Del and Huck -- On the Wings of Grace (Chapter 9)

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Steinbeck meets Tolkien. Join teenager Delilah as she and her Uncle Huck navigate a dangerous world.

 

 

Chapter Nine:

Stand-Off

With the cattle, there was seldom silence, even at night, where the animals continued to moo and shuffle. 

In the morning, Huck washed his mouth out and caught sight of Del speaking to Flavian the halfling again.  When she saw Huck was looking she seemed to excuse herself and headed back to her uncle.   

"What was that all about?" Huck asked her. 

"Just curious about them," she said. 

"Well, be careful, we don't know them.  We don't know if we can trust them."

"I know," she admitted. 

He shrugged. "Did you sleep okay, girl?"

"Not really.  I'm worried."

"About what?"

"About what's going to happen next.  To us."

"I know you are," Huck said.  "It's ok, we just need to keep moving."

She said no more. 


They came to a high brown grass.  The wagons and cows easily pushed through it, and the men could still see from horizon to horizon, so they never imagined an ambush.  But not an hour had passed after they had entered the grass when there were shouts from the sentries.  Elves. 

They did not attack.  Instead they said they wanted to parlay.  Huck doubted their good intentions, but came to the front of the caravan and met with their apparent leader, a tall blond elf who called himself Suigmond.

"You humans are in Elf territory," growled Suigmond.  The elves held their bows and the humans held their rifles. 

Huck stood side by side with Flavian and Jobe.  "No, we ain't.  This land belongs to the Good Lich, and we transport this cattle to him."

"No, this cattle belongs to us now," said the elf. 

"I don't think so," said Huck. 

"We could easily take it from you."

"That might be true, but a lot of you would die, and you'd be breaking the treaty.  I don't think you're going to do that.  I think you're all talk."

The elf smiled.  "No one would ever know you died here," he said. "We would erase all traces."

"Yes, but I would make a point of knowing you died here," Huck told him. 

Suigmond was silent for a moment, measuring Huck and his companions.  He was also probably measuring his own willingness to die for such measly reward. 

"We can see in the dark," said Suigmond.  "We could raid you tonight, and you would be unable to fight back."  The elf seemed to catch sight of Del, who was back by the wagons.  "We would not even let the child live.  I would see to it myself to slit her throat and drain her dry."

Huck held back his anger, knowing the elf was counting on him to make a foolish mistake.  "By then we will be ready for you.  We will light fires and slaughter the cattle ourselves. You will gain nothing."

"The death of humans is gain enough," said the elf. 

Now they were both silent.  It was a stand-off.  Huck didn't know what else to say.  He wasn't ready to die, and he knew he couldn't protect Del either.  They were surrounded. 

Then a strange, strong, and sudden wind came about them, stirring the grass to dance and all of the men to peer about them, curious.  It lasted for but a moment, but when it was over, Huck saw Suigmond clutched his chest in disbelief.  The elf fell dead, leaving everyone aghast. 

"Elves," he heard Flavian say beside him.  "I hate the bastards."

Huck turned and saw the halfling was drawing more knives from his cloak.  Finally the elves realized what had happened and attacked. 

"Del! Hide yourself!" Huck called across the prairie, with no time to look behind him, only time to raise his rifle and fire at the nearest elf. 

The battle ensued.  There's the kind of war where you were off in some miserable country thousands of miles from home, and there's the kind of war when your family was right there next to you. The latter was the only kind of war Huck and Del had ever known.  They might have been afraid to die, but they weren't afraid to fight. Huck had his gun, and Del had hers -- that's way the world had been for many years now.

While Flavian and Jobe stepped forward, the rest of the caravan stepped back.  They were indeed surrounded, and once the elves recovered themselves, they attacked with fervor.  But with their leader dead, they were listless, unsure whether they should advance or retreat.  Flavian and Jobe made them regret this indecision. 

Huck had never seen illusions before, and he realized now the wind that had struck before Suigmond's death had been just that: one of Flavian's magics.  True wizardry was a crazy thing; the mind reels at its implementation if one is not used to it.  Flavian had disguised his knife with a spot of wind, and now he spilled artificial smoke out of his hands, clouding the battlefield and the elves' courage. 

Meanwhile, Jobe struck them down one by one until they finally took to escape.  The orc dodged arrows, or they clanged off his armor.  Had the elves been smart enough to carry guns, which they found distasteful and lacking art, they could have shot Jobe down.  Instead he cast their blood into the grass with his axe. 

Soon enough it was over, with the remaining elves fleeing in all directions. 

Afterwards Flavian let out a shrill laugh and Jobe joined him with a battle roar.  Huck had managed to survive without being killed, or successfully killing anyone.  He was not a good shot. 

He reunited with his niece, and she hugged him, fear cascading through her body. "I thought we was dead," she told him, tears falling out of her eyes. 

"It's ok, Del," he said.  "It's alright. "

Bitter Jenkins found him and told him two men were dead, but three were wounded, and would slow the caravan.  Huck nodded, still in shock he was alive himself. He watched numbly as Flavian and Jobe searched the elves' bodies for treasure. 

They bandaged the wounded and hurried off. 

The elves would no doubt return, and in greater numbers.  

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