At the same moment the blindfold was removed my hands were unbound and I stumbled forward a step. Hands out wide, I recovered my balance and avoided falling forward.
A good thing owing to the fire burning ten feet ahead.
I massaged my wrists and blinked, the flames and sparks confusing my returning sight. My disorientation also extended to my memory, for I’d no recollection what I was doing before the heavy hands released me. The darkness beyond the fire pit refused to answer the questions I was struggling to formulate.
My dress—a dress I didn’t recall—flowed to my feet. It was a plain, drab blue except where lace was attached to the sleeves. I ran my hands over my hips and attempted to assemble my jumbled thoughts.
“State your name.” The booming voice pulled a gasp from my throat and lifted my feet off the hard surface. Still, my eyes remained blind to all beyond the fire.
“Your full name.”
“Christina Hawthorne. I mean, Christina Anne Hawthorne. That’s Christina with a “ch” and Anne with an ‘e.’” Hawthorne has an “e,” also, like Nathaniel spelled it, but I don’t think there’s any relation. I use my middle name quite often because—“
“Oh, she’s a chatty one,” came a tight, scratchy male voice to the left. I peered into the darkness beyond the flames and discerned a shape where the words originated.
“Nervousness, I’d imagine,” sounded an even higher male voice to the right and my head turned.
“Is it true you’ve written a fantasy novel and not included elves?”
Taken aback, I took a literal step back, my jaw sagging before I recovered. “Huh…?”
“We’ve it from a good source that you’ve written a fantasy novel and not included elves, a standard that Tolkien set.” Sounds indicating concurring opinions were audible to either side.”
“What? I mean, I can’t believe…many fantasy writers don’t—”
“And this tribunal shall raise the issue with them in good time.”
Rather then respond, I stared instead. The figures beyond the flames remained shadowy, but my eyes had adjusted enough to reveal the plain, bare walls beyond the firelight. They’d placed me near the center of a large, square, and empty structure.
“Well?” he prompted.
“Tolkien wrote the fantasy that he wrote and as great as it was we all need to move on in our own way.”
“That’s your excuse for deviating from standard fantasy?”
“Standard? I write what I write and fantasy isn’t about any imagined standard. At one time my reverence for Tolkien was such that I thought to include elves, but over time I realized that the people I was writing bore no resemblance to Tolkien’s elves. Given that, I decided to leave the elves behind entirely rather then cause confusion.”
“H’m…” That, from the man to the right.
Talking about my book caused memories to resurface, memories that included sitting at my computer typing with a purring cat beside me. Having someone abduct me for such questioning was absurd enough, but my attire wasn’t consistent with the shorts and top I was wearing when last I worked.
“Where am I…?”
“We’re asking the questions here,” sounded the booming voice.
“Oh, best beware this one, she’s got ideas…an independent sort,” the man on the left added.
I spun around and looked at those who’d escorted me to the room’s center. They wore white robes and reminded me of the practitioners from my own story. I turned back to the tribunal.
“Where am I?” I asked again.
“We’ve more questions concerning the risks you’re taking with your decision to not include elves,” came his unyielding and unequivocal statement.
“It’s my risk. Including elves was the right decision for Tolkien, but not for me. If readers don’t want to read my work because there aren’t elves then that’s their choice. It’s the same right I reserve for myself as a reader. On the other hand, I include elements that Tolkien didn’t have. There’s a gargoyle market, the ora’ean, werewolves that turn one out of every three months, and stagecoaches. There’s even Old Empire technology if you know where to look.”
I stepped to the side in an effort to see around the fire and noted their attire. It wasn’t the robes that wizards or sorcerers typically wear in many fantasy books, but instead frumpy suits. Behind me, the white-robed guards remained still, their faces still hidden.
“I’m in my own story…” In panic and the need to know, I ran to the lone window to my right in what I realized was a warehouse. “A building this large…this is probably Transgamete or Carba…”
The tribunal members stood. The practitioners, so often referred to as the unseen, advanced. Beyond the window and rising in the distance was Axis Hill, the Palace of Estamen upon its summit. I was in Transgamete, but holding a tribunal outside Knoss Citadel was inconsistent with my story. Sensing the unseen nearer, I spun around and pressed my back to the wall, shaking my head to clear away what couldn’t be…
My eyes opened in the darkness, the fire gone.
Misha’s purr reached my ears and her round cat eyes moved close. I blew out a breath and reminded myself that if I didn’t write what I was inspired to write then what I was writing was dishonest. That always showed. That wasn’t fair to readers.
Reaching out, I ran a hand over Misha’s head and scratched behind her ears. “I’m just glad they didn’t ask me if I had dragons in the story…”