Read The Door in the Mountain Online

Authors: Caitlin Sweet

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

The Door in the Mountain (9 page)

BOOK: The Door in the Mountain
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“Do I?” Daedalus was very still, now. “If Androgeus were here, I believe he would delight in these creations.”


Do not speak his name
.”

Minos’s right arm burst into flame. He took a step toward Daedalus, who didn’t move.

“Prince Androgeus,” Daedalus said, over all the skittering and ringing. “Prince Androgeus, who went to Athens for sport, not slaughter.”

Minos sprang forward. The fire leapt out before him. Someone screamed, and the bench lurched beneath Chara. Asterion hunched forward; Glaucus scrambled back; Deucalion stood, his fists on the tabletop, with Ariadne beside him. Phaidra sat motionless, big-eyed.

“Asterion.” Chara couldn’t hear her own voice over the noise, but she was certain she’d spoken. “
Asterion
 . . .”

He slipped beneath the table and ran.

Chara was up and didn’t remember rising. She watched Asterion throw himself between Minos and Daedalus. It was all so slow: the boy’s flailing advance, Daedalus’s surprised stumble backward, Minos’s bright, smoky recoil.

“Stop! Just stop! Father—
please
 . . .”

A mechanical crab tipped onto its back. Its pincers screeched open and closed in the silence. The other machine animals had stopped in their tracks.

“What?” Minos’s voice seemed to ripple as the lines of his face did, beneath the fire’s glow. “What did you call me?”

Asterion stood facing Minos. The boy’s hands were up, palms out, as if they’d be enough to combat the flames. His legs were planted wide. But his lips trembled, even as he spoke.

“Father?”

Minos’s eyes widened. The whites of them were orange; the pupils were silver-blue. “You.” The word was a rumble. “
You
should have died.” And he lunged, reaching and flaming.

Asterion stepped to meet him.

No no no no!
This time Chara didn’t say the words: she thought them, only, as fire licked along Asterion’s fingers and arms and kindled in his hair.
Turn around—
run
.
Her heart hammered as he knelt, arms spread wide, head thrown back. Smiling up into Minos’s face.

The king fell back a pace. “Lysander!” he called. “You and your men—take this
thing
from my sight.”

The soldiers clustered together between the pillars stepped forward, but too late: the change had already begun. Asterion fell to his side, writhing, his bones cracking and popping like the fire. Within moments his broadening head and stretching limbs were covered in pelt. He heaved himself up—
When did he start changing this fast?
Chara thought. He snorted, sweeping his head back and forth so that his horns scraped across the floor and tossed mechanical beetles and snakes and snails up into the air. When they fell, onto plates and into the laps of those few people who were still sitting, no one even looked at them. Everyone was gazing at the bull-boy.

He huffed and turned away from Minos. Picked his way almost delicately around the hearth, his round brown eyes rolling. Daedalus put out his hand, as Asterion passed, but didn’t touch him.

“Seize him!” Minos bellowed, spewing smoke. The soldiers put their hands on their bows, but when Pasiphae cried, “No! Do not dare harm the god’s son!” they glanced at each other and didn’t stir again.

The bull-boy swung around when he reached the end of the room. He pawed at the ground twice.

“My King,” said the High Priest in his voice that was soft and ringing at the same time, “move back, behind me . . .”
He walked from the throne to where Minos stood, but the king held up at hand.

“No, Hypatos. I will not hide from this creature.”

Pasiphae made a strangled sound and raised a hand with fingers hooked like claws. Before she could move, though, the bull did. He roared and charged, and his hoofs struck sparks from the floor. Minos laughed a great plume of fire and held his burning arms up. The bull ran faster, around the curve of hearth. He shifted his head sideways and down. Minos laughed again, and a wall of flames sprang up in the air before him—but the bull broke through it without slowing and wrenched a horn up and into the king’s belly.

Chara heard Minos’s flesh tear. Even though Glaucus was screaming, and Phaidra too, and many others besides, Chara heard it: a wet, ripping sound that ended very quickly but went on and on inside her head. The wall of flames dissolved. The light in Minos’s body went out. He sagged to one knee, holding a hand against his stomach. Hand and cloth were instantly wet and black. He laughed—breathlessly this time—and sat down, hard.

The three soldiers sprinted from the pillars to the king, as did Ariadne. Three more soldiers appeared from somewhere, short swords in their hands. They edged toward the bull, who was tossing his head, his feet firmly planted. “No!” Pasiphae cried, and pushed her way past them. She put her arm across the bull’s neck and murmured something into one twitching ear. He sagged almost as Minos had and lay down, pelt melting to skin and tousled golden hair.

“Take it.” The king’s voice was thin and slurred. A priest was kneeling behind him; Chara saw the gold-dipped beard shudder as he tried to hold him upright. Ariadne was crouched in front, clinging to her father’s hands. “Take it away . . . from here. Do not . . . kill. I will not have a god. Angry. But take it from me. Quickly. And take it . . . from her.”

“No. No no no
no.
” Chara thought these words, too, were hers, but they weren’t. Each sound rose until it wasn’t a word—just a meaningless, gurgling shriek—and water coursed down Pasiphae’s arms as she scrabbled at the soldiers who were trying to wrest her away from Asterion. She raked their cheeks and arms with one dripping hand while she clung to Asterion with the other. The boy was lying on his side. He was facing Chara, staring—too far away for her to see the gold flecks in his eyes, though she could imagine them. There were fresh pink ribbons of burn on his arms.
Run, slave girl
, she thought.
Go to him
. She couldn’t move.

The soldiers turned to Minos, their swords hanging limp in their hands. As they waited, priestesses drew forward—a line of white, encircling the men who encircled the queen.

“God Brother.” The king’s voice was just a whisper, now. The High Priest bent close to him. “Call upon your . . . mark. Upon our Father. Send all these . . . fools away.”

Hypatos rose to his full height. He tucked his chin in against his chest. Already people were scrambling to leave the chamber. Glaucus was among the first to flee; Deucalion followed more slowly, glancing over his shoulder. Phaidra stayed at the table where she’d been all night. She was nibbling on her thumb.

Chara stepped closer to the hearth. One step—and then lightning flashed: not in the courtyard, but in the throne room. For a breath, everything was flat and stark and white. As the light died, thunder cracked. The palace’s stones shuddered. A brazier fell onto its side with a clang, and plates and cups slid off the table. Daedalus’s mechanical beasts juddered and leapt as if he’d just wound them. Daedalus himself was standing with his eyes closed, smiling.

The High Priest turned in small, swaying circles. He stood straight, even when the earth shook again, though everyone else—Pasiphae, Chara, Ariadne, the soldiers—lurched or stumbled. He turned and he chanted, and there was more lightning, more thunder. A crack zigzagged across the floor, from throne to hearth. The stones parted right where Pasiphae was kneeling; Asterion’s hand flopped into the dark space between them.

“Stop!” A priestess’s cry, which echoed in the silence after the thunder. “Call off your brute of a god, Hypatos!”

Four priests converged on the five priestesses. The soldiers in the room raised their swords; the ones by the pillars nocked their bows. The High Priest didn’t stop his turning. He lifted his arms as if he were trying to touch the lightning that forked above them. Thunder shook the chamber once more. This time, when it growled into nothing, it was a child’s voice that called, “Stop!”

Asterion was standing. Pasiphae put her hand on his shoulder and he shook it free. He craned up at her, then looked at the priestesses, the priests, the soldier, Minos. Minos last and longest, though the king’s head was slumped against his shoulder and his eyes were closed. “No more,” Asterion said thickly. “I’ll go—take me—I don’t care where. I started this; let me end it, too.”

“Asterion!” Pasiphae’s wet curls were clinging to the corners of her mouth but she didn’t wipe them free. “Don’t say such things! You’ll go nowhere—you’ll stay here with—”


I’ll go
.” His voice trembled a bit, and his hands clenched and unclenched at his sides, but he stood very tall.

“The king must go, too,” said the priest who was holding him up. “To his chamber, immediately. His wound is grave—see, he has just fainted. . . .”

Two priests carried Minos out of the throne room. His hands dragged on the floor; each one left a dark, snaking trail. The other two priests led Asterion away. He turned back, when Pasiphae cried out his name, but he didn’t look at her; he looked at Chara, who started toward him with a cry that hurt her throat.

“No!” he called to her. “Stay there or it’ll go badly for you, too. . . .” And then he was gone, and she stayed, her eyes leaping blindly for a bit, until they settled on the queen.

Pasiphae stood staring down at the crack that had opened in the floor. Water dripped from her fingers into the crack, which looked deep.
I’ve seen her summon waves from a calm sea.
The words in Chara’s head were strangely clear, almost bright.
I’ve seen her call water up from beneath the earth. Now look at her.

Phaidra
walked slowly over to her mother. She laid her head against Pasiphae’s skirts. The queen didn’t seem to notice her at all. Ariadne didn’t seem to notice either of them: her eyes were fixed on someone just behind Chara, and they didn’t waver as she drew closer.

“Minnow.” Chara started and turned. Daedalus was right there, shifting from foot to foot, his eyes darting. “Princess—come away. To my workshop, if you like, or to Naucrate; she’ll have some sweets, I’m sure. . . .”

Ariadne took one last step and tipped her head up so that she was staring past his close-cropped beard, at the eyes that wouldn’t be still. “This was your fault,” she said. “Yours, just as much as my brother’s. Did you
intend
to anger the king? Or are you simply stupid?”

Finally Daedalus’s gaze fastened on the princess. “Ariadne,” he said in a hard, strange voice, “you are exceedingly clever, but you will never be wise.” He barked out a laugh that made Chara start again. Behind them, Phaidra was saying, “Mother? Mother, are you all right?” A cup was rolling on its side; perhaps the ground was moving yet, somewhere far below.

Ariadne turned away from Daedalus. “You,” she said to Chara, in a strained, high voice Chara hadn’t heard before. “You. Slave. Come away with me, now.”

Chara wanted to look at Daedalus, but instead she fixed her gaze on the sweat that was beading above Ariadne’s lip. “I will come to you later, Princess,” she said quietly.

“Then you shall be flogged later.”

“Very well,” Chara said. She lowered her eyes to the floor. There were Ariadne’s embroidered scarlet slippers, stitched with golden thread in patterns of sea fern and shells. Daedalus’s boots, plain leather, scuffed and caked with marble dust. Chara’s own, also plain, but clean. Chara watched Daedalus’s twitch and scuff at the ground, then move away. She watched Ariadne’s move away, too, lightly; she always seemed to be dancing.

When Chara raised her eyes at last, she was alone.

Go
, she thought.
Even though he commanded you not to—go and find him
. But she couldn’t make her legs obey her. They wouldn’t stride; they would only crumple. She sat on the floor.
Help me. If any gods can hear me: please help all of us.

Ariadne couldn’t sleep, of course.

Father will live—he has to—and he’ll do away with Asterion. He’s already said he won’t kill him, but there’s always exile. Asterion, banished—gone, invisible, powerless . . . Our mother
and her priestesses
cowed, and poor, sweet, newly-godmarked Phaidra, too . . .

Her thoughts seemed very loud, and the sheets rustled as she twisted about in them, but even so, she heard the scritching. It was above her—on the roof? She slid her legs over the side of her bed and sat very still, barely breathing.

Call for your slave
, she thought, but then she remembered that the slave had disobeyed her, and likely wouldn’t be in her usual place.
I won’t have her flogged, after all. Even though I have no godmark, people will think me generous and merciful.
The scritching continued for a moment, then stopped. Ariadne stood up slowly and walked to the doorway, supporting herself on the balls of her feet as she did when she danced. She put her head out into the corridor—and something fell from the darkness, so close to her that she felt a prickly warmth against her skin before she stumbled backwards.

Icarus folded his arms across his chest. His arms, his wings—whatever they were. She ran her hands over her own arms, where his feathers had touched her. “
You
.” Her heart was pounding up into her throat, but her voice was steady. “How dare you?”

BOOK: The Door in the Mountain
13.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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