Gift: The Rebellion

Rory Stone has a Gift, and the whole world wants to see.

Rory Stone felt that his life was perfectly normal, the days spent with his best friend Towlen even managed to make it vaguely bearable, even interesting, but once he finds he's got a Gift, his world starts tumbling around his shoulders. Tea with the Queen, Shapeshifters missing, children sleeping and never waking up... and Rory is in the middle.

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8. Chapter Seven- Tea and Scones

On the morning of the Ceremony, Rory was woken after what felt like just a few seconds sleep, not by his alarm, but by his mother.

    He sat up groggily, “what time is it?”

    “It’s time for you to get out of bed! I’ll be downstairs, your clothes are on your desk chair and breakfast has already been cooked, so hurry up!” Rory tried to remember the last time he had experienced a cooked breakfast in this household, he couldn’t.

    He flung his legs off the side of his bed and seized the silent alarm clock; it read 5:00AM. He groaned and willed himself to stand up and get dressed.

    Dragging his feet on the hardwood floors, Rory found that his mother had indeed prepared clothes for him, none of which –he was surprised to find- belonged to him.

    “Er- whose clothes are these?” he shouted.

    “Your father’s- now get a move on or we’ll be late!” As he pulled off his pyjamas, Rory wondered how it could be possible to be late for something so early in the morning.

    He arrived downstairs wearing a pressed blue blazer, a navy blue shirt and a thin black tie that he thought made him look rather nifty. The trousers, however, he had found to be inches too short at the ankles and inches too large around his waist and so had been replaced by his cleanest, creaseless black jeans.

    “What happened to your trousers?” demanded Mrs Stone as he entered the kitchen, spotting a full blown English breakfast waiting for him, Rory’s mouth watered.

    “Too short,” he muttered, diving in to a chair and digging in to his meal.

    “Such a shame! They would have looked so nice on you -slow down! If you get egg on that shirt it’ll be the last thing you ever do!”

    “Morning all!” beamed Mr Stone, dressed in a pinstriped suit, topped with a black bowler hat to cover his bald patch. He served himself a plate full of eggs and bacon and began to wolf it down. “Great nosh, Angie. You nervous, son?”

    Butterflies expanded in Rory’s stomach and fluttered up to his throat, constricting any answer he might have been able to give. He took a massive bite of toast and avoided eye contact.

     “Just wait till the world see’s you, boy! They won’t know what’s hit ‘em-”

    Rory tuned out his fathers’ voice and rose for a second serving, just to have something to concentrate on. He had been so focused over the past week with practising his performance that he seemed to have forgotten to feel nervous. Now, though, it was crushing him in waves and he could barely swallow his food, so he pushed it away from him. He felt as if he was underwater, every sound became dull and monotonous but pounded his ears all the same. He couldn’t breathe.

    Rory drew in a great gasp of air just as the doorbell rang. I can breathe. He reminded himself, I can breathe…

    Towlen and her father entered the room. Mr Hurst swiftly shook Rory’s hand before falling in to a hushed conversation with Mr Stone.

    “Rory! I can’t believe this is finally it!” Towlen’s eyes sparkled as she hugged Rory, who dragged his eyes away from his father after distinctly hearing the word Shapeshifters.

    “I know, me neither. By the way you look-” He was about to say ‘nice’ or ‘pretty’ but he had to take a step backwards to fully appreciate her.

    She was donning a pale blue strapless dress that cinched in her waist but flared out widely and stopped mid-shin, where it splayed half a metre out in all directions. A collection of vintage style badges clustered near her left shoulder, on which hung the strap of a tattered lilac shoulder bag. A thick satin purple ribbon was wrapped around her midriff and tied in a bow at the small of her back. Her feet were slipped in to a pair of silver ballet pumps, each topped with a single bow on the toe to match one that she wore in her platinum blonde hair, which seemed a little more tame than usual.

    Stunning, would be the word that he would have liked to use. Beautiful was an option… or gorgeous.

    “Really, very good.” He couldn’t say anything else to her. ‘It’s called friendship, Rory.’

