Before Bronherrn could leave, he fetched his son. Brackliem’s eyes went wide. He followed his father slowly home. When they entered, he made his way to Prillani who lay with the baby.
“This is your sister, Phara.” Prillani beamed with joy.
“My sister?” Brackliem lisped.
Bronherrn laughed. “She is your flesh and blood. You are to her what I am to your uncles.”
“Then she’s mine.” Brackliem cuddling up beside his sister and patted her head. Bronherrn held his breath for a moment, afraid that his son would be too rough, but Prillani did not seem alarmed. Bronherrn grew more comfortable with Brackliem’s affections for his sister. He was immediately protective of her. It offered Bronherrn solace and he bent down to tell Brackliem of the journey he must go on.
“But I want to go with!”
Bronherrn did his best to hold in the laugh that danced on his lips at his son’s pout. “You are my boy. There will be many adventures ahead for you.”
“In the years to come.”
“But I want to go now.”
Bronherrn bent forward. He stared into his son’s changing eyes. “I need you here. You must look after your mom and your sister. Can you protect them for me?”
Brackliem’s face lit up, but Aethelwyn’s figure faded back into the room.
“Aethelwyn?” Bronherrn’s heart lurched.
“It is Hefeydd. He struggles so much. I can’t keep him back forever.” Her skin completely dimmed as she fell to the ground.
“Mommy, what’s wrong with Aefelyn?” Brackliem asked.
Bronherrn carried her over to the sleeping furs and went to grab some water. He rushed the cup to her and placed it against her mouth. “What plagues him?”
“I tried. I tried. I tried.” Aethelwyn gasped.
“It shall be set right.” Bronherrn consoled her.
“No,” she said. “He demands his daughter.”
“But he knows she belongs with me.” Prillani clutched Phara to her.
“He has lost himself. His will is strong and he retains some powers. He shall not give in.” Aethelwyn brushed Bronherrn’s hand from her and stood nodding. “I am better now. Thank you.”
She walked over to the hearth and sat before Prillani. “Hefeydd wishes to take Phara from you. Something has poisoned him against humans. He is speaking of strange spells, like those of the Zuthan priests.”
Bronherrn caught Prillani shudder. “Where is he now?”
“The other holy ones have him contained, but they fear him. I’m afraid they cannot retain him. He will find his way here. He has deluded himself into thinking that Phara is his purpose and that your interference is blasphemy.”
“We have dealt with this before.” Bronherrn went for his sword. He harnessed himself.
“Bonherrn…” Prillani’s voice died on her lips.
He marched over to her and kissed her hard. “You remember your father’s priests. I must end Hefeydd’s misery.”
Tears spilled from Prillani’s eyes and she nodded. “You have my blessing.”
Readying himself, he turned toward Aethelwyn. “Can you tell me all you know of what is to come?”
Tears shined in her eyes as she shook her head.
He stomped closer and grabbed her arms. “Then what use are your visions? Hefeydd will die, you know that, do you not?”
“Bronherrn.” Prillani caressed his shoulder.
He softened at her touch. He released Aethelwyn, and turned to face his wife.
“Go. I trust what must be done.” She rubbed his beard.
He kissed her, breathing in the sweet perfume of her skin. “Be cautious of everyone.”
Bronherrn rushed out to reach The Otherworld. He raced on, pumping his legs with careful strides. The length wound on forever, but he reached it faster than he had ever done. Running down the long stairs a familiar priest held the gate open. Bronherrn slowed to a trot and made his way to Hefeydd with the rest of the inhabitants following behind him.
“Where is he?” he asked.
He was directed to Aethelwyn’s hut. Xanthu bounded forward to grumble at him.
“I have to see him.” Bronherrn scratched behind the ears as he approached the hut..
Bronherrn pushed back the drape and entered, unable to keep the hairs on his arms from twitching under the strange silence. He stopped before the bed where he had shared Prillani with Aethelwyn and Hefeydd.
A cackle sounded from the corner and he jerked around to find a repulsive shell of what had once been Hefeydd glowering at him. Xanthu whimpered in the doorway.
Bronherrn looked back at her and kept his guard. “Hello friend.” He approached Hefeydd.
“Do not call me friend. There are no friends in this world. Your kind is too vile to live. I can feel your hatred. It has become a part of me.”
“You once envied us.” Bronherrn took another step before stopping to try and reason with Hefeydd. “It was not so long ago. Please let me help you. You are not yourself.”
“Give me my daughter and I will never bother you again.”
Bronherrn winced. He worked to remain calm under the contrasting appearance of what had once been his friend. “She is not yours,” he lied.
Controlling every breath, Bronherrn steadied his body. He relaxed his is face with perfect control and studied Hefeydd’s limp skin hanging from his bones as if he had not eaten or drank since well before Phara’s birth. His once symmetric face now housed a network of cuts that oozed with puss. He slouched over himself.
“Your word is worthless.” Hefeydd spat at him. “Bring me the child or you will all die.”
“You know I cannot do that.” Bronherrn refused to blink.
“Then you will never be rid of me.” Hefeydd jumped forward.
Bronherrn drew his sword but Hefeydd his a transparent wall. It began to glow, displaying the energy that kept him contained.
“This orb will only last for so long.” Bronherrn eyed the strange forcefield. Aethelwyn’s magic cannot overpower him forever.
“Y-e-e-e-s-s-s.” Hefeydd rubbed his hands together and licked his lips with a cold stare.
Bronherrn scratched his beard. “You and I, we were like brothers. Let me help you or you may find yourself ended by my blade.”
Hefeydd grumbled with a deep guttural laugh. “Your blade can do nothing against my powers.”
“I wish to never need raise my sword to you, Hefeydd. Please. you must listen to me. I’m sorry for my greed. For my desire to have both women, to know your glory. I was wrong. But you know the babe is not yours and she belongs with her mother.”
Hefeydd merely glared.
“Please.” Bronherrn knelt before the light. “Please remember who you are.”
“I am a God. I should rule you and your little people.” He spit at the bright wall separating them.
“And what of Aethelwyn?”
“Aethelwyn.” Hefeydd hissed at Bronherrn. “She was never mine. Never allowed to have anything, anyone to myself.”
Something in Hefeydd’s narrowed eyes taunted Bronherrn. He wished to fight but restrained himself remembering Aethelwyn’s choice. “She was not made to belong to anyone. But she shared everything with you. Even me. Doesn’t that matter at all?”
“Bah,” Hefeydd cried out. “You all fear me now. And you should. I see it all. I understand. My daughter and I have the power to rule everything. To make everyone do our bidding.”
“Never!” Bronherrn knew he would only have one chance. He must move fast or it would be his end. He gripped his sword, bowed his head, and took a deep breath. He leapt into light, hoping Aethelwyn’s power would listen to his purpose.
He leapt through the icy barrier and slashed his long sword from one side of his friend’s neck to the other. Blood flowed over Hefeydd’s shoulders as his head hit the ground.
Bronherrn bowed low. Kneeling before the body, he caught Hefeydd’s lifeless flesh before it fell. “Forgive me! Forgive me!” Warm blood soaked onto his pants but he felt cold. The fresh agony of useless tears soaked his face.
Xanthu crept up to him and pushed her large head under his arm whimpering. He pressed his eyes closed tight, sobbing. Xanthu stayed with him until the inhabitants of The Otherworld squeezed into the close quarters raising their voices in a chant that pulled Bronherrn from his body.
He envisioned his daughter growing into a benevolent ruler, envisioned her peacefully walking the Zuthan lands. The soothing image washed away his pain and Hefeydd smiled in a distant field. Unsure of what he had seen, Bronherrn had no care to mind if it were real or not. He found comfort singing along. When the voices around him died down, he opened his eyes to find Aethelwyn standing before him.
She kissed his brow and knelt against him. “You have set him free.”
Her unexpected presence caused Bronherrn to feel everything more fully. He had feared that she would perish along with Hefeydd and found his grief multiplied. “What a mess I have made.”
“We have done as we were meant to do.”
Bronherrn fixed his eyes on her and stood. “This? This was our destiny? To kill a friend, your husband?”
Aethelwyn reached for him, but he stepped back. “No. I never wanted this.”
“It is not what we want that must come to fruition. I will no longer allow you to blame yourself every time someone dies. There is peace beyond your pain.”
Bronherrn scowled at her until he noticed the tears staining her perfect face. He had never seen her look so strained. “You truly loved him.”
“More than the Gods should allow.” She sobbed.
“And we shall honor him properly. As he lived, not how he came to die.” Her vulnerability gave him reason to exert more strength.
Bronherrn watched the priests surrounding them move forward to carry Hefeydd’s head and body out for consecration. He followed with Xanthu walking beside him. Aethelwyn remained behind and Bronherrn knew she wished to mourn alone.