First Nature Hike of the Spring

First Nature Hike of the Spring

Dragon reading to ClericI was on my way to the laundry room to see if the last load I had put in the washer was finished yet. The door to the conference room was open, and I saw Dragon leaning on her reading stand, discussing the contents of a book with Cleric.

I entered the room, and they both looked up. “Interesting reading?”

Dragon shook her head. “Very dry, Mistress.”

Cleric sighed. “We are still attempting to understand what happened last week, when everyone, save Dragon and myself, and you and Master Miles, were struck down by some mysterious malady. Dragon was consulting some ancient tomes.”

“Unfortunately, they have not yielded a single clue to the nature of the illness, nor to its source. And I still cannot discern why the four of us were the only ones not affected.” Dragon snorted a puff of black smoke. “It is very frustrating.”

I nodded. “I imagine so. Still, everyone has recovered from the illness and its effects. Is it important to research it now, after the fact?”

Dragon frowned. “If we are to avoid such a calamity in future, we need to understand what happened and why. I keep hoping I will find some reference to a similar situation in one of these historical records.”

Elf facing rightCleric rubbed her temples and sighed heavily. “I grow weary of all this research. I think what we all need is a diversion. Mistress, perhaps you and Master Miles could organize an outing for us? It has been a very long, cold winter, and you have taken very few nature photos. Now, spring is finally upon us. A good nature hike would be most enjoyable.”

I smiled and nodded. “That’s a great idea, but it’s a bit late in the day for that now. Perhaps we could go first thing tomorrow morning. Why don’t you see if anyone else is interested?”

“I will find everyone right now and ask them!” Cleric skipped out of the room, humming happily.

Dragon frowned. “I hope you do not mind, Mistress, but I will . . . what is that idiom you use? I will take a storm coupon?”

I smiled at Dragon’s attempt to use a modern phrase. “I think you mean a rain check.”Dragon with smoke bubbles

“Of course.” Obviously embarrassed, Dragon morphed to a pale blue, and smoke bubbles dripped from her snout. “Rain check. I will take a rain check.”

“You don’t want to go on an outing, now that the temperature doesn’t have you huddled in front of your illusory fireplace?”

“I think it best if I continue my research, Mistress. I really do fear an illness such as we just encountered could again befall us. I need to understand where it originated, and why only some were affected.”

I shrugged. “Very well, but if you change your mind, you know we would love to have you join us.”Elf

An hour later, I was folding the laundry I had just removed from the dryer. Cleric entered the laundry room, scuffing her feet and wearing a dejected expression.

I put down the sheet I was folding. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh, nobody wants to go on the outing tomorrow. Your Foreman and the lads want to work their horses. They say they have not been able to do that all winter. Sorceress and Dragon want to work on the mystery of the recent illness. Your Old Dwarf just wants to stay home and polish his armor. I got the impression your Bounty Hunter was interested, but your Arrogant One just snorted at the idea of going on a nature hike, and you know the one would not go without the other.”

I sighed. “Miles has other plans, too. So, I guess it’s just you and me!”

Cleric blinked. “You would take me, even if the others do not come?”

I smiled. “Of course! You are the only one who can get the wildlife to pose for me, so I can take pictures!”

I don’t think Cleric’s smile could possibly get any wider. “What time do we leave?”

                                                               * * *

The next morning, I was up early, but Cleric was already waiting for me. I saw she had discarded her clerical robes in favor of a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, and she had replaced her sandals with a pair of comfortable sneakers. I nodded my approval at her outfit. “You look all set for a nice, long hike.”

“Oh, I am, Mistress. I hope we see a lot of birds and animals.”camera for blog

I grabbed my camera, kissed Miles goodbye, and off we went.

“Where are we going?”

“Well, I thought we’d start at Carver Park Reserve, then go to Purgatory Creek Park.”

“Have I ever been to either of those places?”

“I don’t remember, but don’t worry. I’m pretty sure you’ll like them.”

Ten minutes later, we pulled into the parking lot at the entrance to Carver Park Reserve.

“Look, Mistress! Those birds walking in that field are almost as tall as me! What are they?”

Grabbing my camera, I replied “Sandhill Cranes!” I snapped a few quick shots before the birds disappeared into thicker vegetation.

 

Cleric looked disappointed that the birds didn’t stay longer, but a flutter of movement caught her attention. In a moment, she was skipping over to see some Tree Swallows. One was on top of a nest box, the other watching from a tree. “Here, Mistress! They will pose for you!”

I hardly had time to photograph those birds when Cleric was squealing in delight. “Mistress! These pretty blue birds here will also pose for you!”

“Great! I didn’t realize the Eastern Bluebirds were nesting already.”

“And look, Mistress! I remember this bird from last year – a Yellow-rumped Warbler! You told me they were also called Butter Butts.”

The bird in question didn’t seem pleased with that moniker and refused to show that part of his anatomy for which he was named. He only posed for one quick photo before flitting off in search of food.

“Here’s a White-throated Sparrow!” Cleric smiled, obviously pleased she remembered the identity of another bird we had seen last year.

Carver Park Reserve 066

As I took the sparrow’s picture, Cleric wandered over to the nearby pond. “Oh, look, Mistress!”

I followed her over and saw her engaged in conversation with a muskrat. I took a few photos of him before he made a face at me. Cleric laughed. “I think he said that he is tired of posing and wants to get back to his breakfast.”

Leaving Carver Park Reserve, we drove to Purgatory Creek Park. As we pulled into the parking lot, I explained to Cleric, “I would like to get pictures of the waterfowl here.”

“I will attempt to get them to pose for you, Mistress.”

As we walked around the water’s edge, Cleric pointed to a group of strange looking birds. “What are those? I have never seen anything like them before!”

“Those are Horned Grebe.” She called them over and I snapped a few shots.

“Look! A goose!”

I turned toward the Canada Goose Cleric was approaching. She got it to pose for a beautiful shot with a nice reflection in the water, and then a close-up. “Thanks! That was great!”

As we walked along the water’s edge, Cleric coaxed more birds to come close to us. I snapped a few more photos, identifying the birds for Cleric.

“That’s a male Ring-necked Duck.”

Purgatory Creek and Spring Peeper Meadow 102

“And there’s another Ring-necked Duck with a male Ruddy Duck.”

