Read The White Bull Online

Authors: Fred Saberhagen

The White Bull (4 page)

BOOK: The White Bull
4.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Just at this point I was distracted by the arrival of Kalliste; she slid so gently and silently into her established place beside me, that my arm had gone automatically around her almost before I realized that she was there.

"What is it?" she whispered, quietly marveling at the amazing scene before us.

"Wait. Watch and listen. I don't know yet what it all means."

Whatever secrets this Bull-man had brought with him from the sea, they did not take long to impart to the king, or else this revelation was only partial. In another moment Minos had turned away again from that strange figure and was walking back toward his men, meanwhile signalling to them to stand easy. The king's face had a new look of contentment.

A faint, uncertain murmur ran through the rough ring of fifty or so onlookers. Gradually the small gathering had molded itself into a semicircle, and this formation was still thickening with the trickle of new arrivals. A formal addition of military strength, some twenty or thirty men, had been brought up by now, but one of the officers at the king's side ran to intercept the marching formation and post it behind a hillock, where it remained out of sight of the chief participants in the discussion on the beach.

Only now did the king appear to become fully aware of how great an audience had gathered, and was still gathering. He scanned the rows of faces on the upper edge of the beach, and his own face lighted up when his gaze fell upon his new artisan.

"Daedalus! Come down here. There are matters we have to discuss at once."

I gave Kalliste's hand a squeeze, and obeyed at once. In a moment the king was leading me forward to confront the Bull from the Sea. And then I found myself for the first time looking closely into those large, brown cow-like eyes—I could not help that the comparison occurred to me immediately. In those eyes I beheld considerable intelligence, which I assure you is frightening the first time it is seen in a non-human face.

"Dae-dal-us," drawled the Bull's low voice. "That is the name of the famed art-i-san of Athens."

"I am Daedalus the artisan, oh god-sent one. Formerly I was of Athens. For the past several months, King Minos here has been my most generous patron." In my words and actions I was careful to take my cue from my king; I would not treat this being, whatever and whoever it might truly be, as if it were a god. There would be no falling down to worship it—not unless my king bent his knees to it first. But at the same time I could not keep from wondering. Certainly this bull-thing was no human artist's trickery, no disguise. The hair, the horns, the face, the inhuman shape—these were all unarguably real.

But the Bronze Man, now… when I got my first close look at that, I was left only more impressed and mystified than before. Seen at close range, that figure was certainly not a human being in armor. The whole shape was subtly, impossibly wrong for that. There was a visor over the Bronze Man's eyes, reminding me of a small bright mirror in the sun.

I remembered to bid both creatures welcome to Crete, having heard King Minos do as much.

Only the Bull-man answered me. "I thank you for your wel-come."

"Daedalus." The king had business to discuss, and beckoned me to step back with him, until we were a dozen paces from the visitors. "Our guest is going to remain with us indefinitely, and he requires special lodging—indeed he tells me that a certain kind of housing is very important to him. So I want you to design a house, to be constructed in the close vicinity of the House of the Axe at Knossos. This new house is to be a…" Minos, using both hands to grope for words, turned back to his monstrous guest for help.

"A maze. That is the clos-est de-scrip-tion in your lang-uage. A large maze. This will be ne-cess-ary for the health of my soul."

"Then a large maze you shall have. Hey, Daedalus?"

"Just as you say, sire." And I wondered about the Bronze Man, whose wishes were not being consulted. Was he merely a servant, perhaps? A device given life by true magic? Or—?

All my life, like everyone else, I had been hearing stories of gods and other prodigies visiting the earth. But over the years I had grown skeptical, because never until now had I seen for myself anything that might represent such a reality. Now, however…

There came a renewed murmuring among the spectators, and their rough ring parted. Queen Pasiphaë, with a few female attendants, came sweeping upon the scene. Already I had learned that the queen was shrewd enough when there was need to be. Now she observed her husband carefully as she approached, and took her cue from him as to exactly what her own demeanor ought to be in this unprecedented situation. Still I thought she could not refrain from staring for an extra moment at the white matted hair that bushed between the Bull-man's thighs, and at the bullhood only partially concealed there.

 

Half an hour later, the whole official party was climbing the hill on foot toward the House of the Axe, followed by a constantly increasing horde of spectators. En route the king still hovered round his chief guest, treating him as he might have treated some visiting monarch paying an unexpected visit. Some monarch of great importance, Pharaoh himself, perhaps, if any visit of that kind were conceivable.

In a hasty and informal conference we had come to an agreement with our guest the White Bull—some kind of temporary maze shelter was to be thrown up for the night. The visitor insisted that he would much prefer that to being lodged in any ordinary room, even as he preferred walking to any other kind of available transportation.

The Bull had shown no evidence of concern at being thus separated from the sea—which was presumably his home, if he were indeed sent from Poseidon. Still, at the moment of sunset, he did pause in the long climb to look back at the sea from which he had come, and to stare into the distance to the north. Then I saw him put back his head and gaze for a time up into the night sky, as if he were looking for something there, or merely wondering as a man might wonder at the stars. But in a few moments he went along meekly at the king's courteous urging.

Meanwhile, in haste and confusion, the temporary housing project was already being begun. Squads of workmen, impressed at a moment's notice from other tasks, were approaching through the dusk, converging on the palace. They were talking among themselves about the rumored wonders, then falling silent when the true wonders came in sight. Someone handed me a lantern, and I waved it back and forth to signal the workmen on their way.

 
LABORATORY WORK

 

On the king's orders I built the maze directly adjoining the palace. It was, I still believe, one of my more ingenious designs. After a month, though the full design was not yet manifest, the rambling structure was large and elaborate enough for the Bull to begin to feel genuinely comfortable in his private rooms, which were located at the center.

After the first month, construction continued on the project steadily, though at a slower rate. And by the time the Bull was satisfied, the maze had come to be called the Labyrinth, after the
labrys
, or axe, for which the adjoining House was named. Indeed, during the earliest period of construction, House and Labyrinth had started a process of growing into each other, as certain additions were made to each. As this interpenetration pleased both Minos and the Bull, it was allowed to continue almost at the convenience of the workmen and their architect.

In those days I was very busy. Not only was I architect and chief builder of the Labyrinth, but I had to keep pushing forward the previously ordained project of supplying the palace with water. Now the waterpipes and drains were also being run into the Labyrinth at the request of its occupant, and a small moat—of which more later—was being added near its center.

Meanwhile the Bull, though he had declined to oversee any of the actual construction of his new home, had been far from idle. The men and women whom Minos considered his wisest counselors in every field were constantly being summoned to meet, singly and in groups, with the king's visitor from afar. I felt proud, particularly as a newcomer, to be included in these councils.

Minos's enthusiasm for his inhuman visitor seemed to increase day by day. I gathered that our ruler expected to derive much wisdom from the Bull, to gain magical and other advantages that would give him an ever-increasing edge over his fellow monarchs in the world. What other king could boast of such divine assistance? In time, his domination of the whole world would be assured.

I, too, found this strange half-human being endlessly fascinating, though for different reasons; and I groaned with weariness on hearing that at least two new projects loomed large in the Bull's plans, and therefore, of course, in the new plans of the king. These were works in which I, Daedalus, would be expected to play a considerable part, without, of course, neglecting any of my other duties.

The first project that we discussed, and obviously the dearest to the Bull's heart, was the establishment of a school.

"I mean it to be such a school, Dae-dal-us, as this island and this world have never be-fore seen. I hope that you your-self will be among its very first pu-pils."

I had not known what to expect when a new project was first mentioned; but certainly I had never expected this. And I protested. "There are many demands upon my time already, White Bull. Besides, I think I am too old to go to school."

The creature moved his head and shoulders strangely. By now I had come to understand such movements meant that he was irritated. He said to me: "That is an att-i-tude that must be ex-punged. No one is too old to learn."

"I must agree with that, sir." Perhaps this sounded to the Bull like an immediate reversal of my position, but it was not; what I had originally meant was that going to school and learning were not necessarily the same thing.

But the White Bull did not choose to ask me what I meant.

