Eirik blinked, nonplussed, and the man was gone. He spent the rest of the day deep in thought, and over the evening meal saw that his mother was watching him more intently than all the portraits on the walls put together. She said nothing, though, and that night Eirik slept well.
The next morning he complained at his tutor until the poor man threw up his hands and gave up. Eirik pretended to read a book from his father’s library, and as soon as there was nobody watching him he returned to the window. It was two days before he saw the man again; a heavy fog had rolled in off the sea, and some instinct told Eirik that without a view of the sea he wouldn’t see the man. That same instinct told him that it was important that he keep trying.
The third time he saw the apparition, he realized it was changing. It was now a pale man, younger than Eirik’s father, wearing a sailor’s oilskins. Eirik watched him with sidelong glances. The man stared back. Eirik shifted from foot to foot uncomfortably
“Hello,” he ventured, finally turning to look at the man straight on.
The sailor held his gaze and lifted a hand to point out the window at the fjord. “Do you think it friendly?”
Eirik looked from the man to the window. When he turned back to answer, the man was gone.
That night at the evening meal, he noticed something that made him smile.
The man was there again the next day. When Eirik took his place next to him at the window, he saw a hale and hearty sailor, a length of rope coiled over his shoulder. “Do you think the sea friendly?” he asked.
“No,” said Eirik.
“No?” the sailor replied, eyebrows shooting skyward in exaggerated surprise. “Whyever not? See how it waves!”
Eirik, likewise, shot his eyebrows up. Nissa laughed outright, but Brynjar simply stared. “Did that really happen?” he asked.
“Every word is true,” Eirik said. “That night I told the joke at the evening meal. My father looked like it had been him who saw the spirit instead of me and said that the only person he’d ever heard tell it before was his brother, who died when I was very young. He was working in the tops when a gust came up the fjord and nearly capsized his ship. He went into the water along with the spar his lifeline was tied to, and it was all over before they could turn the ship to look for him.
“I saw his portrait on the wall the night before and recognized him. My father demanded I tell him where I heard the joke, and I did. My mother didn’t believe me, but when I insisted I was telling the truth, my father gave me a chance to prove it. Mikelsfjord usually has the pleasure of hosting a handful of mages, and he summoned one of them to see if I had any particular talent.
“It turned out to be a diviner, so in response we received a letter, sealed and dated the day before and signed by a witness to that effect, which said ‘Yes’ and nothing more. My father sent another letter to arrange a meeting, and we got another letter of the same sort which said, ‘He has potential.'”
“That seems a bit complicated for—” Brynjar began.
Eirik interrupted with a snort. “Haven’t met many diviners yet, have you?” he said. “None of them can resist the chance to show off. After we got his second letter, we wrote to the Guilds. The aendemancers made the most eager response, and here I am.”
“What about your uncle?” Nissa asked.
“My father built him a shrine in our hall of memories. We light a candle to him every now and again, and that’s enough for he and I to talk once or twice a year.”
The coach rounded a bend in the road, and ahead through the rain the rough outline of a log wall was visible. The road wound up the side of a hill toward it.
“Höjdheim,” Eirik announced. “Have you a story?”
“We’ll have to decide which one first,” Brynjar said.
“And then decide how to tell it,” added Nissa.
“Or decide who’s going to tell it.”
“Or just both of us tell it,” Nissa shot back.
Brynjar leaned back and looked up at Eirik. “You might have to wait until tomorrow,” he said.
“Probably,” Nissa agreed. She got up, and Eirik obligingly moved over to let her sit by Brynjar. They put their heads together and began to whisper.
Eirik amused himself by watching them. Every once in a while, Brynjar would glance up to check on their progress toward the town. He did so once again, but this time kept his eyes up and cocked his head. Nissa began to ask him a question, but he shushed her, and then he was out of the driver’s box and climbing to the coach’s roof.
“What do you see?” Eirik called over the noise of the storm.
“There are people by the gate! A lot of them!” Brynjar said, climbing back down and into the driver’s box. His eyes were wide. “And they don’t look too happy to see us.”