Ten ships, each with ten youths, sails white and crisp against the sky, disappearing into the haze of the sea, the winedark sea. Aegeus stands on the shore, bare feet cold and bloodless against the sharp rocks of the beach, hands clasped against each other so tight they ache, heartsick with worry and guilt. When he turns his eyes toward town, hours later, he has lost the trick of perception and totters shaky as an infant down streets he cannot recognize.
Weeks pass, and months. He measures the distance in his mind, the dangers, curses himself for a coward, returns to the rocky shore again and again. Every ship that heaves itself out of the horizon’s uncertain line snaps a lash against his back until he can sort friend from stranger, hope from despair. Anxiety wears him smooth as a river stone.
When at last he spots the black sails, it is almost a relief. The waiting is over, and he has failed twice over. He shakes out his robe and walks out to meet the returning ships, eyes fixed still on the horizon until the waves drag him down to his father’s kingdom; let the hard duty of survival be taken up by others better suited to it.