It was the fifteenth of August; the start of the new school year. The school teemed with life as parents accompanied their children to their dorms, met teachers, and explored the premises.
Two families stood at the base of the marble steps. A man and woman gazed up at the school and drank in past memories, a little girl, no more than six, nestled between them. The father pointed to the marble pillars that supported the entryway. The Council’s crest had been erected above the pillars: a golden lion with eagle’s wings.
“Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly,” the father said to his daughter. “You’ll be learning many things here, but these three are the most important.”
The parents and the child were all tall and striking. The father wore a simple linen shirt and trousers, the mother a pale linen dress. Curled strands of long brown hair fell gently down the back of the girl’s white dress, errant locks floated in a warm gentle breeze. Her honey brown hair and hazel eyes mirrored her father’s, though her curly ringlets were distinctly her mother’s. She bounced with excitement as she took in the scene before her.
The mother smiled and said, “She’ll learn these values soon enough.”
Another family stood nearby in a nervous huddle. The man and woman appeared almost plain in the company of such a distinctive family. The slim woman bounced a bundle of powdered pink cloth in her arms that emitted a soft cry. A little boy, skinny in the extreme, with long dirty blonde hair and bright blue eyes, smiled tentatively beneath a smattering of freckles.
Just then a couple of boisterous boys ran between the two families knocking the little boy over. The little girl trotted over to where the boy lay sprawled out in the soft grass. She looked down at him and smiled, offering her hand.
“Thanks,” he said, winded, as he took her hand.
“I’m Willow,” she said.
She smiled, and Rohan thought it was like sunshine itself.
He reached down and brushed dirt from his pants. When he stood up, his face was red, and he whispered as fast as he could “You’re pretty.”
Willow gave his arm a solid punch with her clenched fingers.
Her show of affection caught him off guard, and he dropped a long, thin wooden cylinder he had been carrying. Willow picked it up and examined the curious object before she handed it back.
“You’re a wizard,” she stated matter-of-factly.
“Yes,” he beamed proudly. “You?”
“No. I’m just me.”
“I like you.”
“I like you too.”
Her hand bridged the divide between them again, and she towed him up the steps as though it was the most natural thing in the world. Their parents made eye contact, laughed and introduced themselves, before following their little ones into the school.
TEN YEARS LATER
Willow sat on the bottom step of the marble staircase. She fidgeted endlessly, her hazel eyes scanning the vacant grounds of The Credo School for Little Saints. Before her was the vast manicured lawn. Moonlight glinted off the broad moat that encircled the school, its arched stone bridge just beyond her view. She gazed at the glassy lake seeming to slumber under the stars, and heard the braying of horses from the stable.
She breathed in the sun baked earth, the freshly cut grass, and the faint perfume of wild flowers that had curled up for the night. She rose, and her white linen dress, cinched at her waist with a light blue ribbon, fell gracefully below her knees. Stretching to her full height, her slender figure was accentuated.
No sign of him. A deep sigh escaped her lips.
With a heavy breath she turned around and climbed the marble steps to her dormitory room. Reaching the landing, she spun around for one final look and let loose a musical laugh.
The figure of a young man emerged from the darkness. For the first time in three very long weeks, she felt like she could breathe again.
She ran down the stairs and across the lawn as fluid as a gazelle. Rohan broke into a run. They collided into each other harder than either of them intended and tumbled into the soft grass in a heap of laughter.
Willow got to her feet and helped him up.
“Summer break still hasn’t cured you of clumsiness,” she joked.
“Oh, come on. You know that’s what you find most endearing about me,” he said with a wink.
“You’re a day early,” she accused.
“And yet you were still waiting.” He punched her gently on the arm.
She shrugged. “A girl can always hope, can’t she?” Her gaze drifted downward, and in a soft breath said, “I missed you, Rohan.”
He took her hands. Lanky and awkward, taller than he was just three weeks ago and dearer to her than ever.
He blushed; glad it was too dark for her to see. “Three weeks isn’t long, Willow.”
“You didn’t miss me?” She pretended to be wounded.
Rohan flushed scarlet. “You know I did. Why do you think I made my parents bring me back a day early? If it was up to me, I’d have never left.”
She looked past Rohan, as if searching for something. “So where are Mr. and Mrs. Brewster, and Kelby for that matter?”
“Kelby wanted to stop in Speratus and get a malt. I taught her to swim over break.”
“Good for you both. Your family is staying for the Opening Ceremonies Celebration, right?”
“Yup, as always. Professor Edgar’s giving them a room in the dorms since they’re free until the other students come tomorrow.”
Willow linked her arm through Rohan’s, and they slowly walked toward the school. “I wish it could always be just the two of us, like right now.”
Willow had few friends, none closer than Rohan. She was one of the few students at Credo without magical talents, and while no one understood Willow and Rohan’s relationship -- they certainly appeared to be a couple, although they claimed only friendship -- the general masses shrugged their shoulders and ignored them, the non-witch and the awkward boy sorcerer.
“I know, I’m a total catch,” he laughed.
They walked in silence for a few paces. Willow sensed that he wanted to say something else. But as the seconds increased, she said, “Oh, yes. Quite the catch. How did I ever get lucky enough to have you as my best friend?”
Rohan changed the subject, “I’m starved. What do you say we ransack the kitchen?”
“Of course you are. You’re always starved.”
They had come to the stairs. Rohan took her hand, and they tramped up the steps.
They spent most of the following morning relaxing under the shade of a mossy oak near the lake shore. Years ago, someone had strung a wooden plank into a makeshift swing that still hung from one of the lower boughs of the oak.
With the flick of his wand Rohan muttered, “Oscillo,” and enchanted the swing to push itself at the perfect pace for Willow.
The soft wind caressed her face and ruffled her dress. Rohan leaned back against the sturdy trunk and caught up on his summer assignments. School had not even started, and he was typically behind.
Willow lost herself in day dreams, thinking about the special place they lived. The village of Speratus was one of the smallest in the diminutive country of Carus, home to both humans and magical beings. The great Lord Protector chose those who lived in their country to ordain as His own -- His chosen people. Long ago the Germantias Council was established to govern the entire world of Tutis from Speratus, and a Chief of Council was anointed.
Credo was founded to provide a haven to the children whose parents worked for the Council, and to give them a home, as well as schooling, where they would learn to live the way that the Lord Protector had instructed his people. They too would serve the people and creatures of Tutis when they were grown.
A moss covered log floated in the lake. A bump stuck up with two knots that resembled the eyes of a sea serpent. Willow studied it for awhile as it reminded her of tales she had heard. “Do you think sea monsters exist?”
“Nah, not likely. Most of the stuff about the sea is myth, you know. You can’t trust fisherman, after a long day on the water and a pint too much ale.”
Friendly chatter reached their ears. Rohan lifted his head and watched his fellow classmates and their parents arrive.
“We should probably get some lunch,” Rohan said as he gathered his books.
Willow smiled. He did always think of food. She could not recall him ever missing a single meal, and yet he was practically skin and bones.
Rohan started to walk toward the school, when Willow cleared her throat. “Umm...forget something?”
Rohan turned, his eyes following Willow as she continued to swing. “Don’t think so.” He attempted to hide his smile, and then offered her a slight bow and pulled out his wand from the waistband of his trousers and gave it a twitch. “Desino,” he said with authority in his voice unlike any she had heard before.
The Opening Ceremonies Celebration was hosted by the playful Fauns that lived nearby in the surrounding forests. Those rambunctious spirits were half human, half goat. Above the waist, they resembled friendly men with small rosy noses. Below, they were all goat, complete with hooves and a short tail. Their love of dance and all things melodious made them the perfect hosts.
Willow made her way through the Entrance Hall to the steps. She was dressed in a formfitting sky blue gown; her honey brown curls bounced like tightly-wound springs with each step. Several Fauns, some donning cockeyed top hats and colorful bowties over their bare chests, stood in a loose semicircle on the lawn. They played music so sweet on tiny silver flutes that it could break hearts. In her soul she knew that she was a free spirit as they were. At Credo, she felt like a wild bird trapped in a cage when she was cooped up in classes.
“Oh, there you are dear.” A skinny woman with dark blonde hair and bright blue eyes came up from behind and placed a slender hand upon Willow’s shoulder.
“Mrs. Brewster, it is so good to see you.” Willow turned and gave her a hug and then bent down to the little girl standing beside her. “Hi, Kelby. You look so pretty. Rohan told me that you learned how to swim. Congratulations!”
“Thanks, Willow.” Kelby’s smile beamed beneath a healthy sprinkling of freckles.
“The boys will be another minute or so. Shall we go on ahead?” Mrs. Brewster suggested, gathering the folds of her long, pale pink dress in her hand to descend the stairs.
The Brewster’s had become like a second family to Willow. Her parents had not been able to attend a single Opening Ceremonies Celebration since Willow’s very first one, ten years before. Her heart sometimes felt sore from missing them, but she knew they loved her. Her mother once wrote that the reason they worked so hard was for her sake. She didn’t understand, but her prayers comforted her. She knew her mother was telling the truth.
Rohan insisted that Willow stay by his family the following year and just like that a tradition was formed.
Ten minutes later, Rohan and Mr. Brewster met up with the girls.
“Hey there, Willow. How have you been?” Mr. Brewster said bringing her in for a tight hug.
He was slightly bulkier than the rest of his family, which gave Rohan some hope of filling out one day. His open and friendly face was bespeckled with freckles like his two children.
“Really good. And you, sir?”
“You know I told you not to call me sir – it makes me feel old,” he said grimacing before winking at Willow.
“Sorry, it’s a habit.”
“Just don’t let it happen again,” he said in a stern voice that quickly turned to laughter.
Rohan was obviously uncomfortable; dressed in a black dress tunic that stood out strikingly against his pale skin and his long blonde hair slicked back.
“You look handsome,” Willow said quietly as they followed his family across the lawn to the festivities.
He reddened. “You look...you look...umm...phew!”
Willow giggled and said, “Thanks. You’re being daft though.”
“You’re too modest. I mean it, Willow. And you’re too critical of yourself.”
“Well, I appreciate the complement as much as the next girl,” Willow said. “It’s just...” She shook her head. “It’s just very strange to hear you talking like that.” She took his arm and pulled him closer to the bonfire. “Come on. I think Professor Edgar is going to start.”
The Fauns’ beautiful music came to an end, and a very petite man with a slight paunch, dressed in a robe of midnight blue and a cone shaped hat the same color, stepped in front of the blazing fire.
“Ladies and Gentleman, may I have your attention please?” His voice, remarkably strong for his short stature and plump belly, carried easily across the expansive lawn. “For those of you who are new to our school and therefore do not know me -- I am Professor Rayne Edgar, Headmaster of Credo School for Little Saints.”
Professor Edgar had duel responsibilities: serving as both the Chief of Council and the Headmaster of Credo. He was a wizard more comfortable with the “old school” way of life, the only one left who still dressed in what most considered outdated attire. He was so small and was capable of such great magic that it was rumored about Credo that he possessed Elfin blood, while his long, snow white hair and beard and small bright eyes spoke of his gentle nature. His jovial spirit filled the halls of Credo.
“I would like to extend my sincere welcome to you and your families. My office door is always open. Please feel free to stop by anytime...especially with pie,” he said patting his bulbous belly.
The crowd laughed at his joke.
“Also I would like to remind my students, as I do every year, that any prejudices against non-magical students will absolutely not be tolerated. I would like to believe that Tutis has long sense abdicated the ignorance of narrow mindedness. Everyone has a purpose here, and we’re intricately created to fulfill said purpose. And now…without further ado, let the celebration commence. And more importantly the feast,” he said to more laughter.
An hour later, after Rohan filled his plate to overflowing for the third time, and Willow could not possibly see how he could eat another bite, she said, “Do you want to dance?”
“I wasn’t made for dancing.”
“You know that I don’t care.”
“I’m just saying that we have this same conversation every year. You know you are going to give in -- you always give in.”
“To you. It’s not my fault that you are so hard to say no to.”
Willow flashed a smile, “It’s settled then. Let’s go.”
“Very well,” Rohan said without enthusiasm, but not before popping another morsel into his mouth.
He was a terrible dancer, but even after he crushed her toes once or twice, she still spun in graceful light-footed circles.
Eventually the fire began to die down, and the Fauns’ sprightly music changed to a soft, soothing lullaby. One by one fireflies extinguished their bulbs, when the fire lit up again brilliantly and thunder rolled through the sky.
Willow found herself lifted about the flames, looking down at the startled people below her. She felt a stabbing pain in her heart. She flinched, and fell toward the ground. Just before she was to hit, every wand of the assembled witches and wizards aimed toward her, and she floated gently to the ground.