Strange Lands

Brenna R. Singman

Alexander blinked his eyes open. A clear blue sky with lingering fluffy clouds painted a serene vision. In a sudden instant of panic he bolted upright and cupped his stomach where he expected his guts to fall out. He only met the soft touch of a brown tunic. Sufficiently startled, Alexander eased against a nearby wooden wall of what appeared to be a storefront of some old farm in the Midwest. In the distance, cows mooed and chickens squawked. How badly had he screwed up that Tommy and the gang ditched him in the country? How long had he been out from the stab wound?

"Oy!" a gruff voice called over his head. A heavyset man in a grease stained apron banged on the wall. Alexander crawled away from him and the window. "This ain't a church or charity. Git!"

"S-sorry," Alexander said. He found his footing and walked away from the wooden hut and its billowing smoke stack. He could see the sign more clearly now: a hammer and sword crossing each other at the heads. It was even more quaint than he thought a Midwestern town should be, but he was still woozy as he plodded through the dirt streets with broken cobblestones that did more to trip him up than give him sturdy ground.

Food. He needed something to eat now that he knew his guts were still in place, although food was what got him in trouble. It was hard to discern which direction there might be a food sesller. Most of the structures looked the same with wooden planks or logs, thatched roofs, and sometimes a smaller building beside it that sheltered animals. The smells also confused him. His nose stung with the quickly shifting breeze that carried manure, then something like french fries, and then a floral scent like his girlfriend's lavender baths. That brought a new ache to his gut.

Alexander turned a corner in an area of the city where the streets had become properly paved in the tastefully mismatched stones. The newest aroma that consumed him was too much to bear. His stomach groaned so loudly, he was sure it turned a few heads. Outside of a tall wooden building with carved stone accents around the door and windows was an array of square tables with simple clay dishes on them. Each plate overflowed with hunks of seared meat, dollops of creamy potatoes cupping a scoop of rich yellow butter, and steaming green vegetables that looked something like a mix of asparagus stalks and lima beans. The dangling placard was made of beaten bronze with a soldered rose over an inset loaf of bread.

No one around gave the feast any mind. A food heist in broad daylight? He had accomplished harder tasks. Thankfully Tommy and the gang must have tossed him in this little town with appropriate clothes so he blended in with everyone else's Renaissance attire. He walked down the street, past the divine feast, and turned down a small alley beside the restaurant. Then he doubled back and crept to the corner. Alexander steeled himself against the intoxicating scent. He didn't want to make any mistakes in a town he didn't know. Even yokel cops could be brutal to outsiders.

The open windows let out the sounds of men in deep discussion. They spoke eloquently, not at all like one would hear in the grimier streets of Chicago where he had last been. Someone was addressed as Your Grace, which gave Alexander pause, but he shook his head. It didn't matter what these loonies were up to. He ducked below one of the open windows, snatched a plate, and raced back into the alley, running until he reached the next road over and then walking as quickly as he dared without causing suspicion. He tore into the seared meat, and the juices dribbled down his bare chin. He took another bite, and then followed it up by biting into some of the steamed stalks. They were soft, with a gentle snap. He used the rest of the stem to slide the potatoes into his mouth. He was certain he could die happy.

As he ripped off another chunk of meat, he heard a distinct, "Ahem" behind him. He tried to ignore it, hoping it was some suit talking to someone who was less of a misfit in the town. The heavy hand on his shoulder told him he was mistaken.

"Good afternoon, sir," said the man in the red cloak. The hilt of a sword stuck out from beneath the opening, sitting nicely in a leather holster against his pants and black tunic. "Quite a meal there. Have you the coin for it?"

"Uh," Alexander swallowed his bite. "Not anymore or else I wouldn't have the meal, y'know?"

"Wise words from a cheap man. Stealing from the king is punishable by death."

"King?" Alexander nearly choked. He didn't get any clarification as he was dragged back to the restaurant where the crowd of men had moved outside.

Five others were dressed identically to the man who had caught Alexander. One wore a simpler gray cloak over a crisper blouse and slacks. But most damning of all was the man dressed in a black cloak with gold accents and bore a heavily jeweled crown. The king eyed Alexander for a moment from squinting dark eyes pushed up by his rounded cheeks. He crossed thick arms over his belly and nodded to the simpler dressed man beside him.

"What say you, lord advisor? You did mention that only a mindless misfit wouldn't know a feeble incantation such as this. Is this your man, Sir Tommy?"

Alexander's insides turned to ice, and he feared he might see that lunch a second time. Sir Tommy, his crooked grin reaching from ear to ear, nodded back to the king. "If he knows what's good for him, he'll come along quietly, your Grace."