Home > The Princess Knight (The Scarred Earth Saga #2)(13)

The Princess Knight (The Scarred Earth Saga #2)(13)
Author: G.A. Aiken

Gemma awoke and instantly knew she lay slumped on the battlements of her sister’s castle.

Shocked and still reeling from the dream that was beginning to feel like a premonition, she looked around and saw Quinn standing a few feet away from her in his natural form. Not just as a centaur but a centaur ready to defend his kind to the death. She could see fangs, claws on his hands, and a rack of antlers that crowned the top of his head.

She could also see marks on his throat where she’d attempted to kill him.

Shifting and shaking her off had been his only option.

He moved closer to her, hooves clomping against stone.

“Rough night?” he asked.

Gemma let out a breath, and that’s when she realized that a tear was slowly streaking down her cheek. She wiped it with a finger and replied, “You could say.”

He jerked the head that carried an antler rack as easily as she wore a helmet. “Come on. Let’s talk.”

* * *

Quinn shifted back to his human form and opened the battlement door, waiting for Gemma to get off the ground and walk through. He didn’t help her. Not because he was angry at her. He wasn’t. But because he didn’t think touching her was what she needed at the moment. He’d known her about two years now and she had never liked being coddled. By anyone. Not her siblings. Not her parents. Not the many pets that ran free around the castle.

Gemma Smythe had her own space and she let you know when you could enter it and when you couldn’t. Right now, she didn’t seem to want anyone too close.

She passed him silently and he followed her down the narrow staircase to the fourth floor. From there they cut through the hall to the regular staircase, which led them down to the first floor and deep into the castle to the kitchens. She sat at the big wooden table where the head cook did all the butchering and baking and yelling. The woman was feared by many because, when annoyed, she tended to throw her cleaver. She hadn’t hit anyone yet, though, so Quinn didn’t understand why everyone was so testy about it all.

He motioned for Gemma to sit down at the table and then got out the wine and meat pies the head cook kept hidden for him.

Quinn placed them on the table and sat on the bench beside Gemma. He didn’t sit too close but he didn’t sit on the other side since the table was wide and he didn’t want to yell across the room.

“I’m sorry,” Gemma said softly. She had her eyes shut tight and began to rub her forehead with her hands. “I don’t know if that was a dream or a premonition.”

“A premonition?”

“I was being burned at the stake.” She dropped her hands, opened her eyes wide. “Me and my entire order. And do you know whose fault it was?”

“Whoever is killing all the monks?”

“My fault.”

“Gemma, that’s insane.”

“Is it?”

Quinn took a bite out of one of the meat pies. That was to stifle his desire to call her an idiot.

When he was done chewing, he instead said, “You and your sister both do this, you know?”

“Do what?”

“Take responsibility that’s not yours. When Marius wiped out your entire town, even though it was no fault of hers, Keeley still felt it was her responsibility to fix the situation. When you broke my nose, you didn’t take responsibility for that. But the destruction of your order—which may or may not have actually happened—that responsibility you line up for.”

“I had a premonition.”

“A premonition or a dream?”

“Could be either.”

“But probably only one.”

“Why are you arguing with me about this?” She dismissed him with a wave and grabbed a pie. “You don’t even believe in anything magickal.”

“I have hooves, woman. I am magick.” He pointed at her uneaten pies. “You going to eat those?”

“I am.”

“All of them?”

Gemma pushed one over to him.

“I wouldn’t worry,” Quinn told her between bites and sips of wine. “Your sister is moving on this like all these people are loyal only to her.”

“I know. I know.”

“She’s offering them all sanctuary. They’ll be protected here.”

“I know.”

“And your sister would never let you burn.”

She glanced up at him, her frown deep, juice and crumbs from the pies around her mouth. He realized it was an expression of confusion. And Quinn suddenly understood her confusion. She didn’t understand why he thought she was concerned about being burned at the stake. Because she wasn’t concerned. She’d burn for her brothers. Just as she’d burn for her family. Her concern was that she wouldn’t burn with them.

Quinn was desperately trying to grasp her logic but he couldn’t. He didn’t have that kind of loyalty to . . . anyone. Maybe his sister. He could imagine dying to protect her. And their mother. But that was about it. Of course, he had never committed his sword or soul to a god. Any god.

“I need to get some sleep,” Gemma said, pushing the last pie over to him and standing.

“It was just a dream,” he felt the need to insist. “All this is just upsetting you right now.”

“I’m sure you’re right.” She stepped away from the table but abruptly stopped and faced him again. “Did you follow me up there?”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Quinn immediately shot back. “I was already on the battlements.”

“Why?”

He continued to eat. “Eh. I’m not a big sleeper.”

“What does that mean?”

Quinn shrugged. What did she think it meant?

“So you were just up there . . . doing what?”

“Just be glad I was there. You were about to go over the side.”

“I was?”

“That’s the only reason I grabbed you. Because this time there was no river for you to fall into.”

“Well . . .”

Quinn couldn’t help but smirk a little. “It’s all right, you can say it. I won’t tell.”

“Promise?”

“On my honor.”

“You have no honor.”

“You should tell me anyway.”

“Fine.” She blew out a breath, as if this would be the hardest thing she’d ever had to do, and she’d once faced down a volcano dragon along with her sister. “Thank you for saving my life tonight.”

“See? Now that wasn’t so ha—”

“Shut up,” she snapped before stalking out.

“Why do you toy with her so?” the head cook asked, coming into the kitchens from the back room she slept in.

“I can’t help it. I know it irritates her.”

“Just like me son,” she said, before kissing him on the forehead. “He’s irritating too.”

She picked up the empty platter. “Did you get any sleep tonight?”

“Not much. But I don’t need much.”

Pausing, she jerked her head at where Gemma had left. “You do know—”

“I know, I know,” Quinn sighed, already disgusted with himself.

“You know what?” Laila asked, walking in from another entrance. Behind her was Ainsley with an enormous deer carcass over her shoulders.

When Quinn only stared at his sister, the cook laughed. “You might as well tell her. You’re going to have to eventually.”

“She’s right,” Laila agreed. “We both know I’m only going to beat the truth out of you.”

“You’ll try, maybe.”

The cook returned to Quinn’s side, gripped his cheeks with both hands, and kissed his forehead again.

“Dumb like me son too!” she laughed.

* * *

Gemma secured her weapons and pack, then eased open her bedroom door. She checked the corridor, listened for anyone other than guards. When she didn’t hear anything, she moved. Down the stairs and out through the back hallways. She nodded at the guards she passed, who barely paid attention to her. As was their way. Once outside, she again checked for signs of her family. Mostly her father. He’d be the only one up this early. But it was a very cold morning and he liked to snuggle up to her mum on mornings like this.

Still, it didn’t hurt to be too careful.

Once comfortable all was clear, she ran to the royal stables, where her horses were kept. She went right to Dagger. But he was already saddled and out of his stall. Samuel stood beside him; he was dressed and ready as well.

Gemma shook her head and whispered, “Not this time—”

“I’m coming.”

“You don’t have to come, Samuel. Keeley already told you. You’ll always have a place here. And she’s made you head of the royal stables. She loves the way you treat the horses. She doesn’t trust just anyone with that job. You’d be a fool to walk away from such a position.”

“Say what you want—I’m going with you.”

“You can’t.” She let out a breath and admitted the truth. “They may kill me, Samuel. When I return. I have no idea what awaits me when I go back.”

“I know. I knew that when we left. But if you go back, I go back.”

“How did you even know I was going?”

“I thought you were going back days ago. I’ve been waiting here the last three nights with Dagger, both of us ready to move out.”

“Are you really sure you want to do—”

“Are we still discussing this?”

“Shhhh!” she begged, her hands raised to calm him. “You’ll wake up me da. And once he’s up, everyone’s up. Including Keeley.”

“Then I guess we’d better go.”

Knowing how stubborn he could be, she grabbed Dagger’s reins and led the horse out of the stables.

“Your second horse?” Samuel asked.

“Leave her.” She wasn’t going into battle. Just to inform her order of what was coming . . . and possibly to face her death. She only needed one horse for that.

   
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