The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 40

There was a knock at her door. She slipped a bookmark between the pages, reverentially folded the book closed, and padded over to the door. She pulled it slightly ajar and peered through the crack.

Lilja stood in the corridor. “Dinner?”


It was deep into the evening, and the great hall had emptied somewhat as the diners returned to their rooms, or to their business elsewhere. Half of the remaining magiker clustered around the tafl boards. The other half clustered around a cask of ale at the end of the sideboard.

There were tables aplenty. Sif and Lilja opted for one nearer the hearth. The deepening twilight brought with it a deepening chill, and in the same way that the hall of the eldesmagiker was always catching fire, the hall of the luftsenmagiker was always a little drafty.

Lilja flagged down a servant, who brought two bowls of stew and a loaf of light, airy bread. As ever, she steered the conversation, chatting about this and that. She and Einar had gone on a nice walk around the High Quarter in the late afternoon. She had questions about the reading for tomorrow’s class. She wondered if Sif would give her some pointers on the poles, since she clearly had some catching up to do.

As ever, Sif followed along. She suspected Lilja was dying to ask how the chat with Herre Leifsson had gone, and that she was avoiding the topic because she knew it had Sif worried. Sif appreciated the thoughtfulness. It was nice to be distracted.

It also couldn’t last forever. As they were just finishing their meal, Sif said, “Herre Leifsson wants to talk to me again later tonight.”

Lilja jumped on the opportunity. “What did he say?”

“Not very much.” Sif’s forehead creased. “There’s been a Shining Hand before. He said not to do the thing with your hand— that one.”

Lilja closed her palm guiltily.

“Apparently, people still remember the last one, and they still don’t like it. He said he’d tell me more later. Does Einar still have the poster?”

“I think so.” Lilja pointed over Sif’s shoulder. “I think he’s about to win. We can ask him.”

“He won’t make many friends, playing how he’s playing,” Sif observed. “Let’s go watch.”

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 39

“What did it say?”

“Nothing. It was just a drawing of a hand, like this.” Sif held up her hand, fingers together, palm facing Leifsson.

He sat bolt upright, as though he’d been shocked. Sif blinked, and said, “What—”

Without malice, but firmly nevertheless, he reached across the table, put his hand over hers, and folded her fingers shut. “Be very careful to whom you make that gesture. They may be old wounds, but they run deep. Do you have the paper?”

“Not with me,” said Sif.

“Get it,” Leifsson replied. “I’ll be here tonight at the tenth bell. Bring it to me.”

“What wounds?” Sif asked.

Leifsson paused, looked over her shoulder, then met her eyes. “If I don’t tell you, you’ll just look it up, I expect?” Sif opened her mouth. Leifsson held up a finger. “Honestly, now.”

Sif closed her mouth and nodded.

“Don’t. If you go nosing around, people will ask why. If they are back, they’ll hear. If they aren’t, the thanes’ agents will. Neither is good.” He tapped the table. “I’ll explain tonight. Keep your curiosity in check until then.”

“I can do that.”

“Good. I will see you then.”


Sif went back to her room, lit a candle to ward against the gathering dark, and sat on her bed, back against the cold stone wall, with Geirsson the Scholar’s history on her lap.

The dweorgr now began to figure in the history of the Norrmanne. Both had been slaves of the ælfr. The dweorgr cast off the ælfish yoke at the same time the Norrmanne did, fighting shoulder to shoulder, or at least shoulder to hip. They declined their share of the spoils, grateful for the aid the Norrmanne had provided, but suspicious of magic as ever. Instead, they retreated underground, reclaiming their mountain halls and digging deeper.

After that, the dweorgr disappeared from human history until a century after liberation, when an expedition appeared suddenly from a branch tunnel near Medylwyrmirholm, the Norrmannrike’s capital. Joar King the Second reopened trade, but cautiously; a few years later, he was poisoned, and Joar King the Third threw open the marktplatz gates.

She dimly remembered dweorgr mingling with the Norrman traders in Syderskogholm’s merchant quarters. Every one Sif had come across had been severe-looking and extraordinarily watchful. Not the kind of person whose coin purse you went after.

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Commentary, The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 39

Dweorgr: short, stocky creatures, technological experts who are responsible for den Holm’s highly advanced sewer system. They’re much less friendly with the Norrmanne now.

One of the things I’m proud of in this universe is its dynamic nature. I have about three hundred years of history written down in detail, and it’s full of major events, realignments, and changes to the nature of the world. Ordinarily, I do a bad job of that, but Lägraltvárld, at least, reads like a real history.

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 38

He didn’t see her until she was nearly on top of him. He was clearly surprised. Barely thinking, Sif slid into the chair across from him.

He swallowed, and the corner of his mouth twitched upward. “Sif Hrothgarsdottir,” he said, one eyebrow raised.

“Herre Leifsson,” she replied. “I need to talk to you.”

“I thought you might,” said Leifsson. “I did not—didn’t mean to single you out as I did.”

Sif could hardly fail to notice the switch to the informal voice.

Leifsson let it hang over the table for a moment. “It’s the war,” he said. “They want me to make soldiers.” He nearly spat the word. “As if two dozen green magiker will make a difference. I won’t be a part of sending you to battle, not before you’re ready.”

Sif’s brows knit together, and her lips formed the beginning of a question.

“… that wasn’t what you were here about, though,” Leifsson said ruefully. “Was it?”

“No,” Sif managed. She recovered. “I think we’re glad you’re on our side, though.” Leifsson halfway smiled. “There is something else on my mind.” She leaned forward and spoke more softly. “Last night…”

It occurred to her that it might be wise to leave her friends’ names out of the story. Quickly, hoping the pause didn’t sound out of place, she continued, “… I was taking books back to the Arkiv. On my way back, walking through the park, I saw magiker, I think.”

“You think?” Leifsson interrupted.

“They were working the weave,” Sif said. “There was a flash and a sound like thunder, and… The next thing I remember, I woke up leaning against a tree.”

“They saw you?”

“No, I don’t think.” Sif shrugged, looked away. “I was working an illusion. They wouldn’t have seen me unless they were looking for me. I know it’s against the rules outside of the Akademi.”

Leifsson looked toward the center of the room. Nobody paid them any attention. Softly, he said, “Don’t spread this around, but if you have a good reason, and if you don’t make a mess—of the weave, or of the situation—we don’t pay too much mind to rules-breakers. Were they up to no good, these magiker?”

Sif tilted her head. “I don’t know,” she replied. “They had something, though. A sheet of paper, blank except for ink which only showed up when Ei— I touched it with the weave.”

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 37

Some of the others stayed at the poles in the hopes of roping in a spotter. Sif gently disentangled herself from her friends, assuring them that she would be fine. She caught Gyr Didriksson looking her way, with a pained expression on his face. She nodded, hoping it said that she appreciated the concern. He looked away.

Sif wandered the grounds for a while. It occurred to her that she hadn’t been home in two weeks or so. Alfhilde always knew what to say, and she could almost feel Hrothgar’s hand on her shoulder and his sympathetic look. It ached.

She realized she was homesick, and the giddiness of that thought all but swept away the feeling. You couldn’t be homesick without a home to be sick over. She resolved to go back soon.

Today would have been nice, if she was honest with herself. It did sting to be rebuked in front of everyone, and on any other day she probably would have gone home for a night or two, where she could sit by the fire, talk, and laugh. For her, at least, that was the real allure of home. Her family didn’t need anything from her. They had no demands, no expectations, beyond that she merely be herself.

She sighed. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the way her evening was going to go. She had to talk to Herre Leifsson, uncomfortable as it was going to be, and there was no way she could go home and make it back before the end of the day, especially not with her bruises protesting a little more with every step.

Her wandering took her to section of the outer wall directly across from the main door into the tower. She turned that way.

The spiral staircase was always a little annoying, the risers too far apart to take each one with one pace, but too close together to fit two paces each. It was doubly difficult today. The murmur of quiet conversation and the crackle of the bonfire on the hearth were welcome sounds. A moment later, she emerged into the great room. She’d been alone with her thoughts for longer than she realized. Nearly every seat was taken, and servants rushed back and forth with plates for the evening meal.

She sighted Ansgar Leifsson sitting in the corner formed by the ramp up and the tower’s outer wall, and strode purposefully toward him.

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 36

“Well done, Sif Hrothgarsdottir!” Leifsson called. He canted his head sharply.

Sif felt the blow in the weave a split-second before it arrived. A scything draft caught her by the ankles. Arms waving frantically, she fought for her footing and lost. Over the side she went.

She caught sight of Leifsson’s face, watching her fall. He did nothing. It was up to her, then. She grabbed at the weave, and put a whirling hand out beneath her. A dust devil marked the tornado in miniature which set her on her feet. She let go of the weave; it remained warped, slowly melting back to its ordinary shape. As it did, random gusts battered her, whipping her hair around her face. They softened to breezes, then mere breaths, then faded altogether.

Leifsson gave her a small nod. “Effective,” he said, “but not efficient. You cannot trust the weave when it is strained. In a fight, you would have left yourself without reliable magic, a difficult position.”

Sif’s cheeks burned. She met Leifsson’s gaze for a few seconds, then looked away, studying her feet.

He faced the other students. “Her mistake aside, Sif Hrothgarsdottir shows an understanding of this task you would do well to emulate. The easiest path is not always the straightest. You may practice on the poles whenever they are empty. Bring a third- or fourth-year student or a full luftsmagiker to catch you if you should fall. That is all for the afternoon.”

As Leifsson strode toward the tower, Lilja approached Sif. Sif glanced up, smiled thinly, and looked back toward her feet. Lilja put a hand on her shoulder. “I can’t believe he did that to you.”

Sif shrugged. “He’s right.”

The corners of Lilja’s mouth twitched upward, an uncertain, sympathetic smile which said she didn’t have much to say. Einar, close enough to overhear, put in, “That doesn’t give him the right to be rude.”

Sif brought her eyes up to see the concerned looks on her friends’ faces. She managed a little smile of her own, though there wasn’t much cheer behind it. “I’ll be fine. I think he thought I needed a reminder that I’m still learning.”

“Learning fast,” Einar said. “That was a really good run. It isn’t like him to be that mean.” He looked over Sif’s shoulder at Leifsson’s receding figure. “I wonder what’s up.”

Sif turned in Leifsson’s direction too. “Maybe I’ll ask him later.”

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