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Twisty Little Passages, All Alike
A massaged myth.
Issue #9, Monday 11 April 2022
Deep in the dark, around this corner or the next, her monstrous brother prowls. She can hear his snuffling breath, the heavy thump of his hard, clubbed feet, the soft growling threat of his voice, muttering in a language of his own devising.
Somewhere near, too, must be the handsome stranger, sword in hand, seeking or fleeing from her brother.
Her hand is upon the thread of yarn. The yarn her sister spun, the yarn her sister wound into a ball and gave to the stranger before he entered the maze. Somewhere near the entrance to the dark complex, her sister still stands, holding one end of the yarn, awaiting the stranger's death or his triumphant return.
The thread grows slack under her hand. The stranger is moving forward, paying out the yarn behind him, his only chance of return from the terrible confusion of the darkened maze, its hundreds of passages, its endless crazy turns, its innumerable dead-ends and traps. The old artificer designed it well.
The stranger... She had only needed to set her eyes on him to know that she had to have him. She. She. Not her elder sister, no matter how many times her sister had kissed him, no matter that it was her sister who had devised to free him, to return his sword, to give him the ball of yarn. It wasn't fair. Her sister had had other men, or so she said. And her sister could not love the foreigner the way that she did.
Distracted, for a while she does not notice the approaching noise close at hand. It is her brother. More than the sound, she is alerted by his rank animal scent. Now he is so close that she can feel the warmth of his huge body. She presses herself against the cold stone of the wall, holding her breath, trying to vanish.
He has come to a halt. She hears him mutter, taking in great snuffling breaths through those vast nostrils. He knows she is there. But somehow, even in his madness, he knows that she is kin, knows her for his sister. When they were children together, before his madness forced his confinement here, they had played together, all three of their mother's children. Many was the time she had gently cradled his great misshapen head in her lap. Now, somehow, he remembers. Knowing she is not his prey, he finally turns away.
She breathes again. Why has she ventured so far into the maze, into danger? To be close to the stranger, to be near at hand if he is to die or be injured? Yes. But also because she hates the close confines of her life. The thrill of danger frees her from it. Soon she will be free forever.
Slowly, step by step, hard feet clattering against the stone, the monster, her brother, moves on. Somewhere ahead is the stranger with the sword.
So in the dark, in the twisty turns of the labyrinth, the adversaries seek each other. Soon, very soon, they must meet in bloody combat. Today one of the two must die. Her mad, deformed brother. Or the handsome young man she loves.
Her heart will break if she cannot have him. Even now, it races with fear and with longing.
She feels along the rough stone wall, reaches an edge where a new passage begins. Here. There is a rough projecting piece of stone. It is large enough. It will do.
She seizes the yarn in two places, tightens her fists upon it. She jerks her hands apart with all her strength and the thread breaks. Quickly, she takes one end – the piece her sister still holds – and ties it firmly to the knob of stone. From the top of her robe she pulls her out her own ball of yarn and knots it deftly, with touch alone, to the thread that trails ahead toward the stranger.
It is done.
Back now, following the certain guide of her sister's yarn, she retraces her steps, paying out her own thread behind her. From time to time, it grows taut and pulls, slackens and relaxes, as the hero advances or retreats. Feeling those pulls, her heart leaps with joy. Now it is she who is connected to him, his every move linked to her trembling hand. Her sister feels only the tug of cold stone. The girl laughs, thinking of it.
At last, far behind her, in the depths of the maze, she hears a distant, enraged bellowing, and a shout, and the clash of steel striking off stone. She stops, her heart nearly beating from her breast, as she listens to the fatal confrontation. The bellowing and the shouting reach a crescendo and is ended by a terrible scream. His scream? No, her brother's deeper one. There is silence then. It is over. She finds that she is crying and wipes away the tears with short angry strokes of her hand. Her brother had to die if the foreigner were to live. And he has to live, or she will die of grief.
Now she must be quick.
Feeling her sister's thread under her hand, she runs forward through the dark as fast as she is able. From time to time she gives the thread a tug, so that her sister will not suspect that it is no longer in the stranger's hand. Behind her trails her own yarn. Soon the stranger will wind it up as he returns.
Now. Here. Here, not so far from the entrance to the complex, with a little light leaking in from the great doors, and bouncing around the corners. This is where she turns away from her sister's thread. She takes a left turn, and then a right. She has ventured here before, counting the turns. So long as she did not go beyond into the true blackness, it was safe, just a thrill. Anything to put an edge on the monotony of her life.
Now those secret trips have found their value. She runs into the hidden room she knows of, clutching hard at the yarn in her hand. At the end of it, her love, tugging from time to time as he seeks the way out of the labyrinth.
Panting, she stands in the room, waiting for him. There is hardly any light, just enough to make out the doorway. Will he turn away from the brighter light and follow her thread?
Yes. He comes at last into the room. She smells his sweat, she smells the sharp iron tang of blood on his tunic, on his sword. Her brother's blood, but that is a grief now gone.
"It is done," he says, but she does not speak, because that would betray her. She throws her arms around him, reaches up to kiss him. Passionate, desperate kisses.
"What?" he asks, confused by her sudden vehement passion, but she puts her hand over his mouth to silence him. She pulls at his straps, tears off his tunic and his skirt, tosses aside his sword, then pulls her own gown over her head. She is naked in the almost-darkness. Taking his hands, she drops to the floor and pulls him after her.
She knows joy then, and sweet triumph. Afterwards, she lies for long minutes, disregarding the cold stone against her back, holding his head against her breast.
It cannot last. After a measureless time, a dark shadow appears in the doorway. Her sister Ariadne has found them. Her fury will know no bounds. Too late, too late!
"He is mine," Phaedra says, looking up at her sister, and laughs.
© Copyright David R. Grigg. All rights reserved
About This Story
I came up with this story idea when I was puzzling over the story of Theseus in Greek mythology. Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos, is the one who gives Theseus the clue to finding his way through the labyrinth (“clue” originally meant literally a ball of yarn or thread, and only by analogy came to mean anything which led a detective to the solution of a crime). Yet later Theseus abandons Ariadne on the island of Naxos and takes up with her younger sister Phaedra. How did that come about?, I wondered. This little tale is my attempt to clarify that.
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