The reason no man knows; let it suffice
What we behold is censured by our eyes.
Where both deliberate, the love is slight:
Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?– Christopher Marlowe
CHAPTER ONE: Startled Cries
1,800 BCE, Knossos
The sun hadn’t quite set over the horizon as Ariadne Konosotis watched from the balcony as guards let the fourteen young men and women stumble their way through through the main courtyard packed with curious onlookers.
If she wasn’t concentrating so hard on not wincing from the pull of pins holding her considerable hair up, she might have sneered at the way the prudish Athenian sacrifices gaped in horror at the dress of her and her people.
Not that they knew they were sacrifices, but events her father wouldn’t quite disclose had led to the tiny settlement of Athens sending seven underage men and seven underage women to them every seven years.
Ariadne wasn’t quite sure why it had to be so many sevens in the contract, or why it was her poor brother Asterion who her father had chosen to do the actual killing, but King Minos had claimed it was for the Great Mother.
And as one of the priestesses of the Great Mother, Ariadne was leading this ceremony.
Or she would be if she wasn’t overhearing King Minos muttering to someone just out of her line of sight.
When men came to positions of power, Ariadne had learned, they often thought themselves wiser than the council of the women they later chained to their sides. She’d inducted many such men into offices of power, and they often went mad from it, thinking they knew better.
Ariadne hadn’t become a student of the head priestess by thinking she knew everything already. Unlike those men, unlike her father, she’d listened, learned, and watched.
The words she said were memorised, her actions were nothing but the practiced motions of years building up to this moment.
She listened, instead, to what her father said that was so important he’d say it during the biggest ceremony of the year.
“It’s nothing as dire as that,” Minos said to his companion. “But she’s the heir to the throne, she’ll reach her majority in a few years, and they’ll find a way to depose me.”
“Ah,” said his companion with a hint of humour, “so it’s personal.”
Minos huffed. “Merely self-preservation. I want to remain king, in my own right, not a placeholder for a daughter who’d rather run away from her duties.”
“So you’re marrying her off,” said the companion, “to a prince regent as far away as Vasiliki. You know what the rumours are about Prince Kastor.”
Ariadne could feel her eye twitch, but she didn’t let it detract from announcing to the guards to take their new ‘guests’ to the their quarters, so they might refresh themselves after such a long journey across the Aegean.
“After all,” she addressed the crowd below her, feeling both twenty and eighty, “we’re not savages. Regardless of what your king tells you, we will offer you guest rights during your stay here.”
The guards took far more delight than should be visibly acceptable in hauling the Athenians away.
The Athenians just looked shocked a woman could do something more than produce heirs and spares for men. They remained gawping at her while the guards dragged them away by their ridiculous chitons and impractical draping dresses.
At least the men were quiet this year. Seven years ago, one Athenian had shouted at the observing men to cover the womens’ breasts up, because their gods thought women were nothing more than trophies and shouldn’t be seen by anyone who wasn’t her husband and master.
He’d been the first the head priestess, Enyo Chiotis, had shoved down the stairs to the labyrinth of tunnels under the Great Temple.
This year, Ariadne was in charge. And this year she would prove she could lead such important events.
It meant the Council would consider her a true heir to the throne.
Her twin, Anastasios, would have his test later, though his was more about redeeming himself after his drunken revel last week. Whichever one prove themselves before their twenty first birthday would prove themselves the next ruler.
She just had to stay in the city and avoid this marriage her father wanted her to have. She couldn’t do anything if she was locked away in some farce.
When she turned from the balcony, Minos was there with the particular expression which meant he wanted to talk and not even the gods themselves would stop him from saying it.
He reached for her arm. “Dear daughter,” he begain, like he hadn’t married off her elder sisters already and removed them from the line of succession.
Ariadne adjusted her bodice and strolled right past him.
It wasn’t that Dionysos was lurking at the back of the gathered crowd watching the woman on the balcony, it was just that this was the city best known for sacrificing humans every few years after a colossal fuck up between two kings on opposite sides of the sea. And he was in the area at the time.
Unlike the city of Mycenae to the northwest, and Dionysos didn’t want to go back there in a hurry, it was a woman who stood at the forefront of the large balcony and welcomed their Athenian guests, and a woman who told the guards where to take the fourteen sacrifices. The men behind her, while looking just as important and rich, didn’t take control once during the speech she gave.
She was magnificent, the woman who might as well have been a queen. Her dark bodice and darker layered skirts hid her wiry frame well, but there was a strength there, and her eyes glittered violet with it in the evening sun. He also had a sneaking suspicion his stepmother would envy her intricate hairstyle, piled in a precise manner as it was on the top of her head with a few chestnut ringlets tumbling down in a fashion which was very much deliberate.
Her long, spidery fingers twitched with some absent thought, but she directed the crowd with practiced ease.
He’d have to stay and observe as much as he could, before his father did to the Aegean what the gods of Sumer did to the Shuruppak a thousand years ago. Zeus was rather fond of imitating others and claiming originality, after all.
Besides, he could tell something interesting was going to happen if he stuck around.
And if he just so happened to piss off his father at the same time? Well, the humans were far more interesting than the mere toys everyone on Olympus claimed them to be.
They always were when he got them drunk enough to forget life existed beyond the parties he threw and the wine he provided.
The only real downside to staying in one place for so long was that it gave his stepmother more of a chance of finding him.
The fate surrounding this place had better be worth the murder attempts she made, or he’d raze the city to the ground himself.
Someone bumped into him, pushing him into a wall with a raised relief of some description, and he blinked.
The crowd had shifted, and those who remained were bringing out bottles smelling of alcohol.
Excellent, he always did like a party.
And it was no trouble at all to gently increase the potency of the wine he sensed.
Humans always said the funniest things when they were drunk, and once he’d loosened their tongues enough, they revealed the best secrets.
Getting the humans drunk was one of the best forms of entertainment. If they didn’t reveal their own secrets in explicit honesty, they’d let slip someone else’s in excruciating detail. And those secrets were the best ones to witness the fallout of.
The only problem was, the courtyard was packed to bursting with people milling around. He couldn’t get anything worth the effort for out of all these people with the wine alone.
How was he supposed to know if the city was worth staying in if most of its inhabitants were sober?
But the woman who’d led the welcoming ceremony slipped out of the main palace doors. She’d covered her hair with the hood of her cloak, but her spidery fingers grazed the walls as she edged her way around the courtyard.
It was her who gave off the most sense of fate in the courtyard.
If he wanted to know anything of the hidden secrets of Knossos, it should be her he followed.
Going around unnoticed was another aspect of life his father didn’t believe in, but Dionysos found it made like ever so much more interesting.
Ariadne hadn’t even stepped into the temple of the Great Mother before Enyo stopped her with a faint smile.
The few other priestesses lurking around, the ones who should be sweeping floors and keeping their eyes on the lit candles and incense, had nothing but kind words to say to her.
These girls were too young to understand the harsh way the world worked.
But Ariadne thanked them for their kindness, and thanked her mother Pasiphaë for her lessons in diplomacy and getting men to think the ideas you fed them were their own.
Enyo had barely opened her mouth to add her contributions to the conversation, when Ariadne felt a large and sweaty hand enclose around her bicep and pulled.
She crashed into a Mycenaean sailor. The helmet he wore was distinctive, but so was the style of his chiton and the way his eyes remained settled on her chest.
Any man from the Knossos empire knew a woman was worth more than her body, but that message hadn’t spread to the Mycenaeans the way the rest of their exports had.
“What’s a beautiful young woman like you,” said the sailor in a voice he probably thought was sultry, “doing in a place like this?”
Ariadne’s eye twitched. She heard Enyo shuffling the girls inside the temple, shushing their protests.
“Unlike the men of your city,” she said, “I’m ensuring my gods find Knossos worthy of their attention.”
The sailor’s hand, still gripping her arm, clenched tight.
It was unfortunate the bodice had short sleeves. Anastasios would tear the city apart to relieve the sailor of hands which dared to harm her.
“If you’re so willing to whore yourself out,” the sailor licked his lips, eyes still firmly stuck on her breasts, “you should just come back with me. You’d be a good trade deal, a profitable alliance between my king and your father.”
“My father isn’t the king in truth.” It was irritating how few of the mainland understood that Knossos didn’t believe that men were the only ones who could do anything. “He’s only king until I come of age. If the men of your city have so much intelligence, why don’t any of you understand something as simple as that?”
The sailor merely glared at her. His bared teeth made him look more of a monster than the monster the Athenians believed Asterion was.
“Your father,” he said, and Ariadne’s heart sank, “will hear of this.”
Ariadne took a deep breath and glared her most regal glare. “You’re a man of few prospects, my father wouldn’t agree to sell me off even if he were king in truth.”
“You’ll regret this, you little bitch.” He shook her by her arms. “When my city overthrows this den of whoremongering, you’ll be the first I take.”
“Your simpleton of a king wouldn’t allow it. Even he knows not to destroy the trade alliance. We own the seas, it’s our produce which keeps your city running.”
“When we take this city for ourselves,” he said, like he wasn’t talking to the future queen, “I’ll take you like the whore you are. I’ll have the pleasure you give to your gods, like you should give to me.”
“This isn’t Mycenae, you pathetic little worm.” Ariadne threw off the sailor’s hands, but he was still too close. “Just because we don’t share gods, and just because we treat our women like people rather than cattle, it doesn’t mean you can just come into our borders and take what you please. Or is your mind too stupid to understand something as simple as common decency?”
The sailor, seeing something past her breasts for once, swore and fled down the street.
Ariadne took another deep breath and straightened her bodice again. The sleeves were definitely too short to hide the bruises from her overprotective brother.
But Enyo had left the shelter of the temple, and she didn’t look happy at all.
Nothing good ever happened when Enyo looked like that.
Dionysos watched from the shadows as the woman from the balcony refused the suitor.
He’d seen men like him from all across the areas influenced by the Mycenaean reach.
She was masterful, he could only imagine what she would do if she wasn’t shackled to one location. The adventures they could have, with his influence over the drink everyone favoured and her vicious tongue getting them out of trouble.
But, as she’d told the sailor, she was the future queen of Knossos. What would a queen of one of the most powerful cities want with a winemaker from Mount Nysa?
The other issue was the drunken bodies from the courtyard were beginning to spill into the streets, their grabbing hands were close to reaching his cloak.
If it were under and other circumstances, he might take a few of them up on their offers, but it was the maudlin drunkenness.
Maudlin drunks always regretted it in the morning. And partners who sprinted from the room like the Furies were after them were never worth the second approach.
“What the fuck was that?” The head priestess strode from the large temple, the lit candles behind her giving her an avenging air.
The woman from the balcony startled, though Dionysos should really start to think of her as the crown princess.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said the princess. “It was a terrible match, so terrible it wasn’t a match at all.”
“You did it in public!” screeched the head priestess. “You don’t handle private matters in the middle of the street!”
The princess just blinked at the head priestess. “How else am I to handle brutish men from backward city-states if I don’t humiliate them in front of witnesses?”
“You do it in an official court setting, where he’s embarrassed in front of the high-ranking officials he wants to impress!”
Dionysos had to bite his lip to stop himself from laughing. He wasn’t the only one, many drunken bodies were giggling into their hands or other people’s shoulders.
“But the common people are the ones who’s lives are affected by the laws of the rich,” said the princess. “And it’s the common people who are the first to greet the idiots, they’re the ones who sail the ships, after all. Why shouldn’t they be humiliated by the people they think don’t matter?”
“Because you could do it with the window uncovered when the most people are attending the market.”
The princess blinked and huffed like she hadn’t thought of that.
Dionysos wanted to take this princess off on some adventures, the fallout from her verbal sparring would be worth the fuss of moving every so often.
Bright and early the next morning, Enyo deigned to hold Ariadne’s hand all the way from her living quarters and across the main courtyard. When Enyo finally let go of Ariadne’s hand, it was halfway down the length of the temple and only because there were too many of the young priestesses lurking around for gossip they could report back to their cohort.
Most of the girls were tending to the flames in the central fire pit, though Ariadne didn’t understand how they saw anything through the haze of the lit incense and puffs of smoke clouding the centre of the room.
Ariadne followed Enyo to sit on one of the benches lining the painted walls. But Enyo didn’t speak, and Ariadne had nothing to say to her.
Instead, they both watched the girls fuss around with preparing tomorrow’s daily offerings. One girl was far too overzealous in the amount of flowers she pushed into the vase, while another thought the room needed more incense.
When the incense combined with the fire’s smoke and turned the air stifling, Ariadne spoke.
“I feel I could do more for the Temple, what use is a queen when the trading partners don’t even see her as a legitimate ruler?”
“One who will vanquish her enemies through her iron will when they blind their eyes to what she’s truly capable of.” Enyo was the only survivor from a shipwreck, so perhaps she was knowledgeable in how to get what she wanted from men from under their noses. “But you can’t forget that you have your own path to follow. You are meant to be the queen, you can’t forsake your people just because you don’t want to marry and secure the dynasty for another generation.”
