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A Chieftess’s Home
Bronherrn led the Zuthans over the crest of the hill with Prillani. He drove them onward toward the Cassani River. Beyond it, his people stopped and watched as he took the first step into the water to swim across. Unable to dwell on his fears his motioned for Prillani to join him and focused on getting to shore. Once his feet steadied on the muddy bank, he straightened himself allowing the blazing heat to warm the water dripping off his body.
He set himself to his task and stood between the Zuthans who had trained with him and the Ultainians who were his blood and his birthright. “This land has seen everything. It knows all of our darkest secrets.” He eyed Prillani and she came to his side.
She stared around, scanning both sides. Taking up where he left off she said, “It also knows of each of our many triumphs. We have all met with greatness and great loss. But today, it will not go to waste. Today we come together to consecrate this land in all our names, to build a united foundation of peace and trust.”
The sweet trill of her voice reached into Bronherrn as if her spirit had drifted from her body to mingle with his. When she set her large brown eyes on his face Bronherrn had forgotten what he wished to say. He coughed and rubbed the nubs of his missing fingertips together.
His mother stepped from the Ultainians who had pulled closer together instinctively. “The houses built here will be blessed for many generations.”
Despite her strong voice and the poise of her perfect posture, Bronherrn thought he caught a flash of doubt in her eyes. He leaned in and it disappeared before he could be sure.
Whether his mother had deeper concerns or not, she helped him split up the tasks and they delegated the jobs between everyone. The first day did not offer much progress in the way of finished work, but Bronherrn smiled to see a few of the Zuthans wandering around to speak with his people. Prillani set a fresh bucket of water beside him and stared at the scene before them. “It is already coming to be.”
“What is?” Bronherrn glanced her way with suspicion.
“Our hopes for this place. I know I bested you here, but it is where we first met.”
“You did not best me.” He bent down to splash some water on his face.
Prillani rubbed her hands on her thighs. Bronherrn loved the way she fidgeted with her fitted hide pants when she was angry. She rarely donned her fighting garb anymore, especially those without skirts.
“Regardless,” she regained his attention, “It is one of my favorite places.”
Bronherrn stepped back and looked up at the sky. The crystal blue of the day did not erase all of his pain. He had lost his friends here, his father. Memories still plagued him. He forced out a smile, and busied himself to avoid growing resentful.
Each day the Ultanians and Zuthans worked together, and they grew friendlier with each other. They camped at night and joked while they set up the framework for a length of homes.
Prillani’s dedication caused a bud of guilt to plant inside of Bronherrn’s mind. He had no desire to punish her the way he had done with Aethelwyn. His father was dead and there was nothing anyone could do to bring him back. It had been long enough.
He set to work on a specific house with his brothers. They laid beams and prepared boards. He glanced up to find Prillani helping his mother to work on another building.
“You have done wonders,” Mara called over to them.
Bronherrn sent her a warm smile and continued, but Druthleer stepped back on a weak spot and threatened the structure shaking the unstable beams. “Mind your feet! You could kill someone.” Bronherrn scowled as he worked to keep the skeleton of the unfinished house from crashing down upon them.
“Do not be harsh,” Prillani defended Druthleer.
Once the beams held, Bronherrn stepped back to look over work. “I am making sure that he does not destroy our house.” He smirked with one corner of his mouth as he tried not to watch her expression.
“Our house?” Prillani froze with the light of surprise in her laugh.
“Yes.” He tried to focus on his tasks but found his mind looking forward to things to come. “I figure this one will be made for us. It is closest to the water and the very spot where I gained this mark.” He rubbed the braided scar on his bicep.
She moved forward and ran the tips of her fingers over his warrior’s scar. “I had heard of these before I met you, but yours is exceptionally defined.”
“That is because my father cut it. Extra deep and very precise.”
“He was a skilled warrior.” She bit her lip and averted her eyes.
“Aye. He was the greatest.”
A sorrow engulfed her. Bronherrn could see the apology dancing on the shimmer of her eyes. He grasped her hand before she walked away.
“Forgive me.” She stared at the river, refusing to budge.
He stepped behind her. He kissed her head and he slid his arms around her. “You hold no blame.”
She placed her hands over his and looked back to kiss him softly. She rested her head on him with a sigh. “We both lost our fathers to the war. At least yours got to die in battle instead of a bed like some common hag.”
Bitter memories of Pronlado’s torturous action bit into Bronherrn. He choked back his hate. “They both met the fates laid for them. As we will meet ours.”
She relaxed against him. “And this will be our home?” She stared over at the woodpile at Grimhelden and Druthleer who were arguing.
Bronherrn growled with a low laugh. “Is it not obvious? Fit for a Chieftess and her Chief.”
“Are you sure it will stand?”
He squeezed her as tight as possible kissing her neck. “I will make sure of it.”
“Then it will have to do.” She turned so fast her hair tickled him as she freed herself from his grasp.
Bronherrn could not tell if she was pleased or trying to humor him as she kept out of his reach for the rest of the day. When dusk called out to them from the lazy chirping of river bugs and the scavenger birds flew off to return home from a day of fishing, Prillani told Bronherrn that she wished to return to the palace for the night. “I am in need of a wash and my own bed.”
“There is a river and plenty of grass.” He motioned to his brothers bathing in the river with Virayn and Pherlis.
A slight blush lit her features in the waning light, but she refused to break her serious expression. “If you do not wish to accompany me, I shall return alone.”
“You will not!” his voice echoed much louder than he intended. He indulged her and left his mother some simple instructions working to ignore the knowing expression she cast on him. A few good-byes were called to them and he and Prillani started their journey back.
Whatever ailed her mind sat near the edge of her mouth. Bronherrn searched for words that would aid her, but the stillness of the setting night left him speechless. He respected the quiet, took reserved steps allowing the lingering air to guide his silence. A slight fear crept from the back of his mind to the front like a spider spinning a web unseen until finished.
Have I offended her? He went through each conversation they had held over the past few days. Trying to discover some wrong, he could not fathom what held Prillani’s tongue.
They came to the great plateau and ascended the incline. Walking through the gardens Prillani turned. “Come.” She grasped his hand and pulled him toward the gate.
“Where are we going?” He found the mystery dancing in her eyes exceptionally alluring.
She giggled as the night guards opened the gate for them to pass through. “Tonight you have earned your right in my bed.”
He barely saw the palace walls as his head swirled with the possibilities. Something had changed in her.