THE MURDER OF ICARUS
The world was mourning, Daedalus’ brave but headstrong and foolish son had perished. The father wore black in his new home in Sicily, far from the shores of brilliant, prodigal Crete which had been his prison before his daring escape. The father with tears dripping from his eyes and digging like worms into his unkempt white beard said, "Only half of me has escaped. I would be more whole if I had lost my arm or leg. My son, my son!" The king and his advisers and his statesmen and his generals gathered around the renowned inventor with condolences, while beautiful women were sent to try to soothe him in the night, to heal his soul with their soft hands, always searching in the dark for broken things. A workshop was set up for him, with tables and tools and windows that were great friends of the light, for when he might be ready to work again. Perhaps the sound of his hammers making new inventions could do for him what the best lovers of the land could not!
While the whole of Sicily, which was held precariously and lovingly in valleys beneath impetuous volcanoes, trying to live in green obliviousness in the place where the gods made their armor, hung its head in sorrow for the loss of the great inventor, the second judge of the high court noted how quickly Daedalus’ lost eyes became sharp with only a drop of wine. Some men when they drink lose their inhibitions, and lunge at women like dogs; some become bears and stand up on their hind legs to fight; some forget that they are men and weep; some stagger, no longer able to walk the straight line of a lie.
The second judge knew he was alone on Sicily, that everyone else in the kingdom wished to embrace the grief of Daedalus, but he swore that there were times when he saw craft rather than passion in the tragic refugee’s eyes; he saw a man beating gold leaf with a hammer, not a man who had lost everything in a disaster.
"He does not need to be unhappy," the first judge told the second, "and you have no right to demand it of him. If you are right about what you have seen, why can’t it mean that he is merely wiser than the rest of us, that he does not mourn the lake that has dried up because he knows it will return as rain? And what of freedom, does it have no value? Though he has lost a son, he has gained freedom. He is no longer a prisoner of the labyrinth, no longer a tortured spectator of his confinement, with all the sea and sky laughing at him as he lived on a cliff from which he could not descend. Imagine, to be a captive of the heights! Sometimes the lash of wide-open windows is worse than the bite of a whip!"
But the second judge said, "Superior, I do not wish to close the case, to sign the papers that will forever define this as a misadventure. I want permission to investigate."
"Are you saying that Daedalus neglected Icarus, his son? That he should be accused of recklessly endangering his welfare, or perhaps even of negligent manslaughter? Remember, they were both prisoners, and King Minos was unpredictable. Men who have the power of a god most always are. With his ships swarming all over the Mediterranean like sharks, and the bowels of his palace filled with slaves fed to the razor-sharp horns of bulls, what safety was there for a young boy there? What guarantee that Icarus would not, himself, be dragged into the sunlit pit to leap over bulls for the amusement of the jewel-clad courtiers and priests, until one day he leapt not far enough, and perished like a bird caught on the ground by a cat? Daedalus had to risk escape!"
But the second judge said, "No, Superior, I do not wish to accuse Daedalus of reckless endangerment nor of negligent homicide. The escape made sense. I only wish to make sure that he did not murder Icarus along the way!"
With eyes notably enlarged by amazement, the first judge said, "But Daedalus has wept! He has wept!"
"Perhaps it is for the soul he has damned," the second judge said. "I have not eaten at the same table with him, so I am not yet bound to suppress my instincts. When I approach this grief of his, I smell something that I cannot see, something not as fresh as the sea, not as wholesome as bread being baked; the odor of sulfur coming from the earth, something that might drive a priestess mad and make her scream secrets to the deaf. You know my instincts, Superior."
"I do. You knew it when they bribed the Oracle, you told us not to trust words that were meant to doom us. You knew it, also, when the traitor killed the sacred sheep to bring a curse upon the land."
"My instincts are once more walking in the night," the second judge told him, "but they are still harmless. They are like a mighty archer, who has no arrows in his quiver. I need facts. I need permission to sail to Crete, to return to the scene of the disaster."
The first judge said: "I will write the orders at once, and have them affixed with the seal of the king."
The Mediterranean is like a house filled with ghosts, no other body of water in the world has so much history, so much power in every protruding rock, in every cloak of mist it wears upon its shoulders. Every hour away from home offers death and gold, the arms of a goddess who will love you or a voice that will never let you go. Here are strange islands like huge white rocks made to help the sun blind men, with dark shadows clinging to the sides that might be caves, and yet, you cannot give them too wide a berth, for then the hungry mouth of the waves will open wide to devour you, or the sudden tantrums of gods in the shape of the wind will crash into you far from shelter. Their shouts are like hammers that splinter ships, they have no need to learn to be wise, to give up the sensuality of their tempers. There are creatures with six arms and an insatiable hunger hiding in the dark, mermaids who will crush you like bears with their delicate arms, bite your head off with a kiss and sink you to the bottom of the sea with the heavy stone of your love for them; there are witches who could put dragons to sleep or turn men into pigs, there are hags with the wings of bats who will not let you eat, giant monsters with one eye who have no more regard for you than you have for sheep, men who kill themselves with visions, and pirates who ambush adventurers, waiting at the entrance of the mine to steal gold brought up from the depths of the earth. There are men who are half-animals, drunk on wine; creatures that were made from lions, goats, and bulls that learned how to live together in one body only by hating everything else; women who reject men by firing arrows into their hearts, and glimpses of naked maidens rushing into the sea foam pursued by bulls, and of laughing gods riding by on porpoises. When you close your eyes to wash away insanity, and then open them again, you see only a vast blue sea that will not talk.
On this sea, the second judge rode in a swift black ship, like an arrow driven by his sense of justice, towards the rocky crags of Crete, the fierce and brilliant island where the mystery had begun. A sailor on a ship, which had stopped by a small piece of rock for drinking water, thanked the Sicilians for not being pirates, and told the second judge: "One day’s sail from here, there is a small island filled with goats, tended only by an old man, not kind enough to love, not wealthy enough to disturb. He lives there with his daughter, a twisted wreck of a thing who no man wants. She seems broken, like Bellerephon when he was struck from Pegasus the winged horse by lightning, for men trying to be gods is a sin; and Zeus was right to destroy him, as he was right to chain Prometheus to a stake and to torment him with an eagle every day. The girl, who her own father calls ‘Broken’, is more pitiful, however, for she was not crushed by heaven for some great deed, nor for some envy- producing virtue such as pride or beauty, but merely because the gods became bored by the human form, like pot-makers tired of the mold that chokes the art of their hand. They drank too much on the night she was born and said let us break the mold inside her mother’s belly and fashion her with our drunken hands. And so they did, and her mother died of grief to see what a ruined creature she had brought into the world."
The second judge asked the sailor, "So far you have only told me of the sorrow that belongs to this island. What does it offer of Daedalus and Icarus?"
The sailor said: "Two witnesses, for both of them saw them flying by. And a piece of the wing. On the beach near where they live is where it washed up."
The second judge thanked the sailor, pressing a silver coin into his hand.
"Thank you, Sir. May the Gods favor you."
The old man and Broken stood waiting for him on the beach, they could see the ship coming in for miles, like a holiday approaching slowly through days marked on a calendar. They could not hide the fact that their lives were boring, and that they would greet a man who was penniless and mute with the same enthusiasm that they greeted a storyteller or a king. Just to see another face – for them, any sea-weathered, wizened face was like the Acropolis. When they found out what the second judge wanted, they were overjoyed, for it meant that, for one moment in their lives, they would be important.
"It’s a pity," said the old man, shaking his head, though the only tragedy he had to compare it with was the death of a wife who he never really loved and the birth of a daughter who he detested. "A shame what happened. Do you believe we were the only ones to see it?"
The whole world knew the story, but only from the tongue of Daedalus. He and his son Icarus had been held prisoner by King Minos of Crete. The great inventor, a refugee from Athens, had at first been welcomed by the King. Who would not have been elated at the arrival of such a gifted mechanic, such a visionary artisan and builder of machines, to one’s court? But then, strange things had begun to happen. There were rumors of sordid goings-on between Queen Pasiphae and Daedalus, and then the accusation of treason as Daedalus helped the King’s daughter, Ariadne, to save the Athenian prince Theseus who was imprisoned in the Labyrinth. Daedalus and Icarus, his son by a Cretan slave, were confined to the Labyrinth as a punishment, but escaped. However, they could not escape from Crete itself, which was an island protected by the wildness and broadness of the ocean and by the prowling, unforgiving ships of Minos. To escape, there was but one path: the sky! And so, master inventor that he was, Daedalus built two pairs of wings made of feathers, some of the feathers threaded together, and others held in place by wax. As the heartbroken Daedalus recalled it, he told his son, "Fly neither too high nor too low. For if you fly too high the heat of the sun will melt the wax that holds your feathers in place; your wings will come apart and you will plunge into the sea; while if you fly too low, the moisture from the waves will make the feathers heavy and your wings will fail; you will be dragged by their weight into the sea and drown." And with these words, the two of them leapt off of their hiding place, a cliff by the sea, and flew like birds into the sky, away from the dark land which hungered for them. But Icarus, headstrong, exuberant youth that he was, would not listen to the wise counsel of his father. Euphoric and thrilled by the experience of flight, he could not restrain himself from climbing upwards towards the sun, from conquering greater heights and seeing more of the world as it shrunk in size with every gigantic beat of his wings. Until, at last, the inevitable happened. The nearby fire of the sun loosened the form of the wax which held his wings together, they grew weak and suddenly came undone, he fell like a comet into the sea. Desperate, horrified, Daedalus, who had been leading the way, circled back and searched for his missing son, but all he could find were feathers floating on the surface of the sea; and he knew that his dear child had succumbed to ambition he was not equal to.
"What did you see?" the second judge asked the old man, dying of curiosity to hear the story, for the first time, from someone other than Daedalus.
"The two of them were flying over there," he said, pointing out towards the sea. With his hands he indicated their size. "They were about this size to our eyes, we could see them clearly, men with wings."
"I saw them first," the girl said. The second judge found her hard to look at, and hard not to look at, she stooped like an abused donkey in the body of a woman and dragged one leg behind her like a log as she walked; one of her arms was half-withdrawn into her body, shriveled up or merely disgusted with the world and expressing that disgust with its appearance; she spoke with slurred, animal-like words, as though she were something else pretending to be human, and yet her face was pretty with shining eyes, that seemed trapped in the wreckage of her body. She was like the head of a goddess sewn onto a mangled corpse, frightfully alive though the rest of her was dead. "Icarus – he was beautiful! A beautiful boy with golden hair!" she said in words that one’s mind somehow managed to put together several seconds after they were spoken.
"Nonsense!" the old man exclaimed. "We couldn’t see their faces clearly! For her, appearing as she does, a dog has the beauty of Adonis!"
"What is missing from my body has gone to my mind and eyes," she told the second judge. "I saw Icarus clearly. His face was beautiful. But it was troubled. Something was about to go wrong."
"Can you describe their position relative to each other as they were flying?" the second judge asked the old man.
"Certainly," he said. "The father was out in front, flying low, but not too low, maybe one hundred yards above the sea. Right out there. The boy was far behind him and flying much higher, up there. They were not both visible at once, you had to look first at one, then turn and tilt your head to look at the other. That was how far apart they were."
"And then what happened?"
"My daughter called to me to tell me that the boy was in trouble. So I looked over there."
"My heart was pounding!" the girl exclaimed.
"And what did you see?" the second judge asked.
"I saw him twisting and turning and flapping his wings," replied the father. "He was like a man losing his balance on wet stones, except that these wet stones were in the sky. He tried to stay on his feet – I mean his feet in the sky. You know what I mean?"
"Yes, of course."
"But he could not. All of a sudden, he began to fall."
"My heart fell with him!" cried the girl.
"He tried to stop himself, he seemed to try to stretch his body out, to turn himself into a leaf that might flutter to the ground, but his winged arms were suddenly thrown back with tremendous force. It was an unnatural angle, his arms must have been broken, even pulled out of their sockets, he pointed downwards like an arrow, streamlined to die, and began to plummet."
"He tried," the girl wept. "He tried to live!"
"His wings showed signs of life," the father agreed. "Every once in a while, they fluttered, they crept back into the rushing streams of air which whipped them shut again. Clouds of feathers trailed out from behind him, like smoke from a fire, as he fell. He crashed into the sea over there. There was a huge splash, beautiful really, like a fountain turned on by the Nereids that lasted only for the moment of his death. Broken, don’t cry, tears only call attention to your deformity."
"He was so beautiful!"
"Too beautiful for you. With golden hair, as you say, and wings! You should have rejoiced at his catastrophe, Broken, for when he hit the ocean at such speed his body must have become nearly as mangled as yours, brought back within your reach. I am sure if his shattered corpse had washed up on the beach, you would have made love to it. "
The second judge was as disturbed by the father’s cruelty, expressed with the same ease with which one asks a servant for a glass of water, as he was by the girl’s frightening, damaged form. "What did Daedalus do while all this was taking place?" he asked, fleeing from a tragedy without a following to one that would be remembered by all the world.
"Nothing!" the girl spat. "Fathers!"
"Go feed the goats!" the old man ordered. She took a few steps back towards the hills, then waited.
"Daedalus?" the second judge asked, dragging her father’s eyes back to him.
"He heard his son screaming."
"What did he say?"
"Who could hear? The falling, the wind. It sounded like a bird being cut with a knife while it was still alive. It was just pain, pure pain, no words. Like they were cutting off its wing."
"He said ‘Help!’," the girl said. "Then ‘Father!’, then ‘Naucrate! Naucrate!’"
"The slave girl who was his mother," the second judge explained.
"Daedalus looked over his shoulder," the old man said. "He beat his wings, rose higher, banked, and circled back towards the place his son had fallen. He glided past it once, then maneuvered to glide past it again."
"The feathers were like flowers scattered across the waves," said Broken. "Icarus was buried in Poseidon’s palace. Though he died knocking on the door of the sun, it was the sea that let him in."
"And then?" asked the second judge, remaining with the narrative of the father.
"Seeing that his son had perished, he gave a mighty beat of his wings, and rose to catch a current of air taking him westwards towards the wild shores of Italy, where Greeks too lonely for Greece lose themselves in a new beginning. Once he had caught the current of air, he just lay there in the sky with his wings outstretched, disappearing into the horizon. And that was the end of it. Except for the wing that washed up on the shore."
"Do you still have it?" the second judge asked.
"Do not take it!" the girl cried.
The father raised his hand and took a step towards her as if to strike her.
"I will not take it," the second judge promised. "I only wish to examine it."
It was night time, they were eating meat off of a spit turning around in a blazing fire, outside the old man’s battered abode and the daughter’s pitiful hut; they would inspect the wing in the morning.
"What reason is there to continue the investigation?" asked the second judge’s assistant. "The eyewitnesses have essentially corroborated Daedalus’ story. If they had seen him strangling Icarus in the air, or plunging a dagger into his back, or pushing him out of an airstream and causing him to plummet out of control into the sea… But they saw the disaster with their own eyes, and Daedalus and Icarus never touched, they were never even close to each other! Why even look at the wing? You don’t believe the old man?"
"There are many ways to murder," the second judge said.
The assistant looked at him, puzzled. Then he said, in amazement: "The wing? You think Daedalus gave Icarus faulty wings?!"
As dawn broke over the miserable little island, unable to deny it the light which it had come to give to the rest of the world, Broken led the investigators up a rugged little trail with a few trees, which were cursing the seeds that had brought them here, clinging to the rocks. Because the way up was torturous for one of her limited physical means, the second judge helped her, discovering, to his discomfort, that she seemed to relish his hands upon her body; in fact, she tried to push herself closer against him as he assisted her up the slope, and seemed so unfamiliar with her body that she did not think he would notice. At the top of the trail, in a little grove of olive trees with stretched-out branches seemingly crying for succor, they came upon a thatched shelter she had built, a kind of temple in which she had laid the wing, which she prayed to every day. Her father despised the religion his daughter had invented: the absurdity of a cripple praying to a wing, when there were goats to follow through the rocks!
"Please – treat it well," she begged them. "It is all I have. This wing, and the goat bells, which are, for me, the lyre of Orpheus. And the sea, which is the grave of my beloved."
The second judge assured her he would treat the wing with reverence; and carefully, with the aid of his assistant, as though it were made of dust which might fall apart in their hands, they brought it out of the shelter and into the plain light of day.
"It’s a fragment," the second judge noted.
"Most of the wing no doubt disintegrated in the plunge," the assistant reminded him; but the judge did not want to reel in his eyes, not yet.
"These feathers, here," the second judge said, carefully examining the form and texture of what remained, "are the feathers of terns and gulls, and they were woven together with thread in the manner of a quilt."
"Daedalus said as much," the assistant said. "The larger feathers were threaded together. The rest of the wing, which was made of wax and filled with carefully layered arrays of smaller feathers, must have melted and fallen off; disintegrated, as Icarus approached the sun. The part of the wing lost from the melting wax must have wrecked the structure of the wing as a whole: this section which is still intact could not sustain nor control the flight by itself, and, in fact, is likely to have become separated from the wing as the stress on it increased."
"According to the eyewitnesses, Icarus still had his wings when he hit the sea; they simply would not keep him in the sky."
"Agreed," the assistant said, "but the wings had been in the process of coming apart. They saw a trail of feathers behind him. The wings were present, as fragments, but inoperable."
Holding the wing with intimate attention, like a man reading a book that means more to him than what is left to him in life - gently caressing the feathers like the hair of a lover in the night who he does not wish to waken – the second judge said: "The thread here is not secured, and many of the holes through which it should have been drawn have been bypassed. The structure is flawed, poorly crafted."
The assistant bent down closer to look at where the second judge’s finger was pointing. After a moment he said: "So it is, or seems to be…"
"As you can see, a lot of air would be penetrating the wing at this point. The wing’s ability to bear the weight of Icarus would be compromised."
"And yet it did bear him," protested the assistant, "and, if the eyewitnesses are to be believed, it bore him up to the threshold of heaven, until he almost wore the burning sun as his crown. Perhaps the threading came loose as the stress on this part of the wing was increased by the collapse of the rest of the wing – as he struggled to brake his fall by stretching his wings out into the sky he was plunging through."
The second judge, continuing to coddle the wing, nodded. "There are obvious signs of damage from the plunge. But look here – these holes are ripped, and here the thread is torn. But in this place – right here – the holes are not ripped through, nor is the thread – as you can see from this strand – torn. This part of the wing was never properly constructed."
The assistant felt anxious, he wished the case to be closed quickly, without drama or complication. He would not suppress the truth to obtain peace of mind, but why chase exotic alternatives when there was an obvious and popular solution? "However flawed the workmanship, it did not prevent Icarus from successfully flying from Crete to here."
"True," admitted the second judge, "but perhaps the wing was calculated to slowly come apart as he flew. Perhaps the wing was not constructed to catastrophically fail at the outset, but to gradually wear out over time. And here - right here," he said, pointing to the sea beyond them, "is where it finally ceased to function."
"Wax!" the assistant discovered, hopefully.
The second judge looked closer. Indeed, there were traces of melted wax along the rim of the feather quilt, and below it, signs of the rest of the wing that was no longer there, forensic gestures of support for the version of the tragedy which Daedalus had made famous throughout the world.
"In all events," said the assistant, "this wing is not enough to prove a thing! Icarus’ death may just as probably, and in fact is more likely to be, the result of melting wax than poorly threaded feathers."
"Perhaps it may indicate intention," suggested the second judge. As the assistant only looked at him, needing the insinuation to be made explicit, he explained: "The intention to kill."
But the assistant just shook his head. "We cannot infer that either, your honor. Perhaps they were in a rush. Perhaps they had been discovered by the agents of Minos. Perhaps they had to leave before Daedalus had time to perfect Icarus’ wings. This fragment of a wing reveals neither the physics of the wing’s demise, nor Daedalus’ attitude towards his son. We cannot make such leaps to a man’s ruin!"
The second judge smiled. He knew the rules of evidence, the difference between the tiny traces, the specks of factual dust, which nourished his intuition, and the hard weight of indisputable truths needed by the court to condemn a man. He ordered a scribe from the ship to make intricately detailed sketches of the wings, and had the testimony of the witnesses put into writing.
"Here," he told Broken, at the end of their visit on the little island which had no claim to glory but for the fact that a man who tried to fly died within its sight: "here is the wing you pray to." As though it were a holy relic, he and his assistant placed it gently back into the wretched shelter that was the only temple she could make for it.
"Please," she whispered to him before they left: "make love to me before you go! You are a man who seeks justice! It is unjust that my soul is trapped in such a broken body! You can right the wrong! Give me one more thing worth remembering on this lonely island. Just one little bite of reality to feed my daydreams for the next twenty years! I doubt I shall last any longer than that."
The second judge did not know what to do or say. Finally, he said, "It would not be right of me to use you and leave you. To make you long for me, and stare at the sea wondering where I am for the rest of your life."
"No," she said. "Do not flee from me by being kind. It is I who will use you. I who will haunt you for the rest of your life, like a monster whose image you cannot rid yourself of, because I want to cheat my destiny and have one moment of happiness!" And she added, "You will not be you, I will close my eyes, and dream that I am making love to Icarus! The sin will be his, not yours!"
Some hours later, sweating and disturbed, the second judge, whose sense of right was not easy to appease, appeared back on the beach where the ship was waiting to leave. The pursuit of justice was a terrible thing: like seeking an orgasm in the arms of the night!
"Why?" the assistant asked him, as their ship coasted slowly through the darkness towards the island of Crete. "Why do you persist in investigating this case? We have nothing conclusive in our hands, and are unlikely to find any evidence more relevant than that which has already proved insufficient to convict, or to even indict. It is all your intuition. Of course, I respect your intuition, your honor, but just because you believe in something strongly does not mean that others are compelled to agree, or will agree. And now we are headed towards the kingdom of Minos – a fierce and unpredictable ruler who could just as easily have us put to death as welcome our investigation."
For a time, they looked together at the stars by which the ship was steered, and listened to the billowing of the sails and the creaking of the wood, and the splash of the sea all around the ship, caressing it, exploring it. The assistant drew his woolen mantle more tightly about himself, then asked the second judge: "Your honor, may I ask you a personal question?"
He saw the second judge nodding in the darkness.
"Why? Why are we doing this? Is it pride? Will you lose face if your intuition is wrong this time? Or lose your trust in it? Or is this about your father? Was your own father a tyrant, did he try to kill you in some way, to shear off some inner flower, to snuff out the candle of a dream? Must Daedalus fall to prove that fathers are not invulnerable, and that their sins are not untouchable!? Or is it history? History that impels you? Will you not let a man rise above his past, will you not let Daedalus step free of the one day he wishes had never happened?"
The second judge smiled, though the assistant could not see it in the dark, and after a while he said: "A dog can smell things that people cannot. We see the forest and know nothing of it except for the trees that hide everything that is in it. The dog already knows what is inside it: the deer, the wild boar, the bear, the bandit. My intuition is like that. Like the nose of a dog. I can smell what is inside the forest of a man, past the towering trees of a smile, or the green leaves of a tear. Daedalus bears a great sin on his shoulders. One far newer than Talos!"
Talos was the name of Daedalus’ nephew, the son of his sister Polycaste. Early in his career, as a brilliant and flourishing craftsman in Athens, Daedalus had been surprised by the talent of Talos, an up-and-coming artisan, whose accomplishments, even at the tender age of twelve, quickly swelled to rival that of his more famous uncle. Not only did Talos invent the potter’s wheel and the mechanical compass, used to draw the perfect circle, but he also claimed to have invented the saw, after having discovered the jawbone of a serpent lying on the ground which inspired him to make one of his own in iron. Daedalus disputed his nephew’s claim, insisting that he had created the invention first. Finally, one night, consumed by a fiery fit of jealousy which was, nonetheless, cool enough to shape into a plan, Daedalus led his young nephew up to the roof of Athena’s temple, and as they looked together at the majestic stars, he pushed him off of it to his death. Hurrying down from the temple in the night, he dumped the body into a bag, but he was discovered soon afterwards as he dragged it towards the site where he intended to bury it. Suspicions citizens, patrolling the streets against robbers, saw him struggling with the weight, and noted the bloodstains leaking out from it. At his trial, Daedalus claimed that he had slain his nephew to defend the honor of his sister, who the child, not only precocious with inventions it seemed, had taken to bed in an abominable act of incest. In shame, Polycaste hung herself. But the judges of Daedalus, and the city as a whole, did not accept his pious pretext, they found him guilty of murdering his nephew in order to save himself from being eclipsed by the young protégé who was about to surpass him. It was not a holy act done on behalf of the gods, but a wretched act born of envy, the hateful act of clouds which wish to hide the sun, and they would not have such a man living in their midst, no matter how talented, no matter how brilliant. Daedalus’ punishment was to be banished from Athens for life, and that is how he ended up on Crete, seeking a second chance from King Minos, who was willing to provide him with a sanctuary from the loathing of the Greeks; to risk a sinner in his midst, for the glory of the inventions he could make.
"We are all sinners in one way or another," mused the assistant. "That is Daedalus’ great sin, and it is behind him. Legally, he was prosecuted and punished by Athens, and the case is closed. He has paid the price demanded by the law for what he did to Talos, and morally, since then, he has risen far above the man he was. Do we have the right to attack him on the summit of the new man he is, to grab him by the ankles of his past and try to drag him down from the progress he has made? Do you wish to avenge Talos through Icarus?"
But the second judge only shook his head. "There is no more justice for Talos in this world," the second judge said. "He has got all that he will get. This is about Icarus. What if Daedalus has not grown as much as you believe? What if his progress has really been nothing more than the absence of Talos? If there are only stones around, the lion will not eat, he will merely lie down on the ground and you will say, ‘How tame the lion has become! He has changed, he is no longer a beast!’ But see what happens when a deer wanders into the picture! That is when you will see how deep the lion’s reform really goes!"
"And Icarus, you think, was the deer?"
The second judge did not answer, but his silence was a kind of answer.
"But did he have talent? Could he have in anyway been Daedalus’ rival? In any way a threat to him?"
Once again, the second judge did not speak; the ship heading towards Crete, towards the frightening island where the answers might lie spoke for him.
One more time, the assistant protested: "Even if we find a motive, what of the mechanics? The mechanics of the murder!? There is no indication from the eyewitnesses, nor any substantial proof from the condition of the wing which we examined! Even if we find out that Daedalus hated Icarus! Even if we find out that Icarus was about to invent a candle that never stops burning, or a chariot that needs no horses, or a book that speaks, or a ladder that reaches up to heaven, even if we can demonstrate that Daedalus was seething with jealousy against his son, there will be no way to connect the motive to any identifiable crime! There is no way to get beyond the plausibility of a misadventure!"
"One day, I was late, late for a very important appointment at the court," the second judge said, a long story, most likely with a purpose, beginning to form beneath the stars. "The wheel of my chariot was loose and I could no longer travel in it. I had evidence for a very important case. Oh no, I thought, I must get to the court before the sun is at its peak, or the case will be lost! But how? I am running out of time! Of course, the solution was to unhitch one of the horses. As my servant remained behind with the chariot, I mounted the horse and began to ride into town. But the horse fell into a pit, injuring its ankle. It was lame, and I tethered it to a tree along the way. I was shaken up but unhurt. But the time! The time!"
"Surely, by now, you must have thought the gods were against you in this case," the assistant suggested.
"Not at all," the second judge replied. "I thought, they have put my dedication to what is good for society in the balance against the defendant’s dedication to what is good for himself at the expense of society. If justice does not have a will equal to that of the criminal, what will come of the world!? Still, I was on foot now and there was a great distance to go! A part of me felt like giving up. Like the man who is wounded in battle and falls down on the ground, not because he is not a patriot, but because he has been vanquished. Why hurl yourself against the impossible? But I thought, do not give up! Just continue on foot, continue walking as quickly as you can, even though it seems impossible to arrive on time, arrive the least late possible! And I persisted. I did not give up, I walked hard, developing a new admiration for horses as I struggled. Along the way, I tried to convince a man to let me up onto the back of his chariot. He accepted, but would not change the direction he was going, which was far from the court. So I continued walking. Then I asked a man if I might borrow his horse. I showed him the insignia of the court, but he said, ‘What if you are not in a hurry to convict a robber, as you say, but only to steal a horse?’ I was discouraged, but did not let that spirit take possession of my legs. I continued! I pushed myself! And when, at last, I arrived late at the court, I found out that I was not as late as I had supposed and that, in fact, there was still time to deliver the critical papers, due to certain unexpected delays which had occurred in the proceedings." After a moment allowed for the assistant to absorb the lesson, the second judge said: "Even when there does not appear to be hope, keep walking in the direction of hope. If you do not, you will never find what you are looking for. But if you do, there is a chance you will, even if it does not look at all like what you were expecting!"
The Sicilian ship seemed so vulnerable as it rowed into the harbor waiting for it, escorted by sleek dark ships with menacing, bronze-studded prows and crews of tanned, powerful oarsmen who seemed like children of the sea.
"Welcome to Crete," said a warrior who met them on the shore, indicating that they should climb into the chariots provided for them to ride up the winding trail to the place where King Minos was waiting. "You will dine with us tonight," said the warrior, whose sword in the background whispered ‘I am here’ as he treated them with the utmost civility. "Tomorrow, we will discuss business. Do not bring it up today, do not sour the occasion by even mentioning the name of Daedalus."
Amazed, the crew from Sicily entered the spectacular palace, stunned by the mighty, decorated pillars, the golden statues of bulls, the walls painted with schools of dolphins diving in and out of the sparkling sea, and images of beautiful youths jumping over the backs of bulls. Gracious women, their naked breasts billowing out over the tops of colorful, layered costumes, smiled at them as they passed, their long hair falling over their shoulders in elaborate tresses. Servants led them to a room in which they were refreshed, stripped naked and bathed with water that flowed out of pipes, then massaged with olive oil, then given luxuriant robes and sent onwards towards the king. At this time, in Greece and in Sicily, men washed themselves with cold water out of jugs, and shit in holes dug in the ground. Here there were baths and flushing toilets. "We had these before the traitor came," the warrior told them. "He made things of convenience and power; before him we made things of joy."
King Minos, sitting on a high couch, smiled as they came. Here was the fearsome king, the tyrant of Knossos! His skin was tan, beautifully tan, his hair fell long and dark all the way down to the small of his back, his eyes blazed like suns made of black; there was terrible intelligence in those eyes, passion like lightning that could strike you down, cleverness and pride, but also the willingness to meet strangers if they could endure him looking into their soul. His might was evident, but it seemed more like a sword that only strikes its enemy than a fire that burns down everything around it. There was also something hurt in him, something in his eyes that revealed loss and disappointment through a certain soft quality in the rage that remained in him, he was like an eagle with a great scar, spreading expansive wings outwards from his pain. Beside him sat his queen, Pasiphae, beautiful but somehow disordered inside; glowing with shame, as if an inner moon that knew exactly who she really was, was shining from behind the clouds of her appearance; it was as though Minos’ high expectations of her had thrown her down into the mud, and both of them thought they were the only ones who could see her soiled. Together, they made a strange couple, regal yet sorrowful in each other’s presence, he unable to stop picking his wound, she like a porcupine, with quills made of his anger.
"Welcome to Knossos!" Minos told them, serving them with wine and delightful dishes of the sea, as he nodded his head at the servants, who were his hands. "So, you come from Sicily? From the western outposts of the Greeks? We will not discuss anything tonight, but the beauty of the sea and the power of the volcanoes. Here, too, on Crete, the people live under the shadow of a volcano. I am that volcano, but I only erupt when a law is broken. Tell me, have you seen Hephaestus there, by the Sicilian shore? Have you seen the sparks of his hammer, beating the armor of the Gods into shape in the fire of Vulcano Island? I wonder why the Gods need armor. What a God, eh?, that Hephaestus! How clever the way he caught his wife Aphrodite in infidelity by dropping a net down on her bed in the middle of the night!"
Pasiphae flinched, but in a royal sort of way, like a bird that falls lower in the sky as it flies, but quickly finds another current of air to carry it back to where it was.
"Your palace is astounding," the second judge told him.
"I know," said Minos, winking at him, then laughing. "Our ships have brought the whole world into reach; the treasures of a thousand lands flow like rivers into Crete. This is what humanity can be. The world can either learn from us, or destroy us. It can soar into heaven, which is but a wing-beat away, or lose a thousand years of history and crawl back to where we are, after generations have slithered through the dirt."
The second judge struggled not to drink too much wine, and Minos saw it. He smiled, once again. "Tomorrow we will talk," he said. "Tonight, we drink."
The Minos who they met the next day was intense but not anxious, he was like a lion with powerful legs crouching in the grass, alert to everything that moved. He was not festive, but rather, dressed in a long black robe, his bare arms strong and sensuous. Beside him, garbed in a long purple garment, sat Pasiphae, distant and tired in advance, and at her feet, a maid and Naucrate, the mother of Icarus, still attractive though grief had greatly humbled her. Warriors and counselors were also in attendance.
The second judge sat before them, in a lower position than the Cretans, with his assistant and two scribes beside him.
"We have some questions to ask about Daedalus," the second judge began.
No one spoke.
"You are all aware of the events in question."
"Most regrettable," said Pasiphae.
Minos smiled fearfully. Then he said, "I am aware that nearly the whole Mediterranean has expressed its sympathy for this man, and cast me into the role of the terrible villain. Well – let me say something first. This wonderful man, this murderer who I provided a refuge to…"
"In spite of being a murderer," noted Pasiphae.
"… betrayed my trust. I never in any thing did him wrong before that. First – disgraceful ingrate that he was – he took advantage of my friendship to accost my wife."
The inner counselors and generals who knew this looked down at their feet. The common people did not know, and these men of rank could barely bear to know.
"You betrayed Poseidon," said Pasiphae.
"The white bull," he told them. "The beautiful white bull. Poseidon gave it to me as a gift. I was supposed to sacrifice it in the temple that we built to him. In that way, we would win the eternal favor of the sea which surrounds us, and is the source of all our might. Absolute power was in my hands. All I had to do was to kill the bull, to slit its throat by the altar of Poseidon as men held it down with ropes, and watch its blood drip into the sacrificial pot. But it was too beautiful. The white bull. I, who they call the monster of the Mediterranean, the tyrant of the sea, the slayer of the flower of Greece, I could not even kill this bull."
"You betrayed Poseidon," Pasiphae repeated.
"She says Poseidon brought a curse against her, to avenge himself against me. He made her fall in love with the white bull. Perverse woman, it was your own madness! Your own love of the bizarre, the insatiable lust of your sweet interior that longed for deeper pleasures than men could give! And that swine of an inventor, he entered into her sick world so that he might, as the only man capable of holding the hand of her shame, love the pieces of her after he had helped her to fall! He constructed for her a wooden bull and stationed her inside of it, naked like a whore, with her rear pressed against the opening, then lured the white bull to mount her and – shame! Shame of the ages! And that Daedalus, he was the one who made it possible!"
"It was Poseidon’s doing, he only served the god by giving me the means to manifest my longing. And have I not loved you well since then? And was it not better once I was freed of my obsession?"
"You loved him, too – and more," whispered Minos, bitterly: "Daedalus. For when I loved you, I drew back from what you had done; but the sin did not leave him with inhibitions. Instead, for him, loving you was a way of celebrating his cleverness. After the bull, I could never please you…"
"That is because you make love like a bull. Not all men do."
"Is it true that Daedalus built the Labyrinth?" the second judge asked, uncertain whether it was wise to step into this storm, but wishing to keep the meeting focused, or at least to prevent it from utterly collapsing as man and wife turned upon each other with hatred, or with pain which was far worse.
"He built the Labyrinth to contain the Minotaur," Minos said.
"My son," retorted Pasiphae.
"The shame of our lives! One half a bull, one half a man. He was a danger to us all…"
"It was your pride, Minos, your pride that hid him from the world! And the solitude that turned him into a beast!"
"He had to be locked away, shut away from humanity! Some called Daedalus a hero for building the labyrinth in which to keep the Minotaur – an intricate maze which only his mind of endless twists and turns could have conceived of – but what choice did he have? It was the very least he could do to atone for the perverse crime he had collaborated in producing – to protect the world from the monster he had created!"
"And what of the youths of Athens?" the second judge asked, while the assistant shuddered, fearful of such a delicate question which might trigger the rage of Minos, who held their lives in his hands.
"The seven young men and seven maidens who we brought every ninth year to sacrifice to the Minotaur, until Theseus killed him?"
"Poor children," said Pasiphae.
"They had to know what it was like!" exclaimed Minos, practically bleeding from something he had recalled. "My son – my dear, dear son! I, at least, loved my son!"
"On a visit to Athens, their foolish king, Aegeus, let our boy participate in a hunt too dangerous for his years, and he – he lost his life."
"Fool! Negligent fool!" exclaimed Minos. "As the Athenians made me suffer, I vowed to make them suffer – and to sacrifice the joy of their hearts, the light of their eyes, the most beautiful of their young, to the beast in the bowels of my palace! Yes, yes, I know! Ruthless! Who hasn’t called me that? But how easy it is to sin when you do not know what a sin entails! If the world felt hunger in its stomach, would it be indifferent to the man who starved? If every warrior could be turned into the mother of the man he raised his spear against, would there be war? I came to Athens as a teacher of dark things, to train their people never more to be careless with the hearts outside their city walls."
"You were cruel."
"The Minotaur who slaughtered them came from your womb!"
The silence was long and difficult, until at last Minos remembered where he had been in the narrative, and said: "Theseus came to kill the Minotaur, to ‘liberate’ Athens from me. He would not have succeeded, had he not seduced my daughter Ariadne, who was instructed by Daedalus to tell Theseus how to safely navigate his way through the Labyrinth by means of a ball of yarn, so that he did not become lost, as all others before him had, in the deadly reflection of the great inventor’s pathologically complex mind."
"My poor, half-human son," said Pasiphae. "Poor Greeks, poor Asterion."
"The name she gave to the Minotaur."
"Poor world. Why do we do this to each other? Why is there no end? Why do tears which should close the book only begin a new chapter?"
"You are idealistic as long as you are not empty." And he meant it in a crude, physical way.
"Minos, if your bed were a happier place, you would not need to mount the world."
"My bed is a wasteland; too many people have been in it." Then, finally ripping himself away from distress that was too personal, he said: "For this act of treason – for abetting the enemy, even after I forgave him for his perversity and for the ungrateful shadow of his lust, disguised as sympathy, which fell across my wife’s body – I banished Daedalus to live forever in his own twisted mind – in the Labyrinth he had built to constrain a beast that was hundred times better than he was. For at least the Minotaur did not pretend to be anything but a beast. Was that unjust, I ask you? Did I punish a guiltless man?"
"You sent Icarus along with him," said Naucrate, speaking up as Pasiphae touched her hair. "He was blameless."
"He was Daedalus’ son," said Minos. "How could I trust him? The son of a slave and a traitor? If the father is fallen, beware the revenge of the son!"
"They escaped from the Labyrinth," said the second judge.
"Thanks to the help of Pasiphae, and her maid here."
"We had nothing to do with it. He had invented the Labyrinth. What a foolish idea to attempt to imprison him in his own creation! Of course he found his way out. But not off of the island of Crete. The sea would not let him flee, not with your fleet patrolling every wave. That is when we helped him. We gave him shelter and food in the house on the cliff where he plotted his escape."
"Do you see what a monster I am?" demanded Minos. "What other king would not have put his wife and her maid to death for such treason? At least to have blinded them, and made them spend the rest of their lives in darkness, and in chains? Yet here I am, the cuckold king, the most powerful fool in all the world! Look at the beautiful jewels she is wearing. I have not even taken them away! It is I who some god has put a spell on – do you see Eros’ love arrow here?" he said, pounding his chest. "It has pierced the center of my pride!"
As the second judge watched his scribes rapidly scribbling down notes of the meeting into sections of the giant empty scrolls in their laps, it was clear that the character of Daedalus was not in any way being favored. The noble mystique fostered by his incredible inventions and by the tragic tale of his fatherhood was disappearing, leading them back to a very brilliant, very opportunistic man, unable or unwilling to resist the callings of the energy which had made him famous. This was not a man above suspicion. But that was still a long way from finding him a murderer.
To draw the interview to the place where he now needed it to go, the second judge asked them: "What I need to know, now, is what kind of relationship Daedalus had with his son. How did the two of them get along? Were they close? Did they quarrel? Was there resentment, jealousy?"
"Most certainly, Icarus was a second Talos," said Minos.
"Why do you say that?" asked the second judge.
"Once a killer always a killer."
"Did the boy have talent?"
"Of course," his mother, Naucrate said.
"Could you describe his talent?"
"He was beautiful. Is that a talent?"
"Perhaps more a god’s talent than his. Did he have any others?"
"He had a talent for feeling."
"He was sensitive to the needs of others. If he saw you having trouble reaching for something, he came at once to help you. You did not have to speak. In the same way, if he saw you struggling with something heavy, he would come to share the burden with you. He listened to you lament, and did not become discouraged when you went around and around in circles, or when you wished for impossible things. He understood that listening was a way of holding you. He wept easily. He forgave just as easily. When a bee stung him, he said, ‘It’s all right; he has stung me, but he has also sweetened someone’s mouth with honey.’"
Minos just shook his head.
"Was he clever at invention?" asked the second judge. "At crafts? At using tools? In imagining machines or cutting jewels?"
"Not at all," said Pasiphae, interrupting the mother’s testimony. "He was a dreamy boy. While his father dug deep into the real world and changed things, the boy merely fantasized, and then he had no need to make a thing. He merely closed his eyes and he flew, he walked on the water, he waved his hand and fruits appeared on all the trees, he defeated the chimera and the Medusa like Perseus, he put to sleep the dragon that guarded the golden fleece like Medea. All in fantasies that did not leave a trace except for the far-off look in his eyes. He dreamt so strongly that he did not stir a leaf in the world outside of him. He did not need the real world as his father did, to brand it like a cow with the things he did for it, or to reap golden fields of praise. If he saw a stone, he would not invent the lever to move it, he would sit on it as it was. Daedalus could not be jealous of such a boy! Icarus was a threat to nothing except the placid surface of a lake in the summertime!"
"Was Daedalus ashamed of the boy?" asked the second judge, considering another possibility.
"No," said Naucrate. "The boy was beautiful, and he wasn’t slow-minded, even though many people think that the child of a slave should be. Was he dull?"
"No," said Pasiphae.
"No," agreed Minos. "He was very sharp, it is just that he seemed to prefer to be inside himself more than anywhere else."
"Unless someone was suffering," said his mother.
