In which Lyrai returns and proves just what kind of teacher he really is…
“URGH.” CAELO WASN’T the only student who left the eyries holding her hands out to the sides, she was just the most vocal about it. “There’s so much of it. I can’t even bend my fingers. Urgh!”
Taryn wiped the last bit of muck off her hands with her handkerchief and passed a spare one to Orla. “I told you not to dunk your hands in the bucket first.”
“But you didn’t tell me why,” Caelo whined, shaking out her hands to absolutely no effect. The dust and grime she’d picked up from her miryhl’s feathers was sticking fast to her wet skin. “Why didn’t Tutor Mhysra warn us?”
“She did,” Zett pointed out, using his handkerchief to clear the muck from under his nails. “She said, whatever you do, don’t dunk your hands before you start. You’ll mess up the drinking water and -”
“Blah, blah, blah,” Caelo interrupted with an impatient sigh. “Can I borrow your handkerchief?”
“And you wonder why no one tells you anything,” Vhen murmured, pausing to dip his scrubbed hands in the fountain that chuckled in the centre of the courtyard between the eyries and the infirmary.
It was a beautiful spot, especially when it was bathed in sunshine. Afternoon shadows were already creeping down the mountainside above, but here the sun still shone. Healers clad in white and green strode briskly along the walkway, while convalescing patients sat and dozed in the shade. Taryn dipped her hands, breathing in the scent of the herb garden and smiled as her brother strode out to meet them.
“Not so fast, students,” the former lieutenant called, just before Jylana and her clique could disappear back inside the citadel. “Your day isn’t over yet.”
“But it’s almost dinner time,” Caelo protested, since their first lesson in miryhl care had run extra long. It had been worth it, Taryn thought, since Pinwheel had started the afternoon a trembling mass of nerves and ended it a purring heap of contentment.
“There will still be food after we’re done,” Lyrai promised, heading for the eyries. “Wouldn’t you rather fly first?”
The grumbling students perked up immediately and ran back to the eyries in an excited wave. Lyrai held open the door and grinned as they rushed inside. He raised his eyebrows when Taryn approached.
He tilted his head in silent question.
She shook hers. No, she hadn’t told anyone who he was or that he was related to her. Apart from Rhiddyl, but she didn’t count.
He smiled in a not entirely friendly way and nodded for her to get inside. Taryn stepped back into the hazy mix of sunshine and feather dust and sneezed. Her brother followed, the door thudding shut behind him.
“Before any of you get on your miryhl’s back,” Lyrai began, sounding uncharacteristically cheerful as the eager students hung on his every word, “first we need a lesson in tacking up.”
The students groaned.
“Not another lesson,” Caelo once again voiced what everyone was thinking.
Lyrai chuckled. “Poor little students, haven’t you figured it out yet? Aquila has a lesson for everything, and you, my little chicks, are going to learn them all.”
More groans, but no one argued as Lyrai waved them towards the tack room, where grinning Riders were waiting to help them out.
* * *
ORLA AND MILK stared at the bundle of leather lying on the floor between them. They knew it was supposed to go on the miryhl somehow, but had no idea where to begin.
“I’m afraid I wasn’t paying attention when I wore it before,” the white eagle admitted bashfully. “I was too excited.”
Orla waved her apology aside. “It can’t be that hard.” Riders tacked their mounts up all the time, swiftly and competently, often at speed. It couldn’t be too difficult. “We just need somewhere to begin.”
The saddle seemed the easiest, since it was the most obvious piece in the mess. She picked it up. It was surprisingly heavy, with its padded seat and high front and back. Tendrils of leather hung down on all sides. Orla and Milk stared at it some more.
“Which way round does it go?” Milk asked, tilting her head to study the contraption.
“I have no idea.” To Orla it looked the same either way. “Mind your wing.” She lifted the load and placed it on Milk’s back.
“Ooh, ow, no.” The miryhl squirmed.
Orla lifted the saddle again.
“That was horrid.”
“Sorry.” She turned the saddle around and tried again.
Milk twitched. “Too low.”
Orla pushed it forward.
“Mind my feathers!”
She lifted it on one arm, stroked Milk’s feathers flat and tried again.
“Oof, too high!”
She slid it backwards, slowly.
Milk rolled her wings and rocked her weight. “Ah, that’s it. Right there. Much better.”
Orla stepped back, assessing the saddle’s position. Now that it was on it seemed ridiculous that she could ever have got it wrong. The high front was designed to curve over the miryhl’s wing joints, tucking around her sides, where two separate girths dangled, ready to be secured. The seat ended in the centre of Milk’s back, keeping the Rider’s weight firmly between the wings.
“Where does this go?” Milk mumbled, running a girth through her beak.
“Don’t break it.” Orla took it away, worried her miryhl would cut straight through the leather. She eyed the buckles on one end and walked to the other side. Lifting the saddle flap, she saw three leather straps. Orla bent down, pulling the straps under her miryhl’s belly and frowned. There were two girths. She checked again. Three straps.
“Am I missing something?”
“Lots,” Milk said, craning her head to pick at the feathers on her chest. “There’s supposed to be a breastplate.”
Orla looked at the tangle of leather still lying on the floor, dropped the saddle flap and sighed. This was going to take a while.
* * *
THEY DIDN’T FLY that night. It took so long for everyone to tack up their miryhls to the tutor’s satisfaction that he immediately ordered them to untack again and come back in the morning. It wasn’t just bellies that grumbled as the weary students headed in search of dinner.
“Your brother is a menace,” Rhiddyl muttered, sitting between Vhen and Taryn.
Vhen had been sleepily debating whether good manners were worth the effort of raising his fork to his mouth as opposed to simply planting his face in his food, but that woke him up.
“Brother?” Zett asked, his elbow sliding off the table with surprise. “Tutor Lyrai is your brother?”
“There is a resemblance,” Orla said, in that gruff way that disguised whether she’d already known this or not.
Vhen blinked at Taryn, seeing it now. Both she and the tutor were blond, they had equally icy blue eyes – especially when she glared as she currently was at Rhiddyl – and their noses were a similar shape.
“Gah!” Caelo smacked her own forehead. “Of course! Lieutenant Lyrai, another one of the Six, second son of the Stratys. He’s your brother!”
Taryn winced. “Go ahead and tell the whole hall, why don’t you?”
Vhen glanced over his shoulder. They were drawing a fair amount of attention, but that was nothing new. “Did you know he was going to be here? Is that why you became a Rider?”
Taryn scowled at her plate. “Yes and no. He wasn’t supposed to be here when I signed up, but he changed his mind when Mhysra fell pregnant.”
“Mhysra’s pregnant!” Rhiddyl yelped, drawing yet more attention.
“She doesn’t show,” Caelo said, surprised. “How far along is she?”
Taryn sighed. “She isn’t. I mean she was. She’s had the baby.”
Rhiddyl gasped and clasped her hands against her chest. “A baby? They have a baby? Oh!” Food forgotten, the dragon rushed off.
The others watched her go.
“She knew them before,” Taryn explained. “When they went to World’s End.”
“World’s End?” Zett blinked.
Vhen was feeling pretty shocked himself. “Are you saying Rhiddyl’s one of the Six?” Sutherall might be fairly insular without much interest in the wider Overworld, but even he had heard of the Six Riders who went into World’s End and saved them all.
“No,” Taryn growled, clearly exasperated. “She was with them. Five dragons were, you know. And anyway, it should be Twelve, since there were six miryhls and six Riders.”
“Six pairs,” Orla pointed out, rather a touch too reasonably for Taryn’s strained patience if her growl was anything to judge by.
“I didn’t know dragons went into World’s End,” Zett said.
Caelo snorted. “They weren’t much use.” When everyone stared at her, she blinked. “I mean, to hear Lieutenant Dhori tell the story. He has lots of stories. You really should talk to him sometime. Anyone for more cake? I feel like getting seconds.”
She scuttled off towards the sideboard.
Vhen looked at Zett. He shrugged. Caelo was Caelo. Vhen was getting used to her. If one ever could get used to her.
“Do you think your brother will actually let us fly tomorrow?” Orla asked, as they returned to their meals.
“How should I know?” Taryn snapped. “I’ve spent more time with Captain Stirla than I have Lyrai. I need more cake.”
As she stormed off too, Orla met Vhen’s eyes and sighed. “I’m sorry I asked.” He smirked and poured her another mug of apple juice.
~ Next Chapter ~
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