She did not raise her eyes as the inquisitor sat and she felt hostile gazes settle upon her. The inquisitor’s gown shifted regally around him. The chamber was so quiet that the sound of it carried as far as the door. She did not need to turn to know that there were riders assembled with their hands on their weapons behind her.
Keeping her gaze low, she knotted her fingers in her lap. They were pale, delicate fingers, most unbecoming of a rogue wizard. Her wrists were tied together by rope hung with tokens enchanting it to be unbreakable. The rope was not tight, but the sight of it made tears well in her eyes.
“Tesslin VanGlaise, stand.” The inquisitor’s voice bit into her soul.
Breathing deeply, she struggled to her feet and finally looked about her.
The wizards in the chamber were all garbed in their fine sable and gowns. Some of the gowns were more elaborate than others, and the hoods varied in colour, but they were all black. Except for the inquisitor’s gown. It was purple.
“I hereby preside over the trial of Tesslin VanGlaise in the name and stead of the grand master of the University of Havarin,” the inquisitor decreed, his voice harsh and firm and unmoving.
She squeezed her eyes shut and blinked to stave off the tears. Breathing deeply again, she pursed her lips tightly and waited. The inquisitor was a man with a sharp face and almost no lips. She had heard murmurs as she was led into the chamber that he was the Fellow of Bones, of shadow magic. The dark light in his eyes said that he took pleasure in the prospect of watching her die and receiving her body upon which to perform his macabre experiments. Her chest shrivelled as she continued to stand and tried to draw her legs together subtly. He still noticed. There was something covetous in his expression that made her skin flush cold.
“If there are no objections from those gathered, then we will proceed.” His voice became a drawl of anticipation.
She lowered her gaze to the floor and clasped her hands in front of her.
“Tesslin VanGlaise stands accused of assaulting a rider,” the inquisitor continued, while she could feel his eyes drinking in the sight of her, “and of practising magic for some years prior to doing so.”
Murmurs wove their way through the chamber. The riders behind her bristled and the sound of their weapons brushing against one another was harsh to her ears. Squeezing her eyes shut, she waited as the rider in question was summoned.
“Mother?” Tesslin whispered.
The woman at the other end of the corridor turned. She was a fair beauty–a rarity in Roth–with eyes bluer than the sky and hair whiter than snow. Her skin was like porcelain, catching the moonlight as Tesslin approached her. Reaching her, Tesslin gazed up, squinting.
“What are you doing here?” she breathed, her small voice catching in her throat.
Her mother knelt before her, cupping Tesslin’s chin in her hands. She kissed Tesslin’s forehead delicately and whispered:
“Sh, Tesslin. Do not cry for us.”
Tesslin blinked away tears as her mother faded away and all that remained was the tender sensation upon her forehead.
Tesslin turned at the boy’s voice to see her cousin. He was fair like Tesslin’s mother. Tesslin looked nothing like her mother. Her hair was blacker than a raven’s back–the mark of a true Rothian, untainted by any of the lands around them, or worse, the Dool.
“Who were you talking to?” he asked, coming over and staring out of the window at the gardens beyond.
“No one, Cass,” she replied hurriedly. He cocked an eyebrow at her, but let the matter drop.
“Then let’s away back to bed. Father won’t appreciate finding us awake at this time.”
Tesslin nodded, wiped away her tears on the sleeve of her nightdress, and followed him back down the corridor.
“Now,” Cass said gently, wrapping an arm around her, “don’t cry. Father will take good care of you.”
“I know,” she replied softly, just managing to keep her tears at bay. “I know that Uncle will take good care of me.”
“And you were six years of age when Count and Countess VanGlaise of Ebor passed into the shadows?” the Fellow of Bones was saying in a sickly drawl.
She looked up at him with wide, fearful eyes brimming with tears, and nodded. There was a moment where his eyes seemed to soften and his lips parted to form something of a condolence. Then he spoke, and the moment was broken:
“Well, that is hardly an excuse. A propensity for shadow magic in a grieving girl is not something to be nourished.” He almost laughed with disdain, but caught it at the last moment.
