There was a hastily-called meeting of the Heads the next morning, to discuss the fate of the town. Wilom didn’t know what they could do about it now, and he told them so, despite the heartbroken look on Vicdra’s face. Apparently most of them had been investigated also. Nobody could risk being further involved.
Rytel was conspicuously absent.
There was really no reason to call the meeting after all. Vanda had made one last trip over the lighthouse keeper’s toes to get everyone in the village to Laen. Wilom hadn’t heard what had happened to them after that, but Vanda hadn’t come to him, so he assumed that she had taken care of them.
He hadn’t had time to talk to her about it, but he assumed she was going to do something about Rytel, too. It was going to create another Peggy situation, or at least, it had the potential to. But he recognised that he wasn’t going to talk Vanda down from it anyway, and he had lost the will to.
It was almost amusing, sitting in on that meeting — after Rytel had left, it seemed that Manda and Vicdra really had very little to say to each other.
A few steps down the corridor, after they’d all gone their separate ways, he heard Vicdra call him. “Wilom! Wilom, wait!”
Wilom turned and waited.
“So what is it?” Vicdra asked, looking unreasonably expectant.
“What do you mean?” Wilom asked. “What is what?”
“You’ve got a plan, haven’t you?” Vicdra asked. “Manda wouldn’t like it, though, I bet. But you know, they’re desperate; you could try to get her to listen. I bet she’d listen.”
“I haven’t got a plan,” Wilom said, suddenly feeling very, very tired. “I honestly don’t. There’s nothing more I can do about this. We’re out of money, and we’re out of freedom.”
Vicdra’s face just kept falling as he spoke, so much that Wilom started to feel a little guilty for saying it so harshly.
“I spoke to Mr Treene,” Vicdra said, almost in a whisper. “He must have … this was all my fault.”
So. At least that answered that question. Wilom wondered what Mr Treene had said to Vicdra to make him give up the information. But he decided to throw Vicdra at least a little comfort. “I spoke to him, too.”
“Well, maybe, but … what do I do?”
Wilom regarded him for a moment, then said, “Ask Rickart. He and Inushi are swearing they’ll get it sorted out. I think you could be useful.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea? After …”
“Will it make you happier than the other options?”
“I … well, yes.”
“And I trust Rickart and Inushi to be careful. They’re good, smart people. So yes, it’s a good idea. Just don’t try and get ahead of yourself. Remember, the Heads might crumble, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop doing what you can for people.”
“Yeah,” Vicdra said. “Yeah, you’re right. I’ll … see if I can talk to them.”
Wilom smiled a very small smile.
It didn’t take Vanda and Wilom long to get alcohol. They didn’t do it properly, but Wilom didn’t care. The shopkeeper never even knew they were there.
They also chose a whiskey a little better than Watchmaker’s.
Vanda chose the hilltop. It wasn’t the hilltop with the river, but when you got down to it, Wilom supposed, a hilltop was a hilltop.
He opened his beer. “Well, suppose we’d better get started,” he said.
“Those arses,” Vanda said, taking a drink. “Didn’t even give you time to …”
“Well, what did you expect?”
“No negotiating with them, I suppose?”
“No,” Wilom said. “We’re not all as slippery as you.”
“More’s the pity. Are you mad?”
“No,” Wilom said. “I’m not.”
“But should you be?”
“What kind of a question is that?” Wilom took another pull of beer. “Look … I’m not …” he hesitated. “I think I shouldn’t be mad, because honestly, what else did we think was going to happen? What else could we have done? Us and Mr Treene.”
“Yeah,” Vanda said. “I know.” She looked over at Wilom as he finished his beer and cracked the top off the next one. “I can take you away, if you like,” she said. “We could go together.”
Wilom shook his head slowly. “I don’t think we can,” he said. “We still have to help end this thing?”
Vanda sighed. “We could …”
“I have a feeling,” Wilom interrupted, “like the ferryman is watching this, or at least paying attention. If I bail now … I just keep hearing his voice in my head.”
“That’s ridiculous, you know. He doesn’t leave the River, ever. He wouldn’t even care about this situation.”
Wilom passed his belt over for Vanda to open her second bottle. “Yes,” he said. “I know.”
“Bastard,” Vanda said, half into the neck of the bottle. “You say that like it’s some kind of defence.”
“You realise you’ll be going into war, right? As in, the thing with the guns, and the shooting and the violence? And all the death?”
“Death doesn’t really present an issue for us, you know,” Wilom said.
“That’s not what I’m scared of. Listen, you talked so much about not leaving because you won’t be able to help. But you can’t help from inside a war zone, either.”
“I can’t help you here anyway,” Wilom pointed out.
Vanda clonked him on the head with her beer bottle, just hard enough to smart. “You make me so angry sometimes.”
Wilom nodded. “I know.”
There was silence for a minute while they drank.
“So … what are you doing about the Ferryman’s Knowledge?” Vanda asked.
Wilom shrugged. “Hasn’t been on my mind for a while,” he confessed. “I mean, it hardly seems like the most important thing in my life right now, does it?”
“I mean,” Vanda said, “You were pretty worried about it before.”
“I think I’ve made peace,” Wilom said. “I’m taking a leaf out of your book. I have it, might as well use it. Like you said. I’m going to the place with all the guns and the death.”
Vanda nodded slowly. “That’s … surprisingly heartening. I guess I’m glad that you’ve made peace with it.”
After a moment, Wilom said, “Let’s crack the whiskey.”
“What, you done already?”
“Yeah. And you got first shot at the whiskey last time.”
“That’s not fair. Last time, it was awful stuff!”
“So when I get back from the war, we’ll do this again, with a really, really expensive one, and you can start it. Deal?”
Vanda looked down and away. “You’re trying to joke about this, I can tell.”
“No, I mean, you’re trying. Are you doing this for me, or for you?”
Wilom took a drink, and didn’t answer.
“Well? Are you joking because it makes you feel better, or because you think it will make me feel better?”
“Are you sure you want to know the answer to that question?” Wilom asked, quietly.
Vanda nodded. “Alright,” she said. “The offer of leaving is always open. Please take it.”
“No,” Wilom said. “At least, not yet. But thank you.”
There was a long silence.
Vanda sighed. “You remember when you said you felt like everything wouldn’t last?”
“I hate it when you’re right.”