A Small Problem

A Small Problem

...gloomy weatherThe sun didn’t last, either with the weather or with my character’s dispositions. The day after I had taken the nature hike with my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter
(https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/10/07/colorful-autumn-nature-walk/), the weather turned cool, overcast and gloomy again. Tempers returned to hot and fractious.

bounty-hunter-facing-other-directionMy Bounty Hunter raised his voice and waved his hands about in frustration. “Master Miles has purchased all the materials we need – roofing tiles, nails, tar paper. He has shown us where the ladders and hammers are. There is no excuse to further delay this work.”

Arrogant One facing right

“Just how do you propose to fix the shed roof in this weather?” My Arrogant One all but snarled at his companion.

My Bounty Hunter narrowed his eyes. “I propose to go out there and work hard at it and get it done before the rain starts again this afternoon. However, I would expect you to do it the same way you would do it in any weather. You will either attempt to accomplish the task through your usual chicanery and sleight of hand, or you will have someone else do the work for you, as always.”

“Chicanery? Sleight of hand?” My Arrogant One’s cheeks flamed. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak in both hands. “I do not use chicanery! I am a master magician. I can repair that roof using my extraordinary power and no one will ever be the wiser!”

My Bounty Hunter snorted. “You tried that last week, remember? The roof with your magically accomplished repairs leaked worse than it had before!”

Having overheard the heated exchange, I shook my head and decided the wisest thing to do was to ignore the two quibblers and let them sort out their own differences.

...shed roof repairsAn hour later, I glanced out the back door. The clouds had dispersed, and I was pleased to see my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter hard at work on the shed roof repairs. While I was watching them, some songbirds came up and started eating from the feeders on the deck. I ran to get my camera.

When I got back, the little birds were gone and one of the neighborhood crows we had dubbed Charlie perched on the deck railing. I slowly opened the door and eased myselfonto the deck. “Hey, Charlie! Wanna pose for me, big guy?”

American Crow
Charlie reluctantly posed for one quick shot. Then he decided it would be more fun to go join his friends and harass my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter while they worked on the shed roof. I chuckled.

...shed roof repairs with crows
With the big birds at a safe distance, some of the smaller backyard denizens quickly returned to check out the food supply on the deck.

A Black-capped Chickadee landed on the bottom of the railing. Pausing just long enough to make sure the crows were still occupied, it quickly hopped over to grab some safflower seeds from the bowl.

One of a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches soon replaced the chickadee at the bowl while the other one checked out the pile of seed at the other end of the deck.

A juvenile Red-winged Blackbird visited one of the feeding stations while two others posed for me, showing off their beautiful brown-and-gold edged black feathers.

Some American Goldfinches, transitioning to their muted winter plumage, were glad to pose for me between snacks, while others watched from a nearby tree.

Three House Finches – two males and one female – with seed shells still clinging to their beaks, paused to let me snap a few quick images.

I was surprised to see a young Northern Cardinal, barely past the fledgling stage, come up on the deck to check things out. I quickly scanned the yard and saw its mom and dad in one of the hanging feeders.

I descended the stairs to the yard. A female Red-bellied Woodpecker checked me out from a tree trunk on the opposite side of the yard. Deciding I was no threat, she swooped down and plucked a safflower seed from the hanging feeder. One of the White-breasted Nuthatches walked, head-first, down another tree trunk, eyeing the feeder.

Some Dark-eyed Juncos foraging in the leaf litter near the deck eyed me warily as I stalked them with my camera.

A young Eastern Gray Squirrel watched me suspiciously from a tree but ran down quickly enough when I offered him a handful of grapes. He snatched them from me and hungrily munched a few right away before taking another to the safety of his tree.Young Eastern Gray Squirrel (4)


Young Eastern Gray Squirrel (5)
An Eastern Chipmunk, his cheeks bulging, let me take a few shots before he scampered away in the direction of the shed.

I followed him, hoping to get some more photos. I was just about to take another photo when I heard my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter arguing again.
...waving staff
“I’ll just shrink it all. It will make it much easier to haul up the ladder.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my Arrogant One raise his staff.

My Bounty Hunter shook his head and sneered at his companion. “The illusion of a smaller load will not make it any lighter.”

“Oh, this is not an illusion. This is a spell I learned from a wizard. It actually shrinks the object, reducing the mass and the weight.” The elf waved his staff.

The next thing I knew, I was eye-level with the chipmunk I was photographing....me photographing the chipmunk

For several long minutes, I was frozen in place, staring through the camera’s viewfinder at the tiny creature who was staring back at tiny me. Then I dropped to the ground, my rubbery legs unable to support me.

“What just happened?” I jumped at the sound of my own voice, which suddenly trilled like a chipmunk on helium.

...alarmed chipmunkThe chipmunk scooted up a tree and sat on a low branch, eyeing me and chirping its high-pitched staccato alarm.

I scowled at the noisy little critter. “Hey, what are you complaining about? I’m the one who’s suddenly five inches tall instead of my normal just-shy-of-five feet!” I winced at the sound of my squeaking.

I rubbed the back of my neck. What had happened to me? I remembered my Arrogant One’s words . . . the ones he had said right before he waved his staff. Oh, this is not an illusion. This is a spell I learned from a wizard. It actually shrinks the object, reducing the mass and the weight.

I blinked. Then I blinked again. Could I be the victim of a spell gone awry?
... in the tall grass
I rose on shaky legs and looked around, trying to get my bearings. All I could see was grass. I stood on my tippy-toes and looked up. Craning my neck, I saw the shed off to my right. Climbing through the jungle-like growth, I tried to make my way there. I needed to get my Arrogant One to put this to rights, and quickly!

...trying to get their attention 2I got to the ladder and stopped dead. I looked up at the ladder ascending to the shed roof. I looked up . . . and up . . . and up. Then I lost my balance and toppled over, landing on my . . . well, let’s just say I did not land in a dignified manner.

I picked myself up, dusted off the seat of my jeans, and considered the situation. The ladder was full-sized. I was chipmunk sized, but without the climbing ability of a rodent. How was I going to get my Arrogant One’s attention? I frowned and started jumping up and down and calling. “Hey! Hey, elf! Down here! Hey! Can you hear me?”

Again, my voice was akin to a chirping bird or a squeaking mouse. The only one whose attention I caught was Charlie the crow. I gave up and decided to try walking back to the house. It suddenly looked as if it were miles away! How many hours – or days, even – would it take me to fight my way across the yard through grass that now varied from waist-high to shoulder-high for me?

I hadn’t gotten very far when Charlie swooped down and landed right in front of me. The big crow eyed me curiously, and for a moment it looked as if I might become a birdie snack....Charlie and little me

“Whoa, Charlie. It’s me – the one who always makes sure you have plenty of corn to eat!” The large bird cocked his head and stared at me. I couldn’t blame him, since I was doing more squeaking than speaking.

Suddenly, the huge bird cawed, an explosion of sound that blasted my miniscule eardrums. I covered my ears and yelled. Actually, I squeaked some more, but louder and with more panic in my voice. “Go away! Get out of here! Go on, Charlie! Scram!”

Luckily, Charlie took the hint. He flew off toward the house, cawing urgently.

...startled rabbitI started off again, trying to make my way back to the house. As I walked, I became aware of a noise behind me, a thudding that was growing increasingly louder. I looked over my shoulder and saw two horses walking straight at me. My heart started racing, and I could hardly breathe. As the horses bore down on me, I started running, right past a startled rabbit.
...running from horse
The rabbit bolted, spooking the horses into a gallop. I tripped in the tall grass and lost my bearings. I headed off in another direction, and luckily fell into a shallow hole, just as one of the horse’s hooves came down right where I had just been standing.

...climbing out of the holeAfter a few minutes, I pulled myself up and tried to get out of the shallow depression. Well, it would have been shallow – it would have been hardly noticeable – had I been my normal size. As it happened, however, I was approximately the size of a chipmunk . . . a very small chipmunk . . . so it took me a few minutes to struggle out of the hole once the horses had moved away.

As soon as I was out of the hole, and I had caught my breath, I got my bearings again and headed toward the house. I looked around warily, hoping no other creatures would spy me trudging through the tall grass.

It seemed like hours later that I stood at the edge of the rock-strewn garden. I stopped to catch my breath. I grinned, congratulating myself for making it the length of the yard without being squashed by a horse or becoming a mid-day snack for any of the critters.

...snakeAs I stood there, my grin slowly faded. Maybe I had congratulated myself a little too soon. A snake was slithering in my direction. I froze in abject terror. I knew I couldn’t outrun a snake. And if there was another hole nearby, it wouldn’t be much help, as the snake could just follow me right into it. I was a goner!

Just as I convinced myself I was destined to perish in the stomach of a snake, Charlie swooped down, cawing loudly and chasing off my would-be attacker. Then a soft hand reached down and grabbed me....Cleric saving me

“Cleric!”

Cleric held me gently. “Charlie alerted me to your danger. How did you come to be in this predicament?”

I rubbed the back of my neck and sighed. “I’m not positive, but I believe I became collateral damage when my Arrogant One cast a shrinking spell on the material he and my Bounty Hunter were hauling up onto the shed roof.”

Cleric gasped. “Well, it appears they have finished their repairs and are gathering up their tools and supplies. We shall inform the elf of this calamity and have him reverse the spell immediately.” She squared her shoulders, made sure she had a good grasp on me, and marched toward the shed.

“Out of the way!” My Arrogant One bumped into Cleric as he and my Bounty Hunter struggled to take the ladder down from the side of the shed.

Cleric frowned and refused to be pushed aside. “Wait! You have caused a problem, and you must correct it at once!”

“What problem?” My Arrogant One sneered.Arrogant One

...confronting my Arrogant OneIn reply, Cleric held out her hand. My Arrogant One’s eyes widened, but my Bounty Hunter snickered. I skewered him with my narrow-eyed glare.

“Wha . . . what happened?” The elf backed away, his eyes growing as large as saucers.

“Evidently, Mistress Writer was caught by your shrinking spell.” Cleric scowled at the elf. “You must reverse the spell.”

My Arrogant One’s eyes grew so wide, I though his eyeballs were going to pop right out of his head. “But . . . but . . .” He swallowed hard. “I cannot reverse the spell.”

