Members of the royal family are allowed to draw their lots first, away from the eyes of the rest of the people. The upper surface of the collection of stones is dazzling-white as the snow on the highest reaches of the mountains, untouched and cold and deadly. Ariadne’s father is the very first to take his, and in his large steady hands it dwindles until it is tiny, egglike, too small and fragile-looking to be what it really is (a pardon stolen and not earned, life snatched from the body of one of his subjects). Pasiphae is next; her hands are delicate, pale, almost fragile-looking beneath the heavy gold wristlets she wears, and her stone gleams like a pearl beyond any price (stolen, stolen, if Ariadne must think her father a thief she will think Pasiphae one ten times over for the same crime).
After Ariadne will be the palace servants, and then the rest of the people, and they will all receive lots they cannot see until they hold the stone in their hands and it is too late to change anything.
Ariadne steps to the side of the vast container and looks in and sees nothing but salvation, stretched from edge to edge, waiting for her like perfectly ripe figs growing on someone else’s tree.
She wonders—if somehow, by some chance, her father or Pasiphae or she herself were to draw a black stone, would that still be counted as the will of the gods? Even Pasiphae fears and reveres Poseidon as she does no other Olympian, and her father’s faith in the gods is as generous as his faith in humans. Ariadne thinks, though, in spite of that, that she is a sacrifice he might not make.
For a moment the thought is as vivid as if she were living it: her fingers curled around a stone as dark as the heart of the labyrinth itself, a lot she has no less right to draw than anyone else; her father’s cry of fear and dismay as he rises from his seat; her father’s arms around her, his desperate plea of “they cannot will this, not this!” as he clings to her and defies any fate or guard to take her from him. He would understand, then, as perhaps he once did, as Ariadne fears she may one day fail to do herself.
What use are kings and queens if they send their subjects to their deaths without caring? Ariadne will not feast the night away in the comfort of belief in her own blamelessness. These will be her people someday, and she cannot lead them if she does not love them, and she cannot love them and be easy when they die—especially not when they die at her command to save her city. Perhaps if she draws a black stone her father will spare her, will lie, and recognize what he does and how much everyone else in Atlantis wishes they could do the same. Or perhaps after all he will see it as the gods’ wish, and send her down into the labyrinth (where she hopes she’ll fight until her knife drops from her hands, whether in final defeat or victory), and remember every year afterwards the loss he was dealt, and be kinder to the families of the sacrifices.
She does not want to die, but she will live her own life, and not someone else’s. She lets her hand sink through the layers of stones, clawing them aside, and even over the clinking and grating of rock against rock she hears Pasiphae’s caught breath, her father’s choked-off “Ariadne!”
Her fingers close around a stone, warming it against her palm, and she pulls it out and is suddenly gripped by a paralyzing fear. She does not want to die, and she feels lost and helpless and very, very ordinary—swept away, asea, with only foreign shores far-off against the horizon.
She takes a deep breath and uncurls her fingers, one by one. Her lot is white as bleached sand, trembling as she trembles.
But it is hers; like the terror, like the relief that followed, it is hers. She owes no one else this.