Linking up once again for one of Kendra’s Character Encounters!
This time we get to meet TWO main characters, plus one background character (one who never has the story told from their point of view). We’re also supposed to meet them at our workplace. Since I don’t actually “work” in the conventional sense, I tweaked the setting a bit…and then kinda went my own way with it. I should warn y’all that it ended up really long, but I just couldn’t cut it down. And it might seem a little…odd…in parts, but it’s all explained at the end. Enjoy!
* * *
Lady Summer had left the Northern Hemisphere for the year. Her last days had been chilly and gloomy, as though she were reluctant to leave. My warm-weather-loving self felt about like the weather looked; I’m never ready to give up sunshine and light frocks until at least October. Especially considering it doesn’t even really warm up in North Idaho until after the Fourth of July.
The day found me industriously tightening buttons on a jacket for a sister-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who’d heard I did alterations. By God’s grace we *happened* to have the perfect color of thread in The Stash, so I was able to get right on it. With one last tug of the needle, one little push into the fabric to hide the thread end, one snip of my scissors, the job was done! I logged my time, whipped out a bill, folded the jacket carefully back into its bag…and fairly pounced on my box of embroidery projects. I’d promised myself that if I got the buttons fixed before two o’clock, I could work on something “just for fun.” Well, it was just now two, and none of those buttons would be falling off anytime soon!
On a whim, I unearthed a pile of lavender poly-cotton broadcloth and spread it out on the four-by-eight-foot table, already knowing what said pile consisted of. A self-lined sleeveless tunic, decorated with pale-lavender embroidery. A matching sash. Two pairs of Medievaloid-style sleeves—one the typical hanging “dagger-sleeve,” the other resembling upside-down toucan-beaks—both in pieces. The beginnings of a second tunic, this time with Elvish-looking long petal-wrap sleeves, all ready to sew up. A piece of fabric about a yard or so long, just waiting to be made into something fabulous.
My “Tom Blonde-Adill” costume, plus sundry attempts at revamping it or starting over.
The thing had never fit quite right, being basically a tube with the deepest V-neck you ever saw…which was supposed to have lacing, but the angle was all wrong to cinch it up properly, and the laces strung out across the gap looked stupid. So I’d made an insert instead. But since the thing was originally made from a man’s costume pattern…well, let’s just say it needed some help to flatter the female figure.
As I sat pondering for the umpteenth time how to preserve this bit of personal sewing history, my brain suddenly went fuzzy, and eyelids began to droop. At first I thought it was just a case of a puzzling project sucking the energy out of me—it happens. Maybe if I just laid my head down for a moment…clear my head….
I sat up with a jolt, realizing to my consternation that I’d actually fallen asleep. No time for that—I had better things to do than zonking out on the cutting table!
Tap-tap-tap, came a noise from the window behind me.
I turned around in my chair…and just about fell out of it when I saw two big green eyes staring at me! They looked like cat’s eyes, with the vertical pupil tapered at both ends; only the face around it—which, consequently, took up the entire three-by-four-foot window—was covered in earthy-green scales. A wedge-shaped face, with a long, deep mouth set with sharp, pointy teeth. A puff of smoke emerged from the nostrils atop the rounded-ended snout, and there were those green cat-eyes, set fairly close together, above it. The head had a fan-like “ruff” of skin or cartilage up and over the top, with thick spikes sticking out here and there like the points of a bat’s wing, and two larger, twisted horns—like those of certain mountain goats—in the center. The little ears stuck out like a cow’s at a point just above the creature’s jaws, in front of the “ruff,” and it had a long, graceful neck covered in the same green scales.
(Not quite right, but it's hard
to find pix that look like Cledwyn)
The dragon—for what else could it be?—bowed its head politely and spoke…if you could call it speaking. The dragon’s mouth never moved, but I distinctly heard a voice like amber honey and echoes in deep caves. I could only guess it was some form of telepathy, since a dragon’s mouth isn’t exactly shaped to form actual words. “Greetings, Author,” it said. “Hail and well-met. I am Cledwyn, in case you have forgotten.”
“Cledwyn!” I crowed. “How could I forget my favorite Fire-drake? So it’s you this time, is it? Hang on a minute, and I’ll come out there—it’s too awkward to talk through the window.”
Round the cutting table and out the sewing room door I dashed, catty-corner through Mom’s music studio and out the main door into the back yard. I had just swung around the thirty-foot-long flower bed at the side of our work building, prepared to make a mad dash for the back end, but there was Cledwyn—all fifty feet of him from his nose to the spade-shaped tip of his tail—standing on the lawn beside the flower bed, his giant bat-like wings neatly folded along his spike-edged back. I had to jump straight up in the air to stop my momentum and keep from running right smack into him.
“It was rather crowded where I was,” he explained while I caught my breath, “so I decided to meet you halfway.”
“Oh,” I panted. “You know, I—I never realized how—big—you really are.”
“In this small patch of land, I suppose I am. But compared to my elder brothers, I am but a hatchling in size.” His voice caught at that last statement, and he lowered his head slightly. “We were an old and noble colony—the largest and most respected in all the Sauruslonden*—before that thrice-accursed Aquilla blasted our mountain with her wizard-fire.” * Pronounced SOU-ruhs-lawn-den
I lowered my own head, feeling both sorry for Cledwyn and a little guilty about having that idea in the first place. I walked closer to him—a little hesitantly, it must be owned—and gently patted his great green head. “I know,” I said, “it was terrible, what she did. But she’ll get her just deserts—that’s a promise.”
Cledwyn presently roused himself from his melancholy reverie. “Well, enough of these dark mutterings,” he said, turning sideways. “Come now, Author; you have an appointment to keep, and I am here to escort you. Climb aboard.”
He unfolded his wings to reveal a tooled leather saddle, edged with silver with a floral pattern, perched atop his back. There were several thick blankets and sheepskins underneathto keep the saddle balanced on his spikes—or them from poking the rider—and it fastened about his belly with a thick leather strap.
“Oh cool!” I exclaimed, giving a little leap of pleasure. I quickly placed one black-booted foot in the stirrup and swung myself into the saddle. “Look, Ma!” I whooped. “I’m a Dragon Rider!”
Cledwyn chuckled a little dragonish chuckle, with a few puffs of smoke escaping his nose. Then he spread his wings, flapped them a few times and lifted off. The house, the yard, the whole town, in fact, shrank away before my eyes, and soon the gloomy grey clouds covered the world below…and drenched both dragon and rider in unshed rain. Higher and higher we rose, until we broke through the heavy cloud cover into open air, where the sky was still blue and the sun shone bright and warm. Cledwyn leveled out and took off horizontally—don’t ask me which direction on a compass; I don’t have a head for that sort of thing. The wind he generated rushed past us, shaking the raindrops out of my soaked grey knee-breeches and embroidered lavender tunic.
Wait—I don’t remember finishing this thing.
But apparently I had, for there it was, all fixed up and fitting properly—complete with lacing down the front and a colorful pattern of rose-vines embroidered along all the edges. Even my royal purple sash (what sash?!) had a pretty silver design that looked a bit Elvish, and my tooled leather belt (when did I get that?) held not only a black velvet pouch and purple-and-lavender drawstring purse (also embroidered, of course), but a fine-looking sword and scabbard.
Oh, yeah, I thought, as a memory suddenly popped into my head, I finished this stuff for my birthday at the Celtic Festival.
(Never mind that I’d never actually been to a Celtic Festival on my birthday.)
Cledwyn presently tilted his nose downwards, punching through the clouds like a needle through cotton-wool. These clouds were white, and not nearly as saturated as the rain-black ones over Prairie Cottage, so we only got a light misting passing through them.
I leaned a little closer to Cledwyn as the wind whistled past us and through my hair. Something clanked against the hard green spikes along the dragon’s neck, and instinctively I grabbed it. The object turned out to be a pendant made of delicate silver filigree and shaped rather like two simple leaves crossed and twisted together. The open center held a silver-capped crystal—seated point-upwards—that appeared to be made of light-purple amethyst, which consequently matched my tunic perfectly. It hung from a shiny silver Figaro chain about my neck (which I didn’t notice before…).
My “Ankúlen,” I thought, smiling down at it. Of course! That’s why all this is possible—Cledwyn’s visit, my tunic, everything. Now it all makes sense.
(Never mind that I didn’t actually remember making the pendant.)
The clouds parted, drawing my attention to the earth below. The ground was the color of sand in the Sahara Desert, and full of little ridges and ripples, and dotted with what looked like little dark pebbles. But as Cledwyn flew downward and the landscape loomed nearer, I soon saw that the “pebbles” were actually giant boulders, and the “little ridges” were sand-dunes!
We landed a moment later, Cledwyn’s wings kicking up a cloud of dust and fine sand. I shut my eyes and mouth tightly to avoid getting any of it where I didn’t want it. When the dust settled, I slid off Cledwyn’s back and looked about me. About ten or so yards away loomed a massive rock formation with several smaller—but still man-high—boulders at its feet. A few stubborn succulents and half-dead grasses insisted on growing in some of the crevices in the rock, or in the sand about it. There was no other vegetation, save the occasional tumbleweed that blew by in the hot desert wind.
“Cledwyn,” I asked, “where have you brought us? Is this The Crags?”—pointing to the rock formation—“Are we in the Sauruslonden?”
“No,” he answered. “We are still in your Real World, in a place very similar to my homeland—and that of the one I have brought you to meet. I must leave you now, Author,” he continued, “for I am told I cannot be involved in your confrontation.”
“Confrontation!” I turned sharply to face him.
But before I could say anything more, Cledwyn spread his wings—the saddle had mysteriously disappeared—and began to rise into the air. “Farewell, Author!” he called from fifty feet up. “May the Creator protect you wherever you fare, and may your fire never die out.”
And with that, he soared higher and darted off like an arrow from the bowstring. There wasn’t even time for me to call out a farewell of my own.
In the corner of my eye, I saw movement over by the rocks and whirled to see what it was. My heart leapt into my throat when I saw a figure just emerging from behind the boulders—one who stared at me with malice burning in a pair of large, dark eyes.
(Not exact, but close)
The toes on the figure’s boots curled upward, and the tops were lost in the billows of a pair of harem pants and the hems of two flowing robes. Both robes had large ovals cut out at the neckline (the outer being cut wider to show a bit of the inner), with Mandarin-type collars above them, and the outer robe had sleeves that laced on across the shoulders, leaving the undersides free. A bit of white shirt or chemise peeked out under the arms and filled in the oval necklines, and I fancied I saw a glimpse of shirt-sleeves at the cuffs. The outer robe had intricate embroidery worked on all the edges, and the neckline of the inner robe sported a fancy beaded border. Over the outer robe sat a bolero-type vest made of velvet, embellished with stunning beadwork in gold and silver, with iridescent beetle-wings worked into floral- and leaf patterns. A wide belt, like a Japanese woman’s obi, cinched in the inner tunic, and on either side of the ornate gold buckles down the middle it sported a narrow pocket, from which a carved dagger-handle projected. A thinner belt of black leather—also adorned with a gold buckle—held a pouch or purse and a coiled-up bullwhip at the figure’s waist.
At first, I couldn’t tell for certain if this person was a man or a woman, but given the petite stature, and the way the “obi” (for lack of a better term) fitted the waist, I guessed the figure to be female.
On her head she wore a curious sort of turban—like an oversized pillbox hat with a piece of heavy cloth hanging down the neck and across the face to keep out blowing sand.
With the exception of the gold buckles and glittering beadwork, the entire ensemble was black. Faded charcoal-black of leather and certain types of cloth; brownish-off-black of untreated wool from black sheep; deep, inky black of velvet; shiny black of polished jet on her dagger-handles. I had an idea who stood before me—hadn’t I asked Ciaran to send her next?—and the necklace she wore confirmed my suspicions. It consisted of tiny gold rings constructed like chainmail in sharp, inverted triangular shapes, interspersed with glass beads and hung with a fringe of embossed gold disks and a few hanging crystals. And right in the center—directly below where her collarbone would be if it were visible—hung a piece of black-green jade carved to look like a lotus-blossom in full bloom. It was her trademark—the thing that had earned her the name of The Black Lotus. And it was usually the last thing her victims saw before she had her minions beat them senseless.
“Hello, Pádma,” I said as calmly as my thumping heart would allow.
The dark eyes above her facecloth narrowed, and the tapered black eyebrows fairly touched the bridge of her nose.
