Wolves at the Door (part 11)

There was indeed much to see, so much that Gil soon began to feel overwhelmed. The crowds he had seen so far were only the tip of the iceberg; before they had gone twenty yards he had seen more people than lived in his entire village – and that was including the thralls back home, of which there seemed to be none here. Many wore their hair short, in the style of thralls, but there was not a slave-collar to be seen, and all went about their own business without showing particular deference to anyone else. As he had noted before, there was no one prevailing mode of dress. Some wore sensible woollen garb, while others seemed to consider their clothes a spectacle for their fellows, combining more colours in one outfit than all the clothing Gil had ever seen back home. Still others apparently gave their clothes little thought, if one were to judge by how much they wore. If Gil had found the nerve to walk around naked, he would not have been the only one.

The majority of the township, if town it was, seemed to be one enormous marketplace, with tables and booths set up to trade just about everything Gil could imagine, and much more besides. They all seemed to be constructed in a flimsy, temporary fashion though; the doorway was the only thing he had seen so far that was built of stone. Such living quarters as he saw were likewise scant, clusters of small tents farther out between the market and the doorways. They passed several of the other stone doorways, which seemed to be spaced out around the edges of the inhabited zone. Gil could easily believe that people would often take the wrong one by mistake; they looked almost exactly alike, and the temporary structures nearby did little to distinguish one from another.

His tour-guide kept up a running commentary, but almost all of it went straight over Gil’s head. Here, one could buy such-and-such a thing that Gil had never heard of, at a very reasonable price. There was the dwelling place of a good friend whose name Gil immediately forgot. The crowds grew thicker as they pressed further towards the centre, and the din of so many voices assaulted his ears in dozens of different languages. It was all overwhelming, and he tightened his grip on the hand that guided him. If he was cast adrift alone in this madhouse, he was not sure he would ever find his way back to the outskirts of the town, let alone work out which of the many stone gateways would lead him home.

His companion looked back at him, and said something Gil could not make out amid the thousand voices echoing in his head. But then, mercifully, he began to lead the way though thinner crowds, until the market faded behind them and they walked between the more sparsely populated fields of tents. Those who were here were mostly sleeping or otherwise occupying themselves, and the two boys could hear themselves think.

“I apologise, that must have been quite a shock. I have become so used to living here that I forget what it is like to be confronted by it all for the first time. There really is nothing like it. I promise, you too will become accustomed to it if you stay. But perhaps first it is time to talk. My enthusiasm outstrips my courtesy. I assure you, when somebody wears my underclothes, they usually know my name first.”


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