(First time reading? Catch up Here!)
~ Previous Chapter ~
In which Lyrai is grumpy, Stirla is Stirla and Mhysra gets a teeny bit annoyed.
“WHAT’S YOUR WAGER? Runaway brat, curious miss or genuine girl?”
Lyrai looked up from studying the depressing duty roster. He was surrounded by grumbling Riders equally dismayed over their new assignment. Merry Midwinter, everyone. “Pardon?”
“We have another one.” Stirla nodded across the busy room, eyes bright and mischievous.
After five years together – from their first day at Aquila through to their current officer training – Lyrai had learned to be wary of that sparkle. Still, a little amusement might ease the sting of being quartered in Nimbys until the following autumn.
He turned to face the cluttered front desk just as the girl reached it. Slender and tall, her dark brown hair was pulled tightly back, accentuating the sharp features of her sun-bronzed face. She wasn’t pretty, but had big, pale eyes that glanced frequently at the Riders. Seeing the silver flashes on his and Stirla’s shoulder, she nodded respectfully before turning to the clerk at the desk.
“Strange little thing,” Stirla murmured. “So, which is it?”
Lyrai waved him to silence, wanting to listen and far too wise to wager with him. Even when he wasn’t cheating, Stirla’s luck was just too good to trust.
“Enrolment is closed.” Brenai the clerk had fussy ways, but he was the best administrator in Nimbys. Lyrai smiled, wondering how the girl would react to his sharp manner.
“I know, but I was unable to come until this morning.” Her voice was polite and clear, softened with a hint of country burr. Well born, but not local. “Since classes don’t begin for another five days, I hoped I might still be admitted.”
Her friendly smile didn’t sway Brenai one bit. He peered over his glasses and sniffed. “Enrolment closed yesterday. Rift Riders live or die by their punctuality. We make no exceptions.” The gathered Riders snickered. In theory what Brenai said was true, but in practise…
Irritation flashed over the girl’s face. Instead of unleashing it, though, she took a deep breath. “I was unable to come before, sir.”
“Try again next year,” Brenai advised brusquely, and with more than a touch of disapproval. As well he might. The clerk had been particularly vocal in opposing the recent changes to the Flying Corps.
The girl took another deep breath and forced a smile. “If I had another choice, sir, I would not ask,” she said, a hint of desperation creeping in. “It’s Midwinter.”
Brenai’s eyebrows drew together and he pushed his papers aside, squaring the corners neatly as if the haphazard piles behind him did not exist. “I hesitate to be rude, miss, but what’s the hurry? The proclamation will still apply next year. It’s a five-year trial. There’s no rush and there will be plenty of miryhls left, if you want this badly enough. The thinking time will do you good. This isn’t an easy life. Take a little Midwinter advice and leave it another year.”
The young woman’s hands clenched and her body stiffened with all the hauteur that the upper classes had cultivated over the centuries. “You do not understand, sir,” she growled. “I’m not some featherheaded miss with no clue as to what Rider duties entail. I don’t need to think about it. A year’s grace will not do me good. I am not anticipating an easy life.” She leaned over the waist-high desk and whispered something too softly for the curious Riders to hear.
Brenai sat back, clearly surprised. Then he laughed. “What a Midwinter tale! Wingborn, indeed. You must think me thirty years younger than I am!”
Wingborn! The shock rippled through the room as the Riders reassessed the girl. She couldn’t have been more than fifteen and showed no signs of a life with miryhls. She was too thin and free of scars. As wondrous and intelligent as miryhls were, they were still giant eagles with all the sharp edges and predatory instincts to match their wild cousins. Even the gentlest bird could draw blood on occasion.
Unlike Brenai and the civilian population, Rift Riders knew Wingborn existed – but they were rare. A miryhl hatching at the exact moment a human was born, within a mile of each other. One soul split in two. The phenomenon had once been more widespread when miryhls had bred more freely, but they had never been common. Breeding farms were now established in more remote areas, protecting the birds and limiting human contact until they were fully trained. Who was this girl and where was she from?
“I can prove it,” the girl insisted, trembling with anger. “Just let me fetch my miryhl.”
The clerk stopped laughing. “You have a miryhl?”
“I am Wingborn,” she growled.
Brenai waved her words away, all stern business now that the joke was over. “Where did you get him? Name, place and date of birth, and the same for your miryhl, if you please. You do know it is illegal to own a miryhl outside of Rift Rider purposes, do you not?”
“Unless one is Wingborn,” she reminded him stiffly. “Or of a ruling royal or political house. I know the regulations, sir. I was born at Wrentheria.”
“The village?” the clerk asked, searching for fresh paper.
The look she shot Brenai was almost pitying. “The manor. I’ve been breeding miryhls for two years and helping raise others my whole life.”
Lyrai raised his eyebrows, unsure if he believed her. Wrentheria was renown throughout the Overworld as one of the best – if not the best – breeder of miryhls. The simple way she said the name didn’t sound like a boast, but nor did she look tough enough. Miryhl breeding was not easy, especially for those of shorter stature. The girl was tall for her age, but still barely half the size of an adult miryhl.
Brenai looked sceptical and held out a hand. “Your letter of recommendation.”
Her shoulders sagged. “I don’t have one.”
The clerk sighed and took off his glasses to massage his nose. “You come here making wild claims with no supporting evidence and expect me to admit you, even though official registration closed yesterday. Your credentials are wondrous, miss, if they are true. Since you cannot prove them… The Rift Riders do not look kindly on timewasters.”
Her jaw clenched. “Then I will fetch your proof, sir.” Turning on her heel she stormed away.
The watching Riders waited eagerly to see how the drama would unfold next, whispering bets between each other. It was almost as good as a play. When the girl was two angry paces away from the door, it was flung open by a young man with wind-tossed curls and a beaming smile. He wore the lightweight gear used by messengers and carried a document bag over his shoulder.
“Mhysra!” he greeted and, without even a hitch in his stride, swept the girl into his arms. “Well met and Midwinter blessings. I was looking for you next so you’ve saved me an awkward meeting with my aunt.”
“Mherrin!” the girl squealed, completely at odds with her previous behaviour. “What are you doing here? Where are you staying? How long? Is my aunt well? How is everyone? Oh, I’ve missed you!” She wrapped her arms around the messenger’s neck again.
“All right,” Stirla murmured in Lyrai’s ear. “I’m completely lost. Are you keeping up?”
“At least it’s entertaining,” Lyrai replied, while the youngsters chattered about people no one else in the room knew. There was enough of a similarity in their sharp features and softly-burred accents for them to be related. “Which is more than we usually get in Nimbys.”
“Seven months,” someone else groaned, setting off a rumble of discontent.
Brenai stood up and cleared his throat loudly. “Messenger, have you anything for me?”
Recalled to his duty, the lad dropped the girl, straightened his jacket and strode across the room. He sorted through the letters inside his bag, handing two to the girl and a third to the clerk. That done, he straightened up importantly.
“I bring greetings from Mhylla Wrentherin Mhynara of Wrentheria, and her personal recommendation that her niece, Lady Mhysra Kilpapan Kilrenma, be permitted to join the Rift Riders, in accordance with the new proclamation readmitting women into their exalted ranks for the first time in over one hundred years.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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