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The Other Minotaur

The Other Minotaur
by Catherine L. Brooke

For three days and three nights, the screams of the Queen made the palace a place of pain and terror. King Minos found he could no longer tolerate the piercing sounds and ordered the birthing women to take the knife to his wife's swollen belly, knowing it was a death sentence upon her. On a bed of blood the twins were brought forth into the world that would fear and despise them.

Minos had one son by his wife already, but he had been slain by accident at an Athenian festival and he had waged war upon Athens to avenge his death. There was a grim peace between Minos and the Athenians, but this still meant that with his wife dying from the knife, the children were his only living heirs. However, the gods played a cruel game with all their fates.

The twins didn't cry with human voices, but then they were not quite human. Their hands and feet were cloven, the fingers and toes fused together and lacking joints, but it was their heads that made the dying Queen add her horrified shriek to the lowing cries of her children, for her cursed progeny came forth bearing the heads of the bull.

Minos raged at the gods when he saw his children, but he did not dare to destroy them. Their names had been given by an oracle, shortly before the Queen went into labour. The boy had been named Asterion after Minos' own father, and the girl, Ariadne. As soon as he had seen his children, Minos had the oracle put to death and put out the eyes of any servant who had gazed upon his children. He cut out the tongues of the birthing women who had helped bring the babes into the world, perhaps it did not occur to him that these women could write and now he had given them reason to hate him.

While the twins were still in their swaddling clothes, the King became desperate for more children with human forms, but though his wife was too weak to live, she clung to her life with a stubbornness Minos now associated with the twins. He began to blame his wife for the deformed bodies and strange animal minds of their children, and the stories that spread accusing her of laying with a bull to slake her unnatural desires only increased his paranoia. He wore the horns of the cuckolded upon his children's' brows instead of his own, was that not sign enough from the gods that his wife was the cause? Far better to believe that it was Phasiphae who was to blame for the misshapen progeny who were ripped from her womb already horned, than to recognise it was his own seed that was the cause.

Minos soon took a mistress and treated her as though she were Queen, though his own bride was still living. She wept in her bed of blood and the sorrow and scandals hastened her end. She died without ever holding her children and was buried with none of honours of a Queen.

As soon as they were weaned the King made plans to dispose of his children. He had Ariadne put into seclusion in the woman's rooms of the palace, forbidding her to ever set a cloven foot outside of her chambers. Asterion was less easy to deal with, for he did not share his sister's placid nature. In him the blood of the bull was stronger than his humanity, he knew only animal rage and animal lust. So, to protect himself and his kingdom from his son's terrible passions, Minos had a great labyrinth built to keep him trapped indefinitely. Minos demanded regular tributes of men and women from the Athenians, to keep both his son's appetites satisfied.

Years passed and the children grew up. Asterion became only more violent, but Ariadne had a gentle nature. She grew tall and womanly, with soft curves that would have tempted any man if she had not also been branded with the curse of the bull. Seeing that she had none of her brother's madness in her Minos relented, and allowed his daughter some freedom, as long as she always covered her shameful parts and spoke to no strangers.

Heavily veiled and her hands and hooves hidden with draped cloth, Ariadne became something of a mysterious beauty. For the only naked part of her permitted to be seen by others were her perfect eyes and those were of the softest dark brown any man or woman had seen. And many even wrote poetry about the shape and movement of her eyelashes. The stories that still circled about her mother's supposed infidelity with the bull curiously omitted that Ariadne was twin to the beast, and shared his form. Perhaps because she was female and her state was pitiable, but also because she was her father's only sane, living child and so eventually someone would have to marry her.

One year, despairing of the fates of those who were sent every year as tribute to the Minotaur, the son of the King of Athens, Theseus, sent himself in place of one of the men of Athens and vowed to do an end to the beast that raped and devoured the best of his land's youth. He had also heard of the elusive beauty of Ariadne and had realised that once the monstrous Minotaur was slain, marrying Ariadne would one day bring him, and his sons, Minos' throne.

But this is not his story.

Ariadne had never seen her own reflection, she knew that she was different from other women, but she also knew she was the daughter of a King and she reasoned that perhaps only daughters of royalty had a shape to match hers. She had also never laid her bovine eyes upon a man who was not of her father's household, so when Theseus came and asked for her help she did not know how to refuse him. Did she love him? Did she think he loved her?

Some legends say she gave him a ball of her own twine to help map the labyrinth, but Ariadne's fused fingers could never hold a needle, let alone spin thread. Instead she stole it from one of her servants and shyly told him in the low and sweet voice that it was her thread, ashamed at her inability to practice the arts associated with her sex. She waited for him to return to her with all the excitement of a bride-to-be.

When Theseus came back victorious from the labyrinth and announced he had slain her brother, she thought not of the twin she had shared a womb with, but of the new home she would have at the husband's side, and of the children they would someday have. He took her away with him on his ship, and sailed to the island of Naxos where he announced they would have their wedding.

Before an altar of the gods the Athenians drove a white cow, heavily pregnant with child and Theseus took up the knife to make the sacrifice that would begin their marriage rites. Ariadne had never seen a cow before, for what place would such a beast have in her father's palace except to remind him of his cursed wife and children, and instantly she was struck by the familiarity of its form to her own. Her realisation and confusion must have shown in her eyes, for the first time Theseus saw faltered at the horror that suddenly struck him. He had not shown or felt any fear when he slew the Minotaur, but against his will he found himself recalling the legends of the monster and remembered that the woman he was about to wed, the woman whose face he had never seen, was sister to the beast of the labyrinth.

He tore the veil from her face with a violent gesture and all the men looked upon her naked head and face for the first time. With a voice that trembled, Thesues said he had forgotten to make an offering to Poseidon for a safe journey back to Athens. He told Ariadne to wait for him while he took the men back to the shore and she wondered why he would not look at her when he spoke.

After a while, it grew dark and the only sound was the lowing of the cow.

* * * 

Catherine Brooke is a British author from West Yorkshire, England who has been writing fiction since she was eight years old. She has a passion for ancient history and mythology and studied Egyptology. She is currently working on revising her first novel as well as chipping away at the first draft of a novella aimed at teenage girls.

Where do you get the ideas for your stories?

A lot of initial ideas for stories come from dreams I've had, which is a little bit creepy. My subconscious seems to connect ideas that I've previously had in ways that I wouldn't have thought of otherwise. I write down the idea or image that appealed to me and brainstorm ways it could fit into a story. Sometimes stories just come to me fully fledged, but not very often.