Anja awoke with a start, a roll of thunder seeming to her to fade from her ears. She took a deep breath, and a moment later she saw the sunlight streaming in through the window.
She sat up, inspecting the room she found herself in. It was long and narrow. The bed in which she sat was pushed up against one of the long walls, and would not have fit the other way. Across from the bed there was a wardrobe, writing desk, and chair, with barely enough space between them and the bed to walk past. On the short wall at the head of the bed was the window, and opposite that the door.
Anja got out of bed and opened the wardrobe. Finding it empty, she glanced down with mild distaste at her traveling clothes, dirty from a long journey with too few stops, sighed a sigh of resignation, and regained some of her good humor. With the aid of a mirror on the wardrobe’s door she did what little she could to make herself look a little bit more presentable and left the room.
She stood in the doorway, the singular corridor outside inspiring greater recollection than the nondescript room had. She remembered spiraling upward along the circular, gently-sloped hallway she saw before her and collapsing, exhausted, in the bed. She spent a moment trying to remember what she’d seen on the way up. She found that she could remember standing in the rain with Hans and being conducted through the gates, and she could remember waking up moments ago. The time in between was more than a little foggy.
An older man who was wearing what Anja recognized as mages’ robes passed, and she fell in behind him. They descended, the hallway curving away to the right in front of them, until they came to a stairway. The sounds of conversation and the smells of food wafted up from below.
Anja followed the mage down the stairs and into one of the largest rooms she had ever seen. It was circular, and the walls were the right distance apart to be the outer walls of the tower. The windows spaced evenly along them suggested that guess was right. A railing ahead, punctured by two great curving stairways, suggested that Anja stood upon a balcony, and as she approached the railing she found she was right.
The room was furnished in a way that reminded her of her father’s great hall: tables and chairs surrounded by more comfortable seating, shelves upon shelves of books, and a handful of tafl boards. She guessed there were about a hundred and fifty people between the balcony and the lower level, rather more than half in mages’ robes, and another ten or twenty servants.
She went down the nearer stairway, finding it somewhat unusual that by and large the other people in the room didn’t spare her a second glance. She shrugged the feeling off, realizing just how hungry she was—by her reckoning it had been a little more than two and a half days since her last real meal. She seated herself at a table occupied by a large quantity of food and two mages making quite a dent in it. The mages looked up when she sat down. One offered a curt greeting, and beyond that they ignored her. She made a polite reply anyway, glanced sidelong at the other tables to see if there were any obvious rules about the food, and after a moment or two decided that, under the circumstances, she didn’t care. She poured herself a cup of tea, tore off a piece of bread, skewered a few links of sausage…
She lost track of the time, but some of it passed, and eventually she found her plate rather less full and herself more so. She was sitting back, sipping contentedly at her tea, when she felt someone walk up to her. She turned, and was surprised to find a pointed finger a few inches from her nose.