“Okay, so now we got apple trees.” Xayvion gave one of them a rap with his knuckles. “And you spent the last six weeks harping on this why? They don’t look like much.”
“Apple trees have been doing good for the American people for centuries. Since before we even counted as a country. Besides, these are Harrison apple trees, express delivered by my cousin as a personal favor.” Marcus Harrison handed his shovel to the eight year old boy who had been helping him plant the last tree on Benton Harbor Boulevard. He used the motion to hide his other hand as it looped an invisible pair of half hitches around the trunk of the tree, weaving it into the larger pattern connecting the two dozen apple trees he’d managed to convince his cousin to send him on short notice. The connection sent the tree and it’s branches swaying lightly, as if a wind was blowing in it’s branches. Marcus smiled. “See? They’re special.”
Xayvion snorted. “More like I’m strong enough to have ’em shaking scared.
Marcus’ attempt to think up a good comeback stalled out when he noticed a beat up old truck slowly rolling down the street. It wouldn’t have looked out of place most places in America, in fact, he’d owned one a lot like it once. It was a dingy green, with a heavy steel toolbox across the back bed. Two men sat in the cab, pretending to pay no attention to anything around them. One of them saw Marcus had noticed them and gave him a hard look.
“We’ve got scrappers,” Marcus said under his breath.
“Yeah, well most of them know better than to hang around Brightmoor,” Xayvion said with a grin. “And after last time? Word will get around. You can go anywhere you want in Detroit and steal scrap out of houses. Only here does someone pull a sword on you for it.”
“He had it coming,” Marcus pointed out, his feet taking him slowly after the truck. “Get on your phone and call your mother. We may have to run them off.” He’d learned much to his chagrin that the police rarely showed up in time to deal with minor vandals in Brightmoor – when they came at all. But he’d also gotten a stern lecture about letting the locals deal with it their own way, and while they didn’t shy away form confrontation, the threat of violence was not an accepted part of their modus operandi. Not that he would have actually bothered to cut them with his sword.
Well, maybe a little.
“It’s okay,” Xayvion said. “They’re probably just headed to old Freddy’s empty houses.” He waved vaguely in the direction of St. Joe, the cross street about a half a block away. “He’s always tearing stuff out of there and tossing it by the road. The scrappers come by and pick through it about once a week, take whatever and leave.”
“And you put up with that?” Marcus asked. In his experience, the people left in Brightmoor didn’t really like it when their neighborhood got messed up.
“They’re his houses,” Xayvion said with a shrug. “We can’t make him not mess them up. Mom says he’s got more right to do that than some.”
Marcus gave him a sly look out of the corner of his eye. “She wouldn’t be referring to a band of mischievous vandals who leave murals on abandoned houses, would she?”
“I don’t even know what you just said,” Xayvion said. “She’s talking about the way we paint the run down shacks so the place doesn’t look like crap.”
“Praise the Lord and pass the paintbrush.” Marcus snorted and shook his head. He’d been to one of those church outreaches and it had to be one of the ten strangest thing’s he’d ever lived through. Still, he didn’t think that the borders of the part of Brightmoor unofficially known as the Farmway extended along St. Joe in that direction. “This Freddie guy a part of the NBB?”
“I don’t think so,” Xayvion said slowly. “He moved in a couple years ago, I know he talked about tearing down some houses and putting in something there. But people just stopped talking about him much last fall and the scrappers started coming.”
Marcus walked back to the place where they’d planted the apple trees. Finding buyers for them and getting them delivered had been his first contribution to Brightmoor, and of all the different aspects of the family business he had expected to find a use for in Brightmoor, orchard keeper had not been high on the list. In fact, avoiding the family business entirely had been the major reason he had come to Detroit in the first place. Ironically, he was about to put his hand back into yet another aspect of it.
He hefted his backpack and dug his phone out of it, pausing long enough to check that his sword was still tucked along one side, the hilt poking out of the top for easy access. It always paid to be careful.
“You’re not planning on looking for trouble, are you?” Xayvion asked.
“Just going to make sure they really leave,” Janus said, slinging the pack onto his back and thumbing his phone to life. “You’d better go and let your mom know there were scrappers in the area, so she can get the word out. If they come back and want to top off their load, people can be on the lookout.”
“All right,” Xayvion said doubtfully. “But don’t go starting nothing. Monique says you got a temper and we can’t have you running loose and scaring people. The city ignores us right now, we don’t want them to change their mind.”
“No swordplay, I promise.” Marcus started down the street, then paused and glanced back at Xayvion. “By the way, is there a bank around here?”
“A bank?” The kid asked, clearly thrown by the sudden change in subject.
“Yeah, you know, places full of suits and money? I need to get a roll of quarters…”
Marcus had met a lot of different kinds of weavers in his life, but Detroit’s Lord Caledonensis was the first one who managed to claim leadership of the local Order of Merlin and run an art gallery. There were similarities between art and weaving, he supposed, but he’d never expected a person who specialized in highly theoretical magic weaving to take an interest in those aspects of it.
Then again, it was the nature of research and development to prize creativity, so maybe it wasn’t so surprising.
Either way, he felt a bit like a bull in a china shop as he walked in, his jeans and T-shirt still dirty from the morning’s work, and loomed over the saleswoman. Looming wasn’t what he intended, of course, but he’d inherited the famous Harrison build that had made his family natural farmers since time immemorial. He did his best to slouch in a non-threatening fashion and asked for the owner. It took twenty minutes of wheedling before he finally got her to page the weaver Lord and tell him it was Council business. From the way the woman acted when he’d first told her that it was clear she wasn’t a part of any local weaver’s Order, so Marcus was just grateful she’d passed the message on and he settled in to wait.
It turned out he didn’t have to wait long. About five minutes after his message was passed, a short, round man with paint on his fingers made his way out of the back of the gallery and shook hands. Marcus couldn’t help studying the man with a critical eye. He’d only known two other men who had held the title Caledonensis in his life but they had both been somewhat more, well, wizardly. He wasn’t sure exactly what he had been expecting from Detroit’s leading theoretical weaver, but it hadn’t been someone who looked like he taught middle school art classes.
Not that there was anything wrong with middle school art classes, or teaching them.
“Well, this is something of a surprise,” the weaver lord said, pumping Marcus’ hand up and down enthusiastically. “I haven’t met an out-of-towner in some time.”
“Pleasure is likewise, m’lord,” Marcus said quietly, old habits slipping back into place almost, but not quite, without any effort at all. “A little business in town I was hoping you could help me with.”
“Of course.” Lord Caledonensis glanced at his receptionist then said, “Well, business is best conducted in the office. If you’d follow me?”
The shorter man escorted Marcus back into a room that qualified as an office only in that it did contain a desk and was probably the place Caledonensis managed his business from. But the desk and pair of guest chairs by it were mostly a sideshow, the bulk of the room was dedicated to hanging canvases and a large easel set up in the center of the floor. The other man had apparently been working on one of those lovely abstract art things before Marcus had called him away.
Rather than giving him a chair, Lord Caledonensis took Marcus on a slow but purposeful tour of the canvases on the walls. Most of it was the kind of thing that didn’t make much sense to a man who hadn’t taken art classes for half his life, so Marcus kept most of his attention on the conversation, although he tried to be rude about it. After introductions, the Merlinite got straight down to business.
“I have to confess I wasn’t sure I was going to see a new weaver come into Detroit in my lifetime,” the portly weaver said. “I am a bit curious as to what brought you to us.”
“Personal business, actually,” Marcus said with a shrug. “I left the Anthony Wayne chapter of the Knights Templar a couple of years ago and wandered into Detroit. It was my intention not to show my face before an Arbiter’s Council ever again.”
“A wandering Templar?” The other man looked honestly confused. “A bit of a contradiction, isn’t it?”
“As I said, m’lord, I resigned. It’s strictly coincidence I’m here, and I was only able to find you by pestering my cousin until he pulled in some favors and found out your name.”
“Well.” Caledonensis peered at him with an evaluating squint. It was a bit unnerving. “I’m afraid your stated intention of never appearing before a Council again will not be broken, at least not yet. You see, there is no Council in Detroit. At least, not any more.”
“What?” Marcus felt a little wind go out of his sails. “Why not?”
“Not enough membership,” Caledonensis said. “There are only three Orders left functioning in the city these days. The Order of Merlin, of course, along with The Order of the White Ash and the Watchers in the Howling Dark. That’s not enough for quorum, even if we had an aware non-weaver who was willing to sit on the Council with us, which we don’t. The local Council was officially dissolved ten months ago.”
“The Knight’s Hospitaller aren’t here any longer?” Marcus asked, a growing feeling of unease gnawing in his gut.
“No. The membership of the Motor City branch had been declining for the last four years. They officially disbanded and merged with the Crossroads of America chapter, which was actually what led to the Council folding.” Caledonensis’ voice took on a dissatisfied tone. “Tom Cross arranged for it.”
“That’s Tom,” Marcus murmured. “Expanding the borders by any means available.”
“Regardless, there’s no Council left in Detroit,” Caledonensis said, a bitter not creeping into his voice. “The Order of Merlin is also looking at the possibility of combining our section with-”
“Lord Caledonensis, forgive me but I’m not interested in the political details. Even in Fort Wayne I wasn’t seneschal.” Marcus waved his hand vaguely in the direction of Brightmoor. “What bothers me is I think I’ve found an Invoker and I’m trying to find enough war weavers to safely contain it.”
The shorter man sighed. “That’s very noble of you, Marcus, but there’s nothing I can do to help you. Sam Cross wants all Hospitaller activities routed through the Allen County Council in Fort Wayne. I don’t understand how he expects to manage a Knight chapter than covers four states from there but there’s not much I can do from here to change his mind.”
“That’s true.” Marcus rubbed his forehead. Like Lord Caledonensis, Samaritan Cross was the title given to the leader of a branch Order, in his case a chapter of the Knight’s Hospitaller. He’d worked with them in Fort Wayne but not Sam Cross directly. “Okay, I’ll try and work through some people I know, but Invokers just get worse as time goes by. Is there any chance that you-”
“No.” It was the Merlinite’s turn to cut him off. “Marcus, people are abandoning this city in record numbers and not even weavers have found a way to unravel that pattern yet. Until some kind of agreement can be restored about how to best serve both the weavers and the city as a whole, each Order must look to it’s own. I have no one I can spare to help you.”
Marcus felt his temper surge but firmly tamped it down. “Very well, m’lord.” He absently put one hand in his coat pocket and finered the roll of quarters there. “I figured that this was a possibility, though it’s upsetting. I’ve found creative solutions for this kind of thing in the past, I’ll do it again. I can find my own way out.”
“Wait a minute, Marcus,” Caledonensis called. “Don’t be rash. Even Mad Anthony’s Templars wouldn’t try and take on an Invoker alone!”
But the only person who could hear him was the receptionist. Marcus was long gone.
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