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~ Previous Chapter ~
Getting ready to go – and Cue’s rebellion deepens… Poor Stirla.
AFTER A HURRIED noon meal, Mhysra was still eating an apple as she followed her friends to the eyries. Their happy chatter blended with the cheerful bustle of the miryhls and attendants as their party prepared to move out. Along with Lyrai, Stirla, Mhysra and her four friends, eight more students and seven Riders were making the trip to Havia. Partly to form an honour guard for the lieutenants, partly to keep the students under instruction, but mostly to get them away from Kaskad’s overburdened resources.
Not that anyone was complaining; they all seemed delighted to be escaping. Mhysra knew she was. Even the prospect of returning to cold nights sleeping on the ground was better than the cramped storeroom she’d been sharing with six other girls. Including two stentorian snorers. Heading out into the early winter sounded like a fine plan in comparison.
Besides, any chance to sit on Cumulo for most of the day, where no one expected her to talk, was a slice of Heirayk’s own heaven.
“Off again,” Cumulo grumbled as she wound her way through the tightly packed birds to his side. As usual he was roosting with Atyrn and Hurricane, the lieutenants’ miryhls. More unusually for so windy a place, they’d picked a spot near the hatches. Mhysra took the convenient opportunity to throw her apple core outside before turning to tack Cumulo up.
As she stretched to slip his bridle over his beak, Cumulo nudged her gently and she stroked her hands down his face. His purr rumbled through his beak and into her bones. Enjoying the moment, she closed her eyes and leant against his strength, thanking Maegla for the thousandth time that she still had him. She honestly didn’t what she would do without Cumulo.
“All set?” The question, followed by the thud of heavy bags being dropped, made her jump and she hurriedly finished buckling Cumulo’s bridle strap around the back of his head.
“Got everything you need?” Stirla asked, when she turned to pick up Cumulo’s saddle.
She nodded and nudged her neatly bundled saddle packs with her toe.
“So organised,” the lieutenant sighed, stroking a broad hand along his miryhl’s wing. Atyrn chuckled affectionately. “Good thing my girl here’s so strong or we’d never get off the ground.”
He winked, and Mhysra smiled. She liked Stirla. He was the only person who hadn’t treated her differently since she’d lost the ability to talk. No special treatment from him as though she was made of glass, nor any disdainful dismissals because she was overreacting. He was the same old Stirla and she adored him for it.
Her sister Milluqua was going to hear all about her favourite lieutenant’s excellent behaviour, she decided, then sighed. Somehow it didn’t seem right to further her sister’s flirtation with this ineligible, yet perfectly matched man, when her brother was dead. How could she tease Milluqua about Stirla when she hadn’t even told her of Kilai’s death? Thus far she’d used the lack of messengers as an excuse, but it wouldn’t last forever. The words were hard to even think, let alone write. No wonder she’d lost her voice.
A thump from Cumulo knocked her out of her maudlin thoughts and she bent to gather up his harness.
“Don’t weigh Atyrn down just yet,” Lieutenant Lyrai advised, carrying Hurricane’s tack over. “It seems our miryhls have grown tired of lugging us and all our baggage about.”
“Oh, aye?” Stirla questioned, tightening Atyrn’s bridle. Mhysra paused in buckling Cumulo’s chest strap, equally curious.
“Mm, they’ve been thinking things over,” Lyrai said, earning a nudge from Hurricane, a chuckle from Atyrn and a proud puff from Cumulo.
Unimpressed, Mhysra poked her miryhl with a finger to deflate his chest enough to fasten his harness before moving on to his double girths.
“Sounds ominous,” Stirla murmured, throwing a saddle onto Atyrn’s back.
“Not so much.” Lyrai shrugged. “Since we’ve more miryhls than Riders, and those whose bondeds are missing can do nothing but wait, Cane and Cue have talked a few into coming with us to carry the bags.”
Mhysra wasn’t the only one to raise her eyebrows.
“Pack animals? These two,” Stirla tilted his thumb at the birds in question, “have convinced other miryhls to act as donkeys?” He snorted with amusement. “How in Heirayk’s name did they manage that?”
“Easily,” Cumulo grumbled behind Mhysra’s head, loud enough for both lieutenants to hear. Stirla looked shocked, but Lyrai appeared resigned. Clearly her Wingborn had been up to his old tricks again. “They want to feel useful.”
Stirla gaped at him. “Did you just – ? Lyrai, did he just – ?”
“Yes,” his fellow lieutenant sighed. “I suggest you get used to it.” Hurricane nudged him meaningfully in the back. “According to Cane, the spare miryhls feel as though they’ve failed because they’ve lost their Riders.”
“Nonsense,” Stirla replied, and Mhysra nodded firmly. “Unless they threw them off mid-flight it’s no fault of theirs, and even if they had their Rider probably deserved it.”
The three miryhls chuckled, a little sinisterly to Mhysra’s mind.
“Well, whatever the motive, they’ve offered and I’ve gratefully accepted. It means we can take more supplies and still leave our miryhls light. Keep your personal gear with you, in case of trouble,” Lyrai advised, as Mhysra picked up her packs. “Blankets, clothes, weapons stay on your saddle. Everything else goes.”
Since she carried her weapons on her belt and her clothes and personal things in her backpack, that left only her sleeping gear to be tied behind Cumulo’s saddle. Her other pack contained extra clothes, an extra blanket, oil for Cumulo’s talons and tack cleaning supplies. She handed that one to Lyrai.
He smiled and pointed at Hurricane. “Could you tack him up for me while I prepare the pack miryhls?” At her nod, he beckoned to Stirla. “Come on, I’ll introduce you.”
“This I have to see,” his fellow lieutenant agreed, picking up three of his five bags.
Leaving Mhysra with the miryhls and Hurricane’s tack coiled on the floor between them.
When she hesitated, Cumulo shoved her with his beak. “He’s just a bird, like any other.”
Except he wasn’t. Hurricane was a beautiful marble miryhl and Lieutenant Lyrai’s bonded to boot. In a life spent surrounded by these eagles, he was the first marble she’d known. He winked encouragingly when she picked up his bridle. His pale feathers were cool under her hands as she fumbled with the straps and felt even softer than Cumulo’s. It made her fingers linger and return, while the miryhl closed his eyes and purred with contentment.
Cumulo growled and she jumped, turning to fetch the saddle and swiftly buckle the straps. Not so easy when Hurricane kept laughing, his cloud-soft feathers tickling her fingers.
When all that was left were Lyrai’s packs, Mhysra stepped back and almost tripped over Cumulo. He thrust his head under her arm, demanding to be stroked.
“Thank you.” Hurricane’s voice was deep and smooth, tinged with laughter.
Surprised, she nodded at him, then turned to Cumulo, hands on her hips. Her miryhl had always been contrary when it came to rules, but he’d never encouraged others to follow his lead before. Then again, he’d never considered himself among equals before. Not that her Wingborn was a snob or anything.
“We’re just righting the balance, chickling,” Cumulo told her, unrepentant in the face of her disapproval. “How do these things get started anyway? Like all those daft stories about Wingborn. They’re nothing like the truth.”
He was incorrigible, but he was simply being Cumulo, so she rolled her eyes and tickled his cheek in his favourite spot. It was always wise to know when to admit defeat and, after seventeen years together, she’d grown good at reading the signs. This was an argument she could never win, with or without her voice.
A short while later the lieutenants returned. “Ready?” Stirla asked, as the eyries filled with the sounds of departing miryhls.
Nodding, Mhysra mounted up and checked everything was secure, while Lyrai buckled his packs behind Hurricane’s saddle.
“Good?” he asked. Hurricane lowered a wing in answer. “Then let’s go.”
Taking him at his word, Cumulo bounded to the hatch and through, diving into the gusty canyon and catching an updraft to throw them high. Away from Kaskad, away from the sharp, narrow cliffs and up to the open sky, where the clouds were grey and the wind fierce.
Cumulo shrieked with sheer joy and Mhysra’s heart echoed him. She couldn’t have said it any better herself.
~ Next Chapter ~
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