Wilom tucked his notebook under his arm, partly because it was easier to carry, and partially to get rid of the temptation to get it out and start taking notes again. He felt that, at least, he ought to be able to walk around the city without needing to take notes as he went. He did more than enough writing as it was.
He didn’t look where he was going, trusting the Ferryman’s Knowledge to tell him when to sidestep to avoid people in the street. Letters had done nothing and less, and he’d resorted to lists of the contacts most amenable to being approached face-to-face, according to the ledger, but he’d started to see why Mr Treene was so disparaging of the ledger system. Wilom doubted they’d been updated since … well, cynicism told him since the ‘incident’ when the current Heads had taken over, but logic told him probably slightly before that. Vanda certainly hadn’t made any changes.
When he got back to Marc and Cathlin’s, he was going to re-edit that entire ledger …
That was when he realised that he had somehow gotten off course, and ended up near the town square instead of heading towards the suburbs, where Cathlin and Marc lived. A few moments later, he realised that there was a heated argument taking place over by the corner of the square, and that he recognised the voices involved.
“Shit! Peggy! Get down!”
That was Vanda.
“No! Come on, talk to my audience! Get up here with me, come on!”
There was a small gathering in the corner of the square, and above the cluster of heads, Wilom could see Peggy bending down to try and help Vanda up onto something. It seemed Vanda wasn’t having any of it, though, and Wilom could only see her arm as she struggled.
“Come on, nothing to see here!” Vanda called. “Go home, everyone! Just go home!”
“No, Vanda! Wait, everyone – you must listen to her! She knows what it’s really like out there!” Then, though she addressed herself to Vanda, she was clearly speaking to the rest of the crowd. “You know as well as I do that these people are here because there absolutely is something to see.”
“Peggy, this is not the place to have this argument!”
“It’s exactly the place to have this argument, Vanda!”
For a moment there was silence. Wilom suspected that the two held a whispered conversation that he couldn’t hear from this distance.
He went to step forward, but the Ferryman’s Apprentice – or simple instinct, perhaps, but he was fairly sure it was the Knowledge – held him back. He pulled out his notebook, pretending to wait for someone while he listened in.
The whispered conversation gradually became raised voices again, and the crowd began to shuffle its feet.
“… and that was you, Vanda, that was you who told me how important that was!”
“I didn’t mean … this!”
“No, you wanted to keep everything quiet! I understand – we all understand.” Peggy gestured to the crowd. “But we can’t be quiet. Not anymore.”
Peggy was pitching her voice to the crowd as well as to Vanda. They were drawing stares from across the square now, and murmurs from the crowd around them. A couple of the people on the edges started looking around furtively, and some of them started to walk away.
“What happens if you attract the police, huh?” Vanda asked, throwing her voice over the heads of the crowd. This caused more murmurs, and a few more people to leave the gathering. The crowd was very thin now, only four or five people, and Wilom could see both Vanda and Peggy behind them now. Peggy had let go of Vanda’s hand, and was turned half to Vanda and half to the remaining listeners. Vanda, on the other hand, was facing entirely towards Peggy.
“Vanda, what are you doing?”
The last few people from the crowd left.
“Seriously? I might be saving your life.”
“I just don’t understand you,” Peggy said. Their voices were returning to normal now that there was no crowd for Peggy to talk to, though the conversation was no less heated for that.
“What’s not to understand? I like helping people, but I also like it when people stay alive!”
“No, you like it when you stay alive,” Peggy accused. “People on the border are dying every day, either to the soldiers or to our own police! If you really cared, you’d be trying to help them, too. Don’t you remember our first conversation? You said a lot of things to me and none of them were very different from what I just said to these people.”
“And what, exactly, do you think I’ve been doing? I get people back into the Capital, and we find houses for them – do you know how many people we’ve helped already? You’ve spent, what, a week now racking up potential incitement offenses!”
“You can’t think individually at a time like this,” Peggy said. “We’re in this position because we let it happen! We need to get together and show that this isn’t …”
“Listen!” Vanda interrupted. “What on this side of the ferryman’s boat makes you think that you’re not going to end up dead? You and all the other people you’ve been dragging to your meetings?”
Peggy shook her head. “I haven’t been dragging anybody into anything! They turn up of their own accord!”
“That doesn’t mean you haven’t …”
Peggy and Vanda looked up at the same time. Wilom followed their gaze, to where the police were arriving from the other side of the square, with an old man pointing the way towards them. Vanda grabbed Peggy by the arm, and both of them vanished.
Wilom put away his notebook casually and walked away, towards the police. He could at least stop questioning how Vanda and Peggy had managed to disappear so quickly.