The Bitterbynde Trilogy

The Bitterbynde Trilogy by Cecilia Dart-Thornton

Book: The Bitterbynde Trilogy by Cecilia Dart-Thornton Read Free Book Online
Authors: Cecilia Dart-Thornton
Noblesse Squadron.
    The part-time stableboy led the compliant eotaur out into the circuit corridor. Other Skyhorses hung their long heads over the half-doors of loose-boxes, watching.
    A black-and-silver horse-rug covered West Wind’s back; on it, her name and the Stormriders’ zigzag lightning device were embroidered in frosted capitals. Her coat glistened as if oiled, every muscle delineated. Her horns were polished marble. She was iron-shod—only when a Skyhorse had been brought up to the height of its run would the sildron hoof-crescents be clipped on and the flying-girth added.
    â€œThis way,” said the second groom, tightening his taltry strings from sheer habit.
    The three stablehands worked together quietly in the saddling rooms while the youth, his job finished, looked on. When the girth had been tightened and checked, when sildron hoof-casings had been attached and the mare had taken her fill from the water-trough, Hoad walked with her around and around the circuit corridor to warm her sinews. She floated slightly, placing her feet with calculated exactness as she had been trained, flexing her wings.
    Two other saddled eotaurs joined in. Their strappers chatted to Hoad as they strolled.
    â€œBad uncomber yesterday,” said the old ostler gloomily. “Couple of our boys were caught, out past the far meadow. Came in and got drunk, after. Bad tableau down in the forest near the boundary. You know the one?”
    His companions nodded.
    â€œReckon unstorms are worse these days than when I was a lad. Much worse.”
    The others somberly grunted agreement.
    â€œPirates, too,” Hoad the Toad continued savoringly, “sailors on the Dragonfly said there’s some about. Windship was plundered up northwest in the high country. Vicious, they were. Showed no mercy.”
    A gatekeeper hurried in, extricating a timepiece on a fob from the folds of his tunic. He opened its gilt-metal lid, revealing a single hand on an unglazed face. After consulting it briefly, he raised the portcullis of Gate West Five Hundred.
    The wind was warm. It was the beginning of Summer: Uianemis, the Greenmonth. Already the new season had provoked those downstairs into preparations for the Lugnais Festival and Greatsun Day.
    A passenger lift descended and opened into the mounting rooms. The lift-keeper bowed deeply as three Relayers and their attendants swept out of the doors. Within the open cage, lamplight shone on pale buttoned-satin walls and intricately carved rosewood seats strewn with beaded cushions.
    The Relayers of the Noblesse Squadron, in short cloaks and leather riding boots, clipped sildron flying-belts to their waists and paced restlessly. Beneath belted doublets of soft black leather they wore black linen shirts, the full sleeves gathered at seams just below the shoulders. Three silver stars glinted on each epaulet, echoing the gleam of the Stormrider V across the chest and the insignia over the heart. Thick black breeches completed the riding outfit. Two Relayers were silent; one badgered the equerries with questions and demands, obviously impatient to be off.
    Pages, footmen, and stewards busied themselves. The gatekeeper stood watch, staring westward over the forest toward the mountain range. Mellifluous colors surged in and lay in pools of honey on the floor. Unable to restrain his curiosity, the flawed youth peered from around a corner.
    â€œThey come,” announced the gatekeeper, stepping precariously out on the doorsill. As he finished speaking, a single, silver note sounded from the watchmen on the parapets, whose spyglass saw farthest. Three dark specks came out of the sunset, forming themselves into horses and riders, wings double-arched, cloaks flying.
    â€œWind’s still from the west,” said the gatekeeper, eyeing a windsock, “about ten knots.”
    Equerries helped their masters to pull on flying helmets and gauntlets. The Lord Relayers swung themselves up into the

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