The Long Retreat No. 2

“Are you sure?” Hrothgar began. “I was—”

“—among the last working south of the city, yes.” Falthejn made a dismissive gesture. “We have some few minutes yet.” Petty predictions such as that were little more than lodge hall tricks, as far as divining went, but in this case, a lodge hall trick had made his point well. Hrothgar shifted nervously from foot to foot, but remained quiet.

Minutes passed, and evening passed into twilight. A sudden grinding of stone caught Falthejn’s attention. On the south wall, a tower, abandoned by now, yielded to the ontlig catapults. Half of it sloughed away, tumbling down the inner face of the wall to add to the pile of debris at its foot. Falthejn watched a moment longer, then said, “We must go.”

At the same time, Alfhilde pointed down a narrow alley to their left. “Look!”

A dirty-faced girl in boy’s clothes sprinted toward them, putting on a further turn of speed as she registered their presence. She came nearer, and skidded to a stop a few yards off, breathing hard.

“What is your name?” Falthejn said. “Are you alone?”

The girl eyed the sword sheathed at Falthejn’s side. Her eyes went wide as she saw the blood drying on Alfhilde’s hatchet.

“We aren’t going to hurt you,” Alfhilde said. “We’re leaving the city. You have to come with us. It isn’t safe to say. What’s your name?”

“Sif,” she said, still keeping her distance. “The others—” A deep breath turned into a sob, and she grew quiet for a long moment. “we were hiding, but the monsters found us, and we ran, and…” She trailed off, and looked between Falthejn and Alfhilde with tears rimming her eyes. “I don’t think anyone else is coming.”

Falthejn held her gaze. For a moment, no words came. “I’m sorry,” he said, with all the gentleness he could muster. “We have to leave now, if we intend to leave at all.”

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