Wolves at the Door (part 66)

After Fargrim had said his piece and left the fridgard, Adalrad delivered his judgement.

“This is a troubling situation, raising issues we have not had to deal with in a generation or more.

“Dealing first with the events of last year: your concern for your family and neighbours is admirable, but your actions were short-sighted, bordering on irresponsible. I am sure that it will come as no surprise when I tell you that you were wrong to leave without telling anyone. What you did not only hurt your family, it was tantamount to abandoning your responsibilities.

“All that is largely beside the point however: not only was the decision made in haste, it was also made by a boy, of whom good judgement is not always to be expected.

“The matter of your actions this past week is a different question entirely. Having lived another winter, you are now, in the eyes of the law, an adult and responsible for your own actions. You have not denied taking the chicken. Its owner is therefore entitled to compensation. In view of his impassioned speech and the trouble he has gone to in bringing you back to us, the value of the compensation is set at two chickens. The other complainant shall be recompensed to the value of one meal.

“There seems no evidence that your actions were inspired by any motive more devious than hunger. However, you are not entirely cleared of deceit: you have compounded the error of your youth by failing to return to us voluntarily when it was safe to do so.

“There is also the question of what is to be done with you as a matter of public safety. We have all seen with our own eyes that your months of self-imposed exile have not been enough to teach you control.”

The elder paused, then addressed Gil in a softer, more personal tone.

“Gilfrid, I have watched you growing up since the day you were born. You were always an overly-serious child. You have worked hard but never embraced the arts. That is why you have never excelled at fighting, because battle is a dance as much as it is a struggle for survival. You have never opened the door to Od, that divine inspiration that brings us poems and prophecies, beauty and battle-frenzy. Now Od is breaking in the door nightly, whether you like it or not. You need to find a way to make peace with it, for yourself as much as for those around you.”

Having delivered this personal message, Adalrad continued his decree for all to hear, while casting a sidelong glance at where Fargrim stood with some of his shipmates.

“It is not your fault that there is nobody who can guide you on the way. Your path is not an easy one, but you have survived one winter, and that cannot be entirely on stolen chickens. But you still have a long way to go. That is why I will renew your exile. For the next three years you are outlawed. Stay in the wilderness and learn to live in harmony with your other half. During that time, if you show your face here or in any other civilised place, your life will be forfeit. At the end of three years, I hope you will return as a whole being to take your place amongst us. But Fargrim was right about at least one thing. We have no use for a wolf without claws.”

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