The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 28

Sif forced herself to relax as a pair of city guardsmen passed them. Even though she was on the right side of the law for the first time in her life, they still made her nervous.

They came to a corner. She looked up, got her bearings, and turned down a side street.

“Are we nearly there?” Lilja wondered.

Sif nodded. “We should be. Right around here…”

They turned another corner and found themselves back on a major avenue. Kvarnstrasse, Mill Street, if Sif was remembering her city geography. They crossed it, running between a pair of wagons, and found themselves before a singular building.

Unlike most of the structures in the Riverfronts, it was not wholly made from wood. The first three floors, about ten yards on a side, were built of stone blocks. Slit windows flanked a heavy wooden door facing Kvarnstrasse, set deep into the wall. Once, it had been a guard house.

The top three floors were log-built, obviously a later addition, and jutted out over the lower floors by a yard. A covered wooden staircase spiraled around the lower floors, worn smooth over the years by heavy use.

“It looks taller from this close,” Lilja observed.

Sif shrugged. “It’s only twenty yards. My window is higher up.”

“You don’t have to climb the outside of the tower to get to your window, though,” said Einar.

Sif tilted her head and nodded, conceding the point.

The three magiker wound their way up the stairs to the fifth floor. Over the door was a sign, swinging from a chain. The runes carved into it read, “Yngvar’s,” above an engraved picture of a bed and a cauldron.

Sif opened the door and went inside.

The room she stepped into filled the whole twelve-yard square of the tower. Enormous, many-paned windows centered in each wall gave an unparalleled view of the Riverfronts, at least on clear days. Today, Sif saw nothing but gray through them. Surrounding the windows was a collection of trophies from wars past. A large club, Sif suspected, had once belonged to one of the jötnar, in the golden age of the Norrmannrike. Scaled-down shields bearing an insignia of crossed, double-headed hammers featured around the room, the standard of the dweorgr kings. There were even a few of the white-on-red tribal banners of the ontr, which she still found unsettling.

Tables were scattered around the outside of the room, largely unoccupied at this time of day. A square bar, four yards on a side, took up the middle. In turn, in the center of the bar was an enormous brick chimney, rising through the roof. Kettles bubbled on flat surfaces at its base, and iron doors covered ovens built into its sides. Warmth rolled off it in waves.


Posted in The Continuing Adventures of Sif, Writing | Leave a comment

The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 27

She saw the purpose of it. If pressed, she would even admit it was good for her. That didn’t mean she had to like it.

There was a well in the courtyard, up against the outer wall. Her fellows gathered around it, not just those students at her level but those more and less advanced as well. There were almost three dozen, in little clusters of three and four. As usual, Leifsson had roped in some other full members of the Akademi to share the load of teaching. Now, they returned to the tower. Baltasar Rasmussen was among them. He caught Sif’s eye, waggled his eyebrows, and went on his way.

She managed a smile. The boy manning the crank at the well stopped as the bucket rose above the masonry. Sif took a cup from the stack nearby and filled it, then wound her way through the little crowd to an empty patch of wall. She leaned against it and sipped from her cup. Before her, the tower of the guild hall rose into the fog, quickly hidden from view by the enveloping gray.

Lilja and Einar, already chatting happily, wandered in her direction. She gave them a little wave as they neared.

“Good morning,” Lilja said. “How are you? Are you okay?”

“Fine,” Sif said. “I didn’t sleep very well last night.”

“Neither did we,” Einar said. He flushed. “I mean, we were just talking about that now. We didn’t— what are we going to do next?”

Sif coughed into her hand to hide a smile. It hadn’t taken much of a push to get the two of them together. “Well, I have a letter to send before the afternoon lesson. Walk with me to Yngvar’s?”


 

Yngvar’s was a name of some renown in den Holm. Sif, Lilja, and Einar left the Akademi and headed south, to the Heimdal Gate. They crossed the Heimdal bridge, an imposing stone edifice resting on two dozen piles over its span of two hundred yards. The thunder of the falls sounded to their left, then faded as they made their way deeper into the Riverfronts. Tall log-framed buildings crowded the street on both sides. Several times, the young magiker had to press up against the encroaching walls to allow wagons to pass.

Sif had never been to Yngvar’s lodge, but she knew how to find it. South of the Heimdal, a stone curtain wall dating back to the reign of Halfdan, first king of the Norrmanne, stayed the growth of the Riverfronts. As the district grew, it grew upward. Yngvar’s lodge was on the top floors of wood-and-stone tower which had six levels; it was the tallest building south of the river. It was visible from almost any street corner in the southern Riverfronts.

Posted in The Continuing Adventures of Sif, Writing | Leave a comment

The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 26

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.

Posted in The Continuing Adventures of Sif, Writing | Leave a comment

Commentary, The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 26

It took me some time to settle on the particular mode of teaching employed at the Magiska Akademier. Some of it depends on which school you study. Conjurers/trollernmagiker in particular are big on the book learning, along with telemancers/färdenmagiker, while the five elemental schools put a greater emphasis on practical training. That practical training takes the shape of combat drills like this one, and appropriate drills in the use of magic, as we’ll see a little later in this interlude.

Posted in Commentary, The Continuing Adventures of Sif Commentary | Leave a comment

The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 25

Sif swallowed. That was bad news. Outwardly, though, she smiled. The elder magiker could have walked by without saying anything. Sif appreciated the effort to make her feel better, and she hadn’t missed Annike’s switch to the informal voice just now. “Thank you, Annike Sigvardsdottir. That makes me feel much better.”

“Of course. It’s our duty to help those who need it,” Annike replied. “Enjoy your book, Sif Hrothgarsdottir, and I do hope you find your way back to sleep soon. I’m told Herre Leifsson has something special in store for you tomorrow.”

Sif kept the smile on her face. “I look forward to it. Good night, Kvinna.”

Annike returned Sif’s smile and dipped her head in farewell.

Sif returned to her book. Something was bothering her, and she couldn’t put her finger on it. She tried to read, but the words stacked up on themselves as she turned the problem over in her mind.

It came to her suddenly. What was Annike Sigvardsdottir doing wandering the halls of the Akademi at this hour? Dispensing advice to students seemed somehow beneath her station. Sif had never seen her during the day. Come to think of it, the only one of the Seven Sif ever saw in the halls of the Akademi was Baltasar Rasmussen. Why now?

She came up with a few answers. Annike Sigvardsdottir was just a night owl. She felt a tugging through the weave and let it carry her along—Herre Leifsson talked about that all the time. She was fighting the Shining Hand, and knew to warn Sif of their tactics. She was part of the Shining Hand, and aimed to scare Sif away.

Sif had no evidence one way or another, but her dream still weighed heavily on her mind. Her thoughts whirled, a storm building on itself. Had it been Annike Sigvardsdottir speaking to her then? No, the woman in her dream had a high voice with a creak, and Annike spoke in a lower register.

Nor could she say for sure that the Shining Hand was something to worry about, though she doubted her suspicions were misplaced. Her mind jumped to the letter under her pillow. Falthejn would know what to do, and help her know who to trust. Tomorrow, too, she could ask Baltasar Rasmussen about Annike Sigvardsdottir’s habits.

She could do no more tonight. She glanced at her candle, and was surprised to find it had burned halfway down. Lost in thought, she had lost track of time. Her eyelids finally began to feel heavy, and it felt to her as though a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She snuffed the candle, took her book, and returned to her room.

Soon after, she slept.


Posted in The Continuing Adventures of Sif, Writing | Leave a comment

The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 24

That was a question Sif didn’t quite know how to answer. She looked down and away to buy herself some time.

The Shining Hand in the park had been magiker, that she was sure of. Her dream suggested there were more of them, or that there would be. If it could be trusted, at any rate. For all she knew, what looked like a shadowy conspiracy could just be what magiker did to entertain themselves on long winter evenings.

The thought made her smile.

“Child?”

Sif looked up, endeavoring to make her eyes say the smile was false. “I don’t remember, exactly. Chains. Cold.” Best to be careful.

Annike smiled, speaking softly. “All is well now,” she replied. “You will find you grow used to the dreams—the natural ones, at least.”

Sif tilted her head, genuinely curious. “What do you mean?”

“A dream is a tale told by a spirit of the world to the spirit of your being,” the elder magiker said.

Sif nodded. “I understand that much.”

“Good. Leifsson certainly earns his keep.” Annike went on. “Do you know why spirits tell us stories?” Sif shook her head. “Some do to gain an edge on us, to weaken us, that they might worm their way into our minds. Some, on the other hand, do so out of kindness and concern—though there is great risk in explaining the motives of spirits in human terms.”

“Those are the natural dreams, then?” Sif said.

“Exactly so. There are unnatural dreams too, though. What do you know of hedge magiker?”

Sif shrugged. She knew of the class of magiker who never grew strong enough to draw the attention of the guilds, but nothing more.

“In your travels, you may hear the people speak of dreamseers, those who hear the spirits speak to those asleep, who tell their stories to the waking. You may also hear of dreamweavers: those who bargain with spirits to put a dream in a man’s head.”

Sif frowned. “That’s forbidden, isn’t it?”

“It is,” said Annike. “They do not understand the spirit’s price. People die—sometimes in agony, sometimes in ecstasy. The dream is too vivid. And yet…”

Sif raised her eyebrows.

“Yet, some magiker—real magiker, trained by the guilds—weave dreams. I understand it is most commonly political. Some magiker wishes to warn another away from nosing around his territory. The Twelve cannot watch everyone all the time. Our magiker gets away with it.” Annike smiled again, brighter this time. “You need not worry about that, though. I’m sure, child, you haven’t made such powerful enemies so soon after joining us. Your dream says as much. Mere impressions snatched from hazy memories? That realm belongs to dark spirits. Magiker are much more specific.”

Posted in The Continuing Adventures of Sif, Writing | Leave a comment