Getting Back to Normal

Getting Back to Normal

It had been a difficult week since Cleric, my Old Dwarf, and Dragon had been rescued.

Arrogant One facing rightAll week, I had felt as if my Arrogant One was glued to me. He was the one who had abducted Cleric and my Old Dwarf. If he had been disliked by my other characters before, he was absolutely loathed by them now. He walked on eggshells around them, and rarely left the presumed safety of my side during waking hours. Had he any sense at all, he would have realized he was in much more danger of being throttled by me than by the others.

Dwarf facing rightMy Old Dwarf had bounced back from the injuries he had sustained when my Arrogant One had magically walloped him over the head with a tree limb. He had almost recovered from the indignity of having been knocked unconscious and abducted by the annoying elf. Whenever they were in a room together, the dwarf glared at the elf, eyes narrowed, nostrils flared, and teeth bared. The cantankerous old codger seemed to get immeasurable enjoyment from keeping the elf in a constant state of terror.

dragon facing rightDragon was the one who had recuperated the quickest, in spite of having received critical internal injuries in a fall. Luckily, dragons have phenomenal recuperative powers. The same night she and the others had been rescued, Dragon was already romping around the yard with her friend and champion, the beautiful gray and white Old English Sheepdog, Ollie.

ElfWhile Dragon had mended quickly, Cleric was just the opposite. Though her abrasions had healed quickly enough, her spirit bore the scars of her ordeal. Cleric had become quiet and withdrawn, no longer skipping through the house humming. She could not bear to be in the presence of my Arrogant One, who had been the perpetrator of her abduction in his quest to secure a magical set of keys for the evil wizard, Morcant. She also eschewed contact with my Bounty Hunter, who had confessed to seriously considering a similar scheme to abduct her. Cleric had become easily startled by anyone approaching her, and she frequently ran from the room in tears. So I was pleasantly surprised when the despondent elf approached me one evening.

“Mistress?”

“Yes?”

She wrinkled her brow and looked coldly at the Arrogant One, hovering nearby. “May I speak with you in private, Mistress?”

“Of course.” I frowned at my Arrogant One and jerked my thumb toward the stairs.

“But…but…but…the Old Dwarf is upstairs.”

“Go make your peace with him. I’m tired of tripping over you 24/7.”

“But…”

“Go. Now.”

He took one look at the expression on my face and paled. He spun around and ran up the steps. I turned back to Cleric. “Now, what can I do for you?”

“Mistress, remember the wonderful time we had when you took some of us on an outing this Spring past? We enjoyed the warm sunshine and the cooling breeze while we walked around a nature preserve. We saw all manner of birds and wild creatures, and assisted you in photographing them.”

“Yes, that was a surprisingly enjoyable day.” The memory of that expedition brought a broad smile to my face. (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/a-surprisingly-pleasant-outing/)

“Well, I was wondering, Mistress…” Cleric paused, lowering her eyes and shuffling her feet.

“You were wondering if we could, perhaps, go on another little jaunt?”

Cleric brightened, her whole face transformed by her radiant smile. “Yes, I was.” She gently bit her lower lip, and clasped her hands as if in supplication.

“I think that would be a wonderful idea. I was hoping to go on a nature hike tomorrow, while Miles is helping out at his daughter’s house for the day. Can you be ready by first light?”

Cleric nodded, but then hesitated, her brow wrinkling. “It would be permissible for the Gypsy, the Young Hero, and Dragon to join us, would it not?”

“Of course. The lads enjoyed the previous outing as much as you did, and Dragon has mentioned several times she was sorry she missed that excursion. I’ll see the four of you first thing in the morning.”

For the first time all week, Cleric skipped down the hallway, humming happily to herself.Elf cleric

The next morning, I entered the living room before first light, and found my four characters already waiting for me. For this public excursion, Dragon had disguised her true form by shapeshifting. She had taken on the appearance of an elf maiden, and could easily have been Cleric’s twin.
Young hero 2GypsyThe lads were both still munching their breakfast, and my Gypsy asked, around a mouthful of food, “Are we going to the same place we went last time?”

“No, I have a different place in mind. I think you will enjoy it just as much.” I looked around. “Has anyone seen my Old Dwarf this morning?”

“I be in the kitchen. I dinna finish me breakfast yet.” A moment later, the stocky figure entered the room, a mug of milk in one hand, a slab of chocolate cake in the other, and an ear-to-ear grin brightening his face. “I do be enjoyin’ this notion o havin’ ‘breakfast’ upon risin’ each day. But, Mistress Writer, I trust ye be knowin’ — even though ye be havin’ us eatin’ such meals in the books ye wrote — we never really be havin’ such a thing as ‘breakfast’ afore findin’ ourselves here in yer world.”

“Yes, I am aware that breakfast was not one of the meals generally eaten in medieval times. Let’s just chalk it up to literary license.” I winked at him. “Now, before we leave, I want your word that my Arrogant One will be alive and unharmed when we return.”

“Oh, I may be havin’ me fun at the little popinjay’s expense, but he be sufferin’ no worse harm at me hands than a bad case o the shakes-and-shivers.”

“Good.”

Stu-04-NatGal

As we descended the stairs to leave, I saw my Sorceress at the foot of the steps. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to join us today?”

“I appreciate the offer, and I am sure I would enjoy the outing, Mistress, but I have to collect and prepare some spell components today. I must stay sufficiently supplied, in case Morcant’s familiar should return.”

“I agree. Stay vigilant today, in case he does come back and tries to cause more mischief. And you best keep an eye on my Bounty Hunter, too. My Old Dwarf will keep my Arrogant One out of trouble.”

