That’s it for Wolves at the Door. Huge thanks to everyone who liked and/or followed the story: I’m not sure I would have stuck with it this long without knowing you were out there reading it.

Having a daily deadline certainly kept me writing, and I always managed to get a page up before midnight – even if the occasional last-minute rush wasn’t ideal for writing quality. But hey, that’s what second drafts are for.

What did I learn?

  1. Writing a page at a time brings with it a certain discipline. It encourages you to wrap up one thought before moving on to the next. Speaking of which…
  2. A page is not 250 words. I think I started out averaging in the low 400s, and by the end the overall average was up to around 470. Which made things more difficult because…
  3. I am not a fast writer. At least, not when I’m thinking about what I write – and if I didn’t, then what’s the point? Still, there’s an upside to that, because…
  4. Writing over a long period allows time for ideas to germinate and mature along the way. There’s a lot of ideas that would have been left out if I’d written this over the space of weeks instead of months. But…
  5. Writing a page at a time can distort your sense of length. Anything that takes more than three pages seems excruciatingly slow. Sometimes that impression is accurate, but not always. But slow or fast…
  6. Writing in strict chronological order keeps things moving, even if the pace varies. It’s not always the best way to tell the story, but that sort of thing is relatively easy to edit later on. And finally…
  7. The characters will do what they’re going to do, and sometimes you just have to get out of the way. This happened a few times when things just refused to go in the direction I had planned. It’s super annoying when it happens, but the story ended up better for it.

I think I’d have to call the experiment a success: I did end up with a complete story, even if it took five times as long and nearly ten times as many words as originally anticipated.

I’d definitely do something like this again, though next time I might try a chapter per week instead of a page every day. Or, like, an actual short story. Watch this space! In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you thought of it. You can leave a comment, tweet me, or just take a few seconds to vote in the polls below.

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Wolves at the Door (part 144)

The next day, Gil set out through the woods at a leisurely pace. Once again he was travelling light – if you could call it that while carrying a sword that weighed as much as any three other swords combined.

Fargrim might be out here somewhere, but he had fled unarmed and in terror of Gil’s supernatural powers. It seemed unlikely that he would pose a threat any time soon. Especially not while Gil still carried the sword.

Of course, he would have to return the sword to Alfvin soon, along with the magical sharpening stone. He owed him far more than that, of course: sword or no sword, Gil would have been sunk without his training these past weeks. Still, now that his exile was over, Gil was free to help out more. He could finally learn the business of trading in the villages, as they had originally planned.

The scents of the forest wafted to Gil on the warm breeze. They were like pale imitations of the scents he knew from moonlit nights, but he savoured them nonetheless. At the end of today’s path was a doorway, and once he stepped through, who knew when he would be back? It might be brisk autumn by then. But today the sun was shining and Gil had left his cares behind.

He enjoyed the novelty of not being in a rush, for once. That was the downside of working with Alfvin: they were always running off to one village or another. Even walking back in daylight, Gil was always trying to make good time, or as good as possible while guiding an invalid through the forest. The only time he got to really enjoy the forest was under the full moon – and even then, he was usually still running. Between that and Alfvin’s schedule, Gil seemed to spend half his time sleeping through the days and running through the nights.

Eventually, that lifestyle might take its toll. Gil wasn’t sure he could spend the rest of his life running back and forth to a handful of villages. But when he tired of that, there would be other options. He could travel to more distant towns, so long as he arranged his trips at the right time of month. Or perhaps he would leave the moon behind altogether, and take up a new life as a timekeeper or a magic-farmer.

But that was a question for another day. There would doubtless be troubles in the future, but also time enough to worry about them when they came. For now, he was as content as he had ever been. The sun was shining and he would soon be reunited with a friend he could count on. He had left behind a life that had never suited him, and whatever life lay ahead, it would at least be one that he chose and built himself.

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Wolves at the Door (part 143)

When he felt like himself again, Gil finally got the details of how the duel had ended. Apparently, Fargrim had lost the fight as soon as he stepped aside from Gil’s blow. His combat reflexes might have saved his life, but they also took his feet off the mat. Of course, that might not have mattered so much if he had sliced Gil in two like he intended. When there’s only one man left standing, technicalities have a way of being forgotten.

When his sword had bounced off Gil’s side, apparently without harming him, Fargrim had gone to pieces. Faced with the legendary invulnerability of the ulfhednar, he completely panicked. Whatever oddities he might have seen fighting alongside Arnulf in the years before betraying him, Fargrim certainly hadn’t expected such a thing in the light of day. He had seen only his inevitable death when Gil approached, sword in hand. The reputation he had fought for was already lost, and he had fled to save his miserable life. Good riddance – or at least, that was the attitude of those who talked to Gil. Many had been afraid of Fargrim. But he had also had friends, family, and comrades-in-arms who would resent his loss, even if they could not condone his actions.

Technically, now that Fargrim was publicly exposed as a nithing, Gil would have been within his rights to demand he be outlawed and claim all his property. Instead, all he asked for was the silver traditionally paid by the loser of a duel. It was no more than Gil himself had risked, and would go some way toward repaying Gil’s family for all the help they had given him. No point making more enemies by being unduly harsh. Besides, property would just tie Gil down to a village where he had no intention of staying. As for whether Fargrim should be outlawed: let them decide after he was gone. They would be the ones who had to enforce it, not him. They had put up with the man for years after Arnulf died; perhaps they would choose to do so again.

Gil’s family were disappointed to hear the he was not going to stay, but he promised to come back and visit regularly. Even if he had wanted to remain here, he would have always been looking over his shoulder to see if one of Fargrim’s friends was plotting against him. And to be honest, he didn’t want to stay. Never had. That was the irony of it all: if left to his own devices, Gil would never have posed the threat that Fargrim had feared.

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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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Wolves at the Door (part 141)

Chop. Chop. Chop. Gil kept his attacks away from Fargrim’s sword arm. A little variation to keep the opponent from feeling too much in control. Not so much that the blows land on a different part of the shield. It had worked twice already, and it worked a third time, though not before Gil lost his own second shield. Over the years, Fargrim had perfected the art of hiding his fear, but now Gil thought he could see panic rising behind the eyes. Time was running out. Fargrim launched a bewildering series of feints, culminating in roundhouse sweep that lodged his sword in Gil’s shield. Gil took the opportunity to give a twist, splitting the shield but bending the blade in the process.

Although the enchanted whetstone could sharpen his sword in the blink of an eye, Gil took his time preparing for his next attack, letting Fargrim’s fear grow. What should have been an easy victory for the older man had turned into a desperate struggle. Now the ground had shifted again, as the two men faced each other without shields. Gil had been careful to avoid giving Fargrim any opportunity to parry with his sword up until now, and had made no such effort himself. What would happen next was anyone’s guess. Even with a bent sword, Fargrim might be able to block Gil’s next attack. Then again, Gil’s sword might be too heavy to turn aside.

Gil was no stranger to uncertainty. It was the state he had lived in ever since the challenge had been issued. Frankly, he was amazed to have lasted this long. He hoped it was causing Fargrim more trouble.

Alfvin had said that Fargrim’s fear would be Gil’s ally. The fear was evident, not only in his eyes, but in all he had done before. It was why he had tipped Arnulf overboard in the first place. It was why he had spoken out against Gil at the hearing, three years ago. It was why he had tried to arrange the duel for a time when he thought he could not lose.

Fargrim feared a beast, so Gil did his best to play the part. He took his sword in both hands, staring into Fargrim’s eyes. He began panting, working himself up into at least the appearance of a frenzy. Finally, he let out a roar as he heaved his blade overhead, ready to split his target right down the middle.

Fargrim had plenty of time to get his sword up into a blocking position. Then, at the last moment, he side-stepped, swinging his sword around to strike Gil’s exposed side.

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