“Waddaya mean, where be there? The stout figure quirked an eyebrow and stared at Dragon, who was still in her guise of an elven maiden.
“I mean exactly what I said, small one. You stated we were almost there. So, where is there?” The elf frowned and folded her arms over her chest.
“Wale, where be it thet we be goin’?” The dwarf snorted and shook his head. He mumbled something under his breath, but Dragon’s sharp elven ears effortlessly picked it up. An’ I been thinkin’ dragons be smart. Wale, this one hafta been ahind the door when the smarts been handed out!
Dragon ignored the crack, and looked around. Her guide had led her half-way down the mountain into a forested vale. The scent of pine hung heavy in the chill air. The position of the sun, poised to slip behind the towering mountains, told Dragon evening was fast approaching. The two travelers had been trekking for hours without a break. Dragon’s stomach grumbled, reminding her they had not eaten on the trail.
She turned back to the dwarf. “I presume, if you actually are taking me to meet the historian’s apprentice, we are nearing his residence. And none too soon! I weary of walking, and my stomach needs to be filled.” She shimmered, and slowly transformed back to her true self. She grew and lengthened and enlarged until she loomed over the diminutive dwarf. “And if you are not leading me to meet the historian’s apprentice, perhaps you are what will be filling my empty stomach.” Her tail lashed, and smoke poured from her nostrils.
“Eh, do na be gittin’ yer dander up, beastie! The apprentice’s hoose be right through thet line o trees, not a hunnred paces inta the clearin’. Ye kin be sure he be havin’ plenty fer us ta feast on.” The dwarf started walking through the woods, then stopped and turned back toward Dragon. “An’ iffin ye do na be wantin’ ta hafta stick yer head in the winda ta reach the food, mebbe ye oughta be changin’ back ta an elfie.”
Seeing the sense in the dwarf’s suggestion, Dragon complied, shrinking and changing back to the delicately beautiful elven form she favored. Once her transformation was complete, she swiftly moved to catch up with her dwarven guide, who was already trotting off through the woods. By the time she caught up with him, he was rapping on the sturdy wooden door of a small stone hut.
A man opened the door. Dragon noted signs of dwarven heritage in his stocky build, his red hair and beard, and his emerald-green eyes; but the man’s height – at least two full heads taller than her dwarven guide – hinted at some human blood as well.
Before the man could say a word, the dwarf jerked his thumb at Dragon. “The beastie be needin’ ta find an apprentice ta a renowned historian. I be figgerin’ thet might be ye.”
“Beastie?” The man looked at Dragon, taking note of her delicate elven form. He shook his head and spat. “What be wrong wit ye? Be ye blind? Do na ye be callin’ sech a beauteous creature a beastie!”
“Eh, she do na be so beauteous. Thet just be a shape she be changed inta. She be a Wyrm.” He pushed past the man at the door. “It be almost dinnertime. Ye be serving up soon?”
The man studied Dragon for a long moment before turning toward the dwarf, scowling. “I dinna be expectin’ company fer evenin’ meal.”
“Wale, be expectin’ some now.” The dwarf went right to the table and sat, obviously expecting to share the man’s dinner.
Dragon’s scowl mirrored the man’s. She hesitated to enter the cottage, and waited on the threshold. “Please excuse my companion. I do not believe he is in possession of any manners.”
The man waved away Dragon’s apology. “He never been.”
“Well, I do not wish to intrude on your evening meal. I will wait outside.”
The man stared at her. “Ye be here now. Set yerself at table. I be gittin’ some food.” Before Dragon could protest, the man pointed at the dwarf. “Ye do na be thinkin’ thet one’ll be waitin’ without while I be eatin’, now do ye? Iffin I can be makin’ enough for him, I can be makin’ enough fer ye.”
Dragon graciously inclined her head and murmured her thanks. She entered the house, closed the heavy door after her, and took a seat at the table across from the dwarf, near the crackling fire.
The man paused on his way to his larder. Night was fast approaching, and the room was growing dark. The man took a taper and lit it by the fire, then went around the room, lighting all the candles. Before heading for the larder again, he took another look at Dragon. “He be tellin’ true? Ye be a Wyrm, not an elf?”
“He speaks the truth.”
“Wale, then, waddya be eatin’? Meat, or elfie stuff – fruits, nuts, veggie-tables? I be havin’ anythin’ ye be wantin’.”
“I would be honored to share your meal, whatever you were planning to have yourself.”
The man stared some more, then chuckled and turned to the dwarf. “Ye mebbe oughta be spendin’ more time with the likes o her, dwarf. Mebbe some o her manners be rubbin’ off on ye.”
“Ye jest do na be takin’ no nevermind o me manners. I be as mannerful as the next dwarf.” The stout figure looked around the small hut. “Ye be servin’ ale wit the meal?”
The man’s lips twitched. “Wale, I be thinkin’ I be servin’ some elderberry wine. I be figgerin’ it might be more ta the elf’s liken.”
The dwarf almost fell out of his chair. His ruddy face darkened and he placed his fists on the table. “Wine? Wine? Ye best be joshin’! She be a Wyrm, not an elfie, ye numbskull! Ye best be servin’ some good dwarven spirits!”
Dragon and the man exchanged amused looks, their eyes twinkling and their mouths twitching with mirth.
Dragon was impressed with the meal. The man served a roast of some indigenous beast and a medley of roasted root vegetables. Dessert was a fruit compote, more something Dragon would have expected in the home of an elf, or perhaps a human, but never one of dwarven heritage. Both wine and dwarven ale were provided to wash down the meal. Conversation during the meal was almost nonexistent, limited to requests to pass this item or that.
The dwarf ate three times what Dragon and the man together consumed, and washed it down with two large tankards of ale. Finally sated, he pushed his chair back from the table and loosened his belt. A satisfied belch shook the windows of the small cabin. “Wale, I be deliverin’ ye ta the apprentice, jest liken I said, so’s I be goin’ now. Iffin he do na be the one ye be seekin’, he’ll be tellin’ ye whereaboots ye can find some others.” And without a word of thanks to their host, the dwarf left.
Dragon stared after him, then shook her head. She turned back to her host and offered her thanks. “May I help clear the table?”
The man nodded. “It’ll be givin’ us a chance ta conversate. The dwarf said ye be lookin’ fer a historian’s apprentice.”
“Yes. Unfortunately, I know not what apprentice, nor even which historian. I presume there is more than one in this land.”
“There be. I be one o ’em. Apprentice, thet be.”
“Unfortunately, I do not believe you are the one I seek. Judging by your language, you are not the one who wrote the books.”
“Books?” The man’s eyes widened with interest.
“Yes, a series of four books.”
“I mebee the one ye seek. When I be writin’, I be usin’ a different language. I be speakin’ liken the dwarves what I be raised by, but I be writin’ liken the historian what I be teached by. Supposin’ ye be telling me more aboot these books, and what ye be needin’ ta see this apprentice aboot.”
Dragon hesitated, but saw no way to discern if this was the person she sought if she did not confide in him. So she began by explaining all about Mistress Writer, and how Dragon and eight other characters had fallen out of the pages of a manuscript into what Mistress Writer termed the real world.
She explained the discovery of a set of books written by the apprentice to a renowned historian, and four related objects, all of which had been sent through a magical conduit from this world to the real world.
She went on to detail recent events, wherein the characters had become more and more agitated and argumentative among themselves, and how the arguments had begun escalating into physical altercations. “I came here to find the person who sent the books and objects from this world to Mistress Writer. I need to determine if there is any way these books or the four objects that were sent from here are somehow the cause of the problems.”
The man’s brow furrowed, and he chewed his lower lip. Finally he nodded. “I be the apprentice ye seek. I be the one what sended them books ta Mistress Writer’s world, in the hopes thet she be findin’ ’em. But thet be all I sended – jest four books. I never sended them other things.”
Dragon frowned. “Who else knows about the magical conduit?”
The apprentice shrugged. “Lotsa folk be knowin’ the legends aboot the conduit between this world an’ the world o the mysterious scrivener, Mistress Writer. But I do na be knowin’ who else might be findin’ the conduit, or be knowin’ how ta be usin’ it.” The apprentice paused, stroking his beard and furrowing his brow. “Be ye sayin’ it be possible thet someone coulda hexed them objects what be sent from here?”
Dragon nodded. “It is quite possible. However, if they were hexed, it could only have been done by a master magician, someone with power equal to or greater than my own. When I examined the items shortly after they appeared in Mistress Writer’s house, the only magic I found on the horseshoe and the Royal Seal was the trace magic left by the conduit through which they passed. The ring and the talisman had, in addition to the trace from the conduit, the magic inherent to them as enchanted items. No other magic was revealed during my inspection.”
“Then what makes ye be thinkin’ they be hexed?”
“I do not think they are, I wonder if they are.” Noting the blank look on the apprentice’s face, Dragon sighed. “I am trying to prove them the cause of the trouble, or eliminate them as a possibility, since I have not been able to come up with any other plausible reason for the behavior and attitude of all of us characters. The four objects and the set of books were the only new things in Mistress Writer’s home when the trouble began, so it is not unreasonable to assume they are the cause.”
The apprentice nodded.
Dragon tilted her elven head and stroked her pointed chin. “Do you know of anyone in this world . . . particularly anyone expert in magic . . . who might have something against Mistress Writer?”
The apprentice frowned and shrugged. “It be a long, long time since the mysterious scrivener known as Mistress Writer visited this land. Not many alive taday would o knowed her in person.”
Dragon snorted. “Mistress Writer is not that old! Surely most of those about whom she wrote are still alive!”
The apprentice chuckled and shook his head. “The passage o time be different in her real world than it be here. In her world, mebbe it be only a few years since she been here. In this world, heaps o years been passed. Even I dinna be knowin’ ’er in person. It be me gran’ da what knowded ’er.”
Dragon’s jaw dropped open. Not many alive today would have known her? Her friends and companions not alive? The thought hit Dragon hard, and her eyes burned with tears. Suddenly her mind went back to the Great Wyrm, to her future self. That’s why she is . . .I am . . . so much larger and more powerful!
It took several minutes for Dragon to marshal her thoughts and emotions. Finally, she heaved a great sigh. “Then you are most likely correct. There would be no one here with a reason to harm her. I have wasted a trip here.”
“Now, do na be so hasty! I only said there do na be many alive taday who would o knowed her in person. Thet do na be meanin’ no one here would be havin’ reason ta be hurtin’ ’er.”
“It be a long story. Mebee ye be knowin’ the beginnin’ o it, mebee no. Iffin ye be wantin’ ta hear it, I kin spin the yarn fer ye.”
Dragon frowned again. “It has been a long day and a very long trek for me, through more than one world. If I may sleep this night, perhaps you could tell me the story tomorrow.”
What does the apprentice know? Who in that world might want to hurt the mysterious scrivener known as Mistress Writer? Be sure to come back next week and find out. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.