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Full Online Book HomeShort StoriesWhere The Labyrinth Led
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Where The Labyrinth Led Post by :jesseforrest Category :Short Stories Author :Carolyn Sherwin Bailey Date :November 2011 Read :1745

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Where The Labyrinth Led

Daedalous stood in the shadows at the entrance of the Labyrinth and watched one of the heroes enter the dark passageway. It was a strange, secret edifice that Daedalous, an artist of the gods, had built with his mighty skill. Numberless winding passageways and turnings opened one into the other in a confusing maze that seemed to have no beginning or end. There was a river in Greece, the Maeander, that had never been traced to its source, for it flowed forward and backward, always returning and Daedalous had planned the Labyrinth like the course of the river Maeander.

There was hardly anything that Daedalous was not able to do with his hands, for he had been given great gifts by the gods. But he liked trickery more than honesty and had spent years and used his clever brain in inventing this maze.

As he peered into the dark alleys of the Labyrinth he saw the hero disappear. He would never return, Daedalous knew, for no one yet had ever been able to retrace his steps through its turnings. Like many secret things, the Labyrinth caught and destroyed even the brave.

It was a pity that anything so dreadful should have happened on such a day as that. The olive trees of Crete were in full leaf, and Daedalous could hear a nightingale singing in the forest nearby. He was deaf to the music of birds, though, for he was listening for another sound. It was May of the year, and the day when Athens sent a tribute of seven of the strongest lads and seven of the fairest daughters of Greece to be driven into the the Labyrinth, a tribute to King Minos of Crete. The Minotaur, a raging beast half man and half bull, waited in its secret passageways to devour them. Daedalous had built the Labyrinth and confined the Minotaur in it to commend himself to King Minos. The sound he listened for was the crying of these youths and maidens on their way to the sacrifice.

The road was strangely quiet, although Daedalous could see the white garments of the children as they made their way toward him through the aisles of flowering trees. Their eyes were bright with courage, and a youth who was taller and older than the others led them. Daedalous trembled and hid behind a bank of moss as he saw him.

All Greece was beginning to talk of this youth, Theseus, the son of the King of Athens. He had but lately come to Athens, having lived with his grandfather at Troezen, and had astounded the populace with his prowess. The boys in the streets had ridiculed him a bit at first because of the long Ionian garment that he wore and his long hair. They called him a girl and told him that he should not be out alone in public. Hearing this ridicule, Theseus had unyoked a loaded wagon that stood near by and had thrown it lightly up into the air to the marvel of all who saw him. Next, Theseus had overpowered some fifty giants who hoped to overthrow the government of Athens and set up their own rule of pillage and terror in the city. Then Theseus had, by his extraordinary strength, captured a furious bull that was destroying the fields of grain outside the city, and had brought it captive into Athens.

Daedalous did not know, however, of this last adventure which Theseus had taken upon himself.

The Athenians were in deep affliction when he had come to the court of Athens, for it was the time of the year when its sons and daughters must be sent for the annual offering to King Minos. Theseus resolved to try and save his countrymen from this too great sacrifice and had offered himself as one of the victims to leave for Crete. His father, King Aegeus, was loath to have him go. He was growing old, and Theseus was his hope for the throne of Athens. But the day of the tribute came, seven girls and six boys were drawn by lot, and they set sail with Theseus in a ship that departed under black sails.

When they arrived at Crete, the victims were exhibited before King Minos, and Theseus saw Ariadne, his daughter, seated at the foot of his throne. Ariadne was so beautiful that we may still see her crown of gems in the sky, a starry circle above the constellation of Hercules who kneels at her feet. She was also as good as she was beautiful, and a great pity filled her heart when she saw Theseus and these young people of Athens so soon to perish in the Labyrinth. She wanted to save them all to be the glory of Athens when they grew up, so she gave Theseus a sword for his encounter with the Minotaur and a coil of slender white thread.

Daedalous, from his hiding place, saw these and wondered as Theseus approached the Labyrinth and fearlessly entered.

As he followed the crooked, twisting passages, Theseus unwound his white skein and left the thread behind him. He went on boldly until he reached the devouring beast in the center of the Labyrinth and slew it easily with Ariadne's keen blade. Then Theseus retraced his steps, following the thread, as he found his way out of the Labyrinth and into the light again. Daedalous was seized with an overpowering fear, for the artifice of his work had been discovered. There would be no more sacrifices of the heroes and the children of Greece to the Minotaur. The crooked ways of the Labyrinth had been made plain by Theseus' white thread of truth.

King Minos was most angry of all with Daedalous at this failure of the maze. He imprisoned Daedalous and his son, Icarus, whom Daedalous loved more than anything else in the world, in a high tower in Crete. When they escaped, he set guards along the entire shores of the island and had all ships searched so that the two might not leave by sea. Icarus had great faith in his father and entreated him to find some way by which they might elude the guards and begin their life anew on some other island. So Daedalous forgot his lesson of the Labyrinth and set about making wings for himself and Icarus.

The wings were as false as the maze had been crooked. Daedalous set the boy to gathering all the feathers he could find that the sea birds and the birds of the forest had dropped. Icarus brought his hands full of these; he was very proud of his father and had always longed to be old enough to help him in his work. He sat beside his father in the shelter of a cedar grove, sorting the larger from the smaller feathers, and bringing wax that the bees had left in the hollow trees. Daedalous wrought the feathers together with his skilful fingers, beginning with the smallest ones and adding the longer to imitate the sweep of a bird's wings. He sewed the large feathers with thread and fastened the others with wax until he had completed two pairs of wings. He fastened them to his own shoulders and to those of Icarus, and they ran to the shore, buoyed upwards and feeling the power of birds as they made ready for their flight.

Icarus was as joyous as the nightingale that spreads his wings to carry his song as far as the sky. But Daedalous was again terrified at the work of his hands. He warned the boy:

"Fly along the middle track, my Icarus," he said, "not high or low. If you fly low, the ocean spray will weight your wings, and the sun may hurt you with his fiery dart if you fly too far. Keep near me."

Then Daedalous kissed his boy, rose on his wings and flew off beckoning for Icarus to follow. As they soared away from Crete, the ploughmen stopped their work and the shepherds forgot their flocks as they watched the strange sight. Daedalous and his son seemed like two gods chasing the air above the blue sea.

Together they flew by Samos and Delos, on the way to Sicily, a long distance. Then Icarus, exulting in his wings, began to rise and leave the lower course along which his father had been guiding him. He had wanted, all his life, to see the city of the gods on Mount Olympus and now his chance had come to reach it. Icarus was sure that his wings were strong enough to carry him as far as he had a desire to fly, because his father whom he had trusted had made them for him.

Up, up toward the heavens Icarus mounted, but the coolness of the waters changed to blazing heat, for Icarus was near the sun. The heat softened the wax that held the feathers together and Icarus' wings came off. He stretched his arms wide, but there was nothing to hold him in mid air.

"Icarus, my Icarus, where are you?" Daedalous cried, but all he could see was a ripple in the ocean where his son had fallen and the bright, scattered plumage floating on the surface.

That was the real end of the Labyrinth, where the daughters of the sea, the Nereids, took Icarus in their arms and carried him tenderly down among their gardens of pearly sea flowers. For Daedalous had to fly on alone to Sicily, and although he built a temple to Apollo there and hung his wings in it as an offering to the god he never saw his son again.


(The end)
Carolyn Sherwin Bailey's short story: Where The Labyrinth Led

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