Our apologies for not getting this up on Friday everyone- Here’s part 13 of the new short story by K.J. Taylor, set in the world of her Fallen Moon Trilogy. We hope it brightens up your Monday!
Bran the Betrayer Pt. 13
When Bran returned to his cell he found Laela crying – almost as if she knew what was going to happen. She had made a mess in her clothes, so Bran changed them and cleaned her up as well as he could before giving her a reassurring cuddle. But she kept on crying, refused to eat, and stayed unsettled through most of the night.
Bran probably wouldn’t have slept well anyway. He spent that night alternately dozing and trying to calm Laela down, and finally woke up properly at what he guessed might be dawn. There was no natural light down here.
Bran got up. Laela was finally asleep, and during what could be his last quiet moment for a while, he decided to pray.
Normally, a Southern sun-worshipper like himself would pray in a Temple, or failing that would sit somewhere sunlit. Down here he could do neither, but there was a flame burning, at least – a torch inside a protective bracket up on his cell wall. He fixed his eyes on the fire, and murmured his prayer, keeping his voice low so he wouldn’t disturb Laela. And anyway, these words were for him and Gryphus, and no-one else.
‘Gryphus,’ he said. ‘I never did much right by yeh. Consortin’ with a Northerner – I know that ain’t what you’d want. Arren belonged to the Night God, not you. But I did my best t’stand by people an’ do right by my family an’ by Kraeya as well. I did the best I could, always have, even if I ain’t strong enough. An’ I ain’t. I can’t save Laela an’ myself without help now. So I’m askin’ yeh, Gryphus – protect me. Help me get out of this. Now Finna’s married out of the family I’m the last Redguard. Me an’ Laela. Don’t let us end like this. Let me win back my honour an’ my freedom. Please.’
If Gryphus heard, he didn’t feel the need to reply. But Bran felt better once he had prayed. And if he survived today, then surely that would mean Gryphus had forgiven him.
After he had prayed a while longer, he went back to his bed and slept. This time it was proper sleep, and just as well – he would need it.
Some time later, a voice calling from outside his cell door woke him up. He sat up hastily, and blinked away the last of his sleep as he saw someone standing outside. It was Della’s other assistant – a short, pudgy young man with a squint.
‘Yeah, what is it?’ asked Bran, standing up and stifling a yawn.
The man looked timid. ‘Er,’ he said. ‘Er, I’ve been asked to inform you that your fight with the griffin will happen today, at noon, in the fighting pits. You’ll be given back your sword, and you will be allowed to choose any other weapon you want before you go into the pit.’
‘Right,’ said Bran. ‘Then tell them guards I want some fresh water an’ somethin’ to eat for me an’ the baby.’
‘Baby?’ The man peered past him at the sleeping Laela.
‘Yeah,’ said Bran. ‘My daughter. Hop to it.’
‘All right.’ The nervous young griffiner hesitated. ‘You’re… you’re very brave, you know,’ he said quickly. ‘I wish I was brave like you.’
‘Well, feel free to come sit in this cell instead of me,’ Bran grunted. ‘It’s a real treat.’
The man flushed. ‘That’s not what I- sorry. Yes. I should go now. My name’s Alaric, by the way. And, er, good luck.’
He stumbled off, and Bran watched him go with bemusement. Someone that weak-willed wouldn’t last long as an apprentice to a Master as powerful as the Master of Law. He must have very wealthy parents to have been given the job in the first place.
A short while later food and water arrived. Laela was still asleep, so Bran ate and washed himself before strapping on his old guard armour which he had been allowed to keep with him.
When Laela woke up he washed and fed her too, and then settled down to wait. Eventually Isleen arrived with a pair of guards in tow.
‘Are you ready?’ she asked brusquely.
‘Yeah,’ Bran nodded.
‘Good. Come with us.’
Bran stood up, took Laela in his arms and gave her a last hug and a kiss on the forehead. ‘You wait here for me, girl,’ he said. ‘I’ll be back. Don’t you worry. I won’t let yeh down. Promise. You just sit tight an’ wait for me.’
He put her down on the bed and gave her the little stuffed griffin she loved so much, before he turned to the guard outside and said sternly; ‘You keep an eye on her, understand?’
The guard nodded reluctantly. ‘She won’t go anywhere, milord. Don’t worry.’
‘Good.’ Bran gave Laela a worried look, and left the cell. ‘All right,’ he said to Isleen and her escort. ‘Let’s get this over with.’
He let her two guards shackle his wrists behind his back again, and walked between them as before – up the corridor and out of the Eyrie, and into the city. As they left the Eyrie, Isleen’s grey partner Arak joined them and walked beside his human, leading Bran and his guards onward.
Bran watched the two of them, and found himself thinking of Kraeya. She must still be locked up in the fighting pits, where he himself was going. He wondered if she knew what was going on.
‘I want to see Kraeya,’ he said as they walked through the streets.
Isleen glanced back at him. ‘Your partner?’
‘Yeah,’ said Bran. ‘She’s still at the pits, right?’
‘She is,’ said Isleen.
‘I want t’visit her before the fight,’ said Bran. ‘So she knows what’s goin’ on.’
‘Very well,’ said Isleen. ‘There should be time. But she won’t be allowed to help you in the fight. If she were accused of helping you commit your crimes she would be, but she’s above suspicion.’
Bran sighed to himself. Kraeya’s help would make all the difference in this fight, but Isleen was right, and besides, it wouldn’t be fair to his partner to drag her into this.
Above, the sky was clear and bright. Withypool’s streets were busy. Plenty of people stopped to watch curiously as the prisoner and his escort went past – the fact that he was being guarded by a griffiner as well as two ordinary guards meant that he must be a griffiner himself, or be accused of a particularly heinous crime. Or both.
Bran ignored them.
Fortunately the fighting pits weren’t far from the Eyrie. In Eagleholm there had been the Arena – one huge round building, where wild griffins had fought criminals for the amusement of the crowd. That was where Arren had gone, and where he had nearly died at the talons of the black griffin. In Withypool, though, there were several different fighting pits sunk into the ground – miniature Arenas, more or less. Bran had seen them from the sky on his way into the city. All of them had nets of steel chains over them, to stop anyone inside from escaping, and the spectators stood above and looked down on the carnage below. A second, much larger chain net covered the entire area, so that when Bran first entered he felt as if he were being caught in layers of spider web.
Around the edge of the open area that housed the fighting pits, other more ordinary buildings stood. Many of them had signs on them, which Bran couldn’t read beyond a few words here and there – he’d never learned much of reading and writing, even after becoming a griffiner.
‘What’s in there?’ he asked, pointing at one of them.
‘Griffins are caged in that one,’ Isleen said briefly. ‘The building next to it is where the curiosities are kept for people to see. We will pass through it on our way and you can see for yourself.’
We’ll post up Part 14 next Friday 25th May!
K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy: