First time reading? Catch up with everything on the Wingborn page.
You can also keep track of everyone with the Character List.
~ Previous Chapter ~
“AQUILA IS UNLIKE anywhere else in the Overworld. Isolated and alone, but beautiful, so very beautiful, with the high peak almost always shrouded by cloud and the frothing mists of the falls. And there, right at the edge, spanning the falls, the citadel itself with two high towers and the great arch of the bridge.
“Throw in the ever-present flock of miryhls and there’s not a single thing that could be added to make it more perfect.”
His mother sighed and settled more heavily against him, already drifting off to sleep. Lyrai didn’t mind, he kept talking – for his sisters, for his mother and for himself. It was good to remember Aquila as it was, good to fill his mind with everything that was good and worthy about the place. Good to remember why it was so important that they recovered it. Good to remember what so many had given their lives for and remember why he would give his own if necessary.
“It sounds wonderful,” Nataryn murmured softly.
He opened his eyes and smiled at his youngest sister. “It is. And it will be again.” The Riders would see to it, and he would be right there amongst them.
“Lyrai?” His mother stirred, pushing away from his chest and peering into his face. After blinking several times, she finally seemed to recognise him with a sleepy smile as she cuddled into him again. “My Lyrai.”
Resting his cheek against her hair, he held her close.
“Keep talking,” Nataryn suggested. “It’s the best way to soothe her.”
Wondering who talked when he wasn’t here, and would talk again after he left, Lyrai nevertheless obeyed his sister’s urging and told more stories of Aquila, of his early years there and his adventures with Stirla. He managed to coax a smile or two from Hylena and even a brief smirk from Nataryn. Lyrosa ignored him, but he didn’t much care. All that mattered was that every time he paused for a drink or because his words failed him, his mother shifted uneasily and started to stir. So he talked on and on until his mother’s sleep deepened and his sisters left the room one by one.
Then at last he stopped talking and his mother didn’t wake. But he didn’t leave. Instead he shifted to watch her sleeping, seeing the signs of age on her face and the lines of strain that he’d never noticed before. The Stratys-Consort was growing older, but wasn’t yet so old that her mind could be forgiven for forgetting so much. For forgetting who she was.
Lyrai watched his mother sleep, remembering her as she was in his youth, when she laughed and smiled and danced with him, stealing precious moments away from his father’s jealous eye. She’d been happy then, sparkling with wit and mischief. Now her light was dimmed, but not yet faded completely.
The fire died down in the grate, leaving just a single lamp on the bedside table, but it was enough to see her when she opened her eyes and stared at him.
“Mama?” he whispered, voice aching from so much talking.
She stared through him, eyes glassy in the lantern glow. “My Lyrai is leaving me,” she said, her voice sounding old and thin. “I thought him lost, but he came back. He came back to Nimbys, but not to me. Never to me. My Lyrai didn’t come. I asked for him, but he didn’t come. He lives, my beautiful son, but is lost to me. I didn’t hold him close enough and now he flies away.” She closed her eyes again, a tear trailing down her cheek.
“I’m here, Mama,” Lyrai told her, taking her hand and squeezing it to draw her attention. “I’m here, I’ve come. You haven’t lost me.”
But she didn’t wake, just pulled his hand close to her chest and rolled onto her side, curling her knees up. Her lips moved soundlessly, but he couldn’t tell what she said. All he could do was hold her hand until she drifted back to sleep and finally let him go.
She might not have lost him, but as he sat there in the darkness, face wet with tears, he knew he had lost her. The mother he knew was gone. He should have come sooner. He should have put aside his petty grievances with his father. He should have ignored his foolish pride.
He should have come.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered to the darkness, too little and far too late. “I’m so sorry.”
* * *
THE NIGHT WAS old and the fire had died when rain woke Mhysra. She lay in the darkness of her overlarge bedroom, snug and warm in the centre of her bed and listened to the spring storm rattling against the windows. A sharp crackle made her jump and she frowned, staring across the room. Was that hail?
Another crackle, short and sharp, followed by a snick and a tap.
That wasn’t hail.
Pushing aside her covers, Mhysra crawled from the bed and placed her feet on the plush, warm carpet. It was tempting to stay there, wriggling her toes in the delicious wool, but another burst rattled the window and she hopped across the cold floor to throw open the curtains before something cracked.
Lyrai stood on the grass beneath her window, arm already drawn back to throw another fist of pebbles at the glass. When she pushed up the pane and leant over the sill, speechless to see him, he let the stones scatter back to the ground.
He didn’t say anything, just looked up at her, drenched from the rain, face pale in the gloom.
Without hesitation, she ran across her room, darting down the stairs, feet slapping softly over the marble of the hallway as she raced through her father’s study and unlocked the double doors.
Lyrai stood where she’d left him, still staring up at her empty window. Heedless of the rain or the wet grass, she ran out to meet him. When she took his hand, he stared at her with such sadness in his eyes that she didn’t bother to ask any questions. She simply tugged him back into the house with her.
Following like the meekest horsat, Lyrai allowed her to lead him through her father’s study and up the stairs to her bedroom. When she sat him down on the rug before the fire and turned to stir up the coals, his hands fell into his lap and his head followed her movements around the room.
“You’re frozen,” she grumbled, wrapping a blanket around his sodden shoulders. He wasn’t wearing a coat and his shirt was practically transparent. “You need a bath.” Worried about how cold he was, she turned to reach for the bell pull. Gossip be damned, she wouldn’t let him catch his death of a chill.
“No.” Lyrai grabbed her hand, stopping her from moving away from him. “I don’t.”
“You do,” she argued, crouching before him again and pushing his soaked hair away from his face. “You’re soaked through, Lyrai. You need to get warm and dry.”
He shook his head and pulled her closer. “I don’t need any of that.” He touched her face with icy fingers.
Her eyes met his, seeing the emptiness of his gaze beginning to thaw, and she touched her own fingers to his lips. “What do you need?”
“You,” he whispered, hand sliding to the back of her neck, pulling her forward as he lay down. “The only thing I need is you.”
Not knowing when, if ever, she would have this chance again, Mhysra met his lips with hers and followed him to the floor.
~ Next Chapter ~
Thanks for reading!