With Dragon Gone, It’s a Real Picnic

With Dragon Gone, It’s a Real Picnic

blue-dragon-2Dragon 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.

Book manuscriptSo 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?”From Nicki 146

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.”

Miles nodded.

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.

Pond for picnicNinety 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.

camera for blogEveryone 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.”

birthdays-weekend-trip-to-wi-018“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.”

Dwarf facing right“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.”young-hero-facing-left

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.

gypsy-facing-right“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!Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve 244

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.”

* * *

blue-dragon-2Dragon 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.

oasismagic energy traceDragon 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.

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What’s STILL Going On?

What’s STILL Going On?

bird photographerI 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.

Elf facing rightCleric 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.”

Stu-04-NatGalBefore 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.

dragon-1964202_960_720Before 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?”

Dragon nodded.

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?”

blue-dragon-2

 

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 shuddered.

“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.”

iced tea for blogDragon 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.Backyard 055

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.”

morcantmorcants-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.Backyard 054

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.Backyard 059

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.

Backyard 131

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.Backyard 001

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.Backyard 020

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.Backyard 044

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.Backyard 064

“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?”

gathering clouds for blog“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?”

Elf facing right

“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.

Fun and Mayhem With the Neighbors

Fun and Mayhem With the Neighbors

gazebo for blogI 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.camera for blog

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/

Elf clericneighborneighbor-2I 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?

ShedOut 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.

binoculars and field guide“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.Backyard 078

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.”Backyard 039

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?”Backyard 008

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.Backyard 051

“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.arrogant-one

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.

Backyard 052

 

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.

 

The End?

The End?

Hail and well met, old friends and new readers! Once again, I, Dragon, will continue relating our adventure while Mistress Writer continues her recovery.

Elf facing rightSleeping Woman 2I 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.”

blue-dragon-2Couch. 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.

Days turn into weeksdoctor

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.”camera

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.

“Mistress?”

“Yes? What is it, Dragon?” She placed her camera on the coffee table and took a seat on the couch.

dragon facing right“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.”strange-dreams

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?”

Book manuscript“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.”

books“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.”

I nodded.

“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?”

office-and-bookshelf-for-blog-002I 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.”

for-todays-blog-013morcantMistress 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.”Favorite

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.

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A Good Cure for the Wintertime Blues

A Good Cure for the Wintertime Blues

backyard-melting-snow-004I 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!

computer-and-monitorI 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 scowled at the intrusion. “Nope.”

“I remember how the wind picked up toward the end of that expedition we enjoyed with you last year. If I recall, Cleric and the Gypsy lad combined their skills so you could get photos of some small birds clinging to the cattails swaying in the wind.” (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/a-surprisingly-pleasant-outing/)

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. purgatory-creek-and-staring-lake-099

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.”

purgatory-creek-and-staring-lake-239

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. purgatory-creek-and-staring-lake-180

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.”

purgatory-creek-and-staring-lake-195

“My, he does look fierce!” Cleric stared in awe at the photo.

“Yes, he does. Of course, the Mallard wasn’t overly impressed.”

purgatory-creek-and-staring-lake-199

Everyone laughed.

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.”

purgatory-creek-and-staring-lake-005

 

“And here’s a Great Blue Heron.”

purgatory-creek-and-staring-lake-017

 

“This one’s a Pied-billed Grebe.”

purgatory-creek-and-staring-lake-100

 

“Of course, I got the ubiquitous Song Sparrow.”

purgatory-creek-and-staring-lake-109

 

“Here’s a Black-capped Chickadee.”

purgatory-creek-and-staring-lake-117

 

“And this one’s a female Hooded Merganser.”

purgatory-creek-and-staring-lake-282

 

“I got several good shots of a Yellow-rumped Warbler.”

 

“And this one is an Eastern Phoebe.”

purgatory-creek-and-staring-lake-311

 

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.”

dwarf

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.

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Getting Back to Normal

Getting Back to Normal

It had been a difficult week since Cleric, my Old Dwarf, and Dragon had been rescued.

Arrogant One facing rightAll week, I had felt as if my Arrogant One was glued to me. He was the one who had abducted Cleric and my Old Dwarf. If he had been disliked by my other characters before, he was absolutely loathed by them now. He walked on eggshells around them, and rarely left the presumed safety of my side during waking hours. Had he any sense at all, he would have realized he was in much more danger of being throttled by me than by the others.

