Preparing

Preparing

The looks on the faces of my characters did not match the strength and determination in my voice; their looks more closely matched the lack of confidence I was trying to mask with my bravado. I repeated myself to the distraught knights. “You will not be annihilated. Not if we can help it.”

dragon looking right

Dragon nodded, though somewhat hesitantly. “What is it you are up against? Tell us the number and nature of your attackers, that we might coordinate a plan to defeat them.”

The ranking knight frowned. “We know not who . . . or what . . . they are, nor how many. They come in a thick, rolling fog. We never see them. We only hear the devastation as the castle is laid waste. When the fog lifts, more of the castle we defend lies in ruins.”

Fog

Dragon blinked, cocked her head, and frowned. “So, you know not what it is you fight?”

The knight bowed his head. “We do not.”

My Old Dwarf scoffed. “How kin ye be fightin’ summat ye do na e’en be seein’?”

The knight sighed. “That, noble dwarf, is the conundrum.”

Black smoke started to drift from Dragon’s snout. “I daresay we need to hear your story from the beginning.”

The trio of knights exchanged wary looks. Slowly, they lay down their shields, but did not sheath their weapons before cautiously drawing near.

The ranking knight was the first to speak. “First, let us make our introductions. I am Sir Daniver. My companions are Sir Hrolf and Sir Jenneseer.”

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I proffered my hand. “I am known as Mistress Writer, and these are some of my characters.”

“What?” Sir Daniver had started to reach for my outstretched hand but jumped back, and his eyes widened. “Thy … thy characters?

“We will explain later.” Dragon puffed a cloud of smoke from her nostrils. “We need to hear your story now, that we may formulate a workable defense.”

Sir Daniver 2Sir Daniver eyed us suspiciously, but he began the tale. “We come from a distant kingdom. Our country has been at peace for many generations. It is a good kingdom in which to live. We enjoy unparalleled prosperity. All in our nation have full bellies, and none want for material goods.”Sir Hrolf

Sir Hrolf picked up the tale. “It is a good kingdom in which to live. It is a boring kingdom in which to be a knight.”Sir Jenneseer

 

 

Sir Jenneseer nodded. “We have tournaments every week. The same knights walk away with the top honors week after week.”

tournament

“Eh, then ye be jealous o these knights!” My Old Dwarf gave the knights an understanding nod.

“No, Sir Dwarf. We are those knights.” Sir Daniver blushed, and he scuffed his toe in the dirt. “I do not boast. It is fact. We have bested our competition in more tournaments than we can remember . . . every single week for half a decade now, at least.”

Sir Hrolf clenched his jaw and slammed his fist into his open palm in frustration. “We had no one worthy against whom to test ourselves. We wished only to be able to prove ourselves against a new and challenging opponent.”

My Old Dwarf nodded again, a slight smile of understanding tugging at the corners of his mouth. “So ye be wishin’. An’ summat be grantin’ ye yer wish.”

Sir Daniver winced and hung his head. He mumbled his reply. “Yes. Wish listeners, they called themselves. Strange, mesmerizing little creatures. Once they had lured us to this castle with promises of a most challenging opponent, they told us we could only return to our own kingdom if we could defeat the enemy who besieged this castle.”

 

The other two knights blushed and spoke as one. “We were fools!”

Cleric furrowed her brow. “Have you tried to find your way back to your own kingdom?”

Sir Daniver nodded. “Yes, Milady. We have roamed the countryside for miles around. We have spoken with many of the inhabitants of this land, following their directions to the supposed route back to our own land. We always end up back here, often just as another attack is being waged on the castle.”
Sir Jenneseer 2
“If the last of these ruins fall, we will be forced to remain here in exile for the rest of our natural lives.” Sir Jenneseer’s voice was choked with emotion.

“We will not allow that to happen.” I sounded a lot more confident than I felt.
Sir Daniver
“But . . . but thou shalt not use witchcraft. We will not accept the aid of a witch.” Sir Daniver thumped his hand in his palm.
dragon looking right
Dragon snorted. “We will use any means at our disposal, and you will accept our aid.”
Elf facing right
“Indeed!” Cleric smoothed her robes. “You welcomed the aid sent by the Lord of the Forest, whom you know to be a magical creature. Surely you realized some in our company wield magic!”

The knight shook his head and scowled. “Magic and witchcraft are two different things!”

Dragon snorted again. “None among us are witches, but several of us wield magic powers that may be able to save you and this castle.”

Sir Daniver grumbled, but grudgingly acquiesced.

Sir Hrolf 2“Then, with thy help, we will not face defeat and exile?” Sir Hrolf tilted his head and raised his eyebrows in a pleading gesture.Backyard 050

“We will not allow that to happen.” I tried to sound more confident than I felt.
Elf
“No, we will not.” Cleric shook her head with determination. “If we were not equal to this undertaking, the Lord of the Forest would not have tasked us with providing aid to the three of you.”

“I hope thou art right, Milady. I most fervently pray thou art right!” Sir Jenneseer brought his clasped hands to his mouth and closed his eyes.

“Praying is all well and good, but we need a plan.” My Gypsy turned to my Foreman. “You were a commander in your king’s mounted guard. Can you devise a defense?”

 

“It will be most difficult against an unknown and unseen enemy.” My Foreman rubbed his chin. “I believe other members of our group are more suited for this type of warfare.” He turned to Dragon. “Mayhap you can use your power of illusion to provide us with horses.”

dragon looking rightDragon nodded. “It will be done.”Young Hero close-up

“And more men at arms.” My Young Hero added.

Dragon nodded. “The annoying elf and I will coordinate a defense with you and the other non-magic users. Sorceress, Cleric, and the Gypsy lad will use their powers where they can.”

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress pursed her lips. “Dragon, you and the Arrogant One might be able to cast your illusory magic with no aids, but Cleric, the Gypsy lad, and I need our spell components and paraphernalia to create our enchantments. Without them, we cannot be of much use.”

Sir Jenneseer sidled closer to Sorceress and cleared his throat. The knight glanced over at his two comrades, who were deep in conversation with my Foreman and my Bounty Hunter. He made certain they did not overhear his whispered conversation. “There are some books, some spell components, and other paraphernalia within the ruins.”

 

Sorceress gave the knight a penetrating look. “Are you certain of this?”

Sir Jenneseer glanced again at his fellow knights and lowered his voice even further. “I am certain. My . . . my sister is a hedge witch.” He blushed and hung his head. “I have seen items of this sort many times, so I easily recognized them when I chanced upon them. Thou wilt find botanicals and other components as well as the necessary apparatus.”

Dragon turned to Sorceress. “Go, then.”

Sorceress nodded and departed with Cleric and my Gypsy, while Dragon and my Arrogant One stayed to coordinate efforts with my Foreman, my Bounty Hunter, my Young Hero, my Old Dwarf and the knights.

Several hours later, we were prepared.

Prepared

 

Are our preparations sufficient to save the castle? If we prevail, will the Lord of the Forest keep his promise and allow us to go back to our own world? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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The Way Home?

The Way Home?

Special clearingSomething had startled me from a sound sleep. I jumped up and found my characters also scrambling to their feet, yawning and stretching. As we tried to determine what had disturbed our slumber, we realized the feel of the clearing had changed.

dwarf-facing-rightMy Old Dwarf, who had been standing watch with Dragon, came scurrying over. “Do ye be feelin’ it?” He spoke in a hushed tone. “Tha very air be alive and quivery-like!”

All around me, my characters were nodding, brows furrowed. I turned to my Old Dwarf. “Yes, I think we all feel it. Perhaps that is what woke us.”

scaly dragon looking rightDragon walked over to us, slowly, almost as if in a trance. Her eyes were hooded. She inhaled deeply, then stuck out her long, reptilian tongue and tasted the air. “Magic.” She barely whispered the word. “Very powerful magic.”

Sorceress, my Arrogant One, my Gypsy, and Cleric all nodded and murmured their agreement.

My Old Dwarf shook his head and scoffed. “Do na be daft! Ye be knowin’ full well thet dwarves can na be magicked.”

Dragon smiled. “Dwarves may be immune to magical spells, and they may be unable to cast magic, but if they come into contact with a great enough magic power, even dwarves can feel its presence, my diminutive friend.” She paused, taking another taste of the air. “This magic is so powerful that I am sure it touches even the most mundane or non-magical creature.” Dragon continued standing there, sniffing.

A noise behind us startled us. As one, we whirled around and found ourselves facing a large white unicorn across the meadow. A chill went down my spine that had nothing to do with the crisp morning air.

unicorn

None of us moved, but we were not rooted in place by fear. From the look of awe on the faces of my characters – a look that was surely mirrored in my own face – I believe we all remained still out of a sense of wonderment. As we gawked at him, the unicorn remained motionless in the golden light of dawn, staring back at us.

After many long minutes, the majestic creature slowly drew nearer, then stopped and whickered softly. He pawed the ground and tossed his head.

Dragon slowly approached him. She towered over the creature, but the unicorn showed no fear.Dragon and unicorn

The two eminently magical creatures stood in silent communion for nearly a half hour. Finally, Dragon nodded, bowed to the unicorn, and returned to us. We crowded around, eager to hear what had transpired.

Arrogant One facing right“Is that the purported Lord of the Forest whom the royal mer-child said might help us?” My Arrogant One sneered and looked sidelong at the unicorn standing placidly in the middle of the clearing. “It looks like the second cousin to a donkey.”

Dragon and my Arrogant OneDark smoke poured from Dragon’s nostrils, and she snarled at the annoying elf. “He is the Lord of the Forest, and you would be well advised to keep a civil tongue in your head, twit. In this world, the unicorns are the most ancient of species. They are the supreme wielders of magic, and their incredible power far exceeds your meager abilities. I daresay it is even greater than my own.”

