What’s STILL Going On?

What’s STILL Going On?

bird photographerI was growing increasingly impatient. My second – and hopefully last – follow-up with my surgeon was still a week away, so my restrictions had not yet been lifted. But I was feeling much better and was chomping at the bit to resume my normal activities, particularly my nature walks with my camera.

Elf facing rightCleric regarded me with sympathy, but shook her head. “Why do we not just relax on the veranda and you can take some more photos of your backyard birds and creatures? You know I always enjoy assisting with that endeavor.” Cleric had a true affinity with the birds, and often joined me when I photographed them, coaxing them to venture closer and strike interesting or amusing poses.

I frowned. “I suppose we could, although I would much rather go on a nice, long hike and see some different creatures for a change. It has gotten to the point with my backyard birds that as soon as they see me, they fly off screaming, it’s that annoying woman with the camera again!

Cleric eye’s widened. “I did not know you could understand their language! Do you speak it as well?”

I felt my lips twitch. “I was being facetious.”

Cleric’s face turned crimson, and she scowled. “Well, how was I to know? Why do you say something you do not mean?”

I ducked my head. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to confuse or frustrate you.”

Cleric smoothed her robes, and her ruffled feelings seemed to smooth over as well. “You get your camera. I will get us some cold drinks and meet you in a few minutes at the gazebo.”

Stu-04-NatGalBefore either of us could move, Sorceress swept into the room in an obvious state of agitation, glaring at us through narrowed eyes. Without acknowledging me at all, she addressed Cleric in an abrasive tone. “There you are! I have been reminding you every day for the past week we need to replenish our spell components. We must gather and prepare the herbs and other botanicals we need. I am tired of waiting! I am going out today to collect whatever I can find. Are you coming?”

Cleric’s eyes widened and her face reddened again. Her hand flew to her mouth. “I forgot!”

“You have become most unmindful of things lately!” Sorceress tossed her hair back, crossed her arms over her chest, and looked down her nose at her erstwhile friend.

“I am sorry. I just told Mistress Writer I would sit with her in the garden and – – ”

Sorceress swept her hand down, silencing Cleric in mid-sentence. “Well, I have enough to do to find and prepare my own botanicals. If you wish to replenish your stock of components and healing herbs, you will have to find the plants yourself.” Without another word, she whirled and left the room.

The normally amiable Cleric called in a petulant tone after the departing figure, “Fine! I will do just that!” She turned back to me. “I will get our beverages.” She stomped off toward the kitchen, muttering under her breath.

I raised an eyebrow and pondered the scene I had just witnessed between two characters who had, up until recently, been good friends. It seemed there was a lot of friction among my characters lately. I shrugged. I really couldn’t do anything about it until Dragon determined what was causing the problem.

I gathered my camera, my wide-brimmed hat, and some peanuts and millet spray for the birds, and headed out to the gazebo to wait for Cleric. I had hardly taken a seat when I saw my Arrogant One tear around the corner of the garden shed. My Old Dwarf was in hot pursuit, barely a step behind the elf, slashing at him with his war-axe. Several paces behind the dwarf was my Bounty Hunter, dagger in hand.

dragon-1964202_960_720Before I could intervene, Dragon appeared, flying over the top of the shed. She swooped down and snatched up my Old Dwarf, saving my Arrogant One from the dwarf, and the dwarf from my Bounty Hunter. As she escorted the old reprobate to safety, the other two fled inside the shed, and barricaded the doors.

Dragon deposited my Old Dwarf beside the gazebo, but kept a grip on his arm. He was sputtering like a wet hen, and cussing like a . . . well, like an angry dwarf. I stood and placed my hands on my hips. “What is going on?”

“Jest let me be gittin’ me hands on thet little popinjay! Let me at ’em!” The dwarf shook with rage.

I raised an eyebrow. “What did my Arrogant One do now?”

The dwarf was apoplectic. His face was so red, it could double for a stop sign, and he could hardly choke the words out. “I be findin’ a piece o me fave-o-rite chock-lit cake in the shed. I be jest aboot ta take a great big bite o it, an’ thet wretched excuse fer a magicker disappeared it! It do na be real a’tall! It be jest another o his illusions!”

I nodded. “So for that you were trying your best to cleave him in two?”

“Wale, o course I be after ’em fer thet! Waddaya be thinkin’? Thet be me fave-o-rite food he be messin’ wit!” He continued to shake with rage, and he struggled against Dragon’s hold.

I looked at Dragon. “And my Bounty Hunter was just trying to protect my Arrogant One?”

Dragon nodded.

I looked back at my Old Dwarf. “Well, since I don’t want you breaking down the shed door, why don’t you just go to the kitchen? I think you’ll find some real chocolate cake in the cake saver on the counter.”

The dwarf stopped shaking and broke into a delighted grin. Dragon released her grip on his arm, and he trotted off to find the cake.

I waited until he was out of earshot. “Have you determined what is causing these conflicts?”

blue-dragon-2

 

Dragon shook her head and a thin plum of smoke drifted from her nostrils. “I have not yet determined if it is the heat, or boredom, or if something more sinister is behind these incidents.”

“Well, I hope you make that determination soon. Sorceress and Cleric had another tiff just a few moments ago.”

“And your Gypsy and his best friend, your Young Hero, almost resorted to fisticuffs again this morning.”

“This is becoming very worrisome.” I frowned, and thought of something peculiar. “If it is something sinister causing the friction between friends, how is it that my Old Dwarf is affected? I thought dwarves were immune to magic.”

“They are. But dwarves are also contentious by nature. Your Old Dwarf is particularly cantankerous and quick-tempered, so I would attribute his conflicts to his normal demeanor, rather than whatever is fueling the clashes among the others.”

I nodded. “That makes sense. But what of you? You have been rather testy lately, as you yourself acknowledged the other day. I can not imagine you being affected by a sinister spell without realizing what is happening and resisting it. You’re magic is too powerful.”

“Perhaps. But, unlikely though it may be, there is always the possibility of a more powerful force behind this.”

I shuddered.

“I do not really believe that is the case, but to ignore the possibility could court disaster. I will continue investigating, and I will let you know if I discover anything. Meanwhile, enjoy your afternoon of nature photography with Cleric.”

iced tea for blogDragon and Cleric greeted each other affably as Cleric placed a pitcher of ice cold fruit punch and some glasses on the table next to my camera. “Will you be joining us, Dragon? I can get another glass.”

“Another time, my friend. I fear I have more pressing obligations at the moment.”

Dragon nodded to us and took her leave. Cleric poured us each a tall, cool glass of punch. I scattered some peanuts and millet spray to attract the birds, and Cleric hummed a special tune, a haunting weave of windsong and magic. Then we sat back to wait for some photogenic creatures to grace us with their presence. We didn’t have long to wait.

The first bird to visit was a Common Grackle. He flew down to the gazebo railing, and conversed with Cleric for a few moments. Then the bird quickly hopped down and approached me, almost seeming to study me as I took his photo.Backyard 055

Cleric leaned toward me and spoke in a whisper. “Grackles are beautiful birds, with their intelligent faces and their iridescent feathers, but I fear every time I see one, I think back to the evil wizard Morcant, who had a grackle as his familiar.”

morcantmorcants-familiar

 

I shuddered. “Yes, Morcant is always in the back of my mind, too, whenever I see a grackle.”

Next, Cleric coaxed a couple of Mourning Doves down to the railing, imitating their peaceful coo. The first one seemed a bit nervous as I took his picture, but the second was totally relaxed as Cleric continued to coo at them.

A male Red-bellied Woodpecker ventured down to snatch up some peanuts as his mate and their young stayed well-hidden in the nearby tree, calling to him to hurry. Even Cleric could not convince them to join us.Backyard 054

The peanuts were also the enticement that brought a Blue Jay down, but it was Cleric who coaxed him into posing for a brief second before he flew off with his prize.Backyard 059

The millet spray attracted a hungry Song Sparrow. First, he landed in a nearby tree to check us out and he and Cleric engaged in a songfest. Following their concert, he flew down to eat while I took his picture.

Backyard 131

The heat and the humidity rose as the afternoon progressed. Cleric and I appreciated an occasional cool breeze as we sipped our fruity drinks. Suddenly, Cleric paused, her glass halfway to her lips. She giggled and pointed. I looked, and there was a small chipmunk spying on us from the corner of the gazebo. I grabbed a quick shot of him as he and Cleric exchanged greetings.Backyard 001

The rest of the afternoon passed pleasantly, in spite of the mugginess. A variety of birds and critters stopped by to converse with Cleric and pose for my camera.

Several Gray Catbirds visited with us, calling to us from the nearby feeder area.

With a little coaxing from Cleric, a male House Finch struck a pose for me atop a feeder pole.Backyard 020

A fledgling American Robin checked us out from atop the neighbor’s fence, while his sibling sampled the grapes in the fruit feeder.

A Painted Turtle eyed us curiously before trudging off toward the pond.Backyard 044

One Baltimore Oriole called a cheery hello before taking a long sip of nectar from the nearby feeder, while a second waited her turn impatiently atop the feeder pole.

A fledgling Red-winged Blackbird kept an eye on us while waiting for mom or dad to return with some food, while a fledgling Downy Woodpecker checked us out from the nearby suet log.

Finally, two Mallard drakes and one hen waddled up from the pond and stopped a few feet from the gazebo. They engaged in a lively conversation with Cleric as I captured their image.Backyard 064

“Well, the ducks wanted us to know the weather is soon going to take a turn. They think we should return to the shelter of the house.” She reached for our glasses and placed them on the tray with the empty pitcher.

I blinked. “Really?”

gathering clouds for blog“Indeed. Look, already clouds are gathering to the west, and the breeze is increasing. I believe they know what they are talking about.”

I chuckled. It never ceased to amaze me the way Cleric could communicate with the birds. “Okay, let’s go back to the house. We wouldn’t want to get caught in a sudden shower.”

As we approached the house, we could hear angry voices. I recognized them as that of my Old Dwarf and my Foreman. I shook my head and sighed as we stepped through the French doors into the living room. “Now what’s going on?”

Elf facing right

“Why would you care?” Cleric snapped at me. The tray she was carrying clattered to the floor when she thrust it at me and I failed to grab it. Without apology, Cleric turned and stalked away.

 

My mouth fell open and I stood there, totally bewildered.

Be sure to join us again next week. Perhaps Dragon will shed some light on these conflicts. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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What’s Going On?

What’s Going On?

dwarfIt was almost lunchtime, so I headed to the kitchen to grab a quick bite. My Old Dwarf was already there, head and upper torso in the refrigerator as he rummaged through the food. I waited for a few minutes, then cleared my throat.

“Find what you’re looking for?”

The old reprobate yelped. He jumped, hitting his head, and let loose a string of dwarven oaths that all but turned the air blue. Rubbing his head, he looked at me through watering eyes. “What be ye aboot, lass? Do na ever be sneakin’ up on an unsuspectable soul like thet!”

“I believe you mean unsuspecting.”bounty-hunter-facing-other-direction

I turned to see my Bounty Hunter lounging against the wall, wearing an expression that showed both amusement and scorn. He continued to address my Old Dwarf, his voice dripping contempt. “Really, it is quite appalling the way you mangle words and phrases! It’s a wonder anyone can understand a word you say.”

Still rubbing the lump on his head, my Old Dwarf scowled at my Bounty Hunter. “Nobody never be havin’ no trouble unnerstandin’ me. Methinks ye been spendin’ too much time wit thet annoyin’ little fancy-pants elfie. ’Is airs and gold-plated words be rubbin’ off on ye.”

My Bounty Hunter snorted, causing my Old Dwarf to reach for his axe. In a flash, my Bounty Hunter had his dagger in hand. I stepped between them.

“Put the weapons away!”

The two characters stood engaged in a stare-down with each other, anxiously fingering their weapons.

“I said put the weapons away!” I glared at them until they reluctantly complied. “And if you two want to discuss proper grammar and elocution, could you do it somewhere else? I’d like to get some lunch and get back to work.” I pushed my Old Dwarf out of the way, then grabbed some leftover pizza from the refrigerator and heated it in the microwave. I took the pizza and a cold bottle of soda and headed back down to my office, leaving the two characters still glaring menacingly at each other. At the top of the stairs, I ran into Sorceress and Cleric.

“I said nothing of the sort. Try listening for once. You think you are so superior to everyone else, and nothing anyone else has to say is important enough for you to pay attention. You think you are the only one whose opinion matters!”

I gawked at Cleric, whose vitriol was most out of character.

“Well, you take offense at everything anyone says. I am so tired of tip-toeing around you, walking on eggshells, lest I offend you. You need to grow a thicker skin and stop being such a cry-baby.” Sorceress tossed her hair back and looked down her nose at her companion.

Ladies!” My eyes felt like they were popping out of my head as I gaped at the two companions. “I’ve never seen you two at such odds with each other.”

“Well, she started it!” The two of them spoke in unison, then whirled and stalked off in opposite directions.

I shook my head as I continued toward my office for my working lunch. As I passed the conference room, I heard angry voices within.

foreman“I don’t care if they’re illusory or not; I will not have you treat a horse that way! When you’re finished working your mount, you will cool him down, water him, and groom him before pasturing him.” I recognized the voice of my Foreman, who, in his world, had been a renowned horseman and a former member of the King’s Mounted Guard.young-hero-facing-left

“What difference does it make? The stupid things are not real. They are like toys or games. When you are finished playing with them, you walk away! And besides, what do you mean, you will not have it? Who died and made you king?”

I had never heard my Young Hero speak to anyone with such disrespect. I was about to stick my head in the door and say something, when a third voice chimed in. I recognized it as that of my Gypsy, my Young Hero’s best friend.

gypsy-facing-right“The Foreman’s right and you know it. So the horses aren’t real. So what? The whole purpose of Dragon creating them for us was so we could enjoy a part of the life we once cherished in our world. We need to treat these illusions as if they were real flesh-and-blood animals. Is this how you treated your pony back in our world – you ran him so hard he was in a lather and heaving for breath, then you just walked away from him as if he didn’t matter?”

I waited to hear my Young Hero’s response. What I heard was the sound of a fist solidly connecting with a face, and the crunch of a nose breaking. I reached for the door and almost got knocked over as my Young Hero burst out of the room. He shoved me aside, knocking my pizza and drink out of my hands, then ran up the stairs and out the door.

I left the mess in the hallway and went to check on my Gypsy. Blood streamed from his now-crooked nose, and he looked like a raccoon, with two black eyes. My Foreman was trying to stem the flow of blood.

“I’ll get Cleric.”

I ran back upstairs. Dragon was in the living room. She had my Arrogant One pinned to the floor and he was squealing like a stuck pig.

“What’s going on? Never mind, I don’t have time for this. Where’s Cleric?”

Dragon pointed with the end of her tail. I looked where she was pointing and saw Cleric on the deck. I opened the door and grabbed her arm. “My Gypsy’s been injured. Do you have your healing herbs?”

“I will get them.”

“Okay, meet us in the conference room.”

As I raced back through the living room, I called over my shoulder to Dragon. “Don’t kill him until I get back. I want to know what he’s done this time.”

Cleric was only a few steps behind me as I returned to the conference room. She applied her healing herbs to my Gypsy’s broken nose and soon stanched the flow of blood. Within a half-hour, his face was back to perfect condition.

“Thanks, Cleric.” I was relieved.

My Gypsy mumbled his thanks, then started to leave.

“Hold on there! Mind telling me what happened?”

“I lost an argument with a fist. I zigged when I should have zagged.”

“What was the argument about?” Even though I had overheard the incident, I wanted to hear my Gypsy’s version of events.

“Ask him.” The lad jammed his hands in his pockets and shouldered his way past me. A moment later, I heard the front door slam.

“Don’t ask me.” My Foreman’s voice was a deep growl.

