Our story so far: Every year, Princess Ariadne goes to meet the hostage ship that brings 14 young Athenians to Crete each year, to be sacrificed to her father's monster, the Minotaur.
Ariadne stood on the wharf, looking out to sea.
Along the waterfront, the crowd was already beginning to shout angrily, and the guards were working to keep them under control.
A Greek ship was sailing through the entrance to the harbor; that was what had the crowd so furious. It was clearly the hostage ship, for billowing in the breeze was a set of black sails, a silent protest from the Athenians whose young people were aboard.
The open area around the dockside was thronged with people, pressing up against the line of guards. The long, straight road from the harbor up the hill to the palace was lined as well, the crowd ending at the prison where the hostages would be kept until they were put into the Labyrinth.
Four years ago, the crowd that met the hostage ship got out of control. Instead of just shouting insults and spitting on the Athenians, they had begun throwing trash and rocks, and several of the young people were seriously injured. Ariadne had seen those wounded hostages carried into the prison and had helped tend their wounds, cleaning and bandaging them so that, a few days later, they could be killed by the Minotaur.
Every year since, she had come to the dockside when the hostage ship arrived, to walk up to the prison alongside the hostages. The crowd still shouted insults at the Athenians, but they did not dare throw anything for fear of hitting the princess.
Perhaps the hostages were doomed, Ariadne thought, but that was no reason to treat them badly. Each year, all the young people of Athens who had reached a certain age had their names put on clay disks and dropped into a jar, one jar for boys and another for girls. Seven names were drawn from each jar, and those 14 sons and daughters, rich or poor, powerful or friendless, plain or good-looking, talented or hopeless, were led onto the ship with the black sails and sent to Crete and the Labyrinth, to be killed and eaten by the horrible Minotaur.
And each year, Ariadne was one year older.
This year, the hostages were only two years older than she was, and she could barely remember her brother who had died in Athens. They couldn't have had anything to do with his death. They were little children then, too, just as she had been.
Some people in Knossos said it didn't matter exactly who did it. And, anyway, the hostages were just Greeks, after all. They were crude, they didn't have nice cities, they didn't speak properly. They were a violent, warlike people who did not treasure life, and so death for them was not such a tragedy as it would be for Minoans.
Most of the Minoans who said this did not speak the Greek language themselves, and had never met any Greeks. Most had never been anywhere but right here on the island of Crete.
Ariadne would see few of her friends in the crowd. She and her friends learned Greek in school, and had met Greek traders who visited Crete on business.
Some, whose parents were important merchants, had even lived in Greek cities, among the Greeks. Some of them said that the law made it safer for Minoans who lived among the Greeks, that, because of the price Athens was paying, the other Greeks knew better than to harm any of King Minos's people.
But they didn't talk about it very often, and none of them came to see the hostage ship arrive.
The law said that these 14 young Athenians had to die, but it didn't say that anyone had to watch them die, and it didn't say that anybody had to come see their faces and begin to think of them as people.
It was easier to stay away, and, though there was always a large crowd that came every year when the hostage ship arrived, there were many other Minoans who did not.
As the ship drew closer, its black sails were lowered and the long oars came out to row the final distance to the pier, where four guards went on board and searched the Greeks and their ship for weapons.
Satisfied that the hostages and the ship's crew were unarmed, the guards led the young people from the ship and lined them up on the pier.
Most of the girls looked down at their feet and some of them were weeping. Greek women were different from Minoans, Ariadne knew. They did not grow up boxing and vaulting over charging bulls in the arena alongside their brothers like Minoan girls did. They were not allowed to go into business, or even to choose their own husbands.
They always seemed more shy and more frightened than the Athenian boys. A tall girl towards the back of the group looked around for a moment, but as soon as she saw Ariadne looking at her, she quickly dropped her eyes and pulled the veil on her head closer to hide her face.
But one of the Athenian young men stared directly at Ariadne, and, once he caught her eye, she found herself staring back. He was handsome, very handsome, with broad shoulders and well-muscled arms, and his dark eyes gazed into hers without flinching.
He took a step forward, ignoring the guard who moved to keep him in line. "You are the Princess Ariadne, daughter of King Minos of Crete," he said, in the Greek language. He did not wait for an answer. "I am Theseus, the son of King Aegeus of Athens."
Ariadne did not know what to say. How do you welcome a prince to the city where he is going to die?
Next Week: The Doomed Prince
text c. 2003, Mike Peterson - illustrations c. 2003, Marina Tay