Chapter 1: Friends and Fencing.
Quin pushed open the wire gate and entered the school grounds.
She’d been this way a hundred times before, her feet knew the path. It was a good thing too, because her little foray into two years-worth of pop-culture had dragged on well into the early hours of the morning and now the lids of her eyes felt like they’d been chained to lead weights.
Picking her way across the oval and then the rough gravelly asphalt of the basketball courts, she pushed open the door to the class-room.
“There she is!” Quin was nearly blown backwards by the collective shout from her classmates.
They swarmed her, bombarding her with questions about Koraline; asking her if she got the star’s autograph and could they see it and what was she really like and how did she meet someone famous anyway and what was she doing dressed weird and-
“That’s Enough! Everyone to your seats.” The teacher cut through the chatter with the slam of her ruler- and the class obeyed, receding like a tide and leaving the stunned Quin beached outside the room.
She made her way to her seat, trying to ignore the whispers and glances she was getting from every direction. If emotion was incense, the air would be heavy with curiosity and envy.
The teacher at least seemed to be able to ignore Quin’s close encounter with stardom, trying to keep the lesson on task- an unfortunately futile effort. Around Quin whispers rose and fell like the rustling of trees in the breeze, notes were continually pushed at her and the others at her desk prodded and poked to get her attention.
Quin tried to stay focused on what she was supposed to be doing, but, it really was too much. In the end she held up her hand and asked to be excused.
Back when the day was still dawning, Koraline rolled over in bed. Her auburn hair, tinted in places with gold, glinted in the sun of the new morning.
A polite cough came from the end of the bed. Koraline looked up, blinking sleepily.
“Would the young mistress like me to run her morning bath now, or would you prefer to uh, as they say, ‘Sleep In’” Wetwax the butler was already impeccably dressed, alabaster cloth over one arm of his sable suit. Every hair, every pore, every crease of his clothes politely screamed ‘Butler’.
Koraline eyed the sun. “No, I think I’ll take a bath, then breakfast.”
“As you wish, young mistress.”
Koraline stared at the canopy of her bed, while Wetwax entered the adjoining bathroom and set things in motion. When he returned, he briefly fussed over ornaments that had apparently gathered dust in his two minute absence before announcing “Your bath is ready, If you will excuse me, I will see that your breakfast is brought up.”
He bowed out of the room, the oak door clicking shut behind him.
Slipping out of bed, Koraline padded over to the bathroom[B1] , pausing in front of the mirror.
Before yesterday, she’d been planning to let her long hair grow out, and go back to its natural, darker state, but now, maybe a bob-cut to the shoulders?
She’d have to talk that over with Moira. Later, though. For now, just a wash would do.
After she’d signed out of the office, Quin walked home in morose contemplation.
Was this what being a celebrity was like? How had it rubbed off on her do easily- And what were you supposed to do? How did Koraline deal with it?
It suddenly occurred to Quin that she and Koraline really should have exchanged numbers, or email addresses or something.
Sunday afternoon had gone so fast, she’d never even thought about how she’d meet her again.
That is, if Koraline wanted to see her again. Was there some kind of rule that you weren’t allowed to try and contact famous people after you met them?
Would it be weird for her to try and call? Could she look up the number- no, wait, celebrities would get swamped with calls if they left their numbers lying around…
Uncle! She left her number with him!
Quin quickened her pace and took a detour, heading for Uncles shop.
Koraline stepped onto the foam practice mat, practice foil in her right hand, her left arm behind her back.
Her fencing instructor was already halfway through her own warm-up, flowing through strikes, parries and ripostes so smoothly that you couldn’t tell where one movement began and another ended.
“Koraline, we’ll be working with the Quarte position today; same as always, pattern practice, spar, rest and repeat.”
Koraline nodded, and shaking out her limbs, settled into the Quarte; her guard high, protecting her free hand and left side.
At that moment, her mobile rang. Koraline winced and could tell that Joan was glaring at her, even though her face was obscured by the protective mesh mask.
Excusing herself, Koraline pulled off her own headgear and picked up.
“Hello, oh. Hey.” She ran a hand through her hair “What happened? Ah… sure, one moment.”
Lowering the phone she turned to Joan “One more for practice?”
Quin sat in the back of the Limo, feeling more than a little self-conscious about her school-uniform.
When Koraline had said she’d get someone to pick her up, she had imagined something a little less… Grandiose.
Surrounded by bells whistles and expensive leather seats, it all made her feel very small indeed.
The sound of the motorcar changed as it crunched onto a gravel drive, slowing down.
Looking around, just in case she hadn’t noticed some other passenger that had entered during the half-hour drive, she unclipped her seatbelt and moved next to the window, peering out through the heavily tinted glass.
Lush trees and meadows rolled away in every direction. Quite suddenly, the car turned and a large house filled the world beyond the window.
