Real or Illusory?

Real or Illusory?

Dragon and the Boss“Arthur?”

Dragon – still in her guise of an exotic and delicate maiden – gaped at the figure standing before her.

Arthur?” Cleric’s voice sounded incredulous as she pushed past her companions. “Why, it is Arthur!” Her eyes widened and she took a step back.

The Gypsy jostled to get a glimpse of the man in question and scowled. “What is he doing here?”

The Young Hero frowned. “Arthur? Are you sure that is Arthur?”

Tor and BossThe Foreman, Tor, gaped at the man he knew as the Boss. “I should have recognized him! When I first saw him here in the barn with the farrier, I thought he looked out of place, but I did not realize he was someone I had met in the real world.”

“I can hear ya, ya know. Ya don’t hafta talk about me like I ain’t right here!” The Boss sneered.

Dragon approached the man and studied him carefully. “You are Arthur, are you not?”

The man gave her a smug look. “Maybe. Maybe not. What’s it ta you, sista?”

Not his sisterDragon gave him a cold stare. Smoke started to drift from her nose, despite the fact that she was not in her true form. “Most assuredly, I am not you sister.”

“Whatever.” The man gave her a curious look. “So, who are ya, and what’s yer business here?”

Dragon ignored him and turned to the Foreman. “What do you know of this man?”

Tor took off his hat and raked his hand through his hair. “I know him as the Boss, but nothing more. I did not recognize him as Arthur, though I sensed he might not be from this world. For several hours now, I have repeatedly asked him who he is and how he came to be in this place. I have gotten nothing but evasion and double-talk.”

The BossThe other man tsk-tsked and smirked at Tor. “Whatchya talkin’ about? I already told you. I’m the Boss. I came here from the town, same as you probably did, and I got here by walking, same as you probably did.”

“Yes, yes, you have told me that. But you refuse to reveal the identity you held before you came here and became the Boss. You refuse to reveal where you came from before you were in the town, or how you got to the town.” Tor’s voice was strained, and a vein in his temple throbbed.                                                                                                                    Flopped back down on hay

Dragon studied the man closely through narrowed eyes. He seemed singularly unconcerned as he flopped back down on the bale of hay.

After many long minutes, Dragon turned back toward her companions and addressed Sorceress, the Arrogant One, the Bounty Hunter and the Old Dwarf, none of whom had ever met Arthur. Their confused looks faded as Dragon explained, “This man appears to be Arthur, the man who runs the writers’ group, Lost in the Words, and who has – on numerous occasions – caused serious problems for us.”

“Yes, he does appear to be Arthur,” Cleric interrupted, still sounding incredulous. “But can we be certain? How could Arthur be in this illusory world?”

Dragon frowned. “I do not know how he could be here. And, no, I am not certain he is Arthur. The physical resemblance is exceptional. However, his manner of speaking is all wrong. And, if he were Arthur, he should recognize some of us.”

Dwarf and the Boss“Be there no way ta be sure, beastie?” The Old Dwarf moved closer to the seated figure. “Mebe I can be gittin’ ’em ta be more forthcomin’ wit ’is answers?”

Another voiceDragon started to reply when another voice drew everyone’s attention to the far end of the barn. “If you folks’er here lookin’ ta buy some horses, yer just gonna hafta wait. I’m jus’ giving ’em their grain and water now. Come back later in tha day an’ they’ll be ready ta show ya.”

Tor gestured toward the newcomer. “That is the stable hand.”

Dragon and stable handThe other companions stared at the figure while Dragon walked down the length of the barn aisle and studied the lad closely. “You are from this place, are you not? Like Sangree, the guide, you have a specific function here.”

The youth nodded. “I’m from here. I tend tha horses.”

“Do you know that man? The one sitting on the bale of hay?”

The stable hand scowled. “Calls himself the Boss. Ain’t my boss. I won’t work fer that man no more.”

Dragon nodded. “How long has he been the Boss?”

The stable hand frowned and scratched his head. “Not sure, really. Can’t remember but seems like maybe there usta be another boss. Don’t matter, though. Ain’t gonna work for that one no more.”

Dragon turned back to the group at the other end of the barn. “Sangree? Are you still here?”

“I am right here, milady! Do you need me to guide you to another place?” The self-proclaimed best guide in the town scurried down the aisle toward Dragon and the stable hand, a broad grin on his face.

Sangree and the stable hand“Not yet. I do need you to stand here, next to the stable hand, please.”

Sangree took his place without question, grinning like a fool.

“Now you.” Dragon pointed to the man who called himself the Boss. “Come here and stand with them.”

“Whatchya got in mind, sista?” He made no move to join them.

“Tha beastie been tellin’ ye afore, she do na be yer sister.” The Old Dwarf had retrieved his axe from his satchel and stood before the Boss, smacking the flat of the blade against the palm of his open hand. “Now, be ye walkin’ o’er there on yer ownest two feetsies, or be I slicin’ ye inta little bitty pieces wat I kin be carryin’ there?”

The Boss narrowed his eyes and took the Old Dwarf’s measure. He rose slowly and stretched. “All right, all right, I’m goin’. No need ta git yer tin can all steamed up.” He started strolling lazily down the barn aisle but picked up his pace considerably when the dwarf whacked his derrière with the flat of the axe blade.

Boss, Sangree, Stable handOnce the Boss stood with Sangree and the stable hand, Dragon motioned to Cleric, Sorceress, the Gypsy, and the Arrogant One. She drew her four magic colleagues close and spoke in a whisper. “Share your power with me, please.”

The elf drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, grasped his cloak with both hands, and sneered. “My power? For what purpose?”

Dragon silenced him with a raised eyebrow. “Not just your power, elf. I need all of you to strengthen a spell I will cast on those three. We know two of them are illusory – residents of this illusory world you helped me create for the Foreman. We need to determine if the third one – the one who calls himself the Boss, but who looks like Arthur – is also illusory, or if he is real.”

blue auraThe Arrogant One frowned but nodded. The others agreed with no hesitation. They all joined hands and concentrated as hard as they could. Brows became furrowed, shoulders grew tense, and tongues peaked out of the corners of several mouths. Finally, Dragon intoned a spell in an ancient and arcane language.

After several minutes, Sangree and the stable hand were outlined in a soft blue light. Several more moments passed before the third figure also started glowing softly.

WrithingSuddenly, the light around the Boss intensified. He fell to the ground, writhing in a carnelian glow.

“What has happened?” Cleric broke the circle, pulling away from her companions and rushing toward the thrashing figure.

“Do not touch him!” Dragon reached out and grabbed Cleric.

“But he may need healing.” Cleric was already reaching for her pouch of herbs and her clerical emblem.

“I doubt he has been harmed, and even if he has been, I doubt you would be able to help.” Dragon kept a tight grip on Cleric’s arm, moving her away from the Boss, who lay, groaning, in a fading aura of reds and blues.

Slowly, the man’s spasms slowed, and he lay there still, with only an occasional twitch.

“He dead?” The stable hand sounded hopeful.

“No.” Dragon shook her head.

The man rolled over and glared at the stable hand. “It takes more’n a few fireworks ta finish me. I’m the Boss!”

“Sez you,” the youth muttered.

The Boss dragged himself into a sitting position. “What’dya do ta me, sista?”

Dwarf threatening sitting Boss“Ye be callin’ the beastie sister just oncet more, and ye be seein’ wat it be gittin’ ye.” The Old Dwarf glowered at the Boss, and vigorously pounded the flat of his axe blade into the palm of his open hand again.

The Boss scowled at the dwarf, but kept his mouth shut as he finished dragging himself to his feet. He stood there, leaning unsteadily against a stall door, shaking his head.

Once they were certain the man had sustained no serious or permanent injury, the companions huddled together and looked at Dragon.

“So, do we know any more now than we did before?” The Gypsy asked the question that was obviously on everyone’s mind.

“Yes and no.” Dragon pursed her lips. “The soft blue aura that surrounded the three figures marked them as illusory beings. The reddish radiance showed the one to be real.”

“How can that be?” Sorceress gaped at Dragon. “One is either real or illusory. One cannot be both.”

Dragon shrugged. “He is.”Arthur or the Boss

How can the Boss (or is it Arthur?) be both an illusion and real? How are the companions going to solve that mystery? And will they ever find their way out of this illusory world and back to the real world where Mistress Writer and Master Miles await their return? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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The Search Begins

The Search Begins

Falling out of manuscriptThe companions – eight of the characters who had fallen many years ago from the pages of a manuscript into what Mistress Writer termed the real world – stepped into the illusory world the magic users among them had created for their friend, the ninth companion to fall from the manuscript.

Foreman facing right closeupThat character, known as the Foreman, had become bored and unfulfilled in the real world. As he had explained it to Mistress Writer, he not only missed the world from which he had come, he missed who he had been in that world.What he had been There was no place in this real, technologically advanced world, for the manager of the largest and most prestigious horse breeding facility in the medieval world from which he had been torn.

The lads and Foreman with horsesEven the illusory horses and small barn and paddock Dragon had created for him and two of the other companions who had also been proficient horsemen in their world did not alleviate his sense of worthlessness. In the real world, he lamented, he had become little more than a go-fer.

So Dragon and the other magic users among the companions had created an illusory world for the Foreman, a world where he could once again manage a large and prestigious stable. But something had gone wrong.

Tor and the ladsThe Foreman had entered the illusory world in the company of the two lads. The lads had returned with glowing reports of how wonderful the world was, and with the Foreman’s promise to return that evening to sup with them and thank them properly for their gift. But the man had not returned that night.

When the Foreman still had not returned several days later, Dragon and the others had entered the illusory world and searched for him, but to no avail. They could find no trace of him, and none of the illusory residents of that world admitted to ever having seen him.

getting ready to scryvague outline appearedAfter that, Sorceress had used her ability to scry and had seen the Foreman. However, she could not pinpoint his location, so the companions once again entered the illusory world to track him down.

