Here’s part 12 of the new short story by K.J. Taylor, set in the world of her Fallen Moon Trilogy. If you’re a fan of the world and KJ’s books, you’ll be happy know she’ll be attending the inaugural Oz Comic-Con in Melbourne from 30th June-1st July!
Bran the Betrayer Pt. 12
‘Anyon…’ Bran repeated.
‘Yeah,’ said Dan. ‘You saw him. He got burned half to death in the fire, an’ lost his griffin as well. An’ he lost his master Rannagon too. He could’ve been Master of Law one day, with a place on the Council, but when the Eyrie burned he lost everything. I dunno if he really thinks it’s yer fault, or if he knows it’s a lie. But I think he’s just plain lookin’ for someone to punish. Can’t get to Arren any more, so who else is there but Arren’s best friend?’
‘Can’t yeh tell them?’ Bran asked. ‘Go tell the Master of Law about Anyon tryin’ to bribe yeh. If we can prove he’s behind it, they’ll have to tell me go.’
Dan shook his head. ‘I tried. But nobody wants to listen. Everyone here’s the same as him, see. There’s a lot of Eagleholm survivors here. That’s who was up there in the gallery today, mostly. You heard ’em shouting. Nobody’s gonna listen to me. They’ll say I’m the one lyin’, since yer my friend.’
‘But you gotta try!’ said Bran.
‘I did. I said I did. Nobody listened. Anyon looks so frail now no-one believes he’d be up to somethin’ like this. He spends most of his time in bed nowadays.’
‘Then what’m I gonna do?’ said Bran. ‘I gotta get out of here. It can’t end like this, mate, it just can’t, dammit!’ His voice rose, betraying his desperation. Over on the bed, Laela whimpered.
Dan finally noticed her. ‘What the-?’ he said. ‘Why’s there a baby in there?’
Bran picked her up. ‘My daughter,’ he said. ‘Laela Redguard.’
‘Oh,’ said Dan. ‘Yer wife Flell was pregnant when you got married, wasn’t she?’
‘Yeah,’ said Bran.
‘What happened to her, anyhow?’ asked Dan.
‘She died,’ said Bran. ‘In the war. I’m all Laela’s got now.’
Dan eyed the child for a long moment. ‘She’s not yer child,’ he said softly. ‘Is she?’
‘She is,’ Bran lied, as he’d lied every day since his marriage to Flell.
Dan’s brow furrowed as he frowned. ‘Them eyebrows look real dark,’ he said.
‘Maybe, but she’s my daughter,’ Bran insisted.
‘No she ain’t,’ Dan said matter-of-factly. ‘She’s his. Isn’t she? That’s Arren’s child.’
Bran said nothing.
‘You’re a good man, Bran,’ said Dan. ‘Better than me. Better’n anyone in this whole gods-forsaken city. You don’t deserve t’be in that cell. I do.’
‘No yeh don’t,’ said Bran. ‘Stop it.’
‘I do,’ said Dan. He looked miserable. ‘An’ it’s time you stopped blamin’ yerself for what happened in Eagleholm. You did yer duty. I didn’t. It was me who turned his back on the city an’ did what he shouldn’t. It was me who committed a crime. If there was any justice in the world, I’d be the one facin’ the death penalty.’
‘Dan, what’re yeh talkin’ about?’ said Bran.
‘I’m a murderer,’ said Dan. ‘You were right, Bran. I murdered Arren Cardockson. I should’ve arrested him, not killed him. If I’d done my duty, then the Dark Lord wouldn’t have come. But nobody ever cared about what I did, because he was just a Northerner.’ He shook his head. ‘Murder’s murder. Bran, listen. If I could trade places with yer, I would. That’d make us even. But I can’t. So I’ll do the only thing I can do.’
‘What’s that?’ asked Bran.
‘You can’t prove yer innocent,’ said Dan. ‘We both know that. Only Gryphus can help yer now. Ask for trial by combat. It’s yer only chance.’
Bran frowned. ‘Fight for my freedom,’ he said aloud. ‘Hadn’t thought of that.’
‘Do it!’ said Dan. ‘You got the strength for it. Here in Withypool, they’d have yer fight a wild griffin.’
‘Could Kraeya help me?’ asked Bran.
‘No. I asked around before I came here, see – found out the rules. Griffins are Gryphus’ creatures, so if you go up against one an’ live, that means Gryphus wants you t’go free.’
