Between the two of them, they managed to follow the trail with a minimum of backtracking. In places, they had to cross open areas too large to go around. On these occasions, Gil led the way, as Alfvin followed with one hand on his shoulder. He was already practically blind in the sunlight, and the sun was still some way from its zenith.
The night before, Alfvin had set a pace that even Gil’s distance-hardened legs had struggled to keep up with, while simultaneously delivering a lecture in his characteristically florid style. Today, he lagged behind, and answered Gil’s occasional questions tersely. Gil could not help thinking that it was more than tiredness, or the weight he carried, or the need to look out for the trail ahead. Being so vulnerable, having to rely on Gil’s eyes instead of his own seemed to have sapped Alfvin’s usually plentiful enthusiasm.
It was slow going, and by the time they found the two marked trees at the end of the trail it was well past midday. Gil felt exhausted, and Alfvin seemed almost asleep on his feet. But he was still awake enough to insist that they find a camp site some way removed from the invisible doorway. Near enough to reach it in an emergency, but not so near that the signs they left behind would attract attention to it.
Gil offered – though not entirely convincingly – to keep watch for wild animals through the afternoon, but Alfvin said there would be no need.
“Judging by the weather, I should think that bears have already retired for the winter, and it will be some hours before the wolves are abroad. Best to get some sleep while we can, and be rested if we need to keep watch this evening.”
Gil did not insist. He was looking forward to his first decent night’s sleep in three days.