“The thing about ancient Greece is that the people who tried to write the histories tended to pull from a variety of sources. A Mycenaean ruler might be confused with a figure in some older Phoenician story, and two pieces of truth might get jammed together, through oral tradition and exaggeration and superstition, into something else. My job as an archaeologist is to try to unravel the threads that time has wound together.”
Drake glanced at Sully, whose attention was on the other guests and the waitstaff. To someone who didn’t know him, he would look bored and disinterested, just a guy hungrily anticipating his dinner instead of a guy ready for a fight. Sully had Luka’s journal and maps stuffed into the rear waistband of his pants, right next to his gun. They had agreed it would be unwise to leave it back at the hotel, but Drake felt constantly aware of its presence among them. More than anything, it explained why Sully was so on guard. But Welch didn’t seem put off by Sully’s ignoring him at all.
“All right, so—Daedalus?” Drake asked.
“He was real?” Jada said.
Welch took a breath, reached up and removed his glasses, and began to clean them with the hem of the tablecloth.
“In the late Bronze Age, there was an inventor and builder considered to be one of the cleverest men in the world. Stories were told about him in many languages and cultures under many different names, but the one that seems to have stuck is Daedalus. He was a craftsman, an artisan, and the labyrinth of Knossos was long considered his greatest achievement.
“There is a great deal of disagreement in academic circles about whether or not the palace discovered at Knossos in the 1870s is actually the labyrinth Daedalus designed,” Welch went on, replacing his glasses and reaching for his water glass. He looked intent now, lost in the history inside his mind. “The structure contains thousands of interlocking rooms, but many, myself included, have maintained that it was not the labyrinth itself, that the actual maze was located somewhere nearby.”
The waiter arrived, interrupting him, and they all gave their orders. Welch waited only moments after the waiter’s departure, eager now that his story had begun.
“What you have to understand is that our current excavation—the labyrinth of Sobek—essentially proves that theory. The main palace of Crocodilopolis, the Temple of Sobek, has been a given for decades. But the labyrinth is a separate structure, not far from the temple. The Cretan labyrinth at Knossos must have been the same.”
Drake shook his head. “Wait,” he said, holding up a hand. “You’re saying they’ve never found the labyrinth at Knossos? The one with the Minotaur? King Minos, the whole thing?”
Welch smiled, scraping a bit of tahini onto a piece of pita. “Amazing, isn’t it? This stuff is legend, but it gets mixed up in the public consciousness. People don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. So here’s what is real.”
He took a bite, chewed a few times, and swallowed, barely conscious of the action.
“The palace at Knossos is there. But an English gentleman, Sir Arthur Evans—an amateur, because there weren’t a lot of professionals in those days—oversaw the excavation of the palace. During the process, he hired people to ‘restore’ the place.” Welch made little air quotes with his fingers. “Some of that restoration included taking entire rooms and having artists paint frescoes on the walls in what he claimed was the style of the Minoan civilization—Minoan for King Minos, right?—only it was all bullshit. Instead of restoring what was there, Evans’s restoration team covered it all up, ruining a huge opportunity. A lot of what might have been learned was lost, which is part of the reason no consensus has been able to be formed about whether or not the palace at Knossos and the labyrinth of King Minos are one and the same.
“But our dig—well, it makes a pretty persuasive argument that there’s a separate building somewhere at Knossos. Not only that, but every day we’re finding more and more evidence connecting the labyrinth of Sobek to the labyrinth at Knossos and to a third, as yet unidentified labyrinth. We’ve found tablets with writing and markings in sacred chambers, most of them written in Linear B, that establish pretty firmly that Daedalus designed three of them and Knossos and Crocodilopolis were two of the three.”
“Not four?” Sully asked, startling them all by speaking.
Welch frowned, turning to him. “I’m sorry?”
“My father left some notes,” Jada said. “We got the impression he thought there was a fourth labyrinth.”
“That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” Welch said. “No, all of the writings we’ve found talk about ‘Three Labyrinths of the Master Builder.’ Notations elsewhere make it pretty clear Daedalus is the Master Builder, and we’ve been going on that theory.”
Movement caught Drake’s attention out of the corner of his eye, but it was only the waiter bringing a plate of oven-fried cheese that Sully had ordered and a glass of Coke for Jada.
“Luka’s notes talked about ‘honey,’ ” Drake said when the waiter departed. “Something about ‘the Mistress of the Labyrinth’ getting the most.”
For the first time, Welch lit up with real excitement. All of his sympathy about Luka’s murder and his concern were thrust aside by enthusiasm.
“That’s both one of the greatest finds of our dig and one of the biggest mysteries as well,” Welch said, eyes bright behind his spectacles. He looked almost like a little boy in that moment, his grin beatific. “A tablet found during the original excavation at Knossos referred to the Mistress of the Labyrinth. Yes, there’s the legend of the Minotaur, but set that aside for a second. The tablet told of honey being brought as an offering to the gods in the temple at Knossos but also said that worshippers brought some to the labyrinth as an offering to its mistress. She received enough to equal that given to all of the other gods combined.
“We’ve found the same thing here in the labyrinth of Sobek. The people feared crocodiles, and Sobek was the crocodile god, so offerings to him were plentiful. But the rule about the honey and the Mistress of the Labyrinth existed here as well. And in the third labyrinth, wherever that was. Each labyrinth had a mistress who had to be propitiated.”
Drake stole a bite of Sully’s fried cheese. The lights had been dimmed a little and the lilting music turned up as the evening wore on.
“But we’re not talking about ordinary honey,” Drake said.
“I agree,” Welch replied. “Though my whole team’s been arguing for weeks about what it might have been. Of course it might have been honey, but it might have been some concoction, even a drinkable opiate or some similar drug. On the other hand, I lean toward the other extreme, which is that it was something far more tangible.”
The archaeologist had a strange weight to his words, as if he had just reached the point in the story that he had been building up to all along, some turning point that he presented as a riddle, as if he expected them to be able to fill in the rest on their own. But Drake was too tired for riddles, and he knew his companions were as well.
“Such as?” Drake said.
Welch swirled the ice in his water glass, glanced around to be sure no one was listening, and leaned over the table, forcing a new intimacy into the conversation. Even Sully pulled in nearer.
“Gold,” Welch whispered. His eyes were still bright, but he was no longer smiling. There could be no doubting his sincerity.
Jada stiffened, glancing at Sully and then Drake. She said nothing, but she did not have to. Luka Hzujak had written that Henriksen was after the treasure of the fourth labyrinth. Welch might not know anything about a fourth labyrinth, but here was at least a theory about treasure.
“Have you found gold in the dig?” Sully asked quietly.
“Not as much as I’d expected,” Welch said. “The cult of Sobek used it in their worship, even in decoration of their sacred chambers and the crocodiles. But there’s little of it in the labyrinth.”
“So where’s the connection?” Jada asked.
Welch sipped his water. “Back up a second. You need to understand that many scholars believe that Minos might not have been the name of the king but a title, the way that Caesar became a title for the emperors of Rome. So the king for whom Daedalus built the labyrinth at Knossos, the king who was the father of Ariadne, whom Daedalus loved, might not have been named Minos at all.”
Drake shrugged. “Okay. So?”
“We’ve found evidence that he had another, more familiar name. That his sons and grandsons scattered to Anatolia and Phrygia and Thracia and Macedonia, all taking his name, causing historians a massive amount of confusion. But there’s a tablet in my boss’s office at the excavation site that tells a familiar story with a different setting and gives a name to the king of Crete, the founder of Minoan civilization.”
Sully snapped. “For God’s sake, man, just spit it out!”
Glasses clinked. Conversations stopped. People paused in their dinner to stare at the rude Americans. Drake smiled awkwardly and gave a friendly wave to the people at the nearest occupied table, a pair of silver-haired Arab businessmen, maybe Saudi or Bahrainian.
Welch looked hurt.
