Wolves at the Door (part 63)

When Gil’s family woke, they wanted to take him home with them, but their request was denied. The men on guard may not have considered him a threat, but they drew the line at letting him out of their sight.

Gil was left cooling his heels until the hearing got under way. He quickly got bored. He would much rather have spent the time working in the fields, but of course he could go nowhere without his armed escort.

Gradually the town began to wake up. There were far less gawkers hanging around to stare at him than he had expected. But then, the real entertainment of the day would not start for a few hours yet. No doubt everyone wanted to get in a solid morning’s work so they could be free to watch when the trial began.

Before long, a couple of townsmen began assembling the fridgard. A large area was roped off to mark where the hearing would take place. After the ropes were in place and the enclosure had been blessed, it would be forbidden to draw a weapon within the peace-enclosure. Such rituals were no mere formality, but an absolute necessity: without the threat of divine retribution, any testimony may be interpreted as an insult to be instantly avenged by the accused or his family. That was, after all, the socially appropriate response in any other circumstance.

As the poles were driven into the ground and the ropes hung from them, Gil offered to help with the construction. Anything to take his mind off what was coming. At least the laughter accompanying the refusal was good-natured.

Gil could also take some comfort from the fact that all this activity meant that he would be getting a formal hearing. In the other village he had been a stranger with no family to demand fair treatment. Their summary approach to justice had barely stopped short of becoming a lynch mob. While he recalled how lucky he had been that Alfvin had intervened, the man himself approached.

“You know of course that I cannot stay while your fate is decided. It will be nearly noon before everything is prepared. But I am reassured by what I have heard here. From the way you refused to return, I feared you may have committed some horrific crime before leaving. But as far as anyone knew, you just disappeared mysteriously. Now the mystery is solved, and I think you have little to fear.”

“It’s not as simple as it seems. I had to leave before anyone found out. Now that everyone knows, there’s someone in this town who will be wishing me harm. And I have no idea who it is.”

“That is troubling. But in a town of friends and family, a single enemy is not so much. Just be sure you do not give the others any reason to side with him. Now I must go, but I shall return before sundown.”

Alfvin was right of course. Gil had little doubt he would survive the day, which was a marked improvement on the last couple of mornings. What he really feared was that he may never escape this town again.

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