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Bronherrn walked along the outskirts of his familiar village. He had seen bloodshed, death, torture, and even love. He never imagined he would feel this way─not through any of his training.
He lurked on overgrown paths. He had no intention of coming upon anyone but his mother.
When he reached the field that led to his home, he looked upon the simple wooden structure, the place where he was born. He stared at the door. His feet would not move. How can I return after all that has happened? he thought.
A gentle breeze lifted the scent of wildflowers to his nose and reminded him of running through the field as a boy, how he had wished to grow and be like his father. Now he was very much like the legendary man, tall, muscular, and skilled in battle, but his transitioning into manhood had not been as he had dreamed.
“You grimy bastard,” Grimhelden cut into his thoughts from around the side of the house. He turned the corner and picked up his pace.
Bronherrn smiled and rushed toward his brother. “Helping mom tend things?”
“In exchange for my training. You were lucky having to take on the old man. He only wanted to fight.”
“Mom has always been more of a philosophical warrior.” Bronherrn laughed.
“Have we beaten the Zuthan dogs into submission?” Grimhelden leaned in with eager eyes.
Bronherrn scratched his head. He had hoped that some news made it back. Bronherrn held steady as his brother scowled. Bronherrn set his jaw allowing Grimhelden to move his focus from his mangled hands to the cuts on his face.
“Do you still cook as well as mom?” He jeer his brother back into lighter conversation.
Grimhelden’s features shifted over a familiar grin. “Come on. Let us get your insides filled.”
They entered the house and Bronherrn peered at its single room, the place he dreamt of returning to for so long. His mother stood at the table punching some dough. She scolded Druthleer for shirking his duties yet again, like always. Everything had changed and still he knew the scene so well.
“Look who turned up?” Grimhelden said.
Their mother turned. For a moment, she only stared at Bronherrn, but a hint of pride spread across her face. She did not question him or look past him for his father, just stood with a maternal gaze of relief.
It nearly broke Bronherrn’s heart. He slowly walked over to her and took her hand, leading her to sit on a nearby stool. Bowing before her he pulled out his long sword.
She kissed the steel. “You have suffered much.” She reached toward him and touched the scars on his face.
Bronherrn closed his eyes.
“And what of the others?” she asked.
Grimhelden and Druthleer gaped at him.
“They are all lost to us.”
She stared hard for only a second, then nodded.
“What do you mean brother? Who remains?” Grimhelden furrowed his brow.
Bronherrn felt more for his brother than his widowed mother. “Only that which you see now,” he answered.
“What of Wynell? What of our father?” Grimhelden shouted.
“Our father died by a trick of the Zuthan priests that led me to unknowingly cut him down.”
Druthleer looked between him and Grimhelden. It made Bronherrn stand taller.
He was the man of the house now. He cast a glare at Grimhelden and told all. He explained how Aethelwyn defeated the Zuthan priests only after he was captured and everyone was killed. Not stopping there, he described his life in the dungeons and how Prillani had helped him escape before turning on him.
Grimhelden narrowed his eyes. He sucked on his upper lip. He went for the door and grabbed his sword.
“Where are you going?” Bronherrn called out.
“To meet you at sword’s edge.” Grimhelden stalked off.
Bronherrn could feel his mother’s disapproval through her sigh. He swallowed hard and stomped after his brother. If Grimhelden needed a fight, he would allow him one. Bronherrn wished to construct some conversation, but he had grown tired from the journey. He had dreamt of home for so long that he sneered while Grimhelden took his stance.
A rumble shook Bronherrn’s empty stomach and he ached to resolve this quickly. Moving in, he circled his brother. His boot squished in the mud under the new spring grasses.
Druthleer called out to them, but their mother stopped him. “Give them their moment. They need to battle it out.”
Her words eased Bronherrn enough. He relaxed his shoulders and looked on Grimhelden with a paternal love. “I understand you are angry. I miss him too.”
Grimhelden stumbled, slashing without control. “I knew he would die fighting.”
“Then why this display?” Bronherrn stepped back.
“She was not ready.” Grimhelden thrust forward.
Parrying his brother’s move, Bronherrn scowled. “Wynell?”
Grimhelden’s glare darkened.
Bronherrn raised his eyeborws and nodded. “Wynell made her own way. She died with courage.” Tapping Grimhelden lightly, he knocked his brother with his sword.
“She was just a girl.” Grimhelden attacked again. He swung, knocked, and pushed against Bronherrn’s weapon.
“Not your girl. She sat at Danarrus’ side.” He breathed heavy. “And now he lies with her forever.” Bronherrn allowed his brother to fume, only blocking the ill-timed moves.
Grimhelden kept on until he could barely hold his weapon steady.
“We lost everybody, boy. Wynell was one of many.” Bronherrn finally ended the conversation by throwing down his sword and stalking back into the house. He found the water jug, swallowed its entire contents and then went back out to meet the open air.
He had avoided the truth for ages. The Ferillian mines once offered the perfect distraction, but now it was as if every warrior who fell stared back at him from the shadows. He clutched his stomach and dropped to his kneed.
“You did your best.” His mother covered him with a blanket.
He ripped it off and stood. He panted at her for a moment before turning to leave.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“I must now do my duty and deliver the news.”
“Not on an empty stomach.” She went to the table to grab a hunk of bread, but he stomped away.
“Food comes after mourning.”
Bronherrn shared in his people’s grief. Everyone sought him, eager to offer a bite of something or a mug of ale. He dreaded being the only survivor, but it did not weigh on his conscience so much as it did his courage.
It took him days before he could go to Wynell’s parents. They were most understanding, but her brother refused to say anything to Bronherrn. He merely glared from the shadows in the corner of the room.
Bronherrn preferred this to the outright wailing of Danarrus’s mother. He hesitated before entering the familiar abode, but his best friend needed to be honored. The words came out so low he wished they weren’t real. Danarrus’s mother cried out, “What am I to do now?”
She was left with two daughters to care for. They cried with her, but not as violently. “I cannot ever forget all your family has done for me.” He thought of his friend and his father’s companion. “Someday we shall find peace knowing that our loved ones died protecting our way of life.”
His comments seemed meaningless in wake of her misery, but there was nothing else he could offer. It numbed him as he went house to house.
Once everyone was notified, they looked to him for guidance. It never occurred to Bronherrn that most of the elder warriors were gone. He could not avoid the trustful eyes that followed him everywhere he went. I am no hero, he told himself. The only reason I still live is because I was captured.
Bronherrn desired to find guidance. He wished to ask his mother, but she had so many new responsibilities. Her skills would be needed soon, so he left her to her own devices.
This led him to seek out the only two remaining elder warriors. Aged relics, they sat wrinkled and weakened with time. Despite their frail frames, Bronherrn respected them and knew they could offer some help. The two never left each other and could always be found at the tavern.
“Ah, young Bronherrn has returned.” Raeimo nudged Cerlias and lifted his mug when Bronherrn stepped into their favorite place to drink and tell stories.
Bronherrn watched Cerlias attempt to place him. The poor fool had been out of commission for years due to the loss of many functions, the main one being his ability to decipher the past from the future. Bronherrn moved across the creaky floor and sat the little round table with them.
“You remember Bronherrn?” Raeimo urged his companion.
Bronherrn smiled. “I am Brackliem’s son.”
“Brackliem! Oh, that young lad will earn his place with us some day.”
“Best get with speaking.” Raeimo set the cloudy mixture of his dull hazel eyes on Bronherrn. “He shall go on all day if you do not make a point.”
“We have lost many warriors.” Bronherrn could not bring himself to admit that he and the few fighters who had abstained from battle were the only ones remaining. He sat silent trying to find the best way to explain the predicament. “I fear that we are vulnerable. The Zuthans seem determined to break into the pass.”
Raeimo slammed his palm on the table with a bellow that made the lines around his eyes dance with joy. “I hate peace! We are a fighting people and war keeps us right.”
“You are only excited because you cannot lift a sword any longer and wish to die,” Cerlias said coming back to the present.
Bronherrn looked to Cerlias and found a spark of wisdom shining from his old eyes. “You shall do what must be done because there is no other way.” Cerlais winked.
“I am sure that will keep the Zuthan dogs off our land.” Raeimo laughed at his friend, but Bronherrn heeded the words.
He stared at Cerlias. “Did you ever venture to The Otherworld?”
Cerlias sat back and nodded. Serenity crept into his features. “You learn to feel things after spending enough time there.”
“Enough foolishness.” Raeimo slapped Bronherrn’s back. “You are a born leader. I saw it ever since you were a sprout. We are unable to lead, so it is up to you to raise an army and make your father proud.”
Bronherrn stared at the table. He picked at a splintered end. “Do you… do you truly believe that I can do it?”
“Who cares what anyone believes.” Raeimo laughed. “We all do what we must, and you must do this.”
“Who is this strange lad?” Cerlais cocked his head at Bronherrn.
Despite the sorrow Bronherrn felt for the old warrior, he realized how desperate his people would become if their vulnerability was discovered. He did not know if Raeimo knew his father had fallen, but he appreciated the elder’s approval. It reminded him of who he was and what his father would want.