Her tears flowed freely now and she bowed her head.
“It is fortunate indeed that you used fire magic in your assault,” he continued in that drawl. “It is something against which riders are equipped adequately. Using shadow magic would have been a far graver offence, but given your position that hardly matters now.”
The chamber seemed to stiffen with the discomfort of so many wizards, but none of them made a sound.
“Now, we shall move on to your childhood home with your uncle Count VanCathrae of Blencathra and his son. Your uncle is your mother’s brother, I believe?” The inquisitor barely waited for her to nod before he continued. “I would have thought that you would be grateful for his care of you. Being the daughter of a sickly girl-child, after all.”
Her teeth came together and her head flew up so that her eyes met his. Unbridled, burning rage boiled in their depths with such intensity that the inquisitor recoiled. When he recovered his composure, his expression was venomous.
“And now, my fellow wizards, we see the true Tesslin VanGlaise.”
“Tesslin, come here.”
Tesslin’s uncle was a dark, brooding Rothian man of strong build and noble bearing that certainly befitted a count of Roth, and of her capital Blencathra at that. He had lost his wife with the birth of his son, and had taken the loss of his sister equally hard. He seemed to be grateful that Tesslin looked nothing like her. She looked like him. She wondered whether that was why her uncle had been spending more and more time with her instead of with his own son and heir.
“You are a pretty little chestnut,” her uncle told her softly, taking hold of her hand and leading her along the clifftop walk on his estate, overlooking the city and its fine whitestone and shellstone beaches and harbour. Looking down at her tenderly, he smiled and squeezed her hand. “You will make a good wife to Cassyan one day.”
Tesslin looked up at him with large eyes.
“You want me to stay?”
“Of course,” he replied gently, squeezing her hand a little tighter. “You are family. We are very much alike, Tesslin. I will not lose you as well.”
She reddened and looked away.
Gulls screeched and soared past on the breeze. Looking up and shielding her eyes against the setting sun with her free hand, Tesslin breathed.
“Look,” she pointed, her voice rising with excitement. “Eagles.”
Her uncle followed her finger and saw the eagles. His expression darkened, and he pulled her against him so suddenly that she lost her balance.
“Those are not eagles, Tesslin. Those are Dool of Eyrenstead. Do not let them fool you.”
“But what are they doing here?” Tesslin asked as he leaned down and lifted her up. “They are a long way from the landsteads.”
“They are indeed,” her uncle agreed as he turned to carry her back to his manor. “Heldic business, no doubt. Something that will trouble the University. One day, they will learn, but it seems that it will not be today. Now,” he continued, shielding her from the sun and the sight of the eagles as they soared overhead, “tonight I am entertaining some friends. Counts and lords of Roth. You and Cassyan will amuse yourselves.”
“Yes, Uncle,” she whispered. After a moment, she added, looking up into his face, “Cassyan asks why you don’t see him as much now. He misses you.”
Her uncle’s expression was black as he looked down and met her gaze.
“Then he will tell that to me himself. You are six years old, Tesslin, but he is nine. That is old enough to speak to his own father like a man.”
Tesslin quailed under his gaze and buried her face in his sleeve. She did not look up again until they were indoors.
“Is your uncle good to you?” Tesslin’s mother asked as she sat on the edge of Tesslin’s bed, stroking her hair.
Tesslin bobbed her head, but then held still so that her mother would continue to stroke her hair.
“I am glad,” her mother said. “He always was very fond of you. He called you his little chestnut from the moment that you were born. He said that you were special. I fancy that he has always wanted a daughter,” she murmured to herself as Tesslin’s eyelids lowered. Looking over her shoulder, she said quietly, “I must go now, Tesslin dear. Your father is calling to me.”
Tesslin nodded a little as her mother rose and moved away. She fell asleep as her mother faded back into the shadows.
The wizards were muttering amongst themselves as Tesslin looked down again, holding her breath.