Now Pasiphae’s maid spoke. "That is very true," she said. "And that is the one time I ever heard them have a disagreement."
The second judge gave her all his attention.
"While they were living in a hut by the beach, before they moved to the house on the cliff where Daedalus actually constructed the wings, they would go out every night to collect feathers from the seabirds which lived along the beach. In fact, Daedalus left poisoned food along the beach, which he put down at dusk, and the queen and I, as well as Daedalus and Icarus, would come by to gather together the dead birds just before the dawn. I remember Icarus and his father having an argument about it."
"Do you remember what they said?" asked the second judge.
"Icarus said it was cruel, what they were doing. His father asked him, ‘Do you want to be free?’ And the boy told him, ‘It isn’t fair to the birds, they have as much right to fly as we do! Can our flight only be made from the theft of theirs?’"
"And then what?"
"Daedalus called him an impractical and sentimental fool, and said ‘Greatness is above fear: both physical fear and moral fear.’" She saw the second judge waiting for more and said, "That’s all."
But now, Pasiphae added: "The boy wanted to wait, to find feathers that had fallen off the birds, and to collect them without killing them. His father was in a rush and said that every day they remained on Crete they were in danger of being discovered. He had no time to be merciful with mere creatures." She hesitated for a moment, as though she did not want to say something more which was being regurgitated from her soul, rising up into her mouth, and practically being expelled from her like vomit.
The second judge saw her on the brink, and pushed her over the edge. "Please continue," he said.
Trembling, she said, "When they were on the house on the cliff, and it was actually time to make the wings, Daedalus was having problems. He had us bring him a tern which we had drugged, and placed inside a large basket. One day, as I came to visit him, I heard the angry shouts of Icarus, and the shrill and terrible sounds of a screaming bird, tearing my head to pieces with its agonized cry. I burst into the house and saw the injured tern, bound by a tether attached to its leg, lunging into walls and calling out to the gods, or so it seemed. One of its wings hung off to the side in an obviously damaged state, its very position seemed to have a voice. Icarus was lying against the wall holding his face as though he had just been struck, and Daedalus, who had just broken the bird’s wing as he twisted it to study it more closely was shouting, ‘I have learned all that I can from dead birds, and from birds flying in the sky! What is wrong with you, boy? Men have armies to fight for freedom, walls of spear-points moving through the fields, and you will not even face the pain of a bird! It must be your mother’s slave blood!’"
Naucrate winced to hear this, then said, "Daedalus is an arrogant man. He despised me, but I was lonely. I was like a speck of dust, happy to land on a piece of gold. I did not know he struck my son. My poor, harmless child!"
The light coming through the window was now beginning to wane.
The second judge asked Minos if his men had been close to capturing Daedalus on the day that he and Icarus took flight from the cliff where they had been hiding.
"No," he said. "Thanks to the heights of cleverness which love lifted her to, the queen had us looking in other places, convinced that she, herself, was a decoy."
Turning to Pasiphae, the second judge asked: "Did Daedalus believe that Minos was closing in?"
"He was always concerned with time," she said. "The longer he waited to escape, the greater was the chance of being discovered. But up until the very end, he felt secure in the integrity of his hiding place."
"He did not, then, leave under pressure?"
"No, in fact, the wings were ready one week before they left. He was able to wait for the perfect conditions to fly – fair weather and favorable winds."
"I understand," said the second judge, "that he left behind some notebooks – some journals and sketches."
"I will bring them to you tomorrow," Minos told the second judge. "But we have already looked at them, with translators and cryptic experts as well. Although we were mainly searching for a clue as to his destination, for it was our intention to track him down and make him pay for his crimes, we have read every word and looked at every picture. We found nothing that will be of interest to you. However, he removed many leafs from the books and must have thrown them into the fire before he left. Ashes of the truth must by now have fallen all over Thera, Naxos and Rhodes, and lighted like dust upon the sea. Only the Gods know what really happened. But I want this man to be punished. I will help you build a case against him, if need be, from lies. I will produce a hundred witnesses who will say they saw Daedalus plunge a dagger into his son’s back. Try him and kill him, so that I do not have to send my fleet into Sicilian waters to hunt him down and do it myself!"
And Minos, rising up like Poseidon from the sea, with his men splashing like waves around him, signaled that the audience was at an end. "At dawn," he said, "you will have the books." And he extended his hand to Pasiphae. She took it, then winced, for he was squeezing her hand, nearly breaking the bones in it as his eyes seared hers. Then, with a dangerous sensual look, with the unquenchable desire that lay at the bottom of his rage, he led her out towards the green pastures of the room that had broken his heart.
The second judge and his assistant spent much of the night sitting by candles, comparing notes and throwing around ideas beneath the exaggerated shadows of the objects in their room. The assistant had returned to his former stance. Murder could not be proved. "Daedalus killed before as an act of domination," the assistant said. "He was jealous and afraid of being overtaken by Talos. To retain supremacy in his world, he had to eliminate the threat. Icarus was no threat, it seems. Daedalus was secure in his dominance, the boy lived in another world altogether, an inner world of fantasies. A lion has no need to challenge a dolphin. Let the dolphin swim the length and breadth of the sea; the lion is master of the land! I no longer see the motive for a murder. Perhaps Daedalus drove a sensitive soul to suicide, instead! Perhaps Icarus, with his strange deep feelings, felt guilty to use wings built from the suffering of so many birds, and deliberately flew towards the sun to kill himself. Perhaps he felt a mysterious bond with things destroyed, and must join them as an act of solidarity."
The second judge listened and took in the thoughts of his capable assistant. But still, his instincts could not be quieted. "For one thing, Daedalus has proved himself to be a liar," said the second judge. "He has portrayed Icarus as a reckless, spirited youth, driven to disobedience by an untamed spirit. He has portrayed him as a rebel, a boy mad to experience things, crazy to interact with the outside world, to jump into waters over his head. It seems that Icarus was, in truth, nothing like this. Why misrepresent him, if not to incline others towards believing the misadventure story, to cover up something else?"
"Still," pointed out the assistant, "the witnesses saw him soaring by the sun. Perhaps Icarus had more spirit than any of us give him credit for. Or perhaps he merely chose this moment to come out of his fantasy world, but without the knowledge of the real world needed to prevent that emergence from becoming catastrophic. Perhaps he had not taken enough steps in life to know what it meant to fall. Perhaps the first step he ever took was in the sky, and that is where he stumbled."
For a moment, the two of them sat in silence in the dark, each lost in his own thoughts, before the assistant exclaimed, one more time "But what motive? What motive?!"
The second judge said: "Perhaps he killed Icarus for the same reason he killed Talos. Only this Talos did not excite his envy with the saw, or the potter’s wheel, or the compass, or a brilliantly fashioned jewel, or a machine equal to a team of horses pulling a plow through a field, but with a soul that made his feel polluted. A soul whose purity exposed his degradation, and poisoned every star he had put into the sky. A soul which condemned the ladder of achievements with which he had tried to climb out of the pit of his vices without overcoming them; a soul which had shattered every brilliancy in his mask, with its humility. Talos’ inventions threatened to usurp Daedalus, to knock him off the pedestal of the world’s greatest inventor. Icarus’ soul would leave Daedalus unchallenged as the world’s greatest inventor, but strip away the pride and joy he derived from that position, by setting it in conflict against another standard. The king of the candles would meet the sun, the king of the insects with tiny buzzing wings would meet the albatross. To save the greatness he had won in the eyes of men, Daedalus must eliminate any other way of seeing the world! To be praised for the wings he had given man, he must destroy the man who was greater than those wings: the man whose soul already flew!"
The assistant admired the fertility of the second judge’s mind, the insights he could bring to the depths of the human heart. But it was still no case! Fine, a motive, perhaps: a poetic motive. But the proof?! What proof?!
The second judge said, "Tomorrow we will take a close look at the books, we will search for anything, even the footsteps of an ant across the page! If we find nothing, there is still the temple to Apollo at Cumae on the shores of southern Italy, the place where Daedalus left his wings in homage to the god after his successful escape from Crete. We will compare those wings with the fragment of Icarus’ wing which we have already studied. There was no rush to flee from Crete, no excuse for the poor workmanship of Icarus’ wing. If there is a substantial difference in the workmanship between the two wings…"
"Your honor," said the assistant, "you believe Daedalus is guilty and you are making a brilliant effort to prove your theory. Sometimes, more than the results, it is the effort which makes a man great."
"Thank you," said the second judge. "But I feel that I owe more to Icarus."
And they put their heads down on pillows to sleep, so that in the morning, they might think.
The books arrived at dawn, as promised. By a wide-open window with the sea in sight, on a huge table generously caressed by Aurora, the goddess of the day’s return, the second judge, his assistant, and the scribes sat down and began the painstaking, subtly thrilling work of examining the volumes set before them. There were two books of handwritten notes made of pages threaded together, two leather cases filled with loose pages stored in order, which seemed to contain journal entries as well as scientific sketches, and seven scrolls filled with diagrams of machines and wings, off-the-cuff remarks, and long enciphered passages. King Minos’ liaison provided them with the code-breaking tables which Crete’s military experts had devised and then used to translate the passages, as well as with the transcripts of those translations.
At once, the promising avenue of the ciphers, in which one would expect to find the most sensitive and incriminating information hidden, was proven to be utterly useless. Daedalus had used a series of elaborate, but not unbreakable codes, to create a wealth of false information for King Minos, which included diversionary escape plans, and unworkable inventions. Already, on the basis of this misinformation, King Minos’ liaison informed them, ten Cretan ships had been lost in a whirlpool off the island of Lebinthos, and an unnecessary war begun against the King of Caria, who was erroneously believed to be providing Daedalus with shelter and support. Thousands of Cretan soldiers had also spent a year building a giant war machine from blueprints and encrypted information which turned out to be nothing more than a gigantic waste of resources and time. Energy that could have been devoted to pursuing Daedalus was instead, spent on constructing an all-powerful mechanical warrior who would not take a step, but instead, smiled upon them with a sneer set in bronze that mocked the boundless capacities of sacrifice of their gullibility. Besides that, over a hundred men were lost in an explosion of the mighty chamber of fire which was to have generated the steam needed to move the mighty arms and legs. The mechanical man, named Talos in honor of Daedalus’ slain nephew, had never lifted a finger on behalf of the King. But Minos, to save face, invented the story that the giant had, indeed, come to life; he attributed a great Cretan naval victory to the intervention of the giant, then blamed an enemy for crippling the robot through a clever act of sabotage. Thus, a whole myth was created merely to hide the fact that he had been deceived.
"Against a genius such as this we have no chance," the second judge’s assistant exclaimed. "Even if he did foment a plot to murder Icarus, Daedalus will not have left behind a single trace of his intentions!"
"On the contrary," the second judge told him, "he already has. The way in which he designed the steam chamber of the great robot! The walls were too weak to constrain the pressure being created within. What he left the Cretans with, in cipher, was a deliberately flawed engineering design, subtle enough to appear sound, yet substantial enough to kill. The same principle as was applied to Icarus’ wings!"
The assistant opened his eyes wide, then said: "I see the nature of your mind; how you fly high above what is clear and seize patterns missed by others! But courts need more than a man’s inspiration! They do not want a poem. They want something like a piece of iron in their hand; a handle, a hilt. Can you give the light in your eyes a physical form?"
"There is still an enormous quantity of material to go through," noted the second judge, tenacious with hope.
For an entire week, the second judge’s team used the hospitality of Minos to go through the notebooks of Daedalus with a fine-toothed comb. In the mornings, they would sit by one window, in the afternoons move to a different room to sit by another window, so that they were constantly bathed in light, their eyes always supported in their meticulous search by the radiance of the sun, which seemed to be on their side. It was not I who killed Icarus, it seemed to want to say, I will illuminate the pages which will exonerate me.
The work was fascinating, and sometimes shocking. It was not easy to remain focused, there was such a broad and irresistible universe here, set down on these pieces of paper. It was like searching for a needle in a haystack made of golden straws.
"Wings, wings, and more wings," said one of the scribes. "Daedalus is not only a great inventor, but a masterful artist – such fineness of detail! Such an unfailing eye, such control of his hand!"
"Look at this," another scribe said. "Mere doodling. As though he were bored and daydreaming with a pen in his hand. And yet, in these doodles, ideas most pregnant! Here, what appears to be some kind of flying machine made of an enormous sail – see the man below it, sitting in this little chair? And pulleys connected to a rudder of sorts? And this, over here – what appears to be an enormous lens concentrating the rays of the sun on a ship and setting it on fire! Some moment of frustration as he studied wings that inspired him to concoct an instrument of revenge! He vented not as the common man, but with brilliant fertility!"
"Some chemical mixture inside a clay jar," said another scribe, showing them the paper in his hands. "The exact formula is encrypted, and this time, not to be broken. And there are metal disks in the jar, some of brass and some of iron, and metal threads leading in and out."
"And what’s that?"
"Daedalus writes, in the margins, Generator of the secret force: this tingling in my hands will one day move the wheels of a chariot with no need of horses." They looked at each other bewildered, wondering if it were true.
Meanwhile, another scribe was turning red, and as he saw them all turning towards his silent commotion, he finally showed them what he was looking at. There were pictures of hand-crafted phalluses, and the tellingly accurate diagram of a vagina with a little mechanical ball placed inside it, then a larger picture of a woman standing with a special belt and support strap holding in the ball, and then a larger diagram of the ball showing some liquid inside it and a smaller ball moving around inside the liquid. Hours of pleasure, the caption stated. There were also lovingly drawn pictures of breasts with gentle clamps on the nipples, and another chemical formula protected by encryption which Daedalus’ handwriting proclaimed would heighten arousal so that even the graceless unloading of the most callous husband who uses his woman as the latrine of his lust will seem as the love-making of a god. Somewhat below all the pictures, Daedalus went on to write: Too many beautiful women! I cannot make love to them all, but through these inventions I will make them all love me, I will come to mean more to them than their husbands! Those lines were scratched out, but not so completely that they could not still be read.
"This is what we need to find," the second judge stated decisively, as they sat there mesmerized by the limitless directions of the great inventor’s mind. "Unguarded moments of honesty which he neglected to conceal! Slip-ups he forgot to tear out of his notebooks, and to burn!" And he added, "No wonder Minos hates him so much! This is a man who wants to be everything! He wants to be all the trees of the forest, and even once he has succeeded in becoming every branch and every leaf, he will still be jealous of the grass that lives in the shadow of the trees! Even the wife of the crippled laborer living in a foreign land he will not leave alone, he must steal her from her husband with his inventions! Every helpless body must belong to him; every great thought must be his! If he could – if he did not need us to revere him – he would kill us all!" gasped the second judge.
"You go too far," said one of the scribes. "He has ambition. No white chariot was ever pulled by a white horse. White needs black. The world needs lusting, of some kind or another, to rise above the hole the gods put us in."
"Perhaps he only wishes to be kind to the women of the world," said another scribe. "We men crush them; like roofs we fall upon them in the night and bury them without giving them anything except swarms of crying children to care for before it is time to send them, if they are daughters, to new homes to live without air; or if they are sons, to surrender them to helmets and armor, and feed them to the jaws of war, lined with the sharp teeth of our insatiable pride and our immunity to heartbreak. We give tears to women, and funerals to the things they love. Maybe Daedalus, with his little toys like kisses, was only creating an oasis for them that we will not give."
The second judge did not agree. The selfish motives of Daedalus were too clearly expressed, and the fact that the lines were crossed out showed that he knew the motives did not present him well. But the scribes’ objections did help to restore the focus of the second judge. Concrete information pertinent to Icarus was required. He thanked them for their eloquent views, and reminded them of this. "It is not easy to stay on track," he admitted, "in the presence of such a gifted and all-encompassing thinker as this! But we must try!"
Nonetheless, after more than a week of painstaking study, they could find no more, in the way of suggestive statements regarding Icarus, than two brief and far from legally decisive comments. In one of the journal entries, Daedalus wrote: Weeping pest that you are, Icarus! You eat the flesh of the sheep and cow, and the fish from the sea! Why pretend to be the mother of the birds that fly? And in one other, he wrote: Today, more experiments with wings, and problems with the squeamish boy. He dared to compare me to Tantalus!
"It doesn’t help us much," the assistant told the second judge.
"Those statements contribute to my theory that Daedalus’ resentment against Icarus grew during the months that they plotted their escape," said the second judge. "Icarus’ sensitivity infuriated him, it made him feel cruel and base, and he could not stand to feel that way about himself. In some ways, Icarus was the embodiment of Daedalus’ conscience, whose presence would not allow him to bury his past or to reconstruct it, to reshape it into some expiatory fantasy. Deep pain armed with a great imagination is no slave of history, it rides even the darkest tale of man or nation like a horse, back to the comfort of the soul. Victims become villains, killers become defenders, the order of events is changed like a pea beneath a shell, by the artistry of the con man, who cons the world and himself! A little myth sneaks in, a pussycat amidst the overturned tables and the shouts – who notices? But once it becomes a part of the house, it begins to grow, until, at last, it has become a lion, a lion hungry to eat what little is left of the truth! Icarus interfered with the delicate reconstruction! He was, in fact, very much like the ghost of Talos which haunted Daedalus in the night, stealing the joy which was what his hands of genius existed to give to him. Icarus was like the voice inside Daedalus’ head, the demon who would not let him enjoy the taste of wine! He must be eliminated, so that life could begin anew."
"Those are only two lines," the assistant pointed out. "Although what you suggest is supported by those lines, so are other more innocent possibilities! Life is filled with resentment. You cannot walk without being unjust to your feet! It is a part of life to be angry, to be jealous. We could convict the entire world of murder, if we were to hang Daedalus by these two lines!"
"Of course, we cannot hang him by them," the second judge said. "They contribute to our understanding of a possible motive, but do not, in any way, prove murderous intent. You are absolutely right."
"Why compare Daedalus to Tantalus in the first place?" one of the scribes asked the second judge, feeling knowledgeable enough about the case at this point to butt in. "Tantalus spent eternity standing, thirsty and hungry, in a pool of water. When he reached down for the waters of the pool to drink, they receded from him and then dried up. When he reached upwards towards the luscious fruits hanging from the tree branches just above his head, the wind blew in and raised the branches beyond his reach. Perhaps Icarus only meant that his father was frustrated by the technical problems which arose as he struggled to design the wings. He was like Tantalus, in that every solution he reached for evaded him."
"More likely," said the second judge, "Icarus was referring to the reason that Tantalus was meted out this punishment by the gods."
The assistant agreed. "Tantalus killed his own son, Pelops, and had his flesh, which was disguised as the meat of an animal, served to the gods at a banquet."
The scribe winced. No good Greek could bear to hear this tale. "He tried to turn the gods into cannibals!"
"He tried to win glory for himself by killing his own son and feeding him to the divine power that he wished to manifest," said the second judge, providing his own interpretation of the story. "In the same way, Daedalus fed his nephew, Talos, like fuel to the flame of his own genius. He gave him to the gods of his mind to be devoured! Let my brilliance climb high like a fire from the burning logs of you! It was not prudent of Icarus to point this out to such a volatile, dangerous man. It must have smashed through years of attempts to repair himself. Certainly, the comment reflects a recognition of Daedalus’ merciless ambition. It shows beyond the shadow of a doubt that Icarus saw it; and that may have played a major role in his demise."
The team contemplated the second judge’s perspective for a moment, then, impressed, yet also knowing that much more than this was needed to convict, and even to indict, got back to work. But time was running out. They could not stay here, forever, and Minos’ men were becoming anxious about the amount of time they were spending with the books, lest they contain some secret that the Sicilians might find which they had not: secrets which they might bring back home with them to Sicily, and use to end the supremacy of Crete before its rightful time. Yes, time was running out.
I feel clear about the case, the second-judge wrote in a journal of his own, that night by the flickering light of a candle. Absolutely clear. We have the proof of a violent, treacherous character, underneath the mesmerizing luster of the achievements: the murder of Talos, the betrayal of Minos’ confidence, the dedication to ambition above loyalty, the rages against Icarus. We have a motive: resentment against Icarus for penetrating through the luster to the character, for stirring up Daedalus’ sense of guilt, for making him have to face that part of himself which he could not bear to face, the savagery which undermined his greatness. To definitively recover from the crime of murdering Talos, Daedalus must eliminate the one person in the world who would not let him forget! We also have the means of murder: flawed wings given to Icarus to disguise the crime as an act of benevolence gone wrong. However, the argument of the faulty wings needs to be strengthened by our examination of Daedalus’ still intact wings at the Temple of Apollo at Cumae; and we are still at the mercy of the tale which Daedalus has concocted regarding the ‘accident’, and by the testimony of the witnesses who saw Icarus soaring high near the sun, which seems to support that tale. This would surely convince the court that the melting of the wax was responsible for the failure of the wings, and not any deliberate flaws in the threading of the feathers. I am certain of my instincts, but I feel at an impasse regarding how to mount an effective presentation of the case before the court.
As the second judge’s pen was feeling eloquent that night, and his heart heavy with burdens he wished to share with the wise empty pages that might begin to speak answers to him in his own handwriting, he turned the page he had just written on to begin another when, all of a sudden, he stopped in amazement. He had just written: My mind is confident but my soul is anxious, seeking proofs that may not exist, the footsteps of a clever man in the river, a trail I cannot follow… But the words he had just finished writing were not alone! He became aware that he was writing them into the faint traces of ones he had written on the previous page, little indentations in the paper, like scratches, like scars, where his pen had pressed down, which had come through one page onto the next. Over these little indentations came the ink of the new words he was writing: new words like explorers disembarking from a ship onto an island that already existed in the sea. The living tread among ghosts! "The books!" he cried out, rushing in to other chambers to awaken the sleeping scribes and his assistant. "The books! The books! Find each place where a page was torn out or a leaf removed. Near all the missing pages, search for the ghostly footprints of what was too dangerous to leave! Search for what is written not in ink, but in the faint impressions of words left behind from the pages that went before!"
At first they thought him mad, driven out of his mind by the intensity of the case. But after he had roused them all, and showed them how traces of what a man wrote on one page were left on the page directly underneath it, and often on several more pages after that, they recovered from their alarm and accepted his enthusiasm.
"But our eyes," protested one of the scribes. "We were sleeping. It is night."
The second judge, realizing that he was as inconsiderate and involuntary as a rainstorm, quickly agreed. "Yes, I am sorry," he said. "I could not restrain myself from informing you of this technical development. Tomorrow, you will know what to do." And they all went back to sleep, or at least to the beds in which they could not sleep, to await the sure light of dawn to see if the gods had anything more to give them on behalf of Icarus.
Another two days were spent on this phase of the search: days of intense labor that seemed to be idleness. They stared and stared, they changed the distance of the pages from their faces, and the angles at which the pages were held, they scrutinized them in the light, and sometimes in the shadows, they drew curtains and lit candles, each went over what the other had done, and compiled transcripts of the fragments they could disinter from the whiteness of the paper and from the tangled ink of new words which cut into the traces. Certainly, they found things. But most of it was either incomprehensible, or harmless:
Wind from northeast before rain, gulls flying high with little wing effort.
Strong winds leading westward, medium height current, two times per week average.
Wind comes into cliff… morning…gulls jump in, beat wings, turn, fly over island and back out to sea… Check for night winds
Need more lift, more lift!
Pasiphae yes she must be promised undying love, I will come back for you, she is fearful of missing me and may not help us to escape because she wants to keep me. Allay her fears, I will come back for you, whatever it takes, her help cannot be lost! Lonely women are always the curse of men who need their time!
Italy uncivilized will welcome a creator! Savage places will forgive any sin for the man who can build them a fire… where people carry great loads upon their backs the wheel will be welcomed as king!
Minos charges like a bull - gore the air all you like! Mighty king, make war upon nothing! I express my superiority through my absence!
Catapult technique: trajectory and velocity is counterproductive…
Arrows dipped in blood of the blue octopus…
Bastards and Bitches! … who is sick?... do you need a blueprint of your ass to take a shit?... yelling will give us away!... Hypocrites, they always need to condemn someone else in order to rise above their own sins...
Palace revolt against Minos foiled by some stupid loyal fool… but not traced to us… Must get these wings up and in the air!
"We are getting some interesting fragments," the assistant reported to the judge, who was also scrutinizing his own mass of papers, "but nothing that is in any way a breakthrough."
The second judge nodded. "Here. Take a look at this," he said, feigning nonchalance but apparently very excited by something.
The assistant, more dutiful than hopeful, read a transcript of Daedalus’ words prepared by the second judge:
My old and aching arms
The crow’s nest
Need a danger
NEED A DANGER!
Artemis: arrows to Minos
"Here," said the second judge, handing him the original, one page of oh so many, in no way more interesting than the others.
The assistant squinted, then, after a time, nodded: "Yes, I can see it. Your transcription is accurate. But it means nothing."
"Give it to the First Scribe," the second judge told him, pushing the original back into his hands. "But don’t give him my transcript. See if he comes up with the same words."
Puzzled, the assistant did so. Some minutes later he returned with the transcript written by the First Scribe, and gave it to the second judge. It read:
My old and aching arms
The crow’s nest
Need a danger
NEED A DANGER!
Artemis: arrows to Minos
Observing the blank stare of the assistant, the second judge told him: "Here. Sit down. On this chair. There, make yourself comfortable. Do you understand?"
"No," said the assistant. "I see a list of disconnected, useless statements here. As though Daedalus were just writing down random ideas that popped into his head."
"What you have here, actually," said the second judge, "is the coherent development of the methodology used to murder Icarus!"
The assistant started in his chair, becoming stiff and alert, as though an arrow had just flown past his head. He blinked, not stupidly, for he was a very intelligent man; but in the face of great mysteries, even those who are astute become senseless things standing in the field, like cows.
"My old and aching arms," said the second judge. "Implying what?"
The assistant just listened.
"Here is the excuse!" the second judge exclaimed. "Daedalus is saying that because of his age and the real or imaginary condition of his arms resulting from his age, the flight will be difficult for him; not as easy for him as for his strong-armed young son."
"An excuse for what?" protested the assistant.
"The crow’s nest," continued the second judge. "What is the crow’s nest?" he demanded of the assistant.
"The basket or platform, or sometimes merely the foothold, at the top of the mast that allows the sailor to position himself above the deck and survey the seas around him from a higher vantage point."
"The place where you post the look-out."
The assistant nodded, puzzled.
"Now, if you are not in a ship, but flying above the sea with wings, where do you place the lookout?"
The assistant’s eyes were jolted, the first step towards understanding was taken, but resistance was enormous. "Up high – in the sky – near the sun!"
"And why cannot Daedalus take that position?"
"Because of his aged and aching arms! But wait – why the need for a lookout in the first place? They are both flying! They both can see far ahead of them, they are higher than masts. And what can harm them if they are in the air?"
The second judge read the next lines: "Need a danger! NEED A DANGER! Something so dangerous that it can threaten us even if we can fly. Something so dangerous that we need a huge amount of distance between it and us. Being as high as a mast will not be high enough. We need to be higher. Much higher. At least one of us, to see it from a long way off, so we can adjust our course in time to avoid it by a wide margin. It is so dangerous we must have a sweeping panorama of the entire ocean and the ships and islands in the ocean to be safe. Need a danger! I must invent a danger to justify the need for a lookout! I must invent a danger to trick Icarus into flying up high near the sun!"
"The arrows of Artemis!" gasped the assistant. And he remembered the lines that the bards sang as they recounted the powers and the glories of the gods:
Protectress of weak and bashful things fleeing from corrupt souls
Fearsome huntress and lonely maiden glowing like the moon at night
The silver arrows of Artemis fly ten hundred times as far as arrows fired from a mortal bow
and as straight and as far as her eyes can see, to set the world right.
"By inventing the fiction that great Goddess Artemis had given her famous silver arrows with the power of migrating birds to stay in the sky, as the poets expressed it, to Minos, whose archers are already renowned throughout the Mediterranean, Daedalus created an imaginary environment so threatening that even with the power of flight he and Icarus were at great risk should they be spotted by a Cretan outpost along the way, or by a Cretan ship during the escape. For that reason, they must give any Minoan vessel an especially wide berth, which meant that they must spot that vessel from a very great distance, and take evasive action while it was still very far away. This need, to be satisfied, required the posting of a lookout in a very high position in the sky."
It was essentially the second time that the second judge had made the same point, but it was not redundant, it was necessary, like the refrain in a poem or the chorus in a song.
Still, the assistant tried to doubt; it was the instinct in him against horror, the need to believe in man. "But his father told him that the sun would melt the wax!"
"Did you hear his father tell him?"
The assistant’s face froze. It was as if he had just embraced Medusa.
"What if Icarus actually knew very little about the capacities of the wing?" pressed the second judge. "What if he did not know the crucial role of the wax in the overall structure of the wing, or if he thought that other safeguards of the wing would prevent its degradation by the heat? What if he trusted his father’s workmanship? What if his father never told him not to fly too high? What if his father, on the contrary, told him that he must fly as high as he could in order to survey the seas ahead of them? What if Icarus was not the rebellious, foolhardy son his father portrayed him to be in front of the world, but, in spite of his disappointment in his father, a loyal son who dutifully took the fatal lookout position assigned to him, and died in an effort to protect his father? What if he did not die because he disobeyed Daedalus, but because he obeyed him to the letter!?"
"Murder by means of a lie! Infamy! But no, it cannot be! Daedalus was seen to be flying ahead of Icarus! If Icarus had assumed the position of lookout, he should have taken the lead, so as to see the dangers sooner, and so as to more easily signal Daedalus, who, otherwise, would constantly have to look over his shoulder to see if Icarus had spotted danger."
"Perhaps Daedalus was in the lead for the very simple reason that as Icarus was climbing high into the sky, Daedalus was flying straight ahead. This would have allowed Daedalus to fly beyond him early in the escape, and very probably, Icarus died before he could catch up."
The assistant regarded the second judge, who was determined like a hunting dog that will not relent. Why? Why this obsession to bring down Daedalus? But they had been through that before. Justice was his God. What towered in the sky must respect the earth it stood on, or the earth must bring it down. In innocent victims, some precious lost thing of his own must reside. Daedalus had become his object of fascination, as the Chimera was Bellerephon’s, as the Gorgon Medusa was Perseus’, as the Hydra was Hercules’, as the Minotaur was Theseus’: the monster is the jewel of the hero. And as Daedalus had turned into the radiant gem of his world, Icarus had become his friend. Naucrate’s powerless grief personalized the instinct of which the second judge was a captive, gave a human face to the stone rolling down the mountain, gave a beating heart to the compulsion to right wrongs, changed the high-minded neurosis into something approaching love. The second judge was like rain falling down from the sky, but as he fell, he learned to be human.
One more time, the assistant protested. "The words – too vague! Perhaps we are reading meanings into them that do not exist! Why such cryptic words, if the pages were destined to be destroyed? My old and aching arms. The crow’s nest. Need a reason. NEED A REASON! Artemis: arrows to Minos. Why not just spell it all out if it was destined for the fire?"
"Icarus was living with Daedalus in the house on the cliff," the second judge reminded him. "It made sense to be discreet."
The assistant shook his head again. "I cannot tell if you are a master sleuth, or merely a genius for making the world fit into your vision! You are convincing me, but is it because what you say makes sense, or because you are persuasive? Am I the ocean, or merely the land that has been washed away?"
"You see now that we have a motive for murder, as well as a two-pronged method for executing that murder," the second judge continued. "The use of mechanically flawed wings, and the use of a lethal lie to trick Icarus into flying beyond the wings’ capabilities."
"The court," groaned the assistant weakly. "The court. What will the court say?"
"Our next stop is Cumae," the second judge informed him.
But before they could take leave of Crete to proceed to the shores of southern Italy to examine the last critical piece of evidence in the case, it was necessary to be entertained by Minos.
The King, glad to have the captured books back, questioned the judge for many hours about his findings, and reminded him that if Sicily did not punish the transgressor by means of its own laws, he, Minos, would muster a vast fleet and sail to its distant shores to apprehend the criminal himself. "What he has done no man should do without consequence. I will respect the judicial process of your land, but your process must respect Justice, which is not what is written in a book of law, or on the stone wall of a city by men, but what is written in the hearts of men by the hands of the gods."
"I will do my best to see that justice is done," the judge assured him, "because that is the passion of my soul."
Minos, dark and mighty, beautiful with his power of life and death, smiled; every once in a while, a nymph appeared among the rocks of his masculine heart. "You are courageous, judge," he said approvingly. "I like the way you use words to avoid submitting, without offending. You do not bend to the genius of Daedalus, nor to the spears of Minos! Still," he laughed, "you will not escape from my island without receiving a bribe! Her name is Therma."
A beautiful woman clad in a white robe stepped lightly before them. So naturally that it did not at all seem predatory, Minos’ hand tugged confidently on a strand that made the robe glide off of her body. Its plunge from her faultless form was beautiful like a waterfall.
"Therma, this man will be your god for the next two nights. Do you understand?"
She knelt before the second judge, without any sign of regret.
"Be the lantern of his heart. He is a long way from home." Then, turning to the second judge, Minos said: "Tomorrow, we shall have a festival of bull-jumping. I invite you. How could you come to our island without seeing the horns of bulls flashing in the sun?"
The Minotaur had been but one beast, the bulls were many. In a great enclosed stockade the beautiful captive youths of Greece and Asia, naked but for flimsy loincloths played with by the breeze, stepped out into the pit of hope and death to jump over the backs of bulls. The animals were strong, perfect examples of vigor; each was a living homage to virility, and a memory of savagery.
In awe, the second judge and his team watched from the benches above the spectacle, seated directly beside the king’s box. So, the stories of the deadly pageant were true! The youths appeared like flowers in the field. A bull with gigantic hanging balls and fierce horns as sharp as spears and as heavy as clubs appeared; the youths approached and seizing the lowered horns as the bull charged, leapt over its back in dazzling acrobatic feats, one after the other. It was a magnificent kind of gymnastics on the edge of death. As one young man, stolen from his home, emerged from a somersault onto the earth, his friends rushed in to embrace him, and danced and leapt with him away from the danger, like a beautiful serpent made of human bodies; as one maiden, surrendered by her people to the shadow of Crete, flew through the air like Aphrodite emerging from the sea and wringing out her hair while the whole world watched, other bull-jumpers waited to catch her. Then all together, they ran away like a band of children running from their mother who is calling them back to home too soon.
It was a strange mixture, this lightness, this flight, above the dark land of death of the bull’s body, and the hungry horns. It was thrilling, joyful, and sensual and at the same time frightening and tense. One felt like the lover of these youths and like their killers.
"King Minos, please!" protested the second judge. "This is too difficult to watch."
The King smiled faintly, his face was strong now, like a rock, that needs a hundred years of storms to yield a sign that it can be affected.
"Why do you do this?" the second judge persisted.
"Is not life like this?" Minos asked. "Dark and dangerous, with sharp horns? And is not our task as human beings to live gracefully in the midst of peril, and when the hateful time comes, to die like dancers? Let our gods be honored by the sacrifice; and let those who watch be reminded how to live."
Before the second judge could say another word, there was a sudden cry from the crowd; one of the bull-jumpers had just been caught on a horn and was flying through the air towards the earth he would not rise from. The second judge could only think of Icarus plunging into the sea. As other jumpers rushed in to try to help their fallen comrade, the bright red stains on the bull’s horn, as well as the location of the wounded jumper’s hands on his body, indicated the futility of their efforts. The gods, who tired of the artlessness of wars, would be satisfied today, by a far more imaginative gift of human tragedy. And here this episode will end, for to this chronicler, it is far too close to home. Some scars are as fresh as if they happened yesterday.
"Daedalus must pay," Minos, unaware of the menacing quality of his voice, told the second judge, who understood, now, why they had been invited to the festival.
Once more, and feeling vastly relieved, they were again upon the open sea. Before departing, Minos had assured them that the goddess Artemis had given him no arrows, confirming the second judge’s belief that the gift of divine weapons hinted at in the scientist’s notebooks had been fabricated by Daedalus as part of his intricate plot to murder Icarus. "Artemis is no friend of mine," Minos had assured the second judge. "My mortal enemy Theseus built her a temple in Greece, and now she is madly grateful. You know how the Gods are. Whoever kisses their feet the most wins. And she is especially difficult. Shoot the wrong stag with an arrow, or let one of your dogs stray into one of her innumerable forests - and, heaven forbid, come back with a rabbit in its jaws - and you are her enemy for life. And me – a womanizer – and she, being some kind of savage virgin who would burn out the eyes of any man who saw her naked – how could anyone ever think she would take my side in anything? Thankfully, great Father Zeus protects me from the whims of his crazy children! But I don’t doubt that Icarus believed his father’s story. Daedalus was so knowledgeable – he could tell you how many grains of sand are on the beach, how many apples are in the world, how many fish have been eaten by other fish since the beginning of time - who wouldn’t believe him? And you know the Gods – fickle – one day they’ll put a crown on your head and the next day they’ll chop it off. They will give you a golden harp so that you may sing songs that win the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, then transform themselves into a poison snake and bite her in the foot. They’ll make love to you even though they know their husband or their wife will kill you for it. They’ll give you some incredible gift, and then they’ll turn you into a spider! I give thanks to Father Zeus for his constancy! No, given the incessant shifting of the immortal winds, it would not be impossible for Daedalus’ story to be true! If Icarus was still capable of believing him, he could have believed that."
Meanwhile, Pasiphae informed them that Daedalus’ arms were powerful and vigorous. "He had the arms of a worker, not a thinker; his mind did not take anything away from his body. I can attest to that! But in the last weeks, he began, strangely I thought, to complain about his arms. I thought it odd, especially how he began to ask Icarus to lift things for him as though he were an invalid." Obviously, the second judge thought, Daedalus had begun to set up his scheme shortly before the escape, pretending to have become a cripple in order to explain to Icarus why he could not fly high beside him near the sun. None of the women had heard anything about the arrows, though Naucrate told them that her son had told her, not long before the escape: "Please pray to Artemis, dear mother, please pray for forgiveness for all the sins my father has committed, and promise her, she will be my goddess once I arrive at my new home." When Naucrate asked Icarus why, he only told her: "Father has told me to say nothing to anyone. No one must know what we know and do not know. But please, do not fail me. No one can escape the power of a God except through humility and devotion." Thought the second judge: Does this not support my theory that Daedalus concocted the story of Artemis’ arrows to create the necessity for a lookout, as a means of sending Icarus high into the sky, close to the sun?
Now, as the waters of the Mediterranean rolled swiftly by, thanks to the kindness of the wind and the eagerness of the oarsmen to return home, the second judge and his assistant let their eyes feast upon their speed as they wondered what awaited them at Cumae. Did they have enough evidence already to damn Daedalus, or was the case too much the ingenuity of the second judge and too little of anything else? Did they have a strong and worthy argument, or only a collage of shiny disconnected inspirations, brilliant pieces put into the wrong puzzle? If you believed Daedalus was guilty, their work explained the crime; but if you did not, could it prove the crime? "The court loves what is tangible," the second judge admitted, as waves vied to touch the ship like the hands of water spirits starved to caress something that was not of their world. "They do not like evidence that is as subtle as smoke rising up in the air, or the smell of the sea when you are still miles away from it. They do not want to see something in the distance that you tell them is a swan, but for them it is only a white dot on the water. They need something that they cannot deny, something that has a shape, that feels like fur or wood or iron, something that can cut them and scrape them and will break their foot if it falls on it."
"Look, a dolphin!" exclaimed the assistant.
"Where?"asked one of the scribes. There was only water, which seemed happy as though something uncommon had passed through it – like the face of a person who has had a beautiful thought.
"The wings of Daedalus at Cumae are tangible," the second judge said. "The physical contrast we can make between his wings, and the wings of Icarus, is something that the court will respect."
The shore by Cumae was rugged. There was the small town, and up higher, the impressive temple to Apollo built by Daedalus, and somewhere beyond it, the frightening cavern of the wild prophet woman, the Sibyl, who they had no desire to meet. As most shores of the Mediterranean, this one sparkled with the light of the sun. You could feel its heat from far away, and the necessity of the sea breeze which had brought them.
"Either they are glad to see us or we are not welcome," said the second assistant, as they rowed a small boat into the cove. A band of armed warriors waited for them on the beach, cold eyes only peering at them from underneath menacing, plumed helmets. On their shields, they had pictures of bleeding serpents; in their hands they carried long spears with dark, fierce points. The second judge noted how the plumes shuddered slightly, like the high branches of trees trembling in the wind. He could imagine leaves and flowers falling, unwanted, off of the branches to the ground.
"We come in peace," said the second judge, as he and his party dragged their small boat onto the beach, under a white flag.
The warriors said nothing.
"We represent King Cocalus of Camicus in Sicily," the second judge continued. "We are here on official business. I have letters bearing the seal of the King, and the High Court."
There was no answer but for a slight smile that appeared on the face of the man who seemed to be the leader of the soldiers, and a look of amused curiosity in his eyes, as though he wondered what blunder their fear would make them commit. The second judge’s party struggled not to be blatant with its discomfort.
"He is playing a game with us," the assistant grumbled. "As though we were men without a family or a city, wretched beggars to be mistreated with impunity." Then, he called out: "Is this not a sanctuary of Apollo? Is this not a place for the pious to come in peace to conduct their business with the God, without impediment by man? Is this not holy ground? Why, then, the blasphemy of these spears? More kindly a host is Minos, he who wears a dark cloak in the eyes of Greece. Yet he welcomes travelers with warm baths and wine."
The warriors did not move, but now the second judge detected that they were waiting. They who seemed all-powerful were actually powerless, powerless to make a decision of their own, they must wait for someone else to come to tell them what to do. In the meantime, they could only stand there like the most threatening storm. "Be patient," the second judge told his men. "They are waiting for the one who will decide our fate."
After a good while, long enough to show them that he considered himself far more important than mere Sicilian emissaries, a temple priest arrived, dressed in a long, flowing white gown, his face hidden behind a golden mask which was delicate and at the same time imperious, like the proud youthful face of Phoebus Apollo, himself. Without waiting for them to speak, he demanded: "Are you the ones who have come to pillage the Temple of Apollo? To steal the mighty wings which our great benefactor, Daedalus, most blessed and gifted of men, has donated to our hallowed shrine?"
"We are not pirates," the second judge said simply. "Your benefactor is now living in the city which we represent, in the palace of our King, the most generous Cocalus. We are here conducting business on the behalf of the benefactor of your benefactor, and we are requesting access to the wings, not to remove them from your possession, but to examine them as a part of an official investigation which we have been commissioned to carry out." With great solemnity, the second judge handed him letters from the King, which urged all who read them to cooperate fully with his representatives.
