Looking for some weekend reading? Here’s part 3 of the new short story by K.J. Taylor, set in the world of her Fallen Moon Trilogy.
Bran the Betrayer Pt. 3
Dekrak had said his piece, and he moved back. Now that Kraeya had been accepted and stopped being a threat, the other griffins who had stood by ready for a fight lost interest and started to disperse.
Now Lord Holm spoke again. ‘Welcome, Lord Branton Redguard. And my partner is right; we do need fighters, and you certainly look like one! Where did you learn to fight?’
‘In Eagleholm,’ said Bran, hiding his relief. ‘I was in the city guard before Kraeya chose me.’
‘Ah,’ said Lord Holm. ‘I thought that your armour looked familiar. Perhaps you and Kraeya can serve the Master of Law, or the Master of War. I will consult both of them and find a position for you. In the meantime, you’ll be given food and quarters.’ He paused. ‘And who is the child?’
Bran had kept Laela’s head covered by a hood ever since leaving the North – not just to keep her warm, but to hide the telltale black curls. ‘My daughter,’ he said. ‘Laela Redguard. She lost her mother in the war.’
‘I see,’ Lord Holm said sadly. ‘Yes, war makes many orphans. Does she need a nurse?’
‘She’s weaned,’ said Bran. ‘But… honestly, I dunno much about babies. Maybe if someone could teach me about feedin’ her an’ whatnot, that’d be a help?’
‘Certainly,’ said Lord Holm. ‘Your daughter can grow up in Canran, and when she’s old enough, she can be presented to the griffins. When the fighting is over, new griffiners will be needed.’
Sadness made Bran shiver internally. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Thanks, milord.’
Fortunately, with so many griffiners already killed in the fighting, there were plenty of empty rooms left. Bran and Kraeya were quickly directed to one by a servant, who summoned some friends to clean it out and replace the bedding with astonishing speed.
Bran inspected his new home while they worked. It had been carved out of the stone of Canran’s cliff, of course, and just about everything in it was made of that red stone – even the bed was made out of a stone platform cut out of the floor, with an expensive feather mattress on top. There was a bath, too – not a portable tin one, but a stone pool that rose up out of the floor. Shelves had been cut into the walls as well, and a wardrobe complete with fitted wooden doors. Kraeya’s place was next door, in a much larger adjoining chamber. It too had furniture carved into it – a water trough set into one wall, and a bloodstained plinth for food. A rounded hollow for sleeping had been filled with now-mouldy reeds and dry grass, which the servants were in the process of replacing.
‘Magnificent!’ Kraeya said again as she scented the air of her new home. ‘We have done well to come here.’
‘Yeah,’ said Bran. Laela started to fuss, so he put her down. She had taken her first steps shortly before her mother died, and now she slowly and laboriously pulled herself into a standing position and toddled off to investigate the water trough. One of the servants nearby stopped work for a moment and smiled fondly.
‘Aw, look at the little one,’ she said to her friend. ‘So clever!’
Bran smiled too. ‘She’ll be runnin’ about before long. I’m gonna need a cradle or somethin’ for her to sleep in if yeh’ve got anything.’
‘We do, milord,’ said the woman. ‘I’ll have one brought up straight away.’ She glanced cautiously at Bran. ‘What’s her name, milord?’
‘Laela Redguard,’ said Bran. ‘My daughter.’ He looked fondly at the tiny girl as she splashed her hands in the water trough. She was the only family he had left, he reflected, and he didn’t think he’d ever felt more protective of anyone in his life.
As if sensing his thoughts, Laela came waddling back and put her arms around his leg. ‘Dada,’ she gurgled.
Bran laughed and picked her up. ‘That’s my girl. C’mon, let’s go see what else we got here!’
By nightfall their new quarters had been cleaned and fixed up, and the servants had brought up a fine wooden cradle for Laela, and even some toys. Laela seemed to like the soft fluffy griffin toy in particular; she quickly grabbed hold of it and started chewing on its wing. Her first tooth had just started coming through while they were travelling, and she had developed a passion for chewing on things.
Lord Holm kept his word, and sent a pleasant-faced middle aged woman to visit.
‘Hello!’ she said when she saw Bran. ‘I hear you’ve a baby here who need a little attention.’
Bran smiled. ‘More like you got a grown man what needs some teachin’.’ He showed her over to Laela’s cradle. ‘I reckon she’s healthy, but I figured there’d be some things I should know about lookin’ after her,’ he said. ‘I mean, I ain’t a woman, an’…’ he trailed off, a little desperately.
The woman had already started cooing over Laela. ‘Ooh, isn’t she a sweet one? What’s her name?’
‘Laela,’ said Bran. ‘She’s gettin’ on for a year old. Yeh got any advice for me?’
The woman picked Laela up and patted her on the back. ‘Well, she’ll need to be eating soft food until the rest of her teeth come through. Give her things to chew on though; her mouth will hurt while they grow and chewing helps.’
‘I got it,’ said Bran. ‘What sorta food should she have, then?’
‘Just any food you can make into mush,’ said the woman. ‘Bread soaked in milk is good, and fruit. Meat gives a baby strength as well – cook it until it’s crumbling and give it to her in little pieces. But you don’t have to do all that, milord. If she doesn’t have a mother, then you can find a nurse for her.’
Bran shook his head. ‘No, it’s gotta be me.’ He didn’t add that he had no money to pay a nurse anyway, and even if he had it wouldn’t have been the real reason. If anyone spent too much time with Laela they would probably take off her hood and realise she was a half-breed. And if anyone found out that he had supposedly fathered a half-breed, he would probably be hounded out of the city.
‘It’s your choice, of course,’ said the woman. ‘But feed her those things and she should do well enough. She’s too young to feed herself yet, but try and teach her how to use a spoon, and she’ll pick it up eventually.’
Bran nodded. ‘I got it. Anything else?’
‘Just keep her close,’ said the woman. ‘She needs plenty of attention, and she needs to be supervised as well. She might not look like she can do much now, but you’d be astonished by what they can get up to if you don’t keep an eye out. For example-,’ she pointed ‘-Keep her out of the griffin nest, and never let her near your partner unless you’re holding her. I know your partner wouldn’t hurt her on purpose, but griffins don’t know their own strength or understand how fragile human beings can be. And if she gets into the nest she might fall off the balcony. Keep sharp things away from her, and anything she shouldn’t put into her mouth.’
Ye gods, Bran thought. ‘I dunno how I’m gonna work an’ watch out for her at the same time.’
‘That’s why it would be a good idea to find a nurse,’ said the woman.
‘Yeah…’ Bran sighed. Clearly, this job was going to be hard. ‘Thanks for the help.’
‘It’s no trouble,’ said the woman. ‘Just do as I’ve said and it should be fine. My name’s Maura, by the way, and if you ever need any other help, just ask for me.’ She put Laela back into her foster father’s arms. ‘Keep her clean and well-fed, watch out for her, and most importantly, give her plenty of love. It’s the most important thing any parent can give a child.’
Bran smiled. ‘Thanks, Maura. I’ll do my best.’
We’ll post up Part 4 next Friday 9th March!
K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy: