The Long Retreat No. 16

“How did we lose?” Hrothgar said. Alfhilde gave him a look, and murmured something below Falthejn’s hearing.

“No,” said Falthejn, “the question is a fair one. What news have you had heard of the war so far?”

“Too little,” said Hrothgar.

More helpfully, Alfhilde said, “We know that we fight the dweorgr, and that these— ontr, you call them? They have joined in.”

“Near enough.” Falthejn leaned experimentally against the wall of the cavern. He found it comfortable enough. “Between us and their foes from beeper below the surface, the dweorgr did not care to fight a third front. They shut up the ways below the mountains from the south, until it became clear to them that the ontr would go over the mountains just as easily. After that, the dweorgr closed their halls altogether. No man has seen a dweorg since the start of summer.”

“The War of Man and Dweorg is three months ended?” Alfhilde said, eyebrows rising in surprise.

“So it would seem.” Falthejn said. He paused for a moment, sizing her up. “You have the look of a fighter,” he ventured.

She looked pleased. “In the war with the dweorgr, and for some time before. I met Hrothgar when the thane’s army camped near the city.”

Falthejn nodded approval. “The dweorgr were honorable foes. These ontr are not. Should we find ourselves face to face with them, do not forget,” he advised. “After the dweorgr fell back, we went back north and celebrated. The next word of these ontr reached us only a month ago: survivors from the first attack on the north side of the mountains told what had happened. We were on our way soon after.”

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