“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?”
“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?”
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.”
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.
I 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.”
“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.”
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.”
Out 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.