This is a free short story featuring characters from the Wingborn series.
For more stories and info about the novels, please head here.
This story takes place during Wingborn and features a survival skills lesson, taught by Lieutenant Stirla. If it were in the book it would appear just before Chapter 21.
And yes, considering Stirla is teaching a group that includes Mhysra, Corin and most especially Mouse, it really is as dangerous as it sounds :D
19th Gale Month
STIRLA WAS LOOKING forward to today. He’d been back at Aquila now for just over two months and, even if he did say so himself, he was definitely getting the hang of this teaching lark. Alongside his duties as a lieutenant, Stirla was feeling confident that he could do this. One day he would become a captain – and he hoped he would prove to be a good one.
He just had to get his students through their three years at Aquila first, equipping them with everything they would need to survive in the wild. Not that he ever intended to abandon them out there without him, but who knew what the Overworld would throw at them in the future?
Which brought him back to today’s lesson.
Grinning, he pushed his way into the classroom, delighted to see that his students had already pushed all the tables back against the walls, with the chairs stacked on top. They eyed him curiously as he sauntered towards the board at the head of the room, their looks turning wary as he rubbed his hands together with anticipation.
“Good afternoon, students,” he greeted cheerfully.
“Afternoon, sir,” they replied cautiously.
“Today’s a big day for all of you,” he announced, rocking on his toes and trying not to laugh as the first-years traded glances with each other. “You’ve been here for two moons already, and I’ve already taught you plenty about building shelters and telling good plants from bad. Now it’s time for the big one.”
Frowns and baffled expressions faced him, making Stirla smile. He had them nicely confused, which was how he preferred things. Well, all except for Dhori, of course. That lad had his arms folded over his chest, one dark eyebrow raised, a wry smile on his mouth, leaving Stirla in little doubt that he knew exactly what was coming.
Stirla raised both eyebrows at the student, silently asking if he was about to spoil his lieutenant’s fun. Dhori shook his head – smart lad.
Before anyone else could figure out the obvious, or start asking questions – as he could see Corin was itching to do – Stirla clapped his hands together. Their attention snapped towards him and he grinned once more.
“Come along, students. It’s time to face your fate.”
“WELL, THAT WAS nicely ominous,” Corin muttered as their class filed out of the doorway in Stirla’s wake. “What’s coming up next? Ritual sacrifice to appease the Gods in case we get caught out in a blizzard and separated from the rest of the Riders?”
Derrain and Mouse snickered and Mhysra smiled. While no one could deny that Stirla’s lessons were useful and full of all kinds of practical information they would all need one day or another, their lieutenant definitely favoured a dramatic style of teaching.
He taught them how to build a shelter in the forest, not because Riders often camped out in the wild and had to make do with the world around them, but in case one day their miryhl was caught up in a rogue gust of wind, separated from their flurry, thrown down a ravine and left wounded, with the Rider having to hike their way out in search of help.
Plant identification wasn’t simply to supplement supplies in the evening cook pot, but in case a great fireball struck the Overworld one night, killing off all civilisation as they knew it and leaving them to forage alone and starving in the uncaring wild.
Identifying poisonous berries had everything to do with future assassination attempts on despots attempting to seize control of the Riders.
Mhysra could not even imagine what they would be learning next, or what scenario Stirla had dreamt up to justify it.
“At least his lessons are never boring,” Mouse chortled, bouncing along as irrepressible as ever. Although he was usually the student who fretted the most over Stirla’s imaginary futures, he also seemed to revel more than most in the challenge of living up to each task. Even if he rarely did it well. Mouse was simply too bouncy and lively for patience. “I hope he’s going to teach us how to whittle our own weapons and how to hunt bears with twigs!”
“Just in case a great plague sweeps through the major cities, followed by catastrophic fires, and we have to take to the wild, existing solely on a diet of bunnies and berries,” Derrain said, winking at Mhysra. “And bears.”
She grinned as Mouse bounced even harder. “Oh! Oh! And we’ll learn how to make cutlery, ‘cause even the wilderness can be civilised some times. It’ll be so much fun!”
“I’ve never heard anyone get so excited over cutlery before,” Corin muttered.
Chuckling Derrain nudged his shoulder against hers. “Not even cutlery crafted out of three twigs and a bit of flint tied together with gut strings?”
“Ew.” Corin wrinkled her nose.
Even Mouse stopped bouncing long enough to pull a face. “No guts on the cutlery, Derry. That’s disgusting.”
“Maybe not the guts,” Dhori agreed, calm and quiet as always. “But sinew works wonders.”
Mouse and Corin both sent him a doubtful look. “What’s wrong with string?” Corin asked.
Dhori shrugged. “I thought we were taking to the wild with next to nothing, thanks to the plague and the fires and all. Not a lot of string in the woods.”
“We can use vines or something.” Corin dismissed his point with a wave.
Mhysra bit her lip and tried not to laugh as Dhori and Derrain traded exasperated glances. “I don’t think you’ll find many vines in the northern forests, Corin,” she told her friend.
While Corin shrugged over this unimportant detail, Mouse started bouncing again. “Oh, oh! We’ll make sure we flee to the southern forests then. It’s warmer down there. More animals to each too – and loads of vines!”
“And snakes and venomous spiders and as many things trying to eat you as you’re trying to eat. Not to mention the constant rain, the near unbearable heat, the flies and where even the plants want to take a bite out of you.” Derrain sounded almost cheery about it all.
“Sounds great!” Mouse remained unsquashable. “When do we leave?”
“Leave? For where? We’ve only just arrived.”
Mhysra wasn’t the only one to jump at the sound of Stirla’s voice. She and her friends had been so caught up in their conversation, none of them had realised they’d reached their destination.
Chuckling, their lieutenant led the way into a familiar, wide open room, with sand on the floor and the distant thump-thump-thump of the waterwheel in the workshop. The practise barn? Mhysra wasn’t the only one left frowning as she stepped inside and looked around, half expecting Master Gedanon to appear at any moment, wielding a practise sword and taking a swipe at each of them with it.
Yet as they filed inside and formed a loose circle around their lieutenant, no grumpy Ihran appeared to grumble at them. Nor did Master Derneon show up to smile and poke fun at his fellow instructor’s grouchy ways.
Stirla scuffed his feet on the sandy floor and looked around at their frowning faces. Then he smiled. “Usually I’d take you outside for this, but, well…” He indicated the nearest window, which looked out over the Lawn. The world beyond was grey and sodden and the wind was a near-constant whine around the citadel’s walls that Mhysra had learnt to mostly block out.
It was Gale Month and the weather was doing its absolute best to live up to expectations.
“Some might suggest that I wait until things clear up enough for us to continue this lesson outside,” Stirla went on. “But this is one of the most important skills I can teach you, and who knows, tomorrow the Gods might take it upon Themselves to throw another curse or catastrophe our way that’ll make the Cloud Sea look like a mild mist on a winter morn.” He paused to let them take in his newest scenario, making most of them chuckle, while Dhori simply shook his head. “So no time like the present.”
Clapping his hands and rubbing them together, as eager as a little boy at Midwinter, Stirla grinned at his curious class. “Let’s make fire.”
|| Part Two ||
Thanks for reading.