Hope lives in this harrowing high fantasy adventure taking place in 1920s Oklahoma and the magical world of Iska.
When Del woke up the first thing she noticed was that Huck was gone, and she was immediately fearful. "Huck?" she asked.
"Calm yourself, daughter of man," she heard Thomasine say, and she turned to find the Lady of the Plains back at her kitchen table, knitting something. Del noticed Jobe was still asleep, sitting across from Thomasine, and that Flavian was still knocked out on the couch.
Some kind of magic, Del thought. "Where's Huck?" she asked.
"Outside, enjoying a cigarette and the rain," said Thomasine. "I thought we could chat, just you and I."
"About what?" Del asked, suspicious.
"About your aunt, maybe," suggested Thomasine.
"Aunt Gracie?" Del asked. "Uncle Huck's wife? She's dead. How do you know about her?"
"Oh I hear things, coming across the rolling hills," explained the Lady of the Plains.
More magic, thought Del. Who was Thomasine?
"She was like a mother to you, wasn't she?"
"Yeah," Del admitted. "My folks died when I was young."
"Do you miss her?"
"Of course," said Del. "But she's gone now. Never coming back."
"Do you know how she died?"
Del could feel tears welling up in her. "I don't like these questions," she said.
"I'm sorry," said Thomasine. "I'm just curious about a few things."
"Like how strong Huck is."
"Uncle Huck is a hard man," said Del. "He's the strongest thing I know."
"Good," said Thomasine. "I think so too. Otherwise, I would send you back."
"Back to your city. Back home."
"Huck says it's not safe there," said Del.
"No, it's not," said Thomasine. "But it's not safe where you're going, either."
"Do you know about that?"
"I know Iska," said the Lady. "You must remember it is as dangerous a world as your own."
"I get that," said Del.
"You uncle takes care of you, doesn't he?"
"Has for a long time," Del answered.
"You're growing up now, though."
"Yeah," said Del, both proud and ashamed.
"You're going to have to take care of him too," said Thomasine.
"I know," said Del. She had been thinking the same thing herself, only....
"You don't feel up to it," said Thomasine, as though she sensed Del's thoughts. "But I assure you, you are."
"Yeah..." said Del, distantly. "I'm worried about Huck right now."
"Worried because you think he's in danger, or worried because you are in danger?"
"I guess I'm worried about myself," said Del, honestly.
"You are going to have to learn to take care of the people around you, instead of letting them take care of you," Thomasine instructed. "But I have something for you, look."
The Lady of the Plains stood and carried what she had been knitting over to Del. It was a short blue scarf, made of a gossamer yarn. Del took it into her hands -- it was incredibly soft, but just the touch of it made her feel something else, something...
"It will make you strong if you wear it," said Thomasine.
"Thank you," said Del, taking it into her hands. Without thinking she wrapped it around her neck, where it clung as though it had always been there.
Del sat back, not knowing what to say next. Thomasine knelt next to Flavian and checked the temperature of his forehead with the back of her hand. "I think the night will do it," said the Lady. "And then you four can be off."
The idea of leaving somewhere so calm -- suspicious as she was -- made Del a little sad. She thought of the feeling of the scarf around her neck, and Thomasine's sweet words. "Thomasine?" she began. "Thank you for helping us. I know nobody helps nobody anymore."
"It only seems like that is true," said the Lady. "You'll see."
Huck came back in slightly damp and smelling of tobacco. Del looked at him quick and saw there was almost a happiness in his face.
"Hey kid," he greeted Del. "Everything ok in here?"
"Yeah," said Del. "Thomasine gave me this scarf." She pointed to her neck.
"That's very pretty," said Huck.
"Yeah," said Del, almost embarrassed that someone had given her something and she had taken it.
"I'm going to kill the chicken for tonight's meal," said Thomasine. "I'll be back in a little while. The other two should wake up soon." She smiled at both of them and disappeared to the back of the cottage. Del and Huck heard a door open and the sound of rain as Thomasine went out back, and then the sound of the door closing behind her.
"You alright, Del?" Huck asked.
"Yeah," she said, curious as to his asking.
"You look pale," he said.
"I feel like I've been talking to a ghost," Del said.
"I know what you mean," he agreed.
"I almost wish I could stay here."
"I have a feeling that isn't possible, Del. This, whatever it is, can't last."
"I know that," she said. "I just... I guess there still is good in the world. But we can't have it, can we, Uncle Huck?"
"No. Not yet, Del."
"When do you think we will?"
"I don't know," he answered as best he could. "Someday, I promise."
She knew he couldn't promise that, even if he said he did. She felt sad all of the sudden, and then she remembered the scarf at the neck, which warmed her heart. "She said we'll be off tomorrow."
"Yeah," said Huck. "I think so."