Murder of Crows Page 18

“They were warned twice about dumping too much badness into the land and water. They were told to find another way to make their products. They didn’t listen, so the Others who watch over this piece of Namid said, ‘No more,’ and the businesses had to leave.”

“To go where?”

Henry shrugged. “Into a city where they can dump their badness into land and water the humans use, or to another part of Thaisia that did not already have much badness from what humans made. Either way, they are gone from here, and the water and land do not taste of them anymore.”

Burke set his hand on the seat between them and wagged a finger in warning, but Monty couldn’t let it go. “What about the people?”

“I think some found other work and still live in the houses. Most moved away,” Henry replied.

Only this much land and not an acre more, no matter how cramped and crowded people’s living conditions become, Monty thought. Only this much waste as a by-product of what is made, or even the little bit granted to you will be lost.

Monty had read the human version of Thaisia’s history. He knew that boomtowns could become ghost towns. Even hamlets didn’t survive. Look at Jerzy.

Would anyone from Jerzy end up living in one of those empty houses? Would the decision makers on Great Island consider making room for more than one new resident?

Then Monty saw a small sign that read, FERRYMAN’S ORCHARDS NEXT RIGHT.

“We’re almost there,” Simon said.

Henry turned his head toward the backseat. “The Intuits have a shared use of all this land.”

Monty saw Burke’s look of surprise before the man regained control.

Open land changed to fenced pastures. Barns and farmhouses. Herds of cows and horses. Some sheep. A silo. A fading sign about picking your own berries. Rural, if Monty correctly understood the word.

Then it all changed again, and they were driving down the main street of a rustic little village. Electrical lines and lights in the windows were indications that this wasn’t a Simple Life community. The stores, while basic, were also abundant: grocery store, department store, general store, gas station; a handful of places to eat; a medical center and a dentist’s office; hair salon, bookstore, and a theater that offered two movies. And as they passed one of the side streets, he got a glimpse of signs for a bank and post office.

Not all that different from the Lakeside Courtyard’s Market Square, but built along the lines of a human business district.

“Ferryman’s Landing is divided by the river. This is the mainland half of it,” Simon said as he drove toward the water, then turned into a parking area. He shut off the van and got out, leaving the other three to catch up to him as he walked toward the dock.

“This is a marina?” Monty asked, noticing the building that indicated it was a boat repair and storage facility.

“Yes,” Henry said. “Some of the boats that dock here belong to families who fish for a living. Some will take visitors for a ride along the river.” The Grizzly pointed at a vessel. “And, as you can see, the ferry also runs out of here.”

More like a miniature ferry, Monty thought. The ferries he’d seen when he lived in Toland were three times the size of the boat he was looking at now.

One sign near the ferry’s dock posted the times. The other sign posted the fees for a round-trip ticket: $10 PER PERSON.

Not a trip anyone would want to do for fun, Monty thought. Especially with a family.

Burke pulled out his wallet and said, “Allow me.” He handed the man in the kiosk two twenty-dollar bills.

The man in the kiosk studied Simon and Henry. “I was told to expect the Lakeside Wolfgard. Would that be you?”

Simon nodded.

The man folded one of the bills and handed it back to Burke along with four tickets. “Day passes, in case you need to cross more than once during your visit.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Burke took the twenty and stuffed it into his coat pocket before handing the tickets to Monty, Simon, and Henry.

Only one price listed, and that one high enough to discourage visitors, Monty thought. “What happens if you want to bring a car to the island?” he asked once they boarded the ferry. Simon led them into the cabin, and he was grateful. Despite the sunshine, it didn’t feel like spring yet, especially on the water.

“Have to wait for the barge if you want to bring cars or trucks across,” Henry replied, taking a seat. “If you need something hauled on water, you call Ferryman. On land, you call Sledgeman Freight. That’s their building over there.”

Monty looked out the cabin window and studied the sign painted on one of the buildings. “They use horses to haul freight?”

Henry nodded. “They use trucks as well, but they still have working teams of horses on both sides of the river.”

Monty glanced at Burke and wondered if the man still wanted his friend’s son to relocate to the island.

“Morning.” A man wearing the gray uniform of the post office paused instead of walking by. “Saw some blue dancers yesterday.”

“Blue dancers?” Burke asked.

“A wildflower,” Henry replied. “When you see blue dancers, you know Spring is awake and Winter is yielding.”

The postman grinned. “But she never yields until she gives us one or two reminders of who she is before she settles in to sleep.” With a casual wave, he moved toward the front of the cabin and took a seat.

“They don’t have a full crew today,” Simon said, pointing to what looked like a small bar. “Usually they have someone in here selling coffee and sandwiches. In the summer, it’s cold drinks and ice cream.”

Could be a pleasant trip in the summertime if you could afford it, Monty thought. An afternoon’s outing to take the ferry, visit the village on the other side, and be home in time for dinner. Did the ferry run on Earthday if he wanted to take Lizzy, or would he need to arrange a day off?

Assuming he could win enough of a custody battle to keep his daughter on this continent. And assuming visitors were tolerated in the village. That was something he could report to Kowalski since Ruth was keen to visit the Simple Life community on the island but couldn’t find any information about a possible place to stay if they wanted to do an overnighter.

The welcoming committee waited for them at the dock—two men and one woman. Monty recognized the feral quality in the woman and one of the men, but he couldn’t tell what kind of earth natives had chosen to meet them.

“Mr. Ferryman,” Simon said when they stood in front of the Great Islanders.

“Mr. Wolfgard. You’ve brought guests.”

