“Step lively, now! And be watchin’ yer footin’. There be lotsa loose rocks here aboot what ye can be turnin’ a foot on.” The dwarf looked Dragon up and down. “An’ mayhap ye oughta be shrinkin’ or changin’ yer shape or summat, causin the paths do na be very wide.” Then the dwarf turned and scurried off down the rock-strewn path along the escarpment.
Dragon blinked. The compact figure scooting along the path, beckoning her to follow, seemed exceedingly familiar and more than a bit annoying. She reached out and plucked him from the ground and brought him back next to her.
“Why ye consarned beastie! Ye overgrown lizard! Ye best be lettin’ go o me right quick like!” The dwarf struggled in Dragon’s grasp, squirming and sputtering like a wet hen.
Dragon frowned. “Oh, be still! You have not been harmed.” She blew a small cloud of smoke at him as she released him, sending him into a fit of coughing and cussing.
A smirk tugged at Dragon’s reptilian lips as she watched the rotund figure. He seemed so like her companion, the Old Dwarf, whom she last saw back in the real world – the world in which she and eight other fictional characters who had fallen from the pages of some manuscripts now resided with Mistress Writer and Master Miles. I wonder what they are all doing right now. She sighed deeply, then gave herself a mental shake. No time for wool gathering! I must find and eliminate the cause of the hostility among all of us characters, before we do irreparable damage to each other, or to Mistress Writer and her husband.
She waited until the dwarf stopped choking on the smoke. “Be still, small one! Now tell me, do you know this apprentice historian whom I seek, or no?”
The dwarf rubbed his eyes and sneezed twice, then glared at Dragon. “As I be sayin’, beastie, I would na be at all surprised.”
Dragon growled and smoke curled from her nostrils. “That is not an answer.”
The dwarf jutted his chin and folded his arms across his chest. “O course it be an answer! It be the onlyest answer ye be gittin’ iffin ye be maulin’ me and blowin’ smoke in me face!”
Dragon narrowed her eyes. “Do not vex me! I have not the time for this. Either you know the person I seek or you do not. Which is it?”
The dwarf shrugged. “I be thinkin’ mebbe I be knowin’ ’em, but I also be thinkin’ thet mebbe there be more’n one renowned historian in this world, and more’n one apprentice.” He eyed Dragon defiantly. “Why do na we just go see the apprentice I be thinkin’ ye be talkin’ aboot? Iffin he do na be the right one, mebbe he kin be tellin’ ye where ye can be findin’ others.”
Dragon scratched her head and thought. Seeing no other solution, she nodded. “What race is this apprentice?”
“What nevermind do thet be makin’?”
“Well, I thought to shapeshift, as you suggested, to better fit between the boulders lining the trail. I thought to shapeshift into a form that would be familiar to this apprentice, not intimidating or offensive.” Dragon frowned and tapped her foot impatiently.
“It do na matter what race ye be lookin’ like. The apprentice be used to visitors o many races. What be ye most comfortable changin’ inta?”
“I usually assume the form of an elf.”
The dwarf giggled. “Then, be an elfie!”
Dragon fumed. “I do not see the humor in being an elf.”
“Never said it be funny. Be ye comin’?” The last part of that, he called back over his shoulder as he took off down the trail again.
Dragon growled, but quickly changed into her elven persona and hurried off after the dwarf. The rotund figure scampered nimbly through the rocks, and the ersatz elf maiden had to work hard to catch up. For someone with such short legs, he certainly can move quickly!
As Dragon rounded a sharp bend in the trail, she almost fell over the dwarf, who was waiting for her in the middle of the path. “I be thinkin’ I losted ye there!” The dwarf’s eyes twinkled with merriment, and elf maiden Dragon studied him with curiosity as she caught her breath.
“I do not believe we have been properly introduced. My name is . . .”
“Eh, do na bother ta be tellin’ me yer name, beastie. I probably couldna be wrappin’ me mouth around it anywho.”
A frown marred Dragon’s delicate elven features. “So you plan to just continue calling me beastie?”
“Aye.” The dwarf jutted his chin and looked at her defiantly. “Lessens ye be havin’ a preference fer elfie. An’ ye can jest be callin’ me dwarf.”
Dragon arched an eyebrow and regarded the burly figure. “So, dwarf, do you always offer to help strange dragons?”
“Eh, ye do na be so strange. I seed ye with the Great Beastie, and she dinna be battlin’ ye, so’s I be figurin’ ye must be okay.” He started down the trail again at a good trot. “We best be movin’ out. We be havin’ a goodly piece ta go.” He looked back over his shoulder at Dragon. “An’ do be tryin’ ta be keepin’ pace now, beastie. I do na be wantin’ ye ta be gittin’ yerself losted.”
Dragon swiftly followed the dwarf, not allowing him to get too far ahead this time. “How far is it?”
* * *
“How far is it?”
“It’s not far.” I gave my Foreman a sharp look. “Why? Did you have something better planned for today?”
He glared at me. “I do not care to spend a long trip in your undersized vehicle with that pompous elf and his smug cohort.”
“And I’m sure my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter don’t relish the idea of being cooped up in a car with you for any longer than necessary, either.” I crossed my arms over my chest and frowned. “But we are going. All of us.” I looked at my other characters, all standing around muttering. “We leave in fifteen minutes. Be sure you’re in modern attire, and leave all weapons, staffs, wands, and spell components here.” I turned to Sorceress and Cleric. “And I’m sorry, but this time, you will be unable to collect botanicals for your spell components. The place we are going today does not allow visitors to collect any specimens.”
Cleric nodded glumly. “Then I suppose our only purpose in going is to assist you in your wildlife photography.” She sounded resentful.
“No, that is not your only purpose, although I would appreciate any help you care to offer. I just thought everyone enjoyed these outings. We can all relax, and not be on each other’s nerves.”
“An’ there be food, lassies!” My Old Dwarf grinned.
I returned the old reprobate’s smile. “Speaking of which, why don’t you go help Miles pack the food and beverages into the car, so we can leave as soon as possible?”
For someone with such short legs, he certainly can move quickly!
The trip got off to a rocky start, with tempers flaring and unpleasant words being exchanged. Within the first two blocks, Miles had to pull over twice so my characters could switch seats before the verbal bouts could turn physical. But by the time my husband maneuvered the car into a parking space at the nature preserve everyone was relaxed and exchanging friendly banter.
“Where be we settin’ up lunch?”
As soon as Miles pointed to the picnic grove on top of a small rise, my Old Dwarf grabbed one of the coolers from the trunk and scooted away. My Foreman and the two lads took the other coolers and picnic hamper, and Miles grabbed a cardboard box.
Lunch was a relaxed affair. Everyone enjoyed the sandwiches and soft drinks, and the friendly banter that had started in the car continued. Even my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter were joining in the conversations. When everyone had eaten their fill, Miles suggested we enjoy some activities.
“Anyone up for tossing the old pigskin around?”
“Pigskin?” My Young Hero looked intrigued.
“That’s a slang term for a football.” Miles opened the cardboard box he had carried from the car, and took out a football. “We also have a baseball, a volleyball, and some other things.”
“The feetsball be a good one ta toss aboot.” My Old Dwarf picked it up and tried to throw it to my Foreman, but the ball fell way short.
“Here, I’ll show you how to do it.”
As Miles showed my Old Dwarf how to throw a football, some of the other characters grabbed the rest of the equipment. Soon, most of then were engaged in tossing around a ball of some sort.
“Come on, Mistress!” My Gypsy had picked up an old tennis ball and was going to throw it.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll skip the ball games.” I picked up my camera. “I’d like to explore and see what I can photograph today.”
“I think I would like to accompany you.” Cleric blushed. “I always enjoy helping you with the wildlife photos.”
“As do I.” Sorceress joined us.
I smiled and nodded. We waved to the others, and went in search of cooperative wildlife. We didn’t have to look far.
As we followed a well-worn path from the picnic grove, we saw a chipmunk on a small retaining wall, and another one in the field, munching on some berries, and I took a few quick shots.
“Look! There is a tiny bird on that limb.” Cleric pointed.
“It’s a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.”
“I do not see any ruby coloring on its throat.” Cleric’s brow furrowed.
I smiled. “Only the adult males have the red throats.”
“There is another one over there.” Sorceress pointed to a nearby tree.
Cleric used her affinity with the birds to convince both of the hummers to come closer for me to get good images.
“There is another small bird in that tree.” Sorceress pointed at a bird flitting through the branches. “I do not think that one is a hummingbird, though.”
“You’re right. It’s a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. It will never stay still long enough for me to get a photo!”
Cleric smiled. “Of course it will.” But even with Cleric coaxing the bird to sit still, I had but a fraction of a second to snap a picture.
Two flashes of yellow through the leaves caught our attention. I quickly focused my camera. “The larger one is a Yellow Warbler. The smaller one, with the black mask, is a Common Yellowthroat.”
We walked a bit further and Cleric found a Black-capped Chickadee and an Eastern Phoebe. She persuaded both birds to pose nicely for me.
We continued to follow the path toward a small pond.
“Oh, look! There are frogs here.” Sorceress bent down to examine a large, warty, gray and cream amphibian.
I corrected her as I quickly snapped a picture. “That’s a toad. I think it is known as an American Toad.”
“And this one?” Cleric kept her distance as she pointed to a bright green critter with black spots.
“I believe that is a Leopard Frog.”
“What is that slime all over that section of the pond . . . and all over the turtles?” Sorceress wrinkled her nose as she pointed to the other side of the pond.
“That’s not slime. It’s actually vegetation. It’s most likely duckweed, a rather common aquatic vegetation.”
I took a few photos of the turtles and showed Sorceress and Cleric a close-up of the vegetation that covered them.
“Do the turtles eat this?” Sorceress was still wrinkling her nose.
“Oh, look!” Cleric sounded delighted. “Dragonflies and butterflies!”
Sorceress and I laughed as Cleric ran over to the meadow and danced with the insects. When she finished, Cleric helped me get a few pictures, as I tried to identify the creatures for her and Sorceress.
“I believe the small white one is a Summer Azure. I think the yellow butterflies are Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, and the orange one is a Monarch.” I turned my camera toward the dragonflies. “I’m afraid I don’t know the names of these beauties.”
By the time we returned to the picnic grove, Miles and the others had gathered everything up and loaded it back in the car. On the drive home, one by one my characters fell asleep, tired out by a day of fun activity.
“You know this won’t last.” I kept my voice low, so I wouldn’t wake any of my characters. “As soon as we get home, the fighting will start again.”
Miles nodded. “We need to find the root of the problem. It has to be something around the house.”
I heaved a huge sigh. “Dragon is the one who could solve this mystery. I wonder where she is.”
* * *
I wonder where we are. Dragon, still in her guise of an elven maiden, looked around curiously.
As if reading her mind, her dwarven guide spoke. “Wale, we be almost there, beastie.” He grinned broadly.
“Oh? And where, exactly is there?”
Where is Dragon? Is the strange dwarf really taking her to see the historian’s apprentice? And will she find the solution to the problem? Join us next week as we continue this adventure. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.