Wolves at the Door (part 74)

Within the hour, Gil was beginning to feel better. Not good, but better than before. He wouldn’t be running anywhere tonight, but he felt strong enough to start walking again.

Just as Alfvin had predicted. Clearly he had some experience with this kind of after-care. But Gil wasn’t really in the mood for stories of the sordid past. As he returned Alfvin’s knife, he kept the focus on the future.

“So what now? Do you need to find another town? I don’t suppose you got any trading done in the end.”

“Not as much as I had intended, but more than you might think. I did manage to cut a few deals while standing guard over you at night. But travelling to yet another village now would be unwise, and not only because you may now be unwelcome there. I have done enough for this trip. I shall consider it an investment in future prosperity.”

“How so? I’m practically useless to you now.”

“Not at all! You are banished from the towns, it is true, but that part I can take care of for myself. You can still guide me through the forest when I cannot see my own way. Besides, your exile is only for three years. You are young, and consider that a long time to live outside the fences of civilisation. But you forget that the most enclosed of all spaces is still open to you. It cares nothing for the laws of this land. Come back and spend a week there, and your sentence will be over. This is no more than a temporary inconvenience.”

That was something to think about. The slower-moving time of that other world gave him the option to skip ahead years while experiencing no more than days. It seemed like cheating somehow. But the alternative was three years in the wilderness. Three harsh winters without a house to protect him. And over a hundred moonlit nights without a single thought in his head, running on instinct. It may be cheating. It was definitely tempting. But he didn’t have to decide right now. Right now he should listen, because Alfvin was still talking.

“Indeed, perhaps I should be thanking you. Long after your punishment is done, I will still be reaping the rewards of having been conspicuously helpful in a time of crisis, in not one but two towns. That kind of goodwill could last a lifetime. Theirs, not mine, obviously.”

“Obviously. Unless they raise their grandchildren on the story.”

“That would be something. Gather around, little ones, and hear the story of the night a mysterious stranger helped Granddad battle a ravenous beast-man.”

“A battle, was it? I must have missed that part.”

“Any story is enlarged with each telling. Every skald knows that, but I have had the unique opportunity to see it happen over the span of centuries. If this tale survives a generation, I guarantee the chicken-thief will have become a monster of legend, who fought all day and night before being captured.”

Some people wanted to achieve great things and have their exploits sung for generations to come. Gil had never expected that sort of extraordinary life for himself. Any such fantasies he may have briefly entertained had certainly not involved casting him as the villain of the story. But still… there were worse things than being remembered as a worthy adversary.

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