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~ Previous Chapter ~
Skywards with Cue and the letter appears, at last! There may also be snow, just because.
“YOU CAN COME out now. He’s gone.”
Mhysra blinked. “Who?”
Her miryhl chuckled. “The handsome one, with pale hair and sharp eyes. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Noticed what? You’ve apparently noticed a lot more than I have.”
“Liar.” Cumulo chortled. “You won’t even speak to him. Taken with him, are you?”
Pushing away, she stared at the eagle incredulously. “Don’t be daft. The man despises me. He barely waited for my back to turn before trying to steal you. Taken with him? Ha!”
Cumulo’s eyes glowed with amusement. “My mistake. But he is a fine looking human.”
“He’s a miserable killjoy, with eyes that could cause cloud frost. I prefer Lieutenant Stirla.”
“Well, I like Lieutenant Lyrai. Even his name sounds better. If I wasn’t bonded to you, I’d be tempted.”
“Except you wouldn’t be here, because you’re too young. By the time you were old enough he’d be bonded again, so wipe that smug look off your face. You’ve got me, you were born with me and you’re stuck with me. Be happy.”
Lowering his beak against her chest, he hummed contritely. “I am happy, chickling. No one could be happier than me. Well, maybe I might be if…”
Sighing, she shoved him away. “What now?”
“My saddle. Come on, misery, let’s fly.”
Mhysra’s grouchiness vanished. She no longer cared that every Rider within ten leagues wanted to steal her miryhl, nor that her miryhl was too vain to stop them from trying. She didn’t even care about Cumulo teasing her over the lieutenant anymore. He wanted to go flying. Having never turned down such an offer – rain, snow or sunshine – she ran to the tack room, snatched up his tack and put it on with practised efficiency.
“Where are we going?” she asked, as he strutted out into the bitter day.
“Anywhere as long as it’s up,” Cumulo replied, stretching his wings. “Hop on, chickling, we haven’t long before it snows again.”
When he lowered his wing, she stepped onto the joint and straddled the saddle, slipping her feet into the stirrups and her knees under his wings. She wasn‘t really dressed for a long flight, but even without a cold weather flying coat or flight helmet, she wanted to escape. Anything to get away from the ground and all the things trying to hold her back from this life she had been born to. “All set?” she asked, picking up the reins.
“Hang on.” Cumulo flapped to make sure nothing interfered with his flight muscles, then spread and waggled his tail, just for show. He hopped two paces. “All’s well.”
Bounding forward one stride, two, he opened his wings and jumped. The first flap barely lifted them off the ground, but the second carried them higher and, with a last push of his feet, they were airborne. He flapped laboriously, grunting with each downward pull as they covered the field and rapidly approached the cliff. Cumulo shrieked as he angled his wings, holding them fully extended, and swept around in a steep curve that barely avoided the mountainside.
Mhysra whooped as he flapped again, tilting them into a wide spiral to glide steadily upwards. He was big and strong but out of practise at ground-launching with a passenger.
“You’re getting lazy, Cue.”
He shrieked in outrage and banked heavily to the right, a risky manoeuvre for any rider less experienced than she. Mhysra laughed at his tactics and spread her arms, tipping her head back. Air swept over her, pulling her hair from its pins as Cumulo dived. The world rushed up to meet them, before the miryhl opened his great wings, skimmed the grass and launched skywards again, both whooping with joy.
There was nothing greater than miryhl flight.
Up to speed now, Cumulo glided with the currents and updrafts, carrying them up the mountain to where Rift Riders patrolled. They ducked and weaved, pitting their wits against some of the more playful pairs, until he eventually took her out over the Cloud Sea. It rolled forever, a fluffy whiteness that called to mind soft pillows and gentle sleep. Yet as Cumulo dived to skim the cloud tops, the air turned wild and the surface roiled with cold winds stronger than anything found on the mountain slopes. Despite the frigid air that nipped and shiver their flesh, they relished the challenge of flying through the turbulence, before letting it blow them skywards once more.
Out there they were alone, facing west where the sea stretched uninterrupted beyond the horizon, glowing even under a sullen sky. She could see forever and it was breathtaking.
Leaning against her miryhl’s back, Mhysra hugged as much of him as she could reach and rested her cheek against the cool silk of his feathers. “Thank you,” she murmured, knowing that no matter what happened, what her parents said or how the selection school turned out, she would always have this. She would always have him.
Cumulo’s muscles flexed and bunched beneath her as he beat his wings, carrying them further into forever. “You’re welcome, chickling.”
* * * * *
SNOW WAS FALLING by the time she left the eyries, her heart as light as her footsteps as she headed home. When she passed the offices, the clerk she’d met the other day stepped out.
“Classes begin tomorrow, Lady Mhysra,” he reminded her. “Have you a letter yet?”
She touched her coat pocket and thought of all the arguments, the closed door of her father’s study, the tightening of her mother’s lips whenever her youngest daughter came into view. Making her decision, she pulled out the letter. “Is this is what you require, sir?”
The clerk checked and split the seal, eyes moving swiftly over the neat secretary handwriting and the bold scrawl beneath. He scrutinised it again, before sighing with relief and handing her a uniform kit. “I believe it is. Congratulations, student. Be back here bright and early tomorrow.”
She returned his bow with a half-curtsey and turned for home. If her steps were heavier than before, well, it was cold and she was tired. At least the arguing was over. It was done.
* * * * *
“THANK THE GODS, you’re back!” Mhysra had hardly entered the rear gate when Milluqua pounced. “Don’t you realise how late it is?”
Too tired to have taken much notice, Mhysra glanced up at the tumbling snow as she was dragged into the house. “It slipped my mind.”
“Fool,” Milluqua growled, taking the backstairs and elbowing open the servant door to Mhysra’s room, where a tub steamed by the fireplace. “Get in and give me that uniform.”
Mhysra was happy to comply, moaning as the water enveloped her tense muscles. “You’re a miracle from Divine Lithaen, Milli, sent to aid me.” Ducking down, she scrubbed her hair and reached for the soap.
Milluqua held up the new breeches and tutted. “It’s scandalous the rags they give you recruits. Kilai went through two pairs in his first month. I’ll have some more made. Same pattern, better cloth.”
Yawning, Mhysra soaped her feet and scowled at a new blister on her heel. “What’s the point in using the finest materials when half of us will drop out before New Year?”
“Three moons? Ha! You think more of your fellow students than the rest of the city. From what I’ve heard they don’t expect any girl to last through to Winter Rains.”
Mhysra scowled and scrubbed her arms: Winter Rains was only a month and a half away. “I hope you took their bets, the insufferable fools.”
“Of course I did,” her sister assured her, pulling a dress from the wardrobe and brushing it off. “You should hear some of the idiots talk. And they call themselves gentlemen! It’s long past time we women shook some sense into them. I’m hoping you’ll be just the girl to do it.”
“Perhaps,” she demurred, curious about the sort of people she would meet in the morning. “If I’m not, I’m sure someone will. The Rift Riders won’t know what’s hit them.”
“Good. Now get out. Father’s been asking after you since noon, and if you don’t get downstairs soon he’ll know something’s up. You’re lucky Mother’s off sailing again. I don’t think we could do this if she’d stayed.”
Sharing a grimace with her sister, Mhysra emerged from the glorious water and dressed. As she was brushing her hair there was a scratch at the door and Milluqua admitted Bumble. Yipping happily, the puppy bounded over.
Mhysra fended her off with a foot. “Not now, pup.”
Bumble sat with a frustrated huff and started chewing her mistress’ discarded belt.
“Nuisance,” Milluqua scolded, tapping her gently on the muzzle and rescuing the leather. “What will you do with her tomorrow?”
Mhysra wrinkled her nose. “Not sure. Take her along probably. I doubt my teachers will approve, but I’ve nowhere else to leave her.” She sighed and plaited her hair. “What was Aunt Mhylla thinking?”
“Perhaps it had nothing to do with you and everything to do with Bumble,” Milluqua suggested, scooping the puppy up and tickling her silky ears. “She is rather fixed on you.”
“Well, she can’t have me. Not during the day. But if I leave her she’ll howl the house down.”
“Bring her to me before you go. I’ll look after her.”
Pausing in arranging her hair, Mhysra stared at her sister’s reflection. “You want me to bring her to you? To look after while I’m at school?”
Milluqua raised an eyebrow. “That’s what I said.”
Mhysra thought about the destruction her wilful puppy caused daily, from chewing everything within reach to making messes and smells in the most inconvenient places. She considered the perfection of her sister’s rooms and her prized collection of shoes. Then there was the fact that Milluqua rarely rose before noon, while Bumble liked to play in the morning.
She smiled. “You really do want me to succeed, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Milluqua confirmed, dumping the dog in favour of pinning her sister’s hair up properly. “Don’t let me down.”
“I’ll try not to.”
“Don’t. Or you’ll be paying for every pair of shoes your wretched mutt wrecks.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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