Wolves at the Door (part 61)

They reached Gil’s home town late in the afternoon. He made sure to be a model prisoner on the way. His captor may only be a farmer, but he was armed and Gil was not. Gil had never excelled at fighting, even in the most favourable circumstances. Naked and bound, his circumstances were far from favourable. The last thing he wanted was for the approaching evening to make the man anxious, because his safest option would be to kill the prisoner before there was any risk of his getting free. Regardless of whether he was coming or not, Alfvin’s advice had been sound.

Predictably, it caused quite a stir in the village when their missing boy was marched into town, bound and naked, by an armed stranger. Without Alfvin’s silver tongue, it took some time to mollify the crowd and explain the situation. Gil wondered briefly what would happen if he denied everything and claimed the man had kidnapped him. But he could never bring himself to utter such falsehoods. To do so would be the antithesis of everything he believed in. Not to mention the consequences that would ensue. Not just for his captor and himself, but for his family and his whole town. There was every chance that it would escalate into war between the two communities, as Alfvin had warned. In any case, the chances were slim that he could escape before night fell and revealed the truth of his situation to everyone.

Gil could barely look his family in the face when they came out to see him. When he did, he saw how deeply conflicted their feelings were. There was relief that he was still alive. There was pride at the thought that their family had produced an ulfhedinn once more. But they were also deeply shamed by his current circumstances.

Once they understood the allegations, the populace soon reached a consensus of opinion. The most implausible part of the stranger’s story would be tested as soon as the moon rose. If that turned out to be true, then Gil’s fate could be decided in the morning. If not, it would be his accuser who went on trial.

As he was leashed to a couple of nearby trees, Gil keep an eye out, hoping that Alfvin would show up at last. But if he did, it would be hard to tell. It seemed that everybody in the village had turned out to watch the show. It was hard to blame them; certainly this was the most exciting thing that had happened here within Gil’s lifetime. Had he not been the entertainment, he would definitely have been part of the audience. He tried not to dwell on the number of weapons his erstwhile neighbours had brought along with them.

At least he wasn’t naked this time; they had allowed his mother to bring him something to wear as well as something to eat. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he wasn’t naked yet. If the ropes didn’t get in the way, then come nightfall, these clothes would be shed as others had been before.

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