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Party time! Bring on the captains!
AFTER CHOOSING MOUSE a placid male named Onyx, Mhysra turned her attention to Corin, finding her a female whose mottled feathers would make an ideal scout. Then others asked for help and the rest of the day vanished. Only Dhori had chosen by himself, and Mhysra had been impressed by the slender silvery Latinym.
It had been a good day, and she’d thoroughly enjoyed herself, but was relieved when she could finally leave. Not that she expected much rest, since her aunt and cousins were staying at Kilpapan House. After a short bath, Mhysra left her room to find things were even worse: her parents were entertaining. Lady Kilpapan had arrived from Wrentheria with the rest of the family and their eagles that morning, and since so many members of the miryhl-breeding community were in the city, she couldn’t resist bringing them all together. Life was business, as she frequently reminded her children.
Milluqua greeted Mhysra at the bottom of the stairs and they shared a grimace. “I’m sorry. I wanted to warn you, but mother roped me into organising.”
“Wonderful,” Mhysra sighed, clicking her fingers to call Bumble down from where she was tugging on the ribbons strewn across the chandelier. The still-growing pup huffed and fluttered down from the ceiling, wings drooping.
“Poor girl,” Milluqua chuckled, scratching the nakhound behind the ears. “We’ve had to shut her in your room most of the day.”
“I thought things in there were a little more haphazard than usual,” Mhysra said, smiling at her sister and the puppy. She’d half-hoped that the dog would transfer her affections to Milluqua, since they spent so much time together. Unfortunately, even though Bumble liked Milluqua, she still preferred Mhysra. Gods alone knew why, since she didn’t even feed the creature. “There’s no accounting for taste.” She patted Bumble and ruffled her wings, avoiding an enthusiastic lick.
“Aunt Mhylla will want to see her,” Milluqua said, entering the ballroom, where a buffet had been laid out to tide people over until supper. “At least you’ll have people to talk to tonight.”
Mhysra hummed in agreement, filling a plate with delicacies and slipping a slice of chicken to Bumble. It would be nice to enjoy one of her parents’ parties for once. Usually they were full of nobles and merchants who thought too highly of themselves to waste time on the hoyden daughter. Unless they were younger sons ordered to court the wild Kilpapan chit, for her connections and impressive dowry. Mhysra hated the false smiles, feigned interest and lack of conversation. She had nothing in common with those people. Thankfully, tonight would be different, and she planned to make the most of it.
“Oh, there’s Derry. I told mother to invite him. Can I leave you with him? There were supposed to be three plates of berry tarts, but I can only see two.” Still muttering, Milluqua smiled at Derrain and hurried off in a swirl of silk.
“You’re a fool,” Mhysra said, handing him a plate. “Brave, but ultimately foolish.”
He chuckled and picked up a chicken leg. “I thought you could use the company, and it would have been rude to refuse. Your mother’s never invited me inside before.”
“Maybe she’s proud of you.” Mhysra shrugged as they worked their way along the table, before taking their plates to sit out of the way. They were soon joined by her cousins, self-consciously balancing plates on their knees. Thanks to Milluqua’s attentive refilling of their wineglasses, though, everyone relaxed as the night progressed.
To Mhysra’s surprise, more than one Rider attended. Even Lieutenant Lyrai made an appearance. Mhysra thought that was brave after the speculations at the Midsummer ball, although now her mother’s egalitarian guest list began to make sense. Captain Myran, Lieutenants Stirla, Fleik and Imaino, Sergeants Honra and Rees also came, the latter not staying long, for which everyone was thankful.
In time a string quartet played for dancing and the addition of the Riders livened things up considerably. Laughing her way through the spirited supper dance with Lieutenant Stirla, Mhysra couldn’t remember when she’d last had so much fun at her parents’ house. If society affairs were more like this, she could almost reconcile herself to the life her parents demanded.
As Stirla led her off the floor, her hand was snatched up and gallantly kissed. “Lady Mhysra! You look radiant tonight.”
Breathless from the dance, she smiled at the handsome face. “Captain Torven! What a delightful surprise.”
“The generosity of Nimbys is famous, my lady.” He winked. “As are your family.”
Her smile faded as her parents and Milluqua approached, gathering their guests for supper.
Lady Kilpapan returned Torven’s bow with a polite nod. “I had no idea you were acquainted with my daughter, captain.”
“A recent pleasure,” he explained. “We encountered one another flying into Nimbys two days ago. My ship was honoured by the presence of so beautiful a Rift Rider.” He smiled flirtatiously and didn’t see her wince.
Nor did he seem to notice when Lord Kilpapan gripped her arm, preventing her from slipping away.
“Rift Rider?” Lady Kilpapan laughed smoothly. “My daughter is not a Rift Rider.”
Oblivious to the tension, the captain waved a dismissive hand. “Student, Rider, it’s all the same thing. Such a flyer and such a miryhl. The Riders are blessed to have her.”
“A noble sentiment,” Lord Kilpapan ground out between clenched teeth.
“We are lucky to have such a Wingborn,” a new voice agreed, and Mhysra blinked as Captain Myran joined their conversation. The presence of Lyrai and Stirla beside him explained everything, and she shut her eyes, dreading that her father would express his contempt. She’d never spoken to the captain before, but had heard so much about the near-legendary man, so to make his acquaintance under such circumstances mortified her. Staring at the floor, she waited for the storm to break.
“Women have no place in the Rift Riders,” Lord Kilpapan growled.
“In times such as these, my lord, there is a place in the Riders for any brave enough to try,” Myran corrected. “As Wingborn your daughter is a precious gift that should not be wasted.”
Her father’s hand tightened painfully and Mhysra locked her jaw to stifle a yelp.
“Sir,” Stirla murmured, and it was the earl’s turn to hide his pain as she was abruptly freed.
“There is no need for this, my lord,” Lieutenant Lyrai said softly, removing his hand from the earl. “You should be proud to have such a daughter.”
“Proud?” Lord Kilpapan spat, rubbing his wrist. “How can I be proud of -”
“Our youngest has always been wilful,” the countess interrupted with a flat laugh. “So we permit her follies in the hope that she will grow out of them. Is this not so, Mhysra?”
She forced herself to meet her mother’s cold eyes, aware that the entire room was watching them. This was not how she’d wanted to tell her parents, but as her arm throbbed and Milluqua’s hand slipped into hers with a squeeze of support, she realised the truth was already out.
“I know my duty,” she replied, licking her dry lips. “It is only right that I see it done.”
“Duty,” snarled her father, but his wife silenced him with a hand on his arm.
“Indeed,” Lady Kilpapan replied, her words clipped. “I am sure Aquila will welcome you with open arms as you do your duty. No Kilpapan has ever turned aside from what is right.”
“A fine sentiment,” Captain Myran murmured. “You have much to be proud of in your daughter, my lady. Both your daughters.” He nodded at Milluqua.
“Indeed,” the countess repeated, her smile not reaching her eyes. “The pride we take in our daughters is exactly what they deserve. I believe supper is being served.” She turned her husband away and led the guests into the dining room. Most departed slowly, glancing back at the tense group.
“Gods,” Mhysra whispered, shivering in her sister’s embrace. “Oh, Gods, they’ll kill me.”
“My lady.” Captain Torven touched her shoulder hesitantly. “Forgive me, I meant no harm. I thought they would be proud.”
“As they should be,” rumbled Captain Myran. “As any parent should be. There is no higher honour for a family than to have a child serve in the Rift Riders.”
“Our brother is already a Rider,” Milluqua explained, rubbing Mhysra’s back. “My father believes his service is sufficient for the family honour.”
“But your sister is Wingborn.” Myran turned to his lieutenants in confusion, perhaps seeking confirmation.
“My niece is Wingborn, but my sister is foolish,” Mhylla confirmed, emerging from the crowd to take Mhysra from Milluqua and hug her hard. “I’m sorry it came to this, sweet, but it’s better they know.”
“I didn’t want them to find out like this,” Mhysra murmured. “Not so publicly. They’ll never forgive me.”
“So dramatic, cuz?” Mherrin sounded amused. “Is that what they’ve been teaching you? High drama and tragedy? Just the thing for the Riders.”
She snuffled a laugh. “You pyrefliers are all savages. I wasn’t meaning to be dramatic.”
“If they cast you off, love, come to me,” her aunt said, taking her chin firmly in hand and forcing her to meet her eyes. “Wrentheria will always be your home.”
Mhysra bit her lip as her eyes filled with tears of gratitude. “Thank you,” she croaked, and turned to Captain Myran, dipping an awkward curtsey. “And thank you, sir, for defending me. Especially as we’ve never met. I’m more grateful than I can say.”
“And I, sir,” Milluqua agreed, echoed by her aunt and cousins.
Embarrassed, the captain waved a dismissive hand. “You may thank my lieutenants, since they provided me with all the pertinent details. And while we may not have met, Lady Mhysra, I have heard much about you. How could I not, with the stir you’ve caused? A female Wingborn. A miryhl the envy of all my Riders. A daughter of a noble house who has no need to join us in these troubled times, yet chooses to anyway. One who spends the entire Choice helping her friends pick out their miryhls. Oh yes, child, I have heard of you.”
She blushed. “You are too kind, sir.”
He smiled and patted her shoulder. “I’m never kind for the sake of kindness, Lady Mhysra. You’re one of my Riders now. Chin up, student, you’re family.” As a tear trailed down her cheek, he offered his handkerchief and his arm. “I believe supper is being served. Shall we?”
“I’d be honoured.” Smiling, she wiped her face and walked into the dining room with her head held high.
~ Next Chapter ~
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