Trudi Canavan

bestselling author of The Black Magician Trilogy

The Novice Excerpt

Chapter One: The Acceptance Ceremony

For a few weeks each summer, the sky over Kyralia cleared to a harsh blue and the sun beat down relentlessly. In the city of Imardin, the streets were dusty and the masts of ships in the Marina writhed behind the heat haze, while men and women retreated to their homes to fan themselves and sip juices or — in the rougher parts of the slums — drink copious amounts of bol.

But in the Magicians’ Guild of Kyralia these scorching days hailed the approach of an important occasion: the swearing in of the summer intake of novices.

Sonea grimaced and tugged at the collar of her dress. Though she had wanted to wear the same simple, but well-made clothes she had worn while living in the Guild, Rothen had insisted that she needed something fancier for the Acceptance Ceremony.

Rothen chuckled. ‘Don’t worry, Sonea. It will all be over soon and you’ll have robes to wear — and I’m sure you’ll get sick of those soon enough.’

‘I’m not worried,’ Sonea told him irritably.

His eyes brightened with amusement. ‘Really? You don’t feel even a little nervous?’

‘It’s not like the Hearing last year. That was wild.’

‘Wild?’ His eyebrows rose. ‘You are nervous, Sonea. You haven’t let that one slip in for weeks.’

She gave a small sigh of exasperation. Since the Hearing five months earlier, when Rothen had won the right to be her guardian, he had given her the education that all novices must attain before starting at the University. She could read most of his books without help, and she could write, as Rothen put it, ‘well enough to get by’. Mathematics had been harder to grasp, but the history lessons were fascinating.

During those months, Rothen had corrected her whenever she spoke a word of slum slang, and constantly made her rephrase and repeat herself until she sounded like a lady of a powerful Kyralian House. He warned her that the novices would not be as accepting of her past as he was, and she would only make things worse if she drew attention to her origins every time she spoke. He had used the same argument to persuade her to wear a dress for the Acceptance Ceremony, and though she knew he was right, it did not make her feel any more comfortable.

A circle of carriages came into view as they reached the front of the University. Beside each stood a set of primly dressed servants, all wearing the colours of the House they served. As Rothen appeared they turned and bowed to him.

Sonea stared at the carriages and felt her stomach turn over. She had seen vehicles like this before, but not so many together. Each was made of highly polished wood, carved and painted with intricate designs, and in the centre of each door was a square design indicating which House the carriage belonged to — the House incal. She recognised the incals for Paren, Arran, Dillan and Saril, some of the most influential Houses in Imardin.

The sons and daughters of those Houses were going to be her classmates.

At that thought her stomach felt as if it were turning inside out. What would they think of her, the first Kyralian from outside the great Houses to join their ranks for centuries? At the worst they would agree with Fergun, the magician who had tried to prevent her joining the Guild last year. He believed that only the offspring of the Houses should be allowed to learn magic. By imprisoning her friend, Cery, he had blackmailed Sonea into co-operating with his schemes. And those schemes would have proven to the Guild that Kyralians of the lower classes were lacking in morals and not to be trusted with magic.

But Fergun’s crime had been discovered, and he had been sent away to a distant fort. It did not seem to Sonea like a particularly severe punishment for threatening to kill her friend, and she could not help wondering if it would deter others from doing something similar.

She hoped that some of the novices would be like Rothen, who didn’t care that she had once lived and worked in the slums. Some of the other races that attended the Guild might be more accepting of a girl from the lower classes, too. The Vindo were a friendly people; she had met several in the slums who had travelled to Imardin to work in vineyards and orchards. The Lan, she had been told, did not have lower and higher classes. They lived in tribes and ranked men and women through trials of bravery, cunning and wisdom — though where that would place her in their society she couldn’t guess.

Looking up at Rothen, she thought of all he had done for her and felt a pang of affection and gratitude. Once she would have been horrified to find herself so dependent on, of all people, a magician. She had hated the Guild once, and first used her powers unintentionally when throwing a stone at a magician in anger. Then, as they searched for her, she had been so sure they meant to kill her she had dared to seek the Thieves’ help, and they always extracted a high price for such favours.

