Looking for some weekend reading? Here’s part 2 of the new short story by K.J. Taylor, set in the world of her Fallen Moon Trilogy. Thanks again K.J !
Bran the Betrayer Pt. 2
The next day the three of them left for Canran. Bran had modified Kraeya’s harness, attaching a belt which he strapped around Laela’s waist just in case he lost hold of her. But he kept his arms around her as well, to keep her warm. She was used to flying on griffinback by now, and spent a good part of the journey sleeping or playing with Kraeya’s neck feathers. Bran was relieved.
Kraeya might have said she didn’t know the way to Canran, but she fumbled her way to it so well that she could have fooled Bran. Over the next day or so she flew back toward the Northgate Mountains, and then followed them westward. The mountains curved southward when they reached the coastline, and Canran had been built there, not far from the coast, just North of the Feather River at the very edge of the mountains.
Bran knew that Canran was sometimes called the Cliff City, but he didn’t understand why until he saw it with his own eyes – and when he did, he marvelled. Right at the edge of the mountains, a huge cliff of red stone sheltered a valley. Canran had been built in that valley; houses and buildings all made of blocks of red stone. There was no Eyrie in sight – at least, not at first glance. But a second glance showed the truth: the cliff that overlooked Canran was the Eyrie. Windows and entrances had been carved into it, straight into the cliff-face. Griffins flew in and out of those openings like wasps around a nest.
Bran could scarcely believe his eyes. When he was younger, he had thought that Eagleholm was the greatest city in Cymria, and had never believed that any of the others could compete with it. But now he saw Canran, he realised that Eagleholm had never been close to the greatest city in the South, or the most spectacular. He decided, right there and then, that if he had to choose a new home then he could do a lot worse than this place, and if he could stay here, he would.
‘Magnificent!’ Kraeya screeched over the wind in their ears.
Bran had to agree with that.
The flat clifftop that doubled as the Eyrie roof had been turned into a garden, festooned with a surprisingly lush array of plants. Kraeya flew up there and landed by the base of a huge old tree.
‘We must wait here,’ she said as Bran unstrapped Laela and climbed down off her back. ‘They will have seen us already.’
Sure enough, the Canran griffins had spotted them. Just as it had been in Malvern on their first arrival, a small group of local griffins quickly appeared to challenge the intruders. Kraeya immediately bowed her head to them.
‘I am Kraeya,’ she said. ‘And this is my human, Branton Redguard. We have come to swear ourselves to the master of this territory.’
The Canran griffins relaxed at that.
‘Many others have come here to say those words,’ one of them said. ‘Dekrak and his human will come here soon. Do not move until then.’
Obediently, Bran and Kraeya stayed where they were, closely guarded by the Canran griffins. Their captors still looked a little edgy – Bran could tell from the twitching of their tails. But that was normal. Griffins were very territorial creatures, and always reacted with hostility when a stranger arrived. He stayed close to Kraeya, and kept hold of Laela, who was peering curiously at the strange griffins. She had grown up around griffins, at least, and wasn’t afraid of them. If only she weren’t a half-breed, then Bran would have expected her to become a griffiner herself some day.
After a tense wait, Canran’s dominant griffin arrived – climbing up through a concealed entrance somewhere in the garden. His human walked beside him.
The two of them came to confront their visitors, and stopped for a moment to size them up. Bran did the same in return.
Dekrak was a large male griffin, with dark brown feathers. The fur on his hindquarters was a lighter, caramel brown, and he had an attractive light stripe over each eye.
Lord Holm, meanwhile, was a small man – a head shorter than Bran himself, and a lot less muscular. That might have made him unimpressive to some, but for a griffiner, being small and light was a big advantage. Besides, while Bran wore his old leather guard armour over a grubby tunic, Lord Holm was dressed in rich blue velvet decorated with feathers and trimmed with expensive fur. His face was small and scholarly, but when he spoke his voice had all the refined command of a true Eyrie Master.
‘Good afternoon. My name is Eyrie Master Holm, and this is my partner Dekrak.’
As if on cue, Dekrak moved forward toward Kraeya. The other griffins there moved away, and Kraeya went forward, head still submissively low, and allowed the dominant griffin to inspect her. Dekrak shoved her roughly with his beak while he scented her feathers, and because she was female he pushed her lower with his forepaw and roughly groomed the back of her neck with his beak – a male’s way of showing dominance to a female.
‘What is your name and where have you flown from?’ he asked abruptly while he ran his sharp beak through her feathers.
‘I am Kraeya and I have flown from Malvern,’ she said. ‘But I was hatched at Eagleholm.’
‘And why have you come here?’ asked Dekrak.
‘Eagleholm is destroyed, and Malvern has been lost,’ said Kraeya. ‘My human and I have come to serve you.’
‘Many griffins have come here from Malvern,’ said Dekrak. His grooming became a little rougher. ‘Some were allowed to stay, but others we chased away. They flew on to Withypool, or to Wylam. Why should we welcome you here, Kraeya?’
If Kraeya disliked the treatment she was getting from him, she didn’t show it. ‘We held the place of Master of War at Malvern. We are fighters, and killed many enemies in the war.’
‘And yet you were defeated,’ Dekrak said harshly. ‘Yes?’
‘One griffin cannot fight an army,’ said Kraeya. ‘The unpartnered griffins of Malvern betrayed us.’
‘Only a weak griffin flees from a fight,’ said Dekrak.
‘Or one who has too much sense to die for a lost cause,’ said Kraeya. ‘We know that you and your human have sent your inferiors to fight for Eagleholm’s lands. There is a need for fighters now.’
‘But not for cowards,’ said Dekrak.
‘We are not cowards.’ Kraeya hissed and pulled back slightly. ‘If I must prove it, then I will fight you.’
Dekrak abruptly let her go. ‘We need griffins and humans who can fight,’ he said. ‘I will allow you to stay. But if this city is attacked and you flee from the fighting as you did in Malvern, then you may never return.’
‘I accept this,’ said Kraeya. ‘And so does my human.’
We’ll post up Part 3 next Friday 2nd March!
K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy: