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Flying lesson fun.
(Unless you’re Vhen, I don’t think it’s ever fun for him. Cereyn on the other hand…)
“WE’RE GOING TO try something a little different today,” Tutor Lyrai announced as soon as everyone arrived at the flight field the next morning. For the first time in over a month it wasn’t raining. The sky above Aquila couldn’t exactly be described as blue, but since the pale grey wasn’t currently leaking all over them, Orla would take it. She’d practically forgotten what colour the sky was supposed to be anyway.
“Now that you’ve all mastered the basics and can complete three full circuits without falling off -”
“All except Vhen and Cereyn anyway,” some joker whooped from the back.
Orla glanced at her friend. Vhen looked as stern and stoic as always, while Cereyn was busily picking at his talons, not paying the least bit of attention. It wasn’t that they couldn’t complete three circuits of the field without Vhen falling off – in fact on the odd occasion Cereyn had been known to fly an extra two laps just to prove that he could – the miryhl just found such restrictions boring and tended to try new things. Things he forgot to warn Vhen about in advance, which usually left his poor Rider sitting in the mud.
“And when was the last time you fell out of the saddle, Student Loryt?” Lyrai asked, voice exquisitely polite, eyes ice cold. The rest of the class snickered at the reminder of the spectacular way Loryt had fallen off the day before, tangling himself so badly in his poorly fixed safety straps that he’d ended up dangling from the saddle like a freshly-caught grouse. Thrown off-balance, his miryhl had tumbled into the mud on top of him, dumping Loryt in a very mucky puddle.
Orla smiled. She liked this instructor. He was always fair, never showed favourites and always knew when someone was being sly and nasty. She wasn’t the least bit surprised to find out that he and Captain Stirla were best friends or that he and Tutor Mhysra were married.
“As I was saying,” Lyrai continued, wrestling back control of the lesson, “now you have mostly mastered the basics, I believe it’s time to try something new.”
Orla and her friends exchanged glances. It was rarely a good thing when their teachers tried to change things, and yet at the same time, after so much rain, they were all ready to do something exciting. Even Orla, who had been so nervous in her first few flying lessons, despite Milk taking so much care with her that they’d barely got off the ground.
“But first I need an assistant.”
A shadow swept over the flying field and Orla looked up, gasping as a pair of enormous miryhls glided down from the mountainside. After almost two months at Aquila everyone was familiar with Cumulo and Hurricane. One was a legendary Wingborn, the other was a legendary marble. They often took part in miryhl care lessons, helping Mhysra to instruct the students, while also strutting about and inspecting their work. Still, as familiar as she was with both of them, Orla couldn’t deny they made an impressive sight in flight.
Wingtip to wingtip, the pair soared around the field, then split apart. While Hurricane swooped low over the students’ heads, Cumulo went into a high loop that turned him onto his back, before diving fast towards the ground. Shrieking a challenge, Hurricane banked around and shot up to meet him.
They collided with a clash of feathers and talons.
Students gasped. Someone screamed. Lyrai sighed.
“Not that,” he called. “I don’t expect you to do that.” Putting two fingers to his lips, he issued a sharp whistle.
Laughing, the miryhls broke apart and swept into land on either side of the flight instructor.
“Sorry, couldn’t resist,” Hurricane murmured, preening Lyrai’s bright blond hair. Cumulo just snickered.
Which was when Orla realised it was the Wingborn miryhl, not the marble, that was wearing a saddle and bridle. In the same way that it was easy to forget Tutor Lyrai’s left arm was paralysed, since he mostly kept it tucked in his pocket, it was hard to remember that an old break in Hurricane’s wing had left him unable to carry passengers. It seemed impossible after seeing him fly, and yet it was Cumulo’s back Lyrai climbed aboard, mounting from the right because of his left arm.
“Let’s try this again, shall we?” the man sighed, once he was in the saddle, reins held lightly in his right hand. “Now that you’ve mastered flying alone, it’s time to work on flying in a group. Watch carefully.”
Cumulo leapt into the air first, beating his wings hard before soaring into a perfect take off. Hurricane bounded away across the grass, taking several leaps before he lifted into a glide. Reaching the end of the field, he caught a gust of wind and swirled up to join the others in the air.
“Formation flying is an important element of Rider life,” Lyrai shouted, as the miryhls drew level with each other. Hurricane flew just ahead of Cumulo, their wings overlapping when they flapped but not getting in each other’s way.
“There are many different ways it can be achieved.”
The miryhls pulled apart, until just their wingtips brushed.
“Each formation has its own merits and drawbacks.”
Hurricane swooped to fly directly beneath Cumulo.
“And their use depends on the situation you might be facing.”
Cumulo pulled ahead, allowing Hurricane to slot in directly behind.
“There are as many configurations to a formation as there are phases of the moon,” Lyrai continued as the miryhls continued to shift, closer, further apart, side by side, on a diagonal. “In time you will learn them all.
“Today we take it easy.” Cumulo and Hurricane returned to brushing wingtips. “One lap of the field. Try not to snarl each other.” The miryhls moved in a little too close, so that when they flapped, Hurricane bashed Cumulo’s wing.
The great brown miryhl shrieked dramatically and tumbled into a barrel roll.
Orla cringed, expecting to see Lyrai fall off at any moment. Instead the whirling miryhl drew too close to the mountain.
“Look out!” someone cried, just as Cumulo snapped open his wings, turning a fast, tight turn that made students and miryhls gasp. Levelling out again, Cumulo flicked lightly upwards, turned upside down and tweaked Hurricane’s tail, laughing.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Zett murmured, as instructor and miryhls glided back into line.
Lyrai didn’t look remotely ruffled, despite his several brushes with death. He shook his hair out of his eyes and grinned. “Who wants to go first?”
* * *
IT WAS A disaster. Who would have thought flying side by side could be so difficult? Caelo certainly hadn’t, and had foolishly said so. Which was why she and Taryn got to go first, after Zett had wisely nudged Strike to back swiftly away from his best friend, leaving Taryn as the closest possible partner. She would have to pay him back for that later, if only she could get poor Pinwheel through this first.
“Sorry, sorry!” her miryhl cried, fluttering his wings as yet again he and Fyra bashed into each other.
“It was my fault!” Fyra shouted. “Sorry!”
“Stop apologising!” Caelo practically howled, incensed at the way both miryhls kept fighting for the blame instead of concentrating on staying apart.
Taryn kept her irritations to herself and rubbed Pinwheel’s tense neck. “You’re doing fine,” she assured him. “Just keep flying straight. I’ll tell you if we get too close.”
“And I’m telling you we’re going too slow,” Caelo fretted, wriggling about in the saddle and unbalancing her miryhl. Fyra veered inwards, already apologising for the collision to come.
Taryn nudged Pinwheel sharply in the ribs. Startled, her miryhl lifted up, allowing the other eagle to pass harmlessly beneath them.
“Nice dodge!” Hurricane called encouragement.
“But not the exercise,” Lyrai reminded them. “Wingtip formation, if you please.”
“Stop dancing!” Cumulo shouted.
Taryn considered poking her tongue out at the Wingborn, but decided it wasn’t worth her dignity.
“Just take it steady,” she said instead. “We can go fast when we get it right.”
“If we go fast, we’ll get it done sooner,” Caelo argued.
Pinwheel tipped his head, peering at Taryn over his wing. The other girl had a point.
“Fine, but you’re taking the blame when Lyrai starts shouting.”
Caelo laughed. “I always take the blame,” she lied, and leant forward, urging Fyra faster.
* * *
“CAN I LOOK yet?” Orla asked Zett, wincing as the rest of the students hissed.
“Best not,” her Havian friend advised. “Cereyn is, uh… never mind.”
“You all right, Vhen?” Lyrai called.
“I’m fine,” came the weary reply.
Orla finally took her hands away from her face. As suspected, poor Vhen was in the dirt again, Cereyn on the ground beside him. The miryhl had his wings splayed out on either side and was snarling at Sunshine. The golden miryhl pirouetted in the air above them like a butterfly, making snooty comments as Rhiddyl swung her leg over her eagle’s neck and dropped to the ground.
No one else could have done it. Sunshine was at least thirty feet up, but Rhiddyl made the drop as easily as if she was hopping off a table.
“That bird is a menace,” Taryn muttered.
“Which one?” Caelo chuckled.
Sunshine had landed now and was berating Rhiddyl for jumping off mid-flight, even as Cereyn tried to berate her for whatever had caused him to crash in the first place. Ignoring them both, Rhiddyl helped Vhen to his feet and supported him away.
“Orla, Zett, you’re next,” Lyrai called, when it became clear no lasting harm had been done. “Cue, clear the field.”
“With pleasure.” Cumulo flapped across the grass and didn’t bother to stop when he reached the young miryhl pair. Wings wide, he smacked both of them across the head as he swooped low, twirled about and came gliding back, landing beside Hurricane with a bounce.
“I like teaching.”
“Milk, Strike, let’s go,” Lyrai ordered, since their students hadn’t made a move.
“I suppose we’d better,” Strike muttered, leaning forward on her toes before lifting off.
Milk glanced back over her shoulder, making sure Orla was secure. When she nodded, the white miryhl bounded out of line and flapped her wings. Circling to gain height, she drew level with Strike some twenty feet off the ground.
“Ready?” Strike called.
Milk nodded, spreading her wings and drifting away until Strike had room to do the same.
“Nice and slow,” Orla reminded them both.
“Let’s show them how it should really be done,” Strike agreed, and they glided in serene unison for a handful of heartbeats.
“We should count,” Milk shouted, just as her wings began to tremble.
“Good idea!” Zett approved.
Milk flapped her wings, her feathers fluffing out with pride.
Strike flapped a moment later. “I’ll do it. You flap on the one, I’ll flap on the two. Ready?”
“Ready,” everyone else agreed.
Milk’s wings trembled as she expected to flap again, but after a slight wobble she held formation.
“Wait for it,” Strike teased, drifting in to tickle the underside of Milk’s wing.
The white miryhl yelped and flapped.
“One.” Strike winked. “Two.” She flapped.
“Three, so what? Four, you survived.”
Strike flapped, and somehow they made it all the way around the field without colliding once.
Returning to land in front of Lyrai, Cumulo and Hurricane, the former Riders studied them for a long moment. All three nodded.
“Very good.” Lyrai smiled ever so faintly and turned away. “Keiva, Guto, you’re next.”
Orla sagged in the saddle as Milk bounced them back into line.
“Show offs,” Caelo grumbled, spoiling it with a grin.
“You’re just jealous,” Strike preened.
“Probably,” Caelo agreed. “Although you were so slow and boring. I think I’d rather crash.”
“You can take the next run with Sunshine then,” Cereyn muttered, making the golden miryhl snarl and smack him with her wing.
As Cereyn stumbled and almost toppled over in the mud, Vhen rolled his eyes to the sky. “I don’t know why I bother getting back in this saddle.” Orla grinned and ruffled Milk’s white feathers. “I’m so glad you’re mine,” she whispered, and her little miryhl preened.
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