The Long Retreat No. 20

“You think he is above making mistakes?”

“I think he will make fewer mistakes than either of us. I have—”

“—worked with them before, yes.” Hrothgar shook his head. “I wonder how closely, if you take his side over mine so readily.”

“Hrothgar Hrafnssen!” Alfhilde replied, abandoning any attempt at quiet. Jakob stirred, sniffled, and began to cry.

Sif lost interest in the tableau, stood, and stretched. She’d slept better, on winter nights when she’d judged the cold too biting to sleep outside, but then, she’d also slept outside in the winter. A cave was nice, by that standard.

Falthejn wrapped up his bedroll a yard or two away, and Sif went over.

“Good morning,” the magiker said, tying the bedroll in its place atop his pack. “How are you?”

Sif blinked. She wasn’t sure how she was, but she could tell from the way her mind danced away from the question that she couldn’t afford to ask herself. She answered along those lines, though she lost track of the words as she pulled herself together.

Falthejn gave her a close look, concerned, but pushed her no further. For a moment, he put his mind to his work. “I put together a pack for you,” he said, cinching down a strap on his own, then pointing.

Sif followed his finger. He had changed the pack to fit her better—ropes bound the straps so that they were shorter and nearer, a better fit for her back, and it looked smaller than the others. “Thank you,” she said, meaning it. People didn’t often remember that she existed.

Falthejn cracked a smile. “Tell me that after you’ve carried it for a week. You have room for your bedroll, two days of food for us all, and a cloak, should the weather turn cold.” He glanced down for a moment. “I’m glad you have boots. I didn’t think to bring extra.”

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