Below their banners, the mage lords sat in their robes of office. Each held a lacquered staff. One or two of them glanced at Ryamon. He tried to look back steadily. Though he was dressed in gray robes, like any stone magus, his blood jumped as restlessly as the flames in the lamps. This was what he had been waiting for.

The rest of the chamber held rows of hard benches, where Ryamon squirmed along with the other petitioners. A little farther down the front row, three nobles sat on embroidered pads. A prim-looking older woman was accompanied by a younger man and woman. These were observers from the court of King Sedlin. Their names had been announced when they entered, but Ryamon hadn't been paying attention. The younger lady fanned herself idly.

Then the Stone Lord's voice brought his attention back to the dais. “Through no error of his own, this novice has been incorrectly placed within the Order of Stone. It is Fire that calls to his spirit. I ask Akayel, as my brother magus, to accept this novice into the Order of Fire.”

Say yes,” Ryamon begged silently.

Akayel's eyes narrowed with displeasure. “Is this some sort of joke?” he hissed.

Ryamon's hands clenched in his lap. He might look like a stone magus, but it wasn't his nature to endure in silence. That was exactly the problem.

Indeed not,” Senorith replied. “This novice has great potential. He has worked hard. Through study of the strictures, through fasting and vigil, and even by smoking the sacred sibban, he has done all a student could do. Such determination would be a credit to my order, if stone was his natural element.”

Enough!” The Fire Lord's voice sizzled with irritation. “You could waste all day telling me how wonderful your novice is. I still wouldn't want him.”

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