What’s STILL Going On?

What’s STILL Going On?

bird photographerI was growing increasingly impatient. My second – and hopefully last – follow-up with my surgeon was still a week away, so my restrictions had not yet been lifted. But I was feeling much better and was chomping at the bit to resume my normal activities, particularly my nature walks with my camera.

Elf facing rightCleric regarded me with sympathy, but shook her head. “Why do we not just relax on the veranda and you can take some more photos of your backyard birds and creatures? You know I always enjoy assisting with that endeavor.” Cleric had a true affinity with the birds, and often joined me when I photographed them, coaxing them to venture closer and strike interesting or amusing poses.

I frowned. “I suppose we could, although I would much rather go on a nice, long hike and see some different creatures for a change. It has gotten to the point with my backyard birds that as soon as they see me, they fly off screaming, it’s that annoying woman with the camera again!

Cleric eye’s widened. “I did not know you could understand their language! Do you speak it as well?”

I felt my lips twitch. “I was being facetious.”

Cleric’s face turned crimson, and she scowled. “Well, how was I to know? Why do you say something you do not mean?”

I ducked my head. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to confuse or frustrate you.”

Cleric smoothed her robes, and her ruffled feelings seemed to smooth over as well. “You get your camera. I will get us some cold drinks and meet you in a few minutes at the gazebo.”

Stu-04-NatGalBefore either of us could move, Sorceress swept into the room in an obvious state of agitation, glaring at us through narrowed eyes. Without acknowledging me at all, she addressed Cleric in an abrasive tone. “There you are! I have been reminding you every day for the past week we need to replenish our spell components. We must gather and prepare the herbs and other botanicals we need. I am tired of waiting! I am going out today to collect whatever I can find. Are you coming?”

Cleric’s eyes widened and her face reddened again. Her hand flew to her mouth. “I forgot!”

“You have become most unmindful of things lately!” Sorceress tossed her hair back, crossed her arms over her chest, and looked down her nose at her erstwhile friend.

“I am sorry. I just told Mistress Writer I would sit with her in the garden and – – ”

Sorceress swept her hand down, silencing Cleric in mid-sentence. “Well, I have enough to do to find and prepare my own botanicals. If you wish to replenish your stock of components and healing herbs, you will have to find the plants yourself.” Without another word, she whirled and left the room.

The normally amiable Cleric called in a petulant tone after the departing figure, “Fine! I will do just that!” She turned back to me. “I will get our beverages.” She stomped off toward the kitchen, muttering under her breath.

I raised an eyebrow and pondered the scene I had just witnessed between two characters who had, up until recently, been good friends. It seemed there was a lot of friction among my characters lately. I shrugged. I really couldn’t do anything about it until Dragon determined what was causing the problem.

I gathered my camera, my wide-brimmed hat, and some peanuts and millet spray for the birds, and headed out to the gazebo to wait for Cleric. I had hardly taken a seat when I saw my Arrogant One tear around the corner of the garden shed. My Old Dwarf was in hot pursuit, barely a step behind the elf, slashing at him with his war-axe. Several paces behind the dwarf was my Bounty Hunter, dagger in hand.

dragon-1964202_960_720Before I could intervene, Dragon appeared, flying over the top of the shed. She swooped down and snatched up my Old Dwarf, saving my Arrogant One from the dwarf, and the dwarf from my Bounty Hunter. As she escorted the old reprobate to safety, the other two fled inside the shed, and barricaded the doors.

Dragon deposited my Old Dwarf beside the gazebo, but kept a grip on his arm. He was sputtering like a wet hen, and cussing like a . . . well, like an angry dwarf. I stood and placed my hands on my hips. “What is going on?”

“Jest let me be gittin’ me hands on thet little popinjay! Let me at ’em!” The dwarf shook with rage.

I raised an eyebrow. “What did my Arrogant One do now?”

The dwarf was apoplectic. His face was so red, it could double for a stop sign, and he could hardly choke the words out. “I be findin’ a piece o me fave-o-rite chock-lit cake in the shed. I be jest aboot ta take a great big bite o it, an’ thet wretched excuse fer a magicker disappeared it! It do na be real a’tall! It be jest another o his illusions!”

I nodded. “So for that you were trying your best to cleave him in two?”

“Wale, o course I be after ’em fer thet! Waddaya be thinkin’? Thet be me fave-o-rite food he be messin’ wit!” He continued to shake with rage, and he struggled against Dragon’s hold.

I looked at Dragon. “And my Bounty Hunter was just trying to protect my Arrogant One?”

Dragon nodded.

I looked back at my Old Dwarf. “Well, since I don’t want you breaking down the shed door, why don’t you just go to the kitchen? I think you’ll find some real chocolate cake in the cake saver on the counter.”

The dwarf stopped shaking and broke into a delighted grin. Dragon released her grip on his arm, and he trotted off to find the cake.

I waited until he was out of earshot. “Have you determined what is causing these conflicts?”



Dragon shook her head and a thin plum of smoke drifted from her nostrils. “I have not yet determined if it is the heat, or boredom, or if something more sinister is behind these incidents.”

“Well, I hope you make that determination soon. Sorceress and Cleric had another tiff just a few moments ago.”

“And your Gypsy and his best friend, your Young Hero, almost resorted to fisticuffs again this morning.”

“This is becoming very worrisome.” I frowned, and thought of something peculiar. “If it is something sinister causing the friction between friends, how is it that my Old Dwarf is affected? I thought dwarves were immune to magic.”

“They are. But dwarves are also contentious by nature. Your Old Dwarf is particularly cantankerous and quick-tempered, so I would attribute his conflicts to his normal demeanor, rather than whatever is fueling the clashes among the others.”

I nodded. “That makes sense. But what of you? You have been rather testy lately, as you yourself acknowledged the other day. I can not imagine you being affected by a sinister spell without realizing what is happening and resisting it. You’re magic is too powerful.”

“Perhaps. But, unlikely though it may be, there is always the possibility of a more powerful force behind this.”

I shuddered.

“I do not really believe that is the case, but to ignore the possibility could court disaster. I will continue investigating, and I will let you know if I discover anything. Meanwhile, enjoy your afternoon of nature photography with Cleric.”

iced tea for blogDragon and Cleric greeted each other affably as Cleric placed a pitcher of ice cold fruit punch and some glasses on the table next to my camera. “Will you be joining us, Dragon? I can get another glass.”

“Another time, my friend. I fear I have more pressing obligations at the moment.”

Dragon nodded to us and took her leave. Cleric poured us each a tall, cool glass of punch. I scattered some peanuts and millet spray to attract the birds, and Cleric hummed a special tune, a haunting weave of windsong and magic. Then we sat back to wait for some photogenic creatures to grace us with their presence. We didn’t have long to wait.

The first bird to visit was a Common Grackle. He flew down to the gazebo railing, and conversed with Cleric for a few moments. Then the bird quickly hopped down and approached me, almost seeming to study me as I took his photo.Backyard 055

Cleric leaned toward me and spoke in a whisper. “Grackles are beautiful birds, with their intelligent faces and their iridescent feathers, but I fear every time I see one, I think back to the evil wizard Morcant, who had a grackle as his familiar.”



I shuddered. “Yes, Morcant is always in the back of my mind, too, whenever I see a grackle.”

Next, Cleric coaxed a couple of Mourning Doves down to the railing, imitating their peaceful coo. The first one seemed a bit nervous as I took his picture, but the second was totally relaxed as Cleric continued to coo at them.

A male Red-bellied Woodpecker ventured down to snatch up some peanuts as his mate and their young stayed well-hidden in the nearby tree, calling to him to hurry. Even Cleric could not convince them to join us.Backyard 054

The peanuts were also the enticement that brought a Blue Jay down, but it was Cleric who coaxed him into posing for a brief second before he flew off with his prize.Backyard 059

The millet spray attracted a hungry Song Sparrow. First, he landed in a nearby tree to check us out and he and Cleric engaged in a songfest. Following their concert, he flew down to eat while I took his picture.

Backyard 131

The heat and the humidity rose as the afternoon progressed. Cleric and I appreciated an occasional cool breeze as we sipped our fruity drinks. Suddenly, Cleric paused, her glass halfway to her lips. She giggled and pointed. I looked, and there was a small chipmunk spying on us from the corner of the gazebo. I grabbed a quick shot of him as he and Cleric exchanged greetings.Backyard 001

The rest of the afternoon passed pleasantly, in spite of the mugginess. A variety of birds and critters stopped by to converse with Cleric and pose for my camera.

Several Gray Catbirds visited with us, calling to us from the nearby feeder area.

With a little coaxing from Cleric, a male House Finch struck a pose for me atop a feeder pole.Backyard 020

A fledgling American Robin checked us out from atop the neighbor’s fence, while his sibling sampled the grapes in the fruit feeder.

A Painted Turtle eyed us curiously before trudging off toward the pond.Backyard 044

One Baltimore Oriole called a cheery hello before taking a long sip of nectar from the nearby feeder, while a second waited her turn impatiently atop the feeder pole.

A fledgling Red-winged Blackbird kept an eye on us while waiting for mom or dad to return with some food, while a fledgling Downy Woodpecker checked us out from the nearby suet log.

Finally, two Mallard drakes and one hen waddled up from the pond and stopped a few feet from the gazebo. They engaged in a lively conversation with Cleric as I captured their image.Backyard 064

“Well, the ducks wanted us to know the weather is soon going to take a turn. They think we should return to the shelter of the house.” She reached for our glasses and placed them on the tray with the empty pitcher.

I blinked. “Really?”

gathering clouds for blog“Indeed. Look, already clouds are gathering to the west, and the breeze is increasing. I believe they know what they are talking about.”

I chuckled. It never ceased to amaze me the way Cleric could communicate with the birds. “Okay, let’s go back to the house. We wouldn’t want to get caught in a sudden shower.”

As we approached the house, we could hear angry voices. I recognized them as that of my Old Dwarf and my Foreman. I shook my head and sighed as we stepped through the French doors into the living room. “Now what’s going on?”

Elf facing right

“Why would you care?” Cleric snapped at me. The tray she was carrying clattered to the floor when she thrust it at me and I failed to grab it. Without apology, Cleric turned and stalked away.


My mouth fell open and I stood there, totally bewildered.

Be sure to join us again next week. Perhaps Dragon will shed some light on these conflicts. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Fun and Mayhem With the Neighbors

Fun and Mayhem With the Neighbors

gazebo for blogI was sitting on a very soft cushion I had placed on a hard plastic lawn chair in a shady corner of the gazebo. I was five weeks into what should have been a two week recuperation following a minor surgical procedure. It had been less than a week that I could sit comfortably.camera for blog

I had brought my camera with me, as I had hoped to engage in a little backyard nature photography, but it remained untouched on the table. Instead, I was being entertained by three of my characters.


My Foreman, my Young Hero, and my Gypsy were schooling their horses in the back of the yard. These were illusory horses provided by their companion, Dragon, who had also cast a spell of concealment to keep the neighbors from noticing the goings-on. I watched as the three expert riders walked, trotted, and cantered their mounts on the flat, then over a cavaletti, after which they performed diagonals and figure-eights and flying lead changes. Then my Foreman, mounted on his spirited black stallion, demonstrated a piaff, a passage, and a pirouette, followed by a half-pass directly to the gazebo, and a low, courtly bow to me. I applauded and smiled my appreciation of the skill of horse and rider. It was fun to watch. Or it was until I almost fell off my chair.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dragon, in her guise of an elf maiden, stepping out of the house onto the deck. She was wearing an enormous smile, and she was escorting two people. The man was sporting glasses and a neatly trimmed goatee, and was dressed casually in well-worn blue jeans and a black hoodie. The woman, in a matching outfit, had sandy blond tresses framing an open face. I recognized them as our neighbors, Mace and Gloria, who had moved into a house down the street earlier this year. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/meeting-the-neighbors/

Elf clericneighborneighbor-2I felt my heart leap into my throat as Dragon led the visitors down the steps and right toward me.

Oh, no! Not them! Not now! What is Dragon thinking? What is Mace going to say about the horses being here again? How can I explain this?

I tried to rise to greet the visitors, but my legs felt like rubber. Gloria reached out and grabbed me before I fell flat on my face, and she eased me back into the chair. “Oh, please don’t get up! Mace and I heard from one of our other neighbors that you were recovering from surgery. We just dropped by to see how you were doing.”

“Well, I’m coming along slowly.” I tried to smile, but my eyes were darting all over the yard.

Where are they?

ShedOut of the corner of my eye, I saw my Foreman swing down from the saddle and quietly lead his horse away. He and the others led their mounts back to the shed to unsaddle and groom them. My heart was racing, my palms were sweaty, and I’m sure every bit of color must have drained from my face, but Gloria and Mace didn’t seem to notice anything.

“Gloria brought a lovely casserole! I put it in the refrigerator.” Dragon moved some chairs closer to the table and motioned for Mace and his wife to sit.

“Thank you, Gloria! That is so thoughtful!”

I hope my face doesn’t break from forcing this smile.

“I would have made more if I had known your out-of-town relatives were staying with you again. I hadn’t seen anyone around lately, so I only made enough for you and your husband.”

“Oh, well, that’s okay. I mean, how could you know? They haven’t been outside much. They came to help take care of me, after the surgery.”

Good lord, I must sound like a blithering nincompoop!

But Mace and Gloria didn’t seem to be listening. “Hey, what’s that?”

“What? Where?” I almost gave myself a bad case of whiplash, checking the yard for errant characters.

binoculars and field guide“That bird there.” Mace pointed to something perched atop one of the shepherd’s staff poles holding a bird feeder. Immediately, Gloria grabbed a pair of binoculars from her pocket and strained to see the little bird, as Mace pulled a small field guide from his pocket.

“Oh, Mace and Gloria are birdwatchers! Isn’t that nice?” Dragon smiled broadly. “Mis . . .”

No! Don’t say Mistress Writer!

“Missy and her husband love bird watching. In fact, she’s been taking pictures of the birds here in the yard today.” She gestured toward the camera sitting on the table.

Mace frowned. “Missy? I thought your name was Marge.”

“Oh, that’s just a little pet name we have for her.” Dragon smiled and winked, and I sighed and tried not to collapse with relief.

Gloria lowered her binoculars. “You’re a birdwatcher, too?”

I nodded, and swallowed hard, trying to find my voice.

“Well, maybe you can help us, then. Mace and I are just beginners, and we don’t know all the different birds yet.”

“Ah, ahem . . . er, sure. Well, that little bird is a Black-capped Chickadee.” I gestured toward the small black and white creature who was still eyeing us from atop the pole.Backyard 078

Mace cocked his head and furrowed his brow. “Are you sure? It doesn’t look like a chickadee to me. Aren’t chickadees . . . well . . . smoother, sleeker?” He paged through his book.

“Yes, I’m sure. But you’re right – most are sleeker. This one has an abnormality of the feathers on its belly – it looks like it’s having a bad feather day. Here, I took a picture of this bird earlier this week. I’ll zoom it in and you can get a closer look at it.” I took a few minutes to find the photo, then passed the camera to Mace and Gloria.

“Hmmm…strange looking.” They compared the photo to the one in the book.

I took the camera again, and searched for another photo. “Here. Here’s a normal chickadee.”Backyard 039

They looked at that, then at the book. “Now this one looks just like the one in the book.”

“Field guides are great, but you have to remember that not every bird is a text-book example of its species. If you look at these two photos carefully, you can see they are the same species.”

They painstakingly compared the photos of the two birds, as I pointed out the field marks – the black cap and bib, and the white cheeks, the long, narrow tail and the small, the thick bill – then they nodded.

Gloria saw some movement in a nearby tree, and picked up her binoculars again. “Is that a Baltimore Oriole?”Backyard 008

I looked at the bird Gloria was pointing to and nodded. “And there’s another one.” I pointed to one who had taken over the chickadee’s perch.Backyard 051

“Cool!” Mace took a notebook from his pocket, pushed up his glasses, and started writing. “Lifelist. The chickadee and the oriole are only our tenth and eleventh birds.” He sounded sheepish.

I smiled, and spent the next half hour helping Mace and Gloria add to their brand-new lifelist.

“There’s a male American Goldfinch . . . and there’s the female.”

“There’s a Gray Catbird . . . and there’s a Common Grackle.”

“Oh, look!” Gloria pointed to the tree stump in the back of the yard. “There’s one I know – a Red-winged Blackbird!”

“Yup, that’s an adult male, displaying for the female, who’s over there on the fence.”

“She doesn’t look anything like the male!” Mace looked wide-eyed at the bird, then continued jotting down the names of the birds they were seeing.

Gloria had her binoculars up again. “What is that one? The one on the fence, with al the speckles?”

“That’s a fledgling American Robin, and there is the adult, on the edge of the birdbath.”

“Fledgling?” Mace wrinkled his brow.

“A young bird, already out of the nest, but not yet self-sufficient. The adults still feed and protect the fledglings.”

“It doesn’t look much like the adult!” Mace studied it carefully.

“No, it doesn’t. You’ll find that to be true of a lot of birds. It can make identifying a nestling or a fledgling very difficult. Even some sub-adult birds. Some birds, like Bald Eagles and certain gulls, for example, don’t get their full adult colors for years.”

Gloria and Mace looked impressed by this avian trivia.

Just then, I yelped as my Old Dwarf raced past the gazebo, brandishing an axe, chasing a rabbit. “I be gittin’ ye this time, ye ornery little beastie, ye jest see iffin I do na! Thet be the lastest time ye be getting’ in Mistress Writer’s carrot patch!”

Not now! Not now!

I almost fainted, but our visitors didn’t seem to find anything untoward as my Old Dwarf continued to chase the rabbit all around the yard, hollering and cussing up a storm.

“That’s a pretty lively pair of rabbits.” Mace nodded toward the rabbit and the dwarf.

“We’ve had a problem with rabbits eating the vegetables in our garden.” Gloria flipped her hair out of her face. “We found a few commercial products that work well to keep them away from the plants without harming the animals.” The rabbit raced past the gazebo again, my Old Dwarf in hot pursuit. “I can recommend some, if you’d like.”

I nodded dumbly.

What I’d really like is something to keep my characters out of trouble, thankyouverymuch!

“Oh, hello! I did not know we had guests.”

I give up!

Gloria and Mace were gaping as Cleric walked down the steps and joined us on the gazebo. They looked at Cleric, then Dragon, then Cleric again.

“Oh, you haven’t met my sister, have you?” Dragon was smiling and her eyes were twinkling as she gestured toward Cleric. “She’s quite a bit younger than me, but everyone says we look like twins. Sis, these are Mace and Gloria. They live down the street.”

“How nice to make your acquaintance.” Cleric bobbed a little curtsey.

“Charmed.” Mace spoke in a flat voice and gave Cleric a look as if he were trying to figure out what planet she was from.

“Oh, my! I do believe that rabbit is leading the Old Dwarf a merry chase.” Cleric giggled as the old reprobate ran by, still brandishing his axe and cursing a blue streak.

“Old Dwarf?” Gloria frowned and tilted her head.

“Oh, we give some of the creatures here little nicknames.” Dragon winked.

Is this nightmare over yet?

“Oh, look!” This time it was Mace pointing. “What is that?”

With great trepidation, I followed his gaze, then sighed with relief that it wasn’t another of my characters. “That’s a female Wood Duck. There’s the male, over there.”

My relief was short-lived.

“There you are!” The imperious voice announced the presence of my Arrogant One. I turned around and saw him headed for the gazebo. I felt the color drain from my face.arrogant-one

No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Oh, by all that’s holy, how do I explain this one?

“Mace, Gloria, can I get you something to drink?” Dragon seemed as oblivious to the presence of the annoying elf as were my neighbors.

“Oh, no, thanks. We should really be going. Marge is looking a bit pale. I hope our visit hasn’t been too much for you today.” Gloria was looking at me with concern.

“Oh, not at all. It’s been fun! Thanks again for the casserole. I’ll return the dish as soon as I can.” I smiled weakly.

My Arrogant One pushed past Dragon and Cleric and stood in front of me, glowering, his hands on his hips. “I can not tolerate horses in the shed! The Bounty Hunter and I use the shed loft as our refuge, and the others know it. They put those noisy, filthy, smelly animals in there to spite me! I demand you have them removed this instant!”

Dragon shoved him aside under the pretext of moving some chairs aside.

Mace and Gloria stood up. “Thanks for sharing your expertise today. We added some new birds to our lifelist, and we learned that not every bird will look like the picture in the field guide.” Mace tucked his list and his book back in his pocket.

“We really need to do this again.” Gloria smiled brightly.

“Are you even listening to me?” My Arrogant One’s voice rose in octave so high, I expected to hear all the neighborhood dogs start to howl.

I smiled at Gloria. “I’d really like that.”

Oh, how I lie!

“We’ll see our guests out. You should just stay here and relax.” Dragon gave me a broad grin and a wink as our two neighbors followed her and Cleric. I waved as they disappeared around the corner of the house.

My Arrogant One, his face as red as a beet, continued to screech at me, and my Old Dwarf raced past once more, turning the air blue with his language as the rabbit continued to taunt him. I saw my Bounty Hunter yelling at my Foreman and the lads as they led their horses out of the shed and turned them loose to graze, and I heard Sorceress slam the door as she came out of the house to investigate the commotion.

Relax? I’m going to kill these characters! Or maybe it’s just time to make good my periodic threat to them, and edit them out of my manuscripts and out of my life!


I laid my head down and tried to think happy thoughts, thoughts of a time before my characters had fallen out of my manuscripts, thoughts of normalcy.

Backyard 052


Be sure to stop by next week and see if any of my characters survive that long. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.


A Good Cure for the Wintertime Blues

A Good Cure for the Wintertime Blues

backyard-melting-snow-004I sighed loudly and raked my hand through my hair. I stared through the window at the still-frozen yard trying hard to shed its white winter coat. My Old Dwarf came over to stand beside me. “Ye be lookin’ a bit down in the mouth, lassie. What be troublin’ ye?”

I shrugged. “The usual. It’s winter.”

“But it be beauteous out there taday, lassie! Why do ye na git yer picture-makin’ box and go fer a hike?”

I turned and gaped at him as if he had just suggested I should murder someone. “Are you crazy? It’s cold out there!”

He scoffed. “The sun be shinin’ and I be seein’ some birdies flittin’ aboot.”

My voice rose to a shriek. “It’s 13 frigid degrees out there, and the blasted birdies are wearing their insulated underwear!”

My Old Dwarf stood there laughing. I shook my head incredulously and headed to my office. Go hiking? In these temperatures? The dwarf is mad, mad I say!

computer-and-monitorI shivered violently as I sat down at my computer and immediately checked the weather site. Mistake. It told me the 13 degree Fahrenheit temperature outside my Minnesota house actually felt like negative two. The ten day forecast only showed two days when the temperature might climb above the thirties. Typical for the second week of February. My reaction was typical, too. Just like every other year at this time, I could feel myself sinking into a depression, a victim of Seasonal Affective Disorder. I reached over and turned on my full-spectrum light, hoping it would help me fight these SAD Winter Blues.

I started scrolling through my e-mails. There was nothing of earthshaking importance there, so I decided to check out some friends’ posts on social media. Big mistake. One friend in Alabama had posted photos of a magnolia tree already in bloom in her neighborhood. A Florida friend had photographed area birds already gathering twigs and nesting material. Someone in Texas shared photos of fields of blooming daffodils. And three of my friends from Georgia had posted a profusion of photos of unfrozen lakes and ponds teeming with waterfowl.

I sighed again. Since I have an aversion to any temperature below 65 F, it would be many weeks before I could venture out again, camera in hand, and enjoy nature. I turned off the computer and my full-spectrum light and wandered back upstairs.

In the living room, I went over to the French doors leading to the deck, and scowled as I looked out over the yard. I gave myself a mental shake. This had to be the tenth time I had looked outside today. Did I expect to find that it had suddenly transformed into spring?

My Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One entered the room. The insufferable elf took one look at me by the doors and turned on his heel to leave. His companion placed a restraining hand on the elf’s arm. He nodded to me in greeting. “Mistress Writer.”

I grunted at the two of them and returned my attention to the scene outside. The wind was picking up, and the few birds I could see were hunkering down into the reeds at the back of the yard.

“Not a very nice day out there.” I looked up. My Arrogant One was still on the other side of the room, but my Bounty Hunter was at my elbow.

I scowled at the intrusion. “Nope.”

“I remember how the wind picked up toward the end of that expedition we enjoyed with you last year. If I recall, Cleric and the Gypsy lad combined their skills so you could get photos of some small birds clinging to the cattails swaying in the wind.” (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/a-surprisingly-pleasant-outing/)

I raised my eyebrows at him. “I’m surprised you remember.”

“Well, that was a most enjoyable outing, Mistress Writer.” His smile would do justice to a snake-oil salesman. He turned to the elf. “I do not believe you accompanied us on that outing, did you?”

My Arrogant One drew himself up and clasped the front of his cloak with both hands. “I do not participate in such frivolous undertakings.”

I snorted. “Of course you don’t.”

My Bounty Hunter turned his smile on me again. “Mistress, many of us are suffering discontent from the weather and the confinement. Perhaps we could go to your office and view your collection of photos on your magic box. I could gather the others, if you approve.”

I cocked my head and considered this proposal. “I’m not sure that would help anyone feel better. I was looking at photos some of my friends posted online, photos of other areas of the country that are already enjoying spring-like weather. It just depressed me further.”

My Bounty Hunter shrugged. “Well, I suppose you could just stay here and continue staring at the bleak scenery outside. But is that really making you feel any better?” He quirked an eyebrow at me. “Besides, remembering what you enjoyed, and will again enjoy when the weather improves, is different than viewing with envy that which others are enjoying now.”

I glared at him. I hate people who counter my bad moods with logic. “Fine. We’ll see how much better it makes us all feel. You round up anyone who’s interested, and I’ll meet you downstairs. My office is too small to accommodate more than two or three people comfortably, so I’ll set up the computer in the conference room.”

My Bounty Hunter nodded. As he turned to take his leave, I noticed him and my Arrogant One exchanging sly smiles. I wondered what they could be up to, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort to find out.


A half hour later, my characters and I met in the conference room. Cleric smiled broadly as she took a seat next to me. “This should be quite enjoyable! You took many walks last year, Mistress, and we are all looking forward to seeing some of your photos.”

I noticed that all did not include my Old Dwarf, my Arrogant One, Dragon or Sorceress. The rest of us made ourselves comfortable and I began.

“I don’t think anyone here has seen the photos I took at Purgatory Creek and Staring Lake last year, and they are among my favorites. Let’s start with those.”

I brought up a photo of a blossoming tree. purgatory-creek-and-staring-lake-099

Cleric was most enthusiastic. “Oh, how lovely! Pink is my favorite color!”