“I wasn’t planning on it. I’ll talk to my Young Hero.”

“You do that.” And he, too, shouldered his way out of the room.

“Has everyone gone mad? What is happening?”

“I do not know what you are talking about.” Cleric stuck her nose in the air and flounced out of the room.

I stood there, stunned, for several long moments before I wandered, dazed, back to the mess in the hallway. It took me 15 minutes to scrape up the pizza, which had landed gooey-side down on the carpet. I was grateful the bottle of soda had been tightly capped when it fell. When I finished cleaning the pizza out of the rug, I climbed the stairs to the living room. Dragon and my Arrogant One were still there.

The beast was stretched out on the floor, her chin casually propped up on one hand. She was holding the elf in place with a single claw on his chest, a claw all three of us knew could skewer my Arrogant One with virtually no effort on Dragon’s part. The elf had stopped squealing and was now just whimpering piteously.

“Okay, what’s this all about?” I stood facing them, my arms folded across my chest.

“She’s going to kill me!” My Arrogant One shrieked. Then he broke down and sobbed.

“You are pathetic. You are an insect, not even worth my notice, let alone the effort to kill you.” Dragon yawned, opening her mouth as wide as possible. She showed every one of her teeth, each of which was as long as my forearm and as sharp as a dagger. She removed her claw from the elf’s chest and rolled over, wriggling and squirming as she scratched her back on the carpet.

My Arrogant One lost no time jumping up. He almost tore the French doors off their hinges as he made his escape. He ran out on the deck, down the stairs, and headed right for the garden shed. He ran inside and pulled the doors closed behind him. I swore, even at that distance, I could hear the bolt being slammed and the doors being barricaded.

I turned to face Dragon, who was still writhing on the floor, scratching her back. “Stop that. You’re tearing up the carpet. I’ve asked you before not to do that.” I frowned.

Dragon sat up and blew a cloud of smoke toward me. “So what? My back is itchy.”

“So put those nice sharp claws of yours to use. Don’t use the carpet. Your scales rip right through it!”

“In case you haven’t noticed, simpleton, my arms are not long enough to reach the itchy spots on my back.” Darker smoke started pluming from Dragon’s nose, and her mouth started to twist into a snarl.

“So create an illusion of another dragon and have it scratch your itchy back.”

Dragon blinked. “I can not believe someone of such inferior intellect could think of that, and I did not.”

“Gee, thanks. This inferior intellect is so happy to be of service.” I could hear the sarcasm dripping from my words, but Dragon seemed not to notice. I shrugged. “So you didn’t explain why you were about to skewer my Arrogant One.”

Dragon ignored me as she conjured a mirror image of herself, which immediately set about scratching Dragon’s itchy back. The beast wriggled in pleasure and directed her doppelganger to the itchiest spots. Finally, she sighed and released the spell. The other dragon disappeared in a puff of smoke. The Dragon who remained shrank until she was eye-level with me.

“Who says I need a reason to skewer that annoying elf?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Well, most times you have a reason for such behavior.”

She shrugged.

“I’d sure like to know what’s going on here today. Everybody seems to be at everyone else’s throat. My Old Dwarf and my Bounty Hunter almost came to blows, Cleric and Sorceress were squabbling, my Foreman and the lads were locking horns and my Young Hero actually hit his best friend. You tried to skewer the elf for no reason. And you weren’t the only one to forget their manners with me.”

Dragon ignored my gibe about her behavior toward me. “The lad hit the Gypsy?” Her eyes widened.

I nodded. “Gave him a bloody nose. That’s why I needed Cleric and her healing herbs.”

Dragon growled. “You are right. Something is going on.” She narrowed her eyes and templed her clawed fingers. She sat there for many long moments, deliberating. “It may be just the heat . . . or the boredom . . . but I think we should look for other possible causes. Most of us are good friends. We have been companions for a long time here in your world, longer in our memories of our own world. With the exception of the annoying elf and more recently the Bounty Hunter, we have never had any serious conflicts.”

“I agree. I was shocked at the incidents today, friend against friend, both in verbal conflict and in physical altercation.”

“I will investigate.”

“I appreciate that. Should I gather everyone together and tell them this behavior will not be tolerated?”

Dragon shook her head. “If it is just the heat and the boredom, I am sure most of us have realized that our actions are regrettable. If there is something more sinister at work, telling us that our behavior will not be tolerated will have no effect, other than possibly exacerbating it.”

“You say our actions, our behavior. Do you include yourself in this? Did you have no reason for attacking my Arrogant One? Or for disparaging my intelligence?”

Again she ignored my reference to her behavior toward me. “I am not sure. When I attacked the elf, I had a reason. Now, however, I can not recall what it may have been. Perhaps it was just his characteristic arrogance rubbing me the wrong way. Perhaps it was something more. Let me deliberate. Perhaps I will have a better answer for you in time.”

I nodded.

Dragon stood there, shuffling one foot back and forth.

I quirked an eyebrow and tilted my head. “Was there something else?”

“Well, I suppose I should apologize for being disparaging toward you.” She looked at me sheepishly and fidgeted.

“Well, I suppose I should accept your apology.” I winked, and we both smiled.

When Miles got home that evening, he asked me how my day had been. I just looked at him, rolled my eyes, and laughed. “Why don’t we go out to dinner? I’ll tell you all about it on the way.”

