The Return of Morcant?

The Return of Morcant?

for-todays-blog-011As I paused at the front door to catch my breath and turn on the porch light, I heard a noise. Whirling around, I saw Miles waiting for me at the top of the stairs, his brow furrowed. “Are you just finishing up in your office? It’s pretty late! I was beginning to think you’d forgotten all about dinner.”

I raced up the steps and almost collapsed in his arms. He paled. “What’s wrong? What’s happened?”

“Morcant.”morcant

“Morcant? What about him? Did his familiar come back? Have you spoken to him? Is he still trying to get the keys from you? Did he threaten you again?”

“Morcant was standing outside my office window!”

Miles gently guided me to the couch, where I half-sat and half-collapsed. Cleric entered the room, took in the scene, and asked Miles, “What is wrong with the Mistress?”

“She’s had a tremendous shock.”

“I will get her a cup of herbal tea, to sooth her nerves.”

Easter 128Miles sat down next to me and held me tenderly. “Honey, tell me exactly what happened.”

I opened and closed my mouth several times, but no words would come. I started shaking uncontrollably.

Cleric returned from the kitchen, bearing a cup of Chamomile tea. “What has distressed the Mistress so?” Her brow was wrinkled and her cornflower blue eyes were full of concern.Elf

“She claims that Morcant was standing outside her office window, but she’s too upset to say anything else.”

Cleric went deathly pale and her eyes were huge. “Morcant was here?”

I nodded.

She collapsed onto the sofa next to me, raised the teacup to her lips, and drained the draught she had brought me.

My Foreman and the lads entered the room, chattering noisily. My Young Hero stopped in mid-sentence and mid-stride, the other two bumping into him. They followed his gaze to the couch.

“What’s wrong?” My Foreman rushed over to us, gently taking Cleric’s hand.

“The Mistress has seen Morcant. She says he was outside her office window!” Cleric’s voice quavered, and her eyes were still wide with fear.

My Gypsy darted toward the door, but my Young Hero grabbed his arm. “Wait!” He turned to me. “When did this happen, Mistress? When did you see the evil wizard?”

for-todays-blog-013I stared at my Young Hero. I was still trembling, and I could not respond. Miles spoke to me soothingly. “Honey, how long ago was this? We need to know when you saw Morcant. Could he still be close by?”

I hesitated. “It was…ummm…I’m not sure. After we watched my Old Dwarf looking for Morcant’s familiar in the yard this morning, I went to my office. I worked on the computer for a while, answering some e-mails and stuff. Then Dragon and my Gypsy came in.”

My Gypsy nodded. “That was about mid-morning.”

I nodded slowly, trying to remember. “We chatted for a while, then I went back to work until about noon, when my Old Dwarf came in to speak with me.”

Again my Gypsy nodded. “The dwarf spoke with me after his conversation with the Mistress. That was about an hour or so past lunchtime.”

“Then, sometime in the late afternoon, my Arrogant One stomped into the office to carp about something or other…what was it? Oh, yes, he thought he was being harassed. He claimed the two of you were following him and watching his every move.” I nodded toward my Foreman and my Young Hero. “He was very indignant, very pompous, did a lot of posturing. Well, you know how he gets. Anyway, he told me to call off my watchdogs or else.”

“What did you tell him?” my Foreman asked.

“I…I don’t remember.” I frowned and raked my hand through my hair. “I…I think I just laughed at him. But then…” My eyes went wide and I started trembling again. “But then Morcant was there, right outside my window, looking in and leering at me.”

Miles held me tighter. “Honey, are you sure?”

evil-grin

 

“I’m positive. He just stood there, looking at me with that evil grin. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t even look away. I was paralyzed with fear! Then, there was a thunderclap that left my ears ringing, and Morcant disappeared in a huge shower of sparks. When the sparks faded, Morcant’s familiar was flapping against the window.”

morcants-familiar

When it became apparent I was not going to continue, Miles gently asked, “You’re sure it was his familiar? It was in its true form?”

I nodded. “Yes, it was the milky-eyed grackle. He turned and soared off over the treetops. By the time I could move again, it was already dusk.”

“And you’re sure it really happened? You have been known to fall asleep at your computer when you have been working too hard. Could this have been just a dream?”

I shook my head. “No. I’m sure I was not asleep, and this was definitely no dream. Morcant was there.”

My Forman heaved a big sigh. “It sounds as though it has been at least a couple of hours since the Mistress saw Morcant, but maybe some of us should go look around outside, see if we can find anything. Maybe he or his familiar is still around.” He motioned to my Gypsy and my Young Hero to accompany him.

Miles nodded. “Thanks, guys. Marge and I would appreciate that.”

My Foreman grabbed the flashlight that I kept next to the doors to the deck, and he and the lads went out to search the yard.

Elf facing rightCleric looked at the empty teacup in her hand, and blushed furiously. “I…I had best get the Mistress that cup of Chamomile tea I promised her.”

 

Miles stayed with me on the couch, still gently holding me. “Honey, are you – – ”

I cut him off. “I’m sure! Don’t you believe me?” I sounded more cross than I had intended.Easter 128

He sighed. “I do. I have learned to believe a lot of unbelievable things.”

I lowered my eyes and wrung my hands. “I’m sorry, Miles. I never meant for any of this to happen. If I could send them all back where they came from…”

“I know.”

Cleric came back, bearing a fresh cup of tea. She handed it to me, with an apologetic look. I smiled my thanks.

“Oh, there you are, Mistress.” My Sorceress swept into the room. “I suppose Cleric told you we found all the necessary herbs and plants today.” She stopped, frowning. “Is something wrong?”

