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 ||
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.
Mouse and fire… what could possibly go wrong?
FIRE! ACTUAL FIRE! Gods, Mouse could hardly contain his excitement. He was going to learn how to make fire!
Not that he couldn’t light a fire. He was a country boy: he’d made up the hearth fire back at home more times than he cared to count. Even on the days when his brothers had pissed on the kindling and hidden the flint in order to get him into trouble. But he’d still lit it, because otherwise his father —
No. No. He wouldn’t think of that. He’d think of fire, and how to start it from scratch out in the wild. He’d listen to Lieutenant Stirla and learn how to survive. Not just in the wild, but everywhere. Because that’s what he wanted to be these days, a survivor. He didn’t want to think back to his life on the farm, or his brothers or father. He didn’t ever want to go back there. Not now, not ever. He’d far rather stay here at Aquila, where he had friends and instructors, where he could learn how to take care of himself, how to fight, how to survive.
There was no one here to lock him in the chest. No one hear to piss on his kindling. No one here to —
Mouse shook his head firmly, dislodging his memories and tried to focus on what Lieutenant Stirla was saying. He was a big man, was Stirla, even bigger than Mouse’s father, taller than his brothers, with hands the size of dinner plates. But he wasn’t mean. He didn’t shout. He smiled, he joked, he laughed. He still made Mouse nervous when he came too close, but not because of fear. Or not just out of fear. He wanted to impress Lieutenant Stirla so much. He wanted to impress everyone. He wanted to be different. He wanted to be important, to be smart, to matter.
He stuck close to Derrain as Stirla urged them to break into groups and form smaller circles. Derrain was big too, but he was Mouse’s friend. He still wanted to impress him, but Derrain never made him nervous. Not like Mhysra. She was amazing. Mouse wanted to impress her all the time – no, not just impress her, he wanted to be her. Not just because she was Wingborn either, even though she and Cumulo were incredible in the sky. No, Mouse wanted to stand up to his family the way Mhysra had defied hers. She might have been quiet and a little shy at times, but she was strong. Mouse wanted to be strong too, so he nudged Derrain until he pulled Mhysra into their circle, along with Corin and Dhori.
His friends. Mouse’s friends. He’d never thought he’d have friends, and never ones as good as these. Nerves skittered through his body, making him bounce and jitter, even as they knelt down on the sandy floor and formed a little fire pit in the middle of their circle. He couldn’t sit still, this was too important.
He had to impress them all. He had to show them he was clever too, that he could be strong. That he would survive.
Lieutenant Stirla was talking as he walked around the room. Derrain and Corin moved away to collect kindling and wood. Mouse wriggling on his knees, waiting for the moment, waiting for his moment.
Stirla handed out flints to each circle, still talking, talking, talking. There was stuff about safety and covering tracks, watching out for damp wood and keeping back from the flames, blah, blah, blah. Mouse already knew how to light fires from flint sparks. That was easy.
“Here.” He grabbed the flint from Dhori’s hand. It wasn’t like Dhori needed it. He was so incredibly capable that he could probably light a fire just by sighing at a wood pile. But if he couldn’t, well, here was Mouse’s chance to show everyone what he could do, what he was capable of.
He might not know anything about how to fly a miryhl, he might not be any good with a weapon, nor add up his numbers too well, or remember his history just right, but he certainly knew how to use a flint to light a fire.
Stirla was still talking, this time about using twigs and fireboards and string and other things that Mouse wasn’t paying attention to. None of it mattered, because Derrain and Corin were back and they had kindling.
“Here. Let me,” Mouse insisted, heaping all the kindling into a big pile.
“I don’t think we’re suppose to use it all at once,” Derrain said, sounding amused as Mouse piled the wood on top. “We’ve a whole lesson to last through, you know.”
Mouse didn’t care. This was his one chance, his big chance, to impress everyone. He didn’t need to wait for the lieutenant to finish talking – because he was still going on and on and on and sounded as though he was never going to stop.
“Trust me,” Mouse said, feeling his jitters grow as he pulled his knife from his belt. “I know exactly what I’m doing.”
So saying, he angled his flint against the kindling and struck his knife blade against it. A shower of sparks fell onto the kindling, but nothing caught.
Frowning, Mouse tried again, harder this time.
Growling with frustration and beginning to heat with embarrassment, he bent lower over his flint and struck, struck, struck, struck, struck, his knife becoming a blur as he scraped the flint again and again and again.
Sparks rained down, much like the weather beyond the window, and he began puffing hard from the effort.
“Hey!” someone shouted over the rushing filling Mouse’s ears. “Stop!”
Mouse scraped the flint one last time and looked up, blinking in confusion to find Stirla looming over him with a face like thunder. Just like back home. Just like his father.
He cringed downwards.
And the fire roared into life.
“SO,” LYRAI GREETED, sauntering into Stirla’s room that evening and sprawling in the armchair. “How was your day?”
Having been studying the worst of the damage in the mirror, sighing over the sight, Stirla eyed his friend over the bandages swathing his fingers. He rubbed the newly bald patch at the front of his head – which matched his missing eyebrows – and scowled. “I’ve had better.”
Grinning, Lyrai pulled an apple from his pocket and crunched into it. “Mouse and fire, eh?” he mumbled around his mouthful. “Who knew that would be such a… flammable combination? No wonder you were so cheerful at lunchtime. Everything went as planned, then?”
“Shut up, you arse,” Stirla huffed, stomping across the room to steal the apple from Lyrai’s hand.
At least, he tried, but with his fingers heavily wrapped in bandages, he merely thumped the fruit onto the floor.
Lyrai slowly finished chewing his mouthful as they both watched the shiny apple bounce over the carpet and roll under the dresser. “At least you didn’t burn down the practise barn.”
No, they’d just scorched the floor and the walls a bit. Gedanon was not happy.
“And you all made it out in one piece,” his friend continued, then looked Stirla over and grinned. “Mostly.”
Stirla made a rude gesture, but the effect was somewhat muted by the bandages.
“Some friend you are,” he groused bitterly.
His fellow lieutenant pulled another apple from his pocket and began to eat that instead. “Poor Stirla, why don’t you sit down and tell your Uncle Lyrai all about it? And try not to fret too much. Your eyebrows will grow back eventually, and I must say, the constantly surprised look is good for you. Lady Milluqua would approve.”
Having been lowering himself into the second armchair, ready to indeed tell his friend all about it, Stirla changed his mind. Bandages or no bandages, he was still perfectly capable of hauling his skinny runt of a so-called friend up by an arm and his collar and tossing him from the room.
Minus his apple, of course.
“Good to know you’re feeling better,” Lyrai chuckled, once he’d regained his feet. Standing in the hall, he straightened his uniform, smoothed his hair and shot Stirla a wink. “I’ll be sure to give Lady Mhysra a full report. Just so she can assure her sister of your rude health, of course.”
“Piss off, Runt,” Stirla growled, slamming the door on his friend’s laughter.
“Very rude health,” Lyrai shouted, pounding a farewell on the door before he left.
Stirla shook his head and took a vicious bite out of the apple, but this time when he returned to assess the damage in the mirror, he found himself smiling.
Thanks for reading!