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Authors: Fred Saberhagen

The White Bull

BOOK: The White Bull
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THE WHITE BULL
By
Fred Saberhagen

 

CONTENTS

MATRICULATION

LABORATORY WORK

FULL SCHOLARSHIP

CRAMMING

UNAUTHORIZED ABSENCE

FIELD TRIP

GRADUATE STUDY

FACULTY OUTING

HOMECOMING

FINAL EXAMS

STUDY HALL

CONTINUING EDUCATION

A bronze-bright speck, glinting in the early sun, was darting toward us from the east, moving along the beach, outpacing running dogs with ease. Fisherfolk fell back as if in fear as the bright dot passed. In a few moments I was sure that the figure was that of Talus, coming at a run along the coast to overtake us. Perhaps someone had seen us rising on wings from the palace; perhaps the Bull still lived, to give his metallic servant orders, or perhaps the Bronze Man was capable upon his own initiative of taking revenge.

Though it seemed we must be safe from him at the distance we had attained, I did not in the least like the sight of that purposeful onrush, whatever authority had ordained it. "Higher, son. And we had better turn more out to sea."

Scarcely had we altered course in that direction when something, a missile of some kind flying too fast for me to see it, sang past us through the air.

"Faster, Icarus! Out to sea. And higher!"

Glancing back I saw the bronze arm, almost invisible with distance, draw back and then flash in a twinkling movement. A breath later, something, another invisible projectile, came whining straight between our airborne bodies.

"Hurry, Icarus! Twist and turn in flight!"

"Father—I—"

Then it was as if the Sun himself had stabbed us.

 

THE WHITE BULL

 

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

 

Copyright © 1988 by Fred Saberhagen

 

A portion of this book appeared in substantially different form in
Fantastic
, Copyright © 1976 by Ultimate Publishing Co. Inc.

 

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

 

A Baen Books Original

 

Baen Publishing Enterprises 260 Fifth Avenue New York, N.Y. 10001

 

First printing, December 1988

 

ISBN: 0-671-69794-3

 

Cover art by Gary Ruddell

 

Printed in the United States of America

 

Distributed by SIMON & SCHUSTER 1230 Avenue of the Americas New York, N.Y. 10020

MATRICULATION

I, Daedalus the artisan, having learned late in life the Egyptian way of writing, take up my reed pen (one day perhaps I will design a better writing instrument) and my papyrus to try to recapture something of the truth of my own history. It is high time that the truth about me, and about the strange beings with whom I have dealt, was known.

Scarcely a month passes that I, Daedalus, once the famed maker of wings and currently the manufacturer of terra cotta plumbing, do not encounter some version of the blasphemous rumors about myself: they say that I have somehow become a god, or that in some incomprehensible way I have always been one. Nothing could be farther from the truth. And the truth in itself is quite strange enough. I have been the shipmate and the counselor of kings, and once I was the comrade of heroes and of gods.

Let me not begin this testimony, as do so many writers of memoirs, with a tedious recounting of the sweet memories of my childhood and the mistakes of my callow youth; it will be enough to say here that that epoch of my life was fully as human as your own—and I should add that to the best of my knowledge neither of my parents had any trace of deity about them.

Let me also pass over in silence the early years of my manhood and increasing fame, ending with the time I spent in the court of King Aegeus of Athens; if it is true that I built marvels there—and perhaps it is—those marvels were not so great as the rumors of the present time would have them. And they were as nothing to the prodigies that I later beheld, and those I was later able to create—having in those later days the help of the gods, for which there is always a price to pay.

Let me begin my story instead with my arrival upon the island of Crete—then and now a most beautiful and accursed place. Looking back to that day from this, I can see my earlier self almost as a stranger, connected only by the thread of memory to the old man I have become. He was an ignorant stranger in the world, that younger Daedalus, though he counted himself knowledgeable—or perhaps he had already begun to suspect that he was not really wise.

Let us observe him, then, this rather self-satisfied fellow, in the middle—so he thought—of a successful life. Though as he approached the island of Crete he was coping with an episode of turmoil, he was indeed managing to cope, as he thought, rather well.

See him, I say, this tough-looking man, of medium size with already graying hair who stands on the raised stern of the small ship. He is dressed in the fashion of an Athenian gentleman: tunic, trousers, and sandals. Standing close beside him is a young woman, and between them is a child, a small boy of about six. The child is almost invisible, because all three people are wrapped together in a wool blanket, tightly-woven in some highland village of mainland Greece.

The man stands with his left hand holding a taut rope for balance. It is a strong, callused hand, as practical as one of the tools that it so often held—the hand of a workman or a soldier, despite the gentlemanly clothes of its owner. His right arm is holding the upper edge of the blanket around the woman's shoulders, while the boy peers out from between its edges in front.

All three people are peering silently forward between the two ranks of rowers, six or seven men on a side, and past the raised, fish-headed prow of the Phoenician trader in which they ride.

