The Long Retreat No. 8

For Alfhilde, the shriek of passing arrows sent long-dormant instincts singing through veins: stand and fight! She pushed them away for now. Jakob wailed, and she could not endanger him, and even were he far away and safe, she knew a losing fight when she saw one.

She stole a glance over her shoulder. Smoke rose over the city in pillars, lit in eerie reds and yellows by the fires feeding them. Against the darkening sky, she picked out another volley of arrows hurtling toward them. She nudged Hrothgar and picked up speed, but the arrows were falling short already, toward the diviner. Obligingly, he presented an easier target a few yards behind, slipping effortlessly out of the way whenever an arrow came too near.

Another few seconds, and they were out of bow shot. After a few seconds more, the diviner caught up to them. “Cut into the forest to the left when you reach it. When you come to the stream, follow it away from the city. I will go after the girl and find you later.” Alfhilde barely had time to blink before he was off, calling, “Sif!”

The girl had built up a lead of perhaps a hundred yards, and as the diviner chased her, it was clear he was tiring. Alfhilde might have outpaced him, were she not burdened with her makeshift shield and the hatchet in her hand. As they reached the edge of the wood, Jakob’s cries redoubled. She slowed to a fast walk, slipped the hatchet through her belt, then cradled his head in her hand and whispered softly to him. Hrothgar stepped into the lead, taking them off the road and into the wilderness.

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