Wolves at the Door (part 58)

Gil’s heart sank, but Alfvin was not finished with his speech.

“That is what you are thinking, is it not? Unfortunately, it is not true. As I said, I trade with many of the nearby villages, and now that I see this boy in human form, I recognise him. He comes from a village to the north-west. Killing him may solve your immediate problems, but you may have trouble explaining to your neighbours why you executed one of their sons. Particularly one who is yet to come of age and should therefore have the right to expect mercy, if not forgiveness. Even more particularly, one of their sons who is ulfhedinn and so may become one of their most valued citizens, once he is fully grown.

“Personally, I would like to be compensated for the food he took. If not by the boy himself, then by his family. But if you kill the boy and start a war with his hometown, it seems unlikely that I will receive any payment, and nor will you. Then again, as I have said, I am only a stranger in town. If you decide that you prefer war and the slaughter of children, that is your prerogative.”

The crowd began to murmur again once he had finished, but their mood had been cooled off by his words. Some may have been uneasy with the reminder that they were, after all, talking about killing a child, not a man. Others may have been concerned with the possibility of reprisals from his clan. But there were some who remained resolutely practical.

“That’s all well and good, but it’s not your village he’s tied up in now, is it? What happens tonight when he’s a beast, not a boy? It’s easy for you to give advice, but we’re the ones who have to deal with it.”

“I assure you, I have no intention of letting you guard him through the night alone. If you mess it up and let him escape, then my compensation disappears with him. No, my spear and I will be here all night. Join me or not, as you please. And when the danger has passed, we can march him back to his village and demand the restitution we deserve.”

The more belligerent elements were slightly mollified. Alfvin pressed his advantage.

“That being said, I am not quite done giving advice. I do not pretend to be an expert, but I know a little of the ulfhednar, and I saw this one in action last night. I believe I can suggest some precautions that will lower the risks.”

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