Good morrow, old friends and new readers! Dragon here (in my accustomed form of an elf, to facilitate easier typing).
With the stressful situation of trying to discover who hexed all of us characters and why, determining how to remove the hex, and deciding how to assist the Great Wyrm to return to her own world, we completely forgot about two rather special events. Both our own Mistress Writer and her mate, Master Miles, celebrated their birthdays this week past!
This year, we were so involved in our current mystery, we totally forgot! We are all quite ashamed! Well, all but that annoying elf, the Arrogant One. That one does not shame easily!
Once we remembered, we immediately decided we should do something very special for Mistress Writer and Master Miles. We concluded the best present we could possibly give them was the week off…alone!
They really enjoyed an entire week to themselves, not having to deal with us. Oh, do not misunderstand me, please! The Mistress and her mate are really quite fond of us. Well, most of us. Well, most of the time. But to be able to go out and enjoy themselves without worry or care was a real treat for them.
One of the days, they went to a beautiful spot, full of natural and cultivated beauty – the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. I have taken the liberty of going through Mistress Writer’s notes and photographs, in order to share with you good readers just a few of the images they took.
There was evidently an art exhibit at the Arboretum when Mistress Writer and Master Miles were there. If I am deciphering Mistress Writer’s notes correctly (she has the most illegible script I have ever encountered – no wonder she uses that magic machine that produces the pencraft for her!), the paintings on display were created by three brothers (Bob, Joe, and Jim Hautman) who live here in Minnesota, the state wherein we reside. Mistress Writer and Master Miles must have greatly appreciated these three artists, as they took a plethora of photos of these artists’ paintings. Here are just three of them:
Of course, visiting a place such as the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, one simply must enjoy the flowers.
There were also a number of seasonal displays to view, even a few provided by Mother Nature. By some magic unknown to me and my associates, some of the images were lacking in color!
Mistress Writer also took some photos of Master Miles. Again, some of the images were magically drained of color!
Master Miles managed to get a single image of Mistress Writer, who seems to become most distraught whenever a camera is pointed at her.
All in all, I believe they had a most enjoyable day without all us characters in tow.
Even in the absence of the Mistress and Master, however, our mystery continued. Be sure to come back next week, as we relate the further developments of this suspenseful adventure. We’ll leave the porch light on for you!
The Great Wyrm started to extricate her head from the window. Dragon, still in her familiar guise of an elf maiden, sat there, stunned. Can this really be happening? Is my future self really going back into the real world with me to help? Suddenly, she jumped up and started pacing, wringing her hands. “Wait!”
The Great Wyrm and the Historian’s Apprentice gaped at her.
“Things are happening too quickly. We need to discuss this further.”
The Wyrm gave Dragon a look of approval. “You have a good, logical mind. You like to consider all possibilities before taking action. This is good.”
“Why?” The Apprentice looked at the Wyrm curiously, then turned to Dragon. “Iffin the Great Wyrm be sayin’ she and ye can be findin’ the conduit, then it be so. Ne’er be doubtin’ the big beastie!”
“I do not doubt. I am sure we could find the conduit. But when I and three of my companions in Mistress Writer’s world – the real world as she calls it – found and examined the conduit, we discovered it is a one-way passage. None from the real world can use it to enter this world.”
The Apprentice nodded, understanding in his eyes. “Then ye do na be knowin’ how the big beastie’ll be gittin’ back here, once ye travel through the conduit ta Mistress Writer’s world.”
Dragon’s shoulders slumped. She turned to the Great Wyrm. “I know of no way for you to do so. Do you?”
“How did you get here from there?”
“I reentered the manuscript from which I and my companions had fallen into the real world. From there, it took every bit of my concentration and my power to enter this world. The effort totally exhausted me, and I lost consciousness. I do not know how long I remained in that state.”
The Great Wyrm frowned. She narrowed her eyes and small rings of smoke bubbled from her nostrils as she concentrated. “It is obvious I will not be able to retrace your route to return here. Since I did not fall from the manuscript, I can not enter it.”
“Exactly.” The elf maiden Dragon nodded.
“Still, there must be a way for me to return here.” The Wyrm’s frown deepened and the smoke thickened.
“Can ye not be reweavin’ the enchantment? Be makin’ it a two-way channel? Seems ta me thet be easy enough fer one o yer power. I seen ye do harder then thet.” The man shot the Wyrm a curious look before he tore another piece of bread from the loaf on the table and popped it in his mouth.
“No! You must not make the conduit a two-way passage!”
The man and the Wyrm gaped at Dragon, who was again wringing her hands and pacing.
“Why not?” The man frowned, and more smoke drifted from the Wyrm’s snout.
“If it became possible for anyone from the real world to use the conduit to enter this world, it would mean disaster for this world and its inhabitants.” The ersatz elf maiden chewed on her lower lip for several moments. Then she sighed and sat down again. She lowered her eyes and studied her hands as she spoke. “Several of my fellow characters are power-hungry. One is a fairly proficient illusionist. He would not hesitate to use his power to create illusions of the technology to which he has been exposed in the real world to gain power over the residents of this world.”
“Oh. Well, we can na be havin’ thet, now can we?” The man spoke around the mouthful of food he was still chewing, but Dragon and the Wyrm could make out his words well enough.
“No. We can not.” The Wyrm wrinkled her nose at the man’s lack of manners, then turned back to Dragon. “But it should not be a great problem. Once I return to this world, I can either destroy the conduit completely, or restore the part of the spell that prevents egress from Mistress Writer’s world.”
Dragon’s eyes lit up at that idea. “Yes. Yes, that would work very well.” She smiled.
“Then, is there anything else we need to discuss before we go in search of the conduit?”
“Let me consider for a moment.” Dragon’s brow furrowed and she began chewing her lip again. Finally she spoke. “Yes. When my fellow characters and I searched for the conduit, it was in a state of constant flux. It moved rapidly from one spot to another within Mistress Writer’s house, or disappeared altogether. So how do we know when we enter the conduit here where we will end up?”
The Apprentice scoffed and waved off Dragon’s concerns. “The conduit do na just be connectin’ this world ta Mistress Writer’s world. At the other end, it’ll al’ays be appearin’ close ta the scribe herself, or within her abode. Iffin ye be goin’ inta the conduit at this end, ye be goin’ outten it where ye be needin’ ta be at the other end.”
Dragon nodded. “Then there is just one more thing. I am sure we will find the conduit, eventually. However, it might be easier and quicker if we know more about its habits.”
“Its habits?” The Apprentice tilted his head and rubbed his bearded chin.
“Yes. You said it does not stay in one place, and it has been a while since you have seen it. When you have seen it, has it appeared here?”
The man furrowed his brow, but nodded. “Aye.”
“On a regular schedule?”
“Have you ever encountered it anywhere else?”
“At the Historian’s hut.”
“And how far is that?”
The Wyrm interrupted. “I know where the Historian lives. But the conduit is random. It follows no schedule, nor any route. We will have to use our power to locate it.”
Dragon nodded. “I can think of nothing else, then. I suppose it is time to go.”
“Safe travels.” The Apprentice rose and saw his guests out. “Remember, beastie, ye al’ays be welcome here.”
“Thank you. I will not forget.” The elf maiden gave the Apprentice a brief hug before turning to face the Wyrm. The elf started to shimmer, and in a short time she resumed her true form, a substantially smaller version of the Great Wyrm.
Dragon followed the Wyrm to the top of the mountain. I did not realize just how much larger than I this future me is! She did not look so massive when I first encountered her.
Dragon was startled to hear the Wyrm’s voice in her head, communicating telepathically, as was the custom of their species. Remember, you are but an image of sorts, a shadow, an echo, a memory of someone who used to live here. You have no idea how much time has passed since that creature, my younger self, flew these skies.
