The Bull Grappler
W. G. HARDY
TOMORROW in the great stadium! Zakrinos, the bullgrappler, stopped his weary donkey at the mouth of the gorge. His nostrils widened as he gazed across the clustering houses in the valley below him at the towering palace of Minos. Cnossos again! Cnossos, the city of Minos! And tomorrow he must pitch his skill against the choicest bulls of the Minos.
Behind him the other acrobats of his troupe, his sister, Maryas, Pamba the catcher and Pamba’s woman, Didyma, had come to a halt unheeded. With an interest tempered by ^ess they, too, stared at the sc 1 e them.
To the right and lefsh^PÎestoie down which they had beeR her jays v.rn the south opened into nationje comi jn the grip of those 1. the TV® ;hitewalled dwellings of 1 7°^ like
Zakrinos, their ey. the a bad the majestic castle thaâr subj Brs. lí the blue sky and bloc realty‘lanade .flew northward. never and f;
“By the bones aUS® nT°r+nr ier’”
Maryas said, pushinjTe , 111 . ecloth
that covered her head,^ Y^pighty palace. Well may tP°sTforts hold sway over Crete and the na . r®ern isles.
Small wonder is it that even the Pharaoh craves his friendship. But look,” she pointed with sudden eagerness down the road, “one of those giant Northerners from Mycenae of whom they spoke at Phaestos! By the horns of the Bull, he is huge!”
Didyma gave the fair-haired stranger only a casual glance. “I am weary,” she complained. “The sungod hath shown us no mercy today.”
“Nor will our task tomorrow be an easy' one,” Pamba reminded them.
“Those bulls of the Minos . . . Needs must thou guide us to our inn at once, Zakrinos.”
But Zakrinos was still staring • at the palace. It was not its size that held him captive, or the thought that from its harbor-town to the north— since Cnossos itself was set inland— the galleys of the Minos went out to keep watch and ward over the island-studded Aegean. It meant nothing to him that in this day when Egypt and the Hittites were not shadowy names but mighty empires, the trading-posts of Cnossos dotted every coast of the blue inland sea, or that even in the mainland to the north, which centuries later was to be Greece, the monarchs of Tiryns and Mycenae still paid a doubtful allegiance to the Minos of Crete.
Nothing of this was in Zakrinos’ mind as he gazed so intently at the palace. Two years, he was thinking, since his father and he had stopped at this same spot, and he, a stripling, had had his first glimpse of Cnossos. Two years—but it was just the same, the opening gorge, the busy hum from the teeming and colorful streets in the valley; and above it all, on the hill that fronted the gorge, the mighty walls of the castle, the evening sun, now as then, picking out the row of great bulls’ horns that jutted up along the battlements like giant teeth, cruel teeth. And two years ago, in the stadium to the west of those battlements, his father had missed the charging bull.
Zakrinos’ hand clenched on the rug that served him for saddle. He could see it all again so plainly, the hot sun in the blue sky, the crowded stands, the disdainful princes and the highborn women lolling in the boxes, all of them, all, shouting in ecstasy—and the long horns piercing his father’s side. His frown deepened. How he hated therrÉ People who laughed while his father died. He did not reflect that death was the chance every bull-grappler faced each time he entered the arena, or that there is no thrill like the thrill of blood. Reflection was well nigh a stranger to Zakrinos. They bad laughed and applauded. He hated them all.
His troupe was becoming restless, but Zakrinos paid no heed to them. Against his will, the bitterest moment of that day of two years ago had thrust itself before his memory. The great bull had been driven off, and he had run to gather the mangled body of his father in his arms. There had been tears in his eyes as he had looked up bewildered at the hot sun and the clamoring throng. And then—Zakrinos could almost smell the heat and the sweat and the blood again—then that one face, the scornful aloof face of the daughter of Minos. For an instant he had almost forgotten his anguish. Beautiful —and she had turned with a languid laugh to the Egyptian beside her. To laugh—while his father died! Illogically, but Zakrinos was not logical in his loves and hates, all the agony that that boy had felt had become concentrated on that one face.
