“What? Why can’t he?” said Anja. She felt herself getting angry. “He’s been nothing but a help through all of this.”
“There are rules, aspirant, of which Hans Georgsson was informed—” Mikel began.
Anja didn’t let him finish. She turned the full force of her glare on Hans, who wilted beneath it. “You knew about this,” she said, throwing her hands up. “Did you plan on telling me, maybe, before you just walked out?”
Hans’ shoulders sagged, and his head bowed. His voice was pure misery. “I’d wanted to,” he said, and Anja felt her anger draining away. Regret replaced it. She began to apologize, but Hans interrupted her. “No, you’re right. It was stupid of me to hide it from you, but you had so much on your mind waiting for them to decide,” he said, nodding at the tower, “and when they did you were so happy, and who am I to take that from you?”
Anja touched his arm. “You should have told me,” she reproached gently, “but I shouldn’t have yelled. I’m not angry with you, it’s just unfair.” She sighed. “What are you going to do?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t have the money to stay in the city until I could get settled, that’s for sure. I could afford to go back home, probably—”
“Absolutely not,” Anja said. “It—” and she glanced at Mikel, who was watching intently. She had intended to say that it was dangerous, but that piece of information revealed some things she’d rather not have out in the open. It was bad enough that she and Hans were still basically fugitives; it would be worse if word got around that they were. An eyeblink passed while these thoughts chased themselves through her mind, and she managed to continue without missing a beat. “—wouldn’t be any easier for you to settle back in there. We’ve been away for a while. All your customers have probably moved on.”
“It won’t be so hard as all that,” Hans protested, but Anja could tell his heart wasn’t behind it. “There’s still my house. I don’t have anything at all here.”
“Maybe no property,” Anja mused. “Do you think you could get on your feet for fifty crowns?” She looked quickly to Mikel. “If that’s an acceptable way to spend my stipend, at least.”
Mikel nodded. Anja couldn’t read a thing from his expression. “If a bit unorthodox,” he qualified.
If Hans was anything he was a businessman. Anja could practically see the numbers flashing by behind his eyes. “It would probably be a little tight,” he said at length, a smile blossoming across his features, “but I think I could get by.”
“Then I guess we should go see the bursar,” Anja said with a smile of her own. “Oh. Is there more we need to talk about? A curriculum?”
“Nothing that can’t wait until later,” said Mikel. “We’ll discuss it over the evening meal. I expect I’ll be taking it around sundown.”
Anja imitated the bow of the head she’d seen Liam and Elisa make, and she and Hans walked back toward the tower.
“Well, Master Skräskyddsling?” Ansgar Leifsson said. He and Mikel walked up the spiral hallway. “Your impressions?”
“She’ll need some work, to be sure,” Mikel said. “More than it looked like when she got here.” He ran a hand through his hair. “It could be anywhere from tendays to months before she’s ready to begin working magic. Physically—well, she’s years behind my other students.”
“Unlikely to catch up quickly in that respect?”
“To put it mildly. I’ll do my best.”
“No doubt you will.” Ansgar led them down a radial hallway. Lamps burned in sconces on the walls. “We received a rather troubling letter today,” he said, producing a folded piece of paper. “It concerns your new student.”
Mikel took it and read it. His eyebrows crept upward as he did. “Well,” he said, “it’s a— hmm. That’s worse than I expected.”
“Yes. Fortunately, he hasn’t the legal standing to make that request. Our foes on the Council may, however, try to fulfill it regardless, were they to find that we are harboring the child. We may be best served by seeing that she is sanctioned under a somewhat less recognizable name.”
There was the slightest of edges to Mikel’s voice. “If you insist. How much should I tell her?”
“She’s at the center of what has the potential to become some of the deadliest politics I’ve seen, should news get out. Knowledge of that may interfere with her studies; if she believes the worst is over I see no reason to disabuse her of that belief. She is now your responsibility, though, and I commend the final decision to your judgment.”