The sun was almost down now, muffled and dim behind fog-banks off to starboard; the captain had pushed his luck, but the gods had favored him this time. Landfall, though partially obscured by autumnal mists, lay close ahead. Torches outlined the still-distant shapes of quays and docks, and the last rays of direct sun played on the snow-touched mountain peaks not far inland.

The man's right hand squeezed tightly on the woman's shoulder, working the blanket a little more snugly into place. Just beside her the ship's captain was keeping his own balance by holding another rope, while he called sharp orders to his rowers.

"So huge a place," the woman murmured, pushing strands of wet hair away from her eyes so they could rove unhindered over the mountains, the harbor, and the dusky shoreline. She was some fifteen years younger than the man beside her. Her voice, always soft, was almost lost beneath the captain's bellowing. "You told me that Crete is an island," she said uncertainly.

"And so it is." The voice of her companion, that clever fellow, Daedalus, was—and still is�deep and harsh. "A very big island. So big that the only way to demonstrate the fact would be by sailing around it. Shall I ask the captain to do so for you?" I teased her gently. Despite its natural harshness my voice was really gentle, like my strong grip, aimed at protection. At least I like to think so.

What with the spray on my woman's face, and the deepening dusk, it was hard for me to tell whether she was reassured or not. She asked: "And what are all those lights halfway up the hillside?" More bright little torch-specks, considerably more distant than those along the waterfront, were irregularly clustered there.

I did my best to sound completely confident. "That'll be King Minos's palace, I suppose. The famous House of the Double Axe. I've heard that it sits not far inland above the port. One of his palaces, actually; they say he has others scattered up and down the island."

"I fear to see him."

"Well, you who have served the royal family of Athens should not fear that." I suppose that the confidence in my voice took on stern undertones. "Minos has told a number of people that he's anxious to see me, that he would like me to live here and work for him. And what if he is a greater king than Aegeus of Athens? You and I have both seen kings before, haven't we? At close range, too. They're only men, when it comes right down to it. They need to eat and sleep, like any other men, and to have their backs rubbed sometimes, I suppose."

That last small effort at humor drew a wan smile. I went on: "Here, Kalliste, do you want to sit down? There'll be a little time yet before we dock, though we've got safe in the harbor now."

The young woman nodded in agreement. When she moved to sit down on the edge of the raised planking that made the small deck at the stern, the blanket fell away from the front of her body. Under a plain slave's tunic her belly bulged with six months' pregnancy. The child who was already born tried to squirm into her lap when she sat down, while I, crouching beside my family, readjusted the warm covering round my woman's back and shoulders.

The oars stroked and stroked. The oarsmen mumbled prayers and curses. Now and then the captain cried out a sharp command, while dark water gurgled musically beneath the hull. Other traffic in the harbor glided past our ship, the steersmen on all vessels doing their jobs well. And now docking was imminent. Out of the dimness of mists and twilight just ahead the docks and the nearby buildings were taking firm shape, as were the masts and hulls of fully a score of moored ships. Even Piraeus, the chief port of Athens, was small compared to this.

The ship's captain, who had been friendly and helpful toward his passengers all the way from mainland Greece, was now smiling at us more broadly than ever. In an interval between his shouting orders he turned to me. "When we dock, sir, just wait on board if you will. I'll be back in a moment with someone to see that you're welcomed properly."

Now that land had appeared in easy swimming distance, I, the distinguished passenger, grew somewhat bold. "We'll wait on shore, captain, if it's all the same to you. I'd prefer to have solid ground under my feet."

"Of course. But—"

"Don't worry, we aren't going to wander away. You'll get the credit for bringing me here, if there is to be any credit."

Almost immediately after I said that there came the gentle bump of docking, the terse exchange of command and acknowledgment as the ship tied up. Then the captain was gone, leaping away into the twilight dimness along the quay. One or two curious onlookers strolling there stopped to stare at the new arrivals, but at this hour of the evening there were few people on the waterfront; who would be mad enough to begin a voyage at night?

The distinguished passenger carefully helped his beloved slave and their child ashore, and saw the weary young woman seated there again, upon a baulk of timber someone had misplaced. Meanwhile the crew of the ship, working under shouted orders from the mate, were unloading their vessel's small cargo from the small cabin in which it had been sheltered. The few idle onlookers on the dock were already drifting away—in the port of Heraklion, the arrival of one more ship from anywhere was hardly noteworthy.

Looking around, I thought that even at midnight this waterfront would probably never be completely deserted. There would always be someone—and here came a pair of women, elegantly dressed but walking freely, unaccompanied, bare breasts showing under winter capes.

"Are they prostitutes?" Kalliste asked me in a whisper when they had passed.

"I don't know. Quite possibly not. I have heard many times that customs here are not what we are used to on the mainland, though the language is almost the same. But wait: here comes our noble captain. He's bringing someone with him."

As soon as he was back aboard the captain busied himself in some discussion with the mate, while the well-dressed newcomer proceeded to where I stood with my family.

Bowing slightly, he said, "I am Hecateus, harbormaster of Heraklion. And you are—?"

BOOK: The White Bull
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