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A New Army
The next morning, Bronherrn sat up and pulled on his leather pants. He stared at his armor resting against the wall. The sword looked dull next to the new plates, but it was all he would need. He doubted any of the new fighters would be able to best him. He grabbed his weapon and took up his shield.
“Come, eat.” His mother stared at him from the hearth as she fried some eggs.
“Not today. I cannot stomach eating.”
She nodded and he walked out the door to find a scattered group of puny faces waiting for him. Grimhelden stood at the head of the group. He looked to Bronherrn, “We are prepared.”
“I shall see.” Bronherrn led them away from the house attempting to allow the golden light of a new day clear his broken thoughts. There were more than he expected. He decided the best way to introduce this group and boys and young women was to set them up with one-on-one sparring first.
He paired everyone up then stared at the shabby group. Drawing from the days when his father scrutinized his every move, he told them, “This will be your sparring partner until I say otherwise. We all know each other so there is no shame in falling. Everything starts here.”
He imagined Danarrus jabbing at wildflowers and blocking high gales when they were young. His friend’s absence grew more momentous while looking over these new pupils.
Unsure of what he was doing, Bronherrn turned his back on them and closed his eyes. The great winds stilled his mind. When he turned to watch the duels, he found his mother had come out to watch. Her hopeful eyes comforted him.
“Stall your swords.” He stepped before them. “In order to fight, you must first learn control.” He lunged forward. “Like so.”
They gaped at him.
He gestured for everyone to lunge forward and hold a steady position. “If you can remain like stone, you can have patience in battle. I know it’s frustrating. Fighting is about action, but I made plenty of mistakes rushing with anger in battle.”
His students followed better than he expected. With each lesson he grew more confidentin them. Every day the sun burned brighter. Bronherrn took pride in their slow progress, but they lacked something. He could not pinpoint it.
After days of mulling it over, he went to his mother, keeping a close eye on the duals before them. “They are missing something.”
She stared ahead with a slight nod of agreement. Wisps of hair blew about her braids to dance on the breeze.
“I cannot figure it out.” He grunted.
“They need more insight.”
“What could offer more insight than our exercises and friendly battles?”
She eyed him with a flash of intelligence and jumped up. “Keep watch. I shall return.”
Bronherrn staring at her as she left him to oversee the fighting in the blaze of heat. He could not comprehend where she was going or what she could possibly bring back to improve the lessons. While he waited, he tried not to give much notice to Grimhelden’s efforts in the field. Despite his wish to be fair and offer everyone an equal chance at earning their rights to fight, Grimhelden displayed a determination that reminded Bronherrn of their father. He was the first to answer and the last to leave every day. It did not make him the strongest or the most skilled, but it made Bronherrn proud.
His thoughts were interrupted when his mother returned with company. He found it hard to swallow as Danarrus’s mother stepped up to him. “You remember, Shanal?” His mother raised her eyebrows.
“I hope you do not mind me bringing my daughters, Pherlis, and Virayn.” Shanal stood firm.
Bronherrn eyed her daughters. They were like little babies when he last saw them, but now they were taller, more fit. The pain of seeing them without Tommerald and Danarrus cut into him. A crushing guilt began to sweep through his sides.
He found it difficult to look at Shanal. He regretted breathing in her presence. If I had not snuck to the battlefield to my father, Danarrus would never have followed me or stayed to fight. He may still be alive. There was no escaping the blame.
Shanal’s gaunt figure stood before him, pale and aged. The worry lines on her face did not detract from her beauty, but emphasized the grief that preserved her loss. It taunted Bronherrn and he struggled with his conscience as Shanal’s daughters stood before them.
“They wish to train with you.” His mother gestured at Pherlis and Virayn.
His tongue dried up in his mouth.
“Bronherrn, Shanal and I understand the nature of war. The suffering ends. Victory is what matters.”
He scratched at the prickles on his chin.
“They will join the others after we demonstrate a true fight.” She nodded at Shanal.
Bronherrn was forced to look at Shanal. “Are you prepared?”
She untied the lacing at her sleeve and revealed the warrior’s mark. “If we are to find victory, these children will need more understanding.”
He held in a chuckle. “I do not intend to let anyone else fall.”
“And I have never blame you. It is the Zuthans I wish to punish.”
A smile curled his lips. “Your skills are much needed.”
“Let us not waste any more time.” Shanal approached the field.
The young fighters slowed their sparring when Bronherrn and his mother drew near. He raised his hands to gain their attention, “Hold your weapons. You have made many improvements, but it is no secret that you lack the proper skills.”
