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Time for a little help (and hindrance) from old friends.
TARYN HAD MET Mherrin Wrentherin and the rest of the clan on several occasions, since they were cousins to the Kilpapan ladies. There had been a time when he’d been a very romantic figure in her life, as a wounded pyreflyer struggling to recover from a terrible burn on his shoulder, neck and lower cheek. He’d come to stay at Silver Vale for a while, recuperating from his injuries, escaping the clutches of his well-meaning but overbearing family. Taryn had hung on his stories, dreaming impossible dreams, planning to run away with him when he left.
Except, one, he’d never asked her, and two, she didn’t even like pyreflies. It had been a short autumn and an even shorter infatuation. Mherrin had swiftly recovered, by which time Taryn had already rethought all of her plans. Besides if there had ever been an Imercian princess in Mherrin’s sights, it had been Hylena. Except Hylena had only had eyes for her baby miryhls at the time and hadn’t noticed Mherrin much at all.
Taryn could look back at it now and laugh, able to bat aside Mherrin’s flirtation with a roll of her eyes, but for a very short and intense half-moon he had been her world. Thankfully they had all recovered from that autumnal madness. Mherrin was looking particularly well, burns and all. In fact he’d cut his long curls ruthlessly short, the better to show off his dashing scars.
“I don’t suppose you hear much news from home nowadays,” her charming companion asked, in a less than subtle dig for information.
“Not a word,” Taryn lied cheerfully, despite the letter she’d picked up from the front hall of Kilpapan House that very morning. Enamoured with her baby miryhls or not, Hylena never failed to send letters every quarter-moon. Sometimes Taryn even remembered to write back. Still, Mherrin didn’t need to hear about how her mother was enjoying the blooming lilacs or how yet another young lordling had temporarily taken up residence at the nearest inn, trying to hook himself a country princess. Hylena found their attempted courtships sweetly amusing; Taryn suspected Mherrin would not.
“Shame. I did enjoy my stay at the Vale. I always think back on it with the greatest affection.” The faraway look in his eyes suggested the dashing pyreflier was being serious for once, although sadly it was the wrong princess who remembered that time with equal fondness.
Grateful that she’d outgrown her infatuation with only the smallest twinge of pain, Taryn patted him consolingly on the arm and changed the subject. “So… miryhls?” she prompted, since she hadn’t come here today to catch up with him. Especially when she’d seen him only the night before around the Kilpapan dinner table.
He stared blankly at her for a moment, then broke into a rather unnerving smile. “Yes, miryhls!” he agreed, as if they weren’t absolutely surrounded by the creatures. “I have the perfect Choice picked out for you. Only the best for Mhysra’s little almost-sister.”
Taryn raised an eyebrow, uncertain whether that was a good thing or not. “You’d best show me,” she said neutrally instead.
Mherrin chuckled and rubbed his hands together. “Right this way, Princess. You’re in for a royal surprise.”
* * *
VHEN HAD A headache. From the way Keiva, Tenzi and Guro stood clustered around him, they weren’t feeling too brilliant either. It was too much. People everywhere, miryhls everywhere, dust everywhere. It was overwhelming. The noise, the sounds, the press of bodies. He’d grown up in one of the greatest cities in the Overworld and spent the last seven months in one of the busiest, but he’d grown used to the quieter pace of the selection school, trotting through Zvenera’s streets either too early or too late to meet the crowds. This wasn’t a crowd, it was a scrum, and Vhen wasn’t quite sure how to handle it.
“We need to get to a wall,” Guro shouted over the hubbub.
Keiva nodded and took hold of Vhen’s arm. Tenzi grabbed his other side and Vhen realised that as the tallest of their group, he was somehow responsible for leading the way. He scanned the crowds, searching for Rhiddyl, wondering where she’d gone. No one had seen her since yesterday, when the Rider captain had swept them all off the skyship and into the city.
Somewhere during the walk from the docks to their campsite on the flying field, Rhiddyl had been separated out. Since she and the captain had seemed to know each other, Vhen tried not to feel too worried. She was a dragon, after all, she could hardly pick a miryhl in the same way as everyone else. Would she even have a miryhl? He hadn’t considered it before and now probably wasn’t the time, but he missed her and wished she was here to help steer them through this moment.
Towing his friends to the safety of a wall, Vhen felt like collapsing with relief. Fortunately, a tall Rider with silver-tipped hair and lieutenant bars on his shoulder appeared out of the flow of humanity and smiled at them.
“You’re looking a little lost. Can I help, students?”
“Oh, sir!” Tenzi practically hugged the man. “Oh, please. Help us!”
Vhen’s lips twitched at her dramatics, Guro snorted and Keiva rolled her eyes. Thankfully, the Rider didn’t run screaming into the shadows. Instead he patted Tenzi’s hand, detached it from his arm and smiled again.
“You came from the Storm Peaks, didn’t you?”
The four friends nodded.
“Friends of Rhiddyl, by any chance?”
Vhen exchanged glances with his friends; their nods were a little more hesitant this time.
The lieutenant chuckled. “She asked me to look out for you and, after her descriptions of you all, I know just the miryhls. Come along.”
* * *
“THIS IS THE one. This one right here. I won’t hear anything other than a yes from you right now. I know this is the bird for you. Tell me this is the bird for you.”
Zett rubbed his head as Caelo pulled him to a stop in front of yet another huge, impressive and thoroughly intimidating miryhl. This one was at least nine feet tall, so dark as to be almost black, with little white flecks all down its chest. Dark eyes bored into Zett’s as the eagle tilted its head one way and then the other.
“No.” Zett backed quickly away. “I don’t think so.”
Caelo growled softly. “Well, you have to Choose someone,” she told him, her temper clearly fraying.
“Not that one,” he told her firmly. He might not know what sort of miryhl he was going to Choose, but he was fast becoming an expert on the ones he wouldn’t.
“Perhaps not, although it would help immeasurably if you wouldn’t approach each one like a panicked rabbit.”
He eyed her coolly over his shoulder. “It would also help immeasurably if you didn’t walk up to each one insisting they’re the bird for me. I don’t think they like it much.”
The miryhl they were walking past snorted in agreement.
Caelo stuck her tongue out at it and skipped to catch up with him again, taking his arm. “Fine. I won’t say anything this time. You pick one to take a closer look at and I won’t say a single – Not that one!” She steered him strongly away from the smallish eagle he’d been about to approach. Unlike the miryhls she kept pushing him towards, this one wasn’t a giant, nor as broad as a barn. It was slender and looked fast, although now that Caelo was marching them swiftly past it, Zett didn’t like the narrow-eyed way it was watching him.
Probably best avoided, after all.
“All right, all right, new plan, Cae, new plan,” Caelo muttered to herself, absently tapping her fingers up and down his bicep. “Not the biggest ones, not the meanest ones either. Something in between.” She pulled him to a stop in the centre of the Kaskad eyries, which had been vacated by the Rider miryhls for the day, allowing the students and new flock to look each other over. “There has to be someone in here good enough for you.”
A quiet sneeze drew Zett’s attention. It was barely more than a squeaky puff of air, but it came from the miryhl directly behind them, partitioned into a small enclosure that was unfortunate enough to have absolutely no light shining on it at all. He peered through the shadows, trying to get the measure of the eagle.
Caelo stood on tiptoes, trying to see into the furthest reaches of the eyries, still muttering to herself. Zett slid his arm away from hers unnoticed and ambled up to the shadowed miryhl.
Slender and skinny, the eagle blended in exceedingly well with the shadows, hunched up as it was towards the rear of its enclosure. Almost all the other eagles were standing proud on the perches in the middle of their pens, but not this one. This one huddled in the corner, head down, sniffling. It looked as miserable as Zett felt.
“Are you all right?” he asked, not feeling intimidated for the first time in a miryhl’s presence.
A pale-rimmed eye rolled in his direction. Another whisper-sneeze disturbed the air and the miryhl shivered. “No,” it told him in a voice that was stuffed full of congestion. “I am not.”
“I didn’t know miryhls could catch colds,” Zett said, stepping over the rope and into the enclosure, approaching the eagle carefully.
“Now you do,” it told him, sounding weary and exasperated. “Do go away, please. I prefer to wallow in peace.”
Zett smiled. “I know the feeling, but wouldn’t you rather be outside? The sun is shining.”
The miryhl’s wings trembled, feathers all aquiver, and it sneezed again. “Can’t. Got to stay here. Might be Chosen.” It tried to snort at this unlikely occurrence, but ended up sneezing several times instead. “Gah. Wretched place. Where do all these drafts come from?”
“This is Kaskad.” Zett shrugged.
“Base of a Thousand Breezes?” the eagle drawled, a touch of amusement in its otherwise stuffed-up voice.
Zett’s heart squeezed.
“That was a joke,” the miryhl said, somewhat irritably. “If you won’t leave me alone, the least you could do is laugh.” Turning its head towards him, it revealed a long white swirl that swooped across the right side of its dark face and down its neck to the arch of its wing.
He fell immediately and irrevocably in love. “You’re beautiful.”
“Eh?” The eagle sneezed again. “Either you’re cracked or I’m feverish.” The bird mulled the thought over for a moment. “Possibly both.”
Stumbling forward, Zett reached out a hesitant hand, pausing just before he made contact. “It might be both,” he agreed. “But you’re still beautiful.”
“Oh.” The feathers on the miryhl’s face all puffed up. It was hard to tell in the gloom, but he thought the eagle was surprised and perhaps a little pleased. “Well.” The miryhl dipped its head and nuzzled its beak into his hand. “That’s very sweet of you to say. Especially when I’m not at my -” It sneezed. “Best and stuck over here in the -” Another sneeze. “Dark.”
“There you are, Zeze! I’ve found it. I’ve found the perfect miryhl for you.” “So have I,” Zett replied, stroking his hand over a beautifully smooth beak that was dark on one side, pale on the other. He stared into the eyes of the miryhl – his miryhl – and smiled. “So have I.”
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