The Short Story Competition run as part of our Arts Learning Festival showcased the creative talents of Victorian students. We’ve asked winners to record their stories. This is The Dragon’s Gift, by Elise Orme, in Year 4 at Camberwell Girls’ Grammar School, who won the years 3 to 4 category.
‘Welcome to the Wizard Academy’s annual Family Festival of Magic!’ Two tall elegant dryads held the long banner above the heads of the crowd of visitors. My family and I filed between two rows of centaurs stamping their hooves welcomingly on the shifting cobblestone path. It was an amazing sight. The path led down into a luscious green valley, where the school was built into the valley walls. A pair of great griffin statues on stone platforms stood tall in the Academy’s courtyard, representing the school in its former glory. I looked up and saw a sight that made me feel as if I were in a dream: a magnificent marble dragon perched on top of a rocky ledge with its wings outstretched, ready to strike, as if it were protecting the school from evil forces above.
As we passed the statues, my brother proudly told us of his recent adventures at the Academy. I wasn’t paying any attention. I was too busy trying to firmly hold my black cat, Nightmare, and keep my balance on the cobblestones that kept magically rearranging themselves. My parents were intrigued by my brother’s tales but I was just jealous and frustrated. He always got everything, like a four-poster bed and the chance to be a wizard.
‘Why can’t I be a wizard too?’ I decided to ask my parents again.
‘How many times do we have to tell you, Alice? You can’t be a wizard. Only boys make it through the exam,’ snapped Mum.
‘Well, I’m going to become a wizard, no matter what you say!’ My parents didn’t believe in me. I turned to my brother and asked him, ‘Do you think I can be a wizard?’
My brother shook his head.
All the boys for generations in our family had been wizards but never a girl. I was determined to change that. I didn’t care what other people might say.
I strode over to the Headmaster’s table, where he was signing up boys who wanted to become wizards. I said in my most confident voice, ‘I would like to join the Wizard Academy.’
The Headmaster was so blown away that he almost fell out of his chair. He looked as surprised as if a dragon had landed in front of him and asked if he wanted to come to a tea party! (Of course, everyone knows dragons are extinct.)
‘Really?’ asked the bewildered Headmaster, his white hair almost covering his spectacles.
‘Yes, I would,’ I stated triumphantly.
At first,he thought that it was a joke that a girl with braided black hair wanted to become a wizard. Then, he looked at my cat and stared deep into my green eyes, as if he was diving into my mind and slowly his face changed. He looked thoughtful and finally agreed to let me sign up.
‘You will have four weeks here to prepare for the entrance exam, just like the other candidates,’ said the Headmaster in his deep gravelly voice.
When I went back to my parents and told them that I had put my name down, they freaked out and said that it was all a waste of time and that they would not allow it.
‘If she has really signed up, then let’s see what happens in the exam,’ my brother snorted. ‘I’ll bet you my gum-tree phoenix feather and gold encrusted wand that you never make it.’
‘OK,’ I said, more confidently than I felt. I needed to do this.
Family Day was coming to an end. It was time to go home. We untied our horses from where we had left them at the top of the path. Riding home with our parents in the carriage, we were all so tired that we felt as if we could fall asleep on the spot. Suddenly, we saw a dark shape moving above the clouds.
‘Take cover!’ shouted my brother, pulling out his wand.
Rain started to pour down, as if a bucket were being emptied onto us. I screamed as Nightmare jumped on top of the carriage and started clawing at the sky. He looked like a great lion tearing at a stone wall. There was a piercing shriek from above the clouds that shook the earth violently. Just as quickly as it had begun, everything stopped.
‘Nightmare has scared the spirits away,’ muttered my brother. He explained that the wizards had banished the evil spirits from the land because they had been stealing magical artifacts from the Museum of Mythical Monsters. After a great conflict, the wizards imprisoned the spirits behind the clouds. ‘Every full moon the barrier that protects the earth is weaker, allowing the spirits to break through and attack. An old tale says that only a true wizard’s cat can scare away the spirits,’ my brother frowned.
A few days later, I went back to the Academy but this time, I felt really nervous. It was still an amazing sight but I was uncomfortable that there were no othergirls. All the boys teased me and in class they called me names, like ‘useless’ and ‘the girl’. It was hard to focus on what I needed to learn and I was struggling with deciphering magical symbols correctly.
On a stormy morning at break-time, I whispered to Nightmare, ‘Help me, please!’
The cat jumped out of my arms and led meinto a part of the school’s gardens that looked like it hadn’t been touched in years. When Nightmare stopped, I was confused at first, until I saw behind a thick coating of vines, a vast cave. I entered with caution. It was very old, dark and musty. I crept forward slowly, stopping frequently to listen but everything was silent, apart from the tapping of Nightmare’s claws on stone. Then, I saw a faint light coming from up ahead. When I reached it, I came face to face with a dragon – a living, breathing dragon that looked exactly like the statue above the school.
‘May I help you with something, Alice?’ asked the dragon politely.
I tried to speak but couldn’t find my voice. Nightmare jumped up to the dragon. Its golden and blue scales gleamed like rays of sunshine in the light from a glowing crystal. They made several gestures to each other, before the dragon got up from its bed of stones and lumbered away. It came backholding a book! The book looked as old as an ancient temple in Africa. It didn’t have a title or an author. Nightmare stared at the book, then at me. It was clear he wanted me to take it but before I did, I had to ask, ‘The marble dragon over the school…is that a statue of you?’
‘How do you know my name? I thought dragons were extinct?’ The questions came out in a rush.
He cut me off with a wave of one sharp claw, ‘Off to class or you’re going to be late.’
I took the book, said thank you and ran out of the cave, panting heavily.
On the way home, I examined the book. It was very large. I opened it carefully, making sure not to rip the brittlepages.Inside there was a picture of a girl with braided dark hair, studying. The next picture showed the girl with her cat standing in front of an audience, smiling and holding a golden dragon statue. With shock, I realised it was me studying, me standing there. This must be what the dragon wanted me to see. Becoming a girl wizard might actually be possible! Over the next few days my grades improved massively.
Finally, exam day arrived. Nightmare and I were as nervous as deer hiding from a tiger. There were three aspects of the exam: flying a broomstick, casting a spell and reading magical symbols. It was my turn and it felt like time had stopped. I hopped onto my broomstick and flew in great arcs over the school, impressing the judges. I also completed the next two challenges with ease, sliding through them like silk.
It was then time for the judges to decide which person would pass the entrance exam. After a long conversation, one of the judges stood up to announce the best candidate. He pointed with his finger at…me! Me! He called me to the front and handed me the dragon statue. It was just like in the picture. I smiled, taking in what I had done. When I got home, my brother reluctantly gave me his wand. He wasn’t happy about that!
The next day, I searched for the cave but could not find it. I have the book, which proves that it is out there somewhere. I ambecoming a wizard, the first girl ever. And dragons are not extinct. Once I finish my training, I will use my power to try to find and protect the remaining dragons. Maybe that is why the dragon knew my name.
The winning stories were also featured on ISV’s Short Story Dispensers at the festival, along with some 40 others selected by the judges.
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