Of Cats And Dragons

Lilyths Dance cover

Lilyth's Dance

Between the patch of flowers and an old oak tree, they spotted several nailed-together wooden boards. The word warning had been painted across in neat script, with the mark of the Untouchables just beneath it. Lily knew that any Melian seeing the sign would respect the barrier. I'm not supposed to go against the orders of the Untouchables. Lily wasn't entirely certain how to rationalize her way past this dilemma.

"Good advice," Sable said respectfully. "We are now suitably forewarned and shall be on our guard." Sable lifted the boards and set them aside, revealing the hole beneath.

She is technically right — it's a warning, not a keep out sign.

Spoilers!

Lilyth's Dance is about 22,000 words long and takes place at the same time as Wyldwood Fate. It can be read as a standalone story. The tale follows the adventures of Omen's little sister Lilyth, her friend Sable, and the kitten Shard as they try to solve the mystery of missing tea party guests.

You can download the story for free here. Or check out the first chapter below.

Tea

Lilyth raced down Daenoth Manor's grand staircase, her black curls bouncing against the small of her back. She'd experimented with a new hair-styling cantrip that had produced big, round spirals, and she hoped the curls would last for the duration of her tea party.

My very own tea party! Lily could barely contain her excitement. Having just turned eleven, she'd never thrown a tea party before. Her mother had never allowed it.

But when both her mother and father had been called away to Lydon unexpectedly, her mother had said, "Behave yourself like a lady, and don't burn the house down."

Ladies throw tea parties, Lilyth had reasoned while pulling on her new embroidered day dress.

Her best friend, Sable — who was currently staying with the Daenoths — had agreed.

Sable thinks that's all ladies do. Tea parties and crochet.

Lily believed that ladies did more than that, but she didn't tell Sable about the long list of pastimes she'd thought up: horseback riding, finding tadpoles, writing poetry, visiting neighbors, building birdhouses, gathering berries, spelunking — and that's just tomorrow. I am going to behave like the best lady.

And at this moment — since Omen, Kyr and the cats weren't home — nothing stood in the way of a lovely afternoon tea. Lily had baked blackberry lemon scones with Miss Penelope, had selected the fanciest Lydonian tea set from one of the locked storage trunks in the attic, had helped Leah polish the silver, and had shopped for dragonberry and sugarleaf tea at Jasy's tea shop.

Sable had helped with decorating the table and fitting the chairs in the conservatory with the frilly Lydonian slipcovers Lily's grandmother had sent.

Lily had managed to collect two sun stones from her mother's secret storeroom to ensure the conservatory was nicely heated, so they could enjoy the glories of early spring through the garden window without risking being exposed to a cold breeze.

I'll put the sun stones back right after tea. Before getting dressed, Lily had placed the warm stones into delicate lanterns on either side of the room. She thought it best if her mother didn't know about her taking the magic stones. Mother wouldn't mind, of course. But she is a little touchy about her magic items. So, why burden her? It's not like I'm going to borrow anything dangerous. Just some sun stones.

Lily did a mental inventory in case she had forgotten any tea party essentials. They'll come in. They'll sit down. I will offer refreshments. She smiled, certain that everything had been prepared perfectly. I even remembered the dragonberry tea. Lily thought it was most ladylike that she had remembered the Deldano girls' favorite. I want them to love my party. Especially Tess. Tessleara Deldano threw the most wonderful tea parties in all of Melia, and to Lily's mind, the girl's approval meant the world.

Tess will scoff at your party, the poisonous inner voice intruded on Lily's happy thoughts, as it always did.

Tess is my friend, Lily countered and skipped down the last few steps, her suede-soled dancing boots barely leaving a trace in the soft center rug.

Shard loped down the steps beside her. At six months old, the kitten had grown to the size of a pudgy hunting dog and no longer counted the steps out loud as she hopped from tread to tread.

Miss her mixed-up stair counting, Lily thought of Shard's baby quirks wistfully. She's growing up so fast.

"Oblique is being at the door," Shard announced with a trilling purr, her folded ears shifting back and forth as she picked up sounds Lilyth couldn't hear.

Lilyth had thought it only fair that Shard should be allowed to invite a guest of her own. And her kitten's choice of Lady Kylee's cat was bound to keep things lively.

Lily had extended the same courtesy to Sable, but the princess of N'vrel had declined. "Let me enjoy the company of your friends instead of inviting mine," she had said. "Most of my friends are in my mother's guard, and they don't have very fine manners."

"Oblique is having wonderful manners at the tea partyings," Shard had assured both girls. "She is knowing all the goings-on. And she is telling us all about her great discovery."

The invitations — hand-lettered by Lilyth in her most swirly calligraphy — had been sent out via messenger early that morning: Two to Beren's Hold for Tess and little Sorcha, two to the other Deldano Hold for Bryonee, who was the same age as Lily and Tess, and the adopted elvin child Rain. And one to Lady Kylee's house for the cat Oblique.

Polite acceptances had returned promptly after breakfast, and Lily had been in a whirl of preparation and decision-making ever since.

"You are the first guest to arrive, Miss Oblique," Lily heard the footman Conley tell their feline visitor. The small cat had hopped onto a pedestal table to make herself both seen and heard.

She is a rather tiny cat, Lily assessed the sleek black feline.

Lady Kylee stole that cat from you, the sniping voice simpered.

No, Lily countered the unpleasant thought firmly. Oblique came to Melia for Lady Kylee. Shard is my cat. And I love her more than I could love any other cat.

"Hello, Oblique," Lily greeted in as ladylike a manner as she was able. "What a delight to see you. May I pick you up and carry you to the conservatory?" Being that Oblique was so tiny, it seemed polite to ask.

"Oh, yes, please." The little feline blinked her brilliant green eyes. "I is liking to be carried in a basket outside the house, but inside I is liking to be carried in the arms."

Lily gently picked up the kitten and cradled her, all the while fighting the urge to plant a kiss on her heart-shaped nose. She's so delicate.

"You is arriveded!" Shard squealed. "You is telling us all about the news in Melia."

"There is being much to tell." The petite black cat leaned over Lily's arm to look at Shard, who trotted beside them. "I is telling you all about my grand adventure that I is having the other day on the way to pickings up powdered sugar from the market."

They walked into the conservatory, which was bright and warm in the afternoon sun, though a sharp breeze drummed against the window panes.

Sable, dressed in comfortable dark pants and a silver-thread embroidered tunic, stood in front of the large window overlooking the formal garden. She held a scone in one hand, a scythe in the other.

"Oblique is already here." Lily eyed the crop-cutting tool. "Where did you get that?"

"My mother sent it."

"Why?"

"There was no note, so I figure it either means I am to return home at harvest or that somebody's time is up." The girl leaned the scythe against the wall and pushed a lock of her flame-red hair out of her face before sitting down at the beautifully arranged table. "Hard to tell which. My vote is on beheading. Probably a monster."

Lilyth placed Oblique on the thick pillow balancing on a vanity stool, which in turn had been positioned on a riser. Lily had wanted to ensure that the little cat could be seen without the feline having to sit on the table.

Mother doesn't like it when Tyrin sits on the table. It had occurred to Lily that a true lady would provide her small guest with an option that didn't entail squeezing in next to the cups.

Shard jumped on the upholstered chair next to Oblique and sat up straight, fluffy paws pushed together and long tail wrapped around her plump body.

"Once upon the love of frosting," Oblique initiated her story brightly, her diction surprisingly formal for one of the cats and nearly a match to the storytelling eloquence of a Melian bard.

Shard gave an approving look and whispered, "I is telling you. Oblique is a great teller of tales."

The story was one Lily had heard before, had even heard Oblique herself tell it most vividly, and knew that the Deldano girls had heard the adventure of the newly discovered tunnel as well. But since her friends seemed to be running a little late, and Sable did not know about Oblique's great find, Lilyth quietly served cream to the cats, sugarleaf tea with two lumps of sugar to Sable, and fresh scones to all while feeding encouraging mm-hmms and you don't says to the cat.

Sable had a slew of questions: "Where in the park did you fall down the hole? Did you see any other tunnels? Where did you push the wooden door to get it to open?" All these seemed like reasonable queries, which Oblique answered without hesitation.

The cat had fallen down a hole, had landed in what turned out to be a man-made tunnel system between the Holds, and had made her way to Lord Sive's Hold where she had been treated to cream and cakes.

Lilyth noted that all of Sable's questions focused on the layout of the tunnel, not so much on the treats the stodgy Hold Lord had offered, though that was the subject upon which Oblique seemed to fixate. That and the fact that spelunking had left her tired and dusty.

"I is thinking," Oblique confided as the story wrapped up, "that adventures is oughting to end when one is being so dirty that it is hardnessness to 'member 'member being clean."

Sable laughed heartily. "I am going to have to tell my mother that one. She'll love it." She took an appreciative bite of scone.

Lilyth sipped tea from her own delicate cup, admiring its Lydonian craftsmanship and the fine swirls of the painted flowers. Cold tea, she noted with a frown. Where are those Deldano girls? She glanced at the clock on the mantel. They're an hour and a half late! she realized. Her face flushed with emotion — humiliation, anger, bewilderment. She opened her mouth to speak but could think of no ladylike words suited to what she was feeling.

"Are your friends still coming?" Sable asked then, the cat having finished her tale.

"I don't know what could be keeping them." Lilyth's voice faltered.

You know what it is, an ugly thought intruded. They don't like you. Normally your mother sends the invitations, and everyone is afraid of your mother. The Melian girls only tolerate you because of your mother.

"I have a guess." Sable broke a corner off her scone.

Lilyth looked at her N'vrelian friend with dread. She's going to say it, and then it'll be true. The Deldano girls hate me. Tess despises me.

"They got eaten." Sable pressed her lips together.

Shard squealed with horror. "Tess and Sorcha and Bryonee and little Rain is being eatings?"

"What?" Lily had never heard anything more far-fetched.

"That's how it happens in N'vrel," Sable said with a thoughtful inflection. "You invite someone over, and if they don't show up — boom — they've been eaten. Come to think of it, that's probably why Mother sent the scythe. She must have gotten wind of your party."

"But this isn't N'vrel," Lily tried to argue, but the new possibility — as dreadful as it sounded — did have an advantage. If they got eaten or hurt, then it's not me. "Maybe we should go check on them?"

"We should," Sable agreed. "But be prepared for all scenarios."

"What is being a scenarios?" Shard asked, snout covered in custard.

"I is knowings," Oblique jumped in. "My Kylee is saying that you is having to figure out all the scenarios before you is going anywhere. You is having to know: Who is tryings to kill you? What they is usings to kill you? When they is tryings to kill you? Where they is tryings to kill you? Why they is tryings to kill you? And how they is tryings to kill you? And gold. There is usually being something about gold."

"Is that why Lady Kylee rarely leaves the house?" Lily had never known Lady Kylee to be very social, though she knew the Daoinee woman used to travel with her mother's group in times past. Wonder what happened to her? Guess it's good luck for her to have a cat who collects stories from all over town.

"I say, we sneak into the Deldano Hold and take a look around," Sable suggested. "If some villainy has befallen the Deldanos, we can save them. And if your friends are just being helm-yoppers, we'll play a prank on them."

She thought of the jerk possibility too. Lily felt the embarrassment flood back. "We can't sneak into the Deldano Hold," she reasoned, trying to push out the negative thoughts. "The Hold is protected by magic and by a dragon."

"Well, your dragon might already be dead," Sable looked thoughtful, "or asleep. Dark N'vrelian sorcerers like to throw powerful sleep spells on giant guardians."

"I can't imagine." Lily shook her head. She could be right. What if someone came to Melia to slay a Sundragon? Lily bit down on her lip to make the evil ideas in her brain stop. No!

"You're right though." Sable considered. "Sneaking into a Hold would be hard . . . unless . . ." The princess of N'vrel pushed the last scone toward Oblique. "Unless someone knew of a secret underground tunnel system that leads to all the Holds."

At that, Lilyth's eyes flicked to Sable's abandoned scythe, and she could have sworn that — for just a moment — the weapon gleamed.

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