The Keeper and the Dragons - Cover

The Keeper and the Dragons

Copyright© 2023 by Charly Young

Chapter 4

Little Wolf Creek, Winthrop, WA

Niamh Harpe, a lithe six-foot blond blue-eyed panther shifter, looked like she should be gracing the cover of Vogue. Instead, she wore a pair of well-worn grey Carhartt bib overalls and a paint-stained sweatshirt with the University of Washington on the front.
She was in her workshop using a spoon gouge to carve out the undercuts that would outline the forest in the bottom corner of a cedar plank mural. She had harvested the massive plank from a windblown cedar she had come upon on one of her biweekly hunts. Her carving was a labor of love, a nice transition from her regular job as the lead investigator/enforcer for the Kin Council, which governed all species of shifter-kin from California to Alaska.

Jeffery, the little boy she had rescued from Dökkálfar slavers, watched with fascinated eyes as she switched gouges and carved out tiny trees in the forest along the edge. The seven-year-old’s time as a slave had dampened his natural exuberance, but some healing from Anna, the hedge witch, had gone a long way toward repairing his psyche. He was still hyper-alert to disapproval, but this morning, he had been brave enough to say he didn’t like sunny-side-up eggs.

A major win.

Niamh could tell he was dying to ask a million questions, but Jeffery was a rule follower; slaves knew all about the harsh punishment that followed rule-breaking. Niamh had asked him to keep quiet while she was working, so he just watched.

In the three weeks since his rescue, she had worked out a mutual fostering system with Anna, the Opari Hedge Witch down in Emory. Jeffery stayed with her when she was not on assignment and with Anna when she was gone. Most of the other fourteen rescued children, including Jeffery’s sister, were with families in Oldtown. The remaining mundane children kidnapped from Seattle were spell-secreted and returned to their families — traumatized but far better off than they would have been as slaves for the Dökkálfar in Alfheim.

A vehicle crunching on the gravel road outside the shop interrupted her work. She looked out and recognized it as her grandfather’s truck.

“Damn, what does he want?”

Niamh sighed and put her knives and gouges away on the shelves, away from curious fingers.

“Come on, Jeffery, let’s go greet my grandfather.”

Niamh’s grandfather, Selwyn Harpe, was a panther shifter in his seventies who looked to be in his forties. A fit man with white hair trimmed short, he had clear gray eyes set deep within their sockets. A scar stretched from the top of the right cheek to the edge of his lips gave him a sardonic grin that was unsettling. According to family legend, the scar was a memento from a hunter’s lucky shot during Selwyn’s first adolescent shift. The bullet left a mark stretching across his right cheekbone. The shooter hadn’t survived to tender an apology. These days, he showed his alpha predator nature by ruling the Kin Council, the body that governed all shifter-kin on the West Coast.

Niamh watched, stone-faced, as he got out of the truck, looked around, spread his arms and breathed deeply.

“Singer and Song bless you, granddaughter.”

“And you as well, grandfather,” she replied.

“This is a fine place. Your mother would be proud of how well you’ve kept it up. I see you’ve added on as well.”

“What do you want, grandfather? I’m sure you didn’t drive four hours from Bellingham to Winthrop to admire the home place of a woman you absolutely hated when she was alive.”

“I will admit that I would have chosen a different mate for your father, but it all worked out in the end. You’ve turned out to be an excellent addition to the family line. Granddaughter, you need to move to Bellingham and stop this foolishness of living way out here. You need to get rid of the boy; no good can come of you saddling yourself with a mundane.”

“Not going to happen, grandfather.”

Niamh kept a firm grasp on her temper. To allow herself to be baited by the old man was to lose.

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