(First time reading? Catch up Here!)
~ Previous Chapter ~
Now that we’re entering the second half I thought it was time for a few changes, so new chapter headings!
Oh, and some stuff about choosing miryhls, but blah, blah, blah, new pictures! ;)
Derrain was sweating, but given the milder temperatures of approaching autumn, he couldn’t blame the weather. Wiping his hands on his breeches, he took a deep breath and entered the temporary eyries. He’d wanted to visit ever since he had received his results five days ago, but hadn’t dared. Everyone said it was bad luck to see the miryhls before the Choice. Students who ignored the tradition were rumoured to make bad matches or have their partnership severed in nasty, abrupt ways before graduating from Aquila.
As a skysailor, Derrain had known many superstitions and this one was far too important to ignore. Somewhere inside a miryhl was waiting for him. He didn’t want to mess anything up.
“I can’t do it,” he murmured, looking around the crowd of students, Riders, civilians and miryhls. So many miryhls, positioned in individual, roped-off enclosures, their perches at ground level so that each eagle could see and be seen.
There were so many. How was he supposed to choose? “I can’t do it.”
“You haven’t even looked yet,” Mhysra said, clearly amused as she stood beside him.
“I’m looking now,” he replied. Shafts of sunlight poured down through the hatches, illuminating the busy scene. Fifty miryhls had been brought to Nimbys to match with thirty-two students and nine Riders. However, there were considerably more than forty people wandering around, viewing the spectacle, and more than one youngster looked as lost as he felt. Where did he even start?
“I really can’t do this.”
Rolling her eyes, Mhysra dragged him away from the crowded entrance. “You can’t see anything from here. Walk, and we’ll see what you can and can’t do.”
While Derrain was grateful to Mhysra for agreeing to help him, she didn’t understand. She’d grown up surrounded by miryhls, living with one as part of her family. For her this was normal. There were no life-changing decisions for her to make today.
However, as she led him around, commenting on build and temperament, he remembered why he’d asked for her help. Big, small, dark, pale, glossy, scrawny, she had something to say about each eagle, finding strengths and weaknesses that he’d never imagined. The eyries were full of students listening to Riders and their families, but none had an expert like Mhysra.
Derrain could only stare, wondering if this was the one, or that one?
How would he tell? Would it happen in an instant? Or was it more ordinary? Did he just pick the one he liked the look of most? If so, how would he tell? What was he looking for? What was he supposed to be looking for? While he might no longer think all miryhls looked the same, he still didn’t know how to see the best in them. They were miryhls – great, gods-blessed birds crafted out of necessity and dragon magic. What right had he to judge their worthiness?
“Hey, Mhysra! Derry! You both survived, then?”
Jolted out of his anxieties, Derrain spotted Mherrin inside the nearest enclosure. Dressed in the brown and tan of Wrentheria, he was here to help his mother and any passing stranger.
“More than survived, we passed with honours,” Mhysra told her cousin, warming Derrain with her pride and praise. She might have been younger than him, but in Rider terms she was the first person he sought approval from.
“Well done.” Mherrin gave Derrain a congratulatory backslap. “Now for your reward. Have you picked out yours yet? If it’s one of ours, we’ll reserve it for you. You’re practically family.”
Derrain could only shake his head at the overwhelming offer on such an overwhelming day.
“Steady on, Mherrin,” Mhysra said, squeezing Derrain’s arm. “We haven’t seen them all yet, let alone spotted any favourites. Not that he could go wrong with one of ours, but there are so many. More than I expected.”
“Don’t take too long,” Mherrin warned. “It’ll only get busier and it’s first come, first claimed. If you do want one of ours, Derry, and I’m not about, don’t fret. Mam, Mhylo and Mullia are all here. That’s if you’ve managed to shake this one off.” He tugged the end of Mhysra’s braid.
She slapped his hand away. “I’m helping him.”
“And I’m a pyreflyer,” her cousin mocked, looking smug.
Mhysra blinked and Derrain stared. “Are you?” they asked in unison.
Mherrin gave a tentative nod and was instantly engulfed by his delighted cousin. Grinning, Derrain managed to shake his hand and offer his own congratulations, before prising Mhysra off.
“Don’t get too excited,” Mherrin warned. “But it’s why I’m here. Mam talked Da into it. Training doesn’t start until Half-Year.” His cautious words were ruined by his grin. “Another half-moon. I can’t wait!”
They traded congratulations again, before Mhysra pulled Derrain away, admonishing her cousin for distracting them when they had important work to do.
Mherrin rolled his eyes. “If you need a better guide, Derry, let me know. She’s biased.”
“You’d pair him with a pyrefly,” Mhysra retorted. “Just because I prefer feathers over leather, doesn’t mean I’m biased. We’re Riders.”
“We’ll see.” With a final wave, Mherrin turned away to answer a curious student’s questions.
“Ignore him,” Mhysra muttered, linking her arm through Derrain’s. “I’ll help you just fine.”
He squeezed her arm. “I know you will. I wouldn’t have asked you else.”
“Come on then,” she ordered, and dragged him around the rest of the eyries.
When they’d completed the circuit and seen every miryhl on offer, Derrain was still no wiser. The pressure was giving him a headache and being surrounded by similarly panicked faces was not helping. The expectation in the building was enormous, enough to make anyone scream.
Apart from Mhysra. Standing near the entrance, she drank from a water flask and gossiped with her Aunt Mhylla, freshly arrived from filing the miryhl registration forms at the Rider offices.
“What will you do now?” Mhylla asked her niece, and Derrain wondered if his input was even expected. Perhaps they should make his Choice between them. They were far more qualified.
Mhysra shook her head. “I’d hoped a couple would catch his eye, but nothing yet.”
“What, not one?” Mhylla stared at Derrain, her dark eyes a sharp reminder of her countess sister, plunging him into memories of days aboard ship, scurrying like a rat to keep out of the way. She had the same commanding stare, determined set to her mouth and confidence in the merest twitch of her eyebrow. Formidable ladies the Wrentherin. “Don’t you have a list?”
Since she was asking him rather than Mhysra, Derrain snapped to attention. “No, ma’am. I wouldn’t know where to begin.”
Mhylla sent Mhysra a chiding glance. “Everyone needs a list.”
Derrain shook his head, having never imagined having a miryhl. Becoming a Rift Rider wasn’t his lifelong ambition as it was for some. He’d only considered it since the announcement readmitting women to the Riders. Knowing Mhysra would want to try, he’d thought she might need a friend along for company. So he’d never thought about the kind of miryhl he wanted. Just as long as he had one.
Mhylla frowned, looking prepared to make the Choice without him. Which suited him fine. “He’ll need strength with that height and those shoulders.”
Mhysra nodded. “I know. Preferably calm, with endurance over speed. Derry’s got promise as a fighter and he’d choose pike over bow.”
“Stalwart soldier,” Mhylla agreed, gazing into the shadows. “Nothing too showy or cocky.”
Mhysra shook her head, smiling at him. “That wouldn’t fit. He doesn’t need a Cumulo.”
He raised his eyebrows in mock offence, even though he knew he wouldn’t be comfortable with a miryhl like Cumulo. Not that he didn’t like Cumulo, but his arrogance made Derrain constantly want to poke fun. It was vital that he had a miryhl he could get along with. That was true for everyone, though he doubted many realised it. He smiled at Mhysra, doubly glad she was helping him.
“I think I know the bird,” Mhylla announced. “Not one of mine, but I brought her down.”
When the two women strode off, chatting about a Lowland breeder Mhylla sometimes did business with, Derrain assumed he was supposed to follow. Their conversation didn’t mean much to him, but he didn’t mind. All that mattered was the miryhl they were leading him to, one that might become his. Personally recommended by the great Mhylla Wrentherin. He chuckled, wondering how many Rift Rider pairs could say that.
He blinked at the bird in front of him, wondering what made it different from a dozen others in the eyries. It was on the larger size, he noticed, with curiously pale eyes in a soft barley shade. Its feathers were glossy brown with a russet hue under sunlight, but its only distinguishing markings were the black tips to its wings and tail.
“Well, go on, make friends,” Mhylla encouraged, unhooking the barrier rope so that he could get closer.
Mhysra showed no fear crossing the unmarked line, holding out her hands and smiling as the bird lowered its head. “What a fine girl you are,” she greeted, raising her eyebrows at Derrain, silently questioning why he was standing on the walkway like a lummox.
With a deep breath, he cautiously approached the miryhl. She waited, the feathers on top of her head rising with interest, before she lowered her beak and rumbled. Years of observing Cumulo and Mhysra had taught Derrain a few things, so he gently tickled the eagle’s crest. It was warm and smooth.
“Her name’s Zephyr,” Mhylla said.
“Zephyr,” he repeated, and the miryhl rubbed her beak against his chest. She seemed friendly, which was all he could ask for as he stroked the exposed skin beneath her eye. Both dropped shut and she purred, the sound vibrating through her beak into him.
Growing more confident, he stroked over her face to her neck, fingers burrowing through the abundant feathers, silky soft and rippling beneath his touch. The miryhl raised her head, inviting him to stroke her chest, back and wings.
Dazed, Derrain explored the bird with his hands, having never had such an opportunity before. Cumulo didn’t like being touched without permission, so it was the first time Derrain had caressed glossy feathers or felt powerful flight muscles. His hand ruffled over her chest and her steady heartbeat pulsed against his palm. He was enchanted.
“Yes,” Mhysra agreed. “She is.”
Zephyr chuckled, twitching her wings in embarrassment, and Derrain knew he had to have her. She was lovely, strong and humble. Bigger than Cumulo and built on sturdier lines, she looked comfortable. Which was how he viewed himself. Not too showy, nor too fine. She would be strong enough to put up with him and was sweet besides. What more could he ask?
When she turned towards him, he stared into her pale eyes and smiled. “Yes.”
At the edge of his vision he saw Mhysra grin as Mhylla rubbed her hands together. “I’ll fetch the paperwork.” Marking the slate outside the enclosure, Mhylla rummaged through her bag and handed him a stack marked with Zephyr’s name. “Test flights are tomorrow, bright and early. Mhysra, I expect you and Cue to lend a wing.”
“Of course.” She shrugged, unbothered by the announce, while Derrain felt as if the ground had tilted beneath him.
“Test flight?” he croaked, one hand still buried in Zephyr’s feathers.
Mhylla raised her eyebrows. “How else can we know if you’ll make a decent match or not? We don’t allow a preliminary bond on sight alone, you know. No one is quite that stupid.”
He blinked. That was yet another thing he’d not really thought about: flying. On miryhl-back. “I’ve never flown a miryhl before.”
Mhysra chuckled. “Not many have. You’ve flown bullwings and horsats, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” he agreed, but compared to a giant eagle his flights on leatherwings were meaningless.
“You’ll get used to it,” Mhylla assured him, patting his shoulder. “Now, I’d best get back to work. I’ll see you both later.”
While Derrain tried to wrap his mind around the changes sweeping over him, Mouse bounced out of the crowd. “Mhysra! Derry! Have you made your Choice yet? Not you, Mhysra, of course, you’ve already got Cumulo! Is this yours, Derry? There are so many! I never imagined there were this many miryhls in the world. Isn’t it amazing? I don’t know where to start. Are you done? Can you help me? What should I look for?”
Mhysra put her hands on his shoulders to stop Mouse’s jittering and raised her eyebrows at Derrain. “We’re done, aren’t we?” When he nodded, she turned to Mouse and started questioning him about what he wanted, what he’d seen and whether there were any he liked.
Ignoring the chatter, Derrain turned and tickled Zephyr’s head. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
She blew softly on his face and rubbed his chest with her beak, then shoved him playfully away.
“I can take a hint,” he chuckled and, with a final disbelieving stroke of her silky feathers, he let Mouse sweep him up in his bouncing bundle of enthusiasm.
~ Next Chapter ~
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