Later on, after they had eaten their fill and the fire at the end of the lodge’s great hall had burned down to embers, Falthejn cleared his throat. “I am afraid I will be leaving den Holm tomorrow. Urgent matters relating to the war require my attention.”
“No!” Sif said, nearly jumping out of her chair.
Falthejn smiled. “I do wish I could stay.”
“How am I supposed to know what I’m doing?” pleaded Sif.
“You’ll meet your master at the guild tomorrow. Ansgar Leifsson is is his name.” Falthejn leaned back in his chair and rubbed at his chin. “I’ve met him once or twice, and know him by reputation. He’s a fine teacher.”
Alfhilde put in, “And your family is always here to help where we can.”
Sif sat back down, quiet for a few beats. She bit at her lip, then said to Falthejn, “You’ll visit?”
“Of course. I won’t be gone forever.”
The girl nodded to herself, then looked to Alfhilde. “I’ll probably visit a lot.”
“Nothing would make me gladder.” Alfhilde patted Sif’s hand. “You’re family now, remember.”
Sif nodded, smiling brightly. “It’s still a little hard to believe.”
“Believe it,” Falthejn said, rising. “Alfhilde, Hrothgar—it has been a pleasure. I am happy to see you well. You always have a friend in me. Please, let me know if there is ever anything I can do for you. Farewell for now.” The two of them said their farewells, then Falthejn added, “Would you walk me to the door, Sif? I have a word or two for you.”
“Sure,” Sif said, tagging along.
Falthejn took his cloak from the rack by the door and turned to her, speaking quietly. “The guild will tell you that it’s the only family you need—that’s just their way. I urge you to ignore them, and to remember what you have here.”
Sif tilted her head. “Why would I forget?”
“They can be very persuasive,” Falthejn replied. “If I thought you were entirely safe, I wouldn’t have to warn you, now, would I?” Sif shrugged, conceding the point. “Finally, if you have need of me, leave a letter with the lodgekeeper at Yngvar’s, across the bridge out the High Quarter’s south gate.”
Sif raised her eyebrows. “Isn’t his name Yngvar?”
Falthejn grinned. “Ask him about it. The winters here are long and cold. A good tale told across the fire at Yngvar’s helps to pass the time until the sun returns in warmth and happiness. As to your letters, I may not be able to come in person, but I’ll reply as soon as I know you’ve tried to get in touch.”
Sif frowned thoughtfully. “Does that mean before I leave the letter?”
“If it’s important enough.” Falthejn looked her up and down. Their first meeting was etched into his memory, and the girl then—dirty, scared, alone—bore little resemblance to the girl now. In the two weeks since their arrival in den Holm, the everpresent worry had gone out of her face, and a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. He smiled nearly ear-to-ear. “Would you believe we only met a month ago?” She joined him in marveling for a moment, then he continued. “You’ve come a long way in that time, Sif Hrothgarsdottir, and there’s no telling how high you might soar. I can’t wait to see.”
Sif blinked back tears, then threw her arms around Falthejn.
Honestly surprised, it took him a moment to hug back. He patted her on the back. After a good while, she pulled away. He put a hand on her shoulder. “Twelve watch over you, Sif. We’ll see each other soon. Of that I have no doubt.”
Wiping beneath her eyes, Sif fixed him with a mock glare. “You’d better make good on that.”
Falthejn smiled. “You have my word.”
The door closed behind him, and he was gone.