“A woman who challenges the presiding inquisitor can not be an innocent,” the Fellow of Bones was saying. “She would have you believe that she knows her place, despite her errant practices, but you see that she does not.”
There were murmurs of agreement throughout the room. Tesslin dropped back down into her seat and covered her face with her bound hands.
“Tesslin VanGlaise,” the Fellow of Bones barked, “stand!”
Tesslin shot back to her feet and stared up at him with huge, frightened eyes. While the wizards’ eyes were upon her and not him, his expression changed to a leer. A small sound escaped her lips and she stepped back until her legs met the seat.
“Tesslin VanGlaise, you may be seated.”
The voice behind Tesslin was gruff and grim and aged. The sudden tension of the riders sent cold waves through her back. Turning, she beheld a tall, slender wizard with greying hair and sharp, aquiline features. The skin of the hand gripping the back of her seat was weathered, and the eyes looking down at her did so with an intensity that made her want to both gaze into them and look away in the same moment. But his gown was what held her enthralled. It was purple.
At an angry sound from the Fellow of Bones, she looked back to him. He was gripping the arms of his judicial chair so tightly that his knuckles had turned white.
“Gyr Eyrensbarn,” he drawled, recovering his composure. “The Dool inquisitor.”
The wizard Gyr Eyrensbarn folded his arms and glared up at the Fellow of Bones, but did not say a word.
“What are you doing here?” the Fellow of Bones demanded. “I am the presiding inquisitor of this trial.”
Still, Gyr Eyrensbarn did not say anything. Instead, he came to stand beside Tesslin. Looking down at her, he said:
“Tesslin VanGlaise, you may be seated.”
Tesslin dropped quickly and with a thump. Wincing, she continued to look up at the two inquisitors.
Now, Gyr Eyrensbarn looked back up at the Fellow of Bones.
“The inquisition has deigned to give this woman a defending inquisitor,” he told him in a voice dripping with venom. Tesslin winced again. She saw the Fellow of Bones flinch, before taking an angry breath and straightening. Unheeding, Gyr Eyrensbarn continued: “For obvious reasons. Her defence will begin tomorrow morning at the eighth point of the clock. Until then, she will come with me. Is that understood, Gorrian Malengelo?”
For one, long moment, it looked as though the Fellow of Bones was going to refuse. But then he nodded slowly, furiously, before stepping down from the judicial chair with carefully measured steps to hide how much he was shaking with rage.
“This is your and Migen Dorathican’s doing, isn’t it?” he hissed down Gyr Eyrensbarn’s ear as he stormed out. “The Dool and the metal magic abomination.”
Gyr Eyrensbarn did not react. Instead, he waited until the Fellow of Bones was gone before looking down at Tesslin again.
“Tea,” he said, “is where we will start.” He turned his attention to the riders. “You will follow us discreetly. And,” he gestured with disgust, “get that rope off her.”
The door opened so quietly that Tesslin did not notice. She stayed beneath the sheets, curled up on her side with one arm outstretched. He laid his hand on her arm.
“Tess,” he whispered down her ear, so softly that he may not have spoken at all.
Tesslin gave a cry and shot bolt upright, her hair askew and her breath coming in gasps. Seeing him, she put a hand over her heart and waited for her breathing to slow.
“Cass! Don’t do that!”
“Sh!” he pleaded. “Don’t let Father hear us. It’d be the belt for both of us at this time.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
“Well,” he said, jumping up onto the bed and sitting beside her, “it is your anniversary soon. I wanted to ask you what you wanted.”
Warm, little tears welled up in the corners of Tesslin’s eyes. Seeing them, Cassyan reached out and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
“I… I don’t know,” she stammered. “I didn’t think that anyone would ask.”
“I was going to buy you a necklace,” he told her. “If you wanted, of course. Something silver. You will be seven, after all.”
“No,” she shook her head, “I couldn’t ask you to.”
“But you’re not asking,” he insisted. “I have been saving up my allowance from Father.”
“You shouldn’t have,” she stuttered, tears starting anew. “Thank you.”
“It’s what you deserve,” he said softly, kissing the top of her head.
After Cassyan had left and Tesslin was alone again, listening to the clocktower in the city chiming the second point of the clock, she turned to find her mother sitting next to her.
“Mother!” she gasped, reaching out to her.
Her mother gathered her into her arms and held her close.
“He is a good boy, Tesslin. He will make a fine husband.”
Tesslin reddened. She heard a voice say something about her being better off looking for a husband outside of the family. Looking up, she beheld her father sitting beside her mother. Crying out, she reached out to him.
He held both her and her mother tightly. Then they were gone. Startled, Tesslin looked down at her arms. Then she looked to where her parents had been an instant before.
“Very good, Tesslin.”
She spun around on her knees to see her uncle in the doorway. Mouth agape, she stopped still, her eyes wide and fearful.
“I didn’t mean… ” she stammered, her voice cracking. “I just wanted to see… ”
“You wanted to see your parents,” he told her, coming over and sitting on the bed. Patting the sheets, he beckoned for her to come closer. She stayed where she was and started to shake. “Did you use magic before they passed into the shadows?” he asked gently.
She shook her head.
“No, and I only use it to see them. I don’t even mean to. They come to me. I promise!”
“Sh, Tesslin,” he crooned, pulling her close. “I have known for some time. I am pleased,” he assured her, starting to stroke her hair. “I will not tell the University. I will teach you.”
She looked up at him, confused. His voice was gentle, but his eyes were hard.
“But women can not use magic.”
“Of course they can. Clearly. It is only the University’s laws that prevent it. The University sees magic as a corrupting force, Tesslin, and women as being born uncorrupted. But you will prove that belief wrong.”
“But people who break the University’s laws die. I… I can’t. I’ll stop. I’ll stop seeing my parents. I… ”
The sound of bone against skin echoed around the room as the back of his hand met her cheek. Tesslin lay on the bed, stunned. Pulling her upright and holding her against him, her uncle said again:
“I will teach you.” Rocking her back and forth as she started to shake and cry silently, he told her: “We will begin tomorrow.”
Tesslin did not know where to look. The room was bright from the light coming in through the tall windows and warmed by the amberwood skirting. Casting about her, she marvelled at the humble luxury of Dor Amath, one of the University’s halls and the abode of Gyr Eyrensbarn. As he placed a blackclay mug of Shamarian tea in front of her, she started. Her eyes flicking to him, she watched him carefully as he sat down on the other side of the table. Subconsciously massaging her wrists, she looked down at the mug.
“Ask me,” he said after a moment. There was nothing demanding in his voice. Rather, it was inviting.
She looked back up at him uncertainly.
“Ask me,” he said again, still undemanding.
Finally, she pursed her lips, inhaled deeply through her nose, and asked:
“Are you really a Dool?” She shut her mouth quickly and fixed her gaze on the grains of the table.
“Yes. I was found to have strong magic and brought here from Eyrenstead. A long time ago, it may be added.”
She looked up again. He was watching her with some amusement, with eyes that she had to admit did seem eagle-like. She frowned.
“We haven’t… met before, have we?”
He shook his head.
“No, Tesslin, we have not met before.” He flicked his gaze downward. “You had best drink your tea before it gets cold.”
Tesslin obliged, picking up the mug in both hands and sipping. Gyr Eyrensbarn sat back, still watching her with those eyes.
“We should start preparing your defence,” he told her, with a graveness to his tone that made her put the mug down and stare up at him with unbridled fear. “Gorrian is not known for his forgiving nature.” He sighed heavily and rested his arms on the table. “Our last Fellow of Bones had his flaws but, on reflection, he was preferable. If you can forgive going rogue, of course.” His expression became rueful. “Inquisitor Dorathican will be supporting your defence, but from afar.” At an inquisitive look from Tesslin, he elaborated: “There was an incident while he was an apprentice. He managed to alter himself spectacularly using metal magic and the combined expertise of the inquisition could not undo it. He avoids company where he can. Now,” he brought his hands together in a resolute clap. Tesslin started. “I need to you tell me what Count VanCathrae taught you. You may take your time, but I need to know. For your sake.”
