The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 15

Sif quick-stepped up the spiral stairs to her room, past the main hall. For the first few weeks, the climb had winded her. Now she barely noticed. She grabbed a pair of books, stacked on the end of her bed, and headed back to the main hall.

She found Lilja in a small crowd, focused on a tafl board. Einar sat at it, across from an elder luftsmagiker. Alvarsson, Sif thought. They played on the herald’s board, nineteen spaces on each edge. Einar played the king’s side, aiming to get his king to one of the marked corner spaces.

Sif had no head for tafl on the smaller boards, and was even more lost on the herald’s board. She could tell, though, that it was near the end of the game. Einar had some pieces outside Alvarsson’s strengthening cordon, but not enough. They played out a few more moves. The cordon tightened. Einar made a daring capture, and suddenly the way was clear. A double line of Einar’s white pieces formed a channel, keeping Alvarsson from blocking the king’s escape.

Alvarsson looked up from the board. “Beginner’s luck.”

“Probably,” Einar agreed. “Thank you for the game, Herre Alvarsson.”

Alvarsson harrumphed and offered his hand. Einar shook it, dipped his head respectfully, and stood. He faced Sif and Lilja. “Time to go?”


 

“I can’t believe you beat Torgrim Alvarsson,” Lilja said as they descended the spiral stairs a few minutes later. “He’s practically a legend.”

Einar shrugged. “I started playing before I could walk. My father puts stock in learning, and books you don’t plan to sell are too heavy to bring on the road. A tafl board is much easier.”

“I never learned to play at all,” Sif said.

“I can teach you,” Lilja said. “With Einar’s help, if that’s okay.” She looked sidelong at Einar, then away.

Sif laughed. “Maybe if I wasn’t learning to read at the same time,” she said. “Thanks, though.”

 

Shivering, Sif pulled her cloak tighter. She toyed with the idea of making herself a pocket of warm air to walk in, but that idea had two problems. First, it was against the rules. Second, her friends would laugh. “How are you not freezing?” she asked.

Einar and Lilja smiled knowingly at one another. “You get used to it,” Einar said.

“Or you’re born used to it,” Lilja added. “That’s the easiest way.”

They strolled along one of the High Quarter’s broad avenues, past a neatly-kept line of lodgepole pines marking the edge of the district’s large, central park. The avenue met another fifty yards ahead, and across that street was the Rikesarkiv.

Though each guild maintained its own library, the rarest and most valuable volumes went to the Rikesarkiv av Magiskverk, the central repository for all knowledge relating to the working of magic. It was the second-largest library in the Norrmanrike, behind only the old Kungligarkiv in the capital.

A tremendous stone edifice, it was larger than any of the guilds. Shorter, of course, than the Akademi der Luftsmagiker, but it had greater bulk, fifty yards across the front, three floors tall, and a full hundred yards from front to back.

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 14

Sif blinked. The answer seemed self-evident to her, which in her recent experience meant she was thinking about the wrong question. She was cold because it was cold—she was surrounded by cold air. Not as cold as it could be, though. The luftsenmagiker kept the city warm—warmer—through the winter. How? They couldn’t move warm air from somewhere else; there was nowhere nearby to move it from. They had to create it themselves.

If they could turn cold air warm on a grand scale, Sif could do it on a smaller one. She put her forefingers and thumbs together to make a triangle, then pulled them apart, a simple cumulation. The accompanying effort of will stretched the weave. It sang tautly, ready to snap back into place according to her design.

What shape it would take was not fully clear to her. Leifsson had taught them how to make light, a trick left open by the Twelve to all magiker, and light and heat weren’t that far apart. She snapped her fingers, following the form but touching the weave in a slightly different way.

Suddenly, the air around her was warm, but it quickly faded, swept away by the wind. She tried again, setting up a swirling barrier around herself and feeding the heat-without-light into it. That worked better, but keeping the air moving and warm took her whole consciousness.

Someone said, “Good.” It filtered into her awareness and upended the delicate balance of her attention. The winter wind overtook her bubble of relative comfort, and she wrapped her cloak tighter again.

“You could not carry that on in the face of the slightest distraction,” Leifsson observed. Sif nodded. “There is a solution.”

