“This is our moment,” said Mary. “I’m sure Fuzz would say the same thing.”
Myrtlebell’s lips thinned as she pressed them together. She knew Mary was right, but she couldn’t help feeling uneasy. She grabbed up their cloaks and took Edward’s hand, and with a nod to Mary, followed her from the cavern.
Edward laughed in delight, the moment they stepped through the wet vines over the mouth of Mary’s cave.
Myrtlebell’s mouth and eyes dropped agape. “Mary!” she cried, shushing herself in wonder. “Those aren’t unicorns, they’re enormous birds. Are we flying on them?”
“Oh no,” said Mary. “Look at their tiny wings. These birds don’t fly, but they do run, and far faster than you’ve ever ridden before.”
“What kind of bird can’t fly?” said Myrtlebell.
“I assume you mean, ‘What are they called?'”
“These are diatrymas,” she said, as she reached up to stroke the neck of one of them. “Diatrymas are a sort of adar taranus. They are far more than just tame, they’re my personal friends. They’re exceedingly intelligent.”
“Adar taranus. Old Niarg for thunderbirds? I thought not a one of those survived the Greatest Burning.”
“I don’t understand…”
“Have you ever heard of the terrible wizard, Razzorbauch?”
“Wasn’t he the one who brought the dragons here? Fuzz was…”
“Well, we had best make haste, Myrtlebell. I’ll tell you all about it once we’re underway.” Mary turned at once to the birds. “Lladdwr, Ceidwad, kneel, if you would.” The two ten foot tall fowl obligingly folded their thick scaly legs and waited patiently on their breastbones in the leaves to be mounted.
“It would probably be best if I took Edward, while you get used to riding,” said Mary, as she helped Myrtlebell onto the smaller of the two birds. “This is Ceidwad. Just keep your legs ahead of her wings. You can put your arms around her neck, but don’t squeeze her windpipe.”
“Where are her reins?” said Myrtlebell, as her balance gave way and she sat suddenly onto the thickly padded saddle with a plump.
“She needs none,” she said, taking Edward onto her lap as she deftly swung round Lladdwr’s neck to sit on his saddle. “She’s too intelligent to need them. I’ve already
discussed where we’re going with Lladdwr and her.”
Once they were settled, the diatrymas rose together without being told to do so, and in a half dozen fluid strides, had sailed completely down the side of the tall hogback, with Edward waving happily at Myrtlebell as she hung on for dear life. Across the branch and effortlessly up the far side they went, until they reached the long ridge that they followed out of the timber to the thickets along the broad creek which they had crossed the day before, when they were fleeing Spitmorta and Demonica. Without the slightest hesitation, the giant birds ran straightaway into the water, stepping over its surface and plunging to the bottom with each stride, making astonishingly little splashing or disturbance. At once they were across, fluidly zigzagging through the brush. Soon the thickets opened into grassland which lay between them and the great marshlands of the Gobblers. Here the diatrymas sped up astoundingly, running abreast.
“So,” shouted Mary above the wind, “How are you doing?”
“This is indeed very much faster than I ever imagined possible.”
“Whee!” squealed Edward.
“Oh my, sweetheart,” said Mary, giving Edward a hug. “You mustn’t kick Lladdwr in the crop.”
“This is not only fast as the very wind,” called Myrtlebell through the hair she was dragging out of her eyes, “but ‘way more comfortable than galloping unicorns.”
They fell silent to the tireless pounding rustle of huge feathers as they sped out across the sea of grass which stretched before them to the horizon. Without endless obstacles for the diatrymas to leap, dodge and run around, Myrtlebell was able to relax and truly enjoy her fast ride for the first time. On they ran in a straight line without any letup or hesitation, under a cloudless blue sky.
By noon, the horizon was starting to change and Myrtlebell began to feel exhausted and looked across to see Edward’s head nodding in Mary’s lap. “Mary,” she called, “do you supposed it would wise to pause for a bite to eat?”
“I don’t see why not. We’re making good time and Edward’s getting heavy. See that hillock yonder, rising out of the grass? Let’s make for that.”
“Is that the marsh showing up on the horizon?”
Ch. 7, Heart of the Staff
Carol and Tom Phipps