Here’s part 9 of the new short story by K.J. Taylor, set in the world of her Fallen Moon Trilogy for some weekend reading:
Bran the Betrayer Pt. 9
The Master of Law came to see him that afternoon. She came alone, since the corridors outside Bran’s cell were too small for a griffin to fit, but her fine clothes immediately told him who she was. She was middle-aged, and had a tough, no-nonsense look about her.
Laela was sleeping by now, and Bran stood up and went to the bars. ‘You’re the Master of Law, right?’
‘I am,’ said the lady. ‘You’re Branton Redguard?’
‘Yeah, I am.’ Bran gripped the bars. ‘Now are yeh gonna tell me why I’m in here? What’s all this nonsense about treason?’
‘I’ve brought the list of charges with me,’ said Lady Della. ‘I’ll read them to you now.’
‘All right.’ Bran sat back and listened tensely.
‘You, Branton Redguard, are accused of high treason in that you did betray your home territory of Eagleholm,’ Della said, reading out the formal words from a piece of paper. ‘It has been alleged that while serving as a prison guard on the Seconday of the first week of Midsummer Month, you knowingly and illegally released a dangerous prisoner. It is also alleged that you aided this prisoner’s escape from the city, and that you later aided him in breaking into the Eagleholm Eyrie, where he murdered Lord Rannagon, Master of Law, and set the Eyrie building on fire, causing the deaths of at least one hundred people and forty-three griffins, and the serious wounding of many more. This makes you complicit in one murder, and implicated in the other hundred and forty-three, and also implicated in the destruction of the Eagleholm Eyrie.’
Bran gaped. ‘What? You think I did that?’
‘Those are the accusations that have been made against you by the survivors from Eagleholm,’ Della said calmly.
‘I never did that!’ said Bran. ‘I never did any of it!’
Della must have heard claims like that plenty of times before, because she didn’t react to this one except to say, ‘Those are the accusations, and you’ll have to stand trial. I can promise you that you’ll be fairly treated, and if I can dismiss the charges, I will.’
Bran knew enough about law to have at least some idea of how the trial would be structured. ‘You got any witnesses for all this?’
‘Yes,’ said Della. ‘Plenty of the Eagleholm survivors came here to live after the fire, and they were the ones who came to me with these accusations. There’s been an order out for your arrest for some time.’
Bran grimaced. He wondered if he would recognise any of his accusers. ‘Fine. When do we start?’
‘Tomorrow.’ Della looked past him. ‘Is that a baby?’
‘My daughter,’ said Bran. ‘She’s stayin’ with me.’
Della shrugged. ‘All right. Sleep well, and I’ll see you tomorrow.’
She left, and Bran sat down beside Laela, his mind in a whirl.
None of it was true, not one word of it, and they had no proof. Surely…
But, he knew… if they did somehow find him guilty, then the penalty would be the one meted out to all traitors. Death by hanging and disembowelling.
And if he died, then Laela would die as well.
But it couldn’t possibly come to that. It just couldn’t.
‘It can’t come to that,’ Bran repeated to himself. ‘It just can’t. No way. It can’t…’
Bran’s trial began the next day, at noon. The trial of a griffiner, and especially one accused of such a serious crime as treason, would always take place in the Eyrie’s Council Chamber. His own was no exception. He left Laela asleep in his cell and went with his guards without argument, and they took him to Withypool’s Council Chamber.
It looked quite similar to the one at Eagleholm; similar, in fact, to every Council Chamber he had ever seen. Round, of course, with the gallery above for spectators and the pit below, where the seats for the Council stood in a ring around the Master’s platform. The ceiling had been painted with an elaborate mural of a summer sky, with clouds and a golden sun, and griffins in flight. Above, the gallery was packed. Hundreds of people had come to see what would happen – griffiners and commoners both. He could see a line of guards up there, at the front, ready in case the spectators got rowdy. Below, on the floor, other guards were stationed at the entrances. Clearly, they were taking no chances with him.
The Master of Law was already there, standing up on the Eyrie Master’s platform with her partner beside her. Her two assistants, Isleen and another young griffiner, stood on either side with their own partners standing protectively behind them.
When Bran entered, the crowd hissed. When he came into clearer view, shouts rose. He forced himself not to look up at them, but trudged along between his two guards, hands shackled behind his back.
Ahead, some of the Councillors’ seats had been moved aside to make room for a wooden platform with railings around it. It was just large enough for one man to stand on it, and he already knew that it was for him. Sure enough, his guards led him around to the back of it, where there was a gap in the railings and a step. Bran went up it and onto the platform, and his guards took the shackles off his wrists before moving to take up station on either side of him.
Bran rested his hands on the high railings in front of him, and looked up at the people who had come to see him go on trial for his life. The shouts rose higher in response.
Bran shuddered and looked away.
In front of him, the Master of Law gave him a solemn look and glanced at her partner. Her partner, a male with white feathers, raised his head and screeched. The sound echoed through the great space, and up in the gallery the spectators went quiet.
Lady Della nodded to herself, and began.
‘Lord Branton Redguard of Eagleholm,’ she said. ‘You stand accused of high treason, dereliction of duty, and of implication in the crimes of murder in one hundred and forty three counts, attempted murder in thirty eight counts, and arson in one count. Before we begin, you may speak. Did you commit these crimes?’
‘No,’ Bran said immediately. ‘I ain’t guilty. I didn’t do any of it.’
‘Then you’ll be given the chance here, among your fellow griffiners, to prove your innocence,’ said Della. ‘First, your accusers will be brought in to give their evidence.’ She nodded to Isleen, who hurried out of the chamber. A moment later she returned, leading an old man. He walked slowly and painfully, leaning on a stick, and as he entered a sympathetic groan came from the audience.
Bran leaned forward to see him better, and his stomach twisted when he saw the man’s face. It was scarred and warped down one side, from his cheek to his neck. The ear on that side was entirely gone, along with most of his hair where the scalp was scarred.
We’ll post up Part 10 next Friday 27th April!
K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy: