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~ Previous Chapter ~
A letter from Nimbys…
MY DEAREST SISTER,
I miss you already, and it has not yet been a month since you left. I even miss your bumbling pup, but I’m glad to hear you’ve settled in and hope you are well. I wish things weren’t as they are, but I would be lying if I said our parents are reconciled to your choice. Father wanted to petition the Stratys for your return, until mother reminded him that Prince Lyrai is a Rider and the Stratys might deem it an insult. There is apparently little they can do, so for now, you and Cumulo are safe. Relatively speaking.
Thank you for word of Kilai – a more hopeless correspondent I’ve yet to meet. I’m delighted he’s happy in his Rider life, but I’m more pleased that you are. You and Cumulo deserve your happiness.
Speaking of which, I’ve refused three more suitors. Father grows impatient, but two were older than him and the other younger than Kilai! Mother says I have gained a reputation for being Unattainable, so all the young cubs are forming ridiculous passions for me, certain to be the one who tames me. It is so stupid. One of these days I shall say yes, and won’t the fool in question be surprised.
It’s not that I enjoy turning them down – you know how much I hate it – but I’ve yet to be asked by a man who wants me for myself. The Kilpapan name and fortune are so attractive, but we have no need of advantageous alliances. Despite father’s blustering, your decision to enter the Riders has been met with nothing but praise. Everyone thinks you are terribly brave. The Kilpapans are rich and courageous, not to mention favourites of the Stratys.
Show me the man who has no care for these things, who sees me as more than an empty-headed doll, and I will happily marry him.
Alas, I do not think he will ask. Nor would father agree to such a match.
Did I mention how much I miss you, dearest? And your friends. They were so lively. I hope they’re all doing well. And your lieutenants too. How is Lieutenant Lyrai? And Lieutenant Stirla?
I wish I could visit, since you cannot come to me. A break from town would be most welcome. Guests from across the Overworld have descended for the negotiations over Prince Henryn’s marriage and Nimbys feels quite small. Crowds gather wherever the foreign dignitaries are staying and trail their every move. You’d hate it.
March Serfyn, from the King’s Council of North Point, is staying with the Fenhays three houses along. Father deems it unacceptable, though mother often goes out to catch the attention of the press and promote the business. She is quite shameless, but you already know that.
The negotiations might continue for another month! I shall go mad. Write back soon, dearest, and take my mind away from such things. In the meantime, please take care, and send my regards to everyone.
Love to you, Cumulo and Kilai.
Your lonely, spinsterish sister,
Mhysra folded her letter and grinned. She didn’t envy her sister in the slightest; seven months in Nimbys had been more than enough.
“Everything all right?” Corin whispered, filching Mhysra’s history notes. “Is your sister getting married yet?”
“No.” Mhysra tucked the letter under her geography essay and looked busy as Lieutenant Willym walked past. Study sessions were never fun when he was around since he banned talking, smiling or enjoyment in any form. Whispers rustled in his wake, stopping the moment he turned, but the students had become adept at avoiding his notice.
Scribbling about the gently sloping mountains and agricultural yield of the Lowlands, Mhysra kept an eye on the lieutenant. “She’s turned down another three.”
Corin chuckled, squinting at Mhysra’s notes on the reign of King Meryk VI of Scudia and the Jarl uprising of 548 CE. “I’m beginning to think your sister doesn’t want to get married.”
“She does,” Mhysra murmured. “She has someone in mind, but father would never agree.”
“Who?” Corin demanded, nosy as ever. Unfortunately, she forgot to lower her voice.
Willym pounced. “All done, Student Corin? And you, Student Mhysra?”
Since their tutors delighted in giving them more work than anyone could possibly manage, it was obvious that they weren’t. Excuses were pointless, though. They shook their heads.
“No?” Willym drawled. “Then what is so important that you need to shriek about it to the entire hall?” Looming over them, he poked at their papers with his flying crop.
Mhysra bit her lip, worried he would uncover her sister’s letter, since Willym read private correspondence aloud whenever he found it. Not that there was anything to embarrass Mhysra in the letter, but she hated the thought of others making fun of her sister. Thankfully she had hidden it well, and when Willym’s insolent prodding knocked a heap of papers off the table, she slipped it into her pocket.
After he’d disrupted all their things and found nothing but lesson notes, the lieutenant sniffed. “Report to the tanners on Starday. Two bells each. Don’t let me hear another squeak from you.” Slapping his crop against his palm, he stalked off.
Corin grimaced apologetically at Mhysra and they settled back to work in silence. That didn’t mean their conversation was finished. The moment Willym was across the room, Corin nudged a note towards Mhysra. Who?
