Tyne’s hulking form filled the doorway, blocking the evening light and casting a shadow across the floor. It stretched toward her and she inched back, trying to keep it from touching her toes.
“Cwendlwyn,” his voice rumbled deep within his chest. “You made it here alive. I am so pleased.” His face was shadowed as he stepped into the hut. Her father came to her holding out his hands. They were familiar hands that had comforted her when they could. They had carried her from the Eastfold clear across the mark after the death of her mother, leading her from the darkness of her sorrow in and out of shadow until they found the village he chose as their home. Still when she placed her hands in his, a chill flowed from his fingers instead of loving warmth and Cwen knew she had never really known her father’s deepest secrets.
“I ran as soon as I was able,” she said quietly. “I tried to save Bean, the stables –” she could not look her father in the eye, but saw his dark features instead on the Dunlending she had killed, the one whose blood still stained her rough cotton shirt. “I did not know where to go, therefore I came here…” her voice trailed off into silence.
“You are very clever, Cwendlwyn, my child.” Her father held her hands loosely, keeping her an arm’s length away. “You were good to run so quickly, before the main host of the attackers came.”
“The main host?” she questioned. She longed to pull her hands from her father’s grasp. She knew to do so would be unwise.
“Aye.” Her father continued. “The first attackers at dawn merely cleared the way for the main host to attack at will. They had no resistance after the Watch was eliminated.” Cwen thought a gleam flashed in her father’s eye as she described the attack. “The village was completely destroyed by the fires. All the women, children…they are hunting those that hid or ran. I doubt anyone was able to escape.” His eyes bore into her face. “Only you.”
“Such a fortunate stroke of luck,” Tyne said from the doorway, “that you, my love, were able to flee.”
“Aye,” she whispered, shrinking away as he moved into the room. The setting sun blinded her over his shoulder, peering into the room and filling it with fire. Tyne strode across the floor and slammed the mace on the table beside her. She was closed in, pinioned in a corner with a wall of man-flesh blocking her way to safety.
Tyne stepped closer to her, looming above as he looked down at her, his face hallowed in the light of the setting sun. The backlight prevented scrutiny, and she could not decipher his expression. “What shall we do now,” he growled, “now that we are here, escaped from the danger and free to do as we please?”
“We should go back,” she whispered. “Help those we can.”
“Against an entire army of Dunlendings? Are you mad?” her father questioned.
“Some may have escaped the attack. We can save them, Da.” She did not understand what would cause her father to deny help to those who needed it.
“No,” he growled. “None will be saved.”
“Da…” the word barely escaped her mouth when Tyne grabbed her by the throat. He lifted her off her feet, his face close to her own.
“You want to save those forgoil, you pretty one?” His teeth gleamed as he growled out, “The ones who scorned you for your blood, for bearing a mark of the Wild Men?” A brutal hand stroked her hair. Wrapping a length of it around his fingers, he yanked. The chunk ripped from her scalp, bringing tears to her eyes and a cry of pain from her lips. He dangled it in front of her as she clawed at his grip on her throat. Her nails drew blood; still his grip held. Her gasps for air became weak, strangled. Bright spots began to appear in the corners of her vision.
“Tyne—enough!” her father’s voice commanded. Tyne released her and she fell on her face on the ground, gasping, her throat raw. She sensed the boot before she saw it, but could not roll out of the way in time. The kick caught her in the side, knocking what little breath she had drawn in out from her lungs with a harsh whoosh.
“How does it feel,” Tyne sneered, “how does it feel, little Eorling, to have your world taken from you, burned down around you?”
Tears slid down her face. She stared at the dirty shoes in front of her, unable to speak.
Tyne took her face in his hand, squeezing her cheeks painfully as he lifted her face to look into his own.
“How does it feel to have your world destroyed?”
“Tyne,” she managed to whisper, “please…why…”
He squeezed harder. “You know why. Look at me. Look at your father, and you will see the answer, Cwendlwyn of the Riddermark.”
She could taste blood in her mouth as the pressure of his grip causes the sensitive flesh inside her cheeks to cut against her teeth. A whimper escaped her lips, and she closed her eyes, to blot out the image of his snarling eyes, so foreign to her in their rage.
“You, too, have the dark blood in you,” Tyne continued. He released her face only to grasp a fist full of her hair. He pulled her head back cruelly. “Your father gave you this black mane covering your pretty little scalp. Did you never wonder how such darkness found its way into your blood? You are covered by the shadow.” His eyes gazed across her shoulders at the burnt ends lying there unevenly. “Well, you were covered by the shadow,” he sneered. “Now all that is left is ash.”