Chapters 1,2 and 3 have been mailed to the paying readers and uploaded on Patreon.
Located in the majestic Swiss Alps’ foothills, the Silverstone Academy was an erstwhile castle converted into a premier education institute in the early 20th century. Owned by an aristocrat named Henry Dumont, belonging to the French Royal family, he had readily submitted the Castle for educational purposes, retiring to his ski lodge. Ever since, it had housed the children of the elite, aged fourteen to eighteen, in its sprawling premises.
Zoe got out of the sleek black car, whose name she’d already forgotten. Despite the relatively cooler climate, her thighs were slick with sweat; the wet imprints on the leather inside were proof. She breathed in through her nose, willing to calm down and bunched her jeans within her clammy palms. The imposing iron gate in front of her did little to detangle her knotted nerves, and she almost got back inside the car.
“You are not doing anything of that sort, young lady,”
Zoe cursed under her breath and turned around to find the middle-aged driver, Lancelot, staring with narrowed eyes. Hands respectfully behind his back, but the pursed lips didn’t convince her. The first days to school sucked, she thought she was done with those last year, but life wasn’t as predictable she felt it to be. Another car stopped behind, and her newly discovered half-siblings stepped out. Each tall and crafted by the gods themselves. Markus, Claire and Daphne Huntington, children of Emmanuel and Kelly Huntington. Claire and Markus gave her half-smiles, courteous but not warm, while Daphne didn’t even bother to look at her.
“We are late,” Daphne muttered, “I am never late.”
“Calm down,” Markus whispered.
“It could’ve been avoided,” Daphne shot back, turning a burning gaze towards Zoe. Zoe gulped and looked away; indeed, they were late because of her. Her palpable anxiety as she tried to breathe through her nose in the private jet’s bathroom, one which her father had sent for his children, had taken quite a bit of time. If Lancelot hadn’t knocked on the door, she’d be on the same flight back home.
Not a bad idea.
Zoe never knew that she was spawned by Emmanuel Huntington himself; he was American royalty; a family with money since seven generations ago. This summer, when her beautiful Mother had passed away, she had only left a mobile number behind, belonging to Emmanuel Huntington himself. That one phone call changed her life. The Father figure whom she had thought to be dead was, in fact, alive and well. It wasn’t the happiest of the meetings. They were both vary of each other, and Zoe felt the resentment building inside her.
Zoe knew her siblings were at most tolerant of her. Her entrance into their lives was a storm that disrupted everything. Their summer plans were ruined, and so had their idea of a perfect family. Whenever she passed by them, she could feel the simmering rage, especially in Daphne. Youngest amongst the tripling, she was the apple of Emmanuel’s eye with her perfect strawberry blonde curls and bright blue eyes and an attractive model-like figure.
“Your Father will be down next week; he is apologetic to have not dropped the three… I mean the four of you himself. Mrs Huntington should be accompanying as well,” Lancelot said.
Zoe had almost flinched at Lancelot’s slip, and Markus narrowed his eyes at their driver. Eldest of the four, not by much, but he still acted in control.
“Let’s go,” Markus said, “Clair and Daphne, the two of you can go to your dormitories, and I will accompany Zoe to the Headmaster’s office.”
Clair shrugged and walked into the school premises, and Daphne followed her sister with a huff. Markus laid his eyes on Zoe and motioned for her to follow him. Zoe turned to Lancelot, waving him goodbye shyly. The driver gave her a polite smile, sat in his car and drove away. Zoe already missed him, throughout the way he had spoken to her politely and had encouraged her to embrace the legendary and enchanting Silverstone Academy with open arms. She didn’t say much, just contemplating upon the next three years of her life. Zoe hadn’t said a lot of things since her Mother’s death. Keeping to herself in a quiet room, mind reeling from all the things that had happened to her.
The large iron gate seemed to open for them as they walked inside—the cobblestone pathway, lined with tall trees on either side of them and manicured gardens. The Castle stood in front of them, two towers on each corner. Made of thick rocks, the Castle held a grey and white colour to it. With the tall mountains behind, the Silverston Academy looked majestic; she could only imagine what it looked like in its primary forms, with soldiers flanking around it and decorated with cannons. The Castle did look ready to launch a war upon its enemies.
The gatehouse of the Castle had been converted into an office area. Upon entering, it bifurcated into two pathways. On the right was the staff area, and on the left was the administrative block. Markus walked into the administrative block.
“Do you have your admission slip?” Markus asked.
Zoe fished inside her bag and handed Markus the slip.
“You’ll be allotted your house now. We have four houses: Felix, Dashwood, Knight and Locksley. We take our houses very seriously here; you are always loyal to your house, no matter what,” Markus explained, “our houses are named after the four founders of this school, all accomplished in their respective fields of science, literature, humanities and defence strategies.”
“Really? I thought that was just something we read in books,” Zoe attempted to joke.
Markus frowned and didn’t respond. He turned to the receptionist and handed over the slip to her. Zoe passed an awkward smile and looked down at her hands, feeling out of place. Everything was so meticulous. The receptionist, a Mrs Veronica Browning, sat with her fingers clicking away on the computer. Her thick glasses rested on her nose. She looked over at Zoe’s admission slip and nodded to herself.
“You have been allotted the Locksley House, Ms Huntington. Just like the rest of your siblings. Your books have been sent to your room, along with your uniforms. Mrs Huntington had sent us your sizes three weeks ago; however, if any resizing is to be done, then we have a tailor on campus.”
Mrs Browning then opened her drawer and pulled out an iPad. It was a sleek silver with the school’s logo on it.
“This iPad is to be used only for school purposes. All your grades and remarks from the teachers will be uploaded there. The calendar holds your class timetable. We take punctuality very seriously here, Ms Huntington.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
Ms Browning nodded, and Markus led her out of the block. The walk towards the dormitories was quiet, but Zoe didn’t mind it. She was mesmerised by the architecture of her new school. She peeped into a few rooms with the looming towers and the arched gateways and found them decorated beautifully. Most walls held portraits of the founder of the sports teams or the distinguished alumni. She stopped in front of one of them and stared. A young man stood, his foot over a football, an abandoned smile on his face and yet his eyes held the maturity of a forty-year-old man.
“Mr Huntington,” Zoe whispered. She still hadn’t got herself to call him her Father. Emmanuel Huntington was still the man who was absent during her childhood. Had he never indeed called up her Mother? Asking about her well-being. It all confused her so much.
“Dad was a star here. Everyone from my Great-Grandfather, we’ve all taken football very seriously. I must do well in this sport and carry my family’s legacy forward.”
“You are quite committed to it,”
“I don’t want my Father to be disappointed. The Huntington name comes with weight and responsibilities, and I am well-equipped to carry it.”
“That’s admirable,” Zoe mumbled.
Markus’s face was stoic, but his eyes expressed that her gratitude meant a lot to him. He seemed nice; maybe they could get along well. He turned his eyes from her and back to his Dad’s photograph, a silent resolve in them. Zoe knew at that moment, Markus was ambitious and genuinely responsible. Emmanuel and Markus’ eyes held the same maturity. Zoe was glad that it was Marcus who was showing her around instead of her much colder siblings. Although, it was only Daphne who appeared cold. Claire seemed alright, even though she hadn’t made any attempts to warm up.
“I really appreciate all of this,” Zoe whispered, “with everything that has happened…”
Marcus was already shaking his head before Zoe could even complete her sentence. He let a small smile slip on his face.
“I know what you’ve been going through; it isn’t easy losing a parent; I don’t even want to imagine a situation like that. We’ve not been very welcoming but know that you can come to me for anything.”
“Thank you, I really mean it.”
Markus smiled and led her through the grand hallways; a few students stood scattered around and talked amongst their little groups. Zoe only hoped to be part of a group where she could find true friends. Although the school was intimidating, especially with its illustrious alum, Zoe had decided to make the most of it. A positive streak ran through her, and she allowed herself to stand a bit taller. A smile found itself on her face, and she turned away to look in the front only to crash into a chest made of rock.
The thick French accent hit Zoe harder than the chest, and she stumbled backwards. Markus was quick to steady her, and she shot a thankful smile towards him.
Zoe frowned and turned in the direction; what she saw stole the words right out of her throat. A beautiful specimen, he looked like a vacation well-spent on the Amalfi Coast, so sinful yet indulgent. Zoe’s eyes glided over his tanned complexion and his sharp and angular face. Everything about him screamed spoilt and dark, and yet she was drawn to him like a moth to a flame. A pink tongue darted out and licked the delicious red lips, and Zoe’s throat felt scratchy all of a sudden.
“Is this the sister we have heard about, Markus?”
Zoe cleared her throat and narrowed her eyes, her visceral reaction to the Roman God forgotten.
“She is, Roman, and I suggest you maintain your distance from her.”
The Roman God’s name happened to be Roman.
“Not interested in her, Markus,” Roman snarked and turned to Zoe, “my tastes suit women who are… taller.”
Since the beginning, Zoe had been teased about her short stature. She blamed her Mother’s side of the family for it. Barely reaching five feet three inches, it was a struggle being taken seriously, but on the plus side, no one stayed mad at her for long except the fellow short populace.
“It doesn’t matter whether your tastes run in short or tall women because mine suit men who are… gentlemanly.” Zoe gave a saccharine sweet smile and started to walk away but not before a final barb. “Also, not interested.”
Markus bit back a smile, and she saw the walls lower in his eyes.
“I think you can take care of yourself around here,”
“I have been taking care of myself for a very long time. While Mum tried to be as present as possible but alongside being a single mother, she had two jobs to juggle, I had no other option but to grow fast,”
Markus nodded and led her towards the Locksley Tower, it resided members of the respective house. Students belonging to other houses were strictly prohibited, and you could only meet them in the school’s common area. Markus swiftly explained the rules; he knew them at the back of his hand.
The students were not allowed in the halls after nine unless they had a permission slip from the teachers or were in the library. The students were also not allowed to leave the school premises until they had a permission slip from their parents. In her previous high school, Zoe would leave the premises all the time; no one bothered her security. She’d often be found at Barbara’s Grill, stuffing burgers in her already full face.
Zoe sighed, not wanting to get reminded about her quaint little town and its good people.
“I know things are a bit tight here, but you’ll have a jampacked schedule here.”
“Yes, we have so many electives to choose from; I also have my business classes in the evening followed by my football classes.”
“Woah, you are taking business classes?”
“My tutor sends me case studies to go through, I work at Dad’s office every vacation, and I need to know my stuff,” Markus said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“Do I need to take business classes too?”
“No, I mean, it isn’t necessary. You need to talk to Dad about it; I think he’d like it if you take some extra classes. It depends on what you want to be?”
“A fashion designer,” Zoe said without skipping a heartbeat.
“Then you should start working on it if you want to get into the top schools. I will ask Dad to assign you a tutor.”
“Someone is going to teach me fashion designing. Isn’t that taught in Fashion schools?”
“You want to be ahead of the rest of the population, Zoe. A Huntington does things differently. Our curriculum isn’t the same as a normal high-school student. We study to succeed and not just excel in our exams.”
The rich did things; differently, that was for sure. Zoe remembered seeing the syllabus for her classes. It was dynamic and latest, unlike her high-school one, where things were still stuck in 2005. Catching up would be difficult, but Zoe knew she would succeed; her Mother had instilled that quality in her. In the face of challenging situations, you had to get tougher.
“What is your choice of electives?”
“I am taking Latin, European History, Business management and marketing.”
“Interesting choice; I hope you do well,”
They stopped in front of a large wooden door with iron grilling on it, it looked sturdy. There was a camera right above the door with its red-light blinking. Zoe observed a thumb-print scanner and a retina scanner above it.
“The retina scanner is safe.” Markus soothed Zoe’s worries about having her eyes getting burned by a laser. “Why don’t you give it a try?”
Zoe placed her thumb on the scanner.
“Access Denied,” a robotic voice spoke.
Zoe’s turned to Markus, her eyes wide with panic.
“If that happens three times, don’t go for the fourth time. It is best to go to the warden’s room which is right below this floor. She is mostly available at all times.”
“But I am from the Locksley house, why am I not getting access?”
“It will take a day for your details to get recorded in the system. Till then, I will escort you inside.”
Markus brought his eyes to the scanner and then placed his thumb; within few seconds, the door flung open, and he smirked. He motioned for Zoe to enter first.
“There are about hundred and twenty students in the Locksley house, only thirty per grade. The Silverston Academy is highly competitive; children from all over the world fight to get a spot in the school.”
“I didn’t fight,”
“The Huntingtons are different, our forefathers were friends with the founders, and since then, it is almost a birthright for a Huntington child to get admission. However, we have never taken advantage of it; we sat for the entrance exams and fought hard to get admissions.”
“Except for me,”
“It’s different for you,”
Markus then turned to the dimly lit staircase. It was dark and unnerving. The moment felt monumental. This would be the first steps into a new kind of life; what would it bring forth? Only happy memories, she hoped.
They took their first steps in, and Zoe noticed the staircase how it rounded, the stone walls were decorated with pictures of illustrious Locksley students, Emmanuel Huntington’s photograph hung too.
The stone walls reminded her of an era gone by; the lampshades too looked ornate and antique. Zoe was always attracted to art and architecture, and everything about this school was worth exploring. They reached an ample open space with plush leather couches and ottomans and fireplaces, there was warmth in the room, and a few students were sprawled. Daphne was straddling some guy with luscious blonde hair; she had a soft smile on her face.
“Daphne,” Markus muttered, “get off my best friend’s lap.”
Daphne pouted and sat beside him. The best friend turned around, and Zoe found herself getting the same reaction when she saw Roman; she observed his fingers run through the luxurious blonde hair. His broad shoulders sat wide and proud, and there was a positivity about him that dazzled her.
“Hey, I am Levy Kingston.” Levy extended his hand, and Zoe found her hand moving into his palms. They were warm with a few callouses. “I hope you enjoy your time here at Silverstone.”
“Thank you, it is a change, that’s for sure,”
“Change is the only constant in life; best to roll with them.”
“Sage advice,” Zoe whispered.
“We have to go,” Daphne butted in, her eyes narrowing at Zoe, “I want to pick my books up at the library. A little bird told me that Mr Poe is not going to be easy on us with Trigonometry.”
“Mr Poe is our Math teacher,” Claire joined the circle, “he takes grand pleasure in making things worse for his students.”
“He only has our best at heart,” Levy said.
“Flattery won’t get you good grades, Levy,” Claire said, “I was smart enough to already study three chapters in advance.”
“What?” Daphne seethed.
“As you can see, Daphne is the competitive one,” Markus whispered.
“Are you sure about that?” Zoe muttered.
“I will take you to your room,” Claire butted in, wanting to get away from Daphne’s temper.
“I’d really like that.”