First Draft Excerpt from Gifts of the Mother

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There is a point near Castaic where the Grapevine starts to climb steeply. No problem for my Porsche, but semis and other heavy vehicles can't climb the hill at freeway speed, the north- and south-bound lanes actually pass over and under each other a couple of times and you have to pay attention due to the speed differentials. It's one of the few areas of Southern California where there aren't sprawling subdivisions, just a few small villages like Gorman and Newhall, the road and the mountains around you. Just before the big descent into the Central Valley, there's historical Fort Tejon. RaDonna had told me there was a border outpost there on the other side; we were entering territories held by the West Elves on the parallel world but they didn't have anything like modern Interstate highways or all their attendant businesses; it was much faster to follow our roads and make the transition to the other side closer to the Margrave's City.

I've been told the interchange between I-5 and California 99 used to be intuitive, but was re-worked sometime late in the last century so you have to keep left for California 99, which heads off to the right up the eastern side of the Central Valley. A little over twenty miles past that, I took California 58, which heads east over the Tehachapi Pass, but before it gets there goes through suburban Bakersfield and is the best way towards where the Margrave's City sits on the other side. About ten miles east of 99, we exited the freeway and turned northward again. The warehouse we'd seen before where the Elves cross-loaded their produce wasn't far from that point.

The parking lot was every bit as full as it would have been during the week. Human semi drivers were used to working odd hours and I had no evidence that the elves had anything like a weekend. One end of the warehouse was completely ordinary; loading docks for semis on this side that would distribute the fruits and vegetables to wherever they needed to go on this side of the gate. I'd been told they were marketed as 'organic' and therefore received premium prices. But there was a twelve foot high fence completely enclosing the receiving end and perhaps a hundred feet more. On that end were gleaming aluminum arches dedicated to (I presumed) The Smith, where the somewhat smaller and more rugged trucks they used to bring their produce from the other side would back into a more enclosed set of docks and perform the correct invocation as they did so, enabling them to 'cross over' and be unloaded on this side.

Beshogtowa was waiting for us. He was well over seven feet tall, broad enough to play a lineman in the NFL, and an athletic build despite his size. He was turbaned to hide to the curves of his elven ears that came to a sharp point. He had the rich chocolate skin characteristic of the West Elves, and his eyes were ever so slightly more pointed in the corners than a human's, just enough to notice if you knew what you were looking at. His pupils and irises were still round, though. Except for his ears, he could pass for human. He wore livery in a dark red and a brownish yellow - the Margrave's colors. He moved like a dancer - fluid but tightly controlled. I'd never seen him in action, but I was pretty certain he'd be a dangerous elf in a fight.

Without a word, he gestured for us to follow and strode off towards a door in the side of the warehouse served by semis. We had to hustle to keep up, but didn't waste our breath asking him to slow down. He wouldn't have slowed a twitch The Elves might have decided they owed us, but that didn't mean they didn't look down on us. I caught the door before it closed behind Beshogtowa and held it for Julie before following myself. We crossed under an arch at the far side of the warehouse, near the receiving end, and performed the invocation for The Smith. It worked, and we walked through into a different world.

The warehouse on this side of the gateway was smaller and dingier. It looked much older and more worn, and the building materials more primitive. More wood, less metal, and barely high enough for an elf to walk without banging their head on the rafters. There was no inventory on this side, only equipment and a few elves or mixed-bloods I presumed were mechanics. Following Beshogtowa out the door on the far side showed us a world far different than the one we'd been in a few seconds ago. The parking lot on this side was dirt, and unfenced. The aluminum arches marking the gateways were still present, but the trucks were smaller, mostly about the size of a U-Haul, with four or occasionally six wheels and an onboard 'box' rather than an articulated trailer and eighteen wheels. All of them bore marks of familiar companies from our side of the Gates - Ford, Mercedes, etcetera. Correspondingly, there were far more of them to keep the warehouse filled while semis were loaded out the other side. There was a fueling station with an above ground tank and a line four or five trucks long on each of the three pumps.

Beshogtowa was quick-marching towards a limousine, a Rolls of some sort, probably a couple decades old, dusty from the dirt roads but well-maintained. The West Elves couldn't afford to not take care of their equipment. He got in and sat there rather than holding the door; I opened the door for Julie and she climbed in before following myself. Without a word, our escort started the engine and left the dirt lot.

The road was dirt, albeit well-packed by the wheels of however many moving van-sized trucks. Near the warehouse it was wider, and we passed by fields of crops. California's Central Valley was the biggest breadbasket of our Earth; this side appeared to be wetter - we crossed a single lane wooden bridge over a river at least twenty feet wide, while all of the rivers south of Sacramento on our side were at best shrunken rivulets you could comfortably hop across by this time of year. We simply drove through two smaller streams in the few miles between the warehouse and the Margrave's City.

I'd presumed we'd be parking at the moat and heading into the walled town on foot, but instead he stopped a little ways outside the city and pointed to a barracks-like building, one of several surrounding a flat area of dirt perhaps the size of a football field. He still hadn't said a single word to us, but we figured out that was where we were supposed to go. The building itself might have been a hundred years old, a long low single-story rectangular wooden building, white paint fading. The sun would still be up for a half hour or so, but a light-bulb burned over the door on the narrow end. I got out, gave Julie my hand to help her, and we walked towards the building.

The door opened, and an elf-woman I presumed was RaDonna's great-grandmother stood there, saying, "Come in, come in," gesturing impatiently. Like Beshogtowa, she was tall - perhaps just under seven feet - with the rich chocolate or fertile earth-colored skin that seemed characteristic of the West Elves. She was thinner than Beshogtowa. Her clothes seemed to be silk dyed mostly in browns and oranges, and she wore a goodly amount of jewelry, mostly gaudy larger pieces in silver or platinum or gold with large stones set in them. At least four rings, one armband depicting sheaves of grain, a pectoral necklace based upon a fruit tree of some sort, and two earrings that did not match, one gold with a green stone, the other platinum (I think) with a pair of red stones. I wasn't certain whether they were rubies or what, but they were each several carats in size.

Inside the building was a hallway with a couple doors off of it before it opened into a wider area that looked like it had once been a barracks, but now was simply an empty floor of clean, well-swept hardwood. A few dim incandescent bulbs glowed wanly. For the moment, the sun through the few windows was brighter. A single narrow bed, something like an elongated twin built for elf-sized sleepers, was placed near the far end, a woolen blanket tucked hard and drawn tight. There was no pillow. "You," she pointed at Julie, "wait here. You," she pointed at me, "come with me." Her accent was something like that of a French-speaker who rarely spoke English, soft and musical, but her attitude was no-nonsense like a doctor.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on January 31, 2022 7:00 AM.

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