Follow Del and her Uncle Huck in this harrowing fantasy taking place in magical 1920s Oklahoma.
Del soon found herself with the others in the confused stink and noise of an Iskan tavern.
Humans crowded most inside, but also there were drunk dwarves slamming their mugs upon tables, cloudy-skinned elves (unlike the fair complexioned ones on Earth) standing in a corner playing coin games, all as buxom barmaids served ales, liquors, and food.
The five of them sat and Flavian ordered food. He offered ale to Huck, who shook his head. The halfling shrugged and ordered some for himself. The orc did not drink either. Bitter however took Flavian up on the offer. Flavian smiled. "I know just the thing."
They waited in the smoke and din for their food. Some of the tavern's clientele was rowdy, and others spoke in quiet, conspiratorial whispers. Del tried not to make eye contact with anyone, but couldn't help staring all around her at the sights and strange people.
"Now what?" Bitter asked, after he was handed his ale and he took a long drink.
"I dunno," said Huck.
"We delivered our message," said Flavian.
"But we didn't get the answer we wanted," Huck argued.
"We did our job," said the halfling.
"I think there's more at stake than a job," said Huck.
Flavian scowled but did not reply.
"What about what the knight, Sarohe, said?" Del asked.
"I don't know about that, either," said Huck. "We are in dangerous waters."
"I think I need sleep in a bed," said Flavian, rubbing his temples. "We could be waiting a long time for the knight's word. It may not reach us at all."
"No, it might not," said Huck.
"Then what do we do?" asked Del.
"We wait — and while we wait, we think," said Huck. "In the meantime, I know we're all famished."
The food came shortly after that. It was the things they knew: chicken, carrots, bread, potatoes; but flavored in Iskan ways, which Huck, Del, and Bitter were not used to. They ate as much as they could nonetheless.
Del ate hesitantly, until she was not hungry anymore, rather than until she was full. She couldn’t help but steal glances at the people of the tavern, but also at her companions. I’m invisible to them, she thought. Just a child.
But then she realized something –
That could be my advantage.
The truth was she hadn’t been a child since her parents had died, not really. And whatever was left of innocence after that was wrenched away from her with the Asunder and Aunt Grace’s death.
Now here they were, untold miles from Earth, on another damn planet, having a nice lunch while everything caved in around them. She didn’t know what to think. She didn’t know what she would do. She felt helpless.
But then she knew she had Huck, and he had her, and together, no matter what, they would survive.
At least, for right now.
They rented a communal room with beds from the innkeeper, and then ascended the stairs to the floor above the tavern, where the rooms were kept. Dreading the worst, Del was pleased when Flavian commented that this place was cleaner than he expected. She half didn’t care. But she half did.
She watched as her uncle collapsed into his bed, heavy with responsibility and exhaustion. The sight made her feel frail.
The Lady of the Plain had told her she needed to be strong now, for Huck especially, and that he couldn’t carry all of this alone. But how was Del supposed to demonstrate that?
Flavian let out a resounding burp as he flopped onto his own bed, making Del grimace. She did not like the Halfling assassin.
She did however have compassion for the orc, Jobe, whom she found interesting. It wasn’t because he was a Christian, cause Lord knew she wasn’t one herself, but it was something else. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but she felt a kinship with him.
Bitter she liked too, like a grandfather she never had. She sometimes thought of the old man’s hands, which were black and gnarled from a lifetime of hard cattle work and who knows what else. They weren’t the kind of hands that were made for precision, like her own soft ones, but rather ones that were made to sustain pain. She could see pain all over them when he gesticulated with his speech. He probably also suffered from arthritis, which she had heard could be torturous.
She laid back in her own bed and made no sound. Outside she could hear business and rabble on the street – the windows and walls were thin, and it was mid-afternoon by now.
It did not take long to wait for the others to fall asleep. She waited as, one by one, they succumbed, even Huck. Bitter and the Orc started snoring. And as far as she could tell, Flavian was asleep too.
