The Heroes or Greek Fairy Tales for my Children

Page: 86

So Theseus stayed with his father all the winter: and when the spring equinox drew near, all the Athenians grew sad and silent, and Theseus saw it, and asked the reason; but no one would answer him a word.

Then he went to his father, and asked him: but Ægeus turned away his face and wept.

‘Do not ask, my son, beforehand, about evils which must happen: it is enough to have to face them when they come.’

And when the spring equinox came, a herald came to Athens, and stood in the market, and cried, ‘O people and King of Athens, where is your yearly tribute?’ Then a great lamentation arose throughout the city. But Theseus stood up to the herald, and cried—

‘And who are you, dog-faced, who dare demand tribute here? If I did not reverence your herald’s staff, I would brain you with this club.’

And the herald answered proudly, for he was a grave and ancient man—

‘Fair youth, I am not dog-faced or shameless; but I do my master’s bidding, Minos, the King of hundred-citied Crete, the wisest of all kings on earth. And you must be surely a stranger here, or you would know why I come, and that I come by right.’

‘I am a stranger here. Tell me, then, why you come.’

‘To fetch the tribute which King Ægeus promised to Minos, and confirmed his promise with an oath. For Minos conquered all this land, and Megara which lies to the east, when he came hither with a great fleet of ships, enraged about the murder of his son. For his son Androgeos came hither to the Panathenaic games, and overcame all the Greeks in the sports, so that the people honoured him as a hero. But when Ægeus saw his valour, he envied him, and feared lest he should join the sons of Pallas, and take away the sceptre from him. So he plotted against his life, and slew him basely, no man knows how or where. Some say that he waylaid him by Oinoe, on the road which goes to Thebes; and some that he sent him against the bull of Marathon, that the beast might kill him. But Ægeus says that the young men killed him from envy, because he had conquered them in the games. So Minos came hither and avenged him, and would not depart till this land had promised him tribute—seven youths and seven maidens every year, who go with me in a black-sailed ship, till they come to hundred-citied Crete.’

And Theseus ground his teeth together, and said, ‘Wert thou not a herald I would kill thee for saying such things of my father; but I will go to him, and know the truth.’ So he went to his father, and asked him; but he turned away his head and wept, and said, ‘Blood was shed in the land unjustly, and by blood it is avenged. Break not my heart by questions; it is enough to endure in silence.’