You are twelve when you first see your mother robed as the goddess. You have seen her before as priestess, princess, and queen when she walks next to Minos in their gardens within the walls. She is a little woman, your mother, next your father’s great height and the span of his shoulders which look as though they could hold back the crashing seas: when you turned twelve she held you close, and her heart beat swiftly against your shoulder; there was a bare handspan between the two of you.
You had thought she would seem bigger in her divine garb, like the Earth Mother herself, but she looks yet smaller: all the life in her stilled, and the little body in its golden skirt lit up by the lamps at the feet of the Earth Mother. Beside your mother lies the labrys, and for a moment you cannot think how she could find strength to lift it in both her painted hands, how she could swing it to kill a man, and then you feel young and stupid for thinking that gods bore strength in their body as humans do. There is the whole length of the hall between the two of you, and yet you step back a single step: the door is cold against your bare skin, and the carvings dig a sharp relief into your flesh as you press your meagre weight to it. Her fingertips are painted gold, and the tips of her high breasts: there is nothing in her eyes that looks human.
You go when she calls you, though your knees tremble. So close, you can see that the lines beside her eyes are graven in, visible even beneath the white paint. It is a human thing, and makes you hold your back straight. The goddess will have whatever she wants, and your mother will be glad for it.
But she only takes your hand between her palms, she only kisses you on the brow and looks at you with bright eyes. Behind her, air sings on the double blade of the labrys, and on an impulse you take your hand from hers and walk to it. Your skirts rustle as you kneel before the axe, and, greatly daring, put a hand on the haft. She is nearly as tall as you are, your eldest foremother who births and kills kings. You have lived in her house your little life, and never seen her housed in state. She is beautiful in the near gloom, sharing what little light there is with the Earth Mother, and made in a way that has fallen out of fashion these fifty years. Perhaps more: you do not know when she was made. There are no breaks on her, but where the head finds the haft: Mother Labrys is a thing entire, like a goddess housed in the queen’s body.
Your mother has left without disturbing the thick air. You are alone with the gods of your house.
They tell you later that they do not know where your mother went, or how she could have left. The House of the Axe is its own island on the island of Crete, and there are guards and the eyes of a thousand men who would run to tell Minos. And on the seas are Cretan ships.
The maids think she ran with the Goddess’ blessing upon her, made invisible to mortal eyes. They say it lurking outside your room, pitching their voices just well enough to be heard. Your nurse thinks it might have been the doing of Daidalos, who has helped her before to trick Minos. What Minos thinks himself you do not know.
He comes to your chambers one morning when you’ve barely risen from slumber, and sends the maids scattering with an impatient glance. Your hair is unbound; you are clad in the girl’s gown you should have put away when you began to bleed. Three years ago, a week after you had first seen the Earth Mother: the cloth is worn in places; your legs are bared to the knee. You tuck them beneath your body like a child, and hook one hand around your ankle to hold it in place. You feel like a child under his eyes.
You want to ask him about your mother. Three weeks she's been gone, and you've gone from blood to blood. But to ask Minos of Crete whether he's done murder is something even children do not dare. And she might have escaped. People have, before this. You've heard the stories, though nobody knows it. There are rooms in this Labyrinth where Princesses are not allowed, but dark little girls can sink into the deep shadows better than their shining mothers.
He comes slowly into the room, and puts a great hand into the thickness of your hair; he bends your head back under the weight of his palm, and stares at you with his pale, great eyes. You look nothing like him, and you looked nothing like your mother but for the height. It is a strange thing, that of their children only little Phaedra at all resembles them: last week she ran naked from the nursery, and in the inner court with its running fountain Asterion caught your eyes and smiled. He is older than you by a count of two years; Phaedra is four: seventeen years your father knew your mother had bedded a bull-dancer, and still you saw him look upon her with eyes of love.
Presently, he says, “Your mother was the goddess on earth. We do badly without her, both Hellenes and Minyans.” For a moment you think he speaks of himself before all others, and then he turns his face away from the shaft of sunlight; he lets go of your hair, the big hand sliding ungently over your shoulder. He looks at the pattern on the bed-posts, and says, avoiding your eyes, “You will be sixteen in a month.”
Asterion has no love for you. It is a thing you have known almost since you have known him. When you were children he used to carry you upon his shoulders. He is only older than you by a length of nineteen moths, but even at three he was strong enough to bear your little weight. Once, when you ran up to him after scrambling from your mother's arms, he took you by the arms and spun till you were both dizzy: he pushed you down when she had turned away, and grabbed hold of her skirt before you could get up. Even then, he was yearning for her love; even then he was learning to hurt all who stood between him and his heart's desire.
He has had his own house built on the grounds; already it is called the Little Palace. At night you see the light in its windows and hear people talking. Most nights you walk within the walls of your father's house—you know all its rooms now, all the hidden passages. Nothing is hidden from the Goddess in her own realm: you even know the true shape of your father's face. You know more about the subtle workings of the land than your brother with his grasping of people and power.
He knows it too, and you have lately grown a shadow which lumbers in your wake. You turn at bay before the closed doors of your chambers, and look up at him with a smile. He is not over-much taller than you, and the heavy shoulders and great chest sit strangely atop his legs; his mouth, which had been sensuous already in childhood, has turned cruelly sensual, and his eyes rake you with an indifferent curiosity. As if you were a toy to be broken between his palms.
He inclines his great head to you, and there is a mocking glint in his eyes when he raises them to look again upon your face. He is twenty years old, a man full-grown with the potency of youth still laid on him. You have in your rooms books from the Hellene mainland, and in the light filtering low from the windows your brother looks like a satyr. This is a fight from which you cannot retreat.
“Well met, Minotaurus.” It is cruel to say it. You have never been kinder to him than bare justice has demanded; he does not inspire the kinder things.
“Well met, Goddess.” He laughs, and looks impossibly young. “Do you think he's relieved, now that neither of us is human? Do you think he's been waiting for it all along?”
You think of the lesions eating your father's flesh, the new necessity for a show of strength, and shake your head blindly, refusing knowledge.
He comes closer till his breath shakes your ringlets. He says, and it is terrible to know the true sincerity in his voice, “Ah, little goddess, did you think he loved you better than I?"