Sorceress nodded and bade us farewell. With that, my four characters and I entered the garage and piled into the car. Dragon had never been for a ride in the car, so the others helped her with her seat belt. They also tried to prepare her for the ride. Real world, 21st century vehicles go considerably faster than medieval fantasy world forms of transport. Ten minutes after starting out, I pulled onto the main highway, and it was déjà vu. As in the previous trip, I was the only one in the car watching the traffic and the passing scenery. In spite of the fact that three of the characters had experience traveling by car, all four of my passengers were white as sheets, with nary an open eye among them.

Once we arrived at our destination, the others calmed down quickly, and we began. I led them from the parking lot to the lakeside trail.

“Wow! This place is much different from where you previously took us!” My Young Hero was agog as we descended the stairs leading to a large lake.

“We should be able to find some wading birds and some waterfowl here today.” I checked my camera. “I hope I can get some good photos.”

No sooner had I said that, my Gypsy pointed. An undisputed expert on birds, he took the lead in explaining to the others what we were seeing. “That’s a Green Heron. He’s hunting for small fish, insects, amphibians and the like. Green Heron sometimes employ tools to lure their prey. He may drop a feather or a twig or even an insect onto the surface of the water, to entice fish close. Then he extends his long neck and grabs his prey with his long, pointy bill.”

“Darn. I can’t get a good shot of him behind that vegetation.”Westwood Hills 005

Cleric walked to the water’s edge and spoke to the bird. He obligingly flew over to a nearby log and posed for me.

“Thanks! Your ability to communicate with the birds never ceases to amaze me!”

“Look!” My Young Hero pointed to a spot beyond the heron. “There are some ducks. The one group looks like Mallards.”

“Yup, they are.” Westwood Hills 175

Cleric looked at them, then at the smaller ducks. “Are the others Wood Ducks? They look like the ones in the pond behind our yard, Mistress.”

Before I could reply, my Gypsy chimed in. “Yes, you’re right. Those are Wood Ducks. And two of them are much younger than the ones in our pond. They must have had a late clutch.”

My Gypsy and Cleric enticed the Wood Ducks closer, so I could get a few photos.

Westwood Hills 026As we continued walking along the boardwalk adjacent to the lake, a small bird popped out of the reeds and up onto the wooden walkway. He stopped and studied us as my Gypsy whistled a bird call. Witchety-witchety-witchety. “That’s a young male Common Yellowthroat. They are small songbirds that can often be found in the tangle of vegetation at the edge of marshes and wetlands, where they forage for insects.”

Dragon, who had been silently taking in everything, nudged me. “Look!” She pointed to several dragonflies near the Common Yellowthroat. “Not as pretty as I was when I transformed into a dragonfly, but still very attractive.”

I smiled and nodded in agreement.

“There is a turtle climbing up on that log near the red dragonfly.” My Cleric pointed. “And there are more on that other log, farther out in the lake.” It was good to see her with such a delighted smile on her face.

 

Westwood Hills 108After I took a few photos, we continued on our way, with my Gypsy continuing to point out the various birds we passed. “Immature Red-shouldered Hawk!” He indicated a bird in a nearby tree.

 

Westwood Hills 214“There’s another one.” My Young Hero nodded toward another tree.

 

 

 

“The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds do not seem to be intimidated by the presence of the hawks.” Cleric walked over to a pair of hummingbirds in a nearby tree.

My Gypsy nodded. “That’s because Red-shouldered Hawks rarely eat birds. Their prey mostly consists of small mammals, lizards, snakes, and amphibians.”

“Do you think you can persuade the hummers to pose for a few quick photos? The hummingbirds in our yard have not been cooperative lately. It would be nice to get a few good images of this pair.”

Cleric smiled and nodded.

“I should think the hummingbirds would be upset over the presence of those noisy things!” Dragon glared at the plane passing directly overhead, part of the steady stream of traffic from the nearby airport. Westwood Hills 094

 

 

 

“Oh, that does seem strange! None of the birds seem to be bothered by the flying machines!” Cleric skipped ahead to chat with an adult male Northern Cardinal and one of his young offspring, and a sassy Gray Catbird.

 

While Cleric bounded ahead, my Young Hero studied a Black-capped Chickadee, while Dragon was intrigued by a juvenile Red-bellied Woodpecker overhead in a tree. My Gypsy engaged a Song Sparrow at the edge of the boardwalk, while I took some photos of an Olive-sided Flycatcher.

“The day will not be complete without finding the resident flock of Wild Turkeys.” I motioned the group off the boardwalk and into the woods. We soon found a small flock, a group of bachelor males, grooming and foraging for nuts, seeds and insects.Westwood Hills 162

Cleric stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes as big as saucers. “They are very large!”

“They do not look so large to me.” Dragon smiled and winked.

For the rest of the day, we hiked and took pictures of the wildlife. Everyone had a great time. My Gypsy played the clown, as always, teasing and playing practical jokes on the others. My Young Hero studied everything carefully, asking me all manner of questions about the wildlife we encountered. Dragon and Cleric harmonized on a few elven folk songs, their voices taking on the quality of birdsong and wind through the trees. The tensions of the past week melted away. We were a tired but happy group when we climbed the stairs back up to the parking lot.

None of us noticed the small Red Squirrel with fiercely glowing eyes following us through the woods. Westwood Hills 240

“Will we be able to see all the photos you took when we get home?” My Young Hero asked, as he and my Gypsy helped Dragon and Cleric into the car.

“Of course. We can look at them on the computer, right after dinner. I know Miles will want to see them, and perhaps Sorceress and the others as well.”

“And, of course, we will leave the porch light on, in case any of your readers would like to join us.” Cleric smiled broadly as we pulled out of the nature area and headed for home.

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What Happened

What Happened

DwarfOnce released from his bonds, my Old Dwarf was on his feet, sputtering like a wet hen, and looking for vengeance. “Where be thet cowardly popinjay? He be a dead elfie when I be gettin’ me hands on em!”

 

My Arrogant One yelped, and ducked behind Miles and me. “He’s insane! I demand you protect me!”

“Whoa, there!” I placed a restraining hand on my Old Dwarf’s chest as he advanced. “That can wait. You, Cleric and Dragon have been through a rough ordeal. You need rest and something to eat.” My Old Dwarf calmed down and smiled at the mention of food. “Then I want to hear exactly what happened. Then you can kill the elfie. Maybe.” I winked broadly at the dwarf, as my Arrogant One let out another yelp. The Old Dwarf grinned ear to ear. It was hard to tell which made him happier — the thought of doing away with the annoying elf, or the thought of a hearty meal.

My Foreman and the lads had untied Cleric and removed her gag. She pushed herself to a sitting position, and rubbed her wrists and ankles where the ropes had cut into her delicate skin. Upon seeing those abrasions, my Foreman swore and glared at my Arrogant One. His nostrils flared and the cords in his neck stood taut. “The Old Dwarf may have to stand in line to get to that one.”

Elf facing rightCleric blushed. “I assure you, I have suffered no permanent damage. I would be most grateful, however, if someone could help me to my feet. I do feel a bit unsteady.”

As her friends rushed to Cleric’s aid, my attention moved to Dragon. She had still not moved from her original position. Her friend, the beautiful gray and white Old English Sheepdog, Ollie, was still standing over her, nuzzling her and whining softly. I knelt down beside them. “Dragon? How severe are your injuries?”

“They were very severe, Mistress. But, as you know, Dragons have extraordinary recuperative powers. I have already mended sufficiently to make my way to the house, if I do not try to move too quickly.”Dragon

Ollie 2Ollie looked at his friend, worry showing clearly in his china blue eyes. Dragon chuckled, tiny puffs of smoke dancing from her nostrils. “Do not fret, Ollie. I will soon be my old self, and we can have a good romp in the garden before you return home to your companion, James.”

Ollie tried to wag his little bobbed tail, and his entire rear end wiggled about in the process. His mouth opened and his tongue lolled in a big puppy-dog grin. I smiled, and made a mental note to call my colleague and Facebook friend, James Stack, and let him know his beloved Ollie was here, safe and sound.

We made our way slowly to the house. After the trio had a chance to eat and relax for a while, we gathered in the living room — a more comfortable setting, I thought, than our normal conference room meeting place. When everyone was ready, I cleared my throat and began.

“Cleric, can you tell us what happened?”

Arrogant One“Wait! I object! Why does she get to go first?” My Arrogant One faced me, wide-eyed and trembling.

I raised my eyebrow at him. “Would you prefer to have my Old Dwarf go first?”

My Arrogant One almost collapsed. He started babbling. “No, no, no! You can not believe anything they say! Let me tell you what happened!”

“You don’t need to. You have previously admitted abducting both Cleric and my Old Dwarf. I want to hear what they have to say now.”

“But…but…but…”

“You will be silent, or the rest of us will draw lots to see who can claim the pleasure of silencing you…permanently.” Sorceress spoke softly, but her cold stare silenced my Arrogant One and sent him whimpering to the corner of the room.

I turned back to Cleric. “Please tell us what happened.”

ElfCleric furrowed her brow and bit her lower lip. “I really can not say exactly what happened, Mistress. When I left your office, I stopped at the front door to turn on the porch light as you had instructed. Through the glass, I saw someone moving about in the shadows in the front yard, so I opened the door and stepped outside to investigate. The next thing I knew, I woke up, bound and gagged, on the floor of the shed loft. The Old Dwarf was lying nearby, similarly trussed.” Cleric paused, rubbing her temple. “At some point, I became aware of Dragon’s presence as well, but when and how she had entered the loft, I could not say. She lay very still, and appeared to be in pain.” Cleric shook her head. “That is all I know, Mistress. I am sorry.”

“That’s all right.” I addressed my Old Dwarf. “What can you tell us?”

My Old Dwarf frowned. “Not much more than the lassie did. I be on me way up ta the kitchen, ta have a wee snack, when I heerd Cleric comin’ up the steps ahind me. I turned ta wait fer her, ta see iffin she be wantin’ a snack, too. I seed her light the porch lamp, then she opened the door and stepped out. I seed that blasted fancy-pants elfie grab her and put summat o’er her mouth and nose. I rushed out ta stop him, and he durn near cracked me skull wide open!”Dwarf

“Wait! He hit you?” My Foreman shook his head. “He said he used magic to subdue you.”

My Old Dwarf snorted. “Aye, thet’s just what he done, all right! He be conjurin’ a bloody big tree limb ta fall on me head!” He turned and glared menacingly at my Arrogant One, who shrank further back into the corner, in an unsuccessful attempt to disappear into the wall. My Old Dwarf turned back toward me and continued. “Well, that be all I kin tell ye. I woke up later with a band o gremlins bangin’ away on an anvil inside me head, and I be trussed up like a holiday goose! I seed Cleric next ta me, all tied up, too, and it dinna be too long afore I seed Dragon shimmerin’ inta sight nearby. The beastie looked as iffin someone put a bad hurtin’ on her, too.”

I nodded. “Then neither of you know for sure if my Arrogant One abducted you on his own, or if he had an accomplice?”

Cleric shook her head. “Until you said that the Arrogant One had already admitted the deed, I did not even know it was he who abducted me. I never saw anyone else in the loft, other than the dwarf and Dragon. So I could not say if the Arrogant One worked alone, or in concert with others.”

My Old Dwarf shrugged. “I do na think he be workin’ wit anyone. He come ta the loft once, by hisself, and he seemed all bug-eyed and perplexed. He could na see Cleric an me, layin’ there. He kept sayin’ stuff like ‘Where could they be? How could they have escaped?’ Then, he brought yer man ta the loft.”Easter 128

“My man? You mean Miles?”

“Aye. He could na see us, either. The elfie dragged yer man inta every corner o the loft, tellin’ him it be nuttin but a meditation area. He convinced yer man thet there be nuttin ta see in the loft.”

“Well, it does not surprise me that neither Miles nor my Arrogant One could see you. The wizard Morcant claimed to have magically concealed the two of you from everyone’s sight.”

I turned to my Bounty Hunter. “Suppose you explain your part in all this. You claim that you were not working with my Arrogant One.”

Bounty Hunter“I was not. I did not really have a part in it, although I do admit it was not for lack of desire. I had thought of abducting Cleric and holding her for ransom. I thought you would trade the keys for her safe return. I had thought to make a deal with Morcant for the keys. Before I could act, though, the Arrogant One had already abducted Cleric. So I followed him to the shed, hoping to force him into a deal. But I saw no evidence of Cleric in the shed. And when I spoke with Morcant again, through his familiar, I decided the wizard was not trustworthy. He was all too ready to abandon the deal he had offered me, and propose it to the Arrogant One instead. At that point, I abandoned any plans I may have had.”

I frowned and cocked my head. “But you questioned me about the keys, about their possible existence in more than one place at a time.”Keys 015

“Yes. You have explained that we characters who have fallen from the pages of your manuscript, landing in this world, still continue to exist in our own world. I thought perhaps it was the same with the keys, that my other self might have a chance to obtain the keys in that world. I’m not sure how I thought my other self would even learn of these keys, but if he…I…did, I thought he…I…could find a way to contact Morcant and sell him the keys.”

I nodded. “Luckily, I see no way that could ever happen.” I turned to Dragon. “And what can you tell me?”

“As you know, Master Miles came up with the idea of my transforming into a field mouse to enable me to climb up the outside of the shed to the loft doors. I was to attempt to see through the cracks in the doors, to determine if Cleric was being held in the loft. As I climbed, however, Morcant’s familiar, the milky-eyed grackle, flew at me and knocked me onto the concrete slab below. I suffered many internal injuries.”

Ollie leaped to his feet, whining and howling pathetically. “Nooooooooo!”

Dragon spoke soothingly to her friend. “It is okay, Ollie. I feel much better already, and I will fully recover before long. Dragons can heal themselves from near death.”

Ollie jumped up on the couch next to Dragon, and smothered her in puppy-dog kisses. Dragon sighed happily then bade her friend to settle down. Ollie curled up next to Dragon, who then continued.

“After I had been knocked off the shed by Morcant’s familiar, I was more determined than ever to see what was in the loft. In spite of my injuries, I managed to scramble back up to the loft doors, and squeeze through a crack. There, I transformed back into my own form. I then used my magic to locate Cleric and the Old Dwarf, and defeat the wizard’s spell of concealment. However, the injuries sustained in the fall had already weakened me, and the magic I employed drained much of my remaining energy. I lost consciousness before I could free my friends. I drifted in and out of consciousness for what seemed like weeks. During this ordeal, I kept thinking about Ollie.”Ollie 3

Ollie jumped up again, and started spinning around. “Woof! Woof! I knew you were in trouble! Yip, yip, yip! I came as soon as I could!” In his excitement, he mixed his canine and human language, but we all understood, and loudly applauded the brave pup.

“You’re a hero, Ollie! Without your help, I don’t know how long it might have been before we found Dragon and the others! Wait until I tell James. He will be so proud!”

While we were congratulating Ollie, my Arrogant One attempted to tip-toe away unnoticed. Ollie whirled around and planted himself in front of the elf. He bared his teeth and growled a deep, throaty growl.

“I do believe Ollie is inviting you to stay.” I smiled a tight-lipped smile at my Arrogant One.

The elf’s eyes widened and he staggered back, falling into a chair.

“I can not believe anyone, not even you, would be so greedy, or so stupid!” I shook my head in disgust. “You showed your stupidity by attempting to secure the keys for Morcant. Morcant

I explained to all of you how dangerous that wizard is, to his own world, to your world, to my world. If you thought to profit from dealing with him, you would have been painfully disappointed. He is not a creature to be trusted. He would have destroyed you as soon as he had what he wanted.”

My Arrogant One pursed his lips and rolled his eyes at me.

“I see you do not believe me. Well, no matter. I have disposed of the keys. I feared they would continue to be too great a temptation to some of you.” I looked pointedly at my Arrogant One, and my Bounty Hunter. “I could not risk what your greed or your hunger for power might lead you to do next.”

“That is a wise precaution.” Sorceress nodded approvingly. “What will you tell Morcant, should his familiar return?”

“We’ll deal with that situation if and when it occurs. For now, I think we all need to get some sleep.” I turned to my Arrogant One. “We will discuss the appropriate reprisal for your transgressions tomorrow.” He hung his head, his cheeks flaming, but did not debate my decision.

Dragon cleared her throat. “Since Ollie must return home in the morning, we will spend some time in the garden tonight. We will turn on the porch light on our way out.” Dragon smiled and blew smoke rings as she and her canine friend trotted off.

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I would like to thank author and #platchal friend James Stack for allowing his wonderful Old English Sheepdog, Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm (or Ollie, as he prefers to be called) to extend his visit. Be sure to check out their excellent blog here: http://siroliverofskygatefarm.com/

Ollie's companion James StackJames Stack’s memoir, WORLD’S FAIR, and collection of poetry, PLEASURES & SEASONS OF VERMONT, were published in 2013. His poems have appeared in ENGLYN: Journal of Four Line Poetry, the Maine Review (Grand Prize winner), America Is Not the World (Pankhearst Anthology), and Ash & Bones. His short stories have appeared in the Maine Review and Five2One Magazine and been semifinalists in the New Millennium Writings and Cutthroat contests.

