I ran both my hands through my hair in frustration. “If only one of you would talk at a time-”
“Then you might zone out again,” one twin said with a glare.
“Last time you zoned out you learned nothing,” the other continued.
“So pay attention.”
One was on my left, and the other was on my right, and their every other sentence thing was starting to give me a headache.
“So, to recap,”
“what type of government do we practice?”
I glared at the book that was my required reading for the day. They hadn’t even let me open it yet. “The king is an absolute monarch, but the nobles, his advisory board, are elected in a republican democracy style. The queen is basically an extension of the king’s authority and tends to deal with the foreign relations aspect while the king focuses on problems within our own sphere.”
“You only explained the major roles.”
“Who balances out the royals?”
“The nobles,” I answered. “The system is built so that if 80% of the nobles disagree with a monarch’s actions, then they can overrule them.”
“What authority do minor royals and nobles hold?”
I sighed and rubbed my temples. “We are minor royals, and the only difference between us and the non-courtiers is that we hold respect for our titles. Obeying us is not mandatory but usually done due to tradition, and among light-darky relations, we hold the same rank they would equate to our title. Minor nobles do not go to court but rule smaller governments, and an example is a governor. Usually they are elected, but there have been occasions where a monarch appoints them, though that is rare. There, that’s everything you two have been drilling into me the last two hours! Can my lessons be done?”
They exchanged a knowing look over my head. “After this lesson is your fight and flight lesson.”
I stood, wanting to do something physical. “Okay, let’s do that.”
Neither of them stood. “If that is what you want,”
“we won’t stop you.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Are you two not coming?”
They smiled innocently. “We are not your teachers for fight and flight.”
I stiffened when two things dawned on me. Dirg was approaching from the corner he had been “guarding” me from, and they had said fight and flight! As in flying. As in Dirg was going to teach me to fly. I had seen darky parents “teach” their children to fly. It involved taking them to the edge if the land of eternal darkness (which floated in the sky, by the way) summoning their wings, and then throwing them off.
I sat back down. “So, um, when did the transition from absolute monarchy to absolute monarchy with democratic aspects occur?”
The twins laughed.
“Government lessons are over,” one stated in his mirth.
“It actually is time for your physical lessons.”
“Yes, Dirg is your teacher.”
“You really should have tried to launch harder, Sis.”
Wait, did one just call me Sis?
They both grinned and waved for me to leave, saying at the same time, “Now, get going.”
I reluctantly looked up to Dirg and his self-satisfied smirk. He’d been with me all day, from the hour I spent in court, to lunch, and now through my lessons with first Queen Pat and now the twins. It had taken through lunch for me to not only wrap my mind around the role reversal, but also to keep my mind from focusing on him. I was glad he wasn’t right behind me as I had been him, or my brain would have been mush. Now he was going to “teach” me to fly. Oh joy. I sighed and went to the library entrance.
“I need to change first,” I stated.
Dirg opened the door for me, still smirking. “Of course, Princess.”
I scowled at him, for I couldn’t tell if he was trying to be demeaning or just using my title. We walked down the hall in silence until I couldn’t take it anymore and turned on him.
“Are you going to throw me off the edge?” I demanded.
He cracked up laughing, and a passing gang of housekeepers stopped to watch.
“What is so funny!?”
“I guess you’ll have to wait and find out, won’t you?” He answered, failing to hide his mirth.
I turned back around in a huff and slammed the door to my chambers in his face when we got there. The option to just refuse him teaching me didn’t occur to me. I could just say no, and what could he do about it? However, saying no to Dirg was so immensely difficult that the thought didn’t even cross my mind. Saying no as I had in the desert was natural, but saying no to him throwing me out into the sky was a revolutionary idea.
I went back out in workout clothes with my sword on my back and gestured in resignation for him to lead the way. He walked backwards.
“I want you to know that your father is aware of and approves of my teaching methods, if that gives you any comfort.”
“Oh, so you got my dad to allow you to throw me off the edge?”
He smirked. The only reason I knew he knew the difference between a smirk and a smile was the fact that he had actually smiled before.
“More or less. Don’t worry about it, and besides, we have fighting lessons first. Have you been practicing?”
I shrugged and he tsked.
“Well, let’s hope you didn’t Lucy those skills I taught ya, eh?”
I rolled my eyes, and he winked before he turned back around. Why was he trying to be funny all of a sudden? I hadn’t seen this witty, humorous side of him before his confession a few days ago. He had always been serious. Maybe it was a negative effect of the light.
We arrived at the training courtyard shortly, and I easily settled into the pattern of doing as he said when he said to do it. He checked my forms and corrected a few, and then we sparred for a bit. He was obviously going easy on me. After about an hour, we sheathed our weapons and he told me to summon my wings.
I sighed and did as told. He removed his sword from his back and stretched his wings out, preparing for flight. At least we weren’t going to the edge... Yet.
When my wings were fully out, he circled me. “Would you please hold them out as far as you can?”
I did so, unsure why. He nodded to himself and stopped in from of me.
“For us skyrunners, there are four main wing shapes: active soaring, passive soaring, elliptical, and high speed, all very similar to bird wing shapes but much bigger. Those of us with either soaring shape tend to have broader chests, and I have not known many elliptical wings among the darkies but plenty here. It appears that you inherited your mother’s wing shape and physical frame, meaning you are a high speed.”
“What are you?” I asked.
He stretched his out. “You see how long my wings are? Your father and the twins have similar shapes.”
“We are passive soaring. Queen Patricia and Princess Lilly are active soaring. Your shape seems to be rare among lightsies, but among darkies it isn’t all that uncommon.”
He stuck his hands in his pockets. “All that to say, starting you on the ground wasn’t the best move. Did you know most birds begin their flying experience by falling out of a nest?”
I glared at him. “Yes.”
He winked at me. “But since you are not a little kid, that’s not a good idea. No offense, but you don’t have the same learning curve they do, and you are already used to your body as it is.”
I nodded hesitantly. “So you aren’t going to throw me off?”
He shook his head. “Not at first, at least. For now, you need to start getting used to these things.”
He flapped his wings, sending him a foot in the air, but he landed as if he had jumped. I narrowed my eyes in envy. I had tried and tried and couldn’t do that. He smirked at that.
“Put your hands in your pockets and ignore your arms completely.”
I put them in my pockets, but it felt too awkward to ignore. There we were, facing each other with our hands in our pockets.
“Close your eyes,” he commanded softly.
I closed my eyes, and the awkwardness I was feeling lessened somewhat.
“Now, try to think of your wings as your arms. The connections to your back are your shoulders, your feathers are your hands and fingers, and the bones along the arm are multiple elbows.” I followed his voice as he continued telling me how to move my wings by comparing them to other parts of my body I was already familiar with. Basically, he gave me another set of forms to add to my now mandatory mourning routine. That was the entirety of the flying lesson for the day, and it wasn’t that long, maybe ten minutes, which surprised me. It seemed like something was missing. Wait, why did Dirg take his sword off? Dirg without Kindness was like Bert without Ernie. It could happen, it just made no sense.
He alleviated my confusion by turning his back to me and asking me to get on. I hesitated.
“Did Dad say it was okay?”
“Yes. Keep your wings out, okay?”
I got on his back as I had oh so many times before and he stood there for a minute.
“Okay, so... I want you to try to copy the movements I make with my wings. I need you to also hold onto me as tightly as you can with your legs. Squeeze the breath out of me, if you can.”
“Why?” I asked. He usually hated it when I squeezed him.
“Because if for some reason your wings were to catch a different air current than mine, if you are not holding on tightly, you could be ripped off of my back. This is my first time flying with someone with wings on my back, and we need to be careful.”
“Wasn’t I your first time carrying someone on your back anyway?”
He shook his head. “No. I carried the first Sunshine a few times. That’s where he tried to kill me.”
“How did you learn to fly?”
He scowled. “I’d rather not talk about that. Are you ready?”
I nodded and held on tight. He flexed his wings and warned me.
“I’m going to flap in 3, 2, 1, now!”
At “now” he flapped, and I did my best to flap as the twins had taught me. I ended up getting our feathers tangled and Dirg quickly landed in what I was sure was almost a crash. I blushed in mortification and was about to let go when he launched again, this time without warning.
“Keep your wings close to your back!” He called as he gained altitude.
I did as told, but I could already feel the difference from when I had flown with him before. The air itself seemed different. I had noticed the air’s difference on the ground, but among the air it was much more palpable. It was pushier. It felt like the air wanted to rip me off of Dirg’s back, and it just might have been able to if he hadn’t leveled off about then.
He looked over his shoulder at me with concern. “You okay?”
I nodded quickly. He seemed skeptical but turned his head so he could see ahead.
“Lay down flat on my back and spread your wings over mine, but keep your legs around my waist.”
I slowly did as he said, slowly because laying down on him was not something I did willingly, slowly because this was a thing I had never done before. I would pin his wings and restrict his movement, or so he claimed. Once I was fully there, the end of his wing arms were pressed firmly against my ribs, and I was trying not to notice my chest pushing against his shoulder blades. I extended my wings up and over his. His were rigid with the wind, and I could feel the draft over the top of his wings. The draft that helped him remain in the air. It was pulling at my wings, forcing them into submission.
I whimpered in fear. I had always wanted to fly, and flying with Dirg was one thing, but feeling my own wings in the wind was not...enjoyable. It was frightening. Dirg’s deep voice vibrated through me comfortingly.
“It’s okay, it’s new to all of us and scary at first. Close your eyes and trust your instincts. Feel the wind. Spread your feathers. Trust my wings.”
I forced myself to relax and did as he said. I grabbed his shoulders and then ignored my arms, feeling my wings instead. My feathers shifted with the wind, sometimes making contact with his. He settled into a glide.
“Good job Lucille. Keep doing it just like that. This is going to sound weird, but I want you to pay attention to my body. Feel the shifts in my weight. Feel the tension in my back. That’s it.”
I followed his voice and felt the flight. I was acutely aware of Dirg underneath me, but I could still feel the wind around us. Dirg was my anchor in this wide, open sky. Lilly had brought me swimming a few times, and this was even weirder than being in water. It was freeing. It was intense. It was freaky and wrong yet... Oh so right.
“Alright. I’m going to turn right to avoid the barrier. I will tilt right, my right wing will go down, left wing up, and I will tilt my lower body almost exactly opposite of that using my abs. I want you to try to tilt your wings too, okay?”
I opened my eyes so I could see the barrier. “Okay.”
It was still a good bit away, and I knew Dirg didn’t need much room to bank. He was obviously trying to account for the extra pair of wings that were highly inexperienced. That made me grin if ever so slightly because he was thinking of me.
He began to tilt, so I followed suit. I nearly panicked when it felt like I was going to slide off of his back, and my legs, which I hadn’t noticed had been loosening from the previous death grip, retightened on his torso. I felt him chuckle, and the turn went rather smoothly. I think. I wasn’t used to what a smooth turn felt like, really. When I flew with Dirg before, I focused on my reactions to his movements, not his reactions to the wind or the overall quality of his flight. Now, those were pertinent. I knew that one day I would have to be up here on my own, and as much as that thought scared me, I did know that Dirg was trying to get me as accustomed to the air as possible.
Suddenly, his wings tilted upward and so did mine! I yelped and nearly squeezed the life out of his shoulders, causing him to chuckle again.
“That was an updraft, Lucy. Warm air rises. Cool air sinks. This creates cycles. Think of it as the earth breathing, and just go along with it. Don’t fight it, twist it, use it.”
As he spoke, he shifted subtly. He was rising, easily manipulating the wind to take him the direction he intended. He didn’t need to flap, his giant wings caught the air enough to propel him forward and keep him up. I slowly relaxed again, this time keeping my eyes open with my head facing the right, watching his wing twitch and feathers shift. My black and gold wings were a stark contrast to his pure white ones. This wasn’t something I had ever thought possible, my wings were darker than Dirg’s!
“I know why you can fly so well,” I stated matter-of-factly.
“Oh?” He sounded amused. “Why is that?”
“Because you’re a master of manipulation.”
There was no response from my flight teacher. That was okay with me. My head was resting on the back of his, and his hair smelled like some sort of spicy shampoo.
“I need to flap,” he said, his voice void of emotion.
I tried to understand why he needed to flap based on our surroundings, but I couldn’t pinpoint it.
“How do you know?”
“Have you ever stood for a while and felt your legs stiffen?”
“Flapping is similar to shifting your weight from side to side.
That made a little sense, I guess.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Try to use your arms to push yourself off of my wing arms.”
I did as he said, giving him some room to move. He lifted his wings to flap, and the wind decided that moment was a great time to force my wings into submission. The wind seemed to gather under my feathers and push me even further away from Dirg’s back. It happened so fast that my grip on Dirg’s shoulders shattered and I was blown to a sitting up position, my wings straining and my legs holding onto him with every fiber of my being.
That’s when the spiraling began. I yelped and tried to get a hold of Dirg again, but the wind was too strong. It whipped me this way and that way, and soon enough I didn’t know which way was down and which was right. I felt Dirg’s strong hands grab my ankles, and I caught a wisp of his voice before he pulled my legs off of him and the wind whipped me around all by myself. I tried to get a hold of it; I tried to wrangle it to obey me as other skyrunners did, but it just taunted me. My eyes were shut tight, so I would not see the ground racing up at me. I was falling, and the only other time I had felt this much fear was when I had awoken to a man laying on me and tearing at my clothes.
I felt the dark explosions start when something solid hit my right side and the world stopped spinning. I dared to crack an eye open when the sensation of falling departed my stomach.
“Sunshine, pull your wings in!”
I responded quickly and pulled them in, not to my back, but into my back. Once they were fully in, Dirg adjusted his grip behind my shoulders, his strong arms holding me tightly to his chest. His eyes were not on me, for he was looking around me. My irrational brain thought he was ashamed of me, but the logic kicked in and told me he was looking under me, since me in his arms blocked his view of the ground.
“Are you okay?” he asked
I grasped his shirt and buried my face in it in answer. He grunted and the wind seemed to slow around us. He must have landed gently, for I didn’t notice until he spoke again, softly this time.
“Lucy? I’m on the ground. You can let go any time now and I’ll put you on the ground too.”
I dared to open an eye a slit. All I saw was his shirt, which I was strangling between us. His arms slowly moved to where he was holding me bridal style, not squished to his chest. I dared look a little more. His gaze was intent on me, those storm green eyes intense yet vulnerable.
“You made me let go,” I had meant for that to be accusatory, but it came out more as a question.
He nodded. “It was the only way I could get control. It was too hard to get it while we were connected, and I needed it to stabilize us both. I wasn’t going to leave you, Lucille.”
I managed to unlatch my fingers, but they were sore. He ever so gently bent down to let my feet hit the floor. As soon as they did, I let go of him and collapsed gratefully to the solid earth. He cursed under his breath and reached for my arm, but I flinched away.
“Hey, it’s okay. Neither of us is hurt, right?”
I nodded hesitantly, looking him over. He smiled slightly, a twinkle of mischief in his eyes. He swiftly picked me up, soliciting a yelp from me as I latched onto the only sturdy thing nearby, him.
“Put me down,” I objected.
He leaned his ear towards me. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.”
He began walking as I realized he did have a point. I had basically whispered that. I cleared my throat.
“Put me down!”
He smirked and shook his head. “I’m taking you to a medic. You weren’t standing, you must be hurt.”
He was so serious, I almost forgot he had recently been developing a humorous side.
“I can stand!” I protested.
He stopped and met my gaze with a challenge in his. “Okay, then prove it.”
“Put me down, and I will.”
He dropped my legs but kept his grip around my back. He had his arm hooked under mine in such a way as to not let me touch the ground yet still not holding me inappropriately against his chest. I struggled in vain to touch the ground, but he just smirked and wiggled his eyebrows at me.
“Doesn’t look like you can stand,” he quipped.
I stopped and glared at him, which only seemed to increase his amusement.
“Put. Me. Down.” I commanded.
He saluted with his other hand and lowered me to let my feet touch the floor. I pushed away from him and put some distance between us, calming my racing heart. Just then, the twins came flying over to us. They landed on either side of me, one immediately pulling me into an embrace.
“Are you both alright?”
“How did you start falling?”
“How did you catch her?”
“Why did you-”
Dirg interrupted their constant barrage of questions. “Boys, boys, we are fine. A little wind caught your sister’s wings and we started to fall. We were high enough up that I had time to right myself and catch her. No damage done.”
“I am not flying again,” I inserted, glaring at them in a dare to challenge me.
The twins looked at each other in that peculiar way that always made me think they were conversing silently. Dirg crossed his arms and shrugged. “That’s up to your family.”
I shook my head. “No. I’m not summoning my wings again. I don’t want to fly, and I believe I have already said as much.”
I turned on my heel and stormed off. We were in the gardens, I could find my way anywhere from here. I heard two pairs of wings take off and the twins landed next to me in stride. They didn’t argue with my declaration.
“You have free time until dinner.”
“Remember to read that book.”
“Though we did realize one day is a little too short,”
“so you have a week until we give you another,”
“unless you finish that one quickly.”
“Please try to stay in public places.”
“We trust Dirg,”
“but we don’t want to tempt him, either.”
“Dad’s arguing with Govorner Bradley,”
“and Mom is in America,”
“and Lilly is at basketball practice,”
“and we will be helping in the kitchen”
“if you need us.”
I nodded, still walking briskly. They seemed satisfied with that and launched, going up into the wider hall near the ceiling. I heard Dirg’s boot falls behind me, but not very close. He was back to being a bodyguard, not a teacher. I wasn’t sure whether I was glad for it or longing for proximity again.
I went to my room and showered, leaving Dirg outside the royal suite. The entire time, my unruly brain recapped the fall and how it felt to lay in Dirg’s arms. The words from his confession slipped into the memory. I love you, Lucille. He had yet to actually prove that statement, and I wasn’t sure if making me fall alone and then catching me went hand in hand with an admission of love. I snorted at that thought. What did I know of love, anyway?