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The King Must Die

Mary Renault

Book Four: Chapters 8–9

Book Four: Chapter 7

Book Four: Chapter 10

Summary

Chapter 8

Theseus learns that Ariadne makes up ahead of time what she will prophesy in her oracles, and he is shocked that she no longer hear the voices of the gods. He meets with Perimos, a trustworthy noble, and together with a few others, they begin planning a revolt. Theseus chooses the leader of another team, Thalestris, and tells her about their plans. She tells her team, who is bound with a similar oath to that of the Cranes, and soon all of the teams bound by oaths know about the plan. They begin to bring arms into the Bull Court. Spring comes, and soon the winds from the south begin to blow, and they know that there will be no help from any foreign ships. Perimos' son, Alektryon, plans on picking a fight with a member of Asterion's guard because the household would all attend the funeral and they could attack then. The next day, Alektryon comes to get Theseus in the Bull Court, and tells him to go see the King. Minos wants Theseus to kill him, with the ax Labrys, the ancient guardian of the house. Minos knows it is time for him to die, before Asterion gains any more power. Theseus sacrifices the King, after promising to care for Ariadne, and then returns to the Bull Court and sleeps.

Chapter 9

Theseus tells Amyntor that the King is dying, but he is surprised that no noise has been made about the dead king yet. They have a dance that day, but Theseus is sure it will be postponed when the dead king is discovered. Nothing happens all day, and they head to the ring. Once inside, before the bull comes out, they hear a bellow, and the dancers know something is wrong. Herakles charges straight at Theseus, and he dives out of the way, cut only on his leg. The bull is foaming at the mouth. To aid the other cranes who are struggling with Herakles, Theseus grabs his horns and leaps above them. He lands on the bull. Theseus rides Herakles, hoping to tire him out before jumping off and leaving him to the other Cranes. They all help, and Theseus jumps off when the bull charges the barrier. Herakles crashes into the barrier, and then turns. Amyntor catches Theseus, and then yells at him to move, while Theseus stands, swaying. One dancer cannot help another, and the bull charges at Theseus. Just before reaching him, Herakles falls, dead in the ring. An old woman sees to Theseus' wounds, and Theseus feels strange before falling asleep. A rumor has started that Minos sailed for Sicily, and Theseus realizes that Asterion has somehow controlled even the King's death. He learns that he slept through an earthquake, and that Asterion bet on him to die. Theseus tells the Cranes what he knows—with the King dead, Asterion needed more money to buy troops to take power, so he drugged the bull and bet on Theseus to die, at great odds. They swear they will have vengeance.

Analysis

The King Must Die explores the nature of honor in these chapters. Theseus holds his honor above almost anything else, and the rest of the Cranes feel similarly. They have struggled for months in order to survive in the Bull Court, and have the respect of many native Cretans for doing so. However, Asterion, their patron, bets against Theseus and drugs Herakles in order to ensure that he wins his bet. He plays with their lives as if they are meaningless, and this is something that none of the Cranes can accept. They are not slaves, and even they are treated as such in Crete, they know what it means to be free and control their destiny.

Asterion's story shows the effects of forgetting that every individual is a thinking, conscious being who may make choices for himself or herself. In this case, the Cranes act together to thwart his plans. Asterion is intelligent and calculating, but he is used to treating people as pawns in his chess match for power. Theseus and the Cranes will not be used like pawns because they are not too afraid to act of their own accord. The majority of the Cretan nobles actually are nothing more than pawns, because fear of Asterion holds them in place, and allows him to dominate them. Asterion manipulates the native Cretans so that he can use them against the Hellene noblemen. The Cranes are not only brave, they are cunning as well, and they will not let themselves be manipulated. The Cretan nobles do not consider their honor that important, and their lack of respect for honor has made them slaves, although they are free. Theseus and the Cranes keep their honor even as slaves, and therefore they can dream of regaining their freedom. Honor, Renault suggests, is what separates a person from an object, regardless of rank of station. The noblemen without honor, who allow Asterion to dominate them and insult them, are nothing more than pawns, whereas Theseus, who holds no rank but stands up for himself, has the power to fight back. Without any honor, the Cretan nobles can take no pride in themselves, and they live for spectacles and sensory pleasures.

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