Elf clericDragon led the group as they emerged in the illusory world. The beast had transformed into her preferred – and less formidable – guise of a delicate and exotic maiden. She held up her hand and commanded the attention of her comrades. “Take heed! Stay together, remain aware of your surroundings, and do not assume the illusory beings inhabiting this world are harmless.”Dwarf facing right

“Eh, ye really be thinkin’ thet a bunch o peoples ye been makin’ up outten smoke an’ a fancy turn o phrase be posin’ any real danger ta us?” The Old Dwarf snorted.

Dragon scoffed at her diminutive friend. “Forsooth! Remember my prowess at creating illusions. My illusions are solid and substantial. They exhibit all the traits, characteristics, and features of the real item. Indeed, they are virtually indistinguishable from the real object. And I had the help of four other powerful spellcasters in creating this world, to strengthen and enhance my spell. Therefore, a person in this illusory world would be able to inflict as much damage as any real person.”

Sorceress close-up“Dragon is correct.” Sorceress furrowed her brow. “And if, perchance, something has interfered with the spell that created the illusion, the denizens of this world could be deadly.”

Gypsy close-upThe Gypsy lad frowned and rubbed his jaw. “I think the first thing we should do is examine the threads of magic that created this world and that keep it intact, to see if anything has tampered with the enchantment.”

Dragon nodded. “I examined it as much as possible from the outside, but a more thorough inspection should be feasible now that we are on the inside.”

Bounty Hunter head shotbeing watchedThe Bounty Hunter spoke in a low tone. “We need to find somewhere you can do that without drawing attention.” He nodded toward a small group of people at an open-air market, whispering among themselves and staring at the companions.

Cleric twisting cinctureCleric fidgeted with her cincture. “Dragon, could you not simply place a spell of concealment around us?”

Dray angry 2Dragon furrowed her brow and chewed on her lower lip. Even though she was not in her true form, smoke drifted from her nose as she obviously wrestled with her thoughts. “Perchance that would work if nothing has interfered with the spell creating the illusory world. However, since we do not know if the magic has been tainted, I do not know if a spell of concealment would work. And the fact that we already have people watching us makes it much harder. We cannot simply poofer out of sight.”

saw in the distance“When the Gypsy and I left him, the Foreman was headed toward a complex of barns and sheds he saw in the distance, past the fields of horses.” The Young Hero pointed down the road out of town. “Perhaps we should go there. The Bounty Hunter and I could search there for the Foreman, while the magic users could examine the threads of the spell shielded from sight within one of the buildings, with the Old Dwarf standing guard.”

The companions turned toward Dragon, their leader, who paced back and forth for a few minutes, rubbing the back of her neck. Finally, she nodded curtly, and the group started the long trek toward the farm.

The group moved along at a steady pace and by lunchtime they were a stone’s throw from the beginning of the fenced pastures.

“This looks like a good place to rest and partake of some refreshment.” The Bounty Hunter indicated several wooden picnic tables in a grassy spot next to a meandering stream that paralleled the road.

Picnic tables by stream

Dragon frowned. “Picnic tables? Those are anachronistic” Seeing the blank look on some of her friends’ faces, she explained. “They should not be here. They are not correct for this world, which was designed to represent a world similar to our own, a world that Mistress Writer would term medieval.”

“Eh, be they correct or nay, they be here, an’ there be no signs what be warnin’ anyone away.” The Old Dwarf made a beeline to the nearest table and started pulling food and beverages from one of the bags of holding Dragon had provided.

The others approached the tables with caution, looking around warily. Finally, having seen nothing else untoward, they sat and shared a midday repast.

well-traveled highway“Does anyone else find it strange that, although this road is wide and well maintained and has the appearance of a well-traveled highway, we seem to be the only ones using it?” The Gypsy reached for another sandwich as he spoke.

“It does make one wonder.” The Bounty Hunter nodded. “Perhaps we should ask the person who has been shadowing us ever since we left the village.”

The Young Hero’s eyes widened. “I noticed no one.”

Bounty Hunter full body 2The Bounty Hunter smirked. “I told you my skills would be useful. He is about a half league behind us.” He finished his sandwich and washed it down with three gulps of cool water while the others strained to see their pursuer. “Perhaps I should remain behind while the rest of you continue toward the barns. I could lay in wait here and find out what the rascal is up to.”

Dragon shook her head. “No, I think it best we stay together. We do not need to be searching for more than one of our company.”

“We will be separating at the barns. Why not now?” The Bounty Hunter frowned.

“The separation will not be so great a distance there, and the Old Dwarf will be able to keep his eye on both groups.”

The Bounty Hunter considered Dragon’s words, then nodded. “Very well. But if he still shadows us when we arrive at the stable, I may deal with him then.”

Dragon nodded. “Let us finish eating now and get on the road. We still have a distance to travel.”

First pastureNot long after, the companions came to the first of the pastures and the Young Hero stopped. “This should be where we left the Foreman.”

The Gypsy nodded. “We had come across the fenced pasture, and we were admiring the magnificent horses right before we parted company.”

Young hero 2Arrogant One“But this is wrong.” The Young Hero frowned. “These are not the same horses.”

The Arrogant One scoffed. “So, they rotated their stock, and different horses are now in this pasture.”

“No.” The Young Hero shook his head and gestured emphatically. “These are Appaloosas. That is a breed found in Mistress Writer’s real world. They should not exist in a medieval world.”Appaloosas 2

Sorceress furrowed her brow. “Perhaps a similar breed was developed in this illusory world.”

The Young Hero frowned. “True. Appaloosas are not the only spotted breed in the real world, so I suppose a breed of spotted horses could exist here.”

The Gypsy interrupted. “But the horses are not the only thing that has changed. The day we were here with the Foreman, the fencing was lime-washed bright white, like the fences around the horse farm he used to manage in our world.”

Horses in pasture

The companions gaped at the natural wood fencing, untouched by whitewash, paint, or stain.First pasture

“Are you certain we took the right road from the village?” Dragon addressed the lads.

“Positive,” the two friends answered in unison.road toward mountain range

The Gypsy turned from examining the fence. “There is only one road in and out of the village, and in the opposite direction, it takes a quick turn and heads directly for a mountain range.”

“Then let us proceed to the barns. Perhaps we will find the answer – and the Foreman – there.”followed him to barn

Are the companions on the right road? Is this the same pasture they saw before? What will they find when they arrive at the barns? Is someone following them? Be sure to come back next week. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Will This Work?

Will This Work?

can't sleepDragon was exhausted. Sleep had eluded her most of the previous night, as she had tossed and turned, examining the mystery of the Foreman’s disappearance from every conceivable angle. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/05/24/you-cant-get-there-from-here/ could barely keep eyes open

At breakfast, her head drooped, and she could barely keep her eyes open.

sitting next to Dragon 2Foreman closeupMy Young Hero, sitting next to the huge beast, furrowed his brow and picked at his food. “Have you no further thoughts on how we might find the Foreman?”

Dragon shook her head.

Sorceress and DragonSorceress cleared her throat. “Mayhap I might be of service?”

Dragon did not respond; she merely regarded Sorceress through bloodshot eyes and waited for the magic user to explain.

“I thought . . . perchance . . . I might be able to find the Foreman by scrying.”

Dragon’s head shot up and she immediately brightened. “Yes! Yes, it might be possible.”

Gypsy close-up facing rightMy Gypsy whooped. “That is an excellent idea! Why did I not think of it?”

Sorceress raised an eyebrow. “Because you are but a child, and not nearly as wise as I?” The twinkle in her eyes belied her sarcastic tone of voice.

Several other characters snickered at my Gypsy, and my Young Hero elbowed his friend in the ribs. My Gypsy responded with an exaggerated waggle of his eyebrows. “But I thought I was born wise.”

Sorceress close-up 2Sorceress snorted, then turned serious. “Also, because your forte is Gypsy magic. Although I tutored you in the art of scrying, divination is not your strong suit. Therefore, your mind would not necessarily turn to thoughts of scrying when confronted with a situation like this.”

“Well, I am glad your mind turned in that direction. When do we start?” My Gypsy was already halfway out of his chair and several other characters were following suit.

stopI held up my hand in the fashion of a traffic cop. “Hold on! You can get started as soon as everyone has finished breakfast.”

There were a lot of muttered protests, and I glared at my characters. “You’re all going to need your strength, especially Sorceress. Scrying can wait a few minutes. Eat!”

Dwarf with apple“Eh, tha lass be right.” My Old Dwarf, already on his third helping of everything, reached for another apple. “We be needin’ ta be keepin’ up our strength!”

Sorceress reluctantly took another mouthful of cereal and quickly washed it down with some goat’s milk. She delicately dabbed at the corners of her mouth with her white linen napkin, then turned to me. “Will you and Master Miles be joining us?”

I nodded. “We will meet you in the conference room as soon as we have cleaned up the breakfast dishes. That should give you sufficient time to gather your materials.”

Less than an hour later, Miles and I walked into the conference room. Dragon had created a small amphitheater so we could all sit above and behind Sorceress and see into the scrying bowl.

getting ready to scry

Sorceress addressed us all as we were taking our seats. “You must remember to remain silent, no matter what you see. If I am distracted, I can easily lose the image.” She turned to my Old Dwarf. “Would you mind remaining outside the door, standing guard?”

“Nay, lass, I be havin’ no objection ta bein’ guard o tha door. It be me usual place.” He quickly took up his position in the hallway.

Door

Checking that the rest of us were present and seated, Dragon closed the door and intoned an incantation. “This room is now warded against intrusions both physical and magical. Sorceress, you may proceed.”

