King Erwin had come in person for Blaadfork and Natalie’s departure. He greeted the dragon, then clasped Natalie’s right hand in both of his.
“My child, I offer you the thanks of my entire kingdom. It is clear to me that you not only saved the lives of Roland and Nettleby, but many others in these lands besides; perhaps even my own.”
Natalie knelt in the manner Roland had explained to her shortly before, when he realized she did not know anything of court etiquette. “It is my honor to have served you, Your Majesty.” She groped for something more. “Should I ever return, I hope to be able to serve you yet again.”
King Erwin smiled and motioned for Natalie to stand. “Your service would be welcome to me at any time, Natalie.” He glanced up at the dragon. “Let us therefore say merely ‘until our paths meet again’ rather then ‘farewell’.”
“Until our paths meet again, Your Majesty.” Natalie agreed. Blaadfork nodded.
The official King’s Farewell then dissolved into a series of private goodbyes, promises, hugs, and even a kiss planted by Natalie on the cheek of a blushing Roland. Eventually, she was ready aboard Blade’s back and everyone stepped back so the dragon could take to the air.
While some stood to watch the pair out of sight, Orlauf turned and placed his right hand on Nettleby’s shoulder. “Walk with me, Nettleby.”
The area around the tree where Orlauf had listened to his instincts and spoken to Natalie was quiet and deserted. Orlauf’s instincts had been true to him once, and he was about to listen to them again. “Nettleby, you have great promise. It is clear to me from your description of your dream and others you’ve had that you have potential for being a Seer.”
Thank you, Seer, but you should know I have no training in that area.”
“That can be remedied. It cannot have escaped your eyes that I am of advanced years. It is time I found a suitable replacement and trained him to ascend to my post when I am no longer able to fulfill my duties. You will already be here for an extended period working with me on the crystal armor and getting things settled for the, er, former Graylings. Nettleby, I propose to name you as my successor and train you to the post.”
Nettleby hesitated only the briefest of moments before inclining his head respectfully. “I am honored to accept, Seer Orlauf.”
Blade flew steadily, neither of them speaking, until the castle was lost in the distance behind them. Abruptly, it was night, and Natalie realized they were home.
“It will be roughly an hour since we left, so your mom may be waiting for us.”
“I thought I’d have been gone days. You mean I didn’t even miss any school?”
The dragon’s laughter rumbled. “Sorry, little one, but no.” Blade touched down where they’d first met. As the dragon had speculated, Emma was waiting for them.
“Are you okay, honey?” Emma hugged her daughter as soon as she climbed down, and Natalie returned the hug with somewhat more intensity than she’d expected.
Natalie looked up and smiled reassuringly. “I am now, Mom, but I sure had a heck of an adventure.” They hugged again, a long one. “I guess it’s my turn for storytelling time now, huh?” Natalie broke the silence at last.
“Indeed it is, and I’ll want to hear all about this one. Tell me, Blade…” Emma’s voice trailed off as she realized the dragon was no longer there. A sound of sweeping wings drew her and Natalie’s attention upward, and they both watched the dragon’s shadow cross the moon.
“Why’d he take off like that?” Natalie demanded. “I wanted to tell him goodbye.”
“He did that to me sometimes, too. I think he hates goodbyes. He will be back, though.” Emma smiled at her daughter and placed an arm around her shoulders. “Now, let’s get back inside. You have school tomorrow.”
“Aw, Mom! Did you have to say that?”
—- THE END —-