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~ Previous Chapter ~
In which awkward (but amusing) conversations ensue.
AFTER ONE OF the most awkward afternoons of her life, night couldn’t fall fast enough for Mhysra. She’d tried hiding in the eyries to avoid Corin’s all-too-knowing eyes, Dhori’s smirks and Jaymes’ blushes, but where before she’d always been able to tell Cumulo anything, this time she couldn’t. She hadn’t even been able to meet her Wingborn’s eye.
Maegla, could she be any more pathetic?
Instead she’d skipped the evening meal and hidden in her room, unable to bear Lyrai’s cool lieutenant voice. Or worse, have him be nice to her. She knew she would have to come out some time – probably as soon as the next morning if her grumbling stomach was any judge – but the longer she could put it off the better.
Voices in the corridor made her tense, listening to Riders going to bed, joking and whispering. Then she heard her friends: Dhori chuckling, Jaymes muttering, Corin laughing. The door opened and Mhysra huddled under her covers, pretending with all her might to be asleep.
The floor creaked as Corin moved about, lighting a lamp, dropping Skybreeze onto the bed, getting changed. To Mhysra’s relief she didn’t speak, just climbed under her covers and blew out the lamp.
Mhysra relaxed, whispering a thank you to Maegla for small mercies.
“I know you’re not asleep,” Corin murmured, crushing Mhysra’s hopes. “Want to talk?”
Knowing her friend would keep badgering if she didn’t acknowledge her, Mhysra rolled over and pulled the covers off her head, thankful they had the room to themselves. “No.”
“So…” There was a long pause. “You and Lyrai. Imagine that.”
Groaning, Mhysra buried her head under the pillow. “We are not talking about this.”
“No, of course not,” Corin agreed cheerfully, her dragonet chuckling. “I’m thinking aloud.”
Mhysra pulled the covers over her head again.
“Lyrai and Mhysra. In the forest. All alone. Looking awkward. I wonder what happened?”
“Corin,” Mhysra begged.
“Oh, sorry. I’ll think a little quieter.” Another pause. “So, Skybreeze,” Corin said in an exaggerated whisper. “Do you think they kissed? Or just nearly? See, I don’t think our good friend Mhysra here would have hidden all day over a nearly-kiss. So it must have been a good one. Lucky cow.”
“Lucky?” Mhysra grumbled, her voice muffled by the covers. “How is it lucky when I can’t look even at him? He’s my lieutenant!”
“And very handsome he is too,” her friend agreed. “You have excellent taste. Lucky mare.”
Growling in frustration, Mhysra pushed off the covers. “I am not. It’s a disaster.”
“Only if he never does it again,” Corin snickered. “That really would be terrible.”
“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.”
“We’re not,” Corin assured her. “I’m thinking out loud and you’re talking in your sleep.”
“See, you’re not even making sense.”
Mhysra stared at the dark ceiling, reliving the kiss, unable to decide whether it had been the most amazing thing to have ever happened to her, or the worst. Well, in experiences that didn’t involve blood, bruises, breakages or her family anyway. Corin said nothing, and for a blissful moment Mhysra thought she’d fallen asleep.
“Was it good?” her friend asked, all trace of humour gone.
“It was perfect,” Mhysra sighed, too tired to lie. “Until everything turned awkward. Why does it always have to turn awkward?”
Her friend rolled over, making Skybreeze grumble. “I’m sorry.”
Swallowing hard around the knot of emotion tightening her throat, Mhysra huddled into her pillows. “I really like him, Corin.”
“I always have.”
She sniffled, feeling sorry for herself.
“Get some sleep,” Corin told her gently. “Things’ll seem better in the morning.”
Mhysra couldn’t see how, but she was very tired. “G’night, Corin.”
“Night,” her friend yawned, and peace filled the room.
On the very edge of sleep, Mhysra drifted away to a mutter of, “Lucky, lucky cow.”
* * *
“YOU REALISE HE will probably make an official complaint.” Though Captain Hylan was all business this afternoon, he was also far more relaxed than when Stirla had met with him the previous day. In fact the big captain was lolling back in his chair, picking at a bowl of winter fruits, entirely at ease. “And if he doesn’t his friends certainly will. Not to mention the ruckus his father will kick up should he hear of this encounter. At the very least a permanent note will be made on your service record.”
Stirla thought about it for a moment, touched his puffy lip and shrugged. “It was worth it.”
Hylan grinned. “I’ll make a note of extreme provocation and we’ll see where that gets you.” He paused, leaning forward to grab a quill. “Promoted, probably.”
It was Stirla’s turn to grin, licking his lip when the split reopened. “At least he’s contained for the moment. Thanks to Princess Neryth, I’m not sure he’ll ever feel brave enough to venture out of that room. You’ll probably have to break down the door when you need to evict him.”
Hylan grunted with amusement, then narrowed his eyes at the scratches on Stirla’s face. “High strung, noble whelp. Fights like a girl, I see.”
Stirla shook his head. He’d fought alongside girls in the fall of Aquila. There was nothing weak or cowardly about the way they faced down kaz-naghkt. “He fights like a rabbit, sir. All scrabble, no class.” He’d seen his face in the mirror. While the scratches were sore, they weren’t too bad or too deep, and would heal right up, thanks to the healer’s balm.
“Small, pampered minds tend to panic under pressure,” Hylan agreed, tossing the quill aside and lounging back. “Probably best to send him home with his friends. If he’s as bad as you say, he’ll be happy for the escort and escape.”
Stirla wasn’t so sure about that, but he merely opened his hands, happily passing the responsibility onto someone else. Finally. It was outside his control now. Let someone else deal with the obsessively enthusiastic Lord Lorfyn and his ridiculous Havian Special Force.
“I’ll leave the princess with you, for now,” Hylan murmured between berries. “She seems to have settled in quite nicely and, with an eye to the future, better we offend Heryff by letting her stay than upset the future ruler of Havia. Even if she will be working from the shadows.”
Stirla could see the sense in that, but still grimaced. Though he’d reached an accord with Neryth, and was even growing to like her, she was still a princess. It was a big responsibility taking care of her, especially with a war looming. How much easier it would be to send all their Havians home in one basket. Then again, Stirla reflected, he couldn’t see any of them actually going, whatever Hylan thought to the contrary.
“I don’t think she’d take too kindly to being sent home,” he agreed. “Royalty don’t like being told what to do.”
Hylan nodded thoughtfully. “Speaking of royalty. Where is Lyrai? I paired you together because I expected him to keep you in check. Next thing I know you’ve absconded with the cream of Havian nobility and Lyrai’s vanished off the face of the Overworld. Care to explain?”
Not really, no. Stirla sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Last I know he was flying into the Storm Wash in pursuit of a couple of students. What happened after that, well, your guess is as good as mine, sir. As to why he did such a harebrained thing?” Stirla looked up with a wry smile. “He’s Lyrai.”
Hylan huffed, part amusement, part agreement. “So he is. I did warn Myran about that heroic tendency of his. Not to mention his three-mile-wide protective streak. I should have remembered both when I sent the pair of you off alone. Stupid.” The captain sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose. “Ah well, there’s not a lot I can do about it now. I only hope to Maegla he’s sitting the winter out safely along the Storm Wash somewhere. We might be able to afford to offend Havia, since it doesn’t do much for us anyway, but Imercian is quite a different matter.”
“Even if the Stratys couldn’t give two hoots about Lyrai?”
Hylan shook his head. “If there’s one thing royalty hates more than being told what to do, Stirla, it’s losing something that’s theirs. Whether the Stratys likes Lyrai or not, he is his son and second-in-line to the throne. If we lose him without a damn good explanation, we’d better expect to pay.” Lifting the last winter berry from the bowl, Hylan rolled it between his fingers before squashing it against the pale pottery. The juice oozed a deep, dark red. “For your sake and mine, let’s hope our errant friend turns up sooner rather than later.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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