As her powers grew uncontrollable, the magicians convinced the Thieves to hand her over into their care. Rothen had been her captor and teacher. He had proven to her that magicians — well, most of them — were not the cruel, selfish monsters that the slum dwellers believed them to be.

Two guards stood at either side of the open University doors. Their presence was a formality observed only when important visitors were expected at the Guild. They bowed stiffly as Rothen led Sonea into the Entrance Hall.

Though she had seen it a few times before, the hall still amazed her. A thousand impossibly thin filaments of a glass-like substance sprouted from the floor, supporting stairs that spiralled gracefully up to the higher levels. Delicate threads of white marble wove between rails and stairs like branches of a climbing vine. They looked too fine to hold the weight of a man — and probably would be if they were not strengthened by magic.

Continuing past the stairs, they entered a short corridor. Beyond this was the rough grey of the Guildhall, an ancient building protected and enclosed by an enormous room known as the Great Hall. Several people were standing outside the Guidhall doors, and Sonea felt her mouth go dry at the sight of them. Men and women turned to see who was approaching and their eyes brightened with interest as they saw Rothen. The magicians among them nodded politely. The others bowed.

As he stepped into the Great Hall, Rothen led Sonea to one side of the small crowd. Sonea noted that, despite the summer warmth, all but the magicians were dressed in layers of opulent clothing. The women were draped in elaborate gowns; the men wore longcoats, the sleeves decorated with incal. Looking closer, she caught her breath. Every seam was sewn with tiny glints of red, green and blue stones. Huge gems were set into the buttons of the longcoats. Chains of precious metals looped around necks and wrists, and jewels sparkled on gloved hands.

Looking at one man’s longcoat, she considered how easy it would be for a professional thief to divest him of his buttons. There were small hinged blades available in the slums for that task. All it took was an ‘accidental’ collision, an apology, and a hasty retreat. The man probably wouldn’t realise he’d been robbed until he got home. And that woman’s bracelet . . .

Sonea shook her head. How am I going to make friends with these people if all I can think of is how easy it would be to rob them? Yet she could not help smiling. She had been as skilled at picking pockets and locks as any of her childhood friends — except maybe Cery — and though her aunt Jonna had eventually persuaded Sonea that thieving was wrong, Sonea had not forgotten the tricks of the trade.

Gathering her courage, she looked at the younger strangers and saw several faces quickly turn away. Amused, she wondered what they had been expecting to see. A simpering beggar girl? A workwoman bent and coarsened from labour? A painted whore?

Since none of them would meet her gaze, she was able to examine them freely. Only two of the families had the typical Kyralian black hair and pale skin. One of the mothers was dressed in green Healer’s robes. The other held the hand of a thin girl who was gazing dreamily up at the glittering glass ceiling of the hall.

Three other families stood together, their short stature and reddish hair typical of the Elyne race. They talked quietly among themselves, and occasionally a laugh echoed in the hall.

A pair of dark-skinned Lonmar waited in silence. Heavy gold talismans of the Mahga religion hung over the father’s purple Alchemist robes, and both father and son had shaved off their hair. A second pair of Lonmar stood on the far side of the waiting families. The son’s skin was a paler brown, hinting at a mother of different race. The father, too, wore robes, but his were the red of a Warrior and he wore no jewellery or talismans.

Hovering near the corridor was a family of Vindo. Though the father was richly dressed, the furtive glances he directed at the others hinted that he felt uncomfortable in their company. Their son was a stocky youth whose brown skin had a sickly yellow cast to it.

As the boy’s mother rested a hand on his shoulder, Sonea thought of her aunt Jonna and uncle Ranel and felt a familiar disappointment. Though they were her only family, having raised her after her mother died and her father left, they had been too intimidated by the Guild to visit her there. When she had asked them to come to the Acceptance Ceremony they had declined, saying that they would not leave their newborn son in another’s care, and that it would not be proper to bring a crying baby to such an important ceremony.

Footsteps echoed in the corridor and Sonea turned to watch another grandly dressed trio of Kyralians join the visitors. The boy sent a haughty look around the circle of people. As his eyes swept around the room they fell upon Rothen, then slid to Sonea.

He looked directly into Sonea’s eyes and a friendly smile curled the edges of his mouth. Surprised, she began to smile in reply, but as she did his expression slowly twisted into a sneer.

Sonea could only stare back at him in dismay. The boy turned away dismissively, but not so quickly that she didn’t catch a smile of smug satisfaction. Sonea narrowed her eyes and watched as he turned his attention to the other entrants.

It appeared that he already knew the other Kyralian boy, and the two exchanged friendly winks. The girls were treated with dazzling smiles; while the thin Kyralian girl responded with apparent disdain, her eyes lingered on him long after he had turned away. The rest received polite nods.

A loud, metallic clunk interrupted the social game. All heads turned toward the Guildhall. A long, tense silence followed, then excited whispers filled the air as the enormous doors began to swing outward. As the gap widened, a familiar golden glow flowed from the hall within. The light came from thousands of tiny magical globes floating a few feet below the ceiling. A warm scent of wood and polish spilled out to welcome them.

Hearing gasps, Sonea turned to see that most of the visitors were gazing into the hall in wonder. She smiled as she realised that the other entrants, and some of the adults, would not have seen the Guildhall before. Only the magicians, and those parents who had attended ceremonies for older children, had been inside. And her.

She sobered as she remembered her previous visit, when the High Lord had brought Cery into the Guildhall, ending Fergun’s hold over her. For Cery, part of a dream had been fulfilled that day, too. Her friend had made a promise to himself that he would visit all of the great buildings of the city at least once during his lifetime. The fact that he was a low-born street urchin had only made fulfilling this dream a greater challenge for him.

But Cery was no longer the adventurous boy she had hung about with as a child, or the mischievous youth who had helped her evade the Guild for so long. Each time she saw him, when he visited her in the Guild or she had met him in the slums, he seemed older and less carefree. If she asked what he was doing with his time, or if he was still working for the Thieves, he smiled slyly and changed the subject.

He seemed content, however. And if he was working for the Thieves, perhaps it was better that she didn’t know what he was up to.

A robed figure strode forward to stand in the Guildhall doorway. Sonea recognised Lord Osen, the Administrator’s assistant. He raised a hand and cleared his throat.

‘The Guild welcomes you all,’ he said. ‘The Acceptance Ceremony will now begin. Would the University entrants please form a line. They will enter first; parents will follow after and take seats on the floor level.’

As the other entrants hurried forward, Sonea felt a hand touch her shoulder lightly. Turning, she looked up at Rothen.

‘Don’t worry. It’ll all be over soon,’ he reassured her.

She grinned in reply. ‘I’m not worried, Rothen.’

‘Ha!’ He gave her shoulder a gentle push. ‘Go on, then. Don’t keep them waiting.’

A small crowd had formed before the doors. Lord Osen’s lips thinned. ‘Form a line, please.’

As the entrants obeyed, Lord Osen looked over to Sonea. A quick smile touched his lips and Sonea nodded in reply. She fell in behind the last boy in the line. Then a quiet hiss to her left caught her attention.

‘At least that one knows her place,’ a voice murmured. Sonea turned her head slightly to see two Kyralian women standing nearby.

‘That’s the slum girl, is it?’

‘Yes,’ replied the first. ‘I told Bina to keep away from her. I don’t want my sweet girl picking up any nasty habits — or diseases.’

The second woman’s reply was lost as Sonea moved away. She pressed a hand to her chest, surprised to find her heart beating rapidly. Get used to it, she told herself, there will be more of that. Resisting an urge to look back at Rothen, she straightened her shoulders and followed the other entrants down the long aisle in the centre of the hall.

Once through the doors, the high walls of the Guildhall surrounded them. The seats on either side were less than half full, yet nearly all magicians living within the Guild and the city were present. Looking to her left, her eyes caught the cold gaze of an elderly magician. His lined face was set in a frown, and his eyes burned into hers.

