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~ Previous Chapter ~
Let the lessons begin!
“GOOD MORNING, STUDENTS,” Lyrai called as he strode onto the flying field for his first lesson early the next day.
“Morning, sir,” the students chorused raggedly from miryhl-back.
“I said good morning, students!”
“Good morning, sir!”
“Better.” He smiled, looking at his nineteen students. They were a pleasant mix from across the Overworld, and he recognised about half. “Some of you already know me from Nimbys and the journey here, but for the rest, I am Lieutenant Lyrai and this is Sergeant Honra. We will be teaching you how to fly.” There was a ripple of whispers and he clapped his hands for silence, startling one student into falling off.
“On your miryhl, Mouse,” Honra called.
The boy blushed and remounted, much to the amusement of the others. While he settled, Lyrai studied the faces before him, their expressions ranging from smug to anxious. He hoped to cure both before the morning was over.
“As you may have realised, some of your lessons will be taken with all of Captain Myran’s students, others won’t. You’re all learning the same things, but it occasionally pays to lessen the odds of students to teacher.” A few people chuckled. “As you get older your lessons will mix with Riders and students from other years. Since you’ll be expected to fight together under the same captain, we expect you to train together too. It should teach you to respect those outside your peer group and perhaps help others less fortunate.
“All of Aquila’s students are Riders-in-training and we expect you to behave accordingly. Treat others as you wish to be treated and you can’t go wrong. After three years your time will come.” He paused to let his words sink in. After a long moment, he smiled. “That’s the serious stuff done. Let’s move on.”
With Honra’s help, he arranged the lines so that he could see everyone. “Introductions.” He pointed to the boy on the end. “Name?”
“Fhyrin fra Fhenlyn, sir.”
“And your miryhl?”
Fhyrin looked surprised. “This is Twister, sir.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Twister,” Lyrai said to the miryhl, who nodded back. “Where are you from, Fhyrin?”
“Seffal Falls in Kevian, sir, and I’ve been flying since I was five.” Fhyrin sat up straighter and puffed out his chest. “My father and two brothers are Riders.”
Lyrai raised an eyebrow at the boy’s cocky smirk. This was one he’d have to keep an eye on. For now, however, he dismissed Fhyrin with a brief nod and moved on, coaxing introductions from the rest, including those he already knew, until he came to the last. “Name?”
“Greig fra Jeign, sir.”
He studied the lad closely. His dark skin and brown curls identified him as Etherian, but there was something about the firm jaw and mischievous brown eyes that looked even more familiar. “Where are you from, Greig?”
“Cyrris Peaks, sir.”
Lyrai smiled, certain now. “You’re Lieutenant Stirla’s nephew.”
Greig nodded warily. “I’m his oldest sister’s son, sir. I’ve only met him a handful of times.”
“Lucky you.” Lyrai winked, pleased when the lad grinned, looking even more like his uncle.
“And your miryhl?”
“Pleased to meet you, Jupi. I hope you’ll both enjoy your time with us.” With the introductions over, Lyrai paced back along the lines. “I hope you all will. Now, to work.” Putting his fingers to his lips, he let out a sharp whistle. High amongst the mountain crags, Hurricane screamed.
The students looked up in awe as the miryhl swooped, racing his rippling shadow across the grass. Circling around the field, Hurricane made sure everyone had a chance to see how huge and magnificent he was before he landed. Wings closed, he raised his head, marble feathers gleaming in the sunlight.
“This is Hurricane,” Lyrai introduced mildly.
Even Fhyrin looked lost for words as the students gazed at the impressive eagle, even those who’d seen him before. The miryhls all straightened, trying to look more impressive, except for a muttering Cumulo who raked his talons across the grass and huffed sulkily.
Lyrai chuckled and, using Hurricane’s lowered wing as a step, settled easily into his saddle. “Today I want you all to fly this course. It’s just a few small obstacles designed to test your skills, balance and flight craft. It’s not hard. I’ll go first. Watch carefully.”
They glided down the field to the obstacle course. As Lyrai had said, none of it was difficult. Hurricane dipped through the large hoops, swooped over and under the bars, and wove between the poles without Lyrai having to do anything. He just called out the directions – to the students as much as his miryhl.
As they swirled around the last pole, Lyrai plucked a flag from the barrel. Returning to the start, Hurricane landed gently, allowing Lyrai to plant his flag before the admiring – and faintly panicked – row of first-years.
“Well, Fhyrin? Are you going to gawp all day or will you fly?”
The boy looked at the course, back to Lyrai, then at the course again. While Fhyrin might have lost his cockiness, the shier students now gazed at Hurricane with wonder, no doubt dreaming of a day when they could emulate him. Lyrai had always known his new miryhl’s worth far outweighed his size and magnificence.
Fhyrin took off and Lyrai followed, calling, “Honra, you’re in charge.”
Gliding after the young pair, Hurricane murmured, “So this is teaching?”
“I hope so,” Lyrai replied, having only the vaguest idea of the role himself, and shouted for Fhyrin to start. The miryhl responded before the boy. Fhyrin’s nerves showed as he clung too tightly, hunching away from the poles and wobbling. Lyrai wasn’t sure whether to be appalled by the boy’s overconfidence or impressed that he managed to stay on at all. He foresaw hard work ahead.
Hurricane circled lazily above the course. “That’s a good miryhl.”
“Yes,” Lyrai agreed with a sigh, hoping he could train the boy to match as Fhyrin landed, flag in hand. “How come you miryhls do all the hard work, yet still make us look good?”
“That’s our job,” Hurricane chuckled, ruffling his feathers on landing. “You show off with weapons and strut about in shiny boots while we work. You get the glory, we the graft.”
“What do you get out of it?” he asked.
“Undying loyalty,” Hurricane replied tranquilly. “And a laugh when we throw you off.”
Lyrai chuckled and rubbed his bonded’s neck. “I knew there was a reason I had to be nice to you.” Smiling, he turned back to his students and the task of teaching.
* * * * *
DERRAIN SIGHED AS he watched Mhysra and Cumulo sail through the obstacle course, looking more impressive than even Lieutenant Lyrai and Hurricane had. “It’s not fair.”
“Life rarely is,” Dhori said, perched cross-legged on his saddle. It looked neither natural nor comfortable, but his friend was serene. Easy for him, Derrain thought with another sigh: Dhori had already proved he could fly almost as well as Mhysra. It was as though he and Latinym had been bonded for years, rather than a mere half-moon. It was quite disheartening.
“Practise,” Corin suggested. “We just need practise.”
“Fifteen years or so,” Mouse grumbled as Cumulo swirled around the flying field, making the flag in Mhysra’s hand unfurl with a snap. “I’ll never be that good.”
“Few of us will,” agreed Haelle, who had inched her way through the course already. Her black female, Thunder, was the most impressive in their year, but her pale eyes and watchful air made Derrain nervous. “As long as I can stay on in reasonable comfort, I’ll be happy.”
“I’m aiming a little higher than that,” Corin said, watching Cumulo land. “But I’m not a fool.”
“You’re next, Corin,” Honra called, and she smiled weakly at her friends.
“Start counting,” Mhysra chuckled, when Cumulo strutted back into line.
“Why?” Haelle asked.
“I bet Wisp finishes the course faster than anyone. Before or after.”
“Including you?” Mouse was convinced no pair could rival her and Cumulo.
“Definitely,” Mhysra and Derrain said together, grinning.
Mhysra ruffled her miryhl’s feathers. “Cue was too busy showing off to go fast.”
“Hurricane started it,” Derrain pointed out, making Cumulo chuckle.
“Don’t encourage him.”
“Hey, look!” Mouse pointed at where Wisp was already landing. “I barely saw them move.”
“Wisp of the wind,” Dhori murmured. “There won’t be many who can catch them.”
“Good for her.” Derrain flinched when Honra called his name. “Wish me luck.”
“Luck!” his friends chorused as he eased Zephyr forward.
“I won’t drop you,” the miryhl murmured soothingly, taking off. “You can trust me.”
“I know,” he replied. “It’s me I don’t trust.”
Chuckling, she circled, waiting for Derrain to give the signal. Lieutenant Lyrai waved them on and Derrain leant forward. “Go,” he whispered, and she angled into the wind.
Derrain’s heart hammered as cold air struck his face and they dropped to barely three feet from the ground, then lifted up. The moment of weightlessness made his stomach clench, as Zephyr tucked her wings in tight, then flapped again. They were through the first hoop. Another lift, pause, then catch and the second was done. The third took them higher, the fourth low again, but by then Derrain was used to the sensation of his stomach trying to fly free.
After that he relaxed, as they hopped over and ducked under the horizontal bars and wove between the poles. Zephyr took it gently, her flight so smooth that Derrain’s body easily followed wherever hers led. As he reached for the flag, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to sit up. Chuckling, Zephyr took a victory lap before landing and giving him a chance to plant their flag.
“Good,” Lieutenant Lyrai praised, and a warm glow gathered in Derrain’s chest.
He waited for Zephyr to hop back into line before he leant forward to ruffle her luxurious feathers. “Maegla blessed me the day She sent you into my life.”
Turning shy, Zephyr ducked her head and nudged his boot. “I like you too.”
“Not bad for a beginner.” Corin grinned, still excited after her own flight.
Derrain rolled his eyes and smiled. For the first time he felt he might manage this. It wouldn’t be easy, but flying wasn’t impossible either. Not with a miryhl like Zephyr.
“You’ll do,” Mhysra assured him softly. “We all will.”
“Maegla witness that,” Dhori agreed, just as Mouse tumbled off at the poles. “Of course, She may have to help some of us more than others, but She’ll do her best.”
“And it’s up to us to do the rest.” Mhysra winced as Mouse fell off again.
“Nothing like a miracle to start off our training,” Derrain said, leading the cheers as Onyx landed, a flag waving triumphantly in Mouse’s fist.
“Anything’s possible,” Dhori said. “Even miracles. We’ve got three years, after all.”
“Cheer us up, why don’t you?” Mouse burbled, bouncing in his saddle as Onyx rejoined them, the boy clearly ecstatic to have only fallen off twice. Some miracles might take more work than others, Derrain thought, but they’d be worth it in the end.
~ Next Chapter ~
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