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For the next few seasons, Bronherrn worked to please Prillani. She was a good mother, a forgiving wife, and got along well with his mother. He could not have asked for a better woman, but the constant presence of their family members grated on him in the slight space. The mountain snows bore down when winter struck and he grew cramped in the confines. Even as Druthleer became more interested in holding Onfala’s attention and Grimhelden snuck away to see Pherlis, Bronherrn craved time alone with his wife.
She had not been the same since he returned from The Otherworld. Despite his efforts, he knew she needed more. He missed having their own home. If they had time to sort things out alone, he believed all would be well.
A warming came one weekend just as spring neared. It offered enough relief that Bronherrn took Prillani outside to propose an escape. “I know you are still hurting over my last visit to Aethelwyn.” He raised his eyebrows refusing to look away despite the pang of guilt aching in his chest.
“I have not punished you. I have accepted it.” She bowed her head as if he did not deserve to look at her.
“Please listen. Prillani, I wish to go back.”
“What?” She whirled toward the house.
Bronherrn grasped her, picked her up and held her to him with a tight grip. “Stubborn woman, look at me. I wish for you to come with. Our son is nearly a year old. He can do without you for a day.”
“Why should we leave him? Is he not welcome?”
Bronherrn set her down and sighed. “He is more than welcome to join us. It is a sacred place.”
Prillani’s entire stance changed. “And what if I do not wish to go?”
“Then I will remain here with you. I vowed that I will never journey there again without you.” He knelt before her and held up his dagger.
He clutched the blade to his scar and she stopped him. “You need not draw blood. I trust you.”
“You do?” He lowered his dagger and wrapped his arms around her waist, burying his face in her skirt.
“And what of Aethelwyn?” She rested her hand on the back of his head.
Bronherrn looked up and searched Prillani’s face. Instead of jealousy mounting in her features, she glared mournfully. He felt her pain. “She is a dear friend and I wish for you to get on with her.”
“When are we to leave?”
“At once if you like.”
“We should wait until morning, should we not?”
Bronherrn agreed and spent much of the night sitting up in anticipation of his wife’s first visit to The Otherworld. He lay down for a few brief hours pondering how his son would be received. Somehow he nodded off and awoke ready to face the challenges ahead.
“And where are you three off to so early?” His mother watched them wrap some bread and meat for the journey.
“Bronherrn is taking me to The Otherworld,” Prillani answered before he could say anything.
He followed his mother’s gaze as she searched Prillani’s face. “I hope you have a good experience.” Something in his mother’s careful tone warned him.
He knew when not to cross her and this was one of those instances. She had grown very fond of Prillani, protective of her.
Glad to be on the way, Bronherrn led Prillani out along the path and away from the house. Hiking beyond the village and through the mountains, he smiled on his son. Brackliem sat wrapped to Prillani’s body in a winding sheet that wrapped about her figure. The glittering patches of snow melted in the sun and warmed Bronherrn. Brackliem laughed as a breeze tickled his cheeks beneath his hat. The journey took longer than usual but Bronherrn found his patience extended by the enjoyment of his family. Each wondrous coo from his son, every inspired stare from Prillani made him more proud.
“Why did we not come here before our wedding?” Prillani asked.
A slithering guilt glided through Bronherrn and he choked on the truth. He had been unsure of their union and did not want to jeopardize his relationship with Aethelwyn. “We had a lot to adjust to. It had to wait.”
Prillani sighed with disbelief and Bronherrn softened. “I did not fully trust you.”
“You did not trust me? After all that I risked for our people, our lands?
“At that point all I had known of you was our time in your father’s dungeon. I was tortured there. Starved.”
“And I was the only reason you lived.” She marched ahead with her chin high.
Bronherrn grasped her hand. “I know that. No one has ever risked so much for me.” Saying the words made him think of all Prillani jeaprodized for him. Yes, Aethelwyn had gone against her people but she was ethereal. Prillani challenged her own father, the chief and his evil priests. He shivered at the thought of what they could have done to her.
She shook off his grip and quickened her pace.
Bronherrn chased after her. “I thought we settled this all before the wedding.”
“You mean once I shared my bed with you.” She pursed her lips and kept up her rapid pace.
Bronherrn’s heart thudded against his ears. He could not allow her into The Otherworld with such anger. The holy ones would never permit her hostility.
Struggling, he said, “You have always been far more to me than just your beauty and your touch.”
Bronherrn reached her side and looked beyond at the great stairway leading down the chasm destination. Unsure if his words had touched her, or if she were transfixed by the beautiful scene lay out beneath them, he found relief when Xanthu pounced from the rocky ledge and greeted Prillani rubbing her long body against her legs before she could respond.
“I remember you.” Prillani knelt down. “You saved us when we were starving in the pass.”
Xanthu purred aloud and sniffed Brackliem’s head.
“Nice to see you to.” Bronherrn folded his arms over his body and laughed when Xanthu leapt at him, knocking him over. He patted the gold of her coat and nuzzled against her aggressive licks. “Oh, you did miss me.”
Prillani’s giggle was accompanied by Brackliem’s and Bronherrn pulled himself up to a crouching position. He pressed his forehead to Xanthu’s. “I would like to introduce Prillani to The Otherworld.”
Xanthu gave a soft roar as she sprang down the steps and sat to wait for them below.
“You never described it like this.” Prillani exhaled.
“Would my words have been enough?”
“No,” she whispered.
Bronherrn led her down to reach the shimmering gates of The Otherworld. Once they passed through, priests and priestesses circled around them with a chant of greeting and the music began. Bronherrn watched his wife fall into the notes of the woodwind while she moved to the beat of a drum. She pulled her son out of his wrap and Bronherrn spun the two around.
Many of the priestesses came over to see the boy and he was whisked away to be spoiled by their caresses. His laugh and their silvery voices assured Prillani of his safety and she continued to dance with Bronherrn. “We are welcome here?” She grinned glancing around.
Bronherrn nodded with a smile.
“This is nothing like the wretched priests of my lands. My father–”
“Shh.” Bronherrn kissed her. He pulled her closer and hugged her curves as he had not since their son was born. They laughed like children until Aethelwyn came forward and took her hand. Prillani blinked back at Bronherrn.
He smiled with a comical shrug and motioned for her to dance. She allowed the priestess to pull her from him and spun around. A strange mixture of apprehension and happiness battled in him, butPrillani grew less stiff. She extended her limbs with ease and clasped hands with Aethelwyn.
They carried on this way for a time, touching and laughing. Bronherrn witnessed them whispering in each other’s ears and he burned to know what they were speaking of. Before he could cut in, Aethelwyn pulled Bronherrn back to Prillani. “I wish to see you both alone. Young Brackliem shall be cared for while we are detained.”
Bronherrn looked to Prillani.
“Of course.” She offered her hand and Aethelwyn took it leading her along. Bronherrn was left to follow behind.
Once inside her inviting enclosure, Aethelwyn removed her robe and bared her feet. Bronherrn shifted in his boots. He held silent awaiting his wife’s reaction.
“What is this?” Prillani stopped.
“My dear,” Aethelwyn said. “We of The Otherworld prefer to be our natural selves. The shackles of clothing are just a formality for visitors.”
Unsure of this encounter himself, Bronherrn sat silent. He worked to control his gaze, but the divine glow of Aethelwyn’s skin called to his eyes. He found Prillani’s scrutinizing stare watching him, but she looked back to Aethelwyn. “I was unsure about coming here.”
“Why?” Aethelwyn asked.
“I am unsure of everything now.” Prillani wrapped her arms around herself and swayed back and forth as if she were cradling her son.
“You are a great woman. I wish to be a part of your life.”
“How so?” Prillani set her jaw.
“I admire you and your courage. I truly wish to be friends. And…”
“And what?” Prillani asked.
Bronherrn scratched his beard. Seeing them together in the underworld was surreal. His mind wandered.
Aethelwyn gazed away. “We holy ones are not allowed to train in battle, and I have seen your skills. I admire you and wish to watch over you, if that does not offend.”
Prillani leaned closer to Aethelwyn. “Women in battle was forbidden by my people until my father left me his position, but it was all I was ever good at.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Bronherrn chuckled.
They both looked at him as an intruder. He cleared his throat and backed away.
“Then we have more in common than you know, “Aethelywn went on. “My hand in the war is unknown to my people. If they find out I would be disgraced.” Aethelwyn rubbed Prillani’s hand with her fingers.
Bronherrn watched the two and began to entertain selfish thoughts. Keeping quiet, he attempted to remain a spectator but his blood rushed through his body with hunger.
“Aethelwyn, you can trust in my confidence.”
Prillani’s words had a great effect on the holy one. Aethelwyn stroked Prillani’s cheek and leaned in pressing her lips to her forehead.
Bronherrn stared with wide eyes.
Aethelwyn’s light grew more brilliant than ever. The illuminating glow enveloped Prillani. She ran her fingers through the priestess’s thick black curls, not paying any attention to Bronherrn.
He rubbed his hands together.
Prillani looked up at him and sighed. She glanced back at Aethelwyn and blinked hard. “It truly is another world here.”
She bowed to Aethelwyn and stood. “Come Bronherrn, lets go find our son.
Aethelwyn bowed to them.