Steinbeck meets Tolkien.
The Halfling's Warning
The next morning after sentimental and nostalgic dreams, Del woke up astonished. Astonished she was alive, but most of all astonished at what had happened to the world in such a short time. It used to be you could run away from your problems, and dazzling cities lay across America where you could start a new life -- well, no longer. Everyone was stuck now. Hell had come to Earth.
Then she laughed. She did not know why.
She rose and found Huck shaving. Dawn was still an hour away. They washed and had breakfast and said their last goodbyes to their home for a while, maybe for forever. And then, once the sun was up, there was a knock on the door. Huck answered it and found Franklin, the orc and the halfling waiting for him.
Franklin had a different sort of stare than he usually did, with a little bit of exhausted fear in his eyes and the muscles in his face. The halfling and the orc looked rough though -- as though it was all just another day of business for them, and ease was in their stance and faces.
The halfling was about four feet tall, but wiry, dusky skinned, and black haired. He was dressed in a desert-colored cloak, with a belt of knives around his waist, and he carried a wooden staff in his right hand. "I'm Flavian," he said, and then gestured to the orc. "This is Jobe. He doesn't talk much."
The orc was about seven feet tall, bulky, shirtless, skinned in green and gray with splotches of scars. His eyes were fierce but calm, and he wore a crucifix around his neck. He carried an axe and rifle upon his back, and wore jeans and heavy boots. Jobe responded to Huck's look with a shrug and a nod.
Del decided instantly she didn't want to get on the wrong side of these two, and wondered just what it was they had gotten into now.
They rode out of town quickly and met up with Bitter and the cowboys and the herd an hour to the North. The cattle moved in undulations and waves as they moved up the plain, the cowboys directing them with expert skill. Huck had never seen such a thing up close, and neither had Delilah, and they were both thrilled by the sight and reality of it.
Bitter rode up to them and greeted Huck but ignored the Iskans and Franklin. Then he said, "Morning, miss," to Delilah.
"Morning, sir," she said.
Bitter smiled in the slightest way. "Everything is smooth," he told Huck. "Cattle are fresh, moving fast. Should be easy."
"Good," said Franklin.
Bitter ignored him. "Huck," he said. "We got everything we need to set up camp when we get there, but the wagons are going to be a little slower. There's a chance they'll drop behind if the cattle really get going, maybe, there's no telling for sure."
"That's alright," said Huck. "Not a lot of raiders to the North. Too afraid of the elves."
"And what about those elves?" asked Bitter.
"I don't know," said Huck, honestly. "I guess we'll see."
"I reckon so," said Bitter.
The old cowboy then slapped his horse and cried "Hyah!" and zipped back to the herd.
Flavian laughed upon his pony and Jobe then laughed with him. But they didn't explain what tickled them.
Delilah noticed that as they traveled that Jobe paged through a leather covered Bible. She wasn't afraid of the orc, really, and asked him, "Can you read that?"
Flavian answered for the orc. "No, he can't read it. He's Iskan. But he'll learn eventually."
"Is he religious?"
"He is," said Flavian. "Was converted in Atlanta."
"Don't got much to say, does he?" asked Delilah.
"He does. But he don't say it."
"Does he understand English?"
Delilah smiled. It all seemed so miraculous, even if it was terrible in a way. She said goodbye to them and urged her horse back to Huck, who was glad she was done talking to the Iskans.
It was a long, hard ride, and Huck and Delilah weren't used to it. By early afternoon they were both ready to collapse, but neither one complained. The weather was nice, the sun shining down with no sign of rain for the rest of the day. They just rode and listened to the sound of the cattle and the cowboys calling out to them. Something about it was so tranquil and antique.
But, taking a moment when Franklin had fallen behind, Flavian rode his pony up next to Del and Huck. "How much do you know about Parson's man?" he asked.
"I don't know. Well enough," Huck said.
"I wouldn't trust him. I know an enchantment when I see one," said the halfling.
"You mean, he's under a spell?"
"Yes. Just wanted to let you know," Flavian laughed, riding back to where Jobe was.
By nightfall, most everyone was supremely exhausted, though no one was ready to admit it. They stopped the cattle as best they could, and set up camp for the night.
Parsons had even hired a cook for the party, and they dined on beans, biscuits, and a little bit of pork. Afterwards, Huck felt like he could sleep for a thousand years, but he knew the night would be short once he passed out.
He and Delilah found a place to lie down their bedrolls and settled in.
"Huck?" Delilah asked.
"I feel like hell."
"I know, Delilah."
"Feels kind of good though."
He laughed. "I guess it does."
"What do you think about the Iskans?"
"I don't know yet," he said, honestly.
"You know that orc is a Christian?"
"I heard that's not uncommon," he said. "Must be from the South East."
"Yeah," he said.
"Do you think we'll be okay out here?"
"I think so," Huck said.
"I hope so. I'm not scared though."
"Did you get any nice photographs today?"
"Yeah, I think so," she said.
"Good. When we get back, I'd love to see them."
"Sure," she said, doubtful.