Returning to the forest, Gil was struck by how far the evening had advanced in even the few minutes they had been talking. The sun was already dipping below the horizon.
“So, do you want to go back to the same village?”
“No, I prefer to vary the routine. Go to the same market too often and you may find that demand has dried up. Also, in any place there are usually some who will take exception to what I do, and so I prefer not to be too predictable in my habits.”
Gil considered his knowledge of the local geography.
“Okay, let’s see. Now that I know where we are, more or less… if we go north-east, then we should be able to find another town.”
“Would the one to the south-east not be closer?”
“Could be, I don’t know it as well… ”
Suddenly something clicked into place in Gil’s mind.
“…but you do. Of course you do, you’ve been making the rounds of all the nearby settlements for years. You know where they all are. You didn’t need me to guide you last time we were here. You knew the way better than I did. You could have led the way to my own village when I didn’t know how to get back from here. But you just let me think I was leading you, what? So I would feel useful?”
“That is only partly true. No, I did not need you to tell me how to find a village to trade with. I never actually said that I did. But I most certainly did need you to guide me back again. You know as well as I do that I could not have travelled through the day without you. Had you followed me to the village, you would not have paid as close attention to our route. You would not have been able to guide me back as effectively.”
“You may be telling the truth, but it’s never the whole truth with you, is it? I’ve got to say, this thing of truth in small doses is getting really old.”
“Very well. Here is the rest of the truth, as it pertains to the topic at hand. I did not know which village you came from. I still do not, though of course now I could make an educated guess. You wished to avoid returning there. Allowing you to lead meant that I would not accidentally take you to the one place you refused to go. And that is not all: as you said, I have been trading in these parts for what the locals would consider many generations. In that time, some of the towns I knew have been abandoned; new ones have sprung up elsewhere. Sometimes it is years between visits, and my local knowledge may be obsolete. Yours is more current, and so more reliable, if less complete. That is why I wished you to lead us.”
“Was that so hard?”
“I have spent many years as an outsider, then as a recluse. Since I found a new community to be part of, I have made friends, but I have never had a partner. Apparently it requires a level of openness that I am quite unused to…”
He paused a moment in introspection.
“…but I think it is something I can learn.”