Strange Disappearance

It’s not as much fun being invisible as I believed it would be.  In my wildest imaginings, I “saw” myself drifting through life, popping in and out of conversations, knowing everything well before everyone else, and loving every minute.  That’s not how it worked out at all.

Let me backtrack for a bit, to explain how this invisibility thing came about.

I was leafing through Weight Watcher’s Magazine, reading low calorie recipes and making plans for the upcoming week, when I spotted an ad for a new product that would make cellulite disappear.  As a walking example of the ugliness of cellulite, my eyes lit up with hope.  Imagine taking a pill three times a day, and within a relatively short period of time, those horrendous lumps would be gone, and I would look like Farah Fawcett!

I whipped out my checkbook, completed the order form, and drove to the nearest post office box.  As I dropped the envelope into the slot, I crossed my fingers and swore that I would faithfully take the pills.

Weeks passed.  Just as I began to think that I had unwittingly sent my hard-earned money to a scam operation, my package arrived.  It was wrapped in generic gray plastic, with no identifying marks on the outside.  Inside, I felt two bottles, about the size and shape of my cholesterol medications.

I dropped the package on my computer desk and went about my normal routine. I changed out of my work clothes and gathered snacks to hold me over until dinner.

Later that evening I remembered the mystery package. I tore through the dense plastic.  Inside I found not the expected medications from my medical provider, but brightly labeled bottles.  Farah herself, with trim legs and skinny tummy, was pictured as an example!

The directions were simple.  Take one pill, three times a day for the first week.  Drink plenty of water and exercise at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week.  The second week, I was supposed to increase the dosage by a pill and increase exercise by another 30 minutes.  The third week, it was three pills a day, three times a day, combined with 30 minutes of exercise five times a week.  I could do this with my eyes closed.

The first week, I felt somewhat lighter.  The scales at the gym showed that I had lost three pounds.  Awesome!

By the end of the second week, I had lost an additional six pounds!  My clothes fit better and there was a nice glow to my cheeks.

At the conclusion of the third week, another six pounds had disappeared!  That made for a total of 15 pounds. All I was doing was taking pills and exercising a bit more than usual.  At this rate, I would be thin and gorgeous in just a few months!

If three pills worked so well, why not take four?  There was nothing in the literature that indicated any dangers in moving beyond the recommended three-pill regimen, so why not give it a try?  If I began feeling weird or noticed any adverse effects, I could always drop back to three.

Oh, the joys of weight loss!  When you’ve been fat your entire life and have tried every diet known to woman and failed at them all, finding success is a truly magnificent feeling.  So it was that I walked about, imagining myself looking svelte in my rapidly shrinking body.

            I dropped another ten pounds.  My clothes no longer fit and so I got to go shopping, my true love.  Any excuse to run off to a store is a good one, but even more so when it meant buying a wardrobe for this brand-new me.  Boy, did I have fun!

If you can get inside my head, I bet you can figure out what I did next.  If four pills worked with no adverse side effects, why not five?  Yep.  I increased it to five pills, three times a day.  I added additional exercise time, bringing it up to 40 minutes, five times a week, just to be sure.

I had more energy than I’ve had in my entire life and I looked hot.  Sexy, even.  My husband oohed and aahed when he saw me in my new clothes.  Heads turned when I sashayed into the office or made my many trips to the water cooler.  Friends made comments about how wonderful I looked.  My heart flew skyward and my eyes glowed with pride.

Not wanting to push my luck, I kept the dosage at the five pills.  I sent away for a refill, intending to keep it up until I reached the recommended weight for someone as height-challenged as myself.

When I was well into the second supply, something strange happened.  I had gone to the mall and picked out some new clothes.  I got in line with all the other shoppers.  I spoke to the woman in front of me, commenting on the beautiful blouse in her hand.  She didn’t even turn a shoulder.  I shrugged it off, thinking maybe she didn’t speak to total strangers, even nice ones like myself.

When I moved to the front of the line, I sensed an eerie presence, as if someone else had stepped into my body.  It’s hard to describe that feeling.  It was as if I could touch this person, yet not, at the same time.  My skin tingled, as if a slight breeze blew the hairs on my arm, but there was no breeze.

After a customer left the register, I stepped forward.  The “presence” came with me.  The clerk did not look at me, but at something slightly to my right.  She addressed the “presence,” and accepted her goods.  She also took mine, which gave me a really spooky feeling.  The “presence” protested that my clothes were not hers, and with no further ado, they were hidden under the counter.

The clerk rang up the other’s purchase, and then called for the next customer to step forward.

I could not comprehend what had just happened!    I felt violated, as if I wasn’t worth her time or attention.  Swearing that I would never shop at this store again, I stomped out.

Similar experiences occurred at other stores.  Clerks ignored me, time and time again.

It was not until I passed a reflective glass window that I discovered that something was wrong.  Why did I not appear in the glass, while the man next to me was clearly visible?  I stood there for quite a while witnessing over and over again, that I was missing from the picture of shoppers.

I was invisible.  To test my theory, I went into a clothing store, took a blouse off the rack and went into the dressing room, unchallenged by the woman at the check-in counter.  Once I had closed the door of my cubicle, I looked in the mirror.  There was my blouse, floating strangely in the air, but no me.  Not one finger or leg or hair.

Well, this presented a whole new situation.  Think of the things that I could do!  The perverse situations that I could observe and private conversations that I could overhear.  Charged with a new sense of purpose, I flew out of the dressing room, ready to put my theory to a test.  

I saw two women over in the lingerie section, deep in conversation.  Emboldened, I walked right up to them and stood, nearly touching one woman’s back.  Neither of them noticed me, nor did their conversation alter in any way.  I listened to juicy gossip about someone named Tadzi who had gotten his so-called girlfriend pregnant and then dumped her, and about Precia, who drooled every time the boss leaned over her desk and batted his eyes at her. 

Not only did they not see me, they didn’t hear me when I added commentary to the discussion.  That was a bit disturbing.  How could I make my wishes be known if I couldn’t be heard?  Oh, dear.

A bit saddened, I left the mall, found my car, and drove home.  I drove faster than allowed, daring the police to pull me over.  I yearned to see the officer’s face when he looked inside the car and so no one.  Unfortunately, the local police must have been hanging out at the coffee shop, sipping lattes and eating macaroons.

At home, I hurried to my bedroom and stood in front of my mirror.  Nothing, just like at the store.  By now, the novelty had worn off.  It was one thing to imagine invisibility, but another to be so.  What’s the point of shedding pounds and pounds of cellulite, if no one could appreciate the loss?

I was so depressed that I pigged out on chocolate candies, tortilla chips and butter pecan ice cream.  Bring back the pounds!  Put those ugly lumps back in my thighs!  Let me be seen!

My husband came home shortly after I finished the ice cream.  He called my name, like he always did.  When he got no response, I watched in dismay as he walked right past me, without even a glance, and down the hall to change clothes.  He reappeared shortly, dressed in shorts and t-shirt, and went into the kitchen to fix a drink.  He turned on the television, and got comfy in his recliner.

When I did not “arrive” home, he fixed a dinner of leftovers, and ate alone.  He seemed so sad and so much older.  I had never before noticed the bald spot on the top of his head or the bulge of his stomach hanging over the waistband of his shorts.   I had never taken the time to see how much he loved having me home and how terribly lonely he was when I was gone.

All those conferences, all those late night meetings, all those day-long shopping trips suddenly seemed so trivial compared to the relationship with my husband.  When had my priorities changed?  When had “I” come first, and “we” had dropped off the planet?

Embarrassed and humiliated, I threw the remaining pills away. 

If I could become invisible in a few short weeks, how long would it take to become visible?

My nights and days were lonely.  I cried as I watched my husband climb into bed alone and cradle my pillow to his face.  Night after night, he sobbed.  Not silent cries, but huge, bed-shaking sobs.  I wanted so badly to touch him, to hold him tight, but my fingers lacked substance.  All I could do was get as close to him as possible, and drape my misty arm over his shaking body.

There was no point in going to work.  I did try that first day after I discovered my changed state, but no one saw me.  People walked by my “empty” desk, and commented on my unexplained absence.  When my phone rang, the secretary answered before I could pick up the receiver and told my clients that I had not come in.

I left at brunch and did not go back.  I stayed safely inside my house as if I were agoraphobic.  With no job to go to, I cleaned out closets and played computer games.   I put photos in albums and sorted through papers that I had kept for one reason or another. 

I was careful about what I did, however, for fear of frightening my husband.  I left no evidence of my activities where he could find them.  Each day when it neared time for him to come home, I packed everything away as if I had not been there.  Which, in his view, I had not.

He made a lot of phone calls.  He went through our personal phone book and contacted everyone in it.  He reported my absence to the police, who politely told him that they would not look for me until forty-eight hours had passed.  When they did finally come to investigate, they found no evidence of foul play. 

Days went by, with little or no change in my condition.  By now, I was horribly depressed, and spent more and more time simply sitting and chastising myself for never being happy being me.  And eating.  I ate as if I was a starving child placed in front of a never-ending buffet.

After four weeks of this tortuous existence, I awoke one morning with a strange tingling in my left leg.  When I looked down, there was a lump under the covers the shape of a leg and foot.  Yes!  I jumped out of bed, ran to the mirror, and gaped.  There was a leg.  Attached to nothing, but it was there, in the flesh, so to speak.

That day was a day of miracles.  Every hour, I ran down the hall and stood in front of the mirror.  Body parts slowly became visible.  The other leg appeared next, followed by my left hand and arm.  Then the right one, my neck, head, and hair.  It took several hours for my stomach to show up, and another several hours for my chest.

I was no longer Farah Fawcett thin, for the ceaseless, depressed munching had added gobs of pounds.   The cellulite was back in all its glory.  The “love” handles jiggled pleasantly when I moved and the double chins reminded me of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, my favorite.

My imperfect self was gloriously beautiful.  Feeling full of life, full of air, full of joy, I skipped throughout the house.  I went out in the backyard and danced, with arms upraised and tear-filled eyes taking in the blue sky and feather-like clouds.  I sang and sang some more, enjoying the halleluiah tunes that bounced off the trees.  I was back, I was back, praise the Lord, I was back!

Suddenly my joy turned my stomach a flu-like sour.  How would I explain my absence to my husband?  If I concocted a story about a kidnapping and escape, he would expect me to report it to the police and identify the men who had taken me away.  I’m a lousy liar.  Always have been.  When I lie, my cheeks turn red and I fidget and fuss and make stupid sounds that resemble a pig grunting while giving birth to a litter of hundreds of squirming piglets.

