Tir’s throat locked tight; he couldn’t breathe. His jaw stiffened even as his tongue moved behind his teeth, forming his name. The force of her magic stunned him. He’d never felt anything like it. His face heated, the need for air overcoming his desire to keep a secret. “Tirasdunh,” he gritted out, and the force released him. Tir dropped to his knees, gasping for breath.
“Did you say Tristan? That is a Northern name. You wouldn’t be lying to me, would you?”
He shook his head, opened his mouth to curse her blood, but when she held up a finger, his voice would not come.
Nothing but the honest answer to her question would come out, and the longer he remained silent, the more painful it became. He chose his words with care, revealing only what would do no harm. “Tirasdunh is my name. It is an old Aegiran name. Most call me Tir.”
“Tir is our god of war. It is not a name for mortals to carry.”
“Your god, not mine.”
She looked him up and down. “As you say. Why do you wish my parents dead?”
Again, her demon magic slithered around his throat, commanding more words. “They killed my sister,” he said, but stopped himself there.
The magic released him suddenly, and Tir hunched over, gulping in deep breaths of foul Northern air. If she wanted him dead, no better time to take his life than now, while she had him on his knees before her, head bowed, ready for a blade across the neck. If Tir had had any pride left at all, he’d stand and face her. But he couldn’t. Twice felled, he’d shamed himself and his tutors. His tribe would be well rid of him. They deserved better than a weakling who couldn’t even stand up to a single demon. Perhaps he was the one cursed, and with his death, his people could be free.
But what if they weren’t?
“Only one Aegiran woman passed into the arms of her ancestors in Wilderheim. Your sister was Queen Mari.”
Her name on the woman’s lips sounded like an aberration.
She tangled her fingers into his hair, forced his head up to meet her gaze. “I know you’re keeping something from me. And I know you will dance around it until all life has drained from your body before you let the honest truth pass your lips.”
“Then kill me,” he grated.
The woman shook her head. “Your death would serve no purpose. As your sister’s served none. If you believe nothing else, then trust in this one thing: she did not die by my father’s hand, or by my mother’s. Her passing was a tragedy and many mourned her, my parents among them.”
Tir yanked on his restraints, the pain in his broken hand a paltry nuisance compared to the agony in his heart. She was lying; she had to be. Mari’s death was the reason for everything. She had to be avenged for his tribe to live.
The woman sighed and released him. “If I can’t get the truth from your tongue, I will get it from your blood.”
But it was too late. With one smooth cut of his own blade, the woman opened his wrist and held it, bleeding, over a copper bowl. His struggles came to naught. “Damn you!” he screamed at her. “Damn all of you!” He called down curses upon her and her kin, invoked the dark gods whose names felt cold on his tongue and stabbed fear into his heart.
She didn’t waver from her task. “Your gods,” she said. “Not mine.”
When she released him, Tir fought against his restraints, tried to kick the copper bowl out of her hands, but in three swift, long-legged strides, she was out of the cell and the door closed and locked behind her. He screamed himself hoarse, chafed his wrists raw in the shackles restraining him, and all but wrenched his shoulders out of their sockets trying to escape.
Not until the torch had burned down to nothing and the light of day shone into his cell did Tir subside, sinking to the floor against the wall. Not until then did he realize the cut on his wrist had stopped bleeding and his broken hand felt whole.