Home > Wild Country (The World of the Others #2)(2)

Wild Country (The World of the Others #2)(2)
Author: Anne Bishop

“I can’t do that,” he protested.

“Neither can I. That’s why you need more than strong young men who will happily eat all the ice cream and cookies they find in the empty residences but don’t know what to do with the medicines. And whether those Elders of yours were justified in killing everyone in Bennett, those people may still have family somewhere who would appreciate having the personal effects. Having young men with a lot of energy and strong backs is great, but you also need skilled labor and professionals if you want this to be a viable town. Why can’t we create a place where terra indigene and Intuits and Simple Life folk and other kinds of humans can live and work together? Learn from each other. I got the impression that the Lakeside Courtyard and the Intuits in Ferryman’s Landing were trying to do exactly that—build a new community that had room for everyone.”

“Dangerous.” Tolya looked out the big front window of Bennett’s general store. “If the wrong kind of human comes here …”

“I know. No one can afford to make a mistake.”

“Then how do you suggest we get these new citizens?”

They heard the clip-clop of a horse coming down the street. Barbara Ellen Debany, their pet caretaker and almost-vet, waved at them as she passed the store.

“Same way you got her,” Jesse Walker said, smiling as she released her left wrist long enough to return the wave. “Have someone else screen the candidates before they get here, and then you make the final decision about who you want living in this town.” She took a folded piece of paper out of the back pocket of her jeans and handed it to him. “Ideally, those are the professions and skills you should have in Bennett for starters.”

Tolya unfolded the paper. His eyebrows rose as he studied the list. Then he looked at Jesse Walker. “Anyone from Prairie Gold who might want to fill a position?”

“Kelley Burch. His skills are wasted in Prairie Gold, and there is a jewelry store here that needs someone to run it—and Kelley would have a better chance of selling some of his own designs, whether he sells them in Bennett or sends them on to someplace back east to sell on consignment. I’m going down to Prairie Gold tomorrow. I’ll talk to him then.”

“You want to spend time in your own store.”

She nodded. “I need to be home for a couple of days.”

“I’ll get this list out as quickly as I can.” The Elders weren’t allowing the telephone and telegraph lines between the regions to be restored except under special circumstances. He could call or e-mail Jackson Wolfgard, who lived in Sweetwater, a settlement in the Northwest, but reaching Lakeside in the Northeast Region required extra time and effort.

As he left the store, he looked at the Intuit woman and wondered if Jesse Walker would come back and continue to help him. Then he noticed that she was no longer holding her left wrist—and he breathed a sigh of relief.

* * *

* * *

Virgil Wolfgard stood next to a tree near the south end of the town square and watched the human female and the blue horse walk toward him. The wind was in the wrong direction to carry his scent to the horse, which was meandering across the paved street toward the grass in the square, and the female seemed too preoccupied with something that wasn’t right in front of her to control the horse or notice the predator who was watching her.

Not noticing was dangerous, something the female should have learned while she was still a puppy.

He stepped away from the tree, putting himself right in front of the horse.

The horse snorted and planted its feet, causing the female to grab the saddle horn for balance.

“Easy, Rowan, easy,” she said. Then she gave Virgil a wary look. “Sheriff.”

“Barbara Ellen.” Virgil looked at her companion. “Horse.”

His brother, Kane, who was in Wolf form, joined them, causing Rowan to snort again.

Barbara Ellen gave Kane a wobbly smile.“Deputy Wolfgard.”

Virgil held up a small red collar. She took it and read the tag attached to the collar. “Fluffy,” she said sadly. “She was a nice cat.”

“We didn’t eat it,” Virgil said, anticipating the question she didn’t dare ask. “Too much fur and not enough meat.”

“Not much of an epitaph for poor Fluffy.”

Maybe not, but that wasn’t important. He and Kane hadn’t killed the cat, but something had torn the animal apart. Not for food. For fun.

And that something wasn’t any form of terra indigene.

“The horse was paying attention,” Virgil said. All right, the horse was more interested in reaching the grass, but it did notice him first.“You were not. Why?”

“I was thinking about some stuff,” she replied.

He didn’t ask what she was thinking about. He just stared.

“But I should pay attention when I’m riding,” she added.

“Yes.” Virgil stepped aside. So did Kane.

Barbara Ellen pressed her legs against Rowan’s sides—and grabbed the saddle horn when the gelding bolted out of reach of the two Wolves.

