Wolves at the Door (part 134)

When Gil’s head cleared, he sat down to think, but it wasn’t duelling tactics on his mind. Why had he just spent all that time chasing squirrels and rats through the undergrowth? Sure, it had been fun, but there were more important things at stake just now. At least the sun was still close to the horizon – he hadn’t wasted that much time on it. An hour at most. The vibrant smells of the forest had gradually faded, leaving behind a summer day like any other.

It had been stupid to assume that the moon was gone, just because the sun was rising. He was a little tired from sprinting after small game, but it was nothing compared to most mornings after a full moon. Usually he would just be waking up now, having collapsed at the end of a physically demanding night. Instead, for once there was no clear delineation between the before and after. He remembered everything he had done since returning to the forest. The reasons why were more elusive, though all his actions had seemed perfectly sensible at the time.

The chase had taken him some distance from where he had started, so the first thing to do was return to camp and eat something to settle his nerves. Perhaps he should be thankful that he had been too slow to catch any prey this morning. He was certainly thankful that the duel was tomorrow, not today. His impairment may be mild compared to the aftermath of a full night under the moon’s influence, but tomorrow he would need to start the day in tip-top shape.

After breakfast, Gil forced his attention back to the reason he had come here. He spent a good part of the morning thinking through the tactical principles that Alfvin had explained. When he thought he understood them as well as he was capable of, it was almost a comfort to let his mind relax and to turn back to the familiarity of physical effort. He ran through the drills with sword and shield once more, to keep the instincts fresh. He spent far longer on the moves than he really needed to, but by the time he was done, he had no trouble sleeping in the afternoon sun.

Then it was back to the invisible doorway. He would need to be careful not to make the same mistake tomorrow morning. He needed to be late enough to be sure the moon had fully set, but not so late as to jeopardise his chances of reaching the crossroads while it was still morning. With a little preparation and a little help, he thought he knew how to manage it.


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