“You plan to use me as a spy, don’t you?” Madene said.
Istain looked across the carriage at the Proctors, and caught two expressions of stony surprise in the guttering gas-light.
“That is correct, Ms. a’Leagh,” Clanat told Madene, “and we would appreciate your aid. We believe that any information you can relate will do incalculable benefit to the Rationalist Union’s interests.”
In other words, Madene and Kendrick were bought and paid-for, owned either by a Tome-Headed Academic Governor in the RU, or a bare-chested tree-worshiping fascist in Virgin Soil.
“How, exactly, is Madene going to learn anything useful to the RU?” Istain wanted to know. “And why are you unloading a teenager on the regime her grand-parents fled from? And what does any of this have to with Freetrick?”
Clanat spread his hands, “Let’s just say that, given the current geopolitical environment, the good-will of our neighbors to the north is very important to us.”
Absolute gibberish. “Okay, I guess you guys just have to have Madene, no other college chick secret agent will do, my right?” he jerked a thumb at Madene, who scowled at him from under her hair. “But in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not a virgin woman. What on earth do you want with a word-wizard five hundred miles north of the RU?” Where word-magic worked about as well as clicking your heels and wishing really hard.
The senior Proctor eyed him for a moment, swaying with their carriage’s movement. “Mr. Scander,” he said eventually. “You obviously have a high opinion of your own intelligence,” the Proctor made it sound like that might not be a good thing, “and your grades are good, whatever that means at Eldritch these days.”
Istain made a face. “Grade inflation jokes? Really? My grades are good because I like what I’m studying.” He flashed a palm at them, useless tattoos sparkling. “How many Boolean operators have you embedded into your skin recently?”
The Proctor continued as if Istain hadn’t spoken. “You are politically disinterested, and most of all, you have a connection to the boy. Feerborg.”
“His name is Freetrick,” said Istain.
“That wasn’t the name we were given.”
“Okay whatever. But it seems to me that if you need a big dumb man mucking around with the Warrior Maidens, you should’ve brought Kendrick with you, not packed him off to Betweener boot camp. He’s her boyfriend, not me.”
Lucan snorted, though. “You talking about the one studying engineering? He has bigger problems right now than a pissed off girlfriend.”
To which Madene hid behind her hair and growled. “Wait until we arrive in the nation of my people, gentlemen, and you shall know the meaning of that phrase.” Coming from a silver-clad queen of the Sacred Oak, that might have sounded intimidating. But Madene was a surly, hyphenated-Rationalist teenager and didn’t make the impression she was hoping for.