The Septumvirate seemed to be content to allow the old man to speak for them for the time being. To Anja, it looked as though they’d regained their studied impassivity. She couldn’t read a thing in their faces. She glanced from side to side. Hans was still hovering protectively by her chair, and Mikel Skräskyddsling stood with his hands clasped behind him a few yards away. She thought she saw a cautionary flicker in his expression as their eyes met.
“That could make things rather more complicated,” the old man said. “I expected it won’t be too much to ask to leave it in your custody for a few days longer?” Anja nodded gravely. “Good. There are a few other matters to discuss before we retire to make our decision. First: which of the other guilds did you contact?”
“The aendemancers, conjurers, and abjurers, master,” Hans said.
“You received no reply from any of them?”
The old man harrumphed. “I would have expected the first two to leap at the chance. The talent you have shown, child, would have been directly applicable to either of them, unless I miss my guess.” A far-off look passed over his features. “I suppose it’s their loss. Earlier my colleague—” he gestured toward the speaker for the Septumvirate “—was going to ask if you were able to think of any other instances which might have been manifestations of magical talent. Now that we’ve asked the more important questions, we should revisit that one.” He sat back expectantly.
“I can’t think of any obvious ones,” Anja said.
The old man leaned forward with a furrowed brow. “None? Do you perhaps see things that turn out not to be there? Or perhaps have you found that you are able to tell what people are feeling when it isn’t apparent?”
Anja shrugged, and was about to say no when Hans said, “If you’ll allow me to speak, master, she’s just being modest. She always seems to know what’s on my mind.”
“That’s not magic, though,” Anja protested. She looked over her shoulder at Hans. “I just know how you think.”
The old man’s mood seemed to brighten a bit. “It is possible for magic to be subtle, you know,” he said, “although you wouldn’t guess it. Do you consider yourself lucky?”
Anja laughed. Hans looked down, shocked; she guessed he hadn’t expected to hear such bitterness out of her. “No,” she said shortly.
“Perhaps ‘lucky’ is the wrong word. Do you find that, in the long run, things tend to turn out in your favor?”
“No,” she repeated, but not without a moment’s hesitation. She considered that she might not have been strictly honest, but it was complicated.
Unaccountably, she thought, her answer seemed to delight him. “Excellent,” he said. “I rather like you, although between you and me I believe my colleagues are trying to decide if they should merely throw you out, or if they should throw you before the Magehunters. If none of them have questions for you—” and none spoke up “—I’ll try to bring them around to my point of view. In the meantime I would suggest that you take a rest. Thank you for your forthrightness.”
He gave her a piercing look, but she had seen worse, and she thought she hid her discomfort at it well. “Thank you for your time and your hospitality,” she replied.
The old man waved a hand. “Of course. We will send for you when we’ve made a decision.”
Anja stood, finding herself steadier on her feet than before, but she let Hans take her arm regardless. They turned to follow Mikel out of the chamber.
“Actually,” said the old man, “one more thing.” Anja turned to face him. “Did someone put you up to that little performance with the draug?”
Anja shook her head. “It was my idea.”
“And you had planned it ahead of time?”
She felt her cheeks burn, and suddenly found the floor in front of her very interesting. “Yes, master.”
“You have a theatrical streak a mile wide,” he said. Anja could glean nothing from his tone. She watched him for a moment to see if anything else was forthcoming, and eventually inclined her head respectfully.
There was a beat, and then the old man raised an eyebrow. “Go on, then. We’ll see you again soon.”