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To the rescue!
(One week to go!)
“ORLA!” TARYN LURCHED up from a pile of rags and helped her dismount. “Maegla’s bolts, are you mad? You should have stayed on the shore. You were safe there.”
“And useless,” Orla said, obeying Milk’s fussing commands and sitting down. The world swayed a little more than she was comfortable with, but it was warm amongst the quivering miryhls. “I came to help.”
Taryn sat beside Orla with a sigh. “I appreciate that, but unless you know more than me about making ropes – which is nothing, might I add – then I don’t see how you can. Can you even use that arm?”
Orla flexed her right hand and wished she hadn’t as pain lanced through her shoulder. “Probably not, but you can. If I tell you what to do.”
The miryhls stopped ripping up clothing and stared at her.
“Do you know what to do?” Cereyn asked, his unusual blue eyes sharp and intent.
“I am Ihran,” Orla sniffed. “We are master craftspeople.”
“But your mother’s a forester and your father’s a carpenter,” Taryn said.
“And you were training to be a carpenter,” Milk added. “A not very good one, so you said.”
Orla started to shrug and quickly stopped. “I am Ihran. Our families are large and varied. I have an uncle – well, he’s my father’s step-uncle’s daughter’s husband’s cousin, but -”
“Say no more.” Strike dumped a bundle of cloth in her lap. “Get knotting. I don’t know how much longer Rhiddyl will float for.”
The scaly chest beneath them shuddered and everyone froze, waiting for Rhiddyl to sink or roll. Ice creaked as water sloshed around her great body, the shattered layers freezing and breaking again. Orla looked worriedly along the dragon’s neck at where her nose lay just above the slushy surface.
“Can we help her?”
Taryn shook her head. “I can’t see how. Not until after we take care of the others anyway.”
Time to stop dawdling then. “Very well. Let’s keep it simple.” She looked at the tattered scraps that had once been coats and decided against just knotting them together, for fear they would fray and break. “A three-strand plait. Can you do that?”
* * *
TARYN HAD NEVER been particularly creative or practical. As a princess she hadn’t needed to learn a trade, and as a brat, she’d shown no interest in tatting or weaving or embroidery. She’d never paid much attention to what was done with her hair either, but she had thought she understood the basics.
It didn’t take long for Orla to disabuse her of that notion.
“No. Hold the outer lines. Fold the right across the middle, fold the left across the middle. Take the line that was in the middle and fold it right, now the left.”
Taryn tried to follow the instructions, but they didn’t make sense. “Can’t I just -?” She twisted them all up.
She did. It immediately untwisted again.
“The three-way plait is the easiest I can teach you that will grant us some strength,” Orla explained patiently. “Please try again.”
Taryn did. It didn’t go well, until Strike had the idea of using a different coat for each line of the braid. Then Orla just had to call out the coat without talking about rights, lefts or folds. Suddenly it made sense and Taryn got the hang of things.
“I will never take a maid for granted again,” she sighed, giving her stiff hands a rest while Orla knotted yet more fabric to the end of each line.
They weren’t the prettiest ropes ever made and were definitely lumpy, but they were growing. By the time the miryhls ran out of easily discarded layers to shred, Taryn had three ropes of around eight feet each.
“Let’s hope they’re long enough,” Sunshine muttered, while Orla looped her friends’ scarves around their miryhls’ necks.
“Of course they will be,” Milk said bracingly. “Everything will be fine.” Since she was currently watching her Rider trying to tie knots one-handed while worriedly cracking her beak, her words weren’t nearly as encouraging as she probably hoped.
“Only one way to know,” Taryn said and stood up, pulling her gloves back on.
They started with Caelo, as the smallest and lightest. Fyra hunkered down as low as she possibly could, while Taryn dragged Caelo closer. With Orla on the other side to help position their friend, they heaved, hauled and shrugged Caelo onto Fyra’s back. With the girl lying flat, Taryn ran her lumpy rope through her hands and stared helplessly at Orla.
With too little rope to lash Caelo in place, they eventually settled for tying it around the girl’s waist and looping it over her shoulders and across her chest in a makeshift harness. They tied that to Fyra’s scarf collar and hoped for the best.
“Is she secure?” Strike asked as Fyra slowly stood up. The girl on her back didn’t fall off, which Taryn half-expected, but the limp way she lay across the top of Fyra’s wings didn’t inspire much confidence either.
“Enough,” Fyra said stoutly, shuffling herself around to face the rocky spot the miryhls had found earlier. “I’m going to try.”
“Orla, stay here,” Taryn commanded as Strike lowered her wing and nodded at Taryn. Scrambling onto the big miryhl’s back, she gripped the scarf around her neck and tensed as Fyra opened her wings and tipped off Rhiddyl’s back.
“Lift!” Strike called, flapping into the air with Cereyn and Sunshine on her tail. “You won’t make it.”
Fyra growled as the three miryhls surrounded her, shouting orders and advice, all while she tried to cross the ice without flapping her wings.
“You’ll hit the water!” Cereyn yelped. “Fly, Fyra, fly!”
“Get away from me,” Fyra snarled, hunching her back and flapping hard as her talons grazed the ice.
The miryhls scattered, Cereyn cooing about sharp tempers, and Taryn twisted to keep an eye on Caelo. She didn’t like what she saw.
Strike veered around and rushed back to where Fyra was gliding again and snapping at Sunshine to get out of her way.
“Move it!” Strike barrelled into the golden miryhl, knocking her aside as Fyra was forced to flap again or land on the fragile snow.
Sunshine’s shriek of outrage was undercut by Taryn’s shout, “She’s falling!”
Fyra dropped instantly onto the snow, twisting to check her Rider, calling for help.
Strike turned again, tucking her wings to land, and Taryn prepared to jump.
“She’s sinking!” Cereyn’s cry snapped both their heads up and Strike bounced off the snow, wings working hard to raise them again.
Out amongst the shattered ice, the body of the dragon was indeed sinking.
Leaving Fyra and Caelo to take care of themselves, Strike, Cereyn and Sunshine raced across the short distance to where Orla was desperately tying ropes around the boys with one hand, not helped by the miryhl jostling her from behind, begging her to mount and flee.
Cradling her wounded arm against her chest, Orla shook her head and used her teeth to tighten a knot around Vhen’s chest. With him taken care of, she grabbed the last rope and crawled to Zett.
Groaning, the great dragon shifted, throwing Orla across Zett’s prone body.
“Orla!” Taryn and Milk screamed, and the Ihran looked up, her eyes meeting Taryn’s as Rhiddyl rolled.
The three students hit the broken ice and sank out of sight.
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