As expected from the title of this book, we see a young and untried Antonio Perez, son of a man who was betrayed, arrested, and hung as a traitor. Not a very auspicious start for a champion! At first, Antonio seems an unlikely hero; he is scrawny, he hates his sword training, he is not particularly courageous, and he is lost—in more ways than one. His older brother Inigo, vicious and skillful, takes charge and leads him and his cousin on an ill-fated journey to avenge their father and uncle. All goes very badly and Antonio finds himself the unwilling participant of a confrontation-turned-slaughter on the Camino de Santiago:
Inigo looked at me with eyes full of pain and offered a sad smile. ‘Forgive me, brother. Forgive me for everything.’
He closed his eyes and tilted his head back, before he whispered to the sky. ‘Forgive me, father.’
Rodrigo’s blade sliced across Inigo’s throat and sent a shower of blood spurting on to the ground. My brother choked for a moment before his body went limp and fell to the floor, lifeless.
And I was alone.
Rodrigo takes Antonio as a slave, and the boy’s prospects go from bad to worse. He is left with the burning desire to avenge his father’s death, though first he must survive a brutal introduction to his new circumstances. Surprisingly, he discovers hidden strengths and resilience and even finds he can defend himself if necessary. It’s a long haul to acceptance, but once he realizes he does not need to hide his true identity, matters take on a whole new turn. He leaves his miserable boyhood behind and emerges as a worthy warrior. At the same time, the opportunity for revenge comes tantalizingly close. But he still has a long way to go. This book gives us a long and slow character development; at first it seems impossible that this wretch will become the famous El Cid. It remains to be seen how this vengeful youth will turn into a great hero.