Virgil shook his head as he watched her reestablish dominance and slow the horse to a walk. <Follow her,> he told Kane, using the terra indigene form of communication. <Make sure she doesn’t fall off.>

The only good human was a dead human. He hadn’t thought much of that species before the Humans First and Last movement had attacked the Wolfgard. He thought far less of them after those humans slaughtered his pack, leaving him and Kane the only survivors because they’d been ranging ahead of the pack, looking for game. They’d come running back when they heard the guns, but by the time they arrived, the pack was dead or dying, and the humans were gone.

They’d followed the trail of the trucks until scent markers made by Namid’s teeth and claws crossed the trail. Not willing to tangle with the Elders, he and Kane had returned to the small wooden den the pack had used to store items useful to those who could take human form. After packing the little they could carry in Wolf form, they had headed away from what had been their home territory, looking for humans to kill.

Instead, they ended up in Bennett, where the Elders had erased the enemy and yet were allowing those creatures to return.

He’d never seen one of the Sanguinati until he’d met Tolya, who had been given the task of making sure the wrong kind of humans didn’t try to reclaim the place. But for that, Tolya needed humans as well as many forms of terra indigene. And he needed enforcers who were strong enough and feared enough that humans would follow rules and not become troublesome.

That was how Virgil ended up the town’s dominant enforcer, with Kane being the second enforcer. He didn’t know anything about human law, hadn’t spent much time around actual humans until now. But if one of the two-legged threats caused trouble, he knew how to stop them dead in their tracks. And blood in the street would be a good reminder to the rest of them of why they should behave.

And then there were the two-legs like Barbara Ellen he felt reluctantly compelled to protect.

He walked along the edge of the town square, which served as a park surrounded by the town’s original business district. A natural spring was the reason for the grass and trees—was the reason the town had been built there. The spring had been semicontained by human-made barriers, but the water still bubbled out of the ground, providing drinking water for everything with fur or feathers—and humans too.

When he came abreast of the general store, he stopped and waited for Tolya to cross the street and join him.

“Was there a problem with Barbara Ellen?” Tolya asked.

Virgil cocked his head. “Why do we call her that? The humans call her Barb.”

“Barbara Ellen sounds dignified. I’m hoping she’ll grow into the name, like a puppy grows into its big feet.”

“Huh.” That made sense, except … “She’s young but she’s an adult, not a pup. Do you really think she’ll grow into a dignified name?”

“I am hopeful.”

Tolya’s dry tone made Virgil smile. Barbara Ellen Debany had ties to the Lakeside Courtyard because her brother was a police officer who worked directly with Simon Wolfgard. That made her special among the humans who were in Bennett. And being special meant he had the task of trying to keep her out of trouble. Which made him think of the way she tended to want to befriend any and every critter.

“Are there any Snakegard here?” he asked.

“A couple of Rattlers arrived last week. Why?”

“Someone should explain to her about staying away from things that could kill her.” Virgil thought for a moment, then added, “Things that aren’t us.”

“Speaking of things that are not us, Jesse Walker feels we need to bring in more humans to become permanent residents and take over the businesses.”

“More.” Virgil’s lips pulled back in a snarl. “More of them?”

“And more of us. Enough terra indigene to maintain control of this place.” Tolya met Virgil’s eyes. “How would you feel about that? Being around them at all is difficult for you and Kane.”

“I don’t know human law,” Virgil growled. “I know how to kill.” Too often after a day around humans, he wanted to shed this terrible form and howl out his rage before he tore into throats and bellies and left bodies in pieces like … like …

“There is too much human bounty here for us to abandon this town,” Tolya said quietly. “If we don’t hold onto it, humans will flood in to claim what they can.”

“Just because we hold onto it, you think the enemy won’t find this place?”

“Find it? Yes. Even with the travel restrictions that limit humans migrating between regions, they will find a way to reach this place. Control it?” Tolya shook his head. “The Elders won’t allow that. If the Northwest, Southwest, and Midwest Regions are purged of humans, they’ll be held to the coasts and the towns available to them there.”

“And we’ll have back what was ours in the first place,” Virgil snapped.

“Should a human like Jesse Walker die? She protected the young in the Prairie Gold pack. She’s teaching a young Wolf human skills.”

He liked Jesse Walker, as much as he could like any human. “There will be enough of us to stand against the humans if they turn rabid?”

Tolya nodded. “Enough of us who can work in the shops alongside the humans and be ever watchful—and kill what cannot be allowed to remain among us.”

“We need to find someone who knows human law.”

“Another deputy. I’ll add that request to the list of professionals I’ll send to Lakeside. We’ll see what help Simon and Vlad can provide in the way of humans while we send a message among our own for any who are willing to live near humans.”

They walked up the street together, parting at the building that held the sheriff’s office.

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