1 Summer Thaw
Wellington Jones awoke to the sound of dripping water. Drops fell from the eaves, then a whole patch of snow broke loose and rumbled off the roof. His eyes snapped open in excitement. They were having a June thaw!
He sat up, and the covers slid from his plump shoulders, letting a whoosh of cold air invade the bed. Hastily he pulled the coarse blankets around him and squinted across the small room. Of the two narrow windows set deeply into the stone wall, he looked eagerly at the one covered with real glass. The ice crystals that patterned it most of the year were gone.
If it was a real June thaw, this might be another mild summer. There had been one just four years ago when he first came to Llandoylan School, though he’d been too upset at the time to appreciate it.
Maybe Master Foxworthy was right. He’d said in geography class that in the five hundred years since the Devastation, the climate had been slowly warming again. Wellington had doubted, feeling that in his own twelve years he had seen no change worth noting. But if this summer proved like that other one, there might be another August with no snow on the ground.
Slipping a hand from beneath the blankets, he fumbled along the cold stone wall for the niche where he kept his glasses. Pudgy fingers grabbed the icy metal frames and yanked them into the warmth. He scowled. He wanted to see if the icicle hanging outside his window had shortened any. But, as every morning, he didn’t want to give in to these glass tyrants and put them on. They were responsible for so much of his misery.
If his eyes had been stronger (and he had been a little thinner and faster), he would be at the Cardiff Military Academy now, learning to be a warrior, as the son of a noble Glamorganshire family should be, as his parents had expected him to be when they named him for the ancient hero Wellington. Not that anyone called him that now. He was just “Welly,” like the name of high boots for slogging through mud.
Angrily he jammed the glasses onto his round face and glared around the bare room. So now instead of the yearned-for academy, he was at Llandoylan School receiving a “well-rounded” education, when he wanted to be learning to fight boundary raiders from Gwent or Angelsy pirates or perhaps the rumored hordes of muties from the South.
Of course, he’d been told often enough, he was lucky to get any education at all. Children of herders or farmers generally got none.
The muffled clanging of the ten-minute bell startled him. Hurriedly Welly slipped out of bed, yelping as his bare feet slapped against the cold flagstones. When he was an upperclassman, he’d at least have a rug in his room. He tugged on a pair of socks. Then, rushing to the washbasin, he broke the ice crusting its surface and splashed his face perfunctorily with water.
Anyway, he thought as he hastily pulled on his long underwear, this was an early thaw—a time for exciting things to happen. And this time, he would make the most of it.
Trousers and shirt on, he slid into his boots and, grabbing his fleece-lined jacket, rushed out the door into the narrow hallway. Still struggling with one sleeve, he rounded a corner and smashed into another hurrying body. Adjusting his skewed glasses, his heart sank. It was Nigel Williams, accompanied by several of his cronies.
“Watch yourself, Frog Eyes!” Nigel snarled. “If you don’t know how to act in the presence of your future duke, I’ll be glad to show you.”
“Aw, later, Nigel,” drawled Justin, the young lord’s chief lieutenant. “The pleasure of whipping a worm like that isn’t worth missing breakfast for.”
Nigel snorted agreement, and without another word, he and his companions turned disdainfully and descended the stairs. Welly, pale and shaking, stood on the landing until they were out of sight. Then he hurried down, slipping into the great dining hall as the final bell sounded and the ancient wooden doors closed ponderously behind him.
Hazily lit by narrow windows, the hall was noisy with pre-mealtime chatter. Welly scanned the long tables and benches for a free place, finally sliding into an empty seat across from one of the younger students, not a friend but at least one who hadn’t made fun of him yet.
Not, he thought glumly, that he had any real friends here. Except, perhaps, Heather McKenna. But he wouldn’t sit next to her here. Nigel or his sort might trot out one of their taunts: “Horseface Heather and Frog-eyed Welly, ugly as muties and equally silly.” When they did, Heather usually pointed out that the rhyme stank and that, anyway, frogs were extinct, so how did they know what frog eyes looked like?
At last, bowls of steaming porridge were being passed down the long wooden tables. When Welly’s bowl reached him, he clamped his hands around its rough pottery sides, letting the warmth seep into them. Up and down the table, the students’ breath rose in white puffs.
At the head table, old Master Bigly rose and mumbled the usual invocation. “We remnant of Man thank the Creator for his mercy. As life is preserved and sustenance preserved, so hope is preserved. World without end. Amen.”
Welly began eating in silence and avoided looking at his tablemates by staring into the dim cobwebbed recesses of the vaulted ceiling. His thoughts were on how to avoid Nigel’s promised punishment, though he might forget. The bully probably made too many threats in one day to keep track of them all.
Nigel had been here for less than a year and would return to the Cardiff Military Academy after a stint at rounding his education. But already the big, hulking boy had made his mark at Llandoylan. Welly wondered if Nigel’s boast was true, if when he became Duke he’d change the title and declare himself King. Dukes of some of the larger shires had done that already. It added zest to the regular border clashes. Not that any of the shires had populations big enough for real wars. But it sounded better to fight for a king than a duke, even if Britain had a dozen of them.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Tomorrow's Magic by Pamela F. Service. Copyright © 2007 by Pamela F. Service. Excerpted by permission of Random House Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.