Steinbeck meets Tolkien -- swords and sorcery in 1920s Oklahoma.
"This is the Good Lich?" Parsons asked Huck, holding the photograph of the undead wizard in his hands.
"Ghastly thing. Well, we'll see about him, I suppose."
"Yeah," said Huck.
"What was he like?"
"I imagine so," said Parsons. He handed the photo to Franklin. "Take care of this well," he told his assistant.
Franklin nodded and carried the photograph out the door.
"And he wants cattle?"
"Yes," answered Huck.
"I've already taken care of it. You leave tomorrow."
Huck couldn't hold back his grimace. "I know."
"I'm going to send the men the Good Lich asked for and they will take care of the cattle. Don't worry about anything."
"As my friend, I do ask one thing."
"What is it?"
"The cowboy who's going to be in charge, I need you to convince him to go."
"Because people trust you, Huck."
"People trust you too," Huck said.
"I wish that were true. No, this is up to you. I should tell you though, he's a negro. You'll find him in Dark Town. A man named Bitter Jenkins."
"A negro, sir?"
"Yes. But he's the best cattleman in town. He was a buffalo soldier in the Indian wars, and then a cowboy after, and it's those skills we're going to need."
"Reverend," began Huck. "You know as well as I do even with elves and orcs running around men still don't like to answer to negroes."
"They'll be answering to me," said Parsons. "Do you have a problem with it?"
"I didn't think you would."
"I'm just saying," said Huck.
"I know, Huck. I know. Prejudice is a vice even the greatest men have difficulty shaking. But Bitter is the best. He's no friend to the white man, either, but he likes adventure. You'll see."
"Will he like me?"
"I think so," said Parsons. "I really do."
"There's two more things. I'll be sending along a couple men whose only duty is to protect everybody else. This includes Franklin. But he's not in charge. You are."
"Does Franklin know that?"
"He does, Huck."
"Finally, in addition to that, I've acquired some real... muscle to help. A halfling illusionist and his pal, an orc warrior. Iskans. They'll meet you in front of your airport tomorrow and take you to the herd outside the city. I don't want anything to happen to you, you know."
"Alright," said Huck.
"Go to Bitter tonight. Confirm he's coming. I know he will. Then get a good night's sleep. It's going to be tough on you, I think."
Huck nodded, shook Parson's hand, and left.
On the way home, he was straight with Delilah. He told her everything Parsons had told him, and he told her to get her stuff ready. He didn't know when they would be coming back, and he knew she would miss her dark room and her bedroom where she could shut out the world when she wanted. "Can I still bring my camera?" she asked.
"Of course," he told her.
They had lunch -- leftover beef from the package Franklin had given them, and then Huck went to sleep while Delilah enjoyed her last hours in her dark room. An hour before dinner Huck woke and cooked up the rest of the beef with vegetables they had gotten in town, and used the rest of the sugar for some more tea.
Supper was quiet. After they were done Delilah cleared and washed the dishes and then sat back down next to Huck, who enjoyed one of his infrequent cigarettes.
"Uncle Huck?" she asked.
"What do you think is gonna happen?"
"I don't know," he said. "But we're gonna stick together."
"I know," she said. "I'm glad. Maybe I'll take some nice photos on the way."
"I imagine so," he said. "The weather ain't been so bad."
"Cattle smell," she said.
"Yeah they do. But they taste good," he laughed.
"That's true," she mused. "What do you think the Lich is gonna do with them?"
"That I don't know," he said. "Your guess is as good as mine."
Huck smoked one last cigarette and then said goodbye to Del, telling her once again to lock the door, and keep her guns near.
He rode into town, heading east to where the blacks lived, as the last light seeped out of the world. Spring in Oklahoma could be a beautiful or treacherous thing, but right now it was pretty. On the way he passed women carrying groceries, children playing, and other riders heading to wherever they needed to go. He also passed many mercenaries and other fighting men who stared at him suspiciously. Not everyone could afford the luxury of a horse, and most would eat it if they had it.
Finally he reached the boulevards of shanties where the majority of Oklahoma City's blacks lived. When he came to the address he was told, he found a house somewhat unlike the others -- though still dilapidated, there were pots of flowers on the porch, and clean curtains on the windows. Huck got off his horse, brushing his fingers across the gun on his hip ever so gingerly, and then knocked at the door.
A tall, muscled black man in his late fifties or early sixties opened the door. His curly hair was real short and a thick mustache stood on his lip. He was dressed in denim, but he wore no shoes, and his bare feet seemed almost funny to Huck. "You Bitter Jenkins?"
"Yup, I'm Bitter Jenkins. I was told you'd be coming. I heard you're named after Huckleberry Finn."
"I am. They call me Huck."
"I ain't stupid. I read books."
"Me too," said Huck.
"Good. Maybe we'll get along. Maybe not. Probably not."
"You coming then?" asked Huck.
"Yeah I'm coming," said Bitter, resolved.
"You know where to meet the herd?"
"I know. And I ain't gonna take orders from you."
"I ain't gonna take orders from you neither," said Huck.
"Then we should be alright," said Bitter.
They were interrupted by -- Huck guessed -- Bitter's kid, a girl about the age of eight, who ran up to Bitter and grabbed him by the leg. "Daddy! Daddy!" she murmured.
"Now now, Lisa, that's enough. Daddy's talking to a man."
The girl looked up at Huck fearfully. Then she ran away back into the house.
It was a cold dark by the time Huck rode home. When he arrived, Delilah unlocked the door for him and asked him how it went.
"Ok. He'll be ok."
Huck took a long look at Delilah and wished he could take her to another world, anywhere but here. "You better go to sleep, Del. Long day tomorrow. Early morning."
She nodded and left. He had another one of his infrequent cigarettes that were getting more frequent and then went to bed himself, but not before packing his stuff. Huck couldn't shake the feeling that they wouldn't return for a long time, if ever. So this time he folded up his favorite photo of his wife and put it in his breast pocket close to his heart.
He thought of her now, her pale skin, her melodic voice, her dark eyes lighting up. How could she be gone? Why did he remain?
If it wasn't for Del, he thought. I don't know what I would do.
Finally he fell asleep.