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 51)

As the afternoon turned to evening and the light began to fade, Gil gave up on fishing and returned to the space between the scarred trees. Stepping back through the portal, he found Alfvin sitting on what passed for the ground in this space between worlds, though it looked more like mist made solid. He was muttering something to himself, but stopped when he saw he was no longer alone.

“Talking to yourself already? That’s a bad sign, you know.”

“Sometimes it is the only way to find intelligent conversation. But actually, I was reciting some of the poetry I learned in my youth. It helps to keep it fresh in my mind. Also, you may have noticed, there is not a great deal to keep one occupied here.”

Gil glanced back over his shoulder at the sliver of forest visible through the doorway.

“There’s always that, I suppose. If I’d known you were in need of entertainment, perhaps I would have put on a song-and-dance show instead of wandering off.”

“I was unaware that you were a singer, or a dancer.”

“I’m not. Frankly, you should probably count yourself lucky I didn’t make the attempt. There are worse things than a little boredom.”

That drew a grin from Alfvin.

“Now you have me intrigued. How bad could it possibly be?”

“I’ve been told that my dancing is more likely to cause injury than the average bear attack. And that came from a man who’d been attacked by bears. Twice. I had to give up singing because the dogs would always howl loud enough to drown me out. I like to think that they were singing along enthusiastically, but popular opinion was not with me on that point.”

“Now I think I must experience this.”

“Well, you’re out of luck. Besides, from here, you can see out, but I couldn’t see in. For all I know, you could be running screaming back up the world-bridge.”

“Running anywhere would be quite a feat. And certainly not compatible with screaming.”

That much was true. Even walking between worlds required frequent stops to catch one’s breath. Perhaps a side-effect of time running more slowly in the nightless world of mist.

“Actually… all kidding aside, you could retreat at least partway, and not have to wait as long until it was over. Couldn’t you have done that just now, to make the wait more bearable?”

“It is possible, but such things are difficult to control with precision. Ideally, if one know the exact right distance, one could walk that far and back again, and never have to wait at all. Of course, overshooting even slightly would mean many hours wasted. Knowing the difference is the trick, and I did not know how long was left in the day. I would rather spend a while refreshing my memory than risk losing the night. Speaking of which, we should get moving if we are to make best use of it.”

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