Jallen bowed his head after the Magistrate announced his daughter’s name. The gathered villagers rose from the wooden pews in silence and began to file out of the church. After the church emptied of everyone else, the Magistrate made his way to Jallen and sat in the pew next to him.
“I expect you won’t give us any trouble like the youngsters tend to do.” The robed man placed a heavy hand on Jallen’s shoulder. “Old men like us know how vital Sherazem’s protection is.” Jallen nodded his head.
“The Will of Sherazem must be carried out, we won’t run.”
“Thank you for easing my mind,” the magistrate give him a final pat on the back and stood again. “I’ll see you and your daughter at sundown.” He left Jallen’s side and disappeared through a doorway at the back of the church. Jallen sat in silence for several more minutes before he decided to go home.
He stepped out of the church and shielded his eyes from the bright morning sun. He decided on the slow route and shuffled towards his house.
“We honor your blessing,” a young man met Jallen as he passed and gifted him two plump headless chickens. Jallen nodded and accepted the fowl.
“Sherazem blesses us all,” Jallen replied. He shook the man’s hand and continued on his way home. He met several more villagers along the way, and arrived home with two large bundles worth of tributes. His daughter, Ailine, ran to greet him but she noticed all the goods he set down on the table.
“You went shopping? Did you bring me anything?” Ailine asked, but her voice carried a dim tone. Ailine survived one lottery so far in her young life, she was only 16. Jallen nodded to answer her question and reached into one of the bundles to pull out a golden and white lace dress; a tribute from the tailor. He offered it to her, and the young woman timidly accepted it.
“Father?” She asked unsure, but Jallen could not meet her eyes. He walked to his large rocking chair and sat down. “Was I chosen?” She asked. Jallen nodded but his eyes did not leave the floor. Ailine glanced out the window, then turned back to her father.
“We still have plenty of time.” She draped the dress over the back of a chair, then began going through the tributes.
“Chicken for dinner?” She looked at her father, but the man continued to stare vacantly at the floor. Jallen fell asleep without realizing it. He felt something jostling him, and the delicious scent of baked chicken crept into his nostrils as he opened his eyes.
“Go wash, dinner’s ready,” Ailine said once the man was alert. He nodded and stood from his chair. After splashing his face with cold water he joined his daughter at the table for one last meal. Despite the news, her spirits did not seem to dip at all. She maintained a smile while she served him a large piece of chicken along with a roasted potato and a chunk of fresh bread.
“Thank you, love,” he spoke to her for the first time. Her smile somehow grew brighter.
“You’re welcome.” She sat across from him, and he realized she wore the white and gold lace dress. He reached across the table for her hand and squeezed it tight with his own.
“I’ll miss you, love,” he said. She gave him a dismissive wave with her free hand.
“I know, silly old man,” her voice sounded full of cheer. She glanced out the window at the darkening sky. “It’s rather funny to me that I was chosen,” she said as she stared out the window. “I never thought it would be me.” Jallen nodded.
“I always hoped it would never be you, but everyone’s daughter is fair game,” he shrugged.
“I know but still.” Her light blue eyes alternated between looking out the window and staring at her father a few times, then she leaned forward.
“Before I go there’s something I must confess to you. It might help you feel better,” she said. Jallen swallowed the bite in his mouth and rested his utensils on the plate. He gave her all his attention.
“Do you remember when we visited the lake five years ago?” she asked. Jallen nodded. He would never forget that horrible trip. Ailine smiled.
“I wasn’t really lost, she said mischeviously.” Jallen’s eyes widened.
“I spent days looking for you and you weren’t even lost?” He tried to sound upset, but he only felt love for his daughter. This would be the last time he would ever see her, and he did not want to fight.
“What were you doing then?” he asked. She bit her lips as if still debating revealing everything. She stood from her seat then walked around the table to whisper in his ear.
“Your daughter died the first day,” she whispered. It took him a moment to process the words, but after he did his head turned slowly to meet her eyes, but he instantly recognized Sherazem. The horned demon now stood in his daughter’s place, and he shrugged at Jallen.
“She fell into a ravine, and I saw an opportunity to live in town. It gets boring out there.”