Authors: M.J. Putney
St. Martin’s Press
THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION. ALL OF THE CHARACTERS, ORGANIZATIONS, AND EVENTS PORTRAYED IN THIS STORY ARE EITHER PRODUCTS OF THE AUTHOR’S IMAGINATION OR ARE USED FICTITIOUSLY.
“Fallen From Grace”
Copyright © 2011 by M. J. Putney.
All rights reserved.
For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
St. Martin’s books are published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
, Year of Our Lord 1801
Any minute now, I’ll be summoned to the headmaster’s office and expelled from Eton. It’s an upsetting prospect even though I never wanted to come here.
But my father said that heirs to the Duke of Westover always go to Eton, and that was that. (I’m still waiting for someone to explain why Eton is called a “public” school when every boy here is wellborn and from a wealthy family.)
Still, Eton has been better than I expected. I’ll miss the old place and the friends I’ve made here.
Which, if any, will still be my friends now that it has been scandalously revealed that I have magic? I’ve never understood why people of my class loathe and despise magic and mages when the common folk think magic is a blessing. This hatred made even less sense after my cousin Elspeth was exposed as a mageling. There is nothing wicked about Elspeth. Poor Elspeth, condemned to Lackland Abbey.
Now it will be “Poor Allarde.”
Even Eton’s fagging system wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. The theory is sound: Acting as a servant for seniors teaches humility since even the highest-born must learn to serve instead of being served. The fag-masters in turn learn to exercise authority and to be responsible for those beneath them. It’s like a rehearsal for being lords of our estates. I hadn’t realized I needed to learn that, but I did.
Since the system can mean that younger boys are bullied by the older ones, I was relieved to be assigned to Lord Smithson the first year. He was the easiest and most likable of the seniors, and I missed him after he left for Oxford. I’d assumed our paths would cross in the House of Lords eventually. Not now, though. Not if my father disinherits me so I can’t inherit the dukedom.
Though my other fag-masters didn’t measure up to Smithson, they’ve been tolerable. That changed this term. My new fag-master, the Dishonourable George Crickle, is a brute. He didn’t just demand that his fags polish his boots, he kicked us with them. Now I understand why one hears tales of abuse at Eton and similar schools.
Not that he dared raise a hand to me since I grew so much over the summer. I’m taller than he is and much better at sports.
Though I had heard from younger boys that he was dreadful to them when there was no one around to interfere, it wasn’t until this morning I realized just how vile he is. I was passing by his room when I heard a horrible muffled cry, like a wounded animal.
Should I have walked away? If I had, I wouldn’t be waiting for expulsion. But I couldn’t ignore such pain.
I was horrified to open the door and see that Crickle had bound a boy’s wrists to his bedpost and was beating him with a riding whip. His victim was the youngest of his juniors, Blakely Minor, a shy little fellow who never causes trouble. Crickle was out of control, drunk on his own violence as he thrashed with all his strength.
I loathe admitting it even here, but I was so enraged that I lost control as thoroughly as Crickle. My magic didn’t appear until after I started at Eton. Up till now, I’ve concealed it without a problem. Though I haven’t been able to resist experimenting to see what I could do, I’ve always done so in secret and recorded my results only in this bespelled journal that no one else can read.
My greatest talent seems to be moving objects by magic. With practice, the objects have become rather large. Other members of the nobility would certainly not approve. It’s a stevedore’s ability, not the least bit lordly. But I love feeling the rush of magic and strengthening my power by trying ever more difficult tasks.
Even so, I truly have no idea how I managed to tear the bronze statue of Henry VI off its pedestal in the middle of the school yard and hurl it into Crickle’s bedchamber. My intention was to free Blakesley Minor, then give Crickle the thrashing he deserved.
But furious magic seared through me like lightning as I untied the cravat holding Blakesley Minor’s wrists to the post. As soon as he was free, I smashed a fist into Crickle’s ugly face. I felt his nose break. God help me, but I was glad.
I managed to resist the desire to pound him again. Instead, I half-carried Blakesley Minor across the room to the corridor.
Crickle was screaming threats when the massive statue hurtled through the window and crashed down on the bed where he lay bleeding like a pig. Glass and pieces of stone exploded through the room like musket balls.
For an instant, all I felt was fierce exhilaration from the rush of power. That was followed by horror as I recognized how utterly uncontrolled I was.
Dear God, I could have killed Crickle without meaning to! Magic truly is dangerous.
dangerous. My hands are still shaking.
I’m grateful Crickle wasn’t killed, though he does deserve the broken leg. He’s too stupid and vicious to learn a lesson from this, but at least he’ll be slowed down if he goes after any more of the younger students.
The statue’s flight and crash into Crickle’s room were unmistakably a result of magic. The debris had scarcely settled when the chamber filled with other students and the hunt for the mageling was on. I’m ashamed to admit how close I came to letting Blakesley Minor be named as the mage. Since he was the one being beaten, he was the obvious suspect. No one seemed to think it might be me.
But poor Blakesley Minor was sobbing terribly and so gallant in trying to suppress his tears that I couldn’t let him be wrongly accused. So I raised my chin and said in my best “damn your eyes” manner that I was the mage.
I’ll never forget how the other boys gasped and drew back as if I were a leper. It was…chilling. This is what my life will be like from now on—those who were once friends avoiding me as if I’m some kind of monster.
One of the prefects had been drawn by the commotion. After I confessed, he ordered me to return to my room while he reported what had happened to the headmaster. I was tempted to ask if he wanted to try to make me obey just to see him flinch, but I didn’t. I am too afraid of myself to want to strike fear into others.
I’ve been writing in this journal ever since returning to the room. Describing what happened helps keep me from falling apart.
Dear God, what will my parents say???
There’s a knock at the door. It’s time to face my fate.
, 1801, in the coach taking me home
The carriage is bouncing so much in the rutted road that I may not be able to read my handwriting later, but no matter. I’ll never forget how I left Eton.
Though I knew I’d be expelled, I had no idea how
. The headmaster kept it short, saying it was a demmed shame that the noble family of Falkirk had been reduced to a demmed mageling, and that it was a demmed pity I didn’t have any normal brothers. For an educator, he has a limited vocabulary.
He said servants were packing my things and a carriage had been summoned to take me home immediately. I wasn’t even to return to my room. The sooner my poisonous person left the sacred precincts of Eton, the better. As I left his office, he muttered what a demmed pity it was, I’d seemed so promising.
I was escorted to the carriage by two burly footmen I’d not seen before. As they flanked me down the corridor, I sensed they had magic. Eton must have them on staff in case students like me turn out to be unruly magelings.
It’s perfectly acceptable for commoners to be mages. They like having power because it generally assures them a good living. My father’s weather mage at Kemperton earns a small fortune for maintaining good growing conditions in our area.
Down the stairs, out to the school yard, to a shabby travel coach waiting at the opposite end. And filling the yard was what looked like every student, master, and servant at Eton. There were hundreds, and I must walk through them to reach the carriage. I felt like a Christian tossed among the lions. But by God, I am a Falkirk of Kemperton, and I will not show fear.
Head up, I crossed the courtyard. The crowd parted like the Red Sea opening before Moses. (Surely Moses was a mage. Just look at his deeds!)
I heard muttered curses, saw hatred, loathing, and fear on their faces. If the Marquess of Allarde could be cursed with magic, was anyone safe?
A few faces showed sympathy and regret. But only one student stepped out to say good-bye. It was Blakesley Major. He’s a form ahead of me and I don’t know him well, but he offered his hand and said in a carrying voice, “Thank you for saving my little brother from that revolting bully. You will always have a friend in me.”
I was never so grateful for anything in my life. As I shook his hand, I said quietly, “Thank you. This may cost you in the future.”
“Not as much as rescuing my brother has cost you,” Blakesley Major said just as quietly. Then he stepped back and snapped a smart military salute. His father is a general, and he intends a military career himself. It didn’t seem proper to salute back, so I gave a formal nod of recognition and continued on my way.
I managed to maintain control until I was safely in the coach. Then I closed my eyes and shook as I left Eton forever. I know now what it’s like to ride in the tumbrel to the guillotine, as so many French aristocrats have done.
But I’m alive. And when I reach Kemperton, I must face my parents.
, 1801, my room, Kemperton Hall, Shropshire
Waiting, waiting, waiting
. As I write at my desk, I can feel the generations of Falkirks who have loved this land, going back before they were even named Falkirk. The land lends strength, and I need that.
Soon my father will return home from the Assizes. He will be informed of my presence. Then he’ll read the letter from Eton and discuss the matter with my mother. When they have decided what to do with me, I will be summoned for judgment.
This is far more difficult than waiting to learn my fate at Eton. That’s just a school, but these are my
I was born long after they had despaired of having children. I have always tried to live up to their hopes for me. Now I’ve failed, and in a disastrously public way.
Every boy at Eton will write home about my shocking misbehavior. My disgrace will taint my parents as well since magic generally comes through the blood. When my father takes his seat in the next session of the House of Lords, other lords will whisper and draw away, fearing he might influence them with evil magic. All because I lost my temper and was revealed as a mage in England’s most aristocratic school!
As heir to the dukedom of Westover, I would inherit my father’s title and the entailed property even if I was mad or a murderer. Why do I have to suffer the affliction of magic, which is the
grounds for disinheritance? Though disowning an heir is not required by law, in practice a mageling is virtually always chopped off the family tree.
This is particularly true if there is a normal younger brother who can inherit. No wonder aristocratic children with magic hide their abilities!
But I have no brothers, no close cousins in the line of inheritance. There are distant cousins, I suppose. So what will my father do? Though I’ve always expected to be the next Duke of Westover, I can live without the title. But can I live without Kemperton, which is entailed to go with the dukedom?
Once again a knock on the door signals that I am called to my fate. At the sound, my hand clenched and the pen spattered a great black blot on the journal page. Just as I am a great black blot on my family.
Two hours later
It could have been worse, I suppose, though I have never seen my father look so sad. But he did not blame me for what I am. He was very calm as he discussed what must be done. He doesn’t want to disinherit me, but feels he must if I choose to embrace magic.
If I am willing to swear off magic, I must go to Lackland Abbey and be cured. When I marry, I must take a wife who is from a completely non-magical family.