Mikel led them out of the Septumvirate’s chamber and read the question off Hans’ face. “It could go either way,” he said. “You seem to have convinced Ansgar Leifsson—the old man,” he clarified. “He’s the senior member of the Septumvirate. His word carries a lot of weight, and more than that he’s as stubborn as a reindeer. Expect a four-three vote,” he added, after some consideration. “I don’t know which way it will swing.”
“Well, it’s something,” Hans sighed. “Less than I would’ve liked.”
“More than you had reason to expect, after that display,” Mikel said. “The last thing you want them to do is think you more of a threat than is worth training.”
“A threat?” said Anja.
“Magic is dangerous—”
“So I’ve heard.”
“—and things like what you did have a way of spiraling out of control,” he finished, as if she hadn’t interrupted at all.
“It didn’t, though,” she protested.
“That you were able to control it at all makes you look to them like an accident waiting to happen.” Anja opened her mouth, but Mikel cut her off. “If they accept you I’m sure we’ll be able to answer all your questions. If they don’t, it’s irrelevant. Either way I have duties to attend to.”
They came to a stop in front of a door. After a moment Anja recognized it as belonging to the room she’d used overnight.
“Good luck,” said Mikel, turning and walking away.
Anja watched him go, and then tried the door. It opened, and she went in.”
“Will you be needing anything, milady?” Hans asked, standing just outside.
“No, thank you,” she said. She paused, and then added, “And I think you should just call me Anja now.”
“If you’d rather, mi— Anja,” Hans said. He frowned. “If anything comes up I’m the next door up the hall.”
She nodded and pushed the door closed. Someone had made the bed while she’d been gone. She threw herself down on it and rubbed at her eyes. It was obvious Hans was worried about her. Dropping her title had signaled to him that she considered her past a closed book. She doubted she was any happier about it than he was, but, after the journey here and the news that her future was not, in fact, as certain as it had looked a tenday ago, she could hardly begrudge him his concern. After what had transpired in Jötunberg, he was—
—he was the closest thing she had to a father. It was the first time since she’d left that she’d allowed herself to think about that in all its enormity, and she felt two months’ worth of grief welling up. She rolled over and buried the tears in her pillow.
After a while her eyes closed, and she slept fitfully.
Some time later, an insistent knock at the door woke her. She rubbed at a kink in her neck as she stood, and winced at her reflection in the mirror. As she ran her hands through her hair in a futile attempt to tame it, she considered what she’d give for a comb. That got her thinking about the other things she’d given up of late, and she felt the tears coming again—
She closed her eyes, let out a trembling breath, and pushed the thought firmly away. The knock sounded again, and Anja pulled the door open to reveal a young man rocking back and forth impatiently. “You’ve been called before the Septumvirate,” he said, and, message delivered, wandered off.
There was no guide in evidence, so she set off up the hallway. She paused by Hans’ door, and could hear him snoring behind it. She decided to let him rest. The walk to the Septumvirate’s chamber was just as long the second time. She took a moment to steady her nerves before going in.
The Septumvirate sat in their places, hoods up. Ansgar Leifsson spoke. Anja heard a note of displeasure in his voice, and a fist of ice clenched around her heart. “Well, child,” he said, “we’ve decided.”