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(Note to self: don’t make any predictions, even a week in advance, because something – like a stinking cold – will happen to knock you flat and wreck all your plans *sigh* So no more predictions. Only updates when things have been finished. Which may or may not be soon. No promises.)
Just to recap: Derry and Neryth are running to the eyries because they believe Lorfyn is in there alone with all the miryhls. They’ve stopped in the doorway in complete astonishment because… Well, read on and find out ;)
CROWDED ON THE central perches, almost one hundred miryhls ringed the centre of the eyries, screeching and shouting the most appalling insults, jumping up and down and cheering. The focus of all this raucous attention was a heap of flailing limbs.
“Maegla!” Derrain gasped, finally realising what he was seeing, and dashed across the eyries to seize Stirla’s fist before he could rearrange Lorfyn’s nose. Again.
“He’s mad! He’s mad!” the lord shrieked, scrabbling to get away, one eye already swollen shut, blood all over his face, his right sleeve torn almost all the way off. The rest of his clothes were in no better shape. “Unprovoked assault! My father will hear of this!”
By this point Derrain was wrapped almost entirely around Stirla, trying to keep the lieutenant still. His eyes were wide and glaring, face sweaty, chest heaving with deep, angry breaths. A growl seemed locked in his throat, and Derrain feared that if he let go he’d kill Lorfyn.
“His fault, all his fault,” Stirla snarled, the words mangled by his swollen lip. There were scratch marks on his face as if Lorfyn had scrabbled at him like a rabbit. The lieutenant’s clothes were also torn, but he seemed otherwise whole.
“Lunatic!” Lorfyn shouted, then screamed as the lieutenant lunged, almost escaping Derrain’s grip.
Princess Neryth stepped between the two combatants, frowning as she looked from one to the other. “Enough,” she said firmly, and though Stirla continued to growl his struggles subsided. Not that Derrain was letting go of him any time soon.
“He tried to kill me!” Lorfyn accused hysterically. “Me! A Ketthik of Havia!”
Neryth looked at him. “Enough.”
Lorfyn swallowed hard and shut up, huddling on the floor, wild-eyed and breathless.
Miryhls shuffled and muttered on the perches above them, disgruntled that their entertainment had been cut short. Derrain would have laughed, if he hadn’t been busy watching the lieutenant’s expression. Stirla’s breathing was slowing, the ferocity fading from his eyes. He’d stopped growling, but he was staring at Lorfyn and there was nothing guilty or forgiving in his expression. Derrain kept a firm grip on him, just in case.
After staring the lordling into silence, Neryth raised her head and looked at the miryhl audience. “Would anyone care to explain what happened?” she asked politely, as if conversing with a miryhl to which she was not bonded was an everyday occurrence.
A shocked ripple spread through the eagles, then two huge females dropped to the ground. Atyrn and Zephyr, both of whom had spent time with Cumulo, the Wingborn who didn’t believe in following nonsensical traditions. While the rest of the miryhls shuffled uncomfortably, Atyrn strutted over to Stirla’s side. As she nuzzled him, he finally relaxed and Derrain felt it was safe to let go. If the miryhl couldn’t soothe the big lieutenant, no one could.
“Zephyr.” Neryth bowed to the other miryhl. “Would you please tell me what happened?”
She glanced at Derrain, seeking his permission to speak, and he nodded. He wanted to know as much as Neryth did.
Shuffling her wings, the big female cleared her throat and focused on the princess. “It was all so silly,” she murmured, her voice low and surprisingly smooth for so large a bird. Derrain always felt better after listening to her. “I mean after a half-moon with him, most of us were familiar with his foolish ways. I suppose we forgot what he could be like. And naturally you humans were too tired to notice when you went inside – like sensible folk – that he had stayed behind.” She glared at the battered lord.
Lorfyn hunched a shoulder. “It is not a crime to visit an eyrie.”
“Actually,” Derrain corrected, “for a non-Rider to enter a miryhl eyrie on a Rider base, without supervision or permission, it is.”
Lorfyn narrowed his eyes, lip curling in a sneer. “You Riders brought me here. Is that not permission enough?”
“We brought you to the base, yes, but I don’t recall anyone inviting you inside the eyries,” Zephyr retorted, defending her Rider. “You took advantage of the confusion of our arrival and the weariness of all who knew you to sneak in here and try to steal a miryhl!”
There was a collective rumble of anger from the birds above their heads and Derrain was deathly glad it wasn’t aimed at him. How Lorfyn managed to remain upright, he’d never know, but the fool didn’t appear to understand what he’d done.
Instead the lord lunged to his feet and jabbed an angry finger at Zephyr. “I wasn’t stealing. I only asked. I don’t see what’s so special about these damned Riders anyway, or why you’re all so precious about who rides you. You’re just birds, overgrown and over-proud bundles of feathers. How dare you look down your beaks at me. I am a Ketthik of Havia! My family have been Eorns for eight generations, passing from father to son. Our family is one of the purest and most important in all the Greater West. How dare you hold yourselves above me!”
His angry rant faded into silence, broken only by the whine of the blizzard outside and the deep, unsteady breaths of a hundred angry miryhls overhead. Wood creaked as the eagles shifted their weight, and Derrain held himself very still, certain that if he made the slightest move everything would shatter.
Somewhere behind him, Stirla started to laugh, the sound getting louder despite Atyrn’s attempts to hush him. “A Ketthik of Havia,” he chuckled. “A Ketthik of Havia! And here I am, a lowly Etherian farm boy, with a miryhl all my own. How about you, Derry, where do you come from? How long have your family been around? Got any lineage to compare with a Ketthik of Havia?” His laughter tailed off as he lay down with a grunt. “You should have let me kill him.”
“Indeed, much now becomes clear.”
The miryhls, enraged by Lorfyn’s outburst and confused by Stirla’s laughter, turned towards the door and Derrain finally dared to move. There was quite a gathering at the entrance to the eyries. Two captains, two lieutenants and who knew how many Riders. All of them staring with wide, disbelieving eyes.
Captain Hylan strode inside and hauled Stirla to his feet. “I owe you an apology, lieutenant. I lost my temper without full possession of all the facts. I know better now.”
Stirla looked stunned, but managed to drag himself to attention. “Sir,” he murmured.
“You appear to be in need of medical attention,” the captain added, and turned to Derrain. “See that he’s taken to the infirmary, student. Some of those scratches look nasty.”
“Yes, sir,” Derrain said, stepping aside as the captain walked passed.
He paused in front of Neryth and the crowd held their breath. Then he bowed. “Welcome to Kaskad, Your Highness. I apologise for not greeting you sooner. Perhaps you would care to come to my office. I believe we have much to say to each other.”
The princess looked up into the large captain’s face with a wry smile. “I believe we have, sir.”
Hylan frowned at the young man hunched defensively in the centre of the eyries. “You will join us, Lord Lorfyn.” It was not a request.
Satisfied that his insolence would be dealt with, the miryhls spread out around the eyries again, muttering and grumbling amongst themselves, spreading gossip about the HSF and the adventures of Stirla’s squad. The humans were a lot slower to move, until Hylan stalked out, barrelling through them.
“Don’t you all have work to do?” he growled, and the Riders scattered.
Before long all that remained were Atyrn, Zephyr, Stirla and Derrain.
With a sigh, Derrain gripped the stunned lieutenant’s arm and steered him towards the door. “Come on, sir, let’s get you cleaned up.”
The big man moved without protest and, as they left the eyries, Derrain heard Atyrn say, “Much as I dislike the arrogant pipsqueak, you have to admit with Lorfyn around there’s never a dull moment.”
“A bit like having a court jester in residence, I suppose,” Zephyr conceded.
“Only less funny.”
With twin harrumphs the miryhls hopped onto the nearest perch, while Derrain stepped into the blizzard, guiding his lieutenant and shaking his head.
~ Next Chapter ~
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