Wolves at the Door (part 121)

Quickly as the first half of Gil’s exile had passed, the second half went by even quicker. Another circuit of the nearby villages took about two weeks, as best he could reckon, but in that time he saw winter come and go, followed by summer and another winter. If not for the promise he had made his family, he would have thought seriously about never going back. Everyone he had grown up with would be several years older than him by now. In the three and a half years since he had first fled, he had aged less than a tenth of that amount.

But a promise was a promise, and if a man’s word was no good, then neither was he. So it was that he found himself preparing to return to the village that had cast him out – for real this time. Technically his banishment had ended several months ago, but he had been in no rush. Even leaving aside his personal ambivalence, it was prudent to err on the side of caution. For three years, he had been considered fair game to be killed on sight. There was no harm allowing a little extra time for word to get around that things had changed.

So he had chosen the timing carefully: high summer, at the dark of the moon. There would be no wild moonlit madness to complicate things. The short nights would matter little on such a short journey. Gil carried everything he owned; there was no telling how long he would have to stay this time. If need be, he would stay as long as it took to pay off his debt to his family and discharge his duties to the community as a whole. He hoped those duties would not involve being put on a boat with Fargrim. If that happened, Gil would have to learn to sleep with one eye open.

He had reason for optimism on that front though; after his public denouncement at the hearing three years ago, it seemed Fargrim would be just as eager to keep Gil off his ship. That was something to be thankful for, regardless of whether the motivation was fear, jealousy, or just honest contempt. The only worry was that the town elders, in some boneheaded attempt to make peace between the two of them, might force them to work together. You never knew what some people were thinking.

Once again he found himself waiting on the outskirts of the village. His return would be both news and a statement. Slipping into town under cover of darkness was not the kind of statement he wanted to make. Best to arrive with the dawn, when he could see the reaction in people’s faces. If Fargrim had stirred up any wider antipathy in his absence, the sooner he knew about it the better.

At least he did not have to wait alone this time. Alfvin was by his side, though Gil was too caught up in his own thoughts to make conversation. They had agreed not to enter the town together though; Gil would no doubt be the centre of attention for hours; Alfvin would have to return to his camp in the woods before the sunlight grew too strong. If all went well, they could catch up tonight.

But right now the sun was peeping over the horizon. Gil took a deep breath and strode into town.


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