MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
You will have seen them, I suppose. The grainy pictures, taken with a long telephoto lens. It has been fourteen years, but they still shock.
She has a face that everyone knows. Beautiful. Determinedly blond. Curated. The tabloid writers say, “Never a hair out of place.”
In the series of paparazzi shots, she strides across the pasture. No Photoshop. No airbrush. No filters. It is a long walk, and the photographers got her from every angle. As always, she is trim, tanned, and toned (another favorite tabloid description). If her sheet of golden hair and blue eyes are familiar, her expression is not. Usually her face in pictures is cool and composed. Icy. In these, she is ravenous.
She never could hide how she felt about that bull.
That face alone would have been enough to sell all the magazines in a newsstand. Enough to crash any server. Even without the wooden cow. But there is a wooden cow. A cowhide-covered box with legs and a head.
When the white bull walked out of the sea a few months earlier, people called it a gift from the gods. They said it was a sure sign that Daddy was a good king of Crete; that he still had the favor of the gods, even after my older brother’s murder. Our tragedy. That Daddy had been right to go to war with Athens. They called it beautiful. For myself, I don’t see what’s beautiful about a bull, white or brown. They look like livestock to me. Not my type.
It was beautiful to my mother.
There are lots of theories about my mother and the bull—some people say Daddy should have sacrificed it instead of keeping it. Daddy thinks that’s ridiculous. The gods would not have handed him such a valuable thing only to ask him to kill it. Other people say it was because my mother was too proud and the gods wanted to take her down a notch. However, she’s still proud, even after her abasement.
I think it’s because the gods are jerks.
Whatever the reason, my mother fell in love with a bull and when the bull didn’t return her affection, Daedalus, Daddy’s architect, built her the wooden cow and brought it out to the pasture for her.
The paparazzi pictures of what happened next were taken from so far away that if you didn’t know what you are looking at, you wouldn’t know what you are looking at.
Unfortunately, I know.
Eventually, the bull returned to munching the grass, and my mother went back to the palace.
When she returned to the paddock later, Daddy’s people checked the trees for paparazzi, so there were no more pictures.
No one knows why she stopped going to see the bull. Maybe her infatuation ran its course, like an infection. Maybe the gods thought it had gone on long enough. Maybe she got tired of the whole thing. Eventually, life returned to normal. More or less. Mother went back to her royal duties and her social whirl, and if people moo when her name is mentioned, they do it very quietly behind closed doors. After a while, the world’s attention moved on to the next big scandal.
The bull was never the same afterward. It went crazy, charging around, breaking fences, tearing up pastures. Daddy got so irritated that he had Heracles capture it and take it to the mainland. Let it be Athens’s problem, Daddy said. Maybe it missed my mother. Who knows. Bulls can’t talk.
My mother can talk, but she never talks about the bull. Daddy blocks access to the sites where the pictures are posted, but it’s like the Hydra, always popping up somewhere else.
You’d think people would stop caring, but I guess it never gets old.
“Ariadne, look up from that phone,” my mother whispers from behind her smile. “The cameras are watching.”
I don’t look up. The cameras are always watching.
I am in the stadium VIP box with my relatives and the visiting dignitaries. My family holds the front row, of course, and the VIPs fill the three rows behind us. In the center of the stadium, a Jumbotron simulcasts the live feed.
The stately procession of competitors, newly arrived from Athens, will begin in a moment, but right now, the only thing the live feed shows is us. There’s nothing like seeing your whole family broadcast one hundred feet tall, every feature blown up to giant size. I prefer to watch us on my phone.
My mother waves for the cameras. She is bringing it today: a Chanel jacket, her tiara, her face so Botoxed that when she smiles, nothing but her mouth moves. The golden bracelet she always wears, with an image of my brother who died. She is ageless—icy and perfect. That is the only way I’ve ever seen her. If it wasn’t for the photographic evidence, I wouldn’t believe she could be another way.
Daddy is next to her, with his full beard and his three-piece suit. He takes up twice as much space as my mother. The golden sash across his chest and the heavy signet ring on his finger are the only outward signs of his power.
My parents look elegant and royal.
Elegant royalty sells.
Looking at them together, you can understand why their wedding still shows up on the list of the most-watched programming of the last thirty years. No episode of my older sisters’ reality show, The Cretan Paradoxes, has ever broken the top one hundred. The first season of The Labyrinth Contest is in the top slot. Not that it’s a competition.
The cameras turn now to my older sisters, the Paradoxes themselves, sitting together.
They have an uncanny sense of when they are being televised, and they both jump to their feet. Even that small action is greeted with rapturous shouts from the photographers and the crowd.
Since Acalle’s best side is her left and Xenodice’s is her right, they have a limited repertoire of poses they can do together effectively. There is also the small matter that what they are the most famous for is their bottoms, encased in Spandex, and it’s really hard to get faces and backsides in the same picture. Though they do try.
The photographers yell, “Turn around, girls, turn around!”
Obediently, my sisters spin and wiggle. The camera zooms in, blowing up their tushes, larger than life. In the next frame, my mother glows with maternal pride.
Now it’s my turn. My sisters are famous for their online makeup tutorials, but I could teach lessons in invisibility. I see myself, on my phone, slouching in my chair, staring at my phone, which holds a picture of me. It’s like one of those paintings where someone looks at themselves in a mirror. An infinite loop.
I wish I was wearing jeans and a hooded sweatshirt to hide my face, but that is unacceptable to my mother and the fashion police. My mother would love to have her stylists make me fabulous, but I’m not interested. I don’t want to be seen. Not like that.
So, we have compromised. I’m wearing a knee-length black dress with short sleeves and a square neckline. Pockets for my phone and the ball of silver thread I carry everywhere I go. Flats. I don’t have any makeup on, and my long hair is down. I’m like the “before” picture in a makeover photo shoot. I seem tasteful and conservative. Like I’m going to the funeral of someone I didn’t know particularly well.
Tasteful and conservative don’t sell.
This fact doesn’t keep the cameras from zooming in on me. I keep my eyes on my phone. I move my hair so they can’t see my face. I wish I had my mask.
“Smile, Ariadne.” Daddy’s voice is a low rumble.
I flash a quick one. Nothing enthusiastic, but enough to get credit for it. No one cheers.
Then I get to see my face, blown up on the huge screen, one hundred feet high, broadcast to millions. I can feel all the eyes on me. I shiver.
Finally, the live feed cuts from us to the procession of competitors coming up from the harbor. Thank the gods. Now I can do my job. The reason I’m here.
Every year, my family holds a contest that is televised live worldwide. Fourteen Athenian teenagers, seven boys and seven girls, the bravest and most beautiful, come to Crete to face our monster, the Minotaur, in our maze. We are never short of competitors, even though it is a fight to the death.
Copyright © 2019 by Emily Roberson