Wolves at the Door (part 123)

“So you came back after all. It would have been better for everyone if you had stayed away.”

Gil did not look forward to the confrontation, but with half the village watching on, he couldn’t afford to show weakness. If he let Fargrim get away with this, he really wouldn’t be able to show his face here again. Even if he didn’t plan to stay, he wanted at least the option of coming back to visit his family. But to do that, he had to respond in kind, even if it meant escalating the conflict.

“Better for everyone? Or better for you?”

“There is no difference. What’s better for me is better for everyone. What’s better for everyone is better for me.”

“And here I thought you were just feeling threatened. What’s the matter? Afraid of a little competition?”

“From you? Don’t make me laugh.”

Despite the words, Gil could tell that he’d touched a nerve.

“From me, or someone else. You’re getting old now, it’s only a matter of time until someone outshines you and takes your place. But for some reason, it’s me that you’re afraid of. Deep down, you think that even someone as unskilled as me would be a better fighter than you, just because of what I am. And that just eats you up, doesn’t it? All that effort, all that experience, all that training, to be second-best?”

“That will never happen.”

“But it did happen, didn’t it? That’s why Arnulf had to go.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about. Arnulf was a danger to everyone on that ship!”

“Right. Because what’s better for you is better for everyone. What’s a danger to you is a danger to everyone.”

Fargrim’s eyes narrowed.

“What, exactly, are you saying?”

“I’m saying what someone should have had the guts to say to you years ago. I’m saying that you killed Arnulf because you were jealous. Afraid too, but not of what he might do to you and your crew. You were afraid of losing your status. That’s why you feared him then, and that’s why you fear me now.”

A broad, mirthless smile spread slowly across Fargrim’s face. Even caught up in the emotions as he was, Gil found it unnerving. Had he gone too far? The answer was not long coming.

“We’ll see who’s afraid of who. I challenge you to a duel. If you think you can back up your words, meet me two weeks from tomorrow morning. If not… run as far and as fast as you can. Don’t show your face back here. Ever.”

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