Dragging her gaze back to the floor, Sonea felt her face heating. She realised, with annoyance, that her hands were shaking. Was she going to let herself tremble over the glare of an old man? She schooled her face to what she hoped was calm self-possession, and let her eyes skim across the rows of faces . . .

… and nearly stumbled as all the strength drained from her knees. It seemed that every magician in the hall was looking at her. Swallowing hard, she fixed her eyes on the back of the boy in front of her.

As the entrants reached the end of the aisle, Osen directed the first to the left, then the second to the right, and continued in this pattern until they stood in a line across the width of the hall. Finding herself in the middle of this line, Sonea faced Lord Osen. He stood silently, watching the activity behind her. She could hear a shuffling and a tinkling of jewellery, and guessed that the parents were moving into the rows of chairs behind them. As the hall quietened, Osen turned and bowed to the Higher Magicians sitting in the tiered rows of seats at the front of the Guildhall.

‘I present the summer intake of entrants to the University.’

‘This is much more interesting now there’s someone down there that I know,’ Dannyl remarked as Rothen took his seat.

Rothen turned to regard his companion. ‘But last year your nephew was among the entrants.’

Dannyl shrugged. ‘I hardly know him. I know Sonea, though.’

Pleased, Rothen turned back to watch the ceremony. While Dannyl could be very charming if he wanted to, he did not make friends easily. This was largely because of an incident that had happened years before, when Dannyl was a novice. Accused of ‘inappropriate’ interest in an older boy, Dannyl had endured speculation from novices and magicians alike. He had been shunned and taunted, and this was the reason, Rothen believed, that Dannyl didn’t trust or befriend many people even now.

Rothen had been Dannyl’s only close friend for years. As a teacher, Rothen had regarded Dannyl as one of the more promising novices in his classes. When he had seen the ill effects the rumour and scandal were having on Dannyl’s learning, he had decided to take on the boy’s guardianship. With a little encouragement, and a lot of patience, he had turned Dannyl’s quick mind from gossip and vengeful pranks back to magic and knowledge.

Some magicians had expressed doubts that Rothen could ‘straighten Dannyl out’. Rothen smiled. Not only had he succeeded, but Dannyl had just been appointed Second Guild Ambassador to Elyne. Looking down at Sonea, Rothen wondered if she, too, would one day give him a reason to feel this smug.

Dannyl leaned forward. ‘They’re just children compared to Sonea, aren’t they?’

Looking at the other boys and girls, Rothen shrugged. ‘I don’t know their exact ages, but the average for new entrants is fifteen. She’s nearly seventeen. A few years will make little difference.’

‘I think it will,’ Dannyl murmured, ‘but hopefully it will be an advantage to her.’

Below, Lord Osen slowly walked along the line of University entrants, announcing names and titles according to the custom of each boy or girl’s homeland.

‘Alend of the family Genard.’ Osen took two more steps. ‘Kano of the family Temo, Shipbuilder’s Guild.’ Another step. ‘Sonea.’

Osen paused, then moved on. As he announced the next name, Rothen felt a pang of sympathy for Sonea. The lack of a grand title or House name had publicly declared her an outsider. It could not be helped, however.

‘Regin of the family Winar, House Paren,’ Osen finished as he reached the last boy.

‘That’s Garrel’s nephew, isn’t it?’ Dannyl asked.

‘Yes.’

‘I’ve heard that his parents asked if he could join last winter’s class three months after it had started.’

‘That’s odd. Why did they do that?’

‘I don’t know.’ Dannyl shrugged. ‘I didn’t catch that bit.’

‘Have you been spying again?’

‘I don’t spy, Rothen. I listen.’

Rothen shook his head. He might have stopped Dannyl-the-novice from indulging in vengeful pranks, but he hadn’t yet managed to discourage Dannyl-the-magician from gathering gossip. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do when you leave. Who will keep me informed about all the Guild’s little intrigues?’

