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This is it, the last chapter. What am I going to do with my Fridays now?
Also known as: The One With The Awkward Conversation.
Rain splattered against the windows as Mhysra climbed high inside the eastern citadel. Thaw month was living up to its name and it had been drizzling non-stop for days. Soon even the lake would be free of ice. Pausing to catch her breath after a particularly steep flight of stairs, Mhysra peered out at the drowning world. The river roared along its banks, flooding the Lawn and almost filling the arch of the bridge.
Not that anyone was complaining. Thanks to this downpour, all signs of the recent kaz-naghkt attack had been scoured away. At least on the surface.
Leaving the window, Mhysra walked to the end of the corridor. The ward was almost empty now; the lesser wounded having been discharged, while the worst had expired. It left only fractures, non-fatal wounds and the feverish to languish in the airy room.
Mhysra smiled hesitantly at the healer on duty. “Lieutenant Lyrai sent for me?”
The healer rose from behind his desk, his height all the more impressive for his fragile slenderness. “Oh, you’re that one, are you?” Unsure how to answer, she shrugged and he smiled. “Come along, student, he’s been asking for you. Repeatedly.”
Hurrying after him, she kept her eyes on the healer’s back. It was hard to imagine that this clean, peaceful place had been filled to overflowing just days before, when she and Derrain had dragged Dhori up to get his scratches looked at. There’d been blood everywhere, while men screamed in their beds. Now everything was white and scrubbed; all signs of death firmly out of sight.
The few Riders they passed were sleeping, splinted legs elevated, broken shoulders heavily strapped. The man at the end gargled with every breath, but the healer smiled reassuringly.
“Just a cold. He landed in the river. Luckily he was fished out before he went over the falls.”
She smiled back, shuddering when the healer looked away. While waiting for Dhori to be seen, Derrain and she had held the hands of a Rider whose lungs had sounded like that. His chest wound had turned his uniform black. Yet he’d managed to break Derrain’s thumb when he choked at the end. A junior healer had strapped it up while her master saw to Dhori.
“Here. Special room for the special lieutenant.” The healer grinned as he opened the door.
“I never asked for special treatment,” a gruff voice grumbled from the bed.
“No, but the others did.” The healer winked at Mhysra as he checked Lyrai’s notes, then took the lieutenant’s pulse. “They couldn’t sleep for your fretting. Well, either that or your snoring. I’m not sure which was worse.”
Ignoring him, Lyrai narrowed his eyes at Mhysra. “Here, are you? Took your time.”
The healer poked the lieutenant in the cheek. “Open your mouth so I can check your throat. And don’t take any notice of him, child, the fever has made him grumpy.”
“More than usual?” she quipped, though in truth she was shocked: Lyrai looked terrible. His eyes were bright but underlined by black shadows. His cheeks were feverishly red and his fair hair was sweaty and sticking up at odd angles. His hands trembled when he tugged the blanket up his chest. Thanks to the healer taking more time than necessary to check the lieutenant’s throat, however, all Mhysra’s comment earned was a glare.
“Let’s see that leg,” the healer said, flicking back the blanket over Lyrai’s right thigh.
The lieutenant started protesting about his modesty, choked and ended up coughing instead. After a glance at the angry marks, Mhysra wandered over to the window to inspect the rain. While she traced droplets with her fingertips, the healer spoke softly to Lyrai and left with a cheery goodbye.
Mhysra stayed by the window, knowing what was coming.
“What did you think you were doing?”
“My duty,” she muttered, knowing it was rude not to face him, but it was hard to fight when he looked so ragged.
“Student Mhysra,” he growled, and ended up coughing. In fact he coughed so hard that she almost ran for the healer, until he pointed at the water jug on the nightstand. She poured a glass and held it for him until his hands stopped shaking. He drained the rest himself.
“I shouldn’t have come,” she said, staring at the floor.
“I summoned you,” he rasped. “Several days ago.”
She sighed. “And I came, sir, but it’s hard to be berated by an unconscious man and I didn’t have time to wait for your revival.”
His lips twitched and he pointed to the chair beside the bed. “Sit. You’ve been spending too much time with Stirla.”
She poured him another drink before sitting down. “That doesn’t sound like a compliment.”
“It’s not.” He sipped from his glass and scowled. “But it’s mild compared to what I want to say. Now that you’re facing me, student, I would be gratified to know what you thought you were doing. And don’t say your duty,” he snapped, before she could repeat herself. “Your duty is not to get killed. Under the circumstances, which I admit were unusual, your duty was to rouse the citadel – as Derrain did. Your duty was to land and stay safe with the other students. Explain yourself.” The long speech ended in another coughing fit and Mhysra pursed her lips.
“If Cumulo hadn’t fought off the kaz-naghkt above the lake, Derrain would never have raised the alarm. Sir,” she added, knowing her tone was defiant. Not even Captain Myran had reprimanded her. True, he was busy, but he smiled and patted her shoulder whenever they passed in the corridor. In Mhysra’s book that counted as praise, especially from the taciturn captain. Stirla thought she and Cumulo were marvellous and even Willym had kept his opinion to himself.
It was just this man. The one who had been wounded but too stubborn to withdraw.
“That was no excuse to continue fighting once you reached the citadel and more experienced Riders took over the defence. Don’t you realise the risk you posed?” His voice grew so raspy Mhysra could barely understand him. “Your recklessness put not only yourself and Cumulo in danger, but the life of every Rider who may have been injured by your inexperience or in trying to save your life when you made a foolish error.”
“But I didn’t!” she protested furiously. Thanks to his own irresponsible behaviour, he was lucky he hadn’t passed out from blood loss in the middle of the fight, instead of moments after Hurricane had reached the eyries. Thanks to his stubbornness, his injuries hadn’t been treated until the majority of the wounded had been seen to, by which time the puncture marks were infected, resulting in the fever that could have killed him.
And he called her reckless?
“No one was injured or killed because of me. If I remember right, sir, I saved your life.”
The lieutenant shifted uncomfortably and coughed into his fist, murmuring, “I believe you did. Yourself and Dhori. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she replied primly. “And thank you too. Cumulo and I were in big trouble, until Hurricane’s timely arrival.”
“You’re welcome,” he grumbled. “But that just proves my point. You’re not experienced enough for such a fight. You had no weapons!”
“Well, I wasn’t the one who fell off my miryhl because I’d lost too much blood!” she snapped, and clapped a hand over her mouth.
Lyrai’s face was red, but whether from anger, embarrassment or his fever it was hard to tell. His nostrils flared and he drew himself up, the epitome of affronted aristocratic male. “I am a lieutenant and you are my student. Of the two of us, I believe I have more experience in these matters. Furthermore, I am charged with your education and welfare while you remain at Aquila. When I say you shouldn’t have been out there at least have the grace to acknowledge the truth!” A coughing fit spoiled his speech.
Mhysra further ruined it by pouring him another glass of water and supporting him while he struggled to drink it. “All right,” she murmured, more to calm him than because she agreed. “It was foolish. I didn’t think. Cumulo didn’t think. The citadel was in trouble and we wanted to help. We knew we could fight, so we did. It was pure luck that brought us through unscathed, but there was no harm done in the end. Please, sir, don’t kill yourself berating me.”
Lyrai sank back onto his pillows, lips curved in a wry smile. “Perhaps not,” he agreed. “And no, no harm was done. You fought well. You both did.”
“Have you seen Dhori yet?” she asked, wondering what the lieutenant would say to him.
He frowned, confused. “Why would I?”
Mhysra opened her mouth to point out the obvious, since they were both first-years wading into active combat for the first time. Then scowled. “It’s because I’m a girl, isn’t it?”
The lieutenant glanced away. “Nonsense.”
“Then why haven’t you called Dhori in?”
“I didn’t see him.”
She suspected calling her lieutenant a liar would be insolent, so she gritted her teeth. “You said he helped save your life earlier. It is because I’m a girl. I knew it! I knew it the first day in Nimbys, when I moved Cumulo to the eyries. I saw it in your eyes then and it’s still here now. You probably opposed the proclamation too. You don’t want girls in the Riders. Well, we’re here, sir, and we’re not going away. You’ll just have to get used to it.”
“That has nothing to do with this!” he snapped, coughing hard, but forcing the words out. “I welcomed the proclamation. I was one of its strongest supporters. You’re wrong.” He rolled to his side to cough harder and Mhysra worried that she’d killed him.
When she offered him a drink, he refused, his face almost purple with coughing. The healer rushed in and pulled him upright, ordering Mhysra to fetch more water.
There was just enough left in the pitcher to fill a glass, so she fled on the excuse of refilling it. When she reluctantly returned she was relieved to find the lieutenant propped up against a bank of pillows, his eyes closed, face damp with sweat.
The healer stopped her at the door. “Say your goodbyes, student. I think you’ve both had enough excitement for one day.” He left them with a firm nod, promising to return very soon.
As she placed the jug on the table, Lyrai opened an eye. “It had nothing to do with you being a girl. I was jealous.”
“Of Cue.” She nodded, having worked that out the day she met him. In truth she hadn’t thought badly of him anymore after she’d seen him treat the girls the same as the boys at the selection school. The whole argument was stupid. Why couldn’t he let it go? She hadn’t done any harm and she was in no rush to repeat the experience. Why couldn’t he see that?
“You frightened me,” he murmured, and she blinked. “Admittedly, most of you students frighten me, one way or another. The idea of Corin with a sword or Mouse in unsupervised charge of a miryhl…” Lyrai shuddered and she smiled. He smiled back. “And all right, a little of it is because you’re a girl. I was raised to this life, and one of my first Rider duties is to protect the weak. Women and children first. I have three sisters. It was a shock to see you fighting as one of us.
“I know.” He held up a hand to stop her protests. “I know you have as much right to be here as the boys. More than most, given your test results and the fact that you’re Wingborn. But it’s a big step. It doesn’t mean I don’t want women in the Riders – it can only do us good – but it will take some getting used to. Not only are you female, but you’re my student. I’m supposed to protect -” He coughed, and Mhysra handed him a drink.
“I make that a little hard, I suppose,” she sighed, a little grudgingly. “My aunt encouraged us to be independent, boys and girls. And then there’s Cumulo.” She shook her head. “Hopefully over the next three years we’ll adjust. We girls have to fight sometime, sir, or there’s no point to us being here.”
“I know,” Lyrai agreed. “For what it’s worth, I stand by what I said. And now you’ve reminded me, I’ll say it to Dhori too.”
Mhysra shrugged, not caring whether he did or not. “Dhori looks like a Rider already.”
“Happens,” the lieutenant murmured, yawning. “Rare, but it does happen.”
“If he wasn’t so nice I might hate him.”
Lyrai smiled. “If I was in his year, I probably would.” His eyes drifted closed. “Thank you for coming, Mhysra. Sorry I lost my temper.”
“I’m sorry I lost mine too, sir,” she replied softly, not wanting to wake him. When he said nothing more, she tiptoed towards the door.
Before it closed, he muttered, “Don’t do it again.”
“Finally, something we can agree on.”
He smiled and settled deeper into his pillows. Shaking her head, Mhysra turned and almost walked into the healer.
She glanced back at the lieutenant’s room. “He’s sleeping.”
“He was smiling when I left.”
The healer smiled himself. “Good. Next time he summons you, ignore it please. At least until he’s no longer in my care.”
Saluting, she left him chuckling and headed towards the eyries to tell Cumulo all about it.
Come back on Sunday for The End!
There is more to it than that, I promise. Even I wouldn’t make a whole post just to write The End, hahahahahahah!
No, really, I wouldn’t.
Well, maybe I would, but this chapter isn’t quite finished yet so I’ll have to save it for some other time.
All comments welcome – and if you spot a typo, please let me know.
Thanks for reading!