I wish I had an eyrie to hide in.
“WHAT’S THE MATTER?”
Having been sitting alone in the eyries, listening to the miryhls chatter quietly while rain hammered down outside, Taryn startled at the question. She’d thought herself safely out of the way in the shadowy back corner, but she’d forgotten what gossips miryhls could be.
Narrowing her eyes at a particular silver-flecked bird, she glanced guiltily at the man in front of her. “Lieutenant. Can I help you?”
Lieutenant Dhori, part of Stirla’s flurry, a selection school training tutor and one of the famous Six, who flew into World’s End and saved the Overworld, raised an eyebrow. “I should probably be asking that of you, student. Are you lost? Do you need directions to the offices? Or have classes been cancelled for today and I simply wasn’t informed?”
She huffed at his sarcasm and hugged her knees against her chest. “It’s only languages. I can already speak most of those.”
He gabbled something swift and lyrical – and utterly incomprehensible to Taryn. When she didn’t reply, the lieutenant looked smug. “You can’t speak that one.”
“They don’t teach us that one,” Taryn grumbled.
“If you skip the lessons, how would you know?”
She glared at him. “Now I understand why everyone says your name the way they do.”
Dhori tilted his head. “I’m not sure I want to know what you mean.”
“I do.” The miryhl at his back, the tattle-tale one with the silver-washed wings, bobbed eagerly. “How do they say his name? Is it like this, Dho-RI!” He sounded furious.
Taryn smiled. “Sometimes, but usually it’s more of a whine, mixing affection and exasperation. The sort of tone you save for a beloved by irritatingly precocious child.”
The miryhl cackled like a chicken, while the lieutenant scowled. “The irritatingly precocious child in this situation would be you, student. What’s the matter?”
Taryn blinked, surprised that he cared enough to ask. Then again, he had once been her brother’s student and had travelled the world with Lyrai and Mhysra, all of them keeping each other safe through terrible dangers. The things Dhori and the others had been through didn’t bear thinking about. She often forgot they were heroes to the rest of the Overworld. To her they were mostly inconvenient annoyances.
“You know who I am, don’t you?”
Dhori’s smile was wry. “We have met, Highness, although you’ve obviously forgotten.”
No, she hadn’t, but she hadn’t expected him to remember her. Even retired to a backwater farm, Lyrai and Mhysra remained a compelling force. As did Taryn’s mother, especially when her mind was kind enough to let her retain something of who she once had been. Taryn had been surrounded by amazing people her entire life. It always surprised her that anyone could remember meeting her when they’d also been talking to them.
“Why haven’t you said anything?” she asked instead, fearing those silvery eyes saw far more than she was comfortable sharing.
“Would you like me to?” the lieutenant asked, sounding curious. “I thought you preferred being in disguise and that was why Stirla’s been ignoring you.”
That was fine, Taryn had been ignoring the captain too. It absolutely had not hurt her feelings to have him walk past her without the least bit of acknowledgement or to see him smile at Orla without seeming to notice Taryn at all.
“Or is it your age?” he wondered.
Taryn hadn’t even thought about that. The age limit for registration was eighteen. Taryn hadn’t exactly lied on her admission form, but she might have moved her birthday by about six months, just to make absolutely certain she wasn’t rejected. If no one could be bothered to check it that was hardly her fault. She’d already missed out half of her name, so what was a few missing months?
“I know you’re strictly older than the usual intake,” the lieutenant continued, just as Taryn was starting to panic, “but frankly the Riders are still short on numbers and have been relaxing the rules all over. They’ll take practically anyone these days.”
She stiffened, reminded of why she was sitting in the eyries and brooding in the first place. “Practically anyone indeed,” she said, her lips twisting with distaste at the thought of some of her fellow students becoming Riders. “You should have better standards.”
Dhori snorted softly. “A thought that has crossed more than a few minds, I assure you, but we’re not here to judge without evidence. Unless you know something.”
Silver eyes bore into her, but Taryn wasn’t about to share. No matter how much she disliked Henley and the way he treated Orla, she didn’t have any proof beyond mean-spirited behaviour. That was hardly enough to get him thrown out of the Riders, even if she wished it was. She shook her head.
“If you change your mind, I’m always happy to listen,” the lieutenant said, stroking the neck of his miryhl. “Even if it’s just a feeling, don’t be afraid to share. Better we sort out the bad apples now before they’re bonded to a miryhl and can do significant damage to more than just themselves. Being a Rider is a privilege. I won’t allow it to be abused.”
The miryhl closed his eyes blissfully as his Rider scratched him in precisely the right way.
Taryn hugged her knees, envying their closeness. She wouldn’t allow that right to be abused either. “I don’t know anything,” she said, after a long moment.
Dhori didn’t reply or look at her. Tickling his miryhl under the chin, the lieutenant kept his silver eyes on the eagle and waited, the epitome of patience.
The miryhl opened his eyes and winked at her. “Yes, he is always like this. Ow!”
“Loose feather.” Dhori held up the evidence, feigning innocence.
The miryhl shuffled his wings and stalked off in a huff.
Smiling, the lieutenant watched him go, then crouched in front of Taryn. “Tell me what you know.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know anything.”
“Tell me what you suspect then.” When she continued to hesitate, it was Dhori’s turn to sigh. “If you and your fellow students don’t share things with your officers, how are we ever supposed to make things right? We see you on your best behaviour – mostly. You see each other as you really are, so if you know – or suspect – something about one of your fellow students, and it has you worried enough to start skipping classes, I think you ought to share it with someone.”
Taryn chewed her lip, still uncertain.
“If not for you, or even for Orla, do it for the future miryhl he might otherwise be partnered with.”
Her jaw dropped. “You already know!”
“Ha!” his miryhl called across the eyries. “I told you he was always like this.”
“Button it, Latinym!” Dhori shouted back.
Taryn scowled. “If you already knew, why were you making me tell you? You almost turned me into a snitch!”
The lieutenant held up his hands defensively. “I don’t know anything, not for certain, but let’s just say you’re not the only one feeling uneasy and certain things have already been noted. Besides, Orla is your roommate. You might not be friends, but she’s probably the closest thing you have to one around here.”
Which was a pretty sad thought. “If you already know everything, I’m not telling you anything,” she retorted, feeling like she was five years old.
Dhori’s miryhl cackled, but the lieutenant only sighed. “Fine, don’t say anything. You’ve already confirmed as much as I needed. Don’t sit brooding in here all day, Taryn. The miryhls might not mind, but Stirla won’t be impressed if he finds out.”
“Are you going to tell him?” she challenged.
He snorted and waved a hand at the shadowy figures who’d been shamelessly eavesdropping on their conversation the entire time. “I won’t have to.”
“You really should go back to your lessons, Princess,” a big miryhl that she vaguely recognised as Stirla’s peered down at her from the perch directly above Taryn’s head.
“Princess?” The word whispered like a breeze through the eyries, passing from beak to gossiping beak. “We have a princess?”
Sighing, Taryn dropped her head back against the wall with a thud.
Dhori patted her knee sympathetically. “Never share secrets around miryhls, unless you want to share it with the Overworld.”
“Ha! You’re a fine one to talk, Dhoriaen Aure,” the big miryhl taunted.
Silver flashed as Latinym returned to back up his Rider. “There will be no more secret sharing today,” the slender miryhl announced.
Stirla’s big eagle cracked her beak, the sound loud in the sudden quiet. “Indeed,” she said, after a long pause. “Secrets stay secrets. No sharing, miryhls. We mean it.”
There were a few grumbles, but Latinym shuffled his wings and preened his Rider’s hair, seemingly content. “That should buy you a few more months,” he said, but whether he was talking to Dhori or her, Taryn couldn’t be sure.
“Thank you, old friend.” The lieutenant patted his miryhl on the wing, then offered Taryn a hand to help her up. “Come on, student, back to class.”
“What will you do about Henley?” she asked, accepting his help.
He gave her a blank look. “I’m afraid I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Dhooori,” Latinym sighed, in that familiar mix of affection and exasperation, and Taryn smiled.
“What?” The lieutenant was all innocence. “She didn’t tell me anything, so I’m returning the favour and not telling her anything. You know how the information exchange works, Latinym, and besides, you and Atyrn decreed there would be no more secrets shared today.” Taryn met the eagle’s frustrated eye and shook her head. “I don’t want to know,” she declared, and took the easy option by escaping back to class.
~ Next Chapter ~
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