The car came to a halt and she scrambled back to her seat- she was still umming and ahhing over whether or not to redo her seatbelt, when the chauffer opened the door.
“Here we are then little miss, out you come.” He doffed his hat.
Quin wasn’t sure if she was supposed to move quickly or carefully and as a result nearly fell face first out of the door.
The driver caught her and set her down on the honey coloured stone of the gravel drive.
Without the window between her and the stately house, Quin had nothing to shield her from the raw unbridled expression of wealth that towered over the landscape.
Everything, from its massive wings and windows, its double doors, its balconies and buttresses, they nailed down the world around it, presided over it. Owned it.
“No need to be so nervous, you’re Koralines guest.”
“How did you-“
“You’re twitching like a rabbit ready to bolt and I’ve got a camera in the passenger compartment-“
The driver was patient “No, you don’t need to be. I saw how you were sitting stock still most of the way, but a limo has space so you can use it. It’s my job to keep the windows clean, it’s your job to dirty e’m.” He paused and chuckled good-naturedly “Not that I’m encouraging you to make mess for the sake of it.”
Quin smiled. “What’s your name?” She held out a hand and he shook it warmly.
“I’m Simon, at your service Miss Fitzgerald.”
“Well, thank-you Simon.” Quin turned toward the house and saw her first butler.
Simon followed her gaze “Ah, it’s Wetwax.”
“Wetwax, Miladies butler, he’ll take you to her. Be seeing you.”
He doffed his hat and circling around, entered the limousine, driving it along a side-road towards a large outbuilding.
Quin waved to the departing car and then turned back to the butler Wetwax, who had stopped five feet short of her and begun scrutinising her with raised eyebrows.
“You are the friend, Quin Fitzgerald?”
Quin nodded, at a loss for words.
“Follow me, Koraline is in the right wing’s indoor Gymnasium. I shall take it upon myself to educate you in the history of Everfold Manor, as I suspect I may be leading you through its hallowed halls often.” He paused, as if expecting something of her.
“Um, thank-you very much. I hope that this isn’t too much trouble.”
Wetwax sniffed and informed her that it was his job to be troubled, and with that he led her toward the marble stairs and grand double doors of the manor house.
His shoes clacked softly on the glossy, gold flecked marble, while Quins sneakers squeaked with every step, no matter how hard she tried to stop them.
But then she came to the doors and all her nerves and worries were forgotten as details leapt out at her. She rushed the last few feet and rubbed the finish of the wood experimentally with her thumb.
She spent a minute examining the door carefully until Wetwax coughed.
“Oh, sorry, but, that looks like it’s a single piece of Brown, English Oak- natural finish, high grade with a light stain. Which must have been awfully difficult to do, not to mention expensive.”
Wetwax arched an eyebrow “Well, yes, indeed it is- do you have some familiarity with Carpentry Miss Fitzgerald? Perhaps a family member in the trade?”
“No, I just read about woods and grading and finishes about a year back, but anyone could see that this is wonderful work.”
Something about her quite genuine enthusiasm seemed to touch Wetwax.
“Well, you see back when this house was commissioned, it was in fact because the lord of Everfold at the time had found the perfect Oak trees for the doors- and so they have been its crowning glory for many generations, but also of interest I’m sure you’ll find if you come along, are the internal crenulations and baroque…”
Quin and Wetwax arrived at the massive indoor Gymnasium almost forty five minutes later. By now, Joan and Koraline were sparring in earnest, although it was more than a little one-sided, Joan batting away each thrust and jab effortlessly and making no attempt to strike back.
Wetwax excused himself, leaving Quin to sit on the sidelines and watch the fencers clash with foils flashing.
The bout ended abruptly when Koraline, frustrated by the constant and effortless deflection of her strikes, overextended. Joan moved under her student’s guard, the point of her foil bending against Koralines chest.
“Break.” Joan announced, removing her helmet and noticing Quin for the first time.
Koraline, did the same, dropping her gear and rushing over to greet her friend.
“What took you so long?” She dropped a companionable arm around Quin shoulders and lead her towards the blue foam of the practice mat “Here, you haven’t learned your thing for today have you? Well, you can help me out by learning to fence- I’m tired of losing to Joan.” She remembered herself and spun Quin to face her instructor. “Joan, this is Quin, she learns very quickly, Quin, this is Joan, I’ve been her pincushion for the last six months.”
Joan sized up Quin, noting her slim build and long hair- even as Quin gazed at Joan, whose supple build showed, even behind the thick white protective padding of the fencing outfit.
“We’re about the same size, Quin, are you okay using my gear? Here, I’ll help you change-“
And that was how Quin found herself standing on the blue practice mat, clad in white padding and holding a borrowed foil.
Joan, stepping alongside her, corrected her stance gently and explained the rules of fencing.
No slashes, only jabs. Attacks were directed at certain body-parts, hitting others meant a foul-
Quin felt herself straighten, responding to the voice of instruction. She began to absorb what Joan was saying, turning over each piece of information in her mind before tucking it away for later.
After an hour of passive instruction in the basics, Koraline had gotten impatient.
“C’mon there’s more to fencing than just standing and posing. Let’s spar!”
Quin glanced at Joan, uncertain. The instructor reassured her.
“Don’t worry, I’ll call out each move for you. Just follow my lead.”
Quin nodded and dropped into the quatre guard.
Koraline countered by entering tertia [B2] and beginning an almost immediate straight thrust-
“High Parry!” Joan called and Quin responded, batting the strike away.
Koralin skipped back and launched another attack.
“Mid twist, step and block.”
Quin avoided the second strike, sliding her own foil around.
Bouncing back, Koraline struck again.
“Low parry, Riposte, forward step, thrust!” Joan’s commands came out in rapid bursts.
Quin snapped from position to position like clockwork, following the voice of command, eyes closed.
Her foil hit something.
Opening her eyes, she saw that point of her foil. It was bent.
“Oh come on!” Koraline stepped back “I’ve been doing this for six months and I’m not that fast!”
Quin shrugged “It wasn’t me you were fighting.”
Koraline looked at Quin and then at Joan. “Point taken. Literally.” Koraline sighed “Sorry for being so pushy, forcing you into this, but could we try again, this time without the running instruction?”
Quin slid her feet into the guard position in answer.
She didn’t win again. Without Joan calling out the moves, Quin had to slow down and think about each step. Despite it all, she still gave Koraline a fair run for her money and by the time the clocks struck twelve, they were both damp with sweat and out of breath.
Joan stepped in “Time, both of you. Quin was it? I’m surprised, I wouldn’t have pegged you as an athlete.”
Quin, who was doubled over, pulled off her helmet and shook out her hair.
“I’m not… Just, fast... learner.” Quin spoke between gasps.
Koraline had already straightened out, helm under one arm “No kidding.”
Quin took a really deep gasp and held it. After she exhaled, her breathing slowed and she straightened, letting exhaustion slide away from her.
“So, what now?”Quin asked brightly.
“Lunch.” Joan informed her.
“Lunch.” Koraline confirmed it.
“Luncheon Milady.” Wetwax arrived with an elegant teacart.
Luncheon as Wetwax put it, commenced with the minimum of ceremony.
Silver platters and dishes were unveiled. Cold cuts and greens, legs of chicken and slices of mutton.
It was a lunch that deserved to be eaten out of a wicker basket while sitting atop a hill- possibly after having been veiled in a red and white chequered blanket.
After the ruined remains of the luncheon were pushed away by Wetwax, the three continued their exercises, this time winding down- and by three o’clock, Koraline and Quin were lying on the lawn behind the house, having already towelled off and changed into fresh clothes.
Quin, one arm folded behind her head, let her other trace patterns listlessly across the sky.
“So, you see, everyone just wanted to know about you… Yesterday, half of them probably couldn’t even remember my name.”
“Sorry.” Koraline tilted her head to look at Quin instead of the clouds.
“You don’t need to be.” Quin glanced at her briefly and then returned her gaze to the sky “But it was like somehow… I don’t know, fame rubbed off. Like pixie dust or glitter. Rubbed off and stuck. It made me a little nervous about calling you.”
Koraline blinked “Yeah, how did you get my number?”
“Uncle. Wasn’t easy, but I got a look at the number you left him. You know what? He keeps it in his safe now.”
“Pffft!” Koraline broke out laughing “everything I touch turns to gold…. Huh. Actually-“
Koraline trailed off, looking more than a little wistful.
Quin nudged her with her foot “Actually what?”
Koraline chewed her lip “Well... You know the tale of king Midas? Guy touched something, bam, gold?”
“And he got really unhappy because he couldn’t eat and stuff. What of it?”
“Well, that’s actually a bit, like me. I mean, I have tutors now. Because I have to move and be in shoots and then there’s the press… you get the idea. Everything I touch, bam, collectable.
But in return, I gave up all the normal things. I can’t even talk to someone now without them freaking out. ”
Quin reflected on that “I was immune, because I was ignorant. I looked up pop culture, I wavered, nearly didn’t come… Koraline, no matter how mega famous you get, I promise you that from now on I will ignore it utterly.”
Koraline grinned “And no matter how much of a diva I’m supposed to become, I promise, That I won’t, ah-“ Koraline yawned midsentence, losing her train of thought “Something. Not important. I’m too tired for deep talk ’n stuff. Best friends, yada yada Shake.” She held out a hand and Quin clasped it.
Tired, physically and mentally, they lay still for a while, resting peacefully and silently-