Vanda collected Wilom near lunchtime. It took them less than a minute to get underground, and to the room. Rickart was the only one sitting in the common area – the others were all behind the privacy shelters.

Wilom listed them off without seeing them, to see if he could. It seemed like that was indeed something the Ferryman’s Knowledge could do. The information came instantly. Emuin Jil. Carpenter, no immediate family.

Taina Thresh, followed a brother to the warfront, but on his death found she couldn’t return.

Wilom wanted to put his head in his hands. Vanda was right. The woman on the right was going to be tough.

Inushi Iris. Thirty-five. Husband, no children, but hadn’t seen him for years.

Marclorn soldier.

He didn’t dare let anything he was thinking show in his face. “Nice to meet you all,” he said. “You’ve probably already gotten to know Rickart.”

“I need to deliver a letter,” Vanda said. “I’ll be back before you’re finished, though.” Before Wilom could say anything, she’d closed the door behind her.

Wilom sat down against the wall. “Sorry. I hope you don’t mind,” he said. “I’ve been on my feet quite a lot today.”

Emuin shook his head. “Not at all,” he said. “I’ve been sitting down far too much. I hope you’re not offended if I keep standing.”

“No, please, however you’re comfortable.”

Taina sat down, hesitating, as though she expected to change her mind halfway through.

Inushi sat down without a word.

“I’ve read some files,” Wilom said. “But that’s hardly a measure of a person. Let me just confirm your names… Emuin? Taina? And Inushi, yes?”

Three nods.

“Oh, good. I’m always worried I’m pronouncing names wrong, but everybody’s too polite to tell me.” He pulled out his notebook. “Just so I know, does anyone have any requests? Anything you’d like in their new home?”

Inushi folded her arms, drew one leg up to her chest, and watched the other two. Taina watched Emuin. Emuin looked at Wilom.

“Go on,” Wilom said. “I can’t promise anything, but I don’t know what to work for if you won’t tell me what you want.”

“I’d like somewhere I can take up my trade again,” Emuin said, finally. “I was a carpenter. But I suppose you read that.”

Wilom nodded. “I did.” He wrote it down anyway. “I’ll do my best. A carpenter shouldn’t be too hard to place.”

“And I don’t want to be working for the military,” he said firmly. “Ah — no offense to them, or anything. But it’s not for me.” It had been addressed to the room in general, but it wasn’t hard to tell who the real target was. Inushi rested her folded arms on her knee.

“I understand,” Wilom said. “It’s not a job for everyone.” He pretended to write something else down, and turned to Taina. “Taina? Anything at all?”

“Me? Ah, um…” Taina said, trailing off like she hoped Wilom might forget he asked.

“Never mind just yet,” Wilom said. “Just tell me if you think of anything.”

Taina nodded.

When Wilom turned to Inushi, so did everyone else in the room.

“Anything at all?” he asked Inushi.

Inushi shook her head.

“Well, same goes for you, too – just let me know. I’ll always bring the notebook.”

Wilom gave them a moment to start talking, but there was only silence. “I trust your trip was uneventful?”

“Quite long enough,” Emuin said. “But uneventful.”

There was another awkward silence. Wilom let it continue for a bit too long, to see if he could prompt Inushi to speak.

She didn’t. She continued to watch them, while Taina squirmed, Emuin scratched his shoulder, and Rickart leaned his head back against the wall.

“Is there anything else anyone would like to ask, or raise with me, or…?”

There seemed to be nothing. He wasn’t convinced Taina didn’t want to say something, but he didn’t ask her directly. She probably wouldn’t tell him, at least, not yet.

Hell, she was barely out of her teens, if she was at all. Was he just getting used to his age, or did she look incredibly young?

“Alright, then,” he said. “I’ll come back soon, to let you know if I have any options for you, and to see if you’ve thought of something you’d like to suggest.”

He closed the door behind him.

“Sounded like you were having a hard time,” Vanda said, from across the hall.

“Not really.”

Vanda grinned. “What do you think of Inushi?”

“She’ll … be interesting,” Wilom said. “I need to think a bit about it. I think I’ll deal with Emuin first, though. I think he needs to be placed outside the city. I haven’t tried to do that yet.”

“Need to travel?”

“That would help. When do you need to go back?”

“Soon. It’s … getting a bit messy out there.”

“You should come to dinner tomorrow, or sometime before you go.” Wilom suggested, Vanda’s tone telling him he should change the topic. “I’m sure Cathlin and Marc would love to meet you.”

Vanda chuckled. “Oh,” she said. “And then you’ll have to explain to them how exactly you know me. Won’t that be a fun conversation?”

“Sure. It’ll be like that game – did you ever play it as a kid? One person starts a story but can’t say more than three sentences, then you need to pass it on to the next person?”

“I did play it,” Vanda said. “But I expect you’re a better player than me.”

“Doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.”

“Sure,” Vanda said, sounding very uncertain. After a long pause, she said, “But I think we’re both better off not taking that kind of risk.”

Wilom shrugged. “You probably know best.”

“Tell you what,” Vanda said, “When this all blows over – when we both have real jobs again – we’ll find a good restaurant and go out for lunch or dinner together. Something really fancy, with foreign names for all the food, and we’ll drink expensive wine and have no clue whether it’s actually good. Deal?”

Wilom nodded. “Deal. I’m looking forward to it.”

“So am I. But for now let’s start by looking forward to see how you’re going to place Inushi.”

Wilom rolled his eyes. “I’m looking forward to finding that out, too.”

“Now I’d better get you home. Let me know if you need me for any bright ideas.”

“Oh, don’t worry. If I have any bright ideas, I fully expect you to be my first volunteer.”




2 thoughts on “The Fortunate Soldier

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