Stu-04-NatGal

I sat there, still trembling and sipping my herbal tea, as Miles and Cleric related the disturbing events of the day to Sorceress. As she listened, she sank into the chair facing us. Her eyes grew wider, and she, too, began wringing her hands. As Miles completed the tale, recounting my description of the clap of thunder and shower of sparks, though, Sorceress frowned, straightened her robes, and shook her head. “Piffle!”

“What?”

“I said piffle!” Sorceress rose and shook her head again. “I believe twaddle and codswallop would also be appropriate terms!”

I gaped at her, feeling my cheeks burning. “It’s not nonsense! I know what I saw!”

“I do not doubt that, Mistress. I am quite certain you saw what you thought was Morcant at your office window. But think about it.” She raised an eyebrow at me. “How could Morcant have escaped his exile within the enchanted tower without the magical keys?”

I shook my head and shrugged.

Cleric shuddered. “Mistress has told us she disposed of the keys. Do you suppose the wizard’s familiar found them, or perhaps one of Morcant’s agents?”

Sorceress furrowed her brow and chewed on her lower lip. “I had not thought of that.”

Keys 015I lowered my eyes. “I lied,” I said, my voice barely a whisper. “I did not dispose of the keys. After Cleric’s abduction, I was afraid. I just thought if my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter believed I had disposed of the keys, then they would stop trying to find ways to acquire them, and everyone would be safer.”

Miles gave my arm a reassuring squeeze, but said, “Didn’t you tell me that your Bounty Hunter expressed doubt that you could have disposed of the keys?”

I nodded. “He wanted to know how I would go about disposing of something that was, in his words, that powerful, that valuable, that dangerous.”

“What did you tell him?”

“I didn’t answer him, but the conversation took place in front of my Arrogant One. Do you think one of them has found where I keep the keys and released Morcant?”

Sorceress started to say something, but was interrupted.

dwarf“Eh, ye do na need ta be worryin’ none. No one be freein’ the wizard!” My Old Dwarf was grinning as he, my Foreman, and the lads stepped into the living room from the deck.

“How can you be so sure?” Sorceress frowned and crossed her arms in front of her.

He waved his hand dismissively. “Causin I be watchin’ his familiar all afternoon and into the dark. Right after me an’ the lassie be havin’ our little chat, I skedaddled back ta the yard and took another look-see aboot. I be findin’ the blasted beastie right quick-like. There he be, up in thet bunch o scrubby trees ahind the shed. He be unmistakable, with them milky eyes o his.” He leaned over and gave my hand a reassuring pat. “I be keepin’ me eye on ’em all afternoon, lassie, an’ he never be anywhere near yer office window. There do na be nuttin, not man nor beastie, near yer window the whole the time I be in the yard.”

I heaved a big sigh. “Well, that’s about the best news I’ve heard all day!”

Everyone was smiling, until Miles piped up. “If nothing was near your window, then what exactly did you see?”

I gaped at him. “I don’t know what I saw!”

Sorceress snorted. “As I said – piffle! When Master Miles related your recollection of a thunderclap and a shower of sparks, I thought it sounded less like an evil wizard and more akin to an illusionist.”

“Of course!” Cleric grimaced and nodded. “Who was in the office with Mistress at the time? The Arrogant One!”arrogant-one-facing-right

“The Arrogant One?” Miles frowned and tilted his head.

“Yes. The Arrogant One is – among other things – a street magician, an illusionist extraordinaire, as he described himself on one occasion. Having witnessed his performance once, I can tell you he is truly remarkable.”

My Gypsy nodded. “I attended that performance with you.” He turned toward my Young Hero. “So did you, remember?”

My Young Hero nodded. “How could I forget? The three of us were amazed. We could not figure out how he created his illusions. He made them look so real!”

Cleric furrowed her brow and rubbed her arm. “He may have the skill and the power to create a realistic illusion of Morcant standing by the window, but I do not wish to think he did. In spite of him being the most annoying, pompous, self-centered creature I have ever known, he is an elf. He once told me that the purpose of his magic was merely to entertain, not to deceive. He avowed that elves never use their magic for deception.”

“Of course, he could have been lying.” My Foreman quirked an eyebrow and tilted his head at Cleric.

Young hero 2My Young Hero stepped forward, shaking his head. “Or he could be so lost and confused in this world into which we have fallen, he may have become lost to himself, to his own values. We should not condemn him until we have spoken with him.”

Everyone nodded slowly. I raised my teacup in salute, and silently applauded such wisdom and empathy from one so young. Then I shook myself and started to organize a search. “We need to find him before we can talk to him. And we should talk to my Bounty Hunter as well. They may be working together. Spread out. Scour the house and the yard. Remember my Arrogant One is a master at concealing himself and others.”

Everyone sprang into action, but two hours later, my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter were still nowhere to be found. I sighed, looking at the tired and careworn faces of my characters. “Let’s call it a night. We’ll look for them again tomorrow.”

My characters nodded and slowly trudged upstairs to retire for the night. Miles smiled and nodded at me. “We’ll find them tomorrow. They couldn’t have gone too far.”

I nodded and returned his smile, but with less confidence than he seemed to have. We headed upstairs to get some sleep, after I locked the front door and made certain the porch light was still on.

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More problems

More problems

dwarfFirst thing in the morning — well, right after his seven-course breakfast — my Old Dwarf went outside. Miles and I stood by the French doors and watched him. First, he meandered about the perimeter of the property, hands behind his back, whistling. Then he wandered around the yard, going from tree to tree.

He peered up into each one in turn, smiling and nodding as if they were the most fascinating things he had ever seen. Then he ambled around the garden, stopping to bend over and sniff each and every variety of flower, still grinning and nodding. Each bird, rabbit, squirrel, chipmunk and butterfly he saw was blatantly scrutinized.

Miles shook his head. “Can your Old Dwarf possibly be any more obvious?”

“Oh, I’m sure he could be, if he really tired.” I winked.

We turned at a noise behind us. My Foreman cleared his throat as he and my Young Hero entered the room.

“Mistress, your Gypsy, Cleric, Sorceress and Dragon have begun their work in the conference room. There is nothing we can do to assist them. Is there anything you wish us to do?”

“Why don’t you make a banner for my Old Dwarf?”

My Foreman blinked several times, then furrowed his brow. “Mistress?”

“One that says ‘I’m looking for you, milky-eyed grackle.’”

My Young Hero groaned. “Is he being that obvious?”

Miles chuckled and I nodded.

“Perhaps one or both of you could give him a quick tutorial in stealthiness and subtlety. And on the subject of stealth, I would appreciate it if you two could also keep a surreptitious eye on my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One.”bounty-hunter-2arrogant-one

 

“You do not trust them.” My Young Hero made it a statement, not a question.

“Should I? Do you? Both of them were more than willing to deal with Morcant when they thought they could profit from delivering the keys to him. One even lowered himself to abduct Cleric, and the other one admitted to having considered that same heinous act. I am not convinced they are not still plotting something with the evil wizard.”

My Foreman blanched. “But you said you have disposed of the keys, Mistress.”keys-001

“Yes, that is what I said. However, I am not sure that either of those two believes me.”

“Are we to believe you?” My Foreman gave me a hard look.

“You are to trust me when I say Morcant will never gain possession of those keys.”

“But you have not disposed of them.”

I shrugged and turned back to the door to watch my Old Dwarf, who was currently trying to catch a toad. “Just keep an eye on them, please.”

computer_keyboardAn hour later, I was at my computer, catching up with my messages. I opened an e-mail from a good friend, dated a week earlier. Marge, I haven’t seen you on any of your social media sites in a while and I was just wondering if you are okay. Fall migration is in full swing here, and your Baltimore Orioles have arrived, along with a bumper crop of Monarch Butterflies. Hope you are finding time to enjoy nature. Drop me a line when you can. ~ Arlene.

I quickly typed a reply. Hey, Arlene! I’m sorry I haven’t been very active online lately. All is well here, except for the fact that my characters barely give me a moment to breathe, let alone type. I’m sure you understand. I haven’t seen many of the fall migrants yet – a certain milky-eyed Common Grackle has been the focus of my concern. Will fill you in later. ~ Marge

I hit send, and as if on cue, there was a knock at my office door. I took a deep breath and steeled myself for the first interruption of the day. “Come in.”

gypsy-facing-rightdragon“Mistress.” My Gypsy entered my crowded office, and Dragon squeezed through the door behind him. “We have been unsuccessful in our attempts to find Morcant’s familiar, the milky-eyed grackle. Sorceress thinks Morcant may be shielding him from intrusive spells.”

“I think I should shapeshift again and join the Old Dwarf. He’s looking for the bird in the yard.” Dragon stared off into the distance, her eyes unfocused, a silly smile on her face. “Perhaps I should change into an Old English Sheepdog . . .”

My Gypsy grinned and waggled his eyebrows. “Ever since you showed her that picture that your colleague, James, shared — the photo of her friend, Ollie, with his new haircut — she has been obsessing over him.”

I smiled. “I think your friend, Ollie, would be pleased if you transformed into an Old English Sheepdog. However, I think perhaps you would be too conspicuous for this task. We need to use stealth and cunning to find Morcant’s familiar.”

Dragon shrugged. “I could be a very tiny, very inconspicuous Old English Sheep-puppy.”sheepdog-puppy

I laughed. Dragon fixed me with a hard stare and smoke curled from her nostrils, a clear warning that she did not take kindly to my laughing at the image of her as an Old English Sheep-puppy. I tried to hide my mirth with a discreet cough behind my hand.

My Gypsy echoed my cough. “Perhaps you could discuss this with the Mistress later. Right now, we have a message to relay, remember?”

Dragon gave my Gypsy a baleful look. “Of course I remember. I was merely momentarily distracted.” She blew a puff of smoke at him and turned back to me. “Sorceress depleted her stock of certain essential spell components. She is in need of additional herbs and plants to use in creating these spell components. The specific ones she needs are difficult to find, but she remembers seeing some the day you all thought she was missing. She and Cleric have gone in search of them. The Foreman was concerned for their safety, so he insisted on accompanying them.”

I nodded. “Perhaps, then, you should join my Young Hero. He is keeping an eye on my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter. If either of them is still trying to make a deal with Morcant, they might lead you right to his familiar.”

Dragon frowned and blew several more puffs of smoke. “So I need not transform into a very tiny, very inconspicuous Old English Sheep-puppy?”

“Not right now.”

The two nodded and turned to leave, Dragon knocking over several piles of books and files on her way out. I wish she would occasionally consider being a very tiny, very inconspicuous dragon, I thought as I straightened the mess.

computer-and-monitorI turned back to my computer and dealt with several more e-mails, then logged onto one of my social media sites.

Another knock on the door tore my attention away from the computer. I looked up to see my Old Dwarf standing there, frowning and shuffling his feet. “Do ye be havin’ a spare minute, lassie, that we might be havin’ a word or two?”

I heaved a big sigh, logged off the site and turned around. “Sure. What’s the problem?”

“It be yer Foreman and one o’ the laddies.”

“What about them?”

My Old Dwarf lowered his eyes and shuffled his feet some more. “Well, lassie, I al’ays thought they be honorable. I ne’er thought they would be in cahoots wit thet evil wizard!”

