The Long Retreat No. 22

The cold, gray light of dawn persisted into the mid-morning, before the fog began to burn away. They’d made passable time, by Falthejn’s estimation, though he had hoped for better. The army had a full day’s head start now, and if they were indeed taking the straighter, cross-country route, his little band of survivors would be hard-pressed to reach the fort at Flodsvadgard before the army marched the refugees further north.

He looked over his shoulder. Sif kept pace with him, a respectful step or two behind. She had kept her own counsel since they’d set out. Deep in thought, she missed his scrutiny.

Behind her, Alfhilde carried Jakob, his swaddling tied over her shoulder. Hrothgar brought up the rear, head swiveling at the slightest of forest noises off the sides of the road. They made an odd pair, Falthejn thought. He turned his eyes forward again, as the road sloped gently toward the crest of a slight rise. Hrothgar Hrafnssen still had no trust for him, but his wife would keep him in line. She had evidently been impressed by some diviner in the past, a rare enough happening that Falthejn resolved to ask for his name.

Hrafnssen and his family would thrive after this ordeal, Falthejn decided. Hrothgar could find work anywhere in mankind’s territory, and Alfhilde’s army days would have cut any roots she’d put down. Refugees though they were, they seemed sturdy and reliable, and Alfhilde, at least, had faced greater dangerous and worse uncertainties before. Falthejn decided to check on them in a few years. When next he had the chance to peer that far ahead, he would see for sure.

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