Chapter 1

On her first day at St Georges Grammar School, Joanne hadn’t had any friends. As she sat alone in the canteen, picking at the sludge which might have once been mash potato, three girls had walked passed her. One girl, a small, dainty brunette with her hair flowing around her shoulders, elbowed her on her arm causing Joanne to knock her plate onto the empty seat beside her, occupied only by her school bag which was now covered in the yellow sludge, and gave the girl the opportunity to drop her plate onto the floor. A small splattering of gravy on the girls tanned tights created havoc as she broke into a tantrum, blaming her misfortune on Joanne, who, as a result, became the “popular groups” biggest target.

Now, seven years on, Joanne stood, frozen in her thin white shirt, grey skirt and tiny second hand blazer at the bus stop. ‘Oh well.’ she thought, ‘Only two more days until the weekend.’ Just like most people who went to the Grammar School, Joanne hated it there. The grimy corridors and the miserable teachers were enough to drive you mad. Each day was the same; boring lessons and breaktime detentions. Although, sometimes, Joanne would wish that she could get a detention. Ever since the canteen incident seven years ago Joanne had remained their target for their tainting and teasing.

It didn’t help that Joanne was smaller than most of the kids in her year by about four inches, which put her a head shorter than most of the first graders, who were seven years younger than she was, and she could never seem to control her spots which multiplied in number each day on her dry, pale skinned face. They pushed her around and called her names, but whenever she told her parents or her teachers about them they just told her the same old thing, “ignore them and they’ll soon go away.” Joanne had been ignoring them for seven years now, ever since Karen, the leader of their pack, had spilt gravy on her tights, and still they picked on her.

The only thing that kept Joanne going for the final year at school was that in a two weeks time she would be taking her A-levels and would then be able to move far away from her miserable childhood.

Joanne had always been the favourite child out of the four of the Richards, even though her three brothers had always done better than her. Whenever they beat Joanne in tests they always boasted about it to her, keeping her spirits down. The worst time in her life was when her older brother, Ben, decided that he would join the ‘popular’ kids. He took it upon himself to personally see to it that Joanne’s life was never easy.

She hated home.

            Joanne looked up from under her long messy hair as the bus pulled up. She picked up her bag and trudged up to the steps. As she climbed on she felt thirty pairs of eyes all turn to stare at her. She knew that only a few of them belonged to friends. She made her way up the aisle to where one of these friends was sat, dodging feet and legs that stuck out to purposely trip her up. Chloe grinned at her and Joanne smiled back.  Just as she sat down next to the freckled girl, remembering not to lean on the back of the faded seat because of the chewing gum freshly stuck to it, the bus jerked forward causing Joanne’s bag to go flying back down the aisle.

‘Great’ she sighed. ‘That’s just what I need.’ But instead of being picked up by Becky or Sam, just two out of the many ‘popular’ kids, it was picked up by a tall dark haired boy. She began to blush as he picked it up, walked up the aisle and passed it to her.

“I believe this is yours.” he said in a rich deep voice. He

smiled at Joanne, causing her to go a deeper shade of red.   

“Thanks.” she muttered, lifting her bag out of his tanned hands. She stayed red for the rest of the journey. She couldn’t believe it. Chris had talked to her! He would nod now and again if she ever saw him playing football at her best friends’ house, but never had he talked to her before. He would barely talk to his sister, Catherine.

            The bus pulled up outside their school. Joanne was now just a little pink, but as she clambered of the bus she felt a small blow in her back as she fell into the mud. As she tried to scramble up a cold voice in her ear said, “You stay away from my boyfriend you slut, else I’ll kill you.” Joanne jumped around and prepared herself for an attack, but it never came. Karen was already walking up the street in her heels, her brown curls bouncing lightly around her shoulders and, as always, surrounded by her admirers all laughing with her. Joanne scowled. It always had to happen to her.

A sharp pain in her left hand distracted her from her thoughts. She looked at her palm. A small trickle of blood was slowly making its way down her wrist. She wondered what could have cut her. Her first though was a small piece of glass. But the cut was too wavy for a smashed up bottle. She peered down into the mud and saw a small chain, glinting in the light. Joanne bent down and picked it up. It was quite heavy for something so small. At one end of the chain was a silver object. Joanne was just about to inspect it when Catherine came running up to her, closely followed by a breathless Chloe. Joanne quickly slipped the chain into her muddy blazer pocket.

