I was silent for a minute, thinkin’. It was too early to warn him—chances were he wouldn’t come right out and ask how I knew Eastwick was rotten, but Chrian was a smart kid. He’d wonder.
“Is that all,” I said. “Yeh don’t have to worry about that. I s’pose yeh’ve been hearin’ complaints about how he’s a harsh grader.” Chrian nodded. “He ain’t harsh—he just plays favourites, that’s all, and what he favours is power. Yeh’re pretty powerful, yes?”
“I suppose,” Chrian said uncomfortably.
“Yeh s’pose,” I repeated. “Yeh oughta know by now.”
“I’m a powerful enough magician,” Chrian said, “I just don’t see that that makes me, you know, powerful. If it came to a fight between the two of us, for example, I could destroy you, easily, but so what? It would be much wiser to listen to you, even if I don’t like what you’re saying—especially if I don’t like what you’re saying.”
“Smart kid. This is somethin’ Aris told me, and it’s worth hearin’, so pay attention.”
“Aris,” Chrian said awkwardly. “That was your roommate before me, right?” I nodded. “I was—I mean, I’m sorry. That he—that he died. I heard it was—hard.”
“Yeah?” I scoffed, thinkin’ a’ the way people looked at me when I went to class. “What did people tell you? No, never mind, I don’t want to know, I can imagine. Like they’d know anything about it.” I paused, then said more gently, cause he was lookin’ scared, “Aris was the most worthwhile person I’ve ever met, but I don’t think anyone realized it. He was so—and they never—” I stopped. What was there to say? I still missed him, every moment, and not just for my own sake. He deserved more a’ the world, and it made me angry to hear the way people talked about him, even when they talked sympathetically. “Yeh said nothin’ wrong, Chrian. I appreciate your sympathy,” and it was true.
“So what did he say to you?” Chrian asked timidly after a moment a’ silence.
“We were talkin’ about power,” I said. “Aris couldn’t scrap for his life, and if I’d wanted to I could a’ beaten him, almost as easily as yeh could beat me, only I couldn’t a’ actually raised a hand against him to save my own life, cause he was worth too much. I told him what I had meant nothin’, really, and he said, ‘Not nothing, Tam. People tend to think that mere physical power means nothing, especially after you see other kinds, but it isn’t true. It does means something, in you especially. It means something very important to me.’”
“What did he mean?” Chrian asked. I laughed.
“We were sixteen years old at the time and we’d just been waylaid by a bunch a’ roughs out in our old neighbourhood, and I won the scrap. At that particular moment it meant he weren’t in the hospital with broken bones.”
Chrian was lookin’ at me with the wide-eyed surprise a’ someone who’s never lived in a gang neighbourhood.
“Did that happen often?”
“Not so much after I got to be about seventeen,” I replied casually. “They learned it was better to have me fightin’ with them than against them.”
Chrian nodded, and didn’t ask any more questions.
“Come talk to me after yeh’ve seen Eastwick,” I told him a little later. “I read him pretty well—I can tell you whether yeh’re in trouble or not.”
Chrian nodded, and thanked me, and not long after that we went to bed.
Morning classes went to about a half hour before twelve, then there was an hour break, then lunch was served in the cafeteria at twelve thirty. Chrian’s magic theory class was his last class before lunch, and then he’d have his meeting, and I knew he weren’t the kind a’ person to hang around in the caf or the student room or anywhere else while he was waitin’ for lunch, so soon’s my class was done I headed back to our dorm room, and was waitin’ there about twenty minutes before he came in, lookin’ thoughtful and apprehensive. He dropped his books neatly onto his desk and leaned against the wall.
I slipped the book a’ runes, which I’d been studyin’ in the meantime, under my pillow and asked how it went.
“Well, it wasn’t bad,” he replied. “But I have no idea what to think, or what to do.”
Eastwick’s a bastard, I thought. Tryin’ to recruit a kid like Chrian, alone in a strange city, dependent on grades to keep his scholarship. If Eastwick had appeared in our room right then I woulda put his head through the wall.
“So tell me what he said,” I said. Tell me the lies he’s usin’ to recruit students.
“He said he was looking for students to do an extracurricular project with him,” Chrian replied. “He said it wouldn’t show up in our grades, as such, but—I forget how he put it, but basically that we’d get a better grade in his class for doing it.”
And afterwards he could explain what it was yeh’d done, and yeh could either do a hell of a lot a’ jail time and be ruined for life, or yeh could continue to help him.
“Akeinan,” I hissed. Chrian looked at me oddly.
“You speak elfish?”
“No,” I replied. “I just know a couple words.” A couple swears I’d picked up from Orseth and Marya. “Do yeh think yeh’ll do it?”
“I don’t know. It seems like cheating, somehow.”
“Yeh heard much about Eastwick?”
“Not much,” the boy said. “Just that he’s—that he has favourites and that he’s not a nice person. But, on the other hand,” he added slowly, “I don’t want—I mean, if others are going to be doing it—”
“Yeh don’t want to be the only one who refused,” I finished for him. “C’mon, it’s time for lunch.”
Chrian picked up his books for afternoon classes and paused at the door.
“You seem upset.”
“Don’t like Eastwick,” I replied shortly. “Hurry it up—I’m famished.”