We were stunned. My Foreman, my Gypsy, my Young Hero and I had just witnessed the apparent images of four of our friends floating dead in the pond. The lads collapsed in tears, and my Foreman and I struggled to control our emotions.
“They’re all dead. I can’t believe they’re all dead!” My Foreman’s voice cracked, and he buried his face in his hands.
“Don’t be too sure about that,” Miles said, entering the room.
I gave him a blank look. “But we just saw them in the scrying bowl — Cleric, my Old Dwarf, Dragon and Sorceress. They were all dead.”
Miles grinned. “Maybe this will make you feel better.” He reached around the doorjamb and drew someone into the room.
We were immediately on our feet, taking turns embracing her.
“Really! I rather doubt I have been gone so long as to warrant this welcome!”
“But, you’re alive! If you’re alive, maybe the others are, too!” My Gypsy was grinning ear-to-ear.
“Alive? Well, of course I am alive! What ever made you think I was not?”
Then we were all talking at once, explaining what we had just seen. Finally, Sorceress raised her hand and we all fell quiet. “I believe I understand. Please, sit down. Master Miles and I will share with you what we know.”
As we sat, my Gypsy cleared his throat. “Sorceress, I am so glad you are okay, but I know we saw your corpse floating in the pond, along with the other three.” He wrung his hands and fumbled for words. “Did…did I do something wrong? Did I not pronounce the words of the incantation properly? Did I add the spell components in the wrong order, or in the wrong amounts?”
Sorceress smiled at him, and patted his hand. “I am sure it was nothing you did, my friend. I believe there was another force at work, interfering with your efforts.”
My Gypsy frowned, and cocked his head, but I understood immediately. “Morcant!”
Miles and Sorceress both nodded. Miles said, “I came downstairs to see if your Gypsy had finished his attempt at scrying. I heard a voice in your office. I went to the office door, and I could hear chanting. I couldn’t understand the words, though.”
“I had just returned from collecting spell components,” Sorceress said. “I saw Master Miles standing outside your office, Mistress. When he saw me, he looked relieved. He motioned to me to join him near the office door. I heard Morcant, and I could understand enough of the wizard’s incantation to know it was a spell of deception. After Master Miles informed me all of you thought I had gone missing, and the Gypsy was attempting to locate me or our missing friends by scrying, I realized Morcant was attempting to thwart the Gypsy’s spell.”
“So Morcant wants us to believe that you, Cleric, Dragon, and the Old Dwarf are all dead. But why?”
“Yes, why? I thought you said Morcant wasn’t involved,” Miles said.
I shrugged. “I believed he was, until my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter convinced me he wasn’t. Sorceress, do you remember when we questioned Morcant? When you threatened his familiar in order to get the wizard to confess? My Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter interrupted us, claiming Morcant knew nothing, and the wizard didn’t contradict them.”
“Yes, but something bothered me about that. The Arrogant One seemed to be there against his will. If you remember, when they burst into your office and stopped me harming the bird, the Bounty Hunter was prodding the Arrogant One with his crossbow.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Yes, I remember. At the time, I couldn’t understand why he’d do that, but in my surprise at learning none of them were involved in Cleric’s disappearance, I failed to question them.”
“Mistress? I realize something now I should have discerned then. Neither the Arrogant One nor the Bounty Hunter actually denied kidnapping Cleric. They only denied being in league with Morcant.”
I gaped at her. “You’re right,” I said, slapping my forehead.
My Foreman raked his hand through his hair and sighed. “Nothing makes sense! If they’re the ones who kidnapped Cleric, but they’re not working for the wizard, why would Morcant attempt to keep us from finding Cleric and the others?”
“Maybe we should ask the three of them.”
My Foreman nodded. “The lads and I will find the first two, and invite them to join us.”
“Miles and I will bring Morcant’s familiar in here, where there’s enough room for everyone.” I turned to Sorceress. “Does Morcant know you were listening to him?”
“No, so I shall stay hidden. If Morcant sees me here, through his familiar’s eyes, we may loose the advantage in the interrogation.”
I nodded, and motioned Sorceress toward a large closet, where she could observe covertly. My Foreman and the lads went off in search of my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter, while Miles and I went to my office. We collected the box containing Morcant’s familiar, the milky-eyed grackle, brought it to the conference room, and set it on the floor.
Within the hour, my Foreman and the lads returned, all but dragging my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One, struggling and protesting.
“Get your hands off me!” There was a loud rip, as my Arrogant One pulled away from my Gypsy. “Now look what you’ve done!” His face was almost as purple as his torn robe, and his voice was approaching a pitch that only dogs would be able to hear. “I demand to know why we have been dragged here!”
“Sit. Down.” I jabbed a finger at him and scowled. He paled, and immediately sat down, with no further argument.
“You, too!” I rounded on my Bounty Hunter who stumbled all over himself trying to get into his seat.
My Foreman blocked the door, and the lads stood behind my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter. Miles positioned himself next to the box containing Morcant’s familiar. I stood for many long minutes, just glaring at the two characters, squirming in their seats. Finally, I broke the silence, struggling to control my voice. “Where is she?”
“Who?” My Arrogant One raised his eyebrows and cocked his head.
“You know who! What have you done with Cleric?”
“We told you we had nothing to do with Cleric’s disappearance.” My Bounty Hunter’s voice remained even, but his eyes darted around the room as if looking for an escape route, and he continually clasped and unclasped his hands.
“No, you told me you had not kidnapped Cleric for Morcant. You never said you had nothing to do with her disappearance.”
My Arrogant One started to jump to his feet, but my Gypsy pushed him back into his seat. The elf tossed his head and assumed an injured air. He brushed off his robe and glared at my Gypsy. “I told you from the start that it was most likely the Old Dwarf who kidnapped her!”
“Enough of your deceptions! We know it was you two.” I indicated the scrying bowl and spell components on the table.
My Arrogant One scoffed. “You can not have seen anything in that! You would have said so earlier.”
“Not if my Gypsy just discovered a spell allowing him to use the scrying bowl to see into the past.”
My Arrogant One paled. He swallowed several times, and tried to speak, but no sound came out.
“Can’t you see she’s bluffing?” My Bounty Hunter shook his head and snorted. “If you saw Cleric’s abduction in that bowl, then why don’t you know where she is?” He sneered, and waved his hand dismissively.
“That was my fault.” My Gypsy played his role perfectly. His cheeks colored, and he shuffled his feet. “I got so excited when we saw the two of you abducting our friend, I lost the spell and we were unable to see where you took her.”
“The two of us?” My Bounty Hunter was on his feet. “You never saw the two of us do anything.”
Morcant’s familiar cackled and flapped his wings. As Morcant started to say something, Miles threw a towel over the screen top on the bird’s box, cutting Morcant off.
I nodded approvingly at Miles. “We’ll get to you later, wizard!” I turned back to my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One. “Talk. Now.”
“Or what?” My Arrogant One laughed.
“Or I will eradicate every mention of you from my manuscripts. You will cease to exist.”
My Arrogant One’s eyes grew large as saucers, and he began to sweat profusely. My Bounty Hunter started rocking back and forth in his chair, wringing his hands. Finally, they both nodded.
“I took Cleric,” my Arrogant One said in a small voice, forcing us all to lean toward him to hear. “At the time, it was my intent to trade her for the keys and make a deal with Morcant. While I was attempting to carry Cleric off, the Old Dwarf saw us, and came to her defense.”
I nodded and smiled, glad to have been proven right about the old scoundrel. “Go on.”
“I subdued the Old Dwarf by magic, and used magic to take them both to the shed loft. I left them there, bound and gagged, and created a magic barrier so no one could enter the loft. But somehow, someone defeated my barrier and removed them. I assumed it to be the Bounty Hunter.”
I turned to him. “Did you remove them from the loft?”
“How could I have? Am I a magician? How could I get past his barrier?”
“If not you, then who?” My Arrogant One glared at the smaller man. “I know that you, too, had contemplated capturing Cleric in an effort to obtain the keys and make your own deal with Morcant.”
“I admit the thought had crossed my mind, but Cleric vanished before I could act. By the time I had decided you were the one responsible for her disappearance, you had sealed off the loft and I was unable to get to her.”
“Then who breached my barrier and took her and the Old Dwarf?” My Arrogant One raised his palms and shook his head.
I scowled and turned to Miles. “Uncover the bird.”
The milky-eyed grackle squawked and flapped violently as Miles removed the towel covering the box.
“Okay, Morcant, your turn!” I hoped my voice sounded sufficiently menacing. “We know you cast a spell of deception when my Gypsy was attempting to scry. Why?”
The wizard’s screechy response poured from the bird’s beak. “I was merely providing myself some entertainment. It is rather boring in this tower.”
I snorted. “Did you abduct Cleric and the Old Dwarf from the loft?”
“Tell me, witch, what do you plan to do to me if I do not talk? You can not eliminate me from your ridiculous scrolls and parchments.”
“Maybe not, Morcant, but I told you before I can place your familiar in a completely dark, totally soundless place, effectively plunging you into eternal blackness and silence.”
Morcant’s already shrill voice raised an octave. “Nay, beldame! Prithee, do not condemn me to such a fate! I admit to having a hand in the disappearance of the elf maiden and her stocky companion. But I did not abduct them, simply magically concealed them from all, including the elf who closeted them within the loft.”
“To what purpose?” my Arrogant One demanded. “I was willing to make a deal with you.”
“I did not believe you capable of obtaining the keys.”
My Arrogant One waved dismissively at the grackle. “With the Cleric to bargain with, I would have had those keys the moment I asked for them!”
I pushed my Arrogant One aside. “At this point, none of that matters. Morcant, release the spell. Immediately!”
The grackle cocked his head and studied me with one milky eye. “Very well.” His voice was sulky.
“And don’t try any tricks. If you do, I will make good on my threat.”
The grackle opened its beak, and Morcant began chanting. Five minutes later, he stopped. “It is done.”
I nodded, and beckoned the others. “Let’s go to the shed and rescue our friends.”
We rushed pell-mell to the shed and scrambled up the stairs. As one, we stopped dead in the center of the loft, gaping.
The loft was completely empty.
Did Morcant fail to release his spell? Did someone remove Cleric and the Old Dwarf from the loft? What ever happened to Dragon? Join us again next week, for the next installment of this mystery. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.