Blood of the Ultains: the Tales of Bronherrn Chapter 13

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The Dungeon

Bronherrn awoke to pain. His chest seared like it was being forced open with heat. He squinted through smoke. Where am I? He coughed.

He twitched, but his arms barely moved. The stench of dirt and burnt flesh caught in his throat. He dangled from his arms, feet just low enough to offer support. He peered from side to side but shadows swallowed what little light glowed from the torch the guard held before him.

One breath and the pain returned. Fire. Sharp. A hot iron pressed against his skin, at the end of it stood Pronlado.

Bronherrn gnashed his teeth. Tears surfaced, but he blinked them backbore.

He glared into the Zuthan chief’s dark gaze until he pulled the iron back.

Bronherrn breathed deep. I have failed. A great wave of grief struck him. He would have sobbed if his worst enemy were not watching him with ire.

Pronlado tugged at his long grey beard as if determining Bronherrn’s fate.

My father is dead and I could not avenge him. Now I’m a prisoner. What a disgrace. Bronherrn wished for his sword, his dagger, any weapon to cut the man before him. My words are all I have.

He panted at the chief. “Take your time, Zuthan dog. Torture means nothing to my Ultainian heart.”

Pronlado stood silent. The wrinkles around his eyes and mouth twitched.

A shiver crept up Bronherrn’s neck.

Pronlado grabbed him by the back of his head and gestured for a couple of guards to come forward. Bronherrn struggled against his bonds, but the men grabbed his face. He bit one and received a hard punch to the eye along with a kick to the ribs.

The weight of his shackles dragged him down.

The guards forced his mouth open.

Unable to shake or turn his head, he stared with wide eyes.

Pronlado took up the iron again and slowly moved forward. A vicious smirk curved upon his lips. Bronherrn’s heart pulsed against his chest. It made his ribs ache and his head pounded.

He swallowed hard at the flaming hot metal before his face.

Pronlado held it before him, then pressed it against Bronherrn’s tongue.

He winced. Muffled cries sprang from his throat. This time he could not choke back the tears. His tongue burned so deep he feared they would shove the iron down his throat.

Pronlado grined. He slowly drew back. He said, “Mind your tongue,” and left with the guards.

Bronherrn hung from his chains, left without food, or water, for the next two days. His shaking body grew ready to give out from the strain. The chills from the dark dungeon offered a strange relief as they cooled his feverish body. He hung there alone, trying to devise a plan, but his mind raced with nonesense.

Dark images danced across his vision. Memories shaped in front of him as if real. He half longed to leap into death’s arms and feared being driven to madness. Without the guidance of his father and no knowledge of what had become of the other warriors, he remained trapped.

His dreams held hope that Aethelwyn would come. When pondering the meaning once awake he realized, I blamed her, but she compromised herself for me. I do not deserve her protection and she must have realized that.

The sweet illusions of her soft hair and mystical skin offered little distraction. What would my father have done? he asked himself. Escape. Plot. Fight.

He worked to focus on life. Living. Suddenly the image of his mother taunted him. He envisioned her scolding him. “Be a man,” she would say.

A dry croak of laughter sprang from him and brought on a coughing fit that scraped his insides like a rusted blade. He tried to swallow, but his mouth held no moisture. I’m dying. Left to rot like a discarded fruit rind. But I am not ready.

Despair overcame him. He sobbed aloud, not caring who might hear. He mumbled to himself, but stopped at the creak of his dungeon door. “No more.” He groaned.

The thick wooden door swept open and Pronlado entered with a young lady draped in rich silks. Bronherrn snorted back what little dripped from his nostrils and gazed at her beauty with great curiosity. Even in the dark her smooth features held an allure.

She walked up to him and sneered. “He does not seem like much, does he?” Cup in hand, she flicked some water on his face.

He eagerly licked the droplets.

“Thirsty, are you?” Pronlado asked. “We have a problem. I need to find the Ultain pass. It seems your little witch girl has sealed it.”

Bronherrn wheezed through cracked lips. He could not speak through his blistered tongue and swollen mouth.

“Give him a drink, Prillani.”

The girl held her cup to Bronherrn’s mouth. He sipped slowly drawing in the entire contents. His body cooled with the rush of liquid and he grew more cognizant.

Prillani stepped back and Bronherrn looked to Pronlado, who continued, “We have much to discuss.”

Bronherrn glanced from the tall young lady, no more than a year or two older than him, and the Zuthan chief. “May the otherworld strike you from existence.” He spat out what saliva had returned to his mouth.

“Come Prillani, we will try again later.” Pronlado left Bronherrn to continue to starve.

The isolation was worse than the pain of torture. A brutal lashing he understood, but Bronherrn grew paranoid at Pronlado’s coolness.

This repeated for weeks without Prillani. Bronherrn wondered who she was and why she had been brought to see him at all. Her large dark blue eyes stayed with him even when he thought of Aethelwyn. Over time, his chains were loosened, allowing him to relax his arms and occasionally sit. The guards seldom tossed scraps of food at his feet, but he mainly lived off his own soul and water.

He endured the pulling of his fingernails and toenails. A molar was ripped from his mouth. It did not matter to him. He blocked Pronlado’s way, and Aethelwyn continued to protect his people.

After months without light, Bronherrn babbled to himself more often. “If I have to hear the sound of your voice much longer, I may lose my mind.” He cackled to himself. He lowered his voice and imitated his father. “Yes boy. It’s a good thing I cannot see this mockery.” He could converse with himself, pretending to talk to his father. “Or can you?” Bronherrn sighed. “You are still Bronherrn, son of Brackliem,” he replied to himself.

“And he thinks I will yield to pain?” He laughed aloud, hoping Pronlado heard him. “I am a Ultainian warrior, we live for pain.”

The groan of his cell door opening did not deter him from continuing his conversation. “Oh, Aethelwyn if you could see me now.”

“Aethelwyn?”

Bronherrn stopped at the feminine tones, all soft with interest.

“What a strange name. I’ve heard of your witch girl.” Prillani lingered in the doorway.

He looked to the floor and held silent.

“I imagine she is in those mountains right now, awaiting your return,” she taunted him.

“Not likely.” He dared to challenge her gaze.

She scowled, but behind the wrinkles in her brow, he noticed something enticing. She blinked with intrigue. She walked forward and cast the firelight of her torch upon his face.

He cocked his head. “Who are you?”

She ordered the guards away. Not one movement did she make until everyone had left. Once alone, she grabbed his chin with a tight grip. “You still do not recognize me, do you?”

He scrutinized the features of the woman before him, the strong jaw line, the curved cheekbones, and her dark navy eyes. It was not until he looked to her long chestnut hair and noticed it sat out of place that he began to think back. He stared at her locks and set his mouth in a thin straight line.

She pulled back the false hair to reveal her close-cropped locks. “Yes.” She stepped back and stood tall before him. Her dress curved around her body with flowing cloth. “My father would have killed you by now if it were not for me. He is an impatient man, you know.”

“Pronlado?”

Prillani laughed.

“You are his right-hand man… his daughter?” Bronherrn had grown up with women fighting around him, but he knew the Zuthans were different.

She looked to the door and pulled a dagger from her dress. She lunged upon him and held it to his neck, pressing the sharp point against his flesh. “I could kill you right now. But I think you will help us, given enough time.”

“In my land, you would not have to dress as a man to fight. Your father would be proud to battle with his daughter.”

Prillani’s eye flickered with anger. “My father is proud of me.”

She called the guards and grabbed a leg of meat off a tray one guard held out. Bronherrn eyed the morsel as she dangled it in front of him. He shot her a pleading look, unable to keep his hunger from making him a beggar.  

She threw the food at him and left.

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