Alexandra thought Mister Jack Roebuck an oddity. She’d been around for eighteen years and she’d never once seen such an odd stranger. He had an accent like one of the backwoods farmers from the western plains, thick and flowing with provincial flair. Yet, he could hold a conversation about as well as some of the literate folks from the cities down south. His clothes were colorful, a blue fabric for his pants and the remnants of a deep red tunic he wore, yet he claimed they were cheap and he needed replacements. And he was tall, easily a head over the tallest man in their town, with a thick and sturdy build that reminded her of an ox. Maybe calling him a half-giant was a mistake- he was too eloquent and refined to be one of them.
At least he was easier on the eyes than an ox, she reckoned. What really got her was his odd demeanor and what he talked about. "Trucks" and "automobiles" and "aeroplanes" were foreign. He mentioned a train, big mobile engines that hauled good across the land. He said they had the exact same thing, but that they didn't use any magic to propel it! Just burning a fancy kind of oil inside a machine to make it move, and that's what they called an engine. Almost all their vehicles used it, if they weren’t dragged by a beast of burden. "How could it be an engine if it didn't use magic?" She asked.
Roebuck just laughed at her, keeping his eyes affixed on the road ahead of them when he answered. "Well, I don't know. I just fixed the dang things when they broke."
They kept up their idle conversation, until they crested a hell and saw Brookheim, her home. She hummed and floated Adalard’s equipment behind her. The small brick buildings and the farms, mills and cottages stretching out from it were all she really knew. She’d visited other towns on errands, but they were a lot of the same. She'd contented herself with books detailing all the strange lands she wasn't likely to visit. Her family still needed her around, and unless she got swept up by some Prince Charming to go on adventures, she was likely to stay there. For a long, long, while.
It wasn’t like she found any of the rough village boys fine suitors, anyways. That Prince Charming wouldn’t be so bad to have around, she thought, if it got her out of her boring farm life. She couldn’t quite make out what Roebuck was, but he certainly wasn’t royalty nor did he have any charm. He talked loudly, cracked jokes and quickly ingratiated himself with Adalard, much to her chagrin. The man must’ve come from a farming village just like her family did.
"So are you from a village called Roebuck?" She asked all of a sudden as the thought crossed her mind. When young men and young women came of age in Hesse, they usually took their village's name and added it to their own- or they'd been in an apprenticeship long enough to earn a title, like Tannerman or Baker. Alexandra Brookheim was what she went by when anyone from out of town asked. Adalard would’ve gone by Fisher, or maybe something reflecting his agricultural inclination.
"What? No." Buck shook his head. "It's my family’s name. My dad was called John Roebuck, and my momma took his name, see, she was called Lisbeth Roebuck, but before she was that her name was Rose."
"Family name?" She'd heard of some places that had one name for their family. But roe deer? They weren’t exactly royal animals. The thought of some noble in a palace taking the name of such a lowly creature made her laugh. Usually they preferred more regal animals. “Your family’s named after a deer?”
"Well, if you put it that way, yeah! But it's just a name. Like I said, most folks just call me Buck." He laughed, but Alexandra found it such an oddity he let himself be called by an animal's name. "Some folks even say Bucky, or Buckwheat, even, like how ya might say Addy, short for Adalard. Or Alex, or Lexie, if ya prefer. Where we headed?"
"Bucky, huh?" Alexandra snorted. What a funny name for a strange man. "Brookheim. It's where we live! We're having a big breakfast, and Addy here as you saw, he likes catching fish for us. You, uh, look like you might have a big appetite."
That got a grin out of the big man. "Oh, really? I appreciate the hospitality.”
They kept walking down the road, passing a few farmers tending to their fields in the early morning. It wasn’t quite harvest season, and the upcoming festival wasn’t for the next few months. The days passed by uneventfully, and many times Alexandra found herself done with her duties in the afternoon with plenty of spare time. They gave their greetings to the bare-chested Miller- who gawked at Buck’s height but didn’t ask questions. Buck stared a long while at Miss Carter- with her bow, horse and small cart, she dragged a deer behind her. They passed her with a friendly wave on their way back to Alexandra’s home.
A few minutes passed on their walk, before Buck looked around, long past any of their neighbors. “I’m not trying to be rude or anything, y’all, but I got a question for ya.”
Alexandra stepped past a lump of dirt in the middle of the road, her mind on the meal she'd be helping prepare when the three would get home. Adalard could handle the fish and Alex would chop the vegetables with mother. "Go ahead and ask."
"Why are y’all all not wearing any shirts? Yer halfway nekkid and uh, it’s a little strange to see." Buck asked plain and simply. Alexandra looked down to her compact breasts and felt her face redden a little. Every little thing reminded her of her- petite figure, compared to the other provincial women. Her skirt pulled around her legs but she didn't break her pace. "Back home all the women wore tops and uh, covered up. Their breasts. I mean. Don’t it get a little drafty?"
"Your women cover up?” Alex looked back at him. She puffed out her chest. “W-well, it’s just what we do! The gods gave us all this and it’s such nice weather, why’d you want to cover up what the gods gave you?”
Addy snickered. "If they did, they didn't give you much to cover up, sis!"
"Oh- shut up!" cheeks turned a brilliant crimson that stretched up her face. Her hand turned Adalard upside the head with the slap she delivered unto him. Then she turned and shot their 'guest' a tempered, even look while her brother muttered. "Sorry! He doesn't know what he's saying and he just acts like a pest sometimes. It’s just- normal, here. You’re the odd one for covering up."
Buck wore a raised eyebrow and a curious, tight expression. "Right. Is that why ya ain’t got a top on?"
"Why do you? It's hot and they get covered in sweat. I only wear them if I have to work." Alexandra turned back. "And because I like the looks I get."
"You don't get many looks, Alex-urk!" Adalard caught a well-deserved and precisely delivered smack again. This time with a telekinetic palm, because he’d moved out of arm’s reach. "H-hey! Come on, I'm only being honest!"
“Then stop being honest.” Alex warned him bluntly. “Look what it gets you!”
Buck chuckled. “Y’all must love each other.”
“More than you can imagine.” Alex snorted and kept up her pace. Adalard rubbed his cheeks and pouted. "In the cities they like slimmer women!"
"Sis- we aren't in a city. "
Buck let out a grunting sound and picked up his pace to match the two. Alexandra noted the thick, heavy book he had and it made her heart tingle a little. If only she could get a look inside of it… It read Codex- something, his muscular arm blocked it. "I'm gonna have ta' agree with your sister, Addy. Yer bein' a little rude."
"Oh, thank you. Honestly he just says the most damnedest things."
Buck smiled with his thin lips showing his white teeth. Alexandra turned her eyes away- even under the top she could tell he was built for strength. He just seemed taut and full of energy, a great big friendly man he was. Not like the rough, wiry village boys she couldn't court. "I mean, me personally, I like slimmer girls. So, I like what I see."
"T-Thanks." She coughed out as they approached the homestead, through a small thicket onto a dirt lane. As far back as father and grandfather could count, they'd owned the farm- even through the changing of Hesse's hands. Being on the outskirts of Brookheim and Brookheim being on the outskirts of Hesse, in an isolated part, they didn't worry too much about what went on elsewhere. They merely paid their town's dues (and some extra) and kept to themselves. Alex wished she were in those glowing mountain top cities, studying with the mages they had there.
The low, squat building housed all their family, with many new additions made to it over the years. Uncle Tomas and Aunt Angelica and their kids- Grandmother Willow even had a spot to stay when she dropped by on occasion. Smoke poured from a fire out back: mom and dad must have already started breakfast! She picked.up her pace and dragged Adalard with her. They left Buck behind as they burst around the side of the house, both their catches in tow. "Mom, dad, we're home!"
