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~ Previous Chapter ~
HALFWAY UP THE slope, Mhysra’s aunt stood watching the Illuminai approach. The owner and manager of Wrentheria, Mhylla Wrentherin was famous across the Overworld for breeding the best feather-wings money could buy. Whether it was miryhls, nakhounds or doelyns, the quality of Wrentheria’s bloodstock could not be denied.
So when her younger sister married into the wealthy Kilpapan family, eager to explore the world on her new trade skyships, it had seemed wisest to leave the children in the care of Mhylla. Luckily, Mhylla transferred her skills with animals easily to children, and given the choice between her mother’s ships and her aunt’s eyries, Mhysra knew where she’d pick to stay.
Joining her aunt to watch the ship edge into the docking cradle, timbers groaning as they came to rest, Mhysra sighed. “It’ll be years before I can come home.”
Her aunt raised her eyebrows. “I don’t think that’s quite what your parents have in mind.”
“But it’s what I have in mind,” Mhysra grumbled. “I like raising miryhls. Who’ll take care of my chicks when I’m gone?”
“I’m sure we’ll manage,” Mhylla said, having been breeding miryhls for nearly forty years.
Her niece smiled with little amusement. “I know, but it doesn’t make me feel any better. Where do I belong if not here?”
Wrapping an arm about Mhysra’s shoulders, Mhylla gave her a squeeze. “You can belong anywhere you choose, sweetheart, and this will always be your home. Stop fretting. I bet your feather duster isn’t.”
“Cumulo?” Mhysra snorted. “All he cares about is whether he has to fly to Nimbys or not.”
“See.” Mhylla squeezed her again. “If he’s not bothered, you’ve no cause to be. Wherever you go, he’ll go too. Gods have mercy.”
“Hey!” Mhysra pulled away. “Don’t insult my miryhl.”
“Why not? You do.”
“He’s mine, I’m allowed.”
Mhylla smiled. “And that makes all the difference. If you didn’t have him, I might worry. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t. You’ve a wise head on those shoulders, when you choose to remember it. And if, in five years or so, it’s still what you want and your parents agree, come back and we’ll be happy to have you. Who knows what’ll happen twixt then and now? We can’t even predict tomorrow. But I’m sorry to lose you. Bad enough that Kilai deserted me, though I knew Milluqua would never stay. But you, Mhysra, I’ll miss you.”
Since her aunt had three sons and two daughters of her own, all still at home, Mhysra felt no guilt about leaving. Especially when it wasn’t her choice. “Kilai was always headed for the Riders.” Her father’s family had a long and distinguished history in the Rift Riders, one Kilai had been eager to continue. “And I am a Kilpapan. My parents were bound to remember me one day.”
Mhylla chuckled at her gloomy tone and walked towards the ship. “Buck up, chick, your mother’s here.”
Mhysra pulled a face at her aunt’s back. “That’s what I’m afraid of,” she said, watching a slender woman disembark: Lunrai, Countess Kilpapan.
“Lunrai!” The two women embraced and Mhysra felt forgotten as the worlds of the manor and ship intermingled around her. Once she’d had her own allotted place in the dance, but no longer. She’d been tugged apart and left to drift.
“You’re brooding,” a rough voice rumbled in her ear, and she smiled, having felt Cumulo land behind her. A nine-foot tall eagle with a wingspan of over twenty feet would never be famed for its stealth – the downdraft always gave him away.
“Good morning, Cumulo. I trust I find you well.” Lunrai bowed, hand across her heart in deference to the one to whom miryhls were sacred: Goddess Maegla, Lady of Storms.
Though he did not speak – a bonded miryhl spoke only to his partner, except in emergencies – he inclined his head. Though young, Cumulo had impeccable manners. Head still lowered, he rubbed his beak against Mhysra’s back, apologising because her mother had greeted him before even looking at her.
Mhysra was used to it. Her mother was a businesswoman, her social skills honed to deal with clients, potential customers, traders and skyship crews. Since Mhysra came under the haziest of headings- family – Lunrai had never known how to treat her. Unlike her older sister Milluqua, a born society hostess, Mhysra took after her aunt. Without having had the benefit of raising her in which to learn this, Lunrai treated her youngest child like the stranger she was.
“Mhysra. I trust you’re ready to depart tomorrow.” Her mother kissed her stiffly on the cheek and Mhysra jerked with surprise. Not at the throwaway token of affection, but because Lunrai had to stretch up to reach her. When had she outgrown her mother?
Mhylla draped a scarred arm across her niece’s shoulders and smiled. “You’ve a fine girl here, Lunrai. Well-mannered and intelligent. She’s been rearing miryhls on her own these last two summers, and I daresay they’ll be some of our best.”
Lunrai raised delicate eyebrows. “Have you enjoyed your time with your aunt, Mhysra?” she asked, as though she’d merely been on holiday.
Mhylla’s grip tightened in warning when Mhysra bristled on her aunt’s behalf.
Swallowing her anger, she forced herself to be polite. “Yes, Mother. I doubt there’s anyone or any place in the world that could have raised me better.”
Lunrai’s eyebrows remained high. “Oh?” she said, as if amazed that anyone could like Wrentheria. Then she smiled with surprising sweetness. “Good. Thank you, sister, for taking such excellent care of my children. I’m sure you’ll be relieved to relinquish the last of them. I’ve brought letters from Milluqua and Kilai. He mentioned something about nakhound pups?”
While the sisters talked, Mhysra slipped free. She’d done her duty, greeted her mother and been made uncomfortable. Usually she’d help her cousins tally the new supplies and claim her stake for the miryhls, but that wasn’t her role anymore.
“You’re brooding again. Stop it.”
Scowling, she tugged her braid free as her miryhl gave it a tweak. “What else can I do? Tomorrow I’m leaving everything I’ve ever loved, known and wanted to know to go where I know no one but my sister, who I haven’t seen for three years!”
“You’ll still have me.” He nudged her in the back. “I hope you know and value me.”
“Only as much as you do me,” she retorted.
“Look on the happier side of this tragic tale, chickling,” he purred. “It’ll be an adventure. Who knows what excitement lies just around the corner?”
“I already do,” was her gloomy reply. “Dress fittings, etiquette lessons, morning calls, deportment lessons, long dinners, breakfast parties, afternoon tea, dinners, balls, musicales and boredom, boredom, boredom.”
“Hmm.” Cumulo turned to arrange his flight feathers just so. “That doesn’t sound so terrible.”
“That’s because you won’t have to suffer it,” she growled, stomping off. Her uncle wouldn’t turn her away if she offered to muck out horsat stalls. The world didn’t stop just because the countess had arrived.
“Wherever you roam, there I shall be,” Cumulo told her, gliding overhead. “We’ll suffer it together and then we’ll come home. At least you won’t be relegated to some gods-forsaken shed, as I shall be.” He landed in front of her, shuffling his wings into place. “It will be dirty, have rats and be rampant with disease. Scurf will be the least of my problems.”
Her lips twitched at his disgruntlement. “Look on the happier side of this tragic tale, Cue,” she mocked. “It’ll be an adventure. And you might not get feather mites.” Ducking a swipe from his wing, she laughed and darted into the barn.
~ Next Chapter ~
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