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Millie Goes To School.

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The Goddess shut the chest and sat on it.”School!” she said, smiling blissfully. “Rice pudding, prefects, dormitories, midnight feasts, playing the game -”

 

 

“I think it’s perfect,” said Millie.
Gabriel, Christopher and Millie were sitting on hard, shiny chairs in the Headmistress's study, awkwardly balancing cups of weak tea on their knees. Miss Keith gave Millie a perfunctory smile, addressing her remarks to Gabriel.
“I hope Karen showed you everything you wanted to see, Mr - Sir Gabriel?”
It was true that the Head Girl hadn’t had an aura of wisdom beyond her years - in fact she’d seemed rather absent and distracted - and Miss Keith was very much on the far side of youthful - but everything else was just as Millie had expected. The rows of neatly made beds in the ‘dorms’; the wooden desks with their own inkwells, lids scratched with the names of former pupils; the hockey pitch and netball courts - scenes of earnest practice. But even more than all of those things were the girls. Dressed in navy uniform, spreading out across the lawns at break-time, walking and talking in pairs and small groups, arms linked, heads together, whispered secrets, shared jokes, some of the younger ones running, tossing balls, calling and laughing as they played ….
To Millie, who had spent most of her life with only the Temple cats and priestesses for company, Kingscote seemed like heaven on earth - or heaven in World 12B, to be strictly accurate. Even Christopher, who had been rather silent at the sight of so many girls all in one place was looking wistful, remembering how much he’d enjoyed his two terms at school before he’d been abruptly whisked away.
“You get to play cricket here!” he said to Millie, in an undertone heavily tinged with envy.
Miss Keith looked as if she thought boys should be seen and not heard, even boys as tall and haughty looking as Christopher. He seemed to be ignoring Miss Keith entirely, managing to look both vague and superior, except when talking to Millie. Again, Miss Keith addressed her remarks to Gabriel. “Yes, we have an inter-form Cricket competition over the summer term. It’s an opportunity for the girls to train and play together as a team, regardless of ability. We’re very strong as a school on collaboration and working together.”
“Marvellous,” said Gabriel. “If Millie takes to cricket, she can play for the castle team next year.”
Miss Keith’s eyes flickered at the mention of the castle. “Though as I understand it, Millie’s education has been rather - interrupted. She will need to make good what she’s missed over the last few years. Her schoolwork will necessarily have to take priority over sporting activities. She will be placed in the Middle Remove class at first…”
“Perhaps it would be better to start after the summer holidays,” Gabriel said to Millie. “When the school year starts.”
“Oh no! I want to start straight away!” said Millie.
“This weekend is exeat. I suggest you bring Millie early on Sunday so that she can settle in before the other girls arrive back. If I show you to the Secretary’s office she will give you the list of everything Millie needs to bring with her, and she can discuss all the arrangements with you.”
‘Arrangements’ mostly seemed to mean school fees, when and how they had to be paid. Gabriel nodded placidly as Miss Carter went through the details. Millie had a chest full of uncut diamonds to pay for her schooling, and a term at Kingscote would barely make a dent in them.
At length, everything was arranged, and they all shook hands, happily agreeing that they would see Millie on Sunday when she arrived on the early train.
Finally, the three of them were outside, and the imposing front door had closed on them. The bell for the end of recess had gone while they were in the office and the grounds were now empty of life; the sloping lawns still and silent in the sunshine, save for the gardener’s cat padding across on some mission of his own. The school buildings were hung with a silence so heavy one could almost feel it, broken only by the occasional murmur of a teacher’s voice through an open window.
“Are you really quite sure?” asked Gabriel.
“Oh yes!” sighed Millie. “I can’t wait! It’s going to be absolutely super!”
Christopher kicked at the gravel discontentedly. Not only was Millie going to school, and getting to play cricket, and leaving him on his own in the castle again without anyone his own age to talk to, but she’d gone all silly and gushy about it. He was half inclined to stop her being able to go. But as if she’d read his mind she wheeled on him, saying,”Are you sure you don’t mind me using your spare life, Christopher? It’s awfully good of you!” and he had to shrug and mutter nonchalantly that of course he didn’t mind. Millie had used one of his lives to escape the Temple of Asheth, and once Gabriel had fetched it back to their own World he had agreed that Millie might as well use it again to get to the neighbouring world - from where all the best school stories had come.
They strolled down the drive, ostensibly heading back to the train station. Gabriel frowned, and said, thinking aloud, “She wasn’t impressed by the mention of the castle, was she? She’s not a snob at least, whatever else she may be.” A few steps further on, and he caught Millie’s eye and said abruptly, “You know there’s no magic at all in this world?”
“Yes,” answered Millie promptly. “I mustn’t use any here at all, not even witch sight.”
“Yes, I hope I can trust you to stick to that. But that’s not what’s bothering me. Did either of you notice anything? Feel anything out of place?”
“No,” said Christopher. “But there was a lot of silver in there. Those netball cups around the hall must have been silver plate at least.”
“What about you, Millie?”
“I don’t think so. But there was so much to see …..” Once again, she indulged in a happy sigh.
Christopher, quicker to read Gabriel’s expression, asked, “Why? What do you think is wrong?”
“Oh, maybe nothing. Only …. The faintest of prickles, that’s all. As if something has been here that shouldn’t.”
“But if there’s no magic here? Only music, you said, is the closest thing they have?”
“That’s the truth. But in the past non-magical worlds have been used by the wrong sort of people, like the Wraith and his gang, to store things they want hidden.”
Christopher blushed. The knowledge that the Wraith had been his Uncle Ralph was still raw. “I never came to this world when I was - doing his ‘experiments’. I only saw it once before and I wasn’t with Tacroy then.”
“No, no, I wasn’t suggesting that. And maybe I’m wrong. Possibly I’m over-sensitive to the atmosphere here.”
“Well, it is full of a lot of silly girls,” said Christopher hurriedly, to get their thoughts off Uncle Ralph, and Millie, coming out of her reverie, gave him a playful shove in return.
Their fooling took them as far as the bend in the drive where the trees shielded them from the view of the school. There they stepped off the drive into a path between the  bushes and made their own arrangements for getting home.