The Long Retreat No. 13

Hrothgar frowned. “Selfish,” he mumbled.

Alfhilde lifted a shoulder, then rocked Jakob gently. “I can’t argue with their results. Do you—”

“There they are,” Hrothgar said.

Alfhilde turned halfway, and there they were, emerging from the gloom much nearer than she’d expected. The girl seemed calmer, but Alfhilde couldn’t say for sure that it would last. “Sif,” she said. “I am Alfhilde. This is my husband, Hrothgar Hrafnssen.” Hrothgar grunted, and Alfhilde added, “Are you alright?”

Sif nodded, edging a little closer as Falthejn faced the cairn, then took three long steps to his left and walked forward gingerly.

“What are you doing now?” the girl asked.

Falthejn stopped, bending over to sweep pine needles and a few fallen branches away, revealing a shallow trench. In it, five canvas packs sat in a neat row. One at a time, he lifted them out of the trench and set them down next to it. “Hrothgar Hrafnssen, do you know of anywhere we might spend the night out of sight? Ontr have reached the forest.”

“This place is called Grotascairn,” Hrothgar replied. “The mouth of the cave is just down the hill.”

“Good.” Falthejn slung one of the packs onto his back, then hefted another by the straps. “Bring the other three. We will leave behind what we cannot carry.”

Sif moved to try one of the packs on for size, but Hrothgar waved her away. He handed Alfhilde his axe, put one on, and picked up the other two, one in each hand. Alfhilde smiled. That was her Hrothgar, sure enough.

Falthejn nodded. “Lead on.”

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