Here’s part 16 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. 16
Bloodtalons screamed. Finally kicking away the ruins of the net, he bounded after Bran. Stumbling as the pain rose in his back and chest, Bran was too slow to get away, and the griffin’s huge forepaw slammed into him and sent him flying. He landed in a shower of sand, and skidded away until he hit the wall of the fighting pit.
Only half conscious, his eyes full of sand, he looked up and saw Bloodtalons limping toward him. Coming in for the kill.
Laela, he thought.
Slowly, painfully, he dragged himself back up out of the sand. Bloodtalons was still coming at him. He had lost his sword, so he reached around to the back of his belt and freed the axe – the only weapon he had left. He grasped it in one hand, and braced himself for a final assault.
‘Come on!’ he wheezed. ‘I ain’t dead yet!’
But Bloodtalons didn’t look about to charge again. He moved slowly now, limping badly in one foreleg. On his chest, the deep wound Bran’s sword had left poured blood onto the sand.
‘C’mon!’ Bran yelled again. ‘What kinda wild griffin are yeh?’
Bloodtalons snarled, and made a clumsy run at him.
Bran knew he himself was hurt, but his legs were fine. He raised the axe and prepared to sidestep the charge, as he had before.
But before Bloodtalons reached him, he stumbled. His run slowed, and he staggered sideways with a hiss and a groan. His weak foreleg buckled, and he half fell.
Bran charged. Bloodtalons lashed out at him with his beak again, but weakly and slowly this time. Bran grabbed the beak with his free hand and wrenched it sideways. Before Bloodtalons could pull free, he hit him hard with the axe, in the neck just behind the jaw. Bloodtalons screamed again and fell sideways, exposing the spot even further, and Bran took his opportunity and struck again and again, hacking at the griffin’s neck right where the great throat vein waited.
He knew he had succeeded when blood spurted out with so much force that it sprayed over his face like hot rain. Bloodtalons convulsed, tried to make one last feeble strike at him, and then collapsed onto his side, twitching as his life’s blood pulsed out of him.
Bran dropped the axe and nearly fell on top of the dying griffin. He could feel himself shaking.
Above the crowd roared again. He couldn’t tell if they sounded triumphant, or disappointed. He didn’t care.
He limped away and found his sword lying half buried in the sand. The hilt was sticky with blood, but he picked it up and slowly walked back to where Bloodtalons lay. The griffin was still alive, barely. Bran knelt on his neck, and finished him off with a brutal stab through the eye and into his brain.
Bloodtalons jerked once, and finally stilled.
Bran stood up, over the griffin’s body, pointed his sword to the sky, and bellowed his victory.
The crowd bellowed back, and to his amazement he heard some of them begin a chant.
‘Bran! Bran! Bran!’
‘Bran the Betrayer!’ some shouted, but they sounded almost admiring.
Yeah, Bran thought suddenly. I am a traitor. I stayed loyal to the city, and I betrayed Arren.
‘Bran the Betrayer!’ he shouted back defiantly.
‘Bran the Betrayer wins!’ came the voice of the announcer.
Bran grinned wildly. He’d won. Gryphus had given his protection. He could go free, and Kraeya as well. What did it matter that he was Bran the Betrayer? He would live.
The gate that had let him into the pit opened again, and he thrust his sword back into his belt and limped off toward it. The pain had really begun now, but it wasn’t so bad that it meant his injuries would kill him.
As he entered the weapons room he pulled off his breastplate. The talon cuts in it were so deep they had almost gone straight through. Any deeper and it would have been him. As it was, he could see dark red and purple bruising already forming under his tunic. He carefully felt his chest, and soon detected several broken ribs. Bloodtalons’ beak had left a deep cut on his back as well, and there were other cuts and bruises on his arms. But none of it was very serious. He’d be a while recovering, but he’d survive. And now that he was free, the first thing he’d do was deal with Anyon. See to it that he got arrested, one way or the other. Then maybe Bran would testify at his trial. Serve him right.
‘Betrayer my arse,’ he muttered to himself. ‘Nobody spits on a Redguard’s honour an’ gets away with it.’
The two guards who had brought him to the pit were waiting, with looks of open admiration on their faces.
‘That was amazin’!’ one exclaimed. ‘I don’t believe it!’
‘Hardly anyone ever goes up against a wild griffin an’ lives,’ said the second.
Bran grinned, and then winced. ‘I told yeh I was innocent,’ he said. ‘Gryphus says so too.’
‘Now they all knows it,’ the first guard said stoutly. ‘I saw Isleen a moment ago; she’s gone t’let yer partner free. They’ll be here any moment.’
‘Good.’ Bran winced again, and went to sit down on the bench. Just doing that made his ribs flare up, and he groaned. ‘Argh. Feels like I got a handful of rusty daggers in there.’
‘I ain’t surprised,’ said the first guard. ‘Just rest up a bit until Isleen calls us, all right?’
‘Sure,’ said Bran. He rubbed his chest very carefully, but even that made it hurt. He cringed. ‘What’s yer name, by the way?’ he asked.
‘Me, I’m Talmon,’ said the first guard.
‘Nerris,’ said the other. ‘Here.’ He offered Bran a water bottle.
Bran drank deeply, and waited until, sure enough, Isleen arrived. She came down into the weapons room by herself, looking a little flushed.
‘There you are,’ she said. ‘Congratulations.’
Bran stood up. ‘Is Kraeya there?’
‘Yes. Arak and I set her free. She’s waiting for you outside.’ Isleen cleared her throat. ‘Lord Branton Redguard,’ she said formally. ‘You have won your trial by combat, and are therefore innocent in the eyes of Gryphus. I am hereby empowered to present you with this.’ She offered him the scroll that declared his pardoning. ‘You are hereby cleared of all charges, and are allowed to go free with immediate effect.’
Bran took the scroll, and tucked it into his tunic. ‘Thanks, Isleen.’
He stood up, nodded to Talmon and Nerris, and went up the passageway and into daylight.
Kraeya was waiting there, and she rushed straight to him. ‘Bran!’
Bran hugged her around the neck. ‘Kraeya! Thank gods!’
She nibbled gently at his hair, grooming him as if he were her chick. ‘I knew that you would survive, my Bran. I trusted you to have the strength to save us.’
‘An’ I did,’ said Bran. Her feathers were warm and soft on his blood-spotted face. ‘I did. We’re all right now, Kraeya. We’re gonna be fine.’
‘Yes,’ said Kraeya. ‘And I am proud that you are my human.’
Bran let go of her. ‘C’mon,’ he said, eyeing the crowd all about. ‘Let’s get back to the Eyrie an’ get Laela out of that cell.’
We’ll post up Part 17 next Friday 15th June!
K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy: