Muka’s look darkened, and he extended a hand to his cousin, an offer to help lift him to his feet.“You can’t argue with the gods’ decree, Zelmis, at least, not with us. If you want to plead your case to those who officiate the lottery and the sacrifice, you will have that chance. Until then, you willremain in our custody and Alina will remain with my wife. It will hurt less if we don’t allow you to seeher again. The separation is the worst part.”Zelmis took the offered hand with great reluctance, still reeling from the news. He was beginningto grow numb, spiritually, as Muka pulled him off of the ground.“Those who officiate the lottery? Do I get to appear before King Rhemoxos himself? Do I get to beg for my life before him at Seuthopolis?”Muka shook his large head.“No, that’s not how it works. You will get to stand before him, but not at Seuthopolis. You will be travelling to Lagina instead, where the seers will validate the lottery selection. The king will merely be there to oversee the process. Your fate will lie in the hands of the witches of Hecate.”Zelmis shuddered at the thought. The witches were rumoured to be man-haters and nobodyunderstood their ways. They were subject to their mistress’s whims and the torment of foresight. Theirswas not an enviable life, for while they had powers far beyond those of the typical mortal woman, theycould not use them as they chose, nor could they change anything that they would predict would happen,a slave to their premonitions. They lived a cloistered life within the catacombs beneath Lagina, avoidingothers and rarely coming to the surface, and they were known to be frighteningly strange in appearance.The idea of having to stand before them made Zelmis draw in a sharp breath, and hesitate when Muka andhis brothers-at-arms started forward. Muka turned to face his cousin with an air of disapproval.“I cannot change this, Zelmis, and I cannot treat you any differently simply because we share blood. Be glad that it was you that was chosen and not Alina. At least she will be safe for the next fiveyears. You have benefited from others’ sacrifices for the sake of your good fortune, and you never protested on their behalf. Your time has come. You must make peace with that. Resist, and I will berequired to take you by force. I would much rather you go willingly and we make the last of our timetogether as pleasant as is possible under the circumstances. I have children, too, but if I had beenselected, I would not fight it. It would be my duty to respect the gods’ wishes.”“That’s not fair,” Zelmis murmured. “You still have a wife at home to care for your young ones.What if it were just you? Would you want to see Sur an orphan?”Zelmis knew it was cold to offer up Muka’s favoured son as an example, but he also felt the needto defend his own honour. He knew what Muka had really meant. His cousin had always considered hima coward for choosing to be a hunter rather than one of the peltast, a role that was a family tradition. HadZelmis let his fate be chosen for him, he would have never strayed beyond the limits of the lands of theGetae, and would have never met Iulia and conceived Alina. Their time together may have been short, but Zelmis would always treasure it. He did not regret his choices. It struck him that if he were to be presented with the opportunity to fight fate again, he would do so this time without question, havingreaped the benefits of doing this once before.