Read Chapter 1

Basutoland 1922

Tiki Penrose Matsile jolts awake with a gasp, an icy fist squeezing his lungs. A serpent coils in his belly, piercing him with a chill colder than death, hissing: Today.

Tiki snaps his eyes open. Dust motes pirouette above his head as they shaft through gaps in his thatched roof. He rises from his floor mattress and creeps to the door.

Outside, the air hangs heavy with the smoky sweetness of cooking fires, mingling with the damp kiss of dew on the earthen floor. A rooster's brazen squawk rips through the sleepy African village, shattering the peace.

A few feet from the door, a giant of a man, all elbows and knees, hunches over a hide, scraping with a rhythmic rasp. The dim light catches the silver streaks in his beard, momentarily illuminating a wide, toothy grin as he glances up. But a flicker of tension crosses his features, barely perceptible, as a faint rumble, like distant thunder, echoes from the direction of the plains. He blinks it away.

'Dumela, my son,' the deep voice booms. [Good morning, my son.]

Warmth floods Tiki's chest, pushing back the frantic drumming within. 'Dumela, Baba,' he replies, a small wave the only response his suddenly leaden limbs can muster. [Good morning, father.]

He is about to go and hug his father with his usual morning ritual, but slumps against the door frame, scratching the dirt, searching for a hidden gem.

Suddenly, thunderous hooves shatter the tranquillity. Tiki's heart lurches. His foot freezes on the threshold, caught between seeking comfort in Baba's arms and the terror that urges him to hide. His eyes narrow, piercing the sentinel trees guarding the village.

The serpent hisses again: Today, the white men come to take Baba.

Baba stops scraping and wipes his arm over his sweaty face. 'Go inside, my son,' his deep voice rumbles through the hut. He leans over and strokes a broken spear but doesn't lift it.

The African village, usually abuzz with the early morning chores, seems to hold its breath. A low murmur ripples through the huts, punctuated by the hurried thud of footsteps. An elder with eyes like polished obsidian fixes Tiki with a long, knowing stare, and then the wizened old man darts into a hut for cover.

Tiki steps backward into the shadows.