Three thousand years before The Hunger Games, a conquered nation was forced to send their finest youths to fight and die, facing an invulnerable creature they had no chance of defeating.
ARIADNE: A Tale of the Minotaur--one of Hines' Heroines of Classical Greece series--is a contemporary retelling of the classic tale of Theseus and the Minotau.
Malanus, High Priest of Tauros and thus titled the holiest of all men born, breathed a sigh of relief. The island was finally in sight. He could make out the misty silhouette of land arising through the dark seascape lit only by a few of the brighter stars that managed to shine through the gray, dank clouds. He was a man of the city, and had little experience with the sea. He knew that under other circumstances the sailors charged with bringing him to this destination would have chortled at his retching and heaving throughout the voyage. Instead, they turned their faces and absorbed themselves in their work, rubbing talismans and muttering charms against misfortune.
He shook the nausea from his head and belly. He didn’t know if their fear was of him, or the purpose of the journey. On brief refection, he noted with some satisfaction that he didn’t really care. In their entire, pitiful lives, they would never be on a voyage as important as this. And worse yet, they would never appreciate their singular fortune as those who helped forge a new god.
The mariners silently went about the tasks that it took to keep a military galley afloat. The painted eyes on the prow seemed to stare through the fog but the mist-shrouded land seemed even more hidden. Unnoticed, burly Nostrisus materialized beside him, hand on the hilt as always. “High Priest Malanus, the Cursed Isle lies before us. Shall we anchor offshore and approach the village in the morning or land tonight?” Nostrisus, head of the temple guard, had been described as a shaved bear with half the looks and twice the ill-temperament. His impassive face bore a crisscross of scars courtesy of blades turned against him for reasons other than shaving. Their wielders had all crossed the River Styx, the river of death.
Malanus shifted the white linen robes embroidered with figurines of bull heads. Never tiring of the sensual feeling of flowing linen on his bare skin, he willed his eyelids to flutter open. “We shall enter the village immediately after landing. Believe it or not, there have been … tales of resistance among the Cursed when we have landed in the past.” Malanus stood half a head shorter than Nostrisus and was of middle age, portly and pale. Bald but for a rim of hair that traveled behind one ear and meandered to the other, he was a man who appeared nondescript until one looked at his eyes. His cold, black pupils were that of a predator’s. Men whispered he was the most dangerous man in all of Crete.
Nostrisus let his hand grip the sword hilt tighter as a word hissed from his lips. “Resistance? Blasphemy!”
“You speak the truth. But parents will always seek to protect their offspring from the uncertain, even if the purpose is to elevate their children.”
His comment was met with a snort, but the hand gripped the bronze sword all the tighter.
The little isle held a single village and a smattering of huts at the periphery. Shunned by traders, its inhabitants lived the rudest of lives. Their houses were built of the local stone and wood, not a pebble of marble. The pottery was plain and adorned with only the native clays as pigments, none of the fine Egyptian inks. The villagers wore wool from the native goats. From the look of the dilapidated hovels, their lives were hard ones: there was little but the bare essentials for survival displayed in the ugly hamlet. Malanus shook his head at the poverty and squalor. Such a place should have been wiped clean of its human cancer long ago, but it was left untouched for a single reason: one of its inhabitants was prophesied to help give birth to a god.
He smiled maliciously, raising the bronze horn to his mouth, puffed out his cheeks, and exhaled.
The ship had landed at the darkest hour just before dawn. The cadre of temple guard had gratefully disembarked from their floating home for the past several days and encircled the sleeping village. No dogs barked warning. Malanus suspected that the place was too poor even to support pets. It was likely that any dogs had been long ago eaten.
As the horn blew, the soldiers put coals to their pitch-dabbed torches. Tendrils of flame flared, swords left scabbard with a spine-tingling rasp, and shouts rose in a chorus of threats, curses, and bellows. Spears and blades crashed against bronze shields, and the villagers spilled out into the flickering light with fear and confusion on their sleep-besotted faces. Malanus noted with amusement that the few men who stumbled from their huts bore little more than sharpened sticks for protection.
The villagers understood a smattering of Minoan Greek, and other than a few resistant young men, were easily herded into the center of the village. As the dawn broke, the fog lifted and eyes were wide at the might of the navy of Crete, two dozen war galleys moored with the appropriate guard, flames reflected off drawn weapons.
A white-haired man was brought before Malanus, eyes appropriately downcast and assuming the position of supplication. Good. There was at least one inhabitant who was not a worthless inbred moron. “What is your name, swine?”
The man didn’t raise his eyes. Good. “Master, my title and name is Viceroy. I was chosen by lot to serve as head of our people and our representative to the King of Crete.” He paused, and with effort and fear, posed a question. “Many years ago, when we last had a ship land, the king of Crete was Minocea. Does he still rule?”
“No. Minocea died long ago. After his death King Minos assumed the throne. As the lawful king and with the need proscribed by the gods, he has come to take the levy from your village as is his right.”
Viceroy cringed. “My lord, we have little or nothing of value on this island …”
“Oh, but you do.” Malanus touched an olive tree, withered like the island’s inhabitants. “The fruit you bear does not grow from a tree or in fields. The riches you harbor are not mined from the ground. What we seek is a child of immense potential, one among you destined to a greatness that can scarcely be imagined.”
Viceroy paled. “You must be mistaken, my lord. We are a small island, and without outside mates, our lineage weakens with time. We are not allowed concourse with others …”
“And for good reason. Your little isle has a reputation for breeding those like the one we now seek. I will inspect your people.”
Flanked by soldiers, Malanus walked slowly up the line of villagers, eyeing each one in turn, but his attention focused on the youths. Centuries of inbreeding had given them a frightening homogeneity: broad of face and form, muscled but perhaps a little intellectually dull. Foreheads unnaturally broad and with frontal bossing, many of the young men were tantalizingly close but not quite …
There was a scream. A woman in rags, wild greasy hair slinging around her, was dragged by a soldier. A child, face hidden in flickering shadow, trailed her, moaning and gurgling. She began pleading. “Mercy, oh great lord. My son is all I have. I only hid him under the bedding for fear you were brigands.”
“His father?” Malanus’ voice was impassive.
“He died last year, great lord. The gods afflicted him with headaches and they finally killed him. Please, mighty lord, let me bring him back to my hut. He is a simple lad and is terrified.”
The priest’s voice was neutral, eyes narrowed. “Bring the boy forward with the others.”
Rough hands reached into the darkness and grabbed the wailing child. His mother screamed and briefly grappled with a soldier. In the dawn’s light a blade flashed and the woman’s struggles were silenced in a wet gurgle. The stunned boy was pushed roughly into the firelight.
There were a half-dozen other young boys around the fire. When the newcomer was thrust into their midst, they sidled away, made signs against evil, and turned their faces.
The darting flames revealed a boy of perhaps four years, but much larger than the others. His head was huge, eyes very wide set and sunken deep into the skull. His temples were enlarged, his chest wide. The nose was broad and flat, nearly devoid of cartilage. The huge, dangling arms were almost the length of a man’s, and held claw-like appendages. Alone, the eyes were normal. They peered with confusion from the events, unable to comprehend the reality of his mother slain before his eyes. He sobbed pitifully. In the eyes of every man, woman, and child assembled there, he was the ugliest human being that the gods had ever being assembled.
Malanus finally raised his eyes, tremulous, and he fought to keep from quavering with excitement. It was beyond his wildest hopes. He spoke on behalf of his entire assemblage. “Child, your name is irrelevant, as you are now a new being. Your old mortal skin will be shed, and you will be brought to Crete and refashioned into something new and wonderful!”
There was a moment of confusion and the boy wiped his eyes. Crete. He had heard of it. But never before had he been allowed outside the confines of his village because of his deformity, ensconced in his hut where he was rarely seen by others. Was Crete another village on the other side of the hill?
Led gently by Malanus, the malformed child stood in front of the fire, his visage revealed to all. The villagers slunk back in revulsion, but to their astonishment, the soldiers dropped to their knees and bowed their heads in supplication, the same honor they gave a king.
Malanus led the prayer. “Hail son of Tauros, god of strength, virility, and war …”
Tears streaming down his face, the boy looked disbelievingly at the worshipful throng, his face finally turning to the unmoving, bloody body of his mother, the sole person who had loved him.
Ariadne gazed at the bars of her prison, as she had a thousand times before. She wiggled the sand between her bare toes and pushed her lip out in a pout. The bars were not those of metal or even ironwood, but the waves lapping at the shoreline were just as effective at hemming her in. On the horizon she saw a triangular white sail and sighed. Even the fishermen had more freedom than she.
