Hatter by Daniel Coleman

Book: Hatter by Daniel Coleman Read Free Book Online
Authors: Daniel Coleman
Tags: Fantasy
back. And the beatings continue and everyone turns a blind eye. The older brother learns to hide and the younger brother learns to fight because no one else is going to protect him.”
    The tears in his eyes infuriated him. He thought he was past crying, and doing it in front of the Elites, even by torchlight, made it worse. But the story needed to be told. He threw his cloak in the dirt and in one motion swept off his tunic and turned his back to the soldiers. A mark he’d kept secret since joining the Elites was displayed in ragged numbers covering the lower half of his back. 13 .
    After a few moments to compose himself, his voice was controlled and emotionless. “Years passed and that boy practiced every weapon he could get his hands on. He lived for the local competitions in javelin, archery, staves, and daggers. It was all he cared about, and one day he challenged his father.
    “The man died and the boy never felt bad about it one day in his life. But suddenly the magistrate cared. He couldn’t have boys killing their fathers in his town so he planned to hang the boy.
    “Two days before the scheduled execution, a squadron of Elites happened to pass through. The lieutenant was willing to defer to local justice, but one outspoken sublieu named Fahrr demanded the boy be taken before a district council. The boy’s life was spared by one rotting vote.
    “Your magistrates, nobles, and councils can burn. The Circle is more vulnerable than any of you realize and I’ll defend it with my last breath.”
    In a tone just a touch softer than before, Ulrik said, “You can’t deal with your own issues by assaulting every authority figure you meet, Chism.”
    “This isn’t about me!” Try as he might, Chism couldn’t believe his own words entirely.
    “We all have scars, lad,” said Ander.
    A heated discussion ensued, some arguing that Chism was justified, others claiming he was out of control. But self-control wasn’t the issue. He could school himself as well as anyone. Better. But in cases of violation of the sacred Circle he would act every time.
    Near dawn they reached a consensus. In an unprecedented arrangement, Chism would be stripped of the Circle and Sword but would remain a member of the squadron. The Elite emblem was his life, and he only took solace in the fact that he’d be a member of the Quicksilver Squadron until he stood trial. The loyalty of his brothers-in-arms was something he’d never experienced or imagined.
    Hile’s Fellow, a small man named Firan provided Chism with his spare tunic and cloak and Chism reluctantly donned the emblemless uniform.
    The squadron slept very little over the following four days leading up to Serpent Gap. Despite a pace that pushed the horses to near exhaustion, Duke Jaryn’s men had narrowed the gap since the night of their escape. There was no way hundreds of men could cover that much ground so quickly without leaving a trail of dead horses behind them. And any town near their path would be forced to surrender food, horses, and men to the hunt.
    Chism was right about Duke Jaryn; he cared nothing for the Circle. He only cared for himself and his cursed pride. Thirsty was forged for men like him.
    Serpent Gap was the only pass between two steep mountain ranges—the Wasteland Mountains to the south and the Antidiniss Mountains to the north. The gap started wide, but cinched into a trail no more than ten paces across in some parts at the bottom of the valley. The four mile pass wound blindly like a snake, offering countless sites for an effective ambush.
    Ten squadrons of men could easily hide in the pass. Unfortunately, the only way to find out if word regarding the skirmish in Knobbes had reached Portal City was to spring the trap.
    The Elites and Fellows had their hoods drawn, but not because of cold weather. If they marched into an ambush, the enemy would wonder which one was Chism.
    With Lieutenant Fahrr in the lead, fifteen Elites and Fellows entered the gap. It

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