Taking a deep breath, Sorceress unstoppered a flask, and poured the contents into the bowl. She began intoning the incantation that should allow us to see my Foreman, adding certain botanicals and other ingredients to the liquid as she chanted. Gradually, as Sorceress fell into the magic, we could see a change in the surface of the liquid.silvery liquid

First, the silvery liquid grew cloudy and began swirling lazily, counterclockwise. Beads of sweat formed on Sorceress’ forehead, and her breathing became labored as she worked to strengthen the spell.

vague outline appearedGradually, shadowy forms began to appear in the liquid. The vague outline of fences and horses appeared, with a wavering image that might have been my Foreman.

The lads squirmed on the edges of their seats, but a stern look from Dragon quieted them. My Gypsy did nudge my Young Hero and point to the images in the bowl. His thumbs up gesture seemed to indicate that he felt certain it was, indeed, my Foreman, and the other youngster nodded enthusiastically.

followed him to barnAll of us watched with bated breath as the shadowy figure reached over the fence and patted a horse on the neck. Then we followed him as he walked along the lengthy expanse of fence and down a path toward a barn. The figure seemed the right height and build for my Foreman, and his bearing was similar. We looked toward Dragon for confirmation.

Studied imageDragon cocked her head and studied the image in the swirling liquid. She leaned over the bowl, doing her best not to distract Sorceress. The big beast examined the image carefully, taking note of every shadowy detail. Finally, she rose and shook her head. “It is not enough. The man in the image is, I believe, the Foreman; but his location is uncertain. He could be anywhere. Can you expand the image, so we can look for any of the landmarks of the illusory world we created for him?”

As the image disappeared into the depths of the bowl, Sorceress fell back, exhausted. She shook her head and panted for breath as she spoke. “No. That was the best I could manage. But because the image was so shadowy, I think we can presume it to have been the illusory world. If the Foreman were here, in this world, the image should have been much sharper.”

Blue dragonDragon nodded. “That makes sense.” She paced back and forth, turning from her usual vivid red to a pale blue. Smoke bubbles dripped from her nose as she considered the problem. Finally, she transformed again, her scales a brilliant red once more. “I will just have to return to the illusory world and search for him again.”

The lads“We will come with you!” My Gypsy and my Young Hero spoke in unison as they jumped from their seats. “When do we leave?”Dragon sighs

We do not. I will leave immediately.” Dragon punctuated her comment with a puff of black smoke.

Sorceress close-up 2They lads immediately started to object, but Sorceress held up her hand and silenced them. Turning to Dragon, she crossed her arms over her chest and spoke firmly. “No, we will go. If you remember, it was not you alone who created the illusory world for the Foreman. All of us proficient in the use of magic helped, and all of us who helped should accompany you in this search.”

Arrogant One full body 2Dragon frowned, but before she could argue, my Arrogant One stepped forward. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, grasped his cloak with both hands, and scowled. “I have little desire to go traipsing off into that illusory world in search of a man for whom I hold no regard. However, Sorceress is correct. All of us who assisted you in the creation of that world should go.”

The others gaped at the elf. My Gypsy almost choked. “You are offering to go? Why? What possible benefit can you derive from helping us?”

My Arrogant One turned beet red. “I seek no gain from this expedition. But unless all who assisted in the creation of this illusory world now join in the effort to examine it, the task may well fail.”

Dragon sighsDragon studied the elf through narrowed eyes, black smoke spewing from her snout. Finally, she nodded. “Very well. If even the Arrogant One is willing to go, I capitulate. All of the magic users will go.”

Dragon turned toward the door and, with a few words and gestures, dismissed the wards on the room.

Bounty Hunter head shotMy Bounty Hunter stepped in front of the beast as she opened the door. “I will accompany the group, also. I have no magic, but my skills may be of use, nevertheless. I am most proficient at tracking.”

Dwarf closeupStill standing guard at the doorway, my Old Dwarf slapped the flat of his axe on the palm of his open hand. “Iffin I be hearin’ right, ye be mountin’ a search party. Do na be thinkin’ fer one minute thet ye be leavin’ me an’ me axe behind.”

Young hero 2My Young Hero protested. “I will not be the only one left behind! The Foreman is no less my friend than he is any of yours. There must be something I can do to help.”

Do not think about goingDragon shook her head, but the youth stood there defiantly, hands balled into fists, jaw jutted, eyes flashing. Finally, the beast sighed. “Very well, you may go with us.” Quickly rounding on Miles and me, she growled. “But you two do not even think of offering to come.”

“Don’t worry! The thought never entered my head.” Miles shuddered.

I scoffed. “I know we would be of no use to you in the illusory world. Miles and I will wait here for your return.”

could barely keep eyes open 2Dragon lowered her voice. “It is not that you would be of no use, Mistress, although – truth be told – you would not. But I worry more of the danger to you and Master Miles should you venture into that world before we find the cause of your Foreman’s disappearance.”

I smiled warmly, and patted Dragon’s forearm. “I understand, my friend, and I am grateful for your concern. Just be careful yourself. The danger exists for you and the others as well.”

Dragon gathers the othersDragon nodded. She turned quickly and gathered the others around her. “Go prepare. Magic users, gather whatever components you think you will need for spells of protection and spells of seeking. Cleric, bring as many of your healing herbs as you can carry. The rest of you, arm yourselves heavily, but discreetly. We may need to defend ourselves, but we do not want a show of arms initiating a fight that we could avoid.”

“An do na be forgittin’ ta be bringin’ vittles. We do na be knowin’ how long we be lookin’ afore we be comin’ back. Lookin’ be mighty hungry business.” My Old Dwarf rubbed his belly and nodded somberly.

“We will leave within the hour.” Dragon herded everyone out of the room to make their preparations.

arm around shoulderMiles put his arm around my shoulder and squeezed tight. “Don’t worry, honey. They know what they’re doing. They’ll return, safe and sound, and they’ll bring your Foreman with them.”Question marks

I sighed. “I would like to think so. But if they really knew what they were doing, would my Foreman be missing in the first place?”

 

Will my other characters find and retrieve my Foreman? Or will they all be lost forever in the illusory world they created for him? And how does one get lost in an illusion, anyway? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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You Can’t Get There From Here

You Can’t Get There From Here

dinnerMiles and I were sitting down to dinner with my characters. Apart from my missing Foreman, they had all arrived, silent and subdued. Last to take their seats were my Old Dwarf and Dragon.

I gave Dragon a questioning look, and she shook her head. I frowned. “No luck?”

Foreman facing right closeupBlue dragon“No, Mistress. I have searched through every reference work I have. I can find no explanation for your Foreman becoming lost within an illusory world. One simply can not get lost within an illusion. There is no way for it to happen.” The big beast heaved a huge sigh. Smoke bubbles dripped from her nose as her scales faded from fiery red to pale blue, as often happened when she was confused.

MilesMiles furrowed his brow. “And you still say it would be dangerous to simply terminate the illusion?”

Alarming rate“Absolutely, Master Miles. Until I know with what we are dealing, I dare not terminate the spell.” The smoke bubbles began flowing from Dragon’s snout at an alarming rate.
“If the Foreman is lost within the illusion, his disappearance must somehow be bound to the spell. Terminate the spell and you might well terminate him.”

Bounty Hunter head shotDragon with Tears“Then how, exactly, do you propose finding him and returning him to this reality?” My Bounty Hunter spoke softly, but his tone danced between smug and curious.

“I do not know.” Dragon bowed her head and tears mingled with the smoke.

Patted her forearm“There, there, Beastie! Do na be gittin’ yerself so upset. Ye be findin’ a way ta be bringin’ ’em back.” My Old Dwarf patted his friend on her scaly forearm and tried to reassure her. “Now, ye mus’ be eatin’ summat. Ye be needin’ ta be keepin’ yer strength.”

“Yes, you need your strength.” My Young Hero gestured to the bowl of stew in front of Dragon. “Eat a good dinner, have a good night’s sleep, and attack the problem anew on the morrow, refreshed and clear-headed.”

“Mayhap you are right.” Dragon sighed, wiped her tears, and slowly regained her color. “I will retire directly after this meal.”can't sleep

Exhausted as she was, sleep did not come quickly for Dragon. She tossed and turned, her brain refusing to give up chewing over the facts of the mystery, as well as the possibilities.

Tor and the ladsThe ladsThe Foreman entered the illusory world I and my colleagues created for him. He was in the company of the lads, who returned to this reality unscathed. The Foreman did not return as promised to sup with us that day, nor have we seen him return since. When we entered the illusory world looking for him, we could find no sign of him. When asked, the illusory inhabitants of that world claimed no knowledge of him.

Question marksIt is impossible to become lost within an illusion. Therefore, how has the Foreman become lost within an illusion? Is he lost within that illusion? Is he even still in that illusory world? Did he leave the illusion and return to this reality without telling any of us, only to wander off somewhere within this world? Or, mayhap has someone interfered with the illusion? Has he somehow been taken into another world?

The possibilities seemed endless, and Dragon’s mind seemed determine to examine every one of them from every conceivable angle. Eventually, though, her mind grew sluggish and exhaustion dragged her into a fitful sleep.

* * *

cobblestone walkwaySlowly, Tor opened his eyes. It was too dark to see his surroundings, but he was aware of lying on his side on a cold, hard surface. In his befuddled mind, it took him back to the smooth cobblestone walkways of his youth, and he drifted back to those times in his dreams.

too dark to seeTor did not stay long in his dreams; pain quickly brought him back. As he slowly regained his senses, Tor moaned. His head felt as if it had exploded. He tried to reach for the back of his head, where the pain seemed the worst, but found he was restrained. His arms had been pulled behind him and were lashed tightly at the wrists.

He attempted to roll over and straighten his legs, but the ropes that bound his arms were tethered to something immovable. His legs were similarly bound at the ankles, and those fetters were likewise tied to something unyielding.

Horses in pastureTor tried to remember what had happened to him. The pain in his head made it hard to think. He recalled a horse farm, so big and beautiful and full of magnificent horses, much like the one he had managed in the past, in a different world . . . a different lifetime. His thoughts started drifting to that long-ago place.