Dwarf facing rightMy Old Dwarf had bounced back from the injuries he had sustained when my Arrogant One had magically walloped him over the head with a tree limb. He had almost recovered from the indignity of having been knocked unconscious and abducted by the annoying elf. Whenever they were in a room together, the dwarf glared at the elf, eyes narrowed, nostrils flared, and teeth bared. The cantankerous old codger seemed to get immeasurable enjoyment from keeping the elf in a constant state of terror.

dragon facing rightDragon was the one who had recuperated the quickest, in spite of having received critical internal injuries in a fall. Luckily, dragons have phenomenal recuperative powers. The same night she and the others had been rescued, Dragon was already romping around the yard with her friend and champion, the beautiful gray and white Old English Sheepdog, Ollie.

ElfWhile Dragon had mended quickly, Cleric was just the opposite. Though her abrasions had healed quickly enough, her spirit bore the scars of her ordeal. Cleric had become quiet and withdrawn, no longer skipping through the house humming. She could not bear to be in the presence of my Arrogant One, who had been the perpetrator of her abduction in his quest to secure a magical set of keys for the evil wizard, Morcant. She also eschewed contact with my Bounty Hunter, who had confessed to seriously considering a similar scheme to abduct her. Cleric had become easily startled by anyone approaching her, and she frequently ran from the room in tears. So I was pleasantly surprised when the despondent elf approached me one evening.

“Mistress?”

“Yes?”

She wrinkled her brow and looked coldly at the Arrogant One, hovering nearby. “May I speak with you in private, Mistress?”

“Of course.” I frowned at my Arrogant One and jerked my thumb toward the stairs.

“But…but…but…the Old Dwarf is upstairs.”

“Go make your peace with him. I’m tired of tripping over you 24/7.”

“But…”

“Go. Now.”

He took one look at the expression on my face and paled. He spun around and ran up the steps. I turned back to Cleric. “Now, what can I do for you?”

“Mistress, remember the wonderful time we had when you took some of us on an outing this Spring past? We enjoyed the warm sunshine and the cooling breeze while we walked around a nature preserve. We saw all manner of birds and wild creatures, and assisted you in photographing them.”

“Yes, that was a surprisingly enjoyable day.” The memory of that expedition brought a broad smile to my face. (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/a-surprisingly-pleasant-outing/)

“Well, I was wondering, Mistress…” Cleric paused, lowering her eyes and shuffling her feet.

“You were wondering if we could, perhaps, go on another little jaunt?”

Cleric brightened, her whole face transformed by her radiant smile. “Yes, I was.” She gently bit her lower lip, and clasped her hands as if in supplication.

“I think that would be a wonderful idea. I was hoping to go on a nature hike tomorrow, while Miles is helping out at his daughter’s house for the day. Can you be ready by first light?”

Cleric nodded, but then hesitated, her brow wrinkling. “It would be permissible for the Gypsy, the Young Hero, and Dragon to join us, would it not?”

“Of course. The lads enjoyed the previous outing as much as you did, and Dragon has mentioned several times she was sorry she missed that excursion. I’ll see the four of you first thing in the morning.”

For the first time all week, Cleric skipped down the hallway, humming happily to herself.Elf cleric

The next morning, I entered the living room before first light, and found my four characters already waiting for me. For this public excursion, Dragon had disguised her true form by shapeshifting. She had taken on the appearance of an elf maiden, and could easily have been Cleric’s twin.
Young hero 2GypsyThe lads were both still munching their breakfast, and my Gypsy asked, around a mouthful of food, “Are we going to the same place we went last time?”

“No, I have a different place in mind. I think you will enjoy it just as much.” I looked around. “Has anyone seen my Old Dwarf this morning?”

“I be in the kitchen. I dinna finish me breakfast yet.” A moment later, the stocky figure entered the room, a mug of milk in one hand, a slab of chocolate cake in the other, and an ear-to-ear grin brightening his face. “I do be enjoyin’ this notion o havin’ ‘breakfast’ upon risin’ each day. But, Mistress Writer, I trust ye be knowin’ — even though ye be havin’ us eatin’ such meals in the books ye wrote — we never really be havin’ such a thing as ‘breakfast’ afore findin’ ourselves here in yer world.”

“Yes, I am aware that breakfast was not one of the meals generally eaten in medieval times. Let’s just chalk it up to literary license.” I winked at him. “Now, before we leave, I want your word that my Arrogant One will be alive and unharmed when we return.”

“Oh, I may be havin’ me fun at the little popinjay’s expense, but he be sufferin’ no worse harm at me hands than a bad case o the shakes-and-shivers.”

“Good.”

Stu-04-NatGal

As we descended the stairs to leave, I saw my Sorceress at the foot of the steps. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to join us today?”

“I appreciate the offer, and I am sure I would enjoy the outing, Mistress, but I have to collect and prepare some spell components today. I must stay sufficiently supplied, in case Morcant’s familiar should return.”

“I agree. Stay vigilant today, in case he does come back and tries to cause more mischief. And you best keep an eye on my Bounty Hunter, too. My Old Dwarf will keep my Arrogant One out of trouble.”

Sorceress nodded and bade us farewell. With that, my four characters and I entered the garage and piled into the car. Dragon had never been for a ride in the car, so the others helped her with her seat belt. They also tried to prepare her for the ride. Real world, 21st century vehicles go considerably faster than medieval fantasy world forms of transport. Ten minutes after starting out, I pulled onto the main highway, and it was déjà vu. As in the previous trip, I was the only one in the car watching the traffic and the passing scenery. In spite of the fact that three of the characters had experience traveling by car, all four of my passengers were white as sheets, with nary an open eye among them.

Once we arrived at our destination, the others calmed down quickly, and we began. I led them from the parking lot to the lakeside trail.

“Wow! This place is much different from where you previously took us!” My Young Hero was agog as we descended the stairs leading to a large lake.

“We should be able to find some wading birds and some waterfowl here today.” I checked my camera. “I hope I can get some good photos.”

No sooner had I said that, my Gypsy pointed. An undisputed expert on birds, he took the lead in explaining to the others what we were seeing. “That’s a Green Heron. He’s hunting for small fish, insects, amphibians and the like. Green Heron sometimes employ tools to lure their prey. He may drop a feather or a twig or even an insect onto the surface of the water, to entice fish close. Then he extends his long neck and grabs his prey with his long, pointy bill.”

“Darn. I can’t get a good shot of him behind that vegetation.”Westwood Hills 005

Cleric walked to the water’s edge and spoke to the bird. He obligingly flew over to a nearby log and posed for me.

“Thanks! Your ability to communicate with the birds never ceases to amaze me!”

“Look!” My Young Hero pointed to a spot beyond the heron. “There are some ducks. The one group looks like Mallards.”

“Yup, they are.” Westwood Hills 175

Cleric looked at them, then at the smaller ducks. “Are the others Wood Ducks? They look like the ones in the pond behind our yard, Mistress.”

Before I could reply, my Gypsy chimed in. “Yes, you’re right. Those are Wood Ducks. And two of them are much younger than the ones in our pond. They must have had a late clutch.”

My Gypsy and Cleric enticed the Wood Ducks closer, so I could get a few photos.

Westwood Hills 026As we continued walking along the boardwalk adjacent to the lake, a small bird popped out of the reeds and up onto the wooden walkway. He stopped and studied us as my Gypsy whistled a bird call. Witchety-witchety-witchety. “That’s a young male Common Yellowthroat. They are small songbirds that can often be found in the tangle of vegetation at the edge of marshes and wetlands, where they forage for insects.”

Dragon, who had been silently taking in everything, nudged me. “Look!” She pointed to several dragonflies near the Common Yellowthroat. “Not as pretty as I was when I transformed into a dragonfly, but still very attractive.”

I smiled and nodded in agreement.

“There is a turtle climbing up on that log near the red dragonfly.” My Cleric pointed. “And there are more on that other log, farther out in the lake.” It was good to see her with such a delighted smile on her face.

 

Westwood Hills 108After I took a few photos, we continued on our way, with my Gypsy continuing to point out the various birds we passed. “Immature Red-shouldered Hawk!” He indicated a bird in a nearby tree.

 

Westwood Hills 214“There’s another one.” My Young Hero nodded toward another tree.

 

 

 

“The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds do not seem to be intimidated by the presence of the hawks.” Cleric walked over to a pair of hummingbirds in a nearby tree.

My Gypsy nodded. “That’s because Red-shouldered Hawks rarely eat birds. Their prey mostly consists of small mammals, lizards, snakes, and amphibians.”

“Do you think you can persuade the hummers to pose for a few quick photos? The hummingbirds in our yard have not been cooperative lately. It would be nice to get a few good images of this pair.”

Cleric smiled and nodded.

“I should think the hummingbirds would be upset over the presence of those noisy things!” Dragon glared at the plane passing directly overhead, part of the steady stream of traffic from the nearby airport. Westwood Hills 094

 

 

 

“Oh, that does seem strange! None of the birds seem to be bothered by the flying machines!” Cleric skipped ahead to chat with an adult male Northern Cardinal and one of his young offspring, and a sassy Gray Catbird.

 

While Cleric bounded ahead, my Young Hero studied a Black-capped Chickadee, while Dragon was intrigued by a juvenile Red-bellied Woodpecker overhead in a tree. My Gypsy engaged a Song Sparrow at the edge of the boardwalk, while I took some photos of an Olive-sided Flycatcher.

“The day will not be complete without finding the resident flock of Wild Turkeys.” I motioned the group off the boardwalk and into the woods. We soon found a small flock, a group of bachelor males, grooming and foraging for nuts, seeds and insects.Westwood Hills 162

Cleric stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes as big as saucers. “They are very large!”

“They do not look so large to me.” Dragon smiled and winked.

For the rest of the day, we hiked and took pictures of the wildlife. Everyone had a great time. My Gypsy played the clown, as always, teasing and playing practical jokes on the others. My Young Hero studied everything carefully, asking me all manner of questions about the wildlife we encountered. Dragon and Cleric harmonized on a few elven folk songs, their voices taking on the quality of birdsong and wind through the trees. The tensions of the past week melted away. We were a tired but happy group when we climbed the stairs back up to the parking lot.

None of us noticed the small Red Squirrel with fiercely glowing eyes following us through the woods. Westwood Hills 240

“Will we be able to see all the photos you took when we get home?” My Young Hero asked, as he and my Gypsy helped Dragon and Cleric into the car.

“Of course. We can look at them on the computer, right after dinner. I know Miles will want to see them, and perhaps Sorceress and the others as well.”

“And, of course, we will leave the porch light on, in case any of your readers would like to join us.” Cleric smiled broadly as we pulled out of the nature area and headed for home.

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A Surprisingly Pleasant Outing

A Surprisingly Pleasant Outing

“Mistress?”

I looked up from packing my camera equipment to see my Gypsy standing at the door of my office.Gypsy

 

 

“What’s up?” I asked, reaching for my extra battery pack.

“I understand you’re going on one of your bird watching and nature photography hikes today.”

“Yup. And I’m running late.” I checked to see that I had packed all the necessities, then headed for the garage.

“Mistress? I was just wondering…”

I stopped dead in my tracks. For some reason, those words on the lips of one of my characters always filled me with dread.

What were you wondering?” I asked. My voice sounded a bit sharper than I had intended.

“Well, you know of my great interest in birds…” he paused and licked his lips nervously.

“Yes?” I prompted him to continue.

“Well…err…I thought…that is…” he stood there, shuffling his feet and looking at the floor.

“What is it?” My voice was strained.

“May I accompany you?” His eyes shone with eagerness and excitement.

I raised one eyebrow skeptically. “Do you really think that is wise? Do you think you can behave appropriately in the real world?”

“Oh, I won’t be any trouble, Mistress,” he avowed fervently. “And I already have clothing appropriate to your world. We all do.”

“You all do?” There was that feeling of dread again. “Everyone? Even Dragon?”

“Well, not all of us,” he assured me. “Just four of us. And not Dragon.”

Of course, I thought. My Gypsy never goes anywhere without his best friend, my Young Hero. My Cleric has been my Young Hero’s protector since his birth, so she would need to accompany us. And, for reasons known only to himself and me, my Bounty Hunter would never leave my Cleric out of his sight.

I swallowed hard, as a hundred ways this outing could go terribly wrong marched through my head. But in the face of my Gypsy’s enthusiasm, my shoulders slumped in defeat. “Okay,” I said with a deep sigh. “I should probably have my head examined, but I guess you can come. The first time any of you cause any problems, though, you will all be written out of the books!” That threat was the best weapon in my arsenal. It usually produced the desired results and kept them in line, at least for a reasonable period of time.

A half-hour later, after I had confiscated all their weapons, and given them a brief but uncompromising lecture on proper behavior, I helped my four characters take their seats in the car.

18247124998_0e88297ac6_z       swords  silver dagger

Once everyone had mastered the intricacies of the seat belt and we were on our way. Ten minutes after that, I was the only one 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 were all white as sheets, with nary an open eye among them.

“Mistress Writer?” Forty minutes into the trip, my Bounty Hunter finally broke the silence.

“Yes?”

“Where are we going?”

“To a regional park. I was talking to some birding friends, and some early migrating warblers have been reported there, along with some other birds I am interested in photographing. I called the park office and confirmed the reports, so we should have a good day.”

He considered this. “You employ many of the same tactics I do,” he mused.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“You make inquiries to locate your quarry. You confirm reports, rather than accept them at face value. Then you equip yourself for the task and go afield to stalk your prey,” my Bounty Hunter explained sagaciously.

I wrinkled my brow as I considered that. “I suppose you’re right. I suppose that’s how I knew how you would conduct yourself in the book.”

My Bounty Hunter nodded, and would have continued the conversation, but I interrupted. “Here we are!”

My four characters breathed a collective sigh of relief, and almost fell out of the car the moment I had it parked. Their rubbery legs hardly supported them, so I took my time getting my equipment from the trunk. When we were all fit and ready, we headed off down the trail.

From the first moment, my Gypsy took over, identifying many of the birds we saw and heard. “Listen! Do you hear that trill? That is a Yellow-rumped Warbler!”

“That’s one I want to photograph!” I informed him. “Do you see it?”

It took a few moments, but my sharp-eyed Bounty Hunter soon spotted a number of them flitting around the trees. They were constantly in motion, and all I was able to get were a few blurry images.

Then my Young Hero addressed my Cleric. “You have a special affinity with birds, Milady. Can you coax one of these warblers closer and have it sit still long enough for our Mistress to take a picture?”

“I will try,” she agreed, although she seemed doubtful. She walked over to the tree and seemed to be in conversation with the birds. One flew to a nearby branch and posed nicely, as I focused my camera. Once I finished, it flew back to the flock and continued flitting about.

“Thanks! That’s great!” I smiled broadly as I showed my characters the photos. “I never could have gotten them without your help!” They all grinned broadly, happy to have helped.

“I think I hear a Ruby-crowned Kinglet,” my Gypsy called to us. That was the second bird on my wish list. We all tried to follow the sound to its source, but the bird remained hidden in the tree. Finally, my Cleric spotted it and convinced it to pose for a single photo.

Clifton E. French Regional Park 156

As we approached a marshy area, the sound of Red-winged Blackbirds filled the air. My Cleric had no trouble convincing them to show off their territorial display for the camera.

Near the lake, a flock of boisterous Tree Swallows swooped through the air, passing within inches of us. We all laughed with delight at their aerial acrobatics. My Cleric enticed several of them to land briefly for photos.

As I focused the camera, I heard my Gypsy gasp, “Mistress, look!” A pair of Tree Swallows had landed on my Cleric’s outstretched hand. I swung the camera around, but was too slow to capture that image.

My Young Hero spotted a pair of Wood Ducks on a nest box in the lake. They spotted us, and were about to take off in a panic. My Cleric immediately walked over to the edge of the water and calmed the ducks so I could get a photo of the pair.

Clifton E. French Regional Park 060

“Look, Mistress Writer!” My Bounty Hunter pointed at something in the water. “What is that?”

“It looks like a muskrat,” I replied, quickly snapping a photo before it swam into the reeds and disappeared.

Clifton E. French Regional Park 144

“And there are some turtles!” my Young Hero exclaimed.

“We should see a lot of them today, with the warmer temperatures,” I replied, snapping a few photos.

“And there’s a snake!” My Gypsy grinned as my Cleric jumped and squealed.

“Relax, it’s a harmless Garter Snake,” I informed her.

“I would just as soon it be harmless somewhere else, Mistress,” my Cleric stated with a shudder. “Preferably, somewhere far away!” We all shared a laugh at that.

The day continued, and I got a lot of great photos with the help of my characters. Then, around mid-afternoon, the wind picked up and we decided to head for home.

As we were walking back down the path by the marsh, my Gypsy stopped and called to us. “Look here! Black-capped Chickadees are taking the fuzz off the cattails to use in their nests.”

“I wish I could get a good shot of that,” I said, “but I’d only get a blur. The cattails are swaying pretty violently in this wind. It’s a wonder those little birds can even hold on!”

“Well, I can’t stop the wind, but I can keep a few of the cattails still.” My Gypsy fell into his magic, murmuring the words to a spell. Then my Cleric coaxed a few of the chickadees to pose on the now-stationary cattails. I quickly snapped a few images before my Gypsy lost the spell.

“This worked out much better than I imagined it would,” I praised my characters at the end of our hike. “I think I got some really great photos, thanks to all of you!”

“I can’t wait to get home this evening and view them all on that magic box of yours,” my Bounty Hunter replied, referring to my computer. His enthusiasm took me by surprise. Does he have a softer, gentler side I need to explore in my book? I wondered.

“I look forward to seeing them, too,” my Gypsy agreed, and the other two nodded.

“Well, when we get home, we can all see them. Let’s just remember to leave the porch light on for any of our readers who might want to join us.

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