Not knowing what else to do, I went to my computer and researched reappearances of missing persons.  The only story that seemed plausible had to do with a blow to the head that caused a concussion and resulting amnesia.  I could do that, for I had experienced two different concussions. I knew the symptoms well:  dizziness, disorientation, numbness, difficulty speaking, and uncontrolled shaking. All I had to do was act a bit ditzier than normal.  Shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Where to wait?  Should I sit at the computer?  He wouldn’t find that abnormal at all.  Should I fix dinner?  No.  He’d see through that right away, for I never cooked a thing.  Fix him a drink?  Wouldn’t do, for he knows how I feel about alcohol.  The computer, then.  I’d play solitaire until he came home.

I planted myself in front of the computer and whenever I heard a vehicle pull into our courtyard, I began a new game.  Right as the cuckoo clock struck five, my husband pulled into the driveway.  I heard his door open and shut, watched out the window as he walked toward the front door.  I smiled as he stopped and smelled one of my favorite roses, inhaling deep as if trying to remember his long-gone wife.

The key entered the lock and the front door opened.  The door closed and like always, he latched it closed.  He’d lectured me more than once about my cavalier attitude about doors.  He feared an invasion and the damage that a burglar might do to his home, his material goods, and especially to his wife.

He dropped his keys on the file cabinet near the door and then stepped around the computer desk.  That’s when he saw me.

Shock clearly registered on his face.  I watched in fascinated horror as my husband slipped through a range of emotional states.  Surprise, disbelief, terror, and even embarrassment, as if I had caught him doing something unthinkable, all passed, one after another.  He settled on elation.

Like a little boy who had lost his mother and then been found, he scuttled over to me and pulled me from my chair.  His long arms wrapped around my chest, encasing me in the tightest embrace that I had felt since our romantic days of young love.  His head fell on my shoulder, and he cried. 

“I thought I had lost you.  I thought you didn’t love me anymore.  You’re back!”

“I will always love you,” I said.

Those words triggered an unexpected reaction.  As if a nest of wasps had stung him, my husband pushed me away and took several steps backward.  “Where have you been?” he shouted.    “You never wrote or called.  I looked everywhere.  I called your friends and not a one knew where you were.”

“I don’t know where I was,” I answered in the best “confused” sounding tone that I could muster.  “I remember driving home.  I recall cleaning out the closet in the guest room.  I don’t know why, though.  I remember bringing in the step stool so as to reach things on the top shelf.  There were some old computer games up there that I never played anymore. 

After that, I have no memory, until today, when I found myself in the backyard where the sun was shining and the sky was blue.  It was if I had been born again.  Like I had been lost and then found, like in the song.  So I came inside and walked around, touching everything.  And then sat here to wait for you.”

I waited anxiously for his reaction.  Would he accept such a cockamamie explanation as fact?  Would he welcome me back without further ado?  Most importantly, could our relationship heal?

The answer is yes, yes, and yes.  He had found the step stool in the bedroom and had put it away.  The computer games were in a box on one of the beds.  He put them there, thinking that I was going to play them.  So, he believed every word of my lie.

That night we reveled in each other’s presence, like newlyweds.  Even though all we did was watch television, eat popcorn and go to bed after the weather report finished, it was the best night of our marriage.  We had each other, with all our imperfections, and that’s all we needed.

So, did I ever go on another diet?  Sure.  What woman doesn’t dream of a better-looking body?  My diets, however, were with sanctioned, medically approved plans.  No more strange pills for me.  I was done with that phase of my life.  If I never lost another pound, I didn’t really care, as long as I had my husband.

And my job?  Well, I did lose it.  When I supposedly failed to return to work, the agency hired a replacement.   That’s what my friend Sally told me.

I did find a new job fairly quickly.  The local school district needed an aide to work with special needs children.  My salary was one third of what I made in my high-powered previous position, but my satisfaction level was off the roof.

These kids were normally the invisible ones on campus.  They looked a little different, acted kind of weird, and couldn’t carry on a real conversation.  High school students don’t like to be seen with odd-looking characters, for at that age, you are whom you are with.

With time, I helped my students make friends.  With time, they lost their invisibility. With time, they became some of the most popular kids.

Being invisible is traumatic.  It hurts the heart more surely than a bullet or a knife, for from those injuries one can heal.  Invisibility only goes away when another person discovers the true person buried under the cloak.

I had been lost, and now I was found, and found I would stay.

The Story of Spring


Blessed Sun awakened, stretched,

and flew high into the sky.

Looking down on Mother Earth,

He smiled, spreading His golden

sunshine across Her mountains

with a brilliant golden hue.

Mother Earth smiled, reveling

in the spring-like warmth

that penetrated to the depths

of Her glorious soul.

To show Her gladness, She

ordered a rainbow of tulips

to burst through Her crust,

to open their buds in a

burst of color.

Blessed Sun bowed in thanks,

appreciation for the gift,

then slept behind a blanket

of darkening clouds.

Snow fell, a late-arrival,

covering Mother Earth’s gifts

.

She called to Blessed Sun,

her friend, saying, “Arise!”

And He did, looking once

again at His lover.

All was well in the world.

Balance restored.

Mother Earth returned to work

creating new life,

while Blessed Sun came each

day to keep her company.

The cycle is unbroken.

My Hero

My hero rode in on fiery “steed,”

perfectly timed in my hour of need.

