A tang of salt hovering over sea-worn pits on slate rock cliffs. His troop squats in foam-crusted wind, hunched, fluttering black furs and cloaks, leaning on spears and staring down, eyes gleaming as the tide comes in and fills the crevasse.
They have thrown the family down there. The man and the woman with their legs mangled and weighed down with iron. Their two children huddle against them, eyes veined and red with tears.
The roar and crash of cold gray turf, spluttering and sucking and it rushes in through smooth-walled holes and swirls freezing around the feet of the family and burning into the raw wounds of the man and woman. The children are crying. The man and the woman, on shaking, trembling limbs gather them up and clutch them away from the water.
His cloak whips around him in the wind. The greased warmth of the body pressed next to his leans forward, watching the man and woman sobbing, rocking their children. Animalistic reek, lead-heavy in the air swells off of its breath. Long breath. Thick breath.
He slips away from the breath and out of the press of the circle and walks to the edge of the cliff.
His troop burst through the door to a man standing in the middle of the home, edged with red firelight. The man was holding a firebrand. His troop pushed through the door and the man leapt at them and swung the sizzling brand into the face of one of his soldiers.
He paced into the home and stepped over a small mattress on the floor. A jar of water lurked in the shadows near the door, and several worn, carved animals lay toppled on their sides under a low table. Some needles, torn cloth leaned on a pitted grinding stone under a window. He walked to the window, inspecting the open, wooden shutters, inspecting the moonlit land beyond and the desperate shadows fleeing across it. Light flickered madly red on the walls. Shadows thrashed violently as his troop beat the man into submission.
It grew quiet and he could scent blood over the char of scorched skin. He turned.
The man lay sprawled on the ground. In a towering ring, his troop swayed around the man, some of them still pumping twitched muscles. One of his soldiers had soaked cloth in the jar of water and dabbed its own flamed face. Plunge. Soak. Dab.
He walked back out into the night. The man was towed out of the house, head dragged in the dirt. Some took the man to the camp. Some went to the open window and tracked down the man's family.
His hands are wrapped in gloves pillaged from the home, thick gloves, worn and lined with wool. Working gloves worth nothing but the hide taken to make them. They are the only things from the home he has kept. His wife once made gloves like these.
Bright-eyed seagull drifts on the wind, hovering over his head. It tolls a lone squawk to the surf, drowned by the rushing waves.
People of the village clustered in the distance, white knuckles clutching cloaks tight under their chins. They drift into his vision, gaunt, hunched, empty.
He turns back to blood-hungry, laughing faces and to the gray churn of the crevasse.
Water seething, sucking at the chins of the man and the woman. They have lifted the children to their shoulders and are crying, kissing small legs, small feet.
The sea rises.
The sea rises.
The sea claims the woman first, under the waves. The man tries to hold the woman up. Their child nearly falls. The man stops and crying, watches the woman’s hands, still above the water, clasped tight around their child’s legs until they wilt and sink into cold gray. The man pulls the shaking child to join the other on shoulders already buried in a thrashing foam.
The sea rises.
Fluttering black fur lashes in the wind.
And the man is gone. A struggle, a last attempt to raise the children above the sea, above the yearning, salt-bubbled tide. The man’s hands fall under the water. The children are left to flounder.
He gathers up his troop. They stalk behind him as he walks toward the villagers.
“Failure to display the image of your lord is treason. Resisting the authority of your lord is death.”
The villagers stare beyond him with eyes stormed as the sea.
“Do not approach until morning.”
Faces still, their hair damp in the salt mist. The spray hangs on their hair like tears.
He leaves them, pacing under warm black fur. His troop follows, creaking in the background, jostling, laughing. His hands are covered in wool-lined gloves, and they swing his laughing children, and they caress a smiling wife. His hands must protect them.
And now his hands are covered in wool-lined gloves, serving a fitful lord. And the sea does the crying.