(First time reading? Catch up Here!)
~ Previous Chapter ~
Sorry it’s a little late today, I’ve been enjoying the sunshine on Dartmoor and may have just accidentally scooped all the birders up there desperately searching for the lammergeier that I’m pretty sure I saw. Oops! (But funny. They need to get out of the car parks, it landed right below them and they had no idea! And it definitely wasn’t a buzzard. I know buzzards, this wasn’t one.)
Anyway, time to catch up with Mhysra and find out just what is going on. (Sadly, with zero chance of lammergeiers – but they do appear in this series, oddly enough, in book 3.)
MHYSRA WOKE TO the sound of voices. They were muffled, but the words were clear, if only her brain wasn’t too fogged to understand them. Frowning, she opened her eyes and groaned as bright light stabbed at the ache in her head. She shut her eyes again, trying not to think about the foul taste in her mouth.
“Kirdensk, mir ladai?”
The words meant nothing to her, but the tone was kind, so she cracked open an eye. A beaker loomed in front of her nose. “Oh, thank you.” She pushed herself upright, gritting her teeth against a wash of pain and dizziness, and took the drink.
“Nith nagath, mir ladai.” It was the Mistrune sailor, the smiling one. What had her mother called him? Tolgoth? Talgath? Talon?
She sipped the water and sighed with relief at the clear, cool taste. She remembered now about the strange butter and sharp apple juice. Something about her breakfast had been drugged, but if this water was more of the same she didn’t care. Draining the beaker to wash away the foul taste in her mouth, she handed it back to her jailor with a small smile.
“Thank you, umm, Tal…?”
“Talro, mir ladai. Lar kirdensk?” He waggled the beaker invitingly.
Mhysra nodded. “Please.”
Her guard beamed and stumped across the cabin to poured more water from the pitcher. It gave Mhysra a chance to look around. She was in her mother’s private cabin on the Illuminai, sparse but elegantly decorated, making the most of the limited space available aboard ship. Loud voices drifted down through the wood: shouts of the sailors on deck relaying the commands of the captain; a conversation between the captain and the pilot in the wheelhouse over her head; sounds of men below, reorganising the cargo; the heated exchange between her mother and aunt in the state room on the other side of the door.
She ignored it all for the moment, more interested in the quiet words being spoken between her two guards. It was the same two men who’d come to her room, the Mistrunan brothers. Talro didn’t look so happy now as he clutched Mhysra’s drink to his chest, while his smaller, older brother grumbled at him. She wondered what they were saying, but since they stuck to Mistrunan, she didn’t have a hope of understanding.
It hardly mattered, as Talro gave a small shrug and shot Mhysra a bashful look before bringing her the refilled beaker. She thanked him again and turned her attention to the angry voices beyond the door, while Talro rejoined his brother on guard duty.
Things were getting loud out there, Mhysra realised and shut her eyes again, the better to concentrate on what was being said.
“And I’m telling you, Lunrai, I won’t be party to this!” Aunt Mhylla rarely raised her voice, but when she did there were few who could shout her down.
“And may I remind you, Mhylla, that I never asked you to be.” Countess Kilpapan was a woman who prided herself on her control, but even her voice sounded strained in the face of her older sister’s anger. “She’s my daughter, my responsibility. You’re only here because we’re taking you home.”
“You may have birthed her, Lunrai, but I raised her.” Mhylla had lowered her tone to a growl. “That makes her as much mine as yours.”
“Ha!” Lady Kilpapan scoffed in a most unladylike manner. “I wondered how long it would take before you threw that in my face again.”
“Again?” Mhylla sounded incredulous. “I’ve spent the last twenty-four years raising your children and haven’t raised the subject once!”
“Except for the time just before Milluqua’s coming out ball, when her father was arranging a very advantageous match for her -”
“To a man three times her age!” Mhylla interrupted, sounding almost shrill.
“Then there was Kilai. I lost count of the times you’ve interfered with him. First in keeping him two years longer than his father wished, then by encouraging him to join the Riders -”
Mhylla made an angry noise, but Lunrai overrode her by raising her voice. “Much against our wishes, might I add. You even gave him his own miryhl before the Choice! And now… now we come to Mhysra.”
The was a long, angry silence and Mhysra could imagine them both trying to compose themselves for the next round of the argument.
“You cannot have forgotten the circumstances of her birth, Lunrai,” Mhylla said, almost too softly for the words to carry through the wood.
The countess gave a bitter laugh. “Well, you cannot deny that I was there for it, much though you’d like to deny me the honour.”
Mhylla sighed. “I do not deny that you are her mother, Lunrai. I’ve never wanted to take your children from you.”
“And yet you interfere with our parenting at every turn. You constantly undermine our authority. You think you know what’s best for them. You think you know them better than we, their parents, could ever know them.” Her voice was rising again.
“Because I do!” Mhylla shouted. “I do know what’s best for them, I do know them better than you ever could. I raised them! I watched them grow! I comforted their nightmares, soothed their hurts, guided their education and listened to their dreams. Parenting does not begin in adulthood, Lunrai. By the time you and your husband summoned your children they were already grown. It is too late to mould them into the creatures you wish them to be. They are their own people, they have their own lives to live. You cannot rule them as if they were servants or worse, slaves. You lay down rules and make orders, expecting respect and duty to be yours by right. You have to earn them, Lunrai. They can never be taken by force.”
“So speaks my sister, the perfect mother.”
The bitterness in the countess’ voice shocked Mhysra. It almost sounded like jealousy, but surely no one had made her give up her children, no one had forced her to leave them to her sister’s care. No one had demanded she choose between her precious ships and her three babies. This was Lunrai, Countess Kilpapan: no one would dare.
“I’m not perfect, Lunrai. No mother is, it’s impossible to be, as you would have known had you dared to try.”