“Hey Jo.” Said Catherine, going to hug her but thought better of it as she saw the slimy paste smeared down Joanne’s school uniform. “I missed the bus but Chloe told me everything. You’re so lucky! Chris barely pays attention to us lot, even me.”

Joanne smiled. “Yes, it was quite a surprise. I was expecting someone like Karen to pick it up.” Joanne sighed and put her hand to her heart. “EWW!” she screamed. “I better go and change out of these clothes. There covered in mud!”

            ***

Double maths was never a good way to start the day. Joanne had apologised for turning up to class in her PE kit, explaining that she had tripped over and fallen in some mud. The class had giggled and Mr Dunstun had glared at Joanne.

Now Joanne sat trying to listen to the droning voice of the bald headed man but despite her best efforts she began to drift off. 

            The clearing was shaded by overhanging branches which were overed in the summer’s ripened leaves. They cast a flickering green light over the guests who were seated around a raised, wooden platform in the centre of the clearing. On this platform sat a small girl, clothed in a purple velvet dress that was decorated with small golden leaves. Her auburn coloured hair was flowing around her shoulders in small ripples. In front of her was a small pile of gifts including a leather belt covered with many precious stones, a book about the history of their country and many various weapons. As she looked up from these wonderful gifts a beautiful woman approached her. The woman lifted up her elegant arm and handed the girl a small parcel.

 “Joanne!”

             The girl took the parcel. Her small hands gripped the leaves which wrapped up the gift inside.

 “Joanne, have you been listening to anything I’ve said?”

             Slowly and carefully the little girl began to unfold the leaves.

 “Ow! That hurt.” said Joanne to the girl sat behind her, rubbing her sore leg. All the other girl did was smirk. Joanne realized that it was Becky, Joanne’s arch enemy number two. Joanne slowly turned around, noticing that the whole room was silent, and jumped. In front of her desk stood Mr Dunstun. His face was slightly purple and he was scowling at her.

“I said, have you been listening to a word of what I have been saying.”

Joanne sighed. There was no point in lying and she knew that she wouldn’t get away with saying yes. She looked up at him and said, “No sir, I haven’t.”

“And why not?” His face seemed to go an even deeper shade of purple. The one thing that annoyed Mr Dunstun the most was people not paying attention, and that seemed the thing that Joanne was best at.

“I guessed I dozed off. I did have a late night last night.” She gave a little grin, hoping that he might back off a bit, but it just made the situation worse.

“You think this is funny? Hey?” He screamed. “I think that a little punishment is in order. My office, 11 o’clock, and make sure you’re not late.”

             One hour later, Joanne made her way to Mr Dunstun’s office. She wasn’t late but Joanne was sure that he’d find something to pick on. She didn’t really mind. ‘At least this is keeping me out the way of Karen and her lot’ she thought.  Joanne usually just sat there while the teachers lectured her on good behaviour and homework, but as Mr Dunstun paced up and down telling her about the exams coming up and how important they were, Joanne’s mind kept drifting off to the little girl and her mother’s gift. She desperately wanted to know what was wrapped up in the leaves and also why this dream had began to occur since she had found the chain and its pendant.

The detention seemed to whiz by and Mr Dunstun soon gave up on trying to keep her attention and let her go to her next class.

   ***

            At lunch time Joanne joined up with her friends in the hall foyer where a small group of people were slowly gathering. As the group began to clear Catherine whispered excitedly, “The ‘Prom Consultants’ have arranged our leavers ball!” The poster wasn’t hard to miss. It was large and brightly coloured and read;

 Only three weeks to go people!!!

We hope you have your partners and prom clothes.

If you haven’t, do not worry because you can bring anyone along whether they go to St Georges or not.

We hope to see you all there looking gorgeous!

                As Joanne turned around she saw two boys approach a small group of girls. They each took a girl out and asked them to the ball. Joanne kept watching. One girl blushed, nodded and ran back to her group but the other just slapped the boy round the face and stormed off.  

***

             The rest of the day seemed to go by quicker than normal. Joanne lay in thought throughout geography while the rest of the class watch a programme on rivers. There was so much going on in her mind. She was worried about the ball and about finding a date and a dress. But more importantly she wondered who the little girl was and where the she was. The place looked almost magical with the tall elegant trees woven together by their long delicate branches. Another thing that Joanne had noticed was that through the trees was a large building made out of blocks of grey stone. It had looked like some form of fort or castle. The only castles Joanne had seen were the ruins of Roman and Saxon fortresses. But this castle wasn’t a ruin. Infact, from what Joanne could see through the dense forest, this castle was still inhabited.

The End

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