Home > The Princess Knight (The Scarred Earth Saga #2)(4)

The Princess Knight (The Scarred Earth Saga #2)(4)
Author: G.A. Aiken

“Are we worried about her?” Quinn asked his sister. “Really?”

Impaling a soldier through his helmet, Laila snapped, “All right, listen up. You two seem to forget who you actually report to since you”—she pointed at Caid with her blood-soaked steel spear—“are lucky enough to fuck the queen. And you”—she pointed at Quinn—“have been lucky enough not to be executed by the queen. So I’ll make it very clear. The only one either of you takes orders from . . . is me.”

“Because you’re Mother’s direct heir? Or Father’s favorite?”

“Both, which is why I rule you two like a god.”

“She’ll be a tyrant one day,” Quinn muttered to Caid.

“Now Caid, go to Keeley. You lot with him,” she ordered, motioning to the other Amichais fighting nearby. “And Quinn—”

“Please don’t send me after—”

“You go with Gemma.”

He dropped his head forward. “She hates me. I don’t mean that lightly. I mean she really hates me.”

“You love it when others hate you.”

He shrugged. “True.”

“Then go. And watch your back. We’re not done here yet.” His sister looked around, her gaze narrow. “Something feels off.”

His sister was never wrong about that sort of thing. She was a centaur, and like any true herd animal, she had the strong senses that kept them safe and alive. Because she could smell danger on the wind and sense trouble through her hooves.

So Quinn stopped questioning her and simply followed the terse princess who was abusing their enemies so brutally. He was truly concerned she might one day be convicted of war crimes by her own sister.

* * *

Gemma battered her way through the ongoing battle to the open gates of the duke’s castle. They weren’t under a royal siege because he and his wife had sided with Queen Beatrix and her idiot husband, but because they’d raised an army to assist in the oncoming war between the two queendoms. That was something even Keeley wouldn’t overlook.

What Gemma hadn’t expected, though, was that Keeley would attack Duke Reinhold preemptively, rather than waiting for his power to grow. Keeley usually preferred diplomacy to war. Maybe their mother had said something to her, because Gemma had woken up this morning to find her sister and her army already moving out.

Why Keeley hadn’t alerted Gemma to her decision earlier, Gemma still didn’t know, and their earlier conversation with Keran hadn’t helped matters. The battalion that reported to Gemma was still at the homestead with the family. Gemma, however, would prefer they were here. She’d been training them for this sort of fighting. To attack fast and hard, under the cover of darkness, giving their enemies no time to put up a proper defense or offense. It was a brutal, unfair tactic, but if they were going to win against Beatrix and the son of the Old King, they’d have to stop thinking like fair-minded individuals and start thinking like men.

A hysterical soldier ran toward her screaming and Gemma turned, brought her sword up and across, splitting the man open from just below his left shoulder, through part of his chest, to the other side of his neck, sending the man’s head—and a large chunk of his upper body—flipping up and away as the rest of his body dropped before it reached her.

Gemma drove her sword into another oncoming soldier, then pushed him out of her way. She kept moving, entering the castle walls without any of the other enemy soldiers following her. She had expected to find a battle inside. Men defending the duke and his family. But she soon realized that the royals had made a quick exit from their old home, probably heading toward Beatrix’s lands.

Although Gemma would have preferred to get her hands on the duke, this situation was tolerable. Keeley’s army was decimating the duke’s army and without any of his soldiers, he would be of little use to Beatrix and her husband. That worked just as well as taking the duke captive.

Keeping her sword at the ready, Gemma moved among the remains of the duke’s home. She had no use for the things he’d left behind. A few objects of actual gold and steel and silver would be taken and given to their mother to be made into weapons by the blacksmith. But Gemma was looking for more. She was looking for information. Anything that could help them in their ongoing battle with Beatrix.

Far in the back of the castle, she found a room with several large tables. On them were maps and communications on parchment between the duke and King Marius, also known as Marius, the Wielder of Hate. Without meaning to, Gemma again found herself grudgingly worried about Beatrix being the wife of a man infamous for his brutality and heartless nature. It irritated her that she cared at all. Clearly Beatrix hadn’t cared about family when she’d buried her blade in Keeley’s gut. Her own sister. And for what? A chance at being queen? Keeley had spent her entire life caring for Beatrix. Taking care of her, giving her money, making sure she had all the books she could possibly want and, most importantly, ignoring the obvious fact that Beatrix was an evil bitch who should have been put down at birth the same way they put down diseased pigs on their farm.