Bounty HunterAs my Arrogant One started to reply, my Bounty Hunter clapped a hand over the elf’s mouth. He narrowed his eyes and gave Dragon a penetrating look. “Is this beast as beneficent as he is magnificent? Will he assist us in our quest to return to our world?”

Dragon nodded. “We must return to the wall of branches the dwarf chopped down. Then, we must perform a service for the knights we met in that area. Only then will we be free to return home.”
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I heaved a huge sigh. I pulled off my hat and raked my hand through my hair, then plopped the cap back in place. “We’ve come a long way, through many twists and turns. Do you think we can find our way back to that spot?”
mens-991728_1280My Foreman interrupted. “First, what is this service we must perform?”
Gypsy close-up
My Gypsy nodded. “Yes, tell us about this service. And what guarantee do we have that we will be able to return home upon completion of the task?”

Dragon and my GypsyBlack smoke continued to erupt from Dragon’s snout, and her eyes narrowed dangerously. “You speak out of ignorance, Gypsy. Like dragons, unicorns are honorable creatures. Do not fear – once we have rendered a service to the knights, we will be able to return home. The Lord of the Forest has given his word.”

Young Hero close-upMy Young Hero moved closer to his friend and placed a reassuring hand on the Gypsy’s shoulder. “We mean no offense, Dragon. We know you are a noble beast because we are familiar with you. But we have no experience with unicorns. How do you know this beast is honorable and will keep his word?”

Dragon gazed into my Young Hero’s guileless green eyes. “I know you mean no offense, stripling. You have no cunning or deceit within your heart. Therefore, I will answer you. I know the unicorn is honorable because he and I have seen into each other’s soul.”

My Young Hero nodded. “Then, since we trust your word, my friend, we will trust his. Let us start back to the wall of branches.”

Elf facing rightCleric fidgeted with the cord on her robe. “How will we find our way back? Mistress is right – we have been on a long and winding path.”

My Foreman snorted. “The Bounty Hunter and I are fair hands at tracking. We will find the way.”

“There is no need.” Dragon nodded toward the unicorn. “The Lord of the Forest will lead the way.”

Stu-04-NatGal“Wait. You have yet to explain the service we must render to the knights.” Sorceress stood, her arms folded over her chest, her brow furrowed, her mouth a tight slash across her face.

Dragon lowered her head and she scuffed one enormous clawed foot back and forth. When she finally answered, she blurted out her words quickly, as if expecting opposition. “We must help them in battle, that they may save and restore their castle.”

Arrogant One facing right“Oh, is that all?” The petulant whine of my Arrogant One indicated he had finally squirmed free of my Bounty Hunter’s grasp. “Well, as long as it does not involve any danger.” His voice dripped with a double helping of sarcasm and scorn.

Dragon thrust her face close to my Arrogant One and glared at the elf almost nose-to-nose. “It is not too great a risk, considering the alternative. Or do you desire to remain here? If so, just say the word. I am sure it could be arranged.”

My Old Dwarf smirked. “Thet be workin’ jest fine fer me!”

“That’s enough.” I heaved another sigh. “I’m sure everyone wants to go home. I know I do. Let’s just do what the unicorn requires of us. I see no alternative.”

The unicorn, still standing placidly in the middle of the clearing, nodded. He trotted off, never looking back to see if we followed.

Unicorn

The way back to the wall of branches was swift. The landscape flew past at a dizzying speed, though it did not feel as though we moved any faster than a comfortable walk. We arrived within the hour without any of our company having even broken a sweat.

“Where did he go?” My Gypsy looked about, eyes wide, one hand on his hip, the other scratching his head. “I thought the unicorn was right ahead of us.”

We looked about, but the Lord of the Forest had simply vanished after leading us to the battered wall.

“I knew that beast was not to be trusted!” My Arrogant One drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his robes in both hands. “He has delivered us to the knights, who will now most assuredly slaughter us!”

My Old Dwarf rolled his eyes. “Lassie, do we really be needin’ ta be takin’ tha elfie back wit us?”

How many times must I tell you? Do not call me elfie!” My Arrogant One’s face was red as a beet and he shook with rage. His voice hit a register that even the best operatic sopranos would have trouble reaching.

“Quiet, you buffoon!” Dragon snarled at the elf. “We are here to provide succor to the knights, we know not against whom. Do you wish to alert the enemy to our presence?”

The elf gave Dragon a sullen look but remained quiet.

back to the tangled wallI examined the wall of branches, which had already started growing back in the scant few days since my Old Dwarf had reduced it to a pile of kindling. “It looks like there is still enough of an opening for us to squeeze through, although you may have to transform into your alter-ego of an elf maiden, Dragon.”

Dragon shook her head. “I will shrink to whatever size will allow me passage, but I will remain in my true form.”

I nodded and started to lead the way through the tangle of branches. My Old Dwarf grabbed me. “I be leadin’ tha way, lassie, an’ tha beastie be bringin’ up tha rear. Ye be keepin’ yerself in tha middle, wit tha Gypsy lad, Sorceress, an’ Cleric closest aboot ye. Tha Foreman, tha Bounty Hunter, an’ tha udder laddie kin be protectin’ tha perimeter. Iffin there be trouble, and tha first group do na be able ta be protectin’ ye, tha magickers kin be usin’ their power ta be keepin’ ye safe.”

“You forgot me.” My Arrogant One pouted.

“Now did I be doin’ thet?” My Old Dwarf didn’t wait for a reply, but dove headlong at the tangle of branches, using his axe to enlarge the passageway.

I grabbed my Arrogant One. “Just fall in line behind Cleric.”

Once on the other side of the branch wall, we headed down the wide avenue straight ahead of us, the path taken by the knights when they had departed us our first day in this world. Trees lined both sides of the road, their branches forming a canopy overhead, shielding us from the hot midday sun. At the end of the twin line of trees, the road continued for several miles through open fields before starting the gentle ascent into the rolling hillside. A cooling breeze swept across the countryside.

As we rounded a bend in the road, we came upon the ruins of a castle in the foothills. The trio of knights we had been tasked with helping were there, positioned to challenge any intruders.Knights protecting castle ruins

“Halt! Why hast thou come here, witch? Must every stone of this castle fall before thou art satisfied?” The ranking knight’s voice cracked with emotion.Knight on foot

I scowled at the chevalier and his two comrades. “I told you before, sir knight, if I were a witch, you would be a toad, hopping around on the forest floor.”third knight

“Then what brings thee to our castle . . . or what is left of it?” The second knight’s voice was as full of emotion as was his commander’s.

Dragon stepped forward. “We have come to help.”second knight

The third knight drew his sword. “Yes! Thou hast come to help our enemies in their final onslaught.”

scaly dragon looking right

Dragon raised her hands in a placating gesture. “No. We have no knowledge of your enemies. The Lord of the Forest has petitioned us to give you aid.”

unicorn 2

The ranking knight narrowed his gaze. “The unicorn sent thee? Why did thou not tell us this when we met some days ago?”

I stepped forward. “We had not encountered the unicorn then.”

The knight who had drawn his sword sheathed it again. “The noble beast is too late in sending us aid. Our castle lies in ruins, and our enemies will surely return by nightfall to annihilate us.”

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I squared my shoulders and set my jaw. “Not if we can help it.”

 

 

What aid might we give the knights? If we stand with them, will their enemies overwhelm us? Will we perish beside them, here in this strange land? If we save the knights and help them defeat their enemies, will the unicorn keep his word and help us return home? Be sure to join us again next week to find out! We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Next Leg of the Journey

Next Leg of the Journey

Eloise and Mezon's poolThe sun was flirting with the horizon by the time my characters and I found our way back to the spot where I had encountered the mermaid, Crown Princess Eloise, and her swan friend, King Mēzän. The pool where they had been swimming earlier was empty, and tracks in the mud at the water’s edge looked as if there had been a scuffle.

“Look sharp!”

My admonition was unnecessary. My characters were already moving into a defensive posture and looking around carefully.

“What do you make of that?” My Gypsy jutted his chin toward the muddy prints by the pond.

I walked closer and knelt to examine the tracks. My two best trackers – my Foreman and my Bounty Hunter – joined me while the rest of my characters safeguarded the area.

swan footprints
swan“Some of these tracks were definitely made by the webbed feet of a large, heavy waterfowl.” My Foreman pointed to a jumble of scalloped-edged tracks in the mud at the water’s edge.

I nodded. “King Mēzän.”

troll 3“And others were made by someone with large, bare feet.” My Bounty Hunter frowned. “But the tracks are not deep, so they were made by someone slight, perhaps about the size of Esmie’s henchman, the green one.”

“Gobschlerk.” I supplied the name and nodded in agreement.

“I see no other tracks.” My Foreman tilted his head and furrowed his brow. “I doubt the little green creature could have carried the mermaid, and there are no signs of her being dragged from the water.”

“So, what happened, and where is Eloise now?” I rose and looked around.

“Mistress! There!” Cleric pointed to the rocks next to the waterfall.

I saw some movement in the water behind a large moss-covered boulder.

“Eloise?” There was no response. “Eloise! Are you okay?”

EloiseWarily, Eloise peeked around the boulder. When she saw me, she swam slowly over to the shore and sat on a rock.

I gaped at the mermaid. The difference in her appearance was startling. Gone were the sass and the pluck. Her shoulders drooped, her golden scales were dull, and her eyes were red-rimmed. “Eloise! What happened?”

“My mother and I had a discussion.” The way she pronounced it, it sounded as if the word was sour in her mouth.

“Oh?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Yes.” The Crown Princess lowered her eyes. “Mother explained to me the difference between youthful rebellion and treasonous disloyalty to one’s sovereign.”

“I’m sorry.” I touched her gently on the shoulder. “What happened to your friend?”

“Mother had Gobschlerk escort Mēzän to the border between his realm and ours. I think their alliance has been dissolved. There may even be war.” Tears started to stream down her cheeks.

“I am so sorry, Eloise!” I patted her arm.

“It’s all my fault! I was the one who talked Mēzän into helping you! I wanted to spite my mother because she won’t let me share in the royal duties. She doesn’t think I’m old enough or experienced enough to have a say in important matters of state. I wished for a way to show her she was wrong. Now look what happened!” The mermaid started sobbing and hiccupping and could hardly get her words out. “I . . . I destroyed an . . . an alliance, I destroy . . . destroyed a f . . . friendship, and . . . and by interfering and going against my m . . . mother and the wish listeners, I’ve ca . . . caused you to remain trapped in this world!”

I didn’t know what to say.

Elf cleric close-upDragon, who had changed back into her accustomed form of an elf maiden, stepped forward and spoke gently to the distraught princess. “Child, this is not your fault. You simply made a wish. You meant no harm. The wish listeners contrived the circumstances that allowed this to happen. They are at fault.”Creatures along the path

Eloise tried to smile at Dragon. “They may have heard my wish, but I was the one who made it in the first place.” Her voice was so soft, I could scarcely hear it. “Now, I must suffer the consequences.”

Sorceress scowled. “That is the problem with those cunning little creatures. The consequences of the wishes they grant, in the way in which they interpret them and grant them, does not befall only the one who made the wish. Other, innocent beings also suffer the consequences.”

“Like Mēzän?” Eloise looked wistful.

“Exactly.” Sorceress nodded.

My Old Dwarf spat. “I be wishin’ there be a way ta be givin’ tha wish listeners a taste o their ownest medicine, ta be teachin’ ’em a good lesson.”

“Have you not learned your lesson about making wishes?” Dragon frowned at her friend, who turned crimson as we all stared at him.
Arrogant One
You? You are the reason we are in this land?” My Arrogant One’s screech could probably be heard by Miles, back in our world.

“He is, as am I.” Dragon’s cheeks were as red as my Old Dwarf’s.


“What on earth did the two of you wish for?” I gaped at both of them.

Dragon cleared her throat. “Ahem. Ah, yes, well, we will explain that some other time. Right now, we need to continue our search for the way back to our own world.”

“Wait!” Eloise swished her tail back and forth and raked her hand through her long, golden tresses. “I have done you a grave disservice. It was my plan to help you, but for the wrong reasons. Maybe I can right that wrong by sending you to one who really can help, one over whom the wish listeners have no sway.”
sorceress-facing-right
My companions and I exchanged skeptical looks, but Sorceress smiled encouragingly at the young princess. “We would appreciate any assistance you could render.”Young Hero close-up

“But we do not want you to risk additional trouble with your mother,” my Young Hero added.

Eloise squared her shoulders. “Do not concern yourself with that possibility. I will accept the consequences of my actions. Go back to my mother’s pool and take the trail off to the southeast. It is a faint trail, hardly more than a deer track, but there are no other trails in that direction, so you should be able to follow it. It will lead you to a small clearing. If you get there by nightfall, sleep easily, for nothing will bother you in that clearing. At sunup, the Lord of the Forest will arrive, and you can ask him for aid.”

“The Lord of the Forest ?” I frowned, wondering what sort of creature that might be.
bounty-hunter
My Bounty Hunter scoffed. “How will we recognize this clearing? What makes it distinguishable from all the other clearings in this forest?”

Eloise tilted her head and chewed her lower lip. “I don’t know. But I do know that it has a different feel to it than other clearings. You will know it when you arrive.”

GypsyMy Gypsy crossed his arms over his chest and frowned at Eloise. “That is most helpful.” His voice dripped with scorn. “If we should find this clearing, what makes you think this forest lord will help us?”

“I don’t know that he will. I only know that he can see if someone is worthy, as I believe you and your companions are. Plus, he detests the wish listeners and would most likely do anything that would oppose them.” Eloise paused. She held a hand up to silence us, and her eyes widened. “I hear Dyrke coming. You must go!” She dove back into the pool and disappeared under the waterfall. We scrambled to hide in the nearby woods.

elf 3We had barely concealed ourselves when Dyrke appeared on the trail and walked over to the pool. “Eloise? Eloise! Your mother says you are to stop sulking and return to her this instant.” He paused, peering into the orb that floated above his left hand. “Eloise! Now! You do not want to further incur your mother’s wrath.”

After a few minutes, the small creature sighed and left the pool, walking back along the trail whence he had come. We waited many long minutes before coming out of hiding. Quietly, we drew close to discuss our options.

Elf cleric close-upDragon held up a hand to silence us. She mumbled an incantation, then turned to me. “I have once again warded us against prying eyes and ears. We may speak freely.”Arrogant One

I nodded, but before I could say a word, My Arrogant One began. “I do not trust the mer-child. I fear she sends us on another fool’s errand.”

Sorceress shook her head. “She is sincere.”

Cleric nodded in agreement with Sorceress, but Dragon lifted an eyebrow and shook her head.

mens-991728_1280My Foreman scoffed. “For once, I agree with the elf. Lord of the Forest indeed! Another creature who will mislead us, to the amusement of all the inhabitants of this land.”Gypsy close-up

“Particularly the wish listeners.” My Gypsy narrowed his eyes.

bounty-hunterMy Bounty Hunter nodded. “Even if the princess is sincere – which I doubt – and there is some forest king who will help us – which I also doubt – how will we ever find him? I still want to know how we are to find one clearing in a forest full of glades.”

Young Hero close-upMy Young Hero shrugged. “While this is most likely another wild goose chase, what other options do we have? We do not know which path will lead us home, so we might as well take the path the young princess recommended. It is as good, or as bad, as any other option.”

Arrogant One facing rightMy Arrogant One screeched in disagreement. “Surely you do not propose we return to Esmie’s pool? She will most likely have her lackeys waiting for us, and who knows what they might do to us?”

bounty-hunter-facing-other-directionMy Bounty Hunter scoffed. “With Dragon’s wards, we can proceed with sufficient stealth to avoid that outcome, for all the good it will do us, trying to find this one particular clearing.”

dwarfMy Old Dwarf snorted. “Tha scaly lassie be sayin’ tha clearin’ be havin’ a particular feel ta it. Thet be soundin’ liken magic ta me. There be enough magickers among us thet we should na be havin’ any trouble findin’ thet particular clearin’.” He turned to me. “What be ye sayin’, lass?”

Backyard 050I sighed. “I agree with both points of view, but – as my Young Hero pointed out – we have few, if any, other options. Chances are this is a mistake, another wild goose chase, but we will return to the vicinity of Esmie’s pool and try to find the southeast trail. We must remain undetected as we search.”

Dragon nodded. “Then we must proceed slowly, so I can maintain the wards.”

By the time we made it back to Esmie’s pool, the sun had already bidden the sky farewell. Surprisingly, the pool and the surrounding area were deserted. No henchmen waited to seize us. I breathed a sigh of relief.

It took us a few minutes to find the path leading southeast from the pool, but once we did, it was easy enough to follow. As we trudged slowly along the trail, stars began to twinkle overhead, and the near-full moon began its ascent. Many hours later, we entered a glade and stopped dead.

Special clearing
There was nothing notable about the clearing. The moonlight was no brighter, the trees no larger, the grass no greener, the breeze no more refreshing, the night air no more fragrant than in any other glade we had seen in this land. But there was something different, something intangible, something inexplicable.

“This is it.” Dragon’s pronouncement was met with nods of agreement and murmurs of astonishment.

“Eloise was right.” Sorceress looked about in wonder. “This clearing does have a different feel.”

“It feels . . . safe.” Cleric smiled.

“I guess I should have been more trusting.” My Gypsy ducked his head, his cheeks red. “I guess the mer-child was not sending us on another wild goose chase. We can do as the young princess said, and sleep without fear tonight.”

“Mebbe ye be trustin’ her now aboot this place.” My Old Dwarf brandished his axe. “But tha beastie an’ me still be standin’ guard this night.”

Dragon assumed her true form. With the great beast and my Old Dwarf watching over us, the rest of my characters and I found comfortable spots in the tall grass and settled down to sleep. I could feel tears wetting my cheeks as I faced another night away from my husband. Oh, Miles! We have been gone so long! What can you be thinking by now?


I awoke at dawn. Apparently, all my characters did, too. We all jumped up at the same time and looked around, trying to determine what had awoken us. We realized the feel of the clearing had changed. The magic was so strong now even my Old Dwarf and I could feel it.

A noise startled us and, as one, we whirled around to see a magnificent silvery-white unicorn staring at us.

unicorn
 

Is this the Forest King Eloise told us to seek? If so, will he help us? Or is this just another detour in our odyssey? And what is poor Miles thinking, now that we have been gone so many days? Be sure to come back next week as we continue our strange journey. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

 

New Allies or New Enemies?

New Allies or New Enemies?

I awoke with a start. I was vaguely aware of voices calling in the distance. “Mistress? Where are you?”

I looked around. The sun was high in the cloudless, azure sky. Baalizhene, the tiny, antlered, child-like creature with gossamer wings, was no longer perched on the branch by my shoulder. The terraced falls and pool in front of me were devoid of the fey folk and fantastic creatures that had been frolicking there in the light of last evening’s full moon.


