It would not be enough. For Andoria, every curl of her mother’s lips had to be paid for. Andoria had woken up early, heated the iron in the fire until it glowed, and pressed each pleat of her dress. She had even braided her hair all by herself. Now, she stood perfectly still in a line of restless girls, ignoring the snow that seeped through her shoes and pierced her toes. It ought to be enough. She looked over her shoulder at the corner of the village square where parents and brothers were gathered, waiting for the inspections to end. Her mother stood with remote eyes and a frown. Maybe her father would reward her. The bakery was so close, just across the street. She inhaled deeply: currant cakes.
Finally, Sere Phylos, the Royal Magus, stopped before Andoria. Andoria had never seen anyone look so clean. Though her blonde hair was loose, it was kempt and straight, giving her a dignity that Andoria had seen only in men. The assistant following her had a thin face and puckered his lips frequently, no flaw too small for his disapproval.
Sere stared down at her, but Andoria held her gaze; revealing fear was just an invitation.
“Name,” Sere’s assistant said.
“Underage for mind consent alone,” he murmured. “Will you submit to a mindlink?” His voice was brisk and impersonal. Just another girl in just another village. Something about it irritated her.
“Do I have a choice?” she asked.
His lips tightened. Sere held up her hand before he responded. “Yes. You do.” She kneeled, looking at Andoria eye to eye. “Do you know what a mind link is?”
“Where you get to hear my thoughts?”
“Something like that. If you consent, our minds will be connected to each other, and I can see anything inside your head that I want. But you can explore my mind, too. I’m only looking for one thing so I will be fast.”
Andoria nodded. “Will it hurt?”
“No.” She did not sound like other adults, the lie hovering around the edge of their voices. She sounded like she was telling the truth. “Only if you want to.”
“All right. I consent.”