Biting her lip to restrain a smile, Mhysra scribbled, Lt. Stirla.
Corin masked her gasp under a convincing sneeze. Poor Milli!
I know. Mhysra sighed, putting her geography essay aside and fishing her arithmetic notes out of the mess Willym had made. The sums looked no more appealing now than they had the day before, or at any point during the last quarter-moon, but they were due the next morning.
Lieutenant Hlen was no trouble, though. As long as the students made an effort, he treated them fairly. If they didn’t he looked sad, which was far worse than any humiliation Willym meted out. Dhori shoved a sheet of hints across the table to help her. Grinning, she set to work, while Corin ransacked everyone’s notes for more on King Meryk. By the time the evening bell finally rang, the students were more relieved than usual: the Willym effect.
“What was all that about?” Derrain asked as they left the hall.
“A letter from Milli,” Corin said before Mhysra could reply. “She’s in love with Lieutenant Stirla, but the earl would never agree to the match.”
Mhysra scowled at her. “She isn’t in love with him. They just flirt.”
Derrain chuckled. “That’s what Corin got you two bells in the tanners for? Poor bargain.”
“I don’t mind. They’ll give me stitching.” Due to Corin, Mhysra often had punishment duty. Now that she wasn’t being forced to sew useless samplers and handkerchiefs, she’d found she had quite a skill for it.
“Lucky you,” Corin grumbled. “I always have to cure things.”
“That’s because your attempts at stitching look like a drunk spider fell into an ink pot,” Derrain told her, using Mhysra as a shield against retaliation.
“He’s right,” Dhori said, sidestepping the scuffle. “It’s quite a gift.”
Corin appealed to Mhysra for support, but she shrugged apologetically. “He has a point.”
“And you call yourselves my friends,” Corin sniffed and flounced off.
After she left, Derrain turned to Mhysra and grinned. “So, is Milli really in love with Stirla?”
* * * * *
AS THE STORM season gathered around Aquila, the first-years settled into a regular routine. They flew every day, alternating mornings and afternoons, and the rest of their time was filled with lessons. On Stardays the whole of Aquila flew, the bells calling them out to the eyries without warning. The lieutenants claimed it was good practise to spring a surprise summons, but Corin thought it was torture.
“They watch me, they must do, because the moment I go to the privy the bell rings and I’m stuck with my breeches round my ankles!”
Mhysra wouldn’t have put it past Stirla, especially after the third time Corin almost suffered an undignified accident, but she couldn’t believe it of Lyrai. He was too steady, though a lot less stern and humourless now that he had Hurricane. He was certainly better than Lieutenant Willym. Was ever a man more contemptuous? Willym looked down on everyone, but saved a particular brand of disdain for the girls. He was as bad as her father.
Their lessons ranged from geography to cooking, with arithmetic and even smith-work to keep their brains and bodies busy. They trained with staffs before breakfast, followed by swords, then archery after noon, and were sent on runs through the citadel whenever someone felt the need to give them more exercise. Captain Hylan, whose students were in the upper years, particularly enjoyed making them scurry. As one of Hylan’s Riders, Kilai assured them the captain was the nicest, quietest man they could meet. The exhausted students disagreed.
“He does have a twisted sense of humour, though,” Kilai warned, but Mhysra and her friends had already noticed.
Bad weather became so frequent that even Mouse stopped twitching at the lightning. Only Dhori continued to care, his eyes brightest when thunder was in the air.
“You’re unnatural,” Corin complained during Captain Fredkhen’s geography class. “How can you stand it? My head pounds so much I could scream.”
Dhori rubbed her tense neck. “I never claimed to be normal. Who doesn’t love the raw power of nature?”
“Me,” Haelle croaked, head on the desk, in even worse shape than Corin. “I just want one quiet day. I don’t even mind if it rains.”
“I want to fly,” Mhysra grumbled. The storms had been so thick that she hadn’t so much as sat on Cumulo for six days, and before that they’d had just two flying lessons after a three day wait. Their current lessons were confined to the eyries where everyone was taught how to feed and care for their miryhl, with loud, unimpressed huffs from Cumulo helping to keep things interesting.
“I thought you liked thunderstorms?” Derrain said, copying the map from the blackboard.
“So did I,” Mhysra agreed. “Until I moved into one.”
“You’re no fun,” Dhori sighed, staring out of the window at the rain-lashed mountain.
“I never claimed to be,” Corin replied, and groaned as thunder rolled once more.
~ Next Chapter ~
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