One Step Closer to . . .

One Step Closer to . . .

injured dragondwarf-facing-rightDragon thrashed and convulsed. The pain was excruciating, burning through her shattered body. But she heard a voice, a voice she knew well, the voice of a dear friend, a voice that should not be there. She must warn him! She struggled to say something, but only a scream of agony leapt from her lips. Then she fell silent.

* * *

dwarf“Oh, Beastie! Ye mus’ be keepin’ still! Ye mus’ be restin’ so’s ye kin be healin’ yerself!” The Old Dwarf swiped at the tears that streamed down his cheeks and soaked his grizzled beard. “Ye mus’ na be dyin’ on me, Beastie.”
Arrogant One
The rotund figure turned toward the Arrogant One. “Do ye be finished wit thet spell o hidin’ out yet?”

The elf frowned. “It is a spell of concealment, and I do not know if I am finished yet.” He wiped the sweat from his brow and dried his hands on his robes. “I have enunciated the proper incantation, but I have no idea if the spell was cast. If you will remember, I have been having difficulty controlling my power. Sometimes I cast a spell perfectly. Other times, my incantations produce no result at all. Still other times, a spell is cast, but it produces unintended results.” The Arrogant One lifted his hands, palms up, and raised his shoulders. “I have no idea if we are hidden from the drake.” He threw himself on the ground next to a tree. “I did warn you I would most likely be of no help.”
Sir Daniver 2
“Is there any way to check the results of the spell to see if it was cast and that the desired results were achieved?” Sir Daniver stared down at the elf.

“The only way we will know if it was successfully cast and produced the intended results is if the drake does not find us.” The elf looked apologetically at the knight. “I fear the only course open to us now is to wait.”

The Old Dwarf’s jaw dropped, and his eyes popped. “Ta be waitin’? Iffins we be waitin’ an’ tha spell do na be workin’, then we be tha creature’s dinner!”

The dwarf started pacing. He walked all the way around Dragon’s prone body which lay deathly still now, save an occasional shudder. He gave the beast a desperate look, reached down and stroked her muzzle again, then squared his shoulders and faced the others. “I do na be much likin’ thet plan. I be thinkin’, as wee as I be, I do na be easy ta be seen in tha dark. I be thinkin’ I best be skedaddlin’ outten here and be spyin’ on our unwanted neighbor, mebbe be coaxin’ ’em away.”

All three knights protested. “That is far too dangerous, good dwarf!” Sir Daniver shook his head emphatically.

“It be no more dangerous then it be ta jus’ be settin’ here on our bums, an’ be waitin’ fer tha monster ta be comin’ and eatin’ us.” The dwarf shouldered his axe. “Iffins yer spell be workin’, elfie, where be tha edge? Where do tha protected area be stoppin’ and tha unprotected area be startin’?”
Arrogant Oneinjured dragon
The Arrogant One stood and pointed at Dragon. “The beast is in the center of the area that should be encompassed by the spell. It is a roughly circular area that extends twice her length in every direction, to allow room for her thrashing and writhing. Everything inside should remain completely concealed to anyone outside that perimeter. No one outside should be able to see or hear those of us within the spell area.”

The Dwarf nodded. “Wale, I be leavin’ tha area. Iffin I do na be seein’ or hearin’ ye, I be supposin’ thet be meanin’ tha spell be workin’ good an’ proper like, and all ye be safe enuf while I be sayin’ me howdy-do’s ta tha drake.”

The Arrogant One grabbed the dwarf by the arm. “That will not work. First, you are a dwarf. You are not affected by magic, so you will still be able to see and hear us even if the spell worked properly. Second . . .”

But Sir Jenneseer interrupted, squaring his shoulders and grabbing his sword. “Then, it is up to one of us to test the spell. I will go.”

Sir Daniver stopped him. “No! I am the ranking knight. I will go.”

The elf shook his head. “No. I do not believe that will not work, either. That is the second thing I was going to explain to the dwarf. You were all within the affected area when I cast the spell. None of you are concealed from any of the others here. If one of you left the area, you would still be able to see and hear the rest, as well as be seen and be heard by us. And once you leave the protected area – presuming the spell actually took, and there really is a protected area – you would be seen and heard by anyone outside the area. The spell would not travel with you.”

The Old Dwarf scowled. “Ye be yammerin’ aboot too many iffins an’ whatnots. I be goin’. Mebbe I kin na be tellin’ iffin tha spell be workin’, but I kin be findin’ thet drake an’ be makin’ sure he do na be knowin’ tha whereaboots o all ye.”

Before anyone could stop him, the dwarf took off at a dead run and was promptly swallowed up by the dark shadows in the forest.

* * *

Drake watching 2The green drake had stopped his slow descent down the hillside. He could still taste the fear in the air, but it was much less pronounced than it had been just minutes before. He narrowed his reptilian eyes and scratched his chin with one long talon. What has changed? Why do they not fear as they did?

The behemoth risked raising his head and looking around. The moonless night had grown dark, but the drake’s exceptional night vision allowed him to see as clearly as in broad daylight. He looked down the hillside to the clearing, to the spot from which the smell of fear had emanated. The small clearing appeared empty. The drake reared back. What? How could they have moved the wounded dragon?

Out of the corner of his eye, the drake caught a slight movement. Something was making its way from the clearing through the trees and up the hillside. He sniffed the air. Intriguing! This creature does not smell of fear; rather, it exudes the overpowering scent of rage. Not as tasty as fear, but not too bitter a mouthful.

The creature slid down into the cover of the vegetation. Come to me, my tasty tidbit. You will make a satisfying appetizer. He smiled, his lips stretching over dagger-like teeth dripping with venom.

* * *

The Old Dwarf slipped silently from tree to tree, staying in the cover of the shadows. He moved slowly, with the skill and patience of one boasting centuries of practice stalking peerless foes.Dwarf hiding

He paused, cocking his head and cupping one ear. He could still hear the faint moans of his friend, Dragon, and the whispered conversations of the elf and the trio of knights. I be hopin’ real hard thet tha elfie’s magickin’ be workin’, causin iffin it do na be, thet drake’ll be hearin’ ’em fer sure! Do na they be havin’ brains enuff ta be keepin’ their moufs shut tight?

The rotund figure peered about, his sharp eyes almost slipping right over his quarry, so well camouflaged was the green drake in the shadowy vegetation. Once the Old Dwarf spotted the creature, he studied it for several minutes before making a move.

The dwarf turned and stomped loudly on a twig. Making sure the drake had heard him, the grizzled warrior took off at a dead run . . . and promptly tripped over a protruding root. He struggled clumsily to his feet, and started limping away, cursing under his breath. He could hear the drake bearing down on him.

The Old Dwarf tripped and stumbled his way along the hillside, farther and farther from his friends in the clearing. The drake was catching up with him quickly. The dwarf strained to stay out of reach of the deadly fangs and claws. Finally, he reached an area of almost impassable vegetation. His limp vanished, and he disappeared into the underbrush, scampering along like a mouse. Hehe. Be seein’ iffin ye kin be keepin’ up wit me now, ye accursed monster! Every so often, the dwarf made sure to make some noise, to keep the drake from abandoning the chase.

* * *

Unicorn and mermaidThe mermaid, resplendent with emerald green hair and scales, sat in the water by the edge of a pool. She stared into a large bubble hovering above her hand at eye level, watching a distant scene unfold. The green drake was crashing through the thick forest and dense underbrush, hot on the trail of the grizzled old dwarf. The plucky dwarf always managed to keep a few feet ahead of his pursuer.

“Why, that cunning rascal! He faked tripping over those protruding roots, to lure the drake away from the other dragon and her companions while the elf and the knights plan a defense. And the dwarf’s limp disappeared as soon as he reached adequate cover! He’s staying in an area of thick undergrowth, so the drake would be unable to see him at all if the monster took to the air! The dwarf has virtually grounded the drake.”

The unicorn, peering over the mermaid’s shoulder to see, bobbed his head and stamped his front hoof, splashing the shallow water. He placed his horn gently along the mermaid’s head, by her temple. She listened carefully to the voice in her head.

“You want to see the other dragon?” The mermaid wrinkled her brow.

The Lord of the Forest nodded again.

The mermaid waved her hand over the bubble, and the scene changed. She and the unicorn watched intently as the dragon convulsed. They could see the expression on the faces of the knights. The men were obviously distraught, but impotent to do anything for the ailing beast.

The unicorn laid his horn against the mermaid’s temple once again, and she closed her eyes to concentrate on the instructions the Lord of the Forest was conveying. After a long few moments, she nodded. “Yes, the dragon needs help. The drake’s venom must be neutralized. The knight called Jenneseer has a sister who is a hedge witch. She would be able to provide the antidote to her brother and his companions.”

The mermaid waited until the unicorn nodded his approval. “I will send someone to arrange it. I just hope we can get it done in time.”

The Lord of the Forest whickered softly and nodded, a faraway look in his eye.Unicorn 2

Will Dragon receive the antidote in time? Will the Old Dwarf be able to keep the drake away from Dragon and her companions? Will the elf be able to help the knights mount a defense against the drake? Be sure to return next week and find out what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Fear

Fear

blizzardThe weather was miserable. We were enduring our umpteenth day with the temperatures dipping well below zero on the Fahrenheit scale, and the Arctic had nothing on us when it came to wind chill. I stopped listening to the weather reports when the meteorologist crowed about negative 55. Or maybe it was when he gleefully forecast another three-to-five inches of white stuff on top of the previous four three-to-five-inch snowfalls, much of which still covered our Minnesota neighborhood.

dragonArrogant OneThe chill in the air extended to the indoors, as my characters still blamed me for not preventing Dragon and my Arrogant One from heading off on their own, back to the land to which the wish listeners had taken us last May. They feared for the safety and wellbeing of their comrades.

Unicorn and dwarfAnd they blamed me for my Old Dwarf departing as well. When the Lord of the Forest revealed to my Old Dwarf that the elf had abandoned the mortally wounded Dragon, there was no stopping the head-strong dwarf. He and the unicorn had galloped into Dragon’s illusory fireplace and disappeared. We had heard naught from dwarf nor unicorn since. We feared we might never again see them.

wrapped-in-blanket.jpgI shivered, as much from the icy stares of my characters as from the winter weather. I sat on the couch, pulling a blanket closer around me. I hoped it was warmer wherever Dragon, my Arrogant One, and my Old Dwarf might be. And I feared we might never know.

* * *

injured dragonThe evening was unusually warm, and the trio of knights standing guard over Dragon sweated in their chain mail and plate armor. Despite the heat, Dragon was not sweating. She shivered and convulsed as the knights watched, helplessly.

Sir Hrolf 2“She needs to be kept warm.” Sir Hrolf looked around for something to place over the trembling beast. “We need blankets.”

sir daniverSir Daniver shook his head and raised his eyebrow at the younger knight. “She needs warmth, for sure, but one of our blankets would barely cover one of her taloned hands.”

Sir Hrolf ducked his head and blushed. “Well, we need something with which to warm her. She’s shaking so much, just the sound of her teeth chattering is sure to alert the green drake to our presence.”

“A fire would provide some heat, but it would also pinpoint our location for the drake or any other foe in the vicinity.” Sir Jeneseer rubbed the back of his neck and sighed.

Sir Daniver stroked his chin and furrowed his brow. “Leaves make a good blanket.”

“Sir?” His two young charges frowned.

“We could gather some limbs and large branches, weave them together with vines, place them over the beast, and pile as many leaves as possible on top of them.”

Sir JenneseerSir Jeneseer scoffed. “Sir, that may work to cover a horse, but this beast is far too large for us to cover with the available vegetation.” The young knight raked his hand through his hair. “Even if enough vegetation were available, the noise of us felling limbs from nearby trees and dragging them across the clearing would alert the green drake as surely as would a fire . . . or as will Dragon’s current shakes-and-shivers.”

Sir Daniver sighed. “You are right, of course. I am grasping at straws. If we cannot quiet the beast, we will surely have to deal with the drake that attacked her. I do not relish going up against a foe so powerful, yet we are honor-bound to protect Dragon.”

“We could use more able-bodied defenders to augment our numbers.” Sir Hrolf curled his lip. “I do not imagine the dishonorable elf might let slip news of our predicament once he reaches the castle.”

Sir Jenneseer snorted. “That one? He will speak only to those who will further his agenda and share only news that will aid in his quest.”

Sir Daniver nodded. “I fear we are on our own; and, as darkness is almost upon us, we need to set our defenses now.”
unicorn 2
Sir Hrolf nodded, but Sir Jennesser was staring at a figure approaching on the road that led from the other side of the clearing. “Look there! Is that the Lord of the Forest?”

The trio of knights watched as the equine walked sedately along the path. As it entered the clearing, the knights could barely make it out in the fading twilight.
Arrogant One riding off
Sir Daniver squinted in the direction of the figure. “Nay, that is not the unicorn. That is a horse and rider.” He continued to squint as the figure drew nigh. “Why . . . why, it is the elf! He has returned!”

* * *

Arrogant OneThe Arrogant One slid wearily from the horse’s back. He looked at Dragon, shivering and moaning in the shelter of the trees at the edge of the clearing. He turned to the knights. “Has there been any change in the beast’s condition?”

“You can plainly see there has not.” Sir Daniver crossed his arms over his chest. His words were soft, but his anger was barely concealed by his tone. “Why have you returned?”

The elf sighed. “The road would not end.”

“What?” The knight furrowed his brow. “I do not understand.”

The elf related the events of his futile attempt to flee to the safety of the castle. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/02/10/dire-plights/ “And so, I gave the horse his head, and he brought me back here.”

“What is the force behind such trickery?” Sir Hrolf frowned. “Would the wish listeners have done this?”Wish ListenersUnicorn 2

Sir Jenneseer shrugged. “Mayhap. Or perchance the Lord of the Forest guided the elf back here to assist us in defending this beast.”

