Dragon studied the scroll carefully, then shook her head and placed the parchment back in the cubbyhole in the desk from which she had taken it. She looked around the room and sighed, a large puff of black smoke drifting from her snout.
“This room looks like a whirlwind came through here!” She spoke aloud, but expected no reply, as she knew herself to be quite alone within the guarded and warded room. She sighed again as she started straightening the mess, replacing books and scrolls that she had scattered haphazardly around the room.
It took almost an hour to return the room to its previous tidy condition, less than a fifth of the time it had taken to create the mess as Dragon had searched in vain for some scrap of information that would help her understand the current predicament involving the Foreman.
Many years ago, the Foreman, Dragon, and seven other characters had fallen out of a manuscript into this world, the world Mistress Writer termed the real world. Before that, in their own world, the Foreman had been manager of the largest, most successful, and most prestigious equestrian breeding and training facility in the kingdom in which he had lived.
Here in this world, Dragon had created illusory horses and a small illusory stable for the Foreman and his fellow horsemen, the Young Hero and the Gypsy. But trotting around the modest illusory riding arena and drilling the lads in their equestrian skills whenever the harsh Minnesota weather would allow was hardly a substitute for the position the Foreman had held back in their world.
For several months, Dragon and her fellow characters had been aware of the Foreman’s growing discontent. Once, his depression could be relieved by those times spent riding his illusory horse. No more. He was bored by his role in this world, little more than a go-fer, if Dragon recalled the local vernacular, fetching and toting for Mistress Writer and Master Miles, and helping his fellow characters whenever they had need.
He grew more and more despondent. Like his fellow characters, the Foreman missed his own world, but it was more than that. As he had explained to Mistress Writer, he also missed who he had been in that world.
Recently, Dragon and her fellow magic users had created an illusory world for the Foreman where he could once again have the duties and responsibilities of managing a large equestrian facility.
Once Dragon and her colleagues had created the illusory world, the Gypsy and the Young Hero had escorted the Foreman into that world. The lads had returned directly to report the Forman was ecstatic with the world his friends had created for him. They told their comrades the Foreman planned to thank them in person at supper that night, and to revisit the illusory world the next day.
When the Foreman did not return that night, everyone figured he was enjoying himself so much, he had lost track of time. When he still had not returned within the week, Dragon and the other characters had entered the illusory world to retrieve him, but he was nowhere to be found. No one with whom the characters spoke had any knowledge of the Foreman. He seemed to be lost in an illusory world, something that Dragon knew to be impossible.
Dragon shook her head and roared in frustration.
“Beastie? Be ye al’right, beastie?” The Old Dwarf banged on the door of the conference room he had been tasked with guarding. When Dragon did not answer immediately, the stout dwarf raised his axe, thinking to splinter the door and rescue his friend.
“I would not advise doing that.” Dragon stared at the rotund figure as she swung open the door. “Do you not remember what happened the last time you resorted to force when I had warded this door?”
The dwarf blushed scarlet and lowered his axe. “Aye, I be recollectin’. It do na be an experience I be wantin’ ta be repeatin’ any time soon.”
“Then why did you appear to be about to do so?” The large reptile frowned at her diminutive companion.
“I been heardin’ ye yellin’. I been thinkin’ ye be in trouble.”
Dragon sighed. “And you thought to rescue me, my little friend?”
The dwarf nodded and blushed a deeper red. “Ye be knowin’ full well I couldna e’er be lettin’ anythin’ be happenin’ ta ye, beastie.” He shot the large creature a look full of warmth and affection.
“I appreciate the thought, but I assure you I am quite capable of protecting myself.” Dragon smiled a toothy grin.
The dwarf scowled. “Ye be havin’ a real short mem’ry, ‘specially fer one o yer species. It be only a year and a huff by this world’s reckonin’ thet ye been needing rescuin’ from thet udder world, where ye been attacked by thet udder dragon, and I be tha one what been rescuin’ ye. Meself, an’ no udder!”
Tears of gratitude stung Dragon’s eyes as she remembered back to that time. “I do remember, old friend,” she said softly as she placed her reptilian hands on the dwarf’s shoulders. “I will never forget.” She smiled warmly, and they stood there for a few moments, enjoying each other’s companionship and basking in their mutual devotion. Then Dragon stepped back and sighed again.
“But as to you hearing me yelling, I was in no danger, small one. I was merely venting my frustration.”
“Ye canna be findin’ a way ta be bringin’ tha Foreman back here?” The dwarf’s brow furrowed, and his shoulders slumped. “But iffin ye canna be bringin’ ’em back, what be happenin’ ta ’em?”
“I do not know.” Dragon’s voice was small, and it cracked. “I . . . I do not know.”
* * *
The Foreman had entered the illusory world not really knowing what to expect. The two lads had accompanied him, and they walked around together for a few hours, marveling at the sights.
“Look at those horses!” The Young Hero’s eyes grew big and round as he stared at the herd of magnificent animals pasturing behind the gleaming white fence. “I have not seen the likes of them since we left our world.”
The Gypsy leaned on the fence as he replied to his young friend. “Indeed! This place reminds me of your father’s farm.”
The Young Hero nodded and turned to face the Foreman. “What do you think of this world?”
“I agree. This is most reminiscent of your father’s place. I think Dragon and all the magic users did a splendid job creating this, so like the farm I managed for your father. When you return to the real world, please give Dragon and the others my thanks and tell them I will not tarry long this day. Dragon has informed me I may come and go at will, so I will limit my explorations today. I will return to the real world in time to sup with you this evening and return here tomorrow to continue my exploration.”
The lads nodded. Before taking their leave, they reminded their friend to use the name he often used in the real world, when he had to be around people outside Mistress Writer’s house.
“You called yourself Tor.” The Young Hero shook the Foreman’s hand.
“Do not forget. Calling yourself the Foreman could lead to confusion and misunderstanding here.” The Gypsy clapped the older man on his shoulder, and the two lads turned and walked off toward the spot where they could return to the real world.
Having said his goodbyes to his two companions, Tor hurried down the lane in the opposite direction, toward the distant complex of barns and sheds. He wanted to get established at this farm before leaving for the day.
Arriving at the stable an hour later, Tor found a stable lad lounging in the yard and introduced himself. “I am called Tor. I seek employment.”
The lad looked Tor up and down slowly before jerking his thumb in the direction of the barn. “Boss be in dere.”
Entering the barn, Tor approached the man he assumed was the boss, a fussy-looking older man who looked rather out-of-place supervising the shoeing of a stallion. The man looked up and frowned. “Waddya want?”
“My name is Tor. I seek employment.” The Foreman extended his hand, which the other man ignored.
“Got nuttin fer a graybeard like you. Move along.” The man turned his attention back to the blacksmith and the stallion.
Tor bristled. “I can do the work of any ten lads.”
“I said move along.” The other man scowled.
Tor did not move. The blacksmith’s actions had caught his attention. “Be careful, smithy! Do not trim a horse’s hoof so short!”
“Mind yer own busness.” The blacksmith’s eyes narrowed as he glared at the Foreman.
Tor frowned. Dragon had told him he would be the manager of a large stable in this illusory world. Did she refer to a different stable? Or was he just supposed to walk in here and assume the duties of a manager? Given the reaction of this boss person, that seemed highly unlikely. Tor sighed. How do things work in this illusion, anyway? I best just stay quiet and watch. Mayhap I can figure it out.
Continuing to watch the blacksmith, Tor could not remain silent. “You are going to cause that horse to go lame!”
The blacksmith looked up. “Boss, you gonna get rid of this guy, or am I?”
Tor never heard the answer. Pain exploded in his head and everything went black.
The stable lad lowered the now-bloody lead pipe and picked up Tor’s hat. He placed it with a flourish on his own head and grinned. “Waddya want me ta do wit ’em, Boss?”
What has happened to Tor, aka my Foreman? Will Dragon and the other characters be able to find and rescue him? Come back next week and see what happens. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.