Dragon replied, also using telepathy. I am heartened to know that I lived . . . am living . . . a long life, growing in wisdom and power as well as size.
Dragon felt a sadness emanating from the Wyrm. You will probably outlive me, my dear, as you will never age. I do not know if Mistress Writer did us a favor or a grave disservice, suspending you in time like that.
Dragon pressed the Wyrm for an explanation, but the great beast would say no more.
* * *
Miles and I entered the house from the garage, and headed up to the living room. My characters trailed behind. The door slammed, and a cacophony of loud, angry voices followed us up the stairs.
Just moments before, my characters had been in the car with my husband and me, happily discussing the outing Miles and I had taken them on. Now that we were home, everything changed. As my characters gathered around Miles and me in the living room, they were all arguing over trivial concerns.
“I was the one who found the Red-tailed Hawk for Mistress Writer.” My Gypsy jerked a thumb toward his chest, and jutted his chin.
“Well, I was the one who persuaded it to pose so Mistress Writer could take so many beautiful pictures!” Cleric’s face was red and her lower lip stuck out in a pout.
“I helped, too!” Sorceress pursed her lips and folded her arms over her chest. “I was the one who kept that rambunctious red squirrel quiet, so it would not distract the hawk.”
“I was the one who found that big, furry creature.” My Foreman swaggered across the living room.
“You may have found the groundhog, but you never would have known what it was if I had not identified it for you! You thought it was a giant rat!” My Young Hero jeered as he planted his feet wide, and balled his hands into fists at his side.
“Well, I found that bird Mistress Writer had been looking for.” My Foreman scowled.
“If you are referring to the Green Heron, I was the one who found it.” My Gypsy turned toward his companion, his eyes flashing.
My Foreman snorted. “No, the other one. The Sashed Majestic Fishingbird.”
My Gypsy laughed. “You can’t even identify the creatures you see. That was a Belted Kingfisher!”
“Who cares what you call it?” My Arrogant One drew himself up and rocked back on his heels. He grasped the front of his cloak with both hands as he did when he was trying to look important. “While the rest of you were chasing after beasts and varmints and wing-ed creatures, the two of us had to haul all the food and supplies to the picnic site.” My Arrogant One’s voice was a petulant whine.
My Bounty Hunter nodded and commiserated with him. “Indeed. We worked while the rest of you enjoyed yourselves.” My Bounty Hunter clenched his hands and narrowed his eyes.
“Aye, the two o ye been doin’ a teensy little bit o work. But ye dinna been doin’ it alonesome like. Ye been havin’ help, dinna ye? Master Miles and I been doin’ the most o it. And what do it matter, anywho, who been doin’ what? We all been havin’ a good time, dinna we?” My Old Dwarf scoffed and shook his head.
But my Foreman pushed my Old Dwarf aside and stood squarely in front of my Arrogant One. “Elf, I am tired of your constant whining. So you and your cohort here had to help carry the food. You both ate it, didn’t you? So why shouldn’t the two of you help carry it?”
My Arrogant One blushed, turning scarlet right to the tips of his pointy ears, and he glared at my Foreman. “We always do more than our share. I do not know why we are never invited to join in the fun activities. We are not your pack animals, you know.”
“No, you’re not.” My Foreman’s glare took in both the elf and his companion. “My pack horses are a great deal more pleasant to be around.”
My Bounty Hunter drew his dagger, but my Old Dwarf knocked it out of his hand with the flat of his axe. “Nay, laddies. Ye be needin’ ta be keepin’ it civil. No weapons in the hoose.”
Suddenly, my Foreman backhanded my Old Dwarf, splitting the old reprobate’s lip. “I don’t need the likes of you defending me, dwarf.”
Listening to it all, Miles and I had exchanged numerous exasperated looks, but we remained silent. Now, however, I could no longer hold my tongue. “That is enough!” I stood there glaring at my pack of characters. “I’m tired of this. There will be no more of this bickering and fighting!”
My Gypsy snorted and narrowed his eyes menacingly. “And what will you do if we continue? Edit us out of the manuscripts? We all know you will not try that again.”
From the stairway, two voices thundered in unison. “No. She will not. If this conflict does not cease . . . immediately . . . the participants will answer to me.”
We all whirled around toward the source of the voices. We gaped as two Dragons climbed the stairs to join us in the living room, two Dragons identical in every respect save their unequal size.
What happens next? Do Dragon and the Great Wyrm have to subdue the other characters? Will they be able to send the items back to the other world? If so, will that be the end of the conflict, or will they two Dragons have to put their heads together and find another cause of the problem? Join us again next week for some of the answers. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.
Dragon frowned, the smoke drifting from her nostrils growing increasingly black as she pondered her predicament. She steepled her clawed fingers and concentrated on finding a way to achieve her goal.
Back in the real world, Dragon lived with eight other fictional characters who, like herself, had fallen from the pages of some manuscripts; Mistress Writer, the creator of those manuscripts; and Master Miles, Mistress Writer’s spouse. Recently, Dragon and the other characters had been inexplicably at odds with one another. Arguments, loud and nasty, had become commonplace, occasionally erupting into fisticuffs. Tensions mounted, and Mistress Writer was at a loss to determine the cause of the problem or how to put an end to it.
Dragon rolled over and writhed around in the dirt, giving her itchy back a good scratching. Then she rolled back and continued thinking. I believe the incidents are somehow linked to the four items and a set of books from my world that have been transported to the real world of Mistress Writer through a magical conduit between the two worlds.
Dragon pictured the items – a talisman, a horseshoe, a ruby ring, and the Royal Seal – and a set of books. She had examined them at length in the real world, but could not determine how they would be causing the dissension among the characters. So she decided she needed to examine them in the world from which they came.
Of course, I can not do that, as they are no longer in that world. But the items, less the set of books, were in that world when Mistress Writer penned her tales. Therefore, they will be in the world of the manuscripts. Nothing there changes unless Mistress Writer edits the story.
So Dragon had devised a way to enter one of the manuscripts; however, she had not realized the full implications of the distinction between her own world and the world of the manuscripts. Here, within the pages of the manuscript, she had no way of examining the items thoroughly, or communicating with anyone who might have knowledge of the items, as nothing was truly present here. Everything here was merely images, shadows, echoes, and memories of the things and people about whom Mistress Writer had penned her stories.
Dragon’s frown deepened and the smoke that poured from her snout grew thicker than sludge and blacker than a raven’s feather. Perhaps it would be best if I can find some way to return to the real world and from there try to find a way into my world. Dragon knew the items she suspected of being at the root of the trouble with her and her fellow characters in the real world were gone from her world, but perhaps she could find and talk with the person who had sent them through the conduit to the real world.
Yes, Dragon decided. She would find a way to return to the real world, and then find a way into her own world. Dragon’s eyes narrowed. Or perhaps there is a way to slip from this world, inside the manuscript, directly into my home world. She steepled her fingers again, and concentrated.
* * *
“All of them? On a picnic?” I eyed my husband dubiously. “Why on earth would we take any of them on a picnic, given how they have been behaving lately?”
“Because of the way they have been behaving lately.” Miles grinned and winked.
I gave him a blank look.
“When’s the last time you remember your characters getting along, not arguing or trying to bash each other’s skulls in?”
I wrinkled my brow and tried to think. Finally, I shook my head. “It’s been so long, I can’t remember.”
Miles chuckled. “It hasn’t been that long.”
“Oh?” I arched an eyebrow and waited.
“When we went to the fireworks display on the Fourth of July. Remember?”
I blinked. “That’s right! They all behaved reasonably well during the barbecue in the back yard, mostly because they were all too busy wolfing down the food and beverages to engage in any scrapping. But they were exceptionally well-behaved at the park during the fireworks, even my Arrogant One. No fights, no arguments. They were all chatting and laughing and enjoying each other’s company again.” I paused and considered this carefully. “Maybe the tensions and altercations are fueled by sheer boredom. Maybe a change of scenery and a picnic would be a good thing.”
