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~ Previous Chapter ~
Derry’s back and he’s got something important to say.
“I don’t know what you’re worrying about,” Mherrin told Mhysra three days later as they ambled through the Cathedral market. “You’ve got an official letter from Mam already, which should be enough for even the highest sticklers.”
“Except that sniffy clerk,” Mhysra grumbled, slapping her gloved hands together to generate some warmth. It had snowed heavily over night, making her doubly grateful that Cumulo now had other miryhls to huddle up with. “He wants a letter from my father.” And deep down she wanted one from him too. Surely after all these years of ignoring her, the earl could do this one small thing to secure her future happiness. He’d done it for Kilai.
“I can write you a letter from your father,” Mherrin assured her blithely, as though forging an earl’s seal was no small feat. “I’ve been practising.”
He sounded so pleased with himself that Mhysra had to smile. “What would your mother say?”
Mherrin grinned. “It was her idea in the first place.”
Knowing she should be shocked, but unable to summon up the energy, Mhysra smiled wanly. “I don’t want you to get in trouble.” Forgery carried heavy penalties, since it was ever-so-slightly illegal.
“We won’t get caught,” he said confidently. “And it’ll save you from banging your head against that brick wall. You know he’ll never change his mind.”
“I know,” she sighed, but she still couldn’t stop hoping. It was all so underhand. She hated starting out her Rift Rider career based on a lie, but what choice did she have?
“Well, well, look what the pyrefly dragged in.”
The cousins stopped as a young skysailor stepped into their path. Mhysra tilted her head back to stare up and up into a pair of merry brown eyes.
The skysailor caught her in a great bear hug, while Mherrin slapped him on the shoulder and started asking questions, “When did you get back? Did you come on the Illuminai? Was my aunt with you?” Looping an arm around Mhysra’s waist, he hauled her backwards. “Let the man breathe, cuz.”
Laughing, Derrain ran a hand over his ruffled hair. “We got back this morning. Yes, I was on the Illuminai. And yes, the Countess is home.”
Mhysra shared a grimace with her cousin, before smiling at Derrain. Having essentially grown up aboard the Kilpapan fleet of skyships, from a nine-year-old cabin boy to his current seventeen-year-old midshipman, Derrain had been a regular part of Mhysra and Mherrin’s life, when he often sat out the Storm Season at Wrentheria. In fact, outside of her family and Cumulo, Derrain was probably Mhysra’s closest friend, always ready to lead or follow her into trouble.
“It’s good to see you, Derry.”
“You might not think that in a month or two.” He winked at Mherrin.
Mhysra frowned, knowing she was missing something. “A bit late for the Storm Season, aren’t you?” That autumnal month seemed far behind now, though the memory of the horsat obstacle course relay still made her smile. “Or has the captain finally seen sense and pensioned you off?”
“In a way,” Derrain agreed mildly, with an infuriating smile.
She narrowed her eyes. “What aren’t you telling me?” At a chuckle from her cousin, she turned to glare at him instead. “What do you know, Mherrin?”
“Plenty,” Mherrin said, highly amused. “I’m not just a pretty face, you know.”
Rolling her eyes, she turned back to Derrain and poked his broad chest. “Spill it.”
Catching her finger, he swung her arm wide, twirling her in the middle of the busy market square. “You know how you talked and talked and talked my ear off on the way from Wrentheria, about becoming a Rift Rider?”
Stumbling to a stop, she frowned. “I wasn’t that bad.”
“Yes, you were,” the boys chorused.
“You weren’t even there!” Mhysra cried indignantly, elbowing her cousin in the ribs.
“But I can imagine,” he retorted, and gave a theatrical shudder. “Ai, Maegla, can I imagine.”
Chuckling, Derrain grabbed Mhysra’s hand before she could punch Mherrin, and spun her around again. “Ignore him, I’m talking. You need to know that all your words worked.”
Grabbing his hands, too dizzy to think straight, she shook her head. “What?”
“I’ve decided to become a Rider too.”
The world seemed to whirl again as she stared up at the familiar face of her friend. “But you’re a skysailor,” she said, confused. “And besides, enrolment closed days ago.”
“A marvellous thing messenger post,” he said lightly. “I thought you’d be pleased.”
“I – I am,” she stuttered, though in truth she felt shocked. “But I don’t understand. You love being a skysailor.”
Smiling again, Derrain shrugged. “I’ve been doing that for ten years now. I fancied a change, and like I said, all your talking worked on me. You made it sound so wonderful and I’ve always wanted to feel how a miryhl flies.”
Both cousins looked sceptical. Not once in all his years of staying at Wrentheria had Derrain shown the slightest interest in flying a miryhl. In truth, he’d often said he preferred his flight with a solid deck beneath him.
Derrain’s smile faded again and he ran his hand through his hair with a sigh. “I thought you could use a friend. I know you have Cumulo,” he added, before she could interrupt, “but he can’t be with you all the time, and well, this girl Rider thing is so new. I thought it wouldn’t be so bad if we did it together.”
A great rush of affection swelled inside her as she hugged the big, brawny sailor. Any miryhl he tried to ride would have to be enormous, but there would never be a truer-hearted Rider. “You’re the best, Derry.”
“Hey,” Mherrin protested mildly. “I thought that was me.”
“You’ve been usurped,” she told him with a sniff.
“Fickle female,” he grumbled, pretending to be offended, then shook Derrain’s hand. “I think you’re both fools, but good luck with it anyway. Who’d you get to recommend you?”
As the elite force across the Overworld, the Rift Riders had long been a stronghold for well-born second sons and rich families, but that didn’t mean it was entirely exclusive. Anyone could join, as long as they had a letter of recommendation from someone trustworthy. In times past these letters had come from sponsors, who paid for a young Rider’s education. These days taxes took care of that, but the recommendation tradition remained.
“Oh, the countess wrote one for me. She said it was a fine ambition for a young man, and wished me well of it.”
The cheerful words caused a physical ache in Mhysra’s chest. She was happy for Derrain, truly she was, but the idea that her mother could so easily wish him well, while denying her own daughter a similar chance at happiness, was hurtful.
“Where will you be staying in Nimbys?” Mherrin asked Derrain, their conversation carrying on oblivious to her pain. It pulsed afresh when her friend explained about the room the countess had given him in the Kilpapan mews. He’d be sharing with two footmen, but still, it was a roof over his head that enabled him to stay and attend the selection school.
It wasn’t much, Mhysra knew, just a small thing compared to everything the Kilpapans had, but the opportunity it represented was more than her parents had ever done for her.
“So I’ll be seeing you in a few days,” Derrain said, squeezing her shoulder. “Bright and early, outside the mews. Don’t be late. It won’t look good on our first day.”
He was so cheerful about it all, so happy, when he’d effectively changed his life for her. It wasn’t his fault how it had come about. All that really mattered was what he had done. So Mhysra dragged a smile up past the ache and nodded.
Saying something about shopping for new gear, Derrain gave them a wave and vanished amongst the milling crowds.
Taking a tight grip on her arm, Mherrin steered her in the opposite direction. “Breathe,” he ordered softly. “It’ll be all right, just breathe.”
“I’m fine,” she told him numbly, massaging the ache in her chest. Actually, now that she was moving again she was starting to feel better. When he urged her onto the crowded steps of the cathedral, she roused enough to shake him off. “Mherrin, I’m all right.”
“Your face went as blank as the clouds,” he muttered, pushing her down and crouching in front of her. Taking off his gloves, he patted her cheek for some unknown reason. “You even swayed. I thought you were going to faint.”
“Well, I didn’t,” she grumbled. “Thankfully. Poor Derry, he didn’t deserve that. I think he expected me to be more excited.” Groaning, she rested her forehead against her drawn up knees and wrapped her arms around her legs. “I’m a bad friend. I don’t deserve him.”
“He is better than you, I agree,” consoled her loving cousin, ruffling her curls. “But you’ll have plenty of time to make it up to him. Shame he’s already sent his letter in. It would have been much easier to copy his. Alas, our forgery will have to start from scratch. Whose signature is easier, the countess’ or the earl’s, do you know?”
Lifting her head, she peered at him through his curls. “You are a bad man.”
Grinning, he hauled her to her feet and linked his arm through hers. “And you don’t deserve me, either.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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