DELFINO PRIZE FINALIST!
FULL STORY TO APPEAR IN THE JANUARY 2010 ISSUE!
His apprentice’s birthday is in the early spring, and Daedalus leaves the house on the hill, something he rarely does nowadays, taking the road down to the town on market-day. The boy should have something suitable, a young man’s gift. The engineer wanders through the maze of stalls, half-listening to the cries of the vendors, aware that people are whispering his name, pointing him out to each other, telling the old stories. Not that he cares much, any more. A new tunic, an amulet-necklace, a belt knife, a pot of thyme honey; nothing seems right, though Talos would be grateful for any of them.
The honey-seller, a rough-haired woman with a mountain accent, has a basket at her feet, covered with a cloth to keep off the sun. There’s something familiar about the small, sleepy sounds coming from it, and when Daedalus asks, the woman draws aside the covering with a laugh, showing a dozen or so quail chicks huddled together, fist-sized bundles of gold blazed with black and brown. They go silent for a moment, blinking in the light; then their eager peeping begins again, their bright eyes watching him.
Sensing a possible sale, the woman says, “They’re easy to raise, you know, and fatten quickly if you feed them well. They don’t fly much – keep to the ground, mostly – no more trouble than chickens, they aren’t. They make – ” she pauses for a moment, then adds, with a sort of inspiration, “very good pets.”
Talos names the chick Melitto and it follows him around the place like a puppy, dashing here and there after him, giving its anxious two-note cry when it loses sight of him for too long, searching until he whistles back at it. Daedalus finds it rather an annoyance; the thing seems always to be underfoot and determined to be stepped on, and it’s pecked him once or twice when he’s picked it up to put it out in the dooryard with the other fowl. And it always manages to find its way back inside, to Talos.
But in the evenings, when he and the boy are sitting in the small square of garden behind the house, watching the moon come up and the bats weave through the air as they hunt moths, the sight of the boy with the bird on his knee, one hand idly stroking the new, smooth feathers, gives him a terrible kind of pleasure; sharp, deep, almost pain.
They’re so alike, he thinks. Black and brown and honey. Sometimes the boy catches his look and gently puts his pet down in the short grass, rising and going to the arms already reaching out for him. Holding him, Daedalus notices the widening shoulders, the lengthening limbs, the hard angling of cheek and jaw. What will happen when you want to fly? Stay close to the ground.
The apprentice stands beside his master’s bench, holding out a bronze flywheel, bent and scraped. “I don’t know what could have happened – my waterclock – it was on the floor of the workshop this morning. Somehow it must have got knocked off the table. One of the shutters was open – perhaps an animal got in, or the wind…”
The master barely looks up from the sketch he’s making. “An animal. Or the wind.”
Sighing, Talos turns away, the bit of metal glittering between his fingers. Beyond repair – but he’ll try anyway.
There are other ways to lose a boy than to a sun-god; Kronos eats his children. Daedalus waits until Talos has gone; then pours himself another cup of wine. No, this time it will be different.This time he’ll ask before, not after. And this time, his question won’t be Why? but When? So he’ll be ready.