“What?” I could feel my eyes practically pop out of their sockets, and my jaw all but hit the floor. “What are you saying?”

morcants-familiarThe dwarf rubbed the back of his neck and started rocking back and forth on his feet. “I do na liken ta be the one ta tell ye this, lassie, but I be afeared the two o them be trying ta warn Morcant thet I be lookin’ fer his blasted birdie.”

“What?” I could not wrap my brain around his words. He made no sense at all.

“Well, all day the two o them be followin’ me around the yard. Every time I be tryin’ ta look fer the wizard’s familiar, they be pullin’ me away. And, lassie, they be telling me ye tolded them ta do it! Well, o course, I knowed they be lyin’!”

I let out a huge breath and smiled. “It’s okay. They are not in cahoots with Morcant. And I did tell them to help you.”

dwarf-facing-rightHe looked dumbfounded. “Help me? Lassie, I do na be needin’ their help. I tolded ye, I be the only one what can see the birdie true. Dwarves can na be magicked! I thought ye understood thet.”

“I do understand that. That’s not the problem.” I raked my hand through my hair and chewed on my lower lip. “I was watching you this morning, and I fear you were being too obvious. You need to be sneakier, more subtle.”

My Old Dwarf’s shoulders slumped, and the light went out of his eyes. His voice grew soft. “Lassie, I thought ye be havin’ more faith in me. I be wantin’ the wizard’s blasted beastie ta see me sniffin’ the flowers and hear me whistling the birdie-calls, jest liken the Gypsy lad do. Iffin he be seein’ me doin’ something strange, he be comin’ close ta sees what I be doin’. Iffin I be in the yard with me ax and me weapons, practicin’ or duelin’ the Bounty Hunter, the birdie would na have any need ta come close ta see what I be doin. He seen me do thet a hunnred times over. But iffin he be seein’ me doin’ somethin’ new, somethin’ different, then he be wantin’ ta get a closer look-see. An’ then, I can be seein’ him.”

I slowly nodded at my Old Dwarf’s logic. “I understand now. You’re right, old friend, I should have had more faith in you and your ability to reason things out. Go on back and tell the others you have my blessing.”

The old reprobate grinned and nodded as he scurried off to resume his search.

Three posts on a social media site later, and another knock on the door interrupted me. I closed the page I was on, and turned to greet my latest intrusion.

arrogant-one-facing-right“Why am I being harassed?” My Arrogant One stood, gripping the front of his robes in a self-important posture. He looked down his nose at me, giving me the feeling I was naught but an insignificant insect to him…but like the insignificant mosquito, I was an annoying insect.

I shrugged and did my best to hide a smirk. “I didn’t know you were being harassed.”

“You know perfectly well I am. Your Foreman and that goody-two-shoes, the Young Hero, are shadowing my every move!”

“Are they?” I blinked. “I should think they would have too many duties of greater importance than to waste their time following you around. Why do you imagine they are following you?”

My Arrogant One sneered at me. “I am not imagining it.”

I quirked an eyebrow at the annoying elf, and leaned back in my chair.

“I am not!” He was turning so red, I could almost imagine steam coming out of his ears.

“All right, let me rephrase that. Why do you suppose they are following you? What reason do you think they would have to follow you?”

His face turned even redder, and got very blotchy. His voice rose two octaves and about a hundred decibels. “That is what I am asking you! Why are they shadowing me?”

“No idea.”

I thought he was going to spontaneously combust as he stood there stammering and sputtering. When he finally found his voice again, he issued an ultimatum. “Call off your watchdogs or else!”

I almost fell out of my chair, laughing. “Or else? Or else what?”

My Arrogant One smiled smugly, tossed his hair back, and carefully straightened his robes. He lifted an eyebrow, and nodded toward the window. I turned my chair around, and barely kept from screaming.

morcant

Standing right outside the window was the evil wizard Morcant, in the flesh. His eyes bore into me, and his lips slowly parted in an evil grin. He held me, mesmerized, for the span of a half-dozen heartbeats before disappearing in a blinding shower of sparks accompanied by a deafening clap of thunder. When the sparks faded, Morcant’s familiar, the milky-eyed grackle, was flapping against the window. The bird turned and soared off over the treetops. It was many long moments before I could breathe. When I regained my senses and looked around, it was already dusk. I was quite alone in my office, my Arrogant One nowhere to be seen. My brain was screaming at me to run, but as I tried to rise from my chair, my rubbery legs could barely support me. I stumbled up the stairs to find Miles and tell him what had happened. I paused at the front door to catch my breath and turn on the porch light.

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A “Familiar” Problem

A “Familiar” Problem

I cleared my throat, not that it was necessary to get anyone’s attention. The room was dead quiet, and all eyes were on me. My characters had joined me and Miles to discuss some recent bizarre events.

“There has been a strange creature in the yard. Sorceress told me she first noticed it the day after my last outing, when Cleric and the lads accompanied me on a nature walk.”

Westwood Hills 240“Aye, she tolded us some blatherskite aboot how she seed a wee beastie wit eyes thet glowed.” My Old Dwarf snorted and waved his hand dismissively.

“That is exactly what I saw.” Sorceress sniffed and fixed my Old Dwarf with a steely glare.

My Gypsy nodded. “I’ve seen it, too.”

“Bah! Have ye two been sippin me brew?” My Old Dwarf waved his hand again and shook his head.

Dragon turned toward my Old Dwarf, her eyes narrowed and smoke curling from her nostrils. “Do not doubt the veracity of these reports, my rotund companion. I can assure you they are most accurate.”Dragon

“And why should I be believin ye, ye big scaly beastie?”

