“Have we all the necessary components for the spells?”
Cleric was sorting the contents of her pouch, placing vials of colorful liquid and neatly tied bunches of dried herbs on the table. As she spoke, she glanced at Sorceress and Dragon, who were assembling their apparatus and materials on the other side of the table. The books, in their protective grid, sat in the middle.
Sorceress frowned. “I am unsure. I do not know if we have anticipated all the sundry dangers from which we potentially need protection. I am not certain of the appropriate spells needed to insure safety, as we begin the physical examination of the tomes.”
Dragon narrowed her reptilian eyes. “I am not convinced we need many enchantments. We only detected two traces of magic on the books when we used our combined powers to probe them. One was the trace magic from the conduit through which the books entered this world. The other trace, albeit unidentified, did not appear dangerous. It most definitely was not a defensive ward to prevent the books from being opened.”
Cleric wrung her hands. “Are you certain? I, for one, do not relish the thought of being incinerated, or potentially enduring some other fate which could quite possibly prove a thousand times more ghastly!”
Dragon snorted derisively. “Of course I am certain. Do you think I can not identify a ward when I encounter one?”
Cleric felt her cheeks grow hot. “I did not say that!”
Sorceress gave her two companions a sharp look. “Enough! We do not have time to argue.” She stroked her chin as she considered the problem. “Perhaps we do not need to place spells on the books; rather, we should cast protections on ourselves.”
Cleric chewed her lower lip, and continued wringing her hands. “That will defend us, but what of the others? What about Mistress Writer and the other inhabitants of her world? We do not wish to loose some dangerous entity upon them.”
Dragon snorted again, producing a large puff of black smoke. “Do you really believe these books contain anything that we can not control or defeat?”
Cleric scowled at Dragon. “Well, we have no way of ascertaining that short of opening the books and seeing if anything is released into this word. But at that point, I suspect it may be too late.”
Sorceress sighed. “Do not fret so! Consider – Dragon and I are two of the most powerful magic users of our world. Your clerical power is likewise most impressive. Methinks there are few entities from our own world the three of us could not defeat. And did we not determine that these books had their origin in our world? Did they not bear traces of magic from the same conduit through which four objects from our world traveled to this?”
Cleric rubbed the back of her neck. “I know we have great individual power, and greater still combined. And I know we believe these books to have originated in our own world, where there are few threats we could not defeat. But I still feel we need to approach the unknown danger of these books cautiously.” She frowned and narrowed her eyes, then suddenly brightened. “I know! Dragon, mayhap you could enlarge the protective grid to encompass not just the books, but the entire table with all of our paraphernalia, and the three of us? Then if anything does escape the books, it will still be contained. If we deem it dangerous, we can deal with it before it can cause any harm to this world or its inhabitants.”
Dragon inclined her head. “I believe that to be an excellent idea!” She concentrated on the glowing grid containing the books, and mumbled an incantation under her breath. The grid shimmered and grew, until the table and everything on it, as well as the three companions, stood inside the force field.
Sorceress and Cleric cast protective spells on themselves and on Dragon; then they nodded at Dragon, who reached a huge claw toward the first of the books. The trio of spellcasters steeled themselves.
* * *
“What is it you want from us, dwarf?” In contrast to the steel in his voice, my Bounty Hunter’s posture was relaxed. He was sprawled in a plastic lawn chair, one booted foot propped on a nearby wooden crate. Even though my Old Dwarf had confiscated all my Bounty Hunter’s weapons, the man wisely kept his hands motionless, casually folded in his lap.
My Arrogant One was the antithesis of my Bounty Hunter. He remained in constant motion, pacing nervously about the shed loft, gesturing wildly. When he spoke, his voice was a petulant whine. “Yes, dwarf, what is it you want of us? We have done nothing to you.”
The dwarf’s eyes twinkled and he feigned an aggrieved posture, clapping his hand over his heart. “Eh, but ye hurted me feelins, elfie! Ye ducked outten me grasp and poofered away thet night, when we be headin’ down the stairs to the conference room for a little chat, an’ ye dinna even be sayin’ fare-thee-well.”
“Chat? Chat?” The elf’s voice rose several octaves, and he started sputtering. “Why . . . why . . . that was no chat you and the others had in mind that night! You were dragging me to an inquisition, possibly to an execution!”
“Balderdash! The lass would na execute ye. Thet do na be her way.”
“You do not consider Mistress Writer’s threat to delete a character from a manuscript, effectively erasing that character’s very existence, tantamount to an execution?” My Bounty Hunter snorted and shook his head.
“The lass would na e’er do thet. It be a threat she be usin’ all the time ta keep us all from gettin’ too far outten line. But she would na e’er follow through on the threat.”
My Arrogant One sneered and waved dismissively at the dwarf. “Well, I would prefer not taking the chance that you may be wrong, dwarf!”
My Bounty Hunter shifted in his chair and cleared his throat. He stared at my Old Dwarf through narrowed eyes. “Whether Mistress Writer would make good her threats or no, dwarf, that does not address the question of your presence here, or what it is you seek from us.”
My Old Dwarf shrugged. “Wale, now, it seems ta me ye be sayin’ a lot at thet little confab the lass held. I be unnerstandin’ yer reasons fer involvin’ yerself with the elfie, and havin’ him conjure illusions o the Innkeeper. Ye be wantin’ ta find a way home, an’ I can appreciate thet as a motive.” The dwarf turned toward my Arrogant One. “But, ye, elfie . . . ye declined the invite ta thet little chat, so ye ne’er did be sayin’ jest why ye be conjurin’ the illusory Innkeeper. I jest be wonderin’ what ye be gettin’ outten it all.”
“I do not see where that is any of your concern, dwarf.” The elf raised his head and looked down his nose at the diminutive figure.
“I be makin’ it me business.” The Old Dwarf’ eyes narrowed, and his voice took on a threatening tone. “Why be ye doin’ it?”
The elf blushed and lowered his eyes. “I grew weary of Dragon and her airs. She always belittles me, discounts my tremendous power and incredible skill. I simply wanted to prove to her . . . to you all . . . that I am her equal. I can conjure solid and substantial illusions, just as well as can that beast.”
My Old Dwarf frowned. “Hmmm . . . solid and substantial, huh? Iffin I be remberin’ right, the Gypsy lad explained thet. He said thet a good illusionist can make sommat what can be seed, and it looks real. But, if somebody be touchin’ the illusion, it be gone. A really great magic user can be makin’ it so the thing can be touched, smelt, heered, or even tasted. Unless ye be adept at detectin’ magic, ye can na be tellin’ it from summat real. It be liken them horsies what the big beastie made for the Foreman and the laddies.”
My Arrogant One nodded.
“So’s, elfie, ye be sayin’ ye can make sommat what can na be told from the real thing?”
The elf struck a defiant pose, drawing himself up on the balls of his feet and grasping the front of his cloak with both hands. “Are you implying I can not?”
“Nay, popinjay, I would na be implyin’ sech a thin’. I be sayin’ it, straight out and plain.”
“How dare you!” My Arrogant One turned beet red.
“Oh, I dare, elfie, I dare.” The dwarf chuckled. “Be ye wantin’ ta prove me wrong?”
“I see no reason to prove anything to you, you reprehensible creature.”
“Eh, ye be hurtin’ me feelins agin, elfie.”
My Arrogant One’s screech scared a flock of little brown bats from the eaves of the shed loft. “Stop calling me elfie!”
My Old Dwarf doubled over with laughter. My Bounty Hunter merely snickered as he swiveled in his seat to face the elf. “Why do you not show the dwarf? You just said your purpose in conjuring the image of the Innkeeper was to show us all the extent of your power.”
The elf glared at his companion for many long minutes before turning and addressing my Old Dwarf. “Very well, Dwarf. What illusion would you have me create?”
The dwarf grinned. “Wale, now, mebbe one o them chock-lit cakes liken what the lass bakes? Iffin ye be creatin’ the illusion as well as ye claim ye can, I should be able ta see it, smell it, pick it up and take a big bite thet can be tasted.”
The elf scoffed. “Of course you would want me to create the illusion of something edible.”
“An’ why not?” The dwarf puffed himself up and crossed his arms over his chest. “What better way ta be provin’ yer skill than with sommat what be needin’ more than jest me eyes ta enjoy it?”
* * *
By early evening, Miles and I were finally starting to feel better. We emerged from our sickroom and went to the living room. The house was blissfully quiet.
Miles frowned. “Where do you suppose everyone is?”
I glanced out the door. “Well, it appears my Foreman and the lads are in the yard, taking advantage of the last of the daylight to work with their horses. I imagine Dragon, Sorceress and Cleric are still in the conference room, examining the books. I really don’t know where the others are. I suggest we just enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasts.”
My husband smiled and nodded as we headed to the kitchen. I opened the refrigerator. “What would you like for dinner, honey?”
Miles sat at the kitchen table. “Anything but soup! I think we’ve had enough of that for quite a while.”
“Okay, you pop some bread in the toaster, and I’ll scramble some eggs.”
After a light meal, we went back to the living room. We had just settled down on the couch for a quiet evening of television when my Old Dwarf came bursting through the door. “Eh, ye be up! Good! I found the elfie. Methinks I be knowin’ what the little popinjay an’ his cohort be up ta! Ye be wantin’ ta heered this.”
Before my Old Dwarf could continue, Dragon came running up the stairs, with Sorceress and Cleric in her wake. She was holding several of the books they had been examining. “Oh, good, you are both up! We’ve finished our examination of the books. You need to see this!”
Miles and I exchanged weary glances. “So much for a quiet evening.”
Be sure to come back to find out what my Old Dwarf has to say about the plans he believes my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter have made, and to find out what my three spellcasters have discovered about the books. Don’t worry, we’ll leave the porch light on for you.