I opened the door to the conference room and stopped dead.
Gone was the large, airy room with a huge round table at the center, plush carpeting underfoot, and comfortable furnishings throughout. The chamber before me had the stark appearance of a one-room stone cottage with a hard-packed earthen floor. The room was sparsely furnished with a rustic wooden table and some stools. Across the room, a stack of logs blazed in a huge fireplace. In front of the hearth, Dragon reclined on her belly, front legs tucked under her chest. Her eyes were at half-mast as she stared into the fire, watching the dancing flames, apparently lost in thought.
I crossed the room and pulled up a stool. “Love what you’ve done with the place!”
Dragon snorted and gave me an indifferent glance before returning to her musing.
I waited, figuring my friend would eventually say something; but after about 10 minutes, my patience wore thin. “So, come here often?”
Dragon rolled to her side and looked at me wistfully. “I do not know.”
“Oh?” I tried not to sound too curious. Dragon had been missing for more than two weeks, and had only returned several days ago, with no clear memory of where she had been, or what she had done. If this room represented the first glimmer of recollection, I did not want to push too hard, lest she lose it.
Dragon shook her head, as if trying to clear it. She began to shimmer, gradually shape-shifting into her customary form of an elf maiden. She took a seat on the edge of the hearth.
“Nothing has changed. As I told you the day I returned, I have snatches of what might be memories. So many images are swimming through my brain, and I can make no sense of any of them. I see people I do not know, and places with which I am not familiar. I thought if I created one of the places here, and studied it, I might recall more.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Did it work?”
“No.” Dragon’s elven brow furrowed, and her big, almond eyes grew moist.
I patted her hand. “Don’t give up. Give it some time. You’ll remember.” I paused, looking around. “There are two bowls of some sort of gruel or oatmeal on the table. If you were here, do you remember anyone being here with you?”
“I think so. Someone prepared the porridge, and it was not me. It was a man, I think.” Dragon squeezed her eyes closed. “A . . . a dwarf.” She paused, then shook her head. “No. A half-dwarf. I think I remember him.”
“Well enough to create his illusion here?”
“Perhaps. I am not sure.” Dragon sighed. “Leave me, please. I just need more time to think, to meditate on the images in my mind’s eye, and put them all together.”
I nodded and rose. “I understand. Is that why you sent my Old Dwarf away?”
“I have not sent him away. I tried, but he refuses to let me out of his sight.”
I looked around the small room. “Where is he, then?”
Dragon giggled. She pointed to a broom propped up next to the hearth.
I gaped at her. “Wait. Do you really expect me to believe you turned my Old Dwarf into a broom? I thought dwarves were immune to magic.”
“Eh, I do na really be a broom, lass. The big beastie jest be makin’ me look like one.” The voice was coming from the bristly sweeper. “I do na be the one what be magicked. Ye be right – a dwarf can na be magicked. The magic be workin’ on e’ryone else. It be makin’ ’em see a broom, instead o be seein’ me. The beastie tolded me it be so I do na be distractin’ ’er whilst she be thinkin’.”
I chuckled. “I see.”
The elf maiden winked at me, then turned toward the broom. She addressed it in a very stern tone. “Brooms do not speak. If a broom breaks my concentration, that broom risks becoming acquainted with the inner workings of a dragon’s digestive system.”
The broom yelped and huddled closer to the wall. “This broom be real quiet-like now. Ye will na e’en be knowin’ it be here.”
I chuckled. “Well, I will leave you to your task of remembering. I hope I will see you both at dinner tonight.”
The elf maiden nodded, then shimmered and returned to her true form. As I left the room, Dragon was once again reclining on her belly, front legs tucked under her chest, staring into the fire. And the broom was standing quietly at attention near her by the hearth.
Later that day, Miles found me sitting on the deck, watching my Foreman and the lads performing some cavalry drills on their illusory horses in the backyard.
I looked up at him and smiled. “Hi, honey! It’s so nice, now that Dragon is back, that my Foreman and the lads have their horses back as well. They’re really looking good. Want to watch for a while?”
“Okay.” Miles sat down beside me, and took the glass of apple cider I poured for him. “I enjoy Dragon’s illusions. They’re entertaining, provide enjoyment, and she creates them for a good purpose. Your Arrogant One’s illusions are just annoying.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I just ran into a talking broom in the kitchen.”
My eyebrows shot up. “A talking broom?”
Miles nodded and chuckled. “My jaw almost hit the floor when I walked into the kitchen and saw a broom ransacking the refrigerator. Then it turned to me and started talking, and I collected my wits. I realized it was just another of the elf’s illusions. I guess I should be used to that by now.”
I frowned. “What did it say?”
“It said to tell you she’s back.” Miles snorted. “We already know that Dragon is back, so what was the point of creating the illusion of a talking broom to tell us this?”
I placed my hand on my husband’s arm. “Honey? Can you remember the broom’s exact words?”
Miles’ brow furrowed. “I think so. It was so silly. It was speaking just like your Old Dwarf. It said . . .” Miles cleared his throat and imitated my Old Dwarf’s gruff voice. “. . . Aye, there ye be, lad! Now ye be listenin’ real good. Ye be needin’ ta be findin’ yer lass and be tellin’ ’er thet she be back. Do ye be unnerstannin’? Ye be needin’ ta be tellin’ ’er right quick-like. She be back!” Miles chuckled. “Then it grabbed a ham and a bottle of cider from the refrigerator, and ran out of the kitchen and down the stairs.”
I frowned again. “I don’t think it meant that Dragon is back.”
Miles raised an eyebrow. “Well, what did your Arrogant One mean?”
“Oh, it wasn’t my Arrogant One. Come on, I’ll explain on the way. We need to get to the conference room.”
As we scurried down the stairs, I quickly gave Miles all the details of my earlier visit with Dragon in the conference room.
“So, then, who do you think your Old Dwarf meant . . . she be back?”
“I imagine he was referring to the only other female who was missing – the Great Wyrm.”
As we approached the door to the conference room, I placed my hand on my husband’s arm. “We should enter very quietly. I don’t want to distract the Great Wyrm if she’s in the middle of any magic.”
Miles nodded. “Indeed! I imagine that could have disastrous consequences.”
I nodded, and the two of us crept forward and slowly pushed the door open. The chamber was back to normal. Across the room, on the other side of the round table, Dragon and the Great Wyrm were deep in conversation in front of Dragon’s favorite illusory fireplace. In the corner, my Old Dwarf, reinstated to his normal appearance, was munching on a ham and washing it down with long swigs of apple cider.
The two wyrms saw us as we slipped into the room, and immediately broke off their conversation. They greeted us and beckoned us to join them.
I smiled broadly at the Great Wyrm. “It’s great to see that you are alive and unharmed! Dragon couldn’t remember anything that had transpired since the two of you disappeared from this room.”
A small puff of smoke erupted from the Great Wyrm’s nostrils. “Actually, Mistress Writer, Dragon remembers far too much. And I fear your other characters may remember more than is prudent.”
I frowned. “I see. Then how do you propose remedying that situation?”
The Great Wyrm furrowed her brow and gave the question some consideration. “If you would be so kind, would you gather all of your characters here this evening?”
I shrugged. “I’ll try to locate them all and gather them here, but what under pretense do you suggest I do so?”
The Great Wyrm gaped at me. “They will not simply obey and gather here at your command?”
I shrugged. “Most will come at my invitation. There are two who might prove difficult to convince, even if I phrase it as a command.”
A plume of dark smoke rose from Dragon’s snout. “They are the two who are most dangerous.”
The Great Wyrm scowled. “Well, no matter what means you must employ, it is imperative that you gather them here this night.”
My Old Dwarf joined us, speaking around a mouthful of ham, making it even more difficult to understand him.
“What?” The Great Wyrm looked at him as if he were quite mad.
My Old Dwarf swallowed half the food in his mouth and tried again. “Eh, do na be worryin’. I guar-un-tee e’rebody be here.” He hefted his battleaxe and grinned, and morsels of food fell out of his mouth. He picked them off his beard and shirt and popped them back into his mouth and continued chewing.
Looking down her nose at the dwarf’s lack of manners, the Great Wyrm sniffed disdainfully. “Be sure they are.”
Miles looked at the big beast nervously, sweat forming on his brow. He cleared his throat and addressed her in a shaky voice. “Should Marge and I be here, too?”
The Great Wyrm tilted her head and studied us. “No . . . I do believe that will be necessary.”
Miles heaved a huge sigh of relief.
The big beast smiled, and turned to me. “As we will not see each other again after this night’s gathering, I would like to bid you fare thee will, thank you for your hospitality, and assure you that the hexed items have been removed from your world and placed in safekeeping. Once I depart this time, the conduit between the worlds will collapse. You need fear no further threat from any inhabitant of my world; nor will my world be threatened by anyone from this world, as they will find no way to traverse the expanse between worlds.”
I nodded. “And the purpose of the gathering tonight is to erase any memory of your visit and the surrounding circumstances from the mind of my characters, to prevent them from searching for a way to enter your world?”
“Then I will make sure all of my characters are here. I wish you farewell, good luck and safe travels. I am saddened by the thought that I will never see you again, never know what becomes of you, but I understand the reason.”
* * *
Breakfast the next day was hushed. I looked around the table at my characters. Cleric and Sorceress had dark circles under their eyes. My Bounty Hunter slumped in his chair, eyelids drooping and bloodshot eyes unfocused. My Foreman picked up his fork and made three attempts at stabbing a piece of flapjack before he just gave up, the fork clattering loudly onto the plate. The lads couldn’t stop yawning, and they both looked like they were going to topple into their plates, sound asleep. Dragon closed her eyes and rubbed her temples, and the gray smoke rings erupting from her snout fell to the floor with quiet thuds. My Arrogant One was surlier than usual, snarling at anyone who dared bother him with a request to pass this or that. Only my Old Dwarf seemed to be in good spirits, going back for four servings of scrambled eggs with potatoes and country gravy.
“You seem rather chipper this morning.” I watched my Old Dwarf, still shoveling food into his mouth after my other characters had wandered off.
“Yeah, you do appear bright-eyed and bushy tailed,” Miles remarked.
“Eh, tha overs been hafin’ a ri’ rou’ ni’ o it.”
My husband frowned. “What did he say?”
I shrugged. My Old Dwarf was harder to understand than usual, as he pushed his words through a mouthful of food.
“Again, please, in understandable syllables?”
He chugged down half a bottle of cider and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before repeating himself. “Tha others been havin’ a right rough night o it.”
“Oh? And how do you know that?”
“Wale, I be there, dinna I? Wit them and the great beastie?”
I jumped up and clapped my hand firmly over the old reprobate’s mouth. Miles looked around for any sign of my other characters.
“You remember that?” My voice was a harsh whisper.
My Old Dwarf pushed my hand away. “O course I be rememberin’ thet, lass.”
“Shhhhhhhhhhhhh!” Miles looked aghast.
“O course I be rememberin’ thet.” He dropped his voice to a loud whisper. “I be rememberin’ all o it, from the first time the lad here be talkin’ like the Innkeeper and ye be findin’ summat here from tha other world, almost a year ago; all the way ta tha great beastie magickin’ e’ryone lastest night afore she be goin’ home, so’s they do na be rememberin’ and knowin’ there do be a way ta git ta thet world from here. I remember e’ry bit o it. I be tellin’ ye and tellin’ ye, lass, a dwarf can na be magicked!”
I could feel the color draining from my face, and I could see Miles turning just as pale.
“Great. I just hope none of the others ever find out what you remember.”
“An’ jest how da ye be thinkin’ they be findin’ oot? I do na be no blabbertymouf! A dwarf be the very soul o discretion, lass. Ye kin be dependin’ on me.”
Is this odyssey finally over? Can my Old Dwarf be trusted to keep quiet about recent events? Let’s hope so! Be sure to come back again and join us for new adventures and misadventures. We’ll leave the porch light on for you!