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“Why must I remain behind?” Bronherrn swung his weapon.
“You are needed to protect your mother,” his father answered with a block.
“Horse shit. Mom’s bested me with sword and shield plenty. She needs no help. You do not want my company. Why?” Bronherrn leapt forward for another attack.
His father stuck the edge of his blade at Bronherrn’s side, pressing into his thin leather armor just enough to prove a point. “Because boy, you are too young to know the weight of war.”
“You love going into battle. I am a man now. My steel has already dispatched two of the Zuthan dogs. There is no reason that I-”
“You will do as I say.”
Bronherrn threw down his weapon. “Then I guess I have no choice.” He stamped through the field.
A gust of wind blew across the grasses beyond their home in the mountainous land. Bronherrn hated that their preferred sparring ground near the Cassani River was no longer safe. He missed the seclusion. What had been an overgrown battlefield now sat ready to welcome another war.
Bronherrn screamed with ire. His failure to prove himself came down to something trifling as his age. It tore him up inside to be kept from the fighting. I know I could be of some use.
He stomped into the house unable to meet his mother’s gaze as she lingered nearby. “And what has dulled your blade?” She stood so calm Bronherrn’s heart slowed to its usual pace.
He sighed and wiped his eyes. Angry tears burned with shame. “He will not let me battle.”
“You are young.”
“But I am ready.”
She walked over to him and raised his chin. Her searching eyes held steady on his face and he saw a spark flash across them. “Wait here,” she said.
He did not stand wondering for long. She went just outside and shouted for his father, “Brackliem!”
His ears pricked with hope. His pulse throbbed under the scar on his arm. Could she convince him?
“Mara, why do you holler at me so?”
“Our son is prepared to meet his fate,” her forceful tone held no hesitation. “He proved that when he cut down two Zuthan spies.”
“He is a boy.” His father threw the sword at his feet.
Bronherrn balled up his fists at the declaration. He refused to move.
“A man by right, having tasted blood.”
His mother’s response helped him stand in silent rage. But his father’s answer cut it short, “Fifteen is a great age to lose your life on the battlefield, woman.”
“Do not talk to me as if I had not been bloodied myself. You were fifteen when you first went to meet our enemies. It is that you do not wish to have to look out for another. What have you been training him for?”
Bronherrn smirked at his mother’s argument.
“I have made my decision,” his father shouted.
“Maybe I will take up arms again and shadow him myself.” His mother glared, setting her hands on her hips like a triumphant ruler.
“And what of the other two? Will you leave our younger boys, or condemn them to death as well?”
Bronherrn’s faith in his mother wavered.
“He is your son. You cannot expect him to yield forever. But for now, he stays.” She sighed.
Grumbling to himself, Bronherrn grabbed his sword and took to his sleeping furs in the back corner of the house. He pulled off his shield and the belt that held his dagger. Tossing them aside he knelt on the floor and clenched his teeth vowing to never leave any willing soldier behind.
Bronherrn’s pride grew mangled. His mother forced him to join the others in the courtyard and send the warriors off with vigor. The women and children prepared to remain behind and he glared foolishly standing beside them. Despite the anger welling in his breast, he found it in himself to meet the moss colored eyes of his father. “May your steel meet many Zuthans.”
“Yours will soon enough.” His father knocked Bronherrn’s shoulder.
Something passed between them that eased Bronherrn. The curve of the man’s lips spoke of hopes. It was as if he wished for Bronherrn to say more, but the disappointment clouding Bronherrn caused him to step back and allow his brothers to fawn over their dad. He turned away when his mother went to wish her husband a glorious battle.
He imagined her internal struggle and grasped her hand when his father turned to march with the others. He studied each step, focused on breathing deep to keep from making a last attempt to leave with them. He bit the inside of his cheek yearning for the day when his fighter’s heart would be fulfilled.
Once the dust on the winding path settled, and the rhythmic beat of the warrior’s steps muffled in the distance, Bronherrn marveled at his mother’s yearning stare. “We should return home.”
A crooked smile spread of her face. “Spoken like the man of the house.” She bowed to him with such an awkward dip that his brothers giggled beside her.
Bronherrn sighed. “After you.” He gestured for her to lead.
She sauntered ahead with a laugh.
Bronherrn appreciated his mother’s jest, but after a few days, it began to feel like a ruse. Strained under the conditions, unable to speak of his father or the war, Bronherrn turned to his sword. He took entire afternoons to train more furiously than ever.
His brothers encouraged him and marveled at his skill. Still too young to barely hold the mighty weapons, Bronherrn took pity on them and didn’t scold them for shirking their chores when they came to watch. He idolized the man who raised him and remembered studying his movements. Now he displayed his growing strength under the eager eyes of his brothers. Each position gave him a sense of pride. The envious looks that hung before him offered aid.
“If you truly wish to help me, you’ll bring me more fighters.” Most of the boys his age were unworthy, but he understood his brothers’ desire to aid the cause and found a new paternal love for them as they heeded his words.
He plucked up a piece of wheat grass and nibbled at its grainy end. How many Zuthans could I have dispatched by now? He kicked at the ground lamenting his position. I hate sitting here like a child waiting for the outcome.
Despite the anger that welled in his breast, Bronherrn knew this war unlike the ones before. His mother clamped her mouth in a tight pinch when he attempted to mention it. She wandered near his swinging arms and studied his sword.
“Care to teach me more?” he asked.
She scratched her head and rushed forward. In one sweep she worked the weapon from his hands and held it at his throat. “We received word from the battlefield.”
Bronherrn strained his eyes to stare at her under great beams of sunlight. They pooled onto his skin. “And?”
She stepped back and helped him up. “There is talk that the Zuthan priests are doing the unspeakable.”
“Priests?” Bronherrn laughed. “No holy man goes to war.”
“Not here.” His mother handed him his sword and gazed at their house. “The Zuthan dogs have no honor. Not even their priests.”
“So what is it they’re doing?’ Bronherrn sheathed his sword and walked the grasses with his mom.
“They have found a way to raise the souls of the damned and are using them against us. We cannot match such forces.”
“How is that possible?” Bronherrn kicked the ground.
His mother stopped and stroked his shoulder. “The Otherworld is just the beginning. This is the first time anyone has dared to abuse the forces beyond.”
“How could any sacred being stoop to such treachery? he asked
“She shook her head. “ I do not know. She set her features and pushed her shoulders back. “We must trust that your father and the elders will stop them.”
“Let me go to him. I can help.”
“No!” his mother shouted. She closed her eyes. “Truth is often tainted. What we hear is not always what has taken place. I mainly wished to alert you in case I must leave.”
“You cannot go without me.” Bronherrn grasped her arm.
She tugged it away and stared at his face, her lips twitching. “We shall see.” She whipped her hair out of her face and pushed through the wind, leaving him to contemplate this new information. Unsure of how they would fare against foes of such unequal existence, he vowed that his training would not wane in his father’s absence. His brothers returned not soon after.
“Danarrus is prepared to test you.” Grimhelden’s his mouth gaped open.
“Your father left you behind as well?” Bronherrn tackled his childhood playmate wrestling him to the ground as they had before they became occupied with training.
“I thought you’d be in battling by now.” Danarrus sat back and took a hearty blow to the face. “Your ma kept you from heading off too?”
Bronherrn’s chest tightened. He shook his head and glanced over at his house to spy his mother watching them from the door.. “The great warrior said I wasn’t ready.”
Danarrus stood and pulled him to his feet.
“Your father?” Danarrus leaned in. “But he’s the great Brackliem.”
“I know who he is.” Bronherrn scratched the back of his head and grabbed his sword. He steadied himself. “Are you certain of your skills?”
Danarrus’s eyes sparked with a thirst to join the ranks. He stalked through the grasses tangling their feet and moved closer. “Careful with your words or you may lose your pride.”
Bronherrn gripped his sword. “No pride, just heart.” He pressed his weapon to Danarrus’s and took his stance, ready to display his skills.
Danarrus rushed forward and knocked against Bronherrn’s steel. Bronherrn barely had strength to push back with his shield. He dug his feet into the ground and held steady. “It seems I’ve found a worthy opponent,” he called to his friend as he delivered a blow of his own.
From that declaration, Bronherrn and Danarrus came together to battle each day. Over time, Bronherrn found himself able to anticipate Danarrus’s moves. His friend became well versed in his fighting style. After enough practice, Bronherrn stood before Danarrus in the field of wildflowers between their homes prepared for a true fight.
Grimhelden and Druthleer stared eyes wide as if a storm roared above, but the presence of his mother kindled a strange electricity within him. She approached with gentle steps. Her sharp features held a striking pride.
He kept his position, letting the cool autumn air rush between him and the ready figure of Danarrus. Bronherrn stood tall and fancied himself full grown, even though the reaching grasses of the meadow suggested otherwise as it brushed up his legs, nearly grazing his waist. The thumping tension grew in his chest and he refused to strike first. He exercised patience and focused on his movements.
Danarrus struck and Bronherrn easily parried. He rolled forward catching Danarrus off guard and leapt upon him with such a force, that Danarrus could barely control his weapon when striking back.
It brought out the best in his opponent and they grappled. Every strike met with a cunning move, each blow become more powerful. Bronherrn exerted himself as if this fight was all that mattered. He worked to gain the upper hand by blocking Danarrus’s next move and kicked him to the ground. “Had enough?” he asked.
His brothers cheered.
Danarrus jumped to his feet and spun around with the speed of a cougar. “Never.”
Unable to move fast enough, Bronherrn found himself at sword’s edge, but he would not admit defeat. He remembered his father’s most trusted move and simply dug his point at Danarrus’s grip to knock the sword away. It was the first time he had met success with the trick, but Danarrus dropped for the dagger at his boot and held it out threateningly.
Thrusting aside his own sword, Bronherrn reached for his dagger. His feet moved with precision. He straightened and began to circle the space with his friend. He sucked in as much air as he could, worked to steady his taxed limbs as he listened to Danarrus pant in the same winded manner.
Bronherrn could feel his brothers’ stares on him and wished to deliver the victory they expected, but then his mother shouted, “It seems as if you should call it a draw. You boys are perfectly matched.” She smirked impishly trying not to laugh.
Disappointment clouded Bronherrn’s thoughts. He recognized the same dissatisfaction darkening Danarrus’s features. Once he met his friend’s narrow gaze, he too chuckled.
He heeded her suggestion and he went to pick up his sword. Danarrus did the same. They pressed their steel together as a sign of respect. “I look forward to fighting side by side with you when our turn comes,” Bronherrn said.
“It will come sooner than you know.” Danarrus grinned and patted him on the shoulder.
“Tell your mother I wish to visit her tomorrow.” Danarrus nodded at Bronherrn’s mother and jogged toward his home across the field.
“I could’ve had him,” Bronherrn lowered his voice when she turned her attention to him.
“I know that my son. But we must practice with dagger the a little more, lest you accidentally pierce your friend’s heart.” The sincerity of her words paid him a true compliment and he grew satisfied for the time being.