The Ruin

No one knew how the daughter of the patrician had come to be with child, for she was unmarried and no more than fourteen. 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 no one the wiser. The child, however, came early, while the patrician was still attending at court. 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, the patrician 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.

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.

The patrician 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.

From The Trials of the Minotaur

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