Chapte One: Rude Awakening
The wyvern was dreaming.
Stretched out on the end of the bed, her eyelids fluttering and her beak agape, the small dragon named Vyrna twitched and grunted. In her dream, she was chasing a wild pig through the dappled sunlight and shadow of a Costa Rican forest, leaping over a living stream of army ants on the move, flushing squawking parrots from the fig trees, and making the howler monkeys whoop in alarm.
Then a sudden metallic clang and a loud curse woke her, and the dragon snorted with surprise and confusion. Her feline yellow eyes surveyed the unfamiliar room, and her tongue tasted the air for unfamiliar smells.
Where was she? This was not her wicker bed on the screened veranda where she sat out at night, listening to the chorus of geckos. This place smelled strange: damp and musty, a smell of yellowed newspapers and wet ashes and mice. And it was cold. Vyrna shivered, opened her beak, and gave a long, low warble of displeasure.
Now she remembered: the tight quarters of the dog kennel in which Merlin had confined her for the journey, the dull roar of the jet's engines, the uncomfortable skintight coat that, together with Merlin's magic, gave her the appearance of a small German shepherd. They had come by airplane and then by boat to this distant house on a hill, a comfortless, cold place of stone. No wild pigs here, and no geckos. There were sheep, but she wasn't allowed to chase them.
Her master appeared in the doorway. Iain Merlin O'Shea had retired from his position at Harvard, where he had for some years been professor emeritus of medieval history and folklore. He was still a practicing wizard and a card-carryingmember of the Guild of Adepts in the Wizardly Arts, known to its members as G.A.W.A.
This morning Merlin wore an apron around his considerable girth and an expression of exasperation upon his face. But behind his spectacles, his blue eyes were apologetic.
"Vyrna, can you come into the kitchen? I can't seem to light the stove."
Reluctantly, the dragon clambered to her knees and hopped down from the bed. She was a young wyvern, still only half-grown, with the awkward proportions and ungainly movements of an adolescent puppy. She was a sleek blue-black, covered in scales except for the batlike wings she kept folded across her back. Her talons clicked on the old flagstones as she followed Merlin down the hall and into the large, echoing kitchen, where the wizard opened the oven door of the ancient stove.
"The pilot light is out, the matches are hopelessly wet, and you know how it is with magical fire...the coffee never tastes quite right."
Vyrna snorted, took a breath, and obligingly shot a thin stream of flame into the oven. The pilot light whooshed back to life, and with a mixture of embarrassment and relief Merlin set a battered enamel coffee pot on the burner. Then he reached down to scratch Vyrna under her chin.
"I'm sorry for the rude awakening," he said. "I'll have your breakfast in a minute."
Vyrna looked at her master with a reproachful expression that seemed to say, Can we go back to Costa Rica now? She retreated under the kitchen table and lay her head between her front two feet. Her eyes followed the wizard as he went to the equally ancient icebox and took out some bacon. Bacon was not nearly so fussy as coffee, so he was able to set it cooking by means of a simple command. Hearing the wizard say "Fry," the bacon obediently laid itself out in the skillet in rows and began to sizzle.
As far as he knew, Merlin was the only wizard in the world with his own wyvern. Vyrna was something of an accident: Dragons were extinct, or nearly so, in the twenty-first century, but Vyrna's mother, Wycca, had come through a bolt-hole, a kind of tunnel through time from the 1200s, and laid her egg at the top of the Customs Tower in Boston. Wycca was back in her own time now, but Vyrna hadn't been able to return with her. She was addicted to chocolate, and there was no chocolate back in the thirteenth century. Wycca had been able to shake her dependence on chocolate and return to a century where the delicacy was unknown, but without her daily dose, Vyrna would sicken and die. So Merlin divided his year between Costa Rica, where Vyrna could pass, if necessary and at a distance, for a particularly large fruit bat, and the Orkney Islands, where Merlin had rented a tiny speck that went unvisited by the tourists who came to gawk at Viking barrows and circles of standing stones. There was nothing on this island but a ramshackle castle, the gatehouse where they lived, and some sheep.
But Vyrna would not be with Merlin forever. Someday, Merlin hoped, Vyrna would be ready to join her mistress, Theodora. Theodora Oglethorpe was the human girl who had found Vyrna as a hatchling and rescued her. Theodora was by all outward appearances an average twelve-year-old girl, but she had an extraordinary family tree her lineage could be traced back to a sorcerer's daughter in the 1200s. But for now she knew nothing of her heritage and suspected nothing about her magical powers. She was still coming to terms with the Events of Last Summer.
For Wycca the wyvern had not come through the bolt-hole from her distant century alone. She had been followed by two wizards. The first was Gideon, a king's wizard and her own master. Gideon had in turn been pursued by his archrival and half brother, Kobold. Kobold had tried to capture Wycca and use banned magic to turn her against Gideon. It had been an unusually untidy business, and one that had threatened to expose the secretive wizards who lived among ordinary humans. By the time it was all sorted out, it had involved a book of banned spells, the accidental summoning of a Chinese dragon, and a case of demonic possession.
It also had meant no end of paperwork for Merlin, reporting it all to his wizard superiors at the Boston chapter of the Guild of Adepts in the Wizardly Arts. But in the midst of the untidy business, Theodora had been revealed to be an extraordinary girl. In time she would be told about her magical heritage, and if the higher-ups at G.A.W.A. thought she was a suitable candidate, Theodora would begin training as a wizard and would take over Vyrna's care.
Right now that care consisted of keeping the growing wyvern in chocolate. Merlin filled a large mixing bowl with Choc-o-Blox cereal and set the bowl on the floor for Vyrna. Next to the bowl he set a dog's water dish filled with hot chocolate, made Mexican style with cinnamon and chili powder.
Vyrna appeared from under the table and began to work her way through the Choc-o-Blox with great snaps of her beak, purring between bites and lashing her long, barbed tail over the tiled floor.
Merlin watched the wyvern and wondered how his friend back in Boston, Dr. Madhavi Naga, was coming along with the care and feeding of Theodora.
"Tickets, please. Tickets."
The conductor paused in the aisle and examined Theodora's twelve-ride pass, handed it back, and went on to the next passenger.
Theodora put the pass away in her wallet and went back to her journal, tapping her pen against her front teeth, looking at the sentence on the page but unable to think of what to write next. She looked at the three words she had already written, as though if she looked at them long enough they might make more sense, or seem more real.
Mikko is leaving.
Mikko had been Theodora's nanny since her mom died when she was seven, and after Theodora had gotten too old for a nanny, Mikko had stayed on as the Oglethorpes' housekeeper. Last night her father had sat her down and told her that Mikko would be leaving.
"Is she coming back?"
"I don't know. She and I agreed she could take a leave, to see what it felt like for you and me. You're twelve now, and you don't really need a nanny."
"But Mikko's more than a nanny."
To her surprise, her dad had blushed and said, "Well, I think that's why Mikko decided she should take this new job."
"This new job" was a round-the-world cruise as the companion to two old ladies.
In the seats across the aisle, a high-school couple who had gotten on at Chelsea were tangled up in a long, involved kiss. They hadn't bothered to take off or turn down their iPods, and you could hear the static fizz of music spilling out of the headphones. As the conductor came back down the aisle, he had to shake the boy's shoulder to get his attention. Romeo broke away from his Juliet long enough to dig their tickets from his pants pocket, and the conductor said something sarcastic to them about keeping their feet on the floor.
"Revere," he said in a singsong voice, making his way to the other end of the car. "Revere next."
Theodora turned back to her journal, outlining the words "Mikko is leaving" until the letters all ran into one another, and then she filled up the page in her journal with
Mikko is leaving
over and over and faster and faster until it turned into one long frantic scrawl, as though all the sad, angry, confused hurt inside her was flowing out through her arm, down the pen, and onto the page. Theodora looked out the window at the bare trees and brown grass of the February landscape, the glimpses of backyards and houses and brick buildings as the train meandered along the coastline, her pounding heart slowing, the surge of unhappiness subsiding into a dull ache.
She'd first realized something was wrong three months ago. She had walked into the kitchen the day after the Oglethorpes' Halloween party and found Mikko and her dad having a serious conversation. They hadn't been kissing or anything in fact, they had been standing at opposite corners of the room but they had both seemed embarrassed when she walked in, and things had just been different around the house since then.