It took longer than I thought it would to get everyone to agree to the picnic. My Old Dwarf was ready in a flash, as soon as I mentioned food. The others took a bit more convincing.
“You can not be serious. Me, go anywhere with the likes of them?” My Arrogant One drew himself up and rocked back on his heels, grasping the front of his cloak. “Never!”
The others responded in kind, no one wanting to go anywhere with any of the others.
I held my hand up and raised my voice. “All right, quiet down! Remember how much fun we all had at the Fireworks display?”
The only response was a bunch of muttering.
I scowled. “Well, I remember. It was a welcome respite from the way all of you have been behaving lately. So, like it or not, we are all going on a picnic. Miles is getting the food ready right now. And the same rules we had for the fireworks display will apply to this outing. First, all weapons, wands, staffs, and spell components will be left at home. Second, you will all dress in modern garb. Third, you will behave in a civilized manner. Last, if we encounter anyone today, you will tell no one who you really are. If anyone asks, you’re some out-of-town relatives and friends, visiting for a few weeks.” I glared at them. “Do you understand?”
I heard a few exasperated yeses, and saw a few heads nodding, grudgingly.
It took well over an hour to pack enough food and beverages for the picnic, and for everyone to pass my inspection. I had to confiscate several weapons and one staff, and neither my Old Dwarf nor my Arrogant One wanted to change their outfits.
I frowned at my Old Dwarf. “I’m sorry, but you just can’t wander around in chain mail. It would draw too much attention.”
I turned to my Arrogant One. “And your robes are far too extravagant for an outing like this.”
It took another 15 minutes, and a lot of yelling, to convince them, but by the time Miles had loaded the picnic hamper and coolers into the car, we were all ready to leave.
Within minutes of leaving, Miles and I were the only ones in the car watching the traffic and the passing scenery. Real world, 21st century vehicles go considerably faster than medieval fantasy world forms of transport. My characters had limited experience with car travel, and they were all white as sheets, with nary an open eye among them.
Ninety minutes later, we arrived at a beautiful lakeside venue. My characters breathed a collective sigh of relief, and almost fell out of the car the moment Miles had it parked. Their rubbery legs hardly supported them, so Miles and I took our time getting our supplies unloaded. When we were all fit and ready, we headed off down the trail toward the lake. My characters willingly helped us carry everything to the picnic table.
My Old Dwarf turned to my Foreman and the lads. “I be hungry enough ta eat e’ree one o yer horsies!”
I breathed a sigh of relief, as that remark was met with good-natured laughter from the others.
Everyone pitched in and helped my husband to prepare the food. After a huge lunch, accompanied by much friendly banter and laughter, I suggested we go exploring. “I brought my camera, so I thought I’d check out the resident wildlife. You’re all welcome to join me, if you wish.”
“I’m beat!” Miles looked at me apologetically. “I think I’ll just clean up everything here and then take a nap under those trees.”
“Iffin ye do na be mindin a wee bit o company, laddie, methinks thet be soundin’ like a real comfy way ta be spendin’ the afternoon.”
So the rest of us left them behind as we started off down the path around the lake.
Sorceress stopped suddenly, looking at a patch of Yarrow. She placed her hand on Cleric’s arm. “You know, there are a lot of botanicals here that we could use in our spell components. Maybe we should collect them.”
Cleric nodded. “We can easily do that while assisting Mistress Writer with her photography.” She turned toward me. “Is that acceptable, Mistress? I know you have told us there are areas where collecting plants is forbidden.”
“There are no restrictions in this area. Just don’t remove too much from any one area. You don’t want to spoil it for others who want to enjoy the natural beauty here.”
My Young Hero pointed toward the lake. “There are some flowers there, and some mushrooms. And I see some birds over there, too.”
Within minutes, Sorceress and Cleric had collected the Yarrow and ’shrooms, along with some Lady’s Slippers, Ornamental Onion, and Milkweed.
I got some photos of a female Hooded Merganser on the water, and a Great Egret and a pair of Canada Geese along the edge of the lake.
My Young Hero pointed out a bunch of turtles enjoying the sunny day, and a few fish in the water.
Then he found a bird flitting through the bushes at the side of the lake. It turned out to be a male American Redstart, and Cleric used her affinity with the birds to convince him to stop his frantic foraging and pose for a series of images.
Then Cleric coaxed a shy Common Yellowthroat out of the tangle of reeds and branches along the water’s edge so I could get some photos.
“Listen.” My Gypsy held up his hand. “A Yellow Warbler!”
It only took us a moment to find it, and Cleric immediately convinced it to pose.
The lads found some Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Song Sparrow, some Eastern Bluebirds, and a number of Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows. Cleric spoke with each bird briefly and they all agreed to pose for us as well.
Before leaving the lake, my Bounty Hunter spotted a little Red Squirrel, and an Eastern Gray Squirrel, and I captured some images of them.
Stepping out of the woodlands surrounding the lake, my Gypsy stopped short. He whistled a few birdcalls, and was quickly answered by a House Wren and an Eastern Kingbird on a wire fence along the meadow.
My Foreman stood, mesmerized by the meadow blanketed with butterflies. “Amazing!”
“More furry critters, too.” My Bounty Hunter pointed to an Eastern Cottontail and a Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel.
Sorceress and Cleric found a treasure trove of flowers in and around the meadow. There was Salvia, Butterfly Weed, Purple Coneflowers, Black-eyed Susan, Bee Balm, Sumac, wild Petunias, clover, and a number of flowers I could not identify.
As I was taking a picture of a Bumblebee on a clover flower, I heard Cleric’s high-pitched squeal behind me. “Snake!”
“Relax, it’s a harmless Garter Snake,” I informed her, quickly getting a few shots of it before it slithered away.
“Yes, well as I told you once before when we encountered such a creature, Mistress, I would just as soon it be harmless somewhere else. Preferably, somewhere far away!” My Cleric shuddered, and the rest of us shared a laugh.
As we continued along the loop trail, we reentered the forest and headed back toward the lake. My Arrogant One grabbed my arm and pointed, a look of awe on his face. There were Dragonflies everywhere!
By the time we got back to our picnic site, my camera’s memory card was full and the battery drained, and Sorceress and Cleric had pouches full of botanicals.
On the way home, everyone chattered about the great time they had had. My Old Dwarf sighed. “It be a real shame the big beastie dinna be wit us today.”
Cleric nodded. “Dragon would have enjoyed this outing with all of us.”
“I be wonnerin’ where she be right now.”
* * *
Dragon was back in the desert, within a sheltering copse of trees in a large oasis. She was thirsty and her belly rumbled with hunger, but the water and food in the world of the manuscript was as insubstantial as everything else.
Dragon sat with her back against the rough bark of a date palm. She concentrated as hard as a dragon can, putting every ounce of her considerable mental prowess and supernatural power into her endeavor. She intoned an ancient incantation in an archaic language. Slowly, she began to shimmer. Bit by bit, her great bulk faded from the shadow world of the manuscript until, finally, she disappeared altogether.
It seemed to her a lifetime passed before she started taking shape again. As she solidified, she had only seconds to glance at her surroundings before she lost consciousness, her enormous power drained completely.
Be sure to come back next week and join us as Dragon faces new challenges and Mistress Writer continues to deal with her character’s frayed tempers. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.
I was growing increasingly impatient. My second – and hopefully last – follow-up with my surgeon was still a week away, so my restrictions had not yet been lifted. But I was feeling much better and was chomping at the bit to resume my normal activities, particularly my nature walks with my camera.
Cleric regarded me with sympathy, but shook her head. “Why do we not just relax on the veranda and you can take some more photos of your backyard birds and creatures? You know I always enjoy assisting with that endeavor.” Cleric had a true affinity with the birds, and often joined me when I photographed them, coaxing them to venture closer and strike interesting or amusing poses.
I frowned. “I suppose we could, although I would much rather go on a nice, long hike and see some different creatures for a change. It has gotten to the point with my backyard birds that as soon as they see me, they fly off screaming, it’s that annoying woman with the camera again!”
Cleric eye’s widened. “I did not know you could understand their language! Do you speak it as well?”
I felt my lips twitch. “I was being facetious.”
Cleric’s face turned crimson, and she scowled. “Well, how was I to know? Why do you say something you do not mean?”
I ducked my head. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to confuse or frustrate you.”
Cleric smoothed her robes, and her ruffled feelings seemed to smooth over as well. “You get your camera. I will get us some cold drinks and meet you in a few minutes at the gazebo.”
Before either of us could move, Sorceress swept into the room in an obvious state of agitation, glaring at us through narrowed eyes. Without acknowledging me at all, she addressed Cleric in an abrasive tone. “There you are! I have been reminding you every day for the past week we need to replenish our spell components. We must gather and prepare the herbs and other botanicals we need. I am tired of waiting! I am going out today to collect whatever I can find. Are you coming?”
Cleric’s eyes widened and her face reddened again. Her hand flew to her mouth. “I forgot!”
“You have become most unmindful of things lately!” Sorceress tossed her hair back, crossed her arms over her chest, and looked down her nose at her erstwhile friend.
“I am sorry. I just told Mistress Writer I would sit with her in the garden and – – ”
Sorceress swept her hand down, silencing Cleric in mid-sentence. “Well, I have enough to do to find and prepare my own botanicals. If you wish to replenish your stock of components and healing herbs, you will have to find the plants yourself.” Without another word, she whirled and left the room.
The normally amiable Cleric called in a petulant tone after the departing figure, “Fine! I will do just that!” She turned back to me. “I will get our beverages.” She stomped off toward the kitchen, muttering under her breath.
I raised an eyebrow and pondered the scene I had just witnessed between two characters who had, up until recently, been good friends. It seemed there was a lot of friction among my characters lately. I shrugged. I really couldn’t do anything about it until Dragon determined what was causing the problem.
I gathered my camera, my wide-brimmed hat, and some peanuts and millet spray for the birds, and headed out to the gazebo to wait for Cleric. I had hardly taken a seat when I saw my Arrogant One tear around the corner of the garden shed. My Old Dwarf was in hot pursuit, barely a step behind the elf, slashing at him with his war-axe. Several paces behind the dwarf was my Bounty Hunter, dagger in hand.
Before I could intervene, Dragon appeared, flying over the top of the shed. She swooped down and snatched up my Old Dwarf, saving my Arrogant One from the dwarf, and the dwarf from my Bounty Hunter. As she escorted the old reprobate to safety, the other two fled inside the shed, and barricaded the doors.
Dragon deposited my Old Dwarf beside the gazebo, but kept a grip on his arm. He was sputtering like a wet hen, and cussing like a . . . well, like an angry dwarf. I stood and placed my hands on my hips. “What is going on?”
“Jest let me be gittin’ me hands on thet little popinjay! Let me at ’em!” The dwarf shook with rage.
I raised an eyebrow. “What did my Arrogant One do now?”
The dwarf was apoplectic. His face was so red, it could double for a stop sign, and he could hardly choke the words out. “I be findin’ a piece o me fave-o-rite chock-lit cake in the shed. I be jest aboot ta take a great big bite o it, an’ thet wretched excuse fer a magicker disappeared it! It do na be real a’tall! It be jest another o his illusions!”
I nodded. “So for that you were trying your best to cleave him in two?”
“Wale, o course I be after ’em fer thet! Waddaya be thinkin’? Thet be me fave-o-rite food he be messin’ wit!” He continued to shake with rage, and he struggled against Dragon’s hold.
I looked at Dragon. “And my Bounty Hunter was just trying to protect my Arrogant One?”
I looked back at my Old Dwarf. “Well, since I don’t want you breaking down the shed door, why don’t you just go to the kitchen? I think you’ll find some real chocolate cake in the cake saver on the counter.”
The dwarf stopped shaking and broke into a delighted grin. Dragon released her grip on his arm, and he trotted off to find the cake.
I waited until he was out of earshot. “Have you determined what is causing these conflicts?”
Dragon shook her head and a thin plum of smoke drifted from her nostrils. “I have not yet determined if it is the heat, or boredom, or if something more sinister is behind these incidents.”
“Well, I hope you make that determination soon. Sorceress and Cleric had another tiff just a few moments ago.”
“And your Gypsy and his best friend, your Young Hero, almost resorted to fisticuffs again this morning.”
“This is becoming very worrisome.” I frowned, and thought of something peculiar. “If it is something sinister causing the friction between friends, how is it that my Old Dwarf is affected? I thought dwarves were immune to magic.”
“They are. But dwarves are also contentious by nature. Your Old Dwarf is particularly cantankerous and quick-tempered, so I would attribute his conflicts to his normal demeanor, rather than whatever is fueling the clashes among the others.”
I nodded. “That makes sense. But what of you? You have been rather testy lately, as you yourself acknowledged the other day. I can not imagine you being affected by a sinister spell without realizing what is happening and resisting it. You’re magic is too powerful.”
“Perhaps. But, unlikely though it may be, there is always the possibility of a more powerful force behind this.”
“I do not really believe that is the case, but to ignore the possibility could court disaster. I will continue investigating, and I will let you know if I discover anything. Meanwhile, enjoy your afternoon of nature photography with Cleric.”
Dragon and Cleric greeted each other affably as Cleric placed a pitcher of ice cold fruit punch and some glasses on the table next to my camera. “Will you be joining us, Dragon? I can get another glass.”
“Another time, my friend. I fear I have more pressing obligations at the moment.”
Dragon nodded to us and took her leave. Cleric poured us each a tall, cool glass of punch. I scattered some peanuts and millet spray to attract the birds, and Cleric hummed a special tune, a haunting weave of windsong and magic. Then we sat back to wait for some photogenic creatures to grace us with their presence. We didn’t have long to wait.
The first bird to visit was a Common Grackle. He flew down to the gazebo railing, and conversed with Cleric for a few moments. Then the bird quickly hopped down and approached me, almost seeming to study me as I took his photo.
Cleric leaned toward me and spoke in a whisper. “Grackles are beautiful birds, with their intelligent faces and their iridescent feathers, but I fear every time I see one, I think back to the evil wizard Morcant, who had a grackle as his familiar.”
I shuddered. “Yes, Morcant is always in the back of my mind, too, whenever I see a grackle.”
Next, Cleric coaxed a couple of Mourning Doves down to the railing, imitating their peaceful coo. The first one seemed a bit nervous as I took his picture, but the second was totally relaxed as Cleric continued to coo at them.
A male Red-bellied Woodpecker ventured down to snatch up some peanuts as his mate and their young stayed well-hidden in the nearby tree, calling to him to hurry. Even Cleric could not convince them to join us.
The peanuts were also the enticement that brought a Blue Jay down, but it was Cleric who coaxed him into posing for a brief second before he flew off with his prize.
The millet spray attracted a hungry Song Sparrow. First, he landed in a nearby tree to check us out and he and Cleric engaged in a songfest. Following their concert, he flew down to eat while I took his picture.
The heat and the humidity rose as the afternoon progressed. Cleric and I appreciated an occasional cool breeze as we sipped our fruity drinks. Suddenly, Cleric paused, her glass halfway to her lips. She giggled and pointed. I looked, and there was a small chipmunk spying on us from the corner of the gazebo. I grabbed a quick shot of him as he and Cleric exchanged greetings.