"You are the ones who wish to damn Daedalus," the priest countered, carefully refolding a letter whose seal he had broken. The expressionless face of gold looked up and accosted the second judge with its unchanging beauty – it was unsettling like a sun that would not set. "You are the one who would usurp the Erinyes, the goddesses of fury, hissing like snakes, and haunt him forever because he is not perfect! For one moment of weakness, you would deny the world his gifts, and hurl him into the darkness of a prison, and the whole human race along with him, which is thirsting for the fruits the tree of his mind has yet to bear. Is this Justice, or selfishness?"
The priest motioned that the second judge and his party should follow him, and the soldiers, like plates after a banquet being removed from the table by servants, simply disappeared. "Come with me, up to the temple," said the priest.
They walked up some steps, then a trail, passing by a grove of tall, firm trees along the way, with a little stream rushing by. The priest, accompanied by a robust, out-of-breath man with a scroll in his hand, told his companion to spit into the stream. "Do you believe that purification is possible?" the priest asked the second judge.
The second judge understood. Men spit foul deeds into the world, but the pure rushing waters of streams embrace and overwhelm their sins, dilute the filth and carry it away; mothers and children can come to the bank where a murder took place, and drink clear water. Prayers and true repentance are our streams; sincere remorse and deeds of atonement.
"Whatever crimes Daedalus may have committed have been erased by this temple," the priest told the second judge. "Here, Daedalus purified himself. He knelt in homage to Phoebus Apollo. And his kneeling became this sacred place of worship."
Amazed, the Sicilians beheld the elegance of the massive temple, and the intricacy of the artwork etched into the gold leaves on the giant double door, done by Daedalus’ own hand. Here, there were scenes of life in Athens and the adventures of Theseus, and brilliant engravings of the Labyrinth and Crete, the epic tale in which Daedalus had become enmeshed. There was also the image of Daedalus flying with his wings towards freedom.
"And where is Icarus?" asked the second judge.
The golden mask turned towards him. "His father’s heart could not bear to reproduce the image of his departed son. His father’s hand shook with grief each time it tried to hold the tools with which to engrave his beloved child’s form upon the door. I saw it myself. The tears in his eyes, the trembling hand. Do you see this empty place, like a clearing in the forest of his art, a place where there has been a fire and nothing is left standing? This is where Icarus was to have been placed. But the father could not do it! He could not revisit the tragedy, even to immortalize the one whose loss had broken him!"
The second judge said nothing, but thought to himself: And now the murder is complete; Icarus is not only removed from the world but from history! Daedalus flies alone as it was always meant to be.
"What are you thinking?" the man in the golden mask asked him.
"Nothing," replied the second judge, though he was thinking: What a craftsmen, to make such perfect tears from an empty heart!
Taking off their shoes, they entered through the doors of Daedalus into the sacred temple sanctuary, and bowed down to a large, frighteningly real statue of Apollo: god of the Sun, though most still prayed to Helios and his flaming chariot; more than that, god of the inner sun, the light of truth, the light of seeing clearly, the light of fearful understanding; god of art and song, the miracle of creation and the mastery of form, shaping the divine so that it could be held by the human sense of beauty; the god of archery with deadly, straight arrows like his sister Artemis; the god of healing, though his son Aesculapius, by the mortal Coronis, was more ardently sought by the sick. As they looked up at the statue, lithe and naked, a great stone that had sacrificed itself to become his image, the second judge thought he could see the god’s face move, a slight smile appearing at the corner of his lips of rock, a trace of awareness passing quickly through his eyes. Silently, to himself, the second judge prayed: Oh great Apollo, to whose temple I have come, great thanks to you for the truth you cherish and uphold. I come here as a pilgrim of the light with which you have filled the world. I ask you to help me to always honor and advance the cause of the truth. Is any man above the law of life? Is any man too great to spare another? I see the mighty pillars that hold up the roof of your temple. What pillars hold up the world of men? Is there any man who is worth more than those pillars? Great Apollo, is this temple enough to erase a murder? Great Apollo: I implore you to let me discover the truth. Whether Daedalus is guilty or innocent, I implore you to let me serve the ideals you have put into the world, to let me be a servant of the light.
As they left the temple, with incense burning in a brazier, the priest said: "Daedalus is our friend. There is no need for you to examine his wings. There is no need to drag him through his tragedy all over again. He has built us a great temple. We will give you gifts to bring back to him when you return to Sicily." But just then, a silent flock of night-black crows alighted near them on a branch, falling into the tree like quiet rain. The golden mask looked up, helplessly unmoved, but the body of the priest flinched as though struck by a whip, and then began to shake. He led them quickly back towards the harbor, but a huge bird suddenly flew in front of him, its beating wings thrashing the air as it hovered by his face; he fell down, sobbing, and covered his metal face with his hands. "All right! All right!" he cried. "We will consult the Sibyl!"
The Sibyl was the priestess of Apollo, Italy’s version of the Pithia, the holy madwoman who prophesied the future from the sacred, fume-filled pit of Delphi. Here, at Cumae, the sacred woman lived alone in a vast cavern beyond the temple. Men who were tortured by doubt, men who had to know things that were beyond their power to know, came humbly to the cavern mouth, begging for answers from the strange, small woman who greeted them bewildered and puny, blinded by the light outside her cave and frightened by men, unless the god came into her, crowding into her mind with his massive knowledge, possessing her, shaking her and turning her from a frail and vulnerable misfit into a godly storm, a reign of terror dwelling inside a woman. Through her vocal cords, he would speak mercilessly clear answers, sometimes hidden in baffling words so that men might still choose to make mistakes if they wished; for stubbornness was too towering a virtue to take away from men, who had the right to ruin their lives.
"The Sibyl will tell us what to do," the priest said, accompanied by four other priests, each wearing a mask like his, as he led them up the hill behind the temple towards the startling rupture in the rock that was the gateway to the god’s mind. "If she grants you permission to examine the wings, you will not be denied," he said. "I am Apollo’s priest, but I am not Apollo. She is a fool, but sometimes she is Apollo."
With great trepidation, they advanced. There was the main opening to the cave, and numerous doors all throughout the side of the mountain, as though a hundred passages led within, so that the mystery might be confronted from a hundred different points of view. Suddenly, the doors drew inwards as though they had been blown open by a furious wind that was not there. But they heard the sound of something rushing through the air and then a bellowing distorted voice saying: "Do you fear to be you? Do you fear to be you?"
The head priest fell to the ground, mumbling desperate prayers to Apollo. "Please, take pity on us, do not destroy us like Zeus destroyed Semele! Come to us in a form we can endure! We are mere men!"
His four priestly companions danced slowly around them, waving their hands in the air, as they sang: "Blessed is Apollo, Our Lord and Master, Blessed is Apollo, Appeased By Song!" A swarm of stridently cawing crows flew low past them into the forest beyond the sanctuary. Shaking, they pushed on, to enter the cavern as quickly as they could, seeking shelter from the crow-filled skies.
There, in the shadows, where the sun began to struggle and the pitch-black insides of the cave began to win, they saw the shape of a strange woman, on her hands and knees like an animal, they saw her looking up at them with fear from underneath wild, disordered hair that seemed not to have been combed for years.
"Is the God in you?" the priest asked her.
A cynical twinkle appeared in her eyes, and a hoarse, disturbing laugh fell out of her throat. "Yes," she said. "And guess what I want to tell you? That you are a son-of-a-bitch! All you want is power; the truth is nothing to you. You should have been a king, not a priest - but you don’t have the courage to wield a spear!"
"The God is not in her yet," said the priest. While one of the minor priests told her: "Shut up, you stupid bitch! Let the god into that useless, twisted brain of yours – it’s good for nothing except for being empty, so that the god can enter."
"How they revere the priestess!" said another priest. "Yet she is nothing but a crazy, incoherent wreck who only makes sense when he is inside of her; a dark pit in which the god can light his lamp." While another priest demanded: "Spread your legs whore! Spread the legs of your pitiful mind, let the god’s thoughts penetrate you! It is time to be raped by the golden light!"
Looking up into the eyes of the second judge, the Sibyl told him: "What answers do men like this deserve? They talk of divine things, but their vaults are filled with the silver coins of the desperate. They twist my arm. They beat me with a whip to say things that will please the rich and powerful. They order me to give convenient answers, the ones that will help kings to sleep at night, the ones that will convince the shallow that they are deep. They tell me to act, to play the part, they give me words to say, why do you think I have all these bruises on my body?", and she lifted up her dress, exposing her naked body so that he could see the black and blue marks that covered her like a disease.
"It is a lie, she is a madwoman!" exclaimed the priest. "She beats and scratches herself! It is a part of her sickness!"
"Then, when I am filled with the God, when I babble strange and incomprehensible words, helplessly like a river coming from Him, they twist the words from my mouth with their clever interpretations to pacify and delight the mighty. They use my pain and my ravings to impress the world, to give a divine coating to their mortal diplomacy."
"We might as well leave," said the priest, "if you are just going to be yourself. Back in the town, I could hit any woman I meet on the head with a stone, and she would make as much sense as you. These are important men, from Sicily, and do not have time to waste with a creature like you."
But the second judge motioned that they should stay. "My King was once nearly deceived by false prophecies, paid for by our enemies, and put into the mouth of a corrupt priestess at Delphi," he said. "I am not one to be fooled by a treacherous Oracle. I know, here and now, that I can get answers that are true. Even without the god in her, I recognize this as the genuine receptacle of Apollo. Like a brazier charred black by a fire that has blazed within it, I see the scars of divine visitations left behind in her soul." Gently, he bent down beside her. "Dear woman. We have come to view the wings of Daedalus. Since these wings have been dedicated to Apollo, we seek the God’s permission. I also wish to know: is Daedalus guilty of having murdered Icarus; and, if so, is there any more I can do to prove it?"
"Daedalus is our benefactor," the priest reminded him, once again. "The great temple to Apollo is his. The reason our little town is anything more than a cluster of homes in the middle of the wilderness, at the end of the earth!"
"Yes, Daedalus is our benefactor," said the Sibyl. "He can kill who he wants. Talos, Icarus. Why not? He makes such splendid pictures on our sacred doors! He can also kill beautiful, young Adonis – oh wait, he was already killed by a wild boar; or brave Apsyrtus – oh, that’s right, he was already cut to pieces by Medea. But there must be somebody left for him to kill."
"Our benefactor!" thundered the priest. "You cannot demean him in such a way! I should strike you for your insolence! Godless woman with a heart filled with rage!"
But suddenly, they froze, froze because she had frozen, with a strange look on her face as though she was hearing something that they could not. "No," she whispered softly, fearfully. "No. It is too hard. A mother gives birth no more than once a year. I cannot endure giving birth again – not so many times." She struggled to her feet, looking for some refuge. "No!" she screamed suddenly. "It is too much!"
"Please!" gasped the second judge, "forget the questions that I asked you! Do not torture yourself in this way! I won’t be responsible for causing you such agony!"
"Now, more than ever, I must answer your questions," she said, grimacing, looking at him angrily, then with tenderness and appreciation, then with bitterness and hate, then with eyes that were a cry for help.
He rushed forward to comfort her, but suddenly, he was flying backwards as if struck by a gigantic wave and washed overboard into the sea. He looked up from where he was lying on the ground, amazed by the woman’s power. She was alone no more!
"No!" she screamed again. "No! Why can’t you come softly, like a breeze caressing a curtain in the night? Why do you always have to come like this, like a chariot pulled by frothing horses, like an army smashing down a palace door, splintering the wood with a brass ram?! Ahhhh!" she screamed, as though her head were the door being smashed open. "Ahhhh!" Again, the second judge rushed forward; again, he was flying through the air, crashing into the darkness like a heavy bag callously thrown into the hold of a cargo ship, weeping tears of fear to be face to face with such power, to meet a god who was not a statue! "Apollo! Apollo, you monster, you do not fit!" she was screaming, doubled over and running uselessly about, as if her dress had caught on fire and she did not know what to do. "Leave me alone! Let men do their own work! No! You are too big!" she screamed, clutching her head. "My mind is breaking." She warned him: "My mind is BREAKING! BREAKING! BREAKING!!!!" And she fell onto the ground, crumpled up and seemingly dead.
For a while, they looked at each other, bewildered and too stunned to act, until finally the head priest stepped forward and kicked her with his foot to see if she was really dead.
"Fool!" she screamed, leaping up with stunning might and piercing, wild eyes, no longer distracted, but gazing into his with merciless expansive precision. "You have touched a god!" And she ripped the golden mask from his face to reveal a terrified, pale, bearded man beneath who could not even look her in the eye, then beat him over the head with the mask, dropping him bloody and whimpering at her feet. She no longer seemed tiny. Now some inner aspect in her towered above them all and made her seem a giantess; they could no longer see her small. Her face was radiant, shared by ruthlessness and compassion, both of which, in her countenance, were forms of light, because some people are brought to God by love, and some by fear. There was a volatile calmness in her eyes, and a part of her that mocked them for how they had been ignorant enough to despise her.
Looking at the priests as though she would spit upon them all, she slowly turned to the second judge, who had climbed back to his feet but was standing on shaky legs. She smiled, gently, reached out her hand, and caressed his cheek softly. The woman in her and the god were mixed together. "You are a good man," she told him. "Your vice is your relentlessness. But you mean well. You do not forget a beautiful boy who was loved too little, nor do you overlook the cracked vase that holds the god’s water." She started to move forward to kiss him on the lips, then shook slightly; her eyes turned white and blind, then came back to her, clear and distant, she became too mighty to be close to him. She took a step back, and looked at him as if he were a work of art she had just made. There was coldness and affection as she looked to see if he was done, or needed more effort.
"The wings," the priest reminded her. "The wings our great benefactor gave to you. He wants to look at them. The Sicilian."
"Let him look at them," she said gently.
"He wants to use them to judge Daedalus – perhaps to condemn him!" warned the priest. "Daedalus has done so much for us. He has glorified you, master, made you shine here on this savage shore so far from Delos! So far from sacred Delphi! He has brought you into the west, given you to the unholy and made them kneel in reverence before you! He has thrown seeds of you into new lands! Whatever sins he may have committed, this must wash his hands of it! This man here is unsparing – dogged!" he said, gesturing towards the second judge. "If it had killed just one miserable soul the world could live without, he would put out the sun so that it would never again shine on the face of the earth! He would make the world die for one forgotten boy! Oh great Apollo, we cannot let justice turn the world dark! Daedalus is too great and too necessary to be judged by the laws of men!"
But the Sibyl merely demanded: "Do you, priest, dare to tell your God what He should do?"
"N- no," stammered the terrified priest.
But it was too late to placate her. Eyes blazing, she seized him by the throat and lifted him with one arm into the air as he clutched her hand in absolute futility, attempting, from the pure instinct of wanting to breathe, to break her grip. "Don’t tell me what to say or what to do! Don’t tell me what I owe to Daedalus! Did he build the temple out of respect for me, or to compel me to be forgiving?! I am a God, and mortals do not control me like a puppet through their devotion!" And then she released him, letting him fall gasping to the cavern floor.
All the priests now fell to their knees, and the Sicilians, too, for no one had the legs to stand in the whirlwind of this raging soul. They merely listened.
The Sibyl stood above the second judge like an executioner, but with tenderness in her eyes. "Look at the wings," she said. "Why should I tell you the answer? What reason would men have to live if the answers were merely given to them? Questions are like the beating of your heart, they are what keeps you alive; without them, you would be born old and die as quickly and pointlessly as flies."
"Please!" whimpered the priest, kneeling with his head to the ground and his hands outstretched. "Daedalus is our benefactor!" Again he whispered: "Daedalus is our benefactor."
"Silence!" the Sibyl thundered; for him her voice was like a wave crashing against a great rock by the sea. "Speak again if you wish to die!" Then, laughing evilly from within the terror she had sowed, she said: "Do not worry my little priest. The forces that are at work are in the hands of men. He will do his part. You will do yours. And Cocalus will do his. You will let the judge examine the wings. On the condition that he then straps them onto his shoulders, and leaps with them off of the ledge of the western promontory which rises above the sea! Yes," she said, turning back to the second judge. "No truth that is not sought with courage is worth finding!" And laughing madly, the Sibyl staggered away from them into the darkness of her infinite cavern, into secret places where no man dared follow. "Humans: how you love to play!" they thought they heard her say as she vanished into the wilderness that the earth had carved deep inside itself, to get away from men.
Weeping, the priest with hands that could barely grasp, struggled to restore the golden mask to his face. "You will agree to the terms?" he asked the second judge, gazing upon him once more with the expressionless face of Apollo.
"I will," the second judge said, unable to withdraw from the god’s challenge.
"Then you may see the wings," he replied.
The wings were kept in a great illuminated chamber at the back of the temple. Light poured in from windows and from a great opening in the ceiling, which could be closed off with canvas whenever the weather soured. On a huge marble platform bathed in light, the wings lay spread out on display for the fortunate few who were admitted to behold them and bow their heads in homage to the genius of a man.
Anxiously, the priests stood to the side as the second judge and his team advanced to the platform to examine the wings.
"Are you sure you want to go ahead?" the assistant asked him. "The condition of leaping off of the cliff by the sea – it strikes me as extreme! Perhaps the Sibyl is in cahoots with the priests, after all, and this is nothing but a clever plot to murder you, to squelch the case against Daedalus by destroying its principal proponent!"
"I have thought of that possibility," the second judge informed him; "but, in the end, I trust the Sibyl. What we saw could not have been acting."
"I have never before seen a God with my own eyes," agreed the assistant, "but if this was not one, I know that to see one would be the death of me. But even so," he said, "even if the Sibyl was truly channeling the great divinity: what if Apollo, himself, wants to kill you, in order to protect Daedalus?"
"Then, how can I fight against a god?" asked the second judge. "If my piety is but a means of enraging the gods – if I have so misunderstood them that I am working against them, and they must strike me down - then all I can say is that it is better to die by their hand than to sin in their name!" And boldly, he stepped up to the platform, and placed his hands upon the feathers.
Very soon, it was apparent that these wings of Daedalus were far more solidly crafted than the wings with which Icarus had perished. The intricately layered feathers of gulls and terns were flawlessly threaded together with impeccable workmanship, and seamlessly connected to the waxen sections of meticulously placed feathers which complemented the quilted parts of the wings. The team from Sicily could not find a single structural flaw, any point of leakage between the feathers, any fragile or unfinished interface between the components. There was tremendous strength, but also flexibility in each wing. They marveled at the genius of the concept, and at the brilliance of the execution: the second judge and the assistant as they ran their fingers through the feathers and scrutinized it like picky merchants going over every minute design on a priceless carpet, the scribes as they copied every inch of the masterpiece with painstaking sketches of extraordinary accuracy.
"Here you can see some signs of wear and tear from the flight," the second judge finally discovered.
The assistant looked more closely, while a scribe began to draw.
"However, look how well the wing held up! The structure remains intact – and sound! It is nothing like the awful mess of Icarus’ wing fragment."
"But once again," questioned the assistant, "how much of that chaos was designed into the wing, and how much of it was the result of damage from his plunge into the sea?"
"I think we have been over that already," said the second judge. "There were subtle, yet decisive indications, that the wing was deeply flawed from the outset. Do you not agree that these wings, here, seem to have been produced with infinitely more care and attention to detail? That their quality is vastly superior to the wings of Icarus; that the craftsmanship of the two sets of wings took place on two entirely different planes, the one undeniably brilliant and the other inexcusably shoddy?"
The assistant nodded. "There is no comparison," he agreed.
Carefully, the second judge examined the placement of the wax and the relation of the feathers imbedded in the wax to the overall structure of the wing. "If these feathers were lost, right here," he said, pointing to a critical area of the wing, "the wing would destabilize, or so I imagine. Not enough lift would be created by the beating of the wings, and also, control would be lost."
"Yes, and right there is where the wing would be most exposed to the sun," said the assistant.
"This must be where the fatal melting took place," the second judge conjectured. "The rest of the wing, poorly threaded, must have been slowly unraveling with every wing beat as he rose up towards the sun; then, as the wax melted, and he was forced to work his wings with greater vigor to try to resist his fall, the rest of the wing must have failed as well."
"How long do you need to examine these wings?" the head priest asked, coming up to them with an air of aggressive hostility, which he had finally roused himself to express. The other priests, behind him, murmured their assent. "Yes, how long? How long must you degrade the sacred wings with your vindictive spirits and your irreverent hands? It is as though you were scavengers picking at a carcass! These are wings man made to fly, not dead animals left on the ground to be torn apart by jackals!"
"The God did not place limits on our inspection," the second judge told the priest. "We are working. We will let you know when we are finished."
The western promontory was a harsh white cliff jutting out into the sea, which today was bright and strangely green. Sweetly, the ocean licked the foot of the land, but jagged stones poking through the surface looked upwards towards the cliff where a man stood with gigantic birds’ wings upon his arms.
"If I perish, now," the second judge told the assistant, his voice sad and mournful, for somehow he did not expect to survive, "you will return home to Sicily with the evidence we have compiled, and present it to the first judge. You will give him the summary which I have written, and ask him to prosecute the case. Daedalus is a great man – but who knows how great Icarus would have been? And even if he was destined to be nothing in our eyes, who knows how well our eyes see? If the gods let men live, surely we should revere the lives of those among us who do not shine. Will you carry on, if I fall straight down into the waters below and die like the boy for whom I am seeking justice?"
"I will fight on," the assistant agreed. "I am now convinced of what you are. That Daedalus killed his son by giving him faulty wings. Now that we have seen what real wings are! And that he killed him also by means of a lie, sending him up high, towards the fire of the sun. But I lack your powers of persuasion! You must try to live! If these are the wings that bore Daedalus, why should they not bear you also?"
"He studied the flight of birds for months," the second judge replied. "He studied the winds. For all I know, I may fall like a rock, straight into the sea. You may behold a splash, and then, the burial of Icarus will be complete."
"You must live," the assistant urged him.
"It is time to fly!" the head priest called to them, standing behind the promontory and blocking the way back to the land with a squadron of warriors who watched stoically like black trees rooted in the earth. "It is the bargain you made with the God! You have found what you want. Now we will see if the God wants others to know what you have found!" He turned to the warriors, who had never seen beyond his golden mask, and said, "Warn him!" From their throats, a great and terrible roar emerged, an angry, violent shout, a war cry, the sound they made before they plunged their spears into the bodies of men, cracking through breastplates as though they were merely the shells of insects being stepped on, then drawing back their spear-points, blood-red, with proof of their earnestness. They had fought armies before and would not fail against a single man.
"Not all men are like you!" the offended judge retorted. "Do you think I need spears at my back to make me jump? I made a promise to a God! If Zeus did not have thunderbolts, if Apollo did not have his arrows, or Pallas Athena her divine sword, you would turn their sacred sanctuaries into pigsties, you would cut down the sacred oak at Dodona, and overturn their altars! I am not like you, priest! I am not holy, I am reverent!" And making a final prayer to Apollo to support him because he had not abandoned the truth for love - not for all the love of a world which wished to forget - he rushed forward towards the edge of the cliff, and leaping off of it, stretched out his wings and surrendered himself to fate.
"He is dead!" cried out the priest in glee, seeing him disappear from sight, over the edge of the cliff. "The man who stirs up ancient cauldrons has perished! We are finally free to start again!"
But then, suddenly, he saw the assistant, who had run to the very edge of the cliff, shouting out with joy, and he heard the words, "Blessed be the God!" And suddenly, the second judge was back in view, beating his wings desperately, powerfully, fighting his way up into the sky. They watched him seem to crawl with his wings, till suddenly, almost magically, having climbed to the top of a mountain of wind blowing into his face, he suddenly turned with a slight gesture of his wings and rode the current back over their heads, graceful and effortless, like a seagull born gliding through the sky.
Up above them, the second judge was crying with euphoria. His tears made love to the wind. "I am flying! Flying!" he gasped, barely able to believe it. Once more, he rose up in the wind, then banked, this time catching a current leading him back out over the sea, magnificent and huge, sparkling in the sun, reflecting his enormous heart which wanted to touch the entire world. "How beautiful!" he gasped. "To be a bird, to be free of the stinking earth for a moment, the hovels and the thrones, the beasts of burden being whipped, the husbands and wives quarreling while love spills on the floor, the proud plumes of glorious warriors that are like festering sores, the tall trees cut down to make gardens of complaints, the beautiful women with bundles of sticks on their backs, immersed like candles in water, the brilliant sons broken like horses for their fathers to ride, the mountains told that they are ugly, crushed by the valleys. How beautiful, to be a bird, for a moment! To rise above it all, to be free, to be wings – to be a heart and wings, and nothing more! How long can I fly? How long can I stay away?" And the delirious second judge shouted to the world below him: "I love you! I love you! I love what you could be! I love you ocean, I love you forests, I love you islands, tiny pebbles beneath me! I love you mighty countries that are smaller than you think! Mankind, I loved you, too, before you stabbed yourself with lies! How long can I fly??" And the second judged looked upwards towards the brilliant glowing sun, the dazzling light that seemed to beckon him, a burning mother above a broken earth. I will take you back she seemed to tell him, into my fiery bosom, I will let you suckle from my flame! You need not live among dogs, among pigs, in houses of dirt! Come to me, I am the sun, the immortal sun, and you are my missing child! Come back to me!
The second judge could not hear his assistant calling to him from below, in fact, he could not see him any longer. He rose upwards, higher and higher, he beat his wings with delight, sweating from the exertion or was it from the heat? He felt the comfort of coming close to something that was passionate and grand, not the muddy tempestuousness of petty things, like crabs that bite one’s feet, but the furnace of everything, wishing to ingest him! Who could reject a lover such as that? Relief! Relief from the torment of such absurd struggles! Ants in chariots, drops of poison to become holy, last night’s lovers bellowing like lions in the morning over whether a window should be open or closed! Save me from this madness! Bring it to an end, or let it be elevated! Higher – higher he flew, wild with ecstasy, he felt his head emerging from the womb into the light of a new world, he was being born. Everywhere, there was light! Brilliant, brilliant light!
"Fool!" he gasped, suddenly waking up to the helplessness of his height. He felt a burning drop of wax upon his flesh, and then another! "Fool!" he cried again. "And so, Apollo, you have defended Daedalus after all, and murdered me with my exhilaration!" he cried in outrage. Focused, intense, he drew his wings inwards and pointed himself downwards like a diving falcon to escape from the deadly lamp of the sun as quickly as he might. And he began to fall, to fall like a stone from the sky. He felt the air rushing past his face, freezing him, scraping him with coldness, numbing his flesh, he could not see, his eyes were blasted shut by the speed. "Now!" he thought. "Now, or the truth you carry will perish with you!" And tentatively, though he thought it was decisively, he pushed his wings out into the air that was cascading upwards. "Apollo, help!" he screamed. "Apollo! Zeus! Hermes, guardian of travelers far from home!" He felt his arms being stretched and torn from his body, he somersaulted, he beat his wings, he somersaulted again , he beat his wings, and suddenly he felt himself landing with a thump into a river of air rushing past him, he tried to grip it for dear life with his wings, to beat his way into it, to bury himself in it, to burrow into it like a mole digging its way beyond a predator into the earth. And suddenly he became aware that his flight had stabilized, that he was flying again, treading water in the sky. With a slow, deliberate flip of his wings, he let go and found himself gliding once more above the sea, he looked over to the left and saw the white Italian shore, he tilted his wings slightly, and banked towards the refuge of the land.
Once more master of the world, his terror subsided, his joy returned, now reinforced with pride for the challenge he had faced and overcome. The earth, the sea, and the sky came together in him, he was man at the peak, he was all the worthless tribulations transcended, he was the gold in the dirt. Bounding him on one side was Bellerephon, and on the other side Prometheus. He was as high as he could be without being a transgressor, he was at the very edge of the shore where gods meet men. And now, satisfied with the end of his ascent, he wondered what was the purpose of Apollo to make him fly. For in these spectacular few moments of flight, he had seen and felt the case against Daedalus in innumerable, contradictory ways, flashing through his heart, telling him to go ahead, to stop, to continue, to desist, to fight, to let it be. He had struggled with his wings, and battled, in just the same way that he battled as a judge for every scrap of evidence that he could find to condemn Daedalus. And then he had come to a point when it all seemed to be in other hands, when an air current came upon him and all he had to do was to dip his wings into it and glide forever, and then it seemed to him as if he should not lift a finger but merely let the world take its own course and let it glide towards whatever destination the wind intended for it. But this was not all. For a moment, the second judge thought that Apollo wished him dead; that the great God had made him drink, and become drunk with, the joy of flying, and sent him like a prisoner of his euphoria to the sun to be destroyed. Thus would Apollo preserve the builder of his temple, by drowning his persecutor in the sea. But later, the second judge thought that perhaps Apollo had lured him to the sun only to prove to him that the wings of Icarus had, indeed, been faultily constructed. For although the second judge’s wings were damaged by the partial melting of the wax as Icarus’ has been, his wings had nonetheless not disintegrated as he fought to recover from the catastrophe, but remained intact enough to continue flying. If Icarus’ wings had been well-made, he, too, might have been able to pull out of his fall, and to fly away from his mishap. Had Apollo drawn the second judge to the extreme limit of his wings’ capabilities, in order to provide him with new evidence to strengthen his case? From still one more angle, the second judge was forced to ponder: Has Apollo compelled me to undertake this flight that I might develop even further my solidarity with Icarus, whose terror and agony I experienced firsthand as I plunged out of the sky? Or has it been his intention to mesmerize me with the power of flight, which is the gift of Daedalus to man? To make me understand the beauty and might of the new world the great scientist has put into our reach through his marvelous invention; to make his crimes shrink like the earth beneath my rising wings; to make his transgressions small, just as the towns and forests and even mountains recede far below the bird I have become, until they are infinitesimal? Is it the god’s wish to shelter Daedalus with my ecstasy and with my wonder, to make me incapable of prosecuting him? To see that one boy’s life cannot be allowed to take the sky away from us?!
From the ground, the assistant was now calling wildly up to the second judge, words that were still incomprehensible except that they seemed to express concern. The second judge flew straight over him, like a well-fed eagle that has no interest in the creatures of the earth, but is thinking only of returning to his lair; in truth, however, he was searching for a good current of air and a landing place. As he glided deeper over the land, perplexed, he saw a beautiful white gull appear suddenly in front of him. As it dipped its wing, so did he, and soon he found himself gracefully gliding away from Cumae, out towards the open sea. How beautiful you are, he told the gull with his thoughts. Though I can see the whole world from this height, I do not know how to come back to it! I do not know how to get out of the sky! Will you show me, dear gull? Will you befriend a poor stranger lost in your land above the land?
Like a comet made of white feathers, like a divine piece of snow from some mountain top that had decided to fly, the gull, after a long swift ride on the wind, beat its wings once more and began to maneuver. The second judge followed it blindly and did as it did. And then, to his joy, he saw them veering back from the frightening arms of the sea towards a wide open beach at some distance from the town. They began to descend until the wild waves’ words became audible: warnings and exhortations. Let us love you, cover you with this great soul, drown you in gratitude! How lonely we are for beings like you that we do not know! How well we shall treat you, like kings! We shall bathe you endlessly, between the dancing light above and the darkness below, we shall be fountains spewing waters for you eternally! No, wait, you are not fish, you are not able to withstand the power of our craving! The power of our solitude! Be free! Be free! We cannot love you as you wish! Fly, fly to the land! You are not fish or dolphin or whale or merman! Fly to the land! Do not tarnish our love by letting it kill you!
The voices of the waters grew louder and more intense as they descended, the sea was shouting at him now, Don’t land here! Don’t land here! We will destroy you if you come, for ignoring us! Listen or die! Do not rape us with your deafness, we shall kill you for breaking our heart! And the waves were roaring like lions, now, and showing fangs of white foam. The second judge could feel the moisture of the approaching sea dampening his wings, they were becoming heavier and harder to wield, but the beach was rushing towards him now. Just a little bit more, just a little bit longer in the sky! The gull had already glided into the beach by now, and was waddling artlessly across the sand as it shook its graceful wings then hid them from a world that walked. Now it was the second judge’s turn. Wildly flapping his wings to cover the last bit of air above the sea, he found himself charging onto the beach, his legs moving desperately to keep himself from tumbling head over heels. Like a sprinter he raced across the sand until at last the speed was left behind and he could drop his exhausted arms and the huge wings that were strapped onto them, dragging them across the sand, until he was finally poised enough to stop and begin to undo them. As distant shapes of men moved towards him, led by his running assistant who was still tiny and far away, the second judge sat down near the resting gull on the beach. Disheveled and sunburned like a shipwrecked sailor, he told the gull, "Thank you. Thank you for leading me back to my world."
The gull, so awkward now on its little feet, turned around and seemed to regard him from a distance with its shining eyes. Then suddenly, it gave a piercing scream as though its wing were being broken, and it looked at the second judge with eyes too intent to not have a meaning. And then it spread its great white wings and ran a bit to catch the air, and was back in the sky again where it belonged. One more time before it left, as it passed over the second judge, it screamed, a scream that was filled with pain and outrage. Or so it seemed to the second judge. Puzzled about the meaning of his own flight, and paralyzed between the conflicting emotions it had stirred in him, the second judge now knew what he must do. Great things in the world do not outweigh little acts of kindness in the sky. Brothers do not abandon brothers above the waves. History remembers the shouts, but there would be no earth if it were not for the whispers.
Sicily, beloved Sicily was now in sight! Great proud island rising from the sea, ringed by imposing volcanoes, threats of gods all around. This is our home! We must defend its honor from a terrible crime!
Respectfully, the first judge received the second judge off of the ship in the harbor; word of the mission to Crete and Cumae had preceded them and the crew was famous. Dark-skinned, hopeful girls came to watch them leave the ship and ascend the chariots that would take them to the Court and then to the King’s palace.
"Tell me what you have found," the first judge told the second, as they sat together in an imposing chamber with harsh walls and high ceilings, the place where the trials were conducted. The second judge took out his notes and folders, the pages of transcripts, and the sketches, and presented the first judge with an impressive summary of the case.
"What do you want to do?" the first judge asked, after the presentation.
"I want to prosecute," the second judge said.
"Murder in the first degree."
"If you win the case, this will be the first time in history that a man has been convicted of murdering another with wings."
"An ordinary man might have killed his son with a knife or spear. A more clever one with poison. But Daedalus is not an ordinary man, nor merely a clever one. He hid the murder of Icarus from Humanity. He used it to embellish his reputation, and to win the sympathy of the world. And now, he wishes to write his lie into the history books. Your Honor, it is time to end the charade. To preserve the principles that are greater than greatness."
The first judge nodded. "I understand your point of view. Your work," he added, with admiration he could not restrain, "is as brilliant as the inventions of Daedalus. I will speak to the King, who will be ready to see you in one or two days. In the meantime, quarters will be made available to you and your assistant in the palace."
"Thank you," said the second judge. Now all he could do was wait.
The waiting was long and hopeful; although there was tension and anxiety there was also expectation, as when a poverty-stricken man learns that a rich uncle he never knew he had has left behind an enormous fortune to his surviving relatives. The poor man is not sure if he is one of the lucky relatives who will soon be receiving a share of the treasure, but he might be; in fact, he probably is… The thought of the gold that will change his life and rescue his family from their misery begins to brighten up the dark days in which he is still trapped, he catches himself singing and whistling above the plow; and the shriveled crops that threaten him like spears of hunger from his exhausted field no longer have the power to crush his spirit. In this same way, the second judge and his assistant felt uplifted by things that were still not certain.
They went over the case again, spreading out their documents and their arguments over a strong oak table, as simple and as sturdy as the concept of justice. The case against Daedalus, which was initiated from the seed of an intuition, had finally grown into a tall and flowering tree of subtle yet compelling evidence, or so they told themselves. "We will begin the case by deconstructing the self-glorifying myth which Daedalus has created about himself, we will put the court back into contact with his real character, which is demonstrated by his murder of Talos, by his betrayal of Minos, and by his cruelty to Icarus. We will establish a motive for the murder, based, firstly, upon the testimony of the women who witnessed the virulent disagreements between father and son, and, secondly, upon our elaboration of the psychological principles which induced Daedalus to wish to silence his conscience, which was externally embodied by his son. We will argue that the murder of Icarus was carried out ingeniously, by means which were designed to convince the world that Daedalus was actually trying to save his son rather than kill him, so as to protect his reputation. We will use the cryptic message written to himself, fortified by the suggestive testimony of Pasiphae and Naucrate, to argue that Daedalus deliberately set Icarus up for the kill, tricking him to fly so high that the sun would melt the wax of his wings. And we will use our meticulous comparison of Daedalus’ wings and Icarus’ wing fragment to argue that Icarus’ wings were, in addition, deliberately constructed by his father to fail; that they were never intended to be the instruments of Icarus’ salvation, but on the contrary, to be the instruments of his demise. My own experience flying with Daedalus’ wings will lend weight to the idea that the son’s wings were not crafted to succeed."
The assistant was now convinced. They had gone so far, taken so many risks, pushed through so many impasses, experienced so much of life in their study of death – they had felt the invigorating ocean spray in their face, and lived within the music of the ship and its creaking eager timbers, they had seen the dolphin-painted walls of Minos, the legendary palace and the maidens dancing among bulls, they had seen the gold-faced priests of Cumae and the wild Sibyl who seized the insides of a mountain to be the throat of a god; and the second judge had left behind the constraints of man and flown above earth and sea like a bird, seen everything with eyes that were free, flown through the wind of a thousand doubts, passed through a raging battle of competing magnificences in his unquiet mind until a gull had settled the dispute with its white feathers. From the land, the assistant had flown too, his heart had soared as his eyes strained to watch the tiny dot of a man moving through the clouds. Too much had happened, too much had been done to lose this case. The evidence would be accepted, the King would approve of the trial, the court would listen and be convinced, justice would prevail.
In a spacious palace suite, the second judge and the assistant continued to wait. The King was busy, but he would get back to them. A relative of the King had been injured on a hunt. It happened all the time. The ambassador of Tyre was due to arrive at any moment, the future of distant North Africa was on the table. Of course, that was more important, it was an issue of nations and destinies. A murder case, with the fate of one man at stake, could wait.
While they waited, the second judge and his assistant had the run of the palace, except for the royal chambers which were blocked from them by silent, simple guards whose minds asked no questions. There was a one-way flow from the king’s mouth to their ears, and their swords were fast. It was good to have men such as these, who were like huge gates to which only the king had the key.
As they wandered through the palace, they noted how barren it was compared to Minos’. It was strong, dark, frugal, with damp and stoic stones, massive and speechless. Though some rooms had light and space for the mind to stretch, many, and more as one approached the center of power, were like fortresses, as though each room did not trust the other and must be defended from the rest of the world.
As they wandered through the palace, anxious to exercise their bodies and their senses, which had just come back from the brilliant blue of the sea and the gigantic inverted bowl of the sky - blazing with the sun by day, staring down with the eye of the moon at night, among stars that seemed to be an enormous, shattered light that could not put itself back together – they came upon impressive scaffolding in a corridor and a group of workmen bashing in a wall. "What has the wall done to you?" jested the second judge, surprising his assistant by making a joke.
"Nothing, except to offend us with ugliness!" replied the project chief. In his hands were blueprints of a most extraordinary reconstruction, a new wall with a level surface to be covered with colorful frescoes. "Down here," he said, pointing to the floor they were standing on, "we’ll install a new pattern of tiles culminating in a mosaic." He showed the second judge the sketches.
"Beautiful!" admitted the second judge. "And why now?"
"Before we lacked the skill, or maybe only the experience. But now that Daedalus has come…"
"He says he will turn the Palace of Camicus into the Knossos of the West," blurted out a workman. "Minos will have nothing on us!"
"We are rising like the sun!" agreed the engineer.
The second judge smiled, because the men were enthusiastic and this was their profession, their source of pride. But inside he was alarmed. While he had been away collecting evidence of Daedalus’ crime, the great scientist and artisan had been seeping like water into the soil of Sicily.
"Oh no," warned the assistant, as they passed by an open doorway in the hall. "Things are getting even worse!"
Through the doorway, as he passed, the second judge saw two girls laughing and running after a ball that seemed to be moving by itself.
"The daughters of King Cocalus!" said the assistant.
Behind them, beaming broadly and laughing also, was a strong, lively man with white hair and a white beard: Daedalus! How much he looked the part of the kindly grandfather! They could not stand too long in front of the door or he might notice them, but passing a few feet away to where a gap in the poorly-fitted stones allowed them to continue spying in the room, they saw the girls, who had given up their pursuit of the self-moving ball, standing by a pool of water where a large bronze bird kept dipping down to take a drink, then rising up to sit upon its perch, then dipping back down again for another drink of water, then rising up once more. With precise mechanical perfection it repeated the process endlessly, a perpetual motion machine of irresistible charm! Then one of the girls was sitting on a wooden horse, and Daedalus was moving his foot up and down on top of some pedal on the floor, and the horse was rocking wildly while she screeched with delight.
The face of the second judge had turned ashen, he stood still by the spy hole as though run through by a spear. Beside him, the assistant shook his head, like a man who has fallen off a horse, who is trying to recover his senses.
"Daedalus – his genius has no limits!" exclaimed the second judge, at last.
The assistant agreed. "He is water; when your back is turned, he flows away like a stream. He is ice; when you want to catch him moving, he shows you nothing. He is steam; when you think you have him trapped in a room behind a locked door, he escapes through a hole in the ceiling! He has infinite shapes and forms! He breaks into the vault and leaves no trace except for its emptiness! And when he finally, once in a moment rarer than snow in the summer, does slip up and leave behind a footprint, he outgrows it! Who cares if his hands are dripping with blood??"
"We cannot be defeated," said the second judge, making war on the fear inside him, the sudden plunge of confidence, his heart plummeting like Icarus from the sky of ideals towards the reality of the world he lived in. "We cannot let this man’s extraordinary cleverness, which spans the universe of inventions, art, and social acumen, to triumph! We cannot fall victim to his sinister polish, we cannot let the world be conned!"
"We have a good case," the assistant said, joining in the desperate effort to restore hope.
"Swords of clay," muttered the second judge, his eyes temporarily fading away to a distant, cruelly honest place. "For that much is he loved. That easily do others give their love."
"What?" asked the assistant, who did not hear him.
"We must not be defeated," the second judge told him.
The king’s face was like that of a doctor who has bad news. In fact, if the king had been a doctor, the second judge would have known at the very moment that he entered the room that he had a terrible disease for which there was no cure.
"Sit down," the king said gently, with disconcerting sympathy.
Silent as pallbearers, the second judge and his assistant sat down in chairs on the other side of the great table, on which were spread out the claims and arguments of the prosecution. Also at the table sat the first judge, two scribes of the king, the principal counselor, and four officers of the army.
"I am very glad for your safe return," King Cocalus told them. "I am sorry that I have not had an opportunity to welcome you home yet, nor to express my sincere gratitude for the dangerous mission which you undertook on my behalf. I have been so busy with affairs of state, and with the matter of my poor injured nephew. The horns of stags are not mere decorations! Now he knows."
"I hope he is doing well," the second judge said, conscious that he must seem so much less concerned than Daedalus had been when he heard the news.
"Yes, my nephew is the beneficiary of what we call ‘fortune within the misfortune’," said the king. "In the long run, he will be better for it. Prudence is not a vice."
The second judge nodded.
There was an awkward silence in the room, a silence which seemed to have an odor. It was difficult for the second judge to endure the smell. The men here, in the room, were in no ways corrupt, they were simply human, and they were embarrassed by his idealism. Everyone wants to have a beautiful soul, but who wants to hold the burning chalice?
At last the King plunged ahead, like a rider taking his horse into a swift river which everyone else is afraid to cross. "A magnificent case," he said, running his hands through the papers as though by touching them he might earn their forgiveness. "I appreciate the dedication that has gone into this. The determination and courage, the energy, the intellect, and the imagination. You know, dear judge, how grateful I am for how you saved my kingdom in the past, by exposing a corrupt oracle, and once again, by finding the root of the plague that had descended upon us. I trust your intuition. I admire your logic. I revere your intentions."
Tears began to form in the second judge’s eyes, he felt as though his child were being taken from him and his house left empty.
"But - ", and there it was, the spear-point of the fatal word but, "I cannot proceed with this prosecution, I cannot approve it for submission to the court."
Every face in the room was now turned towards the second judge, to see how badly he was hurt, and how loyal he was to the king. Was he enough of a patriot to let the passion of his heart be crushed forever by the heel of his country? After a long while, the second judge said: "Your majesty – do you believe Daedalus is guilty?"
The principal counselor said, "It is impertinent to ask that of the king!", but the king motioned for him to be silent. "I believe," said the king, at last, "that you have presented us with an intriguing possibility. Unless the case goes to trial, however, and is submitted to the full rigors of our legal process, we cannot really be sure."
"So then, Your Majesty – why? Why do you deny the case a trial? Or even a hearing?"
How onerous it is to have to state the obvious! How welcome are those who are fluent at reading between the lines, those who are free enough of obsessions to back away without demanding an explanation! Again, the principal counselor sought to intervene, but the king silenced him. These were still the days when kings became kings because they were not afraid. "To bring Daedalus to trial would be to overturn the hospitality we have offered to him, to poison our welcome, and betray our greeting. To alienate him, and god forbid, convict him! What if he is guilty? Who wants to find it out?!"
"Daedalus can lift us out of the age of stones," said the counselor. "Look at this palace. You have seen the one at Knossos! Here, we live as before the times of Prometheus. As far as we are concerned, Prometheus might as well have kept his liver, for all the good the fire he stole from Olympus has done us! Where is that fire? It is not here. We live in darkness, in shadows! Daedalus has come to us with wings."
The second judge understood. "Daedalus was once before an outcast, and once before forgiven for a murder," he warned the king. "And look what he did. He stole the wife of Minos and helped Pasiphae to couple with a bull – he created a monster in his new refuge! He turned the most powerful ruler in the world into a cuckold. He helped Theseus and the Athenians, the enemies of Minos, and then, he killed his own son, Icarus! How do you dare to trust him?"
The king smiled, this was territory he did not fear to defend. "I am a strong king," he told the second judge. "I am also a smart king. I will watch him, that is all. Daedalus is an intelligent man and he is running out of refuges. He is also aging. He has less of youth’s capacity to betray, and less of youth’s wild slavery to its impulses. This time his mind will prevail, he will not chase the skirts of queens or covet maddened moments that will destroy him. He will beautify our palace. He will elevate our prestige. He will shower us with inventions that will take the heaviness out of our step. He will plant a forest of armaments around our possessions, he will turn us from a hare into an eagle."
"The world is filled with threats," said the counselor. "This man can make them puny. Should we sacrifice our kingdom and our future, for the life of one impractical boy?"
"And what of Icarus?" asked the second judge.
"What of the thousands of warriors who have died to save their cities?" asked the counselor. "Ashes in urns, buried in the hard earth. Great men, men who loved and laughed, dressed to die in helmets and sent away from their mothers so that something greater than any one man could be could rise above the plain. Consider Icarus to be one more fallen soldier in the war to be great, one more casualty to make the city shine!"
"I cannot see him in that way," said the second judge. "I see him as precious and irreplaceable, a boy who the years to come needed. Without him, they will be empty. Gods will feel it."
"You are like a mother," said the counselor, disdainfully. "We are statesmen."
"And the principle of justice?" demanded the second judge. "The principle that keeps man from sliding back among the beasts, from becoming another version of the wolf, the bear, the lion, the jackal? One man denied the embrace of civilization, one concession to collapse – one stone, only, removed, that may bring the whole house down!"
"Houses are not brought down by injustice," countered the counselor; "injustices are their foundation! Faultless people live like animals in the wilderness! Cruel men grab the reins of the earth, and ride it to gardens of plenty."
"You cannot throw one of your own to the wolves without pointing your ship towards the edge of the earth – towards the place beyond the great sea monsters where the world ends! You cannot choose the guilty one over the innocent one! You cannot choose Daedalus over Icarus!"
"Beautiful people live in caves!"
"You cannot choose Daedalus over Icarus! The world is at stake!"
"Not the world," said the king, powerfully but also gently. "What kind of world. You want to live in one world, dear judge. But we have chosen to live in another."
The words hit him like a hammer. He was speechless. It was so simple, so unexpected an answer. So invulnerable a reply! What could he do? His life’s work was at an end. At last he managed to stammer: "But – but the lesson you will give to the world!?"
"What lesson?" said the king. "The world will never know what you know, will never blame Daedalus for what happened to his son. Instead, it will believe the myth as Daedalus has given it to us. And if you consider it, it is a very useful myth. Obey your father. The wild, impetuous son who flies beyond his father’s control, who is driven by his ambition to reach for the sun, will perish. Heed the counsel of the elder. Obey the King. I am the father of Camicus, the father of Sicily, obey me. Daedalus’ lie will be my armor."
The counselor added: "And Icarus, no soulful gentle child is he, but a daring, irrational, self-destructive spirit! The perfect fatal, romantic ideal for the rebel! How many dangerous enemies shall be lured by this compelling image to throw pragmatism to the winds, and in imitation of this wild boy who the world reveres, this hero of failure, hurl themselves towards glorious deaths rather than victories! The kingdom shall sleep more soundly as a result of the self-immolation of its foes!"
The second judge regarded them, amazed. There was no way in past the doors of this conviction, this strident, decisive acceptance of a wrong. A man could no more wrestle with a burning tree than change the minds of men like this, confident in their power, mighty enough to tread wherever they wished.
The assistant at his side was crushed, the second judge could see the moisture in his eyes, the despair held in, barely restrained. The first judge shifted uncomfortably in his seat, he looked straight down, he did not want the disappointment of the second judge to wound him. The military men watched impassively, the counselor seemed as if he had just eaten a delicious cake, the king looked compassionately at the second judge’s eyes, sorry and wishing he could help him. He was waiting for those eyes to resign themselves, and to look back at his with a silent thank you for his concern.
The second judge knew that it was up to him to end the meeting. "I understand," he said, at last, trying hard to prevent his voice from breaking. Why couldn’t he be a woman, and just weep?! "I understand, though I disagree," he continued. "But I am only a single bee in a great hive. I have brought back the nectar of truth from a wildflower in the field. What you do with this nectar is beyond my power to decide. Whether you use it to make honey or leave it untouched in the night, the choice is yours. I have brought it, which is all that was in my power to do. Now," he said, still struggling, "I feel I must inform you of one more thing. And that is something that King Minos told me before we left the island of Crete. And that is that if we fail to prosecute and condemn Daedalus, he will sail here with his fleet to apprehend him and bring him back to Crete for punishment."
At this, the officers exchanged stunned glances, then shouted curses into the air. "Minos?" "Minos?" "Damn him, let him try!" "Has he threatened us? Has he threatened us?" "He won’t get away with it!"
The king himself turned red, while the counselor shouted, "Minos? Do you think to intimidate us with this threat, to force us to punish Daedalus under threat of a foreign invasion?!"
"I seek nothing more from you," the second judge told them. "You have made your decision. I knew you would react this way when I informed you of Minos’ threat, that your pride is stronger than your sense of justice, and that you would refuse to condemn Daedalus if you knew that Minos insisted that you condemn him! You would rather be unjust than seem to bend. This is why I have only told you now. But since this is my country, and it is now in danger, I am informing you."
"Do you swear loyalty to me?" demanded King Cocalus. "Do you swear you will not throw your lot in with Minos, as your last chance to get at Daedalus?"
"Your Majesty," replied the second judge, "I am disappointed by your decision. But this is my country, and you are my king. I have never let you down in the past, and I will not let you down now. I have given you a warning. Now it is for your dark soldiers to prepare."
The officers looked at each other with trepidation. "Minos?"
"Daedalus will help us!" one of them exclaimed. "He will give us weapons they cannot overcome!"
But although the great inventor quickly provided them with the design for several versions of lightweight catapults which could be used aboard their ships, the best weapon he gave to them was the weapon of deception. In an elaborate ruse, he was seen to board a heavily-laden ship and to sail away from Sicily towards Sardinia, with the possible destination of a point in northern Italy populated by an enclave of expatriate Lydians: men who played flutes, danced, flung themselves joyfully at women, and wielded swords with deadly skill during their more somber moments. Meanwhile, in the night time, the notorious inventor was picked up some miles off the coast by a small boat, and hidden under a canvas on its deck, rowed back to shore, then, after a time, smuggled back into Cocalus’ palace where he continued to live with great discretion.
Merchants from Crete arrived on the island not long afterwards in a ship filled with wonderful trade goods from Lydia, Caria, and Tyre, from Egypt and from their own brilliant land. They sold their goods at a fair price, and watched the crowds passing by with eagle eyes as they smiled with irresistible innocence. One of them sought to arrange a visit to see the second judge, to bring him a gift from Minos, but the king’s men told the Cretans that the second judge was ill and they would not let them take the trip to his country estate. In casual conversation, the merchants learned that Daedalus had fled to Sardinia. Meanwhile, the beautiful gift that Minos has sent to the second judge, a golden bull with silver horns and eyes made of rubies, the horns serving as holders of exotic incense, remained in the palace at Camicus, in the private chambers of Daedalus.
Some years passed. There was a war between the Cretans and the Sardinians. The Cretans won, but lost, because the war was pointless and the man they sought was a ghost, the tracks they sought led nowhere. Their ships sailed on to the land that would one day be known as Etruria, where their senses were delighted among people who loved pleasure as much as they did, but their hearts were embittered by the absence of their quarry. In the meantime, Daedalus prospered, he built a magnificent workshop in the side of a mountain, and lived in beautiful rooms hidden beneath the palace, traveling back and forth between his workshop and his apartments through clever tunnels dug underneath the ground.
As Daedalus prospered, the second judge languished. He had now, after awakening to the illusory nature of his perception of the world, retired from his office and spent his days tending vineyards in the sun and looking at the sea, and at the distant shapes of volcanoes. Like the anger of Minos, those savage mountains bubbled with the intense heat of unfinished business. They pierced the clear blue sky with the rejection of tranquility. They bided their time. As the second judge’s hands grew rough and wrinkled from work and from the rays of the sun that did not know how to love – light that was like a rapist that could not come gently – and as he thought that one day he must die and that what he had lived for was useless, like a beautiful chessboard with brilliantly-placed pieces suddenly knocked over and exposed as a game – he wondered if Minos would ever come, and he wondered how he would feel if he did. Would he stand defiantly with the rest of his country against the charismatic, dark intruder, if Minos ever figured out Daedalus’ clever deception and returned to Sicily, or would he secretly sympathize with him, and pray to the gods that he bring Daedalus to justice? What weighs more in the balance – my nation or justice? My collective duty or my personal crusade?
The quiet of the hills helped the second judge to calm his nerves whenever these questions pressed him too fiercely, at the same time that the loneliness of the hills resounded with the echo of these questions. Sometimes, looking out over the sea, he would catch sight of a gull that seemed to be a man, he would imagine he saw Icarus flying with man-made wings, streaking high by the sun. Staring towards the sun, to convince himself that it was a fantasy, his eyes were blinded until he could see nothing that was real and only visions . Men flying through the sky with wings, horses running across the clouds, laughing Gods with smiles of light, little children running around the sun, trying to pull its hair, picking flowers from blinding blue fields. Dizzy, he would stagger into a dark room filled with light coming from inside his head, he would lie down in a bed that seemed like the nagging wife of a drunkard, the kind of wife who sleeps with her back turned to her husband, and cover his eyes with wet cloths, praying to be able to feel nothing and to see again in the morning – such a simple wish, just to see! To see flowers and little stones in his garden that did not matter!
Sometimes, his loyal assistant, who continued working for the court, came to visit him, but these times were becoming less frequent, for the pain of watching a great man give up is not an easy one to bear. One time, a strange man passed by with a load of wood for tinder on his donkey’s back. The man said, "Minos has friends near and far. The wind speaks. It says you want Daedalus, but he is out of your reach. But others have longer arms. They just need to know where he is."
"I am a farmer now," the second judge told him.
The stranger said: "Once upon a time a white dove whispered in a wolf’s ear. The wolf would not listen. Wolves listen only to wolves. Justice is wrung from beasts by other beasts! White dove, speak to the wind. Tell it what you know! There is a wolf waiting in the woods to do what your mind and heart could not!"
"I am a Sicilian," said the second judge, forcing himself to look at trees he was tired of as if it were the first time he had ever seen them.
The stranger said: "Daedalus has wings, and there are no borders in the sky, no nations. There is only right and wrong. You could make love to a woman of Crete just as easily as to a woman of Sicily. We are one race. Beauty is one ideal that moves us all. Justice is another."
"If I have suffered so much for one innocent victim," the second judge told him, "how should I feel to start a war? To watch a thousand helpless Icarus’ plunge from the sky? I do not know where Daedalus is, tell your Master - or if I do, it is not for me to say. I have learned to step back from life and let Gods make all the decisions." And he turned his back on the driver of the donkey and pretended to inspect grapes that had not yet come onto the vine.
But Minos was as tenacious as the second judge was fatalistic; as much bound to the earth as the second judge was willing to give it up. When the second judge heard about the strange challenge, he suspected at once. A traveling merchant, immensely rich from the island of Rhodes, had arrived in the harbor, promising a vast reward for any man who could pass a thread through the intricate interior of an enormous and resplendent Triton shell, one of Poseidon’s many wonders. "How colorful!" maidens laughed in the marketplace, hugging each other with delight. "Can you hear the voice of the sea?" asked another, putting it up to her ear. But when men heard the quantity of silver and gold being offered if they could pass a thread through the shell, they swooped in like vultures to sweep aside the joyful children and subject the Triton to their ambition and their gravity. But no one could carry out the task. "Of course not!" exclaimed the mother of one of the girls who had been pushed aside. "The inside of the shell is not cut through by a single straight path; the path through it twists and turns, like a maze. Even if you did not have such big and clumsy hands you could not pass a thread through it! The merchant’s treasure is safe. He is just making fools of you!"
Cocalus, himself, eventually came by in a chariot, and asked the merchant if he might bring the shell with him to his palace for the night, and bring it back to him with the problem solved in the morning. The merchant marked the shell in such a way that it could not be replaced by any other, and agreed.
This is the story that the second judge heard in the late afternoon from a mounted guard who was making his rounds through the trails beyond the city overlooking the sea.
At once, the second judge thought he should warn him. "The merchant is from where?" he asked.
"From Rhodes," said the soldier.
"And does he speak and dress as a man from Rhodes?"
"By all means," replied the soldier.
"Let the gods move the world as they will," said the second judge.
"Have a good day, your honor," the guard told him, riding on. Poor man, thought the second judge, will he be one who fights and loses his life in the war that is to come? Should I have said something? Am I treacherous, or merely broken? Am I righteous or simply paralyzed? Oh grapes, grow faster on the vine, that I have less time to think!
Back in the palace, of course, Cocalus gave the shell at once to Daedalus, who laid it on a table and after a few moments told the king, "I shall have it threaded by the morning." Bringing it through one of the secret tunnels to his workshop, accompanied by the king , his guards, and a few high-level spectators, the great inventor smeared honey by the entrance to a hole already bored into the shell at the opposite end of its natural opening. He then tied a string to a powerful ant, one of the larger types which so harry lovers of gardens, and placed the ant into the natural opening of the shell. Sure enough, attracted by the smell of the honey at the opposite end, the ant wandered through the Triton’s maze, dragging the string behind it, until it finally emerged from the other side. The shell had been threaded by an ant, the latest incarnation of Daedalus’ mind! The challenge had been won!
When the merchant was presented with the shell the next morning, he seemed less mortified than one would have imagined. He had the treasure, one half of which was hidden on his ship, the other half being promised in a future delivery, taken off and brought before the triumphant Sicilians, who with wild eyes, plunged their hands into a chest of coins and jewels. Cascades of wealth flew into the air and back into the chest, the sound of the metallic fountain was overwhelming to the ears. "We’re rich!" exclaimed Cocalus. "If in our minds we were rich before, now we realize that we were poor! But now we are what we thought we were: rich! Rich!" And he and his advisers embraced each other as though the gods had just promised them eternal life.
Of course, there was not just one ship from Rhodes that came to deliver the rest of the reward. There was instead a frightening sea filled with vast lines of dark galleys bearing the banners of Crete. Before the ships of Minos could arrive, Cocalus’ admirals had the Sicilian fleet put out to sea to seek refuge elsewhere. They did not dare to fight! As the Cretan ships came closer, the people in the city could hear the drum beats and the manly singing, and behold the incredible cadence of the oars, which stabbed the sea repeatedly, which loved them with its wounds. These ships were like fish they were so much a part of the sea, and the men inside them like thirty-thousand Poseidons.
As the fleet moved in to take possession of the harbor, dropping anchor and unfurling its sails, three ships astounded the residents of the city by rowing stridently straight for the land before raising their oars at the last moment; then, as lithe and beautiful warriors jumped out of them into the sea, and ran along their sides, they seemed to glide up onto the beach, like seals out of a wave. The ships dug deep marks into the sand and came to a halt, more warriors jumped out, well-protected men with spears and behind them naked archers with quivers filled with arrows and daggers strapped onto their legs. The soldiers of Camicus did not resist them, they instead withdrew to form a defensive ring around the palace. Their knees were weak, they had never before seen such splendid warriors, bearers of an empire. Egypt and Crete – these were the two powers of the day, and here was one of them!
No one had any doubt who was the bare-chested long-haired man dressed in a purple loincloth only, with a gold jewel in his hair, a long sword at his side and a huge double-edged axe in his hands.
Quickly, an envoy of King Cocalus was on the beach, and lying prostrate before him. "Great King Minos," he said, "we have no quarrel with you! Why this dramatic arrival, why the whole sea filled with the dark clouds of your ships? Tell us what we can do for you!"
King Minos looked at him. He did not speak.
"Please," the envoy begged. "Do not deny us the chance to satisfy you!"
"There is someone here I want," he finally said, his voice hard and clear.
The envoy, sweating profusely, listened.
"Can you guess who it is?"
The envoy shook his head.
Again there was a long silence. The surf behind them frowned.
Observing a man with a bow beyond them moving in too close, in range of their beloved king, one of Minos’ archers from behind the line of spearmen let loose with an arrow. The Sicilian archer dropped his bow, and staggered backwards into a huge tree. A sudden barrage of Cretan arrows followed, the man was nailed to the tree by arrows. Like a most wonderful artistic creation he hung there, his unseeing eyes wide open. Crete’s power is not a bluff!
"Please!" gasped the envoy. "There is no need for war!"
"Give me Daedalus," said King Minos.
"Daedalus?" asked the envoy, feigning ignorance, which made King Minos laugh heartily, as though brilliant jesters were putting on a skit for him.
"The Triton shell," Minos told him. "Who else could thread it? Everyone has a weakness. Daedalus’ is his pride. No problem shall defeat him. No riddle is superior to his mind. Or is it his genius for playing the sycophant? To consolidate his refuge with gold poured onto the table of Cocalus?"
"Daedalus?" asked the envoy again.
Again, Minos laughed. "Beware that man!" he warned, fury ripping down the curtains of his sense of humor. "He shall betray you as he betrayed me! He is not worth dying for! He is not worth a war! Give him up! I have business with him. Before you were kind to him, he was bad to me. My injury is older than your welcome. My rights precede yours! He is a sinner against the gods! You will win no points in heaven for sheltering him!"
The envoy staggered to his feet, bowing as he did so. "I will inform my king at once of your position!" he said.
While all this was going on in the city, the second judge was watching the cluster of angry ships gather out at sea, from his vantage point in the hills. Somehow they were beautiful, like a god waking up from sleep who climbs out of his hammock one sunny day long after it seems that the world has been abandoned, and decides that now it is finally time to right a wrong that seemed to be forgotten; to turn the page of history that seemed to be the last, with the villains reveling and triumphant, and begin to write anew with the pen of principles unvanquished held in the hand of resurrected hope. Morality, what a myth! He had come to believe it; to believe in the absence of justice, in the law of cleverness, in the supremacy of victory, the only holiness. But now the ships were here, like the grapes of Tantalus, like the boulder of Sisyphus to torment the sinner. Like Charon, the ferryman to Hell, Minos had come, he had turned the Mediterranean into the River Styx. He did not come so much for Icarus as for naked Pasiphae mounted by a bull, but it did not matter! Let Minos kill the bear that stole his honey, because it is also the bear that killed my son!
But this is my country! thought the second judge. My country! I cannot behold these dark ships with such delight! What if the blood of my compatriots is spilled, what if my land is reddened, what if my quest for justice gives birth to a horrible monster like the Minotaur, the hybrid nightmare offspring of my principles and the means the world offers to uphold them??? Better, is it not, to let the murderer drink wine and laugh and kiss beautiful women on top of the grave of the man he has killed, than to feed the earth with new corpses, and throw wide open the arms of mourning! What is right? What is wrong? Why cannot my vineyards quiet me?!
At last, the second judge decided that he must go to the city, to intervene. He must use his knowledge of Minos and Cocalus to negotiate a settlement, to help avoid a war, and satisfy all parties. Somehow, someway! He must fight for justice of another kind, the justice owed to mothers who have spent too long raising sons to see them thrown away for nothing.
Anxiously, unfamiliar with things that had once been second nature to him, he brought his horses out of the stable, and struggled to hitch them to his chariot, then, after some more delays tightening a wheel that was at risk, he started for the city. Along the way he met a patrol of mounted cavalry. "Your Honor, don’t continue," they warned him. "The Cretans are in the city. War could break out at any moment."
"That is precisely what I must deter!" protested the second judge. One of the men agreed to accompany him. The second judge admired the brilliant polish of his helmet, the bold spirit of his blood-red cape, and the powerful muscles of his valiant horse. But as they neared the city, a picket of sturdy worried infantrymen emerged from roadside thickets, stopping them, and ordered them to wait. By the time they let them continue, much water had already flowed beneath the bridge.
King Cocalus had come out of his palace to speak personally with Minos and to admit that Daedalus did, indeed, live among them. He told the Cretan king that Daedalus was a skilled and worthy craftsman and an asset to any land that sheltered him. Who would not wish to keep him? However, it was not Sicily’s intention to go to war over him. If Minos could convince him that Daedalus had, indeed, seriously transgressed while a guest of Crete and deserved to be handed over for punishment, Sicily would give up the great inventor who was presently in hiding outside the palace. "We can solve this King to King," Cocalus told him. At that Minos’ eyes lit up. Above the little lying, cheating people of the world, some of whom tricked their way to the throne, there were true kings, who rose by fighting like lions and who would rather die than lose their honor.
"Yes," Minos had told him, "let us solve this problem King to King. Let us not add more dead to the world. Poor Hades has so little room left for himself beneath the earth! Our spears have been too generous, we are overwhelming him with gifts." And Minos asked Cocalus if he had ever looked at the case prepared against Daedalus by the second judge.
When Cocalus said that he had been briefed on it, but that it was long ago, Minos asked that the files be brought out to complement his own testimony regarding the crimes of Daedalus.
"It will be done," Cocalus told him. "Let us meet tomorrow to decide the fate of Daedalus and see if we can avoid war. In the meantime, let us cement our kingly bond by supping in my palace. For you who live among dolphins and eat banquets from the hand of Poseidon, I am sure our little feast will seem a paltry thing, like thistles eaten by a goat. But we shall share with you the best that we have."
"A penny given by a poor man is no less of a gift than a gold coin given by a king," Minos told him. "Each is generous according to his means. And gratitude is meted out accordingly." Minos paid Cocalus in gold for the Sicilian soldier he had killed, and accompanied by thirty bodyguards, three wise advisers and two food-tasters, he entered the palace.
"Daedalus has been busy here," the king mused, noting the gifted artwork that decorated the walls.
"Now you see why we are reluctant to part with him," said Cocalus. "But justice matters more than these embellishments, these little caresses of the eye."
"I will send you ten artisans in his place," Minos said. "Goldsmiths, silversmiths, painters, sculptors. Engineers if you wish. You need not surrender beauty when you surrender Daedalus. The torches that he lit, I will keep burning. There are many brilliant craftsmen in my land, whose hands are not covered with blood."
Cocalus sent a lovely maid to escort Minos to the bathroom, to bathe himself before supper. There, the mighty king of Crete found a rustic gray tub, large, but for him like something that pigs might drink water from. He laughed at the primitive nature of the bathroom, and jested with the maid: "I am sorry to have driven Daedalus to the hills before he could finish this bathroom!" With soldiers standing guard outside, he stripped himself naked while the enraptured maid watched. He smiled at her innocent face which too easily gave away the fact that she was impressed. To see this panther man, this king! Then, laughing at the cracks in the stone and the holes in the wall, he stepped over the rim of the tub and knelt in it as though it were a shrine to his body, while the maid began to pour buckets of warm water over his back, which were brought to the door by servants, and passed on to her by Minos’ guards.
All of a sudden, as the king knelt there with his eyes closed, receptive to the massaging splashes of the water which seemed to come from the girl’s heart, a bizarre gurgling sound erupted, then sudden torrents of boiling oil plunged out of the holes in the wall, which were fed by concealed iron pipes built by Daedalus, and poured into the tub; and a piece of the ceiling fell out as well and more oil crashed down upon the screaming king. "Damn!" he screamed, but in a split second the word was merely an incomprehensible cry of pain, an animal being slaughtered. As the girl leapt back in horror, with hopelessly burned hands, the soldiers rushed in to drag the stunned, already blistering king out of the tub. He continued to scream, then suddenly sank powerless to the ground, then tried to rise with the strength that had made him a king. Then his eyes lit up, the pain was gone. "The wind – a most wonderful wind has come," he said. "Spread the sail. How I love the sea!" And he collapsed there in the arms of weeping warriors who wanted to die in his place. One of the soldiers, furious, looked at the trembling maid, then drew his sword and ran her through, even though she had just fallen in love with Minos. He spit on her body.
"The Sicilians!" a soldier shouted. And they all drew their weapons as one, for the men of King Cocalus were now attacking them, determined to slaughter every Cretan they had let into the palace, while outside the palace, Sicilian troops hurled themselves against the Cretan contingent left to guard the ships on the beach.
The second judge was just riding into the city in his chariot, accompanied by a horseman, when all the commotion broke out.
"Too late! I’m too late!" he cried.
"You better go back, your honor," said the horseman. "It looks like the war has started. You could be hurt."
Hoping that he still might, in some way, serve as a peacemaker, he drove his chariot towards the palace, just in time to see a handful of bloodied Cretan warriors fighting their way out through a door and battling back towards the beach where their comrades waited. Meanwhile, from the beach, he thought he could hear the singing of bowstrings and the vivid sounds of men answering with screams. In fact, the whole city seemed as though it were a pond in the middle of the countryside filled with choruses of frogs croaking in the night, except that these frogs were men shreiking and crying for help. "What carnage! What horrible carnage!" exclaimed the second judge. "Is this what wings have given us???" And he began to shout to the warring sides, "Stop! Stop the madness! Let us solve this crisis without more blood! Let us pull back from what we are becoming!" The second judge, rushing towards the mangled beach in his great chariot, was mistaken for a charging Sicilian, and struck by a Cretan arrow in the shoulder, which threw him clear out of the chariot and hard upon the ground. The loyal horseman was off his horse and beside him in an instant. While an infantryman rushed forward, covering them with his broad shield which was struck by numerous arrows, the horseman threw the injured second judge over his mount, and led it quickly away, back into the darkness.
"There is no justice," the second judge whispered to the horse whose back he lay across like a corpse. "There is war instead of justice."
Hours later, in the light of day, the second judge awoke in a bed, his shoulder in great pain and covered with bandages. A soldier and a doctor stood by. He was in the palace. No one would tell him what was happening, but not long afterwards, his former assistant appeared, to hold him by the hand and look lovingly into his eyes. After a while, he whispered to the second judge: "You do not know how lucky you were to be shot by an arrow last night. They were going to kill you for treason – they thought you were in league with Minos – this arrow has come to save your life! Now everyone is saying how bravely you fought to defend your country!"
"I only wanted to make peace," the second judge whispered back.
"Don’t tell anyone," the assistant told him. "Keep it simple. In simple times, complex people fall. Let yourself be a hero. Let them honor you."
"And if I am not a hero?"
"They want heroes. Even if you’re not, let them make you one."
The assistant grimaced, but nodded.
When the second judge learned that Minos had died, and in such a horrible way, he wept. For that barbaric savage soul knew how to shine! And in the hardness of a man who had accepted the responsibility of power, which in a violent world condemns one to be violent, there was also the spirit of dancing, the turbulent, joy of love, a certain fineness equal to the delicate, beautiful artifacts of gold that he loved so well, and a streak of tenderness, like a dried tear upon his cheek. He was virile, sometimes terrible, and always dangerous, but he was no hypocrite. He was a King. Without him the world would be less; it was as though there would never again be another thunderstorm. Lovers of the sun would rejoice, lovers of moods would grieve.
After the death of Minos, the Cretan contingent in the city fought its way out, back to its ships, which maneuvered around the Sicilian coast, to the east, to find a new landing site out of reach of Camicus where they could fortify a camp in preparation for an all-out assault against the city. They also blockaded the harbor with a portion of their fleet. With no other option, the Sicilian navy sailed back into view from its hiding place in the west, daring to take on the magnificent Cretan fleet as a final act of desperation. Daedalus, who had been in concealment, emerged to encourage the Sicilian forces at this time. Armed with his wonderful catapults, the Sicilian fleet pummeled the swift Cretan galleys at long range, causing fearful damage. Boulders damaged ships, and impaled Cretan sailors with frightening splinters of wood spraying out in all directions from the impact, while showers of small stones and arrows scoured the decks, causing substantial casualties. Deadly accurate arrows of gigantic size, fired from enormous crossbows, pierced captains at the helm, and oarsmen by the rudder, hurling them through the air like rags. Blobs of fiery oil hurled by metal catapult arms set fire to ships, and sent whole crews plunging into the sea. Whenever the Cretan ships cruised into range to begin firing the deadly barrages of arrows for which they were so well known, the Sicilians took cover behind the wooden walls of their ships and under shelters of wickerwork designed by Daedalus. In spite of these technical advantages, the fight was furious; the men of Minos, with a great advantage in numbers, were also incomparable sailors and masters of ramming enemy vessels with bronze-beaked prows, sending torrents of water gushing into their shattered hulls, as well as shearing oars by close passes as they fired arrows into the faces of the Sicilians to prevent them from boarding. Dozens of Sicilian galleys were sunk or left crippled by these tactics. At times, contrary to expectations, Minoan boarding parties also swept aboard Sicilian ships, rushing across ladders with grappling hooks thrown over the gaps between the vessels, and leaping across with ropes. At close quarters, the Sicilians were superior, with their stalwart chests and fast swords, but the rage of the Cretans, still reeling from the treacherous murder of their king, evened the odds. Galleys from both sides passed by ghost ships drifting aimlessly in the waters, filled with dead men embracing each other in anger: hated enemies who would be buried together at sea.
On the first day, the battle was unclear, like something written in another language that could not be deciphered. No one understood its meaning, or knew what was to come. Was there a winner? Was there a loser? Or were there only the dead?
When the sun rose next day, there were still two angry forces unwilling to let go; two lines of ships squaring off for battle once again. During the night, the Sicilians had sailed to new waters west of Camicus, pulling up buoys that marked pathways through the waters along the way. By refusing to disperse, they challenged the Cretans to continue the fight, and as soon as the Minoan navy obliged them by coming into range, the Sicilians began to renew the long-distance attack of their catapults. Small boats from the shore had refurbished their supply of missiles during the night, and barges filled with boulders floated close by. On this occasion, the Sicilian fleet had posted itself in treacherous waters filled with shallows, reefs, and whirlpools, which kept the Cretans at a distance, allowing the longer reach of the Sicilian weapons to cause unanswered damage, until the Cretans finally decided to push forward, to close the distance between the fleets and bring their bows and close-quarters seamanship to play. But in the treacherous waters, more intimately known to the Sicilians, many of their ships were incapacitated or lost. Four were sucked down by a mighty whirlpool, eight were sunk by powerful currents studded with fearsome rocks jutting up near the surface, which ripped great gaps in their hulls, and many floundered as they ran aground on beds of sand and gravel and had to be freed by men jumping down into the water, or by other ships which attempted to haul them back out with ropes. In an attempt to force the Sicilians’ hand and change the battleground, a portion of the Cretan fleet pulled back from the hellish waters and sought to sail around a small island flanking the Sicilian navy’s position so as to come around behind it and cut it off from its base west of Camicus. This would compel the Sicilian fleet to leave the complex waters it had occupied, in order to protect its base, and allow the Cretans to once again enjoy the advantage of the open sea.
However, as the Cretans sought to pass between the island and a large reef just beyond it, the progress of their ships was suddenly blocked by three boats filled with pitch and tar which were towed out into their path by Sicilian galleys, then set on fire. Their forward motion stalled, they were then subjected to a most extraordinary punishment from a sheer cliff looming high above them on the island; a great beam of light suddenly flashed down at them, a huge and unforgiving ray of the sun, it seemed, stabbing one ship at a time, like the giant wasps that sting cicadas to death, burning deeply into the wooden decks with overwhelming brightness and unbearable heat. After showers of sweat, smoke began to come out of men’s skin, they screamed and jumped into the sea, begging Poseidon for mercy; and then the wooden ships, themselves, caught fire, slowly, at first, then momentously, growing gigantic yellow mountains on their backs under which they sank, hissing, into the sea. The merciless ray of light coming from the mountain struck first at the ships at the rear of the Cretan column, blocking the retreat of the others, which were also blocked from moving forward. Unable to maneuver away from the disaster, they succumbed, one by one, to the passionate kiss of light.
"The Gods themselves are making war on us!" the Cretans cried out in dismay. Their efforts to turn the Sicilian position failed, while the rest of the Cretan fleet continued to destroy itself attempting to press through the whirlpools and shallows in the front of the Sicilian line.
"Helios has come down to the earth to destroy us!" the Cretan admiral was told. "He has rammed our ships with his chariot of fire! He has turned the sun into a knife and stabbed the heart of our fleet with it! He has dived upon us with the burning jewel of his golden carriage, turned the sea into a fireplace and cast our vessels into the flames. Men are burning like incense on the altar of an angry God. We cannot resist!"
One of Minos’ officers, who had studied the notebooks of Daedalus before the arrival of the second judge to Crete, knew at once that it was the doodle of a bored man on a lazy day, fleshed out and developed; a daydream given its due, venting grown up, fantasizing turned into serious study, tinkering transformed into relentless effort, an impromptu sketch changed into a horrifying nightmare. The idea of the giant lens focusing the sun’s rays into a hellish incendiary beam that could burn ships had finally become a reality.
"Helios does not care who he shines on!" the officer retorted. "He gives the day to anyone, to the righteous man or the thief without distinction! The death ray is the invention of our mortal enemy! It is Daedalus who has made his crimes invulnerable! Daedalus who has stolen the sun to bury the skeletons in his closet! Daedalus who is the god!"
By the time this day was coming to an end, the mysterious language of the battle was understood. The Cretan fleet, what was left of it, was battered and must withdraw, it must spread its wounded sails to catch a homeward wind. It was the beginning of the end of the Cretan Empire.
But the battle had not been necessary for this. The spirit that held that empire together had already perished in a tub of boiling oil.
As the second judge heard the news and as the people of Camicus rushed through the streets and trails of the town embracing and kissing each other, pounding on drums and exclaiming, "We are the new power of the world!" he could only close his eyes and think, The last chance to bring Daedalus to justice has been lost. The wolf has won! The gold belongs to the thief!
Looking out his window, he saw the king riding by in a chariot; and with the king in his chariot, embraced as a brother, was Daedalus, waving to the crowd as flowers were thrown to him from the hands of mothers whose sons had died defending him. "All hail to Cocalus, great and mighty king of Camicus, first among the kings of Sicily, leader of the West! All hail to Daedalus, the king of inventors, builder of divine catapults, rider of the burning sun, conqueror of Minos!"
Again, the second judge closed his eyes. He heard a maid, one who came to change the bandages of the wounded, asking a doctor: "Do you think he is happy at this moment? Or do you think he remembers his beautiful lost son and wishes he were here beside him? Do you think the cheers can make him forget, or will he always grieve no matter what honors we bestow upon him, will he always be crying as we carry him on our shoulders? Will anything he does ever be enough? If he could build a palace on the moon, would it be enough? If he could make a drink that would make men live forever, would it be enough? Will anything ever erase the sight of his beloved son plunging from the sky, with wings that did not open? Will any invention ever free him of that sight? Will anything he does ever be enough? "
"No," said the second judge, interrupting her from his bed. "Nothing will ever be enough." And he closed his eyes once again, longing to be back in his distant vineyard, pressing grapes and tasting wine.
And here ends the story, except for one more whisper: an old man who would be bitter, if sorrow did not swallow his bitterness each day like a lake swallows the stones that are thrown into it by angry boys. He spent his life mourning, but working it off with his hands, picking fruits, hoeing the earth, uncovering its rich insides, placing seeds, praying for rain, watching the sea, the beautiful sea that kept its beauty so that he would have something still. She danced for him with waves and sang to him with the sound of rocks on the shore which she would not go to bed with. The sea. I once sailed on the sea to a truth that men did not want. Well, this is their world. Leave them alone. Let them have their way. The grapes taste sweet to me because I live alone. The dogs run in packs, the sea loves me still. She remembers who I was. You are who you think you can be; when you find out that you cannot be that, you cease to exist, you die. You fool the world by continuing to walk and nod your head as though you were listening, but you are dead, dead as a man in his grave. But there are still delights in death. Memories of dreams you lived in, countries of dreams of which you were the king. And the beauty of the slow demise with its gentle breezes leading you back. Reminisces with the sea, which does not tire of speaking; visits by the sun. Old books that your eyes can no longer read, but that are still a joy to touch. To hold them in the storm! I will not let your pages blow away! – Of all the things I have accomplished in my life, not one shelters me from the sorrow of leaving this world as someone who did too little with what he had, but this one accomplishment, this one great achievement: that I did not become greater than I was by freeing myself of principles – that I was not Daedalus!
As the second judge sat there on his hill by the sea, seeing the world only vaguely now, sensing it more than seeing it, he one day heard the squawking of a gull directly overhead, surprisingly close. He saw the shape, the whiteness fluttering above him, hovering in the wind, he felt the air from the beating wings and heard the sound of the wings, reaping flight from the sky. And then the gull was suddenly beside him, not by accident but by choice, silent, watching him with shining black eyes that made the second judge see better than he had in years.
"And you, strange bird," he asked. "Are you a gull, or something more?" And looking at it more closely, he asked: "Are you not the gull who guided me to the earth when I could not leave the sky, the very one who brought me back to the land? You should have left me in the sky! But I am just an old man, mumbling things that make no sense. Poor bird, why rest here by me, when the sea and the wind are waiting for you?"
The bird stayed, its eyes continuing to shine.
"Are you a bird, strange bird? Or are you Icarus? With wings that fly? Has my devotion brought you back? No, but I am a madman. I have seen gods, and men like gods, and silent places in the sea that seem to be Mt. Olympus turned into water, and I have got it all mixed up. I cannot tell the difference between a goddess and a whore, a nymph and a schoolgirl, a wise woman and a hag, a prophet and a drunkard, a divine message and my desperation! I am lost in a world I have made unrecognizable. My mad mind has smashed it, tried to make it into the world I longed for; but I could not do it, I could not sculpt beauty out of this rock; but in the attempt to do so, I destroyed the form of the rock. So now I do not have any world, just rubble; not the real world, and not paradise. I am lost like a sailor without stars. Where am I sailing to? Nowhere. I am only dying."
Looking back at the bird, the second judge noted that its eyes had not ceased to shine. "Is this shining in my mind, only?" he asked. "But I do not mean to demean you. Your eyes are brighter and deeper than a bird’s! Who are you? Are you Icarus?"
And the old man began to cry, to cry for the precious life of a young man he had remained faithful to, and to cry because he might be going mad, which he feared even though he believed he already was. And he felt as though he were talking to himself, but that was only because the world still held him by a chain. "Icarus – Icarus- can you forgive me for not defeating the entire world? Icarus, dear Icarus - was it you who led me safely back to the earth when I was lost in the sky? You fly now – so well you fly now. With unfailing wings, made with love, by god. Icarus – my life – it is so pointless. Fly for me, Icarus! Fly for me! Show me that you are well! Show me that my wasted life could make you fly!"
And suddenly, almost as though it had understood him, the intense beautiful bird waddled away from him, waited for a moment by the edge of a steep slope high above the sea, then leapt off like a prayer for all Humanity, leapt into the empty sky that it filled with itself, with its beating heart and its beating wings.
And the second judge wept as the great bird glided into fast air, then flew away towards a life which he, in spite of failing to bring it justice, had never stopped revering.
Short Fiction Contents
Creative Safehouse Contents