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There are ten of us in here. No son of doctors, no daughter of senators, funnily. I’ve come to terms with it: the draw was as rigged as this ship’s mast is. We avoid each other’s eyes, pick at threads on our tunics as if these could save our lives. Except nothing can, and nothing will save next year’s ten or the following year’s, not until all citizens stop sighing in relief when their name doesn’t come up but cry instead at the horror of Athens sending her children to be devoured over the sea.
Each year, once the sacrifice is dispatched, crammed into the stinky hold like goats brought to the mainland from Salamis, citizens speculate on the nature of the evil. It has horns, you might hear. Taller than the tallest man you’ve ever seen. Roams the castle naked, hunts the poor condemned souls through endless corridors, snaps their necks and chews them up between its bovine teeth as if Athenian bodies were straw. But this isn’t the evil that haunts me most. My real enemy has thousands of heads, spits not fire but grateful prayers for not being me.
If some angel sneaked me a sword to fight free, I don’t know which way I’d thrust it first: at the monster feeding on my countrymen, or at my countrymen feeding the monster me.