Vision in Silver Page 82

“What happens to the cargo that isn’t loaded?” Monty asked.

“We noticed that ships bound for the Cel-Romano Alliance of Nations are now loaded late at night when there are fewer observers. We suspect the cargo that is held back from Brittanian merchant ships finds its way into the holds of Cel-Romano ships.”

“Another form of piracy,” Burke muttered. “With your permission, I’d like to have a quiet word with a cousin of mine. He’s a police officer in Brittania, and he keeps me informed of rumors coming out of Cel-Romano.”

“Would he also be willing to use his influence to provide discreet assistance?” Stavros asked.

Burke stared at the vampire for several heartbeats. “I think that would depend on what he was asked to do.”

“Very soon, a storm in the Atlantik will blow a Cel-Romano ship off course. It will run aground off the coast of Wild Brittania and everything will be lost.”

“Including the crew?”

“Oh, especially the crew, since it was the Sharkgard who passed the message along to the Sanguinati with the understanding that that bounty will be shared.” Stavros smiled, showing his fangs. “However, the ship will run aground in such a way that the cargo, and the ship itself, will not be damaged and can be claimed as salvage, divided equally between the humans who assist and the terra indigene. With one exception, which is where your cousin, the Brittania police officer, would come in. As that particular ship was loaded the other night, the Sanguinati who were watching heard some of the boxes crying—boxes with air holes.”

Monty braced his hands on the table. “You think they’re shipping humans to Cel-Romano?”

“We think they’re shipping cassandra sangue. Cargo worth thrice its weight in gold,” Stavros said. “Especially to leaders of the Humans First and Last movement.” He looked at Vlad, his eyes full of unnerving sympathy. “Those girls . . . Most are not like your Meg. At least, not the ones who are already addicted to cutting. They don’t want the challenge of having a life. Many have found another way to be sheltered.”

“Prostitution?” Burke asked, his voice stripped of emotion.

“Of a sort. A few prime establishments have sprung up in Toland. Or rather, the same establishments are now calling themselves by a different name. The blood prophets are now paid for each cut. They are pampered, indulged, and want for nothing—as long as they can pay for the care they receive.”

“But they’re still being used,” Monty protested.

“A girl provides the service she was hired, and paid, to provide,” Stavros said. “No coercion, no talk of ownership, benevolent or otherwise. The transition was done so smoothly, and so quickly, we suspect the men who run the establishments had warning that this might happen, even if they didn’t know what would start the chain of events.” He paused. “The girls in those establishments . . . Being there is their choice, and since they are on land that is currently under human control, we will not interfere with them. But the girls who were packaged like cargo . . . Humans have no say when they enter Ocean’s domain.”

After an uncomfortable silence, Burke said, “When that ship goes aground, what is my cousin supposed to do with the girls?”

“That is something the humans in Brittania must decide,” Stavros said. “But the message I was asked to convey is this: Ocean will not be pleased with Brittania’s humans if those girls end up in Cel-Romano.”

*   *   *

Vlad listened while Elliot escorted Burke and Montgomery out of the consulate. Then he turned to Stavros, who said, “Do you think your police officers understand the significance of the terra indigene not docking ships in Toland?”

“Montgomery is thinking of his child and keeping her safe, which is only right, but I think Burke will understand eventually,” Vlad replied. Thaisia’s center of commerce could disappear overnight if an Elemental like Ocean unleashed her wrath on Toland.

“Whispers around the docks,” Stavros said. “Thaisia is not the only land dealing with shortages. A lot of things are in short supply in Cel-Romano too. Especially food.”

“A bag of gemstones could have bought a lot of wheat and corn. I wonder if the shortages in Thaisia will disappear now that the real gems are being stored in the Chambers.”

Stavros gave Vlad a brilliant smile. “Know what I’m wondering? How many bushels of wheat and corn will the HFL movement be able to buy with a bag full of colored glass?”

*   *   *

Meg looked at the envelope, picked up the envelope. Sniffed the envelope.

“Doesn’t smell like a farm,” she muttered.

Carefully opening the envelope to avoid a paper cut, she pulled out the single sheet of paper.

Dear Meg,

I tried to write a couple of letters to you since arriving on Great Island, but I couldn’t write them, couldn’t send them. It feels like getting here ate up my ability to do anything.

It’s so hard living outside the compound. I didn’t remember it being so hard. I sent you out in this, so sure it was better. Now I’m not sure of anything. Some mornings Lorna Gardner brings me food because I can’t face even the simple life and people beyond the walls of the guest cottage.

Some nights I remember the things I’ve seen in prophecies when they were using me to make gone over wolf. Terrible things.

Some nights I wonder if I started what’s going to happen by helping you escape. But this morning, I managed to go outside and watch the sun rise—and I wondered if, by helping you, I did the one thing that might save some humans from what is coming.

Take care of yourself, Meg.

Your friend,

Jean

Meg read the letter twice, then returned it to its envelope and tucked it in the drawer where she kept the notebook that held her lists. Taking out the five postcards she’d gotten at the Three Ps, she set them on the counter and studied the pictures.

The red rocks, the plateau? No. Too different and out of reach.

The pictures of Talulah Falls? Also out of reach.

She looked at the picture of the deer half shrouded by mist. She turned it over, then picked up a pen.

Dear Jean,

I have seen a deer. I have petted a pony. I helped plant a garden. I have smelled earth and felt it in my hands. You watched the sun rise. These things are worth the struggle to live outside.

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