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~ Previous Chapter ~
Story time! (Also known as a history lesson. I wish Myran had taught me.)
AFTER EVERYONE HAD completed the course, Lyrai made them fly laps while he conferred with Honra. Mhysra and her friends eyed them warily, wondering what they were up to, but the bell sounded before any nasty surprises could be sprung. Dismissing them to the eyries, the lieutenant warned that he’d see them again the next afternoon.
“We have to fly every day?” Mouse groaned, when they reached the eyries for their first lesson in miryhl care, thanks to the eyrie attendants.
“Every day,” Corin agreed with far more enthusiasm, but then she hadn’t fallen off.
“You’ll get used to it,” Mhysra promised. “Once your body adjusts.”
“I’m not sure my body was built for those kind of adjustments,” Derrain grumbled, wincing as he straightened his breeches. “I’m too old for these fun and games.”
“Positively ancient,” Dhori agreed, the oldest amongst them. “But what’s the point of joining the Riders if you don’t fly every day?”
“Precisely,” Mhysra agreed, kissing Cumulo’s beak and taking his harness to the tack room to show the attendants that she did indeed know what she was doing.
It was a sorrowful bunch who winced, limped and groaned their way through the citadel a little while later, when the bell summoned them to another lesson. Guided by an attendant, they headed up the mountain terraces of the western citadel, where all the classrooms, libraries and study rooms were. Three steep staircases later, they dragged themselves across a courtyard flooded with autumn sunlight and in through an open door.
The other half of Myran’s students already occupied the back of the room, while the captain waited at the front. The new arrivals were too desperate for rest to care where they sat. By the time they settled in the sunlit room, Mhysra found herself beside a stranger. She only had time to smile at the red-headed boy before Captain Myran stood up.
“Good morning, students.”
“Good morning, captain,” they chorused, proving that they learned fast.
He limped around his desk to lean against the front, smiling faintly. “Are you enjoying your first day? I trust my lieutenants are treating you well.”
The half that had been in survival studies with Stirla nodded, while the rest groaned.
The captain chuckled. “Those of you feeling the effects of your first flying lesson be comforted that your fellows will feel exactly the same by day’s end.” Half the class perked up, while the other grew alarmed. “But that’s for later. Now you’re with me. After yesterday I hope you all know who I am, but in any case I am Captain Myran Mylanri, from a little known province in the Lowlands. I’ve been a Rift Rider for more years than I care to remember, twelve of those as captain. And to get it out of the way, yes, I have a limp. It was gained on active service, some ten years gone. No, it does not impair my abilities as a Rider.
“And yes,” he added, noticing Mouse squirming in his seat, “it was a gift from the kaz-naghkt. I hope that sates your curiosity, but if not I will allow you time at the end of the lesson to ask questions. For now, we have other things to discuss.” Reaching across his desk, he turned over the sand timer. “While at Aquila I am not only your captain, but your teacher too. I will instruct you on the finer details of history – general and military, alternating the subjects on different days. We begin with military, specifically the Rift Riders.
“Can anyone tell me how the Riders began?”
There was a long pause. They all knew how the Riders began, everyone did, but that didn’t mean they wanted to be the first to speak up.
Dhori smiled. “Maegla made us, sir.”
Captain Myran motioned for him to stand. “Dhoriaen, isn’t it? From Nimbys?”
“I prefer Dhori, sir.”
“My lieutenants have told me about you, Dhori. Please continue.”
Dhori twitched his shoulders and took a deep breath. “The people of the Overworld were dying. The coming of the clouds had changed life beyond all recognition. There was a risk that humans would die out. A deserved punishment some said, but Maegla intervened. She spoke with the dragons and together they created the first miryhl. The dragons made other winged creatures, but the miryhl was the only one in which the Goddess played a role. As such they are precious to Her. With bullwings, pyreflies, horsats and doelyns to act as beasts of burden, Maegla wanted something more for Her miryhls.
“And so She created the Rift Riders. Protectors and guardians of the Overworld. They would ensure that humans did not repeat the foolish mistakes that had created the cloud curse in the first place. Above all they would be Hers. Forerunners of the storm, swearing oaths of allegiance, honour and servitude to Her above all others. They would dedicate their lives to defending the helpless.”
Captain Myran smiled as Dhori sat down. “Thank you, Dhori, a most comprehensive answer, and one I hear rarely. Yes?” he asked, as another student raised her hand.
“I heard that the kings of the Overworld created the Rift Riders.”
“Stand up please,” Myran urged the girl. “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”
“Lerya sa Nanya, sir, from Scudia, sir.”
“Please continue, Lerya.”
“Well, when the clouds came the humans struggled to survive. When things got desperate they sent to the gods for help. That’s where the miryhls came from, and pyreflies, horsats and so on.” She nodded at Dhori. “But wars were fought for control of these creatures, pitching mountain against mountain, range against range, all vying to own these marvellous beasts. Things became desperate, people were dying and the dragons refused to breed more winged animals, so the kings came together in a grand treaty.
“The Rift Riders were created to oversee the Overworld, owing allegiance to all, but to no single nation. Maegla became the patroness because of Her role in the creation of the miryhls. So I heard.”
“Thank you, Lerya.” Captain Myran motioned for her to sit. “So we have two versions – one concerning Maegla, the other unnamed kings from long ago. Has anyone else heard differently?”
He smiled as hands went up all over the room. As each of them were given a chance to speak, Mhysra’s head began to pound. There seemed to be a different story for each region and three versions from Imercian alone. They varied between the people asking for help – or kings, or war chiefs, or religious leaders – to a lone hero venturing into the Dragonlands to steal the secret of the miryhls from their closely guarded nests.
The debate grew heated, students rushed to defend their version from the encroachments of others. Ancient rivalries and grudges between ranges were stirred up; those from Imercian ganged up against those of Etheria; Lansbrig residents sneered at the Mistrunans; the Sutheralli dismissed everyone. Even Mhysra grew annoyed as her Lowland version was dismissed by some of the Storm Peak students. Voices rose, insults flew and the lesson teetered on the brink of chaos.
Until Captain Myran lifted his hand and said, “Enough.” He didn’t raise his voice, but the room still fell silent anyway. Red-faced students sat down, waiting to be chastised.
Settling back against his desk, Captain Myran smiled wryly. “I believe a point has just been proved. I’d ask if anyone could tell me what, but I fear what I might get.” The students chuckled and his smile warmed. “So you all know how the Rift Riders began. Unfortunately you don’t all believe the same story.
“But that’s all right,” he added, when several students cringed. “The Riders began around seven-hundred years ago, when writing things down was not a priority. There are few accounts from those days and they rarely deal with the formation of anything, let alone the Riders. But that’s our history, trying to piece together what happened from the slightest of evidence. Even those sources we do have contradict each other, depending on where they originate.
“My point is, we don’t know how the Riders started, but we do know why. And that why is as relevant today as it was then. To protect. The Rift Riders are far from perfect and there are parts of our history we would all rather forget, but our purpose has never changed. We guard the Overworld and our people from all the threats we face. In days past the enemy wasn’t always clear, but over this last century things have changed. The Overworld is always changing, but the coming of the kaz-naghkt is a change that united us.
“I won’t ask about the origins of the kaz-naghkt,” he warned, before anyone could start. “That’s an even thornier issue than the origins of the Riders. I just wanted to show you that history isn’t perfect. It’s as accurate as we can make it, but our sources are limited and often suspect in provenance. Yet we can learn much from piecing together what we have, and give ourselves a chance to fill in the large gaps of which we know nothing.
“That is what you will learn from me. So, let’s start with something about which there is no doubt. The founding and building of Aquila. Corin,” he beckoned her from the front row, “please hand out this paper. There are quills and ink inside the desks. You’ll be taking notes every lesson, which I hope you will supplement with further reading in your spare time. Notes are important, since they help record what I tell you and also enable you to complete your study work.” He smiled as grumbles rippled through the room, while Corin scurried about.
Silence resumed as the thirty-seven students settled down, quills inked and poised, waiting for him to begin.
Captain Myran smiled. “The year was two-hundred-and-eighteen of the Cloud Era, and the Overworld was in turmoil. Carrayne of Cirrica, head of the Rift Riders, had been assassinated. The Riders were thrown into confusion and the world watched, waiting to see where the feathers would fall. But as the elections for a new leader grew closer, there was increasing pressure from outsiders for the Riders to choose this candidate, or that, who would favour one kingdom over another.
“Out of this chaos rose a young woman, Jhydera, who claimed the allegiance of no land. She spoke of an independent Rift Riders, with no patron or politics, who protected all and favoured none. But where could such a force live? Where on the Overworld could they exist, without risking favouring one over another?
“And so the search for the Riders home began…”
~ Next Chapter ~
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