An adventurous high fantasy taking place in 1920s Oklahoma and the magical world of Iska.
In the Hands of the Harmoniat
As they were escorted to the city, Del thought of the stories she had read as a child about knights. In them, the paladins were patient and noble creatures, impulsive only when a damsel was in need — and they never, ever harmed the innocent or righteous. Del tried to picture the Harmoniat as such knights, but she knew it was a desperate world, and what she had read as a child were just silly stories — real life was quite different. Perhaps it was the sobering sound of the knights' horses' thundering hoof beats, or the noisy metal rumbling of their armor as they rode, but Del did not feel safe with these warriors. If anything, she was tremendously frightened.
She looked at Huck, who returned her glance with obvious apprehension. A half-smile formed on his lips in reassurance, and she half-smiled back.
The city's shapes and colors were clearer now as they approached, with turreted walls and thatched rooftops. What surprised Del though was the lack of traffic in or out of the city — they and the Harmoniat were all that was. As a result the city seemed lonely and foreboding, perhaps even artificial as though it might have been just a movie set or a diorama.
But as they neared and she saw smoke coming out of rooftop chimneys, and archers upon the walls, she realized the city was indeed real.
As they neared the gate, which appeared angrily closed, someone must have recognized the knights' return, as the wide planked door pulled inward with a creak and access to the city was clear.
Both the Harmoniat and the companions slowed their horses to a trot as they passed through the gate onto the opening city street. Here, Ledis turned to them, and with a proud voice, welcomed them to Lelidua. "This is our great city," he announced, though there was an air of uncertainty in his voice, as though he wasn't sure if this was his city anymore or not.
As Del watched the knight, she felt like someone was looking at her, and found herself being watched by the suspicious eyes of the lady knight, Sarohe. Caught in her examination, Sarohe spoke as well:
"We do not pardon traitors, thieves, and vile interlopers in Lelidua," she pointed out with viciousness.
Del could feel her face grimacing, and looked away from the lady knight and her harsh demeanor.
As they passed through the gate completely, the fat door closed behind them with another creak. They were as part of the city as anything now.
Her first impression of the city was one colored with fancy, as the morning sun cast the wooden buildings in warm, saturated light. If the place was desperate, the low sun did not reveal it so, and instead it came across quaint, and just a little beautiful. Now their horses hoofs thudded against muddy streets and the knights' rattling armor echoed against the buildings with seriousness.
As the streets were not empty, neither were they popular with commerce and foot traffic. They passed humans in earthen-colored clothes that Del imagined were peasants, and then sometimes people in brighter, more colorful clothes that suggested nobility; they passed shepherds herding sheep, chickens wandering in the gutters, and pigs sleeping in front of doorways; they also passed more spectacular things, like gaudy looking wizards, and rich-dressed traders and their plump wagons, pretty girls in gossamer dresses, and domesticated creatures that had to be seen to be believed. In addition, there were packs of children, rampant upon the street and hiding in the alleys as the Harmoniat passed; other soldiers dressed in both padded and metal armors; mothers with their babies, fathers with their tools, and the occasional heavy-hearted teen or teens, probably indentured or otherwise employed in a place where childhood ended early.
Few eyes paid attention to the Harmoniat and the companions, but to avoid them — perhaps because such sights were common, or perhaps so such eyes were not noticed by the law. All moved out of the way of the riders quickly, none interfered.
They headed uphill, through the city, and as they made their way, Del noticed the houses shifted from wooden facades to some bricked and stoned, and now ahead she could see a tall, wide tower not unlike the Good Lich's estate in its purpose, but very different in its shape and construction. While the Lich's keep and aerie looked organic, as though it had once been alive, instead the Sorceress's was perfectly carved and regimented, made out of human geometry rather than natural forces. Heavy blue and gray stone had been perfectly lifted and arranged in a feminine spire windowed with stained glass, flagged parapets, and high balconies. Upon its top was the brandished, golden symbol of a curved star, obviously meant so signify great mystery.
Now they came to a new gate, one even more serious than before, guarding the inner sanctums of the city. Here the Harmoniat stopped, and as other knights came out of guard houses and paraded with weapons, Ledis spoke and gained access to the final circle of the Sorceress.
In moments this last gate was opened, and the knights guided the companions to hitching posts in front of the grand door to the tower.
"Dismount!" Ledis commanded.
They did as he asked and tied the horses.
"Leave your swords and guns here!" Ledis continued.
Even Jobe begrudgingly left his axe with his horse, as Huck and Del left their rifles and pistols as well.
For a second, Del hesitated — she had tied the silver knife to her leg underneath her trousers. Ivaille had told her to take it everywhere. She considered the consequences for hiding such a weapon, but finally decided to trust what Ivaile had said in the dream, and left it attached to her person.
She saw Huck pulling the sealed scroll the Good Lich had given him from his horse's saddlebag, and she nodded to her uncle, trying to communicate her readiness and commitment. He clasped her shoulder with one hand for a moment, and then turned to the tower.
"You will be watched and carefully judged!" Ledis told them. "If I suspect you of thinking of mischief, I will happily feed you to Sarohe's sword."
"And it is famished this morning," said the lady knight, darkly.
Del tried not to be afraid. They had made it this far, amazingly enough. But still she was curious — curious as to what was contained in the message, and curious about what how the Sorceress would respond and what would happen next.
The stone door before them opened silently — here there was magic.
Del swallowed hard, and clenched her fists to cool her nerves. Whatever was going to happen next, was going to happen soon.