Read The Door in the Mountain Online

Authors: Caitlin Sweet

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Legends; Myths; Fables, #Greek & Roman

The Door in the Mountain

BOOK: The Door in the Mountain
3.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

An Imprint of ChiZine Publications

DEDICATION

I remember listening to my father’s voice
in the dark, years before I could read.
I remember him saying
“Ariadne” and “the Minotaur” and “the labyrinth”—
words that were magical and mysterious then,
and still are.

This book is for him.

CHAPTER ONE

It was no use: the water didn’t move. Ariadne bit her lip and watched her reflection do the same. She dug her fingernails into the basin’s sides and leaned forward so that all she could see were her own wide brown eyes.

“Ariadne—no—let go.” Her mother’s hands lifted her off the stone. Just before they did, Ariadne saw the water fill with sky. “Do not try so hard; it will not make the god think any more kindly of you. Wait, and breathe . . . Good. Now look again.”

She stepped back onto the stone that brought her upper body to the edge of the basin. She didn’t look at the queen, but she could see her shadow on the water. The smooth, still water that refused to ripple.

“It won’t work.” Ariadne’s voice sounded high and wavery and she coughed a little, to hide this.

“It will. You are a daughter of Poseidon, the Bull. Here—watch me one more time and see how I call up his power.”

No
, Ariadne wanted to say,
I’ve watched before and I’ve tried before and nothing ever happens for me, even though I’m a princess and already five
—but then Pasiphae tilted her head toward the basin, and Ariadne did watch.

For a moment there was only more stillness. Small things moved—the golden rings that dangled from her mother’s ears, and the wispy clouds above the palace’s walls—but Ariadne hardly saw them, just as she hardly heard the voices that sang and shouted in the corridors beyond the altar. It was the quiet that consumed her.

Pasiphae’s green eyes were on the water, yet they seemed to be gazing through it, too, into a place Ariadne couldn’t see. For a few breaths the queen stayed like this—like a statue or a bird carried motionless on a river of wind. She curved her fingers. The gems on them winked, and the copper wrapped around her wrists glinted, and one black ringlet slipped down over her shoulder and bobbed just above the water.

The queen smiled.
Now
, Ariadne thought, and there it was: a circle in the centre of the basin; a silent ripple that rose and broke like a miniature tide against the stone. The queen lifted her hands, which had begun to glow silver. The ripple became a wave, and the wave leapt out of the basin.

Ariadne sucked in her breath. She knew what would happen; she had watched her mother draw swells from a calm sea and turn a stormy one mirror-flat. But she gasped now, as Pasiphae held the ring of water in mid-air. It shone as her gems did, struck by shifting sun and cloud shapes. It pulsed a bit, as if it too were breathing.

“My thanks, Lord Poseidon,” Pasiphae whispered. She smiled another, even more dazzling smile and brought her hands slowly down. The water flowed back into the basin and was a smooth, still pool again, and the silver faded from her skin.

“And so you see,” Pasiphae said briskly as Ariadne blinked, “you must not strain; you must be quiet, open to the bull god’s gift. I learned this from my own mother and was marked by the god by the time I was three. It is past time for you. Now. Try.”

Ariadne leaned forward. She stared at her eyes and brow, which were frowning. She tried to ease away the frown, and did, but then she realized that her hands were clenched.
Please
, she thought,
Lord Poseidon, come to me like you come to her

I’m going to be six soon, and you
still
haven’t come to me, and I’ll never be queen if you don’t, and even the
cook’s
child has a mark

“Stop!” cried a new voice, so loudly that the water seemed at last to quiver. Ariadne stumbled backward off the stone. She felt her mother’s fingers dig into her shoulders before they pushed her away.

“Husband.” Pasiphae’s voice was flat but somehow also sharp, like the shell Ariadne had cut her knee on the summer she was four.

“Wife,” Minos said. His teeth showed through his beard; they were bared like an angry dog’s. A smile, Ariadne knew. Her father’s smile. She smiled too, a little, and her heart thumped in her chest.

“I see you are still attempting to prove that the child bears your god’s blessing,” the king said. “You are very sweet, my dear, when you are desperate.”

“She bears his blessing because
I
bore
her
.”

The water in the basin began to bubble and froth. Ariadne smiled even more widely as red-gold light shot through with silver bloomed beneath her father’s skin.

“Admit the truth at last,” Minos said. He was rubbing the tips of his first two fingers against his thumbs; Ariadne watched sparks kindle and spin. They turned to cinders as they fell. “Her gift may well be from Zeus—for she is also my child.”

Pasiphae took a step toward her husband and now Ariadne could see both of them, standing very tall, a forearm’s length between them. “
She
may be your child,” the queen said in a low voice, “but this one, at least, is not.”

She put her hands on either side of her belly, which was a small round lump beneath the green folds of her dress. She pulled the folds taut so that the lump was very clear.

Minos made a sound deep in his throat. He raised his hands and held them flat; bronze and copper fire licked along the seams in his palms and up into the air. The flames stretched and shimmered and crackled, and Ariadne lifted her face up into their heat. Behind her the water hissed and churned; it spattered cool against the back of her neck.

“If you continue to flaunt your union with the bull priest, I will cast you out as I did him.” Smoke coiled from Minos’s mouth as he spoke.

Pasiphae laughed. Her cheeks and arms were beaded with moisture. Ariadne knew that soon her mother’s dress would darken and cling to her, as if she’d been swimming, and that her father’s tunic would be bored with blackened holes.

“You will not cast me out,” the queen said. “When you banished him, my people rioted—they shattered Zeus’s altar—imagine, Husband, what they would do to this island if you did the same to me. No.” She laughed again, and the water tinkled and sang. “I will bear Poseidon’s child here.”

Minos thrust his arm out. It was bare, coursing with light that was gold now, and so bright that Ariadne had to look away. She saw a tongue of flame dart out and attach itself to her mother’s cheek. It slithered and lashed but couldn’t cling, for Pasiphae’s skin was slick with water. The queen closed her eyes, and Minos cried out a deep, ragged word that Ariadne didn’t understand because his open mouth was awash with smoke and rippling with heat.

“Mama!” Ariadne cried. She wasn’t afraid; she just wanted them to look at
her
now, not at each other. “Papa!” But they didn’t look at her. They stared and stared, only the two of them in the world, so far away from her.

She reached out and raked her nails along Pasiphae’s arm. The queen rounded on her, water spraying from her mouth, and from the palm that struck Ariadne across the face. “Go—go
now
,” the queen snarled, but Ariadne was already running.

“Hush, Minnow. There, now—hush . . .”

Naucrate’s skirt smelled like lemons. Ariadne burrowed into it as far as she could, until she felt Naucrate’s knees pressing against her forehead.

“You ran very fast,” Naucrate said. Her hands stroked Ariadne’s back, which was still heaving.

Ariadne nodded into the cloth. She
had
run fast, and far—all those corridors and courtyards, their walls just blurs of paint. She hadn’t even slowed when she passed the dolphin fresco that had a tiny figure of her in it, beneath a curling wave. She’d been too angry.

“Look at me.”

Ariadne did. Naucrate’s head was angled a little; the sun slanting in from the doorway was playing over her dark hair and the bronze clasps that held her bodice jacket closed. Her lips weren’t smiling but her eyes were.
Good
, Ariadne thought.
She’ll listen, and then she’ll give me a treat. She always does, when I cry.

“Tell me what’s wrong.”

Ariadne swallowed.
They weren’t looking at me
didn’t seem right, even though it was true. “They were fighting,” she said instead, and snuffled.

“And what were they fighting about this time?”

“Their gods. And the new baby.”

“Ah. What were they saying about the new baby?”

The words came quickly, now that she knew which ones to speak. “My mother said that the king isn’t its father, but I don’t understand—he’s
my
father, and Deucalion’s and Glaucus’s and Androgeus’s—why isn’t he this baby’s, too?”

Naucrate straightened. She seemed to be gazing at something above Ariadne’s head. The smile was gone from her eyes.

“There are rites—the gods inhabit the bodies of priests . . . but you are too young to understand.” She blinked and looked back at Ariadne. “Your mother thinks that Poseidon came to her and is the baby’s father, and your father does not want to believe this.”

“He was so angry,” Ariadne said in a rush, glancing up under her eyelashes to watch Naucrate’s face, “I think he hurt her—the fire was all over him, especially in his hands, and he was trying to touch her. . . .”

Naucrate smoothed the damp hair back from Ariadne’s brow. “He did not hurt her. I know the king. He used his fire on me once, when I . . . displeased him. But even though it crackled and smoked and made me very hot, it never hurt me.”

Ariadne shuffled backward, away from Naucrate’s stool, and crouched with her arms around her knees.

“Little Princess—was there more?”

“It’s just . . . they were angry about me, really, at first. Because they both want me to have their godmarks, but I don’t—I’m unmarked and I always will be.” She hadn’t expected
these
words, which made her want to cry real tears. “I hear the priests and priestesses talking to my parents: they say royal families have to keep having godmarked children. They say our family has been great since the earliest days, when we were commoners whose marks were better than the king’s, but now I’m not marked and I never will be and I’ll bring shame to everyone and some other family will rule instead. . . .” She bit the inside of her cheek so hard that more tears came.

Naucrate rose and went to the table that stood beside the inner door. “You should not listen to priests and priestesses,” she said as she plucked the lid off an alabaster jar. Ariadne straightened, real and false tears forgotten. “They sometimes speak more for their own glory than they do for the gods’. And Minnow: I was seven when I was marked, but after all my yearning, my gift was slight. Who could be impressed by a girl whose whistling sounded like birdsong—even if she could imitate any bird on earth? No, in the end there was so much teasing that I thought I would have been better off unnoticed by the gods.”

She came back to Ariadne and knelt, holding the open jar. Inside its smooth, purple-veined white were three honey cakes.

“Take one,” she said, and Ariadne did. “See: they’re fresh, and even sweeter than usual. Icarus will be hungry by now; will you take him one, too?”

Ariadne nodded, her mouth already so full of honeyed oats that she couldn’t speak. Naucrate put another cake in Ariadne’s palm and closed her fingers around it.

“Good. You know where to find him.”

Ariadne didn’t run this time. She walked slowly, drawing her free hand along the stone walls, feeling where they were sun-warm and where they were shadow-cool. A line of tiny bulls led her around corners and up steps; Daedalus’s bulls, which he had painted low enough that a child could see them. She knew when she came to the one with the golden bird perched on its horn that she was nearly there. Three steps down, and then she
was
there, in the first of Daedalus’s workrooms.

This one had no roof: it was a courtyard, bounded on all sides by blue-washed walls and scarlet columns. Ariadne could see the three entryways to the other workrooms; the one with the paint pots and walls covered with brushstrokes that never seemed to be the same the next time, and the one with looms that clacked all by themselves and other machines of metal that whirred and clanged, and the one deep beneath the ground that held sea creatures captive in pools fed by salt springs Daedalus had coaxed from rock. This courtyard was wondrous too, with its towering blocks of marble, some already carved in shapes of men or beasts, others shrouded in cloth and surrounded by wooden ladders and platforms. Vines crawled up the walls and over patches of ground. Tools lay upon them, and models of ships and cities, and even a tiny Knossos, with all its corridors and rooms, and painted clay figurines that were its people. Beside Knossos was a many-pillared temple, which she knew was in Athens, far away over the sea, and which Daedalus never spoke of, though Naucrate had told her that he’d come from there.

He was crouched before the little temple now, with his back to her. She crept up behind him until she could see over his shoulder. He was holding two figurines in his hands: one as long as his forefinger and one half that size. The figurines glowed silver because he was touching them, with his godmarked craftsman’s skin. His head was bent. She could see white strands in his close-cropped black hair. His cheeks and chin were as hairless as a boy’s.

“Ha!” she cried. She lunged forward and wrapped her arms around his neck. She felt his muscles bunch and tense and saw him drop the figurines onto the ivy. When he turned to face her, he was laughing.

BOOK: The Door in the Mountain
3.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The O’Hara Affair by Thompson, Kate
The Job Offer by Webb, Eleanor
Murder in Havana by Margaret Truman
Family Reunion by Caroline B. Cooney
Eden's Garden by Juliet Greenwood