I set off towards the noise, trusting the insects to guide my footsteps. Before me they scuttled, large and golden, their black eyes gleaming with strange intelligence. Back and forth the trail wound through a maze of chambers and corridors. Many a supple form stirred at my approach. But my feet did not stray from the path.
Presently I stepped forth into a chamber in the likeness of a temple. My eyes saw gleaming mosaicry; thrusting white pilasters. The scene was quiet. And in its quiet was a frisson of dread; the sense of a scene interrupted. My hand went clumsily to the pommel of my blade.
About the shallow pool in the chamber’s centre wine-cups were scattered, and around these, a knot of wet footprints; the impression of sudden flight. At the room’s far end a garden could be glimpsed between ivy-bound columns, from which the sounds of whispering could be heard. And in the far corner, on a veiled divan flanked by two marble statues in the likeness of hoplites, was another strange sight: a naked figure, tough and wiry, struggling against the enormous serpents that bound his arms and legs.
As I drew reluctantly nearer, the man looked up with wild eyes and I recognised the knotted features of Nabis.
My mouth was a deathly grimace. My voice shook, every sense alert for danger.
“Ariadne’s instructions were quite clear, Prince Of Sparta. We were not to stray from the golden thread.”
Nabis licked his lips, unheeding of my words.
“Theseus!” He gasped, a crown of olive-leaves tumbling from his head. “Thank the gods! My brother, you must help me! Those damned harpies ensorcelled me! Quick, get these things off me and let us away!”
I looked dubiously at the snakes that bound the Spartan’s limbs: thick-bodied emerald serpents, their amber eyes gleaming with malign intelligence as they squirmed and coiled about his wrists; to either side of him the statues stood in attitudes of pent fury, swords tightly clutched in their hands, their expressions and tensed muscles oddly lifelike; as I extended a trembling hand forwards, both the serpents and statues alike seemed to follow my movements closely.
I withdrew my hand slowly.
“Theseus!” The Prince urged desperately. “Theseus, you must be quick! Before they come back-!”
I took a step backwards, terror and shame coiling in my guts. The snakes seemed to relax; the statues appeared somehow less threatening. While the stricken Nabis watched me, my eyes went to the wet footprints and overturned wine-cups of the chamber floor; from the garden, the rustle of approaching footsteps could be heard.
I loosened my sword in its scabbard, prepared to spring at any moment.
“I am sorry, Nabis.” I muttered, edging away from the divan. “But it’s your sister I came to rescue. And I have no stomach to meddle in the justice of the gods.”
“Coward! Athenian dog!” The Prince of Sparta roared suddenly, his every muscle straining against his bonds. “I swear by my father’s throne, I’ll-”
But his threats dwindled to a strangled gasp, his face slackening in terror; from between two ivoried columns a woman had appeared, her expression imperious, an emerald green python entwined about her nude form. Her hair was fair and lustrous, her skin as pale as marble. And in her eyes, blazing and terrible, lay all the power of the cosmos.
I bowed deeply, quick to avert my gaze.
“My Lady, I’m sorry!” Nabis shrieked. “Forgive me! Please! I was only making sport with your nymphs-!”
My sword was sheathed. I stepped silently aside while the Prince babbled his excuses. On the tiled floor, I noticed the trail of golden ants as they filed towards a far doorway, the empty wine-goblets now held above their heads. Stepping quickly away, I passed through the portal and broke into a sprint, racing through several twists of the corridor. Doorways flashed past on either side, weird scenes and seductive motions suggesting themselves as I ran. But my senses knew only terror. In a few moments I burst into another chamber, empty but for the well at its centre and I stopped to catch my breath, my teeth on edge as Nabis’ shrieks echoed down the passage.
From somewhere ahead, as though in reply, came the roar of the Minotaur, its voice filled with all the misery and rage of hades. And undercutting this sound, I heard the screams of the surviving captives, my beloved’s voice among them.
The memory of Nabis’ face swam before me, its eyes wide with terror. I pushed it away with a sob. Drawing my sword, I set forth to meet my doom.