The Triad’s Pet (The Outcasts 2)
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Copyright ©2019 Marteeka Karland
The battle in the distance had everyone in the village on edge. Not a single person here didn’t have someone in that fight. Even our kings, the Triad, were in this one because we all knew it was a fight for the city. A fight to the death.
“Arryn! You’re needed at the wall! The mechanism on the main catapult is frozen!” That was my best friend, Lassa. She was the fastest runner in the village and, at times like these, she was needed everywhere.
I wanted to protest — organizing medical supplies and a place to bring the wounded was necessary, too. But Lassa was already off to carry the next message. Besides, Lorgan, our village healer and head of the Council of Elders, had made it clear he didn’t want my input. He needed it, though. When the wounded started coming in, assuming we weren’t overrun and invaded by the opposing tribes, he was going to have a mess on his hands.
Oh, well. Not my fight.
As I hurried off to the wall, I noticed the shift in the breeze. Now it came from the sea rather than inland. Never a good sign. Off in the distance, a black cloud loomed menacingly and lightning flashed, filling me with dread.
As if the fates had heard my fear and misgivings, I heard soldiers gathering near the city gates. In the midst of them was one of our Triad. The other two were already on the battlefield. One always stayed back to see to the city defenses. If the last king was readying to enter the fray on the battlefield, things were bad indeed.
I watched as the tall man on a tall horse directed soldiers with every expectation he would be obeyed without question. His hair was black as night, his skin bronzed and glinting with sweat. Plate armor encased a powerful chest, leather his arms and legs. The powerful steed he rode had guards for the king’s legs built onto the saddle that acted as additional armor. Though I’d lived here most of my life, I did my best to stay away from anything to do with the ruling factions. I knew who the kings were, the Triad, but I wasn’t sure which was which. I thought this one was Asher. They were important people and, because of my shady background, I tended to avoid them.
His sharp gaze scanned the ranks at the wall, calling several soldiers to his side and snapping orders. He’d readied a contingent of cavalrymen to go into battle. Then he looked up… directly at me. Clear blue eyes caught my gaze. Held me captive as easily as if he’d wrapped those brawny arms tightly around me, as if he’d been completely aware of me and where I was no matter what was going on around him.
The hard planes of his face were starkly beautiful, with masculine lines that seemed to have been designed to take a woman’s breath. If I’d actually been the type of woman affected by men like him, my heart would be beating faster, my breath catching in my throat. Instead, I’m sure I was just out of breath, my heart pounding from hurrying through the village. Had to be.
Then he nodded once in my direction, actually acknowledging me, before swinging his mount around and charging onto the battlefield with his men.
“Get over here, girl!” one of the guards snapped, completely shattering the spell King Asher had woven around me. The soldiers were usually courteous, but urgency stripped everyone of niceties. I understood and respected that, not taking offense in the least. “The pin won’t release the break!”
As I approached at a run, I could see the problem. “The spring’s melted!” I shouted to him over the din of soldiers. “Get the payload off and I’ll replace the spring!”
Easier said than done. The payload was a cauldron of flaming oil. Even as I told him what to do, I realized that wouldn’t be possible. “Never mind,” I muttered, snagging an iron bar next to the hulking catapult. All I had to do was release the break. Which was controlled by the spring. The heat from the payloads they’d been firing had melted the spring. That didn’t happen with proper maintenance and care in loading the payload. Either someone got in too big a hurry, or no one had maintained the equipment. During the heat of battle, that was understandable.
I swung the iron bar with all my might. It took three tries before another guard snagged it from me and gave one mighty swing, snapping the spring free. When it finally broke free, the brake handle flipped up, the recoil knocking me on my ass into the mud when I jumped out of the way, but the arm swung, sending the flaming projectile hurling through the air. I didn’t notice where it went because I’d had to scramble to my feet and was frantically trying to free the broken bits of the release lever to get at the spring and break.
The soldier in charge of this engine was hurrying to bring me the parts he knew I’d need. Tools were already scattered around where men had been attempting to solve the problem.
I worked as swiftly as I could, repairing what I’d broken as well as replacing the vital spring that allowed the weapon to launch. I have no idea how long it took — seemed like forever — but finally, I was able to give the go ahead. “Test the fucker!” I shouted.
Soldiers cranked the wheel, creating tension. The sling was empty, but we couldn’t risk loading it before it was tested in case I’d fucked up.
“Release!” the guard snapped. The arm let go and swung upward in a smooth motion. Without another word, the soldiers began cranking the wheel again, readying the catapult for its payload.
They loaded another cauldron, filled it with oil, then set it ablaze. The guard gave the command to release it and, again, the weapon functioned exactly as it was supposed to. He turned to look at me. Nodded once, then turned his attention back to his duty.
I was the one everyone went to when things broke. The only problem was, I was a nobody. The bastard daughter of a traitor and a pet not his own, most thought me incapable of anything good.
My mother had been a nomad. Captured and sold as a pet, she’d run off with my father, having his child shortly before they’d landed in our village. Years later, my father, having worked his way up as a tradesman, betrayed the Triad by showing an enemy scout how to navigate the maze leading from the village to the Triad compound. He’d been jailed for a trial that had taken months when most times justice was swift and sure. In the meantime, the Council of Elders had given my mother to Lorgan, the head of the Council, in anticipation of my father’s execution. Things had gone horribly wrong after that. It was said that my mother “forced” Lorgan into what was considered “deviant behavior.” Lorgan had convinced the council to sentence my mother to death. At least, that was the official account. I had no idea what had happened immediately following that horrible incident, but my father, having been found guilty of the charges against him, had been exiled instead of executed.
That left me on my own at eleven years old, so I learned to fend for myself. By the time I was sixteen, I could fix anything. Which is how I’d come to design reinforcements for the city wall four years later. But, I mean, what could anyone expect? Their plan was piss poor and mine wasn’t.
While I was at the catapults, I hurried to inspect the area where the wall crossed the river. If there was a weakness in the defenses, it was here. Instead of building with the river on the outside, the elders had wanted it inside, so there was a ready supply of fresh water, which meant the iron gate was the only thing preventing invaders from breaching the city walls. It was fortified with guard towers and all kinds of weapons, but from the looks of things, every man not needed to operate crossbows and catapults was outside on the battlefield. There were a few soldiers on the battlements, but they were mostly boys in their teens. All of them looked terrified. This was why I’d insisted on making sure the design of the wall over the river was strong. I knew the Elders would demand all the defensive strength be focused on the main part of the city. Had the builders followed the original plan designed by some fuck dumber than dirt, we’d have been screwed the second the enemy engaged that section of the wall.
Looking through the grate to the battlefield beyond, it seemed like the fight was still far off. If they broke the lines, however, any enemy who’d studied the layout of the village would know the river was the weakest point and would charge it with everything they had.
I picked up a rock and threw it at one of the boys on the wall. Missed. Tried again. Didn’t make it to the wall that time. Fuck. I was definitely not warrior material. “Hey!” I yelled, waving my arms over my head. “Hey, hey!” One of the boys turned around. Cristiano, his name was.
“Arryn? What are you doing over here! The catapult’s messed up! They need you at the gate!”
“I fixed it, Cris. How is it looking from your end? Can you hold them if they break the line?”
The young man looked around, fear on his face. “I don’t know, Arryn. We’ve got weapons ready, but if it comes down to it…” He shook his head. “All I know is, I’m scared now and we’re not even in the fight.”
“Hold them together, Cris,” I said, scanning the inner wall for anyone I thought might be able to help. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“I’d sure love to have Granda here about now,” the younger man commented. “He isn’t very strong in a fight, but he’s a fierce leader.”
Which was a great idea. We needed something more at the river than the iron grate, but in this situation the men on the wall needed an experienced leader worse. “Drop the reinforcements!” I called to Cris. “It’s the best stationary defense you’ve got for the river.”
“We’re not supposed to do that except when it’s imminent we’re going to be charged,” he called back.
“Do you think your men can get the heavy son of a bitch in place if the enemy breaks the lines? Because you’ll need to be firing at them with everything you’ve got.”
“I’m on it,” he said, as I knew he would.
With one last look at the wall, I sprinted off to the main gate. The largest contingent of guards and soldiers was there. If there was a plan in place to defend the riverside, someone there would know.
“Where have you been, Arryn?”
That angry voice belonged to Lorgan. Head of the Council of Elders and all-around dumbfuck, Lorgan was all about making himself look good. He never wanted me anywhere around unless he was about to fuck something up. Or needed someone to clean up something he’d already fucked up.
Much as I wanted to make sure he wasn’t actually killing anyone with his horrible techniques, if the river wall wasn’t as fortified as it could be, the entire village could be in jeopardy. “Not now, Lorgan,” I said as I sprinted by. He sputtered and swore at me but didn’t bother to give chase. Which was my test as to if he was actually about to kill someone with ignorance. If Lorgan was in real trouble, he wouldn’t let up. I’d have to deal with him later, but right now, I had more pressing concerns.
“Who’s in charge?” I’d reached the main gate, out of breath and panting. Sweat dripped from my forehead into my eyes. My thin, sleeveless dress clung to my damp skin and my wine-red hair stuck to my face and neck uncomfortably. The soldiers were in full leather armor. As hot and miserable as I was, they had to be even worse.
“Arryn!” That was Hadin. Third in command of the city watch and training to be a captain in the Triad’s guard, he took his job very seriously. One of the reasons he’d make a good leader.
“The defense at the river. Those boys are good and throwing their heart into it, but really need a strong leader.”
“Cristiano is on it. He’ll be fine.”
“Just one experienced soldier, Hadin. Please. Just one.”
Hadin glanced in my direction before turning back to the group of men who’d begun to gather around him. Hadin was one of the few of the villagers in a position of power who actually took me seriously. “I don’t have one, Arryn. They’ll be fine. It’s not likely the Blackheart soldiers will break the line in any event. Especially if we keep pounding them with fire bombs.”
“Cris is asking for help. He’s a good guard but knows he’s in over his head.”
“No doubt because you asked him if he was overwhelmed,” Hadin snapped. “The city is under attack. We all have a job to do. Including you, Arryn. I suggest you get to yours and leave me to mine!” The man normally wasn’t so snippy, but I understood and would never hold it against him.
I also knew better than to argue. I’d expressed my opinion and Cristiano’s fears. That was all I could do. At least, it was all I could do here. My philosophy? Why waste time arguing that could better be spent doing something about the problem?
Whirling, I ran to the inner wall. Our city was formed in a circle. The Council of Elders and their families lived in the center, which was walled off. The theory was, if the city were ever under attack, women and children from all over the village would gather inside the inner wall and be protected from invaders. At least that was the argument the elders had put forth to have it built in the first place.
It was also a last line of defense for everyone. In reality, the elders generally locked themselves in, hunkered down, and expected everyone to protect them and their families. For the most part, any women and children who were not helping the soldiers and healers huddled just outside the inner walls in hopes that, if the outer wall was breached, those behind the inner wall would let them in.
I knew better.
At the festival square, the entrance to the inner wall, I found Cristiano’s granda, Malachi. Though the older man was completely white headed and missing a leg below his knee, with his tall, muscular frame, he was still a commanding presence.
“Take the little ones to the underground shelter,” he said, his voice booming. The shelter was supposed to be used for food storage, but I could see some of the items not heat sensitive were stacked outside the shelter entrance next to the wall. “Any woman who wants to go with them would be most welcomed and appreciated. My Tessa can only control so many of the little varmints.”
He sounded put out, but I knew Malachi wanted every single woman and child in that shelter and would use any means necessary to convince them, even making it seem like Tessa was too frail to care for the children on her own. Not that Tessa needed the help. She was a force of nature.
“Cris needs you, Malachi,” I said without preamble. “At the river wall.”
Instantly, the old man’s gaze seemed to burn through me. “Are they under siege?”
“No, but they need a steady hand to guide them.” Malachi met my gaze with a level one of his own. “They’re scared. If they come under attack and panic…”
“You make sure everyone who needs to be there gets into the shelter,” he said. “Tessa can handle it once they’re all inside, but some of them will try to stay outside to help their men.”
“Do you need help getting to the wall?”
He gave me a look that said, If you ask me that one more time…
“Never mind. Stupid question.”
He grunted in satisfaction and snagged his crutches. The man really shouldn’t have been able to move around as easily as he did, but he could move as quickly as a man half his age with both legs. Of all the people in the village, I admired Malachi and Tessa the most. Not only were they intelligent and hardworking, but they were fierce in their protection of those they considered family. The gods knew they’d been there for me when I needed them desperately.
Tessa ushered women and children inside the shelter. She looked frail and damned near helpless, but I knew better. So did everyone else, but it still worked. No one she ushered inside refused her.
“You should stay with me,” Tessa said decisively. “We could use your calming influence with the children.”
I blinked. “Tessa?”
“I mean,” she plucked at her apron, “I want you to be in here with us. Where it’s safe.”
“You know I can’t,” I said gently. “Is something wrong? Is there something you need you’re not telling me?”
The older woman sighed, dabbing at her eyes with her apron. “I’m just getting emotional in my old age.” She gave me a watery smile. “I have seven children and twenty-four grandchildren. None of them pull at my heart the way you do, child. I love them all, but I worry over you when I shouldn’t.”
“I’ll be fine, Granma,” I said, giving her the title all her grandchildren used. “You know I’m needed in the city.”
She pursed her lips. “Just don’t you let that Lorgan push you around. Someone needs to pull that man down a peg or two.”
I grinned. “I’m sure you’re the very one to do it, Granma.” I kissed her on the cheek. “I love you, Tessa. Take care of the young ones.”
“I love you, too, Arryn. Take care of yourself.”
I had just given Tessa a hug and closed the door to the underground shelter when I spotted Lassa running toward me. In the distance, it seemed like the sounds of battle were growing louder. As if an army were approaching the city.
“Release!” Haden’s shout penetrated through the din of battle closing in around us. Several flaming cauldrons were launched from the eight catapults along the walls. The big crossbows on the top of the walls were loaded with flaming arrows, which also released. A barrage of flaming arrows from archers behind the walls were shot as well. Which meant the city’s soldiers were close to the wall, likely in retreat.
Never had the Triad been bested in a direct battle for the city. My heart pounded. Just as I was about to head to the river to make sure the water grate was as fortified as it could be, I saw a group of riders enter the city at a gallop, heading for the healer’s tent. The doors were closed once more, indicating they were standing their ground outside.
“Protect the Triad!” a voice called. Which was odd. I’d never heard of the Triad putting their protection over any of the men they led. The trio always led the regiments into battle. One at the front, one with the cavalry, and one with the siege engines…
How could I be so stupid! King Asher had left the wall. None of the Triad had replaced him with Hadin. Which meant one of the Triad had fallen. That was what Lorgan had been fussing about. The king must not have been at the healer’s tent yet when Lorgan called for me. A runner would have been sent ahead to give notice for the healer to prepare; otherwise, had Lorgan needed my help with this particular problem, he’d have run me down immediately. He’d likely thought he could handle it on his own but wanted backup. The man they’d just taken into the healer’s tent was one of our kings.