The newly minted Judge stood before Drace's desk, his arms stiff at his sides, his face hidden beneath a black helm. She was, of course, fully aware of his presence, but as was her habit on the first meeting with a new recruit, she ignored him in favor of a mountain of administrative trivia, silent but for the occasional scratch of quill against paper. This man -- little more than a boy, in truth, the youngest Judge in living memory -- was the talk of Archades, and she was most curious to learn what he might be made of. Forcing a wait would test his mettle.
Finally, he cleared his throat, and Drace checked the clock on her desk before setting down her quill. "Eight minutes," she said, taking a swift upward glance. "Most of the men in your position last barely half that long." The boy started, and she allowed herself a tight smile. "At ease, Judge Ffamran Bunansa. And do take that helm off, would you?"
He obeyed, bending over to get a good grip on the helm. Pulling it off, he shook his head out briskly as he stood. "Thank you, ma'am. And I beg your pardon."
"Some friendly advice from an elder: remove your helm when you're called into the office of a Judge Magister." Drace folded her hands across the desk and took a good look at him. The family resemblance was strong, indeed, his parentage stamped across his features: the dark blond hair, close-cropped but standing on end thanks to the helmet; the shape of his nose and sharp chin; the keen spark in his eyes. "In private conversation, we prefer to see your face."
Ffamran brought the helm in front of him, cradling it in both hands. "As you wish, ma'am. May I ask, to what I owe the pleasure of this summons?"
Drace drummed the desktop with her fingers. "Direct," she mused aloud. "I approve, although not all your commanding officers will agree." She leaned forward in her seat. "So tell me, Ffamran. Why did you choose to take up the mantle of the Judges?"
She held up a warning finger, and he shut his mouth in mid-sentence. "Not why your father wants you to be a judge, or why you think he pulled the necessary strings to guarantee your commission. Not," she added, forestalling the objection the twitch of his forehead suggested he had been about to make, "that you did not earn your place by your performance in the trials. But it would be naive to pretend that Cidolphus did not arrange your invitation to be considered." She shook her head. "Just past sixteen, and offered a place in the a first round? To say this is unheard of would be an understatement."
"So they keep saying," Ffamran muttered beneath is breath, and Drace thought the tips of his ears had turned a touch pink.
"Tired of hearing about it, eh?" He opened his mouth to object again, and she stood, shaking her head. "As you might suppose, I know a bit about exceptionalism, and the more tiresome responses to it."
Ffamran inclined his chin in surprise. "But you are not the first female Judge Magister."
"I see you know your history," Drace replied. "Technically, you are correct, but my two predecessors in the role passed out of living memory a generation ago, which marks me as the first in a very long time." She turned toward her window, considering the practice grounds, the long hours she had spent fighting her way up through the ranks, proving her worth. "Time enough that I might as well have been the first, as far as many are concerned."
He shrugged. "I see not why it should matter."
Drace barked out a sharp laugh. "This is Archades. In the games played here, every difference, every advantage or disadvantage, matters. Surely you are aware of this." She leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms across her chest. "Perhaps you are naïve after all. Either that, or your attempts at flattery are more transparent than one might hope." She raised an eyebrow. "Which is it? Dense, inexperienced, or simply too eager to curry favor with a commanding officer?"
"I-- ah--" Ffamran's eyes darted back and forth, his jaw working and his cheeks turning red. After only a few seconds, Drace took pity on the boy. She stood from her chair and walked to the window, allowing him a moment to compose himself.
"You need not respond to my impertinent question," she said. "Consider this a lesson in handling unexpected lines of inquiry." She glanced back at him, and was pleased to note that his color had returned to normal, despite the light sheen of sweat on his brow. "And practice will be of use: your name, if nothing else, will provoke even more impertinence than this."
"I'm well aware." The boy's dry drawl was back, no longer marred by embarrassment or nerves. A swift recovery; good. Overall, she counted herself cautiously optimistic about his chances in ranks. But was he a man worth recruiting to their cause? Only time would bring an answer to that question.
"I suppose you are at that." Drace pulled her own helm off its stand by the window and tucked it beneath her arm. "But enough chatter. Come with me to the practice grounds; perhaps we can test our skills on the firing range."