This is the final part of Chthonic Monsters. Part one, Theseus Goes to Crete, is here, and part two, Theseus Meets the Minotaur, is here. This is from a novel-in-progress, in which the characters tell one another many different stories.
Knossos sat on a low hill, with its high walls facing the sea. Theseus got out of bed, and firmly barricaded the doors. After, he went to the balcony, to listen to the crickets in the gardens below the palace, and watch the moon rise. The quiet of the perfect Cretan evening was interrupted by screams, and a long, sustained bellow of rage.
The Minotaur had escaped, and was making good on his promise of revenge. Ariadne woke with a start, and Theseus calmly collected his arms. He asked Ariadne to help in strap on his armor, and then he grabbed his long Athenian spear. Her hands were shaking, but she was silent. The screams were horrific. It sounded as though the Minotaur was ripping people apart, not merely killing them.
“He’s coming here too, you know,” Theseus said. He knew that the Minotaur desired his half-sister. He’d seen it in the beast’s eyes.
“I understand,” Ariadne said, though she didn’t. “You will protect us.”
“If I can,” Theseus said. “I’m not Hercules, you know.”
“You can protect us. I do not wish to die.”
They heard the King’s personal guard outside the door, begging them to open the door. “Let us in!” they cried. “The beast has killed King Minos, and chases us still.”
“Leave them be,” Theseus said. “Now get on the balcony, and if I fall, you must jump.”
“But I would be killed,” Ariadne said.
“Much worse will happen if your half-brother gets in here without me to protect you. Did you not see the way he looked at you?”
“You’re ridiculous! He had many opportunities to attack me, alone in the Labyrinth, and he never did. He was always gentle and good with me!”
“You were his only chance of escaping, my Ariadne. He needed you for his revenge more than his lusts.”
Ariadne was silent, and moved the balcony.
The guardsmen outside their door screamed, and Theseus and Ariadne listened in horror as they all died at the hands of the Minotaur. It kicked open their doors like they were kindling.
The Minotaur was covered with blood — most of it from its victims, but it had suffered many wounds and Theseus could see that its strength was waning. “Give me the woman Athenian, and you may live!”
Theseus smiled and said, “the girl is mine, but I will let you live if you promise never to return.”
The Minotaur laughed at Theseus’s bravado. It was a harsh sound, alien and strange, but infectious nonetheless. “I have dreamed of this day for my whole life,” the Minotaur said, “and I never imagined that I would die, unless I chose it. But I would have Ariadne first.”
“Never,” Theseus said. His spear stabbed forward with the swiftness of a stag, and the Minotaur just barely dodge do the side in time, taking the razor-honed bronze edge in the flank, instead of its heart. More blood gushed from its side. It bellowed in rage and pain, and leaped towards Theseus, who batted at its head with his bronze shield, and slid to the side, slipping around behind the Minotaur with a twirl. As he did, he whipped the spear around him, like he was dancing with it, and the head caught the Minotaur flat-footed, slicing through the top of its thighs. More blood.
The Minotaur now had nobody between it and Ariadne, but it was clear that it couldn’t turn its back on Theseus and survive. It reached over to its side and grabbed a chair with one hand, which it flung with casual ease at Theseus. The Athenian dodged the projectile, barely, and the beast was on him, its massive fist about to crush Theseus’s skull. Only the shield saved him, as he brought it up just in time. Even so, the power of the Minotaur’s blow shattered it, broke Theseus’s arm, and threw him back ten feet.
Theseus stayed upright, and lifted the spear in time to prevent the Minotaur from leaping in and finishing the job. In the melee, the creature did not hear Ariadne come in from the balcony, and slide her dagger between its ribs. She missed its heart, but it was a fatal blow, as the bull-headed half-brother turned to face its half-sister, Theseus leaped forward, putting all his weight behind the point of his spear. The bright bronze tip entered the Minotaur’s chest, and this strike did not miss, piercing the heart.
You could say the Minotaur died for love. Once it had killed Minos, there was nothing to stop it from escaping the Palace of Knossos, and living the rest of its life as many other monsters did — it could find a nice cave to live in, and only come out for the occasional bit of marauding, like the Cyclops, or one of the other chthonic monsters that seemed to be plaguing Ancient Greece.
But no, the Minotaur had twisted the love and care, and dare I say, guilt, his sister had for him, and turned that into some kind of sick sexual fantasy.
Theseus even kind of understood the dead beast. Ariadne was undeniably attractive, kind, and even if she was incredibly intelligent (Theseus never would have thought of the string idea, and later even Daedelus said, “well bugger me,” when he heard about out it) she was quite gullible.
This is what made it so easy for him to help him with the next phase of his plan.
Oh yes, this was all part of his plan — did you not realize that he wasn’t just going along here? As soon as he saw that Minos was not going to kill him outright, he knew he would be able to turn this whole thing to his advantage. The fate of the Minos family was a classic Greek tragedy. It all stemmed from the pride of King Minos, and not wanting to sacrifice the bull that earned him the crown in the first place. Theseus was just going to tie up all the loose ends.
And so, there was a magnificent funeral, and the traditional games the Greeks so loved, to celebrate the life of King Minos. Theseus himself participated, and won all but the wrestling match, which he lost to a cousin of Ariadne’s, whom Theseus suspected of being part bull himself. After a decent period of mourning, Theseus and Ariadne were crowned king and queen, and a lavish ceremony (and more games) were held in their honor.
They ruled for a year and a day, and then Theseus announced that he and Ariadne would be leaving, so the rest of the world could appreciate Ariadne’s beauty. She was thrilled, because she had always felt Crete was too small a kingdom for her quality to be properly worshiped. And so, their ship left, crewed by men completely loyal to Theseus, and they crossed Homer’s wine-dark sea, presumably headed for Athens. They stopped at a remote island on the way, refilled their water barrels, and while they did, Theseus and Ariadne had a picnic on a beach, facing the open expanse of the western sea. It was a fine day, the wind and Ariadne’s spirits were high, and she drank too much wine; she fell asleep, and Theseus returned to the ship without her.
They left the island with the tide, and the setting sun.
When the crew asked where the Queen was, Theseus said, “I promised that I would take her away from Crete. I am a man of my word.” Theseus would have to wed an Athenian noblewoman, if he was going to secure the throne of Athens as well as the throne of Knossos.
When the crew asked if he wanted to put up the white sail, so his father knew that he still lived, Theseus told them to continue with the black. He was not sure the news would kill his father. He suspected it would.
And that is how Theseus became the King of Athens and Crete.
Read part one: Theseus Goes To Crete. Read part two: Theseus Meets the Minotaur.