Wolves at the Door (part 97)

While he waited, Gil tried to commit the details of the stone gateway to memory.  Though he had passed through it many times now, Gil still wasn’t sure he could tell it apart from all the other, almost identical stone gateways that ringed the crowded settlement ahead.

Alfvin had lived here – on and off – for at least a year, and seemed to have no trouble finding his way.  Perhaps he could tell where he was by the traders’ stalls nearby, or the people milling around them.  The crowds certainly didn’t look the same – indeed, it seemed as if no two people in this world were dressed alike – but to Gil they were all equally outlandish, and therefore indistinguishable.

If only the stone were marked in some way.  Gil knew there were subtle differences in the shape of the stones and the way they fit together, but he was no stonemason, and the differences were too subtle for his eye.

Was a sign too much to ask for? The ground beneath Gil’s feet felt substantial enough, but looked like it was made of the same clouds that were visible in every direction.  There was no mud or snow to make a mark in.  Indeed, there was nothing close at hand to mark but the stone doorway itself.  But Gil had nothing he could use as paint.  He had his fire-flint, but carving runes into the magic-infused stones of the doorway would be sheerest folly.  Gil’s trading stone, partially filled with magic, had not exploded when he scratched a rune on it, but that was virtually the smallest magic there was, and these doorways were the biggest.  Alfvin had said they had safeguards to protect themselves, and Gil had no intention of learning about those safeguards the hard way.

Surely there was some non-destructive way to mark one doorway as being different from another, though? Gil fished a short length or rope from his bags.  A rope tied around one side of the stone frame would be visually distinctive, without interfering with the potent magic.

The stone upright was narrow enough to encircle with his arms, so Gil took one end of the rope in each hand and did just that. But where his hands should have met on the other side, they found nothing to grasp.  They were on the opposite side of the stone from Gil’s head, so he could not see what was happening, but he moved his arms up and down until he had the disconcerting sense that they were passing right through each other, but felt nothing.  Next he tried holding one end of the rope while throwing the other end through the frame.  He saw it land , but when he went around to pick it up, it wasn’t there.

Gil’s plan may have been to avoid interfering with the magic, but the magic did not avoid interfering with the plan.  When they had first met, Alfvin had told him that going around the doorway was not the same as going through.  But the clouds beyond looked so identical that Gil had not taken it to heart.  Clearly looping through the door frame would not work.

In the end, he settled for tying a knot in each end of the rope, then throwing it up so it hooked over the stone lintel.  One knot weighed down each end, but only the near end was visible, no matter which side of the doorway you stood on.  It was not securely attached, but it was out of easy reach.  Combined with the relative worthlessness of two feet of rope, Gil hoped that would be enough to deter anyone from stealing it.

Whether or not Gil’s efforts had created a useful and lasting way to recognise the doorway, they had certainly been successful in occupying his time.  It wasn’t long afterwards that he saw Alfvin returning, having once more traded the bulky goods of their homeland for the rarer and more portable goods he would take back there.  He paused to once more top up the balance of Gil’s trade stone.

“Almost full.  I wish that we had the time to stay and find you something worth spending it on.  Perhaps next time, we can take an hour or two and do just that.”

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