Vanda took Wilom immediately to the little run-down shack where the people from the tunnels were currently living. It was larger than Wilom had expected – he had expected a decrepit farm house, but this actually seemed to be an old barn or storehouse. Through the window, he could see fluttering fabric. A makeshift curtain.
Their arrival had been noticed, and the inside of the barn felt tense.
When they were close, Vanda started to whistle a song. It was one Wilom remembered only vaguely – his grandmother might have sung it once. He couldn’t remember the lyrics, and in his mind the tune had a music-box tinny quality to it.
Inside the barn, there was a sudden relaxation like a sigh of relief.
When they reached the door of the barn, Rickart opened it for them.
“Hi, Vanda,” he said, grinning. “Wilom, too! Long time, no see.”
Wilom nodded. “Long time, no see,” he agreed.
That’s when Wilom realised that there were fewer people in the barn than he had expected. There were only three of them – Rickart, Inushi and the young woman, Keri, who had arrived the last time. They were the only people in the house.
“Where are Taina and Glyn? And Yasin?”
Rickart’s face twisted up, and he glanced over his shoulder at Inushi, whose face was dark. “Yasin left fairly quickly,” he said. “Said he’d brave the police in the next small town rather than cool his heels here another day.”
“And Taina and Glyn?” Wilom pressed.
“They … I don’t know exactly where they went. I think they got a little nervy.”
“So now it’s just the three of us,” Keri said, from where she was sitting against the wall. She held up the book and her pencil. “Thanks for the sketchbook, Vanda.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Vanda said, waving her hand.
It was indeed, as Wilom had realised when they arrived, a barn rather than a house. They had separated out a few rooms with fabric dividers, like the blanketed shelves they’d had in the storage room.
“Sit down,” Rickart said, gesturing to a wall. “It’s not much, but we have some water and food. The outhouse is behind the barn if you need it.”
“Would you like me to make you something?” Inushi offered.
Wilom shook his head. “No, thank you. Actually, this will need to be a very quick visit. We have … some news.”
“Ah,” Rickart said. He glanced at Vanda.
“Where are we moving to now?” Keri asked.
“Not moving,” Wilom said. “Not yet. Though I hope to be able to move you to actual houses soon.”
He paused. Vanda nudged him.
He thought for a moment about letting the Ferryman’s Knowledge do the telling for him, but only for a minute. He couldn’t do that. He owed them an honest explanation, and he’d had quite enough of the Ferryman’s Knowledge for one day.
“Peggy was executed today,” he said quietly. “She was demonstrating in the town on the coast, and the Capital police arrested and executed her.”
“Oh,” Rickart said. It was the only sound in the room.
None of them asked where Wilom and Vanda had been, or why they hadn’t been there to save her.
“I’d gone to visit her a few times,” Vanda began, but she was interrupted.
“No need,” Inushi said, holding a hand up. “You need not explain yourselves to us.”
Vanda stopped. There was silence. Keri’s sketchbook rested in her lap. She hadn’t known Peggy, Wilom knew, but she kept respectful silence.
After a long moment, Rickart looked up. “Let me get you something to eat,” he said, and left the room, pulling the curtain.
“She said many things while she was here,” Inushi said. “I do not think she made her choices blindly.”
“No,” Vanda said. “She didn’t. But still.”
“But still,” Inushi agreed.
Rickart came back with some sandwiches wrapped up in paper and put them in the middle of the floor. “Take one,” he said.
Vanda hesitated, but Wilom leaned forward and looked through the sandwiches, taking a simple one with ham and tomato. After a moment, Vanda took a sandwich, too, and picked at the wrapping.
“It’s good,” Wilom said.
“Thanks. Not much else to do around here but cook,” Rickart said. “It keeps me occupied.”
Vanda finally finished unwrapping the sandwich, and turned it around in her hands, as though she might be hit by sudden inspiration regarding which side of the sandwich was best to approach first.
“I suppose this means it will take a while before we can leave here,” Rickart said.
Wilom nodded. “Possibly. Then again, now that they’re not searching for her anymore, it might not be so long after all.”
Rickart nodded slowly. “Well, whatever you can do,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” Wilom said.
Inushi shrugged. “It is not easy,” she said.
It took a while before Wilom felt they’d be able to leave without appearing rude. It hadn’t been helped by Vanda fidgeting and lapsing into long silences. Still, Rickart and Inushi seemed to be fairly understanding.
As they walked, Wilom asked quietly, “Vanda, will you take me to the ferryman?”
Vanda nodded. “You don’t have to check in. You knew he’d take good care of Peggy.”
“No. It’s not that.” Wilom hesitated. “I need to talk to him about the Ferryman’s Knowledge.”
Vanda hesitated a moment, then said, “I think maybe you do.”
Vanda dropped Wilom off on the street outside Marc’s house and left. As soon as she did, Wilom realised that something was happening inside the house. Then, a few seconds later, he heard the sound of Cathlin and Jilli arguing.
He didn’t want to go into the house. He didn’t want to have to intervene in the argument. He didn’t want the Ferryman’s Knowledge to take over and make him say things.
“You can’t go. I have to stay here, so I can’t walk you over.”
“Mum, it’s only five minutes!”
“I said no.”
“That’s not fair!”
“Jilli, I told you, you could only go if Wilom got home early enough and wasn’t too busy to take you.”
“But he didn’t come home in time! Mum!”
“Then you can’t go. That was the rule, you said that was fine.”
“But I thought he’d be home soon when I said that!”
“Jilli, it is too late now. You can go stay with Sarit next week, alright?”
Jilli sniffled, her eyes getting red with the effort of holding her angry tears in. She growled a little between breaths, as though the rage was leaking out.
“Jilli, bedroom,” Cathlin said. “You can go read a book, or play with your toys, but you’re not going out to Sarit’s.”
There was the sound of Jilli’s footsteps, and then Wilom, feeling wretched for having waited instead of stepping in to help, quietly let himself in.
“Oh,” Cathlin said as the door opened. “Perfect timing.”
“I heard the argument,” Wilom said.
“Good thing you stayed outside for a while, I think,” Cathlin said. “She probably would have tried to convince you to take her to Sarit’s.”
“Might have made her happy,” Wilom said.
“It’s too late for it,” Cathlin said. “She’d barely get any time to spend with Sarit, and there would be another tantrum when I went to pick her up in the morning.”
Wilom stayed silent, thinking there must be a little more to what Cathlin was saying. Cathlin filled the silence. “Besides, I shouldn’t have said she could go in the first place. She had her heart set on it, but … I don’t suppose you’ve heard the news?”
Wilom shook his head. To be fair, he hadn’t heard it precisely …
“They arrested and executed that Margaret Stern woman. Her picture has been all through the papers. I’m glad they caught her before she could find incite any riots, but I just don’t want Jilli out of the house alone for a while. Nothing would probably happen, but …”
“You’d feel safer if you could keep an eye on her,” Wilom completed.
“It’s bad enough that I don’t know who might be passing information on my son’s platoon, without having to worry about Jilli as well.”
Wilom nodded. He didn’t trust himself to do anything else.
“You look tired,” Cathlin said.
“I’m going to sleep early tonight,” Wilom said. “I’ll clean the floors in the morning before I go to work. I haven’t forgotten.”
“Alright,” Cathlin said, frowning. “You really do look terrible. Are you sure you aren’t getting sick? I might have something …”
“Just tired,” Wilom said, cutting her off. “Long day. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Without waiting for Cathlin to respond, he retreated to his bedroom.