Of fools and old friends.
Orla threw herself forward with the others, hitting the ground and peering over the drop, looking at the ruins of the former town, searching for the flailing figure tumbling to her doom.
She saw miryhls. Two huge miryhls. One brown with golden highlights, the other a marbled mix of white, brown, cream and black. They carried a net spread between them, scooping up the falling fool and flapping back over the falls.
“Cue!” Taryn shouted. “Cane! Over here!” While the others lay panting on the ground in various states of relief and distress, the princess leapt to her feet and waved her arms, attracting the miryhls’ attention.
“Don’t say this belongs to you, Nattie,” the brown miryhl called, as the pair swung towards them. “Stirla said you’d outgrown your foolish starts.”
“She is nothing to do with me,” Taryn promised. “Just a burr that’s got stuck under my saddle. Put her there.” She pointed to a bare patch of grass on the lake side.
“Are you sure?” The marble miryhl hesitated, back-winging over the lake. “Shouldn’t we drop her in to teach her a lesson.”
“I can hear you, you know,” Caelo said sourly, hanging awkwardly in the net with her legs higher than her head. “I think I deserve a say.”
“No, you don’t,” the brown miryhl replied. “You gave up that right when you fell off the falls like an idiot.”
“So what’s it to be?” the marble eagle wanted to know, sounding a little strained as the great pair back-winged above the waters, the net dangling between them.
Taryn smirked. “Dunk her.”
“No!” Caelo shrieked. “Zett, stop them!”
The miryhls released their hold, but slowly. They moved forward as they did, letting Caelo’s shoulders only lightly skim the watery surface. She hit the shore with a grunt and rolled over as the eagles dragged the net along the grass before dropping it completely.
“Beasts!” Caelo snarled, rising on her knees and sweeping her hair out of her face. “I thought you were going to drop me!”
“Well, we thought you were going to die!” Vhen snapped, looking very much like he wanted to shake her.
Orla felt pretty shaken herself. The moment when Caelo had dropped out of sight would live in her nightmares forever. She hadn’t even screamed, just sworn and gone over, as if it was normal. As if she didn’t care if she lived or died. That, more than anything, made Orla’s blood run cold.
“Tcha, you’re fine,” the big brown miryhl snorted scornfully, then reared up, wings half unfurled as Taryn threw herself against his chest. “Uh…”
“Thank you, Cue. Thank you!”
The brown miryhl craned his neck to peer down at the young woman attached to his chest, then stared at his companion. “This is Nataryn, right? I didn’t mistake her for someone else?”
The marble miryhl snickered. “Of course it’s Nataryn,” he practically cooed, as Taryn turned and threw herself at him instead. There was no surprise this time and the miryhl returned the hug with a shift of a wing and a nuzzle from his beak. “Stirla told us she was here last night, remember?”
The brown miryhl sniffed. “She’s rumpled my feathers.”
“Poor chick,” the marble eagle teased, then rubbed his beak against Taryn’s cheek. “There, there, Princess, no harm done.”
“To you and her, maybe not,” Zett muttered, a hand still pressed against his chest as if he couldn’t quite catch his breath yet. Orla knew how he felt.
“Such babies,” Caelo sounded disgusted. “I’m fine. See?” She held out her arms and twirled on one toe, almost stumbling into the lake as she lost her balance yet again.
“You might be,” Zett growled, getting to his feet. “But I’m not.” He turned in a swirl of his long coat and stormed off.
Caelo blinked at the spot where her friend had so recently been. “What’s wrong with him?”
“You scared the spit out of him,” Taryn pointed out, standing between the two miryhls. “We all saw you fall and thought you were dead. He cares about you and just watched you die.”
“Oh.” For a moment it looked like the truth had finally dawned, then Caelo tossed her hair and grinned. “He’ll get over it.”
“I’m not sure I will,” Vhen muttered, and he left too, with Keiva and Tenzi close behind.
“Oh.” Caelo looked blankly at Orla. “It wasn’t that bad, was it?”
If her legs felt a little less like marsh weed, Orla would have stormed off herself. As it was, she sank onto the grass, shaking her head.
“It was worse,” Taryn informed her, stroking the marble miryhl’s neck. “The most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen.”
“But you don’t even like me!” Caelo protested.
“So think how much worse it was for the poor sods who do.”
Caelo frowned. “I need to think about this.”
“Do,” miryhls and princess agreed.
Still frowning, Caelo walked off, tugging thoughtfully at her lip.
Orla sat in the grass, watching her go, until a dark shadow made her shiver. She looked up into an inquisitive golden eye and scrambled to her feet.
It didn’t help. The miryhl was still almost twice her height.
“Introduce us, Natty,” the brown miryhl said, looking Orla up and down.
“Only if you stop using that awful nickname.”
The brown miryhl tilted his head and cracked his beak. “I’ll do it myself then. Hello, student, my name is Cumulo. You might have heard of me. I’m the Wingborn.”
Something tickled at the back of Orla’s brain, but she couldn’t recall it at that particular moment. She frowned. “What’s a Wingborn?”
Cumulo pulled back as if she’d slapped him, while Taryn laughed so hard she fell in the lake. The other miryhl fished the princess out of the water with a delighted laugh. “Ah, Orla of Ihra, I am so very glad you’re here.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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