“NO, NO, NO! Fools, oafs, clumsy, clod-handed buffoons! Derrain! Derrain, I need you!”
Rolling his eyes at his friends, Derrain sighed and wondered how he continually got himself into these messes. It had been Corin’s idea to wander down to the docks to watch the loading of the fleet. Mhysra hadn’t seemed keen, but Dhori and Derrain himself had agreed it sounded more fun than sitting around the barracks at the mercy of any passing officer who wanted to see students run about. As such, they’d been joined by a host of other students, likewise seeking an escape.
At first it had been interesting, if not quite fun, watching the intricate dance from dock to deck. As a former skysailor who had played his own part in the same dance countless times across the Overworld, Derrain had been called upon to explain what was going on to a fascinated crowd. That had been fun.
Until Destevan had arrived to oversee the loading of her armour and smithing equipment, and as usual found the available service not up to her meticulously – some might say tyrannically – high standards.
“I think someone’s trying to get your attention,” Corin said, amused as the Ihran in question began waving furiously in Derrain’s direction.
Unable to ignore her any longer, Derrain turned to the crowd of watching students with his most charming smile. “Come and meet Destevan. She makes the most incredible flight armour.”
“Flight armour?” For the first time all morning, Mhysra showed a glimmer of interest.
“This I have to see,” Corin announced, and led the charge from where they’d been gathered out of the way to watch proceedings.
Stepping back to let them pass, so eager and unaware of the monster he was feeding them to, Derrain caught Dhori’s amused eye and winked.
His friend shook his silver-tipped head. “They’ll make an officer out of you yet.”
“Gods help everyone under my command if they do,” he chuckled. “I’d be worse than Stirla.”
“Derrain! Come here! Now!”
He winced and Dhori smiled. “Save your prayers for yourself, my friend, I think you’re going to need them.”
“WHAT IS GOING on here?”
Mhysra smiled as she turned away from watching the small but powerful figure of Destevan bossing not just Derrain but any strong-looking person within her vicinity about, ensuring they stored her cargo in just the right way. She might not have wanted to spend her morning watching sailors load the ships, but she was glad she’d followed her friends down to the docks anyway because watching Destevan work was the most entertainment she’d had in months.
It was also nice to hear Lyrai’s own amusement as he stopped beside her. She didn’t know exactly what was wrong with him of late – other than being in Nimbys and being too close to his family – but this last half-moon or so he had been worse than usual. So it was nice to see him smile as the Ihran berated a very tall, burly sailor for placing a huge crate down at more of an angle than Destevan would have liked.
“Everyone’s helping Master Destevan prepare for the flight ahead.”
“So I see,” Lyrai chuckled as the big sailor took his scolding like a child and meekly hefted the heavy crate into the perfect position. Then moved it back again when Destevan changed her mind.
Quite how the woman got away with her antics, Mhysra had no idea, but she admired her hugely – especially after seeing the armour she could produce.
“I hate to break up your fun,” Lyrai murmured, after they watched Destevan for another long moment, during which time Corin got involved, also bossing big burly sailors about and getting in the way, “but I bring news.”
Mhysra tilted her head, mostly because she already knew what he was going to say. How could she not when her mother was in charge of the fleet? “The order’s been given.”
“The order has been given,” he agreed. “I’ve been sent to collect you all.”
Mhysra waved towards where Derrain was not the only student marching about under Destevan’s directions and grinned. “Have at it, sir, and best of luck.”
Mouth twisting in a wry smile, Lyrai looked around the busy dock, no doubt spotting all the errant students who’d been put to work. He was not going to be a popular man. “Ah well,” he sighed, put his fingers to his lips and issued a loud, sharp whistle.
“I didn’t know you could do that,” she murmured, impressed.
He winked at her. “There’s a lot about me you don’t know, my lady.”
It was her turn to sigh. “Gods, don’t I just know it.” And she was not likely to learn anything interesting any time soon, especially with the fleet’s departure now looming on the horizon.
“Students!” Lyrai shouted through cupped hands, having gained the attention of most of them with his whistle. “Let’s move.” When a rumble of dissent started – mostly among those making ample use of the free labour – Lyrai raised his hands. “Wing Marshal’s orders.”
Since the people who could defy the Marshal were few and very far between across the Overworld, students and sailors gave in with much grumbling. For a moment it looked like Destevan might refuse to let her helpers go, but a quick word from Derrain had the Ihran waving her hands.
“Bah, away then. You were doing it wrong anyway.”
“Related to Gedanon, I thought I heard someone say?” Lyrai asked Mhysra.
“His cousin,” she replied. “Derneon’s sister.”
“Huh. I expected it to be the other way around.”
Him and everyone else who knew all three Ihrans involved. “There’s a definite family resemblance,” she chuckled.
The word family wiped the humour from Lyrai’s face and he hunched his shoulders as he watched students trudge past him on the way back through the city to the cliff path leading to the Rider offices, eyries and barracks.
It also led to the Stratys palace and Mhysra could feel Lyrai’s tension ratcheting up tighter with every step closer. Where was her smiling lieutenant now? Maegla, she missed him. Even the stressed, harried Lyrai she’d known on their journey through the Cleansed Lands and back up to Nimbys had been so much better than this. She knew him, liked him, maybe even loved him, but this brooding, silent, Nimbys Lyrai was someone she didn’t know at all. And she hated it.
For Lyrai’s sake, the sooner they left the city, the better.
The Stratys Guard watched them approach the gate and Mhysra held her breath as Lyrai’s footsteps sped up. When he reached the centre of the gate, the guard snapped into a salute and Mhysra’s heart almost leapt out of her chest.
While she struggled to recover from her fright, Lyrai didn’t even flinch. He just kept his eyes fixed on the path ahead and kept on walking, strides getting longer and faster until Mhysra was practically running to keep up.
When he’d passed the last in the line, the guards relaxed again. They didn’t look at him, he didn’t look at them, no words were exchanged. That was it. Mhysra glanced from her lieutenant to the soldiers and shook her head. It was all so very, very strange and more than a little sad.
Once they were past the guards and the gate, Lyrai slowed down again, the worst of the tension leaching from his shoulders. He even had the presence of mind to look over at her with a small smile.
“Sorry,” he murmured, brushing the back of his hand against hers.
Mhysra longed to grip it, squeeze tight and ask him to tell her what was going on. To hold his face between her hands and stare into his eyes until he told her everything. But they weren’t alone, and worse, they were in full view of both the palace and the Rider offices. This was neither the time nor the place, and she was beginning to fear they would never have the luxury of either, let alone both.
“One day,” she sighed in reply.
“Everything,” he said, and it was a promise, though one she doubted would ever be fulfilled.
Still, when he smiled at her, she couldn’t resist smiling back. It was a small thing but the only affection they could safely share in such a setting. Despite miryhls not being well known for keeping secrets, gossip about her and Lyrai seemed to be either nonexistent or very, very quiet and she intended to keep it that way. So she smiled at Lyrai and shared only the briefest moment of eye contact, afraid otherwise of what her face might reveal.
His own smile was understanding, his eyes warm. He brushed his hand against hers again and Mhysra looked away.
Stirla stood before them, face solemn and all her hidden hopes and desires conjealed into a cold knot in her gut.
Lyrai stopped beside her, but when she hesitated he shook his head. “Carry on, student,” he ordered, and even though she knew he had to, because of where they were, because of who they were, it still hurt. The distance on his face, the coolness in his eyes. For a moment he’d been her old Lyrai, but now he was back to being a stranger again. How she hated it.
Stirla’s expression was sympathetic as he too nodded at her. “On you go, Mhysra. They’re waiting for you at the eyries.”
Taking a last glance from one lieutenant to the other, frustrated that there was no place for her in that moment, she eventually bowed her head and walked on. The order had been given, the fleet was almost ready. They would be leaving on the morrow.
She couldn’t wait.
~ Next Chapter ~