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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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 35

Worth a try. Sif bit at the inside of her lip. An idea came to her, but it seemed to her to be a bad thing to say with her classmates in earshot. If Leifsson expected her to do better than them… If she went last, maybe he thought it wouldn’t be as intimidating, or maybe that her nerves would get to her.

She said, “I don’t know, Herre Leifsson.”

He watched her like a hawk. “Think about it,” he suggested. “If it comes to you, find me later and tell me.”

She made a conscious effort to look innocent, which probably made it worse. Leifsson waved her toward the poles. She walked up to them. They seemed taller from here.

The others had jumped from the ground straight to the nearest platform. Even Einar had. Very direct. It didn’t fit with the luftsmagiker’s way of thinking.

She backed up a few steps, which earned some raised eyebrows and whispers from the students behind her. She pretended she hadn’t heard, then took a few steps to get up to speed. She jumped, braid streaming out behind her, and as she did, she reached out to feel the weave. A push here, a pull there, and an unnatural wind kicked up, propelling her upward a bit, but also forward. Rather than aim for a platform directly, she aimed for a point on one pole three yards off the ground, leading with her legs. Her feet touched, her knees bent, and she pushed off.

Another pole ahead. She locked her eyes on a point midway between the ground and the platform. The wind carried her into the pillar, supported her as she put her left elbow around it to hang against its side. Beyond the pole, another three yards up, was the ten-yard platform. That seemed like a good place to end up.

She plucked at the threads of the weave, felt the world shift according to her design. A blast of cold wind caught her, turning her around the pillar so that she could jump directly to the next platform. She pushed off. For a split second, before the gust she called caught her, the sensation of falling settled in her stomach. Then she was rising. There was the platform. She pushed her legs forward, got her feet on the wooden disc, and came to a sudden stop. She leaned forward, then left, finding her balance, and stood straight.


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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 34

Sif knew Lilja much better. ‘Timid’ seemed to her too mean a word, but it wasn’t wrong, if she was honest. Lilja was nearer the bottom of the class than the top, Sif would admit, but that didn’t justify how little trust she had in her own talent.

She approached the poles, looking them up and down. She bent her knees, jumped, and caught herself with a powerful updraft which left her directly above the lowest platform. Knees still bent, she took the impact cleanly. She straightened up, arms out and moving minutely to keep her balance.

Sif wanted to cheer, but it didn’t seem like anyone else was. She settled for catching Lilja’s eye and clapping silently. A smile flashed across Lilja’s face, and grew bigger when Leifsson said, “Well done. Can you make it to the next one?”

The answer turned out to be no, although it was close. Leifsson again touched the weave, catching Lilja before she hit the ground, and dipped his head as she passed to rejoin the other students. Sif clapped her on the shoulder and grinned.

Nine of Sif’s fellow aspirants took a crack at the poles, one by one. None of them matched Einar’s success; most didn’t even do as well as Lilja. Sif found herself shifting from foot to foot. She wasn’t sure if she was impatient or nervous.

Finally, she was the last one left. “Sif Hrothgarsdottir,” said Leifsson. “Why do you think you are the last to go?”

His tone set off warning bells in Sif’s head. The elder luftsenmagiker were always going on about philosophy. Each school of magiker had its own strengths and weaknesses, its own way of approaching problems. She couldn’t argue with that. She did, on the other hand, find it annoying that they tried to turn their ways of approaching problems into ways of thinking about everything.

On top of that, the luftsenmagiker had a particularly maddening way of thinking. Don’t stand against the gales in life. Go where the wind takes you. You’ll often find it’s where you were supposed to be all along.

Nonsense, Sif thought. Sitting around and waiting for things to happen to you was no way to live. Still, it paid to stick to the script. “Did it just happen that way?” she wondered aloud.

Leifsson showed a smile. “A good guess,” he said, “but I do have a reason.”


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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 33

Half a lap later, on the north side of the courtyard, he faced his first- and second-year students. Baltasar Rasmussen had already corralled the others.

The students left with him stood in the shadow of the poles: an array of two dozen posts driven deep into the ground, each three yards from its neighbor. They ranged in height from four yards to just shy of fifteen, and each was crowned with a circular platform barely wide enough to get two feet on.

“As luftsenmagiker, you are shielded by your agility,” Leifsson said. “You must learn control and precision. Einar Goransson, would you demonstrate?”

Einar turned to face the poles, wound up for a jump, and leaped into the air, raising his hands as he did. A blast of wind caught him as he did, carrying him up to one of the lowest poles. From there, he jumped from pole to pole, guiding himself with precisely-timed gusts, barely even putting a foot down before springing toward his next stop. He came to a halt on the tallest pole, bowed theatrically, and jumped down. The wind caught him as he neared the ground.

“Very good,” Leifsson said. Motion caught his eye: Sif nudged Lilja with her elbow and whispered something out of the corner of her mouth. “First-year aspirants, step forward.”


 

“Pretty good, isn’t he?” Sif whispered. Lilja blushed. It was too easy sometimes, Sif thought.

“… step forward,” said Leifsson.

The two young luftsenmagiker joined their ten compatriots.

“Today, you will learn to move as Einar Goransson did: calling on the weave to jump higher and further and land more precisely than you could hope to do without it. I will not push you very far today. Soon, there will be complications. Gyr Didriksson. Approach the poles.”

Sif watched with obvious interest. She didn’t know Gyr very well as a person, but she had faced off against him frequently enough to develop a sense for his ability working with the weave. He was good at it, though maybe not as good as she was. He was more rigid in his style, less creative but probably better at using what he knew in difficult situations.

He sized up the shortest pole, took a running start, and sprang into the air. A sudden wind kicked up dust, and Gyr flew five yards up. He got his feet on the platform at the top of the pole, but lost his balance, arms windmilling as he toppled forward. Leifsson cushioned his fall with a miniature whirlwind.

“A good first attempt,” Leifsson allowed. “Control will come with practice. Lilja Orrisdottir. You are next.”

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