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.”
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?”