Gil felt pleased with himself as he watched the fire crackle; not only would Alfvin be waking to the smell of fresh-cooked fish, but Gil would also be able to return his shirt. Last night he had felt helpless; today he was making a contribution. He still needed to use Alfvin’s tools to do it, but it was a step in the right direction.
Later, as the sun headed towards the horizon, they spread out the remnants of the fire to let the embers cool off and die more quickly. Then they gathered up the bags of gear to carry back through the portal. Gil had had a vague idea of carrying the wooden poles he had cut across their shoulders, with the bags hanging from the ends. If it had worked, they would have been able to carry more weight that way, but after some fruitless experimentation he abandoned the idea as needlessly complex. They had carried the bags this far the old-fashioned way, and would continue to do so. The poles would be more useful as walking sticks, though that would occupy one hand and leave the other carrying almost all of the weight. Not very comfortable, but workable.
Once the logistics were sorted out, they stood together between the scarred trees that marked the location of the invisible doorway. Gil hoped they had remembered the exact position correctly. A terrible thought suddenly occurred to him.
“Alfvin, there’s no frame around the doorway on this side. What if you miss? Or not exactly miss, but… what if half of you walks through the doorway? And the other half stays in this world?”
“A gruesome thought indeed. I am almost certain it is impossible.”
Gil felt almost reassured.
“I have seen too many impossible things to discount anything altogether. But I have never heard of it happening. Gossip being what it is, such a lurid tale would have spread wide if a thing like this had occurred. I do know that the powerful magic of the gateways contains equally potent safeguards. Guaranteeing your safety is not their main purpose, but it may well be a by-product. You see, their simplest mechanism is to deny entry. If, for whatever reason, the safeguards deemed you unfit to pass into the other world, you would step across the threshold to find you were still here in the forest. Indeed, that may be why there is no physical frame around the portal on this side: the unworthy need never know it exists.”
“And why would it consider someone unworthy?”
“Since the person’s state of mind is a factor, now would be a terrible time to put such ideas in your head. But in the broadest terms, anyone who is a danger to the existence of the land and the gateways will be unwelcome. I have even heard that if someone becomes a danger after passing through the gate, the residual magic will eject them immediately. It is said to be a most unpleasant experience.”
Gil felt nervous just knowing the possibility existed. But he already felt dependent on the gateway and the land beyond. He certainly had no wish to harm it.
His fears mostly assuaged, he stepped up to the spot where he remembered emerging from the portal the previous night. Nodding to Alfvin, they stepped forward together.
Gil looked around. He had expected to see the glowing clouds that surrounded the path between worlds, but instead he stood alone in the darkening forest.