The Arrogant One scoffed. “What help can I be? What chance do the four of us have to defend against the drake that inflicted such wounds on this beast? If she could not protect herself, how do you expect us to do better?”

Sir Hrolf smiled. “How did we have any chance of defending our castle when last you and your companions were in this land?”

The other two knights and the Arrogant One all looked at Sir Hrolf, their lack of comprehension clearly showing in their faces.

The young knight smiled again, smugly. “Magic.”

“Magic?” The elf gaped at the knight.

“Yes, magic. Illusory magic, such as you and your companions used to help us save our castle.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/07/22/home/

arrogant oneThe elf continued to gape. “You know my magic is unreliable at this time. That is why the beast and I are here in your world – to seek the source of the problem. And . . . and even if my power was up to par, I . . . I would need time to prepare . . .”

dwarf-facing-right“Well, ye be outten time, elfie.” The Old Dwarf seemed to appear out of nowhere at the elf’s elbow. “Ye best be gittin’ ta work.” The stocky figure’s face was grim, and the look he gave the elf left no doubt in the Arrogant One’s mind what would happen if he did not comply.

“How can we help?” Sir Janneseer approached the elf, his shoulders squared and his jaw set.

Before the Arrogant One could answer, the dwarf motioned for them all to be silent. He whispered to the elf. “Tha very firstest thin’ ye best be doin’ is ta be castin’ one o them ward thingies Dragon al’ays be usin. Ye be knowin’ wat I be talkin’ aboot. A spell ta be keepin’ pryin’ eyes and ears outten’ our bizz-ee-ness.” He motioned toward the nearby hillside. “Elsewise, we be havin’ some unwanted company real quick-like.”

The elf’s eyes widened, and his throat constricted. “I do not cast wards. That is one of Dragon’s talents! My aptitude is illusory magic!”

“Do na be handin’ me thet twaddle! I be rememberin’ thet time, more’n two years past, when ye be in league wit thet evil wizard, Morcant. Ye be kidnappin’ me and Cleric, and ye be hidin’ us in tha shed loft. Then ye be settin’ a magical barrier wat be keepin’ us hidden from everyone.”

The elf furrowed his brow. “Yes, yes, I remember! That was not a ward, but a spell of concealment, much like the one Dragon uses to keep the neighbors from seeing and hearing the illusory stable and horses she created for three of our company. I learned the spell from Morc . . . I mean, er, from another magic user.” He turned red as he remembered the incident. “Yes, I might be able to use that same spell here to hide us all from the drake. If my magic will work, that is.”

The dwarf gave a short nod of his head. “Ye be givin’ it yer best effort, elfie.”

The Arrogant One began mumbling an incantation, hoping against hope that he would be able to cast the requisite spell, with no unintended results. Beads of sweat formed on his brow, and he could barely choke out the conjuration.

* * *

Drake watching 2The drake moved quietly as a shadow through the grass. His green scales blended with the lush foliage, camouflaging him perfectly. He snaked his way down the hillside, inching along toward the wounded dragon and her companions. He tested the air, searching for the flavor of fear. He tasted it, strong and intoxicating, from some unknown source. It was not the dragon he had wounded earlier, nor her knightly companions. Perchance it was the other biped, whose species was unknown to him. But it mattered little. He tasted fear – stark, naked fear. He rolled it around in his mouth and savored it.

* * *

DwarfWhile the Arrogant One attempted to cast the necessary spell to conceal the group from the approaching drake, the Old Dwarf walked over to stand by Dragon. The creature was still convulsing and shivering, but not as violently as earlier. “Be she gittin’ better, or be she gittin’ weaker?”

Sir Daniver placed a hand on the dwarf’s shoulder. “We do not know enough about dragons to determine her condition. We can only wait and hope that she is on the mend.”

dragon looking rightThe dwarf reached out and stroked Dragon’s muzzle. “Beastie? I be here, beastie. Ye do na be dyin’ on me now. Ye do na be leavin’ me! Ye be gittin’ yerself healed up and well agin’, beastie.” The dwarf’s voice cracked, and he hid his face in his hands, so no one could see the tears streaming down his face.

* * *

Dragon struggled against the searing pain. The shattered bones in her arm were slowly knitting, and the leathery skin and skeletal frame of her wings were mending. The gashes that ran along her left side were still open and bleeding. They burned with the poison from the green drake, poison that now coursed through her feverish body. The pain was almost unbearable.

injured dragon

Suddenly, Dragon felt something else. Something was reaching through the pain, nudging at the edge of Dragon’s consciousness. A voice. Dragon heard a voice. Whose voice? She strained to hear. Did the voice say Beastie? She knew that voice! The diminutive owner of that voice was someone from her past, from two different pasts in two different worlds.

carved red dragoncarved dwarfIn the more distant world, that voice had been shy and sweet. The young owner of that voice had carved little gifts for her. There had been a miniature dragon, about the size of his fist, carved from a piece of reddish stone; and there had been a small, white figure with hair and beard, a reasonable likeness of her friend who had carved it.

dwarfDragon with smokeIn another world, a more recent world, that voice had grown gruff and cantankerous, but the aging owner of that voice was someone she knew would give his life to protect her, as she would give hers to protect him.

What is he doing here? He must not be here! Dragon thrashed about, frantically trying to find her friend. I must warn him!

Will Dragon be able to warn her friend, my Old Dwarf? Will she succumb to her wounds, or will her friend be able to save her? Will my Arrogant One be able to cast his spell, and hide the group from the green drake? Be sure to join us again next week as this exciting adventure continues. We’ll leave the porch light on for you!

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Dire Plights

Dire Plights

wide-eyed

fireplace2Miles and I, along with my remaining characters, stood staring into the flames long after the Lord of the Forest and my Old Dwarf galloped straight into Dragon’s illusory fireplace and disappeared.

Miles was the first to speak. “Wha . . . what just happened?”

I raked my hand through my hair and cleared my throat. “I . . . I’m not sure. I believe the unicorn just took my Old Dwarf into the land to which the wish listeners had taken us last May, the land to which Dragon and my Arrogant One have returned.”

“Your Old Dwarf said Dragon was dying.” Cleric’s face was pale, and she was wringing her hands.

I nodded, but my voice caught in my throat when I tried to reassure her.

My Bounty Hunter scoffed. “How could the dwarf possibly know that?”

“It appeared the unicorn communicated that information to the dwarf.” Sorceress wiped a tear from the corner of her eye.

“Nonsense!” My Bounty Hunter scowled. “What possible reason would the Lord of the Forest have to communicate with that oaf?”

My Gypsy raised an eyebrow and fixed my Bounty Hunter with a cold stare. “Oh, I don’t know. What possible reason would the Lord of the Forest have for taking that oaf with him?”

My Bounty Hunter stammered. “Well . . .”

My Foreman snorted. “Because, of all of us, the dwarf is the one who has known Dragon the longest. Their friendship long predates the events Mistress Writer chronicled in her first book about us. The dwarf has a special devotion to the beast.”

My Young Hero nodded and rubbed the back of his neck. “And I daresay I would not want to be that elf if what the dwarf said is true. If the elf deserted Dragon, the dwarf will not rest until the elf has answered for his cowardice.”

The rest of us nodded and murmured our agreement. My Bounty Hunter paled, and beads of sweat formed on his brow as he stared again into the fire.

* * *

Unicorn and dwarfThe Old Dwarf had barely been able to reach the unicorn’s mane, but he held on tight to the fistful he had grabbed. As the animal galloped toward the illusory fireplace, the dwarf leaped, and was jerked up onto the unicorn’s wide back. The old adventurer closed his eyes, muttered a few choice expletives, and hung on for dear life as they galloped into the fire.

The dwarf was aware of a surge of heat, heat so intense he may have passed out for a few seconds. Then he was falling, falling through fire, through steam, through mist, through branches of trees that reached out to break his fall. He ended his descent in a most undignified manner, on his bum. He jumped up, ignoring his sore rear and the multitude of scratches, bumps, and bruises he had acquired on his quick journey.

Path to the rightThe dwarf looked around. He was on a trail choked with protruding tree roots. He could see only a short distance ahead or behind, as the trail in both directions curved sharply. Mist tried to swallow all but the closest vegetation on the sides of the trail, but with his sharp eyesight, the dwarf could see what the mist sought to hide. The land on one side of the trail rose gently, while on the opposite side, a wide shoulder led to a steep drop-off.

The rotund figure placed a hand to his ear and listened, turning in all directions. Hearing nothing, he called softly. “You-nee-corn? Be ye hereaboots?” He listened again but heard nothing save the squawks and trills of the forest birds, and the chattering of a few squirrels.

“Okey-doky. I be guessin’ ye be only me transport inta this place, and now it be up ta me ta be findin’ tha beastie on me own. Wale, I be thankin’ ye, you-nee-corn.” The dwarf looked around, a scowl darkening his features. “But I mebbe be thankin’ ye a whole bunch more iffin ye actually be tellin’ me where ta be findin’ me friend.”

The silence mocked him. The dwarf sighed, hefted his axe, and started along the trail at a fast clip. “You-nee-corn? Iffin ye kin be hearin’ me, I be hopin’ this be tha right direction. Iffin I do na be findin’ tha beastie in a few hours, by sunset, I be guessin’ I be commin’ back and tryin’ tha other direction this night.”

* * *

Sir Daniver inspected the work completed by his two companions. The knights had replaced the clods of grass and dirt that Dragon had gouged up during her disastrous landing. They had erased their tracks from the small field and plumped up the tufts of grass that had been flattened.

Nodding his approval, the commander beckoned the other two under the cover of the trees. “Hopefully, our position will be undetectable from above, should the green drake be on the wing. Now we will stand vigil over our friend, Dragon, and try to comfort her as she heals.”injured dragon

Sir Jenneseer looked at Sir Daniver and gestured at the ugly gashes on Dragon’s side, her broken arm, and her tattered wings. “Did the balm you applied do any good?”

The older knight sighed. “It may have lessened her suffering by a small degree, but it was not a healing potion.” He gave his companion a sidelong glance. “Perchance you have such a potion? Something your sister, the hedge witch, may have shared with you?”

The young knight blushed scarlet and shook his head emphatically. “Nay! As much as I love my sister, I would never associate myself with the trappings of witchcraft or magic!”

“Pity.” Both men started and turned to find the third knight behind them, listening. When he realized he had spoken aloud, Sir Hrolf reddened, but shrugged. “Witchcraft and magic are not synonymous, but that is neither here nor there. Neither is inherently bad. Magic saved us and our castle when last this beast and her companions visited this world and aided us in our quest. We have oft accepted the magical aid of the wish listeners and the Lord of the Forest. It is my humble opinion that the time is long past when we should accept that magic is not evil, nor is it good. It is but a tool, like a sword or a hammer, and only the individuals wielding it can be evil or good.”

Sir Jenneseer furrowed his brow, but remained silent, keeping his thoughts to himself. Sir Daniver looked from one young knight to the other and shook his head. “That is a discussion for another time. Right now, let us do our best to keep the beast comfortable during her ordeal.”

As the three knights took up their positions watching over Dragon, the big creature began moaning and thrashing around.

“Watch out for her tail!” Sir Daviver pushed his two charges to safety. The three knights looked on helplessly as Dragon writhed and convulsed.

“We really could use some magic here.” Sir Hrolf looked pointedly at Sir Jenneseer.

* * *

Drake watching 2The green drakes’ spiked tail twitched. He narrowed his eyes, and something akin to a chuckle rumbled deep in his throat. If anyone had been watching him, they would have thought him amused at the scene below – at the naivety of the knights who failed to realize how exposed they were, oblivious to the exceptional hearing and sense of smell inherent in the scaly behemoth.

As the afternoon marched toward sundown, the green creature kept his own vigil. Occasionally, he would sniff the air, relishing the taste of fear emanating from the knights below. Sometimes he would cock his head, listening to the whispered assurances they shared with each other regarding their safety. Mostly, he just watched and chuckled.

* * *

Arrogant One riding off

The Arrogant One galloped at breakneck speed down the tree-lined lane. He put spur to his mount and urged it on ever faster. But the end of the lines of trees, where the road entered the open fields, never seemed to get closer.

When the horse could run no further, the elf pulled it up. Both rider and mount heaved for breath and sweat poured off them both. After many long minutes, when the elf could breathe again without searing pain in his chest, he dismounted and looked around. The avenue, with its canopy formed from the branches of the trees on either side of the road, went on interminably in both directions. The elf could see neither the opening where he had deserted his companions and fled for his own safety nor the other end of the path, where the trees ended and the trail meandered through the rolling landscape approaching the castle.

Wide avenue“No, no, no! This is all wrong!” The elf looked about, bewilderment and fear showing plainly in his wide-eyed stare. “I could see the end of the tree-lined section of the road from the spot where I left the others! This part of the road was not that long! What is happening?”

The elf collapsed by the side of the road. His horse, whose breathing had finally returned to normal, stood nearby, snatching a few mouthfuls of grass and leaves as it waited for its rider to rise and remount. The Arrogant One did not move.

Darkness was starting to fall when the elf finally roused himself. He struggled to his feet and remounted the patient horse, who had not abandoned his rider all afternoon. The elf looked in both directions. “Well, horse, I seem to have lost my bearings. The trail seems identical in both directions.” He looked down, but there were no tracks in the dirt to indicate whence he came. He looked up, but the canopy of branches and leaves overhead gave no clue. Finally, the elf loosened the reins and gave the horse his head. The animal turned and started walking sedately down the path.

* * *

The Old Dwarf trudged along the trail, climbing over fallen trees, crawling through exposed roots, and tripping over clods of dry earth and vegetation. He couldn’t tell how long he had been walking, but he knew he was getting tired. He wiped the sweat from his brow and looked at the sky. It was tinged with the first colors of the setting sun. He sighed.

“Wale, I be guessin’ I be takin’ the wrong direction. I be guessin’ I best be turnin’ aboot and be goin’ tha other way.” He took off his helmet and scratched his head. He looked abashed and scolded himself loudly. “Ye daft old dwarf! Now jest who be it ye be thinkin’ ye be tellin’ this to? There do na be anyone but yerself wot be goin’ ta be hearin’ ye.” The dwarf chuckled and replaced his helmet. He turned around to retrace his steps along the trail but stopped dead in his tracks and gaped. The trail he had just traversed was gone, hidden behind an impenetrable wall of tangled branches.

Tangled branches

The Old Dwarf dropped into a defensive crouch and brandished his axe as he looked all around for anyone who may have cast a spell creating the barrier. When he saw no one, he carefully arose. He narrowed his eyes and nattered to himself. “Be yon barrier ta be keepin’ me from tha path I be supposed ta be takin’? Or be it there ta be keepin’ me on the true path ta tha beastie?”

He looked around again and noted that dusk was quickly approaching. “I be guessin’ I best be keepin’ on in tha direction wot I been goin’. It would be takin’ too long ta chop through yon barrier and be goin’ back ta where I be started from.”

* * *

Drake watching 3

 

Darkness was settling over the small clearing. The green drake, high on the hillside, wriggled in anticipation. He knew there would be no moon this night, so soon it would be dark enough to conceal his movements. He lifted his head and sniffed the air again. Fear. It tasted so good. Soon, he would have his fill of it.

 

What does the green drake have planned? Will he succeed? Will the knights be able to defend themselves and Dragon from the drake and any unknown foes? Are Dragon’s wounds healing, or is she getting weaker? Will the Old Dwarf get to Dragon before she dies? And where is the Arrogant One? Be sure to come back next week and enjoy the next episode of this hair-raising adventure. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Critical Decisions

Critical Decisions

arrogant oneThe Arrogant One stared wide-eyed and uncomprehending at the three knights. “There have been no dragons on this world . . . for the past millennia?”
sir daniver
Sir Daniver nodded. “We had heard tales of the beasts, but never saw one until your previous visit to our world, when the evil wish listener brought you and your companions, including this one, here.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/06/03/our-little-odyssey/

Sir Hrolf 2Sir Hrolf stroked his chin thoughtfully. “We immediately recognized what she was. We were raised on the epic legends of dragonkind. There were grand tales of heroic knights slaying murderous creatures that ruled the skies and rained fire onto the villages below. There were tender tales of noble dragons who befriended humans and aided them, protecting them from danger, even from others of their kind. But the last report of a dragon sighting is almost lost in the mists of history. Supposedly, an army of knights wiped them from the face of the world a thousand years ago, slaying evil and noble beasts indiscriminately. It was a blot on the escutcheon of the knighthood.”


Sir Jenneseer 2
Sir Jenneseer nodded. “It is told that rather than receiving the hero’s welcome they all expected, the returning knights were stripped of their rank and discharged with dishonor for conduct contrary to the Knight’s Code of Chivalry. Many were disowned by their families as well. It was a dark time.”
Arrogant One
“Yes, yes, I am not interested in a history lesson.” The elf scowled and waved dismissively. “We need to return to the safety of the castle. We know not how many of these beasts there may be.”

Sir Hrolf shook his head. “Your companion can not be moved. Her condition is critical. While legend has it that a dragon has the innate ability to heal itself, even from wounds as serious as these, it will take time. We must remain with her and protect her.”

injured dragon

The Arrogant One gaped at the knights. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak with both hands. “I have no intention of staying here. We would be no match for that other beast if it caught us out here in the open. We need the protection of the castle . . .”

Before the elf could finish, Sir Daniver backhanded him, knocking him off his feet. “You shame yourself, elf, and you shame your entire race. We will not be tainted by your dishonor. We will stay with the noble beast and guard her for as long as necessary.”

UnicornStruggling to his feet, the Arrogant One brushed himself off and glared at the knights. “Do what you will. I refuse to sacrifice myself for a creature that abandoned my quest. The beast pledged to help me find the source of my affliction. Instead, she went off in search of the Lord of the Forest, that . . . that second cousin to a donkey!” He scoffed. “And then the foolish beast was injured to boot! Let her be, I say. She got what she deserved. I intend to save myself!”

Arrogant One riding offHe turned on his heel, snatched the reins of his horse, vaulted into the saddle, and galloped off in the direction of the castle.

Sir Hrolf started to go after the elf, but Sir Daniver stopped the younger knight. “Let the elf go. We have an obligation to stay with this helpless creature and protect her – with our very lives, if necessary.”

“But . . .” Sir Hrolf hesitated to defy his commander. “But the elf, too, is in need of our help. There is much open ground between here and the castle.”

Sir Daniver nodded but placed his hand on the younger knight’s shoulder and addressed him firmly. “Let him go. He has made his choice and must face the consequences.”

Sir Hrolf acquiesced. Sir Daniver then directed his two companions to help him move Dragon into the cover of the shade trees. “This will conceal her from any creature flying overhead and help keep her cool.”

It was a monumental task for the three knights to move the huge beast. When they finally had her resting comfortably, Sir Daniver tasked the other knights to erase any signs of their presence from the clearing. “Smooth the grass, repair the areas that have been torn, disguise our trail. I will tend to the beast. I have some salve that might ease the pain of the wounds while the creature heals herself.”

From the top of a nearby hill, nearly invisible against the lush grass and trees, the green drake watched the activity below with intense interest.

Drake watching

* * *

unicornThe unicorn stood in front of Dragon’s illusory fireplace. The image of the mythical creature shimmered, fading in and out. My characters backed away, partially, I think, out of respect for the Lord of the Forest, and partially out of fear. Their faces showed equal parts awe and apprehension.

Miles grabbed my hand. “Honey? What is that horse doing in our house?”

I squeezed my husband’s hand. “He’s not a horse, Miles. He’s a unicorn. He’s the Lord of the Forest.”

“Huh?”

“Do you remember the tale I told you when my characters and I returned from our nature walk at the Memorial Day picnic last year?”Unicorn 2

“Mmm-hmm” My husband’s eyes never left the unicorn.

“Well, this is a creature of great power from the world to which the wish listeners had taken us.” I gave his hand another squeeze before letting go and walking toward the unicorn.

I approached the shimmering form cautiously. I was unsure if this apparition was a solid object or just an incorporeal image. When I stood in front of it, I bowed in a deep obeisance. “Great One! You honor us with your presence.”

The unicorn stood quietly, his eyes searching mine for many long minutes. Finally, he shook his head, wuffled, and started pawing. He looked over at my group of characters.

“I’m not sure, but I don’t think he wants to speak with me. I think it is one of you with whom he wishes to speak.” I backed away respectfully.
Dwarf
“But which o ussins do tha beastie be wantin’ ta conversate wit?” My Old Dwarf stared at the creature.

bounty-hunter-facing-other-direction“As the unicorn is a magical creature, it would most likely wish to communicate with someone who possesses great magic.” My Bounty Hunter pointed at Sorceress and my Gypsy. “With Dragon and your Arrogant One gone, these two would be the most likely candidates.”


Unicorn and dwarfI beckoned the two forward. They approached the unicorn and stood, waiting. As he had done with me, the creature seemed to search their eyes for many long minutes before repeating his display of shaking his head, wuffling, and pawing. He looked again at the group, then walked toward them, stepping daintily across the carpeted floor. Finally, the shimmering form stopped in front of my Old Dwarf.

“Do na be eyein’ me liken thet, beastie. I do na be havin’ no magickin’.”

The Lord of the Forest reached out and gently touched my Old Dwarf with his horn. The dwarf’s eyes widened, and he began to tremble. Finally, he turned to me. “She be dyin’! Tha beastie be dyin’!” He fell to his knees, and tears ran down his face, soaking his grizzled beard.

“Dragon? Dragon’s dying?” The color drained from my Bounty Hunter’s face.

My Old Dwarf nodded and blubbered, unable to choke out any words.

“Then what of the elf?” My Bounty Hunter whirled around and stalked forward toward the unicorn. “What has happened to the elf?”

The Lord of the Forest shook his head furiously, and he swished his tail. He snorted and bared his teeth at my Bounty Hunter. Then the creature turned back to my Old Dwarf, who was still on his knees, sobbing. The unicorn nickered and placed his head on the dwarf’s shoulder. My Old Dwarf seemed to calm down. Then the unicorn lifted his head and gently touched the dwarf again with his horn.Unicorn and dwarf 2

The dwarf looked at the unicorn and then stood and nodded. “Tha beastie be needin’ me help. I be goin’ wit tha you-nee-corn.”

“But what about the elf?” My Bounty Hunter grabbed my Old Dwarf’s arm. “What has happened to the elf?”

The dwarf shook free of my Bounty Hunter’s grasp and rounded on him, eyes narrowed, voice deep and threatening. “Tha cowardly little popinjay be abandonin’ tha beastie in ’er time o need. He be savin’ ’is own skin.”

My Old Dwarf turned to me. “I be goin’ wit the you-nee-corn. I will na be comin’ back wit’out I be bringin’ tha beastie.”

He grabbed the unicorn’s mane and swung himself up on its back. The two of them galloped across the room, disappearing into the depths of Dragon’s illusory fireplace.

The rest of us stood there, mouths open, eyes wide, unable to move.

wide-eyed

Will my Old Dwarf be able to help Dragon? Or will she perish in a strange land, with only the three knights standing vigil? What will happen to my Arrogant One? Will my three characters ever find their way back here, or will they be lost to us forever? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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