Friday, July 18, 2014

In the Shadow of the Labyrinth

In the Shadow of the Labyrinth
Bobby Derie

Now it came that Minos, his mind yet filled with dark oracles and the screams as the queen labored in the barn, set to Daedalus his task.

The father of engineers went about his work without question. The king had set aside a piece of ground beyond the palace proper, in a field that had been left for grazing, but was considered poor for its swampy ground. With stick and string and lodestone Daedalus walked the fields with measured tread, and on the earth he drew his circles within circles, and alone among men he went to see the child named Asterius, and looked into those blue eyes without fear, to measure the length and shape of its limbs. So in six days he returned to the king and asked for men.

Pasiphaƫ recovered from the birth under the ministrations of her handmaidens, but when Daedalus had his plans Minos ordered her to return to court, leaving the child with those two women from the east. Yet she was still nursing, and so every day would leave to give the boy his suck, to the great consternation of the king.

Yet before the trenches were dug or the walls were laid, before the marshy ground was drained away by walling off a little stream, and before with quiet anger Minos stormed out one night to light a torch to the mocking shell of a cow that had cuckolded him, Daedalus built a house on the edge of the field with rooms for the child and the handmaids, where they were to stay while the prison was erected. When it was done the handmaids examined it, and one turned to Daedalus and said:

"We shall need a stable, for the cow."

"What cow is this?" said the engineer.

"The child must be nourished, and we are neither of us wet. So we shall have a cow."

At this Daedalus furrowed his brow, yet he simply nodded. A stable for a single cow was no great thing, and in the back of his mind always was the shape of the circles-in-circles.

When the stable was built, one of the handmaidens came forward with a great cow of strange breed, unknown to Daedalus eyes. For though he was no herdsman he had studied something of the cattle on the island for the Queen's device, and had taken their measure in many things. It was an unassuming beast, clearly female and with pendulous teats that bespoke a great milker, yet for all that of no great beauty, its coat mixed white and grey, with a nose so black as to be almost blue. But he saw when it moves a simple grace and the definition of great muscles that bespoke a power beyond its bulk, and as those brown eyes met his there was a wisdom greater than mere animals that stared back at him, and a shiver not of nerves but as though he stared into the face of a cold north wind.

When the cow was ensconced in its stable, Minos forbid the queen any more contact with the child. Before she left for the final time she gave the child a single gift: Asterius, the name of Minos' own father, and whether there was wisdom or spite in that, none could say.

Daedalus set about the building, ordered the men to move the earth, testing the stone, a common sight as he walked up and down with his staff and string and lodestone. He commanded, as some engineers do, with quiet words and hard-edged movements of the hand, as though he carved the building out of the very air. And every day he came to see the boy Asterius, and measure the length and strength of his limbs. He was not an unkind man, Daedalus, but there was not of love in those grey eyes or curling beard. To him, Minos' request was no stranger than that of PasiphaĆ«, and though some have said he was as much a midwife as those handmaidens for his part in the whole affair, all that Daedalus ever saw was naught but a challenge set before him.

The boy grew quickly, and strong, and well; every day he sucked from the cow's teats, exactly as a calf, and the great old cow stood it with great forbearance. The handmaidens themselves cared for cow and child alike, and as the weeks came to months and the shadows of the walls fell upon the house Daedalus had built for them, they borrowed a bull to keep the cow's milk flowing.

After some months, as the labyrinth neared completion, and Asterius tottered about, already walking and babbling, Daedalus asked the handmaidens:

"What cow is this, that you have brought to feed the child? For I have never seen its like."

"The first of her kind, fashioned when the world was young. Some say she lived on the river Veh, and on the other side was the first man. Some say she sprang from the rime, and at her teats the giants suckled. It matters little, for her spirit was set among the stars, and has been created back into the world many times. If for nothing else, than for this."

Daedalus pondered her words and furrowed his brow as he worked, measuring the growing limbs of Asterius, who gave a lowing laughter as the engineer absently tickled him.

Yet when he went back to his earthworks and stonemasons, he ordered that the walls should be thicker and higher still.


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