The Ruin Of This Family

It was in the fifth year of the rule of Auten the One Eyed, the emperor of Rheadd during the second interregnum, that a minotaur was born to the daughter of an important patrician family, the Dethcalla. They have long had the ear of the emperor so it will surprise no one that nearly all mention of the Minotaur has been excised from the official chronicles of the day. However, a careful search of some of the more scandalous histories of the period does produce some mentions of the creature. That the creature existed cannot be doubted for, though unnamed, it is on the patrician rolls.

No one knew how Surys Dethcallen Barthil, the daughter of Barthil Dethcallan Vulgih had come to be with child, for she was unmarried and no more than fourteen. The Dethcalla had naturally followed the correct practice at every turn in her upbringing and her education was impeccable. To the best knowledge of the nurse and eunuch charged with her keep she had never been on the streets of Colosi, the imperial capital, unescorted or uncovered.

Once her father, a dour and forbidding soul, discovered her state, he strove to keep the facts of her condition as obscure as possible in an effort to avoid a scandal. The girl was not seen in public company, which was not unusual, for the unmarried daughters of important patricians rarely were anyway. He had her taken to his summer estate under the cover of darkness and amid much secrecy for her to carry the pregnancy to term over the fall and winter. He left only a few of his most trusted servants to see to her care, with strict instructions and the threat of execution that they should speak to no one.

If all had gone to plan the child would have disappeared to some orphanage in one of the distant imperial provinces, never to gain knowledge of its patrician birthright, with the rest of Colosi none the wiser. The child, however, came early, while Barthil Vulgih was still attending at court, his business and duty public. The last thing he wanted to do was to draw attention by fleeing the city, so he waited until the matters were resolved and then left to dispose of the child.

By the time he arrived, three days after he had received the message, there were six census officials awaiting him at the gate to add the newborn to the patrician rolls. Though furious beyond measure, Barthil could hardly deny them entrance, for the law required that all those of noble blood be recorded on the rolls. To deny the child’s existence could only result in prosecution by his enemies, one of whom had surely had a hand in engineering this predicament.

He noticed the strained and fearful glances of the servants who had been charged with his daughter’s care as he passed by them to her chambers, but gave it no thought. The presence of the census notaries meant that one of them had betrayed him, so all would be fearful for their lives. The notaries allowed him a moment with his daughter and grandchild before they entered to make their record. He left them outside the door with the child’s wet nurse who would not meet his eyes.

At first he did not believe what he saw nestled in his daughter’s arms. He could see nothing of the body, for it was wrapped in swaddling, but its head defied all belief. The nose was broad and pink, a snout in a word, while the ears extended from both sides of its head and moved of their own accord at his approach. The eyes were spread apart on either side of its face and it was covered in hair, all of it, thick and deep and brown.

Barthil Vulgih found himself trembling as he walked up beside the bed, his daughter looking sleepily up at him from where she lay. He thought perhaps this was a dream, a nightmare from which he might soon wake. The girl drew the creature closer to her breast as though to protect it, but he cursed her and tore it from her arms. He drew it up to his eyes, contemplating the now squalling beast, considering as he did so that he should put an end to the creature’s life then and there, no matter the prosecution he would be forced to endure. He knew though that there was no use, there could be no erasing this stain to the family’s honor.

“You are the ruin of this family,” he said, though whether it was directed to the beast or his daughter was unclear. He noticed that the creature had two nubs, almost obscured by its hair atop its head, and ran a finger distractedly over one, realizing they were the beginnings of the thing’s horns. Something between a sob and a roar emerged from his throat.

When he had regained his composure he carried the newborn to the door, which he threw open, startling the waiting census officials. They stared at the crying thing in Barthil Vulgih’s hands with horror and then did their utmost to avoid looking at either of the beast or the patrician, occupying themselves with their official scrolls and their ink and pens. The servants refused to glance over as well, though the creature’s wails grew louder and louder. The ostentatious obliviousness displayed by all those present only served to increase the rage consuming Barthil Vulgih.

One of the notaries cleared his throat, though he still would not raise his eyes from the rolls. “You confirm that the date of birth was the seventh day of Gethuj?”

“I do,” Barthil Vulgih said in a voice that made all in his presence shudder.

“And the name chosen for the child?”

“It will have none.”

This caused both census officials to stare at the patriarch their mouths agape.

“It must have a name,” one of them said at last. “It is on the rolls.”

“It will have none,” Barthil Vulgih repeated and then turned on his heel and strode back into his daughter’s chambers, flinging the door shut behind him. He paced back and forth across the room, the beast still crying in his arms, but he did not seem to notice it or his daughter, who watched him without uttering a word.

This continued for some time until one of the guards knocked at the door. When there was no answer he summoned the courage to enter, but Barthil Vulgih did not even glance at him so lost was he in his anguished thoughts. The guard cleared his throat and then, when that too failed to draw his master’s attention, he called out his name. This did rouse the patrician, who stopped on his heels and stared at the guard in fury and bewilderment.

“The census officials have left, sir,” the guard said and swallowed.

Barthil Vulgih nodded and then walked over to his daughter, returning the creature to her. “Good,” he said, “I want you and your men to put to death every servant and eunuch here. One of them has betrayed me.”

The guard nodded and had turned to go when the girl spoke. “I sent for them,” she said.

Barthil Vulgih looked at her without emotion as though contemplating the tithes on one of his distant and unimportant estates.

“I knew you would take him from me. Now you cannot close your door on him. He is on the rolls, he is of this family.”

Barthil Vulgih did not say anything and left the room, the guard falling in step behind him. His reply came later that day as all thirteen servants and two eunuchs were led, one by one, to his daughter’s room where they were beheaded. She did not look away from the executions, facing them with the same emotionless stare her father had fixed on her, even as the stain on the floor continued to grow. Neither would speak another word to the other the rest of their days.

From The Blind Minotaur by Clint Westgard

Forthcoming March, 2013

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