Wolves at the Door (part 115)

The stone doorway didn’t appear out of the mist until Gil was almost upon it. It hadn’t taken long to get there once he was pointed in the right direction. Though he hadn’t been far off course, he had nearly passed right by without knowing it.

His legs almost collapsed under him as the relief washed over him. He would be spared the eternity of wandering alone. No need to hope for an ignominious death by starvation. He was back in familiar territory, even if he was not sure where he was. But he knew that he must have passed by here before, if only once. More importantly, from here he could find his way back to a place he would recognise.

He set out immediately to do just that. It was hard to judge how much time had passed, but Alfvin would almost certainly still be asleep. Gil probably had several hours left to spend as he wished, but he had lost his taste for exploring. However crowded the marketplace ahead, right now it held a lot more appeal than the silence of the deserted fringe.

With time on his hands, he wound his leisurely way back past dozens of the stone doorways toward the only one where he was free to come and go. For once he felt more comfort than anxiety at walking among the denizens of this world. He took the time to observe them as he passed. If Alfvin had not told him they were all human, Gil would never have guessed it. Their hair and skin seemed to come in almost as many colours and varieties as their clothes. He had heard rumours from the traders who had visited his village from time to time, of odd-looking people in far-off lands. To see so many in one place, living in… harmony would be too strong a word, but… in ordinary neighbourly competition, was as miraculous as everything else about this place.

When he reached his destination, he picked his way through the tents and sprawled-out figures between them until he found Alfvin’s tent. The first time he had seen this area it had seemed uncomfortably crowded, but now he found the presence of others reassuring. It had not been a long day, but it had been mentally and emotionally taxing. Collapsing in an open space nearby, Gil tucked his face into one elbow to shield his eyes from the omnipresent white glow. He had seen quite enough of that for one day. Whatever the glowing substance he was laying on, it was so comfortable that he was asleep almost as soon as he closed his eyes.

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