Here’s part 6 of the new short story by K.J. Taylor, set in the world of her Fallen Moon Trilogy, to get you through Friday afternoon! Don’t forget to comment if you like it, or if you’ve got any questions for K.J. !
Bran the Betrayer Pt. 6
A month or so after this, Bran was in his room trying to coax Laela into eating some bread he’d cut up for her when every single griffin in the Eyrie burst into an earsplitting din.
‘Augh!’ Bran dropped the plate and covered his ears. Beside him, Laela burst into tears of fight. He picked her up and hugged her reassurringly while he went to see what was going on.
As he was entering Kraeya’s nest, he heard a thump as the red griffin landed on the perching ledge outside. An instant later she came bounding in in a rush of feathers and flailing tail.
‘Bran!’ she called. ‘Quickly, you must prepare to fight.’
‘What’s goin’ on?’ Bran asked sharply.
‘Enemies have come,’ said Kraeya. ‘Many of them. We are under attack.’
Bran’s stomach lurched. ‘The Northerners?’
‘No,’ said Kraeya. ‘Wylam and Withypool.’
Swearing, Bran ran back into his own room and put Laela in her cradle while he rushed to strap on his armour. His old short guard sword hung on the wall; he lifted it down and buckled it on, then grabbed the spear he had been given for his official duties.
Then he went to see what was happening for himself, darting out onto the balcony with Kraeya close beside him.
His heart leapt into his mouth when he saw it.
Griffins. Hundreds of them, swarming into the city. They moved together, as a flock, but with a purpose and organisation no other flying creature would ever show. As Bran watched, a group of them broke away and swooped low over the city. They were too far away for him to see what they were doing, but he found out moments later. Flames blossomed into the air, and a moment later a dull thud shook the ground.
‘Son of a bitch!’ Bran swore. ‘They’re usin’ shooting stars! Bloody shooting stars on their own people!’
Sure enough, a second contingent swooped down as he watched, and this time he could just barely see the huge clay jars full of burning liquid as their bearers dropped them onto the city. When they landed they exploded, destroying houses and setting large areas of the city on fire.
Nor was that all. While Canran’s griffins flew to the attack and archers took up position at windows and doorways, other, larger Withypool griffins flew up and onto the clifftop. Bran could see the human figures dangling from their talons.
‘What’re they doin’?’ he asked.
‘Bringing their human fighters into the Eyrie,’ said Kraeya. ‘They will fight their way through to here and take the Eyrie.’
‘Right.’ Bran pulled himself together. ‘What’re we gonna do? Fly away?’
‘No,’ said Kraeya. ‘Out there we will be an easy target. Here we cannot be attacked from above. We must stay here and defend this place. We should find others and fight beside them.’
‘But what about Laela?’ asked Bran. ‘I can’t take her into a fight, an’ I can’t leave her here. What’re we gonna do?’
Kraeya scratched her flank irritably. ‘You are right. I do not think that they are here to kill us all; this is a conquest, not a slaughter. And I am unwilling to die for this city.’
Laela was still crying.
‘I’m gonna stay here,’ Bran decided. ‘I’m gonna defend this room, an’ her, as long as I can. If we try goin’ anywhere, we’ll get caught in the open.’
‘Then we will stay here,’ said Kraeya. ‘I will defend you.’
So Bran stayed in his new room, and got ready for a fight as well as he could. He moved Laela’s cradle into a corner where it would be protected by the stone wardrobe, and blocked the door with any other furniture he could move. While he did that, Kraeya took up position in the outer entrance to her nest, ready to fight off any other griffins who tried to get in.
Bran readied himself, with his spear in his hands. If anyone broke down the door, he would stab them over the furniture barricade. It should hold out. He just had to hope that Kraeya would be able to protect his back.
He gave Laela a quick cuddle to try and quiet her, and gave her her favourite fluffy griffin toy. ‘It’s all right,’ he told her. ‘We’re gonna keep yeh safe. Promise.’
Laela huddled down in her crib, and chewed on the toy’s already well-chewed wing. The sight of her helped to bolster Bran’s determination. He picked up his spear again, and rolled his shoulders to loosen them.
‘All right, yeh bastards,’ he muttered. ‘Come an’ get some.’
But after that, nothing happened for a long time. Bran stood by the furniture barricade for a while, and then gave up and sat on the bed. The wait dragged on, and he fed Laela the last of her food and ate a quick snack to give himself some energy.
‘Come on,’ he muttered.
After a while, he started to hear it. Faint thumpings and the low murmur of voices shouting in the corridors above him. They were coming.
He stood up again, and readied his spear. In her nest, Kraeya looked up from her grooming. Laela had fallen asleep.
And then the silence shattered.
Without warning, Kraeya leapt to her paws and rushed into the entrance that led to the open air outside her nest. And not a moment too soon. As Bran turned, he saw the other griffin drop onto the balcony outside and launch itself at his partner.
Kraeya was ready for him, and as the enemy landed she powered forward and struck him directly in the belly. Knocked off-balance, the other griffin stumbled backward and fell off the balcony. It was over before Bran could get there to help, and half a heartbeat later his own time came.
The door to his room rattled as someone tried to open it from the outside. Bran hurried back to the barricade and silently braced himself, hoping the soldiers outside would give in before they realised there was someone inside.
The door stopped rattling, and silence came. For a short time Bran hoped they might have gone. But they hadn’t.
A thud shook the door, and then another. They were trying to break it down.
Behind him, Bran heard a screech from Kraeya. He looked back over his shoulder, and simultaneously, a crash came from the door as it broke down.
As Bran raised his spear ready to defend himself, he saw something that made his stomach twist horribly inside him.
A griffin stood there on the other side of his makeshift barricade. Only half Kraeya’s size, but a griffin all the same, its beak open to scream a threat at him.
Bran didn’t hesitate any longer. As the griffin started to clamber over the barricade to get at him, he lunged forward and thrust his spear directly into its throat.
The beast screamed again and stumbled backward, blood soaking into its feathers from where the spear had impaled it. Bran braced himself against the barricade and pulled back, hard. The spear point came free, and a gush of blood followed it.
The griffin thrashed in agony, breaking the legs of the table Bran had used to block the doorway, but its struggle didn’t last long. The gush of blood slowed along with its movements, and then the griffin slumped down and slid back onto the floor, its eyes dimming as it died.
But Bran had no time to celebrate this small victory. A gang of soldiers came quickly on the griffin’s heels, and they had too much sense to try and climb over the barricade. They too had spears, and another had an axe, and while he hacked away at the barricade his friends thrust at Bran. Bran drew his sword and knocked the spears away.
‘Sod off outta here!’ he roared over Laela’s cries. ‘Can’t yeh see there’s a baby in here?’
To their credit, they hesitated.
‘We won’t hurt the baby,’ the man with the axe called back. ‘Or you if you surrender.’
Bran hesitated as well. ‘What d’yeh want?’
‘We’re here to conquer the city,’ said the axe-wielder. ‘Not tear it t’bits. Once the Eyrie Master surrenders we’ll stop.’
‘What’ll yeh do with us?’ Bran asked.
‘You’ll be taken prisoner an’ set free if you swear loyalty to Eyrie Master Penrin or Eyrie Master Kyran.’
Bran shot the man a suspicious look. ‘You’re attackin’ yer own people here. Why’d I believe anythin’ yeh say?’
‘Look,’ said one of the spear-wielders. ‘We don’t like fightin’ other Southerners any more’n you do. We’re just followin’ orders. But we’ve been told not t’kill griffiners unless we have to.’
Bran glanced uncertainly at Kraeya. She had fought off the other griffin, and now came to join him. Laela was still crying. Maybe if he surrendered, it would be better. He didn’t want to kill other Southerners, and the attacking Eyries would have no reason to kill him. Maybe he could find a place with one or other of them, and was this really his fight anyway?
‘Do not surrender,’ Kraeya said harshly. ‘I will not lose another fight.’
A screech came, from somewhere outside the Eyrie. Everyone there stopped to listen.
Kraeya tensed. ‘That was Dekrak.’
Bran was about to ask how she could tell, but then the screeching grew louder, and he could make it out. It wasn’t just a call, but a word.
Kraeya groaned. ‘Dekrak is defeated and he is ordering us to surrender. But-,’
But Bran had already thrown his spear and sword down. ‘Fine,’ he said. ‘I ain’t gonna fight other Southerners an’ I ain’t gonna let Laela get hurt. Help me take this barrier down, lads, an’ I’ll come with yeh.’
They looked relieved. ‘Thanks, mate,’ one said.
‘It’s all right, Kraeya,’ Bran said as he lifted the damaged furniture away. ‘This ain’t our fight. Let the Eyrie Masters decide what t’do next. I’m a follower, not a leader.’
Kraeya looked irritated, but she didn’t argue. ‘Perhaps we will find favour because we are not councillers and have not been here long.’
So, resignedly, the two of them went with their captors. Bran wasn’t allowed to bring any possessions, but he carried Laela with him, and one of the soldiers he’d surrendered to brought his sword along.
We’ll post up Part 7 next Thursday 5th April!
K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy: