His father’s shame: born abnormal, head too wide for his mother’s hips,
the force employed to draw him out leaving it
squared and squashed.
Two protrusions the doctors assured them in time would recede
instead came to pierce the skin,
bony horns at the corners of his skull.
With time he discovered multitudes lived in their palace,
people he’d never meet: doors closing across rooms as he walked in,
scuttling feet leading folk away before he emerged each morning.
From the moment he could speak, he knew he was a monster.
Kept hidden in his father’s house, encountering none
but the few selected to keep him entertained.
‘Til one day, as any toddler might, he bit a playmate
and they lost their hand.
His mother was distraught; the king warned by seers and advisors
this child would bring ignominy, undo his father’s rule.
Some months on the grieving king took his son,
promising to show him a new creation,
an awful wonder at the centre of the mountain: the labyrinth,
specially built to take advantage of his child’s distorted depth perception,
that he might never find his way out; that it might hold him forever
without the insult of bars
or hideous chains.
“He needn’t feel imprisoned” Minos told the architect
“but you must ensure he can never escape.”
The king led his child down dark corridors, a spindle of string spinning at his side
for Minos to wind in again. “Be brave, my son” the king knelt
and patted the boy’s head.
“Wait here; fear not. I will always be nearby.”
Stifling tears as he snuffed the torch, Minos crept away
as his baby sobbed in the dark:
“Father!” the cry most cutting “Father! I am lost!
Please do not leave me! Father! I am sorry! I promise
I won’t ever hurt anyone again!”
Minos emerged from the mountain
never to return, nor look back as he resumed his throne.
One guard watches day and night lest the beast ever stumble out.
People pass the doorless arch to that dark and terrible place,
wonder if they could find a way out, wonder how horrific
to be caught by the monster within.
Lost and lonely, abhorred by family, in the dark he begs and pleads for a friend,
craves the insults of the playmates who mocked
him and his malformed birth.
For years he finds nothing: bare corridors, odd scraps of offal
thrown by his father through unseen hatches to absolve the king of that terrible crime:
One day in many since his father left, Asterion smells
the sweat of another.
Smells him first, hearing second, long before his eyes can see.
The salt, the wetness, drifting on an unfelt breeze
leading from the exit.
Following the scent, longing for human touch,
for rescue, daring believe his prayers answered – that some hero
from beyond his father’s court
had heard the plight of the poor abnormal prince,
someone who knew that a child could not deserve this fate;
some rescuer to find this innocent and bring him to the light,
take him far from the city
and the hatred of these people.
his father himself now regrets and laments so greatly what he has done,
returns in person to gather and save his child.
Asterion stumbled with love in his heart, hope in his
seeing the glimmer of firelight
where the visitor’s torch flickered.
He cried in joy
and the bellow bounced off the walls.
“I am not afraid of you!” the stranger called out in reply.
Asterion’s heart leapt – not afraid! Perhaps this man
would see him for what he was.
He ran toward the light, laughing tears
Theseus felt his glory approach, his legend
Seeing the beast gallop, knowing it
uncontrolled, wild, illogical,
he set his spear and waited,
calm and well prepared.
The minotaur with outstretched arms fell foolishly deep on the spear,
eyes widening in firelight,
The hero gave the spear a twist then reached for his sword to lop off the head.
Asterion felt it pierce his skin
and knew instantly his own idiocy: to think anyone
might tolerate a monster!
Dying as he lived: a plaything with no wit,
a prince with no control over anything in his life,
he fell in darkness and died in blood, pooling
around his sweet head,
while the stranger hacked heavily through his neck hair,
chopped at the fur
in chunks and wedges, heaving to reach flesh.
Asterion lie slow breathing, waited for the end,
hands slowly flexing.
He watched the man’s sandal-bound feet.
Unspeaking, this visitor still a stranger
despite their intimacy.
He tried to breathe, to say his name
and introduce himself:
“My name is Asterion, how do you do?” he practiced in his mind
like his mother taught him long ago.
But what emerged was a blood-filled gurgle
of bovine despair.
The stranger sweating as he continued to work,
hacking those over-thick tendons
to sever that bulbous neck.
Asterion watched from the floor:
“It’s alright” he whispered, and Theseus heard the lowing.
“I understand. My father sent you to spare himself the horror,
and to spare me more years of darkness. Thank you,