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Authors: Fred Saberhagen

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BOOK: The White Bull
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"I bear him greetings from m'father."

"Of course you do."

"Daedalus, who is this White Bull we hear so much about, who wants to educate us all? Is he a real god, or what?"

"Most people think so. I will try to explain about him later. Meanwhile, these officers here will help your shipmates on their way to find your quarters. What of the ship's crew? Are they returning to Athens at once, or—"

"Ship and crew are mine. They stay here in Crete till I tell 'em different."

"I see." And I turned my head to shoot a warning glance at the officer who had been ready to make an issue of proper attire and demeanor for arriving students; and that officer, now grateful for my intervention, nodded.

Thus our ascent from the harbor at Heraklion began. Immediately it turned into an informal procession, led by Theseus and myself walking together. Close behind us paced the two court officials, and just behind them a small honor guard of soldiers. This honor guard was sometimes accompanied and sometimes followed by the remaining thirteen new arrivals, who looked about them uncertainly and no doubt were confused by the lack of ceremony here. The seven girls, I was certain, would be already whispering among themselves at the evident freedom of the Cretan women they could observe on every side, females who appeared eminently respectable except for the bold way they strode about, casually unescorted, looking strange men in the face and aiming their bared nipples proudly at the world.
All very well
, I wanted to caution the young Athenians;
but don't luxuriate in freedom yet. Wait until you get to school
.

At a little distance behind this pedestrian procession of ours, the gaily decorated wagon rumbled along, loud with its continued emptiness.

The pair of horses pulling it uphill looked grateful that it was not loaded with fourteen people. The bright paint and colorful cloth streamers of the wagon jarred with the mock-mourning of the people walking just ahead of it.

After we had climbed half the distance through the town, I gently suggested to my companion that the imitation mourning would really be in especially bad taste at court today. A real funeral was going to take place in the afternoon.

The tall youth blinked. "Someone in Minos's family?"

"No, not that bad. One who would have been your fellow student had he lived; in his third year at school. A Lapith. But still."

"Oh." Theseus slowed his long but slightly wobbly strides. He rubbed a hand across his blackened forehead, looking at the fingers afterward. "Now what do I do?"

"A good question. Let us not, after all, take you to see Minos quite immediately." I turned and with a gesture called one of the court officials forward, saying to him; "Arrange some quarters for Prince Theseus that are better than those customarily given the new students, and conduct him to those quarters now. He and his shipmates will need some time to make themselves presentable before they see the king. Meanwhile I will immediately seek out Minos myself and offer explanations."

The officer's face, and the quickness of his salute, showed his relief.

 

"Daedalus." King Minos's voice in greeting was pleasant, and his manner businesslike as he welcomed his chief engineer. I had found the monarch in a pleasant, white-walled room where, at the moment, the royal tax-gatherers were arguing over a number of scrolls they had unrolled upon stone tables and pinned in place with small stone weights. In one direction an open colonnade gave a fine view of startlingly blue sea and blank horizon; in the other, Mount Ida, almost snowless now in summer, crowned the skyline of the inland peaks.

Minos, despite the evident dispute among his financiers, was in a good mood. "How can I help you today, workman? How goes your effort on the rock-throwing machine?" One of the tasks that he had recently assigned to me was that of trying to create with known materials a machine capable of duplicating some of the feats performed by the Bronze Man, Talus. Today I could only shake my head in response to that question.

The king's hair, that had been still raven black when I first encountered him four years before, was starting to gray now, and his bare paunch stood out honestly and comfortably over the waistband of his linen loincloth. But his hairy arms within their circlets of heavy gold looked as strong as ever, and his eyes were still keen and penetrating.

From the way the king was looking at me I felt sure that a mere head-shake was not going to suffice as an answer. And so I said: "The work on the catapult is going as well as can be expected, sire. I await the arrival of the cattle-hides from Thrace, that are to be twisted into the sling." Someone had suggested that Thracian leather had some special qualities. "And while waiting I improve my time by overseeing the construction of the new bronze shields." By a long series of experiments my personally trained metalworkers and I had achieved a somewhat tougher alloy than any previously made by men, though even at that time I suspected our best product was still nothing like the Bronze Man's metal.

By now the royal Cretan smiths and smelter-workers had been trained as well as I could train them, and needed but little of my supervision. So I had time for thought on other subjects whilst gazing into the flames of forge or furnace; time to see again and again those effortless gull-flights, as my attentive eye and memory had captured them. During the last few years my attention had been drawn more and more to the miraculous abilities of birds. Now I had time to dream one of the greatest of all dreams… but right now that would have to wait.

"Today, King Minos, I come before you with another matter, one that I am afraid will not wait." And I began to relate to Minos the circumstances of the arrival of the Prince of Athens. I left out neither the black sail nor the drunkenness, though they were mere details compared with the great fact of Theseus's coming to be enrolled in the Bull's school—that would surely mean a great boost for the prestige of Minos, in all the civilized lands of earth.

As soon as Minos understood what the general burden of my recital was going to be, he made me pause, and led me, his arm around my shoulders, into another room, where it seemed we might be out of earshot of the tax-gatherers. There the king, frowning, heard my story through in detail. As he listened, he paced the floor restlessly, pausing now and then to look out of a window into a courtyard where preparations were under way for the afternoon's funeral games.

In a short time my relation was finished.

"So it is going to happen," the king said, "as the Bull foretold."

"It would seem so, sire," I offered cautiously.

"If the son of Aegeus himself seeks to enter our school, then who will any longer be reluctant to do so? That first group of two-year graduates must have made a good impression when they returned home—it would seem that the word has gone about the sure way to success and power is to attend our school."

"So it would seem."

"You've never thought much of it, though, have you, Daedalus?"

"Sire?"

"The school. For yourself, I mean."

"Sire, my only son is now enrolled, in the primary division."

"Yes, of course—Icarus." Minos frowned, trying to remember. "How old is the lad now?"

"He's ten, Your Majesty."

"Is he, by the gods? How time flies by. My own daughters are well-nigh grown up—yes, I recall now! You yourself
were
enrolled as a student when the school began—but then for some reason you very quickly dropped out."

I hesitated. "That is so, sire."

"I suppose you were too busy—what word is there from Athens of King Aegeus, by the way?"

"Prince Theseus reports his esteemed father in excellent health."

"Good." Minos heaved a great sigh, and frowned. "Daedalus, as gratifying as it is to have the crown prince of Athens here as a student, there are potential problems that we must consider. It would not do for the son of King Aegeus to go home with his brains addled, any more than they are already. We must admit that has happened a few times to other students of the Bull."

"I could not agree more, Majesty."

"Good. Daedalus, I myself have many claims on my attention, particularly in foreign affairs."

"I can appreciate that, sire."

"Good… so I am unable to take charge personally… most especially, it would not do for the son of Aegeus to be driven to such madness in the school that he leaps from a tower and dashes out his brains, like this young man we're burying today, Fortunately only a very few students have been so strongly affected. So far no one of any real importance."

"Yes sire, fortunately. And I strongly doubt that the prince would ever be moved to dash out his own brains. But no more, I suppose, would it be desirable for him to fail at an assigned task, even if the task is nothing more glorious than obtaining a certificate of achievement from a school."

"Your words are rich with wisdom, counselor." Minos paused, and suddenly looked at me as if he were measuring me. "You're always in and about the school a good deal. Why
did
you drop out, Daedalus? Why are you not currently enrolled?"

"As you said yourself, sire, I was too busy with other affairs. I still am."

The king shook his head doubtfully. "But I know you, Daedalus. If it were something you really wanted to do, you'd find a way, you'd make the time. No, I have the feeling that even if you were not at all busy with your other work, you'd still hesitate to go to that school, despite your well-known thirst for knowledge."