“No marriage,” Ariadne said, “will ever be of equal worth.” She hadn’t thought much on it, but she knew it was true. “Either I owe my loyalty to the Crown before my husband, or my husband sees me as another of his worthless possessions.”
“But,” Enyo raised a finger, “once you have the city’s heirs, you can forsake this husband for someone who is worth your time and attention.”
Ariadne snorted. “Not in this lifetime there’s not. Beyond the island, I’m a man’s property. The Mycenaean view has spread across the peninsula, women are merely tools for a man’s ambition. What life is that but one of misery?”
There was talk among the advisers, if the continued threat of Mycenaean growth held true, they’d be a real threat to the walls of Knossos within a few centuries. But it would take a divine intervention of some kind for Knossos to not give back as good as they got.
“Then you do your duty to the Crown and kill off the man in question once you’ve secured your heirs. If women are as pathetic as the Mycenaeans say, they’ll never suspect you of the murder at all.”
“It depends on the poison,” Ariadne said, “and which ones are available in the area. I’d much rather swear off political marriage altogether.”
“Then the crown will go to Anastasios, and may the gods save Knossos if that happens.”
Ariadne though it was a harsh judgment on her brother, but she couldn’t respond as she was leading the morning prayers.
And once those responsibilities were dealt with, she was left to struggle out of her ceremonial robes.
Enyo had vanished at that point, and Ariadne cursed her existence as she fought her way out of the ruffled skirt which didn’t want to untangle itself.
Not that the average, everyday skirt was any different, but she had her handmaidens to help her with that.
The sun was high in the sky, now, almost too bright against the paint on the walls. Combined with the hot, dry air of midsummer, it was just as difficult to breathe as it was to see beyond a few armspans.
She’d stumbled out of the temple made humid by all the choking smoke and incense and onto the street made worse by the smell of animal shit.
It didn’t surprise her when she collided with a man in a bright, undyed chiton.
The man was handsome enough, though he might need a new chiton for all he was sweating through it. His dark hair might have held some curl to it, but sweat pulled it down to stick to his head.
It was an uncommonly hot summer, after all.
His muscles corded as he helped her regain her balance, but his smile wasn’t entirely kind.
This was a man who knew how to wield the sword he carried on his hip.
He spoke first, and his accent was entirely Athenian. “Are you okay? You’re not drunk are you?” He laughed something brash, there wasn’t any warmth in it at all. “It’s too early for the parties I’ve heard this city has!”
Ariadne narrowed her eyes. She didn’t care how good looking this man knew he was, she wasn’t falling for it. “You try walking out of that temple and onto the main street, and see how stable you are before your eyes adjust.”
The man laughed again, but he regarded her with something close to inspection.
“You,” he said, “wouldn’t happen to be Princess Ariadne, would you?”
Ariadne’s spine snapped straight upright as he glared at him.
The man’s eyes fell from her face to her chest.
“So what if I am?” she said. “I don’t make trade deals with silly men who don’t have a single original thought in their minds.”
“I’m a prince,” he said, “of cause I have original thoughts.”
Ariadne made a show of looking over his mud-caked sandals. “You don’t look much like the self-centred idiots claiming sovregnity from across the waters. Do you think I’m a fool?”
The man’s irritation bled through his mask of calm. “My name is Theseus, son of Aegeus and the god Poseidon. I’m here on behalf of my father the King of Athens.”
Ariadne blinked. “Should that mean something to me? If you want official business, you should have gone to the throne room. You know, the room on the other side of the courtyard with the big shiny throne in it?”
Theseus, son of Aegeus and the god Poseidon, looked as though she’d slapped him across the face.
“Oh,” said Ariadne. “You’re not here on official business. Which means you want to do something dangerous and illegal and you know you’d never get away with it otherwise if you’d approached anyone else of the royal household. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t tell the guards and my Council the prince of Athens is present in the city without an entourage.”
Theseus, son of Aegeus and the god Poseidon, floundered. It was almost worth the headache he’d no doubt give her later.
“I’ll let you fuck me when I’ve completed my task.”
Ariadne stomped her heel into the toe of his sandal. “I’m not one of your Athenian whores, so don’t presume to treat me as such. All I need to do is scream.”
Theseus, son of Aegeus and the god Poseidon, didn’t give her an answer. She walked away from him, towards the throne room, and ignored his shouts that she come back.