The weeks following our return from our Memorial Day outing were strained. No one wanted to leave the house. We didn’t even go out to celebrate Independence Day on July 4, as we feared another outing might end the way the Memorial Day weekend outing did.
My characters, my husband, and I had gone on a picnic the Saturday before Memorial Day. After lunch, Miles decided to stay in the shade of the trees and take a nap, while my characters and I went on a nature hike. We followed a trail we had never seen before and found ourselves in another world. We embarked on an odyssey that seemed to stretch for days. When we finally found the way back to our own world, we discovered we had been gone only hours.
(If you missed it, the chronicle of that adventure began with the weekly blog on May 27, https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/05/27/lost/ and continued through the blogs posted on the following eight Sundays)
The incident left us all unsettled and on edge, so I wasn’t surprised when I heard voices arguing one morning in the conference room.
“We must go out and collect the botanicals we need to restock our spell components.”
I recognized that voice. Sorceress spoke in clipped tones and sounded irritated.
“I know we are running low on components, but I just do not want to leave the house.”
The second voice belonged to Cleric. Her voice was low, and she almost sounded as if she were about to burst into tears.
I descended the stairs by the conference room, and saw Sorceress and Cleric facing each other in the middle of the room. Cleric was fidgeting with the cord on her robe, as Sorceress stood with her arms folded over her chest, tapping her foot impatiently.
Sorceress nodded at Cleric’s last statement. The sympathy on her face was in direct contrast to the sharpness of her voice. “You are being unreasonable. We both need the botanicals, and I am not going to go collect them by myself.”
Cleric continued to fidget with the cord that belted her robe. Finally, she blurted, “But what if we end up in another world again?”
Sorceress rolled her eyes and snorted. “That was one isolated incident. I highly doubt it will happen again.”
“I do not care. I am afraid.” Cleric lowered her eyes and blushed furiously.
I entered the conference room, but before I could say anything, Dragon slammed shut the book she was reading in the corner of the room and stomped over to face her friends. The large beast scowled at the two women, and dark smoke started to drift from her nostrils. “Cleric, a portal to another world could just as easily materialize within this house as without, you know. In fact, it has, on several occasions, if you will remember. And Sorceress, everyone is not as confident as you . . . or as unrelenting. Now, if you two are going to do nothing but argue, please go do it elsewhere!”
Sorceress and Cleric were stunned into silence for several moments. Then pandemonium broke out as the three started yelling at each other and gesticulating wildly.
I waded into the fray and held up my hands for silence. “Excuse me. Excuse me! I know everyone’s nerves are still on edge, but that’s no reason to snap at each other.”
The three companions hung their heads and mumbled in unison. “Sorry.”
Without taking a breath following her apology, Sorceress continued, “But the botanicals are essential, this is the best time of year to collect them, and I am not doing it without help.”
“I kin be helpin’ ye, lassie.” My Old Dwarf entered the room and joined the conversation.
Sorceress started to scoff, but Dragon glared at her and went to stand next to my Old Dwarf, placing her hand on his shoulder. Sorceress quickly marshaled her features into a tight smile. Her voice was strained as she replied to the dwarf. “I thank you, but I doubt you would know a pansy from deadly nightshade. Besides, you have no need of the plants.” She gestured at Cleric. “Cleric uses the botanicals in her spell components, as do I, so she is the one who needs to assist me in collecting them.” Her tone invited no argument.
I furrowed my brow. “Dragon, don’t you also use botanicals in your spell components?”
Dragon narrowed her eyes. “There are very few spells for which I need components. My power is beyond that.”
I raised an eyebrow. “But there are some?”
“Good. Then you will accompany Cleric and Sorceress while they collect the plants they need, and you can get the few things you require for your spells. You can also provide protection for the other two. And my Old Dwarf can go with you to provide additional protection as well as some muscle for carrying everything home.”
As Sorceress and Dragon started to object, I gave them a look that immediately silenced them. “No arguments. Go. But, Dragon, before you leave the house, you’ll shapseshift to a less conspicuous form. And, you, my rotund friend, will not wear your armor or carry a weapon.”
Another look from me quelled any disagreement on that point. Fifteen minutes later, I watched as Dragon, in her customary guise of an elf maiden, left the house with Sorceress, Cleric, and my Old Dwarf. All four wore jeans and t-shirts and carried large sacks for the items they would collect.