From there, it quickly got more technical. They had learned about patterns in the weave earlier. Leifsson had used the word ‘gyre’, which sent Sif straight to her dictionary. After consulting it, she preferred to think of them as resonances, self-sustaining patterns. Spirits were the foremost example, such as the ælfish gods, the impression left upon the weave by a river or a forest, or the part of Sif which was truly Sif, and not merely flesh.

Leifsson showed them how to set up similar patterns in the magic they wrought. It still took attention—no resonance lasted forever—but much less of it. After two hours of practice, Sif could build a bubble of warmth around herself, walk around, and carry on a conversation at the same time. That earned her an approving nod from Leifsson. Soon after, he dismissed them.

Lilja came up to her. “Still going to the library?”

Sif nodded. “I need to get my books. You should go and get Einar.”


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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 13

They moved on to other topics as they ate. Einar Goransson was the son of a caravaner from the central plains, and had grown up on the roads, tenuous tracks carved from the wilderness, which linked the far-flung cities of the Norrmanrike. As the kråka flew, was more than five hundred leagues from den Holm to Syderskogholm, where Sif had grown up. Over the roads, it was nearer nine hundred. Einar had traveled much of that distance as a boy, and had stories to spare.

Lilja, though she hadn’t traveled, had stories of her own. The far north, north even of den Holm, was her home. It was the land of the jotun, of draugr and drakunr circling the dim torchlight of every outpost of human civilization.

Eventually, the two of them looked to Sif. She demurred. She had plenty of stories, but they dredged up memories of her old life in the south, a life hacked to pieces and left to burn by the ontlig invasion. “Another time,” she said. “We need to go soon anyway.”

Lilja looked over her shoulder at the water clock standing by the stairs down. “I guess so.”

Sif stood. “Are you doing anything tonight? I need to go to the Rikesarkiv after we finish. It would be nice to have company for the walk.”

“I’m free,” said Lilja and Einar, in unison.

Sif smiled as both blushed. “We can all go together, then. Einar Goransson, will you be here later?”

“I’ll find a game of tafl,” he said.

“Good. We’ll see you soon.”


 

Sif stopped by her room, a tiny slice of the tower with room for a bed, a trunk, a desk and chair, and absolutely nothing else, to fetch a cloak, then joined her comrades outside. The wind blew over the courtyard wall, as it did from all points of the compass. It flowed up the tower and to the rotating torus of cloud surrounding its peak. The prevailing wind and the unusual cloud game from the a relic of the guild, an ælfish artifact which bled off the tension on the weave created by the presence of luftsenmagiker and the magic they wrought. Each of the guilds had one, gifts from the Twelve. After three centuries of study, human magiker were no closer to making anything like them.

Sif wrapped her cloak tighter against the biting wind and stepped into place next to Lilja, who wore exactly what she had worn to dinner. Lilja looked her up and down with some amusement.

“I’m not from here,” Sif said softly.

Leifsson heard her anyway. “Are you cold, aspirant?”

All eyes turned to Sif. She saw no point in anything but the truth. “Yes.”

“Why?”

Wary of traps, Sif waited a moment before answering. “It’s cold outside,” she said cautiously.

Leifsson rolled his eyes. “Yes, obviously. Why are you cold?”

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 12

“That isn’t as interesting,” Sif said, waving dismissively. “Tell me about Einar.”

Lilja shook her head. “There’s nothing to tell. We’re friends.”

“I don’t—” Sif craned her neck to look past Lilja. “There he is now. Einar! Einar Goransson!”

Lilja frantically shushed her, but too late. Einar cast his gaze around the room and saw Sif waving. He made a face which said, ‘ah’, and headed over. Lilja blushed.

“Sif Hrothgarsdottir. Lilja,” Einar said, conspicuously dropping the patronym off of the latter’s name. “Is this spot taken?”

He was tall for his age—less than a year Sif’s senior, just about a year older than Lilja—and lanky. Like most of the men of the Akademi, his fine blond hair was perpetually mid-tousle. His eyes were bright and green, in the middle of a broad face with sharp features.

Lilja glared daggers at Sif, but Einar seemed not to notice. Sif nodded. “Of course. We wouldn’t call you over if it wasn’t.”

Einar laughed. “I guess not.” He sat next to Lilja. “How are you?”

Lilja made no answer. Sif filled in. “Good. We’ve been learning lots of cumulations, so I think we must be getting to a good part of the book of forms.”

Einar bobbed his head. “If you’re close to six hundred, you’ll be starting on gales and tempests soon.”

“Exciting,” Sif said.

Lilja huffed. “For you, maybe.”

Einar blinked.

Sif lied, “Herre Leifsson’s lecture was harder than usual today. And at least you can read.”

“You can too,” Lilja pointed out.

“It takes me ten times as long.”

Einar held up a finger. “You can read, though.”

Thank you!” Lilja said. “And she doesn’t even have to work at working magic.”

A servant deposited plates before Lilja and Sif. “Sorry, one more,” Einar said.

“Not at all, sir.” The servant bowed and retreated.

“It isn’t like it comes naturally to me,” Sif said, defending herself. She looked over Lilja’s shoulder thoughtfully. “Working magic, maybe. Not working magic like we’re supposed to.” She put a little boom into her voice, mirroring Ansgar Leifsson. “‘Sif Hrothgarsdottir, are you trying to knock down our tower?'”

Lilja laughed. After a moment, Einar joined her.

“Lilja was telling me you think we might start on the poles soon,” Sif continued.

Einar nodded enthusiastically. “Soon,” he echoed. “Herre Leifsson loves to make things hard. He’ll have to teach you some of the gale forms first, though.”

“Not tonight, then,” Sif said, relieved.

Einar shook his head. “He usually waits until the weather’s worse anyway.”

“Worse?” Lilja said around a mouthful of bread, looking up at Einar suddenly.

“The harder the wind is blowing, the harder it is to make the jumps,” said Einar earnestly.


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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 11

For the next three hours, Sif managed to keep her mind from wandering. Leifsson reviewed another dozen cumulation forms, then taught two dozen more, along with a half-dozen new zephyrs. He dismissed them in the early evening, instructing them to have dinner and meet him in the courtyard for the last of the day’s lessons.

Chairs scraped on the stone floor. Sif sat a moment longer, working through one of the new forms.

Lilja watched. As Sif finished, she offered, “Eat with me?”

Sif stood. “Of course,” she said gratefully. “It’s nice to have the company.”

During the walk down the spiral to the main hall, they talked about nothing in particular. Sif found that to be one of Lilja Orrisdottir’s great strengths. In general, Sif liked people, but found it hard to talk to them. She had no such trouble with Lilja. On more than one occasion, they had chattered away deep into the night, until only embers remained on the hearth in the hall, and most of the guild had long since gone to sleep.

They were nearly the same age, and had come to the Akademi der Luftsmagiker by a similar path. Lilja, too, had shown no magical talent until only a few months ago. When she finally did, a magiker was there to see it. It was nice to have a kindred spirit, Sif thought.

They found two chairs at the end of a table near the fire. This close to it, Sif could feel the gentle breeze drawing smoke and soot up and and into the flue over the hearth, both its physical presence on her skin and the flow of magic which powered it.

Lilja flagged down a servant. Her family had money, and extensive lands near den Holm. Had their family’s territory been further south, they might have been more than minor nobility. Sif, for her part, was still uncomfortable with the idea of servants. Lilja had grown up with them, and Sif was happy to leave dealing with them to her.

“Will you be eating?” the servant asked.

“Yes, both of us,” Lilja replied. The servant dipped his head and retired. Sif relaxed. Lilja grinned. “You get used to it.”

Sif tilted her head. “How would you know?”

Lilja opened her mouth, then frowned. “Good point.” She leaned across the table. “I think Ansgar Leifsson is going to let us try the poles.”

“In this weather?” Sif said. To punctuate the point, a gust of wind howled around the tower. “At night?”

Lilja shrugged. “Maybe not tonight,” she said, “but soon. That’s what I hear.”

“From who?”

Lilja shrugged. “Einar.”

“Einar Goransson?” Sif raised her eyebrows. “You’ve been spending lots of time with him.”

“Have I?” Lilja replied innocently. “He said that last year, this is when Herre Leifsson started.”


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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 10

Like all the guilds, the Akademi der Luftsmagiker took most of its students at a young age—Sif was twice as old as most new aspirants. Yet it was not unheard of for older children, nearer Sif’s age, to show a talent for the working of magic. Most guilds had some provision for bringing such students up to speed. At the Akademi, it was Leifsson’s job.

It was not an easy one. Sif and her fellows trained at three times the pace of more traditional students. For four hours each day they studied ælfish. On most days, they spent an hour in the courtyard learning to fight. Four more they spent on the theory and practice of magic.

That was the topic at hand now. Before coming to the guild, Sif had worked magic on the fly, expressively. There was no structure to it, only what controlled chaos Sif herself wrung from the order of the weave. The guilds had a better way, re-imposing order onto the disorder of magic by teaching thousands of forms. Each tiny movement or single syllable corresponded to an exertion of will, a tiny tweak of the weave. Put together in the right way, the forms’ effects built on one another. A magiker who knew them well enough, and had the creativity to put them together in the right way, could do nearly anything with them, and leave the weave more intact than she would simply working magic off the cuff.

The girl seated next to Sif elbowed her. She could nearly have been Sif’s sister: they shared wide-set blue eyes and heart-shaped faces, though the girl’s blonde hair was curly where Sif’s was straight, and her skin was pale where Sif’s was darker.

The reason for the intrusion into Sif’s thoughts became clear a moment later. Ansgar Leifsson said, “Would you care to demonstrate, Sif Hrothgarsdottir?”

Sif frantically rewound Leifsson’s lecture in her head. No good.

The girl next to her stared straight ahead. Out of the corner of her mouth, she whispered, “Five seventy-one.”

Sif stood. “Five seventy-one,” she said. Leifsson nodded, gesturing in a circle with two fingers: go on. “One of… Felmansson’s cumulations?”

Leifsson nodded again. “Very good. Show us.”

Sif made a pyramid with her thumbs, forefingers, and middle fingers, then rotated her right hand so that her right thumb touched her left forefinger. The weave hummed as she did. She reversed the motion, and the power faded away.

“Well done. Be seated.”

Sif did so. “Thanks, Lilja,” she mouthed. Her seatmate dipped her head just a fraction.


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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 9

Sif sat at a table at the periphery of the Akademi der Luftsmagiker’s main hall, a round room filling the whole width of the tower. The wind howled outside, and through the panes of the nearest window, Sif saw snowflakes swirling in the gray of the late afternoon. A fire blazed on the enormous round hearth at its center, and a scattering of other luftsmagiker were seated at the long tables around the room. Some played games of tafl, while others chatted and ate. Sif’s table was small, filled with an array of candles to ward off the winter’s gloom and a stack of books.

She had long suspected reading would agree with her. The runic glyphs of Norrmanssprak had taken her but a few days of practice to come to terms with, and now whole worlds were open to her. The ælfish script was beginning to yield, too, despite its greater complexity. Some authors used ælfish to write Norrmanssprak; those books, she could do. Others used ælfish terms to fill in gaps in Norrmanssprak’s magical vocabulary, switching to ælfish script for a few words in the middle of a line of runes. Those were harder, but a man called Helmutssen, dead for a century now, had written a dictionary with whose help she could struggle through. Ælfish itself remained beyond her, but she could hardly expect to learn a whole new language in a month.

“Sif Hrothgarsdottir!”

Sif Hrothgarsdottir. She reveled in her new patronymic, an everyday reminder that she had a family to call her own. She would never tire of it.

“Sif Hrothgarsdottir, you are late!” Ansgar Leifsson called. He was no longer a young man, but not old, exactly, either—fifteen years Sif’s senior, she guessed. He had sharp features and a face with harsh lines. He rarely spoke of his past, but Sif gathered he had been to war with the dweorgr before accepting his current assignment.

Sif scrambled to stack her books. As she did, she reached out, feeling the weave of the world. Conscious of Leifsson’s watchful presence, she placed her fingers together in a complicated arrangement, then drew them apart. Power surged between them, more than she expected. She brought her hands closer together, then spoke a few nonsense syllables which she was informed were ælfish. A puff of air swirled around her table and put her candles out. “Coming,” she said.

Leifsson nodded once, a short, spare motion. “Efficient.”

“Thank you, Ansgar Leifsson.” Sif gathered her books, dipped her head respectfully, and followed Leifsson to the staircase which spiraled further up the tower.

They ascended one and a half turns—except for a few rooms, like the library and the hall, the tower fit together like a puzzle, with no two rooms at exactly the same level. They turned into a lecture room. Sif took a seat, and Leifsson stood facing Sif and her classmates.


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Commentary, The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 9

If you aren’t sure what’s going on here, go back to the start of The Continuing Adventures of Sif. If that doesn’t do it, go back to The Long Retreat.

In coming back to this world, I find myself remembering how much I love these characters and the world they live in. As the title suggests, these adventures will be ongoing, whenever I feel like popping back into their world for a bit.

This time, that means six weeks. We’ll kick off a new Nathaniel Cannon story following.

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Summer Update

Happy summertime, northern hemisphere readers! The days are long, the evenings are warm, and your author is enjoying the annual march of the Pennsylvania jungle. I’ve also been busy with writing tasks, hence this Official News-style update.

Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol

The serial running at the website has concluded, so if you were waiting for a full-length story, now’s the time to drop by. Next up, we return to the world of The Long Retreat for some ongoing story.

Summer Project Announcements

Stay tuned for news about two new book releases, as well as some news on OpenTafl. I’m very excited about the former, especially since one of them is a novel-length project, and also something I haven’t otherwise revealed.

The Crossbox Podcast Gets a Guest

On episode 19 of The Crossbox Podcast, John and I hosted Dave Williams of Jellyfish Games for a wonderful discussion about games, development, and the nature of personality.

As usual, serial updates run at the website Tuesdays and Fridays, and our commentary on whatever random stuff seems interesting to us can be found at the Soapbox link thereupon. Thanks for reading—both for reading this update, and for reading our content. We appreciate your patronage.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 57

Le Syndicat was technically a bar, though Cannon was loathe to assign it even the tiny amount of dignity befitting that word. It was a dimly-lit dump, done no favors by the choice to furnish in dark wood. Half of the fans on the ceiling turned slowly and with great effort. The rest didn’t turn at all. The air, thick with the scents of cigarette smoke and cheap liquor, gamely resisted their feeble efforts.

Cannon spotted his mark in the back, at a table tucked into the corner. Philippe Lachapelle, newspaperman and adventurer, wore a gray suit, a trilby pulled low over his eyes, and a pencil moustache. He seemed to have a fondness for establishments such as this one. He spotted Cannon and Choufeng and waved them over, laying his cigarette against the ashtray.

“Nice digs,” Cannon said.

“Captain Cannon, you wound me,” Lachapelle said. “Monsieur Chuang, it ‘as been too long. I must say sank you in person—zere is no limp at all.”

Choufeng dipped his head incrementally.

“Why not ‘ave a seat? Somesing to drink?”

“I’m not here for small talk,” Cannon replied.

Lachapelle sighed. “Oui, I ‘ad sought you might be in a rush. Do you ‘ave ze item?”

“Choufeng?”

The surgeon placed the parcel delicately upon the table. Glancing from side to side, Lachapelle undid the top of the paper wrapping, enough to see the idol’s face. “Bon,” he said. “Ze buyair will be most pleased.”

Choufeng took the parcel back.

“Let’s see the scratch before he gets too excited,” Cannon suggested.

“I ‘ad sought you might be in a mood, as well,” Lachapelle said pointedly, producing a briefcase. He opened it and turned it to face Cannon. “Bearer notes, to be redeemed for gold in ze agreed amount at la Banque de Hanoi.”

“Genuine?” Cannon asked.

Lachapelle looked affronted. “I am not stupid enough to break a deal.”

Cannon raised his eyebrows.

“Another deal,” Lachapelle corrected. “Mon capitan, we ‘ave ‘ad our differences, but are we not, as you say, square?”

Cannon laughed bitterly. “You’ve got nerve to spare, and a long way to go before we close the book on Panama.”

Silence prevailed for a few moments. Lachapelle ventured, “Zen it would not be appropriate to discuss a job?”

“It would not.” Cannon snapped the briefcase closed. “My crew will want to spend this first. You’d better have something good before we hear from you again.”

“Zen I will be seeing you.”

Cannon took the briefcase and turned for the door. “Don’t count on it.”


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