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A Taste of Blood
Bronherrn stood ready to deflect his father’s efforts. He held his weapon steady. He had worked his steel against the monstrous man time and again to accustom himself to protecting his own hide. Now he wished to successfully strike a mighty enough blow to mark himself a true opponent. Just passed the dawning of his fifteenth year, the shadow of manhood was cast.
His father rushed in swiftly. Bronherrn swallowed hard. He worked to concentrate on his skills but could not escape the knowledge that his father outweighed him in every aspect of battle. Instead of shrinking back, he fought off the attack with a quick block and pumped his leg to deliver a swift kick that knocked his father to the ground.
Practicing with his mother had taught him something. Bronherrn stared in awe at his father lying upon the soft meadow grass. The urge to flee filled him until his father laughed.
“You’re coming along, Bronherrn.”
He breathed with relief at the proud tone. His father rose and looked upon Bronherrn with shining eyes. Bronherrn held out his sword and pressed the blade to his father’s. “I hope I didn’t hurt you.” He reveled in his glory.
“Nonsense. Now that you’ve proven yourself, it is time that I give you the Ultainian mark and bind you as a true warrior.”
Bronherrn had waited for this day all his life. He trained his body to withstand the pain that would etch the familiar scar into his arm. For years he stared at his father’s and craved to earn his own. Now he did not flinch as the man expertly held his dagger and placed the point to Bronherrn’s skin.
The piercing jab tore into his flesh, but Bronherrn refused to avert his eyes. He took in slow steady breaths to combat the stabbing sensation that made him wish to pull away. He refused to cry out, fought every reflex.
A smirk broke from his lips as the cut began to resemble the braided image that his father wore. The heat of his blood trickling down his arm itched against his skin. It swelled under the pressure. He clenched his jaw and stood motionless.
Gazing off into the distance his head whirled and his eyes clouded.
He focused on pushing past his pain and found his concentration taken over by a vapor of swirling mist wrapping around him. It held a girl. His father did not seem to notice anything and Bronherrn held his tongue.
Blinking at the strange apparition, he blinked at her slight frame.
She stood just beginning to blossom. The only cloth that adorned her pure skin was a fur cloak the color of a cloudy sky. It wrapped around her in the chilled air, clasped with a brooch of smooth emerald stone. Upon her arched feet laced a slight layer of animal skins so thin they sat barely noticeable.
Bronherrn studied every curve. Her quizzical expression and the graceful nature of her stance toyed with his maturing mind. Her soft amethyst gaze took all the pain from his body. Her eyes glowed behind the locks of her dark hair as it whipped wildly about her.
Bronherrn shook with desire. He longed for her, wondered if his father had ever experienced the embarrassment of the need that surged through his veins. Never had it pulsed within like this.
If only she were real, he thought. He believed her to be a mere figment of his imagination, something to help him concentrate. No female every looked as alluring as she did. She held his full attention while his father finished cutting into his flesh.
“It’ll heal well as long as we look after it.” His father poured a mixture of some brew over the wound before tying it with a cloth.
Bronherrn ran his fingertips around the skin surrounding the newly etched grooves and the girl disappeared. A creeping ache swelled back to his arm and he looked at his father’s handcrafted scar. The pattern was always the same, but each cut set a little different. He appreciated the tradition but also felt a need for his own specific cut and ways.
Before his pride grew too large, something lumbered out of the corner of his eye. He turned to see a figure creeping up from the steep valleys that lay on the other side of the Cassani River, the Zuthan Territory.
He found himself pushed down as his father crouched low. Bronherrn looked to him for guidance and followed as he crawled to a rock formation on their side of the river, hidden from sight. As soon as they reached the protection of the barrier, Bronherrn whispered, “What are we hiding for father? Shouldn’t we protect our land?”
“There’s more afoot than you know.” His father gripped the hilt of his longsword.
“Tell me then. Isn’t this why I’m training?”
“The Zuthans have harbored hatred of us since we stopped them in my youth. But as of late there are rumors of a new attack, talk that the Zuthan priests themselves have begun to look for any way to vanquish us. It is said that they have gone so far as to call upon the souls of the damned.”
A shudder ran through Bronherrn’s spine. “What about our holy ones, the priests and priestesses of the Otherworld?”
“They are too sacred and smart to even consider paying the price for using dark forces.”
“So why are we hiding?”
His father clenched his teeth and spoke with quiet force, “Because boy, I want to see if we can gain a little knowledge of our foes.”
In their concealed location, Bronherrn waited not daring to move a muscle.
The voices of the Zuthans made Bronherrn’s heart strike against his chest as if ready to break free. Each splash of their boots across the water made his breath come slow and shallow. Once they stepped across the banks, they were trespassing on Ultainian lands, a most forbidden offense according to the terms of peace that the Zuthan ruler, Pronlado, had accepted before Bronherrn’s birth.
“I watched a thousand men march down that path myself,” one of the Zuthans said.
The stamping of his feet drew closer. “But to find the Ultain pass…we’ve tried before to no avail.”
“That path leads right through the mountains and into the heart of their country. It is vital if we are to ever defeat them. High Priest Wriffelen would not have sent us to find it if it were not important.”
Bronherrn studied his father’s face. It remained as cool as the stone he placed his hand upon. Why would they come now? Bronherrn asked himself. The war has been long since finished.
His father’s stories of triumph often made him wish for his own chance to battle, but sitting on a clump of dirt unsure of what will happen next was not what he had planned for. The idea of charging with the other warriors held a romance that made this unlikely situation seem grim and terrifying.
He tapped his father’s shoulder and received a nod of preparation. Clasping the hilt of his sword, he nodded back and sprang upon the treacherous men with a blood-curdling cry. The necessity of being thrust into battle gripped him.
He grasped his shield working to keep it before him. It was not the time for thoughtless acts of bravery. He mainly worked to deflect countless blows. The Zuthan warriors knocked his shield into his body and he stumbled. The weight of it nearly crushed him. Unsure of how long he could withstand the bulk of the well-armed men, he thought of his mother and her swiftness.
He crouched low and regained his footing. Leaping forward, he swept the legs out from under one with a mighty kick and flung himself upon another, thrusting his sword into the man’s chest before he could comprehend what he was doing. He barely pulled his blade out of his first kill when the next was upon him. The determination of vengeance shadowed the Zuthan’s dark eyes. Bits of grass stuck to his beard and he spat at Bronherrn.
Once again, Bronherrn’s shield became his strength. He pulled his sword in close as he braced for the storm of hits that came down on him. His muscles ached with fear. Unsure if he could take on the second opponent, he spotted his father from the corner of his eye.
He thought of the years he had dreamt for this moment, saw the faces of his younger brothers before him. He longed to be a fierce warrior. It was his calling, the same as his father and the men who came before him.
The feel of battle sank into him and he no longer worried about death. He grasped the hilt of his sword, relaxed his shield and struck back drawing from everything he had been taught, not just the movements, but to fight for his heritage, his people.
He lunged forward, pushing the Zuthan back as he found a new strength surge through his body like a wave of protection. Sweat rolled off his skin and he found a rhythm to not only match his opponent, but to overpower him. He closed in to find his shining steel stronger than the bronze blade of the Zuthan. With a more advanced weapon, mind, and purpose, Bronherrn bent the metal of his adversary. No hesitation gripped him. He smirked and thrust his sword through the man’s body.
He panted at the face before him. It froze and went limp. Bronherrn stood gawking at the body. He dropped it and stood, relieved that he had successfully survived his first real struggle. No remorse met him. He waited for it. Hoping to feel the sickening agony his mother harbored, nothing came.
“You did well today Bronherrn. You did well,” his father called to him.
Bronherrn struggled to pull his sword from the lifeless body still staring at him and marched away. “I have no sorrow in this.”
“Some do, some don’t. It is the way of our people. No two warriors are alike, Bronherrn. You have earned your honor.”
He pressed his steel against his father’s with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. The gravity of becoming a true warrior began to weigh on him and he rubbed the mark on his arm before he fell to his knees.
He bowed his head and thanked the Gods.