“We come now to Anja Grevdarsdottir,” the clerk announced.
Every person in the room was on the edge of his seat. Eirik had, by way of whispered conversations with nervous colleagues, discovered that they were almost uniformly uninformed about the girl. A few of the more enterprising ones had, with the help of Guild records, put two and two together and tried to grill Eirik for information. He knew how the game was played, though; for every aendemancer with a dubious grasp on sanity there was another who was only acting, waiting for someone to make an exploitable mistake. He sighed. The politics were a pain, although not nearly as literally as they were among the diviners. That was a bit of luck, he thought, and refocused on the floor with mild surprise.
The clerk had droned on about the complaints, rehashing what Eirik had already heard from Baltasar after steeping it in language carefully crafted to avoid suggesting any side of the debate was more valid than any other. What had caught Eirik’s attention was the introductions the clerk had just made. At the start of the Assembly, they had voted to elect a representative from those in favor of admitting the girl and those against it.
Baltasar had been chosen for the latter side, of course; he was an obvious choice, having been tempered in the fires of four previous Assemblies. Rather less obvious was the other side’s choice. Eirik knew Reynir Alvarsson, but not well enough to drop the patronym. Alvarsson was well-known for his temperament; where Baltasar was all fire, he was neither icy nor stony but simply unflappable, with a measure of self-control that would turn an abjurer green with envy.
Even so, it had always seemed to Eirik that Alvarsson harbored some amount of disdain for him, which put him in the unpleasant position of being on the bad side of both halves of the argument.
“We have agreed that we would be best served by hearing a complete and honest retelling of the events that led to this Assembly,” Alvarsson said.
Baltasar continued. “One of our own was there at the beginning of the whole affair. Master Eskilsson,” he said, voice dripping with exaggerated politeness, “would you be so kind as to grace us with your story?”
Unhappily, Eirik ran a hand through his hair. It certainly wasn’t as though he had a choice. As he went down the stairs he felt all eyes on him. Baltasar and Alvarsson took their seats as he took the floor.
It was a critical moment. For the time being everyone wanted his head, and not being a diviner, he couldn’t know which of the very narrow paths ahead were safe, but the least he could do was avoid walking by himself. A moment later, he was no longer alone.
If he were explaining the thing he could feel off his left shoulder to the captain of the Wandering Spirit, he would have begun with the words “spirit companion”. It was, of course, not an entirely correct description; the relationship was one of symbiosis, to begin with. The spirit did him favors in return for what he would have told the captain to think of as belief. He would have gone on to explain that aendemancy was, in large part, the study of spirits—it said as much right in the name—and part of the territory was learning how belief affected them. Eirik knew how to shape his thoughts just so, and consideration from a mind like his was a powerful incentive for a spirit to cooperate.
He had focused his efforts on one spirit in particular—Baltasar had always told him divided attention led to a fractured mind—which he’d pulled from a book, and therefore, with the directness he’d learned from Baltasar, called Book. At first, it had not been particularly useful, capable only of the slightest manipulations of the world, and concerning only things like paper and glue at that, but over the past few years Eirik had groomed it into something that, he, if forced to describe it in a few words, would have called a spirit of knowledge.
Most of the interesting tricks it could do it had picked up after Eirik had demonstrated a few times, but the most useful one it had, to Eirik’s surprise, puzzled out on its own. It was capable of digging into his memory and finding things he’d thought he’d forgotten. Effectively, he had perfect recall as long as he had goodwill to burn with the spirit, and he thanked it that he had a lot now.
He took a deep breath, reminded himself that he’d done nothing wrong, and faced the crowd. “Where should I start?”