“Who said that?” Cleric’s eyes darted wildly about the barn, seeking the source of the voice.
Dragon’s tail lashed and her brow furrowed. “It looked as if Mystery spoke, but the words did not come from the horse’s mouth. I heard them in my mind, not in my ears.”
The snow devils were buzzing and whirring. We heard it as well. One of you must have thought it.
“I have no telepathic power.” Cleric’s voice was muffled as she continued to search for the source of the voice, poking behind bales of hay and sacks of grain, and peering into every dark corner.
Then it must have been you, creature.
“It was not. Although I do possess telepathic power, I did not suggest having faith. Since I have no idea how to open the conduit and return you to your world, I have not sufficient faith at the moment to recommend it to others.”
“Well someone must have thought it. We all heard the same words within our minds. It could not be anyone’s imagination.” Cleric finished looking around the barn and returned to stand next to Mystery. She frowned as she stroked the small horse. “Since I see no one else in the barn with us, it must have been one of us.”
The snow devils buzzed loudly, conversing among themselves. One separated from the group and hovered in front of Cleric. When it addressed Cleric, its voice was respectful, a marked change from the belligerence and insistence previously coloring the voices of the snow devils. You, servant of the horse goddess, are one of faith. Perhaps you thought it, and somehow our own telepathic powers allowed us to hear your words in our minds.
Cleric blushed. “I did not think it. I am afraid my faith is not as great as you believe.”
But . . . but you serve a deity! To do so, you must have great faith!
Cleric turned deeper red and lowered her eyes. She fidgeted with her robes and scuffed one foot back and forth. When she finally spoke, her voice cracked with emotion. “I may serve a goddess, but . . . but I have disappointed her often. I have been disobedient, and . . . and I have been arrogant enough to believe I knew better than the one I purport to serve.” Cleric swallowed hard before tossing her head and looking up at the snow devils. “I am the last one of us who would admonish others to have faith.” A tear ran down her cheek as she turned away and buried her face in Mystery’s soft mane.
Dragon quickly shapeshifted, shimmering as she took on her customary guise of an elf maiden. She placed her arm around her friend’s shoulder. “That happened a long time ago, back during the events in our world which Mistress Writer chronicled in her books. I daresay the one you serve has forgiven you by now. I allow that you should forgive yourself as well.”
The snow devils huddled once more, humming, murmuring and whirring. Finally, one of the creatures swooped down closer to Cleric and Dragon. The two companions heard a callous voice in their minds. It matters not who said it; nor does your situation matter. We must focus on the task at hand.
Another of the miniature snow spouts dropped down and nudged the first one out of the way. It hovered directly in front of Dragon and Cleric. Its words were gentler. Do not think ill of us. Your failure to serve faithfully is distressful, and we do have compassion for your situation. However, our condition is becoming critical. We must return to our own world. If we do not, we will perish for sure.
Cleric nodded. She wiped the tears from her face and straightened her robes. “Dragon, we must find a way to locate their world and open the passageway, so they may return.”
And you must do it now!
“But how?” Dragon threw her hands up in despair. “If I knew how to locate your world, I might be able to create a conduit. But how do I find your world?”
As Dragon, Cleric, and the snow devils looked about once more for the source of the voice, the barn door opened. “Wale, there ye be! It be gittin’ late, an’ I be thinkin’ ye might be wantin’ some vittles.”
The Old Dwarf pulled a turkey leg and a ham from his pouch and plopped them onto a bale of hay. “Ye’ll be wantin’ summat ta drink, too.” He kept rummaging through his pouch.
What is this? The voice was full of suspicion.
“He is our friend.” Cleric frowned, and her eyes flashed a warning at the snow devils. “Do not threaten him.”
“Huh? Be ye sayin’ summat, lass?” The Old Dwarf looked up and noticed the snow devils, now buzzing and droning loudly. He yelped and brandished his war axe. He stepped between the miniature snownadoes and his friends. “Do na be gittin’ any closer, ye swirly demons!”
Dragon grabbed the dwarf’s arm. “No! They are not demons! They are not from our world, and they mean us no harm!”
The old warrior slowly lowered his axe. He narrowed his eyes and glared at the snow devils for a few minutes. He scratched his bearded chin and turned to Dragon. “Ye be sure, beastie? They do na be dangerous?”
“They pose no danger. They seek only to return to their own world before they succumb to our rising temperatures.” Dragon raked her hand through her thick hair and sighed.
“Wale, how be it they be here in this world?” The dwarf tilted his head and studied the whirling columns of snow and ice.
“They were inadvertently caught up in a magical conduit, a conduit that I and another were traveling through.” Dragon bit her lower lip. “But the conduit was collapsed, and I do not know how to recreate it, nor how to find their world.”
“Jest be axin’ the other beastie.” The dwarf reached over and picked up the ham. He sliced a chunk of it and popped it in his mouth.
“I would, but the other one of my kind is no longer present in this world. With the conduit gone, I do not know how to contact her.”
“Yup. Thet be good advice.”
“You heard that voice?” Cleric gaped at the dwarf.
“O’ course I heerd it, lass! Wot, ye be thinkin’ I be deef?”
“But the words were not spoken. Dragon and I, along with the snow devils, have heard the voice telepathically, in our minds.”
The dwarf snorted. “Wale, mebbe ye be hearin’ voices in yer head, but I heerd it wit me ears. An’ it be plenny loud.”
Mystery whinnied and bobbed her head up and down.
“Aye, the little beastie be agreein’ – she musta heerd it, too.”
It matters not who said it, nor who or what heard it, nor even how it was heard. What matters is finding a way for us to return to our world! Swiftly! If the other creature is the only one who might know the way, then you must contact her. The voice keened with desperation.
“But I have already told you, that is impossible.” Dragon’s shoulders slumped.
“Hah!” The dwarf snorted.
Dragon turned toward the dwarf. “What?”
“Ye never did be one ta be givin’ up, beastie.”
“I have never faced such an impossible task before.”
“Oh?” The dwarf’s eyes widened, but the corners of his lips twitched in amusement. “Ye be shockin’ me, beastie! I dinna be thinkin’ yer kind be havin’ such short rememberies.”
Dragon glared at the dwarf, but her anger waned swiftly. “You are right, my friend. We have all faced some impossible situations, have we not? And we triumphed.”
Cleric nodded in agreement and squeezed Dragon’s hand.
The Old Dwarf grinned. “Aye, ye al’ays be commin’ outten ahead causin ye be usin’ wot be atween yer ears. An ye do na be listenin’ ta anyone wot be sayin’ ye can na be succeedin’.”
This time, the words settled softly in the minds of Dragon and Cleric like a warm embrace. The two friends looked at each other.
“What paraphernalia do we need to create a magical conduit?” Cleric looked at Dragon, her eyes shining, her mouth set in a determined line.
The Old Dwarf smiled warmly at the two companions, then slipped quietly out the door, leaving them to their work.
* * *
It was after dark. Miles and I were sitting at the kitchen table, having a late-night conversation with my Old Dwarf. We heard the French doors in the living room opening, and the sound of someone stepping in from the deck. A few minutes later, Dragon and Cleric stumbled into the room. Dragon was still in her guise of an elf maiden, and she and Cleric were hanging on each other, trying not to fall.
I jumped up when I saw them. “Sit down! You both look exhausted!”
Cleric and Dragon collapsed onto chairs on opposite sides of the table, facing each other.
Miles scurried to the refrigerator. “I’ll get you some dinner.”
“No, thank you, Master Miles. We are just too exhausted to even think about food.”
“Wot? How kin anyone be thet exhausted, thet they do na be wantin’ food?” My Old Dwarf gaped at Dragon and Cleric.
“Are you sure? Maybe some broth?”
“Nothing, really. But thank you.” Cleric tried to smile but seemed incapable of even that much effort.
“Here, lass, drink this. Ye, too, beastie.” My Old Dwarf poured them each a mug of his potent dwarven spirits.
“Oh, no, I cannot drink this!” Cleric looked aghast.
“Do na be arguin’! Ye be needin’ summat ta put the fire back in ye.”
Cleric sipped the ale and made a face. “Oh, that is horrible!”
Dragon downed her mug in a single gulp. “But it does the job.” She nodded her thanks to my Old Dwarf.
I sat down next to Dragon. “Do you feel strong enough now to tell us what happened? Are the snow devils still in the barn with Mystery?”
“I can talk now. We have seen the snow devils safely back to their own world. After their hold on Mystery was severed, we returned the little horse to the shed for the night. She was sound asleep when we left.”
Cleric smiled. “The snow devils told us they abducted her from a stable a few miles down the road. You should be able to contact the owner and return Mystery in the morning.”
I gave the two companions an admiring look. “Wow! How did you manage to get the snow devils home?”
Cleric choked down another sip of ale. “We had faith, Mistress.” She and Dragon smiled and exchanged knowing looks.
“Thanks to you, my friend.” Dragon patted my Old Dwarf on his shoulder.
“Huh? Wot be ye talkin’ aboot?”
“The encouragement you gave us in the barn was most helpful.” Cleric placed her hand over his and smiled warmly.
“I be thinkin’ ye both be imaginatin’ thin’s. I do na be near thet barn all day.”
Dragon and Cleric gawked at him. “What do you mean? You were the one who told us . . .”
“I dinna be tellin’ ye nuttin’, beastie. I do na be knowin’ wot ye be talkin’ aboot. Likens I be sayin’, I be here wit the lass and ’er lad all day.”
Dragon and Cleric looked at each other, wide eyed. “Then who . . .?”
The words settled gently in their minds like a warm embrace.
Will Dragon and Cleric ever find out whose voice it was that told them to have faith? Will they ever learn who was in the barn in the form of my Old Dwarf? Will they ever reveal to me, Mistress Writer, the details of how they facilitated the return of the snow devils to their own world? And will Mistress Writer and Master Miles be able to return Mystery to her owner without being arrested as horse thieves? Be sure to come back and follow the further adventures and misadventures of my characters as they try to exist here, in the real world. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.