Thirty-Four

So in the aftermath of their duel, the little dog tracked the Minotaur to the very depths of the maze.

"Welcome, Your Majesty," said the Minotaur. "Don't be shy. Please step forward." A steady downwind made the maze too vague for Spot to leave.

"You have Mademoiselle Princess," said Spot. "You must release her."

"Then you seem to have yourself a dilemma," said the Minotaur. "You aren't in a position to ask me for any favors. In any event, she isn't my prisoner. All I did was offer her a safe place when she felt at risk. She'll stay where she is only for as long as she believes she will risk misfortune by leaving."

"You deceive her?" said Spot. "You think to play the little trumpet card, sacrifice another, and still call yourself a champion of the daring? In which the bluffing excuses the shenanigans as a virtue?"

"Listen, Your Majesty," said the Minotaur. "Castle dwellers like you have as much freedom as you can discredit any witnesses against you. As much freedom as you can give yourself from the stories you choose to hush. Your prosperity is an insult to any creature who has to pay attention to anything. Yet what does the world do now but lose its crowns ever faster? As well as any upstart king, progress can silence a Camelot, a Nanda Parbat, an El Dorado. Now progress can bring winter to all the world. But as a game, the maze still allows everyone a story.

"What Ariadne is now is safe and comfortable where she is. But how much more—?"

"Hello?" called a voice into the depths of the maze. "Hello, is anyone there? I hear talking."

"Oh, sacre bleu," said Spot. "Monsieur le Brian, why do you not stay at the castle? Instead of throwing away your life to follow me as I catch you now."

"I haven't thrown away my life," said Brian. "I'm here to accept the Minotaur's dare. That's right. Laugh while you still can. The first thing you said at the castle today was that you wanted to duel the King's champion. You went to challenge me."

"Well, yes, human, I did," said the Minotaur. "I did it to goad Its Majesty to instead challenge me and allow me to control the terms of the duel."

"Well that doesn't change that you dared me," said Brian. "I accept."

"Very well, human," said the Minotaur. "What weapons will we duel with? Axes, pistols, chainsaws?"

"I would like to pick the nature of our duel, as a privilege of accepting your dare," said Brian. "Give us the crown and leave us to escape the maze."

"You can't ask for that," said the Minotaur. "You have the privilege to pick weapons. Or to refuse the duel. In which case I don't owe it to you to leave you the crown. Not that you can use it to leave the maze anyway."

"Our weapons," said Brian, "will be the truth."

"To what delicious innovation to killing you do you refer?" said the Minotaur.

"We will test what we know," said Brian. "Whoever has an account proven more faithless, to how things are, is the loser."

"All by leaving you here," said the Minotaur. "Which I will do anyway. With the stakes your lives for the crown?"

"Yes," said Brian. "Since our lives are part of the stakes in this duel, giving me the match if you kill us is only fair."

"If your deaths give me what I want, what's to stop me from killing you now?" said the Minotaur. "I already have the crown. What if I don't care to win the duel?"

"Because blah, blah, blah, privilege is an insult to merit," said Brian. "Say, is this a labyrinth in which the thoughtless enter, only to be lost forever? Or doesn't this place have a news shop that serves fresh donuts and hot coffee? Need, need, need. Take, take, take. Blah, blah, blah."

"Monsieur le Brian," said Spot. "Forget not Mademoiselle Princess."

"Oh, and tell us where the princess is," said Brian.

"Why should I do even one kind thing for you?" said the Minotaur.

"Because if you don't," said Brian, "after we win the duel, we will return to the maze and live with you forever."

"Enough, human," said the Minotaur. "You'll die in the maze faster than you finish negotiating our duel. She's in the tower at the southern bay of the island. You are free to leave. Go."

"Monsieur le Brian, perhaps we should reconsider," said Spot. "Perhaps you celebrate too soon the triumph of the abandonment to the desolation of the labyrinth. Perhaps it is instead not too late to ask Monsieur le Cow Head to kill us. Rather than leave us to wander the complex and endless maze. Alas, all we have now is the doom."

"—no," said Brian. "Don't call back the Minotaur."

"Oh, and I suppose you have the idea better than ending our lives," said Spot. "To spare us of the unbearable wandering. How may we even begin to find our way out?"

"Mustard?" said Brian of the trail into the maze he left.

"Monsieur le Brian," said Spot. "How brilliant am I to savor the pungent seasoning?"