Here, in my kingdom deep inside the rock, I dwell.
Here, far down at the centre of the maze, the walls and the roof press in, and it feels that each breath of air that I draw is one I have drawn a million times before. Here, in the Labyrinth, the walls and floor are slippery with my condensed breath, and when I roar my anguish, the echoes die away as though the darkness suffocates them.
The darkness is the essence of the Labyrinth. It fills it with its malevolent presence, like a river in flood, so thick and complete one can feel its fingers brush across one’s face, one’s eyes, and play along one’s chest with every breath one takes.
Sometimes I think I have become part of the darkness.
It’s not as though I don’t remember the sun and the sky. It’s been so long since I last saw either that I can almost believe that I imagined them, but I know that somewhere, outside this warren which encloses me, they exist. I know it, and it maddens me sometimes, so that I score the walls with my horns and bite at them in despair.
And I wait.
How long has it been since I have been immured here, in this maze of stone? I have no way of telling, for in the Labyrinth time does not measure itself in days and nights. All I know is that it still passes. And, I tell myself, it is on my side.
Someday, somehow, this must end. Someday I will be able to walk outside, to see the sun once again, to feel the rain on my face. Someday, King Minos – who is not my father – will repent my imprisonment, and set me free.
Or perhaps he will die, and his successor will throw open the gates of the Labyrinth, and let me out into the light of day.
So, in the darkness, I score the rock walls with my horns, and wait.
I wonder if – when that day comes – I will even be able to see the sun I ache for. Perhaps, after so many years of being immured in complete and perfect darkness, I have gone blind. I would not be surprised, for I do not even see the prey when they are sent down here, sometimes, for me to eat.
Oh, they blunder around, the prey, bleating their pathetic little prayers, begging for me to have pity. But what pity can I have on them? More – what pity should I have on them? For they have had what I can only dream of now. They have felt the sun on their skin, the stars in their eyes, the touch of a hand on their brow. They have known laughter and kisses, the joy of running free in the open air. They have known the light.
Gods! How I miss the light.
But this is my world, this warren of tunnels and passages and cross-ways, and I know each twist and turn, each niche and crevice. I can feel every little tremor, every footstep on the rock, like a spider in the centre of her web. Much as I hate it, it is my world, while they are strangers, blundering about in the dark, weeping and begging. So I track them down, one by one, and kill them. And then I eat.
After all, I must eat. I am a monster, I have always been a monster, but even a monster must live – the life force is in him, just as it is with anything else that swims or flies or crawls. Worthless as my life is – a life spent in darkness, buried in the living rock – it is all I have. And I have that forlorn, tiny spark of hope, that someday I might leave here again.
Do not think too harshly of me, I beg of you. After all, did I choose to be born this way? Did I ask my mother, the Queen, Pasiphaë, to play false with Poseidon’s bull? Believe me when I say that as a child I wished for nothing but my mother’s love, just as any other child does. And can you imagine how I was hurt when they pushed me away, my mother, the King who is not my father, and the rest of the court? I was unnatural, a monster, they said, a monster which ate people.
Again – is it my fault that I am what I am? One might as well blame someone for the colour of their eyes or the length of their toes. And why should I suffer for that over which I have no control?
You, Theseus – see, I even know your name! – you are come to kill me, with the help of the traitorous maid, my sister. But be assured, you did not come unsuspected. I knew from the beginning that you were there. And I can sense, too, the thread the wench gave you, which you intend to use to find your way back to the entrance of the Labyrinth.
At first, I thought I would let you kill me, for I have grown full of despair of late. Death, I have thought often, would be a way out of this living burial, the only release I might ever have. But I cannot will myself to die, and the weeping sacrifices who stumble along the passages are incapable of harming me, let alone killing me. You are the first who has ever come down here willing and able to kill.
Yes, I thought I would let you kill me. I would let you free me, and in return you could go home a hero, with my sister to wife.
But then I knew more about you, Theseus. I knew the false heart which beats in your breast, which won my poor sister’s love. Yet you do not love her, and you intend to abandon her; all this, I know. And though the maid is foolish, and willing to betray her brother, she is my sister, and I will not have you cause her grief.
I could, of course, avoid you. This is my realm, and I know more of it than anyone else ever could. I could lead you a dance through these tunnels until your bones grew weary with age and your breath grew short. But I have no love of games, and besides, I can sense the fierceness of your purpose. You will not give up easily.
So, I will let you come. I will allow you to come close, thinking you have won, and then I shall stab you through your false heart. I will kill you, and set your foul spirit free.
And I shall live on. Here, in the tunnels, Theseus, immured in the eternal dark, I shall live on.
I wish I could ask you just one question, Theseus. Before I kill you, I wish I could ask you if it is true that the sun and the stars still shine in the sky. I wish I could ask you whether I merely imagined them both. But I am afraid that you would say that I did not.
It is better that the sun and stars, the moon and the sky, be as the rain and the wind, something I only imagined. It is better by far that they are not real.
For this is my kingdom, the only one I will ever have, and if there are better worlds elsewhere, my heart would shatter with grief.
Tell me, Theseus, that the sun and sky are not true.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2013