His welcoming smile offered relief.

This man became my personal chief.

He unsheathed his sword with knightly poise,

bowed deeply to the riotous noise

of my pounding heart and whispered gasp,

then quickly my two hands he did clasp.

“My darling love, to you I do bow

and offer all the law will allow.

If you agree to wed me some day,

on both my knees I will fall today.”

He swept me up and held me so tight,

then embraced throughout the starlit night.

When morn arrived with the rising sun,

I knew he was my awaited one.

For thirty-three years he’s loved me so.

We’re not done yet: there’s still room to grow.

My personal Valentine stands strong,

Together we will always belong.

The Storyteller

Tell me a story, please,

Of a princess with long black hair

Wearing a gown spun from silver spider’s threads.

Her voice croons soothing words

To still children’s anxious minds.

Maybe there’s a prince

Stuck in a troll’s dank cellar

Begging for rescue

as his red hair grows longer by the day.

His once handsome face is gaunt

And his arms bear bites from rats and mice

The princess, never interested in balls and gowns

Mounts her armored horse and rides through the gates

In search of the prince, her childhood friend.

Flowers bloom in the meadows and birds sing overhead

Rivers gurgle happy tunes and springs bubble forth

Night falls just as she reaches the edge of the forest.

Hagg’s Forest, a dark and gloomy place

Filled with all kinds of frightening beasts

But she’s not scared for she carries a magic sword.

In the morning she dons her armor and enters

Ready for whatever comes.

Instead of monsters, little fairies dance

Around her head, whispering soothing words

As she rides through the gloom.

A bridge appears. Wooden rails.

Granite chunks of rock neatly arranged.

A muddy debris-filled stream underneath.

The princess readies herself

For this is the home of Grammie, the troll

Known far and wide for her love of men.

Fearing danger, the fickle fairies fly away.

The princess unsheaths her sword and calls

In her loudest voice, “Grammie, come forth.”

Much gravelly groaning ensues as the troll comes forth

Dressed in leather britches, boots and apron.

Her golden hair streams down her back

Arms thick as columns wave in salute.

“Hail, Princess Edme. Haven’t seen you in a while.”

Edme dismounts and wraps Grammie in a hug.

“I’ve been busy,” Edme says with court nonsense.

“But I hear you’ve got a friend of mine.”

Grammie shakes her head. “Nope.”

“Ah, game-playing, are we?

Like when we were kids.”

“Tell me his name first,” Grammie says

As she settles herself in a muddy patch.

“Oscar.”

“Well, he doesn’t call himself that.

Try again.”

Edme thought and thought.

What name could he have given?

“Montrose.”

“Seleen.”

“Jasper.”

Grammie laughed, “You’ll never guess,

So I’ll ask another question. What’s he wearing?”

“Jodhpurs, tunic and boots.”

Grammie slapped her thighs

Triggering a tiny avalanche on a nearby hill.

“Okay, okay. You can have him.

But only on one condition.”

Edme knew about conditions.

Marry the counselor or banishment.

Dress the chicken or starve.

Scrub the pots until your fingers rot.

She’d escaped them all with a smile.

So she smiled as she slid off her horse.

“Grammie, here’s the condition I offer:

Set the prince free or I ride away.”

The resounding chuckle rattled trees.

“Funny. Clever, funny Edme.

You tricked me. I give you the prince

Or you ride away?”

Edme mounts her horse and

Sheaths her runic sword.

“Well, you win the game.

See you next time.

Only choose your princes better.”

“Better? He’s a handsomer one.

Or he was. Now he’s a bit beaten up.

You can have him if you bring me a new one.”

Edme turned her horse around

And rode toward the forest.

“Stop,” Grammie begs. “I’ll give him to you.”

She trundles down the bank, under the bridge

While Edme watches a flock of blue birds

Soaring overhead.

“Edme,” a ragged man whispers

As he is drug up the bank by the troll.

“You came for me.”

Edme looks at his gaunt cheeks,

Bitten arms

Torn tunic and chewed-up leggings.

He stunk so bad that the thought

Of him riding behind her

Makes her gag.

“This isn’t the prince.

I don’t know this man.

You can keep him.”

She whirls about and begins whistling

A jaunty tune to the jingle of the reins.

Grammie’s cackles barely

Cover the screams of the man,

But Edme rides on.

“That’s a terrible story,”

The little girl says.

“What did you think would happen?”

Her auntie asked as she cuddled the girl closer.

“The prince gets rescued.

Everyone gets rescued.

Edme can’t leave him with the troll.

That’s not right.”

Auntie laughed as she ran a brush

Through the girl’s hair.

She kisses the tiny forehead and

Tucks the covers around her shoulders.

“Tell me another story.”

Kraznir Complications: A Resolution

We rode into the forest, far enough to avoid capture by either army. We dropped to the ground and lay amongst leaves and needles. We didn’t worry about our horse making noise, for they were trained to be still.

Little John pointed and waggled his fingers as Nix had done.

“Bae von ox nae,” I whispered while thinking of Kraznir’s army, “bae von ox nae.” And then we waited. And waited.

Both armies remained frozen. Because there was no movement, no blink of an eye, no leaning one direction or another, there was no way to determine if the spellbind had worked.

Time passed and we became hungry. “I’m going hunting,” Little John whispered. “I think I saw rabbit tracks.”

Doughty fell asleep. My eyes grew tired, but I kept them focused on the armies, looking for change. My head fell to my chest, then I forced it upright. Over and over I battled my body.

“I caught one” Little John said as he held up a good-sized brown rabbit. “Can you get a fire going while I skin it?’

I scooped together leaves, then sticks, then searched for larger branches. When I felt there was enough, I held my hands over the leaves, closed my eyes and thought “fire” for I didn’t know the actual spell. Imagine my surprise when a flame burst forth from the heart of the leaves!

I placed several sticks on top, then when they began to smolder, even more.

“Looks great,” Doughty said. “Add the bigger branches. That should work.”

Just when flames rose to shoulder height, Little John appeared with the rabbit on a spit. He held it over the flames, just out of reach so it wouldn‘t char. Soon the smell of cooking meat tickled our noses. My mouth filled with saliva in anticipation.

“There,” Doughty said, “it’s done.” He tore off a leg, bit into it, and smacked his lips with pleasure. “Wonderful.”

We enjoyed our meal. It was not the best one we’d ever had, but since we’d not had meat for the days of our journey, it was exactly what we needed.

“Can I have some?” an unfamiliar voice asked.

Doughty jumped up, pulling his dagger out of his belt. “Who are you?”

“Mastix, sir.” The man wore Kraznir’s army’s uniform. “I’m hungry. If there’s even a tiny bite left, I’d love to eat it.”

I tore off a piece, gave it to him, then watched him slowly chew with his head held back and his eyes closed. “Um, that’s delicious.”

“So, is there something else you want?” Doughty asked.

“A bath, clean clothes and a soft bed.”

“Okay,” I said. “But why did you approach us? Shouldn’t you be afraid of being seen with us?”

The man laughed. “You’re my friends, right? Can I go home with you?’

Little John laughed as movement surrounded us. In front of us stood Kraznir’s entire army, officers and lowly men-in-arms, all with wistful looks on their faces. “Your spell worked,” he said to me with a wink and a grin. “The war is over.”

“For now,” Doughty said. “Only for now.”

“We have no more food,” I said, “but if you ride with us back to Siln and swear allegiance to King Taden, you can live in peace in Siln.”

An officer stepped forward and bowed. “Yes. My men and I will gladly follow you. We have yearned for the freedom and prosperity of Siln, but had no way of getting there. You have offered us everything we’ve dreamt of. Freedom instead of torture, instead of forever being indebted to Kraznir. For that we are grateful.”

Doughty stood and held out his hand. The officer extended his. Once grasped, Doughty pulled the man to his chest in what was considered a bond of trust.

“We’d better leave now,” Little John said. “if we ride hard, we’ll be home by tomorrow night.”

My heart felt light. My spells had worked. No lives had been lost. No injuries incurred. Not a single soldier from Siln had deserted, but the entire army Kraznir had sent was now happily singing their way to Siln.

I knew that from now on I would no longer be a magician-in-training for I had saved Siln’s men from harm. Kraznir, for now, was no longer a complication.

Kraznir Complications: Into Danger

Nix called a halt sunder some low-hanging trees o that we could dry our mounts as well as ourselves. I removed Ruthie’s gear then walked her to an unoccupied patch of grass. She immediately got to her knees and then rolled onto her back. I laughed at her antics. I so wanted to roll about as well, but I felt that Nix would disapprove.

We ate a bit of biscuit and refilled our skins with fresh water. Doughty, Little John and I found a quiet spot away from the others.

“I’m worried,” Little John said. “Nothing has challenged us. Nothing has slowed us, not human or beast.”

Doughty nodded. “By now something would have heard us coming. It’s impossible to move a group this size without attracting attention, so it’s logical to assume that there will be battle soon.”

“What should I do? I’m useless with sword and spear.”

Little John snickered. “You and me both. The one advantage I have is size. I can slink under the bellies of their horses and cut cinches. Then we’ll laugh when Kraznir’s entire army slides off their mounts!”

I rested my chin in my hands. “I’ve been learning some new wards. There’s an invincibility one, but I haven’t mastered it yet. Maybe I’ll set that one up before we enter the forest.”

That’s when the call came to mount, so I saddled Ruthie and as I rubbed her muzzle, I said, “Arq ve naw. Arq se baw.” I repeated it three times, a powerful magical number, hoping that by following the norms, the ward would work.

Was I invincible? Probably not, but it didn’t hurt to think that a few magical words could protect myself, my friends and our entire force.

Nix did not lead the way which told me that he expected trouble. What captain would hide amidst soldiers rather than inspire them by his daring? One who feared death, that’s who.

I pushed my way forward until I was within talking distance of Nix. When Nix and I entered the forest, a loud, piercing scream rattled me so much that I pulled back on the reins, terrifying Ruthie into bucking. I hung on to the horn and gripped her sides with my legs so tightly that my knees ached. I leaned forward until my nose was buried in her mane and spoke reassuring words until her front hooves touched sand once again.

Our ranks were in disarray. Instead of an orderly procession of two horsemen riding  side-by-side, many of us stood alone. I, thanks to being near Nix, was engulfed by armed soldiers brandishing spears and longswords. No word was spoken, no orders given. All acted in unison, however, which must be due to years of rigorous training.

I pulled my sword from its scabbard and tried to hold it steadily aloft, but I was no trained warrior. In seconds my arm tired and the sword fell at my side. Instead I did what little I could do: I chanted wards over and over hoping that at least one would keep us safe.

Karznir’s army surrounded us. We couldn’t move in any direction. Only the outer soldiers could inflict damage, but the enemy was as well-trained as we were. They formed a line about ten feet away: far enough that no sword, no spear could harm them.

Nix glowered at me as he waggled his fingers at the enemy. I understood what he wanted: I was to employ a magic spell that would numb the minds of Kraznir’s men. I was to freeze their bodies into living statues. I was supposed to spellbind them to yearn to be free of Kraznir’s leagues and to skip to our side.

I raised my hands, palms down, closed my eyes and screamed so that my voice would carry over those still harbored in the forest, “Tre at na lee.” I repeated it three times, as all wards were meant to. Were their minds numb? Well, it seemed as if they were as all about me all I saw were blank eyes. Good for the enemy, but not for us! I hadn’t learned how to target spells at some leaving out others!

That left Doughty, Little John and I. The wards couldn’t touch us thanks to a reflection ward my mentor had employed before we left. We were the survivors. We could do whatever we wanted.

Doughty rode up next to me and whispered, “What do we do now?”

I shrugged and turned to Little John. He said, “We could sneak off into the forest, across rivers and mountains to another kingdom. But eventually King Taden’s forces would find us, tie us up, and throw us into the dungeon of Siln.”

“Or,” Doughty said, “we could ride among both sides and steal their weapons. If Touchfire can keep the ward alive, we should be able to disarm all soldiers and hide their weapons deep in the forest.”

They looked at me with hope in their eyes. I nodded, raised my hands, and chanted again. Doughty worked on our soldiers while Little John stole Kraznir’s mens’ weapons.

It took hours. Whenever I lowered my hands, within fifteen minutes a man would stir here or there. Eyes might blink. Coughs might rattle lungs. Then I’d raise my hands and chant, “Tre ot na lee,” and “Linx fa bay,” which was supposed to turn them into living statues.

I was greatly relieved when my companions were by my side once again.

“I have an idea,” Doughty said. “Follow me.”

The three of us wove in and out of Taden’s horsemen until we were alongside Kraznir’s. “Did you learn the spellbinding ward? The one the allows minds to change?”

“I was just starting to work on that one.”

He smiled a devilish smile and said,” Well, give it a try. If we can convince Kraznir’s men to join with us, this battle will be over once and for all.”

I closed my eyes and pictured the words in my spell book. I sept my arm across the enemy ranks and softly chanted, “Bae von oz nae.”

“Do it again,” Little John said.

When I was finished, he asked me to send out a suggestion that they come to Siln of their own free will.

I nodded, closed my eyes, relaxed my breathing, and imagined words traveling into minds. Words changing minds. Words changing allegiance.

We rode into the forest, far enough to avoid capture by either army. We dropped to the ground and lay amongst leaves and needles. We didn’t worry about our horse making noise, for they were trained to be still.

Little John pointed and waggled his fingers as Nix had done.

“Bae von ox nae,” I whispered.

Kraznir Complications: We Ride Off

I didn’t want to get near an active battleground, but I had to follow orders. I mounted Ruthie and set off, trying to stay as near the middle of the pack as possible, thinking that if arrows should fall, I would be somewhat protected.

We rode in as complete silence as one hundred could go. The jingle of harness had been reduced by padding and the iron shoes wrapped in cloth. Even so there are human sounds of coughing and sneezing and mumbling and whispering. Horse breathing, snorting, farting, pooping and peeing. But we were quiet enough not to attract any unwanted attention, for no orcs or wargs or soldiers rushed us.

When night fell Captain Nix commanded an invisibility ward over all, human and horse alike. I had never tried to cloak so many, but I gave it a try. I closed my eyes and pictured our group, than whispered, “Ing spe do nably.” I felt a tingle, but not a rush of magic, so I was unsure whether or not it had worked.

Nix nodded, then turned away. I guess just chanting the ward made him happy. At least he was away from me, which lessoned my anxiety.

The night was long and cold. None of us had warm enough cloaks and since we were traveling, none had blankets either. I rolled up in my cloak, like all the others, and rested my head in a pile of leaves, but no matter how long I lay there, I never slept.

In the morning we rode on. When we came to the river I looked about for the blue dragon, but Pineki was nowhere to be seen.  Doughty thought maybe she was afraid of the large group, for after all, she was only a little dragon.

Before I rode into the water, I watched for sign of crocodiles. I knew that they were upstream, and we had not seen any when we crossed her before, I was cautious. After fifty riders made it safely, I urged Ruthie in and across as quickly as she could manage. In fact, all of us made I without me employing any kind of ward, which was good as I knew none that kept away crocs.

Nix called a halt so that we could dry our mounts as well as ourselves. I removed Ruthie’s gear then walked her to an unoccupied patch of grass. She immediately got to her knees, then rolled onto her back. I laughed at her antics. I so wanted to roll about as well, but I felt that nix would disapprove.

We ate a bit of biscuit and refilled our skins with fresh water. Doughty, Little John and I found a quiet spot away from the others.

“I’m worried,” Little John said. “Nothing has challenged us. Nothing has slowed us, not human or beast.”

Doughty nodded. “By now something would have heard us coming. It’s impossible to move a group this size without attracting attention, so it’s logical to assume that there will be battle soon.”

“What should I do? I’m useless with sword and spear.”

