Read The Door in the Mountain Online

Authors: Caitlin Sweet

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

The Door in the Mountain (17 page)

BOOK: The Door in the Mountain
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Ariadne smiled.

On the third day she woke to her slave’s hand on her shoulder. “Princess,” the slave said, in her flat, quiet voice, “your mother is standing on the gallery above the courtyard. She has ordered everyone to attend her there.”

“Ordered, has she?” Ariadne said as she sat and stretched away sleep-knots. “Perhaps none of us should obey.” But everyone did—even Ariadne, though she didn’t stand with the rest; she stood above them, at the end of the gallery in which the queen also stood, in shadow.

“Mother,” Ariadne said. When Pasiphae didn’t move, Ariadne thought,
She didn’t hear me because of the rain.
But the rain was slackening—sheets thinning to mist; mist scattering in a gust of wind that stirred Ariadne’s hair. The people who’d been wraiths, below, were clear now. They craned up at the shadows as silence fell.

“Mother,” Ariadne said again, and stepped forward. The queen still didn’t turn to her. Instead she too took a step, out of the gallery’s shade and into a wash of bright new sunlight. Ariadne watched arms go up to shade eyes. She heard cries of wonder.
, she thought,
be crazed
Soak them again, so that I can come out behind you and reassure them as a queen should.

smiled a steady, loving smile. She lifted her arms, and the jewelled snakes wrapped around them flashed gold.

“I am sorry if I frightened you,” she said, in the voice she hadn’t used with Ariadne since she was small and trembling, just woken from a nightmare. In the voice she’d almost always used with Asterion. “I was a mother at that mountain. A mother whose child had been taken from her forever. All of you who are mothers will understand this pain. Some of you may have felt pain like it—but mine was godmarked and fierce, and I am sorry.” Her arms came down. Her hands hung, palms out, in front of her. “I was a mother, then. Now I am a daughter. Poseidon’s . . . the Mother’s. I am theirs, and wiser for it. They have given me peace—as has the great Daedalus.”

Heads bobbed and turned, but the great Daedalus was nowhere to be seen.

And where is Icarus?
Ariadne wondered.
He should be lurking on the roof somewhere. . . .
She looked up and saw only sky and rain-darkened stone, and was briefly, stupidly sorry.

“He has told me much of the place that he made, beneath the mountain. Of the food that shall be delivered to the temple—for that is what it is. My son’s temple. Men will provide for him, and so will the goddess. The flesh and blood of the sacrifices will make him even stronger. I thank Daedalus for this knowledge and for every one of his many gifts to us. We will all lament his leaving.”

“So we will.”

Ariadne gasped along with everyone else as Minos appeared between the pillars of the opposite gallery. No godfire rippled beneath his skin; no ashes fluttered down from his fingertips. He looked dimmer but more solid. For a moment Ariadne imagined taking his hands and burrowing in against his chest as she had when she was a child. Then she thought,
Stop remembering: think only of what is now and what’s to come.

Minos and his wife gazed at each other across the sunlit air of the courtyard. A bird trilled, somewhere very close. Water dripped. Ariadne waited for clouds to mass and flames to kindle, but there was none of that—just a man nodding slowly at a woman, who nodded slowly back.

“His ship is ready, then,” Pasiphae said, as if Minos hadn’t been gone for days; as if the two of them hadn’t fought each other with fire and rain the day before that.

“It is,” Minos replied. “And we must go there, to say farewell. All of us must do this.” He smiled. “Lead us to the ship, Queen of Crete.”

I don’t understand them.
The words circled in Ariadne’s head as she watched her mother descend to the courtyard and walk across it and out, with Minos behind her and the crowd behind him.

“I’m fairly sure they’re both mark-mad,” Deucalion said from beside her. Ariadne started and turned to him. He was staring down at the final few, hurrying people. “But at least they’re not bringing fire and flood down on us all anymore.”

She glanced past him at the stairway. Glaucus was there, of course, poised to follow his brother wherever he might go next. “Aren’t you going with them?” she asked Deucalion. “To summon the wind that will bear the great Daedalus out of his long exile?”

“Yes. But you were up here, and you looked . . . I thought I’d see if you wanted company, on the way to the harbour.”

“Yes,” Glaucus said, “what
you? You going to come and say goodbye to your pet bird?”

,” Deucalion began, but before he could say anything else, Ariadne strode past him to the staircase. She slapped Glaucus so hard her palm tingled and scarlet bloomed across his cheek. Then she went down the stairs, quickly, her feet barely touching them.

“Ari!” Glaucus called, his voice cracking. “I was joking—I’m sorry. . . . Come back; come with us. . . .”

She walked faster.

I don’t know where to go. Not to the cliff above the harbour—I’m sure of that—but where, then? Just away. Away from my brothers and my parents and all their chattering, dimwitted subjects. They’ll miss me, surely—ask each other why I’m not there—but no: I won’t go to wave at Daedalus’s ship with them.

Her mind did nothing but chatter. Her feet took her to Daedalus’s workroom.

An enormous crab’s shell hung by a cord from the ceiling. There were things inside it—tiny levers and gears that whirred and spun and sometimes sparked. The shell glowed. When Ariadne sat down on a stool beneath it, the glow was light blue; eventually it shifted to pink; sometime after that it was a bruised purple scattered with golden specks. She watched the colours ripple on the pillars that separated the chamber from the corridor. No fire- or lamplight; just Daedalus’s magic in the damp, silent dark.

Time passed. She thought that the shell’s colours had been set to mimic the sky, and so it must be night. She wasn’t hungry or tired. Her muscles weren’t sore at all, though she held herself stiff and straight. She imagined that she was sitting on the throne at Knossos, flanked by images of scaled, beaked monsters and towering plants. She imagined priests and priestesses in lines before her, raising their hands in a new salute—one devised just for her. She would acknowledge them by bowing her own chin to her chest, just for a moment. . . .

“Princess,” said a voice from the corridor, and Ariadne’s head snapped up. Karpos was leaning against a pillar, his arms crossed. A lamp sat at his feet. “What are
doing here?”

“I . . .” She cleared the roughness from her throat and stood up.
her back ached but she still didn’t stoop. “I wished to think of Daedalus where he did so much of his work. Since I wasn’t at the harbour to see him go.”

“Weren’t you? I didn’t notice.”


He shrugged and pushed off the pillar. “Now ask me why
here.” She frowned and he chuckled. “You won’t, will you, now that I’ve told you to. Though of course you’re wondering.”

“Hardly. You were Daedalus’s apprentice—of course you wish to visit this place, too. To remember him, surrounded by his things.”

things,” Karpos said. He ran his hand over the spine of a sea creature that lay on one of the long tables. He picked up a metal lizard and wound it. When he set it down, it squeaked and clanked its way in and out of the sea creature’s ribs.

“Your father announced it to everyone, almost as soon as the ship was out of the harbour: I’m to have everything—the machines, the marble—everything, here and at Knossos.”

Ariadne tried to shrug as casually as he had. “And so? You were his most talented apprentice. It’s no surprise that my father wishes you to carry on in his place.”

“Maybe not. But the king said something else. Something like: ‘You, who have used your godmark to immortalize my son Androgeus, are destined to be more than just a master artisan. You may begin in the workshops, but the gods have told me that you will end in rooms far more grand than these.’” Three paces brought Karpos so close to her that she could have reached out and wrapped one of his dark curls around her finger. “You understand your father’s thinking, Lady,” he said, very softly. “Tell me what he meant.”

She was dizzy, swaying; her head was full of whispers. “The gods spoke to him of this,” she heard herself say. “Now you must wait for them to speak to you.”

She fell sideways. He caught her; his hand was around her arm, and it was hot, which was strange—surely godmarked silver felt cool? “Princess,” he said in a thick, far-off voice, and she wrenched her arm away and stumbled from the chamber as the lizard clacked and clanked behind her.


One night after the ship had gone, as the court was preparing for its return to Knossos, a messenger stumbled into the receiving chamber and fell to his knees before the king. Looking at him, Ariadne remembered the one who’d brought news of Androgeus’s death. Many messengers had presented themselves to the king in the years since, of course—but this one, like that other, wasn’t simply breathless: he was trembling and pale.

Minos rose, sweeping his arms out as if to balance himself on the air. He smiled, as Pasiphae twisted her hands in her lap. Her earrings tinkled in the silence.

“Speak, man!” the king said. The messenger coughed and retched, then pushed himself to his feet. His bare chest shone with sweat. Ariadne moved her gaze from it to his wide belt, cinched taut against the muscles of his belly. She glanced back at his face, which was unremarkable except for its wide-eyed fear.

“My King,” the messenger gasped, “I bear news from the Chanian port. The ship—”

“Which one?” Minos said, turning his head to cast an amused eye over everyone assembled in the room. “I have several.”

“The ship that carried the great Daedalus,” the messenger said. His chest was still heaving, but he spoke more evenly. “The great Daedalus and all the men who laboured with him beneath the Goddess’s mountain. The ship was lost, and all its passengers with it—pirates, my King. . . .”

For a moment Ariadne thought that the earth was shaking—the hard, stony earth that Daedalus himself had once told her was lined with fire. It rose and fell gently and she lurched forward, nearly into Minos’s back.

“Princess?” her slave said, and she grasped Ariadne’s arm just as Karpos had, only days before. When Ariadne turned to her, she saw that the slave’s eyes were huge and unblinking, trembling with tears that had not yet fallen.

“Don’t touch me,” Ariadne snapped at her, as she should have at Karpos. She thrust at Chara’s hand until it was gone. The earth’s movements subsided. She stepped up beside her father and tipped her head so that she could see his face.

“How are you so certain?” Minos snapped.

“There were witnesses—fishermen close to shore who saw your great ship, and the other ship that intercepted it: a pirate vessel without paint or patterned sails. Men swarmed onto the deck. There was screaming—yet no treasures were thrown from ship to ship, and soon yours, my King, was set ablaze. The fishermen could do nothing, at first, except watch men jump into the sea. As your ship sank and the other moved away, the fishermen drew their own crafts closer, to see whether anyone had survived. In the end they pulled only one from the waves.”

The king’s eyes narrowed and he breathed a single, coiling stream of smoke. “A survivor.” His voice was tight.

“Yes,” the messenger said, “but he died too, just one hour later.”

Minos smiled. His teeth flickered white and scarlet.

“Father,” Ariadne murmured, “stop smiling; it is not seemly. . . .”

“Poor Daedalus,” he said, still smiling. “Poor Daedalus, released at last from his long exile, only to perish at the hands of pirates seeking riches that did not exist. Except, of course, for the ones contained within his great and complex mind.” He waved a hand. Cinders settled on Ariadne’s left foot.

“Master Karpos shall drape his workrooms and creations in cloth, to honour his master’s memory.”

Ariadne glanced sidelong at Karpos, who was leaning against a wall. The paint on it was crimson and blue; his skin was grey. As she watched, he put his hands over his face. Behind her, the slave girl made a small, pinched sound.

“Yes,” the king continued, “We shall mourn Daedalus and his wife and their blighted bird-child.”

Ariadne was too hot. Because of her father’s heat—yes, that—nothing else.

“My Lady.” Ariadne groaned as the slave’s voice murmured again, into her left ear. “Princess. One of your father’s men is here—Theron. He says you must go with him.”

Ariadne rolled onto her side and blinked at the girl’s shadow. “No,” she snapped. The word echoed and faded in the darkness.

“Yes, Princess,” Chara said quietly. “Theron says that the king demands it.”

“Is that so?” Ariadne slid her legs off the bed and rose. “Theron!” she called into the corridor. “Come here to me.”

“But Princess,” the slave hissed, “you are not dressed—you should not—”

Ariadne waved her to silence. “Theron!” she called again.

A man stepped beneath the door lintel. His torch flame guttered in a wind gentle enough to be Glaucus’s.

Her pulse was suddenly racing. She held up her arms and Chara drew a jacket along them and fastened it at her waist and across her breasts. Theron’s eyes roved across her skin. He was as old as her father, and his cheeks were pitted with scars.

As ugly as the surface of the moon that Daedalus showed me once, through his long-glass
, she thought.
I should have this wretch punished
for staring at me
—and yet she smiled a little, as she slipped her legs slowly into her skirt.

“So,” she said, “my father requires my presence.”

Theron nodded slowly. “He does, my Lady.” His voice was low and rough. He smiled back at her, just a little.

“Enough,” Ariadne said to the slave, who was fiddling with her girdle, “I am ready.”

At Knossos it would have taken half the night to get from the royal apartments to the underground storerooms, but here it was a matter of two short staircases and one long one. As she followed the wavering torchlight, she imagined Asterion here, casting his distended bull-shadow on the jars and the damp stone walls.

He must have felt the ceiling pressing down on him, in that first cave
, she thought.
He must have thought it a prison. Maybe he’s remembering it now, inside the mountain, and wondering at his own foolishness.

Theron led her past a row of doorways, to three storage jars. They were twice as tall as he was, and bulbously round in the middle. A dark red-painted octopus writhed up one; a school of green flying fish leapt up the other two.

Theron knelt and traced his finger along a seam between two flagstones. “What you are about to see is secret, Lady. Your father the king will tell you: you must not speak of it. I have sworn a blood oath that I will not.”

“Indeed,” she said, her voice steady though her heartbeat, suddenly, was not. “And how can a row of jars and a wall be secret?”

He glanced up over his shoulder at her. The lamplight pooled in his scars. “Princess. Have you no faith in your father?” He smiled his small, insolent smile again, and bent back to the floor. She heard his fingertip dragging. His breathing was raspy, breathy, like an old man’s. “Where are you, now,” he muttered, and leaned forward until his head had nearly disappeared between two of the jars. “Ha!” he cried, and flicked his hand upward with a flourish. Ariadne saw a glint of metal—something protruding from the floor—and then gears ground, deep within the wall, and stone dragged against stone.

The wall opened.

Ariadne picked up the lamp and crouched behind Theron. Even in the light, she could see nothing but black, empty space. “Ah,” she said. “So this secret is the work of the great Daedalus. May the gods grant him the peace he deserves.”

The man laughed harshly. “May they indeed, Lady,” he said. “Now, then. After you.”

She drew breath to order him in first, but something in his narrowed, glittering eyes made her press her lips together instead. She crouched and moved past him. The edges of the opening tugged at her hair, and a dank, cool wind raised gooseflesh on her arms. She felt the stone beneath her become dirt, and tried not to recoil.

“Come on, Princess,” Theron said. He was far too close to her, but she didn’t command him to step back. “Can’t keep your father waiting.”

Once beneath the wall, she eased herself up until she was standing. He emerged beside her. The lamp’s glow fell on walls that looked crumpled—unworked rock, not stone—and a ceiling strung with roots.

Ariadne plucked her calfskin boots out of the dirt, one after the other.
Don’t stand still. Turn around—get back to the opening
. “No,” she said, “I will not walk here. Take me to my father by another way.”

“This is the only way, Lady. I am sorry for your discomfort.” But he wasn’t; he was leering at her in the part-light, leaning close.

She held her skirt as far above the dirt as she could without pulling it over her head. “Very well. Quickly, then, at least.”

The passage twisted and rose and dipped and rose again, endlessly.
It must be as long as the road between Knossos and Amnisos,
she thought. Sometimes she had to rush to catch up to Theron and his bobbing light; once she stumbled over a root and into his back and he steadied her with damp, lingering hands.

“Tired?” he murmured. His breath stank of old wine. “Care to rest?”

Enough of this
, she thought. She wrenched herself away and pushed him forward with a grunt.

“My father,” she panted. “The king. Remember?” His laughter echoed around her as he led her onward.

This will never end. I’ll starve, in here—and imagine that: even Asterion gets food, in
box! And then there’s Theron. I’ll have to kill him somehow. A rock? Yes: a knee to the groin and a rock to the back of the head when he goes down. . . . Maybe my father never did ask to see me. Maybe this was all Theron’s doing from the start. Maybe I should just curl up now and—

“Here we are, Princess. Well, come on then. You’ve been slow; kept him waiting too long.”

Theron slid his hands up the rock to the mossy roof and pushed. Dirt hissed down onto Ariadne and she shook her head, stamped to get it off her shoulders. When she looked up again, all but his legs had disappeared. She watched them vanish too, into a space of darkness and stars.

“Up you come.” He was leaning through the trap door, his hands extended. She saw no way except these hands, which she took as her insides roiled. He hoisted her up and into air so fresh and clean that she breathed it in in great gulps that made her cough. She stood up very tall and tipped her face to the sky.

“Go on, then,” Theron said. “Over that way, to the cliff. I wait here, by his command.”

She tossed her head so that the glossy snakes of her hair slithered across her back. “A shame,” she said. “I believe I was beginning to fall in love with you.”

His eyes were slits. His hands tightened into fists. “Careful, Princess,” he said softly. “Careful, pretty girl.”

“No,” she said. “
be careful. My father would punish you if I told him of your impudence.”

She walked away from him, her strides long, as if she knew where she was. A wide swath of grass with jagged hills behind and a lip of cliff ahead. The sea below, stained with moonlight. She knew much of the land around the summer palace, but not this.

Minos was standing at the cliff’s edge. At first he was nothing but a fire-veined shadow against the black sky, but when she saw him her pace and pulse quickened.

“Father,” she said when she was close enough to make out his real, solid shape, “what is this—what do you want with me now, here . . . ?” She had meant to sound imperious, but as her voice trailed into silence she knew she was just a little girl, waiting in the dark for a king to turn to her.

He did, slowly. His eyes were orange, rippling circles with black embers at their hearts.

“You and I made a secret plan, once.” She felt each word puff against her cheeks like steam. “Together. And then, because I wanted to, I made one by myself.”

She swallowed. Her throat was tight. The wind felt cool on her skin, in the spaces between his words.

“I will show you what I planned without you, because I wanted to. There,” he said, pointing down. “There is where you start.”

She sat with her legs over the edge. Her heels kicked against the cliff face as she craned up at him.

“Yes,” the king said, his smile red. “Just there.”

Icarus would have loved it up here
, she thought.
With his grasping toes and his ball of humming string . . .
She turned quickly around and lowered herself down, poking at the rock with her toes. She found the first foothold almost immediately but had to stretch to find the second. They were shallow and she slipped several times, clutching the indentations with fingers she could tell were bleeding. She didn’t look down until she was standing on rock, not merely clinging to it. A ledge, she saw when she inched around to face the sea. Three steps forward would take her over.

, she thought as her teeth chattered,

A rope
bounced off the cliff by her left shoulder. She crept right as Minos slid down to stand beside her.

“I am not so young and spry as you,” he said. “Once was. Not now. Need a rope.” She heard it sizzle as he unwrapped his hands, and held her breath so that she wouldn’t smell its acrid burning. “Look at us, Daughter! Look at where we stand, above the vast, dark waters of our land. A rhyme!” he cried, and laughed mad, swirling sparks into the night.

She cleared her throat so that her voice wouldn’t tremble. “You did not bring me here to gaze at the sea. Please tell me what we are really doing.”

BOOK: The Door in the Mountain
7.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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