They were up at the new village for the next few days after that, with Rickart, Inushi, Keri, and all the volunteers Vanda had mentioned, all starting to bring building materials together, and mark out the area. Soon the land was cordoned off into sections. Wilom didn’t see the logic in what would go where, but he supposed it only mattered that the builders knew.
“Vicdra got the seed grain yesterday,” Vanda said, as they took a break in the afternoon. “They’ll start building up the housing plots tomorrow, then really concentrate on the soil ready to start planting. We’re lucky we managed to get this sorted so quickly, and that we only have a few people to worry about. We might still miss planting season.”
Wilom waved to Rickart and Inushi, who were operating opposite sides of a saw. A pair of women near them were taking turns to hammer stakes into the ground.
Wilom deliberately ignored the Ferryman’s Knowledge providing their names.
“Well?” Vanda asked.
“It’s impressive,” Wilom said. “If we keep it small, people shouldn’t catch on too quickly.”
“Here’s hoping,” Vanda said.
“It will be hard for them to get out of the town after the war,” Wilom said. “There’s no economy here yet. They’ll still only have what money they brought with them. It’s not like they’ll have enough produce left over to take to market, or any markets that would trust them if they did.
“That doesn’t matter until the war is over. Trust me — if they can eat, they’ll be fine for now. Everything else is a problem for later.”
“I feel,” Wilom said, “Like a father watching his children leave home.”
Vanda chuckled. “It’s a bit like that, isn’t it?”
“I don’t like it.”
“Poor baby. I’ll bring you to visit, don’t worry.”
“At least it’ll leave us free to think about other problems for a while. Like Vicdra says.”
Vanda let him stand there for a good long while before she said, quietly, “Are you done looking around? The sun’s going down.”
“Nearly. Just a minute longer.”
“You seem happy,” Vanda told him, after a moment.
“Well, of course. We’re getting things done. Meeting people. Solving problems. Making future farmland. I just wish I could shake the feeling that it won’t last.”
Vanda sighed. “You always have to spoil the moment, don’t you?”
“And stop taking me so seriously.”
“Heh. Sorry. But still … those letters.”
Vanda’s expression soured. “Right. We should start looking for whoever sent those. Don’t suppose you’ve got any ideas? No leads?”
“Not in the slightest,” Wilom said. “But we should look. Why don’t we start with the people we bought supplies off?”
Vanda sighed. “I’ll get the list,” she said. “But that doesn’t feel right for some reason.”
“I know,” Wilom said. “But at least it’s a place to start.”
There was a pause. Vanda looked around to check that nobody was watching. “How are you?” she asked.
“Well,” Wilom said.
“You know what I meant.”
“I told you,” Wilom said, an edge to his voice “I can’t think about it. Not right now.”
“Why not?” Vanda pressed. “We’ve just bought ourselves a reprieve. Even if it’s only temporary. Even if everything goes right to shit tomorrow, you’ve still got today to just …” she waved her hands.
“It’s going to take more than a day.”
“You know I didn’t mean literally a day. You’re stalling.”
“You need pushing sometimes. Just like you pushed me to stay and not give up on everything.”
Wilom avoided her eyes. “What’s behind this, Vanda?”
“I’m … your friend?”
Wilom hesitated, but forged on. “Look, Vanda, I understand that you just want to help me. But I can’t help noticing that you keep getting this close to telling me things about the ferryman and the lighthouse keeper when we bring up the Ferryman’s Knowledge. I know you do work for the lighthouse keeper that you’re not supposed to talk about, and that you don’t like keeping secrets. But don’t try to make me solve my problems if you’re just easing your conscience.”
Vanda stepped away from him. “That … that’s not.”
Wilom opened his mouth to apologise, but stopped. For a sickening second, he wondered if that was a reflex the ferryman had taught him, just to keep the peace. Or, on the other hand, was it the Ferryman’s Knowledge telling him how to end the argument?
He said nothing. Despite the voice in his head that was screaming at him that he was taking out his rebellion on Vanda, and it wasn’t fair on her.
Damned if he did …
“I’m going to say goodbye to everyone before we leave,” Vanda said quietly. “You should come.”
“Yeah,” Wilom said. “Let’s … do that.”
“It’s exciting to think we might be living in one of those houses soon,” Rickart said, standing next to his tent and overlooking the construction site. “Much better than the room in the tunnels.”
Inushi nodded. “Somewhere that feels like a home, with some privacy.”
“I’m glad this seems to be working out for you,” Wilom said.
“People say this was your idea,” Inushi said.
“Well, a little. I came up with the basic idea. You’re the ones making it work.”
“Then, thank you anyway,” Rickart said. “Once we’re set up, I’ll invite you to dinner, if us city kids actually manage to grow anything.”
“Speak your own mind,” Inushi said. “We’re not all city kids.”
Rickart chuckled. “The rest of us will still ruin it for you.”
Wilom looked around.
“Oh! Rickart, I almost forgot. I was supposed to give you this.” Vanda pulled a letter out of her pocket and handed it to him.
Rickart took it and slowly opened it. Wilom watched his face change as he read it, apparently not even noticing Inushi leaning over his shoulder to read it as well. His serious expression softened. He grinned. He chuckled — a little wistfully, perhaps. He folded up the letter and put it back in the envelope.
“Thanks,” he said. “How much do I …?”
“Nothing. It’s fine.”
“No, I promised you …”
Vanda waved a hand. “Pay me after this is all over and you have work again.”
They said their goodbyes, and parted ways.
Wilom waited until they were out of earshot to say. “Rickart and Inushi are sharing a house, once they’ve built them, aren’t they?”
“If you had to use the Ferryman’s Knowledge for that, you should be ashamed.”