“Mahärri-hai!” she barked. “Rrhósisporíkah gn’ghëkht!”
“I don’t speak Nomádii,” I answered. “And I don’t know the Common Tongue, either. Speak English!”
Up went the eyebrows, all but the innermost tips disappearing under her turban. Apparently she figured her own author would be fluent in all the languages of the Young World, since I’d invented the place and its peoples. Then her eyes narrowed again—in that nasty way that accompanies a wicked grin. She put her hands on her hips, leaning forward slightly in a mocking attitude, and let out a string of what I took to be maledictions, uttered in the harsh, uncouth language of her tribe. There were a lot of mahärri-hais in the mix, so I took it to be her favorite name to call people: “witless camel.”
“Oh, so you want to play that game, do you?” I retorted, mirroring her pose. “In that case, aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile.” (Gaelic: “A beetle recognizes another beetle.”)
Pádma, upon hearing my little comeback, stood up straight as a poker. Her hands left her hips and balled up into fists so tight I thought her knuckles would pop. It was hard to tell which enraged her more; the actual meaning of the phrase, or the fact that it was uttered in her mother’s native tongue. “I am going to kill you!” she roared, unfastening her bullwhip.
“You just try it,” I returned. “But if I die, then you die with me, and so does everyone else in the Young World.”
Pádma uncurled her favorite weapon and whirled it round her head. It whistled through the air like the wind in October. With a deft flick of her wrist, the bullwhip lashed out straight, ending in an ear-splitting CRACK! right above my head.
I jumped backwards with a strangled, “Ack!” and fumbled around for my sword. But to my surprise, all I found was a plastic dagger from the Dollar Store.
Pádma laughed. “So this is the great Author,” she sneered, with her molasses-thick accent. She cracked her whip at me again, this time within an inch of my feet…which were curiously bare…?! “This is the maiden who gave us all life”—CRACK!—“who brought us into being. Pah!”—CRACK!—“Look at the great one!”—CRACK!—“See her shy away from her own creation!”
CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!
“Dance, Author, dance!” she taunted, as I tried frantically to keep even half a step ahead of her bullwhip.
Presently I bumped into something behind me, and looking back discovered it to be a jagged boulder…right on the edge of a steep cliff. I gulped.
Pádma raised her arm again, and I instinctively shielded my face with my own. There was nowhere to run, no way to escape the deadly bite of The Black Lotus’ bullwhip.
CRACK! went the whip again, and I felt a slight sting on my arm. I cried out in pain and dropped to my knees. Then I heard Pádma laughing again, and I lifted my head to glare at her.
“You are no great one,” she exulted. “You have not the courage of a rabbit. See the great Author cowering like a child before me, her own creation!” She unfastened her facecloth and spat at me. “Come, now, stand up and fight, you witless camel!” The female bandit’s rounded-square face had turned from coffee-tinted to the most revolting shade of puce, and her normally shapely nose and pretty brick-red mouth were distorted with rage as she gnashed her pearly-white teeth at me.
“I’ll show you who’s a witless camel!” I retorted, rising. The sting of the whip-cut, and the fact that my own character had been able to buffalo me so easily, made my blood boil. Forgetting all about my sword, I lunged at her with a roar, hands extended. I wanted to wipe that dirty smirk off her impertinent little face!
Unfortunately for me, The Black Lotus, being only sixteen and decidedly more in shape, could move more quickly and leapt out of the way mere seconds before I even reached her. I landed facedown in the sand with the wind knocked right out of my lungs.
Pádma jumped me and began pummeling my back with her fists. I tried to turn over so I could defend myself. And then…well, it’s hard to explain what happened next. It was like certain dreams I’ve had, where one moment it was as though I was experiencing an event, then the next moment I was watching it happen from a safe distance—seeing her on top of me and pounding me like a steak. But the really odd thing was that it was as though we were just play-acting, and she was only pretending to hit me. Her fists stopped within a few inches of my face, and I never felt the blows. Similarly, when I tried to box her ears, my arms felt like they were moving in slow motion, and my slaps barely touched her.
“You are weak!” Pádma hissed as we continued grappling.
“It’s pretty hard to defend myself,” I replied, “when I have a hundred pounds of snarling wildcat on my back!”
“You are nothing! You are a weak, cowardly, ugly, old woman. I am ashamed to have been created by such a pírhaacht!”
Suddenly, someone seized Pádma by the collar and the seat of her pants, tearing her off me and setting her down a couple yards away. “Enough!” a familiar tenor voice shouted.
I sat up to see who was my rescuer. The sun brought out all the fiery brilliance of his orange-red curls, and he stood erect, like a statue of some hero of old, head and shoulders—and a bit of chest—over the equally erect Pádma. She stood glaring at him, murder in her eyes.
Shirt should be orange-red, though
“When I said ye could come an’ say your piece,” my rescuer continued in a Scotch-Irish brogue, “I didna’ mean for ye to pound her into gravy.”
“I do not answer to you, Carrot-pate!” she roared. “You are not my author—you have no right to lord it over me, as you always do. The Black Lotus takes orders from no one.”
“Aye, to be sure,” Ciaran returned, folding his arms, “considerin’ ye just tried to kill your own author. But it didna’ work out, did it?”
“That was your doing!” Pádma screamed. “You worked some magic to hinder me—”
“Nay, that I didn’t. Don’t ye know that no character can do physical harm to its creator? Ye can crack your whip all ye’ve a mind to, and ye can even throw them fancy knives at her—an’ I know The Black Lotus never misses her target—but ’twon’t do a blessed thing. Ye canna’ kill our author, Pádma.”
Her mouth curled into an evil grin. “Perhaps not,” she sneered, reaching slowly for one of her daggers, “but I can kill you!”
“No!” I screamed, leaping to my feet. I flung myself in front of Ciaran just as Pádma put her hand on the dagger’s handle. I stood right in front of him, my arms spread wide. “Don’t you touch him, Pádma Hassána!”
Ciaran slipped something into my hand and whispered in my ear, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”
I looked down at the item he’d given me. It was my favorite pen—dark blue and glittery, set with tiny diamond-shaped mirrors and decorated with Indian-looking gold designs.
Pádma stood frozen, her dagger still halfway in its sheath. Her face was hard as flint, but there was fear in her eyes as she stared at the pen.
I took a step forward, causing her to flinch. “Put away that dagger,” I ordered. “If you harm so much as a hair on his head…I’ll—I’ll delete you.” I held the pen before her face to punctuate my point.
Pádma backed down—slightly—but maintained her stony silence. She did, however, sheath her dagger.
“That’s better,” I continued. “Now you listen to me: It’s bad enough that you scream at me inside my head because I haven’t written your story, but I hear you’ve been giving the others a bad time, spreading rumors of deletion and other rubbish. I want your word that you won’t do that ever again.”
Pádma tilted her chin. “And if I refuse?”
I twirled the pen carelessly.
“You would delete me?” she shrieked. “You would dare blot out The Black Lotus—the most feared bandit in the Free Realms—for him?” She pointed at Ciaran with a scornful curl of the lip.
“For him,” I replied, “and for all the others you’ve hurt and bullied—Max and Huckle and Ciára and goodness knows who else. Besides, who are you to question my decisions? I’m the author around here, and whoever I favor is my affair. I thought you up; I can delete you if I jolly well want to. But I’d rather not,” I added, softer.
Up went the eyebrows again, and her face lost some of its hardness. But only a little.
“Does that surprise you, Pádma?” I asked. “Is The Black Lotus’ heart so full of hate and revenge that it can’t understand love and compassion? I have plans for you, Pádma—good plans—and I want to bring them about. You’re one of my favorite characters, and I want to get you past this rocky stage of your development.”
“I thought he was your favorite,” she sulked, indicating Ciaran again.
I smiled up at Ciaran, who grinned back and gave my hand an encouraging squeeze. “That’s different.”
Turning my attention back to her again, I continued, “I’ll admit I haven’t been much of an author of late—or rather, for the last ten years or so. Elyon put you all into my mind, and I developed you as ideas, but I’ve been too depressed, unmotivated and just plain lazy to put you in text. But with His help, I’ll be able to break through this Writer’s Block and do it. It may take a while, but you’ll just have to be patient.”
Pádma had leaned against a boulder behind her and proceeded to fold her arms and roll her eyes during my little soliloquy. Which surprised me, being more like something a modern teenager would do during a “lecture” from her parents. It didn’t fit my idea of The Black Lotus. But then again, what was The Black Lotus but an angry teenager, anyway?
“Okay,” I sighed, suddenly feeling powerless in the face of her blasé attitude. “I’ll stop now. Go on back to the Land of La—but no more picking on the little ones, you hear?”
She made a mocking bow. “To hear is to obey, O great and powerful Author,” she sneered. Then she fastened her facecloth back over her smug little grin, rolled up her bullwhip and strode off behind the boulder.
Several seconds passed before either Ciaran or I felt we could breathe normally again, let alone move or speak. Ciaran broke the ice by putting his arms around my shoulders. “How d’ye fare, lass?” he asked. “No broken bones, I trust?”
“I’ll live,” I replied wryly, “although she gave me a nasty welt on my arm.”
His face grew serious. “’Tis truly sorry I am about all this. I never dreamed she’d attack ye like that.”
“Wait—didn’t you say a character can’t physically harm its author?”
“Aye, that I did. An’ I don’t be knowin’ why that happened. Mayhap ’twas to rouse ye from your fear o’ her.”
“It did that—and how!”
Ciaran laughed. “Well, now, I’d say you put some fear in her, as well.”
I sighed again. “She didn’t hear a word I said.”
“She was listenin,’ lass,” Ciaran assured me. “’Twas pretendin’ she was not to hear ye. But I think ye made an impression on her—specially when ye told her she was a favorite. I don’t think she knew that afore.”
I lifted one corner of my mouth. “Well, she knows it now. I just hope it doesn’t go to her head.”
“Ye know better’n that, lass. She acts tough as old leather, an’ says she doesna’ care two straws for anyone, but there’s a heart o’ flesh buried under all her prickles. What ye said today’ll stick in her craw a spell.”
“Ciaran,” I groaned, giving him a “dude—seriously?” look, “you’re mixing your metaphors dreadfully.”
Ciaran laughed. “Aye, so I am! Well, that’s why you’re the author, an’ I’m naught but a lowly Character…an’ one as must be headin’ back himself.”
I hugged him tight. “There’s nothing lowly about you, Ciaran,” I said. “You’re—well, just now, you’re my hero!”
Ciaran beamed his Donald O’Connor smile down at me as we stood apart. Then he removed his brown tweed cap and made a gallant bow. “Always a pleasure to be of service, m’lady.”
“Must you go?” I asked.
“Aye, lass, that I must. But next time we meet, ’twill be under more pleasant circumstances—God willin’.” His eyes twinkled. “A Celtic Festival, or a Renaissance Faire, mayhap? Would that suit m’lady?”
“Definitely!” I crowed.
During the last bit of our conversation, I’d fancied I heard a ringing noise, like a telephone. The sound frightened me for some reason, and I clung to Ciaran for protection, squeezing my eyes tightly. But he seemed to shrink in my arms and grow flatter and flatter—like an inflatable mattress when the plug is pulled out. When I opened my eyes, I found myself bent over the cutting table, with my arms around my—as yet unfinished—lavender tunic. I looked about me in confusion for a few seconds. The desert had disappeared and become the sewing room again. I glanced down at my tunic. I hadn’t finished it after all, and that memory I thought I’d had about my birthday at the Celtic Festival—false. I looked out the window, but all I saw was a bit of our backyard and the neighbor’s hayfield. No friendly green Fire-drake. And the only thing around my neck was the sash for my tunic, which I’d somehow managed to put there in my sleep.
A dream, I realized. It was just a silly dream. Well, I figured, looking down at my arm, at least I won’t have to explain—WHAT THE HECK?!
To my astonishment, the edge of the table, against which I must have rested my arm, had left a deep—and somewhat sore—indentation exactly where Pádma’s bullwhip had struck me!
Before I could ponder this little mystery any further, however, Mom entered the sewing room with a big smile on her face and the phone in her hand.
“Customer!” she whispered, handing it over to me.
“Thanks,” I whispered back, then tried to get the cotton-wool out of my brain enough to take my next alteration job.
Later, I determined to get some legitimate writing done. All my conversations with my characters were beginning to sound the same.
…then I went and wrote Pádma’s “death” scene….
* * *
Until next time, Gentle Readers,