She snuck out of bed, grabbed her camera, and exited the room as quietly as she could. Downstairs, there were a few people left at tables, drinking or eating, but most of the crowd was gone.
She wasn’t sure what she was doing, but she couldn’t help it. Her curiosity was fierce, but not only that, she had a simple desire just to be away from her companions that she had been stuck with these past few days. She just needed a little freedom, she knew how dangerous it was, but her heart took over.
As she crept to the tavern’s door however, a voice stopped her:
“That would be a bad idea, young one.”
Del turned and found the speaker, a woman perhaps in her thirties sitting at a table, watching her. The woman had strawberry blond hair, and was dressed in animal skins and furs, and sat with her leg up on one chair, reclined, as she sipped an ale.
Del said nothing, but turned back to continue out through the door. The woman continued:
“First of all, you’re dressed in Earth clothes. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb. People here don’t like Earthlings. Period. And you have your picture taker – another giveaway! What are you planning on doing? Going for a stroll? Taking some photos?”
“That is my business,” Del told her.
“No, it is my business as well,” said the woman. “For I am Adley the City Druid, and I patrol this area. I don’t want any Earthlings starting any trouble that can be avoided. But more than that, I have been asked by Mistress Sarohe to watch you Earthlings and protect you.”
“Protect us from what?”
“From yourselves, mostly. But also… certain elements.”
Del took a long look into Adley’s piercing green eyes. She appeared quite serious, and had a dangerous look about her, despite her lithe form and femininity.
“So – what now?” asked Del.
“So,” said the City Druid, “Either we sit and wait, perhaps have an ale or too, or, if it means so much to you, I can take a stroll with you outside, and you can enjoy the city under my protection.”
“I’d like that,” said Del, “I’m just curious.”
Adley smiled. “I understand. But – no pictures, okay?”
“Okay,” said Del.
They gingerly made their way in a circle around the block, walking slowly down the cobblestoned street, Adley pointing at this and that.
“That is the local butcher,” she said, pointing to an establishment with pig carcasses hanging out front, “I’m sure you have butchers where you come from, and Earthlings eat meet, yes?”
“Yeah,” said Del.
Then Adley pointed at the next building, “That however is an office of the enchanter’s guild. I understand you don’t have magic and enchantments on Earth.”
“We didn’t used to,” said Del. “We kind of do, now…”
The streets were not crowded, but there were clumps of pedestrians making their way from here to who knows where. They passed dwarves, humans, elves, in all sorts of dress and colors, as well as two caravans of wagons bumping down the road.
“So, tell me your story, young one,” said Adley. “Why were you brought here?”
“Well,” said Del, not knowing how much she should say, “I came with my Uncle Huck, he’s in charge, cause the Mayor of Oklahoma City and the Good Lich trust him.”
“Ah, I have heard of the Lich,” said Adley. “Must be strange.”
“Very strange,” said Del.
“Do you know… if he has… cattle?”
“He does,” answered Del.
“Hmmmm,” mused Adley. “That’s good.”
“Y’all need food, huh?”
“We will, soon,” said Adley. “Since the asunder, we have lost the sea that provided our fish, as well as the fields that provided our vegetables, and lands for our animals to graze on.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Del.
“You mean – what are WE going to do?” Adley smiled, mysteriously.
“You’re with Sarohe,” said Del.
“I am,” said Adley, “As I care for the city. Hush now - “ she brought her voice down to a whisper, and tilted her head closer to Del’s. “The Sorceress does not care about the city,” she said, in her quiet voice. “She only cares about the Lich’s secret to immortality. But the Lich won’t give that secret. But he will trade cattle. That’s what’s important.”
Del thought about it. “But what’s in it for the Lich?”
“That I’m not so sure about. But he seems to care about your Oklahoma City, and wants our knights and mages to help protect it from the elves.”
“Sounds like a good deal,” said Del.
“It is,” said Adley. “However, there are complications.”
“Like the Sorceress for one,” said Adley. “She should not be underestimated.”
“Then what do we do?”
Adley smiled. “We will see once your companions – and your uncle – are awake, my dear Del.”