For once, Vanda was apologetic, rather than excited, about the new people she’d brought, which made Wilom apprehensive. How could this possibly be worse than Inushi? He didn’t have time to ask, though. The trip to the storage room had been the shortest one yet, and they’d barely had time to exchange more than a few words.
Outside the door, Wilom put on his best smile for the new people, then opened it.
“Afternoon,” he said. “Inushi, Taina, Emuin, Rickart. For everyone else, I’m Wilom. I’m a friend of Vanda’s.”
He and Vanda walked in and sat down. As he performed his usual checks, he noticed that Inushi was sitting in her own corner again. One of the men — Yasin, late thirties, older brother in the army — was sitting near the other corner. Everyone else was scattered around the walls.
Yasin nodded to him. “Wilom.”
Taina was with a woman who looked to be about five years her senior –
No, it was six years, wanting a month. The woman’s name was Glyn.
The last member of the new group was a young woman, legs folded up, watching Yasin. Keri, nearly twenty-three, left her older sister behind.
“Well,” he said, feeling his voice falling into pattern, “My job is to find somewhere for you to live that’s a little more comfortable than here. Whenever new people arrive, I take a list of requests from them. I’ll try and match a place to what you want. Of course, I might not be able to get it exact, but I’ll do my best. Does anyone have a request?”
“Fast,” Yasin said immediately. He cast a glance at Inushi.
Wilom smiled at him. “I’ll do what I can.” He exchanged a glance with Rickart that seemed to sum up the whole situation.
“Somewhere with a garden,” Glyn said. “Even on a farm, though I know that would be difficult.”
Wilom nodded, and pretended to take note.
“I would also settle for ‘quickly’,” Inushi said, suddenly.
Wilom nodded. “As soon as possible,” he said.
Yasin huffed. Inushi said nothing, just lowered her head closer to her knees, with the air of someone bracing themselves for a lecture.
Yasin looked away. “Sure, she gets ‘as soon as possible’ …” he muttered.
Inushi came very, very close to saying nothing. Wilom could feel it. But she looked up and said, “Sorry. I didn’t hear you properly. Were you speaking to me?”
Wilom took a deep breath. Vanda glanced at him. Wilom returned her glance, and just shook his head. She pressed her lips together, folded her arms and sat back.
“Just saying,” Yasin said. “I mean, we should all be treated the same, shouldn’t we?”
“I believe we are,” Inushi said.
“Easy to say when you’re being given special treatment.”
Inushi didn’t respond.
“Sit down, Yasin,” Rickart said.
“No, you’ve all shut me up,” Yasin said. He turned to Wilom. “I’d like to know … I’m just asking … why is she here, too?”
“Because she needed a place to go,” Wilom said.
“With us? Now, I’m sure she has perfectly valid reasons, but what did she think was going to happen? That nobody would bear her ill-will? What about all the wounded soldiers? What about those with family who died? What are they going to think?”
“I don’t know,” Inushi said. “Will they all be as intolerant as you?”
Yasin sat down heavily, folded his arms over his knees, and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like “Shithead”.
“And to yourself as well,” Inushi said politely.
“You’re still the only one here who’s murdered someone,” Yasin snapped.
Wilom winced. Sometimes, you could just pinpoint when a conversation could no longer go anywhere but down.
The Ferryman’s Knowledge was as strong and clear as if the ferryman himself had spoken in his ear.
“Says he whose brother was in the army,” Inushi said.
“You leave him out of this. He has nothing to do with it!”
“That’s surprising. You haven’t stopped talking about him yet.”
Yasin was standing now, looming over Inushi.
“He’s also not asshole enough to try and move to a country whose people he murdered for a paycheck. Just who the hell do you think you are?”
Inushi, in one swift movement, was standing, too, eye to eye with him. “Never, ever tell me what I am or am not.”
“Then don’t you say another word about my brother.”
“I’ll not rub lemon in your cuts if you stop pissing on mine!”
Vanda gave Wilom an exasperated look and stood up to interrupt them. “Come on,” she said. “Calm down. It’s a small room, and you’re not making it any larger by arguing. You’ll both be out of here soon.”
“No. We’ve been dancing around this for too long,” Yasin said. “And she hasn’t had her say yet. If she wants to stay here, she’s got to have a good reason. Go on, then, soldier girl. Give me a good reason why you belong here, then.”
When Inushi didn’t reply, Yasin raised his eyebrows. “One. Reason.”
As Inushi tensed, ready to punch, Wilom felt an itch at the base of his skull, and without ever quite intending to move, he was standing. He walked towards the pair of them, touching Vanda on the shoulder as he passed her.
“Sit down for now,” he said. “I’ll settle this.”
Vanda took one look at him and nodded. “All yours.”
Inushi’s fist was hovering somewhere around the level of her collarbone, but her eyes were fixed on Wilom. Yasin was breathing heavily.
“Inushi, will you put your hand down, please?” Wilom asked.
In the silence that followed, she slowly, slowly lowered her arm.
“Thank you.” Wilom looked at both of them. “Now, I think we can all agree this has gotten out of hand. Yasin, I would like you to understand something. It does not matter to us where Inushi came from. She needed somewhere to go. That is what we do. We give people places to go.”
“We give people places to go,” Wilom cut him off. He saw Yasin flinch, and deliberately softened his expression.
“I … I got it,” Yasin said.
“Hold whatever opinions you like,” Wilom said. “But Vanda is right. This room is not large, and I’m sure everyone would appreciate it if you wouldn’t start arguments in it.”
“Hey, how come that Marclorn’s not …” In the face of Wilom’s stare, his protest trailed off halfway through.
Wilom stepped back. Yasin would not retain his composure, and it would be worse for him to be embarrassed over that. “Vanda?” he asked.
“Can you take Yasin somewhere else for a little while? Just until everyone calms down.”
“Wait, why am I getting sent away?”
“Would you really like me to tell everyone why?”
Yasin’s bottom jaw shook from the force of clenching his teeth. He was not breathing evenly. Instead of replying, he walked past Wilom to Vanda.
Once the door closed behind them, Wilom let out a long breath. As he relaxed, he felt something draining away, leaving him a little dizzy, with no energy for anger or frustration.
“Sorry,” he said, and took his place again. “Inushi, I promise I’ll get one or both of you placed as soon as possible. In the meantime, I would appreciate it if you didn’t provoke him either.”
Inushi nodded. “I have not yet initiated an argument, and I don’t plan to start now.”
Vanda walked back through the door. “He’s waiting in another room,” she said. “I’ll go back for him before we leave.”
“Good,” Wilom said. “Give him a little while.”
The conversation dwindled after a while, and eventually, Vanda went to get Yasin again.
He came back with eyes a little red, but otherwise he was composed. He nodded to Inushi and took his seat in the corner.
As they were leaving, Taina tugged Wilom’s sleeve.
“Can I talk to you? Um, in private?”
A little way down the corridor, Taina twiddled her thumbs. “It’s just, um. I have a request.”
“Of course.” He felt a sudden lurch, a shift like seasickness. He tried not to show it on his face. Either he succeeded, or Taina was too concerned with being shy to notice.
“I want to move away from the Capital,” Taina said. “As soon as possible, please.”
Wilom nodded. Well, if he was reading the situation right, he could kill two birds with one stone finding her and Glyn a farm somewhere … if only he could focus enough to think of a way to do it.
“I feel like I should mention,” Wilom’s mouth said, “You won’t find anywhere in this country without police checks. You’ll still have to wait for us to find papers and a place.”
Taina suddenly went white, and Wilom knew he’d hit a little too close to home.
“I know that,” she said, indignantly. “I know I can’t get away entirely. I’m not a child. But small towns don’t have gates around them, and you don’t need to carry your identification to get a damn cup of coffee!”
Wilom gave up. He wasn’t up to this, and he shouldn’t have said anything to start with. “I’ll see what I can do. I just needed to know that you knew.”
Taina nodded, face flushed from her sudden outburst. “I understand.”
Wilom nodded, and walked down to where Vanda was waiting for him.
“Problem?” she asked.
“Not really. I just can’t help but think she’s expecting something that won’t be there.”
“You’re probably right. But the only thing that would fix it is stopping the war.”
“Something like that,” Wilom said. It was difficult to feel Vanda’s hand taking his arm.
“You definitely remind me of the ferryman when you do that!”
“I’ll choose to take that as a compliment,” Wilom said.
“I felt like I was being scolded, and you weren’t even talking to me. Though you mightn’t have made a friend of Yasin.”
“Mm. Better than them starting a fistfight.” Wilom let his mouth take over. He wanted to process what had happened, not think about this conversation. Why then? Why had the Ferryman’s Knowledge made him wait?
“Definitely. Do you think he’ll try to start something while you’re gone?”
“I sure hope not. But Rickart will tell me, I think. I’d better find him a place soon.” Yes. Something else to think about. Good.
Vanda chuckled. “Someday, you’ll learn to take things one at a time.”
Wilom managed a chuckle. “Maybe. Maybe not.”