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~ Previous Chapter ~
Lalala, just another lovely day in Nimbys… oh.
A HALF-MOON AFTER they’d returned to Nimbys and Mhysra was starting to feel as if she’d never left. Especially now, standing out in the wind and the rain, circling in a practise ring, sword at the ready. Dhori smiled at her as he watched her every move.
At times like this she could almost forget she’d ever been to Aquila, fought off kaz-naghkt, run from pyrefly flames, fled through pitch-black tunnels, lost her brother, flown across half the Overworld, crossed the Storm Wash, spoken with dragons, seen the edge of Sanctuary or kissed her ice-eyed lieutenant.
Especially when she sparred against Dhori under that same lieutenant’s bright eyes, while Hethanon Armsmaster shouted critiques and the rarest of rare utterances of praise.
The merest quirk of Dhori’s lips was the only warning she had before her friend attacked. He was like the wind, coming from all directions at once, impossible to predict, impossible to see. She could only feel when he moved and hope her reflexes and instincts were fast enough to protect her.
Metal screeched and sang as she defended desperately, side-stepping to keep within the circle. It was tempting to let him drive her back and out, making her concede the match, but she had some pride left. No, she didn’t expect to win, but even so she wanted to last longer than Corin or Jaymes had. The pair of them had let Dhori take them by surprise and practically leapt out of the circle to save themselves. Or in Corin’s case squealed and tripped over. Something she was never going to live down.
So Mhysra slashed and stepped, while Dhori skipped about in front of her, his teeth a bright flash of happiness.
He was insane. She’d never seen him like this before. Usually he only sparred properly with Lyrai, knowing full well the rest of them could never cope. Today, however, he seemed to have something to prove. General Keipen had returned from the south, bringing two commanders and a handful of captains with their lieutenants along too. Nimbys was filling up as the Riders prepared for war.
Since they couldn’t talk plans all the time, however, especially as they were still awaiting word from the west, many of the officers had wandered down to the practise fields to see what was going on. Which meant Dhori had an audience. Not just lieutenants and captains, or even the general himself and one of his commanders, but practically every Rider who wasn’t out flying sentry duty and sweeps.
Truly, did none of them have anything better to do? Especially in the rain, Mhysra couldn’t help wondering as Dhori finally tripped her up and bundled her out of the circle with a triumphant, “Ha!” Straight into a puddle.
He definitely was not a gentleman. The muddy water was freezing as it sank through her breeches. She waved aside Lyrai’s offered hand to help her to her feet and waited for her bright-eyed opponent to approach.
“Sorry,” he said, grinning and unrepentant. Sometimes he was just like a dragon. At least he offered his hand, which gave Mhysra the chance to smile sweetly…
And drag him into the mud.
Then she accepted Lyrai’s hand and popped easily to her feet. “Sorry,” she cooed, as Dhori shook his sodden hair and wiped mud from his face. His eyes glinted at her, giving her enough of a warning to skitter away and hide behind Lyrai before his handful of mud could reach her.
“Play nicely, children,” Lyrai admonished, grinning as he drew his sword to avenge the mud splattered across his chest. “Now that you’re nicely warmed up, student, how about giving an old timer a try?”
Dhori shook his head like a dog, sending mud and water flying, then retrieved his sword and saluted. “The honour would be all mine, sir.”
They stepped into the circle, but Mhysra turned away before the first clash of swords. Crazy, the pair of them. While she could appreciate the show they were putting on for everyone else – proving that even though they might have been foolish enough to have brought dragons back to the Overworld, they were still capable fighters – she was wet, cold and tired. She’d seen them spar countless times before. Right now all she wanted was a warm bath and a fresh set of clothes.
Corin clearly felt the same, as she was already in the officer’s bath house making the most of the hot water. The pair of them splashed and played until their skin was wrinkled and all thoughts of mud were banished.
By which time the field had cleared and Dhori and Lyrai had finished messing about, being manly. As the friends emerged from the baths, they met the men doing the same on the other side of the hall, rubbing their hair dry with fluffy white towels.
“Who won?” Corin asked, while Lyrai took the moment of relative privacy to steal a kiss from Mhysra. He was all warm and clean, and she smiled as she curled herself against him.
“It was a draw,” Lyrai murmured, reluctantly letting Mhysra go as the outer door opened to admit a clump of Riders freshly returned from sentry duty.
“Which means you did,” Corin chortled at Dhori, as they exchanged nods and greetings with the shivering Riders.
“It was a draw,” Lyrai repeated, ushering them out into the cold again.
Mhysra and Corin chuckled when Dhori winked at them. Lyrai turned up the collar on his jacket with a sniff, and Mhysra wished they weren’t out in the open. He was adorable when he was grumpy. Joking and laughing, feeling more relaxed and at peace than since they’d returned to Nimbys, Mhysra and her friends ambled down the path towards the city.
Though Lyrai was staying with the other officers at the barracks, the rest of them had opted to keep Milluqua company at Kilpapan House. An arrangement that was working out surprisingly well, even with the rampant dragonets stirring up the servants. Milluqua thought they were wonderful, and both had taken a surprising shine to her, even agreeing to stay with her whenever their ‘gifteds needed to visit the eyries.
Once out of sight of the Offices, and in the short distance that led them past the Stratys Palace into the town, Lyrai took hold of Mhysra’s hand. They were both wearing gloves, but the gesture warmed Mhysra even better than her recent bath had. There hadn’t been many chances for them to be alone since they’d come back. Or even only amongst their friends. It wasn’t that Lyrai wanted to keep their relationship a secret, he just thought it was best not to invite gossip.
Mhysra agreed with him. She didn’t want to become the subject of ribald jokes, or the focus for those who never wanted women back in the Riders in the first place. So they had to be careful and circumspect, which made these brief moments even more special.
Letting Jaymes, Corin and Dhori go on ahead, Lyrai held her back and they dawdled a bit, fingers entwined, shoulders touching. They didn’t speak, but it didn’t matter. She just liked being close to him. They were so focused on each other, in fact, that they were both caught unawares when a man stepped out in front of them. He was dressed head to toe in the unmistakable livery of the Stratys: a scarlet sun rising over glowing white clouds, teamed with black breeches, black tunic and a sapphire plumed helm.
Lyrai stopped sharply, his hand dropping Mhysra’s as he unconsciously straightened into his stiffest, most formal posture.
The lackey was expressionless as he bowed and presented a folded piece of crisp white paper, sealed with a circle of gold wax. “Your Highness.”
Lyrai accepted the paper, slipped it inside his jacket and walked away, without acknowledging the man at all.
The lackey straightened, an unmistakably sly smile on his lips. Registering Mhysra’s narrow-eyed scrutiny, he raised his nose in the air, gave a haughty sniff and walked back inside the palace with stiff-legged strides.
Frowning, she hurried after Lyrai and tucked her hand around his arm. “Your mother?” she asked hopefully.
Lyrai straightened his arm, letting her hold slip away and shook his head. “The seal is gold,” he replied. “The Stratys has summoned me.”
A little hurt by his reaction, she folded her arms across her chest as they strode down amongst the first few houses. “Will you answer?”
Lyrai’s smile was entirely humourless. “Of course. Have I not always been a dutiful son?”
They walked the rest of the way to Kilpapan House in prickly silence.
~ Next Chapter ~
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