Alfvin led the way towards a small group, lurking around near one of the less-used doorways. Gil wondered how he could have recognised an acquaintance at that distance, until they got a bit closer. One of the group broke away to come meet them, and his height, along with his classical good looks and mop of golden hair would have stood out in most places.
“Alfvin! Still sucking icicles back in the old country?”
“Come now, there is more to it than that. You really should come back for a visit some time.”
“No offence, but I nearly got frostbite the last time I was there. I prefer sunnier climes these days.”
“The North Lands can be plenty sunny. The glare of the sun on the snow can blind you!”
“How tempting that sounds. I’d like to visit in the summer, but I think I’m busy that day.”
“You are unfair. The seas thaw out for at least two weeks! Three, if you do not mind chipping a hole in the ice before you swim.”
Gil had never seen Alfvin this relaxed before. He was glad to see they were both smiling broadly; back home, such verbal sparring was usually the prelude to a fight.
“Let’s see… On the one hand, the warm beaches and barely-clad women of the south. On the other hand, snowblindness and hypothermia. Call me crazy, but I think I prefer risking sunburn.”
“You insult me, you insult my homeland, and you insult my compatriot, before you have even been introduced.”
“How wrong of me. By all means, introductions first, and insults later. Who is this poor soul, unfortunate enough to fall in with such bad company?”
“Pol, this is Gilfrid, a fellow citizen of the North. Gilfrid, Pol is one of those dilettante natives I was just telling you about.”
“I must take exception! Sampling the delights of a dozen lands does not make me a dilettante! I prefer to think of myself as a connoisseur. A brave soul conducting valuable research into finding the best food, wine and women.”
Gil could see the tone of the conversation, but did not feel comfortable insulting someone he had just met. He compromised with some light sarcasm.
“I see. When you put it that way, it’s clear you’re a kind of hero.”
Pol sighed theatrically.
“It is a grave and taxing responsibility. Alas, the sacrifices I make are too rarely appreciated. I only pray that my research shall never be conclusive.”