Home > The Princess Knight (The Scarred Earth Saga #2)(8)

The Princess Knight (The Scarred Earth Saga #2)(8)
Author: G.A. Aiken

The two royals looked at each other and, slowly, made their way back to the table.

After a moment, Gemma said to Keeley, “I need your five fastest riders.”

Keeley nodded. “Done.” She walked out and Gemma exited in the opposite direction.

“Feel better?” Caid asked their sister.

“I don’t know why I have to keep saying it.”

“Because they weren’t born to be royals like you. Keeley thought she’d spend her entire life making warriors’ armor and on slow days her neighbors’ cookware.”

“It’s been two years.”

“Have you known anyone more a blacksmith than Keeley Smythe?”

With a long sigh, Laila’s head dropped and Quinn picked up her chair so she could sit down.

A few minutes later, the sisters returned, Keeley with five soldiers who had not gone with them into battle that day. Three women and two males, thinner than the brutes who charged headfirst into combat. Quinn guessed these five were messengers. The ones who brought messages back and forth from the front to the commanders in other parts of the battle. They wore the scars of survivors, so none of them were dilettantes.

Gemma gave them scrolls and directions and off the five went.

“Where are they going?” Caid asked once it was just their small group again.

“There are five different sects within a half day’s riding distance from here. Two monasteries, a church, a convent, and a coven. We’ll see if any of them have heard anything or have had any problems. I’ve also offered them the protection of the crown.”

“Oh, that was nice,” Keeley said, smiling.

And Quinn realized that Keeley wasn’t speaking with sarcasm or malice. She truly meant it. Usually only the queen herself could offer such a thing, but Keeley wasn’t one to stand on ceremony.

“And until the riders get back?”

Gemma shrugged at Laila’s question. “Get some rest?”

“While you get a drink?” Keeley asked. And there was that sarcasm!

Mouth dropping open, Gemma gawked at her sister a moment before storming off.

“Pub’s that way,” Keeley said, pointing toward the front doors.

They heard Gemma growl before she disappeared up the stairs to the bedrooms on the other floors added on to the rambling building by the sisters’ insane but brilliant uncle.

Quinn and his siblings stared at the human queen until Quinn finally asked her, “Now you’re just ruthlessly fucking with her, aren’t you?”

She snorted a laugh before bending over at the waist. “I am!” she squealed in between laughs.

“What is wrong with you two?” Laila demanded in disgust before walking away. “Both of you . . . just so strange!”

“Don’t listen to her,” Quinn assured Keeley. “Because I’m having the time of my life.”

CHAPTER 3

As the two suns rose several days later, Gemma grudgingly rolled out of bed. She dragged on leggings, bound her breasts, and pulled on a loose shirt. She didn’t bother with boots but instead wrapped protective linens around the balls of her feet and the heels. Before walking out the door, she put on her sword belt and added all her weapons. Her swords, her knives, her axe, and as a final touch a sack of heavy rocks.

She groaned in misery at the last bit but she believed it was necessary to her training. If she could move with all this crap, she could move carrying anything during a battle.

With a last heavy sigh, she opened the bedroom door but quickly stopped. Her sister Ainsley was standing there with her bow hanging from her shoulder, a quiver of arrows hanging from the belt around her waist.

“Learning the bow, are we?” Gemma asked her sister with a small smile. “How adorable.”

“Yes, very adorable. Of course, I’ve been learning since I was three and now I’m nineteen so I’ve advanced a bit since those adorable days.”

“You’re nineteen now? When did that happen?”

“Anyway,” her sister went on, “you need to talk to Archie.”

Gemma walked past Ainsley and started toward the stairs, tossing over her shoulder, “Talk to him about what?”

“He’s been telling the older kids they’ll have to cut the younger kids’ throats should we be invaded.”

Gemma stopped and faced her younger sister. “He said . . . what?”

“What part of that statement was not clear? Because I feel I was quite clear.”

“Why are you telling me? Tell Mum and Da.”

“Tell Da, he’ll stab his brother in the face. Tell Mum . . . she’ll make Da stab his brother in the face. Keeley will start screaming. I tried talking to Archie myself but I don’t think he takes me seriously.”

“Why not?”

“I have no idea. I mean, some days I’m not sure anyone even notices I’m in the room, much less that I’m part of—”

“Forget it, I’ll talk to him myself.”

“—the family.”

“What did you say?” Gemma asked as she again moved toward the stairs.

“Nothing. Nice rocks by the way.”

“Always the smartass.”

Gemma headed down the three flights to the main hall.

Why was Uncle Archie the way he was? It was as if he went out of his way to test the gods themselves. Although even she had to admit, she’d underestimated Uncle Archie. When they’d first arrived here, this was nothing but an abandoned longhouse briefly taken over by the bastards who had invaded the town. When Keeley had taken over she’d tasked Archie with reinforcing it and the surrounding territory against any attacks. It was really just something to keep their father’s insane brother busy while the rest of Keeley’s inner circle made bigger, more important plans.

Then, one day, dwarven stone masons had arrived. Apparently their uncle had great connections with them. They’d met for several weeks in one of the nearby houses. Anytime Gemma walked by, she could hear arguing. Angry arguing that involved cursing and threats.

But when the work began, it was a sight to behold. It was like nothing she’d seen before. There had been no simple reinforcing of gates or adding to battlements. Oh, no. One morning, they all left the longhouse for their daily routines, and when they returned later . . . they suddenly had a three-story tower sturdy enough to withstand boulders hurled at it with great speed. The simple wood gates were turned into massive steel walls that surrounded so much of the nearby territory that the small town became a city that needed a home. Some changes took weeks and months but others took mere days or even a day. The dwarf masons had tools that allowed them to build certain things in a matter of hours. At first, Gemma assumed those sorts of things would be . . . weak. Merely placeholders until something more permanent could be built. She quickly learned how wrong she was.

She also learned that the stonemason dwarves weren’t any friendlier to the centaurs than the blacksmith dwarves. And that the centaurs enjoyed kicking the dwarves with their back legs as if it was an accident while the stonemason dwarves enjoyed dropping their big, short-handled hammers on the centaurs’ hooved feet.

“Sorry!” they’d each toss out as those “accidents” happened.

Keeley, Gemma, and their father eventually had to stop more fights between the two species than they’d ever had to break up between rabid pit dogs and wild hogs from the hills.

Of course, Gemma now understood that her uncle wasn’t merely insane. He was also an engineering genius. He’d accomplished in two years with twenty dwarves what most humans would be lucky to do with one hundred men in fifty years.

When Gemma arrived in the main hall, her parents were already awake. Her siblings were at the dining table, most of them complaining about the early hour. Except those who had a future in farming; they were eating their food quickly so they could join their father in the fields and help him feed the pigs.

Her mother stopped her. She kissed her on both cheeks before adding two more rocks to her sack.

“Do you hate me so?” Gemma demanded.

“Don’t be weak. I used to carry more when I was your age.”

“You carry more now. And you used to carry the same when you were eight.”

“Your grandmother was very demanding,” Emma Smythe reminded Gemma, carefully tucking the stones into her sack and tying it shut. “I’m much nicer than her or my sisters. They think I’m not tough enough on you and your siblings.”

Gemma couldn’t help but smile despite the extra weight. “But they don’t have Keeley.”

“Exactly.” Her mother stood in front of her now, her grin just as wide. “They don’t have Keeley.” And Emma Smythe wasn’t talking about Keeley the queen. Although proud of what Keeley was doing at the moment, her parents were much prouder of her work as a blacksmith. Before all this queenly shit, Keeley’s reputation as a blacksmith had begun to grow far outside their little town. Swords for hire had started to come from all around to get weapons from her and her alone. For a Smythe, that was a high honor.

“I’ll see you in a couple of hours,” Gemma said, leaning over her father so she could kiss him on the forehead before running out the door.

She turned left as soon as she was outside and ran past the local tradespeople setting up their tents and tables. Some soldiers nodded in her direction. Those who reported directly to her saluted and she acknowledged them with a nod but kept moving. Once she was free of town, she moved through the trees and headed toward the hills. She charged up and down the slopes, through the smaller forests and streams. She didn’t stop until she hit the Green Mountains. It was a smallish mountain range some distance from town, which Archie liked—“Makes it harder for them to attack us from behind . . . so we won’t have to kill the children,” he’d muttered, walking by her one day. At the time she really hadn’t thought too much about what he’d said, but now she was really starting to worry that his concern for his nieces and nephews was becoming an unhealthy obsession.

   
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