Prologue

Courage. Elek invoked it. The hilt of his sword slipped in his hand. His boots slid on wet shingle, as his knees buckled. He couldn’t see Father, but was certain he was close. The moonless sky cast a blanket over the shore. Thick fog rolled in from the Black Sea. He squinted through the murk.

Dark shapes leapt off longboats, swiftly moving from the edge of the water up the pebbled beach. His heart pounded as he swung his gaze right then left; he knew these were soldiers coming ashore. He could hear their boots trampling on shells. Hundreds. Heavily armoured. He wiped the sweat off his brow, as a voice inside pleaded for him to flee.

His Father was out there. Hold firm. Elek sensed they’d seen him, transfixed like a frozen bystander. A knot tightened in his stomach. There were too many of them. He turned to run, scrambling back up the bank, making for the lookout tower. He was short of breath and felt light-headed but remembered what he had to do.

Shouts behind him intensified. He sped up. His foot jammed against a rock and he fell flat. The sword clattered to the ground. He was up once more, making a clumsy grab for the hilt, but it caught on a boulder; he’d have to leave it. Sounded like a wall of metal closing in on him. Run.

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