The next several trips passed without incident. Alternating between the more distant villages and those nearby allowed them a little leisure after each venture into the outside world. Each time they stepped out into the forest afterwards, they found the seasons had advanced a little more. By the time Alfvin was due to return to Gil’s home village, his exile was almost halfway over.
Gil felt an unfamiliar tension as he stepped through the invisible doorway this time. As always, his first concern was to check the time of day – late afternoon – and then the phase of the moon. Getting caught out by an unexpected full moon had led to his exile in the first place, and it was not a mistake he would make twice. If there was a full moon in the offing, he would step back across the threshold. Not necessarily to hide from the moon, though sometimes he would stay there to wait it out. Just as often he would leave his gear with Alfvin and step right back into the night, to run free through the forest in the moonlight.
No such decision to make this time; a pale moon was already in the sky, which meant it would not be full for nearly another week. A short trip like this was unlikely to take even two nights. But the tension in his stomach had nothing to do with the moon, or the sun. The last time he had returned to his village had been under armed guard and had ended with his being banished for three years.
Of course, he would not actually be returning this time. He would have to keep well clear – more so than ever here, where he was so much more likely to be recognised. But he was glad that Alfvin would be able to get word to his family that he was alive and well. Gil had even purchased a few little luxuries to be delivered to them, as thanks for dealing with the mess he had left and as proof that he was not just surviving, but making a decent living in exile. He had briefly considered whether to send them something magical in nature, but quickly decided against it. He was making a living, but hardly rich. And more importantly, such a gift could cause trouble for his family. He had brought them enough of that, without giving their neighbours cause for suspicion or jealousy. Better to send something useful or beautiful, just exotic enough to come from some far-off land where he could plausibly be spending his years of banishment.
When they finally drew near the village after travelling most of the night, the tension rose. Waiting in the woods a mile away, he felt restless. Every moment he expected to be discovered, even though the whole village was likely still asleep. He would have felt safer at a greater distance, but there was a limit to how far Alfvin would be able to walk in the morning light to find him. He had warned Alfvin not to tell his family he was nearby. If they took it into their heads to come find him, who knew who else might follow? Most of the village’s inhabitants had no quarrel with him, but would feel duty-bound to get rid of an outlaw. But there were a few who might see it as an opportunity to get rid of him permanently, with the full blessing of the law.
Gil stayed restless and paranoid the whole time he waited, but when a figure finally approached, it was not Fargrim come to shoot him down but Alfvin, returning alone as planned.
Blind as Alfvin was in the growing sunlight, Gil pushed him hard all the way back. He did not draw an easy breath until they were back at the campsite in the forest, within easy reach of the invisible doorway that would let them escape to another world.