Be sure to come back next week and see if Dragon has discovered a reason for everyone’s uncharacteristically ill-tempered behavior. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Fun and Mayhem With the Neighbors

Fun and Mayhem With the Neighbors

gazebo for blogI was sitting on a very soft cushion I had placed on a hard plastic lawn chair in a shady corner of the gazebo. I was five weeks into what should have been a two week recuperation following a minor surgical procedure. It had been less than a week that I could sit comfortably.camera for blog

I had brought my camera with me, as I had hoped to engage in a little backyard nature photography, but it remained untouched on the table. Instead, I was being entertained by three of my characters.

 

My Foreman, my Young Hero, and my Gypsy were schooling their horses in the back of the yard. These were illusory horses provided by their companion, Dragon, who had also cast a spell of concealment to keep the neighbors from noticing the goings-on. I watched as the three expert riders walked, trotted, and cantered their mounts on the flat, then over a cavaletti, after which they performed diagonals and figure-eights and flying lead changes. Then my Foreman, mounted on his spirited black stallion, demonstrated a piaff, a passage, and a pirouette, followed by a half-pass directly to the gazebo, and a low, courtly bow to me. I applauded and smiled my appreciation of the skill of horse and rider. It was fun to watch. Or it was until I almost fell off my chair.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dragon, in her guise of an elf maiden, stepping out of the house onto the deck. She was wearing an enormous smile, and she was escorting two people. The man was sporting glasses and a neatly trimmed goatee, and was dressed casually in well-worn blue jeans and a black hoodie. The woman, in a matching outfit, had sandy blond tresses framing an open face. I recognized them as our neighbors, Mace and Gloria, who had moved into a house down the street earlier this year. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/meeting-the-neighbors/

Elf clericneighborneighbor-2I felt my heart leap into my throat as Dragon led the visitors down the steps and right toward me.

Oh, no! Not them! Not now! What is Dragon thinking? What is Mace going to say about the horses being here again? How can I explain this?

I tried to rise to greet the visitors, but my legs felt like rubber. Gloria reached out and grabbed me before I fell flat on my face, and she eased me back into the chair. “Oh, please don’t get up! Mace and I heard from one of our other neighbors that you were recovering from surgery. We just dropped by to see how you were doing.”

“Well, I’m coming along slowly.” I tried to smile, but my eyes were darting all over the yard.

Where are they?

ShedOut of the corner of my eye, I saw my Foreman swing down from the saddle and quietly lead his horse away. He and the others led their mounts back to the shed to unsaddle and groom them. My heart was racing, my palms were sweaty, and I’m sure every bit of color must have drained from my face, but Gloria and Mace didn’t seem to notice anything.

“Gloria brought a lovely casserole! I put it in the refrigerator.” Dragon moved some chairs closer to the table and motioned for Mace and his wife to sit.

“Thank you, Gloria! That is so thoughtful!”

I hope my face doesn’t break from forcing this smile.

“I would have made more if I had known your out-of-town relatives were staying with you again. I hadn’t seen anyone around lately, so I only made enough for you and your husband.”

“Oh, well, that’s okay. I mean, how could you know? They haven’t been outside much. They came to help take care of me, after the surgery.”

Good lord, I must sound like a blithering nincompoop!

But Mace and Gloria didn’t seem to be listening. “Hey, what’s that?”

“What? Where?” I almost gave myself a bad case of whiplash, checking the yard for errant characters.

binoculars and field guide“That bird there.” Mace pointed to something perched atop one of the shepherd’s staff poles holding a bird feeder. Immediately, Gloria grabbed a pair of binoculars from her pocket and strained to see the little bird, as Mace pulled a small field guide from his pocket.

“Oh, Mace and Gloria are birdwatchers! Isn’t that nice?” Dragon smiled broadly. “Mis . . .”

No! Don’t say Mistress Writer!

“Missy and her husband love bird watching. In fact, she’s been taking pictures of the birds here in the yard today.” She gestured toward the camera sitting on the table.

Mace frowned. “Missy? I thought your name was Marge.”

“Oh, that’s just a little pet name we have for her.” Dragon smiled and winked, and I sighed and tried not to collapse with relief.

Gloria lowered her binoculars. “You’re a birdwatcher, too?”

I nodded, and swallowed hard, trying to find my voice.

“Well, maybe you can help us, then. Mace and I are just beginners, and we don’t know all the different birds yet.”

“Ah, ahem . . . er, sure. Well, that little bird is a Black-capped Chickadee.” I gestured toward the small black and white creature who was still eyeing us from atop the pole.Backyard 078

Mace cocked his head and furrowed his brow. “Are you sure? It doesn’t look like a chickadee to me. Aren’t chickadees . . . well . . . smoother, sleeker?” He paged through his book.

“Yes, I’m sure. But you’re right – most are sleeker. This one has an abnormality of the feathers on its belly – it looks like it’s having a bad feather day. Here, I took a picture of this bird earlier this week. I’ll zoom it in and you can get a closer look at it.” I took a few minutes to find the photo, then passed the camera to Mace and Gloria.

“Hmmm…strange looking.” They compared the photo to the one in the book.

I took the camera again, and searched for another photo. “Here. Here’s a normal chickadee.”Backyard 039

They looked at that, then at the book. “Now this one looks just like the one in the book.”

“Field guides are great, but you have to remember that not every bird is a text-book example of its species. If you look at these two photos carefully, you can see they are the same species.”

They painstakingly compared the photos of the two birds, as I pointed out the field marks – the black cap and bib, and the white cheeks, the long, narrow tail and the small, the thick bill – then they nodded.

Gloria saw some movement in a nearby tree, and picked up her binoculars again. “Is that a Baltimore Oriole?”Backyard 008

I looked at the bird Gloria was pointing to and nodded. “And there’s another one.” I pointed to one who had taken over the chickadee’s perch.Backyard 051

“Cool!” Mace took a notebook from his pocket, pushed up his glasses, and started writing. “Lifelist. The chickadee and the oriole are only our tenth and eleventh birds.” He sounded sheepish.

I smiled, and spent the next half hour helping Mace and Gloria add to their brand-new lifelist.

“There’s a male American Goldfinch . . . and there’s the female.”

“There’s a Gray Catbird . . . and there’s a Common Grackle.”

“Oh, look!” Gloria pointed to the tree stump in the back of the yard. “There’s one I know – a Red-winged Blackbird!”

“Yup, that’s an adult male, displaying for the female, who’s over there on the fence.”

“She doesn’t look anything like the male!” Mace looked wide-eyed at the bird, then continued jotting down the names of the birds they were seeing.

Gloria had her binoculars up again. “What is that one? The one on the fence, with al the speckles?”

“That’s a fledgling American Robin, and there is the adult, on the edge of the birdbath.”

“Fledgling?” Mace wrinkled his brow.

“A young bird, already out of the nest, but not yet self-sufficient. The adults still feed and protect the fledglings.”

“It doesn’t look much like the adult!” Mace studied it carefully.

“No, it doesn’t. You’ll find that to be true of a lot of birds. It can make identifying a nestling or a fledgling very difficult. Even some sub-adult birds. Some birds, like Bald Eagles and certain gulls, for example, don’t get their full adult colors for years.”

Gloria and Mace looked impressed by this avian trivia.

Just then, I yelped as my Old Dwarf raced past the gazebo, brandishing an axe, chasing a rabbit. “I be gittin’ ye this time, ye ornery little beastie, ye jest see iffin I do na! Thet be the lastest time ye be getting’ in Mistress Writer’s carrot patch!”

Not now! Not now!

I almost fainted, but our visitors didn’t seem to find anything untoward as my Old Dwarf continued to chase the rabbit all around the yard, hollering and cussing up a storm.

“That’s a pretty lively pair of rabbits.” Mace nodded toward the rabbit and the dwarf.

“We’ve had a problem with rabbits eating the vegetables in our garden.” Gloria flipped her hair out of her face. “We found a few commercial products that work well to keep them away from the plants without harming the animals.” The rabbit raced past the gazebo again, my Old Dwarf in hot pursuit. “I can recommend some, if you’d like.”

I nodded dumbly.

What I’d really like is something to keep my characters out of trouble, thankyouverymuch!

“Oh, hello! I did not know we had guests.”

I give up!

Gloria and Mace were gaping as Cleric walked down the steps and joined us on the gazebo. They looked at Cleric, then Dragon, then Cleric again.

“Oh, you haven’t met my sister, have you?” Dragon was smiling and her eyes were twinkling as she gestured toward Cleric. “She’s quite a bit younger than me, but everyone says we look like twins. Sis, these are Mace and Gloria. They live down the street.”

“How nice to make your acquaintance.” Cleric bobbed a little curtsey.

“Charmed.” Mace spoke in a flat voice and gave Cleric a look as if he were trying to figure out what planet she was from.

“Oh, my! I do believe that rabbit is leading the Old Dwarf a merry chase.” Cleric giggled as the old reprobate ran by, still brandishing his axe and cursing a blue streak.

“Old Dwarf?” Gloria frowned and tilted her head.

“Oh, we give some of the creatures here little nicknames.” Dragon winked.

Is this nightmare over yet?

“Oh, look!” This time it was Mace pointing. “What is that?”

With great trepidation, I followed his gaze, then sighed with relief that it wasn’t another of my characters. “That’s a female Wood Duck. There’s the male, over there.”

My relief was short-lived.

“There you are!” The imperious voice announced the presence of my Arrogant One. I turned around and saw him headed for the gazebo. I felt the color drain from my face.arrogant-one

No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Oh, by all that’s holy, how do I explain this one?

“Mace, Gloria, can I get you something to drink?” Dragon seemed as oblivious to the presence of the annoying elf as were my neighbors.

“Oh, no, thanks. We should really be going. Marge is looking a bit pale. I hope our visit hasn’t been too much for you today.” Gloria was looking at me with concern.

“Oh, not at all. It’s been fun! Thanks again for the casserole. I’ll return the dish as soon as I can.” I smiled weakly.

My Arrogant One pushed past Dragon and Cleric and stood in front of me, glowering, his hands on his hips. “I can not tolerate horses in the shed! The Bounty Hunter and I use the shed loft as our refuge, and the others know it. They put those noisy, filthy, smelly animals in there to spite me! I demand you have them removed this instant!”

Dragon shoved him aside under the pretext of moving some chairs aside.

Mace and Gloria stood up. “Thanks for sharing your expertise today. We added some new birds to our lifelist, and we learned that not every bird will look like the picture in the field guide.” Mace tucked his list and his book back in his pocket.

“We really need to do this again.” Gloria smiled brightly.