Zakrinos’ mouth wak a straight line. He had gone to see her once again. A trace of superstitious awe plucked at Zakrinos in spite of himself as he remembered it. There in the paved dancing-floor to the northwest of the palace, six days after his father’s death, she had danced the dance of snakes for the initiates. Darkness, the Minos in his huge bull’s hide, and, in the light of the torches, the writhing serpents and the flash of her graceful limbs. Graceful limbs—and his father dead. He had flung away from Cnossos two years agone, swearing that he would return, that he would bring vengeance on the Minos and his daughter.
Bring vengeance? Zakrinos cursed softly. It was an idle dream. Were not, so the common folk believed, the Minos and his daughter gods on earth? Yet in those two years he had drilled his troupe until they had become the talk of Crete for their effortless skill and daring, until even the Minos had sent for them. And tomorrow in the great stadium—would she be there? Would he see her again? Flesh and blood, he told himself angrily, that was all she was, she and her father. And, if the gods were kind, some chance for vengeance might come. Who knew? The gods might be kind.
Out of the mists of Minoan antiquity comes this dramatic story of a perilous wooing
The sun was throwing long shadows across the valley. Maryas had edged her donkey closer to where her brother sat, his supple figure, nude save for its kilt, still and tense as he stared at the palace.
“The hour grows late, Zakrinos,” she ventured timidly.
Her words plucked Zakrinos from his reverie. He looked at her abstractedly, clicked with his tongue to his donkey, and led the way for the little cavalcade into the streets of Cnossos.
' I 'HE sun blazed from a hot blue sky. Zakrinos did not seem to hear the plaudits of the throng. One quick look at the box of the Minos above the bright-hued central shrine with its serried bulls’ horns had shown him the languid face of the daughter ol Minos. Then, crushing all thoughts of her and his father from his consciousness, he had turned to the business in hand. Three times already his troupe had met the sweep of the charging bulls—no need to taunt these inte action—and gracefully, effortlessly, as the galloping beast lowered its head to gore, one after another, himsell and Didyma and Maryas, letting the long horns slip under their arms and then grasping them, had riser with the bull’s toss into the air to somersault over its hollowed back, land feet first on its rump and fall lightly into the hands of Pamba, best of catchers. Already the crowd was captive to their skill, and already they hac outshone the troupes which had preceded them.
But Zakrinos had one trick more, one conceived six months agone and practised in secret since. If it were achieved they need not fear the troupes that were to follow them. Carefully he poised himself, a superb figure in his almost complete nudity, as a fresh bul was driven in. Fearlessly he waited, conscious of the ground hot to his toes, conscious of the great beast pawing the sand, conscious, too, of the breathless expectation of the throng. It came. There was a furious sweep as the bull’s galloping feet shook the stadium, a long “ah!” of indrawn breath from the crowd, as the horns slipped under his arms and, converting the brute’s impetus into an upward swing, his feet rose high in the beginning of a graceful somersault—another and a louder “Ah!” as, rising higher than was the rule, he suddenly released the horns to spin round and round in a double somersault and land perfectly pitched in Pamba's arms. An instant of silence and from the packed arena a tremendous shout went up. Never had such a fea been seen before! Zakrinos! Zakrinos! Jewels and golo and bracelets came tumbling down. Zakrinos,standing contemptuous of the shouting, knew that he had won. His eyes sought the princess’s face. She, too, was applauding, her face eager, her scornful aloofness gone.
rT'HE daughter of Minos took the carved bull’s head goblet of black steatite from her father’s hands and held it aloft. The sun glanced on its golden horns and on its inlaid eyes of painted crystal and red jasper. Zakrinos, proud and motionless below her, heard an excited whisper of admiration run along the seats as she started to move down the steps toward him. By the bones of his father, he had won! But what good did it do him? His father was dead. The hate in his eyes looked out at the delicate oval of her face with its piquant nose, at the artless curls so artfully arranged about her neck, at the white bosom that showed between the edges of her brilliant bodice.
“Bull grappler,” she said, and her voice was like the cool breeze of evening, “the winds from Phaestos had wafted thy fame hither. But my father, the Minos, bids me say that reality hath surpassed the talk of thee. He bids thee stay at Cnossos and all shall be thine. Within the hour the gifts he will send will be at thy inn. But as an earnest of his pleasure and as a sign to all that never hath a feat such as thine been seen before, he gifts thee with this,” she held up the goblet again, “from his own store, consecrate, a symbol of the great Minos himself. Show it where thou wilt and wherever the sway of the Minos is known none shall refuse thee aught.”