‘You’ll just have to pay more attention,’ Dannyl replied.

‘I have wondered if the Higher Magicians are sending you away to stop you “listening” so much.’

Dannyl smiled. ‘Ah, but they say the best way to find out what is going on in Kyralia is to spend a few days listening to gossip in Elyne.’

Echoing footsteps drew their attention back to the hall. University Director Jerrik had risen from his seat among the Higher Magicians, and was descending the stairs to the front. He stopped in the centre of the floor and swept his eyes across the line of entrants, his face set in its usual sour and disapproving scowl.

‘Today, each of you take the first step to becoming a magician of the Guild of Kyralia,’ he began, his voice stern. ‘As a novice you will be required to obey the rules of the University. By the Treaties that bind the Allied Lands, these rules are endorsed by all rulers, and all magicians are expected to enforce them. Even if you do not graduate, you are still bound to them.’ He paused, looking intently at the entrants. ‘To join the Guild you must make a vow, and that vow has four parts.

‘Firstly, you must vow never to harm another man or woman unless in defence of the Allied Lands. This includes people of any class, station, criminal status, or age. All vendettas, whether personally or politically motivated, end here today.

‘Secondly, you must vow to obey the rules of the Guild. If you do not already know these rules, make it your first task to learn them. Ignorance is no excuse.

‘Thirdly, you must vow to obey the orders of any magician unless those orders involve breaking a law. That said, we treat this with some flexibility. You are not required to do anything that you feel is morally wrong or conflicts with your religion or traditions. But do not presume to decide yourself when and how flexible we should be. In such a circumstance you should bring the matter to me, and it will be dealt with appropriately.

‘And finally, you must vow that you will never use magic unless instructed by a magician. This is for your protection. Do not perform any magic without supervision, unless you have been given permission to do so by your teacher or guardian.’

Jerrik paused, and the silence that followed was devoid of the usual shifting and shuffling. His expressive eyebrows rose, and he straightened his shoulders.

‘As tradition states, a Guild magician may claim guardianship of a novice, to guide his or her training in the university.’ He turned to face the tiers behind him. ‘High Lord Akkarin, do you wish to claim guardianship of any of these entrants?’

‘I do not,’ spoke a cool, dark voice.

While Jerrik posed the same question to the other Higher Magicians, Rothen looked up at the black-robed leader of the Guild. Like most Kyralians, Akkarin was tall and slim, his angular face accentuated by the old-fashioned style of wearing his hair long and tied at the nape of the neck.

As always, Akkarin’s expression was distant as he watched the proceedings. He had never shown any interest in guiding the training of a novice, and most families had given up hoping that their son might be favoured by the Guild leader.

Though young for a High Lord, Akkarin had a presence that inspired respect from even the most conservative and influential magicians. He was skilled, knowledgeable and intelligent, but it was his magical strength that earned him the awe of so many. His powers were known to be so great that some estimated he was stronger than the rest of the Guild combined.

But thanks to Sonea, Rothen was one of only two magicians who knew the real reason behind the High Lord’s immense strength.

Before the Thieves had handed her over, Sonea and her thief-friend, Cery, had explored the Guild late one night. They had come in the hope that, by watching magicians using magic, she might learn to control her powers. Instead, she had witnessed the High Lord performing a strange ritual. She had not understood what she had seen, but when Administrator Lorlen had truth-read her to confirm Fergun’s crimes, during the guardianship Hearing, he had seen her memory of that night and recognised the ritual. High Lord Akkarin, leader of the Guild, practised black magic.

Ordinary magicians knew nothing about black magic, except that it was forbidden. The Higher Magicians knew only enough to recognise it. Even knowing how to perform black magic was a crime. From Sonea’s communication with Lorlen, Rothen now knew that black magic enabled a magician to strengthen himself by drawing power from other people. If all power was taken, the victim died.

