Of Cats And Dragons

Couple hugging

Nikki Chapter 8

The battle is over, but much remains to be settled. And there are still quite a few surprises coming Nikki's way.

Fairy girl 8
Story contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Wyldwood Fate. This should be read AFTER you finish the book.
Big Hug

Till All Our Hearths Grow Cold

7 turned away and joined his family, leaving Nikki filled with worry. The young Deldano scanned the ruined field, his eyes sweeping over the mashed-down grass and broken logs. The trees lay flat in all directions, as if a mass of woodcutters had started in the center and destroyed everything in their path. Those bugs would have cleared this entire forest — and even that wouldn't have been enough. He understood now what everyone meant when they spoke of the threat to the world.

But what about the threat to Shalonie? Where is she?

While a host of Sundragons circled overhead, both Geryon and Salthain — in their human shape — stood in the center of the glade and conferred with Moyar and Ferthan. All four looked battle-weary.

Nikki started toward Geryon. Shalonie's dragon has got to be concerned about her. He can help—

But even as he began to wave down Geryon, the dragon turned his head sharply and stared toward one side of the clearing.

Nikki followed his eyeline to spot Shalonie emerging through the trees.

The dread clouding Nikki's brain lifted.

Omen, Tormy, Kyr, Templar, Dev, and several men accompanied the girl. But Nikki could not tear his eyes away from her. Her clothes were wrinkled, her face was smudged, her hair had come loose from its braid. She'd never looked more beautiful. Until she smiled. Her eyes gleamed as her mouth formed a word. He couldn't hear her, but he read the soft movement of her lips.

"Nikki."

Shock ran through him when he saw her speak his name. Hope I didn't imagine that!

Nikki rushed forward.

Shalonie threw her arms wide.

They met and hugged tightly. He lifted her off the ground, and they spun around and around, laughing out loud.

To him, her silvery laugh was the very balm to soothe his distress.

And the sheer joy of their reunion underscored an emotion that ran far deeper.

"You're back," he said.

"You won't believe what we've seen," she spoke over a chorus of squeaky cheers coming from a group of red-hatted fae who danced around them in circles.

"Great sorceress! Great sorceress!" the little men called, and Nikki realized that somehow these little fae recognized Shalonie — despite the fact that she'd been lost in that castle all day.

"Looks like you've gathered quite a following," he said as he set the girl back down on her feet. She stumbled slightly so he quickly caught her arm, noting how she favored one leg. He also noticed the lute strapped across her back — almost in mirror to the one he carried. That's Omen's lute — or Beren's old one. How the two of them had both ended up with the two lutes, he did not know — but it spoke to a sense of symmetry that felt fateful.

"I fell into their tunnels," she said, leaning against him tiredly. "I saved one of their friends by saving a tree seedling."

Staring into her eyes, he barely heard what she had said.

She is so beautiful. The dimples when she smiles . . . He wanted to tell her.

"We used a bomb to blow up the portal," Shalonie said then. And someone shouted, "Kablooey!"

Startled, Nikki released his arms from around the girl's waist and stepped back.

Shalonie laughed.

Is she laughing at me?

"Yes, kablooey!"

She didn't seem to be laughing at him; instead she seemed to be sharing a joke with the group of Red Hats, who now hopped about and sang, "Kablooey, kablooey, kablooey!"

Behind the ring of faerie folk, Shalonie's admirers gathered and glared at him. Much to Nikki's amusement, the would-be suitors didn't dare breach the barrier the dancing fae had formed.

"There's just so much to tell," Shalonie said breathlessly, seeming not to notice the grumbling men. "I have to tell you about the queen who gave her baby to Tormy. And there was this dance, and a library, and a portal—" Her words cut off as she winced and rubbed at her knee.

"Are you hurt?" he asked.

"Just a bad knee," she assured him, then dropped her voice into a whisper. "Omen's going to kill me when he sees what I did to his lute."

It took him a moment to realize what she was talking about — there were black sigils drawn all over the fine surface of the cherrywood instrument. But before he could ask, Geryon stepped forward.

"Shouldn't you see a healer, Shalonie?"

His question was echoed by the other men standing just outside the ring of dancing fae, and the glares Nikki received were intensifying. They're right — get her healed first. He looked around for Beren, knowing his father, even exhausted as he was, could heal a bad knee in seconds.

"An Elder Tree!" The phrase was shouted so loudly that it drew all their attention. It had come from a group of faerie surrounding Kyr, who held aloft what looked like a large golden acorn or pine cone.

The faerie folk swarmed together as if drawn by a magnet, an argument breaking out as they all claimed ownership of Kyr's prize without question or consideration.

"Oh dear," Shalonie murmured. "I suppose it was too much to hope it was just a talking potato."

Confusion flared within Nikki. "What's an Elder Tree?"

Shalonie opened her mouth as if to answer and then gave a heavy sigh. "I have a seventeen-volume book series on the subject — it will take me a while to summarize."

The faerie continued to clamor — not only claiming ownership of the tree, but also trying to decide what to do with it and where to plant it. Their ideas ranged from presenting the Elder Tree to the Lords and Ladies of Faerie to planting it in the cursed castle Shalonie had just escaped.

Nikki guessed the fervent shouts would have escalated into fisticuffs if it hadn't been for the kitten Tyrin letting out a sharp reprimand punctuated by loud merows.

"Shut ups! You is making my Kyr sad!" the tiny cat roared from his perch on the boy's shoulder.

The faerie folk fell silent, but Nikki could sense their restlessness.

Shalonie grinned. "The little guy is so protective of Kyr."

The small orange kitten pressed himself against the side of the boy's head. "Kyr, why is you sadnessness?"

"I told the baby tree all about the White Grove. It wants to see the grove, and the foxels, and the children, and hear the music. It was so excited now that it knows it's not a potato."

Nikki watched the faerie following the quiet exchange with great interest.

"What do you mean you told the tree?" a faerie wearing a cloak of leaves broke in, clearly alarmed by what her sharp ears had picked up. "It's a seed. It hasn't put down any roots yet. How can it talk?"

Nikki was certain the cat would not tolerate any questioning of Kyr and prepared for the feisty feline's immoderate response.

"It talks!" Kyr proclaimed instead.

Tensing slightly, Shalonie started to move toward Omen. Nikki followed, trying to assess if he would be protecting Tyrin and Kyr from the faerie or the faerie from Tyrin and Kyr.

"It helped us," Kyr went on, his voice unexpectedly strong. "It told me about the dance and math, though we never figured out the geometry part so we used Shalonie's weird little numbers instead. And it sang the time song — the one about going the correct direction, not the one about how long tea takes to make. We wouldn't have been able to escape the castle if it hadn't helped us."

"What is he talking—" Nikki quietly directed toward Shalonie.

"Like I said," Shalonie muttered, "a lot happened in that castle. I'll catch you up later."

The faerie were silent for several seconds, looking around, confusion written all over their faces. Suddenly, a lithe wood sprite with lavender hair pushed to the front and declared, "A tree knows best where it must place its roots. But I know of seventeen White Groves — which one do you mean?"

"Did she just say . . ." Shalonie stuttered in shock and then pushed in toward Kyr, drawing Nikki and the others with her. "Do you mean my White Grove near Featherplume Pond?"

"Yes," Kyr said, a huge smile on his face. "I told it all about the foxels and their poetry."

"My mother isn't going to like that," Shalonie said just loud enough for Nikki to hear.

"What are foxels?" Nikki asked the girl.

"The foxels is writings the bestestest poetry," Tyrin answered at the same time as Shalonie said, "Melian fox folk."

"Fox poetry?" Nikki looked from Shalonie to the cat.

"I is showings you!" The kitten folded his tail around his paws and began:


"Empty trees perk with sweet sap.

Warming breeze stirs tail and whiskers.

Rejoice, rejoice in blooming colors,

New leaves spring from melting ice."


The faeries clapped and cheered with unbridled exhilaration.

That's not half bad, Nikki thought.

"How glorious!" the fae called out. "A poem about springtime!"

"Such genius! Such wit!"

"They must be scholars of the Great Monrothee!" a small man dressed in dark leathers spoke with soft awe. "It is a marvel."

"That's a big compliment," Shalonie explained quietly. "They revere Monrothee."

"We must go on a pilgrimage!" one faerie declared, and a gaggle of tiny, flying fairies agreed. They sounded like a swarm of bees.

"Where is this White Grove?" The question had been inevitable.

Shalonie winced.

"It's in Melia City Proper—" Omen began, only to be cut off by Tyrin.

"That is being easy," Tyrin said blithely. "When you gets to the city where we is living, you is going to the left, over the river, and then to the right."

"To the left! Over the river! To the right!" the woodland folk shouted with glee; a group of small men with tall green hats started in on a new impromptu song as they marched around in circles: "Over the river and to the left, we'll march to Melia Proper. We'll dance and sing, and raise some cheer, and leave the wine unstoppered!"

"Wait a minute." Moyar stepped into the mix as the loud conversation drew many others toward the group. All the Melians looked concerned — though Nikki thought it curious that both Geryon and Salthain, standing nearby, said nothing, seeming content to watch how things played out. He still couldn't quite figure out what sort of authority the Hold Lords had versus that of the Sundragons themselves.

"Stopping these monstrous creatures was one thing," Hold Lord Moyar said loudly. "We were glad to help as we were all in danger. But we can't have large groups of faerie wandering through Melia. There will be chaos! You belong here, in your wild woods. Not to mention — who's going to guard this magical tree? We can't be responsible if someone mistakenly cuts it down. Not a Melian obviously, but we have all sorts of foreigners running around these days."

"We shall guard it!" a tall, muscular fae dressed in fur shouted and raised both hands.

The faerie crowd cheered.

"We shall have pilgrimages."

"And travel to the White Grove to see the Elder Tree!"

"And we shall guard it. Pilgrimages and an honor guard!"

A heated debate arose until Moyar's voice cut through the din. "It's a great risk to all of us. Until and unless we establish a dependable solution for the tree's security, it cannot come to Melia."

"This isn't going to get solved like that," Nikki murmured to Shalonie. "The faerie are never going to understand — it's like asking the wind not to blow."

Shalonie smiled at him, a look of surprise in her eyes as if she were impressed by what he'd said. "Are you aware that you just quoted the Great Monrothee?"

A sudden whoosh of air and a quick darkening of the sky drew their attention upward. A large Sundragon descended in smooth circles and landed a small distance away.

"That's Lady Kidra," Shalonie told Nikki.

The Sundragon folded her wings and moved toward the group with a grace incomprehensible for a creature of her size. As she walked, she shifted into her human form, a green velvet robe wrapping around her golden skin, and a circlet of tiny white flowers holding back long golden hair.

"Lady Kidra trains the healers," Shalonie went on. "Hers is the magic of the woodlands."

"I will guard the Elder Tree," the ancient Sundragon said with a voice sweet as honey and smooth as silk. "Many Melians work with me, Lord Moyar. It would be our honor."

Nikki held his breath, anticipating a confrontation between the inflexible Hold Lord and the dragon.

To Nikki's surprise, Moyar only bowed his head.

Immediately, a little sprite called out, "The glorious Sundragons will guard our holy tree!"

Many hurrahs followed.

Moyar Heartwood straightened back up, his lips pressed together as though he'd eaten a lemon. "If I may, Lady Kidra," the young man said, his tone respectful. "What about the chaos? The tree is one thing, but we can't have this many faerie coming and going in Melia."

At that, Beren stepped into the circle and placed himself at Lady Kidra's side.

Murmurs and gasps swept through the rows of faerie, and all seemed to have something to say about Nikki's father — not all of it flattering.

They're afraid of him. It made Nikki sad to see the truth of it. But given what he had witnessed on the battlefield, he understood. Bardic magic was far more powerful than he'd realized — and far more dangerous.

Beren waited, allowing the voices to die down. Then he flashed a winning smile. "Perhaps we need someone to act as a go-between for the Melians and faerie," he spoke directly to the dragon, as though no one else was present.

"Who do you have in mind, Lord Beren?"

Beren opened his mouth to answer, but the Sundragon continued with a sharper tone. "You yourself are far too busy to take up the task."

Beren stood still.

Did she just reprimand him? Nikki looked from his father to Shalonie.

She noticed his unspoken question and mouthed, "Later."

There's a lot more to this, he thought to himself, wondering how he'd managed to be in the thick of it and still have no idea what was going on.

"My son, Niktern Deldano," Beren said evenly.

Wait — what?

He hadn't heard his full name in years. "Nikki," he shocked himself even as he corrected his father. "I've always gone by Nikki."

But before he could say or do anything else, the dragon spoke again, "Our faerie ambassador." Her tone brooked no argument. "Nikki Deldano."

Thoughts on 'Nikki Chapter 8'?

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ro lunn said about Nikki Chapter 8: Reply

I am just so pleased how you intertwine the story linesl

Young love, faeries, dragons, music and poetry - what else could I need?

Cyndy Shubert-Jett said about Nikki Chapter 8: Reply

Absolute perfection!!! I really hope the whole thing gets put in one novella so I can enjoy it all over again in one single read. I hope our next excursion builds a bit on this. Love it.

Pat Parker said about Nikki Chapter 8: Reply

So Nikki gets an upgrade!! He's a great character. Coming up from the tavern into the life of magic and being smart and brave about it. So glad Shalonie loves him back!!

Brittany McDonald said about Nikki Chapter 8: Reply

Hello hello hello!

Oh how wonderful this story continues to be.

It sure looks like Nikki is becoming most important without even understanding why.

It also looks like, and I hope so, that Shalonie really likes him. Maybe as much as Nikki likes her. A match made inMelia!

I do hope there is more coming as I will wait patiently for this beautiful story to continue.

Your forever fan,

Brittany

Renee Relation said about Nikki Chapter 8: Reply

That was great! I cannot wait to see how the romance plays out. Definitely a great addition.

robin ervin said about Nikki Chapter 8: Reply

I loved the whole story :). I waited til just now to read all the chapters because i knew the anticipation would drive me nuts.