51 – Van

Van laid his book beside him on the bed—narrow, but of reasonable quality, and the bedding was clean—and got up to wander around the small room, giving his muscles a chance to stretch. Not very far, in a room that was some ten feet on a side, but enough. The quiet felt odd, he was used to being in a house filled with the presence and energy of his family. Not exactly unpleasant, just... odd.

Not so bad, on one level. Victoria had made it very clear to Elena that she would be coming by periodically to check, and that if Elena was acting inappropriately she, Victoria, would have her up on harassment charges. From what Catherine had said of her, he could count on Victoria to see to it that the law was followed precisely. Which meant that, although he knew Elena or her partner or one of those who filled hunter support roles was lurking just down the hall at all times, he was left in peace to read, except when Grania brought him meals. Brennan had been by, once, to drop off clean clothes and such, and promised to return tomorrow.

Unfortunately, he was forbidden contact with any sensitive, which meant Bren couldn't bring Randi even for a brief visit. He hoped she was dealing with this better than he very much feared she was. The other sensitives would be there for her, though, and Brennan would keep her safe, Van could trust in that much.

“Elena?” Brock's voice. “Visitor.” It carried clearly through the small iron grate set in the heavy wooden door.

A heartbeat's pause, then, “Andreas?” That was Elena, and she sounded angry. “What are you doing here?”

“Talking to your captive, as soon as you unlock the door,” an unfamiliar male voice said calmly. Clearly highly educated, Van thought, and unimpressed by Elena's reaction. Grania and Brennan had both mentioned that they'd brought someone in to help, that he was the leading expert on the domain's laws, but they had neglected to mention that he was related to Elena. Not altogether unsurprising, however, the Nicodemos reputation was towards the academic. Maybe that explained why Grania had been so cheerful when she'd brought supper a couple of hours ago. “He has every right to my services, you know that. His family contacted me last night.”

“Since when? You dig around in old books for precedents, you don't actually take part in hearings!” Hm, not just anger... outrage, as well, he suspected.

“I choose to take part in this one.” Van heard a faint edge creep in under the level tone. “Open the door. And I trust you know better than to stay close enough to overhear.”

A key rattled in the lock, and the door swung open, outwards, admitting a man in his upper forties, a cane in one hand, a leather briefcase in the other. Van quickly pulled out one of the small table's two chairs for him, gesturing an invitation.

“Thank you.” He settled onto it, laid the briefcase on the table. “Did your family tell you they had contacted me?”


“I'm Andreas Nicodemos. I studied mundane law and then turned my attention to ours. Normally, I simply research precedents and rulings that may be relevant to a question, but this time, I appear to be taking a more active part in matters. Ultimately the choice is yours, not that of your family, even your Matriarch. If you prefer to face Elena alone, I'll go.”

“Oh, god no,” Van said, sinking down on the other chair in relief. “I'll take whatever help I can get. This goes way beyond just what happens to me.”

Andreas studied him for a moment. “Yes, it does. I spent part of the afternoon talking to some of your family, and part of it reading through your book. It was, admittedly, a fast read, I intend to go through it in more detail later, but it's fascinating. And unique. And I gather you were expecting this to come of it.”


“And you did it anyway? Why?”

Van shrugged. “Because someone had to do it, and I'm the only one with qualifications that can get it considered seriously. Because I know that everything I wrote down is the truth, and that it isn't right for that to be ignored for mage convenience. Because it will have a hundred times as much power after it's been acknowledged in a hearing. Take your pick.”

Andreas nodded, took a clipboard of yellow paper out of the briefcase, and consulted it.

“So. You wrote a book about the abilities and tendencies of mages and sensitives, disregarding whether aspects of that are considered proper and acceptable or otherwise. This book includes first-person descriptions from no less than seven Donovan sensitives of their experiences going from free to tame and the corresponding descriptions from six Donovan mages, the experience you and your ex-renegade had being among them. You had, I gather, a fair number of copies printed, and have been distributing it to as many mages and free sensitives as possible. The bulk of the charges revolve around the existence of your book and who has access to it, and the possible repercussions of this. If any significant number of mages reads and believes your book and acts accordingly, it will cause a major restructuring of mage society. Given how fundamental the existence, presence, and place of sensitives is,” a frown flickered across his face, “even to those of us prone to forgetting that, there's a certain validity to the charges.”

“I'm not denying that I think mage society needs a few changes,” Van said. “It's no secret that I'm backing the anti-abuse laws, for example.”

Andreas nodded again. “Changes are a fact of life. A rather young Alexeiev, who persisted in standing up for her beliefs until the Elders threatened to give her sensitive back to the hunters, made quite a valid point some time ago, that the mundane society we live within is changing, and we're falling behind. So. That, I think, is going to boil down to a direct interpretation of the right to research any subject you like and distribute the results, against the sedition and immorality laws which are supposed to maintain the stability and peace of mage society. Since you aren't advocating violence, and haven't claimed sensitives are our equals...”

“I've never said they are,” Van said. “I collected observations and put them together. Since I'm still working on what conclusions to draw from them, there are none in that book, just the observations themselves.”

“Yes, I noticed that. The lack of conclusions is so blatant it practically forces the reader to start coming up with their own,” Andreas said dryly. “Other than that, there are charges along the lines of the commission of immoral acts—distributing this book to free sensitives, hiring free sensitives to work for you, free sensitives reported as showing your signature on their auras, instigating a research project which directly interferes with hunter prerogatives—Catherine explained that one to me in detail, I think Victoria is likely to have that one dropped. Elena is also claiming perjury and a violation of the law of responsibility, specifically that you do not and never have had your sensitive under proper control, despite claiming her on those grounds.”

“That's ludicrous. Pride would do anything for me.” And I pray I never abuse that.

“Having just spent some time around a handful of extremely well-behaved and obviously well-treated sensitives, I don't find that at all hard to believe. For the moment, that's all she's come up with, although knowing Elena, she's sitting at the far end of the hall right now with half a dozen books on old rulings. The lesser charges we'll need to acknowledge and counter, but I don't believe that'll be much more than a minor distraction around the central issue. A number of questions come to mind that will make any arguments I create more reliable.”

“Ask,” Van said, without hesitation. Every instinct and all his training screamed at him that Andreas could be trusted. His family and Catherine would never have allowed him to get this far otherwise, so they agreed. “Anything.” He smiled. “I don't have anywhere else I need to be, so ask as many as you like.”

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