Dragon opened her maw in a most unpleasant grin, showing her mouthful of wickedly sharp teeth. “As you well know, Dwarf, Dragons are honorable creatures. I assure you, I speak truthfully. There appeared a small Red Squirrel in the yard. It was not the resident Red Squirrel that Mistress and her spouse have dubbed ‘Reggie’. As Sorceress reported, this beast’s eyes glowed.”

My Arrogant One stood up, heading for the door, sneering. “While I am sure all of you find this quite fascinating, I have no interest in the wildlife inhabiting the yard. I will take my leave. My time is far too valuable to waste it suffering through such boring trivia.”

Arrogant One facing rightMy Foreman stepped in front of him, and spoke through clenched teeth. “I think not, friend. I think you will resume your seat and show some respect toward the Mistress and the others.”

My Arrogant One drew himself up and grasped the front of his robes. “Why should I? This is of no concern to me!”

“Because you were told to, and because you are such a courteous fellow.” My Foreman grasped the back of the elf’s neck and hustled him back to his chair. “Now sit there and listen.”

My Arrogant One started to bluster a response, but my Bounty Hunter shook his head. “Yes, why don’t we hear what Mistress Writer has to say. I am certain she will explain why this is of interest to any of us.”

I nodded. “It concerns us all because, obviously, a Red Squirrel with glowing eyes is no normal Red Squirrel. If further proof of its abnormal nature is needed, earlier today four of us saw it fly.”

My Old Dwarf snorted. “Squirrelsies do na fly!”

flyingsquirrel_gliding1“Some do.” Miles furrowed his brow. “Flying Squirrels. They don’t really fly, of course. If I remember correctly, they have membranes stretching between their front and back legs that allow them to glide.”

Sorceress shook her head. “This was not such a creature as you term a Flying Squirrel, Master Miles. This was a Red Squirrel, identical to the one you and the Mistress call ‘Reggie’ — identical in every respect save the eyes. This one had decidedly glowing eyes. It was not just an optical illusion caused by light reflecting in his eyes, as the phenomenon was evident even on a cloudy day. And, I assure you, it did indeed fly. In reality, it would be more accurate to say it appeared to levitate, as it possessed no wings or other obvious means of flight.”

“If it do na be havin’ wings, it do na be flyin’.” My Old Dwarf folded his arms over his chest and shook his head.

“If you would open your ears, Old Dwarf – or perhaps your feeble mind – perchance you could hear and understand. I said the squirrel did not achieve true flight. It was closer to levitation.”Dwarf facing right

My Old Dwarf started to sputter a reply, but Miles cut him off. “Are you certain it was a real squirrel? Could it have been a drone? A drone’s manner of flight could appear similar to levitation.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think it was a drone, honey. It appeared real.”

“What be this ‘drone’ thingie? Be it valuable?” My Old Dwarf leaned in, eyes gleaming.

“No, it is not valuable.” I chuckled at the avaricious old reprobate.

He slumped back in his chair, the greedy light in his eyes dimming.

“A drone is an unmanned mechanical or electronic device that can fly. It is controlled remotely by its operator, usually through a radio signal.” Miles warmed to the subject, and would have gone on with his explanation, but Dragon cut him off.

“I do not believe the creature in question was a contrivance such as you describe, Master Miles. And I do not believe it glided or levitated. I think it actually did fly.”

What?” I wrinkled my brow and rubbed the back of my neck. “Squirrels do not fly.”

“Agreed.”Dragon

We all waited for Dragon to explain, but she merely stood there, a smug expression on her reptilian face.

“Well, do ye be tellin’ us what ye be meanin’, ye oversized lizard, or be ye waitin’ fer us ta reckon?”

Dragon curled her lip and blew smoke in the dwarf’s face, sending him into a fit of coughing. My Arrogant One got him a glass of water, and he was soon quiet again, though the look the dwarf shot Dragon clearly promised retribution.

Aug 30 to Sept 8 yard and pond 394Dragon continued. “I believe the creature in question was a living beast, not a mechanical or electronic device. But I do not believe it was a squirrel. Through my shapeshifting ability, I had changed into a Black-capped Chickadee. I landed quite near the creature where it sat on a tree branch. I felt something emanating from the beast, a trace of magic. I believe someone cast a glamour or a spell of disguise on a bird.”

“Morcant!” Cleric blanched.Morcant

“Morcant?” Miles cocked his head and frowned. “But why?”

“He is evidently trying to disguise his familiar, the milky-eyed Common Grackle.”

“Okay, but why?”

Cleric shuddered. She rose and wiped her sweaty palms on her robe. “I believe, Master Miles, it is an attempt to allow his familiar to approach us unnoticed, that Morcant might eavesdrop on our conversations. I believe he is still seeking information, information he knows we would not divulge in the presence of his familiar should we know it was near. He is still searching for a way to procure the magic keys that would free him from his eternal exile within the enchanted tower.”Keys 015

My Foreman jumped up, eyes wide. “Mistress, didn’t you say you disposed of those keys?”

“I did. I felt they would be too much of a temptation for some of this group.”

My Arrogant One, my Bounty Hunter and my Old Dwarf all had the grace to blush at that.

My Young Hero quirked an eyebrow and tilted his head toward me. “You may have told us that you disposed of the keys, Mistress, but I do not think anyone informed Morcant.”

“You’re right, of course. And maybe that’s what we need to do.”

Miles tilted his head and blinked. “How do you go about informing the wizard?”

“We communicate with him through his familiar.”Morcant's familiar

“If he is disguising his familiar, how can you find the bird?”

“I be findin’ em.” My Old Dwarf puffed out his chest and straightened his tunic.

“You?” My Young Hero shook his head.

“Aye, meself and no other, laddie! I be the only one what can see the bird for what it really be.”

“And how can you do that?” My Young Hero quirked an eyebrow.

Dwarf“Dwarves can na be magicked, laddie.”

“Right.” My Foreman rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Need I remind you that the Arrogant One used magic on you to abduct you?”

“Thet spineless fop done no such a thing! He magicked a tree limb ta conk me on me head. He never magicked meself!”

“You’re right.” I frowned and raked my hand through my hair. “Dwarves are immune to most magic. Still, you might not be able to see the bird.”

“What be ye sayin, lassie?”

magic“Whether or not you could see the bird would depend on exactly what sort of spell Morcant has used to disguise his familiar.”

“Speak plain, lassie. Ye do na be makin any sense.”

“I see what the Mistress means,” Sorceress said. “If Morcant cast a spell of deception on the bird, that spell works not on the bird, but on those who see the bird, causing observers to see something other than what is actually there. You, Old Dwarf, being immune to magic, would not be affected, and would see the bird in its actual form. But if Morcant cast a spell changing his familiar into something other than the milky-eyed grackle, then you, Old Dwarf, would see the same thing the rest of us would see — whatever Morcant changed his familiar into. The magic would be cast on the bird, not on the observer.”

I nodded. “That’s it exactly.”

“Do you understand, dwarf, or must we draw diagrams?” Dragon puffed a chain of smoke rings in the direction of my Old Dwarf.

“I be understandin’ jest fine. I do na be daft! Boot I do na think thet the wizard be changin’ the bird. I think he done that magic ye talked aboot what makes people see what do na be there.”

Sorceress frowned and shook her head. “What makes you think that?”

backyard-006“Cause iffin he changed the bird inta a squirrelsie, the fool squirrelsie woulda skedadled off like a squirrelsie do.”

I blinked. “You’re right. The only way we could have seen a squirrel appear to fly is if it were really still a bird that only appeared to us to be something different. It flew because it really was still a bird. So my Old Dwarf should be able to see the bird that is actually there, as he will not be affected by the magic.”

I looked at the magic users, who nodded their agreement.

“Good.” I turned back to my Old Dwarf. “Then I suggest first thing tomorrow, you start spending some time in the yard, observing the wildlife. If you see the milky-eyed grackle, let me know.” I paused, rubbing my chin. “You’d best let me know, too, if you see any animal that looks unnatural.”

“Unnatural?”

“Yes, like one with glowing eyes.”

My Old Dwarf nodded, and turned to leave.

“Wait! What if Morcant decides to change what type of magic he uses? What if he uses that other type of spell that Sorceress described? The one that affects only the bird, not the people who see the bird.”

“Master Miles has a point. We can not depend on the dwarf being able to see the bird, as we can not depend on Morcant being consistent in his efforts to deceive us.” Cleric wrung her hands and chewed her lower lip. “Perhaps Sorceress, Dragon, the Gypsy and I should consider other means of dealing with Morcant’s magic.”

“Perhaps we could attempt scrying? We all know the wizard’s familiar, so we should be able to find him through scrying.”

Sorceress nodded. “That is an excellent idea, Gypsy! That can be the first thing the four of us attempt. And I am sure we can come up with other ideas as well.”

The four of them looked at me. “That sounds good. Dwarf, you go ahead and start looking around outside tomorrow. Sorceress, do you and your companions require anything?”

“Might we use the conference room?”

I nodded. “I shouldn’t need it tomorrow. You can have it all day. Right now, everyone best get a good night’s sleep.” I motioned the others to leave, but stopped my  Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One. “All but you two. I want to talk to you.”

Before either could object, I held up a hand, silencing them. “If either of you are still in contact with Morcant, please let him know he can recall his familiar to his own world. He has absolutely no chance of ever getting those keys. I disposed of them, and he will never find them.”

“Did you, now? And how would you dispose of something that powerful, that valuable, that dangerous?” My Bounty Hunter quirked an eyebrow at me.

“You doubt my word?”

He shrugged.

“And you?”

The elf looked down his nose at me. “Why should I care what you did with those keys? Upon learning that Morcant is not to be trusted, I have no buyer for the keys. I know no other person to whom I could sell such objects, and so I have no further interest in them.”

Keys 003I narrowed my eyes. “Don’t go looking for another customer, okay?”

“And where, exactly, do you suppose I would find another in this world who would have any interest in the keys?”

“I don’t know, but I recommend not trying.”

My Arrogant One drew himself up and started to argue, but my Bounty Hunter interrupted. “May we leave now?”

“Go. And stay out of trouble.”

“Of course.” The two of them tried to hide their smirks as they left the room.

Miles was waiting for me as I left the conference room. “Ready to get some sleep?”

I nodded. We walked up the stairs, stopping at the front door to check that the porch light was on. I opened the door and took a quick look around. All seemed quiet.
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Flying Squirrel?

Flying Squirrel?

computer-308393_960_720I was staring at the blank computer screen, trying to wrestle some ideas into submission. My fingernails were tapping out a staccato beat on my desk, and I was grumbling under my breath. Why did I ever start this blog? No one told me how difficult it would be to come up with fresh, new ideas every single week!

“Mistress?”

I just about jumped out of my skin. If an idea had been about to cooperate and take shape, it was lost now. I spun my chair around, ready to bite someone’s head off. I found myself looking up into the soulful, cornflower-blue eyes of my Cleric, and bit back my impending outburst.Elf facing right

“What can I do for you?”

“I just wanted to thank you for taking me, Dragon, and the lads on that outing the other day. It has been a long time since I enjoyed myself that much!”

