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One more Choice to go.
THERE WAS NO denying that Mherrin Wrentherin knew his miryhls. Every single one he led Taryn to was a prime specimen. They were also already taken, each and every one of them.
“Less flirting, more finding,” she ordered her almost-cousin, after the fifth miryhl he showed her already had a big green CHOSEN ribbon draped outside its enclosure.
Mherrin grimaced. “It’s still early, I thought -”
“It’s halfway through the afternoon, nitwit.” Mullia Wrentherin, Mherrin’s oldest sister and her mother’s second-in-command, passed them in the aisle. “Sorry about him, Highness. If I’d known he had you in his clutches, I’d have saved you a long time ago. Sadly, we’re a little thin on options now, but I’m sure there are still some good Choices you can make.”
Taryn tried not to show her disappointment as she politely declined the woman’s offer to show her the last dregs of the Wrentherin stock. They bred the best miryhls on the Overworld. Everyone with any sense who went to school in the East wanted a Wrentherin miryhl. Was it any wonder next to none of them were left?
Ah, well. She pulled herself together, abandoned Mherrin to his sister’s tongue-lashing and struck out on her own. It was, as Mullia had said, getting late. The sun still shone outside the temporary eyries, but it was fast sinking into the arms of the mountain. Most of the students had either made their Choice or given up for the day, taking their families with them. A few grizzled Riders continued to wander around, searching out replacements for lost or wounded partners, knowing better than to jump on the first bird they saw. The ordinary Nimbys citizens had depart long ago, meaning Taryn had far more space to move as she took another look around.
Most of the enclosures had jaunty green ribbons hanging on their ropes, the eagles inside either cosying up to their new Riders or dozing contentedly, happy to know they had been Chosen. The few that didn’t have ribbons were either too big for Taryn’s needs or looked a little too wild.
While she might have grown used to enormous, brave, incredible miryhls in the five years she had lived with her brother and Mhysra, Taryn knew herself too well to partner with anything too showy or impressive. She was a quiet person at heart, more of an observer than a doer; she didn’t want to draw attention to herself. Nor was she strong enough to pit herself constantly against a powerful personality. She also lacked the patience to deal with a half-tame creature, no matter how beautiful they were.
She wanted a simple, uncomplicated miryhl who would be a friend. She didn’t want theatrics and stunning tricks, she just wanted someone she could know and who would know her in return. She wanted someone to love.
Reaching the deepest end of the eyries, she turned and ran her eyes along the lines of penned miryhls and sighed. She had no idea what she was looking for, if she was honest, and she wasn’t certain she would recognise it even if she saw it.
Rubbing her head, she turned again to walk along another row.
A feather drifted across the empty walkway. As long as her forearm, it was pale cream in the centre, darkening rapidly through copper and bronze to chocolate at the edges. Taryn picked it up, stroking it across her palm, wondering at the softness.
A shuffling noise drew her attention to the left. A miryhl was preening beneath its wing, its feathers the same glorious mix of cream to chocolate. Great white scurfy flakes dropped away from the open wing, along with another two more feathers.
Taryn cleared her throat.
The miryhl froze. A wary dark eye appeared over the edge of the wing, the crown of its head a circle of pure white. They stared at each other for a long moment, then the miryhl snapped its wing shut and straightened up.
The ground around its perch was peppered with white, as though snow had fallen inside. The miryhl’s eyes darted to the feather in Taryn’s hand, then back to her face. It was the eagle’s turn to cough.
“I believe this is yours,” Taryn said, holding the feather out, although she didn’t quite know why. It wasn’t as if the miryhl could stick it back into its wing.
“K-keep it,” the eagle whispered. “C-can’t use it.”
“Old Pinny’s got plenty more where that came from,” the miryhl in the next enclosure snickered.
“And he’ll lose ‘em all before morning, mangy moulter,” the miryhl beyond agreed, the pair of them laughing smugly behind their ropes with their smart green ribbons.
Taryn darted her eyes downwards. No ribbons swung from this rope.
“No use keeping it. Those feathers are as common as muck round here,” the second miryhl remarked.
“Only fit for mouse bedding,” the first agreed, and they laughed some more.
The moulting miryhl – Pinny? – hunkered down on his perch, avoiding Taryn’s eye. “Just drop it,” he whispered. “It’s rubbish.”
Taryn’s hand fisted possessively around the feather, drawing it back against her chest. “I’ll keep it,” she announced, raising her chin at its haughtiest angle and raking a glare over the two miryhls. They oohed mockingly and laughed some more.
The moulting miryhl ducked his head, darting quick glances at her. Taryn couldn’t be certain, but she thought he was pleased that she’d accepted his gift, even if the others laughed about it.
“And I’ll keep you too,” she said firmly, stepping over the rope and approaching the miryhl with far more confidence than she felt. “I’m Princess Nataryn.” She placed a trembling hand on the eagle’s soft cheek. “Pleased to meet you.”
A loud gasp echoed around their corner of the eyries, “A princess! Pathetic Pinny gets a princess?”
But Taryn’s attention was locked on the eagle in front of her as he closed his dark eyes and pressed ever so lightly into her hand. “I’m P-Pinwheel,” he whispered. “Most c-call me P-Pinny.” “I won’t,” she promised, and hugged him close as he pressed his head against her heart.
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