Del and Huck — On the Wings of Grace (Chapter 10)

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Steinbeck meets Tolkien in this high fantasy novel set in 1920s Oklahoma.

 

 

Chapter Ten:

The Wyvern

 

About an hour later, Bitter Jenkins rode up to Del and Huck and spoke: "This ain't a cattle drive, it's a death march."

Delilah, just beginning to stop shaking from the battle went pale, but Huck didn't seem to have it in him to console the man.  "I reckon that might be so," he said. 

"How can you be so cavalier about it?" asked Bitter.  "Especially with the girl in tow?"

"I'm not cavalier about it," said Huck.  "There just isn't much I can do about it now.  We took this on, and now we got to see it through."

"They're going to come back."

"Yeah," Huck agreed. 

"We're still a day away.  They could come tonight."

"I know."

"I thought we were under the Good Lich's protection?"

"Well, it doesn't look like he sees the need to protect us yet," Huck said. 

"That halfling made a decision you should have made," Bitter argued. 

"That may be true.  I'll have to have a word with him about that.  But -- he's Parsons' man, I don't know what he's going to do. I don't know what Parsons told him, I don't know how he thinks."

"He could throw one of those knives at you."

"That he could."

At this Del was shocked.  She hadn't considered it.

But Bitter was obviously distraught.  "I didn't come out here to die.  I came out to do a job."

"I know," said Huck.  "We're going to make it."

"Then what are we going to do?"

"Well," said Huck.  "I think we're going to have to be ready for them."

"How so?"

"I don't know yet."

Bitter had run out of questions.  He stroked his jaw and lit a smoke.  "That Parsons is a cold hearted son of a bitch."

"I think so too," Huck agreed. 

"Pretty strange for a holy man."

"These are strange times."

They caught sight of the halfing riding towards them on his pony.  "Here he comes, that bastard," said Bitter. 

"Shhh," said Huck. 

But Bitter would not be quieted.  "You shouldn't have killed that elf!" he shouted at Flavian. 

Flavian laughed.  "If I hadn't killed that elf we would all be dead."

"We might all be dead already, we just don't know it," said Bitter. 

"When they come back, we'll kill them again," said the halfling. 

"Don't you see you're playing with our lives?" asked Bitter. 

"I'm saving your lives," said Flavian.  "Don't be a fool."

"And what if they come tonight?"

"I have plenty of knives," said the halfling.  "And Jobe has plenty of axe."

Bitter spat in disgust.  "I have a daughter!"

"That's not my fault," said the halfling.

"Enough!" Huck scolded.  "We got to fight them, not each other."

Bitter rode off.  "That there is an asshole," Flavian commented. 

"Maybe," said Huck.  "But he's right.  They're going to come back and kill us."

"Yeah -- I'll admit that," said Flavian, chuckling. 

Hopelessness filled Del from head to toe. 


It was a long day.  Still, dusk fell sooner than any of them expected.  Huck told Del he still hadn't a plan by the time the sun started easing over the horizon, but they had no choice.  He commanded them to stop for the night. 

As they settled in and got ready for dinner, Huck was told that a rider was approaching from the North.  Suspecting another elf with a death wish, he summoned Flavian and Jobe by his side and greeted the messenger. 

They were all relieved when it turned out to be Ivaile, the Good Lich's apprentice, and the mood of the train brightened immediately.  It was light at the end of the tunnel, a glimmer of hope. 

"You're a sight for sore eyes," said Huck. 

"Am I?" asked Ivaile. 

"Yeah."

"I heard of the battle," Ivaile told them.

"How is that?" Flavian asked. 

"The birds speak about a great many things," the Dreamer told them. 

"What does the Good Lich say?" asked Huck. 

"He says he is with you.  Look!" Ivaile pointed into the dark blue sky.  Above, they could see a winged reptile patrolling the area about a hundred feet up.  "The elves will not attack while the wyvern watches.  They know that what the wyvern sees, the Good Lich sees."

Del and Huck couldn't help the smile on their lips.  "Thank you," Huck said. 


They ate dinner with a surprising enthusiasm.  The cowboys pointed at the wyvern above and wondered about its magical origins.  They had never seen anything like it. 

Del though told Huck she was still deathly afraid.  "I know, so am I," he agreed.  "But I think we're going to be ok."

Once everyone was asleep, she found Ivaile sitting next to a fire, his eyes staring into the flames, and his arms wrapped around himself. 

"Cold?" asked Del 

"I am always cold," Ivaile said.  "The price of magic."

Del wasn't sure what he meant, but she nodded all the same. 

"These men are frightened, but it's almost over for them.  We will arrive tomorrow and the Good Lich will have his cattle."

"And Parsons will have his territory?"

"Yes."

"Good," said Del. 

"The elves will kill all of these men on the way back," Ivaile prophesized. 

"What?"

"They won't be returning home."

"How do you know that?"

"I know," said Ivaile.  "But isn't it obvious?"

"What are they going to do then?"

"They have a different destiny," said Ivaile.

"And what's that?"

"Staying with the cattle."

"But what about me and Huck?" Del asked. 

"You and Huck will not be with them. Your path leads elsewhere."

Del couldn't believe what she was hearing, and turned her head around to see if Huck was within sight. "And where is that?"

"To Iska."

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