“What?” I shrieked in my little chipmunk-on-helium voice.

“What?” Cleric echoed in a more understandable tone.

“I already reversed the spell on the roofing materials, once we hauled them up onto the roof. I cannot reverse a spell twice.”

“If you reversed the spell already, why am I still this size?” I crossed my arms over my chest and glowered at the elf.

The elf’s cheeks flamed. “I . . . I surmise you were in the path of the original shrinking spell, but not in the path of the reversal spell.”

My Bounty Hunter snickered. “I would say you have a small problem.”

I scowled at him.

Cleric stared at my Arrogant One. “So, what do you propose to do?”

“I do not know.” My Arrogant One stroked his chin and considered the problem. After a few moments, he turned to my Bounty Hunter. “Go find Sorceress and Dragon. Mayhap they will have an idea how to deal with this.”

bounty-hunter-facing-other-directionStill snickering, my Bounty Hunter nodded and sauntered away.

What seemed like a lifetime later, he returned with Dragon, in her guise of an elf maiden, along with Sorceress, and my Gypsy. “I brought all the magic users. I thought you could use all the help you could get. I have already explained to them that you have a small problem.”

I glared at him. “That joke wasn’t funny the first time.”

While my Arrogant One, Cleric, Sorceress, and my Gypsy argued over the best way to return me to my own size, Dragon shape-shifted back to her true form. She sniffed me, then went over to my Arrogant One and started sniffing him.

“What are you doing?” The elf turned scarlet and batted at Dragon. “Get away from me, you vile beast!”

dragon talking“Be silent and remain still.” Dragon took a few more sniffs. Then she smiled a toothy grin and turned to address us all. “Magic has a distinctive odor. Each spell will have subtle aromatic indicators, easily detectable by a dragon’s superior sense of smell.”

“Then you know how to reverse the spell?” I looked at her hopefully.

“No. As the elf told you, the spell has already been reversed. It cannot be reversed a second time.”

My face fell. I fired a barrage of questions at Dragon, who held up her hand to stop me. “The original spell cannot be reversed again, but I am able to weave and cast a new spell that will have the same result as a reversal spell.”

“Will it take very . . .?”

I hadn’t even finished asking my question when Dragon waved her hand and mumbled a few unintelligible words. Poof! I was standing there, back at my full four-feet-ten-and-a-half-inches, slightly breathless but grinning ear-to-ear.

...ear-to-ear grin
That night, Miles asked me how my day had been. I raised an eyebrow. “Not bad. I just had one small problem.”...me and the chipmunk

Be sure to join us again next week for further adventures and misadventures. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Colorful Autumn Nature Walk

Colorful Autumn Nature Walk

Arrogant One facing rightstill raining

“I cannot believe it is still raining!” My Arrogant One stomped his foot and scowled as he looked out the door at the gloomy drizzle.

ShedBounty Hunter

“And I cannot believe you have not yet repaired the leaky roof in the shed.” My Bounty Hunter glowered at his companion.

My Arrogant One drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak in both hands. “I have done my part. I do not see you offering to help!”

Dragon breathing smoke

Dragon shook her scaly head, and black smoke drifted from her snout. “I cannot believe you two are still complaining about everything! Did you learn nothing from our recent exercise, the Gratitude Scavenger Hunt?”

(Part 1) https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/09/23/were-doing-what/
(Part 2) https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/09/30/gratitude-scavenger-hunt/

My Arrogant One rounded on the bulky beast. “Oh, and I am to understand that by virtue of the fact you participated in that assignment, you are suddenly Little Miss Sunshine?”

Dragon blinked. “I do not believe there was anything sudden about it. I have always had a sunny disposition.”

What?” My Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter screeched in unison, and several other of my characters doubled over in laughter.

sorceress-facing-right“You are one of the most mercurial individuals I know.” Sorceress raised an eyebrow at her reptilian friend. “I am always tempted to consult my star charts before approaching you, to determine if you are more likely to aid me or incinerate me!”Elf

Cleric nodded, and she fidgeted with the silken cord belting her robes. “I fear I must agree with Sorceress. You are subject to extreme mood variations.”

dragon looking rightfireplace2Dragon harrumphed and glowered at her companions. “I see. Well, you do not have to worry about approaching me at all. I am going to the conference room and bask in front of my fireplace.” She stomped away in high dudgeon, and the rest of my characters resumed their complaining.

Two days later, the change in both the weather and my character’s attitudes was nothing short of amazing. The day dawned clear and bright and unseasonably warm after several weeks of cool, rainy weather. My characters chatted amiably during a rushed early morning meal. Anxious to be enjoying themselves outdoors, they gobbled their breakfast and dispersed to their individual activities shortly after first light.

My Foreman and the lads headed to the illusory stable to spend the day working their horses. Cleric, Sorceress, and Dragon went out to gather botanicals for their spell components. My Old Dwarf went with them to look for rocks and pieces of wood that might prove suitable for carving.

camera for blogMy husband saw me gathering my camera equipment and gave me a big smile. “No need to ask what you’re planning! Nature photography! Do you have someplace special in mind?”

