Three burgers stood tall on Yzhemal’s nicest wooden plates. Buns, ketchup, meat, lettuce, and tomato. Alyssa had skipped over onions, cheese, pickles, and many other things that she might otherwise have. With the brothers so used to such bland food, she didn’t want to overwhelm them. Given the lack of tomatoes anywhere, she felt fairly certain that the ketchup and tomato slices alone would be exotic enough for them. To further enhance the tomatoes, each plate had roughly a third of a tomato sitting to the side. A way to eat it without getting it mixed with the rest of the flavors.
Lazhar, who Yzhemal had fetched while Alyssa was cooking, leaned to one side and then the other. His fingers curled through his beard nonstop. On the other side of the table, his brother merely stared with a frown.
“Oh just eat already,” Alyssa said as she picked up her own burger and bit right into it.
She almost started tearing up at the thought of never having a hamburger again. Instead, she just took a second bite and quaffed those feelings with a small drink of the strong ale. The burger wasn’t one hundred percent perfect. Yzhemal obviously lacked a modern propane grill. Or even a metal grate to cook over. He just had a metal—probably iron—stand that went above the fire that one could hang pots from. She had to cook in one of those iron pots. Figuring out how to flip the patties without a proper spatula had nearly wound up with them burned.
The open fire did lend a slightly different flavor to the meat. Something a bit more woody. It wasn’t bad. Unless that taste was previous meals that hadn’t been properly cleaned from the pans.
Alyssa was trying to not think so hard on that.
Seeing her eat, the brothers finally mimicked her actions and took moderately large bites. Between her own bites, Alyssa watched. Neither spat it back out. They both chewed for a moment before swallowing.
“Not bad,” Lazhar said as he took a second bite.
“A bit much. I can hardly tell where one thing ends and another starts.”
“That’s probably the ketchup,” Alyssa said. “The red paste you saw me pouring on. It’s made from the fruit sitting on your plates, but it has so many herbs and spices added in it that its almost unrecognizable as a tomato.”
In an almost disappointing flash, Alyssa finished off her burger. Yzhemal and Lazhar took a bit longer, but they finally finished. They then ate their tomato slices which they seemed to enjoy a whole lot more.
“Interesting,” Yzhemal said, actually smiling at the red fruit in his fingers. “Sweet, yet somewhat bitter at the same time.”
“Glad you think so. That leads me to my second gift.” Leaning over to her backpack, she pulled out a glass canning jar filled with red goop and a few sheets of paper she had stapled together. A part of her really wanted to just spread as many things from her home around the world as possible. As Iosefael might say, it would mess everything up. Especially in the future—assuming this world turned into an Earth-like future within a thousand or so years. Archaeologists would go crazy upon discovering a staple, modern paper, and a canning jar in the ruins of this village. It would be her little prank.
Suddenly startled by a disturbing thought, Alyssa placed the papers down in the center of the table. “Can either of you read this?”
The two leaned forward to stare at it before Lazhar nodded his head. “I can. Whoever wrote this must have had a steady hand.”
“Mechanically steady,” Alyssa said with a sigh of relief. The printing press must not have been invented yet. Without it, there were no means for the masses to really learn to read. Nor any reason to. Everyone spoke English, so she had assumed that English text would be fine, but she never considered that nobody would be able to read it for the simple reason that they couldn’t read anything at all.
Though, considering again, she should definitely look into ways of magically copying items. Aziz had mentioned something along those lines. Maybe there were proper books proliferated throughout the world, just with magic instead of a machine.
“This,” she said, “is a guide—a treatise on how to turn these seeds into proper tomatoes.” She gently shook the jar of tomato guts. The jar, she had filled based on the directions from the internet. Internet. Ah, how am I supposed to get along without you. She would definitely be missing the convenience. “Honestly, I don’t know if these will grow.” They had been in her refrigerator for a while. “The land might not support them or maybe the climate will just be bad. I’ve never grown them myself. But these are all the seeds I can get and they’ll go to waste anyway, so go ahead and try. You can get more seeds by slicing grown tomatoes open and scooping out the innards, but they’re perfectly fine to eat. The green leafs that will grow might be slightly poisonous though, so don’t eat those. I know neither of you are farmers,” she said to the silent pair, “but maybe you can pass those instructions on to one of the other people around the town.”
“Doable,” Lazhar said, looking over the sheets of paper. He actually looked more interested in the paper itself rather than the text and images printed on them.
Oh well. As long as he could actually read the text, he could be fascinated with the paper all he wanted. Alyssa turned back to Yzhemal. “So, was that enough bartering for a room? Or do I have to go set up my tent?”
“Fine lass. You saved me from making a meal this evening, I suppose. Do what you want, you know your way around here.”
“Thanks! I appreciate it. Don’t worry. I’ll be out of your hair early in the morning. I’m planning on setting out for Lyria.”
That got Lazhar to look up from the papers. “Alone?” At Alyssa’s nod, he frowned. “I can’t stop you, but I should warn you, it will be dangerous. If you would have left with most of the other travelers, the mountain path would have been much safer. Every year, immediately after the festival ends, the harpies get riled up from all the travelers. It’s usually a good month before things fully calm down.”
