The Long Retreat No. 31

On the far bank, Falthejn stepped onto the rope. His foot slipped, and he caught himself on the hand line before making his way out over the river. Sif stifled the urge to cheer him on, wondering briefly where it had come from.

Halfway across, the diviner grabbed the hand rope, vaulted up onto it, and ran, arms held wide for balance. As he neared the bank, he drew his sword and jumped. The severed ropes fell behind him, and he tossed the sword to one side. Arms windmilling, he hit the ground hard, rolling to a stop. Sif jumped out of the way. Movement on the far bank caught her eye, and she screamed.


Falthejn sat up. Two ontr stood across the river. They were of middling size for their kind, wearing the usual hodgepodge of armor. Neither had a bow, fortunately.

Alfhilde spun Sif to face the other way, and knelt to comfort the child.

“They do not swim,” Falthejn said over the din of the river. “We should go.”

Hrothgar nodded, picking up Falthejn’s sword and presenting it to the diviner. Falthejn sheathed it. Hrothgar undid the binding holding Jakob to his back, and took his son in his arms. “Lead on.”


They pressed on along the road, up the switchbacks on this side of the gorge. The roar of the river subsided, and as soon as it did, Alfhilde asked, “How did you miss them?”

“It is as I feared,” Falthejn said, ignoring the bruises forming along his side. “They have magiker of their own.”

Hrothgar looked at him askance. “Does that make a difference?”

“Magiker with the right talent can hide things from my sight,” Falthejn said. “We had hoped it was not widespread among the ontr.”

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Saturday update

First thing’s first: a warm welcome to all of you who are finding Many Words through the Top Web Fiction rankings. I hope you enjoy your stay, find the stories worth the read, and stick around for more of them. Thanks for spending your leisure time on my stuff.

The other first thing’s second: thanks to all of you, my present readers, who answered the call and voted for me. It’s on your account that it’s been such a good week in terms of visitors. I hope you’ll continue to do so, and keep us in our current, very healthy position on the leaderboards.

In other news, I’ve been reading =http://www.starwalkerblog.comStarwalker[/url] in my spare time. Check it out, if you’re into the science fiction thing. The story of a ship from the perspective of the ship AI: it’s a clever conceit.

Be on the lookout for a Soapbox post from parvusimperator tomorrow.

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The Long Retreat No. 30

Sif looked on in wonderment. Alfhilde floated smoothly over the edge of the water, stock still, as though she were standing on solid ground. She reached the far bank as quickly as she would have by walking, then fell to the ground, landing hard. Sif blinked and looked to Falthejn, the question forming on her lips stolen away as the magiker collapsed to one knee, breathing hard.

“Are you okay?” she asked. He gritted his teeth and nodded, standing. He swayed, then caught himself.

On the far bank, Alfhilde pulled the rope taut and tied it off. A little at a time, Falthejn put his weight on it. It held, and the second rope drew tight four feet above it.

Sif regarded it with some skepticism.

“It’s safe,” Falthejn reassured her. “If you fall, I can catch you. Loop your arm around the top rope and step carefully, and you won’t fall.”

Still uncertain, Sif nevertheless stepped up onto the foot rope, and put her arm over the hand line. Slowly at first, she edged out over the water. The rope swung beneath her, but she found herself anticipating it, moving faster, needing only the lightest grip on the hand line to steady herself, even with the weight of her pack throwing her off. Before she knew it, she had reached the far bank. She dropped from the rope to the dirt, landing lightly. Alfhilde looked on with some combination of surprise and confusion, but before she could say anything, Hrothgar, Jakob tied to his back, mounted the rope. Alfhilde bounced nervously from foot to foot as he inched along. The rope sagged beneath his weight, and Alfhilde’s gaze shot to the tree behind her as the rope creaked. Hrothgar, only a few inches above the water, looked straight ahead. His foot touched the bank a tense minute later, and Sif let out a big breath.

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Wednesday update

Good afternoon, folks! I have a few things to note.

First: there’s now a Many Words monthly newsletter! Use the link in the sidebar to the right to sign up. You can expect a dollop of news, a dollop of my thinking on past or upcoming stories, and a few hundred words of newsletter-exclusive flash fiction.

Second: there’s now a Many Words store. It does not yet have any books (which will likely come from another vendor), but it does have fun things like mugs, t-shirts, and mousepads. (The Many Words mug is particularly classy. I have a sample I had made elsewhere, but you can expect just about the same thing.)

