Names and Forms
by Aris Katsaris ([email protected])
Throughout the story the words griffin and sphinx are used (interchangeably) instead of gargoyle. Kemet is the Egyptian word for Egypt.
Probably rated PG-13. A disclaimer can be found at the end.
1374 BCE: Beginnings and Promises
Europa held her new-born baby next to her breast and sang to it, sometimes in her own Phoenician tongue, half-remembered songs of her childhood, sometimes in the alien tongue of the Cretans which she was quickly learning, in fragments and hesitant pieces... It didn't matter: it was the singing itself, not the words that were important.
Asterius knelt by the bed, and offered a finger to their baby, smiling as it gripped it tightly. He then brushed a dark strand of hair away from his wife's brow and kissed her. "Decided on a name, yet?" he asked.
She smiled back. "I always knew the name I'd give him."
She lifted the baby high and looked at it as if it was the sum of all her hopes. He was. He was also more than a hope, he was a certainty in many ways – though the labour had been exhausting, she had never doubted that both she and the baby would be all right. After all, hadn't the god who had brought her to this island, and given them the divine gift of Talos promised her that? Wasn't he still watching over them?
"His name is Minos!" she cried out in joy and thanks, for all to hear, men and gods.
He was the first of that name to become king of Crete.
But not the only one.
1314 BCE: Departures and Regrets
The sphinx alighted near the building. The grey-haired man waiting near the entrance, looked up and smiled.
"I haven't seen you in a while, my lady."
The sphinx cloaked her wings around her and simply looked at him silently for a moment. "And you don't plan to ever see me again," she said softly.
"Oh, my lady..."
"You are my friend, Hierax," the red griffin-woman insisted. "My closest one now that my l..." she fell silent for a moment and bit her lips. "Do I have to lose my best friend so soon after losing my mate? Why do you go?"
Hierax sat heavily down. "A number of reasons. Lycastus, for starters."
"Lycastus?!" The sphinx-woman was incredulous. "He wants you to stay almost as much as I do."
He smiled bitterly. "Yes. He almost ordered me to stay. But... I can't replace Minos, my lady. I'm neither Lycastus' father nor can I usurp his kingdom. He is old enough to deal with the grief of his father's death, and he is old enough to be king, even though he himself doubts it. But he mustn't have me around, or he'll trust me more than his own judgement."
"I don't believe you," she said flatly. "I don't believe that's the reason. Why aren't you telling me the truth?!"
He neither replied nor looked at her for a long while.
"You are with egg," he said at last, changing the subject.
Once again she bit her lips, but she nodded.
"You have a mate to mourn," he went on, standing up and looking in her eyes. "Ten years from now, children to bring up. As for me, my lady..." and his voice dropped to a whisper. "It would be too difficult to be just your friend. Goodbye."
He kissed her on the lips, once, briefly, while she stared wide-eyed.
And then he left. His estates, the island, her life.
But he left a covenant behind.
It was his parting gift.
1278 BCE: Bonds and Friendships
The girl was in the stables. On second thought, that's where he should have looked in the first place, mused Kalliphon.
He walked to her side and started "My princess–"
"Have you ever seen such a majestic beast before?" she interrupted, admiration in her voice.
He looked at the bull she was indicating. "It's a great animal, my lady. It reminds me of the herds of my hometown," he said at last.
She gave him a strange look and her voice became more serious. "What do you want, Kalliphon?"
"Your father wanted me to tell you that it'll be a little while yet before he can attend the festivities. There has been an embassy from Egypt newly come and–"
"And father has to listen to all their introductions and greetings and requests and messages. I know." She sighed then smiled again. "He once told me that Egypt is the place of origin of the most boring ambassadors, you know. "
He smiled. "Is that so, my lady?"
"Besides Miletus and Phaestos."
He frowned. "Is that so, my lady?"
She ignored him. "What message do you think they'll be bringing?"
Better to contribute something, he thought. "My guess, princess, is that they bring the news of pharaoh Seti's demise and Ramesses' ascension to–"
The maiden interrupted in a loud voice. "The new Horus, the good god Pharaoh Ramesses, wants it to be known throughout the foreign -no- throughout the barbarian lands of king Lycastus, that last year his father, good god Pharaoh Seti became the new Osiris. Something ornamented like that, don't you think?"
He sighed. "I suppose so, my lady. I suppose so."
"Pharaoh Ramesses wants to inform you, my lord, of the death of his father. He greets you and extends his friendship."
Lycastus was surprised. He had been expecting something more elaborate. And far more tiresome. And he'd also expected that the man wouldn't know their language and that a translating scribe would have also been brought along.
He coughed and responded in a similarly plain manner. "Crete wishes the best for the new Pharaoh and grieves for his father's death. Egypt's friendship is much valued by us."
The messenger nodded grinning. He was a black-haired and black-bearded young man (he couldn't be much older than his twentieth year, Lycastus thought) but his eyes were bright and he had the kind of smile that truly looked genuine, rare though that seemed to be nowadays.
The young man went on. "My lord I'm not going to trouble you for very long, and only the first part of my message comes from the Pharaoh. The second part is a personal request from me."
Lycastus raised an eyebrow. "Go on with the message from the Pharaoh, friend. We'll have plenty of time to discuss whatever it is that you want."
The messenger nodded again and began. The king listened. By the end he was smiling grimly and dismissing everyone except the Egyptian, he sent a servant to call Kalliphon.
Kalliphon stepped into the throne room.
"Come in, Kalliphon," said the king. "This," he added for the sake of the Egyptian, "is Kalliphon of the Eteocretans, advisor to the ruler of Phaestos, and guest here." He turned towards Kalliphon again. "This man has brought some interesting news."
Kalliphon nodded towards the man. "Yes, my lord?"
"It seems that a couple weeks ago an Egyptian ship was attacked by pirates not far from the southern shores of Crete. It carried gold – and one of the sons of Ramesses as well."
Kalliphon tried to interject. "My lord– "
The king continued. "It all ended well fortunately. Two Cretan ships came to the aid of the Egyptians, and the pirates fled. Gold and other gifts of the Pharaoh as thanks have been unloaded in the haven of Phaestos."
He nodded, smiling. "The Eteocretans are proud to uphold the bond between Crete and Egypt."
"Too bad they didn't have the chance to prove it."
He was puzzled. "Lord?"
The king's face became rather harsher. "Though it was in the south of Crete that the pirates attacked, it was not Eteocretan ships that provided the assistance. They named their captain to be Sarpedon of the Lycians."
"Yes, my lord." No emotion could be heard in his voice.
"So, though Rhadamanthys has already been informed, I also instruct that Phaestos besides arranging for the transfer of the gifts to Miletus you'll also double and redouble your efforts to cleanse the seas of pirates. The pirates seemed to know about the cargo of the ship – probably they have made an arrangement with someone in Phaestos or the havens – some trader perhaps."
"It will be done, lord. But may I ask something of our guest?"
"As you wish."
Kalliphon turned towards the black-haired man who throughout all this discussion had remained silent, smiling. "Why make the extra journey and come all the way to Knossos? Surely you could have remained in Phaestos, said all this just to lord Rhadamanthys and be certain that he'd do everything required."
The man's smile widened. "Oh, there are two reasons I came here. The second is personal – I wanted to come to Knossos for my own reasons. But the first reason is rather more simple."
"I didn't trust him."
Lycastus nodded thoughtfully but made no comment on this. "Go away, Kalliphon," he simply said.
Kalliphon, furious but silent, left.
Lycastus watched as Kalliphon departed then smiled as he turned again towards the messenger. "Walk with me, friend, if you will," he said as he rose. There was a time for rudeness, and there was a time for good manners, and he was glad that the latter had arrived.
His walk was slow but steady as it always was, and with the slow steps he let his thoughts drift as he led his guest through the palace. There were matters here that were of far greater importance that this man from Egypt could know. The pirates themselves were a small matter: they would most probably be wiped out or driven away before midsummer at the latest. But the rivalry between Sarpedon and Rhadamanthys, between Lycians and Eteocretans...
May the gods give me more time... he prayed silently. But he couldn't count on the will of the gods. Not for this, nor for anything else.
He mentally shook himself and turned his attention again to the Egyptian guest. Time for a possibly quite more joyful matter. "You remind me of someone," he told the black-bearded man. "A man whom I knew and admired, an advisor to my father forty or so years ago, when I was still a boy. His name was Hierax and he had the same... impudence in him as you do." He paused for a moment. "And if I remember correctly the same ring as well," he added almost as an afterthought indicating the small golden piece of jewellery that the Egyptian was wearing.
The man nodded. "He was my grandfather, lord. He went to Egypt where he had earlier lived as well. His life ended there this last year. He wished me to send his good wishes to you; and I wanted to return to his estates here."
Lycastus stopped walking and closed his eyes. "So he's dead. I expected as much of course. He would be a very old man by now. " He opened his eyes again. "But you are staying?"
"Yes, my lord. That was the second matter I wanted to bring before you."
He laughed, shaking off the brief sadness. "My friend, I admired Hierax – and it gladdens my heart to see his grandson. Nor has my father's promise been forgotten – your estates have been preserved. You'll be shown them tomorrow. But tonight you'll dine with us, and watch the festivities, of course. But you've not yet mentioned your name."
The man smiled. "You honour me with your hospitality, lord. My name is Minos."
"You were named after my grandfather?" Pasiphae asked, passing the cup of wine to him.
Minos smiled and drank from the cup. "Something like that, my lady. Your family meant a lot to mine. Hierax never forgot his friendship with your grandfather, Minos, nor with Minos' parents."
The sixteen-year old princess nodded. She was beautiful, Minos couldn't help but notice. Anymore than he could help noticing the number of men who throughout the festivities had tried to catch her attention.
Fools all of them, really. She evidently had the beauty and the position that could attract a god. As her husband she would get nobody lesser than a king. And both Pasiphae and Lycastus couldn't possibly demand anyone less.
"So, what did you think of the sports, lord Minos? And what do you think of our land?" said Lycastus.
"The bulls were magnificent, my lord. One bull-rider was even more so," he replied. Pasiphae grinned and made a mock-bow. Also smiling he went on: "You can give him my compliments, lady," And was satisfied to see Pasiphae choke on her drink.
Lycastus laughed heartily and slapped Minos on the back. "If you wish to get along with my daughter, Minos, I advise you to never fail and praise her adequately for her accomplishments in bull-leaping."
Pasiphae also smiled with a glint in her eyes. "But if you want me to like you, never fail to tell me the truth."
"Then I'm glad that now I can do both at the same time," Minos said, giving back to Pasiphae his own cup. "I've seen very few people with your skill in the sport." Pasiphae gave him a strange look, perhaps searching his words for honesty. At the end she simply shrugged, perhaps figuring out that since it was true that she was one of the best, he'd have no reason to lie no matter his intentions.
Lycastus spoke again. "And of the land?"
"Well, I've just arrived in Crete a few days ago, my lord. But the land is fertile and the palaces both here and in Phaestos are magnificent. Everyone can see that it's a land that has been blessed by gods."
Lycastus thoughtfully laid his cup down. "Three gifts. Three special gifts the gods have given to this island."
Minos nodded. "I saw one of them from afar. Talos still patrols the shores as in the days of Asterius and your father."
The king nodded. "The second is the javelin-that-can't-miss. I'll have you see it as soon as we finish dining."
Pasiphae gasped, and Minos couldn't help but also feel surprised. To show him one of Crete's greatest treasures, to him who just arrived there as guest... "To say that you honour me is an understatement, lord."
Lycastus ignored it. "As for the third... every guest here knows of the greatness of Crete's herds."
Minos gave a careful glance to the king. Lycastus seemed to be expecting something. A test of some kind? "But at least we two also know of the grace and courage of Crete's daughters," he replied.
The king smiled, his voice becoming even kinder than before. "I thank Helius every day, for the gift of my daughter," he said slowly, looking at his daughter. Pasiphae squeezed his hand gently. Lycastus looked at her for a few moments then turned to Minos and lifted his cup. "I'll drink to Hyperion Helius and the Gods for the gifts they have given us."
Minos and Pasiphae also lifted their cups.
"To Crete's daughters," said Minos.
Pasiphae smiled. "And to her returning sons."
"He really likes you, you know," said Pasiphae, the next day, as they rode with a small escort for the old estates.
"I know," he replied simply. "I never intended it, though."
"It's true!" he objected. "My goal was never to appeal to noblemen. I generally find it far more efficient to serve people who don't mind honesty."
Pasiphae raised an eyebrow. "I can't believe that Ramesses or his father would go for it."
"You'd be surprised," Minos mused. "My father, Mehy, was a great friend of Seti. He didn't mind the honesty of friends. As for Ramesses..."
"... why do you think he sent me away?"
Pasiphae stopped her horse startled. Minos likewise stopped.
"I read the letter that Ramesses sent to my father," she said. "It said that the services of you and your father to Egypt were many and that Egypt was grateful for them. It certainly didn't seem like he was exiling you."
Minos smiled. "Ah... yes. But his real message was of course 'keep him, keep him, we don't want him.' Shall we go on, lady?"
Pasiphae, skeptical, spurred her horse onward. Minos and the guards followed. They all rode in silence for a while.
"What do you think of the gods, Minos?" she said at last apropos of nothing.
He was surprised. "Why do you ask?"
"Last night... Your name... My father's words..." She shook her head. "He truly considers me a gift of the Sun-god," she said finally, her voice more steady. "My mother – she lost two children, born prematurely or dead, before she had me. My parents went to pray in the temple of Helius and... Well, let's say they attributed my coming to him." She sighed. "And then again there's the stories about my great-grandmother."
"Europa," she agreed. "She came out of Phoenicia riding a great white bull – they say it was a disguised god, perhaps even Zeus himself. And that her child, my grandfather, your namesake Minos, was not by Asterius, but by the king of the gods."
"And what do you believe, my lady?"
"No," she said, "what do you think, my lord? Am I a descendant of the gods?"
He was the one to stop his horse now. He thought for a moment, his gaze downcast. He finally raised his head again. "My lady, please approach."
She led her horse next to his. He smiled for a moment, then startled her as he suddenly leaned over and whispered in her ear. "The gods are petty, my lady. The gods are small. For every Prometheus, how many Heras do we have? For every Athena, how many Areses?"
He sat back straight again and now spoke in a normal voice. "I think you are fully human. I think that the sun-god has no idea you even exist. Take pride in that. Shall we go on?"
She hesitantly nodded.
They rode in silence for the remainder of the journey.
"Away, intruders!" The middle-aged balding man was bravely waving a spear at their direction. Pasiphae seemed surprised and the two guards moved forward ready to intervene.
But Minos laughed it off. "This is Pasiphae, old man. The daughter of the king, I'm sure you've heard."
The man was undaunted. "And these are the estates of Hierax under my care, by order of the king, as I'm sure you've heard. So only the king, or the gods, or Hierax himself can remove my guardianship."
"Or his heir, my man." He slowly removed his ring. "I am his heir, Minos, son of Mehy, son of Hierax, and this ring is the arranged token as my grandfather said to yours when you were but a child." He threw it to him, a glint of gold tumbling in a high arc.
The man caught it effortlessly, his expression still skeptical. Then he squinted down at the ring and saw the emblem inscribed on it – a pyramid with a single Eye blazing out of its apex. He lowered the spear but didn't seem to relax. He stuttered briefly and seemed helpless as he looked around.
Other people had started to gather by now and Pasiphae couldn't hold back her annoyance. "My lord," she said addressed to Minos, but looking directly at the man, "I am the princess of this land, and you the owner of these estates. If these slaves don't welcome you at once, I advise that we all return swiftly and bring my father's army to clear them away."
She expected fear; she expected them to submit.
What she did not expect was the cold anger that appeared on the man's face and his irresolution seeming to melt away as he half raised the spear again.
And while she suddenly grew afraid she also couldn't help but be surprised at Minos' reaction: for as the guards once again moved forward, he turned towards them lightning fast with a glare. "Leave," he said quietly but with a hint of menace.
Minos spoke again. "Leave. Your task was to ensure the lady's safety in the journey. Leave."
She tried to interrupt. "My lord–"
But Minos would have none of that. "I'll ask, my lady, that you send your men away from these estates. You are invited to remain here, of course, as long as you wish."
Pasiphae was silent in thought. He was not afraid...?
She was intrigued. "Tell my father that I'll return on my own," she said to the guards. "Leave."
After a few more objections they finally left and Pasiphae turned towards Minos again.
Once again he interrupted her. "These are not slaves," he commented gently, but the hardness of his eyes hadn't left. "This is as much their home as mine, or more so, for decades now ever since their old lord gave them their freedom before departing."
He turned now towards the gathering people, his voice loud.
"My ancestor made an agreement with you, did he not? You'll hold this land as long as you won't deny it. You'll get the help of his heirs, as long as you so accept it. His heirs will be worthy of trust, as long as you trust them. And this bond will hold, as long as you keep the other bond – the one between this household and Hierax's old friends."
The people now murmured among themselves in surprise, but the old man was still uncertain. Pasiphae prepared to speak again, when surprised once again she saw Minos get off the horse.
He waved away the spear with a hand, and placed the other on the servant's shoulder. "My friend, by your courage you've proven your bond still holds. The bond of my family stands as well. I've been a friend of the sphinxes all of my life."
There was a sigh, a release: The tension melted away and the man lowered the spear.
"My apologies, lord. Come in, and join us eating."
Four griffins were inside, their majestic forms captivated in their daytime stone forms. While eating, Pasiphae couldn't help but glance at them every so often. There were two larger males, one whose wavery hair seemed almost to surround him like a lion's mane, the other completely bald and both taller and thinner. There were also two children: One was what seemed to be a young girl (she can't be more than fourteen she estimated) seemingly frozen while laughing. On her shoulders an even younger boy (two? three?) was caught pulling a strand of the girl's hair.
All of them had feathered wings, and hands and feet that seemed to be a cross between a lion's paws and human members. And all of them were completely naked.
"Creon did suggest, my lady," Minos whispered in her ear, "that a piece of cloth be put over them but I said you wouldn't mind their nudity."
To her horror she felt herself blushing. "It's not that, my lord," she said quickly to remove the grin from his face. "I was wondering about the people here. I'd never imagined..." she waved her hands around vaguely. "Aren't these people afraid?" she whispered back to him.
Minos shook his head. "They were worried, my lady, that they'd fail their guests. That we'd hate the griffins and bring in the army to smash them. And that they'd fail thus of their bond."
He emptied his cup and laid it aside. "Sphinxes come in a hundred different forms – and a thousand different names. In Egypt it's not sphinx but shesepankh, the living statue. Gryphon is properly the name for only those among them whose heads are eagle-like – though it's often used for all. Up north they are harpies – certainly not the kindest of names. Far better is the one they have among the Babylonians and the Hebrews: there they are the Cherubim.
"But they are all equally sphinxes, no matter the name or form. And sphinxes protect, my lady. Yet even more than that, they often need protection. My family has protected and been protected by sphinxes for centuries."
Creon – the man who had first met them – sat down next to them. "This is their clan's Second-in-command," he said indicating the one with the mane. "The other is a mentor for their younger generations. It's a long story, but a couple of years ago the young boy was... lost and in danger. While the rest of the clan was searching for the child in the woods, the sphinx-girl had the idea to come and recruit our help instead. Obviously we eventually found him. Since then and every so often, some sphinxes come for visits – though it's usually just the girl and a rookery brother of hers."
"Lady Pasiphae is anxious to talk to them, Creon," said Minos.
She looked at him with a mixture of amazement and horror, and Creon turned his gaze towards her in obvious wonder and doubt. "You are, my lady?"
Her surprise turned suddenly to anger. Did Minos and this servant think she'd be afraid of the sphinxes or any other monster? Was Minos making fun of her? "Yes," she said looking directly at Minos, daring him to contradict her but Minos didn't react. "Yes, I am. I've never talked to sphinxes before, and I look forward to it. You'll introduce them to me. What are their names?"
Creon hesitated. "They don't have names of their own," he said at last. "Call them Second, Teacher, Girl and Boy if you'd like. Or White, Grey, Golden and Blue. Or nothing at all."
Minos finally spoke again. "But not monsters. Of all their names that's the one they resent the most – almost as much as the free resent being called slaves."
Her anger vanished as fast as it had come. "I'm sorry," she said and Creon nodded.
"She's not as bad as I first thought, my lord," Creon said a few hours later. "She's uncomfortable but she's getting the hang of it." The wings of the sphinxes formed capes now which served adequately for decency and thus removed at least one problem. Pasiphae had timidly started talking with the young sphinx girl.
"No, she isn't," Minos agreed full-heartedly. "She's a bit arrogant, but not spoiled. She's... hard, but not cruel, not in the slightest. It's not too late for her to learn."
Creon moved away and Minos was left with his thoughts. It had been a good two days, he thought, and couldn't help but smile. He had already made friends of the king and his daughter, enemies of a lord, renewed the alliance with this household and with the griffins.
He looked on as Boy now pulled with a fierce yank the long hair of Pasiphae, who startled gave off a short scream, lost her balance and fell down before she laughed realising what had happened.
And he had also helped a princess start getting over her petty, if few, prejudices.
Yes, it was a good two days indeed.
He was home.
1275 BCE: Coming of Age
Minos slowly walked to the top of the hill, the grey monstrosity of a hound running and yapping playfully by his side. Laelaps (that was the name that Creon had given to the strange beast), was the only sphinx-hound to his knowledge which remained flesh throughout the day. Neither Creon nor any of the sphinxes knew how that happened or why – they hypothesised that the beast might be in part divine.
Reaching the top, Minos sat down on the grass (with barely a glance at the statue by his side) and waited patiently watching the sun go lower and lower on the horizon. When it set, he heard a great roar beside him as Golden awoke.
"Uh, where was I? Oh, yes. And Coeranus said that I have a talent for magic, can you believe it?! And that if I want he can teach me magic, and then I'd be able to, to..." the excited griffin-girl floundered for a moment then regrouped: "... to do anything I want. Can you believe it?!"
Minos coughed to hide his smile.
"I can believe it. What are you going to do?"
Swiftly Golden plopped herself next to Minos and held her chin in her hands, her face becoming troubled. "Eh... I don't know. I mean I'll have to spend more time on the city, which means less time with my clan, and less time free for hunting or fishing (why can't Coeranus live in the mountains anyway? I asked but he said no) and less time–"
"–less time spent with that cute griffin-boy I constantly see you with."
Golden blushed for a moment but wouldn't let herself be stopped. "Eh, yeah that too. And I'll have to learn how to read, (and what's the need for that I don't know), and Coeranus tells me that he won't have me around naked so if I want to learn magic I'll have to wear clothes, can you believe it?"
Minos laughed loud. He didn't know the new magician very well and hadn't trusted his motives. He was a bit more relieved now – hardly completely assured but a bit more so than earlier.
"I'd follow his advice if I were you," he said still laughing. "How many times have I told you myself to start wearing the clothes I gave you? I don't like the way some of the folk here are looking at you, especially when they think that I or Creon can't see them."
"But they are so uncomfortable when I'm flying! And as if I couldn't rip out any of their organs and beat them to death with it! And besides, you have never looked at me that way."
He simply smiled now. "You are too young for me."
Her expression turned to mock-anger. "Hey, I'm twenty-eight years old! I'm older than you!"
Minos replied in mock-exasperation. "Half of which you spent as a statue, I must remind you. They don't count, I might add. And you are a restless fourteen-year old who never imagined herself as a witch."
Golden became rather more serious – a rare event for her. "So... what do you think I should do?"
He sighed. "Magic can't do everything, you know. It doesn't bring joy, it doesn't bring success, it doesn't bring love. It doesn't preclude them, but it doesn't bring them either."
"I know," she said but seemed not to believe it entirely.
"Beyond that I can tell you little more. Magic can bring knowledge, sometimes. And some small power perhaps. Decide by yourself. But don't get far from your clan, and certainly not from that boy. Mating season only one year away, you know."
She blushed even more strongly than before but this time found nothing to say – an even more rare occurrence.
Minos smiled roguishly. "And try out some of those clothes. Now, scram. I think there's someone coming."
She nodded, still orange from embarrassment, and glided away from the hill, Laelaps following her along the ground. Soon afterwards a messenger arrived, the light of the torch illuminating his face.
"My lord Minos, " he said out of breath. "I come from Knossos. King Lycastus.... King Lycastus died suddenly less than an hour ago."
Less than a minute later Minos was on his chariot and speeding for the city.
Xenia, an old servant woman with a plump figure and steel grey hair, was expecting him when he arrived, leaning casually on a pillar.
"She knew you'd come," she said. "And so did I."
"How could I not?" he said as he stepped off the chariot. "Where is she?"
"In her chambers. But she won't see you. She told me to tell you."
With a groan he tried to step past her but she grabbed his arm and held him with unexpected force. She leaned toward his ear and whispered furiously.
"I know you love her. And I know she loves you. But you won't help. You can't help. She needs to be alone. It's who she is."
He stared at her in silent wrath for a moment and she stared back. He was the first one to break away with a long breath. His shoulders sagged.
She nodded and her voice was more kind now. "She'll want to see you at her own time and then you'll have to be close by. I'll show you to your room, my lord."
Despite his sympathy for Pasiphae's grief and his own sorrow for Lycastus's death, he managed a thin smile. Xenia had already served two kings but both of them had only ruled the realm that extended from the palace walls outwards. Inside them it was she who was absolute ruler by force of personality and long habit alone.
He nodded and they walked inside and through the long corridors and many rooms. "How did he die, Xenia?"
She sighed. "His heart gave out soon into the banquet. As always, he poured out the first of the wine to the gods – but soon afterwards he clutched his arm and fell. None of the doctors could save him."
He stopped walking. Could it be?
Xenia gave him a puzzled look. "Lord?"
He looked at her startled out of his thoughts. "Thank you, Xenia, but I think I'll wander for a while. I'll ask you if I need anything," then left her.
His steps took him to the banquet room. Servants had already picked up the cups and the dishes. He swore under his breath, even though he should have known that this would have certainly been done.
"I know what you are thinking," said a man from the shadows. Minos hadn't noticed him earlier. "I thought it immediately myself."
Daedalus shrugged indifferently. "No way to tell. The food was harmless, I gave from it to a dog and it's still healthy. Same with the wineskin. That leaves the cup itself but he had drained it and no strange scent remained – if one had ever existed. But that's not conclusive of course."
Daedalus thought for a moment then mused speaking more to himself now. "Pasiphae sat on the right of the king; but I think we can exclude her from our suspicions. On his left was the mother of Sarpedon, Laodamia, and next to her the advisor to Rhadamanthys. The magician was further away on the right. Various minor lords were around but I don't recollect their exact positions. But of course you know how cups are handed around in such feasts. It makes a poisoning more risky and more safe at the same time. Funny that."
Minos sat down wearily but didn't speak. He should be pleased that his inventor friend had covered all the bases but instead felt rather annoyed; and not with the inconclusiveness of his search. It was the indifference in the man. For Daedalus this, as everything else, was just a puzzle to be solved, an idea that he followed and researched as any other. For him there was no possible murderer to be found, no victim to be mourned.
The inventor spoke again. "So, there will be a new king. There aren't that many choices."
"None of which appeals to me," groaned Minos.
Daedalus lifted an eyebrow but then simply shrugged again. "So, what are you going to do?"
Minos lowered his head.
And he could see the city – this city of cities – being built in a few seconds. Quick as lightning, tiny as ants, the men and women built and stored and gave birth and died, again and again and again and again, but the white-walled city remained, and beyond it other cities grew, and beyond them other kingdoms.
And he thought, "Once more they will pass. But I shall remain. I should have never loved them."
And he wept.
Rhadamanthys, lord of the Eteocretans, awoke.
He sat up and brushed his long hair away from his eyes. The day must have dawned hours ago but it was still dark outside due to the clouds and the storm that was gathering.
He had dreamt but he couldn't remember the details – he almost never did. Almost all that remained were half-remembered images and emotions: first unconcerned joy and then great grief; and then determination and contentment and passion and sadness again and joy and sadness and sadness and–
–and the willing sacrifice of the Divine Bull.
He shuddered and it wasn't because of the bitter cold.
He got up and dressed himself then walked into the garden, outside. Kalliphon was waiting there and the first thing Rhadamanthys felt was relief. He valued his advisor greatly and dreaded the idea of having to judge the many cases brought before him every day without him by his side.
The second thing he felt was surprise. "I thought you'd spend a couple more days in Knossos, my friend."
Kalliphon shook the head. "I could do no more good there. Both Lycastus and Pasiphae would prefer you to promote your goal yourself."
"No luck convincing Lycastus to give me his daughter, then?"
Rhadamanthys thought. "And you advise that I go there myself." He didn't like the idea very much.
"That's your decision to make, my lord."
"You will come along, I trust," he said hopefully.
"If you wish, my lord. But you'll have to choose someone to rule Phaestos in your stead."
He casually waved a hand, indifferent. "Choose someone yourself. You make all the right choices." He thought for a moment. "We'll head out tomorrow morning. I'll manage to convince Lycastus somehow to give me his daughter."
Rhadamanthys stopped dead on his tracks. "What?!" he said stunned and turned around.
Kalliphon had vanished.
"He's dead," whispered the wind and the world collapsed around him.
Rhadamanthys, lord of the Eteocretans, awoke.
It was still the middle of the night and a tempest was out in earnest. Under the light of a lightning he saw a falcon that had perched on the window and was now looking at him curiously.
He rolled his legs out of the bed and unsuccessfully tried to untangle his muddled thoughts when a servant rushed in and stopped as he saw his lord already awake.
"Yes?" he snapped.
"My lord, a messenger has come from Knossos. King Lycastus is dead."
The falcon flew away.
Sarpedon, lord of the Lycians, slept.
There was once an unimportant cave in an insignificant mountain on an unremarkable island. That was the very reason it had been chosen.
Secretly, quietly they had started arriving in many different shapes. The old woman welcomed them – some she bid into the cave so as to help the pregnant goddess – others she asked to remain outside.
"Are you sure you are strong enough to do this? Only recently you gave birth to Three," the old woman – a goddess herself, Sarpedon suddenly realised – asked a newcomer.
The girl – Sarpedon had never before seen a more beautiful woman – nodded. Her skin was pale but her long hair was darker than Night itself and her black eyes were stars.
"Aset was my sister-in-the-soul. I'll help avenge her murderer. I'm strong enough."
The old woman's eyes fell on the even younger boy – no more than ten, thought Sarpedon – that was holding the girl's hand.
The boy stared back angrily. "And she was my best friend." A smile full of sadness. "She used to call me insufferable. I won't be left out."
"How many have gathered, Grandmother? Are we enough?" asked the girl.
Another woman stepped suddenly from the cave and suddenly both the girl and the boy felt joy as they recognised her by the single feather on her hair. "Metis!"
"We are enough," the goddess of truth and wisdom said and smiled. "And we must begin."
They all held hands, Metis and the dark-haired boy and the beautiful girl and the old woman and all the others who had come for this occasion.
And they danced.
Round and round they went, round the cave, round the mountain, with loud music and singing voices and the beat of bare feet against grass and rock. But besides the music and the voices, beyond what mortal senses could perceive, they all wove their magic, magic which would be believed insignificant – believed to be the reasonable excess magic which was the outcome of any such festivity. But which would serve to hide the magic that was taking place inside, to cover up the birth of Zeus.
Sarpedon opened his eyes as the captain of the ship shook him gently.
"We are entering the haven of Miletus, lord," said the captain.
Sarpedon rose and shakily went to the prow. He could feel there was something wrong here. He was certain about it but couldn't put it into words.
"Father... what's going on?" he whispered.
And his dream... it hadn't been a dream, he was certain of it.
As he stepped off the ship he saw his mother awaiting him on the dock. And looking at her he somehow knew what was wrong.
"I understand now. It wasn't a dream. But this is one."
The image of his mother looked surprised but nodded. "Are you ready to be a king?" she -it- asked.
Sarpedon looked at her. "I think so," he said at last. "Why do you ask?"
She folded her arms and spoke without emotion. "King Lycastus is dead."
He stared for a moment. "How?"
The shade ignored him. "What are you going to do?"
He thought for a while, then shrugged. "I hadn't expected to be doing this for another couple of years. But I'll vie for the kingship of course."
The world vanished.
Sarpedon woke up – he knew it was for real this time. A falcon was watching him and he stared at it intently until it decided to leave, out of embarrassment perhaps.
"How far from Miletus, captain?" he asked.
"Less than half an hour."
Sarpedon nodded. And shivered.
There was something going on here and he didn't like it.
He'd find out what it was, though.
He'd find out.
Minos didn't sleep that night. Daylight found him staring outside his window in contemplation. He didn't turn as the door opened and closed behind him.
Pasiphae hugged him softly from behind and leaned her head against him. He kissed gently one of her hands, then lifted her off her feet and placed her on the room's bed. He kneeled by its side.
"Have you slept at all?" he asked her.
She shook her head weakly. "No. I couldn't. I didn't want to, anyway."
He found nothing to say except... "I am sorry."
Her voice was but a whisper. "Make love to me."
He kissed her on the forehead then shook his head. "No. Today it'd feel as if I was using you."
Suddenly she grew furious and grabbing a pillow swung it around and hit him wildly time and again with it. "I would be using you, you courteous fool!"
He tried to stop her gently and succeeded to get a hold on her hands but only for Pasiphae to yank on him and pull him onto the bed as well. He smiled softly and looked at her. "Then I wouldn't be used that way. Not even by you. Not even today," he said as he wiped off Pasiphae's tears with the back of his hand.
She turned towards him. Her next words shocked him.
"I'll never marry you," she said softly.
Minos just stared for a moment. "What?"
She gulped. "Sarpedon or Rhadamanthys. You knew those were the choices all along."
He grew furious. "For the kingdom! Not for you."
'It... it doesn't matter. It's good for the kingdom that the chosen king be in the family of the kings."
He couldn't believe his ears.
She went on relentlessly. "Whoever is chosen by the assembly of the lords, to him... to him I'll offer myself in marriage."
He turned his face away.
She whispered. "Please don't hate me. Eteocretans and Lycians, Pelasgians and Achaeans and Cydonians. There has to be peace. Balance. My father knew that."
"Your father!! Your father supported me. He wanted us to get married."
She closed her eyes. "And I wish we had done so, earlier. If so you would have become king by now. But it's too late now."
"So, you'll ignore both your heart and your father's wishes." It seemed like a bad joke.
She stared back at him. "Yes. For the good of the kingdom. Neither his nor my own wishes matter."
He looked at her in silence. Oh, my poor princess, he thought, I knew that you were hard. But I never guessed how much.
"Make love to me," she repeated. Her voice was steadier this time.
He looked into her eyes. I could do it. I could let myself use and be used.
He kissed her deeply and she closed her eyes savouring the taste of his lips.
When she opened them again he had already left.
Silently she wept.
"Where are you going?" Xenia had shouted at him as he rode the chariot away. "Away!" he had simply shouted over his shoulder, and indeed that was his only thought at the moment. He didn't know where he was going and that had been rare for him. Or, depending on how you looked at it, way too common.
And now, he had found himself before yet another palace.
He stepped lightly off the chariot. After wavering for a moment, he walked in.
He knew of course what this place was, as did all of Knossos and possibly all of Crete. It was the first palace, a palace far older and at one time far grander and more beautiful than the one he had just fled from.
And, like the civilisation that had built it, it had seen far better days.
Crete had once been mighty, in some ways surpassing even the splendour of Kemet. Not in armies of course: surrounded by the wide sea it had rarely needed to defend itself against invaders, and even more rarely had desired to invade others. Wealth would be a rather closer comparison – a wealth gained through commerce for in those times Crete had ruled all the seas all the way north to Troy and east to Phoenicia and south to the delta of the Nile.
But what had been the glory of Crete was its joy.
(He lightly passed his hand over the wall where had been drawn an image that made him smile – two young children, a boy and a girl, boxing, each with one hand gloved, one bare. Such sports were the mark of the Cretans.)
It had been a land of artists and athletes and builders. And in the midst of a whole realm of light, the palace had been the brightest place in it all, the kingdom's centre and symbol.
The Deluge, now centuries past, had killed thousands. It had demolished the land with earthquakes, it had drowned her with tidal waves, it had caused her to starve when it covered her with volcanic ash.
He snorted. That catastrophe had been nothing compared to what he considered the worst disaster of them all.
Great Mother, how he hated the Argives!
Compared to the Cretans, Tectamus and his fellow invaders had been nothing but a horde of uneducated savages, a warrior civilisation with no knowledge of beauty except where they had learned from the Cretans themselves. But nonetheless they came and they killed and they burned. And the palace, this mighty palace of the labyrinthine passages and the wall-to-wall paintings and the architecture that astounded even Daedalus, they turned into a symbol of slavery.
That had been the beginning of the end though it would not be for many decades more that the island would be rocked by Asterius' rebellion and the palace would be burned down, an event that the Cretans would celebrate for a long time. They had a right to do so. It was the fall of the symbol of tyranny.
And alongside it the fall of the symbol of Old Crete.
He knew he was getting dismal all over again, but for the moment he didn't care.
Asterius proved a far more worthy and gentle king than his father, of course. He treated Achaeans and natives equally and indeed he was considered by many to be more Cretan than Argive. He united the island once again and managed to hold his own against further invasions. As for his own namesake, Asterius' son, Minos, he was a figure to be respected once more throughout the seas.
A figure to be respected... as the Argive ruler of a land filled with Argives of course.
It was a lost cause. It didn't matter that Crete was strong once more, for its inhabitants were no longer the same. Even Rhadamanthys and Kalliphon, so proudly bearing the name Eteocretan, "true" Cretan, never even considered the possibility that Pasiphae could rule by herself, Priestess and Queen, and that her husband should be nothing more than an advisor, normally would be nothing more than a consort.
He leaned heavily against a pillar. He would leave; he had to leave. Pasiphae didn't want him, this island didn't want him, this was now an Achaean place filled with as much strife as Mycenae or Tiryns, marriage served politics and poisons ruled, and kings were murdered so that others replaced them, and he...
He suddenly opened his eyes wide and stood straight. What a fool he had been. What a fool she had been. A sweet fool.
"Oh, my princess..."
His eyes took in the room he had just wandered into. The throne room. How fitting.
He walked across the room and touched the stone chair. And then he sat.
His eyes glinted and his mouth twisted into a hawkish smile. Pasiphae had been afraid that were he to marry her and thus claim the throne, he would be quickly murdered. Perhaps she was afraid that he would be quickly murdered even if she remained unwed and he stayed on the island at all, a dangerous candidate to be removed.
He would show her, show the island that he feared neither Rhadamanthys nor Sarpedon. And if that was what it took to have her as wife, he would become a king on his own. And he would make Crete great again.
His smile failed for a moment. There would be a price, a personal price, to pay. And it wouldn't be small.
But he had rarely been a creature of long plans. That was later, and he would deal with it at the time.
"Will I ever see him again?" she asked when Xenia walked into the room. She was not crying anymore.
"Do you even doubt it? Even I know him better than that. Do you think he'll just give up?"
"He didn't even want to make love to me," she mumbled, more to herself than to Xenia.
Xenia smiled with pity. Xenia had seen Pasiphae grow from childhood into maturity. After the queen's death it was she who had spoken to a young girl concerning the ways of women – to a young woman concerning the ways of men.
And in turn Pasiphae had confided everything to her, her dreams, her desires – even when her mother was alive that happened and nowadays she didn't even realise she was doing it. For that trust, even if for nothing else, Xenia loved her.
And now her princess – her child really – was being loveably dense.
"You wanted him for tonight and for never again. You wanted a memory. He wants the whole of you."
Pasiphae's eyes narrowed. "He can't have me!"
Xenia sighed. He walked over and touched Pasiphae in the shoulder. The girl shuddered at the touch and her eyes glittered with unshed tears.
"How long will I mourn for my father?" she said – her voice trembled.
Xenia smiled bitterly. "For the rest of your life. But it will get better."
"And for Minos – how long will I grieve for him?"
She tilted her head. "You haven't lost him."
"Yes, I have."
"Better away than dead," she mumbled.
Ah. Now she understood the child. It did make a kind of twisted sense, especially in times like these.
You are proud, my daughter. You are strong. And you blame yourself. You will make a great Queen.
And a lousy wife. Minos himself doesn't know what he's getting into. She smiled with the thought.
"He doesn't need your protection, child."
"He'll go away. He'll leave – he has friends everywhere. Let him go back to Egypt, or Colchis or the Phoenicians or the Maryandynians or Athens or whatever other place he has or hasn't visited already. Just not here."
"Child... I know people. And Minos deserves every bit of his name. He'll stay. "
Pasiphae's temper flared briefly. "And what do you know about me, Xenia?"
But it was a silly anger and they both knew it. Xenia smiled. "I know you deserve it also, child. My pasiphae child. All-shining daughter."
Pasiphae looked away. "A stupid name - an arrogant one."
"A perfect fit for an arrogant princess. My Heliada. Daughter of Helius Hyperion. My bright Moon."
"You are getting ridiculously close to hubris." But she also couldn't help but smile. Outrageous flattery usually annoyed her – Xenia and Minos were the only ones who somehow managed to pull it off.
Her father also.
Suddenly she threw her arms around Xenia's neck and cried openly in sobs and gasps.
"I miss my father already."
Xenia just held her. "I know, child... I know."
The leader of the clan stared silently at the man. She knew she was getting old – ninety years wasn't a youthful age, not even for a sphinx. She had raised two generations of hatchlings – she would soon help raise a third.
But her memory was still sharp, and right now it flew back to a time thirty-nine years ago. "Your... grandfather, Hierax, was a very good friend to the clan."
"And a very good friend to me. I... owe him a lot," she said again and smiled.
This time he didn't react.
"And he was your grandfather."
Again he didn't speak.
The sphinx laughed suddenly and jumped to her feet. Going to the cave's mouth she looked below where a number of griffins were gathered. "Daughter! Come up for a minute."
Golden climbed and entered the cave. The leader smiled at her and motioned her to sit.
"Who are your mother and father, daughter?"
Golden seemed a bit surprised but answered. "Your generation, of course, and the ones older than it – you, our mentor, the elder who tells all those stories, your rookery sister with the three curving horns–"
"Daughter!" said the leader, stopping Golden's recitation. "Not your rookery parents. Your mother and father. Who mated to lay your egg?"
The look of surprise on Golden's face was replaced by what seemed like disgust. "I wouldn't know."
The leader barked a laugh while Minos smiled. "Of course you wouldn't. That's all, daughter. Sorry for troubling you."
Golden left, confused, and Leader looked back at Minos.
"All our hatchlings are taught to consider the whole clan as their family – their older generations as parents, the younger ones as children and little siblings. But you know all that of course."
Minos looked at her in the eyes. "Yet one has eyes to see. You two have the same horns that curve around the ears. The same hair."
She nodded. "But she has drunk the milk of many mothers – and I have given suck to many children." She looked at him straight in the eyes. "In all our talks I've never asked you if that bothers you."
He shook his head. "In Egypt, my lady, the Pharaohs often marry their own sisters – a thing which would be anathema in the whole of Crete and Argos. In Phoenicia all young women partake in sexual feasts; in other lands absolute chastity is required before marriage. I've been in so many places that differences in custom don't bother me any more."
It was a while before she finally spoke again, a bit more fiercely now and cloaking her wings around her body. "For Hierax I would do anything. His grandson means nothing to me."
His shoulders slumped; he closed his eyes.
"But his heir... his heir I'll help."
Eyes still closed, he smiled.
One Week Later
In her dreams she was visited by all the people she had lost. She saw her father and cried in his arms. She met her mother there, who was but a kind voice and a gentle hand – with a pang of pain Pasiphae realised once again that she could no longer remember her face.
She saw Meriander, the first boy she had ever loved – or at least been infatuated with. The last time she had seen him in the waking world he had been pierced by the horns of the bull he had challenged, the flowing red blood all too clearly imprinted in her mind. Since his death and before now, she had only dreamt him once – in an erotic dream so vivid that it had left her flushed and short of breath in the morning.
She saw Minos.
Startled, Pasiphae awoke. She had heard a sound – someone was in her room. But no servant would be so indiscrete as to enter her personal bedchamber; could an assassin–
"Are you sleeping?" whispered a familiar voice over her.
Pasiphae let out a long, relieved breath. Turning to her side, she regarded the young sphinx with a look of amused exasperation. Then she sighed exaggeratedly and sitting up, brushed a long golden lock from her eyes.
"Not anymore. And would you bring a torch from the corridor? You know I don't have your eyes."
Golden scurried lightly out and a moment later was back with a flaming torch which she placed on a stand. Pasiphae watched her with what she realised was tenderness – the girl was silly, often annoying, sometimes infuriating. But she was always fun and would remain young and carefree even when they would all have gone old and grey.
She was glad to realise that for that she loved the young sphinx more than she envied her. It was always good to see more than selfishness in your soul.
"What?! What are you staring at?" Golden demanded.
Youth, Pasiphae wanted to say. But she couldn't – no chance the girl would realise how one could feel old while not yet twenty.
"Your dress. A little bit overdressed, aren't you?" she said instead, teasingly: The girl wore a skirt and blouse that seemed specially tailored to suit her tail and wings. They were quite revealing for Achaean (though not Old Cretan) standards – but they were certainly far more than she usually wore.
"You are telling me! But Minos insisted I have to wear clothes – and, can you believe it, the Leader agreed! Not to mention Coeranus – if I am to be his apprentice, I'll have to wear them almost all the time. What is it with humans, can you tell me? Why can't I go like always?"
"The men would get distracted, the women would get envious, and from what I hear the little children would go blind." She chuckled and leaned back.
Golden looked at her toes – she was almost blushing. "Nothing you could envy," she seemed to mumble, so low that Pasiphae almost didn't hear her.
Don't be so sure, my sweet little girl. You have a whole clansful of parents.
But again she couldn't say it; instead she only smiled.
"Did you come here just for a visit?" she said at last.
The sphinx-girl hesitated. "He said it would be good for you if I were to come."
Pasiphae's smile faded. "Minos."
"He told me to carry you to him if you agree. He wants to talk to you."
Does he, now? A pause. "I won't go."
Now Golden was becoming fidgety. "He told me to remind you of Colchis if you refused."
And then she closed her eyes and breathed out, once. "Very well," she sighed.
Golden clapped her hands happily and immediately pulled her from under the blankets and out of the bed; she was already heading for the window, before Pasiphae managed to protest.
"What? Didn't you say you are coming?"
"Yeah, but... I should get dressed first."
Golden stared blankly for a moment uncomprehending, then looked down at the princess's naked body and rolled her eyes. "You are such a human."
Sarpedon always considered himself a man of deeds – a warrior, not a scholar. But often you had to know before you acted, to speak before you moved. If only to decide which way to point your sword.
And events seemed to tell him that through his absence from Knossos this last year he had missed out on a lot.
"And this? What is this for? Is it for a statue?"
He was examining a weird drawing. A naked man drawn from various different angles: but lines crossed the body in different directions without apparent meaning.
Daedalus raised his head from his work and glanced at it briefly. "It can help in one," he admitted – "but mainly it's a study of anatomy."
Sarpedon let it slide. After all there was far too much in this workshop of the Athenian inventor that he couldn't understand. And those things that he could understand... he wasn't certain he always liked them.
Nearby a bed-sheet covered an object of almost man-height. "May I?"
Again the inventor glanced briefly from his work. "Go ahead. But it's not yet finished."
Sarpedon removed the sheet, almost dreading to see what kind of contraption would be hidden under there.
This time it was simply the statue of a woman, carved in wood. Unfinished, yes. But the intent was obvious – the woman was running; her half-torn dress exposed a breast. But she was not fleeing – there was something on the face which despite its crudity (and the statue was crude in a sense which had nothing to do with its being unfinished) showed clearly that this was no damsel in distress.
This was a goddess on the Hunt.
"Britomartis," he breathed.
Daedalus nodded happily – his eyes shone. "It will be my best statue yet. Had a live model for that one. Minos brought her to me; I haven't ever –"
But Sarpedon was no longer listening. He was trembling. There was something here that was... alien. Or at least unknown. It had disturbed him from the moment he had stepped inside but he hadn't recognized it until now. He covered the statue again and stepped away from it.
This man, this Daedalus. Where were his thoughts coming from? He had shown him such weird contraptions that ranged from that ridiculous folding chair all the way to this thing of crude... genius.
Medicine, magic... even divination – those could all be taught. But you couldn't train to think like this man – inventing things that had not existed before; and not doing it once by accident, but repeating it time and again... He understood now it was closer to art than anything he had ever seen – and yet unlike art it could give power to creator – and ruler.
This man... the gods could fear this man and others like him.
"Are you all right? You seem ill," Daedalus said.
Sarpedon managed to smile. "I'm fine. What are you working on now?"
"Come and see."
Sarpedon walked over. There was a wooden construction on the bench before the inventor – no more than one palm in height or length. And Sarpedon couldn't of course understand it one bit.
"I call it a 'thrower'. It's a miniature of course, but it will suffice for demonstration when it's ready."
"What does it do?"
"Throw things." The inventor laughed at Sarpedon's look. "Rocks on ships or walls for example."
"Perhaps," Daedalus said with a forced smile. Sarpedon sensed he didn't like the topic – perhaps the inventor disliked things like Talos that he couldn't comprehend.
We have that much in common, at least.
He went and looked out of the window, trying to think even though he felt like an idiot by simply being in this room. From here he could just see a large shape leap from a window in the palace and glide away, passing briefly in front of the full moon.
Back to the business at hand.
"Tell me, friend," he said making his voice amiable. "What do you know about the griffins?"
Golden let her down on the rooftop of the old palace.
He walked from out of the shadows. "Don't go too far. You'll be needed to take the lady back." Golden and her grey-skinned brother nodded and glided away.
Minos and Pasiphae looked at each other in silence for a while. She saw how he wore the white clothes that queen Idyia had given him in Colchis – the ones which seemed to glitter under the light of the moon and stars.
The ones he had been wearing the night when they had first made love. Feeling manipulative tonight, Minos? Or simply regretful?
He broke the silence. "My queen."
"Only a princess, lord Minos."
He ignored the correction. "Tomorrow the games in honour of your father will begin, my lady. I will be there to compete also."
"And I'll also be there to present myself among the contestants for the throne."
She glared at him for a moment. "They won't even notice you," she said at last, slowly.
"Oh, I think they'll do more than that. I think they'll also crown me. But I didn't bring you here to tell you that."
She took a deep breath. "What, then?"
Minos sighed and turned his back. He lowered his head for a moment.
"I don't know where to begin. I think that's why I came here. To find a beginning."
She looked at him questioningly.
He turned his head and looked at her, suddenly smiling. "I mean this palace. A beginning. But I was foolish of course, this is but a place. I should have looked closer."
She shook her head. "I don't understand you."
Minos' smile remained on his face, but his shoulders sagged somewhat. He sat down and stared across the plain. "Never mind. But I wanted to explain to you why I am doing this. I myself didn't understand it for a few days. I thought it was just stubbornness, or my desire for you. But that would be foolish. It's far more than that..."
His eyes took a faraway look. "I can feel it everywhere. There's a sense of decay in the air, in the ground. A sense that what is to come in the next century, perhaps in the next few decades, is all that there will ever be. In a sense, anyway."
She hesitated. Then she sat down by his side.
"I really don't understand what you mean," she said, more softly now.
He shook his head. "The Hittites are warring with the Egyptians. It will be a long war and will lead both nations and other neighbouring ones into decay and death. In the Achaean country the descendants of Perseus are going into war over Mycenae." He paused again for a moment, then sneered. "And, as if that wasn't enough, there's a time of heroes ahead."
He had put such contempt into the word that Pasiphae shivered and moved away slightly. "I don't…"
"Heroes need enemies, my lady, heroes need monsters. And when enemies aren't coming to them, my lady, to what country will they bring their war? And when dangers are lacking, whom will they label as monsters and whom will they kill?"
He leaned towards her and she shivered again. "Do you see them, my lady?" he whispered in her ear. "Golden and her young lover dancing in the currents of the wind? Will it be they, or will it be their future children that will be smashed in their sleep?"
She reacted to the certainty in his voice. "It won't happen! I won't allow it!" she shouted at him.
He smiled bitterly. "And who are you, my lady, to so ensure it?"
"I am the queen!"
He stood up and looked at her in sadness. "No, you are not. You are just a princess, my lady, though in better times you'd have been more than that. But whether queen or princess, you'll have no power over your husband or your realm. And if heroes cut off Golden's head, as Perseus did with Medusa's, you'll have no way to stop it from being dishonoured, no way to stop them from being worshipped."
Her eyes glittered with tears. Whether it was for the future he was describing or for her father, she didn't know. But she hated herself for having been so affected by his words, for letting him see it, as she knew he could.
He kneeled by her side again and touched her softly on the shoulder: his touch was suddenly too much to bear and she breathed in sharply in what was almost a sob – her tears flowed freely from her eyes.
Minos let her be for a while then slowly lifted her chin and stared into her eyes. He was hesitant now. "I'm not a seer, my lady. I am not saying what will be."
She suddenly laughed among her tears. "I think I'm crying more for myself, than for any possible future of Golden."
He smiled and wiped away her tears with the back of his hand. "Don't. For either. No need. For though I'm no seer, my lady, I know that I will be king – and Golden will live to have children and grandchildren."
She smiled at his certainty. They looked at each other and he suddenly leaned over and kissed her deeply. "I think you should be heading back. They may be searching for you," he said as they broke off the kiss. He helped her to her feet and waved at the two young sphinxes who turned in their aerial games and headed back for the building.
"Are they truly lovers?" Pasiphae whispered at Minos. "They are so young…"
He chuckled. "I don't think they've even kissed actually. But they will be mated before year's end. And two years from now the obnoxious rascal will have an egg laid in the rookery!"
She threw an inquiring look towards him but he didn't notice it. Golden and her rookery brother alighted on the roof and once again Pasiphae let herself be lifted by the young sphinx-girl and as they flew off again she cast a last glance towards Minos.
And she saw him shining motionless in the moonlight, silent and serious, wearing the clothes he had been wearing in that dance in Colchis when she had seen him and first understood she loved him, and he stared back; and his eyes shone like stars, and –
–and for a moment she truly believed beyond logic that he would indeed become her king and husband, that there was nothing that this man couldn't do.
But the moment passed – history doesn't work that way, no matter what the poets said. "It doesn't work that way" she whispered. Golden heard it. "What doesn't work that way?"
Pasiphae turned towards her and smiled. "Did you know that Minos has been making prophecies?"
"He has? Hah. No fair. I am supposed to be the witch around here. What did he predict?"
Pasiphae felt light-headed. Her mood had already become better. "Oh, nothing much. That he'll become king, that I will marry him, that by next year you and your rookery brother will be lovers," she said and instantly regretted it as Golden almost lost her hold on her and veered in her path before regaining her balance.
The griffin-boy flew anxiously closer. "What's wrong?" Golden looked at him, turned instantly orange, tried to stammer a response and finally gave up and simply looked straight ahead.
Pasiphae had turned pale, and now she tried to hold on more tightly. Nevertheless she somehow managed to laugh. "Perhaps she'll tell you. But most probably she won't. Now, shoo! Girl-talk here."
As the boy glided further away, Golden breathed in and out deeply. Then she glared at the smiling princess. "If he had heard you, I'd really have dropped you," she hissed.
"A-ha." Pasiphae thought that she indeed might have, if only by accident. It might be the first time one truly died of embarrassment; though it would not be the embarrassed party that would fall to their death.
"As for Minos's prophecies, two out of three isn't that bad."
Pasiphae lifted an eyebrow. "Your meaning?"
Golden grinned. "That it's my turn to prophesise: Less than a month from now I will be dancing in your wedding, princess. If I'm allowed to, that is."
"Only as long as I'm allowed to dance at your mating ceremony, little sister!"
Great Mother, how he hated the Argives!
This had once been a bright city in a majestic land. The centre of the Cretan civilisation, from where they had ruled all the known seas and occasionally reached the unknown ones beyond the straits of Hesperia near where Oceanus touched all mortal streams. A great city of a great land of a great people.
And then the Argives had come, killing and burning and pillaging, a horde of crass barbarians with less respect for greatness or holiness than animals. And they imposed their foreign language and they erected their ugly buildings.
He looked from the balcony of the palace at the city beyond. Yet even the Argives hadn't managed to destroy its beauty. Not entirely.
Four kings. Tectamus. Asterius. Minos. Lycastus. It had lasted four kings and more than a hundred years – but the Achaean dynasty of kings had finally ended.
The next king would be Cretan.
"What are you thinking about, old friend?" said a voice behind him.
Kalliphon smiled. "You, actually. You will make a great king, Rhadamanthys."
"So I hope, with the gods' help – and yours!" Rhadamanthys said.
Kalliphon shook his head but he still smiled. "The gods do as they do beyond my power to know or control – but I'm honored that you think I helped you, lord."
Rhadamanthys didn't comment on that one. Despite Kalliphon's words they both knew how much he owed to the man. He walked to him and also looked outside.
"It's a beautiful city, Rhadamanthys. Treat her well."
"I've not yet become king, old friend."
Kalliphon shrugged. "Who else? The Lycians are too few in number. And Sarpedon is no king – only an insolent brat whose mother decided a descent from Zeus would be good for her son."
Rhadamanthys smiled thinly at this.
"There's no one else. It's you. Our people."
He was tired; he was old. But for the first time in a long while, Kalliphon felt... content. "Let's go and get some sleep. It will be a busy day tomorrow."
The Leader pulled herself up onto the roof.
"Decided where you are going to roost?" Minos asked her.
"Here on the roof. "
Minos turned towards her. "In public view? You are certain?"
"We may be denied the sight of the Sun, but we prefer not to deny him the same courtesy. Will you protect us?"
"Yes," he breathed.
"That settles it then."
There was a long silence.
"Lady, are you certain about this?" He was not speaking about their roosting place anymore.
She smiled, wickedly. "People think that we have no names of our own. But it's the opposite – we have many and try to honour them all. I am Leader; shall I not lead my clan with pride? For Hierax I was once friend. Should I not honour that one either?"
Minos looked away. "I won't hold you bound to any promise, given to me or any other."
"I remember this place well. I had last been here almost forty years ago. It's here that I mated for the last time – when I conceived the only egg I ever laid."
Still he didn't look at her. "Your mate... I... have heard how brave he was."
"I remember how he called me my love. Of all my names that was my favourite until the time when my children first called me mother."
At last he turned towards her, smiling. "Beautiful one, mother of beautiful children."
She also smiled, but it held sadness. "Perhaps so, though beauty is lost, and youth goes away, and children grow up."
"And Azrael knows all our names," he whispered – to himself, but she heard it.
"Yours and mine also."
They came. All of them did from the ninety cities of Crete. There came fat Aedonius, lord of Cydonia. There came Dorianthus of Gortys and Epiander of Rhytium. From Lyctus came Bremus, and his father Hyperanthus.
There came the Eteocretans. Many they were and fully dressed in armour, as was their custom to honour the dead king. In front of them went the young lord, golden-haired Rhadamanthys and on his side it was the grey-bearded advisor, general of old wars, wise Kalliphon, who held the reins of the chariot. They went with easy confidence and stern looks.
There came the Lycians. Sarpedon rode in front of them, raven hair flowing in the wind, and laughter on his lips; youth was in his piercing blue eyes, and strength of war in his hands – those who saw him that hour could easily believe his claim to be a son of Zeus and more than worthy to be counted among the grandchildren of Bellerophon, him who had dared to ride his flying steed all the way to Olympus and into an unknown destiny.
There came Minos.
Pasiphae had been taught the ceremony long ago – when she was a child in the temple of the sun-god – for she was indeed a heliad. She was a princess, she had been an athlete; but she had also been among the young women who had been initiated into the worship of Helius.
Her tasks were few – she was not fully devoted to the god, she was not a priestess in training. Up to now, it had influenced her life only briefly – sporadically; when she was simply one of many who every year conducted the Midsummer ceremony; a few other smaller ceremonies throughout the year. And of course in Colchis last year.
She closed her eyes against the memory... The thought of Colchis brought back memories of her friends there of course -queen Idyia and king Aeetes- but it mainly brought back memories of Minos too joyful, too intense to recollect without regret and grief. And she had to maintain her dignity.
She had to keep her mind on the job at hand. The next stage of the... ordeal was beginning. The lords of the island would present themselves to announce their participation for the games tomorrow – and some of them would undoubtedly announce their claim for the throne. She hoped against hope that Minos wouldn't be among them.
She ignored the large majority of lords, acknowledging their words mechanically, as if she was an automaton no more alive than Talos. But now came one who she knew would lay the first claim.
"I am Rhadamanthys, son of Hephaestius, son of Calos. May the gods provide me with victory in the games – may I be trusted with the rule of this land."
Are you the one who killed my father?
Are you the one I'll marry?
As with the others, she gave him to drink from the sacred cup – the wine and water mixed with blood from the sacrificed bull. The man stood and giving one last bow, stepped back.
Rhadamanthys, you were seeking my hand in marriage. Perhaps you'll have it. But if you killed my father, the next cup I'll give you will hold poison.
A few lesser lords announced themselves in turn – all of them prayed for their victory in the games; but predictably none laid a claim on the throne. Pasiphae searched for Minos in the crowd, trying to not be obvious about it... His absence worried her: he was planning something. Xenia was right: he wouldn't abandon the–
The man that came forward now was Sarpedon with the dark hair and piercing blue eyes. She wondered briefly if the man would be so unbelievably bold as to name his father as Zeus. It seemed a lose-lose situation for him – would he indirectly admit himself a bastard by stating no patronym? Or would he infuriate many by proclaiming himself semi-divine?
"I am Sarpedon, son of Laodamia, daughter of Philonoe. May the gods provide me with victory in the games – may I be trusted with the rule of this land."
She smiled – she had momentarily forgotten this Lycian custom of naming mothers instead of fathers. No matter. They–
There was a commotion in the crowd – someone was pointing and shouting something. Many faces were turned towards where the hand was pointing. And they all saw the many forms on the top of the temple.
And then the sphinxes leaped and swooped over the crowd.
The general reaction was surprise. Awe. Fear.
Some fell to the ground, even though the sphinxes were flying far above their heads. Others still stood, seemingly dazed.
Kalliphon was silent and unmoving, an indiscernible expression on his face – but certainly not fear.
Some took out their swords. Some guards lifted their bows and prepared to shoot.
And seeing this, something suddenly clicked inside Pasiphae, a bit of half-forgotten lore mixed with a touch of fear for her friends.
"MAKE WAY FOR THE SACRED BEASTS! HONOUR TO THE MESSENGERS OF THE GODS!"
Her voice held authority.
The other priestesses took the cue from her. "MAKE WAY! HONOUR TO THE SACRED BEASTS!" And reluctantly, fearfully, the people listened – no arrows were fired, and when the leader of the clan (Pasiphae stood on her toes trying to see her tall form in the night) landed beyond the crowd, no one attacked her.
"MAKE WAY!" she shouted again. And she was obeyed – a corridor opened, through which the red sphinx passed. Pasiphae noted two things: first the sphinxes all wore clothes (varying from full armour all the way down to simple loincloths) and; second, that besides the leader walked Minos.
"My lady," he spoke to her, a step behind the sphinx, "in the funeral games for Lycastus's father, forty years ago, the clan was there to pay their respects. Why was it not invited today?"
What is your game, Minos?
"An oversight," she told him curtly and turned to the leader. "Since you were not awake to witness the funeral I did not think you'd desire to attend the ceremonies after. My apologies."
The leader nodded pleasantly and extended a hand. They held wrists. Pasiphae could feel the stunned looks from some of the lords around – but the most educated ones knew of the old pacts between Asterius or king Minos and the sphinxes. To them this was surprising in that it was unexpected, not in that it was unheard of.
The leader stepped back. Minos moved forward and kneeled in front of her.
"I am Minos. May I be trusted with the rule of this land."
He took the cup from her reluctant hands and drained it.
"Got you," said Sarpedon and smiled.
They paused for a while before the fight to look at each other.
"Taking part in almost every sport. And almost always victorious. Why are you doing this?" Sarpedon asked.
"One does what one must."
"Running. Boxing. Wrestling. In archery you defeated even Rhadamanthys. Did you know he was considered an unsurpassed archer in the whole of this island?"
"I'm not from this island."
"Indeed! And though you have eyes of a hawk," continued Sarpedon, "and strength of a bull, what good do you think it will do to you, a stranger in a foreign land? Who will want a foreigner as king, be he the best athlete and champion? Being a warrior is not enough."
"Are you describing me or you?"
Sarpedon chuckled. "Indeed! Defend yourself!"
And he leaped ahead with spear at hand and they fought.
"Stop! Stop!" the heralds cried. The fight had lasted only a little while but it had been so intense that the spectators had become very worried that death would be the result. "The gods will punish us all if such a fight between obvious equals is continued. Let the prize be shared – let no blood be spilled."
Minos and Sarpedon stopped their fight and threw down their weapons. "The gods? You think they'd care?" Sarpedon whispered to Minos with a grin before moving away.
"Perhaps some would," Minos said softly to himself.
"It's not enough!" said Sarpedon again. "You know that, as well as I."
It's not enough.
There will be a price.
Minos breathed in deeply. It would be risky, but there was no –
He stopped short, briefly disgusted at his previous thought. There was a choice, there was always a choice. If there was no choice, all that remained was blind destiny or luck; and he'd never believed in either.
So it was his choice. Be it so.
He leaped onto the rock and cried out for attention, then waited for the gathered crowd to fall silent. He could feel Sarpedon's blue-eyed gaze intent on him. Rhadamanthys and Kalliphon also looked at him.
"PEOPLE OF CRETE!" he shouted again when he was sure he had everyone's attention. "Soon you will be asked to choose among us three contenders. You will have been asked to choose among three men you know almost nothing about."
There was a small murmur but no protest yet. Patience.
"We've taken part in the games – you now know of our skills in archery, in running, in chariot-races, in fighting. Yet what is this? Will the future king be required to do anything of these? Or will you try to judge us through our past deeds? Do you think that either of us has had experience with such a realm?"
If he remained at this, he would be in essence arguing against himself – for he was the only one of the three who (to the lords' knowledge) hadn't ruled even a city – while both Sarpedon and Rhadamanthys had. Even a minor Cretan lord often ruled over a territory larger than many an Achaean king. But not he.
"You know that it's ignorance that guides you. And it can be no other way."
Several voices finally arose. He let it a few seconds until they were loud enough- "Who are you to judge us"-"What do you want to do then?"
"LET THE GODS DECIDE!" he cried out. "LET THE GODS DECIDE!"
The voices were silenced. "Tales speak of what happens to those who don't have the favour of the gods – and what happens to their realms. Misery and destruction. Tales speak of those who do have it – we call them heroes."
"What do you want us to do then?" It was Epiamus – a minor Eteocretan lord with a booming voice. "A lottery? An oracle? The gods aren't obliged to give us answers to our problems, nor do we want to invite their anger by constantly asking them to do so."
"BE IT SO!" Minos shouted again. "Let it be me alone who shall invite their anger – or their blessing. For if some gods cared enough about our realm to give us the bronze Talos, it may be that they still care enough to give us a sign for the future king. If I have the favour of the gods, then may the same sign be given as a hundred years ago. Let a white bull come out of the sea – let it pass through Knossos and be seen by all, so that all know who's favoured by the gods to be king under their blessing."
He grinned at the silent faces and now spoke softly. "If Rhadamanthys or Sarpedon desire it, let them also invite signs. But it is not necessary. By this time tomorrow you'll all have seen – and you all shall know."
He leaped down from the rock and walked through the skeptical crowd.
"Lord, why did you do that?"
Minos's voice was soft.
"Don't you believe in the gods, Creon?"
"Of course I do, but..."
Creon's shoulders fell; but he could see the humour in his response.
"But not enough to bet anything of importance on their will."
Minos laughed softly. "Good for you. Now, please, you and the rest go home. I'll also be along. If the sign is enough, they'll send for us. "
Creon hesitated for a moment then walked away.
Minos thought briefly about Creon's words... He was right of course. Trusting the gods was a sucker's game. He wondered if he was providing a bad example, then shrugged away the thought.
He walked all the way to the cliff and felt the sea's wind on his face
He stripped himself of his clothes. As he went to remove his golden ring, he paused: it had once belonged to a king far above this kind of petty feuding. A man who he'd once held as dear as any grandfather. He left it on.
And then taking one last look at the great drop before him, he leaped.
"What is he planning? Why is he doing this?" Pasiphae's voice was almost pleading.
Creon shook his head. "I don't know, lady."
But the sphinx leader smiled. "He's Minos," she said. "He does the... forbidden."
Her expression sobered. "And sometimes he regrets it."
He expected the water to be as cold as Tartarus, as cold as death.
But instead it was simply cool. Refreshing.
He swam straight down, feeling the coolness in his body, letting its calming powers surround him.
Why did he do it? What is he planning? That's the question everyone wondered about. The question that everyone would have forgotten by the next day. Because it had a ridiculously easy answer. Because everyone would be too awed to remember it.
If they wanted to understand him, other questions should be asked. Questions where he himself wasn't sure he had the answers. For starters... why had he come here, three years ago?
Why here? Crete was far from being the only place in the world where the name of Hierax or Mehy would be remembered... He could have chosen Phoenicia. Or Colchis where his sister and friend would arrange a kingly welcome for him. He could have stayed in Egypt: Ramesses anger was directed at Mehy – he wouldn't care either way about a son. And of course he could always just go... home – if it could still be called such.
Truth is he had wanted to see the sphinxes again. He had wanted to see the men and women who had once befriended Hierax. The king Lycastus, a boy when Hierax had left, a strong king when Minos returned almost forty years later. The red sphinx-woman who had once been loved by Hierax.
His body was now starting to ache for air, his lungs in pain. Still he pressed downwards.
Why three years ago? Why not sooner or later? Why had he lingered and why had he hastened?
The answer again presented itself: The death of Pharaoh Seti. Of my friend.
Am I fleeing mortality?
I've been in so many battles where the blood reached up to my knees. I've led a war against my own brother. In the dark streets of a ravaged city I've shouted in anger and anguish against the death of the firstborn. And though it was long ago, it was with my own will that I held the executioner's mace.
But I can't avoid the truth. It was Seti's death that made me leave the land of Kemet; and he was far from being the first man whose death so affected me.
When I leave here, whose death will I be fleeing?
Laodamia looked at her son who was grinning. "Your thoughts?"
"Minos is betting everything on the will of the gods," said Sarpedon.
Laodamia snorted. "I was the lover of Zeus. But even I couldn't pray for a favour and know -or even hope!- that it would be fulfilled."
"A man must depend on himself. Only an idiot depends on the gods."
Laodamia nodded. They stayed silent for a moment.
"Hmm... mother?" he said at last.
"Minos is no idiot."
His lungs were burning. He forced his body to remain calm – to fight the instinctive panicky responses as he had long ago trained it to. The sharp feel of pain, the urge to find air, to swim to the surface – he savoured it for a moment, before consciously choosing to swim upwards.
All the sensations that a body could provide -sometimes even that of pain- were to be treasured. A body was to be treasured: Not everyone had one after all.
As he strove to the surface, he wondered how each would be treating his words... With puzzlement certainly... with some disdain. Sarpedon, always full of blasphemous pride, would certainly consider him a fool. Rhadamanthys was more respectful of the gods but like almost everyone had learned to not expect their interference. Pasiphae, Creon, Leader... they'd just be puzzled.
As they should be, really... Gaining the favour of a god was difficult. Practically impossible.
He felt and savoured every sensation. The dark coldness of the water, the agony of his lungs... the sting in his eyes, the tiredness in his hands and legs. His body.... from head to toes, he knew it.
And still below the surface of the water, he changed it.
He came charging out of the water – now owning the form of a great white bull.
Gaining the favour of a god was difficult and rare.
Being one was rather easier.
It was early afternoon when he reached the city of Knossos. The Bull stepped forward, a form more majestic than any earthly beast, a creature obviously sent by Poseidon or Zeus himself. And everyone saw. And everyone believed. And myths were born.
In a long existence he had had many names and many forms. He was Minos. He was Mehy. He was Hierax. He was Min, the phallic deity, and falcon-headed Montu, the warrior god, and he was Horus the Elder, avenger-of-his-brother. He was Menes, first humaniform Pharaoh of Mortal Egypt. He was the divine hawk.
And right now he was the Bull From The Sea, sign of the gods.
He passed through the city. Walked slowly among the streets and among the awed crowds. None dared touch him. Then slowly, purposefully, he headed outside the city and towards his home. In the stables he turned himself back to human, and picked out a normal bull. He changed its colour to a spotless white and then went inside and dressed.
Many forms, many roles, many names.
So be it.
It had begun rather playfully.
"Yet another name to add on your admirers list, sister?" her rookery brother asked as he threw a grape at her. He'd somehow obtained a huge cluster of them and the two of them were quickly devouring them as they were leaving the city...
"I have a list of admirers?" she laughed catching the grape easily and popping it into her mouth. "Why am I not informed of these things? You'd think they'd let me know, wouldn't you? Is it a long one?"
"Huge." Was there a small edge in his voice, or had she imagined it? "There's that servant boy in Minos's home, Andromachus."
"He does glance my way, I admit...'
"If he stared any more intensely, his eyes would fall out of their sockets." Another grape thrown, caught and eaten. "Then there's Polyidus, the wizard's son. He lost his words when he first saw you."
"And fumbled a spell because of it." She giggled.
"Right. And now it's Daedalus!"
She shook her head. "You are wrong."
"I saw him staring. You even went to confront him about it. What did he say?"
Again she laughed. "His exact words were 'Can I study your flight?' "
"Of all the men who've admired my body–"
"–the dozens of them–"
"-shut up- he's the only one fascinated by my wings. "
He fell silent for a moment, then grinned mischievously. "Kinky."
She let out an incoherent cry and attacked him in mid-air even as he smirked. His eyes widened slightly and he tried to evade. But it was too late: she pushed him off balance with her feet and letting out a grunt of pain he lost his hold on the cluster.
Swooping down she caught the grapes with a triumphant shout. Which quickly turned to a yelp of surprise when the boy landed on her back and pinned her three lower limbs together with his tail.
"Give it back," he growled softly in her ear as they were both falling with an uncomfortable speed... and she was suddenly acutely aware of the feel of his body.
She felt as if she was blushing and paling all at once; her breath halted.
"Please..." she managed to get out.
His tail's hold on her loosened abruptly... and not trusting herself to glide, she landed and leaning against a tree she tried to control her breathing – and thoughts. She didn't look at him when he also landed by her side.
There was a silence for a long while... "Want us to go get washed?" came his soft voice – it startled her and she looked at him blankly for a moment.
He waved a hand vaguely and awkwardly – the poor boy was so embarrassed through no fault of his own that she couldn't help but smile – but she also understood what he was indicating... they were both covered in grape juice.
"Yeah... or Creon will have us eaten, rather than welcomed."
She winced at the lameness of her own joke; nevertheless it remained a good idea to bathe.
For starters, she could use the cold water.
They climbed: there was a small stream that came down from the nearby mountain to join the Caeratus river; it was too shallow to bathe in, but five body-lengths up the mountain it fell over a small precipice to create an even smaller waterfall.
She went under the stream first and moved to clean the grape juice off her body, while her rookery-brother sat nearby on a small ledge, his chin in his hands. The water was icy cold as she had thought it would be. But she smirked at her own thoughts of a few minutes ago: hadn't she been silly? True, the touch of her rookery brother's... anatomy had made her uncomfortable. And true she couldn't help but notice how it had... grown in the last few years. (She could feel herself blushing again and turned her face away)
But (she hastened to add), so had they all grown. All her brothers and sisters, and she as well. And if their growing anatomy made some games uncomfortable, then they'd have to play other games. And those... feelings she'd felt had nothing to do with her rookery brother in particular, only the awkwardness of the position.
There. Logical as that.
Nothing to worry about.
Then why could she almost see Minos's smirk, making fun of her and her attitude?
Because of his "prophecy".
And make conversation.
Even as she spoke she knew she'd chosen the wrong topic: "Really brother, what is it with all the humans – I mean they are fine and all... but you'd think it would be sphinxes that should be admiring me, wouldn't you?"
There was a long pause. Her tail started twitching in nervousness.
"One already does."
Her tail stopped twitching.
"I...I think I love you," he said suddenly, his voice quick, all hope, all fear...
She had frozen. She remained silent, practically unmoving, her back turned to him for a long time... She didn't dare turn to look at him; she suddenly didn't want to meet his gaze which was surely piercing her all the way through...
"I'm sorry!" he shouted suddenly and his voice made her turn in time to see him glide away in a half-panic. She almost cried out to stop him, but she didn't: she didn't know what to say.
She was still standing awkwardly under the water and wondered if she looked like the idiot she felt. Why didn't I tell him something?
She sat down and hugged her knees. What do I tell him? He's my friend, not my mate!
Not in his mind, said a different thought. And not in yours either. Not anymore.
I never treated him as anything more than a brother.
Except for brief moments, hidden stares, contemplations so secret you didn't admit to yourself...
Except for that time but a few minutes ago. Oh, hell!
She felt like crying, but didn't know if it was out of sadness, out of joy, or out of sheer frustration.
What do I tell him?
That you love him, too.
Do I? I... want him. That has to be different... And for the first time, she recognized that part of her mind as the most insightful one.
What do I tell him?
It was then that she saw the soldiers pass by, through the valley below.
Heading straight for Minos's house.
They moved quickly but silently in dark clothed formations. Their clothes were dark, and the darkness was their ally; for the clouds covered the light of the moon and stars. And though they were all brave men of Crete, who would not hesitate to charge in the full heat of battle, they recognized the usefulness of stealth.
They were not far now. They could see the megaron from here. It would be easily taken – the handful of servants that were there would be taken by surprise.
It was then that they saw the sphinx, gliding over them and beyond them, hastening to the house, giving out a shrill cry of warning.
