Miles and I were sitting at the kitchen table. We were perusing the four books that had appeared last month on my bookshelf, ostensibly having traveled through a magical conduit from my characters’ world. Each book had on its first page an illustration of one of the four objects from their world that had previously been found in our home. The first book contained the illustration of a talisman identical to one belonging to the Innkeeper. The Innkeeper was one of the characters in my books, but not one of those who had fallen out of the pages of my manuscripts into this world.
I sipped my tea as we began reading.
The Innkeeper was once described by a now departed scrivener as “…corpulent, with a perpetually errant lock of hair he was constantly pushing out of his eyes. He oft wiped his flaccid face with his apron as he tended bar. He was successful at his profession. He could engage in ten separate conversations simultaneously, he would never allow a patron’s mug to empty, and he could deal with the most obnoxious drunk with aplomb – in short, he seemed a most typical and commonplace innkeeper. Yet, behind that facade was a most remarkable and resourceful secret agent, unquestionably loyal to his king, armed with a quick wit, quicker reflexes, and an arsenal of minor magics.”
My eyes widened and I nearly spewed my mouthful of tea all over the book.
My husband jumped. “What is it?”
“No wonder the books were enchanted to ensure my characters could not read them. The scrivener who’s quoted? That’s me! The passage we just read is from notes I made when I was chronicling the adventures that went into my first two books about these characters.”
Miles raised an eyebrow. “Honey, I know you always joke that you did not write those books, you merely recorded what happened; but do you really expect me to believe that?”
I just looked at him and shrugged. “Believe what you will.”
Miles looked at me for a long time; he furrowed his brow, and deep concern showed in his eyes. When I said no more on the subject, he heaved a deep sigh and shook his head. I got the feeling he was questioning the state of my mental health.
I picked up my mug of tea and took a few long gulps, draining it quickly. I set the mug down unsteadily, and refilled it. “Let’s continue.”
Many of the feats of the ersatz innkeeper were chronicled by the now departed scrivener, a mysterious figure known to many in this world only as Mistress Writer. As apprentice to one of the foremost historians in this world, I have taken it upon myself to continue Mistress Writer’s work. This volume records the more recent adventures of the Innkeeper, the various exploits that occurred following the departure of Mistress Writer.
According to my Master, there are whispered legends of a magical conduit that joins this world to the world in which Mistress Writer now resides. Perhaps someday I will find this conduit and divine a way to use it to send this journal, that Mistress Writer may include these exploits in future volumes of her work.
Miles looked at me incredulously. “This is a joke, right, honey? You really wrote all this, right? You can’t expect me to believe you were actually there! I mean, is there even real?”
I laughed. “So asks the man who has no problem with the concept of our home being populated by a bunch of medieval characters who have fallen from the pages of my manuscripts.” I raised an eyebrow at Miles, then snorted and shook my head. “No, this is not a joke; yes, there is real; and no, I did not write all this – only the parts attributed to Mistress Writer, the now departed scrivener. But apparently the person who did write all this, this apprentice historian, discovered the magical conduit and used it to send the books to me.”
Miles sat there, gaping at me. Finally, he shook his head. “Right.”
“Well, what’s your explanation?”
My husband frowned and rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, if you didn’t write this as some sort of a joke, then . . . I don’t know.” He shrugged. “I guess I do have to believe you. As you said, I accept living with a bunch of characters from your books, and I have seen some exceedingly strange things. I guess if I can believe all that, I can accept that there is real, and you were there, somehow. I just don’t understand it all.”
I was about to reply, but a sound caught my ear. Someone was quietly opening the door leading from the deck to the living room. I put my finger over my lips and motioned to Miles to gather up the books. The door closed almost inaudibly, and soft footsteps crept across the living room, approaching the kitchen.
“Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t know anyone was here. I was just going to get a quick bite to eat. I hope I’m not intruding.” My Bounty Hunter looked genuinely startled to see Miles and me, but I knew he was capable of great guile.
I smiled sweetly. “Not at all. We were just going down to my office.”
My Bounty Hunter nodded. His gaze fell on the pile of books. His eyes widened. “Those books must be ancient!”
I raised an eyebrow. “Why do you say that?”
“Aside from the musty odor?” He reached for one of the books, but Miles drew the pile away. Unperturbed, my Bounty Hunter gestured toward the volumes. “They look far more rudimentary in their structure than the books I have seen you reading. The pages are not a uniform size, and their edges are ragged, as if torn rather than cut. The leaves also appear to differ from your modern paper; they appear softer, thicker. They are parchment, perhaps, or vellum? The innards are rather crudely sewn to the bindings, exhibiting very uneven stitches, and the thread with which they are sewn is not of modern manufacture. The covers are leather, but not leather tanned in any contemporary process, judging by other leather products I have seen.”
Miles gaped at my Bounty Hunter, while I merely narrowed my eyes and gave him a penetrating look. “You are very observant.”
He shrugged. “Were I permitted to examine them more closely, I could expand upon my observations.”
“That won’t be necessary, thanks. Enjoy your snack.” I gestured for Miles to bring the books, and the two of us headed downstairs for my office, leaving my Bounty Hunter alone.
Miles wisely refrained from commenting on the condition of my admittedly messy office. He merely wrinkled his brow and scratched his head as I cleared a spot on my desk in which to work. “Why do you think your Bounty Hunter was so interested in the books? Do you think he knows where they are from, and the information they contain?”
I shrugged and shook my head. “I don’t know what he knows. Other than you and me, Dragon, Sorceress, and Cleric are the only ones who know about the books, and the fact that you and I are the only ones who can read them. I doubt any of them would be sharing that news with my Bounty Hunter. But he may have recognized the volumes as being from his world. He is extremely observant and he certainly could see they are not made of any modern materials or processes of this world. The one thing I’m sure he doesn’t know is their contents.”
Miles considered this, chewing his lower lip and looking at the books. “Why do you think whoever wrote the books, or whoever sent them here, enchanted them to keep your characters from reading them?”
I frowned. “Actually, I’m not sure I was correct in that supposition, that the books were enchanted specifically against my characters reading them. I don’t think anyone in that world would know about the characters who have fallen from my manuscripts into this world. At least they wouldn’t if my theory is correct, that my characters exist simultaneously in both worlds. So, rather than the books being enchanted specifically to keep my characters from reading them, perhaps they were enchanted to keep anyone except me from reading them, in case they never reached me and fell into the hands of someone sinister.”
“Then why can I read them?”
I blinked. “I have no idea.” I pondered a moment. “Perhaps they were enchanted to prevent anyone in the other world from reading them. Perhaps they can be read by anyone from this world.”
Miles tilted his head. “Seems plausible. How can we test your theory?”
I scowled. “I don’t know. I guess I would have to ask other people to look at the books and see if they could read them, but I don’t know who I could trust with the information disclosed in these volumes. I mean, I certainly can’t ask Mace and Gloria, now can I?”
Miles laughed, remembering the time a couple months ago when some new neighbors dropped by to complain about horses in our yard, and dozens of people living in our house. (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/meeting-the-neighbors/) “No, I don’t think it would be wise to ask Mace and Gloria. But what about Dragon’s Old English Sheepdog friend, Ollie? Could you ask Ollie’s human companion? He is certainly aware of the situation with Dragon and your other characters, and it is obvious he can be trusted to be discreet.”
I shook my head. “James lives too far for me to visit and show him the books in person. I would have to scan a few pages from the books and then e-mail them to James. The problem is I’m not sure I want the scanned images on my computer. You know my characters have figured out how to use the computer. There would be too great a chance they would find the images.”
Miles shrugged. “What difference would that make? They can’t read them.”
“Duh! You’re right. I guess I could e-mail James and ask him to take a look at a few pages.”
“Why don’t you do that now? I’ll go prepare lunch.”
“Wow, is it that time already? Okay, you go make lunch. I’ll check with Dragon before I come up. She said she would have a protective container for the books by lunchtime, so I won’t have to stand guard over them while we eat.”
Miles gave me a quick peck on the cheek before leaving. I turned to my desk and started scanning a few pages into my computer, reasoning that if James couldn’t read the pages, we would have to examine other explanations for Miles’ ability to read the books.
After sending off the e-mail to James and leaving the books with Dragon to place in the protective container she constructed, I headed upstairs for lunch.
When I reached the top of the stairs, I heard a commotion. My Old Dwarf, my Foreman, and the lads were in the living room, having a heated discussion with my Bounty Hunter. When they saw me, they rushed over and accosted me.
“Is it true?” My Foreman folded his arms over his chest and gave me a penetrating look.
“Is what true?”
“Do you have in your possession a set of books that contains the secret of returning us to our own world?” Anger flashed in his eyes and resonated in his voice.
I gaped at him. “Who fed you that bunch of bologna?”
My Foreman frowned. “What does that mean, bunch of bologna?”
“It means someone lied to you.”
My Bounty Hunter stepped forward and quirked an eyebrow. “Oh?”
I scowled at him. “Why are you always trying to stir up trouble?”
“I saw the books.”
“You did. You saw four books on the table. But you read not one world of any of them. How do you purport to know what they contain?” My temper and my voice were both rising.
My Bounty Hunter shrugged. The others rolled their eyes and shook their heads. They shot him dirty looks as they headed to the kitchen for lunch. As my Foreman and I took our seats opposite each other, he mouthed an apology. I smiled and waved it away.
Just as Miles was placing a huge bowl of spaghetti and meatballs on the table, the phone rang. Seeing the caller ID, I quickly grabbed it.
“Hi, James! What’s that? You got my e-mail? And?” I listened. “Really? That’s interesting. Thanks, James!”
What did James tell me? Could he read the pages I had e-mailed him? Be sure to come back next week and find out! We’ll leave the porch light on for you.