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Daedalus In The Underworld Pt 4: A Regent For Antallis

One day after they left, Cheiron, Ambicatus and Daedalus, sans Icarus who had stayed home with a headache, returned from the Bilfrost Quarry. They had scoured the caves to a half-mile in any direction stopping only at the water’s edge. They’d been to the hospice and talked to priests toiling at healing the sick. They learned that Persea was nowhere to be found and that Taros was on the Old Kriti Highway. Bear insisted that Dalius had gone to Corybantia to consult with the Goddess of the Earth and that he was never coming back.

Two days after that, Minos, Lord of Lasithi and uncle of the king, arrived at the Peak. There were none to meet him but Cheiron, and Serpius, the king’s woeful attendant.

“Dark days…” began the servant.

“Don’t say it,” rebuffed the new regent.

He was hot, tired and aching from his three day ride atop a stout Gimric pony.

Except for Schoenius, his servant, cook and bodyguard, Minos had come alone. They looked like the Gimric and for good reason. Minos and Bear were partners in the olive oil industry, which explained the rare and expensive ponies they rode in on, and the fact of his partnership with the Druid allayed fears that the Gimric were about to invade.

Like most Boetians, Schoenius wore a beard. He kept it short and well trimmed. His employer, on the other hand, had gone Gimric. Minos was clean shaved and he wore his dark hair in a multi-banded tail that fell down his back. He wore standard Gimric garb of hemp trousers dyed blue and faded in the sun, a green cotton shirt of multicolored thread woven in a plaid pattern, and a leather belt with a buckle that matched the buckles on his leather boots.

The soles were made of twelve layers of laminated aurochs hide. The uppers were aurochs skin to over the ankle. The rest was lambswool cured right on the hide. The result was a boot he could wear all day, sleep in, and still not have to take off.

Both were armed to the teeth. Minos had the Antallean broadsword that all the nobles carried. He also carried a double-edged dagger, an armor piercing pike, an eight pound mace on a six foot chain and a garrotte.

Schoenius carried a curved blade from the Caucasus he won in the Sarmatian Wars, a set of throwing knives with which he was expert, two daggers and a recipe for a violent form of flash powder used in military campaigns.

Although an excellent cook, he liked to say there was none better, Schoenius would not be lending his talent to the Antallean kitchen. He was an escort and would be returning with Acacalis, the young niece of King Prosus.

“Where is the steward?” wondered the new regent.

“He will return shortly, my lord,” replied Cheiron, though he was far from sure of it.

“If he’s gone it answers my next question. Only Dalius would traipse off in a crisis. I assume he’s still running this rock?”

“Or the black priest, sometimes a bit of both,” revealed the Sword Master, “The king does his best to keep them from each other’s throats.”

“Such is the business of kings,” mused Minos, “Is my studio stocked as I left it?”

“The paints are bound to be dry, my lord.”

“Forget the paints. Bring me vellum. New accounts call for new ledgers.”

The next day, while trying to make sense of the contracts written in Bear’s hand, but which shocked the daylights out of him, Minos was barely aware of the duo at his door.

“You ask him,” ordered Daedalus.

“Why me?” whispered Icarus, disgusted by the whole idea.

“Eromenos!” chided Daedalus, “Eromenos!”

“I’m too old for this,” muttered Icarus as he strode, confidently as you please with his hairy legs showing to his tight little ass, right up to the regent’s desk.

“Yes?” said Minos, not caring to look up.

“You’re tense,” said Icarus, his brown eyes beaming compassion, “I can help.”

“No doubt,” replied the regent, “Are you the scribe?”

Minos pushed some accounts and a page of vellum across the desk.

“That’s not what I had in mind,” replied Icarus, soothingly.

“You’re a pretty boy. I got that. Where is that impotent little Athenian?”

Hesitantly, Daedalus dared to show his face.

“I’ve heard about you,” smiled Minos, and Daedalus was proud to hear it until Minos added, “Little of it good. I don’t want you wasting my time. Find something to do and stay out of my hair.”

