Wolves at the Door (part 28)

Gil woke to a soft light. Another confusing morning. His body ached, but it was the honest ache of physical exertion, not the shivering weakness that had greeted him the last few days. He had trouble remembering where he was, but only for a moment. His head was clear – or as clear as it ever was upon first waking. And when he stretched, it seemed almost novel to feel that he was not naked this time. As he unwound the roll of cloth that he had wrapped around himself to keep warm, he saw that it was not the twilight of early morning, but of impending darkness.

Looking around, he saw no sign of Alfvin. But since his head was not aching, the dull thumping noise he could hear must be coming from outside of his skull. Following the sound, he found Alfvin at work, cutting wood with a small axe.

“Been awake long?” He had to call out to be heard over the impacts, so much louder close at hand.

“Not very long. I thought I might let you sleep. I apologise if the noise awoke you, but it was unavoidable. Soon it will be dark, and if we wish the wolves and the frost to let us be, then a fire will be needed.”

“Anything I can do to help?”

“I have almost enough firewood to start with, but you can grab an armful and carry it back with you. I shall join you shortly.”

Gil nodded, and grabbed as much wood as he could carry. He heard something skittering out of sight in the darkness, and was glad they had hung up the food bags where most of the wildlife would be unable to reach.

By the time Alfvin was done, Gil had cleared an area and built some of the lighter pieces of wood up ready to light. He was gathering rocks to line the edge of the fire with and returned to find Alfvin crouched over the lit fire. The delicate little flames still needed some coaxing to take a bite of some larger logs. Under Alfvin’s care, the fire was established before long and Gil was glad of the heat it radiated.

The remnants of daylight had faded by now. Neither of them was fully rested, so they brought their gear closer to the fire and Gil once more used the cloth to wrap himself up in a kind of cocoon. With the warmth of the fire at his back and the dancing light flickering on the trees in front of him, it should have been easy to get back to sleep. But he kept wondering where he would be if he had not stumbled through the doorway in the woods.

Would he have been able to escape the wolf pack that had been chasing him? Even if he had, how would he have handled waking up naked in the forest again? And this time with no home to return to and no chance of finding the clothes he had left behind. In the two weeks that had passed since then, there was a good chance he would have fallen victim to starvation or frostbite.

Even now he was almost entirely dependent on Alfvin. Gil would have been unable to make the fire on his own, with no tools. But he had been given an opportunity, and he needed to make the most of it.

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