I looked up from packing my camera equipment to see my Gypsy standing at the door of my office.
“What’s up?” I asked, reaching for my extra battery pack.
“I understand you’re going on one of your bird watching and nature photography hikes today.”
“Yup. And I’m running late.” I checked to see that I had packed all the necessities, then headed for the garage.
“Mistress? I was just wondering…”
I stopped dead in my tracks. For some reason, those words on the lips of one of my characters always filled me with dread.
“What were you wondering?” I asked. My voice sounded a bit sharper than I had intended.
“Well, you know of my great interest in birds…” he paused and licked his lips nervously.
“Yes?” I prompted him to continue.
“Well…err…I thought…that is…” he stood there, shuffling his feet and looking at the floor.
“What is it?” My voice was strained.
“May I accompany you?” His eyes shone with eagerness and excitement.
I raised one eyebrow skeptically. “Do you really think that is wise? Do you think you can behave appropriately in the real world?”
“Oh, I won’t be any trouble, Mistress,” he avowed fervently. “And I already have clothing appropriate to your world. We all do.”
“You all do?” There was that feeling of dread again. “Everyone? Even Dragon?”
“Well, not all of us,” he assured me. “Just four of us. And not Dragon.”
Of course, I thought. My Gypsy never goes anywhere without his best friend, my Young Hero. My Cleric has been my Young Hero’s protector since his birth, so she would need to accompany us. And, for reasons known only to himself and me, my Bounty Hunter would never leave my Cleric out of his sight.
I swallowed hard, as a hundred ways this outing could go terribly wrong marched through my head. But in the face of my Gypsy’s enthusiasm, my shoulders slumped in defeat. “Okay,” I said with a deep sigh. “I should probably have my head examined, but I guess you can come. The first time any of you cause any problems, though, you will all be written out of the books!” That threat was the best weapon in my arsenal. It usually produced the desired results and kept them in line, at least for a reasonable period of time.
A half-hour later, after I had confiscated all their weapons, and given them a brief but uncompromising lecture on proper behavior, I helped my four characters take their seats in the car.
Once everyone had mastered the intricacies of the seat belt and we were on our way. Ten minutes after that, I was the only one in the car watching the traffic and the passing scenery. Real world, 21st century vehicles go considerably faster than medieval fantasy world forms of transport. My characters were all white as sheets, with nary an open eye among them.
“Mistress Writer?” Forty minutes into the trip, my Bounty Hunter finally broke the silence.
“Where are we going?”
“To a regional park. I was talking to some birding friends, and some early migrating warblers have been reported there, along with some other birds I am interested in photographing. I called the park office and confirmed the reports, so we should have a good day.”
He considered this. “You employ many of the same tactics I do,” he mused.
“How’s that?” I asked.
“You make inquiries to locate your quarry. You confirm reports, rather than accept them at face value. Then you equip yourself for the task and go afield to stalk your prey,” my Bounty Hunter explained sagaciously.
I wrinkled my brow as I considered that. “I suppose you’re right. I suppose that’s how I knew how you would conduct yourself in the book.”
My Bounty Hunter nodded, and would have continued the conversation, but I interrupted. “Here we are!”
My four characters breathed a collective sigh of relief, and almost fell out of the car the moment I had it parked. Their rubbery legs hardly supported them, so I took my time getting my equipment from the trunk. When we were all fit and ready, we headed off down the trail.
From the first moment, my Gypsy took over, identifying many of the birds we saw and heard. “Listen! Do you hear that trill? That is a Yellow-rumped Warbler!”
“That’s one I want to photograph!” I informed him. “Do you see it?”
It took a few moments, but my sharp-eyed Bounty Hunter soon spotted a number of them flitting around the trees. They were constantly in motion, and all I was able to get were a few blurry images.
Then my Young Hero addressed my Cleric. “You have a special affinity with birds, Milady. Can you coax one of these warblers closer and have it sit still long enough for our Mistress to take a picture?”
“I will try,” she agreed, although she seemed doubtful. She walked over to the tree and seemed to be in conversation with the birds. One flew to a nearby branch and posed nicely, as I focused my camera. Once I finished, it flew back to the flock and continued flitting about.
“Thanks! That’s great!” I smiled broadly as I showed my characters the photos. “I never could have gotten them without your help!” They all grinned broadly, happy to have helped.
“I think I hear a Ruby-crowned Kinglet,” my Gypsy called to us. That was the second bird on my wish list. We all tried to follow the sound to its source, but the bird remained hidden in the tree. Finally, my Cleric spotted it and convinced it to pose for a single photo.
As we approached a marshy area, the sound of Red-winged Blackbirds filled the air. My Cleric had no trouble convincing them to show off their territorial display for the camera.
Near the lake, a flock of boisterous Tree Swallows swooped through the air, passing within inches of us. We all laughed with delight at their aerial acrobatics. My Cleric enticed several of them to land briefly for photos.
As I focused the camera, I heard my Gypsy gasp, “Mistress, look!” A pair of Tree Swallows had landed on my Cleric’s outstretched hand. I swung the camera around, but was too slow to capture that image.
My Young Hero spotted a pair of Wood Ducks on a nest box in the lake. They spotted us, and were about to take off in a panic. My Cleric immediately walked over to the edge of the water and calmed the ducks so I could get a photo of the pair.
“Look, Mistress Writer!” My Bounty Hunter pointed at something in the water. “What is that?”
“It looks like a muskrat,” I replied, quickly snapping a photo before it swam into the reeds and disappeared.
“And there are some turtles!” my Young Hero exclaimed.
“We should see a lot of them today, with the warmer temperatures,” I replied, snapping a few photos.
“And there’s a snake!” My Gypsy grinned as my Cleric jumped and squealed.
“Relax, it’s a harmless Garter Snake,” I informed her.
“I would just as soon it be harmless somewhere else, Mistress,” my Cleric stated with a shudder. “Preferably, somewhere far away!” We all shared a laugh at that.
The day continued, and I got a lot of great photos with the help of my characters. Then, around mid-afternoon, the wind picked up and we decided to head for home.
As we were walking back down the path by the marsh, my Gypsy stopped and called to us. “Look here! Black-capped Chickadees are taking the fuzz off the cattails to use in their nests.”
“I wish I could get a good shot of that,” I said, “but I’d only get a blur. The cattails are swaying pretty violently in this wind. It’s a wonder those little birds can even hold on!”
“Well, I can’t stop the wind, but I can keep a few of the cattails still.” My Gypsy fell into his magic, murmuring the words to a spell. Then my Cleric coaxed a few of the chickadees to pose on the now-stationary cattails. I quickly snapped a few images before my Gypsy lost the spell.
“This worked out much better than I imagined it would,” I praised my characters at the end of our hike. “I think I got some really great photos, thanks to all of you!”
“I can’t wait to get home this evening and view them all on that magic box of yours,” my Bounty Hunter replied, referring to my computer. His enthusiasm took me by surprise. Does he have a softer, gentler side I need to explore in my book? I wondered.
“I look forward to seeing them, too,” my Gypsy agreed, and the other two nodded.
“Well, when we get home, we can all see them. Let’s just remember to leave the porch light on for any of our readers who might want to join us.