Wolves at the Door (part 130)

When Alfvin returned at the end of the ninth day, Gil saw immediately that his absence had not simply been about suppressing a hunger. He had been on a mission. He returned carrying a sword, but it was a sword unlike any that Gil had ever seen before.

“A thing of beauty, is it not?”

Beauty was not the first word that leapt into Gil’s mind on seeing the thing. Brutality, perhaps. There was nothing elegant about it. Although shaped like a sword, it was almost as much an axe; heavy and single-edged. Perhaps there was a kind of beauty in its honesty; this was unmistakeably an instrument of death.

Alfvin continued, without waiting for an answer:

“Purpose-built for holmgang. On a battlefield, it would be impractically heavy. But in the confined space of a duelling ground, it is far more effective than a standard sword. Its weight alone may break a man’s arm behind his shield. This is not a weapon for finesse. Which makes it perfect for you, who lack both finesse and the time needed to develop it. Your opponent will see every blow coming, for all the good it may do him.”

“I’m not even sure I could lift it!”

“You can and you shall, right now. You will carry this day and night until the time of the duel. And when you have won, you will bring it back to me. It has been some time since I needed it to fight a duel of my own, but one never knows what the future may hold.”

As Gil set down his practice sword, the logs he had tied on for extra weight slipped off yet again. At least the reason for the awkward composite was now apparent. Alfvin’s duelling sword was a little heavier than the other had been, even with the logs attached. It was, however almost exactly the same length, and far less cumbersome – the weight was concentrated and well balanced.

It would certainly be slow to swing. Alfvin wasn’t kidding about how impractical it would be in a true battle: your target would be able to step out of the way and stab you in the side before you were halfway through your stroke. But in a duel there would be less room to manoeuvre, and dodging aside was frowned upon. Damaging your opponent was not enough to win a Viking duel. It was as much – if not more – about showing that you could stand your ground and take the punishment levelled at you without losing your nerve.

The monster weapon’s weight could prove a liability in the late stages of the duel, though. If Gil’s shields were all destroyed, there was no way that he would be able to move this thing quickly enough to parry a blow from his enemy. Of course, even with a much lighter sword, his chances of a successful parry would be slim, given his skill level and untrained reflexes. If it came to that, perhaps his best bet would be to turn this behemoth sideways and try to hide behind it like a shield.

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