Glad you could join us for the next trying episode of Elliot’s Adventures. If you’re new here, you can catch up by returning to the beginning, and reading really fast…
The further they went, the thicker the droning streams of wasps that passed overhead, all hastening in the same direction.
“Where is everyone going?” Cassandra asked her escort.
He looked grim. “To your friend’s reckoning.”
“Reckoning? What do you think he’s done?”
“Quiet!” the leader called over his shoulder.
“But we don’t even know why we’re here!” she shouted.
The leader stopped to face her. “You will have your turn to speak soon enough. So many have come from all over the Freelands to attend this trial that it will take place in the Arena. You will stand in the Box alongside him.”
“It’s all right, Cassandra,” Arturo undertoned. “Our justice system has a long history. If they’re not rebels, what happens here will be fair.”
Entering the Arena, they were paraded past hoards of wasps already waiting. Many were crying.
“Look, Arturo,” she whispered, “I think a lot of them already feel sympathetic. That must be a good sign.”
“I’m not sure they’re crying for me,” he replied. “It looks like they’re in mourning.”
As soon as the guard locked the Box’s barred door, an ancient wasp, bent and wrinkled, his drooping wings shredded and useless, stood before the assemblage. Sound ceased. He coughed a dry rattle and glared at Arturo.
“Arturo, son of Miguel and Valeria, you are accused of causing the slaughter of countless innocent unborns and the injury of dozens of their family members.”
A heart-rending wail rose from the crowd.
Arturo’s calm demeanor vanished. “What? What are you talking about?” Cassandra heard his panic.
“Our investigation has established that you offered to stand in your sister’s stead, refusing to allow the rebels to take her as their queen. In retaliation, they invaded many, many nests throughout the Freelands, annihilating those who waited for the Hatch, and beating off all efforts at defense.”
Collapsing to his knees, Arturo moaned, “I didn’t know.”
“You can’t blame him for that!” Cassandra’s voice overpowered the collective din, and pandemonium broke loose.
The guard reached between the bars to subdue her, the elderly wasp said something no one could hear, and the escort leader, yelling, “Order! Order!” grabbed a rock and pounded it against another rock to gain attention.
The crowd settled into a low murmur, and the old one turned to Cassandra. “You’ve heard the charges. Have you other information to add?”
She gathered her outraged wits, and re-composed her self-control. “I am truly sorry for the horrendous losses the rebels caused you. Arturo’s family suffered the same fate, but they thought they were the only ones. The rebels promised they would accept Arturo’s sacrifice at least until Sylvia came of age. They came back, not to retaliate, but because they have no honor. The problem is not this young wasp who volunteered his own life to save his sister’s — it’s the rebels. Unless you band together to fight them, none of you will be spared their terror no matter what you do to Arturo!”
The muttering swelled to agitation. Again the leader called for order, and the ancient one, head bowed, stood a few more moments in thought.
Raising his face to the gathering, he announced, “Wisdom urges a cautious path. Let us consider this fervent young snail’s words before deciding what action to take. We will reconvene tomorrow morning.” He turned to the guards. “Remove our guests. Take him inside; place her in the Hole. Provide food and water for both.”
That was how Cassandra found herself waking in an underground cavern, the dim light of struggling dawn painting the walls a bleak assortment of grays, when a shower of pebbles fell through the hole above.
To be continued. . .