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.