She held it out to him. For an instant as she was speaking, Zakrinos’ pride, leaping up to meet the patronage in her tone, had counselled him to refuse the gift. What if the throng believed the Minos and his daughter to be consecrate, gods on earth? He knew better. Was not the lord of Phaestos, that city which in the south of Crete was well nigh as mighty as Cnossos itself, was he not consecrate also—he and his wife? But Zakrinos knew better. Flesh and blood. He would refuse it.
But as quickly as the thought had flashed across his mind he had rejected it. The Minos might be flesh and blood. But the soldiers of the Minos with their great axes . . . He was kneeling as the princess held out the bull’s head goblet. The roared applause of the crowd sounded like winter waves against the cliffs of Crete.
“And for myself,”—the princess’s voice was warmer and a smile, girlish and unaffected, was on her lips— “for myself,” she took a bracelet of blue lapis lazuli beads from her arm, and spoke with an unaccustomed shyness, “I gift thee with this.”
A roar went up from the stands again. Here was a tribute indeed. Shout till your throat is hoarse!
But Zakrinos rising from his knees looked straight into her eyes. “This,” he said, taking the bracelet negligently, “this is no gift for a man.” His tone under cover of the stunning applause was calculatingly insolent. “Nor will I take gifts from thee. But it will serve for my sister or for Pamba’s woman.”
The eyes of the princess flashed. Her firm breasts rose and fell. For a moment Zakrinos thought that she would turn to the guards. But her face was a mask as she turned her back on him and, the crowd still shouting, trailed her flounced robes gracefully up the steps.
' I 'HEY were at dinner in the inn. Against the walls were heaped the gifts of the Minos, an ostrich egg banded with gold, a jewelled dagger of finest bronze inset along its blade with golden and galloping lions, a vase in thinnest ware with the coiling tentacles of an octopus encrusted in silver upon it, a piece of jade from who knew whence, the ivory figurine of a diving acrobat —and topping them all, the bull’s head bowl.
It was wealth untold—and there was more to come. The flush of success was on the faces of the troupe as they smacked their lips over the succulent strips of lamb which the obsequious innkeeper had grilled on the spit for them. Didyma and Maryas were chattering merrily, and Pamba, his mouth full, grinned perpetually. Only Zakrinos was sombre.
“The eyes of Maryas,” Didyma was scoffing with a smile on her face, “have a new captive. A Northerner! Cretans do not brighten her eye now.”
“My eyes,” Maryas countered with unexpected heat, “are my own. What if he is a Northerner? Hair like the sun, and,” she glanced disparagingly at Pamba, “I like big men.”
“By the snakes of Rhea,” Didyma exclaimed in wrath as Pamba stirred restlessly, “ ’tis not for thee to cast slurs at Pamba. What of young Rames at Phaestos?. A mere moth-eaten flea of a man! Yet he was thy prince of princes then.”
“Rames,” Maryas said, “is a story of the past. The Northerner is huge enough for two.”
“A mountain of a man,” Didyma taunted. “And thou didst ask him to the inn tonight. At first meeting! Hast thou no shame?”
“Devil take thy tongue!” Maryas hissed, looking apprehensively at Zakrinos. “At first meeting, ’tis true. But did I say that I would be his woman.” Zakrinos, she saw, had not seemed to notice. “Yet, by the goddess of love,” she went on more calmly, “he pleases me more than the Egyptian the daughter of Minos is to wed.” '
Zakrinos put down his strip of lamb. “What words were those, Maryas?” he asked.
“Hast thou not heard? He was at the bull-grappling. The very streets are clacking with it. A prince of Thebes, they say, and right ear to the Pharaoh.” Zakrinos grunted.
“The Minos was to wed her himself, as is the custom,” Maryas rattled on. “But he hath another daughter. And he craves aid from the Pharaoh. The Northerners are eating at his realm. More and more of them are crowding down into the land to the north. ’Twas only last year that they hounded his tax-gatherer out of Mycenae. Nor did the Minos dare to sail against them. ’Tis no wonder—if they all be as big as Alcimachos.”
