A Voice Behind Her Years No. 8 – Evening Meal

As the sun inched down toward the horizon, Anja walked along the boulevards of the High Quarter toward the Guild of Aeromancers, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. So far it had been a day of ups and downs, but it finally looked as though it was going to end on one of the former.

It had taken the bursar the better part of an hour to settle accounts, the news of Anja’s admission having spread much more slowly than she expected. Forty-five of the fifty crowns she had given to Hans, figuring that if more than five crowns’ worth of emergency came up she would just ask Mikel Skräskyddsling for help. All the inns in the High Quarter were equally and scandalously expensive, so Hans had chosen one close to the Guild, paying with the last of the money from their flight from Jötunberg. It had taken some doing, but Anja had convinced him that she was as safe as she was likely to be, and that he would be better off planning his transition from man of action back to tailor rather than wandering around the city with her and jumping at shadows. He had asked for her word that she would visit in the morning, before he left for the Riverfronts, which she had of course given immediately, and the two had parted company.

The Guild tailor had been Anja’s next stop, and while she stood for measurements she had discovered, to her pleasant surprise, that the Guild bought its initiates a few shirts, pairs of trousers, and sets of underthings in addition to the official robe. She and Hans had left Jötunberg in a hurry, and owing to that her holdings came to precisely what she had been wearing. Despite her best efforts during the journey to the city, they were descending rapidly toward whatever came after disgusting. She had asked about dresses, but the girl taking her measurements had tittered and reminded her that, while it was possible to substitute one for another part of the Guild’s order, the Guild was full of young men learning mastery over the wind…

Anja had taken her point with a sigh and started a mental list of things to buy with the next month’s stipend.

Since then she had been wandering the streets around the Guild, fixing landmarks in her mind. It was a habit she and Hans had picked up after the second time they’d been forced to flee a town in the middle of the night.

The sun was sinking fast by the time Anja made it back to the Guild. She rushed up the corridor to the great hall, and found the hurry had been unnecessary. Mikel Skräskyddsling was not yet in evidence.

The atmosphere was rather more convivial than it had been in the morning, Anja thought. A warm yellow light from the lamps and the two grand chandeliers was beginning to replace the fading sunlight, an incredible quantity of food and an equally large number of dishes were borne in and out of the room by servants, and a few instrumentalists had formed something of a makeshift band the staircase, an audience of twenty or thirty clapping along.

Anja was hungry, but not to the point of committing the minor faux pas of sitting to eat before her company arrived. She went over toward the band instead. They were playing a song she recognized, an upbeat tune about a farmer’s daughter and a luckless suitor. She took a seat and sang along quietly. At an encouraging look from the man next to her, she smiled uncertainly and sang a bit more loudly. One thing led to another, and then the band was beckoning for her to join them. At first she demurred, but the audience egged her on, and so she went and stood by the musician with the bagpipes.

Her singing voice was no better than average, but the band played with an infectious enthusiasm, and with it to buoy her, average was enough. They went on for perhaps a quarter of an hour before Anja spotted Mikel Skräskyddsling winding his way through the hall. With a twinge of disappointment she explained that she had to go, and to her astonishment the audience gave her a brief round of applause. She smiled radiantly, and as the band struck up a new tune and she made her way through the audience, some of the latter leaned close and offered her quiet welcomes to the Guild.

“You’re fairly glowing, aspirant,” Mikel observed as Anja drew near.

She dipped her head. “It’s been a good day, Master.”

“Hm,” he grunted, looking at her with sympathy. “I’m sorry, then.” he held out a folded piece of paper.

“What’s this?” she asked, taking it and turning it over. When she saw the seal the wind went out of her sails. Her shoulders slumped, and she sighed. She looked down at the paper once again, just to be sure, but there could be no doubt—it was her father’s seal.

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