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.
Back in the real world, Dragon lived with eight other fictional characters who, like herself, had fallen from the pages of some manuscripts; Mistress Writer, the creator of those manuscripts; and Master Miles, Mistress Writer’s spouse. Recently, Dragon and the other characters had been inexplicably at odds with one another. Arguments, loud and nasty, had become commonplace, occasionally erupting into fisticuffs. Tensions mounted, and Mistress Writer was at a loss to determine the cause of the problem or how to put an end to it.
Dragon rolled over and writhed around in the dirt, giving her itchy back a good scratching. Then she rolled back and continued thinking. I believe the incidents are somehow linked to the four items and a set of books from my world that have been transported to the real world of Mistress Writer through a magical conduit between the two worlds.
Dragon pictured the items – a talisman, a horseshoe, a ruby ring, and the Royal Seal – and a set of books. She had examined them at length in the real world, but could not determine how they would be causing the dissension among the characters. So she decided she needed to examine them in the world from which they came.
Of course, I can not do that, as they are no longer in that world. But the items, less the set of books, were in that world when Mistress Writer penned her tales. Therefore, they will be in the world of the manuscripts. Nothing there changes unless Mistress Writer edits the story.
So Dragon had devised a way to enter one of the manuscripts; however, she had not realized the full implications of the distinction between her own world and the world of the manuscripts. Here, within the pages of the manuscript, she had no way of examining the items thoroughly, or communicating with anyone who might have knowledge of the items, as nothing was truly present here. Everything here was merely images, shadows, echoes, and memories of the things and people about whom Mistress Writer had penned her stories.
Dragon’s frown deepened and the smoke that poured from her snout grew thicker than sludge and blacker than a raven’s feather. Perhaps it would be best if I can find some way to return to the real world and from there try to find a way into my world. Dragon knew the items she suspected of being at the root of the trouble with her and her fellow characters in the real world were gone from her world, but perhaps she could find and talk with the person who had sent them through the conduit to the real world.
Yes, Dragon decided. She would find a way to return to the real world, and then find a way into her own world. Dragon’s eyes narrowed. Or perhaps there is a way to slip from this world, inside the manuscript, directly into my home world. She steepled her fingers again, and concentrated.
* * *
“All of them? On a picnic?” I eyed my husband dubiously. “Why on earth would we take any of them on a picnic, given how they have been behaving lately?”
“Because of the way they have been behaving lately.” Miles grinned and winked.
I gave him a blank look.
“When’s the last time you remember your characters getting along, not arguing or trying to bash each other’s skulls in?”
I wrinkled my brow and tried to think. Finally, I shook my head. “It’s been so long, I can’t remember.”
Miles chuckled. “It hasn’t been that long.”
“Oh?” I arched an eyebrow and waited.
“When we went to the fireworks display on the Fourth of July. Remember?”
I blinked. “That’s right! They all behaved reasonably well during the barbecue in the back yard, mostly because they were all too busy wolfing down the food and beverages to engage in any scrapping. But they were exceptionally well-behaved at the park during the fireworks, even my Arrogant One. No fights, no arguments. They were all chatting and laughing and enjoying each other’s company again.” I paused and considered this carefully. “Maybe the tensions and altercations are fueled by sheer boredom. Maybe a change of scenery and a picnic would be a good thing.”
It took longer than I thought it would to get everyone to agree to the picnic. My Old Dwarf was ready in a flash, as soon as I mentioned food. The others took a bit more convincing.
“You can not be serious. Me, go anywhere with the likes of them?” My Arrogant One drew himself up and rocked back on his heels, grasping the front of his cloak. “Never!”
The others responded in kind, no one wanting to go anywhere with any of the others.
I held my hand up and raised my voice. “All right, quiet down! Remember how much fun we all had at the Fireworks display?”
The only response was a bunch of muttering.
I scowled. “Well, I remember. It was a welcome respite from the way all of you have been behaving lately. So, like it or not, we are all going on a picnic. Miles is getting the food ready right now. And the same rules we had for the fireworks display will apply to this outing. First, all weapons, wands, staffs, and spell components will be left at home. Second, you will all dress in modern garb. Third, you will behave in a civilized manner. Last, if we encounter anyone today, you will tell no one who you really are. If anyone asks, you’re some out-of-town relatives and friends, visiting for a few weeks.” I glared at them. “Do you understand?”
I heard a few exasperated yeses, and saw a few heads nodding, grudgingly.
It took well over an hour to pack enough food and beverages for the picnic, and for everyone to pass my inspection. I had to confiscate several weapons and one staff, and neither my Old Dwarf nor my Arrogant One wanted to change their outfits.
I frowned at my Old Dwarf. “I’m sorry, but you just can’t wander around in chain mail. It would draw too much attention.”
I turned to my Arrogant One. “And your robes are far too extravagant for an outing like this.”
It took another 15 minutes, and a lot of yelling, to convince them, but by the time Miles had loaded the picnic hamper and coolers into the car, we were all ready to leave.
Within minutes of leaving, Miles and I were the only ones in the car watching the traffic and the passing scenery. Real world, 21st century vehicles go considerably faster than medieval fantasy world forms of transport. My characters had limited experience with car travel, and they were all white as sheets, with nary an open eye among them.