“Is it thus he calls himself?” Didyma gibed. “’Twould make a goat laugh!”
Maryas turned on her in fury, and Zakrinos took up his lamb again. None of them knew what words he had spoken to the princess. He hugged the thought of that moment to himself. How astounded she had been, how his words had amazed her. Yet, he, Zakrinos, was her equal in spite of her rank. Nor was he one of the serfs who would bend their necks for the Minos to put his foot upon them. Not he! Still, he reflected reluctantly, there had been no scorn on her face when she had smiled. She might have been a girl blushing before her lover. If only he had not seen her laugh when his father died. True, she had only been one of hundreds.
The innkeeper was before him, bowing and rubbing his hands. “A messenger for thee,” he whispered.
“Bid him enter.”
The innkeeper smiled ingratiatingly and sidled closer like a crab. “ ’Tis a woman,” he whispered.
Zakrinos sat undecided. He was accustomed to intrigues of this sort. Bull-grappling was the great sport of Crete, and those successful in it could make their choice. At Phaestos, even the jaded and blasé ladies of the court had come. As for chastity—save for the daughters of Minos—it was not thought of in Crete. Crete was too primitive or, perhaps, too sophisticated for that.
But Zakrinos did not know whether he was in the mood tonight. Putting down his lamb he wiped his fingers and rose slowly to follow the innkeeper into the darkened room -behind the dining hall. The woman, he saw at once, although veiled, was expensively gowned. His suspicions were right. Some noble’s wife . . .
“Greetings,” he said, with the gruffness he had always found so successful.
To his surprise the woman instead of answering held out a clay tablet to him. Zakrinos took it and realized what it was. “Marks like these,” he said, “are for scribes or women.”
The woman spoke in a muffled voice. “Thy sister, then.”
Zakrinos stepped to the door and called, “Maryas.”
“What is thy will?” his sister asked as she came into the room. “Oh, there is a stranger here.” She giggled. “Needs must.”
“No,” Zakrinos said. He thrust the tablet into her hand. “Read it,” he commanded.
Maryas went closer to the stone lampstandard and bent down to the little wick floating in its bath of oil.
“ ‘If thou art as brave as I think thee,’ ” she spelled out, “ ‘follow the bearer to the east entrance of the palace. If not, destroy this tablet.’ ” She looked up. “By the bones of my mother,” she whispered, “that is the women’s domain.” “The women’s domain!” Zakrinos’ eyes flashed in the darkness. “The women’s domain. And the princess?”
His sister had come over to him. “Thou wilt not go,” she pleaded. “ ’Tis—’tis death to enter there. Shall I . . ” She raised the tablet above her head.
Zakrinos put out his hand absently and took it from her. “ ‘If thou art as brave . . ” He spoke to the woman. “Wait
here. I will get my cloak.”
' I ’HEY had entered the palace by a secret door and now, emerging from a maze of steps and passages, Zakrinos cast a swift glance around the room. Somewhere near the great staircase, he guessed, that ran up from the eastern part of the castle to the level of the central court and the rest of the palace. This room itself was significant—deep rugs, a fresco of leaping dolphins on the wall, a couch strewn with Tyrian purple in the corner, and there on the stone bench a woman’s robe. His hand under his cloak tightened on the jewelled dagger.
“Tell me,” he said abruptly to his veiled guide, “where is . . .”
“Speak lower,” the woman cautioned, and Zakrinos’ head darted forward as he heard her voice, “speak lower. There are guards up the corridor—outside that door.”
“And that other door?” Zakrinos flung his hand toward a smaller one that was partly open.
“That,” said the woman, and her tone had a hint of mirth in it, “is my bathroom.”
“Yes.” As Zakrinos stared, she flung off her veil and stood straight and calm.
The princess! How had she dared? For a moment something of that superstitious fear that clung round the persons of the Minos and his daughter assailed him. He fought it off. Flesh and blood after all. And beautiful flesh and blood. His hand touched the hilt of his dagger again. That scornful face. His father’s death. Waiting for him to kneel. Time would go by while she waited.
Deliberately he walked over to the stone bench and sat down. “So thou,” he said sneering, “wert the mysterious female.”
The princess’s eyes flashed. “Remember,” she warned, “I have only to call.” She motioned toward the closed door.
