The Fall of Icarus

This is a take on the old tale of Daedalos and Icarus, written for my MA studies:

‘What do you mean, “He’s gone”?’  The voice reverberating in the high chamber was heard outside in the palace gardens, and people knew the King was displeased.

‘I’m a patient man.’  The King’s fingers drummed a contradictory tattoo on the carved arm of his chair, “but I need an explanation.  And I want him back.  Now!”

‘Leave it with me, Sir.  We have a full-scale search on and I’ll order a thorough investigation.’  At the King’s signal, the Chamberlain scuttled from the chamber.

King Minos turned to the window, as he did in stressful times.  The Gods knew he had had more than enough to put up with.  The man Daedalos had been troublesome ever since Minos had granted him asylum.  The trouble with a one-off like that, he brooded, was that he possessed no moral sense and gave no thought to the consequences of his actions.  Daedalos and his inventions had been responsible for the whole sorry saga that culminated in the elopement of Minos’s favourite daughter:  prison was the least he deserved.  Minos could have had him killed long ago, but the man’s talent for inventing the unimaginable had been useful.

It was oppressively hot.  Minos envied the children splashing in the river below the palace walls.  He recalled that he had imprisoned Daedalos’s son along with his father, to be on he safe side.  Icarus was a promising lad and it couldn’t be fun cooped up in that tower, even though his mother took in a few home comforts.  Everything delivered had been scrutinised and noted, the baskets of honeycomb, grapes and cakes, and the bags of laundry.  Few unusual items were noted, except for bundles of feathers, mostly waterfowl pinions, probably from the palace kitchens, and a quantity of beeswax.  Enquiries revealed that Daedalos was working on some kind of mechanical fans to cool their stuffy accommodation.  Minos had not blocked this attempt to provide some comfort and felt a grudging sympathy for the man who was never happy unless his mind was fully occupied.  You never knew, something useful might come of it.

Minos leaned on the window-sill and scanned the panorama.  Heat shimmered over rooftops below and sunlight reflected off the river where it broadened to meet the sea. A few birds circled languidly as a slight breeze wafted aromas of humanity from the streets below.  Distant shouting and the tramp of feet told of search parties about their business.

“It shouldn’t be long now,” he thought as a movement in the sky caught his attention:  some kind of large birds, two of them, soaring and swooping somewhat erratically.  One if of them lost height over the estuary and for a moment Minos thought it might land on the water.  But it righted itself and as the two headed away he heard a distant shout, ‘Careful!  Don’t forget what I told you!’   He gazed at the two silhouettes against the blue of the sky, trying to make sense of the ungainly wings and legs that did not belong to any bird:  human legs and human bodies — men were flying.

Minos gripped the parapet, struggling to comprehend the enormity of what he saw.  Astonishment and disbelief grappled with wonder at the achievement, the bravery and the madness.  It had to be Daedalos and if he fell out of the sky he would get what he deserved, but the boy?  What man would put his son into that kind of danger?  As the two flying figures receded the smaller soared ever higher, towards the sun.  Dazzled, Minos blinked.  Something spiralled down in the far distance and hit the water with a splash.  A light breeze caught a drift of scattered feathers.  He was desperately scanning the scene for any sign of movement when a knock at the door claimed his attention.

‘Well?’

‘Sir, there is a little to report and I thought you should know.  Some peasants have seen something strange in the sky which they thought was a visitation by the Gods.  And Daedalos has apparently taken the fanning machine.’

‘I know.’   Minos was struggling inwardly to adjust his thoughts.

‘You know, sir?  Sir?  Can I get anything for you, perhaps some wine?’

‘No.  No, don’t bother.’  There was a pause before shock and bemusement gave way to decisiveness.  ‘Yes, do that.  I want a jug of the best red and I want a full-scale sea and coast search.  Tell them if necessary I’ll go to sea and find him myself.  If they come across the boy’s body, see that he gets a decent burial.’

(Postscript:  Icarus’s body was found on a foreign shore.  Minosset off to find Daedalos, who subsequently murdered him.)

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