"Hm? Oh, good morning!" Mom smiled. She sat beside the small firepit. A metal pan sizzled atop the fire. Alexandra could smell frying vegetables and the scent of herbs wafting through the air. Mother had a chair pulled up and a small basket of eggs and vegetables from the garden, ready to be put in the pan at a moment's notice. With the splattering oil she wore a thin top that hugged her slender frame quite nicely... Even if Alexandra knew she herself couldn't quite fill it out. "I thought you two had gone off fishing- and what a catch you've got!"
"Yeah!" Adalard held up the dozen or so fish he'd gotten. Buck jogged around the corner and waved to mother. "I caught a lot of fish, Alex just read her books-"
"Oh Addy, I wasn't talking about the fish!" Mother grinned, pointing to Buck.
"Mother!" Alexandra barked. "I didn't catch him! He's just some poor stranger we found-"
Addy butted in. "That I found-"
"Oh, quiet!" The girl snapped, about ready to smack her brother again. She dispelled her magic, depositing the fish and equipment at Adalard’s feet. Then she gave her mother as polite a smile as she could manage. "We found him on the road and Adalard wanted to be hospitable, so we, uh, brought him over for breakfast! He says he doesn't even know where he is or how he got here-"
"Because he died and came from another world! Full of machines and stuff-" Adalard couldn't help himself. "Just like in those romance books you got from the traders with the naked-"
What? No- that couldn't be. She had those books locked up- not even mother or father knew about them! Nor the illustrations- she'd be castigated! "Hey you- were you going through my stuff!?"
The little boy's face sank as he recognized his mistake. Then he went on the defensive, steeling up his face and getting ready to tussle. "You're the one who left it open!"
"Oh- I'm gonna destroy you!" The screech that came out of her mouth would have woken the dead. It probably did, at least, judging by how the hen house erupted into a cacophony and even her mother looked shocked. But those were her private books- she paid for them! And no grubby little boy's paws should've been on them, reading about the scandalous things that went on in those pages- or seeing the lascivious sketches inside of them! Her anger boiled over as she tackled her little brother to the ground.
"Sis- Sis, stop, I didn't even read much!" The boy begged her to stop even as she gave him a thrashing. But when that didn't work he fought back- not that Alexandra even cared that they had a guest watching! She could barely get on top of Addy, though- the young man had grown up fast and despite his size he had more wiry muscle than she did. She struggled, sweat, and swore until she got her little brother's face planted in the dirt- mostly with the help of a few magical hands gripping him. "Hey, hey, stop it! Mom!"
Mother sighed. Alexandra huffed and puffed, wearing her victory in their latest scuffle like an invisible crown. "Don't read my books-"
"Alexandra! Adalard!" That booming voice could only belong to one man. Alex got untangled from her brother, scrambling to her feet and straightening up. Adalard soon followed, as straight as an arrow. Her father leaned out of the barn with a pail full of milk and dirt all over his face. "Stop fighting this instant! I raised you better than this!"
"Dear, let them settle themselves out!" Mother called, even as Adalard rubbed his scuffed up face and the grime on his trousers. Alex turned red as the beets simmering in the frying pan. "You know Addy isn't supposed to be in her books!"
Father stepped out of the smaller barn, carefully maneuvering the pail with him. He took slow strides down the hill with hard, chilly eyes aimed at the group. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Buck had taken a seat beside the firepit, to mother’s side. Their guest watched intently, and for some reason it made the embarrassing moment sting all the more for Alexandra. Her temper had gotten the better of her this once and now she was going to pay the price. "I know. But is that any way to act in front of a guest, young lady?"
"N-no sir." Alex shrunk. Her father stood just an inch taller than her, with corded muscle and a bit of a gut. Mother figured it was the beer he and Uncle consumed that gave them that extra bit of weight. Either way, he looked stout: she’d caught more than one well-deserved smack when she’d been foolish "But-"
"No buts." He thrust the pail of milk into Adalard's hands. Then he pointed to the fish the young boy had caught. "Young lady, put that book up, say sorry to your brother, and apologize to our guest for your behavior. Then, prepare that fish for us."
"Father-" She raised her voice to try and get a word in.
He bore a fierce scowl on his face. "Young lady, I will take those books you like so much and sell them back where they came from. I don’t want to hear a peep from you. Understood, girl?"
Her books? Sold? Her chest tightened up, and she reluctantly eyed the fish. She couldn't meet her father's eyes. It was always messy cleaning up the fish, usually Adalard did it, but... "Understood, sir."
"Good. Now get on with it. Adalard, you’re not clean of this either. Take care of that milk." Father got less resistance from Addy, who dutifully nodded and scurried off with the pail. Alexandra almost wanted to protest some more, but she couldn't, not with father stomping over to take a seat. Mother admonished him for his harshness, and they bickered for a moment. Then it fell away and they turned towards a more lively conversation.
It seemed Uncle and Auntie were still half asleep- but she saw her cousins standing up and at attention. They were all older than Alexandra, with the exception of Eugenius, a junior guard a year younger than Alexandra. All of their boys had signed up as guardsmen, about half of them worked at night and the others during the day. She hurried past the mix of tired men with their shields and spears and dyed cloth tabards. "Morning Alex," Eugenius called.
"Morning," she shot back as she entered the room she and her siblings shared. The girl ducked in and put her book- a primer on how to cast spells for enhancing one's beauty- away in her lockbox. She made sure to double check it was secured before she ran back out with the carving knife and cutting board in hand.
Buck, Mother and Father had gotten into a lively conversation while the vegetables steamed and popped. She set herself down on the smallest bench, grabbing the fish and a bucket, and-
“Alex-” Her father pointed to her, and she paused. The cutting board and the knife floated in her magical grasp.
“No magic. Do it by hand.” Her father turned back to speak with Buck.
Ales let out a dejected sigh before beginning her work. Dressing fish wasn't her favorite thing to do: the guts made her squeamish even when she could use her magic. But by hand? She hated it. But it was at father's command, so she went along with it. She ran the knife over the scales to pull them off, cut the head off to drain the blood, then slit the belly open. The guts and heads found themselves in separate pots for their uses, while the fillets she worked on went piece by piece to her mother's tray. There were perhaps a dozen or two fish to prepare, and Alexandra tried to work quickly.
The young woman listened in- and found herself a fly on the wall as she did. Buck talked and talked in his strange accent about how he was so lost and confused, and that he found their hospitality so gracious. Mother and Father seemed rather open with him, but even Alexandra could tell they found him bizarre. That was until Buck said something funny- about how living on a farm was his dream for the longest time, because he’d spent too much time in what he called a “damn city”. Father took it well and mother laughed. The details went beyond Alexandra and so she turned back to her work.
"Alexandra-" Father peered over the giant man's shoulder. "-you brought this young man home?"
"Huh?" She slipped up and nicked the web of her support hand with the knife. "Father, sort of- he we just invited him over for breakfast-"
"Why, he looks like one of those Highlanders, or a half-giant." Father grinned, even as Alexandra found a small rag to wipe her blood off. The cut stung. "I wasn't so sure when I saw him, but he seems like a nice lad. We could use some help around this place, don't you think? Some big, strong fella?"
Alexandra coughed. Was her father really suggesting what she thought he was? "We already have Aunt Angelica's boys!"
"They're busy guarding the town. They don’t hardly help out here." Father looked Buck up and down, before rubbing his chin. "I'll tell you this, Mister Roebuck, you seem nice enough to me. And you're the first man my daughter's brought home-"
Alexandra scowled but kept her tongue in her mouth.
"You can stick around. But you have to pull your weight." Father reached his hand out. The young lady's heart sank. "Today's not a working day, but we'll have something for ya, I bet."
"Oh- well that's exactly what I was about ta ask!" Buck laughed and gave father a hearty handshake. "Sounds good to me, sir!"