Del and Huck — On the Wings of Grace (Chapter 21)

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Steinbeck meets Tolkien in this harrowing epic fantasy taking place in 1920s Oklahoma and the magical world of Iska.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-One

The Eerie Silence

 

Jobe woke soon after that, but said nothing, even though he looked stunned that he had been unconscious. Flavian still slept. Shortly, Thomasine came back in, carrying the dead chicken, which was headless and de-feathered. She now wore a white apron over her dress, and it had a small spatter of blood on the front of it.

As the others watched silently, Thomasine hummed loudly and cut up the chicken and then cleaned it and put what she planned to cook into the stove.

Huck smoked another cigarette and Del played with the ends of her scarf. Jobe watched Thomasine closely, as though he was in a daze. Time seemed to move in receding moments, and sooner than they expected, the light outside began to dim, though the rain did not stop. 

The smell of baking chicken filled the cottage, and finally Flavian came to.  "Where am I?" he cried out. Before anyone could answer, he seemed to realize the truth himself, and he swore. "You bastards," he cursed. "How could you bring me to die here?"

"You're not going to die," said Thomasine, leaving the stove and standing over him. "You're going to be perfectly alright, Cleric Flavian."

The halfling grimaced. "I'm no cleric," he told her.

"No?" she asked. "I suppose you are a little faithless these days."

"How do you know where I come from?" asked Flavian.

"That's my secret. But do not fool yourself, illusionist: we all come from somewhere."

"Even you, spirit?"

"Even me," the Lady of the Plains told him.

Flavian swore again and then said nothing more. Thomasine went back to her cooking. Soon enough, she was finished and served the food, as the companions, famished, thanked her profusely.

After they had eaten, Thomasine spoke gravely:

"In the beginning of time, in what the sages call The Crystal Age, the gods lived freely with mortals. But these days did not last -- the Gods, as susceptible to evil thoughts as we are, took mortals as their lovers, and the resulting offspring were called dragons. Born of both the divine and the delicate, they were impassioned and powerful beings, and they finally cast off what they considered the yokes of both Gods and men, and struck the Earth with the First War.

"While it would be impossible for the dragons to defeat the Gods, the divinities despaired and left the Earth to the dragons, having given up on mortals. They did not admit that the evil on Earth was in part of their own creation, and failed to take responsibility for creation. So do Gods sin as we do.

"The dragons were eventually either supplanted by the crafts of mortals, or the immense power of time -- no one knows. But once gone, civilization arose, without the Gods and without the dragons, and we -- life -- were left to our own devices.

"But great evil remained, and remains still. Tell me, young ones: what do you think is the greatest evil?" Thomasine turned to Del first. "Delilah?"

The girl frowned and spoke. "I don't know. Maybe lack of empathy? People don't get other people are like them."

Thomasine nodded. "That indeed is a grave problem. Jobe? What do you think?"

The orc, usually shy, briefly expounded: "Faithlessness," he said in his deep voice, as he clutched his crucifix. "No one believes in anything."

"Aye," said Thomasine, "That is grave as well. And you, Flavian?"

The halfling sneered. "The opposite of what Jobe says. Unquestioned faith -- in Gods, in ourselves, in our assumptions about others and the world, in what our senses tell us. That is the greatest evil."

"I agree that is worrisome," said Thomasine. "And you, Huck?"

Huck had no patience for such a conversation. But he answered in what he believed he knew: "Life," he said. "That is the greatest evil."

"Oh, Huck," said Thomasine. "I do not agree with you. And I think somewhere, deep down, you do not agree with yourself."

Huck said nothing more.

"These are indeed great evils," explained Thomasine. "But there is an evil greater than all these things. And it waits. It waits for its moment to strike us all. It will strike, do not doubt, but it will until it is ready."

"What is it?" Del asked.

Thomasine smiled sadly. "I have already said more than I am allowed to. But do not fear, fair Delilah. There is good in this world too. You are good. And others are as well."

Thomasine ended the discussion with a particularly pointed glance at Huck.


Afterwards, an almost impossible, eerie silence descended over them, as though some force or spirit suddenly hovered among them. And then the feeling passed, and they were all glad.

"Now," said Thomasine. "Day is gone and we must go to sleep now. You have a long day tomorrow, and we would all be wise to rest as well as we can."

"Thomasine?"

"Yes, Del?" Thomasine asked.

"Do you...do you really think God can be evil?" Del asked.

"Was he not mistaken when he issued the flood?" Thomasine pointed out. "Did he not regret it later?"

"Yeah, I guess you're right," said Del.

"We are all here flowing in time," said Thomasine. "God makes mistakes as we do. But take heed, my girl: you are not one of them."

Del smiled. "Thank you, ma'am."

And then they went off to bed.


Huck awoke at separate times that night, briefly, and listened to the rain beating against the cottage and the groan of the wind. But they he went back to sleep, where his dreams were restful but soon forgotten.

In the morning, light shined through the cottage windows upon them and the rain was gone. They rose and Thomasine fed them and then told them they must be on their way.

"You pass beyond my protection now. but do not fear. There are others like me. And they watch. And some will act on your behalf, I think. But beware: the world is fierce, and you must be careful."

"We will," said Huck, stoic as always, but inside sad they were leaving.

Del wiped a tear from her eye. "Goodbye, Thomasine!" she whimpered.

Thomasine reached out and hugged the girl. "It's okay, Del."

"Will we see you again?" asked Del.

"I do not think so," said Thomasine, with obvious pain. "But I'll be thinking of you. And you will think of me, I hope."

"I will," promised Del.

Flavian and Jobe muttered their own goodbyes and then they mounted their horses and slowly were off. 

When they had ridden for a minute, Huck felt a powerful longing and turned to look back at the Lady of the Plain and the cottage --

But both were gone.

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