Wolves at the Door (part 128)

“Are there any more rules to be aware of?”

“A few, though I’m not sure if I’d call them rules exactly. More like conventions. Stuff that will lose you respect, if not the duel.”

“Good. Best to go over them now as well.”

“Okay, so a lot of it is stuff you’d probably take for granted: No kicking, biting or scratching. It’s unlikely to come up, but if by some miracle you find yourself unarmed and the duel’s still going, try not to shame yourself. You could still draw blood if you manage to land a punch on his nose.

“Don’t take a backward step. Not that there’s room for much of that. The fighting area is barely big enough for two men to stand and hit each other. If you step one foot outside, it will be seen and you will be judged for it. Even if you win, people will still think of you as a flincher.

“No dodging. You’ve got to take every hit on your shield. If all your shields are broken, then block with your sword. That’s generally where a second sword comes into play, when it’s used. If your sword is broken too, then you can stand and die with honour, or turn tail and flee.

“Obviously, if you do that it would be better if you never showed up in the first place. Oh, and whatever you do, don’t step off the fighting mat with both feet. Do that and you might as well keep running. That one is an actual rule: You flee, you lose.”

Gradually, a plan was devised. Gil’s family would take care of the practical side of preparations: providing the sword and shields, making sure the location was properly prepared, and ensuring nobody declared Gil a no-show before noon. Alfvin would be responsible for making sure Gil showed up on time and as well-prepared as he could be, given the circumstances. Gil’s father was reluctant at first – he felt that training his son was his responsibility, but he had to concede that if he could have made Gil a better fighter it would have happened years ago. By the time the arrangements were settled, it was getting late, but the midsummer sun was just beginning to fade. Alfvin slipped out to do a little business before the village turned in for the night. They would be leaving first thing in the morning.

The break came as a relief for Gil. Much as he appreciated and needed their help, it had been uncomfortable sitting by while the two of them had decided his future between them. He had felt like a child again, and not just because he was back in the house he had grown up in.

Still, all too soon his fate would be back in his own hands and nobody else’s. He hoped they would be more reliable hands in two weeks than they were right now.


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