New Allies or New Enemies?

New Allies or New Enemies?

I awoke with a start. I was vaguely aware of voices calling in the distance. “Mistress? Where are you?”

I looked around. The sun was high in the cloudless, azure sky. Baalizhene, the tiny, antlered, child-like creature with gossamer wings, was no longer perched on the branch by my shoulder. The terraced falls and pool in front of me were devoid of the fey folk and fantastic creatures that had been frolicking there in the light of last evening’s full moon.


Dwarf facing right
The shouting was getting louder. I recognized the voice of one of my characters. “Where be ye, lass?” My Old Dwarf was getting closer. I struggled to my feet and started walking toward his voice.

GobschlerkA different voice came from near where I had heard the dwarf. “She no could go far.” That voice, I knew, was that of Gobschlerk, the short, green, trollish creature that served the mermaid, Esmie, the ruler of this realm.

Dyrke“You were supposed to keep watch over Esmie’s guests, Gobschlerk, and guard them from harm.” That voice, the one tinged with a note of reprimand, I knew belonged to another of Esmie’s vassals, Dyrke. He was a man-creature with butterfly wings entwined with tiny branches sprouting from his back. Dyrke stood only about two feet high but he had the commanding presence of one much larger. Blind from birth, Dyrke had been gifted by the wish listeners with an orb that allowed him to see.

Elf facing right“Mistress?” That was Cleric. Her voice quavered with trepidation. “Can you hear us, Mistress?”

“I’m here!” I walked along the path Baalizhene and I had taken the previous evening. The trail seemed much longer than it had then, and the voices I had been hearing must have come from much farther away than they sounded.

I passed a large pool I did not remember from the preceding night’s trek. Dazzling beams of light illuminated a large swan swimming alongside a mermaid. As soon as the mermaid saw me, she smiled and waved. “Hello! Are you the guest who has become lost?”swan and mermaid

“Well, I do not believe I am lost, just separated from the rest of my party.” I smiled at the mermaid, a beautiful creature with golden tresses and scales.

“I am Eloise, Esmie’s daughter and Crown Princess of the realm. This is my friend, King Mēzän.”

I introduced myself and said, “It’s very nice to meet you both.”

swanThe royal swan looked down his beak at me and then turned to Eloise. He startled me by speaking. “Is this the one?”

Eloise nodded.

He turned back toward me and moved his long, graceful neck up and down, taking careful stock of me. “Why do you feel she is worthy of my help?”

The mermaid shrugged. “Baalizhene said so.”

Mēzän snorted. “Baalizhene is a child. She does not possess the experience or wisdom to make such assessments.” He looked at me again. “This one does not appear very bright.”

Eloise raised an eyebrow. “Mēzän! It is not good manners to make such comments about someone standing right in front of you!”

Mēzän snorted again. “I am a king. Manners are irrelevant.”

I ducked my head so Eloise and Mēzän wouldn’t see me chuckle. The royal swan noticed my movement and shook his head. “There is no reason for me to inconvenience myself giving aid to one such as this.”

“Well . . .” Eloise lowered her voice and winked at the swan. “What if I told you my mother would not be pleased if you assisted this one and her companions? What if I told you the wish listeners have forbidden all to give aid to this group?”

The swan squawked a startled laugh. “Your mother would be displeased? And those troublesome creatures that listen for unfortunate wishes have forbidden it?”

Eloise nodded and smiled broadly, a twinkle in her eye.

“You.” The swan king addressed me. “Gather your companions. I will provide you every bit of aid that is in my power to give.”

I nodded. “I will gather them now and bring them here.”

“Wait!” Eloise’s eyes were wide as she stopped me. “You must not let Dyrke or Gobschlerk know.”

I quirked an eyebrow. “Oh?”

Mēzän nodded. “Indeed. Gobschlerk’s fealty is questionable, but Dyrke is totally loyal to Esmie . . . unlike some here present.” He gave the Crown Princess a pointed look.

Eloise looked hurt. “I am loyal to my mother!” She paused, smirking slightly. “Just a bit rebellious. It is natural for one my age. Besides, are you not being more than a bit disloyal as well?”

“Irrelevant. You are her daughter. I am but her ally, and a ruler in my own right. I do not owe her fealty in all matters.” The swan gave his head a vigorous shake. “But Dyrke is not just loyal to Esmie. He is also beholden to the wish listeners. Should he discover we are aiding you in opposition to them, he could make things most unpleasant for all of us.”

“Then what do you suggest?”

“Go back to your companions. Tell Dyrke and Gobschlerk you wish to return to Esmie’s pool for an audience with the mermaid queen. They will not refuse your request. Ask her if she intends to help you. She may decline outright, or she may send you on a fool’s errand. Whatever the case, you and your companions should make your way back here as covertly as possible. I shall, by then, have a plan in place to aid you.”

I nodded. “Thank you. Thank you both!”

I continued along the trail toward the voices of my companions and Esmie’s servants. Soon I was back at the clearing where Gobschlerk had served us our evening meal. I called out as loudly as I could, “I’m over here, in the clearing!”

landscape

Moments later, my characters and the mermaid queen’s minions burst into the clearing from another trail. “Told you she no could go far.” Gobschlerk sneered at Dyrke.

My characters rushed over to me, all speaking at once, welcoming me back and telling me how worried they had been. I motioned as furtively as I could to them to remain quiet. Several nodded, indicating they understood, but many continued murmuring and chattering.

elf 3Dyrke scurried over to me, peering into his orb while speaking. “You gave us quite a fright! Your companions said you were missing this morning when they awoke.”

I feigned surprise. “I was up early and went for a walk. I didn’t want to disturb anyone. I frequently go off by myself. My companions should be used that, and know it is no cause for alarm.”

“Oh?” Dyrke’s voice held a note of suspicion. “Well then, I do hope you had an enjoyable jaunt. Did you encounter anyone in your travels?”

I sidestepped the question. “It was a very nice walk, thanks. The scenery around here is so delightful. I tried to find Esmie, but I was unsuccessful. I’d like to speak with her, to determine whether she is able to assist us or not. Will you lead the way back to her pool?”

A dark expression passed over Dyrke’s face before he marshaled his features into an unreadable mask. “Of course. Right this way.”

mermaidDragon and I exchanged glances but remained silent. My characters and I filed along the trail following Dyrke and Gobschlerk. We arrived at the mermaid queen’s pool to find Esmie sunning herself at the water’s edge. Just as the first time I saw her, the mermaid was gazing up at a large bubble she held in one hand. I still could not quite make out the images in the bubble.

Before Dyrke could announce our presence, Esmie dropped the bubble and turned to face us. “Oh, splendid, you are here! I have good news for you.” Her brilliant smile could have made the sun jealous, but I noticed it did not reach her eyes.

“Really? What news is that?” I returned her smile.

“I have discovered the path that will return you to your world.”

My characters brightened at that news and gathered closer to hear.

Esmie pointed. “Right over there, along the west bank of this pool, is a deer track heading north. If you follow that for a few miles, it will join a wider path. When you reach a fork in that trail, be sure to follow the left branch. You’ll be home in no time at all!”

Arrogant One“Well, it’s about time!” My Arrogant One’s face was red, and his voice was at the pitch that could have easily shattered crystal. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his robes in both hands. His annoying voice was petulant, accusatory, and haughty, all at the same time. “The accommodations last evening were not at all acceptable for someone of my stature . . .”

Dragon clamped a clawed hand over the elf’s mouth, stifling his outburst. “What my companion meant to say was thank you, Your Majesty. We appreciate your hospitality and all your efforts to assist us.” She bowed to the mermaid and shoved my Arrogant One into the arms of my Bounty Hunter and my Foreman, who managed to silence the now sullen elf.

Sniffing disdainfully at the elf, Esmie nodded graciously at Dragon and the rest of us. Then she gave me a sidelong glance. “Should I send Dyrke or Gobschlerk with you, to make certain you do not lose your way?”

I smiled but shook my head. “Thank you for the offer, but we don’t want to inconvenience your people further. I’m quite sure we can follow your excellent directions.”

The mermaid and her two strange minions watched us as we started on our way along the path Esmie had pointed out.

Dragon shrank to the size of a pug, to better navigate the forest trail, but kept her true form.

Dragon and me“Here, Dragon, let me help you over this log.” I picked up the small reptilian figure and whispered in her ear. “I need to speak to everyone without being overheard by any of the inhabitants of this world.”

She nodded and turned her head to whisper in my ear. “Perhaps there will be a clearing up ahead, where we can gather close and I can cast some wards to keep other eyes and ears from joining us.”

The closest thing to a clearing we found was where the deer track joined a marginally larger path. I beckoned everyone to draw near. By gathering around and sitting on rocks and fallen logs, we were able to make a tight enough circle for Dragon to cast her wards.

After mumbling the incantations, Dragon nodded to me. “Speak freely. I assure you no outsider can see or hear us now.”

I quickly disclosed the earlier conversation I had had with Esmie’s daughter, Eloise, and her friend, King Mēzän.swan and mermaid

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress sighed. “It would be nice to believe that Esmie is sending us on the path that will lead home. However, if you believe Eloise and Mēzän, we need to be wary. Mayhap the mermaid queen does not have our best interest at heart.”Young Hero close-up

My Young Hero nodded. “It does not sound as if she will defy the wish listeners and help us.”

gypsy-facing-rightMy Gypsy frowned. “On the other hand, how do we know we can trust Eloise and Mēzän? While you say they seemed genuinely eager to defy the wish listeners and ignore Esmie’s dictates, might they not have their own agenda?”

Dwarf facing rightMy Old Dwarf fidgeted with his axe. “It be better ta be taken’ our chances wit tha princess an’ ’er friend. We do na be knowin’ fer sure iffin they be meanin’ ta help us or no, but we do be knowin’ aboot Esmie’s lackey. Tha blind flutterby laddie be beholdin’ ta tha wish listeners, so’s he do na be going agin ’em, and I do na be thinkin’ his queen would be defyin’ ’em, either.”

Elf facing rightCleric adjusted her robe and squirmed on the hard rock. “I agree. I believe we should try to make our way back to the pool where you encountered Eloise and Mēzän, Mistress.”

Arrogant One“And just how will we manage that without arousing the suspicion of the mermaid queen and her serfs?” My Arrogant One crossed his arms over his chest and scowled. “They expect us to be following the trail Esmie dictated. If we go off bumbling through the forest, trying to find the other pool, they may take action against us.”

I tilted my head and stroked my chin. Surprisingly, the elf had made a good point.
dragon looking right
Dragon snorted. “I can maintain the wards until we find Eloise and Mēzän, as long as we move at a leisurely pace and stay reasonably close together.”

I nodded. “Let’s try. But stay alert. We don’t know if any inhabitants of this world possess magic equal to or greater than Dragon’s powers. We don’t want to be caught unawares.”

It was late afternoon by the time we found our way back to the spot where I had encountered Eloise and Mēzän. The pool was empty, and the mud at the water’s edge looked as if there had been a scuffle.

Eloise and Mezon's pool

What has happened to Eloise and Mēzän? Did Esmie and the wish listeners discover their treachery? And what will happen to us? Should we go back and take the route Esmie directed us to take, or try to find another way home? Be sure to join us again next week as our odyssey continues. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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The Search for Home Continues

The Search for Home Continues

After Esmie departed with the promise to return soon, I took the opportunity to explore. While my characters remained at the spot where we had encountered Esmie, resting and keeping watch, I followed the trail around the mermaid’s pool. I discovered the area was honeycombed with small, terraced waterfalls and pools. One basin was adjacent to a large clearing, carpeted with lush grasses. A smattering of fragrant wildflowers grew along the water’s edge.

I was about to call to my characters to join me when I was startled by a shrill voice from the grass, almost under my feet. “Looks outs!

Startled, I backpedaled away from the sound and almost lost my balance. I stared at the spot from which the voice seemed to emanate. I finally saw an extraordinary, tiny creature, hardly taller than the mushroom next to which she stood.

fantastic creature“Don’ falls down!” The little creature squeaked in alarm. “Dids Baalizhene scareded you?” She bowed her antlered head contritely and softly fanned her gossamer wings. She folded her hands in front of her, as if praying. “Baalizhene sorry if Baalizhene scareded you.”

The creature who identified herself as Baalizhene looked up again, craning her neck. “Whose is you? Baalizhene never sees you here before. Baalizhene not s’possed to talks to strangers. Is you a strangers? Whatcha doin, strangers? Does you has a name, strangers?”

I opened my mouth to reply, but no words came out.

“Baalizhene! You no bother Esmie’s guest!”

I whirled around to face the new speaker. This creature had a hairy green body, long arms, big feet, a sharp nose, and pointed ears. He stood only as tall as my waist, but he towered over the other, diminutive creature.

The tiny creature’s eyes grew large with fright. “Baalizhene sorry, Gobschlerck. Strangers almost stepped on Baalizhene. Baalizhene just wanteds talking to strangers. Baalizhene didn’t means to scareded strangers. Baalizhene didn’t means to bothered strangers, neithers.”

troll 3The green creature the tiny one addressed as Gobschlerck stamped his foot. “Esmie tan yur hide if she find you talk at strangers. Go!” He pointed up to a copse of trees on a rise adjacent to the clearing.

Like a frightened mouse, Baalizhene darted through the grass, scampered up a tree, and dove into a hole.

“Hmph. You go, too, Esmie’s guest.” Gobschlerck scowled at me, stamped his foot again, and pointed in the direction opposite the grove where he had sent Baalizhene.

Again I opened my mouth to reply and again no words came out.

“Gobschlerk!” I turned toward a new voice, this one tinged with a note of reprimand.

elf 3Another creature strode across the clearing toward us. This one was about two feet high but had the commanding presence of one much larger. Butterfly wings, entwined with tiny branches, sprouted from his back. He did not watch where he was going; instead, he peered into an orb that floated above his outstretched hand, and he directed his remarks toward it rather than to the green creature he addressed.

“Gobschlerk! Do not speak in that tone to one of Esmie’s guests. And what do you mean, chastising Baalizhene? You know she is my responsibility.”

“Dyrke no watching Baalizhene. Gobschlerk watch. Baalizhene underfeets. She talk to stranger. If Esmie find out, Esmie tan her hide good!”

Still speaking to the orb hanging in the air above his hand, the newcomer replied in an even voice. “Gobschlerk, I have explained this to you before. Baalizhene is frightened of you. You must not speak sharply to her.”

The green creature hung his head. He snuffled loudly and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. He shuffled one big foot back and forth in the grass. “Gobschlerk sorry, Dyrke. Gobschlerk like Baalizhene. Gobschlerk no want scare Baalizhene. Baalizhene purdy!”

Dyrke sighed. He continued gazing at the ball suspended above his hand and speaking in the direction of that orb. “Yes, Baalizhene is very pretty. She is also very small and very timid. Gobschlerk is brutish and scares Baalizhene. Gobschlerk must leave Baalizhene alone. If Esmie is not around, I will watch Baalizhene. I will keep her safe and out of trouble.” He paused, frowning. “Do you understand, Gobschlerk?”

The green creature nodded.

“Good. Now go and gather the food for Esmie’s guests, Gobschlerk. Bring the food here. Find something to spread on the grass so that Esmie’s guests may sit and eat.”

“Yes, Dyrke.” The green creature shuffled away, head down, a hang-dog expression on his angular features.

Dyrke continued to speak at the orb. “Welcome to Esmie’s realm. I am Dyrke.”

I stood, staring at the creature. For the third time, I opened my mouth to respond, but still no words emerged.

“You are rude.” He frowned while speaking to the orb.

I felt my cheeks grow hot. I stuttered and finally found my voice. “I . . . I’m sorry. I have never seen a creature like you before, or like the other two.”

The creature called Dyrke seemed to consider that. He tilted his head and stroked his chin with the hand that did not have an orb hovering over it. When he spoke again, he continued to address his remarks in the direction of the orb. “I had assumed, judging by those with whom you travel, you were accustomed to seeing fey folk. But, I suppose even among the fey, Baalizhene and I are unique. I would have thought Gobschlerk quite common, though.”

“Perhaps he is, in this world. In my world, creatures such as the three of you do not exist.”

“But among your companions, there exists some elves, a dwarf, a dwarf-kin, and a dragon. From whence do these individuals hail?”

“They fell from the pages of my manuscripts.”

“Ah, you are a scribe, a scrivener.” Dyrke brightened. “I do not often have the opportunity to enjoy such learned and prestigious company.”

He gestured toward the path I had followed to this clearing. “Come, we will converse while we walk back to Esmie’s pool and collect your companions. Then we shall return to this clearing and you and your comrades can eat.

elf 3I nodded and allowed Dyrke to lead me along the trail. I tried not to stare as he nimbly navigated the uneven ground while staring into the orb. “If I am not being rude again, may I enquire about your orb? Your eyes never leave it, even when you are speaking to someone.”

Dyrke ducked his head sheepishly. “I apologize for labeling your actions rude. I was being judgmental and insulting. As for the orb, I am blind. The orb gives me sight.”

Before I could comment, Dyrke changed the subject. “So, how did you come to be in Esmie’s realm?”

Creatures along the path“Evidently, one or more of my companions wished for something. A group of creatures who identified themselves as wish listeners decided coming to this world was the answer to that wish. In our travels here, we were directed to Esmie. We were told she may be able to help us find our way back home.”

“Ah, the wish listeners!” Dyrke smiled, and there was a tone of respect and affection in his voice.

“You are acquainted with them?”

He nodded. “I have been blind from birth. Some years past, I wished very hard that I might see. The wish listeners granted me a boon and presented me with this orb.”

“Nice of them. But they don’t seem too popular with some others. Queen Medal`av`alia, and a certain caravan-toting tortoise, seem a bit miffed with them.”

Dyrke laughed. “Well, those individuals do have some grievances. Meddie sought power and wealth, so she wished to be a queen. The wish listeners gave her the title, but little else . . . no riches, no authority, just the title and a gown in answer to her greedy wish. The tortoise was greedy as well, in his own way. He wanted to be more than just a common reptile. He wanted to be important, and he wanted to be known far and wide. So, the wish listeners made him serve as a caravan for some of the fey folk. Not exactly what he had in mind, but it did conform to the letter of his wish.”

I chuckled. “In my world there is an expression – be careful what you wish for.”

Dyrke nodded. “Indeed. You just might get it!”

“What about Esmie? The tortoise seemed to think she could help us, but a bird warned him against crossing the wish listeners. What is the mermaid’s experience with the wish listeners? Will she help us?”

But for a slight twitch of his lips, Dyrke did not respond to the question.

While we were talking, we arrived back at Esmie’s pool. Dragon, now in her true form, stood guard with my Old Dwarf while the others rested by the water’s edge. Dyrke pursed his lips and shook his head. “There is really no need to keep watch. No harm will come to you in Esmie’s realm.”Dragon with smoke

“Indeed. And we will see to that.” Dragon peered down her long snout at the small creature, dark smoke drifting from her nostrils. My other characters closed rank around us, nodding.

Dyrke shrugged. “As you wish. I am Dyrke. As Esmie’s representative, I welcome you to her realm. There are very few restrictions. You may wander where you will, and drink from any of the streams or pools. The water is pure. We ask that you do not hunt or fish while you are here, though, as some of Esmie’s subjects are difficult to distinguish from prey. Also, some of the fruit and mushrooms are unsafe for consumption by some species. Therefore, food will be provided for you. In fact, a repast is being prepared for you at this very moment. Come.”

My characters all looked to me before making a move. I nodded, and we all followed Dyrke back to the clearing. Gobschlerk was gone, but he had placed a coverlet on the ground and piled food around it.feast

“If you require anything more, Gobschlerk or I will provide it. Please enjoy yourselves.” Dyrke bowed and strode off toward the copse of trees where Gobschlerk had banished Baalizhene.

My companions were uncharacteristically quiet. They lowered themselves warily onto the blanket Gobschlerk had spread on the ground, Dragon first assuming her accustomed form of an elf maiden. They all eyed the food suspiciously.

I took my place on the blanket and reached for some fruit.

DwarfMy Old Dwarf grabbed my arm before I could pop the apple slice in my mouth. “Be ye sure it be safe, lass?”

I frowned. “Do you have any reason to believe it is not?” I looked around and addressed the question to all my characters. “Did you learn anything while I was gone that might make you mistrustful?”

Gypsy close-up“No, but we learned nothing that would make us trustful, either.” My Gypsy scowled. “We know nothing of these creatures. The mermaid disappeared and has not returned. Her lackeys assembled this repast for us. Do we know their agenda? Are they ally or foe? Do they mean us good will or harm?”

“You present valid points.” I chewed my lower lip and considered the situation. “My potion users – can you detect any poison in the food?”sorceress-facing-right

Sorceress scoffed. “It is not that easy to detect. We would need our paraphernalia, and time to test everything.”

“Well can any of my magic users . . .?”

Arrogant One“No, we cannot.” The high-pitched, petulant, impatient whine of my Arrogant One interrupting me grated on my nerves. “None of us, through physical or magical means, can foretell if eating this food will cause our demise. I propose we employ a food taster. If someone eats the food and does not die, the rest of us can eat it, too. I suggest the dwarf.”

“Won’t work.”

We all jumped. The small green creature was back, standing next to us.

My Old Dwarf raised his axe, but I placed a restraining hand on his arm. “Why not, Gobschlerk?”

“Dwarf not easy to poison. If he live, others could still die.”

I raised an eyebrow. “If the food has been poisoned, right?”

Gobschlerk nodded. “If poison.”

Has the food been poisoned, Gobschlerk?” I narrowed my eyes.

“No.”

“Is it unsafe for anyone here?”

“Some not good for Gobschlerk, and some not good for Dyrke. That’s why we no eat. But all of food not no good to Esmie’s guests.”

I nodded, easily understanding through his use of a double negative that all the food he had gathered for us was safe for me and my companions. “Esmie would be very upset if any of her guests were poisoned, wouldn’t she, Gobschlerk?”

The green creature nodded. “Esmie tan our hides good if anything bad happen to guests.”

“That’s what I thought.” I popped the slice of apple in my mouth and crunched it. My eyes widened. “Wow! This is delicious!”

My characters immediately started grabbing the food and filling their empty stomachs. By the time we were all finished eating, the sun was setting.

Gobschlerk had disappeared when we began our meal. He returned as we finished eating, bringing more blankets. He pointed to a sheltered area by the copse of trees, then started gathering the remains of our meal.

“I guess we’re sleeping here tonight.” I sighed, and tears filled my eyes as I wondered what Miles had thought when we didn’t return from our hike.

With our bellies full, and our bodies tired from the day’s long hike, we fell asleep quickly. Too few hours later, I felt someone nudging me. I opened one sleepy eye, then both. Baalizhene stood next to me, pushing as hard as she could on my shoulder. She was whispering in a tiny, shrill voice, like the buzzing of a mosquito. I could barely make out her words. “Hi, strangers! You awakes, strangers?”

Before I could say anything, she placed her tiny finger over her mouth. “Shhhhhh. Come with Baalizhene, strangers.” She giggled.

I followed Baalizhene through the woods, making sure not to step on her in the faint moonlight. We soon arrived at our destination and Baalizhene motioned for me to sit.

Baalizhene climbed up on a branch by my shoulder and whispered shrilly. “Baalizhene not s’possed to come here. Esmie says Baalizhene too small. But strangers not too small.” Baalizhene giggled.
gathering of fantasy creatures

I smiled. Water from a series of terraced falls splashed into a moonlit pool. Fey folk and fantastic creatures were frolicking in and around the water. Baalizhene and I watched for a long time before sleep overtook me again.
 

Will Esmie return tomorrow? Will she help us to go home? Or will we have to continue our search without her assistance? How long will we be stuck in this world, and what is Miles doing back in our world? Be sure to join us next week for our continuing adventure. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Stranger and Stranger – Looking For The Way Home

Stranger and Stranger – Looking For The Way Home

Creatures along the path

I looked all around. The pint-sized, gnome-like creatures who had identified themselves as wish listeners – who claimed they listen for people to make wishes and then grant those wishes if they are so inclined – were gone. Their chortles, giggles and titters still hung in the air like the sound of distant wind chimes, but the creatures had disappeared, and where they had gone was anyone’s guess.

Backyard 050I sighed and removed my hat. I raked my hand through my hair, then plopped the cap back on my head and adjusted the drawstring. “Great! Now what?” I looked at my characters.

scaly dragonDragon cleared her throat. “I propose we start wishing to return to the park whence we came, and hope those curious little creatures hear us and are inclined to grant us our wish.”

dwarf“And iffin they do na be so in-clined?” My Old Dwarf raised his eyebrows and his axe. “I be proposin’ thet I be gittin’ ta choppin’ tha wall o branches what be blockin’ tha path ta tha steps.”

foreman-facing-left“I think the dwarf is right. We need to get out of here and find our way back to the picnic grove by the lake where Master Miles awaits us.” My Foreman wiped the sweat from his brow and rested one foot on a small boulder next to the clearing. “Since we know two of the trails leading from this clearing are impassable, and we do not want to follow our recent knightly guests down the avenue they took, that only leaves us one viable alternative.”

sorceress-facing-rightWishing is a viable alternative. Did the creatures not imply that is what brought us here in the first place?” Sorceress scowled and glared at her companions through narrowed eyes. “One or more of our company wished for something that brought us to this place. If one or more of our company wishes for us to return whence we came, perchance the wish listeners will grant us a boon.”

My Old Dwarf shook his head. “Or tha wee, nasty varmints could be sendin’ us somewhere else, just ta be havin’ a laugh at our expense.”

Arrogant OneMy Arrogant One pursed his lips and drew himself up, rocking back on his heels. “For once, I agree with the dwarf. We need to extricate ourselves from this land, not place our fate in the hands of alien creatures whose agenda is unknown to us.”

I looked around at my characters. Most were nodding in agreement with my Old Dwarf and my Arrogant One. Finally, after some heated discussion, even Dragon and Sorceress capitulated.

“Well, then, you should start chopping.” I watched as my Old Dwarf set about the task. His sharp axe and strong arms soon made kindling of the tangle of branches. But no steps were waiting for us behind the wall of wood. Instead, an ancient forest almost devoid of underbrush lay before us, crisscrossed with barely discernable paths.

new path 1
As the ten of us began to traverse the tangled woodland, my Old Dwarf nudged Dragon. “Ye will na be able ta be squeezin’ yer great bulk underneath tha branches o these great trees, beastie. Best ye be changin’ yerself agin.”

Elf cleric close-up
Dragon snorted a puff of black smoke, but quickly returned to her customary form of an elf maiden.

 

The going was slow. My two best trackers – my Foreman and my Bounty Hunter – led the way, with much discussion from everyone else when trails seemed to branch off in every direction.

The twisted, misshapen, old trees slowly gave way to newer growth. The young trees grew straight and tall, and grasses and underbrush flourished. The path we had taken grew wider and more distinct and became easier to follow. Soon, a stream appeared on our left, the water flowing from a source somewhere up ahead of us.

new path 2

Cleric pointed. “Look, Mistress! Some beautiful water iris are in bloom along the stream, and some water lilies are starting to open as well.”

“Curious.” Sorceress examined the flowers. “These are the first blossoms we have encountered, despite the overpowering fragrance of wildflowers on the breeze.” She bent over to sniff at them. “The scent from the iris and water lily is not strong enough to be the source of the intense fragrance.”

prairie“Neither is the handful of wildflowers scattered in that prairie on the other side of the creek.” My Foreman pointed.

Sorceress furrowed her brow and followed my Foreman’s gaze. “Indeed.”

Gypsy close-upMy Gypsy frowned. “That is as disconcerting as the fact I have been hearing the pervasive melody of birdsong ever since we left the old growth forest, despite the obvious lack of birds.”

No sooner had he spoken than we heard something quacking. We looked about and spotted a Mallard hen with her babies in the water. Then a harsh croak drew our attention to a Great Egret fishing in a small pool on the other side of the stream. Loud gobbling announced the presence of a Wild Turkey walking across a nearby wooden bridge.

“I do not believe any of those birds are songbirds, Mistress.” Cleric’s brow was furrowed, and she was chewing on her lower lip.

I frowned. “This must be some sort of outlandish prank. Perhaps the wish listeners are at work here.”

“Something surely is.” My Bounty Hunter frowned.

new path 3Warily, we continued along our way. For a time, the trail we walked paralleled the waterway. The scent of the wildflowers and the sound of birdsong followed us, though we saw no more flowers or birds. Eventually, the stream narrowed, and the path started to rise. A wooden fence bordered the side of the trail farthest from the stream.

“Thet fence dinna be builtin’ itself, lass. We best be keepin’ our wits aboot us.” My Old Dwarf fell in behind me as I took the lead.

The trail took a sharp turn away from the stream and a new set of stairs rose before us. I stopped dead in my tracks, and my characters piled into me. After we regained our composure, we all stood there, gaping.

Queen Medal`av`aliaAhead of us a beautiful figure blocked our way. She wore a royal blue and gold gown, her flowing, silvery hair was crowned with a circlet of laurel, and angel-like wings sprouted from her back. When she spoke, it sounded as if an unseen musician was caressing the strings of a harp. “I am Medal`av`alia, Queen of these lands. Why are you trespassing in my realm?”

I bowed low, then rose and met her narrow-eyed gaze. “We do not travel this land by choice, Your Majesty. Strange creatures calling themselves wish listeners caused us to be here.” I noticed her eyes widened at the mention of the wish listeners, but she remained silent. “Perhaps you could help us find our way home?”

Her Majesty scowled at us. “Ask the turtle.” And she was gone, leaving us all gaping again.

I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts and make sense of things. “Ask the turtle?” I looked around. “Did anyone see a turtle?”

Young hero 2My Young Hero tilted his head and rubbed his chin. “Turtles are usually found near water. Mayhap we should return to the spot where we observed the ducklings and the egret.”

We backtracked as quickly as we could. In the pool by the stream where the egret had been fishing, we now saw a large turtle, covered with duckweed.

Turtle

“Cleric, you are the one with the greatest affinity for animals, and the one with proven ability to make yourself understood by lesser creatures.” I pointed to the turtle. “Do you think you can ask him how to return to our own land?”

“You mean your own land.” My Arrogant One sniffed disdainfully.

I glared at him. “It is your land now as well. It has been since the day you fell out of my manuscripts. But there is no time to rehash that issue now.” I turned my back on him and repeated my request to Cleric. “Do you think you can?”

Elf facing right“I will try, Mistress.” She looked doubtful but approached the edge of the pool. “Kind turtle, Queen Medal`av`alia suggested you might be able to direct us back to our own lands.”

Something in the grass on the other side of the water snorted. A loud voice exclaimed, “These creatures are as dim-witted as our queen, what?”

Tortoise and friendsI looked around and spied a large tortoise. My mouth dropped open and my eyes almost popped out of their sockets as I stared at the bizarre creature, which had a small, wooden shanty tied atop its carapace. Three tiny, winged fairy-folk were in the structure, while two more flitted about the tortoise’s head. A small songbird was perched on a tree stump in front of this strange group.Talking bird

I was dumbstruck, and my jaw almost hit the ground as the bird spoke in response to the previous remark. “I’ll say, guv’nor. Ol’ Meddie never did comprehend the difference between a turtle and a tortoise, did she?”

“Imagine!” One of the fairy-folk flying around the tortoise tittered. “Thinking a turtle could talk!”


Tortoise and friends turnedIt took me a few minutes to regain my composure. Then, with my characters in tow, I traversed the wooden bridge we had seen the turkey crossing earlier and approached the strange entourage. “Excuse me. Are you the one the queen referred to when she told us to consult the turtle?”

“Prob’ly, luv. She don’t seem ta get the diff’ between us terrestrial travelers and our semi-aquatic cousins.”

“I see. Well, I apologize for the confusion.”

“No prob, luv. It weren’t you wot made the mistake. Ol’ Meddie can present me with ’er own apology.”

Quickly, I explained the problem to the tortoise – or as quickly as I could with constant interruptions and additions from my characters. “So, you see,” I concluded, “we need to find our way back to our own land.”

“Hmmm . . . it wouldn’t be too smart to cross the wish listeners . . . bad business, that.” The bird shook its head and fluffed its feathers.

Tortoise and friends
The tortoise nodded. “Quite right, mate, but I owe them barmy buggers for turnin’ me into a bloomin’ caravan for a bunch of bloody pixies and sprites.” He snatched a flower and chomped it loudly while he considered the problem. “Tell ya wot, luv – you an’ yer friends follow this stream. Stay on the bank, not on the trail – the trail goes off on a tangent before it comes back to the creek a bunch of miles upstream.”

The tortoise chomped another flower. “Bad business, mate!” The bird said again, shaking his wings and fluffing his feathers.

The tortoise ignored the bird and continued. “Upstream about a mile, mile and a half, you’ll find a waterfall. Look for Esmie and ask her. She’ll know, for sure.”

“Thank you most kindly. And how will I recognize Esmie?”

“How will ya recognize Esmie?” The bird twittered. “How will ya recognize Esmie? Just how many mermaids do ya expect ta run inta there?”

Dragon with smoke“I do not believe your friend identified Esmie as a mermaid.” Dragon had been growing impatient with the exchange and had shape-shifted back to her reptilian form. Black smoke drifted from her snout.

“Blimey! It’s a bleedin’ talkin’ lizard! An’ it’s on fire!”

One of the brownies laughed. “Shows you how much you know, bird-brain. That’s a dragon!”

“A dragon? Ya don’t say!” The bird flew around Dragon, inspecting her from every angle. “I don’t see what makes a dragon such a big deal.”

I hustled Dragon away before she could show the bird exactly what makes a dragon such a big deal. I called back to the entourage. “Thanks again! We’ll tell Esmie you sent us.”

“Oh, blimey! Don’t do that, luv! If the wish listeners find out I sent you to Esmie, I’ll never be shed of these blinkin’ pixies and sprites!”

“Oh!” I hesitated then said brightly, “Well, okay, it’ll be our little secret.” I smiled, thinking they’ve probably been listening to every word.

My other characters and I continued prodding Dragon to the bridge. We crossed to the opposite side once more, where Dragon changed back into an elf maiden. The ten of us followed the creek upstream as instructed, being sure not to follow the road when it left the stream. Even though travel was easy over the lush carpet of grasses and clovers, it took us the better part of three hours to reach the waterfall, as it was closer to a five-mile trek than to the mile and a half estimate the tortoise had given.

mermaidThe late afternoon sunshine lit the grotto by the waterfall as we approached. A mermaid with emerald green hair and scales splashed in the shallows by the shore, gazing up at a large bubble she held in one hand. The orb was filled with images I could not quite make out.

“Esmie?”

She dropped the bubble and stared at me and my companions. “Oh, it’s you.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You were expecting us?”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Well, I wouldn’t be saying oh, it’s you if I wasn’t expecting you, now would I?”

Unable to think of a snappy comeback to that statement, I shrugged. “Who told you we were coming?”

Esmie gave me a smile that was half Mona Lisa, half Cheshire Cat. Then she abruptly changed the subject. “You all must be hungry and tired. Please, sit. Dinner will be served soon.”

My characters looked askance, but I nodded. Esmie smiled. “I’ll be right back.” She dove under the waterfall and disappeared.

Dragon frowned. “We do not know this creature’s motives. How did she know to expect us? Will the food she serves be safe? Mayhap we should leave now, before she returns.”

“And go where? We have no idea where we are or how to return home. I don’t think we have much choice.”

