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.