts, and she told me about the school and got me their address. I wrote without really expecting any response. But when the letter arrived, I knew —" She broke off and handed the letter back to Tria, her hand shaking. "This is what I've wanted for you. Tria, this is your chance, probably your only chance, to become what you are meant to be, what your gifts tell me that you should be."
Tria had never seen her mother so animated. Her careworn face suddenly acquired an unsuspected beauty. For the first time Tria caught a glimpse of her mother as she must have been long years ago, before she had married a farmer and set aside her own special talents to conform to her husband's expectations of what a farm wife should be — and should not be.
"Poppa will never let me go," she said. "He wouldn't even consider letting me go to the Harnor Trade School to study modern farming methods. He said he needed me here to help with the harvest. He won't change his mind about that."
"He might. Oh, not easily — I'll grant you that. But he can hire the Cromley boys to help with the harvest. They'd be glad to have the work. The yields have been exceptionally good this year, so the work would be too much for you anyway."
"Poppa always complains that the Cromley boys are careless."
"I know, I know." Her mother sighed, and her gnarled hands pleated her apron. "They really aren't, though. Your father is just too hard to please. Now wait here a minute."
Abruptly she let go of her apron and hurried off into her bedroom. She was back almost immediately, clutching a leather change purse and a pen.
"It is a saying among the gifted that when a door opens to you, you must go through it." She gazed downward, saying softly, "I wish I had taken that advice." Then, raising her eyes to Tria, she said resolutely, "Look, I have the twenty-five triums right here. Its money I've saved without your father's knowing."
She opened the purse and spilled out a mound of silver coins. Tria gaped, unable to imagine how her mother had hidden away so much money.
But the twenty-five triums was only a down payment. She'd have to pay far more for the full year's expenses. And as she glanced over the brochure, she saw that the school offered three years of instruction.
"Just get the application ready. I'll go to town this afternoon, get a bank draft, and send off the form and the draft. When your acceptance comes, it will be hard for your father to refuse."
Tria could not believe that her mother thought it would be so easy. Her father had never permitted her to use her special gifts, saying that a farm girl had no business putting on airs and doing what he termed "witchery" instead of tending to her rightful business. He would certainly never allow her to attend a school for the gifted.
But her mother pushed her toward the dining room table, shoved her into a chair, and placed the application form and pen in front of her. "Fill it out," she directed. "I know how unhappy you've been at the thought of spending your life on a farm. When you're trained in using your gifts, any number of opportunities will open to you. The gifted are in demand in law enforcement, in entertainment, in business, in education, even in government. You can go into just about any field you want."
Tria caught her mother's excitement. Yes, she did want to do more with her life than spend it on the farm. She'd tried to hide her discontent from her mother, but of course her mother, being gifted, would know how she had dreaded the thought of working with her parents, eventually marrying a local farmers son, and then spending the rest of her life in Carey as a farmer's wife, mother to children with no better prospects than she had.
She thrilled at the possibility of going away to school. She'd always been a good student, and most especially she'd loved learning about their vast country of Arucadi and its history. She'd dreamed of traveling across it some day, of finding a job that allowed her to visit the more remote and exotic parts of the country.
She'd shared her dreams and hopes with her school friends, but none had understood. She'd found no one like herself, no one with the special gifts that set her apart and made her hopes and dreams different from those of the other children in the school.
She'd finished the Carey Basic School in the spring. Several of her classmates planned to go on to trade school, but she, along with many others, expected to get no further schooling but to join their parents toiling on the farms and in the wheat fields. Most of her friends accepted their lot without complaint. Tria felt alone in her longing to do more with her life. Her sister, Kate, had seemed perfectly content to settle down to life as a farm wife. But Kate possessed no special gifts as Tria did.
Her mother stood behind her, her hands on Tria's shoulders. "I know you want this," she said. "And I want it for you. I want to be proud of you."
Tria blinked back sudden tears. "I'll make you proud, Momma, I promise I will." She picked up the pen and filled out the application. When she finished, she handed it to her mother.
"Now," her mother said, folding the paper, "go back and finish your chores. Say nothing at all about this to your father. When the acceptance comes, let me talk to him."
"He'll say no."
"At first, but I have ways to persuade him. I haven't used my powers in a long time, but I haven't lost them — not completely."
Tria remembered evenings when her father was away, attending a farmers' meeting or drinking with his cronies at the town tavern, and she would sit with her mother by the fire, fascinated by her mothers tales of how, long ago, the gifted rode the winds and soared high over housetops and treetops to bathe in the clouds. Her mother, caught up in the enthusiasm of the old tales, would sometimes forget herself, stare into the fire, and shape the flames into the characters of her story, letting the fiery figures act out the drama. Tria would watch, entranced, until the heroes and heroines faded to ashes.
Those were only stories. Now the normals had their own form of magic in the steam engine and the railroads that criss-crossed Arucadi. The gifted traveled by train or bus as the normals did, and in the cities the recently invented automobiles had begun to proliferate. People claimed that someday engineers would build large winged machines to carry people through the air. Tria thought that idea more preposterous than the possibility of using magic to ride to the clouds.
But that sort of magic, if it still existed at all, would never be hers, even if she were to go to this marvelous school. And despite her mother's optimism, she foresaw a barrier she feared insurmountable.
"What about the rest of the money?" she asked. "What you showed me won't cover more than the down payment."
