“AND THEN THE Countess arrived. Oh, Jaymes, I wished you’d been there. One moment it’s all Stratys family drama, then in walks Mhysra’s mother, calm and dignified. ‘I hear you’re having transportation problems… Gentlemen, consider them solved.’ Snap!” She clicked her fingers. “Just like that, this beautiful little woman solves all the Riders’ problems. I am in love.” Corin clutched her hands to her chest and sagged back against the wall with a deep sigh.
Despite everything, Mhysra’s lips twitched with amusement, because, yes, her mother had been magnificent in that moment. It didn’t quite make up for everything that had gone before, and Lunrai certainly wasn’t helping the Riders because she’d come to her senses and seen her error in trying to force her youngest daughter into another way of life, but who cared? The Riders were finally going to Aquila – and the Kilpapan fleet would take them there.
Still swathed in bandages and barely able to move, Jaymes nevertheless turned his eyes to look at Mhysra. He couldn’t talk yet, but his question was clear. After all, he was her friend and had heard plenty of tales of Mhysra’s family troubles – mostly from Corin.
“We’ve come to a temporary truce,” she explain, though in truth things between her and her mother were both far more complicated and a lot less decided than that. After her announcement at dinner the night before, the Countess had spoken privately with the general in the study then gone to bed, pleading exhaustion. When Mhysra rose bright and early this morning, her mother had already left to meet with the Wing Marshal. The only words she had spoken to Mhysra had been before their guests the night before.
Nothing more needed to be said. Her mother expected her to retrieve Kilai’s body and bring it home to the Kilpapan estates. That was the price for her help – which Mhysra would have willingly done it anyway. Her poor brave brother deserved better than to rot in the lonely caverns beneath Aquila.
“If you can’t work things out with your mother,” Corin said, sitting up, “do you think she’d adopt me?”
Jaymes made a sound of amusement and Mhysra smiled wryly. “The Countess would probably be happy to take you on as an assistant, as long as you leave the Riders first, but I don’t know what she’d make of your partner.” She looked pointedly at the blue dragonet draped across her friend’s lap. They hadn’t seen much of Skybreeze lately, since he spent most of his time curled up around the still slumbering Emberbright, either on or beneath Jaymes’ bed. When they did see him, he was often subdued, although no one expected it to last very long after Emberbright woke.
If she woke.
Mhysra frowned at the little red dragonet, who looked perfectly healthy as she slept beneath Jaymes’ bandaged hand. Yet she wouldn’t wake. When Jaymes had first begun to stir four days ago, everyone – Goryal included – had expected his dragonet to follow. Her continued slumber was a mystery to everyone involved in their care, though Jaymes’ human healers were visibly relieved not to be dealing with a conscious fire dragon.
Perhaps she wouldn’t wake until Jaymes had fully recovered, which considering the extent of his injuries, could be quite a while yet.
“Wisp would never forgive me,” Corin grumbled, running a hand along Skybreeze’s smooth scales and playing with his wings. The dragonet purred under the attention and flexed his tail. He’d grown again – his tail was definitely longer and his wings were finally starting to take shape. Perhaps one day soon he might start trying to fly. Mhysra smiled at the prospect.
Jaymes shifted his head and raised the hand not resting on Emberbright’s back. When he had both of his friends’ attention, he thumped his hand down and grunted.
Mhysra looked at Corin, who shrugged.
Jaymes made a sound of frustration.
“Drink?” Mhysra guessed.
A sharp shake of his head.
“You want to work for Mhysra’s mother too?” Corin asked.
Jaymes groaned and tipped his head back against his pillows.
Mhysra thought over the rest of what they’d said that morning. “Ah. When do we leave?”
Jaymes nodded, waving his hand over himself in further question.
She grimaced sympathetically. “I don’t know how long it will take the fleet to gather, but knowing my mother it’s already in motion. A quarter moon, perhaps, half at most. We’ll be gone before summer arrives.”
Making another sound of frustration, Jaymes slumped into his pillows. He’d made great progress in his recovery, all things considered, but there was still too far to go. Barring a miracle, when the Riders sailed for Aquila Jaymes would not be amongst them.
“I’m sorry.” Mhysra leant forward and rested her hand carefully over his.
He sighed deeply.
Hefting Skybreeze into her arms, Corin stood and lay the dragonet back on the bed with his fellow. Then she kissed Jaymes on his bandaged forehead. “Don’t fret, Red. Just get better. We’re going to need you and Ember when we take those bastards down.”
He hummed in agreement, but his eyes were sad as they drooped closed. Pressing a kiss to his padded cheek, Mhysra whispered goodbye and followed Corin from the room.
Elder Goryal stood outside with Dhori and Derrain for company.
“How is the patient?” the elder asked, smiling.
“Wishing he could heal faster,” Mhysra said, feeling bad for her friend.
“Hm.” Wrinkling their nose, the dragon slipped into the room. Dhori followed with a thoughtful frown.
“You told him we’re leaving?” Derrain asked, turning around to walk back out with the girls since Jaymes was only supposed to have two visitors at a time.
“Complete with dramatic reconstruction of last night’s exciting events,” Mhysra said wryly, waving in Corin’s direction.
The other girl chuckled. “It was too good not to share.”
“The Countess has always known how to make an entrance,” Derrain agreed. After spending several years working on the Kilpapan flagship, he likely knew Lunrai better than Mhysra did. “Have you spoken to her yet?” he asked her, proving that he knew both of them very well indeed.
She shook her head. “I’ve not yet had that privilege.”
Wrapping his arm around her shoulders, he gave her a supportive hug. “Well, since your mother kindly set the pyrefly amongst the doelyns, all the higher ups are running around in a fret, paying no attention to what anyone else is up to. What say you to sneaking into the eyries, grabbing our feathered friends and paying Rhiddyl a visit?”
“That,” a familiar, if unexpected, voice made all three of them jump, “sounds like an excellent plan. I always knew you were smart, Derry.” Stirla emerged from one of the patient rooms and slapped him on the shoulder. “Coming, Lyrai?” he called over his shoulder.
Stepping out of the larger lieutenant’s shadow, Lyrai’s smile was faint and his eyes bruised with exhaustion as he nodded. “Wouldn’t miss it. One last chance at freedom before the hard work begins.” His eyes met Mhysra’s and his smile warmed – as did she, remembering their greeting the night before. Gods, how long ago that lovely moment seemed. She flexed her hand, which was still a little sore from the fierce grip he’d had on it before storming from the dining table later in the evening.
“That’s my lieutenant,” Corin chuckled, pushing through the door to outside, where sunshine danced between heavy showers. “You always know how to keep our spirits up with your good cheer and positive outlook.”
“Are you mocking your lieutenant, student?” Stirla asked gruffly.
Unworried, Corin laughed and spun in a circle, her spirits high. “Why, yes, sir,” she bowed to both Riders with a flourish, “I do believe I am.”
“Excellent.” Stirla gave her an approving nod. “Keep up the good work.”
Lyrai rolled his eyes at the teasing and hung back to let the laughing pair go on ahead. Derrain shot Mhysra a wink and strolled after them, leaving her to walk alongside her lieutenant, close but not quite touching, their hands occasionally brushing against each other. As they passed into the shadow beside the eyries, he hooked his little finger around hers and stole a brief kiss.
“Good morning, my lady.”
“Good morning, my lieutenant.”
A hatch crashed open overhead. “Last one in the sky is a rotten pyrefly egg!” Corin yelled, dangling precariously through the window until someone – Derrain, most likely – hauled her yelping back in again.
Mhysra and Lyrai shared a look, smiled – then she hooked her ankle around his, pushed him into the wall and ran while he was still recovering.
Cumulo would never forgive her if they were last.
~ Next Chapter ~