Did she think to frighten him? “Call them,” he invited and crossed his knees.
The princess’s face lost something of its angry aloofness. Against his will Zakrinos felt the charm of her smile. “Thou art bold,” she said. “And in the arena . .
Her eyes darkened as her thoughts raced on. “But tell me,” she demanded imperiously, flinging up her chin, “why didst thou refuse my gift?”
Zakrinos had not expected this. He sat silent, glowering at her and seeing it all again, his father gasping out his life, and she in the royal seat with the Egyptian, laughing scornfully. He had sworn that he would have vengeance for that. And what if now were the time? What if the gods themselves had granted this moment.
“Answer me,” she commanded and, forgetful of herself, her voice rose. “Answer me . . . bull grappler.”
Zakrinos, almost thankfully, felt his fierce pride rise to swamp the last remnant of his caution. Command him! No woman could command him ! Still deliberate, he got up and walked toward her. She had, he could see, no conception of what he intended. How could she, the daughter of Minos whom no man dared touch? With a movement like a tiger springing he seized her and crushed her body to his. “Call the guards,” he taunted, as she strained back from him. “Call them now !”
Her eyes, wide and incredulous, stared into his. He tightened his grip and a look oí hesitation came over her face. That instant of hesitation was fatal. “Call them!” he laughed at her. She must call. And yet . how could she explain his presence here? She must call. And yet . . . little by little her body relaxed. No man had touched her before. He was so strong—so bold. Her eyes closed.
X-TE HAD expected to feel triumphant.
But instead he had a curious feeling, a feeling of doubt and uncertainty. He almost wished that he had not taken his vengeance. He looked down at her. She seemed so bewildered and so lovely. Why could he not feel angry and defiant? To be ashamed of himself . . . Zakrinos did not know what the words meant. But the strange feeling persisted. He almost wished that he had refrained. Another one of the high-born ladies, he tried to argue with himself. He laughed harshly, loudly, trying to convince himself by the sound of it. Another one . . .
The girl reached up a hand. “Quiet, if thou wilt,” she whispered. “The guards we must be quiet.”
Zakrinos felt his defenses crumble. He tried to think of his father’s death. It seemed far removed, across aeons of time. This girl was different from the others. Zakrinos, democrat born too soon and a boy whose pride and anger had failed him, gathered her to him tenderly. He heard her breath drawn in softly and then, abruptly, another sound, a metallic sound, caught at his ears and brought him to his feet. The girl’s half-closed eyes widened sharply. There it was again, the clink of armor and the clatter of footsteps rushing down the corridor.
“The guards!” the princess exclaimed. She leaped up and pushed at him. “Go. At once. Hasten.”
Zakrinos caught up his cloak and dagger. But he realized at once that there was no hope of him finding his way back through the maze of passages. There was a great knock at the door as he hesitated. “Princess!” a voice called. “Princess!” Zakrinos pulled his dagger from its sheath and crouched. The princess put a restraining hand on his arm. “Princess!” the voice called again. “Why come ye?” And Zakrinos marvelled at the calmness of her tone—like snow on the mountains.
“We thought,” the words came hesitatingly, “we heard a man laugh.”
“A man?” The princess’s voice was contemptuous. “Ye were dreaming. Go back to your post.”
“But ’twas certain.”
“Must I,” the princess raised her voice, “must I speak of this to the Minos?” Zakrinos could hear the speaker outside the door step back. A new voice stammered. “Grant us grace, princess. Thou knowest our orders.”
“It is no matter. Go back to your post.” Zakrinos heard their footsteps recede. He put up his dagger, hating the moment when he must turn and look at the princess. It was bitter to think that he owed his life to her.
She was holding out her hands to him. With a stumbling rush he seized them and fell on his knees pressing them to his forehead.
“My love,” she said, smiling down at him, “thou must go.”
“When,” Zakrinos asked timidly, “may I see thee again?”
“Never!” Zakrinos was on his feet, his old masterfulness awake. “Nay, I must.” “I,” said the princess, “must wed the prince of Egypt.”
Noble and commoner again. The blood rushed to Zakrinos’ face. He grasped her shoulders. “Nay, thou shalt not!” he exclaimed.
