Wolves at the Door (part 76)

“You are not …? Oh, what am I thinking? Not only have I left you in a weakened state, but you have walked all night after a most stressful day. Of course you need to rest before embarking on such a difficult trip. We shall make camp for the day and depart this evening.”

“That’s not it. I mean, I am tired, but I won’t be going, whether it’s now or later.”

Alfvin looked disappointed.

“I suppose I cannot blame you. I was half expecting you to leave once you felt your debt had been discharged. There was no need to walk all this way before the farewells.”

“That’s not it either. Look, I’ll be camping nearby. And next time you’re back, I can still travel with you and be your eyes in the daytime, I’ll just need to keep a discreet distance from whatever settlement you’re visiting. But it’s not like you need me on the other side. Just the opposite: I’ve been learning so much from you. But for the next couple of months at least, I think I need to do some learning here.

“You weren’t at the hearing, but there was a little more to it than I told you. This exile, it’s not just a punishment. It’s also a challenge. It’s an opportunity to grow, to become a better man. To figure out how to live with the beast inside. That’s a challenge I can’t just ignore. Going back there and waiting it out – it’s tempting, but I’d feel like a coward. I need to at least try.”

“So, you will… what? Stay here and embrace the beast?

The distaste in Alfvin’s voice was unmistakeable.

“I don’t know. But I’ve got a few weeks before it comes to that. I figured I’d camp in the woods, try to figure out how to survive. See if I can become less useless at hunting. With all this food and equipment, I may never get a better chance to learn.”

“And when the moon comes around again?”

“I’ll be honest: the thought of it terrifies me. But that’s why I think I have to face it. It’s that or run from it my whole life. I already tried running, and it didn’t work for long. Maybe if I develop my wilderness instincts, they’ll take care of me when instinct is all I have left to rely on.”

“I see you have given this considerable thought. If this is your choice, then I wish you well.”

Alfvin reached into one of the bags he was carrying, and drew out the stone he had given Gil, with its partial magic charge.

“You may not have any use for it, but this is yours. Take it, and keep the spear. That may be the only useful thing you have not already been provided with.”

“I’ll see you next time you’re back here. Anyway, that’ll only be a few hours for you. Maybe after I’ve been camping out here for a month or two I’ll be starving and desperate to return. Maybe I’ll be as lousy at this as I have been at everything else. But there’s only one way to find out.”

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