Inside the front cover of her journal were taped two photographs. One was old and faded. It showed Theodora and her mom looking at a starfish in a beach pail when Theodora was little, before her mom got sick. It wasn't really a good picture of her mom her face was half in shadow but for some reason it was the picture Theodora liked best. When she closed her eyes, she could almost convince herself that she remembered that day, that moment, sand on her skin, her mom's voice.
The other photo was from last Halloween. It showed her dad in a kind of Indiana Jones outfit, with a pith helmet and a Hawaiian shirt with a joke-shop arrow sticking out of his back, and Theodora in a sari. Mikko stood on the other side of Theodora, dressed as a mermaid in a sequined green costume, gill frills stuck to her neck with eyelash glue.
In Theodora's opinion, the whole mess was the fault of that slinky mermaid costume and the Russian professor, Boris, who had started calling Mikko all the time and taking her to the movies. (Theodora had walked in on them kissing.) Her theory was that seeing Mikko in the mermaid dress had made Theodora's dad look at Mikko in a new way. But instead of taking her to the movies himself, he had started spending evenings in his study with the door closed or working late at the university, avoiding Mikko as much as he could and speaking to her in a formal way he hadn't used since she first came to work for them.
The trip would take seven months, Mikko said, and when she got back in the fall they would all see. Theodora knew what that meant: They would either start living together as a real family or Mikko would go away for good. And there would be another gaping hole in the family. Not that Mikko had filled the hole left by Mrs. Oglethorpe's death, but she had made the hole easier to step around, and not so scary. If Mikko really left, Theodora was going to have to learn to live without her mom all over again.
Romeo and Juliet got off at Revere, and when the conductor called "Salem," Theodora put her journal away in her backpack. As she rezipped the outer pocket, the insignia of the Guild of Adepts in the Wizardly Arts an owl clutching a crystal ball in its talons swayed on its clip.
The train pulled into the station at Salem, and Theodora got off and walked to Dr. Naga's house. Theodora made the trip to Salem twice a month for her art lesson. Whether or not any painting got done, the lessons were a chance to say anything she needed to about the Events of Last Summer without anyone telling her she was losing her mind. Dr. Naga had been there, and she knew it was all true: the wyverns, the wizards, the demon everything.
Dr. Naga was an old friend of Mikko's and, Theodora had learned last summer, no stranger to magic herself. She wasn't a wizard, at least not in the sense that Gideon and Merlin were. One of her hobbies was caving, and she was good, as she put it, at "wriggling out of tight spaces in the dark." But she had stood by Theodora during the worst of the dark stuff, and she was still the only person from Theodora's nonmagical normal life who knew about Gideon and the wyverns and everything that had happened.
Some days Theodora didn't say a word and just drew or painted. She had discovered she could paint about what had happened, even if she couldn't put it into words. She could get it all out without having to think or to give her feelings a name.
And the problem was, it wasn't one feeling, or the same feelings, but a great mixed-up bundle of them that was always changing. The wizard Merlin had taught her to do this really scary thing called Delving, which was hard to explain but was sort of like bungee jumping into a canyon with your mind. She and Merlin had joined their minds and managed to hold off the powerful dark magic that was trying to destroy Gideon and threatened to destroy them all. And when it was over, being back in her body had felt weird...her own hands and feet and arms and legs seemed awkward and unfamiliar and heavy, and while there was one part of her that longed to Delve again, the other part of her was terrified to.
The Delving had been strange and even frightening, and some of the other things that had happened had been absolutely terrifying, but at the same time she'd held a hatchling wyvern, and met a real wizard, and experienced something well, something magical. Even at the worst of times, she didn't wish it hadn't happened. Not really. But she did wish Merlin and the other wizards at G.A.W.A. would hurry up and tell her how to get on with her ordinary life while knowing something so extraordinary.
When she got to the narrow townhouse with the green door and the brass knocker in the shape of a dolphin, Dr. Naga's two papillon dogs, Rudy and Kip, met her at the door, and on the counter she found a note from Dr. Naga.
"Come on up," it read.
Theodora left her jacket on the back of a kitchen chair and made her way up to the sunny studio at the top of the house, with its view of the seaport. Dr. Naga was standing on a stool, hanging a bat skeleton from the ceiling. Perched nearby on a stand was a taxidermy bird of prey, small, sleek, and gray.
Theodora reached out a finger to touch the soft feathers. "Wow where did these come from?"
"They're on loan from a friend of mine who works at the Museum of Science."
"What kind of bird is this?" Theodora asked, cautiously touching the hooked tip of the fierce beak.
"A kind of small falcon called a merlin. A favorite familiar of wizards. I want you to spend the afternoon drawing the bones in the bat's wings and trying to get the falcon's eye and beak and talons right."
Theodora stifled a groan. It was wyvern wings and beaks that had been giving her so much trouble. It was hard to draw wings that were both transparent and strong, or the curious wyvern beak that seemed to have a Cheshire cat smile built into it.
"Gee, is that all?" she muttered. She sat down on the high stool pulled up to the drafting table, on which a fresh sheet of heavy paper had been pinned. She chose a pencil from the cup set into a hole in the table and began to draw. Meanwhile, Dr. Naga sat on the floor and paged through Theodora's journal. It was full of drawings of a wyvern a bat-winged, four-legged dragon shown over and over in different poses: launching itself into the air to catch a Frisbee, curled on a nest, taking a cat bath, flying, arching its back and spitting flame. The drawings in the front of the book were unsure and clumsy, but as you got to the back they were the work of an artist who still had a lot to learn, but who now possessed considerable confidence and skill.
In among the many sketches of the wyvern were drawings of a young man with a kind, wise face and loose, curly dark hair hair that seemed beyond Theodora's skill to capture. Once, in frustration, she had turned a failed effort at depicting his curls into a clown wig and then added clown makeup to the face, scrawling "I give up.... This is too hard" across the bottom. On the very next page she had gotten the curls right, and that drawing had underneath it, written in clumsy Gothic lettering, "Gideon." The face she had drawn showed a young man smiling faintly. His expression was friendly, but there was something about his eyes that seemed sad somehow. Wise and sad.
And toward the back of the journal there was a single drawing of Theodora's mother, copied from one of her favorite family snapshots. Around the portrait Theodora had drawn a leafy border, its branches filled with birds and flowers the kind of green heaven she imagined her mom had gone to.
While Theodora studied the bat's wing and how its bones fit together, Dr. Naga came to the page of the journal that was filled with "Mikko is leaving" and the angry scrawl at the bottom.
"I see Mikko has told you her news."
Theodora stopped drawing.
Dr. Naga nodded. "She made me promise not to tell you. She wasn't sure about taking the job until late last week."
"Well, I don't get it," said Theodora, picking a pencil that was too soft for the delicate bone she was trying to draw and then getting mad when it made a thick, fuzzy line instead of the thin, sharp one she wanted. "I can't believe she's leaving, and I can't believe my dad is just letting her go," she continued in exasperation. "Why can't they see the simplest thing would be for them to just get married? It would solve everything."
"Would it?" said Dr. Naga. She came over to the drafting table, selected a pencil of a different hardness from the cup, and showed Theodora how with a little pressure it made a completely different line.
"Of course it would," said Theodora, a little crossly. She picked up the kneaded eraser and rapidly scrubbed out half of the drawing she had completed, blowing a shower of eraser crumbs onto the floor with more force than was necessary.
"Theodora, I wonder whether your father is as ready to marry again as you think. I think Mikko is wise to go away right now, as hard as it will be on everyone."
Rudy and Kip had appeared at the top of the stairs. Each dog carried a bright pink tennis ball in its mouth and wagged its tail impatiently.
"But there," said Dr. Naga, "I am going to leave you to your sketching while I throw balls to Kip and Rudy."
With a swirl of pink and silver sari skirts, Dr. Naga disappeared down the stairs with the dogs, leaving Theodora alone in the studio at the top of the house. She worked for about twenty minutes, finally getting the shape of the wing the way she wanted it. Then she tried to draw the wyvern hatchling from memory and found the drawing taking shape with more skill than she knew she possessed. The wing was like a bat's wing, and it wasn't. The beak was like the merlin's beak, and it wasn't. Somehow, on the page, they came together and made something new, made a dragon.
