Home?

Home?

PreparedWe were prepared.

It had taken several hours, but we were prepared to meet the enemy – whoever or whatever it was – when next it attacked the castle.

Dragon and my Arrogant One had put their powers of illusion to work. Dragon pointed proudly at dozens of knights, including several mounted units, bolstering the defenses on the castle ramparts, and a flight of fierce dragons patrolling the sky above the castle. “The forces protecting the castle now appear large and formidable. An enemy might think twice before attempting an assault on such a well-guarded fortress. And if any are foolish enough to attack, my illusions are solid and substantial. They will prove most difficult to defeat.”

I nodded. “Where are Sorceress, Cleric, and my Gypsy?”

Spell componentscopse on knoll“Sir Jenneseer directed them to a cache of grimoires, potions, and spell components within the castle ruins. Using those items, they have been able to prepare a wide variety of defensive and offensive spells. They have concealed themselves and await now to launch their enchantments when most needed.” Dragon pointed to a nearby copse of trees on a knoll to the southwest of our position. “The dwarf is with them, to keep them safe.”

I nodded and smiled approvingly.

Dragon beckoned. “Dusk draws neigh, and the attack could come soon after. Let us look things over one more time.”

dragon talkingDragon and I meandered among the troops, giving an order here, assisting a knight to adjust his armor there, and viewing everyone and everything with a critical eye. When we had finished our inspection, Dragon turned to me. “We are as ready as we will ever be. Now, Mistress, we must find a place for you away from the battle. Your safety must be assured.”

“Away from the battle?” I planted my feet, crossed my arms over my chest, and jutted my jaw. “No way!

“Mistress . . .”

Backyard 050No!” I waved at her dismissively. “I will stand with all of you and defend this place and these knights. If I don’t, then how can I expect to be allowed to return to our world with the rest of you? The Lord of the Forest said we must help the knights in battle. He didn’t say some of us must help them, while others may place their own safety first.”

Dragon and me 2Dragon’s eyes narrowed, and a small plume of smoke rose from her nostrils. “You are a stubborn and foolish human.”

I shrugged. “Maybe so, but like I said before, this ain’t my first rodeo. I chronicled many battles in your world, and I didn’t do that by relying on second-hand accounts.”

The big beast sighed. “Yes, you chronicled many fierce battles. You did so from a safe distance, watching from a remote overlook, or at the side of a scryer many miles away. You did not draw sword or cast fireball.”

I inclined my head. “True. But this is different. I have been charged, along with all of you, to help. This time, I need to draw sword.”

foremanMy Foreman had been listening to the conversation. He frowned and shook his head. “The beast is right, you know. You are stubborn . . . and foolish, very foolish! There is a great difference between writing about a battle and actually taking part in one. You have no training. You would be placing yourself in mortal danger.”

I scoffed, but my Foreman silenced me with a pointed look. “How could the rest of us return to your world and tell Master Miles we had allowed you to suffer a fatal injury?”

birthdays-weekend-trip-to-wi-018That gave me pause. My characters and I had disappeared from our world days ago while on a nature walk after our picnic. Miles had remained at our picnic site, to take a nap in the shade of some trees. I knew he must be sick with worry by now. I had to return to my husband safely. I sighed. “Where should I go?”

After a brief but heated debate, my Foreman suggested I join Sorceress and her companions. Dragon nodded her approval. “A perfect place. You might lend your assistance to the spellcasters, and your Old Dwarf would give his life before allowing harm to befall you.”

The last vestige of twilight drained from the sky as I reluctantly took my place with my Old Dwarf and his companions. Our position on the knoll afforded us a commanding view of the moonlit castle and the approaches to it, while the thicket gave us adequate cover.

We settled in and waited for any sign that the battle was about to begin. The still of the night was broken only by the rhythmic flapping of giant, leathery wings as the dragons patrolled overhead, and the occasional clank of a knight’s armor on the ramparts.

The hours dragged on. The moon set, and clouds covered the stars, leaving us enveloped in inky blackness. Still we waited, jumping at every snap of a twig or hoot of an owl.

More time passed, and the night became even darker. I could not see my hand in front of my face. I knew my characters were still beside me only because of the sound of their breathing.

Time continued to pass slowly. I fought the sleep that threatened to overtake me. Finally, the sky began to lighten, slowly shedding the ebony mantle of night. I shifted my weight, trying to stretch muscles that complained about the inactivity and the chill air.

“Psssstttt.” My Old Dwarf nudged me. “Psssssstttttttttttt. Be ye seein’ thet?”

“What?” I could barely hear his hoarse whisper.

“There. Lookit!” He pointed at something with his axe.

I stared at the spot at which he pointed. It took me many minutes to see in the dim pre-dawn light what the dwarf had no trouble seeing with his enhanced night vision. The fog was rolling in.fog

Slowly, the fog advanced, a thick, wet blanket roiling along the ground, swallowing up the landscape. Less than a dozen yards away, it came to a stop. As I watched it, it seemed almost alive, tendrils of mist reaching out hesitantly, seeking. It seemed obvious that Dragon’s enhanced defenses gave the enemy pause.

Fierce dragons swooped down and harried the fog, but the flapping of their heavy wings didn’t disturb the heavy mist. It remained like a wall of dirty gray cotton.
fireball
Sorceress cast several fireballs at the fog, which ate them with a sickening fizzle.

My Old Dwarf squinted, then jumped up, shouting. “Thet be no natural fog! I be seein’ summat wit’in.”

The dwarf pulled me to my feet and pointed again. I peered at the dense vapor. “I see nothing within the fog. What is it you see?”

“There be wee creatures init!”

I heard giggling and scowled. “I know that giggle! I’ve heard it before!”

“We all have, Mistress! I think it is time for me to cast dispel magic!” My Gypsy jumped up and mumbled a quick incantation, pointing his silver dagger at the precise center of the fogbank. The thick fog exploded, exposing the wish listeners, who immediately started to run.Creatures along the path

small figure on trailDragon swooped down and grabbed one of the little creatures in her talons. The diminutive figure cursed loudly and squirmed mightily, trying to free himself. My Old Dwarf raced to Dragon’s side and snatched the writhing creature as it broke free of Dragon’s claws.

As soon as the one wish listener was subdued, the other three surrendered without a fight.Illusions gone

“Well, that was a bit anticlimactic.” I looked around as Dragon released all the enchantments. Scores of illusory dragons, knights, and horses disappeared. Moments later, the three real knights and the rest of my characters came dashing up to us.

“This is the enemy?” Sir Daniver gaped at the wish listeners in disbelief.

“But . . . but they were the ones who offered us a worthy opponent.” Sir Jenneseer thumped his fist into the palm of his hand. “Why would they do this to us?”

Sir Hrolf raised his sword. “I will cleave them into little pieces!”

I grabbed the knight’s arm. “No. They are defeated. There is no need for further violence.”

Three of the wish listeners began keening and howling. “Please! Please do not hurt us! We meant no harm. It was him!” They pointed at the other wish listener, who was still cursing and thrashing around, trying to escape the grasp of my Old Dwarf, who effortlessly held the small creature fast.

Dark smoke plumed from Dragon’s nostrils as she faced the trio of cowering creatures. “Explain yourselves.”

“That creature tricked us.” One of the wish listeners glowered at the squirming creature.

“He made a wish.” The second wish listener whined.

“He wished he could give people what they deserve.” The third wish listener shook with anger.

“That is what we do.” The first wish listener gestured to indicate himself and his two companions. “We listen for deserving people to make unselfish wishes and we do our best to grant them.”

“We thought that was what he desired to do, too, so we granted his wish and allowed him to become one of us, a wish listener. But he has made a mockery of us.” The second wish listener stomped his foot. “He forces us to listen for selfish or undeserving people to make foolish wishes.”

Still shaking with anger, the third wish listener concluded the tale. “He forces us to give these wishers a warped version of what they wished for. He is evil!”

The evil wish listener snarled. “They get what they deserve!”

“As will you, now.”

We all whirled around to face the new speaker. There stood the Lord of the Forest. He shimmered, and seemed as insubstantial as a poorly cast illusion, but his voice was deep and commanding.unicorn

small figure on trailThe unicorn pawed the ground. “Evil one, I strip you of your powers. You will no longer be able to pervert the purpose of the wish listeners. Should you ever attempt such an atrocity again, I will allow these good knights to deal with you. Now, be gone!”

The evil creature slunk away, still cursing under his breath.

Wish ListenersThe unicorn then beckoned the three good wish listeners. “As you cannot be faulted for recent events, you will be free to return to your duties as wish listeners. Remember to always listen with your hearts to the desires of others.”

The three little creatures squealed with delight, thanked the unicorn, and raced off, skipping and jumping for joy.

Once again, the unicorn spoke, his voice sounding like a clarion. “Noble knights, step forward.”

The three knights stepped forward and bowed to the unicorn.

“You have defeated your enemy and the castle here is restored. Now, you may return to your own kingdom or you may settle here and claim this castle as your own. If you choose to remain, you will henceforth be responsible for the defense and upkeep of this castle. Furthermore, you would protect and provide for the welfare of all who swear allegiance to your flag.”

It took only a moment for the three knights to decide to stay.

Finally, the unicorn turned toward me and my companions. “You selflessly gave aid to the knights, despite the danger. One of your number made a promise and every one of you honored that commitment. I will now keep my word. Return to the wall of brambles. The steps to your own world await you beyond.”

Before we could thank the unicorn, he vanished.

Sir Daniver approached us. “Wilt thou not stay another day with us? None of thee slept last night, and the way back is long and tiring. Thou may sleep, and then feast with us”

I shook my head. “We have been gone too long. My husband must be sick with worry. We need to return as quickly as possible. But I thank you for your offer of hospitality.”

Castle restoredThe knights saluted us, then turned to claim their new fiefdom. When my companions and I looked back, we saw them on the ramparts of the newly restored castle. I smiled, then turned to Dragon, who nudged me.

“I do not believe this group will need the protection of a dragon for the rest of the journey.” Dragon shapeshifted into her customary guise of an elf maiden. “Riding would be better than walking, I should think. And we can all use a quick nap.” She conjured a large hay wagon, complete with a team of heavy draft horses. We climbed into the wagon and promptly fell into a deep sleep.


back to the tangled wallThe sound of my Old Dwarf chopping through the wall of branches woke me, and I saw my other characters were just waking as well, yawning and stretching. “Are we here already?”

“Aye, lass, but I dinna be wantin’ ta wake anyone until we could git through this barrier agin.”

The dwarf pushed his way through the wall and called back to us. “Wale, it be lookin’ liken tha youn-ee-corn be speakin’ true. There be tha steps.”

The rest of us quickly made our way through the barrier and ran up the steps.The Secret Trail

I looked around. “We’re back! This is the park where we had our picnic!”

Picnic table by lakeWe raced back to the picnic grove. I saw my husband pacing around the tree, frowning and looking at his watch.

“Miles! You’re still here!” I threw myself into his arms and gave him a tight hug.

He smiled and gave me a kiss. “Well, what did I do to warrant such a nice greeting? And where have you been? I was beginning to think you had gotten lost! You’ve been gone for hours!”

I gaped at my husband. “We’ve only been gone for hours?”

“What do you mean only?” Miles tilted his head and frowned.

My eyes were wide. “Boy, do we have a tale to tell you!”

Dragon cleared her throat. “Perhaps, Mistress, it would be best to save that story for another time.”

I nodded, and gave my husband another big hug.

What adventures – or misadventures – await us now that we’re back home? Be sure to come back next week and see. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Next Leg of the Journey

Next Leg of the Journey

Eloise and Mezon's poolThe sun was flirting with the horizon by the time my characters and I found our way back to the spot where I had encountered the mermaid, Crown Princess Eloise, and her swan friend, King Mēzän. The pool where they had been swimming earlier was empty, and tracks in the mud at the water’s edge looked as if there had been a scuffle.

“Look sharp!”

My admonition was unnecessary. My characters were already moving into a defensive posture and looking around carefully.

“What do you make of that?” My Gypsy jutted his chin toward the muddy prints by the pond.

I walked closer and knelt to examine the tracks. My two best trackers – my Foreman and my Bounty Hunter – joined me while the rest of my characters safeguarded the area.

swan footprints
swan“Some of these tracks were definitely made by the webbed feet of a large, heavy waterfowl.” My Foreman pointed to a jumble of scalloped-edged tracks in the mud at the water’s edge.

I nodded. “King Mēzän.”

troll 3“And others were made by someone with large, bare feet.” My Bounty Hunter frowned. “But the tracks are not deep, so they were made by someone slight, perhaps about the size of Esmie’s henchman, the green one.”

“Gobschlerk.” I supplied the name and nodded in agreement.

“I see no other tracks.” My Foreman tilted his head and furrowed his brow. “I doubt the little green creature could have carried the mermaid, and there are no signs of her being dragged from the water.”

“So, what happened, and where is Eloise now?” I rose and looked around.

“Mistress! There!” Cleric pointed to the rocks next to the waterfall.

I saw some movement in the water behind a large moss-covered boulder.

“Eloise?” There was no response. “Eloise! Are you okay?”

EloiseWarily, Eloise peeked around the boulder. When she saw me, she swam slowly over to the shore and sat on a rock.

I gaped at the mermaid. The difference in her appearance was startling. Gone were the sass and the pluck. Her shoulders drooped, her golden scales were dull, and her eyes were red-rimmed. “Eloise! What happened?”

“My mother and I had a discussion.” The way she pronounced it, it sounded as if the word was sour in her mouth.

“Oh?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Yes.” The Crown Princess lowered her eyes. “Mother explained to me the difference between youthful rebellion and treasonous disloyalty to one’s sovereign.”

“I’m sorry.” I touched her gently on the shoulder. “What happened to your friend?”

“Mother had Gobschlerk escort Mēzän to the border between his realm and ours. I think their alliance has been dissolved. There may even be war.” Tears started to stream down her cheeks.

“I am so sorry, Eloise!” I patted her arm.

“It’s all my fault! I was the one who talked Mēzän into helping you! I wanted to spite my mother because she won’t let me share in the royal duties. She doesn’t think I’m old enough or experienced enough to have a say in important matters of state. I wished for a way to show her she was wrong. Now look what happened!” The mermaid started sobbing and hiccupping and could hardly get her words out. “I . . . I destroyed an . . . an alliance, I destroy . . . destroyed a f . . . friendship, and . . . and by interfering and going against my m . . . mother and the wish listeners, I’ve ca . . . caused you to remain trapped in this world!”

I didn’t know what to say.

Elf cleric close-upDragon, who had changed back into her accustomed form of an elf maiden, stepped forward and spoke gently to the distraught princess. “Child, this is not your fault. You simply made a wish. You meant no harm. The wish listeners contrived the circumstances that allowed this to happen. They are at fault.”Creatures along the path

Eloise tried to smile at Dragon. “They may have heard my wish, but I was the one who made it in the first place.” Her voice was so soft, I could scarcely hear it. “Now, I must suffer the consequences.”

Sorceress scowled. “That is the problem with those cunning little creatures. The consequences of the wishes they grant, in the way in which they interpret them and grant them, does not befall only the one who made the wish. Other, innocent beings also suffer the consequences.”

“Like Mēzän?” Eloise looked wistful.

“Exactly.” Sorceress nodded.

My Old Dwarf spat. “I be wishin’ there be a way ta be givin’ tha wish listeners a taste o their ownest medicine, ta be teachin’ ’em a good lesson.”

“Have you not learned your lesson about making wishes?” Dragon frowned at her friend, who turned crimson as we all stared at him.
Arrogant One
You? You are the reason we are in this land?” My Arrogant One’s screech could probably be heard by Miles, back in our world.

“He is, as am I.” Dragon’s cheeks were as red as my Old Dwarf’s.


“What on earth did the two of you wish for?” I gaped at both of them.

Dragon cleared her throat. “Ahem. Ah, yes, well, we will explain that some other time. Right now, we need to continue our search for the way back to our own world.”

“Wait!” Eloise swished her tail back and forth and raked her hand through her long, golden tresses. “I have done you a grave disservice. It was my plan to help you, but for the wrong reasons. Maybe I can right that wrong by sending you to one who really can help, one over whom the wish listeners have no sway.”
sorceress-facing-right
My companions and I exchanged skeptical looks, but Sorceress smiled encouragingly at the young princess. “We would appreciate any assistance you could render.”Young Hero close-up

“But we do not want you to risk additional trouble with your mother,” my Young Hero added.

Eloise squared her shoulders. “Do not concern yourself with that possibility. I will accept the consequences of my actions. Go back to my mother’s pool and take the trail off to the southeast. It is a faint trail, hardly more than a deer track, but there are no other trails in that direction, so you should be able to follow it. It will lead you to a small clearing. If you get there by nightfall, sleep easily, for nothing will bother you in that clearing. At sunup, the Lord of the Forest will arrive, and you can ask him for aid.”

“The Lord of the Forest ?” I frowned, wondering what sort of creature that might be.
bounty-hunter
My Bounty Hunter scoffed. “How will we recognize this clearing? What makes it distinguishable from all the other clearings in this forest?”

Eloise tilted her head and chewed her lower lip. “I don’t know. But I do know that it has a different feel to it than other clearings. You will know it when you arrive.”

GypsyMy Gypsy crossed his arms over his chest and frowned at Eloise. “That is most helpful.” His voice dripped with scorn. “If we should find this clearing, what makes you think this forest lord will help us?”

“I don’t know that he will. I only know that he can see if someone is worthy, as I believe you and your companions are. Plus, he detests the wish listeners and would most likely do anything that would oppose them.” Eloise paused. She held a hand up to silence us, and her eyes widened. “I hear Dyrke coming. You must go!” She dove back into the pool and disappeared under the waterfall. We scrambled to hide in the nearby woods.

elf 3We had barely concealed ourselves when Dyrke appeared on the trail and walked over to the pool. “Eloise? Eloise! Your mother says you are to stop sulking and return to her this instant.” He paused, peering into the orb that floated above his left hand. “Eloise! Now! You do not want to further incur your mother’s wrath.”

After a few minutes, the small creature sighed and left the pool, walking back along the trail whence he had come. We waited many long minutes before coming out of hiding. Quietly, we drew close to discuss our options.

Elf cleric close-upDragon held up a hand to silence us. She mumbled an incantation, then turned to me. “I have once again warded us against prying eyes and ears. We may speak freely.”Arrogant One

I nodded, but before I could say a word, My Arrogant One began. “I do not trust the mer-child. I fear she sends us on another fool’s errand.”

Sorceress shook her head. “She is sincere.”

Cleric nodded in agreement with Sorceress, but Dragon lifted an eyebrow and shook her head.

mens-991728_1280My Foreman scoffed. “For once, I agree with the elf. Lord of the Forest indeed! Another creature who will mislead us, to the amusement of all the inhabitants of this land.”Gypsy close-up

“Particularly the wish listeners.” My Gypsy narrowed his eyes.

bounty-hunterMy Bounty Hunter nodded. “Even if the princess is sincere – which I doubt – and there is some forest king who will help us – which I also doubt – how will we ever find him? I still want to know how we are to find one clearing in a forest full of glades.”

Young Hero close-upMy Young Hero shrugged. “While this is most likely another wild goose chase, what other options do we have? We do not know which path will lead us home, so we might as well take the path the young princess recommended. It is as good, or as bad, as any other option.”

Arrogant One facing rightMy Arrogant One screeched in disagreement. “Surely you do not propose we return to Esmie’s pool? She will most likely have her lackeys waiting for us, and who knows what they might do to us?”

bounty-hunter-facing-other-directionMy Bounty Hunter scoffed. “With Dragon’s wards, we can proceed with sufficient stealth to avoid that outcome, for all the good it will do us, trying to find this one particular clearing.”

dwarfMy Old Dwarf snorted. “Tha scaly lassie be sayin’ tha clearin’ be havin’ a particular feel ta it. Thet be soundin’ liken magic ta me. There be enough magickers among us thet we should na be havin’ any trouble findin’ thet particular clearin’.” He turned to me. “What be ye sayin’, lass?”

Backyard 050I sighed. “I agree with both points of view, but – as my Young Hero pointed out – we have few, if any, other options. Chances are this is a mistake, another wild goose chase, but we will return to the vicinity of Esmie’s pool and try to find the southeast trail. We must remain undetected as we search.”

Dragon nodded. “Then we must proceed slowly, so I can maintain the wards.”

By the time we made it back to Esmie’s pool, the sun had already bidden the sky farewell. Surprisingly, the pool and the surrounding area were deserted. No henchmen waited to seize us. I breathed a sigh of relief.

It took us a few minutes to find the path leading southeast from the pool, but once we did, it was easy enough to follow. As we trudged slowly along the trail, stars began to twinkle overhead, and the near-full moon began its ascent. Many hours later, we entered a glade and stopped dead.

Special clearing
There was nothing notable about the clearing. The moonlight was no brighter, the trees no larger, the grass no greener, the breeze no more refreshing, the night air no more fragrant than in any other glade we had seen in this land. But there was something different, something intangible, something inexplicable.

“This is it.” Dragon’s pronouncement was met with nods of agreement and murmurs of astonishment.

“Eloise was right.” Sorceress looked about in wonder. “This clearing does have a different feel.”

“It feels . . . safe.” Cleric smiled.

“I guess I should have been more trusting.” My Gypsy ducked his head, his cheeks red. “I guess the mer-child was not sending us on another wild goose chase. We can do as the young princess said, and sleep without fear tonight.”

“Mebbe ye be trustin’ her now aboot this place.” My Old Dwarf brandished his axe. “But tha beastie an’ me still be standin’ guard this night.”

Dragon assumed her true form. With the great beast and my Old Dwarf watching over us, the rest of my characters and I found comfortable spots in the tall grass and settled down to sleep. I could feel tears wetting my cheeks as I faced another night away from my husband. Oh, Miles! We have been gone so long! What can you be thinking by now?


I awoke at dawn. Apparently, all my characters did, too. We all jumped up at the same time and looked around, trying to determine what had awoken us. We realized the feel of the clearing had changed. The magic was so strong now even my Old Dwarf and I could feel it.

A noise startled us and, as one, we whirled around to see a magnificent silvery-white unicorn staring at us.

unicorn
 

Is this the Forest King Eloise told us to seek? If so, will he help us? Or is this just another detour in our odyssey? And what is poor Miles thinking, now that we have been gone so many days? Be sure to come back next week as we continue our strange journey. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

 

The Search for Home Continues

The Search for Home Continues

After Esmie departed with the promise to return soon, I took the opportunity to explore. While my characters remained at the spot where we had encountered Esmie, resting and keeping watch, I followed the trail around the mermaid’s pool. I discovered the area was honeycombed with small, terraced waterfalls and pools. One basin was adjacent to a large clearing, carpeted with lush grasses. A smattering of fragrant wildflowers grew along the water’s edge.

I was about to call to my characters to join me when I was startled by a shrill voice from the grass, almost under my feet. “Looks outs!

Startled, I backpedaled away from the sound and almost lost my balance. I stared at the spot from which the voice seemed to emanate. I finally saw an extraordinary, tiny creature, hardly taller than the mushroom next to which she stood.

fantastic creature“Don’ falls down!” The little creature squeaked in alarm. “Dids Baalizhene scareded you?” She bowed her antlered head contritely and softly fanned her gossamer wings. She folded her hands in front of her, as if praying. “Baalizhene sorry if Baalizhene scareded you.”

The creature who identified herself as Baalizhene looked up again, craning her neck. “Whose is you? Baalizhene never sees you here before. Baalizhene not s’possed to talks to strangers. Is you a strangers? Whatcha doin, strangers? Does you has a name, strangers?”

I opened my mouth to reply, but no words came out.

“Baalizhene! You no bother Esmie’s guest!”

I whirled around to face the new speaker. This creature had a hairy green body, long arms, big feet, a sharp nose, and pointed ears. He stood only as tall as my waist, but he towered over the other, diminutive creature.

The tiny creature’s eyes grew large with fright. “Baalizhene sorry, Gobschlerck. Strangers almost stepped on Baalizhene. Baalizhene just wanteds talking to strangers. Baalizhene didn’t means to scareded strangers. Baalizhene didn’t means to bothered strangers, neithers.”

troll 3The green creature the tiny one addressed as Gobschlerck stamped his foot. “Esmie tan yur hide if she find you talk at strangers. Go!” He pointed up to a copse of trees on a rise adjacent to the clearing.

Like a frightened mouse, Baalizhene darted through the grass, scampered up a tree, and dove into a hole.

“Hmph. You go, too, Esmie’s guest.” Gobschlerck scowled at me, stamped his foot again, and pointed in the direction opposite the grove where he had sent Baalizhene.

Again I opened my mouth to reply and again no words came out.

“Gobschlerk!” I turned toward a new voice, this one tinged with a note of reprimand.

elf 3Another creature strode across the clearing toward us. This one was about two feet high but had the commanding presence of one much larger. Butterfly wings, entwined with tiny branches, sprouted from his back. He did not watch where he was going; instead, he peered into an orb that floated above his outstretched hand, and he directed his remarks toward it rather than to the green creature he addressed.

“Gobschlerk! Do not speak in that tone to one of Esmie’s guests. And what do you mean, chastising Baalizhene? You know she is my responsibility.”

“Dyrke no watching Baalizhene. Gobschlerk watch. Baalizhene underfeets. She talk to stranger. If Esmie find out, Esmie tan her hide good!”

Still speaking to the orb hanging in the air above his hand, the newcomer replied in an even voice. “Gobschlerk, I have explained this to you before. Baalizhene is frightened of you. You must not speak sharply to her.”

The green creature hung his head. He snuffled loudly and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. He shuffled one big foot back and forth in the grass. “Gobschlerk sorry, Dyrke. Gobschlerk like Baalizhene. Gobschlerk no want scare Baalizhene. Baalizhene purdy!”

Dyrke sighed. He continued gazing at the ball suspended above his hand and speaking in the direction of that orb. “Yes, Baalizhene is very pretty. She is also very small and very timid. Gobschlerk is brutish and scares Baalizhene. Gobschlerk must leave Baalizhene alone. If Esmie is not around, I will watch Baalizhene. I will keep her safe and out of trouble.” He paused, frowning. “Do you understand, Gobschlerk?”

The green creature nodded.

“Good. Now go and gather the food for Esmie’s guests, Gobschlerk. Bring the food here. Find something to spread on the grass so that Esmie’s guests may sit and eat.”

“Yes, Dyrke.” The green creature shuffled away, head down, a hang-dog expression on his angular features.

Dyrke continued to speak at the orb. “Welcome to Esmie’s realm. I am Dyrke.”

I stood, staring at the creature. For the third time, I opened my mouth to respond, but still no words emerged.

“You are rude.” He frowned while speaking to the orb.

I felt my cheeks grow hot. I stuttered and finally found my voice. “I . . . I’m sorry. I have never seen a creature like you before, or like the other two.”

The creature called Dyrke seemed to consider that. He tilted his head and stroked his chin with the hand that did not have an orb hovering over it. When he spoke again, he continued to address his remarks in the direction of the orb. “I had assumed, judging by those with whom you travel, you were accustomed to seeing fey folk. But, I suppose even among the fey, Baalizhene and I are unique. I would have thought Gobschlerk quite common, though.”

“Perhaps he is, in this world. In my world, creatures such as the three of you do not exist.”

“But among your companions, there exists some elves, a dwarf, a dwarf-kin, and a dragon. From whence do these individuals hail?”

“They fell from the pages of my manuscripts.”

“Ah, you are a scribe, a scrivener.” Dyrke brightened. “I do not often have the opportunity to enjoy such learned and prestigious company.”

He gestured toward the path I had followed to this clearing. “Come, we will converse while we walk back to Esmie’s pool and collect your companions. Then we shall return to this clearing and you and your comrades can eat.

elf 3I nodded and allowed Dyrke to lead me along the trail. I tried not to stare as he nimbly navigated the uneven ground while staring into the orb. “If I am not being rude again, may I enquire about your orb? Your eyes never leave it, even when you are speaking to someone.”

Dyrke ducked his head sheepishly. “I apologize for labeling your actions rude. I was being judgmental and insulting. As for the orb, I am blind. The orb gives me sight.”

Before I could comment, Dyrke changed the subject. “So, how did you come to be in Esmie’s realm?”

Creatures along the path“Evidently, one or more of my companions wished for something. A group of creatures who identified themselves as wish listeners decided coming to this world was the answer to that wish. In our travels here, we were directed to Esmie. We were told she may be able to help us find our way back home.”

“Ah, the wish listeners!” Dyrke smiled, and there was a tone of respect and affection in his voice.

“You are acquainted with them?”

He nodded. “I have been blind from birth. Some years past, I wished very hard that I might see. The wish listeners granted me a boon and presented me with this orb.”

“Nice of them. But they don’t seem too popular with some others. Queen Medal`av`alia, and a certain caravan-toting tortoise, seem a bit miffed with them.”

Dyrke laughed. “Well, those individuals do have some grievances. Meddie sought power and wealth, so she wished to be a queen. The wish listeners gave her the title, but little else . . . no riches, no authority, just the title and a gown in answer to her greedy wish. The tortoise was greedy as well, in his own way. He wanted to be more than just a common reptile. He wanted to be important, and he wanted to be known far and wide. So, the wish listeners made him serve as a caravan for some of the fey folk. Not exactly what he had in mind, but it did conform to the letter of his wish.”

I chuckled. “In my world there is an expression – be careful what you wish for.”

Dyrke nodded. “Indeed. You just might get it!”

“What about Esmie? The tortoise seemed to think she could help us, but a bird warned him against crossing the wish listeners. What is the mermaid’s experience with the wish listeners? Will she help us?”

But for a slight twitch of his lips, Dyrke did not respond to the question.

While we were talking, we arrived back at Esmie’s pool. Dragon, now in her true form, stood guard with my Old Dwarf while the others rested by the water’s edge. Dyrke pursed his lips and shook his head. “There is really no need to keep watch. No harm will come to you in Esmie’s realm.”Dragon with smoke

“Indeed. And we will see to that.” Dragon peered down her long snout at the small creature, dark smoke drifting from her nostrils. My other characters closed rank around us, nodding.

Dyrke shrugged. “As you wish. I am Dyrke. As Esmie’s representative, I welcome you to her realm. There are very few restrictions. You may wander where you will, and drink from any of the streams or pools. The water is pure. We ask that you do not hunt or fish while you are here, though, as some of Esmie’s subjects are difficult to distinguish from prey. Also, some of the fruit and mushrooms are unsafe for consumption by some species. Therefore, food will be provided for you. In fact, a repast is being prepared for you at this very moment. Come.”

My characters all looked to me before making a move. I nodded, and we all followed Dyrke back to the clearing. Gobschlerk was gone, but he had placed a coverlet on the ground and piled food around it.feast

“If you require anything more, Gobschlerk or I will provide it. Please enjoy yourselves.” Dyrke bowed and strode off toward the copse of trees where Gobschlerk had banished Baalizhene.

My companions were uncharacteristically quiet. They lowered themselves warily onto the blanket Gobschlerk had spread on the ground, Dragon first assuming her accustomed form of an elf maiden. They all eyed the food suspiciously.

I took my place on the blanket and reached for some fruit.

DwarfMy Old Dwarf grabbed my arm before I could pop the apple slice in my mouth. “Be ye sure it be safe, lass?”

I frowned. “Do you have any reason to believe it is not?” I looked around and addressed the question to all my characters. “Did you learn anything while I was gone that might make you mistrustful?”

Gypsy close-up“No, but we learned nothing that would make us trustful, either.” My Gypsy scowled. “We know nothing of these creatures. The mermaid disappeared and has not returned. Her lackeys assembled this repast for us. Do we know their agenda? Are they ally or foe? Do they mean us good will or harm?”

“You present valid points.” I chewed my lower lip and considered the situation. “My potion users – can you detect any poison in the food?”sorceress-facing-right

Sorceress scoffed. “It is not that easy to detect. We would need our paraphernalia, and time to test everything.”

“Well can any of my magic users . . .?”

Arrogant One“No, we cannot.” The high-pitched, petulant, impatient whine of my Arrogant One interrupting me grated on my nerves. “None of us, through physical or magical means, can foretell if eating this food will cause our demise. I propose we employ a food taster. If someone eats the food and does not die, the rest of us can eat it, too. I suggest the dwarf.”

“Won’t work.”

We all jumped. The small green creature was back, standing next to us.

My Old Dwarf raised his axe, but I placed a restraining hand on his arm. “Why not, Gobschlerk?”

“Dwarf not easy to poison. If he live, others could still die.”

I raised an eyebrow. “If the food has been poisoned, right?”

Gobschlerk nodded. “If poison.”

Has the food been poisoned, Gobschlerk?” I narrowed my eyes.

“No.”

“Is it unsafe for anyone here?”

“Some not good for Gobschlerk, and some not good for Dyrke. That’s why we no eat. But all of food not no good to Esmie’s guests.”

I nodded, easily understanding through his use of a double negative that all the food he had gathered for us was safe for me and my companions. “Esmie would be very upset if any of her guests were poisoned, wouldn’t she, Gobschlerk?”

The green creature nodded. “Esmie tan our hides good if anything bad happen to guests.”

“That’s what I thought.” I popped the slice of apple in my mouth and crunched it. My eyes widened. “Wow! This is delicious!”

My characters immediately started grabbing the food and filling their empty stomachs. By the time we were all finished eating, the sun was setting.

Gobschlerk had disappeared when we began our meal. He returned as we finished eating, bringing more blankets. He pointed to a sheltered area by the copse of trees, then started gathering the remains of our meal.

“I guess we’re sleeping here tonight.” I sighed, and tears filled my eyes as I wondered what Miles had thought when we didn’t return from our hike.

With our bellies full, and our bodies tired from the day’s long hike, we fell asleep quickly. Too few hours later, I felt someone nudging me. I opened one sleepy eye, then both. Baalizhene stood next to me, pushing as hard as she could on my shoulder. She was whispering in a tiny, shrill voice, like the buzzing of a mosquito. I could barely make out her words. “Hi, strangers! You awakes, strangers?”

Before I could say anything, she placed her tiny finger over her mouth. “Shhhhhh. Come with Baalizhene, strangers.” She giggled.

I followed Baalizhene through the woods, making sure not to step on her in the faint moonlight. We soon arrived at our destination and Baalizhene motioned for me to sit.

Baalizhene climbed up on a branch by my shoulder and whispered shrilly. “Baalizhene not s’possed to come here. Esmie says Baalizhene too small. But strangers not too small.” Baalizhene giggled.
gathering of fantasy creatures

I smiled. Water from a series of terraced falls splashed into a moonlit pool. Fey folk and fantastic creatures were frolicking in and around the water. Baalizhene and I watched for a long time before sleep overtook me again.
 

Will Esmie return tomorrow? Will she help us to go home? Or will we have to continue our search without her assistance? How long will we be stuck in this world, and what is Miles doing back in our world? Be sure to join us next week for our continuing adventure. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Stranger and Stranger – Looking For The Way Home

Stranger and Stranger – Looking For The Way Home

Creatures along the path

I looked all around. The pint-sized, gnome-like creatures who had identified themselves as wish listeners – who claimed they listen for people to make wishes and then grant those wishes if they are so inclined – were gone. Their chortles, giggles and titters still hung in the air like the sound of distant wind chimes, but the creatures had disappeared, and where they had gone was anyone’s guess.

Backyard 050I sighed and removed my hat. I raked my hand through my hair, then plopped the cap back on my head and adjusted the drawstring. “Great! Now what?” I looked at my characters.

scaly dragonDragon cleared her throat. “I propose we start wishing to return to the park whence we came, and hope those curious little creatures hear us and are inclined to grant us our wish.”

dwarf“And iffin they do na be so in-clined?” My Old Dwarf raised his eyebrows and his axe. “I be proposin’ thet I be gittin’ ta choppin’ tha wall o branches what be blockin’ tha path ta tha steps.”

foreman-facing-left“I think the dwarf is right. We need to get out of here and find our way back to the picnic grove by the lake where Master Miles awaits us.” My Foreman wiped the sweat from his brow and rested one foot on a small boulder next to the clearing. “Since we know two of the trails leading from this clearing are impassable, and we do not want to follow our recent knightly guests down the avenue they took, that only leaves us one viable alternative.”

sorceress-facing-rightWishing is a viable alternative. Did the creatures not imply that is what brought us here in the first place?” Sorceress scowled and glared at her companions through narrowed eyes. “One or more of our company wished for something that brought us to this place. If one or more of our company wishes for us to return whence we came, perchance the wish listeners will grant us a boon.”

My Old Dwarf shook his head. “Or tha wee, nasty varmints could be sendin’ us somewhere else, just ta be havin’ a laugh at our expense.”

Arrogant OneMy Arrogant One pursed his lips and drew himself up, rocking back on his heels. “For once, I agree with the dwarf. We need to extricate ourselves from this land, not place our fate in the hands of alien creatures whose agenda is unknown to us.”

I looked around at my characters. Most were nodding in agreement with my Old Dwarf and my Arrogant One. Finally, after some heated discussion, even Dragon and Sorceress capitulated.

“Well, then, you should start chopping.” I watched as my Old Dwarf set about the task. His sharp axe and strong arms soon made kindling of the tangle of branches. But no steps were waiting for us behind the wall of wood. Instead, an ancient forest almost devoid of underbrush lay before us, crisscrossed with barely discernable paths.

new path 1
As the ten of us began to traverse the tangled woodland, my Old Dwarf nudged Dragon. “Ye will na be able ta be squeezin’ yer great bulk underneath tha branches o these great trees, beastie. Best ye be changin’ yerself agin.”

Elf cleric close-up
Dragon snorted a puff of black smoke, but quickly returned to her customary form of an elf maiden.

 

The going was slow. My two best trackers – my Foreman and my Bounty Hunter – led the way, with much discussion from everyone else when trails seemed to branch off in every direction.

The twisted, misshapen, old trees slowly gave way to newer growth. The young trees grew straight and tall, and grasses and underbrush flourished. The path we had taken grew wider and more distinct and became easier to follow. Soon, a stream appeared on our left, the water flowing from a source somewhere up ahead of us.

new path 2

Cleric pointed. “Look, Mistress! Some beautiful water iris are in bloom along the stream, and some water lilies are starting to open as well.”

“Curious.” Sorceress examined the flowers. “These are the first blossoms we have encountered, despite the overpowering fragrance of wildflowers on the breeze.” She bent over to sniff at them. “The scent from the iris and water lily is not strong enough to be the source of the intense fragrance.”

prairie“Neither is the handful of wildflowers scattered in that prairie on the other side of the creek.” My Foreman pointed.

Sorceress furrowed her brow and followed my Foreman’s gaze. “Indeed.”

Gypsy close-upMy Gypsy frowned. “That is as disconcerting as the fact I have been hearing the pervasive melody of birdsong ever since we left the old growth forest, despite the obvious lack of birds.”

No sooner had he spoken than we heard something quacking. We looked about and spotted a Mallard hen with her babies in the water. Then a harsh croak drew our attention to a Great Egret fishing in a small pool on the other side of the stream. Loud gobbling announced the presence of a Wild Turkey walking across a nearby wooden bridge.

“I do not believe any of those birds are songbirds, Mistress.” Cleric’s brow was furrowed, and she was chewing on her lower lip.

I frowned. “This must be some sort of outlandish prank. Perhaps the wish listeners are at work here.”

“Something surely is.” My Bounty Hunter frowned.

new path 3Warily, we continued along our way. For a time, the trail we walked paralleled the waterway. The scent of the wildflowers and the sound of birdsong followed us, though we saw no more flowers or birds. Eventually, the stream narrowed, and the path started to rise. A wooden fence bordered the side of the trail farthest from the stream.

“Thet fence dinna be builtin’ itself, lass. We best be keepin’ our wits aboot us.” My Old Dwarf fell in behind me as I took the lead.

The trail took a sharp turn away from the stream and a new set of stairs rose before us. I stopped dead in my tracks, and my characters piled into me. After we regained our composure, we all stood there, gaping.

Queen Medal`av`aliaAhead of us a beautiful figure blocked our way. She wore a royal blue and gold gown, her flowing, silvery hair was crowned with a circlet of laurel, and angel-like wings sprouted from her back. When she spoke, it sounded as if an unseen musician was caressing the strings of a harp. “I am Medal`av`alia, Queen of these lands. Why are you trespassing in my realm?”

I bowed low, then rose and met her narrow-eyed gaze. “We do not travel this land by choice, Your Majesty. Strange creatures calling themselves wish listeners caused us to be here.” I noticed her eyes widened at the mention of the wish listeners, but she remained silent. “Perhaps you could help us find our way home?”

Her Majesty scowled at us. “Ask the turtle.” And she was gone, leaving us all gaping again.

I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts and make sense of things. “Ask the turtle?” I looked around. “Did anyone see a turtle?”

Young hero 2My Young Hero tilted his head and rubbed his chin. “Turtles are usually found near water. Mayhap we should return to the spot where we observed the ducklings and the egret.”

We backtracked as quickly as we could. In the pool by the stream where the egret had been fishing, we now saw a large turtle, covered with duckweed.

Turtle

“Cleric, you are the one with the greatest affinity for animals, and the one with proven ability to make yourself understood by lesser creatures.” I pointed to the turtle. “Do you think you can ask him how to return to our own land?”

“You mean your own land.” My Arrogant One sniffed disdainfully.

I glared at him. “It is your land now as well. It has been since the day you fell out of my manuscripts. But there is no time to rehash that issue now.” I turned my back on him and repeated my request to Cleric. “Do you think you can?”

Elf facing right“I will try, Mistress.” She looked doubtful but approached the edge of the pool. “Kind turtle, Queen Medal`av`alia suggested you might be able to direct us back to our own lands.”

Something in the grass on the other side of the water snorted. A loud voice exclaimed, “These creatures are as dim-witted as our queen, what?”

Tortoise and friendsI looked around and spied a large tortoise. My mouth dropped open and my eyes almost popped out of their sockets as I stared at the bizarre creature, which had a small, wooden shanty tied atop its carapace. Three tiny, winged fairy-folk were in the structure, while two more flitted about the tortoise’s head. A small songbird was perched on a tree stump in front of this strange group.Talking bird

I was dumbstruck, and my jaw almost hit the ground as the bird spoke in response to the previous remark. “I’ll say, guv’nor. Ol’ Meddie never did comprehend the difference between a turtle and a tortoise, did she?”

“Imagine!” One of the fairy-folk flying around the tortoise tittered. “Thinking a turtle could talk!”


Tortoise and friends turnedIt took me a few minutes to regain my composure. Then, with my characters in tow, I traversed the wooden bridge we had seen the turkey crossing earlier and approached the strange entourage. “Excuse me. Are you the one the queen referred to when she told us to consult the turtle?”

“Prob’ly, luv. She don’t seem ta get the diff’ between us terrestrial travelers and our semi-aquatic cousins.”

“I see. Well, I apologize for the confusion.”

“No prob, luv. It weren’t you wot made the mistake. Ol’ Meddie can present me with ’er own apology.”

Quickly, I explained the problem to the tortoise – or as quickly as I could with constant interruptions and additions from my characters. “So, you see,” I concluded, “we need to find our way back to our own land.”

“Hmmm . . . it wouldn’t be too smart to cross the wish listeners . . . bad business, that.” The bird shook its head and fluffed its feathers.

Tortoise and friends
The tortoise nodded. “Quite right, mate, but I owe them barmy buggers for turnin’ me into a bloomin’ caravan for a bunch of bloody pixies and sprites.” He snatched a flower and chomped it loudly while he considered the problem. “Tell ya wot, luv – you an’ yer friends follow this stream. Stay on the bank, not on the trail – the trail goes off on a tangent before it comes back to the creek a bunch of miles upstream.”

The tortoise chomped another flower. “Bad business, mate!” The bird said again, shaking his wings and fluffing his feathers.

The tortoise ignored the bird and continued. “Upstream about a mile, mile and a half, you’ll find a waterfall. Look for Esmie and ask her. She’ll know, for sure.”

“Thank you most kindly. And how will I recognize Esmie?”

“How will ya recognize Esmie?” The bird twittered. “How will ya recognize Esmie? Just how many mermaids do ya expect ta run inta there?”

Dragon with smoke“I do not believe your friend identified Esmie as a mermaid.” Dragon had been growing impatient with the exchange and had shape-shifted back to her reptilian form. Black smoke drifted from her snout.

“Blimey! It’s a bleedin’ talkin’ lizard! An’ it’s on fire!”

One of the brownies laughed. “Shows you how much you know, bird-brain. That’s a dragon!”

“A dragon? Ya don’t say!” The bird flew around Dragon, inspecting her from every angle. “I don’t see what makes a dragon such a big deal.”

I hustled Dragon away before she could show the bird exactly what makes a dragon such a big deal. I called back to the entourage. “Thanks again! We’ll tell Esmie you sent us.”

“Oh, blimey! Don’t do that, luv! If the wish listeners find out I sent you to Esmie, I’ll never be shed of these blinkin’ pixies and sprites!”

“Oh!” I hesitated then said brightly, “Well, okay, it’ll be our little secret.” I smiled, thinking they’ve probably been listening to every word.

My other characters and I continued prodding Dragon to the bridge. We crossed to the opposite side once more, where Dragon changed back into an elf maiden. The ten of us followed the creek upstream as instructed, being sure not to follow the road when it left the stream. Even though travel was easy over the lush carpet of grasses and clovers, it took us the better part of three hours to reach the waterfall, as it was closer to a five-mile trek than to the mile and a half estimate the tortoise had given.

mermaidThe late afternoon sunshine lit the grotto by the waterfall as we approached. A mermaid with emerald green hair and scales splashed in the shallows by the shore, gazing up at a large bubble she held in one hand. The orb was filled with images I could not quite make out.

“Esmie?”

She dropped the bubble and stared at me and my companions. “Oh, it’s you.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You were expecting us?”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Well, I wouldn’t be saying oh, it’s you if I wasn’t expecting you, now would I?”

Unable to think of a snappy comeback to that statement, I shrugged. “Who told you we were coming?”

Esmie gave me a smile that was half Mona Lisa, half Cheshire Cat. Then she abruptly changed the subject. “You all must be hungry and tired. Please, sit. Dinner will be served soon.”

My characters looked askance, but I nodded. Esmie smiled. “I’ll be right back.” She dove under the waterfall and disappeared.

Dragon frowned. “We do not know this creature’s motives. How did she know to expect us? Will the food she serves be safe? Mayhap we should leave now, before she returns.”

“And go where? We have no idea where we are or how to return home. I don’t think we have much choice.”

Will Esmie prove friend or foe? Will dinner be luscious or lethal? Will the mermaid help us return home, or will we continue to wander this land, searching for an escape? Be sure to come back next week as we continue our little odyssey. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Our Little Odyssey

Our Little Odyssey

My characters and I huddled together in a small clearing. The woods here looked different. I couldn’t see the trail leading back toward the lake, where we had enjoyed our picnic, where my husband now waited for our return. Nor could I see the steps we had just been climbing.

We currently stood at the bottom of some steps, but these steps looked much different than the ones we had been climbing. The steps we had scaled had been overgrown with lush vegetation, save a small path barely wide enough to tread. They had risen from a trail next to a sign proclaiming it a secret trail, a trail I had never seen while hiking in this park. The steps behind us now were steeper and, though narrower, were not covered with as much vegetation, allowing a wider passage.

Trails branched off in three directions from the small clearing where we now clustered at the bottom of the strange steps. To the right, the path was choked by protruding tree roots. To the left, the trail was littered with boulders. Straight ahead, a wide avenue passed between two rows of trees whose branches formed a canopy over the road.

Wide avenue

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

“Which way should we go?” Cleric’s voice was barely a whisper.

I crossed my arms over my chest and chewed my bottom lip while I considered the question.

I beckoned my Foreman. “Take the lads and go scout the path to the right. Don’t go too far, maybe just around the first bend. Let me know if the trail clears out, and if you can see where it leads.”

My Foreman nodded and started down the path with my Gypsy and my Young Hero following close behind. They picked their way carefully around the protruding tree roots and soon disappeared around the bend in the path.

I motioned to my Old Dwarf. “Take my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One and scout the trail to the left.”

My Arrogant One stuck his nose in the air and started to protest in his typical whiny screech. “I am not a scout! Such menial labor is beneath me!” My Old Dwarf and my Bounty Hunter rolled their eyes and quickly hustled the annoying elf away, but he continued complaining every step of the way. The trio made their way over and around the boulders, and a bend in the trail soon took them from my sight. Unfortunately, I could hear my Arrogant One much longer than I could see him.

I turned to Dragon, who was in her guise of an elf maiden. “Can you, Cleric, and Sorceress check out the middle road?”

Dragon nodded. “We will go about half the distance to the end of the trees that border the road.” I watched them make their way cautiously along the road, until the mist swallowed them from sight.

It did not take long for my characters to return. My Foreman and the lads were the first to report.

My Foreman removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow. “The path to the right deteriorates quickly past the first bend. There are areas that are all but impassable, where trees have fallen across the path as erosion has led to several trees being uprooted.”

My Gypsy nodded in agreement. “Some of us might be small enough to crawl through the debris, but I do not believe all of us could do so.”

My Young Hero grimaced. “We were unable to determine where the path went past the downed trees.”

I turned to my Old Dwarf. “And the trail to the left?”

The dwarf shook his head. “Beyond tha first turn, there a been a rockslide. I be havin’ no troubles makin’ me way o’er tha boulders, but the udder two . . .” He spat on the ground.

My Arrogant One rubbed his leg and whined sullenly. “I almost broke my leg trying to scramble across those huge, slippery rocks!”

My Bounty Hunter concurred. “The boulders are covered with moss and are too slick for any but a dwarf or a sure-footed mountain goat. And another bend in the trail prevented us from seeing where it led.”

Dragon spoke up. “The middle road is level and easy underfoot. The trees provide shade, and the way is pleasant.”

“Could you see where the road leads?”

Cleric shook her head. “The mist prevented us from seeing what is at the end of the double row of trees whose branches form a canopy across the trail. It may be another clearing, or the road might continue past the trees.”

“With the hazardous condition of the other two trails, the center trail seems the most logical choice.” Sorceress made a moue. “It makes me wonder if we are not being maneuvered into taking that road.”

I considered all that my characters had said, thinking long and hard before deciding. “I don’t feel good about any of these trails. I think we should go back. We’ll go up the steps and see if we can retrace our trail.”

I turned to lead my companions up the steps, but the steps were gone. They had been replaced by a very thick wall of tangled branches.

Tangled branches

dwarf“Wale, I be guessin’ we do na be goin’ thet way, lass, ’lessens ye be wantin’ me ta be choppin’ a hole through tha hedge.” My Old Dwarf raised his axe.

I shook my head. “No. I don’t imagine that would do any good.” I did a double-take at my Old Dwarf. “Why do you have your axe? Why are you wearing your armor again?”

I suddenly realized that all my characters were wearing their own clothing again, not the modern jeans, shirts, and sneakers I had insisted they wear for the outing. And Dragon was no longer in her guise of an elf maiden. She had changed into her true form of a Great Wyrm.
scaly dragon looking right
“How did you all change back into your old outfits so quickly? And, Dragon, why did you shape-shift?”

The wide-eyed expressions on everyone’s faces as they looked at their companions told me they had not done this of their own accord.Dragon with smoke bubbles

Dragon confirmed my suspicions. “Mistress, I did not shape-shift. I should still be in my accustomed form of an elf maiden.” The great beast was so distraught, she morphed to a pale blue, and smoke bubbles dripped from her snout.

I took a quick inventory of my own outfit. I was still wearing the same clothes, including my hat and sneakers, and my camera still hung around my neck.

“You have not changed, Mistress. Why have we?” The usually imperturbable Sorceress gaped at me and wrung her hands. Her voice quavered, and all color drained from her face.

“I have no idea.”

A sudden noise caught our attention. A trio of mounted knights rode slowly toward us on the center trail, the clanking of their armor sounding louder and louder as they approached.

Knights

As they grew nearer, Dragon recovered some of her poise and morphed back to a more imposing looking dragon. She stepped in front of me, extending her wings. “Remain hidden, Mistress. You look . . . a bit out of place.”
scaly dragon looking right
I peeked under Dragon’s wing and watched as one of the knights, probably the ranking member of the group, dismounted. He handed his reins to one of his mounted comrades, who nudged his charger to stand at the opening of the trail to our right. The other mounted knight took his courser and blocked the trail to our left.

Dragon and the knightThe rest of my characters drew into a tight semi-circle around me as Dragon moved forward. The great beast towered menacingly over the knight who had dismounted, but when he made no threatening moves, Dragon sat and greeted him in a congenial voice. “Hail and well met, noble knight!”

“Hail, great and terrible beast! Methinks thou and thy companions art strangers in our fair land.”

Dragon conversing with the knight“We are.” Dragon stood and began to explain. “We are traveling and seem to have taken the wrong road.”

The knight nodded. “Where art thou bound for?”

Dragon hesitated. “I know not the name of the place.”

“My lord!” The knight blocking the left-hand trail vaulted off his horse as he addressed the knight with whom Dragon was speaking.

The ranking knight seemed irritated at the interruption and started to snap at his underling. “What doth thou . . .?”

Before the ranking knight could complete his question, the other one pushed through my companions, grabbed me by the arm, and hauled me out into the open. “Look, my lord!”

Dwarf and knightMy Old Dwarf stomped up to the knight and brandished his axe. “I wouldna be doin’ thet iffin I be ye, laddie. I be thinkin’ ye best be releasin’ tha lass right quick-like, iffin ye be placin’ any value on yer hand!”

The knight let loose of my arm and squared off against the dwarf, wielding his sword with both hands.

I moved between the two warriors, shook my head, and gestured to my Old Dwarf to lower his axe. “Stay your weapon, old friend. These good and noble knights mean me no harm.”

Scowling at the knights, my Old Dwarf nevertheless lowered his axe. The knight was slower, but soon lowered his weapon as well. Keeping his eye on the dwarf, he took me by the arm again.

bird photographerThe ranking knight gaped at me. “What manner of dress is this thou art wearing?”

“And what doth that object be, hanging from thy neck?” The third knight had leaped from his mount to confront me.

Fiery displayThe two knights started to pull me over to their superior. Dragon reared up and roared. Flames shot toward the ranking knight, who stood steadfast against the fiery threat.

My eyes widened. “Dragon! No!”

Dragon growled but stood down.

The two knights escorted me a bit more gently, keeping their eyes on Dragon and my Old Dwarf. When I stood in front of their superior, I bowed to the ranking knight and spoke in low, respectful tones.

“Well met, noble sir. I trust you withstood well the censure of my companion. I assure you she meant you no harm.”

The knight snorted. “I am aware of that. If the beast had meant to harm me, I would be naught but a pile of cinders upon the forest floor.”

He and the other knights walked around me, scrutinizing me. The ranking knight gestured toward my outfit. “Thou shalt explain thyself, wench.”

Miles' Camera 128“This is the mode of dress in the land wherein I reside, my lord, a land far from these most pleasant woods.” I motioned to my camera. “And this object hanging from my neck is one of the tools of my trade.”

“And prithee, at what trade art thou employed?”

“I am a scribe, a historian, a scrivener, a recorder of deeds fantastic and mundane.”

The ranking knight snorted. “From thy dress and thy choice in companions, I would posit thou art a witch.”

A sly smile tugged at the corners of my mouth as I took a step closer to the ranking knight and dropped my voice. “Forsooth! Were I a witch, my good sir, you would be a toad, hopping around on the forest floor.”

The ranking knight paled a bit at the implied threat, and quickly backpedaled until he had put a safe distance between us. He motioned to his men to bring him his horse. The three knights remounted without another word, saluted us, turned, and rode away at a gallop.

“Wow!” My Young Hero grinned at me. “You certainly handled them well!”

“It ain’t my first rodeo, kid!” I chuckled.

“Mistress, what do you mean by that? This is not a rodeo.” Cleric tilted her head and furrowed her brow.

I chuckled. “It means this is not the first time I have been in a situation like this.”

“Of course! I had forgotten. The tales of a mysterious scribe visiting our world refer to you, Mistress Writer!” Cleric smiled at me.

I nodded. “Yup. I told you I didn’t make up the tales I wrote about all of you. I merely recorded your exploits.”

Dragon and my Old Dwarf exchanged furtive glances, and the old reprobate gulped. “Cleric do na be tha onlyest one what be forgittin’ thet tha lass be havin’ experience in different worlds.” His voice was barely a whisper, and Dragon’s ears were the only ones it was intended to reach.

 

I turned back toward the tangle of branches where the steps had been. “We need to find a way home. I don’t fancy following the path taken by those knights, and you’ve indicated the other two roads are all but impassable. That just leaves the way we came.”

My Old Dwarf hefted his axe, but before he could move toward the wall of tree limbs that blocked our way, a strange noise caught everyone’s attention.

“What is that sound?” My Gypsy looked all around.

My Young Hero cocked his head to listen. “It almost sounds like giggling.”

We followed the sound and found four small creatures, hardly bigger than squirrels, standing in the grass by the side of the center road, giggling. Three of them looked like garden gnomes come to life, with conical hats and beards. The fourth had a close-fitting cap and a sly smile. All four had long rabbit-like ears.

Creatures along the path

Sorceress stared at them. “What manner of creatures are you?”

The one with the sly smile stepped forward. “We are wish listeners.”small figure on trail

“You’re what?” I rubbed my chin and narrowed my eyes.

“We listen for people to make wishes.” The speaker wiggled his long ears and continued to smirk.

“And you grant these wishes?” I raised an eyebrow.

“If we are so inclined.”

“So which one of us wished to be here?” I frowned.

“Oh, the ones who made the wish know who they are and they know what they wished for that brought you all here.” The creature continued to simper at us.

I looked at my companions, hoping to catch a guilty expression on someone’s face. All I saw was curiosity. I turned back to the sly one. “And if we wish to return home? Will you grant that wish?”

“If we are so inclined.”

My Old Dwarf’s hand shot out and wrapped around the creature’s neck. “Be ye so inclined?”

But the creature vanished, leaving the dwarf holding a handful of air. The other three wish listeners faded from sight as well, only the sound of their giggling remaining.

“Great! Now what?” I looked at my characters.

Dragon cleared her throat. “I would assume we should start wishing to return to the park whence we came, and hope that those curious little creatures hear us and are inclined to grant us our wish.”

Will the wish-listeners hear and grant our wish to return home? Or must we find another way? Be sure to come back next week and join us on our odyssey. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Lost

Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Old Dwarf snickered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picnic table by lake

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Didn’t see the harm?” I gaped at her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

I nodded.

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

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

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

My Gypsy nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wide avenue

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

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

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

Memorial Day 3

Backyard Birding Bliss

Backyard Birding Bliss

sneezingAaaaahhhhhh-CHOO!

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wad is id?”

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

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

“Dragon! I fear Mistress Writer is ill!”

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

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

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

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

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

I scoffed. “Nonsense!” Achoo!

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

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

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

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

French-Doors-With-Screens

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

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

I sneezed.

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

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

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

tissuesI grabbed for the box of tissues.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“Perfect!” I smiled at Cleric.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then she did the same thing with a Song Sparrow.

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

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

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

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

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

Bliss!

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

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