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~ Previous Chapter ~
The woes of a grounded (and brooding) lieutenant.
IT WAS THE hardest thing to be left behind, while all your friends and those under your command fought without you. Lyrai hated it. Bad enough to be grounded, but this was almost more than he could bear.
“What orders, sir?” Honra asked, his uniform mussed after an afternoon patrol spent dodging showers and basking in sunshine. Half of Lyrai’s flurry had been with him, the rest were with Stirla. A lieutenant without command, that’s all he was and would continue to be for another two and a half months.
Gods, why had he been cursed with such a flighty, brainless idiot for a bonded?
Lyrai blinked and stared at the missive in his hand. It had arrived by another messenger, one as exhausted as the first, though without the blood. A note from Captain Myran. A man of few words and with more on his mind than the woes of a grounded lieutenant. His terse order was easily understood. All.
“To wing, sergeant.”
“Sir!” Honra saluted and was out of the door almost before Lyrai had finished speaking. After serving eight years under Captain Myran, Honra was even more familiar with his ways than Lyrai. He was also perfectly capable of ordering twelve men from miryhl back. He’d been doing it for months, years even, while Lyrai first learned to take control, then lost command entirely. Thanks to Froth.
The Choice could not come quickly enough.
Jaw clenching, he watched from the window as his men ran to the eyries. A short stop for refreshments, relief and to replenish ammunition, then they were off. They would have been with the rest of their flurry long ago had their patrol not been out west, where an attack was most likely to come from. Kaz-naghkt were not known for their originality and Lyrai knew he wouldn’t be the only one unhappy about this new twist.
One by one, the miryhls left the eyries, heading away from the sun, following the messenger who would guide them to the battle. Lyrai pressed his fingers against the glass, yearning to go with them. He huffed with frustration, annoyed at his lack of self-control. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t had time to grow accustomed to the situation. Nor was this a new occurrence. Riders had been left behind before due to injuries – Rider, miryhl or both – orders from above, accidents in timing and a host of others reasons. But this was different. This time he was the only one not going. All because his foolish miryhl had to prove she was the silliest bird of all.
He clenched his fist against the glass and looked down, reminding himself that he wasn’t the only one left behind. It wasn’t very comforting, though, since the group milling around outside were students. They didn’t even have miryhls yet, let alone the skill to fight the kaz-naghkt.
Standing at the front, Lady Mhysra probably best understood what he was feeling. Unlike him she had a miryhl, but she didn’t have the skills to defend herself, let alone others. He supposed he should have been pleased that she was still there, since it meant she wasn’t putting lives at risk with her incompetence. But he wasn’t.
It would be so easy to leave now, to go to the eyries and take Cumulo. Reclaim the position he had fought for. Retake his command and protect the city. Yet to do so would put an immediate end to that same career, eradicating all he’d worked so hard to achieve.
The bond between Rider and miryhl was sacred, never to be touched without permission. To violate such an intrinsic law of the Rift Rider code would threaten the foundations of all they were built upon. If he did such a thing, what would stop other Riders who felt unsatisfied with their mount or envious of another’s from attempting the same? Not to mention that Cumulo would probably tear him apart for the insult.
It was one thing to dream, another to be stupidly reckless. Two and a half months, that was all. He could last the distance. He could keep his head.
Balling his fist, he thumped the windowsill, annoyed with himself for even considering it. He didn’t want Cumulo. He wanted a miryhl of his own. He wanted to fly again, to rise into the cold, high air, feel the wind in freefall, run his hands through silken feathers. He wanted that freedom back, the ability to protect and to fight alongside his fellows.
“Gods aid me,” he whispered, shutting his eyes and resting his forehead against the glass. He banged his head, trying to drive out the selfish impulses that gripped him. How could he be so preoccupied with his own woes when there was real danger out there?
“Maegla protect them.” Even as he spoke, he smiled. The Rift Riders were the Storm Goddess’ sworn warriors. If She wasn’t looking after them, who would?
Both fists tightening at the thought, Lyrai started to pray.
* * * * *
THE VARIOUS WATCHERS stared eastward as the day waned, as helpless to abandon their vigil as the sun was to turn backwards. Night slipped ever closer and clouds skimmed the sky, bringing a hint of rain on the breeze.
As dusk settled around the shoulders of the mountain, a shout below roused Lyrai from his prayers. He looked up. Black dots were scattered across the eastern horizon, coming swiftly closer. His heart clenched in his chest, before he exhaled in relief and ran for the door.
Miryhls, not kaz-naghkt. They were home.
The field was soon a flurry of activity as miryhls landed, permitting their Riders or assistants to unharness them before they left again. Some headed for the eyries, others set off into the night to bathe and preen in private. Students, clerks, healers and other helpers dashed around, seeing to the wounded and weaponry. There were more eagles than Lyrai had expected, but he recognised almost all and searched for those he knew best.
“Lyrai!” He turned at the shout, relieved when Stirla sauntered over, caked in black gore, blood and sweat, cleaning his sword on a rag. “You missed a tidy fight, my friend. Wish you’d been with us.”
“As do I,” Lyrai agreed, clasping wrists with his friend, heedless of the filth. “How many?”
“Many enough,” a familiar voice said, with a hint of censure, and Lyrai grimaced to be caught making so foolish an error as discussing details in public.
Turning from Stirla, he saluted. “It’s good to see you well, sir.”
Captain Myran smiled tightly, but like his limp that was normal and nothing to be alarmed over. “Lieutenant, if you’re willing to play scribe while I clean up, I’d be grateful. There’s a report to write and I don’t believe it should wait. Gentlemen.” He beckoned for the rest of his bloodied lieutenants to follow.
“Yes, sir.” Lyrai dashed off to fetch paper and ink, eager to perform any service in order to hear the details as soon as possible. Anything to feel like one of them again, now that he was no longer left behind. As he ran he sent up a prayer of thanks for the safe delivery of so many, but as his anxiety faded at the realisation that this had been little more than a skirmish, he couldn’t help his thoughts slipping back to one thing: two and a half months.
Raiding the nearest clerk’s desk, he headed for the bathing chambers beneath the offices. Two and a half months, just two and a half months. He hoped it passed quickly.
~ Next Part ~
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