Kyrie granted the new Welkin pair half a turn to tighten their bond. Halley discovered her Aigle’s needs and wants as they established the routines necessary as a linked pair. She rode comfortably in the notch of Edel’s neck. Auger checked in discretely from time to time and reported back to her instructor.
It’s been over two daybreaks and light falls… I’m growing!
Halley entered the cavern dressed in her Welkin uniform. Edel was not on his platform in the cavern. Instead, he stood on the edge of the ledge, waiting.
I was only teasing… I am here now.
The Aigle stretched out his right leg so she could climb up and take her place. Once securely positioned, she gave the command.
Find your prey!
The juvenile Aigle crouched low and pushed upwards with both feet, launching them off the edge. With one down sweep of his wings, they were aloft. The first few times they practiced this, the sheer force of the movement caused a severe head pounding for Halley. Since then, she’d adjusted and found the whole feeling of flight with Edel exhilarating. There was a feeling of freedom and the speed of flight was faster than anything man could create.
I should hope so! Wings are far more efficient for moving swiftly through the air than two spindly legs stuck to the ground.
Spindly legs? You’re flying a thin line… I can give the command to return.
No! My apologies, not your legs. They remain wrapped around my neck perfectly! We are one. I meant no offence, Halley.
She had barely thought those two words when Edel dove headfirst toward the ground. He’d folded his wings back against his body and they were gaining speed at an incredible rate. The force pushed all breath out of her lungs as Halley held on tight to the straps that kept her upright.
The dive ended as her Aigle brought his head upright, opened his wings to break their descent, and extended his talons. Three heartbeats later, they were back on top of the cliffs of the Keep. Halley dismounted and walked to a large flat rock high above the plateau. She watched Edel as he fed; it was a bloody sight as he tore his prey apart with his sharp beak and gobbled down the still-warm flesh.
“Are you used to this yet?”
Halley hadn’t heard the other rider behind her. She waited until he sat down a stone’s throw away and began watching his own Aigle feed.
“No, it takes hours to dry his feathers after he dips himself in the cleansing pool.”
“I hear you. Talyn is the same, and he’s a grown Aigle now.”
She nodded and wondered if any rider ever got used to it.
I’m sorry… I don’t mean to offend.
You’re not offending me, Edel. This is one adjustment I must make. We prefer our food cooked while Aigles like it warm, bloody, and raw.
You kill your food a second time!
Halley laughed out loud.
“What did he say?”
“We were comparing how humans eat versus Aigles, and he said we kill our food a second time by cooking it.”
The Welkin rider burst into laughter. “He has a great sense of humour. Talyn analyses everything. I wish he had a better sense of humour.”
You don’t understand my sense of humour.
Talyn sounded miffed, and Halley had to pretend she didn’t hear him.
“I’m Calum, rider of Talyn.”
“Halley, rider of Edel, sorry the whole Keep knows who you are—the first female Welkin in Bazahn’s history.”
Halley’s back stiffened as she met Calum’s gaze. “The Sajan chose me.”
“Yes, he did. I meant no offence, Welkin.”
You are tense. Are you being threatened?
No, Edel, there is no threat. You’re right, I am tense. I need to stop reacting as if every other rider is a threat.
Calum has a good heart; Talyn has a dry sense of humour. I like them.
Duly noted, now finish your kill.
Edel’s trill of contentment washed through her mind and body, relaxing her tense muscles.
“No offence taken, Calum. It’s still difficult for me not to expect to be challenged by every rider I meet.”
He nodded but didn’t respond. His silence gave her the space she needed to finish her thought.
“I have noticed the change in attitude towards me since that night. I am still having nightmares. Their screams echo in my dreams.” She shook her head and looked off into the distance for a few heartbeats before continuing. “Edel likes your Talyn, by the way.”
“Talyn likes him too. Welkin do not look back, only forward; this is our way. You’ll learn once you’re assigned to a WatchWing.”
“Our half turn is almost over, and neither one of us knows what to expect next. I am assuming Kyrie will teach us the duties and responsibilities of Welkin pairs, including formation flying. It would be dangerous to place us in a WatchWing without that knowledge and those abilities.”
Calum watched his Aigle while he listened. “It sounds like you’ve given this a lot of thought.”
“Edel and I have thought it through, and this makes the most sense to us.”
Let Kyrie tell them. It’s more fun that way!
Talyn’s voice made her jump. “Darn leg has fallen asleep! You think I’d learn not to sit on one leg on these rocks.”
Are you finished your feast, Edel?
She looked across and saw him with an enormous piece of flesh in his beak.
Don’t rush, you’ll regurgitate!
She shook her right leg one more time for good measure and sat back down with both legs in front of her.
“Did everything you learned as a Novice make sense?”
“Eventually, but not during the actual exercises. Half the time Fargo and I didn’t have a clue why we had to learn the wind tunnel formations and scale the outer cliffs.” She chuckled at the memories and noticed her heart ached a little less. “Duty above all.”
Calum nodded. “Talyn’s finished. We’ll see you down at the cleansing pool.”
Halley nodded and watched as he moved off the plateau and to the ledge. Three heartbeats later, rider and Aigle were but a speck in the distance.
You must be the slowest eater in the entire Keep.
I can’t help it. I hate the tendons. The others eat those tough stringy bits, but I cannot tolerate the feel of them!
She laughed so hard her stomach hurt. I had to link with an Aigle who has texture issues with his food.
I heard that! I can’t help it if I have a sensitive beak.
Of course not, Edel. I’m sorry I laughed.
The others laugh at me, that’s why I choose to eat alone or when Talyn hunts.
Halley hung her head in shame. How had she missed that?
If you listened to the other Aigles, you would know.
Only the Elder, Presage, Kyrie, and Auger know I have that gift. I don’t want the others figuring it out until they decide to make it known.
Edel finished his last bite. Then we wait.
A few heartbeats later, they joined Calum and Talyn at the cleansing pool.
With morning repast finished, Halley stood to leave and attend to Edel. A hand on her arm stopped her.
“Your half turn ended at last light, Halley. It’s time for the Keep’s newest Welkin pair to take their place.” Kyrie said loud enough for her ears only.
She dropped back onto the bench and felt her heartbeat quicken. Ryvka was already at the front of the Klaven with the mallet raised above the gong. The sound reverberated off the rock walls, and all talking ceased.
“Welkin Halley, stand beside me.”
Halley stood as straight as she could. Every eye was on her, and the chatter amongst the Aigles of the Keep was almost deafening. She pushed their voices to the back as she approached The Elder.
Ryvka struck the gong again. As the sound ebbed away, the remaining Welkin stood to their feet, crossed their arms, and bowed in respect, not only to The Elder but also to her.
You’ve earned their respect and the respect of all the Aigles in the Keep.
Auger’s voice cemented the reality of the moment, and she didn’t notice Kyrie’s arrival until she heard his voice.
“Welkin of the Keep, for the first time in our history, we have a female Welkin who possesses the ability to hear all the Aigles in the Keep.”
Silence descended as shock and disbelief covered the faces of the other riders. Halley searched for Calum, but could not find him.
Talyn cannot keep a secret.
You told Talyn?
He sensed your laughter when Calum didn’t get his joke. We talked at the cleansing pool and it was out before I could think.
“My Presage and Kyrie’s Auger have verified Halley’s ability. She can hear all Aigles, but not their riders. It is a gift with much potential and one that will prove useful to this Keep,” Ryvka affirmed.
“WingLeader Castin, rider of Firth, you and the members of your WatchWing are now complete,” Kyrie announced.
Before she could gather her scattered thoughts, a man of middle years approached them. He had hair the colour of fire and eyes the colour of the seas. He bowed once before The Elder and once before Kyrie. Then he turned to face her.
“As WingLeader, I accept our newest Welkin pairing.” He nodded once, and she acknowledged his acceptance by following him back to the table occupied by his entire WatchWing.
She glanced around the table and recognized only one face, Calum sat grinning up at her. She allowed a brief smile before taking the empty seat next to him.
A thin man with dark curly hair and blue eyes stood to his feet. “I am FirstWing Gebrel, rider of Brack.”
“I am SecondWing Jansen, rider of Argo,” the short, stocky man beside Gebrel said.
The next Welkin nodded. “I am ThirdWing Calum, rider of Talyn.”
Halley cleared her throat. “I am FourthWing Halley, rider of Edel.”
The Elder struck the gong one last time. “WatchWings, you have your assignments. Fly High!”
Halley followed her new WatchWing out of the Klaven. Castin dropped back while the others went in different directions.
“Halley, alert Edel to be ready when you return to your chambers. I will have Firth relay our assembly area on the top of the cliffs to him.”
He didn’t wait for her reply. Halley obeyed and was halfway to her chambers when Edel’s voice rang through her mind.
Firth has shown me. Today we fly with the others.
Are you ready?
Halley strode through her chambers and into Edel’s cavern. He perched on the edge of the ledge, waiting with his right leg already extended. She climbed up to her notched seat and grabbed onto her flying straps.
Edel sprung into the air, and within seconds they had landed a little behind Calum and Talyn atop the cliffs, in a large flat area that accommodated all five Aigles. Castin raised his right hand in the air and dropped it down to his side. “Fly High!”
With that command, the WatchWing became airborne with Castin in the lead, Gebrel to his left by a full wing and Jansen to his right by a full wing. Calum took position behind Gebrel by a full wing, and Halley watched Edel deftly position them behind Jansen by a full wing. She looked across and saw they were in flying in perfect unison with Calum and Talyn.
How do you know this flight pattern?
Firth showed me. We were born for this!
The joy in his voice matched the joy in her heart.