The Culprit Exposed

The Culprit Exposed

fireplace2“Well, you certainly know how to make yourself scarce!”

Three days after the debacle involving the repair technician, I finally found Dragon again. She was sprawled on her stomach on the conference room floor, basking in the heat of her conjured fireplace. She opened one eye and regarded me with an amused look on her reptilian face. “Oh, were you looking for me?”

“As a matter of fact, yes.” I stood, arms folded over my chest, glaring at her. “I did not appreciate your antics when the repairman was here.”

Dragon rolled over and started writhing on the floor, scratching her back. After a good long scratch, she looked at me with an impish grin. “I only asked him if he dropped his wrench.”

I gaped at her. “The poor man screeched so loudly, I thought the neighbors were going to call the police to report a murder taking place here!”

“He did seem a tad unnerved.” The huge beast giggled. She sat up, twisted her long neck around, and proceeded to clean her wings.

“A tad unnerved? I understand they had to offer him early retirement!”

“Pity. He never did fix your cold box, did he?”

“No. I finally reached the utility company and they sent another repairman out this morning to look at the freezer.”

“What?” Dragon stopped grooming herself and whirled her head back around to look at me directly. She almost appeared to be pouting. “I wish I had known.”

“Don’t worry; he managed quite nicely without you.”

“The cold box is fixed?”

“No, he said it was not repairable. We ordered a new freezer from the store in town. It will be delivered tomorrow.”

“Oh, good. What time?”blue-dragon-facing-left

“Never you mind! They do not need your help.”

“But it would be ever so much fun!” She grinned widely, showing every razor sharp tooth in her gigantic maw.

I glared at her. “I’m not entirely sure the delivery men would think so.”

“That is what makes it so much fun.” She winked at me, and tiny smoke rings erupted from her nostrils as she giggled.

I shook my head and sighed. “While you were busy terrorizing the repair technician, did you have any time to further consider the problems we recently discussed?”

Dragon grew serious. “Which problems? Do you refer to Master Miles’ changed behavior that has him speaking and acting like the Innkeeper from my world? Or do you mean the items from my world that have appeared here in this world?”

“Both.”

Dragon nodded. “Yes. I have spent considerable time pondering these mysteries. First, let us discuss your mate. I have questioned the lads about the times they witnessed Master Miles speaking and acting as if he were the Innkeeper. Each time he did so, there were others around.”

birthdays-weekend-trip-to-wi-018innkeeper-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

I furrowed my brow, trying to remember each time Miles had spoken in the words of the Innkeeper, or had exhibited one of the Innkeeper’s traits. “No, I don’t think so. I don’t think there were others around each time.”

Dragon gave me a penetrating look. “Are you certain? The lads were quite sure about it. Try to remember.”

I rubbed the back of my neck and sighed. “Well, the first time it happened was the week before Christmas. The lads were horsing around, throwing snowballs as they came in to the living room from the deck. When my Gypsy threatened to throw a snowball at me, my husband scolded him in the same words that the Innkeeper had used when the lads were throwing snowballs in his establishment: There will be no snowballs in here, boy-o! I just cleaned this place! Dragon, you know Miles never calls the lads boy-os, but the Innkeeper always did. And prior to the time he started talking like the Innkeeper, Miles had no knowledge of him.”

Dragon nodded. “It is peculiar. Now at the time of that first incident, I know the Arrogant One was there. The lads told me he made a point of directing the conversation to the mystery of how we exist back in our own world even as we exist here.”

“Yes, he and my Bounty Hunter have seemed obsessed with that thought lately. They were both there, and both questioned the plausibility of simultaneous existence in two worlds.”

Dragon nodded again. “And the next time Master Miles took on the speech and comportment of the Innkeeper? Was that annoying elf there then?”

I closed my eyes and concentrated. “The next time it happened was just a few days later. I came into the kitchen to find Miles standing there, holding the Innkeeper’s silver amulet. He was rubbing it and mumbling something I couldn’t quite hear. I managed to slap the talisman from his hand, and then he acted like someone waking from a trance. He had no memory of taking the amulet and trying to use it.”

“Was anyone in the room with you?”

“No, we were alone. Later that night, he spoke in the Innkeeper’s words again. He and I were the only ones around then, too.”

“Tell me exactly what happened.”

I chewed on my lower lip, trying to remember. “Everyone else had retired for the night. I was in the hallway leading to our bedroom when I found a horseshoe.”

“Where was Master Miles?”

“He was at the front door, turning on the porch light. When he came back upstairs, I showed him the horseshoe. When he saw it, he pushed an errant lock of hair out of his eyes, just like the Innkeeper always did. And he said I told the boy-os not to fret. The Blacksmith will lend a hand. Old Smyth could always be relied on! But we were alone in the hallway.”

“Perhaps not. That annoying elf could have been there, rendered invisible by his ability to cast illusions. Or he could have been in one of the other rooms along the hallway, close enough to influence Master Miles’ behavior. The same is true of the earlier incident, in the kitchen. The elf could have been concealed nearby.”

I frowned. “Maybe. I wouldn’t put it past my Arrogant One. And he was definitely there the last time Miles was doing his Innkeeper imitation. After you and I had our last chat about this situation, and about the items that have been appearing here from your world, the elf accosted me. He wanted to know if we had discovered the cause of Miles’ strange behavior. I told him we had not, and asked him what he knew about it. He got very defensive and swore he knew nothing. About a half hour later, he was already in the kitchen with everyone when I went upstairs for lunch. Miles was serving stew and raving about how the king himself had come to his inn to partake of his famous stew. When I took Miles downstairs to my office, he had no memory of what he had just said and done.”

Dragon walked over to her conjured fireplace. For a long while, she was quiet, just staring at the flames and nodding. Finally, she turned to me. “It is most likely that the Arrogant One is behind Master Miles’ recent strange behavior. However, I can not yet discern a motive. We need to investigate further.”

 

 

“Okay, but how does this connect to the items from your world that have appeared here?”

Dragon frowned. “I am no longer confident that your mate’s behavior is related to the items you have found.”

I furrowed my brow and tilted my head. “Wait. You told me before that you felt certain there was a link between my husband’s behavior and the appearance of the talisman and the other items here in this world.”

Dragon nodded. “At the time I made that statement, it was true. I felt it to be too much of a coincidence that the objects appeared here near the same time Master Miles began his peculiar behavior.”

I narrowed my eyes. “But now you have changed your mind?”

Again she nodded.

arrogant-one-facing-rightI frowned. “But why? If my Arrogant One is causing Miles to speak and act like the Innkeeper, couldn’t he also be the one who created the magical conduit through which the items traveled from your world to this one?”

Dragon snorted. “That insufferable elf has not the skill to create something so powerful and intricate! He trades on illusion and chicanery, not complex magic.”

I nodded. “Then who would have the requisite skill to create such a conduit? And who would have had reason to send . . . or bring . . . the items here?”

Dragon sighed. “I have not discovered the answers to those questions yet. I can think of only one person in this world who may have the skill to create such a thing, but I know of no reason for her to summon these items. There are any number of people in the other world who have the skill necessary to create the conduit, but again their motive in doing so and sending these items here, is unknown.”

I frowned.

“Do not loose heart, Mistress. I am still searching for the conduit. If I can locate it and examine it, perchance I can determine who created it.”

I nodded. “Let me know if you discover anything. Meanwhile, I think we should try to find my Arrogant One. I would like to learn just what he knows, and how he might be involved in Miles’ situation, and I think I could use your help.”

Dragon grinned. “I think I could be of some assistance.”

I raised an eyebrow. “No scorching his shoes while he is still in them.”

The big beast wrinkled her nose, and addressed me in her most solemn voice. “You, Mistress Writer, are a killjoy.”

I laughed.

When we finally found my Arrogant One several hours later, he was in the living room, deep in conversation with my Bounty Hunter. I frowned. Those two certainly seem to be joined at the hip lately.

As soon as they saw us, the two characters fell silent. I locked eyes with my Arrogant One. “Dragon and I would like to speak with you, elf.”

My Bounty Hunter ducked his head and stepped back out of the way. My Arrogant One’s face flushed scarlet. The elf drew himself up, grasping his cloak in both hands. “If you two seek an audience with me, I suggest you approach me in a more respectful manner, befitting my station.” He started to turn away.

Before I could reply, Dragon advanced on the elf with the speed of a cheetah. She whipped her tail around, knocking the elf down; then she pounced on him, pinning him to the floor. She brought her face within an inch of his, snarling and showing the elf every tooth in her gigantic maw. “And I suggest you remember to whom you are speaking, elf. You are the one who needs to show us proper deference.”dwarf-facing-right

bounty-hunter-2Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my Bounty Hunter raise his crossbow. Before I could shout a warning to Dragon, a war axe flew across the room, knocking the Bounty Hunter’s weapon out of his hands. “I be afeared I can na let ye stop tha beastie from havin’ her fun, lad. It jest wouldna be right.” My Old Dwarf walked over to my Bounty Hunter and retrieved his axe. He picked up the crossbow and handed it to me.

Dragon slowly released my Arrogant One, and my Bounty Hunter helped him to his feet. The elf was white as a ghost, weak-kneed and trembling like a leaf. As he rose, several items fell from his robes and clattered to the floor. I gaped at the sight of a silver talisman, an iron horseshoe, a ruby ring and a royal seal.

My Old Dwarf chuckled. “Oh, elfie, I can na wait ta hear ye explain yer way outten this!”

 

 

What is the insufferable elf doing with these items from his world? Be sure to come back next week to hear the Arrogant One’s explanation. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Another Repairman Bites the Dust

Another Repairman Bites the Dust

Elf facing rightThe odor was almost unbearable. It smelled like a rotting corpse, or a beached whale that had been left to decompose in the hot sun for weeks. A group of my characters crowded the hallway around the door to the utility room. Cleric hesitantly poked her head into the room and wrinkled her nose. “Mistress! What is that dreadful stench?”

 

I looked her straight in the eye and spoke in my most dramatic voice. “Why, that’s the smell of . . . death.”dwarf-facing-right

“What? Who be dead? What kilt ’em?” My Old Dwarf pushed his way past the others, and raced into the small room waving his war axe. He took one breath, turned green, put his hand over his nose and mouth, and ran out almost as fast.

 

I laughed. “Not who. What. The freezer died.”freezer-again-003

Cleric furrowed her brow.

“I was planning to do grocery shopping this afternoon, so I wanted to check the inventory list I keep taped to the top of the freezer. The list must have gotten wet; it’s smeared and totally illegible. So I opened the freezer to see what we have stored in it, and I was almost overcome by this smell.” I fished out another soggy package and tossed it in the big, black trash bag I was holding.

Cleric’s eyes widened. “The food is ruined?”

I sighed and nodded. “Luckily, there were only a few items left in the freezer.”

My Young Hero, my Gypsy, and Sorceress – all three holding their noses – peered around Cleric. My Young Hero said something, but I couldn’t make it out. After the lad’s third attempt to make himself understood, Sorceress placed her hand on his shoulder. “Wait.” She waved her other hand and mumbled a few words. The stench was gone.

My Young Hero removed his hand from his nose and thanked her, then turned to me. “What I said was, would you like us to take a look at it? Maybe it can be fixed.”

“Thanks for the kind offer, but I somehow doubt that a bunch of medieval characters who fell out of the pages of my book manuscripts would be much help fixing an electric appliance.”

My Gypsy grinned and waggled his eyebrows. “Oh, I don’t know. A little magic here, a few wards there. I bet we could have it up and running in no time.”

“Don’t trouble yourselves. Really.” I gave them a stern look. “If you remember, I have a service contract with my utility company that covers all my appliances, so all repairs are free. I’ll give them a call and ask them to send a repair technician.”

My Gypsy smirked. “Would that be the same repair technician who came out for your other appliance, the machine in which you launder your clothing?”

“I don’t know if they’ll send the same technician. Why?”

“Oh, no reason. No reason at all.” He spread his hands and looked at me, wide-eyed, trying hard not to laugh.

Sorceress raised an eyebrow, and a smile tugged at the corners of her lips. “As I recall, it took that technician numerous attempts to fix the other machine. And did he not have a problem with mislaying his tools?”

I groaned as I remembered the last time I had required a service technician. (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/the-case-of-the-missing-tools/)

I gave my characters a sharp look. “I don’t know who they will dispatch, but I don’t want any of you getting in his way. I’m warning you, if there’s any trouble, I’ll . . .”

“…write you all out of the books,” the entire group solemnly intoned. They all rolled their eyes and started giggling uncontrollably as they turned and walked toward the stairs.

phone with caller IDI need to come up with a more effective threat! I finished removing the packages of spoiled food from the freezer, carted the bag to the trash bin, then went to my office to call the repair service. After navigating their automated system, I steeled myself against the inevitable wait. To my astonishment, rather than being placed on interminable hold, I was immediately connected with a live service representative, a woman with a very pleasant voice who identified herself as Dee.

I explained the problem. Dee asked me to wait while she checked my account. A few minutes later, I found myself speaking to a different representative, a woman with a very stern voice who identified herself only as Dee’s supervisor. I was puzzled. I wasn’t sure why a simple request for a repair technician warranted being transferred to a supervisor. I shrugged and repeated what I had just told Dee regarding my need to have the freezer fixed.

“Yes, Ma’am. We can dispatch a repair technician to your location tomorrow morning, between 8 am and noon.”

Well, Dee’s supervisor certainly arranged for very prompt service. Maybe I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. “Thank you. That will be just fine.”

“Good. Now Ma’am, before I am able to confirm the appointment, I must remind you of certain policies. Any pets, including any errrr . . . exotic pets you might have, must be secured well away from the area in which the technician will be working. The technician and his tools must not be disturbed; nor may anyone at your location appropriate any of the technician’s tools for any purpose.”

I felt my cheeks flame. “Of course! I assure you, I have no pets here, exotic or otherwise. And no one here makes a habit of appropriating other people’s property.”

“Hmmm. Yes, Ma’am. Well, if you understand and agree to these policies . . .”

“I do.”

“Well, then, I can confirm your appointment. Now, will you be at the service location at the time the technician is to arrive?”

“Yes.”

“Will anyone else be there?”

“I don’t know. Possibly. Why?”

“I need to make a note in your file if anyone else will be there at the time of the appointment.”

“That’s rather irregular.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“So why are you asking?”

“Ma’am, do you want a technician there tomorrow or not?”

“Of course I do!”

“Then that’s why I’m asking.”

By the time the appointment had been confirmed, I was reaching the boiling point. I felt totally humiliated. Just wait until I get my hands on some little tool pilferer! And just what had happened last time, after my Young Hero returned the tools that Dragon had taken, that it was entered into our file?

dragon facing rightI was unable to locate Dragon the rest of the day. She was not, as had become her custom, basking by her conjured fireplace. She was not on the wide shelf in the walk-in closet in the guest room she had chosen as her lair in this world. She was not in the conference room, or my office, or the kitchen. I searched for hours, checking every nook and cranny of the large bi-level house, but was unable to find her. I finally satisfied myself with gathering the rest of my characters and giving them a stern lecture on the consequences, should anyone disturb the repair technician the next day. I spent a good ten minutes describing, in grim and graphic detail, what would happen if any tools went missing while the technician was at work on the freezer.

Later, as Miles and I got ready for bed, he said, “That was quite some lecture you gave your characters tonight. So, do you think they actually listened to you?” Miles tried to hide his smirk, but failed miserably. I chucked a pillow at him.

At precisely 8am the next morning, the doorbell rang. “I’ll get it!” Miles headed for the door, while I quickly took a head count of my characters. Dragon was still missing. “Honey, the repair technician is here.” I sprinted for the door.

Profession Portrait Face Man Old Trainer SeniorAn older man stood at the door, a game smile contrasting sharply with his thin, shaky voice. “Good morning, Ma’am. I’m Bob and I’m here to repair your freezer.” Following company protocol, Bob handed me his identification credentials. He looked warily past me as I glanced at his company ID and returned it.

Bob picked up his toolkit and I started to lead him downstairs to the utility room. I saw my Young Hero and my Gypsy at the top of the stairs. They smiled and waved at the technician, who grabbed me by the arm. “I was told only you and your husband would be here today.”

I pulled my arm out of his grip, raised an eyebrow and scratched my jaw. “What difference does it make who’s here?”

In reply, he just gripped his toolbox tighter, his knuckles turning white. I again started to lead him down to the utility room, and he followed, stumbling along. I showed him the freezer and explained how I had discovered that it was not running. Bob nodded a lot, but said nothing. His eyes darted around the small room as if he were searching for an escape route. Finally, I said “Well, I’ll be in my office if you need anything. It’s at the end of the hall, the door on the left.”

Wide-eyed, he grabbed my arm again. “You’re not going to leave me here alone, are you?”

This time, I had a bit more trouble extracting my arm from his grip. I scowled. “I’m sure you know your job, and don’t need me watching over your shoulder while you work.”

“You know, I’m really not feeling very well. Maybe I should just go, and they can send another technician.”

I gaped at him. “What is your problem?”

He blushed. “Well, John, he’s the last tech who was here, he reported some very strange things.”

“Oh?” I racked my brain, trying to remember what had happened, what the other technician had seen. “As far as I remember, some of his tools went missing while he was out in the truck. When he discovered the items were missing, he confronted me about it. A young relative who was visiting figured out the tools had been taken by his pet, who is attracted by shiny things. My relative got them back from his pet and returned them to the technician. Then my relative and I left the room, and the technician finished his repairs.”

“Yeah, right, but he told our supervisor that after you and your relative left the room, the pet came in. John was hysterical when he came back to the office, and he told some pretty wild stories about this pet. The supervisor ended up making John take medical leave. Said he had suffered some sort of breakdown.”

“Oh, that’s ridiculous! What’s so scary about a . . . ?”

blue-dragon-2

 

 

Before I could finish, Dragon squeezed through the door, smiling a toothy smile and snorting puffs of smoke from her nostrils. She was carrying a big, shiny, chrome-plated wrench. “Excuse me. Did you drop this?”wrench

 

I might get my hearing back in a few weeks. I think Bob’s scream shattered some crystal three states away. Rumor has it the utility company has offered him early retirement. I keep calling them to have another technician sent out, but every time I call, I’m disconnected. I don’t know if we’re ever going to get our freezer fixed.

 

 

If any of you are experienced in the field of freezer repair, Dragon would love for you to stop by and lend a hand. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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What is the Connection?

What is the Connection?

snowfallThe weather was getting worse. The snow had started falling as sleet and freezing rain shortly after midnight. By morning, it had changed over to heavy snow, which continued throughout the day. The wind rose steadily, and by mid-afternoon the huge flakes were whipped by gusts that rattled the windows and bent the trees. Temperatures had plunged and now the mercury hovered near zero, with dangerous wind-chill. It was a good day to be indoors.

fireplace2In the conference room, I was appreciating the delicious warmth and cheery glow of Dragon’s conjured fireplace. Though the blaze was an illusion, the heat from it felt very real. “Shall I add another log?” The Great Wyrm’s eyes twinkled mischievously.

I chuckled and shook my head. “No, I fear another log would turn this room into a sauna.” We shared a smile, then got to work. Dragon walked over to the door and locked it. She carefully intoned an incantation, placing protective wards on the room to prevent anyone from overhearing our conversation. Then she shape-shifted, taking the familiar form of an elven maiden, and slipped into a chair opposite me at the conference table.

On the table between us were a silver talisman, an iron horseshoe and a gold ring set with a single ruby. My husband, Miles, had discovered the talisman on the steps on Christmas Eve. I had found the horseshoe in the hallway on New Years Eve. Dragon discovered the ring on this table just the other day. All three were items I recognized from another world, a world I had written about in two books. Over the past few years, nine characters, including Dragon, had fallen out of the pages of my manuscripts and into this world; but none of them were the owners of these objects.

Dragon picked up two of the items. “As I stated when you first asked me to examine the talisman and the horseshoe, I believe these items arrived in this world through a magical conduit rather than falling from the pages of your manuscript, as we characters have.” She set them down, and picked up the third object. “I have examined the ring, and have come to the same conclusion regarding that item. The trace of magic clinging to the ring matches that on the other two items.”

I frowned. “I would expect the talisman and the ring to have traces of magic, as they are both magical artifacts. I am surprised that the horseshoe also has any magic.”

Dragon replaced the ring on the table and shook her head. “No, the trace of magic of which I speak is separate and distinct from the magic inherent in the talisman and the ring. The trace is a bit of magic that clings to the items from the conduit through which they passed.”

I frowned and chewed my lower lip while I tried to digest the information.

Dragon studied me. “You have questions.”

“Yes, I do, several of them. But I’m not sure in what order we need to discuss them.”

The ersatz elven maiden nodded and waited patiently as I mulled over the information. After a while, I cleared my throat and began. “As you know, I believe the talisman is one that belongs to the Innkeeper from your world, one I saw him use frequently. A week before discovering the talisman here, Miles had begun to occasionally speak and act like the Innkeeper, using certain signature phrases and mannerisms the Innkeeper was noted for. In your investigations, have you been able to establish a link between my husband’s behavior and the appearance of the talisman and the other items here in this world?”Easter 128innkeeper-2

 

 

 

 

 

“Not yet, although I am reasonably certain there must be a link. I do not believe it coincidental that the one incident followed so closely on the heels of the other. I will continue to contemplate the matter and tell you should I arrive at any conclusions.”

I nodded. I paused for a moment, considering the next question. “You have determined that the items did not fall from the pages of my manuscripts, as you characters have; rather they arrived here through a magical conduit. If this is so, have they made this journey on their own, or were they sent by someone in the other world? Or perhaps they have been summoned here by someone in this world?”

Elf clericDragon, in her guise of elven maiden, gave me a smile and a nod, much like a teacher would look upon an astute pupil. “These are excellent questions. First, the items did not make this journey on their own. They are not sentient artifacts, therefore they can not act of their own volition. Thus, we can assume they were either sent here or summoned here. At this time, there is not enough information to ascertain which.”

I frowned. “Without knowing if they were sent or summoned, we can not determine by whom they were sent or summoned, or for what reason.”

“I will continue exploring the many possibilities. It may be difficult, but not impossible, to determine these things.” Dragon sounded very confident.

“Oh? How?”

An enigmatic smile played across her face. “I have many powers.”

I raised an eyebrow at her. “Would any of these powers allow you to find the magic conduit?”

“Perhaps. Since I can taste the trace magic from these items, I may be able to locate the source.”

I frowned and sighed loudly.

Dragon tilted her head and gave me a penetrating look. “That does not seem to make you happy.”

I shrugged and continued to frown. “I’m not sure if it does or not.”

She nodded and waited patiently once more as I marshaled my thoughts.

“Dragon, if you were to locate this conduit, would you and the others be able to use it to return to your own world?”

Just the slightest smile tugged at the corners of her lips. “Why? Do you wish us to leave?”

I simply looked at her, unable to answer.

Dragon reached over and patted my hand. “Why not save that worry until such time that I successfully locate the conduit?”

I forced a smile and nodded.

“Good.” Dragon rose and slowly transformed once more into her true form. She murmured a few words, releasing the wards on the room, then stretched out by the fire. “I will let you know should I discover anything of interest.”

blue-dragon-2

“Dragon?”

“Yes?”

“No one else must know of this.”

“I understand.”

“Dragon?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you.”

Dragon looked at me for several long moments, an amused expression on her reptilian face. Without another word, she curled up and closed her eyes for a nap.

As I left the conference room, I was lost in thought. Passing the stairs on my way to my office at the other end of the hall, I didn’t notice my Arrogant One coming down the steps. I jumped at the suddenness of his appearance at my elbow.

arrogant-one“There you are! You have been closeted with that great beast all day!”

“So?’

He narrowed his eyes. “So what is your business with her?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Why is my business any of your business?”

My Arrogant One grasped his cloak in both hands and rocked back on his heels. Before he could launch into one of his lengthy monologs in his annoyingly superior tone, I cut him off. “I’ll tell you – it isn’t. It is none of your business with whom I speak, or what I discuss with anyone else. Mind your own affairs!”

The annoying elf turned purple, and stood there with his mouth opening and closing, looking much like a fish. “Well!”

I entered my office and took a seat at my desk. My Arrogant One scrambled after me and threw himself down in the other chair, scowling.

I glared at him. “You have something to say?”

“I only wished to know if you have yet discovered the cause of Master Miles’ affliction.”

“His affliction? What affliction?”

The elf snorted. “Come now, I was present several weeks ago, when the two lads were making a mess in the living room, and Master Miles addressed them in the words of another. I understand from them it has happened again since then.”

“I know nothing more now than I did when it first happened.” I paused and studied the elf through narrowed eyes. “What do you know about it?”

“How would I know anything about it?” He sniffed disdainfully and busied himself adjusting his robes. “I was merely being polite, inquiring after your mate’s health and well-being.”

I almost fell out of my chair. “You? Polite?” A sharp laugh escaped me. “If you are showing concern for someone other than yourself, it has nothing to do with politeness. You have something up your sleeve. What is it?”

“I have no idea what you mean.” My Arrogant One tossed his hair out of his face, rose and whirled toward the door, his nose in the air. He tossed back over his shoulder, “I tire of constantly being maligned! Good day!” I listened as his footsteps quickly faded as he headed back to the stairway.

I sighed. I couldn’t help wondering what he knew and what he was up to. I sat and considered it for a long while, but couldn’t see any way he would benefit from Miles’ affliction, as the elf had termed it; and if there was no direct benefit to him, my Arrogant One would not be involved.

The clock on the wall sounded the hour, and I decided to ponder my Arrogant One’s means and motives later. It was almost time to eat.

Halfway up the stairs, I smelled a delicious aroma wafting from the kitchen. My mouth was watering by the time I reached the table. I couldn’t understand why no one else looked enthused as Miles set the slow cooker on the sideboard and started ladling out the savory stew.stew

Miles broke into a broad smile as he began passing around the bowls. “This is a recipe I developed myself, years ago, when I first opened my inn. It’s famous! Even the king came to my inn for this stew!” He pushed an errant strand of hair out of his eyes and wiped his face on his apron.

Everyone was looking from Miles to me and back again, and my Young Hero leaned toward me. “He’s been talking like this for the past quarter hour!”

I approached my husband and placed my hand on his arm. “Honey?”

“Hmmm?”

“The king came to your inn?” I raised an eyebrow at him.

“Huh? What are you talking about?”

I frowned and raked my hand through my hair. I turned to my characters assembled around the table. “Would one of you finish serving the stew? I’d like to talk with Miles in private.”

I led my husband down the stairs and into my office. He crumpled into a chair while I closed and locked the door.

Easter 128“I was doing it again, wasn’t I? I was talking like the Innkeeper from your books.”

“Yes, honey, you were.”

Miles looked at me helplessly, wide eyed. He stood up, paced around the room for a few minutes, then returned to the chair and sat again. He clasped his hands tightly on his lap. “Marge, what is happening? Why am I doing these things? How long is it going to last?”

“I’m not sure yet, honey, but we will figure this out.” I hoped I sounded more confident than I felt.

Miles nodded, but his face was still full of doubt. I was about to confide in him that Dragon was working to unravel the puzzle, when Miles looked past me to something on the bookshelf behind me. His brow furrowed. “That looks a bit out of place there. Where did you get it?”royal-seal-4

I turned and followed his gaze. There, among my books, knick-knacks, and photos, was the Royal Seal of a kingdom wherefrom a talisman, a horseshoe, and a ruby ring had recently appeared.

My knees gave way, and I almost knocked Miles out of the chair as I collapsed next to him.

 

 

 
Be sure to come back as we continue to try to solve this mystery. We’ll be sure to leave the porch light on for you.

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Another One?

Another One?

 

fireplace2It was another typical January day in Minnesota. The temperature was stuck in the twenties, the wind was raw, and there had been a spate of snow flurries throughout the day. My Gypsy and I were commiserating over the weather as we walked into the living room. I stopped short in the middle of a sentence. I placed my hands on my hips and gaped at Dragon. She had shrunk to the size of a common housecat and was curled up in front of her conjured fireplace, basking in its heat. “How can an illusion radiate heat?”

Dragon lazily opened one eye and regarded me with amusement. “How can it not?” She closed her eye and continued her nap.

gypsy-facing-rightI sighed and my Gypsy chuckled. “From what I learned from my Granny, a good illusionist can create a realistic representation of a person or object to fool the sense of sight. But, if someone touches the illusion, it dissipates. A really great magic user can conjure all the attending details to fool the other senses. They can create the illusion of solid matter that can be touched and felt, as well as details such as taste, odor, sound, or – in this specific case – heat. But they must possess extraordinary skill with magic to accomplish this.”

Stu-04-NatGal

“And the Great Wyrms are the most powerful practitioners of magic in our world.” Sorceress had entered the room unnoticed and now joined the conversation. “Dragon would have little trouble conjuring anything imaginable – a desert sandstorm, with wind enough to knock you down, and heat enough to bake you . . . or a blizzard, with snow enough to bury you and cold enough to freeze you in your tracks; a banquet to delight your taste buds, a garden of the most fragrant flowers, or a deafening clap of thunder.”

“But it is all just illusion,” my Gypsy said. “Once the illusion was dispelled, you would find yourself in the same condition as before – not baked or frozen or deaf, although you would remember how you felt during the illusion.”

“Dragon is really capable of all that?” I was impressed.

blue-dragon-2“I am.” Dragon’s voice was matter-of-fact. “Now, why do you not find somewhere else to hold your conversation, before I demonstrate some of my other powers?” She growled softly at us, and a small puff of black smoke drifted from her nostrils.

The three of us retreated hastily, Sorceress and my Gypsy to the kitchen to join their other companions, and me to my office to catch up on some work. I had just started reading my e-mail when Miles knocked on the door. “Got a minute?” He was frowning.

“Sure, honey. What’s up?”

Easter 128He raked his hand through his hair and sighed loudly. “It’s Dragon.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Oh? What about her?”

Miles rubbed his jaw and cleared his throat. His voice was strained, and he kept fidgeting. “Well, you know, I, um . . . I thought she and I were getting along so much better lately. She, ah . . . hasn’t charred a pair of my shoes in ages, and she’s been much more civil when she speaks to me.”

“So what happened?”

He scowled. “I just walked into the living room, and she’s curled up in front of a fireplace.” He looked at me, obviously waiting for a reaction. When I just sat there, he burst out, “Honey, you know we don’t have a fireplace!”

“And you made the mistake of pointing that out to her?”

Miles nodded. “A little louder than necessary, I suppose.”

I snickered. “And she . . . ?” I left the question hanging.

His eyes flew open and he threw his hands up in frustration. “She threatened to char my shoes . . . with me still in them!

I laughed. “Honey, it’s nothing personal. Dragon’s just very cranky in the winter. She hates the cold and snow even more than I do.”

Miles crossed his arms over his chest. “I see. Well, what am I supposed to do – avoid the living room until spring?” He snorted, and didn’t wait for an answer. “I don’t suppose you’ve had a chance to speak to her yet about the items we found?”

“Sorry, no, not yet. I was hoping to catch her in a better mood. I don’t care to have my shoes charred whilst wearing them, either.” I winked at Miles.

Dwarf facing rightJust then, my Old Dwarf burst through the door, wide-eyed and wildly waving his war axe. “Lassie, ye be needin’ ta do summat aboot thet great beastie o yourn!”

I gaped at the old reprobate. His shield and parts of his armor were singed and caked with soot. “I thought dwarves had more common sense than to disturb a sleeping dragon!”

Miles gasped. “What has she done now? She hasn’t set the house afire, has she?”

“Nay, not the house, laddie, just me.” He ducked his head, and looked chagrined. “I do na be supposin’ I ken rightly blame the beastie, though. I did step on her tail.”

“You what?” I blinked.

“Wale, she be makin’ herself so small there in front o the hearth, and I be edgin’ over ta warm meself. It be a good long time, lassie, since I be havin’ a real fire ta warm meself.” The rotund graybeard stared off into space with a wistful look on his face. Then he shook himself and continued. “Anywho, I guess I just do na be lookin’ where I be puttin’ me feet.”

I chuckled. “I’ll speak to her, but if I were you, I’d stay out of her way for a while.” I turned back toward Miles. “And I will speak with her regarding the other matters as well.”

Nodding, Miles and my Old Dwarf left the office, and I turned back to my desk to put my computer into sleep mode before going upstairs to approach Dragon. Moments later, as I was leaving the office, I almost collided with my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One.

arrogant-one-facing-rightMy Arrogant One sneered and looked down his nose at me. He grasped the front of his cloak with both hands, rocked back on his heels, and began a tirade in his annoyingly superior tone. “Just what are you going to do about that dreadful beast? She growls at anyone who enters the room, she threatened to eat your Gypsy, she threatened to char your mate’s shoes, she almost roasted your Old Dwarf, and just moments ago she almost singed my best robes!”

“Who?”

“Dragon, of course! Of whom do you imagine I speak?”

I shrugged. “Hard to tell, when you just start in whining without even a polite howdy-do.”

My Arrogant One flushed and he clenched his fists. His voice was a full octave higher when he spoke. “Well? Are you going to do anything about this?” He took a step toward me.

I crossed my arms in front of me and stood squarely in the doorway, preventing the elf and his companion from entering my office. “Sorry, complaint department is closed for the day.”

My Arrogant One’s eyes narrowed dangerously. He clenched his jaw, then turned on his heel and marched off down the hall.

Bounty HunterMy Bounty Hunter turned to me. “Mistress Writer, he may be annoying, but the elf is right. Something should be done about Dragon before she does serious harm to someone or damages your home.”

“I know. I was actually just on my way upstairs to have a chat with her.”

A few minutes later, I entered the living room and cautiously approached Dragon, who was still basking in front of the ersatz fireplace. I noticed that she had grown to the size of a lion, and her tail was curled tightly against her body. Her reptilian eyes were narrowed to slits as she kept watch over the room. As I walked toward her, a plume of smoke began to drift from her nostrils, and I heard the deep rumble of her warning growl.

blue-dragon-2

I stopped a few feet away from her and waited. Finally, she acknowledged my presence. “Are you so brave as to disturb me, human, or are you just that foolish?”

“Is that any way for one friend to greet another?” I looked Dragon in the eye, kept my voice even, and stood my ground.

After a few moments, she chuckled. “Have you something of great import to discuss, or do you just seek a kindred spirit with whom to commiserate over this detestable weather?”

I smiled. “A little of both, I suppose.” I paused, stroking my chin. “Why don’t we retire to the conference room? You can bring your fireplace.”

Once ensconced in the conference room, with Dragon comfortably lounging by the conjured hearth, I bade my companion to place the appropriate wards on the room. “What I have to say is for your ears alone. Let’s be sure no uninvited guests are privy to our conversation.”

“Of course.” Dragon mumbled an incantation, rendering the room impervious to eavesdropping by means physical or magical.

For a few moments, we just sat and enjoyed a companionable silence and the considerable heat of the conjured fireplace. Finally, Dragon rolled on her side and looked at me expectantly.

I leaned forward and cleared my throat. “I have need of your skill and your discretion, my friend.”

“I offer you both.” She rolled back onto her belly and tucked her front legs under her chest.

“I asked you previously if you, Sorceress, and Cleric could discover the reason Miles was speaking and acting like the Innkeeper, a person from your world who is friend to several of your fellow characters now in this world. You told me at that time there was insufficient information to determine the reason.”

Dragon inclined her head in agreement.

“I now ask you to examine these two items. They have both recently been found here in this house.”

Dragon reached out and took the talisman and the horseshoe and examined them. “To whom do these items belong?”

“The talisman appears to be the one the Innkeeper owned. The horseshoe might have been crafted by his friend, Old Smyth, the blacksmith who was employed by my Young Hero’s father.”

Dragon nodded and continued examining the items. “How and when did they come to be in this world, in this house?”

“I don’t know how, only when. Miles found the talisman on the steps on Christmas Eve, a week after he began to occasionally speak and act like the Innkeeper. A week later, on New Year’s Eve, I found the horseshoe in the hallway. I was troubled by it, as Miles had referred to Old Smyth when he was acting like the Innkeeper. When I showed him the horseshoe, he again spoke as if he were the other man. He said I told the boy-os not to fret. The Blacksmith will lend a hand. Old Smyth could always be relied on!

“And what information do you seek from me?”

“First, are these two objects real, or illusions? I would never have considered them to be unreal, but for the conversation you heard earlier between Sorceress, my Gypsy, and I, regarding illusions.”

“They are quite real. Other than myself, no one here possesses the skill to produce solid illusions.”

“Not even my Arrogant One?”

“Especially not that insufferable elf!”

I nodded. “Then these objects fell out of my manuscripts, as did you characters?”

“Judging from their feel, from the trace of magic on them, I do not believe so. No, I believe, much like the keys to Morcant’s tower, these objects traveled through a magical conduit between worlds.”strange-dreams

My eyes widened. “First, Miles starts talking and acting like the Innkeeper. Then, the Innkeeper’s talisman and a horseshoe possibly forged by Old Smyth appear in this world.” I puzzled over it. “Could it be a coincidence?”

I spoke softly, little more than thinking aloud, but Dragon answered. “It is most doubtful.”

I gave her a penetrating look. “What do you know? What can you tell from these objects?”

She shrugged. “I know nothing, other than what we have just discussed. However, it seems highly unlikely to me that the incidents would be unrelated. We just need to determine how they are related. I will give this considerable thought. If I arrive at any conclusion, I will let you know.”

With nothing further to discuss, Dragon dispelled the wards she had cast on the room, and I opened the door. “Coming?”

“No, I think I will remain here by the fire.”

I took the talisman and the horseshoe and headed up the stairs. I paused on the landing to turn on the porch light. As I started up the second set of steps, Dragon called from downstairs. “Mistress!

I detected an urgent note to her voice. I raced back down the stairs and stopped dead in my tracks. Dragon was holding a ruby ring.

ruby-ring2

“I saw this on the table, and thought you had left it there. But when I picked it up, I could feel the magic in it.”

I gasped. “I know that ring. I last saw it in the hands of . . . of someone in your world.”

 

What is going on? Why have these things appeared? What is the connection between these items and the fact that Miles has been speaking like the Innkeeper? Be sure to come back and see if we can solve this mystery. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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A New Year, Another Problem

A New Year, Another Problem

coin-talismanI had not slept well for several nights, not since Christmas Eve, when Miles had made the discovery of a small amulet on the stairs. When he had handed it to me, I could feel all the color drain from my face. It belonged to one of my characters, but not one who inhabited this world with us. I could not imagine how or why it had found its way into this world.

innkeeperI was sitting at my computer desk, turning the amulet over and over in my hand, and in my mind. The last time I had seen this talisman – before its appearance here on Christmas Eve – it had been in the beefy hands of an Innkeeper in another world, a world I had written about in several books. Since its discovery here, I had avoided showing it to any of my characters, characters who had fallen out of my manuscripts about that world, and who now resided here. I was particularly worried about the reaction the trinket would invoke from my Young Hero, my Gypsy, my Foreman and Cleric. They were all close friends of the Innkeeper, and the appearance of his talisman here in this world would only further fuel their concerns about his welfare.

Easter 128I jumped at a sound behind me. “Oh, Miles! It’s just you!”

“Well, I love you, too, honey!” He made a funny face at me and laughed.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I didn’t mean it’s just you, like you’re not important. I meant wow, am I glad it isn’t one of my characters!

“I understand.” He looked down at the talisman in my hand. “Still trying to figure out how that got here?”

I nodded. “I really wouldn’t think much of it if you hadn’t recently taken to talking and acting just like the Innkeeper.”

“Have you come up with any theories?”

I shook my head and raked my hand through my hair.

“Well, why don’t you come upstairs and have some lunch? We’re having the last of the Christmas leftovers, and I think you might want to get to them before your Old Dwarf does. That guy can eat more than any ten people I know!”

I pocketed the talisman and we headed upstairs.

Elf facing rightConversation during lunch took my mind off the talisman. “Master Miles informs us that in a few days, you will be celebrating a new year,” Cleric said as she passed me the bread.

“Yes. Saturday is New Year’s Eve. At midnight, we celebrate the passing of the old year and the arrival of the new.”

“And how do you celebrate?”

I chuckled. “Well, being the old fossils we are, Miles and I will probably go to bed at our normal time and forego the festivities. However, many people attend parties with their friends. Some go to restaurants or clubs or other venues that hold public parties, with music, dancing and food, including champagne with which to toast the New Year. Outdoor events with fireworks or other activities are very common. One of the most famous New Year’s Eve celebrations in our country is televised from New York City. In an event that is attended by well over a million people, and seen by over a billion people worldwide, a huge, specially lighted ball is lowered on a flagpole atop a building at One Times Square at midnight.”

Sorceress cocked her head. “I would enjoy watching that on your magic box.”

Several of the other characters nodded in agreement.

I smiled. “Well, if Miles and I can manage to stay awake, we can all watch it together.”

“I remember the celebrations we had when I was a child, welcoming our new year.” My Gypsy leaned back in his chair, a faraway look in his eye. “First, we had a big feast. Then, the village Wise Woman would tell fortunes. That was followed by music and dancing, which continued right up to the last moment of the old year, when we would creep down to the village stable. new-years-foalThere, all the broodmares most likely to deliver their foals that day were stalled. We would wait, in absolute silence, to see which mare would be the first to give birth. As a people who made our living from breeding and selling horses, we believed whoever owned the first foal of the new year would be blessed with health, happiness and prosperity that entire year. If a mare from each family delivered her foal that day, the entire village would be blessed. Sometimes, the earliest foal would come into the world within the first moments of the new year, but to see if one foal would be born to each family in the village would often take all day, and well into the night.”

My Young Hero frowned. “What happened if no foal was born that day?”

My Gypsy stared at his hands, and his voice faltered. “Tragedy ensues. That only happened once in my memory, the year I turned 12 and thought I was a man. That was the year I caused a terrible thing to happen, and the entire village paid the price for my folly. That was the year two score of the children of our village disappeared.”

Everyone looked aghast, and murmured sympathetically. My Young Hero placed a comforting hand on his friend’s arm. “I am sorry. I had forgotten about that incident. You told me about that once. Your brother was among those children.”

My Gypsy nodded. “I had been searching for him when I came to your father’s horse farm seeking employment.”

My Old Dwarf patted the lad’s shoulder. “Ye ever find yer brudder, laddie?”

My Gypsy shook his head.

My Bounty Hunter gave him a sidelong glance. “It’s such a shame you are stuck here with the rest of us. You have no idea if you will ever find him, perhaps have already found him in our own world.”

I gave him a sharp look. “Let’s change the conversation, shall we?”

“Of course.” My Bounty Hunter sounded apologetic, but I noticed the slight twitch of a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

strange-dreamsThat night was another restless one for me. I drifted in and out of a disturbing dream, in which my Bounty Hunter sat behind the bar, watching as the corpulent Innkeeper was yelling at a bunch of boy-os to keep the Great Room clean. A gang of youthful thugs kept riding horses in and out the front door of his establishment. They intentionally tracked snow and mud and blood all over the freshly scrubbed wooden floors, and chanted “No foals this day, no foals this day! A curse on thee, no foals this day!” The Innkeeper warned them several times that he would not tolerate such behavior but the gang just jeered at him. They repeatedly demanded to know where the Gypsy’s brother was, but the Innkeeper insisted he had no knowledge of the boy-o’s whereabouts. Finally the Innkeeper pulled them all off their horses and reached into his pocket. He produced a small silver talisman, but before he could use it, the hoodlums fell on him, punching and kicking. The big man collapsed under their blows.

I snapped out of the dream, jolted awake. My heart was racing; I was drenched in sweat and panting for breath. Once my heart and respiration rates had returned to near-normal, I looked about. Sunlight was streaming through the window. I smiled. Miles must have realized I had had another restless night, and he had let me sleep in. I dragged myself out of bed and stumbled, bleary-eyed, through my morning routine. I was still yawning and rubbing my eyes when I got to the kitchen, anticipating breakfast.

coin-talismanMy eyes shot open and all thoughts of food evaporated. Miles was standing there, holding the silver amulet. He was rubbing it and mumbling something I couldn’t quite hear. I launched myself at him and slapped the talisman from his hand. I grabbed it from the floor and swiftly pocketed it.

Miles blinked. He shook his head as if trying to clear his mind. “What . . . what happened?”

“I’m not sure. You had the amulet, and you were rubbing it and mumbling something.”

He gaped at me. “I didn’t have the amulet. You hid it last night.”

“Well, I guess you must have seen where I hid it, because you certainly did have it!”

Miles slowly sank into a chair. “I don’t remember seeing where you put the amulet. I don’t remember taking it. I don’t remember rubbing it, or mumbling anything.” He sat there, shaking his head, while I poured him a cup of coffee. “I mean, how would I even know how to use such a thing?”

“I wish I knew.”

He reached for my hand. “Honey, I know your Gypsy and your Young Hero were upset by my recent behavior, when I acted and sounded like their friend, the Innkeeper. And I know you didn’t want to discuss this talisman with any of your characters, for fear of upsetting them further.” He paused and drew a shuddering breath. His voice was raw when he continued. “But, Marge, we must discover how it got here. We must know the reason it is here. And we must figure out the connection between me and the Innkeeper.”

I scowled and nodded. “I agree. This is getting more than a little alarming.” I raked my hand through my hair and sighed loudly. “I’ll talk to Dragon later today.”

Two days later, I still had not broached the subject to Dragon. It had been cold and windy all week, with frequent snow squalls. Dragon had taken to sulking about the weather. She stayed curled up in front of her conjured fireplace, growling at anyone who ventured too near. She was much too cranky to engage in civil conversation. Meanwhile, I was still being plagued by strange dreams at night, dreams of the Innkeeper, and I was still trying to keep the talisman hidden from Miles.

 

News Year’s Eve, we enjoyed a huge buffet in the kitchen, then arranged ourselves around the television in the living room. I explained to my characters that the New Year’s celebration we would watch from New York was in a different time zone, so the ball would drop at 11 pm Minnesota time.

“Different time zone?” My Foreman wrinkled his brow.

“Hard to explain. Different parts of our world have different time zones. New York is an hour ahead of Minnesota.”

My characters all looked confused, except Dragon, who nodded sagely. “The sun rises and sets there earlier than here.” Dragon looked smug that she understood what the others didn’t.

Television setWe settled in to watch the show. The entertainment was fair, the commercials incessant. Predictably, Miles and I were sound asleep by the time the countdown to the ball drop commenced. Cleric and Sorceress nudged us awake in time to see it drop, accompanied by fireworks, confetti, and balloons. On TV, there were shouts of Happy New Year from the nearly two million people in attendance, followed by a rousing rendition of New York, New York. When the show switched to celebrations on the West Coast, we decided to forgo any further festivities.

Soon after, my characters all went to bed and Miles and I cleaned up the kitchen. Then Miles went down to make sure the porch light was on, and I headed for bed. I almost tripped over a horseshoe in the hallway.new-years-horseshoe

I was still standing there, staring at it, when Miles headed toward the bedroom. I picked up the object and held it out toward him. “What is this doing here?”

Miles took the horseshoe from me and examined it. He pushed an errant lock of hair out of his eyes and smiled. “I told the boy-os not to fret. The Blacksmith will lend a hand. Old Smyth could always be relied on!”

I almost fainted dead away.

 

Happy New Year from Mistress Writer (Marge Cutter), all my characters, and Master Miles! May 2017 bring you all – old friends and new readers alike – good health, good fortune, grand adventures, and wonderful reading; and may it leave you next year with the fondest of memories! I invite you to come back often and enjoy my characters’ exploits. We’ll be sure to leave the porch light on for you!

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