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Bronherrn was to be a father again. Prillani’s growing womb presented itself after their previous visit to the other world and the timing troubled him. He struggled with the question of who had fathered the child.
He refused to vocalize his concerns to his wife. Instead, he marveled at his son, Brackliem. The boy’s understanding astounded him. “I will have a brother soon?”
Bronherrn tousled his son’s sandy hair. “Or a sister.”
A grimace covered Brackliem’s pudgy features and Bronherrn knelt before him by the hearth. Prillani hummed to herself while she weaved a blanket.
“Why would you not want a sister?” he asked.
Brackliem shrugged and Prillani smiled at them. Bronherrn sent her a confident look, then turned his gaze on his son. “Boy or girl, you will have the honor to look after the little mite.”
“But I want to be like you and my uncles.”
“Ahh.” Bronherrn placed his hand on Brackliem’s shoulder and added a slight pressure. “What about your mom and your aunts?”
Brackliem kicked at the ground.
Bronherrn chuckled at his son. “I promise you, if you have a sister she will be a worthy fighting partner.” He looked over to Prillani who laughed and set down her workings.
She came over to them. Brackliem put his hand on her belly. “Truly?”
Bronherrn kept silent as Prillani pulled a dagger from the belt tied around her waist. “I bested your father on the battlefield, and your sister may best you, if you have one.”
“You did not best me.” Bronherrn stood to tower over her playfully.
“I would take you on right now if I were not so round.”
Bronherrn kissed her, but when he pulled away all of his doubt rushed back to him. Could I love the child if it holds Hefeydd’s features? I should never have shared Prillani. The babe must be mine.
Aethelwyn had been supportive and caring, offering to play midwife, but Bronherrn glimpsed the mark of concern in her kindness. She moved with more care, more caution than was her usual nature. Despite this, she was bonded to Prillani. They had grown so close Bronherrn wondered if they kept secrets from him. Jealousy resurface and he spent much of his time telling Brackliem of his battles and visiting his brothers.
When Prillani felt the jolt of life ready to spring from her, Bronherrn grabbed his sword, but before he could go to summon Aethelwyn, she asked, “Where are you going?”
He looked from his sword to Prillani. “To summon Aethelwyn.”
“No need,” The priestess’s voice crept from the corner opposite him and she appeared before them glowing with her powers.
Bronherrn eyed her, holding his breath for a moment.
“Lay down your guard Bronherrn. Prillani and I have grown close enough that I felt her need. I am here to aid you as well as her.”
He sheathed his sword, refusing to set it down. Something stirred within him. He took hold of Brackliem’s hand and began to dress him in his small furs. “Come. Your aunts wish to see you for a visit.”
“But I do not want to leave.” He looked back to his mother and Bronherrn smiled.
He nodded. “You are not the man of the house just yet boy. Let me protect your mother.”
Brackliem’s lip trembled, but he went with Bronherrn as he rapped on the house next door. Onfala answered with a shriek. “Has the time come?”
Brackliem nodded fast and Bronherrn laughed. “Yes.”
“Oh, come.” She pulled Brackliem in and shooed Bronherrn back to his home.
The birth of his second child was much simpler than the first. Prillani worked through the pain with his hands gripping hers and Aethelwyn offered his wife the same sense of calm she had when Brackliem was born. Bronherrn did his best to encourage Prillani when it was time to push, but his insides twisted with an anxious hope to find a child of his blood.
He took up his position behind Prillani wrapping his arms around her. She gripped his forearms and bore down. Her touch eased him, until her body relaxed. He kissed Prillani’s forehead and she sat back leaning on him, but his eyes locked on Aethelwyn’s frightened gaze.
She wrapped the baby in a cloth before handing the bundle to them. “You have a …beautiful…daughter.”
Gazing down on the baby, he knew. She was the product of Hefeydd’s actions, not his. In her divine features lay a perfection that was more than human. Prillani cocked her head at Bronherrn. The pleading depths of her dark eyes called to his heart. At least the child had his wife’s eyes. He took relief in that.
A moment of hesitation passed. The weight of his wife’s gaze and that of Aethelwyn sat on him. He heaved a great sigh and leaned over Prillani’s shoulder. He kissed his fingertips and pressed them to his daughter’s head. “You belong to no one, but if you allow me, I shall be yours.”
“Oh Bronherrn,” Prillani sobbed as if she had been holding the tears back for some time. “I love you so much.”
He smiled at her and kissed her with a desperate desire. The constant doubt, the questions that had plagued him were his own fault.
“We are all family, no matter how we are made,” Aethelwyn spoke softly. “May I?” She gestured to the baby with shaking hands.
Bronherrn’s pulse beat harder. He wished to grab his daughter and keep her tucked safe in his arms, but Prillani offered her up. “Of course.”
Unsure of his instincts, Bronherrn watched as Aethelwyn rubbed her nose on the newborn’s. “Motherhood will not grace me, but I am pleased to share in your joys.”
Prillani stared at her with sorrow. “If you not have children, then why does she look like one of you?”
Bronherrn shut his eyes, thankful his wife had not used Hefeydd’s name.
“I have a different purpose. The Otherworld does not often mix with humanity, but when it does it is paternal only.” She furrowed her brow and handed the baby to Prillani.
“And what is your purpose here?” Bronherrn slid out from behind his wife and stepped forward.
“Bronherrn,” Prillani eyed him with warning.
Before he could answer, Aethelwyn grasped her chest. She cried out panting.
“What now?” Bronherrn held her up feeling both foolish and useless.
Prillani cradle the baby.
“It is not me,” Aethelwyn said. Her featured drew out long and frightful. “It is Hefeydd, I must return to him!”
A great wave of understanding rushed over Bronherrn’s skin like thousands of prickly needles. He had been suspicious of the wrong one. “I shall explain everything to her.” Bronherrn placed his hand over Aethelwyn’s heart and she disappeared.
He turned to Prillani and sank to the floor.
“Bronherrn? You are a Ultainian warrior, get up and tell me what we now face.”
“Hefeydd.” He began to panic at the thought of the warning Aethelwyn had once given him.
Prillani sat up. She set their daughter at her breast to nurse. Bronherrn rubbed the baby’s back with a sigh. “I should have warned you. Aethelwyn should have prepared you. I believe she hoped as much as I that it would be no matter.”
“Enough.” Prillani leaned her face so close that Bronherrn could feel her breath on his cheek. “We cannot change what has been. Tell me what we face so I am able to fight it with you.”
Unable to control his breathing, Bronherrn contemplated sheltering her from the truth. The idea evaporated when Prillani pulled his head into her lap and comforted him while feeding their newborn.
He sat up as she stroked his hair. “Forgive me. I should never have risked it. Risked you… us.”
He stood and grabbed a cup of water and some bread for her. As she drank, he thought of how she had kept him alive in her father’s dungeon. The moment a bite of bread passed over her lips, he grew more grateful that she had chosen to rescue him and he determined to rescue her. “The holy ones of the otherworld are forbidden from impregnating humans.”
Prillani’s eyes widened with a different pain than the kind she had labored through. “She is your daughter.”
“Aye, she is. But her lineage is not of my blood. You cannot deny the look of Hefeydd in her.” Once he said it, the rest came easier.
“Then why would they welcome us so easily? How could anyone have even led me to believe what we were doing was right? You led me there. They coaxed me.” She panted. A mixture of fear and anger painted her face red.
He put his hand to her lips. “Hush love. There is no fault. They are supposed to be all knowing. Maybe it is for a reason. ”
“Reason? To endanger Aethelwyn, or our daughter?”
Bronherrn stopped her once more. “It is forbidden because when a child of their world is born to us, the holy parent loses their ties to the Gods.”
Prillani dropped the rest of the bread to the floor. “What does that mean?”
“He will go mad.”
“Like the priests of my father?” She sucked in short fast mouthfuls of air.
Bronherrn kept his eyes on hers. “I need to know all you know of them so I may help our friend. I sensed danger from the moment Aethelwyn arrived.”
“There is not much. I feared them so. Even my father kept them at a distance.”
Bronherrn hugged her to him, careful of their daughter.
“I must go to them.”
“But he will be wild. Unstoppable.”
“Unstoppable?” Bronherrn stared up thinking of Aethelwyn. “Aethelwyn vanquished all of your father’s priests.”
“But Hefeydd is her husband. She could not harm him.”
“I know.” Bronherrn closed his eyes and his path seemed laid out for him. “That is why I must go to them.”
“Our daughter is yet to be named.” Prillani sniffed.
“Then we must choose before I depart.”
“Now?” Prillani blinked at him.
“I know it has filled your thoughts. Tell me what you feel we should call her.”
“To keep with the similarity of my name and honor your mother, I had an idea that would also hold much meaning to Grimhelden after his loss as well.”
Bronherrn’s mouth curved into a large grin. “You speak as if we are one.” He stared at her with wonder. “You wish for our daughter to be named Phara?”
“Yes.” Prillani smiled at him with shining eyes.
He looked proudly on his daughter. “No other name could ever belong to her.”