Will Esmie prove friend or foe? Will dinner be luscious or lethal? Will the mermaid help us return home, or will we continue to wander this land, searching for an escape? Be sure to come back next week as we continue our little odyssey. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Our Little Odyssey

Our Little Odyssey

My characters and I huddled together in a small clearing. The woods here looked different. I couldn’t see the trail leading back toward the lake, where we had enjoyed our picnic, where my husband now waited for our return. Nor could I see the steps we had just been climbing.

We currently stood at the bottom of some steps, but these steps looked much different than the ones we had been climbing. The steps we had scaled had been overgrown with lush vegetation, save a small path barely wide enough to tread. They had risen from a trail next to a sign proclaiming it a secret trail, a trail I had never seen while hiking in this park. The steps behind us now were steeper and, though narrower, were not covered with as much vegetation, allowing a wider passage.

Trails branched off in three directions from the small clearing where we now clustered at the bottom of the strange steps. To the right, the path was choked by protruding tree roots. To the left, the trail was littered with boulders. Straight ahead, a wide avenue passed between two rows of trees whose branches formed a canopy over the road.

Wide avenue

This was not the park where we had had our picnic, where we had just been hiking and taking wildlife photographs.

“Which way should we go?” Cleric’s voice was barely a whisper.

I crossed my arms over my chest and chewed my bottom lip while I considered the question.

I beckoned my Foreman. “Take the lads and go scout the path to the right. Don’t go too far, maybe just around the first bend. Let me know if the trail clears out, and if you can see where it leads.”

My Foreman nodded and started down the path with my Gypsy and my Young Hero following close behind. They picked their way carefully around the protruding tree roots and soon disappeared around the bend in the path.

I motioned to my Old Dwarf. “Take my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One and scout the trail to the left.”

My Arrogant One stuck his nose in the air and started to protest in his typical whiny screech. “I am not a scout! Such menial labor is beneath me!” My Old Dwarf and my Bounty Hunter rolled their eyes and quickly hustled the annoying elf away, but he continued complaining every step of the way. The trio made their way over and around the boulders, and a bend in the trail soon took them from my sight. Unfortunately, I could hear my Arrogant One much longer than I could see him.

I turned to Dragon, who was in her guise of an elf maiden. “Can you, Cleric, and Sorceress check out the middle road?”

Dragon nodded. “We will go about half the distance to the end of the trees that border the road.” I watched them make their way cautiously along the road, until the mist swallowed them from sight.

It did not take long for my characters to return. My Foreman and the lads were the first to report.

My Foreman removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow. “The path to the right deteriorates quickly past the first bend. There are areas that are all but impassable, where trees have fallen across the path as erosion has led to several trees being uprooted.”

My Gypsy nodded in agreement. “Some of us might be small enough to crawl through the debris, but I do not believe all of us could do so.”

My Young Hero grimaced. “We were unable to determine where the path went past the downed trees.”

I turned to my Old Dwarf. “And the trail to the left?”

The dwarf shook his head. “Beyond tha first turn, there a been a rockslide. I be havin’ no troubles makin’ me way o’er tha boulders, but the udder two . . .” He spat on the ground.

My Arrogant One rubbed his leg and whined sullenly. “I almost broke my leg trying to scramble across those huge, slippery rocks!”

My Bounty Hunter concurred. “The boulders are covered with moss and are too slick for any but a dwarf or a sure-footed mountain goat. And another bend in the trail prevented us from seeing where it led.”

Dragon spoke up. “The middle road is level and easy underfoot. The trees provide shade, and the way is pleasant.”

“Could you see where the road leads?”

Cleric shook her head. “The mist prevented us from seeing what is at the end of the double row of trees whose branches form a canopy across the trail. It may be another clearing, or the road might continue past the trees.”

“With the hazardous condition of the other two trails, the center trail seems the most logical choice.” Sorceress made a moue. “It makes me wonder if we are not being maneuvered into taking that road.”

I considered all that my characters had said, thinking long and hard before deciding. “I don’t feel good about any of these trails. I think we should go back. We’ll go up the steps and see if we can retrace our trail.”

I turned to lead my companions up the steps, but the steps were gone. They had been replaced by a very thick wall of tangled branches.

Tangled branches

dwarf“Wale, I be guessin’ we do na be goin’ thet way, lass, ’lessens ye be wantin’ me ta be choppin’ a hole through tha hedge.” My Old Dwarf raised his axe.

I shook my head. “No. I don’t imagine that would do any good.” I did a double-take at my Old Dwarf. “Why do you have your axe? Why are you wearing your armor again?”

I suddenly realized that all my characters were wearing their own clothing again, not the modern jeans, shirts, and sneakers I had insisted they wear for the outing. And Dragon was no longer in her guise of an elf maiden. She had changed into her true form of a Great Wyrm.
scaly dragon looking right
“How did you all change back into your old outfits so quickly? And, Dragon, why did you shape-shift?”

The wide-eyed expressions on everyone’s faces as they looked at their companions told me they had not done this of their own accord.Dragon with smoke bubbles

Dragon confirmed my suspicions. “Mistress, I did not shape-shift. I should still be in my accustomed form of an elf maiden.” The great beast was so distraught, she morphed to a pale blue, and smoke bubbles dripped from her snout.

I took a quick inventory of my own outfit. I was still wearing the same clothes, including my hat and sneakers, and my camera still hung around my neck.

“You have not changed, Mistress. Why have we?” The usually imperturbable Sorceress gaped at me and wrung her hands. Her voice quavered, and all color drained from her face.

“I have no idea.”

A sudden noise caught our attention. A trio of mounted knights rode slowly toward us on the center trail, the clanking of their armor sounding louder and louder as they approached.

Knights

As they grew nearer, Dragon recovered some of her poise and morphed back to a more imposing looking dragon. She stepped in front of me, extending her wings. “Remain hidden, Mistress. You look . . . a bit out of place.”
scaly dragon looking right
I peeked under Dragon’s wing and watched as one of the knights, probably the ranking member of the group, dismounted. He handed his reins to one of his mounted comrades, who nudged his charger to stand at the opening of the trail to our right. The other mounted knight took his courser and blocked the trail to our left.

Dragon and the knightThe rest of my characters drew into a tight semi-circle around me as Dragon moved forward. The great beast towered menacingly over the knight who had dismounted, but when he made no threatening moves, Dragon sat and greeted him in a congenial voice. “Hail and well met, noble knight!”