Dwarf facing right
The shouting was getting louder. I recognized the voice of one of my characters. “Where be ye, lass?” My Old Dwarf was getting closer. I struggled to my feet and started walking toward his voice.

GobschlerkA different voice came from near where I had heard the dwarf. “She no could go far.” That voice, I knew, was that of Gobschlerk, the short, green, trollish creature that served the mermaid, Esmie, the ruler of this realm.

Dyrke“You were supposed to keep watch over Esmie’s guests, Gobschlerk, and guard them from harm.” That voice, the one tinged with a note of reprimand, I knew belonged to another of Esmie’s vassals, Dyrke. He was a man-creature with butterfly wings entwined with tiny branches sprouting from his back. Dyrke stood only about two feet high but he had the commanding presence of one much larger. Blind from birth, Dyrke had been gifted by the wish listeners with an orb that allowed him to see.

Elf facing right“Mistress?” That was Cleric. Her voice quavered with trepidation. “Can you hear us, Mistress?”

“I’m here!” I walked along the path Baalizhene and I had taken the previous evening. The trail seemed much longer than it had then, and the voices I had been hearing must have come from much farther away than they sounded.

I passed a large pool I did not remember from the preceding night’s trek. Dazzling beams of light illuminated a large swan swimming alongside a mermaid. As soon as the mermaid saw me, she smiled and waved. “Hello! Are you the guest who has become lost?”swan and mermaid

“Well, I do not believe I am lost, just separated from the rest of my party.” I smiled at the mermaid, a beautiful creature with golden tresses and scales.

“I am Eloise, Esmie’s daughter and Crown Princess of the realm. This is my friend, King Mēzän.”

I introduced myself and said, “It’s very nice to meet you both.”

swanThe royal swan looked down his beak at me and then turned to Eloise. He startled me by speaking. “Is this the one?”

Eloise nodded.

He turned back toward me and moved his long, graceful neck up and down, taking careful stock of me. “Why do you feel she is worthy of my help?”

The mermaid shrugged. “Baalizhene said so.”

Mēzän snorted. “Baalizhene is a child. She does not possess the experience or wisdom to make such assessments.” He looked at me again. “This one does not appear very bright.”

Eloise raised an eyebrow. “Mēzän! It is not good manners to make such comments about someone standing right in front of you!”

Mēzän snorted again. “I am a king. Manners are irrelevant.”

I ducked my head so Eloise and Mēzän wouldn’t see me chuckle. The royal swan noticed my movement and shook his head. “There is no reason for me to inconvenience myself giving aid to one such as this.”

“Well . . .” Eloise lowered her voice and winked at the swan. “What if I told you my mother would not be pleased if you assisted this one and her companions? What if I told you the wish listeners have forbidden all to give aid to this group?”

The swan squawked a startled laugh. “Your mother would be displeased? And those troublesome creatures that listen for unfortunate wishes have forbidden it?”

Eloise nodded and smiled broadly, a twinkle in her eye.

“You.” The swan king addressed me. “Gather your companions. I will provide you every bit of aid that is in my power to give.”

I nodded. “I will gather them now and bring them here.”

“Wait!” Eloise’s eyes were wide as she stopped me. “You must not let Dyrke or Gobschlerk know.”

I quirked an eyebrow. “Oh?”

Mēzän nodded. “Indeed. Gobschlerk’s fealty is questionable, but Dyrke is totally loyal to Esmie . . . unlike some here present.” He gave the Crown Princess a pointed look.

Eloise looked hurt. “I am loyal to my mother!” She paused, smirking slightly. “Just a bit rebellious. It is natural for one my age. Besides, are you not being more than a bit disloyal as well?”

“Irrelevant. You are her daughter. I am but her ally, and a ruler in my own right. I do not owe her fealty in all matters.” The swan gave his head a vigorous shake. “But Dyrke is not just loyal to Esmie. He is also beholden to the wish listeners. Should he discover we are aiding you in opposition to them, he could make things most unpleasant for all of us.”

“Then what do you suggest?”

“Go back to your companions. Tell Dyrke and Gobschlerk you wish to return to Esmie’s pool for an audience with the mermaid queen. They will not refuse your request. Ask her if she intends to help you. She may decline outright, or she may send you on a fool’s errand. Whatever the case, you and your companions should make your way back here as covertly as possible. I shall, by then, have a plan in place to aid you.”

I nodded. “Thank you. Thank you both!”

I continued along the trail toward the voices of my companions and Esmie’s servants. Soon I was back at the clearing where Gobschlerk had served us our evening meal. I called out as loudly as I could, “I’m over here, in the clearing!”

landscape

Moments later, my characters and the mermaid queen’s minions burst into the clearing from another trail. “Told you she no could go far.” Gobschlerk sneered at Dyrke.

My characters rushed over to me, all speaking at once, welcoming me back and telling me how worried they had been. I motioned as furtively as I could to them to remain quiet. Several nodded, indicating they understood, but many continued murmuring and chattering.

elf 3Dyrke scurried over to me, peering into his orb while speaking. “You gave us quite a fright! Your companions said you were missing this morning when they awoke.”

I feigned surprise. “I was up early and went for a walk. I didn’t want to disturb anyone. I frequently go off by myself. My companions should be used that, and know it is no cause for alarm.”

“Oh?” Dyrke’s voice held a note of suspicion. “Well then, I do hope you had an enjoyable jaunt. Did you encounter anyone in your travels?”

I sidestepped the question. “It was a very nice walk, thanks. The scenery around here is so delightful. I tried to find Esmie, but I was unsuccessful. I’d like to speak with her, to determine whether she is able to assist us or not. Will you lead the way back to her pool?”

A dark expression passed over Dyrke’s face before he marshaled his features into an unreadable mask. “Of course. Right this way.”

mermaidDragon and I exchanged glances but remained silent. My characters and I filed along the trail following Dyrke and Gobschlerk. We arrived at the mermaid queen’s pool to find Esmie sunning herself at the water’s edge. Just as the first time I saw her, the mermaid was gazing up at a large bubble she held in one hand. I still could not quite make out the images in the bubble.

Before Dyrke could announce our presence, Esmie dropped the bubble and turned to face us. “Oh, splendid, you are here! I have good news for you.” Her brilliant smile could have made the sun jealous, but I noticed it did not reach her eyes.

“Really? What news is that?” I returned her smile.

“I have discovered the path that will return you to your world.”

My characters brightened at that news and gathered closer to hear.

Esmie pointed. “Right over there, along the west bank of this pool, is a deer track heading north. If you follow that for a few miles, it will join a wider path. When you reach a fork in that trail, be sure to follow the left branch. You’ll be home in no time at all!”

Arrogant One“Well, it’s about time!” My Arrogant One’s face was red, and his voice was at the pitch that could have easily shattered crystal. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his robes in both hands. His annoying voice was petulant, accusatory, and haughty, all at the same time. “The accommodations last evening were not at all acceptable for someone of my stature . . .”

Dragon clamped a clawed hand over the elf’s mouth, stifling his outburst. “What my companion meant to say was thank you, Your Majesty. We appreciate your hospitality and all your efforts to assist us.” She bowed to the mermaid and shoved my Arrogant One into the arms of my Bounty Hunter and my Foreman, who managed to silence the now sullen elf.

Sniffing disdainfully at the elf, Esmie nodded graciously at Dragon and the rest of us. Then she gave me a sidelong glance. “Should I send Dyrke or Gobschlerk with you, to make certain you do not lose your way?”

I smiled but shook my head. “Thank you for the offer, but we don’t want to inconvenience your people further. I’m quite sure we can follow your excellent directions.”

The mermaid and her two strange minions watched us as we started on our way along the path Esmie had pointed out.

Dragon shrank to the size of a pug, to better navigate the forest trail, but kept her true form.

Dragon and me“Here, Dragon, let me help you over this log.” I picked up the small reptilian figure and whispered in her ear. “I need to speak to everyone without being overheard by any of the inhabitants of this world.”

She nodded and turned her head to whisper in my ear. “Perhaps there will be a clearing up ahead, where we can gather close and I can cast some wards to keep other eyes and ears from joining us.”

The closest thing to a clearing we found was where the deer track joined a marginally larger path. I beckoned everyone to draw near. By gathering around and sitting on rocks and fallen logs, we were able to make a tight enough circle for Dragon to cast her wards.

After mumbling the incantations, Dragon nodded to me. “Speak freely. I assure you no outsider can see or hear us now.”

I quickly disclosed the earlier conversation I had had with Esmie’s daughter, Eloise, and her friend, King Mēzän.swan and mermaid

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress sighed. “It would be nice to believe that Esmie is sending us on the path that will lead home. However, if you believe Eloise and Mēzän, we need to be wary. Mayhap the mermaid queen does not have our best interest at heart.”Young Hero close-up

My Young Hero nodded. “It does not sound as if she will defy the wish listeners and help us.”

gypsy-facing-rightMy Gypsy frowned. “On the other hand, how do we know we can trust Eloise and Mēzän? While you say they seemed genuinely eager to defy the wish listeners and ignore Esmie’s dictates, might they not have their own agenda?”

Dwarf facing rightMy Old Dwarf fidgeted with his axe. “It be better ta be taken’ our chances wit tha princess an’ ’er friend. We do na be knowin’ fer sure iffin they be meanin’ ta help us or no, but we do be knowin’ aboot Esmie’s lackey. Tha blind flutterby laddie be beholdin’ ta tha wish listeners, so’s he do na be going agin ’em, and I do na be thinkin’ his queen would be defyin’ ’em, either.”

Elf facing rightCleric adjusted her robe and squirmed on the hard rock. “I agree. I believe we should try to make our way back to the pool where you encountered Eloise and Mēzän, Mistress.”

Arrogant One“And just how will we manage that without arousing the suspicion of the mermaid queen and her serfs?” My Arrogant One crossed his arms over his chest and scowled. “They expect us to be following the trail Esmie dictated. If we go off bumbling through the forest, trying to find the other pool, they may take action against us.”

I tilted my head and stroked my chin. Surprisingly, the elf had made a good point.
dragon looking right
Dragon snorted. “I can maintain the wards until we find Eloise and Mēzän, as long as we move at a leisurely pace and stay reasonably close together.”

I nodded. “Let’s try. But stay alert. We don’t know if any inhabitants of this world possess magic equal to or greater than Dragon’s powers. We don’t want to be caught unawares.”

It was late afternoon by the time we found our way back to the spot where I had encountered Eloise and Mēzän. The pool was empty, and the mud at the water’s edge looked as if there had been a scuffle.

Eloise and Mezon's pool

What has happened to Eloise and Mēzän? Did Esmie and the wish listeners discover their treachery? And what will happen to us? Should we go back and take the route Esmie directed us to take, or try to find another way home? Be sure to join us again next week as our odyssey continues. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

The Search for Home Continues

The Search for Home Continues

After Esmie departed with the promise to return soon, I took the opportunity to explore. While my characters remained at the spot where we had encountered Esmie, resting and keeping watch, I followed the trail around the mermaid’s pool. I discovered the area was honeycombed with small, terraced waterfalls and pools. One basin was adjacent to a large clearing, carpeted with lush grasses. A smattering of fragrant wildflowers grew along the water’s edge.

I was about to call to my characters to join me when I was startled by a shrill voice from the grass, almost under my feet. “Looks outs!

Startled, I backpedaled away from the sound and almost lost my balance. I stared at the spot from which the voice seemed to emanate. I finally saw an extraordinary, tiny creature, hardly taller than the mushroom next to which she stood.

fantastic creature“Don’ falls down!” The little creature squeaked in alarm. “Dids Baalizhene scareded you?” She bowed her antlered head contritely and softly fanned her gossamer wings. She folded her hands in front of her, as if praying. “Baalizhene sorry if Baalizhene scareded you.”

The creature who identified herself as Baalizhene looked up again, craning her neck. “Whose is you? Baalizhene never sees you here before. Baalizhene not s’possed to talks to strangers. Is you a strangers? Whatcha doin, strangers? Does you has a name, strangers?”

I opened my mouth to reply, but no words came out.

“Baalizhene! You no bother Esmie’s guest!”

I whirled around to face the new speaker. This creature had a hairy green body, long arms, big feet, a sharp nose, and pointed ears. He stood only as tall as my waist, but he towered over the other, diminutive creature.

The tiny creature’s eyes grew large with fright. “Baalizhene sorry, Gobschlerck. Strangers almost stepped on Baalizhene. Baalizhene just wanteds talking to strangers. Baalizhene didn’t means to scareded strangers. Baalizhene didn’t means to bothered strangers, neithers.”

troll 3The green creature the tiny one addressed as Gobschlerck stamped his foot. “Esmie tan yur hide if she find you talk at strangers. Go!” He pointed up to a copse of trees on a rise adjacent to the clearing.

Like a frightened mouse, Baalizhene darted through the grass, scampered up a tree, and dove into a hole.

“Hmph. You go, too, Esmie’s guest.” Gobschlerck scowled at me, stamped his foot again, and pointed in the direction opposite the grove where he had sent Baalizhene.

Again I opened my mouth to reply and again no words came out.

“Gobschlerk!” I turned toward a new voice, this one tinged with a note of reprimand.

elf 3Another creature strode across the clearing toward us. This one was about two feet high but had the commanding presence of one much larger. Butterfly wings, entwined with tiny branches, sprouted from his back. He did not watch where he was going; instead, he peered into an orb that floated above his outstretched hand, and he directed his remarks toward it rather than to the green creature he addressed.

“Gobschlerk! Do not speak in that tone to one of Esmie’s guests. And what do you mean, chastising Baalizhene? You know she is my responsibility.”

“Dyrke no watching Baalizhene. Gobschlerk watch. Baalizhene underfeets. She talk to stranger. If Esmie find out, Esmie tan her hide good!”

Still speaking to the orb hanging in the air above his hand, the newcomer replied in an even voice. “Gobschlerk, I have explained this to you before. Baalizhene is frightened of you. You must not speak sharply to her.”

The green creature hung his head. He snuffled loudly and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. He shuffled one big foot back and forth in the grass. “Gobschlerk sorry, Dyrke. Gobschlerk like Baalizhene. Gobschlerk no want scare Baalizhene. Baalizhene purdy!”

Dyrke sighed. He continued gazing at the ball suspended above his hand and speaking in the direction of that orb. “Yes, Baalizhene is very pretty. She is also very small and very timid. Gobschlerk is brutish and scares Baalizhene. Gobschlerk must leave Baalizhene alone. If Esmie is not around, I will watch Baalizhene. I will keep her safe and out of trouble.” He paused, frowning. “Do you understand, Gobschlerk?”

The green creature nodded.

“Good. Now go and gather the food for Esmie’s guests, Gobschlerk. Bring the food here. Find something to spread on the grass so that Esmie’s guests may sit and eat.”

“Yes, Dyrke.” The green creature shuffled away, head down, a hang-dog expression on his angular features.

Dyrke continued to speak at the orb. “Welcome to Esmie’s realm. I am Dyrke.”

I stood, staring at the creature. For the third time, I opened my mouth to respond, but still no words emerged.

“You are rude.” He frowned while speaking to the orb.

I felt my cheeks grow hot. I stuttered and finally found my voice. “I . . . I’m sorry. I have never seen a creature like you before, or like the other two.”

The creature called Dyrke seemed to consider that. He tilted his head and stroked his chin with the hand that did not have an orb hovering over it. When he spoke again, he continued to address his remarks in the direction of the orb. “I had assumed, judging by those with whom you travel, you were accustomed to seeing fey folk. But, I suppose even among the fey, Baalizhene and I are unique. I would have thought Gobschlerk quite common, though.”

“Perhaps he is, in this world. In my world, creatures such as the three of you do not exist.”

“But among your companions, there exists some elves, a dwarf, a dwarf-kin, and a dragon. From whence do these individuals hail?”

“They fell from the pages of my manuscripts.”

“Ah, you are a scribe, a scrivener.” Dyrke brightened. “I do not often have the opportunity to enjoy such learned and prestigious company.”

He gestured toward the path I had followed to this clearing. “Come, we will converse while we walk back to Esmie’s pool and collect your companions. Then we shall return to this clearing and you and your comrades can eat.

elf 3I nodded and allowed Dyrke to lead me along the trail. I tried not to stare as he nimbly navigated the uneven ground while staring into the orb. “If I am not being rude again, may I enquire about your orb? Your eyes never leave it, even when you are speaking to someone.”

Dyrke ducked his head sheepishly. “I apologize for labeling your actions rude. I was being judgmental and insulting. As for the orb, I am blind. The orb gives me sight.”

Before I could comment, Dyrke changed the subject. “So, how did you come to be in Esmie’s realm?”

Creatures along the path“Evidently, one or more of my companions wished for something. A group of creatures who identified themselves as wish listeners decided coming to this world was the answer to that wish. In our travels here, we were directed to Esmie. We were told she may be able to help us find our way back home.”

“Ah, the wish listeners!” Dyrke smiled, and there was a tone of respect and affection in his voice.

“You are acquainted with them?”

He nodded. “I have been blind from birth. Some years past, I wished very hard that I might see. The wish listeners granted me a boon and presented me with this orb.”

“Nice of them. But they don’t seem too popular with some others. Queen Medal`av`alia, and a certain caravan-toting tortoise, seem a bit miffed with them.”

Dyrke laughed. “Well, those individuals do have some grievances. Meddie sought power and wealth, so she wished to be a queen. The wish listeners gave her the title, but little else . . . no riches, no authority, just the title and a gown in answer to her greedy wish. The tortoise was greedy as well, in his own way. He wanted to be more than just a common reptile. He wanted to be important, and he wanted to be known far and wide. So, the wish listeners made him serve as a caravan for some of the fey folk. Not exactly what he had in mind, but it did conform to the letter of his wish.”

I chuckled. “In my world there is an expression – be careful what you wish for.”

Dyrke nodded. “Indeed. You just might get it!”

“What about Esmie? The tortoise seemed to think she could help us, but a bird warned him against crossing the wish listeners. What is the mermaid’s experience with the wish listeners? Will she help us?”

But for a slight twitch of his lips, Dyrke did not respond to the question.

While we were talking, we arrived back at Esmie’s pool. Dragon, now in her true form, stood guard with my Old Dwarf while the others rested by the water’s edge. Dyrke pursed his lips and shook his head. “There is really no need to keep watch. No harm will come to you in Esmie’s realm.”Dragon with smoke

“Indeed. And we will see to that.” Dragon peered down her long snout at the small creature, dark smoke drifting from her nostrils. My other characters closed rank around us, nodding.

Dyrke shrugged. “As you wish. I am Dyrke. As Esmie’s representative, I welcome you to her realm. There are very few restrictions. You may wander where you will, and drink from any of the streams or pools. The water is pure. We ask that you do not hunt or fish while you are here, though, as some of Esmie’s subjects are difficult to distinguish from prey. Also, some of the fruit and mushrooms are unsafe for consumption by some species. Therefore, food will be provided for you. In fact, a repast is being prepared for you at this very moment. Come.”