Her musings were rudely interrupted by a handful of wet sand that pounded her in the neck and slipped down the back of her shift. Her wavering shriek was a blend of the reactions to the shock of the blow, that of cold water trickling between her shoulder blades, and righteous anger. “Phaedra! I’ll whip your legs with willows when I catch you!” She stooped to grab a fistful of sand but was stopped cold by a commanding voice.
“You shall do no such thing, young lady. The task of discipline is mine, and mine alone!” The stentorian voice, so startling in a woman, froze her blood and stiffened her spine. Even her giggling little sister froze in the act of scampering away, her wide eyes betraying her panic. A thought shot through Ariadne that if their nanny, Stelith, had been born a man instead of a woman, she’d have been a personage of power. A sailing captain, a general, maybe even a king!
Stelith took a full moment’s measure of Ariadne and shook her head. The girl was in the prime of her youth, with a figure that would make the best Athenian sculptor hopeful of capturing her form and symmetry as a token to a goddess. Oval face with a snub nose and green eyes, she had auburn hair that caught the sun’s light that at times surrounded her head with a golden halo. Though a beauty beyond compare, she was lonely as few girls were on Crete: she was watched day and night by the guard, with little concourse among young men of her own age. As the princess and heir to Crete, her beauty was only valued by her father, King Minos, as currency to be bartered with foreign lords.
Stelith took a linen cloth and wiped Ariadne’s back as best she could, shaking her head and occasionally fixing Phaedra in a withering stare. “Phaedra, such behavior is not appropriate in a princess of the house of Minos. Sooner than you think, you will be of marriageable age. What prince will have a fool for a wife? Now, you will finish scouring the rock bed for scallops and then spend the rest of the afternoon scrubbing pots in the palace kitchen.” Phaedra’s indignant shrieks fell on two sets of deaf ears. After a minute, Stelith shushed her.
“Now, let’s suppose that one of you wanted to harass a rival on such an outing. How would you do it properly?”
Phaedra’s indignant cries stopped and she grinned. These trips often were excuses for instruction in palace intrigue, and she gloried in it, unlike her sister. “I could have faked a stumble and stepped on the back of her sandal, kicking her heel tendon in the process, leaving her bruised and limping for the day.”
“Good. Then how would you disguise your action?”
“I’d apologize and would tend to her wound, weeping the whole time. Then I’d feign a limp the rest of the day and grimace with each step, as if the stumble had hurt me more. But I’d make sure that she and she alone saw me grin.”
“Good. What do you think of this, Ariadne?”
“Stelith, I love you, but I consider this foolish. I will not engage in such petty behavior.”
The nanny gave an icy look. “I love you too, girl, and that is why you must learn to manipulate men, just as men learn to manipulate blades. Your destiny is to be a queen, but a queen does more than bear a king’s children. The day-by-day running of a kingdom is hers to do, and her tools are not mortar and hammer, but the flesh and blood of her subjects.”
Ariadne shrugged and picked up a wicker basket and twisted the lid so the clacking crabs inside wouldn’t escape. She muttered to herself, “nobody asked me if I wished to be a queen at all” but she dared not voice the words audibly. She turned to the north and looked at the white-washed castle walls surrounding the central compound. In the center was the royal house, rising to three stories and easily the second largest structure in all of Crete, if not all of Greece.
Just below and inland to the rise of the castle was a rocky plateau. She could vaguely remember it as a pasture for goats and cattle when she was a little girl. Now, it held a roofed structure of marble and granite that seemed to expand daily, like the tendrils of an octopus. Hundreds of workers, most of them slaves, toiled at loading the blocks one upon the other. The sprawling Labyrinth was said to be the largest structure man had ever constructed, at least since the days of Atlantis.
A deep bellow seemed to echo from the distant walls. For a moment even the gulls were silent. Was it a man or beast? She shuddered and turned her face back to the frothy bars of her prison and waded in the surf, alert for another scuttling crab.
He could barely see. Little enough light filtered through the vents cleverly hidden above, but for some time he had been aware of his vision narrowing from the sides. Subtle at first, his sight constricted until he was now only left with a pinprick directly ahead. Hearing and smell became augmented senses, and he had mastered their use to the point that he wasn’t handicapped. After all, what was there to see? Only gray, monotonous walls.
He stopped and clutched hands to his temples, bellowing from the pain. When the tears stopped, his knees buckled and he breathed heavily, moaning. Why did the gods hate him so?
Daedalus wiped sweat from his brow and made some deft changes to the papyrus. Brought from the far Nile, it was worth more than gold and could be carefully wiped clean of its thin chalk lines for later re-use. The design was like nothing the world had ever seen or ever would see again: parallel lines depicting passageways converged, diverged, branched, split, reformed and occasionally swelled to chambers and rooms both square and rectangular. He stood on a sturdy platform of his own design that soared nearly a hundred cubits into the sky, the platform itself a masterpiece that could never have been replicated elsewhere. The design on the paper was an exact duplicate of the walls being constructed below. This had been the greatest work of his lifetime, over a dozen years in the making.
Unquestionably the greatest mind in Crete, many whispered Daedalus possessed the mightiest intellect of all time, at least since Atlantis fell. But if Daedalus heard such whispered praise, he would blush and politely disagree, citing the works of others in Athens, Thrace, and Memphis in far Egypt. In his prime of life, he was already nearly bald and wore ragged tunics that rarely surpassed the quality of the lowliest slave. But his eyes were bright and searching, and his eyes and broad forehead bore concentric circles of wrinkles formed both by smiling and the frequent furrowing of his brow in contemplation. Though technically ranking high in the nobility, Daedalus’ talents were distributed to the commoners as well and he was beloved by all in Crete.
He looked towards the sea and saw the palace at Knossos perched atop the rock outcropping. It had been remodeled to his specifications so radically that there was almost nothing left of the original structure. Granite clad in white marble, he winced as it reflected the sunlight. The central structure, surrounded by walls thrice the height of a man, was serviced by both a sewage system and warm bathing water available from huge copper cauldrons perched atop the roof warmed by the Mediterranean sun. High ceilings moved air upwards in the summer and cunningly devised fireplaces reflected warmth to the interior in cold weather.
The construction area was a flurry of activity. Donkeys and mules hitched to log rollers dragged massive granite blocks that were hoisted to lifts utilizing counterweights to swing the several-ton pieces into place. Each was fitted so perfectly that mortar was not necessary, the center of each block having identically placed holes that were joined by ironwood pegs: his own design. Then slabs of marble were laid piece by piece atop the completed sections. This was the largest roofed structure in the entire world, with more stone used than the grandest pyramid in Egypt. Workers in loincloths toiled with ropes and animals, and obsessively maneuvered blocks so they were perfectly set. There was more than pride in workmanship involved: each man was a slave, and his freedom would be purchased by the speed and quality of his workmanship. The men worked with gusto and often past their allotted workday.
Daedalus prided his craftsmanship with people as much as his buildings, and was respectful of both. He had negotiated hard with Minos on behalf of his workers. On completion of the structure, all the slaves would become free citizens of Crete.
His musings were interrupted by a voice. It was the foreman, one of few who dared to climb the ladder this high. “Master, we have lost another worker. Can you see him from this height?” The tone of his voice indicated he doubted it was possible.
Daedalus squinted towards the structure. He used a polished crystal to help read the tiny print of scrolls but had nothing to help with objects far away. Perhaps if he ever had time he could invent something if he matched two of his lenses and joined them? “I am sorry, my friend. I can see nothing. Maybe one with keener eyes might spy something? Send a youth up here.”
“Perhaps, master.” The foreman knew better but would still make the effort. More than twenty men had been lost in the building of the Labyrinth. The workmen had become disoriented despite careful orders and caution not to enter a completed section, but all these workers somehow returned. Universally they reported being hopelessly bewildered, one winding turn leading to another, and the way back somehow radically altered when they turned around. More terrifying, they reported being pursued by a beast. Snorting and bellowing, the gods somehow saved them as they stumbled to the entrance before they could be disemboweled and eaten by the monster.
More than three dozen armed men had been sent into the Labyrinth through the years. Usually singularly, they occasionally went in pairs. Nearly all were condemned prisoners and this was their punishment, though a few adventurous young men from other lands had arrived, brashly boasting that they would destroy the monster and win acclaim. Daedalus gritted his teeth at the memory. None returned and their agonizing screams intermixed with the monster’s roars gave testimony to their fate. Later, their broken bodies would be found at the entrance.
The missing worker had been in the covered portion and could be anywhere by now. Rather than follow the instructions of staying put if they were lost, men had a tendency to run frantically and randomly, mired deeper in the maze within minutes. More than once a co-worker became lost as well following the voice of a friend to his doom.
An adolescent scampered up the ladder excited and awed to be in the presence of the great Daedalus. “My lord, how may I be of service to you?”
“I require the eyes of youth, lad. Please, scan the Labyrinth and look for movement. A worker was lost, most recently seen in the northwest construction.”
After several minutes of intent searching, the boy turned to Daedalus, eyes welling with tears at his failure. “I am sorry my lord. I cannot see him from this angle. He may be under the roofed portion.” He looked at the papyrus. “If you would lend me the map, I will enter and search for him at your command.”
Daedalus eyes widened. “No! I will not lose two. The map will be of no use to you there.”
“But why not? My father is a mariner, and he taught me to read maps.”
“This maze is like none ever constructed. Door frames are larger or smaller in concert to give the illusion of distance. Some areas burrow under the ground with sections above their heads. Dead ends will be revealed to have a hidden side passage. Not even I can navigate this maze, even though I have overseen its construction. It almost seems that the Labyrinth has taken a life of its own and grows.”
The boy’s eyes widened. “The monster?”
“Perhaps. I have never seen what was brought inside, but I give it my full respect. You should as well.”
At that very moment, the walls of the Labyrinth seemed to quiver with a mighty roar that echoed through the passages, varying distances causing a waxing and waning of the bellow that amplified its volume. Now both inventor and boy winced. The screams of the lost worker were drowned by the animal howl. Daedalus bowed his head and prayed that the poor man would find his way to the entrance before it was too late.
King Minos glowered at the chief priest of Tauros, but only behind his back. Malanus held power just under the king himself, and he would prefer an ally to an enemy. But he would only put up with the priest to a certain point.
“Malanus.” he began, noting with satisfaction that the priest spun and declined his head when addressed. “I have given some thought to your proposal and have discussed it with my councilors.”
“And?” Malanus was careful to keep his head slightly bowed and respect in his voice, yet his heart seethed with contempt. True, Minos had cemented Crete as the primary power in all the Mediterranean both militarily and economically, but despite two wives he had managed to produce only two still-living heirs, and both only girls. Although a priest was unable to marry, he had sired seven sons and three daughters. Clearly Tauros, god of strength and virility, favored him over the king.
“I agree that the treaty signed with the Athenians is not only valid, but just. We have the right to demand seven pairs of their finest, young men and women, to serve as we see fit.”
“That is indisputable, my king. After all, they killed your own son.”
A pang of pain went through the chest of Minos. For a moment, he thought of the warnings of the healers, who cautioned that such portents suggested failure of the heart and impending death. He put it aside. If the gods willed it, death would be welcomed. “And in the ensuing conflict, we killed many of their sons as well. It was a skirmish, not planned. Crete and Athens had no embassy at the time. Now we are trading partners.”
“But not allies.”
“No, not allies. And that is the point of my councilors. We overcame the Athenian forces and forced them to the treaty out of anger and vengeance. They council it is best to take a step back and let us welcome them as friends instead of a conquered people.” He paused. “Though my heart is still pierced by the loss of Androgeos all these years, when my councilors speak, it is hard to discredit their words.”
The voice that replied was cold. “Your seed is permeated with divinity, my king. The murder of your son was an affront to the gods themselves. You have not sired a male heir since. This is clearly a judgment from Tauros. You must act, not on your own behalf, but for that of Crete.”
The priest could sense Minos inflate with pride when reminded of his bloodlines. He continued his baiting. “To show pity at this time would lead the Athenians to believe we have weakened, and they may rebuild their navy to challenge us.”
Minos turned to the window and surveyed the bay. Dozens of warships lay anchored, most were returning from mock battles. “That upstart city? Merchants and olive growers? They wouldn’t even serve for practice against our fleet.”
Malanus nodded and straightened his robes so the embroidered bulls at the sleeves would be more visible. “True, my king, but men would die unnecessarily on both sides. To continue taking your lawful Tribute will actually help the Athenians as well as please the great god Tauros. We must preserve the natural order of things, and the tributes are no small part of this. We are the lords, the Athenians our vassals. Fourteen of their youth is but a pittance.”
Minos nodded, brow furrowed. “It is as you say. And we provide them with safe passage, spending our own blood and treasure in the form of our navy to stave off pirate attacks, do we not?”
“It is as you say, sire.” The smile was hidden underneath the bowed head. “This token is but a sliver of what is ours by right. And these youths are honored in return by their service to the great god Tauros. Some of our own people are jealous that foreigners are so honored before themselves. And remember this: some of your councilors have trading contracts with the Athenians. I hardly think their council is impartial.”
Minos nodded, and smiled. “Thank you my friend. What you have said is true. Sometimes it takes another man to open the eyes when one has had them clouded by devious words.”
High Priest Malanus bowed all the deeper and let the smile stay within. Besides the gold that accompanied the youths, he had control of the fates of the fourteen most comely of Athens. He was not lying when he told Minos that they were dutifully serving the great god Tauros: Three of the most attractive girls were part of his harem, and the rest were doled out to Nostrisus and his confederates in the temple guard. The boys had found uses as well.
There was a brief pang of regret that this new Tribute arriving would not serve to satisfy his earthly desires. They actually would be used directly in the service of the great god Tauros. He smiled: they would be used in a way they couldn’t remotely imagine.
Pain. It flooded his skull, beginning in a spot at the exact center, then spreading, focusing behind his eyes. It was throbbing and pulsatile, but also intermixed with stabs like red hot nails being driven into his head. He knew the analogy was a good one, because he had literally experienced metal digging into his skull. The spells now came daily, and would make him cease all activity. At times he would bring his clenched fists to his face and scream.
Where was he? Who was he? Why had the gods hated him so much to curse him so?
Aegeus read the dispatch and his head slumped. “I had hoped that the time of Tribute was to end. But Minos demands the same as before: seven each of our best young women and men.”
Theseus bristled. “This is madness, Father! Years ago Minos’ son Androgeos won the Athenian games and all the more honor to him. But he had the misfortune to be involved in a fight in the tavern district and succumb to a knife wound. Why should the entire city be punished? We had no part of this and the area was thoroughly cleansed of identifiable miscreants, now and since. We pay for a night watch to clean out any ruffians. Athens is the safest city in Greece.”
Aegeus nodded and closed his eyes. “Nonetheless, Minos has chosen to make us pay a heavy price. When we resisted three of our warships were destroyed with the loss of over a hundred men. The Tribute, as degrading as it is, is preferable to warring against the might of Crete.”
“We will fight!”
“With what, Theseus? The navy of Crete vastly outnumbers ours. They have allies through their trade in all of Greece and can call them to their banner. They are the premiere power on land and sea as far as Egypt and Thrace, and probably beyond. As strong as your sword arm might be, it is nothing to that of the might of Minos.”
Theseus didn’t reply, instead he looked seaward, to the hill holding the slowly evolving pile of marble blocks and pillars that would someday be the temple of Athena. “It is time for Athens to exert itself as a power, Father. We cannot continue to languish under the heel of Crete. We have suffered enough for his son’s death, far out of proportion to what is justified by law and common sense. To demand more from us is an outrage that cannot be tolerated.”
“We have no choice. I’d take any option other than submission, but there is none, son.”
“And what did Minos decree the endpoint of our servitude to be?” It was a challenge as much as question.
There was a pause. “His embassy demanded the same Tribute as before: seven of our young men, seven of our young women. There was no endpoint specified. But we suspect there may be another option.”
“And that is …?”
“If you recall, it is traditional in Crete for the condemned to have a last chance for redemption if they complete a formidable task. The past few years, those condemned to death were given the option of entering the Labyrinth.”
Theseus nodded and looked towards the south, towards Crete. His eyes narrowed and he clenched his hands into white-knuckled fists.
Daedalus watched his son play with wooden blocks, stacking them up high. He smiled. The lad already had the drive and intensity of his father and a spirit of adventure that required constant vigilance. If only his mother had survived the childbirth. He shook off the ache in his heart and concentrated on the wondrous child she had left behind. “Icarus, have you bathed yet today?”
The child smiled and shook his head, tottering to his nanny without a word. Daedalus smiled and returned to his work, speaking to the girl who swept the boy into her arms.
“It is the smiles and enthusiasm of youth that gives me purpose. If not for my wife’s gift to me of Icarus, I don’t know if I’d have a connection to the living world anymore.”
