Authors: Caitlin Sweet
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Legends; Myths; Fables, #Greek & Roman
“I’ll be far away,” he said again, “but if I hear that Asterion’s been hurt—if anything should happen to him, accident or not, I will know. I’ll command a bull to toss you on his horns in the dancing ring or send a wild boar to gore you the next time you go to pick flowers near the peak shrine.” He scratched the lizard between its eyes and whispered a few more words, and it walked daintily from his shoulder back onto the wall. “I can do these things. I
do them, Sister, if Asterion is harmed.”
Ariadne wanted to laugh, but she knew that it would sound too shrill. She clasped her hands behind her and thought,
Say something, Ari; there’s always
—but he was already walking away from her, bright and burnished under the cloudless sky.
Androgeus sailed from the harbour at Amnisos on a hot, still day in late summer. It was so still, in fact, that Minos summoned Deucalion and Glaucus to the cliff’s edge and said, “Use your godmarks, my sons, and send your brother out across the water!”
They stood shoulder-to-shoulder—or shoulder-to-ribs, because Glaucus was much shorter than Deucalion. Minos stood next to them, and Pasiphae next to him, and Asterion next to her. Ariadne looked at the row of their backs for a moment before she walked forward and took her place beside Asterion. She moved in so close to him that their elbows brushed against each other, but he didn’t flinch as she’d hoped he would. She could feel him trembling, though, as he gazed down at the sea and the ship that was on it.
The sea was like a length of taut blue cloth until Deucalion tipped his head toward the sky and closed his eyes. Ariadne leaned back and watched him. He parted his lips and a thread of godmarked silver slipped out from between them. She knew that if she’d been beside him, and if the crowd behind hadn’t been so noisy, she would have heard the low, wavering whistle of his breath. She looked back at the water. It foamed down by the rocks at the cliff’s base and ruffled out toward the ship, which lifted and fell gently. She remembered how the lift and fall had felt when Minos had taken her out on the king’s ship last year. It was much larger than the others she’d been on—so many more oarsmen to greet her, and a thicker mast, and a deck that seemed as wide as her dancing ground. It had been a windy day, and they hadn’t needed Deucalion or Glaucus’s help. Not that Glaucus actually helped much at all. He could barely muster a breeze on his own. Whenever he and Deucalion summoned winds together, Deucalion always began so that the weakness of Glaucus’s mark would be hidden. (Some said that the queen was the one who made the water move, but that she allowed her sons to be praised for it.)
The sea was full of waves now, all of them climbing and breaking toward the west. The ship angled westward, too, and the enormous wooden fish on its prow sliced through air and water. Ariadne could see the oars and their spray and the straining brown backs of the oarsmen. The dolphins painted on the ship’s linen-covered sides seemed to be leaping. She could see the scarlet cloth that covered the king’s seat whipping back and forth. And she could see Androgeus when he emerged from beneath the cloth and leaned out over the ship’s side. He was tiny, but she recognized the dark brown shine of his hair and the golden trim of his loincloth. He reached an arm down and stretched his hand out and very soon a rounded shape rose from the waves, and another, and a third. Silver light leapt from his hand and touched each of the real dolphins as they surfaced—five, ten; soon an uncountable blur of white and grey and godlight.
He straightened, just before he grew too small to see. He raised both his arms and swept them up into the sign of the Bull. A cheer rose from the people gathered on the cliff path and the rocky beach below. Ariadne heard Asterion suck in his breath and felt the muscles in his arm clench, and when she glanced at him she thought she saw a trail of tears on his scarred cheek—but perhaps it was just spray: there was a lot of it now, borne on the new wind.
“Come, people of Crete!” Pasiphae called to the crowd behind her. “Say that you were there to see Prince Androgeus away before he returned in triumph from Athens!”
“And you, Master Daedalus,” called Minos, “come up here beside me, so that you may have the best view of all.”
Ariadne watched Daedalus approach. Her heart pounded a bit, for he sometimes flew into rages when Minos spoke ill of his old home—but this time he just did a strange little mincing dance as he approached, and stayed silent.
He’s never the same way twice
, she thought;
it’s as if he’s many people and you can’t ever know which will appear.
“He’s so handsome,” Diantha said. She was standing just behind Ariadne’s right shoulder, her honey-coloured eyes distant.
“Androgeus?” Ariadne shook her head and patted Diantha’s hand with mock solicitude. “Perhaps on this small island, Yantha, but not in the wider world. I’m sure of it.”
“Well, handsomer than
, anyway.” Diantha’s eyes were sharp again, turned to where the cliffside bent to form the western arm of the harbour. Icarus was there, away from the throng, perched on a boulder that looked as if it would tumble into the sea if he moved.
“An ugly bird
an ugly boy,” Ariadne said. “And I don’t think he’ll ever fly.”
“Better to have no mark at all than a blighted one.”
, Ariadne told herself as a flush swept up her neck and into her cheeks,
she only meant to reassure you
—but Diantha’s words were as relentless and pounding as the waves Deucalion and even Glaucus had made with
“He doesn’t care that you don’t have a mark,” Diantha said. “Just look—he can’t take his eyes off you—I can see it from here.”
Ariadne snorted and spun away from the sea and the speck of ship and the bird-boy’s unblinking eyes. “Let’s go,” she said—only there were too many people between her and the way back to the summer palace: people clustering around Minos and Pasiphae, who smiled and talked to them; people smiling at Ariadne, and whispering to each other behind their hands; that insufferable Chara, standing with her hand in Pherenike’s, grinning at Asterion when he made a funny, twisted-up face at her.
I wish they’d all just make room
, Ariadne thought. And then they did—but not for her.
Asterion took a step. Right away there was a change: heads turned and eyes widened and hands went up in the sign of the horns. Alkaios, who’d been bobbing about just above the ground, came suddenly and firmly back down. A girl weaving rainbow light between her fingers; a man catching spray and making it into flower shapes: they all stopped showing off their godmarks as soon as Asterion took a step toward them.
He smiled, which made the scar on his cheek pucker even more. Behind him, Pasiphae smiled, too. Diantha murmured, “Those scars should make him ugly like Icarus but they don’t. . . .”
“They do!” said Ariadne in a rush. “He’s burned and he’s a runt and if he didn’t have such a wondrous mark he’d be nothing to anyone.” The words had begun to tremble, so she stopped speaking—but it was too late: Diantha was staring at her with her mouth wide open.
“Princess! He has been god-favoured more than anyone else—how could you speak like that about him?”
Ariadne said, quickly and coolly, “I am very disappointed that you believed me. Perhaps I won’t bring you here next summer.”
Diantha said again, “Princess!”—but Ariadne was already walking away from her, along the path Asterion had made.
I hate my life. I hate my brothers and the people who think they’re my friends. I hate this island. I can’t sail away from it like Androgeus did, and I hate that too.
only grew hotter as the months went on. Androgeus won every competition; Androgeus used his godmark to tame a murderous boar; Androgeus was the toast of Athens. Bull-Asterion presided over a rite and the next day it rained for the first time since Androgeus’s departure and there was rejoicing throughout the countryside. Diantha no longer fawned and followed because she had taken Karpos as her lover—her lover, when Ariadne hadn’t yet had any opportunity to take one of her own! Hatred, rushing in her veins instead of blood
until one rainy autumn evening, when another message came from Athens.
, Ariadne thought as the messenger walked around the hearth to stand before her father.
Androgeus can’t have won any more competitions. Surely there aren’t any more
But this messenger wasn’t smiling, as the others had. “Minos King,” he said in a low, breathless voice.
The royal household had been eating when the messenger had come. Now their spoons and knives clanked against metal plates or clattered against wood. (The long trestle tables had been carried into the throne room because the courtyard they usually used for dining was too wet.)
The king rose. “Speak, man! Tell me of my son’s latest triumph in Athens!” The king’s teeth glinted in his beard. He smiled, while everyone around him went silent and still. He smiled, even as Pasiphae stood and put her hand on his arm and pressed her fingers white.
“My lord king, Prince Androgeus is dead.”
Someone gasped—Naucrate, Ariadne guessed, though she didn’t look away from her parents. For a moment Minos and Pasiphae were statues, one smiling, the other beautiful. Pasiphae moved first. She turned and put her other hand on his arm and clutched it as if it were the only thing holding her up. Which it was—for when he drew it from her grasp, slowly and carefully, she crumpled. She pulled herself to her knees and raised a hand to him and he wrenched himself around, away from her. He seemed to be gazing at the fresco of the griffins and trees.
“How?” Smoke curled from his mouth. The backs of his hands were webbed with kindling flame.
The messenger swallowed. He was beardless; a man who spent more time in Athens than at home and had taken on Athenian fashion.
“My lord, it was King Aegeus’s nephews—the Pallantides—they were jealous of the prince’s prowess. They . . . they stabbed him with the tusks of the boar he had tamed. Others were there, too—someone tried to reach the prince, but one of the Pallantides summoned a net made of silver fire and cast it over Androgeus so that no one could touch him. He died slowly. Many watched.”
“King Aegeus. What has he done?”
“He has sent a message.”
“And what does it say?”
“Say it to me.”
“It . . . it says:
Minos, King of Crete, my city mourns your son and begs your mercy
“That is all.”
“Yes, Minos King.”
Minos whirled to face the messenger. Flames leapt from his fingertips and seared black lines into the floor.
“Then there will be war.”
“Yes, my King. It is . . . expected.”
Ariadne looked at all of them in turn: Minos; Pasiphae, her hands buried in her hair, pulling her head down toward her knees; Glaucus and Deucalion, pale and gaping; Daedalus, frozen mid-stride, his own head turned sideways as Icarus’s so often was. And Asterion. Asterion, who was crying.
“Leave me.” Minos’s voice rasped. “Everyone leave me.”
The boys almost ran between the pillars and Phaidra followed, tripping over her skirts. Naucrate took Daedalus’s hand and drew him out after them. Soon only Pasiphae and Ariadne were left, with the king.
“Husband.” Pasiphae looked broken; she sounded broken.
“Go!” Minos thundered. She rose. Her skirts were dark-damp where her legs had been pressing on them. Water ran down her brow and neck but not her cheeks.
“May Lord Zeus abandon you,” she said. “May you cry out for him in your solitude and find him gone.” She lifted her face to the rain, once she was outside, and then she walked, and it swallowed her.
Ariadne and Minos were alone. He was staring blindly at his hands and the flames that dribbled down from them. She took a step closer. Still he stared.
“Father,” she said, very softly.
His eyes leapt to her, saw her, filled with tears. “Ariadne,” he whispered. He held out his arms and she ran into them, as if she were still a child—only now
was the child. He sobbed and clung and she didn’t care that his palms scalded her through her bodice.
“Hush,” she said, and smiled.
Chara fell so hard that all the breath seemed to leave her body. She made a sound like “umf” as the dust from the path rose and settled around her, and then she gasped and flipped onto her back. Glaucus was above her, brandishing the blue-and-scarlet painted stick he carried everywhere. Chara lunged up and grasped the end of it with both hands. She tugged sharply and he stumbled; she hooked her foot around his and he fell even more heavily than she had. As she rolled away from him, she heard Icarus and Asterion laughing.
“That’ll teach you to take on a girl who’s so much smaller than you,” Asterion said.
Glaucus was laughing, too, in a wheezy sort of way. “Peace?” he said as he got to his feet. He extended his hand to her and she took it.
“Peace,” she said and snatched the stick out of his other hand. She sprang away from him and he shouted, and their footsteps pounded yet more dust from the sunbaked track. She knew he’d catch her in just a few paces, so she slowed before he did and dropped the stick.
“No peace, next time,” he said and ruffled her hair. She swatted at his hand, growling, and he laughed again.
The four of them walked on in silence until Glaucus muttered, “Ariadne’s following us.”
Icarus appeared to trip over his own feet, and flushed to the tips of his ears. “Really?”
“Shh,” Asterion whispered. “Really. Every time I almost look back she tries to hide behind a bush. No, Chara,” he said as she shifted to glance back herself, “don’t. Let her think we don’t know. Just be . . . normal.”
Icarus’s walk had suddenly gone very stiff.
He looks a bit like a wading bird
, Chara thought.
“So,” he said, his tone as stiff as his gait, “where are we going this time?”
Asterion squinted at the path ahead of them, which looked to Chara like a flat, red-brown snake wending its way among the new green of the hills. “Just to the waterfall.”
“Good,” Icarus said, less awkwardly. “It hurt when I fell out of the tree last time.”
Glaucus snorted. “Yes, and the farmer wasn’t pleased with us, either.”
They left the road when it passed an ancient, lightning-split cypress. Chara drew her hand along its gnarled trunk and one prickly green frond, then hurried to catch up with the others. It was easy to keep pace with Glaucus and Asterion, but Icarus was much faster than all of them—especially when he used his metallic silver string to swing up to the rocky outcroppings that jutted like giant fists from the earth, and leapt off them. Every time he did this, the breath caught in her throat because perhaps this would be it: perhaps he would hang suspended for just a moment longer and then climb into the windy blue of the sky with his arm-wings trailing silver godlight. But his feet carried him back to the ground every time, with a solid, mocking sound that made Chara wince.
“You know, it’s heat that makes
change,” Asterion said to Icarus when they were all sitting above the waterfall. Chara brushed the spray away from her face as if this would help her hear him better. “Maybe there’s something like that for you but you just don’t know it yet.”
“Maybe it’s cold,” Glaucus said. He was knocking his stick against the boulder he was sitting on—
thwack thwack thwack
, like a drumbeat beneath the water’s song.
“Or hunger,” Chara said. “Fear, maybe. I don’t know,” she added in a rush, “of course I don’t, because I’m not godmarked . . .”
Not that I mind
, she almost said, only she thought, just in time, that this might hurt someone’s feelings.
“Maybe I won’t ever find out,” Icarus muttered.
She blinked at him through rainbow mist as his head bobbed and his slender toes scritched and dug at the earth.
like a bird
It’s not fair that he can’t fly
Ariadne wondered again why she’d picked a thornflower bush to hide behind. It wasn’t just the stubby thorns themselves, which plucked at her skin and clothing whenever she leaned forward—it was also the fragrance of the delicate pink blooms. Such tiny flowers, and yet their scent slid up her nostrils and made her need to sneeze. She squeezed her nose between her fingers.
, she thought.
They mustn’t hear you
They hadn’t heard her when she was following them, even though she hadn’t been all that far behind, and there was barely any cover once they left the road. They’d been too involved with each other: talking with their heads bent together, wrestling, racing—even the girl Chara, who
didn’t look like a girl (all that tangled hair and bronzed skin, and the loincloth as short as a boy’s). Ariadne heard them laughing.
Glaucus sounds like a sick toad
, she thought.
If only I could skewer him on that stick of his
She enjoyed mocking this stick, which he kept by his bed. She’d watched him when he thought he was alone, spinning and stabbing it into the air like a sword. He had no real sword though he was sixteen and Androgeus had had his first before then. Glaucus had wanted the one Daedalus had made, the one that looked like a dagger until you turned a switch in its hilt and a series of bronze segments emerged, but Daedalus had said no: that sword wasn’t for boys. So Glaucus had no sword, and no place with the soldiers who’d left last month for Athens.
Now the three boys and Chara were sitting on boulders beside the mouth of a waterfall. Ariadne could see only the tops of their heads: Asterion’s jumble of golden curls, Glaucus’s finer, darker ones, Chara’s mass of black knots, and Icarus’s strange, shifting, many-coloured layers. She could hear them very clearly, though, even over the rumble and hiss of the water.
“You know, it’s heat that makes
change,” Asterion was saying. Gods, how she hated his voices—the boy’s and the bull’s. “Maybe there’s something like that for you but you just don’t know it yet.”
“Maybe it’s cold,” Glaucus said. He was knocking the stick against his boulder.
“Or hunger,” said Chara. “Fear, maybe. I don’t know—of course I don’t, because I’m not godmarked. . . .”
Icarus’s head dipped out of sight for a moment. Ariadne knew he was bobbing it as he always did whenever he was embarrassed or nervous or angry—whenever he was
, really. He muttered something she couldn’t hear.
“Don’t say that,” Asterion said. “Listen: for me it starts like a buzzing—only not one I can hear—a buzzing like something in my belly. Then it spreads until it’s even behind my eyes—and after that everything looks wobbly and strange, and all my skin hurts.”
Glaucus snorted. “I don’t care if it would mean the gods favoured me more—I wouldn’t want a gift like that.”
“I would.” This time Ariadne heard Icarus’s words because he stood as he spoke them. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted. I feel the buzzing, too, you know—except it starts on the outside and never moves in. It gives me feathers and a beak and it changes the way things look, but it never goes inside to help me fly.”
Ariadne had never heard him say so much at once. She eased herself up so that her head was above the bush, but all she could see was his back. His bony hands were clenching and unclenching at his sides. She imagined his eyes, small and round, fastened on the foaming water below.
“So we’ll try this again,” Glaucus said as he rose too. “I’ll make a wind and you jump and try to let it catch you. It almost worked last time, remember?”
“With Deucalion,” Icarus said. “And it didn’t almost work.”
Chara nudged Icarus’s chest with her shoulder. “Come on, Icarus. Just try it. Let Glaucus help.”
, Ariadne thought,
give poor Glau a chance.
After all, our father didn’t, when he sailed for Athens.
All the children had stood in a row on the cliffside, just as they had when Androgeus’s dolphin ship had been below them. Again, people had massed behind them. This time, though, the king didn’t speak to the crowd. He hardly spoke at all. He walked slowly along the line of his children. He didn’t look at Glaucus or Deucalion or Phaidra, who all gazed at him as if they were waiting for him to. He didn’t look at Pasiphae, whose own eyes were fixed on the sky. He stared at nothing—or perhaps at something no one else could see.
“Father?” Asterion’s voice was quavery but clear. “Deucalion and Glaucus could make a wind—it’s what they did for Androgeus. . . .”
Minos paused mid-step. He squinted at the steel-grey clouds and cocked his head, as if he’d heard something faint and puzzling. He drummed his fingers on the bronze helmet he was holding under his arm.
“I am glad, Ariadne,” he said in the hoarse voice that seemed to be his all the time, now, “that no one has dared speak to me and call me ‘Father.’ I am glad that no one has been fool enough to do that.”
His eyes swivelled to her. They were black and cold. She nodded. She didn’t smile but he did, suddenly and swiftly. He reached out and touched her cheek. There was no warmth in his fingertips.
“Bring them to their knees, Husband,” Pasiphae said. He spun and walked to the cliff path without even a glance at her.
As the ships—so many, darkening the sea—had turned westward, Ariadne had wrapped her arms around herself. Keeping her joy in, where it would be safe.
Now she hugged herself too, but only to protect her arms from the thorns.
“Very well,” Icarus said. “Glaucus can help.”
Asterion stood up. Ariadne could just see his head and shoulders. His horn nubs gleamed when he turned to the other three.
Glaucus leaned forward. She couldn’t hear anything except the water and a high insect hum from the bushes around her. She knew that he would be whistling notes that would flutter and wander until the god told him which one was right. (“Does he say ‘That one!’ in your ear?” she’d asked him once. “No,” he’d scoffed—but he could never explain what
happen.) When he raised his silver-lined hands, she knew it was time.
Icarus’s hair rippled. Asterion’s and Chara’s thicker hair did not, but the ends of their loincloths did. Droplets of spray from the waterfall blew up and away from them in a curtain of mist. A moment later Ariadne felt the wind. It swirled around her ankles and up her legs, and she had to clutch at her skirts to keep them from billowing. As it grasped at her hair and breath, she thought,
Not bad, Glau
, and immediately after,
Don’t let it work—please don’t. . . .
Icarus took a long pace back. He lifted his arms and bent his head low, with his chin parallel to the earth. She saw feathers: they poked out of his skin, more every time she blinked. Soon his arms were trailing streamers of them, and they joined somehow, one to the other, until they were wings. They shone bronze, copper, and gold, and when he moved them quickly they snapped like sails.
His head twisted on his neck. He had no nose or mouth; a long silver beak instead, which opened and shut with a sound of metal-on-metal.
“Well done, Icarus!” Asterion cried. “Glaucus, too—now go, go!”
Icarus took two more steps back, these ones jerky and bobbing. His head lowered even more. He bent forward and ran five uneven steps between two boulders, and out in a sweeping thrust, into open air.
The wind gusted. It howled as it did, so no one heard Ariadne’s sneeze. She shoved hair out of her eyes and saw Icarus hovering, his wings catching sun and mist. He hung and then he tilted and banked sharply before his wings crimped and folded . . . and he fell.
The wind died as soon as he disappeared. The splash he made in the pool below was loud. Ariadne bit her knuckles to keep from laughing.
“It’s all right,” Asterion said to Icarus when he had climbed back up (just a thin, sodden boy). “It is. We’ll try again, or we’ll try something else.”
Icarus said nothing. His narrow shoulders twitched. He was side-on to Ariadne now, and she could see crimson speckles on his arm where the feathers had been.
It hurts him
, she thought, as she often did about Asterion—and again the thought made her weak with envy and hunger.
The children walked back to Knossos even more slowly than they’d walked away from it. Glaucus lagged behind, stopping often to swing his imaginary sword, straining as if it really were bronze, not wood.
Hurry up and leave Asterion alone, all of you, so that I can have him to myself; I haven’t been alone with him since Androgeus left
. . . They didn’t leave him, and soon the western gate loomed against the darkening sky.
They paused before it. A few people walked past them and made the sign of the horns to Asterion. Icarus and Glaucus made the sign too, before they left him. Ariadne watched them go: together up the steps and between the pillars, then one to the right, one to the left. Chara remained, of course. She and Asterion wandered over to one of the great scarlet entrance pillars and crouched in its shadow (though everything was shadowed, now that dusk had fallen). They stared at the ground, which was good—they wouldn’t see Ariadne coming.
The stones of her dancing ground were so familiar; she could feel them even through her calfskin boots. She didn’t follow their whorls this time—she walked in a swift, straight line.