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The Shifting World
Bronherrn pushed through the journey. The slopes and angles of the mountains and cliff faces smiled on his safe return. Sweat dampened his skin, and slid over strained muscles, but he returned safely. Upon arriving at his village, he went straight to the open market.
Stepping into the central courtyard, he whistled to gain everyone’s attention. “I have seen the battlefield. It is worse than the rumors. We need to collect whatever food, garments, and weaponry we can spare.”
Unprepared for the murmur of questions that rose from the crowd he surveyed each pair of eyes that questioned him. They draw near. Someone offered him a mug of ale and he drank the entire contents. “There will be time for questions later.”
He met the familiar faces with feigned confidence. Mothers stood clutching their children. Hope to learn the whereabouts of fathers and sons danced in the air between them.
“I will set out at dawn in two days’ time. Please return with what you can spare.”
“But how will you deliver the goods?” Danarrus’s mother stepped forward.
He sighed and stared at the ground before meeting her gaze. “Allow me to make those arrangements. For now, find what you can, and bring it.”
He thanked them and stepped through the crowd, doing his best to offer a hopeful smile as he marched home.
“Did you see what you were hoping for?” His mother met him at the door.
“I am sorry if I troubled you. It’s been quite a journey and there is much to do. But I must sleep, in waking tomorrow I shall venture to The Otherworld.”
Instead of pressing him for information, she offered him a leg of meat. He took it with him, undressed, and wrapped himself in the warmth of his sleeping furs.
“Rest well my son,” his mother stepped away.
The juices of the animal flesh ran down his lips. He lay down gnawing until the bone had nothing left to offer. He tossed it aside before closing his eyes.
As soon as Bronherrn laid his body upon the stuffed quilts of animal hide in his corner of the house, his mind raced with images of Aethelwyn. Despite everything he had experienced, her presence stayed with him. He found no peace in imagining seeing her again. What would he say? How would she react?
The hours hung frozen with the weight of his thoughts. Finally, his body took over and allowed a short period of rest.
At first light, he popped awake and jumped up. His mother had a plate of ham and eggs waiting for him. The delicious aroma wafted into his nostrils tantalizing his hungry tongue.
“You did not have a great deal of rest. Will you be wanting company?” she asked.
His stomach rumbled and he rushed before the food. “Today I travel alone. But tomorrow we must get me fitted for my first plate of armor at father’s request.”
The corners of her mouth curved upward. “I figured as much. Do you remember the way you will travel today?”
Bronherrn could never forget. Something in that age-old place called to him…someone. “Don’t worry about me.” He shoved food into his mouth. “I know the way.”
His mother nodded. She went to wake his brothers and left him to finish his breakfast. He longed for the warmth of her cooking. It not only rejuvenated his body, it lifted his spirits. He could not allow the Zuthans to take their land.
He licked his plate clean and went to gather up his things while his mother fed his brothers.
“Where’s Bronherrn going?” Druthleer asked rubbing his eyes.
“Nowhere you need worry about yet,” their mother said.
“I will return refreshed.” Bronherrn stooped over them. He patted his brothers’ heads and squeezed his mother’s hand. “But I must find answers.”
She pressed her hand to his cheek. Shock twisted her features. “You’re growing prickles. Soon you’ll be a bearded warrior. Your answers will come.’
His cheeks warmed. “I need them today.”
She stepped aside and watched him go.
He realized the importance of his home life comforts as he ventured away. Stepping out into the sunshine awakened a sense of duty unlike before. He feared for his brothers. Sympathy for his mother swelled in his breast. He half wished to send her to the battlefield, but a strange desire to be closer to Aethelwyn kept him moving ahead.
Could the holy ones be ready to aid us? He questioned himself. The possibility brightened his prospects and offered more strength as a light flutter of snow sweept around him.
His weary body didn’t feel the ache of his muscles. His worn feet were immune to the throbbing pains that should have crippled his pace. The snowfall thickened and clung to the mounds that had already fallen. Each crunch of his steps, each climb, every turn brought him closer to truth and serenity. He had not forgotten the all-encompassing sense of peace that enveloped him the first time he reached The Otherworld.
He passed beyond the curve that led to the deep chasm, and found himself surprised by Aethelwyn’s shadow lingering atop of the long stone staircase cut into the rock walls. He quickened his pace. Is she waiting for someone?
Before he reached her, he glimpsed The Otherworld. Its mysteries sat untouched by the storm. Not one snowflake reached into those sacred depths. The wind blew all accumulation away before it could reach the space. He blinked in surprise. “Aethelwyn, I have come to thank you and your people for offering your aid.”
Scarce had the words passed from his lips than she shook her head. “Nothing has changed. My people are still against lending any hand in the fighting of men.”