Purgatory Creek and Spring Peeper Meadow 103

“There’s a pair of Ruddy Ducks.”

Purgatory Creek and Spring Peeper Meadow 142

“What are those different ducks in with the Ring-necked Ducks, Mistress?”

I looked where Cleric was pointing, and took a quick snapshot as I explained, “The one with the blue bill is a Lesser Scaup. The one with the brownish head and white eye-ring is the female Ring-necked Duck.”

Purgatory Creek and Spring Peeper Meadow 107

We continued hiking for the next several hours, snapping pictures of many of the waterfowl in the park.

We saw a pair of the Lesser Scaup, and Cleric called them over. She tilted her head as she looked at them. “So that’s what the female looks like.”

We saw some Pied-billed Grebes.

We saw several Mallards.

Then we came upon a group of American Coots.

“Look at their feet!” Cleric pointed and giggled.

Snapping several shots, I explained, “They have lobed feet. Their toes have stiff scale-covered flaps that help them kick through the water when swimming. When they’re walking, the scales fold back to help them move unimpeded over uneven land or through aquatic vegetation.”

Coot feet

After taking the last photo of the American Coots, we walked back to the parking lot. Suddenly, Cleric stopped short and I almost ran right into her. “Mistress, look!”

There, on a streetlamp, was an immature Bald Eagle. It had some branches in its talons and was trying to arrange them on the light.

“Is that eagle building a nest? There?

I shook my head. “It’s probably just practicing. This bird doesn’t have the full white head and tail of an adult, so it’s not yet of breeding age.”

“Well, I think this one needs a lot of practice!” Cleric giggled as the vegetation slipped off the lamp, and the Bald Eagle started preening itself as if embarrassed. Then, it turned its head as if to ignore us.

 

As we headed back home, Cleric was all smiles. “I really enjoy these nature walks. Can we go again soon, Mistress?”

“We’ll see. I hate to make any promises. We never know what might happen.”
 

Be sure to come back next week and see if things remain calm and peaceful so we can go on another outing, or if my characters will land us in some new adventure. We’ll leave the porch light on for you!

Jest Aboot In Time Fer Dinner

Jest Aboot In Time Fer Dinner

Dwarf!Dwarf and Dragon

As Dragon watched her friend start to topple over, the color drained from her scales. She stared, her reptilian eyes bulging, her mouth open wide.

Dwarf!” She screamed again as she leaped to catch him. The huge beast held her diminutive friend tenderly, and she gently lowered him to the floor next to the others. “Oh, Dwarf!” Choking sobs wracked her massive body as she carefully positioned a pillow under her friend’s head and placed a blanket over him.

Cleric raced over, but she stopped short as Dragon snarled at her.

Dragon!” I glared at the large beast as I moved quickly between her and the gentle healer.

Dragon with smoke bubblesDragon immediately ducked her head, and her color morphed to a washed-out blue. Smoke bubbles dripped from her nose, as often happens when Dragon is embarrassed or confused. “I am sorry. I do not know what came over me. Please, Cleric, draw near and attend the dwarf.”

I kept an eye on Dragon as I addressed Cleric. “Were you able to prepare the healing herbs you need?”

Cleric nodded. Her face was flushed, and she looked warily at Dragon. “Sorceress had just placed everything on the table for me, right before she collapsed.”Table set for spellcasting“Then please, administer your herbs.” Dragon’s voice cracked with emotion as she looked down at my Old Dwarf, prone at her feet. “Please.” She mouthed the word as her voice failed her.
Arrogant One and Bounty Hunter
I pointed to my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter. “You will start with those who were first to fall ill.”
 

Dragon breathing fireWhat?” Dragon turned red. Her head shot up, she glared at me, and she snarled again. Cleric and I jumped from the path of the flames that shot from the beast’s maw. “The Dwarf will be treated first!” Dragon’s voice was a deep growl, and there was a feral glint in her reptilian eyes.

“No. The afflicted will be treated in the order in which they fell ill.” I put as much steel into my words as I could muster. I squared my shoulders and stared at Dragon. I stood my ground as she advanced on me, and I never broke eye contact with her. I knew the bond she shared with my Old Dwarf was a deep one, one I could never fully understand, but I could not allow Dragon to place the welfare of her friend above that of the others.

Dragon and me 2She closed the distance between us in two steps. She stood, towering over me, growling and spewing thick clouds of black smoke. I did not back down. Finally, Dragon grew quiet. She turned, her shoulders slumping, and I saw a single teardrop trickle down her cheek.

“You are right, of course. Forgive me. I know the others have been ill longer and are in more immediate need of aid.”

Cleric still looked wary, and she turned to me. “Mistress?”

“Start with the elf and his cohort. They were the first to succumb to the illness, and we do not even know how long they have been comatose. When they were found unconscious in the shed, by my Foreman and the lads, there was no way to determine when they had become ill.”

Cleric nodded. She took some of the healing herbs she had prepared with the help of her friend, Sorceress, who herself was now among the afflicted. She moved to the end of the row of still forms, knelt, and began.

Dragon watched Cleric as the priestess administered the curative herbs and offered healing prayers over each of their unconscious comrades. It was a slow, painstaking process, and Dragon started pacing as she waited for Cleric to finally reach my Old Dwarf. Dark smoke drifted from her muzzle, and she clasped and unclasped her clawed hands.

6 comatose charactersCleric worked slowly and methodically along the line of my comatose characters. After ministering to my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One, she moved on to my Young Hero. Finishing with him, she attended my Foreman, then Sorceress. Finally, she moved on to my Old Dwarf.

Gypsy close-upDragon moved closer, watching Cleric’s every move. Just as Cleric was about to begin administering the herbs to my Old Dwarf, my husband entered the room. He was carrying the limp form of my Gypsy. “We just finished preparing the broth and had placed it on the stove to simmer when he collapsed.”

“Place him here, next to my Old Dwarf.” I grabbed a pillow and placed it on the floor as Miles gently lowered the youth, then I covered the lad with a blanket.

Cleric and Dragon gaped at the latest victim, then turned to me. I saw the fear in their faces. Their eyes were round as saucers, and their chins both trembled.Elf facing right

Cleric blurted, “We are the only ones left. What happens if we also succumb to this malady?”

I frowned and raked my hand through my hair. “What did someone recently tell you, when you faced another adversity? Have faith?

Cleric nodded uncertainly. She chewed her lower lip and furrowed her brow.

“So, have faith and continue administering the herbs.” I turned to Miles. “Do you know how long the broth needs to simmer?”

“The Gypsy said he was not sure, but it would be obvious. He said we would see a distinct change in the color and consistency.”

“Then you go up and continue to watch the broth. I’ll join you in a few minutes.”

Miles dashed off, taking the stairs two at a time.

Cleric looked at me again. After a long few moments, she nodded, straightened her robes, and squared her shoulders. She took a deep breath and continued administering her healing herbs and praying over my Old Dwarf.

Dragon hovered over Cleric. When she saw the warning look on my face, she ducked her head again, and resumed pacing, smoke drifting from her nose, and hands clasping and unclasping. After a few moments, I felt certain that she would pose no further threat to Cleric. I slipped out of the room and went upstairs to the kitchen.

Easter 128Miles looked up as I entered the room. “How’s it going down there?”

I sighed and shook my head. “There have been no results yet. None of the patients have regained consciousness yet.”

Miles frowned. “How do you propose we get broth down the throats of the unconscious without choking them to death?”

I dragged my hand through my hair and shrugged my shoulders. “I guess we’ll worry about that when the time comes. Right now, I’m more worried what’s going to happen if my last two characters keel over.”

Miles took the lid off the stock pot and gave the contents a stir. “Honey, have you given any thought to what happens if we get sick?”

“I try not to think about that possibility.”

My husband replaced the lid and turned to me, frowning. “We don’t even know what’s causing the illness.”

I nodded, but before I could say anything, Miles continued. “It’s obviously something contagious. What happens if we catch it, too?”

I took his hand and tried to calm him. “We can only hope that we’re immune to it, that it just affects my characters because they are not from this world. Either that or we hope the healing herbs and the broth prove effective in curing the illness before we also need to be treated.”

“That doesn’t give a lot of hope, does it?” Miles sighed again.

I gave my husband’s hand a squeeze. “No, it doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean we throw in the towel. I’m going back downstairs and see what’s happening. Bring the broth when you think it’s ready.”

Miles nodded, and I headed once more for the conference room.

When I entered the conference room, Dragon was weeping over her friend, my Old Dwarf. I looked at Cleric. “Is he . . .?”

“No, he is not dead. But he is no better. None of them are.” She hung her head. “I have failed.”

stock pot“Let’s try some of this.” Miles walked in, carrying the stock pot and a big spoon.

“Are you sure it’s ready?” I looked at him dubiously. “That seems awfully quick.”

“Well, the pot full of thick, muddy-brown broth, chock full of veggies and mushrooms and I don’t know what else, is now a bright, clear, golden-colored liquid with absolutely nothing in it. The Gypsy lad said it would change color and consistency. I am assuming this is what he was referring to.”

I nodded. “Let’s see if we can get a few drops down each patient’s throat without them choking. Cleric, do you have an eyedropper?”

“Yes, Mistress. You gave Sorceress and me a few when last we were working with our potions.”

administering medsWe started with my Bounty Hunter. Miles got him into a seated position, I gently opened his mouth, and Cleric placed a few drops of broth on the back of his tongue, letting it trickle down his throat. After a few seconds, I noticed a reflex swallow. “Well, he’s not choking.”

“He’s not waking up, either.” Miles sighed. “I wonder how much we need to give him.”

“I don’t know. Let’s see how much he’ll take.” I opened his mouth again.

Ten minutes and two teaspoonfuls later, my Bounty Hunter had not revived. We moved on to my Arrogant One, then to each of the others. We were able to get about the same amount of broth down each person’s throat, but it did nothing to resuscitate them.

“Should we start again and give them each a second dose?” Miles looked at me wearily, his brow furrowed, a scowl tugging at the corners of his mouth.

I shrugged and raked my hand through my hair. “We might as well.”

But the second dose did nothing, nor did the third or fourth.

“We’re not doing any good.” Miles heaved a huge sigh. “I’m ready to throw in the towel.”

Dragon breathing smoke“No!” Dragon gaped at us and dark smoke poured from her snout. “You must save the dwarf! You must save all of them!”

“We have tried everything we can think of.” Cleric looked at her friend through red-rimmed eyes. “My ministrations have failed. The Gypsy’s broth has failed. What more can we do?”

“I do not know.” Dragon lowered her eyes. “I only know we must do something.”

“Well, we’d be happy to entertain any notion you might come up with.” I sat down wearily next to my husband. “But if the efforts of a cleric, and the grandson of a village wise woman, together were not enough to revive the victims of this illness, I don’t know what will.”

Dragon holding dwarfDragon looked devastated. She walked over to my Old Dwarf and gently picked him up. She held him tenderly and wept. The huge teardrops splashed down on the diminutive figure in her arms. Suddenly, the dwarf was squirming around and sputtering. “Wot be ye thinkin’? Ye be puttin’ me down, ye big beastie! And ye be stoppin’ alla this wailin’! I do na be no fishie! I do na be breathin’ under water! Ye be gonna drownded me wit all yer tears!”

Dwarf!

Dragon’s mouth dropped open as she looked at the squirming figure. She was so startled, she almost dropped her friend, then hugged him so tight, I thought she might crush him.

“Dragon! Dragon! Put him down. Now!” I raced across the room.

My Old Dwarf gave a mighty push and squirmed out of her arms, falling to the floor and landing on his head.

“Ye be tryin’ yer best ta kilt me here, beastie!” The old reprobate jumped to his feet and glared at Dragon, who was beside herself with joy to see her friend alive and well.

Dragon was so happy, she shrunk to the size of a bird and flew around the room, whooping and trilling. Finally, she stopped, landed in front of my Old Dwarf, assumed her former size, and gave him another hug.Dwarf and Dragon 2

“Ye consarned beastie! Ye be puttin’ me down right this minute!” Only the twinkle in his eye belied my Old Dwarf’s annoyance with Dragon.

I took my Old Dwarf by the arm and led him to a chair. “It’s good to see you on your feet again!”

“Eh, ye can na be keepin’ a good dwarf down.” He grinned.

“I only wish the others had your fortitude and constitution.” I nodded toward the others, all still comatose.comatose characters including my Gypsy

My Old Dwarf scowled. He furrowed his brow and scratched his chin. “Mebbe it do na be havin’ so much ta do wit me constitution as it be havin’ ta do with the beastie’s tears.”

“What?” I tilted my head and stared at my Old Dwarf. “What do you mean?”

“Where tha big beastie’s tears be splushin’ down on me, I be feelin’ all warm an’ tingly-like. Thet be wakin’ me outten me sleep.”

Miles jumped up. “Of course! In some folklore accounts, dragon tears have remarkable powers to heal and restore, even to bring people back from the threshold of death.”

Miles and Dragon 2Dragon bent her neck and thrust her face at Miles, so she was almost nose to nose with him. “And you could not have remembered that earlier this day?” Her toothy smile was anything but pleasant.

Miles jumped back, sputtering.

“I should think you would have known the power of your own tears.” I raised an eyebrow at Dragon, as I placed a hand on my husband’s arm and pulled him to safety next to me.

“Well, I did not. I do not imagine I had learned that yet, by the time you wrote of me in your books, the books from which I, and your other characters, fell into this world.”

“So’s ye be knowin’ now, beastie. So’s ye best be gittin’ ta work and be wakin’ tha others.” My Old Dwarf poked Dragon’s leg and beckoned her to start.

“Yes, you need to see if you can revive the others!” Cleric gave her large friend an encouraging smile.

Dragon looked at me. “Even the annoying elf and his cohort?”

I chuckled. “Yes, even them.”

Dragon grimaced in reply but did not argue. She went to the far end of the room and started with my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One. She had great difficulty shedding enough tears over the two of them to resuscitate them.

Arrogant One and DwarfMy Arrogant One started screeching as soon as he awoke, yelling at everyone, and blaming everyone for his predicament. His voice kept getting higher and higher, until it reached his usual glass-shattering tone. At that point, my Old Dwarf stomped up to him. “Iffin ye do na be wantin’ a relapse, elfie, ye best be shuttin’ yer pie-hole.”

The annoying elf yelped and jumped behind my Bounty Hunter. He peeked at my Old Dwarf, but kept his mouth clamped shut.

It took only minutes more for Dragon to awaken the rest of my characters. Once awake, everyone started talking at once. The din became almost unbearable.

Finally, my Old Dwarf whistled shrilly. All conversation halted immediately, and everyone turned to face him.

“I do na be knowin’ aboot the rest o ye, but being unconscious be givin’ me a grea’ big ap-o-tite! An’ by my figgerin’ we be awake jest about in time fer dinner!” My Old Dwarf patted his belly and scooted up the stairs toward the kitchen, leaving the rest of us following in his wake.Dwarf

Well, it’s good to have all my characters up and well again. I wonder if we’ll ever know what caused the illness in the first place, or why Dragon, Cleric, Miles, and I never fell ill. Be sure to join us again next week. Who knows what new adventures await, or what new mischief my characters might initiate? Whatever lies ahead, we’d love to have you join us, and bring some friends! We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Fixtures Light Elegant Lighting Fixture And Supply Company Intended For Front Porch Light Fixtures Front Porch Light Fixtures

What Next?

What Next?

“Noooooo!”

Shock and anguish registered on my Gypsy’s face. His eyes were wide, and his mouth hung open. He stood for a moment, rooted in place by fear. Then he raced to the side of his best friend, my Young Hero, now slumped over in a chair, unconscious. My Gypsy grabbed his friend by his shoulders and shook him, at first gently, then with more force. “Wake up! You must wake up!” His voice cracked with emotion.

dwarf-facing-right“Nay, laddie, yer fren’ be beyon’ hearin’ right now. Ye mus’ be gittin’ ta be cookin’ thet broth ye be tellin’ aboot. An’ tha lassie wot kin be healin’ be needin’ ta be gittin’ ’er herbs. Thet be tha best way ta be helpin’ ’em now.” My Old Dwarf gently pulled my Gypsy away from the limp form of his comatose friend.

scaly dragon looking right“The dwarf is right.” Dragon lifted my Young Hero from the chair and placed him gently on the floor, near her illusory fireplace. “You and Cleric must go now with Mistress Writer and Master Miles to get the items needed for healing the victims of this illness. Sorceress, the foreman, the dwarf, and I will do our best to make the boy and the others as comfortable as possible while you are gone.”

Stu-04-NatGalSorceress nodded as she positioned a pillow under my Young Hero’s head and covered his brow with a cloth. She carefully placed a blanket over him, gently tucking it around him. Then she stood up and made small shooing motions at us. “Time is of the essence. Go.”

My Foreman gently shepherded us out of the room. He clasped my Gypsy’s shoulders and looked him in the eye. “I vow we will do everything we can for him while you are gone.” They stood there for a long minute, neither one seeming to want to turn away. Finally, my Foreman released his young friend and turned to the rest of us. His eyes shone wet with unshed tears, and he spoke in a hoarse whisper, barely able to choke out the words. “Hurry. Please hurry.”

 

My Foreman went back into the conference room, leaving the four of us in the hallway. I looked at my two characters, one in her clerical robes, and the other in his medieval garb, and spoke sternly. “You need to change into acceptable, modern clothing and do it quickly. Miles and I will meet you in the garage.”

They nodded and raced up the stairs.

I turned to Miles. “I need a minute on the computer to find someplace nearby where I might purchase the herbs Cleric needs.” I started trotting down the hallway to my office, but Miles stopped me.

“Wait! What about that great organic farm right off the main highway on the way out of town?”

I frowned and scratched my head, then brightened as I remembered the place of which my husband spoke. “That’s right! They had an impressive variety of herbs!”

We turned and headed up the stairs toward the garage. “I hope your Gypsy doesn’t need anything too exotic for this broth. I’m hoping we can find everything at the supermarket right here in town.”

“If he can’t find what he needs there, try the same farm you just mentioned. And don’t forget that store we were in a few weeks ago. They deal mainly in exotic and ethnic fruit and vegetables, but they also had an entire section of heritage produce.”

Miles nodded. We heard footsteps on the stairs and looked up. Cleric and my Gypsy, in the modern clothing they wore for outings, raced down the steps. In a few moments, Cleric and I were in my beat-up old clunker, driving toward the organic farm, and Miles and my Gypsy were in my husband’s sedan, heading in the opposite direction.

going to the store

* * *

Cleric and I were heading back home within the hour. As Cleric looked over our purchases, she smiled. “Mistress, we must plan to revisit that shop someday, and take Sorceress and your Gypsy! I was amazed at their selection of herbs and botanicals, and the proprietress was extremely well versed in herbal medicine!”

As soon as we arrived home, we immediately took the cache of herbs to the conference room. Sorceress ushered Cleric to a private alcove where the two women could prepare the herbs and other components to be used in Cleric’s healing spells.


3 characters sickI checked on the victims of the illness. There was no change. The three figures were still in front of the fireplace. Dragon shook her head and whispered to me. “They are still very shallow of breath, pale and cold as death.”

foreman-facing-leftMy Foreman kept pacing around the great room. Every time he passed by my Young Hero, he faltered. He stared at the youngster with tears in his eyes, and his chin trembled. He looked over at Cleric and Sorceress. “How long does it take to prepare a few healing herbs?” Before they could answer, he turned back to me. “And what could be keeping Master Miles and your Gypsy? Should they not be back by now?” He looked down at my Young Hero once more, and then resumed pacing.

Several tense hours passed, full of pacing and impatient outbursts. Finally, I finally heard the car pulling into the garage. I ran upstairs.

“Help us get this into the kitchen.” Miles made his way in from the garage with an armful of bags from various stores.

I relieved Miles of several bags. “What took so long?”

Miles grimaced. “We had to go to seven stores to get everything, and they were spread all over two counties.” He sighed. “And still your Gypsy couldn’t find exactly what he needed. He is hoping the substitutions we found will work.”

My Gypsy, his arms full of bags as well, glanced down the stairs toward the conference room. “How is he?” The lad turned toward me, fear showing plainly in his face.

“There has been no change.”

“I need to see him.”

“You need to prepare this broth!” I placed my hand on his arm. “Everything that can be done is being done. Sorceress is helping Cleric prepare her healing herbs, and Dragon, my Old Dwarf, and my Foreman are keeping my Young Hero and the other two comfortable.”

My Gypsy looked as if he were going to argue. Then his shoulders slumped, and he heaved a huge sigh. “You are right, of course. Let us prepare the broth.”

VeggiesThe three of us hauled the heavy grocery bags into the kitchen and laid them on the table. My husband walked toward the pantry. “You two should take everything out of the bags and organize it. I’ll find the big stock pots and get them ready.”

Once I had helped empty the grocery sacks, I slipped back down to the conference room, leaving Miles and my Gypsy to do the cooking.

“What happened? I was only gone a few minutes!” I stared at the figures on the floor by the hearth. There had been three when I left. Now there were five.

5 characters sick“Get some more blankets!” Dragon pointed to the pile of blankets in an open cupboard on the other side of the room. I grabbed some and placed them over the pale, still forms of Sorceress and my Foreman, as Dragon placed pillows beneath their heads.

“It be happenin’ so sudden-like.” My Old Dwarf spoke softly, as he held Cleric and tried to comfort her. “One minute, tha Foreman be talkin’ and pacin’ around; tha next, he be puttin’ ’is hand on ’is head, he be turnin’ white as a ghostie, and then he be fallin’ down. An’ tha magic lass, she be helping this lass wit ’er herbs. She be bringin’ a bunch o vials an’ flasks ta tha table, and barely be gittin’’em situated when she be topplin’ o’er.”

Dragon stood up from examining the latest victims. “They are just like the others – pale, cold, shallow respiration. I do not know what could be causing this.”

“Tha Gypsy laddie had best be hurryin’ wit thet broth o ’is. An’ lassie, you best be gittin’ ta applyin’ yer healin’ herbs . . .”

In the middle of his sentence, every bit of color drained from my Old Dwarf’s face. He gave me a strange look, as if I had just said something he could not understand. Then he stiffened, spun around, and just keeled over.

dwarf

What is happening? What is the source of this malady? Will Cleric’s healing herbs and my Gypsy’s special broth be able to cure their fellow characters? Will anyone else succumb to this illness? Be sure to join us again next week, as we race against time to save the ill and protect the healthy. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Are They Dead?

Are They Dead?

Miles was just placing the last platter on the table when I dashed into the kitchen. I gave my husband a quick kiss on the cheek and an apologetic look for having overslept. I drooled when I saw all the tasty breakfast fare he was serving up. Then I sighed loudly and reached into the refrigerator for my container of fat-free yogurt.

Dwarf's breakfast

My Old Dwarf’s plate was already overflowing with flapjacks, eggs, hash browns, ham, bacon, and sausages, and he was stuffing his pouch full of muffins by the time my other characters had taken their seats.Arrogant One and Bounty Hunter

I looked at the two empty chairs across the table from me. “Has anyone seen my Arrogant One or my Bounty Hunter? This is the third meal in a row they’ve missed, and I don’t remember seeing them anywhere around the house recently.”

My Old Dwarf scowled and replied around a huge mouthful of food. “Eh, donabecoplanin’’as. Disbeda mos’pe’able it e’er be et a meal . . .”

Everyone stared at him.

“Could you repeat that in somewhat more understandable syllables?” I raised an eyebrow at the old reprobate.Dwarf facing right

He swallowed several times, choking down about half the food in his mouth. “I be sayin’ do na be complainin’, lass! This be the most peaceable it e’er be et a meal! Asides, I be very doubtful the two o ’em be starvin’ iffin they be missin’ a few meals.”

mens-991728_1280My Foreman chuckled. “I would have to agree with the dwarf. Encounters with that annoying elf and his cohort are never pleasant, and it has been nice not to have to deal with them at mealtime. And I am sure they are not going hungry. They have probably been raiding the refrigerator when no one has been looking.”

“Agreed, but that’s not the point. It isn’t just the fact that they’ve missed a few meals. Has anyone seen them anywhere in the past few days?” I looked at those seated around the table. Everyone was shrugging and shaking their heads. By their expressions, it was obvious no one shared my concern.

I frowned. “Well, if anyone should run into them, let me know. I always worry when those two disappear for any length of time. I never know what they might be up to.”

Everyone nodded.

As an afterthought, I added, “And will someone please check and see if they ever cleaned out the shed after we returned Mystery to her owner? For a little horse, she left behind a lot of mess.”

 

Dragon with smokeAt the far end of the table, Dragon snorted, and smoke drifted from her snout. “Someone else will have to check the shed. I am not going outside in this abominable weather. It is snowing again! I will be in front of my fireplace until the weather shows sense enough to match the season. According to the calendar, it is supposed to be spring!”

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress nodded, frowning. “I do not know how anyone can stand the weather in this place. By this time of year, Cleric and I should be out collecting botanicals and other spell components.”Elf

Cleric also glared at the snow falling outside the window. “This really is most disheartening. I believe I will accompany Dragon and share the warmth of her hearth this day.”

A trio of melodramatic sighs erupted from my Forman and the two lads. My Young Hero rolled his eyes at Dragon, Sorceress, and Cleric. “Very well.” He sighed again. “The three of us hardy souls will brave the weather and check the shed after breakfast. We have to check on our horses anyway, and the shed is only steps from the barn.” My Gypsy and my Foreman nodded in agreement, grinning as they teased their friends.

 

* * *

Miles and I were cleaning up after breakfast. The door in the other room crashed open and someone yelled. I dropped my dishtowel, and Miles and I dashed to the living room.

My Foreman was carrying my Bounty Hunter in from the deck while my Gypsy and my Young Hero struggled with my Arrogant One.

 

 

 

“We found them in the shed.” My Foreman dropped my Bounty Hunter onto the sofa.

The two lads deposited my Arrogant One onto the recliner and my Gypsy slammed the door shut behind them.

“Are they dead?” I stared at the two seemingly lifeless bodies.

My Foreman shook his head. “Unconscious.” He looked about. “Where is Cleric? We have need of her healing skills.”

“I think she’s in the conference room with Dragon and Sorceress. I’ll get her.” My husband took off at a dead run.

Moments later, Miles returned with Cleric. Sorceress and Dragon were right on their heels.

Cleric’s eyes flew wide when she saw the two comatose figures. “By the goddess! What happened?”

“We do not know, milady.” My Foreman eased my Bounty Hunter out of his jacket and tugged off his boots. He motioned for the lads to do the same for my Arrogant One. “We found them unconscious in the shed. We do not know how long they have been this way, nor do we have any clue to the cause of their affliction.”

Elf facing rightCleric leaned over my Bounty Hunter and studied him. She felt his forehead, took his hand in hers and turned it over, then examined his feet. She repeated the procedure with my Arrogant One, assessing his condition. She looked at me and shrugged. “Though they are both breathing, their breathing is shallow. Both are cold to the touch but show no signs of frostbite on either fingers or toes. Neither seems feverish.”

“Can you cure them with your healing herbs?” My Young Hero’s brow was furrowed in concern.

Cleric bit her lower lip and wrung her hands. “I do not know. First, we must determine the cause of their condition. Is it grounded in the physical, or in the realm of magic?”

Sorceress placed her hand on Cleric’s shoulder. “We will do our best to provide the answers you need.”

Cleric nodded and smiled appreciatively.

Sorceress addressed my Gypsy. “You and I will have to examine the shed for any clues, including any traces of magic.” Turning to the others, she gestured to my Foreman and my Young Hero. “The elf and his cohort must be taken to the conference room, where they can be warmed by Dragon’s fireplace. You should get the dwarf to help you.”

“I can give them a hand.” Miles started to move forward, but Sorceress blocked his path. “No, Master Miles! You and Mistress Writer must not touch those two until we determine if their illness is contagious.”

“I never thought of that.” Miles looked at me, wide-eyed, and put his arm around my shoulder, drawing me away from the two figures.

Sorceress started to turn back to the others when she saw my Old Dwarf enter the room. “Dwarf, you will assist the Foreman and the Young Hero.”

“Eh? Wot be goin’ on? I was jus’ headin’ ta the kitchen fer a wee snack.”

“We require some muscle to get these two down to the conference room. They seem to have taken ill.”

My Old Dwarf walked over and looked at the two figures lying there, both pale as death. Without a further word, he nodded and hefted my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One. The rotund dwarf trotted off to the conference room, one comatose figure under each arm. Cleric, my Foreman, and my Young Hero followed along.

Sorceress turned back toward Dragon. “Dragon, be sure to take their jackets and boots downstairs as well. You must examine the two of them and their clothing carefully for any sign they may have been victim of a magical attack . . . or a magical mishap, if the Arrogant One was attempting any spell beyond his power.”

Dragon nodded. She gathered the items and took them down to the conference room.

Sorceress and my Gypsy went out to investigate the shed. Sorceress returned to the house after just a few minutes. “The Gypsy lad and I found the remains of some food. I need vials and jars to collect samples for testing.”

“Testing?” Miles wrinkled his brow. “You suspect they’ve been poisoned?”

“We must overlook nothing in our search for the cause of their malady.”

The rest of the day passed in a blur. Miles and I hovered at the periphery of the activity as my characters investigated the cause and nature of the affliction suffered by my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter.
Sorceress and my Gypsy set up their equipment at one end of the huge conference room. “We found only slight traces of magic in the shed.” Sorceress spoke as she prepared the food samples for testing. “They were consistent with the Arrogant One’s practice of the art of illusion.”

 

Dragon, still examining the comatose figures at the other end of the long room, nodded. “That is the only trace magic I have found on either of them, or on their clothing.”

Sorceress crossed her arms in front of her and tilted her head. “That means their condition is most likely not the result of magical attack.”

My Gypsy frowned. “Unless a magical attack was mounted by someone with power and skill surpassing even Dragon, that no trace would remain.”

“There is no one on this world whose power surpasses mine.” Dragon grumbled, and a small cloud of black smoke drifted from her snout.

strange-dreams“Unless they are not from this world.” Gypsy rubbed the back of his neck. “It would not be the first time someone traveled a magical path to this world from some other one.”

“Unless we find evidence of that, we should assume there was no magical attack.” Dragon continued to grumble and the smoke from her nostrils grew darker. “I also believe we can rule out magical mishap from one of the elf’s spells gone awry. If that were the case, the trace magic would be stronger.”

Sorceress and my Gypsy nodded. “Let us see what we can discover.”

They performed numerous tests on the food they had recovered from the shed. Everyone waited with bated breath as the two of them finished the last test and turned to the group. “There is no evidence of poison.” Sorceress looked downcast as she gave that pronouncement.

“That’s good news, isn’t it?” I tilted my head and looked at the magic user.

“Not necessarily, Mistress. Depending on the poison, finding a cure could be very simple, and we would most likely be able to start on a treatment relatively quickly. Now, we still do not know what we are dealing with, nor how to eradicate it.”

Miles rubbed his chin and looked at me. “I don’t suppose we could just call for an ambulance and have them taken to the hospital?”

I raised my eyebrows and shook my head. “I don’t think that would end well. Talk about your undocumented immigrants! How would we explain those two to the authorities?”

dragonsong 2As the day wore on, my characters narrowed down the possibilities. By late afternoon, Dragon was able to summarize their findings. “Lack of bruising suggests it was not a violent attack, nor a traumatic accident. Testing of the food suggests it was most likely not poison. The ghastly weather and frigid cold all but eliminate the possibility of insect bite or snake venom. Examination of trace magic, both in the shed and on the victims and their personal effects, rules out magical attack or mishap.”

Dragon paused and looked at the others to see if anyone had anything to add. When no one spoke up, she turned to face Cleric. “That seems to leave only ailments of a medical nature, some illness that has struck them down. That puts it in your hands.”

Elf facing right“Then I should prepare the healing herbs.” Cleric bit her lower lip and fingered the cord belt of her clerical robes. “I only hope I have enough. This interminable winter has prevented me from collecting the necessary botanicals and other supplies I need. Our occasional colds and stomach ailments have greatly depleted my reserves.”

I furrowed my brow and rubbed the back of my neck. “I’m not certain, but I believe there may be several farms and stores in the area that deal in medicinal herbs. I can research it online and if one is close enough, perhaps we can restock your supplies there.”

Cleric beamed at me and clasped her hands. “Oh, that would be wonderful!”

gypsy-facing-rightMy Gypsy raked his hand through his hair and spoke hesitantly to Cleric. “Please do not think I am trying to intrude in your area of expertise, but perhaps I can help as well. As you know, my Grandmother was the village witch, their wise woman. She taught me a recipe for a broth with great healing powers. Perhaps, together with whatever herbs you can procure . . .”

He didn’t have to finish. Cleric took his hands and smiled warmly. “I would appreciate your help very much! I just hope your broth and my herbs will be enough to cure our companions.”

Miles addressed my Gypsy. “I suppose you and I can make a quick trip to the supermarket and get whatever you need for your broth.”

“Thank you, Master Miles. That would be most helpful.”

Dragon cleared her throat. “The four of you had best make haste. I fear the malady is spreading.”

We all looked over to where Dragon was pointing. My Young Hero was slumped over in his chair, his eyes rolling back into his head.

Young Hero passing out

What is causing this illness? Will it continue to spread? Will Cleric and my Gypsy be able to cure their fellow characters? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Living Room Nature Photography on a Winter’s Day

Living Room Nature Photography on a Winter’s Day

I walked into the living room, intending to catch up on some reading. I had downloaded Jean Rabe’s new book onto my laptop and was planning to stretch out in the recliner for a few hours and immerse myself in her latest mystery, The Bone Shroud.

Dragon in front of fireplace

On the far side of the room, Dragon was huddled by her illusory fireplace, a brooding expression on her reptilian face.

I tilted my head and raised an eyebrow at her. “A penny for your thoughts.”

Dragon looked up at me, and the corners of her mouth twitched for the briefest of moments. “Forsooth, I am not certain you would receive any value for your coin.”

“Oh?” I wasn’t sure if I should press for details. After Dragon remained silent for a few minutes, I took my seat by the French doors leading to the deck. “You seem troubled, my friend. You know if you want to talk about anything . . .”Dragon with smoke bubbles

“Perhaps . . . at some time in the future.” Smoke bubbles dribbled out of Dragon’s nose. “Right now, I must attempt to make sense of things on my own.”

“What sort of things?”

Dragon discussing thingsDragon sat up, tilted her head, and gestured with her clawed hand. “You know the snow devils accused me of capturing them in a magical conduit that I and another of my kind had created, and through which we were traveling. Their words awakened in me a jumble of memories.” Dragon turned her head away, staring off into space. “I need time to sort through the vague, fragmented recollections and murky images swirling through my mind like smoke in the wind.”

 

I nodded.

Dragon turned back to face me. “But, in time, I am sure we will have need of a discussion of this matter. Meanwhile . . .” The big beast glared at the scene outside the window. “Will winter never end this year?” She shivered violently and huddled closer to the heat of her illusory fireplace.

Dragon in front of fireplace

Elf facing rightSomeone else spoke up. I was so startled, I almost dropped my laptop. Cleric had been so quiet, I had walked right past her and not even noticed her sitting on the sofa.

 

“It had been such a pleasant day when we took Mystery . . . I mean Peaches . . . back to her owner.” Cleric heaved an enormous sigh. “Even with the snow still deep in some spots along the road, the day was warm, the sun was shining, and the birds were singing their spring songs. Today . . .” She wrinkled her nose as she gestured at the snow and sleet falling softly onto the deck. “Today, it is miserable once again.”

“That’s the capricious nature of the weather in Minnesnowta in spring.” I looked out the window. “The birds and squirrels don’t seem bothered by it, though.”

Cleric clasped her hands and gave me a hopeful look. “That is a good sign, is it not, Mistress? Perhaps they know this abominable weather will not last long.”

“Perhaps.” I smiled.

“We should follow the example of the wild creatures.” Cleric walked over and studied the scene outside. “We should not be moping about.”

“Speak for yourself.” Dragon growled softly, and smoke drifted from her snout. “I am most happy to mope.”

Smoke drifting from Dragon's snout

laptopI chuckled. “Well, I, for one, wasn’t planning on moping. I was planning on reading.” I gestured to my laptop.

“Would you not rather take pictures of the birds and creatures today, Mistress?” Seeing the look of alarm on my face, Cleric was quick to reassure me. “You would not have to go outside. You could stay right here where it is warm and dry and take the pictures through the windows. I daresay I could coax the little animals close enough for you.” She looked at me with pleading eyes.

camera for blogI considered Cleric’s request. I knew how much she was missing the little horse we had dubbed Mystery. She had just made a hard-won connection with the horse right before having to return Mystery to her owner. I capitulated, thinking it might help distract Cleric from thoughts of the horse. “Very well. I will get my camera. You do what you do best and convince the critters to pose for me.”

By the time I had returned with my camera, Cleric was coaxing some birds onto the deck. I got a great shot of one of the birds on the deck railing, scattering the snow.

2 - Junco

“That is a Dark-eyed Junco, is it not, Mistress?”

I nodded. “They’re winter residents here. If they’re still here, so is winter.”

Cleric squinted. “What does he have around his beak?”

I looked. “I think he has some hulls from the safflower seeds he was eating stuck to his beak.”

“Look, Mistress, he has turned around and he is looking at us. I think he wants you to take another picture.”

The delight in Cleric’s voice was contagious, and I found myself smiling broadly as I took several more pictures of the little bird as it dropped down to eat some of the seed from the “birdie buffet” on the deck.

“Here comes a Black-capped Chickadee.” Cleric furrowed her brow. “I seem to remember seeing them here in summer as well.”

“Yup. They’re year-round residents in Minnesota. They’re rather friendly little birds. They don’t seem bothered by people taking their picture.” This one posed for several photos on the railing before proceeding to the buffet.

“And here comes one of my favorite year-round residents – a White-breasted Nuthatch.” Cleric was smiling and pointing again.

I quickly focused my camera and got a great close-up of the nuthatch on the railing.

11 - Nuthatch

“Bleh!” Dragon seemed unimpressed.

“You do not like the birds?” Cleric sounded shocked.

Dragon snorted. “Black and white birds? Pfft. They are all just like this day – dreary. Can you not find some birds with color?”

Cleric bristled. “They most certainly are not dreary! They are handsome little birds, and quite elegant.”

Dragon rolled her eyes.

Cleric sighed. “Very well, if you must have colorful birds, I will see what I can find.”

A moment later, Cleric had beckoned a Blue Jay to pose on the railing. “Do you like that one better?”13 - Blue Jay

“It certainly has more color.” Dragon shrank to the size of a housecat and perched on the back of the couch to look out the window, promptly scaring off the Blue Jay before I could get more than a single photo. “Are there any more?”

Dragon birdwatching
Cleric scanned the yard. “I see a male Northern Cardinal. Let me see if I can coax him nearer.”

A few seconds later, the bird was posing on the railing, perching in the spot the Blue Jay had just vacated.

14a - Male Cardinal

“Now, that is a beauty!” Dragon nodded appreciatively.

“There is his mate, in that tree.”

Dragon and I both looked where Cleric pointed. The female cardinal, a brown bird tinged with subdued shades of red, huddled on a bare branch.

“Not as brilliant as her mate, she is nonetheless possessed of a delicate beauty all her own.” Cleric tried to coax the female cardinal closer, but to no avail.

14 - Female Cardinal

“She looks cold.” The heat-loving beast sounded sympathetic to the plight of the shivering bird. Dragon craned her neck and continued to stare at the tree. “What is that bird on the left side of the tree trunk?”

Cleric took a look at the bird. “That is a male Red-bellied Woodpecker.”

“Red-bellied? Do you not mean red-headed?” Dragon watched the bird drilling into the tree.

Cleric giggled. “That’s what I said to the Gypsy lad when he first showed me this bird. But he told me that it does have a faint red splotch on its belly which you can see when the bird’s feathers are not so puffed up.”

I quickly focused on the bird Dragon had seen and clicked the shutter.

16 - Red-bellied Woodpecker

“Hmmm. You seem to have learned a great deal about birds from the Gypsy lad and Mistress Writer. What is this one that has just landed in the snow on the deck?”

Cleric’s face glowed at Dragon’s compliment, and she quickly identified the bird in question. “That is a male House Finch. His song is as beautiful as his appearance, a long, jumbled warble that can be heard year-round, not just during the mating season. And the bird that just landed on the railing is an American Tree Sparrow. See the bi-colored bill and the rusty line through its eye?”

 

I took a few quick photos before the birds scooted to the far end of the deck. I looked at the other end of the deck, and saw a gray squirrel scrambling up the steps. The furry critter grabbed a hazelnut and climbed onto the railing to eat, eyeing us brazenly.

“The cold and snow certainly do not seem to be bothering him.” Cleric waved at the little creature.

I laughed. “If I had a nice, thick fur coat like that, and a warm tail to wrap up in, I doubt I would mind the cold and the snow, either!” I laughed as I snapped two photos of the little furball.

Suddenly, the birds scattered and the squirrel dropped his hazelnut and dashed from the deck.

Dragon blinked. “What happened?”

“I think that happened.” I pointed at a Sharp-shinned Hawk in the tree. He was eyeing the birdie buffet to see if he could grab a quick lunch.

“Oh, my goodness. I do believe he brought some company!” Cleric pointed to some other birds in a tree at the far end of the yard.

“What are they?” Dragon stretched up to see the newcomers.

“Well, two of them are Bald Eagles. I do not recognize the third one.” Cleric turned to me. “Mistress, can you see what it is from here?”

“Let me zoom in on it with my camera.” I took a shot, then looked at it on the camera’s display screen. “It appears to be a juvenile Bald Eagle.”

27 - Juvenile Bald Eagle

Dragon frowned. “It does not have as much white on its head as the other two.”

I nodded. “Bald Eagles do not get their full color – the white head and tail – until they are about five years of age.”

“I see.” Cleric looked around the yard, but the eagles and hawk were the only animals remaining. “Well, I guess the photo session is over.” She sighed wistfully.

“I guess so.” I put the lens cap back on my camera and put the camera down. “It was a lot of fun while it lasted, though. I’m glad you suggested it.” I picked up my laptop. “Now, though, I’m going to read that book.”

Cleric smiled. “I will leave you to it, then. I really should go find Sorceress. We need to work on distilling some potions today.”

Dragon yawned. “And I will go back to moping.” She winked at me as she once again curled up by her illusory fireplace.

I settled into the recliner and started reading: The Bone Shroud by Jean Rabe . . .

reading

 

 
It’s nice to enjoy a quiet, uneventful day occasionally. Around here, they are few and far between. We hope you will continue to visit each week and see what my characters are up to. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.