Wolves at the Door (part 126)

As he spoke, Alfvin counted off each point on his fingers:

“First, and most obvious: he has given you time to prepare. Two weeks may not seem like much, but I believe it shall suffice.

“Second: he has chosen the timing to disadvantage you. He thinks that he can avoid fighting you altogether if you are unable to return in time. But we can ensure that is not the case. If nothing else, you could spent the night bound to a tree. It would not be the first time.

“Third: he thinks that if you do show up, you will be disadvantaged. Tired, weak, naked, perhaps regretting whatever you did in the night. But you and I know a way to avoid this entirely. It would be more difficult than tying yourself to a tree, but I think it would be worthwhile. It would be a long way to travel back to the appointed duelling spot, but at this time of year you should have little trouble getting there while it is still morning. You may arrive tired, but there will be rituals before the duel that will give you a chance to recover.

“Fourth: he has offered you a duel instead of standard single combat. A duel has rules which bind him as much as they do you. Learning to beat him in a regular fight would take years. Learning to survive a duel should be possible in two weeks. In such restricted combat, there are fewer choices to make.

“Fifth: Is your opponent an experienced dueller?”

“Not that I ever heard of. Unless it was before my time?”

Gil looked to his parents, but they concurred:

“Not unless he’s been fighting them overseas. Nobody’s fought a duel in this town for nearly ten years.”

Alfvin’s smile grew wider, and now it showed traces of genuine glee.

“Better and better. You may think that Fargrim’s combat experience gives him a big advantage, but it is not so. As I said, a skirmish and a duel are very different things. And if duels are as infrequent here as you say, then it seems the most experienced dueller in town is on your side. I told you once that long ago I had to fight for my reputation more often than I preferred. Not all of them were formal duels, but even so, I would wager that I have fought more duels that everyone in this village combined. You may only have two weeks to learn, but you will learn from the best.”

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