Wolves at the Door (part 142)

The crowd erupted immediately. Amid the uproar, it took Gil a moment to realise he was not dead. The bent, blunted sword had hit him hard, but had not cut deep. If he was bleeding, it had not yet run down to stain the mat under his feet. If seemed a shame to take a hit like that and still have to go on fighting. But those were the rules, so Gil retrieved his sword from where it had lodged in the ground.

When he turned to find his opponent, the mat was empty. Fargrim had dropped his sword and was pressed against the ropes, as far from Gil as he could get. He was no longer trying to hide his fear.

“No! How did you do that? The moon is gone. You’re supposed to be weak now!”

When he saw Gil step towards him, he stopped babbling and dove through the ropes, squeezing his way through the press of spectators.

Gil was relieved that he wouldn’t have to continue the fight, even if he didn’t quite understand why. Indeed, the whole afternoon passed in something of a blur. He was officially proclaimed the victor, and as such performed the post-duel sacrifice. He was unable to avoid the congratulations of the crowd. But as long as they did not squeeze his aching side, they could slap his back as much as they liked.

Then the celebrations had really kicked off, with plenty of feasting and drinking. That might have had something to do with the blurriness of his recollections. There had been singing, and – gods help him – dancing. At least everyone else had been drunk enough not to object. Fuzzy memories could sometimes be a blessing, as well as a curse. Somewhere along the line, the moon had risen. The urge to run had been strong, but not as strong as the lure of the food and drink right in front of him. This time, when he woke up sore and naked with a splitting headache, he was far from being the only one.

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