“Zumo?” Auntie Ugly asked her son.
More slowly than his mother, Zumo picked a stone. He threw it on the black mat. He had to walk by where Kavio knelt on the adobe floor to reach his seat again. Just as he passed, Kavio looked up and met his eyes.
“Is that what you really think I deserve, cousin?” Kavio asked in such a low voice that only Zumo heard him. “For what crime? The lies you told here or because I know the truth about you?”
Zumo flushed, whether with guilt or anger, it was impossible to tell.
“No one will listen to anything you have to say now, Kavio,” Zumo replied, also too quietly for anyone else to hear. “They’ll know you’re just clawing at worms to try to save your own hide.”
He stomped back to his seat, where he replaced his mask.
Auntie Ugly had sentenced the son of her rival to death; all eyes now fell upon Father to see if he would defend his son.
Father’s heavy shoulder blanket seemed to weigh him down as he walked to the jar to pick up a stone. He stood there a long while, turning the rock round and round in his hands.
“I would like to speak,” he said finally, looking straight at Kavio, “on behalf of the accusers.”
Surprise stirred the onlookers. Kavio just smiled grimly. He wasn’t surprised at all. He’d known from the day his father had called for the trial that Father would put political need above family sentiment. Sure enough, Father gave a pretty little speech, distancing himself from his son. He locked his jaw when he finished and clutched his fist around his stone. “I too must cast my stone with justice, even if it means the death of my own son, my only child.”
He threw his rock on the black mat. He met Kavio’s eyes without flinching, but when Mother gasped, Father would not look at her.
Mother stood up next and pleaded on Kavio’s behalf. Even she would not declare him innocent. Instead, she simply begged for mercy—exile instead of death. Mother picked a stone out of the jar and placed it on the orange mat between the white and the black.
Kavio felt his face burn with shame. He wouldn’t beg for his life himself, and he didn’t want her to crawl for him either. Besides, death would be easier than exile. He didn’t think he could bear the humiliation of wearing ash. Exile meant fleeing his home like a vole from a prairie fire. Exile meant scorn would meet him wherever he went. Exile meant he would not have the opportunity to finish unraveling the puzzle he had discovered in the heart of the Labyrinth, the only magic he still cared about.
Far, far better to die.
One by one the rest of the Zavaedis came to cast their stones for either exoneration, exile, or death. Some spoke to the assembly of their…
TO BE CONTINUED