There were tears rolling down my cheeks, not just because of what I knew I must do, but because of my Old Dwarf’s reaction. It broke my heart the way he looked at me, a tear slipping down his own cheek. He placed a hand on my arm. “Lassie?” His eyes were full of fear, his quavering voice pleading. “Ye can na really be doin’ this! Please, lassie! Do na!”
I hesitated, but the fracas upstairs continued to escalate. In recent weeks, my characters had been at each others throats. Arguments and fisticuffs had become a daily occurrence. My characters had become a potential danger, mostly to each other but conceivably to me and my husband, to visiting friends and relatives, even to the neighborhood. I could not allow that to happen.
I opened my manuscript, picked up my pen, and put a thick, blood-red line through the first character’s name. A hair-raising scream sounded from the living room, then all was silent.
I dropped the manuscript and the pen. My Old Dwarf and I raced up the stairs. My characters stood in a circle around my Arrogant One, gaping. The elf had gone quite pale. He stood, wide-eyed, grasping at his chest.
I started to speak, but my Old Dwarf pushed me aside and elbowed his way through the others to stand facing my Arrogant One. “What be the trouble?” His voice was gruff, and he glared at the elf.
My Arrogant One seemed incapable of speaking. He just stood there, grasping his chest and heaving for breath.
“What happened?” I looked at my Arrogant One, then at the rest of my characters.
“He is a coward.” Cleric’s words dripped with venom and contempt.
“Your Foreman was about to deck him, and he got all dramatic, screeching and acting like he was dying.” My Gypsy snickered. “The big sissy!”
I raised an eyebrow, and turned to my Foreman. “Well? Is this true?”
My Foreman shrugged.
“What was the fight about?”
“Doesn’t matter.” My Foreman glared at me.
I sighed, and turned back to my Arrogant One. He remained pale as a ghost, and he was trembling violently. Suddenly his legs turned to jelly and my Old Dwarf barely caught him as he collapsed to the floor.
“Git ’em some water.”
When no one moved, my Old Dwarf jumped up and shoved my Gypsy toward the kitchen. “Water, laddie! Now! And ye be right quick aboot it!”
My Gypsy returned a few moments later and handed my Old Dwarf a glass of water. The old reprobate knelt down and helped my Arrogant One, who drained the glass in a few quick gulps.
Finally able to speak, my Arrogant One pulled himself up and pointed at Sorceress. He spoke with great effort, his voice weak but his anger strong. “You . . . you tried to kill me! You waited until the Foreman had distracted me, then you launched a magical attack!”
Sorceress snorted. She folded her arms over her chest and looked down her nose at the elf. “You are mad.”
“Do not deny it! What I felt could only have been caused by a magical attack. You are the only one here with enough power to have hexed me so.”
“Did you?” I frowned at the powerful magic user.
“I did not.”
“Jest what be it feelin’ like, thet ye be suspectin’ magic?” My Old Dwarf again pushed me aside, and addressed my Arrogant One.
“It . . . it was like an iron band was placed around my heart and tightened. I could scarcely breathe. And at the same time, my very soul grew cold.” The elf shuddered. “It could only have been magic.”
“Eh, ye be daft. Ye probably be eatin’ sommat what din na be agreein’ wit ye.” My Old Dwarf scoffed.
My Arrogant One shook his head and twisted his mouth into a snarl. “No! You are wrong! It was magic! I myself am an expert user of magic. I can certainly recognize a magical attack when I feel it.”
I started to say something, but my Old Dwarf cut me off. “Ye be imaginin’ thin’s! Why would Sorceress be attackin’ ye?”
The elf drew himself up haughtily, rocked back on his heels, and grasped the front of his cloak with both hands. “I should think that is obvious. Naturally, she is jealous of my power and estate.”
“Oh, right. We are all so jealous of you.” Sorceress rolled her eyes.
My Gypsy guffawed. “Sorceress has more power and ability in her little finger than you do in your entire body. For that matter, so do I!”
“Enough! I don’t care who did what to whom, who is jealous of whom, who has more power and ability than whom! I just want this constant bickering and fighting to stop!” I glared at each and every one of my characters in turn. “Do you all understand?”
“And if the bickering and the fighting do not stop?” My Young Hero glared at me through narrowed eyes, and he clenched his hands into fists.
“Then the ones what be doin’ the bickerin’ an’ the fightin’ will be answerin’ ta me.” My Old Dwarf stepped between me and my Young Hero. He glared at the youth and slapped the flat of his axe against the palm of his hand.
After a few tense moments, my Young Hero relaxed his hands and shrugged.
My Old Dwarf nodded and stepped back, but did not sheath his axe. “All righty, now. All o ye jest be goin’ aboot yer business.”
“But . . . but . . .” My Arrogant One stammered.
“But nuttin’! Ye do na be hurtin’ thet bad, elfie. Jest git!” My Old Dwarf slapped the flat of his axe against the palm of his hand again.
The other characters glared at the dwarf, but finally backed down without further argument. After they left, my Old Dwarf turned to me. “Ye and me be needin’ ta conversate, lass.”
“Not here. In yer office.”
Once in my office, my Old Dwarf picked up my manuscript and my pen from the floor where I had dropped them. He did not hand them to me.
