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Once their first night as parents passed, Bronherrn popped awake at a hard banging against his door. Onfala arose to answer the call without question. Bronherrn did not like idea of anyone waking them after such a rough night, nor did he wish for Onfala to greet them. Something pricked his senses. He slid away from Prillani and the baby.
Onfala swung the door open to be snatched into the arms of an angry farmer who pressed a dagger to her throat. “Where is she? Where is the witch?”
Bronherrn jumped up in an instant, sword in hand. “What of it, Saenreth?” He knew enough of the Zuthan farmer to speak calmly, had even trained him in a bit of fighting, but the group of men crowding behind to get a view into his home angered Bronherrn.
“She is one of them. You must rid her from your house.”
Bronherrn looked back to his wife. Prillani was wide-awake now. She held her son close beneath their blankets and furs. Galandra and Bernisha walked behind Bronherrn blocking mother and child from view.
He could sense the desperation of the mob. “Aethelwyn has saved many lives. She is a holy being who protects those who are deserving.”
“Like the monsters Pronlado used to control us?”
Bronherrn chuckled at the idea. “Nothing of the sort. She is─”
Another voice shouted from beyond outside, “He is under her spell. We must save them from her!”
The group rushed in and Bronherrn quickly knocked Saenreth’s blade down catching Onfala in his arms. The force of the mob pushed them back, but Bronherrn deflected blows the best he could. His main goal still remained to end this intrusion peacefully.
From the other room, Aethelwyn glided forward. Her light had grown dim and foggy. “Be gone, fools. I have no cause to harm anyone. My magic is nothing like those of your kin.”
Bronherrn thought of the Zuthan priests. Images of their hideous garb and deadly spells surfaced in his thoughts and he realized the Zuthans’ fear. He raised his voice attempting to try and reason with the attackers, but received a blow on the head. His vision darkened and blurred for a few moments. He shook his head and struggled to see again. Refocusing, he glared at the sight of Aethelwyn being dragged through the door and out into the field kicking and warning them of their actions.
Steadying himself, Bronherrn grabbed his harness and weapons to prepare for battle. “Galandra, grab the sled that we use in winter. Bernisha, Onfala, help her grease the bottom and then pull my wife and child to the pass.”
“Where are you going?” Prillani questioned him as he moved to follow.
He stopped and glanced over his shoulder. “They mean to kill her Prillani. She saved you. Saved our son. You cannot ask me to abandon her.” He turned back to kissed her and then ran off.
He chased after the mob. “Leave her be! It will be murder!”
The men dragged Aethelwyn to the river. Bronherrn called for his people to wake and aid him. Morning dew flew off his boots. He charged through the grass. The sun had barely crested the horizon and the shadows of the mountains still loomed over the field. “Do not force my hand.”
He counted 12 of them. He did not wish to cut down the dozen or so men before him, not after all the progress he had made bringing Zuthans and Ultanians together, but he prepared himself.
Maurack, rushed out of his dwelling to aid him. He had taken up a cabin with a few other young warriors and Bronherrn found relief and concern plaguing him at once. He did not wish to break the truce, but he could not allow any harm done against Aethelwyn. Maurack ran ahead of his friends, Herrom and Jarvlin. They raced to Bronherrn’s aid.
“They mean to execute her,” he cried out over his shoulder.
“But the truce?” Maurack stared ahead pumping his arms as he reached Bronherrn.
The Zuthan farmers were forcing Aethelwyn down on the banks of the Cassani and pulling her into the water. “This does not have to end in bloodshed,” Bronherrn said reaching them.
“Not if she drowns!”
Enraged by the smirk on his opponent’s face, Bronherrn sliced through him without another thought. He turned to find his Ultainian warriors already engaged working their swords against the Zuthan farmers they had lived with as friends. It cut Bronherrn so deep that he set his eyes on Saenreth and stooped toward the man. He blamed Saenreth for it all. The Zuthan shoved Aethelwyn’s head into the water to drown her and Bronherrn slashed into the two others who held her down while Maurack and his friends gained enough footing to push the rest back.
Unleashing all of his anger, Bronherrn leapt toward Saenreth, but before he could bring the force of his sword down, a blast threw him back. He lay still, helpless for a moment. Blinking, he struggled to suck in breaths of air. The numbness began to wear off, but then a burning pain crept in where the tingling began.
“Sit up.” Aethewlyn’s silky voice soothed all his aches and he pushed his body forward.
“Where is our peace now?” Maurack shook as he sat before the bodies of the men who had taken Aethelwyn. Bronherrn’s eyes went from the dead Zuthans to the new crowd that had begun to awaken.
“They will not harm us.” Aethelwyn said lowering her eyelids at the startled Zuthans who had come to see what happened.
Bronherrn grunted and pulled Aethelwyn to him. “We must take our leave.” He lowered his voice, “No more damage.”
He turned to the group gathered around them. “She is merely a holy woman who came to save my wife and child when the birth went awry.”
“But she killed them.”
Bronherrn swallowed hard. “They came to murder her. Thought her powers evil. But I promise you she only uses them for good.”
“She killed them…she killed them… she killed them!” The voices mingled and grew. Their chanting harmonized like the howling of hungry wolves. The mob eyed Bronherrn and Aethelwyn with vengeful expressions.
The trust he had built vanished in an instant. Someone spit on him. Another person threw a rock. Bronherrn saw the offended pinch in Aethelwyn’s features and he pushed her along.
“She will not hurt anyone else.”
“You brought her here. You were supposed to protect us!” It seemed as if the voices coming through had not one voice but belonged to all of the frightened people before him.
Never had Bronherrn felt betrayal from both sides. He wished he had not left his mother to watch over the village in the mountains. She would know what to do. Before he could find the words of reason, someone pulled out a dagger and rushed upon Aethelwyn, stabbing her side.
Bronherrn elbowed the attacker and pulled Aethelwyn in his arms. He gripped her tight carrying her. He increased his pace and jogged on with Maurack, Herrom, and Jarvlin fighting off the crowd attempting to escape. They gained more and more distance, and Bronherrn hoped that his family waited for him at the foot of the mountains.
When he reached the spot, no one was to be found. Aethelwyn closed her eyes and her body began to shake. The sky spun and the rocks rumbled as if they moved though everything appeared unchanged.
“What have you done?” Bronherrn asked.
Aethelwyn’s head drooped against his shoulder. “I sealed the pass. We are safe.”
“We?” He shook her. “Where are my wife and son?”
But she had passed out.
He moaned in despair and laid her onto the ground. In a burst of violent furry, he attempted to dig through the rocks that had sealed them from danger, tried to find at least an opening to glimpse his house by the river. His efforts were useless. The scent of burning wood reached his nostrils and he turned his eyes to the sky. A dark cloud of smoke began to curl in the air and tears filled his eyes. He fell to his knees knowing that the home he had made with Prillani was gone forever.
“We feared you would not reach us.” The familiar tone of Prillani’s grateful voice found him from behind a cluster of rocks and he jumped to his feet bounding to caress his wife. He kissed her face, her shoulders; her hands. As he found his breath again, he took little Brackliem from her arms and cradled the boy against him. “I thought I had lost you.”
“Will they not find us?”
“No Fala.” Bronherrn patted her head and nodded to her sisters. They were his responsibility now. He rested his gaze on Onfala’s worried eyes. “Aethelwyn has sealed the way so we are able to explore without fear.”
He looked to Prillani wishing to transport them away as soon as possible. He set his jaw. “We shall have to camp here for a while. Once you are able, we may head on to my people.”
Prillani nodded without question.