The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 44

Leifsson closed his eyes. Sif watched the poster. It remained resolutely ordinary. She looked up at Leifsson searchingly. “Is it broken?”

“No,” Leifsson replied, removing his hand and rolling the paper. “I saw it.”

Quickly, Sif glanced down at the poster. “It didn’t—”

“Twelve, no. If anyone were to see it…” Leifsson shook his head and rubbed his temple. “I should burn it.”

Sif looked to her friends. They watched Leifsson, wide-eyed. “Not over your candle,” she said, facing Leifsson again. “Here.” She held out her hand. Leifsson hesitated, then passed her the scroll.

She slipped it into her sleeve and stood. Across the hall was a cask of the Akademi’s small beer. She headed in that direction. As she passed the hearth, she twitched her hand toward the embers and scratched her wrist. The fire flared for a moment as paper lit and burned.

She paid it no mind, pulled four mugs’ worth of beer from the tap at the cask’s base, and returned to the table. She passed the mugs around, and raised her eyebrows at Leifsson.

He half-smiled, then addressed Einar and Lilja with considerably less cheer. He spoke in the formal register again. “Be that careful. You have uncovered something terrible.” He took a deep breath. “In the days of the jötnar wars, magiker were not so tightly bound to the Rike. We took den Holm back from the jötnar. We built its walls. We were deeply convinced of our own power, and our power independent of the mundane authorities. It was these conditions which bred the Shining Hand.”

“But—” Einar said.

“The original Shining Hand.” Leifsson held a finger up. “Let me speak. The magiker watched the wars from their citadels in den Holm. Joar King did not go to them for help. He chose steel and grit.”

“And death,” Sif put in.

“And death,” Leifsson echoed, giving her a look. “Joar King died fighting. Halfdan II took the throne. He would shun the Akademier, too. That was the last straw. The Shining Hand was a conspiracy of magiker, highly placed in each of the guilds, who aimed to usurp the mundane authorities and conduct the war according to their own designs. Weave-working would bring the jötnar to their knees, and the Norrman people would not have to buy their end with blood.”

Sif frowned. “I’ve been reading Geirsson’s history,” she said. “He doesn’t say anything about that.”

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Empty week update

You may have noticed there was no story post yesterday. I’m not planning on a Friday update at this time, either, for two reasons:

  1. I’m at a key point on my Libra Cervisiae homebrew-tracking open-source project. I plan to run some tests this weekend, and I need to be sure I’m far enough along to do so.
  2. I’m cranking out a lot of RPJ stuff, and should have beta versions of both RPJ Core and RPJ Police Cops posted this weekend, and a prerelease version of RPJ Sci-Fi sometime in the next few weeks.

Given that both of those projects reflect on Many Words to some degree or another, I’m going to take the week off to get them as squared away as I’m able. We’ll be back next Tuesday.

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 43

She descended the staircase to the great hall. As usual, it was nearly empty at this hour, and the fire on the hearth had burned down to a man-sized pile of glowing embers.

Einar and Lilja sat near the fire, engaged in conversation which struck Sif as a bit too innocent. Nobody talked so eagerly about studying.

Leifsson had a table to himself on the far side of the hearth, away from the tafl boards and the late-night readers. He had a candle and a book of his own, which he flipped through at a pace Sif thought was incompatible with paying the words any attention.

She approached him. He waved her to a seat, closing the book without marking his place. “Sif Hrothgarsdottir.”

“Herre Leifsson.”

“Do you have the poster?”

Sif paused. “No,” she said. Leifsson’s raised eyebrow demanded an explanation. “I wasn’t alone last night,” she said.

“Goransson and Orrisdottir?” Leifsson guessed.

Sif nodded. “Is it that obvious?”

“It isn’t that it’s obvious,” said the elder magiker. “It’s only that I can’t think of anyone else you’d get into trouble with.”

Sif inclined her head, allowing that this made sense. “Einar has the poster. He and Lilja wanted to be included. I don’t think it’s a good idea, but they insisted.”

Leifsson gave her a level look. She didn’t know what to make of it. Eventually, he said, “I can call them over, demand the poster, and send them away. Do you want that?”

“I was hoping you would decide for me,” Sif said. Leifsson snorted, but said nothing, waiting for her answer. “That’s what I want, but I promised I would talk you into bringing them in.”

Leifsson’s eyebrow rose again. Sif wondered if he practiced, or if anyone else got the same number of searching looks.

“That was an odd promise to make,” he said. She shrugged. “I’ll tell them you were very convincing.”

Sif wasn’t sure if she appreciated that or not. She turned in her chair, caught Einar’s eye, and waved. Nonchalantly, Einar and Lilja joined them. Einar took a brace of chairs from the next table over and set them down to Sif’s right.

“Well?” said Leifsson.

Einar blinked.

“The poster,” Leifsson said.

“Right.” Einar withdrew the rolled paper from his sleeve and passed it to Leifsson.

Leifsson unrolled it. It was blank. He weighed down the top edge with his book and the bottom edge with his candle, then placed his hand on the center of the page.

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 42

Einar raised his eyebrows, but silently led them to the stairs up. As they left the great hall, he prompted, “Ansgar Leifsson said…?”

Sif shook her head. “Someone’s watching,” she said, now convinced of it. “Magic, probably. Herre Leifsson was concerned that… that the jötnar were back.”

She hoped that was clear: an old threat, thought vanquished, now returning.

“The jötnar? But nobody’s seen a jötun in—” Einar began.

Lilja elbowed him in the ribs. “Exactly. Think about it.”

As the wheels turned in Einar’s head, Sif gave Lilja an approving nod.

“I see,” said Einar, eventually. They came to his door. “I didn’t realize they had been here before.”

“He didn’t tell me much,” Sif admitted. “He said he would tell me more tonight.”

“When?” said Lilja, as Einar disappeared into his room. “Should we come with you?”

Sif shook her head. “I didn’t tell him you were with me. It seemed safer for you that way.”

Einar poked his head out the door. “Safer for who?”

“For you,” Sif replied. “I don’t want—”

“We’ll decide for ourselves how safe we want to be,” said Einar. “I’m going with you. Lilja?”

“Me too.”

“You’re sure?” said Sif.

“We are,” said Einar, emerging from his room with a rolled piece of paper in hand. “When do we meet him?”

“I guess I can’t stop you,” Sif said reluctantly. “In the great hall, at the tenth bell.”

“Great,” Einar replied. “We’ll meet you there at half-ten, then.”

Sif nodded, then held up a hand. “Wait. You two go on ahead, and I’ll come in right on time. I’ll tell Herre Leifsson that you were there and wave you over.”

“Why?” Lilja wondered.

“I don’t think he wants to talk about this any more widely than he has to. If we’re all there, I don’t know if he’ll open up. If it’s just me at first, I’m sure I can talk him into it.”

Einar exchanged a look with Lilja. “Do you promise not to talk him out of it?”

Notwithstanding that this had been her plan, Sif nodded. “Promise.”

“Okay. We’ll see you later.”


They had a few hours before the Rikesarkiv’s tenth bell. Sif returned to her room, gave Geirsson’s history a longing look, and instead took a textbook from her trunk, along with her ælfish dictionary. She sat cross-legged on her bed, and immersed herself in a dry treatment of the few dozen cumulations and forms Herre Leifsson would expect her to know in the classroom tomorrow.

The ninth bell sounded, and some time later, mercifully, came the three-quarters bell. Sif closed the book, set it aside with a good deal less reverence than Geirsson’s history deserved, and headed for the door.

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 41

Lilja stood. Sif stacked their dishes—she saw no reason to make the servants’ lives harder—and followed suit.

Einar was playing the besieging side, the one which started at the outside of the board and had to keep the king from escaping. Sif considered it the harder task, although she was the wrong person to ask. She aspired to be merely bad someday.

Einar lifted his hand, shifting a piece backward while leaving another to be captured. It made no sense to Sif, which was, in her experience, the sign of a good move. Einar rested his chin on his hand and studied the board intently. His opponent looked between him and the board, frowned, and said, “If I am not mistaken, Einar Goransson, that is that.”

“I believe it is. Thank you for the game, Herre Rolfsson.”

“You play it well.”

Einar inclined his head and stood, yielding the table to another player, and finally caught sight of Sif and Lilja. A smile broke out across his face. “Hello.”

“Hi,” said Lilja. “Was it a good game?”

Einar nodded. “It was neck and neck most of the way,” he said. “Herre Rolfsson made a little mistake toward the end—moved his king too far from the rest of his pieces. If it wasn’t for that, he probably would have won in another ten or fifteen moves.”

Sif glanced at the board. Rolfsson and his new opponent were busily returning the pieces to their starting spaces. “Someday, you’ll have to show me how to play,” she said.

“The rules are pretty easy…”

“Someday, you’ll have to show me how to win,” Sif clarified, looking back up and grinning.

Einar laughed. “My father always told me that your first hundred games are your hundred most instructive losses.”

Sif thought that through. “So I have to lose a hundred games before I start to get better?”

“You might pick up a win here and there,” said Einar, lifting a shoulder. “It’s hard to play well, though. If it were easy, would it be as satisfying?”

“Maybe not,” Sif admitted. “Do you still have the poster from yesterday?”

Einar took a moment to register the change in subject. “It’s in my room. Why?”

“Ansgar Leifsson wants to see it. He said there used to be a—” Sif stopped. She could feel someone watching her. She looked over her shoulder. Nobody was looking in their direction. “Let’s go get it.”

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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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