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. 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.