Rothen could not guess what it had been like for Lorlen to discover that his closest friend not only had learned about black magic, but was using it. It must have been a shock. Yet at the same time, Lorlen had realised that he could not expose Akkarin without endangering the Guild and the city. If Akkarin chose to fight, he could easily win, and with each kill he would grow stronger. So Lorlen, Sonea and Rothen must keep their knowledge secret for now. How hard must it be, Rothen wondered, for Lorlen to pretend friendship when he knew what Akkarin was capable of?

Despite this knowledge, Sonea had agreed to join the Guild. This amazed Rothen at first, until she had pointed out that if she left with her powers blocked — as the law required for magicians who chose not to join the Guild — she would have been a tempting source of power for the High Lord. Strong in magic, but unable to use it to defend herself. Rothen shuddered. At least, in the Guild, it would be noticed if she died under strange circumstances.

Even so, it had been a brave decision, knowing what lay at the heart of the Guild. Looking at her, standing among the sons and daughters of some of the richest families in the Allied Lands, he felt both pride and affection. In the last six months he had come to think of her more as a daughter than a student.

‘Do any magicians wish to claim guardianship of any of these entrants?’

Rothen jumped as he realised that his turn to speak had come. He opened his mouth, but before he could say anything another voice spoke the ritual words.

‘I have made a selection, Director.’

The voice came from the other side of the hall. All the entrants turned to see who had risen from their seat.

‘Lord Yarrin,’ Jerrik acknowledged. ‘Which entrant do you wish to claim guardianship of?’

‘Gennyl, of the family Randa and the House of Saril, and the Greater Clan of Alaraya.’

A faint murmur of voices rose in the ranks of the magicians. Looking down, Rothen saw that the boy’s father, Lord Tayk, was sitting forward in his chair.

Jerrik waited until the voices subsided, then tilted his head expectantly toward Rothen.

‘Do any other magicians wish to claim guardianship of one of these entrants?’

Rothen rose. ‘I have made a selection, Director.’

Sonea looked up, her mouth tight as she tried not to smile.

‘Lord Rothen,’ Jerrik replied, ‘which entrant do you wish to claim guardianship of?’

‘I wish to claim guardianship of Sonea.’

No murmuring followed his choice, and Jerrik merely nodded in acknowledgment. Rothen returned to his seat.

‘That’s it,’ Dannyl whispered. ‘Your last chance has gone. There’ll be no getting out of it now. She’s got you well and truly wrapped around her finger for the next five years.’

‘Shush,’ Rothen replied.

‘Do any other magicians wish to claim guardianship of one of these entrants?’ Jerrik repeated.

‘I have made a selection, Director.’

The voice came from Rothen’s left, and was followed by the sound of chairs creaking as people turned or shifted in their seats. The hall echoed with excited chatter as Lord Garrel rose.

‘Lord Garrel,’ there was surprise in Jerrik’s voice, ‘which entrant do you wish to claim guardianship of?’

‘Regin, of the family Winar and the House of Paren.’

The chatter changed to a collective sigh of understanding. Looking down, Rothen saw that the boy at the end of the line wore a grin. The voices and creaking of chairs continued for several minutes until Jerrik raised his arms for silence.

‘I’d keep an eye on those two novices and their guardians,’ Dannyl murmured. ‘Nobody usually selects a novice in their First Year. They’re probably doing it simply to prevent Sonea having a higher status than the rest of her classmates.’

‘Or, I’ve started a trend,’ Rothen mused. ‘And Garrel may have already seen potential in his nephew. That would explain why Regin’s family wanted him to start classes early.’

‘Are there any other guardianship claims?’ Jerrik called. Silence followed, and he dropped his arms. ‘Would all magicians intending to claim guardianship come to the front.’

Rothen rose and made his way to the end of the seats, then down the stairs. Joining Lord Garrel and Lord Yarrin, he waited beside Director Jerrik as a young novice, flushed with excitement at having a role in the ceremony, came forward carrying a stack of brown-red cloth. The magicians each selected a bundle.

‘Would Gennyl please come forward,’ Jerrik ordered.