I drew a deep breath. "Yes, King Minos, I would hesitate."

"Why? Afraid of having your brains addled? That risk would seem to be small."

I hesitated with my answer, while Minos, as was usually his way, waited patiently. It was not that I feared to speak to the king in this matter, but that I was unsure what the real answer was.

"It may be," I said to the king at last, "only the rivalry between two scholars, the Bull and myself. Two teachers, who see the world so differently. It may be that I hesitate to submit myself to my rival in anything at all."

"Or might it be that the wound of Kalliste's death is not yet healed? And that you blame the physicians trained by the Bull?" Sometimes Minos could be surprisingly sensitive to what was going on in the souls of lesser mortals.

I thought about it and shook my head. "That would not stop me from trying to learn, sire. I know those same physicians have healed others, whom everyone expected to perish. The gods know women die every day in childbirth, as the Bull says. And she was never promised safety in his school of medicine."

"Then what is your objection to being a student?"

"I don't know, sire. A feeling."

The king grunted. "Yes. Well." Then to my relief he let that line of questioning drop. "Whatever your personal feelings about the school, Theseus is the problem at the moment.
Our
problem, I repeat, yours as well as mine. We both know the prince, and we both know what the school is like—you even better than I, I suppose. I could have Phaedra try to keep an eye on him, I suppose—didn't you know? She'll be enrolling this semester too; I thought she'd be first of any royal house to do so."

Ariadne, who stood next in line to inherit the throne, was presumably too busy with other kinds of training. The king went on: "Not that Phaedra has her sister's brains, but a dose of this 'education' may do her some good. People do learn things in the school, you know. And of course she'll be living at home, so we can disenroll her quickly if it looks like anything is going to drive her to distraction—though in her case it might not be that easy to tell—"

Minos drew a deep breath and forced himself back to the point. "The prince is still as stalwart and handsome as ever, I suppose?"

"More so, Your Majesty. He was no more than fifteen, I suppose, when last I saw him on the mainland."

"Well, I have seen him since then. And no doubt my younger daughter will have her eye on him in any case."

Thinking aloud again, with his arms folded across his chest and a frown on his royal face, Minos came closer to me, until an observer unacquainted with either of us might have thought that the monarch was threatening his chief engineer.

The king went on: "I had no thought that Aegeus was about to send his own son. But I suppose he didn't like the idea of his nobles' children displaying any honors, even these new academic things, that could not be matched in his own house. And Theseus. Oh, if he'd been a scholarly boy, given to hanging around with graybeard sages, then I wouldn't be surprised. I might even have issued a specific invitation. But, in fact, given the prince's nature…"

Minos unfolded his arms, but kept his eyes fixed firmly on his waiting subject. "Daedalus, you are a friend of Theseus, from your long sojourn at the Athenian court. I take it your little difficulty there, that forced you to leave, has not made too much difference in the relationship between you and the prince? Good. And also you have first-hand experience of the school. On top of that you are a man of considerable practical sense. Therefore I now expect you to do two things."

I bowed.

"First, you are to stand ready to offer Prince Theseus your services as a tutor, as they may be required."

"Of course, sire."

"Secondly, I want you to go and see the Bull, today, and try to talk to him. My authority as king does not extend to him—do you see that?"

I bowed again, thinking that the king must certainly believe the Bull-man to be a god. As for myself, I still did not know what I saw, or what to think.

"Sometimes, Daedalus, I can persuade the Bull to do things and sometimes I cannot. I hope that you can influence him to see—reason. I suspect he may care more for his academic standards than for any problems in diplomacy that those standards might pose me if they were too rigidly enforced."

"I understand, sire." I thought I did, in part at least. "I will of course go and talk to the White Bull if you wish it. But it seems to me that I may not be the best person to send on such a mission."

"Oh? Then who would you nominate for the job?"

BOOK: The White Bull
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