My classic sword and sorcerer adventure is available chapter by chapter every Friday as a free gift to you, my awesome readers!
Finding a Way
The towering hills of the mountainous Ultains offered comfort from the summer’s heat. Light winds swept against the warriors. They left their town nearly deserted, but for the few who remained to care for the young and old.
It had been so long since Bronherrn faced a Zuthan he craved battle. He worked to focus on what truly mattered, It is more than that now. I must protect my warriors.
They trudged through the mountains with little trouble. The pass lay clear and calm. Measly plants grew in the corners welcomed him after having traveled through winter storms. It looked to be a quick journey ─ as long as the younger warriors were able to keep up.
A younger boy took a spill and his mother tended him. When Bronherrn backtracked to check on the lad, Shanal blocked his way. “You remain at the head and keep us moving. This is not for you to trifle with.”
“They are all my warriors.” He attempted to push her aside, but she got low and dispersed her weight enough to lean into him with force.
His mother lowered her voice, “Concern yourself with our entire band. It is up to you to deliver us through the pass. Lead us. Let us do the rest.”
Too many pairs of eyes looked to Bronherrn. He nodded and moved back in front.
Mourack reached his side. He had Wynell’s wagging tongue. So many statements and questions. Bronherrn grumbled at some of the babblings, but it brought back memories, sacred-images of Wynell and his brother entertaining him with their childish ways. He glanced about to find his brother a few paces, lagging.
I never had a chance to console him, Bronherrn mused. He sighed to himself and the sweet strains of his mother’s voice lifted above his thoughts. She sang out a beloved Ultainian ode, as familiar as their homeland. Every voice began to rise through the ranks until Bronherrn’s heart filled with hope and he added his own voice:
The wind doth blow
In my cold high home
And here I do feel at peace,
For in that gale
Lies the song o’dale
That comes to sing on a breeze.
Oh I may roam
Far beyond my home
But my heart will never cease,
To listen well
As the skies doth tell
That my soul has much to feast.
The song repeated and ended. A hush fell over the party and only the beat of their pulsing steps sounded. Bronherrn absorbed the quiet. He allowed it to encompass him. He anticipated many war cries that would echo through the future.
Reality struck his senses. His gaze diverted to a crevice he looked over before. Something in its shadow made him stop. He walked up to the rocky wall and he placed his hand on the bumpy surface.
“What are you seeking?” His mother stepped forward.
He leaned his mangled ear against the formation and tapped his knuckles against it. Calling for his brother and some others, he chipped at the area. His mining days were behind him, but he would never forget the value of a good pickaxe. The surrounding rock crumbled. Chunks of the wall slid down covering Bronherrn’s feet. He stepped over the mess and the crevice opened.
Peering in, a tunnel long enough to fill with total blackness sent a mixture of inspiration and dread through Bronherrn’s body. He backed away when he spotted a greyish figure, close enough to the daylight to make out something, but far enough that it lay indecipherable. Bronherrn called for a torch. He could not tear his eyes from the passage.
His chest ached. He held his breath. Pronlado’s face appeared in the inky dwelling and Bronherrn stepped back. Something scorched his arm and he spun around to meet Mourack holding a torch out to him. “My apologies.”
Bronherrn laughed, unsure of himself. He grasped the end of the torch and directed it into the tunnel. Pronlado was not there.
Get your head right, Bronherrn told himself. He blinked and stepped in to illuminate the debris.
A few paces in, the haunting figure of a skeleton lay reaching for freedom. Bronherrn stepped over to the bones and lowered his torch over them. They were chipped away. Broken pieces stuck up in the most unnatural positions.
“Mother,” Bronherrn called over his shoulder. “Stand watch while we explore.” He gestured for his brother and Mourack. “You two.”
He eyed Shanal, and her daughters. No one hesitated. Their strength gave him heart. “Have you ever heard the Tale of Rennerce?”
Shanal furrowed her brow and stared beyond. “A long time ago.”
Bronherrn placed each step with care. The musty smell reminded him of the Zuthan dungeons. He shuddered. His throat closed up, and he shut his eyes, forcing himself to move further on. He gagged and coughed in the dirty air.
Shanal steadied him. “You believe this a passage of the lost people?”
“What people?” Mourack asked.
His ignorance aided Bronherrn. He must educate the others and utilize their finding for a greater purpose. He straightened his back and led them far enough to meet a crossroads deep inside the dark recesses before them. “There is a tale of a people who lived underground to hide from their enemies.”
Mourack stared at the clay moldings that adorned the walls.
Bronherrn marveled at the artistry even in the shadows. Something brewed within him. His thoughts whirled, and all his plans changed.
Bronherrn focused his mind and called on Aethelwyn.
“I suspected you would call.” The curves of her body came into focus appearing against the rocky backdrop guarding the path.
He smirked at her words, but tightened his mouth when he realized the importance of the situation. “There is much to be done.” He led her up the path. She followed with express intent. Struggling to stay on task, he informed her of every detail, but the most important aspect rested on her abilities.
Aethelwyn closed her eyes. “The last time I offered my powers your warriors perished.”
“Untrue.” He stamped his foot. “You saved me from frozen death. You lent me Xanthu when I escaped the Zuthans. Your powers are more important than ever.”
“Even if they destroy you?”
Bronherrn sighed. “This is a simple task. It is not meant for the heat of battle. It is a ploy to prevent attack.”
She gaped at him.
Never did he believe himself capable of intriguing her. He leaned in, waiting.
“I shall do my part.” She bowed.
He regaled her with every detail. He worked to give her all she needed to be as informed as he was. It swayed her. “So, we will lead them into the tunnel, and see them buried like Rennerce’s cursed progeny.”
He nodded. The apprehension in her posture slipped away and they set to organizing the others.
When all was prepared, she nodded at him and disappeared to project her image over the wandering goats that grazed at the foot of the mountains on the wild field before the Cassani River. Bronherrn held steady. He stood before his resting warriors and imagined Aethelwyn drawing the goats toward the hidden path. He envisioned Zuthan eyes prying close by. Witnessed them moving forward
“Patience boy. Keep your nerves.” Instead of trying to convince him to let her stand watch, his mother stood close. She allowed the quiet to envelop them and stars poked through the darkening sky.
Her calm breathing relaxed him. She was incomparable. His mother leaned against a boulder, hand ready at her sword. They guarded the area through the night. Every second slithered like a snake in shadow.
He ordered everyone awake before the first rays of morning shone through. A high-pitched rushing of the summer breeze whistled against the peaks. Behind the gust a deep thrumming rhythm began to grow. Bronherrn recognized that march. The Zuthans were drawing near. Disgusted to have them in his land he estimated at least a dozen Zuthans disgraced the pass with their presence.
He never moved from his position, but called out orders. He could not step away from his post. He would block their enemy himself if he had to. Once his warriors fell into position, he gestured for them to hold steady.
The muffled drumming of feet grew. It pounded closer and closer. Bronherrn watched for the first foot to come in sight. He whooped his battle cry and sprang upon the foe.
The clash of his steel met a morning star. He dodged, throwing his shield up. He stepped back and lowered his arm. “Prillani?”
Her warriors rushed into the tunnel, led by Aethelwyn’s illusions. But Bronherrn stood staring at the woman before him.
No longer decked in a man’s garb, she donned well-fitting armor made to breathe and compliment her feminine movements. His heart thudded against his chest. Flashes of her fists, her mouth, her taunts, rushed through his mind and he lunged forward. All around him the sound of battle grew. Bronherrn lost focus and slashed at her.
She blocked his efforts.
“Fight me,” he said gnashing his teeth. He lost sight of the plan. It was no longer his burden.
“Stop it, you child,” she shouted at him as he continued to provoke her with his blows.
“Why for? I will not be lured back into your father’s dungeon.” He cut the air so close to her face he could taste her spilled blood.
“That is not my purpose!” She dodged him again.
“Your words have no worth.” Bronherrn leapt closer and struck, ready to cut Prillani’s flesh, but she spun around him.
Before she could respond, Aethelwyn appeared. Her goddess-like presence reminded Bronherrn of his purpose. His heart steadied under her glowing light. Aethelwyn’s hair twirled around her arms like a snake. She extended her hands down as if to call from beneath. The ground under their feet shook, and Bronherrn darted his eyes to the tunnel with a smirk.
His people remained standing under Aethelwyn’s protection. But Prillani stumbled to the ground. A rumbling grew from the depths of the land.
Zuthan men cried out. Their braying cries echoed far into the mountains as the passage filled in.
Bronherrn sheathed his sword with a triumphant swing of his arm.
“No!” Prillani screamed running to the site. She clawed at handfuls of the dirt and rock, dug her fingers into the mess until they bled.
Bronherrn walked over to stoop beside her. “You wished to learn our secrets.”
She turned on him, eyes ablaze. She knocked her knuckles against his cheek. Punched under his chin and swept the breath from his throat. “We came here for peace, you stupid brute!”
He coughed wheezing for air. His mother ran before him holding her sword to Prillani’s neck. “What peace?”
“Do not listen to her.” Bronherrn panted. “She is a cunning liar.”
“I set you free.” Prillani leapt forward to push his mother aside.
His mother grasped her buit Prillani kicked him between the legs. The blow forced more air from Bronherrn’s lungs. He worked to gain control of his breath and glared as his mother worked to reason with the enemy. “Forgive my son. He is a great warrior, but a warrior at heart.”
“She is her father’s dog.” He leered at Prillani.
“My father is dead.” She sank to the ground.
Bronherrn snorted with disdain. He clenched his teeth. “I owe the Gods much thanks, if I believe you.” He grew aware of the silence surrounding him. The hues of every eye nearly swirled together in one big question. He scratched his head trying to remember that he was now an elder warrior and must lead. “Dead. For how long?”
Prillani scowled at him. “He had knowledge that it was coming for some time. I believe that is why he made one more attempt of war against your people. But at his last, I received his blessing to merge the two lands. I was to be yours if you so desired.”
Bronherrn shifted his stance and leaned in. “Mine? Like a slave?
His mother snorted.
Prillani growled. “Like a wife.”
He chuckeled. “You wish me to wed you?”
“Bronherrn.” His mother snapped with eyebrows furrowed.
He set his jaw. He scanned Prillani’s face to find some hint of treachery. Some lie painted in the smooth cream of her skin.
She shook her head. “You have ruined everything. I recruited my most trusted subjects to accompany me to offer myself and now they lay here.” She looked to the rubble.
Bronherrn studied her posture as she drooped before him. He had seen her lower herself before in the dungeons. It no longer pleased him. She gaped with pain. Danger.
The possibility of merging the lands never occurred to him. For as long as he could remember, everyone spoke of the feud between the two peoples. But to take her for a wife? He looked for Aethelwyn, who had vanished. Everything rested on his answer and the pressure of his warriors’ eyes built on him.
“If I agree, would you still have me?” he asked.
His mother stood and called the warriors away leaving them some privacy. Bronherrn breathed with relief awaiting Prillani’s answer.
She brushed off her boots and stood to meet his eyes with a fierce glare. “If is not an offer.”
He admired her strength. It reminded him of the days when she had almost been his equal, on and off the battlefield. He curved one corner of his mouth and gazed at the light reflecting in her eyes. It reminded him of the torchlight that had danced across her face when he told her stories in the dungeon.
He hated that dungeon before, but a longing rose in Prillani’s face. Her gaze made him re-evaluate everything. She came to me in the dungeons. She kept me alive with more than just food.
Leaning in, he touched her face. She swiped at his hand, but he caught her wrist. “I mean you no harm.”
She relaxed her arm and he leaned in to kiss her. The warmth of her lips against his reawakened forgotten feelings. He pulled her closer and she sank against his body.
When he loosened his grip, she blinked rapidly and pulled away. “There is much to prepare. You are required to journey to my lands.”
“You cannot lure me into another trap.” He sent her a sideways stare.
“You shall have all your warriors accompany you if you deem it necessary. It is the custom of my people that any outsider must live within our land for a full turn of seasons before they are allowed to wed a Zuthan.”
He blew out a puff of air and glanced back at his mother. She nodded.
“And you must meet my sisters.” Prillani offered a slight smile.
“Sisters? I had no idea you had sisters.”
“You never asked.” She crossed her arms in one haughty movement. “You were more concerned about your own people.”
“I have much to learn.” He said and then thought for a moment. “Tell me of your mother, I am intrigued to hear of a woman who would dare sit at a monster’s side.”
He blocked Prillani’s angry fist before she could strike. She moved to hit him again. His skin still throbbed from her last attack. He grasped her hand tightly for a moment and eyed her.
Prillani sighed. “That is twice I have allowed you contain me. It shall not happen again.”
He released her. “Stop battling me and there will be no need.”
“All you wanted was a fight!”
“And now we are discussing marriage.”
Prillani threw her head back and growled. “A marriage I now despise.”
Pain erupted in his chest and he realized she would make him a good match. He had no wish to let her go. He stood tall and moved in. She stepped back until her body pressed against the rock wall.
Bronherrn stopped before her and grasped her hand. “Prillani, you and I met under the untimeliest of circumstances. We now have the opportunity to change that.”
She did not draw back. Her breath shook as she inhaled. He found a tenderness behind her hard stare. “Please, tell me of your mother.”
Prillani looked beyond him as if to find the words. “She was said to be very beautiful. I hardly remember her. She died giving birth to my little brother.”
Bronherrn tilted his head. “So Pronlado does have a son.”
“Did,” she said. “He was a weak little thing. I always believed that he died in need of our mother’s love.” She brushed a rogue strand of hair from her face. “Then my father remarried and I was graced with three younger sisters.”
“And what of your new mother? Does she approve of your move for peace?”
“She fell ill just before you were captured. I believe her death led my father to show you mercy.”
“Mercy?” Bronherrn jerked back. “I was tortured. These shall not grow back.” He held up his hands and wiggled the cut fingertips.
Prillani reached out and kissed them both. “It may have been far worse.”
“We have made nice?” his mother interrupted them.
Bronherrn bit the inside of his cheek at the intrusion. “Yes mother.” He grew hot with embarrassment.
“Mother?” Prillani gasped. “This is your mother, the great Mara?”
“I do not remember my name ever causing so much ruckus.” His mother laughed.
Prillani rushed to her. “Your son has told me of your wonders.”
Bronherrn shrugged at his mother’s look of amazement. “Bronherrn? I never knew you to speak so freely with the ladies.”
He scowled. “Yes, well, given the circumstances.”
“You are to unite the lands.” She nodded. “I never thought it possible.”