Looked upTor shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts and bring himself back to this world. No! This horse farm was here, in this world. He remembered a farrier, and someone called the boss. And there was another person. He furrowed his brow.

Stable boy in yardThe attackYes, another person. The stable lad who had sent him into the barn to speak with the boss. It must have been the stable lad who had snuck up behind him and walloped him over the head.

Tor tried to shift his weight around to ease his aching muscles. He started wiggling and rotating his wrists and ankles to restore some circulation to his hands and feet. He groaned loudly as he began to get some feeling back in his extremities, and they felt like they were being stabbed by a million fiery pins and needles.

pain in hands and feet

Tor lapsed into periodic unconsciousness. Whenever he awoke, he worked on restoring the circulation in his hands and feet.

Drifting in and out of consciousness, Tor was unaware of the passage of time. It could have been hours or days before he heard a noise that brought him wholly awake.

“Tink he’s still alive, boss?”

Tor recognized the voice. The stable lad. He lay still as death.

Tor heard the boss reply. “Don’t know. Can’t tell. Untie him.”

First mistakeTor smiled to himself. That is your first mistake, Master Boss.

Footsteps drew closer. A booted foot nudged Tor painfully in his side. He almost cried out but disciplined himself to remain quiet and still.

The stable lad sliced through Tor’s tethers, then cut the ropes that bound Tor’s hands and feet. He worked slowly, kicking Tor after every cut and waiting to make sure there was no response from his captive before making the next cut.

With the final slice and kick, the lad turned to the boss and declared, “He’s gotta be dead, Boss. He ain’t moved once. Don’t even see ’em breathin’.”

capturedOpening his eyes just a slit, Tor was glad to see it was lighter now, and he could see. He judged the distance between himself and the lad. Steeling himself against the pain he knew would come with a sudden movement, Tor grabbed a length of his former tether, bunched his muscles, and sprang at the stable lad with the speed of a cheetah. Before the young thug knew what was happening, Tor had the rope around the boy’s neck.

“Hey! Quit it! Le’ go!” The lad squirmed, but Tor held fast to the rope and tightened it against the boy’s throat.

“Boss! He’s killin’ me! Tell ’em ta quit it! Tell ’em ta le’ go!” The boy struggled against the tightening rope.

“Stay still.” Tor’s words came out in a growl. “You make it worse by struggling.”

Once the boy stopped struggling, Tor addressed both men. “Who are you? Why have you assaulted me and tied me up?”

The Boss 2“I’m the boss. He’s one a my stable hands.” The man’s smug smile did not reach his eyes, which remained cold and hard.

“And?” Tor prodded when the man was not forthcoming with more information.

The boss shrugged. “And I told you to move on. You didn’t listen.”

Tor furrowed his brow. “So why did you truss me up and leave me here? What did you plan to do with me?”

“Didn’t decide yet.” The man’s smile reminded Tor of a rabid wolf.

Stable boy in yard“Well, I have decided. I am leaving this place and returning whence I came.” Tor loosened the rope around the boy’s neck, slid it down over his shoulders and pinned the boy’s arms to his sides. “You will show me the way back to the barn where we met, and I will release you. I can find my way back home from there.”

The boy nodded, eager to be free of the noose. But the boss laughed. “You really think so?”

“What?” Tor raised an eyebrow at the man. “Do I think I can find my way home from your stable? Yes, I do think so.”

The boss laughed again. “We’ll see.”

Slowly, Tor prodded the boy forward. Shuffling and stumbling, the lad led Tor back to the stable yard. Tor removed the rope and held out his hand toward the youth. “I will thank you for the return of my hat, as well.”

Nothing looks familiarHat in hand, Tor turned to trace his steps back to the spot where he could leave this illusory world and return to the real world. But the road did not go in the right direction. Tor looked down the road one way, then the other. Nothing looked familiar.

Tor whirled around and snarled. “I told you to take me back to the stable where we met. This is not it.”

The boy muttered something unintelligible, then spat at the ground by Tor’s feet. “Is.”

“No, it is not. This is not the road I traveled to get to the stable where I met you.”

Is the stable.” The boy stuck out his chin defiantly.

The boss chuckled. Then, seeing Tor’s angry face, he shrugged. “The lad’s right. This is the stable where we met. Just the world around it what changed. The place you wanna go? Well, there’s an old saying – you can’t git there from here.”

Tor gaped at the boss, who doubled over with hysterical laughter.

Second mistakeAs the man laughed uncontrollably, a smile tugged at Tor’s lips. That is your second mistake. Tor barreled into him, knocked him over, and tied him up like the cowboys he had watched on Mistress Writer’s magic box she called a television – cowboys competing in something called calf roping. Tor stepped back and admired his own work – two wraps and a half-hitch, and he had the other man’s limbs immobilized.Two wraps and a half-hitch

Tor motioned for the stable lad to move over next to his boss, where Tor could watch both men. His voice was a deep growl again. “Now, just what do you mean you cannot get there from here?”

Watching both men

 

 

What’s going on? Will Tor find his way back to the real world? Or will Dragon mount a rescue? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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What Has Happened to Him?

What Has Happened to Him?

Dragon studying scroll 3Dragon sighsDragon studied the scroll carefully, then shook her head and placed the parchment back in the cubbyhole in the desk from which she had taken it. She looked around the room and sighed, a large puff of black smoke drifting from her snout.

“This room looks like a whirlwind came through here!” She spoke aloud, but expected no reply, as she knew herself to be quite alone within the guarded and warded room. She sighed again as she started straightening the mess, replacing books and scrolls that she had scattered haphazardly around the room.

Mess

It took almost an hour to return the room to its previous tidy condition, less than a fifth of the time it had taken to create the mess as Dragon had searched in vain for some scrap of information that would help her understand the current predicament involving the Foreman.

Falling out of manuscriptMany years ago, the Foreman, Dragon, and seven other characters had fallen out of a manuscript into this world, the world Mistress Writer termed the real world. Before that, in their own world, the Foreman had been manager of the largest, most successful, and most prestigious equestrian breeding and training facility in the kingdom in which he had lived.

Horses by barnHere in this world, Dragon had created illusory horses and a small illusory stable for the Foreman and his fellow horsemen, the Young Hero and the Gypsy. But trotting around the modest illusory riding arena and drilling the lads in their equestrian skills whenever the harsh Minnesota weather would allow was hardly a substitute for the position the Foreman had held back in their world.

head bowed, shoulders slumpedFor several months, Dragon and her fellow characters had been aware of the Foreman’s growing discontent. Once, his depression could be relieved by those times spent riding his illusory horse. No more. He was bored by his role in this world, little more than a go-fer, if Dragon recalled the local vernacular, fetching and toting for Mistress Writer and Master Miles, and helping his fellow characters whenever they had need.

He grew more and more despondent. Like his fellow characters, the Foreman missed his own world, but it was more than that. As he had explained to Mistress Writer, he also missed who he had been in that world.

Recently, Dragon and her fellow magic users had created an illusory world for the Foreman where he could once again have the duties and responsibilities of managing a large equestrian facility.

Once Dragon and her colleagues had created the illusory world, the Gypsy and the Young Hero had escorted the Foreman into that world. The lads had returned directly to report the Forman was ecstatic with the world his friends had created for him. They told their comrades the Foreman planned to thank them in person at supper that night, and to revisit the illusory world the next day.

Question marksWhen the Foreman did not return that night, everyone figured he was enjoying himself so much, he had lost track of time. When he still had not returned within the week, Dragon and the other characters had entered the illusory world to retrieve him, but he was nowhere to be found. No one with whom the characters spoke had any knowledge of the Foreman. He seemed to be lost in an illusory world, something that Dragon knew to be impossible.

Roaring in frustration (2)

Dragon shook her head and roared in frustration.

Door“Beastie? Be ye al’right, beastie?” The Old Dwarf banged on the door of the conference room he had been tasked with guarding. When Dragon did not answer immediately, the stout dwarf raised his axe, thinking to splinter the door and rescue his friend.

“I would not advise doing that.” Dragon stared at the rotund figure as she swung open the door. “Do you not remember what happened the last time you resorted to force when I had warded this door?”

The dwarf blushed scarlet and lowered his axe. “Aye, I be recollectin’. It do na be an experience I be wantin’ ta be repeatin’ any time soon.”

“Then why did you appear to be about to do so?” The large reptile frowned at her diminutive companion.

“I been heardin’ ye yellin’. I been thinkin’ ye be in trouble.”

Dragon sighed. “And you thought to rescue me, my little friend?”

Dwarf blushingThe dwarf nodded and blushed a deeper red. “Ye be knowin’ full well I couldna e’er be lettin’ anythin’ be happenin’ ta ye, beastie.” He shot the large creature a look full of warmth and affection.

“I appreciate the thought, but I assure you I am quite capable of protecting myself.” Dragon smiled a toothy grin.

The dwarf scowled. “Ye be havin’ a real short mem’ry, ‘specially fer one o yer species. It be only a year and a huff by this world’s reckonin’ thet ye been needing rescuin’ from thet udder world, where ye been attacked by thet udder dragon, and I be tha one what been rescuin’ ye. Meself, an’ no udder!”

memory

EmbraceTears of gratitude stung Dragon’s eyes as she remembered back to that time. “I do remember, old friend,” she said softly as she placed her reptilian hands on the dwarf’s shoulders. “I will never forget.” She smiled warmly, and they stood there for a few moments, enjoying each other’s companionship and basking in their mutual devotion. Then Dragon stepped back and sighed again.

“But as to you hearing me yelling, I was in no danger, small one. I was merely venting my frustration.”

“Ye canna be findin’ a way ta be bringin’ tha Foreman back here?” The dwarf’s brow furrowed, and his shoulders slumped. “But iffin ye canna be bringin’ ’em back, what be happenin’ ta ’em?”

“I do not know.” Dragon’s voice was small, and it cracked. “I . . . I do not know.”

* * *

The Foreman had entered the illusory world not really knowing what to expect. The two lads had accompanied him, and they walked around together for a few hours, marveling at the sights.

Horses in pasture“Look at those horses!” The Young Hero’s eyes grew big and round as he stared at the herd of magnificent animals pasturing behind the gleaming white fence. “I have not seen the likes of them since we left our world.”

The Gypsy leaned on the fence as he replied to his young friend. “Indeed! This place reminds me of your father’s farm.”

The Young Hero nodded and turned to face the Foreman. “What do you think of this world?”

“I agree. This is most reminiscent of your father’s place. I think Dragon and all the magic users did a splendid job creating this, so like the farm I managed for your father. When you return to the real world, please give Dragon and the others my thanks and tell them I will not tarry long this day. Dragon has informed me I may come and go at will, so I will limit my explorations today. I will return to the real world in time to sup with you this evening and return here tomorrow to continue my exploration.”

The lads nodded. Before taking their leave, they reminded their friend to use the name he often used in the real world, when he had to be around people outside Mistress Writer’s house.

“You called yourself Tor.” The Young Hero shook the Foreman’s hand.

Tor and the lads“Do not forget. Calling yourself the Foreman could lead to confusion and misunderstanding here.” The Gypsy clapped the older man on his shoulder, and the two lads turned and walked off toward the spot where they could return to the real world.

Having said his goodbyes to his two companions, Tor hurried down the lane in the opposite direction, toward the distant complex of barns and sheds. He wanted to get established at this farm before leaving for the day.

Stable boy in yardArriving at the stable an hour later, Tor found a stable lad lounging in the yard and introduced himself. “I am called Tor. I seek employment.”

The lad looked Tor up and down slowly before jerking his thumb in the direction of the barn. “Boss be in dere.”

The boss and the farrierEntering the barn, Tor approached the man he assumed was the boss, a fussy-looking older man who looked rather out-of-place supervising the shoeing of a stallion. The man looked up and frowned. “Waddya want?”

“My name is Tor. I seek employment.” The Foreman extended his hand, which the other man ignored.

“Got nuttin fer a graybeard like you. Move along.” The man turned his attention back to the blacksmith and the stallion.

Tor bristled. “I can do the work of any ten lads.”

“I said move along.” The other man scowled.

the farrier 2Tor did not move. The blacksmith’s actions had caught his attention. “Be careful, smithy! Do not trim a horse’s hoof so short!”

“Mind yer own busness.” The blacksmith’s eyes narrowed as he glared at the Foreman.

Tor frowned. Dragon had told him he would be the manager of a large stable in this illusory world. Did she refer to a different stable? Or was he just supposed to walk in here and assume the duties of a manager? Given the reaction of this boss person, that seemed highly unlikely. Tor sighed. How do things work in this illusion, anyway? I best just stay quiet and watch. Mayhap I can figure it out.

Continuing to watch the blacksmith, Tor could not remain silent. “You are going to cause that horse to go lame!”

Looked upThe blacksmith looked up. “Boss, you gonna get rid of this guy, or am I?”

Tor never heard the answer. Pain exploded in his head and everything went black.

The attack

The stable lad lowered the now-bloody lead pipe and picked up Tor’s hat. He placed it with a flourish on his own head and grinned. “Waddya want me ta do wit ’em, Boss?”

lowered the pipe 2

What has happened to Tor, aka my Foreman? Will Dragon and the other characters be able to find and rescue him? Come back next week and see what happens. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Taking Our Minds Off Our Worries With a Little Birding

Taking Our Minds Off Our Worries With a Little Birding

wide-eyedWhat?” I gaped at my characters, my brain unable to wrap itself around their revelation.

Blue dragonFinally, Dragon – still pale blue and dripping smoke bubbles from her snout – spoke. Her voice was so soft I had to strain to hear her. “We knew how unhappy your Foreman has been recently. We were just trying to help.” She hung her head, and a tear slipped down her reptilian cheek.

I rubbed my neck and continued to gape.

Gypsy close-up facing right“We really meant no harm.” My Gypsy gave me a guilty look. “As Dragon said, we were just trying to help.”

“And you created an illusory world for him?”Cleric twisting cord belt

“Yes, Mistress.” Cleric fidgeted with her cincture and gave me an apologetic look. “We never imagined he would get lost there.”

I raked my hand through my hair. “How, exactly, does one get lost in an illusion?”

The adepts all started talkingMy magic users pushed my other characters aside. The adepts all started talking at once, each trying to be heard over the other. I held up my hand to silence them. “One at a time! One at a time!” I glared at them until they quieted down. “Okay. Let’s start at the beginning. First, whose idea was this?”

Dwarf closeupMy Old Dwarf pushed to the front of the group again and gave me a sheepish look. “Wale, I be guessin’ thet would be me.” Seeing my frown, he hastened to point out, “Wale, ye dinna be doin’ nuttin ta be helpin’ yer Foreman, an’ anyone could be seein’ he be feelin’ lower ’en a blue-nosied, two-toesied Tunnel Terror!”

I blinked. “That’s the second time you told me that. What exactly is a blue-nose . . .?”

head bowed, shoulders slumpedThe old reprobate waved me off and blustered at me. “It do na be makin’ no nevermind wat it be. Yer Foreman be lower ’en it! He be walkin’ aboot tha hoose liken he be walkin’ in ’is sleep. ’Is head be hangin’, ’is shoulders be slumped, an’ he jus’ be starin’ oot inta nothin’-ness. Ye dinna be doin’ nuttin, so I been thinkin’ o a way ta be helpin’ ’em.” His eyes flashed with anger and his face was flushed.

Young hero 2My Young Hero stepped forward and placed his hand on my Old Dwarf’s shoulder. “Do not blame him, Mistress. We could all see how miserable your Foreman was. Your Gypsy and I had told you some time ago that your Foreman no longer even took pleasure in riding his illusory horse.” He paused, his brow furrowed. “As the dwarf said, someone had to do something.”

“I see.” I continued frowning and rubbed my jaw. “So, what did you all do?”

Dragon stepped forwardDragon stepped forward. She had stopped dribbling smoke bubbles and had returned to her normal coloring. Her voice was still a bit shaky, however. “The . . . the dwarf approached me with an idea. He . . . he remembered how much fun we all had on our illusory trip. He wanted to know if . . . if it were possible to do something along those lines for your Foreman, to . . . to create a scenario wherein your Foreman could have the same duties and responsibilities he held in our world.”

The big beast paused, wrinkling her brow. “It . . . it seemed like such an easy task. However, I petitioned the other practitioners of magic for their input.”

Sorceress close-upSorceress stepped forward primly and spoke in clipped tones. “We all agreed it would be no great feat to accomplish. Dragon created the illusion, and we assisted her. When it was completed, the lads fetched your Foreman and accompanied him into the illusory world.”

Young Hero close-up“It was spectacular!” My Young Hero sighed. “We were tempted to remain there with him. The stable reminded me of my father’s place. Hundreds of magnificent horses grazed in lush pastures surrounded by miles of lime-washed fencing.” As he stood there, remembering, I could see the longing in his eyes.

My Gypsy nodded. “It was most tempting to remain.”

I raised an eyebrow. “And how long did you stay?”

“The lads returned within the hour, Mistress. The rest of us had waited in the conference room for them.” Dragon sighed. “We expected your Foreman would return within a day, maybe two. We had told him it would be possible for him to revisit the illusory world whenever he wanted, so we expected him to take short forays.”

Arrogant One“To be fair, time in the illusory world can pass at a much different rate than time in the real world.” My Arrogant One nodded toward Dragon. “Even you, beast, were not aware of how much time had passed when we were on our illusory trip at the beginning of this year. You thought we had been gone only a few days, when we actually had been gone for more than five weeks.”

Dragon hung her head. “That is true.”

“So, it could be just a case of my Foreman losing track of time?” I sighed. “Whew. That’s a relief!”

“Well . . .” Cleric chewed her lower lip and fidgeted again with her cincture. “It might not be that simple.”

“Oh?” I crossed my arms and waited, but Cleric just blushed furiously.

Bounty Hunter head shotFinally, my Bounty Hunter spoke. “When your Foreman did not return after a time, we entered the illusory world and searched for him. Not only was he nowhere to be found, no one to whom we spoke there had ever seen or heard of him.”

I gaped at my characters again. “So that brings us back to my previous question. How, exactly, does one get lost in an illusion?”

Dragon gulped. “We . . . we are not sure, Mistress. But I am working on determining what has happened, and on finding your Foreman.”

MilesMy husband cleared his throat. “Ah, just a thought . . . why don’t you just dispel the illusion? Wouldn’t the Foreman return to reality, and pop back into the conference room?”

dragon looking rightDragon shook her head. “Normally, I would say yes. But the fact that we could not find the Foreman in the illusory world, the fact that no one within the illusory world has seen him, nor heard of him . . . well, that changes things. It could be dangerous to just dispel the illusion. We could lose him for all time.”

I frowned. “I don’t understand any of this.”

“Neither do we, Mistress.” Dragon sighed. “That is why I am going to sequester myself in the conference room with all my tomes and grimoires and reference materials. I will determine the cause of this aberration, and I will bring your Foreman home.”

“And we will all help.” My Gypsy pounded his fist into the palm of his other hand and nodded.

Dragon shook her head. “No. I appreciate your offer, but I need solitude in order to access my research materials. I will let you know if I need your help.”

Dwarf closeupDragon studying scrollLong, anxious hours passed. My Old Dwarf stood guard in front of the conference room door as Dragon worked within, trying to find the solution to this problem and bring my Foreman back.

 

Foreman facing right closeup

 

The rest of us were congregating in the living room, moping, when Cleric suddenly announced, “We can do nothing to help Dragon or the Foreman, and it is beautiful weather outside today. Let us sit out on the gazebo and engage in some nature photography. We have not done that in such a long time, and it will help take our minds off our worries.”

You're my witnessRefreshments“That sounds like a great idea. I’m not that good with a camera, so I’ll bring out some refreshments for you. Then I can come in and prepare tonight’s dinner.” Miles smiled.

It took a while to convince the rest of us, but eventually we were seated on the gazebo with our cameras and refreshments.

American GoldfinchMy Gypsy was the first to spot a bird. “Look!” He started whistling, and a beautiful male American Goldfinch in bright breeding plumage hopped through the branches of a nearby tree until he was close enough to photograph.

Cleric scanned the tree near the goldfinch. “There is an American Robin!” Cleric pointed to a bird with its back to us. She talked to it for a few minutes, charming it into turning around for us.

Black-capped Chickadee

My Young Hero was the next to spot a bird. “There is a Black-capped Chickadee on the thistle feeder.”

Sorceress pointed to a bird on a nearby tree trunk. “Is that another chickadee?”

White-breasted NuthatchMy Gypsy looked, then shook his head. “That is a White-breasted Nuthatch. See how he walks down the trunk of the tree, head-first?”

Sorceress frowned. “I always get that one wrong. Oh, well, at least there is no mistaking those.” She pointed to some ducks at the back end of the yard, near the pond. “Those are Mallards.”

My Gypsy laughed. “They seem to be enjoying the seed you scattered out there earlier, Mistress.”

After watching the ducks for a few minutes, I spotted more birds. “There! On the suet logs! A pair of Downy Woodpeckers.”

“How do you know they are a pair, and not two males or two females?” My Arrogant One strained to see the two small birds.

“The male has the red mark on the back of his head.” My Gypsy was quick to show off his knowledge.

Red-bellied WoodpeckerAs the Downies flew off, another bird took its place at the suet. My Arrogant One studied it carefully. “That is a Red-bellied Woodpecker, correct?”

I nodded. “A female. The male would have a red crown as well as the red nape.”

Hairy WoodpeckerSorceress pointed to a bird in the nearby tree. “That appears to be a woodpecker, also. It looks like the Downy Woodpecker, but it is almost as large as the Red-bellied Woodpecker.”

“That is a Hairy Woodpecker.” My Gypsy showed off his expertise once again.

Pileated Woodpecker (4)“And there is the largest woodpecker you will see here.” I pointed to a bird on a tree stump at the back of the neighboring yard. “That is a female Pileated Woodpecker.” I took a quick photo of her before looking for her mate. “And there is the male.” We watched as he flew from a tree to the suet logs. “They both have red crests, but he has a red stripe on his cheek while she has a black stripe.”

It was only a few minutes before we had another flurry of activity in the yard.

“Red-winged Blackbirds! They are in the trees, and on the feeder poles.” Sorceress turned to my Gypsy. “I remember you told me the female is a rather drab brown bird so she can remain unseen by predators while sitting on her nest and protecting her eggs or nestlings.”

Red-winged Blackbird displayingMy Gypsy nodded. “And the adult males in breeding plumage have the bright shoulder epaulettes that they display to the females during courting, and to other males during disputes over mates, territories, and food.”

My Arrogant One pointed at some birds in a tree. “I believe you have previously identified those birds for me as Common Grackles. I remember how attractive I found their iridescent feathers, not at all common looking.”

A few minutes later, my Gypsy started whistling, and was promptly answered by two Song Sparrows, one in a tree and one on the ground.

Yellow-rumped WarblerMy Young Hero smiled. “I always wished I could whistle like the birds. Could you imitate the call of that Yellow-rumped Warbler?” He pointed to a bird sitting in a neighbor’s tree.

Mourning DoveMy Gypsy obliged, then started imitating the gentle cooing of a Mourning Dove, who answered from its perch on a feeder pole in the middle of the yard.

Northern Cardinal - male (2)My Young Hero smiled again. “It is truly amazing how you can mimic the birds.” He cocked his head for a moment. “Do you hear that? It sounds like a Northern Cardinal.” He scanned the treetops. “There he is! Can you mimic him?”

My Gypsy grinned. “I would, but I would not wish to interrupt him while he is serenading his mate.” He pointed to the female who was on the ground, eating a grape.Northern Cardinal - female

As we prepared to go inside for dinner, I turned to my Bounty Hunter. “I think you are the only one who did not spot any birds today.”

My Bounty Hunter chuckled. “I left the birding to the rest of you. I thought I would get a couple of pictures of the Eastern Cottontail rabbit to show your Old Dwarf. I know how fond he is of the little varmints, as he calls them.”

Miles had prepared a wonderful meal for us, but most of us just picked at our food. Everyone kept glancing at the empty chairs around the table.

“Don’t worry.” Miles reached over and gave my hand a squeeze. “Dragon will find a way to bring your Foreman back.”

Foreman closeup

Will Dragon be able to find my Foreman and return him to reality? Or will he be lost to us forever, somewhere in the illusory world? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

One Problem After Another

One Problem After Another

scowling at dwarf raiding refrigeratorStill standing in front of the open refrigerator, my Old Dwarf harrumphed. “Wale, it do na be lookin’ like ye been doin’ much good, lass. Yer Foreman be lookin’ more down in the mouf now than afore ye been tryin’ ta cheer ’em up.” He shook his head and tsk-tsked at me before going back to checking out the contents of the refrigerator.

ForemanForeman was so much moreI scowled at the dwarf, but the problem was, he was right. I hadn’t been very successful cheering up my Foreman. At least I had a better understanding of the problem now, though. My Foreman wasn’t just missing his world. He was, in his own words, missing who he was in his world. He was suffering a combination of boredom and feeling undervalued here in this world. I just didn’t know what I could do about it.

Dwarf barges inSeveral days later, I was in my office, answering some e-mails and trying to start the rough draft for my next blog post. My Old Dwarf barged in, munching an apple and giving me the stink-eye. “Ye still do na be doin’ nuttin’ fer yer Foreman. He still be draggin’ around, lookin’ lower than a blue-nosied, two-toesied Tunnel Terror!”

I blinked. “A what?”

The old reprobate waved me off. “It do na be makin’ no nevermind wat it be. Yer Foreman be lower ’en it! He be walkin’ aboot tha hoose liken he be walkin’ in ’is sleep. ’Is head be hangin’, ’is shoulders be slumped, an’ he jus’ be starin’ oot inta nothin’-ness.”

“Well, what do you expect me to do about it?” My tone was a little sharper than I had intended.

“Wale, I be expectin’ ye ta be doin’ summat wat be cheerin’ ’em up, lass!” The wide-eyed look the dwarf gave me clearly said duh!
scowl
“And just what do you suggest?” I scowled. “It’s not as if a medieval stable manager who fell out of a manuscript can just walk into a job as a stable manager – or anything else for that matter – here in this technologically advanced world.”

My Old Dwarf scratched his beard. “Be thet all wat be botherin’ ’em? He be wantin’ a job?”

“Not just any job.” I sighed. “He’s tired of being a go-fer. He misses the challenge of the position he held back in your world, a position for which he had a great deal of passion.”

Dwarf with appleMy Old Dwarf chuckled, then scooted out of the room without another word or a backward glance. As I watched him go, I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I wonder what that old rascal is up to now.

Subdued breakfastSaturday morning breakfast was subdued. The normal chatter between my characters was missing. Yet, subdued is not the right word. While the only conversation at the table was between my husband and me, my eight characters taking their meal with us were anything but subdued. Although silent, they seemed more jittery than subdued. Other than my Old Dwarf, who ate enough for ten stout dwarves and half a dozen portly men, my characters picked at their food and exchanged furtive glances all through the meal.

Miles noticed it, too. He nudged me and nodded toward the others. “What’s up with them? If I were the suspicious type, I’d say that was a group trying to hide something.”

Epic comedyI nodded and was about to answer him when my characters jumped up en masse and made to leave the kitchen. Their efforts turned into an epic comedic performance. They bumbled and stumbled about, pushing and shoving and tripping over each other. They kept glancing surreptitiously at Miles and me, while frantically whispering and gesturing amongst themselves.

Miles burst out laughing. “This is one of the funniest slapstick routines I’ve ever seen.”

Abbott and CostelloLaurel and Hardy“As good as Abbott and Costello?” I cited my husband’s favorite comedy duo.

He nodded. “Better! On a par with Laurel and Hardy.”

I laughed as I got up and held out my hand, traffic-cop style, and brought the group to an abrupt halt. “Okay. What’s going on?”

There were a lot of errrs and ummms and throat-clearing while all eight characters shuffled their feet and looked at the floor, at the ceiling, at the window, or anywhere but at me.

I gave them all a hard look and repeated myself in my steeliest voice. “What is going on?”

Dwarf closeupMy Old Dwarf stepped forward and blustered at me. “There be nuttin’ wat be goin’ on, lass. Wat be ye talkin’ aboot? We all jus’ be havin’ a lot ta be doin’ taday. Now, iffin ye be excusin’ us, we all be needin’ ta be gittin’ on our way.”

As he tried to push past me, I grabbed him by the collar. “You – stay put.” I narrowed my eyes and looked at the others. “All of you – stay put.” I gestured at Dragon. “You – talk. And you better make more sense than this one.” I gave my Old Dwarf a little shake and pushed him back next to the others.

dragon looking rightDragon gave me an imperious look. “It is as the dwarf stated – we all have a lot to accomplish this day and need to commence our many tasks.”

I lifted an eyebrow and waited, tapping my foot impatiently. Minutes passed. I noticed some of my other characters starting to sweat, but Dragon remained composed and aloof.

Foreman facing right closeup

Finally, I sighed. “Fine. Go take care of your many tasks. But before you go, has anyone seen my Foreman? I haven’t seen him in several days now.”

Once again, there were a lot of errrs and ummms and throat-clearing while all eight characters shuffled their feet and looked all around the room.

