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As with other types of people, miryhls come in all shapes, sizes and personalities – unfortunately for Rhiddyl.
MHYLLA WRENTHERIN WAS exactly what Rhiddyl expected, and yet utterly nothing like it. During her previous visit to Nimbys and her travels with the Rift Riders, she had grown to know both Mhysra and her mother the countess well. Mhylla much more closely resembled her niece than her sister, being tall and weathered, with a great cloud of black curls. Her brown skin was a little darker than Mhysra’s and her eyes were dark too. Their shrewdness was much more akin to the countess than the young woman Rhiddyl had known. They looked her over for a long, worrisome moment and Rhiddyl felt every last one of the imperfections that marked her out as not quite human.
“Am I right in thinking you don’t weigh as much as a human your size would?”
As opening comments went, Rhiddyl had to give her points for originality. She blinked, taken utterly by surprise. “Uh…”
“Yes.” Fortunately Dhori was there to assist, since Stirla was busy elsewhere doing captainy things. Or, since it was already dark, perhaps he was at home enjoying dinner with his wife. “Dragon bones are different to human ones. Lighter but stronger, hollow like a bird.”
Not quite, Rhiddyl thought, but didn’t feel like giving an anatomy lesson. It was a close enough comparison for now. Especially as she didn’t have any examples to illustrate her point with. None that weren’t currently in use anyway.
Mhylla nodded. “I suspected as much. That should work nicely. Come with me.” She turned and marched into the main eyries, bypassing the temporary structure where all the other student miryhls had been housed.
Rhiddyl glanced nervously at Dhori, wondering if the great Mhylla Wrentherin was always like this or if, perhaps, she wasn’t happy about surrendering one of her precious charges to a partnership with a dragon.
“A bit of background before I introduce you,” Mhylla started talking, catching Rhiddyl by surprise and she skipped to catch up with the woman. “She isn’t one of mine, but she’s still excellent quality. There are a few small Lowland breeders we often work with, since miryhl breeding isn’t easy work and we could never keep up with Rider demand alone. They throw up some interesting eagles now and then, and it helps keep the whole species healthy. Still, we’ve all been hard pressed these last few years to supply enough new miryhls to meet the demand, not just for the new students, you understand, but to replace all that were injured and lost.”
Rhiddyl certainly did understand. She might not have been present for the initial fall of Aquila, when it had been taken by Yullik ses-Khennik, but she had been there when the Riders won it back. She’d seen the fighting and the destruction, she’d witnessed the grief and loss. So many Riders and miryhls had fallen, so many more had been injured. The Riders had suffered greatly and it was up to people like Mhylla to help restore them to greatness.
Mhylla smiled, but it was tight and not entirely happy. “Well, that pressure leads to things like this. There were twenty-three new students from Nimbys this year, a further sixteen from the Storm Peaks, add a good thirty or so full Riders in need of new mounts and you begin to grasp my problem.”
Rhiddyl nodded, eyes widening. Almost seventy new miryhls, and that was for just one year. It took around eighteen years for most miryhls to mature enough to be paired with a Rider. Eighteen years ago the Rider population had been stable and steady. Rhiddyl didn’t know the exact numbers, but she doubted anyone had planned for more than forty or fifty new miryhls required each year. No wonder Mhylla was looking so grim.
“There are seventy five new miryhls here this year. Of course, not all of them will go on to make a match. The older Riders can afford to be picky and some might be able to wait until next year, or even have time to visit a few farms for themselves and see what’s on offer in the meantime. Still, we have to bring enough eagles to offer a Choice, not just to the older Riders, but to you students as well.”
Rhiddyl nodded again.
“Which brings me to this particular miryhl.” Mhylla waved an arm towards the far end of the eyries, whose shadows were deep enough to defy even Rhiddyl’s good eyesight. She could see the shapes of several miryhls close to, heads tucked under their wings as they dozed for the night. Anything further than ten feet away was lost to the dark.
“She’s a bit young yet,” Mhylla explained. “Beautiful and strong, though, and perfectly capable of doing the work. That’s why I brought her. I’m just not sure she’s quite ready for it yet.” Rhiddyl saw the woman’s mouth twist in the gloom. “She came from a small breeder, as I said, and I’m afraid it may have given her some ideas.”
Rhiddyl wasn’t sure what that meant and wasn’t certain she wanted to know either.
“In time I think she’ll make an excellent miryhl, but she needs someone special to go with her. That’s why I put her in here. I didn’t want her getting picked without my knowing about it.”
And here Rhiddyl was hoping they’d kept her aside purely for Rhiddyl’s benefit.
“Why don’t you go and meet her?” Mhylla invited, waving towards the shadowy end of the eyries. “She’s been waiting all day for you.”
And that didn’t sound ominous at all.
“Go on.” The woman gave Rhiddyl a gentle push in the right direction. “It’ll be fine.”
Rhiddyl turned to ask Dhori for his advice, but for once the interfering lieutenant wasn’t hanging around on the sidelines. As she hesitated, uncertain of herself for a moment, she swiftly realised Mhylla had left too. Rhiddyl was alone in an eyrie full of miryhls, supposed to talk to the one who might just be the partner for her.
She just had to find it first.
No need to panic, she reminded herself and walked forward through the gloom.
The walkway was packed earth beneath her bare feet, soft and surprisingly warm. All around her miryhls dozed, breaths soft and wheezing on the perches that rose high above her head. It was restful and soothing walking amongst them, smelling their familiar scents of dust and the high, clear air.
She reached the far end of the eyries and savoured the cool breeze wafting in through an ajar door. A dark figure was silhouetted against the stars and Rhiddyl knew she had found what she was looking for.
“You decided to turn up then,” the miryhl sniffed, her voice tight and haughty. “You left me waiting all day. I do not like to be kept waiting.” Without turning to look at Rhiddyl, she strutted out into the darkness.
Wings shuffled overhead, accompanied by grumpy mutters, and Rhiddyl was all too happy to follow the miryhl, not wanting to disturb the others.
It was dark outside too, but the glint of the stars was enough for Rhiddyl to take a good look at the eagle the great Mhylla Wrentherin had chosen for her. She was beautiful. Tall and sleek, not as large as Atyrn – few miryhls were – but she wasn’t small either. She was more slender than bulky, and Rhiddyl wondered if that was due to her young age or if she would always be swift rather than strong. Studying the impressive miryhl before her, Rhiddyl understood why Mhylla had been determined not to pair her up with just anyone.
She was gorgeous.
“I,” the miryhl tossed her golden-feathered head, “have no need of a Rider.”
And utterly spoilt.
“That’s fortunate,” Rhiddyl chuckled, feeling far more confident now that she was facing a potential partner, even if the two of them were clearly a terrible fit. “Because I have no need of a miryhl.” She could make it in the Riders on her own. She didn’t need a bratty bird like this.
The eagle looked shocked. “But you’re a Rift Rider. Every Rift Rider needs a miryhl.”
“Not me,” Rhiddyl said cheerfully, which made the bird fluff up every one of her beautiful feathers in affront.
“I am a miryhl! You need me to fly!”
“I am a dragon. I can fly myself.”
The miryhl blinked, a rapid flurry of her eyelids as if her mind was struggling to process such a thing. “If you are a dragon then you cannot be a Rift Rider.”
Rhiddyl looked down, all her previous uncertainty rising up. Until she caught sight of the uniform she’d spent the last seven months wearing. She’d passed her training. She’d earned her place. Which was more than this miryhl had ever had to do. She stroked a hand over her uniform and smiled. “Evidence suggests otherwise.”
The bird harrumphed. “Riders ride miryhls.”
“Only because they cannot fly any other way,” Rhiddyl pointed out genially, her doubts beginning to settle. She’d come this far. She wouldn’t let a brat like this stop her now.
“Nonsense.” The bird tossed her head. “If that were the case there would be Riders on horsats and pyreflies and other inferior winged beasts. Riders and miryhls are partners. Only together can they become Rift Riders.”
Rhiddyl tipped her head, conceding that point. “In the case of humans, yes, that is true. But as I have already said, I am a dragon, I need no wings but my own to fly. I don’t need a miryhl.”
“You cannot be a Rift Rider without one!” The miryhl stamped her foot.
Rhiddyl laughed. “Why do you care what I can and cannot be? You’ve already said you don’t want a Rider, so this is hardly any business of yours.”
The eagle shuffled her wings and sniffed. “I have changed my mind. It is clear to me that no one else has bothered to educate you properly about the correct attributes that make one worthy of becoming a Rift Rider. It is my duty to step into this breach.”
“But I don’t need a miryhl,” Rhiddyl argued, vastly amused and determined not to give in. Whether she would ever have a miryhl partner or not was yet to be decided, but it certainly would not be this one. “I can fly perfectly well on my own.”
The miryhl sniffed again. “Be that as it may, it will cause a mass panic dropping a dirty great dragon in the middle of a flurry for no good reason.”
“Dirty!” Rhiddyl protested. “I’m not dirty. I -”
“Besides,” the eagle interrupted, “a proper miryhl does more than simply ferry her human about. We are guides and educators, and it is exceedingly clear to me that you stand in urgent need of both of those things.” The miryhl looked Rhiddyl up and down and sniffed again. “I trust you are not as heavy as you look.”
Rhiddyl narrowed her eyes and unleashed the dragon inside her, uncoiling her full form in a burst of tightly controlled magic that whipped angrily about herself, tinged with the scent of lightning. Hunching her shoulders against the stars, she lowered her muzzle until she was eye to eye with this irritatingly snobbish bird.
“Shall we give it a try now?” she growled. “Stand still while I get on your back.”
The golden miryhl eyed her up and down with admirable composure, giving another of those irritating sniffs. “There’s no need to be dramatic. I was only asking.”
Sighing, Rhiddyl raised her head, rolled her wings back and shrank into her human form again. “This is going to be a terrible partnership.”
The miryhl gave a derisive snort. “It certainly will be if you enter it with that attitude. You really should try to be more positive about things.” Rhiddyl could only shake her head and laugh.
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