I recognized the voice of my Arrogant One as I passed the conference room, so I stuck my head in to see what trouble he was currently getting into.
“Stop snoring!” My Arrogant One looked up from the chess board he was studying, took a rook, and chucked it at Dragon, who was sleeping in front of her illusory fireplace. As he released the small chess piece, the elf mumbled an incantation. By the time the rook bounced off Dragon’s thick, scaly hide, it was big enough to rouse her, though – luckily for my Arrogant One – not nearly big enough to do any damage.
Dragon opened one eye and dark smoke spewed from her snout. She gave the elf a baleful look. “What?”
“I said stop snoring.” The elf cast another spell and the rook shrank back to its previous size and returned to his hand. My Arrogant One’s attention returned to the chess board.
“I am not snoring.” Dragon opened both eyes and glared at the elf.
“You are snoring.” A chorus of voices responded with equal parts annoyance and boredom.
Evidently, my characters’ excitement over the anthology containing two of my stories (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/11/25/woo-hoo-coming-soon/ and
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/12/02/its-here/) had faded. They had spent several days reading the book, and had engaged in animated discussions of every one of the more than 30 poems, essays, and stories in the collection.
(You can download a copy of the anthology here for free: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/909374?fbclid=IwAR15_opnZHJRPrY2-jioKWRHlnbgbGJd8nWucIKQOchZbZjr0amdKn5HUFI)
Now, however, they were back to their winter doldrums. Dragon closed her eyes and resumed her nap, while my other characters engaged in various activities around the room.
“Oh, Mistress! I am glad you are here.” Cleric beckoned me from across the room. She was by the big picture window, binoculars in hand, studying some birds in the snow by the bush in front of the deck. “Come look at these birds. I do not recognize them!”
I started to walk toward the window, but paused, my attention arrested by the chess game between my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter. My Arrogant One had cast a spell of illusion on the chess pieces, causing them to appear alive. As the elf pointed to one of the knights, it galloped across the board and positioned itself on the square indicated by my Arrogant One.
“Tha elfie be cheatin’!” My Old Dwarf chuckled and tapped the side of his nose with his forefinger.
“I am not cheating! And do not call me elfie!” My Arrogant One’s shriek was somewhere in the upper register of human hearing, but it evidently was quite painful to Dragon, who snarled at the elf.
As my Bounty Hunter attempted to diffuse the situation between his cohort and Dragon, I just shook my head and continued toward the window.
As I approached, Cleric sighed and put down the pair of binoculars she had been using. “You are too late, Mistress.” She pointed at my Arrogant One. “The birds took flight at his screech.”
I ducked my head in a gesture of apology. “I’m sorry I didn’t come right over when you beckoned. There aren’t many birds you are unable to identify. I would have liked to see these mystery birds.”
“You can.” My Gypsy turned to us and held out his sketch pad. “I drew a picture of one of them.”
I took the pad from him and looked, admiring his artwork.
Cleric, looking over my shoulder, gasped. “You have captured it precisely!” She beamed at the lad.
I studied the drawing. “Excellent detail! This is a male Ring-necked Pheasant. This species was introduced to this country from Asia more than a hundred years ago. It rapidly became a very common and much sought-after game bird. While it is not unusual to see Ring-necked Pheasants around backyard bird feeders, I haven’t seen any here in several years.”
“I hope they come back.” Cleric looked out the window, a wistful expression on her face. “Oh, look!” She brightened as she pointed to another bird. “A Dark-eyed Junco!”
My Gypsy studied the junco for a moment. “May I have my pad back, Mistress? I would like to try sketching this bird, too.”
As I handed him his sketch pad, I notice the page we had been looking at was almost blank. “Hey, what did you do, use disappearing ink?”
Gypsy stared at the page that had held his drawing. Now, there were just a few feathers remaining against a snowy backdrop. “No, Mistress, I used the colored pencils Master Miles gave us to use during our Gratitude Scavenger Hunt.” (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/09/23/were-doing-what/ and https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/09/30/gratitude-scavenger-hunt/)
Cleric, my Gypsy, and I gaped at the picture. Before any of us could say anything, my husband, Miles, entered the room. His brow was creased, and anxiety tinged his voice. “Honey, I think you better come upstairs, right now.”