“Well, uh, my lord, what would you have me do?”

“Take a vacation,” barked the regent, “Go spelunking for all I care.”

Then he threw Daedalus a bag of money, and said, “Don’t buy me a problem!”

“Thank you my lord, may I say…”

“No, you may not! Fly!”

As they turned to leave Minos barked again.

“Scribe. You stay.”

Icarus, for the first time in his life, was more important than his master.

Daedalus could hardly believe his good fortune. Inside the bag were five red gold coins from the mint at Colchise. Daedalus went manic. He missed Icarus, but you can’t have everything so he clutched the bag like a guilty child whose dad had made a mistake.

Daedalus decided to spend with haste in River Bend. He could do worse than dealing with the Gimric, who had a cheaper, better, faster version of anything one could imagine.

“Why do you need a cave water pump de-mineralizer?” asked the shopkeeper, “A standard water pump de-mineralizer fitted with a bracket nozzle will accept any size filter.”

“Yes, yes, but I have my own filters specifically made for a G & G Industrial…”

The balding little man reached under the counter and offered him a bracketed brass coupling that was guaranteed to fit any size nozzle.

“Ingenious,” praised Daedalus after looking it over, “Who makes these?”

“I have no idea,” confessed the little man, “I am Menjik. You are Daedalus.”

“Yes. Pleased to meet you. Why have we not met before?” wondered the learned Athenian.

“I am usually at Grapes In A Bed,” replied the little man, “Are you sure phosphorus is required? I find magnesium starters to be much more efficient.”

“Magnesium? Yes, of course!”

“Much preferable to a load of sulfur, charcoal and phosphorous,” Menjik added, “and as a bonus they work underwater.”

“Amazing,” spoke Daedalus, “I’ll need a hundred yards of good, stout rope.”

“Why? Are you planning on leaving it wherever you go?” asked the shopkeeper.

“I’m going spelunking,” replied Daedalus.

“Why didn’t you say so?” chided Menjik, “I have just the thing.”

The regent was in a frenzy. He couldn’t find his bag of gold coins. He had his bag of bronze coins and that was it, and then he remembered. He must have given it to Daedalus. It wasn’t that he lost a small fortune that distressed him, but that he gave it to a fool. There was no telling the trouble Daedalus could buy with five red gold coins from the Grove of Ares.

Besides being angry with Daedalus for not bringing it to his attention, Minos was mad at himself. He wondered if he was in over his head. The accounts were a mess. It appeared that King Prosus was stone cold broke.

Minos was a business man. He had no idea how to run a country. His wife Pasiphae did that, not that the Kriti Highlands was much of a country. Large was about all you could call it. There were three settlements: his ranch in the Lasithi Valley, Grapes In A Bed and a few ancient homesteads near Mount Ida.

It was not true that Pasiphae wore the pants in the family. The olive business was far more important to their fortunes than Pasiphae’s honorarium. She was a queen only because her sister Circe was the High Priest of the Temple of Cybele and she had to be mollycoddled. The Kriti Highlands was as far away as Circe could practically send her.

Minos, young and foolish, soon became aware that he married into the wrong side of a family feud. He made the best of the situation. He learned that olives grow well in Lasithi and that the Gimric were addicted to their oil. That led to his partnering with a Gimric gadfly he had no idea was the son of the Druid until after he’d signed the contracts.

At first he was angry at being used, but he cooled down when he learned Bear’s plans and how much gold the Druid’s son was willing to sink into it. The olive trade led to wine trade, and wine led to real money. Minos, not Pasiphae, was Lord of the Lasithi Valley.

He was now Regent of Antallis and it was his first full day on the job. His loyalties were taking quite a beating. Just as if the gods were taking an interest, the regent received an official request for an audience from the Druid of the Gimric.

“Where is he?” wondered Minos, sure that Bear must be following.

“He awaits your audience, my lord,” replied Serpius, acting for his master Dalius who had yet to return.

“Why does he wait outside?” asked the regent.

“It is how the game is played,” answered the servant.

“It is not how I play the game. Show him in.”

The Druid of the Gimric was officially announced. He was not wearing his bearskin.

“Hello Bear, have a seat,” Minos said cordially, “Can I offer you wine?”

“I am not here as your friend,” answered the Druid, “Our interests have diverged.”

“I suppose they have,” agreed the regent, “Why must you impoverish my nephew?”

“The priest from Iolcos has done a fair job of it already,” replied Bear.

“Don’t play politics with me!”

“Now you’re a statesman?” wondered the Druid.

“We’re supposed to be friends,” reminded the regent.

Bear sat and made himself comfortable.

“When we can disagree at lunch and share wine over dinner you will be ready for this line of work,” he advised.

“You want work?” barked Minos, “How’s this for work? You’re paying a Caucasian price for Antallean steel. I call that quite a deal!”

“That was grandfathered in by your grandfather,” reminded Bear.

“For the life of the original loan,” countered Minos, “The loan is long since paid!”

“Technically, it’s not.”

“So you say!”

“As did Circe!”

“This is getting us nowhere,” said Minos, “What will it cost to make it go away?”

“We want market rates on produce bought in Antallis and a royalty on all goods made with resources from the Bilfrost Quarry,” answered Bear.

“What royalty do you suggest?” wondered Minos, “How does one derive it’s worth in tangible goods?”

“We suggest using gold from the Caucasus as a basis of trade,” answered the Druid.

Minos, being a businessman, immediately saw the worth in that, but it wasn’t enough.

“Too readily available,” he said, “Make it the red gold from the Grove of Ares. It’s hard to get, is far away and looks like no other. We will know if it is cheapened by inferior gold.”

“You must have a fair amount of it,” reasoned the Druid.

“As do you,” rebutted the regent.

“We’re talking about impoverishing anyone who can’t get their hands on it.”

“It’s better than impoverishing everyone,” answered Minos.

“How do I know you can’t procure this gold at bargain rates?” wondered Bear.

“You already do,” Minos replied, “I’m offering a deal you have reason to accept.”

“I’ll have to take this back to River Bend,” said the Druid, but it was a start.

Menjik couldn’t believe learned man’s naiveté.

“You have no concept of money, do you?” he said in disbelief.

“Whatever do you mean?” answered Daedalus.

“These are not coins,” insisted the man from Anatolia.

“They certainly are,” Daedalus replied.

“Let me show you what to do with the red gold from Colchise,” he said, and he wrote him out a receipt for the deposit of five red gold coins from the Grove of Ares.

“Let’s go to the chief,” said Menjik, and Daedalus was too flabbergasted to protest.

Mountain, hearing the purpose, saw the men immediately. Menjik produced the bag and Mountain’s eyes went wide.

“Where did you get this?” he asked.

Before Daedalus could answer, Menjik replied.

“It is a deposit from an anonymous investor.”

Cut into the leather of the drawstring pouch were the letters M.A. in a hand that was instantly recognizable.

“Have no fear,” laughed Mountain, “I shall honor his namelessness.”

He left with the coins and returned with a sheaf of papers.

“What is it you require?” he asked, and the long, long list was produced.

After reading it over Mountain pronounced it doable.

“This can be done,” he agreed.

Daedalus was surprised to see a dozen bronze coins dropped into his hands.

“What’s this for?” he asked, quite innocently.

“Forgive the doctor,” said Menjik, “He understands nothing of this.”

Mountain gave Daedalus a good once over and decided he was just green.

“Explain to him insurance and how it keeps his mouth shut,” he said, before giving a sheaf of scrip to the shopkeeper and whispering, “Remember. Not a word to the Druid.”

“Not a sigh,” he agreed and Daedalus began to wonder what he’d gotten himself into.

“What have you gotten us into?” asked the Sword Master, raising his voice, “How do we get our hands on the red gold from Colchise?”

“Settle down,” said the regent, “I have five coins and it’s just a down payment.”

“Where are these coins?” wondered Cheiron.

“I have them.”

“Perhaps, but you do not have my trust.”

“Do you need to see them now?” asked the regent, evidently annoyed.

“That would go along way to repairing our relationship,” Cheiron replied.

“You still haven’t forgiven me for refusing an apprenticeship?”

“You were born to be a Sword Master, not a grower of grapes.”

“I am your regent so it hardly matters,” but he was getting used to this treatment so he left. He returned a few minutes later with a drawstring pouch engraved with the letters M.A. and gave it to the Sword Master.

“Five red gold coins from Colchise,” he said.

“You can get more?”

“Yes,” Minos assured him.

“How much more?”

“Have you forgotten that King Aites is my brother-in-law?”

“Why would the Druid agree to this?”

“Because he hasn’t forgotten that King Aites is my brother-in-law.”

Cheiron sat there blankly.

“Do I have to spell it out for you?”

Cheiron nodded his head.

“When water rises it brings up all ships.”

“That’s it?” asked the Sword Master, “What’s good for Bear is good for Antallis?”

“As long as I’m regent it is!”

Cheiron still wasn’t getting it.

“The closer we get to the Gimric the harder it will be for the temple to rob us blind.”

“You are the temple!” exclaimed the Sword Master, “Circe is your sister-in-law.”

“She married Aites to Idyia and sent him to the Caucasus,” Minos replied, “Pasiphae she married to me and banished to Lasithi. She made Helios the Steward of Cybele and forbade him to marry at all. Persea waits at his brother’s bedside for him to pass away in the night. Who thinks it isn’t long in coming?”

“You all have reason to want her gone? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Watch it happen,” Minos assured him, “Give it five years.”

Daedalus was in over his head and he knew it.

“Don’t buy me a problem,” the regent had said.

Maybe he hadn’t intended to give him a bag of red gold coins. Of course he hadn’t. How could he possibly have thought…maybe it wasn’t a problem. He had the bronze coins. He could claim…but where was the pouch? In a box in River Bend. Perhaps he could sneak in…how does one sneak into a fortress guarded by lances and dogs?

Menjik saw his distress and sought to ease his mind.

“There is no way this can be traced to you,” he said.

“Poppycock!” declared Daedalus, “I need the bag back.”

Menjik produced the bag with a smile.

“When were you going to give this to me?” he glared.

“When you were smart enough to ask for it,” Menjik laughed.

“What else aren’t you saying?”

“Don’t be afraid of me. Be afraid of what money can buy. Besides, I thought you wanted to go underground.”

“This is not what I meant!” complained Daedalus.

“Perhaps it is what the gods thought you meant and that is why they sent you to my shop,” reasoned Menjik.

“I don’t believe in the gods,” answered Daedalus.

“In that case,” answered Menjik, “Maybe I should not go spelunking with you.”

“I need them back,” said Daedalus at last.

“That’s not possible,” Menjik replied.

“Don’t you understand? When Minos finds out what I’ve done with his gold…”

“He’s not going to find out unless you talk,” said Menjik, but he was getting worried. What if Daedalus was a loose canon? “Do your research like a good man and let me worry about the business.”

Daedalus about nearly panicked.

“All right, all right, I’ll go with you,” said Menjik, but it was already his intention, and it was from the moment he decided he could not trust Daedalus, “Let’s get on with it.”

“I can’t go yet,” he replied, “My notes are in Antallis.”

“Are they really necessary?”

“It doesn’t make sense to go without them,” said Daedalus.

It was Menjik’s turn to almost panic. He put his hand on the pommel of his dagger and thought to use it before Daedalus added, “I need them to find the Stones of Hephaestus.”

“You are looking for the stones?” chirped Menjik. It was too good to be true.

“I’ve already found them, but I need my notes.”

“You have a map?” smiled Menjik, clutching his dagger ever tighter.

