The town was looming on the horizon and the tension was growing. Wilom was starting to wonder if he really had made the right decision. The Ferryman’s Knowledge wasn’t being helpful. He knew they felt better about being prepared. He had no idea how that would translate into action when they actually reached the town, if things actually went wrong. He was just going to have to wait and see.
He wished, though, that he could have had a conversation with Harie before lunch was over. He could feel Harie’s mind churning as they walked. Harie’s argument with Colonel Briar had obviously rattled him … but again, Wilom wasn’t yet sure how that was going to affect things.
Was this something the ferryman had to deal with? Sure, getting someone from one side of the River to the other was a fairly short term prospect. Maybe that had something to do with why the Ferryman’s Knowledge was only good over the short term. But did the ferryman know how to use it for something long term? Or was that just … having so much experience with people that he could make a reasonable guess about how people would react?
He remembered what the lighthouse keeper had said once. The ferryman wasn’t complicated. He had no depth.
“Did you hurt anyone? And did you yourself get hurt? In the end, would you say you regretted doing it?”
“Then you can decide for yourself whether it was a stupid decision.”
Wilom tried not to look too pensive. He wondered if he should tell Vanda that the first thing they should do — maybe even before he finally took her to that dinner — should be to go back to the ferryman. He had a lot of questions, and he was pretty sure he was getting to the right ones.
Colonel Briar and Colonel Torcel turned around to them.
“Before we go in,” Briar said. “I understand some of you are having misgivings. This is new territory for most of you. I do understand. But I need to rely on you in order for this to go right. I need to trust that when I give an order, it will be followed. Can I rely on you for that?”
A round of salutes.
“Alright,” Colonel Briar said. “I’ll be holding you all to that.”
Wilom glanced over at Harie. His face was blank again, but he was watching Colonel Briar intently, as if he didn’t trust himself to look away.
Colonel Briar turned and signalled them to keep moving.
Wilom could already feel the pressure of tension in the town, even though, from where they stood, it looked deserted. He could feel Colonel Briar’s unease, and almost expected them to stop at the edge of the town in order to prepare and scout to go in. But they went in directly, formed up so that all sides were watched, slowly but without weapons or any external evidence of threat.
Wilom immediately started paying attention mostly to the Ferryman’s Knowledge, keeping only a little of his attention on listening for any instructions.
Still not used to splitting his attention like that, Wilom almost missed things as they occurred.
As they got closer to the town, he started to notice that there were a lot of people in their houses, but even more gathered in the offices of the Mayor near the centre of the town.
The squads stopped outside the town square, and Wilom wondered how many of the other squad members realised it was so that they couldn’t be easily surrounded.
Colonel Briar pulled out a handheld megaphone and called into it towards the town.
“Attention! We are the evacuation team. Please have your belongings ready and proceed in an orderly way to your designated meeting point.”
He moved the megaphone away from his mouth to take a breath and start again, and through the ringing of his ears that followed, Wilom could hear — or perhaps the Ferryman’s Knowledge told him — that someone in one of the surrounding houses had shouted, “They’re here!”