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When his restless thrashing ceased, she pulled on a dress and padded from the hut on bare, slender feet. She made her ablutions at the well, then carried a pail of water to the open-air stall that was her father’s blacksmith shop.

The old dog who made his home there whimpered at her approach, but when he realized it was only Hilde, he wagged his tail in greeting. Hilde stroked him, whispering soothing words. The poor thing had suffered several brutal kicks before Swann turned his wrath on his daughter.

Normally Hilde would have fed the animals first: grain for the hens, scraps for the pigs, hay for the cow - who hadn’t given milk for a month and so spared Hilde that task. But today she had to attack the mess in her father’s shop before she could tend to them.

In the bright spring starlight she could see the violent scatter of his tools. She righted the tempering trough he’d kicked over, filling it with well water. Then she collected the tools, cleaned them and put them in their proper places.

Finally, she gathered the shattered pieces of the sword he’d ruined and put them in the scrap box. The broken blade had been the cause of her father’s rage. Commissioned by Owain, the count whose castle squatted on the hill overlooking the hamlet, the sword was long overdue. As was all of Swann’s work.

Consider the barren cow: milkless because her father hadn’t finished the new wagon wheels for a farmer who’d agreed to let Swann borrow his bull in trade.

Naturally, the blacksmith blamed the cow for the failing, not his addiction to strong ale. Now he was threatening to slaughter the animal for the little meat they could get from its scrawny carcass. What they’d do for milk and cheese after that, Hilde didn’t know. Buy it on credit, she supposed, with the promise of more work that would never get done.

Of one thing she was certain: each curse he received for an unpaid debt would earn Hilde another blow.

The broken sword was a perfect example. Swann had spent most of the day squandering what little money they had swilling ale at the tavern and making drunken boasts about the sword Lord Owain had commissioned.

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