Chapter 17

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"We found him hiding in the officer's quarters of the enemy base My Lady," the soldier said, presenting Joanna with a frightened looking boy with dark skin and messy black hair. As soon as the woman let go, the boy fell to the floor in a fetal position, shaking and refusing to make eye contact with anyone.

"You can leave us." Joanna waved the soldier out of the dark and cramped tent. A wave of pity came over her as she looked down at the boy, who was huddled on the bare floor of the grey concrete interrogation chamber. Under the harsh lighting of the lamps designed to intimidate prisoners, Joanna could almost see the outlines of various bruises and half healed cuts on his exposed torso. "You're not even a Dannic soldier are you?" He shook his head. She didn't need or want to ask him what purpose he really served in a camp full of ornery female soldiers. "What's your name?"

"Tano." The boy's voice was little more than a hoarse whisper.

"I see." Joanna knelt down to be at eye level with the child. "I'm not here to interrogate you. I don't even know why my women decided to put you here. I doubt the Dans would have told you anything we don't already know. We have no reason to keep you prisoner. Do you have somewhere we can take you home to? Family or friends who would look after you?" The boy shook his head. "When was the last time you ate something?"

The boy remained silent.

Joanna reached into her bag and pulled out a small packet of candy. She tore it open and held a small bar of chocolate out for the boy. With a growl reminiscent of a starving animal, he snatched it with his calloused hands and swallowed the candy whole. Joanna fed him again and again until she'd emptied the packet.

"Thank you," he whispered. Joanna only saw his amber eyes for a split second. Even so, she saw a distinctive glow. To confirm her hunch she snapped her fingers, sending a mild spark of electricity arcing toward his forehead. The boy's reflexes were just as fast as she'd suspected. He caught the blast with his left hand and swatted it away like a fly, scattering sparks in all directions.

"You're a caster." The boy bowed his head, but he didn't try denying it. "I see why the Dans wanted to keep you around." Joanna thanked the Mother in her heart. A dark skinned Dannic slave boy that also was a caster... she cut herself off before her mind could drift to such dismal images.

As if reading her thoughts, the boy cuddled back into a fetal position and eyed Joanna with suspicion. "What do you want from me? Why did you want to be alone with me?"

"What? Oh no, child I promise it's not like that. I promise no woman will be allowed to touch you like that. Not as long as you're under my care." The boy looked up at Joanna as if she'd grown a second head. "I'm serious. We Angleyans don't feel the need to rape young boys."

"Then what are you going to do with me?"

"Officially you'll be my prisoner, but I swear it will only be until we find someplace you can call home." There was a glint of ambition and hope in the boy's eyes, though he quickly suppressed it and went back to his glum frown. "You seemed hungry earlier. When was the last time you had something to eat?"

"I... I think it was a few days ago. I don't know. They don't let me out enough for me to know what day it is."

"Right. How about we first get you a full meal first? I doubt you'll stay healthy on only candy." Joanna stood up and walked toward the exit, holding a hand out to the boy. After a few seconds of hesitation, he took hold of it. His hands were heavily calloused.

Half of the sandwich disappeared almost as soon as Joanna had brought it out for the boy Tano. He was dressed in nothing but an oversized tan rag covering his withered body. The child looked so small sitting in the nearly empty officer's mess hall. His bone thin arms rested like threads on the metal table where he sat. Joanna took a seat across from him and cast her gaze around the empty room. The bare white walls, though still very drab, were a welcome change from the imposing sterile edges of the concrete interrogation room.

"What were the Dans doing with a child like you?" she asked.

The boy swallowed the wad of food in his mouth and shuddered. "I... they captured me. Soldiers attacked my home and then when I ran, they captured me."

"Dannic soldiers attacked? I didn't know they were going out of their way to attack Amazon villages while invading."

"Angleyan Knights attacked my village! Then Dannic soldiers captured me."

Joanna jolted back, surprised by the sudden loudness in the boy's voice. She couldn't blame him. She was, after all, a Knight herself.

As if sensing her unease, Tano himself hunched back down over his half eaten meal, embarrassment and shame shining from his wet and glinting eyes. "I'm sorry. I'll be good."

"I should be apologizing child. I would never even try justifying what some of my sisters in arms have done to you and your people." Joanna took Tano's cold, bony hand in hers and patted it reassuringly. "But I promise while you're with me, no one will hurt you like that again."

"Thats what the Dannic soldier promised me..." Tano muttered.

"What do you mean?" Joanna said.

"The Dannic woman who caught me promised she'd keep a good eye on me and that she'd help me find my sister. Then they found out I was an energycaster and threw me into a camp to work and starve to death." Tano reached for his left rib with his arm and flinched in pain as he twisted.

"They beat you."

"I can't even remember everything they did to me. They'd gas me and I'd wake up feeling..." Tano looked down at his groin. "... hurt."

A wave of nausea slammed through Joanna's face. She was glad she wasn't the one eating anything, or she would have vomited it back up. Her jaws clenched and her teeth ground together.

"That won't ever happen again. In fact, I'll hunt down and kill every last bitch who laid a finger on you."

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