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For weeks, Bronherrn lived in the cramped space and pushed back thoughts of visiting Aethelwyn. The maturing summer offered slight relief. He was grateful that his son had come as the world grew warmer, but something did not feel right.
He went to consult the elder warriors and found them in a cantankerous mood. Cerlias was ready to prepare for battle, thinking that he was living in the time of decades passed.
“When do we march?” He stood on shaky legs and attached an imaginary sword to an invisible harness.
“Shut up, you old fool. The boy is here to give us an update on the progress he has made in turning his Zuthan Chieftess against her people.” Raeimo looked to Bronherrn. “And how is the little thing?”
“The little thing is my wife, Raeimo. She bore me a son. He is named Brackliem, after my father.”
The elder warrior smirked. “Ah good, a Ultainian name, that will suit him best.”
Cerlias’s confusion showed in every crease on his wrinkled face. “Brackliem? I helped lead that boy into battle already.”
Bronherrn sucked in a mouthful of air and ignored Cerlias’s lapse of mind. “We were attacked and had to return for safety. The Zuthans now hold the field lying at the bottom of the pass. It is sealed at the moment, but I need to know how to proceed.”
“Fight Bronherrn, fight!”
“You always say that, Raeimo.”
“It is our land. At least go see what has become of it.”
Cerlias gawked at them both, confusion dancing in his cloudy eyes.
“It is something to ponder. Thank you.” Bronherrn left with thoughts of travel.
After battling his sense of duty, he made up his mind. He would go to the otherworld and consult Aethelwyn. To go back into battle now was impossible and Bronherrn had other things to distract him.
He returned home and find Prillani sleeping soundly with their son cradled in her arms. He knelt down listening to the peaceful hum of their combined breathing. Reaching out, he gently rubbed little Brackliem’s hand. The boy gripped Bronherrn’s finger in his sleep.
The pressure of those small fingers claimed him. Bronherrn felt indebted to Aethelwyn. She had selflessly saved his family while compromising herself. The image of her head being forced into the river by Saenreth taunted his mind once more and he found himself overcome with an enormous wave of guilt.
He had brought Aethelwyn close to danger. He had asked her to give more of herself than he should have. And she had come to him because she loved him.
He kissed Prillani’s head and left her to cuddle their son for the night. As he crept out, his mother stepped between him and the door. “Where are you going?” she asked.
“I must pay my respects to The Otherworld.” Bronherrn stood firm. He was over a head taller than her, but he would not leave without her approval.
“Now?” She leaned forward and looked to Prillani.
“I will return quickly.” He wished to speak with Aethelwyn and Hefeydd, then return with nothing to weigh on his conscience.
“You have many duties now. I trust that your father and I raised you well.” She stepped aside.
He pulled his dagger from his belt and she snatched hers from the table. They pressed the small blades together never losing eye contact. Without further explanation, he began the journey.
There were no misgivings. Retracing those familiar steps filled him with many happy memories. Each linked him back to his complicated past but also reminded him that fate had not been what it was said to be.
The ground crunched beneath him. His footfalls moved in a slight rhythm that soothed all concerns and the moon shone high above. The stars shined in agreement.
He did still love Aethelwyn, but what of it? She was not his and he loved his wife.
When he reached the stone staircase to look down to The Otherworld, all lay still. Bronherrn second-guessed his decision to go at night as he descended to the gate. He had never witnessed such ghostly silence. Not a cricket chirped, not an animal howled or sifted through the dirt. All of his reservations dissipated when he saw Hefeydd waiting for him.
“It is about time.” Hefeydd smiled leading Bronherrn to Aethelwyn’s comfortable confines without question.
“How could you possible know I was coming?” He chuckled at Hefeydd’s amiable expression. “You must know why I am here as well.”
Hefeydd smiled and held open the canvas door of Aethelwyn’s home. He remained outside while Bronherrn entered.
“I was not sure you would come.” Aethelwyn stood with her naked back to him.
Her body shook as she breathed and he longed to comfort her. “Why?”
“Because of all I cost you.”
“Cost me?” He moved closer to her and brushed her shoulder with the slightest caress. “You saved my family. The thought of you dying at the hands of those…”
She spun around to face him so fast she seemed to move without feet. Placing her hand to his lips, she sighed. “Do not speak of it.”
The feel of her divine skin cleared his mind. The sweet scent of her aroma swept about hi. He pulled her to him and pressed his face into her long hair.
“And what of Prillani?” She stiffened.
“She is as understanding as always.” He found it odd that Aethelwyn would ask of his wife at this moment, but sighed with relief when she gripped his body pulling him as close to her as possible. Her intoxicating warmth took over his thoughts.
Unable to burden her with any guilt, he spoke of Raeimo and Cerlias’s advice.
She nodded. “No. War is not to come again for some time.”
“And how do you know that what you have seen is correct? Was my having to flee with my family part of your greatly trusted future?”
Sat sat up. “I cannot explain everything to you, Bronherrn. We have been over this.”
Hefeydd shuffled in with a confident stance. Bronherrn starred at his friend and fought against his territorial nature. Aethelwyn went to Hefeydd and removed his cloak kissing him.
Bronherrn’s nostrils flared at the word. “Love?” he asked.
She nodded. “Hefeydd and I have sealed our lives as one.”
“You mean you are married?” He balled his hands into fists.
“If you want to simplify our practices to those of common people: yes.” She laughed.
“Bronherrn, I have the utmost respect for you and trust my wife.” Hefeydd came to sit beside Bronherrn on the bed.
Bronherrn gunted. His guilt grew into something new. Instead of feeling anguish over Aethelwyn’s near-death experience, he once again felt bad for looking to her for guidance.
“Did you merely come here to nod?” Aethelwyn asked with warmth.
He turned to her tensing every muscle in his body. “I came here to make sure you were not harmed.”
“Harmed… me?” She scoffed at him and exchanged a knowing glance with Hefeydd.
“Bronherrn stomped toward the door. “Yes. I am but a common man and I have common concerns about the people in my common life.”
“I will make sure she is safe,” Hefeydd caught up to him. “You have a family to look after, and they are what matters most.”
Something in his words stopped Bronherrn. He glanced over his shoulder. “I hope they have nothing to do with your future and prophecies.”
“They mean everything,” Aethelwyn breathed gently. “You cannot untie their fates.”
Bronherrn turned. “You underestimate us.” He bowed mockingly and left as quickly as he came.
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