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Bronherrn found his mother’s arms. She caught him just as he and Shanal reached land. They pulled him ashore and rolled him over. His mother propped him up into a sitting position with the water lapping around them. “Grimhelden?” He coughed looking around frantically.
“He still lives.” The weariness in her eyes struck him and he regained some vitality wishing to be her protector.
“What is it?” He leaned in.
Shanal tore off her outer shirt and wrung it out over the mud. “Pherlis is dead. Your brother nearly died with her.” She trod away with a stiff coldness that tore into Bronherrn.
“Take me to him.” He worked to find his footing, stumbled back into his mother’s arms.
She steadied him with gentle hands. “You need to rest, Bronherrn.”
“Not until I see him. I cannot rest until I see him.”
She led him into the field and further through the grasses. When they came to the bodies of the wounded, she stopped. “He was never meant for this life. I should have kept him from it.”
Bronherrn found her battling a familair guilt. He realized how foolish he had been to re-enter the Zuthan lands. He pressed his hand on her shoulder. “He made his own way. You would have allowed him to stay behind if he had only asked. I take the blame if anyone must.”
“You are a good leader.” She knelt before Grimhelden. His eyes were swollen shut. Blood crusted to his lip. A large cloth had been wrapped tight around his torso, but the wound had bled through already.
“Why have his dressings not been changed yet?” Bronherrn shouted angrily.
“We have barely begun to tend to everyone,” his mother said.
Drawing his breath with more energy, Bronherrn bent down to care for his brother himself.
“Let me.” She stayed his hands. “You have no skill of it. I only went to find you and meant to return to him right away.”
“What am I to do?” Bronherrn absorbed the sight of his brother’s oozing flesh as his mother freed the wound from its bonds.
“Wash this in the river. We may need it again.”
He glanced over the gnarly stab wound that ran along Grimhelden’s side. The cut had carved him deep. Bronherrn walked back to the river to rinse the cloth and he found Druthleer staring out at the water. He stepped lightly. The moment he looked down on his brother, Druthleer sat up straight and splashed some water on his face. “I came here for a drink is all.”
“Do not explain yourself to me, Druthleer. You fought well today and now we have another battle to face.” He walked into the waves. The smooth current surrounded his legs and he waded out to submerge the dressing.
“Will he live?”
Bronherrn glanced over his shoulder and nodded before turning back to fidget with the cloth.
“How can you be sure?”
“When you have seen as much bloodshed as I have, you start to get a feel for the living and the dead.” He had never vocalized this truth before. Saying it aloud made him more aware of everyone around him.
Bronherrn kept careful watch over those tending the wounded. He picked up a few tricks. Began to understand that basics of the healing arts. He found it imperative to look on the bodies of the dead.
He counted them up; they had lost eight good fighters. It seemed like more when they were retreating, but at least his warriors had done well enough to carry the bodies back with them.
Pherlis’ young corpse haunted him. He visited it many times as he waited for Grimhelden to heal. After four days of waiting, he stood before her again. All the other bodies had been consecrated in a ceremonial fire, but her body remained.
He refused to look away from her corpse and Shanal and Virayn neared him. Unsure of what to say he stared down at Pherlis.
“She fought well,” Virayn said.
Bronherrn stood stiff. “She was one of our best. How did this come to be?”
Shanal grew rigid, her lips sat in a thin line. “It is no matter. She is dead and we have won back this portion of our land.” She turned fast whipping her long braid of hair around her.
How was Grimhelden injured? Bronherrn feared it had something to do with Pherlis’ death. Unable to maintain control over his thoughts, he went back to Grimhelden and stopped. He blinked and stared widening his eyes. Druthleer was talking to him.
“He is awake, but still weak.” Their mother smiled with relief.
Bronherrn fell to his knees before his brother and covered him with an embrace.
Grimhelden croaked out something inaudible. Druthleer offered him a drink and he turned to Bronherrn. “I failed you.”
“No. No brother. We regained this field. We tried to make peace. You have brought me triumph.”
“Pherlis.” Grimhelden stared into the fire.
“We waited for you.” Druthleer leaned in.
“She is to be laid out tonight,” Bronherrn said. “It is best you woke today. We could not wait much longer.”
Grimhelden stared up at the sky letting streaks of tears slide down the sides of his face without sobbing aloud. Bronherrn stayed with him until Shanal carried her daughter’s lifeless body closer to the fire. He and Druthleer hoisted Grimhelden up so he could participate.
Shanal raised her voice and began to sing an old ballad. Bronherrn joined in encouraging the others to add their voices:
Through eyes of life
We grow and cry,
There will always be pain.
For nothing is
More dear to us,
Than life and love and name.
But there is more
Struggle and war,
Our paths lead far and deep.
When the sun falls
We look beyond,
Remember and believe.
The song did not ease Bronherrn. He looked to Grimhelden who trembled with woe. “It is my fault she is dead.”
“No.” Bronherrn shook his head and grasped his brother’s hand tight. “None is to blame.”