And the herald asked in wonder, “Fair youth, do you know whither you are going?”
“I know,” answered Theseus boldly; “let us go down to the black-sailed ship.”
So they went down to the black-sailed ship, seven maidens and seven youths, and Theseus before them all. And the people followed them, lamenting. But Theseus whispered to his companions, “Have hope, for the monster is not immortal.”
Then their hearts were comforted a little, but they wept as they went on board; and the cliffs rang with the voice of their weeping.
HOW THESEUS SLEW THE MINOTAUR
And the ship sailed slowly on, till at last it reached the land of Crete, and Theseus stood before King Minos, and they looked each other in the face.
Minos bade take the youths and the maidens to prison, and cast them to the Minotaur one by one.
Then Theseus cried, “A boon, O Minos! Let me be thrown first to the monster. For I came hither, for that very purpose, of my own will and not by lot.”
“Who art thou, thou brave youth?” asked the King.
“I am the son of AEgeus, the King of Athens, and I am come here to end the yearly tribute.”
And Minos pondered a while, looking steadfastly at him, and he thought, “The lad means to atone by his own death for his father’s sin;” and he answered mildly, “Go back in peace, my son. It is a pity that one so brave should die.”
But Theseus said, “I have sworn that I will not go back till I have seen the monster face to face.”
At that Minos frowned and said, “Then thou shalt see him.”
And they led Theseus away into the prison, with the other youths and maidens.
Now Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, saw Theseus as she came out of her white stone hall, and she loved him for his courage and his beauty, and she said, “It is shameful that such a youth should die.” And by night she went down to the prison and told him all her heart, and said, “Flee down to your ship at once, for I have bribed the guards before the door. Flee, you and all your friends, and go back in peace, and take me with you. For I dare not stay after you are gone. My father will kill me miserably, if he knows what I have done.”
And Theseus stood silent awhile, for he was astonished and confounded by her beauty.
But at last he said, “I cannot go home in peace till I have seen and slain this Minotaur, and put an end to the terrors of my land.”
“And will you kill the Minotaur? How then will you do it?” asked Ariadne in wonder.
“I know not, nor do I care, but he must be strong if he be too strong for me,” said Theseus.
Then she loved him all the more and said, “But when you have killed him, how will you find your way out of the labyrinth?”
“I know not, neither do I care, but it must be a strange road if I do not find it out before I have eaten up the monster’s carcass.”