(First time reading? Catch up Here!)
~ Previous Chapter ~
It’s dinner time. Check your reflection, brush up your manners and fill your glass to the brim, something tells me we’re going to need all the help we can get to make it through this one alive. Just another normal evening with the Kilpapans then. Maegla, help us all.
WHILE VISITING CUMULO that afternoon, Mhysra hung around the eyries to talk to a few Riders and Lieutenant Stirla about what to expect in training. She got so caught up in their horror stories and competing boasts that she had to run home afterwards or risk being late for dinner. Which would have been serious, since this would be her last chance to gain her parents’ permission. Tomorrow was the last day of Midwinter, when she’d promised to hand a letter of recommendation over to the fussy little clerk. Mherrin had already forged one for her, but honour demanded she try one last time.
Going straight up to change, she arrived in the drawing room just as the gong rang. She barely had time to greet her mother before her father led them into the dining room. Knowing what was coming, Mherrin had chosen to spend his last evening in the city elsewhere. He’d never been comfortable dining with the earl, and having the countess around made it far worse.
So while the earl and countess walked into the dining room together, Milluqua took her sister’s arm and gave it a gentle squeeze. She knew how Mhysra felt and was on her side. Not that she’d intervened, since it was not her place. Mhysra didn’t mind: she preferred to fight her own battles.
Lord Kilpapan sat at the head of the dining table, his countess at his right hand, his oldest daughter to his left, leaving Mhysra to sit beside her mother. She wished she were beside her sister, but swallowed her protests. During the early courses, her parents discussed the countess’ recent journey, while the sisters sipped their soup and shared commiserating looks.
Next her mother grilled Milluqua on which families were wintering in Nimbys and what she had missed while she’d been away. Finding the conversation dull, Mhysra focused on her food. Knowing a lapse in manners would do her no favours, she waited for a pause.
“I saw Derrain this afternoon.”
Lady Kilpapan smiled at her. “I am pleased. He wished quite desperately to share his news with you and was disappointed to find you from home.”
“What is this?” the earl rumbled, leaning back so that the next course could be served.
“Derrain fra Canlen, my dear, a midshipman from the Illuminai. I mentioned him to you briefly, do you not remember?”
The earl looked bored, crew being beneath his notice, but Milluqua nodded. “I recall it, mother.” She narrowed her eyes warningly at her sister. “He wishes to join the Rift Riders.”
“Ah.” His lordship nodded. “A fine ambition for any young man.”
“I wish him well,” the countess said, drawing the subject to a close.
Not in Mhysra’s mind. “Thank you, mother, for easing his way. He’s very grateful.”
Milluqua dabbed her napkin against her lips and shook her head, but Mhysra ignored her. She fiddled with her fork, aware that her father was watching, and decided to try one more time. “I wondered… Have you heard the proclamation, mother?”
“Don’t fidget, Mhysra,” Lady Kilpapan chided, waiting for her to take her hand off the cutlery. “Which proclamation?” Her tone was humouring and Mhysra’s frustration simmered.
Just because she had no interest in commerce or people with more letters in their names than brains in their head, did not make her a child to be humoured.
“The one permitting women to -”
“Enough!” Lord Kilpapan slammed his fist on the table, making the wineglasses wobble and the candlelight dance. “Gods have mercy, girl, do not try me again. I have said a thousand times, the answer is no. It will always be no. I will not answer again. Do not ask!”
Mhysra balled her napkin on her lap and stared at her white knuckles, fighting her anger.
“What’s this?” Lady Kilpapan enquired.
“Our daughter wishes to join the Rift Riders,” the earl growled. “She wishes to pair up with an oversized chicken and remove to Aquila, to live amongst men of uncertain breeding. There she will learn to fight and fly, and put herself beyond all bounds of decency. Since no other respectable family would be so foolish as to permit their daughters to subjugated themselves to such folly, she will likely be the only female amongst hundreds, and what will become of her reputation then? She will be known as the Whore of Aquila and the taint will stain this entire family. I will not have it! No daughter of mine will fight like a commoner, nor spread her legs for any passer-by, in rumour or in truth!”
There was a stunned silence. Breathing heavily in the aftermath of his outburst, the earl drained his wineglass with an unsteady hand. “That is the answer you pestered me for, daughter. Be satisfied. You are a Kilpapan of Imercian. You owe your duty to your name, to be honourable and demure, even after your marriage. That is how it shall be. That is how my daughters behave.”
At first she was beyond words, unable to believe that this man, this stranger could speak of her thus. But it was the approving glance he sent Milluqua’s way that finished her off.
“Your daughters, sir?” she said softly, fighting to keep her tone even. “Have you more than two, because I should dearly like to meet these paragons of virtue.” She raised her head, forestalling any interruptions. From Milluqua’s stunned expression she could only guess what her own looked like. Incandescent with rage probably. “I am no daughter of yours.”
“You are a Kilpapan -”
“I was raised by my aunt!” she snapped, cutting off her father before he could start. She had suffered his condescension for twelve despairing days. She would not sit through this lecture again. Her reputation was not the only thing that mattered. “She cared for me, she raised me, she knows me. She is more my parent than either of you will ever be. I am Wingborn. I never dreamed I could join the Riders, because women were not allowed.
“But now they are. Why deny me this chance, which I was clearly born to take? I was not raised to any of this.” She waved her hand at the elegantly appointed dining room, the ten course meal, the silverware, the fine gowns and best wines. “I breed miryhls and feed them raw meat with my bare hands. That is the role I was prepared for. You took me away from that without a thought because you believe a Kilpapan daughter should be in Nimbys.
“Well, I am here and I let you take me from all I ever wanted. But now there is a new chance for me, a fresh opportunity. Now women can join the Riders. I can join the Riders, and I will. With or without your permission, Maegla as my witness, I will. Reputation be damned. If I take anything from this benighted family then let it be my honour. And if anyone says otherwise, I will answer them. Fear not, my lord, I shall not expect you to defend me.”
Lord Kilpapan trembled at the indignity of being so spoken to, but his wife rested a hand on his before he could speak. “All students require a guardian’s permission.”
“I am Wingborn,” Mhysra repeated, voice shaking. “They will not turn me away.”
“They will not willingly make an enemy of your father either,” Lady Kilpapan warned.
“They won’t turn me away,” Mhysra repeated, knowing she had no choice now but to use the forgery. She only hoped Mherrin would never be caught.
“You would turn your back on your family?” her mother asked.
“Why should I have to?” Mhysra demanded, clenching her fists. “Kilai’s already at Aquila. The family duty you cling to has always contained Rift Riders. Women as well as men, before we were excluded. Why am I any different from my brother? Why is my honour questioned?”
“You are my daughter,” Lord Kilpapan growled.
Mhysra raised her chin. This was it, the moment she’d wished to avoid, but had feared would come all along. There would be no going back. “Not if you deny me this,” she said, fighting to steady her voice. Milluqua gasped, and Mhysra shot her an apologetic glance. “I’m willing to do my duty to the Kilpapan name, but my duty to Cumulo comes first. He is mine, as I am his. We bonded the day we were born, twins in different forms. He hatched the moment I first breathed. He is part of me. I won’t let him suffer needlessly. I love him too much.”
Her words hung in the silence. She knew she was not loved by her parents – how could she be when she’d met them only a handful of times? And yet, surely, deep inside, they must feel something for her. She prayed to the gods they did, and that it would be enough.
Lord Kilpapan pushed his chair back from the table. The servants had long gone, driven from the room by icy glares from the countess and Milluqua. No doubt they were listening outside the door, but for now there was no one in the room except the family, and his lordship was slow to rise.
He held out a hand to his wife. “My lady, I believe it is time to retire.”
“Certainly, my lord.” Placing her slim fingers upon her husband’s, she rose gracefully and they left the room, neither sparing Mhysra a glance.
It was only when she was certain they had gone that she allowed her head to drop into her hands, groaning. That had not gone well.
Milluqua pulled her to her feet. “To bed with you. Things might seem better in the morning.”
Feeling battered and bruised, Mhysra nevertheless straightened her shoulders. “Yes. At least I know what has to be done now. They’ve made their choice. Now I will make mine.” When her sister made a sound of distress, Mhysra smiled and squeezed her hand. “It’s all right, Milli. It will all work out. You’ll see.”
It would have to.
~ Next Chapter ~
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