The Long Retreat No. 46

Grateful for the distraction, Sif turned her thoughts to the question. “He saved us,” she observed. “It was dangerous, and he didn’t have to. I think he has a good heart. He’s been nice to me. It seems like he feels responsible for all of us. That’s a lot to worry about.”

Alfhilde looked out toward the sunset. “Diviners have that problem,” she mused. “Never know when to let people take care of themselves.” She leaned forward, looking around Sif at Falthejn. If the magiker had heard, he didn’t react. “Present company excluded. I’d rather have him here than not. The other side of the coin’s that they don’t know how to give up either.” She punctuated her words with a short, sharp nod, and sat back against the cliffside. Jakob reached for her chin.

“I don’t envy him,” Hrothgar said, intercepting Jakob’s hands and poking him gently on the nose. Jakob giggled, and Hrothgar smiled at him. “It must be a lonely life.”

Alfhilde said something, but Sif didn’t catch it. The world whirled around her—lonesomeness was her lot now. She took a deep breath, but the storms would not let up, and now the waves were breaking over her head. Someone said her name, and she opened her eyes. She didn’t remember closing them. Tears blurred Alfhilde, who now sat right across from her. Hrothgar cradled Jakob and looked on, concern etched into his face.

“Sif,” Alfhilde repeated. Sif looked her in the eye, and saw her own hurt there. There could be no hiding it any longer. A sob escaped her, and the dam burst. The world went dark, and the landscape of her grief took its place, grim and gray and despairing. Through it, she became dimly aware of arms around her, pulling her close. In her ear, Alfhilde whispered, “Tell me, child—what did you leave behind?”

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