One of the Lonmar boys hurried forward and bowed. His eyes were wide as he faced Lord Jerrik, and as he spoke the Novices’ Vow his voice trembled. Lord Yarrin handed the boy his robes, and guardian and novice stepped aside. Lord Jerrik turned toward the entrants again.

‘Would Sonea please come forward.’

She walked stiffly toward Jerrik. Though her face was pale, she bowed gracefully and spoke the vow in a clear, unwavering voice. Rothen stepped forward and handed her the bundle of robes.

‘I hereby take guardianship of you, Sonea. Your learning is my concern and task until you graduate from the university.’

‘I will obey you, Lord Rothen.’

‘May you both benefit from this arrangement,’ Jerrik finished.

As they moved aside to stand next to Lord Yarrin and Gennyl, Jerrik called the still smiling youth from the end of the line.

‘Would Regin please come forward.’

The boy strode confidently to Jerrik, but his bow was shallow and hurried. As the ritual phrases were repeated, Rothen looked down at Sonea, wondering what she was thinking. She was a member of the Guild now, and that was no small thing.

She looked at the boy to her right, and Rothen followed her gaze. Gennyl stood with his back straight and his face flushed. He’s just about bursting with pride, Rothen mused. To have a guardian, especially at this point, was proof that an entrant was exceptionally gifted.

Few would believe this about Sonea, however. He suspected that most magicians assumed he had chosen to be her guardian simply to remind all that he had been instrumental in finding her. They would not have believed him if he told them of her strength and talent. But they would find out, and knowing it gave him some satisfaction.

After Regin and Lord Garrel had spoken the ritual words, they moved to Rothen’s left. The boy kept glancing at Sonea, his expression calculating. She either did not notice, or was ignoring him. Instead, she watched intently as Jerrik called the rest of the entrants forward to speak the vow. As each accepted their robes, they formed a line next to the guardians and their novices.

When the last of the entrants had joined the line, Lord Jerrik turned to regard them.

‘You are now novices of the Magicians’ Guild,’ he announced. ‘May the coming years be prosperous for all of you.’

As one, the novices bowed. Lord Jerrik nodded and moved to one side.

‘I extend a welcome to our new novices and wish them many years of success.’ Sonea jumped as Lorlen’s voice rang out from behind her. ‘I now declare this Acceptance Ceremony concluded.’

The Guildhall began to echo with the sound of voices. The rows of robed men and women stirred as if caught by a strong wind. They rose and began to descend to the floor, filling the hall with the clatter of footsteps. As the new novices realised the formalities were over, they moved in all directions. Some rushed to their parents, others examined the bundle in their hands or gazed around at the sudden activity. At the end of the Guildhall the great doors began to open slowly.

Sonea turned to look up at Rothen. ‘That’s it, then. I’m a novice.’

He smiled. ‘Glad it’s all over?’

She shrugged. ‘I get the feeling it’s only just begun.’ Her eyes flickered over his shoulder. ‘Here’s your shadow.’

Rothen turned to find Dannyl striding toward him.

‘Welcome to the Guild, Sonea.’

‘Thank you, Ambassador Dannyl,’ Sonea replied, bowing.

Dannyl laughed. ‘Not yet, Sonea. Not yet.’

Sensing someone new at his side, Rothen turned to find the University Director standing next to him.

‘Lord Rothen,’ Jerrik said, giving Sonea a tired smile as she bowed.

‘Yes?’ Rothen replied.

‘Will Sonea be moving into the Novices’ Quarters? It never crossed my mind to ask until now.’

Rothen shook his head. ‘She’ll be staying with me. I have plenty of room for her in my apartments.’

Jerrik’s brows rose. ‘I see. I will tell Lord Ahrind. Excuse me.’

Rothen watched the old man walk over to a thin, hollow-cheeked magician. Lord Ahrind frowned and glanced over at Sonea as Jerrik spoke to him.

‘What happens now?’ Sonea asked.

Rothen nodded to the bundle in her hands. ‘We see if these robes fit properly.’ He looked at Dannyl. ‘And I think a little celebration is in order. Coming?’

Dannyl smiled. ‘I wouldn’t miss it.’