Little John snickered. “You and me both. The one advantage I have is size. I can slink under the bellies of their horses and cut cinches. Then we’ll laugh when Kraznir’s entire army slides off their mounts!”

I rested my chin in my hands. “I’ve been learning some new wards. There’s an invincibility one, but I haven’t mastered it yet. Maybe I’ll set that one up when we get ready to move.”

That’s when  the call came to mount, so I saddled Ruthie and as I rubbed her muzzle, I said, “Arq ve naw. Arq se baw.” I repeated it three times, a powerful magical number, hoping that by following the norms, the ward would work.

Kraznir Complications: Preparations Begin

Doughty shook his head then wiped his mouth from which stew oozed down his chin. “Magic is important, yes. But you also need to know how to fight so as to support the army in battle.”

He was right even though I didn’t want to admit it. So I didn’t complain when after lunch I learned how to ride with a spear. It was hard to balance while bouncing up and down, at the same time trying to keep the point of the shaft aimed at the heart of a dummy on the other side of the corral. I rode again and again, stopping only when permitted, but despite hard work and countless attempts, my skills never improved.

Feeling quite useless, I returned to the barracks for a bath and change of clothes, then sat in the common area waiting for my companions. None of them showed up, so when fatigue took over, I went to bed.

 

Rumors spread that a force was being sent to counter Kraznir’s army which was thought to be assembling just outside Hagg Forest, too close to Siln to be ignored. Archers, crow bow wielders, horsemen and all varieties of wizards were to travel, forthwith.

Since I had no fighting skills and limited magic, I figured I would remain inside the castle grounds, but oh, no, that was not to be. An emissary from King Taden appeared in the barracks where I lived with a dozen other females late one evening. “Touchfire?” he called.

I rose and stood at attention, as dictated by protocol. The King commands you to prepare to join the battle force. Pack your bags and head to the stables.”

“But I’m useless! I’m just a trainee and a poor one at that!”

“Do as commanded or I have been instructed to remove you to the dungeons.” He waved his right hand and two heavily humungous soldiers entered.

I knew by their armor that they belonged to the King’s Guard, the mostly highly skilled soldiers in the kingdom. There was no way I could fight them and live, so I bowed my compliance. Once they were gone, I pulled my stuff-bag out from under my bed and shoved in clothes appropriate for travel: a heavy cape, a split-skirt, winter boots and two tops, one long-sleeved and one Sherpa-lined sweater.

The weather had turned while I was training. The days were chilly and the nights downright cold. I would need whatever protection my garments would provide.

I slung my bag over my shoulder and trundled to the stables.  Ruthie was brushed, fed and saddled. I lashed my bag in place, then stood by her muzzle until instructed to mount.

We were all agitated, riders and mounts alike. None of us knew what to expect. Would there be a battle in which we died? Or would someone negotiate a treaty to stop a useless war? I prayed for the treaty. I didn’t want any more of my friends lost and I certainly didn’t want to die either.

The pounding of boots approached the doors. When I heard them coming, I thrust my shoulders back and stood at attention. Captain Nix, wearing his best blue uniform, strode in with a sneer signaling what he thought of his so-called army. “Well, well,” he snickered. “How can a bunch of misfits defeat Kraznir’s well-trained armies?” He stopped in front of a short, stubby scout named Will.

“I don’t know, sir,” he croaked.

Nix sauntered down the line of us, flicking dust of the shoulder of one, slapping the back of another, harassing each person he passed. Until he stood before me. Then he laughed. No, guffawed. A loud, deep, gaggle of sounds erupting from the bottom of his chest. “What good are you?”

I cast my eyes downward to show deference.

“Answer me.”

“I can do a little magic.”

Nix turned to a soldier standing behind him. “Check with the quartermaster. I don’t recall asking for someone who can do ‘a little magic’. I wanted a master magician.”

The soldier bowed so low that his chin would have touched his knees were it not for his armor strapped tightly to his chest. He turned without saluting and left.

We stood at attention while Nix paced in front of us. He fiddled with a harness on Athor’s horse, the saddle on Will’s and had just reached toward Ruthie, my trusted mount, when the soldier returned. I let out the breath I’d been holding. If Nix’s fingers had gotten any closer, Ruthie would have snapped them off. I would then have been executed as a traitor.

The soldier bowed. “She’s coming with us,” he said.

“By whose orders?”

“Taden’s, sir.”

“But she’s useless!”

“Taden says no other magicians are available. They’ve been dispersed to the outer villages for weeks now. All except for Old Oscar whose blind and this one. Taden says Oscar remains and this one goes.”

Kraznir Complications: Busy at Home

After a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage and fruits, we were called to the training rooms which had occupied our days before we were sent to see what Kraznir was up to. I worked on my sword skills which were sorely lacking while the others went off to study whatever they were learning on before our adventure began.

I assumed Little John was learning to lure bigger prey, things such as orcs and wargs, so to control them to follow his commands. If he could do that, it would weaken Kraznir’s armies.

Doughty was a warrior and hunter, already skilled. So what was he doing? I saw him head off with a master horseman, so perhaps he would use to combat with spears. That would be fun to watch, but my mentor allowed learning only one skill at a time.

I was given a wooden sword which felt childish after wielding a real one on our excursion, but I did as told. I worked on defensive moves, which I knew nothing about, until my arm ached and the nerves in my back sent waves of pain radiating up my spine.

The three of us met for lunch, a hearty stew accompanied by freshly baked bread. Little John was ginning hugely. “I can control those orcs and wargs now!”

“How?” I asked. “Can you teach us?”

He shook his head. “I pick up languages fairly quickly. So now I speak enough orc and warg to tell them what to do! It’s amazing!”

“How do you know it will work?” Doughty asked between bites of stew.

“I practiced in the dungeons with live ones! It was amazing. I told them to sit and they did. To stand, to turn, to stab. This afternoon they will be in the practice ring, heavily guarded of course, and I will learn commands for battle.”

“I worked with a sword,” I said. “I hate it. I’d rather learn more magic.”

Doughty shook his head then wiped his mouth from which stew oozed down his chin. “Magic is important, yes. But you also need to know how to fight so as to support the army in battle.”

He was right even though I didn’t want to admit it. So I didn’t complain when after lunch I learned how to ride with a spear. It was hard to balance while bouncing up and down, at the same time trying to keep the point of the shaft aimed at the heart of a dummy on the other side of the corral. I rode again and again, stopping only when permitted, but despite hard work and countless attempts, my skills never improved.

Feeling quite useless, I returned to the barracks for a bath and change of clothes, then sat in the common area waiting for my companions. None of them showed up, so when fatigue took over, I went to bed.

Kraznir Complications: The Dragon

Eventually we made it across which was good, for now we were only a few miles from Slinsil.  The bad news was that a small blue dragon greeted us as we disembarked.

“I eats dwarfs.”  Smoke streamed from the dragon’s nostrils.  Its long, spiked tail wagged back and forth like a cat’s.  “Gives me the dwarf as toll.”

Athor stepped forward.  He put on a display of some rather fancy swordplay that usually made grown men cower in fear.  “No dwarf, no toll.”

A jet of fire erupted from the dragon’s mouth.  Waves of heat washed over me, causing me to break into a goodly sized sweat.

“Gives me the dwarf or you don’t passes.”

Athor flexed his muscled arms.  “It’s me you want, right, Dragon?”

“Yeses,” he hissed.  “Do I knows you?”  The dragon’s eyes narrowed and its head lowered even with Athor’s.

“Yes, Pineki,” Athor said as he pounded his chest with his closed fist and then splayed his fingers in a salute.  “When I saw you last, you were running into the forest with scales missing from your belly.”

“You were the ones.” Pineki hissed, creating a fog around her head.  “You will die, dwarf.  This time Pineki wins.”

Athor charged, sword pointed at Pineki’s belly.  Little John and Doughty ran alongside, leaving me in charge of four nervous horses.

The fight was intense even though it was remarkably slow. Athor missed the dragon’s belly when she sidestepped to the right. Little John aimed for her talons and caught the nail on one, causing blood to drip.  This angered Pineki so she blew fire at Doughty as he moved toward her neck, confusing him enough that he missed.

For a little thing, Pineki had amazing skills. She leapt at just the right time, spun and danced like a King’s maiden, and spat balls of fire at each of the fighters. She was full of energy while we were weary from our travels and it soon became obvious that the dragon would win.

Just as Athor ran in for one last swipe at the dragon’s belly, Pineki bent her head and blew a stream of orange fire.  The dwarf’s body became entrenched and the stench of burning flesh caused me to lose what little lunch I had eaten.

Doughty and Little John watched helplessly as Pineki grabbed the charred Athor in her talons and flew off.  “I’ve gots me a dwarf, so you can passes,” she called.

Saddened to lose another friend, we didn’t feel like moving on so we built a primitive shelter out of branches gathered along a line of trees, tied our horses amongst tasty grasses, and sheltered for the night. I employed my invisibility spell, but Doughty, not trusting its effectiveness, refused to build a fire which meant we had to eat the crocodile raw.

It was disgusting and chewy, but I ate anyway. I needed nourishment and that was all we had. Afterward I wrote in my journal until it got too dark.  Little John gathered leaves for bedding, and Doughty stood guard for the first watch. I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep, but my mind would not let go of the image of a charred Athor being carried off.

 

Because Slinsil was not far away and Kraznir’s invasion plans had to be made known, after a breakfast more raw croc we moved into the forest with heads drooped.  Two friends lost. How many more might we lose?

We rode as quickly as possible into Slinsil, fortunately without further excitement.  I had never thought the city to be beautiful, but that morning, with the sun glinting off the metal roofs offering a degree of safely and comfort, it seemed like the most beautiful city in the known world.

As we rode past shops and houses townsfolk greeted us with a cheer as they would any returning soldiers.  It felt good to be what had been my home since I was enlisted into the army, but my heart still ached for our dead companions.

We rode up to the gates of the palace, where, once announced, King Taden’s emissary invited us in for a bath and an audience with the king himself.  After a good soaking in the private bath offered me, a servant presented me with a clean gown of sapphire-colored silk. It fit perfectly, almost as if it was made for me.

I met my remaining companions, equally cleaned up and outfitted in bright white tunics, black leggings and leather belts. We were ushered into the King’s throne room. Taden stood when we entered, complicating things a bit.

According to protocol, if the King stands, we must also but our heads cannot be higher than his. For Little John this was no problem since he’s short of stature, but for Doughty and I, well, we had to stoop our shoulders and shrink into ourselves in order to keep our eyes below Taden’s chin.