Dragon with smoke bubblesI narrowed my eyes and stared at them. Finally, Dragon started to shiver and change colors. In a moment, her color had morphed to a pale blue, and smoke bubbles dripped from her snout, as often happened when she was confused or embarrassed.

I crossed my arms and glared at the quaking beast. “Okay, out with it. Just what in tarnation is going on?”

Dwarf facing rightBefore Dragon could say anything, my Old Dwarf stepped up again. Giving me his most innocent look, he replied, “Wale, I do na be knowin’ where exactly thet Tarnation place be, or wat exactly be goin’ on there, but I be tellin’ ye true, lass, there be nuttin goin’ on here.” He nodded and then studied his fingernails, regarding me from the corner of his eye.

“Uh-huh.” I rolled my eyes. “Nice try. Dragon, do you have anything to add? No? What about the rest of you?”

My characters served up another repeat performance consisting of a lot of errrs and ummms and throat-clearing while all eight of them shuffled their feet and looked all around, trying to avoid eye contact with me.

Cleric crying 2Cleric was the first to break. “Oh, Mistress, we were only trying to help!”

I frowned. “Help?”Young Hero close-up

Cleric nodded, tears streaming down her face. My Young Hero put his arm around her shoulder. “It is not your fault.”

Arrogant One full body 2“Are you suggesting it is anyone’s fault but his own?” My Arrogant One drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, grasped his cloak with both hands, and scowled.

“I take it you’re talking about my Foreman?” The frown lines were etching themselves permanently into my face.Gypsy close-up

“Yes, Mistress.” My Gypsy hung his head.

“So, what’s the story?” I again turned to Dragon, who was usually the wisest, most level-headed, and (when she wasn’t shivering in front of her illusory fireplace complaining about Minnesota weather) the most cooperative of the group.

She continued to blush pale blue and drip smoke bubbles from her snout.Dragon with smoke bubbles

Dwarf closeup“Do na be blamin’ tha beastie. It do na be her fault. I be the one wat be talkin’ ’er inta it.” The rapscallion came to his old friend’s defense.

“Talked her into what?” My voice was strained, and I could feel my blood pressure rising.

“I be talkin’ ’er inta . . .” My Old Dwarf hesitated.

“Well?” I could feel the veins in my neck starting to bulge. I was past losing my patience and fast approaching homicidal.

“Well, ye be sayin’ he be wantin’ a job!” The dwarf ducked his head and engaged in some more foot-shuffling.

“So, you found him a job?” I raised an eyebrow at Dragon.

She nodded.

“Where? Doing what?”

Sorceress close-up 2Seeing her friend unable to reply, Sorceress blurted, “We helped Dragon create an illusory world for your Foreman, where he could once again manage a large and prestigious stable.”

I wrinkled my brow and considered this information. “Ooo-kay. So, is that where he is right now?”

Bounty Hunter full body 2My Bounty Hunter shrugged. “That is where he has been for the past three days.”

I grimaced, a sinking feeling growing in the pit of my stomach. “And when will he be back?”Cleric crying

“We do not know, Mistress!” Tears continued to stream down Cleric’s face. “We cannot find him!”

wide-eyed

Foreman closeupWhat?

 

 

What has happened to my Foreman, and why? Will we ever see him again? Be sure to come back next week. You might be needed for a search party, so I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Exploring the Problem

Exploring the Problem

Sitting at the tableI sat across the kitchen table from my Foreman. He drained his mug of hazelnut coffee and poured himself another. I sipped my raspberry tea and waited.

“This coffee is far superior to most of what could be found in my world. Only the finest establishments in my world would offer such a flavorful brew. In the kingdom where I lived, only the inn in the capital city served it, and then only on special occasions.” My Foreman’s gray eyes seemed to be seeing back through time and space. He took a deep breath, and I imagined he was savoring the remembered aromas of a world to which he would never return.

“You are missing your world.” I nodded and took another sip of tea.

My Foreman tilted his head and wrinkled his brow. “Ye-es . . .” He drew the word out, then paused, seemingly searching for the right words. I waited

Falling out of manuscriptSeveral minutes later, he shrugged and continued in his soft voice. “Of course, I miss my world. All nine of us, your characters who fell from your manuscript, miss our world. It has been a monumental and formidable task to learn to live in your world.”

He took another long draught of his coffee. “But it is more than that, Mistress. I not only miss my world, I miss who I was in my world.”

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”

“Well, maybe you could understand better if I talk about some of your other characters who also fell from the manuscript.” My Foreman paused again, took another gulp of coffee, then sat, chewing on his lower lip.

DragonFinally, he began. “Take Dragon. She is, as she was in our world, a dragon. She still has all the abilities of a dragon – her immense magical power, her ability to shapeshift and change size. And she uses these abilities here in this world all the time.” He searched my face for some sign that I understood.

I nodded and gestured for him to go on.

Arrogant OneCleric and SorceressHe squirmed in his seat but continued. “Your Arrogant One was a renowned illusionist in our world. He continues to practice his art and sharpen his skills in this world. And Sorceress and Cleric gather their herbs and botanicals, distill their potions, and cast their spells, just as they did before. Cleric has maintained her ability as a healer, often using her herbs and aptitude to treat a malady or mend a scrape for one of us. She also still has her ability to communicate with animals. She has used this gift to help coax wildlife closer so you and the others can capture better images of them with your magic boxes you call cameras. She has also helped our friend, Colton, by communicating with Peaches, whom we knew as Mystery, and later with Blue.”

I nodded. “Yes, Cleric especially has found many ways to use her talents in this world.”

Before my Foreman could continue, my Old Dwarf wandered into the room. “Eh, do na be mindin’ me. I jus’ be grabbin’ a wee snack fer meself.”

My Foreman frowned but said nothing. He waited silently until the dwarf had completed constructing his wee snack and had taken it with him. Watching the rotund figure leave the room, my Foreman heaved a deep sigh. “Well, you can see your Old Dwarf is still doing what he did best in our world.”

I chuckled. “Yes, he has brought from his world his number one ability – eating. That, of course, is closely followed by his number two ability – chasing rabbits through the neighborhood.”Old Dwarf

My Foreman wrinkled his brow. “Yes, but even I must admit he does so much more than that. He is atoning for his sins.”

I wondered to which of the old reprobate’s myriad sins my Foreman alluded, but I held my tongue and listened.

“The dwarf displays a fierce loyalty toward all of us, but especially toward Dragon and Cleric. He would rather die than see them harmed. He was the one who went with the Unicorn, the Lord of the Forest, to rescue Dragon when she was injured in that other world, the land where the Wish Listeners previously had taken us.”

I furrowed my brow. “I had almost forgotten about that.”

My Foreman drained his cup and refilled it once more. Then he sat, lost in thought. I almost thought he had fallen asleep when he spoke again. “Yes, the dwarf keeps busy and content.” He took a sip of coffee but found it had grown cold. He fidgeted with the cup for a moment before continuing. “As for the lads – your Gypsy and your Young Hero – they were still finding their path in our world at the point when they fell from your manuscript. scryingYour Gypsy remembers the magic he learned at his grandmother’s knee. He continues to dabble in it in this world, assisting your other magic users in their ventures, but he does not pursue it with any passion. Both lads vividly remember their lives with the horses. Your Young Hero’s father owned the horse breeding facility I managed, and your Gypsy – who grew up around horses and horse people in his own country – worked as a stable lad at that same farm. In this world, away from their beloved horses, they were unhappy – as was I – until Dragon magically created the illusory horses for us. That was enough for them.”The lads and Foreman with horses

“But not for you?” I raised an eyebrow.

He sighed. “I suppose it should have been. Perhaps it was, at first. But at the point when I fell from your manuscript, I was no longer just finding my path in the world. I had advanced to being so much more than just a rider or a horseman. My years as a commander in the king’s mounted regiment were over. ForemanI was managing the largest and most prestigious horse breeding and training facility in the kingdom. I hired people, I fired people, I trained people, I trained horses, I made schedules, I did the accounting and met the payroll and ordered the feed and supplies, Foreman was so much moreI found and cultivated clients, I made decisions regarding breeding and bloodlines, I doctored sick and injured horses . . . I had so much diverse responsibility. I thrived on a workday that always started before dawn and often stretched to midnight or later. My work was hard, physical labor combined with intellectual tasks.”

My Foreman fell silent, blushing. Finally, he muttered, “I suppose that sounded like a lot of boasting.”

“Not at all.”

dwarf and refrigeratorI was about to say something more, but my Old Dwarf chose that precise moment to return to the kitchen. “Be ye two still here? I been thinkin’ ye be all done yer chin-waggin’ and jaw-flappin’ by now. It be almos’ lunchtime!” He headed for the refrigerator. “San-whichies agin taday?”

I looked at my watch and frowned. “You have another hour before lunch, and I thought Miles was going to make soup. I’ll have to go find him and remind him.”head bowed, shoulders slumped

My Foreman pushed his chair from the table and rose. “I will find him, Mistress. That seems to be my place in this world – I believe in your vernacular the appropriate term is go-fer.” He left the room, his head bowed and his shoulders slumped.

Still standing in front of the open refrigerator, my Old Dwarf harrumphed. scowling at dwarf raiding refrigerator“Wale, it do na be lookin’ like ye been doin’ much good, lass. Yer Foreman be lookin’ more depressed now than afore ye been tryin’ ta cheer ’em up.” He shook his head and tsk-tsked at me before going back to checking out the contents of the refrigerator.

I scowled at the dwarf, but the problem was, he was right.

 

Well, now I understand my Foreman’s problem. But what to do about it . . . my Foreman can’t exactly hire on as a farm manager in this world, now can he? I’ll have to think hard about this. Do any of you readers have a suggestion? Be sure to let me know and come back next week to see what happens. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Is There a Problem?

Is There a Problem?

Minnesnowta lived up to its name. Last Sunday, Easter Sunday, we had . . . wait for it . . . snow. A measurable amount of snow. A shovellable amount of snow.

Easter snow“I know the people in your world have a fascination with the notion of snow at Christmas. You even have a song about dreaming of a white Christmas. But a white Easter? I thought Easter was supposed to be sunny and warm, so everyone could parade in their Easter bonnets and other frippery. How can anyone parade in this?” Dray,Elf cleric close-up 2 Dragon’s alter ego, gestured dramatically at the white landscape and the large flakes swirling outside the conference room window, a huge scowl on her face. Then, without waiting for an answer, she shapeshifted into her true form and curled up, growling and spewing black smoke, in front of her illusory fireplace.

Smoke drifting from Dragon's snout

She wasn’t the only one upset with the weather. “We had hoped to work our illusory horses.” My Gypsy frowned and pointed at the snowscape. “But riding in this weather is no fun.”

My Young Hero sighed. “Will spring never come?”

“Relax. It’s only mid-April. Spring will arrive soon.” Miles sounded confident.

Easter snowHorses by barnBut the next three days brought more snow and the following couple of days were overcast and slow to warm. It wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that the temperatures rose, the snow melted, Dragon stopped shivering and emerged from the conference room, and the lads headed for the barn and their horses.

Miles walked into my office around mid-afternoon. “Got a minute?”One Sec

“One sec . . .” I finished typing the sentence I had been composing and clicked save on the manuscript. Then I turned my attention from my computer to my husband. “What’s up?”

“I saw the lads riding their horses.” Miles gestured toward the window. “Your Foreman isn’t with them.”

I frowned. “The lads, my Old Dwarf, and even my Bounty Hunter warned me last week there was something bothering my Foreman, but I haven’t had the chance to speak to him about it yet. I was sort of hoping it was just the winter blues and that he’d snap out of it.”

“Well, he doesn’t seem to be snapping. In fact, last I saw him, early this morning, he was moping in the living room, just staring off into space. I spoke to him three times but if he heard me, he chose to ignore me.” Miles frowned. “I think it’s time you had a word with him. Maybe he’s getting sick or something.”

I nodded. “As soon as I finish this piece I’m writing.”

But between finishing my work and taking several phone calls, it was early evening before I emerged from my office, rushing to get to dinner. In my haste, I literally ran into my Old Dwarf in the hallway.

“Ooof!” A piece of the apple he was munching flew out of his mouth. He picked it up and was about to pop it back in his mouth, but I smacked his hand.

“Don’t you dare! You put that in the trash.” I pointed to my office, followed him into the room, and watched him discard the apple slice.

The Old Dwarf gave me a reproachful look. “Ye dinna be needin’ ta be doin’ thet, lass. Tha food still be good. It dinna been on tha floor fer more’n a second, an’ ye and yer mister be keepin’ tha floor nice an’ clean like. Ye two al’ays be sweepin’ an’ usin’ thet noisy suckin’ machine on it.”

I frowned. “I don’t care how often we vacuum the floor, it’s still dirty. You don’t eat any food that falls on it.”Dwarf with apple

The old reprobate sighed. “Wale, it do na be makin’ much nevermind. I still be havin’ mos’ o me apple.” He took a huge bite of the crisp Red Delicious, then spoke around the mouthful of food. “Be ye doin’ anythin’ aboot yer Foreman yet? I been toldin’ ye las’ week summat been botherin’ ’em.”

I sighed. “I’ll talk to him as soon as possible.”

The dwarf gave me a dubious look. He turned to go, then turned back so quickly, he almost fell over. “Oi, I almos’ be fergittin’. Yer mister be sendin’ me ta fetch ye. He be servin’ up dinner.”

I shook my head at the dwarf’s manners but followed him wordlessly to the dinner table. My husband and all my characters were present . . . all but my Foreman.

Living roomIt was the next morning before I tracked down my Foreman. He was standing in the living room, cattycorner to the window, a faraway look in his unfocused eyes. My brow furrowed as I studied the man. He had lost weight over the past few weeks of missed meals, and his face had become far more lined and careworn than I had previously realized. It was obvious to me that something was eating at him.

I was standing there wondering how to approach my Foreman when my Old Dwarf came in, munching on another of his never-ending succession of snacks. With his typical lack of diplomacy, the old reprobate shouted across the room to me. “Eh, lass! Ye be talkin’ ta ’em yet?” He nodded toward my Foreman.

I shook my head.

“Wale, what be ye waitin’ fer?” The rotund figure stomped across the room and grabbed my Foreman by the arm. “The lass be needin’ ta be talkin’ ta ye.” He pushed my Foreman toward me, and stomped off, still munching.

My Foreman gaped after the retreating figure, then turned toward me. Slowly, an emotionless mask settled over his features. “I am sorry Mistress. I did not know you were looking for me. Have you some task for me?”

I shook my head. “No, I thought we might talk. Would you like a cup of tea, or some other refreshment?”

My Foreman’s soft gray eyes probed my deep brown ones, as if he could determine from them what I might wish to talk about. Finally, he sighed. “Mayhap Master Miles has brewed some coffee this morning?”

 

Will my Foreman tell me what’s bothering him? If so, will I be able to help? Be sure to come back next week and find out. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

A New Problem?

A New Problem?

Dwarf closeupI found my Old Dwarf rummaging through the refrigerator. “You do know lunch is in a half hour, right?”

“Eh?” He blinked. “Be it thet late already? I been missin’ me mid-mornin’ snack!” He sighed dramatically and rubbed his bulging belly.

I rolled my eyes and pushed him aside as I began to assemble lunch for my husband, myself, and my nine characters.

Dragon in front of fireplaceThe grizzled reprobate followed me to the table and leaned casually against the counter. “Ye do na be needin’ ta be settin’ elebbin places taday. Tha beastie will na be et lunch. She be baskin’ in front o ’er illusory fireplace an’ grumblin’ aboot tha weather.”

I grunted. That made sense. Just a few days ago, we didn’t need jackets or even long-sleeved shirts as we enjoyed a day outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine. Today, it was barely above freezing, and several snow squalls had passed through the area during the morning. It came as no surprise that Dragon was cold and miserable.

“Yer Foreman prob’ly will na be eatin’ nuttin, neither.”

I furrowed my brow and gave my Old Dwarf a questioning look as I continued my task. “Oh? Why not?”

“I do na be knowin’ tha details, lass. I only be knowin’ thet summat be botherin’ ’em.”

I nodded and made a mental note to check it out after lunch, but I set a place at the table for my Foreman, just in case.Foreman closeup

I was glad I did, when – despite my Old Dwarf’s prediction – my Foreman joined us for lunch. I watched the former military commander carefully and noticed that he didn’t seem to participate in any of the conversations, and he only picked at his food. He left the table while the rest of us were still eating.

Backyard 050While Miles and I cleaned up from lunch, I discussed my concerns with him. “Are you aware of any problems with my Foreman?” I rinsed off another dish and handed it to my husband.Miles

He took his time positioning it in the dishwasher, then held out his hand for the next dish. “What sort of problem?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. He seemed very quiet at lunch, and he didn’t eat much.”

“Well, whatever his problem, I wish your Old Dwarf had it, too. Your diminutive minion ate more than the rest of us put together and prattled on all through the meal. I couldn’t hear anyone else’s conversation.”

I sighed. “You should be used to him by now.”

Miles gave me a hard look. “I’m sorry, honey, but there are some things one never gets used to.”

I sighed again.

Bounty Hunter full body 2After we finished cleaning the kitchen and putting the dishes in the dishwasher, I headed downstairs to try to work on this week’s blog. I found my Bounty Hunter waiting for me outside my office door.

I frowned, looking at my watch and knowing I didn’t have much time to get my blog written. “What can I do for you today?”Foreman closeup

My Bounty Hunter shrugged. “I thought mayhap you would share my concern over your Foreman.”

I lifted an eyebrow and scoffed. “You are concerned about my Foreman?”

A smile tugged at corners of the man’s lips, but his eyes revealed his cold and calculating nature. “But of course.”

I decided to take the bait. “Oh? What’s wrong with my Foreman?”

My Bounty Hunter shrugged again and studied his fingernails. “I have no idea. But something must be wrong.” He lifted his gaze and faced me squarely. “Five times in the past two days, your Foreman has declined my invitations to practice his swordsmanship with me. He usually relishes the opportunity to sharpen his skills, but my invitations elicited no enthusiasm.”

I frowned but said nothing.

My Bounty Hunter mirrored my frown. “I thought mayhap you would find that as curious as did I.”

I nodded. “Thanks for letting me know.”

Foreman closeupI barely had my computer booted up when my Gypsy and my Young Hero walked in and plopped down in the chairs next to me. Without preamble, my Gypsy blurted, “Something is wrong with your Foreman. You need to do something.”

I sighed. “What’s wrong with him, and what do you expect me to do about it?”

Young hero 2My Young Hero was quick to reply. “He just is not himself anymore. We were finally able to saddle up last week and do some riding. But your Foreman did not seem to be enjoying himself. He did everything very . . .” The lad furrowed his brow and chewed his lower lip while trying to find the word he was looking for.Gypsy close-up

My Gypsy offered, “What you would term very mechanically, Mistress. He did everything very mechanically.”

The other lad nodded. “Yes, that is the term. He lacked any spirit or enthusiasm, like he was just going through the motions. And he has declined to join us since then, in any activity. He does not wish to help clean the barn, or curry the horses, or mend the equipment. He does not even want to ride.”

My Gypsy grabbed my arm. “What is wrong with our friend, Mistress? How can we help?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. But I guess I had better find out.”

Foreman facing right closeup

Doesn’t want to ride? The man who is a former commander of his nation’s illustrious royal mounted guard? The man who managed his kingdom’s largest and most prestigious horse breeding and training facility? What could be wrong with my Foreman? Be sure to come back next week and help me discover the problem and, hopefully, a solution. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.