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Dulcet’s Hammers

This is another fragment and not polished. It features Dulcet. She is a ‘gutter smith’ with hidden depths and strength she has yet to discover. Her father once had great talent but has been bent by life and drug use into a bitter self-loathing man. He is abusive towards Dulcet which makes her own struggles that much more difficult.
It is said, in Duaren lore, that when Fulkan forged the world, his twin hammers of light and darkness beat the iron at the center of all things. Each blow drew forth a note. Each note became a living thing. All that are, that were, or ever will be, are counterpoints in an eternal symphony just beyond the ken of mortals. Yet there are some who through suffering, diligence or some divine virtue have ears pressed tight against the veil. They hear more than the single ping of their existence and from among these few may rise one who can alter the arrangement of that transcendent music unto salvation, or utter destruction. History of the Daughters of Alfhira, The Third Age, Vol 1

Dulcet swung tirelessly, the muscles of arms and shoulders rippling as she drew music from the anvil with each blow. She worked steadily to to curve the hot metal into it’s intended shape. Sweat slid down her neck revealing fair skin beneath the soot. She laid down the hammer and stared at the small split head shovel with a critical eye. The curved part at the fore that would pin down a spiker-clam’s neck wasn’t perfect but it was pretty darn close. She felt a flush and looked around quickly to make sure nobody saw the big goofy smile she was surely wearing. I’m getting better.

In Illia, where the guild was strong, she would not have been able to work without an apprenticeship. Here in Hemmer, the largest of the five Islands of Farish and nearly two thousand leagues from Illia, unlettered craftsmen and merchants were tolerated as long as they did not directly compete with the letter holding members of a guild.

It wasn’t easy making a living amidst the squirming maze of streets between the harbor and the salt mire. Unlike those who lived on the hill, people here scrabbled and scrimped to survive. Many would never have the money to purchase guild services. So they made, or stole or traded for castoff items gleaned from the dumps. Most simply would do without. Dulcet’s growing skill had started to bring people in for simple utilitarian work and repairs and she was beginning to hope things would change for the better. She just wished she had access to more metal. Scrap and bog iron were plentiful enough to allow her to make small items, and effect repairs, but not enough to do anything bigger.

She shook her head at her worrying. A few months ago she was struggling to get enough to eat. Now she had a bag with some coin hidden in the rafters, and a few items she’d earned in trade which she could use or sell. The shovel blade and the pair of hinges she’d repaired for the tavern would net a few more coins. She’d deliver them and pick up a little food. Maybe get a couple of those dried sausages her father liked…

Her father.

She wouldn’t ruin this day by thinking about him. She grabbed his old jacket. The sleeves crudely hemmed to fit her shorter arms but the shoulders were broad enough and she had sewn two straps to the sides which allowed her to belt it at the waist. It was an ugly thing. Still, it was warm and it allowed her to hide her unusually muscular arms and the old scars and burns left by her work. She slid her finished metal work into an old carrying harnesses, one that Tebo had outgrown and given to her, then lifted it onto her back. The weight pressing down on the bruises on her back, caused only slight discomfort. Despite her intentions to avoid thinking about her father, Dulcet recalled his rage when she told him she had no coin. His addiction to glim had made him unpredictable. He had struck her repeatedly with a broom handle until it broke on her back then looked up with the splintered end gripped in his hand. Surprise filled his face, then self-loathing as he saw the unshed tears in his daughter’s eyes. He’d dropped the wood as if it were a piece hot iron, grabbed an old hammer, and run out into the street. She knew he’d try to sell the hammer but didn’t care anymore. After he left, she’d burned the remnants of the broom, and with no one to witness, sobbed quietly.

Dulcet sighed as she let go of the memory, then stepped onto the street. Her breath puffed out in tiny swirling clouds. She slid her calloused hands into her pockets. With her head down, and walking as fast as she could. She angled towards the market area near the docks, picking a route that would allow her to avoid as many people as possible. She’d learned to be cautious. But she did have a few friends. Without meaning to she angled her path towards the harbor. I wonder if Tebo is at the market, she felt the flush rise to her cheeks at the thought. Slag! She hoped the cold would mask the red flush before she got there – though Tebo probably wouldn’t even notice. He was as dense as a kley sometimes. A cute kley… she thought as she stepped over an icy puddle. A sudden shiver, unrelated to the cold, coursed up her spine as she thought of the mindless monstrosities that had once been men. No such thing as a cute kley.

Dulcet stepped past a section of fused rocks, the bones of an ancient city beneath her feet, and quickened her pace into the market.

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Aqua de Jamaica

This is a Mexican drink made from deep red hibiscus flowers. A little of the Jamaica flowers goes a long way so this is a fairly inexpensive drink – you can make gallons of this from one bag of Jamaica flowers. You can find alternative recipes on the internet this isn’t a set in stone recipe. My goal is to use some of our immunity boosting / cancer fighting ingredients so I modify it to include as many as possible.

Power-up tip: In Spanish Jamaica is pronounced ‘hah-my-kah’

Ingredients
4 quarts water
Raw honey
2-3 cups Jamaica flowers
2 or more cinnamon sticks – I also have used powder but buy a good brand for potency
Ginger – I mash several pieces
Allspice – I use a teaspoon or two of powder
Cloves – I use 3/4 teaspoon whole cloves or powder
Lemon
Orange (I have also tried apple slices or pineapple instead of orange all work)

Procedure

I use a covered pot and put in all the ingredients except for the honey, orange, apple and/or pineapple slices. I don’t boil the water just cook them on low heat for 45 minutes or so. I don’t want to risk excessive heat breaking down any of the ‘good stuff’ since my main purpose is not to make a refreshment but to load up my body with anti-cancer ammunition.

I usually do all of this before bed and let it sit all night, then strain it the next morning. By that time it looks like deep purple dye. Finally I add my apple, orange and/or pineapple slices and adjust with raw honey as needed.

Note: it’s best not to go overboard with the honey if you’ll be drinking this multiple times per day especially if you have diabetes or other health issues.

Then I fill a large insulated beverage container with ice and the magic purple potion and I try to drink a glass at least once per hour throughout my workday.

Jamaica (Hibiscus sabdariffa aka Roselle) is a sort of tropical hibiscus. It is not the same as Hibiscus rosa-sinesis which most people are familiar with though they are related and Hibiscus rosa-sinesis also provides health benefits. This page which show you how to identify the differences. Hibiscus vs Roselle: How to Tell the Differences

Related: Healthy Foods, Cancer & Immunity Boosting

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I’ve Got A Towel in My Pants & I’m Not Afraid to Use It!

Getting old can bring with it wisdom, an ability to deal with difficult circumstances and a greater appreciation of the the value of human life.

It can also bring with it a lot of ‘uh-oh’ moments that hopefully are not captured by someone with a YouTube account and a large following.

I had one of those moments this week. Rather than hide it and hope nobody finds out, I figured I’d share. Laughing feels good.

I was at the oncologist laying on my back while a machine beamed radiation into my body in an effort to kill the cancer. I had to pull down my shorts to expose the area from my stomach to about half of my private parts. The technicians and nurses lay a towel across the area for which I am grateful. I feel a little vulnerable with people in the room, staring at intimate portions of my ageing anatomy despite understanding that it is necessary.

It goes fast, and everyone is kind. They know me by name. We talk a little before and after about common things. Still I pull my pants up as quickly as I can while trying to hide my discomfort. I’m sure they know but we tacitly agree it didn’t happen.

I am relieved and stop by Albertson’s to pick up some groceries on my way home. I look down and see a white square hanging from the left leg of my shorts. I assume it is my long underwear – the elastic is a bit worn. I look around to make sure there are no witnesses and pull up on the waistband but instead of disappearing up my short’s leg the square is now a rectangle. Confused I decide the white fabric waving like a parley flag from my leg must be a broken pocket. I stick my hand in my pocket, intent on pulling up the torn edge so it is out of view, but the pocket is intact.

And then it dawns on me.

In my haste to pull up my pants after my treatment I pushed the towel that covered me INTO MY SHORTS! Well what could I do? I now had about a foot of white towel hanging from my leg. I proceeded to pull and roll it as quickly as I could and stuck the resultant melon-sized bundle in the trash can. I didn’t look up but definitely heard snickering as I headed down the aisle to get some yogurt.

The next day when I went for another dose of radiation I confessed to inadvertently stealing a towel and when I told the story we all had a good laugh.

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The Broken Puzzle: Alzheimer’s & The Brain

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com
I’ve been thinking a bit more about how the brain works. I mentioned previously that it seems that for the most part our brains don’t react to the world, so much as react to a model of the world. Well, as I considered this further, I realized it is more likely that instead of a large rigid model of the world, we have multiple chunks of ‘pre-processed data’. Partial models.

I imagine it like this; our world, reality, is like a huge puzzle. No picture on the box. When you open it, you have 100,000 puzzle pieces. Reacting to our world, to all of the stimuli and data in realtime requires a huge amount of processing power. We would not survive our first encounter with danger, or be able to make decisions in a reasonable way if we had to comb through the individual pieces of the puzzle, determine where it fit into the overall picture, and how we should react each time we received new information via our senses.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com
What if instead we pre-assemble chunks of the puzzle from the moment we are born? We learn new things and are taught new things that allow us to have enough chunks of the puzzle built and loosely laid out to make a reasonable guess as to the area a piece may fit in. This is much more efficient and flexible.

My musing today is a ‘what if?’ What if Alzheimer’s disease and perhaps other types of dementia, are a breakdown of these chunks of pre-processed data? Or perhaps of the system or ‘index’ that can make that quick ‘this piece fits here’ determination? So I am wondering if the disease breaks up the parts of the puzzle we have solved destroying the relationship. Then when they try to process that flood of input again they are unable to easily process the world in an efficient way.

I’m not a scientist, so this is just my creative brain asking questions.

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The Porch

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

You sit in the twilight of a life
that is yet in the late afternoon.

The darkness you fear …
is but a shadow
cast by late summer clouds.

The wheeling ravens
you imagine …
Only brittle leaves
blowing in a steady breeze.

Do not depart
the pleasant porch
sooner than you must.

The falling sun
will paint the sky
in colors
unseen at midday.

From my account on Wattpad about 2019.
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Better Men Than I

Photo by Adam Grabek on Pexels.com

Better men than I now stand
with backs to gauzy veil
then step to mount
the feathered bridge
that arches o’er the dale

their feet once anchored by this clay
swift climb to lambent clouds
with shoulders wrapped in mystery
bright stars upon their brows

they shed the dust of mortal life
it drifts behind like snow
til joyously they stand at last
‘fore gates thrown open wide

by hands of those who went before
to welcome them inside

From my account on Wattpad about 2018.
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Winter’s Trail

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When last you walk on winter’s trail,
and reach the highest snowy pass,
to stare beyond the veil of ice
at hidden valley’s wonder

You’ll have some time to turn your head
and read a tale of slips and falls
rime brightened and inked
on frosty Gaia’s landscape.

A life thus spied, from airy height
is given form by distance,
joys and regrets, once estranged
now bound like storied pages.

No single footprint writes the verse
that tells the traveler’s legend,
each choice, each deed
a word inscribed, to infamy or glory.

I hope that when you reach that place,
you’ll smile at what was written,
turn your heel, pick up the pace
and to far mountain hasten.

From my account on Wattpad a few years ago.
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Piglio, Chatter and the Mountain

This is a fragment. It introduces Tyn and the gang. There is some abuse in this chapter and not something I glorify. I originally intended to explore the issue of abuse with a few characters in the story.
The rat was old, its fur patchy and bones prominent. Whiskers twitched as it looked around the corner, cautious because it smelled the urine of feral predators. The alley seemed empty with its long stone walls, gutters and roughly cobbled street barely visible in the circles of light cast by neglected streetlamps.

Darting forward, it ran towards the appealing smells of the garbage dump. An unknown sound caused it to freeze, one leg held up as its ears and nose sought the source. A sharp snap caused it to leap forward … but it was too late. A massive blow flung the rat tumbling through the air to land on its back, legs fluttering.

“You see that? Got it with one shot!” Chatter yelled exultantly. “Who is the sling master?” Mash rolled her eyes at him “Lucky shot!”  “Your grandmother was a lucky shot,” he retorted as he ran to recover the smooth stone and admire his handiwork. He kept up a steady stream of dialogue as he moved, as if his legs were pumping his tongue – which is how he had earned his moniker. “Come on guys admit it, I am the best shot in this gang! Heck I’m the best shot on the island! Maybe even …” he said, flinging out his arms as if he had just won a race, “the world!”

Mash and Broom knelt and looked in admiration at the crumpled heap of fur while firing off a string of disparaging remarks “You have a better chance of killing something with your yakking than ever doing that again. Besides look how old she is, she was probably running at half speed.” Mash gave Broom a quick knuckle bump without looking away from the rat. “Good one bristle head.” “Maybe she even ran in front of the stone, ’cause she figured a quick death was better than listening to your bragging ‘Oh no here comes Chatter, ahhhhhh!” “Double knuckle bump for that one Mash” they both snickered.

Off to one side Piglio just smiled uneasily and rubbed his nose. Though the training was slowly making him lean and tough, he remembered being on the receiving end of enough fat jokes that he was uncomfortable poking fun at anyone.

Mash chortled and wiped a tear away, leaving a streak with a finger dirty enough to plant and grow seed on. Both laughed again at Chatter’s string of blustering protestations as he turned to the remaining member of their group.

Pointing at the large young man with the recovered rock, Chatter said. “Whattayasay Mount, wasn’t that a great shot?” The others turned their heads to see what Tyn – sometimes called The Mountain – would say. He was a recent arrival to Thracos but had become the defacto leader. In part because he was older, bigger and meaner than anyone else they knew, which was a good thing on these streets. There were worse things prowling the night and many of them preyed on the young. Tyn had simply appeared one day when a couple of glimroot addicts had tried to grab Mash. Tyn had beaten their assailants so severely than even the crazed drug enhanced strength, and resistance to pain, wasn’t enough to keep the them from fleeing into the night, their dim phosphorescence fading with the distance. After that Tyn had begun to systematically teach them how to survive and had provided the slings they all carried in their belts. All they really knew about him was that he claimed to have crossed The Wilds and he seemed tough enough for it to have been true.

Tyn looked down a little longer and finally said “It was a good shot.” He reached down to give Chatter a rare knuckle bump and what might have been a smile -which would have given Chatter warning if he hadn’t been so busy congratulating himself. “Which reminds me…” The Mountain’s large open hand swung swiftly forward and slapped the back of Chatter’s head so hard that he did a full somersault and ended up, on his back, staring up in a teary-eyed daze. “The name is Tyn, or The Mountain if you really must, but not ‘Big Boy, Shoulder Hocks, Mount’ or anything else – do I look like a damn horse to you?” Chatter looked up with fierce tears but managed to bite back the remark that came to his lips. Tyn looked at him for a second. “You’re learning. That’s good.” The others sat, still frozen by the loud thock sound of the hand striking Chatter’s head and the involuntary acrobatics. “I told you a couple times the last few weeks. I may not be able to catch you right away, but I never forget, so sooner or later payback will come.” He stood looking solemnly at Chatter’s face for a minute longer then reached down to help him up and said simply “That really was a damn fine shot.”

Chatter’s face went through a range of conflicting emotions, anger, fear and happiness at the praise. Piglio, Broom and Mash all looked at each other uncomfortably for a minute. Tyn had made them stronger, and better able to fend for themselves, but there was something dangerous smoldering in the gaze of the powerfully built young man. The small gang looked up at him and waited quietly.

Tyn looked at each, then motioned towards Mash with his head. “You take point.”  Mash nodded and set of at a jog, giving Chatter a quick punch in the arm as she passed him. Piglio and Broom followed next, each running in the shadows along opposite walls of the alley. Chatter resisted the urge to rub the back of his head and leapt silently into the night, falling into a middle position a few lengths behind the others. They moved down the darkening street leaving the dead rat to be reclaimed by the night’s other hunters.

Tyn smiled grimly as he followed swiftly in the shadows. He kept his eyes on Chatter, who ran the lure position. He hadn’t wanted to smack Chatter but it seemed he was barely in control of himself some days. He knew what was coming. Fear and regret weighed heavy on the Mountain and he felt a moment of uncertainty. Looking up at the stars as he ran, his hand reached into his pocket and fingered the sigil sitting there. He sighed. Even if he could outrun fear, pain and regret he would still be faced with the unyielding face of his duty. He turned back to his little band, and followed them silently in

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Johnny Red

This is another fragment and it features Johnny – sometimes called Johnny Red because of his wild red hair, Tebo and his father Garrun.

Now, what is he on about? Tebo wondered.

At the top of the tall stone tower that dominated the harbor, he could see Johnny flapping his arms and waving. Even at this distance Tebo could could tell that Johnny was excited about something.

Tebo waved back and chuckled, his breath condensing in the brisk morning air as he did so. He shook his head and smiled as he thought of Johnny but didn’t slow as he set the kegs and rough wood planks his father and he used as shelving for the small outdoor stall where the sold various goods. His back and hands were used to heavy work, so his mind was free to wonder what Johnny was up to. Tebo wasn’t sure when it had happened but at some point, Johnny had stopped being an oddity and become a friend. There was a special quality to Johnny that was hard to define. There was no malice in him. He was openly friendly, trusting, and generous in a way only common to young children.

There was also a keen and observant mind behind his friend’s awkward speech. Johnny wasn’t ‘simple’ or ‘addled’ as some folks said he just saw the world differently.

Tebo placed baskets of various sizes on the shelves that his father would fill with the assorted items he sold or traded. Satisfied, he stretched, yawned, and looked around. There were a few other vendors roasting various food stuffs and the pleasant smells of roots, nuts and small bits of meat being cooked intermingled with the smells of fish guts and garbage. Most of the stalls carried few goods in winter, unless a ship was wrecked or Duar traders arrived. Tebo couldn’t wait until the warm weather a greater variety of goods would fill the stalls.  His stomach grumbled and he looked towards the store to see if his father was done.

Garrun was using his massive arms to roll out and position the last barrel of smoked fish. He looked at Tebo, and his broad bearded face lifted in a small grin. It’s like watching a rock smile, Tebo thought. He smiled back. A hairy rock.

Garrun looked up at Johnny still capering madly on the stone tower and shook his head. With fingers as thick and sturdy as spear shafts he pulled on the small strap securing the barrel lid, then reached in and pulled out a handful of dry apples. He tossed them to his son who snatched them out of the air with deft movements. “You’d better get that fool boy off the tower before he hurts himself.” Garrun stepped into the small lean-to at the center of the stall and pulled out a fistful of burlap bags. “Fill these with a mix of whatever nuts and dry berries we have left and run them out to Josef. Tell him I expect no less than ten loaves, and he can throw in a couple of sweet rolls if he wants me happy.” He grunted at Tebo’s smile. Josef was an incredible baker. Garrun scratched his beard as he looked at the tower. “And if Johnny doesn’t fall before you get there, take him with you. Tell him he can eat with us tonight.”

Garrun looked at his son, then gave a short nod and winked as he hurried over to assist the widow Yglara. The old woman wore a look of dissatisfaction and was jabbing at the oily fish in one of the open kegs as if they had somehow offended her.

Tebo chuckled and grabbed the bags, snagged some cheese from one of the crates, then dropped in the apples. He loaded Josef’s goods into one of the carrying baskets, tossed in his food and slid his arms through the harness. Tebo bent his legs and lifted the large pack and grinned as his father rolled his eyes at him. Yglara was a character, that was certain. She was up before any of the merchants and had a tongue that could peel the bark off a tree.

Tebo rapped lightly on the counter of the adjoining stall where Herog was busy flipping skewers with small bits of marinated fish, and starchy roots, and held up four fingers. The vendor quickly bundled fish and roots with sea-bracken leaves into four thumb-sized, then held out two fingers of his own indicating the cost. Tebo paid, added the bundle to his pack, and nodded in thanks as he swung it onto his shoulders.

As he turned, he realized he could no longer see Johnny’s red hair which meant that Johnny might be standing near the front edge of the tower and there was probably ice up there today. Worried now, Tebo set off at a jog.

 

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Maggie & Kai

This is another fragment featuring Maggie and Kai. It is earlier in the story, just prior to Duke Rathstone’s infamous murder party that causes Maggie to move from eleventh in line to the throne, to second. Soon afterwards she is forced to flee and so begins her own journey of discovery.

Maggie pushed Kai into the mud causing the petite Yahata’ai girl to fall hard onto her side. “You cheated!” Maggie yelled. “You started before I was ready!”

Kai looked up at her friend, her moist eyes reflecting her hurt feelings. “I didn’t cheat! You just always have to be the winner. Why are you like that Mag?” she said, her lip trembling. “Just can’t stand to be beat by one of us?” Kai stood stiffly and turned to hide her tears.

Maggie saw her friend’s shoulders shaking and all of her 9-year-old self-righteous anger melted away. “Kai please… I’m sorry.” She laid her hand hesitantly on her friend’s shoulder. “I’m really really sorry. I don’t know why I did that” and then her own hot tears fell.

She felt Kai’s arms around her and they cried together, eyes running until they looked up. When Maggie saw Kai’s mud-covered face, she couldn’t help herself. She snickered and then she laughed. “You’rrr suchhh a meesss…” Kai frowned for a second and then she was laughing too. Big, girly, snorting, silly laughs that left them holding their sides and gasping for air.

“You are such a princess!” giggled Kai. “Twelfth in line from the throne? You should be next in line!” and she snorted again, which made them laugh even harder.

Maggie sighed and smiled at her friend as her giggles subsided. It was hard to deal with Kai sometimes. Not because she was difficult in any particular way, but because like most of her people she was incredibly honest. Blunt even. Maggie’s family was considered plain-spoken by the standards of the Illian elite, but she had grown up in circles where people played word games and what they said was not always what they meant. Maggie loved that she didn’t have to be on guard with Kai or couch her remarks in clever dialogue. The problem for Maggie was that when she removed the social wrapping from her interactions, she came to realize how petty, mean-spirited and spoiled she had been. But she could change.

Maggie took her friends small hand, marveling again at the hard ridges and calluses she found there. “You’ve got mud in your hair. We’d better get that washed out before it dries.”

Kai bowed mockingly “Whatever you say your ladyship.” She looked up with a twinkle in her eyes as she ran her fingers through her long hair. “Besides, we’ll also have to wash your Ladyship’s gown.”

Maggie looked down and gasped. Her play clothes bore the muddy imprint of Kai’s body. “Ahh! Nana is going to be mad!” She squinted her eyes and wagged her index finger at her friend. “You did that on purpose!”

Kai laughed and curtsied again. “Yes, your highness.”

“And knock that off” Maggie grumbled. “I’m perfectly happy having eleven others ahead of me. Believe me, the last thing I want is to live in that hornet’s nest and feed the royal dog, or whatever it is they do all day.”

Maggie walked towards the well, arm in arm with her friend. They were the same age but that was where most of their similarities ended. Kai’s Yahata’ai heritage was apparent in her dusk-colored skin, long dark hair and green flecked eyes. Maggie’s light skin and freckled face was common enough in Illia, but her wavy auburn hair with its blonde highlighting was unusual and striking. They had met a year earlier where her house bordered the woods. Maggie had been racing her cousin and looked up to see Kai grimly matching her speed through the trees. They’d raced often after that until Kai had walked up to Maggie’s well for some water. They spoke and a friendship blossomed.

Maggie pulled the lever on the well, and the mechanos built device turned hidden gears and cogs drawing water up the large, enclosed screw-pump that angled deep into the earth. Clean cold water flowed into a basin, and she helped Kai rinse the mud from her hair.  She looked at her critically for a moment and then declared “That’ll have to do.” Maggie looked down at her clothes and sighed “I’m not sure there is any way for Nana to avoid seeing this.”

“I have an idea” said Kai “Hand me that sponge.” Maggie turned to look for the sponge and heard a sudden plop and splash. Spinning quickly, she found Kai with a mischievous grin and a full bucket. “This ought to help!”

“Don’t you do i…!” her cry ended in sputtering outrage as the ice-cold water hit her chest. Within moments the two were hooting, hollering, and splashing water with all the energy and joy of youth.

A long dark shadow stretched on the ground between the girls causing them to pause and look at each other with trepidation. They turned and saw a shape limned by the setting sun. Nana stared with an expression of disbelief and exasperation at the two girls.  She slapped a broad hand on each hip and reared back on her heels before thrusting her head forward. “What in the name of the Holy Builder’s Beard are you two pixies doing!” Kai and Maggie stood stunned for a moment, at the roar that came out of the diminutive woman’s mouth. They looked at each other, and back at Nana before bursting out in laughter again.

“Ok, ok you two. It’ll be getting dark soon. Off to the house with you and we’ll get you cleaned up before Master Moran gets back.”