Wolves at the Door (part 124)

Hours later, when Alfvin strolled into town, Gil was still in shock. How had he gone from defending his own honour to provoking a duel? He could not shake the feeling that he had played into Fargrim’s hands. Was this what he had wanted from the beginning, the reason he had been waiting? Or had Gil just let his hot blood carry him away?

Whatever the cause, things looked pretty bleak now. Gil barely knew how to swing a sword, while Fargrim was a seasoned raider. Even though a duel was supposed to end at the first drawing of blood, an incompetent combatant might find that the first wound he received was also his last. Gil had only two weeks to learn how to avoid getting killed. It was a tall order – he had never even seen a duel before. In a village this small, a grudge serious enough to duel over could see you alienated from the whole population. Things rarely escalated that far.

Risking death through incompetence was, in a way, the best case scenario. Fargrim’s comment about never showing his face in town again was no exaggeration. If he failed to show up at the appointed time, it would be Gil who was publicly declared nithing, a man without honour. He would be cut off from family and society once more, permanently this time. And there was a good chance Gil might fail to show, through no fault of his own.

Fargrim had not chosen the timing lightly. Two weeks was an unusually long delay between challenge and duel. But it would require Gil to fight the morning after a full moon, when he would be at his most vulnerable. Who knew where he might wake up, tired, aching and naked? He would have to make his way back from wherever the night had taken him in time to fight a much stronger and more skilled opponent. Even if he avoided a mortal wound, losing the duel would mean having to pay Fargrim compensation that Gil could not afford. Winning seemed too far-fetched to even hope for.

This was Gil’s mindset late in the afternoon when Alfvin knocked at door of the family home and was admitted to their glum little council of war. Gil himself was still too stunned to make much sense, but the family welcomed the traveller who had brought them news of their son during his exile, and filled him in on the details of the situation. The broad strokes were already the buzz of the village. One could not even walk into town without hearing what had happened. When he had learned the specifics, Alfvin’s attitude took Gil by surprise.

“That is excellent news! Oh, what a fool this Fargrim must be. In his fear, he has played right into your hands without knowing it. We have much work to do, but I am confident that you shall win this duel and expose him for the coward he is!”

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