“Are you even listening to me?” My Arrogant One’s voice rose in octave so high, I expected to hear all the neighborhood dogs start to howl.

I smiled at Gloria. “I’d really like that.”

Oh, how I lie!

“We’ll see our guests out. You should just stay here and relax.” Dragon gave me a broad grin and a wink as our two neighbors followed her and Cleric. I waved as they disappeared around the corner of the house.

My Arrogant One, his face as red as a beet, continued to screech at me, and my Old Dwarf raced past once more, turning the air blue with his language as the rabbit continued to taunt him. I saw my Bounty Hunter yelling at my Foreman and the lads as they led their horses out of the shed and turned them loose to graze, and I heard Sorceress slam the door as she came out of the house to investigate the commotion.

Relax? I’m going to kill these characters! Or maybe it’s just time to make good my periodic threat to them, and edit them out of my manuscripts and out of my life!

 

I laid my head down and tried to think happy thoughts, thoughts of a time before my characters had fallen out of my manuscripts, thoughts of normalcy.

Backyard 052

 

Be sure to stop by next week and see if any of my characters survive that long. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

 

The End?

The End?

Hail and well met, old friends and new readers! Once again, I, Dragon, will continue relating our adventure while Mistress Writer continues her recovery.

Elf facing rightSleeping Woman 2I tip-toed into Mistress Writer’s bedchamber. Cleric was sitting next to the bed, a look of concern on her face, while Mistress Writer slumbered. I gestured to Cleric to follow me into the hallway.

“How is the patient today?”

“I am worried, Dragon. I feel Mistress Writer should be up and about by now. Her procedure, which her doctors designated as minor surgery, was days ago.”

I frowned. “She has been up.”

“She has been out of the bedchamber.” Cleric was quick to correct me. “She has not been up. When she leaves the bedchamber, she reclines on the soft bench in the great room.”

blue-dragon-2Couch. Living Room. How long has it been since we fell out of Mistress Writer’s manuscripts? How long have we lived in this world? We should all make a better effort to refer to objects in the vernacular.”

Cleric scowled. “Do not confuse the issue. Whatever you call the furniture or the room, Mistress Writer remains prone most of the day!”

I returned Cleric’s scowl, and added some smoke for good measure. “She sits at the table for meals, and she walks around the house a bit. She has even stepped out onto the deck.”

Sorceress and the Gypsy joined us, and Sorceress addressed me. “Have you told Mistress Writer what we discovered about the conduit?”

“Not yet. I wish to wait until she is feeling well.”

“Maybe I could entertain her with some juggling, or tell her some jokes.” The Gypsy grinned and waggled his eyebrows.

He choked as I blew a cloud of smoke in his face. “Mistress Writer does not need to be entertained. She needs to heal. I strongly suggest we all give her the time she needs to do so.” I emphasized my suggestion with a snarl, making sure every one of my dagger-sharp teeth were visible. The Gypsy, still choking, nodded and waved his hand to indicate his understanding.

Days turn into weeksdoctor

The days stretched into weeks. Mistress Writer and her spouse, Master Miles, were as disheartened as were we, her characters, at her lack of improvement. She was still unable to sit for more than very short periods of time, and she spent most of her days wandering aimlessly around the house and yard. At Master Miles’ urging, she sometimes took her camera onto the deck and captured images of the myriad birds and creatures that visited the yard. But her spirits remained low. They sank even lower when her follow-up examination by her physician, four weeks after surgery, revealed that she was not healing as quickly as the doctor had anticipated.

“Another month of being relegated to the house and the yard! No nature walks! I have missed all of spring migration and now I will miss nesting season.” Mistress Writer, an avid bird watcher, spoke in a monotone. Her shoulders were drooped and she stared at her hands, clasped tightly on her lap.

“Your doctor does not wish you to take walks?” Sorceress raised an eyebrow.

“Only very slow, short walks around the house and yard. My doctor explained that there is still much swelling, and long walks would cause stress and friction in the area of the stitches. That would only delay healing further.” Mistress Writer sighed.

“Well, at least there is abundant wildlife in your back yard. You do not seem to be lacking for willing avian and mammalian subjects for your photography.” I gestured toward the deck, where a chipmunk struck a coy pose near the broom while several birds lined up on the railing.

“And you do seem to be somewhat more comfortable when sitting now.” Cleric plumped a pillow and positioned it on the couch behind Mistress Writer. “You may be frustrated now, but I am sure your next visit with your doctor will yield more encouraging results.”camera

Mistress Writer shrugged her shoulders and reached for her camera. I suppose you are right. I will try harder to make the best of it.”

 

Several more days passed before I found the opportunity to be alone with Mistress Writer. Master Miles was running errands and would be gone for several hours. The Foreman and the lads were working their horses in the front yard. Cleric and Sorceress were downstairs in the conference room drying herbs and preparing sundry powders, oils, and other materials used for healing and for a variety of spell components. The Arrogant One and the Bounty Hunter were still occupying the loft in the garden shed and, at my request, the Old Dwarf had stationed himself near the shed and was keeping those two under close observation.

I found Mistress Writer in the living room, watching and photographing the birds on the deck.

“Mistress?”

“Yes? What is it, Dragon?” She placed her camera on the coffee table and took a seat on the couch.

dragon facing right“We must talk.” I shrank to the size of a Cocker Spaniel and curled up on the couch next to her. “Do you remember, prior to your recent surgery, you had asked me and my fellow spell casters to determine if there was any way for us to enter our own world through the magic conduit which allowed passage of several items from there into your world?”

Mistress Writer nodded. “Have you made a determination?”

 

I inclined my head in assent. “My fellow magic users and I located the conduit. The Gypsy lad held it immobile for me while I examined it. I discovered a barrier within the conduit, through which I was unable to pass. Since each of my companions are proficient in a different form of magic, each of them in turn attempted, as I had, to defeat the barrier and pass through the conduit into our own world. None of them were able to do so. We have therefore concluded that the conduit is a one-way passage from our world into yours. We do not believe there is any danger the Arrogant One and the Bounty Hunter will find a way to use it to enter our world and become supreme rulers through the use of the annoying elf’s illusions.”strange-dreams

A smile slowly spread across Mistress Writer’s face. She took my scaly hand and squeezed it tightly as she sighed in relief. “Thank you, my friend. And I would like to thank Sorceress, Cleric, and my Gypsy, too. You all did a fine job, and I am very grateful”

“We are always glad to be of service.” I hesitated, a small plume of smoke drifting from my nostrils. “Mistress, I have need to discuss something else.”

“Okay. What do you need to discuss?”

I hesitated again. “Mistress, I wish to speak with you regarding one of your theories. I have reason to believe that you have erred.”

Mistress Writer quirked an eyebrow and tilted her head. “Oh? What theory is that?”

Book manuscript“You have postulated that we nine characters who have fallen from your manuscripts into this world exist simultaneously in two worlds. You claim we continue to exist in what you refer to as our world, the world about which you have written, and we exist in this world, the world you call the real world.”

books“That is correct. I have long thought this to be true; and as I confided in you after reading the books that passed through the conduit from your world to this one, I now have confirmation of my theory. The books chronicle adventures that have occurred in your world after those events about which I have written in my manuscripts. These more recent events involve most of you nine characters now residing here.”

I nodded.

“So, in what way have I erred?”

I took a deep breath. “Mistress, the nine of us did not come from that which we call our world. We never existed there.”

Mistress Writer gaped at me, as if she could not understand my words. “What do you mean, you never existed there? Did I not chronicle your adventures in that world?”

I licked my lips and swallowed hard. “We – the nine characters who fell out of your manuscripts and into this world – did not come from the world we refer to as our world, the world about which you wrote. We came from your manuscripts. We do not exist simultaneously in both worlds – the world we refer to as our world and this world that you call the real world – because we are not the same beings that exist in the world we refer to as our world. We are merely shadows, or memories, of those beings.”

Mistress Writer furrowed her brow. “And how did you come up with this notion?”

“As with you and your theory, Mistress, I have long held this notion. I just needed proof.”

Her eyes narrowed. “And how did you prove it?”

office-and-bookshelf-for-blog-002I forced myself to meet her scrutiny. “I invaded your office.”

She raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms over her chest. “My office? Why?” Her voice was steely, her expression grim.

At the sound of disapproval in her voice, I tucked my tail and hung my head. “Mistress, I had need of your manuscripts. The ones from which my fellow characters and I fell into this world.”

“And you could not have just asked to see them?”

“You were occupied with your surgery and then your recovery. I had no desire to trouble you.”

It was a long few moments before Mistress Writer spoke again. When she did, her voice was soft and gentle. “I appreciate your consideration. Of course, you are always welcome in my office, my cherished friend, and you are free to examine anything there.”

I had not realized until that moment I had been holding my breath. I let it out in a rush of relief. “Thank you, Mistress.”

“Now, tell me, how did my manuscripts prove your theory and disprove mine?”

“I am not sure I can explain it. I examined the manuscripts through both physical and magical means. With my unique and exceptional dragon powers, I determined there is much magic in those texts, in your words.”

Magic?” Mistress Writer scoffed.

I met her skeptical stare. “Magic.”

Her expression changed to one of alarm. “Are you saying someone enchanted my manuscripts?”

“No, Mistress, it is not an enchantment. It is a completely different type of magic. It is magic that you created, with your words.”

for-todays-blog-013morcantMistress Writer blanched, and her hand flew to her mouth. “No!” She stared at me for a few moments, then said in a quieter voice, “No! It cannot be. Morcant, the evil wizard I once wrote about in a story, accused me of being a witch. He avowed I did not chronicle the events of his trial and subsequent exile; he maintained that I caused the events through my writing.” She paused, searching my face for reassurance. “Did I? Did I cause those horrible events? Did I cause the events in your world?” Her eyes were wide with an apparent mix of fear and distress.

I smiled. “No, Mistress, you did not. You are no witch, Mistress, and the magic of your words did not cause events to unfold. They merely gave birth to us characters, not in the world of which you wrote, but within the pages of your manuscripts.”

“If my words gave birth to you, why did only you nine fall from the pages into this world?”

“Methinks mayhap we are your favorites.”Favorite

Mistress Writer snorted and shook her head. “Some of you, yes; but my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter? Favorites? Hardly!”

“Then I know not why only we nine fell from your manuscript pages, Mistress. I only know I am very glad I was one who did.”

Mistress Writer looked at me warmly. “Me, too, Dragon. Me, too.”

Be sure to come back and visit from time to time, cherished readers. Mistress Writer should be back to peak health soon, and who knows what mystery or adventure looms on the horizon? We will leave the porch light on for you.

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