Home > The Princess Knight (The Scarred Earth Saga #2)(3)

The Princess Knight (The Scarred Earth Saga #2)(3)
Author: G.A. Aiken

Gemma faced the one being she could barely tolerate. “Why?” she asked him. “Why do you go out of your way to irritate me?”

“I’m following orders. Isn’t that what you told me to do? Follow orders? To the letter, I believe, was your command.”

He was playing that game, was he? A game she’d played herself a few times when a monk from another monastery tried to take over her own. But those monks always thought they knew better, that their orders were more important than those of her grand master. It had been Gemma’s pleasure to take them down simply by following their orders . . . maliciously.

The Amichai was being unfair, though. She wasn’t some grabby monk in search of power. She was simply attempting to protect her eldest sister, Keeley. The gods-damn queen. At least one of the queens.

For a land that had never had a queen leading it, there were now two. Queen Beatrix, who led beside her husband, King Marius, and Queen Keeley, who led beside no one.

It seemed as if Gary the seer had been right about Beatrix. She was a soulless bitch who would do anything to be queen, even if that meant wiping out her entire family to make it happen. Luckily for the family and for the people, Keeley wasn’t about to let that happen.

At the moment, their world was split into east and west. Keeley was queen of the western lands, including the Hill Lands. King Marius, ruler of the east.

Many believed that Beatrix was merely a royal womb for Marius to plant his seed in, but Gemma and Keeley knew better. Their sister hadn’t done all this not to have the true power of the crown. She would simply have to find a way to manipulate her husband as she manipulated everyone else in her life.

Gemma didn’t doubt for a second her younger sister had already found a way to make that happen. But she couldn’t worry about Beatrix right now. Not in the middle of a battle with an idiot grinning at her.

“No,” Gemma finally stated, pointing across the battlefield to the only queen she cared about at the moment. The one who refused to listen to reason and stay on royal lands as Gemma had strongly suggested. The one who was busy wielding her ridiculous hammer as soldier after soldier attacked her, all of them hoping to be the one to take the queen down and win the rewards promised to them by the remaining sons of the Old King. “Do you not see that the queen is in peril?”

“She has my brother and my sister fighting at her side. What more could she need? Besides, her orders were quite clear, Princess. She wanted me to protect you. You poor, weak thing.”

If her fingers weren’t holding her sword, she’d curl them into a fist and throttle him. Instead, though, she used her annoyance to cut her way through the ongoing battle, making a path straight to her sister, Queen Keeley of the Hill Lands.

“Oy!” she barked at her royal majesty. “Did you send him to me?”

Keeley Smythe, Gemma’s eldest sister and, at one time, the ruler of all eleven of their parents’ offspring, was busy battering at the enemy commander with her favorite hammer.

“Keeley!”

Keeley’s big shoulders jerked in surprise and she yanked up her weapon, sending an arc of fresh blood Gemma’s way. But she was quick and moved to the side so that it hit the Amichai right in the face. His glare was worth everything.

“What?” Keeley demanded, stepping away from her opponent’s caved-in chest. “What you yelling at me for?”

Gemma waved her sword at Quinn of the Scarred Earth Clan, enjoying the way his head jerked back when the blade got a little too close to that pretty but blood-soaked face.

“I said, did you send him to me?”

“You were all alone.”

“And you thought he could help?”

“I’m helpful,” the Amichai argued.

The sisters looked at him, then looked back at each other.

“What’s really going on?” Gemma asked Keeley.

“What are you talking about?”

“You send this idiot to me—”

“That’s a little mean,” he muttered.

“You didn’t even tell me about today’s battle—”

“Well—”

“And where’s my battalion?”

“Now you ask?”

“What does that mean?”

“You seem tense,” her sister said. She took a step back, looked Gemma over. “Your shoulders are tense. Your neck tight. You’re doing that thing again with your posture. Want me to fix that for you?”

Gemma would never understand her sister.

“I’m not a horse!” she snapped.

Keeley frowned. “Uh . . . I know. Wait . . . are you? Is that what you’re saying?”

The Amichai snorted, quickly turning away so Keeley wouldn’t see him laugh. Gemma could only gawk at her.

“What?”

“It’s possible. I was too young to remember your birth. Maybe Mum just snuck you in.”

“I’m saying you can’t just fix me because I’m not one of your bloody horses!”

