i. the white bull
The stink of miasma fills his nostrils. His son is a monstrous thing, small and soft and fleshy and pale. This is the product of his wife's treachery, of the body she cloaked in wood and hide to deceive him.
"He's called Asterion," she says.
And what will the king call him, he wonders. What will your human husband call him? He does not ask. He knows something of men, knows it will not matter what Pasiphaë calls his son. Men will find their own names for him, each more beastly than the last.
His son reaches for him with spidery, grasping fingers, and he flinches away. It is not so terrible to him as it must be to her, who loved the child from the moment it took root inside of her, but still it rankles to know that for all of his strength he has yielded this.
He does not think he will be a father again. Perhaps this is what the god intended to achieve by sending him to Crete. Perhaps this is to be his penance, for the sea-foam whiteness of his fur and the wine-darkness of his eyes, so stunning that the cowherds of his homeland put scented garlands about his horns called him Poseidon.
ii. the minotaur
Asterion sleeps under an arch of stone, his limbs folded beneath him. His arms and legs are man-shaped, thick and unhoofed, but they take no comfort in sprawling as men's limbs do.
His mother comes to him in the night, her servants carrying bales of hay before her, and he waits until the others have gone to approach her. His lips are bovine, not made for speaking, but he presses his snout against her fingers as she tells him of the palace's comings and goings.
"Androgeos has gone to Athens for the games," she says once, and Asterion thinks nothing of it, for he has never met his half-brother. He has never seen a ship, has never sailed upon the sea, has never participated in games; all of these words are indistinct to him, nothing more than shapes in his ears.
He does not see how his fate begins to unfold, even as he sits at his mother's feet with her hand smoothing behind his horns. He does not know that across the sea, Androgeos will be gored by a bull while a guest in the house of Aegeus.
In a week's time, King Minos will rage in his throne-room, trembling with grief and ire, and then he will lead his armies across the sea to exact his vengeance. He will return in victory, ships heavy with spoils, and among his prisoners will be fourteen youths, the first of an annual tribute from the conquered city.
Seated at his mother's feet, Asterion does not yet know the way the victims will stumble about his home for days before they fall silent.
Her son does not kill the victims.
Pasiphaë hears some of them in the darkness when she goes to visit him. One victim is weeping and beating his fists against the stone. The slave girls, carrying their bales of hay, are alarmed at the sound of it and huddle closer to the torchlight. Ahead of the girls, two large men shoulder a giant axe between them, their muscles straining under the weight of it. Pasiphaë leads them to the heart of the labyrinth.
Asterion does not make a habit of showing himself while others are present, and indeed he is nowhere to be seen when the men lean the axe against the wall and the girls deposit the hay. She dismisses them to wait around the corner, and her son emerges from the shadows, his eyes glittering in the torchlight.
"The King expects you to eat the victims," she says, and her son looks pointedly to the bales of hay in the corner. He has never eaten the flesh of animals, much less of men. "I expect no such thing," she clarifies, and smiles at him. "Come here."
He obeys, stilling before her. He is immensely tall, and his horns tower higher still, thick and heavy. She takes one of his hands, broad and wide-knuckled, in her own. His fingers are soft.
"If you should have need of it," Pasiphaë says, and presses her son's hand over the axe.
Ariadne has never seen her brother before. She has seen the bodies of victims that have been recovered from the labyrinth, the meat hacked from their bones, and that is enough.
She is the unwilling priestess of a malevolent spirit, and her brother is its priest, the beastly instrument of its will. She pities and reviles in him turns. How cold it must be in the labyrinth, she thinks. How dark, how lonely, how quiet.
But there are the mangled bodies, presented for her father's approval, and nausea gathers in the pit of her stomach at the sight of them. She recognizes each of them, when there is enough to recognize, thinks this one was afraid, this one was defiant, this one cursed my father's name.
She does not wish to know how her brother has been compelled to desecrate them. The first year, what victims the guards recovered had been whithered from exposure. Every year since, they have been slaughtered.
Ariadne does not know how her mother weeps in her rooms, how her mother's servants steal past the labyrinth's gates in the night. She does not know how the bodies of the victims are cleaved not by axe but by swords.
She lies awake in her bed at night, despising her brother, and she does not know how he sits in the darkness and watches as the bodies are dragged away.
The beast is asleep.
It brays upon waking, stumbling away from him and angling its horns towards him in threat. Theseus falters for a moment, because it is a magnificent beast, the head of a most handsome sacrifice upon the body of a man who would raze cities to the ground.
The beast does not gore him, as it could. It stands watchfully, powerful chest rising and falling in huffing breaths, arms held ready to strike at its sides. Theseus swings his knife before he can wonder at its reluctance, and it reaches for the massive axe that sits against the wall.
The axe sweeps through the air in broad, clearing strokes, and Theseus leaps out of its way. He is too quick for it, and the wrath of the beast has been roused, now. It tosses its head and charges, dropping the axe against stone with a thunderous clatter. Theseus' knife catches it beneath the ribs, and it bellows.
The beast crashes at his feet, and Theseus kneels beside it. It scrabbles a hand in his chiton, not in aggression but in fear, and Theseus feels his breath catch in his throat. Ariadne did not warn him of this. He thinks he understands, in that moment, in the heart of the labyrinth.
He presses the seeking hand between his own, and weighs the injustice he has committed against the one he has ended.
Ten heartbeats, and it is over.