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~ Previous Chapter ~
Together again. At last.
A Little Conversation
IT WAS MUCH later that evening before Stirla and Lyrai had a chance to sit down together and finally catch up on all that had happened since Misthome, all those months ago. Stirla had thought his own adventures had been quite impressive – picking up a princess along the way, no less – but as always, his skinny blond friend had outdone him.
“So go on, tell me, just what did happen once you hared off straight into the Storm Wash?” he asked, sinking down onto the narrow bed that he’d been assigned in a room already crowded with lieutenants – Lyrai, Fleik and Honra. It felt like old times already.
“Ha,” Lyrai half-laughed, half-groaned as he flopped onto his own bed, reaching for the bottle of wine Stirla had charmed out of the kitchen staff. “Is that where it all began? I’d almost forgotten.”
Rubbing his hands together, eager to hear about someone else’s misfortune instead of his own, Stirla swiped the bottle from his friend and took a swig. “It’s certainly when I started getting into trouble. Couldn’t you have warned me?”
“Ha!” Lyrai laughed again. “Don’t blame me. I’ve no doubt you’ve been getting into plenty of trouble with no help from me all these months. You’ve certainly been managing it for years.”
Stirla was about to protest, ready to lay out the many sticky conversations he’d had with captains and generals all across the Greater West in yet another round of Where’s Lyrai?, but a soft tap on the door beat him to it.
“Yes?” Lyrai called, before Stirla could yell for whoever it was to go away. He’d been waiting months for this conversation. After everything he’d been through to get to it, couldn’t the Overworld grant him one blasted evening’s peace?
Apparently not. Princess Neryth poked her head around the door with a little smile. “Forgive the interruption, Highness, Stirla, but I’ve had some interesting news.”
Stirla wasn’t the only one to wince, though he knew Lyrai’s was down to the title. For himself, he dreaded whatever the princess would say next. Stirla had had enough interesting – news, events or otherwise – to last a lifetime.
“Here.” Neryth said, stepping into the room and holding out a letter to Stirla. “Read this. It was waiting for me when we arrived. The courier must have overtaken us somewhere in the Lowlands.”
Casting her a wary glance, Stirla nevertheless accepted the letter and began to read.
My Dearest, Most Esteemed Princess,
It is with the greatest sorrow and regret that I write to inform you of the disbandment of the Havian Special Force. While our admiration and good opinion of the Rift Riders has continued to grow and expand throughout our brief but memorable acquaintance, after your departure it was deemed futile for the rest of us to continue.
I am afraid Lord Lorfyn is not well. Since last you saw him, he has been taken by a most curious brain fever that has left him prone to strange rants and raving fits that can grow quite violent. He believes himself to be suffering from a Rider conspiracy and, I am sorry to say, has made us all rather unfortunately unwelcome here. Not only has this led him to take all miryhls into aversion, but he has since refused to fly by any beast at all. In fact, he claims we are also part of the conspiracy that is attempting to kill him. Rats with wings may also have been involved.
It is a terrible tragedy, you surely must agree, and has made our position here quite untenable. It is frightfully disappointing. We set out from Havia with the best of intentions, but on reflection, I do not believe it was particularly well planned. Our numbers are too few and, without Lord Lorfyn jollying us all along or your esteemed self to hold us to the course, I am afraid to say many of the others have rather lost their enthusiasm.
Fortunately, Captain Hylan and General Dreffen have been all that is gracious and kind, and have arranged a skyship to take us all back home. Though it saddens me greatly to leave without landing any blows against the savage foe, I also know that we leave the fight in the most courageous and capable hands.
Once more, allow me to apologise for sending you such disappointing news. Alas, our conduct has not reflected well upon Havia, but I trust that you, Princess, will do all that is necessary to restore and increase our honour and glory.
Good health and safe travels to you.
Yours & etc,
Kern Kennuk, Surl Rystony, Lord of Tythin Peak and Master of Gestathan Forest, Most Obedient Servant to the Hylan Crown.
“That’s an excess of titles, and no mistake,” Lyrai whistled appreciatively, reading the letter over Stirla’s shoulder. “He sounds an interesting chap. I’m sorry to have missed him.”
“I’m not,” Stirla muttered, folding the letter up and handing it back to Neryth. “Condolences, Princess, on this terrible news.”
“It’s a tragedy to be sure,” she agreed solemnly. “I do not know how Havia’s honour will recover.”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” Stirla chuckled, feeling lighter than he had in months.
The princess smiled. “I’m sure I will. In the meantime, I shall leave you in peace.” She tapped the letter against her forehead in a brief salute. “I just thought it was something you’d like to know.”
“It was, thank you,” Stirla touched his own forehead in reply.
“Then my intrusion is forgiven. Carry on, gentleman,” she commanded, and swept out of the room.
Leaving Lyrai staring at Stirla with his eyebrows arched high. “Care to explain any of that?”
Stirla thought back over the letter, the prolonged agony of travelling with the HSF and the continuous disappointment of his respected officers, and shook his head. “Not even slightly. I’d rather talk about you.”
Lyrai’s eyebrows lowered into a frown. “No.”
“Yes.” Stirla grinned. “In fact, I am particularly interested in a certain bit of gossip my Atyrn relayed to me only a short time ago…”
“Oh, not that bloody kiss again!” Lyrai groaned, falling face-first onto his bed. “Haven’t they talked that one to death yet?”
“Kiss?” Stirla perked up. “What kiss?”
Lyrai tilted his head. “The gossip wasn’t about the kiss?”
“No. Atyrn heard something about a fight and a dragon scale that Hurricane is incredibly possessive of. She said to ask you to show it to her, because he refuses to let anyone look at it. But who cares about that.” He waved the minor details away with an impatient hand. “Who have you been kissing? Don’t tell me you and Mhysra have finally put us all out of your ridiculous romantic misery?”
Lyrai groaned, hiding his face again, and Stirla grinned. Teasing, gossip and no more HSF to terrify the Overworld – gods, it was so good to be home.
~ Last Chapter ~
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