The countess gave a scornful laugh. “Gods, you haven’t changed a bit, have you? Still the same sanctimonious, self-righteous harridan you’ve always been.”
“And you’re just as stubborn, selfish and ruthless as you always were. Duty,” Mhylla squeaked in an exaggerated mimic of her sister. “That’s what you always prate about, isn’t it? Duty to the Kilpapan name. What about your duty to your children? Milli is happy to go along with your plans, so long as she can have a say in her marriage – good for her. Kilai was less happy, but you’ve accepted his choice to become a Rift Rider because it reflects well on that damned Kilpapan name. What of Mhysra? Your youngest and the one whose destiny was set the day she was born.
“You were there, Lunrai, you must remember. How your labour pains started early and we rushed to get you back to the manor, but we didn’t make it in time. There, in the hatching pens, your beautiful new daughter cried out at the same time a miryhl hatched, a late season egg we never expected to make it. You stayed long enough to see how neither would settle unless the other was there. You knew what they were. You knew what it meant.”
Though Mhysra had heard the story a hundred times, her aunt’s passionate recounting brought a lump to her throat. Such a special gift, granted entirely by chance. She’d felt so lucky all her life, treasuring the chance she’d been given. And now it was to be taken away from her by the one person who should have valued it most.
Mhylla clearly agreed, because she continued: “But now you’re willing to wreck it all, to smash this precious gift, and all because you’re determined that one of your children will follow the path you’ve set out for them. Maybe I shouldn’t haven’t interfered with your plans for Milli and Kilai, not that I regret either, but that doesn’t mean Mhysra should pay the price.”
“She is my daughter.” The countess’ voice was hard, as though was forcing the words out between her teeth. “She will do as she’s told.”
“A fine time to assert your authority,” Mhylla snapped. “Only the stupidest generals pick battles they cannot win. You’re demanding she goes against everything she is. You’re asking her to turn herself inside out for you. You, a woman she hardly knows, for all you claim kinship now that it’s convenient for you. You cannot win this battle, Lunrai. Even if you succeed in separating her from Cumulo -”
“I have separated her from Cumulo!” Lunrai interrupted loudly, the words sending a stab of pain through Mhysra’s heart.
Mhylla gave a sceptical snort. “We’ll see about that,” she said, unwittingly soothing balm over Mhysra’s wounds. “But as I was saying, even if you’ve succeeded in separating them, you’ll break her. She’s Wingborn, Lunrai. Part of a pair. They don’t survive on their own.”
“Myths, lies, propaganda and stories, that’s all it is. This Wingborn nonsense you’ve stuffed her head with all these years. It’s all lies!”
As the furious scream died away something inside Mhysra withered and died. Any hope she might once have had that her parents would relent, might come to understand her dreams and let her go, finally died in the face of such anger and resentment. They would never understand. They would never let her go.
“What happened to you, Lunrai?” Mhylla asked in a low, sad voice. “What happened to the girl who believed in legends? Who wanted to explore the world in search of them?”
“She grew up, Mhylla.” The countess was back in control again, her voice cold. “And it’s time Mhysra did the same. I thank you, sister, for the work you have done in raising my children. I shall always be grateful for your care, but they are adults now. Your responsibilities towards them are over. They are Kilpapans, and it is up to the earl and me to decide how their lives go from now on.”
“They are not servants or soldiers, fit only to obey your commands, Lunrai. You must -”
“No, enough!” the countess shrieked. “Enough, Mhylla. You have said more than enough. You have done more than enough. You are not the mother of my children. You have no say in their futures. Your time with them is over.”
“This is not over, Lunrai,” Mhylla contradicted, her voice shaking. “It will never be over. Adults make their own decisions.”
“Then you have no right to make any for them any longer.” Lady Kilpapan sounded faintly smug, and Mhysra’s hands balled into fists. “By your own words, sister, your task is over. It’s time to let them go.”
“Only if you will.”
The countess gave a light and patently false laugh. “My dear sister, I wish for nothing more. Just as soon as Mhysra is settled in her new life I shall be more than happy to do as you ask.”
Her mother twisted words so easily, Mhysra might almost have believed her, if she didn’t know that she would never settle into this life her parents were forcing upon her. Nor, she hoped, would Cumulo.
“Find me, Cue,” she whispered, pressing a fist against her mouth. “Maegla, please, help him find me.”
“You’re wrong about this, Lunrai, and I only hope you never have cause to regret it.” Mhylla, it seemed, had given up. Though Mhysra couldn’t blame her aunt for no longer wishing to bang her head against the brick wall of the Kilpapan pride, it still hurt to hear herself being abandoned.
The countess laughed bitterly. “Say it like you mean it, sister. I know there’s nothing you’d like more than for me to rue my every decision since the day I left your precious Wrentheria. As if there had ever been enough room there for me.”
“I only wish for my niece to be happy.” Mhylla was completely sincere.
Lunrai laughed. “Preferably at my expense.”
“Life isn’t all about you, sister. In fact -”
Whatever she was about to say was lost under a harsh scream. It came from above, and was swiftly followed by sounds of confusion on the flight deck. The thunder of running feet, the sounds of shouting voices, more screams and Mhysra threw herself towards the line of portholes along the side of the cabin.
“Cumulo,” she whispered, just as an enormous shadow swept across her vision, silhouetted against the late-afternoon sun. More shadows swooped past, circling the ship.
Miryhls. There was miryhls out there.
“What is going on?” Lady Kilpapan demanded somewhere on the deck overhead, but Mhysra didn’t care, she just stared out of the porthole at the swirling miryhls, tears in her eyes as the sunlight flashed on the gold tips of Cumulo’s wings.
He had found her. He had come.
~ Next Chapter ~
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Thanks for reading!