Cleric’s warm smile was infectious, and I returned it in kind. “I’m glad you enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun, too, but now it’s back to work for me.” I glanced pointedly at the computer, my smile fading to a scowl.

“I shall take my leave, then, Mistress, so you can continue with your work uninterrupted.” She turned and skipped off down the hallway, leaving me and the blank screen to stare at each other again.Backyard 004

I sighed. I removed my glasses, cleaned them on my shirttail, and put them back on. I squirmed around in my chair. I looked out the window and marveled at the lone hummingbird at the nectar feeder. Hmmm…maybe… My fingers moved toward the keyboard.

“Mistress?”

I jumped again, another idea flying out of my brain, probably never to return. For a second time, I swiveled my chair around, ready to give someone a severe tongue-lashing. This time, it was my Young Hero and my Gypsy sticking their heads in the door. I groaned.

Young hero 2Gypsy

“What is it?”

“It’s almost noon. We thought you might want some lunch.” My Gypsy had obviously started without me, as he spoke around a mouthful of food.

My Young Hero placed a small platter on my desk. “There were plenty of leftovers from last night’s dinner.”

“Yes, I had thought to have them for this night’s dinner.” I attempted to frown, but the food did smell good, and my stomach was growling. As usual, I had lost track of time while working on my blog.food-dinner-pasta-broccoli

After a quick bite to eat and some chit-chat with the lads, I thanked them and handed them the empty platter. They headed upstairs and I turned back to my computer once more.

Twenty minutes later, my screen was still blank. I rubbed my head, which was starting to pound. Suddenly, I blinked several times rapidly and leaned in toward the computer. Oh, this is a great idea! My readers will love this! My hands were poised over the keyboard, ready to start typing.

“Mistress?”

I jerked, and my fingers tripped all over themselves, the letters on the monitor jumbling into an incoherent mess.

“What?” I whirled my chair around, ready to take no prisoners. My Arrogant One stood just inside my office door, pale and trembling.Arrogant One facing right

My eyes narrowed and I slowly rose from my chair. “Out. Now.” I pointed to the door.

“But…”

“Now!” I advanced on the annoying elf, the perpetrator of the recent abduction of Cleric and my Old Dwarf.

He stammered. “B…b…but the Old Dwarf…”

“If you aren’t out of here in the next 10 seconds, what I do to you will be a hundred times worse than anything my Old Dwarf could ever dream of doing!”

I took another step toward him, and my Arrogant One turned and fled down the hallway to take refuge in the conference room.

One more time. I sighed as I returned to my seat. The great idea I had conceived just moments before would not revisit my brain. I spent the next half-hour staring at the blank screen, half-formed ideas chasing each other around my mind. Suddenly, my head jerked up and I smiled. Eureka! I started to type again.

“Mistress?”

“Aaaauuugh!”

I twisted around in my chair to see the latest intruder. Sorceress stood there, her brow furrowed.

Stu-04-NatGal

I narrowed my eyes and crossed my arms. “What is it?”

Sorceress hesitated in the face of my obvious annoyance. “I am sorry. Am I disturbing you?”

“No, I always give a murderous look to every fifth person who interrupts my train of thought while I’m writing.” I glared at her.

“Perhaps I should return later.” She started backing out of the room.

“You’re here now. Why don’t you just tell me what you want?”

“Well…” She hesitated again, wringing her hands.

“Well?”

“It is Dragon, Mistress. I am exceedingly worried about her.”

“Dragon? What’s wrong with Dragon?”dragon facing right

Sorceress tugged at her robes. “She may be in danger.”

“Danger? What sort of danger?”

“Well, Mistress, do you not remember charging me to stay alert, lest the familiar of the evil wizard, Morcant, returns?”

I immediately sat up straighter and gave her my full attention. “He’s back?”

Sorceress frowned and shook her head. “No, Mistress, I have seen no sign of the milky-eyed grackle.”Morcant's familiar

“Then what?”

“Well, about an hour previous, while watching for that very recognizable bird, I saw this squirrel…”

“A squirrel?” I blinked.

She nodded. “Yes, Mistress. A small Red Squirrel. And this is not the first time I have seen it.”

“Do you mean Reggie?” I titled my head and squinted at Sorceress.

“No, Mistress. It did not appear to be the resident Red Squirrel you and Master Miles have dubbed ‘Reggie’.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“This Red Squirrel had glowing eyes.”Westwood Hills 240

I rubbed the back of my neck and shook my head. “Glowing eyes?” I quirked an eyebrow at Sorceress.

“Yes, Mistress.” She began wringing her hands again.

“It’s most likely just the way the sun was hitting the squirrel’s eyes.” I waved dismissively.

“The sun, Mistress?”

“Yes, the sun reflecting in his eyes.”

“Mistress, have you glanced out the window lately?”

I followed her gaze and saw a dark sky heralding an impending storm. Not a bit of the bright sunshine I had seen earlier in the day was to be found peeking through the clouds.

“Oh.”

Sorceress nodded.

“Well, how long has this demon squirrel been hanging around?”

“I first noticed it the day after your outing with Cleric and the lads; but today, I only noticed it a short time ago.”

“Where is it now?” I rose from my desk.

“When last I saw the squirrel, it was in the big maple tree in the yard. Since this is not the first time I have seen it there, I thought it should be kept under observation. Dragon is watching it now.”

“And you think Dragon is in danger from this little Red Squirrel?”

“Yes, Mistress. She has employed her shapeshifting ability in order to observe the squirrel unnoticed. She has transformed into a small bird. I believe the Gypsy called it a Black-capped Chickadee. I told Dragon I doubted such a small bird could hold its own in an altercation with a Red Squirrel, but the Gypsy assured us they are very feisty little birds.”

I heaved a deep sigh. “I guess we’d best go check it out.” I turned off my computer and followed Sorceress out of my office. I didn’t even bother saving the half-sentence I had managed to type for my blog.
exterior-interior-wonderful-white-wooden-entrance-glass-double-french-door-frames-as-modern-interior-accesories-decors-witching-french-door-inspirational-pictures-collection-interior-french-doors-whit-840x1120Upstairs, we found my Gypsy in the living room. He was standing by the French doors, peering outside. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw us.

I looked outside. “So where are Dragon and this demon Red Squirrel?”

“Do you really think it’s a demon?” My Gypsy’s eyes widened.

I grunted and shook my head. “Figure of speech.”

“Oh.” His shoulders slumped and he almost sounded disappointed.

“Well? Mistress asked where they are.” Sorceress frowned and tapped her foot.

“I’m not sure where the ‘demon’ Red Squirrel is. The normal-looking Red Squirrel — the one you and Master Miles call ‘Reggie’ — chased him off.”

Mostly backyard 056I looked out the door and saw Reggie lounging on the deck, munching peanuts and grapes. He looked smug, having safeguarded his territory from the intruder.

“So where’s Dragon?”

My Gypsy shuffled his feet and swallowed hard.

“Well? Did you not keep Dragon under surveillance?” Sorceress was still frowning, and now her arms were folded in front of her.

My Gypsy shrugged. “If you’ve see one chickadee, you’ve seen them all. It’s pretty hard to pick out one specific bird once it’s mixed in with an entire flock.”

“Great. Here we go again!” I groaned and raked my hand through my hair.

“Maybe Sorceress should get her scrying bowl?”

I shook my head at my Gypsy’s suggestion. “Not yet. Let’s see if we can find Dragon by more conventional means first.”

I opened the door and walked out onto the deck. Reggie dropped the grape he had been munching and scampered to the safety of the nearby maple tree. He shrilly scolded me for daring to encroach on his domain. I ignored his chattering protests and descended the steps.

Backyard 028I heard a lively chorus of Chickadee-dee-dee. I walked toward the sunflower seed feeder, which was being systematically emptied by a flock of Black-capped Chickadees. I watched as each tiny bird in turn flitted from the safety of the trees down to the feeder, grabbed a morsel and flew back to the tree to devour it. I wondered if I would be able to recognize Dragon in her guise as one of these sassy little birds.

I returned to the deck. The clouds that had rolled in so quickly after lunch were breaking apart already. Small patches of turquoise and azure dotted the sky, and the sun was visible again.

“Why don’t we sit out here and enjoy some afternoon sun? Summer’s almost over and there won’t be many more opportunities like this.” I winked at Sorceress and my Gypsy through the screen.

“That is a delightful idea.” Sorceress joined me while my Gypsy withdrew to the kitchen, returning with a pitcher of iced tea and some glasses.

Backyard and deck 008As the three of us sat there on the deck, sipping our tea, a Black-capped Chickadee flew down and perched on the nearby railing. It loudly sassed us, then flitted up to the tree adjacent to the one occupied by Reggie. Seconds later, it was back on the railing. Chickadee-dee-dee!

“Something seems to be agitating this bird.” I shot a knowing look at Sorceress and my Gypsy.

“Indeed!” Sorceress lifted a hand to shield her eyes from the sun, and scanned both the tree where Reggie sat, and the nearby one that had been the source of the chickadee’s attention.

My Gypsy followed suit. “Do you see anything?”

Sorceress shook her head.
Deck, backyard, pond 045The chickadee continued flitting back and forth between the deck railing and the tree. Chickadee-dee-dee! Chickadee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee!Aug 30 to Sept 8 yard and pond 394
11-4-13 - Backyard and deck 028Suddenly Reggie came to attention. He was up on all fours, his tail was lashing, and he started to chatter loudly at something. The chickadee fled back to the safety of the deck railing to watch the spectacle with us.

 

 

Reggie raced out to the end of the maple limb he was on and made an astounding leap to the adjacent ironwood tree, the tree the chickadee had been flitting to and from. He raced along a branch toward the tree trunk. He shot straight up the trunk, still chattering. We soon saw the cause of his consternation. Sitting on a branch high in the ironwood tree was another Red Squirrel, one with strangely glowing eyes.Westwood Hills 240

My Gypsy, Sorceress, and I watched, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, as Reggie charged the other Red Squirrel. As Reggie neared striking distance, this interloper simply rose from the tree limb and flew off.

When I had recovered my voice, I asked my Gypsy, “What did you put in this iced tea?”

“Nothing, Mistress.”

“Then how do you account for the fact that I just saw a squirrel fly?”

My Gypsy shook his head. “I don’t know. I saw it, too.”

Sorceress cleared her throat. “Strictly speaking, we saw the squirrel levitate. It has no wings; therefore, it can not actually fly.”

We sat there and watched the strange apparition disappear behind a neighboring house. It was several long minutes before any of us spoke.

Morcant

“Morcant!”

The three of us said it in unison. Somehow, Morcant had made his familiar, the milky-eyed Common Grackle, take on the appearance of a glowing-eyed Red Squirrel.

By evening, my Gypsy and Sorceress had informed my other characters of the strange events of that afternoon. Right after dinner, I went downstairs to meet with them in the conference room. My Old Dwarf had evidently called a truce with my Arrogant One, as the two of them entered the room together, followed closely by my Bounty Hunter. Cleric, Sorceress, my Foreman and the lads arrived not long after. Last to arrive was Dragon, back in her true form. The room was dead quiet, and all eyes were on me.

Before I could say anything, Miles entered the room and took his seat next to me. “Mind if I join you? I already turned on the porch light.”

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