On International Women’s Day, several of the best writers in SF/F today reveal new stories inspired by the phrase “Nevertheless, she persisted”, raising their voice in response to a phrase originally meant to silence.
The stories publish on Tor.com all throughout the day of March 8th. They are collected here.
The Last of the Minotaur Wives
When the first of the Minotaur Brides was set to be a concubine in darkness, she was warned never to try escape. She was given an explanation: you are a monster, and below the earth you & your kind shall stay.
Nevertheless, my darling calf, she persisted. And so too have we.
* * *
The oldest wife finally dies. Blue is alone in the labyrinth, last of the lot.
She picks up the body in her strong arms, light as linen or sand, and carries it to the drying place. The sudden sun is bright there. The shadow of her horns slants a black slash against the sandstone walls. Bones clatter beneath her hooves.
“I’ll be back,” she says to the body and bones and blue iris of distant sky, gruffly. “Soon.”
Once you’ve been in the light for awhile, Blue finds, it’s hard as hell to willingly walk back into darkness.
* * *
You can hear them dancing sometimes in the palace above. Blue’s no good at dancing. What she’s got a lot of is patience. She sits in the dark, listening to distant feet go trip-trap-trip. She goes over what the bones have told them. Bear left at the thirdmost fork. Turn right at the drawing of the Dipper. Persist. Smile if men throw the ladder down, do as they ask, but keep your horns sharp. For the sake of your mothers, your daughters, your freedom, persist.
* * *
The body isn’t much more than a mummy, all leather & horn & ivory. The skin brittles from its bones with a touch. Blue is respectful, but she doesn’t stand with ceremony. Hands that wiped away Blue’s tears and tended scraped knees crumble to pebbly dust beneath her own clumsy fingers.
It’s mebbe what they call an e-vo-looshunary trait, my darling. Ever since the first of us was stuck down here, we’ve been working counter-clockwise, leaving instructions for the rest. Don’t be fearing. Mebbe you’re to be the last link in the chain, eh? Mebbe your bones are blank.
Tendons part. Blue scans the bone’s instructions. Two words jump out at her, written in the language of fissures: TRAPDOOR and KNIFE.
A smile splits her face like a hoof.
She kisses the dried-up thing, stands, and—eagerly, this time—trots off.
* * *
They’re dancing as she gallops through the labyrinth. The way is clear now. The maze twists and turns like a lizard’s senseless tail beneath her. Up above, the lords and ladies thunder.
There’s a ringing in her furred ears, a stink of perfume and powder and sweat in her flat nose. She pauses only once, to punch through the tunnel’s wall where the sandstone is thin. The knife inside has a curved blade, handle shaped like a bull in full charge. She jams it into her belt, keeps on running. The smells and noise grow stronger. Instruments she doesn’t have name for bawl & moan.
Further on, further in. A stone trapdoor overhead leaks yellow light. It’s heavy, and thick, and no human woman could ever hope to budge it.
With a snort and a grunt and a prayer, Blue puts her forehead against it and pushes.
Slowly, the stone begins to move.
Brooke Bolander is the nymph stage of a foul–mouthed cicada that only emerges from the earth once every thirty years. A finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and Locus awards, her work has been featured in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Uncanny, Nightmare, The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016, and many other fine word venues. She currently resides in New York with her partner, her pets, and a scuttling army of house centipedes she refers to as her “cupboard panthers.”