An exciting fantasy set in 1920s Oklahoma and the magical world of Iska.
When Huck woke and found Del gone, terror breached his heart. He leapt to his feet and grabbed his boots and gun.
“Relax…” said Flavian, who sat in his own bed, looking over a spell book. “She’s just downstairs.”
“Doing what?” Huck asked. He did not stop getting dressed.
“Talking to a city druid. She snuck out after she thought we were asleep. Dunno why. When I followed her I found her downstairs sitting next a quite fine looking hevent.”
“What’s that?” asked Huck.
“A city druid, or hevent, is kind of like a policeman, and kind of a gardener, if you can consider the city as something that grows and must be pruned on occasion.”
Huck check his gun before leaving. “Del can be foolish,” he grunted on the way out.
Flavian chuckled. “I guess it runs in the family.”
As Huck came down the creaking wooden stairs, he saw Del seated at a table with a young woman dressed in animal skins, both encased in the late afternoon light, both smiling and talking quietly amongst themselves. The city druid looked harmless, and appeared to carry no weapons except for a long staff that leaned against the table, but Huck knew appearances could be deceiving these days. He felt angry with Del – didn’t she know the situation they were in? They couldn’t trust anyone.
When Del saw him though, she smiled in welcome, and said, “Hi, Uncle Huck!”, almost flippant.
The city druid smiled as well. “Greetings, my friend.”
“Del.” Huck said, almost unable to control his anger with her, “What are you doing? Who is this?”
Del hesitated, obviously surprised by his anger, not comprehending it – which was part of the problem. “This is Adley,” she told him, gesturing at the city druid. “She’s going to help us.”
“How?” Huck asked. “Goddamn it Del. When I woke up and you were gone, I near had a heart attack.”
“It’s okay, Uncle Huck, I’m okay,” said Del.
Adley pursed her lips and spoke, “I’m a friend of Lady Sarohe.”
This deflated Huck’s anger a bit, but he was still in the throes of it. “That doesn’t calm me as much as you might think,” he said.
“I know,” said Adley. “I know you are concerned for you niece, but you shouldn’t be. I may be a stranger, I know, but I assure you, I’m here to help. Please. Sit. Speak with me.”
Huck took a deep breath. It was hard to defuse himself all of a sudden. He had been so scared about Del, and then so angry with her. He was still angry with her. But the city druid seemed to be a friend….
“Alright,” he said at last, pulling out a chair.
“Would you like an ale?” asked Adley.
“I just woke up,” he explained.
“So? It’s always time for ale,” laughed Adley. She signaled to the barmaid. “Del?”
“Ah,” said Del, “No thank you, maybe some tea or something?”
“How about Iskan coffee?” Adley asked. “Our tea supplies are a little scarce, actually.”
“Okay,” said Del.
The barmaid came over and Adley ordered coffee and an ale for herself. Once the barmaid left, Adley giggled. “I may be a lush, but I have a good excuse – where I grew up, there was no magic, and thus we couldn’t purify our water. Wine and beer however were ever flowing, however, and from a young age I enjoyed their… advantages.”
“But this is Iska,” said Del. “Why was there no magic?”
“Well, even on Iska there are people who don’t like magic, and don’t allow it,” said Adley. “I admit I grew up in a strange place, but still, I think about it sometimes….”
“And now you’re a druid,” said Huck.
“Druid magic is different than normal magic. I depend on the natural world to do what I do. Real magic can be… a little… perverse sometimes.”
Huck thought of the Good Lich. “I suppose so.”
“So,” said Adley. “I know you’re a man who likes to speak true and get down to business, so I suppose we ought to talk serious now.”
“Okay,” said Huck.
“There is power here in the city which does not belong to the Sorceress. That even, perhaps, we might say, opposes her. I tell you – the city might appear calm, but there is a desperation – the food stores are running low, and trade has been permanently disrupted by Asunder. We’ve tried to recover, but things are not moving as quickly as we hoped. The fact is – we may depend on Earth to save us, as Earth may depend on us to save it.”
Huck was reminded of the fragile state of Oklahoma City, the elves just outside its boundaries, the problematic water supply and shaky electricity, among a thousand other problems. Was Lelidua in equal danger? How could they help each other?
“We have a hundred head of cattle, poised to be brought here,” said Huck, thinking quickly. “That would be just the start.”
The barmaid brought Adley’s ale and Del’s coffee. The city druid gulped down half the ale in an instant, and smiled before turning serious.
“We have many knights, and many wizards. We could protect you from the elves.”
“But there’s a catch, isn’t there?” asked Huck.
“Of course,” said Adley. “The Sorceress.”
“There are four dominions of power in Lelidua,” explained Adley the City Druid, “Of which, the Sorceress sits on top. Now, I don’t know if you know how magic works, but there’s two main kinds: that of magicians, which is a science; and that of sorcery, which is of blood. The Sorceress’s power is hereditary, and her family has ruled the city for ages. However, in her child-bearing years, she turned out barren, and without an heir, she is left with one option: lich-dom, where she becomes an undead thing that lives, and rules, forever.
“Beneath the Sorceress are the nobles, a pillar of which are the knights. Some are loyal to the Sorceress, and some are not, but what they are most concerned with is their own families and well-being. There has always been a struggle of power between the nobles and the Sorceress’s family, and that struggle has only been exacerbated by the current situations.
“Beneath the nobles are the guilds, new money of the last couple of hundred years that bristle under both the nobles and the Sorceress. While the nobles’ loyalties are varied, the guilds are not.”
Huck interrupted: “I think I can guess what the last dominion is.”
“Yes?” Adley smiled.
“Yes,” she said. “The mob. The flow. The people. While at the bottom of the pyramid, it is foolish to underestimate them and their power in the city.”
“The Sorceress wants to be like the Good Lich,” Del pointed out. “That’s what she wants from him. The secret to his power.”
“Yes,” said Adley. “But it is impossible. As I said, most magic is a science, and if you are not practiced with that science, you cannot use it. The Sorceress’s powers depend on her lifeblood, and lich-dom is not a possibility with the skills she possesses. However, the Sorceress does not believe this, and thinks the Good Lich keeps the secret from her.”
“He just wants to make the deal for the food and the knights’ protection,” said Huck. “He knows he can’t help her…”
“That’s what we believe, yes,” said Adley.
“So the Sorceress is out of luck… and Lelidua has trouble on the horizon,” said Huck.
“A great deal of trouble,” said Adley. “But as long as the Sorceress holds power, nothing will happen, the trade will not occur.”
Huck stroked the stubble on his chin. “So – what? You talk like you already have a plan.”
“Perhaps I do. But it’s not my plan. It’s the plan of that which I serve.”
“And what is that?” Del asked.
“The city, my girl. I serve the city. The city demands change. It is inevitable. It wills us to act whether we want to or not.”
“You want to kill the Sorceress,” Huck guessed out loud.
Adley changed her voice to a whisper. “It must be done.”
“And you want our help.”
“Yes, I – we – do.”
“And who’s we? The nobles, the guild? The mob, as you called them?”
“As a city druid, I am in touch with the ebb and flow and demands and needs of our town, whether they are clear to others or not,” said Adley. “What others see as chaos, I see as a disorderly but moving pattern. The Sorceress is killing this city. The city will fight back.”
Del chewed at her fingers, but still spoke. “When you cut, you cut deep,” she said, remembering what Ivaile had said in her dream.
“Yes, Del. We need to cut deep.”