"Dae-dal-us."

"Sir?"

"I hope we can be friends. That we can work to-ge-ther. We are both exiles here."

"You are an exile too, White Bull?" If true, this was surprising news.

He signed assent. "I, too, know what it is to be far from home. And far from the com-pan-ion-ship of my own kind. But some things are more im-por-tant still." And with that he went back to talking about the proposed school.

When I was informed of the nature of the second project, I thought at first that I had failed to understand the explanation. But when the explanation was repeated, it turned out that I had basically understood it after all. On realizing that, I felt a foreboding of great evil. Hoping that I was wrong, I asked for still further clarification.

"Hear me, Dae-dal-us. If a jackass mates with a mare, what is born of the two species' un-i-on?"

"A mule, sir. I do not know if there are any mules here in Crete, but I have seen them elsewhere, used as beasts of burden."

"That is cor-rect."

Listening, I began to wonder if this creature ever asked a question to which it did not know the answer, or at least believe it knew.

The Bull was going on: "And if a bull were to mate with a mare, or a stallion with a cow, what off-spring would re-sult?"

"None at all, in my experience. No, it would be more accurate to put it this way: I have never heard of such matings as you describe. But if they were to take place, I would not expect any issue from them at all. Or if there were issue, surely it would be monstrous." And only at this point did my mind, engaged with the problem as it had been stated formally, hit on the rather obvious suspicion that the Bull himself was quite possibly the offspring of some similar mismatch.

But my would-be teacher was not in the least offended. "Very good, Dae-dal-us! But go back a mom-ent to the mule. Here we see the poss-i-bil-i-ty of producing a hy-brid that is in some ways su-perior to either parent."

"In some ways," I agreed cautiously.

"It is the pro-per ob-jec-tive of sci-ence to find new poss-ibil-i-ties. Do you grasp what I mean by 'sci-ence,' Dae-dal-us?"

"By science we mean knowing—knowledge."

"Ve-ry good. And we mean al-so the sys-tem by which true knowledge is ex-pan-ded. It is ess-en-tial that my know-ledge—our knowledge—about hu-man-i-ty be ex-pan-ded. You, hu-man-i-ty, are more im-portant to the universe than you can yet be-gin to re-al-ize."

"The universe?"

"The en-tire world, seen and unseen. The world is al-most in-finite-ly larger than you can guess, Dae-dal-us."

I wondered if he could know how extravagant some of my guesses on that subject had been. It seemed to me that ever since my earliest childhood thoughts I had been speculating in one way or another upon infinity. To me it seemed only natural that men should do so when they lived in the continuous presence of the sea and sky. And since meeting this creature of the gods I had been waiting, hoping, to hear some words of natural philosophy from him.

"Sire, will you tell me more about the universe?" I pleaded in a low voice, and took a step clbser.

"All in good time, Dae-dal-us. And one step at a time. You cannot run be-fore you learn to walk. To return to the ques-tions of breed-ing new kinds of off-spring. I am of a dif-fer-ent race than yours—far more dif-ferent than you know."

Our differences were quite obvious, I thought. But that this being claimed membership in a race was news of some importance to me.

"You are not one of a kind, then," I breathed, and then fell silent in fear of my own boldness.

"No, though I know ma-ny of your peo-ple think I am. There is indeed a race of be-ings like my-self. We are not gods, only ol-der than you and more learn-ed. A few of my kind are as close to us as the isle of Ther-a. But most are ve-ry, ve-ry much far-ther a-way."

I bowed in silence.

"And yet," the Bull went on, "it will be de-sir-a-ble—it must be made pos-si-ble—for a male of my race—for me, be-cause there is no one else—to breed with wo-men of your spe-cies."

From the moment that suggestion fell upon my ears, I found the thought of it uncomfortable. "If you say so, sire, it must be so."

BOOK: The White Bull
4.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Secret Meeting by Jean Ure
The Ebola Wall by Joe Nobody, E. T. Ivester, D. Allen
With Good Behavior by Jennifer Lane
At the Break of Day by Margaret Graham
Stormy Seas by Evelyn James