“I KNOW WE have not always seen eye to eye, you and I, but you cannot deny that we have many traits in common.”
Mhysra wished to do exactly that as she settled into one of the delicate, silk-covered chairs of her mother’s sitting room, uncertain whether she risked drinking the offered tea or not.
Reading her thoughts, her mother picked up her own cup and sipped with a small smile. “It’s not poisoned or drugged,” she said, and waited for Mhysra to take a begrudging sip of her own before adding: “This time.”
It was exactly the dry sort of humour that Cumulo loved and Mhysra felt herself smiling reluctantly. Being drugged and kidnapped by her own mother hadn’t been funny at the time, but in retrospect it was rather ridiculous. “You didn’t really expect that to work, did you?” she had to ask. After all, her mother was a fiercely intelligent woman who had created and controlled one of the greatest trading fleets on the Overworld. Sometimes Mhysra was almost proud to be her daughter.
The Countess put down her cup with a wry grimace. “Expect, no, not really. I just hoped.”
And that was the trouble between her and her mother. Lunrai really did think she knew best and was offering the brightest future for Mhysra. There were plenty of people across the Overworld, male and female, young and old, who would have jumped at the chance to succeed her in running the Kilpapan fleet - but Mhysra had never been nor even would be one of them. Her heart belonged to miryhls. Nothing else would do.
“You see, much though you would like to dispute it, we are very much alike. I grew up at Wrentheria too, after all, but where you loved it and wished to stay forever, I could not wait to escape. You could even say that I defied my parents to do so.”
Mhysra eyed her mother sceptically. “Aunt Mhylla never mentioned it.”
“Why would she?” Lunrai shrugged, cradling her cup against her chest and tucking her feet beneath her on the chair in a very unladylike - but extremely human - way. “My sister wanted you to stay as much as you wished to do so. It was not in her best interest to paint me in a sympathetic light.”
Mhysra wanted to scowl and protest, but even though her mother brought out her childish side, she wasn’t stupid. She knew her aunt extremely well and could recognise that Mhylla Wrentherin, a woman who had married for love yet refused to take her husband’s name, and would let no one else run the best miryhl breeding farm on the Overworld, was every bit as intelligent and ruthless as the woman sitting opposite her. Thinking about her own single-minded pursuit of life in the Rift Riders, Mhysra could acknowledge that a certain familial trait was developing.
Lunrai’s lips twitched at the mulish silence. “Mostly Mhylla wouldn’t have said anything because she very much shared my feelings. She wanted Wrentheria desperately and was not willing to share. Quite rightly. I care for and admire my sister a great deal, but we work together best when there’s a wide stretch of Cloud Sea between us. We are both rather too decided in our opinions and they rarely coincide. I wanted to leave and she wasn’t going to do anything to stop me. Our mother, your grandmother, was very much of the same mould, but not even she could hold back both of us.”
“So you married Father and achieved all your heart’s desires,” Mhysra said, a familiar sense of resentment rising. “And decided to do to me exactly as your mother had attempted to do to you.”
The Countess wrinkled her nose, but didn’t deny it. “Humans are doomed to repeat our mistakes, isn’t that what the dragons say? We don’t live long enough to learn our lessons properly, and you must acknowledge, Mhysra, that a life running the Kilpapan interests is more secure and lucrative than a career in the Riders.”
Since she couldn’t deny that, Mhysra inclined her head. “True, but it doesn’t account for Cumulo or my own wants, needs or heart’s desire.”
“I married your father for love, you know,” Lunrai said, seemingly out of nowhere. “My father didn’t approve. He thought it was just business and that your father cared more for me than I for him, and that any affection would swiftly wane. Although Wrentherin is an important name in the Lowlands, marrying into Imercian aristocracy was rather a step up for me. My father worried I might be ostracised, your father would lose his status and both of us would make each other miserable in our disappointment.”
Unable to see what that had to do with anything, Mhysra sipped her tea, stared at the carpet and waited.
“I didn’t care. I loved him. I would do anything for him. That’s why I created the fleet. The Kilpapans were on the brink of ruin. They’d kept it quiet, but things were getting desperate. He had two ships, undersized and out dated. I traded them in and used my dowry to buy something better and then I worked. I worked harder than I ever had in my life, because I wanted more than Wrentheria. I didn’t know back then exactly what it was I wanted, but I knew I wanted something different than what I’d had before. I wanted more than my parents’ disapproval and I wanted more than endless balls and parties and empty conversation.”
Mhysra looked up sharply at that and met her mother’s wry smile.
“Yes, we are very much alike you and I. Milluqua takes after your father, thank the gods, and she’ll be a fine heir to his interests. But you are very much a Wrentherin, very much my daughter, and I had hoped…” She sighed. “But I see now. You love Cumulo every bit as much as I love your father. You would do anything for him. Your life has been lived for him and will continue to be as long as you are both capable of it. Just because we are alike in many ways, does not mean we are the same.
“Ah, Kilai.” Shutting her eyes, she shook her head, her face a mask of sorrow. “I fixed my interests on the wrong child. Perhaps if I had brought him home earlier, drawn him into the business sooner… but I didn’t see that he too was looking for something else, something more. Your father had such plans for him, but Kilai was no Milluqua. He wasn’t even like you. He was different, a blend of both your father and me. He would have made a fine trader, if only I’d seen it sooner. The Riders was an escape for him, far away from your father and his plans. I thought it was a calling.” The Countess looked up, meeting Mhysra’s eye, a tear spilling down her cheek. “I was wrong. The calling was yours, not his. He was escaping, not you. You are a Rider because that’s what you need, he was a Rider because he thought he had no other option. Gods,” she raised her eyes and blinked back her tears, “what a mess. Mhylla must curse me daily.”
Letting her own tears flow, Mhysra put aside her tea and knelt before her mother’s chair, taking her hands. They were small and cold, dainty compared to her own battled-scarred skin, but equally callused with hard work. Strong too, as she gripped Mhysra in return.
“How can Aunt Mhylla curse you?” Mhysra said, feeling sympathy for her mother for the first time in her life. “She raised us, yes, but not even she saw that about Kilai. She gave him his miryhl and pushed him as firmly in that direction as anyone. I love Aunt Mhylla, but she can be every bit as blindly set in her ways as father.” It hurt to admit it, but it was true. Mhylla was the most incredible, wonderful aunt in all the world, but that’s because Mhysra’s dreams had always accorded with hers. She knew how hard her cousin Mherrin had had to fight to join the pyrefliers and choose a life away from Wrentheria and the feather-winged creatures her aunt had dedicated her life to breeding. Poor Kilai, caught between his father and his aunt. He hadn’t stood a chance.
“He was happy, you know,” Mhysra said, sniffing back her tears as she thought of her brother. “He enjoyed his life in the Riders, he was good at it. And he was in love.”
“Oh?” the Countess sniffled, releasing Mhysra’s hands and dabbing at her cheeks with her handkerchief. Then she leant forward and did the same for her daughter, patting the seat beside her on the dainty couch. “Tell me about her? Or was it a him?” She blew her nose with a sad and soggy laugh. “I didn’t even know him well enough to know that.”
“Her,” Mhysra said, feeling as if she was giving her mother a gift as she shifted to sit beside her. “Her name was Jynese. She ran the nakhound kennels at Aquila, daughter of the town baker and very much adored by all the starving Rider students for her never-ending supply of treats.”
“Nakhounds? I can see what drew the two of them together,” Lunrai chuckled, surprising Mhysra, who had almost expected her mother to turn her nose up at the thought of a kennel-working baker’s daughter as a match for her future-earl son. “I’d like to meet her.”
Another wave of tears pressed against Mhysra’s eyes as she shook her head, and it was her mother who took her hands this time. “She died at Aquila. Kilai couldn’t save her. He tried.”
“Oh… Oh, my poor Kilai.” Lunrai pressed a hand against her heart. “May Typhaestous reunite them in His Halls.”
Mhysra bowed her head and murmured her agreement to a prayer she had spoken too often of late.
Wiping at her eyes again, the Countess shook her head and sighed. “There will be a time to talk of your brother, to remember him well and grieve for all that was lost. But here and now, Mhysra, tell me of yourself, of your own adventures. The Dragonlands! I confess, as well travelled as I am, that is one place I have never been. Come, daughter, let us put aside the worries and sorrows for tomorrow. Tell me now of wonders.”
The unexpected shift in conversation had Mhysra smiling as she settled back on the couch. It wasn’t a position she’d ever imagined being in with her mother, but it felt good and right as she regaled her with adventures and wonders and dragons and a cloudless land deep into the stormy spring night.
~ Next Chapter ~