This is a free short story featuring characters from the Wingborn series.
For more stories and info about the novels, please head here.
|| Part One ||
Milli and Bumble make the most of the fine spring morning.
THE DAY WAS beautifully fair, and Milluqua thought there might even have been a hint of summer in the air. From the heights of the noble district, she looked down over Nimbys, with its honey-gold buildings and hidden shadows. Contrasted with the granite grey and bronze of the mountainside, only just sprouting with the first hints of green, Nimbys shone like a jewel. And beyond, the world was all white and blue. The Cloud Sea was luminous today and it hurt her tired eyes to look at it.
Determined only to think of pleasant, wide awake things, Milluqua turned away from the city and headed deeper up the valley. Bumble strained at the lead, eager to go wherever they were going, as long as they went fast. Faster. Or over there. No, here. Here. Wait! Smells! It was a jerky, halting walk as Milluqua passed the dozing mansions of the rich and the noble, until they finally stepped away from the cobbles and onto the dirt path leading to the high meadows.
Once she reached the narrow woodland, filled with oak and birches designed to prevent the pastureland beyond from offending the eyes of the nobles, Milluqua untied Bumble’s lead and let her loose. Yipping with glee, the pup galloped off, nose to the ground, searching for squirrels and voles. Despite her pristine appearance, there was nothing more attractive to Bumble than mud. Milluqua had lost count of the times she’d scolded the pup for wallowing in puddles or rolling in fox sprays.
Even with the constant distraction of the pup – rooting through the undergrowth, growling at nettle patches, chasing squirrels up trees, eating doelyn droppings – Milluqua took time to enjoy the beauty of the woods. Buds sprinkled the oak branches, while catkins already draped the birches and showered the air with yellow pollen. Insects buzzed in the undergrowth and birds whistled in the trees. She glimpsed a nuthatch and had the pleasure of seeing it hop down a tree right in front of her.
Perfectly content with her lot, Milluqua called Bumble to heel as they reached the edge of the trees. Surprisingly obedient for so boisterous a pup, the nakhound trotted up, wafting her smell before her.
“Urgh, it’ll be the mews and a bath for you, my girl, before you come anywhere near my room again.”
Please with herself, Bumble huffed, her pink and black tongue bobbing as she panted.
“Glad we understand one another.” Smiling despite herself, Milluqua walked out of the shadowy wood into the bright sunshine. The gentle slope of the pastures rolled out in front of her, dotted here and there with horsats and doelyn, placidly grazing with only the occasional flick of a tail revealing any possible discontent.
Bumble lifted her head and pricked her ears at the nearest horsat, but a murmured “leave” was enough to keep her at Milluqua’s heels. Which was a relief, since it would be undignified to run headlong through the pastures, hollering at the top of her voice. It had happened once or twice, but since Bumble had attempted to nip a bullwing and earned a hoof in the ribs for her trouble, she’d lost her taste for chasing big animals. Squirrels, rabbits and voles were more her kind of thing these days.
As Milluqua and Bumble hiked up the increasing slope, she waved at a young messenger fetching in his horsat, looking exceedingly smart in his uniform.
She smiled back. “Going far?”
“Off to Tipfirth,” he replied, grinning at the chance to fly over a thousand leagues to the end of Imercian. She hoped his message was worth it.
“Fast winds and clear skies,” she wished him, but the boy had already caught his mount and was returning to the stables, eager to be away. She watched him go, wondering just what the appeal of flying was. Not even in her childhood at Wrentheria, the greatest feather-winged breeders in the Overworld, had she understood why so many people risked so much to become airborne.
“Give me solid ground any day of the moon,” she told Bumble, who, unsurprisingly, wasn’t listening.
A horsat snorted nearby, the source of Bumble’s distraction. It cropped another mouthful of grass, then raised its head, staring at Milluqua and the dog. One of its big, bat-like ears pointed towards them, while the other swivelled warily behind. It twitched, leathery wings half-opening before resettling on its back. It was a sweet looking chestnut, but Milluqua didn’t like the way it watched Bumble, so she patted her thigh for the dog’s attention and hurried along.
At the top of the field, a second pasture flattened out. Not so big as the first, but not so awkward either, even if it was littered with rocks. Here was the bullwing herds spent each night before being taken to work at the docks or in the quarries during the day. Big, muscular and stupid, the females were docile and easily led, but the males could be a handful. Especially the bulls. Pausing at the fence, Milluqua scanned the grassland. Seeing only females and calves grazing, she opened the gate and carried on.
Her ultimate goal was the scrubland above the pastures, where the grass was fit only for sheep and goats. The ground was covered with rough grass punctuated by tenacious thorn trees and gorse clumps, the perfect playground for young rabbits to scamper about. It was Bumble’s favourite place to visit, and though it took some effort to reach, once they arrived Milluqua need do nothing more than sit back and watch while the pup wore herself out.
There was nothing in sight when Milluqua climbed a small slope to her favourite rock, but Bumble yipped and ran off anyway, soon sending rabbits fleeing down the mountainside. A shower of pebbles and dust rattled in the nakhound’s wake, but otherwise the spot was peaceful, undisturbed and beautiful.
Milluqua took off her pelisse, spread it over a nice, flat boulder and lay on her back, staring up at the sky. Wispy cirrus clouds were all there was to be seen and she folded her hands across her midriff as she watched them drift slowly apart, fading into nothingness under the warm sun.
|| Part Three ||
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