Alyssa hummed. “Tell me a little about the harpies and the mountain pass.”
Leaning back, Lazhar scratched at his scraggly beard. “Most of the time, they mind themselves and we don’t bother them in return. Sometimes a sheep or cow will go missing, but that’s a small price to pay to avoid having a person carried off to the mountaintops. But the mountain pass is their territory. They might ignore the occasional traveler, but the festival carts, wagons, and people make a lot of noise and disturb them a great deal.”
“Are they intelligent?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like you or me. Can they talk? Reason? Or are they like regular birds.”
“Well, I ain’t never seen one up close. Don’t think they talk though. Figured I would have heard stories from the travelers if that were the case. As for the mountain path itself, it’s fairly straightforward. The river cuts through and the path follows along the side. Fairly flat terrain. There are a few caves along the route that travelers use as shelter. It’s a three day journey from one end to the other by foot.”
“Three days?” That was longer than she had expected. A flat path sounded nice though, she had been expecting an uphill climb followed by a downward slope. “How far is it to Lyria?”
“Walking the whole way? You might be able to make it there in two weeks if you make good time, including the mountain pass.”
Two weeks. Alyssa slumped back in her seat. Even rationing her emergency food wouldn’t last her that long. And walking for two weeks straight? She was physically fit. Carrying around wood and boxes in her department store ensured that much, plus the regular trips to the gym. But walking-for-two-weeks fit? That might be a bit much. At the same time, maybe it was something of a relief. Hadn’t the Oregon Trail taken six months or so? And it had been filled with disease and famine.
Though, now that she thought about it, there was no guarantee that this two week journey would be free of plague. She did have modern medical knowledge. Boil water before drinking, how fleas enabled diseases to be transmitted between people and animals like rats, the importance of cooking meat, washing foods and hands. And so on and so forth. Of course, convincing others that she wasn’t crazy and that her ‘rituals’ worked might be another problem entirely. There were stories of doctors as recently as the late nineteenth century not washing their hands because they believed that if they couldn’t see anything, there was nothing there.
Once again, Alyssa found herself despising medieval existence.
“There are villages dotted along the way,” Yzhemal said. “Nothing as big as Teneville until you reach Lyria, but you shouldn’t have to pack more than three days worth of food at a time.”
“Well that’s a relief at least.” She had guns, but hunting with them? Even if she managed to kill something, turning a carcass into proper food wasn’t part of her skill set. It probably wouldn’t be hard to figure out. Animals were like… all food and bone, right? There would probably be a lot wasted though. Didn’t carcasses need to be drained of blood? She hadn’t looked up slaughterhouse techniques before setting off.
Foraging for fruits was almost certainly not an option. While she might recognize an apple hanging from a tree, there were so many toxic plants and berries on her Earth that could easily be confused with edible ones. Here on some strange planet, eating something that looked like a huckleberry could get her killed. Even things that looked familiar could be as alien as anything else around. Eating something she thought was an apple might just be a toxic fruit avoided by the locals.
“How expensive would that be?” Alyssa reached into her pocket and pulled out everything she had received from Yzhemal. “I really have no reference to how much this is worth, and it’s about all I have.” Aside from the things she wanted to sell after learning more about the local money.
“You really don’t know anything, do you?”
With a sad sigh and a shake of her head, Alyssa said, “Nope. I got here through magical accident.” There was no point in hiding it. They had to suspect. Aziz had figured out most of the truth after only a short discussion. Unless she learned some things, everyone she met would know. “Everything here is strange to me. I haven’t heard of any places around, none of the landscape looks familiar, and we don’t have anything like monsters and harpies back where I’m from.”
Lazhar leaned forward with a small smile. “But you speak our language. And you have heard of Tenebrael.”
“That’s… true.” She didn’t know why everyone spoke English. As for Tenebrael, the less said, the better.
But Lazhar’s small smile grew. “Then you can’t be that far away from home. I’m sure you’ll find your way.”
“That’s what I’m hoping to find in Lyria.”
“Well, we can’t let you go ignorant, can we brother?”
Yzhemal rolled his eyes, but nodded after a little prodding from Lazhar. “Fine. I suppose we can teach the lass a few things.”
“After all,” Lazhar said, resting his hand on the jar of tomato seeds. “She gave us such fine gifts. These tomatoes will be a profitable novelty for you. I’m sure they’ll more than make up for some minor inconvenience.”
“If they actually grow.” He sighed and reached forward, grabbing one of the squared bronze bars. “This is a prav. The silver ones are called medi and are worth six prav. Altus are flat golden squares, worth eighteen medi. A meal here costs anywhere from one prav to a full medi, depending on exactly what they want.”
“So long as you remain frugal,” Lazhar said, “you should be able to get to Lyria on no more than three medi. Most villages between here and there will be quite accommodating. They’re used to travelers. People will help out if you need it.”
“Good to know,” Alyssa said as she settled in to listen to the brothers talk.