“Lass, do ye be havin’ any idea what ye be doin’? What danger ye be puttin’ yerself in?”
“Danger? What danger? What do you mean?”
“Ye be doin’ what ye al’ays be threatenin’ – ye be takin’ us outten yer manuscript.”
His tone of voice was matter-of-fact, not accusatory. I nodded.
“Do ye be realizin’ thet ye be havin’ ta take out every single mention o a character afore thet character be gone? If ye only be takin’ out some o the mentions o a character, thet character’ll be wounded, but not gone. Every time ye be takin’ thet red pen o yourn and crossin’ out another mention o a character, thet character be feelin’ it. Jest liken the fancy-pants elfie be feelin’ it when ye crossed out the first mention o him taday.”
My Old Dwarf paused and stared at me intently, as if trying to see if I understood. I said nothing, but gave a slight nod of my head.
“At some point, lassie, a character what ye be editin’ outten the manuscript will be realizin’ what be happenin’! Sorceress and the Gypsie lad will na continue ta be blamed. And wonst a character be realizin’ thet it be ye what be causin’ the pain, the chillin’ o the soul, thet character’ll be tellin’ the others. They’ll all be comin’ after ye, lassie. They’ll be killin ye, an’ yer mister, too, ta save themselves.”
I felt my mouth fall open and my eyes grow as big as saucers. “I . . . I had never considered that.”
“Do na be doin’ any more editin’, lassie. I be beggin’, not jest fer me ownest life, but thet ye do na be puttin’ yerself an yer mister inta danger.” There was a catch in the old reprobate’s voice, and his eyes welled with tears, as he placed the manuscript and the pen back on my desk.
“Old friend, I never considered editing you out of the manuscripts! Whatever is causing this problem, this tension with the others seems to be magical in nature. You are a dwarf. You are not affected by magic.” I paused, then took his hands in mine. “But you didn’t know that when you placed yourself in danger to save me! You were willing to fight the others to protect me, even while you thought I would eliminate you from the manuscripts with the others.” My face was wet with tears.
“Eh, do na be blubberin’ now.” The dwarf’s face turned red, and he pulled his hands out of mine. “Jest be careful. An’ ye best be puttin’ these manuscripts away in a safe place.” He turned on his heel and was gone before I could say another word.
That night, as we got settled in bed, I told my husband everything that had transpired.
“The old guy was going to protect you, even though he thought you were going to eliminate him with the others?” Miles looked impressed. “I’m glad he’s got your back. I’m really worried that your characters are a genuine danger now.”
“Me, too. How I wish Dragon was still here!”
* * *
Dragon stood there for a long time, gaping at the Great Wyrm. Finally she stated rather than asked, “You are . . . me.”
The Great Wyrm chuckled, but gave Dragon a look of approval. “Not exactly. I am the Dragon about whom Mistress Writer wrote. You are an image of sorts, a shadow, an echo, a memory of the real me.”
Dragon frowned, trying to wrap her mind around this. Finally she shook her head and brought the conversation back. “You said time may be shorter than I know. How do you know this? And how can you help me?”
Dragon’s counterpart raised an eyebrow. “I know because I am a Great Wyrm. And I can not help you.”
“But you must!”
“Only the historian’s apprentice can give you the information about the items he sent through the conduit. You must seek him out.”
“Where will I find him?”
“You will have to figure that out. Have you not read the manuscripts?”
“Then you do have a problem.”
Dragon roared and scorched the nearby trees with her dragonfire as the Great Wyrm leapt up and flew off. After a few seconds of the useless tantrum, Dragon took to the air and followed the other creature.
The Great Wyrm slowed her flight, allowing Dragon to catch up. The two flew in silence, side by side, over the great expanse of desert. They passed over the magnificent royal city, and a multitude of tiny encampments and oases in a sea of sand. After many hours, a mountain chain rose in front of them. The two beasts swooped down and landed in a small clearing in a pine forest atop a mountain peak.
“Does not any of this look familiar?” The Wyrm sounded impatient.
Dragon shook her head. “The only mountain I remember was on an island.”
The Wyrm frowned. “Then I really can not help you.”
Before Dragon could take another breath, she found herself alone in the clearing. She blinked and looked around. Where did she go?
“Be ye lost, beastie?”
Dragon whirled around and faced the speaker, a stout dwarf with a ruddy face, red hair and twinkling, emerald-green eyes.
“I am.” She eyed the dwarf with a mix of caution and curiosity.
“Where be ye wantin’ ta be?”
“I need to find someone.”
The dwarf tilted his head. After a few seconds, he snorted. “Whale, be ye gonna give me a clue?”
“Who be it ye be needin’ ta find?”
“I do not know, exactly.”
The dwarf shook his head and chuckled. “Whale, what do ye be knowin’, exactly?”
“The person I seek is an apprentice to a renowned historian.”
The dwarf nodded. He turned and started to walk away. Dragon sat there, befuddled. The dwarf had gone halfway across the clearing when he called back over his shoulder. “Be ye commin’, beastie?”
“Do you know the person I seek?”
“I would na be at all surprised, beastie. Now step lively!”
* * *
Can the Old Dwarf protect Mistress Writer and Master Miles? Will the strange dwarf help Dragon find the historian’s apprentice and get some answers? Be sure to come back next week and see. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.