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. 4
And he did, but for those first few months in Canran it felt as if his best wouldn’t be even halfway useful. Bluntly, it was a nightmare.
The Master of Law, Lady Idelle, soon gave Bran a job as one of her assistants, but since he couldn’t read he could only be a lowly one. Not that he minded; too much attention might lead someone to ask inconvenient questions about Laela’s origins. It didn’t help that her eyebrows started to darken and become more noticeable around this time, and they were most definitely black. Bran kept her hair cut short and hidden, but it kept trying to grow back at an alarming speed.
Meanwhile he had a job to do, which was more or less that of a glorified guardsman. Whenever Lady Idelle had to publicly judge someone, Bran would stand by in case of escape, and command the ordinary guardsmen who restrained the accused. He was also informed that he and Kraeya were mainly employed for special cases – namely, if a griffiner ever had to be arrested. Ordinary guards wouldn’t be able to handle something like that; the griffin would probably kill them. But he and Kraeya, with the help of a couple of other minor griffiners, would be able to subdue them.
Fortunately only one such special case came up, and the accused decided to give himself up and come quietly rather than try and get away, so Bran didn’t have to do anything or be away from his rooms for too long. He had to leave Laela alone in her crib when this sort of thing happened, and he didn’t like doing it – even though she wasn’t old enough to get out of it, she might still need him. Eventually, as Laela grew older and strong enough to start needing real supervision, Bran gave in and paid Maura to watch her while he was away – but under strict instructions that she couldn’t take the hood off. He refused to explain why, but he guessed that Maura quicky started to suspect the truth.
Thankfully, she didn’t say anything.
Meanwhile Laela grew quickly, as Maura told him all babies did at that age. The rest of her teeth gradually came through, and her body changed shape; lengthening and shedding something of her babyhood chubbiness. Her hands changed too. Not that anyone would have noticed if they weren’t looking for it, but Bran was, and he was certain that her fingers were growing longer. Clearly, she had inherited her father’s slender Northern hands as well as his black hair. But her blue eyes had come straight from her mother. Bran thanked Gryphus for that, at least. He might be able to hide the hair, but if she had been given her father’s glittering black eyes, then how on earth would he hide that?
The thought made him shudder.
But she was lively as well, and seemed intelligent too, as far as he could tell. She wasn’t overly talkative, but she would sit and listen solemnly while he told her stories about his life. He liked to talk to her, because here she and Kraeya were the only ones he could talk to properly. The only ones he could confide in, anyway. He told Laela things he would never dare tell anyone else, knowing she was too young to understand. He told her about Eagleholm, and the war. He told her about her parents. In a low voice, he told her about her father.
‘He almost killed you,’ he said softly, his big rough hand resting on her narrow shoulders. ‘He was gonna do it, I swear. He’d slit yer mother’s throat, an’ he was gonna do the same to you. He would’ve, if I hadn’t been there. I begged him not to do it, I tried t’make him remember who he was. I dunno if he did, I really don’t. But I got through somehow. I don’t reckon he knew yeh were his. How could he? Flell never told him she was pregnant, an’ he didn’t remember anyway. He’d forgotten everything. See, when yer older everyone’s gonna tell you he’s evil. Not a drop of humanity left in him. They’ll say he’s just a murderer without a heart. But I know that ain’t true. I know there’s a bit of the old Arren still in there somewhere. Whatever it is, it made him let yeh go.’
Laela stared at him in silence, as if she knew how important the things he was telling her were.
‘Thing is,’ said Bran. ‘No matter what happens, no matter what he did or what he is, he’s yer father. Yer real father. Yeh gonna go through life sayin’ yer a Redguard, but underneath yer gonna be Laela Taranisäii. But yeh won’t know it. No-one will. I’m only tellin’ yeh this now ’cause you ain’t old enough to understand. I’m never gonna tell you the truth when yer older. The truth’d be too painful, an’ too dangerous. Bad enough that yer a half-breed, but if they knew you was his daughter, yeh’d be dead.’ He heaved a sigh. ‘They never got to punish him, see, for what he did. He got away with it, an’ now he’s outta their reach. They’re gonna want someone else to blame, someone they can get to. An’ I’m damned if I’m gonna let that be you.’
Laela just stared. Her blue eyes were big and round and full of innocence, but they made Bran feel weak somehow.
‘Yer safe here,’ he told her. ‘Safe with me. I’m gonna keep yeh safe, an’ never let yeh down, ever. When yer old enough, I’m gonna teach yeh how to fight. ’Cause life ain’t gonna be easy for yeh, an’ yer gonna need it.’ He gave her a hug, and added, ‘I’m glad I got yeh, Laela. If it weren’t for you, I’d be all alone. Poor ole useless Bran, with nobody left.’
Laela hugged him back, wrapping her little arms around one of his. ‘Dada,’ she said softly.
Moments like that helped to keep him going through those painful months, which he spent rushing about from work to more work, trying to do his job without leaving his foster daughter alone for any great length of time, trying to keep her, Kraeya and himself fed, in that order, with never a moment to himself, and all the while the fear hung over him that Laela’s secret might be discovered. It was enough to run him ragged and put the first hints of grey into his beard.
In the meantime, the war continued outside Canran’s borders. He heard about it from time to time, usually from other griffiners – or those who were willing to talk to him, anyway. He was one of what were called the common griffiners; with no money, no noble blood, and no education, he was the lowliest of griffiners, and the ones native to Canran, who had all come from old, wealthy families and been raised expecting to become griffiners, looked down on him and refused to spend much time with him.
Bran didn’t care. He’d never liked griffiners much anyway. Except for Arren, of course, but he’d always been different. Back in Eagleholm Arren had been the only Northerner chosen as a griffiner, and thanks to the “proper” griffiners who ruled the city he’d spent his time among commoners and had only been allowed into the Eyrie under sufferance.
Bran found himself thinking of his old friend often in those days, forgetting what he had eventually become and remembering the man he had been back at Eagleholm. He remembered how Arren had spent his youth being shunted about from apprenticeship to apprenticeship, constantly dismissed for trumped-up reasons by Masters who wouldn’t admit that they simply didn’t want to see a Northerner be fully trained and become a Master himself. Even when he had become Master of Trade he hadn’t been given the home in the Eyrie, or the place on the Council, that his new position should have meant. He’d lived out in the city instead, with his partner Eluna, and his friends had been commoners like Bran.
Bran remembered him as he’d been then very well, in his patched old clothes that he nevertheless kept obsessively clean, along with the curly black hair he insisted on keeping as well-groomed as possible. He’d never made much of himself, had Arren, but he’d kept his pride – at least until Eluna died, and after that…
Bran preferred not to remember him as he’d been after that. Ragged, filthy, and all but dead inside, he had begun the slow decline that had finally driven him to become the monster who had murdered Flell and so many others.
Sometimes, in his darker moments, Bran couldn’t help but picture what might happen – how it could be if what had happened to Arren happened to his daughter as well. If Laela were to be persecuted and tortured in the same way. If she, too, lost everything. If she…
Bran couldn’t bear to imagine that, and he refused to believe it either. He wouldn’t let it happen; he’d die before he did. He swore that to himself, once before the altar in Canran’s Sun Temple, where oaths were always the most solemn and unbreakable.
‘I swear,’ he said. ‘I let it happen once; I won’t let it happen again, not for anything.’
He reminded himself of that oath every time things got too much for him, and he was tempted to just give up. And, for a while at least, it looked as if he and Laela were going to survive.
We’ll post up Part 5 next Friday 16th March!
K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy: