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Authors: Fred Saberhagen

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BOOK: The White Bull
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My eyes were blinded and my ears rang with the thunderclap, yet somehow I managed to keep myself aloft. Then when I could see again I landed, and rejoined my comrades.

Everyone in both armies had had a clear view of what happened to the Bronze Man on his crag. Within minutes afterward, nine-tenths of the enemy troops were scattering in blind panic, at this final evidence that the divine powers were not arrayed against them. The remaining tenth soon thought it wise to follow them, or to surrender where they stood.

Theseus, given a brief breathing space, had already somewhat recovered. Walking with Heracles and myself, he climbed to the place where Talus had been struck down, and looked in awe upon the smoldering wreckage that was all that remained of him. There were only bits of bronze and other, stranger materials, all far too hot to touch, and none of them bigger than my hand.

Shortly the irregular troops of our victorious army were thronging around Heracles and Theseus, congratulating them upon the favor of the Fates who had allowed them to escape, and had even at last given them the victory.

Great victories are not for artisans, but for kings and heroes, and I prudently and gradually retreated into the background, letting those have the glory who were much better equipped to deal with it. Until now I have kept quiet about the truth of the matter; but now, as I say, I seek to glorify the truth.

With the passing of the line of thunderstorms, the last of the gloom that had lain upon the land for days was gone, though for many days to come the sunsets and sunrises were spectacularly beautiful.

Of course much human confusion, political, religious, and military, still lingered in the aftermath of the volcanic eruption. But Theseus and those who followed him could for the time being do what they wished.

Last-minute turncoats, eager to bring good news to the winners, informed us that the queen, seeing Talus destroyed by lightning, and herself deserted by her entire army, had committed suicide.

Someone, an hour later, brought Theseus her head upon a pole. Methodically, acting as de facto chief of staff, I made sure that it was properly identified.

But Pasiphaƫ had never been our chief concern anyway. Now I, along with the hero who had been confined in the dungeon with me and escaped its various dangers, at last entered it again in pursuit of the White Bull.

As I was guiding the pursuers, our foe could neither hide from us nor get away. We at last found him in his innermost lair, where he lay defenseless, deserted now even by his litter-bearers.

Yet our enemy still possessed impressive dignity. Ignoring the others, even the King of Athens, the White Bull said to me: "Dae-dal-us, I have sought to bring your world the bless-ings of ed-u-ca-tion. In mak-ing your-self my en-emy, you have caused all of your peo-ple in-cal-cul-a-ble loss."

I said to him, where he lay almost helpless in his clumsy litter: "You have killed my woman and our baby. And then, using your bronze tool that walked on two legs, you killed my only living son. And you tried to kill me too. And then, through Minos who once was a great king you tried again to destroy me. And wantonly to slaughter many who did not even know you. Know that the curse you meant for Sicily and for me has fallen upon Thera instead."

I have no doubt that the Bull knew that already, having lived through the darkness and the earthquakes with the rest of us. He was grieved by the failure of his plan, but I think only because his revenge had failed of its object, and not at all because of the wanton destruction that failure had visited upon others.

Then he was philosophical about it. "Why do you hate me, Dae-dal-us? Why?"

I had already told him one or two of the reasons. But now I admitted that even before the death of Icarus I thought I had had cause.

He could not or would not understand. "I am not to blame for your wo-man's death, Dae-dal-us. That was a mat-ter of sci-ence."

"Science!" Thorhild, standing now by my side, savored the strange word and did not like its taste. She took me gently by the arm, as if to remind me that our battle had been won.

"Kal-lis-te was cho-sen by lot to be a member of the con-trol group in the test."

"The test?"

"One of the man-y tests sci-ence re-quires. To con-vince my med-i-cal stu-dents, by dem-on-stra-tion, that the meth-ods I had been teaching them were wor-thy. Mem-bers of one group re-ceived the aid of an ed-u-ca-ted phys-i-cian. Mem-bers of the o-ther group did not. The re-sults were, I think, con-clu-sive. I am sor-ry that she died, but her life was sac-ri-ficed for sci-ence. Few peo-ple can die deaths of such mean-ing, if that is com-fort to you."

"Your death too will be meaningful, White Bull."

He looked at me, waiting for the stroke to fell.

I was not sure that the Bull was listening to my words, but waiting for me to draw a weapon. Instead I told him what the king had told me. "Dionysus has somehow escaped. But Theseus, with the consent of what remains of Crete, means to transport you to Athens, and there offer you as sacrifice upon the altar of Athena."

And so it came to pass.

BOOK: The White Bull
10.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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