The disappointment that swept through the young faces struck Bronherrn. He glimpsed Grimhelden’s bowed head and aimed his words in his brother’s direction, “Even so, I believe you all have the ability to become great warriors. My mother, Mara, and her friend, Shanal, have come to display their own style of fighting. Today offers a different kind of lesson. One you must absorb with your eyes to understand.”
He went to join the others. His mother took her position before Shanal. The wonder of the rare spar caught Bronherrn’s full attention. He winced to see his mother strike first. Shanal parried and lunged forward to counter, but his mother jumped back.
Both women grinned at each other. They continued to attack with well-known moves, but struck with more energy than expected. Each blow grew more intense, along with their movements. Bronherrn’s mother rolled forward and knocked Shanal down. Shanal’s sword fell from her hand. She struggled to grasp it, picked it up with the hilt pointing upward, and delivered a blow to his mother’s face.
Bronherrn reminded himself that they were the true elder warriors, though they refused to accept the title. Unable to contain his anxiety, he averted his eyes. The grunts and cries from the women taxed his nerves. Glancing at the young faces beside him, he studied their transfixed expressions. In his fighters’ eyes, he saw a hunger for glory. Whatever they were witnessing gave them the desire they needed to grow into true warriors.
Searching his brother’s face, a slight spark beamed with life, but something else hung there. It reminded Bronherrn of Grimhelden’s previous apprehension. His brother almost cast a look of disdain on the display before him. Fearing that something had gone wrong, he darted his stare back to his mother, but she and Shanal stood panting. Shanal held out her sword and his mother pressed hers to it with a carnivorous smile. Her face was wild with the fierce love of battle.
They both sauntered over with a regal air. The young warriors gaped in awe. “That is how we best our opponents,” Shanal spoke said.
“And you will.” Bronherrn marveled at his mother. She considered every pair of eyes before her.
“Best get back to what you know,” Bronherrn called out and walked along as his pupils spread out once again. He assessed them with each footfall. They stood as if contemplating each move. Something in what they had witnessed aided their abilities.
Rumors of his mother’s spar with Shanal swept fast. A few more seasoned women warriors came to join in, easing Bronherrn’s heavy heart. They had left battle to raise families, take care of their homes; they may have been out of practice but they were hungry for their right to the battlefield.
Bronherrn appreciated their skills. He aided where needed, but continued to focus on the inexperienced youths. Pherlis and Virayn diligently trained for him while their mother stood watching over their progress. It twisted his stomach, but the girls were fast learners. It was not until Wynell’s brother wandered onto the field that Bronherrn began to forgive himself.
“I am, Mourack.”
“I remember you.” Bronherrn looked the boy over. “I’m sorry we didn’t really get introduced in a friendlier way.”
“Warriors learn as they need.” Goat hair clung to Mourack’s clothes.
The same stench that had once offended his senses now warmed Bronherrn. “You will learn just how right you are someday, I fear.” He gestured for the boy to join the others.
Over time, he looked upon each student as family. He felt bonded to them in a new way. It had a different feel than his attachment to the warriors he had fought beside under his father’s command. Deeper. These were his soldiers. They would fight for him, die for him.
The possibility of losing any of them haunted him as he stood beside his mother in the summer heat. He scanned the odd troop and admired Shanal while she instructed a young girl.
The leathern coverings on those who had never tasted blood caused Bronherrn to sigh under the glare of sunlight reflecting off his plates of armor and that of other seasoned warriors. His pupils were finally growing skilled enough to nick him. They were transforming into real warriors, a trained army.
“I can see your father smiling on us.” His mother did not often speak of his father, but something was building in the air.
He could feel it. “It is all I wish for.”
“I have enough trust in you that I have decided to allow Druthleer to also train.”
Bronherrn stepped back, unable to keep from pinching his face tight. “He is too young. Do you wish for me to have his death on my conscience as well?”
“He will train, not battle.” His mother lowered her voice, “Bronherrn, you cannot carry the weight of your father’s death until your own.”
“I shall feel it until I breathe my last.”
“My son, you were no more at fault than I am.”
He gritted his teeth and jerked his head back. “You had nothing to do with it.”
“If I had joined you, I could have been there to interfere.”
Bronherrn scoffed at her. “You probably would have died too. And what about my brothers?”
She grabbed his ear in a quick grip and pulled his head close to her lips. “Hear me now boy, we all make choices. Yours did not kill your father.”
She released him and Bronherrn rubbed his ear.
“We do not have much longer to wait,” she said.
He sucked in a deep breath and looked out to the field, heavy with sword hands swinging. Soon the warriors holding those blades would have to know the cloak of blood that accompanied battle.