A Ducky Day for Collecting Flora (and Overhearing a Murder Plot?)

A Ducky Day for Collecting Flora (and Overhearing a Murder Plot?)

horses-all-gone-for-blogfireworks5 for blogThe 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.

Picnic table by lakeThe Secret TrailMy 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.

sorceress-facing-right“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.

Elf“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.

Dragon breathing smokeI 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.”

dwarf“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?”

Dragon nodded.

“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.

wildflowers along the fence“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!”

Bee on flowerButterfly on flowerCleric 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.

“Bell flowers.”

“Bee balm.”Bee Balm

“Two different types of milkweed.”

“Ornamental onion.”Ornamental Onion

“Vetch.”Vetch

“Thistle in three stages – blossoming, in full flower, and gone to seed.”

“Black-eyed Susan.”Black-eyed Susan

“Woodland Sunflower.”

“Prairie coreopsis”Prairie Coreopsis

“Burdock.”Burdock

“Bird’s foot trefoil.”Bird's Foot Trefoil

“Clover.”

“Queen Anne’s lace.”Queen Anne's Lace

“Juniper berries.”Juniper berries

“Purple coneflower.”

“Anything else?”

Cleric nodded. “I have a lily I cannot identify. Should I harvest it?”

Unknown lily
“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.”

Common Yellowthroat
“Is that other bird its young?” Sorceress pointed to a smaller bird in a nearby tree.

Fledgling Eastern Phoebe

“No, I believe I have heard Mistress call that one an Eastern Phoebe.”

“And what is that one?” Sorceress pointed again.

Black-capped Chickadee

“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.”

American Goldfinch

“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?”
Stroganoff
“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.”Dwarf
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.

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Lost

Lost

Holiday“So, what do you think we should do for the holiday?”

I wrinkled my brow and tilted my head, considering my husband’s question. “Holiday? What holiday?”

Miles chuckled and shook his head. “Memorial Day.”

I frowned. “It’s Memorial Day already? Where did the time go?”

Miles smiled. “Yup, it’s this coming Monday.”

I continued to frown. “I hate that it’s a holiday. It used to be – and still should be – a day for remembering and honoring those who died in active military service. Now, it just the beginning of the summer season, and an excuse for a three-day weekend, with barbecues, picnics, beach parties, etcetera.”


“What be this aboot a bar-be-cue and pick-a-nick?” My Old Dwarf stomped across the room and joined the conversation, a wide grin on his face. “Be ye needin’ me help ta pack up tha food?”

I scowled at him. “Barbecue and picnic. They’re the only two words you heard, aren’t they? I was just saying how Memorial Day is no longer observed in the way in which it was intended.”

“There be nuttin’ wrong wit honoring yer war dead by throwin’ a feast in their memory, lass, an’ raisin’ a mug or two in recognition o their courage and sacrifice. Thet be tha way we Dwarves be doin’ it!”

My husband smiled and shrugged at me. “Can’t argue with the Dwarven way!”

“Be thet ta mean we be goin’ on a pick-a-nick?” My Old Dwarf’s eyes brightened.

I sighed. “I suppose we could go on an outing.”

Elf facing right“What is this about an outing?” Cleric entered the room and caught part of the conversation. “Are we going on another nature trek to take pictures, Mistress?” Cleric’s eyes sparkled with anticipation, and she fidgeted with the cord on her robe.

I shrugged. “I suppose we could do some nature photography as part of the outing.”

“As long as ye do na be forgittin’ tha food!” My Old Dwarf smacked the flat of his axe against his palm for emphasis.

blue-dragon-facing-leftNow Dragon entered the room and the conversation. “Nature photography? Food? What is transpiring?”

“This coming weekend is Memorial Day weekend, and Miles thinks we should do something to celebrate. My Old Dwarf wants to have a picnic or barbecue, and Cleric would like to go on a nature hike. Do you have any preferences?”

“Yes. I think we should stay at home and enjoy a day of rest.”

arrogant-one-facing-rightMy Arrogant One, who had been right behind Dragon, grimaced and stuck his nose in the air. He commented in a petulant whine, “I thought you said it was a holiday. I suppose you are proposing a stayiday, like our last vacation was a staycation?”

I rolled my eyes as I remembered what my Arrogant One had said about that vacation. “The concept of vacation is new to me; however, I do understand it to involve travel away from one’s place of residence. We have traveled nowhere. For the past two weeks, we have not once taken leave of this place.

And when I had attempted to explain the concept of a staycation to him, he had declared the word to be merely another term for boring.
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/vacation-is-over/

I sighed. “Yeah, I agree. I guess staying home to celebrate a holiday would be much the same as staying home for a vacation.”

“It be all set, then.” My Old Dwarf rubbed his hands together. “I be helpin’ wit tha food.”

“Of course you will.” Dragon sighed a puff of smoke at the old reprobate, who just laughed at her.

“Ye be seein’, beastie. It be a whole lot o fun!”

Dragon lifted an eyebrow and snorted. “I suppose I will be required to go.”

I nodded. “I think it would be nice if we all went. And besides, you’ve enjoyed these outings in the past.”

“Very well.” Dragon shrugged. “It might not be completely unbearable.”

“I will let the others know.” Cleric started to leave the room.

Miles“Wait a minute! We haven’t even decided where we should go, or on which day of the three-day weekend.” I looked at Miles. “What do you think, honey?”

“Why don’t we go Saturday? We should be able to prepare enough food by then. And we can go to your favorite picnic area by that woodland lake.”

I nodded, and Cleric skipped off to inform my other characters of our plans.

My Old Dwarf grasped Miles by the arm and led him off to check out the freezer. “Be ye thinkin’ we be havin’ enough vittles, or be we needin’ ta go to tha market?”

The rest of the week passed quickly as we prepared for our outing. The night before our trek, I called all my characters together. “It’s been a while since we’ve all gone on an outing. Let me remind everyone of the rules. First, all weapons, wands, staffs, and spell components will be left at home. Second, you will all dress in the modern garb of this world. Third, you will behave in a civilized manner. Last, if we encounter anyone, you will tell no one who you really are. If anyone asks, you’re some out-of-town relatives and friends, visiting for a few weeks.” I glared at them. “Do you all understand?”

Everyone nodded. My Arrogant One sniffed disdainfully. “This is not our first outing! We do understand the rules of deportment.”

“That’s rich, considering the last time we went on an outing, I had to remind you that you could not wear your robes.”

My Old Dwarf snickered.

“And I had to remind you that you could not go wandering around in public in your chain mail!” I scowled at the two of them.

Everyone murmured promises of good behavior, but the next morning when we were packing the car, it was as if we had gone back in time. Everything was just as it had been the last time we went on an outing.

Despite the previous night’s agreements, I had to confiscate several weapons and one staff, and neither my Old Dwarf nor my Arrogant One wanted to change their outfits.

I frowned at my Old Dwarf. “I’m sorry, but I’ve told you before that you just can’t wander around in chain mail. It would draw too much attention.”

I turned to my Arrogant One. “And I have told you that your robes are far too extravagant for an outing like this.”

It took another 15 minutes, and a lot of animated discussion, to convince them, but by the time Miles had loaded the picnic hamper and coolers into the car, everyone was presentable and ready to leave.

Ninety minutes later we arrived at one of my favorite picnic areas, a beautiful lakeside venue. My characters were eager to get set up, and they piled out of the car the moment my husband had it parked. Miles and I unloaded our supplies, and my characters helped us carry everything down the trail to the picnic table in the shade of the trees by the lake.

Picnic table by lake

camera for blogEveryone pitched in and helped my husband prepare the food. After a huge lunch, I suggested we go exploring. “I know Cleric wanted to assist with some nature photography, so I brought my camera. You’re all welcome to join us if you wish, to check out the resident wildlife.”

Easter 128“I’m sorry, honey.” Miles looked at me apologetically. “With the medications I take, you know I can’t tolerate the sunlight. I must stay here in the shade. The rest of you go enjoy yourselves. I’ll just clean up everything here and then take a nap under these trees.”

I gave my husband a quick kiss, grabbed my camera, and headed down the path. Dragon, in her guise of an elf maiden was right behind me, along with Cleric and Sorceress. When I turned around to see who else was coming, though, I stopped dead in my tracks.

My Old Dwarf, my Bounty Hunter, and my Arrogant One were back in their medieval apparel, weapons drawn, ready to engage in a melee. My Foreman, my Gypsy, and my Young Hero were also in their traditional attire, astride their horses, preparing to joust.

 

What is going on here?” I think my sister in Connecticut, some 1300 miles away, could probably hear me shriek.

Dragon shrugged. “They wanted to hold a tournament. I did not see the harm.”

Didn’t see the harm?” I gaped at her.

Dragon sighed. “Do not fret. I have cast a spell of concealment. No one will ever see them.”

I frowned and crossed my arms over my chest. “No. This is not going to happen. You three dismount. Everyone get rid of the weapons and return to the clothes you were wearing when we left the house this morning. Now!

“Oh, Mistress, why can we not . . .” My Gypsy started to wheedle but stopped when he saw the look I shot him.

Muttering and sighing, all my characters returned to modern gear. The horses and weapons disappeared, fading slowly out of existence.

“Come on. We’ll all go for a nature hike. I daren’t let any of you out of my sight!”

Grumbling, my characters trudged along as we headed down the trail that took us around the lake and into the woods on the other side.

My Old Dwarf walked next to Dragon and whispered to her. “Sometimes I be wishin’ thet tha lass be a wee bit more understandin’ aboot us. It be difficult ta be tryin’ all the time ta be fittin’ inta a new life. Oh, I be knowin’ thet we be livin’ here in her world for a good long time now, but we a been livin’ in our own world a whole lot longer afore thet! It be hard ta be givin’ up tha life we been knowin’ then.”


“Indeed!” Dragon nodded. “I wonder how well Mistress Writer would adapt to being ripped from her own familiar world and finding herself suddenly dropped into a totally alien society.”

“Now thet be a thought!” My Old Dwarf chuckled at the notion.

small figure on trailNeither Dragon nor her companion saw the small figure on the side of the trail. It was only slightly smaller than the squirrels that were scampering through the tall grass. It had a white beard and long, rabbit-like ears. A sly grin spread across its stony face as it listened to the conversation between my Old Dwarf and Dragon.

Despite their initial grumbling, all my characters joined in with enthusiasm when we started to see wildlife along the trail. They began a friendly competition to find, and identify, each animal along the way.

My Gypsy was first, much to Cleric’s disappointment. He pointed to two birds in trees near the lake “Look! There are two male Red-winged Blackbirds!”

Not to be outdone, Cleric pointed. “And there are the females!”

 

My Young Hero spoke up. “There’s a Song Sparrow.”

My Gypsy looked where the other lad was pointing. “No, that is a Swamp Sparrow. That one is a Song Sparrow.” He pointed at another small bird in a nearby tree.

Sorceress pointed at a group of birds on the lake. “I believe I have heard you call those large birds Canada Geese, Mistress.”

I nodded.

Dragon pointed at a single goose, closer to the shore. “There is another one. What a lovely reflection!”

“That Mallard also has a beautiful reflection!” My Bounty Hunter pointed.

My Arrogant One pointed at a bird on the wooden fishing pier. “Is that another of the same type, a Mallard?”

My Gypsy nodded.

Our attention was drawn to a nearby copse of trees, where we heard a persistent tapping. We followed the trail away from the lake and into the woods, looking for the source of the sound. “There!” My Foreman pointed. “A Red-headed Woodpecker!”

“Red-bellied Woodpecker,” my Gypsy corrected him, as I took some photos.

“An’ there be three right furry little bunny rabbits.” My Old Dwarf pointed.

My Gypsy looked where the dwarf was pointing and laughed. “I believe two of them are squirrels.”

The Secret TrailWe continued along the trail, enjoying the warm weather, the scenery, and the camaraderie. We had walked a considerable distance when I spotted a path off to the right, marked by a sign proclaiming it a Secret Trail. “Hmmm. I thought I knew every trail in this park, but I don’t ever remember seeing that one before.”

I began to lead the group up the overgrown steps rising from the forest floor.

“Stop!” Dragon cried out. “This trail does not feel right.”

“What do you mean?” I called back over my shoulder from the top of the steps.

“Mistress, take heed! There is something amiss here.” Dragon was wide-eyed, and the color had drained from her delicate elven features.

I immediately turned around. “Let’s go back, then.”

But the woods at the bottom of the steps looked different. I could not see the trail leading back toward the lake. From our position at the bottom of the steps, steps which also looked much different than the ones we had started to climb, the trail branched off in three directions. To the right, the path was choked by protruding tree roots. To the left, the trail was lined with boulders. Straight ahead, a wide avenue passed under a canopy of trees.different steps

Wide avenue

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

Where are my characters and I? How did we get here? Will we be able to find our way back to the picnic grove, and to my husband? Be sure to come back next week for another exciting episode. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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

And on this Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I, as well as my characters, wish to offer tribute to all who have perished in the service of their country. They will never be forgotten!

Memorial Day 3

Backyard Birding Bliss

Backyard Birding Bliss

sneezingAaaaahhhhhh-CHOO!

That was my tenth sneeze in half as many minutes. My eyes were watery, my nose was alternately stuffy and runny, my throat was scratchy, and I was coughing so much, my ribs hurt.

Oh, no! Not a cold! I don’t need a cold right now, with spring migration in full swing! There are so many places I want to go hiking to take photos of birds I only see in the spring and fall!fever.jpg

I grabbed the digital thermometer and stuck it under my tongue. I paced while I listened to the low, regular beeps that denoted it was working. It seemed forever before it sounded the triplet of beeps that indicated it had registered my temperature.

99 point 9 on the Fahrenheit scale. Not good. My normal temperature was 97, and anything over 99 signaled a fever.

Goodbye, spring migration! I sighed heavily. I put the thermometer back into the medicine cabinet and walked out to the living room.

Elf facing rightCleric looked up from a book she was reading. Her eyes widened. “Mistress?”

“Wad is id?”

“Mistress, you do not look well!” She jumped from her chair and rushed over to me. She placed her hand on my forehead and cried out in alarm.Dragon birdwatching

“What is it?” Dragon looked up from the back of the couch. She had shrunk from her normal bulky form to the size of a large housecat and climbed up there to watch the backyard creatures.

“Dragon! I fear Mistress Writer is ill!”

Elf cleric close-upDragon leaped from the back of the sofa. She shapeshifted mid-leap into her customary guise of an elf maiden and was by my side in a split second. She placed her hand on my forehead and drew back in alarm. “You are correct, Cleric. Mistress Writer is ill.”

Before I could say a word, Dragon and Cleric were trying to hustle me toward the hall to my bedroom. “You must rest, Mistress. I will attend you in your bed chamber, while Cleric prepares some healing herbs.”

I shook off my well-meaning characters. “Would you two stop? I just have a cold. It’s no big deal.”

That might have sounded more convincing if it wasn’t followed by a burst of sneezing that ended in a fit of coughing. I grabbed for a nearby box of tissues.

Dragon frowned. “Mistress, I fear it may be much worse than that! It might be that alien disease brought to this world by the snow devils I inadvertently transported here in the magical conduit! Remember, it almost took the lives of seven of our comrades!”

I scoffed. “Nonsense!” Achoo!

Cleric nodded. “Mistress Writer is correct. Too much time has passed since the snow devils were here. Those who were susceptible to the disease they brought have already been afflicted and have recovered.” She drew her mouth into a thin, straight line, and she shook her head emphatically. “No, this could be something introduced into this world by those animals which I inadvertently let loose when I tried to read the story Mistress Writer was creating on her magic box.”

Arguing over which disease I may have contracted from which source, the two companions continued to tug me toward the hallway.

“It’s a cold.” I pulled away from Cleric and Dragon, leaving them standing there open-mouthed while I stomped off to the kitchen to heat up some broth.

The broth made me feel marginally better, and I went back to the living room. Dragon had resumed her mini-reptile form and was on the back of the couch again, and Cleric was in the recliner, fidgeting with her book. Both watched me surreptitiously, but neither spoke.

French-Doors-With-Screens

I walked over to the open French doors and stared out through the screen into the yard. The air was fresh, the sunshine bright, the birdsong pervasive. I sighed heavily.
 

Cleric set her book down and approached me timidly. “Mistress?”

I sneezed.

“Will we still be going on the nature hike today, as we had planned?”

I gave her a dirty look as I doubled over coughing.

Dragon snorted. “I daresay you would have quite the time trying to approach the animals with all that sneezing and coughing.”

tissuesI grabbed for the box of tissues.

Cleric tilted her head and furrowed her brow. She placed her hands on her hips and sighed. “I will make you a mixture of honey and lemon that will soothe your throat, and I will add a few herbs that will repress your coughing and quell your sneezing.”

“Thanks, Cleric, but I still don’t think I’d be up to a hike today.” Several more sneezes punctuated my statement.gazebo for blog

“Very well. We will stay home.” Cleric headed for the kitchen. She called over her shoulder to me. “You get your camera, Mistress. We will sit in the warm sun on your gazebo and I will ask the birds and furry creatures to pose for you.”

I shrugged. No point arguing. I grabbed a few more tissues and my camera. Moments later, I accepted the mug of warm liquid Cleric had prepared for me. The pleasant honey-lemon flavor masked the taste of the other medicinal herbs she had added, and I quickly drained the mug. She took it back to the kitchen and refilled it. We took the soothing beverage with us into the backyard. Soon, we were soaking up the warm rays of sunshine, and Cleric was charming the backyard critters into posing for me.


Before I even had my camera ready, Cleric squealed in delight. “Look! There is Black-capped Chickadee in that tree!”

I looked where Cleric was pointing and focused my camera. “The breeze has ruffled its feathers. It looks like it’s having a bad hair day.” The little bird flew off before I could get more than one photo, scolding chk-a-dee-dee-dee.

Black-capped Chickadee
“I think you insulted her, Mistress.”

I ducked my head and feigned a guilty expression. I took a sip of my beverage and looked around. “There is a pair of American Goldfinches on the remains of last year’s thistle over in the far corner of the yard. Do you think you can get them to pose for me?”

“Only if you promise not to insult them.” Cleric winked at me, then started conversing with the birds. With her help, I was able to get one photo of the shy female goldfinch, and four of the more social male.

“Perfect!” I smiled at Cleric.

“There is your friend, Robbie!” Cleric pointed at an American Robin foraging in the grass. I took a quick photo of the bird before a chipmunk came along and chased it.

American Robin
I got a shot of the chipmunk, trying to look innocent sitting in the grass where it had just chased the robin. Cleric called to it, and it came up on the gazebo to visit.

A pair of Northern Cardinals also came onto the gazebo and started eating the grapes Cleric had placed there for the animals. The female was a dainty little eater; the male attacked his food with much more gusto.

While the Cardinals were eating, a Common Grackle flew onto the railing and hopped up on the post, checking things out. His iridescent feathers shone brilliantly in the sunlight.

As the grackle flew off, Cleric called my attention to another bird. “Look, Mistress! Isn’t that the thrush we saw the other day?”

I followed Cleric’s gaze to a nearby tree and saw a Swainson’s Thrush. After I took a picture, I asked Cleric if she could coax the bird closer. A moment later, the Swainson’s Thrush was visiting with us on the gazebo and checking out the grapes.

I took some photos of some Baltimore Orioles in a tree, and Cleric coaxed one down onto the nearby hummingbird feeder.

Cleric convinced a Mourning Dove in the tree to come down for a visit.

Then she did the same thing with a Song Sparrow.

I spotted two White-throated Sparrows, late spring migrants I was surprised to see still in the area. Cleric could not convince them to come close, and they remained in the trees while I photographed them.

A male Red-winged Blackbird called from a tree, and I got a photo of him displaying for a couple of females. One female was on the ground, foraging, and the other was in the reeds at the back of the yard. All three ignored Cleric’s attempts to coax them closer.

Spotting a Yellow-rumped Warbler in the tree, Cleric started talking to it. In seconds, the bird, and several of its flock-mates, came down to pose on the nearby feeders.

The last photos Cleric arranged for me were a squirrel and a rabbit. By then, we were both ready to call it a day.

As we walked back inside, Cleric took my empty mug to the kitchen to rinse out. I suddenly realized I had not coughed or sneezed the entire time we were outside!

Bliss!

What will next week bring? More backyard birding? Another nature trek? A new adventure? Be sure to come back and join us for whatever is in store. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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First Nature Hike of the Spring

First Nature Hike of the Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                               * * *

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

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

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

“Where are we going?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carver Park Reserve 066

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Look! A goose!”

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

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

“That’s a male Ring-necked Duck.”

Purgatory Creek and Spring Peeper Meadow 102

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

Purgatory Creek and Spring Peeper Meadow 103

“There’s a pair of Ruddy Ducks.”

Purgatory Creek and Spring Peeper Meadow 142

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

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

Purgatory Creek and Spring Peeper Meadow 107

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

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

We saw some Pied-billed Grebes.

We saw several Mallards.

Then we came upon a group of American Coots.

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

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

Coot feet

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

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

“Is that eagle building a nest? There?

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

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

 

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

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

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

Living Room Nature Photography on a Winter’s Day

Living Room Nature Photography on a Winter’s Day

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

Dragon in front of fireplace

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

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

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

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

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

“What sort of things?”

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

 

I nodded.

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

Dragon in front of fireplace

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

 

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

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

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

“Perhaps.” I smiled.

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

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

Smoke drifting from Dragon's snout

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

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

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

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

2 - Junco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 - Nuthatch

“Bleh!” Dragon seemed unimpressed.

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

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

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

Dragon rolled her eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

14a - Male Cardinal

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

“There is his mate, in that tree.”

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

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

14 - Female Cardinal

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

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

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

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

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

16 - Red-bellied Woodpecker

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Dragon blinked. “What happened?”

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

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

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

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

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

27 - Juvenile Bald Eagle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

reading

 

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

Plans and Problems

Plans and Problems

blue-dragon-facing-right.jpgElf clericThe Great Wyrm started to extricate her head from the window. Dragon, still in her familiar guise of an elf maiden, sat there, stunned. Can this really be happening? Is my future self really going back into the real world with me to help? Suddenly, she jumped up and started pacing, wringing her hands. “Wait!”

The Great Wyrm and the Historian’s Apprentice gaped at her.

“Things are happening too quickly. We need to discuss this further.”

The Wyrm gave Dragon a look of approval. “You have a good, logical mind. You like to consider all possibilities before taking action. This is good.”

half-dwarf3

“Why?” The Apprentice looked at the Wyrm curiously, then turned to Dragon. “Iffin the Great Wyrm be sayin’ she and ye can be findin’ the conduit, then it be so. Ne’er be doubtin’ the big beastie!”

 

“I do not doubt. I am sure we could find the conduit. But when I and three of my companions in Mistress Writer’s world – the real world as she calls it – found and examined the conduit, we discovered it is a one-way passage. None from the real world can use it to enter this world.”

The Apprentice nodded, understanding in his eyes. “Then ye do na be knowin’ how the big beastie’ll be gittin’ back here, once ye travel through the conduit ta Mistress Writer’s world.”

Dragon’s shoulders slumped. She turned to the Great Wyrm. “I know of no way for you to do so. Do you?”

“How did you get here from there?”

Book manuscript“I reentered the manuscript from which I and my companions had fallen into the real world. From there, it took every bit of my concentration and my power to enter this world. The effort totally exhausted me, and I lost consciousness. I do not know how long I remained in that state.”

The Great Wyrm frowned. She narrowed her eyes and small rings of smoke bubbled from her nostrils as she concentrated. “It is obvious I will not be able to retrace your route to return here. Since I did not fall from the manuscript, I can not enter it.”

“Exactly.” The elf maiden Dragon nodded.

“Still, there must be a way for me to return here.” The Wyrm’s frown deepened and the smoke thickened.

“Can ye not be reweavin’ the enchantment? Be makin’ it a two-way channel? Seems ta me thet be easy enough fer one o yer power. I seen ye do harder then thet.” The man shot the Wyrm a curious look before he tore another piece of bread from the loaf on the table and popped it in his mouth.

“No! You must not make the conduit a two-way passage!”

The man and the Wyrm gaped at Dragon, who was again wringing her hands and pacing.

“Why not?” The man frowned, and more smoke drifted from the Wyrm’s snout.

“If it became possible for anyone from the real world to use the conduit to enter this world, it would mean disaster for this world and its inhabitants.” The ersatz elf maiden chewed on her lower lip for several moments. Then she sighed and sat down again. She lowered her eyes and studied her hands as she spoke. “Several of my fellow characters are power-hungry. One is a fairly proficient illusionist. He would not hesitate to use his power to create illusions of the technology to which he has been exposed in the real world to gain power over the residents of this world.”

“Oh. Well, we can na be havin’ thet, now can we?” The man spoke around the mouthful of food he was still chewing, but Dragon and the Wyrm could make out his words well enough.

“No. We can not.” The Wyrm wrinkled her nose at the man’s lack of manners, then turned back to Dragon. “But it should not be a great problem. Once I return to this world, I can either destroy the conduit completely, or restore the part of the spell that prevents egress from Mistress Writer’s world.”

Dragon’s eyes lit up at that idea. “Yes. Yes, that would work very well.” She smiled.

“Then, is there anything else we need to discuss before we go in search of the conduit?”

“Let me consider for a moment.” Dragon’s brow furrowed and she began chewing her lip again. Finally she spoke. “Yes. When my fellow characters and I searched for the conduit, it was in a state of constant flux. It moved rapidly from one spot to another within Mistress Writer’s house, or disappeared altogether. So how do we know when we enter the conduit here where we will end up?”strange-dreams

The Apprentice scoffed and waved off Dragon’s concerns. “The conduit do na just be connectin’ this world ta Mistress Writer’s world. At the other end, it’ll al’ays be appearin’ close ta the scribe herself, or within her abode. Iffin ye be goin’ inta the conduit at this end, ye be goin’ outten it where ye be needin’ ta be at the other end.”

Dragon nodded. “Then there is just one more thing. I am sure we will find the conduit, eventually. However, it might be easier and quicker if we know more about its habits.”

“Its habits?” The Apprentice tilted his head and rubbed his bearded chin.

“Yes. You said it does not stay in one place, and it has been a while since you have seen it. When you have seen it, has it appeared here?”

The man furrowed his brow, but nodded. “Aye.”

“On a regular schedule?”

“Nay.”

“Have you ever encountered it anywhere else?”

“At the Historian’s hut.”

“And how far is that?”

The Wyrm interrupted. “I know where the Historian lives. But the conduit is random. It follows no schedule, nor any route. We will have to use our power to locate it.”

Dragon nodded. “I can think of nothing else, then. I suppose it is time to go.”

“Safe travels.” The Apprentice rose and saw his guests out. “Remember, beastie, ye al’ays be welcome here.”

“Thank you. I will not forget.” The elf maiden gave the Apprentice a brief hug before turning to face the Wyrm. The elf started to shimmer, and in a short time she resumed her true form, a substantially smaller version of the Great Wyrm.

Dragon followed the Wyrm to the top of the mountain. I did not realize just how much larger than I this future me is! She did not look so massive when I first encountered her.

Dragon was startled to hear the Wyrm’s voice in her head, communicating telepathically, as was the custom of their species. Remember, you are but an image of sorts, a shadow, an echo, a memory of someone who used to live here. You have no idea how much time has passed since that creature, my younger self, flew these skies.

Dragon replied, also using telepathy. I am heartened to know that I lived . . . am living . . . a long life, growing in wisdom and power as well as size.

Dragon felt a sadness emanating from the Wyrm. You will probably outlive me, my dear, as you will never age. I do not know if Mistress Writer did us a favor or a grave disservice, suspending you in time like that.

Dragon pressed the Wyrm for an explanation, but the great beast would say no more.

* * *

birthdays-weekend-trip-to-wi-018Miles and I entered the house from the garage, and headed up to the living room. My characters trailed behind. The door slammed, and a cacophony of loud, angry voices followed us up the stairs.

Just moments before, my characters had been in the car with my husband and me, happily discussing the outing Miles and I had taken them on. Now that we were home, everything changed. As my characters gathered around Miles and me in the living room, they were all arguing over trivial concerns.

I was the one who found the Red-tailed Hawk for Mistress Writer.” My Gypsy jerked a thumb toward his chest, and jutted his chin.

“Well, I was the one who persuaded it to pose so Mistress Writer could take so many beautiful pictures!” Cleric’s face was red and her lower lip stuck out in a pout.

I helped, too!” Sorceress pursed her lips and folded her arms over her chest. “I was the one who kept that rambunctious red squirrel quiet, so it would not distract the hawk.”

I was the one who found that big, furry creature.” My Foreman swaggered across the living room.

You may have found the groundhog, but you never would have known what it was if I had not identified it for you! You thought it was a giant rat!” My Young Hero jeered as he planted his feet wide, and balled his hands into fists at his side.

“Well, I found that bird Mistress Writer had been looking for.” My Foreman scowled.

“If you are referring to the Green Heron, I was the one who found it.” My Gypsy turned toward his companion, his eyes flashing.

My Foreman snorted. “No, the other one. The Sashed Majestic Fishingbird.”

My Gypsy laughed. “You can’t even identify the creatures you see. That was a Belted Kingfisher!”Veterans Memorial Park, Shakopee and Louisville Swamp 056

“Who cares what you call it?” My Arrogant One drew himself up and rocked back on his heels. He grasped the front of his cloak with both hands as he did when he was trying to look important. “While the rest of you were chasing after beasts and varmints and wing-ed creatures, the two of us had to haul all the food and supplies to the picnic site.” My Arrogant One’s voice was a petulant whine.

My Bounty Hunter nodded and commiserated with him. “Indeed. We worked while the rest of you enjoyed yourselves.” My Bounty Hunter clenched his hands and narrowed his eyes.

Dwarf“Aye, the two o ye been doin’ a teensy little bit o work. But ye dinna been doin’ it alonesome like. Ye been havin’ help, dinna ye? Master Miles and I been doin’ the most o it. And what do it matter, anywho, who been doin’ what? We all been havin’ a good time, dinna we?” My Old Dwarf scoffed and shook his head.

But my Foreman pushed my Old Dwarf aside and stood squarely in front of my Arrogant One. “Elf, I am tired of your constant whining. So you and your cohort here had to help carry the food. You both ate it, didn’t you? So why shouldn’t the two of you help carry it?”

My Arrogant One blushed, turning scarlet right to the tips of his pointy ears, and he glared at my Foreman. “We always do more than our share. I do not know why we are never invited to join in the fun activities. We are not your pack animals, you know.”

“No, you’re not.” My Foreman’s glare took in both the elf and his companion. “My pack horses are a great deal more pleasant to be around.”

My Bounty Hunter drew his dagger, but my Old Dwarf knocked it out of his hand with the flat of his axe. “Nay, laddies. Ye be needin’ ta be keepin’ it civil. No weapons in the hoose.”

Suddenly, my Foreman backhanded my Old Dwarf, splitting the old reprobate’s lip. “I don’t need the likes of you defending me, dwarf.”

Listening to it all, Miles and I had exchanged numerous exasperated looks, but we remained silent. Now, however, I could no longer hold my tongue. “That is enough!” I stood there glaring at my pack of characters. “I’m tired of this. There will be no more of this bickering and fighting!”

My Gypsy snorted and narrowed his eyes menacingly. “And what will you do if we continue? Edit us out of the manuscripts? We all know you will not try that again.”

From the stairway, two voices thundered in unison. “No. She will not. If this conflict does not cease . . . immediately . . . the participants will answer to me.”

We all whirled around toward the source of the voices. We gaped as two Dragons climbed the stairs to join us in the living room, two Dragons identical in every respect save their unequal size.

blue-dragon-2blue-dragon-facing-left

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What happens next? Do Dragon and the Great Wyrm have to subdue the other characters? Will they be able to send the items back to the other world? If so, will that be the end of the conflict, or will they two Dragons have to put their heads together and find another cause of the problem? Join us again next week for some of the answers. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

 

While Dragon’s Away, We Still Play

While Dragon’s Away, We Still Play

rocky path“Step lively, now! And be watchin’ yer footin’. There be lotsa loose rocks here aboot what ye can be turnin’ a foot on.” The dwarf looked Dragon up and down. “An’ mayhap ye oughta be shrinkin’ or changin’ yer shape or summat, causin the paths do na be very wide.” Then the dwarf turned and scurried off down the rock-strewn path along the escarpment.

Dragon blinked. The compact figure scooting along the path, beckoning her to follow, seemed exceedingly familiar and more than a bit annoying. She reached out and plucked him from the ground and brought him back next to her.

dwarf“Why ye consarned beastie! Ye overgrown lizard! Ye best be lettin’ go o me right quick like!” The dwarf struggled in Dragon’s grasp, squirming and sputtering like a wet hen.

Dragon frowned. “Oh, be still! You have not been harmed.” She blew a small cloud of smoke at him as she released him, sending him into a fit of coughing and cussing.

blue-dragon-2Dwarf facing rightA smirk tugged at Dragon’s reptilian lips as she watched the rotund figure. He seemed so like her companion, the Old Dwarf, whom she last saw back in the real world – the world in which she and eight other fictional characters who had fallen from the pages of some manuscripts now resided with Mistress Writer and Master Miles. I wonder what they are all doing right now. She sighed deeply, then gave herself a mental shake. No time for wool gathering! I must find and eliminate the cause of the hostility among all of us characters, before we do irreparable damage to each other, or to Mistress Writer and her husband.

She waited until the dwarf stopped choking on the smoke. “Be still, small one! Now tell me, do you know this apprentice historian whom I seek, or no?”

The dwarf rubbed his eyes and sneezed twice, then glared at Dragon. “As I be sayin’, beastie, I would na be at all surprised.”

Dragon growled and smoke curled from her nostrils. “That is not an answer.”

The dwarf jutted his chin and folded his arms across his chest. “O course it be an answer! It be the onlyest answer ye be gittin’ iffin ye be maulin’ me and blowin’ smoke in me face!”

Dragon narrowed her eyes. “Do not vex me! I have not the time for this. Either you know the person I seek or you do not. Which is it?”

dwarfThe dwarf shrugged. “I be thinkin’ mebbe I be knowin’ ’em, but I also be thinkin’ thet mebbe there be more’n one renowned historian in this world, and more’n one apprentice.” He eyed Dragon defiantly. “Why do na we just go see the apprentice I be thinkin’ ye be talkin’ aboot? Iffin he do na be the right one, mebbe he kin be tellin’ ye where ye can be findin’ others.”

Dragon scratched her head and thought. Seeing no other solution, she nodded. “What race is this apprentice?”

“What nevermind do thet be makin’?”

“Well, I thought to shapeshift, as you suggested, to better fit between the boulders lining the trail. I thought to shapeshift into a form that would be familiar to this apprentice, not intimidating or offensive.” Dragon frowned and tapped her foot impatiently.

“It do na matter what race ye be lookin’ like. The apprentice be used to visitors o many races. What be ye most comfortable changin’ inta?”

“I usually assume the form of an elf.”

The dwarf giggled. “Then, be an elfie!”

Dragon fumed. “I do not see the humor in being an elf.”

“Never said it be funny. Be ye comin’?” The last part of that, he called back over his shoulder as he took off down the trail again.

Elf clericDragon growled, but quickly changed into her elven persona and hurried off after the dwarf. The rotund figure scampered nimbly through the rocks, and the ersatz elf maiden had to work hard to catch up. For someone with such short legs, he certainly can move quickly!

As Dragon rounded a sharp bend in the trail, she almost fell over the dwarf, who was waiting for her in the middle of the path. “I be thinkin’ I losted ye there!” The dwarf’s eyes twinkled with merriment, and elf maiden Dragon studied him with curiosity as she caught her breath.

“I do not believe we have been properly introduced. My name is . . .”

“Eh, do na bother ta be tellin’ me yer name, beastie. I probably couldna be wrappin’ me mouth around it anywho.”

A frown marred Dragon’s delicate elven features. “So you plan to just continue calling me beastie?”

“Aye.” The dwarf jutted his chin and looked at her defiantly. “Lessens ye be havin’ a preference fer elfie. An’ ye can jest be callin’ me dwarf.”

Dragon arched an eyebrow and regarded the burly figure. “So, dwarf, do you always offer to help strange dragons?”

“Eh, ye do na be so strange. I seed ye with the Great Beastie, and she dinna be battlin’ ye, so’s I be figurin’ ye must be okay.” He started down the trail again at a good trot. “We best be movin’ out. We be havin’ a goodly piece ta go.” He looked back over his shoulder at Dragon. “An’ do be tryin’ ta be keepin’ pace now, beastie. I do na be wantin’ ye ta be gittin’ yerself losted.”

Dragon swiftly followed the dwarf, not allowing him to get too far ahead this time. “How far is it?”

* * *

mens-991728_1280

“How far is it?”

“It’s not far.” I gave my Foreman a sharp look. “Why? Did you have something better planned for today?”

He glared at me. “I do not care to spend a long trip in your undersized vehicle with that pompous elf and his smug cohort.”

“And I’m sure my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter don’t relish the idea of being cooped up in a car with you for any longer than necessary, either.” I crossed my arms over my chest and frowned. “But we are going. All of us.” I looked at my other characters, all standing around muttering. “We leave in fifteen minutes. Be sure you’re in modern attire, and leave all weapons, staffs, wands, and spell components here.” I turned to Sorceress and Cleric. “And I’m sorry, but this time, you will be unable to collect botanicals for your spell components. The place we are going today does not allow visitors to collect any specimens.”

Elf facing rightCleric nodded glumly. “Then I suppose our only purpose in going is to assist you in your wildlife photography.” She sounded resentful.

“No, that is not your only purpose, although I would appreciate any help you care to offer. I just thought everyone enjoyed these outings. We can all relax, and not be on each other’s nerves.”

“An’ there be food, lassies!” My Old Dwarf grinned.dwarf-facing-right

I returned the old reprobate’s smile. “Speaking of which, why don’t you go help Miles pack the food and beverages into the car, so we can leave as soon as possible?”

For someone with such short legs, he certainly can move quickly!

The trip got off to a rocky start, with tempers flaring and unpleasant words being exchanged. Within the first two blocks, Miles had to pull over twice so my characters could switch seats before the verbal bouts could turn physical. But by the time my husband maneuvered the car into a parking space at the nature preserve everyone was relaxed and exchanging friendly banter.

“Where be we settin’ up lunch?”

picnic-area

As soon as Miles pointed to the picnic grove on top of a small rise, my Old Dwarf grabbed one of the coolers from the trunk and scooted away. My Foreman and the two lads took the other coolers and picnic hamper, and Miles grabbed a cardboard box.

Lunch was a relaxed affair. Everyone enjoyed the sandwiches and soft drinks, and the friendly banter that had started in the car continued. Even my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter were joining in the conversations. When everyone had eaten their fill, Miles suggested we enjoy some activities.

From Nicki 146“Anyone up for tossing the old pigskin around?”

“Pigskin?” My Young Hero looked intrigued.

american-football“That’s a slang term for a football.” Miles opened the cardboard box he had carried from the car, and took out a football. “We also have a baseball, a volleyball, and some other things.”

“The feetsball be a good one ta toss aboot.” My Old Dwarf picked it up and tried to throw it to my Foreman, but the ball fell way short.

“Here, I’ll show you how to do it.”sports balls

As Miles showed my Old Dwarf how to throw a football, some of the other characters grabbed the rest of the equipment. Soon, most of then were engaged in tossing around a ball of some sort.

“Come on, Mistress!” My Gypsy had picked up an old tennis ball and was going to throw it.

“If you don’t mind, I’ll skip the ball games.” I picked up my camera. “I’d like to explore and see what I can photograph today.”camera for blog

“I think I would like to accompany you.” Cleric blushed. “I always enjoy helping you with the wildlife photos.”

“As do I.” Sorceress joined us.

I smiled and nodded. We waved to the others, and went in search of cooperative wildlife. We didn’t have to look far.

As we followed a well-worn path from the picnic grove, we saw a chipmunk on a small retaining wall, and another one in the field, munching on some berries, and I took a few quick shots.

“Look! There is a tiny bird on that limb.” Cleric pointed.

“It’s a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.”

“I do not see any ruby coloring on its throat.” Cleric’s brow furrowed.

I smiled. “Only the adult males have the red throats.”

“There is another one over there.” Sorceress pointed to a nearby tree.

Cleric used her affinity with the birds to convince both of the hummers to come closer for me to get good images.

“There is another small bird in that tree.” Sorceress pointed at a bird flitting through the branches. “I do not think that one is a hummingbird, though.”

“You’re right. It’s a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. It will never stay still long enough for me to get a photo!”

Cleric smiled. “Of course it will.” But even with Cleric coaxing the bird to sit still, I had but a fraction of a second to snap a picture.Three hikes 042

Two flashes of yellow through the leaves caught our attention. I quickly focused my camera. “The larger one is a Yellow Warbler. The smaller one, with the black mask, is a Common Yellowthroat.”

We walked a bit further and Cleric found a Black-capped Chickadee and an Eastern Phoebe. She persuaded both birds to pose nicely for me.

We continued to follow the path toward a small pond.

“Oh, look! There are frogs here.” Sorceress bent down to examine a large, warty, gray and cream amphibian.Three hikes 161

I corrected her as I quickly snapped a picture. “That’s a toad. I think it is known as an American Toad.”

“And this one?” Cleric kept her distance as she pointed to a bright green critter with black spots.Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve 116

“I believe that is a Leopard Frog.”

“What is that slime all over that section of the pond . . . and all over the turtles?” Sorceress wrinkled her nose as she pointed to the other side of the pond.

“That’s not slime. It’s actually vegetation. It’s most likely duckweed, a rather common aquatic vegetation.”

I took a few photos of the turtles and showed Sorceress and Cleric a close-up of the vegetation that covered them.

“Do the turtles eat this?” Sorceress was still wrinkling her nose.

“Yup.”

“Oh, look!” Cleric sounded delighted. “Dragonflies and butterflies!”

Sorceress and I laughed as Cleric ran over to the meadow and danced with the insects. When she finished, Cleric helped me get a few pictures, as I tried to identify the creatures for her and Sorceress.

“I believe the small white one is a Summer Azure. I think the yellow butterflies are Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, and the orange one is a Monarch.” I turned my camera toward the dragonflies. “I’m afraid I don’t know the names of these beauties.”

Station WagonBy the time we returned to the picnic grove, Miles and the others had gathered everything up and loaded it back in the car. On the drive home, one by one my characters fell asleep, tired out by a day of fun activity.

“You know this won’t last.” I kept my voice low, so I wouldn’t wake any of my characters. “As soon as we get home, the fighting will start again.”

Miles nodded. “We need to find the root of the problem. It has to be something around the house.”

I heaved a huge sigh. “Dragon is the one who could solve this mystery. I wonder where she is.”

* * *

Elf cleric

 

I wonder where we are. Dragon, still in her guise of an elven maiden, looked around curiously.

 

dwarf

As if reading her mind, her dwarven guide spoke. “Wale, we be almost there, beastie.” He grinned broadly.

 

“Oh? And where, exactly is there?”

 

Where is Dragon? Is the strange dwarf really taking her to see the historian’s apprentice? And will she find the solution to the problem? Join us next week as we continue this adventure. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.