Backyard Birding Bliss

Backyard Birding Bliss

sneezingAaaaahhhhhh-CHOO!

That was my tenth sneeze in half as many minutes. My eyes were watery, my nose was alternately stuffy and runny, my throat was scratchy, and I was coughing so much, my ribs hurt.

Oh, no! Not a cold! I don’t need a cold right now, with spring migration in full swing! There are so many places I want to go hiking to take photos of birds I only see in the spring and fall!fever.jpg

I grabbed the digital thermometer and stuck it under my tongue. I paced while I listened to the low, regular beeps that denoted it was working. It seemed forever before it sounded the triplet of beeps that indicated it had registered my temperature.

99 point 9 on the Fahrenheit scale. Not good. My normal temperature was 97, and anything over 99 signaled a fever.

Goodbye, spring migration! I sighed heavily. I put the thermometer back into the medicine cabinet and walked out to the living room.

Elf facing rightCleric looked up from a book she was reading. Her eyes widened. “Mistress?”

“Wad is id?”

“Mistress, you do not look well!” She jumped from her chair and rushed over to me. She placed her hand on my forehead and cried out in alarm.Dragon birdwatching

“What is it?” Dragon looked up from the back of the couch. She had shrunk from her normal bulky form to the size of a large housecat and climbed up there to watch the backyard creatures.

“Dragon! I fear Mistress Writer is ill!”

Elf cleric close-upDragon leaped from the back of the sofa. She shapeshifted mid-leap into her customary guise of an elf maiden and was by my side in a split second. She placed her hand on my forehead and drew back in alarm. “You are correct, Cleric. Mistress Writer is ill.”

Before I could say a word, Dragon and Cleric were trying to hustle me toward the hall to my bedroom. “You must rest, Mistress. I will attend you in your bed chamber, while Cleric prepares some healing herbs.”

I shook off my well-meaning characters. “Would you two stop? I just have a cold. It’s no big deal.”

That might have sounded more convincing if it wasn’t followed by a burst of sneezing that ended in a fit of coughing. I grabbed for a nearby box of tissues.

Dragon frowned. “Mistress, I fear it may be much worse than that! It might be that alien disease brought to this world by the snow devils I inadvertently transported here in the magical conduit! Remember, it almost took the lives of seven of our comrades!”

I scoffed. “Nonsense!” Achoo!

Cleric nodded. “Mistress Writer is correct. Too much time has passed since the snow devils were here. Those who were susceptible to the disease they brought have already been afflicted and have recovered.” She drew her mouth into a thin, straight line, and she shook her head emphatically. “No, this could be something introduced into this world by those animals which I inadvertently let loose when I tried to read the story Mistress Writer was creating on her magic box.”

Arguing over which disease I may have contracted from which source, the two companions continued to tug me toward the hallway.

“It’s a cold.” I pulled away from Cleric and Dragon, leaving them standing there open-mouthed while I stomped off to the kitchen to heat up some broth.

The broth made me feel marginally better, and I went back to the living room. Dragon had resumed her mini-reptile form and was on the back of the couch again, and Cleric was in the recliner, fidgeting with her book. Both watched me surreptitiously, but neither spoke.

French-Doors-With-Screens

I walked over to the open French doors and stared out through the screen into the yard. The air was fresh, the sunshine bright, the birdsong pervasive. I sighed heavily.
 

Cleric set her book down and approached me timidly. “Mistress?”

I sneezed.

“Will we still be going on the nature hike today, as we had planned?”

I gave her a dirty look as I doubled over coughing.

Dragon snorted. “I daresay you would have quite the time trying to approach the animals with all that sneezing and coughing.”

tissuesI grabbed for the box of tissues.

Cleric tilted her head and furrowed her brow. She placed her hands on her hips and sighed. “I will make you a mixture of honey and lemon that will soothe your throat, and I will add a few herbs that will repress your coughing and quell your sneezing.”

“Thanks, Cleric, but I still don’t think I’d be up to a hike today.” Several more sneezes punctuated my statement.gazebo for blog

“Very well. We will stay home.” Cleric headed for the kitchen. She called over her shoulder to me. “You get your camera, Mistress. We will sit in the warm sun on your gazebo and I will ask the birds and furry creatures to pose for you.”

I shrugged. No point arguing. I grabbed a few more tissues and my camera. Moments later, I accepted the mug of warm liquid Cleric had prepared for me. The pleasant honey-lemon flavor masked the taste of the other medicinal herbs she had added, and I quickly drained the mug. She took it back to the kitchen and refilled it. We took the soothing beverage with us into the backyard. Soon, we were soaking up the warm rays of sunshine, and Cleric was charming the backyard critters into posing for me.


Before I even had my camera ready, Cleric squealed in delight. “Look! There is Black-capped Chickadee in that tree!”

I looked where Cleric was pointing and focused my camera. “The breeze has ruffled its feathers. It looks like it’s having a bad hair day.” The little bird flew off before I could get more than one photo, scolding chk-a-dee-dee-dee.

Black-capped Chickadee
“I think you insulted her, Mistress.”

I ducked my head and feigned a guilty expression. I took a sip of my beverage and looked around. “There is a pair of American Goldfinches on the remains of last year’s thistle over in the far corner of the yard. Do you think you can get them to pose for me?”

“Only if you promise not to insult them.” Cleric winked at me, then started conversing with the birds. With her help, I was able to get one photo of the shy female goldfinch, and four of the more social male.

“Perfect!” I smiled at Cleric.

“There is your friend, Robbie!” Cleric pointed at an American Robin foraging in the grass. I took a quick photo of the bird before a chipmunk came along and chased it.

American Robin
I got a shot of the chipmunk, trying to look innocent sitting in the grass where it had just chased the robin. Cleric called to it, and it came up on the gazebo to visit.

A pair of Northern Cardinals also came onto the gazebo and started eating the grapes Cleric had placed there for the animals. The female was a dainty little eater; the male attacked his food with much more gusto.

While the Cardinals were eating, a Common Grackle flew onto the railing and hopped up on the post, checking things out. His iridescent feathers shone brilliantly in the sunlight.

As the grackle flew off, Cleric called my attention to another bird. “Look, Mistress! Isn’t that the thrush we saw the other day?”

I followed Cleric’s gaze to a nearby tree and saw a Swainson’s Thrush. After I took a picture, I asked Cleric if she could coax the bird closer. A moment later, the Swainson’s Thrush was visiting with us on the gazebo and checking out the grapes.

I took some photos of some Baltimore Orioles in a tree, and Cleric coaxed one down onto the nearby hummingbird feeder.

Cleric convinced a Mourning Dove in the tree to come down for a visit.

Then she did the same thing with a Song Sparrow.

I spotted two White-throated Sparrows, late spring migrants I was surprised to see still in the area. Cleric could not convince them to come close, and they remained in the trees while I photographed them.

A male Red-winged Blackbird called from a tree, and I got a photo of him displaying for a couple of females. One female was on the ground, foraging, and the other was in the reeds at the back of the yard. All three ignored Cleric’s attempts to coax them closer.

Spotting a Yellow-rumped Warbler in the tree, Cleric started talking to it. In seconds, the bird, and several of its flock-mates, came down to pose on the nearby feeders.

The last photos Cleric arranged for me were a squirrel and a rabbit. By then, we were both ready to call it a day.

As we walked back inside, Cleric took my empty mug to the kitchen to rinse out. I suddenly realized I had not coughed or sneezed the entire time we were outside!

Bliss!

What will next week bring? More backyard birding? Another nature trek? A new adventure? Be sure to come back and join us for whatever is in store. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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You Didn’t Miss a Thing

You Didn’t Miss a Thing

Marge calling for quietCleric was sobbing, Dragon was growling, the deer were wailing and bleating, the raccoons were whirring, the birds were chirping, and the rabbit was thumping her foot and glaring at me. I was getting a colossal headache.

I held my hands up and shouted over the racket. “Hold it! Hold it!

Arrogant One facing rightThe din quieted for one blessed moment. Then my Arrogant One began screeching in his customary glass-shattering tone.

“I have nothing to do with this . . . this menagerie! I demand you tell this oaf to release me. At once!” He attempted to pull free of my Old Dwarf’s grip, but the stout figure held on tight.

I crossed my arms over my chest and glared at the annoying elf. “You assure me these animals are not illusions you have created?”

RabbitBefore my Arrogant One could reply, the rabbit thumped her hind foot again. “Ya don’t listen real good, do ya, sista? I told ya before, I ain’t no illusion!” She underscored this pronouncement with another thump of her foot.

I frowned at the furry creature. Then I sighed and nodded at my Old Dwarf. “Let the elf go.”

The old reprobate dropped the elf on his head and snickered. My Arrogant One scrambled to his feet, straightened his robes, stuck his nose in the air and started to sweep regally out of the room. He promptly tripped over the rabbit.

“He’s a clumsy lout, ain’t he?” The rabbit wriggled her nose at the elf, then quickly hopped out of his reach. The irate elf screeched something unintelligible at the furry critter, then stormed out of the room.

I sighed as I looked around. The mother deer’s eyes were pleading, as she stood protectively over her frightened baby. The other animals looked terrified, save the rabbit. She just looked angry. Her anger was mirrored in Dragon’s hard stare.

Cleric cryingI turned to Cleric, who was still crying. Tears rushed down her face, silent sobs shook her petite frame. “Suppose you explain what’s going on.” I tried to marshal my tone of voice to be reassuring rather than accusatory, but I must have failed, as Cleric only bawled harder.

Dragon growled. “I should think it obvious. Cleric attempted something for which she is untrained and inexperienced. She failed. These creatures were brought into this world because of her actions.”

“I only wanted to read the children’s story Mistress Writer was creating on her magic box.” Cleric stood there blubbering, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her robes.

I handed her some tissues and she mopped the tears from her face, then blew her nose. I waited for her to finish. “You were in my office? On my computer?” I raised an eyebrow.

Cleric nodded, shuffling her feet and fidgeting with her robe.

Dragon shook her head and growled again. “Why did you not wait for Mistress Writer? Why did you attempt to access the story on your own?”

I had to strain to hear Cleric’s hoarse reply. “Mistress Writer had gone shopping with Master Miles.” She paused, her cheeks burning, her eyes leaking fresh tears. “She was gone for so long! I did not think she would mind if I read the story without her. I have seen our Gypsy friend activate the magic box many times. I thought I remembered how he did it.”

“Obviously, you did not.” Dragon frowned. “Now we must do something about these intruders.”

The mother deer started wailing again. “Don’t let that beast barbecue my baby!”

 

 

Momma deer and fawn

I held my hand up again. “No one is going to barbecue anyone.”

Dragon growled again, dark smoke spewing from her snout. “We must eliminate them. They are a danger to us all.”

The rabbit thumped her foot. “Us? A danger? That’s rich, sista, coming from the beast with the fiery breath and the temper to match!”

I pushed the rabbit out of harm’s way with my foot, and I faced Dragon. “They don’t look all that dangerous to me.”

Dragon’s tail lashed, and she snarled. “The snow devils did not look dangerous, either. They almost caused the death of seven of our number.”

Miles scoffed. “You still have no proof the illness originated with them.”

“And you have no proof it did not. Dare we gamble that these creatures carry a dangerous, contagious disease that could wipe us out?”

I sighed and raked my hand through my hair. “I understand your concern, but we are not going to take extreme measures when we have no proof anyone is in danger.”

Dragon roared. “By the time we have proof, we could all be dead!” Her face was contorted with fear and anger.

I placed my hand on her scaly arm and stared up at her. “Let me take care of this.”

For many long moments, Dragon glared at me. Finally, she lowered her head and nodded. I could hear the whoosh as everyone – including me – let out their collectively held breath.

I turned back to Cleric. “I need you to be calm now. I need you to remember exactly what you did that caused the characters from my story to enter this world.”

Cleric nodded her understanding but was unable to calm down. She continued to blubber, wringing her hands and shredding the tissues I had given her.

Sorceress squeezed her friend’s arm and tried to help her focus. “If we go into Mistress Writer’s office, maybe you can show us what you did.”

Dragon scoffed. “Great idea. Maybe she can bring some more creatures from within the magic box into this world!”

“Yeah, ya did miss a few, sista.” The rabbit wriggled her nose at Cleric. “Ya might wanna bring my kids here, and the raccoons and the birds would, ya know, probably like ta see their moms again.” The furry creature frowned at Cleric and thumped her foot.

“But I do not know how I brought you creatures here!” Cleric was crying again. “I do not know how to bring the others here to you, or how to send you back to them!”

“Let us not capitulate to panic.” Sorceress patted her friend’s arm. “We will figure this out together.”

I furrowed my brow and raked my hand through my hair. “Dragon, I want your word you will not harm any of these animals while Cleric, Sorceress, and I go to my office.”

Dragon with smokeDragon stood there, black smoke rising from her nostrils. She narrowed her eyes but said nothing.

dwarf“Ye do na be worrin’ none aboot tha wee critters. I be keepin’ an eye on tha big beastie. She will na be botherin’ ’em any.” My Old Dwarf stared at Dragon, a defiant smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth. He slapped the flat of his axe against the palm his hand.

Dragon looked down at the diminutive figure and snorted. The dwarf did not back down. Finally, the beast lowered her head and whispered something in her friend’s ear. My Old Dwarf slapped his knee and doubled over. Tears streamed down his face as he whooped with laughter. “Ye be thinkin’ so, beastie? Wale, we just be seein’ aboot thet!”

The rabbit wrinkled her nose. She turned to me and shook her head. “Strange gang ya got here, sista!” She looked at my Old Dwarf again. He was still shaking with laughter. The rabbit tilted her head. “Ya gonna share the joke, bub? What did the ugly brute say ta ya ta tickle your funny bone?”

“Thet be atween me an’ tha beastie. All ye be needin’ ta be knowin’ be thet ye be as safe here now as a dwarf countin’ ’is money.”

“Good.” I beckoned to Cleric and Sorceress. “Let’s go see if we can figure out how to undo this mess.”

Miles started to follow us. I placed a restraining hand on my husband’s arm. “Honey, it’s going to be crowded in my office, and Cleric’s nervous enough as it is. Would you mind terribly if I asked you to stay here?”For today's blog 001

“Here?” Miles’ eyes grew round and big as saucers, and all color drained from his face. He looked at Dragon and my Old Dwarf. “I think I’d feel safer with you.”

“Ye be thinkin’ I be lettin’ tha beastie be makin’ good on ’er promise ta be charrin’ yer shoes wit yer feetsies still in em, laddie?” My Old Dwarf chuckled and winked at Miles.

Miles turned bright red and stammered a reply. “No! No, of course not!”

“Good. Then ye be keepin’ us company and be lettin’ tha lassies be settin’ this all ta rights agin.”

I gave my husband an encouraging smile and left the room with Cleric and Sorceress in tow.

In my office, I sat at my computer and brought up the story I had been working on. I read it over quickly, noting that nothing had been changed. I closed the word processing program and put my computer into sleep mode.

“Okay, everything should be exactly as it was when you entered my office earlier.” I pointed to my chair. “Sit here and try to remember what you did.”

Cleric sat down, but looked at the computer as if it were a coiled rattlesnake. “I . . . I do not remember.”cleric at computer

“Well, if you wanted to read the story now, what would you do?” Sorceress prodded her friend.

“I . . . I think I would activate the magic box?” Cleric’s inflection made it more a question than a statement.

I nodded and gave her an encouraging smile. “That’s right. Now, how would you do that?”

computer_keyboard

Instead of reaching for the mouse, Cleric started pecking at the keyboard.

“Wait! What are you typing?” I looked over Cleric’s shoulder, but only the icon with the words “Owner Locked” underneath it appeared on the screen.

“I am asking the magic box if I may see the story.” Cleric looked at me, wide-eyed and nervous. “Is that not what I should do?”

I frowned, but patted Cleric on the back reassuringly. “How are you asking it? What words are you typing?”

Sorceress intervened. “Mistress, mayhap it would be better . . . safer . . . if you had Cleric write the words on a parchment scroll rather than actually asking the machine.”

I nodded and handed Cleric a piece of paper and a pen.writing spell

I watched as Cleric painstakingly wrote out the request she had made of the computer. She was concentrating so hard, she stuck her tongue out the side of her mouth, wrinkled her nose, and squinted. When she was finished, she handed me the paper.

I raised an eyebrow. I couldn’t read a single word. “You wrote this in your native tongue?”

“Well, in the language of my order.”

“Huh?”

rabbit again“Get with it, sista!” I hadn’t noticed the rabbit had joined us, and I jumped when she addressed me. She thumped her foot and gave me a look that clearly said she thought I had just fallen off the turnip truck. “The dame’s a cleric, sista. She used the words she would use ta cast a clerical spell, the words she learned from her clerical order.”

Suddenly, it all became clear. Cleric had summoned the story, not accessed it. I frowned and rubbed my chin. “Then why didn’t all the animals from my story end up in this world?”

“How should I know, sista? Do I look like a cleric?” She thumped her foot again.

Ignoring the obnoxious rabbit, I turned to Cleric. “Do you think you can reverse the spell and send the animals back?”

“I . . . I do not know, Mistress. I can try.”

one more rabbit pic

The rabbit started thumping again, this time with both back legs. “Waddaya mean try? Try ain’t good enough, sista! Ya gotta be sure. I need ta get back ta my babies before they starve, and those baby birds and raccoons need ta get home ta their mommas! Ya can’t go sending us off ta oblivion, or ta the middle of some other story.”

Cleric turned pale as a ghost. Her chin trembled, and tears welled up once more in her cornflower blue eyes. “What if I fail, Mistress? What if I cannot send them all back to the right place within the magic box?”

Sorceress took Cleric’s hand and looked sternly at her friend. “Pshaw! It was a simple spell you used to summon them here. You could cast a reverse spell in your sleep!”

It was obvious Cleric didn’t believe it was so easy. I handed her more paper. “Why don’t you and Sorceress work on it? Write it down and don’t type it into the computer until you know you have it correct.”writing spell

Forty-five minutes later, Cleric and Sorceress nodded and Cleric gave me a brilliant smile. I squeezed Cleric’s arm and returned the smile. “Okay! Now don’t touch anything until I return.”

The rabbit and I went to the conference room. The rest of the animals were cowering behind my husband, while Dragon and my Old Dwarf engaged in a standoff in the middle of the room.

“That’s enough of that!” I shot them both a warning look, then walked over to the animals. “It’s okay now. Come with us. Cleric will send you all home.”

The rabbit and I gently herded the other animals there into my office. The mother deer gave Cleric a doubtful look. She sidled up to me and whispered, “Are you sure this lady can send us home?”

“I am. Just have faith and everything will be fine.”

“It bedda be, sista!” The rabbit thumped her foot once more before joining the other animals standing mext to Cleric.

Cleric took a quick headcount. Once she was certain all the animals she had brought into this world were present in the office, she began. Ten minutes later, as Cleric slowly and meticulously typed her spell on the computer keyboard, the animals began to fade. Five minutes after that, all that remained was a voice, sounding as if coming from a great distance. “Ya did it, sista! We’re home!”

Cleric almost collapsed on the keyboard, weeping with joy. I grabbed her and moved her away before she could accidentally push any other keys.

At dinner that night, my Gypsy addressed me. “Your Arrogant One mentioned you had some visitors today. Did we miss anything?”

I raised my eyebrows, Miles turned white, Dragon snorted a huge cloud of smoke, my Old Dwarf doubled over laughing, and Sorceress groaned. Cleric clasped her hands in her lap and looked at my Gypsy with guileless eyes. “No, you did not miss a thing.”

What will my characters get into next? Be sure to return next week and join us for our next adventure. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Dragon’s Not the Only One With a Problem

Dragon’s Not the Only One With a Problem

For today's blog 001“What is Dragon’s problem?”

I looked up from my computer, and my husband leaned over and gave me a quick peck on the cheek before continuing. “I know she’s moody most days, but she’s really outdoing herself today.”

I put my finger over my lips, trying to signal Miles not to say any more, but he kept talking.Charing shoes 2

“Do you know she threatened me? Again! She told me she’s going to char my shoes with my feet still in them. She hasn’t said that in ages, and now she’s threatened me with it three times in the last hour!”

“Ah, honey . . . this may not be the best time to discuss this matter.” I inclined my head and my eyes darted toward the back of the room.

Dragon in officeMiles looked over the mess and mayhem that was my office, and realized Dragon was standing next to the bookshelf in the alcove at the far end of the room. A toothy grimace spread across her reptilian face.

“Oops.” My husband turned bright red, then gulped. “I’m dead meat, aren’t I?”

Dragon put down the book she had been perusing, and fixed Miles with an icy stare. “I am not moody.”

Miles raised his eyebrows. “If you say so.”

“I do.” She walked toward him, closing the gap between them in two steps, incredibly not disturbing any of the precariously positioned clutter with her great bulk.
Miles and Dragon
The huge beast towered over my husband. She leaned over, pushing her face right into his. She glared at him, nose to nose, for several long, agonizing moments, then straightened up and left the room without another word.

I jumped up and caught Miles by the arm and guided him into a chair as his legs turned to rubber. He looked at me, wide-eyed, with beads of sweat on his forehead. “Why didn’t you do something? She might have eaten me . . . or roasted me . . . or –”

“Oh, honey, Dragon would never harm you. She gets her giggles from intimidating you.” I gave him a peck on the cheek and affectionately tousled he hair. “Besides, it’s your own fault. I tried to tell you this was not a good time to talk about her.”

After he had calmed down, Miles got up and walked over to the door. He glanced into the hallway to make sure Dragon wasn’t standing there, listening. When he was certain the big beast had departed, he turned back to me. “So, what is her problem today?”

I sighed and dragged my hand through my hair. “She’s feeling guilty.”

“Why?” Miles sat down again.

“She believes that she’s responsible for the recent illness that incapacitated so many of her comrades.”

Miles furrowed his brow. “How could she be responsible?”

Snow devils on mountainI shrugged. “She’s convinced herself, since she can’t find any other source of the malady, that it must have been introduced into our world by the snow devils. And, you remember, she’s the one who inadvertently captured them in her magical conduit and brought them here.”

Miles tilted his head and rubbed his chin. “How can she be sure the snow devils were the source of the illness?”

I sighed again. “I don’t think she is sure, but she’s desperate to find the cause. She fears that such a disease could strike again.”

Miles scoffed and shook his head. “Knowing where it came from isn’t going to prevent it from happening again. And, anyway, she could be wrong. The virus or bacteria causing the illness could have come from anywhere. Since it didn’t affect us, it could have been a common germ from our own world for which your characters had no immunity.”

“I know. I pointed that out to Dragon. She dismissed that argument, saying she and Cleric weren’t affected, either, so it couldn’t have been a germ from this world. She thinks her explanation makes the most sense.” I sighed again. “Dragon is all too ready to assume blame for the whole incident. So, cut her some slack. Be nice to her or avoid her for a while until this all blows over.”

“And maybe I should invest in some fireproof shoes, in case I can’t stay out of her way?” Miles winked at me and left.

Two hours later, Cleric knocked on the door. “Mistress? Master Miles requested me to ask you if you could assist him upstairs.”

computer-and-monitorI looked up. “Uh, sure. Just let me save this story I’ve been working on.”

Cleric crossed the room and looked over my shoulder at the computer. “What are you writing about?”

“Oh, it’s just a silly kid’s story, with talking animals.”

“Oh, that sounds delightful! May I read it?”

“Well, it’s nowhere near finished yet, but sure, you can read it next time I work on it – probably sometime this afternoon, after I finish helping Miles.” I tilted my head and winked at Cleric. “Maybe you could even help me write it.”

About a half-hour later, I called down the stairs to Cleric, “I’ve got to go out for a while. Miles and I need to do some shopping. I’ll see you when I get home.

                                                                           *  * *
Elf facing rightCleric paced back and forth in the hallway outside my office door. She chewed on her bottom lip and wrung her hands. She scuffed her foot back and forth and straightened her robes. She walked to the foot of the stairs and looked up, staring as if willing me to walk in the front door. After a few minutes, she sighed and walked back to my office. She stood there for a few more moments before entering the room.

computer_keyboardMistress Writer will not mind if I look at the story without her being present. Cleric looked at my computer and hesitated. I have watched the Gypsy activate this machine countless times, when we characters used to sneak in here and read Mistress Writer’s manuscripts and look at her photographs. Now, how did he do it?  She began to tap on the keyboard.

 

                                                                   * * *
“Let’s try to get these groceries inside and put away as quickly as possible. I promised Cleric she could read that children’s story I’ve been working on, and I know she’ll be chomping at the bit.” I took two bags from the trunk of the car and headed for the door.

Miles grabbed two more bags and followed close behind. “Okay, but let’s be careful. I don’t want to run into Dragon.”

We reached the kitchen with no sign of Dragon. We placed the bags on the counter and started to go back for the rest of the groceries. As we walked through the living room, we were almost knocked over. My Old Dwarf came tearing past us, yelling, cussing, and waving his battle axe, in pursuit of a rabbit.

Dwarf chasing rabbit

“Ye be commin’ back here, ye consarned varmit! How did ye be gittin’ in the hoose, anywho?”

I grabbed my Old Dwarf as he made a second pass, chasing the rabbit around the room.

“Whoa! What are you doing? Put that axe down!”

“Yeah, ya big bully! Put that axe down!” The rabbit turned and scolded my Old Dwarf.

Rabbit yelling at Dwarf

My jaw dropped.

Miles grabbed my arm. “D . . . did that rabbit just say something?” My husband gaped at the small, white creature, who hopped over to stand in front of him.

“Hey, bub, don’t cha know it’s rude ta stare?”

I sighed. “Okay, not funny. Where’s my Arrogant One?”

“You mean this is one of the elf’s illusions?” Miles wiped his brow and looked relieved.

“It must be.” I frowned.

“Hey, sista, do I look like an illusion?” The rabbit thumped her hind foot and glared at me.

I turned to my Old Dwarf. “Find the elf.”

He nodded curtly and took off for the garden shed.

sorceress-facing-rightI heard footsteps behind me and turned to see Sorceress walking up the stairs. She nodded a greeting to Miles and me and walked over to stand with us. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared at the rabbit, who was now wandering around, inspecting the room. “I see you have met our visitor.”

I nodded, still frowning. “How long has she been here?”

“I am not sure, but some of her friends are in the conference room.” She raised an eyebrow and grimaced.

“Well, I just sent my Old Dwarf in search of my Arrogant One. As soon as the elf is here, he can get rid of the visitors.”

“Oh, these are not the elf’s illusions.” Sorceress shook her head.

“Then what?” My frown deepened.

“Toldja, sista. I ain’t no illusion!” The rabbit was standing in front of me again, a smug look on her furry little face.

“Then where did you come from?” As I realized what I said, I snorted and shook my head. “I don’t believe I’m trying to have a conversation with a rabbit.”

“Why not?” The rabbit looked insulted.

Rabbit

“Rabbits don’t talk.”

“Oh yeah?” The smug creature grinned.

I turned back to Sorceress. “You said this was not one of my Arrogant One’s illusions. So, where did a talking rabbit come from, and why is she here?”

“I think you best seek those answers from Cleric.”

Before I could inquire about Cleric’s part in all this, my Old Dwarf came back in, dragging my Arrogant One by the collar. The elf was screeching in his normal glass-shattering pitch. “Let go of me! I demand you release me this instant, you oaf!”

 

“As ye be wishin’, elfie.” The old reprobate deposited the elf at my feet.

“Sorry, we apparently don’t need him after all. I’ve been informed the rabbit, and several other visitors, are not his illusions.”

“Oh, well. No harm be done ’em.”

“No harm? Why you . . .”

But we didn’t get to hear what my Arrogant One had to say. At that moment, a large deer bolted up the stairs, wailing. “My baby! That beast is going to barbecue my baby!”Deer

Miles jumped back out of the deer’s way, pulling me with him. He gaped at the panicky animal, then turned to me. He looked almost as panicked as the deer. “Honey? What’s going on?”

Over the wailing and bleating of the deer, I shouted, “Why don’t we go down to the conference room and try to find out?”

The deer snorted and galloped down the stairs, the rabbit hot on her heels. Miles, Sorceress, and I followed at a more dignified pace. After a moment’s hesitation, my Old Dwarf grabbed my Arrogant One by the collar and ran after us, dragging the screeching elf behind him.

I stopped dead just inside the doorway of the conference room. On the one side of the room were the deer, the rabbit, a fawn, a trio of baby raccoons, and some baby birds. On the other side of the room was Dragon, glaring at the assembled animals and spewing black smoke. Cleric was in the middle, facing Dragon. Her arms and legs were spread wide, as if shielding the animals from Dragon, and tears were streaming down her face.

Cleric protecting animals

“Ya bedda do sometin’ quick, sista! Ya got yerself a baaaad situation here!” The rabbit hopped over and stood next to me. “Ya ain’t gonna let that there big, scaly brute barbecue us poor, defenseless little animals, now are ya?”

“What in the name of Sam Hill is going on here? Where did these animals come from?”

At my explosive outburst, everyone turned and stared at me. For a long few moments, you could hear a pin drop. Then chaos broke loose as Cleric, Dragon, and all the animals started talking at once.

Where did these animals come from? What part did Cleric have in their appearance? Why does Dragon want to barbecue them? Be sure to come back next week and see how this baaaad situation is resolved. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

 

 

First Nature Hike of the Spring

First Nature Hike of the Spring

Dragon reading to ClericI was on my way to the laundry room to see if the last load I had put in the washer was finished yet. The door to the conference room was open, and I saw Dragon leaning on her reading stand, discussing the contents of a book with Cleric.

I entered the room, and they both looked up. “Interesting reading?”

Dragon shook her head. “Very dry, Mistress.”

Cleric sighed. “We are still attempting to understand what happened last week, when everyone, save Dragon and myself, and you and Master Miles, were struck down by some mysterious malady. Dragon was consulting some ancient tomes.”

“Unfortunately, they have not yielded a single clue to the nature of the illness, nor to its source. And I still cannot discern why the four of us were the only ones not affected.” Dragon snorted a puff of black smoke. “It is very frustrating.”

I nodded. “I imagine so. Still, everyone has recovered from the illness and its effects. Is it important to research it now, after the fact?”

Dragon frowned. “If we are to avoid such a calamity in future, we need to understand what happened and why. I keep hoping I will find some reference to a similar situation in one of these historical records.”

Elf facing rightCleric rubbed her temples and sighed heavily. “I grow weary of all this research. I think what we all need is a diversion. Mistress, perhaps you and Master Miles could organize an outing for us? It has been a very long, cold winter, and you have taken very few nature photos. Now, spring is finally upon us. A good nature hike would be most enjoyable.”

I smiled and nodded. “That’s a great idea, but it’s a bit late in the day for that now. Perhaps we could go first thing tomorrow morning. Why don’t you see if anyone else is interested?”

“I will find everyone right now and ask them!” Cleric skipped out of the room, humming happily.

Dragon frowned. “I hope you do not mind, Mistress, but I will . . . what is that idiom you use? I will take a storm coupon?”

I smiled at Dragon’s attempt to use a modern phrase. “I think you mean a rain check.”Dragon with smoke bubbles

“Of course.” Obviously embarrassed, Dragon morphed to a pale blue, and smoke bubbles dripped from her snout. “Rain check. I will take a rain check.”

“You don’t want to go on an outing, now that the temperature doesn’t have you huddled in front of your illusory fireplace?”

“I think it best if I continue my research, Mistress. I really do fear an illness such as we just encountered could again befall us. I need to understand where it originated, and why only some were affected.”

I shrugged. “Very well, but if you change your mind, you know we would love to have you join us.”Elf

An hour later, I was folding the laundry I had just removed from the dryer. Cleric entered the laundry room, scuffing her feet and wearing a dejected expression.

I put down the sheet I was folding. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh, nobody wants to go on the outing tomorrow. Your Foreman and the lads want to work their horses. They say they have not been able to do that all winter. Sorceress and Dragon want to work on the mystery of the recent illness. Your Old Dwarf just wants to stay home and polish his armor. I got the impression your Bounty Hunter was interested, but your Arrogant One just snorted at the idea of going on a nature hike, and you know the one would not go without the other.”

I sighed. “Miles has other plans, too. So, I guess it’s just you and me!”

Cleric blinked. “You would take me, even if the others do not come?”

I smiled. “Of course! You are the only one who can get the wildlife to pose for me, so I can take pictures!”

I don’t think Cleric’s smile could possibly get any wider. “What time do we leave?”

                                                               * * *

The next morning, I was up early, but Cleric was already waiting for me. I saw she had discarded her clerical robes in favor of a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, and she had replaced her sandals with a pair of comfortable sneakers. I nodded my approval at her outfit. “You look all set for a nice, long hike.”

“Oh, I am, Mistress. I hope we see a lot of birds and animals.”camera for blog

I grabbed my camera, kissed Miles goodbye, and off we went.

“Where are we going?”

“Well, I thought we’d start at Carver Park Reserve, then go to Purgatory Creek Park.”

“Have I ever been to either of those places?”

“I don’t remember, but don’t worry. I’m pretty sure you’ll like them.”

Ten minutes later, we pulled into the parking lot at the entrance to Carver Park Reserve.

“Look, Mistress! Those birds walking in that field are almost as tall as me! What are they?”

Grabbing my camera, I replied “Sandhill Cranes!” I snapped a few quick shots before the birds disappeared into thicker vegetation.

 

Cleric looked disappointed that the birds didn’t stay longer, but a flutter of movement caught her attention. In a moment, she was skipping over to see some Tree Swallows. One was on top of a nest box, the other watching from a tree. “Here, Mistress! They will pose for you!”

I hardly had time to photograph those birds when Cleric was squealing in delight. “Mistress! These pretty blue birds here will also pose for you!”

“Great! I didn’t realize the Eastern Bluebirds were nesting already.”

“And look, Mistress! I remember this bird from last year – a Yellow-rumped Warbler! You told me they were also called Butter Butts.”

The bird in question didn’t seem pleased with that moniker and refused to show that part of his anatomy for which he was named. He only posed for one quick photo before flitting off in search of food.

“Here’s a White-throated Sparrow!” Cleric smiled, obviously pleased she remembered the identity of another bird we had seen last year.

Carver Park Reserve 066

As I took the sparrow’s picture, Cleric wandered over to the nearby pond. “Oh, look, Mistress!”

I followed her over and saw her engaged in conversation with a muskrat. I took a few photos of him before he made a face at me. Cleric laughed. “I think he said that he is tired of posing and wants to get back to his breakfast.”

Leaving Carver Park Reserve, we drove to Purgatory Creek Park. As we pulled into the parking lot, I explained to Cleric, “I would like to get pictures of the waterfowl here.”

“I will attempt to get them to pose for you, Mistress.”

As we walked around the water’s edge, Cleric pointed to a group of strange looking birds. “What are those? I have never seen anything like them before!”

“Those are Horned Grebe.” She called them over and I snapped a few shots.

“Look! A goose!”

I turned toward the Canada Goose Cleric was approaching. She got it to pose for a beautiful shot with a nice reflection in the water, and then a close-up. “Thanks! That was great!”

As we walked along the water’s edge, Cleric coaxed more birds to come close to us. I snapped a few more photos, identifying the birds for Cleric.

“That’s a male Ring-necked Duck.”

Purgatory Creek and Spring Peeper Meadow 102

“And there’s another Ring-necked Duck with a male Ruddy Duck.”

Purgatory Creek and Spring Peeper Meadow 103

“There’s a pair of Ruddy Ducks.”

Purgatory Creek and Spring Peeper Meadow 142

“What are those different ducks in with the Ring-necked Ducks, Mistress?”

I looked where Cleric was pointing, and took a quick snapshot as I explained, “The one with the blue bill is a Lesser Scaup. The one with the brownish head and white eye-ring is the female Ring-necked Duck.”

Purgatory Creek and Spring Peeper Meadow 107

We continued hiking for the next several hours, snapping pictures of many of the waterfowl in the park.

We saw a pair of the Lesser Scaup, and Cleric called them over. She tilted her head as she looked at them. “So that’s what the female looks like.”

We saw some Pied-billed Grebes.

We saw several Mallards.

Then we came upon a group of American Coots.

“Look at their feet!” Cleric pointed and giggled.

Snapping several shots, I explained, “They have lobed feet. Their toes have stiff scale-covered flaps that help them kick through the water when swimming. When they’re walking, the scales fold back to help them move unimpeded over uneven land or through aquatic vegetation.”

Coot feet

After taking the last photo of the American Coots, we walked back to the parking lot. Suddenly, Cleric stopped short and I almost ran right into her. “Mistress, look!”

There, on a streetlamp, was an immature Bald Eagle. It had some branches in its talons and was trying to arrange them on the light.

“Is that eagle building a nest? There?

I shook my head. “It’s probably just practicing. This bird doesn’t have the full white head and tail of an adult, so it’s not yet of breeding age.”

“Well, I think this one needs a lot of practice!” Cleric giggled as the vegetation slipped off the lamp, and the Bald Eagle started preening itself as if embarrassed. Then, it turned its head as if to ignore us.

 

As we headed back home, Cleric was all smiles. “I really enjoy these nature walks. Can we go again soon, Mistress?”

“We’ll see. I hate to make any promises. We never know what might happen.”
 

Be sure to come back next week and see if things remain calm and peaceful so we can go on another outing, or if my characters will land us in some new adventure. We’ll leave the porch light on for you!

Jest Aboot In Time Fer Dinner

Jest Aboot In Time Fer Dinner

Dwarf!Dwarf and Dragon

As Dragon watched her friend start to topple over, the color drained from her scales. She stared, her reptilian eyes bulging, her mouth open wide.

Dwarf!” She screamed again as she leaped to catch him. The huge beast held her diminutive friend tenderly, and she gently lowered him to the floor next to the others. “Oh, Dwarf!” Choking sobs wracked her massive body as she carefully positioned a pillow under her friend’s head and placed a blanket over him.

Cleric raced over, but she stopped short as Dragon snarled at her.

Dragon!” I glared at the large beast as I moved quickly between her and the gentle healer.

Dragon with smoke bubblesDragon immediately ducked her head, and her color morphed to a washed-out blue. Smoke bubbles dripped from her nose, as often happens when Dragon is embarrassed or confused. “I am sorry. I do not know what came over me. Please, Cleric, draw near and attend the dwarf.”

I kept an eye on Dragon as I addressed Cleric. “Were you able to prepare the healing herbs you need?”

Cleric nodded. Her face was flushed, and she looked warily at Dragon. “Sorceress had just placed everything on the table for me, right before she collapsed.”Table set for spellcasting“Then please, administer your herbs.” Dragon’s voice cracked with emotion as she looked down at my Old Dwarf, prone at her feet. “Please.” She mouthed the word as her voice failed her.
Arrogant One and Bounty Hunter
I pointed to my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter. “You will start with those who were first to fall ill.”
 

Dragon breathing fireWhat?” Dragon turned red. Her head shot up, she glared at me, and she snarled again. Cleric and I jumped from the path of the flames that shot from the beast’s maw. “The Dwarf will be treated first!” Dragon’s voice was a deep growl, and there was a feral glint in her reptilian eyes.

“No. The afflicted will be treated in the order in which they fell ill.” I put as much steel into my words as I could muster. I squared my shoulders and stared at Dragon. I stood my ground as she advanced on me, and I never broke eye contact with her. I knew the bond she shared with my Old Dwarf was a deep one, one I could never fully understand, but I could not allow Dragon to place the welfare of her friend above that of the others.

Dragon and me 2She closed the distance between us in two steps. She stood, towering over me, growling and spewing thick clouds of black smoke. I did not back down. Finally, Dragon grew quiet. She turned, her shoulders slumping, and I saw a single teardrop trickle down her cheek.

“You are right, of course. Forgive me. I know the others have been ill longer and are in more immediate need of aid.”

Cleric still looked wary, and she turned to me. “Mistress?”

“Start with the elf and his cohort. They were the first to succumb to the illness, and we do not even know how long they have been comatose. When they were found unconscious in the shed, by my Foreman and the lads, there was no way to determine when they had become ill.”

Cleric nodded. She took some of the healing herbs she had prepared with the help of her friend, Sorceress, who herself was now among the afflicted. She moved to the end of the row of still forms, knelt, and began.

Dragon watched Cleric as the priestess administered the curative herbs and offered healing prayers over each of their unconscious comrades. It was a slow, painstaking process, and Dragon started pacing as she waited for Cleric to finally reach my Old Dwarf. Dark smoke drifted from her muzzle, and she clasped and unclasped her clawed hands.

6 comatose charactersCleric worked slowly and methodically along the line of my comatose characters. After ministering to my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One, she moved on to my Young Hero. Finishing with him, she attended my Foreman, then Sorceress. Finally, she moved on to my Old Dwarf.

Gypsy close-upDragon moved closer, watching Cleric’s every move. Just as Cleric was about to begin administering the herbs to my Old Dwarf, my husband entered the room. He was carrying the limp form of my Gypsy. “We just finished preparing the broth and had placed it on the stove to simmer when he collapsed.”

“Place him here, next to my Old Dwarf.” I grabbed a pillow and placed it on the floor as Miles gently lowered the youth, then I covered the lad with a blanket.

Cleric and Dragon gaped at the latest victim, then turned to me. I saw the fear in their faces. Their eyes were round as saucers, and their chins both trembled.Elf facing right

Cleric blurted, “We are the only ones left. What happens if we also succumb to this malady?”

I frowned and raked my hand through my hair. “What did someone recently tell you, when you faced another adversity? Have faith?

Cleric nodded uncertainly. She chewed her lower lip and furrowed her brow.

“So, have faith and continue administering the herbs.” I turned to Miles. “Do you know how long the broth needs to simmer?”

“The Gypsy said he was not sure, but it would be obvious. He said we would see a distinct change in the color and consistency.”

“Then you go up and continue to watch the broth. I’ll join you in a few minutes.”

Miles dashed off, taking the stairs two at a time.

Cleric looked at me again. After a long few moments, she nodded, straightened her robes, and squared her shoulders. She took a deep breath and continued administering her healing herbs and praying over my Old Dwarf.

Dragon hovered over Cleric. When she saw the warning look on my face, she ducked her head again, and resumed pacing, smoke drifting from her nose, and hands clasping and unclasping. After a few moments, I felt certain that she would pose no further threat to Cleric. I slipped out of the room and went upstairs to the kitchen.

Easter 128Miles looked up as I entered the room. “How’s it going down there?”

I sighed and shook my head. “There have been no results yet. None of the patients have regained consciousness yet.”

Miles frowned. “How do you propose we get broth down the throats of the unconscious without choking them to death?”

I dragged my hand through my hair and shrugged my shoulders. “I guess we’ll worry about that when the time comes. Right now, I’m more worried what’s going to happen if my last two characters keel over.”

Miles took the lid off the stock pot and gave the contents a stir. “Honey, have you given any thought to what happens if we get sick?”

“I try not to think about that possibility.”

My husband replaced the lid and turned to me, frowning. “We don’t even know what’s causing the illness.”

I nodded, but before I could say anything, Miles continued. “It’s obviously something contagious. What happens if we catch it, too?”

I took his hand and tried to calm him. “We can only hope that we’re immune to it, that it just affects my characters because they are not from this world. Either that or we hope the healing herbs and the broth prove effective in curing the illness before we also need to be treated.”

“That doesn’t give a lot of hope, does it?” Miles sighed again.

I gave my husband’s hand a squeeze. “No, it doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean we throw in the towel. I’m going back downstairs and see what’s happening. Bring the broth when you think it’s ready.”

Miles nodded, and I headed once more for the conference room.

When I entered the conference room, Dragon was weeping over her friend, my Old Dwarf. I looked at Cleric. “Is he . . .?”

“No, he is not dead. But he is no better. None of them are.” She hung her head. “I have failed.”

stock pot“Let’s try some of this.” Miles walked in, carrying the stock pot and a big spoon.

“Are you sure it’s ready?” I looked at him dubiously. “That seems awfully quick.”

“Well, the pot full of thick, muddy-brown broth, chock full of veggies and mushrooms and I don’t know what else, is now a bright, clear, golden-colored liquid with absolutely nothing in it. The Gypsy lad said it would change color and consistency. I am assuming this is what he was referring to.”

I nodded. “Let’s see if we can get a few drops down each patient’s throat without them choking. Cleric, do you have an eyedropper?”

“Yes, Mistress. You gave Sorceress and me a few when last we were working with our potions.”

administering medsWe started with my Bounty Hunter. Miles got him into a seated position, I gently opened his mouth, and Cleric placed a few drops of broth on the back of his tongue, letting it trickle down his throat. After a few seconds, I noticed a reflex swallow. “Well, he’s not choking.”

“He’s not waking up, either.” Miles sighed. “I wonder how much we need to give him.”

“I don’t know. Let’s see how much he’ll take.” I opened his mouth again.

Ten minutes and two teaspoonfuls later, my Bounty Hunter had not revived. We moved on to my Arrogant One, then to each of the others. We were able to get about the same amount of broth down each person’s throat, but it did nothing to resuscitate them.

“Should we start again and give them each a second dose?” Miles looked at me wearily, his brow furrowed, a scowl tugging at the corners of his mouth.

I shrugged and raked my hand through my hair. “We might as well.”

But the second dose did nothing, nor did the third or fourth.

“We’re not doing any good.” Miles heaved a huge sigh. “I’m ready to throw in the towel.”

Dragon breathing smoke“No!” Dragon gaped at us and dark smoke poured from her snout. “You must save the dwarf! You must save all of them!”

“We have tried everything we can think of.” Cleric looked at her friend through red-rimmed eyes. “My ministrations have failed. The Gypsy’s broth has failed. What more can we do?”

“I do not know.” Dragon lowered her eyes. “I only know we must do something.”

“Well, we’d be happy to entertain any notion you might come up with.” I sat down wearily next to my husband. “But if the efforts of a cleric, and the grandson of a village wise woman, together were not enough to revive the victims of this illness, I don’t know what will.”

Dragon holding dwarfDragon looked devastated. She walked over to my Old Dwarf and gently picked him up. She held him tenderly and wept. The huge teardrops splashed down on the diminutive figure in her arms. Suddenly, the dwarf was squirming around and sputtering. “Wot be ye thinkin’? Ye be puttin’ me down, ye big beastie! And ye be stoppin’ alla this wailin’! I do na be no fishie! I do na be breathin’ under water! Ye be gonna drownded me wit all yer tears!”

Dwarf!

Dragon’s mouth dropped open as she looked at the squirming figure. She was so startled, she almost dropped her friend, then hugged him so tight, I thought she might crush him.

“Dragon! Dragon! Put him down. Now!” I raced across the room.

My Old Dwarf gave a mighty push and squirmed out of her arms, falling to the floor and landing on his head.

“Ye be tryin’ yer best ta kilt me here, beastie!” The old reprobate jumped to his feet and glared at Dragon, who was beside herself with joy to see her friend alive and well.

Dragon was so happy, she shrunk to the size of a bird and flew around the room, whooping and trilling. Finally, she stopped, landed in front of my Old Dwarf, assumed her former size, and gave him another hug.Dwarf and Dragon 2

“Ye consarned beastie! Ye be puttin’ me down right this minute!” Only the twinkle in his eye belied my Old Dwarf’s annoyance with Dragon.

I took my Old Dwarf by the arm and led him to a chair. “It’s good to see you on your feet again!”

“Eh, ye can na be keepin’ a good dwarf down.” He grinned.

“I only wish the others had your fortitude and constitution.” I nodded toward the others, all still comatose.comatose characters including my Gypsy

My Old Dwarf scowled. He furrowed his brow and scratched his chin. “Mebbe it do na be havin’ so much ta do wit me constitution as it be havin’ ta do with the beastie’s tears.”

“What?” I tilted my head and stared at my Old Dwarf. “What do you mean?”

“Where tha big beastie’s tears be splushin’ down on me, I be feelin’ all warm an’ tingly-like. Thet be wakin’ me outten me sleep.”

Miles jumped up. “Of course! In some folklore accounts, dragon tears have remarkable powers to heal and restore, even to bring people back from the threshold of death.”

Miles and Dragon 2Dragon bent her neck and thrust her face at Miles, so she was almost nose to nose with him. “And you could not have remembered that earlier this day?” Her toothy smile was anything but pleasant.

Miles jumped back, sputtering.

“I should think you would have known the power of your own tears.” I raised an eyebrow at Dragon, as I placed a hand on my husband’s arm and pulled him to safety next to me.

“Well, I did not. I do not imagine I had learned that yet, by the time you wrote of me in your books, the books from which I, and your other characters, fell into this world.”

“So’s ye be knowin’ now, beastie. So’s ye best be gittin’ ta work and be wakin’ tha others.” My Old Dwarf poked Dragon’s leg and beckoned her to start.

“Yes, you need to see if you can revive the others!” Cleric gave her large friend an encouraging smile.

Dragon looked at me. “Even the annoying elf and his cohort?”

I chuckled. “Yes, even them.”

Dragon grimaced in reply but did not argue. She went to the far end of the room and started with my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One. She had great difficulty shedding enough tears over the two of them to resuscitate them.

Arrogant One and DwarfMy Arrogant One started screeching as soon as he awoke, yelling at everyone, and blaming everyone for his predicament. His voice kept getting higher and higher, until it reached his usual glass-shattering tone. At that point, my Old Dwarf stomped up to him. “Iffin ye do na be wantin’ a relapse, elfie, ye best be shuttin’ yer pie-hole.”

The annoying elf yelped and jumped behind my Bounty Hunter. He peeked at my Old Dwarf, but kept his mouth clamped shut.

It took only minutes more for Dragon to awaken the rest of my characters. Once awake, everyone started talking at once. The din became almost unbearable.

Finally, my Old Dwarf whistled shrilly. All conversation halted immediately, and everyone turned to face him.

“I do na be knowin’ aboot the rest o ye, but being unconscious be givin’ me a grea’ big ap-o-tite! An’ by my figgerin’ we be awake jest about in time fer dinner!” My Old Dwarf patted his belly and scooted up the stairs toward the kitchen, leaving the rest of us following in his wake.Dwarf

Well, it’s good to have all my characters up and well again. I wonder if we’ll ever know what caused the illness in the first place, or why Dragon, Cleric, Miles, and I never fell ill. Be sure to join us again next week. Who knows what new adventures await, or what new mischief my characters might initiate? Whatever lies ahead, we’d love to have you join us, and bring some friends! We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Fixtures Light Elegant Lighting Fixture And Supply Company Intended For Front Porch Light Fixtures Front Porch Light Fixtures

What Next?

What Next?

“Noooooo!”

Shock and anguish registered on my Gypsy’s face. His eyes were wide, and his mouth hung open. He stood for a moment, rooted in place by fear. Then he raced to the side of his best friend, my Young Hero, now slumped over in a chair, unconscious. My Gypsy grabbed his friend by his shoulders and shook him, at first gently, then with more force. “Wake up! You must wake up!” His voice cracked with emotion.

dwarf-facing-right“Nay, laddie, yer fren’ be beyon’ hearin’ right now. Ye mus’ be gittin’ ta be cookin’ thet broth ye be tellin’ aboot. An’ tha lassie wot kin be healin’ be needin’ ta be gittin’ ’er herbs. Thet be tha best way ta be helpin’ ’em now.” My Old Dwarf gently pulled my Gypsy away from the limp form of his comatose friend.

scaly dragon looking right“The dwarf is right.” Dragon lifted my Young Hero from the chair and placed him gently on the floor, near her illusory fireplace. “You and Cleric must go now with Mistress Writer and Master Miles to get the items needed for healing the victims of this illness. Sorceress, the foreman, the dwarf, and I will do our best to make the boy and the others as comfortable as possible while you are gone.”

Stu-04-NatGalSorceress nodded as she positioned a pillow under my Young Hero’s head and covered his brow with a cloth. She carefully placed a blanket over him, gently tucking it around him. Then she stood up and made small shooing motions at us. “Time is of the essence. Go.”

My Foreman gently shepherded us out of the room. He clasped my Gypsy’s shoulders and looked him in the eye. “I vow we will do everything we can for him while you are gone.” They stood there for a long minute, neither one seeming to want to turn away. Finally, my Foreman released his young friend and turned to the rest of us. His eyes shone wet with unshed tears, and he spoke in a hoarse whisper, barely able to choke out the words. “Hurry. Please hurry.”

 

My Foreman went back into the conference room, leaving the four of us in the hallway. I looked at my two characters, one in her clerical robes, and the other in his medieval garb, and spoke sternly. “You need to change into acceptable, modern clothing and do it quickly. Miles and I will meet you in the garage.”

They nodded and raced up the stairs.

I turned to Miles. “I need a minute on the computer to find someplace nearby where I might purchase the herbs Cleric needs.” I started trotting down the hallway to my office, but Miles stopped me.

“Wait! What about that great organic farm right off the main highway on the way out of town?”

I frowned and scratched my head, then brightened as I remembered the place of which my husband spoke. “That’s right! They had an impressive variety of herbs!”

We turned and headed up the stairs toward the garage. “I hope your Gypsy doesn’t need anything too exotic for this broth. I’m hoping we can find everything at the supermarket right here in town.”

“If he can’t find what he needs there, try the same farm you just mentioned. And don’t forget that store we were in a few weeks ago. They deal mainly in exotic and ethnic fruit and vegetables, but they also had an entire section of heritage produce.”

Miles nodded. We heard footsteps on the stairs and looked up. Cleric and my Gypsy, in the modern clothing they wore for outings, raced down the steps. In a few moments, Cleric and I were in my beat-up old clunker, driving toward the organic farm, and Miles and my Gypsy were in my husband’s sedan, heading in the opposite direction.

going to the store

* * *

Cleric and I were heading back home within the hour. As Cleric looked over our purchases, she smiled. “Mistress, we must plan to revisit that shop someday, and take Sorceress and your Gypsy! I was amazed at their selection of herbs and botanicals, and the proprietress was extremely well versed in herbal medicine!”

As soon as we arrived home, we immediately took the cache of herbs to the conference room. Sorceress ushered Cleric to a private alcove where the two women could prepare the herbs and other components to be used in Cleric’s healing spells.


3 characters sickI checked on the victims of the illness. There was no change. The three figures were still in front of the fireplace. Dragon shook her head and whispered to me. “They are still very shallow of breath, pale and cold as death.”

foreman-facing-leftMy Foreman kept pacing around the great room. Every time he passed by my Young Hero, he faltered. He stared at the youngster with tears in his eyes, and his chin trembled. He looked over at Cleric and Sorceress. “How long does it take to prepare a few healing herbs?” Before they could answer, he turned back to me. “And what could be keeping Master Miles and your Gypsy? Should they not be back by now?” He looked down at my Young Hero once more, and then resumed pacing.

Several tense hours passed, full of pacing and impatient outbursts. Finally, I finally heard the car pulling into the garage. I ran upstairs.

“Help us get this into the kitchen.” Miles made his way in from the garage with an armful of bags from various stores.

I relieved Miles of several bags. “What took so long?”

Miles grimaced. “We had to go to seven stores to get everything, and they were spread all over two counties.” He sighed. “And still your Gypsy couldn’t find exactly what he needed. He is hoping the substitutions we found will work.”

My Gypsy, his arms full of bags as well, glanced down the stairs toward the conference room. “How is he?” The lad turned toward me, fear showing plainly in his face.

“There has been no change.”

“I need to see him.”

“You need to prepare this broth!” I placed my hand on his arm. “Everything that can be done is being done. Sorceress is helping Cleric prepare her healing herbs, and Dragon, my Old Dwarf, and my Foreman are keeping my Young Hero and the other two comfortable.”

My Gypsy looked as if he were going to argue. Then his shoulders slumped, and he heaved a huge sigh. “You are right, of course. Let us prepare the broth.”

VeggiesThe three of us hauled the heavy grocery bags into the kitchen and laid them on the table. My husband walked toward the pantry. “You two should take everything out of the bags and organize it. I’ll find the big stock pots and get them ready.”

Once I had helped empty the grocery sacks, I slipped back down to the conference room, leaving Miles and my Gypsy to do the cooking.

“What happened? I was only gone a few minutes!” I stared at the figures on the floor by the hearth. There had been three when I left. Now there were five.

5 characters sick“Get some more blankets!” Dragon pointed to the pile of blankets in an open cupboard on the other side of the room. I grabbed some and placed them over the pale, still forms of Sorceress and my Foreman, as Dragon placed pillows beneath their heads.

“It be happenin’ so sudden-like.” My Old Dwarf spoke softly, as he held Cleric and tried to comfort her. “One minute, tha Foreman be talkin’ and pacin’ around; tha next, he be puttin’ ’is hand on ’is head, he be turnin’ white as a ghostie, and then he be fallin’ down. An’ tha magic lass, she be helping this lass wit ’er herbs. She be bringin’ a bunch o vials an’ flasks ta tha table, and barely be gittin’’em situated when she be topplin’ o’er.”

Dragon stood up from examining the latest victims. “They are just like the others – pale, cold, shallow respiration. I do not know what could be causing this.”

“Tha Gypsy laddie had best be hurryin’ wit thet broth o ’is. An’ lassie, you best be gittin’ ta applyin’ yer healin’ herbs . . .”

In the middle of his sentence, every bit of color drained from my Old Dwarf’s face. He gave me a strange look, as if I had just said something he could not understand. Then he stiffened, spun around, and just keeled over.

dwarf

What is happening? What is the source of this malady? Will Cleric’s healing herbs and my Gypsy’s special broth be able to cure their fellow characters? Will anyone else succumb to this illness? Be sure to join us again next week, as we race against time to save the ill and protect the healthy. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Are They Dead?

Are They Dead?

Miles was just placing the last platter on the table when I dashed into the kitchen. I gave my husband a quick kiss on the cheek and an apologetic look for having overslept. I drooled when I saw all the tasty breakfast fare he was serving up. Then I sighed loudly and reached into the refrigerator for my container of fat-free yogurt.

Dwarf's breakfast

My Old Dwarf’s plate was already overflowing with flapjacks, eggs, hash browns, ham, bacon, and sausages, and he was stuffing his pouch full of muffins by the time my other characters had taken their seats.Arrogant One and Bounty Hunter

I looked at the two empty chairs across the table from me. “Has anyone seen my Arrogant One or my Bounty Hunter? This is the third meal in a row they’ve missed, and I don’t remember seeing them anywhere around the house recently.”

My Old Dwarf scowled and replied around a huge mouthful of food. “Eh, donabecoplanin’’as. Disbeda mos’pe’able it e’er be et a meal . . .”

Everyone stared at him.

“Could you repeat that in somewhat more understandable syllables?” I raised an eyebrow at the old reprobate.Dwarf facing right

He swallowed several times, choking down about half the food in his mouth. “I be sayin’ do na be complainin’, lass! This be the most peaceable it e’er be et a meal! Asides, I be very doubtful the two o ’em be starvin’ iffin they be missin’ a few meals.”

mens-991728_1280My Foreman chuckled. “I would have to agree with the dwarf. Encounters with that annoying elf and his cohort are never pleasant, and it has been nice not to have to deal with them at mealtime. And I am sure they are not going hungry. They have probably been raiding the refrigerator when no one has been looking.”

“Agreed, but that’s not the point. It isn’t just the fact that they’ve missed a few meals. Has anyone seen them anywhere in the past few days?” I looked at those seated around the table. Everyone was shrugging and shaking their heads. By their expressions, it was obvious no one shared my concern.

I frowned. “Well, if anyone should run into them, let me know. I always worry when those two disappear for any length of time. I never know what they might be up to.”

Everyone nodded.

As an afterthought, I added, “And will someone please check and see if they ever cleaned out the shed after we returned Mystery to her owner? For a little horse, she left behind a lot of mess.”

 

Dragon with smokeAt the far end of the table, Dragon snorted, and smoke drifted from her snout. “Someone else will have to check the shed. I am not going outside in this abominable weather. It is snowing again! I will be in front of my fireplace until the weather shows sense enough to match the season. According to the calendar, it is supposed to be spring!”

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress nodded, frowning. “I do not know how anyone can stand the weather in this place. By this time of year, Cleric and I should be out collecting botanicals and other spell components.”Elf

Cleric also glared at the snow falling outside the window. “This really is most disheartening. I believe I will accompany Dragon and share the warmth of her hearth this day.”

A trio of melodramatic sighs erupted from my Forman and the two lads. My Young Hero rolled his eyes at Dragon, Sorceress, and Cleric. “Very well.” He sighed again. “The three of us hardy souls will brave the weather and check the shed after breakfast. We have to check on our horses anyway, and the shed is only steps from the barn.” My Gypsy and my Foreman nodded in agreement, grinning as they teased their friends.

 

* * *

Miles and I were cleaning up after breakfast. The door in the other room crashed open and someone yelled. I dropped my dishtowel, and Miles and I dashed to the living room.

My Foreman was carrying my Bounty Hunter in from the deck while my Gypsy and my Young Hero struggled with my Arrogant One.

 

 

 

“We found them in the shed.” My Foreman dropped my Bounty Hunter onto the sofa.

The two lads deposited my Arrogant One onto the recliner and my Gypsy slammed the door shut behind them.

“Are they dead?” I stared at the two seemingly lifeless bodies.

My Foreman shook his head. “Unconscious.” He looked about. “Where is Cleric? We have need of her healing skills.”

“I think she’s in the conference room with Dragon and Sorceress. I’ll get her.” My husband took off at a dead run.

Moments later, Miles returned with Cleric. Sorceress and Dragon were right on their heels.

Cleric’s eyes flew wide when she saw the two comatose figures. “By the goddess! What happened?”

“We do not know, milady.” My Foreman eased my Bounty Hunter out of his jacket and tugged off his boots. He motioned for the lads to do the same for my Arrogant One. “We found them unconscious in the shed. We do not know how long they have been this way, nor do we have any clue to the cause of their affliction.”

Elf facing rightCleric leaned over my Bounty Hunter and studied him. She felt his forehead, took his hand in hers and turned it over, then examined his feet. She repeated the procedure with my Arrogant One, assessing his condition. She looked at me and shrugged. “Though they are both breathing, their breathing is shallow. Both are cold to the touch but show no signs of frostbite on either fingers or toes. Neither seems feverish.”

“Can you cure them with your healing herbs?” My Young Hero’s brow was furrowed in concern.

Cleric bit her lower lip and wrung her hands. “I do not know. First, we must determine the cause of their condition. Is it grounded in the physical, or in the realm of magic?”

Sorceress placed her hand on Cleric’s shoulder. “We will do our best to provide the answers you need.”

Cleric nodded and smiled appreciatively.

Sorceress addressed my Gypsy. “You and I will have to examine the shed for any clues, including any traces of magic.” Turning to the others, she gestured to my Foreman and my Young Hero. “The elf and his cohort must be taken to the conference room, where they can be warmed by Dragon’s fireplace. You should get the dwarf to help you.”

“I can give them a hand.” Miles started to move forward, but Sorceress blocked his path. “No, Master Miles! You and Mistress Writer must not touch those two until we determine if their illness is contagious.”

“I never thought of that.” Miles looked at me, wide-eyed, and put his arm around my shoulder, drawing me away from the two figures.

Sorceress started to turn back to the others when she saw my Old Dwarf enter the room. “Dwarf, you will assist the Foreman and the Young Hero.”

“Eh? Wot be goin’ on? I was jus’ headin’ ta the kitchen fer a wee snack.”

“We require some muscle to get these two down to the conference room. They seem to have taken ill.”

My Old Dwarf walked over and looked at the two figures lying there, both pale as death. Without a further word, he nodded and hefted my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One. The rotund dwarf trotted off to the conference room, one comatose figure under each arm. Cleric, my Foreman, and my Young Hero followed along.

Sorceress turned back toward Dragon. “Dragon, be sure to take their jackets and boots downstairs as well. You must examine the two of them and their clothing carefully for any sign they may have been victim of a magical attack . . . or a magical mishap, if the Arrogant One was attempting any spell beyond his power.”

Dragon nodded. She gathered the items and took them down to the conference room.

Sorceress and my Gypsy went out to investigate the shed. Sorceress returned to the house after just a few minutes. “The Gypsy lad and I found the remains of some food. I need vials and jars to collect samples for testing.”

“Testing?” Miles wrinkled his brow. “You suspect they’ve been poisoned?”

“We must overlook nothing in our search for the cause of their malady.”

The rest of the day passed in a blur. Miles and I hovered at the periphery of the activity as my characters investigated the cause and nature of the affliction suffered by my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter.
Sorceress and my Gypsy set up their equipment at one end of the huge conference room. “We found only slight traces of magic in the shed.” Sorceress spoke as she prepared the food samples for testing. “They were consistent with the Arrogant One’s practice of the art of illusion.”

 

Dragon, still examining the comatose figures at the other end of the long room, nodded. “That is the only trace magic I have found on either of them, or on their clothing.”

Sorceress crossed her arms in front of her and tilted her head. “That means their condition is most likely not the result of magical attack.”

My Gypsy frowned. “Unless a magical attack was mounted by someone with power and skill surpassing even Dragon, that no trace would remain.”

“There is no one on this world whose power surpasses mine.” Dragon grumbled, and a small cloud of black smoke drifted from her snout.

strange-dreams“Unless they are not from this world.” Gypsy rubbed the back of his neck. “It would not be the first time someone traveled a magical path to this world from some other one.”

“Unless we find evidence of that, we should assume there was no magical attack.” Dragon continued to grumble and the smoke from her nostrils grew darker. “I also believe we can rule out magical mishap from one of the elf’s spells gone awry. If that were the case, the trace magic would be stronger.”

Sorceress and my Gypsy nodded. “Let us see what we can discover.”

They performed numerous tests on the food they had recovered from the shed. Everyone waited with bated breath as the two of them finished the last test and turned to the group. “There is no evidence of poison.” Sorceress looked downcast as she gave that pronouncement.

“That’s good news, isn’t it?” I tilted my head and looked at the magic user.

“Not necessarily, Mistress. Depending on the poison, finding a cure could be very simple, and we would most likely be able to start on a treatment relatively quickly. Now, we still do not know what we are dealing with, nor how to eradicate it.”

Miles rubbed his chin and looked at me. “I don’t suppose we could just call for an ambulance and have them taken to the hospital?”

I raised my eyebrows and shook my head. “I don’t think that would end well. Talk about your undocumented immigrants! How would we explain those two to the authorities?”

dragonsong 2As the day wore on, my characters narrowed down the possibilities. By late afternoon, Dragon was able to summarize their findings. “Lack of bruising suggests it was not a violent attack, nor a traumatic accident. Testing of the food suggests it was most likely not poison. The ghastly weather and frigid cold all but eliminate the possibility of insect bite or snake venom. Examination of trace magic, both in the shed and on the victims and their personal effects, rules out magical attack or mishap.”

Dragon paused and looked at the others to see if anyone had anything to add. When no one spoke up, she turned to face Cleric. “That seems to leave only ailments of a medical nature, some illness that has struck them down. That puts it in your hands.”

Elf facing right“Then I should prepare the healing herbs.” Cleric bit her lower lip and fingered the cord belt of her clerical robes. “I only hope I have enough. This interminable winter has prevented me from collecting the necessary botanicals and other supplies I need. Our occasional colds and stomach ailments have greatly depleted my reserves.”

I furrowed my brow and rubbed the back of my neck. “I’m not certain, but I believe there may be several farms and stores in the area that deal in medicinal herbs. I can research it online and if one is close enough, perhaps we can restock your supplies there.”

Cleric beamed at me and clasped her hands. “Oh, that would be wonderful!”

gypsy-facing-rightMy Gypsy raked his hand through his hair and spoke hesitantly to Cleric. “Please do not think I am trying to intrude in your area of expertise, but perhaps I can help as well. As you know, my Grandmother was the village witch, their wise woman. She taught me a recipe for a broth with great healing powers. Perhaps, together with whatever herbs you can procure . . .”

He didn’t have to finish. Cleric took his hands and smiled warmly. “I would appreciate your help very much! I just hope your broth and my herbs will be enough to cure our companions.”

Miles addressed my Gypsy. “I suppose you and I can make a quick trip to the supermarket and get whatever you need for your broth.”

“Thank you, Master Miles. That would be most helpful.”

Dragon cleared her throat. “The four of you had best make haste. I fear the malady is spreading.”

We all looked over to where Dragon was pointing. My Young Hero was slumped over in his chair, his eyes rolling back into his head.

Young Hero passing out

What is causing this illness? Will it continue to spread? Will Cleric and my Gypsy be able to cure their fellow characters? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.