The Long Retreat No. 92

“Thank you,” Sif said. She had hoped—

“I am glad to see you to a place where you belong but,” Falthejn said, a smile spreading across his face, “you need not choose.” Sif blinked. “If your newfound family allows it, they can join you in den Holm. The guilds provide an allowance to their students for supplies and sundries. The sum is more than enough to live on. You could pay for housing and food until your parents find work.” Falthejn looked over his shoulder. “And I have a feeling there will be more work than men very soon. A man of ambition and dedication will do well for himself.”

Sif stared into space, mind racing. It took her very little time at all to decide what she wanted. She turned to Alfhilde.

Alfhilde saw hope in Sif’s eyes. She glanced at Hrothgar. “We hadn’t decided where we wanted to go after— after we escaped.” A wave of emotion flooded over her. She looked down at Jakob and smiled. They’d made it. They were alive.

Hrothgar’s face took on pensive lines. “My family comes from the far north,” he mused, “and Alfhilde’s is no further from den Holm than from here.” He looked at his wife. “It is a way forward, where we had none before.”

Alfhilde bounced Jakob thoughtfully. “Everything left to tie me to the south is here with me. I could stand for a change of scenery.” She met Sif’s gaze. “Is this what you want?”

Sif nodded, scarcely able to contain herself.

“Then it is settled,” Hrothgar decided. “Though I do not look forward to the walk.”

The fort was now only a few hundred yards away. “Who said anything about walking?” Falthejn said. “I must deliver the plant which seems to have saved me to the ändsemagiker in den Holm before it dies. My colleague Kjellsen won’t mind a few more for the trip. Come with me. I’ll introduce you.”

Soon, they reached the fort. It transpired that Kjellsen was a färdasmagiker, with the power to move from place to place. Ten minutes after that, they stood with Kjellsen in a circle, arms linked. Kjellsen chanted over a bowl of smoking herbs—

They reappeared in a vast hall, around a stone plinth with a glowing rune carved into it. As the rune’s unnatural light faded, Sif noticed the chill—not a sign of magic, just one of cold. Falthejn smiled. “We’re here.”

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