Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

“My mum said that wouldn’t fly.”

She stands there, looking up at me, hands behind her back, daisy-print summer dress blowing in the hot breeze.

“Why did she say that, little lady?”

Her eyes widen, then she smiles: “Because you’re a heretic, and the airlords don’t like you.”

I burst out laughing and she flinches away, then her smile gets wider.

“Little lady, your mum is right, but they can’t take the sky from me.”

She purses her lips: “I don’t get that, mister.”

I crouch down and look her in the eye: “Just because someone doesn’t like you, or doesn’t like what you do, it doesn’t stop you doing it.”

“It doesn’t?”

I grin: “Truly. Words can only bind you if you let them.”

She looks back toward her folk’s shanty. It’s bigger than mine. But then again, it’s built to last, whereas my bivouac was built to make do.

Turning back, she brings her arms forward, swinging her teddy bear up to hug it against her chest.

“This is Mortimer. He’d like to fly in your skybird. But I can’t let him go alone.”

I sit down cross-legged and flip a leisurely salute to her bear: “Pleased t’make your acquaintance, Mortimer. I’d like to help, but your little lady friend needs her mum to come along too.”

She gasps: “Mum won’t come!”

I peer past her, then point over her shoulder: “Well, she’s got that protective streak something fierce, because she’s been watching me most days from noon ‘til teatime.”

Spinning round, she shouts: “Mum?”

A figure in a dress that matches her daughter’s stands up slowly, dusting herself off.

“Masha, didn’t I tell you to stay away from the heretic?”

“But mum, he says the airlords can’t stop him flying with words!”

I see a grin cross her face: a flash of white teeth.

“That may be, my girl, but it’ll be more than words that send him down if he tries it.”

I raise my hand: “Pardon me for interrupting, ma’am, but I should point out that this here ‘bird is an original God Eagle. If the airlords want to knock it down, they’ll need a lot more than the poxy kites they use these days.”

She strides toward me, hands on hips: “Any damn fool knows that a God Eagle can’t be flown by any but an airlord –” She stops as she realises the other truth: if you’re not an airlord, you couldn’t get a God Eagle off the ground.

“You’re an Airlord!”

“Was, ma’am, was. The God Eagle only cares about my blood, but much as my former friends can’t stop me flying, they sure can stop the privileges I enjoyed. These days I’m just Ral of the fifty-seventh.”

Masha runs to stand by her mum, looking up, eyes wide: “He says that Mortimer can fly with him if I go, but I can’t go without you. Please, mum. Mortimer really wants to fly.”

‘Mum’ looks at me: “You’ll take us for a flight?”

I smile: “I’ll fly us to another sector, if you want. Surely you’re tired of eating dust with everything?”

She grins: “I am, but another sector is a whole different conversation. Let’s take Mortimer for a flight and see where we go from there.”

“Fair enough.”

I turn toward the God Eagle, extending my hand to Masha: “Take my hand, little lady. So the skybird can see you and Mortimer are with me.”

“What about mum?”

“My ‘bird knows better than to try and stop a mother protecting her daughter.”

I hear laughter behind me.

That’s a good start.

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