As the light started filtering through the curtains, Wilom finally looked up. His notebook had been new last week, but now he had less than 10 pages left. And he’d only read half the ledger.
And he still hadn’t found anything worth mentioning.
He rubbed his eyes and dropped his head onto the page.
He wished it wasn’t too early to go to the kitchen. He desperately needed a coffee.
Wilom struggled through a disappointingly small number of pages before giving up and going to meet Vanda.
She was waiting for him outside the café. They picked a table and sat down with their menus.
Vanda folded her menu up. “What are you getting?”
“I think that smoked one. I haven’t had it since visiting the lighthouse keeper.”
“Mm. I’ll have a white tea, I think. I’m not in the mood for something very strong.”
They put the menus down and ordered.
“How many new?” Wilom asked.
“None. There’s nobody but soldiers and supply trains left out there. The closer towns, I think, are just praying the war doesn’t move closer to them right now. If the war does get there … I don’t know how much more we can do.”
“What for? I don’t really mind not having much to do.” Vanda tried a brittle smile, then looked down at her cup. “Did you want to go see the ferryman soon?”
“Not yet. I still need to figure out what to say to him. I feel I should have something to offer, you know?”
“You’re just putting it off?”
He was. He knew it. “Yeah, well, maybe going to negotiate with the immortal agent of death is a little intimidating.”
“Try the lighthouse keeper sometime.”
Their tea arrived.
Vanda swirled the teapot and poured a cup. Wilom took a moment to breathe in the smoky smell.
“So, that proposal?” Vanda asked.
“Not good,” Wilom said. “I can’t think of something that’ll sound reasonable.”
“So suggest something unreasonable.”
Vanda frowned. “Yes. Not totally unreasonable, just a little bit unreasonable. Don’t give me that look.”
“Ah, sorry. I’m just … We do need to make a decent first impression, you know.”
“So make a bold one! If they say no because it’s too ambitious …”
“They’ll see me as reckless and be less likely to trust us.”
“Or creative? Resourceful?”
Vanda folded her arms. “What happened to your sense of adventure? Don’t tell me you’re scared of them.”
“No. I just don’t think we should shove a hand up the horse’s arse until we’re sure it’s the only way to make it shit.”
“Charming. But point taken. I just really want to get this done, you know?”
“Don’t worry,” Wilom said. “I promise, it will get done.”
Without looking up from her cup, Vanda said, “I’m sorry I’m always on your case about the ferryman.”
Wilom shook his head and tried to joke the apology away. “You know I’d never get anything done without you.”
Vanda sighed. “Stop it. I’m not some inexorable force pushing you towards things. At least, I’d better not be. I don’t want to have to be that annoying. And you know I’m not responsible enough for that anyway.”
“No,” Wilom said quietly. “You’re right. That wouldn’t be fair.”
“Good.” Vanda fiddled with her cup. “I really don’t want to have to worry about you and the ferryman anymore, though.”
Vanda took a breath and tapped the handle of her cup. “The lighthouse keeper,” she said. “It’s the lighthouse keeper.”
“You mean … he asked you to keep bugging me about this?”
“Not … well yes. But not like you think!”
“What, then?” Wilom asked. “I don’t mind you meddling. But Vanda — the lighthouse keeper?”
Vanda nodded miserably. “I know, alright. I’m not reporting to him or anything. He just … asked me to make sure that you didn’t take too long.”
Not to take too long? Wilom had been startled, but now he felt himself go cold.
“So, the lighthouse keeper wants me to decide quickly,” Wilom said. “I guess that means the ferryman does, too.”
Vanda shrugged. “I wouldn’t know about that.”
There was a pause.
“I think,” Vanda said cautiously, “That the lighthouse keeper only wants you to think abuot it. I get the feeling he doesn’t actually think you should be a ferryman.”
“Well,” Wilom said. “I know now, at least.”
Vanda stared into her tea. “I’ve thought for a while that you should know.”
They finished their tea in silence.