Looking for some weekend reading? Here’s part 1 of a brand new short story by K.J. Taylor, set in the world of her Fallen Moon Trilogy. Thanks K.J !
Bran the Betrayer
The sun went dark in the sky. Griffins fought and died in the air.
Malvern fell, and Bran fled.
His partner Kraeya flew for her life, over a city in flames. Once or twice an enemy griffin made a rush at her, but the red griffin skillfully avoided them, and none of them persisted. She wasn’t attacking, after all, but fleeing, and in a griffin fight the loser had to flee, cower, or die. A griffin running or flying away wasn’t a threat.
Bran huddled down on her back, holding on with difficulty. Normally he would have wrapped his arms around her neck, but he couldn’t now. He held onto her harness as well as he could, all his focus on that, and on protecting the little bundle he clutched to his chest.
His mind had gone blank, unable to take in the horrors of that day. That awful day. The voice still lingered in his ears, as if it chased him out of the city.
Get out of my city, get out of my land, and never come back! Go!
But Bran had no wish at all to stay, not any more. Everything was destroyed. Everything he had ever cared about, gone.
Eagleholm had been torn apart, and now his new home was lost as well. And it was his best friend who had done it. Or the monster his best friend had become.
For a long time, Bran had deluded himself that it wouldn’t come to this – that Arren would never do such a thing. After all, on their last meeting the man who would be ruler of the North had remembered his old friend. More than that, he had saved his life and set him free. But Bran remembered the warning Arren had given him before they parted ways.
I’m losing my memory, Bran. One day I won’t remember who Arren Cardockson was at all. You’ve got to take Flell out of there. Take her away, far away. Never let me find her, or I’ll kill her!
And Bran had said that he would, but he hadn’t kept that promise. He hadn’t taken Flell away, hadn’t believed that Arren really would forget who he used to be. But Arren had forgotten, and the man who had once been Bran’s friend was gone forever. Consumed by the Dark Lord Arenadd. And it wasn’t Arren who had done this, it was Arenadd. Arenadd who led his followers to overrun Malvern.
Arenadd who had murdered Flell as she tried to protect her child from him – the child he could not know was his own daughter.
But Arenadd did not kill the child. She was alive and Bran had saved her. He didn’t know if he had truly gotten through to whatever remained of his old friend, or if Arenadd simply couldn’t bring himself to murder an infant. But whatever it was, it had saved the child. Arenadd had commanded Bran to take her away and never let him find her.
So all was not lost. Not quite. Bran fought through his despair to see that. He still had Kraeya, and he still had his adopted daughter, and he would dedicate the rest of his life to taking care of her. She would need it. She was an orphan now, and a half breed as well, and without Bran she wouldn’t stand a chance. Hopefully, having a griffiner as her father would be enough to keep her safe, but it wouldn’t be easy. Northerners were already disliked and distrusted in the South, and after the war it would become even worse. And if anyone ever kne w that she was the daughter of the most feared and hated man in the South, her life would not be worth living. Most likely she would be murdered. Guilty by blood.
It was enough to keep Bran going over the next few weeks. He and Kraeya escaped from Malvern, and barely stopped until they were past the Northgate Mountains and safely back in the South. There they took shelter wherever they could, in villages and small griffiner outposts. Bran had no money, but commoners revered griffins, and they gave him and Kraeya food and shelter.
Fortunately the child was old enough not to need nursing any more, but Bran felt completely inadequate as he tried to care for her. How was he supposed to know what she needed? He had helped Flell look after her back in Malvern, but Flell seemed to have some kind of instinct to know what to do which Bran lacked. He’d never spent any time with children other than his foster daughter in his whole life. He felt like a big, lumbering idiot who was in completely over his head.
‘What’re we gonna do?’ he asked Kraeya one night, while they sheltered in a barn. Rain pounded on the roof, and the baby was crying again, and he couldn’t figure out why or what he should do about it.
The red griffin lay on her belly and looked out through the partly open door. She sighed like an old dog. ‘We cannot live in nests such as these forever. We must find a new Eyrie, and quickly.’
Bran had only ever gained a crude understanding of griffish, and he listened carefully while she spoke. He managed to pick up the gist of it, and frowned to himself.
‘Find an Eyrie, yeh say?’
‘Yes,’ Kraeya said patiently. She was fairly docile as griffins went, which was why she hadn’t bitten him for his terrible griffish. ‘This is no home for us.’
‘Right,’ said Bran. ‘An’ we should be quick because there’s gonna be other griffiners what got away looking for new homes.’
‘That is true,’ said Kraeya.
Bran did his best to comfort the wailing baby. ‘There, there, Laela. It’s all right. Which one’re we gonna go to, then?’
‘Canran is the closest,’ said Kraeya. ‘They have sent many partnered griffins away to fight for Eagleholm’s territory, so they will welcome newcomers.’
‘All right, then,’ said Bran. He was prepared to trust her judgement over his own, even though she was just as inexperienced as him. ‘Do yeh know the way there?’ he added.
‘I do not, but I shall find it,’ Kraeya said confidently. ‘It is Northward, near the mountains. It should not be far to go.’
‘Let’s do it, then,’ said Bran, feeling a little relieved that they at least had something approaching a plan. ‘I heard as the Eyrie Master there’s called Lord Holm. Dunno what his partner’s called.’
‘Dekrak,’ said Kraeya. She yawned. ‘Rest now, and we will fly to him in the morning.’
They might have rested after that, but neither of them got much sleep. Kraeya sleepily kept watch, while Bran tried hopelessly to comfort Laela. Even though she wasn’t quite a year old yet, it was as if she had some idea of what had happened to her mother, and what she had barely escaped from. Bran wished that his own memory of it could be as vague as hers must be.
‘It’s all right,’ he kept telling her, wondering who he was really trying to convince. ‘It’s all right. Laela.’ He held her close. ‘Laela, yeh safe. I swear. I’ll keep yeh safe. He can’t find yeh here, never . . .’
But Laela didn’t seem to believe him, and she didn’t stop crying for a long time. When she did, she finally fell asleep. Exhausted, most likely.
After that Bran, already half asleep, finally drifted off as well, one arm wrapped protectively around his foster daughter and his free hand on the hilt of his sword.
We’ll post up Part 2 next Friday 24th Feb!
K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy: