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Theseus and the Labyrinth
During the late Bronze Age, well over a millennium before the birth of Christ, the Minoan King on Crete held the Athenian king to ransom. Every nine years the Athenian king sent as tribute seven male youths and a like number female virgins, the cream of Athenian society, to Knossos on Crete. Once on Crete the Athenian youths were fed into the dart heart of the gigantic labyrinth, there to die at the hands of the dreaded Minotaur Asterion, unnatural son of the Minoan King’s wife and a bull.
One year the Athenian king sent his own son Theseus as part of the sacrifice. Theseus was determined to finally stop the slaughter , and to this end he was aided by Ariadne, daughter of the Minoan king, half-sister to Asterion and Mistress (or High Priestess) of the Labyrinth. Ariadne shared with Theseus the secrets and mysteries of the labyrinth, and taught him the means by which Asterion might be killed. This she did because she loved Theseus.
Theseus entered the labyrinth and, aided by Ariadne’s secret magic, bested the tricks of the labyrinth and killed Asterion in combat. Then, accompanied by Ariadne and her younger sister Phaedre, Theseus departed Crete and its shattered labyrinth for his home city of Athens.
The Island of Naxos,
Confused, numbed, her mind refusing to accept what Theseus demanded, Ariadne stumbled in the sand, sinking to her knees with a sound that was half sigh, half sob.
"It is best this way," Theseus said as he had already said a score of times this morning, bending to offer Ariadne his arm. "It is clear to me that you cannot continue with the fleet."
Ariadne managed to gain her feet. She placed one hand on her bulging belly, and stared at her lover with eyes stripped of all the romantic delusion that had consumed her for this past year. "This is your child! How can you abandon it? And me?"
Yet even as she asked that question, Ariadne knew the answer. Beyond Theseus lay a stretch of beach, blindingly white in the late morning sun. Where sand met water waited a small boat and its oarsmen. Beyond that small boat, bobbing lazily at anchor in the bay, lay Theseus’ flag ship, a great oared war vessel.
And in the prow of that ship, her vermilion robes fluttering and pressing against her sweet, lithe body, stood Ariadne’s younger sister, Phaedre.
Waiting for her lover to return to the ship, and sail her in triumph to Athens.
Theseus carefully masked his face with bland reason. "Your child is due in but a few days. You cannot give birth at sea --"
"I can! I can!"
"-- and thus it is best I leave you here, where the villagers have midwives to assist. It is my decision, Ariadne."
"It is her decision!" Ariadne flung a hand towards the moored ship.
"When the baby is born, and you and she recovered, then I will return, and bring you home to Athens."
"You will not," Ariadne whispered. "This is as close to Athens as ever I will achieve. I am the Mistress of the Labyrinth, and we only ever bear daughters --, what use have we for sons? But you have no use for daughters. Phaedre shall be your queen, not I. She will give you sons, not I."
He did not reply, lowering his gaze to the sand, and in his discomfort she could read the truth of her words.
"What have I done to deserve this, Theseus?" she asked.
Still he did not reply.
She drew herself up as straight as her pregnancy would allow, squared her shoulders, and tossed her head with some of her old easy arrogance. "What has the Mistress of the Labyrinth done to deserve this, my love?"
He lifted his head, and looked her full in the face, and in that movement Ariadne had all the answer she needed.
"Ah," she said softly. "To the betrayer comes the betrayal, eh?" A shadow fell over her face as a northerly wind blew clouds across the sun. "I betrayed my father so you could have your victory. I gave you the secrets which allowed you to best the Labyrinth and to murder my brother. I betrayed everything I stand for as the Mistress. All this I did for you. All this betrayal worked for the blind folly of love."
The clouds suddenly thickened, blanketing the sun, and the beach at Theseus’ back turned gray and old.
"The gods told me to abandon you," Theseus said, and Ariadne blanched at the blatant lie. This had nothing to do with the gods, and everything to do with his lusts. "They came to me in a vision, and demanded that I set you here on this island. It is their decision, Ariadne. Not mine."
Ariadne gave a short, bitter laugh. Lie or not, it made no difference to her. The gods could fall as easily as could Theseus. "Then I curse the gods along with you, Theseus. If you abandon me at their behest, and that of your new and prettier lover, then you and your world shall share their fate, Theseus. Irrelevance. Decay. Death." Her mouth twisted in hate. "Catastrophe."
Above them the clouds roiled, thick and black, and lightening arced down to strike in the low hills of the island.
"What think you, Theseus?" she suddenly yelled, making him flinch. "What think you? No one can afford to betray the Mistress of the Labyrinth!"
"No?" he said, meeting her furious eyes evenly. "Are you that sure of your power?"
"Leave me here and you doom your entire world. Throw me aside for my sluttish sister and what you think her womb can give you and you and your kind will --"
He hit her cheek, not hard, but enough to snap off the flow of her words. "And who was it showed Phaedre the art of sluttishness, Ariadne?"
Stricken with such cruelty, Ariadne could find no words to answer.
Theseus nodded. "You have served your purpose," he said.
He focused on something behind her, and Ariadne turned her head very slightly.
Villagers were walking slowly down the path to the beach, their eyes cast anxiously at the god-damned skies above them.
"They will care for you and your daughter," Theseus said, and turned to go.
"I have served my purpose, Theseus?" Ariadne said. "You have no idea what my purpose is, and whether it is served out . . . or only just beginning. Here. In this sand. In this betrayal."
His shoulders stiffened, and his step hesitated, but then Theseus was gone, striding down the beach to the waiting boat.
The sky roared, and the clouds opened, drenching Ariadne as she watched her lover desert her.
She turned her face upwards, and shook a fist at the sky and the gods laughing merrily behind it.
"No one abandons the Mistress of the Labyrinth!" she hissed. "Not you, nor any part of your world!"
She dropped her face. Theseus was in the boat now, standing in its stem, his gaze set towards the ship where awaited Ariadne’s sister.
"And not you, nor any part of your world, either," she whispered through clenched teeth. "No one abandons me, and thinks that in so doing they can ignore the Game. You think that the Game will protect you."
She hissed, demented with love and betrayal.
"But you forget that it is I who controls the Game."