Tesslin looked away uncertainly.
“I understand that this is difficult,” he promised, “but I am a wizard whom you can trust.”
She still looked uncertain.
“May we start with the types of magic that you can practise?” he asked gently. “You are innately gifted with shadow magic and are known to have used fire magic. Is there anything else? More types of magic? Wizardlock, maybe?”
For a moment, Tesslin was still. Then she nodded.
“There is,” she said quietly. He nodded and clasped his hands before his face. Hesitantly, she started to speak again.
“Again!” Tesslin’s uncle shouted. Tesslin started and dropped her pen. Storming across the room, he held out his hand with his palm facing down. The pen flew into his grip. Slamming it down on the desk, he glared into Tesslin’s eyes. She looked away to hide her tears. “Again,” he said so low and quietly that she could barely hear it.
Stepping back, he considered her as she sat shaking before him. Exhaling loudly, he moved back to the other side of the room.
“You will learn your conjugations in Wizardlock,” he told her. “Without the wizards’ language, you can not access their knowledge. With it, you have the world. Again!”
Tesslin bowed her head and started writing again. She was shivering with both the cold and the force of her uncle’s gaze upon her. The schoolroom was a long room with blackwood walls, a flag-stoned floor, a high ceiling, and tiny windows. Every step of his boots echoed upon that floor. He had already thrown her down upon it once that day. Her arm was bruising.
“When you learn your conjugations, I will allow you to see your parents again,” he promised. “Until then, I will keep your powers at bay. Am I understood, Tesslin?”
With a whimper, she nodded.
Cassyan was following her down the corridor towards her room.
“Tess!” he was shouting. “Tess! Please, let me see your arm. Did Father do that to you?”
Tesslin did not stop. Instead, she ran into her room and slammed the door, turning the key in the lock as he reached it.
Trying in vain to ignore his knocks upon the door, she turned away. Seeing something upon her bed, she approached it. It was a small, sandwood box. Picking it up, she turned it over in her hands and opened it. Inside was a silver necklace. Throwing the box down, Tesslin burst into tears.
Silence descended upon the chamber as Tesslin walked in, hiding behind Gyr Eyrensbarn’s leg. She could feel murmurs catch in wizards’ throats. Looking down at the floor, she followed Gyr Eyrensbarn’s guiding hand as it encouraged her into her seat. Then he sat down beside her, close enough that she could touch him. When she finally looked up, her heart stopped.
Another man was sitting in the judicial chair and the Fellow of Bones was standing beside him. This man’s gown was as purple as an inquisitor’s, but even more lavish. Tesslin could feel Gyr Eyrensbarn bristling.
“All rise for Grand Master Ceriadoc Erwine of the University of Havarin.” The Fellow of Bones’ voice carried clear and confident across the chamber. Tesslin felt her heart drop out of her chest.
On shaking legs, she stood and waited without breathing to be allowed to sit down again.
Once everyone was seated, the grand master rose. He was an elderly man with a grey beard reaching down to his waist. His voice was gravelly and faint, but somehow it could be heard with perfect clarity.
“We are gathered here today to continue the trial of Tesslin VanGlaise. She is defended by Inquisitor Gyr Eyrensbarn and Inquisitor Migen Dorathican, who has sent his apologies.”
It felt as though there were stones in Tesslin’s throat. Gyr Eyrensbarn’s touch was all that kept her present at that moment.
“Inquisitor Eyrensbarn, I am interested to hear your defence of this woman.” The grand master’s voice bit into Tesslin’s soul. Gyr Eyrensbarn gave her arm a reassuring squeeze as he stood.
“Grand Master, I propose that Tesslin VanGlaise can not be considered complicit in Count VanCathrae’s tuition of her. He identified her capacity for magic when she was six years of age and beat her both until she agreed to be taught and when she was unsuccessful in her studies. At no moment did she consent to this tuition. She is too young to have done so and well aware of the penalties of being corrupted with magic. She is only ten years of age, Grand Master. She has had no agency in this.”
There were murmurs amongst the riders and wizards behind her, but Tesslin did not listen to whether they were in her favour or not.
“She unheeded the law knowingly,” the grand master said slowly, quietly. The Fellow of Bones looked satisfied with that. Tesslin shrivelled in her seat.
“But not willingly,” Gyr Eyrensbarn replied coldly. “I can assure you that that is a significant difference.”
“I suppose that you would,” the Fellow of Bones interjected, “having denounced your own kind.”
Tesslin was not looking at Gyr Eyrensbarn, but she watched the Fellow of Bones recoil at the look that he received.
“I would,” Gyr Eyrensbarn agreed, his voice turning bitter, “having been offered the position of grand master twice. If I had not turned it down the second time, I would be sitting where you are now, Grand Master.”
The grand master’s expression darkened, but the murmurs behind Tesslin now sounded like those of agreement. Sitting down again, Gyr Eyrensbarn reached down and took her hand.
“Now, we shall see,” he said.
The room was dark and circular, with a high ceiling from which there came an eerie, pale blue light. Tesslin tugged her arm out of her uncle’s grip, but he caught hold of her again and slapped her. Pressing her free hand to her cheek, she was forced into a chair at the round, grainstone table in the centre of the room.
Soon, more men entered. They were all true, Rothian men with black hair, pale faces, and bitter brows. They sat around the table. Some of them were pulling girls like her behind them. None of them were looking up. Tesslin gulped and kept her gaze low.
Once all of the men were seated, Tesslin’s uncle stood.
“My counts and lords.” His voice was firm and calm.
“Count VanCathrae.” Their combined response was monotonous, but confident.
“This meeting of the University of Roth is now in session,” Tesslin’s uncle decreed. Sitting down, he continued: “Our work towards founding a university to compete with that of Havarin is progressing more slowly than I would like,” he told the gathering. “But, after sufficient progress, I foresee adequate support for our efforts to educate women in magic. Men have certainly not been corrupted beyond their natural darkness by its influence. And,” he gestured to the shivering girls around the table, “now we have proof that it may not corrupt women at all.”
There were mumblings of approval around the table.
“We should now discuss the progress of those educational efforts. If the University of Roth deems it appropriate, I will speak first.”
Some of the men around the table assented. Satisfied, Tesslin’s uncle continued:
“Tesslin’s magical development is proving to be exceptional. The same can not be said for her understanding of Wizardlock, but she has grasped the basics.”
A hand was raised. He nodded.
“And you have been teaching her for four years now, yes?”
Tesslin’s uncle nodded again.
“And you are certain that the University of Havarin can not know of her capacity for magic?” the same man asked.
He nodded for a third time.
“I am certain,” he assured them. “I have kept her concealed.”
The gathering seemed to be satisfied with that.
Then there was a noise outside. Tesslin’s uncle stood just as the door burst open and riders rushed into the room. Fire and ice arced across the room as the Rothians dragged the girls away. In the midst of the shouting and the magic and the violence, Tesslin was knocked under the table. Pain pierced her skull as her head met the floor. Stunned, she pushed herself up onto her hands and knees and crawled out. As the pain dulled to throbbing, she called for her uncle.
A hand gripped her arm. Looking up, she found herself staring into the face of a rider. She screamed. Pulling her arm out of his grasp, she fell back onto the floor. When he made to come under the table after her, she screamed again, threw up her hands, and sent a jet of fire at him.
The next thing that she knew, he was on top of her, holding her down and shouting to the other riders in Wizardlock. She tried to scream again, but he covered her mouth with his hand. Somewhere, she could hear her uncle cry out in pain. Turning her head, she could see that the room was now illuminated. There were scorch marks on the walls and bloodstains on the floor. She whimpered and closed her eyes.
Tesslin lay shivering beneath the blankets. She was in a small room in Gyr Eyrensbarn’s accommodation in Dor Amath. It was not much larger than a cupboard, but it had a comfortable bed.
Rolling over to face the wall, she hugged the blankets against herself and squeezed her eyes shut. Her breathing came hoarse. Making a tiny sound, she opened her eyes and rolled over again to face the door. She screamed.
Gyr Eyrensbarn was standing in the doorway, his dressing robe pulled about himself and a wry expression on his face.
“Sleep does not seem to be hailing you tonight,” he observed.
Staring at him, she pushed herself to sit up against the headboard. She shook her head.
“More tea might help. Woodlun tea, not Shamarian. I find that it is more… relaxing.” He beckoned to her. “Come. There is no point in lying there if you are not going to sleep.”
Tesslin shuffled out of bed and followed him into the study. With a wave of his hand, the fire in the hearth was lit and he could hang the pot on its little hook above the flames.
“There,” he said as the water started to bubble. Sitting opposite her, he clasped his hands on the table and met her eyes. “I know,” he said gently. “But there is nothing that we can do now except wait.” Looking over his shoulder to check on the pot, he added: “I have faith in the other wizards attending, if not in the grand master himself, Tesslin.”
She studied him for a moment with a frown growing upon her brow, before saying quietly:
“Is it true?”
“Is what true?” he asked, looking back to her.
“That you have been asked to be the grand master twice.”
He nodded, his expression unchanging.
“It is true.”
“I presume because someone thought that I would be a suitable grand master. That is how positions are normally filled, is it not? Unless you are nobility, of course.” There was a wry edge to his voice as he finished speaking.
“Then why did you turn it down?”
“You are getting bolder,” he observed. As she looked down, he chuckled. “It is a good thing, Tesslin.” Getting up to retrieve the pot of tea, he added: “I have no desire to be the grand master. I am an inquisitor and, even then, it took persuasion for that to happen.” He poured the tea into two mugs. “I am a Dool, Tesslin. I have already renounced my people once. Let us leave it at that.” He came back over and placed a mug on the table in front of her. “Now, drink your tea. Then back to bed with you.”
On the third day of her trial, Tesslin did not want to look at the judicial chair. The grand master was still sitting in it, with the Fellow of Bones standing beside him. Gyr Eyrensbarn took hold of Tesslin’s hand and held it tightly.
The assembled wizards and riders were speaking in hushed tones amongst themselves, anticipating the verdict. Tesslin turned and buried her face in Gyr Eyrensbarn’s gown. She felt his hand on the back of her head and his fingers in her hair.
The grand master stood. Gyr Eyrensbarn’s grip on Tesslin’s hair tightened.
“The wizards assembled in this chamber will now cast their vote on the verdict of the trial of Tesslin VanGlaise.”
Tesslin closed her eyes, feeling the soft, luxurious material of Gyr Eyrensbarn’s gown against her eyelids.
“All wizards who consider Tesslin VanGlaise to be guilty, raise your hands now.”
There was a pause, then the grand master continued:
“You may lower your hands. All those who consider her to be innocent, raise your hands now.”
There was another, longer pause. Tesslin wrapped her arms around Gyr Eyrensbarn. His hand left her hair and he pushed her away from him. She looked up at him, frowning. Then the grand master’s voice came strong across the room:
“Tesslin VanGlaise has been pronounced innocent.”
Tesslin gave a little cry and continued to look up at Gyr Eyrensbarn.
“Did they really vote for that?”
“Yes,” he said, bending down to touch his forehead against hers.
“Are you aware of what you have done?” the wizard in the darkened room asked.
Shaking, Tesslin nodded. She would not look at him. Frustrated, he leaned over the table and took hold of her chin.
“Are you aware of the penalty for what you have done?” he demanded.