My characters all looked to me before making a move. I nodded, and we all followed Dyrke back to the clearing. Gobschlerk was gone, but he had placed a coverlet on the ground and piled food around it.feast

“If you require anything more, Gobschlerk or I will provide it. Please enjoy yourselves.” Dyrke bowed and strode off toward the copse of trees where Gobschlerk had banished Baalizhene.

My companions were uncharacteristically quiet. They lowered themselves warily onto the blanket Gobschlerk had spread on the ground, Dragon first assuming her accustomed form of an elf maiden. They all eyed the food suspiciously.

I took my place on the blanket and reached for some fruit.

DwarfMy Old Dwarf grabbed my arm before I could pop the apple slice in my mouth. “Be ye sure it be safe, lass?”

I frowned. “Do you have any reason to believe it is not?” I looked around and addressed the question to all my characters. “Did you learn anything while I was gone that might make you mistrustful?”

Gypsy close-up“No, but we learned nothing that would make us trustful, either.” My Gypsy scowled. “We know nothing of these creatures. The mermaid disappeared and has not returned. Her lackeys assembled this repast for us. Do we know their agenda? Are they ally or foe? Do they mean us good will or harm?”

“You present valid points.” I chewed my lower lip and considered the situation. “My potion users – can you detect any poison in the food?”sorceress-facing-right

Sorceress scoffed. “It is not that easy to detect. We would need our paraphernalia, and time to test everything.”

“Well can any of my magic users . . .?”

Arrogant One“No, we cannot.” The high-pitched, petulant, impatient whine of my Arrogant One interrupting me grated on my nerves. “None of us, through physical or magical means, can foretell if eating this food will cause our demise. I propose we employ a food taster. If someone eats the food and does not die, the rest of us can eat it, too. I suggest the dwarf.”

“Won’t work.”

We all jumped. The small green creature was back, standing next to us.

My Old Dwarf raised his axe, but I placed a restraining hand on his arm. “Why not, Gobschlerk?”

“Dwarf not easy to poison. If he live, others could still die.”

I raised an eyebrow. “If the food has been poisoned, right?”

Gobschlerk nodded. “If poison.”

Has the food been poisoned, Gobschlerk?” I narrowed my eyes.

“No.”

“Is it unsafe for anyone here?”

“Some not good for Gobschlerk, and some not good for Dyrke. That’s why we no eat. But all of food not no good to Esmie’s guests.”

I nodded, easily understanding through his use of a double negative that all the food he had gathered for us was safe for me and my companions. “Esmie would be very upset if any of her guests were poisoned, wouldn’t she, Gobschlerk?”

The green creature nodded. “Esmie tan our hides good if anything bad happen to guests.”

“That’s what I thought.” I popped the slice of apple in my mouth and crunched it. My eyes widened. “Wow! This is delicious!”

My characters immediately started grabbing the food and filling their empty stomachs. By the time we were all finished eating, the sun was setting.

Gobschlerk had disappeared when we began our meal. He returned as we finished eating, bringing more blankets. He pointed to a sheltered area by the copse of trees, then started gathering the remains of our meal.

“I guess we’re sleeping here tonight.” I sighed, and tears filled my eyes as I wondered what Miles had thought when we didn’t return from our hike.

With our bellies full, and our bodies tired from the day’s long hike, we fell asleep quickly. Too few hours later, I felt someone nudging me. I opened one sleepy eye, then both. Baalizhene stood next to me, pushing as hard as she could on my shoulder. She was whispering in a tiny, shrill voice, like the buzzing of a mosquito. I could barely make out her words. “Hi, strangers! You awakes, strangers?”

Before I could say anything, she placed her tiny finger over her mouth. “Shhhhhh. Come with Baalizhene, strangers.” She giggled.

I followed Baalizhene through the woods, making sure not to step on her in the faint moonlight. We soon arrived at our destination and Baalizhene motioned for me to sit.

Baalizhene climbed up on a branch by my shoulder and whispered shrilly. “Baalizhene not s’possed to come here. Esmie says Baalizhene too small. But strangers not too small.” Baalizhene giggled.
gathering of fantasy creatures

I smiled. Water from a series of terraced falls splashed into a moonlit pool. Fey folk and fantastic creatures were frolicking in and around the water. Baalizhene and I watched for a long time before sleep overtook me again.
 

Will Esmie return tomorrow? Will she help us to go home? Or will we have to continue our search without her assistance? How long will we be stuck in this world, and what is Miles doing back in our world? Be sure to join us next week for our continuing adventure. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Stranger and Stranger – Looking For The Way Home

Stranger and Stranger – Looking For The Way Home

Creatures along the path

I looked all around. The pint-sized, gnome-like creatures who had identified themselves as wish listeners – who claimed they listen for people to make wishes and then grant those wishes if they are so inclined – were gone. Their chortles, giggles and titters still hung in the air like the sound of distant wind chimes, but the creatures had disappeared, and where they had gone was anyone’s guess.

Backyard 050I sighed and removed my hat. I raked my hand through my hair, then plopped the cap back on my head and adjusted the drawstring. “Great! Now what?” I looked at my characters.

scaly dragonDragon cleared her throat. “I propose we start wishing to return to the park whence we came, and hope those curious little creatures hear us and are inclined to grant us our wish.”

dwarf“And iffin they do na be so in-clined?” My Old Dwarf raised his eyebrows and his axe. “I be proposin’ thet I be gittin’ ta choppin’ tha wall o branches what be blockin’ tha path ta tha steps.”

foreman-facing-left“I think the dwarf is right. We need to get out of here and find our way back to the picnic grove by the lake where Master Miles awaits us.” My Foreman wiped the sweat from his brow and rested one foot on a small boulder next to the clearing. “Since we know two of the trails leading from this clearing are impassable, and we do not want to follow our recent knightly guests down the avenue they took, that only leaves us one viable alternative.”

sorceress-facing-rightWishing is a viable alternative. Did the creatures not imply that is what brought us here in the first place?” Sorceress scowled and glared at her companions through narrowed eyes. “One or more of our company wished for something that brought us to this place. If one or more of our company wishes for us to return whence we came, perchance the wish listeners will grant us a boon.”

My Old Dwarf shook his head. “Or tha wee, nasty varmints could be sendin’ us somewhere else, just ta be havin’ a laugh at our expense.”

Arrogant OneMy Arrogant One pursed his lips and drew himself up, rocking back on his heels. “For once, I agree with the dwarf. We need to extricate ourselves from this land, not place our fate in the hands of alien creatures whose agenda is unknown to us.”

I looked around at my characters. Most were nodding in agreement with my Old Dwarf and my Arrogant One. Finally, after some heated discussion, even Dragon and Sorceress capitulated.

“Well, then, you should start chopping.” I watched as my Old Dwarf set about the task. His sharp axe and strong arms soon made kindling of the tangle of branches. But no steps were waiting for us behind the wall of wood. Instead, an ancient forest almost devoid of underbrush lay before us, crisscrossed with barely discernable paths.

new path 1
As the ten of us began to traverse the tangled woodland, my Old Dwarf nudged Dragon. “Ye will na be able ta be squeezin’ yer great bulk underneath tha branches o these great trees, beastie. Best ye be changin’ yerself agin.”

Elf cleric close-up
Dragon snorted a puff of black smoke, but quickly returned to her customary form of an elf maiden.

 

The going was slow. My two best trackers – my Foreman and my Bounty Hunter – led the way, with much discussion from everyone else when trails seemed to branch off in every direction.

The twisted, misshapen, old trees slowly gave way to newer growth. The young trees grew straight and tall, and grasses and underbrush flourished. The path we had taken grew wider and more distinct and became easier to follow. Soon, a stream appeared on our left, the water flowing from a source somewhere up ahead of us.

new path 2

Cleric pointed. “Look, Mistress! Some beautiful water iris are in bloom along the stream, and some water lilies are starting to open as well.”

“Curious.” Sorceress examined the flowers. “These are the first blossoms we have encountered, despite the overpowering fragrance of wildflowers on the breeze.” She bent over to sniff at them. “The scent from the iris and water lily is not strong enough to be the source of the intense fragrance.”

prairie“Neither is the handful of wildflowers scattered in that prairie on the other side of the creek.” My Foreman pointed.

Sorceress furrowed her brow and followed my Foreman’s gaze. “Indeed.”

Gypsy close-upMy Gypsy frowned. “That is as disconcerting as the fact I have been hearing the pervasive melody of birdsong ever since we left the old growth forest, despite the obvious lack of birds.”

No sooner had he spoken than we heard something quacking. We looked about and spotted a Mallard hen with her babies in the water. Then a harsh croak drew our attention to a Great Egret fishing in a small pool on the other side of the stream. Loud gobbling announced the presence of a Wild Turkey walking across a nearby wooden bridge.

“I do not believe any of those birds are songbirds, Mistress.” Cleric’s brow was furrowed, and she was chewing on her lower lip.

I frowned. “This must be some sort of outlandish prank. Perhaps the wish listeners are at work here.”

“Something surely is.” My Bounty Hunter frowned.

new path 3Warily, we continued along our way. For a time, the trail we walked paralleled the waterway. The scent of the wildflowers and the sound of birdsong followed us, though we saw no more flowers or birds. Eventually, the stream narrowed, and the path started to rise. A wooden fence bordered the side of the trail farthest from the stream.

“Thet fence dinna be builtin’ itself, lass. We best be keepin’ our wits aboot us.” My Old Dwarf fell in behind me as I took the lead.

The trail took a sharp turn away from the stream and a new set of stairs rose before us. I stopped dead in my tracks, and my characters piled into me. After we regained our composure, we all stood there, gaping.

Queen Medal`av`aliaAhead of us a beautiful figure blocked our way. She wore a royal blue and gold gown, her flowing, silvery hair was crowned with a circlet of laurel, and angel-like wings sprouted from her back. When she spoke, it sounded as if an unseen musician was caressing the strings of a harp. “I am Medal`av`alia, Queen of these lands. Why are you trespassing in my realm?”

I bowed low, then rose and met her narrow-eyed gaze. “We do not travel this land by choice, Your Majesty. Strange creatures calling themselves wish listeners caused us to be here.” I noticed her eyes widened at the mention of the wish listeners, but she remained silent. “Perhaps you could help us find our way home?”

Her Majesty scowled at us. “Ask the turtle.” And she was gone, leaving us all gaping again.

I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts and make sense of things. “Ask the turtle?” I looked around. “Did anyone see a turtle?”

Young hero 2My Young Hero tilted his head and rubbed his chin. “Turtles are usually found near water. Mayhap we should return to the spot where we observed the ducklings and the egret.”

We backtracked as quickly as we could. In the pool by the stream where the egret had been fishing, we now saw a large turtle, covered with duckweed.

Turtle

“Cleric, you are the one with the greatest affinity for animals, and the one with proven ability to make yourself understood by lesser creatures.” I pointed to the turtle. “Do you think you can ask him how to return to our own land?”

“You mean your own land.” My Arrogant One sniffed disdainfully.

I glared at him. “It is your land now as well. It has been since the day you fell out of my manuscripts. But there is no time to rehash that issue now.” I turned my back on him and repeated my request to Cleric. “Do you think you can?”

Elf facing right“I will try, Mistress.” She looked doubtful but approached the edge of the pool. “Kind turtle, Queen Medal`av`alia suggested you might be able to direct us back to our own lands.”

Something in the grass on the other side of the water snorted. A loud voice exclaimed, “These creatures are as dim-witted as our queen, what?”

Tortoise and friendsI looked around and spied a large tortoise. My mouth dropped open and my eyes almost popped out of their sockets as I stared at the bizarre creature, which had a small, wooden shanty tied atop its carapace. Three tiny, winged fairy-folk were in the structure, while two more flitted about the tortoise’s head. A small songbird was perched on a tree stump in front of this strange group.Talking bird

I was dumbstruck, and my jaw almost hit the ground as the bird spoke in response to the previous remark. “I’ll say, guv’nor. Ol’ Meddie never did comprehend the difference between a turtle and a tortoise, did she?”

“Imagine!” One of the fairy-folk flying around the tortoise tittered. “Thinking a turtle could talk!”


Tortoise and friends turnedIt took me a few minutes to regain my composure. Then, with my characters in tow, I traversed the wooden bridge we had seen the turkey crossing earlier and approached the strange entourage. “Excuse me. Are you the one the queen referred to when she told us to consult the turtle?”

“Prob’ly, luv. She don’t seem ta get the diff’ between us terrestrial travelers and our semi-aquatic cousins.”

“I see. Well, I apologize for the confusion.”

“No prob, luv. It weren’t you wot made the mistake. Ol’ Meddie can present me with ’er own apology.”

Quickly, I explained the problem to the tortoise – or as quickly as I could with constant interruptions and additions from my characters. “So, you see,” I concluded, “we need to find our way back to our own land.”

“Hmmm . . . it wouldn’t be too smart to cross the wish listeners . . . bad business, that.” The bird shook its head and fluffed its feathers.

Tortoise and friends
The tortoise nodded. “Quite right, mate, but I owe them barmy buggers for turnin’ me into a bloomin’ caravan for a bunch of bloody pixies and sprites.” He snatched a flower and chomped it loudly while he considered the problem. “Tell ya wot, luv – you an’ yer friends follow this stream. Stay on the bank, not on the trail – the trail goes off on a tangent before it comes back to the creek a bunch of miles upstream.”

The tortoise chomped another flower. “Bad business, mate!” The bird said again, shaking his wings and fluffing his feathers.

The tortoise ignored the bird and continued. “Upstream about a mile, mile and a half, you’ll find a waterfall. Look for Esmie and ask her. She’ll know, for sure.”

“Thank you most kindly. And how will I recognize Esmie?”

“How will ya recognize Esmie?” The bird twittered. “How will ya recognize Esmie? Just how many mermaids do ya expect ta run inta there?”

Dragon with smoke“I do not believe your friend identified Esmie as a mermaid.” Dragon had been growing impatient with the exchange and had shape-shifted back to her reptilian form. Black smoke drifted from her snout.

“Blimey! It’s a bleedin’ talkin’ lizard! An’ it’s on fire!”

One of the brownies laughed. “Shows you how much you know, bird-brain. That’s a dragon!”

“A dragon? Ya don’t say!” The bird flew around Dragon, inspecting her from every angle. “I don’t see what makes a dragon such a big deal.”

I hustled Dragon away before she could show the bird exactly what makes a dragon such a big deal. I called back to the entourage. “Thanks again! We’ll tell Esmie you sent us.”

“Oh, blimey! Don’t do that, luv! If the wish listeners find out I sent you to Esmie, I’ll never be shed of these blinkin’ pixies and sprites!”

“Oh!” I hesitated then said brightly, “Well, okay, it’ll be our little secret.” I smiled, thinking they’ve probably been listening to every word.

My other characters and I continued prodding Dragon to the bridge. We crossed to the opposite side once more, where Dragon changed back into an elf maiden. The ten of us followed the creek upstream as instructed, being sure not to follow the road when it left the stream. Even though travel was easy over the lush carpet of grasses and clovers, it took us the better part of three hours to reach the waterfall, as it was closer to a five-mile trek than to the mile and a half estimate the tortoise had given.

mermaidThe late afternoon sunshine lit the grotto by the waterfall as we approached. A mermaid with emerald green hair and scales splashed in the shallows by the shore, gazing up at a large bubble she held in one hand. The orb was filled with images I could not quite make out.

“Esmie?”

She dropped the bubble and stared at me and my companions. “Oh, it’s you.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You were expecting us?”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Well, I wouldn’t be saying oh, it’s you if I wasn’t expecting you, now would I?”

Unable to think of a snappy comeback to that statement, I shrugged. “Who told you we were coming?”

Esmie gave me a smile that was half Mona Lisa, half Cheshire Cat. Then she abruptly changed the subject. “You all must be hungry and tired. Please, sit. Dinner will be served soon.”

My characters looked askance, but I nodded. Esmie smiled. “I’ll be right back.” She dove under the waterfall and disappeared.

Dragon frowned. “We do not know this creature’s motives. How did she know to expect us? Will the food she serves be safe? Mayhap we should leave now, before she returns.”

“And go where? We have no idea where we are or how to return home. I don’t think we have much choice.”

Will Esmie prove friend or foe? Will dinner be luscious or lethal? Will the mermaid help us return home, or will we continue to wander this land, searching for an escape? Be sure to come back next week as we continue our little odyssey. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Our Little Odyssey

Our Little Odyssey

My characters and I huddled together in a small clearing. The woods here looked different. I couldn’t see the trail leading back toward the lake, where we had enjoyed our picnic, where my husband now waited for our return. Nor could I see the steps we had just been climbing.

We currently stood at the bottom of some steps, but these steps looked much different than the ones we had been climbing. The steps we had scaled had been overgrown with lush vegetation, save a small path barely wide enough to tread. They had risen from a trail next to a sign proclaiming it a secret trail, a trail I had never seen while hiking in this park. The steps behind us now were steeper and, though narrower, were not covered with as much vegetation, allowing a wider passage.

Trails branched off in three directions from the small clearing where we now clustered at the bottom of the strange steps. To the right, the path was choked by protruding tree roots. To the left, the trail was littered with boulders. Straight ahead, a wide avenue passed between two rows of trees whose branches formed a canopy over the road.

Wide avenue

This was not the park where we had had our picnic, where we had just been hiking and taking wildlife photographs.

“Which way should we go?” Cleric’s voice was barely a whisper.

I crossed my arms over my chest and chewed my bottom lip while I considered the question.

I beckoned my Foreman. “Take the lads and go scout the path to the right. Don’t go too far, maybe just around the first bend. Let me know if the trail clears out, and if you can see where it leads.”

My Foreman nodded and started down the path with my Gypsy and my Young Hero following close behind. They picked their way carefully around the protruding tree roots and soon disappeared around the bend in the path.

I motioned to my Old Dwarf. “Take my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One and scout the trail to the left.”

My Arrogant One stuck his nose in the air and started to protest in his typical whiny screech. “I am not a scout! Such menial labor is beneath me!” My Old Dwarf and my Bounty Hunter rolled their eyes and quickly hustled the annoying elf away, but he continued complaining every step of the way. The trio made their way over and around the boulders, and a bend in the trail soon took them from my sight. Unfortunately, I could hear my Arrogant One much longer than I could see him.

I turned to Dragon, who was in her guise of an elf maiden. “Can you, Cleric, and Sorceress check out the middle road?”

Dragon nodded. “We will go about half the distance to the end of the trees that border the road.” I watched them make their way cautiously along the road, until the mist swallowed them from sight.

It did not take long for my characters to return. My Foreman and the lads were the first to report.

My Foreman removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow. “The path to the right deteriorates quickly past the first bend. There are areas that are all but impassable, where trees have fallen across the path as erosion has led to several trees being uprooted.”

My Gypsy nodded in agreement. “Some of us might be small enough to crawl through the debris, but I do not believe all of us could do so.”

