Steinbeck meets Tolkien in this harrowing fantasy novel that takes place in 1920s Oklahoma and the magical world of Iska.
A hard rain started to fall outside. It beat against the walls and windows and roof of the cottage.
Thomasine applied the salve to Flavian's wound and made him drink the tea. By now, he was too weak and too desperate to refuse. He grimaced while he choked down the liquid, and then coughed.
"That should do it," said Thomasine, to the halfling, "But it wouldn't be unwise to pray as well."
Flavian gave her a wry look but said nothing, and soon passed out.
"As for you three," the Lady of the Plain said to the rest of the companions, "I suggest you rest. It will take time for the halfling to heal, and you will need to prepare for the rest of your journey. The forest is not to be taken lightly -- and neither is this storm. You can set out again tomorrow morning."
Huck was both disappointed and relieved by the idea of a delay. On the one hand, it was comfortable here, but he still did not trust Thomasine. However, the rain outside was terrible, Flavian was in no shape to travel, and their options were limited.
If Jobe had any feelings on the matter, he said nothing and revealed even less through his posture and countenance. He sat calmly at the table and watched the others.
"Would you like to hear some music?" Thomasine asked them, as she was done with Flavian. "Or perhaps we should fill our time with tales?"
"I would love to hear some music," Del blurted.
"Of course, Del," Thomasine said. The Lady of the Plain picked up a lute from a corner of the cottage and sat before them. She strummed the lute once to check its tune, and then began to play and sing:
"Oh they say the world has been lost
but no, it was lost long ago,
lost to love and dream,
above and in between.
These fires of fortune and loss
keep us from the void's frost,
and the hungers we cannot describe
have long troubled our tribes."
Del and Huck gave in to the melodies and words. Even Jobe seemed pleased with the music, and a hint of a smile could be seen on the orc's lips. Thomasine smiled and continued to the second verse:
"Illusions are all we have
a torture for woman and man,
but the world has never been stone,
our souls call this energy home.
Be glad, be glad I say,
and enjoy your today,
in the rain on the meadow,
and the Lady of the Plain."
Thomasine grinned as she finished, and set the lute down beside her. The companions said nothing, lulled by the music into revelry. Finally, they all fell asleep as Thomasine watched: Del and Huck in their chairs, and Jobe at the table.
When Huck awoke with a start sometime later, it took him a moment to realize where he was, and a sense of danger shocked through him. But then he found himself just sitting next to Del, with the rain still hammering the cottage, and Thomasine sitting near, humming a song.
"Hello," she said softly to him, as she noticed him awake.
"That music," he began. "It affects us."
"That's what music does," said Thomasine. "The old melodies, which most have forgotten, can soothe the troubled, heal the wounded, and trick dragons."
"What are you, really?" Huck asked.
"Oh," said Thomasine. "I am old. That is all I am. I was here before the forest, before the plains, and I will be here long after them."
"But..." Huck argued.
"I know it doesn't make sense to you," said the Lady, "Some things in life don't make sense, and they never will. Some things just are, and I am one of them. I just... am."
Huck swallowed what she said, trying to accept it. "Are you from Earth or Iska?"
"I was once of Iska, but now I am of both, as are you. But do not doubt: there are as many mysteries of Earth as there are of my world."
"Do you know what happened to our worlds?"
"I do not," she said.
"I am not all-knowing," she said.
Huck was disappointed. His confusion over what happened to the world was all-encompassing sometimes.
"But have faith," said Thomasine. "While much ill has come of it, good will come of it too."
"What's going to happen to the worlds?" Huck wondered.
"I'm not sure," she said. "But mortals will continue to live, and die, and be born, and struggle. And I will be here to watch over them."
"My world was lost," Huck lamented.
"But you gained another. And your world remains in part. This is how it is. This is how it will be."
"Is there a way to stop it?"
"Of course not," Thomasine explained. "Can you stop yesterday? It has already passed. So have the worlds become one."
Huck thought carefully about what she said. "I just need to take care of Del," he confessed. "I just want her to have a better world."
Thomasine smiled, but sadly. "I know you do, Huck. And you're doing a great job. Don't worry too much. Things have a way or working out -- one way or another."
It was something many people said, but Huck never believed it. But coming for her, it had a new weight. He noticed a warmth in his heart, and smiled, but said nothing.
"Why don't you stand under the roof outside and have a smoke?" Thomasine suggested. "Might be nice."
"That does sound nice," Huck told her. "I will."
The rain pelted the world, but in not anger; sort of more of a pent-up release. Huck inhaled his cigarette and enjoyed the mists of water that gently brushed his face as he stood beneath the roof -- out of most of the rain, but not out of the reach of it entirely.
The clouds hovered above in a sort of mirthful gray, and the green-brown of the plain bathed in the water dropping from the sky. The world felt at peace, and he felt at peace. He would have thought it impossible before, but now he actually felt good, hopeful, and maybe even happy.
Wherever they were, whoever Thomasine was, he was thankful for the respite. He had needed it, and he knew Del and the others had as well.
He thought of his wife now. I'm still going, he said to her in his mind.
I know, he heard her voice say back.