Tumbles and tantrums: the joy of test flying miryhls.
“NEVHEN? NEVHEN? CAN you hear me?”
“Vhen. He prefers Vhen.”
Like almost everyone else on the flying field, Rhiddyl had gasped with horror when Vhen’s odd-looking miryhl had flipped over midair, dumping his brand new Rider in an ungainly heap. She’d been sprinting across the field before Vhen even landed.
Dhori and his miryhl had reached him first and were trying to bring him around, while the new miryhl stood trembling to one side, wings drooping, head hanging low.
“I didn’t mean to. I didn’t know. I didn’t mean it.”
To Rhiddyl’s surprise, instead of comforting the shocked creature, Dhori glared. “You’re supposed to take care of him. That’s why you’re here.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. I was only having fun.”
“Humans are fragile,” Latinym said, sidling up to the strange miryhl and nudging him with his wing. “You have to take care of them.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
Vhen groaned, drawing Rhiddyl’s attention back to her friend where it belonged.
“Vhen!” She was buffeted aside as the mottled miryhl leapt forward, thrusting his beak into his Rider’s chest.
Since poor Vhen had been trying to sit up at the time, he hit the ground again with a loud groan.
Vhen shocked them all by laughing. “Crazy Cereyn,” he chuckled, then winced. “Ah, my head…”
“Move it, twitling,” Dhori said, shoving the miryhl aside and crouching over Vhen. “How are you feeling apart from your head? Do you remember your name? Where are you? What’s the date? How many fingers am I holding up?”
Only when Vhen had answered each of these questions to Dhori’s satisfaction would the lieutenant let him up. Rhiddyl leapt forward before anyone else could get in the way again and helped him to his feet, wrapping an arm around his waist. He leant more heavily on her than she’d expected, but it was no trouble to support him as they limped slowly across the field.
“You should probably get back on.” His miryhl followed them, hopping around like a flea. “Isn’t that what they say when you fall off horsats? Got to get back on straight away.”
“Horses,” Vhen corrected, pressing a hand against his head. “That’s for horses. If you fall of a horsat you’ll probably be dead.”
“Oh.” The miryhl stopped for a surprised moment, then bounded after them again. “You won’t do that. Die, I mean. Or fall again. I won’t let it happen. I promise. I didn’t understand before. I do now. I won’t drop you again, Vhen, I promise.”
Rhiddyl shared a sceptical glance with Dhori and Latinym, who were keeping pace with them across the field.
Vhen didn’t seem to share their doubt as he reached out and patted a mottled wing. “I know you won’t, Cereyn.”
Rhiddyl supposed that was true if her friend never got on the foolish bird’s back again.
“Let’s try now then,” the miryhl said brightly, bouncing to a stop in front of them and lowering his wing.
The hand Vhen had wrapped around Rhiddyl’s waist tightened. “Maybe later,” he managed to rasp out.
Rhiddyl, Latinym and Dhori snorted.
Cereyn’s wings drooped. “Oh, right. Yes. You’re probably right. Later it is then.”
Vhen stopped and pressed a hand to the eagle’s down-turned cheek. “Later,” he said again, and this time it was a promise.
Draping a wing across his Rider’s shoulder, the miryhl dragged Vhen away from Rhiddyl. “Lean on me,” he murmured, nuzzling him gently in the side. “I’ll keep you safe from now on. I promise.”
Rhiddyl was all set to protest, until she heard, “Rhiddyl and Sunshine!”
She whipped her head around to find her new miryhl standing beside Mhylla and Captain Stirla, bright and shining in a sudden beam of sun between the dark clouds.
“Good luck,” Vhen called, staggering away in Cereyn’s dubious care.
Rhiddyl forgot all her worries for him as she stared across the field at the bird she was expected to fly. She swallowed.
“Off you go,” Latinym told her, nudging her gently with his beak. “It’ll be fun.”
“Have you ever flown on any wings but your own?” she asked through numb lips.
Dhori patted Rhiddyl on the back. “At least if you fall off you can use your own wings to catch yourself.”
Unless Sunshine pulled a loop as close to the ground as Cereyn had. Then she’d be landing on her head just as elegantly as poor Vhen.
“Go on,” Latinym urged, and Rhiddyl forced herself to cross the field to where Stirla, Mhylla and the golden miryhl were waiting.
* * *
“ZETT AND STRIKE.”
This was it, the moment of truth. The moment Zett found out if he was really here for himself or if he was still just following Princess Neryth’s directions. The moment he decided whether or not he truly wanted to become a Rift Rider.
Others might have made up their minds before this moment. Zett thought he had too, but making friends with Caelo and training were normal. Mostly. Flying on miryhl-back was decidedly not. Anyone could make friends and learn to fight. Only Riders flew miryhls.
Strike turned to face him, revealing the pale side of her beautiful face and tilted her head, as if asking him what was taking so long.
Zett’s anxiety vanished. Stepping up to his miryhl, he rested his hand against the dark side of her beak and knew he was where he belonged.
* * *
“STOP WRIGGLING. IT’S distracting,” Sunshine complained, as she glided slowly down the field.
“Sorry,” Rhiddyl muttered, even though she wasn’t. Family, of all the things she’d worried about when contemplating riding a miryhl, lack of speed wasn’t one of them. Sister Storm, were they always this slow?
“You will be should I pull a Crazy Cereyn,” the golden miryhl sniffed.
Rhiddyl shifted her weight, trying to find a comfortable spot on the hard saddle. “Dragons bounce better than humans. Our heads are much harder.”
Rhiddyl’s lips twitched. There were moments she thought she might almost like this strange new partner of hers.
“I’ve also noticed you’re far lighter than you look. A most pleasant surprise indeed.”
Then again, she probably wouldn’t.
“I’ve also noticed you’re far slower than you look,” Rhiddyl couldn’t help sniping back, just as Sunshine returned to their starting spot, planting her talons in the springy grass. “A most surprising disappointment indeed.” She hopped out of the saddle before Sunshine could register the insult.
“Disappointment!” the miryhl screeched. “Slow? I’ll show you slow, you miserable, ungrateful, hulking beast!”
“How lovely it is to watch these new bonds form.” Mhylla seized Sunshine’s bridle and held her back from savaging Rhiddyl with her beak. Rhiddyl’s own body hummed with an incipient change, the dragon within always ready to protect when needed.
“Such a delightful display of manners,” Stirla agreed.
Miryhl and dragon glared at each other. Sunshine looked as if she was trying to incinerate her new Rider on the spot. Rhiddyl was fighting the urge to zap the arrogant beast with a lightning bolt.
“Play nicely, children,” Stirla reminded them softly. “We have an audience.”
Sunshine growled, but Rhiddyl forced herself to roll her shoulders back and relax.
“Better?” the captain asked, eyeing Rhiddyl warily as if he’d known what had been going through her mind.
“Yes,” she told him.
“No,” Sunshine growled, proving she definitely hadn’t read her new Rider’s mind. “I request a new Choice.”
“Miryhls don’t get to Choose,” Mhylla reminded her firmly. “They are Chosen.” A tug on the bridle had the miryhl glaring at the woman instead. “Remember you asked for this. I wanted you to wait another year, but you wouldn’t have it. You said you were more than ready for the responsibility and didn’t need to wait. You insisted you were already mature enough.”
Sunshine huffed and cracked her beak.
“Remember?” Mhylla growled.
“I remember.” The miryhl sulked.
“Best of Lansbrig luck with this one.” Mhylla slapped the reins into Rhiddyl’s hand. “You’re going to need it.” As Sunshine issued another indignant shriek, Rhiddyl towed insistently back towards her friends and into line with the others.
~ Next Chapter ~
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