Jada reached across the table to put her hand over his. “Mr. Welch, I appreciate your excitement. My father shared it, I have no doubt—”
“He did,” Welch agreed, nodding.
“—but we’re trying to find out who killed him, and your sister’s boyfriend, Dr. Cheney, as well. Before we left New York, someone tried to kill us, too. So I hope you’ll forgive us if we’re not in the mood for any additional suspense.”
Drake stared at her, wondering if he’d had half her poise at the age of twenty-four. He seriously doubted it.
“Of course,” Welch said. “Sorry. I was just trying to lay a foundation for what at first blush you might find a bit astonishing.”
Drake leaned in and lowered his voice, just as Welch had done. “Astonish us.”
Welch smiled, and the four of them became conspiratorial again. “We have evidence to suggest that King Minos of Crete and King Midas were one and the same.”
Drake stared at him. The music seemed to grow louder, and the susurrus of conversation in the restaurant ebbed and flowed. He tore his gaze from Welch’s face only to glance at Sully and Jada and saw surprise and disbelief that mirrored his own.
“That’s—” Sully began.
“Remember, Mr. Sullivan,” Welch said, “most legends have a core of historical fact, some precedent. I’m not suggesting a man existed who could turn base metals to gold with the touch of a finger, but there was a King Midas, well known for his hoarding of gold. Stories in different cultures refer to him, though we now believe most of them are references to his sons and grandsons of the same name, and that the patriarch of the family, Midas the First, if you will, was the father of Ariadne, the monarch of Cretan civilization—Minoan civilization—at the time the labyrinth was constructed by Daedalus.”
Jada had gone pale, her gaze lost and distant. Welch seemed about to go on but then noticed the look on her face.
“Look, I know it’s hard to accept the idea that something so widely viewed as a myth could be real—” he began.
“It’s not that,” Drake interrupted, a frisson of excitement making the hairs rise on his arms. He glanced at Jada. “Tell him.”
Sully had lost several seconds just gaping at Welch, but now Drake saw his mind working behind his eyes as if puzzle pieces were falling together inside his skull. Drake thought that was exactly what it felt like. They didn’t have all the pieces, not by a long shot, but suddenly the puzzle had a little more shape than it had had even a few moments before.
“Mr. Welch,” Jada started.
“Ian, then,” she said. “My father’s research style was pretty immersive. You could even say obsessive. At the time of his murder, he had buried himself in research on two subjects that were obviously related, but when I went through his notes and things, I could never figure out how. One of those was obviously labyrinths. He had been here, and he had been talking frequently to Dr. Cheney in New York.
“The other subject was alchemy.”
Welch nodded. “That’s perfect, yes. That makes sense.”
“Luka thought there was some connection between Midas and the great alchemists of history,” Sully put in.
“There may be,” Welch said. This time he looked almost nervous as he glanced around. Drake figured he was worried that the wrong people, overhearing him, might think there was treasure up for grabs at the dig and that could lead to theft and violence.
“Alchemy is impossible,” Jada said, her frustration showing. “Gold is what it is. It doesn’t start as something else.”
“You know that, and I know that,” Welch said. “But there have obviously been times in history when people believed in alchemy and some pretty charismatic individuals who claimed to be alchemists.”
“The trick was in having the gold to back it up,” Drake said.
“Exactly,” Sully agreed, scanning the restaurant, talking to them while at the same time acting as their sentry. “All of those guys—St. Germain, Fulcanelli, young Nathan’s friend Ostanes—their claims would never have been believed if they hadn’t had gold to show for their efforts. Enough to be amazing.”
Welch raised his eyebrows appreciatively. “It seems I won’t need to educate you all on the history of alchemy.”
“Back to Midas,” Sully prodded.
“And to the labyrinths,” Welch agreed. “On the tablets we’ve translated so far, there’s a story that establishes that the designer of the labyrinth of Sobek—obviously Daedalus, though he’s not named—paid the workers in gold and was said to have been able to transform stone into gold with a touch.”