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.

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Solutions or More Problems?

Solutions or More Problems?

Elf facing right

“To . . . to die for?” Cleric gaped at Dragon, who – in her customary guise of an elf maiden – stood there, pale and shaking. “What does that mean?”
DragonEliminate M&MDragon’s voice was low when she answered, and it cracked several times as emotion constricted the woman’s throat. “It . . . it appears our obnoxious neighbors, Mace and Gloria, plan to . . . to do away with Mistress Writer and Master Miles at the neighborhood get-together. Gloria was gloating over a . . . a dish she is preparing for what she termed a pot-luck, whatever that might be, which will be part of the festivities.” She took a deep breath before concluding. “The dish she spoke of is the stroganoff dish she was discussing with Mace last evening . . . the one laced with poison mushrooms.”

DwarfThe dwarf stepped forward. “Now will ye be lettin’ me at ’em wit me axe?” He was seething, his bushy eyebrows squished together over his green eyes, and his mouth an angry line between his unkempt mustache and beard. He held his weapon in one hand, slapping the flat of the axe head against his other palm.

sorceress-facing-rightDwarf and police officers 2Many of the other eight characters nodded and murmured in approval, but Sorceress cut them off, slashing her hand down for emphasis. “No!” She whirled around and faced the dwarf. “I have already explained to you that should Mace and Gloria be found dead at the hands of an apparent axe murderer, Deputy Whitewash and her intrepid partner, Deputy Dawg, will be breaking down the door to get to you. They are sure to remember you brandishing an axe at them when they first encountered you six months ago!”

The dwarf stood there trembling, anger and frustration building. “Bah!” He spat out the expletive before his shoulders slumped in defeat.

Arrogant One facing rightAnother character spoke. “Then what do you propose we do?” The speaker, the unpopular and annoying elf illusionist, glared at Sorceress, his eyes like slits, and his lips curled with disdain. “If Mistress Writer is killed, what will happen to us?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “We will cease to exist!” Seeing all eyes on him and a few of his companions nodding, the elf pompously drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his robes in both hands. “I say, let the dwarf deal with the would-be murderers. Then the authorities can deal with the dwarf.” He sneered with contempt at the dwarf.

Almost elf flambeDragon had shape-shifted into her true form before the elf had finished talking. Flames shot from her mouth and the elf’s cohort, the Bounty Hunter, barely had time to push his friend out of the way and prevent the illusionist from becoming elf flambé.Dragon with smoke

“Do . . . not . . . ever think of allowing anyone to deal with the dwarf!” Dragon bared her teeth at the elf. Dark smoke plumed from her nostrils.

The elf scowled. “Better him than Mistress Writer. Her demise means our demise; do not doubt that for a moment! And it would be better to lose one of our number than for all of us to perish.”

The dwarf nodded, still slapping his open palm with the flat of the axe head. “I be agreein’ with tha elfie.”

“Do not call me elfie!” The illusionist’s face turned beet red with anger and contorted with hatred. His voice reached a register so high, the neighborhood dogs started howling.

bounty-hunter“Settle down.” The Bounty Hunter placed a restraining hand on his friend’s arm, then glared at the other characters. “All of you. This is not accomplishing anything.”

The elf pulled away, his eyes flashing in anger. “Then what do you suggest?”

The Bounty Hunter shrugged, then raised an eyebrow. “If Mistress Writer and Master Miles do not attend the neighborhood get-together, they cannot partake of Gloria’s food.”Gypsy close-up

The Gypsy snorted. “And how do you propose we keep them from going?”

A sly grin spread slowly across the Bounty Hunter’s face. “Mistress Writer is always so eager to go on outings. Several days before the neighborhood event, we could all develop a sudden interest in going somewhere, somewhere that would necessitate us leaving the house early and staying away all day. We could manipulate Mistress Writer into planning the outing for the same day as the event.”

Cleric shook her head. “No!” Her face drained of color and she wrung her hands. “No! Do you not remember the ordeal we suffered on our last outing? We cannot go on another!”

Sorceress scoffed. “We have already discussed this. The chances of a portal to another world opening and us being transported from this world are exceedingly slim, but if it were to happen, it is just as likely to happen here, within this house, as elsewhere.”

“I know. My mind understands but my fear does not.” Cleric hung her head and fidgeted with the cord belt on her robes. Tears welled up in her eyes.

mens-991728_1280The Foreman of the group stepped forward and placed a reassuring hand on Cleric’s shoulder. His voice was soft yet commanding. “I do not believe we need to go on an outing right now. If Mistress Writer and Master Miles do not attend the neighborhood event, it will only postpone the inevitable. We need to find a way to prevent Mace and Gloria from committing this murder, not just at the event but at any place or at any time.”

Young Hero close-upOthers nodded, but the Young Hero stroked his chin and frowned. “You are correct – if they do not attend the event, it will only postpone their demise. However, Gloria’s plot makes no sense. If Mace and Gloria want to murder Mistress Writer and Master Miles, why would they do it at a public event, where the poison food could be consumed by any of those in attendance? They could conceivably wipe out the entire neighborhood!”

“The lad has a point.” The Foreman turned back to Dragon. “Are you quite certain you heard them correctly?”
Elf cleric close-up

The beast had settled down and had shapeshifted back to the form of an elf maiden. She pursed her lips and nodded. “Yes, I am sure. Mace was complaining about Mistress Writer and Master Miles, and Gloria revealed her plot to eliminate them using poison mushrooms. She said the mushrooms would be in her stroganoff. And just now, she was braying to Mistress Writer about her – and again I quote – to-die-for stroganoff that she will serve at the neighborhood get-together.”

The Foreman nodded. “If we elect to protect the lives of not only Mistress Writer and Master Miles, but the majority of our neighbors as well, we should alert the authorities.”

The dwarf scoffed. “And iffin we even be figurin’ how ta be contactin’ ’em, why would they be believin’ us? I be rememberin’ tha two o ’em been takin’ Mace and Gloria’s word over our lass an’ ’er lad. Nay, we be needin’ ta be takin’ care o this our own selfs!”

“That is not an option!” Sorceress snapped at the dwarf. “Get that through your thick skull!”

Telephone authoritiesDragon furrowed her brow. “If we need to alert the authorities, we can do it easily enough. The deputies left their cards with our Mistress when last they were here, and I believe several of us have mastered the use of the talking device, the thing called a telephone.”

The dwarf snorted. “So’s we kin be gittin’ ahold o ’em. How, perzactly, do we be gittin’ ’em ta be believin’ us?” He crossed his arms over his barrel chest and tapped a foot impatiently.

“The dwarf is right – they simply would never believe any of us, should we accuse Mace and Gloria. However, mayhap we have no need of the authorities.” The Young Hero quirked an eyebrow, and there was a twinkle of mischief in his green eyes.

“What do you propose?” Dragon looked intrigued.

“Well, you know how clumsy some of us can be.” The lad grinned. “It would be such a shame if Gloria’s stroganoff was to be knocked all over the ground.”

Everyone relaxed and started nodding and smiling; there were even a few impish chuckles from the group.

*  *  *

“Hi, neighbor!”

I cringed. Before I even looked, I knew who it was. My far-less-than-favorite neighbor, Gloria, had an unmistakable voice. It was full of perk, arrogance, and acid, all mixed together with a Midwestern twang. I turned and watched as she bounced over to our yard, all but dragging her husband, Mace, also one of my far-less-than-favorite neighbors.

“Hello, Gloria, Mace.” I tried to paste a smile on my face, but all I could manage was a thinning of my lips. My husband, Miles, didn’t seem any happier than I to see these two.

If Gloria noticed, she didn’t let it dampen her enthusiasm. She started in, sounding like a high school cheerleader, almost every sentence sounding like it ended with an exclamation point. “It’s a beautiful day! Not a cloud in the sky! Looks like every single person in the whole neighborhood made it to the get-together! And there are a lot of guests, too! You aren’t the only folks who have visiting out-of-town family! I hope we have enough food for everyone! What culinary delight did you contribute?” She said all that in one breath, and never ran out of air.

food“Marge made a few of her specialties.” I detected a hint of pride in my husband’s voice. “She made her famous German potato salad, two baked hams, and four cakes – two apple cakes from her Bubbie’s recipe, and two chocolate chip cakes. And I made my famous stew.”

Mace looked impressed, but Gloria seemed annoyed. “You didn’t have to bring all that.”

“Miles and I volunteered to contribute more, since we have so many guests attending the event. Your fellow food-committee member, Joanne, gave me the thumbs-up on the choices. She checked what everyone else had signed up to bring, and she said our stuff wouldn’t be redundant.”

Before Gloria could sputter a reply, Cleric, Sorceress, and the ersatz elf maiden, Dragon, joined us. They nodded politely to Mace and Gloria before Dragon turned to me. “Excuse us, Missy . . .”

Gloria interrupted, her brow furrowed and her hand on her hip. “Why do you always call her Missy? Isn’t her name Marge?”

Dragon blinked. “It’s just a family nickname.”

Yeah, I thought, my family of characters calls me Missy in public because I’ve warned them enough times not to call me Mistress Writer in front of other people.

Dragon turned back to me. “Missy, the lads are taking your food for the pot-luck to the tables that have been set up in the park at the end of our street.”

I nodded. “We should go there now. It’s almost lunchtime.”

“We’ll meet you there!” Gloria waved and headed for the park, still all but dragging Mace along. “Should we save a couple of tables for you?”

Miles shook his head. “We’ll find some seats when we get there.”

Miles and I walked down the street arm-in-arm, with the three companions a few steps behind. We were approaching the park when we heard Gloria above the sounds of the crowd.

Noooooooo!” Gloria was wailing. We ran the rest of the way to see what had happened. When we drew near, we saw Gloria standing next to one of the picnic tables that had been set up to hold the pot-luck buffet. On the other side of the table, my Young Hero and my Gypsy stood, looking aghast. By their feet, Gloria’s to-die-for vegan/tofu stroganoff was all over the ground.spilled food

My red-faced Young Hero was apologizing profusely. “Oh, I am so sorry! It was so clumsy of me! I was just trying to move it over a bit to fit our food onto the table, and the next thing I knew, the whole thing was on the ground.”

Dragon, Cleric, and Sorceress exchanged knowing glances. “Oops.”
Collared
Just then, Deputy Whitewash and Deputy Dawg walked up behind the lads. Deputy Dawg placed a beefy hand on my Young Hero’s shoulder. “Son, that didn’t look like an accident to me.”

Dragon, Cleric, and Sorceress exchanged guilty looks. “Oops.”

Be sure to join us next week to see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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To-DIE-For Stroganoff?

To-DIE-For Stroganoff?

The four friends hurried down the quiet suburban street toward the split-level house they called home. Three houses shy of their destination, Cleric reached out with one hand and grabbed the ersatz elf maiden, Dragon, by the arm. With her other hand, she snagged Sorceress by the strap of the canvass satchel she carried. “Wait!” She firmly planted her feet and jerked the other two to a dead stop. The dwarf, a few steps behind the women, almost ran into them.

“What is it?” Sorceress frowned and pulled the bag’s strap from Cleric’s grasp, while Dragon shook her arm free and reached around to steady the dwarf.

“What are we going to tell Mistress when we get home?” There was a catch in Cleric’s voice and her face was pale.

“We tell her nothing.” Dragon narrowed her eyes. Her tone of voice invited no argument, a fact that was apparently lost on the panicky Cleric.

“But . . . but . . . Mace and Gloria are planning to murder Mistress Writer and Master Miles!” Cleric almost burst into tears. “We must warn them!”

The dwarf scowled. “I be toldin’ ye, there be no need ta be tellin’ anyone. I kin be takin’ care o Mace and Gloria. Just ye be lettin’ me be gittin’ me axe.”

“Oh, yes, that will solve the problem nicely.” Sorceress snorted, and her words dripped with sarcasm. “If Mace and Gloria are found dead at the hands of an apparent axe murderer, where do you think Deputy Whitewash and her intrepid partner Deputy Dawg will begin their investigation?”

“Deputy whosis?” The dwarf tilted his head in confusion.

Dragon sighed and shook her head. “You do not remember the two Sheriff’s deputies who came to investigate Mace and Gloria’s claim that Mistress Writer and Master Miles were keeping a horse in their garden shed?” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/02/18/more-visitors/

2 Police OfficersThe dwarf scrunched his bushy eyebrows down and stroked his unkempt gray beard. Suddenly, his green eyes widened, and he nodded. “Eh, those two! Aye, now I be rememberin’ ’em!”

Dwarf and police officers 2“And I think it safe to say you would not welcome a visit from them, remembering you were brandishing your battle-axe at them the first time they encountered you.” Dragon raised an eyebrow and inclined her head toward the dwarf, who had the grace to blush.

“So then, what are we to do?” Tears threatened to spill from Cleric’s cornflower-blue eyes, as she looked to Dragon for answers.

Dragon furrowed her brow. “Well, we cannot tell Mistress what we heard. That would entail admitting we were trespassing and eavesdropping.” She paused, her eyes narrowed. “I need time to think. For now, we say nothing. We will take turns observing Mace and Gloria – under the protection of my spell of concealment – and we will not allow them access to Mistress Writer or Master Miles. Should they attempt to implement their nefarious plan, we will stop them.”

                                                                    * * *

I was just on my way up the stairs by the front door when four of my characters came trudging into the house, an assortment of flowers, leaves, and branches peeking out of the heavy sacks they were lugging.

“Well, I see your day was successful. It looks like you collected your fair share of botanicals.” I smiled at them.

The four of them shuffled their feet and nodded. Each one mumbled something unintelligible, and not one of them met my eye. They tried to scoot around me, looking as nervous as four long-tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs.

I planted myself directly in their path, holding up one hand like a cop stopping traffic. “Hold it! What’s wrong?”

My four characters stopped dead, eyes as wide as those of deer caught in the glare of oncoming headlights.

Elf facing right“Wrong?” Cleric’s eyes widened further, almost popping from their sockets.

Elf clericDragon tried to elbow cleric without me noticing. She failed. “Nothing is wrong. Why do you ask?” She shrugged, and she wore an expression of pure innocence.

sorceress-facing-rightbag of botanicals“We are all just tired, and we still need to work with these botanicals tonight, Mistress. After all our hard work procuring them, we must get them preserved them before they start to wilt and spoil.” Sorceress presented a logical discourse, completely at odds with her guilty appearance, as she tugged at her shirt, shifted her weight from foot to foot, and looked everywhere but at me.

Dwarf facing right“Oh, me tummy! I be eatin’ too many o them apples!” My Old Dwarf’s face contorted with pain and he clutched his stomach. He bulldozed his way past me and scampered down the steps to the conference room, his three companions hot on his heels.

I shrugged but continued up the stairs rather than following my characters in the other direction. Sometimes it’s best not to know, I reasoned.

for-todays-blog-011My husband was at the top of the stairs. “We both missed dinner tonight. I was just heading into the kitchen for a snack. Care to join me?”

I nodded, absentmindedly.Backyard 050

Miles tilted his head and furrowed his brow, obviously trying to read my expression. “A penny for your thoughts.”

While we walked to the kitchen for a bite to eat, I told him of the strange encounter I had just had in the foyer.

Miles raised an eyebrow. “Do you think they’re up to something?”

“I don’t know. They certainly acted guilty of something.”

Snack“Well, I’m sure we’ll find out about it soon enough.” He handed me one of the deli-bought sandwiches he had taken from the refrigerator. I took it and sat down at the table. Miles grabbed another sandwich for himself, and a couple cans of soda.

MailAs he sat down next to me, he grabbed a few napkins from the holder in the middle of the table. “Oh, by the way, while you were in your office this afternoon, I walked out and checked the mailbox. We got the normal pile of junk mail, a few bills, a postcard from your sister, and a reminder about the neighborhood get-together next week.”

“The get-together!” I shuddered. “I had forgotten all about that. Do we really have to go?”

Miles shrugged. “Not if you don’t want to, but I think it should be a lot of fun.”

“Are we all invited?” I raised an eyebrow at Miles.

He blinked. “Oh.” He took a big bite of sandwich and delayed his answer while he slowly chewed and swallowed. “I guess I never thought about your characters going.”

“They’d be hurt if we told them they couldn’t go with us, but we can’t keep a tight rein on nine characters all day long. I’d go crazy! And they certainly can’t be trusted to behave appropriately on their own. It would be simpler if we stayed home.” I finished my sandwich and took my plate to the sink.

Miles followed suit. “Well, we’ll think about it later. Right now, Father Brown is on, and I don’t want to miss this week’s episode.”

                                                                     * * *

Bright and early the next morning, the doorbell rang, and I almost collided on the stairs with Dragon, still in her guise of an elf maiden. “I’ll get it!” we said, simultaneously.

I nudged her out of the way and opened the door. I gaped at the smiling young woman, with sandy blond tresses framing an open face, standing on my front porch.

Neighbor 2 facing left“Hi, neighbor!” The perky greeting took me by surprise. The last time I had seen Gloria was more than six months ago. She and her husband, Mace, had been stomping out of our yard after unsuccessfully trying to find a horse they had accused us of keeping on our property. At that time, Miles and I had made it quite clear they were not welcome to return here without an invitation. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/the-return-of-the-neighbors/

Since I certainly hadn’t invited Gloria to visit, I crossed my arms over my chest, leaned against the doorjamb, and scowled. Gloria seemed undeterred by my obvious hostility.

“I’m just following up on the reminders the get-together committee sent out this week. We don’t want anyone forgetting about our little neighborhood event in the park next week. Will you and your hubby be there?”

“We haven’t decided yet.” I continued to lean against the door frame and scowl.

“Well, don’t wait ’til the last minute! We need to have an accurate count for seating, and we need to know what everyone’s bringing. We can’t have all desserts and drinks, and no main courses, now can we?”

I raised an eyebrow, and Gloria prattled on.
Stroganoff
“I’m making my to-die-for vegetarian/tofu stroganoff. There’ll be plenty of it, so if any of your out-of-town relatives are here then, they’re more than welcome to come with you and your hubby!”

“My hubby and I will keep that in mind. Anything else?” I glowered.

“Nope, that’s it. Just be sure and let the committee know whether you’re coming, what you’ll contribute to the potluck, and how many guests you’ll be bringing. We need to know by Wednesday of this week. See you at the get-together, neighbor!” Gloria twirled and strutted down the walk, presumably off to irritate another neighbor with her way-too-early-in-the-morning perkiness.

I closed the door, turned, and almost walked right into Dragon. Her face was pale, and beads of sweat dotted her brow. Before I could ask what was wrong, she fled to the conference room. I shrugged and went back upstairs to gather laundry.

