(First time reading? Catch up Here!)
~ Previous Chapter ~
Farewell, Mherrin! And, excuse me, Lieutenant Stirla, but just what are you up to?
“It’s pure spite.” As Mhysra vigorously combed tangles out of the horsat’s mane, her puppy growled from the doorway. “See, Bumble agrees. She’s heard them too.”
Mherrin snorted and pushed Ripple’s wing out of the way so he could brush her side. The horsat stood patiently, tracking both humans’ movements with her swivelling ears.
“Didn’t it take Kilai years to get permission?” Derrain asked, lounging in the doorway.
“Two very long years,” Milluqua agreed from her seat on an upturned bucket, where she was checking the braiding on Ripple’s reins. A lady she might be, but she’d also been raised in Wrentheria.
“You didn’t have to live with his sulking,” Mherrin groaned. “How we suffered!”
Milluqua sniffed. “You didn’t have to put up with the earl’s disapproval.”
“At least it isn’t aimed at you,” Mhysra grumbled, attacking Ripple’s tail. “And it never will be.”
“Bitterness does not become you, dearest,” Derrain cooed, ducking the brush she threw at his head. The puppy barked and strained her lead to reach it. “Here you go, bumbling pup.” Derrain gave her the brush and she settled down with it between her paws, tail wagging, teeth chomping.
“You can’t give her that!” Mhysra snatched it away. “She’ll break it.”
“You shouldn’t have throw it then. Bumble might get hurt.”
While they bickered, Milluqua handed the bridle to her cousin. “Tell Mhylo to take better care of his tack – the braiding is badly frayed. Ripple’s a good mare, but it’s not something you want unravelling mid-flight.”
“Thanks, Milli. I’ll let him know, not that he’ll be grateful. Lazy git.” Kissing her cheek, Mherrin began tacking up. When Mhysra put Ripple’s saddle on, he caught her eye. “You are going to hand that letter in, aren’t you?”
“Depends,” she mumbled. Her cousin raised his eyebrows and she focused on the buckles. Since he was the one who’d forged her father’s signature, he should have been the one advising caution as the one who would have the most to lose if they were caught. Then again Mherrin never did have much sense. Whereas she probably had too much misdirected honour. “I just wish they’d say yes. It doesn’t feel right starting out this way.”
Her cousin gave a cheerful shrug. “More fool them. And more fool you.” He tweaked her nose. “I can’t see why you’d want to work with those toffs, but since you do and it’s what Cumulo needs, good luck to you, cuz.”
“And you.” Ducking under Ripple’s neck, she threw her arms about Mherrin. He was her favourite cousin and she’d miss him. The past four days had been horrible and full of arguments, but Mherrin had made it bearable. He could always cheer her up.
“Don’t get dismal now,” he murmured, and she smiled.
“Watch your back.” She patted him between his shoulder blades. “A lone flyer is always vulnerable, especially on a horsat.”
He rolled his eyes. “I’ve flown even more than you, Wingborn. I can take care of myself.”
“Make sure you do,” Milluqua said sternly, coming over to neaten his collar. “I’d be displeased if anything happened to you.”
Mherrin glanced despairingly at Derrain. “Girls!”
Derrain smirked, but wisely said nothing. Instead he untied Bumble and moved aside so Ripple could leave her stall unmolested. “Fast winds and clear skies.”
“Try not to die of boredom at school.” Once outside, Mherrin hopped into the saddle and tucked his knees beneath Ripple’s wings. The horsat shivered all over and pranced with readiness. At Mherrin’s signal, she lifted her head and galloped for the takeoff ramp, wings unfurling. One beat, two, she hit top speed and leapt.
For a moment they hung weightless over the sheer drop to the Cloud Sea, hundreds of feet below, then the wind filled Ripple’s enormous wings and she soared. Spiralling on the updraft, leathery wings spread wide, she circled and rose with each lazy flap. With a final wave, Mherrin gathered his reins and Ripple powered forward with great thrusts of her wings, her legs galloping on the air, and away they went.
Mhysra sighed, wishing she could go too. She missed her miryhl chicks, the lively manor, the calm lake and Cumulo’s ridiculous attempts to dominate the bullwing herd. But that was her old life, over a thousand miles away. A life where women were excluded from the Riders and the occasional miryhl could be spared. Things were different now. If only her parents would agree.
“Here we go,” Milluqua muttered, and Mhysra realised she’d clenched her jaw.
“If you’re off to pick another fight, I’ll bid you good day,” Derrain said, slapping Bumble’s lead into her hand. “Lieutenant Stirla offered to show me the eyries.”
Unable to face another argument, Mhysra smiled wearily. “I’ll come too, if you don’t mind.”
Milluqua sighed with relief and snatched Bumble’s lead. “Excellent idea. I’ll take this one. Make sure you’re back in time for dinner.” Not waiting in case Mhysra changed her mind, her sister hurried off as if a pack of pyreflies were nipping at her heels.
Chuckling, Derrain hooked his arm through hers. “Seems you’re stuck with me then.”
“Seems I am.” Mhysra wrinkled her nose. “However will I cope?”
* * * * *
“BEAUTIFUL, SO BEAUTIFUL. Who knew letting women back in the Riders would reap such exquisite rewards?”
Eyebrows raised, Lyrai led the visitors through the eyries towards the cooing voice. The place were mostly deserted at this time of day, with one flurry on duty and the other preferring to escape the cold. Everyone, that is, except Stirla. Since Lyrai could see Stirla’s miryhl, Atyrn, hunched miserably near the doors, it was safe to assume the lieutenant was busy elsewhere.
“Absolutely glorious. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to spend your life with me? I’d treat you as wonderfully as you deserve. I could -”
Lyrai led the two youngsters within sight of the love-struck lieutenant and coughed. Since one of the visitors happened to be bonded to the miryhl Stirla was sweet-talking, Lyrai grinned as his friend spun around. Despite all the scrapes they’d been caught in over the years, Lyrai had never seen Stirla look guilty before. This was very interesting.
“Afternoon, Stirla. Hope we’re not interrupting.”
The girl folded her arms and glared, while the boy lounged against an unused perch, grinning.
Stirla inched away from the miryhl, making innocent gestures with his hands. “Um…”
The miryhl lowered his head and chuckled, so the girl turned her scowl on him.
“If you want rid of me, Cue, just say.”
Cumulo raised his head and squawked. Feathers rose on his face and head, and he glowered at Stirla. The lieutenant ducked under a perch and backed away.
“Don’t you blame him,” the girl snapped. “Look me in the eye when I’m talking to you, Cumulo. And don’t try that innocent act on me.” The miryhl had been making supplicating purrs, but at this his feathers fluffed up with affront. “Nor that either. I’m wise to all your tricks. I know they approach you, but you encourage them. Thirteen offers, Cue. Thirteen!”
Stirla slunk over to Lyrai. “If I’d known I was part of a crowd, I wouldn’t have bothered.”
Lyrai patted him sympathetically on the shoulder, just as the girl spun on her heel and jabbed a finger in Stirla’s direction. “And you should be ashamed of yourself – trying to cozen a miryhl away from his bonded. Especially when you’ve a perfectly good mount of your own.” She shoved her miryhl aside and approached Atyrn, stroking the neglected eagle with soothing hands. “Such a beauty too. Men are so stupid not to value a treasure when they have one.”
“She has a point,” Lyrai murmured. Even bigger than Cumulo, Atyrn was the envy of many Riders. So dark she was almost black, she was strong and had the best endurance of their flight. She was also steadfast and willing to push through any weather. There were few better miryhls to be had than Atyrn. “Badly done, my friend.”
Lady Mhysra snorted scornfully. “As if you weren’t the first to approach Cue,” she muttered. Stirla and the lad laughed, but the girl ignored them. She was wary of him, Lyrai knew. Unlike Stirla, who was friendly and flirtatious, young women made Lyrai nervous. It was bad enough when he was obliged to spend time with his sisters, and they were family. He never knew how to treat them. Apparently, Mhysra felt the same way towards him. Under normal circumstances, Lyrai would be delighted to be avoided, but when she became a student… He’d have to work on his manners.
“Come on, Mhysra, don’t be grouchy,” Derrain cajoled. “As if Cumulo would leave you. He’s put up – I mean you’ve put up with him for sixteen years.”
She smiled reluctantly. “You’re not Mherrin.”
“But I get points for trying, right?” the lad appealed to the lieutenants.
She shoved his shoulder. “Give over, Derry. Didn’t you want something here?”
As the boy turned to Stirla, Lyrai watched the girl murmur to Atyrn, while the miryhl rubbed her affectionately on the shoulder with her head. Then, despite Cumulo’s jealous growls, Mhysra kissed the eagle’s beak. Only after she had checked her friend was still busy with Stirla did she approach her bonded. Hooking his beak over her shoulder, Cumulo and tugged her close and hustled her under his wing. The girl protested and the miryhl turned his head so they could argue in whispers.
It was quite a sight and Lyrai leant against a perch to watch. Cumulo treated her like a naughty chick and she treated him like an annoying little brother, but there was a thread of affection running through their partnership that he’d never seen before. Even in the oldest pairs the interactions were more of comrades and friends than family. Perhaps that was the real sign of a Wingborn.
A prod on the arm drew him back to the present.
Stirla grinned at him. “I’m showing Derrain around. Want to come, or are you busy?”
Since Lyrai was grounded, they both knew he had no reason to be in the eyries. Especially when his flurry was on patrol, meaning he couldn’t even spring a surprise inspection. The only thing worth looking at was the girl and her Wingborn.
“I’ve got paperwork to do.”
“Oh aye,” Stirla said with a exaggerated wink. “Paperwork, is it? Come along, young Derrain, let’s leave my esteemed colleague to his work.” Still chuckling, Stirla took the lad off, leaving the girl and her miryhl to argue. Lyrai glanced at them, then turned away. Regardless of what Stirla thought was going on, Lyrai missed having a miryhl. Seeing others with theirs made his feet itch and an empty ache fill his chest. Not that he’d been close to Froth.
It had been a bad decision from the start. To an awestruck sixteen-year-old desperate to impress his peers and parents, the pale gold female as swift as the wind had seemed like an excellent choice. Everyone said how well they looked together. Unfortunately, she was a little too vain, a bit too lazy and far too full of herself. That was how she’d ended up injured. Lyrai hadn’t even been flying her at the time. No, his foolish bonded had ruined herself on her own time, showing off to the rest of the flurry and clipping a wing on a cliff.
Turning his back on the eyries, Lyrai headed for the offices. He really did have paperwork to do. Not that he’d intended to do it – Rift Rider officers rarely did – but it wasn’t as though he had anything else to do. He wanted to fly, wanted it so badly that if he hung around the eyries any longer, he might do something stupid. Like try to take Cumulo.
The day of Choice and his chance to bond with a new miryhl was seven months away, but every day brought him closer to flight. If he could just keep going he would be airborne eventually. He flexed his hands and shook his head, wishing that telling himself such things actually made a difference.
~ Next Chapter ~
All comments welcome – and if you spot a typo, please let me know.
Thanks for reading!