“But you were there.”
“Shh.” She put her hand to his mouth. “I believe we are wrong, but what I have done is forbidden.” She searched his eyes.
Something in her regal gaze offered clarity. He bowed his head, and she put her hand to his cheek. The warmth of her amethyst stare engulfed his disappointment. He saw so much of her. He had not interacted with many of the priestesses, but somehow, he knew she was unique.
Aethelwyn led him down the stairway to the gates of her homeland. Her loose fur cloak dragged along the ground as her naked legs broke free with each step. Bronherrn nodded at the priests who encircled them with a chant of welcome. The ceremony of greeting calmed Bronherrn’s nerves as they were directed to the central bonfire in the open air.
He was brought cakes and delicacies unlike the simple culinary concoctions of his people. A beating of drums sounded and the holy ones began to dance, but Aethelwyn stayed seated beside him. He appreciated her company, desiring to speak with her alone. So many questions throbbed in his head. The main one: how could his people defeat the Zuthan monsters?
He feared they would all perish. No music, no warmth of fire or dancing could ease the pain in his chest.
Aethelwyn pulled him aside and led him to a little hut. The simple construct stood up with beams of wood, but sat covered with animal hide hung well enough to keep the warm corner fire’s touch about the entirety.
Xanthu leapt forward to rub her muscular body against his legs. Her weight tested his balance and he laughed as he bent down to rub her.
“Sit, Bronherrn.” Aethelwyn gestured before her.
He sat on the floor and Xanthu once again padded into his lap. “Is this your home?” he asked.
“It is all our home, but yes, this is my own dwelling.” She removed her foot coverings and slipped off her cloak.
He traced the curves of her naked body with his gaze, stared upon her budding bosom unable to keep from gawking. With a flush he said, “You owe me nothing. You need not remove your clothes.”
“Of course.” She scowled at him. “You have not earned the right to touch my skin. A priestess is more at ease when relieved of her shackles.” She looked to the cloak. “We don the furs in the presence of an unknown visitor or traveling. That is all.”
Bronherrn averted his eyes. His imagination flared with a vision of the holy ones dancing naked together and felt ashamed of his arousal. He licked his lips and attempted to focus on more important matters. Nodding his assent, he refused to allow his tongue to tangle him into further troubles.
“I imagine you are eager to hear of my role in yesterday’s events?”
Again, he nodded his understanding.
She walked up to him and sat at his side. “Bronherrn, this is not to be taken lightly. We will both suffer if any of my people find out.”
“Why?” He wrinkled his brow.
“Because time moves forward, yet we do not. Most of my people fear that our way of life will be destroyed. They cling to the ways of old. I understand that, in order for our traditions to survive, we must embrace the shifting world. The Zuthans have no honor. They will destroy anything to take the Ultain pass. It has been protected for so long. I cannot allow that to happen knowing what the outcome will be.”
Bronherrn jumped up at this. “You know our fate. Tell me, what shall pass?”
She shook her head getting to her feet. “It is not for me to say.”
“Not for you to say. Then why tell me any of this, why help us at all?” A hot surge of anger mounted from his feet to his face.
“In you, I see the future.” She gently touched his arm. “You are the warrior that my people fear. That I hope for.”
None of made any sense. His head spun. He thought over her words, repeating everything through his mind.
She turned and led him back out into the day. “Go to the calming fire. I will sit with you before you depart.”
He walked toward the flames listening to the birds sing. Unsure of every step his mind whirled with all he had learned. Once he reached the sacred light, he sat on the carved log laid before it. He steadied his eyes and pondered the future. The enchanted flames of the blaze made everything come into focus.
Aethelwyn was aiding him to fight in the battles that she was forbidden to take part in. As a holy priestess, she lived as a higher being, but something in her yearned for him and his rustic living. Something she said came back to him. The pass has been protected for so long, the way she had spoken about it made him sense more. He did not question this newfound suspicion, nor did he wish to abuse it for selfish purposes.
When she rejoined him, her cloak hung about her shoulders and her hair trailed behind like the shadow of a dream. She handed him her hairbrush and sat before him as Xanthu laid her golden body at his side.
Instead of embarrassing himself as he had before, he caressed the thick ringlets and pressed the bristles through Aethelwyn’s locks with care. Her strands were like silk. The fresh scent of wildflowers drifted off her like a new spring day.
Bronherrn had never imagined taking pleasure in such a task. Aethelwyn scooted back and he stretched his legs around her. She sighed, pressing her body against his. Her soft hands rested on his thighs and a new surge of energy raced through his blood. His heart quaked and he forced himself to offer whatever affections she would allow.