The Long Retreat No. 50

Falthejn’s eyes snapped open. The sun had gone down. He turned to the left, where Sif had been sitting, but she was gone. He looked the other way. Sif sat, leaning against Alfhilde, eyes closed. Alfhilde had an arm around the girl. Hrothgar sat on Alfhilde’s other side, holding Jakob. Both had their heads back against the cliffside, and both snored quietly. Alfhilde caught his eye, and gave him a smile and a little wave.

Falthejn dipped his head. He supposed he could tell them all what he’d found tomorrow. He slipped into his bedroll, and, almost instantly, was asleep.


After a few hours, Hrothgar woke Falthejn, and Falthejn kept watch for a few hours before waking Alfhilde. In the morning, they ate quickly and broke camp. Falthejn led the way, Hrothgar, carrying Jakob, followed him, and Sif and Alfhilde, walking together, brought up the rear.

Alone with his thoughts, Falthejn wondered about the nature of his newfound adversary. If he’d managed to link up with the army, he might have compared notes with Ericsdottir, but it seemed increasingly unlikely that either Falthejn’s band or the army would be able to do much more than flee. That was worrying in its own way. Now bridge crossed the Syderskogflod, and the only ford an army could hope to cross came at the end of this road. If the army was a ways to the west, and Falthejn’s band could only just keep ahead of the ontr on the road, he doubted the army, slowed by its size and delayed by a cross-country detour, could make it through without a fight.

He frowned. He might be able to draw the attention of the ontr army, once he’d shepherded his charges to the fort. Perhaps, but he recognized something ahead. A half-fallen tree laid against a stand of its companions, supported by their branches. The reason became clear as they rounded a bend in the road. Even to him, with his experience in such things, the scene, jumbled and confused as it was, took a few moments to make sense of.

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