The Long Retreat No. 36

Falthejn mimicked Sif, leaning against his pack and resting his legs. The land here was beautiful, in its rugged way. Down the hill, a bare patch of ground left a break in the canopy at eye level. It revealed leagues of ridges covered with the conifers so common here, the dark green of the needles making the infrequent patch of red-brown forest floor or dark gray stone stand out all the more vividly. The breeze carried the scent of sap to Falthejn’s nose, and overhead, an unfamiliar bird let loose a cry. He took in the sight for a few minutes.

A chill struck him, along with an unbidden thought: “No men after us will see this place for a very long time.”

He shook his head and frowned, hoping that wasn’t a premonition. Even if it was, he had more important things to do. He got up, looked around the makeshift camp, and and sat a minute later with a stick in hand, fat as his thumb. He went to work on it with his knife, stripping it of its bark and smoothing out its surface, before flipping the knife around in his hand and using its tip to inscribe runes into the wood, from its base to a point a handspan up its height. He said their names as he did, pushing a little with the force of his will here, pushing harder there.

He became aware of Sif’s intent gaze, and raised an eyebrow at her.

“Can I help with anything?” she said, through a mouthful of trail bread.

“Be careful how much you eat,” he said, looking back to his work. “That’s more filling than it seems at first. Long marches breed hunger, but I doubt Hrothgar Hrafnssen would be very happy if he had to carry you tomorrow.”

She looked at the biscuit in her hands. “Last one,” she promised. “Unless I’m still hungry.”

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