Agnil and the Centaur’s Secret
Agnil looked at herself in the mirror and tied her hair back into a ponytail, revealing her slightly pointy ears. Today was the day. She couldn’t go on living a lie.
“You’ve got to tell him,” she told her other self. “Ok, let’s practise.”
She surprised herself that she felt so nervous, after all the dangerous things she’d helped the elves with over the past few months. She took a deep breath and looked steadily into the eyes of her reflection.
“Dad, why did you tell me that Mum was dead? You know she can’t be ’cos she’s an elf and elves are immortal! Well, guess what, I found her and I’m not going to lie to Caroline any longer.”
Caroline was her dad’s new girlfriend and Agnil wanted her out of the picture. If Caroline knew that Estil was still alive, it might just scare her off. She wanted her mum and dad back together again so they could all live in Aberrian together. She wanted a happy-ever-after fairytale ending.
BEEP, BEEP, BEEP! The smoke alarm pierced the silence. Agnil ran downstairs to find her dad waving a tea towel and the smell of burnt toast seeping from the kitchen.
“Breakfast is in the bin, sorry,” he apologised, “we’ll have to have porridge.”
Sighing, Agnil went into the kitchen and pulled out a small pan from the cupboard.
“Dad, it’s the same nearly every day. You always get distracted by text messages from Caroline. I always end up sorting the mess!”
“I’m sorry, Aggie. You know I’m not very good in the kitchen.”
“Yes, but you’re even worse since you met her!”
Agnil and her dad ate the steaming porridge in silence. He was scrolling through the news on his tablet and shaking his head from time to time. Taking a final swig of his tea, he looked up at his daughter and frowned.
“I’m not sure that hairstyle suits you, Aggie.”
“Why not, Dad? Does it remind you of Mum?”
“I’ve always told you that you look like her. She was beautiful, but …”
“Was?” Agnil took a deep breath and trembled a little.
This was going to be a difficult conversation. “But, Dad, you’ve always known she’s still alive.”
Her father’s eyes met hers. She’d caught him out and he knew it. He quickly glanced at the kitchen clock, avoiding her gaze.
“Oh, look! Is it that time already? Caroline and the kids will be here in a minute. The sun’s shining so we thought we’d go into Cambridge.”
“Dad, we need to talk!” she persisted.
“Not now, Aggie, there’s no time. We’ll sit down and talk this evening, I promise!”
“Do I need to come too?”
“I can’t leave you here on your own, you’re only ten.”
“But I’ll be eleven in a month’s time!”
Ben Lang glared at his daughter and she knew there was no point in arguing. She’d have to go and put up with Caroline’s screaming two-year-old twins all day.
“Anyway, after we’ve had a wander round the colleges, we’ll have a picnic by the river. Cheer up, Aggie, the weather’s beautiful and we’re going to have a great family day out!”
Family? The word gnawed at Agnil. Caroline and her brats were not her family and never would be! It was bad enough that her dad had a girlfriend but the fact that she had two small noisy children made it ten times worse. Every time they came round they ended up fighting and Agnil would take refuge in her room to get away from them.
It was a really warm day and, much to her surprise, Agnil began to enjoy the walk around the town. Although they lived close by, they rarely came here and had never looked around any of the colleges of the university before. She loved looking at all the old stone buildings with their grand courtyards and sweeping lawns backing onto the river, and started imagining what secrets they might hold behind their closed doors. The twins weren’t appreciating it, though. They squabbled with each other the whole time, drawing disapproving glances from passers-by as Caroline and her dad tried their best to ignore them.
An ice cream seller drew their attention and they all joined the long queue. While she was waiting, a large tabby cat strolled over to Agnil and rubbed its back against her legs, purring loudly. Agnil tried to gently push it away but the cat persisted, now raising a paw and tapping her shin. Round and round, it circled her, rubbing and tapping until suddenly it stepped away, looking over its shoulder at Agnil. It wants me to follow! The realisation sparked in her mind.
She watched as the cat rubbed its nose on a nearby wall and the bricks seemed to melt away like butter in a hot pan, revealing a gap.
Her father was chatting with Caroline and didn’t notice Agnil sneaking off down the narrow alley which had opened up between two shops.
Her footsteps echoed on the cobbles as she followed the cat and the noise of the shopping street behind her seemed to melt away just as the bricks had done. The cat slinked down the alley until it reached a battered wooden gate. Creeping through a narrow gap at the bottom of the gate, its green eyes peered back at Agnil. It meowed.
“I can’t squeeze through there!” she said aloud, and, as if the cat had understood her, it pushed an old rusty key along the cobbles towards Agnil.
She picked up the key and tried to read the paper label attached to it, but it was so old and worn that it had become impossible to read. The little squiggles didn’t look like any alphabet she recognised, not even elven!
This was exciting! Where was the cat taking her? She pushed the key into the lock and tried to turn it, but it took many twists and turns before the gate slowly creaked open. It was barely hanging onto its hinges and banged shut behind her as she entered the most beautiful garden she had ever seen. It was nothing like her garden at home with its straggly lawn full of dandelions and daisies. This garden was a forest of flowers, filling the air with their scent. Some stood as tall as sunflowers and others crept close to the ground. Bees buzzed close to her ears and dozens of butterflies fluttered from flower to flower. The garden was so dense with plants she had to push them aside as she walked through, still trying to follow the cat.
Eventually she saw a gravel path ahead of her leading to an old stone cottage with small latticed windows. A river flowed past. The thatched roof framed a tall brick chimney from which smoke curled gently upwards into the cloudless blue sky where two suns shone brightly. Two suns! Could she be in Aberrian? She wondered.
Agnil stood in front of a freshly painted cornflower- blue door. The cat at her feet looked up at her and prodded her shin with its paw, as if encouraging her to knock. Lifting the brass knocker, she rapped at the door. She heard footsteps from inside approaching the door. It opened wide revealing two familiar faces.
“We’ve been waiting for you! What took you so long?”