Here it is, Chapter 2 of Battle For The Blue Wilds. This chapter may seem familiar if you've read Wyldwood Fate. The events are told from Nikki's point of view (instead of Shalonie's as in the book).
We hope you enjoy the story through our young bard's eyes. And you might notice where the chapter titles for this story come from.
We're hard at work on the next part.
Feel free to leave your thoughts on the Nikki chapters or anything else Of Cats And Dragons related in the comment section. We love to hear from you.
Made Of Faerie Wood
"And I think the Velrarialian treatise on the linguistic shift from the open vowel to the softer lautrenuude is indicative of the Moroviilia influence on the culture under the reign of the foreign king, or at least as far as the twenty-year Ehluousian period of poetry extended into the new century." Nikki listened as Ferthan Vendthas droned on. The Hold Lord's son threw furtive puppy-dog glances in Shalonie's direction while the white feather in his silk hat bobbed up and down with every word.
Wish Oblique were here to knock that hat right off his head.
Deep in a glade of the Blue Wilds, Nikki watched silently as Shalonie, surrounded by a dozen suitors, gracefully walked toward a line of trees. The girl was a vision in the morning sunlight, despite or because of her practical traveling attire and wool-lined leather coat. Her golden hair was pulled back in a tight, sensible braid.
To Nikki, she was perfect — kind, bright, strong, funny, and very, very much out of his reach. He couldn't be sure that he loved her, but he couldn't imagine loving anyone else — ever.
"Hmm," Shalonie responded to Ferthan's nattering, and Nikki felt the heat of jealousy sizzle in his chest, making him want to throw a right hook and knock the annoying lordling to the forest floor.
It all had started, of course, when Nikki had arrived at the Tatharion Hold with Oblique only to be shooed into a line with the servants. "There will be little need for porters and grooms," the head housekeeper had announced as she'd scurried by in a flutter. "Only the strongest and most respectable will make the list."
Nikki had grimaced at Oblique, who'd balanced on his shoulder since the beach.
"I should have gone home to change," he'd told the little cat. "I don't look respectable in my sweaty running clothes."
"That is being the wrong list," the little cat had replied and had let out a mighty meow that sounded urgent — as if she were being drowned.
Judgmental glances had fallen on Nikki immediately, and the servants rushing about the courtyard and the applicants in line soon had given their opinions:
"Is that lad strangling a kitten?"
"Must be a Kharakhian."
"Go, on. Save the little thing."
"He looks rather large. Maybe we'd better call the guard."
Nikki had held his hands straight out to show that he wasn't even touching the little cat, who'd continued to let out horrifying yowls.
The housekeeper had returned almost instantly, two armed guards at her side.
Sundragon Geryon, in his human form, had appeared from the other side of the yard.
"Oh, gladnessness!" Oblique had stopped squealing as soon as Lord Geryon had neared. "The house ladies is putting Nikki in the wrong line."
"Wrong line?" the dragon asked, confused.
The housekeeper plunged her hands into the pockets of her apron. "Lord Geryon, I assure you—"
"Nikki is goings to the Blue Wilds with Tormy," the cat clarified. "And Tormy is goings with Omy, not with—" She'd cast a pointed look down the line of porters and other applicants. The tiny creature had an astounding way of making everyone around her squirm and feel as if they'd done something wrong.
"I'm strong," Nikki had said quickly. "If you need anything carried."
"I'll keep that in mind." The dragon had sounded amused. "But we still have a lot to prepare. Get yourself outfitted for a two-week journey and meet us back here in the morning."
Nikki had nodded.
"And, despite what you might have heard," the dragon had added. "Shalonie is rather too busy to attend any poetry readings for a while."
How did he know—
"And while we're on the subject, Oblique." Geryon turned his attention to the cat on Nikki's shoulder. "Shalonie still has a few questions about your adventure in the tunnel. If you would join us?"
Nikki had expected the dragon to pluck the little cat from his shoulder, but Geryon made no move to do so.
Won't even touch a cat. What is it with these dragons not touching anybody? They seem so amiable, but they are very particular about the slightest physical contact. It was one of the things his young siblings Tess and Chant had warned him about — never touch one of the Sundragons. Never even offer to shake hands.
A young servant in a Tatharion livery had stepped out from behind the housekeeper and had presented a wicker basket to Oblique.
"I is being delighted to be seeings Shalonie." Oblique had gracefully jumped into the carrier. "I is tellings you my adventure . . . Once upon the love of frosting . . ."
Nikki had taken his leave at that time and had spent the rest of the day scrambling to borrow adventuring gear from his various siblings.
He'd joined Shalonie's expedition to the Blue Wilds the next morning, not as a servant but as a traveling companion — along with a dozen or so other young men, two talking cats, and two Melian Sundragons.
He'd heard murmurings of the list compiled by Lady Alisina, Shalonie's mother. Suitors! Nikki had learned in dismay — but of course it made sense. Shalonie was a young, beautiful, high-born lady. Of course she would have many suitors.
The suitors on that list had been ranked by eligibility. A few of the men even boasted about their potential ranking, though Prince Templar and Devastation Machelli had quickly put an end to any talk of courting Shalonie with merciless ridicule and almost constant underhanded taunting of the potential bridegrooms. Nikki's fondness for the two Terizkandians had grown exponentially. They didn't have the ribald coarseness of Kharakhians, but the Terizkandians were quite outspoken and had sly humor that sliced through overly polite Melian manners.
Nikki believed Shalonie was also grateful for the assistance, as she was clearly only interested in finding her silverbell trees and seemed to avoid any talk of courtship or plans for the future. While Nikki could not read the expressions of Sundragon Salthain, who remained in his draconic form nearly the entire time, he thought Sundragon Geryon was also rather amused by the constant teasing by Omen's two Terizkandian friends.
This very morning, at the far edge of the Blue Wilds, Nikki watched Shalonie set her eyes on the oaks, aspens, and cedars ahead, blatantly ignoring her followers' attempts at flirtation.
"I believe Lady Shalonie has studied that particular subject at some length," Sundragon Geryon intervened on the girl's behalf. In human form, Geryon was tall and imposing. There was no doubt that he walked alongside Shalonie to warn the young men from crowding her too closely. Nikki wasn't entirely certain where Shalonie's father was. The man was a renowned traveling scholar who was rarely home, but Sundragon Geryon seemed to have embraced the role of the girl's protector instead.
"Really? Wonderful!" Ferthan exclaimed with a clap, only to be cut off by Hold Lord Moyar Heartwood who walked ahead alone. Moyar seemed like a serious man, and Nikki was unable to read his true interest in Shalonie.
He's a Hold Lord. If he didn't want to be here, he would have stayed home. Though quite young, Moyar Heartwood did not seem to have any family at all. Nikki had heard no mention of parents, and he had been led to believe that Moyar had inherited the title of Hold Lord at a very young age.
The grim-faced Moyar looked back to sneer at Ferthan. "Studied the subject? She wrote the paper he's quoting!" He rested his hand on his sword for emphasis, his annoyance with Ferthan palpable.
"Oh—" Ferthan smiled. "Wonderful! Then she surely knows all about—" He continued blathering as if he hadn't been rebuked.
Nikki suppressed a groan.
"Trees!" Shalonie exclaimed and motioned to opposite sides of the woods. "We need to spread out to cover more territory."
"The silverbells, right," Nikki said when no one else responded.
"Yes!" Shalonie nodded encouragingly at the group. "We're looking for the silverbells, remember? For my research." She pointed toward the tree line. "I don't see any, so we need to spread out, head into the woods, and search. To review, silverbells look a bit like oak trees, but the new leaves have a silver glint. More than one tree would be helpful."
Something occurred to Nikki, and he spoke without considering how his question would sound. "Are these the same trees from the children's poem?"
The other men laughed out loud.
Nikki bit down on the inside of his lip.
"I hardly think four lines of a children's poem—" Kalfinan, middle son of Hold Lord Tomar Umbrin, scoffed.
"Eight lines," Nikki said, trying to mimic Beren's mocking smile.
Kalfinan looked at him with irritation.
"Eight?" Shalonie cocked her head to one side, her golden braid falling over her shoulder and past her waist. "I've only heard four." The look of excited intrigue in her blue eyes was one of the reasons Nikki found her so enthralling — even the tiniest bit of new knowledge thrilled her.
I'm in it now. Nikki worked to keep his voice from giving away his embarrassment. "The one I heard in Kharakhan had eight lines." He managed to keep any trace of nervousness out of his voice.
"Kharakhians are forever changing things that don't need changing. Why just last week a visiting Kharakhian suggested we start running rat races in the fish market!" Kalfinan said to the other Melians. "As if we have rats running around the market! I'm sure they do in Kharakhan—"
"What are the eight lines?" Shalonie saved Nikki from having to respond to the insult.
"I only know the one stanza," the Sundragon told Shalonie. "Is it relevant to your research?"
"I don't know," Shalonie replied, sounding thoughtful. "Can you recite the lines?" she asked Nikki, looking directly at him.
For a moment Nikki felt lost in the blue of her eyes.
"Sure." Nikki nodded lamely. "It's been a few years since I've heard it:
"Circle round the carousel
made of faerie wood,
they stood like queens, the silverbells
till the axeman felled them good.
Now round it comes the Wandering Star
filled with crawlers old,
they'll eat the bells, the green, the roots
till all our hearths grow cold."
"The Wandering Star?" Shalonie reached for her belt pouch but didn't take anything out.
"I suppose that could refer to the bright star that appeared a few weeks back? The Nelminorians call it the Wandering Star," Lord Moyar Heartwood commented. "Is the timing of your search relevant to the star?"
"It's actually a planet, not a star," Shalonie corrected absently, dismissing the man as though he were a sibling.
Nikki let out a breath he'd been holding.
"We should spread out, look for the trees." The girl gave a smile to Nikki. "Give a shout if you find a silverbell!"