The Aftermath

The Aftermath

dwarf-facing-right“Well, there ye be, lassie!” My Old Dwarf greeted me jovially as I walked into the kitchen. He was sitting at the table, rivulets of melted ice cream dripping from his grizzled beard, which was matted with crumbs. Several empty cartons of ice cream and two empty pie plates were scattered on the table in front of him.

“Yer mister tolded me ye be sleepin’ in this morn. He tolded me ye be right peevish when he tried ta wake ye earlier.” He grinned, his green eyes twinkling mischievously.

I glared at the old reprobate. “Not that I have to explain my behavior or my mood to you, but I didn’t get much sleep last night.” I trudged over to the refrigerator and got a container of yogurt, and grabbed a spoon from the utensil drawer, before plopping myself in a chair opposite the dwarf. I glanced at the clock on the wall. It was half past ten. I surveyed the mess on the table and raised an eyebrow. “Late breakfast or early lunch?”

My Old Dwarf’s eyes widened. “Why, this be just a wee snack ta hold me over till lunch, lassie. I et me breakfast hours ago. Some o us do na be lazin’ abed all day!”

“I beg your pardon?” If I had had a pillow just then, my Old Dwarf would have suffered the same fate that Miles had suffered when he had tried to wake me earlier that morning, seemingly just moments after I had gone to bed.

“He’s right! He was finished eating and out patrolling the yard at first light!” My Foreman slid into a seat at the end of the table and handed the dwarf a napkin.

“Aye!” My Old Dwarf nodded. He accepted the napkin from my Foreman and started cleaning the dripping ice cream and pie crumbs from his matted beard. “I took over the watch from the Bounty Hunter.”

“Oh?” I blinked. “Was my Bounty Hunter on watch last night?”

“Musta been. He be just commin’ in when I be goin’ out. I patrolled the yard fer the better part o the mornin’, from sunrise ta just a bit ago, when the Gypsy took over.”

My Foreman frowned. “The Bounty Hunter? Old Dwarf, you know I did not assign patrol to the Bounty Hunter, nor to the Arrogant One.”

The dwarf blinked. His mouth gaped and his cheeks flamed cherry red under his beard. “I fergot.”

foremanMy Foreman snorted and shook his head. He turned away from the dwarf to address me. “I felt it would not be appropriate to involve them since their recent disappearance may be related to Morcant.”

I nodded. “Makes sense.”

I asked my Old Dwarf, “Did my Bounty Hunter say anything to you?”

The dwarf furrowed his brow and shook his head. “Nay, nuttin, lassie. I axted em iffin he seed anythin’ but he just shaked his head and brushed right past me. Me thinking he been on watch all night, I just figured he be too tuckered ta stand there jawin’ wit me. Anywho, thet one never did be much fer conversatin’ even at the best o times.”

I frowned and ate a few more spoonfuls of yogurt while I mulled things over. “Who was supposed to be on watch last night?”

“I was.” My Young Hero entered the kitchen and joined in the conversation, taking a seat opposite my Foreman.young-hero-facing-left

“Then why dinna ye be, laddie?” My Old Dwarf scowled at the young man. “It do na be liken ye ta neglect yer duty!”

“But I was on watch. I took over from the Foreman just after midnight.”

My Foreman nodded. “The lad was there.”

My Young Hero placed his arms on the table and leaned in toward me. “I was on the west side of the house around dawn, walking towards the front, when I saw the dwarf in the back yard. I was closer to the front door than to him, so I just waved at him, went in the house and headed for bed. I thought he saw me. I suppose I should have reported to him, to let him know the night passed without incident and I was retiring, but I was already half asleep on my feet.”

“Did you see my Bounty Hunter while you were patrolling the yard?”

“No, the only ones I saw were Dragon and her friend, Ollie. They were in the front yard several hours before daybreak. I heard you speaking with them as they came out of the house, so I assumed it was okay for them to be there. I went to the back yard and patrolled there for a while, to give them some privacy. I was just returning to the front yard when I heard something out back. I saw it was the Old Dwarf beginning his patrol in the back yard, right on time, so I just waved at him, came in and went to bed.”

gypsy-facing-rightBefore anyone could respond, we heard the door in the living room open. Glancing over, I saw my Gypsy step in from the deck, looking grim. “The milky-eyed grackle is back.”

I swallowed the last spoonful of my yogurt and threw the container away. “Where is it? Did you see anyone else in the yard near the bird?”

“It’s back in its customary roost in the maple tree by the window. I’ve seen no one else in the yard since the dwarf here came in and I took over the watch.”

I nodded. “Stay here while I go have a chat with Morcant and his familiar.”

I walked into the guest bedroom. As soon as the milky-eyed grackle saw me, it sidled along the tree branch to perch next to the window. It tapped impatiently on the window frame with its beak as I fumbled with the latch. I finally got it opened, and glared at the bird through the screen while I addressed myself to its master. “I didn’t know your familiar was so eager to become a snack for my dragon, Morcant.”

The grackle squawked and flapped its wings, but held its ground.

“I do not comprehend your meaning, milady.” Morcant’s words, emerging from the open beak of his familiar, grated against my ear.

“My meaning is quite clear, Morcant. I told you before to recall your familiar to your own world before I feed it to my dragon!”

“And I have been equally clear, beldame. My familiar will not return to this world without the keys to my freedom.”keys-001

“The keys are gone, Morcant. Last night, Dragon sent them to a place where they will never be found.”

“Thou truly art a prevaricator and a deceiver, witch! When my familiar followed the magic signature of the keys from my world, it led the bird to this place, to your dwelling. The bird has not detected that signature leaving this area. You, madam, are still in possession of the keys, and I will have them!”

“Of course the fool bird did not detect the magic signature leave. You will remember after it followed the magic energy signature of the keys to this location, the signature disappeared completely. Your familiar was unable to detect the signature anywhere, even at this location. That is because I have held the keys in a box that was warded to shield its contents. boxIt concealed not only the keys, but the magic signature they emitted. All attempts to locate the keys, either physically or through the use of magic, were thwarted by the substantial wards woven into the fabric of that box. Last night, Dragon sent the box containing the keys to an undisclosed location where they will remain.”

The grackle blinked its milky eyes and cocked its head, almost as if trying to comprehend what I just said. Suddenly, its beak opened wide, and Morcant let loose a keening howl that pierced my ears and chilled my soul. The grackle violently beat its wings against the screen, then took flight, trailing a stream of curses in its wake.

Miles burst through the door, eyes wide. He looked around the room, then ran to take my hands. “What was that? Are you okay?”Easter 128

Although I was shaking like a leaf, I managed a glib retort. “Oh, yeah, I’m fine. That was only Morcant and his familiar, throwing a bit of a temper tantrum. I just broke the news to them that the keys are forever out of their reach. I don’t think they took it very well.”

Miles leaned past me and closed the window, latching it securely; then he led me to the kitchen. “Sit here while I get you a cup of tea.”

While Miles prepared the tea, I related to him and the others what had just happened. “I’m not positive that Morcant believes me, but I do think he’s entertaining the possibility that I’m telling the truth, and he is more than a little unnerved by that prospect.”

“Does either your Arrogant One or your Bounty Hunter know yet what has become of the keys?” Miles placed a cup of tea in front of me, and took his seat between me and my Foreman.

I took a sip of the warm liquid and let it slide down my throat, soothing my nerves, before I answered. “No. Only Dragon and I knew what she was going to attempt last night. This is the first time I have shared it with anyone else. For obvious reasons, since we still aren’t certain of their intentions, I would like to keep my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One in the dark. That way, if either of them questions me about Dragon disposing of the keys, we will know without any doubt that they have been in contact with Morcant.”

Miles frowned and tilted his head. “But didn’t you tell them previously that you had disposed of the keys?”

“Yes, that I got rid of the keys, but I never implicated Dragon in that. If they make a direct reference to Dragon concealing the keys, we’ll know where that information came from.”

“So how should we proceed, Mistress?” My Foreman leaned back in his chair, stretched out his legs, and folded his arms over his chest. “Should we continue our watch for Morcant’s familiar?”morcants-familiar

arrogant-one-facing-rightbounty-hunter“Since we know there is no longer a danger of the bird obtaining the keys for its master, I’m not as worried about it as I was; although I would like to know if you see my Arrogant One or my Bounty Hunter talking with the creature. Right now, we need to work on unraveling the mystery of their recent disappearance. Both still claim no recollection of the event.”

My Foreman nodded. He and his companions rose and went their separate ways, and Miles sat with me while I finished my tea.

About an hour later, I was in my office trying to answer e-mails and catch up with my friends on social media when I was interrupted by a voice behind me.

“So, how are you feeling today?”

fierce-dragonI turned around to see Dragon standing rather stiffly in the doorway.

“Tired! And you?”

She shrugged.

“What about Ollie?”

“Ollie?” Dragon tilted her head and furrowed her brow.

“Yes, I imagine he was tired, too. I hope he got home safely.”

Again, she just shrugged.

Just then the phone rang, and I excused myself to take the call.

“Micro who? Problems with my windows? No, I think you dialed the wrong number.”

I had barely set the phone down when it rang again. I rolled my eyes and shrugged apologetically at Dragon as I answered the phone again.

“Oh, hi, James! He got home safely? Good! What’s that? Really? No, of course it’s fine with me. Thanks so much for calling! Take care! Bye!”

dragon facing rightWhen I hung up the receiver, Dragon fixed me with a steely look and continued. “I imagine you are feeling much more secure now that we have rid the world of the keys, and you know Morcant will never be free.”

“Hmmm?”

“I said – –”

“Yeah, sorry, I heard you. Don’t mind me. I’m afraid I’m a bit scatter-brained today. I have to go upstairs for a minute. I left something in the kitchen. Come with me.”

As we reached the top of the stairs, I saw my Old Dwarf on the deck. I sprinted to the door and wrenched it open. “I need you in here. Now!”dwarf

“What be the trouble, lassie? Ye be lookin’ paler then a ghostie!”

“Get this creature out of here!” I pointed at Dragon.

“What?”

“Get it out!”

My Old Dwarf looked at me as if I had gone quite mad, but he dutifully turned toward Dragon and brandished his axe at her. “I do na know what ye did ta get the lassie so riled, beastie, but ye had best be gittin’ yerself out the door.”third-dragon

The creature shrieked in a most undragon-like fashion, and dashed out the door. It flapped its leathery wings and took off over the treetops.

Hearing the commotion, Miles raced into the room. Seeing the open door and my Old Dwarf standing there, axe in hand, he asked, “What happened now?”

“Aye, lassie, what be thet all aboot? What did Dragon do?”

“That was not Dragon! I became suspicious when I asked about Ollie, and Dragon seemed indifferent. Then my suspicions were confirmed. James Stack called me to let me know Ollie got home safely, and that Dragon had accompanied her friend. She will be visiting with them for a few days.”

“Then who be thet beastie ye had me skedaddle outten here?”

“Most likely, it was Morcant’s familiar, enchanted to look like Dragon. It was asking me about the keys. I suppose it was trying to see if they really were gone.”

Miles placed his hands on his hips and shook his head. “Never a dull moment!”

I laughed and nodded. “Well, I need to get some work done. I’ll be down in my office.”

* * *

“What am I doing on the front steps? Why are you all staring at me? What’s happened?” I looked at Miles and my characters, all standing on the front porch in the dim twilight, gaping at me.

Elf facing rightCleric crept forward. Her cornflower blue eyes were wide, and she was wringing her hands. “Mistress . . . you have been missing for almost half a day!”

Miles gathered me in his arms. “Sweetheart, we’ve been looking for you for hours! Then, all of a sudden, you . . . you were just here!”

My mouth went dry and my legs turned to rubber. The last thing I saw before I fainted was the glow of the porch light as someone reached inside the house and turned it on.

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It Is Done

It Is Done

My day started way too early. Just after midnight, to be precise. And I was tired right from the start.

InsomniaMiles and I had retired early the previous evening, but sleep had eluded me. For hours, I lay there, my mind unable to block out the sounds that wormed their way in through my ears. I was teased by the muffled sounds of voices in other parts of the house, the murmuring gradually quieting as my characters retired to their beds for the night. I was plagued by the trucks rumbling into the industrial park across the highway, their horns honking and their backup alarms beeping. I was comforted by the steady rhythm of my husband’s breathing, accompanied by the faint whoosh of his CPAP machine. I was startled by the raucous, warbling hoots of a Barred Owl right outside my window — Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all? — and a moment later, an answering call from the next yard.

At some point, all the discordant noises melded together and sleep overtook me, but my slumber was brief. I awoke with a start at Dragon’s gentle but urgent voice inside my mind. Awake, Mistress. Awake! It is time.

I yawned and glanced at the clock. It was just 12:10. The house had fallen deathly quiet. I slid out of bed as noiselessly as possible, so as to not wake Miles. I donned a velour robe over my pajamas and tugged on my fuzzy slippers. I stepped into the closet and quietly extracted an intricately carved wooden box from a secret hiding spot.The box contained the magic keys to the tower where the evil wizard Morcant was spending his eternal exile.

 

Awkwardly carrying the box, I slowly opened the bedroom door just wide enough to squeeze through, and I tip-toed into the dimly lit hallway where Dragon awaited me. I was surprised to see Dragon was not alone.

Beside her was her friend, Ollie, the handsome gray and white Old English Sheepdog who was companion to my colleague and social media friend, author James Stack. Dragon motioned for us to remain silent, so I just reached down and gave Ollie a pat on his head and a quick scratch behind his ear. Ollie responded by trying to wag his little bobbed tail, and his entire rear end wiggled about in the process. His mouth gaped and his tongue lolled in a big puppy-dog grin.

Dragon grimly eyed the box I carried. She beckoned me to follow her. Ollie fell in line behind me, assuming the position of rear guard. Silently, we crept along the hallway and down the stairs to the conference room. The three of us entered the chamber. Ollie jumped up, nudging the light switch with his nose. Light flooded the room, and I was flabbergasted to see blank walls where the windows used to be. Dragon smiled slyly. “It would not do to have anyone watching us while we are at work; nor could we risk anyone gaining entrance to the room through a window.”