She tousled the child’s hair. “Then Icarus is praiseworthy indeed. The people on the street speak your name with reverence, my lord. Your works have touched the most humble. Even my mother finds that her laundry is easier with the fountains that are always full by the magic your devised!”
Daedalus shrugged modestly and smiled. “Not magic. It was only the study of the forces of nature and a logical application of what we see daily. The wind we feel daily is constant and strong. Harnessing its power was as simple as observing a child with a pinwheel.”
The girl cast her eyes downward. “Nonetheless, my lord, it must be the gods themselves who have opened your eyes, and your eyes alone, to what others have missed. And who else would use this gift for the good of all rather than personal profit?”
Eyes downcast as well, Daedalus murmured softly, “Sharing one’s fortunes with others should not be for profit, but a blessing, and first and foremost to the giver.”
The girl smiled and she darted to Icarus, who was busy constructing another pile of blocks ready to fall.
Daedalus simply closed his eyes and remembered a time more than thirty years before. As the memories returned, his chest tightened and he wheezed for air.
War was smoke, smoke and fire. It was the screaming of women and children, the shouts of men. It was the face of the dead, lying on the earth with puzzled, unseeing eyes, no longer embarrassed by the loss of their stool and urine. Worse yet were the eyes of the animals, horses and dogs, slain with no inkling of their sacrifice, whether it be for good or bad.
Daedalus was too young to remember the name of the city. Not Athens, but certainly allied to it. Nor could he remember his father other than a dim image frozen in his memory, that of an impossibly tall man, at least to a child’s eyes, who clutched a farming implement used for tilling. His face was brave but fearful at the same time. No warrior, he was going into battle for his family and knew he would never return. He clutched his son to his breast and looked at him with eyes that betrayed knowledge of his fate, but they also held a glimmer of hope. “Persevere.” he whispered to his son. Then he turned and left the little hut into the nightmare of fire, smoke, blood, screams, and flashing bronze.
He never saw his father again.
Blood and soot-streaked men shouting commands in an unfamiliar Grecian accent herded the ragged and terrified children and women into the village center, their communal well broken and piled with the bodies of the slain. Raising his eyes above, he saw the familiar moon, Selene, now red-streaked as if defiled by Ares, the god of war. He held his little fists to his eyes as he tried to shut out the images. Some of them were those of women raped, begging their children and siblings not to oppose the warriors on their behalf. The other sounds were that of the men not already killed being ritualistically slaughtered, his mother joining their ranks when she broke shrieking from the line of defiled women and ran towards her son.
Because he was perhaps four and small for his age he was spared and herded with the others to be sold at the slave market. He no longer remembered the name of his little village, nor his birth name. His name from that day forth was Slave.
Daedalus never forgot the last words of his father. He persevered. He did what was required and more. Even as a child, his quick wit and intelligence set him apart from the others. His new name, Daedalus, derived from a nickname meaning clever worker. He went from slave to foreman to apprentice architect to master architect faster than any could remember. Minos put him in charge of the palace restoration and finally the construction of the Labyrinth, the largest building project since the fall of legendary Atlantis.
It was traders from Crete that had recognized his potential and brought him to their island where he had blossomed and shed off the label of slave. He had adopted the island as his own and loved the people dearly, turning his talents for invention to the benefit of the average citizen.
Technically he had never been freed and was officially a slave. But his gifts were unique in Crete if not the world, and it was unlikely that there was a person alive who realized this omission. He was grateful to the good people of the island nation, but never forgot his origins and was cautious in dealing with those of power.
From ragged orphan slave to a lord of Crete, the mightiest empire of the Mediterranean, his transformation was breathtaking and unparalleled. In the known world, every man of power had risen to his station on the basis of heredity, wealth, religion, or skill in arms. Daedalus alone rose to power on the basis of his intellect. He bowed to Minos, King of Crete, and Minos alone. He vowed to use what talents the gods had bestowed on him for the good of all people and never to further wars of conquest.
Shaking the dusty memories from his head and willing his heart to slow, he stood and walked to the little slit window, hands crossed behind his back. The apartments on the backside of the palace complex were not the most desirable: the ones on the front caught the sea breezes and had a panoramic view of the Mediterranean. The view he craved like breath itself stood arrayed before him. He sighed and viewed what was arrayed before him.