Wolves at the Door (part 3)

“I’m sorry to be such a disappointment. But the clan has managed so far, I’m sure it will be just fine.” Gil tried to keep the bitterness he felt out of his voice, but was only partially successful.

“Come on, you know it’s not like that. I only want the best for you.” That was true enough. She would see it as the most glorious honour he could hope for. But she wasn’t the one that would have to live with it. “And the clan – well, it’s not what it used to be.”

That was an understatement. Gil had been brought up on stories of the long-past glory days of the clan, when they had formed the core of the Ulfhednar, the war-wolves of old. Fearsome warriors who, if you believed the tales, had been near-invincible in battle. Immune to harm from iron or flame, and equally deadly to friend and foe.
But that had been in the Good Old Days when men were hamrammr, women were beautiful and children were always obedient. Things were different now, and the shapestrong blood thinned with every passing generation. The clan had been without a true berserker since Uncle Arnulf had been lost at sea some years ago.
The men of the raiding parties kept up the tradition, with their rituals and their potions but they were merely soldiers playing at being berserk. Like children playing at being soldiers, the intention was admirable, but the execution was adorably misguided.

Though Gil had never been particularly interested in fighting, he had fully expected to go on a few raiding parties when he was old enough. Do his duty, row the boat and wave a sword at some terrified farmers. Bring home some loot or capture some thralls. Perhaps fight or die for his clan.

Now things were different. Gil had no intention of ending up like Arnulf, “Lost At Sea”. The euphemism was meant to hide a darker truth from children like him, but he was not stupid.

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