Steinbeck meets Tolkien in this harrowing fantasy adventure that takes place in 1920s Oklahoma and the magical world of Iska.
The Lady of the Plain
The companions, aghast, said nothing and did nothing.
"Come on!" the woman repeated. "Don't fear. I mean you no harm. I have pork... and pancakes!" Then she turned and went back into the cottage, leaving the door open behind her.
"No..." said Flavian. "She's a dark spirit." His voice was weak and he was very pale, almost green.
Huck looked at Del, who was as frightened as ever. "What do you think, Del?"
"I don't know, Uncle Huck. That cottage weren't here last night..."
"Jobe hungry," said the orc.
"I think we're all hungry, and tired, and just about out of our wits," said Huck. "Maybe it's an ambush, maybe it's a spirit like Flavian says, I don't know. All I know is we're desperate."
He got to his feet, and motioned for Del to do the same. She followed his lead. Jobe stood also, and the three of them helped up Flavian, who protested: "Please, just leave me here!" he begged.
As they neared the cottage they could smell the cooking ham and pancakes. If it was a trap, it was elaborate. If it was an illusion, it was almost nonsensical.
Inside, the cottage was cozy and neat. There was a common room around a hearth, with a couch and chairs, and to the side was a small kitchen with a stove where the woman stood fussing with something in a pan. To the back it looked like there was more rooms. The cottage looked strangely larger on the inside than it had on the outside, but not by much.
Maybe we're all delirious with Flavian's sickness, Huck said to himself.
"Come in, come in," said the woman. "Set the little one on the couch where he can rest, and I will see to him in a moment. I'm Thomasine, by the way -- the Lady of the Plain." She smiled warmly and then went back to her cooking.
They laid Flavian on the couch. He shriveled into a ball, muttering something they could not make out. Then the three of them stood dumbfounded.
"Have a seat at the table!" said Thomasine. The companions noticed a table and chairs to the side of the common room, though they were all unsure if it had been there when they first came in. There was definitely magic here, but none of them said a word.
They sat, and Thomasine brought the first plates of pancakes and ham. "I slaughtered a pig when I heard you were coming," she laughed. "One of my prized pigs. But it was worth it, I know it, it looks delicious!"
It did look and smell delicious. The companions' stomachs took charge of the situation and they dug in quickly. As they did so, Thomasine left the table and knelt next to Flavian. "Oh," she said. "He is in quite bad shape."
"Can you help him?" Huck asked. "He was bitten by a werewolf."
"A werewolf, huh?" asked Thomasine. "Terrible creatures. Well -- we'll see about that!"
She went back into the kitchen and started cooking up something new.
Once Huck finished eating, his suspicions returned. "Who are you?" he asked Thomasine. "Why do you help us?"
"Why I am the Lady of the Plain," said the kind woman. "And I help you because you need help."
"How did you know of our arrival?" asked Huck.
"Oh, the plains have a way of speaking," said Thomasine. "And I have a way of listening to them!" she giggled.
"Last night..." spoke Del, unsure of herself, but too curious to be silent, "Your cottage wasn't here."
"Well of course it was here," said Thomasine. "It's always been here. I've always been here. You just didn't notice, I bet."
"Are you from Iska?" Del continued.
"Iska?" Thomasine asked. "No, I've been here. Always been here," she repeated, smiling knowingly.
"Can you do anything for our friend?" Huck asked.
"I think so," said Thomasine. "I'm cooking up a tea and a salve. Are you finished with breakfast? Why don't you have a cigarette, Huck Strite?"
Not one of them had told her of their names. As comfortable as the Lady made them, this magic made them pause.
"Would you like a piece of fruit, Del?" Thomasine asked.
"Yes!" said the girl, looking askance at Huck, but not able to hide her enthusiasm. Fruit was rare in Oklahoma City.
Thomasine brought over a new plate. "Apple and oranges. And a few grapes," she said. "Beware though! The oranges are tart."
"I will, thank you!" said Del, picking an orange.
"What are you?" Huck asked the Lady.
"I am Thomasine, and that is all," said the Lady. "I sometimes help travelers such as yourselves."
"Are you a spirit?" Huck wondered aloud.
"A spirit? I am old, that's what I am!" Thomasine laughed.
She didn't look old, except for a few wrinkles around her eyes and the creases in her hands. Still, there was an ageless wisdom in her eyes and smile.
"You should be more trusting," Thomasine told Huck. "There are good things in the world, still, Huck. But rest!" Thomasine told them. "The tea and salve are almost ready -- they should help. But what the halfling needs most is time. And you will have to wait until he is ready before you may leave. I have beds for the night, and more food. I think we will have chicken for dinner, yes, that will be nice. And in the morning, you can be off again!"
"No..." begged Flavian.
"Don't mind him," said Thomasine. "This is just all contrary to his worldview." She laughed.