Third: your readership is valuable to me, but I’d like for more people to read this. Please, if you’re on this page and you like what I’ve done (or what parvusimperator has done), whether it be wargame AARs, fiction, blog posts, or the podcast, hit the Vote link in the sidebar at the right to bump me up the listings. It’s super-easy to move up the rankings; there aren’t a lot of web fiction sites out there. I’ve been ranked on the science fiction and fantasy pages for maybe four days, and it’s already one of my top referral sources for the month, so it’s really the simplest thing you can do to help me out. Please do.

Fourth: expect a new Crossbox podcast in the first week or two of August.

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The Long Retreat No. 29

Alfhilde tucked the knife into her boot, then found the ends of the rope and set about tying one to a stout tree which leaned out toward the far bank. Falthejn knelt and did the same. He tested his knot, leaning back against the rope, and rose to found Alfhilde doing the same. Satisfied, she looked to him, and said, “I am ready.”

Falthejn nodded. He cleared pine needles away from the ground on which he stood, then drew with his finger, inscribing circles into the dirt. He planted his feet, spoke a few syllables in aelfish, and held out his hand. Invisible tendrils of force unwound from his fingertips, some weaving together beneath Alfhilde’s feet, and others wrapping themselves securely around points in the sky. The two groups came together, knotting to each other. Falthejn turned his wrist and focused on one of the symbols in the dirt. The tendrils pulled tighter, and Alfhilde’s feet left the ground.

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The Long Retreat No. 28

They came to the end of a gentle rise, and the abrupt change in the terrain struck Falthejn, as it always did when he traveled this part of the world. He stopped. Before them was a steep descent, the road cutting back and forth amidst the rock outcroppings dotting the hillside. Patches of sunlight pierced the canopy where even the conifers couldn’t grow, though the trees still stood so densely that Falthejn couldn’t see more than fifty yards down the slope. The sound of rushing water was prominent, now more than the birds.

“Grevdarsflod,” Hrothgar said. “The first lodge is three leagues beyond the bridge. I do not come this way often.”

Falthejn rubbed his chin. “I doubt the lodge will still be open, and in any case, it is a target.”

“A logging camp stands a league further, if it has not been torn down.”

Falthejn thought it over. They’d made good time so far—almost a league per hour, by his reckoning. The terrain only grew rougher from here, though, and it would be past midday by the time they crossed the river. Another four leages in the afternoon was not an easy walk. “We will aim for the logging camp,” he decided. “If we do not reach it, we will make camp away from the road.” Falthejn waited, but against his expectation, Hrothgar raised no objection. “Very well. We have a long walk ahead of us,” he said, unnecessarily, and set off down the hill.

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The Long Retreat No. 27

Fifteen minutes saw them to the base of the gorge. As they descended, they could, at intervals, see the river between the trees. As the road drew alongside it, its rapid, turbulent flow became evident. Grevdarsflod ran in a course thirty yards wide at the bottom of a steep-sided gully, some five yards below the level of the road. For the whole length of it they could see, its surface foamed over obstacles and into eddies. The sound it made was tremendous, a thunder that made conversation impossible.

A few minutes later, the road turned in toward the river.

“Where’s the bridge?” Sif shouted.

Falthejn wondered the same thing. The road reached out toward the river, but the massive edifice he’d crossed on the march south was simply missing, leaving a twenty-five yard gap. He doubted it had collapsed; the road ended in a sharp edge just past the river’s bank, the sort of precision he expected from magiker. Nobody had yet seen an ontling work the earth with their brand of magic, in the manner of the jordenmagiker, but Falthejn supposed it was a possibility. He was more concerned that he hadn’t seen it coming. Either someone had destroyed the bridge on a whim, some plan put into motion since he had taken the time to look forward in the morning, or he was faced with an enemy more dangerous to him than any other—one who knew he faced a diviner, and knew how to hide his actions from Falthejn’s sight.

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Commentary, The Long Retreat No. 27

And we’re back! For the foreseeable future, too. I don’t have a ton of backlog prepared, but I have a fair bit, and I have the end of this story in sight. Come back on Friday for the actual, finalized announcement of what comes next.

If you’ve been around the site lately, you’d have noticed the stupid red tint to the leave-a-comment box when it’s unfilled. I fixed that today, finally. (Thanks, Firebug.)

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