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Cheer up, Mouse. Your friends are with you. (Although, if I wasn’t able to fly my miryhl, I’d be pretty grumpy too.)
24th Winter Rains
“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Mhysra warned, watching Mouse lurch to the windowsill.
“If I want to walk again, I have to walk,” Mouse panted, waving away Derrain’s help. White lines were etched at the corners of his mouth, but no one mentioned them.
After almost a month in the infirmary, fighting off infections as well as the damage of the puncture wounds, Mouse had spent the last two moons hobbling around on crutches. The healers still worked with him when the rest of the first-years did their physical training. Thanks to them, Mouse would eventually be able to walk without a stick, but only if he was sensible. And patient. Since this was Mouse, Mhysra didn’t hold out much hope. Especially as he’d decided to forego his crutches entirely this morning.
“Ready to try?” Derrain asked, pushing the others aside.
Mouse stared at the empty floor between himself and Derrain, head bobbing as he calculated the distance: about twelve feet. “Yes. It’ll be easy.”
Hugging his crutches, Corin snorted, but held her peace. The fall had changed Mouse. He was quieter now, more self-contained and grim, and far more determined. His friends had learned to support him in silence, since he didn’t listen to objections. Nor did he want pity or advice. He was going to walk without a limp and that was final.
“All right.” Taking a deep breath, Mouse moved, his friends wincing with each step. After eight feet, he hissed and wobbled. “Blast it,” he growled, grabbing Dhori’s arm. “I hate this.”
“Eight feet is better than none,” Mhysra said soothingly. “And you walked. It’s a start.”
He looked at her. She shut up.
“A limp isn’t so bad. Look at Captain Myran,” Greig pointed out, as one or other of them had done daily since the accident.
“Myran was already a captain when he gained his limp,” Mouse growled. “I’m not even allowed on a miryhl. If things stay this way I’d have been better off breaking my neck.”
An uneasy silence fell and Mhysra hunched her shoulders, her guilt over Mouse’s injuries growing with every bitter day that he struggled to walk again.
“Cheer up,” Derrain ordered, squeezing Mhysra’s arm sympathetically. “It’s your first go without crutches. Don’t give up yet. Even miryhls have to learn to fly.”
“Is da poor ickle cwipple feeling sowwy for himself?” a mocking voice cooed.
Bovei and three of Willym’s favourite students lounged in the corridor behind them. Eyeing Mouse’s bent leg and the crutches Corin held, Bovei smirked. “Poor baby.”
“Got something to say, lordling?” Greig demanded, squaring up the them. Though he might have lacked his uncle’s intimidating height, Derrain didn’t, and the pair of them blocked Mouse from unfriendly eyes.
Bovei looked Greig up and down and raised his eyebrows at Derrain. “Farm boys. So uncouth.” He sniffed exaggeratedly. “Can you smell something? Has someone been sleeping with the pigs again?” His friends tittered.
Mhysra put her elbow on Derrain’s shoulder and leant casually against him. “I didn’t know you shared a dormitory with Fredkhen’s boys, Derry.”
The tips of Bovei’s ears went red, but he rallied. “And who’s been sleeping in yours?” he sneered. “Everyone knows why girls really want to join the Riders. What’s the matter, wouldn’t anyone take you in Nimbys?”
Derrain tensed, but Mhysra laughed, pleased to have deflected Bovei’s poison.
Greig smiled. “Funny you should show such an interest since it’s your bed I’ve been hearing about. But then, one must always strive to please one’s lieutenant. In whatever way he desires.”
One of the boys choked, while Bovei balled his fists. “What are you implying, farm boy?”
“I think you know, lordling,” Greig sneered.
Derrain unfolded his arms slowly, smiling as Bovei watched his big fists flex and bunch. “I think the whole citadel knows.”
If looks could kill…
Going for the final push, Mhysra raised her eyebrows. “Got a problem with that, lordling?”
Too angry for words, but not brave enough to take on Derrain, Bovei spat at their feet and marched off, taking his friends with him.
“He’s not very happy with us,” Corin said sadly.
Greig shrugged. “Willym’ll kiss it better.” The friends grinned.
Except for Mouse. “I can look after myself,” he growled. “I don’t need you protecting me.”
Despite his antagonism, Greig chuckled. “But it was fun. Taking out the rubbish was my main chore back home. I’m good at it.”
“As a cabin boy I chased rats off the ship,” Derrain said, stretching his arms over his head. “It’s good to stay in practise.”
“I don’t need your help,” Mouse snapped.
“Who said we did it for you?” Greig retorted, taking the crutches from Corin and shoving them at him. “Maybe we got fed up of him poisoning our air.”
“I could have dealt with him,” Mouse insisted stubbornly.
Derrain shook his head. “It isn’t fair to keep all the fun for yourself. We deserve some too.”
Clenching his jaw, Mouse manoeuvred his crutches into place. “If it makes you happy.”
Grabbing hold of Corin, Greig waltzed her down the hallway. “Nothing makes me happier than meeting Lord Twit and his twittering lordlings. It adds something to my day.”
“Arsenic?” Mhysra enquired, and Mouse actually cracked a smile. There was hope yet.
Somewhere high overhead a bell began to ring, causing Corin to stop. She yelped as Greig tripped over her and they collided with the wall, collapsing in a graceless heap.
It was Starday, so the bell meant only one thing: time to fly.
Corin and Greig hastily untangled themselves and raced off, but Mhysra waited, while Dhori and Derrain exchanged glances over the glum Mouse’s head. Derrain raised his eyebrows, but Dhori shook his head, jerking it to the right. Derrain shrugged.
“Come on, Mouse,” Dhori said. “I’ll walk with you to the healers.”
Mouse narrowed his eyes. “I don’t need a nursemaid.”
Derrain grinned. “We know you don’t, but maybe Dhori does. He took an embarrassing knock yesterday. It hurts to sit down.”
Mhysra bit her lip as the unflappable Dhori scowled, only to blank his expression when Mouse looked at him. “Really?”
“A little tender,” he mumbled. “Care to keep me company while I see the healers?”
“I can do that,” Mouse agreed with a hint of his old bounce.
Derrain winked at Mhysra. “See, it’s not always about you, Mouse.”
Leaning into his crutches, Mouse raised a hand to make a rude gesture.
Shaking his head, Derrain sighed. “I am so unappreciated.”
“Aye,” Mhysra agreed, patting his arm “You’re a regular martyr to your miracles.”
“I know,” he murmured modestly. “But still I try.”
* * * * *
THE EYRIES BUSTLED with students as Mhysra scooped up her harness, before weaving between the miryhls. Cumulo’s eyes were bright and he dipped his head at her approach.
“Feeling impatient?” she asked, buckling the straps of his bridle.
“I thought the snow would never end,” he grumbled, shivering at the weight of the saddle. “I’ve forgotten how to fly.”
“Hardly,” she snorted, tightening the girths. “You’ve been out every day, just not with me.”
“I’ve forgotten how to fly with you then. I’ll try not to drop you.”
“Hurry up.” He nudged her. “I want to beat the rush.”
Excited at the chance to fly again, Mhysra double checked all the buckles and straps, worried she might have missed something in her haste. “All right?” she asked, making Cumulo look again when he snapped that it was fine. Finally satisfied, she stepped onto his lowered wing and swung astride.
“At last,” he growled, leaping before she had a chance to tuck her legs up or gather the reins.
“Cue!” she complained.
“If you fall off now, you’re being stupid,” he retorted, teetering on the edge of the hatch. “Sort yourself out.”
“Yes, my lord. Sorry, my lord. Will that do, my lord?” she grumbled, tucking her feet into place and lying along his back. “I love you, Cue, even when you’re impatient.”
“You say that now,” he chuckled, and dropped over the edge.
“Maegla,” Mhysra whispered, tightening her grip.
They’d left the eyries on the waterfall side of the bridge countless times before, but this was the first time Cumulo hadn’t bothered to open his wings. Instead he used them to clamp her legs to his sides. The falls roared as they dropped parallel, flashing past the town in heartbeats. Then all was stone, water, clouds and the ferocious rush of the wind.
Cumulo fell, the air rippling over his feathers and nipping at his clenched wings. Water beaded his belly and Mhysra’s face, before being snatched away. A wiser person, Mhysra suspected, would have been terrified as the Cloud Sea drew closer, darkened by the shadows of rocks below. Energy and excitement fizzed through her as she delighted in the icy rush of the wind and the stomach-clenching fear of freefall. She laughed. She was flying with Cumulo. Nothing was better than this.
Cold seized her legs as Cumulo relaxed his wings, spreading them wide to sweep out of the dive and over the turbulent sea. A pale shape dropped past and Cumulo flapped upwards in surprise, talons raised to deal with the threat. The other miryhl opened its wings and shot beneath them, shrieking a challenge.
“Damn mimicking magpie,” Cumulo snarled, racing in pursuit.
Hurricane and Lyrai looked over their shoulders and sped up. The lieutenant was laughing.
Cumulo screamed and flapped harder, rising above Hurricane to where the air was smoother. Mhysra was surprised – and delighted – to see how her miryhl had improved. He’d had another growth spurt over the winter and was now the slightly larger of the two.
Hurricane glanced up, banked left, then right, searching for an updraft to rise on. Cumulo growled, ducked into the turbulence and found a surge of his own. They shot skywards.
Lyrai looked down, grinning as he urged his miryhl on. Hurricane responded, flapping harder. Cumulo stretched out his neck and strained to match.
Rising over the Cloud Sea, he aimed for a tree-covered spur, pulling away from Hurricane as their paths diverged. Mhysra wondered what the others were about, but trusted her Wingborn to counter. At the last moment Hurricane banked and cut back towards them.
Too late – Cumulo was ahead.
Mhysra whooped, laughing as they reached the trees and she felt the immediate change in temperature. Thermals. Warmer air rippled over them as Cumulo’s wings levelled out and he soared, spiralling higher with hardly a change of pace. The rush made her light-headed. Hurricane swooped underneath them then up, settling into a counter spiral.
Exhilarated, Cumulo called to his rival in smug miryhl-speak. Much as Mhysra adored her Wingborn, humility had never been his strongpoint. On this occasion, though, she just laughed.
Hurricane screamed back and Lyrai grinned, raising his arm to indicate that they were returning to Aquila. Mhysra waved her agreement, then relaxed against Cumulo, watching the other pair speed away.
“Still love me?” Cumulo asked when they were alone.
Smiling, she buried her face in his feathers and relished the cold, airy scent of him, tinged with a hint of sweet dust. “More than ever.”
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