This is a free short story featuring characters from the Wingborn series.
For more stories and info about the novels, please head here.
To while away the wait before Book 3, I thought I’d share a tale or two featuring less well known characters in the Overworld. This three part short story takes place during Wingborn, when Mhysra and co are still in Nimbys at the Selection School, preparing for life in the Riders.
It’s a day-in-the-life look at what Milluqua and Bumble get up to while Mhysra’s at school. There’s also a hint of romance, but you’ll have to wait until later for that to turn up.
For now, Lady Milluqua is attempting to mind her own business while a very lively puppy demands attention at foolish o’clock.
23rd Thaw, 785 CE
THERE COULD BE no surer sign of sisterly affection than to sacrifice one’s sleep to promote the interests of a younger sibling. Or so Lady Milluqua Kilpapan believed one fine spring morning as a cold nose burrowed under the covers at the bottom of her bed. It slithered across her toes, making them clench, before a warm, slimy tongue licked her heel.
“Bumble!” Milluqua shrieked, dragging her knees up to her chest and pulling her feet out of reach.
This, of course, was the best game ever invented – in Bumble’s opinion – and the dog dived under the blankets to give chase.
After much tussling, growling, yips and yelps – and that was just Milluqua – the pup was finally ejected from the bed, the blankets were straightened and the majority of the pillow feathers were brushed onto the floor. Sprawled across her disrupted bed, Milluqua stared at the ceiling, while the nakhound pup clambered back up to lie by her side.
“The things I do for my sister,” Milluqua grumbled, and tilted her head towards the dog.
A remnant of old hunting breeds from the days before the Cloud Curse fell, nakhounds were long-legged, far-sighted, slender beasts. The kind that once might have hunted deer or wolves, who could lollop through snow or briars without feeling a thing. Intelligent, in their way, and quick to train, they were a credit to centuries of human tampering.
Added to all this was a hint of dragon work, which accounted for the fluffy wings. Nakhounds were the last gift the dragons had given to humans before they hid themselves behind the roiling barriers of the Stormsurge and Stormwash. Just like their long-lost ancestors, nakhounds were designed with one prey in mind: the kaz-naghkt. And, as with all dragongifts, what one saw in a nakhound was not always what one got.
Rolling onto her side, Milluqua tickled Bumble’s silky white belly, tracing the black stripes that covered her lower ribs. She was a pretty thing, from her black-barred wings to the pink spots on her nose. Her face was covered in a black mask that spread to her ears, broken by a finger-width of white that started in the centre of her forehead and gradually widened as it swept back over her head and flowed down her neck. Still only a pup, her wings were more fluff than feathers, but it wouldn’t be long before she could fly.
Thoroughly enjoying the attention, Bumble wriggled onto her back, wagged her fringed tail and waved a white paw. Milluqua rolled her eyes and shook it. “You are shameless.”
Bumble sneezed and rolled to her side.
“Good idea,” Milluqua agreed, and shoved the dog off the bed. In the past she might have made the mistake of trying to go back to sleep. However, after four months of this routine, she’d learned not to bother. The moment she put her head down, Bumble would pounce and lick her nose. If that didn’t achieve the desired result – namely, an eager playmate – she would lie on Milluqua’s chest and rest her cold nose under her chin. And stay there. In fact, once settled, she was impossible to move.
Not keen on being flattened that morning, Milluqua got out of bed in a shower of pillow feathers and headed for her dressing room. Once upon a time, she never rose before midday. A society favourite, Lady Milluqua Kilpapan was on the guest list of every family of note and there was rarely an evening that she spent at home. It was not uncommon for her to dance long into the night and return home early the next morning. Many a summer sunrise had been viewed before she had even been to bed.
Not that much had changed on that side of things, but thanks to Bumble she could no longer sleep the day away. Instead she had to get up and go out.
It wasn’t that Bumble was a demanding or fussy dog – she never minded the destination, for example – she was just a puppy and puppies liked to play. Since Kilpapan House was a grand place, full of precious items precariously placed on tables and stands, Milluqua had quickly learnt that playing was much kinder on the nerves – and the purse – if one did it outside.
Using the bowl of warm water in her dressing room, placed there by the servants the moment Mhysra left for the selection school each morning, Milluqua tried to convince herself she was in fact awake. It was a trick she had been attempting to perfect for months, but as yet hadn’t quite mastered.
Before she even had time to ring the bell, her maid arrived. “Morning, my lady,” Jayli greeted, bobbing a curtsey on her way to the wardrobe. “Where will you be walking today?”
Peering at her reflection, Milluqua prodded the unsightly bags beneath her eyes and covered them with a cool cloth. “I’ve not yet decided. Nowhere too busy. My head still rings from the Hemington’s last night. They had the worst quartet I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter.”
Jayli chuckled from the depths of the wardrobe. “I heard that her ladyship always wanted her daughters to play well. Claimed it would save on expenses at balls.”
“Shame none of them can play worth a pin,” Milluqua sighed, taking the cloth from her eyes and wrinkling her nose at the mirror. “And it is a shame, for they’re good girls, though the youngest is still so very young. Eleven, I believe.” She shook her head at the pale fawn walking costume Jayli was holding up. “Poor girls, to be exposed to such experiences and ridicule. Their mother does them no favours. Nothing too pale, Jayli. The sun may be shining, but it’s still spring and you know what Bumble is like.”
Sighing with disappointment, Jayli put away the light green muslin with the white silk ribbons and didn’t even bother to offer up the buttercup yellow. Once the maid had spent the entire morning picking out her mistress’ clothes for the day, making her the most beautiful woman in the city. Then, while Milluqua paid the requisite calls, or received her own flood of visitors, Jayli would press gowns and prepare a selection for the evening ahead. Now Milluqua picked out whichever dress was most practical, most comfortable or best at hiding stains and left without a second thought. It was then up to the maid to repair rents and snags, remove mud, dust and sleet, and sigh over the beautiful gowns that had been ignored.
Milluqua saw all of this as her maid pulled out a deep violet walking dress that had long been one of her favourites. Jayli thought it dull, but the insets around the overfull skirt were lined with indigo, which flashed when she walked. It was also perfectly comfortable, not to mention two years out of date, making it perfect for taking Bumble outside. Over the top she pulled her oldest, most serviceable brown pelisse and added a lovely brown cap to hold back her hair. All that remained were her matching violet-dyed doelyn leather gloves and she was ready.
Jayli sighed unhappily as her mistress called for Bumble and attached her lead to her collar.
Shaking her head, Milluqua smiled at her maid. “Just a few months more, Jayli, then all shall be as it once was. My new gowns from Beaulei should arrive today and I should like to wear the silver tonight, if you would be so good.”
Cheered up by the prospect of new clothes to care for, Jayli bobbed a merry curtsey. “Of course, my lady. Enjoy your walk.”
“I shall try,” Milluqua replied wryly, with more hope than expectation, and left.
|| Part Two ||
Thanks for reading!