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~ Previous Chapter ~
We’re halfway! And to celebrate, Lyrai’s getting a present. All brace for the Hurricane.
LYRAI WAS IN LOVE. It was quite possibly the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Not to mention the most frustrating. The last of the Storm Peak miryhls refused to enter the temporary eyries and, as part of that refusal, would not be caught. A brute of a bird, the eagle was almost as tall as Cumulo but wider across the chest. It looked powerful and fierce, hissing at anyone who came too close.
Riders made loops out of their ropes and tried to restrain it, but the miryhl was too quick. Surprisingly nimble, it skipped out of reach, catching the loop in its beak, before tossing it contemptuously back.
Lyrai smiled at its antics, seduced by the big creature’s grace. It was an unusual colour: deep brown and pale cream mottled in an extraordinary mixture. A marble miryhl. He’d heard of them and always thought they sounded ugly. Standing before such a magnificent specimen now, though, he could see only beauty.
The miryhl’s face was the shade of sun-warmed pine, with dark circles around golden eyes. The crown of its head was the same darkness, continuing in a broad stripe down its neck and across its back, running in bars along its wings. The feathers on the underside of its body and chest were marbled from white to a brown so dark it was almost black. The wings were cream and biscuit between the dark bars, running into brown at the tips. Delicate flecks of caramel, gold and black dotted its feathers, like sparkles and secrets.
Lyrai was infatuated. There was no doubt in his mind which miryhl he would choose come the Choice, but only if the Riders didn’t drive it off first with their ineptitude.
Stirla whistled beside him. “I’ve not been so impressed since I first saw Cumulo.”
Lyrai snorted. “As that was barely a half-year ago, forgive me for not swooning.”
“Ah, but before that,” Stirla said airily, “the last time I was this impressed was by Atyrn. Not that either’s a patch on my girl, of course. Cumulo thinks he’s too smart and this one’s a brute.”
They both studied the brute in question as it ducked a loop, only to be snared by one thrown from behind. The miryhl wheeled sharply, wrenching the rope from the Rider’s hand. The eagle shrieked and snapped at all within reach, stamping on the rope and worrying at it with its beak, but only managed to tighten the knot.
“That’s not good,” Stirla murmured, wincing at the miryhl’s scream. Catching a second rope, the bird yanked the offending Rider off his feet. Only a quick grab from his friends prevented the man from being dragged within the miryhl’s reach. “You might want to intervene.”
“Fools!” Lyrai snapped as the miryhl tangled its feet in the rope. “They’ll kill it before we even get to the Choice.”
“Which is where you come in,” Stirla said. “Off you go. Pull on your captain boots and prove your mettle, or whatever it is we’re supposed to be learning around here.”
Lyrai eyed him sourly, but didn’t even bother asking why his friend didn’t do something himself. Some things were not worth the bother of putting into words. Besides this was his miryhl – it was up to him to save it.
The eagle lunged again, tripping and splaying its gorgeous wings. The Riders pounced, eager to secure it while it was preoccupied. The miryhl panicked, trying to regain its tangled feet and flapping its wings to keep the intruders at bay. More than one flight feather was damaged as they were flailed against the ground.
Sergeant Rees stamped on the miryhl’s wing to hold it down while he attempted to put a rope around the bird. Rolling to the side, the miryhl slashed out with its feet, knocking Rees over and very nearly slicing him from neck to navel.
“Enough!” Lyrai roared, deciding it had gone too far. “Stand down! I order you to stop!”
Rees struggled to his feet and found himself facing a furious miryhl, while four Riders roped its wings. They tightened their grip as the miryhl struck, barely missing the sergeant.
The eagle screamed, strained and freed a wing, beating it frantically and damaging more precious feathers on the sun-baked ground.
“Stand down!” Lyrai shouted. “I said stand down! All of you!”
By now six Riders clung to the ropes on the miryhl’s left, while another three had managed to loop its neck, but at Lyrai’s bellow they reluctantly let go. Even Rees rolled clear in the face of Lyrai’s rage.
“Back away from the miryhl,” he commanded, keeping his voice low, trying not to distress the bird any further.
“You heard the lieutenant,” said an unexpected but much welcomed voice. Captain Myran had arrived. “Timpkins, throw that rope and I will tie you up personally and present you to this miryhl for breakfast.”
Rider Timpkins dropped the rope as though it burned, and the circle of men shifted back another six paces. Everyone waited, looking between the miryhl and the man behind Lyrai.
A broad hand squeezed his shoulder approvingly. “Proceed, lieutenant.”
Not taking his eyes from the panicked bird, Lyrai lowered his chin in a grateful nod. “Thank you, sir. Forgive me for not saluting.”
Captain Myran chuckled. “Formalities are taken as done, lieutenant. Now soothe that miryhl.”
Lyrai nodded again and took a tentative step forward. The miryhl hissed and Lyrai sank down, resting his weight on his haunches. “All right, my beauty,” he crooned. “Steady now.”
The miryhl cautiously folded its unbound wing, though it kept an alert eye on Lyrai’s creeping progress. When he got too close the eagle growled, flexing its free foot.
“Steady,” Lyrai murmured. “You’re in a tangle and need my help. I won’t hurt you, my fine one.” Keeping his voice soft, he continued praising the miryhl and creeping closer until he was within half a pace of the sharp talons. The eagle scraped the ground but didn’t strike.
“Good, that’s good,” he praised, reaching for the tangled rope. The miryhl flinched, as did Lyrai, and both froze. They sighed in unison when neither struck and Lyrai slid his knife from his boot, careful to let the eagle see what he was doing at all times. “We’ll soon have you free, friend.” Reaching for the ropes, he sliced through a third of the thickly woven width before the miryhl jerked.
“All right,” Lyrai crooned. “Think you can handle it now?”
Watching Lyrai warily, the miryhl stretched out. With a crack of that deadly beak, it snapped the rope.
“Good,” Lyrai whispered, pulling the bindings free and taking care not to touch the miryhl before it was ready. “There.” Tugging the last of the rope away, Lyrai hopped back as the bird rolled to its feet, but when it found its left wing still tied it shrieked in outrage.
Until now the Riders have been mercifully silent, but as one onlooker shouted the obvious the miryhl remembered it wasn’t alone and lunged for the nearest target.
Swallowing hard, Lyrai dropped to his knees, keeping his hands low and his head bowed. A puff of air caressed his cheek as the bird’s beak passed but didn’t make contact. Not daring to move, hardly daring to breathe, Lyrai waited, watching the shadow on the grass as the miryhl loomed over him.
Warm breath separated his hair, then touched his forehead, nose and chin, before a smooth beak rested against his cheek and chest. Lyrai barely had time to look up before he was flat on his back, the wind knocked from him by a hard shove.
Deep brown eyes glinted as the miryhl arched its neck and put them beak-to-nose. “Untie me,” it rasped, and though its voice was hoarse from its screams it was also clearly male.
Lyrai blinked, stunned at being spoken to so causally. He nodded. “Let me up first.”
Huffing, the miryhl moved back a pace, allowing Lyrai to roll to his feet and snatch up his knife. In the end he didn’t need it, the noose slackened beneath his fingers and the eagle was free. The big male swung his head to meet Lyrai’s gaze, nodded in thanks and launched, broad wings opening with a crack.
“Wait!” Lyrai called. Buffeted by the downdraft as the miryhl flew into the gathering dusk, he could only watch with envy as the bird powered away. Lyrai wanted this miryhl; no other would do.
“Congratulations, lieutenant.” Captain Myran watched the glorious eagle swirl around the mountainside. “You handled that admirably. I assume you have no need to wait for the Choice?”
Lyrai barely heard the praise – a rare honour from his captain that at any other time would have filled him with pleasure. “He spoke.”
“I noticed.” Myran sounded amused. “Perhaps when he returns you should take him to the Rider eyries. I don’t think he liked the look of the other one.”
“He spoke to me,” Lyrai repeated, not paying attention. “Without a ceremony or a temporary bond. Or anything.”
“I want him. If he doesn’t come back, I’ll look for him.”
Captain Myran patted him on the shoulder. “He’ll be back.” When Lyrai still didn’t look at him, the captain turned away. “Come on, Stirla, let’s see how the other new arrivals are faring. Your fellow lieutenant’s a little preoccupied.”
Preoccupied was not how Lyrai would have put it, more like ensnared. It was as though by releasing the miryhl from the ropes, he’d entangled himself. For the briefest moment it had felt glorious. When the miryhl loomed over him, capable of killing with one blow, he hadn’t felt afraid. His heart had pounded, but not with panic, and when he spoke Lyrai felt as though Maegla Herself had smiled on him.
Now all he felt was anxious. What would he do if he didn’t come back? There wasn’t another miryhl on the entire Overworld that could compare. It was this one or none.
“You have to come back,” he whispered to the empty field. “You have to.”
So he waited, while everyone else got on with their lives in the warm summer evening. Kneeling like a supplicant before the gods, Lyrai remained on the flying field. The first stars opened their eyes above him and the moon climbed over the Cloud Sea. Oblivious to the passing time and growing numbness in his legs, all Lyrai could do was watch the spot where he’d last seen the miryhl.
A cool wind drifted over the grass, raising goosebumps on his skin, but he ignored it.
Until a soft voice murmured, “Still here?”
Not daring to look over his shoulder, Lyrai swallowed. “Yes.”
“Have you nowhere better to be?”
At the hint of amusement, Lyrai turned. A hiss of pain escaped as the blood flowed back into his legs and he flinched when the miryhl lowered his beak to rub them.
“I was waiting for you,” Lyrai said, when he felt able to speak. “I wasn’t sure you’d return.”
The miryhl straightened and tilted his head. “In some things we have no choice.”
Unsure how to take that, Lyrai attempted to stand instead. He had to do it in stages on his reawakened legs but, with a little help from the eagle, he finally stood on his own.
Rumbling with concern, the miryhl nuzzled him. “You must not wait again. I don’t like it.”
Smiling, Lyrai carefully stroked the feathers on the eagle’s head, relaxing when they rose and the bird purred his enjoyment. “I hope I’ll never need to.”
They fell silent as Lyrai tickled the miryhl’s head, uncertain how to proceed. This was new for him and he was at a loss over what to do.
“Must I sleep there?” the miryhl asked, nodding at the rickety structure built for the Choice.
He chuckled. “No.”
“Good.” The eagle sighed with relief and preened Lyrai’s hair. “It does not look safe.”
“It’s well enough,” Lyrai promised, enjoying the attention. “For a few days.”
The miryhl huffed, unconvinced, and bowed his head. “I am Hurricane.”
“Lyrai. Lieutenant Lyrai Henstrati Henrykran.”
And that was all they needed. Without another word, Lyrai showed his new miryhl to the Rider eyries and wondered whatever happened to ceremony and ritual, and whether they truly meant anything after all. It certainly felt better this way.
~ Next Chapter ~
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