Home > The Princess Knight (The Scarred Earth Saga #2)(5)

The Princess Knight (The Scarred Earth Saga #2)(5)
Author: G.A. Aiken

“Please! Don’t hurt me! Please! I am a pacifist monk! I am a pacifist monk!” he screamed. Begging.

Gemma stared down at him.

“I know what you are, Brother. I won’t hurt you. No soldier should be hurting you. They should only come to your monastery for healing and care. As a sanctuary.”

Still on his knees, the monk shook his head.

“They’ve killed them all!” he screeched. “All of them! They’ve killed every one!”

Gemma glanced off, her brows pulled low, her blue eyes dark, her expression unreadable. Quinn watched her closely, curious to see what she would do. When monks from different orders passed through their town, Gemma wasn’t exactly welcoming. At best, she simply ignored them. At worst, there were nasty fights in the nearby taverns that ended with her getting sewn up the next day and refusing to discuss the cause of the brawl.

But this felt different.

After a moment, Gemma looked over her shoulder and pointed at a unit of Keeley’s soldiers.

“You lot!” she called out. “With us!” Gemma held out her hand and the monk grabbed it. She hauled him onto Dagger’s back and set the horse racing forward. Quinn followed.

When they reached the nearby monastery, the monk immediately slipped off Dagger. He walked to the open front doors, dropped to his knees in his gratingly cheery bright yellow robes, clenched his hands together, focused his eyes on the brilliant sky above, and unleashed prayers that were no more than sobbing cries to his god.

Not knowing how to respond, Quinn passed him without a word and entered the monastery.

Gemma had already beat him inside and was now in the main hall. She was already down on one knee, the tip of her blade pressed against the stone floor, her right hand gripping the pommel; her head bowed in prayer.

He understood why. It was a normal reaction for anyone who’d given their life over to the gods, which she had. Although in the last fourteen months, few could tell. He clearly remembered that morning when he’d walked by her bedroom to see her packing away her monk’s robes and chainmail and weapons in a trunk at the end of her bed. Her mother had then outfitted her in all new gear, made just for her by the renowned blacksmith, but it wasn’t the same, was it? Seeing her in mere warrior’s garb. Not to Quinn anyway. He was used to seeing the queen’s sister striding around in her black tunic with the blood-red rune emblazoned on the front and back, and the exquisitely made black chainmail that proclaimed she was the warrior of a god.

Quinn didn’t know what had happened. What had made her take off her robes and stop answering to the title Brother Gemma, and he didn’t ask. Although he loved tormenting her, it had never felt right to play with her about something like that. Gods were a personal thing.

But seeing her on one knee, her sword held tight in her hand, and her head bowed . . . With or without her robes, Quinn knew that she had not truly left her gods behind. How could she when faced with something like this?

Because they were all dead. All of them. Every monk who’d been in the monastery was dead; their broken and bleeding bodies piled high in the middle of the hall. Some tied to pillars and riddled with crossbow bolts. Most of the bodies bore signs of torture before death.

There was so much blood. He’d only seen this much blood on battlefields.

Gemma finished her prayer and stood, turning to face him.

“These monks,” she said softly, keeping her voice low in deference to the dead, “like the one outside, were not war monks. They were pacifist monks. They were here to help the weak and suffering. This place was a sanctuary for any who came here for help. Even the Old King never crossed that line. And he was known to cross almost every line.”

“Why would your kind do this?”

She shook her head. “I can’t speak for the ways of men, Amichai.”

He frowned at her response. “I’m not speaking philosophically, woman. I mean why did they do this? Now?”

“Oh!” Gemma took a look around. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because they could. With the battle for power going on, the attackers figured they could take whatever gold and silver they could find.”

“You think thieves did this?”

“You don’t?”

“Thieves usually just come in, take, then go. This . . . seems excessively cruel. Even for your kind. Don’t you think?”

“I guess.”

Quinn studied her. “You guess?”

“What do you want me to say, Amichai?”

He wanted her to say that she cared. He wanted her to say that she would stop at nothing until she found out what had happened here. He wanted her to say she would track down the bastards who’d killed these defenseless monks, skin them alive, and place them assholes first on standing pikes. That’s what he wanted to hear her say. Because that’s what Brother Gemma would have said when he’d met her. But since she’d packed away her robes . . .

“I’m going to get your sister.”

“For what?” Gemma asked. “It’s disgusting thieves with no sense of honor. We’ll bury the dead and be on our way.”

“Och!”

Gemma blinked. “Did you just ‘och’ me?”

“I did. And I’ll do it again.” He leaned down, close to her face. “Och!”

“Oy! You spit in me eye!”

“Deserved. I’m getting your sister.”

“She won’t say anything different!” Gemma called after him. “You’re being overly dramatic about all of this!”

* * *

Keeley took one turn around the room before she faced Gemma, spread her arms wide, and announced, “Thieves didn’t do this.”

Behind Keeley’s back, Quinn mouthed, Told you.

If Gemma had long enough arms to slap him where he stood . . .

“This is the work of soldiers.”

“We don’t know that.”

“Are you blind?” Keeley took another turn around the main hall, shaking her head and making distinct sounds of disgust; her brow furrowed. “This is so disturbing. Do you not find this disturbing?” Keeley asked. And, before Gemma could answer, “How do you not find this disturbing?” she bellowed.

“I didn’t say I don’t find this disturbing!”

“Where’s the monk?” Keeley asked Quinn. Because suddenly they were friends.

“This way, Your Highness,” Quinn said with a sweeping gesture of his arm.

Keeley walked past Gemma, not even looking at her. When Quinn followed, Gemma pulled back her arm to punch him on the side of the head but Caid caught hold and pulled her in the opposite direction. They went into a small hallway, where he released her.

“What’s going on?”

“Your brother—”

“Other than that. What’s going on here?”

Gemma let out a sigh. “I don’t know. It looks like thieves to me.”

“Does it really? Usually you’re more paranoid than that.”

“I’m not paranoid.”

“Gemma, you’re the most paranoid person I know. And I know my father. And your uncle.”

Gemma briefly rubbed her forehead. “All right. Maybe I was a little dismissive. Normally I’d be a little more . . .”

“Questioning?”

“Yes.”

“So be questioning now. If my brother is asking questions . . . my brother . . . there must be something. Look around. Be the old you.”

“The old me?”

“You’ve been different lately.”

“How?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “To be honest, you remind me of your cousin.”

“Keran?” she exploded. “I remind you of Keran?”

“Don’t know why you’re yelling. I like Keran.”

“That’s hardly the point.” Gemma looked away from the Amichai, dismissing him with a wave. “I . . . I . . . I’ll look around. See what I can find.”

“Great,” Caid said flatly. “Thanks.” He studied her for a moment. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine. Just . . . go.”

“Do you want me to find you some ale?”

Gemma glared up at him. “No. I do not want you to find me any ale. I do not need any ale.”

“No, no. Of course you don’t.”

Insulted by his tone, Gemma opened her mouth to reply but he’d already walked away. If he’d been in his natural form, she’d have kicked him in his horse rump.

No, she wouldn’t do any of that. She needed to calm down. She needed to be rational.

If Caid thought something was strange about all this, he was probably right. Unlike his ridiculous brother, Caid was a thoughtful centaur. A good match for her sister, who thought this harsh world was filled with nothing but do-gooders wanting only the best for others.

She’d started to head down to the sleeping chambers, away from the main hall, when Laila came toward her. She was sliding her weapon back into its sheath when she stopped by Gemma’s side.

“No one left alive. Only the monk. He’s very lucky.” She shook her head. “What happened here?”

“I have no idea. Caid wants me to take a look around.”

“Good idea. Your sister is talking to the monk. And the troops are preparing burial pyres.”

“Don’t. The pacifists bury their dead. Tell the soldiers to dig graves.”

“Why would anyone bury their dead?”

“It’s something they do.”

She scrunched up her face. “Ew.”

“Try not to be so judgmental in front of the monk, please.”

“Make sure I’m burned,” Laila insisted. “I don’t want to spend my afterlife rotting away in the dirt. With the bugs. Or if I can’t be burned, leave me out for the elements. So I’m eaten by predators.”

“Must we really have this conversation now?”

   
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