Bran hesitated. ‘Me, fight a griffin?’
‘You can do it,’ said Dan. ‘You got the fightin’ skills. Besides, Gryphus knows yer innocent, right? He wants you to win.’
‘I’ll think about it, then,’ said Bran. ‘Thanks, Dan. For bein’ here.’ He reached out through the bars.
Dan clasped his friend’s big rough hand. ‘It’ll be all right, mate. You’ll see.’
‘I’m just glad I still got one friend left in the world,’ said Bran.
‘You deserve more,’ said Dan. ‘Well… I gotta go. Good luck, mate. I’ll be there tomorrow. An’ if anything happens to you, I… I’ll do what I can for Laela.’
In the end, she was what made Bran’s mind up. After Dan had left he sat for a long while, doing his best to keep her amused while he thought about what to do. But Dan was right: with the whole city out for his blood, and nobody else taking his side, there was nothing he could do. If he didn’t come up with some proof in his favour tomorrow, they might well sentence him to death on the spot. Demanding to fight for his freedom would be his only alternative.
He looked at Laela and she looked back with her big, innocent blue eyes – eyes that reminded him so much of Flell, but just a little of poor, doomed Arren as well. That was when he knew for certain. For her he would do anything – even fight a wild griffin, if it came to that.
He hugged her. ‘Don’t worry, girl. I got it under control. I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll rip that griffin’s guts out if I have to. I can’t make Dan care for yeh; it’s too much to ask. It’ll be all right. I’ll fight even harder knowin’ I’m fightin’ for you.’
Laela smiled at him. ‘Dada,’ she said.
Bran’s trial resumed the next day. Once again, he was taken to the dock while the crowd hurled its insults from above. Della and her partner stood patiently on the Master’s platform. This time, though, when Bran looked up, he could see Dan and Kakree up with the spectators. Dan waved encouragingly at him.
Bran nodded back, and waited patiently while Della declared the proceedings open again.
‘Now,’ she said, turning to him. ‘Today you have the opportunity to offer any evidence you might have to prove that you are innocent.’
Della gave him an expectant look. ‘Well?’
Finally, Bran spoke – loudly and strongly, so everyone there could hear him. His voice was deep and stern – a Captain’s voice.
‘I didn’t do it,’ he said. ‘I didn’t help Arren get out of prison, an’ I didn’t help him break into the Eyrie. I chose duty over friendship. I shouldn’t have. I should’ve put my friend first an’ given him the help he needed before any of it happened. If I had, I would’ve saved him, an Eagleholm, an’ myself. But I didn’t, an’ that’s why I’m here. Because I did what I was told an’ not what my heart told me. Now all of yeh here can see how I’m rewarded for that.’
‘But can you prove you’re innocent?’ Della pressed.
‘No,’ said Bran. ‘I can’t. But Gryphus knows I’m innocent. Let me fight to prove it.’
‘You want trial by combat?’ said Della.
‘Yeah,’ said Bran. ‘I do. I’ll fight the wild griffin. Gryphus will show yeh I ain’t guilty.’
‘Is that your final word?’ asked Della.
‘Yeah,’ said Bran.
‘Very well, then. You can go back to your cell while the arrangements are made. Your guilt or innocence is out of my hands now. The wild griffin will decide.’
Above, the audience jeered.
‘Feed him to the wild griffins!’ one man shouted. ‘Let Gryphus punish him!’
‘Kill the traitor!’ others yelled.
‘Burn the lot of yeh!’ Bran roared back suddenly. ‘You’re a load of cowards. How brave of yeh, throwin’ insults at a man who can’t fight back. I tell yeh, if Arren was here you’d be runnin’ like sheep the moment yeh laid eyes on him. It was the likes of you what turned him into a monster. Hate a man long enough an’ he’ll start hatin’ back. Well you ain’t gonna do the same thing to me.’ He spat.
Outraged shouts rose from the crowd. A few people even started to throw things, and the guards up there had to step in and start hustling them out.
Bran had said his piece. He walked out with his own guards, muttering and grim-faced. As he left he saw Dan again, and his old friend nodded sternly. Agreeing with him, maybe, or wishing him luck. Bran nodded back, unsmiling, and began the walk back to his cell.
We’ll post up Part 13 next Friday 18th May!
K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy: