Wolves at the Door (part 117)

Soon Gil found what he needed: a pair of copper bowls, exactly the same size, so they fit snugly one inside the other. The thin metal should be malleable enough to pierce without having to knock too big a hole in it. Instant clock: just add water.

While he was telling Alfvin what he intended to do with them, he saw the strangest sight this world of wonders had yet produced. The girl that they had seen with Pol was sliding backward towards the doorway by which she had entered. Her arms and legs flailed as she went, vainly trying to gain purchase enough to stand upright. She was clearly not moving under her own power, but rather it was as if an invisible hand had grabbed her by the scruff of the neck. Gil could not help thinking of a fish, caught on the hook and struggling impotently to change direction as the line drew it inexorably back toward the fisherman.

“Should we help? Can we help?”

“Almost certainly not, on both counts. Trying to stand in the way of these forces could only lead to trouble for us.”

“Where’s Pol? Shouldn’t he be looking after her?”

“Indeed he should. I should have known she would break the rules, or come to some other harm in his care. He is a well-meaning dilettante, but a dilettante nonetheless. I may have occasionally fallen short in my responsibility to you, but I take it seriously. I fear the same may not be true of him.”

By this point, she had almost reached the doorway.

“Will she be all right? Isn’t there anything we can do?”

“Physically, she will be fine. If you had to choose any surface to be dragged across, you could pick one softer and gentler. She is simply being returned to where she came from. No doubt she will live out her life there as she would have, had she never discovered this place. The best we can do to help is to let Pol know what has happened to his young protegee while he was otherwise occupied. Doubtless he will have apologies to make.”

While they spoke, the girl had slid back through the doorway and disappeared into the mist beyond. Gil frowned as he thought about what had just happened.

“That was one of the safeguards you told me about, right? Built in to the magic of the doorways to protect themselves from threats? How could a little girl like that be a threat to this whole world?”

Alfvin sighed.

“I suppose I must tell you the rest of it sooner or later. I had hoped that I could protect you by not planting the thought in your mind. No doubt Pol also took that approach, and we have just seen the results.”

He looked away. Gil thought he was just gathering his thoughts, but as he continued, it became apparent that he had seen something.

“I promise, I will explain it all. But first, here comes our inattentive would-be mentor. I am afraid we shall have to break the bad news to him.”

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