Wolves at the Door (part 100)

Gil found Alfvin waiting for him; patient, but ready to move on.

“You have satisfied your urge to splurge? Then perhaps we should be going.”

“Don’t you have more stuff to buy?”

“I have what I need.”

He began to lead the way back toward the doorway, but Gil did not automatically follow.  This rushing back and forth between worlds seemed at odds with what Alfvin had told him.

“Is it really a good idea to be in such a hurry?  I mean, I get that you need to visit a village every couple of days, but how many are there before you get back to the start of the cycle?  You said yourself that you’d rather not return to any one village too often, but the less time you spend here, the quicker you burn down the list.”

“That is true.  Unfortunately, right now circumstances are against me.  The distances we must travel are longer, and the nights are shorter.  The prospect of wasting another day makes me quite anxious.  But it is as you say. An hour or two will make little difference, and it may help in the long run.  And speaking of long runs, our next trip will be the longest yet.  But once that is done, I think I can afford to spend a night here, and leave the outer world to its own devices for a little while.”

Restless as he was, Alfvin forced himself to play tour guide.  While enchanted goods were plentiful, they were by no means the only things for sale here.  Clustered near each of the stone doorways were several traders selling various imported goods: the food that Alfvin had recommended so heartily, and artworks of various kinds.  Mysterious and intricate mechanisms sat side-by-side with stacks of impossibly-thin materials, painted with unfamiliar runes.  Occasionally Gil would see something he recognised: blankets, clothing, basic tools.  Even in a world full of magic, the necessities of life remained necessary.

Marvellous as the sights were, Gil kept finding himself distracted by the sounds.  Where once the thrum of the crowds had been little more than background noise, he now kept catching tantalising snippets of conversations that quickly degraded into gibberish again.  His newly-purchased translator was working, but only intermittently.  Even the modest crowds this far from the centre of things must be leeching the magic out of the atmosphere.

Eventually, the novelty began to fade.  From one gateway to the next, the imported goods looked much the same.  The mysterious objects remained mysterious, even after hearing their names.  After stopping by Alfvin’s tent to pick up some supplies, they approached the stone doorway.

The knotted rope was still hanging from the top of the door frame, looking unsettlingly out-of-balance with only one end visible.  Alfvin considered it for a moment before turning to Gil.

“It does the job, there’s no denying that.  But I can’t help thinking we can do better.  Let’s see if we can bring back a sign to hang off the rope.”

As he spoke, Gil stared for a moment, then removed the pendant from around his neck and slipped it into one of his bags.

“Uh… sure.  Sounds like a good idea.”

“Then shall we be away?”

As they crossed the threshold together, Gil breathed a little sigh of relief.  Hearing that colloquial but unfamiliar voice coming from his friend’s mouth had just been too unsettling.  He should have known that even such seemingly innocuous magic would have some kind of downside.

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