Miles and I were sitting at the kitchen table, along with my characters. The mood was somber. Most of us were just pushing our breakfast around on our plates. The only ones exhibiting a hearty appetite were my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter. The rest of us were having a hard time choking anything down.
Miles put down his fork and sighed. “It’s just not the same without her here. I never thought I’d miss her threatening to char my shoes with my feet still in them, or the way she ripped up the carpeting when she was writhing around, scratching her back.”
My husband was referring to Dragon, who had disappeared from the conference room more than two weeks ago, along with her companion, the Great Wyrm.
Sorceress wiped a tear from her cheek. “We have to accept the fact that Dragon might not be coming back.”
Cleric choked back a sob. “We must have faith! She will return. She will!”
My Young Hero nodded, and patted Cleric’s arm. “Yes, Dragon will return, I am sure of it! She is powerful and resourceful. She can overcome any danger.”
My Gypsy sighed and shook his head. “It is all well and good to have faith, but we must also be realistic. We have no idea where she is. We know not if she left willingly or was taken by someone who, for all we know, could be even more powerful and more resourceful than Dragon.”
“I say good riddance to the big lizard.” My Arrogant One stuck his nose in the air and busied himself flicking imaginary lint from the sleeve of his robe.
My Old Dwarf jumped from his chair, practically snarling at the elf, and brandishing his war axe. “Ye be wantin’ ta be eatin’ yer teeth fer mornin’ meal?”
“Enough!” My glare encompassed my Old Dwarf as well as my Arrogant One, but my warning was for the elf. “In case you’ve been living under a rock or something and haven’t noticed, the rest of us consider Dragon a dear friend. Your remark is both offensive and in very poor taste.”
My Arrogant One assumed an injured air. My Old Dwarf continued to stand there for several long, tense minutes, glowering at the elf and slapping the flat of his axe against the palm of his hand. Finally, he lowered his weapon and wandered off, dejectedly, towards the stairs.
As soon as he was out of earshot, my Bounty Hunter snorted. “Any bets on where the old fool is heading? He checks that conference room a dozen times a day. He really believes that creature will return.”
“And you don’t think she will?” My Foreman assessed my Bounty Hunter through narrowed eyes. “Do you know something the rest of us don’t?”
“No, but it is as the Gypsy said. We need to be realistic. Who knows what caused her disappearance? She may have decided to stay with that other creature, the Great Wyrm, wherever she resides. Or she may be trapped somewhere, or even dead. We need to get over it and move on.”
My Young Hero jumped to his feet. His fists were balled at his side, his face was red and blotchy, and his voice cracked as he yelled at my Bounty Hunter. “One does not just get over the loss of a friend! If there is any chance at all she is still alive, we need to search for her and try to rescue her! There must be something we can – -”
Whatever more my Young Hero was about to say was lost in the sound of running feet and shouting. My Old Dwarf came racing back up the stairs, whooping and bellowing at the top of his voice. “She be back! Er’ybody! Dragon be back! Tha big beastie be back!”
For a few moments, we all froze in stunned silence, staring at the dwarf. Then we all jumped up and stampeded to the conference room.
“What happened to you?” “Are you okay?” “Where have you been?” “Where is the Great Wyrm?” “Welcome home!” Everyone was talking at once, and Dragon appeared quite overwhelmed. Her eyes opened wide, she backed away from us, and dark smoke spewed from her snout.
Immediately my Old Dwarf pushed his way through the crowd, placing himself between us and Dragon. He stood facing the group with his feet apart, brandishing his war axe, protecting his friend. “Do na any o ye be havin’ the sense ye be born wit? The big beastie been through a great ordeal! She be needin’ ta be restin’ so’s she kin be recuperatin’! Ye kin all be seein’ ’er later. Now ye best be skedaddlin’!”
When we did not move quickly enough, the old reprobate punctuated his demand with a swipe of his axe, scattering those closest to him and Dragon.
Before anyone could get hurt, I started grabbing my characters by the arm and herding them toward the door. “My Old Dwarf’s right. Dragon needs her rest. She’ll let us know when she’s feeling better.”
There were a lot of protests and muttering, but finally only three of us remained in the conference room with Dragon – Miles, me, and my Old Dwarf. But the dwarf did not relent. Scowling, he raised his axe again. “I be meanin’ the two o ye, too!”
Miles yelped and headed for the door, but I grabbed his arm and pulled him back. I stood my ground and glared at my Old Dwarf. “No, you don’t mean us. We will stay and talk to Dragon. You can go and guard the door.”
Slowly, the dwarf lowered his weapon. All the color drained from his normally ruddy face. “Nay, lass! Tha lastest time I be guardin’ thet door, the big beastie been disappeared. I do na be makin’ thet mistake agin. Iffin I be guardin’ ’er, I be stayin’ right here, in the very room wit ’er, where I kin be keepin’ me eye right on ’er. I do na be losin’ ’er agin!”
I smiled and placed my hand on his arm. “All right, old friend. You can stay.”
I turned toward Dragon, who was still cringing next to her illusory fireplace. Her eyes were still wide and the tip of her tail was twitching. I spoke to her in my most soothing tone. “Dragon? It is good to see you again, my friend.”
Getting no response, I moved slowly toward the creature, stopping just a few feet from her. “Can you tell us what happened? You have been gone for more than two weeks.”
Slowly relaxing, Dragon tilted her head and scratched her chin, as if trying to remember. “I am afraid I can remember nothing. I was unaware that I had been gone until that silly old dwarf welcomed me home while flinging himself at me and trying to wrap my tail in a bear hug. I awoke here this morning, curled up next to my fireplace, but I could not seem to remember how I had gotten here. As I tried to remember, things got more and more confused. I have so many images swimming through my brain, and I can not make sense of them. I see people I do not know, and places with which I am not familiar.” She stood there, palms up, shrugging and shaking her head.
I nodded. “It could be you have suffered a great physical or emotional trauma that has caused a problem with your short-term memory. It is equally possible that your recent memory has been suppressed through magical means.”
Dragon snorted. “It would take a remarkably powerful magic user to do that.”
Miles and I exchanged worried glances across the room.
“You know something.” Dragon’s eyes narrowed.
I nodded. “You have recently been in the company of a creature whose magical power is far greater than your own; someone who could have easily altered with your memory.”
Dragon’s jaw dropped.
Miles cleared his throat. He took a few cautious steps closer to me and Dragon and spoke softly. “Don’t worry, she was a friend. She wouldn’t have done anything to harm you. If she is responsible for your loss of memory, I’m sure she has done it to protect you.”
I sighed. “You will probably hear all about it from the others, so I might as well tell you. Do you remember trying to discover and remove the source of the tension and conflict among all my characters?”
Dragon frowned. She started to shake her head, but paused. “Yes . . . yes, I think I do.”
“Well, in the course of your investigation, you were aided by another Dragon, the Great Wyrm. Although the others are unaware of her origins, I can tell you – she is from the world about which I wrote in the manuscripts . . . the manuscripts from which you and the others have fallen.”
“The world we characters have always referred to as our world?”
“Yes, that world. Although you confirmed that that world is not your world, not really. Your world exists only in the pages of my manuscripts.”
Dragon stared at me for a very long time. Finally, she nodded. “So, were the Great Wyrm and I successful? Has the source of the tension and conflict been identified and removed?”
“I would say you were most successful, although I don’t know the details of your accomplishment. I only know the conflict has ended, the objects you suspected of being the cause of the hex are gone, and everyone is back to normal. We all owe the two of you a great debt. The disputes here had reached a critical level, and it would not have been long before the other characters would have inflicted serious physical harm – maybe even fatal injuries – to each other, or to Miles and me.”
“Then I am grateful for the help the Great Wyrm provided me.” Dragon sighed, then yawned widely. “Whatever adventures I have had, I fear they have left me devoid of energy. Might I excuse myself? I am in need of a long sleep.”
Miles and I smiled at Dragon, and I nodded. “Of course. We will talk again, when you are feeling better. My Old Dwarf will remain and watch over you. He will see that you are not disturbed.”
* * *
Several days later, Dragon still had not sorted out her memories of recent events, but there would be time for that later. Now, we were gathered in the kitchen for dinner. Miles placed the last serving platter on the groaning sideboard, and took his place at the table. I looked around at everyone seated there, and cleared my throat.
“Today is Thanksgiving, a day traditionally set aside to give thanks for the bounty and blessings of the past year. Since those of us at this table are of various religions, and worship different deities, I suggest a departure from the traditional prayer before meals that Miles and I usually say. Instead, why doesn’t each person take a turn to state briefly what they are most thankful for this year?”
The silence was deafening. All my characters looked at me as if I had asked them to dance naked on the table.
“Okay, good. I’ll start.” I paused to gather my thoughts.
“Nay, lass. I be startin’.” My Old Dwarf rose and looked around the table before continuing. “This Thanksgiving, I be most grateful for the safe return o our friend, Dragon.”
At the other end of the table, Dragon blushed deeply.
“Asides from thet, I be grateful for the roof o’er me head, the food in me belly, and the kind lass and her lad who do na be kickin’ us oot, in spite o the way we al’ays be disruptin’ their lives and causin’ ’em problems.”
Around the table, many heads were nodding.
“Hear, hear!” My Young Hero stood up. “I think you have spoken what is in each of our hearts today.”
“Good! I be savin’ ye all tha trouble o sayin’ it! Now kin we be getting’ ta the food already?”
I laughed as everyone grabbed their plates and took them to the sideboard to fill. While the others started eating right away, Miles and I joined hands, bowed our heads, and quietly said grace. Listening to the laughter and good cheer around the dinner table, I realized we had a lot to be thankful for.
One of the things for which I am most grateful is a husband who understands my writing process, and is such a good sport that he willingly participates in it. Another thing for which I am grateful is you, dear readers. I hope you will continue to share our adventures and misadventures. We’ll always leave the porch light on for you.