The Long Retreat No. 68

Falthejn could give them the slip without trouble, especially if he waited until night, and his watch. Would they go on without him? In one set of hypothetical futures, he stayed nearby to watch. They would, if he left them a message. Would it help? He pushed his sight further and saw the Jewel of the North, swelling under the weight of refugees, tens of thousands of them.

Would they lose so much ground? Perhaps they would. Every scenario in which he did not fall to an ontlig claw, a crude axe, or a black-feathered arrow saw him back to that city. He pushed himself to the very limits of his power, and saw himself consulting records—and there, months before it was to be, he saw four names in a register under Hrothgarsken: Hrothgar, Alfhilde, Jakob, Sif.

That was enough. It was more hope than they had now, at any rate, and that made it the right thing to do, hard though it might be. He snapped out of his walking trance, and felt the twists and knots he had put into the weave by his exertion. As they moved along, the air warmed noticeably, leaving behind the unnatural chill the distortions to the world had created. Falthejn stumbled.

Sif stepped up next to him. “Are you alright?”

Falthejn showed a smile she could probably see right through. “Yes, I will be. I can see to the end of our journey now.”

The girl brightened. “We make it?”

“We do.” Or, thought Falthejn, you do. Of his own fate, he was less certain.


Falthejn kept turning the problem over in his head through the rest of the day. Could he truly leave his charges? He remained convinced it was the right thing to do. They would live; that was goal. But was it a good thing to do? In the strict, calculating sense, yes. In the fuzzier environs of the real world, it was less clear to him. If he stayed, there would be a fight for survival on the road tomorrow. Of that, he had very little doubt, based on the speed of the ontlig advance and the pace they could make. He was wounded and tired, and although seeing past a melee presented a diviner with an insurmountable challenge—too many variables too close together; it was all they could do to keep up with a fight in the thick of it—he didn’t need his foresight to tell him their chances were slim. They might make it, they might not. The reason mankind hated his school of magic stemmed from that sort of gambling with lives. If he left, he had some indication, at least, that they would be safe. The odds were for leaving, and yet still it gave him pause. Why?

Because, it dawned on him, he cared about what these people thought. By leaving in secret in the middle of the night, he would hurt them deeply, and they would likely never forgive him for it.

He shook his head. Hard as it would be, his choice was clear.

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