                                                                        * * *

All of Dragon’s fellow characters were in the conference room, waiting for her to return. Dragon had gathered everyone earlier that morning and explained to those who had not been with them the night before what she and her comrades had overheard in Mace and Gloria’s yard. She explained how Gloria planned to put poison mushrooms in the food she would serve to Mistress Writer and Master Miles.

As Dragon raced back into the conference room, everyone looked up.

“What’s wrong?” Cleric saw the stricken look on Dragon’s face.

“That was Gloria at the door. She was checking with Mistress to see if she and Master Miles are planning to attend some neighborhood gathering next week.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Sorceress tilted her head and narrowed her eyes.

“Gloria is making her – and I quote – to-die-for stroganoff for the event. She and Mace are going to kill Mistress Writer and Master Miles at the neighborhood dinner!”

Are Mace and Gloria really planning to murder Mistress Writer and Master Miles at the neighborhood get-together next week? Can Mistress Writer’s characters protect her and her husband? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you. But if you do join us, I’d steer clear of Gloria’s stroganoff if I were you!

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A Ducky Day for Collecting Flora (and Overhearing a Murder Plot?)

A Ducky Day for Collecting Flora (and Overhearing a Murder Plot?)

horses-all-gone-for-blogfireworks5 for blogThe weeks following our return from our Memorial Day outing were strained. No one wanted to leave the house. We didn’t even go out to celebrate Independence Day on July 4, as we feared another outing might end the way the Memorial Day weekend outing did.

Picnic table by lakeThe Secret TrailMy characters, my husband, and I had gone on a picnic the Saturday before Memorial Day. After lunch, Miles decided to stay in the shade of the trees and take a nap, while my characters and I went on a nature hike. We followed a trail we had never seen before and found ourselves in another world. We embarked on an odyssey that seemed to stretch for days. When we finally found the way back to our own world, we discovered we had been gone only hours.

(If you missed it, the chronicle of that adventure began with the weekly blog on May 27, https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/05/27/lost/ and continued through the blogs posted on the following eight Sundays)

The incident left us all unsettled and on edge, so I wasn’t surprised when I heard voices arguing one morning in the conference room.

sorceress-facing-right“We must go out and collect the botanicals we need to restock our spell components.”

I recognized that voice. Sorceress spoke in clipped tones and sounded irritated.

Elf“I know we are running low on components, but I just do not want to leave the house.”

The second voice belonged to Cleric. Her voice was low, and she almost sounded as if she were about to burst into tears.

I descended the stairs by the conference room, and saw Sorceress and Cleric facing each other in the middle of the room. Cleric was fidgeting with the cord on her robe, as Sorceress stood with her arms folded over her chest, tapping her foot impatiently.

Sorceress nodded at Cleric’s last statement. The sympathy on her face was in direct contrast to the sharpness of her voice. “You are being unreasonable. We both need the botanicals, and I am not going to go collect them by myself.”

Cleric continued to fidget with the cord that belted her robe. Finally, she blurted, “But what if we end up in another world again?”

Sorceress rolled her eyes and snorted. “That was one isolated incident. I highly doubt it will happen again.”

“I do not care. I am afraid.” Cleric lowered her eyes and blushed furiously.

Dragon breathing smokeI entered the conference room, but before I could say anything, Dragon slammed shut the book she was reading in the corner of the room and stomped over to face her friends. The large beast scowled at the two women, and dark smoke started to drift from her nostrils. “Cleric, a portal to another world could just as easily materialize within this house as without, you know. In fact, it has, on several occasions, if you will remember. And Sorceress, everyone is not as confident as you . . . or as unrelenting. Now, if you two are going to do nothing but argue, please go do it elsewhere!”

Sorceress and Cleric were stunned into silence for several moments. Then pandemonium broke out as the three started yelling at each other and gesticulating wildly.

I waded into the fray and held up my hands for silence. “Excuse me. Excuse me! I know everyone’s nerves are still on edge, but that’s no reason to snap at each other.”

The three companions hung their heads and mumbled in unison. “Sorry.”

Without taking a breath following her apology, Sorceress continued, “But the botanicals are essential, this is the best time of year to collect them, and I am not doing it without help.”

dwarf“I kin be helpin’ ye, lassie.” My Old Dwarf entered the room and joined the conversation.

Sorceress started to scoff, but Dragon glared at her and went to stand next to my Old Dwarf, placing her hand on his shoulder. Sorceress quickly marshaled her features into a tight smile. Her voice was strained as she replied to the dwarf. “I thank you, but I doubt you would know a pansy from deadly nightshade. Besides, you have no need of the plants.” She gestured at Cleric. “Cleric uses the botanicals in her spell components, as do I, so she is the one who needs to assist me in collecting them.” Her tone invited no argument.

I furrowed my brow. “Dragon, don’t you also use botanicals in your spell components?”

Dragon narrowed her eyes. “There are very few spells for which I need components. My power is beyond that.”

I raised an eyebrow. “But there are some?”

Dragon nodded.

“Good. Then you will accompany Cleric and Sorceress while they collect the plants they need, and you can get the few things you require for your spells. You can also provide protection for the other two. And my Old Dwarf can go with you to provide additional protection as well as some muscle for carrying everything home.”

As Sorceress and Dragon started to object, I gave them a look that immediately silenced them. “No arguments. Go. But, Dragon, before you leave the house, you’ll shapseshift to a less conspicuous form. And, you, my rotund friend, will not wear your armor or carry a weapon.”

Another look from me quelled any disagreement on that point. Fifteen minutes later, I watched as Dragon, in her customary guise of an elf maiden, left the house with Sorceress, Cleric, and my Old Dwarf. All four wore jeans and t-shirts and carried large sacks for the items they would collect.

* * *

“Last year, Cleric and I found an area where wildflowers abound. There are several large meadows along a dirt road, divided by small woodlots between the fields, and a large pond. We will go there.” Sorceress led the group down the street to the main road.

Dragon raised an eyebrow and tilted her head. “Are these places where collecting is allowed, or will we need to be discreet?”

Sorceress furrowed her brow. “Discretion is always called for, but they are not areas posted as private property; nor are there any warnings against collecting specimens. As long as we do not take too many specimens from any one area, and we fill in any holes where we harvest entire plants, we should be all right.”

“I do na be understandin’ why ye do na jest be magickin’ tha flowers and stuffs ye be needin’.” My Old Dwarf spoke around the bite of apple he was munching.

Sorceress rolled her eyes. “The components of a spell must be precisely developed from natural ingredients. Conjured plants would not work properly.” Her tone of voice indicated she felt this was common knowledge, something the dwarf should know, but he just shrugged.

The four companions continued along the road, arguing and sniping at each other, until Sorceress turned down a dirt trail. “The first meadow is just down here, a little way into the woods.”

Cleric stopped dead. “I . . . I cannot go on.” He eyes were wide and sweat beaded her forehead.

wildflowers along the fence“Aw, lassie, there be no need ta be afeared. The beastie an’ me be here ta be protectin’ ye.” The dwarf patted Cleric’s shoulder.

Sorceress sighed. “Let us just commence. The quicker we start, the quicker we can gather what we need and return home.”

Cleric looked at Dragon and the dwarf. They both nodded and smiled encouragingly at her. She sighed, squared her shoulders, and followed the path to the first meadow.

Her friends followed her and looked around. Dragon nodded approvingly. “Oh, yes, this is perfect!”

Bee on flowerButterfly on flowerCleric walked over to some yellow flowers and started examining them. “Be careful! Gently shoo away any bees, butterflies, or other pollinators before collecting the botanicals. I understand from conversations with Mistress that the pollinator populations are declining here. Do not harm any of them.”

For the next several hours, three of the friends collected flowers, leaves, stems, roots and fruit from the numerous meadows along the dirt road, while the dwarf stood guard and munched a seemingly endless supply of apples from his pockets and pouch.

Dragon kept track of what they were collecting.

“Bell flowers.”

“Bee balm.”Bee Balm

“Two different types of milkweed.”

“Ornamental onion.”Ornamental Onion

“Vetch.”Vetch

“Thistle in three stages – blossoming, in full flower, and gone to seed.”

“Black-eyed Susan.”Black-eyed Susan

“Woodland Sunflower.”

“Prairie coreopsis”Prairie Coreopsis

“Burdock.”Burdock

“Bird’s foot trefoil.”Bird's Foot Trefoil

“Clover.”

“Queen Anne’s lace.”Queen Anne's Lace

“Juniper berries.”Juniper berries

“Purple coneflower.”

“Anything else?”

Cleric nodded. “I have a lily I cannot identify. Should I harvest it?”

Unknown lily
“Yes. If we are unsure of its identification, we cannot be certain of its properties, so we must research it in the books in the conference room. It is easier to research it if we have a specimen, rather than attempting to remember its exact appearance.”

The companions continued their work for several hours. Finally, Sorceress sat back and sighed. She looked over at the piles of botanicals Dragon had organized. “This is enough for today. I daresay it will take all week for us to properly prepare what we have collected. We will return here again in the fall to harvest more.”

The three magic users packed up to head for home.

“Ohhhhh. Me tummy be hurtin’ bad, real bad!” The dwarf started moaning and clutching his stomach.

Sorceress snorted. “How convenient, now that it is time for you to help us carry these heavy sacks.”

“You probably just ate too many apples.” Cleric reached into her pouch. “I have some healing herbs that should quickly put you to rights.”

“We should go over by the pond and rest while we wait for the dwarf to recover.” Sorceress pointed to the body of water adjoining the field.

Dragon agreed. “Good idea. I am fatigued.”

“Oh, look!” Cleric pointed to some birds in a nearby tree. “It is a shame Mistress is not with us! She would love to see that one. She calls it a Common Yellowthroat, but the way she gets so excited whenever she sees it, it cannot be very common.”

Common Yellowthroat
“Is that other bird its young?” Sorceress pointed to a smaller bird in a nearby tree.

Fledgling Eastern Phoebe

“No, I believe I have heard Mistress call that one an Eastern Phoebe.”

“And what is that one?” Sorceress pointed again.

Black-capped Chickadee

“That is a Black-capped Chickadee. That is one we see a lot in the backyard.” Cleric looked proud that she could remember. “Oh, and there’s another one we have at home! Do you see the American Goldfinch eating the thistle seeds? I am glad we did not take too many thistle plants. The birds rely on the seeds as a major source of food.”

American Goldfinch

“Mistress would love the ducks here in the pond. Look – there are even some fuzzy ducklings!” Dragon watched the waterfowl with rapt attention.

It took a while, and quite a few herbs, to settle the dwarf’s stomach, but the companions didn’t mind spending the time watching the birds. By the time they were ready to go home, though, the afternoon sun hung low in the sky, and many of the ducks in the pond had already settled down to sleep.

Dragon frowned. “Is there a faster way to get back home, a different way than the route we took to get here?”

“We could be goin’ cross-country, instead o be followin’ tha roads back.” Dwarf pointed. “It be a lot closer thet way. Ye be knowin’ – tha way tha birdies be goin’.”

Sorceress rolled her eyes. “I believe the correct phrase is as the crow flies.”

“Din na I jest be sayin’ thet?” The dwarf sighed and shook his head. He picked up several of the sacks full of botanicals and started off.

“Wait.” Dragon frowned. “Just in case this route takes us onto private property, I best cast a spell of concealment on all of us.”

“Ye be knowin’ full well, beastie, thet a dwarf can na be majicked.”

“And you know full well that a spell of concealment does not affect those who are to be concealed, but those from whom something is to be concealed.”

“Eh. I be forgettin’. I be guessin’ thet tummyache still be affectin’ me.”

“I have more healing herbs.” Cleric reached for her pouch.

The dwarf made a face at the thought of consuming more of the bitter herbs. “Nay, lassie! I be feelin’ a whole bunch better now!”

Sorceress chuckled. “Amazing recovery.”

As soon as Dragon had cast the spell of concealment, the four companions started off across the meadow. In half the time it had taken them to reach the first meadow earlier that day, they found themselves back in the subdivision where they lived with Mistress Writer and Master Miles.

“Look! Is that not our neighbors, Mace and Gloria?” Cleric pointed to a couple sitting on a gazebo in a lush yard.

“It is.” Dragon glowered at the two troublemakers.

The dwarf stopped and looked around, wide-eyed. “We best be gittin’ outten here right quick-like, afore they be seein’ us!”

Sorceress scoffed. “They cannot see us, remember?”

“I be forgettin’ agin.”

“Shhh. What are they saying?” Dragon furrowed her brow, tilted her head, and cupped her ear.

“What . . .?” Cleric started to ask.

“Shhhh.” Dragon tried to listen to the couple’s conversation. “Let us get closer.”

As the companions crept over to the gazebo, they could clearly hear what Mace and Gloria were saying.

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

Gloria laughed a deep, throaty laugh. “Don’t worry, darling! I’ve got it all planned.”

“Oh?” Mace quirked an eyebrow.

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

“Poison mushrooms?” Mace’s eyes widened, and a smile spread across his face. “Do you think you can get our . . . friends . . . to eat them?”
Stroganoff
“Oh, darling, do you know anyone who can resist my stroganoff?” Gloria simpered at her husband. “By this time next week, we will have one less headache with which to contend in our happy little neighborhood.”

Dragon shoved the dwarf toward the side yard, then reached back and grabbed her other two friends by their arms and practically dragged them along. Once they had reached the street, Dragon let go of them.

Cleric wailed. “Mace and Gloria are going to try to kill Mistress Writer and Master Miles! We must warn them”

Sorceress scowled. “How do you know it is Mistress Writer and Master Miles they plan to murder?”

Dragon snorted. “Mistress and her mate are not among Mace and Gloria’s favorite people. Remember the trouble with Mystery?” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/the-return-of-the-neighbors/

Cleric nodded. “But it matters not whom they plan to murder. We must alert the authorities!”

The dwarf glowered in the direction of Mace and Gloria. “No need. I kin be takin’ care o those two. Just let me be gittin’ me axe.”Dwarf
Are Mace and Gloria planning to kill Mistress Writer and Master Miles, or is someone else the target of their nefarious plot? Will they succeed, or will Mistress Writer’s characters intervene? Be sure to come back next week and find out what’s going on in the neighborhood. 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.

Fixtures Light Elegant Lighting Fixture And Supply Company Intended For Front Porch Light Fixtures Front Porch Light Fixtures

Preparing

Preparing

The looks on the faces of my characters did not match the strength and determination in my voice; their looks more closely matched the lack of confidence I was trying to mask with my bravado. I repeated myself to the distraught knights. “You will not be annihilated. Not if we can help it.”

dragon looking right

Dragon nodded, though somewhat hesitantly. “What is it you are up against? Tell us the number and nature of your attackers, that we might coordinate a plan to defeat them.”

The ranking knight frowned. “We know not who . . . or what . . . they are, nor how many. They come in a thick, rolling fog. We never see them. We only hear the devastation as the castle is laid waste. When the fog lifts, more of the castle we defend lies in ruins.”

Fog

Dragon blinked, cocked her head, and frowned. “So, you know not what it is you fight?”

The knight bowed his head. “We do not.”

My Old Dwarf scoffed. “How kin ye be fightin’ summat ye do na e’en be seein’?”

The knight sighed. “That, noble dwarf, is the conundrum.”

Black smoke started to drift from Dragon’s snout. “I daresay we need to hear your story from the beginning.”

The trio of knights exchanged wary looks. Slowly, they lay down their shields, but did not sheath their weapons before cautiously drawing near.

The ranking knight was the first to speak. “First, let us make our introductions. I am Sir Daniver. My companions are Sir Hrolf and Sir Jenneseer.”

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I proffered my hand. “I am known as Mistress Writer, and these are some of my characters.”

“What?” Sir Daniver had started to reach for my outstretched hand but jumped back, and his eyes widened. “Thy … thy characters?

“We will explain later.” Dragon puffed a cloud of smoke from her nostrils. “We need to hear your story now, that we may formulate a workable defense.”

Sir Daniver 2Sir Daniver eyed us suspiciously, but he began the tale. “We come from a distant kingdom. Our country has been at peace for many generations. It is a good kingdom in which to live. We enjoy unparalleled prosperity. All in our nation have full bellies, and none want for material goods.”Sir Hrolf

Sir Hrolf picked up the tale. “It is a good kingdom in which to live. It is a boring kingdom in which to be a knight.”Sir Jenneseer

 

 

Sir Jenneseer nodded. “We have tournaments every week. The same knights walk away with the top honors week after week.”

tournament

“Eh, then ye be jealous o these knights!” My Old Dwarf gave the knights an understanding nod.

“No, Sir Dwarf. We are those knights.” Sir Daniver blushed, and he scuffed his toe in the dirt. “I do not boast. It is fact. We have bested our competition in more tournaments than we can remember . . . every single week for half a decade now, at least.”

Sir Hrolf clenched his jaw and slammed his fist into his open palm in frustration. “We had no one worthy against whom to test ourselves. We wished only to be able to prove ourselves against a new and challenging opponent.”

My Old Dwarf nodded again, a slight smile of understanding tugging at the corners of his mouth. “So ye be wishin’. An’ summat be grantin’ ye yer wish.”

Sir Daniver winced and hung his head. He mumbled his reply. “Yes. Wish listeners, they called themselves. Strange, mesmerizing little creatures. Once they had lured us to this castle with promises of a most challenging opponent, they told us we could only return to our own kingdom if we could defeat the enemy who besieged this castle.”

 

The other two knights blushed and spoke as one. “We were fools!”

Cleric furrowed her brow. “Have you tried to find your way back to your own kingdom?”

Sir Daniver nodded. “Yes, Milady. We have roamed the countryside for miles around. We have spoken with many of the inhabitants of this land, following their directions to the supposed route back to our own land. We always end up back here, often just as another attack is being waged on the castle.”
Sir Jenneseer 2
“If the last of these ruins fall, we will be forced to remain here in exile for the rest of our natural lives.” Sir Jenneseer’s voice was choked with emotion.

“We will not allow that to happen.” I sounded a lot more confident than I felt.
Sir Daniver
“But . . . but thou shalt not use witchcraft. We will not accept the aid of a witch.” Sir Daniver thumped his hand in his palm.
dragon looking right
Dragon snorted. “We will use any means at our disposal, and you will accept our aid.”
Elf facing right
“Indeed!” Cleric smoothed her robes. “You welcomed the aid sent by the Lord of the Forest, whom you know to be a magical creature. Surely you realized some in our company wield magic!”

The knight shook his head and scowled. “Magic and witchcraft are two different things!”

Dragon snorted again. “None among us are witches, but several of us wield magic powers that may be able to save you and this castle.”

Sir Daniver grumbled, but grudgingly acquiesced.

Sir Hrolf 2“Then, with thy help, we will not face defeat and exile?” Sir Hrolf tilted his head and raised his eyebrows in a pleading gesture.Backyard 050

“We will not allow that to happen.” I tried to sound more confident than I felt.
Elf
“No, we will not.” Cleric shook her head with determination. “If we were not equal to this undertaking, the Lord of the Forest would not have tasked us with providing aid to the three of you.”

“I hope thou art right, Milady. I most fervently pray thou art right!” Sir Jenneseer brought his clasped hands to his mouth and closed his eyes.

“Praying is all well and good, but we need a plan.” My Gypsy turned to my Foreman. “You were a commander in your king’s mounted guard. Can you devise a defense?”

 

“It will be most difficult against an unknown and unseen enemy.” My Foreman rubbed his chin. “I believe other members of our group are more suited for this type of warfare.” He turned to Dragon. “Mayhap you can use your power of illusion to provide us with horses.”

dragon looking rightDragon nodded. “It will be done.”Young Hero close-up

“And more men at arms.” My Young Hero added.

Dragon nodded. “The annoying elf and I will coordinate a defense with you and the other non-magic users. Sorceress, Cleric, and the Gypsy lad will use their powers where they can.”

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress pursed her lips. “Dragon, you and the Arrogant One might be able to cast your illusory magic with no aids, but Cleric, the Gypsy lad, and I need our spell components and paraphernalia to create our enchantments. Without them, we cannot be of much use.”

Sir Jenneseer sidled closer to Sorceress and cleared his throat. The knight glanced over at his two comrades, who were deep in conversation with my Foreman and my Bounty Hunter. He made certain they did not overhear his whispered conversation. “There are some books, some spell components, and other paraphernalia within the ruins.”

 

Sorceress gave the knight a penetrating look. “Are you certain of this?”

Sir Jenneseer glanced again at his fellow knights and lowered his voice even further. “I am certain. My . . . my sister is a hedge witch.” He blushed and hung his head. “I have seen items of this sort many times, so I easily recognized them when I chanced upon them. Thou wilt find botanicals and other components as well as the necessary apparatus.”

Dragon turned to Sorceress. “Go, then.”

Sorceress nodded and departed with Cleric and my Gypsy, while Dragon and my Arrogant One stayed to coordinate efforts with my Foreman, my Bounty Hunter, my Young Hero, my Old Dwarf and the knights.

Several hours later, we were prepared.

Prepared

 

Are our preparations sufficient to save the castle? If we prevail, will the Lord of the Forest keep his promise and allow us to go back to our own world? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

The Way Home?

The Way Home?

Special clearingSomething had startled me from a sound sleep. I jumped up and found my characters also scrambling to their feet, yawning and stretching. As we tried to determine what had disturbed our slumber, we realized the feel of the clearing had changed.

dwarf-facing-rightMy Old Dwarf, who had been standing watch with Dragon, came scurrying over. “Do ye be feelin’ it?” He spoke in a hushed tone. “Tha very air be alive and quivery-like!”

All around me, my characters were nodding, brows furrowed. I turned to my Old Dwarf. “Yes, I think we all feel it. Perhaps that is what woke us.”

scaly dragon looking rightDragon walked over to us, slowly, almost as if in a trance. Her eyes were hooded. She inhaled deeply, then stuck out her long, reptilian tongue and tasted the air. “Magic.” She barely whispered the word. “Very powerful magic.”

Sorceress, my Arrogant One, my Gypsy, and Cleric all nodded and murmured their agreement.

My Old Dwarf shook his head and scoffed. “Do na be daft! Ye be knowin’ full well thet dwarves can na be magicked.”

Dragon smiled. “Dwarves may be immune to magical spells, and they may be unable to cast magic, but if they come into contact with a great enough magic power, even dwarves can feel its presence, my diminutive friend.” She paused, taking another taste of the air. “This magic is so powerful that I am sure it touches even the most mundane or non-magical creature.” Dragon continued standing there, sniffing.

A noise behind us startled us. As one, we whirled around and found ourselves facing a large white unicorn across the meadow. A chill went down my spine that had nothing to do with the crisp morning air.

unicorn

None of us moved, but we were not rooted in place by fear. From the look of awe on the faces of my characters – a look that was surely mirrored in my own face – I believe we all remained still out of a sense of wonderment. As we gawked at him, the unicorn remained motionless in the golden light of dawn, staring back at us.

After many long minutes, the majestic creature slowly drew nearer, then stopped and whickered softly. He pawed the ground and tossed his head.

Dragon slowly approached him. She towered over the creature, but the unicorn showed no fear.Dragon and unicorn

The two eminently magical creatures stood in silent communion for nearly a half hour. Finally, Dragon nodded, bowed to the unicorn, and returned to us. We crowded around, eager to hear what had transpired.

Arrogant One facing right“Is that the purported Lord of the Forest whom the royal mer-child said might help us?” My Arrogant One sneered and looked sidelong at the unicorn standing placidly in the middle of the clearing. “It looks like the second cousin to a donkey.”

Dragon and my Arrogant OneDark smoke poured from Dragon’s nostrils, and she snarled at the annoying elf. “He is the Lord of the Forest, and you would be well advised to keep a civil tongue in your head, twit. In this world, the unicorns are the most ancient of species. They are the supreme wielders of magic, and their incredible power far exceeds your meager abilities. I daresay it is even greater than my own.”

Bounty HunterAs my Arrogant One started to reply, my Bounty Hunter clapped a hand over the elf’s mouth. He narrowed his eyes and gave Dragon a penetrating look. “Is this beast as beneficent as he is magnificent? Will he assist us in our quest to return to our world?”

Dragon nodded. “We must return to the wall of branches the dwarf chopped down. Then, we must perform a service for the knights we met in that area. Only then will we be free to return home.”
Backyard 050
I heaved a huge sigh. I pulled off my hat and raked my hand through my hair, then plopped the cap back in place. “We’ve come a long way, through many twists and turns. Do you think we can find our way back to that spot?”
mens-991728_1280My Foreman interrupted. “First, what is this service we must perform?”
Gypsy close-up
My Gypsy nodded. “Yes, tell us about this service. And what guarantee do we have that we will be able to return home upon completion of the task?”

Dragon and my GypsyBlack smoke continued to erupt from Dragon’s snout, and her eyes narrowed dangerously. “You speak out of ignorance, Gypsy. Like dragons, unicorns are honorable creatures. Do not fear – once we have rendered a service to the knights, we will be able to return home. The Lord of the Forest has given his word.”

Young Hero close-upMy Young Hero moved closer to his friend and placed a reassuring hand on the Gypsy’s shoulder. “We mean no offense, Dragon. We know you are a noble beast because we are familiar with you. But we have no experience with unicorns. How do you know this beast is honorable and will keep his word?”

Dragon gazed into my Young Hero’s guileless green eyes. “I know you mean no offense, stripling. You have no cunning or deceit within your heart. Therefore, I will answer you. I know the unicorn is honorable because he and I have seen into each other’s soul.”

My Young Hero nodded. “Then, since we trust your word, my friend, we will trust his. Let us start back to the wall of branches.”

Elf facing rightCleric fidgeted with the cord on her robe. “How will we find our way back? Mistress is right – we have been on a long and winding path.”

My Foreman snorted. “The Bounty Hunter and I are fair hands at tracking. We will find the way.”

“There is no need.” Dragon nodded toward the unicorn. “The Lord of the Forest will lead the way.”

Stu-04-NatGal“Wait. You have yet to explain the service we must render to the knights.” Sorceress stood, her arms folded over her chest, her brow furrowed, her mouth a tight slash across her face.

Dragon lowered her head and she scuffed one enormous clawed foot back and forth. When she finally answered, she blurted out her words quickly, as if expecting opposition. “We must help them in battle, that they may save and restore their castle.”

Arrogant One facing right“Oh, is that all?” The petulant whine of my Arrogant One indicated he had finally squirmed free of my Bounty Hunter’s grasp. “Well, as long as it does not involve any danger.” His voice dripped with a double helping of sarcasm and scorn.

Dragon thrust her face close to my Arrogant One and glared at the elf almost nose-to-nose. “It is not too great a risk, considering the alternative. Or do you desire to remain here? If so, just say the word. I am sure it could be arranged.”

My Old Dwarf smirked. “Thet be workin’ jest fine fer me!”

“That’s enough.” I heaved another sigh. “I’m sure everyone wants to go home. I know I do. Let’s just do what the unicorn requires of us. I see no alternative.”

The unicorn, still standing placidly in the middle of the clearing, nodded. He trotted off, never looking back to see if we followed.

Unicorn

The way back to the wall of branches was swift. The landscape flew past at a dizzying speed, though it did not feel as though we moved any faster than a comfortable walk. We arrived within the hour without any of our company having even broken a sweat.

“Where did he go?” My Gypsy looked about, eyes wide, one hand on his hip, the other scratching his head. “I thought the unicorn was right ahead of us.”

We looked about, but the Lord of the Forest had simply vanished after leading us to the battered wall.

“I knew that beast was not to be trusted!” My Arrogant One drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his robes in both hands. “He has delivered us to the knights, who will now most assuredly slaughter us!”

My Old Dwarf rolled his eyes. “Lassie, do we really be needin’ ta be takin’ tha elfie back wit us?”

How many times must I tell you? Do not call me elfie!” My Arrogant One’s face was red as a beet and he shook with rage. His voice hit a register that even the best operatic sopranos would have trouble reaching.

“Quiet, you buffoon!” Dragon snarled at the elf. “We are here to provide succor to the knights, we know not against whom. Do you wish to alert the enemy to our presence?”

The elf gave Dragon a sullen look but remained quiet.

back to the tangled wallI examined the wall of branches, which had already started growing back in the scant few days since my Old Dwarf had reduced it to a pile of kindling. “It looks like there is still enough of an opening for us to squeeze through, although you may have to transform into your alter-ego of an elf maiden, Dragon.”

Dragon shook her head. “I will shrink to whatever size will allow me passage, but I will remain in my true form.”

I nodded and started to lead the way through the tangle of branches. My Old Dwarf grabbed me. “I be leadin’ tha way, lassie, an’ tha beastie be bringin’ up tha rear. Ye be keepin’ yerself in tha middle, wit tha Gypsy lad, Sorceress, an’ Cleric closest aboot ye. Tha Foreman, tha Bounty Hunter, an’ tha udder laddie kin be protectin’ tha perimeter. Iffin there be trouble, and tha first group do na be able ta be protectin’ ye, tha magickers kin be usin’ their power ta be keepin’ ye safe.”

“You forgot me.” My Arrogant One pouted.

“Now did I be doin’ thet?” My Old Dwarf didn’t wait for a reply, but dove headlong at the tangle of branches, using his axe to enlarge the passageway.

I grabbed my Arrogant One. “Just fall in line behind Cleric.”

Once on the other side of the branch wall, we headed down the wide avenue straight ahead of us, the path taken by the knights when they had departed us our first day in this world. Trees lined both sides of the road, their branches forming a canopy overhead, shielding us from the hot midday sun. At the end of the twin line of trees, the road continued for several miles through open fields before starting the gentle ascent into the rolling hillside. A cooling breeze swept across the countryside.

As we rounded a bend in the road, we came upon the ruins of a castle in the foothills. The trio of knights we had been tasked with helping were there, positioned to challenge any intruders.Knights protecting castle ruins

“Halt! Why hast thou come here, witch? Must every stone of this castle fall before thou art satisfied?” The ranking knight’s voice cracked with emotion.Knight on foot

I scowled at the chevalier and his two comrades. “I told you before, sir knight, if I were a witch, you would be a toad, hopping around on the forest floor.”third knight

“Then what brings thee to our castle . . . or what is left of it?” The second knight’s voice was as full of emotion as was his commander’s.

Dragon stepped forward. “We have come to help.”second knight

The third knight drew his sword. “Yes! Thou hast come to help our enemies in their final onslaught.”

scaly dragon looking right

Dragon raised her hands in a placating gesture. “No. We have no knowledge of your enemies. The Lord of the Forest has petitioned us to give you aid.”

unicorn 2

The ranking knight narrowed his gaze. “The unicorn sent thee? Why did thou not tell us this when we met some days ago?”

I stepped forward. “We had not encountered the unicorn then.”

The knight who had drawn his sword sheathed it again. “The noble beast is too late in sending us aid. Our castle lies in ruins, and our enemies will surely return by nightfall to annihilate us.”

Backyard 050

 

I squared my shoulders and set my jaw. “Not if we can help it.”

 

 

What aid might we give the knights? If we stand with them, will their enemies overwhelm us? Will we perish beside them, here in this strange land? If we save the knights and help them defeat their enemies, will the unicorn keep his word and help us return home? Be sure to join us again next week to find out! We’ll leave the porch light on for you.