The Long Retreat No. 19

Sif gradually became aware of voices. It sounded like an argument, insistent but quiet. She opened her eyes. Falthejn’s trinket still filled the cavern with a hard-edged light, but she could see the early dawn’s light filling in shadows toward the cave’s mouth.

“Madness,” said Hrothgar. “Twelve’s eyes, they’ll kill us before the day is out.”

Patiently, Falthejn explained, “They will not. If they will, we will leave the road, but today we are safe.”

“Not half a day ago you told us you do not see in sure things!” Hrothgar’s voice rose.

Falthejn sighed. “I cannot be completely sure,” he said. “I can come very, very close.” It sounded to Sif as though he’d said the very same thing before.

She sat up. Alfhilde showed her a smile. The feeling was genuine, but Alfhilde looked tense, like a bowstring pulled taut. If she were standing, she would have been pacing. As it was, Jakob took some of her attention, and her contribution to the conversation seemed limited to exasperated looks.

“You would risk our safety on—”

“Hrothgar,” Alfhilde said warningly. She motioned him over. She spoke softly, but Sif had always been keen of hearing, and it was no effort to overhear: “Falthejn Arnarsson is a magiker.”

“And?” Hrothgar replied.

“And he is better prepared than anyone here to tell us what is best to do.”

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