(First time reading? Catch up Here!)
~ Previous Chapter ~
Only a short bit today, since I had to split this chapter into three or give mega unbalanced updates. Which means a Wednesday post! (I’ll try and remember, it’s been a while.)
Anyway, it’s about time these Riders got on with things.
“It shouldn’t be too bad,” Mouse said, as Mhysra and her friends walked through the eastern citadel. “Two captains and four junior lieutenants, right? They’ll just divide us into two for now. That’s not so bad. Unless you’re last. I mean someone has to be. What if you’re not picked at all? Can they do that? Has that ever happened before?”
Corin jabbed him in the back. “I’ve no idea and I’d rather not know, thanks.”
“I shouldn’t have eaten breakfast,” Mhysra moaned, feeling miserable.
Derrain rubbed her arm. “But you might have fainted.”
“Which would have given us a laugh,” Mouse quipped, ducking Derrain’s swipe as they reached the hall.
Maegla’s Hall was considered the heart and wonder of Aquila by many Riders and architectural historians alike. With its enormous, brass-inlaid doors flung wide to beckon the students inside, it was both an inviting and intimidating sight. As large as a cathedral nave, the floor all dark wood, polished to a high shine to reflect the glory of the ceiling above. Lavishly decorated with paintings of Riders, miryhls, dragons and clouds, its centrepiece was devoted to the Storm Goddess Maegla, patron of the Rift Riders.
At the front of the hall, gilded by the sunlight streaming in through the high windows, stood Captain Myran, his two lieutenants and four men Mhysra had never seen before. From her brother’s descriptions, she guessed the man in the middle was Dean Marshall. Straight-backed, of average height and with greying hair, he had an unremarkable appearance – until he glanced her way. The weight of his power and all of his authority was in his eyes: this man knew what he was doing.
The short, slender man with a cheerful countenance beside him had to be Fredkhen, rumoured to be the nicest captain in the Riders. His lieutenants were as different from each other as men could be. One was of medium height with a stocky build, his brown skin, eyes and hair suggesting Sutheralli roots. His hunched shoulders and constant shifting showed that he was uneasy at being the focus attention, making Mhysra wonder why he was training for captaincy.
The other man looked like a born leader – or at least thought he should be. Sternly handsome, with black hair, bronze skin and dark eyes, he was tall and lean, but he watched the new students with a distinct lack of interest. She could almost smell his contempt.
“Maegla save me from that one,” Corin murmured.
“Unlike you to turn down a pretty face,” Derrain said.
Corin’s smile was wry. “I’m not so blind that I can’t see the beast behind the beauty. Or the arrogance. He thinks he’s better than everyone. I’ll feast my eyes elsewhere, thank you.”
“All the more for me,” a Sutheralli girl whispered. “I’d like a man in need of taming.”
The dean clapped his hands and the snickering students hushed. “Welcome to Maegla’s Hall, friends old and new. Every Half-Year we gather our newest trainees under our wing, and it gives me joy to say welcome to Aquila, students. I hope you enjoy your time here.
“But first we must assign you to a captain. Don’t be alarmed,” he added with a smile. “With a captain you’ll have flurry-mates made up of not just those you study with, but all under your captain’s command. With a captain you become part of a family, of history, of the Riders. This is how it has always been and how it will always be. Over to you, captains.” He motioned them forward, Myran moving with his unmistakable limp and Fredkhen with his hands in his pockets.
“Some do this by rote,” Myran spoke clearly into the expectant hush. “Others choose only those they may have met at the selection schools.”
“We are not those captains,” Fredkhen added with a smile.
“I choose to put my trust in my lieutenants.”
“As do I,” Fredkhen agreed, a little less confidently. “Some decisions have already been made, but our lieutenants will still speak with you. All of you.”
“This is too weighty a decision to be dealt with in an instant.” Myran looked around the hall. “Please be patient.” Turning to his lieutenants, he indicated the students. “Choose wisely.”
Mhysra’s friends looked as surprised as she was. Nothing Kilai had said had prepared her for this. She’d expected to be split into the groups in which they’d arrived and be picked out by rote. Perhaps divided up and selected purely by chance. Or even have her name drawn out of a hat, though she suspected her brother had made that one up. Mhysra wasn’t sure if this method was better or worse than she’d expected.
While Stirla and the other lieutenants set about talking to groups of students, Lyrai headed straight towards Mhysra and her friends, smiling. “No need to panic,” he said when he reached them. “You must know Stirla and I have marked you down for us already.”
“Who have you marked down, sir?” Derrain asked, always the bravest when it came to questioning the lieutenants. Being able to look down on Lyrai probably helped.
The lieutenant checked their group and smiled. “You, Derry. And Mhysra, Corin, Dhori, Haelle, of course. And yes, Mouse, you too,” he added, when the boy stared at him with terrified eyes. “Relax. You all have a very boring day ahead.”
Weak-kneed with relief, Mhysra managed to squeak her thanks before sitting with a thump. Lieutenant Lyrai moved on and her friends settled around her, equally reassured.
“All that panic over nothing,” Corin grumbled half-heartedly.
“Panic’s never for nothing,” Dhori said thoughtfully. “It teaches us something.”
“Like to be wary of Riders like him?” Mouse asked, pointing at the arrogant lieutenant.
“Something like that,” Dhori agreed, smiling.
“Prepare yourselves for more wisdom,” Corin warned. “He’s headed this way.” They all tensed, then breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Rider eyed them disdainfully and moved swiftly on.
“Maegla be praised,” Mouse murmured.
Dhori smiled. “Thanks to halls like this She is, and always will be.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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