My Young Hero grimaced. “We were unable to determine where the path went past the downed trees.”

I turned to my Old Dwarf. “And the trail to the left?”

The dwarf shook his head. “Beyond tha first turn, there a been a rockslide. I be havin’ no troubles makin’ me way o’er tha boulders, but the udder two . . .” He spat on the ground.

My Arrogant One rubbed his leg and whined sullenly. “I almost broke my leg trying to scramble across those huge, slippery rocks!”

My Bounty Hunter concurred. “The boulders are covered with moss and are too slick for any but a dwarf or a sure-footed mountain goat. And another bend in the trail prevented us from seeing where it led.”

Dragon spoke up. “The middle road is level and easy underfoot. The trees provide shade, and the way is pleasant.”

“Could you see where the road leads?”

Cleric shook her head. “The mist prevented us from seeing what is at the end of the double row of trees whose branches form a canopy across the trail. It may be another clearing, or the road might continue past the trees.”

“With the hazardous condition of the other two trails, the center trail seems the most logical choice.” Sorceress made a moue. “It makes me wonder if we are not being maneuvered into taking that road.”

I considered all that my characters had said, thinking long and hard before deciding. “I don’t feel good about any of these trails. I think we should go back. We’ll go up the steps and see if we can retrace our trail.”

I turned to lead my companions up the steps, but the steps were gone. They had been replaced by a very thick wall of tangled branches.

Tangled branches

dwarf“Wale, I be guessin’ we do na be goin’ thet way, lass, ’lessens ye be wantin’ me ta be choppin’ a hole through tha hedge.” My Old Dwarf raised his axe.

I shook my head. “No. I don’t imagine that would do any good.” I did a double-take at my Old Dwarf. “Why do you have your axe? Why are you wearing your armor again?”

I suddenly realized that all my characters were wearing their own clothing again, not the modern jeans, shirts, and sneakers I had insisted they wear for the outing. And Dragon was no longer in her guise of an elf maiden. She had changed into her true form of a Great Wyrm.
scaly dragon looking right
“How did you all change back into your old outfits so quickly? And, Dragon, why did you shape-shift?”

The wide-eyed expressions on everyone’s faces as they looked at their companions told me they had not done this of their own accord.Dragon with smoke bubbles

Dragon confirmed my suspicions. “Mistress, I did not shape-shift. I should still be in my accustomed form of an elf maiden.” The great beast was so distraught, she morphed to a pale blue, and smoke bubbles dripped from her snout.

I took a quick inventory of my own outfit. I was still wearing the same clothes, including my hat and sneakers, and my camera still hung around my neck.

“You have not changed, Mistress. Why have we?” The usually imperturbable Sorceress gaped at me and wrung her hands. Her voice quavered, and all color drained from her face.

“I have no idea.”

A sudden noise caught our attention. A trio of mounted knights rode slowly toward us on the center trail, the clanking of their armor sounding louder and louder as they approached.

Knights

As they grew nearer, Dragon recovered some of her poise and morphed back to a more imposing looking dragon. She stepped in front of me, extending her wings. “Remain hidden, Mistress. You look . . . a bit out of place.”
scaly dragon looking right
I peeked under Dragon’s wing and watched as one of the knights, probably the ranking member of the group, dismounted. He handed his reins to one of his mounted comrades, who nudged his charger to stand at the opening of the trail to our right. The other mounted knight took his courser and blocked the trail to our left.

Dragon and the knightThe rest of my characters drew into a tight semi-circle around me as Dragon moved forward. The great beast towered menacingly over the knight who had dismounted, but when he made no threatening moves, Dragon sat and greeted him in a congenial voice. “Hail and well met, noble knight!”

“Hail, great and terrible beast! Methinks thou and thy companions art strangers in our fair land.”

Dragon conversing with the knight“We are.” Dragon stood and began to explain. “We are traveling and seem to have taken the wrong road.”

The knight nodded. “Where art thou bound for?”

Dragon hesitated. “I know not the name of the place.”

“My lord!” The knight blocking the left-hand trail vaulted off his horse as he addressed the knight with whom Dragon was speaking.

The ranking knight seemed irritated at the interruption and started to snap at his underling. “What doth thou . . .?”

Before the ranking knight could complete his question, the other one pushed through my companions, grabbed me by the arm, and hauled me out into the open. “Look, my lord!”

Dwarf and knightMy Old Dwarf stomped up to the knight and brandished his axe. “I wouldna be doin’ thet iffin I be ye, laddie. I be thinkin’ ye best be releasin’ tha lass right quick-like, iffin ye be placin’ any value on yer hand!”

The knight let loose of my arm and squared off against the dwarf, wielding his sword with both hands.

I moved between the two warriors, shook my head, and gestured to my Old Dwarf to lower his axe. “Stay your weapon, old friend. These good and noble knights mean me no harm.”

Scowling at the knights, my Old Dwarf nevertheless lowered his axe. The knight was slower, but soon lowered his weapon as well. Keeping his eye on the dwarf, he took me by the arm again.

bird photographerThe ranking knight gaped at me. “What manner of dress is this thou art wearing?”

“And what doth that object be, hanging from thy neck?” The third knight had leaped from his mount to confront me.

Fiery displayThe two knights started to pull me over to their superior. Dragon reared up and roared. Flames shot toward the ranking knight, who stood steadfast against the fiery threat.

My eyes widened. “Dragon! No!”

Dragon growled but stood down.

The two knights escorted me a bit more gently, keeping their eyes on Dragon and my Old Dwarf. When I stood in front of their superior, I bowed to the ranking knight and spoke in low, respectful tones.

“Well met, noble sir. I trust you withstood well the censure of my companion. I assure you she meant you no harm.”

The knight snorted. “I am aware of that. If the beast had meant to harm me, I would be naught but a pile of cinders upon the forest floor.”

He and the other knights walked around me, scrutinizing me. The ranking knight gestured toward my outfit. “Thou shalt explain thyself, wench.”

Miles' Camera 128“This is the mode of dress in the land wherein I reside, my lord, a land far from these most pleasant woods.” I motioned to my camera. “And this object hanging from my neck is one of the tools of my trade.”

“And prithee, at what trade art thou employed?”

“I am a scribe, a historian, a scrivener, a recorder of deeds fantastic and mundane.”

The ranking knight snorted. “From thy dress and thy choice in companions, I would posit thou art a witch.”

A sly smile tugged at the corners of my mouth as I took a step closer to the ranking knight and dropped my voice. “Forsooth! Were I a witch, my good sir, you would be a toad, hopping around on the forest floor.”

The ranking knight paled a bit at the implied threat, and quickly backpedaled until he had put a safe distance between us. He motioned to his men to bring him his horse. The three knights remounted without another word, saluted us, turned, and rode away at a gallop.

“Wow!” My Young Hero grinned at me. “You certainly handled them well!”

“It ain’t my first rodeo, kid!” I chuckled.

“Mistress, what do you mean by that? This is not a rodeo.” Cleric tilted her head and furrowed her brow.

I chuckled. “It means this is not the first time I have been in a situation like this.”

“Of course! I had forgotten. The tales of a mysterious scribe visiting our world refer to you, Mistress Writer!” Cleric smiled at me.

I nodded. “Yup. I told you I didn’t make up the tales I wrote about all of you. I merely recorded your exploits.”

Dragon and my Old Dwarf exchanged furtive glances, and the old reprobate gulped. “Cleric do na be tha onlyest one what be forgittin’ thet tha lass be havin’ experience in different worlds.” His voice was barely a whisper, and Dragon’s ears were the only ones it was intended to reach.

 

I turned back toward the tangle of branches where the steps had been. “We need to find a way home. I don’t fancy following the path taken by those knights, and you’ve indicated the other two roads are all but impassable. That just leaves the way we came.”

My Old Dwarf hefted his axe, but before he could move toward the wall of tree limbs that blocked our way, a strange noise caught everyone’s attention.

“What is that sound?” My Gypsy looked all around.

My Young Hero cocked his head to listen. “It almost sounds like giggling.”

We followed the sound and found four small creatures, hardly bigger than squirrels, standing in the grass by the side of the center road, giggling. Three of them looked like garden gnomes come to life, with conical hats and beards. The fourth had a close-fitting cap and a sly smile. All four had long rabbit-like ears.

Creatures along the path

Sorceress stared at them. “What manner of creatures are you?”

The one with the sly smile stepped forward. “We are wish listeners.”small figure on trail

“You’re what?” I rubbed my chin and narrowed my eyes.

“We listen for people to make wishes.” The speaker wiggled his long ears and continued to smirk.

“And you grant these wishes?” I raised an eyebrow.

“If we are so inclined.”

“So which one of us wished to be here?” I frowned.

“Oh, the ones who made the wish know who they are and they know what they wished for that brought you all here.” The creature continued to simper at us.

I looked at my companions, hoping to catch a guilty expression on someone’s face. All I saw was curiosity. I turned back to the sly one. “And if we wish to return home? Will you grant that wish?”

“If we are so inclined.”

My Old Dwarf’s hand shot out and wrapped around the creature’s neck. “Be ye so inclined?”

But the creature vanished, leaving the dwarf holding a handful of air. The other three wish listeners faded from sight as well, only the sound of their giggling remaining.

“Great! Now what?” I looked at my characters.

Dragon cleared her throat. “I would assume we should start wishing to return to the park whence we came, and hope that those curious little creatures hear us and are inclined to grant us our wish.”

Will the wish-listeners hear and grant our wish to return home? Or must we find another way? Be sure to come back next week and join us on our odyssey. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.