Still standing in front of the open refrigerator, my Old Dwarf harrumphed. “Wale, it do na be lookin’ like ye been doin’ much good, lass. Yer Foreman be lookin’ more down in the mouf now than afore ye been tryin’ ta cheer ’em up.” He shook his head and tsk-tsked at me before going back to checking out the contents of the refrigerator.
I scowled at the dwarf, but the problem was, he was right. I hadn’t been very successful cheering up my Foreman. At least I had a better understanding of the problem now, though. My Foreman wasn’t just missing his world. He was, in his own words, missing who he was in his world. He was suffering a combination of boredom and feeling undervalued here in this world. I just didn’t know what I could do about it.
Several days later, I was in my office, answering some e-mails and trying to start the rough draft for my next blog post. My Old Dwarf barged in, munching an apple and giving me the stink-eye. “Ye still do na be doin’ nuttin’ fer yer Foreman. He still be draggin’ around, lookin’ lower than a blue-nosied, two-toesied Tunnel Terror!”
I blinked. “A what?”
The old reprobate waved me off. “It do na be makin’ no nevermind wat it be. Yer Foreman be lower ’en it! He be walkin’ aboot tha hoose liken he be walkin’ in ’is sleep. ’Is head be hangin’, ’is shoulders be slumped, an’ he jus’ be starin’ oot inta nothin’-ness.”
“Well, what do you expect me to do about it?” My tone was a little sharper than I had intended.
“Wale, I be expectin’ ye ta be doin’ summat wat be cheerin’ ’em up, lass!” The wide-eyed look the dwarf gave me clearly said duh!
“And just what do you suggest?” I scowled. “It’s not as if a medieval stable manager who fell out of a manuscript can just walk into a job as a stable manager – or anything else for that matter – here in this technologically advanced world.”
My Old Dwarf scratched his beard. “Be thet all wat be botherin’ ’em? He be wantin’ a job?”
“Not just any job.” I sighed. “He’s tired of being a go-fer. He misses the challenge of the position he held back in your world, a position for which he had a great deal of passion.”
My Old Dwarf chuckled, then scooted out of the room without another word or a backward glance. As I watched him go, I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I wonder what that old rascal is up to now.
Saturday morning breakfast was subdued. The normal chatter between my characters was missing. Yet, subdued is not the right word. While the only conversation at the table was between my husband and me, my eight characters taking their meal with us were anything but subdued. Although silent, they seemed more jittery than subdued. Other than my Old Dwarf, who ate enough for ten stout dwarves and half a dozen portly men, my characters picked at their food and exchanged furtive glances all through the meal.
Miles noticed it, too. He nudged me and nodded toward the others. “What’s up with them? If I were the suspicious type, I’d say that was a group trying to hide something.”
I nodded and was about to answer him when my characters jumped up en masse and made to leave the kitchen. Their efforts turned into an epic comedic performance. They bumbled and stumbled about, pushing and shoving and tripping over each other. They kept glancing surreptitiously at Miles and me, while frantically whispering and gesturing amongst themselves.
Miles burst out laughing. “This is one of the funniest slapstick routines I’ve ever seen.”
“As good as Abbott and Costello?” I cited my husband’s favorite comedy duo.
He nodded. “Better! On a par with Laurel and Hardy.”
I laughed as I got up and held out my hand, traffic-cop style, and brought the group to an abrupt halt. “Okay. What’s going on?”
There were a lot of errrs and ummms and throat-clearing while all eight characters shuffled their feet and looked at the floor, at the ceiling, at the window, or anywhere but at me.
I gave them all a hard look and repeated myself in my steeliest voice. “What is going on?”
My Old Dwarf stepped forward and blustered at me. “There be nuttin’ wat be goin’ on, lass. Wat be ye talkin’ aboot? We all jus’ be havin’ a lot ta be doin’ taday. Now, iffin ye be excusin’ us, we all be needin’ ta be gittin’ on our way.”
As he tried to push past me, I grabbed him by the collar. “You – stay put.” I narrowed my eyes and looked at the others. “All of you – stay put.” I gestured at Dragon. “You – talk. And you better make more sense than this one.” I gave my Old Dwarf a little shake and pushed him back next to the others.
Dragon gave me an imperious look. “It is as the dwarf stated – we all have a lot to accomplish this day and need to commence our many tasks.”
I lifted an eyebrow and waited, tapping my foot impatiently. Minutes passed. I noticed some of my other characters starting to sweat, but Dragon remained composed and aloof.
Finally, I sighed. “Fine. Go take care of your many tasks. But before you go, has anyone seen my Foreman? I haven’t seen him in several days now.”
Once again, there were a lot of errrs and ummms and throat-clearing while all eight characters shuffled their feet and looked all around the room.
I narrowed my eyes and stared at them. Finally, Dragon started to shiver and change colors. In a moment, her color had morphed to a pale blue, and smoke bubbles dripped from her snout, as often happened when she was confused or embarrassed.
I crossed my arms and glared at the quaking beast. “Okay, out with it. Just what in tarnation is going on?”
Before Dragon could say anything, my Old Dwarf stepped up again. Giving me his most innocent look, he replied, “Wale, I do na be knowin’ where exactly thet Tarnation place be, or wat exactly be goin’ on there, but I be tellin’ ye true, lass, there be nuttin goin’ on here.” He nodded and then studied his fingernails, regarding me from the corner of his eye.
“Uh-huh.” I rolled my eyes. “Nice try. Dragon, do you have anything to add? No? What about the rest of you?”
My characters served up another repeat performance consisting of a lot of errrs and ummms and throat-clearing while all eight of them shuffled their feet and looked all around, trying to avoid eye contact with me.
Cleric was the first to break. “Oh, Mistress, we were only trying to help!”
I frowned. “Help?”
Cleric nodded, tears streaming down her face. My Young Hero put his arm around her shoulder. “It is not your fault.”
“Are you suggesting it is anyone’s fault but his own?” My Arrogant One drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, grasped his cloak with both hands, and scowled.
“I take it you’re talking about my Foreman?” The frown lines were etching themselves permanently into my face.
“Yes, Mistress.” My Gypsy hung his head.
“So, what’s the story?” I again turned to Dragon, who was usually the wisest, most level-headed, and (when she wasn’t shivering in front of her illusory fireplace complaining about Minnesota weather) the most cooperative of the group.
She continued to blush pale blue and drip smoke bubbles from her snout.
“Do na be blamin’ tha beastie. It do na be her fault. I be the one wat be talkin’ ’er inta it.” The rapscallion came to his old friend’s defense.
“Talked her into what?” My voice was strained, and I could feel my blood pressure rising.
“I be talkin’ ’er inta . . .” My Old Dwarf hesitated.
“Well?” I could feel the veins in my neck starting to bulge. I was past losing my patience and fast approaching homicidal.
“Well, ye be sayin’ he be wantin’ a job!” The dwarf ducked his head and engaged in some more foot-shuffling.
“So, you found him a job?” I raised an eyebrow at Dragon.
“Where? Doing what?”
Seeing her friend unable to reply, Sorceress blurted, “We helped Dragon create an illusory world for your Foreman, where he could once again manage a large and prestigious stable.”
I wrinkled my brow and considered this information. “Ooo-kay. So, is that where he is right now?”
My Bounty Hunter shrugged. “That is where he has been for the past three days.”
I grimaced, a sinking feeling growing in the pit of my stomach. “And when will he be back?”
“We do not know, Mistress!” Tears continued to stream down Cleric’s face. “We cannot find him!”
What has happened to my Foreman, and why? Will we ever see him again? Be sure to come back next week. You might be needed for a search party, so I’ll leave the porch light on for you.