Ninety minutes later, we arrived at a beautiful lakeside venue. My characters breathed a collective sigh of relief, and almost fell out of the car the moment Miles had it parked. Their rubbery legs hardly supported them, so Miles and I took our time getting our supplies unloaded. When we were all fit and ready, we headed off down the trail toward the lake. My characters willingly helped us carry everything to the picnic table.
My Old Dwarf turned to my Foreman and the lads. “I be hungry enough ta eat e’ree one o yer horsies!”
I breathed a sigh of relief, as that remark was met with good-natured laughter from the others.
Everyone pitched in and helped my husband to prepare the food. After a huge lunch, accompanied by much friendly banter and laughter, I suggested we go exploring. “I brought my camera, so I thought I’d check out the resident wildlife. You’re all welcome to join me, if you wish.”
“I’m beat!” Miles looked at me apologetically. “I think I’ll just clean up everything here and then take a nap under those trees.”
“Iffin ye do na be mindin a wee bit o company, laddie, methinks thet be soundin’ like a real comfy way ta be spendin’ the afternoon.”
So the rest of us left them behind as we started off down the path around the lake.
Sorceress stopped suddenly, looking at a patch of Yarrow. She placed her hand on Cleric’s arm. “You know, there are a lot of botanicals here that we could use in our spell components. Maybe we should collect them.”
Cleric nodded. “We can easily do that while assisting Mistress Writer with her photography.” She turned toward me. “Is that acceptable, Mistress? I know you have told us there are areas where collecting plants is forbidden.”
“There are no restrictions in this area. Just don’t remove too much from any one area. You don’t want to spoil it for others who want to enjoy the natural beauty here.”
My Young Hero pointed toward the lake. “There are some flowers there, and some mushrooms. And I see some birds over there, too.”
Within minutes, Sorceress and Cleric had collected the Yarrow and ’shrooms, along with some Lady’s Slippers, Ornamental Onion, and Milkweed.
I got some photos of a female Hooded Merganser on the water, and a Great Egret and a pair of Canada Geese along the edge of the lake.
My Young Hero pointed out a bunch of turtles enjoying the sunny day, and a few fish in the water.
Then he found a bird flitting through the bushes at the side of the lake. It turned out to be a male American Redstart, and Cleric used her affinity with the birds to convince him to stop his frantic foraging and pose for a series of images.
Then Cleric coaxed a shy Common Yellowthroat out of the tangle of reeds and branches along the water’s edge so I could get some photos.
“Listen.” My Gypsy held up his hand. “A Yellow Warbler!”
It only took us a moment to find it, and Cleric immediately convinced it to pose.
The lads found some Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Song Sparrow, some Eastern Bluebirds, and a number of Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows. Cleric spoke with each bird briefly and they all agreed to pose for us as well.
Before leaving the lake, my Bounty Hunter spotted a little Red Squirrel, and an Eastern Gray Squirrel, and I captured some images of them.
Stepping out of the woodlands surrounding the lake, my Gypsy stopped short. He whistled a few birdcalls, and was quickly answered by a House Wren and an Eastern Kingbird on a wire fence along the meadow.
My Foreman stood, mesmerized by the meadow blanketed with butterflies. “Amazing!”
“More furry critters, too.” My Bounty Hunter pointed to an Eastern Cottontail and a Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel.
Sorceress and Cleric found a treasure trove of flowers in and around the meadow. There was Salvia, Butterfly Weed, Purple Coneflowers, Black-eyed Susan, Bee Balm, Sumac, wild Petunias, clover, and a number of flowers I could not identify.
As I was taking a picture of a Bumblebee on a clover flower, I heard Cleric’s high-pitched squeal behind me. “Snake!”
“Relax, it’s a harmless Garter Snake,” I informed her, quickly getting a few shots of it before it slithered away.
“Yes, well as I told you once before when we encountered such a creature, Mistress, I would just as soon it be harmless somewhere else. Preferably, somewhere far away!” My Cleric shuddered, and the rest of us shared a laugh.
As we continued along the loop trail, we reentered the forest and headed back toward the lake. My Arrogant One grabbed my arm and pointed, a look of awe on his face. There were Dragonflies everywhere!
By the time we got back to our picnic site, my camera’s memory card was full and the battery drained, and Sorceress and Cleric had pouches full of botanicals.
On the way home, everyone chattered about the great time they had had. My Old Dwarf sighed. “It be a real shame the big beastie dinna be wit us today.”
Cleric nodded. “Dragon would have enjoyed this outing with all of us.”
“I be wonnerin’ where she be right now.”
* * *
Dragon was back in the desert, within a sheltering copse of trees in a large oasis. She was thirsty and her belly rumbled with hunger, but the water and food in the world of the manuscript was as insubstantial as everything else.
Dragon sat with her back against the rough bark of a date palm. She concentrated as hard as a dragon can, putting every ounce of her considerable mental prowess and supernatural power into her endeavor. She intoned an ancient incantation in an archaic language. Slowly, she began to shimmer. Bit by bit, her great bulk faded from the shadow world of the manuscript until, finally, she disappeared altogether.
It seemed to her a lifetime passed before she started taking shape again. As she solidified, she had only seconds to glance at her surroundings before she lost consciousness, her enormous power drained completely.
Be sure to come back next week and join us as Dragon faces new challenges and Mistress Writer continues to deal with her character’s frayed tempers. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.