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~ Previous Chapter ~
Lyrai receives an invitation he can’t refuse, and is that some flirting I see before me? *gasp*
Though he’d expected a summons from the moment he’d set foot in Nimbys, Lyrai had still hoped for later rather than sooner. Then again, as Stirla pointed out, two moons into his seven-month residency hardly counted as soon. Regardless, Lyrai tensed when a carriage stopped outside the barracks on the third Starday of Cold.
“Trying to be discreet,” Stirla murmured, watching through the window.
Lyrai didn’t answer – he was too busy frowning at the carriage. In a gods-cursed world covered in clouds, horses were impractical and scarce. They were reserved mainly for use on low-lying farm peaks – not in narrow Nimbys, where feet worked best. However, such ideas were unfamiliar to his mother. When Stirla said she was trying to be discreet, he was right: she simply had no idea what the word meant.
“I’d best go,” Lyrai sighed, looking down at himself and wondering if he should change. Having just returned from the cathedral, he was still wearing his dress uniform, complete with impractical white breeches.
“You’ll do,” Honra assured him.
“He could be covered in mud and stinking to Heirayk’s own heaven and his mother would forgive him.” Stirla pinched his fellow lieutenant’s cheek and failed to duck the retaliatory swipe across the head. “For that I hope you meet your father.”
“And I hope Atyrn dumps you in a thorn bush,” Lyrai retorted, shrugging into his jacket.
“Not long now,” Stirla said. “You’ll be flying again soon.”
Lyrai smiled bitterly. “Comforting as that is, it wouldn’t save me from a summons.”
“True,” Stirla agreed, hooking his arm around Lyrai’s neck and dragging him from the room. “Play nicely with your sisters, give your beautiful mother a kiss from me and don’t antagonise your brother.” He paused to straighten Lyrai’s neckcloth before shoving him towards the entrance hall.
“Aye, Grandmother.” Lyrai turned and tugged his forelock. “But it isn’t my brother I’m worried about.” They exchanged wry salutes before Stirla left for the eyries. Only the fact that there was no miryhl awaiting him, and thus no means of escape, stopped Lyrai from following.
Instead he turned to the waiting footman and accepted the gilded invitation, though there was no need to open it. The words inside were a mere formality and ones he could not, under any circumstances, refuse. Not even death was an adequate excuse when his mother sent a carriage.
So he sighed, nodded to the footman and climbed inside. “Milady has spoken, and like a dutiful son, I obey. Lead on.”
* * * * *
MAKING THE MOST of the weak winter sun, Mhysra preened Cumulo outside. Her hair was wrapped in an old scarf, there was a handkerchief tied across her nose and she was wearing her oldest clothes.
“You’re getting lazy, Cue,” she grumbled as she worked beneath his wing. Quill dust and dirt had turned her fingers grey and her nails a lovely sludge brown, while her palms glistened with feather oil. What he really needed was a bath, but the nearest source was the Nimbys reservoir, and having got away with using it once, she didn’t think they should push their luck.
“Why worry about deep preening when I have a Wingborn?” Cumulo rumbled as she emerged. He nudged her and sneezed.
Chuckling, she untied the handkerchief and wiped the mess from her face. As she pulled off the scarf and shook the dust from her hair, he sneezed again and gave her a baleful glare.
“Don’t blame me,” she said. “It’s all yours.”
She raised her head at the unexpected shout and spotted her sister walking across the field, aided and supported by Lieutenant Stirla’s arm. Mhysra couldn’t help smiling at the man’s dazed expression.
“The mighty has fallen,” Cumulo murmured, while Milluqua thanked Stirla prettily and dismissed him with a smile. Looking sun-struck, the poor man wandered back to the eyries.
“Did you have to?” Mhysra asked.
Tearing her gaze from Stirla’s retreating back, Milluqua blinked. “Beg pardon?”
“He’s my lieutenant. He might be my captain when I graduate. Things could get awkward.”
Her sister frowned in confusion, looking beautifully feminine in lilac and lace, such a contrast to her dusty, hoydenish sibling. “Oh, but Lieutenant Stirla was ever so kind. He gave me a tour of the eyries while I was looking for you. Large, isn’t it? More so than anything at Wrentheria. And the miryhls…” Her voice trailed off as she stared back towards the eyries. “So kind.”
Cumulo chuckled, but Mhysra shook her head. “He’s not even a captain yet, Milli. Father would not approve.”
Milluqua’s eyes widened innocently. However, when Mhysra arched her eyebrows, she sighed. “There are good families in the Riders.”
“Amongst others,” Mhysra reminded her gently. “Lieutenant Stirla is of that other variety.”
“He was nice to me and has lovely eyes,” the older woman murmured dreamily. “He’s terribly handsome, especially with that scar. And so tall. He makes me feel fragile.”
Considering how small Milluqua was, Mhysra would like meet the man who didn’t make her feel fragile. Especially if he was a Rider. “He’s a flirt and Derry says he has a shocking reputation.”
“Really?” Milluqua asked, feigning nonchalance. “I do like to flirt.”
Rolling her eyes, Mhysra scrubbed her hands with her scarf. “What brings you up here? Is the season so dull you must seek entertainment elsewhere?”
Her sister smiled, all dimples and prettiness, showing why she was still one of the most sought after ladies in the city, even at the advanced age of twenty-two. “Hardly. It was a relief to stay home last night. I’ve worn through three pairs of slippers this past half-moon!”
“It gives Bumble something to chew,” Mhysra said absently, plucking a crooked feather from Cumulo’s chest and making him squawk. Recalling her manners, Milluqua greeted the miryhl and he lowered his head for a scratch. She was one of his favourite people.
“Father asked for you,” she said, as Cumulo returned to looking aloof and magnificent.
Mhysra wrinkled her nose. “He’s already seen me this quarter-moon.” Since she’d ceased pestering her father about joining the Riders they’d seen little of each other. Their paths occasionally crossed at dinner, but only when he wasn’t escorting Milluqua somewhere. As such, he called her to his study each quarter-moon for a progress report. He thought she spent her days learning ladylike behaviour from her sister and occasionally visiting her miryhl. The fact that she was growing toned from her training passed unnoticed. All that mattered was whether she could pour tea correctly, was losing her country accent and could curtsey appropriately to those above her rank, with subtle differences for those below.
It was immensely tedious, but since it was the only time she had to see her father Mhysra accepted it, and valued the etiquette lessons she suffered through at school. Part of her was sad that she had so little in common with her father, but she was also relieved. If they shared even one interest he might pay more attention and her secret would be out. Which was why any change in routine made her nervous.
“Do you know why?”
Milluqua shook her head. “I gave up second guessing father years ago. Mostly he’s as predictable as the seasons, but every so often he’ll surprise us just for the fun of it. It discourages complacency.”
“Lovely,” Mhysra sighed and gave Cumulo a farewell pat. There would be no flying today.
~ Next Chapter ~
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