Wolves at the Door (part 6)

When the daylight began to fade, Gil slowed to a walk so he could eat on the move. He had put enough miles behind him to relax a little, and he wanted to fill his belly before the sun went down. He hoped that if he could keep from getting too hungry in the night, he might be able to wake up without blood smeared all over his face again. He ate quickly, and the sun was still above the horizon when he broke into a trot again. There had been no point bringing more than one large meal’s worth of food; anything he did not eat before nightfall would be wasted. Better to travel light and fast – chances were, anything he carried or wore would be lost in the morning. Retracing his steps trying to find them as he had this morning would be counterproductive.

Despite the heavy feeling in his stomach, he continued to make good time. Gil had never been the strongest, or the fastest, or the tallest, but he did not tire easily. Despite his tender age and shorter legs, he reckoned that he would be able to beat just about any man in the village in a foot race – provided he was allowed to choose a long enough distance. Until yesterday, his stamina had been the only way he excelled, and it had not been a highly sought-after talent. He could work all day in a field, but for the most part that was considered work for thralls, and below his station. He had hoped it might serve him well in time as part of a crew rowing a knarr south to trade. The big, heavy cargo ships would suit him better than the sleek, fast longships used by the raiding parties, and the cut and thrust of commerce interested him more than the literal kind.

To be honest, any kind of career that didn’t involve fighting would have been preferable. He sometimes imagined himself as an artisan or builder, though he had never had the opportunity to learn any of the skills that a craftsman would need. He might have made a good messenger, if ships weren’t so much faster than a man on foot. He could even have been content to spend his life tending the crops in the fields. But even without the threat of the nithing, even if he had been able to stay in the village, all those possibilities would be closed to him now. A berserker would never be allowed to squander his gifts on such mundane work. Being shapestrong was a career in itself, and a well-regarded one.

His new-found abilities would have put him in high demand, but it was the old that served him well as the daylight dimmed. While he pondered what might have been, his stamina had carried him close to twenty miles before the sun dipped below the horizon and he began to lose himself.

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