Wolves at the Door (part 122)

Gil’s family was happy to see him. Everyone else he saw seemed mildly curious, but otherwise indifferent. After three years, perhaps they had forgotten he had been outlawed at all. Nobody was hostile, though only a minority of the population were up and about at this time. Later on when word had gotten around – that would be the real test. Then again, at this time of year any hostile elements might be away on raiding trips. One could only hope.

He spent most of the morning with his family. They were eager to hear what he had been doing, how he had gotten by all these years. He told a few stories from the months he had genuinely spent in the forest, and implied that he had joined a trading voyage later on. It was essentially true, so long as he kept the details suitably vague. His conscience and loyalty would not allow him to lie to them, but telling the whole truth would be inviting trouble, for him and potentially for them as well.

Later on, they took him around to greet old friends and acquaintances, to show that he had survived and dared to show his face again. Gil got the distinct impression that a number of bets had been won or lost on either of those points. When someone seemed slightly disappointed to see him, he tried not to take it personally.

Gil could not get over the change in those who had been his contemporaries. While he had been gone, the children he had known had become upstanding members of the community. Girls who had been just married when he left were now wrangling three or four infants – some with practised ease, others with weary resignation.

It made him wonder what he would be doing now if he had not fled. Would he have lost control some moonlit night and hurt those closest to him? Would he have been “lost at sea” by jealous shipmates, like uncle Arnulf? Or would he have won respect with his new-found abilities, and become a pillar of the community? It was impossible to imagine. He found it almost as hard to imagine returning to a life here, after all he had seen and done.

He was not alone in this. It may have been raiding season, but apparently the ships were home between voyages. As he left the house of a friend he had been visiting, he found Fargrim waiting outside with a few cronies. They did not look like they were here to welcome Gil back.

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