* * *
“Last year, Cleric and I found an area where wildflowers abound. There are several large meadows along a dirt road, divided by small woodlots between the fields, and a large pond. We will go there.” Sorceress led the group down the street to the main road.
Dragon raised an eyebrow and tilted her head. “Are these places where collecting is allowed, or will we need to be discreet?”
Sorceress furrowed her brow. “Discretion is always called for, but they are not areas posted as private property; nor are there any warnings against collecting specimens. As long as we do not take too many specimens from any one area, and we fill in any holes where we harvest entire plants, we should be all right.”
“I do na be understandin’ why ye do na jest be magickin’ tha flowers and stuffs ye be needin’.” My Old Dwarf spoke around the bite of apple he was munching.
Sorceress rolled her eyes. “The components of a spell must be precisely developed from natural ingredients. Conjured plants would not work properly.” Her tone of voice indicated she felt this was common knowledge, something the dwarf should know, but he just shrugged.
The four companions continued along the road, arguing and sniping at each other, until Sorceress turned down a dirt trail. “The first meadow is just down here, a little way into the woods.”
Cleric stopped dead. “I . . . I cannot go on.” He eyes were wide and sweat beaded her forehead.
“Aw, lassie, there be no need ta be afeared. The beastie an’ me be here ta be protectin’ ye.” The dwarf patted Cleric’s shoulder.
Sorceress sighed. “Let us just commence. The quicker we start, the quicker we can gather what we need and return home.”
Cleric looked at Dragon and the dwarf. They both nodded and smiled encouragingly at her. She sighed, squared her shoulders, and followed the path to the first meadow.
Her friends followed her and looked around. Dragon nodded approvingly. “Oh, yes, this is perfect!”
Cleric walked over to some yellow flowers and started examining them. “Be careful! Gently shoo away any bees, butterflies, or other pollinators before collecting the botanicals. I understand from conversations with Mistress that the pollinator populations are declining here. Do not harm any of them.”
For the next several hours, three of the friends collected flowers, leaves, stems, roots and fruit from the numerous meadows along the dirt road, while the dwarf stood guard and munched a seemingly endless supply of apples from his pockets and pouch.
Dragon kept track of what they were collecting.
“Two different types of milkweed.”
“Thistle in three stages – blossoming, in full flower, and gone to seed.”
“Bird’s foot trefoil.”
“Queen Anne’s lace.”
Cleric nodded. “I have a lily I cannot identify. Should I harvest it?”
“Yes. If we are unsure of its identification, we cannot be certain of its properties, so we must research it in the books in the conference room. It is easier to research it if we have a specimen, rather than attempting to remember its exact appearance.”
The companions continued their work for several hours. Finally, Sorceress sat back and sighed. She looked over at the piles of botanicals Dragon had organized. “This is enough for today. I daresay it will take all week for us to properly prepare what we have collected. We will return here again in the fall to harvest more.”
The three magic users packed up to head for home.
“Ohhhhh. Me tummy be hurtin’ bad, real bad!” The dwarf started moaning and clutching his stomach.
Sorceress snorted. “How convenient, now that it is time for you to help us carry these heavy sacks.”
“You probably just ate too many apples.” Cleric reached into her pouch. “I have some healing herbs that should quickly put you to rights.”
“We should go over by the pond and rest while we wait for the dwarf to recover.” Sorceress pointed to the body of water adjoining the field.
Dragon agreed. “Good idea. I am fatigued.”
“Oh, look!” Cleric pointed to some birds in a nearby tree. “It is a shame Mistress is not with us! She would love to see that one. She calls it a Common Yellowthroat, but the way she gets so excited whenever she sees it, it cannot be very common.”
“Is that other bird its young?” Sorceress pointed to a smaller bird in a nearby tree.
“No, I believe I have heard Mistress call that one an Eastern Phoebe.”
“And what is that one?” Sorceress pointed again.
“That is a Black-capped Chickadee. That is one we see a lot in the backyard.” Cleric looked proud that she could remember. “Oh, and there’s another one we have at home! Do you see the American Goldfinch eating the thistle seeds? I am glad we did not take too many thistle plants. The birds rely on the seeds as a major source of food.”
“Mistress would love the ducks here in the pond. Look – there are even some fuzzy ducklings!” Dragon watched the waterfowl with rapt attention.
It took a while, and quite a few herbs, to settle the dwarf’s stomach, but the companions didn’t mind spending the time watching the birds. By the time they were ready to go home, though, the afternoon sun hung low in the sky, and many of the ducks in the pond had already settled down to sleep.
Dragon frowned. “Is there a faster way to get back home, a different way than the route we took to get here?”
“We could be goin’ cross-country, instead o be followin’ tha roads back.” Dwarf pointed. “It be a lot closer thet way. Ye be knowin’ – tha way tha birdies be goin’.”
Sorceress rolled her eyes. “I believe the correct phrase is as the crow flies.”
“Din na I jest be sayin’ thet?” The dwarf sighed and shook his head. He picked up several of the sacks full of botanicals and started off.
“Wait.” Dragon frowned. “Just in case this route takes us onto private property, I best cast a spell of concealment on all of us.”
“Ye be knowin’ full well, beastie, thet a dwarf can na be majicked.”
“And you know full well that a spell of concealment does not affect those who are to be concealed, but those from whom something is to be concealed.”
“Eh. I be forgettin’. I be guessin’ thet tummyache still be affectin’ me.”
“I have more healing herbs.” Cleric reached for her pouch.
The dwarf made a face at the thought of consuming more of the bitter herbs. “Nay, lassie! I be feelin’ a whole bunch better now!”
Sorceress chuckled. “Amazing recovery.”
As soon as Dragon had cast the spell of concealment, the four companions started off across the meadow. In half the time it had taken them to reach the first meadow earlier that day, they found themselves back in the subdivision where they lived with Mistress Writer and Master Miles.
“Look! Is that not our neighbors, Mace and Gloria?” Cleric pointed to a couple sitting on a gazebo in a lush yard.
“It is.” Dragon glowered at the two troublemakers.
The dwarf stopped and looked around, wide-eyed. “We best be gittin’ outten here right quick-like, afore they be seein’ us!”
Sorceress scoffed. “They cannot see us, remember?”
“I be forgettin’ agin.”
“Shhh. What are they saying?” Dragon furrowed her brow, tilted her head, and cupped her ear.
“What . . .?” Cleric started to ask.
“Shhhh.” Dragon tried to listen to the couple’s conversation. “Let us get closer.”
As the companions crept over to the gazebo, they could clearly hear what Mace and Gloria were saying.
“They’ve been nothing but trouble since we moved here. We need to do something about them, and soon.” Mace frowned.
Gloria laughed a deep, throaty laugh. “Don’t worry, darling! I’ve got it all planned.”
“Oh?” Mace quirked an eyebrow.
“Remember the mushrooms?” Gloria smiled smugly. “Is it my fault some poisonous fungi got mixed in with them?”
“Poison mushrooms?” Mace’s eyes widened, and a smile spread across his face. “Do you think you can get our . . . friends . . . to eat them?”
“Oh, darling, do you know anyone who can resist my stroganoff?” Gloria simpered at her husband. “By this time next week, we will have one less headache with which to contend in our happy little neighborhood.”
Dragon shoved the dwarf toward the side yard, then reached back and grabbed her other two friends by their arms and practically dragged them along. Once they had reached the street, Dragon let go of them.
Cleric wailed. “Mace and Gloria are going to try to kill Mistress Writer and Master Miles! We must warn them”
Sorceress scowled. “How do you know it is Mistress Writer and Master Miles they plan to murder?”
Dragon snorted. “Mistress and her mate are not among Mace and Gloria’s favorite people. Remember the trouble with Mystery?” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/the-return-of-the-neighbors/
Cleric nodded. “But it matters not whom they plan to murder. We must alert the authorities!”
The dwarf glowered in the direction of Mace and Gloria. “No need. I kin be takin’ care o those two. Just let me be gittin’ me axe.”
Are Mace and Gloria planning to kill Mistress Writer and Master Miles, or is someone else the target of their nefarious plot? Will they succeed, or will Mistress Writer’s characters intervene? Be sure to come back next week and find out what’s going on in the neighborhood. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.