“Oh! That’s what you mean.”

“What did you think I meant?”

“I really didn’t know. Things with you have been . . . difficult. Since . . . well . . .” She gestured at Gemma and Gemma looked down at the chainmail and bits of armor that her mother had made for her many months ago.

She lifted her gaze to her sister’s. “Since . . . when?” she asked.

“Uh . . .” Keeley looked at Quinn but he quickly turned away again.

“I’m not part of this conversation,” he explained to them. “Instead, I’m looking meaningfully off”—he motioned with his entire left arm, gesturing out, his four fingers pointing, the thumb tucked in against his hand—“that way.”

“Since when?” Gemma pushed, now ignoring the battle going on around them.

“Since . . .” Again, Keeley gestured at Gemma’s entire body. “This.”

She wanted her sister to say it. Out loud. For everyone to hear it. “This? What’s this?”

“You know.”

“No. I’m unclear.”

“Uh . . .”

Keeley suddenly reached behind her and when she swung her arm back, she held their cousin Keran. She was more than a decade older than the two of them and a bit of a black sheep because she wasn’t a blacksmith like the rest of their mother’s side of the family, but had belonged to a fighting guild. She wore the scars of those years quite proudly—since she was still alive. She’d even managed to retire while still able to stand and walk on her own. That was mostly unheard of when it came to the fighting guilds.

“Ale time?” Keran asked when she stood in front of her cousins.

“No,” Gemma snapped, disgusted. “We’re not done yet.”

“Oh. Then what do you want? I was in the middle of killing.”

“Keeley needs you to say what she’s too afraid to say.”

“Keeley’s never afraid to say anything. Just this morning she asked her mum if she’s pregnant again or if her ass is just getting wide. I don’t know anyone else brave enough to ask your mother if her ass is just getting wide.”

Gemma leaned around Keran to view her sister. “Tell me that woman is not pregnant again.”

“I think her ass is just getting wide.”

Relieved, Gemma leaned back and said to Keran, “Well, she’s afraid to tell me something.”

“About the snarling? The snapping? The way no one can talk to you anymore?”

“That’s quite a list, Cousin.”

“Or are we talking about the drinking?”

“The drinking?”

Considering there were nightly bets among the troops on how fast the queen’s cousin could down a pint of ale, Gemma was a little insulted that anyone was questioning her occasional drink. Especially if that questioning was coming from gods-damn Keran of all people!

“All right then!” Keeley cheered.

“Oh, wait,” Keran went on, “or is this about—”

“Thank you, Keran!” Keeley said, casually tossing their cousin back into the ongoing battle.

Their cousin wasn’t a small woman but she flew like a leaf on the wind, landed on her feet, and immediately began hacking away with her axe at the closest enemy soldier without even missing a step.

Gemma moved up to her sister, raising her chin so she could at least attempt to look Keeley in the eyes. “My drinking? What drinking?”

“You know what I need you to do, luv?” Keeley asked with her big smile and adorable charm. She pointed at the duke’s castle. “Look in there. See if the duke and duchess have left us anything.”

“You’re just trying to get rid of me.”

“Would I do that to you?”

“As a matter of fact—”

The queen didn’t even let her finish. She just spun her around and shoved, sending Gemma off in the direction of the castle.

It was humiliating.

* * *

“Why are you back here?” Quinn’s brother, Caid, asked.

“I was keeping an eye on Princess Bitchy Leggings as the queen asked me to do. But she is in a mood. I’d be better in a fighting pit, unarmed and naked.”

“I didn’t think she was coming today.”

“Apparently that plan changed and the enemy has been paying for it ever since. She’s just been lopping off heads all day. I shouldn’t mind but it seems so senseless.”

Caid shrugged. “At least she’s on our side.”

“I’m sorry to interrupt you two,” said their sister, Laila, as she used a spear to fight off their enemies. “But do you two mind assisting in keeping the queen alive? She’s all alone over there!”

Quinn and his brother looked over at Keeley Smythe, Queen of the Hill Lands.

She was swinging her hammer wide, knocking down three attacking soldiers. She then lifted her hammer up and over, massive, sweat-covered muscles rippling as she brought the weapon down, crushing the soldier into the ground. When she buried the head of her hammer into another soldier’s chest—crumpling the steel armor that had been protecting it—the brothers looked back at their sister.

   
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