Their leader frowned – his face became terrible for a moment.
Then he raised his sword. "Attack!" he shouted.
And the soldiers charged.
He fought. It was the first real battle of his life: up to now he had trained with the rest of his brothers and sisters as their Leader and their Teacher demanded, but real battle... he'd never experienced that.
He ducked under a spear that was thrust towards his direction; then he leaned forward swiftly and grasping the hand that held it he pulled. As a result the soldier was sent flying head over heels into the nearby wall; he fell to the floor unconscious.
Catching his breath he checked the situation around him. No one moved in this room; two soldiers unconscious and an old servant of the house who was still awake but incapable of fighting further – he sat against a wall and held in pain his bleeding side.
The soldiers had managed to break into the house quickly. Though at least three of them lay dead outside, killed by the arrows that the human boy Andromachus had hastily shot at them, they hadn't managed to close the doors before the enemies approached.
And that could mean defeat.
Even as he thought, he rushed on all fours through the corridors of the house. Someone suddenly leaped before him with naked sword: but the soldier's eyes widened when he saw a running sphinx rather than a running human. The boy used the man's surprise and hesitation to his full advantage: Even as he run past the soldier he extended his tail and used it to catch a leg and send him off balance and onto the floor. He then grabbed the man's head and hit it on the floor, sending him to dreamland. Then he resumed his run.
The banquet room was a mess with tables overthrown, pots broken, and a number of men lying unmoving on the ground – he guessed that most of the fallen enemies were the result of his sister's actions: the human residents of this house were mostly untrained and unprepared for combat.
Then his eyes widened. Among the fallen there was... Andromachus. A mere boy, no more than seventeen years; and quite certainly dead. His clothes were red with blood – a sword-wound had been his death – his bow and arrows lay idle at his side...
He gulped and steadied himself against the table. He should have been here. Here where –
He suddenly remembered that his sister had last been by Andromachus' side and he paled.
"Sister!" he bellowed.
"Here!" the voice came weak and exhausted from the rooms upstairs. He strode upstairs and into the first doorway there: he should have never let himself be separated from her.
Three soldiers were there: they were driving his sister towards the end of the room: she had grabbed a small table and vainly tried to defend herself against the attacks of all three – she was already bleeding from wounds in her arms.
He felt his eyes glow as he rushed unthinkingly towards them. With all the force he could muster he pushed one of them into the wall – but the other two had already turned, swords drawn. And the man whom he still held seemed only mildly dazed: he had the strength to painfully hit him on the back with his cuffed fists.
Thinking rapidly, he did the only thing that crossed his mind. Grunting he managed to suddenly turn around so that it was the man who would first face the threat of the sword blades rather than his own back... He didn't know if it was actually right in any way to use a human as shield, but he'd hoped the others would hesitate to attack when they'd endanger their own–
–when the man sucked in his breath and his eyes suddenly took a look of amazement. As if by common agreement they both looked down to see the edge of a sword sticking out of the man's chest – who had been pierced all the way through – unknowingly accepting the strike that had been intended for the sphinx.
The man died. The boy let him fall slowly to the ground and then looked up in horror to face the equally horrified soldier who'd just killed one of his own.
They both stood unmoving for a moment, gasping. The other human still standing didn't waste time, though. With a cry the large warrior raised his sword – and was promptly knocked to his knees, hit by the table that his rookery sister still held, and after that driven unconscious by her fist.
The last soldier still stood uncertainly, bloodied sword in hand. Then he turned around and ran.
And the boy sank to his knees and cried.
And even in this sorrow, even as she knelt by her brother's side, to soothe and comfort him as much as she could, even then a part of her mind still managed to think: "Now I love him."
Supporting each other they stood up. And went back to the battle.
The hawk alighted on a hill far from the megaron so that no one would see it, and changed back into human form. After putting on the clothes that he had left there, he started walking the rest of the distance on foot. His appearance as Bull (let alone the well-noticed direction it had taken) had caused quite a stir in the city which he hadn't wanted to miss, so he had listened in to it using his other favourite form. On the whole there was no question about it – in the morning the throne would be his.
Minos wondered if it could even be called trickery. "Let the gods decide..." – one of them indeed had. And if other gods objected... he'd cross that bridge when he came to it.
Distracted with such thoughts he headed back for the megaron and was unprepared when the hiding (and far more alert) warrior jumped on him and threw him to the ground.
It was Sarpedon.
The man fought. And killed. Damn! He had wanted this to be near bloodless. But those sphinxes ruined everything. He gathered news from his soldiers: he had lost about ten of his thirty, and on the defenders' side five or six had been killed, those who had fought too furiously to be captured safely.
But the battle was nearly over. He checked out the half dozen servants in front of him and ordered three of his soldiers to escort them down to the cellars. Then he sent another three to guard the main entrance, and gathering the remaining six around him he headed for the banquet room.
Hardly had they entered when the sphinxes fell on top of them, knocking him to the side in the ensuing confusion.
He cursed himself again – he had never before fought against airborne opponents. Two of his men were already down before he had even known what had happened, first stunned by the sudden weight of the sphinxes on their shoulders and then punched into unconsciousness.
The remaining four of his men had already divided the two sphinxes among them as he stood up. He focused his eyes on the seemingly weaker pair – they fought the snouted grey male who held them away with a shield he had picked up. Helyon's spear was grabbed by the beast's tail and broken as the soldier was thrusting it forward – as the man tried to take out his sword, the sphinx's tail moved again and tripped him up.
"Helyon, Termon, aside! Let me!"
They leaped aside and away. They were good men, but hadn't learned patience or caution.
And neither had the sphinx. The male sphinx just leaped at him, its eyes glowing fiercely, claws extended.
And Kalliphon raised quickly his spear and let the grey creature impale itself upon it, the spear tearing through its stomach and all the way to the other side.
Behind him, the golden-skinned female screamed.
She heard herself scream, wordlessly. And then she rushed forward, barely stopping to scratch at a soldier's face before leaping on Kalliphon.
She landed on his fist. As with her brother, it was Golden's own inertia that did the most damage – Kalliphon felt as if he was punching a wall, but Golden was no less hurt. And then his foot kicked her hard on the stomach and, as the breath went out of her, the two men behind her grabbed one of her arms each and one of them had stepped on her tail. And she couldn't move and another one punched her again and again, and as she lost consciousness her last thought was her grey skinned brother, friend, love dying on the floor.
"She's out," said Taphius lifting the female's chin ungently. Kalliphon leaned heavily on the wall and gasped catching his breath. Damn that Egyptian wizard. Damn his sphinxes.
"She gave us a great deal of pain." That was Helyon.
"Well, now she's going to give us a great deal of pleasure," growled Taphius. "Hold her for me." He placed a hand on the unconscious female's left breast, while the other grabbed coarsely her crotch.
And then his eyes widened, and he toppled to the side, with an expression that was more confused than pained: Kalliphon had just slit the would-be rapist's throat.
He still held the bloodied knife in front of him, sternly, and the other soldiers stared at it as if hypnotized.
"We... are... Eteocretans," Kalliphon intoned, emphasis on every word. "We are not monsters."
"Get off me!"
"Stay down! Stay down, you fool. They placed guards – they'll shoot you full of holes before you even see them."
Minos pushed him away. "What are you saying?"
Sarpedon gestured towards the megaron. "The Eteocretans."
Minos's eyes widened. There will be a price to pay.
A personal price, dammit!
He clenched his fists, and quickly stood up and started for the megaron ahead.
"I've sent for help! They'll be here soon," whisper-shouted Sarpedon at him.
Minos didn't pause. "Then wait for them," he growled.
"You can't defeat them all. Not alone! Not in human form!"
Minos stopped. His lips briefly formed a grim smile. He half-turned and regarded Sarpedon seriously for a moment.
"Then follow me!"
He leaped from the hill and his body glowed briefly – weapons flashed into existence in his hands.
Sarpedon's eyes widened and then he too charged down.
And none could hinder them two, the teacher and the son of Zeus.
He was Minos. He was Hierax. He was Min, the phallic deity, and he was Horus the Elder, avenger-of-his-brother. He was Menes, first humaniform Pharaoh of Mortal Kemet. He was the scion of the Divine Bull, he was the half-human god.
He was Montu, warrior god of Egypt.
And he had fought in hundreds of battles.
He hadn't even been born for the First War, when Apep Ahriman was thrown down and El Aranu (or Helius Uranus, or Lord Ra, or a number of other names in many lands) took his place as Great Mother Mab's consort and king of all gods.
But when Aset was lost – when Cronos overthrew Aranu, Min was there. And though he had been no more than a child, he had clenched his fist and sworn an oath of vengeance.
And he killed. It was like a dance, and he let the rush of the battle take hold of him – to feel drunk with the blood, with the exertion, with the death. Like Odin's berserkers, like Sekhmet in her blood-frenzy, like Kali. Except that he still held on to a part of sanity, lest he kill all, friends and foes alike.
And he had danced so as to hide the birth of Zeus. And he had helped teach him. And in the war that came, he had fought at his side.
And he killed. He moved like the wind, and his sword was like lightning. And he laughed.
As he would fight at the side of another young pupil and kinsman many centuries later when brother would slay brother and he'd once again be turned into teacher and into warrior, into king and into avenger.
And he ki...
"MINOS! Not him."
And he blinked.
And it was over.
"Kalliphon," he growled as he lowered his sword. The man had been disarmed and thrown to the ground ready for the kill, before the interruption. "Rhadamanthys!" He clenched his fist.
Sarpedon was standing at the doorway, somewhat out of breath. "Actually, no, I don't think so. My guess is it was solely him." He indicated Kalliphon. "Rhadamanthys probably has no idea, or he wouldn't dare allow him–"
"Help me! Someone HELP!"
It was Golden, more desperate than Minos had ever heard her. Kalliphon forgotten, he rushed out and towards her voice.
Creon was already standing over them when he reached the room. She was cradling the boy in her arms.
A boy who was obviously bleeding to death. His eyes were becoming unfocused even as Golden urged him to look at her – his entire body was shuddering.
"Lord... there's no way he's going to survive till dawn," Creon told him as he approached.
All his former energy had drained away. Minos suddenly felt tired. And old, very old. He let his sword drop.
"Andromachus is dead. Pandeia and Chaleion too. And more. I won't know for sure how many until we make a count." Creon's voice was flat, a mask for grief.
"DO SOMETHING!" Golden wailed at them.
Sarpedon appeared in the doorway. "Only the gods can save him now." His voice was bitter, sarcastic. Minos slowly turned his head towards him. "And gods forbid that gods shall care to enter into lowly mortal affairs!"
Once they did. It wasn't much better.
"Who do you think you are?" said Creon, aghast.
But Minos wasn't listening anymore. He kneeled to the side of the griffin-children.
"DO SOMETHING!" she yelled at him.
Her body was covered with bruises – her eyes were filled with tears. And Minos suddenly felt love. He took her hand in his own and placed them both on the boy's open wound.
So turn to stone before the day."
It was done.
He knew that there would be a price. But it was his own to pay and he wouldn't suffer others to pay it for him.
He walked away, while Creon still stared, dumbfounded.
Sarpedon grabbed his upper arm as he swept past. They stared into each other's eyes. "Well done."
Sarpedon let him, but as Minos walked away, he followed.
"So, what was the justification for bending your kind's law this time?"
Minos clenched his fist. "This is my home. And those are my clan's children. And it was my deeds that had caused this. I wasn't bending anything."
"I see. And for bending it earlier today?"
Minos's eyes flickered with an undiscernable expression. He stopped where a couple of servants were guarding Kalliphon and gave them further instructions. Then he walked away again.
"Why did you help me, Sarpedon?"
"It was the honourable thing to do? A virtuous deed in an evil world?"
"Very well. It was because of your eyes."
Minos waited for more, and Sarpedon obliged, smirking. "They were the same as the eyes of a child that I dreamed had once helped save my father. The least I could do was try and repay the favour."
The hint of a smile appeared on Minos's lips. "That was long ago."
"I only heard about it recently."
They walked outside into the clean air. The smell of death and blood was strong inside.
Minos sat down and leaned his head back to the wall. "Going for the kingship was wrong, wasn't it? Bloodshed's the very first thing it caused."
Sarpedon shrugged. "Who would you have as better ruler?"
"Hah! For the Amazons, perhaps, " Sarpedon smiled, "though not all their customs would appeal to her. But this is the Crete of later times and you are no fool."
Minos closed his eyes. "You, then."
"I'm a warrior. And a foreigner. And a bastard. I somehow think the greatest difference between us is that you have a lot more experience being all three."
Minos froze. And then he threw his head back and chuckled softly.
"Ah!" Sarpedon said again. "They are here."
"Your sphinxes. And your princess. "
Minos snapped his eyes open even as the red leader let Pasiphae down. More griffins were landing around them.
"Minos! Sarpedon's men told us–"
"It's over." He stood up and walked away from them.
"My children, Minos! Where are they? Don't play games with me," the Leader growled.
"They are inside," he heard Sarpedon answer. "They are healing in stone. Minos changed them."
Pasiphae stared uncomprehending. "Stone by night? Minos did what?!"
Leader regarded the man for a moment, then turned to the princess. "After him."
Pasiphae was still confused. "What?"
"After him. If you want to see him again within the decade, after him, NOW!"
"I have a horse nearby," offered Sarpedon.
Pasiphae made up her mind. "Take me to it."
Another time, more than a century ago.
He found her on the beach, as he had hoped. Europa liked walking by the seashore, under the light of the full moon.
"Hello, my lady."
She didn't turn, but even so he could feel the joy of her smile.
"I was hoping to see you again."
"How could I leave without a last goodbye?"
"You are Min. You often do the forbidden." She turned and they looked each other directly in the eyes. There were no lies between them. No deception.
"I've wished you joy, since the very first time I met you. It does my heart good to see you happy."
She smiled at that. "Did you ever love me, my friend and saviour?"
Min considered this for a moment.
"I did love you. But I'm a god of passion, not of love. I loved you less than you loved me. And it wasn't even a tenth of the love you have for Asterius. I could burn in your love. You wouldn't be even mildly scorched in mine." He smiled.
And then there was very little to be said aloud. As if by unspoken agreement they moved forward and hugged for a long moment.
"I will look after you. You and your son both, as much as I can."
Europa's hand rested on her swollen belly.
"I will name him after you."
And then he stepped back and, with his eyes still on her, he changed into hawk shape and flew away, towards the full moon.
Rhadamanthys stepped down from his chariot.
He knew, long ago he had been taught, that each man was required to do three things on any moment of decision. To learn, to gather all info pertaining to the situation. To choose among all possible options. And finally to execute his decision once it had been taken, swiftly and without hesitation. Learn, choose, execute.
He had also been taught that a ruler, since his cares are so large, does all three with help from others. He gathers all info with help from spies and messengers. He decides with help from his advisors. And lastly, he has his soldiers and servants to execute his commands.
And sometimes this doesn't apply and even a king must do these things by himself.
He saw the pile of the dead Eteocretan soldiers as they had been dragged uncaringly outside by the servants of the house – among the corpses were way too many faces he recognised.
He saw the blood being cleaned from the floors and walls with sponges and water. Soon sulphur would be brought to purify the house. If such a thing can ever really be done.
He saw the statue of two griffin-children. The girl held in her arms a boy, which was dead or dying. Care and pain and love was carved in her features – the statue had managed to capture a moment of ultimate pathos. Rhadamanthys shuddered as he understood it was no statue at all.
His voice was soft and he didn't even look at the fettered man. "Tell me what has happened here, Helyon. Leave nothing out, or die."
The bound man raised his head at the voice. "Hello, my lord."
"What did you try to do here, old friend?" Rhadamanthys' voice was tinged with horror.
"To destroy the Egyptian. I failed." In contrast, Kalliphon's voice was calm. And regretful.
"Why didn't you come to me?"
Kalliphon didn't look at him.
"You... would have said no. And it was unfitting that you should begin your kingship so."
Rhadamanthys clenched his fists. "The deed would be the same whether I knew about it or not!" he growled.
"But the doer would be different. You'd make a good king, Rhadamanthys. I'm sorry."
Rhadamanthys staggered, and leaned heavily on the wall. He had to think.
"It wasn't worth it, Kalliphon. It wouldn't be worth it, even if you had succeeded without a single loss."
Kalliphon's eyes flared briefly. "It was worth it. This is the land of the Eteocretans!"
He breathed in deeply and closed his eyes before continuing. "It was too much. More than a hundred years of Achaean rule. And now an Egyptian! Befriending the king. Courting the princess. Aiming for the throne. Lycastus was prepared to name him as his heir."
Rhadamanthys didn't want to believe the thought that had crossed his mind "You didn't..."
Kalliphon opened his eyes and looked up at the man. "Lycastus? Yes. I did."
Oh, old friend!
When Rhadamanthys spoke, his voice was steady. "Minos has surrendered you to my care. To my judgement."
Kalliphon felt a flicker of surprise. "I... see. By waiving the right to judge..." He didn't like what he was going to say and he stopped.
Rhadamanthys's eyes hardened. "Yes. All comes with a price. By waiving the right to judge you, he's now into a position to judge me. By making me responsible for you, I am now responsible for you. By making me judge, he made himself king.
"And my judgement will reflect on us all."
Kalliphon didn't speak.
"Tell me something. Anything," Rhadamanthys said again, still striving for control but despair threatened to creep into his voice.
Kalliphon looked old, tired. Defeated at last. "Do not exile me. Away from Cretan soil, I'll slay myself."
Anything, old friend... Anything!
"I hear that Taphius was going to ravish the sphinx. You killed him."
Kalliphon's eyes once again flashed as if with their last strength. "We are Eteocretans. We do not mate with beasts!"
It was not the answer that Rhadamanthys had been hoping for. Tears in his eyes, he kissed the older man on the forehead.
And then he raised his sword.
He didn't turn. He just kept on walking, walking fast. Not towards something, Pasiphae understood, just away.
"Minos!" She swerved her horse to stand on his way. "Where are you going?"
He raised his head to look at her. There was blood, unwiped blood, on his face but it wasn't his own. "Why, Pasiphae? Do you even know where I have been?"
"Why are you going?"
"Why did I ever stay?"
He stepped around the horse and kept on walking. Pasiphae leaped down and grabbed his arm.
"I had thought it was because of me."
Minos smiled bitterly.
And shook his head. "No. I think it was because of another. And she almost died because of me."
He shook off her hand.
"And you, my lady, don't know me."
And, in front of her astonished eyes, he transformed into a bull, his clothes ripping and falling at his feet. And then he turned and galloped away.
She stood motionless for a moment, staring.
And then she clenched her fists.
"Then you don't know me either," she said and gave chase.
Sarpedon was sitting on the stairs, when Rhadamanthys stepped out of the megaron. The red sphinx-leader was nearby; her arms crossed, deep in thought.
"Want to sit with me?"
Rhadamanthys seemed not to understand.
"Only if you want to," shrugged Sarpedon.
Rhadamanthys sat on the stairs next to the Lycian. He seemed vaguely lost.
Even Sarpedon knew how to respect a man's grief. But he felt he had to say something.
"It was... well done. Well done by Minos. Well done by me also, I think. And in the end it was well done by you as well."
He felt Rhadamanthys's body go tense with anger next to him, and he hurried to continue.
"Don't misunderstand me. I mean it was far better than it could have gone otherwise. And you also know that."
"It's far worse than what could have been."
"I... don't think so. Unless Kalliphon had never been."
Rhadamanthys's anger again flared and he stood up, hand on the hilt of his sword, but Sarpedon had tired of this. He also stood up and looked at the man.
"Think of this, Rhadamanthys," he told him. "Would you want Kalliphon as king? Who saw all Achaeans as enemies? That was the only other alternative. Not me. And never you. It was Minos and Kalliphon, and just the two of them."
And then he walked away.
The red sphinx looked at Rhadamanthys. "I disagree with him, you know."
Rhadamanthys looked at her. He wasn't in the mood for conversation. "You do?"
"Yes. It was always Minos and Minos. And just the two of them. And the winner has not been decided yet."
She smiled. "Minos is always and ultimately a man in conflict with himself."
Another time, almost forty years ago.
It was the Fall Equinox.
It was also an equinox that came only once every twenty years. The sounds of mating were carried on the wind, the smell of life was in the air.
The agony of loss was in her heart.
The red sphinx-woman was gliding away as fast as her wings could take her. Not towards anywhere, just away. She couldn't stand to be anywhere near her mating sisters and brothers, when her own love was so recently dead – her tears were mingling with the soft rain.
Through her blurred vision she thought she saw movement at the edge of her sight, but when she turned there was nothing.
Had it been a week already? "The human king honored our brother so much," they had told her, "that he lost his own life trying to save him." What did she care? Her sisters' comfort was hollow, her clan's grief seemed but a mockery of her own. Her heart was dead inside her.
It was as if she had been sleepwalking through the entire time – barely eating, almost never talking, as much dead to the world as her golden-skinned love was. She could feel nothing.
But this night, at mating season, there was no griffin above the age of ten that could feel nothing, when the earth, their bodies, their very souls cried out Mate! Breed! Love!, when they were all tense with desire, their eyes in a semiconstant bright glow that revealed their state of mind as much as their bodies did.
Again she thought she saw something, someone, the shape of a sphinx gliding in the rain just a bit further than she could recognize the one. In anger that anyone (who? a widowed elder? A mateless youth?) would intrude in her grief, she turned towards his direction. But the shape disappeared before she could reach it.
She envied the ten-year-olds. Their blood didn't beat hot against their veins, their bodies weren't going stiff or moist. When she had been their age, during mating season they had all been placed in the rookery, where they played simple games all night long, with only a few widowed elders supervising them, and no knowledge of what was taking place outside.
Twenty years later (and fifteen years old with the human count) she had felt all too well the boiling blood, the urge to mate. But though she had already fancied the golden boy who would later become her lover, she hadn't dared to even go near him during the season, lest she could not control her actions. She had instead found a secluded spot and (though with shame and guilt) had tried to satisfy herself with her own tail. It hadn't worked much.
She had once thought that tonight, fifty years old and at the very peak of her youth, she would pity her teenage self, but instead she was envying her with all the strength of her heart. And now she half-landed half-crashed on the roof of the building in front of her (the abandoned palace it was), and there she lay and waited and held the pain inside her, until she was trembling with the unreleased sobs and finally she gave out a terrible wail of grief and anguish.
And as if her wail had summoned him from the lands beyond, he walked out of the rain.
In the beginning he was just a unidentifiable figure, blurred by both the rain and her tears. And then as she strained her eyes, the golden colour of his wings could be seen, and as he approached further she gasped and almost swooned, for it was her golden-skinned love that appeared in front of her.
She struggled for her voice but he silenced her with his eyes. "Say that it never happened," they were saying.
Any other night she would have sought for answers. Any other night she would miss most his soft voice, and his light sense of humour, and the simple touch of his hand as they looked at the stars.
Tonight, though, she just wanted his body against her own, making passionate love to her with no word spoken by either until dawn came. She pulled him close, and they both gasped as their bodies collided, entwined, merged into one.
And yet, even as she gave and received pleasure, there were still tears in her eyes. For a part of her mind already knew that this was not her love, whom she would never see or touch or talk to again. And that like most gifts of this kind it would vanish with the dawn, little proof that it ever happened remaining behind.
But nonetheless she let herself be deluded. And although the next night she would wake up indeed alone, it turned out that the egg she'd lay six months later would be proof enough.
The Bull ran, and behind him Pasiphae was pursuing, even as the moon pursues the sun.
How can you chase a god?
You can't. Not if he really wants to go away. But Minos was exhausted. And more importantly he was always, and ultimately, a man in conflict with himself. A man of two natures.
A man of many names.
They ran through forest and over stream – through glade and over hill. The occasional shepherd or farmer who'd see them would wonder with awe at the spotless white colour of the bull, at its majestic form. They were even more amazed with the golden-haired young woman that followed the bull at full speed first on horse, and then (when the terrain proved too uneven) on her own feet, as fast as they could take her.
Some god must have maddened her, they said. Poseidon, perhaps, who must have sent the bull in the first place. Or Aphrodite who oft instills unholy passions into the heart.
They were perhaps getting close with that last one, but only metaphorically speaking.
She didn't really know why she was chasing Minos. A part of her mind, the proud, regal, perhaps arrogant part, was telling her that it was demeaning to run after any man, be he king or not, be he even a god. But also demeaning to be left behind.
The part of her which was in love, said that since even Minos didn't really seem to know why he was running in the first place, it was all right for her to run as well. Then again it had never thought very logically.
And a yet third part of her mind, a part which was perhaps way too influenced by the griffins, was saying teasingly that chasing down your future mate was a fun and invigorating element of the courting process.
So, with all three, angry pride, and annoyed love, and grim amusement, she pursued him.
Another time. Another place. Four years ago.
The pharaoh strained his eyes to look at the arrival. Then, ever so slowly, he smiled.
The man kneeled by the bed where the aged king was resting in the last days of his mortal life.
"No, my lord. Don't you remember? Mehy is no more – I am his son."
Pharaoh Seti stared at the ceiling. Then slowly he chuckled – a broken sound.
"Mehy..." he said again when he stopped laughing. "Don't lie to a dying man."
Minos was silent for a moment.
"I'm sorry," he said, and then he closed his eyes and changed. His youthful face became suddenly wrinkled and older – his hair turned grey.
"Hello, my friend," he said.
"Ah!" said the Pharaoh. "There's the man I know."
Mehy smiled. "When did you find out?"
Seti made a gesture – waved it away as inconsequential. "Gradually. It doesn't matter." He coughed and leaned back on the pillow.
"As man I've loved you, " he said, "as god I've worshipped you. And I'm glad to see you one last time."
"Of the two, it was the man's love that I most valued," said Mehy.
They were both silent for a long time.
"Goodbye, my friend," said the Pharaoh at last. "May I see you again when Osiris returns to earth, taking with him all those worthy of his servants."
"Until we meet again," said Mehy.
Seti didn't speak further – he had closed his eyes and seemed to be sleeping. Mehy stood and turned to go. As he was leaving, he assumed again the youthful appearance of Minos.
At the door he paused.
"Behold him, " he whispered as if talking to himself, "he comes to you without sin, without guilt, without evil, without a witness against him, without one against whom he has taken action."
It was part ritual and part eulogy, and as such far more generous than accurate. But Minos's heart beat loudly as he spoke the words – his voice cracked with emotion for his friend. For all the friends that he had lost or was still doomed to lose.
"He lives on truth and eats of truth. He has given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothing to the naked and a boat to him who could not cross the River."
And now he departed from Kemetic custom – and concluded with a prayer that only the gods spoke among themselves, the prayer which could be both curse and blessing:
"May Azrael be tender with you."
And then she was on him. He had descended a steep hill while she, out of breath, hadn't even started hurrying down – the bull's head turned to look at her. And then, knowing in her heart that this might be the last chance she got, she did the only thing she could think of and jumped onto him.
How do you catch a god?
You hold onto him. And you don't let go.
And she was now riding the bull trying to stay on him – a trick more dangerous than any leap she had attempted during the sport of bull-jumping. He can throw me off at any moment, a part of her mind was still able to think, and kill me with the simple force of his toss against the rocks.
Let's just assume he won't.
Instead of tossing her away, the bull simply run away at full gallop, and Pasiphae just held on with all her remaining strength. By the neck, by the horns, by the very hair on the bull's back, by any and every purchase that her hands could find.
In front of her she could see a cliff coming up. The drop down to the sea below was far too steep for anyone to climb, yet the bull didn't seem to slow down – didn't seem to even see the drop. The part of Pasiphae's mind which could still think, wondered whether beneath the bull's form there might now exist an equally bovine intelligence. No, she thought, for any bull would have tossed you off and killed you. Trust he won't kill you now, either.
And the bull kept on running until he reached the cliff. And then he fell over it, Pasiphae still holding onto its neck, and this time no part of her mind was able to think coherently.
And the bull changed.
"You were correct, then? About Minos?" Laodamia asked her son.
"Yes," Sarpedon replied.
Laodamia closed her eyes. A memory came unbidden to her mind – herself of long ago, a young woman which Zeus himself was making love to. Unlike so many other women that the king of the gods had loved, it had not been deceit or force. It had been freely given and likewise received, as was fitting for the daughter of Bellerophon.
So, she didn't feel loathing at the memory – but she was still entitled to feel regret. She sighed. "Poor Pasiphae. May she be able to accept the bitter alongside the sweet."
How do you catch a god?
Decades later, the same would be done by a man named Peleus – capturing a goddess doomed to give birth to one greater than his father, and starting a thread of events which would eventually lead to the downfall of Troy. Millennia later, a young woman named Janet would manage, in the same way, to claim and win her lover from the Queen of Faerie herself.
You hold onto them. They'll change into different shapes and forms, they'll become beasts and monsters within your grasp. They'll turn into fire and burn you, or ice and freeze you. You'll feel their tremendous power as you hold them, and you'll know that they could kill you in an instant.
You'll get scared. You'll want to let go.
Don't. Trust they won't hurt you. Surrender yourself fully to their power. Your weakness is your only advantage.
She had closed her eyes against the fall. She opened them at the sound of wings.
He was now Horus the Elder, the hawk-headed god. His feathered wings beat behind him, even as she held on from his neck.
In the past she had let herself be carried by sphinxes. But this creature was no sphinx and the experience was wholly different – with the sphinxes (whether it was Leader or Golden) she was carried in their arms, and held on to them herself. The sphinxes had to glide on the currents of the wind and most ascents were slow and steady.
And you also knew that behind the eyes of the sphinxes there existed a friendly humanlike mind which wouldn't let you fall.
But now they were ascending almost vertically with the steady beat of the god's wings, and she held onto him desperately. And they kept on ascending until she started wondering whether they'd rise so high that she's be burned by the flame of the sun, like wax melts under too hot a fire.
And then Horus started glowing.
He was a solar deity and as such he glowed as bright as the sun at high noon. Even with her eyes shut the blinding brightness pained her as it pierced her skull. But she held on.
He changed. He now turned into a full hawk, but of huge size, and swooped down to the earth. But she held on. And then they were back on the earth.
He changed. He was now a gigantic bull-headed man who ran and thrashed around, but she clung from his neck with all her strength.
He changed. Back into the full form of bull he turned, and she was still on his back. She held on.
It was part wrestling, and part courtship. And suddenly it was over.
He was back in human form, naked in her arms. And he was looking at her smiling. "You are stubborn," he said. "And I am conquered."
And then, in the form of a man, and in the form of a bull, and in an infinite number of forms inbetween, he made love to her.
The sun set and they awoke, stone fragments flying from their bodies.
And the golden-skinned sphinx wept for joy.
"I thought I'd lost you..."
The grey boy in her arms smiled at her and passed a hand over her brow-ridges.
"I thought I..." she said again but suddenly knew she couldn't continue. She just leaned her head on his chest for a long minute.
And then she turned and looked at him, and her expression was different from any she ever had before.
It was the red Leader who had advised Creon to ensure their privacy when they next awoke. "They may have things to talk about," she had simply told him.
Very little talking took place.
It wasn't as either of them had ever expected it to be. It wasn't that passionate. It wasn't carefree. It was a bit awkward, and neither of them had been prepared.
But it was tender. And it was theirs.
And that would for the moment suffice.
And when they had ended and they rested in each other's arms, Pasiphae, exhausted, slept. And then she awoke and he was still by her side, holding her in his arms, and they had a long talk about all the things that Minos had hidden from her, and about his long life.
Well... not about all the things. That would have required years of storytelling. But about most of the important things concerning him.
Some of them, anyway.
And then, half-jokingly, they decided to choose a name.
"If it's a boy, I was thinking 'Lycastus'."
Pasiphae smiled at him. "Lycastus, son of Minos, son-in-law of Lycastus, son of Minos? Bad idea."
Pasiphae nodded, slowly. "I think I like the sound of that. Asterius."
But at that moment Minos shuddered and he somehow knew that this wouldn't be the name that their firstborn son would be widely known with.
There will be a price to pay.
1275 BCE: Prices and Punishments
"Hail the rising Sun, hail the new Moon! Hail the King and Queen, Minos and Pasiphae!"
They were married the very same day that Minos was crowned king of Crete; and the two celebrations were merged into one. Both Sarpedon and Rhadamanthys had withdrawn their own claims for the kingship in favour of Minos, and in public all three swore brotherhood and loyalty to each other.
And then as the darkest part of the night approached, Minos and Pasiphae sneaked away, supposedly to their bedroom – in reality away from the city and to the mountains. There they partook into yet a third celebration, smaller perhaps but no less joyful, where two young sphinxes exchanged their mating oaths before the clan.
"Hello, old friend. You aren't dancing."
Minos didn't turn. "It's a dance of youth." From his vantage point on the hill, he looked down at the many sphinx (and one human) forms, male and female, that were dancing under the light of the moon. Pasiphae was also there – fulfilling a promise that she had made a while ago.
"It's a long time since I felt young," he said.
The Leader sat down beside him.
So, that plan would have to wait for another time if ever. Besides, there were too many other things that required doing, much more urgent and much more important. First of all, he'd have to arrange for a journey throughout the whole of Crete, see the real needs himself–
"Hey, Minos! There you are."
He smiled but didn't turn around. "Haven't seen you in a while."
Golden grinned at him. "I was rather... busy these last few weeks."
Minos stopped himself from barking a laughter. He cleared his throat. "Ahem. Yes. I can imagine. Stuff to think about, stuff to do..."
"My daughter tells me that you knew she'd be mated with her rookery brother even before she herself knew it. Within the year, you said."
He smiled. "I had thought it too risky to say a month. Foolish of me – I should have said a week."
She also smiled, crookedly. "In this past week they have been going at each other like sex-crazed rabbits. It's like a unending mating season for them two. Can't get them to think about anything else."
Minos chuckled. "And she used to blush even at the idea of mating! Pasiphae wondered why they forgot to come to our own wedding."
"I don't think I ever had so much passion."
"I don't think I ever had so much love."
"The best of both worlds in our offspring."
A long moment passed in silence.
Golden grinned. "Do you have any idea how perverse that sounded?"
Minos didn't reply, just looked at her gravely, and she also became serious. "I also came to talk to Coeranus. I'll be taking up his offer."
He stopped walking and turned to face her, looking deep into her eyes.
"To learn magic."
Golden nodded, smiling gently.
"I thought you had practically forgotten about that. That you'd want to spend all your time with your clan. With your mate. Magic–"
"Magic can't do everything. You've told me that before, Minos."
"Magic can't bring love. Magic can't bring joy." She clenched her fists.
"But magic brought my boy back from death's threshold, Minos. So, when you tell me these things, I can only conclude that you are an idiot."
Her voice was now trembling with emotion. He touched her on the forearm, and she suddenly started crying.
"Thank you, thank you..." she kept saying
He hugged her and kissed her forehead. "It's all right."
"You saved him. I can never thank you enough."
I almost killed you both. I can never forgive myself for that.
For that and for many other things.
"Yes, old friend," she continued at last. "I know. I always knew, even that very night. I don't believe that the spirits of the dead travel back to the living; certainly not for reasons of lust. So, whether it was a god, or a dream, or a delusion of madness – I always knew that it was not my love."
"I... used you."
"And I used you."
"I took your dead mate's form. I *used* you."
"You did what you wanted. But also what I needed. You allowed me to share in the pain of birth. Gave me one more daughter to take joy in."
"It was inexcusable."
She smiled bitterly. "My daughter will never treat you as anything other than a friend or older brother – even if you tell her this. Consider it punishment enough." She stood up and gazed at the moon.
Another long silence.
"Pasiphae's with egg, isn't she?"
"Pregnant. Humans call it 'pregnant'. Yes, she is." Minos could sense it before even Pasiphae herself could. Before the first hint of a heartbeat, the pulse of magic already flowed inside her, revealing the child's partial divinity. It'd be a boy. Asterius.
And Golden also sensed it somehow. Coeranus had been right: She did have talent.
"It feels weird. She's almost like a rookery sister to me. And she'll be a mother already. Is she ready?"
"Are you ready?" he asked in turn. "You'll be yourself with egg in less than two years," he reminded her.
She made a face. "But I won't be a mother for another ten, Minos! I have a while, yet!"
"Of course. I'm sorry."
She bit her lips, hesitating. "Don't be. It's twelve years away and I'm already terrified with the prospect."
Minos laughed – and Golden also did so nervously. "You'll be a fine mother," he said at last, ruffling her hair. "Your children will really love you, my lady."
Golden blushed, but managed to giggle nonetheless. "You've never before called me 'my lady'."
Minos smiled. "You've never before looked so grown-up."
Grinning, she leaned closer. "You know something? Neither have you."
Minos laughed. "You may be r–"
And then he felt it. And he froze.
"My lady..." he whispered, his eyes not on her. "Go. There's... someone coming."
She looked at him quizzically, but he turned and looked at her intensely. "Scram! Now!"
He went to the stone throne and waited.
It was Minos who spoke in the end, slowly and with eyes on the ground. "You will die. So will our daughter. And Pasiphae. And our unborn child. And I will have to live on and see it all happen."
"Poor little you."
He raised his head, angry for the first time – but though her words had been sarcastic, her look was one of compassion. Straining himself he smiled.
"So you haven't completely forgiven me."
"I guess I'm not perfect after all." She extended a hand. "Come, old friend. For our children's sake."
He let himself be carried down. And then they joined the dance together, old friends, old lovers, half-human god and sacred beast.
Half-human means half-divine. Half-anything means a hybrid, a bastard, an outcast. One who belongs to both and thus belongs to neither. A creature of two natures and more than one name. Minos awaited.
It could not be seen, it could not be heard, it could not be smelled or touched. But nonetheless he felt it with the sense of the gods – a rip across the worlds. A doorway was opening from the Blessed Isle.
There will be a price to pay.
Minos wondered who would be the one to come. A grim mood made him desire Raguel as the emissary. He had enough cold hatred for him and his entire pantheon that he'd not avoid a confrontation, no matter what it might cost him.
And then his thoughts abruptly, irrationally, leaped to another, to Mithras – to Mithras and the willing Sacrifice of the Divine Bull – and he shuddered as he knew that there was at least one god that he did not want to face.
But neither his desire nor his fear was to be – when he heard the voice, he immediately knew who had been sent.
"Hail, hail, responsible trickster."
The words, the sound; they were almost, almost, verging on the affection of a Grace. But he knew full well, and so did they, that this was not the role they had come to fulfil.
"Hail, hail, oh servant king!"
The impartiality, the ambiguity, the arrogance of a Fate. But fate was his and theirs to make: They might like to disguise their deeds with the sham named 'fate'. He would not.
"Hail, hail, half-human bastard son of Nut!"
And with that the Sisters, the Furies, appeared.
He nodded. "Greetings, nieces."
They surrounded him.
"You've broken Hyperion's law."
"You flatter me. Am I that powerful?"
"No god shall become a king of mortals."
"I already was, once. So none became."
"No god shall interfere with mortal kind."
Minos glared at the one in front of him. "You've addressed me, Hekate's daughter, and named my species; and you didn't call me god. Say that I'm not."
In his mind the godly race had kicked him out a long time ago. He still had two sisters and the memory of brothers; he still had a family of sorts. But he had no species.
They smiled, predatorily. He felt them closing in.
"You said it," they chorused, and at that moment he knew what his punishment would be; and he felt cold inside. Hyperion had never forgiven him.
He attacked first.
And he thought, "They shall do so many things that I will never get to see. I should have never loved them."
And he wept.
Golden ran to the fallen man. She had left when he had ordered her away; but before she had glided far, she sensed more than she heard the battle that was taking place. She hurried back as fast as she could.
She couldn't have possibly helped, so it was a blessing that she arrived when all had ended.
He groaned, and blinked his eyes, then slowly pulled himself up into a sitting position. The sphinx-girl searched him for wounds. She could find none – but still... there was something wrong here.
"You can sense it, can't you?" Minos asked her, smiling sadly.
She could sense something, but she didn't know what it was: It felt as if Minos himself had... changed. But she didn't see or hear or smell or touch anything different on him...
"You are sensing that I cannot sense," he didn't explain, "ever again. "
And Minos, fully mortal, stood up and walked away on unsteady feet.
1274 BCE: Epilogue – Decisions and Constraints
Mount Dicte, Crete
The man carefully placed his offering among the coals of the small altar in front of the cave, then stepped back. It would burn quickly; soon nothing would be left but ashes scattering in the wind.
Now there was just one more thing left to be done here.
Slowly, with his newborn son in his arms, he began ascending the slope of the mountain.
My name is Minos. It wasn't my first name – far before I ever was Minos, I was Hierax and Min and Horus and many other names. But it is going to be my last; the only one that will matter from now on.
I'm writing this letter, as a sort of promise to myself. I'm writing this to you, my son, but you are never going to read it. If I live long enough, my doings shall fulfil my words and make this letter redundant. If, on the other hand, Azrael calls me soon, another shall make the choices that will decide your destiny and the letter will be useless.
"Diktynna!" he called as he climbed. "Diktynna Britomartis!"
There was no answer of course. He hadn't expected any. He was mortal now; and few gods would ever appear to a mortal because they were simply called by name – even in such a place.
"Zeus! Storm-god!" he called once more.
Again no answer. But inwardly he smiled. That nobody answered didn't mean that nobody was listening. Or that no one would pay attention.
I am now fully human. Fully mortal. I expected punishment, but never guessed how quickly it'd come or how severe. Hyperion's to blame for the latter – he doesn't easily forgive disobedience. As for the former... I suspect Poseidon. He is even more petty.
It doesn't matter. I am now fully human... More mortal than Golden or even Pasiphae. Indistinguishable from other humans.
But you will not be.
He climbed on. The first time he had been here, the first time he had climbed these slopes, the place had been nameless; unremarked and unremarkable. That was after all the very reason it had been chosen.
It would never again so be so considered. A god, a king of gods, had once been born here, and the downfall of another was begun. The place was sacred. The place was powerful. Even the humans could sense it, or at least the most gifted among their kind.
He himself couldn't, not anymore. And though once again he hadn't expected anything different, he couldn't help but feel pain at the realisation.
But inside his arms, the small baby's breath was slow – its eyes wide open and its tiny body seemed tense with rapt attention. The child was sensing what the father no longer could.
You were conceived when I was still a god.
You were conceived when I had the form of a bull.
You are far from the first one who has been likewise conceived: gods mate in a plethora of forms. There are centaurs, and fauns, and mermaids to declare the truth of this.
But always, always, the only children who retained in their forms any sign of their mixed heritage, were those whose divine parents didn't know them, didn't care about them. For all others there was no problem: they would be transformed back into human form as soon as they were born – or even before. A deity could perhaps see beneath the disguise – a wizard might sense something vaguely wrong. But no one else would ever know.
You... and me... will be the exception. I know about you, and care about you, and love you. But I have no more magic to transform you into human. And no other god, friend or foe, will be allowed to do it for me.
You can never be king. You can never even be human. My deeds have deprived you of either. And lest my deeds also take away your life, I'll have to partially deprive you of your freedom as well.
Soon after your birth, you will have to go and stay in the old palace. And as far as I can guess you will never be able to openly leave it.
He remembered well the child Zeus feeding on the milk of Amalthea. The Storm-god – how strongly power flowed through him! He was the fulfillment of their hopes; he was their avenger.
He remembered the bright blue eyes. Many of Zeus's children had the same eyes. Athena did. So did poor Zagreus; brief though his life had been by the count of the gods.
Sarpedon also. And as he thought of the Lycian he smiled in grief. The blue-eyed man had left Crete. Summoned back to his own land, to take up the throne after the death of his uncle Isander in the struggle against the Solymi. So Sarpedon would also be a king, the warrior king that his people required at the time.
As for Rhadamanthys, he went back to Phaestos; but Minos openly referred and treated him as the vice-ruler of the entire island. He'd be a good ruler and judge of his people: For he had many advisors, both ready and eager to help him with the tasks of leadership – but there was no one among them whose judgement he trusted more than his own.
If it only made decisions easier – to know that there's no one else who can decide on your behalf!
You may not understand this. You may hate me. You are free to do so - wholeheartedly I accept it. But there's no other place where you will be able to live in as much relative comfort. Your birth can't remain a secret, and there's no nation or people who will be able to accept you as one of them. You have no species. You are a new species.
The old palace will be your home. Your mansion. Your prison. I will instruct Daedalus and he shall so modify it so that for you it will be a rich dwelling, but anyone else who enters it will encounter nothing other than a maze. He'll manage to do it.
You'll have friends which will come from the sphinxes, and those people of Creon who can be trusted, and any siblings you may later have. As for enemies... I'll try to ensure that you won't have any enemies either. That though the Cretans will fear you, they will also respect you and admire the divine power seen through your continuing existence.
In short, I'll turn you into a symbol.
You are free to hate me for that as well. I deserve it.
Minos pulled himself up. He hadn't reached the mountain's peak; but neither would he try to do so. He wasn't certain he could climb further without risking the child's safety. This far was enough.
A wind was blowing – a wind which would blow the ashes of the burned letter throughout the island and beyond. Minos smiled grimly. If anyone had seen, they could think that he had destroyed it, left it to be consumed by the fire. But it all depended on one's point of view.
It hadn't been destroyed. It had been taken to a place where no hand could unwrite it. Let it feed the fires there, let it feed the flame within.
And now, only one thing was left to be done.
He smiled down at the child. The calf-headed baby smiled back at him.
I will make up a story that shall give me the blame for your form; and as such be as true as possible for the people to understand. I don't want any of them to think that Pasiphae is the one being punished by the gods with this birth.
Pasiphae... I love Pasiphae. But as always, I love her less than she loves me. Yet when I tell her all this, Pasiphae will surely hate me, hate me five times more than she ever loved me. Hate me for your form, hate me for your confinement.
I fear the ice of her hate, more than I remember fearing anything before. I can only hope it'll melt before it slays me.
Don't worry, though. You she'll love, regardless of form.
As will I.
Are you watching, Britomartis? Are you here, Storm-god Zeus? Poseidon?
All of you. Hear me.
From such a place, he could have once raised such a voice that would echo throughout the worlds, a voice that would perforce be heard by all who had ears to listen. Now, even here, his voice would be nothing more than a whisper.
But still... it would travel far enough. If nothing else it would be heard by him.
He lifted the baby high.
Something more. An afterthought.
The sphinxes have it wrong in a sense – and completely correct in another: Names are important. Names define us. Not by telling us who we are, but by telling how we are perceived. By others, or by ourselves.
I don't know how the people will name you. Something evil probably, something ugly. It is beyond my power to control.
But I want you to remember that you already have a name, given you in love and not in fear or hatred or even awe. I want you to use it for yourself, for it will be the name used by all who love you.
Remember it well.
"HIS NAME IS ASTERIUS!" he cried out in defiance, for all to hear, men and gods.
And all the infinite forms in between.