Last time Alfvin had attempted to show him around, Gil had been overwhelmed by the crowds and the unfamiliar surroundings. Today, they stayed in the outer section of the market, where the crowds were less densely packed. The many different styles of dress were as confronting as ever, but Gil – no longer half naked – was less preoccupied with his own appearance. Even the omnipresent glow, illuminating everything from above and below simultaneously, was less distracting – if not less eerie.
Now that Alfvin had explained a little about how things worked here, the things he saw made more sense. The various carved and polished stones on the first table must be magical charms of various types. One design seemed to be more popular than the rest, a simple stone circle with a hole through the middle. Even the stall’s proprietor was wearing one, hanging from a string around his neck. Gil asked Alfvin why there were so many of those.
“Ah, you spotted that? Yes, if you think about it for a moment, it becomes quite obvious. This place is a kind of hub, a crossroads if you will. It is the intersection of a hundred different roads, from a hundred different lands. And when the inhabitants of those lands meet here, so many and so diverse, they all have one thing in common. Nobody has a clue what anybody else is saying. Hence the need for these.”
“They let you understand each other?”
“Exactly. Very useful, especially if you are a merchant who must deal with customers from all over.”
“But you don’t wear one.”
“I do not. I spend so much time on the other side of the doorway that it would be a poor investment. I rarely travel far enough across Midgard for language to be a barrier. Most people there understand me well enough, as indeed do you. Here, on the other hand, the lack of such a device merely limits my ability to converse with those who share that lack. Virtually all professional merchants and many private individuals wear one, so the limitation is not an onerous one. There are times when having a translator of my own would be useful, but it is a luxury, not a necessity.”
It made Gil think about the crowds passing by them. Even this far out on the edge of things, the noise of a dozen overlapping conversations was constantly present in the background. The village he had grown up in rarely buzzed like this even at its busiest. He was able to ignore most of the voices because he could not understand the words, but he wondered how he would cope without that buffer.
Alfvin seemed quite cosmopolitan and at home in the crowds, but before he came here he had been even more isolated than Gil. After several years spent outside of human society, this must have been a shock to him at first too. Perhaps there was more than one reason he chose not to wear a translator disc of his own.