Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Wingborn: Chapter 1, Part 2

WB_Ch1.2

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~ Previous Chapter ~

Ah, family…


HALFWAY UP THE slope, Mhysra’s aunt stood watching the Illuminai approach. The owner and manager of Wrentheria, Mhylla Wrentherin was famous across the Overworld for breeding the best feather-wings money could buy. Whether it was miryhls, nakhounds or doelyns, the quality of Wrentheria’s bloodstock could not be denied.

So when her younger sister married into the wealthy Kilpapan family, eager to explore the world on her new trade skyships, it had seemed wisest to leave the children in the care of Mhylla. Luckily, Mhylla transferred her skills with animals easily to children, and given the choice between her mother’s ships and her aunt’s eyries, Mhysra knew where she’d pick to stay.

Joining her aunt to watch the ship edge into the docking cradle, timbers groaning as they came to rest, Mhysra sighed. “It’ll be years before I can come home.”

Her aunt raised her eyebrows. “I don’t think that’s quite what your parents have in mind.”

“But it’s what I have in mind,” Mhysra grumbled. “I like raising miryhls. Who’ll take care of my chicks when I’m gone?”

“I’m sure we’ll manage,” Mhylla said, having been breeding miryhls for nearly forty years.

Her niece smiled with little amusement. “I know, but it doesn’t make me feel any better. Where do I belong if not here?”

Wrapping an arm about Mhysra’s shoulders, Mhylla gave her a squeeze. “You can belong anywhere you choose, sweetheart, and this will always be your home. Stop fretting. I bet your feather duster isn’t.”

“Cumulo?” Mhysra snorted. “All he cares about is whether he has to fly to Nimbys or not.”

“See.” Mhylla squeezed her again. “If he’s not bothered, you’ve no cause to be. Wherever you go, he’ll go too. Gods have mercy.”

“Hey!” Mhysra pulled away. “Don’t insult my miryhl.”

“Why not? You do.”

“He’s mine, I’m allowed.”

Mhylla smiled. “And that makes all the difference. If you didn’t have him, I might worry. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t. You’ve a wise head on those shoulders, when you choose to remember it. And if, in five years or so, it’s still what you want and your parents agree, come back and we’ll be happy to have you. Who knows what’ll happen twixt then and now? We can’t even predict tomorrow. But I’m sorry to lose you. Bad enough that Kilai deserted me, though I knew Milluqua would never stay. But you, Mhysra, I’ll miss you.”

Since her aunt had three sons and two daughters of her own, all still at home, Mhysra felt no guilt about leaving. Especially when it wasn’t her choice. “Kilai was always headed for the Riders.” Her father’s family had a long and distinguished history in the Rift Riders, one Kilai had been eager to continue. “And I am a Kilpapan. My parents were bound to remember me one day.”

Mhylla chuckled at her gloomy tone and walked towards the ship. “Buck up, chick, your mother’s here.”

Mhysra pulled a face at her aunt’s back. “That’s what I’m afraid of,” she said, watching a slender woman disembark: Lunrai, Countess Kilpapan.

“Lunrai!” The two women embraced and Mhysra felt forgotten as the worlds of the manor and ship intermingled around her. Once she’d had her own allotted place in the dance, but no longer. She’d been tugged apart and left to drift.

“You’re brooding,” a rough voice rumbled in her ear, and she smiled, having felt Cumulo land behind her. A nine-foot tall eagle with a wingspan of over twenty feet would never be famed for its stealth – the downdraft always gave him away.

“Good morning, Cumulo. I trust I find you well.” Lunrai bowed, hand across her heart in deference to the one to whom miryhls were sacred: Goddess Maegla, Lady of Storms.

Though he did not speak – a bonded miryhl spoke only to his partner, except in emergencies – he inclined his head. Though young, Cumulo had impeccable manners. Head still lowered, he rubbed his beak against Mhysra’s back, apologising because her mother had greeted him before even looking at her.

Mhysra was used to it. Her mother was a businesswoman, her social skills honed to deal with clients, potential customers, traders and skyship crews. Since Mhysra came under the haziest of headings- family – Lunrai had never known how to treat her. Unlike her older sister Milluqua, a born society hostess, Mhysra took after her aunt. Without having had the benefit of raising her in which to learn this, Lunrai treated her youngest child like the stranger she was.

“Mhysra. I trust you’re ready to depart tomorrow.” Her mother kissed her stiffly on the cheek and Mhysra jerked with surprise. Not at the throwaway token of affection, but because Lunrai had to stretch up to reach her. When had she outgrown her mother?

Mhylla draped a scarred arm across her niece’s shoulders and smiled. “You’ve a fine girl here, Lunrai. Well-mannered and intelligent. She’s been rearing miryhls on her own these last two summers, and I daresay they’ll be some of our best.”

Lunrai raised delicate eyebrows. “Have you enjoyed your time with your aunt, Mhysra?” she asked, as though she’d merely been on holiday.

Mhylla’s grip tightened in warning when Mhysra bristled on her aunt’s behalf.

Swallowing her anger, she forced herself to be polite. “Yes, Mother. I doubt there’s anyone or any place in the world that could have raised me better.”

Lunrai’s eyebrows remained high. “Oh?” she said, as if amazed that anyone could like Wrentheria. Then she smiled with surprising sweetness. “Good. Thank you, sister, for taking such excellent care of my children. I’m sure you’ll be relieved to relinquish the last of them. I’ve brought letters from Milluqua and Kilai. He mentioned something about nakhound pups?”

While the sisters talked, Mhysra slipped free. She’d done her duty, greeted her mother and been made uncomfortable. Usually she’d help her cousins tally the new supplies and claim her stake for the miryhls, but that wasn’t her role anymore.

“You’re brooding again. Stop it.”

Scowling, she tugged her braid free as her miryhl gave it a tweak. “What else can I do? Tomorrow I’m leaving everything I’ve ever loved, known and wanted to know to go where I know no one but my sister, who I haven’t seen for three years!”

“You’ll still have me.” He nudged her in the back. “I hope you know and value me.”

“Only as much as you do me,” she retorted.

“Look on the happier side of this tragic tale, chickling,” he purred. “It’ll be an adventure. Who knows what excitement lies just around the corner?”

“I already do,” was her gloomy reply. “Dress fittings, etiquette lessons, morning calls, deportment lessons, long dinners, breakfast parties, afternoon tea, dinners, balls, musicales and boredom, boredom, boredom.”

“Hmm.” Cumulo turned to arrange his flight feathers just so. “That doesn’t sound so terrible.”

“That’s because you won’t have to suffer it,” she growled, stomping off. Her uncle wouldn’t turn her away if she offered to muck out horsat stalls. The world didn’t stop just because the countess had arrived.

“Wherever you roam, there I shall be,” Cumulo told her, gliding overhead. “We’ll suffer it together and then we’ll come home. At least you won’t be relegated to some gods-forsaken shed, as I shall be.” He landed in front of her, shuffling his wings into place. “It will be dirty, have rats and be rampant with disease. Scurf will be the least of my problems.”

Her lips twitched at his disgruntlement. “Look on the happier side of this tragic tale, Cue,” she mocked. “It’ll be an adventure. And you might not get feather mites.” Ducking a swipe from his wing, she laughed and darted into the barn.


~ Next Chapter ~

All comments welcome – and if you spot a typo, please let me know.
Thanks for reading!

Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Writing

Wingborn: Chapter 1, Part 1

WB_Ch1.1

(First time reading? Catch up Here!)

~ Prologue ~

Welcome to Wrentheria, where miryhls are born, dreams are made and family isn’t always united by blood.


One

Wrentheria, the Lowlands
15th Gale, 785 CE

Not everyone could handle raw meat first thing in the morning. Then again, Lady Mhysra Kilpapan had never considered herself entirely normal. Not when she spent every possible moment in the eyries. Dawn was her favourite time of day, when the rising sun spread golden fingers through the hatches to make the feather dust dance. Even in winter, if the sun rose cleanly, the eyries became a slice of Heirayk’s own heaven. Except for the meat in her hands.

Sadly the sounds of the eyries rarely matched the perfection of its sights. Miryhls were far more raucous than their smaller, wild eagle cousins. They muttered constantly, like discontented dowagers at a ball. At all times the eyries bubbled with a low purring hum, occasionally shattered by a shriek, just because they could. Breeding miryhls were a fractious lot, but the chicks were the worst.

Which was why Mhysra was there before the sun, bird dust in her nose and chunks of raw venison in her hands. Five chicks jostled around in front of her, trampling each other in their eagerness to gain her attention. Barely a month old, the ugly chalky-white creatures were covered in clumps of ash-grey down, long scrawny necks wobbling beneath their oversized heads. They were already as large as a medium-sized dog and growing fast. Not too long ago their enormous beaks had seemed too heavy for them, meaning they spent more time on their faces than their feet. Yet with increased size came strength enough to lift their heads and gape plaintive demands for the bloody meat clenched in her fingers.

Behind them, two yearlings waited. The size of pit ponies and highly irritable, they looked like hedgehogs; glossy brown feathers pinpricked by the emerging quills of their first flight feathers. They tried so hard to act fully grown, but hunger defeated them and the squalling chicks were drowned out by a cracked scream, silenced only when Mhysra tossed a chunk their way.

“Dignified,” a hoarse voice muttered behind her, rough-edged with sleep.

She glanced over her shoulder, smiling. “As if you weren’t the same at their age.”

On first glance the young miryhl looked little different to the other adult eagles slowly waking in the glowing dawn. Their feathers shimmered through every shade of brown, from near-black down to honey-gold. The bird at her back was a conker-coloured giant, streaked with hints of gold. Cumulo, her Wingborn.

Snorting, he glowered at the chicks vying for her attention. “Remember it well, do you?”

Mhysra chose to ignore him, preferring to focus on feeding the babies instead. Of course she didn’t remember Cumulo as a chick; she’d been a helpless babe at the time. He had hatched at the exact moment she came into the world, creating that most coveted and rare of bonds – the Wingborn – tying them together for life. Rift Rider legends were full of daring Wingborn, describing them as one soul divided. One will, one reason, one heart.

She’d tried reading such stories to Cumulo once. He told her not to be so soppy and, that if she insisted on reading to him, could she please not make it such sentimental drivel. Whatever the Wingborn bond meant to historians and storytellers, to her it was family. No different than siblings or cousins. Quite disappointing, really.

Oblivious to her thoughts, Cumulo eyed her jealousy as she fussed over the baby miryhls. “No Rider in their right mind would choose to partner creatures like these,” he muttered disdainfully. Which was slightly unfair since the chicks weren’t exactly at their best – covered in strips of meat, their down clogged with blood. One tripped over its own feet and Mhysra bit back a smile.

“You’re such a snob, Cue,” she said. “And anyway, expecting a Rift Rider to have any mind, let alone a right one, is asking a bit much.”

“As if you wouldn’t sign up tomorrow if you were a boy.”

She answered his grumbling with a wistful sigh. It would be wonderful to join the Riders, the miryhl-riding protectors of the Overworld, the pride of the Flying Corps. Except the entire Corps, from Rift Riders to doelyn scouts, were men, and had been for the past hundred years. It was a waste of time to even dream of joining. So she didn’t. She was happy breeding miryhls on her aunt’s farm; Cumulo was the one who wished for more.

Throwing down the last chunks, Mhysra rinsed her bloody hands in a bucket and watched her sated chicks settle inside their nesting pen for a nap. Another two bells and they’d be shrieking again, but it was no longer her task. Her life was about to change – sadly not for the better.

Eager for a distraction, she unlatched the gate and entered the pen. “Don’t come in here,” she warned as Cumulo shuffled along his perch.

“Why would I want to?” he sniffed, preening his shining wings, a stark contrast to the scrawny babies.

Mhysra ignored him and started grooming the fledglings, running her fingers through their new feathers and rubbing away the quill-tips they couldn’t reach. It was a task she’d been doing for years and she loved it. These fledglings in particular were extra special – she’d selected and paired the miryhls parents, turned the eggs, watched them hatch and seen them through their first year. They were as much her babies as the miryhls who’d conceived them.

“You’re practically clucking.”

She scowled at Cumulo, though silently grateful for the distraction. The thought of leaving her fledglings almost brought her to tears. Cumulo would never let her live that down, so she sniffed and plucked a loose feather from the nearest wing.

“What’s wrong with that?”

Cumulo eyed her coolly. “Nothing. So long as you stick to feathered things.”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m barely sixteen, Cue. I’m hardly breeding age.”

“Nor me,” he agreed. “Which is all I’d be fit for if you took up such a ridiculous notion.”

Mhysra chuckled. Male miryhls didn’t sexually mature until they were twenty years old, so even a precocious Wingborn would be lucky to father anything before eighteen.

He huffed reproachfully. “Don’t deny you’ve been broody this past year.”

“Over chicks, Cue! I don’t even like the boys around here.”

He snorted scornfully. “I don’t blame you. A more pitiful human flock is hard to imagine.”

She grinned, tugging on a wing stub and stroking the crinkled skin, making the chick chuckle in its sleep. “They’re not all bad.”

“You’ll have more to choose from when we reach Nimbys,” he said, reminding her of what she was desperately trying to forget. “Best set your priorities now.”

Turning her back on the thought, and on him, Mhysra worked on the chicks, running her fingers through their fluffy down. They soon woke, making her task significantly harder, thanks to their lively mood. Since playful miryhls – even chicks – resulted in copious amounts of blood loss, she left the eyries with a shallow scratch on her face, two deep ones on her arm and a crunched toe.

“Such rewarding work,” Cumulo teased, when she emerged into the slushy snow. Perched on the paddock fence, he looked like an overgrown rooster. An impressive one. Big for his age, shining, beautiful and hers, just as she was his. Neither had been given a choice, but on good days Mhysra acknowledged that the gods had smiled on her.

This was not a good day, so she flipped a rude gesture in his direction and limped on. He cackled and flapped to the next post. Mhysra eyed his landing, waiting for the tell-tale groan to assure her that he was still enjoying his growth spurt. Another half-moon and she’d have the delight of watching him break another rail made brittle by the winter frosts. She was looking forward to it, if only because Cumulo was a tad too fond of his dignity.

Or she would have been, had she been permitted to stay. Muttering the foulest words she knew earned her whistles of approval from the nearest stable lads, donning their armour before feeding the pyreflies. The screaming beasts kicked at their doors, flames spouting around the edges, and Cumulo soared on the rising heat.

“Hurry up and stop growing, Cue,” Mhysra murmured, watching him spiral higher, wings spread wide. Her chest tightened with longing. Soon, her aunt said. Soon, Cumulo promised. Soon, one way or another, she would fly again. If only on the deck of the Illuminai.

As she passed the horsat barn a silky ball of fluff scampered out of the shadows, yipping with excitement. Laughing, Mhysra knelt and caught the eager pup, smoothing ruffled fur and tugging loose down from its undeveloped wings.

“You found me.”

The black and white nakhound pup licked her chin. Mhysra grimaced and held it at arm’s length, rubbing her face on her shoulder. Bright eyes glittered, while a plumy white tail whirled.

“Cute,” she conceded, putting the dog down. It yapped and gambolled about her feet before lolloping up the slope.

Sighing, Mhysra turned to follow and looked up at Wrentheria Manor, her home for the past sixteen years and the place she loved most in all the world. Except her view was spoiled by the three-tiered skyship coming into land: the Illuminai.

The countess had arrived.


Next Chapter ~

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Thanks for reading!