“Do you think it’s safe for both of us to sleep at the same time? Shouldn’t one of us stay awake?” Miles paced around the bedroom, jumping at every noise he thought he heard.
I laughed. “Why shouldn’t we both get some sleep?”
“What if . . . well, you know.” My husband looked furtively toward the bedroom door.
“What if my characters decide to barge in here and do away with us as we sleep?” I quirked an eyebrow, and my lips twitched with a suppressed laugh.
“Exactly!” Miles eyes were wide, and there was sweat on his forehead.
“Not likely, dearest. My Old Dwarf will keep a good watch on the others, and no one will get anywhere near this room.”
“Are you sure?” Miles didn’t sound convinced. “They’ve been getting worse and worse, and not just with each other, either. The lads were very belligerent with me today, and I know Cleric and Sorceress had words with you. I’m really getting worried.”
I placed a hand on his arm. “I know you are, honey. But I promise we’re safe. Besides, what would you do if they did come barging in here?”
Miles shrugged, and looked at me helplessly.
“Exactly. So let’s get some shuteye.” And I was asleep almost before my head hit the pillow.
* * *
Dragon, still in the form of an elf maiden, was asleep almost before her head hit the pillow. But her sleep was restless, and fraught with disturbing dreams. When she awoke the next morning, she had vague memories of the dreams, of violence breaking out among her companions back in the real world. She remembered dreaming of Mistress Writer and Master Miles being threatened, of the Old Dwarf being injured while defending them. Dragon shivered.
Looking around the small hut and finding herself alone, she quickly rose and pulled herself together, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and dragging her hand through her thick hair several times in a futile attempt to tame her sleep-tangled tresses. Finally, she gave up and just used her innate dragon magic to get herself back into perfect order.
“Wale, good day!” Dragon’s host, the Apprentice to a renowned historian, entered the hut, carrying an armload of firewood. “I hope I dinna be wakin’ ye. I be tryin’ me bestest ta be quiet-like. Ye dinna seem ta been sleepin’ very well last night. I hearded ye cry out more’n onest.”
Dragon blushed. “I . . . I was dreaming.”
The man gave her a sharp look. “More liken night-goblins, the way ye be thrashin’ and callin’ out.”
“Indeed. More nightmare than dream.”
The Apprentice dropped the armload of wood by the fireplace and headed toward his larder. “Hope ye be liken’ porridge.”
“Porridge will be fine, thank you.”
As the man prepared the morning fare, Dragon found some bowls and spoons and set them on the table. She took a seat on one of the three-legged stools and waited.
The man ladled out some porridge into each bowl. Then he placed a crusty loaf of bread in the middle of the table, and took his seat opposite Dragon. “Be ye havin’ any in-tress in thet yarn I be offerin’ ta spin?”
“Oh, yes, I would like to learn who you feel may have reason to wish Mistress Writer harm.”
As the two of them broke their fast together in the small cabin, the man recalled for Dragon a tale of a long-ago war.
“It happened all the way back when Mistress Writer be here, chroniclin’ the goin’s-on o thet time. In them days, there be two powerful leaders o the desert dwellers. The one be rich beyond imagination. He lived in a huge palace in the royal city. He be a man o magics, and it be said he had more power in his littlest finger than most magickers ever knowed.”
Dragon frowned. She felt a stirring of a memory deep in the recesses of her mind. The man paused, studying her as he took a mouthful of porridge. After a few minutes, when Dragon said nothing, the man continued.
“The other leader be a poor man, the chieftain o a tribe o nomad peoples, who lived in a tent. He be a man o faith, not magics, but still he kept a witch ta advise ’em. Both men be as ruthless as any ever knowed hereaboots.”
He paused again for another mouthful of gruel and a bite of bread.
Dragon leaned forward on her stool. “Did Mistress Writer know these two men?”
“Aye, it be tolded thet she meeted ’em both whilst she be here. She meeted most o the people ye be findin’ in her tales. Elsens how could she write aboot ’em?”
Dragon nodded, and the man continued. “The desert be a huge place, but it dinna be big enough fer them two leaders. They went ta war o’er a piece o it thet they both had use fer. The nomad chieftain offered enormous sacrifices ta his diety, unthinkable sacrifices, most folk said. Some even said he sold his very soul ta gain the upper hand in the battle.”
The man paused again. He rose and filled two tankards with fresh spring water and handed one to Dragon. He took a long draught, then wiped his mouth with his sleeve. He resumed his seat and took up the tale again.
“It been a huge battle. Most said it been more’n just a war atween two armies. They seed it as faith against magics. Lots o people all o’er this continent watched the outcome. Now, I canna be tellin’ ye which one o ’em winded the war. Iffin ye be wantin’ ta knowed thet, ye need ta read Mistress Writer’s books. But I kin be tellin’ ye the one who be defeated be a sore loser, and he blamed Mistress Writer fer his loss. He claimed thet she dinna just chronicle the events what happened, she caused ’em, wit her writtin’.”
Dragon’s delicately slanted elven eyes widened. “So, one of that man’s descendents would have cause to hold a grudge against Mistress Writer!”
The Apprentice poured himself another tankard of water. “Wale, descendents o both o ’em would. One, acause he losted the war. The other, acause he losted somethin’ very valuable. Thet one blamed Mistress Writer when one o his most valuable belongin’s be stoled.”
Dragon scoffed. “Mistress Writer would never steal anything.”
The man shook his head. “Never said she would. I be sayin’ the owner o thet valuable item blamed her, the same as the loser o the war blamed her. Causin Mistress Writer dinna be from this world, a lot o people thought she be a witch or a sorceress. They claimed she dinna just write what happened, she caused it to happen by writin’ it.”