“Needs must I. My father, the Minos,” she freed herself gently, “hath willed it. Nor may I refuse. The Northerners . . . and aid might come from Egypt.”
Zakrinos knew nothing of the counsels of the great and cared less. “By the horns of the Bull,” he declared, “I will carry thee off. This very night will I take thee.” “To what land,” the princess asked quietly, “couldst thou take me, Zakrinos?” To what land indeed? There would be no place in Crete, no place safe from the Minos. And what could a bull grappler offer the daughter of Minos? Zakrinos dropped his hands. Against his will he realized the barriers that separated them. But his pride led him to essay one last effort.
“Thou art so lovely,” he began.
But she stopped him as he moved toward her. “Nay,” she said. “I must not see thee again. Necessity is on me to wed the Egyptian, the day that follows the procession of the initiates. As for this night, that troubles me not. That was the goddess of love herself. But I must not see thee again. ’Twould make it too hard a path.”
“By the horns of . . ”
But the princess was not listening to him. Was that a creeping footstep? She caught up her veil. “Hasten,” she exclaimed. “We must beware lest the guards return. My women, too.” She hurried him into the passageway.
*7 AKRINOS’ pace was slow as he came ^ up the street toward the inn. He was striving to see some way to climb the walls that were hemming him in. But they were too intangible for him to come to grips with them. Zakrinos could act in one fierce blaze of muscles and springing feet when the need arose. But these walls seemed to defy action. And yet, Zakrinos could not but remember how she had yielded to him, as they parted at the secret gate. He could not leave her, he told himself, as he had left the others. There must be some way, he pondered, to carry her off, some place to take her.
Abstractedly as he entered the inn he noted that there was a stranger in the room, a fair-haired giant who seemed to dwarf the place. Pamba, very drunk and very merry, was pulling at his sleeve.
“Hail, Zakrinos!” he shouted. “Thou must meet AÍ . . . Alcim . . . Maryas’ Northerner.”
Zakrinos glanced swiftly at his sister. She was looking at him appealingly. Well, what mattered it? Her quick likes and dislikes were known to him from of old. He greeted the stranger, sat down and clapped his hands.
“Wine,” he ordered as the innkeeper sidled in. “Thy best.”
Maryas laughed in relief. “Come, Alcimachos,” she commanded, and sat down with him across from Zakrinos.
Zakrinos poured out the wine, still pondering his problem, having replaced, although he did not realize it, his former purpose by a new one. Half unconsciously as Maryas talked away, he noticed the stranger’s bulk, the blue of his eyes, the rugged outline of his face.
“His blood is noble,” Maryas was declaring. “His city is Mycenae. Bull grapplers have honor there, too. Though never hath he seen, he says, one such as thee.” She hesitated. “ ’Tis his desire,” she went on timidly, “that we go northward with him.”
Mycenae? Was not that the city, Zakrinos was reflecting, whence the taxgatherer of the Minos had been sent packing?
“His ship is in the harbor,” Maryas continued. “Its cargo is in the hold. But 'tis his will to wait till the new moon—and the procession.”
“Procession?” Zakrinos asked, but he was thinking of the princess’s words:
T wed the Egyptian the day that follows the procession.’
“Of the initiates.” Maryas lowered her voice. “Thou wilt remember it at Phaestos—a year agone.”
But it was not at Phaestos a year ago, but at Cnossos two years before that Zakrinos remembered it—the darkness, the flickering torches, the procession two by two of the initiates from the temple on the hill west of the palace to the paved dancing-floor. On the steps of that dancing-floor the Minos and his nobles had been waiting. And then—Zakrinos could see it again as if it had been yesterday—the daughter of Minos dancing the dance of the snakes. It was strange to remember how he had hated her that night, how, as if enchanted, his eyes had followed her as, the dance done, she had slipped away toward the palace with her maidens, unregarded. Unregarded! For the crowd had been breathlessly intent on the dancing-floor, where in the light of the torches the victims were huddled and the Minos with his great axe . . .
“What thinkest thou?” Maryas was asking. “Wouldst thou go? The Northerner would put his aegis over us.”
Zakrinos, his eyes bright, had turned to the Northerner. “Hast thou truly,” he began, “a ship in the harbor?”
THE stars hung heavy in a velvet sky.
But their clearness only accentuated the pall of darkness on the ground. Zakrinos, standing on the edge of the paved road that led from the temple on the hill to the dancing-floor, could hear about him the subdued breathing and rustling movements of a great and hushed throng Even the face of his neighbor, the giant Northerner, was a vague outline, and on the other side of the paved way the crowd was merely a black mass, its upper edge irregular and uneven.
It was an ideal night for Zakrinos’ plan. Maryas and Didyma were on the Northerner’s ship. So were all the gifts of the Minos. Pamba was waiting on the harbor road, a palanquin ready. Zakrinos had not seen the princess again, but he did not doubt her willingness. If fortune did not play them false and if they could slip by the guardships of the Minos at the harbor’s mouth . . . Zakrinos was as
nervous as when he had faced his first bull.
Listen! Was that a chant from the temple? Yes, there were the lights, dipping two by two from the temple’s steps to the paved road. The initiates were coming. Zakrinos started as the Northerner touched his shoulder. What was it? Oh, the torches being lit in readiness on the steps of the dancing-floor. In their murky light uncanny masks, weird figures gleamed out uncertainly. In the centre, leaning on his great axe, was the bull’s horns and the head of the Minos.
The lights of the initiates began to pass in front of him. He drew a long breath and edged away to the corner of the dancing-floor nearest the palace. It would soon be time !
\\7TTH a shriiif unearthly cry the ’ daughter of Minos flung the writhing snakes from her into the huddled mass of victims and stood an instant with her arms outstretched. Zakrinos strove to fight his way upward from the deep gulf of superstition in which the throng—and he—had been while she danced. He knew that she was flesh and blood. Had he not held her in his arms? But did the goddess Rhea possess her? Was she herself a goddess? Had he ever imagined he could carry her off? Had he ever really held her in his arms?
The Minos started to come down the steps toward the victims who, as if under a spell, waited for him. His daughter bowed swiftly to her knees, then rose to speed to her maidens grouped in the angle of the steps near Zakrinos. A ripple of movement, sensed not heard, ran through the crowd as with her attendants she began to move toward the palace. The Northerner nudged Zakrinos.
“Hasten,” he whispered. “ ’Tis the moment.”
As if his touch had broken a dream Zakrinos woke to action. Noiselessly he moved away from the throng. Behind him there was an appalling shriek cut short by the dull thud of an axe striking bone. The first victim ! The great axe of the Minos had shorn through hair and skull as a cleaver shears through cheese. The victim, one half his head on either side of his neck, had fallen like a poleaxed ox. A deep roar went up from the bloodmaddened crowd. The group of girls fiuttered like clothes hung out to dry When the wind strikes them. Another shriek, and as it shrilled into the darkness Zakrinos leaped—his bull-grappler’s leap—and landed like a panther in the midst of them. The girls scattered screaming. The princess cried out. Thrusting her veil into her mouth Zakrinos leaped again toward the harbor. Behind him the frightened girls came together, milling about like sheep upon whom a wolf has leaped. Was it a god? What was it? It was some time before they discovered that the princess was gone, and longer still before they bore the news to the Minos.
' I 'HEY were in the Northerner’s ship drawing away from land. Behind them the silent streets of the harbor town were coming to life with lights and shouting —too late. Zakrinos, laughing triumphantly, took the veil from the princess’s mouth.
“It irked me to do it,” he said. “But I feared lest thou shouldst scream again.” He started to gather her into his arms.
But to his surprise she strained away from him. “What madness is this, Zakrinos?” she exclaimed. “By the snakes of Rhea—thou must take me back. Dost hear? Take me back.”
Zakrinos was staring at her openmouthed. In all his planning he had not thought of this. “But thou and I,” he stammered. “Dost thou not remember?”
“That night is past. Past and done with. Canst thou not see? Needs must I be married tomorrow. My father . . . the Northerners How will the
Pharaoh look on him?”
Anger had replaced amazement with Zakrinos. “I care not,” he burst out, “the toss of a bull for thy father . . and all his Egyptians. Thou art in my hands. There shalt thou stay.”
“Was ever such a man?” She beat at him with her hands. “Where canst thou take me, dolt?”
