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

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

PART 1

PROLOGUE

As soon as Brother Gemma led her platoon of monk-knights into the monastery courtyard of the Order of Righteous Valor, she knew she was in for some horseshit.

Not hard to figure out. When one was part of a brotherhood of vicious, violent, and war god–loving warriors, one learned to sense when the winds of change had shifted.

She stopped her horse in the middle of the courtyard and examined the area. Her squire, Samuel, stopped next to her.

“Everything all right?” he asked.

“No.”

“Is there something I should be panicking about? I’m very good at panicking.”

She already realized that, but at least the boy knew himself well.

“I don’t think there’s a reason to panic.” At least not yet.

She dismounted from her horse and handed the reins to Samuel.

“Dagger did well, didn’t he?” the boy asked, petting her horse’s muzzle.

Gemma had been forced to replace her beloved mare just two months back. She still missed Kriegszorn, but Dagger had proven his worth in battle.

“Dagger has done very well. Your suggestion was a good one.”

“Thank you, Brother.”

The small, tentative smile on Samuel’s face suddenly faded and Gemma knew that, yes, those winds of change had definitely shifted.

She turned and saw Master Sergeant Alesandro walking up to her.

“Brother Gemma.”

“Brother Alesandro.”

“Your presence has been requested in the Chamber of Valor.”

“Why?”

It amused her to see Alesandro’s left eye twitch simply because she insisted on asking “why.” That’s why she asked “why.” Just to watch that left eye twitch.

“Because it’s an order,” he told her.

“But you said request. A request is not an order. An order is an order. A request is more of an option, so I ask why to find out if it’s something I really want to do. And quite honestly it’s—”

“Brother Gemma!”

Gemma blinked. Twice. “Yes, sir?”

He pointed at the monastery.

“So it is an order? Fair enough.”

She faced Samuel. “Bed down Dagger for the night, would you, Samuel?”

“Of course, Brother.”

She gave him a wink so he wouldn’t worry—even though she knew he would anyway—and headed toward the monastery.

Alesandro followed right behind, which didn’t concern her. He always acted as if she was about to make a wild run for it. He seemed to continually expect the worst from her. She wasn’t quite sure why, other than he simply didn’t like her. But that was his choice. She knew that not everyone was going to like her. She was fine with that. She was a war monk. She rode into battle and cut down her enemies without a thought. She and the platoon she led had just cut down an entire band of thieves that had been attacking undefended villages. She still had blood on her face and hands. With that going on in the world, why would she care if the master sergeant of her monastery liked her or not? She was more concerned about whether she’d managed to keep her knights alive.

She had. What else mattered?

They arrived at the Chamber of Valor, one of their most important rooms in the monastery, and Gemma walked in. She immediately assessed what she saw before her.

Grand elders were in attendance. Monks who worked directly with the grand master of their order on important decisions. Also waiting were her three battle-cohorts, Katla, Kir, and Shona. Bound together from day one, the four of them had trained together since they were novitiates, had experienced their first battles together, had risen through the ranks together, and to this day were as close as four people could be after washing pieces of their enemy’s brains out of one another’s hair.

Last of those awaiting Gemma’s arrival were several generals, including the dreaded Lady Ragna. The monk-knights called her “Lady” Ragna because she was not a lady and they all hated her. Not exactly a joke that played well but few cared. Whenever the woman walked by, the area cleared like rats running from a burning forest. The only ones who didn’t run were the monk-knights chosen for Ragna’s army. She had her own legion, used only when called upon by the grand master and elders.

And then there was Brother Sprenger and a few of his minions. Sprenger hated Gemma, so she was surprised to see him here. Unless he had another complaint to lodge against her. Over the years, he’d had quite a few of those. So many she barely noticed them anymore. They came in scrolls and she had to listen while a general informed her of what she’d done wrong. When it was over, she’d put the scroll in a box. One day she planned to piss on that box, but not yet. She wanted something substantial to piss on. A real tower of piss-scrolls.

Gemma took her place beside her battle-cohorts, bracing her legs apart, clasping her hands behind her back. She waited while one of the generals began to drone on about . . . something. She honestly wasn’t paying attention. Life was too short to be this bored.

Finally, after a good thirty minutes—she hadn’t even had a bath yet! Did they not see she’d just come back from another hard-won battle? Couldn’t all this have waited until she had gotten the blood of her enemies out of her hair? It was so damn sticky! She wanted nothing more than to scratch her scalp with both hands!—the general got to the point.

“On this day, we brothers are here to advance you cohorts from lieutenants to majors and to grant upon you all the benefits that accompany said advancement.”

Huh. Look at that. She was getting a promotion. That was nice.

“Please, Brother Shona, Brother Kir, Brother Gemma, and Brother Katla, repeat after me—”

“Wait!” a voice rang out.

Brother Thomassin, an elder, looked up from the important missives he’d been reading during this whole boring ordeal. “Brother Sprenger?”

Sprenger walked into the center of the chamber and stood there a moment for maximum effect before announcing, “I refuse to sanction this advancement for Brother Gemma.”

Thomassin stood so fast, his chair skidded back, nearly knocking out his poor assistant, which was actually kind of funny because the man was six-five and nearly three hundred pounds. He’d fought in more wars than Gemma could count. But then so had Thomassin.

Gemma’s battle-cohorts didn’t hide their annoyance either. They dropped their proper “listening to their superiors” poses and stood ready to argue with anyone and everyone.

The only one who didn’t react much was Ragna. Although she did smirk. The bitch.

“She is not ready for such an advancement and if you insist on this course,” Sprenger continued, “I will be forced to take this to the grand master.”

“Excellent,” Thomassin shot back. “Why don’t we all take it to the grand master this very minute? I’m sure he’d love to hear your reasons as to why—”

“It’s okay.”

The brothers stopped arguing and everyone focused on her.

“What was that, Brother Gemma?” Thomassin asked.

“I said it’s okay, Brother Thomassin.” She shrugged. “I’ll wait until next time.”

“No,” Katla pushed. “You will not wait until next time. We all go now or we all wait—”

“Do not get hysterical.”

“I am not hysterical. I’m pissed.”

“If you don’t get the rank now,” Shona reminded her, “you’ll have to wait another five years before you’ll be eligible again.”

Gemma shrugged. “Those are the rules.”

“How are you okay with this?” Kir asked. “I’m not okay with this.”

“But I am okay with it.” And she really was. Of course, the reason she was okay with it was because—

“How is that possible?” Sprenger asked, now standing right in front of her, leaning in close to ask her the question. “Are you plotting something?”

That was such a weird, insane question. “Plotting what? What is there to plot?”

“Your battle-cohorts will be advancing. You will not.”

“And yet . . . life goes on. Amazing, isn’t it? For example, we had this pig—”

“Pig?”

“Yes. And Daddy loved that pig. He didn’t think he’d ever get over the death of it. But the pig had piglets. And soon, he had to go on. Because there were piglets to take care of. You see?”

Gemma let her smile fade and she began to frown, focusing her gaze on his jaw.

“Brother Sprenger . . . is that a rash?”

“What?” he asked, leaning away from her.

“Yes. Right . . .” She took her middle finger and forefinger and slid them along her own jawline. “Here.”

He instinctively slapped his hand over the old wound, his glare for her and her alone. When her smile returned, wider and—she was sure—brighter than before, he took that same hand and pulled it back as if to backhand her.

“Brother Sprenger!” Thomassin barked, stopping Sprenger before he did something he could not come back from.

“I was just going to suggest a good healer in town who can help with that sort of rash, Brother,” Gemma lied. She shrugged and looked to Brother Thomassin and the other elders. “Since I am no longer needed here . . . ?”

Angry and frustrated for Gemma but not wanting to turn the situation into a bigger dilemma than it already was, Thomassin dismissed her with a wave of his hand.

Gemma gave her cohorts a wink and, with a miming action of her hands, a promise of celebratory drinks of ale later that night, she removed herself from the Chamber of Valor.

But before she’d taken three steps toward higher floors and the sleeping cells of the brothers, she was picked up by one of the grand master’s assistants and carried to his private study like a sack of rye.

“Is this necessary?” she asked the man. “I could have walked.”

The assistant knocked once on the door to the study and brought her inside, placing her in front of the grand master’s desk. He then quickly walked out, closing the door behind him.

   
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