The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 26

Sif woke to a pounding on her door. She opened her eyes, groggy, and flipped her blankets off to the side. It was cold. She swung her legs out of bed, stood, and felt the chill of the stone floor through her socks. Her cloak hung on the bedpost. She swung it over her shoulders, went to the door, and cracked it open.

Lilja stood outside. “Sif! Ansgar Leifsson’s waiting.”

Sif blinked against the cobwebs in her head. “Why? What time is it?”

Pointing past Sif’s shoulder, Lilja said, “Morning.”

Sif looked back. There was a fog over the city, but nevertheless, it was light outside. Fuzzily, she said, “I’ll be right down.”


 

“Take your stance, Sif Hrothgarsdottir.”

A dozen students formed a ragged circle in the guild’s courtyard, in the shadow of a line of poles with small platforms at their tops. The wind carried a chill with it, and the fog muffled the sounds of the city from beyond the walls.

Inside the circle, Ansgar Leifsson paced its perimeter, staff in hand, and Sif faced another student across a gap of a few yards. She settled into an open-handed fighter’s pose, weight balanced and feet placed so as to make sidestepping a possibility.

She appreciated that much about the luftsmagiker’s way of fighting. Never had she been one to stand in and take a blow. She did, however, object to the idea of fighting with her fists in the first place. Her opposite number—Gyr Didriksson, if she remembered right—advanced on her. She had seen him in the ring earlier. He was much better than she was.

Was that the test? She took a half-step back, straightened, touched the weave—

Leifsson’s staff caught her in the back of the ankles. She fell. A blast of air cushioned her landing.

“No weave-working,” Leifsson said. “Get up. Again.”

Sheepishly, Gyr offered her a hand. She took it. He mouthed, “Sorry.”

Sif smiled to say it wasn’t his fault, and stepped back to the far side of the circle. Gyr waited for her to get into her stance, then moved forward again.

 

By the midday break, Sif had some new bruises on top of her collection from the night before. It was always that way after hand-to-hand practice. She knew very well she was, among Herre Leifsson’s pupils, the worst at it. Herre Leifsson did, too, which was why he kept her in the ring longer than he did anyone else. He didn’t expect her to win, as such; he expected her to keep away from her opponents’ attacks, stay on her feet, and find enough breathing room so that, in a real fight, she could lean on her talent with the weave.

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Commentary, The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 26

It took me some time to settle on the particular mode of teaching employed at the Magiska Akademier. Some of it depends on which school you study. Conjurers/trollernmagiker in particular are big on the book learning, along with telemancers/färdenmagiker, while the five elemental schools put a greater emphasis on practical training. That practical training takes the shape of combat drills like this one, and appropriate drills in the use of magic, as we’ll see a little later in this interlude.

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 25

Sif swallowed. That was bad news. Outwardly, though, she smiled. The elder magiker could have walked by without saying anything. Sif appreciated the effort to make her feel better, and she hadn’t missed Annike’s switch to the informal voice just now. “Thank you, Annike Sigvardsdottir. That makes me feel much better.”

“Of course. It’s our duty to help those who need it,” Annike replied. “Enjoy your book, Sif Hrothgarsdottir, and I do hope you find your way back to sleep soon. I’m told Herre Leifsson has something special in store for you tomorrow.”

Sif kept the smile on her face. “I look forward to it. Good night, Kvinna.”

Annike returned Sif’s smile and dipped her head in farewell.

Sif returned to her book. Something was bothering her, and she couldn’t put her finger on it. She tried to read, but the words stacked up on themselves as she turned the problem over in her mind.

It came to her suddenly. What was Annike Sigvardsdottir doing wandering the halls of the Akademi at this hour? Dispensing advice to students seemed somehow beneath her station. Sif had never seen her during the day. Come to think of it, the only one of the Seven Sif ever saw in the halls of the Akademi was Baltasar Rasmussen. Why now?

She came up with a few answers. Annike Sigvardsdottir was just a night owl. She felt a tugging through the weave and let it carry her along—Herre Leifsson talked about that all the time. She was fighting the Shining Hand, and knew to warn Sif of their tactics. She was part of the Shining Hand, and aimed to scare Sif away.

Sif had no evidence one way or another, but her dream still weighed heavily on her mind. Her thoughts whirled, a storm building on itself. Had it been Annike Sigvardsdottir speaking to her then? No, the woman in her dream had a high voice with a creak, and Annike spoke in a lower register.

Nor could she say for sure that the Shining Hand was something to worry about, though she doubted her suspicions were misplaced. Her mind jumped to the letter under her pillow. Falthejn would know what to do, and help her know who to trust. Tomorrow, too, she could ask Baltasar Rasmussen about Annike Sigvardsdottir’s habits.

She could do no more tonight. She glanced at her candle, and was surprised to find it had burned halfway down. Lost in thought, she had lost track of time. Her eyelids finally began to feel heavy, and it felt to her as though a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She snuffed the candle, took her book, and returned to her room.

Soon after, she slept.


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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 24

That was a question Sif didn’t quite know how to answer. She looked down and away to buy herself some time.

The Shining Hand in the park had been magiker, that she was sure of. Her dream suggested there were more of them, or that there would be. If it could be trusted, at any rate. For all she knew, what looked like a shadowy conspiracy could just be what magiker did to entertain themselves on long winter evenings.

The thought made her smile.

“Child?”

Sif looked up, endeavoring to make her eyes say the smile was false. “I don’t remember, exactly. Chains. Cold.” Best to be careful.

Annike smiled, speaking softly. “All is well now,” she replied. “You will find you grow used to the dreams—the natural ones, at least.”

Sif tilted her head, genuinely curious. “What do you mean?”

“A dream is a tale told by a spirit of the world to the spirit of your being,” the elder magiker said.

Sif nodded. “I understand that much.”

“Good. Leifsson certainly earns his keep.” Annike went on. “Do you know why spirits tell us stories?” Sif shook her head. “Some do to gain an edge on us, to weaken us, that they might worm their way into our minds. Some, on the other hand, do so out of kindness and concern—though there is great risk in explaining the motives of spirits in human terms.”

“Those are the natural dreams, then?” Sif said.

“Exactly so. There are unnatural dreams too, though. What do you know of hedge magiker?”

Sif shrugged. She knew of the class of magiker who never grew strong enough to draw the attention of the guilds, but nothing more.

“In your travels, you may hear the people speak of dreamseers, those who hear the spirits speak to those asleep, who tell their stories to the waking. You may also hear of dreamweavers: those who bargain with spirits to put a dream in a man’s head.”

Sif frowned. “That’s forbidden, isn’t it?”

“It is,” said Annike. “They do not understand the spirit’s price. People die—sometimes in agony, sometimes in ecstasy. The dream is too vivid. And yet…”

Sif raised her eyebrows.

“Yet, some magiker—real magiker, trained by the guilds—weave dreams. I understand it is most commonly political. Some magiker wishes to warn another away from nosing around his territory. The Twelve cannot watch everyone all the time. Our magiker gets away with it.” Annike smiled again, brighter this time. “You need not worry about that, though. I’m sure, child, you haven’t made such powerful enemies so soon after joining us. Your dream says as much. Mere impressions snatched from hazy memories? That realm belongs to dark spirits. Magiker are much more specific.”

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 23

Which brought her back to history. The grand arc of the Norrman people began three hundred years earlier, when Halfdan King (at the time, just Halfdan, Sif recalled) freed them from the clutches of the ælfr. Though den Holm proper dated to the early days of Halfdan’s reign, and the villages it had been founded from were much older than even that, the jötnar held the rest of the Northlands through the reign of Halfdan and his son. It wasn’t until Joar King, Halfdan’s grandson, took the throne that the whole weight of the Norrmannrike turned to taking back its ancestral home.

Joar King died a year into the war, fighting over the Solskenheimdalsvad—the only good ford west of the city, very near the Heimdal’s headwaters in the mountains. Sif cast about for the name of the range. She’d seen it on a map earlier—that was it. Hieran’s Wall. She recalled it was named for a particularly cowardly ælf-lord, who fled to the Crystal Desert beyond the mountains rather than face the wrath of the Norrman armies.

