“SILVEO!” THE LIEUTENANT called from the middle of the camp, somewhere near the cook fire. “Silveo, we need you!”
Sharing a rueful smile with Greig, Silveo stuffed his remaining apple crisps back into his bag and stood up. After all, with neither Mouse nor Haelle along, Silveo was the best healer they had. Gods help them all.
“Coming!” he called back, hefting his bag and heading towards the fire, wondering who’d stubbed their toe on a rock this time.
“Nice to feel wanted, isn’t it?” Greig murmured, having decided to come along.
Silveo narrowed his eyes at him. “I don’t know why they’re shouting for me. You’ve had as much healer training from Mouse as I have.”
Greig quickly held up his hands. “But none from Nehtl. You and Mouse both had a bit of that before we left the citadel. I didn’t.”
“Hm.” A weak argument at best, since Silveo didn’t really remember much of what he’d learnt then, but if Silveo was a novice healer, Greig was an useless one. It wasn’t that his friend didn’t try to learn from Mouse, he just wasn’t any good at retaining the important bits – such as which plants were poisonous and which weren’t.
“Ah, Silveo, there you are.” Imaino stepped in front of them. “It’s Bhern’s head. Again. He says it aches something fierce.”
Silveo shared a glance with Greig and his friend grimaced. This was another reason why they should have waited for Mouse to return before leaving. He would never have allowed Bhern to come along. Ever since he’d hit his head during the last dash through the tunnels to Buteo, the third-year student hadn’t been quite right. His head ached, he suffered from dizzy spells and his vision wasn’t what it should be. Rest and gentle duties were what Mouse – and Nightriver – had proscribed, and it had seemed to be working.
Mouse certainly would not have approved of a day’s hard march around the mountain. And he would have been right. Silveo knew that and, by the tight pinch of the lieutenant’s mouth, Imaino knew it too. Even worse, they’d allowed Bhern to traipse all the way up here with only a substandard healer and a minimal amount of herbs to tend to him with.
Silveo’s own lips pinched together in a thin, angry line, but he didn’t say a word of what he was feeling. Imaino was his superior officer and Silveo was technically still only a student.
“Just do what you can,” Imaino said softly, patting Silveo on the shoulder and vanishing into the dark to no doubt tend to yet more problems arising from their hasty, ill-considered departure.
“Did you pack the willow bark this morning?” Greig murmured, as they rounded the fire towards their groaning patient.
“I hope so,” Silveo replied grimly, not able to remember just what he had stuffed into the bag in the short time he’d been allowed to pack. “Gods, I wish Mouse was here.”
Greig snorted in agreement. “I’ll go fetch some water, shall I?”
Silveo nodded his thanks and settled in front of where Bhern was cradling his head in his hands. “I don’t suppose you brought any of that tea Mouse has been making for you, did you?” he asked, with far more cheer than he was feeling.
Bhern moaned. “Didn’t think.”
Clearly. “There’s a lot of that going around,” Silveo grumbled, and began digging through his pack in search of something useful.
“Water. Nice and hot.” Greig reappeared with a pot in his hands. “Toss something of that sweet smelling stuff in there, Ve, and let Bhern breathe in deep.”
Finding a packet of lavender, Silveo added it to the water and shoved the pot under Bhern’s nose. “Excellent idea.”
“I have been known to have them. Occasionally.”
“Very occasionally,” Silveo chuckled, relieved to see Bhern’s tense shoulders relax a fraction as the fragrant flowers filled the air. “Let’s find some willow bark.” He began pulling everything out of his pack, certain he would have thrown some in there. It was too useful to have been left behind.
A sharp gust buffeted the fire, scattering Silveo’s neat pile of packets and setting off a ripple of shouts from the group. Bunching his shoulders, Silveo shivered and scrabbled about after his precious herbs.
“Was that a…?” Greig murmured, standing slowly, eyes on the dark twilight sky.
“Hey!” Silveo slapped his friend on the leg. “A little help down here. I might not know what I brought, but I can’t afford to lose any of it.”
Another gust, more shouts and Silveo cursed, shoving the packets back into the bag for safe keeping. “This is useless. I need somewhere more sheltered. Can you see anywhere, Greig?”
When his friend didn’t answer, Silveo scowled up at him. “Greig. Hey, G! I said can you see -” Another gust cut off the rest of his words, his precious herb bag falling from his hands as he too stood slowly up beside his friend, head tipped back towards the sky.
Black shapes wheeled in the narrow gap between the valley sides, dark and distinctive against the deep blue background. Eagles. Giant eagles.
“Miryhls,” Silveo whispered, just as the largest bird banked on enormous wings and dived.
Although forced to skim across the height of the trees, the draft of the miryhl’s flight was still enough to make the fire blaze and both lads duck. So fast, so powerful.
The initial rush of joy Silveo had felt on realising what flew overhead, slowly cooled as he realised for the first time just how big and dangerous a miryhl could be. It had been different at Aquila, with the birds all gathered together in the eyries, tame and friendly, many of whom he’d known by name. But they weren’t at Aquila now. Did these miryhls even have names?
And would they still answer to them if they did?
“Miryhls!” Imaino strode away from the fire and the trees, into the open space at the head of the valley, laughing, arms thrown wide in joyful welcome. “Come down, my friends. Join us!”
“Sweet Maegla,” Silveo whispered, feet frozen to the ground as he watched the largest miryhl complete its latest pass, arching high, high in the air before turning, ready for another sweep. Great wings flapped, once, twice, then closed in tight for the swoop. “Imaino, get down!”
Black against the gathering night shadows, the miryhl dropped, swift and deadly. For a moment it could have gone either way – landing or striking – then it swung its feet forward, talons and pounces spread wide in vicious welcome.
“Imaino!” Silveo lurched forward, knowing he was already too late.
Greig wasn’t. While Silveo stood frozen, his friend had sprinted forward, tackling the lieutenant around the waist and sending him crashing into the grass moments before the miryhl struck.
Claws closing on empty air, the eagle shrieked, wings flapping frantically in an attempt to clear the trees. When that didn’t work, the miryhl swung around and dropped to the ground, momentarily defeated but still tall and fierce and lethal.
Silveo ran the rest of the way to where Greig lay in the grass, Lieutenant Imaino on his knees beside him, eyes wide with shock.
“She attacked me,” the lieutenant whispered in disbelief. “A miryhl attacked me.”
After a quick glance over Greig revealed no visible injuries, Silveo turned towards the bird himself.
Tall, dark and light-eyed, the miryhl was large and unmistakable.
“Mercata,” he said in recognition, no longer feeling surprised.
After all, if he had to pick any miryhl likely to attack a human, Lieutenant Willym’s bonded would definitely head the list.
Hearing her name, the miryhl growled, bouncing across the distance between them.
Wings mantled, feet raised, Mercata came for them with her beak open and her talons ready to slash.
Shoving Silveo aside, Imaino sprang to his feet and drew his sword in the same moment, lunging forwards to meet her.
Once again Mercata’s feet closed on empty air and she screamed in frustration, but this time she faced out into the valley and used the downward slope to launch back into the night. Up there she shrieked again and was answered by the rest of her flock.
Silveo lay on his belly in the grass, ready to spring up and run back to the safety of the fire. All around him, the sounds of weapons being drawn rang out into the night as miryhls swirled menacingly above.
Another scream and Silveo wasn’t the only one to tense, but there was no stoop this time, no folded wings or gleaming talons. Instead the small flock streamed away across the darkening sky and vanished into the shadows of the valley.
“Well.” Greig broke the silence from where he still lay on his back in the grass. “That was exciting. What’s for dinner? I’m starving.”
Sheathing his sword, Imaino laughed and held out a hand to his student. “Thanks to you it isn’t us, so I say you deserve first pick and as much as you can stomach.” He gripped Greig’s wrist and hauled him to his feet.
“Sounds great,” Greig chuckled, then his knees sagged and he fell into the startled Imaino’s arms. “Oh.”
Silveo leapt up in time to help his lieutenant lay Greig down, on his front this time, the better to view the bloody slash that scored the length of his back.
“Sweet merciful Maegla,” Imaino breathed, falling to his knees on one side of the boy while Silveo knelt on the other.
“Gods,” he whispered, staring at the wound and not even knowing where to begin. He couldn’t even remember what herbs he had. Would it need stitching? Did he even have a needle? “Oh, gods.”
“Silveo?” Greig mumbled, voice muffled from where he lay face down in the grass.
Carefully tilting his friend’s chin towards him, Silveo crouched until they were eye to eye. “What is it? What can I do?”
Greig smiled weakly. “Try and save my jacket,” he joked.
Silveo snorted, since everything his friend wore on his back was beyond ruined. “I’ll see what I can do,” he lied, but at least now had somewhere to start. He reached for the knife on his belt, ready to cut the clothes off his friend.
Greig grabbed his wrist, hissing painfully through his teeth as the move jostled his back. “Silveo.”
Bending down again, he locked eyes with his friend. “Yes?”
“You were right,” the younger boy ground out between gritted teeth.
“About?” he asked, aware that all around him the others were moving and Imaino was shouting orders for hot water and a stretcher and asking if anyone had a needle and sewing kit. Not wanting to think about that and what he would have to do before long, Silveo clasped Greig’s hand firmly.
“Mouse,” Greig whispered. “I wish Mouse was here.”
Great gods, so did Silveo. But he wasn’t, and even if someone was sent to fetch him, it would be another day before he could reach them. Greig couldn’t wait that long. “I’m sorry.”
Greig smiled wearily, closing his eyes and squeezing Silveo’s hand. “Just do your best,” he murmured. “And try not to make my scar too ugly. I’m trying to impress Haelle.”
When Silveo still hesitated, Greig turned his head the other way and released his hand. “Just do what you have to do, Ve. I trust you.”
Maegla, Silveo wished he could be worthy of that trust. But regardless of what he or Greig or anyone else wanted, Silveo was all they had and his friend needed him. So he took a deep breath, pulled himself together and began cutting the clothes from Greig’s back. First clean the wound, then…
Then he would deal with everything else, one task at a time.
~ Next Chapter ~