Wolves at the Door (part 138)

So far, Gil’s tactics were working well. It was just as Alfvin had told him amid the shining mist:

“No matter what sword and shield you may hold in your hands, your most important weapons in this duel will be those your opponent brings with him. His fear, his overconfidence, even his skill. These will be your greatest allies. You need to know how to take best advantage of them.

“First, his overconfidence. He has chosen the time of the duel to maximise your disadvantage. He thinks you may not show up in time. He will be wrong. If you do show up, he thinks you will be weak and stupid, suffering the after-effects of a full moon. Again, he will be wrong. He thinks you will be as unskilled with sword and shield as when you left your village. Once more, he will be wrong – at least in part.

“However, in all cases, the later he discovers his error, the greater your advantage. In the first case, that is almost unavoidable. It will take you most of the morning to run to the crossroads. And all that time, he will be growing more confident of winning without a fight. The greater his confidence, the greater his ultimate disappointment.

“In the second case, circumstances will also favour you, though you may need to give them a helping hand. You will doubtless be tired when you arrive, though there will be time for you to get over it just as there will be for your opponent to get over his disappointment. But if he sees you looking tired, pained, even confused, he may let his guard down. He expects to see a full-moon hangover; it would be a pity to disappoint him.

“Finally, he expects you to be incompetent. It seems you had developed a certain reputation for your lack of interest, and therefore skill, in martial pursuits. We have lifted you above that level, though we can do only so much in the time available. But again, the more he underestimates you, the greater your advantage. If you can appear clumsy without actually compromising your effectiveness, that will help. Looking ungainly with such a heavy sword will not be difficult, but do not take it too far. Do not allow the blade to twist in your hand as you swing it; the weight of the weapon must always be directly behind its edge, or you throw away your opportunity. Your shield-work is barely good enough as it is: feigned incompetence could too easily turn into the real thing.

“But if he thinks you have come to the fight without a plan, that may help you. At least in the early stages, that is; sooner or later he will catch on and begin taking you more seriously. His overconfidence may not last, so take advantage of it while you can.”

Gil had seen the realisation dawn on Fargrim’s face that something more than luck was behind Gil’s early success. If he started taking Gil as seriously as he ought, then things were about to get tougher.

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