With Alfvin’s help, Gil eventually got onto his feet and out of kicking range. Once the merchant had given up and returned to his business, they slowed to a walk and were able to talk.
“How does your arm feel? Still stinging a bit?”
“Have you still got your knife? Is amputation an option?”
“If you can make jokes about it, that is a good sign.”
As they walked, the pain started to lessen. Not enough that he could move his arm, but enough that it only felt like it was on fire or it had been pieced with a thousand needles. Not both at once, which was in improvement.
“What was that?”
“That was the reason so many traders can operate here without losing all their merchandise to thieves in the crowds. I suppose you might think of it as a magical guard dog.”
“You could have warned me!”
“I did. I told you that I have safeguards to protect my tent. How much more carefully do you think a merchant would protect his livelihood? No, I am afraid you were careless. But you have learned a valuable lesson: always ask permission before touching things that do not belong to you.”
“If I’m capable of touching anything again.”
Alfvin was less sympathetic than Gil might have hoped.
“Pfft. You over-dramatise. I am sure the experience was unpleasant, but there will be no lasting damage. And, if I may be so blunt, it is better that you learn this way. There are people who would do far worse to you if you failed to respect their person or their property.”
As the pain gradually subsided, anger seeped in to take its place. He waved his still-useless arm at Alfvin.
“And what about my person? Do you call this respect?”
Alfvin stopped walking and looked Gil right in the eyes.
“Seriously, this is an adjustment you need to make. You are accustomed to thinking of the world in a particular way. This is the way that your society, your family, has told you is right. Men must be open and direct. Fighting is the only way to gain respect. Weakness and duplicity must be called out. Every insult must be instantly avenged.
“I will not say that these are bad principles to live by. But not all of them will serve you well here. Above all, you need to understand that they are not the only principles. This place borders a hundred different lands, a thousand different societies, each with their own ideas about how people should live their lives.
“If you wish to stay here, or even visit here regularly, you need to take that fact to heart. You will need to learn patience. And you will need to begin understanding the way other people think. You do not have to agree with them. You do not have to understand why they think that way. But failing to understand how they think is a crippling weakness. Figuratively and occasionally, as you have discovered, literally.”
Understanding other cultures seemed like a very long-term project. Patience was something he could begin on right away. Gil was not in the best frame of mind for learning, but he had no choice. Alfvin had said the damage to his arm would not be permanent. The only way to find out would be to wait.