    Towlen smiled nervously, skirts were alright, but she barely ever wore dresses if she could help it. “And you, sir, look like a very respectable young man,” she joked, if Rory wasn’t feeling so nervous and out of it, he might have blushed.

    For the next quarter of an hour, the families laughed and chatted in the kitchen although Rory, now pale and sweating beneath his smart clothes, tried to talk as little as possible, afraid that more than words might escape from his mouth. Towlen nudged him in the ribs and whispered in his ear.

    “Are you alright?”

    “Just… fine,” he croaked, fervently hoping he wouldn’t have to talk much during the Ceremony.

    “Everybody make sure you’re all ready!” Mrs Stone shouted, although there was really no need with everyone in such close proximity. “They’ll be here to collect us any minute now.”

    “Collect us?” said Rory, “I thought we were driving.”

    “Oh no, we get to travel in a very special government vehicle.” Mrs Stone could barely conceal the excitement in her voice.

    Both Rory and Towlen moved to the living room, peering out the windows, expecting a limo of some sorts. Rory closed his eyes and took long, deep breaths.

    Over the next few minutes, the two sat in the window seat, searching for the mysterious mode of transport. They soon became bored, allowing their eyes to wander; Rory became fixated with a black point in the sky that was becoming ever closer. He squinted, passing the fruitless minutes trying to figure out what the speck could be, and heard the steady thrum of helicopter blades before he could define the shape, and allowed the sound to lull him in to a stupor.

    When he felt as though he was about to nod off, the beating of the propellers became deafening as it passed directly overhead. Rory kept his eyes tight shut, waiting for the din to die down. If he could just squeeze in a nap before they left.

    The noise lingered, building in to a roar that cancelled out every other sound, including Towlen’s nervous chatter, which barely reached his ears. She leaned over and shouted at him.

    “I think they’re here for us!” She pointed skywards, then at herself. Rory stared, at a loss for words. Towlen repeated the words and crude hand gestures, and when Rory finally understood, he couldn’t believe it.

   As they moved in to the kitchen, the noise became so loud that they had to plug their fingers in their ears. The side door leading in to the garden was open, their eyes immediately became glued to the flurry of leaves. The landing skids were just coming in to view.

    The grass spread out at all angles with the force of the gale that the landing helicopter was producing. The wind travelled through the double doors and they had to cover their eyes to stop them from streaming, the biting wind raising goose bumps on their skin.

    Finally, the racket began to dissipate. They all removed their hands from their faces and Rory, eyes alight with the thrill of living a childhood dream, made for the helicopter, but was caught by the scruff of his neck by Mrs Stone.

    “Wait for them to come out.” Somehow, the fact that her hair was no longer sleek and brushed, but sticking out wildly at all ends, made her seem all the more severe. He stayed put.

    The door of the helicopter slid open and a burly, olive skinned man dressed in a black suit and sunglasses with an earpiece like something from the Bond movies stepped out of it, followed by a fairly short, pale man in the same attire.

    “It’s not even sunny,” scoffed Towlen, whose hair had been pressed back down. Rory sniggered at this but also at their difference in height. They could have been a circus act.

    “Please proceed in to the helicopter,” said the tall, dark man. For a few seconds, nobody moved, until both Mr Stone and Mr Hurst simultaneously decided that they had better go first and climbed up and in to the vehicle. The two men in black barely acknowledged them, standing stock still with their hands clasped behind their backs.

    Someone gave Rory a gentle shove in their direction and he stumbled forwards in to the garden. The taller man ignored him, but the shorter turned and stiffly shook his hand.

    “Congratulations, Master Stone, sir,” he rasped. Rory muttered a quick thanks before releasing his hand and clambering up with a helping hand from his father. The short man looked as if he wanted to help, too, but the taller punched him on the shoulder and they both went back to ignoring the people around them, like palace guards, which was how Rory preferred them.

    Towlen was next on, impossibly graceful in her ascent, followed by Mrs Stone, who had removed her apron to reveal a jewel red halter neck floor length dress.  She had to hitch up handfuls of fabric before taking her husband’s hand and making her way in to the compartment.

    Lastly, the two men hoisted themselves up, the short man made sure that everyone was buckled in while the taller explained every safety precaution imaginable before re-iterating them.

    When they had exited in to the driver’s compartment, a red light flashed and the familiar authoritative voice of the taller man emanated from speakers embedded in the headrests.

    “Ready for take-off, beginning ascent.” A shrill beep and then the only sound were the propellers as they began to whir.

    “Did you know this was going to happen?” Rory asked of the compartment at large. Each of them nodded, except for Towlen.

    “You know I would have told you if I knew,” she said indignantly. “But dad! I can’t believe you didn’t tell me!!”

    “I knew you’d tell him if I told you.” He shrugged simply, and neither of them could argue with that. Plus, it was a pretty cool surprise, as they go.

    Half an hour later, the Stone’s and the Hurst’s were still gazing out of the windows, fogging the glass as they peered down at the magnificent landscape. To the west was the large and eerie expanse of Creatura forest, world renowned for hiding magical secrets that even the most powerful Paton masters could only dream of.

    The region did not seem to become smaller as they sped away from it, but it seemed that the more distance that was put between them and the forest that neighboured their home, the wider and more imposing it seemed. It had trees as wide as houses and as tall as pyramids in its dark centre. As it was, layered with a smattering of snow not yet melted, it was icy and foreboding. Nobody dared venture in to Creatura forest.

    In the north they could just make out the shadows of the Scottish mountain ranges, defined by the sun brimming the horizon. Directly beneath them, cars trundled along country roads as horses and cows grazed in the quilt of fields. The snow was only here and there now, and Rory stared as the tiny figures of children played in the last of it.

    “Fifteen minutes to landing, that’s fifteen minutes to landing,” said the boorish voice from the overhead speakers. Rory peeled his eyes away from the window, perhaps, now that he had seen the view, seen the United Kingdoms in all their glory, he could get some sleep.

    Rory closed his eyes and tried to relax into his cushioned seat, but there was too much noise. Phillip Hurst, Mr and Mrs Stone were chatting loudly as if it were hard to hear over the drone of the blades and the engines (it wasn’t), and Towlen had turned her attention to a film playing on a screen that folded out of the ceiling. Even though she had earphones stuffed firmly in her ears, there was still a buzz of incoherent noise emitting from beside him.

    No… He would never fall asleep, not now.

    “Commencing descent, passengers please ensure that you are fully buckled, commencing descent,” squealed the blue lily that Rory had conjured in a high pitched, tinny voice. The flower reeled up and charged, slapping Rory’s face.

    “Ew! Rory, are you drooling on me?” Towlen pushed him off her shoulder and gingerly brushed the area where his mouth had been hanging open. “Wake up, we’re landing.”

    Sure enough, when Rory opened his eyes they were much closer to the ground than they had been before. His heart shot up to his throat as he saw thousands of people streaming in to a park towards a large stadium. Amid them a colourful array of tents were scattered with flags and banners fluttering between them. Evidently, dozens of people had camped out in order to gain the best spaces. Rory quickly looked away, breathing quickly. He was sure that the rest of the compartment would be able to hear the beating of his heart, which was in close quarters with his Adams apple.

    Mrs Stone reached over and clasped his clammy hand in her own.

    “Are you all right, sweetie?” What with Rory’s heart lodged in his throat, he could hardly reply, so he gave a jerky nod before turning back to the window and spotting the crowd once more. The sickness that welled inside him forced him to settle with gazing at his worn leather shoes. He squeezed his mother’s hand, staring intently and unblinkingly at his feet until a padded thump told him that they had landed.

    The two suited men climbed through from their own compartment to once again open the passenger door. Rory pressed himself in to his seat, intending to hang back until the others had gone before the large man spoke.

    “Master Stone, if you please.” Mr Stone caught Rory’s eye and nodded.

    “Go on, son.” He smiled, eyes twinkling. Rory took a hesitant first look at what lay before him as he stood up, hunched over due to the low ceiling. Hopping out, he started. What awaited him was not the ominous stadium with masses of people flowing in to it, but a small party of a dozen or so old and kindly, rosy cheeked faces standing in two single file lines either side of a red carpet rolled between them. A stately mansion stood tall in a field of pampered grass and beds of flowers behind them.

    And then he saw her, and released an involuntary gasp as he recognised the oldest of the women, accompanied by half a dozen more suited men.

    The Queen of England.

    She was smiling serenely in his direction, eyes twinkling like Mr Stone’s. Catching her gaze, he jumped and stumbled the rest of the way down the crimson carpeted path.

    Men and women inclined their heads towards him, extending their hands warmly to shake and congratulate him. This, Rory found most awkward because he had never thought that he had done much worthy of congratulation form such important people, apart from, perhaps, getting one over on a school bully.

    Towlen had rushed to his side as soon as she had leapt from the helicopter, and was whispering the names of each person they walked by in his ear.

    Prince this, Princess that, Duke of this…Rory smiled at him as convincingly as he could, all the while wondering why he had never realised that the Duke of Edinburgh was a real person, not the name of an independence course for teenagers.

    They reached the very end of the carpet and they stopped in front of the Queen, Rory was lost for words. Beside him, he heard Towlen say, “Your Majesty,” and turned to see her curtsying politely. The Queen nodded at her absently, she did not seem as though she was sparing much thought or attention for anyone but Rory. She held out a white gloved hand and Towlen had to stamp on his foot before he thrust out his own in return.

    “Rory Stone, it is such a pleasure to finally meet you.” She had obviously expected him to return the gesture, and he did try, but when he opened his mouth, he found that his voice escaped him and was refusing to surface.

    After a long pause where-in Rory convulsively wiped his hands on the thigh of his trousers, the Queen smiled and said, “I do hope that you will join us for an early tea, before of course, your Ceremony in Willow Park.” Rory couldn’t help but think it odd that she would make it sound as if he had a choice in the matter.

    His parents and Towlen’s father were all gathered around him by now, staring with glazed eyes at the Queen, something that Rory was sure she noticed, but pretended not to.

    Towlen kicked him in the ankle this time, and he jammed his mouth shut, clenching his teeth to avoid screaming, “Ow!” for no apparent reason in front of the Queen.

    “I-I, well I, yes, okay,” he stammered. If this was what he was like in front of one old woman, how would he cope before thousands of spectators with cameras pointed in his direction?

    “Splendid! And of course!” She sounded as though she had only just realised the others were there. “Your family and friends are invited too!” Each of them mumbled a few rushed words of thanks. “Let’s get on then, shall we?” and she turned on her satin clad heels and began to make her way towards the estate. 

    “Smooth,” Towlen whispered in his ear. Rory was clenching and unclenching his fists in his pockets, his nails digging grooves in to his palms.

    “We should have practised,” he snarled under his breath.

    “We did practise Rory,” said Towlen, evidently hurt that he didn’t seem to recall the hours upon hours she had spent working with him.

    “Not like that, I mean stage practise, if anything, right now I feel like there’s more of a chance of me bolting than producing a single petal the way my hands are shaking.”

    Towlen didn’t say anything for a while, but when she spoke there was a sprightliness in her voice that had not been there before. She was trying to cheer him up.

    “You could always try imagining people in their underwear,” she suggested. “It’s a classic, or… Did you ever hear of Diggory Glansalot? About fifty years ago he got so nervous on stage that he actually cast a spell that got rid of everybody’s clothes! Pants and all!” She laughed her tinkling laugh and Rory laughed along with her in spite of himself, ignoring the protests of his sore, dry throat.

    When they reached the manor, they found two men in much finer suits than those of the previous men, standing beside the doors, preparing to welcome them.

    They stood on the stone entrance as the rest of the group caught up with them. The wind whipped Rory’s parted hair out of place and bit at his cold cheeks. He glanced around, feeling enclosed and claustrophobic between two thirty foot marble pillars that stood sentry. The doormen grasped the golden handles with gloved hands. Tailcoats billowing, they heaved the oaken doors wide open.

    As the Queen strode confidently through the entrance in the wake of her black clad guards and the rest of the party, the Stone’s and the Hurst’s couldn’t help but stop and stare at the hall before them.

    It was lined with flickering candles that illuminated the high domed ceiling. There were dozens of dark-wood doors, jewelled handles glittering in the wavering light. As he followed Towlen through it, he could feel the sapphire blue carpet compress softly beneath his feet.

    He saw one of the guards disappear through a doorway, followed by the mass of people that consisted of the most important royal and political icons in the country. Towlen dragged Rory ahead, pulling him faster down the hall towards the emerald handled door. They slowed considerably as they neared, in order to make a civilised entrance. Another tail coated, gloved man welcomed them through.   

    The room they had entered was far larger than they thought any dining hall could be. The sound of heels clacking of the white tiled floor reverberated through the room and the rising sun cast bright arches of golden light through the high windows. Several doors, each manned by a smart servant, led in to places in the manor unknown, each again, with another precious stone for a handle. Extending across the room was a large table set for (Rory counted) only seventeen people.

    Rory tried to look confident with Towlen at his side, taking a place several seats away from the Queen herself. His stomach growled at the empty plates and the vacant spaces where food would soon be laid as the others filed in to their seats.

    Mrs Stone was blushing profusely and twiddling her thumbs nervously as she found herself beside a Prince and Mr Stone looked as though he was itching to touch his fingers to his temples and let the energy guide him towards what he might be able to say without fear of foolishness to the woman sitting opposite, the Queen.

    The Queen turned to the guard behind her. “Send for the tea, if you will.” For the first time, Rory noticed a note of sadness in her voice, Towlen seemed to notice it too, for she edged closer to him, and spoke behind her hand.

    “I reckon it’s her Shapeshifter, Mason he was called. I read they were really close, people are getting more and more scared about this, Rory.” The Queen eyed them behind her spectacles and Towlen quickly pulled away and began smoothing out her dress.

    Without any time to wonder what the Queen had made of their private exchange, rows upon rows of men and women strode in to the room. Each was wearing black and white check trousers, double breasted jackets and bearing silver plated platters. The old Queen rose to her feet with what looked like considerable effort, and addressed the room as the chefs set down the tea, scones and cakes of all sorts.

    “I believe that I speak for each and every one of us when I say that it is a pleasure and an honour to be in the presence of such a remarkable person as Rory Stone. Of course, it is common knowledge that the last man of your ability, Sir Louis, died over two hundred years ago. I have, in my long life, yearned for someone like you to come along, to become a beacon of inspiration and hope to those souls who will face the worst of any coming plight.

    “I hope, Rory Stone, that you understand the responsibilities and expectancies that must be upheld, that you recognise the way that the world sees you, and that you will use this Gift, this power bestowed upon you, for the benefit of all.”

    And she sat down to the polite claps and murmurs of agreement of everyone but Rory, Towlen and their parents. Rory wasn’t aware that he had any expectancies.

    The tea was a silent affair but for the clinking of metal, twice, the prince attempted conversation with Mr Hurst, but he was too busy frowning at his scone to pay any attention.

    An hour of awkward semi-silence later, Rory was tapped lightly on the shoulder as he poked at his food, thinking of the Queens speech, ‘responsibilities and expectancies’. He twisted around to look up at a man he had never seen before. He wore a startlingly red suit over a purple silk shirt and neck tie, complete with silver cufflinks and flecks of what looked like purple glitter at every hem.

    Looking up at the man’s face he saw that he had long, greying chocolate brown hair, swept back in to a ponytail. He had a short cut beard of dove white, and his blue eyes twinkled and glittered like the ocean beneath a rising sun. His smile was gleaming white as he thrust his hand forward eagerly and Rory shook it, feeling all the eyes in the room on him.

    “Cameron LeSing,” he beamed, “official director of entertainment and arts and serving no-one but myself. Rory Stone, I have waited so long to meet you.”

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