(Part 48) For a complete list of this series, please go here.
Aerissa perched on top of the crate, waiting patiently for Valtos to return. She attempted small talk with the flight master, but it was clear they weren't interested in her company. She sighed and thought about the events of the last few days. She couldn't recall her life being so interesting before. She knew all of her memories hadn't unlocked yet, but she was quite certain that most of her life had been quite uneventful. At least, until the night her fiance tried to kill her.
A chill went up Aerissa's back, causing her to shiver. She looked up to see Valtos approaching with three hawkstriders. He was riding atop one and leading the other two behind him. She grinned, amused at the sight of Valtos bopping up and down on the back of the large bird.
She knew her people had a strange attachment to hawkstriders, which looked like overgrown, colorful chickens to Aerissa, but she thought even the most sophisticated elves looked comical riding on the back of one. Their movements were choppy and bouncy, having only the two legs to stabilize their large bodies. Aerissa grimaced, imagining the headache she would have to endure from the constant bouncing motion.
Valtos tugged on the reins, slowing his hawkstrider to a stop. It fanned its wings out, its beak opening and closing repeatedly. He patted the long, feathery neck, making a clucking sound with his mouth. The bird blinked rapidly, then started preening its feathers. Aerissa giggled, watching the hawkstrider. Its head and beak seemed incapable of holding still. After preening its feathers, it dipped its head to peck at the grass. Then it lifted its head up high, darting from side to side, its beak constantly opening and closing.
Valtos smiled, carefully climbing down to the ground. “Are you ready, m'lady?”
Aerissa blushed, hopping down from the crate. “That bird cannot stay still for one second, can it?” She walked closer to the hawkstriders, circling them as she looked them over.
“None of them can, really. Have you ever ridden one?” He grunted as he moved the crate closer to one of the hawkstriders.
Cautiously she reached her hand out at one of them. It turned its head to look at her, beak agape. Aerissa gently stroked its neck, marveling at the feel of the small, soft feathers. “No, not that I can remember. I mean, I never had that kind of money.”
Costs were reasonable to rent mounts, whether for flight or ground travel. However, it was quite expensive to purchase and care for personal mounts. An expense that Aerissa imagined her family was never able to afford. I bet Xandarian had his own though…
Valtos scooted the crate a tad closer to the cargo mount before he walked over to Aerissa and her chosen hawkstrider. “Well, then let me help you up.” He patted the bird's neck, standing near Aerissa. “You'll want to grip the front of the saddle, place your foot in the stirrup, and swing your other leg over. If you are unsure of yourself, the hawkstrider can sense this and may shift as you try to mount. Which… can lead to people falling because the movement makes them more nervous.”
Aerissa turned towards him, a look of apprehension on her face. He gave her a reassuring smile. “Don't worry, I won't let you fall.”
He patted the saddle, which was secured behind the hawkstrider's wings. Reaching down, he held the stirrup in his hand. “Put your foot in here and grab a hold of the saddle. Push off my shoulder if you need to.”
“Oh-okay.” Aerissa lifted her leg to place her foot in the stirrup. Feeling a little off balance, she grasped his shoulder to steady herself before scrambling for the saddle.
Valtos let out a hearty chuckle. “Relax. Take your time.”
Aerissa took a deep breath and gripped the saddle with one, then two hands. She tried to swing her other leg over the saddle, but couldn't do it. She felt the hawkstrider shift beneath her and then his strong hands. With one hand on her side, he kept her from sliding back down. He placed his other hand on her rear end, giving her a push to get over the saddle. Aerissa felt flustered as she got herself situated enough to sit upright.
“There ya go, now grip the reins loosely in your hands. Use them along with pressure from your knees to guide her where you want to go.” He grinned up at Aerissa, squinting in the sunlight. He patted her leg then returned to loading the crate onto the third hawkstrider.
Aerissa's heart thudded within her chest, her face feeling hot. This is going to be a very interesting trip.
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