“This is Captain Burke and Lieutenant Montgomery. They need to be here for this discussion.” He looked at Burke. “Steve Ferryman is the mayor of Ferryman’s Landing.”

“Which will teach me not to leave the room just before a vote is about to be taken by the village council.” Steve gave them all an easy smile. “Welcome to Great Island and Ferryman’s Landing. As you can guess by the name, my family has been working the river since my ancestors came to this part of the Great Lakes. And this is Ming Beargard and Flash Foxgard. They’re a couple of the island’s peacekeepers. Since Mr. Wolfgard indicated on the phone that you all wanted to talk about the police on the island, I asked Ming and Flash to join us. I also reserved one of the rooms in the government building for us.”

Steve waved a hand. A moment later, an open carriage pulled by a horse arrived at the dock. “One of our village taxis.”

“We’ll meet you there,” Ming said, indicating himself and Flash. “Henry? Want to stretch your legs?” When Henry agreed, he and the Great Island earth natives strode off.

Monty and Burke climbed into the forward-facing seat. Simon and Steve took the seat behind the driver, whom Steve introduced as Jerry Sledgeman. As soon as they were seated, Jerry clucked to the horse and the carriage headed away from the dock.

“You don’t have cars?” Monty asked.

“Sure we do. But we don’t use them much around the village proper,” Steve replied.

“We have a regular taxi and a small bus for village stops,” Jerry said over his shoulder. “And there’s the bus that makes a couple of runs out to the Simple Life folks and the terra indigene complexes each day. It also provides special transportation to the island’s athletic and community centers. “

“Since each half of the village is only a few blocks in any direction, those of us who are young enough and fit enough tend to use our own feet to get around,” Steve said. “Or we ride bicycles in the summer. Jerry just put away the sleighs that are part of our winter transportation.”

This half of Ferryman’s Landing was almost identical to the business district on the other side of the river. Most of the same businesses and stores. Monty had the impression this side was a little bigger, had a little more of everything—which made him wonder if the island residents were cut off from the mainland by weather for parts of the year.

“Government building is exactly that,” Steve said when Jerry pulled up in front of a long, two-story stone building. “Police and court, what there is of it, on one end. General government in the middle. Post office on the other end.”

“That’s handy,” Burke said politely.

“It is,” Steve agreed. “Especially since the post office is the part of the building that gets the most use.”

When they walked into the building, Ming, Flash, and Henry were waiting for them. They went upstairs to a room that had a Reserved sign hanging from a hook on the wooden door. Steve removed that sign and replaced it with a Do Not Disturb sign that he took from a rack on the wall.

When they were all seated around a table, Steve looked at Simon and said, “It’s your meeting.”

“You heard what happened in Jerzy?” Simon asked.

“Everyone has heard what happened in Jerzy,” Ming growled. “We received your warning about the sickness and the signs to watch for if it comes to the island.”

“That’s good,” Simon said.

Something’s not right between them, Monty thought as he studied Simon and Steve.

“A policeman in Jerzy who came to the aid of the Crowgard has to relocate,” Simon said.

“Everyone in Jerzy has to relocate,” Steve countered. “At least, that’s what we heard on the news.”

“This policeman is known to Captain Burke, who says the man would like to relocate here.”

“Is this policeman who wants to live here one of us?” Steve asked softly.

“No,” Simon replied.

Steve tipped his head to indicate Burke. “Does he know what we are?”

“He knows you are Intuit. I don’t think he truly appreciates what that means.”

Steve studied Burke, then looked at Simon. “Can he be trusted?”

“These two can be trusted,” Simon said.

Monty released the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

Steve sat back and gave Burke a sharp smile. “We were persecuted by your kind of humans, driven out of the settlements we helped build when we weren’t killed outright. Many generations ago, we fled into the wild country to make our own bargains with the terra indigene and build our own communities. We attend your universities and technical colleges for the knowledge, and we risk working for some of your companies for a few years in order to acquire experience and necessary skills that we bring back to our own people. But for the most part, we have kept ourselves apart from you in order to survive. That is still a prudent choice. So, you see, having a non-Intuit human living among us would be … unprecedented.”

“You have the Simple Life folk living on the island,” Burke countered. “How is that different from someone living among you in the village?”

“Simple Life is a chosen way of life,” Steve replied. “It doesn’t fit with your cities, but it does mesh fairly well with our little villages. The Simple Life folk tolerate our ways, and we tolerate theirs. And the terra indigene tolerate the presence of all of us.”

“You earn your place here,” Ming said.

To Monty, that sounded like high praise coming from a terra indigene Bear.

“In Brittania, where my ancestors hail from, I believe your ability would be called second sight,” Burke said to Steve. “A knowing that can’t be explained. Would that be accurate?”

“Close enough,” Steve said.

“Prophecy?” Monty asked.

“No.”

The forceful denial startled Monty. But it seemed to confirm something for Simon Wolfgard, who tensed.

“Intuits don’t have visions; we don’t see images of the future,” Steve said, sounding a bit too insistent. “We just get a feeling for good or ill when something is happening around us.”

“And now?” Simon asked. “What are you feeling now?”

Wolf and Intuit stared at each other.

Then Steve looked at Burke and Monty. After a moment, he said, “I have a feeling that there’s a storm coming, and maybe it would be good to have an official police officer living among us, even if he isn’t one of us.” A hesitation. “Intuits make use of technology, but we’ve also made choices that keep us in harmony with the terra indigene. Those aren’t choices most humans want to make. Would this policeman be easy with that? With us?”

“I think Roger would be able to adjust,” Burke said carefully.

Steve sat back. “Does this Roger know how to ride a horse?”

“I don’t know. Will he need to?”

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