Wolves at the Door (part 57)

The population of the town gathered in the afternoon to decide Gil’s fate. The farmer who had stood guard over him testified to how he had heard the uproar as a wild beast had attacked his animals, and gone out to defend them. He had been too late to save his dear Berthild, but had glimpsed the culprit escaping into the woods. When there was enough light to follow, he had found the naked stranger amid the evidence of his crime.

There followed some discussion among the townspeople who wished to determine which crime that was, exactly. Was this boy some kind of ulfhedinn turned feral? Was he perhaps a witch, a practitioner of seidr who had sent a wolf-spirit ahead to steal the chicken for him? Or had the beast been an actual wolf, which the boy had somehow controlled or been in league with, again by the use of seidr? Each possibility had different implications for his degree of culpability, and also for the type of danger he presented to them in the future if they let him live.

Gil wasn’t sure whether he should try to argue on his own behalf – if they would even be willing to listen. The underhanded nature of the theft was perhaps a more serious charge than the fact itself. Declaring himself to be ulfhedinn would clear him of the intent to steal. But it would also be admitting that he had been out of control last night, and would be again in a few short hours. Under that sort of time pressure, the crowd may well decide it was more practical to lop off his head before sundown, rather than take the risk of their bindings being unable to hold such a beast.

Indeed, the discussions were beginning to lean in a worryingly pragmatic direction when he heard a familiar voice. Gil began to breathe a sigh of relief, until he heard what the voice was saying.

“I may be a stranger in town, but I travel these parts from time to time, and a few of you may remember me. Nonetheless, I also have a stake in this matter. This same beast took food from me also, this very same night. It seems that I am the only one who got a good look at him in his wolf-skin though. I can assure you it is the same individual. Look at this pathetic creature! He is barely capable of controlling himself. How do you imagine he could send wolves or spirits to do his bidding? Never mind that he appears to be underage, and therefore not fully responsible for his crimes. He is also a stranger and would not be missed. Killing him now would certainly solve some of your problems.”

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