By the time Alfvin had said his piece, sensations other than pain were beginning to return to Gil’s arm.
He tried picking up his tradestone, which he had somehow kept hold of in his other hand this whole time. His fingers could move enough to pick it up – just – but couldn’t hold it for long before a passing spasm dropped it back into his other hand. More patience required, but signs were promising.
“Can I ask you something? You talk pretty glibly about understanding how other people think. But you came from the same culture as me – more or less, anyway. How long did it take you to leave that behind?”
“It is not necessary to leave your own culture behind in order to understand others. But in a way I had begun to do just that before I ever discovered this place. It does not mean that you need to do the same.
“To transcend it, to see value in other ways of life? That is an interesting question. In some ways, it is still a work in progress. One advantage I had when I came here was that I was already well schooled in patience. I lingered on the edges of things for a long time, trying to understand before I attempted to become part of it.
“It is easy to forget those early days, just as I forget how new it all still is to you. Perhaps it is my fault for trying to rush you. I am sure that a lecture is the last thing you need right now. I only wish to help you avoid the more painful lessons in the future.”
“If there was an apology in there somewhere, I’ll accept it. I’m sure there is value in what you were saying, but I’m equally sure that I’ll be able to hear it better after I regain control of my body.”
By now their path away from the marketplace was bringing them near another of the stone gateways.
“How do you tell these things apart anyway?”
“They may look the same, but only superficially. If you examine the stonework, each gate, each stone has its own unique characteristics.”
Though they had looked identical from a distance, as they drew nearer Gil could see that it was true. The stones were not cut into uniform shapes, and up close he could see that the joins between them were in different places. The shades and patterns within the stones may have been different too, but he was not connoisseur enough of masonry to tell for sure.
“Why don’t they just paint them?”
It seemed he had finally found a subject on which Alfvin was not an expert.
“I… do not know. I am not sure if such a thing is possible.”
“What, like the magic would make the paint fall off? If so, surely you could just stick up a sign in front of it. Doesn’t have to be touching the gate. Have you never heard of such a thing?”
“It is possible that it has been done but the signs were stolen. Even such meagre materials are probably of use to somebody.”
Gil considered for a moment.
“If it had been done at one of the other gates, would you know?”
“Perhaps, perhaps not. There are many, and I spend little time near those I cannot use.”
“It sounds to me like we should take a tour.”