I nodded. Ollie and Dragon made a quick inspection of the room. Satisfied that no one uninvited was present, Dragon assumed custody of the box, and responsibility for its contents. She placed the box on the table and quickly explained her plan, her voice barely a whisper.

“Mistress, you will position yourself on the other side of the door, to turn aside any potential intruders. Ollie will remain with me, as my assistant; and, if need be, he will act as final line of defense in the unlikely happenstance someone would circumvent you and the wards I mean to place on the door. Once I begin concentrating on my spell casting, I will be vulnerable. Ollie will see no misfortune befalls me or the keys.”

Ollie woofed quietly in agreement, his rear end wiggling and his china-blue eyes shining at his friend.

“While I’m certainly glad you have Ollie to assist you, do you really think he can deal with Morcant’s henchmen? They may be more than just ordinary thugs; the wizard may have enlisted the aid of other magic users.”

“And you believe you can deal with them?” Dragon gave me a skeptical look. “Have no fear, Mistress. Ollie has my complete confidence . . . as well as some special powers of his own. Morcant’s henchmen, should they force their way past you and breach the wards on the door, will have a few surprises waiting for them.” Dragon grinned a most terrible grin, revealing a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth.

Her companion agreed. “Grrrrrrrrrrrr. No one will harm Dragon as long as I’m here! Grrrrrooof!” Ollie’s eyes shone with a surreal light, and he almost looked like he was laughing at the thought of the surprise awaiting any intruders who dared threaten his friend.

Dragon motioned for me to leave. “Remember, Mistress, do not attempt to open the door yourself. You will not be immune from the wards I will place upon it.” I nodded, and took up my post outside the room.

A few moments later, I heard Dragon chanting. Soon Ollie joined in, his voice blending beautifully with Dragon’s. musical notesThe chant took on a musical quality, a song resonating with extraordinary power. After a time, the chanting ceased. I saw the conference room door blaze with light. The light gradually faded, but I knew the spell had not. Any attempt to open the door from this side, either by brute force or with the aid of magic, would meet with disastrous results.

Time passed slowly. The muted cadence of Dragon, deep in her spellcasting, made me drowsy. I yawned and my eyelids started to droop. I jumped at the sound of someone upstairs coughing in their sleep. I shook myself, and vowed to remain alert. Why didn’t I remember to bring a pot of tea?royal-albert-floral-teapot

I listened carefully; all seemed well. But then my sleep-deprived brain set my imagination to running amok. The faint creaking of the house settling took on a sinister air. The dehumidifier, as it cycled on, sounded like the hissing of some evil creature. Even the hooting of the Barred Owls, who were once more calling to each other across the yards, struck me as menacing. I laughed at myself. Get a grip, woman! Then I heard the spine-chilling creak of the front door as it slowly swung open, and I almost jumped out of my skin.

My mouth went dry, my flesh crawled, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as I heard footsteps creeping stealthily down the dark stairway. I shrank back against the wall.

A switch clicked and the overhead lights in the hallway flickered to life. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t expect to find anyone down here at this time of night.”

After a few long moments, during which my whole life flashed before my eyes, I realized it was my Bounty Hunter addressing me. “Neither did I.” I tried to sound nonchalant, but I eyed the small figure warily and kept myself positioned between him and the conference room door.

He nodded his head toward the closed door. “Is that Dragon I hear?” He met my eyes and stared at me guilelessly.

“What if it is?”

Bounty HunterMy Bounty Hunter shrugged. “As the Old Dwarf is so fond of saying, Mistress, it makes no nevermind ta me.” He moved away from me and leaned casually against the doorjamb at the bottom of the steps.

“So what brings you here at this hour?” I studied him closely.

“Insomnia. I do a lot of wandering around at night when I can’t sleep. It gives me time to search for answers.”

“What answers do you seek?”

He thought a few moments, frowning and stroking his chin. “Answers to questions you and I have discussed, Mistress Writer. Is there an explanation for how I and the others from my world materialized in this world, your world . . . an answer more satisfying than you fell out of the pages of a manuscript? Do we really exist, as you have asserted, in both worlds simultaneously, or did we cease to exist in our own world when we entered yours? And, most recently, what happened to me and the Arrogant One when we seemingly went missing? Where did we go, how did we get there and back again, and why do we have no memory of, or explanation for, the occurrence?”

I sighed and raked my hand through my hair. “I wish I had some answers to offer, especially regarding your recent disappearance.”

“I found that entire incident most disconcerting.”

I nodded. “I don’t doubt it! Evidently, so did my Arrogant One. The episode has apparently had a profound effect on him. I’m not sure I will ever be able to adjust to the elf’s newly acquired manners or humility.”arrogant-one

“I know what you mean, but I don’t suppose we should look a gift horse in the mouth!” My Bounty Hunter chuckled and shook his head. “Well, Mistress, I believe I am ready to make another attempt at sleeping. Good night.”

I listened to his receding footsteps as he climbed the stairs, but he did not continue up to the bedrooms. I heard him stop when he reached the landing; then the door creaked as he slipped outside. I frowned and bit my lower lip. What is he up to? Why the pretense of going to bed? I sighed. My first instinct was to go after him and find out, but I dared not leave the conference room unguarded. What if he’s the bait, trying to lure me away so an accomplice can sneak down here unnoticed? No, tomorrow will be soon enough to question him.

I wondered how much longer it would take Dragon to complete the spell which would forever hide the keys to Morcant’s tower, so the vile and malicious wizard would never be able to escape. I moved closer to the door and listened. She was still reciting her incantations, chanting in the ancient language of her race. Her voice was different now, sounding at once like wind through the trees, waves lapping at the shore, and tiny chimes tinkling in the breeze. Don’t let the sound of her voice mesmerize you!

I moved away from the door and tried to concentrate on the task at hand. The house was still, and I soon found my eyelids growing heavy once more. In an effort to stay awake, I began to walk up and down the hallway between the conference room and my office.

4-oclockAfter pacing back and forth for an interminable period, I glanced at the clock on the wall outside the conference room. It was almost 4 o’clock. I yawned and stretched. I looked around, scanning the great room and Miles’ den, making certain no one had slipped downstairs while I paced. Then I made my way slowly down the hall once more. I had just reached the other end of the hallway again when a loud crack resounded inside the conference room. I rushed back, not knowing what to expect.

The door slowly swung open. Dragon appeared in the doorway, swaying unsteadily on her feet. Ollie was at her side. The light was gone from his eyes, and he stretched his mouth wide in a protracted yawn. Dragon looked at me, and gave me a weary smile. “It is done.”

I nodded. “Any problems?”

Keys 015“None. No one in this world, or any other, should ever be able to locate those keys again.”

I heaved a huge sigh of relief.

“And you, Mistress? Any intruders?”

“Just my Bounty Hunter, but he did nothing that seemed overtly threatening.”

Without another word, the three of us turned off the lights and ascended the stairs. At the landing, Dragon and Ollie turned toward the front door. “Prithee, Mistress, join us for a breath of fresh air.”

I frowned. “Not now, thanks. The only thing I need right now is some sleep. You two go ahead, though. But be careful. Remember, my Bounty Hunter is prowling around somewhere.”

Dragon grimaced and Ollie growled softly.

“Ollie, will I see you at breakfast?”

Ollie shook his head. “Woof! I need to get home. James worries so!”

“Well, thank you for your help tonight. Have a safe trip home and please give my regards to James.”

Ollie’s rear end wiggled around and he woofed happily. “I will!”

I waved at the two friends as they walked outside. “Goodnight. Dragon, I’ll leave the porch light on for you.”

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I headed upstairs and went directly to bed. It seemed like my head had no sooner hit the pillow when Miles was shaking me awake. “Hey, sleepyhead! Are you going to stay in bed all day?” How can he sound so chipper? I chucked a pillow at him, rolled over, and fell right back asleep.sleeping

 

 

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 lend his outstanding assistance. Ollie 1Dragon assures me Ollie’s aid was indispensable. Be sure to check out James and Ollie’s 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

 

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

And the time Ollie helped rescue Dragon, Cleric, and my Old Dwarf can be found here: https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/08/14/ollie-to-the-rescue/ 

He’s Back

He’s Back

Miles leaned over and kissed me good morning. “How’d you sleep last night?”

“Really well, thanks! For the first morning in a long time, I really feel well-rested and refreshed!”

“Good. I let you sleep in a bit. I was hoping it would help.” He walked over to the window and opened the blind.

“Oh, no!” I sat up and rubbed my eyes against the sunlight flooding in through the window. “What time is it?”

“Relax, it’s still early. I already filled the bird feeders and put them out, and Cleric reminded me to put some carrots out for the rabbits.”

“Oh? Then I guess my presence isn’t required. I guess I can roll over and go back to sleep.” I grinned at Miles and gave him a broad wink.

“Well, I wouldn’t say that.” Miles paused, frowning. “As a matter of fact, your presence is probably very much needed.”

“Why? What’s wrong?” I pulled myself out of bed, dragged a hand through my hair, yawned, and headed for the bathroom.

“Nothing’s really wrong.” Another long pause. “Your Forman can tell you about it at breakfast.”

I was washed, dressed and in the kitchen in record time.

My Foreman lost no time in breaking the news. “He’s back.”

From the somber look on his face, I knew whoever my Foreman spoke of, the fact that he was back was not good news.

“Who? My Arrogant One?” I asked my Foreman as Miles and I grabbed some breakfast and joined my characters at the kitchen table.

My Foreman shook his head.

“My Bounty Hunter?”

He shook his head again.

“Nay, lassie!” My Old Dwarf piped up, between mouthfuls of food. “It be thet blasted, fool birdie.”morcants-familiar

“The milky-eyed grackle?”

“Aye, the birdie what converses fer the evil wizard.”

My Foreman scowled and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. “The Gypsy and I thought we saw Morcant’s familiar last night, as we were getting ready to retire, but we couldn’t be sure in the dark. But by then, the Old Dwarf was already fast asleep, so we couldn’t ask him to use his superior night vision to confirm if it was that bird or not.”

“But it was still there this morning when Master Miles was filling the bird feeders.” My Gypsy reached for the milk.

Cleric nodded. “We all saw it, sitting in the ironwood tree where you first observed it, Mistress, on the branch that hangs just outside the guest-room window.”

Sorceress pursed her lips and frowned. “It can not bode well to have that bird reappear while the Arrogant One and the Bounty Hunter are still missing.”

I nodded, and quickly gobbled down my container of yogurt. “I agree. I suppose I’d best go have a talk with Morcant and see what he and his familiar are up to.”

“Need any help?” Miles was ready to join me.

“Thanks, honey, but this is something I should do alone. I’d like to spare you from having anything to do with that evil wizard.”

I headed for the door to the back yard, but changed direction half-way across the living room. I decided it would be more expedient to go to the guest room. The bird was right by the window, easily within earshot through the screen.

I opened the window, and the bird sidled along the branch toward me. “Good morrow, beldame.” Morcant’s voice assaulted my ears from the bird’s gaping beak, grating like fingers on a chalkboard.

Morcant“What do you want, Morcant? Why is your familiar still hanging around?”

“I only wished to offer my felicitations on the occasion of the anniversary of your birth this week past. The celebration your houseguests gave in your honor was most touching.” His cloying voice turned bitter and caustic. “It is something not one living creature has done for me in more than 700 years.” His familiar underscored his words with a vigorous shake of its head.

“If I sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to you 700 times, will you be satisfied and go away?”

Morcant’s familiar opened its beak and a loud hiss sprang forth, sounding like a hundred angry cobras.

“I’ll take that as a no.” I sighed and shook my head wearily. “You know, Morcant, maybe if you hadn’t committed every heinous crime in the book, you wouldn’t have been sentenced to eternal exile. You might have been free to celebrate a few of those birthdays.”

morcants-familiarThe milky-eyed grackle flapped its wings. “If you had not created the magic locks that were used to imprison me in this tower, if you had not authored the incantation, and if you had not hidden the keys, then I would have been free — would still be free to this day!”

I sighed again. “We’ve had this conversation before, Morcant. I did none of those things. I merely recorded the events as they unfolded . . . as the coven of witches created the locks, as they composed the incantation, and as they hid the keys, in compliance with the sentence handed down upon you by the magistrates of your world.”

“Balderdash!” The angry word exploded on my ears like a thunderclap.

“Think what you want, Morcant, but I’m telling you the truth.”

“Nay, witch, verily I say ’tis most doubtful! If true, then by what power are the keys presently in your possession?”

“I have no idea how the keys came to be in this world, but once I found them here, do you think me foolish enough to leave them laying around for all and sundry to seize?”

keys-001“Then you do admit to possessing them?” The eagerness in Morcant’s voice warned me to choose my words carefully.

“I never denied having them . . . for a time. But, who says they are still in my possession?”

“Their magic signature, which my familiar followed through the doorway between our worlds, ends with you.” His voice, though still grating, had taken on a smugness that was impossible to overlook.

“That undersized feather duster couldn’t follow a trail if it was outlined in florescent paint and had signs pointing at it every two feet.”

The milky-eyed grackle squawked at me and ruffled his feathers indignantly.

Morcant pressed the issue. “Then you maintain you no longer have the keys?”

“I’m sure you, through your familiar, overheard me tell my characters I have disposed of the keys. And, perhaps, my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter confirmed that information for you?” I tried to marshal my voice and my expression so Morcant would not realize I was bluffing. Judging by his outburst, I failed miserably.

“Prevaricator! Deceiver! How could you have disposed of the keys, witch, without them leaving a trace of their magic signature?”

“You expect me to tell you how I discarded them? Perhaps you want me to draw you a map to their present whereabouts?” I raised an eyebrow and shook my head. “I think this conversation is over, Morcant. I told you once before – recall your familiar to your own world before the bird becomes a convenient snack for my dragon.”

The grackle squawked and took wing, quickly disappearing over the treetops. I closed the window and turned around to see Dragon standing by the door.Another dragon

“Did I hear you mention my name?” Smoke curled lazily from Dragon’s nostrils, and her mouth was stretched into a reasonable facsimile of a smile.

“Yes, I was just threatening to let you have Morcant’s familiar for a snack.”

