Book Four: Crete
The boat makes for Crete, and Theseus is content with the idea that he is to be sacrificed to Poseidon. Then a fight occurs between an Eleusinian and Athenian boy, and he pulls them apart before the Captain comes to whip them. He tells them to behave themselves and then realizes that he is a slave like them. Theseus decides he must do something. He becomes king of the victims, and makes them swear an oath that they will be together, not Minyans or Hellenes, but one group. They call themselves the Cranes. They know nothing of the bull-dance, but from Lukos, the Captain, Theseus finds out several things. He learns that they train for three months in Knossos Palace before they go and get their bull. Then the bull has to catch them—they are not sacrificed to him. The bull- dance began as a sacrifice to Poseidon, whom they believe lives beneath the Palace and causes earthquakes when he is angry. Over the ages the bull-dance developed into an art form, and those who survive the dance teach their art to the newer ones. They go in teams in front of the bull and sometimes, with a good team, the bull tires before someone is killed. In older days noble Cretan youths did it themselves for honor, but those days are gone, and they bring in slaves now. They learn that teams of fourteen dance, but they do not know if they will be a team together. Theseus says that they need a reason to be kept together, and one of them suggests that they do something as they arrive in the harbor. They decide to do the dance of the Cranes, and they learn that one of the girls, Helike, is a tumbler, and can dance very well.
They get seasick in the rough waters near Crete, but feel better as the sea calms closer to land. As they approach the harbor, and see Cretans waiting for them, they perform their dance. A crowd of Cretans examines them at the harbor, but soon litters approach down the street. The litters are filled with larger, fairer people than the Cretans, and Theseus knows they are from the Palace—the court of King Minos is of Hellene descent and speaks Greek. Then another chair pulls up, with a large dark man in it, to whom the Captain speaks. All of the other members of the court treat this man with respect. He acts and speaks harshly, although Theseus can see that he is cunning and intelligent. Amyntor asks Theseus if the man is Minos himself, but Theseus responds that the man is not a king. Then he remembers that he can be understood, and all are silent as the man looks at them. Theseus notices another carriage, one that the other court members see and then completely ignore, but the Captain, called over, salutes as if to a god. The large man slaps Theseus, and then slaps him again after receiving a curt answer to a question. The man throws a gold ring in the water and tells him to find it if he is Poseidon's son. Theseus prays to Poseidon, finds the ring, and comes up with it. The man asks for it back, but then Theseus says it was offered to Poseidon and throws it back in. The man laughs hard, and Theseus learns his name—Asterion.
Theseus demonstrates that it is inner character rather than physical manifestations that make him royal. Royal robes and prestige are not what made Theseus a king, and he shows that he is still a leader when he forms the Cranes. He knows that they are all but slaves in Crete and that his former position no longer matters, but he also knows that they will have no one but themselves to depend upon. Their lives are in their own hands, and Theseus wants to make sure that they do their best to survive. He finds out information about the bull- dance, letting them know that they have at least three months of training before they will have to perform. Theseus does what a leader can do—he inspires hope in them and tells them all he can about the obstacles they will face. The fact that the bull-dance is for Poseidon foreshadows the fact that Theseus will have some special role to play in the dance, for the voice of Poseidon echoes loud in his ears. Theseus is a good leader of the youths, and he takes an idea that one of them had and from there comes up with a possible solution to the problem that they might be split up. They use the dance of the Cranes to draw attention to themselves as a group, hoping that it will allow them somehow to remain together and perform as a team. It is clear that much rests on their staying together, for the bond that they have and the oath they took gives their group a greater strength than fourteen individuals.