Wolves at the Door (part 38)

After examining the remaining bags, Alfvin decided that he had offloaded enough for the time being. He led Gil off to the right, weaving among the tents that occupied the space between one gateway and the next. Some of the tents were occupied, others he assumed were empty. Some of the inhabitants made do without a tent, curling up in any empty space to sleep. Gil found himself intrigued. Back home, sleeping in the open was sometimes possible but usually inadvisable. He had done it himself last night, with only the trees above to shelter him from the elements. But then, he had had the fire and Alfvin nearby to ward off danger.

Here the elements were not just mild, but if rumour were to be believed they might actually be keeping you alive. If that was true, perhaps sealing yourself up in a tent would be dangerous. Certainly, most of the tents here were lightweight constructions that would never have withstood a storm in the outside world. Without the need to block out the elements, their primary purpose seemed to be to provide some privacy, or at least the illusion of privacy. They were too flimsy to block noise from outside, but at least they would shield you from the curious eyes of your neighbours.

Then again, perhaps it was not the eyes outside that they were intended to block. The ubiquitous white glow could not have made it easy to get to sleep. Indeed, now that Gil thought about it, he began noticing that most of the outdoor sleepers he passed wore a hood pulled down over their eyes. The others either tucked their head in under one arm or even, in one case, had tied on a makeshift blindfold.

Although most of the tents were too lightly build to have stood up in a strong breeze, there were a few exceptions. It was easy to pick the handful of tents that had been brought over from the other side of the gateway. They were made of heavy canvas or leather, clearly designed to keep the occupant safe and dry in a rainstorm. It was to one of those that Alfvin led him now, opening the flap and tossing their unsold goods inside.

“Is this your home?”

“I am not sure that home is precisely the right word for it, given my itinerant lifestyle. But yes, in essence. When I need to sleep on this side, I do it here.”

As he turned to leave again, Gil stopped him with another question.

“Will the goods be safe here?”

Alfvin shrugged.

“Safe enough. They are only of modest value, hardly worth the effort of stealing. There is a protection enchantment laid on the tent. And there is a certain sense of community here. Everyone is vulnerable while they sleep, so we look out for one another while we are awake. That is why people choose to take their rest here, when they could be equally comfortable anywhere else.”

He waited until he had led Gil through almost to the other side of the encampment before adding:

“Of course, a sense of community only goes so far, and the protection enchantment is quite basic. Nonetheless, it should be enough to deter casual thieves. I would not necessarily trust it with anything of serious value. Which is why, incidentally, you should always keep your trade-stone upon your person.”

Gil tightened his grip on the stone, wishing he had had the foresight to add a pouch or two when he had made his clothes. But Alfvin was already leading him towards a row of merchants’ stalls.

“Also, it is good to have it handy should you wish to make a purchase. And once you see the many options available, that will be very tempting indeed.”

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