What Have my Characters Done Now?

What Have my Characters Done Now?

computer_keyboardpen and writing pad for blogAfter sufficiently recovering from my . . . uhm . . . small problem of the day before (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/10/14/a-small-problem/), I decided I had neglected my Young Adult Fantasy series for far too long. But before I could return to my book manuscripts, I had to work on this week’s blog.

office-and-bookshelf-for-blog-002I went to my office, intent on getting my blog outlined and written. Evidently, my brain had other ideas. This is a frequent occurrence. A very frequent occurrence. To quote a famous sports figure, it was déjà vu all over again.

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

“Mistress?”

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

“What can I do for you?”

“I just wanted to make certain you were feeling better after your ordeal yesterday. I was so glad I was able to help.”

Cleric’s warm smile was infectious, and I returned it in kind. “I greatly appreciate your help. I assure you, I’m fully recovered, and now it’s back to work for me.” I glanced pointedly at the computer, my smile fading to a scowl.

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

Pileated Woodpecker on suet logI sighed. I removed my glasses, cleaned them on my shirttail, and put them back on. I squirmed around in my chair. I looked out the window and stared at the huge Pileated Woodpecker on the underside of the suet log. Hmmm…maybe… My fingers moved toward the keyboard.

“Mistress?”

Young hero 2GypsyI jumped again, another idea flying out of my brain, probably never to return. For a second time, I swiveled my chair around, ready to give someone a severe tongue-lashing. This time, it was my Young Hero and my Gypsy sticking their heads in the door. I groaned.

“What is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Mistress?”

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

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

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

“But…”

“Now!” I advanced on the annoying elf, the perpetrator of my small misadventure of the preceding day.

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

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

I took another step toward him, and my Arrogant One turned and fled down the hallway and up the stairs. I heard the back-door slam, so presumably the elf was going to take refuge in the shed.

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

“Mistress?”

“Aaaauuugh!”

sorceress-facing-rightI twisted around in my chair to see the latest intruder. Sorceress stood there, her brow furrowed.

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

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

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

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

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

“Well…” She hesitated again, chewing on her lower lip.

“Well?”

“Mistress, do you remember the two sheriff’s deputies who were here earlier this year?”

I felt the blood drain from my face. Remember them? How could I forget them?

2 Police OfficersDeputy Melody Whitewash was a rather non-descript, but extremely efficient, law-enforcement officer. Her partner, Deputy Dustin Dawg, was a barrel-chested hulk who perpetually wore sunglasses, outdoors or in. They had first come to our door in February of this year, investigating a complaint lodged by our neighborhood nosey-bodies, Mace and Gloria, who claimed we were keeping horses on our residential property. I thought the deputies were going to shoot my Old Dwarf, who had held them at bay with his axe when he thought they might disturb my husband and me. (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/02/18/more-visitors/)

I shuddered at the memory. “I remember them. What do those two want now?”

Sorceress wrinkled her nose and tilted her head. “Well, I am not certain what they want, Mistress.”

I furrowed my brow. “Oh?”

Sorceress nodded. “Your Old Dwarf has observed them skulking about the edges of the property.”

I sighed. The blog would have to wait. I needed to find out what the intrepid deputies were up to.exterior-interior-wonderful-white-wooden-entrance-glass-double-french-door-frames-as-modern-interior-accesories-decors-witching-french-door-inspirational-pictures-collection-interior-french-doors-whit-840x1120

I followed Sorceress up the stairs to the living room. We went over to the French doors leading to the deck and peered through the glass.

“See? There, in the next yard.” Sorceress pointed to the left.

Deputies trying to hideI tried not to giggle. “I wonder if Deputy Dawg really believes that tree is wide enough to hide him.”

Sorceress arched an eyebrow and shrugged. “It does a better job concealing him than that short bush does concealing his partner.”

I smirked and shook my head. “Do you happen to know where Dragon is currently? I need to ask her about the spell of concealment she has cast on the property. I don’t want to walk over to the edge of the yard and start talking to the deputies if they can’t see me. It might be hard to explain a disembodied voice.”

dragon talking“You need not worry.” Dragon had overheard the last part of the conversation as she entered the room. “The spell does not conceal anyone who is from your world, what you term the real world. It only conceals your characters and the illusions I have created, such as the barn, the paddocks, and the horses. If you walk out into the yard, the deputies will see you.”

I nodded. “Good. I think it’s time to have a conversation with the deputies. In the meantime, where are the precise boundaries of the spell? At what point would you or any of my other characters become visible to the residents of our real world?”

“Of course, you and Master Miles can see us wherever we are. Other people from your world would see us any time we leave the property.”

“You mean you are invisible until you step off the property, then poof! You’re visible?”

“That is correct.”

I frowned. “That’s no good. Can the spell be altered?”

Dragon nodded. “How do wish it altered?”

horses-all-gone-for-blog“I think from now on, if anyone wants to leave the property, they need to leave the house through the front door and be visible there, just as Miles and I are visible walking out of the house. That way, it looks natural when they walk down the sidewalk and step out onto the street. They don’t just suddenly appear and scare the heart and soul out of anyone who sees them. They should still be concealed by the spell if they are in the back yard.”

Dragon nodded again. “It shall be done.”

Sorceress sighed. “I best inform the others, so they all know to exit the property through the front door and down the driveway.”

I smiled at the two of them. “Thanks. Now I’m off to see what’s up with the deputies.”

Talking to deputiesAs I crossed the yard, the two deputies saw they had been spotted. They stepped out from behind the vegetation and tried to look nonchalant.

I pasted on a grim smile as I greeted them. “Deputy Whitewash! Deputy Dawg! It’s so nice to see you again. Is there anything I can help you with?”

“No, not a thing,” Deputy Whitewash assured me. Her partner merely grunted and gawked at the tree as if watching for squirrels.

I narrowed my eyes. “You seem to be surveilling my property. Is something wrong?”

“No, not a thing,” Deputy Whitewash assured me again, and again her partner merely grunted.

I folded my arms over my chest. “Then why are you watching my property?”

Deputy Dawg drew himself up, hooking his thumbs into his belt. “We’re not at liberty to discuss any ongoing investigations. Department policy.”

“Are you saying my husband and I are under investigation?”

“Didn’t say that.”
Police Officer in sunglasses
I frowned. I wish he’d take his sunglasses off. It’s hard to tell what he’s thinking when I can’t even see his eyes. “Well, then, we’re not under investigation?”

“Didn’t say that, either.”

“Well then, unless you have a warrant allowing you to trespass on my neighbor’s property and stare at my house, I think you had best leave.”
Another person hiding

The two deputies glanced surreptitiously at a nearby tree as if looking for answers. That’s when I spied another figure hiding behind that tree. Judging from his attire, he was not a member of the sheriff’s department.

 

I balled my hands into fists and placed them on my hips. “Just what is going on here?”

SuitsI jumped back when a surprising number of figures, all similarly dressed in black suits, stepped into sight from behind trees, bushes, and the neighbor’s house. One man hurried over to stand in front of the deputies. “Ma’am, as Deputy Dawg indicated, we are engaged in an ongoing investigation and cannot discuss the details with civilians. If you return to your house, you will be safe.”

I scowled at the man. “So, something’s going on that makes my back yard unsafe?”

“We can neither confirm nor deny that, ma’am.”

“Then can you at least tell me who is involved in this ongoing investigation? You certainly don’t look like a sheriff’s deputy.”
Deputy Whitewash
Before the man could stop her, Deputy Whitewash replied, “He’s not. This is a joint taskforce between local law enforcement represented by the county sheriff’s office, and the FBI, ICE and Homeland Security.”wide-eyed

My jaw dropped. What had my characters done now?

 
Be sure to come back next week. If we’re not all in prison, we’ll be sure to leave the porch light on for you.

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We’re Doing WHAT?

We’re Doing WHAT?

rainMiles and I were in the living room with some of my characters, watching the storm outside. Driving rain pounded against the windows and booming thunder shook the house.

Gypsy close-up“Oh, great! The rain is coming down in buckets!” My Gypsy frowned at the scene unfolding in the yard. He turned away from the French doors to the deck, stomped across the living room, threw himself into a chair, and crossed his arms over his chest. “I am so tired of being stuck inside! First, everyone was sick. Now, it looks like the annual monsoon season we had back in our world! The ducks from the pond are now swimming in the back yard!”Ducks swimming in the yard

Young hero 2“I know!” My Young Hero wore a frown identical to his friend’s. “We have not been able to exercise our horses or go on an outing in weeks! I am going to forget how to ride if we are not able to get to the horses soon!”

Foreman facing right closeupMy Foreman snorted. “We just went on a trail ride three weeks ago. (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/09/02/an-old-mystery-revisited/) But I agree. I am impatient for the weather to clear, that we may spend another day in the saddle.” He sighed and raked his hand through his hair as he stared at the back yard, now flooding with the overflow from the pond.

Cleric and Sorceress stomped into the room, with Dragon close behind.

Sorceress wrinkled her nose as she looked out the door. “When is this rain going to stop? Cleric and I have need of more botanicals for our spell components!”

Dragon snarled at her companions, and dark smoke spurted from her snout. “Why ask me? I do not control the weather!” She shivered. “It is so damp! I know I am going to get sick again! I need my fire.” She conjured her illusory fireplace and curled up on the floor in front of it.Smoke drifting from Dragon's snout

“Oh, now you will roast us all to death, because you are cold?” Cleric glared at Dragon, who responded by twitching her tail and spewing more clouds of black smoke.

Arrogant One facing rightbounty-hunter-facing-other-directionMy Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter strode into the room, coming to a dead stop in front of the doors.

“It is still raining!” My Arrogant One placed his hands on his hips and contorted his face into an exaggerated pout. “The shed will be flooded!”

“It would not be flooded if you would fix the leaky roof!” My Bounty Hunter spoke casually, but there was steel under his words.

The elf rounded on his sidekick. “I did! I cannot help it if every time I fix one leak, two more appear! And I do not see you doing anything to help.”

Dwarf and hamMy Old Dwarf wandered into the room, munching on a ham. He shook his head at my Arrogant One. “Eh, ye be needin’ ta be doin’ more ’en jest be magickin’ tha leaks! Ye be needin’ ta be usin’ hammer an’ nails, elfie.”

“Do not call me elfie!” My Arrogant One’s voice, a 200-decible screechy approximation of an operatic soprano, startled several ducks that had been swimming in the back of the flooded yard.

“Okay, that’s enough!” I scowled at my characters. “All I’ve heard all morning is complain, complain, complain!”

“We are sorry, Mistress.” Cleric tried to look contrite. “But we are bored and getting on each other’s nerves.”

I rose from my chair and folded my arms over my chest. I narrowed my eyes as I looked around the room at my characters. “Well, I have an idea how to stop being bored. You are all going on a scavenger hunt.”

Elf facing right“A scavenger hunt, Mistress? What is that?” Cleric’s cornflower blue eyes were filled with curiosity.

My eyes widened. “You never went on a scavenger hunt when you were a youngster?”

Cleric shook her head.

“Have any of you ever been on a scavenger hunt?” I looked around the room. Only three of my characters nodded.
Gypsy
My Gypsy leaned forward. “I remember going on scavenger hunts! My grammy organized them for all the children in the village. They were fun!”

Young hero 2My Young Hero frowned. “My parents used to organize them for my brother and me, and some of our friends. I was never very good at finding the things on the list.”
Dwarf and ham 2
“When I be jest a young pup, me mam and pap been sendin’ me off on scavenger hunts all’a time. I be real good at ’em.” My Old Dwarf took another bite of ham.

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress frowned. “Mistress, for those among us who were deprived of such a fun activity in our youth, could you please explain in detail this concept of a scavenger hunt?”

I sighed. “Well, in a normal scavenger hunt, the participants are given a list of items they must find and collect within a set amount of time. The winner might be the one who collects every item on the list, or perhaps the first one to collect all the required items.”

bounty-hunter-facing-other-directionMy Bounty Hunter grunted. “You said in a normal scavenger hunt, this is how things are done. Are we to infer that this will not be a normal scavenger hunt?”

I nodded. “That’s correct. In a normal scavenger hunt, you need to collect the physical items appearing on the list. They could be things like string, a button, a flower, a feather, a leaf. However, the fact we are confined to the house would greatly limit the items I could put on the list. So for this scavenger hunt, you need to be creative. If the item can be found in the house, and it is something small enough to carry, you may collect the actual item. Otherwise, you can collect a picture of the item.”

scaly dragon looking rightDragon thrashed her tail. “And, pray tell, where are we to find pictures of these items?”

magazinesI laughed. “I have stacks of old magazines I’ll bring to the conference room. You can look through them. Also, if you are artistic, you can create your own picture of the items. You can get all your art supplies from Miles. He has paper, scissors, color pencils, chalk, charcoal, paint, and ink. I think he even has crayons, glue and paste.”

6-19-13 - Miles 001I looked to Miles for confirmation, and he nodded. “Yes, I have anything you might need. I’ll put it all in the conference room, next to the magazines.”

IllusionI smiled. “And, for those of you adept at magic, you may create small illusions of the objects.” I glanced at my Arrogant One. “You are not to create anything that would cause any harm or damage.”

The elf scoffed. “As if any of us would!”

Several of my characters rolled their eyes.

My Young Hero chewed on his bottom lip and furrowed his brow. “How many items will be on this list, and how long will we have to collect or create them?”

I stroked my chin as I considered the question. “There will only be six items on the list, and you will have two days to complete the scavenger hunt.”

“And everyone will be looking for the same items, Mistress?” Cleric fidgeted with her corded belt.

for scavenger hunt

I shook my head. “In a regular scavenger hunt, everyone would be looking for the same things, like a button, a coin, a feather. But this is going to be a Gratitude Scavenger Hunt. All of the items on the list are things that make you happy, things for which you should feel grateful.”

I looked around and saw nothing but blank stares. I sighed. “Okay. So, let’s say one of the items on the list is something that makes you laugh. That would be something different for each of you. One person might choose to write out a joke, while another person might choose to copy the words to a silly song or find a funny picture. So, no, you will not be collecting the same items.”

Everyone groaned.

“Will there be a prize for collecting all the items on the list? Or for being the first to complete the scavenger hunt? Or, mayhap, a prize for the most creative representation of an item on the list?” My Gypsy sounded hopeful.

I shrugged. “We’ll see. I think the prize, or benefit, of the hunt is just to stop dwelling on how miserable it is to be stuck inside and remember all the things that make you happy, the things for which you should be grateful.”

arrogant-one-facing-right“Well, I for one, have no intention of participating in such a juvenile endeavor!” My Arrogant One pompously drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak in both hands. “I have more important things on which to spend my valuable time.”bounty-hunter-facing-other-direction

“Afraid you would not be able to find the items?” My Bounty Hunter smirked at his companion.

The elf sneered. “I assure you, I would have no problems finding any item on the list.”

“Good.” I narrowed my eyes and stared at him. “Because all of you will be participating.”

“Oh, very well! Just give us the list, then.” My Arrogant One folded his arms in front of him and tapped his foot impatiently. “The sooner we get started, the sooner we can end this nonsense.”

“I’ll have the list for you shortly after lunch. I will make a copy for each person.”

* * *

My characters milled about as I handed out copies of the list for the Gratitude Scavenger Hunt. They started reading the lists as if they couldn’t understand them.

Something that makes a beautiful sound?”

Something that smells amazing?”

Your favorite beverage?”

My Arrogant One scanned the list I handed him. His eyes widened. “Something to give someone else to make them smile?” He blinked, then thrust the paper back at me. “This is utterly ridiculous and a total waste of my valuable time!”

I put my hand up in my best imitation of a cop stopping traffic, and I narrowed my eyes. “Keep it. You will participate.”

My Old Dwarf grinned as he read the list. “Eh! This be too easy, lass! I be back in a few minutes wit all me items.”

“Remember to put some thought into the items you choose. Don’t pick something just because it’s easy. And don’t pick something you think is the expected item. Like I said before, everyone will choose different items. There are no right or wrong items for this Gratitude Scavenger Hunt. Any questions?” I looked around at my characters. “No? Then go have fun!”

Gratitude Scavenger Hunt - Master list

 

What items do you think each of the characters will collect? Be sure to come back next week and see! We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Still Out Sick – Gypsy Filling in With Recycled Blogs

Still Out Sick – Gypsy Filling in With Recycled Blogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Old Mystery Revisited

An Old Mystery Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This weekend, if we can make it.”

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

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

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

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

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

I smiled, remembering those days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleric and Dragon exchanged greetings with the boy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Dray is on a stocky palomino named Dragon.”

 

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

 

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

Appaloosa for me

Colton frowned. “Missy?”

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

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

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

Colton riding Peaches bareback

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

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

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

He nodded. “Okay, Marge.”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“American Goldfinch!” Colton beamed at my Gypsy.

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

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

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

Bird - Blue Jay

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

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

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

Bird - Rose-breasted Grosbeak

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“How did you know?” I was amazed.

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

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


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

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

“Can we?” My Gypsy looked at me.

“I don’t see why not.”

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

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

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

The Case of the Poison Mushrooms?

Young hero 2Deputy DawgMy Young Hero felt the weight of someone’s hand on his shoulder. He whirled around and found himself face-to-face with a frowning Deputy Dustin Dawg of our county sheriff’s department. The youngster’s eyes widened, and his face turned even redder than it had been. “S-s-sir?”

spilled food“I said that didn’t look like an accident to me, son. It looked to me like you deliberately pushed that platter of food onto the ground.” Deputy Dawg’s voice was hard as nails. His mouth was turned down in a scowl, and even with his eyes hidden behind sun glasses, the intensity of the deputy’s glare wilted my Young Hero.

Wiping the sweat from his brow, the lad shrank back from the uniformed figure. He swallowed hard, several times. “Deliberately . . .? Oh, no sir! It was an accident. I have the unfortunate affliction of extreme clumsiness.” But I noticed the lad’s green eyes, normally so open and guileless, were veiled.
Gypsy close-up
My Gypsy placed a hand on the other lad’s arm and nodded. “My friend is right, sir. It was naught but an accident! Your line of sight must have been blocked. I was right next to the lad when he knocked the plate off the table. As he said, he is very clumsy!”
Deputy Whitewash
The deputy continued scowling. His partner, Deputy Whitewash, had been standing silently by his side. Now, she joined the conversation, shaking her head emphatically. “My line of sight wasn’t obstructed, and I agree with my partner. It looked deliberate.”

I stepped into the fray, trying to keep my emotions under control and my voice even. I was torn between defending my characters and not drawing attention to them. “The lad isn’t the type to deliberately do something like this. Besides, why would he?”
Deputy Whitewash
Backyard 050Deputy Whitewash stared at me for a second before recognition darkened her face. She snorted. “Oh, it’s you. Whenever there’s trouble in this neighborhood, you’re close by.” She looked from me to my Young Hero, who was still standing there, red-faced and apologetic. “I should have figured he was related to you.”

I narrowed my eyes. “He’s a good kid.”

Before I could say more, the rest of my characters moved between my Young Hero and the deputies.
Dwarf closeup 2
“The laddie be sayin’ it be jest an ax-i-dent. Be ye callin’ ’em a liar?” My Old Dwarf stood there, glaring at the deputies. His chin jutted, his bushy eyebrows were squished down over narrowed eyes. He balled one hand into a fist and thumped it repeatedly into the open palm of his other hand.

I saw Deputy Whitewash move one hand to the holster of her service revolver. With her other hand, she grabbed her partner’s sleeve and tugged to get his attention. “Be careful. He’s the one that had that axe!” The words were said in a whisper loud enough to carry through the assembled crowd.

I moved in front of my Old Dwarf, trying to keep the incident from escalating. I was spared the need to do anything, by Gloria, of all people.

neighbor-2neighborGloria, who had been rooted in place gaping at the mess on the ground, finally shook herself, as if trying to wake from a bad dream. She turned toward us and addressed the deputies. Given the dark look on her face, her voice was surprisingly perky. It still reminded me of a high-school cheerleader. “Oh, accidents happen. I’m sure the boy didn’t do it intentionally. I was just so upset when it happened because I spent so much time preparing that dish. Oh, well, there’s plenty more food here, no one will starve. I just need to get it cleaned up.” She looked around the crowd that had gathered until her gaze fell on her husband. Her voice and body language switched from cheerleader to drill sergeant. “Mace, help me clean up this mess before someone slips and falls!” Mace jumped to do his wife’s bidding.

My Young Hero waved Mace away and turned to Gloria. “Milady, I made the mess; please allow me to clean it up.”

Gloria gave him an appraising glance. She frowned but nodded. She took Mace by the arm and led him away, beckoning the deputies to follow. The four of them huddled near a tree, gesturing and whispering.

in a huddle

Another one of our neighbors, just arriving at the park, saw Miles and me. He called to us, waving us over to join him and his family. I figured he wanted the low-down on the commotion. I gave my characters a stern look. “I don’t know what’s going on, but there better not be any more trouble. Understood?” Without waiting for a reply, Miles and I smiled at our neighbor and walked over to join his group.

                                                                   * * *

Elf cleric close-upThe lad and his friends all pitched in to clean up the spilled stroganoff. Dragon, inconspicuous in her customary guise of a delicate young maiden, whispered something to them. They all nodded and started picking the mushrooms out of the mess and concealing them in napkins.

Dragon raked her hand through her hair. “Something is not right.”

Stu-04-NatGalSorceress tilted her head. “Other than the fact our neighbor was trying to poison people?”

Dragon lifted an eyebrow. “Mayhap she was not.”

The companions finished cleaning up the food they had spilled, and surreptitiously handed the napkins full of mushrooms to Dragon.

Dragon was staring at the group huddled under the tree. “Some of you keep an eye on the two deputies. The rest of you, do not allow Mace and Gloria out of your sight.” She turned back to Cleric and Sorceress, who were looking at her quizzically. “Come. We need to examine these mushrooms.” The three women headed back toward the house.

                                                                    * * *

Forty-five minutes later, the three women were back at the park. They gathered their friends and found a quiet spot to talk, away from the crowd.

Keeping her voice low, Dragon announced, “Forsooth, we were wrong.”

Everyone stared at Dragon, brows furrowed, heads tilted.

“What be we wrong aboot?” The dwarf scratched his bearded chin.

“Cleric, Sorceress, and I examined the mushrooms from Gloria’s stroganoff. They were not poisonous.” Dragon looked as confused as everyone else as she made this revelation.

The pompous elf looked down his nose at Dragon. “But you said you were sure of what you overheard.”

Dragon glared at him. “I was sure. I am sure. Cleric, Sorceress, the dwarf, and I were coming back from gathering botanicals. We took a short-cut, under my spell of concealment. We found ourselves in Mace and Gloria’s yard. They were sitting in their gazebo, and we were close enough that I distinctly heard their conversation.” Dragon paused, her brow furrowed in concentration. “They were discussing a problem they were having with some neighbors, obviously Mistress Writer and Master Miles. Mace’s exact words were ‘they’ve been nothing but trouble since we moved here. We need to do something about them, and soon.’” Dragon paused again, her eyes narrowed. “Gloria told him not to worry, that she had it all planned. Then Gloria explained to Mace about the poison mushrooms in the stroganoff.”

The elf sneered. “But you just said the mushrooms in the stroganoff are not poisonous.”

Dragon sighed. “They are not. I can only presume Mace and Gloria changed their minds when they realized Mistress Writer and Master Miles might not be the only ones to fall victim to the poison if they used the mushrooms in the food served here today.”

“Thet be meanin’ they be tryin’ ta be kiltin’ the lass an’ ’er lad some udder way.” The dwarf mumbled around a mouthful of food.

Sorceress frowned at his manners but nodded at his conclusion. “We need to keep a sharp eye on Mistress Writer and Master Miles today.”

Everyone nodded.

                                                                      * * *

Elf clericBackyard 050“Missy! There you are!”

I could hear the relief in Dragon’s voice. I looked up from my conversation with one of our neighbors and saw all nine of my characters crowding around, worry creasing their faces. I frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Dwarf closeup 2
“Eh, there be nuttin’ wrong, lass. We jest dinna be knowin’ where ye be.” My Old Dwarf spoke around a mouthful of food.

bullhornNeighbor 2 facing leftBefore I could pursue the matter further, a voice blared over a bullhorn. “Everyone . . . everyone . . . can I have your attention?” Gloria addressed the gathering in full cheerleader mode, voice perky, body language bouncy – I almost expected her to start turning cartwheels. “Hi, neighbors! Thanks for coming out today! Isn’t it great to get together and get to know everyone in the neighborhood a little better? Be sure to grab something to eat before we start clearing the tables. In about an hour, we’re going to rearrange everything into a semicircle over there.” She pointed as she spoke, indicating a shaded corner at the far end of the park. She continued without pausing for a breath, one of her talents that never ceased to amaze me. “We’ll need a few strong helpers to move the benches, then everyone who has something to sit on should bring it – lawn chairs, camp chairs, blankets, whatever you have. We have a surprise for you! I’ve arranged for some entertainment for our neighborhood get-together!”

Stage
A little more than an hour and many bull-horned directions later, the entire neighborhood sat around a small stage that had been erected in the northeast corner of the park. Miles and I sat in canvass stadium chairs, while my characters perched on boxes or sprawled on blankets around us. All eyes were on Gloria as she hopped up on the stage.

Thankfully, Gloria had managed to set up a sound system that did not require further use of the bullhorn. She had no problem being heard over the noise of the crowd. “Well, neighbors, I don’t like to toot my own horn – well, yes, I do! Toodle-de-toot!” Gloria followed this with a deep, throaty laugh before continuing. “But tonight, I am very pleased to share center stage with a group of people who have been working hard for the past few weeks. Please welcome Waiting in the Wings in Waconia, our new local theater group!”

Looking embarrassed, Gloria’s husband, Mace, stepped up on the stage next to his wife. Deputies Whitewash and Dawg, and several of our neighbors whom I did not know as well, stepped up to stand next to the wooden platform.

On stage

“Tonight, folks, we’re going to present a very short play, a murder mystery, penned by none other than yours truly.” Gloria gave a little curtsey. “We didn’t have the time or the manpower to build sets, so you’ll have to use your imagination.”

Gloria set the scene for the first act, explaining what the set would look like, if there was a set. Then she explained the storyline. “I play Penelope, a southern belle. Mace plays the part of Beauregard, Penelope’s husband. We recently moved to a new house and one of our neighbors is not very nice.

Gloria and Mace then took center stage, as the other players sat on the edges, waiting their turns.

Backyard 050MilesI tried not to giggle as Gloria and Mace delivered their lines. I leaned over to Miles and whispered in his ear. “If this is the best Gloria can do as a playwright, she better not quit her day job.”

Miles put his finger over his lips and leaned forward to hear the play.

neighbor“They’ve been nothing but trouble since we moved here. We need to do something about them, and soon.” Mace/Beauregard frowned.

Neighbor 2 facing leftGloria/Penelope laughed a deep, throaty laugh. “Don’t worry, darling! I’ve got it all planned.”

“Oh?” Mace/Beauregard quirked an eyebrow.

“Remember the mushrooms?” Gloria/Penelope smiled smugly. “Is it my fault some poisonous fungi got mixed in with them?”

“Poison mushrooms?” Her husband’s eyes widened, and a smile spread across his face. “Do you think you can get our . . . friends . . . to eat them?”

“Oh, darling, do you know anyone who can resist my stroganoff?” Gloria/Penelope simpered at her husband. “By this time next week, we will have one less headache with which to contend in our happy little neighborhood.”

The play turned out to be more comedy than mystery, with the two deputies bumbling through their lines just as the characters they played bumbled through the investigation of the murder. Still, the neighborhood crowd was happy to be entertained, and we gave the cast a standing ovation. After Gloria tried to drum up some more members for Waiting in the Wings in Waconia, the gathering wound down and we all started to pack up and head for home. I looked around for my characters, but they appeared to have slipped away already.

                                                                       * * *

Arrogant One facing rightDragon elf maiden turning redTheater!” The annoying, pompous elf giggled. Dragon turned red and glared at him.

“How were we to know?” Dragon scuffed her feet as she trod along the street toward home.

“It sounded very real when we overheard them.” Cleric’s face was as red as Dragon’s, and she couldn’t stop wringing her hands.

“Well, one thing is certain.” Sorceress glared at her companions. “We do not mention this to Mistress Writer . . . ever!”

For once, there was no dissent among the companions.

We hope you enjoyed this little misadventure, and we welcome you to come back next week and see what my characters are up to then. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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.