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~ Previous Chapter ~
Sorry this is late! I have no excuse, I was just flat yesterday.
I shall make it up with Mouse! (All hugs for him are gratefully accepted.)
The Narrow Valley
“IS THIS A good idea?” Silveo asked nervously as Mouse picked up a saddle and walked towards the cluster of miryhls.
No, Mouse thought, it was a terrible idea. But they didn’t have any choice. “It will be fine,” he said, smiling at Jupi as he placed the saddle on her back and bent to cinch the girths. The solid female miryhl eyed his preparations watchfully and gave an approving nod. Onyx watched the proceedings with a jealous eye.
Somewhere hidden in the winding caverns where water seeped through the rocks, Nightriver chuckled, the sound echoing strangely inside Mouse’s head. We could stay here. I like it here.
Mouse rather liked these caves too, but without dragon or miryhl assistance, the place was inaccessible to humans. Not necessarily a bad thing, but impractical when it came to caring for the whole of Buteo as the only healer in residence. There was also the persistent threat of Mercata and her small band of ferals, the ones who hadn’t taken well to being left after the fall of Aquila, or who had turned their backs on humanity after their bond broke with their Rider. Just because a Rider bond was sanctioned by a goddess, didn’t mean all were equal or even enjoyable. Some Riders and miryhls loved each other, some felt nothing – others felt loathing.
It seemed unfathomable to Mouse how any Rider could mistreat the incredible eagle that enabled them to fly and literally carried their life on their wings every time they left the ground, but some people were abusive bastards and didn’t seem to care as long as they could crush the spirits of all who were close to them. Some were just stupid. Not all miryhls were perfect either; a few of them could be nasty bastards too. Like Mercata. Mouse couldn’t decide whether it was fortunate that she and Willym had found each other – and thus saved a different Rider and miryhl from suffering from either of them – or if their combined malice had made them collectively worse. Mostly he preferred not to think about it, because thinking about Willym never brought up anything good.
Even now he could feel his palms beginning to sweat as he pulled the bridle over Jupi’s head. Wiping his hands on his breeches, he fastened the buckles and stepped back. “Good?” he asked.
The miryhl opened her beak a few times and tilted her head from side to side. “Feels good,” she agreed, fluffing up her feathers. “Is he ready?”
Mouse turned to Silveo and raised his eyebrows. His tall friend had been watching the proceedings with his arms folded over his chest, a pensive frown on his face. At Jupi’s question his lips twisted doubtfully, but in the end he shrugged.
“He says so,” a gloomy answer, “but then he would.”
Of course Greig would say he was ready, the poor lad had been forced to lie flat on his face for a quarter moon, allowing his stitches time to heal. After that, he’d still been restricted to not moving too much or too fast, permitted to sit up only for short periods of time before being forced flat again. Luckily for Mouse, Haelle had been tenacious in monitoring all of Greig’s movements and making sure he rested when he needed to. Even better, Greig didn’t argue with her. He grumbled sometimes and pulled plenty of faces, but when Haelle fixed him with a stern look he lay back down every time, meek and quiet as a lamb. Mouse wished all his patients were so easy to wrangle.
“Let’s go, let’s go,” Jupi chanted, her excitement getting the better of her as she hopped lightly in place. Unlike Greig, she hadn’t been as easy to keep in line during her Rider’s illness. Once the initial fever had passed and there were no longer so many herbs to be fetched for lotions and potions, she’d started giving advice on the patient’s care and often stuck her beak – literally – in where it was neither wanted nor needed.
Mouse blamed Nightriver. No one else had ever suggested teaching miryhls to heal before. While most of the miryhls had seemed interested in the idea, some – like Jupi – had decided that just the idea of teaching them how to heal already made them an expert. Even without a single lesson under her wing, she’d declared herself a healer and argued over everything Mouse tried to do for her Rider, until he explained its reason and purpose to her in full. Which was then passed on to the other miryhls and discussed before coming back to him with permission or a denial.
It was infuriating. Even more so because Nightriver found the situation amusing and liked to encourage Jupi wherever possible. He also made things worse by giving little lessons here and there, but always made them short and incomplete for some unfathomable reason, leaving Mouse facing a panel of self-proclaimed experts trying to apply treatments for coughs, colds, worms and head lice to healing an infected wound.
When he considered everything altogether like that, Mouse realised Jupi wasn’t the only one who couldn’t wait to get out of this cave. He liked the place, he even liked the miryhls most of the time, but he was ready to have more space to retreat to, not to mention a lot more people around to keep the bored miryhls busy.
So even though he was worried about tearing Greig’s stitches, or his friend being unable to stay in the saddle because of bad weather, rock slides or Mercata attacks, Mouse nevertheless followed Silveo back across the cavern to the healing space.
The last of the sick miryhls was well enough to leave the cave now, following Imaino’s request and Thunder’s decision to move them all to Buteo. Arrou was only the second eagle Mouse had been able to save out of the five injured ones he’d found on arrival. Pyera had been easy to treat, a combination of wing mites and allergies to local vegetation having made her weak and unable to fly. Arrou had been trickier, with battle scars on his chest, neck and wings that had taken time to clean, dress and heal. He’d been lucky and had only been hurt a few days before Mouse arrived. The wounds and fevers in the other three had been too advanced for him to overcome, and with each death he’d feared the miryhls would cast him and his friends out, refusing to help them any further.
Instead they’d grieved with him, appreciating his attempts to try and save their friends rather than blaming him for things that were out of his control. Even Thunder had given him a sorrowful nuzzle after the third miryhl, Harranos, had succumbed to a series of deep punctures in the back. Gods, Mouse had tried so hard to save him, save them all, but he had failed. Even the fact that he’d managed to save Arrou and Pyera didn’t quite make up for the losses in his heart.
He missed Nehtl. He needed the old healer here, not just for his advice and knowledge, but for his comfort and wisdom. He would have known exactly what Mouse was feeling – and also exactly what to say to make him feel better.
But he was gone and Mouse was all any of them had left. He might not have Nehtl’s wisdom or a fraction of his knowledge, but he was certain his mentor wouldn’t want him to give up. Nehtl would have told him to keep going, to work harder, to push on, because without Mouse they had nothing.
Well, actually, they had Nightriver. Which was fine with the miryhls, but not so good with the majority of the humans who still wouldn’t go near the dragon.
All of which meant Mouse was exactly where he needed to be, even on the days when he felt like a failure. Better to try and fail than never try at all and lose it all anyway. Nehtl would have put it more eloquently, no doubt, but Mouse knew it was a message of which the older man would have approved.
He would also have approved of getting out of this cave, no matter how cosy, and returning to the bulk of both humans and miryhls who now called Buteo home. With his final two patients both mobile – mostly – he no longer had any excuse to linger here. It was time to move on.
“Is it time?” Greig asked, bright-eyed as he lay on his front, leaning on his elbows to raise his head and chest from the ground. The healer in Mouse disapproved of the way this compressed Greig’s lower back, but the fellow young man in him sympathised with the need to sit up and move.
He nodded. “It’s time.
~ Next Chapter ~
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