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.