Barefoot and struggling to see in the dark, Gil lagged behind most of the way. He only caught up from time to time when Alfvin paused to mark a tree with his knife. Gil could only hope they would be making the return trip in daylight. He could barely see where he was walking. Their chances of spotting one scarred trunk among thousands of others in these conditions seemed slim.
After a while the forest thinned enough for Gil to get a good look at the sky. Taking his bearings, he was mildly surprised to find that they were indeed heading almost due west. But he stopped dead when he saw the crescent moon low in the sky.
Last night, the moon had been full.
He must have been staring at it for a while, dumbfounded, when he noticed that Alfvin had come back and addressed him, but he had not taken in any of the words.
“I don’t know how long I was passed out, but I know it wasn’t a week.”
“No indeed. Nearer an hour, I should say.”
“So what happened to the moon?”
“Perhaps I should have warned you in advance. But it is a hard thing to believe if the evidence is not before your eyes.”
“What is hard to believe?”
“As I said, you were there for about two hours. But you have been gone from here for much longer. Just over two weeks, I should guess.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“And yet it is true: you see the proof before you. You feel it within your own body. This is why you remain in control of yourself. Had we returned the same night you left, you would most likely be chasing the scent of the nearest rabbit.”
Gil frowned. That explained one mystery, but only by substituting a larger one.
“I wondered … but how?”
“You have walked between worlds, seen wonders whose magnitude you are yet to grasp. But this is the thing that you have difficulty believing?”
“I guess waking up there… it was like a dream world, you know? And in a dream, you don’t really expect everything to make sense. You just go along with it as best you can. But here… I thought I knew how things work here. You don’t expect the dream to continue after you wake up.
“It’s hard to disbelieve something that’s right in front of you. But this is … I don’t know … more abstract?”
“Abstract or not, it is a fact you must accept. Broadly speaking, one hour there is as a week here. Six months here is as a day there. That is why I knew you could return without becoming savage again. That is why I knew your pursuers from last night would have given up and moved on. And that is why it is always so difficult to anticipate whether it will be day or night when I arrive here.”
Gil had had to accept a number of new realities in one night – or was it half a month? Different worlds, magic on almost an industrial scale – and now this. But in this case, accepting the fact would be easier than understanding its implications. If two weeks had passed, it was likely that his family had discovered him missing, searched in vain and made peace with his loss. All before he had even had time for a decent night’s sleep. Perhaps that was why just thinking about it made his head ache.
He was certain it would not be the last surprise to come out of this experience.