Will my parts ever come together again? Theodora wondered. Somehow last summer had left her feeling pulled apart, disconnected, a puzzle with pieces missing. And she knew it was more than just being twelve going on thirteen and being motherless. The whole wizard business had changed her; it was as though she'd been given wings but not taught how to fly.
She was starting to get a little stiff from sitting so long, so she got up from the drafting table and gave the hanging bat skeleton a gentle spin.
But not gentle enough. The pin holding the skeleton suspended from a string in the ceiling gave way, and the skeleton fell to the floor and broke into pieces.
Theodora looked at it with horror, unable to move. It belonged to a museum, and she had broken it. In a panic, she dropped to her knees and gathered the fragile bones together. She could see there was no way to put the skeleton back together, not without special tools and wire and glue and skill and knowledge. None of which she had.
And in her panic, Theodora did something. It wasn't exactly Delving, because she didn't join her mind to someone else's, but it had that sudden stretchy-weightless-disembodied feeling to it, as though she were rapidly falling, then jerked to a stop, then flung upward. It was as though she could throw her mind, the way a ventriloquist can thrown his or her voice.
There was a strange backward clattering noise, like a recording of a hundred dropped chopsticks being rewound. Theodora uncovered her face and saw that the bat skeleton was swaying from its string once more, apparently unharmed.
Theodora sat staring up at the bat and then down at the floor, where a moment ago the skeleton had lain, hopelessly shattered. There wasn't the teeniest, tiniest speck or shard or splinter of bone anywhere on the floor, and standing up, she looked at the bat and could see that none of the bones had been broken and mended.
I did that, she thought. I really did that.
Her heart was pounding, and she felt a little dizzy. Out the window she could see Dr. Naga in the walled garden out back, throwing tennis balls for the black-and-white blurs that were Rudy and Kip. Suddenly Theodora found she didn't want to be alone with herself. She went downstairs and out into the garden.
She meant to tell Dr. Naga about the bat skeleton, but when she opened her mouth to speak she was suddenly afraid. Some part of her thought that if she didn't talk about it, it might never have happened, and she could just close the door on that part of her mind that knew how to Delve. It felt too risky, like being at the open door of an airplane, about to jump. She wanted to slam that door closed. She thought of her dad and thought there was just too much to lose.
Dr. Naga looked at her curiously.
"Do you want to tell me about it?"
"Tell you about what?"
Dr. Naga gave Theodora a skeptical look.
Theodora squatted down to rub Kip's tummy. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"I see. Well, let's go in," Dr. Naga said kindly. "I think you could do with a cup of tea."
Dr. Naga made Indian spice tea, not the stuff sold in supermarkets and coffeehouses, but the real thing. There was something soothing about watching her measure the milk and tea into a saucepan and add the furled sticks of cinnamon bark, star-shaped anise, and papery green cardamom pods. The smell of milk and sweet spices filled the kitchen. When the tea was ready, Dr. Naga poured it into bowls and stirred in the honey.
The tea was too hot to drink, so Theodora closed her eyes and breathed in the fragrant steam.
Dr. Naga blew on her own tea and took a scalding sip. "When you helped save Gideon last summer, you Delved."
"Believe me, I haven't forgotten."
"Delving uses just one muscle in the mind. Once you start using that part of your mind, you might discover other muscles. Tricycle, bicycle, unicycle. But if you don't know what you're doing, your new skills can be unsettling. Especially if you discover them when you're alone, without warning."
Theodora blushed and felt a hot, prickly surge of anger. "I didn't Delve, or Schmelve, or anything else, okay? Nothing happened."
"Theodora," Dr. Naga said gently. She reached across the table to take Theodora's hand. But Theodora got up from her stool and pushed her tea away so that it sloshed onto the counter.
Suddenly she was angry at everyone: at Dr. Naga, at Mikko, at Gideon and Merlin. At her dad. And even at her mom. But most of all, Theodora was mad at herself. When the anger faded, as it always did, she would just be scared and alone.
She grabbed her coat and backpack.
"I have to go. I'll miss my train."
Copyright © 2006 by Ann Downer