An awkward and lonely young man with special reason to hate the Huctans, Timothy is trapped in a cycle of purposelessness and drudgery. But when the Huctans conscript him into a secret army—and when a girl with a strange set of skills sets him free—Timothy gets a chance to fight back.
Throwing himself into the rebel cause and training as an elite young Thane, Timothy ignites years of pent-up frustration into an obsessive drive to become the best. For months he practices combat and espionage, finding friendship with an equally fanatical young rebel and losing himself in the exhaustion of training and the danger of missions. Loving every minute of his new life, he wraps his new identity completely in service to the rebel Band.
The rebel Band which, unbeknownst to him, was created to be betrayed.
Verinald had no sword, no knife, no poison, and no noose. He was chained to tent pegs by wrists and ankles, which ruled out breaking his own neck. He had a bowl of soup—tin, not glass—and he had a spoon.
The spoon was his best chance.
But before he could work up the nerve to use it, the tent flap rustled. Verinald relaxed his grip and focused on his soup. He was calm. He was rational. There was no reason to take the spoon from him.
Then a voice spoke. “Let him sit up,” it said.
Verinald was not an easily flustered man. He had trained to maintain his composure since he was old enough to talk. He had kept a straight face while in fear for his own life, while lying to generals and kings, and while watching men die. But as he heard that voice—as two Huctan soldiers loosened and extended the chains on his wrists and raised him to a kneeling position—he trembled with a mixture of grief and rage that was beyond his control.
“It’s good to see you alive, old friend,” the voice said.
Verinald forced himself to raise his gaze, to meet the eyes that belonged to the voice. The trembling would not stop.
“Ricera,” he said.
“I know you want to condemn me for my betrayal,” Ricera said. “I know you’re itching to rail against me, to try to make me grieve for what is lost. Believe me, I grieve already. But I have made my choice, and your judgment is the least of my concerns. So let’s skip the shouting and weeping and get on to the reason you’re still alive.”
Verinald knew the reason he was still alive. His only consolation was that they could torture him until their knives grew dull, and he would not tell them anything. Not because he was strong, but because there was nothing to tell. Everyone else was already dead.
“Certainly,” Verinald found himself saying, with a voice that was saner than he felt. “Don’t let me inconvenience you. I know how busy you are with treachery and faithlessness.”
Ricera sighed. “Or you could replace the shouting and weeping with sarcastic jibes,” he said. Then, to the Huctan soldiers, “Leave us, please.”
The two soldiers obeyed, and Ricera squatted on his hams so that his eyes were level with Verinald’s. He was close, well within reach, and Verinald still had his spoon. This, more than anything, was a measure of Ricera’s contempt for him. Verinald might be Ricera’s peer in subterfuge and espionage, but in combat he was no better than a common soldier. Even if the spoon in Verinald’s hand had been a sword, he would have been no threat to Ricera.
“Stop measuring us against one another,” Ricera said. “You have done nothing else your entire life. Focus, just for this moment, on the task at hand.”
Verinald’s hand shook on the spoon, and he could not stop it.
“I have your son,” Ricera said.
Just like that. Ricera’s abruptness should have shocked Verinald into showing some emotion, into betraying something, but this deception was so practiced—so ingrained—that Verinald actually managed to raise his eyebrows in confusion.
“My son?” he said. “I have no son.”
“You have a son, and you know of him,” Ricera said. “Your face has suddenly gone smooth. How many times did we learn that lack of emotion can be just as telling as emotion itself? How old were we when they taught us that? Ten?”
“Who’s measuring us against one another now?” said Verinald.
“You’re right,” said Ricera. “The task at hand. Your task, if you care for your son.”
“I have no son,” Verinald said.
“You have a son,” Ricera repeated. “I sent for him as soon as Eoriden fell. His Huctan mother gave him up without a fight, when she learned that you were dead.”
Verinald’s spoon began trembling again.
Ricera smiled. “And you criticize my faithlessness.”
“The faithlessness of loving a Huctan woman is not the faithlessness of handing your nation over to the Huctan army.”
“The task at hand,” Ricera said. “The point of this meeting is that you, too, will hand people over to the Huctan army.”
“I will not.”
“Tomorrow,” Ricera continued, “I will set you free. I will have my soldiers wound you, if you wish, so that you can invent a story as to how you escaped capture. You will join your friends, if you still have them, and you will gather the remnants of the Duest to yourself.”
“I will not.”
“You will. I have found many of them, but there are many that I have not found. They have gone deep into hiding. But you were always a leader of men, Verinald. I have confidence in you. Over the years, you will gather them to yourself. You will organize them. You will form a resistance. Just think: for a time, you can be the leader of the Duest. I know it is a position you have long coveted.”
“You are mad.”
“You will gather them, lead them, even recruit others who wish to rebel. You will make a safe haven for them, a base of operations, a gathering place. The hill country between Suiton and Shadil will do, I think. I even give you permission, as you see fit, to inflict damage on the Huctans. My only condition is that the damage you inflict does not lead to your discovery. You will maintain secrecy and safety at all costs.”
“You don’t have my son,” Verinald said. “You may have known of him, but you don’t have him. This is a bluff.”
“Secrecy and safety,” Ricera said, “but watchfulness. Because when I call for you, you will respond. You will deliver the remnants of Botan into my hand. You will betray those you have gathered, and in so doing you will earn the life of your son.”
“My son is dead,” Verinald said.
“Your son is alive,” Ricera said. “He is beginning to speak. He is very intelligent; you can see it in his eyes. In that, he is like his father.”
Verinald could not stop himself. He was too tired, too full of despair and hate and self-loathing. He dropped his head, dropped his spoon, and began to weep.
“Take comfort,” Ricera said. “I may fail. All my plans may crumble around me, and I may never send for you. You may never have to betray those who trust you, as I have. You may even succeed in starting a real resistance. The Huctans may govern poorly. Perhaps, in time, you will throw their shackles off and win independence and freedom for Botan. Maybe your son will hear of your name and come to your throne with open arms.”
Ricera’s hand touched Verinald’s shoulder, and Verinald jerked as if burned. He looked up to find a mirthless smile on Ricera’s face.
“But don’t count on it,” Ricera said. “Don’t count on it.”
Travis Daniel Bow is the author of Thane and its sequel, King’s Table. He grew up in Reno, NV (where he raised pigs for FFA), earned degrees from Oklahoma Christian University (where he broke his collarbone in a misguided Parkour attempt) and Stanford (where he and his bike were hit by a car), and now does research and development work for Nikon. He has eight published short stories, four pending patent applications, one wonderful son, one beautiful wife, and one loving God.