Of whiskey and tantrums.
“YOU’VE DONE WHAT?” Amber liquid spewed across the cramped room as Hethanon Armsmaster Nehr diHentaron reacted to Orla’s announcement with less enthusiasm than she’d hoped. “What were your parents thinking, letting you chase clouds this way?”
Orla looked down at her stockings, sad to see that the plain white wool was now as badly stained as the boots she’d left in her almost-uncle’s kitchen, freshly scrubbed and being left to dry before the banked fire. At least this stain would smell of whisky and not… well. Other things.
“They should have sat you down and given you a much needed talk years ago. Ihrans aren’t Riders. We can’t be Riders. We can work alongside them, no harm there, but we aren’t part of them. The Riders aren’t for us.”
Orla gripped her hands in her lap and stared at the man whose short but fascinating letters had ignited a small fire in her childhood. One she’d thought long gone out for lack of kindling. Yet her parents had remembered the enthusiasm with which she’d once greeted each letter from her mother’s cousin’s husband’s brother, far away in distant Nimbys, and how she had once hung on every last word as it was read out by one relation or another. Adventures and tales about Rift Riders, students and kaz-naghkt. Hethanon had been an uninspiring writer, but even he couldn’t hide how exciting his life was – or how exciting the people in it were. And miryhls. Even he’d grown near-poetic when he wrote about miryhls.
“Why?” she dared to ask the man who had planted this seedling dream inside her head all those years ago and was so eager to rip it up by the roots now.
“Why what? Why should they have sat you down? To save you all this bother and fuss now. They shouldn’t have let you get hurt this way. They should have protected you.”
Orla tried to imagine her parents stamping out her dreams instead of doing everything possible to encourage them in her. With very little help from her.
She shook her head. “No. Why aren’t the Riders for us? Why shouldn’t we try to join? What’s so different about Ihrans?”
Hethanon stared at her, his mouth moving soundlessly for a long moment. He leant forward and reached for his whisky bottle, pouring himself a generous new glass. “We’re too short.”
Orla blinked. While it was true that Ihrans were far shorter than most on the Overworld, and preferred it that way since their mountains were cramped and overcrowded and didn’t offer much room for people to grow, she didn’t think that was good enough. “Miryhls come in many sizes,” she replied. “Or so Zephyr told me. She’s a miryhl,” she explained, before he could ask.
“I know who she is,” Hethanon grumbled, drinking his whisky. “Pesky interfering feather bag, just like the rest of them. Planting these ideas in good Ihrans brains, sending them off chasing clouds. I won’t have it.”
Orla raised her eyebrows. “Do you think Ihrans aren’t good enough for the Riders, uncle?” she asked, an unexpected insight blossoming in her brain. “Or do you think we’re too good for them?” In which case, why did this fool not come home and live in peaceful isolation with the rest of his xenophobic kin?
“No, no.” He waved a dismissive hand. “Neither, neither. I like the Riders, they’re good people. Mostly. I like Ihrans too. Mostly. But not together, never together. Isn’t done.”
“Just because it hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean it can’t be done now,” she pointed out calmly.
Hethanon stared at her again, sipping slowly at his whisky. “No one’s ever tried.”
“So no one ever should?”
He thought about it, drained his whisky and slammed his glass on the table. “Maegla’s bolts, no! You’re going to try,” he suddenly announced, and Orla guessed his quick turn around was more likely fuelled by too much drink than her persuasiveness. Still, she would take it. “My niece, the first Ihran Rift Rider. Ha! Heirayk witness that!” He grabbed her hand, pulling her to her feet and raising her arm in the air like she’d just won a boxing match. “I’ll train you. You’ll be the greatest Rider that ever there was.”
“Let’s not get too carried away,” Orla said, trying to mute his enthusiasm a little, hoping he wouldn’t remember most of this come the morning.
“No, no, let’s. If we do this, we do this right. First is well enough, but best is best.” He grinned and rubbed his hands together, looking her up and down with a critical and far too sober eye. “It’ll take work. You’re not scared of hard work are you?”
“Of course not, you’re Ihran!” He slapped her on the shoulder, ignoring her wince. “We’ll start in the morning.”
“Great,” she said weakly. “I can’t wait.”
Her uncle laughed and poured them both a glass of whisky. Despite her earlier refusal, Orla snatched hers up and drained it, coughing at the burn that felt like it had stripped the skin from her throat.
“To Ihra!” her uncle crowed.
Orla wheezed and wasn’t certain she’d make it to morning. Which might not be the worst thing in the world. She coughed and thumped her chest, finally able to breathe again, and wondered for the hundredth time if she’d made a mistake.
Too late. Hethanon was full of plans. There was no backing out now.
“Great,” she rasped again, and closed her eyes against her fate.
* * *
TARYN RECEIVED HER brother’s happy news with a certain amount of shock. “I thought you were waiting,” she said, glad that she was already sitting down.
“It’s been four years,” Lyrai said, amused.
Had it truly been that long? Taryn had lost count of time, moving from the monotonous dull days of the palace to the monotonous dull days of Silver Vale. She hadn’t paid attention to her brother’s marriage. She hadn’t paid attention to anything, except her own boredom and increasing need to escape.
Gods, that meant she was almost nineteen years old. Mighty gods, where had her life gone?
“There are doctors in Nimbys,” she pointed out, wrestling her mind back on track. Now that she knew Mhysra wasn’t dying of some terrible illness, she could think clearly again, and she still didn’t want her brother hovering over her shoulder.
Lyrai shook his head. “Not like Aquila. I won’t trust her to anyone but Morri.”
The fabled head-healer of Aquila. Taryn had no idea what was so special about the man, but since he hadn’t been able to save Mhysra’s hip, Lyrai’s arm, Derrain’s back or Hurricane’s wing, Taryn wondered why they all remained so loyal to the useless wretch.
“You’re not being fair,” she said, slapping her hand on the table.
Lyrai stared at her and this time the chill in his eyes was all for her. “Aquila is a big citadel. Our paths don’t have to cross, except during lessons. Fret not, Princess, neither my wife nor I will acknowledge you any more than we have to. We won’t give you away.”
Taryn hissed with frustration, on the one hand wanting nothing more than to ignore him for the rest of her days, at the same time wishing he was coming because he cared about her. Why didn’t he care about her? What was wrong with her?
“I don’t want you to teach me. You or Mhysra,” she stated, scrabbling for some sort of control over her emotions.
Lyrai smirked. “Good luck becoming a Rift Rider without flying lessons or learning how to take better care of your miryhl.”
She growled. Of course her wretched brother would have one of the most coveted teaching posts at the citadel. Of course her blasted sister-by-marriage would be involved with the miryhls. There was no way she could escape either of them.
She had no choice. She wouldn’t change his mind. She wouldn’t even bother trying to change Mhysra’s. The foolish woman was so in love with Taryn’s brother she would never go against him. Taryn was trapped. Either she accepted Lyrai’s presence at Aquila or she gave up on her plan altogether.
She could return to the Vale. It might be different now Lyrai and Mhysra were leaving.
No, it would definitely be different. It would be even more boring, with even less hope of escape. She might as well nail herself inside a barrel and roll off a cliff into the Cloud Sea.
Slamming her hands on the table, she stood up. “You always ruin everything!” Glaring at her brother, she stormed from the room, hating how he made her feel and act. She wasn’t a brat, she wasn’t a child, she wasn’t what he made her.
Running up the stairs, she crashed into her bedroom and slammed the door behind her, rummaging beneath her bed for a bag. It was foolish and childish and many other words ending in -ish, but she couldn’t stay in this house another moment. Not with him, not with any of them.
“I’m going to do this alone,” she vowed, stuffing clothing into her bag with little thought for what she was packing. “I will do this alone.” Adding her brand new student uniform to the top of the pile, she shoved it all into her bag and buckled the straps. Taking her sword – an eighteenth birthday present from the Kilpapan sisters – from where she’d hung it on the wall, she strapped it to her waist and left. Taking the backstairs, she let herself out of the quiet kitchens and slipped through the garden to the back gate. She didn’t know where she was going, she didn’t know where she would sleep, but it didn’t matter. As long as it wasn’t here, she didn’t care.
She didn’t care about anything. Or anyone.
“I will do this alone,” she vowed, and hunched her shoulders against the cold darkness as it began to snow.
~ Next Chapter ~
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