Just when I decide I hate this book too much to post anymore, Caelo and the miryhls remind me why I do still like it. Deep, deep down.
“WAKE UP! WAKE up, it’s a beautiful day!”
The tuneful carolling evoked mass-panic in the boys’ dormitory. Zett sat, fully dressed and highly amused, in the middle of his bed and watched the drama unfold. Several boys clutched blankets to their chests like scandalised dowagers, others tumbled to the floor in marvellous disarray, flashing bare skin as they hurried to pull on their clothes.
Until Fenret, the lad closest to the door wrestled himself into his shirt and raised his head above the protection of the mattress. His face scrunched with disgust. “Urgh, it’s only Caelo.”
Over the sounds of irritated grunts and relieved sighs came a pitiful wail as Jerred caught his foot in his breeches and toppled over sideways.
Standing poised in the doorway, delighted by the carnage she had unleashed, Caelo grinned. “Why, who did you think it was?”
“A proper girl,” was someone’s scornful reply.
Caelo looked down at herself. True, she was wearing one of her baggiest shirts, untucked over her uniform breeches, but there was still no denying the fine-boned features of her face, the fine flyaway red curls or the cheekiness of her grin as she cocked a hip and planted her hand on it, draping herself seductively over the door.
“Am I not a proper girl?” she purred, making the two boys nearest the door break into stammers and look away. Poor Fenret, with his pale North Point complexion inherited from his mother, flushed bright red and had to bury his face beneath his pillow as the other boys hooted with derision.
Caelo wrinkled her nose and jerked her head at Zett. Since the best fun was over and only the irritating teasing remained, he was all too happy to hop off the bed, grab his boots and coat and follow her.
“Lovely dress today, Zeze,” Loryt called as he passed. “It really shows off your ankles.”
Someone else wolf-whistled and the rest made other derogatorily approving noises.
Zett rolled his eyes and pulled on his coat, while Caelo raked a scathing glance over them all. “Are you twelve?” she growled. “You’re like a bunch of kids.”
“No, fair lady, we’re men!” Untak climbed on his bed and thumped his broad chest, until Yansan swiped his legs out from under him, dumping him on the pillows.
Zett had always liked Yansan.
More hooting followed, along with a few catcalls. Zett made a quick escape. While he stopped in the hall to pull on his boots, Caelo stared at the closed door with obvious disapproval.
“Are they always like that in the mornings?”
Zett snorted and stamped his heel into his boot. “And the evenings, and at midnight, and any other time of the day when they’re all together and there isn’t anyone they want to impress around.”
She grimaced. “I am so glad I sleep with the girls. Not that they don’t have their moments, but they’re more apt to act older than younger. Remind me of that next time I’m a boy.”
Zett eyed her curiously, but she grinned and looped her arm through his. “Come on, let’s grab breakfast before the slavering hordes descend.”
Despite not feeling particularly hungry, thanks to the nerves knotting his insides, Zett nevertheless nodded and followed her into the dining hall.
* * *
ORLA HESITATED OUTSIDE the open door of the temporary eyrie. There were people everywhere – new students, their families, Rift Riders, general gawkers. All of them were taller than she was, all of them looked like they belonged here. Even the children running to and fro with kites shaped like miryhls seemed to be bigger than Orla.
She couldn’t do this. She didn’t belong here.
“Nervous?” The thump of a hand on her shoulder almost made Orla jump out of her skin.
At least she didn’t shriek. Much.
“Sorry.” The hand lifted away with a warm laugh and Orla looked up, way, way up into the smiling face of Captain Derrain. She’d forgotten how tall he was, but not how kindly his dark brown eyes were. “I didn’t mean to make you jump. I remember how twitchy I was at my Choice. Care for some company?”
Orla blinked at him for a long moment, having almost forgotten that he too had been a Rider once. She’d met his miryhl; she liked Zephyr. Of course he had been through this himself.
She swallowed. “Yes, please.”
He smiled. “Come on then, there’s someone important I need to introduce you to.”
Having Captain Derrain with her made Orla feel a little better. She was still shorter than pretty much every other person present, but trailing in the big captain’s wake meant that no one bumped into her. He was a very useful fellow to have around as they entered the cool shadows of the temporary eyries.
It smelled strange inside, like dust and cool air combined with too much human. Orla wrinkled her nose and sneezed.
“Bless you,” someone muttered.
She glanced up through a gap in the crowd and caught the golden eye of a miryhl. The eagle winked. Orla almost tripped over her own feet.
“Steady.” Derrain’s sure hand caught her before she could fall.
She turned to thank him and saw him wince as he straightened. She’d forgotten about his back injury; it seemed he had too. “Thank you,” she said, wondering if she should apologise too. The captain’s strained smile suggested sympathy would not be welcome, so she kept it to herself.
“Good show. Well caught,” the chatty miryhl called, while Derrain saluted the bird and led her onwards.
“Too big for you,” he said, as if Orla needed an explanation for why they were leaving the bird behind.
Of course the miryhl was too big for her. All miryhls were too big for her. She’d known that in theory long before she’d entered this overgrown tent, but seeing the miryhls now, fenced off in their own little enclosures, towering above even the highest heads in the crowd, Orla realised one inescapable truth: miryhls were huge. And she was not.
No wonder no Ihran had tried to join the Rift Riders before. They’d all been far smarter than Orla currently felt.
“Ah, here we are,” Captain Derrain said, catching her shoulder before Orla could turn and run away. “I brought her along, just as promised.”
Unsure who he was talking to, Orla stumbled forwards as Derrain pulled on her shoulder and manoeuvred her in front of him. An older woman put her hands on her hips and looked Orla up and down. She was deeply tanned, weather-beaten and had scars on her hands and arms. A pile of silver-streaked black curls was piled haphazardly atop her head and her dark eyes were extremely shrewd as she took Orla’s measure and pursed her lips.
“You were right, Derry. We’ll need something special for this one.”
Derrain patted Orla on the shoulder and smiled. “I knew I could count on you, Mhylla.”
The older woman sniffed. “Of course you can. You know how much I love a challenge, especially when it comes to miryhls. Fortunately I have just the thing.” She looked down at Orla. “Do you talk?”
“Yes,” Orla replied, although she couldn’t think of anything else to add.
The woman smiled. “Good. You can go away now, Derry, your chick will be safe with me.”
“But I haven’t even introduced -” the captain started to protest, but was waved away.
“I know my name. I’m assuming you know yours.” She looked at Orla, who nodded. “Then we can introduce ourselves. Go round up Lyrai’s little sister, if you can. Mherrin was flirting with her last I saw and I’d hate her to crush his tender little heart.”
Derrain snorted. “I didn’t know he had one, tender or otherwise.”
“Oh, that fool lost his a long time ago, but that doesn’t stop him from getting hurt every now and then. Go on now, Derry, we’ve business to conduct here.” The woman shooed him away again and the captain went like a good little boy.
Orla was impressed. Much as she liked Captain Derrain, he could be annoyingly tenacious at times. Seeing him handled so adroitly made Orla wish she’d been taking notes.
“Excellent. Now that he’s gone, suppose you might give me a name? Mine’s Mhylla, should you feel the need to use it.”
“Orla,” Orla replied, since it seemed expected. “Not much of a chatterer, are you?” Mhylla chuckled, but she didn’t make it sound like a bad thing. “Not to worry, I’ve just the thing for you. Come along, there’s miryhls waiting.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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