That was a tangent, though. Though Joar fell in battle, the war continued, and now two of the prominent towns in the Northlands bore the old king’s name: Joarsgard, the fort and walled city which protected the crossing now, and Kungssorge, a market town whose name meant, more or less, King’s Lament. Together with den Holm, they formed a line: den Holm at the east end, by the sea, Joarsgard eighty leagues away at the west end, in the foothills of Hieran’s Wall, and Kungssorge in the middle.

A shadow fell across Sif’s book. She started, then looked up. A woman stood there. She was tall, and hair the color of a raven’s wing hung straight down to her shoulder. Her eyes were dark, glittering in a pale, chiseled face. “What has you awake at this hour, child?”

Sif blinked. She didn’t know the woman, but her voice— that was it. She’d heard it before, from under a hood in the Septumvirate’s chambers, speaking to the Seven on her behalf. She had not met the woman again, but she knew her by reputation: Annike Sigvardsdottir. “Nightmares, Kvinna,” Sif replied, dipping her head respectfully.

“No need for ceremony here,” Annike admonished. “May I pull up a chair?”

Sif nodded.

“What do you dream about that drives you from your bed?”


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Commentary, The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 23

I only do a little bit of proofreading before I post entries—as the occasional typo suggests—but one of the things I do look for is the fictional grammar I have going here. Kvinna is the counterpart to Herre, Lady to the latter’s Lord. One Norrman, two or more Norrmanne, which is why it’s the Norrmannrike (two Ns) and not the Norrmanrike. It’s an empire of more than one Norrman.

Before The Long Retreat, I revamped this universe to feel more Viking. Compared to the previous iteration, this history is exactly the same. It fits the setting better because the language changed, not because the events did.

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 22

Sif’s eyes snapped open. She sat bolt upright, heavy blankets flying off of her. Her breath came in frantic gulps as her eyes darted around the room. A simple bed, a chest at its foot, a slit window with a wavy pane of glass in it. Her room. A dream.

Sweat beaded on her forehead. She could still feel the kiss of the knife. She looked down at her nightdress. No blood. She pushed her covers away. House shoes waited by her bed. She slipped them on, and threw a heavy robe over her nightdress.

Sif had dreamed vividly for as long as she could remember. Ansgar Leifsson hadn’t been surprised to hear it when she said so. Magiker tended to. They were nearer the weave than the average human, nearer the spirits whose influence made dreams in the first place. Still, even if her dreams tended toward the vivid, they were rarely so realistic. She rubbed her arm where the ropes had creased her skin, looked at her bed, and looked away. She doubted she could sleep. Rummaging in her trunk, she found a book, tucked it under her arm, and left her room.

Only every third lamp in the spiral corridor burned through the night. The servants knew better than to douse them all. Sif wasn’t the only magiker to sleep fitfully, neither in a general sense nor tonight in particular. She counted nine others in the great hall, lit in orange by the mound of coals on the grand hearth. Two huddled over a tafl board, talking in low tones. The rest were scattered around tables and chairs, to a man reading in the pool of light cast by a taper. Someone had left a blanket on a chair not far from the fire. Sif set her book down there, found an unlit candle, and borrowed another reader’s flame to light it. She sat, set her candle on the arm of the chair, and wrapped herself in the blanket. That put weight on the bruises developing all along her side. She rearranged herself until the pain subsided.

Unlike the other books in her trunk, this one was for pleasure more than study: a history of the Norrman people, by one Arvid Geirsson the Scholar. Sif had a keen awareness of the gaps in her knowledge of the world. History, geography, literature—these had been closed books to her. Geirsson was a prolific author—or had been; Sif had no idea if he was still alive—who wrote on a wide range of topics, all of which Sif found captivating. Even better, he wrote in Norrmanssprak, rather than the traditionally scholarly ælfish. That eased Sif’s burden significantly.


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