Here’s part 10 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. 10
Isleen brought the old man forward to stand between her master and Bran.
Della spoke. ‘Tell us your name.’
The old man raised his head. ‘My name is Anyon. I was apprenticed to Lord Rannagon, Master of Law in Eagleholm.’
Bran started, and stared in horror. He had known this man once, but… but Anyon was only thirty five, and this man here…
The remains of Anyon’s hair had turned white and brittle, and his whole body was bent and frail. Bran could tell just from looking that he barely had the strength to stand any more.
‘And is this the man you saw helping Arren Cardockson enter the Eyrie that night?’ Della asked.
Anyon nodded slowly. ‘That’s him.’ His voice had gone dry and rasping. ‘That’s Branton Redguard. I worked alongside him once. I knew him very well. He was the blackrobe’s best friend. He helped him.’
‘I never!’ Bran protested.
Anyon glared at him. ‘He murdered my master, and you helped him. I saw it.’
‘No I didn’t!’ said Bran.
‘Be silent!’ Della told him sharply.
‘That’s the man,’ Anyon said again.
Bran could see the man’s head shaking slightly as he stood there, and as he looked into those dulled eyes he realised that Anyon was mad. The agony he had been through had simply been too much for him.
Della let him leave after that, and Isleen brought in the next witness. Bran didn’t even recognise this one, but she was introduced as a servant who’d worked in the Eyrie. She, too, claimed to have seen him helping Arren break in that night. So did a second servant, and another griffiner who’d survived.
Bran couldn’t believe his ears. It wasn’t true, none of it was true, but all these people swore it was, and how could he prove they were lying? In a Cymrian court, testimony alone was enough to convict a man. Bran knew that.
But the worst of that day was still to come.
After six different survivors of the Eyrie fire had come forward to tell their lies, Isleen brought in one last witness. This one strode in ahead of her guide, stolid and determined. Her face was hard and angry, and instead of going to stand where the others had she came straight at Bran.
He stared at her in astonishment. ‘Finna!’ he shouted.
She ignored him. Pushing past the guards who tried to stop her, she went up to the dock, leaned upward, and slapped Bran hard across the face.
‘You bastard!’ she shouted as the guards pulled her away. ‘Yeh great gormless idiot!’
Bran put a hand to his stinging cheek. ‘Finna-!’
‘You ain’t no Redguard!’ Finna shouted. ‘Yer a disgrace to our whole family!’
Della stepped in. ‘Finna Redguard!’ she said sharply. ‘Control yourself or I’ll have you removed.’
‘I ain’t a Redguard no more, an’ I’m glad,’ Finna snapped back.
‘That’s enough,’ said Della. ‘Now tell us. Is this man your brother, Branton Redguard?’
‘He ain’t my brother,’ Finna spat. ‘Not no more.’
‘Just answer the question,’ said Della.
‘Yeah, he’s Bran,’ said Finna. ‘But he ain’t Branton Redguard no more. He’s Bran the Betrayer.’ She spat.
‘You claim that you heard your brother say that he planned to release his friend Arren Cardockson from prison,’ said Della. ‘Could you repeat that for these witnesses to hear?’
‘Yeah,’ said Finna. ‘On the night before the blackrobe got away, he-,’ she pointed at Bran. ‘-Said how he wished he hadn’t arrested the bastard and he was gonna put it right by lettin’ him go. I heard it.’
‘I did not!’ Bran shouted back. ‘I never said that!’
‘Yeah you did!’ said Finna. ‘An’ it was your fault he was in our city in the first place! If you hadn’t’ve saved him that time when we were kids, he never woulda done any of it! I always told yeh he was trouble. Our dad said you didn’t oughta be hangin’ about with him like that, said how he was a criminal, but you didn’t listen. You let him out. You destroyed Eagleholm.’
‘No I didn’t!’ said Bran.
‘You did!’ Finna pointed at him again and kept on, spitting out every word. ‘It was your fault! Yer a traitor, an’ a shame on our family. Our Dad died cursin’ the day you was born!’
Bran started. ‘He’s dead?’
‘Yeah,’ Finna growled. ‘I brought him here with me an’ he died here. Died of grief, over you.’Cause he couldn’t bear the thought that you was his son. Twenty generations we lived in Eagleholm an’ served its Masters, an’ you’re the first Redguard what turned his back on his duty. Yeh ruined Eagleholm an’ our family’s honour, an’ for what? Some bloody blackrobe!’
Della had had enough. She signalled to the guards to remove Finna and they did. She shrugged them off and strode out furiously, with one last hate-filled glance at her brother.
Bran stood there in stunned silence well after she’d gone. He could feel himself shaking.
‘So,’ Della resumed. ‘We have heard the accusations and the witness statements against you. Can you offer any proof otherwise?’
‘Ain’t anyone gonna speak out on my side?’ Bran asked weakly. ‘Didn’t anyone come out an’ say I’m innocent?’
Della glanced at her assistants, and finally nodded. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘One witness did come forward on your behalf. Would you like to call him in now?’
‘Yeah,’ said Bran. ‘Bring him in.’
‘Very well.’ Della gestured to her other assistant, the man whose name Bran didn’t know. He left through a different door than the one Isleen had used, and eventually returned leading not one person but two – a man and a griffin.
The man walked slowly, frowning and solemn. He was big and burly, not unlike Bran himself, and had thick flame-red hair.
Bran gasped, and then smiled widely. ‘Dan!’ he yelled.
The red-haired man smiled back. ‘Hullo, Captain.’
He took up position in front of Della, who asked him to introduce himself as she had with the others.
‘Name’s Danthirk son of Danthirk,’ said the red-haired man. ‘Lord Danthirk nowadays. This is my partner, Kakree.’
‘In Eagleholm you were in the city guard, yes?’ said Della.
‘Yeah, I was,’ said Danthirk. ‘I was a Sergeant under Captain Redguard here.’
‘So you agree that this is Captain Branton Redguard?’ asked Della – a formality she’d asked every witness so far.
‘Yeah, I do,’ said Dan. ‘An’ I say he’s innocent.’
‘And what evidence do you have?’ asked Della. ‘What did you see?’
Dan took a deep breath while his young, grey-feathered partner settled down to groom herself. ‘I saw everything,’ he said. ‘I was there when the Captain here arrested Arren Cardockson. I helped him take him to prison; me an’ some of the others. An’ I was put on duty in the prison district as well while he was locked up there.’
‘And did you see Captain Redguard show any sign that he was planning to release the prisoner?’ asked Della.
‘Well…’ Dan hesitated. ‘I ain’t gonna lie about one thing. It’s true they were friends. They’d been best mates since they were just boys. I knew him a bit too; he always got on well with us guards, helped us sometimes when we had to arrest smugglers an’ whatnot. It broke Bran’s heart to see his friend turn criminal. He tried t’help him out, but he didn’t want to be helped. He was losin’ his mind; the whole city knew it. I saw it too. He’d gone all raggety an’ wild, ramblin’ on about imaginary enemies. Anyway, Bran an’ me both knew what was goin’ on with him, an’ when he stole that griffin chick we went after him. Bran put the shackles on him himself; I saw it. Afterwards when we were guardin’ him in prison, Bran talked to him. Brought him his food, tried t’look out for him. I heard Arren plead with him to help, asked him to get him outta there.’
‘Is this true?’ Della looked at Bran.
Bran nodded reluctantly. ‘Yeah, it’s true. I knew he’d been sentenced to death, see. I wanted to try an’ help him one last time before he was gone forever. I felt like it was my fault he’d done what he did; I thought if I’d done more to help him before he might not’ve done it.’
‘Now, what about the night that the prisoner escaped?’ said Della, turning to Dan again. ‘Can you account for your friend’s whereabouts on the night of the Seconday of the first week of Midsummer Month?’
‘Yeah, I can,’ said Dan. ‘We’d been on duty that day too, an’ my shift ended at the same time as Bran’s. I saw Arren still in his cell when we left. Bran an’ I went to the Red Rat to have a beer or two. Some of the lads met us there. We’d been there a while when the word came in that Arren’d escaped an’ been seen in the city, an’ we were called on for emergency duty to go looking for him. So all of us got together, an’ Bran led us in the search.’
‘And did you find him?’ asked Della. Above in the gallery the witnesses were silent, listening intently.
‘Yeah, we did.’ Dan shifted uncomfortably. ‘We found him near the market district an’ we chased him. He was armed – had a sword he’d found somewhere. We cornered him at the edge of the city an’ Bran ordered him to surrender. He threw the sword away, an’ then he kind’ve came at us… I was a bit back from Bran an’ I couldn’t hear what he was sayin’. It was windy.’
Bran’s shoulders hunched as his old guilt came back. ‘He asked me to help him,’ he said softly. ‘He didn’t like heights; I could see how terrified he was. He was beggin’ me not to let him fall.’
‘I didn’t know,’ Dan said a little defensively. ‘I thought he was gonna attack us. So I shot him. Got him with an arrow straight in the chest. One of the other lads got him in the leg, but I-,’ he hesitated. ‘-I killed him. Even if he hadn’t’ve fallen off the edge, my arrow still would’ve finished him off. The Captain tried to catch him, an’ nearly went straight down with him, but I pulled him back. But either way, Bran never let him outta prison. I was with him the whole time.’
Everyone there looked nervous.
‘We’ve heard this story before,’ Della said evenly. ‘And it has been considered to be highly suspect, and very likely untrue. So far you and Captain Redguard have been the only witnesses; none of the other guards who were there have been found. If, as you say, Arren Cardockson died, then how could he have committed those murders and burned the Eyrie?’
‘He came back,’ Dan said immediately. ‘Back from the dead.’
There were titters from the gallery.
‘Look, he can’t have survived,’ Dan persisted. ‘An arrow in the heart an’ a fall off of a mountaintop – it ain’t possible.’
‘It’s true!’ Bran cut in. ‘I saw him again later. There was somethin’ wrong with him. He’d gone pale an’ cold, an’ he still had the arrowhead stuck in him but he didn’t seem t’feel it.’
‘I agree that it is true,’ said Dan’s partner Kakree, suddenly speaking up. ‘The black griffin, Darkheart, was there. We griffins from Eagleholm believe that it was he who brought the human back with his magic. The human is Kraeae kran ae, the cursed one. The walking dead.’
‘They hanged him in Malvern,’ Bran said loudly, cutting across the derisive laughter of the listeners. ‘Hundreds of people saw it. They hanged him, but he wouldn’t die. He got stabbed through with a sword an’ that didn’t kill him either. He ain’t human any more.’
Della waved him into silence. ‘Whatever the explanation, you still have no proof that you didn’t help your friend again later, when he came back to Eagleholm. Can you prove your whereabouts then?’
‘He went home after we’d reported Arren’s death,’ said Dan. ‘An’ the next day he didn’t come to work. I didn’t see him again until the morning after the burning, when we both got chosen as griffiners. Where’s Kraeya, anyway?’
‘Locked up in the Arena,’ Bran muttered.
‘So you can’t prove that you had nothing to do with the murders and the burning?’ said Della. ‘And you can’t prove that those witnesses who saw you near the Eyrie that night are lying?’
‘No,’ said Bran. ‘But I wasn’t there.’
‘He wouldn’t do that,’ Dan added. ‘I don’t believe it.’
‘That’s enough,’ said Della. ‘We’re finished for today. Lord Redguard, you may return to your cell. Tomorrow we will meet here again, and unless you can provide evidence to disprove these witness testimonies you cannot be released.’
Bran couldn’t find anything else to say. He bowed his head as the crowd began to jeer again, and allowed himself to be led away by his guards.
‘Don’t worry, mate!’ Dan called after him. ‘I’ll find a way to help! Yer gonna be all right!’
Bran smiled weakly back at him, but said nothing. He didn’t know what to say, or what to do. For now all he could do was go back to his cell and look after Laela, and try and think of something. There had to be a way to save himself, there had to be. But what?
We’ll post up Part 11 next Friday 4th May!
K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy: