My classic sword and sorcerer adventure is available chapter by chapter every Friday as a free gift to you, my awesome readers!
When they reached their destination the next day, the Ultainian warriors were met with a new type of devastation. The homes many of them helped build with the Zuthans sat blackened. Charred mounds were all that remained, burned and left to rot in the field between the two lands. Bronherrn faced the rubble that had once been his home, the house where his son was born.
He breathed heavy and cried out in anguish. Turning to his warriors, he regained control of himself. “Everyone search the area. Be on the alert and make sure it is truly deserted.”
He drew his sword and marched over toward his former land. He kicked a few charred beams thinking back to the day his son was born. How did everything fall apart so quickly? It took so much to bring it all together and very little to tear it down.
The notion taunted him as he determined that nothing could be salvaged. Time had destroyed whatever the fire had not.
He cursed himself for not coming sooner. He remembered the unmerciful actions of his last day there. All thoughts of peace dissipated. The anger on Aethelwyn’s face, the fear he harbored when he thought his family had been lost to him. The weight of the tension festered within. He called to his mother and Shanal for counsel.
“You have lived with the Zuthans. Your wife was one of them. What do you intend?” Shanal asked.
He rubbed the ends of his mangled fingertips together. “I wish to venture to their valleys and discover what has become of them.”
His mother sighed. “My son, I know that Prillani and her sisters would like to return home, but do you really think it wise to try and reason with the Zuthans again? You have taken their Chieftess and turned her against them, in their eyes.”
“But if I can make them see that we still hope for peace…” The word peace nearly set him afire. He knew that peace could not return. Even so, he insisted. “I must reunite my family members with their people.”
“You made us allies once. I trust that you can do so again,” Shanal said.
His mother nodded and it was decided.
Bronherrn called everyone together and told them of his plan. “We will rest here for a few days. Keep alert and prepare to march into the Zuthan lands.” A great many whispers rattled around him. “There is a chance that we can remedy this breach. But it will take patience. I need you all at your best.”
Bronherrn turned from them and went back to the wreckage of his former home. He spent most of his time there. During the next couple of days, he practiced with his sword in the fields behind the mess. He swung his blade in the same spots where he had trained before Brackliem made him a father. Unable to hold his wife and play with his boy, he attempted to focus on the present.
His mother and brothers consulted him but he offered little conversation and refused to spar with them. He had to prepare in his own way. He watched the sunrise each morning and listened to the rolling ripples of the Cassani River at dusk.
Before the light called dawn to the lands on the third morning, he could wait no longer. He gathered his warriors and led them to the rushing barrier. He swam out first and splashed across. Pulling himself out of the water, he stepped out on Zuthan soil and waited.
The swim revived the warriors. Herrom followed first. He walked softly as if the ground were made of angry snakes. His apprehension was matched by Maurack and the others.
Bronherrn eyed everyone who reached the Zuthan territory for the first time. It was Grimhelden who came out drenched with Ultainian pride. He held his shoulders back and stuck out his chin without a hint of worry on his face. Druthleer mimicked him, bringing an electricity that filled the air with the intensity of a lighting strike.
His mother and Shanal added their presence with Pherlis and Virayn last and everyone held steady. Bronherrn did not offer another speech. He gestured ahead and led them on unfazed. They began to descend the first major incline. “Hold your balance. Keep your feet under you. These slopes are unforgiving,” he said.
It was a slow march, but they made it to the bottom of the first great land mass. Making sure to control his breathing, Bronherrn led them to pursue the next great slope. Before even reaching its midsection, the cries of a large Zuthan body sounded on the air and they rushed down to Bronherrn and his warriors.
“We come for peace!” Bronherrn shouted above all holding his arm up with an open palm, but his words had no place in that chaotic scene. The hatred in every Zuthan’s eyes charged ahead. Bronherrn knew his wife would be in danger if she attempted to return home to reclaim her rule.
It enraged him to know how quick they turned on him, her. Clenching his jaw, he rushed upon them without hesitation. He blocked each blow hoping to reach the new Chief and gain one last attempt for reconciliation. Even with his great strength, he was pushed farther away, back down the slope.
Clashing against the fury of the Zuthan army ─ men he had helped train ─ Bronherrn kept his footing. He struck true. His warriors were trapped in the lower ground outnumbered and surrounded. “We were brothers,” he shouted as he blocked blows without retaliating.
Each hit warmed his blood. His eye twitched.
“You were never worthy,” A familiar voice called back as he recognized a man he had helped, a man he had aided but could not recall his name.
“We came for peace! For reconciliation.” In return for his attempts, Bronherrn was cursed, spat at. The new Chief, bedeck in Bronherrn’s former garments, roared at him. “Never reconciliation!”
“To the death then.” Bronherrn let his battle cry loose and unsheathed his sword. The Zuthan Chief backed away and Bronherrn slashed at the first warriors to engage him. The fresh rush of blood against his face revived him. He had resigned himself to peace; the return to battle thrilled him. He would fight until his last breath.
Bronherrn swung wildly and shifted with the grace of a dancer. He glanced around to find Druthleer stab his sword into the midsection of the Zuthan engaging him. A rush of pride invigorated him.
A light of excitement and fear filled his brother’s eyes. “Welcome to manhood!” Bronherrn called over the thrashing of metal as he worked his way to Druthleer.
Before he could reach him, Bronherrn found a couple of snarling Zuthans to grapple with and Druthleer found a new opponent. It was fun sport to experience this with his brother. “You have our father in you.” He glanced at Druthleer, and lunged forward to split open one of the Zuthan’s sides, then turned to slash another’s throat.
He knew he need not watch over Druthleer anymore. His concerns turned to Grimhelden. All around him, his people worked to try and gain ground, but they could not press forward. They were moved farther and farther back until they struggled on the incline they had already passed.
The uneven ground did them no favors. The Zuthans drove them further back and the rush of the Cassani rumbled behind them. Bronherrn contemplated calling for retreat, but could not bring himself to do so along that stretch. They had declared victory on that land under his father’s command and before that. It was up to him to keep that legacy untarnished.
The fighting grew more intense. Sweat dripped from every limb. Blood painted Bronherrn’s skin and he turned to find his mother, but could find Grimhelden nowhere. A panic filled his lungs and he stared at the bodies of his warriors being trodden upon in their struggle. “Where is he?” His mother dodged a fat Zuthan’s advance.
“Everyone, back!” Bronherrn cried out not moving from his place. He attempted to remain focused on the fight while searching for Grimhelden.
He kept his footing as his warriors raced back to the Cassani and splashed into the water to safety. Bronherrn held his stance. He blocked every blow. His muscles strained and his arms began to shake, but he refused to allow the Zuthans to continue the fight.
His knees began to buckle. He struggled to support himself, and then Prillani’s most trusted advisor came through the ranks to meet him. “I leave you now out of respect for what you once were.” He leered at Bronherrn.
Grinding his teeth, Bronherrn backed up clutching his sword. He eyed the Zuthan’s glaring at him. One lunged forward but the Chief called him back. Bronherrn sheathed his sword and turned to walk away. He laid each step with as much calm as he could, sucking in large breaths of air before he met the cleansing waters of the ever flowing river.
Those cool waves had washed his father’s body, welcomed him from being held prisoner, and now they caressed his damaged pride. He swam back to the field surrounding the pass. His leg tightened and he got caught in the current. Struggling to keep afloat, he lost control of his body and choked on the water.
As forgiving as the river had been, he realized it remained more powerful than any force of man. Is this how a warrior such as I could leave this life?
He almost wished to sink under and never return. The blanket of darkness could ease him, but Prillani would be left to care for their son without him. Brackliem? He remembered his son’s laugh.
Fighting to keep above water, Bronherrn struggled until Shanal turned him on his back to float. She directed him bobbing toward the bank at the other end.