The broken spear caught her on her right side, knocking her off her war horse. She landed hard on the blood-soaked ground but allowed herself no time to get her breath back. She forced herself to her feet and quickly blocked the damaged spear with her armor-covered forearm.
She swung at her attacker with her free hand, her fist slamming into his chest, sending him flying back into the wave of soldiers coming toward her.
She reached over her shoulder and grabbed her halberd. A long poleax that she liked using because the head was made up of an ax, a spear, and a steel point. To her it was like three weapons in one.
Impaling the first man she saw, she jerked her weapon to the side, tossing her victim off and readying herself for the next attack.
They surrounded her and she took a quick moment to size them all up. She crouched a little lower, adjusted her stance a bit more . . . then she struck.
She slashed the tip of her weapon across several throats, lowered it, turned it slightly, and then thrust the tip into the sockets where some of the Zealots had eyes, but she pushed it in far enough to tear through skull and brain.
The remaining soldiers moved in, and she dragged her weapon closer, lengthened her stance, and anchored the end of the staff against the inseam of her foot. Turning it, she thrust up with the ax head and into the groin of one soldier, sending his bowels pouring onto the ground. She yanked the weapon out and used the ax head to cut legs off at the knees.
She felt a breeze, a change of energy around her, and quickly lifted the staff while lowering the head. She blocked the oncoming blade attack and twisted her weapon to disarm her attacker before slamming the staff end against his head and knocking him out.
She then swung the weapon up and over, letting the momentum turn her around to face those behind her.
She moved in time to avoid a blade aimed for her head and thrust her weapon at her attacker’s inner thigh, piercing flesh and tearing open an artery. With a twist of her hands, she brought the weapon over her left forearm, jabbed it forward, and impaled the man next to her before he could strike. Did the same in the opposite direction and impaled a soldier on her right.
She blocked another attack from the front and brought the man down to the ground, holding him there with her foot against his throat while she used her halberd to dispatch the last two of those who’d attacked. Once they were dead, she impaled the man under her foot and finished off the one who’d just started to come around from his bash on the head.
Letting out a breath, Branwen the Awful, Captain of the First and Fifteenth Companies of the Dragon Queen’s Armies and Colonel of the Ninety-Eighth Regiment of the Southland Armies, slammed the end of her halberd against the blood-soaked ground and took a moment to look over the carnage she’d caused on this mountainside.
Her troops were in the valley below fighting the ones they now just called the Zealots—those who were loyal unto death to the eyeless god, Chramnesind.
As she stood there, staring, she instinctively knew someone was coming up behind her. Turning only at the waist, Brannie brought the weapon up and through the head of the blood-soaked priest who stood behind her. As her weapon tore through the top of the priest’s head, she had to jerk her body slightly to the left to avoid the spear that came through the back of the priest’s head, almost skewering her in the process.
“Sorry!” Aidan the Divine called out. The gold dragon winced a bit when he realized how close his spear had come to impaling her. “Just trying to help.”
That’s what he always said. “Just trying to help!” He should have that branded on his bloody forehead.
“Everyone needs a little help now and again.”
Yanking her weapon from the priest’s head, Brannie secretly enjoyed the way blood splattered across that pretty face and right into those bright gold eyes.
Aidan said nothing as he attempted to wipe the blood away, but then he gave her that wide smile again, showing Brannie those annoying dimples. Or, as her uncle Addolgar called them, “Pits in the face.”
Turning away, she took a step, but then heard, “Aren’t you going to thank me?”
She faced the gold dragon. Like her, he was in his human form, shoulder-length gold hair perpetually falling in front of his gold eyes and nearly blocking the sight of those sharp cheekbones. Brannie stepped close to him and put her fist under his nose. She didn’t hit him, just held her chain mail–covered fist there and asked, “What about a thank-you punch to the face?”
“Is that my only option?”
She chuckled, even though she didn’t want to. Bastard.
Branwen didn’t know when it had happened or why, but somehow she’d become friends with Aidan the Divine. An actual royal from the House of Foulkes de chuid Fennah. A far cry from Brannie’s low-born Cadwaladr Clan roots.
But for these past long years as they’d been fighting against the Zealots, they’d become close despite his royal hatching and her lack of one.
It amazed her even more that she liked him despite his affiliation with the Mì-runach. Dragons loyal only to the queen, the Mì-runach were nothing more than a hit squad who killed on command.
Brannie didn’t have the luxury of running around, killing randomly, and only listening to the queen. As an officer and a dragoness, she had to think about all sorts of things before and after her troops got neck-deep in battle.
She didn’t respect the Mì-runach, but she had come to—grudgingly—respect Aidan the Divine. And, over the years and in their own way, they’d become somewhat close.
Which was why she knew something was really wrong by the sudden look on Aidan’s face, his eyes widening in panic. His mouth opened like he wanted to say something. And all of that meant only one thing—Aidan’s idiot brethren were up to something again. Something that would only make her angry. Before Brannie could figure out what, though, she heard a distinctive noise. A noise she had better not be hearing.
Mouth open, Brannie spun around and glared up at the dragon oaf eating her horse!
“What have you done?” she bellowed.
Caswyn the Butcher, in his enormous dragon form, gazed down at her as he kept chewing. The front half of her beautiful, loyal horse hanging from his snout.
“Wha?” he mumbled around his meal.
Her human hands tightened on the staff of her weapon and she raised it. She slammed the end of the weapon against the ground and it grew to its full height for use when she was in her dragon form. She was so angry right now, her human form wasn’t even overwhelmed by the now-enormous weapon. She simply pressed the tip of her halberd against a main artery in the dragon’s neck.
Caswyn stopped chewing, eyes wide, her poor horse’s front hooves still sticking out of his maw. Still twitching.
They were still twitching!
But before she could embed her weapon into the idiot’s neck and end him for such an affront, Aidan jumped between them. Protecting his idiot friend and getting in her way!
“Perhaps we should think about this?” Aidan gently suggested, as was his way. The only Mì-runach she knew who tried to use reason rather than brute force.
“Get out of my way before I kill you both.”
“I don’t care! I will have his head!”
“He was dying anyway,” Caswyn mumbled around the hooves.
“It’s just a bloody horse,” Uther noted, his blood-covered human form coming at her from the opposite side.
But he stopped when the tip of Brannie’s sword now pressed against the artery in his neck. She’d pulled it from her scabbard without making a sound and so quickly, the males had no time to react. As Branwen well knew, it was her speed that had always kept her alive.
Of course, at the moment, she really wasn’t in danger. These dragons, no matter their form, would never hurt her. Not because they fought on the same side. Not because she outranked them, no matter which army she represented. Not even because she was faster and a better fighter than any of them. But because she was the “baby cousin” of Éibhear the Despicable. Their brother in arms. As brethren of the Mì-runach, they protected each other’s kin as they would their own. So she knew that none of these males would ever harm a hair on her head, which only meant she could kill them quickly and leave their bleeding corpses to the wild animals of these mountains.