 

You can follow James Stack on social media: https://twitter.com/SkygateStack   and https://www.facebook.com/JamesStackAuthor/?fref=ts

Ollie 3
You can also read about Ollie’s first appearance in my blog here: https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2015/12/27/another-guest/

Ollie to the Rescue

Ollie to the Rescue

shed loftIt felt as if I had been punched in the gut, and from the looks on the faces of my companions, I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. We had just rushed to the shed loft, expecting to find Cleric and my Old Dwarf. My Arrogant One had confessed to kidnapping them, and conveying them here. Then, the evil wizard Morcant had magically concealed them from everyone’s sight. Morcant claimed to have released his spell, so they should have been here, clearly visible. Instead, all we found in the loft was a lot of empty space. I let loose a string of expletives that had all my characters, as well as Miles, gaping at me.

 

“Someone’s lying. Either Morcant never released his spell, or someone has removed our friends.” My face twisted into an angry snarl as I contemplated what to do with the guilty party.

Sorceress walked over to the far end of the loft and stood there, her brow wrinkled in concentration. “What is it?” my Gypsy asked after a few moments.

“Those of my race who are gifted with the power to perform magic are also gifted with the ability to sense magic.”

Stu-04-NatGal

I frowned and cocked my head. “Do you sense magic now?”

“I do.”

“Then, Morcant’s spell is still active?”

“I can not say, Mistress. Unfortunately, although I have the ability to sense magic, I do not have the ability to discern the source of that magic. It could be Morcant’s spell or it could be the Arrogant One’s spell. It could even be magical residue, if an item of immense magical properties has been here recently.” She paused, cocking her head. She moved about the far end of the loft, her eyes lidded, appearing deep in concentration. “Whatever it is, it has the feel of very powerful magic, ancient magic.”

My Foreman scowled. “Great. So how do we determine the source of the magic? And how do we find our friends?”

“We go talk to Morcant again. If there’s any chance he didn’t release his spell, I’m going to make good my threat to plunge him into eternal darkness and silence.” I whirled around and grabbed my Arrogant One, who was slinking toward the stairs. “And don’t you even think about disappearing! If Morcant has released his spell, and we need to find another possible source of the magic Sorceress senses, you’re the next one I’ll deal with.”Arrogant One

My Arrogant One drew himself up and jerked away from me. He tossed his hair back and looked down his nose at me. “The only spell I cast here was the one creating the barrier. I released that spell as soon as it appeared someone had breached it, as soon as I was unable to find Cleric and the Old Dwarf where I left them.”

I raised an eyebrow at the duplicitous elf.

“There was no sense in leaving a barrier that had already been breached, now was there?” He folded his arms in front of him, and gave me a dismissive nod.

“You’d best be telling the truth.” My Foreman scowled at the Arrogant One, and took his arm to escort him back to the house.

We left the shed and trudged back to the house in silence. We plodded up the stairs to the deck. As we entered the house, an unearthly screech assaulted our ears. Morcant’s familiar, the milky-eyed grackle, flew up from the lower level of the house, swooped around the corner of the stairwell and zoomed straight toward the open door.GrackleInFlight

“Catch that bird!”

Startled and disoriented by the bird’s loud squawking and Morcant’s banshee-like scream, most of the group dove out of the way. My Foreman made an awkward grab for the bird as it passed over his head, but came away with just a handful of tail feathers.

We all watched, dumbfounded, as the bird flew off, disappearing into the clouds.

“How did he get out of his box?”

Sorceress looked at me wide-eyed. “Remember what Morcant said, Mistress. ‘There is no way for you to confine this bird.’ Evidently, that was not an idle boast.”

“Wonderful.” I heaved a big sigh. “Without Morcant, I don’t know how we’re going to find Cleric and my Old Dwarf. And we still have no idea where Dragon could be.” I blinked back tears of frustration.

phone with caller IDI was about to order my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter to be taken back to the conference room for more interrogation, when the phone rang. I looked at the caller ID, and grabbed for the receiver. “Everyone wait for me downstairs!”

A half-hour later, I headed for the conference room. Miles was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. I didn’t even realize I was frowning until he asked, “Bad news?”

“Huh?”

“The phone call. Was it bad news?”

I grunted an affirmation. “That was my colleague and Facebook friend, James Stack.”

“I don’t think I know him.”

“No, you’ve never met him, but you might remember I told you his Old English Sheepdog, Ollie, visited here in December.”Ollie 2

“Oh, okay. I remember that. So what was James calling about?”

“Ollie’s missing. James said Ollie did something this morning he’s never done before. He nudged open the gate and just took off. James is really worried about Ollie, and asked me to let him know if the dog shows up here.”

“Why on earth would James think Ollie would come here?”

“Because of Dragon. James told me Ollie’s been worrying lately and asking questions about Dragon.”Dragon

“Do you think Ollie senses that Dragon is in trouble?”

“Possibly. They seem to have formed a special bond during Ollie’s visit.”

I sighed and rubbed the back of my neck. I opened the conference room door. Everyone stared at me, waiting. I couldn’t admit to them I had run out of ideas. I slumped into a chair and cleared my throat. “So…does anyone have anything new to add? Has anyone remembered anything that might be significant? Would anyone like to confess anything?”

Everyone shook their head and shuffled around. My Young Hero wrinkled his brow. “Have we determined if Dragon’s disappearance is connected to that of Cleric and the Old Dwarf?”

“No, we haven’t. Dragon, while transformed into a fieldmouse, had climbed up to the loft’s exterior doors.mouse 3 She was attempting to see inside, to determine if Cleric or my Old Dwarf was in there. Morcant’s familiar attacked her, and I fear Dragon may have been gravely injured when they fell to the concrete slab below. There’s no way to tell if she had discovered anything in the loft before she fell.”

My Arrogant One waved dismissively. “If Morcant magically concealed Cleric and the Old Dwarf, how could Dragon have discovered anything? I was not able to see them, so how could your beast?”

Morcant“We still do not know if Morcant really did conceal them, or if he removed them from the loft. Nothing that wizard says can be taken at face value.”

My Bounty Hunter shrugged. “If he removed them, you may never be able to find them.”

“We might not be able to, but what about you? You track people down for a living. How would you go about finding them?”

Before my Bounty Hunter could answer me, Miles interrupted. “Hush!”

“What?”

“Listen. It sounds like a dog barking.”

I looked out the window. “It’s Ollie!”

The Old English Sheepdog was barking frantically and throwing himself at the shed doors. As if he could sense my eyes on him, Ollie suddenly turned and ran toward the house, scrambling up the wooden steps to the deck. My companions and I rushed, pell-mell, upstairs and met him at the door.

“Ollie! What are you doing here? James just called — he’s so worried about you!”

In response, the handsome gray and white pup just whined and grabbed my jeans in his mouth, pulling me frantically toward the steps.

“Wait a minute, Ollie! Don’t pull so hard, I’ll fall! I’ll follow you. We all will.”

Ollie released me, and dashed down the steps so fast, I feared he would tumble and hurt himself. At the bottom of the stairs, he turned and looked back at us, still standing on the deck. He danced around, every inch of him quivering. “Woof! Woof! Please hurry! Woof!” He was so distraught, he was mixing human and dog-speak. He all but collapsed, waiting for us.Ollie 3

“Let’s go!”

My Arrogant One sneered, and planted himself firmly in our path. “Who is that cur, and why should we follow him?”

“That’s no cur, that’s Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm…Dragon’s friend, Ollie!”

Upon hearing that, my Gypsy and my Young Hero grabbed my Arrogant One and dragged him along, as we all raced after Ollie. When we caught up with him, the distraught pup was, once again, throwing himself at the shed doors.

“Wait, Ollie! We will grant you access!” My Sorceress knelt and gently restrained the trembling dog as my Foreman opened the heavy double doors. As soon as they were open, Ollie wriggled free and dashed inside. He made a beeline for the steps and ascended to the loft, all of us in tow.

By the time we had all clambered up the stairs, Ollie was standing at the far end of the loft, whining. He appeared to be gently pawing at a spot on the floor, and nudging something with his nose.

“What do you have there, fella?” Miles walked over to see what Ollie had found. He looked back at us, his brow furrowed. “There’s nothing here!”

“That’s the same area where you most strongly sensed the magic, isn’t it, Sorceress?” My Gypsy and Sorceress walked over to stand next to Miles and Ollie.

Sorceress nodded.

“Woof! Woof!” Ollie was practically going berserk, barking and saying something that sounded very much like “Dragon!”

“Steady, Ollie!” I turned to Sorceress. “Could it be dragon magic you sense?”

“Very likely, Mistress. There is naught more ancient than the arcane power of the Great Wyrms.”Another dragon

“Then, Dragon, at least, is here…perhaps Cleric and the Old Dwarf as well. But how are we to find them, if Morcant did not release his spell?”

“Given time, the Gypsy and I might be able to determine a way to undo the fabric of the spell.”

Ollie started barking incessantly. Suddenly, he whirled around and lunged toward my Arrogant One.

The annoying elf yelped, and tried to hide behind my Foreman. “Is that beast mad? Keep it away from me!”

Ollie persisted, nipping at my Arrogant One’s heels and yipping at him. He herded him over next to my Gypsy and Sorceress, and barked at him. “Help, help, help! Yip, yip! You help them! Woof, woof!” His human and canine words tumbled together, but his meaning was clear.

“Other than dragon magic, the magic of the elven race is the most ancient and most powerful known on our world. It is even more powerful than my own magic. If you join your power with mine and that of the Gypsy, perhaps we can free our friends.”

“And why would I do that? I would not benefit from using my power to aid your quest. I care not if they stay hidden for the rest of their miserable lives!”Arrogant One

Ollie advanced on my Arrogant One, teeth bared. A deep growl emanated from his throat.

As the elf yelped again, and tried to bolt, Miles and I blocked his escape path. “I do believe that Ollie is telling you the main benefit of helping would be staying in one piece.” I cocked my head and quirked an eyebrow at the trembling figure, while Miles tried unsuccessfully to stifle a snicker.

“All right, all right. I will lend my assistance!”

The three magic users held a brief discussion on the combination of spells they needed to cast in order to defeat Morcant’s magic. “I will go collect the necessary spell components.” Sorceress quickly headed toward the stairs.

“Woof, woof, hurry, please hurry, woof, woof!”

Sorceress returned directly with pouches of powders and vials of liquids. “This should suffice.” Then, with Ollie pointing to the spot where he sensed his friend, the trio began. In unison, they chanted, occasionally employing some of the magic components.

Gradually, the area in front of them started to change. It almost took on the appearance of a window, with sheets of rainwater obscuring anything that lay beyond.rain-on-window The trio labored for the better part of an hour, faces set in concentration, sweat pouring from their brows. Slowly, the mirage of the rain-soaked window cleared. When it finally disappeared in a shower of sparks, our three missing friends were revealed.

 

As everyone else hurried to untie Cleric and my Old Dwarf, I watched as Ollie ran straight to Dragon. The beautiful gray and white dog whined and licked his friend’s snout, and Dragon responded with a happy puff of smoke and a grateful thump of her tail. “Thank you, my dear friend. I knew you would hear me, and come to my rescue.”

Ollie’s mouth opened wide and his tongue lolled in a big puppy-dog grin. “Woof! Woof!” His words were for Dragon’s ears alone, and the two of them gazed into each other’s eyes. All was right with the world once more.

I tore my eyes from the touching scene, and smiled at Cleric and my Old Dwarf. “Let’s get you to the house. I’m sure you must be hungry, thirsty, and tired. And once you have recovered from your ordeal, I want to hear precisely what happened.”

Come back next week to hear all the details of their harrowing adventure. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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I would like to thank author and #platchal friend James Stack for the loan of his wonderful Old English Sheepdog, Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm, or Ollie, as he prefers to be called. Be sure to check out their excellent blog here: http://siroliverofskygatefarm.com/

 

Ollie's companion James Stack

James Stack’s memoir, WORLD’S FAIR, and collection of poetry, PLEASURES & SEASONS OF VERMONT, were published in 2013. His poems have appeared in ENGLYN: Journal of Four Line Poetry, the Maine Review (Grand Prize winner), America Is Not the World (Pankhearst Anthology), and Ash & Bones. His short stories have appeared in the Maine Review and Five2One Magazine and been semifinalists in the New Millennium Writings and Cutthroat contests.
You can follow James Stack on social media: https://twitter.com/SkygateStack and https://www.facebook.com/JamesStackAuthor/?fref=ts

 

 

Ollie 3
You can also read about Ollie’s first appearance in my blog here: https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2015/12/27/another-guest/

The Mystery Continues

The Mystery Continues

We were stunned. My Foreman, my Gypsy, my Young Hero and I had just witnessed the apparent images of four of our friends floating dead in the pond. The lads collapsed in tears, and my Foreman and I struggled to control our emotions.

“They’re all dead. I can’t believe they’re all dead!” My Foreman’s voice cracked, and he buried his face in his hands.

“Don’t be too sure about that,” Miles said, entering the room.

I gave him a blank look. “But we just saw them in the scrying bowl — Cleric, my Old Dwarf, Dragon and Sorceress. They were all dead.”

Miles grinned. “Maybe this will make you feel better.” He reached around the doorjamb and drew someone into the room.

“Sorceress!”

Stu-04-NatGal

We were immediately on our feet, taking turns embracing her.

“Really! I rather doubt I have been gone so long as to warrant this welcome!”

“But, you’re alive! If you’re alive, maybe the others are, too!” My Gypsy was grinning ear-to-ear.

“Alive? Well, of course I am alive! What ever made you think I was not?”

Then we were all talking at once, explaining what we had just seen. Finally, Sorceress raised her hand and we all fell quiet. “I believe I understand. Please, sit down. Master Miles and I will share with you what we know.”

GypsyAs we sat, my Gypsy cleared his throat. “Sorceress, I am so glad you are okay, but I know we saw your corpse floating in the pond, along with the other three.” He wrung his hands and fumbled for words. “Did…did I do something wrong? Did I not pronounce the words of the incantation properly? Did I add the spell components in the wrong order, or in the wrong amounts?”

Sorceress smiled at him, and patted his hand. “I am sure it was nothing you did, my friend. I believe there was another force at work, interfering with your efforts.”

My Gypsy frowned, and cocked his head, but I understood immediately. “Morcant!”Morcant

Miles and Sorceress both nodded. Miles said, “I came downstairs to see if your Gypsy had finished his attempt at scrying. I heard a voice in your office. I went to the office door, and I could hear chanting. I couldn’t understand the words, though.”

“I had just returned from collecting spell components,” Sorceress said. “I saw Master Miles standing outside your office, Mistress. When he saw me, he looked relieved. He motioned to me to join him near the office door. I heard Morcant, and I could understand enough of the wizard’s incantation to know it was a spell of deception. After Master Miles informed me all of you thought I had gone missing, and the Gypsy was attempting to locate me or our missing friends by scrying, I realized Morcant was attempting to thwart the Gypsy’s spell.”

“So Morcant wants us to believe that you, Cleric, Dragon, and the Old Dwarf are all dead. But why?”

“Yes, why? I thought you said Morcant wasn’t involved,” Miles said.

I shrugged. “I believed he was, until my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter convinced me he wasn’t. Sorceress, do you remember when we questioned Morcant? When you threatened his familiar in order to get the wizard to confess? My Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter interrupted us, claiming Morcant knew nothing, and the wizard didn’t contradict them.”

“Yes, but something bothered me about that. The Arrogant One seemed to be there against his will. If you remember, when they burst into your office and stopped me harming the bird, the Bounty Hunter was prodding the Arrogant One with his crossbow.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Yes, I remember. At the time, I couldn’t understand why he’d do that, but in my surprise at learning none of them were involved in Cleric’s disappearance, I failed to question them.”

“Mistress? I realize something now I should have discerned then. Neither the Arrogant One nor the Bounty Hunter actually denied kidnapping Cleric. They only denied being in league with Morcant.”

I gaped at her. “You’re right,” I said, slapping my forehead.

My Foreman raked his hand through his hair and sighed. “Nothing makes sense! If they’re the ones who kidnapped Cleric, but they’re not working for the wizard, why would Morcant attempt to keep us from finding Cleric and the others?”

“Maybe we should ask the three of them.”

My Foreman nodded. “The lads and I will find the first two, and invite them to join us.”

“Miles and I will bring Morcant’s familiar in here, where there’s enough room for everyone.” I turned to Sorceress. “Does Morcant know you were listening to him?”

“No, so I shall stay hidden. If Morcant sees me here, through his familiar’s eyes, we may loose the advantage in the interrogation.”

I nodded, and motioned Sorceress toward a large closet, where she could observe covertly. My Foreman and the lads went off in search of my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter, while Miles and I went to my office. We collected the box containing Morcant’s familiar, the milky-eyed grackle, brought it to the conference room, and set it on the floor.box for bird

Within the hour, my Foreman and the lads returned, all but dragging my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One, struggling and protesting.

Arrogant One“Get your hands off me!” There was a loud rip, as my Arrogant One pulled away from my Gypsy. “Now look what you’ve done!” His face was almost as purple as his torn robe, and his voice was approaching a pitch that only dogs would be able to hear. “I demand to know why we have been dragged here!”

“Sit. Down.” I jabbed a finger at him and scowled. He paled, and immediately sat down, with no further argument.

“You, too!” I rounded on my Bounty Hunter who stumbled all over himself trying to get into his seat.

My Foreman blocked the door, and the lads stood behind my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter. Miles positioned himself next to the box containing Morcant’s familiar. I stood for many long minutes, just glaring at the two characters, squirming in their seats. Finally, I broke the silence, struggling to control my voice. “Where is she?”

“Who?” My Arrogant One raised his eyebrows and cocked his head.

“You know who! What have you done with Cleric?”

Bounty Hunter“We told you we had nothing to do with Cleric’s disappearance.” My Bounty Hunter’s voice remained even, but his eyes darted around the room as if looking for an escape route, and he continually clasped and unclasped his hands.

“No, you told me you had not kidnapped Cleric for Morcant. You never said you had nothing to do with her disappearance.”

My Arrogant One started to jump to his feet, but my Gypsy pushed him back into his seat. The elf tossed his head and assumed an injured air. He brushed off his robe and glared at my Gypsy. “I told you from the start that it was most likely the Old Dwarf who kidnapped her!”

“Enough of your deceptions! We know it was you two.” I indicated the scrying bowl and spell components on the table.

My Arrogant One scoffed. “You can not have seen anything in that! You would have said so earlier.”

“Not if my Gypsy just discovered a spell allowing him to use the scrying bowl to see into the past.”

My Arrogant One paled. He swallowed several times, and tried to speak, but no sound came out.

“Can’t you see she’s bluffing?” My Bounty Hunter shook his head and snorted. “If you saw Cleric’s abduction in that bowl, then why don’t you know where she is?” He sneered, and waved his hand dismissively.

“That was my fault.” My Gypsy played his role perfectly. His cheeks colored, and he shuffled his feet. “I got so excited when we saw the two of you abducting our friend, I lost the spell and we were unable to see where you took her.”

“The two of us?” My Bounty Hunter was on his feet. “You never saw the two of us do anything.”

Morcant’s familiar cackled and flapped his wings. As Morcant started to say something, Miles threw a towel over the screen top on the bird’s box, cutting Morcant off.

I nodded approvingly at Miles. “We’ll get to you later, wizard!” I turned back to my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One. “Talk. Now.”

“Or what?” My Arrogant One laughed.

“Or I will eradicate every mention of you from my manuscripts. You will cease to exist.”

My Arrogant One’s eyes grew large as saucers, and he began to sweat profusely. My Bounty Hunter started rocking back and forth in his chair, wringing his hands. Finally, they both nodded.

“I took Cleric,” my Arrogant One said in a small voice, forcing us all to lean toward him to hear. “At the time, it was my intent to trade her for the keys and make a deal with Morcant. While I was attempting to carry Cleric off, the Old Dwarf saw us, and came to her defense.”

I nodded and smiled, glad to have been proven right about the old scoundrel. “Go on.”

“I subdued the Old Dwarf by magic, and used magic to take them both to the shed loft. I left them there, bound and gagged, and created a magic barrier so no one could enter the loft. But somehow, someone defeated my barrier and removed them. I assumed it to be the Bounty Hunter.”

I turned to him. “Did you remove them from the loft?”

“How could I have? Am I a magician? How could I get past his barrier?”

“If not you, then who?” My Arrogant One glared at the smaller man. “I know that you, too, had contemplated capturing Cleric in an effort to obtain the keys and make your own deal with Morcant.”

“I admit the thought had crossed my mind, but Cleric vanished before I could act. By the time I had decided you were the one responsible for her disappearance, you had sealed off the loft and I was unable to get to her.”

“Then who breached my barrier and took her and the Old Dwarf?” My Arrogant One raised his palms and shook his head.

I scowled and turned to Miles. “Uncover the bird.”

Morcant's familiar

The milky-eyed grackle squawked and flapped violently as Miles removed the towel covering the box.

“Okay, Morcant, your turn!” I hoped my voice sounded sufficiently menacing. “We know you cast a spell of deception when my Gypsy was attempting to scry. Why?”

The wizard’s screechy response poured from the bird’s beak. “I was merely providing myself some entertainment. It is rather boring in this tower.”

I snorted. “Did you abduct Cleric and the Old Dwarf from the loft?”

“Tell me, witch, what do you plan to do to me if I do not talk? You can not eliminate me from your ridiculous scrolls and parchments.”

“Maybe not, Morcant, but I told you before I can place your familiar in a completely dark, totally soundless place, effectively plunging you into eternal blackness and silence.”

Morcant’s already shrill voice raised an octave. “Nay, beldame! Prithee, do not condemn me to such a fate! I admit to having a hand in the disappearance of the elf maiden and her stocky companion. But I did not abduct them, simply magically concealed them from all, including the elf who closeted them within the loft.”

“To what purpose?” my Arrogant One demanded. “I was willing to make a deal with you.”

“I did not believe you capable of obtaining the keys.”

My Arrogant One waved dismissively at the grackle. “With the Cleric to bargain with, I would have had those keys the moment I asked for them!”

I pushed my Arrogant One aside. “At this point, none of that matters. Morcant, release the spell. Immediately!”

The grackle cocked his head and studied me with one milky eye. “Very well.” His voice was sulky.

“And don’t try any tricks. If you do, I will make good on my threat.”

The grackle opened its beak, and Morcant began chanting. Five minutes later, he stopped. “It is done.”

I nodded, and beckoned the others. “Let’s go to the shed and rescue our friends.”Shed

We rushed pell-mell to the shed and scrambled up the stairs. As one, we stopped dead in the center of the loft, gaping.

The loft was completely empty.

 

shed loft

 

Did Morcant fail to release his spell? Did someone remove Cleric and the Old Dwarf from the loft? What ever happened to Dragon? Join us again next week, for the next installment of this mystery. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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