Following on perfectly from her Launch invitiation, here’s part 17 of the new short story by K.J. Taylor, set in the world of her Fallen Moon Trilogy. Happy Friday!
Bran the Betrayer Pt. 17
Kraeya looked up at the chains that covered the pits. ‘We cannot fly from here. Come, we will walk out to where it is clear.’
Bran nodded and limped beside her away from the pit where he hand nearly died, trying to ignore the shouts from the crowd. Some shouted accusations, others congratulations. It seemed that a few of them, at least, now believed he was innocent.
Bran didn’t even look at them. He didn’t care what they thought, not any more.
Some of them, though, moved around in front of him, standing in his and Kraeya’s path.
‘Get outta the way,’ Bran growled at them.
‘They will not stand in our way for long,’ said Kraeya. She hissed at them, sending several of them scurrying.
But one of them didn’t run. He shuffled forward, detaching himself from the throng, and came toward Bran.
Bran’s eyes narrowed. ‘Anyon.’
Here in the daylight Anyon looked even worse than he had in the Eyrie. His burned face looked half melted, the eyes glazed. But his voice sounded surprisingly strong when he spoke.
‘Traitor,’ he said. ‘Murderer.’
‘I’m innocent, an’ you know it,’ Bran snapped back. ‘If I was guilty, yeh wouldn’t have had to bribe them people to make ’em lie for yeh.’
‘Murderer!’ Anyon shouted suddenly. ‘You killed my master!’
‘I didn’t,’ said Bran. ‘Get outta my way. I’ll see yeh thrown in prison for what you did.’
Anyon didn’t seem to hear him. He stepped forward, drawing a long dagger. ‘Gryphus burn thee, Arren Cardockson,’ he said, and stabbed Bran in the chest.
Too late, Kraeya reared up. Too late, she lashed out with her talons. Too late, she hurled Anyon to the ground where he jerked and died.
Bran fell to his knees, both hands clutching at the dagger still stuck in him. ‘No-,’
‘Bran!’ Kraeya stood over him, trying to support him. ‘Bran, no!’
Bran could feel blood welling up around the dagger. His vision began to darken around the edges. ‘Laela,’ he mumbled, and fell.
Far away in the cell under the Eyrie, as if sensing what had happened, Laela started to cry.
Talmon and Nerris tried to care for Bran. Talmon held the crowd at bay with Kraeya’s help, while Nerris ran to find a healer. Luckily there were several working at the fighting pits, and one soon came running.
She rolled Bran onto his back. He flopped down, his arms falling limply away from where they had clutched at the dagger. His eyes had slid closed.
The healer touched his neck. ‘His heart’s still beating. Quickly, get him back to the Eyrie. He needs a better healer than me.’
‘Ain’t you gonna take that dagger out of him?’ Nerris asked.
‘No. If I did, he’d bleed to death. Help me.’
The healer had brought a stretcher, and with Talomon and Nerris’ help she slid Bran onto it. Together, she and Nerris lifted the stretcher and carried it out of the fighting pits. Kraeya went ahead, and Isleen and Arak took up the rear. The crowd moved out of the way, quiet now.
Together, they took Bran back to the Eyrie and up the ramps inside to the infirmary where griffiners were cared for. There they put him on a bed, and made him as comfortable as they could.
‘He’ll get the best treatment Withypool has to offer here,’ said the healer, while her fellow healers gathered around. ‘The Master of Healing herself will treat him.’
Isleen nodded briefly. ‘I’ll go and fetch the child. She should be up here with him.’
She left, along with her partner. Talmon and Nerris went with her. Only Kraeya stayed. The infirmary had been built big enough for griffins to keep watch over their partners, and the red griffin lay down quietly by Bran’s bedside and waited.
Bran didn’t notice any of it. He lay still on his back, scarcely breathing.
‘Do not die,’ Kraeya said softly. ‘Please, Bran. You cannot die…’
A short time later, the Master of Healing arrived. She swore softly in griffish when she saw the dagger.
Kraeya stood up. ‘Save him,’ she commanded. ‘You must heal him.’
The Master of Healing looked up at her. ‘I’ll do my best, but I can’t make any promises. If that dagger has pierced his heart, then he has no chance. Even if it hasn’t, he may well still die.’
‘Save him,’ Kraeya repeated.
The Master of Healing nodded silently, and went to work. She poured a medicine of some kind down Bran’s throat, and once she had prepared a strong-smelling paste she removed the dagger and quickly covered the wound with it. The paste hardened in moments, sealing the blood away inside Bran’s body, and once it had the Master of Healing covered it with bandages.
‘That’s all I can do for now,’ she said. ‘Now all we can do is hope the paste holds, and see if he wakes up.’
Kraeya huffed softly.
‘Don’t worry,’ the Master of Healing smiled to reassure her. ‘He survived the fight today, didn’t he? I think it’s clear that Gryphus wants him to live.’
‘He must live,’ was all Kraeya said.
Not long afterward, Isleen returned. She had a crying Laela in her arms. ‘How is he?’ she asked.
The Master of Healing shook her head. ‘Still holding on, but it’s too early to be certain of anything. Whose child is that?’
‘His,’ said Isleen. ‘I brought her up to be with him; he insisted that she stay with him at all times.’ She rocked Laela gently, and patted her on the back. ‘There, there, little one; it’s all right. I’ve brought you to your father now.’
Laela, though, kept on crying.
‘I’m not sure what’s wrong,’ Isleen said uncomfortably. ‘She’s not hungry and she doesn’t need changing, but she won’t stop crying.’
‘Perhaps she’s overheated,’ the Master of Healing suggested. ‘With that hood on.’
‘Are you too hot?’ Isleen touched Laela’s cheeks. ‘You feel hot. Here, let me help you-,’
‘No!’ Kraeya said sharply.
But Isleen ignored her. She untied the hood and pulled it away. ‘There, is that better-?’ she began.
The hood came off, and Laela’s thin, curly black hair puffed up, finally free of its prison.
Isleen and the Master of Healing froze.
‘No,’ Kraeya said again. ‘Put the hood back on. You must not remove it.’
It was already far too late.
Isleen touched Laela’s wispy hair. ‘It’s black,’ she said. ‘Holy Gryphus, is she…?’
‘That’s a half-breed,’ said the Master of Healing.
‘A half-breed!’ Isleen held Laela away from herself, staring at her in bewilderment and then, soon afterward, disgust. She looked at Bran. ‘So that’s why he wouldn’t let anyone take her away from him. That’s why he kept her head covered. He fathered a half-breed.’
The Master of Healing looked at the whimpering Laela. ‘Poor little thing. How could he do this to her?’ She glanced sharply at Isleen. ‘Put the hood back on her. We can’t let this get out.’
‘What does it matter?’ asked Isleen. ‘We had nothing to do with it.’
‘She’s only a child, Isleen,’ said the Master of Healing. ‘It’s not her fault that her father bedded a Northerner. If he ever recovers, we’ll confront him about it and leave it to him to deal with. If not… we’ll decide then.’
‘All right.’ Isleen put Laela down by Bran’s side, and put the hood back on her. ‘You look after her, then, if you care so much. As for me, I shall go back and report to my master. But I’ll say nothing about the child. Let him decide. Or, if not him, you.’
The Master of Healing nodded. ‘Thankyou. I’ll send word once I have it.’
Isleen left with a curt nod of her own, and the Master of Healing turned to Kraeya.
‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘I’ll keep this to myself.’
‘You should not have done that,’ Kraeya hissed. ‘My human’s secrets are his own.’
‘Yes.’ The Master of Healing looked down at the silent Bran. ‘And if he ever wakes up, he’ll have to face the consequences. Whatever they might be.’
We’ll post up Part 18 next Friday 22nd June!
K.J Taylor is the author of the Fallen Moon Trilogy & her new book The Shadow’s Heir will be out in July!