I returned his smile and held up a brochure from a nearby wildlife preserve and nature center. “I think I’m going back to this preserve. I really enjoyed it last time I went. It has a variety of habitats – a big lake, a hardwood forest and a native pine woodlands, wetlands, prairie, and savanna. What are your plans for the day?”

Miles sighed. “I need to take my car in for servicing today. Then I have to stop by one of the lumber yards and pick up some roofing shingles for the shed.”

I nodded. “Well, okay, I’ll try not to miss you too much!” I gave him a hug and a quick peck on the cheek before we were interrupted.

“Mistress?”

I turned around and saw my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter standing there. To my experienced eye, they appeared suspect.

I furrowed my brow. “Yes?”

“Would it be possible for us to join you today?”

I had rarely heard my Arrogant One sound so meek. My frown deepened. “Why?” Realizing how rude I sounded, I backpedaled. “I mean, why would you want to? I didn’t think hiking and nature photography held much interest for either of you.”

“Quite the contrary!” My Bounty Hunter’s eyes widened, and he assumed an open and guileless demeanor. “We have enjoyed past nature walks we have taken with you.”

“And we must wait for Master Miles to purchase the necessary supplies, so we can repair the shed roof. Therefore, we have nothing pressing on our agenda for this day.” My Arrogant One seemed nervous, clutching his cloak and shuffling his foot.

I hesitated, an uneasy feeling coming over me as I watched my two characters standing there awaiting my decision, displaying uncharacteristic patience and courtesy. “Well, okay, but you know the rules. You’ll wear modern garments and take no weapons or magic paraphernalia.”staff

My Arrogant One’s eyes widened. “Not even my staff? You yourself use a walking stick, and my staff functions perfectly as such.”Walking stick - Marge

I narrowed my eyes and considered. “Very well, you may take a walking stick – but remember that is to be its only function.”Walking stick - Bounty Hunter

My Bounty Hunter’s mouth curved into a smarmy smile. “Then I, too, will bring one – I have a thick longbow that easily doubles as a walking stick.”

My uneasy feeling grew stronger.

“Okay, but I want no trouble from either of you on the trail today. If we encounter other people, they best not be able to tell your walking sticks are anything other than just that.”

They both nodded, but as I turned, I thought I saw them exchange furtive glances.

“Meet me at the car in 15 minutes.”

*  *  *

It took less than a half hour to drive to the preserve. I parked near the nature center and the three of us piled out of the car. I grabbed my camera and equipment, and we all took our walking sticks. I locked the car and pointed to a path exiting the parking lot to my left. “Let’s start with the trail to the lake.”

“Why not start at the nature center? We are right here.” My Bounty Hunter pointed to the building surrounded by bird feeders adjacent to the parking lot.

I shook my head. “I’d like to finish our walk there. Right now, there’s too much activity around that area. School groups go in and out all morning, and it can get noisy. The birds tend to stay away. But things quiet down in the afternoon, and the staff refills the feeders then, so our chances of seeing birds there will be better at that time.”

My two characters nodded. I led off, expecting them to follow me. Instead, they hung back a bit. I thought I heard them arguing, but when I glanced back over my shoulder, they were already scurrying to catch up with me.

We had not yet gotten out of the parking lot when my Bounty Hunter grabbed me by the arm. I yelped and pulled away.

He raised an eyebrow. “It is a good thing Cleric is not with us. She would be squealing right now.” He used his walking stick to point to a reddish-brown snake slithering across the blacktop.October Hike - snake 2

I ducked my head sheepishly, realizing my Bounty Hunter’s intentions had been harmless. “Uh, yeah. It looks like a Red-bellied Snake.” I took a few quick shots of it before it reached the edge of the asphalt and disappeared into the grass, and we continued walking toward the lake.

My Arrogant One studied the trees. “The foliage is surprisingly colorful! I did not think this would be a good year, with the earlier drought followed by the heavy rain over the last few weeks.”

I nodded. “I had the same misgivings. Glad to see we were wrong.” I took a few photos of the trees.

As we walked toward the lake, I pointed out the animals I saw, identifying them for my two companions as I took photos. “There’s an American Robin in that tree. There’s a White-breasted Nuthatch on that tree trunk, and another hanging upside down from that pine bough. And there’s an Eastern Chipmunk on that rock in front of the fallen log.”

We passed out of the woods and found ourselves next to a large lake.

“Canada Geese.” My Arrogant One pointed. “We have them on our pond, and we seem to see them on every outing.” He leaned on his staff and watched the birds swimming in the clear blue water.

I nodded, maneuvering to a good spot to get some photos. “They’re very common.”

“Look!” My Bounty Hunter pointed to some birds soaring silently overhead. “Those strange looking birds are not Canada Geese. What are they?”

“American White Pelicans. They’re one of the largest birds you’ll see in North America, and they have massive bills that they use to scoop up fish.” I tried to capture a few images of the birds in flight.

The squadron of pelicans landed on the far side of the lake, too distant for my camera to get any good shots. We left the lake and took the trail to the left, skirting a large wetland adjacent to the lake. We found two more Canada Geese there and I took their photos.

Then my Arrogant One pointed. “Are those not the tall birds you like so much? I believe you called them Sandhill Cranes.”

I nodded and smiled, taking photos of two crossing the meadow toward the tree line.

My Bounty Hunter tapped me on the shoulder and pointed. “Another one.” I snapped a quick photo as it tried to hide in the tangle of vegetation.

October hike - Sandhill Crane 3

As I turned, I spotted a few American Goldfinches eating the seeds of the wildflowers in the field, and I stopped to take several photos. “They flit around so quickly, it’s hard to get a clear image of them.”

After I got their pictures, I took some shots of a tall tree in the middle of the meadow, decked out in its coat of autumn yellow, then took several more photos of the fall foliage.

As I turned around, my companions were standing a few feet away, huddled together, examining their walking sticks and holding a whispered conversation. I furrowed my brow but held my tongue as they quickly rejoined me on the trail.

As we approached another section of woods, my Arrogant One pointed at something with his staff. “I am seeing a lot of similar-looking birds in the trees and bushes along the forest edge. What are they?”

“Fall warblers can be very confusing, but I believe they are Palm Warblers.” I took aim and snapped a few quick photos.

“That one looks different.” My Bounty Hunter pointed at another bird in a nearby tree. “Is that the one the Gypsy identified for me once as a White-throated Sparrow?”

I nodded. “I’m impressed you remembered!” I snapped the photo.

October Hike - White-throated Sparrow 1

My Bounty Hunter also spotted a Blue Jay high up in a bare tree, and my Arrogant One pointed out an Eastern Bluebird on an old fence post. I got photos of them both. Then, just before we entered the next wooded area, we found another snake. “This one looks like a Garter Snake.” I snapped his photo as well.

“Look here.” My Arrogant One pointed. “There are several different types of berries along this path.”

“They’re good food for the birds.” I took some photos of the berries before looking up at the nearby trees.

“Look! The berries have attracted some Cedar Waxwings. Those birds are basically fruit eaters. In the fall, hundreds of them can gather and strip a berry patch in minutes.” I scanned the trees. “This is a very small flock.”

“That one looks different.” My Arrogant One pointed to one of a pair of birds sitting on a bare branch. “But the one with it looks like the Cedar Waxwings you just showed us.”

“They’re both Cedar Waxwings. The one that looks different is a juvenile. I’m surprised there aren’t more with the flock.” I focused my camera and got a shot of the two birds.

October Hike - Cedar Waxwing with juvie

We continued along the path, and I took some more photos of the trees and wildflowers. Once again, my companions lagged behind. They were again whispering, but they quickly stopped and hurried to catch up with me.

Soon we were back at the nature center. There were numerous birds and critters feeding on the seed that had fallen from the feeders, or watching from the nearby trees. I identified a Red Squirrel, another Eastern Chipmunk, some Fox Sparrows, some Dark-eyed Juncos, some more White-throated Sparrows, and both male and female Northern Cardinals.

Finally, I figured I had taken enough photos, and I turned to my companions. “Ready to go home?”

“Already?” They both seemed disappointed.

“Miles will probably be home by now with those roofing supplies you need. And I need to start making dinner if we want to eat tonight.”

My two characters nodded reluctantly, and we walked across the parking lot to the car. As we took our places in the vehicle, I wondered about their behavior, their whispered conversations, and the furtive glances I thought I had seen them exchanging several times. After turning it over in my mind, I decided maybe I was just being paranoid. I decided it best not to spoil the good time we had had by confronting them. If something was afoot, I would probably find out soon enough.

Be sure to join us again next week. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Still Out Sick – Gypsy Filling in With Recycled Blogs

Still Out Sick – Gypsy Filling in With Recycled Blogs

gypsy-facing-rightHail, good readers! Prithee allow me to introduce myself. I am the Gypsy, sidekick and best friend of the Young Hero about whose exploits Mistress Writer has penned numerous tales. I fear I must report Mistress Writer’s malady has not improved since Dragon so kindly and so capably filled in for her last week. But, alas, now Dragon and half our number are ill as well. Dragon has beseeched me to fill in this week in presenting to you readers an entertaining and informative narrative. However, I most humbly confess I am no scribe!

Since any attempt I would make to author a blog would bore the average reader into a coma, I decided to just . . . what is the word Mistress Writer and Master Miles use? Oh, yes! I decided to recycle two earlier blogs.

Reviewing previous blogs, I have found several times in the past when Mistress Writer was ill. I narrowed down the accounts to two instances. Once, she was afflicted with a very bad cold. Another time, she had contracted an ailment she termed cabin fever. I selected these two blogs to recycle today as Mistress Writer seems to be suffering from both maladies now.

wren 2Also, both blogs relate to birds, a subject near and dear to my heart. I do not mean to brag – after all, I am the Gypsy, not the Arrogant One – but I am extremely knowledgeable about birds. I could identify every bird in my world by sight and by ear, and I have become almost as well versed in the birds of this world. I daresay I play an important role in the first of the two blogs I selected, identifying some birds for my less knowledgeable companions, and relating information about various types of birds. I hope you find both blogs entertaining and informative.

https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/todays-blog-is-for-the-birds/

https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/05/20/backyard-birding-bliss/

gypsy-facing-rightCharing shoes 2I do hope you enjoyed the two blogs I recycled. If so, I would consider it a great personal favor if you could leave a comment for Dragon. She warned me what would happen should I not do a good job filling in for her and Mistress Writer. She will char my shoes with my feet still in them – a threat she often makes to Master Miles. And I am most fond of both my shoes and my feet!

I sincerely hope that Mistress Writer and Dragon will have recovered sufficiently by next week that I can step down from my position as temporary scribe. We hope to see you again next week, when we can ascertain if that has happened! We will leave the porch light on for you!

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An Old Mystery Revisited

An Old Mystery Revisited

Sitting on deck watching horsesMy Foreman, my Gypsy, and my Young Hero had just finished a morning workout with their illusory horses. Cleric and I, along with the ersatz elf maiden, Dragon, had watched them from the deck as they put their horses through their paces. Now, Cleric set out a tall pitcher of lemonade and six glasses while my Foreman and the lads finished grooming their horses and turning them out to pasture.

Cleric filled a glass and passed it to me. “Watching the riding exhibition this morning, my mind kept straying back to Mystery . . . I mean Peaches . . . and her young master, Colton. I wonder how they are faring these days.”

shaggy pony facing the other wayI knew Cleric was referring to a small horse that had shown up in our yard last December. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/12/31/mystery/

Peaches and ColtonAfter a fantastic adventure that included Mystery being possessed by creatures inadvertently brought to our world by Dragon, we had finally discovered that the little horse was actually named Peaches. She was a very special horse, trained to work with a blind rider, and she was owned by a young boy named Colton. She gave Colton a bit of freedom and normalcy in his life. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/03/25/mystery-solved/

“Funny you should ask about Mystery.” I smiled.

“What about Mystery?” My Foreman gratefully accepted a glass of lemonade and sat down on a deck chair to drink it. The two lads also grabbed cool drinks and settled down to join the conversation.

I grinned. “Cleric had just mentioned our old friend, Mystery, a.k.a. Peaches, and the little horse’s master, Colton. I was about to tell her that Colton’s mom, Anna, called me this morning. Colton has invited us to go trail riding with him.”

Elf facing rightCleric furrowed her brow and chewed her lower lip. “Mistress, I have never ridden a horse.”

“The servant of the goddess of the horse has never ridden one of her deity’s favored creatures?” I gaped at Cleric, who blushed furiously and hung her head.Elf cleric

“I have never ridden, either.” Dragon pursed her lips. “I am not sure I want to.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Well, that’s up to you, but Colton will be very disappointed. He told his mom to be sure I understood that the invitation was for the three wonderful ladies who brought Peaches back to him – me, Dray, and Clara.”

Cleric’s cornflower blue eyes widened. “He remembered the names we used!” A smile flashed across her face, but immediately faded to a frown. “But even if we wanted to go riding, we do not have any horses.”

Dragon rubbed the back of her neck and furrowed her brow. “I suppose, if it is really important to the boy, I could produce some illusory horses, similar to the ones I created for our three resident horsemen.”

I nodded. “That would be wonderful, and I’m sure Colton will be happy to have us visit and go riding with him.”

My Young Hero cleared his throat. “Mistress, is there any way the three of us could join you?” He gestured at himself, my Gypsy, and my Foreman.

“Sure. Anna said we should feel free to bring more friends with us.”

The lad smiled, and he had a faraway look in his eyes. “I remember the splendid times I had with my brother, riding through the countryside. We were rarely, if ever, confined within a fence when we rode.” Suddenly, he blushed. “But I do not mean to complain! I know you, Dragon, have gone to a lot of trouble creating the illusory horses and stable for us, and keeping everything hidden from the neighbors with a spell of concealment. And you, Foreman, have spent much time instructing me and the Gypsy, and helping us improve our horsemanship.” He gulped some of the lemonade and fiddled with his glass. Finally, he sighed. “But it would be so nice to ride through woods and fields again.”

Dragon furrowed her brow and looked at me. “When is this trail ride?”

“This weekend, if we can make it.”

“Good. That will give me time to create three more illusory horses with the requisite interwoven spell of concealment, and for the three of us to become accustomed to our mounts. Or should that be four more horses? Will Master Miles be joining us?”

I shook my head. “No, I’m afraid my husband isn’t very keen on horses. He’ll hold down the fort here while we’re off riding.”

My Foreman grinned. “I will teach you ladies how to ride well enough to manage on this trail ride with Colton.”

I looked at my Foreman. “You can concentrate your efforts on Dragon and Cleric. I have no need of instruction. I just need to see if these old bones will hold together while I attempt to mount a horse after all these years.”

Dragon quickly went about creating the illusory horses – a palomino for herself, a strawberry roan for Cleric, and a small Appaloosa for me. “I remember you telling us that you had several Appaloosas back at your stable in New Jersey, and that the Appy was your favorite breed.”

I smiled, remembering those days.

With my Foreman and the two lads instructing them, it didn’t take Cleric or Dragon long to learn the basics of horsemanship and riding. Cleric seemed proud of her accomplishment, as she urged her mount into a trot. “I guess we have watched the three of you for so long, it has become ingrained already.”

“Are you sure they will be okay?” Miles watched the group trotting around the paddock.

I nodded. “They might not be expert riders, but they’ll be no worse off than someone who rents a horse at a public hack stable for an afternoon’s ride. They might be a bit sore the next day, but I’m sure I will be, too.”

Miles chuckled. “I’m sure you will. Have you given any thought about how to get to Colton’s place with the horses? I don’t imagine Dragon is going to conjure up trucks and trailers for you.”

“The farm we’re going to is not far from here. We’ll lead the horses off the property and down the road while they’re still under Dragon’s spell of concealment, just like we did with Mystery. To anyone seeing us, we’ll just look like a group of friends walking down the side of the road. When we reach the first dirt road, we’ll turn. There are no houses along that road, and little traffic. As soon as we’re far enough down that lane so we can’t be seen from the main road, Dragon will let the horses become visible and we’ll mount up and ride the rest of the way. We’ll do the reverse coming back at the end of the day. Now, I had better call Anna, and let her and Colton know when we’ll be there.”

Dragon, Cleric, and I spent the rest of the week working our horses, the other two learning how to ride passably well, and me slowly getting my muscles used to riding again so I would be able to endure several hours in the saddle. Early Saturday morning, my five characters gave up their usual garb and dressed in modern day outfits appropriate for riding, complete with Western boots.

We led our horses along the grassy verge of the main highway until we turned down a wide dirt road. A few yards along that lane, we were able to mount up. In minutes, we were at a two-track that went off through the forest to the left.

“This is so much faster than when we had to lead Mystery along this trail!” Cleric gently reined her horse down the path toward our destination.

“Four legs are always faster than two.” My Young Hero’s smile lit up his whole face.

A few minutes later, we arrived at the farm. Colton and his mom were waiting for us. Anna stood next to a showy dapple-gray. Colton was already mounted on Peaches, the little horse we had known as Mystery. Both horses whinnied a greeting, which our horses echoed.

“Hi, Anna! Hi, Colton!” I waved at them, and they waved back.

Anna smiled. “Hi! I was just about to tack up Rosie. It’ll only take me a few minutes.”

I nodded and trotted over to the fence to talk with her son. “Hey, Colton! Thanks for inviting us to go on a trail ride!”

“Hi, Marge!” I was surprised he remembered my voice. “I hear more than three horses. Who else did you bring?”

I motioned for everyone to come over. “Good ear, Colton! You know Clara and Dray.”

Cleric and Dragon exchanged greetings with the boy.

“And these are three more of my friends, Cab, Tor, and Rocky.” I introduced them, using names we had decided on earlier.

“Hi! I’m Colton and this is Peaches.” He patted his pony’s neck. “Do any of your horses kick or bite?”

I smiled. “Nope. You and Peaches are perfectly safe.”

“I was more concerned with my mom. Peaches is good at sensing other horses’ moods, but mom and Rosie sometimes don’t pick up on the clues. Rosie’s been kicked and bitten several times.”

“We will be certain to stay alert to our horses’ moods today, Colton. We will not allow anything to happen to your mother or her horse.” My Foreman, Tor, smiled at Colton, even though he knew the boy couldn’t see him.

“Thanks.” Colton smiled in the general direction of my Foreman’s voice. “Can you tell me about everyone’s horse?”

My Foreman nodded. “Well, Colton, I am on Centaur, a large black stallion with a long, wavy mane and tail.”

 

“Cab is riding Hero, a chocolate palomino pony.”

 

“Rocky has a black-and-white Gypsy Vanner, very imaginatively named Gypsy.”

 

“Dray is on a stocky palomino named Dragon.”

 

“Clara is riding Blessing, a tall strawberry roan.”

 

“And Missy is on Scribe, a black Appaloosa three-quarter horse with a small blanket.”

Appaloosa for me

Colton frowned. “Missy?”

“That’s their nickname for me.” I laughed. “I probably have more names than . . .” I was about to say more names than Carter’s has liver pills, but I doubted the youngster would get such an outdated reference. “More names than a cat has lives,” I finished lamely.

“Okay, I’m ready.” Anna swung up onto her horse and reined it around. “I hope no one objects to a short ride today, but I’m expecting a delivery of feed and hay later today. I need to be back in just a few hours.”

We all nodded and waited for Anna and Colton to exit the paddock and join us. Then we all rode our horses at a sedate walk, single file, down the driveway and along the wooded path away from the farm, with Colton proudly taking the lead.

Colton riding Peaches bareback

I watched the small boy and his horse as they led the way down the two-track next to their farm, and onto a wider trail through the woods. Colton rode confidently, obviously trusting his mount to keep him safe. It was hard to remember the boy was blind.

He half-turned in the saddle to talk to me. “So, what do you prefer, Marge or Missy?”

I thought about it for a moment. “Why don’t we stick with Marge?”

He nodded. “Okay, Marge.”

As we rode out of the woods and along the edge of a field, Colton pointed up to something in the trees. “Marge, do you hear that?”

I listened. “I hear a robin in the trees.”Bird - Robin
“Colton smiled. “Yup, American Robin.” Cheer-a-lee . . . cheer-a-lee the robin called again.

A loud conk-a-reeeeeeeee had Colton twisting toward the cat-tails on the opposite side of the field. “Red-winged Blackbird.”

 

I looked across the field. “You’re right! There’s one in the reeds and another in the trees.”

Another sound, a squeaky readle-eak had him pointing at the treetops. “Common Grackle.”Bird - Common Grackle

“You have a good ear.” I was impressed.

“Black-capped Chickadee!” He pointed to a tree where several small birds sang chick-a-dee-dee-dee. Then, before I could reply, he pointed at another tree-top serenader, singing cheer-cheer-cheer-cheer-purty-purty-purty. “Cardinal.” And twisting around in the saddle, he pointed in the direction of another bird singing witchety-witchety-witchety. “Common Yellowthroat.”

I called back over my shoulder to my Gypsy. “Hey, Rocky! Colton could give you a run for your money identifying birds by ear!”

My Gypsy trotted his horse up and joined us at the front of the group of riders. “Really?”

“Really! He’s identified six birds already.”

My Gypsy took up the challenge. “Did you hear that one? Eastern Phoebe in the tree to the left. Fee-beee.” He flawlessly imitated the bird, following it up with a perfect imitation of the buzzes and trills that were coming from the trees to the right. “Song Sparrows.”

 

The distinctive notes of an American Goldfinch reached my Gypsy’s ear – bay-beee . . . bay-beee – and he called back, imitating them perfectly.

“American Goldfinch!” Colton beamed at my Gypsy.

“Yes. There is a flock of goldfinches feasting on some thistle that has gone to seed in the clearing on the right.” My Gypsy pointed, then remembered Colton was blind, and he dropped his arm.

“Wow! You’re good!” Colton grinned at him. “I don’t know many people who are interested in birds, and I don’t know anyone at all who can imitate their calls!”

The two of them started a friendly competition. Colton identified the first bird, as it called queedle-queedle-queedle, then screeched cat! cat! cat! “Blue Jay!”

Bird - Blue Jay

“Yup! It just flew down and grabbed an acorn! But, that one was too easy!” My Gypsy’s tone let Colton know the lad was just teasing.

My Gypsy scored the next identification. A harsh chatter caught his attention, and he scanned the trees to the left. “Eastern Bluebirds! Two males, squabbling over some food.”

Not to be outdone, Colton pointed overhead, where a bird called cheer-up, cheer-a-lee, cheer-ee-o, chink. “Rose-breasted Grosbeak!”

Bird - Rose-breasted Grosbeak

My Gypsy quickly came back with “Cedar Waxwing! Zeee-zeee-zeee.” It was a perfect imitation of the bird calling from a lone tree in the middle of the field to the right.
Bird - Cedar Waxwing
My Young Hero nudged his horse up next to Colton and my Gypsy. “Hey, guys, what is that big bird sleeping on the log?”
Bird - GHO 3
Colton shrugged. “If I can’t hear it, I can’t identify it.”

“Yeah, Cab, no cheating! Ears only.” My Gypsy stuck his tongue out at his friend, who retaliated in kind. Just then, the bird woke up, turned around, and gave a sleepy hoo-ho HOOOO-hoo-hoo, peering at us with one half-opened eye.


Colton and my Gypsy cried out in unison. “Great Horned Owl!”

Colton turned in the saddle at a sound behind us, a loud drumming, followed by a muffled churr-churr-churr. “Red-bellied Woodpecker!” He grinned.
Bird - Red-bellied Woodpecker
He got the next one, too. “Barn Swallows.” He pointed to a tree where some birds were twittering and whirring.


Suddenly, I heard a familiar call. “Sandhill Cranes!”

Colton nodded. “They’re probably feasting in the cornfields on the other side of these woods. We can go there and see them.”

It didn’t take long to jog our horses over to the fields. As we rode closer, the rattling call of the flock grew louder and louder. I was impressed to see none of the horses were bothered by it. None shied from the sight of the big birds, either.

“Missy! These birds are as tall as you!” My Cleric grinned at me.

“Yes, thank you for noticing that.” I glowered at her, then chuckled to let her know I wasn’t really upset.

We spent a few long minutes gawking at the impressive birds before heading back through the woods. Suddenly, Colton ducked. “Ruby-throated Hummingbird!”

“How did you know?” I was amazed.

“I could feel Peaches tense up just as I heard several birds calling chee-dit almost in my ear.”

“There are a couple in the tree right above you!” My Gypsy confirmed the identification.


The boys continued their friendly competition, and by the time we arrived back at the barn, they had identified more than thirty species.

Colton and Peaches“We have to do this again!” Colton was all smiles as he swung down from his saddle and patted Peaches on her neck.

“Can we?” My Gypsy looked at me.

“I don’t see why not.”

We all dismounted. Anna and Colton unsaddled their horses and brushed them down before turning them out in the pasture. The rest of us loosened our saddles so our horses could have a breather before we started back to our own house.

Colton had a huge smile on his face as he thanked each one of us for coming on the trail ride. We promised to do it again soon as we tightened our cinches, mounted up and turned for home.

We hope you enjoyed our little trail ride this week. Be sure to join us again next week for another of our little adventures. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.
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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.

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.

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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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