Knossos, Crete

The Aegean Sea,

2,500 BC

The body of the Minotaur was still cooling as Daedalus and Icarus ran down the passage. Torches flickered in crude bronze brackets on the walls. The crudely carved stone walls echoed with the slap of sandalled feet.

"Hurry, my son," panted Daedalus, "we must escape the Labyrinth before the King discovers what we have done." He hefted the ball of string in his hand, feeling the thread running through his fingers as he ran. Somewhere behind them, they could hear shouts and cursing echoing off of the rough stone. They kept running. They had been plotting their escape for months, ever since they had helped Theseus escape from the Labyrinth. Daedalus had built the Labyrinth, at the command of King Minos, to house the Minotaur. As a young man, Minos had profaned and offended the gods by mating with a cow. The resulting abomination of their union had been banished to the Labyrinth, there to spend its pitiful existence skulking among the twists and turns of the maze. Shortly, there after, in one of his many wars with Athens, King Minos had decreed that the Athenians were to send him seven young men and women every year, where they led into Labyrinth one at a time and fed to the abomination.

Daedalus came to an intersection and stopped for second or two, listening carefully. He could still hear the shouting and cursing of the King's soldiers somewhere in the Labyrinth. The maze could play tricks on the ears of the unwary. Daedalus had designed the Labyrinth to do that. It was meant to play tricks on its victims, to allow the Minotaur to play with its victims. Icarus almost ran into his father, who was standing completely still, head cocked, listening carefully.

"Father?" whispered Icarus, "why have we stopped? The soldiers are gaining on-."

Daedalus motioned for his son to be quiet. After another second or two of listening he motioned to Icarus. "Come," he whispered, "this way." He turned down a side passage, then turned again and the sound of shouts and swearing noticeably faded. He made several more rapid turns in quick succession. After awhile, Daedalus stopped and listened again. He couldn't hear anything and kept walking at a slower pace. After awhile, Daedalus and Icarus stopped again. Daedalus crouched down and ran his fingers along the seam where the wall met the floor. He found a crack, almost hairline thin, and pried up a loose chunk of stone, revealing a bundle of tools underneath. He extracted them and passed a long bronze pry bar to Icarus. He kept the other one for himself and standing with his son, pried up several of the heavy paving stones that lined the floor of the Labyrinth. Underneath was a depression lined with stones, in which Daedalus had hidden two large objects wrapped in cloth. Daedalus and Icarus pulled the two large bundles out of the cavity and tucked them under their arms. They moved a short way down the passage and stopped at what appeared to be a gap between two stones. Daedalus thrust his hand into a fissure in the rock. He took hold of a hidden lever. He pulled it and the stones slid apart. A cool night breeze blew into the opening.

Daedalus and Icarus stepped out of the Labyrinth and on to a narrow dirt track. The night was far gone. The moon was playing hide and seek behind scudding clouds and Orion hung low in the sky. With only starlight light and moonlight to guide them, Daedalus and Icarus set off along the dirt track. They could hear the sound of waves crashing against the cliffs in the distance. They walked for about an hour, not saying anything, lest somebody hear them and send word to the palace, but they only passed the occasion shepherd's hut.

Eventually Daedalus and Icarus came to a spot overlooking the cliffs and the sea. The first light of dawn brushed the horizon where the bowl of the sky ran down to touch the began to remove what initially appeared to be a large pile of brush. After about half an hour's labour, the camouflage lay scattered around a large double catapult. It consisted of two sets of stone pillars standing side by side. They bracketed a pair of wooden ramps that pointed toward the sea at a slight incline. At the end of each ramp was a broad bow made of a single, large piece of beaten bronze. Just inside the arc of each bow and held in place with heavy braided ropes was a small wooden cart, just big enough to lie down on. These in turn were connected by drawstrings to a system of pulleys which were connected to a large capstan.

The light of dawn began to creep slowly across the horizon. Daedalus took one of the two long handled shafts and handed it to Icarus. He took the other one and fitted it into one of the two square pegs in the capstan. "Come, Icarus," he said, "let us be away from this place." It didn't take them long to pull back the drawstrings of the two catapults. They unwrapped the bundles they had extracted from the cavity under the stone slab to reveal two pairs of wings. They were made of cloth with a covering of wax and feathers stretched over a thin wooden frame.

Daedalus helped Icarus strap on his wings, deftly tying the knots so that Icarus' wings would keep him aloft. "Do you remember what I told you, my son?" asked Daedalus.

Icarus nodded. "The wings are fragile," he said. "We can not go too low or the feathers will get wet-."

"-And if we go to high?" asked Daedalus.

"The wax will melt and the feathers will fall out," replied Icarus.

Daedalus nodded. "Yes," he said. "Are you ready?"

Icarus nodded. They paused for a moment, praying several litanies, invoking the Litany of Hermes, for swiftness, the Litany of Aeolus for favourable winds, the Litany of Tyche, for good fortune and the Litany of Zeus for protection. When they were finished invoking the favours of the gods, Daedalus and Icarus lay down on the two little wood carts. Icarus felt his heart beating very fast and took several deep, steadying breaths.

Daedalus lay down next to Icarus and took hold of a long thin cord that ran back to a release pin. He steeled his nerves.




Daedalus gave a sharp tug and the pin came loose. The pent up tension suddenly released and Daedalus and Icarus were suddenly throw forward. A split second later they were airborne. Icarus' heart was in his throat as the sea rushed up to meet him. For a brief instant that seemed to last several eternities, he thought that Daedalus' plan had failed and that they were about to be dashed to pieces against the rocks. No sooner had Icarus thought this than he felt a hard jerk and his descent slowed. He felt his arms being pushed upward and behind his back as the breath of Aeolus caught the underside of his wings. He beat against the air and the motion of his flapping arms caused him to rise. Icarus flapped his arms again, harder this time and he rose higher into the air.

Icarus kept flapping his wings, rising higher and higher with every gust. He looked off to his right. He could see his father beating his wings in a smooth steady rhythm. As Icarus turned his head, his flight path shifted and he drifted closer to his father. For a heart stopping second, Icarus thought that he was about to collide with his father and that the two of them would go tumbling into the sea, but Daedalus noticed just in time that Icarus was too close and banked away opening the distance between them again. Icarus sank slowly toward the ocean. It spread away beneath him in all directions like a wrinkled blue sheet. Icarus his wings against the air again, and felt himself rise. He kept flapping his wings with the same smooth rhythm as his father. Out of the corner of his eye, the coast gradually fell away, until it was nothing more than a thin dark line, barely visible on the horizon. Below him, he could see the white furrow of a fat cargo ship as it plowed its way through the cobalt blue waters of the Aeagan. Farther toward the horizon, Icarus thought he spied the flash of oars beating against the surface of the water. He looked closer and saw a sleek trireme streaking across the waves, leaving barely a ripple in its wake.

This is wonderful, thought Icarus. This is what it must be like to be on Mount Olympus. He felt himself settle a little and flapped his arms again, rising another ten feet into the air under the influence of the additional thrust. Feeling the wind in his hair and tugging at his toga, Icarus revelled in the sensation of soaring like a bird. The sensation of speeding along, suspend between the deep blue sea and the endless pale blue dome of the sky, made Icarus feel like Hermes, winging his way above the world, bearing the messages of the gods. Icarus suddenly felt uncomfortable at these thoughts. It was not wise to equate one's self the gods when in such a lofty position and he quickly muttered the Litany of Hermes.

Out of the corner of his eye, Icarus saw his father bank suddenly, turned away to the east and he followed suit. Far off on the distant horizon, the long fingers of the Peloponnesus jutted out into the Aegean Sea, sliding away into the distance behind him. Icarus levelled out his flight path again and surveyed everything below him again. He spied the white plumes of a pod of bottlenose dolphins frolicking amid the waves. Icarus flapped his wings again, putting on a burst of speed and gaining altitude in the process. The coast of Africa appeared as a dark, dusty brown smudge in the corner of his eye. He flapped his wings again, rising still higher. The frolicking dolphins disappeared and Icarus could see his father soaring along below him. The white feathers of his wings stood out sharply against the cobalt blue water of the Mediterranean.

Icarus kept rising higher and higher. The world spread itself out beneath him as he rose, like one of the many scrolls in his father's study. He lost sight of individual cities and towns. He could only just see the largest buildings, betrayed by the glint of marble and the bright red tiles of their roofs. He felt the sun on the back of his neck and basked in the warmth. He flew like this for a long time, savouring the view, the wind on his face and the warm sunlight.

The heel of Magna Graecia was just emerging over the horizon when it happened. Icarus suddenly felt something hot and sticky dribbling on to the back of his neck. For a second he wondered confusedly what it could be, a bird perhaps? But that's absurd, thought Icarus dismissively, birds don't fly this high. Then he saw motion out of the corner of his eye and saw something falling. It was white and viscous looking had a tuft of feathers sticking out of it. It was followed immediately by another, and another, and another. For a second, Icarus wondered what it could be. Then he felt a sinking sensation in his stomach and he realized that he had settled slightly. He flapped his arms again and rose a little, but sank again, more quickly this time as soon as he stopped flapping. Icarus flapped his arms even more powerfully than before. Again, he rose slightly and then rapidly sank twenty feet.

Icarus spread his arms as wide as he could, an attempt to slow his descent. He felt himself slow a little, but he was still falling. As he fell, Icarus heard a whistling noise, like air being forced through a small hole. He tried crane his neck, turning his head to see where the noise was coming from. As he did, he was suddenly pulled into a wide turn. Out of the corner of his eye, Icarus saw a bright shaft of sunlight piercing through a hole the size of a drachma. As Icarus watched, the hole in his wing grew steadily larger and he felt himself falling at an ever increasing rate of speed. A hazy shadow fell across his face and something made his eyes burn. Smoke, he thought, something is smoking. And then he saw flames steadily licking the feathers around the hole in his wing. The hole continued to get bigger. For a brief second, Icarus tore his eyes away from the burning hole in his wing and stared down at the water. It was a mistake. The surface of the Mediterranean, which not long before had seemed to be as placid as a lake, suddenly seemed to be a pair of arms all encompassing arms reaching out to grab him.

Icarus tried to flap his arms again, but all he did was fan the flames. He jerked suddenly as if someone had struck him with a hot needle. He felt a searing pain on his back. It was as though someone was sticking hot needles into his skin. Suddenly, the realization struck him, his toga had caught fire. Without thinking of the consequences of his actions, Icarus tried to reach around behind himself and pat out the flames. Had he not done this it is entirely possible that he would have made it to Sicily, but it was not to be. Icarus felt his wing tip immediately begin to burn. At the same moment, his rate of descent increased markedly and Icarus heard the wind whistling in his ears. He felt his eardrums pop due to the change in air pressure. He tried to put his arm back out, but to no avail. The wax in his wing had melted and fused, pinning his arm in place and all he did was cause himself to start tumbling in the air. The world spun crazily, as Icarus fell rapidly, tumbling head over heels.







Icarus thrashed helplessly in the air, still trying to free himself. He tried to draw in a breath and coughed. He had taken in a lungful of smoke. Icarus' eyes were watering from the soot and he could barely see. It was perhaps, fortunate, then that Icarus was unable to see the appalled look on Daedalus' face as his son went plummeting past him, helplessly spinning and on fire to plunge hissing into the sea.