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~ Previous Chapter ~
What’s that? A Wingborn? But Wingborn don’t exist! Hahaha-Argh! Cue, let me go! Lemme go!
THE NEXT MORNING Mhysra and Derrain met up with Dhori on their walk through the city. The air was icy, promising a blizzard before dark. Not that Hethanon cared, sending them off on another punishing run. Cold to the bone, the students trudged to their training masters and went through the motions with mind-numbing weariness.
“Tired, my lambs?” Hethanon cooed, but his smile rapidly faded. “Toughen up or leave.”
The next morning brought the first desertions, with not one training master retaining all their students. Sergeant Rees’ line looked particularly thin. Mouse had lost his partner already and, unfortunately for him, was obliged to train with Lieutenant Lyrai instead.
“He’s evil,” he whimpered at midday, flexing his shoulders. “It’s bad enough when he’s shouting, but working with him is torture. He wants to kill me.”
“You’re getting off lightly.” Harlan was unsympathetic. “Try having Rees on your back.”
Mouse changed his tune the following quarter-moon when he was paired with Mhysra, after another student left and Dhori was moved to work with someone else. It was a day of changes. Since they could all now manage the exercises without injury, Hethanon brought out staffs for them to use.
“The staff is an all-purpose weapon, in training and in combat. Master it and you may try something more difficult. No one picks up a sword who cannot handle a staff. This is the opening exercise.”
Mhysra was soon grateful to be opposite Mouse, who though shorter was of equal strength. At Wrentheria, Mhysra had taken daily staff lessons with her cousins from the age of seven, and had yet to develop any fondness for it. By contrast, Dhori looked as though he’d been born to wield it. Lieutenant Lyrai complimented the lad on his prowess and sparred with him to demonstrate how a sequence of moves should be done at full speed. Not that the rest of them did the same. For now everything was done slowly, building up their muscles and numbing their brains.
The afternoons were no better, and Mhysra finally understood her brother’s complaints about the selection school. It was no wonder so many students dropped out – the boredom was staggering. Only her new friends and the thought of Cumulo kept her going.
* * * * *
WINTER MIGHT HAVE been holding Nimbys in a merciless grip, but after completing her first quarter-moon of Rider training, Mhysra couldn’t remember feeling happier. That morning she’d attended the service at the Cathedral of Maegla, sitting in the seats reserved for the Riders. She’d been able to do it without fear, since her father attended the service for Heirayk, God of the Sun, held elsewhere in the city.
Now she was with Cumulo, preparing him for their first flight in days.
“Hurry up,” her impatient miryhl ordered. “I’ve got so much to show you.”
While Mhysra might not have had time for flying lately, didn’t mean he hadn’t been out on his own. “You’ve become quite the adventurer without me, haven’t you?” she chuckled, running her hands under his girths to check they weren’t twisted and his feathers weren’t ruffled.
As she brushed beneath his belly, he jumped. “That tickles.”
“As you can see there’s space here for upwards of a hundred birds.” A familiar voice drifted in from outside. Mhysra and Cumulo looked up. Lieutenant Lyrai was outlined in the doorway, a handful of students clustered behind him. Mhysra’s heart sank.
Cumulo chuckled. “Now you’re in for it.”
“Hide me,” she muttered, diving under his wing.
“Mhysra,” he rumbled, half-amused, half-exasperated. “That isn’t going to work.”
“We have around fifty miryhls at the moment, from the combined Riders of Lieutenant Stirla’s and my flurries. The other half of Captain Myran’s flight is patrolling the mountain communities around Nimbys.”
They were coming closer. Mhysra shrank against Cumulo’s side and held her breath.
“Whose miryhl is that, sir?” a familiar voice asked, making Mhysra bite back a groan: Corin.
“Why is it tacked up?” And Mouse. Lovely.
“And why does it have two extra legs?” She was going to kill Derrain. After she killed Cumulo; she could feel his chuckles across her whole body. “Two human legs. A new breed?”
Lieutenant Lyrai laughed – he actually laughed – and Mhysra remembered why she didn’t like him. “Either you’ve been caught, student, or something’s terribly wrong with Cumulo.”
“Cumulo?” Mouse chirped. “Is that the miryhl’s name?”
Cumulo, the traitor, raised his wing and nudged his Wingborn out into the light, his rumbling laughter audible to everyone as she emerged ruffled and flushed.
“Mhysra!” Everyone but the lieutenant, Derrain and, strangely, Dhori chorused in surprise.
Pushing her hair off her face, Mhysra mustered a weak smile. “Afternoon, everyone.”
“Why are you hiding under that miryhl’s -” At Cumulo’s indignant squawk, Corin apologised. “- sorry, Cumulo’s wing? Did you tack him up? Are you going to fly?”
“Is that allowed?” one of the other students, a girl Mhysra didn’t know, demanded.
“Are there miryhls we can practise on? Can we fly too?” an unfamiliar boy wanted to know.
“Can we?” Corin and Mouse echoed, turning to Lyrai with excitement.
Looking almost as startled as Mhysra, the lieutenant raised his eyebrows. “No.”
“Then how come she gets to?” the unfamiliar girl asked.
Derrain smirked. “Yes, Mhysra, how come you get to fly Cumulo?”
She glared at her friend and realised everyone was staring at her, waiting for an answer. She studied the straw wisps on the floor and mumbled, “He’s mine.”
“What was that?”
“What did she say?
“He’s mine,” she repeated, raising her voice.
Silence greeted her announcement.
Then Corin frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I,” said one of the boys. “I thought only Riders or ruling families could own a miryhl.” He eyed Mhysra critically. “Don’t tell us you’re the daughter of the Stratys.”
Lieutenant Lyrai choked on his amusement and she scowled at him.
“There is another exception to that rule,” Dhori said, calm in the face of their confusion and growing resentment. When everyone turned to him, he smiled. “Wingborn are allowed miryhls.” At Cumulo’s low rumble, his smile broadened. “Wingborn miryhls are allowed humans too.”
“I like him,” Cumulo whispered in her ear.
The group fell silent, blinking at each other. Then Corin’s lips began to twitch, Mouse started snickering and the whole lot of them burst into laughter.
“Oh, that’s rich.”
“We might be newbies, but we aren’t that stupid.”
As they continued to laugh, Mhysra sighed and rested her head against Cumulo’s neck.
“Should have known we couldn’t fool you,” Lieutenant Lyrai chuckled. “You’re such a smart bunch. What was I thinking?”
While the students continued to laugh, Mhysra grew fed up of listening. “Glad to amuse you,” she grumbled, interrupting another round of, “Got to get up early to fool us, sir,” and “I haven’t believed in Wingborn since I was eight!”
“Come on, Cue.”
Sensing her mood, he didn’t argue, hopping to the nearest hatch and diving out. Shoving students aside and elbowing Derrain along the way, Mhysra stalked after her miryhl.
“Where are you going?” Mouse asked, bouncing after her. “It was a good joke.”
“I’m off to fly my imaginary Wingborn,” she retorted, still smarting from being laughed at. It was like being back in the offices again, facing down Clerk Brenai in front of all the Riders.
“This I have to see,” one of the strangers chuckled, no doubt anticipating a quick dismount.
Mhysra smiled. She might not have liked the laughter, but she was going to enjoy this.
“Are you sure?” Corin eyed Cumulo warily. Standing with his chest puffed out, he looked regal, intimidating and huge. “He’s so big.”
Mhysra snorted, both at Cumulo’s display and her sudden lack of escorts. The students had halted ten feet away, none daring to come any closer. Derrain and Lieutenant Lyrai stood smirking at the back.
“Idiots,” she grumbled, and stepped onto Cumulo’s lowered wing. When he boosted her into the saddle, she settled down to gasps from the students.
“You don’t have to do this,” Corin called worriedly. “I believe you.”
“She doesn’t,” Cumulo said, as if Mhysra had been foolish enough to think otherwise.
“Sir, you have to stop her,” Mouse pleaded with the lieutenant.
“She could get hurt,” Corin protested.
“She could,” Lyrai agreed, smiling at Mhysra’s glare. “But she won’t. Have a little faith. They know what they’re doing.”
Having tinkered long enough with things that didn’t need adjusting, Mhysra tucked up her legs and gathered the reins. “When you’re ready, Cue.”
“All right, chickling,” he chuckled, opened his wings and screamed. As the students covered their ears – and Corin covered her eyes – Cumulo crouched and sprang upwards, thumping the air with great flaps of his wings. Another, then another, got them airborne and spiralling on the updrafts to gasps of awe. “Always nice to be appreciated.”
Lying against his back, Mhysra chuckled. “Show-off.”
“No one doubts my Wingborn and gets away with it.” So saying, he let his left wing drop, banking towards the cliffs, and swept back across the field over their audience’s head.
She clung to his back, familiar with her arrogant miryhl’s routine, while Cumulo executed an array of tricks that left the crowd below in no doubt about who he belonged to. Satisfied, he rose above an appreciative chorus of cheers and whistles.
Reaching forward, she hugged him hard. “You’re my hero.”
“Anytime, chickling,” he chuckled, carrying them into the winter sunshine. “Anytime.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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Thanks for reading!
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