Home > The Blacksmith Queen (The Scarred Earth Saga #1)(12)

The Blacksmith Queen (The Scarred Earth Saga #1)(12)
Author: G.A. Aiken

“Where did you come from?” Keeley asked. She hadn’t seen her cousin since dinner.

Keran pointed back toward the house and began to speak but abruptly stopped. She stood there, staring at Keeley and Gemma.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m . . .” She held up a finger. “I’m . . .”

“Are you having some sort of spasm?” Gemma demanded.

Keran stared at them for another moment, then she turned her head, opened her mouth, and unleashed everything that she had eaten or drunk in the last twenty-four hours.

“Ohhhh!” Keeley and Gemma cried out, quickly moving farther away from their cousin.

When she finished unloading her insides onto the ground, Keran nodded.

“Gods, I needed to do that.”

“But did you have to do it there?” Keeley asked.

“At least I didn’t do it on the children.”

“Oh, that’s nice.”

Keran laughed and walked over to the well. She pulled up the water bucket . . . and poured the entire thing over her head.

Once she was soaked and more awake, she returned to them and gazed into their faces for a moment before asking, “So . . . are we going to discuss your sister being future queen or pretend it’s not happening?”

* * *

For two people who didn’t look that much alike and seemed to have nothing in common except their parents, Keeley and Gemma did have moments that reminded Keran that they were, in fact, sisters.

Like now. Both of them gawked at her, eyes wide, then simultaneously went into full-blown panicked lying.

“What are you talking about?”

“You’re insane.”

“There’s nothing going on.”

“What did you hear?”

“Have you been snooping again?”

“There’s nothing going on!”

They abruptly stopped yelling and looked at each other, both leaning back. One sizing up the other and vice versa.

At the same moment, they both asked, “You know?” Then, “How do you know?” Which led to, “Who told you?”

Keran snorted and scratched a scar on her scalp. She had a lot of scars.

“You two,” she complained. “Who cares how you found out? Does any of that matter? I think our real concern should be Beatrix being queen.”

When the pair only stared at her, Keran let out a very long sigh. “So we’re going to play this game now, are we? You can’t seriously be thinking—”

“With the right advisors—”

“Oh, Keeley, come on! I know she’s family and all but you can’t be serious.” Keran motioned to Gemma. “And what about you, nun? Are you just going to stand there and let this happen?”

“She’s our sister.”

“What are you talking about? You don’t even like her!”

“That’s not the point,” Keeley cut in. “She’s family. Our family.”

“Your family,” Gemma muttered.

“I know she’s family,” Keran shot back. “But that doesn’t mean—”

Gemma suddenly raised her gloved hand, cutting Keran’s next words off.

“Can you hear it?” she asked.

“Hear what?”

“I can hear it,” Keeley said, stepping forward. “Someone’s screaming . . .”

On horseback, he charged over the hill that led to the farm. He held the reins of two other horses, bringing them along with him as he screamed in warning. It took a second for Keran to remember him.

“They’re coming!” Samuel desperately bellowed. “They’re coming!”

* * *

Keeley saw the boy she’d rescued come over that hill and heard the words he was screaming . . . and she knew. She just knew.

“They’re coming for Beatrix.”

“They’ll burn this farm down and kill everyone.” Gemma said out loud what the three of them already knew. It was the way of the Old Kings. They left no witnesses to what they’d done, and Keeley doubted his remaining sons would be any different.

“Gemma, the children.”

Gemma didn’t even speak, just ran to the house.

“Keran. Go to the stables,” Keeley ordered her cousin, motioning with both her arms for the boy to head to the stables as well. She didn’t want him riding over the main field in front of the house. “Let the Amichais know what’s happening and let the horses out.”

“You’re worried about the horses?”

“We’ll need those horses to get everyone out of here, and if they’re trapped in a burning stable—”

“You’re right, you’re right,” Keran said, charging off toward the stable.

Keeley reached down and grabbed hold of the steel handle of her hammer. She hefted it onto her shoulder and started to walk across the field. Ready to challenge anyone who came over that hill to attack her family. If nothing else, she hoped to give the children enough time to get away.

But a panicked screech came from the trees on her right and she started running, taking her hammer off her shoulder and carrying it by her side.

She entered the small forest, already knowing what had made that sound, her heart dying a little in her chest. As she passed a large boulder, she saw the wild gray stallion stumble, three arrows protruding from his beautiful neck.

Keeley ran to her friend, reaching him as he dropped to the ground. He landed on his side, the sounds of his suffering tearing through her.

She fell to her knees beside him, dropping her hammer so she could place her hands on his head.

“No, no, no, no,” she chanted, tears filling her eyes.

She examined the wounds to see if pulling out the arrows would help. But even through her tears she knew it was hopeless.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered in his ear.

Kissing his head one more time, Keeley grabbed hold of the ends of two arrows and, after taking a deep breath, she shoved them all the way in and through the stallion’s neck. He thrashed a bit more while Keeley used her body to hold him down, but he soon stopped.

Sobbing, she rested her head against her friend’s body one last time. She knew she had to move. She knew death was coming for her family. Even now she could hear the hooves of warhorses all around, riding toward her family’s farm.

She didn’t have time to wallow in her grief. Especially now . . . with four strangers standing behind her.

Keeley reached for her hammer with a blood-covered hand.

“Now, now, brave girl. None of that,” a male voice said. “Hate to shoot you down before we even have a look at ya.”

She didn’t bother to grab her hammer, but she did wipe the gray stallion’s blood on the head, marking it for revenge, before she got to her feet and faced the men.

They wore surcoats of bright blue, with a jungle cat and swords emblazoned in even brighter gold on the front. One of them held a bow, an arrow already nocked.

“You must be the oldest,” a soldier with short brown hair said. But before Keeley could respond, he quickly added, “Didn’t mean that like it sounded. Just assuming you’re the oldest daughter. The one he didn’t want.”

“Which brother is paying you?” Keeley asked, wiping her still-wet eyes with the backs of her hands.

“Straton.”

“The Devourer.” She smirked. “Of course.”

* * *

Gemma pushed her sisters and brothers toward the back door. The older ones helping the younger. Her mother was behind her, the youngest babe still attached to her breast. But her mother could do with one arm what many couldn’t do with two.

“Everyone out!” she ordered. “Move!”

Gemma yanked the door open just as the front door was kicked in. Her mother facing the intruders.

“Take care of them, Gemma,” she said, before pulling her youngest off her breast and tossing her to one of the older girls. “Go!”

Gemma pushed her screaming siblings out the door and didn’t look back.

* * *

Keran ran through the stables, unbolting the latches and swinging the gates open. With a yell, she set the horses running out the doors at the front, back, and sides of the building.

She stopped at the last stall, expecting to see the Amichais still there but they were gone. Not even their travel bags remained. She’d been hoping the warriors would help them fight, at least until the children were safe.

Disappointed, Keran ran back toward the front. She passed the boy who’d given them warning.

“You!” she barked at him. “Come with—”

The fist slammed into her face as soon as she’d made it out of the stables, flipping her head-over-ass into the dirt.

* * *

With her children out of the house, Emma faced the men who’d stormed into her home. She didn’t bother fixing her clothes. Her right breast was exposed, milk still dripping from where she’d pulled off her hungry baby.

Slowly, making sure she kept their attention, she took a step back. Then another. Attempting to move around the large table where her family ate every day.

One of the men smiled at her. “Don’t worry, luv. You’ll live long enough to see all your children die.”

* * *

Gemma started to lead the children straight into the woods behind the house, but she quickly realized troops were coming from that direction. So she turned them west. The lake was big and it would force the troops to go around it to get to the farm.

“Come. Quick,” she urged.

“What about Mum?” she heard one of them ask.

“She’ll be—”

Gemma stopped, held her arms out to halt the children. Then she motioned them behind her, away from the riders she faced.

“Please,” she said to the armed men on horseback. It seemed they’d been sitting there, waiting for them. “They’re just children.”

“We have our orders.”

“I’m begging you, in the name of goodness. Don’t do this.”

   
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