Yet despite knowing all that, Gemma still found herself worrying about Beatrix. Worrying about the life she was living with someone like Marius. And she hated herself a little for giving a horse’s shit one way or the other. Beatrix didn’t deserve Gemma’s worry. She didn’t deserve anything except a blade to the neck. Not that Keeley would ever let that happen.

“We should burn this place to the ground,” a voice said from behind her, “so they can never return.”

Gemma gripped her blade tighter but did not turn around.

“I wish you would stop sneaking up on me.”

“I didn’t sneak up on you. It’s my legs.”

Confused by that statement, she finally turned to face Quinn.


“It’s my legs.” He looked down at the long, muscular legs that stretched from under the leather kilt that every battle-ready Amichai wore. There were small scars over the length of each leg but on his left one was a very long, very jagged scar that reached from behind his knee around to the front of the thigh and up, until it disappeared under his kilt. “When I only have two, I seem to move very lightly. I barely make any sound at all.” He gazed at her a long moment before continuing. “But when I add the other two—and hooves, of course—then suddenly I end up making much more noise than I mean to. Unless I wrap my hooves in cloth. Then my stride is less noisy.”

He stopped again . . . and gazed at her before finally finishing with, “I’m always surprised you humans aren’t quieter when you move. You only have two legs. How hard is it?”

It was still strange for her. Even now. To have these discussions with the Amichais. To say out loud that no, they weren’t human. They were centaurs who merely took on human form when they wished. Sometimes Gemma walked into her sister’s bedchamber and found Caid of the Scarred Earth Clan complaining about something minor while his long black tail swatted at one of the stray cats that roamed the castle walls and liked to hang from the Amichais’ tails. He didn’t even seem to notice he was doing it. Nor did he notice the kittens climbing his horse legs. And Keeley, who sat on the bed, listening to his complaints and petting a baby goat, didn’t seem to notice or care either. That’s when Gemma knew life among the Smythe clan had well and truly changed.

“Are you still following me?” she asked Quinn, whose white-blond hair often made her think the gods had gone out of their way to make him the exact opposite of his black-haired brother, Caid.

“I’m only here because I was ord—”

“If you say ‘ordered’ one . . . more . . . time . . .”

“So I can’t say ‘ordered’ or ‘princess’? And yet you are a princess who I was ordered to follow.”

Gemma stepped around him. “Fuck off, Amichai. I have no time for you or . . .”

Gemma’s complaint faded when the Amichai moved past her and stopped, his head tilting one way, then the other. He heard something. Was trying to follow the sound.

“This way,” he barked before setting off.

Gemma immediately followed. Together, they made their way deep into the empty castle, cutting through the kitchens and out an exit into the open fields. A dangerous way to live, with no protection at one’s back like a small courtyard.

She stood next to Quinn, sweeping her gaze across the grassy, open area until she saw him. His bright yellow robes flapped as he desperately ran toward the castle while a man on horseback charged after him, his big axe ready to remove the runner’s head.

“Do you know either?” Quinn asked her.

“The one in robes is a monk. A pacifist order that does no harm to any. I don’t recognize the armor of the other.”

“Good enough,” Quinn said as he unslung the longbow strapped across his chest and pulled an arrow from the leather quiver hanging from his sword belt. He nocked the arrow, aimed, and released.

The hit was direct, in the chest, taking the rider right off his horse.

As much as Quinn annoyed her, Gemma couldn’t ignore the Amichai’s skill with a longbow, only rivaled by his sister, who used a composite bow as if it were an extension of her arm.

Still, Gemma wasn’t about to tell Quinn any of that. He was arrogant enough already.

* * *

Gemma brought two fingers to her mouth and whistled. Quickly, as if he’d just been waiting for her call, Gemma’s horse trotted through the castle and into the field, stopping right beside her.

Dagger tossed his black mane, which had been braided into four thick plaits so it didn’t get in his way during battle, and pounded his front hoof against the ground. She mounted him with ease and clucked her tongue against the top of her mouth once. Dagger galloped toward the hysterical man still running toward them. As they neared, Quinn heard his screams for help as the monk stumbled, fell, then got back to his feet again.

Gemma reached him first and when she stopped, the man dropped to his knees beside her.

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