The first thing Miles and I noticed when we walked into the kitchen for breakfast was the quiet. Miles looked around and a smile slowly spread across his face. “Sweet! Where is everybody?”
“I imagine my Foreman and the lads are in the yard, enjoying some time with their illusory horses. You certainly are their hero for suggesting Dragon cast that spell of concealment to hide their activities from the neighbors!”
Miles nodded and poured himself a cup of coffee. “Glad to help, especially if it keeps me in their good graces and keeps us from getting kicked out of the neighborhood. But where are the others? Not that I’m complaining about having the kitchen to ourselves for a change!” He took a frying pan from the cabinet and started cooking some sausage and eggs.
I reached into the refrigerator and grabbed a container of yogurt, then sat down at the empty table. I opened the container and swirled the yogurt around with my spoon while I considered the question. “Well, my Arrogant One has been in hiding since the night he created the illusion of the Innkeeper here in the kitchen. My Bounty Hunter, who instigated that incident, hasn’t exactly gone into hiding but he has been staying out of the way. I think they both fear the consequences of their actions.”
My husband scowled. “And well they should! The two of them almost had me convinced I was going mad!” He slid his breakfast from the frying pan onto a plate, and took a chair next to me.
I continued swirling my yogurt. “As for Dragon, Cleric and Sorceress, I believe they’re busy investigating the location and origin of the magical conduit that allowed those four items we found to pass from their world into ours.”
“And the dwarf?”
I frowned. “Hmmm. I’m actually not sure where my Old Dwarf is. I haven’t seen him in a while, but he must be around. He’s obviously been raiding the refrigerator with his accustomed regularity. Just one look at last week’s grocery bill will confirm that. I’ll ask Dragon if she has the old reprobate assisting her with the investigation.”
After breakfast, I started to go down to the conference room to talk to Dragon, but I encountered her on the landing as she was ascending the stairs.
“I was just coming to see you!” Dragon and I spoke in unison. “You first. No, you.”
We both laughed and I took the lead. “I haven’t seen my Old Dwarf in a while. I was wondering if he’s been running errands for you.”
Dragon frowned, and a small cloud of smoke rose from her snout. “No, we have not required the rotund one’s assistance.” She paused, her frown deepening. “But now that you mention it, I do not remember seeing him of late, either.”
We walked down the lower staircase and were joined at the bottom of the stairs by Cleric and Sorceress.
“Have either of you encountered the Old Dwarf recently? Mistress Writer seems to have misplaced him.”
The two characters shook their heads.
“You do not think he has met with misfortune, do you, Mistress?” Cleric wrung her hands, and her eyes widened in alarm.
Sorceress also looked concerned. “Indeed! Was he not injured and abducted along with you, Cleric, when that horrible elf kidnapped you? Perhaps he has crossed paths with the insufferable one again?”
I waved away their concerns. “No, I don’t think he’s in trouble this time. The contents of the refrigerator show he’s still making his regular raids for snacks. I was just wondering why I haven’t seen him. I’m sure he’ll turn up sooner or later. So, Dragon, why were you coming to see me?”
Dragon puffed another smoke cloud from her nostrils. “The three of us have been examining the four items from our world, hoping to ascertain the origin of the conduit through which they arrived in this world. We also have been searching the areas where the items were found. Since the items themselves still retain a trace of the magic from the conduit, we were hoping that there would be similar traces in the areas where the items appeared.”
I nodded. “So are there any traces?”
Sorceress stepped forward, shaking her head. “We have found nothing so far. We searched unsuccessfully the lower stairway, where Master Miles found the Innkeeper’s talisman. We were not unduly concerned when we did not find any trace magic there, as it has been almost three months since that item appeared. Then we investigated the hallway near your bedchamber, where you found the horseshoe we assume belongs to the Innkeeper’s friend, the Blacksmith. Again, there was no trace of magic, and again we speculated it may be because of the length of time that has passed.”
I frowned. “What about the last two items?”
Dragon shrugged. “We have not yet completed our investigation. We did examine the conference room. It has only been two months since I noticed the ruby ring on the conference room table, so I had great hope. But, alas, nothing.”
“We were just coming to ask your permission to search your office, Mistress.” Cleric gestured down the hallway. “And we need you to show us the exact spot on your bookshelf where you and Master Miles discovered the Royal Seal, the last of the four items that have entered this world from ours.”
I nodded and led the way.
I entered my office and tried to shift some of the mess out of the way, so the others could enter as well. Sorceress and Cleric squeezed in behind me. Dragon stood in the doorway. She looked around my office and snorted a plume of black smoke. There was no way she could squeeze her bulk into the small, crowded room. “Mistress Writer, I have seen swineherds who kept their charges’ pens neater than you keep your office!”
I scowled, and felt my cheeks flame, but reluctantly recognized the truth of her words. I mumbled an excuse. “I don’t often get the chance to clean my office. Usually, I’m either working on my writing here, or one of you is interrupting whatever task I am attempting.”
Dragon arched a delicate eyebrow. “The rest of your home is reasonably tidy.”
“Why, thank you ever so much for noticing!” Even I could hear the sarcasm dripping from my words.
Sorceress frowned and folded her arms over her chest. “Why do we not see where Mistress Writer and Master Miles found the Royal Seal? The discussion of the relative merits of neatness and order can wait.”
I gave Dragon one last sharp look, then pointed to an empty spot on my bookshelf between two groups of antique volumns. “We found it right here. I don’t know how long it had been here, though, before we noticed it.”
Dragon wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Yes, among all this clutter, I imagine any given object could go undetected for years.”
I opened my mouth but before I could fire back a retort, Dragon used her innate shapeshifting ability and transformed into an elven maiden. She easily slipped through the crowded room and made her way to the bookshelf, where she beckoned her two companions. The three of them gathered around the spot, cautiously feeling the empty area on the shelf, each intoning a different incantation to reveal trace magic. I waited, holding my breath in anticipation.
After several minutes, Sorceress and Cleric stepped back from the bookshelf. Their failure was reflected in their long faces.
“Another dead end?”
They nodded somberly. The elven Dragon, however, was deep in thought, her brow furrowed, her head tilted. “Mistress, what are the books on this shelf?”
I glanced at the books Dragon indicated, the books adjacent to the spot where the Royal Seal had been found. “Oh, they’re just those old books I picked up at a yard sale last year.”
Dragon shook her head. “I do not think so.”
“If you remember, Mistress, you showed those books to me when you brought them home. They were in much better condition than these volumns, and their leather bindings were etched with gold leaf. I admired them so much you gave them to me for my treasure trove. These are distinctly different tracts.”
I furrowed my brow, trying to remember, then slowly nodded. “Yes, that’s right. I did give them to you. So, then, what are these books?” I reached for them, but Dragon put a restraining hand on my arm.
“Carefully, Mistress, carefully.”
I pulled my hand back quickly. “Why? Do you sense something? Could they be dangerous?”
“I do sense something about the books . . . something oddly familiar. I will not know if they pose a danger until I thoroughly examine them.”
Dragon turned to her two companions. “We will take the books to the conference room, where there is a larger area in which to study them. I need to make a carrier for them, so no one touches them in transit.” She opened her pouch and rummaged through its contents. “I need some botanicals for this – acacia, larkspur, wolfsbane, sandalwood, ague root, myrrh, and cinquefoil. Do either of you have these components?”
Sorceress and Cleric quickly provided the requested components. Dragon found an uncluttered corner of my desk on which to work. There she precisely measured and carefully combined the components, adding some additional ingredients she took from her own pouch. While she worked, she recited an intricate incantation under her breath. When she finished, Dragon sprinkled the mixture over the books and cast her spell, creating a glowing grid around the books.
At a word from Dragon, the grid bearing the books rose into the air and glided toward the doorway. Effortlessly holding the spell intact, Dragon turned to me. “Cleric, Sorceress, and I will undertake the thorough examination of these books, first magically, then physically. We will confirm the absence of danger, or render any threat ineffective, before we handle them. We will then try to ascertain the identity and origin of the volumns. I will let you know what we discover.”
Be sure to come back and learn what Dragon and her companions discover about the old books, and if the books have anything to do with the four objects from their world that have mysteriously appeared here. And maybe we’ll even find my Old Dwarf! We’ll leave the porch light on for you!