Nobody spoke for a bit.
Christopher, out in the hall, found himself biting his fingers to keep from jumping up. What he wanted to do was storm into that room and make the magicians confess their secrets. But no matter what questions he asked, they’d probably just pat him on the head and send him back to his room, so he made a face and stayed put.
“… not the case that he merely dislikes Ward. If it were, Ward would have noticed already. No, that’s not it.”
“So,” said someone else. “If you’re right, it’s just as bad as being discovered by the knights. Worse, maybe. We can hide from the knights, we can run and escape, but how can we escape from this?”
“If he becomes angry—”
“If he loses hope—”
“Well, what does he want in life? Does he have ambitions? Does anyone know what he dreams of?”
“Yes. An excellent question, Lamplighter. What does the boy want?”
Master Ward’s voice: “Oh, that’s easy. He wants to be an orphan.”
There was a shout of surprised laughter from at least three voices. “What? But—”
“Yes, I know, I know. To be more exact, what he wants is to run away and have adventures, hmm? To be a soldier. Better yet, a knight. Isn’t that so? A knight-royal, with magical powers. Going on quests.”
More laughter followed. Christopher hunched his shoulders and thought about going away—it might be better to have a try at breaking past Master Ward’s spells and leaving entirely, maybe for another country—but on the other hand, it wasn’t unkind laughter. He sat up a bit. It was sympathetic. None of the masters had ever been unkind to him.
He started listening again.
“We can’t help him become a knight, and perhaps that’s a tragedy,” Master Ward said. “I shall warn you of something else. When he ran away this morning, I’m sure he talked to at least one girl. Probably more. I would stake my powers on it.”
From the furor that followed, the magicians disapproved of talking to girls even more than they scorned adventure.
“Enough,” said Master Ward finally. The hubbub quieted down. “Brothers, let’s remember what cause we strive toward, not whatever causes we have for strife. We’ve worked together for more than a decade. Always safe, secret, never discovered by the enemy. Who are we?”
The others answered almost in chorus: “We are the Order of Oroboros. All history is a circle that returns to bite its tail. We will topple the tyrant King and the reign of the Seven Families.”
“When will we rest from our work?”
“Not until our beloved country is free.” They were definitely a chorus, speaking as one, their voices strong and calm. “Or else not until we die.”
“Pledge it again.”
“Until Everie is free. Or until we die.”