“So, how did the séance go?” Miles asked.
I jumped. “Are you still awake?” I asked, fatigue making me sound much crankier than I had intended.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Miles replied. “So, how did the séance go?” he asked again.
“It wasn’t a séance, honey,” I corrected him. “Sorceress was scrying on Dragon, remember? We needed to see and hear everything that was going on outside.”
“And did you?” He propped himself up on one arm, and listened attentively.
“Yes, we saw and heard a lot.” As I got ready for bed, I filled him in on everything that had happened. “We’re all exhausted now, so we’re going to get some sleep and meet again midmorning,” I concluded. “We’ll try to decide then how to rescue Cleric.”
Miles nodded, and wrinkled his brow. He plumped his pillow and tugged at his covers. Finally, he rubbed his throat and asked, hesitantly, “Honey? Do you think it would be okay if I joined you tomorrow?”
Somehow, what I heard was, “Would your characters kill me if I attended the meeting with you?”
I shot him a curious look. “Why would you want to come to the meeting?”
“Why wouldn’t I?” he countered. I quirked an eyebrow at him, and he continued, “You never know, I might be useful. Wasn’t I the one who reminded you that dragonflies can’t hear?”
“You were,” I admitted. “Okay, I suppose you can join us. Just remember, don’t look the Sorceress straight in the eye.”
“I think you’re just pulling my leg,” Miles replied.
I merely raised an eyebrow. Miles thought about it, then sighed. “Okay, I’ll be careful.”
I got in bed and kissed Miles goodnight. We were both asleep almost before our heads hit the pillows.
Morning came far too early. I took a quick shower, dressed hastily, and headed for the kitchen to make breakfast. Miles took extra care shaving and choosing a nice outfit. After a hurried meal, I set about filling the bird feeders in the back yard. It took the better part of an hour to refill them all, and clean and refill the birdbath. While I worked, I furtively looked about. Morcant’s familiar, the milky-eyed, runty Common Grackle, was no longer in the maple tree; nor could I see him anywhere in the yard. Still, the hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I sensed someone’s eyes on me, as I glanced at the garden shed at the rear of the yard.
When I finished and went back inside, Miles was pacing. “Are you ready yet?” he fairly accosted me as I walked in the door. “Your Foreman and the lads have already gone to the conference room. We’re going to be late!”
“Relax, honey, they can’t start without me,” I reminded him, as we headed down the stairs.
Miles and I entered the conference room. At the moment, it looked more like a breakfast buffet. Miles stopped dead in his tracks and gaped at the food. “So that’s what happened to the two pounds of bacon, the three dozen eggs, the box of donuts, the two boxes of cereal, all the milk, and…and my coffee!” His voice escalated, his eyes bulged, and his face turned a deep maroon.
I placed my hand on his arm and sighed.
“Well?” I confronted the lads.
“We thought it might help everyone think if we had a little snack first,” my Gypsy mumbled. His face turned bright red, and he looked down at the floor.
“I guess we may have gone overboard,” admitted my Young Hero, shuffling his feet and turning a shade of red even brighter than my Gypsy. “We’re used to having the Old Dwarf join us for snacks.”
“Still no sign of that one this morning,” my Sorceress announced, sweeping into the room, a terrier-sized Dragon moping along in her wake.
“The Old Dwarf?” my Foreman asked her.
My Sorceress nodded. “I checked all his usual haunts on the way here. No indication he has been in any of them recently.”
Miles was still staring at all the food. I gently tugged on his sleeve and motioned for him to be seated. “Okay, now that we’re all here, let’s lock the door and get started.”
My Sorceress turned and scowled at Miles, who squirmed in his seat, making sure not to look her in the eye. “What is he doing here?”
“He’s my husband, this is his house, and he has every right to be here if he wants,” I replied evenly. “Besides, wasn’t it you who invited him to join us last night for the scrying?”
“I was not serious,” she informed me with a sniff.
My Sorceress took my measure. My clenched jaw and narrowed eyes must have convinced her I was, indeed, serious. “As you wish,” she replied with a shrug.
Dragon spoke up, in an uncharacteristically small and somber voice. “I think he should be here.” She turned to Miles and continued. “Sorceress told me it was you who alerted the Mistress and my friends to the fact that dragonflies cannot hear.” She hung her head and sighed. “Had it not been for you, Master Miles, my mission would have failed. Thanks to your warning, Sorceress and the others took prompt action. They were able not only to see what I could see, but also hear everything I could not. I thank you, good sir…and I promise I will never scorch another pair of your shoes.” She raised her head slightly and peeked at Miles, who gave her a warm and reassuring smile.
My Sorceress rolled her eyes, but the other characters smiled, and we settled down to discuss our plight.
“The first thing we need to do,” I said, “is determine if Cleric is, indeed, being held captive in the garden shed loft.”
Gypsy jumped up. “I know I could defeat the magic barrier to the loft in the garden shed,” he avowed, throwing out his chest and nodding emphatically. “I have defeated many wards and spells on locks, both in my own world and here.”
“I don’t mean to dampen your enthusiasm, or question your skill,” I replied, “but I think it too dangerous to Cleric.”
“There will be no danger to Cleric!” my Gypsy declared, folding his arms tight across his chest and jutting his jaw out defiantly. “I have better control of my magic than that!”
“I am not suggesting you would harm her with errant magic,” I assured my Gypsy. “But this won’t be as effortless as picking a lock, or defeating a simple ward. Casting a counter-spell to the barrier would take a considerable amount of time. If the kidnapper or a guard were to discover you before you completed your objective, Cleric could be in serious jeopardy.”
My Gypsy’s face fell. “You are right, of course. Even determining the right spell components would take time. I would have to probe at the fabric of the magic in the barrier. I could be discovered.” He shuffled back to take his seat, his shoulders slumped and his hands jammed into his pockets.
“What about you, Sorceress?” my Foreman asked. “If I understand how your scrying ability works, you can scry any location that you have physically been to, correct?”
My Sorceress nodded. “Unfortunately,” she said, “I have never been in the garden shed at all, so I would be unable to scry the loft or any other part of the building.”
“But you were able to scry the shed last night, when Dragon was inside it,” protested my Young Hero, frowning in confusion.
“Yes, I was, because I was scrying on Dragon. I was able to see everything that Dragon could see, even if it was in a location I had never visited physically.”
“Well, then, if Cleric is being held in the loft, you should be able to scry on her, correct?” Dragon asked.
Sorceress looked startled. “Yes, you are correct! I could! Let me go get my bowl and components!”
“Wait,” I stopped her. I chewed on my lip.
“What are you thinking?” my Sorceress asked.
“I am wondering if the barrier that prevented Dragon from entering the loft, or even seeing into it, would also prevent magical spying.” I frowned. “I am also thinking that whoever has cast such a spell might feel the energy of someone attempting to scry past it.”
“We can’t do anything that might endanger Cleric,” my Foreman stated, scowling. The rest of us nodded.
“If we can not use magic to circumvent the barrier, and we can not use force, what is left to us?” asked Gypsy.
My Foreman stood and cracked his knuckles. “We could accost the Arrogant One and the Bounty Hunter, bring them here, and persuade them to reveal Cleric’s whereabouts,” he suggested, speaking through clenched teeth.
“I would agree, save one small detail,” I replied. “We don’t know the whereabouts, or the involvement, of my Old Dwarf. If he is in cahoots with either of our suspects, he may be guarding Cleric. Threatening their well-being could bring about retaliation from the dwarf.”
Everyone’s face fell again. We all sat there, quietly, trying to think of another way to determine if Cleric was in the loft.
Finally, Miles spoke up in a timid voice. “How does the magic barrier work?”
“We have no time to school you in the mechanics of magic,” Sorceress retorted, looking down her nose at Miles.
I shot her a warning look, and asked Miles, “What do you mean?”
“I was thinking…does the barrier only prevent entry to the loft at the top of the stairs?” Miles asked.
“There are double doors into the loft, directly over the doors to the first floor of the shed,” Miles reminded us.
“I think I know where you are going with this line of reasoning,” my Foreman replied, “but the kidnappers would surely be able to see someone leaning a ladder against the shed to breach the loft through the doors. Besides, aren’t the doors secured from the inside?”
“We wouldn’t be opening the doors, and we wouldn’t need a ladder,” Miles said. “At least not yet.”
We all looked at him, frowning, as we tried to understand his meaning.
“We’re not launching a rescue attempt yet,” Miles explained. “We only need to find out if Cleric is there or not.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “So how do we do that?”
“I’ll get the lawn mower from the shed. The grass does need mowing, and it is a very normal thing for me to do. I would be above suspicion.”
“That still does not get us into the loft to see if Cleric is there,” Sorceress scoffed.
Ignoring her, Miles turned to Dragon. “If you could change yourself into a tiny field mouse, you could get into the shed unnoticed when I open it to get the lawn mower. A mouse can easily climb up the wooden frame of the shed to the top doors. If they are not protected by the same barrier as the top of the stairs inside the shed, you should be able to peek through the crack between the doors and see if Cleric is there.”
Everyone gaped at Miles.
“That plan should work perfectly!” Dragon agreed. She trilled happily, and spun around in circles. Everyone else nodded and looked at Miles with new respect.
“My husband, the genius!” I exclaimed.
While Miles went upstairs to change into his work clothes, my Sorceress took me aside. “Your husband…he is a most competent problem-solver,” she told me, with a firm nod of her head.
I just smiled. I turned back to the rest of the group and reminded them, “While Dragon and Miles go out to the shed and implement their plan, the rest of you must remain inconspicuous.”
My Foreman nodded. “We don’t want to run into the Arrogant One or the Bounty Hunter and arouse their suspicion. We must go about our typical routine.”
“Exactly!” I agreed. “I will join Miles out back. I often use the weed trimmer while he mows the grass. It will look natural.”
A half hour later, Miles was mowing the lawn while I trimmed around the base of the maple tree. I watched out of the corner of my eye as a tiny field mouse crawled up to the top doors of the shed. Suddenly, a runty Common Grackle launched itself from a nearby tree, and flew directly at the mouse.
Will Dragon/mouse avoid the terrible, terrifying talons of the high-flying, frenzied, flapping, feathered familiar? Will the Writer and her band of characters find the commendable, courageous, cherished Cleric, and identify the vile, vicious villains responsible for her disappearance? Will the Old Dwarf reveal himself as faithful friend, or frightful foe? Will the mettlesome maverick, Master Miles, forget and look the soulful, sleek and soigné Sorceress straight in the eye? For the answer to these and other quintessential quirky questions, be sure to come back next week. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.