“That is pretty, isn’t it? These photos were taken in the beginning of May, just as the flowers on that tree reached full bloom.” I smiled as I scrolled through the images. “It was also the beginning of the nesting season for many of the birds in this area. Here’s a male Red-winged Blackbird, trying to attract a mate. And here’s a female, ignoring him.”

My Gypsy nodded. “We saw a number of them on our outing with you last year. They are quite amusing to watch. The way the males puff themselves up and squawk, they remind me of the Arrogant One.”

We all shared a good laugh over that one, then I brought up two more images. “The swallows were really active that day. Here’s a pair of Tree Swallows. In the first shot, they’re on top of their nest box, and in the second picture, they’re setting up housekeeping.”

I gave them a chance to view those pictures, then brought up the next one. “This is a pair of Barn Swallows. They nest under the observation deck on the opposite side of the lake from the Tree Swallows.”


My Young Hero turned to me. “You have taken many photos of these two types of birds, have you not?”

I nodded. “They are relatively easy to approach and photograph. I have a few more of each type. Here are the Tree Swallows.”


“And here are some more Barn Swallows.”

My Bounty Hunter joined the conversation. “You said nesting had begun at the time these photos were taken. Were any of the birds tending offspring yet?”

“I believe so.” I scrolled through the photos. “Yup. The Canada Geese had babies on the water already. purgatory-creek-and-staring-lake-180

My Gypsy gave me a knowing look, and showed off his expertise. “Geese are fiercely protective parents. You need to be careful approaching them.”

“You’re right. This goose was upset by a Mallard that was too close to the goslings.”


“My, he does look fierce!” Cleric stared in awe at the photo.

“Yes, he does. Of course, the Mallard wasn’t overly impressed.”


Everyone laughed.

My Foreman asked, “Were there creatures other than birds there that day?”

“Only a few turtles.”


“Mostly, there were birds that day.”

“Can we see some more photos of the birds?” Cleric scooted closer.

“Sure.” I continued scrolling through the images. “Here’s a Killdeer.”



“And here’s a Great Blue Heron.”



“This one’s a Pied-billed Grebe.”



“Of course, I got the ubiquitous Song Sparrow.”



“Here’s a Black-capped Chickadee.”



“And this one’s a female Hooded Merganser.”



“I got several good shots of a Yellow-rumped Warbler.”


“And this one is an Eastern Phoebe.”



When we finished looking at the photos from that day, everyone seemed unwilling to stop. Cleric said, “You go hiking so often, you must have other photos you can show us.”


My Old Dwarf chose that moment to interrupt, popping into the room to summon us. “Ye best be waitin’ fer another day fer thet. Right now, dinner be almost ready.”


My disappointed characters thanked me profusely for the afternoon’s entertainment, and slowly filed out of the room. As he passed me, my Bounty Hunter flashed his oily smile at me.

My Old Dwarf helped me carry my computer equipment back to my office. “Ye seem ta be feelin’ a bit brighter, lassie!”

“I hate to admit it, but my Bounty Hunter actually had a good idea. I really enjoyed sharing those photos. I don’t feel as glum as I did earlier.”



As we headed upstairs for dinner, we heard a commotion. When we reached the top of the steps, we found Dragon standing with eyes narrowed, watching something in the kitchen. Beside her, Sorceress stood gaping. She saw me and pointed to the kitchen. My jaw almost hit the floor. There, by the counter, stood my husband, Miles, ready to dish up some of his savory stew. Over by the stove stood the Innkeeper, stirring an identical pot of stew. The two figures seemed oblivious to each other.

“Did I ever tell you that the king himself came to my inn just for this stew?” Miles and the Innkeeper intoned in unison.


Come back next week, as we investigate the appearance of the Innkeeper. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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A “Familiar” Problem

A “Familiar” Problem

I cleared my throat, not that it was necessary to get anyone’s attention. The room was dead quiet, and all eyes were on me. My characters had joined me and Miles to discuss some recent bizarre events.

“There has been a strange creature in the yard. Sorceress told me she first noticed it the day after my last outing, when Cleric and the lads accompanied me on a nature walk.”

Westwood Hills 240“Aye, she tolded us some blatherskite aboot how she seed a wee beastie wit eyes thet glowed.” My Old Dwarf snorted and waved his hand dismissively.

“That is exactly what I saw.” Sorceress sniffed and fixed my Old Dwarf with a steely glare.

My Gypsy nodded. “I’ve seen it, too.”

“Bah! Have ye two been sippin me brew?” My Old Dwarf waved his hand again and shook his head.

Dragon turned toward my Old Dwarf, her eyes narrowed and smoke curling from her nostrils. “Do not doubt the veracity of these reports, my rotund companion. I can assure you they are most accurate.”Dragon

“And why should I be believin ye, ye big scaly beastie?”

Dragon opened her maw in a most unpleasant grin, showing her mouthful of wickedly sharp teeth. “As you well know, Dwarf, Dragons are honorable creatures. I assure you, I speak truthfully. There appeared a small Red Squirrel in the yard. It was not the resident Red Squirrel that Mistress and her spouse have dubbed ‘Reggie’. As Sorceress reported, this beast’s eyes glowed.”

My Arrogant One stood up, heading for the door, sneering. “While I am sure all of you find this quite fascinating, I have no interest in the wildlife inhabiting the yard. I will take my leave. My time is far too valuable to waste it suffering through such boring trivia.”

Arrogant One facing rightMy Foreman stepped in front of him, and spoke through clenched teeth. “I think not, friend. I think you will resume your seat and show some respect toward the Mistress and the others.”

My Arrogant One drew himself up and grasped the front of his robes. “Why should I? This is of no concern to me!”

“Because you were told to, and because you are such a courteous fellow.” My Foreman grasped the back of the elf’s neck and hustled him back to his chair. “Now sit there and listen.”

My Arrogant One started to bluster a response, but my Bounty Hunter shook his head. “Yes, why don’t we hear what Mistress Writer has to say. I am certain she will explain why this is of interest to any of us.”

I nodded. “It concerns us all because, obviously, a Red Squirrel with glowing eyes is no normal Red Squirrel. If further proof of its abnormal nature is needed, earlier today four of us saw it fly.”

My Old Dwarf snorted. “Squirrelsies do na fly!”

flyingsquirrel_gliding1“Some do.” Miles furrowed his brow. “Flying Squirrels. They don’t really fly, of course. If I remember correctly, they have membranes stretching between their front and back legs that allow them to glide.”

Sorceress shook her head. “This was not such a creature as you term a Flying Squirrel, Master Miles. This was a Red Squirrel, identical to the one you and the Mistress call ‘Reggie’ — identical in every respect save the eyes. This one had decidedly glowing eyes. It was not just an optical illusion caused by light reflecting in his eyes, as the phenomenon was evident even on a cloudy day. And, I assure you, it did indeed fly. In reality, it would be more accurate to say it appeared to levitate, as it possessed no wings or other obvious means of flight.”

“If it do na be havin’ wings, it do na be flyin’.” My Old Dwarf folded his arms over his chest and shook his head.

“If you would open your ears, Old Dwarf – or perhaps your feeble mind – perchance you could hear and understand. I said the squirrel did not achieve true flight. It was closer to levitation.”Dwarf facing right

My Old Dwarf started to sputter a reply, but Miles cut him off. “Are you certain it was a real squirrel? Could it have been a drone? A drone’s manner of flight could appear similar to levitation.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think it was a drone, honey. It appeared real.”

“What be this ‘drone’ thingie? Be it valuable?” My Old Dwarf leaned in, eyes gleaming.

“No, it is not valuable.” I chuckled at the avaricious old reprobate.

He slumped back in his chair, the greedy light in his eyes dimming.

“A drone is an unmanned mechanical or electronic device that can fly. It is controlled remotely by its operator, usually through a radio signal.” Miles warmed to the subject, and would have gone on with his explanation, but Dragon cut him off.

“I do not believe the creature in question was a contrivance such as you describe, Master Miles. And I do not believe it glided or levitated. I think it actually did fly.”

What?” I wrinkled my brow and rubbed the back of my neck. “Squirrels do not fly.”


We all waited for Dragon to explain, but she merely stood there, a smug expression on her reptilian face.

“Well, do ye be tellin’ us what ye be meanin’, ye oversized lizard, or be ye waitin’ fer us ta reckon?”

Dragon curled her lip and blew smoke in the dwarf’s face, sending him into a fit of coughing. My Arrogant One got him a glass of water, and he was soon quiet again, though the look the dwarf shot Dragon clearly promised retribution.

Aug 30 to Sept 8 yard and pond 394Dragon continued. “I believe the creature in question was a living beast, not a mechanical or electronic device. But I do not believe it was a squirrel. Through my shapeshifting ability, I had changed into a Black-capped Chickadee. I landed quite near the creature where it sat on a tree branch. I felt something emanating from the beast, a trace of magic. I believe someone cast a glamour or a spell of disguise on a bird.”

“Morcant!” Cleric blanched.Morcant

“Morcant?” Miles cocked his head and frowned. “But why?”

“He is evidently trying to disguise his familiar, the milky-eyed Common Grackle.”

“Okay, but why?”

Cleric shuddered. She rose and wiped her sweaty palms on her robe. “I believe, Master Miles, it is an attempt to allow his familiar to approach us unnoticed, that Morcant might eavesdrop on our conversations. I believe he is still seeking information, information he knows we would not divulge in the presence of his familiar should we know it was near. He is still searching for a way to procure the magic keys that would free him from his eternal exile within the enchanted tower.”Keys 015

My Foreman jumped up, eyes wide. “Mistress, didn’t you say you disposed of those keys?”

“I did. I felt they would be too much of a temptation for some of this group.”

My Arrogant One, my Bounty Hunter and my Old Dwarf all had the grace to blush at that.

My Young Hero quirked an eyebrow and tilted his head toward me. “You may have told us that you disposed of the keys, Mistress, but I do not think anyone informed Morcant.”

“You’re right, of course. And maybe that’s what we need to do.”

Miles tilted his head and blinked. “How do you go about informing the wizard?”

“We communicate with him through his familiar.”Morcant's familiar

“If he is disguising his familiar, how can you find the bird?”

“I be findin’ em.” My Old Dwarf puffed out his chest and straightened his tunic.

“You?” My Young Hero shook his head.

“Aye, meself and no other, laddie! I be the only one what can see the bird for what it really be.”

“And how can you do that?” My Young Hero quirked an eyebrow.

Dwarf“Dwarves can na be magicked, laddie.”

“Right.” My Foreman rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Need I remind you that the Arrogant One used magic on you to abduct you?”

“Thet spineless fop done no such a thing! He magicked a tree limb ta conk me on me head. He never magicked meself!”

“You’re right.” I frowned and raked my hand through my hair. “Dwarves are immune to most magic. Still, you might not be able to see the bird.”

“What be ye sayin, lassie?”

magic“Whether or not you could see the bird would depend on exactly what sort of spell Morcant has used to disguise his familiar.”

“Speak plain, lassie. Ye do na be makin any sense.”

“I see what the Mistress means,” Sorceress said. “If Morcant cast a spell of deception on the bird, that spell works not on the bird, but on those who see the bird, causing observers to see something other than what is actually there. You, Old Dwarf, being immune to magic, would not be affected, and would see the bird in its actual form. But if Morcant cast a spell changing his familiar into something other than the milky-eyed grackle, then you, Old Dwarf, would see the same thing the rest of us would see — whatever Morcant changed his familiar into. The magic would be cast on the bird, not on the observer.”

I nodded. “That’s it exactly.”

“Do you understand, dwarf, or must we draw diagrams?” Dragon puffed a chain of smoke rings in the direction of my Old Dwarf.

“I be understandin’ jest fine. I do na be daft! Boot I do na think thet the wizard be changin’ the bird. I think he done that magic ye talked aboot what makes people see what do na be there.”

Sorceress frowned and shook her head. “What makes you think that?”

backyard-006“Cause iffin he changed the bird inta a squirrelsie, the fool squirrelsie woulda skedadled off like a squirrelsie do.”

I blinked. “You’re right. The only way we could have seen a squirrel appear to fly is if it were really still a bird that only appeared to us to be something different. It flew because it really was still a bird. So my Old Dwarf should be able to see the bird that is actually there, as he will not be affected by the magic.”

I looked at the magic users, who nodded their agreement.

“Good.” I turned back to my Old Dwarf. “Then I suggest first thing tomorrow, you start spending some time in the yard, observing the wildlife. If you see the milky-eyed grackle, let me know.” I paused, rubbing my chin. “You’d best let me know, too, if you see any animal that looks unnatural.”


“Yes, like one with glowing eyes.”

My Old Dwarf nodded, and turned to leave.

“Wait! What if Morcant decides to change what type of magic he uses? What if he uses that other type of spell that Sorceress described? The one that affects only the bird, not the people who see the bird.”

“Master Miles has a point. We can not depend on the dwarf being able to see the bird, as we can not depend on Morcant being consistent in his efforts to deceive us.” Cleric wrung her hands and chewed her lower lip. “Perhaps Sorceress, Dragon, the Gypsy and I should consider other means of dealing with Morcant’s magic.”

“Perhaps we could attempt scrying? We all know the wizard’s familiar, so we should be able to find him through scrying.”

Sorceress nodded. “That is an excellent idea, Gypsy! That can be the first thing the four of us attempt. And I am sure we can come up with other ideas as well.”

The four of them looked at me. “That sounds good. Dwarf, you go ahead and start looking around outside tomorrow. Sorceress, do you and your companions require anything?”

“Might we use the conference room?”

I nodded. “I shouldn’t need it tomorrow. You can have it all day. Right now, everyone best get a good night’s sleep.” I motioned the others to leave, but stopped my  Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One. “All but you two. I want to talk to you.”

Before either could object, I held up a hand, silencing them. “If either of you are still in contact with Morcant, please let him know he can recall his familiar to his own world. He has absolutely no chance of ever getting those keys. I disposed of them, and he will never find them.”

“Did you, now? And how would you dispose of something that powerful, that valuable, that dangerous?” My Bounty Hunter quirked an eyebrow at me.

“You doubt my word?”

He shrugged.

“And you?”

The elf looked down his nose at me. “Why should I care what you did with those keys? Upon learning that Morcant is not to be trusted, I have no buyer for the keys. I know no other person to whom I could sell such objects, and so I have no further interest in them.”

Keys 003I narrowed my eyes. “Don’t go looking for another customer, okay?”

“And where, exactly, do you suppose I would find another in this world who would have any interest in the keys?”

“I don’t know, but I recommend not trying.”

My Arrogant One drew himself up and started to argue, but my Bounty Hunter interrupted. “May we leave now?”

“Go. And stay out of trouble.”

“Of course.” The two of them tried to hide their smirks as they left the room.

Miles was waiting for me as I left the conference room. “Ready to get some sleep?”

I nodded. We walked up the stairs, stopping at the front door to check that the porch light was on. I opened the door and took a quick look around. All seemed quiet.
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Flying Squirrel?

Flying Squirrel?

computer-308393_960_720I was staring at the blank computer screen, trying to wrestle some ideas into submission. My fingernails were tapping out a staccato beat on my desk, and I was grumbling under my breath. Why did I ever start this blog? No one told me how difficult it would be to come up with fresh, new ideas every single week!


I just about jumped out of my skin. If an idea had been about to cooperate and take shape, it was lost now. I spun my chair around, ready to bite someone’s head off. I found myself looking up into the soulful, cornflower-blue eyes of my Cleric, and bit back my impending outburst.Elf facing right

“What can I do for you?”

“I just wanted to thank you for taking me, Dragon, and the lads on that outing the other day. It has been a long time since I enjoyed myself that much!”

Cleric’s warm smile was infectious, and I returned it in kind. “I’m glad you enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun, too, but now it’s back to work for me.” I glanced pointedly at the computer, my smile fading to a scowl.

“I shall take my leave, then, Mistress, so you can continue with your work uninterrupted.” She turned and skipped off down the hallway, leaving me and the blank screen to stare at each other again.Backyard 004

I sighed. I removed my glasses, cleaned them on my shirttail, and put them back on. I squirmed around in my chair. I looked out the window and marveled at the lone hummingbird at the nectar feeder. Hmmm…maybe… My fingers moved toward the keyboard.


I jumped again, another idea flying out of my brain, probably never to return. For a second time, I swiveled my chair around, ready to give someone a severe tongue-lashing. This time, it was my Young Hero and my Gypsy sticking their heads in the door. I groaned.

Young hero 2Gypsy

“What is it?”

“It’s almost noon. We thought you might want some lunch.” My Gypsy had obviously started without me, as he spoke around a mouthful of food.

My Young Hero placed a small platter on my desk. “There were plenty of leftovers from last night’s dinner.”

“Yes, I had thought to have them for this night’s dinner.” I attempted to frown, but the food did smell good, and my stomach was growling. As usual, I had lost track of time while working on my blog.food-dinner-pasta-broccoli

After a quick bite to eat and some chit-chat with the lads, I thanked them and handed them the empty platter. They headed upstairs and I turned back to my computer once more.

Twenty minutes later, my screen was still blank. I rubbed my head, which was starting to pound. Suddenly, I blinked several times rapidly and leaned in toward the computer. Oh, this is a great idea! My readers will love this! My hands were poised over the keyboard, ready to start typing.


I jerked, and my fingers tripped all over themselves, the letters on the monitor jumbling into an incoherent mess.

“What?” I whirled my chair around, ready to take no prisoners. My Arrogant One stood just inside my office door, pale and trembling.Arrogant One facing right

My eyes narrowed and I slowly rose from my chair. “Out. Now.” I pointed to the door.


“Now!” I advanced on the annoying elf, the perpetrator of the recent abduction of Cleric and my Old Dwarf.

He stammered. “B…b…but the Old Dwarf…”

“If you aren’t out of here in the next 10 seconds, what I do to you will be a hundred times worse than anything my Old Dwarf could ever dream of doing!”

I took another step toward him, and my Arrogant One turned and fled down the hallway to take refuge in the conference room.

One more time. I sighed as I returned to my seat. The great idea I had conceived just moments before would not revisit my brain. I spent the next half-hour staring at the blank screen, half-formed ideas chasing each other around my mind. Suddenly, my head jerked up and I smiled. Eureka! I started to type again.



I twisted around in my chair to see the latest intruder. Sorceress stood there, her brow furrowed.


I narrowed my eyes and crossed my arms. “What is it?”

Sorceress hesitated in the face of my obvious annoyance. “I am sorry. Am I disturbing you?”

“No, I always give a murderous look to every fifth person who interrupts my train of thought while I’m writing.” I glared at her.

“Perhaps I should return later.” She started backing out of the room.

“You’re here now. Why don’t you just tell me what you want?”

“Well…” She hesitated again, wringing her hands.


“It is Dragon, Mistress. I am exceedingly worried about her.”

“Dragon? What’s wrong with Dragon?”dragon facing right

Sorceress tugged at her robes. “She may be in danger.”

“Danger? What sort of danger?”

“Well, Mistress, do you not remember charging me to stay alert, lest the familiar of the evil wizard, Morcant, returns?”

I immediately sat up straighter and gave her my full attention. “He’s back?”

Sorceress frowned and shook her head. “No, Mistress, I have seen no sign of the milky-eyed grackle.”Morcant's familiar

“Then what?”

“Well, about an hour previous, while watching for that very recognizable bird, I saw this squirrel…”

“A squirrel?” I blinked.

She nodded. “Yes, Mistress. A small Red Squirrel. And this is not the first time I have seen it.”

“Do you mean Reggie?” I titled my head and squinted at Sorceress.

“No, Mistress. It did not appear to be the resident Red Squirrel you and Master Miles have dubbed ‘Reggie’.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“This Red Squirrel had glowing eyes.”Westwood Hills 240

I rubbed the back of my neck and shook my head. “Glowing eyes?” I quirked an eyebrow at Sorceress.

“Yes, Mistress.” She began wringing her hands again.

“It’s most likely just the way the sun was hitting the squirrel’s eyes.” I waved dismissively.

“The sun, Mistress?”

“Yes, the sun reflecting in his eyes.”

“Mistress, have you glanced out the window lately?”

I followed her gaze and saw a dark sky heralding an impending storm. Not a bit of the bright sunshine I had seen earlier in the day was to be found peeking through the clouds.


Sorceress nodded.

“Well, how long has this demon squirrel been hanging around?”

“I first noticed it the day after your outing with Cleric and the lads; but today, I only noticed it a short time ago.”

“Where is it now?” I rose from my desk.

“When last I saw the squirrel, it was in the big maple tree in the yard. Since this is not the first time I have seen it there, I thought it should be kept under observation. Dragon is watching it now.”

“And you think Dragon is in danger from this little Red Squirrel?”

“Yes, Mistress. She has employed her shapeshifting ability in order to observe the squirrel unnoticed. She has transformed into a small bird. I believe the Gypsy called it a Black-capped Chickadee. I told Dragon I doubted such a small bird could hold its own in an altercation with a Red Squirrel, but the Gypsy assured us they are very feisty little birds.”

I heaved a deep sigh. “I guess we’d best go check it out.” I turned off my computer and followed Sorceress out of my office. I didn’t even bother saving the half-sentence I had managed to type for my blog.
exterior-interior-wonderful-white-wooden-entrance-glass-double-french-door-frames-as-modern-interior-accesories-decors-witching-french-door-inspirational-pictures-collection-interior-french-doors-whit-840x1120Upstairs, we found my Gypsy in the living room. He was standing by the French doors, peering outside. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw us.

I looked outside. “So where are Dragon and this demon Red Squirrel?”

“Do you really think it’s a demon?” My Gypsy’s eyes widened.

I grunted and shook my head. “Figure of speech.”

“Oh.” His shoulders slumped and he almost sounded disappointed.

“Well? Mistress asked where they are.” Sorceress frowned and tapped her foot.

“I’m not sure where the ‘demon’ Red Squirrel is. The normal-looking Red Squirrel — the one you and Master Miles call ‘Reggie’ — chased him off.”

Mostly backyard 056I looked out the door and saw Reggie lounging on the deck, munching peanuts and grapes. He looked smug, having safeguarded his territory from the intruder.

“So where’s Dragon?”

My Gypsy shuffled his feet and swallowed hard.

“Well? Did you not keep Dragon under surveillance?” Sorceress was still frowning, and now her arms were folded in front of her.

My Gypsy shrugged. “If you’ve see one chickadee, you’ve seen them all. It’s pretty hard to pick out one specific bird once it’s mixed in with an entire flock.”

“Great. Here we go again!” I groaned and raked my hand through my hair.

“Maybe Sorceress should get her scrying bowl?”

I shook my head at my Gypsy’s suggestion. “Not yet. Let’s see if we can find Dragon by more conventional means first.”

I opened the door and walked out onto the deck. Reggie dropped the grape he had been munching and scampered to the safety of the nearby maple tree. He shrilly scolded me for daring to encroach on his domain. I ignored his chattering protests and descended the steps.

Backyard 028I heard a lively chorus of Chickadee-dee-dee. I walked toward the sunflower seed feeder, which was being systematically emptied by a flock of Black-capped Chickadees. I watched as each tiny bird in turn flitted from the safety of the trees down to the feeder, grabbed a morsel and flew back to the tree to devour it. I wondered if I would be able to recognize Dragon in her guise as one of these sassy little birds.

I returned to the deck. The clouds that had rolled in so quickly after lunch were breaking apart already. Small patches of turquoise and azure dotted the sky, and the sun was visible again.

“Why don’t we sit out here and enjoy some afternoon sun? Summer’s almost over and there won’t be many more opportunities like this.” I winked at Sorceress and my Gypsy through the screen.

“That is a delightful idea.” Sorceress joined me while my Gypsy withdrew to the kitchen, returning with a pitcher of iced tea and some glasses.

Backyard and deck 008As the three of us sat there on the deck, sipping our tea, a Black-capped Chickadee flew down and perched on the nearby railing. It loudly sassed us, then flitted up to the tree adjacent to the one occupied by Reggie. Seconds later, it was back on the railing. Chickadee-dee-dee!

“Something seems to be agitating this bird.” I shot a knowing look at Sorceress and my Gypsy.

“Indeed!” Sorceress lifted a hand to shield her eyes from the sun, and scanned both the tree where Reggie sat, and the nearby one that had been the source of the chickadee’s attention.

My Gypsy followed suit. “Do you see anything?”

Sorceress shook her head.
Deck, backyard, pond 045The chickadee continued flitting back and forth between the deck railing and the tree. Chickadee-dee-dee! Chickadee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee!Aug 30 to Sept 8 yard and pond 394
11-4-13 - Backyard and deck 028Suddenly Reggie came to attention. He was up on all fours, his tail was lashing, and he started to chatter loudly at something. The chickadee fled back to the safety of the deck railing to watch the spectacle with us.



Reggie raced out to the end of the maple limb he was on and made an astounding leap to the adjacent ironwood tree, the tree the chickadee had been flitting to and from. He raced along a branch toward the tree trunk. He shot straight up the trunk, still chattering. We soon saw the cause of his consternation. Sitting on a branch high in the ironwood tree was another Red Squirrel, one with strangely glowing eyes.Westwood Hills 240

My Gypsy, Sorceress, and I watched, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, as Reggie charged the other Red Squirrel. As Reggie neared striking distance, this interloper simply rose from the tree limb and flew off.

When I had recovered my voice, I asked my Gypsy, “What did you put in this iced tea?”

“Nothing, Mistress.”

“Then how do you account for the fact that I just saw a squirrel fly?”

My Gypsy shook his head. “I don’t know. I saw it, too.”

Sorceress cleared her throat. “Strictly speaking, we saw the squirrel levitate. It has no wings; therefore, it can not actually fly.”

We sat there and watched the strange apparition disappear behind a neighboring house. It was several long minutes before any of us spoke.



The three of us said it in unison. Somehow, Morcant had made his familiar, the milky-eyed Common Grackle, take on the appearance of a glowing-eyed Red Squirrel.

By evening, my Gypsy and Sorceress had informed my other characters of the strange events of that afternoon. Right after dinner, I went downstairs to meet with them in the conference room. My Old Dwarf had evidently called a truce with my Arrogant One, as the two of them entered the room together, followed closely by my Bounty Hunter. Cleric, Sorceress, my Foreman and the lads arrived not long after. Last to arrive was Dragon, back in her true form. The room was dead quiet, and all eyes were on me.

Before I could say anything, Miles entered the room and took his seat next to me. “Mind if I join you? I already turned on the porch light.”

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Getting Back to Normal

Getting Back to Normal

It had been a difficult week since Cleric, my Old Dwarf, and Dragon had been rescued.

Arrogant One facing rightAll week, I had felt as if my Arrogant One was glued to me. He was the one who had abducted Cleric and my Old Dwarf. If he had been disliked by my other characters before, he was absolutely loathed by them now. He walked on eggshells around them, and rarely left the presumed safety of my side during waking hours. Had he any sense at all, he would have realized he was in much more danger of being throttled by me than by the others.

Dwarf facing rightMy Old Dwarf had bounced back from the injuries he had sustained when my Arrogant One had magically walloped him over the head with a tree limb. He had almost recovered from the indignity of having been knocked unconscious and abducted by the annoying elf. Whenever they were in a room together, the dwarf glared at the elf, eyes narrowed, nostrils flared, and teeth bared. The cantankerous old codger seemed to get immeasurable enjoyment from keeping the elf in a constant state of terror.

dragon facing rightDragon was the one who had recuperated the quickest, in spite of having received critical internal injuries in a fall. Luckily, dragons have phenomenal recuperative powers. The same night she and the others had been rescued, Dragon was already romping around the yard with her friend and champion, the beautiful gray and white Old English Sheepdog, Ollie.

ElfWhile Dragon had mended quickly, Cleric was just the opposite. Though her abrasions had healed quickly enough, her spirit bore the scars of her ordeal. Cleric had become quiet and withdrawn, no longer skipping through the house humming. She could not bear to be in the presence of my Arrogant One, who had been the perpetrator of her abduction in his quest to secure a magical set of keys for the evil wizard, Morcant. She also eschewed contact with my Bounty Hunter, who had confessed to seriously considering a similar scheme to abduct her. Cleric had become easily startled by anyone approaching her, and she frequently ran from the room in tears. So I was pleasantly surprised when the despondent elf approached me one evening.



She wrinkled her brow and looked coldly at the Arrogant One, hovering nearby. “May I speak with you in private, Mistress?”

“Of course.” I frowned at my Arrogant One and jerked my thumb toward the stairs.

“But…but…but…the Old Dwarf is upstairs.”

“Go make your peace with him. I’m tired of tripping over you 24/7.”


“Go. Now.”

He took one look at the expression on my face and paled. He spun around and ran up the steps. I turned back to Cleric. “Now, what can I do for you?”

“Mistress, remember the wonderful time we had when you took some of us on an outing this Spring past? We enjoyed the warm sunshine and the cooling breeze while we walked around a nature preserve. We saw all manner of birds and wild creatures, and assisted you in photographing them.”

“Yes, that was a surprisingly enjoyable day.” The memory of that expedition brought a broad smile to my face. (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/a-surprisingly-pleasant-outing/)

“Well, I was wondering, Mistress…” Cleric paused, lowering her eyes and shuffling her feet.

“You were wondering if we could, perhaps, go on another little jaunt?”

Cleric brightened, her whole face transformed by her radiant smile. “Yes, I was.” She gently bit her lower lip, and clasped her hands as if in supplication.

“I think that would be a wonderful idea. I was hoping to go on a nature hike tomorrow, while Miles is helping out at his daughter’s house for the day. Can you be ready by first light?”

Cleric nodded, but then hesitated, her brow wrinkling. “It would be permissible for the Gypsy, the Young Hero, and Dragon to join us, would it not?”

“Of course. The lads enjoyed the previous outing as much as you did, and Dragon has mentioned several times she was sorry she missed that excursion. I’ll see the four of you first thing in the morning.”

For the first time all week, Cleric skipped down the hallway, humming happily to herself.Elf cleric

The next morning, I entered the living room before first light, and found my four characters already waiting for me. For this public excursion, Dragon had disguised her true form by shapeshifting. She had taken on the appearance of an elf maiden, and could easily have been Cleric’s twin.
Young hero 2GypsyThe lads were both still munching their breakfast, and my Gypsy asked, around a mouthful of food, “Are we going to the same place we went last time?”

“No, I have a different place in mind. I think you will enjoy it just as much.” I looked around. “Has anyone seen my Old Dwarf this morning?”

“I be in the kitchen. I dinna finish me breakfast yet.” A moment later, the stocky figure entered the room, a mug of milk in one hand, a slab of chocolate cake in the other, and an ear-to-ear grin brightening his face. “I do be enjoyin’ this notion o havin’ ‘breakfast’ upon risin’ each day. But, Mistress Writer, I trust ye be knowin’ — even though ye be havin’ us eatin’ such meals in the books ye wrote — we never really be havin’ such a thing as ‘breakfast’ afore findin’ ourselves here in yer world.”

“Yes, I am aware that breakfast was not one of the meals generally eaten in medieval times. Let’s just chalk it up to literary license.” I winked at him. “Now, before we leave, I want your word that my Arrogant One will be alive and unharmed when we return.”

“Oh, I may be havin’ me fun at the little popinjay’s expense, but he be sufferin’ no worse harm at me hands than a bad case o the shakes-and-shivers.”



As we descended the stairs to leave, I saw my Sorceress at the foot of the steps. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to join us today?”

“I appreciate the offer, and I am sure I would enjoy the outing, Mistress, but I have to collect and prepare some spell components today. I must stay sufficiently supplied, in case Morcant’s familiar should return.”

“I agree. Stay vigilant today, in case he does come back and tries to cause more mischief. And you best keep an eye on my Bounty Hunter, too. My Old Dwarf will keep my Arrogant One out of trouble.”

Sorceress nodded and bade us farewell. With that, my four characters and I entered the garage and piled into the car. Dragon had never been for a ride in the car, so the others helped her with her seat belt. They also tried to prepare her for the ride. Real world, 21st century vehicles go considerably faster than medieval fantasy world forms of transport. Ten minutes after starting out, I pulled onto the main highway, and it was déjà vu. As in the previous trip, I was the only one in the car watching the traffic and the passing scenery. In spite of the fact that three of the characters had experience traveling by car, all four of my passengers were white as sheets, with nary an open eye among them.

Once we arrived at our destination, the others calmed down quickly, and we began. I led them from the parking lot to the lakeside trail.

“Wow! This place is much different from where you previously took us!” My Young Hero was agog as we descended the stairs leading to a large lake.

“We should be able to find some wading birds and some waterfowl here today.” I checked my camera. “I hope I can get some good photos.”

No sooner had I said that, my Gypsy pointed. An undisputed expert on birds, he took the lead in explaining to the others what we were seeing. “That’s a Green Heron. He’s hunting for small fish, insects, amphibians and the like. Green Heron sometimes employ tools to lure their prey. He may drop a feather or a twig or even an insect onto the surface of the water, to entice fish close. Then he extends his long neck and grabs his prey with his long, pointy bill.”

“Darn. I can’t get a good shot of him behind that vegetation.”Westwood Hills 005

Cleric walked to the water’s edge and spoke to the bird. He obligingly flew over to a nearby log and posed for me.

“Thanks! Your ability to communicate with the birds never ceases to amaze me!”

“Look!” My Young Hero pointed to a spot beyond the heron. “There are some ducks. The one group looks like Mallards.”

“Yup, they are.” Westwood Hills 175

Cleric looked at them, then at the smaller ducks. “Are the others Wood Ducks? They look like the ones in the pond behind our yard, Mistress.”

Before I could reply, my Gypsy chimed in. “Yes, you’re right. Those are Wood Ducks. And two of them are much younger than the ones in our pond. They must have had a late clutch.”

My Gypsy and Cleric enticed the Wood Ducks closer, so I could get a few photos.

Westwood Hills 026As we continued walking along the boardwalk adjacent to the lake, a small bird popped out of the reeds and up onto the wooden walkway. He stopped and studied us as my Gypsy whistled a bird call. Witchety-witchety-witchety. “That’s a young male Common Yellowthroat. They are small songbirds that can often be found in the tangle of vegetation at the edge of marshes and wetlands, where they forage for insects.”

Dragon, who had been silently taking in everything, nudged me. “Look!” She pointed to several dragonflies near the Common Yellowthroat. “Not as pretty as I was when I transformed into a dragonfly, but still very attractive.”

I smiled and nodded in agreement.

“There is a turtle climbing up on that log near the red dragonfly.” My Cleric pointed. “And there are more on that other log, farther out in the lake.” It was good to see her with such a delighted smile on her face.


Westwood Hills 108After I took a few photos, we continued on our way, with my Gypsy continuing to point out the various birds we passed. “Immature Red-shouldered Hawk!” He indicated a bird in a nearby tree.


Westwood Hills 214“There’s another one.” My Young Hero nodded toward another tree.




“The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds do not seem to be intimidated by the presence of the hawks.” Cleric walked over to a pair of hummingbirds in a nearby tree.

My Gypsy nodded. “That’s because Red-shouldered Hawks rarely eat birds. Their prey mostly consists of small mammals, lizards, snakes, and amphibians.”

“Do you think you can persuade the hummers to pose for a few quick photos? The hummingbirds in our yard have not been cooperative lately. It would be nice to get a few good images of this pair.”

Cleric smiled and nodded.

“I should think the hummingbirds would be upset over the presence of those noisy things!” Dragon glared at the plane passing directly overhead, part of the steady stream of traffic from the nearby airport. Westwood Hills 094




“Oh, that does seem strange! None of the birds seem to be bothered by the flying machines!” Cleric skipped ahead to chat with an adult male Northern Cardinal and one of his young offspring, and a sassy Gray Catbird.


While Cleric bounded ahead, my Young Hero studied a Black-capped Chickadee, while Dragon was intrigued by a juvenile Red-bellied Woodpecker overhead in a tree. My Gypsy engaged a Song Sparrow at the edge of the boardwalk, while I took some photos of an Olive-sided Flycatcher.

“The day will not be complete without finding the resident flock of Wild Turkeys.” I motioned the group off the boardwalk and into the woods. We soon found a small flock, a group of bachelor males, grooming and foraging for nuts, seeds and insects.Westwood Hills 162

Cleric stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes as big as saucers. “They are very large!”

“They do not look so large to me.” Dragon smiled and winked.

For the rest of the day, we hiked and took pictures of the wildlife. Everyone had a great time. My Gypsy played the clown, as always, teasing and playing practical jokes on the others. My Young Hero studied everything carefully, asking me all manner of questions about the wildlife we encountered. Dragon and Cleric harmonized on a few elven folk songs, their voices taking on the quality of birdsong and wind through the trees. The tensions of the past week melted away. We were a tired but happy group when we climbed the stairs back up to the parking lot.

None of us noticed the small Red Squirrel with fiercely glowing eyes following us through the woods. Westwood Hills 240

“Will we be able to see all the photos you took when we get home?” My Young Hero asked, as he and my Gypsy helped Dragon and Cleric into the car.

“Of course. We can look at them on the computer, right after dinner. I know Miles will want to see them, and perhaps Sorceress and the others as well.”

“And, of course, we will leave the porch light on, in case any of your readers would like to join us.” Cleric smiled broadly as we pulled out of the nature area and headed for home.

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A Surprisingly Pleasant Outing

A Surprisingly Pleasant Outing


I looked up from packing my camera equipment to see my Gypsy standing at the door of my office.Gypsy



“What’s up?” I asked, reaching for my extra battery pack.

“I understand you’re going on one of your bird watching and nature photography hikes today.”

“Yup. And I’m running late.” I checked to see that I had packed all the necessities, then headed for the garage.

“Mistress? I was just wondering…”

I stopped dead in my tracks. For some reason, those words on the lips of one of my characters always filled me with dread.

What were you wondering?” I asked. My voice sounded a bit sharper than I had intended.

“Well, you know of my great interest in birds…” he paused and licked his lips nervously.

“Yes?” I prompted him to continue.

“Well…err…I thought…that is…” he stood there, shuffling his feet and looking at the floor.

“What is it?” My voice was strained.

“May I accompany you?” His eyes shone with eagerness and excitement.

I raised one eyebrow skeptically. “Do you really think that is wise? Do you think you can behave appropriately in the real world?”

“Oh, I won’t be any trouble, Mistress,” he avowed fervently. “And I already have clothing appropriate to your world. We all do.”

“You all do?” There was that feeling of dread again. “Everyone? Even Dragon?”

“Well, not all of us,” he assured me. “Just four of us. And not Dragon.”

Of course, I thought. My Gypsy never goes anywhere without his best friend, my Young Hero. My Cleric has been my Young Hero’s protector since his birth, so she would need to accompany us. And, for reasons known only to himself and me, my Bounty Hunter would never leave my Cleric out of his sight.

I swallowed hard, as a hundred ways this outing could go terribly wrong marched through my head. But in the face of my Gypsy’s enthusiasm, my shoulders slumped in defeat. “Okay,” I said with a deep sigh. “I should probably have my head examined, but I guess you can come. The first time any of you cause any problems, though, you will all be written out of the books!” That threat was the best weapon in my arsenal. It usually produced the desired results and kept them in line, at least for a reasonable period of time.

A half-hour later, after I had confiscated all their weapons, and given them a brief but uncompromising lecture on proper behavior, I helped my four characters take their seats in the car.

18247124998_0e88297ac6_z       swords  silver dagger

Once everyone had mastered the intricacies of the seat belt and we were on our way. Ten minutes after that, I was the only one in the car watching the traffic and the passing scenery. Real world, 21st century vehicles go considerably faster than medieval fantasy world forms of transport. My characters were all white as sheets, with nary an open eye among them.

“Mistress Writer?” Forty minutes into the trip, my Bounty Hunter finally broke the silence.


“Where are we going?”

“To a regional park. I was talking to some birding friends, and some early migrating warblers have been reported there, along with some other birds I am interested in photographing. I called the park office and confirmed the reports, so we should have a good day.”

He considered this. “You employ many of the same tactics I do,” he mused.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“You make inquiries to locate your quarry. You confirm reports, rather than accept them at face value. Then you equip yourself for the task and go afield to stalk your prey,” my Bounty Hunter explained sagaciously.

I wrinkled my brow as I considered that. “I suppose you’re right. I suppose that’s how I knew how you would conduct yourself in the book.”

My Bounty Hunter nodded, and would have continued the conversation, but I interrupted. “Here we are!”

My four characters breathed a collective sigh of relief, and almost fell out of the car the moment I had it parked. Their rubbery legs hardly supported them, so I took my time getting my equipment from the trunk. When we were all fit and ready, we headed off down the trail.

From the first moment, my Gypsy took over, identifying many of the birds we saw and heard. “Listen! Do you hear that trill? That is a Yellow-rumped Warbler!”

“That’s one I want to photograph!” I informed him. “Do you see it?”

It took a few moments, but my sharp-eyed Bounty Hunter soon spotted a number of them flitting around the trees. They were constantly in motion, and all I was able to get were a few blurry images.

Then my Young Hero addressed my Cleric. “You have a special affinity with birds, Milady. Can you coax one of these warblers closer and have it sit still long enough for our Mistress to take a picture?”

“I will try,” she agreed, although she seemed doubtful. She walked over to the tree and seemed to be in conversation with the birds. One flew to a nearby branch and posed nicely, as I focused my camera. Once I finished, it flew back to the flock and continued flitting about.

“Thanks! That’s great!” I smiled broadly as I showed my characters the photos. “I never could have gotten them without your help!” They all grinned broadly, happy to have helped.

“I think I hear a Ruby-crowned Kinglet,” my Gypsy called to us. That was the second bird on my wish list. We all tried to follow the sound to its source, but the bird remained hidden in the tree. Finally, my Cleric spotted it and convinced it to pose for a single photo.

Clifton E. French Regional Park 156

As we approached a marshy area, the sound of Red-winged Blackbirds filled the air. My Cleric had no trouble convincing them to show off their territorial display for the camera.

Near the lake, a flock of boisterous Tree Swallows swooped through the air, passing within inches of us. We all laughed with delight at their aerial acrobatics. My Cleric enticed several of them to land briefly for photos.

As I focused the camera, I heard my Gypsy gasp, “Mistress, look!” A pair of Tree Swallows had landed on my Cleric’s outstretched hand. I swung the camera around, but was too slow to capture that image.

My Young Hero spotted a pair of Wood Ducks on a nest box in the lake. They spotted us, and were about to take off in a panic. My Cleric immediately walked over to the edge of the water and calmed the ducks so I could get a photo of the pair.

Clifton E. French Regional Park 060

“Look, Mistress Writer!” My Bounty Hunter pointed at something in the water. “What is that?”

“It looks like a muskrat,” I replied, quickly snapping a photo before it swam into the reeds and disappeared.

Clifton E. French Regional Park 144

“And there are some turtles!” my Young Hero exclaimed.

“We should see a lot of them today, with the warmer temperatures,” I replied, snapping a few photos.

“And there’s a snake!” My Gypsy grinned as my Cleric jumped and squealed.

“Relax, it’s a harmless Garter Snake,” I informed her.

“I would just as soon it be harmless somewhere else, Mistress,” my Cleric stated with a shudder. “Preferably, somewhere far away!” We all shared a laugh at that.

The day continued, and I got a lot of great photos with the help of my characters. Then, around mid-afternoon, the wind picked up and we decided to head for home.

As we were walking back down the path by the marsh, my Gypsy stopped and called to us. “Look here! Black-capped Chickadees are taking the fuzz off the cattails to use in their nests.”

“I wish I could get a good shot of that,” I said, “but I’d only get a blur. The cattails are swaying pretty violently in this wind. It’s a wonder those little birds can even hold on!”

“Well, I can’t stop the wind, but I can keep a few of the cattails still.” My Gypsy fell into his magic, murmuring the words to a spell. Then my Cleric coaxed a few of the chickadees to pose on the now-stationary cattails. I quickly snapped a few images before my Gypsy lost the spell.

“This worked out much better than I imagined it would,” I praised my characters at the end of our hike. “I think I got some really great photos, thanks to all of you!”

“I can’t wait to get home this evening and view them all on that magic box of yours,” my Bounty Hunter replied, referring to my computer. His enthusiasm took me by surprise. Does he have a softer, gentler side I need to explore in my book? I wondered.

“I look forward to seeing them, too,” my Gypsy agreed, and the other two nodded.

“Well, when we get home, we can all see them. Let’s just remember to leave the porch light on for any of our readers who might want to join us.

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