Like a vacation, Eirik thought without enthusiasm. He walked across the grounds, wondering if he might have gotten off easier if he’d thrown his lot in with Baltasar. Probably, he thought, but there was no use in speculating about it now.
He came to the library. It was one of the smallest buildings in the compound, its collection consisting mainly of volumes too narrow in scope, too obscure, or too much of both to be considered for inclusion in the Library of the Prefecture for the Preservation of History, and therefore on a very short list. Eirik nodded to the librarian, who didn’t even notice him, and wandered back through the shelves. They brought back fewer memories for him than they would have for most aendemancers; Baltasar was a firm believer in practical experience as a teaching tool, and besides that had very little time for books to begin with. Eirik had learned Elvish in the library, and following that had never really had any reason to come back.
He did remember the study rooms at the back of the building, though, and only one had a closed door. He chanced it, and opened the door on Alvarsson and his aspirants. The master paused mid-lecture and raised an eyebrow.
“Master Alvarsson,” Eirik said, smiling at him with enough venom to drop a dwarf at twenty paces. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” From the books open in front of the aspirants and Alvarsson’s glare, it was clear that he was, but he breezed onward anyway. “I need to talk to your students about our upcoming trip, if you don’t mind.”
“Spoke with Master Hrafnssen, did you?” Alvarsson said, looking to the aspirants and then back to Eirik. There was a calculating glint in his eye while he let the silence drag on for a moment or two longer than strictly necessary, and finally said, “Very well. Speak with Master Eskilsson, then, take your midday meal, and meet me here when you’ve finished. Understood?” At last he looked away from Eirik and to his students. They nodded, and with a chilly nod of his own to Eirik, Alvarsson left.
Eirik sat down and gave the aspirants a smile which held nothing besides amiability. On the way to the library he’d asked Book to dredge up their names from the memory of whenever it was that they’d been introduced to him. “Brynjar Alfsson and Nissa Skräskyddsling, correct?” he said, making sure to sound a hint uncertain, as if he had to think about it—Book’s existence could only very tenuously be justified under the Code’s rules about magic of the mind, and Eirik made every effort to keep it a secret.
Brynjar smiled back, but the girl frowned. “Master Alvarsson’s mad at you,” she said.
“We disagree on a few things,” Eirik admitted. “Guild affairs. We’ve never been on the friendliest of terms.” A bit of a lie by omission, but he saw no reason to burden them with the details. “That’s hardly relevant, though. Has anyone told you where we’ll be going and what we’ll be doing there?”
“Only that we’re supposed to go with you,” Brynjar said.
“Were you at the Assembly?”
“Only for the first day. It was a little boring, we thought.”
Eirik chuckled. “It didn’t get any better. In the end, we decided to offer admission to Anja Grevdarsdottir, and I’ve been chosen to deliver the invitation.”
“What about us?”
Eirik wasn’t really free to give them the actual reason. Baltasar had told him that there was a budding rivalry between Alvarsson and himself, and that Eirik and these aspirants were merely the opening moves in what would no doubt go down as one of the greatest examples of the game of Guild politics in history. Telling them that they were nothing but pawns in a larger scheme wouldn’t do anything for their confidence in the Guild, and they weren’t allowed to start losing that for another five or eight years. Eirik had come up with an alternate explanation. “Two reasons,” he said. “First, she’s going to have questions. I don’t spend much time at the Guild anymore, and even if I did you would still be better than me at answering questions about what it’s like to be an aspirant. Second, it’s a fine opportunity for you to practice what you’ve learned. We’ll be working on your skills along the way.”
“We haven’t worked much magic, though,” Nissa said.
“Everyone has to start somewhere,” said Eirik. “We’ll be leaving tomorrow morning, and we’ll likely be away for a little more than two tendays. Be packed and ready to go at sunup tomorrow. I’ll hire a coach for us. Any questions? Alright, then, off to lunch with you. No reason to inconvenience Master Alvarsson more than I have to.”
The aspirants bowed their heads and left, and Eirik sighed. He had a few things to do himself—first, get his own affairs in order, and second, leave a letter at the docks for the Wandering Spirit, expressing to Captain Eriksson his deep regret that he would not be joining the ship’s company for the run back to Mikelsfjord.