“Hail, great and terrible beast! Methinks thou and thy companions art strangers in our fair land.”

Dragon conversing with the knight“We are.” Dragon stood and began to explain. “We are traveling and seem to have taken the wrong road.”

The knight nodded. “Where art thou bound for?”

Dragon hesitated. “I know not the name of the place.”

“My lord!” The knight blocking the left-hand trail vaulted off his horse as he addressed the knight with whom Dragon was speaking.

The ranking knight seemed irritated at the interruption and started to snap at his underling. “What doth thou . . .?”

Before the ranking knight could complete his question, the other one pushed through my companions, grabbed me by the arm, and hauled me out into the open. “Look, my lord!”

Dwarf and knightMy Old Dwarf stomped up to the knight and brandished his axe. “I wouldna be doin’ thet iffin I be ye, laddie. I be thinkin’ ye best be releasin’ tha lass right quick-like, iffin ye be placin’ any value on yer hand!”

The knight let loose of my arm and squared off against the dwarf, wielding his sword with both hands.

I moved between the two warriors, shook my head, and gestured to my Old Dwarf to lower his axe. “Stay your weapon, old friend. These good and noble knights mean me no harm.”

Scowling at the knights, my Old Dwarf nevertheless lowered his axe. The knight was slower, but soon lowered his weapon as well. Keeping his eye on the dwarf, he took me by the arm again.

bird photographerThe ranking knight gaped at me. “What manner of dress is this thou art wearing?”

“And what doth that object be, hanging from thy neck?” The third knight had leaped from his mount to confront me.

Fiery displayThe two knights started to pull me over to their superior. Dragon reared up and roared. Flames shot toward the ranking knight, who stood steadfast against the fiery threat.

My eyes widened. “Dragon! No!”

Dragon growled but stood down.

The two knights escorted me a bit more gently, keeping their eyes on Dragon and my Old Dwarf. When I stood in front of their superior, I bowed to the ranking knight and spoke in low, respectful tones.

“Well met, noble sir. I trust you withstood well the censure of my companion. I assure you she meant you no harm.”

The knight snorted. “I am aware of that. If the beast had meant to harm me, I would be naught but a pile of cinders upon the forest floor.”

He and the other knights walked around me, scrutinizing me. The ranking knight gestured toward my outfit. “Thou shalt explain thyself, wench.”

Miles' Camera 128“This is the mode of dress in the land wherein I reside, my lord, a land far from these most pleasant woods.” I motioned to my camera. “And this object hanging from my neck is one of the tools of my trade.”

“And prithee, at what trade art thou employed?”

“I am a scribe, a historian, a scrivener, a recorder of deeds fantastic and mundane.”

The ranking knight snorted. “From thy dress and thy choice in companions, I would posit thou art a witch.”

A sly smile tugged at the corners of my mouth as I took a step closer to the ranking knight and dropped my voice. “Forsooth! Were I a witch, my good sir, you would be a toad, hopping around on the forest floor.”

The ranking knight paled a bit at the implied threat, and quickly backpedaled until he had put a safe distance between us. He motioned to his men to bring him his horse. The three knights remounted without another word, saluted us, turned, and rode away at a gallop.

“Wow!” My Young Hero grinned at me. “You certainly handled them well!”

“It ain’t my first rodeo, kid!” I chuckled.

“Mistress, what do you mean by that? This is not a rodeo.” Cleric tilted her head and furrowed her brow.

I chuckled. “It means this is not the first time I have been in a situation like this.”

“Of course! I had forgotten. The tales of a mysterious scribe visiting our world refer to you, Mistress Writer!” Cleric smiled at me.

I nodded. “Yup. I told you I didn’t make up the tales I wrote about all of you. I merely recorded your exploits.”

Dragon and my Old Dwarf exchanged furtive glances, and the old reprobate gulped. “Cleric do na be tha onlyest one what be forgittin’ thet tha lass be havin’ experience in different worlds.” His voice was barely a whisper, and Dragon’s ears were the only ones it was intended to reach.

 

I turned back toward the tangle of branches where the steps had been. “We need to find a way home. I don’t fancy following the path taken by those knights, and you’ve indicated the other two roads are all but impassable. That just leaves the way we came.”

My Old Dwarf hefted his axe, but before he could move toward the wall of tree limbs that blocked our way, a strange noise caught everyone’s attention.

“What is that sound?” My Gypsy looked all around.

My Young Hero cocked his head to listen. “It almost sounds like giggling.”

We followed the sound and found four small creatures, hardly bigger than squirrels, standing in the grass by the side of the center road, giggling. Three of them looked like garden gnomes come to life, with conical hats and beards. The fourth had a close-fitting cap and a sly smile. All four had long rabbit-like ears.

Creatures along the path

Sorceress stared at them. “What manner of creatures are you?”

The one with the sly smile stepped forward. “We are wish listeners.”small figure on trail

“You’re what?” I rubbed my chin and narrowed my eyes.

“We listen for people to make wishes.” The speaker wiggled his long ears and continued to smirk.

“And you grant these wishes?” I raised an eyebrow.

“If we are so inclined.”

“So which one of us wished to be here?” I frowned.

“Oh, the ones who made the wish know who they are and they know what they wished for that brought you all here.” The creature continued to simper at us.

I looked at my companions, hoping to catch a guilty expression on someone’s face. All I saw was curiosity. I turned back to the sly one. “And if we wish to return home? Will you grant that wish?”

“If we are so inclined.”

My Old Dwarf’s hand shot out and wrapped around the creature’s neck. “Be ye so inclined?”

But the creature vanished, leaving the dwarf holding a handful of air. The other three wish listeners faded from sight as well, only the sound of their giggling remaining.

“Great! Now what?” I looked at my characters.

Dragon cleared her throat. “I would assume we should start wishing to return to the park whence we came, and hope that those curious little creatures hear us and are inclined to grant us our wish.”

Will the wish-listeners hear and grant our wish to return home? Or must we find another way? Be sure to come back next week and join us on our odyssey. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.