“Zumo,” he said hoarsely. His mouth tasted of blood and dust.
“I’ll escort you out of the tribehold, cousin,” Zumo said evenly. He snapped his fingers. Several other Tavaedis, all Zumo’s hangers- on, formed a defensive square around Kavio and Zumo.
The crowd jeered at Kavio as they passed, and a few of the braver ones hurled rocks or mud at him. He felt the shame of his nakedness strongly, not because of the attire itself, but because of the ashes smeared over his chest and thighs. He tried to hold his head up proudly rather than hunch over and shield himself from the taunting mob. He wondered which was worse, to need the protection of his enemy to walk the streets of the tribehold, or to wonder at its price.
“I thought you cast your stone on the black mat. Why are you suddenly so eager to keep me alive now when you wanted me dead this afternoon?”
“Ah, the stone. Mother suggested it would look more believable. But the fact is, I’ve got what I wanted,” Zumo said.
Kavio pressed his lips together.
“This doesn’t have to be forever, Kavio.”
Zumo gestured to Kavio’s bloody, ash-smeared body.
“This. Your exile.”
“That’s not the judgment I heard.”
“There is a way that an exile may be allowed to return—if he is pardoned by a War Chief or a Vaedi. Your father can never pardon you, because his impartiality would be called into question. But I could.”
“After your father steps down, a new War Chief will have to be appointed,” Zumo went on. “It would have been you before. Now it will be me.”
Kavio felt sick. “Congratulations.”
They had arrived at the large wooden gates at the entrance of the tribehold. There were too many warriors on guard at the gate for the mob to follow. Muttering, the crowd dispersed.
“If you would agree to serve me loyally, I would let you back into the Labyrinth as a Zavaedi again,” Zumo said. He sounded as though he thought he was truly doing Kavio a favor. “I mean it.”
Kavio laughed. He looked his cousin up and down in contempt. “Never forget, I know what you really are, Zumo.”
Hatred boiled in Zumo’s face. And fear. “No one would believe you.”
“Don’t worry.” Kavio’s lips twitched in a self-mocking smile. “I know that. That’s not the point. The point is, I know what you are. And I would rather live in exile the rest of my days than serve a man who lives a lie every day of his life.”
“Be careful, Kavio. Death might still find you.”
“It finds us all in the end, doesn’t it? Goodbye Zumo.”
Outside the Rainbow Labyrinth tribehold, no mobs harassed him and no enemies taunted him. Fields that smelled of sweet maize surrounded him. The tribehold stood on a mesa in a large box canyon cut by a river…
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Art by RoxRio.