The Heroes or Greek Fairy Tales for my Children

Page: 87

Then Theseus groaned inwardly, and said, ‘I will go myself with these youths and maidens, and kill Minos upon his royal throne.’

And Ægeus shrieked, and cried, ‘You shall not go, my son, the light of my old age, to whom alone I look to rule this people after I am dead and gone. You shall not go, to die horribly, as those youths and maidens die; for Minos thrusts them into a labyrinth, which Daidalos made for him among the rocks,—Daidalos the renegade, the accursed, the pest of this his native land. From that labyrinth no one can escape, entangled in its winding ways, before they meet the Minotaur, the monster who feeds upon the flesh of men. There he devours them horribly, and they never see this land again.’

Then Theseus grew red, and his ears tingled, and his heart beat loud in his bosom. And he stood awhile like a tall stone pillar on the cliffs above some hero’s grave; and at last he spoke—

‘Therefore all the more I will go with them, and slay the accursed beast. Have I not slain all evil-doers and monsters, that I might free this land? Where are Periphetes, and Sinis, and Kerkuon, and Phaia the wild sow? Where are the fifty sons of Pallas? And this Minotaur shall go the road which they have gone, and Minos himself, if he dare stay me.’

‘But how will you slay him, my son? For you must leave your club and your armour behind, and be cast to the monster, defenceless and naked like the rest.’

And Theseus said, ‘Are there no stones in that labyrinth; and have I not fists and teeth? Did I need my club to kill Kerkuon, the terror of all mortal men?’

Then Ægeus clung to his knees; but he would not hear; and at last he let him go, weeping bitterly, and said only this one word—

‘Promise me but this, if you return in peace, though that may hardly be: take down the black sail of the ship (for I shall watch for it all day upon the cliffs), and hoist instead a white sail, that I may know afar off that you are safe.’

And Theseus promised, and went out, and to the market-place where the herald stood, while they drew lots for the youths and maidens, who were to sail in that doleful crew. And the people stood wailing and weeping, as the lot fell on this one and on that; but Theseus strode into the midst, and cried—‘Here is a youth who needs no lot. I myself will be one of the seven.’

And the herald asked in wonder, ‘Fair youth, know you whither you are going?’

And Theseus said, ‘I know. Let us go down to the black-sailed ship.’