Here’s part 15 of the new short story by K.J. Taylor, set in the world of her Fallen Moon Trilogy. Happy Friday reading everyone!
Bran the Betrayer Pt. 15
Bran tucked his sword into his belt, and went to inspect the weapons on offer. There was quite a range – swords of various lengths, spears and axes, clubs, and nets. He soon decided to take a spear – as a guard he had been trained in the short sword and the spear, so with it and his sword he would be armed with the weapons he was best with. After some thought he also took a small axe and put that in the back of his belt just in case he lost his sword and needed something else he could use at close quarters.
His two guards watched in silence for a while, but while he walked back and forth along the racks, considering whether he should take anything else, one of them spoke for the first time.
‘You want my advice, take a net,’ he said. ‘Those griffins move fast. Get a net an’ tangle the bloody thing up in it. That’ll give you a chance.’
Bran eyed him, and then inspected one of the nets that hung from a hook on the wall. It was made of rope, and looked sturdy. He fingered it while he thought. The guard’s suggestion sounded sensible to him. If the griffin managed to pounce on him and knock him down, he’d be finished. Tangling it up with a net would give him a chance.
He nodded and took the net down. He bundled it up and slung it over his shoulder before taking a second net just in case. Best be as prepared as possible.
‘Thanks for the advice, mate,’ he said.
The guard nodded respectfully to him. ‘It’s damned obvious you used t’be a guard. You sure don’t look much like a griffiner!’
Bran grinned. ‘Yeah, I ain’t much of one. I never wanted t’be a griffiner really. A guard’s all I ever was an’ that’s what I still am at heart. Always will be.’
‘Well, good luck out there,’ said the guard.
‘Yeah,’ said his fellow. ‘I reckon yer innocent. This whole trial thing’s a nonsense.’
‘Thanks,’ said Bran. ‘An’ it is.’
‘You’ll do fine,’ said the first guard. ‘Gryphus is on your side, right?’
‘Right,’ Bran nodded, and tried his best to believe it.
Outside, he could hear the crowd that had already gathered. Back in Eagleholm the Arena had been very popular entertainment, and here it was most likely the same. And the reason behind this particular fight would make it even more exciting to the onlookers. Bran reflected sourly that someone was probably already up there selling bags of toasted nuts.
‘What griffin am I fightin’?’ he asked the guards, thinking that it couldn’t hurt to know.
‘The one called “Bloodtalons”,’ said one of them. ‘I seen him fight before. He’s big, but not too big.’
So they liked to give their captive wild griffins stupid melodramatic names here, too, Bran thought. Wild griffins didn’t have names so far as he knew, so when they were caught and used for entertainment in places like this their owners would give them stage names to put on the posters. He muttered something to himself, and gripped his spear while he mentally planned out what he would do once he was in the pit.
He didn’t get long. Moments later the gate in front of him jerkily lifted as someone moved it from above. Bran could see the ground of the fighting pit in front of him, covered in sand brought from the seashore that would soak up the blood.
He set his jaw and stepped out into the open, while above him the announcer bellowed an introduction to rile up the crowd.
‘Branton Redguard, former guardsman and destroyer of Eagleholm, who betrayed his Eyrie Mistress to Northerners! Come to fight for his freedom!’
The crowd jeered and spat, and hurled rotten fruit into the pit. Bran made a rude gesture at them and returned his attention to the pit. It would be harder to manoeuvre in the sand, but hopefully it would hamper Bloodtalons as well.
The gate closed behind him. Ahead, on the other side of the pit, he saw a second gate. A huge shape lurked behind it, ready and waiting.
‘Today, for your pleasure,’ the announcer continued. ‘Bran the Betrayer will fight the mighty Bloodtalons. Only Gryphus can decide the outcome!’
‘Kill him, Bloodtalons!’ someone shouted from the audience. ‘Rip his traitor head off!’
Bran spat, and took up a fighting stance with his spear in one hand and net in the other. ‘All right,’ he growled under his breath. ‘Come an’ get me. I’m ready.’
Ahead of him the other gate clanked and groaned as it moved upward, and he heard the announcer shout one last time.
‘Let the fight begin!’
Before the gate had even finished opening, Bloodtalons forced his way through and rushed into the pit, wings opening to flail at the air. His beak was open wide, and a harsh and horrible scream split the air.
Bran didn’t move. He stood rooted to the spot, and quickly summed up his opponent as he’d been taught to do when he was only a boy. Bloodtalons was a big griffin – a little bigger than Kraeya – and he too had a red coat. His eyes looked odd; one was glaring yellow, but the other was paler, and the lid drooped. Bran took note of that, and guessed that the griffin was probably blind or partly blind in that eye. That would be the best side to attack from, then.
At least flight would be out of the question. There wasn’t any room for it here, and anyway, Bloodtalons’ wings had been chained together at the base just as in Eagleholm.
Bran picked up on all this in just a few moments, while Bloodtalons stopped and looked back at him as well. But the griffin probably wasn’t summing him up in return; he looked incapable of thought. His eyes, even the blind one, were full of mindless animal ferocity as he lowered his head and raised his scarred shoulders. His hissed a threat.
‘Come an’ get me, then,’ Bran said again. ‘Come on, yeh great chicken, come an’ see what a Redguard can do.’
The hiss rose into a snarl, and Bloodtalons charged. Bran was ready for him. He waited until the last moment, and at the last possible moment he twisted out of the way and hurled the net under the beast’s talons.
Bloodtalons’ front paws caught in the weave and he stumbled. Bran had already gripped his spear in both hands, and now he stabbed it into the griffin’s body as hard as he could. He had been aiming for the throat, but Bloodtalons moved at the wrong moment and instead the spearpoint embedded itself in the griffin’s shoulder. Bloodtalons snarled and whirled around to attack, but he was hampered by the net and Bran managed to pull the spear out of him and move out of the way again. He knew the net wouldn’t help him for long before Bloodtalons managed to tear it off, so he took full advantage and speared him again, this time in the chest.
Bloodtalons must have been used to enemies armed with spears. He lashed out with his beak – not at Bran, but at the spear-haft. It shattered under the blow, and Bran fell back as the impact ripped the remains out of his hands.
He didn’t waste time trying to get it back; he pulled the second net down off his shoulder and made a sudden rush forward, hoping to tangle his opponent up further while he still had the chance. But Bloodtalons ignored the spear head still stuck in him and lashed out again with his beak. Instinctively Bran threw his hands up to protect himself, and Bloodtalons’ beak hit the net instead and hooked through the weave. Bran kept hold of the other end of the net and pulled hard.
Bloodtalons pulled too, dragging Bran toward him. Too late Bran realised his mistake, and as he stumbled forward his foot caught in the sand and he fell over, right under the griffin’s beak.
He rolled over faster than he would ever have thought possible, and as Bloodtalons struck at him he rolled aside, first one way and then the other. But Bloodtalons wasn’t just any griffin; he was a fighting pit griffin, and had spent most of his adult life fighting and killing humans just like Bran. He reared up onto his hind legs and slammed his front paws down, net and all. Bran moved just in time, and the talons ripped down his chest, leaving deep lines in his leather breastplate.
The force of the blow slammed through Bran’s body, but before the pain had hit him he instinctively grabbed the net and pulled again, unbalancing the griffin. Bloodtalons stumbled sideways, and Bran took the opportunity to get away from him and stand up.
As he did, the pain suddenly stabbed into his chest in several places. He groaned and touched the most painful spot, but there was no time to worry about how badly he might be hurt. Bloodtalons had lost patience, and begun to tear at the net caught around his talons. His beak was more than strong enough to snap the rope weave, and in moments he would be free and able to chase down the puny human who dared try and go up against him.
Bran knew he couldn’t give him that chance. He drew his sword and charged in, roaring his family name in defiance to the baying crowd above.
Bloodtalons let go of the net and raised his head, opening his beak wide to strike. Bran had expected that, and at the last moment he dived, ducking in under the griffin’s beak, and threw his whole weight behind the sword as he thrust.
Bloodtalons struck. The point of his great, pitted beak hit Bran in the back and ripped the back clean off his breastplate. It ripped into Bran as well, but by then it was already too late.
Bran’s short guard sword punched straight through the wild griffin’s breastbone and embedded itself in his body up to the hilt. With one final burst of strength, Bran wrenched the sword sideways and then pulled it out. A gush of blood followed, splattering over his back as he stumbled away.
We’ll post up Part 16 next Friday!
K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy: