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~ Previous Chapter ~
In which Cumulo has a bath, Stirla is impressed and poor Atyrn feels left out.
“YOU KNOW, I’M not sure you should bathe in a reservoir,” Mhysra said later that afternoon, as she scrambled around her soggy miryhl, riffling her fingers through his damp feathers, getting out the dirt and encouraging them to dry. “It’s not very hygienic.”
Pulling his head up from preening his flight feathers, Cumulo sniffed. “Where else am I supposed to bathe?”
Mhysra turned to view the world around them. Nimbys was just one of many mountains making up the northern edge of the Imercian range, but it, like all the others, was doused in a heavy blanket of snow. Most of the mountains had some source of water amongst their craggy peaks, but likewise the majority of them were frozen. The only reason this lake above Nimbys wasn’t was because the city worked very hard to keep the water flowing.
“Good point.” After all, a bird of Cumulo’s size could hardly be expected to roll in the snow, like a pair of playful ravens were currently doing on the slopes above them. Especially considering the state Cumulo had been in.
“It’s too late now anyway.” Cumulo sniffing, giving himself a thorough shake and fluffing up like an oversized chicken. He squawked in dismay and frantically began preening his feathers flat again.
“I suppose,” Mhysra sighed, helping to smooth him down. He was so vain.
“And I could hardly turn up at the Rider eyries looking like I did. It would have created completely the wrong impression.”
She certainly couldn’t argue with that. “Well, you look splendid now.”
He puffed up his chest with pride.
“Apart from your tail, but I’m sure it’ll grow back soon.”
Cumulo deflated, peering over his shoulder and waggling the offending appendage. The feathers were bent and ragged, but the rest of him looked good. The shore around them was scattered with broken feathers, several of which had been carried off and partially chewed by the nakhound pup.
A shadow swept over them and they both looked up, Mhysra shading her eyes against the pallid sun, Cumulo half-mantling his wings in protective readiness. An enormous miryhl circled above them before coming into land. It wasn’t the first they’d seen this morning, but all the others had been part of Rider patrols and flown onwards with curious glances. Mhysra soon realised why this one was different.
Not only was the almost-black female the largest she had ever seen – and since female miryhls were normally bigger than males, this one had to be female – there was also a familiar Rider on her back. Tall, broad across the shoulders with merry green eyes and a scar across his brown cheek, his was a form she could hardly forget. The stripes on his uniform only made him more memorable.
“Lieutenant Stirla,” Mhysra greeted, as the grinning lieutenant slid down from his saddle and ruffled his miryhl’s neck feathers. “What brings you up here?” She hoped it wasn’t to tell them off. She’d told Cumulo he shouldn’t bathe in the reservoir, but when had he ever listened to her?
“Looking for you, of course. I was starting to think you’d got lost,” the lieutenant replied, laughing as the nakhound puppy bounded over to say hello. After leaning down to stroke her, Stirla straightened and eyed Cumulo with an admiring whistle. “Stamp me impressed and ship me to Havia, that is one good looking bird.”
Ever ready to be admired, Cumulo puffed up his freshly preened chest, knowing how to tilt his head just so to make golden highlights glint across his feathers. Behind the lieutenant, the big female gave an affronted ruffle of her wings and glowered at her Rider.
“What’s his name?” Stirla asked, glancing at Mhysra to confirm the gender before coming closer to inspect Cumulo, the nakhound pup dancing around his feet. “He looks fully grown already, but if he’s your Wingborn he can’t be more than, what, fifteen? Does that mean he still has five years of growing to do?”
A little offended on behalf of the female eagle, Mhysra folded her arms and called her fawning puppy to heel. “Cumulo and I are sixteen,” she corrected. “As a Wingborn his growth matches mine, so rather than maturing at twenty, he’ll probably peak in a year or two.” The glance she shot her miryhl suggested that though he might have almost finished growing physically, mentally he still had a lot of work to do.
Cumulo winked at her and obligingly spread his wings for the lieutenant. Show off.
Shooting him a withering glare, Mhysra approached the neglected female. “She’s beautiful. What’s her name, sir?” Offering up her palms, she waited for the miryhl to lower her head, then began stroking the bird’s face.
“Hmm?” His stream of low voiced compliments interrupted, Stirla glanced briefly over his shoulder. “Oh, that’s Atyrn. She’s great.” He went back to admiring Cumulo.
Smiling, Mhysra slid her hands down Atyrn’s neck to the shoulder joint, and dug her fingers into the muscle. The big bird’s wings sagged and Atyrn shivered with an ecstatic purr. “What a gorgeous girl you are,” Mhysra crooned. “I’ve never seen such a strong, fine miryhl.”
Huffing, Cumulo snapped his wings closed and stepped away from the lieutenant. When Atyrn turned her head to run an affectionate beak through Mhysra’s curls, the young male actually growled, stalking across the lakeshore and tugging his Wingborn away.
Yanked backwards by a proprietary beak, Mhysra found herself being hustled beneath a jealous wing and laughed into his damp feathers. “You’re such an idiot, Cue.”
Watching their antics with amusement, Lieutenant Stirla turned to soothe his miryhl’s ruffled pride. “You’re still the most beautiful girl in the world to me,” he assured her. “But it’s always nice to make new friends.”
Atyrn huffed sulkily but didn’t protest when her Rider stroked her neck.
The lieutenant smiled at Mhysra. “If you’re ready, I think it’s time to move into the eyries. Everything’s been prepared for you,” he added to Cumulo. “And though I was curious to see how you settled in before, I now can’t wait to set this pyrefly amongst the sheep.”
Mhysra looked at Cumulo, unsure if that was a good thing. They were going to cause enough of a stir as it was being Wingborn. Impatient to be admired some more, Cumulo gave her a hurry-up nudge.
So she sighed and fetched his tack. “We’ll be there soon, sir, if you wish to go on ahead.”
Leaning against Atyrn’s shoulder, Stirla gave a lazy wave. “We can wait. I wouldn’t miss this for the Overworld.”
That was what worried her, but she said nothing, lifting the saddle and its blanket onto Cumulo’s back instead. Settled just behind his wing joint, the leather seat was light and padded, ensuring comfort for both of them. As well as the stirrups found on an ordinary saddle, it also had cups towards the back for a Rider to tuck their ankles and feet into. This enabled them to lean forward against their miryhl’s neck in secure comfort, while also keeping out of the wind.
Giving Cumulo time to make sure the saddle sat right, Mhysra looped the breast harness into place and fastened the top buckles against the front of the saddle. Then she leant down to fasten the girth behind his legs, sliding it through the strap that ran down from the harness.
“Good?” she asked.
Cumulo flexed his wings and nodded. “Good.”
Slipping the bridle over his head, she secured the strap around his beak and another behind his head. It was more of a head collar than a bridle and was not intended to control the miryhl or impede the opening of the beak. Mostly it helped the Rider stay on and occasionally suggest a change of direction, but few miryhls appreciated being guided.
Looping the reins back over Cumulo’s neck, Mhysra grabbed the puppy, hiked up her skirts and clambered astride. It wasn’t particularly dignified, nor her favourite way to fly, but at least the skirt was full enough to cover most of her legs.
“All set?” Lieutenant Stirla asked, politely averting his eyes while Mhysra arranged her clothes for maximum modesty. Thankfully the puppy was smart enough not to fuss, and simply lay down across Mhysra’s lap.
“Whenever you are, sir,” she agreed, and waited while Atyrn – the senior miryhl – hopped towards the cliff edge and dropped out of sight.
“I hate it when you fly in skirts,” Cumulo grumbled, as they waited for the other eagle to swoop back up into view.
“I’m not that fond of it either,” Mhysra sighed. “But this’ll be the last time, I promise.”
Giving a disapproving sniff, Cumulo shuffled to the edge of the cliff. “It’d better be,” he told her. “Now, shall we show them how it’s done?”
Without waiting for a reply, he leant forward, opened his wings and kicked off into the empty air below.
~ Next Chapter ~
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