I talk about the upsides of serializing my writing all the time, but one of the downsides is that I can sometimes forget certain details. For instance, sometimes I describe the spiral corridor as a ramp, and sometimes as broad stairs. I think I’m going to correct to the latter.
“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.
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.
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.”
I don’t think Sif is being half as clever as she thinks she is here.
I am at least as proud of the Ei—I stutter/recovery, though, as she is.
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.
I’ve seen a few things which have me excited to go back to the Skypirates universe. We’re getting close to the end of this interlude. Sif needs to talk to Leifsson, and after that I’ll probably switch back.
“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.”
Sorry, a little late this morning.
Otherwise, not much to say. Enjoy!
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.