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In which Lyrai learns that being a lieutenant isn’t all fun and games, after all. Oh, Mouse.
(P.S. Last Wednesday update! It’s only twice weekly chapters from now until the end.)
“COME IN, LIEUTENANT.”
Feeling nervous, Lyrai walked into the dean’s office. The room was filled with the pleasant glow of oil lanterns holding back the night. “You wished to see me, sir.”
The dean waved him in. “I apologise for keeping you waiting, but I believe I have all the facts now. Please, take a seat.”
“Very good, sir.” Lyrai nodded warily and sat down.
Since he’d entered the room, the dean hadn’t looked at him once. Instead Marshall studied the bronze statue on his desk: a miryhl at the moment of takeoff. The metal was glossy from regular handling, but detailed on every feather. It was a beautiful piece and one Lyrai had long coveted. The dean stared at it now as if it could tell him the answers to all the most difficult questions. “What made you join the Riders?”
Lyrai frowned. “I never dreamed of anything else, sir. It’s tradition.”
“Tradition,” Dean Marshall echoed, rubbing his thumb across the miryhl’s beak. “There are many traditions in the Riders. Some better than others.”
The dean looked at him with a weary smile. “Forgive me, Lyrai, I was pondering. Please tell me your version of today’s events.”
Unsure how much to reveal, Lyrai started at the beginning. It was one thing to know a fellow lieutenant was rotten and encouraging his students to go the same way, but another to say it to a commanding officer. Reminding himself that his first duty was to his students, especially their safety, Lyrai stuck to the truth. Even when it didn’t put him or Hurricane in the best light.
“Ah.” The dean nodded when he was done. “Thank you, lieutenant. Your version of events matches that of others, including your captain. I appreciate your honesty.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The dean sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose. “I’m sorry that one of your students was injured, Lyrai. He will, of course, be given all the best care and attention that we can provide. I will also inform you of any decisions I make regarding the matter, both before and after I put them into practise. Will that suffice for the present?”
It wasn’t much but, from the man’s obvious fatigue, Lyrai suspected the dean had bigger issues on his mind. It would have to do. Patronage was a powerful weapon, even in a place where status should have been left behind. Bovei’s father was wealthy and powerful. Coupled with Willym’s connections it made him almost unassailable, especially against a commoner like Mouse. The dean’s word would have to be enough.
Mustering a smile, he bowed his head. “Thank you, sir.”
“I will do what I can. You know that.”
Which meant there was little that the dean could do. “I know, sir.”
Marshall walked around the desk to grip Lyrai’s shoulder. “You will make an excellent captain. Myran says it, and I agree. Don’t be disheartened, Lyrai. Continue to care for your students as best you can. It will be enough.”
Lyrai could only hope so. Weary and disillusioned, he stumped down the tower, wanting nothing more than to sleep for a half-moon and leave all this ugliness behind. Yet there was one more thing he needed to do before he sought his bed, so he crossed the bridge and headed high into the eastern citadel.
Aquila’s infirmary was fitted with enough space and supplies to deal with a large emergency. It was designed to treat an entire flight in need, so it was disconcerting to find it so empty. Only one bed was occupied, watched over by a healer writing by candlelight near the door.
Lyrai’s boots echoed on the floor and the healer looked up. “Yes?” he demanded, squinting into the dark. He blinked a few times, then smiled. “Lieutenant, I’ve been expecting you.”
Smiling, Lyrai shook the man by the hand, having been patched up by him many times. “Healer Nehtl, it’s good to see you. I hope you’re well.”
“As well as can be for a man who deals in sickness.” The tall healer shrugged and waved towards the patient. “He’s sedated, but awake. I had to use enough to down a bullwing just to keep him still. Don’t be too long.”
Mouse looked so small, his skin bleached by the pale linen, making the freckles on his face look like flecks of ink. At Lyrai’s approach he stirred, opening his eyes to stare at the ceiling.
He rolled his head, disorientated, until he spotted Lyrai. “L’ten’n,” he slurred, and tried to salute. His coordination was off and he whacked himself in the eye. Typical Mouse.
Lyrai perched on the bed, careful not to disturb his legs. “How are you feeling?”
Mouse grinned. “Can’t feel a thing. Not ma nose,” – he tried to touch it, and hit his ear – “nor ma toes.” He smiled blissfully. “Dunno why ‘m here, but s’nice. You come t’stay too?”
Lyrai shook his head. “No, I came to see you. You’ve hurt your leg, Mouse, that’s why you’re here. They gave you something for the pain.”
“Mouse,” he repeated sleepily, unable to follow so many words. “Tha’s me.”
“So it is,” Lyrai agreed, standing up. “Can I look at your leg?”
“Have I got one?”
Taking that as a yes, Lyrai folded back the blanket to reveal Mouse’s right limb, heavily bandaged from the top of his thigh down past his knee. Bloodstained the white linen all over, but the two darkest patches showed where the puncture wounds must be, the biggest one on the inside of Mouse’s thigh. With his leg propped up on a number of pillows, it was clear to see that the wound went straight through the muscle and out the other side.
“Oh, my,” Mouse murmured, struggling to sit up enough to look for himself. “Sum’un was clumsy. D’ya think he’ll lose it?” He stared at his leg as if it belonged to someone else.
Smiling, Lyrai covered him up again. “I think he’ll be all right.”
“Good,” Mouse mumbled, shutting his eyes. Within heartbeats he was snoring.
“Neat and nicely placed. I don’t think we’ll have much trouble with infection.”
Lyrai looked over at Healer Nehtl. “You’ve got Student Mhysra to thank for that. She keeps her miryhl clean.”
The healer stared down at Mouse. “I think he has more than that to thank her for.”
Unable to argue, Lyrai thanked the healer for all he’d done, took one last look at the defenceless lad, so different with all his nervous energy stripped away, and left. He needed rest, though he doubted he’d be able to sleep. Visions of whipped miryhls and falling boys haunted him through the darkness.
~ Next Chapter ~
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