“Just notes,” Daedalus replied, “They mean nothing to anyone but me.”

Menjik couldn’t take the chance it might not be true so he let go of the dagger.

“Be back by dawn,” he said, which would give Daedalus just enough time.

When Daedalus was alone he got the full measure of buyer’s remorse.

Buy the time he reached the city gates the sun was setting. It would be crazy to go back before dawn, but crazier not to considering what he had at stake. By the time he reached his apartment he’d worried himself to a frenzy.

He opened the door, and instead of the warm touch of Icarus he was met with the cold stare of the regent. Minos held out his hand. Nothing more needed to be said.

He gave him the empty bag, not even bothering to fill it with bronze.

The regent sighed and said, “Daedalus, I own you. Tell me what you’ve done.”

“I thought to go spelunking…” he began, but the regent wasn’t buying it, “Really, so I found a shop specializing in industrial supplies…”

Daedalus didn’t need to say anything else. Minos burst out laughing and that’s when Daedalus really began to panic, because everyone knows that when a king laughs at a crisis, the worst is yet to come.

“You got conned!” barked the regent, “You got conned by Menjik. By the gods, Daedalus, how do you do it?”

“You’ve heard of him?”

“He’s so famous he’s had to go straight! I have to say, Daedalus, you screw up big!”

“I have to be back by dawn!” whined the learned man.

“You’d better hope I get it out of his tight little hide,” snarled Minos.

“Menjik doesn’t have it.”

“Daedalus, don’t be a fool!”

“Truly! I was there when he gave it to Mountain in exchange for scrip.”

“You lie,” charged Minos.

“I do not. I don’t know how to lie,” he answered, indignantly.

True enough, thought Minos.

“What was the scrip?”

“Vouchers for tools, six laborers, two boats…”

“Bat boats?”

“Well, yes. What other kind would I need?”

“Are you saying this isn’t a con?”

“If by that you mean is Menjik procuring all of this, then yes,” said Daedalus.

“What does he hope to gain?”

“Gain?” wondered the doctor, “From the Stones of Hephaestus?”

The stones were legendary but of little value to anyone but a con man or a wizard, or a Daedalus, so perhaps it was true.

“Does Mountain think I’m the investor?” asked Minos at last.

“He does,” answered Daedalus in a trembling voice.

“Daedalus you’re a free man,” said the regent, “I’ve just traded you for your interest in the Stones of Hephaestus.”

“But…but…”

“Five coins from the Grove of Ares is a lot to pay off!” bellowed Minos, “and just so you have a chance of getting back alive, Ambicatus and the guard will be going with you.”

“Yes, my lord,” said Daedalus, and he was truly afraid. He hadn’t considered that his life might be in danger.

In the morning Minos met with the Druid and it almost came to blows.

It started innocently enough.

“How goes my investment in the Stones of Hephaestus?” asked Minos.

Bear was confused, and asked, “Am I supposed to know something about it?”

“You don’t?” replied Minos, giving him the chance to come clean.

“Why would you invest in the Stones of Hephaestus?”

“You were going to keep them for yourself, was that your plan? Distract me and run off with something of real value?”

“What are you accusing me of?” cried Bear, indignantly.

“Don’t give me that!” shouted Minos, his hand threatening a fist, “In all my years I never thought you of all people would betray me!”

“WAIT!” cried Bear in the voice that even worked on Antalleans sometimes, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I came here with good news. Mountain agreed to basing our trade on the worth of the red gold from the Grove of Ares.”

“Don’t tell me you don’t know that Menjik and Daedalus traded five red gold coins for a scrip as along my arm,” challenged the regent.

“Is this true?” wondered Bear, and his cracking voice coupled with seventeen years of friendship told Minos he had nothing to do with it.

“It’s true,” said the regent, calming down, “I’m glad…I’m relieved you didn’t know.”

Bear shook to the core as he realized there was only one man in the world he could trust, and that they were together in the same room.