Pen in hand, I desperately tried to find the words. As my Old Dwarf lay, his lifeforce oozing red onto the floor . . . No, that wouldn’t do it. My Old Dwarf grew still, his face a sickly gray, his breath rattling . . . No, that was no good, either. Wait! Color slowly returned to my Old Dwarf’s face, as Cleric knelt next to him, tenderly holding his hand, administering her healing herbs . . .
“You must be joking. I think I am about to vomit!” Cleric leaned over me, reading what I had written. “What would possibly possess me to hold that harecop’s hand, tenderly or any other way? And why would I waste my time or my healing herbs on the likes of him?”
Sorceress smirked. “Do not feign such indignation! You know the real reason you do not want to use your herbs is because you know you have no skill as a healer. You would do the dwarf more harm than good.”
Cleric’s fist connected with the other woman’s chin, and in a second a classic cat-fight erupted between the two.
I motioned for my Young Hero and my Gypsy. “Here, get them out of here!”
My Gypsy rolled his eyes. “Are you serious? You want me to pass up an opportunity like this? No way. Hey, everybody! I’ll give three-to-one odds Sorceress mops up the floor with Cleric!”
My Young Hero watched the two women fighting and frowned. “Make it four-to-one, and you’ve got yourself a bet!”
The other characters crowded around, reaching in their pockets and pouches, to find coins to bet. Cleric and Sorceress paused in their fisticuffs just long enough to place their bets before resuming the fight.
“What about odds on how long the dwarf can last? I will give ten-to-one he doesn’t make it another five minutes.” My Arrogant One sneered.
“Oh, wait, I’ll take some of that action!” My Foreman pushed the others aside to place his bet with the elf.
“What is wrong with all of you?” I was screeching, and I could feel my face contort with rage.
“Ignore them!” Miles placed his hand on my shoulder. “You had better get writing. You’ll never save your Old Dwarf if you don’t get writing.”
I gaped at my husband, and nodded dumbly. It had been his idea for me to write my Old Dwarf back to health after my Bounty Hunter had stabbed him, but I didn’t know where to begin.
As I searched again for the right words, the window flew open and the milky-eyed grackle, the familiar of the evil wizard Morcant, flew in. It circled overhead, cawing and screeching. Morcant’s voice, high-pitched and grating, spewed from the bird’s beak. “You had no trouble finding the words to imprison me, witch! Are you saying you can not now find the words to save your dwarf? You claim yourself to be The Writer? I say thou art naught but a fraud! A charlatan! A cozener! A fake! An imposter!”
“Ye gods! Did you swallow a thesaurus?” My Bounty Hunter scoffed.
Ignoring the jibe, the milky-eyed grackle flew straight at me, screeching and pecking. I screamed.
“Honey? Honey! Wake up!” My eyes flew open as my husband shook me awake. I was shivering uncontrollably and my husband gathered me gently into his arms, tenderly stroking my hair. “Shhhhh . . . it’s okay. You were just having a bad dream.”
Slowly, I calmed down. I related my dream to Miles. “I know all my characters have been at odds lately, but in the dream, they were over the top! And then Morcant’s familiar was there, too!”
“Well, it’s no wonder you dreamed they were fighting – that’s all they seem to do anymore. But why Morcant would still be invading your dreams, I can’t understand. You said there was no way he was behind any of this.”
“I don’t understand that, either. I know we’re safe from him. And I don’t know why I dreamed you told me to write my Old Dwarf well after he had been stabbed.”
“Probably because I recently made a comment about the power of a writer’s words. Your sleeping brain took that and ran with it, giving your words magical powers.”
“I guess so. Anyway, I’m glad it was all just a dream!”
Miles and I snuggled back under our blankets and tried to get a few more hours sleep before the alarm clock would announce the start of another day.
* * *
Horseshoes . . . Dragon wondered why on earth she would have any interest in a barrel of old horseshoes. She poked through the keg, examining the curved bits of iron, but saw nothing that could explain why she was drawn to them.
Dragon turned to follow the Blacksmith as he left his workshop. The beast stopped when she spotted a solitary horseshoe nailed to the wall of the shop, directly over the door. It was fastened with the open end downward, a custom thought to spill luck and good fortune on all who passed beneath it. Dragon reached up and touched the horseshoe. She could barely feel the tingle of its inherent magic. She frowned. She should have been able to feel the magic of this talisman practically pulsating.
Dragon jumped. She was abashed at having been startled, her extraordinary hearing failing to detect the approaching figure.
The Foreman poked his head in the door. “Blacksmith? Are you here?”
“He is not.” Dragon answered him before remembering she was apparently invisible and inaudible to all here. The Foreman entered the shop and pushed past Dragon as if she were naught but a spiderweb in his path. The beast frowned again, and dark smoke spewed from her nostrils. I do not like being invisible! I have questions that need to be answered!
However, as she mulled things over, Dragon slowly decided there were distinct advantages to being unnoticed. She did not have to shapeshift in order to observe her quarry undetected. And she could go places dragons would never be welcome.
This night, Dragon followed the Blacksmith into town. She walked right into the Inn with him and sidled up to the bar. The Blacksmith beckoned to the barkeep, who turned out to be none other than the Innkeeper. Dragon had never met the Innkeeper, but she knew he was good friends with many of her companions. She followed the Innkeeper and the Blacksmith when they skulked off to the back room. There, the two of them engaged in animated conversation, mostly about things Dragon could not understand.
When the Blacksmith left, Dragon remained to observe the Innkeeper. As soon as he thought he was alone, the Innkeeper reached into his pouch and produced a small talisman. Dragon gasped. It was identical to the talisman that had appeared in the house of Mistress Writer and Master Miles, back in what the two of them termed the real world. Now she understood why she had been drawn to the barrel of horseshoes in the Blacksmith’s workshop. A horseshoe had also appeared in Mistress Writer’s home. In all, four objects – a talisman, a horseshoe, a ruby ring, and the royal seal – along with a collection of books had traveled through a magic conduit between her world and the real world. Can those items somehow be responsible for the tension and violence amongst my fellow characters there?
Again, Dragon cursed her invisibility. She needed to communicate with the people around her if she was to get answers.
A few days past, back in the real world, when Dragon had entered Mistress Writer’s manuscript, the one from which she and her companions had fallen, she knew she was not truly entering the world she and the others had always referred to as their world. Many weeks ago, Dragon had discovered that she and the others did not come from their world at all. She remembered explaining to Mistress Writer: “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.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/06/04/3852/
However, when she had entered the manuscript, Dragon had not realized the full implications of that distinction between her world and the world of the manuscripts. Had she found a way to enter her world, the world about which Mistress Writer had written, she would be able to communicate with those she encountered there. But here, within the pages of the manuscript, she had no way of communicating with anyone, as they were not truly present there. They were merely the images, shadows, echoes, and memories of those about whom Mistress Writer had penned her stories.
Dragon frowned, the smoke drifting from her nostrils growing increasingly black as she pondered her predicament. She steepled her clawed fingers and concentrated on finding a way to achieve her goal.
* * *
“Lass, do ye be knowin’ where the great beastie be?”
I jumped at the sound of my Old Dwarf’s voice. I had almost forgotten his recent demise was nothing but a crazy dream. I had to take a deep, steadying breath before I could answer.
“Sorry, no, I don’t know where Dragon is. I haven’t seen her for a few days now.”
My Old Dwarf’s shoulders slumped, and he looked downcast. “Aye, I do na be seein’ ’er fer a bunch o days, too.”
“Did you need her for something?”
“Nay, lass, I just be lonesome fer ’er. She and me al’ays have a good time, sparrin’ and wrasslin’ aboot. I can na be doin’ thet wit any o the others right now. They all be takin’ thin’s too serious-like. Somebody be gittin’ bad hurted iffin ye can na be findin’ a way ta calm ’em all down.”
“Can you really understand the incoherent blathering of that inarticulate ignoramus?” My Bounty Hunter was leaning against the wall, smirking.
My Old Dwarf’s eyes narrowed, and he reached for his axe. “Do na be botherin’ yerself ta find the big beastie, lass. I be thinkin’ I be findin’ a good enough target fer me axe-throwin’ practice.”
“No target practice in here.” I took the old rapscallion by the arm and urged him toward the kitchen. “Isn’t it just about lunch time?”
His eyes lit up, and I had to step lively to keep up with him as he made a beeline for the refrigerator. Miles was already in the kitchen, preparing some stew for lunch. He greeted us as we entered.
“Will everyone be having lunch today?”
“I imagine so. Everyone but Dragon, that is.”
“No word from her yet?” Miles deftly transferred the contents of the stewpot to a large tureen.
I shook my head.
“Is lunch ready yet?”
My Foreman and the lads walked into the kitchen and plopped themselves down at the table.
“Almost. But you still have time to go wash up.” I gave the three of them a pointed look.
“Yes, please do. In fact, you should bathe. You have been working around those malodorous equines all morning. The three of you stink!” Sorceress held her nose and scowled at them. Cleric, standing behind her, nodded her agreement.
My Gypsy jumped up so fast his chair clattered to the floor. “We stink? Have you smelled yourself lately? You’ve been working with those foul botanicals and components again and you reek!”
Cleric was about to say something, but I cut her off. “That does it. I’m tired of this entire hullabaloo. From now on, if you all can’t be polite and treat each other with some common courtesy, you can find somewhere else to have your meals. I don’t want to hear any more arguments and I don’t want to see any more brawling. Do you all understand?”
If looks could kill, any one of my characters could easily have sent me on to my eternal reward. They sat down and sulked through the entire meal.
After lunch, my characters dispersed quickly, leaving Miles and I to clean up. I gathered the dishes from the table and brought them to the sink. Miles rinsed them and filled the dishwasher.
“Any clue yet what’s causing all this trouble with your characters? I’ve never seen them so argumentative and downright nasty with each other! It’s as if they all got a personality transplant from your Arrogant One.”
I shook my head. “I was depending on Dragon to help find the cause of the trouble. Now that she’s gone, I really don’t know how to deal with everything.” I paused, chewing on my lower lip. “Honey, do you think I should actually do what I always threaten to do? Should I just edit them all out of existence?”
“It seems a bit drastic, but if the situation does not improve, I guess you would have no other choice. Unless you just want to let them kill each other.”
“What would we do with the bodies?” Even as I said it, I knew my attempt at humor fell flat.
That evening, I sat in my office, flipping through my manuscripts. I had my red pen in hand, but I just couldn’t bring myself to start editing my characters into oblivion. Let’s see what tomorrow brings. I sighed, put my manuscripts back into the file cabinet, and headed for bed. On the way upstairs, I made sure the porch light was on.