Chapter 1

Toyvhek dho Vuchovek (I)

Toyvhek was working in the fields behind his parents' house with his father when the trucks came rolling over the hill.

There were two of them, both black with large wheels spattered with all sorts of dirt and debris from the terrain over which they had driven. The first truck that pulled up had blacked-out windows, but the second, he saw, was pulling a trailer in which someone was sitting. Toyvhek had only a second to observe all this before the doors of the first truck opened and three men jumped out.

Two were advancing ahead of the third; one of them had a mean look about him as he swung his large arms menacingly at his sides, but Toyvhek had his eyes on the second, who was holding an assault rifle, and aiming it directly at him. The third man at the rear of these two had a coil of thick rope swinging at his side.

'Stop what you are doing,' commanded the armed man, and Toyvhek did immediately as he was bidden: the axe with which he had been chopping firewood dropped to the dusty ground with a heavy thud.

'Toyvhek dho Vuchovek,' said the menacing man, addressing Toyvhek as the son of Vuchovek, 'we have a warrant for your arrest for the burglary of precious stones from the home of Cylvysia dha Minhotv.'

Toyvhek had his hands raised, and his heart was pounding as the memory of robbing the elderly Cylvysia, daughter of long-dead Minhotv, surfaced in his mind. He tried desperately to stem the panic threatening to cloud his head, as his father stepped forward at his side.

At thirty-two years of age, Vuchovek was tall, broad-shouldered and strong, with a handsome stubbled face. He had not dropped the pitchfork with which he had been working, and so he stepped forward with it clutched at his side; Toyvhek wanted to shout a warning at him, but he was too afraid to speak.

'What are you talking about?' Vuchovek said, with a strong voice. 'What proof do you have of this crime, or that my son has committed it?'

But the armed man simply pointed the weapon at him, silencing him, before speaking to Toyvhek as if there had been no interruption.

'We have already arrested one of your accomplices, and we are tracking the other. The best thing for you to do, Toyvhek dho Vuchovek, is to co-operate.'

It was around noon, and the sun beat down on all their heads. Toyvhek and Vuchovek had set out to work at dawn, knowing they only had a few hours before the heat became dangerously unbearable. Vuchovek had attended to the crops first, sickle in hand; Toyvhek, the firewood. On and on he had worked, enjoying the strength the task permitted him to use, listening to the whistle of the axe head through the air and the satisfying whack as it struck home, obliterating the pieces of wood. He had worked up quite a sweat, turning the thin vest he was wearing grubby and damp, but he never complained in the least. Every few minutes he would straighten up to stretch his back, and he would stand there, holding the axe vertically on the tree stump on which he worked, leaning on it as he looked at the rolling hills and the housetown nestled in the valley. It was a fantastic view, one he never tired of seeing, ever since he was small. And now he wondered how much longer he would be able to appreciate it.

'Toyvhek dho Vuchovek,' said the man with the gun, 'turn around, and down onto your knees.'

Sweat was pouring into his eyes, stinging them. Toyvhek hated the idea of turning his back to a weapon trained on him, but he knew it would be dangerous and foolish to refuse. He did as he was told, keeping his hands out and up above his head.

'Good,' he heard the man say, 'now put your hands behind your back. You are about to be restrained.'

Toyvhek swallowed. Slowly, he brought his arms down, his shoulders cramping from being in the air for so long and brought them behind his back. He cupped one hand in the palm of the other and waited. Footsteps approached from behind, whispering through the dust. Then he heard heavy breathing as one of the men started tying his hands. The rope was coarse, and tight, and scratched horribly against his wrists; he felt it being looped around his hands four, five, innumerable times.

It seemed to go on forever. Toyvhek kept perfectly still, staring straight ahead, his face empty, not betraying the terror he felt in his throat and his gut. He wanted to look round for his father but felt almost paralysed to do so. The seconds ticked on as the man worked, crossing, looping and tightening the rope, until finally it was done. Toyvhek brought his bound hands down into the small of his back, fists clenched, palms already slick with sweat. The rope was tight, gnawing into his skin. He tried flexing his wrists, just a little. There was no give.

'Up,' barked the man, and a booted foot kicked him hard in the leg. Toyvhek stood up, careful to keep his balance. 'Now, over to the vehicle.' Toyvhek started to walk but the rope suddenly went taut and tightened painfully around his wrists, forcing him to stop; then it slackened, and he was able to move again. He understood: the man was holding the other end of the rope. Toyvhek felt his face burn, and it had nothing to do with the blistering sun. He felt like a tamed beast being put on show.

He passed his father, still in the same spot, his face pale. He wanted to speak to Vuchovek, wanting to reassure him and maybe be comforted himself. But the moment passed. Toyvhek was led around to the back of the second truck, where he raised his foot to climb into the trailer; but his tied hands were yanked backwards painfully once more, and he stood still.

Remembering what the armed man had told him, Toyvhek slowly looked up into the trailer, dread welling up inside him. He saw and recognised the pale young man sitting there, who also had his hands tied behind his back. He looked up, the two boys saw each other, and the one in the trailer smiled sadly.

'Hello, Toy,' he said.