Wolves at the Door (part 43)

It took them quite a while, but they eventually made the rounds of every stone doorway they could find. Finding them was not difficult, as they seemed to be arranged at regular intervals along a vast circle at some distance from the bustling marketplace.

As far as Gil could tell, many appeared to be neglected. The doorway leading to his own homeland was hardly a hive of activity, but there was activity nearby. It was no more than a stone’s throw from the edge of the marketplace, and even the space between was heavily populated with tents.

By contrast, there were some stretches of their journey where the populated interior seemed to have receded like an ebbing tide. If gave Gil the unnerving impression that the emptiness out beyond the gateways was gaining ground, forcing the civilisation within to retreat.

But every tide that goes out will sooner or later come back in. After passing four or five of the abandoned-looking doorways, the next one would be, if not exactly busy, at least less deserted.

Then, of course, there were a few that seemed to be major thoroughfares in their own right, with a constant stream of people coming and going. Just as the inner society had retreated from the unused gates he had passed earlier, it came surging out to meet the traffic pouring forth from these more popular sites. Either that, or a local industry had sprung up to service this transient population and grown until it merged with the city centre. There was neither room nor time here for anybody to rest. But thick as the crowds were, they dropped off sharply beyond the portal. It seemed everyone wanted to get from there to the city centre, where the high-level trading was done. So merchants set up their stalls along that route, and the travellers whose business was not so high-level could save themselves the journey. But almost nobody seemed interested in straying from that direct path. So it was that Gil was able to get close enough to see what was happening without being swallowed by the crowds.

He saw there were indeed signs, many of them, though he could not read a single one. Of course, it would be impossible for anyone to steal them here without being seen. The signs were not the only thing Gil couldn’t understand; although there were many merchants of types he was familiar with, others seemed to be offering goods or services that he could only guess at. Some had large and elaborate devices whose purpose he could not even begin to guess. One seemed to have set up a series of tiny waterfalls, though nobody was bathing or drinking from them. Maybe he was selling some kind of art, or perhaps it was a model to demonstrate his skills as an irrigation expert. Alfvin was no wiser than Gil, at least on this topic.

Gil shrugged and turned back to the stone frame itself. There was no paint on it, though to be fair, there seemed little chance of mistaking it for any of the other doorways they had passed today.

With some reluctance, once they had seen all that they could make sense of, it was time to continue their journey.

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