Enjoy this quick peek inside True Magics by Erik Buchanan
Dearest Father, Mother and Brother,
The war in Frostmire is over. Eileen, George, Henry and I are back in Hawksmouth, and we are unhurt.We arrived last night, and I am writing this letter before my breakfast. There’s going to be a celebration at the Academy this morning to welcome us back and to honour the eight who did not return. It will be rather bittersweet.
As I am sure Lionel has told you, the Church’s guards destroyed our last apartment. Given all that occurred there, Henry and I have no desire to go back. We are renting new rooms and I will send you the address as soon as I may.
George and Eileen are staying in the city until the spring at least. They could manage the roads, but all of us are all tired of travel and the cold and wish nothing more than to stay in place for a while. Also, here in the city George and Eileen will have the protection of the Academy, should the Church of the High Father try to move against them.
Beware the Church, all of you. It was they who forced Eileen and George to go north with Henry and me, and I am worried that they may come after you to get at us. This afternoon we will go to the Master of Laws to ask the Academy to take court action. Henry will also appeal to the king. We will not let them hurt us or those we care about anymore.
I fear none of us are the same as we were before we the war. But we are unhurt and I am sure that, once the winter has turned and the days grow longer, we’ll find ourselves and become whole again.
I must go. I will write again soon. I love you all.
Your obedient son,
“Proof!” Thomas shook the sheaf of papers above his head and banged his other hand on the lectern. “Copied from the Academy’s records! For over one hundred fifty years it happened! And was the Academy destroyed in that time? No! We are still here!” He pointed at the two students sitting on the far side of the stage. “With this proof, I challenge – no, I defy my opponents to find a single honest reason why the Academy should not once more admit girls!”
Half the audience in the Academy Assembly Hall erupted in cheers, the other half in boos and catcalls and a rousing chant of “Down with him! Down with him!” Their voices echoed off the decorated plaster of the ceiling and their stomping feet shook the wooden floors and the long benches on which they all sat. From the front row, the sixteen survivors of the Academy’s Expeditionary Company chanted, “Captain! Captain! Captain!”
Thomas stepped away from the lectern, bowed, and took a chair beside Henry on the left side of the stage. Henry dug an elbow into Thomas’s ribs. “Nice work.”
“Glad you thought so,” said Thomas. “Let’s see what they do to top that!”
“Doesn’t matter what they do,” said Henry, lowering his voice as the noise died down. “Our best argument is still waiting in the wings.”
Thomas looked. “I don’t see ‘our best argument.’”
“Well, there was some mention of needing to vomit…”
On the other side of the stage, Keith Rolston rose to his feet. Like Thomas and Henry he was in his fifth year of law at the Academy. He was stout and strong and known in law class for the skill with which he destroyed his opponents’ arguments. The sneer on his lips conveyed both superiority and disdain as he looked at the booing students. He walked slowly to the lectern and aimed his sneer at Thomas and Henry.
“Try to keep a straight face this year,” said Henry, just loud enough for Keith to hear.
Keith didn’t acknowledge him at all. Instead he shook his head back and forth in long, slow swings. “Shame!” Keith pronounced, his deep voice rolling from the stage and filling the auditorium. “Shame, shame, and shame again!”
Thomas resisted the urge to chew on his lip and tried to look confident. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Henry putting on the half-smile he wore when he didn’t want anyone to guess his feelings.
“Shame on my esteemed opponent,” Keith continued, “for taking up the valuable time of the Royal Academy with so unworthy a topic. For what could be less worthy than the suggestion that a girl could fill a place among this learned company?
Polite applause and mild booing greeted his opening. Keith nodded as if the entire Academy had agreed with him. “I know full well that girls had a place here. But I say that they lost that place! And they lost it for good reason!”
Keith let them all hang on his words a moment before continuing. “Two hundred years ago, King Darren the Third laid out in no uncertain terms what it is to be a student. And there is not a girl in the world who has the qualities that his Majesty put forward on that day!”
Graham Silvers, a tall, thin philosophy student, whose shock of brown hair never seemed to lie down properly, stepped out of the wings with a thick sheet of vellum embossed with the school’s coat of arms. He raised it high for everyone to see and walked with slow, deliberate steps across the stage.
“Look upon the proclamation!” roared Keith. “Look upon the words of King Darren the Third!” He pointed to the first line. “Let it be known that our students are to commend themselves to the highest possible standard of behaviour!”
That brought aloud laugh, and rolled eyes from the professors.
“No points scored with that one,” said Thomas. Henry grinned.
Keith smiled in spite of himself and let the laughter die down a bit. “They are to swear their fealty, bravery and loyalty to their king and his Academy! They are to swear fraternity, hospitality and charity to their fellow students! They are to conduct themselves with dignity, with decency and with courage, and the honour of the Academy above all things, even to the point of arms!”
Keith paused to let the words sink into the audience, then repeated, “Fealty! Loyalty! Bravery! Hospitality! Charity! Few men possess all these qualities, let alone girls. And what of fraternity? Can you name a single girl whom you would turn to and say, ‘You are my brother’?”
The “against” side laughed and cheered.The “for” crowd grumbled. Keith raised his voice over them all. “And let us not forget the most important of all matters: honour! How can a mere girl defend the honour of the Academy? She can’t even defend her own honour, save that she has a man to do it for her!
“Thus I say, no girls should be admitted to the Academy!”
Thunderous applause from the “against.” Thunderous booing from the “for.” Keith bowed and took his seat.
Henryrose, sauntered over to the lectern, and leaned on it while the noise died down. When it had, the “for” side were sitting on the edge of their seats,hoping Henry could turn the balance their way.
“I am supposed to rebut this argument.” Henry’s voice was not deep and resonant like Keith’s had been, but Henry had been a Captain in his father’s armies since he was fourteen and was trained to be heard over the clamour of battle. “Unfortunately, my opponent’s argument is not worthy of a rebuttal!”
The “for” side laughed. Henry raised his hand for silence. “Instead, I will yield the floor to one who is not a student, but who, through worthy action, has been given the honour of freedom of the grounds and the right to join us in this debate!”
Henry stepped back from the lectern. A slim figure with red hair tied back with a leather thong into a short ponytail and wearing a too-long robe, stepped from the wings and walked across the stage to the lectern.
Come on, Thomas urged silently. You’ve done harder things than this. At the first sign of weakness, the “against” side would start jeering and the entire debate would be lost.
“You know me as Alexander Gobhann!” The words came out clear and steady, and filled the now-quiet hall. “I am not a student, and there are some of you that may think that this precludes me from speaking here today. After all, what person who is not a student could possibly know loyalty, bravery, fraternity and honour?”
Alexander’s eyes swept the room. “I can.”
One slim hand pointed to the Student Company. “Bravery and fraternity I learned fighting beside the Academy’s Expeditionary Company in the frozen streets of Frostmire!” The hand swung to Thomas. “Loyalty I showed when I helped rescue Captain Thomas Flarety, kidnapped by treachery most foul and given up for dead.” Alexander’s hand slammed down, flat and hard, on the lectern. “And those who tried my honour found that I would fight for it with fist, knife and rapier, and they have the scars to prove it!”
Alexander undid the string that held back the ponytail. Hair fell in curly red rings around a suddenly feminine face.
“When I returned to Hawksmouth with the Student Company, I was asked what reward I should be given for my service. I wanted only one thing: to be allowed to sit the exams and earn my way into the Academy.”
Alexander started undoing the buttons on the robe.
“My words were greeted with cheers. I was promised that, should I pass the exams, I would be given a full scholarship!And for three months I have been treated as a guest. I have been able to sit in the lectures and study in the library! All so that I may take the exams and prove myself worthy to be a member of the Academy!
The robe fell to the floor. Five hundred students and their masters stared in disbelief.
Eileen Gobhann stood tall and straight in the black puddle of the robe, wearing a dress the orange-red colour of freshly fallen autumn leaves. It was tight and low-cut in the bodice, fabric clinging over her hips before flaring out into the skirts. She smiled. “So what difference does it make that I’m a girl?”
In the deep, pregnant silence, Eileen curtseyed, picked the robe from the floor in the same motion, and walked to stand beside Thomas and Henry.
The place went insane.
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