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Moving day! Including a lesser-spotted Zett.
(Oh, and Happy New Year, everyone.)
ZETT LOOKED AROUND his temporary new home and sighed. It wasn’t the narrow bed, the drafty walls or lack of comfort he minded, but the prospect of sharing his private space with at least nine other boys did not fill him with joy.
“It’s not much, I know, but we should count ourselves lucky. At least we’ve got somewhere to sleep at night. The other selection school students have to make shift for themselves, since they’re in cities and all. Can’t do that at Kaskad, unless they want us to sleep on the rocks.”
Zett summoned up a smile for his fellow selection school student and chatty guide, Maressa. She’d kindly taken him under her wing the moment the princess had shooed him out of the Rider captain’s office.
“You’re doubly lucky, if you don’t mind me saying, since you’ve been let in despite being late and all. Admission closed three days ago, yet here you are.”
Here he was. Zett tightened his hands around the top strap of his pack, wondering if it was too late to run after the princess and beg her to take him home.
“I like your coat.”
The short sentence caught him off guard. In the short time he’d known her, he’d grown used to Maressa’s never-ending stream of chatter and learnt to let it wash over him. It was comforting, like sleeping next to a stream. Except now she’d stopped talking and Zett realised he needed to reply.
“Thank you?” He didn’t mean to sound doubtful, but he wasn’t used to people complimenting his clothing. Especially not this coat, which was rather old and worn now. Still, it was one of his favourites. The upper half tightly hugged his torso, while the long skirts flared out when he walked. His coat-dress, his mother always called it, and Zett liked to agree.
“You look like you mean business in that.” Maressa grinned approvingly and Zett smiled somewhat shyly back. “If you put a slit up the back it’d make a grand flying coat. You should come meet the miryhls. Word is the Riders used to be a bit stuffy about who they let in their eyries, but these days they don’t mind so much. The miryhls know how to keep us all in line, and now that they’ve broken tradition and talk to anyone they like they’re more than happy to tell us off if we do something wrong. Coming?”
Zett looked around the empty room, with its ten beds lined up in two rows of five, cramped, awkward and chilly with a draft. Knowing he’d face a challenge later when he finally met his roommates, he nevertheless shut his pack in the cupboard and nodded at his guide.
It might be cowardly to retreat, but he was curious about meeting some miryhls. He’d heard the legends, of course, but Rift Riders weren’t welcome in Misthome and Princess Neryth kept her own miryhls well protected from gawpers. Zett had never seen one up close and since he’d just signed up to join the Riders it was probably time he did.
“Lead on,” he said, and Maressa clapped her hands.
“We’re going to have such fun! Just you wait and see. I can’t wait for training to start.”
* * *
ORLA STOOD OUTSIDE Kilpapan House and hesitated. There was nothing about this particular mansion to tell her it was any different from the others on the row. Tall, broad, imposing, it dominated its position on the mountain and glared out over the city below. Pale stone framed each of its many windows, while shadows and curtains obscured what lay inside.
She’d followed her uncle’s instructions, which he’d issued in a hurry on his way to Rider training that morning, but she still wasn’t sure she had the right house. There was a fancy crest set in the capstone above the door, but she didn’t know what it meant. All the other houses had them too, but she could no more decipher their meanings than she could a book of draconic runes.
She would just have to knock and see. Nodding to herself, building her courage, she climbed the stone steps, took a deep breath and reached for the knocker. It was a stretch, but rising on her toes carried her the distance.
The sound echoed on the empty street and in the hallway beyond the door. Orla sank back on her heels and waited.
A lock clunked, the handle turned and the grand black door swung open, revealing a round-hipped woman in a smart uniform. Pale green eyes looked her up and down. “Yes?”
“Er…” Orla clasped her hands to stop them from shaking and tried to swallow her nerves. “Is… is the captain in?”
The butler pursed her lips. “Who is enquiring?”
“Oh, um, I’m Orla, Orla diGeorlanan. I’m a Rider student. I came on the Miryhl Heart.”
The butler titled her head and stepped back. “If you would kindly wait in the hall, miss, I shall ascertain if the captain is at home.”
Blinking at the woman’s strange accent, Orla scrambled up the steps as the door swung wide to admit her. She stepped across the threshold and gulped, looking around the impressive entrance hall. It wasn’t overly vast or palatial, but it was tasteful and expensive, with an exquisite marble floor and a pair of classical vases taller than Orla, painted in the ancient Sutheralli style, gilded with gold.
“Wait here,” the butler ordered, losing some of the crisp polish on her accent as she pointed Orla to one of the chairs lined discreetly against the wall. Orla sat, watching the woman head purposefully up the stairs and into the depths of the house.
It was very quiet. A door clicked somewhere in the distance but not a voice, not a murmur, nor even a whisper could be heard. No footsteps. Nothing.
Orla clasped her hands in her lap and tried not to swing her feet like a child, even though the chair was too high for her and her toes couldn’t reach the floor.
Another door clicked shut and footsteps approached, fast and firm. Not the butler.
She looked up, surprised to see the eye-patch wearing Rider captain come swiftly down the stairs. “Student Orla,” he greeted. “What a pleasant surprise.”
Orla blinked and stood up. “Good morning, sir. I’m sorry, I think there’s been a mistake.”
“Probably.” Captain Stirla shrugged. “They tend to happen a lot around here when we’re all in residence. Who did you expect to see?”
“The captain,” she said, and nearly smacked herself on the forehead. “Captain Kilpapan – Captain Derrain, I mean. I thought this was Kilpapan House.”
“It is Kilpapan House and technically both I and Derrain are Captain Kilpapan. It’s a common enough mistake, especially when you introduced yourself as a student.” His smile took the edge off Orla’s mingled embarrassment and annoyance. “I’m afraid Derry isn’t here at the moment, but perhaps I can help? Did you find your uncle?”
Orla nodded, trying to keep on top of the conversation, despite the unexpected twists. “I did, thank you, and I hope so, sir. You see, my uncle’s home is small and isn’t really big enough for me to say with him. Captain Derrain said I’d be welcome here, if I had no other option. He said something about the mews.” She added the last because she didn’t want to appear too presumptuous, not that she would ever be invited to stay in a house this grand. It was all a bit much for her.
“Of course you can stay,” the captain assured her. “We’ve plenty of room to spare, no need for the mews. Come along and let’s get you settled in.”
“Oh!” She hadn’t expected such enthusiasm – or such speed. “That’s very kind of you, sir, but you see, there’s something else.”
The man paused with his foot on the first stair and turned back to face her, eyebrow rising. “Indeed?”
“I have a – a friend,” she blurted, unsure how else to describe Taryn. “Another student. She needs a place to stay too.”
“I see.” Captain Stirla took his foot off the stair and set off along the hall instead. “Perhaps the mews would be better for you both then. Come, tell me about this friend of yours and we’ll see what can be done.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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