The Contest

The Contest

Cleric closeup“Mistress!”

Cleric skipped into my office without even knocking. “How would you like to judge our contest?”Me

I furrowed my brow. “What contest?”

Cleric smiled, her cornflower blue eyes shining. “While you have been busy all week with your writing, my companions and I have been busy as well. We have been taking nature photos all week. We remained indoors, of course, due to the snow earlier this week, and the abysmal cold. But we took a considerable number of photos through the windows.”Taking nature photos through the windows

I nodded. “The weather this week has been brutal for October, even by Minnesota standards.”

Cleric and camera 2Cleric frowned and nodded her agreement before continuing. “The rules of the competition are simple. We could take photos of whatever animals we fancied, but the images had to be taken with no magical assistance. I was not even to use my ability to communicate with animals to get them to pose for me.”

I nodded. “Sounds like a fair rule.”

Research and prepare presentationCleric smiled. “The other part of the competition was more difficult. We were to research and prepare a very brief presentation on the animals we photographed. So, there should be winners in two categories – the best image and the best research. So, will you judge our contest?”

I feigned indifference and examined my fingernails. “I suppose I could clear my schedule and do the honors.”

“Oh, thank you, Mistress. I told everyone we could count on you! We could meet in the conference room in a half-hour if you would be available then.”

When I nodded, Cleric jumped from her chair and skipped out the door. “I will let everyone know to have their images and presentations ready!”

Dragon in front of fireplaceCleric was as good as her word. A half-hour later, my characters met me in the conference room, each with a thumb drive containing their images. Although all were present, some were less enthusiastic than others. Dragon, her scales as black as her mood, was lying in front of her illusory fireplace, glaring.

LaptopCleric cleared her throat. “Ahem. Well, thank you all for being here, and for participating in this contest. Mistress Writer has agreed to be the judge, and I have already advised her of the rules of the contest. So, who wants to go first?” She gestured toward the laptop computer at the front of the room, where everyone would display their images.

Dragon opened one eye and snorted some black smoke. “This whole silly contest was your idea. I think you should go first.”

Smoke drifting from Dragon's snout

Cleric closeupNo one else volunteered, so Cleric inserted her thumb drive into the USB port on the laptop and began. “My first group of images is of Mourning Doves. Two of the images were taken after the snowstorm earlier this week, and the last one is from yesterday, after it cleared again.”

She gave everyone time to see her photographs, then began her presentation. “The Mourning Dove, or Zenaida macroura, is in the taxonomic order Columbiformes and the family Columbidae. Mourning Doves are extremely abundant year-round across the United States. Males and females look alike, with gray backs and wings, and gray to pale peach below. They have large, black spots on their wings. Both their tails and their beaks are long and thin, and their legs are pinkish. They are M-o-u-r-n-i-n-g Doves, not M-o-r-n-i-n-g Doves, called that after their mournful cries.”

Cleric waited for me to take some notes, then proceeded to her next animal of choice.

“These photos are of Northern Cardinals. The Northern Cardinal, or Cardinalis cardinalis, is in the order Passeriformes and the family Cardinalidae. The Northern Cardinal has a year-round range in the United States from the East to the Midwest. The female Northern Cardinal is one of the few female songbirds who sing. Both male and female Northern Cardinals have short, thick bills and prominent crests. The male is a very conspicuous red with a black mask and throat. The female is dull brownish, with warm tinges of red in her wings, tail, and crest.”

When I had finished taking notes on Cleric’s second set of images and presentation, she removed her thumb drive and sat down.

I nodded and smiled. “Very nice job, Cleric. Who’s next?”

Foreman facing right closeupMy Foreman looked around at his companions, and when no one else responded, he rose and came to the front of the room. Inserting his thumb drive, he began.

“I have three groups of birds here, various types of sparrows. I did not bother with the taxonomical information, as I cannot even pronounce the words. One of my more learned associates informed me the words were Latin, a language I have never heard.”

He paused and looked around at his audience before continuing. “The first group of photos shows the American Tree Sparrow, a winter visitor to this area. The American Tree Sparrow is a plump, long-tailed sparrow with a bi-colored bill, unstreaked underparts, and a dark spot in the middle of their chest. Their gray head is adorned with a rusty cap and eyeline. Male and female look alike.”

My Foreman brought up the next group of photos. “These are Chipping Sparrows. It is unusual to see these birds in this area at this time of year, but perhaps the ones I saw this week were late migrants. They were here at the beginning of the week, right before the snow, and I have not seen them since. The Chipping Sparrow is sometimes confused with the American Tree Sparrow, the first sparrow I showed and described. However, the Chipping Sparrow is slightly smaller, has no spot on its chest, and the eye stripe is black, not rusty. The Chipping Sparrow also lacks the bi-colored beak of the American Tree Sparrow.”

Changing photos once more, my Foreman continued. “The last group of sparrows I photographed is the White-throated Sparrow. This bird would not be mistaken for either of the two sparrows I previously detailed. As the name would indicate, their identifying mark is a crisp white throat patch. They are a large, plump sparrow with a long tail and stubby bill. They are beautifully marked, with a bold facial pattern of black and white crown stripes and yellow lores. In Minnesota, they breed in the north and migrate in the fall, though some overwinter here.”

My Foreman waited for me to nod, then retrieved his thumb drive and resumed his seat.

Young hero 2My Young Hero sprang to his feet. “If no one objects, I will go next.”

Before displaying any photos, the lad explained, “I was an opportunistic photographer. The three types of birds I will present were chosen simply because they were there and did not fly off when they saw me aiming my camera at them through the window. Unlike the three types of sparrows the Foreman chose, these birds are unrelated.”

My Young Hero inserted his thumb drive and began. “The first bird is a juvenile or immature Sharp-shinned Hawk. He will have the vertical streaking on his chest until he molts and acquires his adult plumage. This bird was guarding his freshly caught dinner, which I cropped out of the photo in deference to those persons of a delicate and sensitive nature. The Sharp-shinned Hawk is an accipiter, a type of hawk having short, broad wings and relatively long legs. It is admirably adapted for fast flight through woodlands, where it hunts its prey, mostly small birds.”

Switching photos, my Young Hero continued. “This bird is an American Crow. American Crows are opportunistic omnivores. This one was visiting the feeding station on the deck, gobbling the peanuts. Although he does not look it, he is larger than the Sharp-shinned Hawk. This all-black bird has a relatively short, squared tail, and a raucous, full-throated call.”

The lad brought up the next group of photos. “My third bird is the Blue Jay. He also has a raucous call, along with many other sounds. He even mimics the call of other birds. The Blue Jay is grayish-white below and various shades of blue and violet above. The Blue Jay’s wings and tail are barred black, with a bold, white wingbar, and he sports a black necklace and a prominent crest. Like the American Crow, the Blue Jay is a year-round resident of Minnesota, and is an opportunistic omnivore.”

My Young Hero shuffled through his notes. “I discovered a most interesting fact about Blue Jays while doing my research. Blue Jays are not really blue! Because of the structure of a Blue Jay’s feathers, they appear blue. I found this information on a website called The Buzz. If anyone wants to check it out themselves, you can find it at https://www.reconnectwithnature.org/news-events/the-buzz/nature-curiosity-why-are-blue-jays-blue.”

Blue Jay featherPrismThe lad waited while some of his friends copied down the information. “According to this website, Blue Jays do not have any blue pigment in their feathers. The pigment in a Blue Jay’s feathers is brown, but we perceive it as blue because of a phenomenon called light scattering. Light scattering is like the effects of a prism. A Blue Jay’s wings contain tiny pockets of air and something called keratin. Keratin is the same substance that is in our hair and fingernails. When light hits these pockets of air and keratin in the Blue Jay’s feathers, all the colors of the wavelength except blue are absorbed. The blue wavelength is refracted, making the feathers look blue.”

Dragon in front of fireplaceAs my Young Hero retrieved his thumb drive and returned to his seat, Dragon stirred. “Forsooth! That was most impressive. It almost shames me to make my presentation now.” Remaining prone, she tossed me her thumb drive, which I inserted into the computer. “Like my young friend, the Hero, I was opportunistic. In fact, some might argue I was lazy. I took pictures – admittedly poor quality – of some Ring-necked Pheasants because they were right outside the window and I could take the photos with a minimum of effort, and without leaving the comfort of my fireplace – the same way I am making this presentation. The plain, brown, speckled one is the female. The more colorful one is the male. They visit the yard occasionally, usually when it is cold and snowy, although I have seen them here in all seasons. They are what is known as a game bird, which mean some people think they taste good.”

Dwarf with sandwich and thumbdriveAs Dragon closed her eyes and continued her nap, my Old Dwarf stomped to the front of the room, a sandwich in one hand and his thumb drive in the other. He tucked his sandwich in his pouch and thrust his thumb drive at me. I removed Dragon’s thumb drive from the computer and inserted the dwarf’s, and he began.

“Wale, I be admittin’ I dinna be doin’ all tha research wot tha holy lass be tellin’ us ta be doin’, an’ I be tookin’ pictures o furry critters, not birdies. I be pho-toe-gryph-in’ some bunnies, some gray squirrelsies, some red squirrelsies, an’ some chippermunkers. They all be year-round residents o this area, though tha chippermunkers be a tad less hardy and be stayin’ in their holesies when tha weather be gittin too cold. I did be findin’ oot thet tha bunnies be Eastern Cottontails; tha gray squirrelsies be Eastern Gray Squirrels; tha red squirrelsies, wot be lessen’ half tha size o tha grays, be Red Squirrels, though they also be called Pine Squirrels, Spruce Squirrels an’ Chickarees; an’ tha chippermunkers be Eastern Chipmunks.”

Not even waiting for me to return his thumb drive, my Old Dwarf dug his sandwich from his pouch, took a big bite, and hastened back to his seat.

Gypsy close-up facing rightMy Gypsy rose and took his turn next. “I have three birds to present, all common visitors to the yard. We see two here year-round, but the third is a winter visitor only.”

My Gypsy inserted his thumb drive into the computer and brought up his first group of photos. “These are Black-capped Chickadees. These gray-and-white birds with black cap and bib are bold, curious little creatures that can be easily coaxed to take sunflower seeds from a person’s hand. Their call – chick-a-dee-dee-dee – sounds like they are scolding someone, while their song – heeey, sweetie – sounds like they are calling after someone.”

The lad perfectly imitated the chickadee’s call and song.

Gesturing to the next group of images, my Gypsy continued. “The Red-winged Blackbird is ubiquitous in this neighborhood in spring and summer, as they nest right in the reeds along the edges of the pond behind the houses. Their conk-a-reeeeeeeee rings through the neighborhood from early morning till late evening during mating and nesting season and the males often display their bright red-and-yellow epaulettes when trying to impress a potential mate or discourage a potential rival. They remain in the area year-round, but they are not as prevalent in winter.”

Bringing up his third group of images, the lad smiled. “These are Slate-colored Dark-eyed Juncos, birds many people hate to see, as they herald the cold weather and snow. In fact, these little birds are known as snowbirds, appearing in this area as winter sets in, and then retreating northward each spring to their breeding grounds. They have several beautiful songs, the first a loud musical trill of 7-23 notes, similar to the songs of both the Chipping Sparrow and the Pine Warbler. This is sung by the male junco.” My Gypsy whistled a perfect imitation of the song.

“They also have a much quieter song as well, a series of whistles, trills, and warbles sung by both male and female, that may sound like an American Goldfinch.” Again, my Gypsy demonstrated.

“In case you had not surmised, I chose these three birds because I love their calls. When they are in the yard, I can coax them close just by imitating their songs.” Smiling, my Gypsy took his thumb drive and returned to his seat.

Bounty Hunter full body 2My Bounty Hunter rose and shuffled to the front of the room, frowning and looking very reluctant to begin. He inserted his thumb drive into the laptop and shrugged. “I did not research the taxonomy of the birds I chose, nor can I imitate any of their calls. I chose woodpeckers because I am fascinated by them and I found no less than six different types in the backyard. I photographed all six, so you can see their similarities and differences.”

zygodactyl feetLooking around uncomfortably, my Bounty Hunter shrugged again and continued. “The woodpeckers I will present all possess characteristic zygodactyl feet. The first and the fourth of their four toes face backward and the second and third face forward. This allows them to easily grasp the limbs and trunks of trees. These woodpeckers can walk vertically up tree trunks while they forage for food and excavate nest holes.”

Woodpecker on vertical surfaceHe paused to collect his thoughts. “In addition to their strong claws and feet, these woodpeckers have relatively short, strong legs and stiff tails. When the woodpecker perches on a vertical surface, its tail and feet work together to give it support. Woodpeckers have strong bills for drilling and drumming on trees, and long sticky tongues for extracting the insects and larvae they favor for food. They also have very specialized skull and brain structure to prevent concussive damage to their brain while they bang away with their bills.”

Bringing up the first group of photos, my Bounty Hunter continued. “These are Downy Woodpeckers, the smallest of the North American woodpeckers. They range from slightly less than six inches to just under seven inches in length and have a wingspan of ten to twelve inches. They are a common, year-round resident of this state. Males have a red spot on the back of their heads, females do not.”

Changing images, my Bounty Hunter smiled. “This is the Pileated Woodpecker, the largest living North American woodpecker, and also a year-round resident of this part of Minnesota. It is approximately sixteen to nineteen inches long and has a twenty-six to thirty-inch wingspan. Males have a red cheek stripe, and both male and female have bright red crests.”

As he brought up the next group of images, my Bounty Hunter chuckled. “These are not more pictures of the Downy Woodpecker. These are another year-round resident, the Hairy Woodpecker. They are almost identical to the Downy, but larger. They are almost ten inches in length, with a fifteen-inch wingspan. In addition to size, you can tell these two woodpeckers apart by their outer tail feathers. The Hairy Woodpecker’s outer tail feathers are pure white, while the Downy usually has black or gray spots along the sides of the white outer tail feathers. Their bills also give clues to their identity. The Downy has a tiny, stubby beak, barely as long as the distance from the front of its head to its eye. The Hairy’s bill is much longer, nearly as long as the bird’s head. As with the Downy, males have a red spot on the back of their heads, and females do not.”

My Bounty Hunter paused a moment to bring up the next group of pictures. “Here is another year-round resident of this part of Minnesota. At nine to eleven inches long, and having a fifteen to eighteen-inch wingspan, this year-round resident, the Red-bellied Woodpecker, is close in size to the Hairy. The male Red-bellied Woodpecker has a red crown and nape, while the female has only the red nape. The name red-bellied is puzzling to many new birdwatching enthusiasts, as the red patch on their abdomen is often unnoticed, obscured by the pale feathers.”

My Bounty Hunter gestured to the next group of photos. “Minnesota is part of the breeding ground for the Red-headed Woodpecker, but these birds are not year-round residents. This immature bird stopped by for a quick bite to eat during his migration. He was only a day or so ahead of the cold snap and snow. Although quite attractive already, when this bird reaches adulthood, he will be a beauty, with a brilliant red head contrasting with black back, white wing patches, and an unstreaked white belly. Male and female are alike and range from seven and a half to almost ten inches in length, with close to a seventeen-inch wingspan.”

Northern Flicker aMy Bounty Hunter brought up a single photo. “This is a Northern Flicker, another year-round Minnesota resident. It is a mid-to-large sized woodpecker, with a length of eleven to fourteen inches and a wingspan of seventeen to twenty-one inches. Unlike the other woodpeckers I have presented, this one will be seen on the ground as often as in a tree. It does possess the characteristic zygodactyl feet of the woodpeckers, but a flicker eats mainly ants and beetles. It often digs them from the ground with its slightly curved bill, but it will also pluck ants and other insects from the crevices in the bark of tree trunks. This bird is a Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker, referring to the yellow shafts on his flight and tail feathers, as opposed to the Red-shafted Northern Flicker found further west. Both the male and female Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers have a black bib, spotted belly, and red nape. The black mustache marks this bird as a male.”

My Bounty Hunter removed his thumb drive and returned to his seat while Sorceress took his place at the computer.

Sorceress close-up“I have only two groups of images to share.” She gestured toward the laptop. “The first, here, are American Goldfinches. At this time of year, they all look rather drab and bedraggled, but in the spring, the males will molt into their breeding plumage of mostly brilliant yellow and black. They are year-round residents of the southern half of Minnesota, but many inexperienced birdwatchers do not recognize them in their dull winter garb.”

Changing images, Sorceress continued. “These, too, are finches, but they are House Finches. We are on the northern border of this bird’s year-round range. While the females are rather plain brown birds with streaky fronts, the males have reddish hues gracing their face and chests.”

Retrieving her thumb drive, Sorceress continued speaking while walking back to her seat. “Both the male American Goldfinch and the male House Finch have beautiful songs, full of twitters, trills, and warbles. I am sure, if anyone were interested, the Gypsy lad could imitate them for you. I cannot.”

Arrogant One full body 2My Arrogant One rose from his chair at the back of the room. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak with both hands. “I have chosen a single bird, a bird with which I strongly identify.”

European Starling (2a)Approaching the laptop, the elf inserted his thumb drive. “This

is the European Starling.” He paused dramatically. “Like me, the starling is a foreigner in this country.” He paused again. “In winter, this dazzling, iridescent, black-and-brown bird is covered with white speckles and dots. In summer, he turns dark and glossy. He is an excellent mimic, copying the calls of up to 20 other species. The European Starling, a year-round resident everywhere in the United States, is an entirely unappreciated bird in this country.”

With that, my Arrogant One grabbed his thumb drive and flounced back to his seat.

“Well!” I stood and looked at my characters. “There were some excellent presentations, along with some great images. This is going to be a difficult contest to judge!”

Gentle readers, will you help me decide on the winners? Who do you think gave the best presentation? Who had the best image? Perhaps we should have first, second, and third place winners in both categories. Leave you choices for winner in the comments and be sure to come back next week. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Some Time to Relax

Some Time to Relax

Continued along the roadWorking with horsesIt had been almost a week since my characters had returned from the illusory world where my Foreman had been lost, and where the rest of my characters had gone to search for him. My Foreman and my Young Hero had spent most of that week working with their illusory horses. My Gypsy had split his time between the horses and working with Dragon and the other magic users.Magic users

The spellcasters had been busy inspecting the threads of the magic weave from both outside the illusory world and within, to determine if it would be safe for my Foreman to return there.

Dragon at door to conference roomI was walking down the hallway to my office to work on my weekly blog when Dragon, in her customary form of a delicate and exotic maiden, gestured to me from the doorway to the conference room. “Mistress? Prithee, a moment of your time.”

“Of course.” I walked back down the hallway and followed her into the enormous chamber. I was once again struck by the marvel of this magically constructed room – an ever-changing space that could never conceivably fit inside our modest split-level home.

Conference room

I nodded in greeting to Dragon’s colleagues, who were looking weary and drained by their efforts. Then I turned and addressed Dragon. “What have you discovered?”

Examing the threadsChester“We have spent considerable time and effort examining and testing the threads of the magic weave that created the illusory world we designed for your Foreman, and the threads that hold that world together. We have found only residual evidence of any problem. It would seem that once we brought the unfortunate stranger, Chester, out of that world and returned him to this, the real world, all of the problems caused by him becoming entangled in the spell rectified themselves.”

I nodded and smiled. “So, my Foreman can return to that world, should he so desire?”

“Indeed. He can enter that world and should no longer have any problems returning here. The same is true for anyone, including you and Master Miles, should you desire to explore that world.”

I chewed my lower lip. “Perhaps. At some time in the future.”

Dragon nodded.

“So, what are your plans now?” I looked at the entire group as I asked the question, but it was Dragon who responded.

“Well, Cleric, Sorceress, and I need to replenish our supply of botanicals and other spell components. Your Gypsy lad desires to rejoin his fellow horsemen. But your Arrogant One has made a splendid suggestion. Since we are all exhausted from our recent adventure, the elf suggested we put aside our other activities and spend the remainder of this day in rest and relaxation on the gazebo with you and a tall pitcher of cold lemonade. Perhaps we could even engage in some nature photography.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea! You should invite my Foreman and my Young Hero, who are still working their horses. And someone please find my Bounty Hunter and my Old Dwarf and invite them, too. I’ll make some lemonade and maybe some iced tea and prepare a few plates of snacks – I think I have some cake and cookies. I’ll let Miles know what we have planned, and I’ll meet you all in the gazebo.”Beverages and snacks

GazeboThirty minutes later, the eleven of us – me, my husband, and nine of my characters who had long ago fallen from the pages of my manuscript – were sipping cool beverages, nibbling sweet confections, and enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun in the gazebo.

Dwarf closeup“Oooooo! This be real good!” I wasn’t sure if my Old Dwarf was talking about the idea of nature photography, or about the mouthful of cake and cookies he was talking around.

“There been an explosion o bunnies since last we been here in tha yard.” He watched the furry creatures hopping and eating and lounging all over the yard. There was a gleam in the old reprobate’s eye as he eagerly fingered his axe handle.

Bounty Hunter head shotDwarf chasing rabbit“Yes, I had noticed that as well,” my Bounty Hunter commented dryly as he reached for a cookie. “I imagine they have thrived in your absence, not having to look over their shoulders for a madman in an iron suit clanking after them, waving an axe.”

I laughed. “Yes, they have multiplied and gotten fat and lazy without the dwarf here to coordinate their exercise.” I took a gulp of my iced tea and sat back to enjoy the afternoon.

“Here.” Miles nudged the dwarf and handed him a camera. “Try this instead of the axe.”

The dwarf reluctantly took the camera and gave my husband a pouty look. “Eh, lad, ye be takin’ all tha fun oot o things.”

Miles chuckled and nudged me. “He complains but look how many pictures he’s taking.”

I smiled and nodded in agreement.

Miles taking pixEastern Chipmunk (1)Suddenly, Miles noticed a chipmunk watching us from the trunk of a nearby tree. My husband grabbed his camera and started shooting. Several other chipmunks approached, and Cleric winked at me. She placed some peanuts on the gazebo floor and the chipmunks came running to get their treat. Miles grinned as he took several more photos.

I laughed, and he shrugged at me. “Hey, they’re cute, they qualify as backyard wildlife, and Cleric has them posing nicely. Now I won’t have to get eyestrain trying to find little birds hiding in the lush leaves of the trees.”

“I have missed this.” Cleric sighed with contentment. She peered around the yard while sipping her tea and nibbling delicately on a cookie. “Oh, look at that!” She gestured toward a black-and-white bird with a rosy bib near a speckle-fronted brown bird with a prominent white eyebrow. “A pair of . . .” She frowned and tried to remember the name of the bird.

Gypsy close-up“Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.” My Gypsy easily supplied the name as he helped himself to a slice of cake. The lad had come to know every bird native to this area, much as he had known all the birds of his native world. “We rarely see them here in the yard. They usually stop by only when migrating through in spring and fall, even though this area is part of their breeding ground.”

Cleric and camera 2

“That is right. I knew we had seen them here before, but I could not remember their name. Thank you.” Cleric picked up her camera and began coaxing the two birds closer.

 

Bounty Hunter head shot“Oh, my!” My Bounty Hunter was looking toward the back of the yard. “It seems it is a ducky day.” He pointed at the group of waterfowl on the back lawn near the reeds. “Those are Wood Ducks alongside the Mallards, are they not?”

“Yes.” My Gypsy and I answered simultaneously.

“The Wood Ducks are the smaller ducks. You can see how that one female Woody compares in size to the rabbit behind her.” My Gypsy pointed.

Wood Duck with rabbit

“I see.” My Bounty Hunter put down his glass of tea, picked up his camera, and started shooting. “Look! Both have babies . . . what are they called? Ducklings?”

“Yup, ducklings.” I nodded. “You’ll notice the line on a Mallard duckling’s head goes from the bill past the eye and then halfway to back of the head. The line on the Wood Ducklings starts at the eye and extends all the way to back of the head.”

“I will attempt to get images showing that, but it might be difficult at this distance.” The man smiled as he focused his camera on the two groups of ducklings.

“I see the Red-winged Blackbirds are still ubiquitous.” My Gypsy was capturing several images. “I see adult males, adult females, and at least one juvenile male.”

Young hero 2My Young Hero took a big gulp of his lemonade before putting down the glass. “I see a Baltimore Oriole and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.” He took a long time trying to focus on the hummingbird at the nectar feeder. “I fear the hummingbird is too distant for a good image, but I think the oriole pictures will turn out to be acceptable.”

Sorceress close-up“Oh, look at that bird. I am not familiar with that one.” Sorceress was pointing her camera at a small bird in the grass.

“That looks like a White-crowned Sparrow.” My Gypsy looked at me for confirmation, and I nodded.

White-crowned Sparrow (2)

“It is most attractive!” Sorceress scanned the area near the sparrow for more birds as she munched a cookie. “What is that?” Zooming in on the creature, she exclaimed, “Oh! It is a toad!”Toad

“Good eye! They’re hard to spot!” Miles nodded at her approvingly as he reached for another slice of cake.

Elf cleric“Yuck! You can keep your toad.” Dragon, still in her familiar form of a maiden, was focusing her camera on some small yellow birds. “I prefer the American Goldfinches. They are beautiful this time of year, still in their breeding plumage.”

Foreman facing right closeup“I have always enjoyed the woodpeckers and similar birds.” My Foreman was taking pictures of some of the birds on the suet logs and in the nearby trees. “I have captured images of the Downy Woodpecker, the Red-bellied Woodpecker, the Pileated Woodpecker, and the White-breasted Nuthatch.”

Gypsy close-up facing right“I prefer the songbirds.” My Gypsy motioned toward some American Robins near the side of the yard, and he whistled their cheer-up, cheer-a-lee, cheer-ee-o call while he took their picture.

Backyard 050I nodded. “They’re sweet, especially the fledglings.” I took a sip of my iced tea and looked around for more birds. “Ah! A Gray Catbird and a Common Grackle. We’re seeing quite a variety of birds and critters today.”

Arrogant One“Indeed! And there are some of the more raucous varieties.” My Arrogant One aimed his camera at a Black-capped Chickadee on one of the feeders, and then at a fledgling Blue Jay on the fence.

Cleric closeup“The male House Finch is posing nicely for me.” Cleric took a couple of quick pictures. “And the male Northern Cardinal as well.”

Miles“I see some Mourning Doves and some Brown-headed Cowbirds.” Miles snapped a few more images.

We sat there together for the rest of the afternoon, nibbling our treats and enjoying our beverages while watching and photographing our backyard wildlife. As dusk fell, a family of raccoons came to visit, and Cleric insisted on providing the youngsters with some snacks while I photographed the little masked bandits.

“It has been a good day.” Dragon sat back and sipped her lemonade. “We need days like this to rejuvenate our spirits.”

We all murmured in agreement and settled back to enjoy the antics of our evening visitors.

Be sure to join us again next week to see what awaits my little band of displaced characters next. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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The Year in Review

The Year in Review

Dragon looks up from fireplace“The year in review?” Dragon opened one sleepy eye. She raised her head and gave me a curious look. “What is that?”

I wrinkled my brow. I thought it quite self-evident, but I shrugged and offered Dragon an explanation anyway. “It’s just a brief summary of the events of the past year.”

“Oh.” She went back to basking next to her illusory fireplace, curling up tightly, dropping her reptilian head onto her arms, and tucking her tail around her nose.

Arrogant OneMy Arrogant One shuddered. “Who in their right mind would want to dwell on the events of this year past?”

I shrugged. “Many people would. It’s fun to recall some of the good times we had.”

wish listeners“Not everyone had good times. This year did not start out well for some of us.” The elf’s usual smug, superior look was replaced by a pensive expression. “Do you not remember? At the end of the previous year, I had developed a problem controlling my power. At the start of this year, Dragon and I returned to the land of the Wish Listeners to search for the cause and – mayhap – a remedy for my affliction.”

My Arrogant One grasped his cloak and pulled it tight around himself. His voice was so soft I had to strain to hear him. “Dragon almost died there. And I almost abandoned her to her fate, shaming myself and dishonoring the elven race.” His face was pale, and he drew his cloak even tighter around his shivering body.

the knights paced

Tendrils of black smoke 2

Dragon raised her head again, studying the elf through heavy-lidded eyes. “Yes, I remember that. The elf is right. It was not a good start to the year.” A small plume of black smoke drifted from her nostrils, underscoring her words.

Unicorn and dwarf 2My Old Dwarf walked over to Dragon and caressed her scaly face. “But thet you-nee-corn been tookin’ me ta tha udder world ta be savin’ ye, beastie. An’ tha elfie been doin’ right by ye in tha end, when it really been countin’ fer summat.”

Dragon considered this for a moment before nodding and resuming her basking.

bounty-hunterMy Bounty Hunter cleared his throat and nodded. “It was a long and frightening eight weeks. Those of us who remained here had no way of knowing where you were, what was happening, or if we would ever see you again.”

“There were a number of other frights and scares this past year.” My Young Hero blushed as he remembered. “I was beset by nightmares for a long spell.” He smiled warmly at me. “You helped me understand that even heroes can have nightmares.”

“Your fears were nothing compared to the terror I faced after meeting our young neighbor, Marisol. She quickly demonstrated not only the capability to see through my spell of concealment, but the capacity to see my true nature.” Dragon sat up again, dark smoke drifting from her nose.

Stu-04-NatGalSorceress entered the room as Dragon was speaking. She placed a tray of eggnog and Christmas cookies on the table, then turned to Dragon and nodded. “That was a frightening predicament for all of us. The child’s inexplicable ability may have revealed our existence to the inhabitants of this world beyond Mistress Writer and Master Miles.”

MilesTaking Marisol by the hand“Marisol and her mother, Bastina, were not the only new acquaintances this past year.” Miles helped himself to a glass of eggnog and a few cookies as he turned to me. “You and Dragon met that repairman who came out to fix the heat element in our rain gutters when we had a problem with the formation of ice dams. You remember him and his alleged griffin, don’t you?”Crawford and Griffin

“I assure you, Master Miles, there was nothing alleged about the griffon.” Dragon got a sappy look on her face, and her cheeks glowed bright red. “It was nice to meet someone who understood my nature and my presence here, and with whom I could communicate in the old ways of my race.”

Dray and Griff

Miles gave me a questioning look.

“The griffin apparently arrived here much the same way Dragon and my other characters did – falling out of someone’s manuscript. And, according to Dragon, Griff has the ability to communicate telepathically, the same way the Great Wyrms of Dragon’s world communicate.”Dragon and Griffin

“Oh.” Miles furrowed his brow and nibbled another cookie as he digested this information.

CrawfordGriff2I nodded. “Yes, I had almost forgotten about meeting Crawford. He and his friend, Griff, proved themselves to be allies and valuable resources. After the meeting of the writers’ group Lost in the Words, Crawford directed us to Christine and Talia, the owners of the Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store. He said they might be able to help us determine just what Marisol is and whence she gets her power.”

Dragon chuckled. “But getting Talia to help was most difficult. Christine had to exert a great deal of persuasion on her partner. Still, the spells the two ladies provided remedied the problem, and we remain undiscovered by most in this world. And Talia did say when Marisol is older, Talia can teach her, train her to use her power rather than be used by it.”

Foreman facing right closeup“We made another new friend this year as well.” My Foreman raised an eyebrow as he settled into the recliner with a glass of eggnog in his hand. “And a new enemy, mayhap?”Gypsy

“By friend, of course, you mean either Didi or Arthur.” My Gypsy waggled his eyebrows and smirked. “But whoever could be the enemy of whom you speak?”

My Foreman guffawed. “Arthur is no friend.” He turned to me. “Mistress, did not Crawford predict you had made a powerful enemy in Arthur?”

I sighed. “He did. I thought after Cleric had put Crawford’s mind at ease over the circumstances surrounding the death of his nephew, the danger he represented was over. But then Crawford apparently interfered with my Arrogant One’s magic, causing one of the elf’s spells to go awry.”

“Didi turned out to be a friend, though.” My Gypsy smiled broadly. “She wrote an excellent article on Colton and his new pony, Blue.”

“Blue!” Cleric exclaimed. “The therapy pony is another new friend we have made this year!” Her smile faded as quickly as it had appeared. “Of course, we lost a good friend when Colton’s first therapy pony, Peaches – who we knew as Mystery – passed away.”

We all nodded somberly.

Young hero 2“But not everything that happened this past year was bad or sad or frightening,” my Young Hero reminded us. “Because of your strong bond with Mystery, and your ability to communicate with animals, Cleric, we attended the auction and found Blue for Colton.”

Colton and Peaches 2John, Casey, and Old Blue 2My Gypsy agreed. “We helped them both deal with their depression over losing their closest friend – Colton had lost his pony, Peaches, and Blue had lost his owner, Casey. Later, after Colton and Blue were working well together, we got to enjoy a wonderful trail ride with them and Colton’s mom. Colton and I had another outstanding competition identifying birds. That blind boy can identify birds by sound better than most sighted people can identify them by visual observation! And then we had a delicious barbecue after the ride.”

“Ye dinna been toldin’ me there be a barbecue at thet trail ride.” My Old Dwarf frowned. “Iffins I been knowin’ thet, I been learnin’ how ta be ridin’, too!”

We all laughed.

camera for blog“The trail ride was not the only fun any of us had this past year.” My Bounty Hunter rejoined the conversation. “Do you not all remember the debate over magic versus technology? We all went on a nature hike and were afforded the opportunity to use Mistress Writer’s magic box that she calls a camera. The wildlife pictures taken by the magic users were no better than those taken by those of us unskilled in the arcane arts.”

ruby-ring2My Old Dwarf scoffed. “Aye, lad, but I already been ‘splainin thet ta all o’ ye. It do na be becausin’ anythin’ thet tha lass be callin’ tech-nol-o-gee. Tha magic box really be magic, but tha magic be in tha object, liken me old ring o takin’ me places.”

I leaned closer to Miles and explained, “He means his ring of transportation.”

“Aye, lass, me ring o trans-port-tatin’. Tha magic be in tha ring, so’s even non-magic folk kin be usin’ it, same as tha magic box ye all be callin’ a cam-er-ah, what holds tha magic inside it.” My Old Dwarf shook his head at our lack of understanding.

I laughed. “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on the technology issue.”

“That was not the only time we got to use the magic box . . . er, camera.” Cleric grinned.

“That’s right. We saw many different birds and animals when Mistress Writer took us on another nature hike at the beginning of summer, as well.” My Bounty Hunter smiled as he remembered. “Dragon had created illusory cameras for us, so we did not have to share. We all took a large number of photographs that day.”

“I remember.” I nodded and turned toward my Arrogant One. “And there was another time when you took some outstanding nature images, too.”

The elf flushed with pride and sat up a little taller.

“And when you and Master Miles were sick with pneumonia this past spring, Mistress Writer, I took a lot of pictures of the birds in your yard and on our deck to share with you after you recovered.” Cleric smiled at the memory.

“We should have taken pictures the previous month, when the weather was so bad, and all those robins were on the deck.” Dragon shivered as she remembered.

Cleric chuckled. “You were so fascinated by the robins, you shrank to the size of a housecat and climbed up on the back of the sofa to watch them.”

“The robins may have been the most numerous that day – I think there were almost a hundred on the deck – but they were not the only birds we saw,” my Gypsy recalled. “I think we identified 11 different species in the snow and ice, including two different hawks.”

“See?” My Young Hero grinned. “I told you not everything about this past year was bad or sad or frightening. We shared a lot of fun and good times as well.”

My Bounty Hunter nodded. “It makes me most anxious to see what the coming year will bring.”

We hope, dear readers, you have enjoyed following the adventures and misadventures of my little band of displaced characters this past year, and for all the years they have been creating chaos in this world. And we hope you will continue to join us in the coming year as we face whatever comes our way – good, bad, sad, or frightening. It will always be nicer for us if you come along and keep us company. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Happy New Year

I See a Big Problem Here!

I See a Big Problem Here!

Cell phoneBackyard 050

I put down my cell phone and turned to face my characters.

Cleric twisting cord belt“Well? Did you reach them? Did you invite them over? Are they coming?” Cleric’s cornflower blue eyes were clouded with concern, and she twisted the cord belt of her robe. She had been the one who suggested inviting our least favorite neighbors, Mace and Gloria, to join us for some backyard birdwatching.

Mace and Gloria birdingI nodded. “Yes, they will be here in about an hour, binoculars and field guides in hand. They are very anxious to show off how much they’ve learned since the last time they attempted any backyard birdwatching here.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/fun-and-mayhem-with-the-neighbors/

Dragon’s brow furrowed. “Should I strengthen the wards and the spell of concealment?”

I shook my head. “No, that would defeat the purpose of the experiment. We invited them here to determine if your spell of concealment has been breached. We want everything to be the same when they get here as it was earlier today, when Marisol and Bastina were here and saw what they should not have seen.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/07/07/hello-neighbor/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/07/14/just-who-are-these-neighbors-and-what-do-they-see/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/07/21/what-is-the-problem/

I furrowed my brow, trying to foresee any problems. “I know that Mace and Gloria – in fact, the entire neighborhood – has seen all of you. You all attended the neighborhood get-together with Miles and me last August.”

All my characters nodded, and my Arrogant One snickered. “Ah, yes, the get-together. I seem to remember a stage production of some note.” He snickered again, shooting an amused look at Dragon, who glared at him through narrowed eyes.

“Yes, we remember the entire incident . . . er, day.” A puff of black smoke escaped from her snout.
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/07/29/a-ducky-day-for-collecting-flora-and-overhearing-a-murder-plot/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/08/05/to-die-for-stroganoff/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/08/12/solutions-or-more-problems/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/08/19/the-case-of-the-poison-mushrooms/

I gave Dragon and the elf a quizzical look but decided not to pursue the subject. “As I was saying, even though our neighbors have seen all of you, I think it best if only Dragon and Cleric are here with me when Mace and Gloria arrive.”

“Why is that, Mistress?” Cleric tilted her head and fidgeted with her robes.

“Because I believe you were the only two Mace and Gloria saw with me the day they came to visit, and we ended up birdwatching. I think it would be a good test of Dragon’s concealment spell if everyone else went about the same activities as the last time. Oh, and don’t forget – don’t call me Mistress in front of them!”

Cleric nodded.

My Gypsy turned toward my Foreman and my Young Hero. “I believe the three of us were working our mounts.” They headed off toward the barn.

My Arrogant One gestured toward my Bounty Hunter. “My associate and I shall repair to our refuge in the shed, where we were last time.” He turned with a flourish and swept his cloak around him as he and his companion headed toward the garden shed.

sorceress-facing-right

Sorceress stroked her chin and narrowed her eyes in thought. “Ah, yes! I remember! I was in the house.” She turned and took her leave.

“An’ I been chasin’ thet durn bunny rabbit.” My Old Dwarf glowered at the rabbit, who had returned to raiding the carrot patch.Dwarf chasing rabbit

Elf facing rightElf cleric“I will go get some iced tea and cake for our guests.” Cleric hurried toward the house as Dragon shape-shifted back to her customary guise of an elf maiden.

Cleric returned with the refreshments just as Mace and Gloria rounded the corner of our house and waved in greeting.

neighbor-2neighbor“We’re so glad you called!” Gloria was practically bouncing with excitement. “I’ve been saying to Mace now that we’re more experienced, we should get together with you again for some more birding. See, I even have the right word now. Real bird watchers call themselves birders.” She smiled smugly as she flaunted her newfound vocabulary.

Gloria plopped into a chair between Dragon and Cleric, directing Mace into the chair next to me. She continued to dominate the conversation as Cleric served refreshments, chattering on and on about the various birds she and Mace had seen recently in their yard and at various local parks. I slowly relaxed as our guests did not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary when they picked up their binoculars and began scanning our yard for birds. The horses walking past the feeders were apparently invisible to them.Horses and birdfeeders

“We have everything set up to attract the birds. In addition to the regular feeders, we’ve put some peanuts, dehydrated mealworms, and grapes on an old table at the end of the gazebo boardwalk, and we’ve scattered some millet spray on the boardwalk, to entice the birds to come closer.” I pointed to the areas as I spoke.birdwatching with Mace and Gloria

“That’s a good idea.” Mace nodded sagely. “I know some birders frown on that. They prefer to see and photograph birds in their natural habitat, rather than at feeders. Some say attracting birds to feeders is a lazy way to bird, almost akin to cheating. But Gloria and I disagree. We do it a lot when we’re photographing the birds in our yard. We found, in addition to attracting them closer – an important consideration if you don’t have a powerful zoom lens – it helps keep them in one place longer. Normally, they’re flitting around so much, we can’t get a clear, focused image.”

camera for blogI nodded as I picked up my camera. “I agree. I take lots of photos of birds in their natural habitat, in trees and bushes and foraging in the grass, but I also enjoy seeing them at the feeders. I find I can get a much better look at them that way.”

“Oh, first bird of the day! First bird of the day!” Gloria bounced up and down and crowed as if she had just won some fantastic competition. “There are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at the nectar feeders!”

“Wow!” Mace pointed at another of the nectar feeders. “The bees are sure making it difficult for the birds!”Bees on nectar feeder

I nodded. Before I could reply, Gloria squealed. “Look at those two Black-capped Chickadees. The one on the left looks a lot like the one we saw here before, the one with the feather disorder. Remember that one?”

Black-capped Chickadee

I turned my camera toward the birds in question and clicked a few photos. Checking the images, I nodded. “Yes, the one in the tree above the feeders looks like the one we saw previously. Its feathers aren’t as bad as the one we saw before, but you can see the difference between the ruffled feathers of the one chickadee and the smooth plumage of the chickadee posing on the dead branch to the right.”

Mace and Gloria examined the images I had taken and nodded.

Cleric pointed toward the table. “It seems some Blue Jays have decided to visit the feeding station. There are some on the table, and two waiting on the railing.”

“And the chipmunks are sneaking up onto the boardwalk and grabbing their share of the spray millet before the birds get it.” Dragon smiled and pointed.

“They’re so cute, but they’re such brazen little thieves!” Gloria laughed, as we all watched the action at the far end of the walkway.

“There’re some waterfowl at the back of the yard, by the pond.” Mace studied them with his binoculars. “The two larger ducks look like female Mallards. The four smaller ones are Wood Ducks, a male and three females.”

“And there’s a Canada Goose, too.” Gloria smiled broadly, showing off her knowledge. “Mace and I had been calling them Canadian Geese, but a naturalist at the park corrected us.”

“Marge, what are those brown birds with the streaked fronts and sort of scalloped markings on their backs?” Mace pointed to some birds foraging in the grass. “We’ve seen a few in our yard but can’t find them in our field guide.”

I smiled. “They’re juvenile Brown-headed Cowbirds. They’re barely more than fledglings. Their various adoptive parents stopped feeding him about two weeks ago.”

“Adoptive parents?” Gloria tilted her head and gave me a quizzical look.

I nodded. “Brown-headed Cowbirds are brood parasites. A female cowbird doesn’t make a nest or raise her own babies. She lays her eggs in the nests of other bird species, who then raise the young cowbirds. Each of these juveniles was raised by a different set of parents.”

“Why do they do that?” Dragon looked intrigued.

“Originally, they followed the herds of bison that roamed the country, feeding on the insects the herds stirred up from the grasslands. If they took the time to make a nest and raise their own babies, they’d starve, as the herds of bison wouldn’t be waiting around for them.”

Gloria’s eyes widened. “Wow! No wonder we couldn’t figure out what those birds were – there were no adult Brown-headed Cowbirds around them!”

Mace scanned the yard again. “There’s an adult American Robin splashing around in your birdbath, and another one on the fence, waiting its turn. And I see a fledgling robin on the fence, too. I remember you said the youngsters had speckled fronts.”

“And there’s an adult robin eating on the table, now that the Blue Jays have moved.” Gloria pointed.American Robin adult on table

“Our hanging feeders are very busy now, too.” Cleric pointed at the various feeders as she identified the birds. “A pair of Northern Cardinals is in the safflower feeder. There is a female American Goldfinch enjoying the sunflower chips in one of the cage feeders, and a male is in the feeder next to it.”

“Another male goldfinch is in the tree above the feeders, waiting his turn.” Dragon pointed.American Goldfinch male in tree

“He may have to wait a while.” I pointed back to the feeders. “A White-breasted nuthatch just chased the male goldfinch from the cage feeder. There’s another nuthatch on one of the suet feeders, while a third one’s on the tree trunk waiting his turn.”

“Now, a Chipping Sparrow is eating the sunflower chips.” Gloria pointed. “And one male House Finch is in the other cage feeder, and a second male House Finch is in the safflower feeder. The female House Finch is on the feeder pole, waiting.”

“The Gray Catbirds are watching us from the feeder poles.” Mace gestured toward the north side of the gazebo. “And there’re Downy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Red-winged Blackbirds on the suet feeders in the back of the yard, and in the trees surrounding those feeders. You really have a busy yard today!” He looked impressed.

“Looks like you still have a rabbit problem.” Gloria smirked.Dwarf chasing rabbit

I followed her gaze and froze mid-smile. My Old Dwarf was running right toward us, cussing a blue-streak and brandishing his axe at a swiftly fleeing rabbit. He stopped next to the gazebo. “Do na be worryin’, lass. I be gittin’ tha little varmint!”

“Oh, look!” Gloria pointed right at my Old Dwarf and laughed again. “It looks just like that big rabbit is talking to us!”

Eastern Cottontail talking

I heaved a huge sigh of relief and relaxed once more. It was obvious Dragon’s spell of concealment was working well. I started to point at another bird when we were all startled by a new voice behind us.

“Excuse me, please. I hope you don’t mind, but I came back to see if I could pet the horses today.”

Marisol stood next to the gazebo, pointing at the three illusory horses my Foreman and the lads had just released into their simulated pasture. “Is that why you’re here, too? For the horses?” The small child addressed Gloria and Mace.Marisol points out the horses

I swallowed hard, then almost went into a dead faint as I saw my neighbors gaping at the spot where Marisol had pointed.

“I knew you had horses here!” Mace jumped up and whirled around to face me. “I knew it wasn’t my imagination that first time I came here. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/meeting-the-neighbors/

Very blue dragonDragon blanched, shapeshifting into a very blue version of her true self, smoke bubbles dripping from her snout at an alarming rate. “But . . . but how can you see them? You did not see them before!”

Cleric turned toward Marisol, studying the little girl. “No, they did not see them before. They did not see them until this child pointed them out.”Gaping at the child

Dragon, Cleric, and I gaped at Marisol, who was staring, transfixed by the horses and ignoring us.

Gloria turned from gawking at the horses. She saw Dragon in her true form, screamed, and fainted into her husband’s arms. Mace eased his wife’s limp form off the gazebo, away from Dragon. Then he pulled his cell phone from his pocket and called the county sheriff.

 

Is Marisol a witch? How else could she have defeated Dragon’s spell of concealment? How do we talk our way out of this with Gloria and Mace, and with the local authorities? Are my characters about to be revealed for what they really are? Come back next week and see what happens. 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

Some Insights into my Arrogant One

Some Insights into my Arrogant One

Arrogant One in office“I want you to see the photographs I took.”

My Arrogant One marched into my office, unceremoniously swept a pile of books and folders off a chair and onto the floor, and plopped himself down, a superior look on his face. He held out his camera and wrinkled his brow with irritation when I did not immediately jump to take it.

“Well?” He tapped his foot impatiently. “I have been waiting all afternoon to show these to you.”

On phone with AnnaColton giving Blue an apple“I’m sorry. Some of my other characters wanted to hear more details about Colton and his pony, so I’ve been busy.” I had received a call from Colton’s mom, Anna, that morning and had shared with my characters some news about Colton’s progress with Blue. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/06/09/news/

The elf yawned. “Boring.”

I frowned. “The others don’t think so, and neither do I. We happen to care about Colton.”

shaggy pony in barn“Why? If it had not been for that other malodorous pony that invaded our yard and my shed . . .”

My eyebrows shot up. “Whose shed?”

My Arrogant One blushed. “The shed,” he amended, quickly relinquishing his claim of ownership. “Anyway, as I was saying, if it had not been for that foul-smelling creature, we would not even be aware of the boy who had owned it.”
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/12/31/mystery/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/03/25/mystery-solved/

Her, not it. Mystery, aka Peaches, was a mare, a female pony.”

“Whatever.” My Arrogant One waved dismissively.

I sighed and shook my head. “So sorry, I forgot. If you do not directly benefit from someone or something, that person or thing is beneath your notice.”

The elf sneered. “The boy is not our responsibility, yet Cleric and the Gypsy lad would have us think of nothing else. That is all anyone spoke of at lunch today.”

ConversationI scoffed. “I think there’s something wrong with your memory. Everyone was involved in their own discussions until after lunch, when I shared the news about Colton. You yourself spent the entire time at lunch telling my Bounty Hunter all about the pictures you took.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/06/09/news/

“I was going to tell everyone about them until you monopolized the conversation.” The elf pouted.

I ignored his complaint. “What’s so important about these photos?”

He thrust the camera at me again. “Well, just look at them.”

Arrogant One's photosI took the camera and quickly downloaded the photos onto the computer. I brought up the images on the monitor and looked through them. There were three dozen images of various birds, mammals, insects, and flowers.

“Nice.”

“Nice?” The elf looked thunderstruck. “Nice? That is all you can say about them?”

I shrugged. “They’re nice. What else would you have me say?”

My Arrogant One jumped up, grabbed his camera, and stomped out of the room. I shrugged and went back to work, first gathering the items the elf had tossed aside and replacing them on the chair. I could reorganize them later. Right now, I had a blog to write.

Bounty Hunter in officeI hadn’t gotten the first paragraph typed when I felt the hairs on the back of my neck prickle, and I had the distinct sensation I was being watched. I looked up and saw my Bounty Hunter lounging against the door jamb. His posture was casual, but his eyes bore right into mine.

I frowned. “What’s your problem?”

“I had cause to speak with you, milady, but I saw you were busy, and I did not wish to disturb you.”

His eyes had lost some of their intensity, and he shuffled one foot back and forth across the carpet, but I was still wary. I glared at him long and hard before I replied.

“Well, you did. What did you want to talk about?”

“The elf.”

Arrogant One full body 2Bounty Hunter full body“My Arrogant One?” Somehow, I wasn’t all that surprised. Those two were pretty tight. If I had offended the elf, I should have expected his sidekick to take me to task. On the other hand, despite the two of them being all but joined at the hip, my Bounty Hunter never seemed to hold any illusions regarding the annoying elf. He came to me just as often to complain about his cohort as to defend him.

“Yes, your Arrogant One.” My Bounty Hunter walked across the room and gestured at the items piled haphazardly on the chair. “Do you mind if I move these?”

At least he had the courtesy to ask. “No, I guess not. Just put them on the floor. I’ll reorganize them and put them away later.”

manuscriptsBounty Hunter full body 2I studied my Bounty Hunter as he moved the items and took a seat. I was always a little guarded around him. I never quite understood him as well as I did my other characters. I didn’t even really remember him from my two unpublished manuscripts, the books from which my other characters had fallen. I was pretty sure my Bounty Hunter didn’t make his appearance until Book Three, which was barely started at this point.

I shook my head and tried to drag my thoughts back to the conversation. “So, what has my Arrogant One done now?”

“I wish to speak to you regarding the elf’s photographic efforts.”

“Oh?” I lifted an eyebrow. “Is his nibs still pouting because I failed to go into raptures over his images?”

My Bounty Hunter winced. “Mistress, I fear you fail to understand the importance the elf attaches to his efforts. Perhaps you could be a tad kinder, show a modicum of interest and enthusiasm.”

“Like you were showing when the elf was talking your ear off at lunch, telling you over and over, ad nauseam, of each and every tiny detail of each and every image?” I smirked.

My Bounty Hunter had the grace to look properly chastised. “I admit in spite of my best efforts to the contrary I allowed my boredom to show.” He shrugged. “But having you brush off his accomplishments is a far worse blow to his self-image than my boredom, which I doubt the elf even noticed.”

I scoffed. “Since when does my Arrogant One allow anyone’s actions, words, or opinions, to damage his self-image?”

“You would be surprised, Mistress.” He rose and headed toward the door. “You would be surprised.”

Arrogant One's photosAfter my Bounty Hunter left, I decided to give the photos another look. I was surprised to realize some of them were quite good, especially the flowers. Deciding I had been too dismissive of my Arrogant One, I went in search of him. I found him in the conference room, deep in discussion with Cleric.

Arrogant One and Cleric“But I am not asking you to show me how to do anything that would harm them. I only wish to be able to attract the animals closer and to get them to sit still long enough to capture their image.”

Cleric chewed on her lower lip as she listened to the elf. She fidgeted with her belt as she replied. “I wish I could help you, truly! But, forsooth, I fear my talent for communicating with animals is a clerical ability granted me, not a skill that can be taught.”

My Arrogant One scowled, and Cleric blanched. I hurried over to intervene. “You seemed to do quite well getting the animals to pose for you. I was impressed with your results.”

My Arrogant One gave me a penetrating look. “You did not seem all that impressed when I shared my images.”

Backyard 050I tried to look remorseful, wishing I had learned the art of blushing at will. “I apologize. I was in the middle of something when you came in, and I guess I was just upset at being interrupted. After I finished my work, I looked at the images again. They are quite good.”

“Really?” The elf looked at me suspiciously.

“Really. Why don’t we go back to my office and look at them again?”Elf

Cleric brightened. “Are these the photographs you were taking in the front yard this morning? I saw you when Sorceress, Dragon, and I returned from collecting our botanicals.”

The elf nodded.

“May I see them, too?” Cleric blushed. “I am very interested in photography. Perhaps I can learn something from you. The images you took on our nature walk were outstanding. I love the way you work with the lighting.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/06/02/a-change-of-pace/

arrogant one

My Arrogant One held his head high, grasped his cloak in both hands, and rocked back on his heels. “Of course. I would be most gratified to have you view my images.”

My Arrogant One and Cleric followed me to my office. I quickly removed the contents of two chairs and placed the materials neatly on a table, before the elf had a chance to knock everything on the floor again.

When we were seated, I jiggled the computer mouse to wake the machine from sleep mode, and a page of thumbnails of my Arrogant One’s photos filled the monitor.

Arrogant One's photos

“I love the flowers. As Cleric said, your use of light in your photography is impressive, especially for a novice.”

We viewed the photos, and I pointed at two of them. “On these two, you captured insects on the flowers.”

“Was that intentional?” Cleric leaned closer to inspect the images. “Or was it just a fortuitous accident?”

Insects on Butterfly Weed

“I will admit, I did not notice the flies on the milkweed until I studied the images later. However, the other insect on the purple coneflower – some sort of small grasshopper or katydid, I believe – was my intended subject.”Insect on Purple Conflower

“That is a splendid capture, exceptionally sharp and extremely vivid!” I congratulated the elf, who visibly puffed up with pride.

Butterfly (1)Butterfly (2)I brought up several other images. “You also got some nice images of the Monarch butterflies. They can be difficult to capture, as they don’t tend to stay still very long.”

After we admired the butterfly images, I brought up three other photos. “I am particularly impressed with these close-ups of the two dragonflies and the damselfly. They are tack sharp and the damselfly is especially vibrant. And, like the butterfly, they are difficult insects to capture this well as they tend to flit rather than alight.”

After Cleric and I made a few more positive comments, my Arrogant One asked, “What about the photos of the animals? To me, they seem lacking. I am certain I could have achieved better results if I could but coax them nearer and get them to pose.”

“Well, let’s see. Let’s examine the birds first.” I paused and studied the photos. “The fledgling American Robins might not be as sharp as some of your other photos, but they are cute images of a baby bird.”

My Arrogant One hung on every word as I critiqued his photos, nodding his understanding.

“The soft focus on the Blue Jay adds interest. It almost looks like a watercolor.”

Blue Jay

The elf nodded and looked pleased.

“I think you tried to get a little too close with the Downy Woodpecker. The focus is not as sharp as it might have been if you had just pulled away a bit. But the mouthful of suet and the reflection in the bird’s eye lend interest to the image.”

Downy Woodpecker

The elf studied the photo. “I see what you mean.”

“The images of the Hairy Woodpecker and the Red-bellied Woodpecker on the tree trunks are outstanding, not only as portraits of the birds but as behavioral studies, the way they show the birds in their natural surroundings.”

That comment garnered another proud smile.

“With the Red-winged Blackbird, you again used lighting to your advantage. The bird can be clearly seen, with a lot of definition to the feathers. Even the eye is visible, which can be difficult with a black eye on a black bird.”

Red-winged Blackbird

Another nod and a proud smile.

“And, finally, you couldn’t ask for a cuter shot of the Song Sparrow taking a dust bath. Again, it is a sharp portrait as well as a good behavioral image.”

Song Sparrow taking a dust bath

The elf was absolutely beaming.

I brought up the last five pictures. “Now the shots you got of the Eastern Chipmunks and the Eastern Cottontail bunnies are adorable.”

“Adorable?” My Arrogant One scoffed. “Just because they are, in your opinion, adorable animals, it does not follow that my images of them are any good.”

Eastern Chipmunk (2)Eastern Chipmunk“Oh, but they are!” Cleric gushed. “Look at the raised paw on the first chipmunk, and the stuffed cheeks on the second one. As Mistress said of several of your other photos, they are excellent portraits and wonderful studies in the behavior of the animals.”

The elf looked mollified. “And the rabbits?”

“The two shots of the bunnies that were eating are solid behavior studies, but the last one is, in my opinion, the best of the three.” I pointed. “The look of curiosity and boldness on that bunny’s face is priceless!”

Eastern Cottontail baby (3)

My Arrogant One wrinkled his brow. He nodded slowly, then asked, “Do you consider me the best of your characters at photography?”

I studied the elf’s face before I answered. “Is it important that you be the best?”

Arrogant OneHe glanced at Cleric and seemed reticent to say anything. Finally, he hung his head and shrugged. “It would be nice to be the best at something.”

Then, without another word, he jumped up from his chair and dashed out of the room.

Elf facing rightCleric and I sat, gaping after the departing elf. This was a side of my Arrogant One I had not seen before. From the look on her face, I don’t believe Cleric had ever seen it, either.

Finally, Cleric spoke. “Mistress?”

“Yes?”Cleric and camera

“I had hoped that I would learn to be the best photographer. Somehow, though, I do not believe it is as important to me as it is to your Arrogant One.”

I nodded again. “I wonder what makes it so important to him.”

“You do not know?” Somehow, my Bounty Hunter had entered the room unnoticed.

“No, I don’t.” I frowned.

Bounty Hunter full body 2Arrogant One full bodyMy Bounty Hunter smiled wistfully. “In our world, your Arrogant One was one of the most renowned illusionists in the elven kingdom until something happened, and he was forced into exile. Later, he became something even more important. He became accustomed to being treated with respect and deference, but never forgot what it was like to be scorned and humiliated. Here in your world, he is just an arrogant elf, not respected for anything. He is not the best illusionist, not the best at communicating with animals, not the best horseman, not the best with weapons, not the best at anything, really, except maybe causing trouble and dissension. He often feels that same humiliation he once knew in exile.”

He paused and let Cleric and I consider this before continuing. “So, when we went on that nature walk and you praised his photos, he thought he had found something at which he could excel.”

 

I nodded. “And that is why it is important to him. He needs at least one thing that will garner him praise and not derision.”

My Bounty Hunter smiled and saluted as he left my office. Cleric sat silently for many long moments before rising. “I think I will go ask your Arrogant One to teach me how to use light to make my photos better. And maybe I can help coax some animals into posing for him.”

I smiled and nodded. As she left, I turned back to my computer. I still had a blog to write. I wondered if my Arrogant One would object to me using some of his photos in my blog.

My Arrogant One and I hope you have enjoyed his photos. I can assure you he is very proud of them, and would love to hear from you if you like them, too.

Be sure to return next week for more of the adventures and misadventures of my little band of displaced characters. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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A Change of Pace

A Change of Pace

Elf facing rightGypsy close-upI was on my way to the kitchen when Cleric and my Gypsy trudged through the door from the deck.

“Welcome home. Dragon told me you two went over to see Anna and Colton today. How’d everything go?”

https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/26/an-anxious-day/

Colton meeting BlueMy Gypsy shrugged. “I was able to convince Colton to meet Blue, so I guess that is an improvement. But the pony did not seem interested in meeting his new owner. He allowed the boy to pet him but did not respond the way I had hoped. He did not nuzzle the boy or even nicker at him. After a few minutes, he just walked away. Colton was very disappointed. I had just convinced him Blue needed him as much as he needed Blue. Then the pony showed no interest in being friends with Colton.”

CaseyCleric lowered her eyes and tugged at her robes. “I did my best to communicate with Blue. I told him about Colton’s disability, and I stressed how much Colton needs him. The pony seemed indifferent. The only picture he kept placing in my mind’s eye was a little girl in a wheelchair, whom I assume was Casey, his former owner.” Cleric’s cornflower-blue eyes were wet with unshed tears. “Oh, Mistress, he misses her so much! I wonder if there is room in his heart for a new owner.”

“Well, I certainly hope there is. Colton misses Peaches as much as Blue misses Casey. If they give each other half a chance, Colton and Blue might be able to help each other cope with their respective losses.”

My two characters nodded glumly.

I looked at my watch. “But right now, you’d best get ready for dinner. Miles should have it on the table any minute now.”

They nodded again and headed off to clean up for dinner.

Nature HikeAt dinner, I announced that I would be going on a nature hike the next day, weather permitting. “Anyone wanting to join me better be in the car and ready to go by 7am. And because it’s been a while since our last outing, I’ll remind all of you now – if you are coming with me, there will be no robes, cloaks, suits of armor, etc. You will wear the modern garb of the realm and leave all weapons, staffs, wands, and magic paraphernalia at home.”

gypsy-facing-right“Pfft! It is not our first rodeo, Mistress.” My Gypsy laughed and waggled his eyebrows the way he always does when attempting to be a comedian.

Arrogant One“It is a hike, not a rodeo.” My Arrogant One sneered.

“I know that. It is not my first rodeo is just an expression, meaning that the person saying so has experience in whatever situation they are discussing.” My Gypsy quoted what I had told them the other night on the way to the auction. He raised one eyebrow at my Arrogant One and gave him a superior look. “You really should attempt to learn some of the idioms of this world.”

Bounty HunterMy Arrogant One blushed scarlet and was about to reply, but his sidekick, my Bounty Hunter, cut him off. “Mistress, are we to be allowed some time tomorrow to use your magic box, the thing you call a camera? You have permitted it in the past.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/03/24/magic-or-technology/

“Well, I don’t know.” I stroked my chin as if considering the possibility. “I haven’t had much chance to take my nature photos this spring. The weather and other circumstances have precluded any hikes. I’m not sure I want to share my camera this time out.”

Most of my characters looked disappointed, but Dragon grinned at me as I continued. “Of course, if you all had your own cameras, it wouldn’t be a problem.”

“Our own cameras?” Everyone’s eyes widened.

dragon talking“Yes. Mistress and I discussed the possibility of me creating illusory cameras for each of us. I believe I can have them ready by tomorrow morning.” Dragon smiled.

“Oh, Mistress! Dragon! That would be wonderful!” Cleric’s eyes were shining as she looked from me to Dragon and back again.

“Okay, then, whoever’s coming, I’ll see you first thing in the morning.”

* * *

Bright and early the next day, every one of my characters stood by the car, shifting around and fidgeting impatiently. Each was properly garbed, and each had a camera hanging around their neck.

“Where are we going today?” My Foreman opened the car door and waited for the others to get in before he took his seat.

Spring Peeper MeadowI got behind the wheel and started the car. “We’ll go to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum today. We’ll start at Spring Peeper Meadow and then go to the main section of the Arboretum. The weather is forecast to be warm and sunny all day, so I’m sure we’ll get a lot of great pictures.”

During the short ride to Spring Peeper Meadow, my characters inspected their cameras and discussed the basics of photography they had learned when I had let them use my camera on another hike. When we got there, everyone was chomping at the bit to get out and hone their skills.

* * *

6-19-13 - Miles 001Back home that night, I downloaded the photos from everyone’s camera onto my computer so we could all view the results of the day’s photo hike. I moved the computer into the conference room where there was more space, and Miles joined us.

“Did everyone get some good shots?”Elf

“That is what we are about to discover, Master Miles.” Cleric fidgeted nervously with the cord on her robes.

“Can everyone see the monitor?” I looked around the room and saw everyone nodding. “Okay, then, let’s get started.”

The first image that came up on the screen was a Gray Catbird. I nodded in approval. “Nice! Who took this one?”

Gray Catbird (6)

DwarfMy Old Dwarf raised his hand. “Thet be one I be takin’. I been fass-kee-nat-ed! Thet durn fool birdie been thinkin’ it be a kitty-cat.”

I laughed. “It’s called a Gray Catbird – gray, obviously for its color, and catbird because it can mimic perfectly the mewing of a cat.”

There were two more pictures of the catbird, and then two of an Eastern Chipmunk.

 

“Them be sum udders o mine.”

My Young Hero nudged my Old Dwarf and smiled. “You always find the furry critters.”

The rotund figure grinned.

“Then these next two must be yours as well. Nice shots.” I displayed images of two different Red Squirrels.

“Aye!” My Old Dwarf looked pleased.

“Is this yours as well?” I brought up the next image, a White-tailed Deer.

White-tailed Deer (3)

mens-991728_1280“No, that is one I took.” My Foreman furrowed his brow as he looked at the photo. “It is not as clear as I had hoped. I have to work on my focus.”

I nodded. “It’s hard with a point-and-shoot camera. It tends to focus on whatever is in the foreground, and the deer is behind some branches . . . which you will notice are in perfect focus.”

As I brought up the next two images, my Foreman frowned again. “These Wild Turkeys are in better focus than the deer, but neither bird would look up at me.”

I laughed. “You needed Cleric to sweet-talk them into posing.”

Cleric blushed. “I would have helped, but I guess I was too preoccupied with my own photography to notice that anyone else needed help.”

The next image on the screen was a male American Goldfinch.

American Goldfinch - male (2)

“Wow! Who took this one?”

Arrogant OneMy Arrogant One stood up, held his head high, grasped his cloak in both hands, and rocked back on his heels. “That would be one of mine.”

“Great lighting!”

He smiled and bowed.

“Is this one yours, too?” An image of a Yellow Warbler filled the screen.Yellow Warbler (2)

The elf nodded smugly. “He, too, was in favorable light when I took the photo.”

I nodded. “And the Yellow-rumped Warbler? Yours again?”

Yellow-rumped Warbler

“He is.” My Arrogant One frowned a bit. “The lighting was not as good for this one, but I still like the image.”

“Indeed.”

Bounty HunterThe next two images were of a male Northern Cardinal. My Bounty Hunter tilted his head and studied his photos. “He was a bit far, and difficult to find, even with so little foliage on the trees. I heard him singing for the longest time before I found him. I suppose the images are acceptable.”

“I think they’re quite good. Remember, you are all just learning to use the camera.”

I brought up an image of a Song Sparrow. “Nice!”

Song Sparrow (3)

My Bounty Hunter didn’t agree. “I took that one only because the bird was singing, as a Song Sparrow should. I think the second image of him is better. He’s closer and the lighting was better.”

I brought up the second image and we all agreed with the photographer’s assessment.

Song Sparrow (4)

The next image was a Chipping Sparrow. “Yours again?”

Chipping Sparrow (3)

Young hero 2“No, Mistress, that one is mine.” My Young Hero cleared his throat. “The lighting was poor, and I should have waited, but I liked the bird. I took a second photo of him as well, when he flew into a tree. I think that one is better.”

I brought that one up on the screen and nodded. “Oh, this is a nice image. You can see the mouthful of nesting material the bird has gathered.”

Chipping Sparrow (4)

The next image was a male Eastern Bluebird. My Young Hero smiled. “I took that one as well. It was a bit far, but I think the image is sharp enough. I remembered how you said to try to blur the background for a nice effect, too.”

Eastern Bluebird - male

I smiled. “Very nice! You’re learning a lot!” I brought up the next image, a Palm Warbler.

Palm Warbler (1)

“I did the same thing for this image, too.” My Young Hero looked pleased. “But I could not do it for the second image I took of this bird, as he flew down onto the grass.”

Palm Warbler (2)

I looked at the second Palm Warbler image. “That’s okay, you got a good, clear shot of him.”

I brought up the next image.

Garter Snake (7)

“Eeek! No doubt who took that picture!” Cleric shuddered at the image of a Garter Snake.

gypsy-facing-rightElfMy Gypsy grinned and waggled his eyebrows. “I found him just for you.”

“Oh! He is so big!” Cleric shuddered again as I displayed the second image of the snake.

Garter Snake (4)

My Gypsy laughed at Cleric. “He is just a wee little thing, and he does not bite.”

“Why can you not stick to images of creatures like these?” Cleric pointed to the photo of two turtles on the screen.

Turtles (3)

My Gypsy grinned. “That is one of my images as well. And the next one, when they were on the log in the pond.”

Turtles (4)

Cleric tilted her head as she studied the second turtle photo. “Oh, I think I saw you take that photo. I was trying to coax a pair of Canada Geese into showing off their goslings.”

“You mean these goslings?” I clicked onto the next image, two adult Canada Geese swimming with a line of five goslings between them.