The rest of the afternoon passed pleasantly, in spite of the mugginess. A variety of birds and critters stopped by to converse with Cleric and pose for my camera.
Several Gray Catbirds visited with us, calling to us from the nearby feeder area.
With a little coaxing from Cleric, a male House Finch struck a pose for me atop a feeder pole.
A fledgling American Robin checked us out from atop the neighbor’s fence, while his sibling sampled the grapes in the fruit feeder.
A Painted Turtle eyed us curiously before trudging off toward the pond.
One Baltimore Oriole called a cheery hello before taking a long sip of nectar from the nearby feeder, while a second waited her turn impatiently atop the feeder pole.
A fledgling Red-winged Blackbird kept an eye on us while waiting for mom or dad to return with some food, while a fledgling Downy Woodpecker checked us out from the nearby suet log.
Finally, two Mallard drakes and one hen waddled up from the pond and stopped a few feet from the gazebo. They engaged in a lively conversation with Cleric as I captured their image.
“Well, the ducks wanted us to know the weather is soon going to take a turn. They think we should return to the shelter of the house.” She reached for our glasses and placed them on the tray with the empty pitcher.
I blinked. “Really?”
“Indeed. Look, already clouds are gathering to the west, and the breeze is increasing. I believe they know what they are talking about.”
I chuckled. It never ceased to amaze me the way Cleric could communicate with the birds. “Okay, let’s go back to the house. We wouldn’t want to get caught in a sudden shower.”
As we approached the house, we could hear angry voices. I recognized them as that of my Old Dwarf and my Foreman. I shook my head and sighed as we stepped through the French doors into the living room. “Now what’s going on?”
“Why would you care?” Cleric snapped at me. The tray she was carrying clattered to the floor when she thrust it at me and I failed to grab it. Without apology, Cleric turned and stalked away.
My mouth fell open and I stood there, totally bewildered.
Be sure to join us again next week. Perhaps Dragon will shed some light on these conflicts. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.
I was sitting on a very soft cushion I had placed on a hard plastic lawn chair in a shady corner of the gazebo. I was five weeks into what should have been a two week recuperation following a minor surgical procedure. It had been less than a week that I could sit comfortably.
I had brought my camera with me, as I had hoped to engage in a little backyard nature photography, but it remained untouched on the table. Instead, I was being entertained by three of my characters.
My Foreman, my Young Hero, and my Gypsy were schooling their horses in the back of the yard. These were illusory horses provided by their companion, Dragon, who had also cast a spell of concealment to keep the neighbors from noticing the goings-on. I watched as the three expert riders walked, trotted, and cantered their mounts on the flat, then over a cavaletti, after which they performed diagonals and figure-eights and flying lead changes. Then my Foreman, mounted on his spirited black stallion, demonstrated a piaff, a passage, and a pirouette, followed by a half-pass directly to the gazebo, and a low, courtly bow to me. I applauded and smiled my appreciation of the skill of horse and rider. It was fun to watch. Or it was until I almost fell off my chair.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dragon, in her guise of an elf maiden, stepping out of the house onto the deck. She was wearing an enormous smile, and she was escorting two people. The man was sporting glasses and a neatly trimmed goatee, and was dressed casually in well-worn blue jeans and a black hoodie. The woman, in a matching outfit, had sandy blond tresses framing an open face. I recognized them as our neighbors, Mace and Gloria, who had moved into a house down the street earlier this year. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/meeting-the-neighbors/
I felt my heart leap into my throat as Dragon led the visitors down the steps and right toward me.
Oh, no! Not them! Not now! What is Dragon thinking? What is Mace going to say about the horses being here again? How can I explain this?
I tried to rise to greet the visitors, but my legs felt like rubber. Gloria reached out and grabbed me before I fell flat on my face, and she eased me back into the chair. “Oh, please don’t get up! Mace and I heard from one of our other neighbors that you were recovering from surgery. We just dropped by to see how you were doing.”
“Well, I’m coming along slowly.” I tried to smile, but my eyes were darting all over the yard.
Where are they?
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my Foreman swing down from the saddle and quietly lead his horse away. He and the others led their mounts back to the shed to unsaddle and groom them. My heart was racing, my palms were sweaty, and I’m sure every bit of color must have drained from my face, but Gloria and Mace didn’t seem to notice anything.
“Gloria brought a lovely casserole! I put it in the refrigerator.” Dragon moved some chairs closer to the table and motioned for Mace and his wife to sit.
“Thank you, Gloria! That is so thoughtful!”
I hope my face doesn’t break from forcing this smile.
“I would have made more if I had known your out-of-town relatives were staying with you again. I hadn’t seen anyone around lately, so I only made enough for you and your husband.”
“Oh, well, that’s okay. I mean, how could you know? They haven’t been outside much. They came to help take care of me, after the surgery.”
Good lord, I must sound like a blithering nincompoop!
But Mace and Gloria didn’t seem to be listening. “Hey, what’s that?”
“What? Where?” I almost gave myself a bad case of whiplash, checking the yard for errant characters.
“That bird there.” Mace pointed to something perched atop one of the shepherd’s staff poles holding a bird feeder. Immediately, Gloria grabbed a pair of binoculars from her pocket and strained to see the little bird, as Mace pulled a small field guide from his pocket.
“Oh, Mace and Gloria are birdwatchers! Isn’t that nice?” Dragon smiled broadly. “Mis . . .”
No! Don’t say Mistress Writer!
“Missy and her husband love bird watching. In fact, she’s been taking pictures of the birds here in the yard today.” She gestured toward the camera sitting on the table.
Mace frowned. “Missy? I thought your name was Marge.”
“Oh, that’s just a little pet name we have for her.” Dragon smiled and winked, and I sighed and tried not to collapse with relief.
Gloria lowered her binoculars. “You’re a birdwatcher, too?”
I nodded, and swallowed hard, trying to find my voice.
“Well, maybe you can help us, then. Mace and I are just beginners, and we don’t know all the different birds yet.”
“Ah, ahem . . . er, sure. Well, that little bird is a Black-capped Chickadee.” I gestured toward the small black and white creature who was still eyeing us from atop the pole.
Mace cocked his head and furrowed his brow. “Are you sure? It doesn’t look like a chickadee to me. Aren’t chickadees . . . well . . . smoother, sleeker?” He paged through his book.
“Yes, I’m sure. But you’re right – most are sleeker. This one has an abnormality of the feathers on its belly – it looks like it’s having a bad feather day. Here, I took a picture of this bird earlier this week. I’ll zoom it in and you can get a closer look at it.” I took a few minutes to find the photo, then passed the camera to Mace and Gloria.
“Hmmm…strange looking.” They compared the photo to the one in the book.
I took the camera again, and searched for another photo. “Here. Here’s a normal chickadee.”
They looked at that, then at the book. “Now this one looks just like the one in the book.”
“Field guides are great, but you have to remember that not every bird is a text-book example of its species. If you look at these two photos carefully, you can see they are the same species.”
They painstakingly compared the photos of the two birds, as I pointed out the field marks – the black cap and bib, and the white cheeks, the long, narrow tail and the small, the thick bill – then they nodded.
Gloria saw some movement in a nearby tree, and picked up her binoculars again. “Is that a Baltimore Oriole?”
I looked at the bird Gloria was pointing to and nodded. “And there’s another one.” I pointed to one who had taken over the chickadee’s perch.
“Cool!” Mace took a notebook from his pocket, pushed up his glasses, and started writing. “Lifelist. The chickadee and the oriole are only our tenth and eleventh birds.” He sounded sheepish.
I smiled, and spent the next half hour helping Mace and Gloria add to their brand-new lifelist.
“There’s a male American Goldfinch . . . and there’s the female.”
“There’s a Gray Catbird . . . and there’s a Common Grackle.”
“Oh, look!” Gloria pointed to the tree stump in the back of the yard. “There’s one I know – a Red-winged Blackbird!”
“Yup, that’s an adult male, displaying for the female, who’s over there on the fence.”
“She doesn’t look anything like the male!” Mace looked wide-eyed at the bird, then continued jotting down the names of the birds they were seeing.
Gloria had her binoculars up again. “What is that one? The one on the fence, with al the speckles?”
“That’s a fledgling American Robin, and there is the adult, on the edge of the birdbath.”
“Fledgling?” Mace wrinkled his brow.
“A young bird, already out of the nest, but not yet self-sufficient. The adults still feed and protect the fledglings.”
“It doesn’t look much like the adult!” Mace studied it carefully.
“No, it doesn’t. You’ll find that to be true of a lot of birds. It can make identifying a nestling or a fledgling very difficult. Even some sub-adult birds. Some birds, like Bald Eagles and certain gulls, for example, don’t get their full adult colors for years.”
Gloria and Mace looked impressed by this avian trivia.
Just then, I yelped as my Old Dwarf raced past the gazebo, brandishing an axe, chasing a rabbit. “I be gittin’ ye this time, ye ornery little beastie, ye jest see iffin I do na! Thet be the lastest time ye be getting’ in Mistress Writer’s carrot patch!”
Not now! Not now!
I almost fainted, but our visitors didn’t seem to find anything untoward as my Old Dwarf continued to chase the rabbit all around the yard, hollering and cussing up a storm.
“That’s a pretty lively pair of rabbits.” Mace nodded toward the rabbit and the dwarf.
“We’ve had a problem with rabbits eating the vegetables in our garden.” Gloria flipped her hair out of her face. “We found a few commercial products that work well to keep them away from the plants without harming the animals.” The rabbit raced past the gazebo again, my Old Dwarf in hot pursuit. “I can recommend some, if you’d like.”
I nodded dumbly.
What I’d really like is something to keep my characters out of trouble, thankyouverymuch!
“Oh, hello! I did not know we had guests.”
I give up!
Gloria and Mace were gaping as Cleric walked down the steps and joined us on the gazebo. They looked at Cleric, then Dragon, then Cleric again.
“Oh, you haven’t met my sister, have you?” Dragon was smiling and her eyes were twinkling as she gestured toward Cleric. “She’s quite a bit younger than me, but everyone says we look like twins. Sis, these are Mace and Gloria. They live down the street.”
“How nice to make your acquaintance.” Cleric bobbed a little curtsey.
“Charmed.” Mace spoke in a flat voice and gave Cleric a look as if he were trying to figure out what planet she was from.
“Oh, my! I do believe that rabbit is leading the Old Dwarf a merry chase.” Cleric giggled as the old reprobate ran by, still brandishing his axe and cursing a blue streak.
“Old Dwarf?” Gloria frowned and tilted her head.
“Oh, we give some of the creatures here little nicknames.” Dragon winked.
Is this nightmare over yet?
“Oh, look!” This time it was Mace pointing. “What is that?”
With great trepidation, I followed his gaze, then sighed with relief that it wasn’t another of my characters. “That’s a female Wood Duck. There’s the male, over there.”
My relief was short-lived.
“There you are!” The imperious voice announced the presence of my Arrogant One. I turned around and saw him headed for the gazebo. I felt the color drain from my face.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Oh, by all that’s holy, how do I explain this one?
“Mace, Gloria, can I get you something to drink?” Dragon seemed as oblivious to the presence of the annoying elf as were my neighbors.
“Oh, no, thanks. We should really be going. Marge is looking a bit pale. I hope our visit hasn’t been too much for you today.” Gloria was looking at me with concern.
“Oh, not at all. It’s been fun! Thanks again for the casserole. I’ll return the dish as soon as I can.” I smiled weakly.
My Arrogant One pushed past Dragon and Cleric and stood in front of me, glowering, his hands on his hips. “I can not tolerate horses in the shed! The Bounty Hunter and I use the shed loft as our refuge, and the others know it. They put those noisy, filthy, smelly animals in there to spite me! I demand you have them removed this instant!”
Dragon shoved him aside under the pretext of moving some chairs aside.
Mace and Gloria stood up. “Thanks for sharing your expertise today. We added some new birds to our lifelist, and we learned that not every bird will look like the picture in the field guide.” Mace tucked his list and his book back in his pocket.
“We really need to do this again.” Gloria smiled brightly.
“Are you even listening to me?” My Arrogant One’s voice rose in octave so high, I expected to hear all the neighborhood dogs start to howl.
I smiled at Gloria. “I’d really like that.”
Oh, how I lie!
“We’ll see our guests out. You should just stay here and relax.” Dragon gave me a broad grin and a wink as our two neighbors followed her and Cleric. I waved as they disappeared around the corner of the house.
My Arrogant One, his face as red as a beet, continued to screech at me, and my Old Dwarf raced past once more, turning the air blue with his language as the rabbit continued to taunt him. I saw my Bounty Hunter yelling at my Foreman and the lads as they led their horses out of the shed and turned them loose to graze, and I heard Sorceress slam the door as she came out of the house to investigate the commotion.
Relax? I’m going to kill these characters! Or maybe it’s just time to make good my periodic threat to them, and edit them out of my manuscripts and out of my life!
I laid my head down and tried to think happy thoughts, thoughts of a time before my characters had fallen out of my manuscripts, thoughts of normalcy.
Be sure to stop by next week and see if any of my characters survive that long. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.
Hail and well met, old friends and new readers! Once again, I, Dragon, will continue relating our adventure while Mistress Writer continues her recovery.
I tip-toed into Mistress Writer’s bedchamber. Cleric was sitting next to the bed, a look of concern on her face, while Mistress Writer slumbered. I gestured to Cleric to follow me into the hallway.
“How is the patient today?”
“I am worried, Dragon. I feel Mistress Writer should be up and about by now. Her procedure, which her doctors designated as minor surgery, was days ago.”
I frowned. “She has been up.”
“She has been out of the bedchamber.” Cleric was quick to correct me. “She has not been up. When she leaves the bedchamber, she reclines on the soft bench in the great room.”
“Couch. Living Room. How long has it been since we fell out of Mistress Writer’s manuscripts? How long have we lived in this world? We should all make a better effort to refer to objects in the vernacular.”
Cleric scowled. “Do not confuse the issue. Whatever you call the furniture or the room, Mistress Writer remains prone most of the day!”
I returned Cleric’s scowl, and added some smoke for good measure. “She sits at the table for meals, and she walks around the house a bit. She has even stepped out onto the deck.”
Sorceress and the Gypsy joined us, and Sorceress addressed me. “Have you told Mistress Writer what we discovered about the conduit?”
“Not yet. I wish to wait until she is feeling well.”
“Maybe I could entertain her with some juggling, or tell her some jokes.” The Gypsy grinned and waggled his eyebrows.
He choked as I blew a cloud of smoke in his face. “Mistress Writer does not need to be entertained. She needs to heal. I strongly suggest we all give her the time she needs to do so.” I emphasized my suggestion with a snarl, making sure every one of my dagger-sharp teeth were visible. The Gypsy, still choking, nodded and waved his hand to indicate his understanding.
The days stretched into weeks. Mistress Writer and her spouse, Master Miles, were as disheartened as were we, her characters, at her lack of improvement. She was still unable to sit for more than very short periods of time, and she spent most of her days wandering aimlessly around the house and yard. At Master Miles’ urging, she sometimes took her camera onto the deck and captured images of the myriad birds and creatures that visited the yard. But her spirits remained low. They sank even lower when her follow-up examination by her physician, four weeks after surgery, revealed that she was not healing as quickly as the doctor had anticipated.
“Another month of being relegated to the house and the yard! No nature walks! I have missed all of spring migration and now I will miss nesting season.” Mistress Writer, an avid bird watcher, spoke in a monotone. Her shoulders were drooped and she stared at her hands, clasped tightly on her lap.
“Your doctor does not wish you to take walks?” Sorceress raised an eyebrow.
“Only very slow, short walks around the house and yard. My doctor explained that there is still much swelling, and long walks would cause stress and friction in the area of the stitches. That would only delay healing further.” Mistress Writer sighed.
“Well, at least there is abundant wildlife in your back yard. You do not seem to be lacking for willing avian and mammalian subjects for your photography.” I gestured toward the deck, where a chipmunk struck a coy pose near the broom while several birds lined up on the railing.
“And you do seem to be somewhat more comfortable when sitting now.” Cleric plumped a pillow and positioned it on the couch behind Mistress Writer. “You may be frustrated now, but I am sure your next visit with your doctor will yield more encouraging results.”
Mistress Writer shrugged her shoulders and reached for her camera. I suppose you are right. I will try harder to make the best of it.”
Several more days passed before I found the opportunity to be alone with Mistress Writer. Master Miles was running errands and would be gone for several hours. The Foreman and the lads were working their horses in the front yard. Cleric and Sorceress were downstairs in the conference room drying herbs and preparing sundry powders, oils, and other materials used for healing and for a variety of spell components. The Arrogant One and the Bounty Hunter were still occupying the loft in the garden shed and, at my request, the Old Dwarf had stationed himself near the shed and was keeping those two under close observation.
I found Mistress Writer in the living room, watching and photographing the birds on the deck.
“Yes? What is it, Dragon?” She placed her camera on the coffee table and took a seat on the couch.
“We must talk.” I shrank to the size of a Cocker Spaniel and curled up on the couch next to her. “Do you remember, prior to your recent surgery, you had asked me and my fellow spell casters to determine if there was any way for us to enter our own world through the magic conduit which allowed passage of several items from there into your world?”
Mistress Writer nodded. “Have you made a determination?”
I inclined my head in assent. “My fellow magic users and I located the conduit. The Gypsy lad held it immobile for me while I examined it. I discovered a barrier within the conduit, through which I was unable to pass. Since each of my companions are proficient in a different form of magic, each of them in turn attempted, as I had, to defeat the barrier and pass through the conduit into our own world. None of them were able to do so. We have therefore concluded that the conduit is a one-way passage from our world into yours. We do not believe there is any danger the Arrogant One and the Bounty Hunter will find a way to use it to enter our world and become supreme rulers through the use of the annoying elf’s illusions.”
A smile slowly spread across Mistress Writer’s face. She took my scaly hand and squeezed it tightly as she sighed in relief. “Thank you, my friend. And I would like to thank Sorceress, Cleric, and my Gypsy, too. You all did a fine job, and I am very grateful”
“We are always glad to be of service.” I hesitated, a small plume of smoke drifting from my nostrils. “Mistress, I have need to discuss something else.”
“Okay. What do you need to discuss?”
I hesitated again. “Mistress, I wish to speak with you regarding one of your theories. I have reason to believe that you have erred.”
Mistress Writer quirked an eyebrow and tilted her head. “Oh? What theory is that?”
“You have postulated that we nine characters who have fallen from your manuscripts into this world exist simultaneously in two worlds. You claim we continue to exist in what you refer to as our world, the world about which you have written, and we exist in this world, the world you call the real world.”
“That is correct. I have long thought this to be true; and as I confided in you after reading the books that passed through the conduit from your world to this one, I now have confirmation of my theory. The books chronicle adventures that have occurred in your world after those events about which I have written in my manuscripts. These more recent events involve most of you nine characters now residing here.”
“So, in what way have I erred?”
I took a deep breath. “Mistress, the nine of us did not come from that which we call our world. We never existed there.”
Mistress Writer gaped at me, as if she could not understand my words. “What do you mean, you never existed there? Did I not chronicle your adventures in that world?”
I licked my lips and swallowed hard. “We – the nine characters who fell out of your manuscripts and into this world – did not come from the world we refer to as our world, the world about which you wrote. We came from your manuscripts. We do not exist simultaneously in both worlds – the world we refer to as our world and this world that you call the real world – because we are not the same beings that exist in the world we refer to as our world. We are merely shadows, or memories, of those beings.”
Mistress Writer furrowed her brow. “And how did you come up with this notion?”
“As with you and your theory, Mistress, I have long held this notion. I just needed proof.”
Her eyes narrowed. “And how did you prove it?”
I forced myself to meet her scrutiny. “I invaded your office.”
She raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms over her chest. “My office? Why?” Her voice was steely, her expression grim.
At the sound of disapproval in her voice, I tucked my tail and hung my head. “Mistress, I had need of your manuscripts. The ones from which my fellow characters and I fell into this world.”
“And you could not have just asked to see them?”
“You were occupied with your surgery and then your recovery. I had no desire to trouble you.”
It was a long few moments before Mistress Writer spoke again. When she did, her voice was soft and gentle. “I appreciate your consideration. Of course, you are always welcome in my office, my cherished friend, and you are free to examine anything there.”
I had not realized until that moment I had been holding my breath. I let it out in a rush of relief. “Thank you, Mistress.”
“Now, tell me, how did my manuscripts prove your theory and disprove mine?”
“I am not sure I can explain it. I examined the manuscripts through both physical and magical means. With my unique and exceptional dragon powers, I determined there is much magic in those texts, in your words.”
“Magic?” Mistress Writer scoffed.
I met her skeptical stare. “Magic.”
Her expression changed to one of alarm. “Are you saying someone enchanted my manuscripts?”
“No, Mistress, it is not an enchantment. It is a completely different type of magic. It is magic that you created, with your words.”
Mistress Writer blanched, and her hand flew to her mouth. “No!” She stared at me for a few moments, then said in a quieter voice, “No! It cannot be. Morcant, the evil wizard I once wrote about in a story, accused me of being a witch. He avowed I did not chronicle the events of his trial and subsequent exile; he maintained that I caused the events through my writing.” She paused, searching my face for reassurance. “Did I? Did I cause those horrible events? Did I cause the events in your world?” Her eyes were wide with an apparent mix of fear and distress.
I smiled. “No, Mistress, you did not. You are no witch, Mistress, and the magic of your words did not cause events to unfold. They merely gave birth to us characters, not in the world of which you wrote, but within the pages of your manuscripts.”
“If my words gave birth to you, why did only you nine fall from the pages into this world?”
“Methinks mayhap we are your favorites.”
Mistress Writer snorted and shook her head. “Some of you, yes; but my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter? Favorites? Hardly!”
“Then I know not why only we nine fell from your manuscript pages, Mistress. I only know I am very glad I was one who did.”
Mistress Writer looked at me warmly. “Me, too, Dragon. Me, too.”
Be sure to come back and visit from time to time, cherished readers. Mistress Writer should be back to peak health soon, and who knows what mystery or adventure looms on the horizon? We will leave the porch light on for you.
I sighed loudly and raked my hand through my hair. I stared through the window at the still-frozen yard trying hard to shed its white winter coat. My Old Dwarf came over to stand beside me. “Ye be lookin’ a bit down in the mouth, lassie. What be troublin’ ye?”
I shrugged. “The usual. It’s winter.”
“But it be beauteous out there taday, lassie! Why do ye na git yer picture-makin’ box and go fer a hike?”
I turned and gaped at him as if he had just suggested I should murder someone. “Are you crazy? It’s cold out there!”
He scoffed. “The sun be shinin’ and I be seein’ some birdies flittin’ aboot.”
My voice rose to a shriek. “It’s 13 frigid degrees out there, and the blasted birdies are wearing their insulated underwear!”
My Old Dwarf stood there laughing. I shook my head incredulously and headed to my office. Go hiking? In these temperatures? The dwarf is mad, mad I say!
I shivered violently as I sat down at my computer and immediately checked the weather site. Mistake. It told me the 13 degree Fahrenheit temperature outside my Minnesota house actually felt like negative two. The ten day forecast only showed two days when the temperature might climb above the thirties. Typical for the second week of February. My reaction was typical, too. Just like every other year at this time, I could feel myself sinking into a depression, a victim of Seasonal Affective Disorder. I reached over and turned on my full-spectrum light, hoping it would help me fight these SAD Winter Blues.
I started scrolling through my e-mails. There was nothing of earthshaking importance there, so I decided to check out some friends’ posts on social media. Big mistake. One friend in Alabama had posted photos of a magnolia tree already in bloom in her neighborhood. A Florida friend had photographed area birds already gathering twigs and nesting material. Someone in Texas shared photos of fields of blooming daffodils. And three of my friends from Georgia had posted a profusion of photos of unfrozen lakes and ponds teeming with waterfowl.
I sighed again. Since I have an aversion to any temperature below 65 F, it would be many weeks before I could venture out again, camera in hand, and enjoy nature. I turned off the computer and my full-spectrum light and wandered back upstairs.
In the living room, I went over to the French doors leading to the deck, and scowled as I looked out over the yard. I gave myself a mental shake. This had to be the tenth time I had looked outside today. Did I expect to find that it had suddenly transformed into spring?
My Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One entered the room. The insufferable elf took one look at me by the doors and turned on his heel to leave. His companion placed a restraining hand on the elf’s arm. He nodded to me in greeting. “Mistress Writer.”
I grunted at the two of them and returned my attention to the scene outside. The wind was picking up, and the few birds I could see were hunkering down into the reeds at the back of the yard.
“Not a very nice day out there.” I looked up. My Arrogant One was still on the other side of the room, but my Bounty Hunter was at my elbow.
I raised my eyebrows at him. “I’m surprised you remember.”
“Well, that was a most enjoyable outing, Mistress Writer.” His smile would do justice to a snake-oil salesman. He turned to the elf. “I do not believe you accompanied us on that outing, did you?”
My Arrogant One drew himself up and clasped the front of his cloak with both hands. “I do not participate in such frivolous undertakings.”
I snorted. “Of course you don’t.”
My Bounty Hunter turned his smile on me again. “Mistress, many of us are suffering discontent from the weather and the confinement. Perhaps we could go to your office and view your collection of photos on your magic box. I could gather the others, if you approve.”
I cocked my head and considered this proposal. “I’m not sure that would help anyone feel better. I was looking at photos some of my friends posted online, photos of other areas of the country that are already enjoying spring-like weather. It just depressed me further.”
My Bounty Hunter shrugged. “Well, I suppose you could just stay here and continue staring at the bleak scenery outside. But is that really making you feel any better?” He quirked an eyebrow at me. “Besides, remembering what you enjoyed, and will again enjoy when the weather improves, is different than viewing with envy that which others are enjoying now.”
I glared at him. I hate people who counter my bad moods with logic. “Fine. We’ll see how much better it makes us all feel. You round up anyone who’s interested, and I’ll meet you downstairs. My office is too small to accommodate more than two or three people comfortably, so I’ll set up the computer in the conference room.”
My Bounty Hunter nodded. As he turned to take his leave, I noticed him and my Arrogant One exchanging sly smiles. I wondered what they could be up to, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort to find out.
A half hour later, my characters and I met in the conference room. Cleric smiled broadly as she took a seat next to me. “This should be quite enjoyable! You took many walks last year, Mistress, and we are all looking forward to seeing some of your photos.”
I noticed that all did not include my Old Dwarf, my Arrogant One, Dragon or Sorceress. The rest of us made ourselves comfortable and I began.
“I don’t think anyone here has seen the photos I took at Purgatory Creek and Staring Lake last year, and they are among my favorites. Let’s start with those.”
I brought up a photo of a blossoming tree.
Cleric was most enthusiastic. “Oh, how lovely! Pink is my favorite color!”
“That is pretty, isn’t it? These photos were taken in the beginning of May, just as the flowers on that tree reached full bloom.” I smiled as I scrolled through the images. “It was also the beginning of the nesting season for many of the birds in this area. Here’s a male Red-winged Blackbird, trying to attract a mate. And here’s a female, ignoring him.”
My Gypsy nodded. “We saw a number of them on our outing with you last year. They are quite amusing to watch. The way the males puff themselves up and squawk, they remind me of the Arrogant One.”
We all shared a good laugh over that one, then I brought up two more images. “The swallows were really active that day. Here’s a pair of Tree Swallows. In the first shot, they’re on top of their nest box, and in the second picture, they’re setting up housekeeping.”
I gave them a chance to view those pictures, then brought up the next one. “This is a pair of Barn Swallows. They nest under the observation deck on the opposite side of the lake from the Tree Swallows.”
My Young Hero turned to me. “You have taken many photos of these two types of birds, have you not?”
I nodded. “They are relatively easy to approach and photograph. I have a few more of each type. Here are the Tree Swallows.”
“And here are some more Barn Swallows.”
My Bounty Hunter joined the conversation. “You said nesting had begun at the time these photos were taken. Were any of the birds tending offspring yet?”
“I believe so.” I scrolled through the photos. “Yup. The Canada Geese had babies on the water already.
My Gypsy gave me a knowing look, and showed off his expertise. “Geese are fiercely protective parents. You need to be careful approaching them.”
“You’re right. This goose was upset by a Mallard that was too close to the goslings.”
“My, he does look fierce!” Cleric stared in awe at the photo.
“Yes, he does. Of course, the Mallard wasn’t overly impressed.”
My Foreman asked, “Were there creatures other than birds there that day?”
“Only a few turtles.”
“Mostly, there were birds that day.”
“Can we see some more photos of the birds?” Cleric scooted closer.
“Sure.” I continued scrolling through the images. “Here’s a Killdeer.”
“And here’s a Great Blue Heron.”
“This one’s a Pied-billed Grebe.”
“Of course, I got the ubiquitous Song Sparrow.”
“Here’s a Black-capped Chickadee.”
“And this one’s a female Hooded Merganser.”
“I got several good shots of a Yellow-rumped Warbler.”
“And this one is an Eastern Phoebe.”
When we finished looking at the photos from that day, everyone seemed unwilling to stop. Cleric said, “You go hiking so often, you must have other photos you can show us.”
My Old Dwarf chose that moment to interrupt, popping into the room to summon us. “Ye best be waitin’ fer another day fer thet. Right now, dinner be almost ready.”
My disappointed characters thanked me profusely for the afternoon’s entertainment, and slowly filed out of the room. As he passed me, my Bounty Hunter flashed his oily smile at me.
My Old Dwarf helped me carry my computer equipment back to my office. “Ye seem ta be feelin’ a bit brighter, lassie!”
“I hate to admit it, but my Bounty Hunter actually had a good idea. I really enjoyed sharing those photos. I don’t feel as glum as I did earlier.”
As we headed upstairs for dinner, we heard a commotion. When we reached the top of the steps, we found Dragon standing with eyes narrowed, watching something in the kitchen. Beside her, Sorceress stood gaping. She saw me and pointed to the kitchen. My jaw almost hit the floor. There, by the counter, stood my husband, Miles, ready to dish up some of his savory stew. Over by the stove stood the Innkeeper, stirring an identical pot of stew. The two figures seemed oblivious to each other.
“Did I ever tell you that the king himself came to my inn just for this stew?” Miles and the Innkeeper intoned in unison.
Come back next week, as we investigate the appearance of the Innkeeper. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.