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Bronherrn did not know how long he was held for, but he wasted away. He prayed to the Gods, “Please just end it now. I cannot take this anymore.”
“I can end it easily if you will give up the pass.” Pronlado returned to conduct more torture.
Bronherrn grumbled. “I shall end you easy.” The blood of a new wound tricked down his cheek.
“I will carve you down piece-by-piece until there is nothing left.” Pronlado reached for his dagger.
“The last time you scarred my face you nearly lost a finger.” Bronherrn chuckled. Nothing pleased him more than to lengthen Pronlado’s already elongated face in anger.
“And what of your ears?” Pronlado flicked the fresh cuts where chunks had been carved away from his ears.
Biting down each flinch, each pang, Bronherrn blinked. “What’s that you asked?” He shot off a crooked smile and tongued the back of mis mouth where two molars had been viciously torn out.
“Patience is a waste of time.” Pronlado marched back-and-forth in front of Bronherrn. “Every warrior holds something dearer than his pride. I think I may have found your great weakness.”
Flashes of Aethelwyn’s amethyst gaze gripped him. He held his breath. “You could never imagine what I hold dear.”
No one is above the Gods, he reminded himself. My father died in battle; my mother, brothers, and all I love will offer their lives before I betray my people.
Prnlado snapped his fingers. His sneer drooped. “Alorius,” he called to one of the guards. “Show our young Ultainian that we know more than he does.”
The guard names Alorius bowed. He stomped toward Bronherrn with lust in his eyes. His teeth flashed as Pronlado handed him his dagger.
Bronherrn fought against his chains as if it were his first day of capture. “Life is a weakness.”
“Truly so.” Pronlado stepped back and snapped at the remaining guards. “Secure him.”
They gripped Bronherrn’s skin so tight he could not gain any movement. Held fast, his eyes widened as Alorius ordered them to extend his middle finger on each hand.
“You are no traitor. I admire that.” Pronlado slumped. “But you are a messenger of the blade, and I wonder what you would do if you could no longer wield a sword.”
Bronherrn’s breath caught in his throat. He bit the inside of his cheeks. They cannot take my hands, he fought to kept silent despite the repeating thought.
“Nothing?” Pronlado rubbed his hands together. “Where is the wit of that tongue, dear boy?”
Prillani’s figure lurked in the doorway.
“Do it,” Pronlado cried.
Bronherrn tried to struggle, but the sharp blade pierced his fingertips. The guards slammed him on the ground and jabbed him with elbos and knees. His body numbed but his mind raced.
Alorius cut deeper, digging the edge of the blade to the bone. The pressure built. Bronherrn bit his tongue as the knife split through and severed the finger from his swinging hand. Blood spurted everywhere. He cried out.
“Now the other,” Pronlado’s voice went low.
Bronherrn closed his eyes and remembered training with his father. Tears slid onto his cheeks in silence as he wondered what the feel of a blade would be like with mangled hands. This time the rush of pain swelled in his palm. It pulsed through his veins and his head grew light.
No memories, no scraps of food or drops of water could combat the loss.
Pronlado left and Prillani slunk into Bronherrn’s dank cell. Not even the sight of her radiant skin offered him relief. He found himself unable to keep from staring at her smooth features, but wished to crush them beneath his bloodied fingers.
She did not tax him with conversation, just placed her torch in the holder by the door, and walked forward to offer him a drink and a chunk of meat on a platter. He snatched the cup from the tray and drank its contents in one gulp. She handed him the food with a gentle grace and stood with an air of patience.
He growled as he took the food and shoved it in his mouth He tossed the bone aside after picking it clean.
Prillani’s watchful expression never changed.
“Have you decided to poison me?” He eyed her.
“The thought had crossed my mind.” She stepped back to take up the torch, and held it out as she drew near him.
The light burned and he squinted. “Then why this ceremony?”
“Do Ultainian women really have as much standing as your men?”
Suddenly the moldy smell of stale urine and excrement drifted away. He forgot the soreness in his arms and focused on her hopeful eyes. “Troubles with daddy?”
Prillani’s features tightened and she slapped him across the cheek.
Taking a deep breath, he nodded. “Yes. My mother is a warrior who fought beside my father before my birth. You have fought our women. It was my mother’s teachings that guided me to best you.”
“You did not best me. My heart still beats.”
“Because daddy came to the rescue.” Bronherrn chuckled. “Let me guess, your father has no sons?”
“He allows me to fight by his side, as an equal.”
“As a man, a lie.”
She turned and left him.
“Back so soon?” Bronherrn asked when Prillani stepped into his cell once more. He felt it could not have been more than a few days and he warmed to the idea that she wished to speak with him. Broken and mangled as he was, the Zuthan chief’s daughter came to converse with him, a Ultainian warrior. He reveled in her presence.
“You knew I would be.”
Her clear honesty baffled him. “So, what is it now? Will you insult my manhood or my mother?”
Prillani shook her head. “No banter today. I cannot stay long.”
“Does daddy not know you are here? I wonder how he will punish you.”
“Get on with it.”
“What would you hear?”
“It is of your mother that I must learn.”
Bronherrn grew cautious. He had no intention of giving away secrets that could endanger his family.
“This is not my father’s bidding.” Prillani glanced at the door.
“And how do I know that?”
“You cannot. But I am the only one interested in feeding you more than empty bones and rotted table scraps.”
He dropped forward. “She is one of the deadliest fighters I have ever known. The only reason I bested her once was because she allowed me to, though I hated to admit it at the time.” Speaking about his mother to Prillani kindled a new sense of pride.
“What is her name?”
“Do not dare wish to speak it.”
Prillani bent before him, setting her face level with his. “If your mother is as skilled as you say, then you have no cause to worry.”
“I do not. But I shall not allow a dirty Zuthan to speak her name.”
Prillani glowered at him in the torchlight. “Then I shall go to my father and have him end you.” She stood with a sharp turn.
Bronherrn held steady. “I know why your interest is so great. You are not a true Zuthan. You crave a better life.”
With a scream, she threw herself upon him, and beat his body with clenched fists. “How dare you? This is my home. My loyalties will always lie with my father.”
“But will his always lay with you?” Bronherrn asked.
Her hands fell. She grew quiet and slowly backed away from him. “Will you tell me the tale or not?”
He looked away and thought of his mother. She would want the girl to hear her story and he knew it. “Just one.”
He spoke of her first battle; the way his father had told it to him. How she was unmatched. The nature of her deep spiritual sorrow after taking lives.
Prillani softened. She called the guards in. “Bring him some fruit and a drop of milk.”
Bronherrn stared up at her, baffled at the reward.