Home > The Princess Knight (The Scarred Earth Saga #2)(15)

The Princess Knight (The Scarred Earth Saga #2)(15)
Author: G.A. Aiken

Once they were inside the fortress, all activity stopped and every eye focused directly on them.

A young squire was sent running to get someone in charge while the one called Brother Richard ordered, “Weapons.”

“What about them?” Farlan asked.

“Hand them over.”

“Over my dead carcass.”

Gemma put her hand on Farlan’s shoulder. “It’s all right, dear friend. Give them your weapons.”

“Gemma—”

“They won’t harm you. Those who willingly shed their weapons upon entering our monastery are under our protection. Is that not right, Brother Richard?”

“Absolutely correct, Brother Gemma. We live and die by that commitment, friends of Brother Gemma.”

Farlan growled unhappily but pulled out his swords, his axes, his daggers, his spear, his small war hammer, his large war hammer, his shield and, finally, his flail. His bow and arrows were on his saddle. The monks looked at the pile at his feet and then back at Farlan. Soon Cadell had a similar pile except he had several morning stars instead of a flail. And a crossbow instead of a bow.

The Amichais were firm believers in being ready for anything.

Quinn and his sister divested themselves of less equipment but that didn’t seem to ease the monks’ caution any. Then there was Keran. Who had considerably fewer weapons, probably so she could stash an incredibly large number of flasks. So many flasks that everyone gazed at her in wonder. And she only pulled those from her clothes and travel bag because one of the monks kept asking, “What’s that metal thing? Is it a weapon?”

“What?” Keran asked when she finally threw down the last one. “I knew it would be a long trip.”

“Really?” Gemma softly asked Quinn. “This is who all of you were comparing me to?”

When poor Samuel only threw down his one, barely used sword and one eating knife, one of the older monks sneered and said, “Ech. You. I don’t know why she bothered bringing you anywhere.”

Quinn grabbed Gemma’s arm before she could start a good throttling. But thankfully, someone who seemed to be in charge had finally shown up. Unlike the rest of the monks in their black tunics with the bright red rune on the front, this one had on a white tunic with a red rune. He gazed at Gemma in a way that Quinn could not immediately read. Was that anger? Disappointment? Fear? Concern? Contempt? None of those? He really didn’t know. But he sensed it probably wasn’t good.

“Master Sergeant Alesandro,” Gemma greeted him. “I bring important—”

“Yes. I know.”

“Excellent. The quicker I can get an audience with the grand master on this matter, the better. It truly can’t wait.”

“Of course.” The master sergeant smiled, but it was not a friendly smile. Far from it. “But you do understand the rules.”

“Rules?” Laila suddenly asked. “What rules?”

“There’s the question of whether Brother Gemma’s a traitor or not. Many believe you are.”

“But I’m not.”

“That decision will be made by the grand master.”

“Fine. Whatever. I need to talk to him anyway.”

“But don’t forget. You are on sanctified ground,” the master sergeant pointed out. “That makes anyone in this territory subject to our rules and laws and punishments. None of which can be overruled by the laws of any king . . . or queen.”

Eyes wide, Laila turned to Gemma. “Is that true?”

Gemma shrugged. “Pretty much.”

“And you came here anyway?”

“Yes.”

Laila glanced around before asking Gemma, “Even though they seem to think you’re a traitor?”

“I’m not.”

“But they think you are.”

“But I’m not.”

Quinn leaned down and said to Gemma, “I’d move if I were you.”

“Why—owwwww! What the fuck was that for?” she yelled at Laila.

“Quinn, tell Gemma what that slap to the back of the head was for.”

“Bad decision-making.”

“And how do you know that, big Brother?”

“Because I’ve received many such slaps over the years for my own bad decision-making.”

“Exactly.” Laila turned her head, looked directly at Gemma. “Exactly.”

CHAPTER 7

Brother Katla led her battalion to the monastery. The drawbridge was pulled up so Brother Shona called up to those on the ramparts to lower it. Her brother Kir—not just Brother Kir, but her twin brother Kir—rode on her left.

At one time Katla and Kir had been called Katla and Kir No One. They’d actually been grateful that No One was their surname. Because it was better than “Bastard,” which some orphaned children had. But because they didn’t know where they’d come from or who their parents had been, they had no idea if they were bastards or not. So they were called “no one” instead. Not exactly nice but not cruel either.

Then, one day, the pair had been discovered stealing food from a local merchant. Caught in the act as they say. They hadn’t been caught by the local magistrate but, instead, by monks. Some monks, it was said, would simply feed young thieves and send them on their way. Some would chop off their hands. And some . . . some would give them jobs. The first few years, they were forced to live in the stables with the horses. Not that they minded. They loved the horses and didn’t mind the smell of their shit. And while they lived with the horses they learned to care for them. They learned to feed them and brush them and tell when they weren’t feeling well. They even learned when it was time to let them go, which was hard. Especially for Kir, who always cried. The monks hated that Kir cried but he kept getting bigger and stronger, so they learned to overlook those tears.

Then the twins learned to shoe the horses and ride them and defend them and help the monks with their weapons during battle and eventually how to fight themselves. They could have gone off on their own, made a life as warriors with no loyalty to any god. But they both felt it, Katla and Kir. They felt Morthwyl call to them. Felt they should wear his rune. Fight under his banner. They felt his power flow through their veins.

When they finally made their vows, Shona was with them. She wasn’t an orphan. She came from a wealthy family in the east, but she’d left her life of privilege behind to fight as a war monk. Now they were all majors, fighting battles anywhere the brotherhood sent them.

“What’s taking so long?” Katla asked Shona when the drawbridge didn’t come down immediately.

Shona shrugged.

Katla looked up at the ramparts.

“I want that drawbridge down in five seconds or I’ll rip it down with my bare hands!” she warned. She wasn’t worried about what was in the moat either. Because she had trained what was in the moat. And they still adored her.

The drawbridge came down and she took the lead across it. The gates opened and she rode in. Once she was far enough inside so the entire battalion could follow, she dismounted, and her squire assisted her by removing the saddle and gear from her horse.

As Katla stopped to stretch her back and legs before finding a bath and food, Brother Julia came rushing to her side. Katla wasn’t fond of Brother Julia. She seemed more of a lapdog than a warrior. And Katla had no time for lapdogs.

“Brother Katla!” Julia exclaimed. “So glad to have you back safely!”

Katla returned the greeting with a grunt.

“But,” Julia continued, “unfortunately, you and your battalion must go right out again.”

Katla stopped wiping some blood and brain off her white tunic and looked at the lapdog.

“What?”

Shona came to stand beside her. “Yeah? What?”

“Brother Shona,” Julia said with a head nod.

“Fuck your nods. What’s this about leaving again?”

“Unfortunately—”

“Stop saying unfortunately—”

“—Master General Pierce needs you and your battalion to go right out again to deal with land barons in the west. Immediately. It can’t wait.”

Katla felt an itch at the back of her neck. It was a feeling she’d heeded ever since she and her twin had lived on the streets. It had kept them safe. Kept them alive. Told her when something just wasn’t right.

Like this moment. Something wasn’t right.

“Shona. Find me something,” Katla ordered.

Shona moved to Julia’s side. Stood next to her. Towered over her, which at six-foot-two, wasn’t hard for Shona to do. She leaned in but Julia kept her gaze on the ground.

“She’s hiding something.”

“I’m not. Just relaying a message.” Julia’s voice was calm but her eyes didn’t move. Nor did her body. Normally Julia relayed orders, then stalked away, expecting those orders to be followed. The fact that she wasn’t doing so now . . .

Shona sniffed Julia’s hair before abruptly walking off, but Katla stood her ground and waited. A few seconds later her twin stepped closer.

“What are we doing?” he asked.

“Waiting.”

“But I’m hungry.”

Katla was sure he was. Her brother was three hundred pounds of muscle. When he wasn’t praying or killing, he was eating.

“We’ll eat soon, Brother.”

“How soon?”

“You’re irritating me.”

“Enough to feed me?”

“No.”

Shona walked out of one of the stables leading a horse. A gray stallion.

“Look familiar?” she called out to Katla.

Julia closed her eyes, cringing at Shona’s question, but Katla didn’t need that cringe as confirmation. Because she recognized that horse. She’d helped pull it out of its mother when it was born. Watched as it had taken its first wobbly steps, then as it grew strong and powerful. Then came the day she’d recommended it for placement among the warhorses.

   
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