“Yuck! Too scrawny, and the feathers would tickle going down.” Dragon winked, then continued in a more serious vein. “Is conversation possible here without that infernal bird eavesdropping on our every word?”

“Well, the bird seemed in a big hurry to put some distance between itself and you, but you never know when it might double back. Let’s go to the conference room.”

A few minutes later, Dragon settled herself on the small sofa next to the wall, shrinking to the perfect size to recline upon it. She stretched out on her belly, with her small arms curled like a cat’s under her chest, and her wings folded neatly out of the way. I pulled a chair over and sat next to her.

Keys 015“You asked me, Mistress, if there might be a way to use magic to destroy the keys. I told you I would have to examine the keys in order to make that determination; and to do so would expose them to potential theft and us to possible annihilation You then asked if there might be a way to safely examine the keys, without the possibility of anyone stealing them, and without anyone being able to detect their magic signature.”

I nodded.

“I have studied on the matter. I do not believe there is; however, I now no longer believe it necessary to examine them.”

I tilted my head and quirked an eyebrow. “Why not?”

“I entered into a state of reverie, during which I searched my memory for everything I have ever known about the keys.”

“And?”

“And if we succeed in destroying them by magic, doubtless the locks they fit will lose their enchantment, freeing Morcant.”

boxI scowled. “Darn. Then I must keep them secured in that box which blocks anyone from detecting them, even through magical means. And I must keep the box hidden from prying eyes.”

“Such as those belonging to your Arrogant One and you Bounty Hunter?” The smoke drifting from Dragon’s nose grew thicker and blacker.

I nodded. “But even from the others. I don’t know what means Morcant has at his disposal to get information from someone. If no one knows the location of the box, no one could be tempted or tortured into revealing its whereabouts.”

Dragon nodded. “That is most prudent. But what if Morcant attempts to torture you for the information?”

I shuddered. “I don’t think he could, but I guess I shouldn’t take any chances. What do you suggest?”

“I am most difficult to torture, even by one as powerful as Morcant. I could use my magic to transfer the box with the keys to a secure location, a location where none will find them, whether by intent or by happenstance. I would share the location with none, not even you, Mistress. Only in that way do I believe you and the others would be safe.”

I considered Dragon’s offer. It took me less than a New York minute to accept.

“Good. We will proceed tonight, when the others slumber. I will meet you in the passage outside your bedchamber, and guard you and the keys until we reach this room. Then you will stand guard outside the door, to prevent anyone from intruding, intentionally or inadvertently. I will use my power to hide the box containing the keys from any and all seekers.”

“Sounds like a plan. For now, we’d best rejoin the others so no one is overly curious about our little discussion.”

We had just reached the top of the stairs when we heard a commotion out on the deck. The doors opened, and my Foreman and the lads dragged my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter into the living room.

“We found them in the shed.” My Foreman shoved the annoying elf toward the couch. “Sit there!”

My Gypsy pushed my Bounty Hunter over to join him.

My Young Hero frowned. “They said they had no idea how they came to be in the shed. They claimed they had no memory of entering the shed. They also claimed they had no idea how long they had been missing.”

I raised an eyebrow, folded my arms over my chest, and tapped my foot. “That’s your story?”

“It is no story, Mistress.” My Arrogant One was uncharacteristically meek and subdued.

My Bounty Hunter nodded.

“Then what? The pair of you have been sleepwalking?”

bounty-hunter-2They both lifted their hands, palms up, and shrugged. My Bounty Hunter said, “It felt like the night I found myself in this world, in your office. I did not know then where I was or how I got here. I had no memory of anything past going to sleep in my own world.” (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/03/)

“I remember.” I turned to my Arrogant One. “And you?”arrogant-one

“It is as he described, Mistress.” The elf sat, head bowed, wringing his hands. His voice was barely a whisper, and he displayed none of his normal haughtiness. “We were just there, in the shed. I can not tell you where we were before that, or how long it was from the last thing we remember until we found ourselves there.”

“You can not, or you will not?” My Foreman glared at him.

“I can not, sir.”

I gaped at the usually imperious elf. His subdued demeanor convinced me he was telling the truth.

“Suppose you start at the beginning and tell me what you do remember.”

My Arrogant One blushed. “I remember conjuring the image of Morcant outside your office window, to intimidate you.”

“It scared ten years off my life!”

“I apologize, Mistress.”

Now everyone was gaping at him. “After that, I fled to the back yard. I ran into the Bounty Hunter. That . . . that is all I remember.”

My Bounty Hunter nodded. “I was in the yard, and I saw the Arrogant One run out the door onto the deck. He raced down the steps with such haste, I thought he would end up in a heap at the bottom. He ran right into me, almost knocking me off my feet. And that is the last I remember until a few moments ago, when the Foreman and the lads entered the shed and found us there. It is as if we just appeared there at that precise moment. But where we had been is a mystery.”

Just what I needed. Another mystery.

“Why don’t we all go to the conference room and see if we can sort this out.”

By the end of the day, we were no closer to solving the mystery. The two characters who had inexplicably reappeared that day had not changed a word of their stories. They remembered no additional details that might shed some light on the situation; nor could anyone else offer any plausible explanation for the incidents.

Miles shrugged. “Tomorrow’s another day. Maybe we can figure it all out after a good night’s sleep.”

I sighed and nodded. Miles reached around me and turned on the porch light, and we headed upstairs to bed.

Fixtures Light Elegant Lighting Fixture And Supply Company Intended For Front Porch Light Fixtures Front Porch Light Fixtures

Surprise

Surprise

It had been a long day, with the search for my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter yielding no results. I had just finished some late-night work in my office and was looking forward to getting some shut-eye. I was starting to ascend the stairs of our bi-level home when I saw Cleric on the landing, with the front door open. I could barely hear as she whispered to someone standing outside, “I will leave the porch light on for you.” She quietly eased the door closed and left it unlocked. Then she switched on the porch light and turned around.Elf

“Mistress!” Her hand flew to her mouth, and her cheeks flamed scarlet.

I slowly ascended the stairs to the entryway. I tilted my head and studied Cleric. “Getting a little night air?”

“No, Mistress. I mean, yes, Mistress. I was just enjoying the night air. There is a most refreshing breeze this evening.”

“I see. Maybe I should go out and get a breath of fresh air myself.”

“Oh, no, Mistress!” Cleric’s eyes widened and she started fidgeting with her robes. “It is so cool out this evening. I know how easily you chill. We should go to the kitchen where I can prepare a nice cup of cocoa for you before you retire.”

I raised an eyebrow and folded my arms across my chest. Cleric blushed all the more furiously. If her face got any brighter, I would be able to read a newspaper by its glow. “So who was enjoying the night air with you?”

“Mistress?” Cleric started to look around, like a deer about to bolt. I had never seen such a guilty look on anyone’s face.

I furrowed my brow and stroked my chin, puzzled by her behavior. I could not fathom her being in league with my Arrogant One or my Bounty Hunter. The possibility that she had been conversing with Morcant himself, through the milky-eyed grackle that served as his familiar, was even more unthinkable. Cleric had one of the strongest moral compasses of any of my characters. Plus, she had recently suffered the terror and indignity of having been kidnapped by my Arrogant One in his quest to obtain the keys for the evil wizard, Morcant. I could not believe Cleric would have anything to do with any of them. So, who had she been whispering to? For whom was she leaving the porch light on and the front door unlocked?

for-todays-blog-011I stepped toward the door. Cleric’s eyes widened further and she started to slip between me and the door. Just then, Miles appeared at the top of the steps. “Oh, there you are! I was about to send out the bloodhounds! Are you coming to bed sometime tonight, honey?”

“Be right there!” I eyed Cleric quizzically again. I reached around her and locked the door before heading up the second flight of steps.

Miles tilted his head and furrowed his brow as I joined him at the top of the staircase. “What was that all about?”

“I’m not sure. Cleric was whispering to someone as I started to come upstairs. She told someone outside she would leave the porch light on for them, and she deliberately left the door unlocked. She appeared distraught that I had observed this.”

“Well, who would she be talking to that she wouldn’t want you to know about?”

“That’s just it – she shouldn’t need to hide any conversation she has. The only people she shouldn’t be conversing with are my Arrogant One, my Bounty Hunter, or Morcant himself, through his familiar. But I just can’t imagine Cleric sneaking around, conversing with any of them!”

“No, she has always seemed too honorable to become involved with the likes of them!”

sorceress-facing-rightAs we turned into the hallway to our bedroom, we almost collided with Sorceress. She blanched, and she began to stammer. “Oh! I . . . I am s-so sorry! I did not see the two of you.” Before we could reply, she scooted past us, and I could hear her receding footsteps as she dashed down the stairs.

Miles looked at me. “What’s her problem?”

I furrowed my brow and shook my head. “I have no idea. Usually Sorceress is so poised, so deliberate, so unflappable.”

Miles shrugged. “Well, I’m sure it’s nothing to lose any sleep over.”

Well, maybe he didn’t lose any sleep, but I sure did. All night long I tossed and turned. I spent the whole night thinking about the odd behavior of Cleric and Sorceress, the possible whereabouts of my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter, and whether the two situations were in any way related. The few times I started to drift off to sleep, I woke to the sound of furtive whispers and footsteps in the hallway outside the bedroom door; yet, when I got up and looked, no one was there. When I dragged myself to the kitchen for breakfast the next morning, I felt like I hadn’t slept in days.

I apparently was not the only one. I looked around the table at my characters. Cleric and Sorceress both had dark circles under their eyes; my Old Dwarf couldn’t stop yawning; my Foreman and the lads could hardly keep their eyes open; and they all were barely picking at their food.

“Good morning! My, everyone looks so bright-eyed and bushy tailed this morning.”

My sarcastically chipper greeting was met with some groans and a few scowls.

“What’s wrong? You’re not all coming down with the flu, are you?” Could characters from another world who fell out of a manuscript into this world even get the flu? “Perhaps Cleric should prepare some healing herbs for everyone? Or maybe just some good old fashioned chicken soup?”

Everyone’s eyes widened, and heads shook, as they all assured me they were not sick.

I raised my eyebrow skeptically, but said nothing more. Miles and I got our breakfast and the two of us sat down at the far end of the table.

“Has anyone seen Dragon this morning?”

There was a general stirring of the characters around the table, accompanied by several yawns and various unintelligible grunts and mutters.

Young hero 2Finally, my Young Hero looked at me, bleary-eyed. “Um, I think I saw her curled up on the sofa when I came through the living room.” He looked as if it had sapped all his energy to relate that fact. He slumped in his chair, eyelids drooping and bloodshot eyes unfocused. He picked up his fork and made three attempts at stabbing a piece of flapjack before he just gave up. The fork clattered loudly onto the plate.

My Gypsy jumped at the noise, almost falling out of his chair. “Uh, yeah . . . uh dragon . . .sofa . . .yeah.”Gypsy

 

 

The room grew quiet again, my characters obviously too exhausted for their usual animated banter. I almost hated to disturb them.

“So, has anyone devised a plan for locating my Arrogant One, my Bounty Hunter, or Morcant’s familiar?”

“Eh, I reckon we should jest keep lookin’ fer ’em around here. They couldna ha’ gone far.”

I raised an eyebrow at my Old Dwarf. “We all looked in every conceivable spot on this property yesterday. We checked and double-checked every nook and cranny in the house, the garage, the yard, and the shed. Then we looked all around the neighborhood and along the streets leading to downtown. Where else do you propose to look?”

No one answered.

Miles cleared his throat. “Maybe Sorceress and the Gypsy could try scrying again?”

“I am afraid not, Master Miles. I am not finished preparing my spell components.” Sorceress spoke slowly and softly, like someone suffering the effects of a hangover . . . or a sleepless night. She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples.

I frowned. “I thought you found all the herbs and plants you need.”

“I have, Mistress, but one does not simply use raw ingredients. The components must be carefully prepared. It takes time.”

My Gypsy nodded his agreement. “A long time.”

My frown deepened. I sighed loudly. “Well, does anyone else have any ideas?”

dragon facing rightDragon entered the kitchen just then, yawning and rubbing her eyes, and addressed the question. “I am afraid I do not.” She yawned again. “I have been spending my time considering the situation of which you and I spoke, Mistress. I will continue pursuing this matter and I will let you know if I discover a solution to the problem.”

I nodded. I knew Dragon referred to the problem of examining the magic keys safely, to determine if they could be destroyed before the evil wizard, Morcant, found a way to obtain them and free himself from his eternal exile. That problem was as important as finding my two missing characters and determining if Morcant’s familiar was still hanging around.

Since no one could devise a better scheme, we agreed to just continue keeping a close watch that day for my Arrogant One, my Bounty Hunter, and the milky-eyed grackle that served as Morcant’s familiar. By the end of the day, they still remained at large, and I remained frustrated and uneasy. I double-checked that the doors were locked before retiring for the evening. For the second night in a row, my sleep was disturbed by worries about my characters, by fears regarding the situation with Morcant and his quest for the keys, and by noises in the hallway.

Morning came way too early, and I could barely drag myself out of bed. I did notice that the house seemed strangely quiet. The kitchen was deserted when Miles and I entered it for breakfast. While Miles prepared some French toast, I trudged downstairs to check my office and the conference room. Both were empty. I went back upstairs and checked all the rooms, then stepped out onto the deck and looked around the yard. None of my characters were anywhere to be seen.

Easter 128Miles placed two heaping plates of French toast on the table. “Where is everyone today?”

I frowned and raked my hand through my hair. “I don’t know. I can’t find them anywhere.”

The morning dragged on. Neither Miles nor I could concentrate on our chores. The lunch table was as deserted as the breakfast table had been. I chewed my food without tasting it, and I stared off into space.

Miles gently took my hand. “Do you think they’re gone? Do you think they have finally found their way back into the pages of your manuscripts and returned to their own world? Or do you think Morcant is somehow behind their disappearance?”

“I wish I knew.” My cheek felt wet, and Miles reached out and wiped away my tear.

“Why don’t we go for a drive? Maybe we can find some birds to photograph, or you could take some pictures of the fall colors.”

I nodded. While Miles cleaned up from lunch, I gathered my camera and gear, and we soon headed out. We made a day of it, and it was late when we returned home. The porch light was on, but the house was pitch-dark. We entered the silent house and trudged up the stairs.

Suddenly, the lights blazed on. A chorus of voices sang out, “Surprise!”

Miles and I blinked. Cleric and Sorceress ran up and took us by the hands. They tugged us into the living room, and over to the sofa. “Come! Sit here!”

I looked around the room at my characters, who were all grinning like Cheshire cats. “What is all this?”

“Yeah, what’s going on?” Miles asked.

dwarf

My Old Dwarf cackled gleefully at our confusion. “This be a cell-ee-bration o yer birth-ed days!”

 

“What?”

Cleric smiled warmly at us, her cornflower blue eyes shining brightly. “We learned that you both celebrate your birthdays this week — you, Mistress, on Tuesday, and you, Master Miles, on Thursday.”

“We have also learned by watching programs on your magic box – that which you call a television – that in this world, just as in our own, friends usually gather to help commemorate such a happy event.” Sorceress smiled and motioned to my Gypsy and my Young Hero, who dashed off to the kitchen. They returned with a beautiful cake and bowls of ice cream.

“We understand special confections are served. The Gypsy and I baked this cake for you, and the others made the ice cream.” My Young Hero grinned as he placed the cake on the coffee table in front of Miles and me.bd-cake

“You made this?” Miles and I both gaped at my assembled characters.

My Foreman nodded. “And there are presents.”

Presents? Oh my goodness! Thank you all so much! But . . . but you didn’t have to do this!”

Elf facing right“We know that, Mistress.” Cleric sat next to me and put her arm around my shoulder. “But we have been so much trouble to you and Master Miles, we wanted to do something special for you, to let you know how much you both mean to us all. That is why I was whispering to someone the other night at the front door. The Old Dwarf was going out to the shed to work on his gifts for you two.”

foreman“We all met in the shed that night to work on our presents. That is why we were all so tired the next morning, and why you were unable to find us today. We needed to finish our work.” My Foreman grinned, obviously pleased at pulling off this surprise.

Dragon piped up from the corner. “But do not fear, Mistress, as we all continued to look for our missing companions and for Morcant’s familiar as we worked on this.”

“Wow! I can’t believe this!”

Sorceress cut the cake and everyone took a slice, along with a bowl of ice cream. After we ate, Dragon cleared her throat. “Ahem. We would like to wish you both a most happy birthday, and many more to come.” She pointed to two small piles of gifts next to the couch, one next to Miles and one next to me. “These are just some tokens of our affection.”

There were so many beautiful gifts! For me, there were hand-painted pictures of birds, including a trio of birds painted on antique bottles;

a hand-carved wooden dove;for-bd-present-blog-023

 

and several horses, one in the form of a wooden candy dish, one a wooden replica of an antique child’s toy and one carved of snowflake obsidian.

For Miles, the car enthusiast, there was a collection of hand-carved wooden replicas of antique vehicles;

a wooden puzzle;

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and an assortment of polished stone marbles that Cleric explained represented a pledge of friendship and protection.marbles

For both of us, there was a matched pair of leather-and-wood camel-saddle footstools.footstool

“I don’t know what to say!” Miles looked at my characters, and at the gifts they had so painstakingly produced for us. “Thank you!”

“Yes, thank you!” I beamed at my characters, happy tears stinging my eyes.

“Now, then, be there any more o thet cake an’ nice cream?” My Old Dwarf rubbed his hands together and smacked his lips. We all shared a hearty laugh at that.

Much later, with full bellies and full hearts, Miles and I headed for bed, after making sure we had left the porch light on. Neither of us noticed the milky-eyed grackle peering in the window.

The Key to the Problem

The Key to the Problem

I brushed my teeth and put on my pajamas. I was soooo ready for some shut-eye. Every time I thought back to the evil wizard Morcant standing outside my office window, leering at me, I started shaking with fear. Every time I remembered that it was just an image — an image most likely conjured by my Arrogant One, a self-proclaimed illusionist extraordinaire — I trembled with rage. How dare he terrorize me that way?

Easter 128I walked into the bedroom, and saw the expression on Miles’ face. I knew I could forget about shut-eye. My husband wanted to discuss the day’s events. I couldn’t blame him.

“Are you feeling any better?” Concern shone from his eyes, as he reached to hold me gently.

“Not much. I don’t know which is worse — the thought of Morcant being free, and being here, or the thought that my Arrogant One would do such a thing, conjuring that image and scaring me half to death!”

morcant“Morcant really is a danger, isn’t he?”

“Yes.”

My answer was barely a whisper, and Miles had to lean closer to catch what I said.

tower“Miles, if Morcant would ever get out of that tower, he would destroy his own world first. Then he would destroy the world from which our current houseguests, my characters, come. Finally, he would come after me, and he would take great pleasure in torturing me for a very long time before finally killing me.”

“I understand why he would destroy his own world. He would want revenge for his exile. But why would he want to destroy the other world, your characters’ world?”

“He discovered that an order of Clerics in that world were once charged with guarding a set of keys. He imagines that they were the same keys from his world, the keys used to lock him in his tower.”

“I see. So, again, he seeks revenge. But why hurt you? Why does he hate you so?”

keys-001“He blames me for his current predicament. He blames me for creating the magic locks that were used to imprison him in the tower, for authoring the incantation, and for hiding the keys.”

“But you said a coven of witches on his world did all that.”

“They did, but I recorded it in the pages of a story. He believes I did not merely chronicle events as they unfolded, he believes I created the events through my writing. So he places most of the blame squarely on my shoulders, with a lesser amount of blame being shared by the judicial system which tried him and sentenced him to eternal exile for his crimes, and the coven of witches who found a way to enforce that punishment. Of course, he claims no blame himself, for having committed the atrocities which earned him such a terrible sentence. No, he places all blame on others.” I sighed and raked my hand through my hair. “He has a particular hatred for me, the writer/historian, as he feels the others only acted as puppets, with me pulling the strings. He has spent seven centuries in his world, dreaming of exacting his revenge.”

“And he knows you have the keys that could free him.” Miles chewed on his lower lip and frowned.

box“Yes. As soon as I discovered the keys here, I placed them in a box that hides their magic energy signature from all, even from those using magical means to find the keys. Before I hid them, however, Morcant’s familiar felt their magic and followed its trail through some sort of doorway into our world.”

“Hmmmm. And I am guessing that your Bounty Hunter was right, that disposing of something so powerful and so dangerous would be exceptionally difficult, if not impossible.”

“It would. I know of no way to destroy the keys, and to merely dispose of them would leave open the possibility that they could be found by others . . . others who might know what they are, and use them to free Morcant.” I sighed and rubbed my forehead. “Honey, I’m really tired. Can we continue this conversation in the morning?”

sleeping“Sure, sweetheart!” We kissed goodnight, and I was asleep almost before my head hit the pillow.

 

“So, the keys are the key to this whole problem. If magic created the keys, could magic destroy them?”Keys 015

I just love it when my husband sees me wake up, and jumps right back into the conversation we were having before we went to sleep the previous night. “Ugggghhhhh! Can’t you even wait until I’m awake?”

“You are awake. I saw you half-open one eye.” Miles winked at me and chuckled. I threw a pillow at him as I stumbled into the bathroom.

Twenty minutes later, I was ready to face the world in general, and my husband in particular. I reminded myself that Miles had, during several recent crises, proven himself a rather wise and knowledgeable person. He had saved the day on more than one occasion, so I was eager to hear his thoughts on our current problem.

“So. You were saying something about using magic to destroy the keys.”

“I was wondering if your more magically-inclined characters possess enough power and skill to destroy the keys created by a coven of witches.”

“They might. Dragon has more power than even I can comprehend. Sorceress, while no rival to Dragon’s ability, is certainly no slouch. She’s the most powerful magic user in her society. She is not only skilled, but intuitive and creative with her magic. My Gypsy may have only a fraction of the power of either of the other two, but he learns quickly, and can weave his power into that of others to achieve a mutual goal.”

“What about Cleric? She usually assists with magical endeavors.”

“Cleric rejects the notion that she possesses any magic. She confesses only her powers of healing and other clerical skills as granted by her deity, but she always seems able to intensify the magic of the others, and focus it where it will do the most good.”

“I see.” Miles stroked his chin, and his lips quivered into a slight smile. “And your other character with magical power?”

I snorted. “I would never permit my Arrogant One to work on this! My magic users would need access to the keys, to examine the strands of magic used to enchant them in the first place, and to check them for the presence of wards and protective spells. Only then could they determine a way to use magic to destroy the keys, without the danger of destroying themselves. My Arrogant One can not be trusted! To give him access to the keys could be tantamount to freeing Morcant. The insufferable elf would surly find a way to make off with the keys and deliver them to the milky-eyed grackle.”

Miles chuckled, and put his arms around me. “I was only teasing. I know he can’t be trusted.” He kissed the top of my head, and said, “Are you ready for breakfast?”

I gave him a quick peck on the cheek in return. “Yup, I’m starving! But let’s not talk about this in front of the others. There’s a lot I have to think about before I would talk to all of them about it.”

“Such as?”

“Such as how to protect the keys while my magic users are examining them. Once I take the keys out of the box, Morcant’s familiar, and anyone else who may be searching for them, could feel their magic signature. They might be able to force their way into the conference room and grab the keys.” I shook my head. “I think I need to discuss this with Dragon before I mention it to any of the others.”

“I see what you mean. Lots to think about.”

We left the bedroom and went to the kitchen for breakfast. I groaned. My Old Dwarf was already there, tucking into a dozen fried eggs, a pound of bacon, mountains of fried potatoes, and an assortment of muffins, donuts and pastries. He barely looked up from his food to nod good morning to us.

Miles sighed. “I don’t suppose it occurred to you that someone else might be hungry this morning?”

dwarf-facing-right“Eh? Ye al’ays be havin’ thet mush fer yer morning fast-breakin’ or else thet straw stuff, an’ the Mistress be havin’ puddin’ or summat like thet.”

I chuckled and shook my head. “You’re referring to Miles’ two regular choices, oatmeal and shredded wheat, and my yogurt?”

“Thet be what I said. So, then, I do na be takin the food outten yer mouths.”

“But what about us?” My Foreman walked in and sat down at the table, accompanied by the two lads. “Do we get any of this?”

“Iffin ye had been wantin’ any o this, ye shoulda been risin’ at a more respectable hour.” My Old Dwarf snorted and continued shoveling down the food.

My Foreman shook his head and shrugged. “Well, I guess we three had best forego our morning meal this day and resume our search for the Arrogant One and the Bounty Hunter.” If the lads failed to pick up on the sarcasm in his voice, they didn’t miss his broad wink.

The three exchanged smirks as they leaned in and snatched a few pastries and some bacon from the Old Dwarf. The hapless dwarf sputtered and swatted ineffectually at them as they made a hasty retreat.

My Old Dwarf quickly settled back to eat what remained of his meal, grumbling under his breath the whole time. He was still working his way through a pile of flapjacks I had not previously noticed when Miles and I finished our breakfast. “Be sure to clean up this mess when you’re finished, okay?”

My Old Dwarf waved dismissively at Miles, but wilted under my glare. “Aye, I be cleanin’ up as soon as I be finished wit these flatcakes.”

I rolled my eyes at the old reprobate, knowing full well that Miles or I would end up cleaning the kitchen later that morning.

Miles turned to me. “Well, what’s on your agenda for the day?”

“I have to find Dragon and discuss matters with her. What about you? Care to join us?”

“I’ll have to take a rain check on that. Have you seen the lawn? Grass needs cutting again.”

“Okay. Keep an eye out for my two AWOL characters.

Miles nodded, and we went our separate ways.

A few minutes later, I found Dragon in the conference room. “We need to talk.”

“Is Ollie coming for a visit?”

“Not that I am aware of.”

Smoke drifted from Dragon’s nose, and her mouth seemed to turn downward in a pout.dragon

“Dragon, I need to speak to you about the keys.”

“I was wondering when you would.” She walked over to a small chaise longue next to the wall. She shrank until she was the perfect size to recline upon it. She stretched out on her belly, with her small arms curled like a cat’s under her chest, and her wings folded neatly out of the way. She narrowed her reptilian eyes and stared attentively. “Proceed.”

“Dragon, you are the oldest and wisest of all my characters. Your power is immeasurable.”

Dragon nodded, but said, “You need not tell me this. If you are attempting to impart knowledge, I assure you I am aware of my age, my wisdom, and my power. If you seek to flatter, it serves no purpose.”

“I only wish to explain why I seek your counsel and not that of the others.”

“Then continue.”

“Miles posed an interesting question. He wondered if my more magically-inclined characters possess enough power and skill to destroy the keys created by a coven of witches.”

Smoke curled lazily from Dragon’s nostrils as she considered the question. After a few minutes, she shook her head. “These keys were created centuries ago, on an alien world. I could not hazard a guess without examining them, and to do so would expose them to potential theft and us to possible annihilation.”

“There is no way to examine them safely?”

She rolled on her back and blew a chain of smoke rings toward the ceiling. “There may be. Let me think about it for a day or two. Meanwhile, have you had any success locating the Arrogant One or the Bounty Hunter?”

arrogant-onebounty-hunter-2

 

 

 

 

 

“Not yet.”

“Having the annoying elf and his mercenary cohort under lock and key might make examining the keys safer.”

I nodded. “I will join the others and attempt to find the two fugitives. Let me know if you think of anything regarding the keys.”

“I think I would like to see Ollie again.” She slowly winked one reptilian eye at me and grinned.

I laughed, and reminded her that Ollie had his own home, his own companion and his own blog to keep him busy. She showed no sign of having heard me. When I left the conference room, she was still laying there, mooning over the picture of the handsome Old English Sheepdog.

ElfBy the end of the day, in spite of everyone’s best efforts, my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter were still missing. As I headed up the stairs to go to bed, I saw my Cleric at the front door. Just as she was closing it, I heard her whisper, “I’ll leave the porch light on for you.”

I couldn’t see to whom she was speaking.

 

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