Never Alone No. 1 – No Confidence

Eirik harbored the belief that Baltasar might have been a bit too hasty in his judgment of Anja Grevdarsdottir. The girl had been through a lot, Eirik would allow, but the very fact that, by all appearances, she hadn’t died again said a lot for her. He knew better than to take a side which wasn’t Baltasar’s when Baltasar was around, though, and so he had merely nodded and made noises of vague agreement. Baltasar took them at face value, and as the two of them reached the central building the rest of the mages had silently reached a consensus and begun to filter into the main hall proper.

It occupied the bulk of the building, the skylights serving to keep it bright and inviting in the daytime. Today, the slowly receding fog served to keep the light ashen and the room unpleasantly dim. On all sides of the open area at the center of the room where, to Eirik’s understanding, the aendemancer with permission to speak would be shouted down by the rest, the floor rose by steps to form something of an amphitheater, chairs and tables interspersed on each level.

Eirik and Baltasar took seats next to each other. The room filled quickly, and the latecomers found themselves standing. Eirik wondered how the chairs had run out—there was one for every full member of the Guild—until he remembered the aspirants he’d seen earlier, who apparently numbered enough to fill the chairs left by absent aendemancers. Just before the murmuring echoing off the walls shifted in tone from curious to discontented, a clerk took the floor. From a piece of paper, he read the litany of grievances; predictably, there was a very small amount about the girl and her fate and much more about the bickering and politicking that had followed the arrival of her first letter.

The first and most pressing order of business was, however, the selection of new proxies. The Guilds had been given broad authority under their charters to govern themselves as they saw fit. They had each settled to different points between authoritarian and anarchist, and the aendemancers had ended up somewhat closer to the latter. They ran their guild as a pure democracy, each full member receiving exactly one vote. It was a decision made without regard for practicality, as the early aendemancers had quickly discovered—it was rare for even a simple majority to be present for important decisions, much less an actual quorum. They’d decided to allow proxy voting, which had solved most of the problems with the original model.

It had introduced a new one, though. The reasoning behind the democracy was that it diluted power. Proxies concentrated it, and every decade or so there were issues with corruption—a proxy stepped out of line, and the rest of them replaced him. It had never before happened that there weren’t enough proxies who were not demonstrably untrustworthy to pick new ones. This time was different. Out of two hundred forty-one votes, one hundred eighty-seven were controlled by proxies who had ignored the written directives of their principals as they pertained to the Anja Grevdarsdottir matter.

For his part, Eirik wasn’t sure who he was going to assign his vote to. In the past he’d chosen Baltasar, but their difference in opinion on the girl told him that there might be a deeper gulf between their positions than he had originally thought. He tried not to picture Baltasar’s response. The man had a reputation for being as mercurial as a heliomancer faced with a problem clearly unsolvable by fire; cantankerous didn’t even begin to describe it. At the least, he’d have a few hours to mull it over.

It turned out to be two days. The administrative procedures which had built up over the years had been developed with voice votes by ten or fifteen proxies in mind took an eternity to slog through with some two hundred fifty secret ballots, and the first day was over by the time they’d finished. The second day was marginally more interesting. Most of it had been spent listening to the malfeasant proxies’ futile attempts to defend their actions, and to the other proxies and the candidates to replace the deposed ones explaining how they would be better choices. On the morning of the third day, Eirik had chosen another of his former teachers, Alrik Einarssen, to represent him. Over lunch Baltasar had a blazing row with him, and when they returned to the Assembly Baltasar made a point of sitting on the far side of the room and attempting to fry Eirik with angry looks.

Eirik wasn’t worried. During his time as a student he and Baltasar had been on worse terms once or twice, and things had always worked out alright then. He was distinctly more worried about the direction the Assembly was taking. When it reconvened, they wrapped up the last of the business to do with the proxies; if they were going to pin something on Eirik it was going to happen very soon.

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