(First time reading? Catch up Here!)
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Catching up with Mherrin.
THE AIR HAD an icy bite as Mhysra exited the HQ and raised her face to the watery sun, murmuring prayers of thanks to as many gods as she could name. Two for Maegla, since the Goddess of Storms was Mhysra’s favourite and the patron deity of the Riders. Opening her eyes, she looked down across the city to where the Storm Goddess’ cathedral rose high above the docklands like a finger of divinity pointing to where all should look for guidance.
Beyond it rolled the Cloud Sea, an everlasting blanket of pure whiteness. Under the soft winter sun it looked plush and inviting. Yet to step onto those false waves was to fall for all time. Or so the legends said. But once there had been something beneath it, once there had been a whole world down there, before the gods cursed the people and covered the world in white.
Wrenching her thoughts away from gods and curses, Mhysra grinned and ran to where her cousin was waiting for her.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she shouted, throwing an arm around his neck and hugging him hard. Caught between them, the puppy yipped happily and tried to wash both their faces at once.
“You’re – urgh! Pup slobber.” Mherrin pulled free and scrubbed his sleeve across his cheek, looking less and less like a professional messenger by the moment. Instead he looked like her favourite cousin, with his wind-tossed curls, dancing eyes and an ever-present smile.
“You’re a star,” she told him, popping onto her toes to kiss his brown cheek. “I was beginning to doubt they’d let me in, until you arrived like the south wind at the end of winter.”
“You know me,” he demurred with false modesty. “I always show up when I’m wanted.”
“And even more often when you’re not.”
Chuckling, Mherrin threw an arm around her shoulders and they began the long descent to the city. “There’s my Mhysra. I was starting to think Nimbys had got to you already.” At her wince, he laughed. “Deportment lessons going well?”
“Gods, don’t!” she groaned. “You’d think I’d been a hunchback all my life. It’s all sit up straight, Mhysra. Lift your shoulders, put your chin up, don’t slouch, breathe properly. As if I’d been doing it wrong all these years.”
“Since you’re still alive, I’ll assume you’ve been getting some of it right.”
“You’d think so, but no, apparently not. I’ve developed some shockingly bad habits, or so Milli says.” Having spent eight years living in the whirl of Nimbys society, Mhysra’s sister Milluqua had taken on the daunting task of teaching her youngest sibling how to behave. Much though Mhysra loved her sister, things were not going well.
Mherrin laughed again. “Well, no lies there. You’ve got a terrible predilection for things with wings and the amount of clothes you used to get through back home was appalling.”
“Say’s you, the soot and scorch king of Wrentheria,” she defended hotly. “At least mine was only blood.”
“Only.” He snorted. “As if that makes it any better.”
“Well, at least my clothes could be cut up for rags afterwards. There was never anything left of yours once the pyreflies were done with you.” She nudged him with her shoulder. “Did you ever think those burns were a hint that they didn’t like you?”
Her cousin gave a delighted chuckle – as well he might. Everyone liked Mherrin, even bad-tempered, fire-breathing, winged horses. As much as they liked anyone, anyway. “If that’s so, what’s your excuse? That blood didn’t get all over your shirts by accident.”
“Miryhls eat raw meat,” she protested. “And they’re messy feeders. The blood wasn’t mine. Mostly,” she added, to be fair. “Besides, everyone knows miryhl chicks play rough.”
Since they both knew she would never admit to a fault in her beloved birds, Mherrin ruffled her curls and changed the subject. “I take it from the scene I just interrupted that the earl’s answer is still no.”
Her shoulders slumped. “He won’t listen to me and actively avoids me now. I only see him at meal times, and I’m not allowed to ask then in case I give him indigestion.” She’d been so excited when she’d found out about the proclamation, thinking that maybe moving to Nimbys would turn into a wonderful surprise. Instead it was just a constant disappointment.
Mherrin hugged her shoulders. “I’m sorry, cuz. For what it’s worth Mam thinks the earl’s a gods-blasted fool. And I can’t repeat what she said about the countess.”
That brought a trembling smile to Mhysra’s lips. Mhylla Wrentherin and her sister, Lunrai, Countess Kilpapan, could not have turned out more different. Both were excellent business women in their own right, but Mhylla was proud of her rough edges granted by the Lowland countryside, while Lunrai had worked very hard to scrape hers off.
Mhylla was up-front, occasionally brusque, but always honest about what she was thinking and feeling. Wrentheria was important to her, but family came first. She would do anything to ensure the happiness of her children, and ever since Mhysra had been left to her care at a month old she’d counted as one of Mhylla’s.
Lunrai was considered by many to be the epitome of an Imercian lady. Well-bred and refined, with a sharp business brain and excellent conversation. Family was important to her, but only so far as it could further the Kilpapan interests. Which was why Mhysra and her older brother and sister had been left at Wrentheria to grow up. It was far more convenient to keep the children out of the way until they were useful.
As such this was the first time in Mhysra’s life that she’d had to live with her parents. She’d spent time with them before, of course, but only briefly, during occasional Midwinter and Midsummer holidays, or when her mother stopped at Wrentheria to replenish supplies. It was the first time Mhysra couldn’t just grit her teeth and tick off the days until she went home. Nimbys was home now. Her time as a Kilpapan had arrived.
Mherrin rubbed her arm. “Cheer up, cuz. Remember how miserable you were before you heard about the proclamation.”
Gods, that was not a happy thought. “You always know just what to say to make me feel better.”
“I’m here to help,” he chuckled.
Before the letters had arrived informing Mhysra of her new future away from Wrentheria, she had just started taking on more duties at the farm – tending miryhl eggs, watching the chicks hatch, nursing them through their first few months. True, every Wingborn in the history of the Overworld must have dreamed of becoming a Rift Rider, but Mhysra was practical. She was a girl, and girls did not join the Flying Corps. Yes, Cumulo’s presence in her life meant she had always been a little different, but, well, the Riders were the elite and it was highly unlikely they’d make an exception for one girl. Even a Wingborn.
So she’d set her heart on following in her aunt’s footsteps instead and breeding the best miryhls the Overworld had ever known. It was a quiet dream but within reach, one that would have meant Cumulo could have company.
Until the letter arrived and her mother had appeared. Whatever dreams Mhysra might have had of returning to Wrentheria had been swiftly snuffed out on her arrival, when she’d been spun into the life she’d supposedly been born to.
Mhysra knew nothing of balls, parties or afternoon tea. Her world was a dawn wake-up call, a bucket of bloody meat and a mob of scrawny dog-sized chicks, scrabbling to be fed. She hadn’t even owned a skirt back at the manor. The summons had been a nightmare – until the news of the proclamation had reached her.
For the first time, the ten-day sail from Wrentheria to Nimbys had been exciting. Mhysra couldn’t wait to reach the city and gain her parents’ permission. Surely he couldn’t refuse, not when her brother Kilai was already a Rider and she had her own miryhl bound to her by ties more important than blood.
Except the earl had refused, and continued to do so whenever she managed to squeeze a word into the conversation.
No. That was all he’d had to say when she’d finished her breathless, haphazard, enthusiastic and probably incoherent request. According to a later angry tirade the Rift Riders might have been accepting women again, but no Kilpapan lady was going to prostitute herself to their lax morals and lowborn ruffians. Or something.
Her mother had simply laughed. Gods, was it any wonder she hated Nimbys so much?
“Don’t fret, cuz,” Mherrin told her, as they reached the hustle of the streets below. “You’re in now and if you keep your head down long enough, you’ll be off to Aquila before the earl and countess can blink.”
Mhysra summoned up a smile. It wasn’t quite the way she’d wanted this to happen, but if it was the only way, then that was what she’d do. “Thanks, Mherrin,” she murmured and kissed his cheek again. Her cousin meant well, but he had two parents who supported him whole-heartedly in whatever way he wanted. Still, it was good of him to come.
“Chin up, spine straight, shoulders back,” he ordered, in an unerringly accurate impression of Milluqua at her most militant. “Now off to tell that feather-duster of yours the good news. And it is good news, Mhysra, remember that.”
This time her smile was bright. “You’re right.”
“I always am,” he sighed. “I’ve been telling you that for years.”
She laughed. “It is good news. Cumulo will be so pleased. You’re the best!” Squeezing him again, she darted off into the crowds, while the nakhound puppy in her arms barked with excitement.
~ Next Chapter ~
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