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~ Previous Chapter ~
Sorry this is a wee bit late, I’ve been out enjoying the spring sunshine (not so much the wind, but it wouldn’t be Dartmoor without a brisk breeze).
Anyway… Derry to the rescue!
“WELL?” LIEUTENANT BYRNE was obviously annoyed, the flying crop he used as a map pointer slapping against his boot. He glared at Mhysra, who stared back, her expression glazed.
Derrain frowned worriedly at her and raised his hand.
The lieutenant flicked him a disapproving glance. “You will answer, student. Don’t expect your friends to save you.”
Derrain waved his hand firmly, since Byrne ignored any student who spoke without permission. But someone had to tell the man that Mhysra couldn’t talk.
Mhysra’s lips parted and she made a strangled sound, her knuckles cracking as she gripped the edges of her desk.
“This is neither the time nor the place for amateur dramatics.”
Mhysra gasped and Derrain’s patience snapped. “She’s choking!”
Her eyes closed and her body crumpled, but Derrain caught her before she hit the floor. “Mhysra? Mhysra, can you hear me?”
“Students, I have not given you permission to leave your seats.”
“Mhysra, listen.” Dhori appeared in front of them and cradled her face between his hands. “Listen to me!” he ordered, and her eyes rolled wildly in his direction. “It’s all right. No one expects you to speak. It’s all right. You can breathe.” He tightened his grip. “Breathe!”
Her body shuddered and she gave a great sobbing gasp. Another followed, then she coughed and seemed unable to stop. When she turned to muffle the sound against Derrain’s chest, he didn’t mind, just as long as she kept breathing.
Meeting Dhori’s worried silver eyes, he mustered a relieved smile and held Mhysra close. “Thank you.”
Dhori smiled weakly back.
“Is she breathing?” Lieutenant Byrne had left the front of the room to loom over them, crop tapping erratically. “Student Derrain, take her to the healers. Student Dhori, if you would kindly return to your seat, perhaps you could tell me the most common uses for copper?”
Ignoring the whispers and stares – curious, concerned and mocking – Derrain helped Mhysra to her feet and scooped her up. There was so little of her these days that it was no hardship to carry her out of the room, down two flights of stairs and along several corridors. It seemed safer than testing the strength of her legs. Especially when he could feel her trembling.
Thanks to a guided tour and a bit of exploring the day before, Derrain already knew how to find everywhere that mattered in Kaskad. Which was why he didn’t bother descending two more staircases to the infirmary. Instead he headed into the residence wing, straight for the room at the far end.
The conversation inside ceased at his knock and Lieutenant Stirla opened the door. “Derry?” he greeted with surprise, then realised what he was carrying. “Gods, come in.” He stepped back, pointing at the nearest bed. “Put her down.”
“What happened?” Lieutenant Lyrai asked, making a space for her between stacks of clothes and pressing a hand to Mhysra’s forehead.
Since she was conscious, she brushed his hand away and sat up, hugging her knees defensively. Lyrai, Stirla and Hlen gathered around the bed to frown worriedly down at her.
“I thought you had lessons,” Hlen murmured, as Brathyn walked in, four bags in his hands.
“Trouble?” he asked, glancing between Derrain and Mhysra.
When everyone looked at him, Derrain tried to explain. “We were in Lieutenant Byrne’s lesson and he asked Mhysra a question.” As he related the baffling circumstances, he wondered why he’d come here instead of taking her to a healer. Yet watching Stirla and Lyrai listening to his tale, exchanging glances with each other as well as Mhysra, he realised that he trusted them. These two captains-in-training had been with him from the start of his student days in Nimbys, instructing him, guiding him and even shedding blood with him in the tunnels beneath Aquila. He knew them, they knew him, and he trusted them.
With his life and Mhysra’s. They were his officers.
When he finished his explanation, Stirla sighed and patted Mhysra’s foot. “Poor lass, nothing’s ever simple, is it? Not even geography.”
“Byrne has always been a bit of a knowledge zealot,” Brathyn said. “Should I have a word?”
“No need,” Stirla assured him with a careless wave of his hand. “With luck we’ll be out of here by tomorrow, so it shouldn’t happen again.”
Mhysra gripped Derrain’s arm, and he didn’t need to hear her voice to know what she was thinking. “So soon?”
“Aye,” Stirla agreed cheerfully. “We’re heading down to Havia to prance about at court.” He ruffled Lyrai’s hair, but his fellow lieutenant didn’t react.
He was watching Mhysra’s panicked expression and the way her fingers flexed on Derrain’s arm. “It’s all right,” the blond lieutenant assured her. “We’re all going. Stirla, me, you, Derry, Dhori, Corin, Jaymes and some others. No one’s getting left behind.”
“Except me,” Brathyn joked. “And poor Hlen, but we’ve other skies to fly. And little though I like the quarries and mines of Kevian, I can’t say I envy you. They don’t call King Heryff and his court the Old Pyrefly and his Pack for nothing.”
“Thanks,” Lyrai drawled, since Mhysra’s eyes had gone wide.
Derrain concealed a smile and raised his eyebrows in mock offence. “I have an aunt at the Havian court.”
“Oh.” The lieutenant actually looked embarrassed. “Er… Well. Um, that is, why don’t I go scare ten years off the quartermaster, if you’re certain you want to leave tomorrow?” Nodding, he made a hasty exit.
“Is she?” Hlen asked, after the door clicked shut and Stirla had stopped snickering.
“Is who?” Derrain replied.
“Is your aunt really a member of the Old Pyrefly’s court?”
“Oh.” Derrain adopted an innocent expression. “She’s there, yes.”
Stirla chuckled. “As what, a chambermaid?”
“Certainly not!” Derrain cried, affronted.
The chuckles died.
“She’s a lady’s maid.”
This time all the lieutenant’s laughed and even Mhysra smiled. Since no healer could have done that, the last of Derrain’s worries finally eased. He’d made the right choice.
“BACK SO SOON?”
Lyrai looked up from running a full check on Hurricane’s tack, startled that Cumulo had spoken to him. Deliberately. With a question that required an answer. No, it wasn’t the first time he’d heard the Wingborn speak – like all miryhls, he was forever muttering to himself, if a little louder than the rest – but it was the first time he had spoken to Lyrai.
Feeling a little foolish, Lyrai looked around their section of the eyries. Lots of cramped, dozing miryhls. No people. Only him. “Me?” he asked, just to make sure.
“Yes, you, lieutenant. Unless your shadow can talk.”
Lyrai blinked; he couldn’t help it. Cumulo’s voice, not quite as deep as Hurricane’s low purr, contained a mountain more gravel. Then again, he might just have been annoyed.
“Come along, lieutenant, you’ve been making such excellent progress. You don’t even twitch anymore when I mutter right next to you.” It was more growl than speech, but the words were clear.
Still, a lifetime of training was difficult to overcome. “You’re not supposed to talk to me.”
At his back, Hurricane gave a disgusted snort. Lyrai actually blushed.
Cumulo huffed and shuffled his feet. “It’s not going to kill me. Or you. Besides, it’s not like I have anyone else to talk to right now.” He sighed and twitched his wings. “At least, no one who’ll talk back.”
Hurricane made a rumble of agreement. “I’ve often wondered about the inequality of speech between Riders and miryhls. After all, you’re perfectly free to talk to whoever you want.”
“I thought it was more to do with you miryhls not wanting to talk to us,” Lyrai replied, having never given it much thought. It was one of those things. Like the partner bond; it just was.
“I think it’s absurd,” Hurricane announced, revealing unexpected rebel tendencies.
“Indeed,” Cumulo agreed, shifting thoughtfully. “I’ve never been fond of rules. Especially this one. I believe from now on I shall ignore it.”
“Gods help us,” Lyrai muttered, feeling as though he was at the top of a very slippery slope, certain it was about to get worse. “Try not to corrupt the others too much, please.”
The little feathers on Cumulo’s face, neck and chest fluffed up, and if Lyrai didn’t know better he would say the eagle looked smug. “Corrupt is such a strong word, lieutenant,” he purred. “I much prefer the term enlighten.”
Lyrai put his face in his hands and shook his head. They were doomed.
~ Next Chapter ~
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