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A Long Way
Bronherrn set out to leave the Ferillian town. He grew heavy with bittersweet sorrow. He could not find Janif anywhere. She had already said her farewell, and he tried not to look for her sweet face, knowing that she would not grace him again.
Vermeesh walked Bronherrn to the edge of town. “Here.” He held up a plate of new armor.
Bronherrn’s mouth hung open as he eyed the breastplate. “It is a fine hunk of metal.” He ran his fingers over the newly molded surface and smiled at his friend. “I cannot repay you for your aid.”
“You’ve already earned it. I learned more from you than I would’ve anywhere else, and you gave me a chance to battle.”
Bronherrn frowned at the thought that Vermeesh relished the danger he brought to the town, but he noticed that Vermeesh’s bag was weighed down.
Vermeesh reached in and pulled out a set of grieves and bracers as well. “The Zuthans’ll be after you again soon enough, won’t they?”
Bronherrn nodded and took the armor. “It is their aim.”
Vermeesh’s bellow of laughter echoed around them. “And I’ll keep a watch as long as I stay here.”
“I do not doubt it.” Bronherrn smirked. He turned to leave, but before he could make his escape, Wilhelm staggered ahead and cleared his throat. “A few months in the mines earns me enough to make it through my travels each year. I think you’ll be needing some company. Winter will break through before you reach your homeland.”
“Ah, Bron’s sturdy enough for the both of us.” Vermeesh laughed, but Wilhelm scowled at him.
Bronherrn looked from Vermeesh’s teasing face to Wilhelm’s stoic stare. In the latter, he found a striking resemblance to his father. “I could never refuse the blade of a friend.” He nodded at Vermeesh.
Wilhelm patted his back and they began their journey. They walked some time without a word. Trekking through the forest held new mystery. New colors painted dripped at the brush of the autumn. Bronherrn had planned to stay with the Ferillians until spring and wondered how long the weather could hold out.
The Zuthans have spoiled everything. He set his eyes ahead. They invaded my home, killed my father, and gave me a mangled body. A new anger welled inside.
The trees thinned. The ground inclined, allowing larger pockets of sunlight to shine on the grass sprouting between leaf cover. Progress did not cool his temper. He longed for the moment when he would step upon rocky land, imagined reaching his village. The waking dream was blurred with uncertainty.
Wilhelm moved along at a steady pace. Bronherrn appreciated the contemplative silence. They made camp and he remained too frustrated to converse. He left Wilhelm to his thoughts and lay down to give himself up to the nightmares of his past.
Flashes of Prillani’s striking features laughed at him as she led a new army in his direction. He kicked in his sleep. His hands twitched and his grip could not hold a sword in the horror of his mind. He cried out and finally awoke to a shooting pain crippling his fingers.
Oh Aethelwyn, what is it all for? He wondered. She would know what to do. Life felt like a dream after all he had seen.
He sat back leaning on his elbows and tilted his face to the stars. Aethelwyn’s deep violet eyes burned in his mind. Her midnight hair materialized on the wind and he leaned forward hoping she had come to him. The unearthly grace vanished with a grunt from Wilhelm the second he stired with the first light of morning.
Disappointed, Bronherrn began to ready himself for the day.
“We have many legs to travel.” Wilhelm fidgeted, as eager to continue as Bronherrn.
He didn’t respond. Instead of rekindling the fire, they packed what little they had and moved on.
A layer of dirt collected on Bronherrn’s boots. They grew heavier under the endless fog that descended. Bronherrn stomach gurgled. No time for food, he reminded himself.
He hoped to break away from the forest and reach higher ground in case the Zuthans had already come to track him down again. He glanced at Wilhelm. “I do not wish to lead the Zuthans to my people, but must give them a path to follow away from the Ferillians.”
Wilhelm nodded. A gust of wind blew Bronherrn’s wild locks about his face and scruffy beard. He had never heard Wilhelm sound so carefree.
“You look like a winter beast.” Wilhelm held out a string and gestured to his hair tied back.
Bronherrn shook his head. “Keep it.” He missed the chaotic freedom of his people.
“No worries my boy. We’ll swing wide and allow winter to bring its winds. It’ll make our way more perilous, but what are a couple of wayward travelers to a town of people?”
“I had planned to return sooner.” Bronherrn hesitated as Wilhelm took the lead.
The simple phrasing cut Bronherrn. They were as if spoken by his own father. He mused on the idea as they trekked through the woods. The days passed under this routine. Walk and camp, walk and camp. It reminded him of his father’s teachings. Certain lessons and words began to circle in his head. The closer Bronherrn felt to home, the more he craved what he had lost.
A blast of cold air rushed in one morning and Bronherrn’s senses pricked him. He grew overly cautious. Each sound followed them. He grew weary of the prolonged journey. Wilhelm reminded him more of his father each day, and he missed his mother’s guidance.
She must know something has gone awry. He envisioned her looking after his brothers. Alone. He longed to rush straight home.
The homesickness tore at him with the chill of the winds. They sang of winter’s cold, blew about chasing the golds and reds of the forest away. Determined not to freeze, he suggested skinning a few pelts for warmth. “We will need more than what we have and I am ready for a taste of some meat.”
Wilhelm smirked with amusement. “I was wondering when you were going to bring it up. Let’s take our positions then.”
With only their knives and Bronherrn’s fast legs, they split up to ambush any unknowing game. Bronherrn admired the creatures. He knew that no life would be wasted. It was a great sacrifice he revered.
Lying among a patch of wet leaves, he hid by an old rotted stump and waited. Wilhelm took up a spot further down the natural incline of the land. He would easily be able to pop up and catch a beast if Bronherrn led it with care.
Bronherrn’s feel for his surroundings offered him a hunter’s instinct akin to his warrior’s hand. He lay patiently as the day matured. He controlled his breathing awaiting opportunity. The cautious weight of a deer hoof reached his ears he smiled to himself. The closer it came, the faster his heart beat.
More light crunching noises sounded. A herd! He held his dagger close.
The deer continue to draw near and he glanced back to catch the legs of a doe step within arm’s reach. For a moment, he hesitated to strike. He had hoped for a buck, but the hunger aching within led his arm to slash out and he cut her down.
He leapt quickly and chased the herd to Wilhelm. Wilhelm missed the first one. The second doe attempted to change course and tripped, he ended her struggle fast.
Bronherrn wiped his brow and looked at the blood on his hands. When he returned his gaze to Wilhelm, he found a second slaughtered doe, but another froze trembling before the body.
He stared at the creature and bowed his head. “Off with you now.” He flung his arms out and shooed it away.
“We could’ve used a third.” Wilhelm grumbled and knelt beside his kill to clean it.
Bronherrn turned to cut up his own. “We will manage with two.” He felt more sensitive to the purpose of killing. Sometimes he had to end a life to ensure his own. It was such in battle, but a deer each would be plenty to feed and warm them for the time being.
He finished skinning the deer and Wilhelm came to his side crouching down. “We’ll camp there tonight.” He pointed up the hill with his knife.
Bronherrn stood and walked up to the edge of the forest, where the clearing broke into the rough mountainous terrain. The sky opened for him and his eyes watered as he breathed in the thin air.
Wilhelm followed and stretched while the sun began to sink into the peaks.
“Thank you.” Bronherrn met his friend’s eyes with gratitude.
“We’ll have you home soon enough.”
They struggled to light a fire, but finally kindled a spark and finished the task of readying their meat for roasting and smoking. Bronherrn brought up some dry logs and hung their deerskins where they would catch the smoke of the fire. He sat down to warm his bones and fill his belly as Wilhelm got a spit going.
Remembering that Wilhelm had his own route to take, Bronherrn asked, “How far are you planning to travel with me?”
“We’ll be parting ways soon. I do not intend to brave the heart of the mountains just as the season turns to freeze us. You certain you’ll be all right?”
“Of course. My people are well versed with the cold.” He gazed at the curving outline of the mountains as they touched the sky before them, unsure if he was truly ready to take on the elements at their worst. The hunt had distracted him for a time, but the thrill was beginning to wear off.
“You look like your father, you know.”
“How would you know?” Bronherrn studied Wilhelm’s long drawn out face.
“I chanced to drain a mug with him once during my travels. I have quite a mind for people, and he was definitely my equal.” Bronherrn watched the fire dance in Wilhelm’s eyes as he scratched his beard. Then Wilhelm leaned forward. “I do not forget those who remember me, Bron.”
“Nor I, Wilhelm. If we ever meet again, know that I am at your service.”