Back on the Miryhl Heart.
AFTER A MONTH and a half aboard the Miryhl Heart, Orla was beginning to adjust. She no longer tripped up the stairs trying to extend her stride on the slightly too high steps. She had accepted the book that was placed on the bench in the mess to boost her to a more comfortable height at the table. She’d learnt how to move with the motion of the ship so that she no longer bounced her way down the corridors while walking, and she no longer felt quite so vulnerable about being the shortest person on the ship.
It helped that the sailors treated her well. She hadn’t made any friends as such, since everyone was always so busy and Orla was a paying passenger, but they neither treated her like a child nor a pest, sharing kind words and answering any questions she gathered the courage to ask.
Taryn was a different story, since the girl tended to ignore Orla whenever their paths crossed – which was thankfully seldom – and always pretended to be asleep whenever Orla and she were in their cabin at the same time. Her behaviour was rather sad, to Orla’s eyes, but she wasn’t one to force her company where it wasn’t wanted. Fortunately Taryn was kept busy with chores all over the ship, so it was rare they ever came into contact. Orla was careful to ensure it rarely happened by accident either.
Orla was quiet by nature and was used to keeping her own company, even in the midst of a crowd. At home she had been a rare only child in the midst of big families, so while she had cousins, aunts and uncles to spare, she’d also always been slightly apart from them all. Which had suited her fine and continued to suit her well. She wasn’t lonely on the Miryhl Heart, although the occasional conversation was nice.
Thank Maegla for Zephyr. The captain’s miryhl wasn’t strictly crew either and, although was a welcome part of the ship’s family, there were few chores for her to take part in. When not amusing herself by flying sentry across the wide expanse of Cloud Sea, the great eagle could often be found on the top deck, dozing in the winter sunshine or preening her captain. During inclement weather she preferred the small eyrie that had been built under the navigation deck, alongside the captain’s cabin. No matter her location, she always welcomed Orla’s company and was more than happy to share stories of her life in the Rift Riders.
“There is very little that can compare to the anticipation and anxiety of the Choice,” Zephyr explained one dull morning inside her eyrie, while sleet lashed the ship and Orla huddled close to the brazier that had been lit for the miryhl’s comfort. “All our lives, we miryhls are told about the great future that awaits us in the Riders. We’re raised and trained with that single goal in mind, so you can imagine our excitement as the day approaches.”
“But it is not your choice, is it?” Orla said, rubbing her hands and holding them towards the glowing coals in the metal cage bolted to the eyrie floor.
Zephyr sighed. “No, sadly, it is not. Although I daresay if a miryhl kicked up enough fuss over being chosen by a particular human, someone would step in to rectify things.” The eagle scratched her head, releasing a shower of dust. “I can’t imagine that ever happening, though. We’re so worried about not being chosen at all that any choice seems like a relief.”
Orla hugged her knees against her chest, shivering with nerves as much as the cold. “I would not be surprised if I was the first to be rejected.”
Zephyr cocked her head and levelled a stern gaze upon her. “Nonsense. If you had known some of the Riders I have had the misfortune to meet, you would not say such things. You’re hardly monstrous, and certainly don’t appear so on first or further acquaintance. A miryhl would be fortunate indeed to be chosen by you.”
Heat that had little to do with the brazier warmed Orla’s cheeks. “But I am not like other Riders. I will be the first Ihran. It will be a shock.”
“Hardly,” Zephyr scoffed. “Your people might not be known for spreading out across the Overworld, as so many other humans do, but you are hardly alone in leaving your country. We have several Ihrans in the Riders already and they are very well liked.”
“But not as Riders,” Orla pointed out.
“Semantics,” Zephyr said dismissively, making Orla frown.
It hardly mattered what Zephyr chose to call the other Ihrans who worked with the Rift Riders, but it did matter that they had never actually been Rift Riders. They had never flown on miryhls. Which, since they were discussing the Choice and Orla’s possible rejection by some as-yet-unknown eagle, was a very important point.
“I am not built as most Riders are,” Orla tried again.
Zephyr eyed her up and down and crackled her beak. “You are small, that is true, but I have met other small Riders. Not Ihrans,” the miryhl continued hurriedly, when Orla opened her mouth to protest again, “but slight of stature nonetheless. Miryhls come in many sizes too. They are not all as big as me. We just have to find a suitable male for you.
“Males tend to be smaller,” the eagle explained. “Not always. There are large males and smaller females too, but on the whole, we tend to be bigger.” Zephyr puffed out her chest proudly. “And few are as big as me. My Derry needed my size to match his own. We are a perfect partnership.”
Yet Orla had never seen the captain fly. “Even now?” she dared to ask, because although she was quiet, her parents had raised her to be straightforward and Zephyr never seemed to mind her curious questions. She didn’t know precisely what injuries the captain had sustained to make him leave the Riders. He didn’t have any missing limbs, like many of the crew, nor was he missing an eye or covered in scars. The only hint that all was not well with the man was an occasional stiffness in his gait, particularly in the morning or when he climbed the stairs from the main deck to the raised rear one.
Zephyr hesitated, then puffed out her chest proudly once more. “Now more than ever,” she stated firmly. “My Derry might fly on a ship instead of my back, but we still share the sky, and there is no more perfect scout or messenger for him, nor companion for me. Our bond is as strong as any other Rider pairing on the Overworld.”
Orla didn’t know nearly enough about the Riders to contest that, nor did she want to. Even though the captain and Zephyr no longer flew together, there was no denying their closeness. At least twice a day, whatever the weather, Zephyr could be found on the upper decks somewhere, close enough to the captain to preen his short hair. In turn the captain could often be found running his fingers through his miryhl’s feathers or rubbing oil into her shining beak. Orla couldn’t imagine ever being as close to her own miryhl. She couldn’t imagine having a miryhl at all.
“You’ll see when the Choice comes,” Zephyr said soothingly, as if she could somehow read Orla’s tangled thoughts. “Everything will make sense then.”
Except the Choice was still over seven months away and a lot could happen between now and then. Orla hadn’t even signed up for the Riders yet; they needed to reach Nimbys first.
“All will be well,” the miryhl said, her voice gentle but decided. “The Riders will be thrilled to have you.”
Orla thought about Taryn’s treatment of her and wasn’t so sure. It was all very well befriending a miryhl, but if she couldn’t get along with non-Ihran people her own age what hope had she for succeeding in the Riders? Still, Zephyr meant well, so she reached out and patted the miryhl’s wing, marvelling afresh at how comfortable she felt around this huge, amazing creature.
“All will be well,” she echoed, and wished she could believe it.
~ Next Chapter ~
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