The Long Retreat No. 38

He turned downslope—no sense going toward the road and revealing their hideaway—and headed for a patch of undergrowth, clinging precariously to the hillside in a patch of sunlight the trees had not yet colonized. Bright yellow blossoms drew his eyes to a tall grasslike plant, the flowers atop tall blades, while other stems, bending toward the ground, bore five-pointed seed pods. Falthejn stripped a handful of the latter and headed back up the hill.

When he returned the scattering of wood shavings around Sif’s legs had grown thicker. She had cut a deep, narrow vee into one side of the stick, and was working on the other. Falthejn grabbed a handful of pine needles as he sat, placing them and the starseed on his fire-cloth. Opening each of the cloth bags from his pack in turn, he sniffed at them, putting all but one away and producing a piece of chalk from his pack. Slowly and precisely, he drew a circle around himself and the fire-cloth. He stood, eyed the circle, erased a section with the heel of his palm, and redrew it. He repeated the process several times more, until, finally satisfied, he stepped gingerly inside. He sat at one side of the circle and centered the cloth opposite himself. He drew intricate symbols all around it, erasing and trying again whenever his work didn’t meet his standard.

After a while, he sat up, wiping at his brow with the back of his hand. He closed his eyes and cleared his mind. He could feel the hum of power in the air already. This would do.

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