Still shaking, she nodded, trying to move free of his grasp.
“Then you will stand trial tomorrow,” he proclaimed, releasing her so suddenly that she fell backwards. “And you will hang that night.”
“So, you are a free wizard,” Gyr Eyrensbarn said as they walked side-by-side back to Dor Amath. “Or rather, as free as a novice can be.” He held out his hand to her. As her delicate fingers met his weathered ones, he continued: “We will have to test you. It is no good putting you in all of the first-year classes if you have already studied some magic and Wizardlock.” He ran his free hand across his face. “And I will be the one who has to do that paperwork.”
Tesslin felt herself laugh a little at that.
“I’m to stay here? In the University.”
“But, what about my family? Uncle and Cass… Cassyan.”
Gyr Eyrensbarn inhaled deeply and stopped walking. He looked down at her. The fire in his aquiline eyes softened.
“You will not be returning to Roth, Tesslin. Certainly not until we have trained you properly, anyway. Rest assured that that will not come into question.”
Tesslin pursed her lips and looked away. Casting her gaze over the sprawling stone buildings of the University, she said quietly:
“When did my uncle’s trial finish?”
“It finished on the evening of the first day.”
Tesslin nodded slowly but continued to look away from him.
“The vote was unanimous,” he added after a heavy pause. “He was hanged that night.”
Tesslin let go of his hand and knotted her fingers together in front of her.
“You’ve known all this time.”
She inhaled deeply. When she exhaled, it came as a ragged gasp. Then she looked back up at him.
“I couldn’t go back even if I wanted to, could I?”
He shook his head.
After a moment, she slipped her hand back into his and started to walk again. They continued in silence until they reached Dor Amath.
Sitting in Gyr Eyrensbarn’s study, Tesslin held her mug close to her chest and cast about her. He came and sat down opposite her, holding his own mug.
“Thank you,” Tesslin said quietly.
“You are most welcome,” he assured her. “And now,” he continued, putting down his mug, “we should deal with the next order of business. You are now a ward of the University of Havarin, and will be educated as such, that much I have told you. And, as for where you will be living, that will be with me.”
Tesslin started and almost dropped her mug.
“I’m to stay with you?”
“I will move to larger rooms to accommodate the pair of us. The only other matter is the,” he gestured, but sensitively, “obvious. Inquisitor Dorathican proposes that we teach you how to change your sex, at least for the initial stage of your education.”
For the second time, Tesslin almost dropped her mug.
He nodded again. Then there was a knock on the door.
“That will be him now,” Gyr said, pushing himself out of his chair. “Now,” he told her, “it is very important that you neither laugh nor scream. He takes it very… badly. The last time that a student laughed at him, Inquisitor Dorathican turned him into a pig and it took the combined efforts of myself, the Fellow of Wood Magic, and the Fellow of Potion Studies to turn him back.”
Opening the door revealed a hooded figure. Tesslin put down her mug and sat with her fingers knotted together in her lap. “Tesslin,” Gyr said gently, “this is Inquisitor Migen Dorathican, the Fellow of Metal Magic. Migen, this is Tesslin VanGlaise.”
The hooded figure stepped forward and offered his hand. His sleeve was long and tight and his hand was gloved. Tesslin took it uncertainly. His grip was firm. Releasing her, he stepped back. Then he reached up and removed his hood. Tesslin gave a gasp, but kept her composure, for which Gyr gave her an approving nod.
Inquisitor Migen Dorathican’s hair was blacker than any Rothian’s. But that was the least startling thing about him. His skin was patched with every colour of the rainbow. These patches of colour moved with the light, and were brighter than anything that Tesslin had ever seen.
“Inquisitor Dorathican is going to spend the next few days teaching you. Do not worry,” Gyr assured Tesslin. “We have plenty of time. Our first priority is to settle you into our new accommodation.”
Tesslin nodded, trying not to look at Inquisitor Dorathican any more than she had to. Gyr brought his hands together with a clap.
“And now, Migen, will you have tea?”