The Long Retreat No. 43

Sif watched him for a few minutes. He sat in his circle and closed his eyes, and as far as she could see, did nothing. She guessed looking with her mind would tell a different story, but she didn’t really need to know, and Falthejn’s warning still rang in her ears. At least now she could sit here, a few yards away, without feeling like ants were crawling under her skin. She shivered at the thought.

She turned her mind elsewhere, leaning back against the cliff and getting as comfortable as she could, under the circumstances. Across the camp, Hrothgar Hrafnssen and Alfhilde—Sif grasped for her patronym without success—spoke to each other. Sif listened to them.

“I forget how close the city is to places like this,” Alfhilde said. She shifted Jakob to her other shoulder and patted him on the back. “It’s beautiful.”

“Less beautiful if you’re hauling a tree up a mountain,” Hrothgar observed. Jakob burped, and Hrothgar’s tone softened. Sif glanced sidelong, and blinked in surprise. Hrothgar was smiling. “I see it too. The way the hills catch the light is a sight to behold.”

“I’m glad I could see it one last time.”

Hrothgar’s voice lost its levity. “Do you think it’s that bad?”

Alfhilde was quiet for a moment. “I think it is,” she replied. “We were no less surprised by the dweorgr—did Syderskogholm fall then? Our armies haven’t lost in the field since the wars of the jotnar, and the magiker fought harder, back in those days. Our Arnarsson puts on a brave face, but I think he knows it too.” She paused, then smiled tightly. “He would, wouldn’t he?”

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