My classic sword and sorcerer adventure is available chapter by chapter every Friday as a free gift to you, my awesome readers!
Bronherrn prepared to return home. It was a temporary journey to gain his people’s aid in building new dwellings near the Ultain pass. His Zuthan warriors were good men. They had earned his trust, but they were not his kind. Their hearts were made of something different and he could not bring himself to allow them through the pass. Not yet.
“You shall to travel alone?”
He refused to meet Prillani’s scrutiny and kicked a rock out of his way at her question. “It must be done. For now.”
“What is it about us that you cannot trust?”
The word “us” struck him as if it were a battle-axe. Griping both of her hands he pulled her closer. “You have my full confidence. You will be my wife. I would take you without a thought, but─”
“But I must stay for my people.”
“Our people,” he said.
“You have yet to accept the mixing of both cultures. Go. I will do what I have always done. I will take care of things on my own.” Her parting kiss sent a chill from his mouth down his throat. The fresh wound seeped into his mind and he pushed ahead.
No amount of sweat trickling over his sunburnt skin could slow him. He needed to reach his mother. To consult her and the elders.
When he returned to describe his experiences, his mother placed a mug of ale and a plate of meat before him. She stood watching as he shoved the food in his mouth. She brushed a few loose strands of hair away from her face listening to him go on about his troubles.
He finished and she looked about the room. “Your father did not always assure me of his affections, but he never had to. I knew where I belonged. Prillani is young and nervous. You are a fighter at heart and this peace is something that leaves you feeling useless.”
“How did father cope with the treaty all those years?”
“He worked. Told stories. Waited to train you for your worst days.”
Bronherrn attempted to envision a world that would become his life if no more battles were fought. It left a dull ache at the back of his head and he stood. “Thank you mother.” He kissed her forehead and went to find Raeimo and Cerlias.
Bronherrn craved the lively welcome of the tavern and trudged the path until it led past the courtyard and through the doorway of the darkened room that housed the elders’ favorite haunt. Raeimo hunched over a table sipping a mug by himself.
Bronherrn stopped in the doorway. His eyes lingered on the empty chair across from Raeimo where Cerlias should have been.
Before he could ponder the possibility of Cerlias’s absence, Raeimo lowered his mug and shouted at him without moving his eyes from the drink, “Bronherrn! You have not turned traitor on us have you?”
Sighing low, Bronherrn darted his stare from a few of the fighters he had trained and sent them looks of warning. He walked up to Raeimo. “Where is the other half of your head?” He took up a stool and sat. “The bastard has not died on us already, has he?”
Raeimo slapped him on the back and cackled. “Glad to know that the Zuthans have not drained you of your fighting spirit. No, my boy. Cerlias is visiting a sick friend. He has always been a bit soft. You know that.”
Bronherrn grinned at the shining eyes of the old man whom he had always admired.
“Have you called off the truce? Done away with this marriage business yet?”
“As easy as that would be,” Bronherrn’s mustache twitched as he chuckled, “I have actually come to bring us closer together. I aim to build new homes on the old battleground. Came to rustle up some hands for support.”
Raeimo dropped his mug, splashing ale across the table. A small stream of it trickled onto Bronherrn’s fingers and he leaned back.
“You cannot allow those dogs to share the sacred ground. That is our field. It holds so much of our blood. Our victories.”
“They will remain ours as the Zuthans become a part of us.”
“You mean as they stamp within our grounds and pretend to accept our ways.” Raeimo’s teeth flashed.
“There is no pretending. I have worked with them. Trained with them.”
“And you will fall at their hands.” Every wrinkle on Raeimo’s face grew deeper with each word.
“Never.” Bronherrn gripped the dagger at his side and stood. He forced himself to breath deep. “I must move on. Let Cerlias know I missed him.”
“Aye.” Raeimo waved him away.
Bronherrn ran his hands through his mane of hair. He worked his fingers through the wild tangles as he approached the market. A wave of shock spread over him. His presence alone set the crowd into a frenzy of questions and greetings. He had missed his people, but was unprepared for their warmth. Why do they love me so? he wondered.
His answer came in the form of their support. He only needed to explain the situation and found volunteers pledging their strength and supplies. They loved him because he offered them opportunity. They returned more understanding as if in payment. He gained enough volunteers to work with the Zuthans. The long held misconceptions against their former foes became a thing of the old tales.
Bronherrn had no trouble gathering his volunteers and lead them down the pass within a few days. He took pride in marching a young group of workers for a purpose that would not take immeasurable amounts of blood and death. Instead of cutting down Zuthans, he and his people would build homes with them. The idea filled him with a newfound sense of pride.
His brothers marched beside him, and their mother took up the rear. Bronherrn sensed her eyes on his back. He smiled to know that even if she would not take her rightful place as leader, he could give her as much say as she would have.
Despite his sharpened plans for the future, he was unable to ponder his thoughts as Druthleer asked about the Zuthan lands and how the women looked. Bronherrn indulged his brother and embellished where it fit, but Grimhelden’s silence caused him to glance at him more often than he preferred.
He left Grimhelden to himself. Too many of his warriors wished to learn of the Zuthans. The images he had lived to see bounced from his mouth over the fire they prepared for the night. A blaze of life hung in the eyes that fixed on him. Bronherrn grew even more eager to reach their destination to introduce both sides to a joint task.
The others lay on their backs to rest before the next day’s adventure and Bronherrn glanced up to see his mother sitting with Shanal and her daughters. The shine of their laughter lit his spirt and he slunk over to Grimhelden.
“Druthleer dragged most of my tales from me, but what of you? Have you no questions for me?”
Grimhelden crouched before him. Shadows rested beneath his eyes. “Raeimo does not believe in this peace.”
“You have been speaking with the elders? You have become quite the warrior.”
“My strength does not lie in weaponry.” Grimhelden flicked a centipede off his boot.
Bronherrn gripped his brother’s shoulder. “Your brains are quite a weapon. Keep your head and you will be rewarded.” He relaxed his hold and looked up to the mass of clouds hiding the skies. “As for Raeimo, I trust his heart but he is suspicious of everything. I need you with me Grimhelden.”
Grimhelden replied, “I am always with you, brother.”
They sat up late and woke early. The rhythm of a new day’s march filled with collective steps, aided Bronherrn’s thoughts. He grew more confident as they reached the foot of the mountains. “This will be where we come together,” he announced.
He left his mother and Shanal in charge of the party. Jogging over to the river, he laid his dagger on the shore and dove into the Cassani. The summer’s blaze had made that last curve down the mountains seem endless. His eye had been searching for the ripples of the flowing water since they reached flat land. He kicked with the current and turned over to let it carry him for a few minutes until he stroked across.
He staggered out of the river’s cool caresses and turned to nod at his mother. Not only was she eyeing him as if he were riding the wind, but his brothers, stared at his feet. None of them had seen a Ultainian reach the Zuthan lands.
He stood proud. The weight of the water had pushed all other burdens from his mind. The union was not yet made, and despite his confidence, he realized that his people still had their doubts.
To give them some perspective, he patted the ground. “She is our sister land. She may not be our homeland, but we are joined,” he shouted over the rumbling of the river.
His mother’s sideways smirk aided him even from her distance. She turned away and called out some orders leaving him to gather his Zuthan hands. They had not been as eager to join the cause, but Prillani’s smooth voice and fine features must have swayed them in his absence.
He climbed the slopes greeting familiar farmers and fighters along the way. Before he could return to his fiancé, enough of them pledged their aid that he felt success was already achieved.
Returning to the grand plateau that housed the palace made Bronherrn’s misgivings resurfaced. He remembered Prillani’s concerns. Unsure of how she would receive him he walked steady. He made his way up the path and through the gardens where he had kissed her, argued with her.
He stared at the bench where they had comforted each other. What if she reconsiders? He asked himself.
Before he could further mull it over the entrance opened and the guards parted to allow Onfala through. He half hoped that Prillani would come running at him. He longed to feel her throw her arms about his neck, but Onfala’s youthful charm captured him enough.
She skipped forward setting her shining eyes on his face. “Why were you gone so long?” She stuck out her lip and kicked the ground with one foot nearly tripping herself.
Bronherrn bent down and pulled her into a hug. “I missed my mother and my brothers. We were able to get a lot of good help?”
“You have brothers?” Onfala tilted her head back and watched his face unblinking.
“Of course. You know this. I have spoken of them before. Grimhelden and Druthleer.”
“Those are your brothers?”
He sat back into a crouch and laughed. “Who did you think they were?”
“My pets?” Bronherrn stood and grasped her under the arms swinging her up to toss her in the air. He caught her and held her close.
“We do not have many animals here.” She fumbled with his breastplate.
He nodded. “No, this palace does not call to the beasts of my homeland. But you have lizards and rodents the likes of which I have never seen.”
“They are too fast for me to catch.”
“For now.” He tickled her sides. “But enough stalling, where is your sister?”
“Which one?” She giggled as he threw her into the air again catching her easily. She squirmed for him to set her down and ran into the palace once freed. He jogged after her, forgetting all etiquette. What did it matter to him? He had returned and wished to see the woman who held his heart.
He ran after Onfala’s quick little legs and nearly knocked into her when she stopped just before the entrance to Prillani’s bathing pool. “She said she was tired of waiting for you.”
Bronherrn sighed and patted Onfala’s head. “Thank you, love. Now run along.”
She hugged his leg and darted off the way she had come. Her nursemaid chased after her.
He chuckled to himself before setting his jaw and approaching the entrance that bordered the pool where his wife-to-be was bathing. He hesitated for only a moment before he marched in. The shock on her face left her handmaidens scolding him, but he sent them away and Prillani waded to the edge closest to him. The water clung up to her chest and he breathed in deep, allowing the encompassing scent of her perfumes to intoxicate him. “Fala brought me here. I would have waited, but…”
Prillani rested her arms on the edge of the bronze castings that encircled the pool. “The great Ultainian warrior, Bronherrn, returns to take orders from a child?”
Something in her smirk made him anxious. “I swam across the Cassani, spoke with the people, and spoiled your sister on my way to see you, and you insult me?”
“Yes.” She laughed as she had when he won her heart in the dungeons.
He leapt into the water and pulled her close to him. She gripped his wrists but did not fight him. If anything, her fierce movements seemed to keep him closer to her. He grabbed the back of her hair, let the damp ringlets cling to his hands as he kissed her hard and deep.