The Long Retreat No. 1

The sun sank low over the western horizon. As the shadows deepened, the fires raging across the city blazed brighter. Falthejn Arnarsson watched a moment, convinced it was no trick of the light. A moment later, the fires swirled, swelling thirty yards high, doubtlessly under the direction of an ontlig shaman. The firestorm spat dozens of tongues of flame, kindling new blazes no more than a hundred yards from Falthejn, then blew itself out.

He resisted the urge to tap his foot. His visions had been maddeningly unclear, but he was sure enough that there were survivors, two groups which would find him here shortly after the firestorm he’d just seen. Sooner, he thought, would be better. The last of the refugee columns had set out an hour ago, and the last delaying force south of the city was likely already overwhelmed. Unchecked, the ontlig tide rolled down the foothills outside the wall in that direction.

Movement down a broad avenue—Skogholm had been a beautiful town before all this—caught his eye. Two people ran toward him. One, a tall, broad-shouldered man with a shock of dark hair and a full beard, hefted a long, heavy axe. The other, a hard-faced, brown-haired woman of average size, bore an infant strapped to her chest. Tied to her arm with strips of cloth was an iron pan, and in her other hand, she carried a hatchet. As she drew closer, Falthejn saw it was already dripping with ontlig blood.

“Have they gained the town?” he called.

“At least one did,” the woman said feelingly. “Why are you still here?”

“I am Falthejn Arnarsson, diviner with the army. I’m taking the last few stragglers out of the city.”

They regarded him cautiously—rightly, too. Falthejn knew how poorly regarded his fellow föraningsmagiker tended to be, and the self-centered lot of them ordinarily deserved it. Finally, the man spoke. “I am Hrothgar Hrafnssen. This is my wife, Alfhilde Asgeirsdottir, and our son Jakob. We should not delay.”

“There are others.” Falthejn kept watch down the streets opening onto the marktplatz in which they stood.

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