I frowned. “Why? What’s wrong?”
Miles raked his hand through his hair and grimaced. “There’s a bird flying around the kitchen. I don’t know how it got in the house – no one has opened any doors or windows.” Miles paused and rubbed the back of his neck. “That’s not all. This bird is . . . well, it’s strange-looking. It’s very colorful, and it has long tail feathers, but it’s no bigger than a robin. It almost looks like a miniature pheasant!”
Cleric, my Gypsy, and I bolted for the stairs, with Miles trailing behind.
“Wait!” My husband rushed to catch up with us. “Do you know something about this bird?”
“Perchance.” My Gypsy looked at the bird, nodded, then turned to Miles and held out his sketch pad. “Just a few moments ago, there was a picture of a Ring-necked Pheasant on this paper. I drew it, so I know it was not an enchanted image. But now, somehow, the bird seems to have escaped the drawing and is flying around.”
Miles looked from the picture, which now displayed just a few feathers, to the bird, and back again. “How . . .?”
I shrugged. “Don’t know yet. First thing to do is catch the bird, so we can examine it. Someone go get Dragon.”
By the time my Gypsy returned with Dragon, who was grumbling and fuming over the interruption to her nap, Cleric had coaxed the small bird to perch on her finger. When Dragon spotted the small creature, she furrowed her scaly brow and tilted her head. “What is that?”
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out.” I explained the series of events and pointed to my Gypsy’s sketch pad. “Was that drawing enchanted?”
My Gypsy frowned. “I told you, Mistress, it could not be enchanted. I drew it, and I used no magic.”
I raised an eyebrow and chuckled. “I never suggested you enchanted it. There are a few other magic users around here, if you remember.”
My Gypsy blushed but nodded and handed the sketch pad to Dragon.
Dragon examined the pad carefully. She nodded. “Let me see the bird.”
Cleric carefully transferred the nervous creature to Dragon’s outstretched, clawed hand. Gently, the huge beast examined the little bird before returning it to Cleric.
Dragon wrinkled her nose. “I do sense a residual trace of magic on the pad, and a stronger presence of magic on the bird itself. I would deduce that someone enchanted the picture to take wing but did not do a very competent job.”
I sighed and raked my hand through my hair. “Can you tell from the residual magic who cast the spell?”
Dragon tilted her head and frowned. “It has the feel of the pompous elf’s magic, yet, there is a difference.”
I sighed. “Let’s go talk to the elf.”
Cleric was still holding the bird. “Mistress, what should I do with him?”
I considered my options. “You better bring him but be sure he doesn’t get loose and start flying around again, please.”
Back down in the conference room, my Arrogant One had just won the chess match against his friend and cohort, my Bounty Hunter. They were about to set up the board for another game, when I walked over to them.
“I’d like to talk to you.”
My Arrogant One made shooing motions at me. “I am a very busy person. If you wish an audience with me, you will need to petition my chancellor.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Your chancellor?”
The elf nodded and made a sweeping gesture toward my Bounty Hunter. “My Chancellor.”
I snorted and turned to my other character. “Well, Chancellor, I have need of an audience with your lord . . . right now.”
My Bounty Hunter inclined his head and chuckled. “I will see if I can squeeze you into my lord’s very busy schedule.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Oh, will you look at that? I see an opening in his schedule.”
I took a seat next to my Arrogant One. Dragon stood behind the elf, with her hands on his shoulders, keeping him from springing out of his seat.
“Unhand me, you beast!” My Arrogant One turned beet red and struggled against Dragon’s hold.
“Sit still and listen.” Dragon’s voice invited no argument.
The elf squirmed, but to no avail. “Very well! What is it you want?”
I glared at my Arrogant One. “Did you enchant my Gypsy’s sketch pad, or the drawing he made of a pheasant?”
The elf scowled. “What are you talking about?”
My Gypsy showed him the sketch pad. “I drew a picture of the pheasant Cleric was watching by the bush. After a few minutes, this was all that was left of the sketch. And, a few minutes after that, Master Miles found a bird flying around the house. It appears to be a miniature pheasant.” He pointed to the bird Cleric was holding.
My Arrogant One sniffed indignantly. “Why would I waste my time on such foolishness?”
I raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know why you would do many of the things you do. However, Dragon detected residual magic on the sketch pad and on the bird. It is similar to the signature produced by your magic.”
My Arrogant One paled. He and my Bounty Hunter exchanged glances. “Err . . . I have no knowledge of any of this.”
“I think you do.” My Gypsy glowered at the elf.
I nodded. “I believe you know something, too. Now talk.”
My Arrogant One squirmed out of Dragon’s grasp and bounded toward the door. My Old Dwarf jumped up, brandishing his axe and blocking the elf’s path. “Tha lass be wantin’ fer ye ta be conversatin’ wit ’er, elfie.”
To my surprise, my Arrogant One did not screech about being called elfie. Instead, he lowered his head and scuffed one foot back and forth. “Very well. I will tell you everything I know.” He looked around at everyone watching him. “But not here.”
I sighed. “My office. Now.” I beckoned to my Bounty Hunter. “You, too. I have a feeling you might know something about this as well.”
Once in my office, with the door closed firmly behind us, my Arrogant One was anything but arrogant. In a voice quavering with emotion, he began.
“I have been noticing a problem with my power.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
The elf sat, hands clasped in his lap, shoulders slumped. “It appears that I may be losing control over my magic.”
I raised both eyebrows. “How long has this been going on?”
“For several of your months.” The elf spoke so softly, I could barely hear his response. “Sometimes, I can not perform any magic, not even the simplest illusions. Other times, I can cast a spell, but with unintended results.”
My Bounty Hunter cleared his throat. “Do you remember sometime in the beginning of the month you call October, we asked if we could accompany you on a nature hike?”
“I know you noticed us hanging back and engaging in whispered conversations.”
Again, I nodded.
“Well, we were attempting to determine the extent of my friend’s loss of control over his magic.”
My elf squirmed. “I was unable to create even the smallest illusion that day. I tried several times to create various birds for you to photograph, but to no avail.”
My Bounty Hunter placed a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder. “The following week, there was that unfortunate incident when you were caught in the spell the elf used to shrink some materials we were hauling up to the shed roof to make repairs.”
I frowned. “Yes, I remember that, too.”
My Arrogant One chewed on his lower lip. “We thought my condition was improving. Recently, I performed flawlessly, creating some perfect illusions.”
He sighed. “But today, I suppose the shrinking spell I placed on the rook I had thrown at Dragon, along with the spell I cast on the chess pieces to bring them to life, somehow combined to cause the Gypsy’s sketch to come alive and shrink.”
I raked my hand through my hair. “Perhaps you have a physical ailment that is wreaking havoc with your power? Have you recently had a cold, or any flu-like symptoms? Fever? Rash? Headaches?”
To each, my Arrogant One shook his head. “Nothing. Physically, I have felt fine.”
“Maybe you should discuss this with Dragon, Sorceress, and Cleric.”
My Arrogant One’s head shot up. “No! I would not humiliate myself in front of them!”
I shrugged. “Well, let’s go see if you’re able to undo the current problem, and get the bird back into my Gypsy’s picture. Then, I guess, you’ll just have to be careful when and where you perform your magic. Don’t use your power around anyone or anything on which it might have an adverse effect.”
My Arrogant One nodded and rose from his chair. He looked miserable, his eyes rimmed with red, his shoulders slumped, his head hanging. I almost felt sorry for him.
Back in the conference room, Cleric had returned to the window, and was bird-watching again. My Gypsy was next to her, sketching.
“Where’s the bird?” I looked around.
Dragon looked up from her position in front of her illusory fireplace. “I was able to return the bird to its proper form and place it back in the sketch. I think I might know how the problem occurred.”
“You know nothing, beast!” My Arrogant One snarled, then turned on his heel and marched out of the room, my Bounty Hunter close behind.
Yeah. I almost felt sorry for him.
What is causing my Arrogant One to lose control of his powers? Be sure to come back next week and see if we find any clues. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.