Home > The Princess Knight (The Scarred Earth Saga #2)(17)

The Princess Knight (The Scarred Earth Saga #2)(17)
Author: G.A. Aiken

“Quinn. And what’s your rank?”

“Major. So is Kir, Katla’s brother.”

“The sobber?”

She gave a dry chuckle. “Yes. Him.”

“So higher ranks wear tunics that are—”

“White. Yes. Officers of higher rank wear white tunics. Black tunics are for lower ranks.”

“You all trained together with Gemma.” It wasn’t really a question. Quinn could tell by their body language.

“More than that. We’re battle-cohorts.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“We were linked together throughout our training. We ate together. Slept together. Fought together. Prayed together.”

“Shit together?”

“No. But we had to keep watch while one went behind a tree. That requires a lot of trust.”

“It does create a bond.”

“A bond until death. That’s why Katla’s so pissed. Gemma never should have gone off on her own. But I know her. She was protecting us.”

“Most likely.”

Shona studied him for a moment. “You her friend?”

Quinn laughed. “Gods no. She hates me.”

* * *

“I will not continue to have this argument with you,” Gemma told Katla. Mostly because she knew Katla could keep an argument going until she lost her voice. It was a fact that had been written down in the journals of the monastery Note Takers.

“Because you have no excuse.”

“Fine. You want to hear the reason why I left the way I did? We’ll take it to the grand master. Joshua can explain it to you in great detail. Will that satisfy you?”

It was as if the air had left the passageway. The three cohorts froze, gazing blindly at Gemma.

“What?” Gemma asked, feeling real fear for the first time since she’d entered the monastery walls. “What’s wrong?”

Katla’s face turned bright red but her anger was no longer directed at Gemma. Instead, she stormed to the chamber doorway and turned her rage on the master sergeant.

“You didn’t tell her?” she demanded, her voice low but barely controlled.

The master sergeant forced himself to look at Katla, but Gemma could tell it was a battle for him. He was terrified of her. “I was not given leave to—”

“You didn’t tell her?” Katla exploded. Kir appeared next to her, his big hand landing on his twin’s shoulder. He wanted to soothe her, but knew he couldn’t. So, Gemma knew, he was ready to grab her if he had to.

Gemma’s right finger twitched but she held the rest of her body still as she asked, “Didn’t tell me what, Katla?”

It was Shona who replied.

“Joshua is dead, Gemma.” Her tone was flat, unemotional. The same way she always spoke unless she was in the midst of battle. But it didn’t matter how she said it; Gemma didn’t believe it. Not Joshua.

“That’s not right. He can’t be.”

“It’s true,” Shona insisted. “He died nearly a year ago.”

“But I would have heard if he’d died in war. That news would have spread faster than—”

“He didn’t die in war. He died in Challenge.”

Gemma’s fingers curled into tight fists and she turned away from her battle-cohorts. She wanted to believe they were lying to her. That this was some fabrication. Or a grand scheme Joshua had concocted, and he was alive somewhere, ready to strike his enemies down. But grand schemes like that were not Joshua’s way. They never had been. He believed in directness and honesty and valor.

“Before we go on,” the master sergeant said into the silence, “perhaps Brother Gemma and her associates should be shown to private cells so they can get cleaned up before this goes any further.”

Just hearing the master sergeant’s voice and his attempts at placating her after he’d withheld the truth from the very beginning . . .

Gemma faced the chamber and slowly walked toward the master sergeant within. He saw her coming and began to back up.

The Challenge was the old way war monks used to fight for the title of grand master. But in the last five hundred years or so, after the Challenge ended up killing more monks than making them grand master, it became more common for a high-ranking monk to be voted in. But, like most of the Old Ways, it was still invoked every once in a while by some jackass.

Gemma didn’t have a problem with the Challenge, especially where Joshua was concerned. He’d been her mentor. She knew what a fighter he was. Knew how good he was. Anyone who could truly take him deserved to be grand master. But the fact that no one was telling her the identity of the new grand master . . . that was a problem.

“Who is it?” she asked the master sergeant as she stalked him across the open space between them. He’d finally stopped moving when he realized how weak it made him look. Backing away from her like that.

“I have not been given leave—”

“Don’t make me ask you more than once, Alesandro.”

“You fail to realize the situation you’re in, traitor. Perhaps I should point out to—”

Gemma wrapped her hand around his throat, lifted the master sergeant off his feet, and then dropped him to the ground. She squeezed until she knew his bones were about to start cracking.

“I am quickly running out of the patience I was never born with,” she growled.

“It’s Sprenger!” one of the lower-ranking monks screamed. “It’s Sprenger!”

Eyes wide, Gemma released Alesandro and faced Katla, Kir, and Shona.

Katla stepped forward. “Gem—”

Gemma raised her fists, not wanting to hear any bullshit.

Instead, she barked, “With me! With me!”

She started walking but several of the monks quickly stepped in her way because—she was guessing—their orders had been to keep her in the chamber. So she tossed them out of the way with an angry slash of her hands, utilizing an energy spell she had never managed to master fully before. But she was just so angry at the moment, it worked beautifully. She sent her fellow monks flying and walked out with no one else attempting to stop her, her battle-cohorts right behind her.

* * *

Quinn and the others still outside the chamber watched as armed monks went flying. A few seconds later, Gemma stormed out with her friends.

“I’ve never seen her do that before,” Keran laughed, gawking after her cousin. “That was amazing!”

“Whatever is going on,” Laila whispered to him, “this is bad.”

Quinn already knew that. He could see how bad it was just by looking at the stunned monks picking themselves off the ground.

“Move,” he urged, pushing everyone down the passageway. “Everyone move.”

“Where are we going?” Keran asked.

“I don’t know, but I say we head down to the first floor.”

“Why?”

“Because they can’t throw us to our deaths from the first floor. That’s why.”

Keran blinked. “Excellent point.”

CHAPTER 8

Gemma kneeled in front of Joshua’s tunic and sword. All his other possessions had been burned on the funeral pyre after his death.

“I’m so sorry, Gemma,” Katla said, sitting on the floor behind her and stretching out her legs. “I really thought you knew. I sent you a message. At least I thought I had.”

“Sprenger must have stopped it,” Shona said, her back resting against the wall of the Chamber of the Honored Dead, her knees raised, her arms resting on them.

“Sprenger knew I would have come back,” Gemma guessed.

Because she would have. She would have come back for Sprenger. She wouldn’t have let him remain grand master for two minutes much less a year. Not him. Never him. She’d rather have a large rat in the position than that reprehensible bastard.

“How bad has it been since he—”

“He’s still on his best behavior,” Katla assured her. “It’s too soon for him to start all that again.”

“But he will. He will start again. Men like him . . . they don’t stop. Joshua knew that. He should have let me kill him when I had the chance.”

“He didn’t because you would have burned.”

Gemma stood and began to pace, stopping briefly to stroke Kir’s hair and kiss the top of his head. It was all she could do while he sobbed—again, she was sure—over the death of Joshua.

“There’s no way that Challenge could have been fair. Were you here?”

“We were. Barely made it. Sprenger’s allies did their best to make sure we weren’t here for it. But Kir knew something was wrong.”

“I just felt it,” he sobbed out. “I just knew something was wrong.”

Gemma went to kneel behind the big man to comfort him, but when she put her arms around his shoulders, she ended up hanging from him like a monkey from a tree. Her knees never touched the ground.

“We got back in time to see the beginning of it . . . and the end,” Shona said.

“I tried to take Joshua’s place,” Katla admitted. As grand master, he was allowed a champion to fight for him.

“But, of course, he said no.”

Katla sighed. Loud and long. “Of course he did. But, honestly, Gemma, I didn’t see anything wrong with the Challenge. None of us did. We watched closely. It appeared to be a fair fight.”

“Joshua was older,” Shona added. “And he didn’t go into battle the way he once did. He was running a monastery, probably didn’t have time to train as he used to. Sprenger took advantage of that.”

Gemma didn’t want to hear logic. She wanted to hear the Challenge was all a vast plot to destroy the best thing that had ever happened to this monastery. But no one had loved Joshua the way she did, and she wouldn’t hold that against them.

Gemma kissed Kir on his sweet face before releasing her hold and landing on the ground.

   
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