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Summer came and Bronherrn did not feel much older. After battle, experience clung to him like a mantle of ageless discontent. Years to come or years past were not his focus.
He grew frustrated at the impotent lands that barely produced for the Zuthans. At the first crops’ harvest he could not appreciate the lengths Prillani went to in order to humble herself as she bent her grand frame to pick what little crop had grown for the farmers. He smiled at the gesture.
It lightened the flame of disappointment, but could not extinguish it. “I have seen you take down full grown men. Pick faster,” he said to Prillani through clenched teeth.
She slowly straightened herself to her full height and turned the dark depths of her eyes on him. The heat of her glare made him realize he should not have spoken in anger, but his temper flared when she picked up a rotten tomato and threw it at him. “Do not forget who you are talking to. I am not one of your warriors. I am doing my best.”
He caught the wasted food and squeezed it in his hands letting the putrid juices leak on his skin. “Your best would starve us all.” He swallowed hard.
The eyes of the harvesters peered at him. A pang of foolishness pinched his rationale. “And do not waste food. The hogs eat what we cannot and some of it will do well to go back into the ground.”
Prillani walked the rows of ailing stalks. The farmers moved out of her way before she could reach Bronherrn. Instead of shouting back or sending him threats, she smiled sweetly and leaned in to barely brush the skin where his jaw line met his ear. “Do not forget who I am. Your pride cannot outweigh mine. We are all hurting. I need an equal. Respect me as your Chieftess and be my Chief, or return home ready for the repercussions.”
She pulled up her skirt and glided back to her work leaving him to brood. He fumed over her condescension.
I shall not be treated like a dog. His rage built as he mulled over her forceful words. They were dominating, but honest. Fierce, but true. She cannot train me like a mule.
He stomped as far out into the fields as he could, making sure to turn his back on her. He leaned down and worked with more effort as if attempting to force the soil to offer plentiful crops by sheer will alone. The hungry eyes of the children he had seen followe him with each movement. He found his brothers’ faces in them, the hope of the young who watched him leave for battle in the mountains.
Prillani left him to his work for the rest of the day and he was glad for it. He did not want to admit he had been too hard on her. He needed someone to blame, and if he couldn’t blame her, then he must blame himself.
He pulled and plucked until his hands throbbed with cuts. The nubs of his middle fingers were numb by the time he returned home with Prillani. The heat of their walk back weighed on him, it stirred his frustrations as if preparing for an explosion.
Before he could retire to his room, he was forced to sit before a newly prepared meal. He felt cold in his hand carved chair accepting wine. His thirst needed quenching, but when the meat tray was placed on the table, all he could see were the bones of a starving people. No amount of nourishment could quell the anger he harbored. He broke off a piece of bread and tried to enjoy the grainy texture, but even that felt like a selfish act.
He sat in silence drinking his wine and glaring at the food on the massive table. How could two people have so much when hundreds were going without? It did not seem honorable. He emptied his cup and wiped his mouth.
Prillani glared at him when he stood to leave. Before he could stomp back to his room, she followed. “We need to discuss some things.”
He set his jaw. “There is nothing left to say.”
She slid her chair out in one fluid motion. “Not here. In the garden.”
A tenderness of her tone swayed him. He nodded and turned on his heel refusing to wait for her. Chieftess or none, he would not allow her to control everything. Once she caught up to him, his frustrations mounted. “They work so hard with barely a life in return. How can you stand it?”
Prillani walked behind him and rubbed his back. She gestured for him to sit with her on a familiar stone bench. “It is my duty.”
“Duty? To sit in luxury while others wait to die?”
“I do what is expected of me.”
Bronherrn sighed. “The people have no expectations. They are too busy working to survive.”
Prillani stiffened. Her breathing grew heavy and her eyes hardened. She stood before him and stared down for a moment. “I struggle with it too. My father left me with a great many obligations, an entire land full of people, wanting.” She stepped back, lip quivering.
“I apologize.” Bronherrn jumped up and grasped her hand. She did not move as he placed it to his lips. “What you inherited is unfair. It is not you I doubt, it is this place, this life.”
“Now you understand how my father grew to be so cold.”
Bronherrn struggled to battle his prejudices. He tilted his head to the side and scanned the garden with its perfectly manicured flowers just revealing their hidden beauties in the swaying rainbow of their petals.
Prillani leaned against him. The pressure of her body eased the whirlwind of hatred brewing within. He gave in to her warmth and slid his hands down her back.
She tried to pull away but he tightened his grip. “If this is what our married life will be like, we must find a way to keep from growing cold.” He pressed his lips to hers.
She relaxed into his touch. In the comfort of her caresses, a thought graced him. He let it simmer as they mingled their breaths. He laughed to himself.
“What is it?” Prillani asked.
“No, it would not be right.”
“Tell me.” Her dark eyelashes fluttered and he felt that she already knew. He feared he would not be able to keep anything to himself once they were married.
Rubbing his palm on her cheek, he tightened his hold on her with his other hand. “The field beside the Cassani River, it is a lush land, a perfect setting with a flowing water source.”
“The former battleground?” She stared at him.
“Would it be wrong?”
She stroked his hand. “If you mean to allow my people to settle at the foot of the Ultain Mountains, I could see no better tribute to peace.”
He kissed her with a slow softness.
Prillani blushed. “Do you know why I wore the dress from your mother that first night? When I returned to my people with you?”
He shook his head.
“Your anger at my rich robes had a profound effect on me. Even now I do my best to choose less elegant garb in honor of my people, in honor of you.”
This revlation tugged at Bronherrn’s heart. He picked Prillani up and carried her back into the palace.
“What are you doing?” She laughed clinging to him.
“I may have yet to earn my place in your bed, but tonight you are welcome to share mine.”