Dragon gasped. It is just like Morcant, the evil wizard from another world that Mistress Writer wrote about. He, too, called her a witch and said she caused events by the words she wrote. “So, how do I determine which one’s descendants could be trying to harm Mistress Writer now?”
“Be ye sure it be either one? This still be just a theory o yourn. How be ye provin’ it?”
Dragon frowned. “I don’t know. Perhaps if I meet some of the descendants of the two leaders, I could question them.”
“Oh, aye!” The Apprentice scoffed. “Causin they be steppin’ right up and admittin’ they ensorcelled some items and sent ’em ta Mistress Writer’s world ta cause ’er harm.”
Dragon’s cheeks burned. “Well, do you have any suggestions?”
The man furrowed his brow and rubbed his red-bearded chin. “Nay. Mebbe ye should be askin’ the Great Wyrm. She be a right clever one. She mebbe could figger’ it out.”
Dragon shook her head. “I do not think so. She said only the historian’s apprentice could give me the information about the items he sent through the conduit.”
“Thet mebbe true, but I only sended the books. I dinna be the one what sended them other items. And there be nothin’ in them books what would be puttin’ Mistress Writer in danger.”
Dragon heaved a huge sigh. “Then I am no further in my quest for answers than I was when I started. I still do not know if the items are at the root of the discord among us characters. And even if they are, I do not know who sent them through the conduit.”
“Is that information truly necessary?”
Dragon and the Apprentice jumped at the sound of another voice. They turned toward the sound, and saw the Great Wyrm poking her head through the small window on the other side of the room. The creature stretched her long, sinewy neck until her face was only inches from their’s.
As the two continued to gape at her without responding, the Great Wyrm repeated herself, slowly and distinctly, as if speaking to an obtuse child. “Is . . . that . . . in-for-ma-tion . . . tru-ly . . . nec-es-sa-ry?”
Dragon frowned. “I do not understand.”
The Great Wyrm sighed and tried again. “Do you really need to know who sent the items?”
“Well, yes.” Dragon scoffed.
“Yes, why?” Again, the Great Wyrm spoke as if to a child.
Dragon frowned and rubbed the back of her neck. “Well, how am I to eliminate the cause of the conflict if I do not know its source?”
The Great Wyrm growled softly, and tiny wisps of smoke curled from her nostrils. “Think.”
“I am thinking.” Dragon scowled and her voice was petulant.
“I can not believe I was ever that dull-witted.” The Great Wyrm sighed.
“Well, if you do not think the information of any value, perhaps you can tell me why.” Dragon’s face grew red and she jumped from her chair to confront the Great Wyrm.
“Something is causing conflict among you and your fellow characters, and you have all become a growing threat to Mistress Writer and her spouse, correct?”
“And you believe the cause might be the items that were sent through a magic conduit from this world?”
Dragon nodded again.
“But you do not know for sure.” This time is was a statement rather than a question.
For the third time, Dragon nodded.
“Then eliminate these items. If they are the cause of the conflict, problem solved. If they are not, then you can concentrate your search in other areas.”
Dragon’s jaw dropped. The Great Wyrm smirked, and blew a cloud of smoke at the elf/Dragon.
Dragon caughed and waved away the smoke. “Why did I not think of that?”
“Because you lack my years and my wisdom.” The Great Wyrm drew her reptilian lips back in an enormous, toothy smile.
The man cleared his throat. “Afore ye be gittin’ all puffed up there, beastie, ye mind tellin’ ’er jest how she can be eliminatin’ them objects?”
The Wyrm blinked. “I do not see where there would be any problem with that.”
“Oh, ye do na?”
“No. I do not.”
Dragon sat down again and slapped her hand on the table in frustration. “I do. When I initially examined the items, back when they first appeared in Mistress Writer’s house, I only detected the magic trace from the conduit and the inherent magic of two of the items. There was no trace of any dark magic or harmful spell.”
The Wyrm and the Apprentice both nodded.
“If they are the source of the problem, and I was unable to detect that, there may be other spells I was unable to detect. Wards, perhaps, to prevent the items from being safely disposed of.”
“Ye dinna think o thet, now didya, beastie?” The man leaned back, a smug look on his face.
The Wyrm frowned. “I admit, I did not.”
“So what am I to do?” Dragon threw her hands in the air and jumped from her seat again.
“Perhaps if I were to examine the items.” The Wyrm tilted her head and quirked an eyebrow. “With my advanced years comes increased power and greater skill. Perhaps I could detect if there is any other magic attached to these items.”
“Perhaps you could. However, the items are still in Mistress Writer’s world.” Dragon’s shoulders slumped.
The Wyrm looked amused, her mouth forming an enigmatic half-smile. “Then I suggest we go there.”
“How be the two o ye gittin’ there?” The Apprentice eyed her curiously.
“The easiest way would be to go the same way as the original items and your books.”
“It been a while since I be seein’ thet conduit. It do na stay in one place.”
The Wyrm chuckled. “I doubt two dragons will have much trouble finding it.”
“Then ye best be off.” The man turned toward Dragon. “An’ ye be sure ta drop by an’ visit iffin ye ever be back here in me lifetime, beastie.”
* * *
Will Dragon and the Great Wyrm find the conduit? Together, will they solve the problem? Will Dragon and her companion characters return to a peaceful coexistence, and will Mistress Writer and Master Miles both be able to get a good night’s sleep, free of the worry of being murdered as they slumber? Come back next week and find out. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.