The Long Retreat No. 75

She sighed, and the real world came back into focus. Alfhilde had only just finished a sentence, and was looking at her curiously. Sif said, “He’s really gone?”

Alfhilde nodded. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I know you liked him.”

“He has reasons,” Sif replied, but her heart wasn’t in it. “I don’t know what to do now—what to do with myself, and with magic.” Alfhilde raised her eyebrows, but Sif shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about it right now.” She looked up at Alfhilde with a quiet pleading in her eyes. “Are we going to make it?”

Alfhilde sat back heavily. Her face turned careworn, more so than Sif had ever seen. “I hope so.”


They kept to a faster pace than they had before. Alfhilde led the way, carrying with her Hrothgar’s axe. Hrothgar followed with Jakob, the hatchet hanging at his belt, and Sif struggled to keep up.

They started as the sun was rising, and didn’t stop once through the whole day. Every noise in the undergrowth sparked its own little moment of panic. Had the ontr caught them? Was Falthejn coming back?

The sun was on its way to the horizon when they first heard the river. “Do you see it?” Sif asked Alfhilde.

Alfhilde stood on her tiptoes and shook her head. “Not yet.”

“Why is it so loud?” Sif asked.

Alfhilde pressed on. “I do not like it.”

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