The 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.
In 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?”
“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?”
Dragon, 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.
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.”
“No one else must know of this.”
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.
“There you are! You have been closeted with that great beast all day!”
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.
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?”
“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.
“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?”
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.