Once 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.”
Cleric 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.”
Ollie 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?”
“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.”
“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.”
Cleric 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!”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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 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.
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.
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/
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
You can also read about Ollie’s first appearance in my blog here: https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2015/12/27/another-guest/