The Long Retreat No. 86

Falthejn looked around the clearing. He must have missed them by minutes. Alfhilde would have taken them toward the bridge. Falthejn turned upriver, following the bank, and begged the Twelve he wasn’t too late.

Half an hour later, he thought he could hear movement through the underbrush, beyond the hedge to his left. An ontlig shout, much nearer than the noises of battle from the bridge still far upriver, rang out. No time to think it through. He drew his sword and crashed through the brush.

He saw Alfhilde standing ready to receive an ontlig charge, a dozen or so of the smaller sort, unarmored and unarmed beyond their claws, heading right for her. Up the slight rise in front of them, a large ontling stood, surveying the skirmish. Something about it seemed familiar, but Falthejn had no time to look more closely. Sif let out a strangled cry and collapsed, and Hrothgar took a few steps forward to stand next to his wife. Falthejn didn’t like their odds. Shouting back at the ontlig chief, Falthejn pounded toward the oncoming fight.

“What, so you think—” Alfhilde said.

“Rebuke me later,” Falthejn interrupted.

The ontr reached them. The diviner let Alfhilde make the first strike, then gutted an ontling swiping at her side. He rolled beneath a third ontling’s claws as Hrothgar sunk his hatchet into its skull. On his way up, he tripped another ontling, leaving Hrothgar time enough to free his hatchet.

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