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~ Previous Chapter ~
Meanwhile, in an infirmary on the other side of the Overworld…
NOT EVEN A full day on Etheria and he was in the infirmary. Lorfyn touched his split lip and winced at the little dart of pain. In hindsight, perhaps talking to an eyrie of strange miryhls hadn’t been the brightest idea. But how was he to know the foolish birds were so touchy about their wretched Riders? Or that Lieutenant Stirla was such a ill-mannered beast?
“It was such a shock, Highness.” Propped up against his pillows, bruised and sore, Lorfyn took the opportunity to confide in Neryth. It was lovely that the princess had found time to visit him – so important and no doubt busy as she was – but had she needed to leave him alone all night? Lorfyn hadn’t seen anyone but healers after Captain Hylan dismissed him, and none of the idiots would hear a word said against their precious lieutenant. This base was all mad.
Still, his princess was here now, which meant it would all be sorted out soon. “I mean the man used his fists, Highness. His fists. Like the lowest common labourer. And he, a Rift Rider!”
“Would you have preferred he used his sword?” the princess asked sweetly. “You did insult his miryhl.”
“Insult?” Lorfyn echoed, dismayed that his actions had been so badly misconstrued. Enemy propaganda had reached his princess first. How he hated being isolated up here. “I would never do such a thing, Highness. Never! You know I revere miryhls as the miracle of creation they truly are.” Even if they were blindly loyal, brainless birds. “I would never insult one.”
Neryth inclined her head, a wry smile curling one corner of her mouth. Trust her to find inappropriate humour in the situation. She’d always been a little strange that way. “Perhaps not intentionally, my lord, but that is what you did. At the very least you were attempting to steal bonded birds from their rightful Riders.”
“Rightful!” Lorfyn protested loudly. “How can you say such a thing? Have you been inside those eyries, smelled the terrible stench? There was excrement on the floor and the perches, even on the walls. One bird scratched above me and dust, Highness, actual dust came from its feathers! How can such neglect be justified, and even rewarded, simply because they once joined the Riders? I mean who are these men anyway? They could be anyone? Commoners, even!” Perish the thought. Was the Overworld’s most precious resource to be wasted on complete nobodies while noble men like himself were left grounded because their king wouldn’t let go of an ancient and ridiculous grudge?
Princess Neryth sat back in her chair with a sigh. “How many eyries have you visited, Lorfyn?”
“Just this one, Highness. And it was more than enough. This place is a disgrace.”
“What about the eyrie in Misthome?” the princess asked, then shook her head. “No, of course not, the place is rarely used and they’d only been there for a few days. And the excitement likely covered everything else. Then there was Sherpoint, where of course they didn’t let you anywhere near the miryhls, and you were never invited to my eyries. Gods be praised.”
Since her murmuring didn’t make much sense, Lorfyn assumed the princess was talking to herself. Not that it mattered what other eyries were like. He had seen the state of this one and it was a travesty he would not permit to continue. “What shall we do, Highness?”
“We?” Neryth looked up, startled. It was the clearest emotion Lorfyn had ever seen on her face. “I suggest you stay here and rest.”
Disappointed that he would miss all the action, Lorfyn settled against his pillows with a pout. “You will keep all the miryhls for yourself.” He winced as his split lip pulled unpleasantly. “Ow.”
Neryth arched an eyebrow. “All the miryhls here are claimed, Lord Lorfyn. You would do well to remember that.”
“But they are being neglected!”
“Have you ever preened a miryhl?”
Lorfyn grimaced at the very idea. A Ketthik of Havia, performing such a menial task? Even on a miryhl? How insulting.
Neryth seemed to read the answer on his face. “Have you ever witnessed anyone else preen a miryhl? Or spent time close to any bird, any bird at all, in your life?”
It was Lorfyn’s turn to raise an eyebrow. Or at least attempt to. Unfortunately he’d never quite got the knack. He screwed up his forehead, waggled his eyebrows ineffectually for a moment, then settled for raising them both in a vague but lordly manner. “I have falconers for that sort of thing, Highness. Would you ever demean yourself so?”
“Of course,” Neryth replied with surprising swiftness. “There’s no better way to bond with your miryhl than to preen it yourself. The bond between a miryhl and its partner is of vital importance, even for those outside the Riders. I preen both of my miryhls daily.”
Lorfyn blinked in astonishment. “You?” he repeated, unbelieving. He’d always known that Neryth had some funny ideas, but when all was said and done she was a princess. Normally she had the good manners to act like one. “You preen your own miryhls. Yourself. With your own hands? Every day?”
The princess looked amused. “I did try using my feet once. It was surprisingly ineffective, and my miryhls didn’t like it.”
Lorfyn knew when he was being made fun of – and he didn’t like it either. Hunching a shoulder, he touched a hesitant finger to his aching nose. “You mock me, Highness,” he muttered reproachfully.
“You make it so easy,” Neryth said gently.
Lorfyn frowned, trying to work out what she meant by that. Was he being mocked again?
The princess stood up, breaking his thoughts. “You look tired, my lord. You must rest to recover your strength and heal from your wounds. I will advise your friends not to disturb you. We wouldn’t want you to suffer a setback. Bed rest and near silence the healer said. Yes. It will do you the world of good.”
Lorfyn blinked at the sudden solicitousness in Neryth’s tone. It was lovely for her to be so concerned, but… He opened his mouth to protest that he wasn’t feeling so bad and would quite enjoy some company, but Neryth cut him off.
“No, no, you must always do as the healer tells you. We wouldn’t anything terrible to happen to you.”
Lorfyn blinked again. What kind of terrible things? Could bruises grow infected? What about the wound on his lip? The eyries weren’t the only things in this place that could do with a good scrubbing. And what about his nose, had it been broken? Was it true, as someone once told him, that shards from a break could enter his brain and kill him when he least expected it? Drop him dead in the middle of dinner, face first in the soup. What about the bruises around his eyes, would they overflow in the night and send him blind?
He started breathing heavily, the prelude to panic, and wondered at the tenderness in his chest and ribs. Had he broken any? Stirla was so heavy and he’d hit him so hard. Had he punctured a lung?
Oh, Gods, he couldn’t breathe!
“I’ll leave you alone now,” Neryth murmured. So kind, so royally. The last face he would ever see…
Yes, he needed to be alone. He might die at any moment. Visitors might carry deadly germs in with them. He could end up feverish from the drafts they let in. They had only the best intentions, but he was so gravely injured, in such terrible danger of infection. His friends tried their best, but their personal hygiene was not always all it could be. What if he’d caught something from the dust off that miryhl? Didn’t birds carry all kinds of awful diseases, waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting? Rats on wings.
Scooting to the edge of the bed, he hung his head over the side and brushed furiously at his hair, wanting to get all the deadly germs out. He was dying, dying, dying.
“Gods preserve me,” he whispered, collapsing into his pillows. He was exhausted. Was this the end? The world was fading. Ah, if only he had been able to see his father one last time…
“Forgive me, father. Farewell.” He shut his eyes and was lost.
STANDING OUT THE infirmary, Neryth and Stirla pressed their ears to the door as the patient within flapped about, working himself into a fine state of unnecessary panic, then muttered his last final words.
“Touching,” Stirla muttered.
Neryth dabbed at her perfectly dry eyes and affected a sniff. “I thought so,” she agreed. “Such a terrible loss to the world.”
The terminally ill patient began snoring. Heavily.
The princess and the lieutenant traded grins and left the lord to his sleep.
~ Next Chapter ~
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