Murder of Crows Page 19

“It would be handy. What about sports?”

“He played hockey when he was in school.”

“Baseball? Volleyball? Anything like that?”

“I don’t know.”

“He’s supposed to be a police officer, not fill vacancies in your sports teams,” Henry said.

“No reason he can’t do both,” Steve replied. He exchanged a look with Ming and Flash, then nodded. “All right. We won’t be able to pay him much, but we’ll give Roger a chance to make a place for himself here.”

“Thank you,” Burke said. “If there is anything I can do to help, let me know.”

“Some suggestions for how to purchase an official police car would be helpful. We don’t have one.” Smiling, Steve pushed back from the table.

Simon gave the table three sharp taps.

Steve settled back in his chair, his smile fading. “Why don’t you take a look around the village? Mr. Wolfgard and I will catch up to you.”

Monty and Burke followed Henry and Ming out of the room, with Flash bringing up the rear. He looked back as Flash closed the door—and he wondered why seeing Steve and Simon lean toward each other made him uneasy.

“When you sent word the other day, saying you were coming to the island, I wondered if you wanted to get away from the Courtyard for a couple of days,” Steve said. “Coming here would be a good choice. It’s close but not your responsibility. And you’re not opposed to our way of life, which is more than can be said for the Talulah Falls Courtyard.”

“That’s not why I called,” Simon replied. He’d spent the drive up to the island thinking about what he wanted to know and how to ask the questions. Intuits had survived by being very careful. They lived up to the bargains they made with the terra indigene, which was why the Others helped them attend colleges in human cities or learn useful trades so that they knew the workings of human businesses. With that knowledge, they were consultants for the terra indigene when it came to making bargains with other humans, and their loyalty was well rewarded with land and protection.

“No, that’s not why you called,” Steve agreed. “You showed up with Lakeside police and this request to bring in an outsider. But that’s not why you’re here.”

<Simon,> Henry said. <Everyone is away from the room. Ming, Flash, and I will show Burke and Montgomery around the village.>

<I’ll catch up with you when I’m done,> Simon said. He didn’t know how long it would take to ask the right question to find out what he needed, so he didn’t waste time. “You told Lieutenant Montgomery that you don’t see prophecy. But I think the Intuits know about the cassandra sangue.”

Steve pushed back from the table, looking a little frightened. “Don’t go there.”

Interesting. And not what he expected. But the response told him how he needed to proceed with this hunt. “I have to go there. Meg is my friend.”

“Who is Meg?”

“Our Human Liaison. She’s a blood prophet. Being out in the world is causing some … reactions.”

“Then take her back to her caregivers.”

Ignoring the plea in Steve’s voice—and the strange, desperate hope—Simon snarled and let his canines lengthen enough that they couldn’t be mistaken for human. “Keepers and cages. She said she’d rather die than go back to that place, and she meant it.” He waited a moment. “What do you know?”

Steve scrubbed his face with his hands. “It was a dark time in our history, and Intuits still carry the shame of it.” He sighed. “All I can offer is old stories that were passed down. But I want your word that you won’t say anything about this to Jerry Sledgeman or any of his family.”

“Why?”

“Because his niece started cutting herself when she reached puberty. By the time the family realized the cuts were deliberate and she was hiding a lot more than they’d seen, she started going mad—and they started to suspect she might be a cassandra sangue. But it’s been six, maybe even seven, generations since a blood prophet was born to any of the families on the island. No one knew how to help her. There was talk of finding one of those places that take care of such girls, but Penny, Jerry’s wife, was against it. Because of what had happened before. She’s the island’s historian and has studied Intuit history in Thaisia, so her opinion carried weight.”

“Where is the girl?” Simon asked. Meg was learning how to live outside the compound where she’d been held. He thought she did pretty well most days, but she was plagued by the pins-and-needles feeling, as if prophecies were like horseflies always swarming and biting. Still, she could explain some things to a girl who had no understanding of how the visions worked.

“Dead,” Steve replied sadly. “She jumped in the river last summer and was swept over the falls before anyone could try to save her.”

“I’m sorry.” He didn’t feel any sorrow or regret for a stranger, but he did understand how the loss of kin hurt. So he knew offering condolences was the proper thing to do.

“Penny’s sister hasn’t spoken to her since that day.”

Words, words, words. And nothing said yet that would help him.

“Meg said the girls were kept in cages. Cells with locked doors. They were tied down and cut when someone paid for a prophecy. Her designation was cs759.”

Steve stared at him. “Designation?”

“They weren’t given names. Property isn’t given names.” Simon watched anger kindle in Steve’s eyes, and used words to lay a trail for this hunt for information. “Meg has a silver razor. The blade’s width is a precise measure of how far apart the cuts have to be. Her designation was engraved on one side of the handle.”

“Seven five nine. Seven hundred fifty-nine? There have been seven hundred fifty-nine girls in that one place?” Steve raked a hand through his hair. “When humans first met the terra indigene in other parts of the world, they ignored the boundaries that had been set by Namid itself, and there were great battles. When it looked like they would become purged from the world, Namid gave some of them the gift of knowing that humans call intuition. And the world changed a few humans so that their blood became a window to the future. More than just a knowing. But such a gift always comes at a cost. The women, because the prophets were always women, went mad after a few years.

“Then it was discovered that the blood of the cassandra sangue could quiet anger, could take away pain.”

“Could make someone so passive they wouldn’t fight back even if attacked?” Simon asked.

Steve shrugged. “That wasn’t mentioned in the stories, but there are several historical references from the years when settlers first came to Thaisia of how the presence of something the terra indigene called sweet blood ended a conflict without a fight. And there were also a few mentions of terra indigene lapping up blood and then going mad. Reading between the lines, and given the fact that blood is mentioned in both cases, I’d guess that both those things had something to do with the girls who were prophets.”

So this isn’t the first time this has happened, Simon thought. Did someone find these historical references? Is that where the idea for making the drugs that are causing the sickness came from? “What does this have to do with the Intuits?”

“The cassandra sangue came from us. The special girls. The prophets. But when you’re trying to hide in a human village, when you’re trying to avoid being branded as having some kind of sorcery or channeling power that belongs to the gods, having a girl in the family who has visions of the future and warns of disasters whenever she gets a cut can be an excuse to hang an entire family. And it was done, Mr. Wolfgard. It was done.”

He nodded to indicate he was listening.

“A few generations ago, men started showing up when stories began spreading about a girl. They talked about a special home, a secret place where the girls would be safe, would be cared for without putting their families at risk. Safety for everyone. Family stories always emphasized that parents gave up their daughters to keep the girls safe, to keep the rest of their children safe.”

“Maybe it was safer in the beginning,” Simon said.

“Maybe. But hunters learn how to find their preferred prey, and soon the special girls, the cassandra sangue, had disappeared from Intuit family lines.”

“They didn’t disappear from all the family lines,” Simon said, thinking of Meg’s friend Jean, who had been born outside the compound.

“The potential didn’t completely disappear, at any rate. But …”—Steve’s hand closed into a fist—“those men. They breed the girls now, don’t they? Like livestock. Select the specific traits they want in the offspring.”

“I think so. Meg doesn’t talk about it much, so I don’t know for sure. But I think so.”

Neither spoke for a few minutes. Simon felt disappointed. He hadn’t learned anything that would help Meg.

“I don’t want to stir things up in the village by asking too many questions,” Steve said. “Is there something specific you want to know about the blood prophets?”

Simon thought for a moment. “Pins and needles. The prickling Meg feels so much of the time. Is that how it always is for a cassandra sangue who isn’t confined? Is that feeling why they start cutting in the first place?”

“I don’t know. I’ll talk to Penny, quietly. I think it will help her and her sister to know the river might have been the kinder choice. And I’ll contact other Intuit villages and see what I can find out.”

“Be careful. The man who held Meg is still trying to get her back. He sent men after her. They killed some of the terra indigene in the Courtyard before we destroyed them. And they almost killed Meg.”

“That’s what provoked the storm that shut down Lakeside?”

Simon nodded.

Putting his hands flat on the table, Steve rose. “All right. I’ll find out what I can about blood prophets, and we’ll do what we can for your policeman’s friend. Like I said before, we can’t pay him much, but I can promise food, clothes, and a roof over his head.”

“I think for now that will be enough.” Simon rose.

Steve studied him for a moment, then gave him an odd smile. “You called her a friend.”

“What?”

“Your Meg. You said she was a friend. A Wolf has really made friends with a human?”

He growled. He couldn’t help it. “Lakeside has a human pack now because of her. A whole pack of troublesome, not-edible females.” All right, the pack was made up of three females plus Meg, but when they ganged up on him, they felt like a lot more.

Steve pressed his lips together and kept blinking like there was something in his eyes.

“What?”

Steve rubbed his eyes and sighed. “Intuits, Simple Life folks, and the terra indigene have different tasks, but taken together, those tasks and abilities benefit all of us. And I think we’ve worked well together for a lot of years. But I don’t think Ming or Flash or any other terra indigene living here has ever thought of any Intuit as a friend. I have a feeling your Meg has changed things between your kind and mine more than anyone yet realizes.”

Simon cocked his head and studied the man. “You have a feeling?”

“Yes. A feeling.”

Not a word an Intuit used lightly.

“I’ll send word when Roger Czerneda is ready to come to the island.”

Steve reached back and rubbed a hand between his shoulders. “Maybe that’s part of it. The prickling you said your Meg feels. Intuits do better with a limited number of people. You get used to how people fit into the whole, so you know when something has changed. That’s one reason we don’t welcome people who find our village while they’re visiting Talulah Falls.”

Simon waited.

“Every choice changes the future.”

“So every time I choose whether or not to have a muffin at breakfast I’m an itch under Meg’s skin?”

“No. If that were true, all those girls would be completely insane no matter how few people they came into contact with. But since her kind came from us, once a prophet gets used to her surroundings and the people she usually sees, the day-to-day choices shouldn’t affect her anymore.”

Steve looked excited. But he hadn’t met Meg. Simon didn’t share that excitement.

“She’s been with us two months now. If she stills gets that prickling feeling several times a day …?”

The excitement faded from Steve’s face, and he looked grim. “If that’s the case, I have a feeling that your prophet is sensing a whole lot of bad headed your way.”

Yeah. That was what worried him. “I’ll be in touch.”

Steve hesitated. “Would you have any objection to my visiting the Lakeside Courtyard?”

He thought about that for a moment and why Ferryman would be asking now. “You want to get a look at Meg?”

“Yes, I’d like to meet her. But more than that, I’d like her to get a look at me.”

He thought about that too—and decided tearing out Steve’s throat was an honest response but not an appropriate one. And since he had enough to think about, he wasn’t going to ponder why that was his response.

He walked out of the room and kept going. He found Henry, Burke, and Montgomery at the ferry, loading jars of jam and honey to take back to the Courtyard.

Steve didn’t join them. Simon thought that was for the best.

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