Her mother looked grim. "There's money set aside for your dowry," she said. "That will have to be enough."
The bus pulled away from the Merritt General Store with Tria its sole remaining passenger. "Simonton School's the next stop," the driver shouted over the clacking motor. "Be another fifteen minutes."
The words breathed fresh energy into Tria. She smoothed the wrinkles from her long skirt and did her best to straighten and brush dirt from her white middy blouse and hide the frayed edges of its lace cuffs.
The two-and-a-half-day journey from Carey had taken her across a third of Arucadi. Her father had driven her to the Carey bus station by horse and wagon. She'd changed buses four times, twice to the new express buses with plush seats that leaned back and were almost comfortable, and finally to this bone-rattling local serving the farming communities beyond Millville, near the southern border of Castlemount Province. The Simonton School for the Magically Gifted was located in a rural area far from any large city.
The rumble of the tires on the potholed asphalt thumped promises. Tria repeated them softly in the uneven rhythm of the ride: You'll meet people like you. You'll learn the use of your power. You'll meet people like you. You'll learn the use of your power.
She'd always had to keep her talents hidden in order to fit in with her friends at school, knowing instinctively that if she revealed her abilities, the other children would either be afraid or jealous. At last she would be among people with whom such concealment would not be needed.
She leaned forward and peered out the window, eager for her first sight of the school, but saw only a dilapidated building up ahead, out of place among the fields and meadows shimmering in the midday sunlight.
The bus slowed and lurched to a stop before the old three-story building of faded yellow brick. "Simonton School, miss," the driver called over his shoulder. "End of the line."
Tria stared at the crumbling structure; anticipation turned to horror. She picked up her valise, pulled herself to her feet, and walked to the front. "You must have made a mistake," she said. "This can't be the School for the Magically Gifted."
"No mistake, miss. This is the place. I'll get your trunk."
"No, wait!" Tria laid a restraining hand on his blue-sleeved arm. "I have pictures." She dug frantically in her valise and pulled out the wrinkled and much-read recruitment brochure, opened it to the colored illustration spread across the center section, and waved it in front of the driver's face. "See? It shows new buildings, several of them, bright gold, beautiful."
He glanced at the picture and rolled his eyes. "Ads, miss. You can't trust em." He pushed past her and hopped out.
Tria followed, continuing her protest as he cranked open the baggage- compartment door. "If this is the school, shouldn't other students be arriving? I shouldn't be the only one."
Tria's battered leather trunk thudded to the ground. "I brought two others in on the morning run." The driver grasped the handrail, ready to climb back into the vehicle. "Got another scheduled to arrive tonight. Aren't many of you anymore."
He settled into his seat and the door wheezed shut.
Trias desperate cry went unheeded. She had to jump out of the way as the engine coughed and the bus swerved onto the road, made a U-turn, and roared off in the direction from which it had come. Tria stared after it, the ache of abandonment swelling within her, pushing hot tears from her eyes. This ugly building couldn't be the place of her dreams.
She walked to the front entrance, ran a trembling hand over the chipped, cracked bricks around the door, and compared the fagade with the illustration in the brochure. That building, like this one, had three stories, but it looked much wider, and its windows gleamed with light.
And the doors! Those in the picture were of polished wood covered with intricate carvings of marvelous scenes. She squinted at the doors in front of her. Double, like those in the picture. A finger rubbed over the gritty surface confirmed the presence of carvings under the layer of grime. So worn and damaged were they, Tria could not guess what they once depicted.
She wiped the tears from her cheeks, drew herself up, and pulled the worn bell rope hanging beside the door. From far inside she heard a tinny clang.
The doors creaked open. A gnomelike woman stood in the entranceway to an ill-lit, dingy foyer. Short and plump, the woman peered at Tria with eyes like raisins in a doughy gingerbread face. Her gray hair was pulled back into a bun from which it struggled to escape, loose strands poking out in all directions.
"You'll be Tria Tesserell," the woman announced as if Tria needed convincing of her own identity. "Come in. You're expected. The bus was late, but then it always is."
"I have a trunk." Tria pointed to the leather and brass repository of her meager possessions. "I'll need help bringing it in."
"I'll send two of the boys to fetch it and put it in your room," the maid said, beckoning Tria inside. "I'm Veronica, the house maid. Come along, now. You're to be taken directly to meet Headmistress. You'd best not keep her waiting."
Tria was taken aback. She had expected to wash off the dust of the journey and change into fresh clothes before meeting anyone. But Veronica gave her no chance to object. She bustled along, strands of hair wriggling like worms in a bait box. After all, Tria thought as she marched after her, why should I care if I make a poor impression? The Headmistress can't possibly be as disappointed in me as I am in the school.
They passed through a narrow, dim hall into a parlor filled with furniture dingier than what they'd had on the farm. The velour cushion covers might have been elegant once, but were now so badly worn that the outline of the springs was clearly visible through the cloth. One wing chair matched the davenport, but the rocker and straight chairs were a mismatched lot. What was worse than the age and poor condition of the furniture was the dust that coated the end tables and the art-glass lampshades. At least she and her mother had kept the farmhouse clean. What does the maid do all day? she wondered, gazing at windows too dirty to let in the bright fall sunshine. (Continues...)
Excerpted from A School for Sorcery by E. Rose Sabin. Copyright © 2002 E. Rose Sabin. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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