“To Mycenae,” Zakrinos said sulkily.
“Mycenae!” She laughed half angrily, half hysterically. “I . . . the daughter of Minos. Mycenae! And thou . . thou art not a noble. Thou, a ...”
“Bull grappler,” Zakrinos finished bitterly. “I might have known. And thou didst laugh. ’Tis well. Thou shalt go back.”
He rose to shout forward to the Northerner. But the shout died in his throat. Out of the darkness to the right a long black shape was gliding. A hail from it i reached them. He heard the princess gasp in realization. The guardship of the : Minos! Maryas shrieked and a curse from the Northerner floated back to them. ■ They were caught! They would have to fight. And before they could win free, the boats from the shore would be on them. Zakrinos pulled out his dagger fiercely.
The princess’s fingers fluttered up to his arm. In the darkness her other hand was at her throat.
Zakrinos flung her fingers off. “The gods have heard thy wish,” he told her grimly. “Call if thou wilt. But before death comes for me ...” His dagger gleamed in his hand.
But the princess did not notice. She was thinking of what would happen. She would be rescued and taken back. But even if Zakrinos survived the fight she knew full well what his fate would be in the dungeons of the Minos. Torture for that splendid body of his. Death would linger while he prayed for it.
Zakrinos had lowered his dagger with a curse and had turned to go.
“Stay,” the princess commanded in a tense whisper. “Didst thou bring the bull’s head?”
“The bull’s head?”
“The bull’s head; the goblet which the Minos gifted thee?”
“Yes. But what matters that? Thou wilt soon be back.”
“Give it me. Hasten !”
Scarcely understanding why he should obey her, Zakrinos began to fumble for it. She snatched it from his fingers and was gone before he could ask her what she wished. The galley was blocking their course now. The hail was repeated.
“What ship is this?”
Zakrinos, still in a fog of bewilderment, saw a torch lit on the prow of the Northerner’s ship, and in its light the daughter of Minos was etched against the blackness, the bull’s head goblet raised above her head, its golden horns giving back the glare.
“The daughter of Minos,” he heard her say, “with the symbol of Minos. Give way.”
The captain of the guardship was not convinced. To have a vessel attempt to slip by unobserved was enough to make him suspicious and when there were lights on shore . . .
Yet he knew that it was dangerous to cross the daughter of Minos.
“If the daughter of Minos ...” he began.
“Must I,” the princess said, and Zakrinos heard again that cool and arrogant note of accustomed command in her voice, “must I ask of the Minos to teach you the meaning of his symbol, dog?”
For a long moment there was silence from the fronting galley. Then its captain gave a sharp order. There was a hurried splashing as the oars took hold to back the galley. The Northerner, triumph in his tone, spoke to his rowers and with a calm, unhurried sweep his ship passed beyond the guardship and into the open sea.
Zakrinos looked at the receding lights on the shore. But the sight did not fill him with triumph. The princess had saved him again ... so cool, so strong. He was filled with humility. He realized with a new clarity the folly of his attempt. How had he, a bull grappler, dared to raise his eyes to the daughter of Minos? And what would his folly mean to her . . . there in that strange city to the north? The daughter of Minos wedded to a bull grappler!
The princess had come back to him, the goblet dangling in her hand. Zakrinos turned to her.
“Why didst thou do it?” he whispered. “ ’Twas my own folly. I should have known. Thou, a princess . . . and I, a bull grappler. I should have known.” He fell to his knees and put his head against her.
The princess reached down a hand falteringly. But at the touch of his hair her uncertainty left her. Tossing the goblet into the darkness she slipped down to put her arms about him. Zakrinos buried his head in her lap and held her close. Around them in the blackness she could hear the liquid splashing of the ars, could see a hint of the tossing waves, lit here and there by gleams of phosphorescence. A new city and a new life. No longer the daughter of Minos.
“What troubles thee?” she asked gently.
“Thy gift,” he said. “Needs must I tell thee ...”
She placed cool fingers on his lips. “Nay,” she said. “Thou shalt not. But behold,” she pointed suddenly to where in the distance a line of silver flashes cut the night. “ ’Tis the dolphins.” She laughed happily. “The gods have sent a sign. The dolphins! Wedding nymphs for thee and me.” She bent her head to his.