It was just our luck that the next plane flying out to Verona was delayed by seven hours. We hadn’t even been to a check-in desk let alone through airport security. We had been waiting forever, all hoping that the next flight called over the tannoy was for our plane so we could finally check-in.
Alexander was making his way back from a nearby vending machine, a packet of peanuts in his hand and craning his neck to get a better view of the monitors for our departure time. He settled back into one the metal chairs next to Eztil and Phoenix, who were napping against one another.
I had tried to get some sleep too but the waiting zone was far too loud. The space around me was long and open, leading down to multiple airline check-in desks – complete with an array of company colours from a mixture of friendly, uniformed staff. There were currently eleven snake-like queues stretching along the area, cordoned off for different flights. They were filled with hundreds of passengers, carting their luggage across the floor with patterned thuds as their wheels hit the spaces between the tiles.
One particular gentlemen, wearing a dashing blue suit, was causing a scene as a woman’s child had accidentally ran over his foot with a suitcase, he was ranting and raging about her son “ruining his loafers from Salvatore Ferragamo” and that she “owed him seven hundred dollars”.
I had given up on sleep hours ago. I caught sight of a janitor coming our way, pushing a trolley in front of her as her kitten heels clicked rhythmically against the floor. As she passed me the smell of bleach, among other cleaning products, momentarily replaced the lingering aroma of cheap coffee in the air.
I tried to ignore the sounds of uninteresting small talk or the ticket personnel calling for the next customer in line drifting over from the queues and opened ’Common Greek Myths’ into my lap. I began to read.
Theseus & The Minotaur. The king of Crete was a cruel and wicked man by the name of Minos. He was an unkind king and ignorantly led his people into desperate poverty whilst he lived in luxury with more servants than he needed and too much food for his kitchen. His wife, Queen Pasiphae, bore several children to the king. However, she loathed him and his spiteful, greedy manner so prayed to the gods for an escape.
The gods answered her.
Poseidon (God of the Sea) gave King Minos a beautiful, white bull. The king admired the creature and it soon became his most prized possession. The king treasured his new bull. He gave it a greener field to graze from than the other cows and the freshest water to drink. He washed its coat every day and enjoyed every moment he spent with the animal.
Poseidon then demanded the bull from Minos as a sacrifice to honor him and his power. This sacrifice was said to bring a full harvest of fish that year so all of his kingdom could eat once more. King Minos loved the bull and had such disregard for his people’s future that he selfishly refused to give the creature to Poseidon as an offering.
As revenge the God cast a terrible spell upon Pasiphae, forcing the poor woman into falling madly in love with the bull. The spell could only be broken if the queen lay with the animal. Queen Pasiphae slept with the bull sent by Poseidon and from this coupling, fell pregnant. King Minos was outraged and cast his bull away, banishing it from his kingdom.
Pasiphae bore a monstrous child and a beastly offspring was born. A Minotaur. This was a creature made of half man, half bull. The royal couple were embarrassed but Pasiphae begged Minos not to kill the Minotaur. Instead, the king had the most intricate Labyrinth ever built, constructed. This was where he hid the monster. Much to the horror of his queen, King Minos began imprisoning his enemies within the Labyrinth to feed the Minotaur. The Labyrinth had been made so large and complicated that nobody ever escaped from it with their lives.
This continued for a number of years, despite Queen Pasiphae begging the king to stop. After a while, Androgeus, one of Minos’ sons, traveled to Athens to participate in the Panathenaic Games. Androgeus was well balanced on his feet, quick with a dagger and had a powerful blow with a sword. King Minos believed that his son could win but Poseidon wasn’t done with his revenge yet. Androgeus was sent up against the white bull that impregnated his mother and, though he fought bravely, was killed.
The king of Crete was infuriated and his wife was heart-broken, she stopped eating and never walked through her garden afterwards. Minos demanded that to repay him for his loss and advert the plague upon Crete caused by Androgeus’ death the king of Athens, Aegeus, had to send seven men and women every year to Crete. They were thrown into the Labyrinth to fight the Minotaur. Nobody ever won.
In the sixth year, Theseus decided he would be one of the seven men to face the Minotaur in Crete. Theseus was –
“Ivy,” Alexander touched me softly on the arm, bringing my nose out of the book, “They’re calling our flight.”
I rolled my neck and shoulders to ward off the stiffness settling in them. I put the hardback into my knapsack, hauled it onto my back and walked hurriedly along the row of check-in desks in pursuit of Eztil’s giant frame and dainty Phoenix.
It had been years since I’d stepped onto a plane. The last holiday I had been on was when I was nine. My mother took Ben and me to Spain for the weekend to visit our great uncle Henry. I had forgotten how cramped and stuffy airplanes were, with their tiny porthole windows and confined seating.
During take-off I was really worried about Eztil, forgetting that he had never flown before. I kept glancing sidelong at him across the narrow aisle, his hands were gripping the armrests so hard I thought they might snap in two – or at least bruise his hands. Sweat glistened on his pale face and he looked like he was going to vomit the entire way up. I just hoped he would have been able to make it to the bathroom in time. We’d been flying for a solid fifteen hours and Eztil hadn’t been sick, yet. In fact, he was fast asleep with Alexander’s snoring head resting on his muscular shoulder.
I was currently pretending to be extremely interested in the in-flight magazine and safety instructions manual that had been tucked in the slot on the back of the seat in front of me. In attempt to avoid eye-contact with a bitter and snarky stewardess who had complained about having to replace a boiling hot cup of tea she threw all over me. I had the sour taste of a dry mouth and was too timid to ask for another brew, she waddled busily past me and I let myself relax.
The engine of the plane grumbled monotonously as I watched a couple of people stand up to grab something from the overhead compartments, blocking the aisle. I followed suit and slid my bag out from under my seat, accidentally nudging Phoenix with my elbow as I did so. I dug through it until my fingertips landed on the crisp pages of the book. It didn’t take me long to flip through and find my place. I settled back into my seat, trying to get as comfortable as I could and failing miserably. Picking up where I left off, I started to read again.
In the sixth year, Theseus decided he would be one of the seven men to face the Minotaur in Crete. Theseus was the known hero of Athens and whilst having all the physical qualities of a traditional hero, such as immense strength and courage, Theseus was also very clever. He traveled across the Aegean Sea until his ship landed on the shores of Crete. Theseus, enraged at the king, marched straight up to the palace and demanded to see Minos.
In the king’s throne room, Theseus stood before Minos and Queen Pasiphae. He announced that he was going to kill the Minotaur and end the human sacrifices to the monster once and for all. Minos laughed at the boy, for he knew even if Theseus was able to kill the Minotaur, he would never be able to find his way back out of the Labyrinth. Theseus would die of dehydration before being able to vacate the Labyrinth.
As Theseus was leaving the castle, Queen Pasiphae caught up with him. She begged him to help her escape and in return she would aid him to leave the Labyrinth alive – a task which no man or woman had completed before. Theseus agreed to assist her and went back to bargain with Minos. He told the king that if he returned to the castle with the Minotaur’s head, the king would let Pasiphae sail back to Athens with Theseus. Minos just laughed at the boy again, he agreed to this deal as Theseus would never return from the Labyrinth – no one ever did.
Before Theseus set off to complete his monumental task, Queen Pasiphae gave him a thread and told him to unravel it slowly as he delved deep and deeper within the Labyrinth. She told him to follow it after the Minotaur was defeated and he’d find his way back out. Theseus thanked the queen and left, headed for the Labyrinth.
It was a long journey, Theseus walked for miles and miles until he reached the entrance to the Labyrinth. With a deep breath, the hero entered the maze, destined for death. He walked steadily along the dirt floor, hand on the hilt of his sword at his waist and unraveling Pasiphae’s thread with each step. The Labyrinth was much like a cave and for the early meters the path was straight, Theseus edged along the stone wall without turning left or right.
There was a complete lack of sound at first, only the noise of dripping water as it trickled down the walls. As Theseus tunneled deeper into the Labyrinth the stench of decaying flesh in the stale air became stronger and stronger. Theseus weaved through the maze, pausing only to wipe away the droplets of sweat from his brow. The pressure in the surrounding atmosphere became thinner and thinner, Theseus’ chest tightened from forcing himself to take small inhales and exhales.
That’s when Theseus first heard the chilling sound, the rumbling breath of a slumbering beast echoed along the passages of the Labyrinth. He must have been getting close. He took another small step forward and an old bone crunched underfoot. He was surrounded by skeletons, still wearing their clothing (now ragged and fraying) from the past human sacrifices. They were still holding their weaponry in their hands but the metal was bent or broken, a couple of smashed and splintered shields lay beside the bodies. It smelt like death.
Theseus picked his way carefully across the floor, littered with bones. The powerful inhaling and exhaling of a slumbering Minotaur reverberated throughout the chamber. Theseus’ grip on the hilt of his sword steadied but was tight enough to bruise his own palm. The Minotaur was asleep. Theseus pressed on, still unraveling the thread behind him. He turned left and right about a hundred times as he burrowed his way deeper and deeper into the Labyrinth, following the sound of heavy breathing.
He turned a corner and at last, there it was. The Minotaur. Theseus silently slid his sword from its sheath, held it high above the monster’s head and brought it down in one swift swoop. The Minotaur awoke with a resounding roar, before going limp. It was dead.
Theseus quickly picked up the head of the beast, turned on himself and followed the thread out of the Labyrinth, retracing his steps. The sunlight blinded him and he had to shield his eyes before heading back to the kingdom of Minos.
The king was in shock as Theseus entered his throne room once more, alive and the Minotaur’s head in his hand. The queen left the king’s side and together Theseus and Pasiphae left Crete for good, sailing happily back to Athens together.
The bell signalling for seat belts to be fastened rang out through the plane and a voice rumbled out over the loudspeaker, his voice crackling slightly. “Hello ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. This is your captain speaking. We will shortly be landing in Verona, please fasten your seat-belts and thank you for flying with us today.”
I took a deep breath, followed the captain’s instructions and thought to myself glumly, I guess this is it. I guess this is Italy.