“Alas, Ariadne” by Albert Berg

Alas, Ariadne

I know, I know. It was reckless. It was impetuous.

For generations had I basked in the adorations of the children of men. But I had grown weary of their worship, and deaf to their praise.

Had I left the mountain for this? Endless days of tedium? But on the day I saw the face of Theseus, I remembered what love meant.

I was foolish. I was impulsive.

But I am a god. And gods are not known for their restraint.

I knew the moment I saw her that she was different than any other woman I had ever met. It was more than beauty. She was beautiful, yes, but there was something in her eyes, wise, and strong and so so old.

I first saw her when they brought us into the inner chamber of that dreadful place, to prepare us to sacrifice to their cruel god. She sat on what looked like a throne, apart from the rest, watching us with a merry twinkle in her eyes. I understood from her position in that place that she was someone important, the king’s daughter perhaps.

When we entered the palace my eyes had been full of the blasphemous relics of their cruel worship, but in that room it was hard to look at anything but her face.

He had come for the Feast of Seven. A youth from across the waters sent to our shores as an offering of peace, to live with us in good faith. A ward and ambassador. A symbol of good faith from the mainland. Long ago there had been wars that ravaged both our lands. I remember the blood, how it cried out to me from the earth, begging for peace. This was better.

They sent us the finest of their children and we taught them our ways, made them understand who we were, and how we lived. They became artisans, politicians, and priests. We mixed their tin with our copper, and the metal we forged together was stronger than either could be apart.

I was afraid; that I will not deny. I never expected to be chosen to go to that cursed isle. But the will of the gods blows like the wind, gentle in one moment and harsh in the next. I had heard of the Bull-Man of Knossos with his great labrys, and when I was eight I had seen the ship sail out of port carrying our offering, seven boys and seven girls sent off to be devoured by the beast that lurked at the center of a twisted tangle of caves.

But hearing of the Bull-thing, seeing that ship sail away, was nothing compared to the fear that filled my heart as my feet left the familiar soil of home to cross the sea to a strange and alien land.

How fearful a thing it must be for those poor souls to cross the sea, to subject themselves to the capricious whims of the god of seas. They know so little of our land. They are used to strange food. They worship the gods of the mountain.

I lived in the mountain once, in the time before time, but the gods there were so rough, full of anger and lust and pettiness. I knew there was a different way. A better way. The world is full of harmony. I tried to show that to my people.

I chose the labrys as my sigil. Two half moon blades joined to a wooden staff. The masculine joined with the feminine. A weapon of war and a tool in peace. The envoy from the mainland does not understand this yet. They believe there is a difference between the true gods and the false. They believe that every question has one answer. They believe that violence is the only strength.

I will lead them down the twisting path without branches. I will teach them the strength of cunning and subtle words.

I fear for my life. I have looked for a way of escape at every opportunity, but we are too closely guarded.

Yet the gods have not abandoned me, for I have found favour with the girl called Ariadne. We sat down to the ceremonial feast and she took the spot beside me. I am convinced that she must be royalty, for all of the servants defer to her word in every matter, and yet they looked at me strangely when she sat next to me.

I must tread carefully here. If I can befriend this maiden, I may convince her to help us escape. But time is not on our side.

We ate together at the feast of peace. I got such strange looks from the priestesses. They cannot understand me consorting so freely with a mortal man. They worship me through the acts of love, but even they cannot fully reconcile the intersection of the physical and spiritual pleasures. Their sacred couplings are rote and ritual, not wild and ecstatic. I have grown bored of their reverence.

I will show the boy Theseus the way a goddess should be loved.

After the feast we were all separated from each other. I was taken to a lavish room, with a soft bed, but the window was barred over. They prepare us as suckling pigs, making us fat and soft for the their horned demon god. Even if I could escape I did not know the layout of the city, and my Greek features and my strange tongue would surely give me away.

I was sinking into a mire of despair when I heard a sound at the door. I looked, and there stood the fair Ariadne. In the moonlight she was even more beautiful. Her pale skin fairly seemed to glow. She said not a word, but took me by the hand and led me out of my room down the darkened halls of the palace.

She took me out of the palace and out to a courtyard with a cunningly carved pattern on the stone beneath our feet.

Only then did she speak. I was surprised at how easily she used our words, but even so, I did not understand the things she said. She spoke of the bonds between all things, of sharpness and softness, of death and life, of light and dark. As she was speaking she pressed a sword into my right hand and a skein of thread into the left, saying “These two together are stronger than either can be apart. Do you understand?”

Am I a girl or a goddess? I do not know anymore. I only know what my heart tells me. I took Theseus from his room, and brought him to the place of the labrys. I told him of our ways and the harmony in the world. I told him. And then I showed him.

I showed him the dance of the labyrinth. The seven sacred paths, weaving back and forth, in and out, but always inward to the center. To the center of me.

The gods of the mountain come down to join themselves with mortals so often, rutting like animals. As animals. Can they possibly have felt the perfect bliss that I felt that night with the mother moon smiling down on us as we became one? Surely not.

Nothing else matters now. No worship, or rites, or offerings. None of these things compare to such perfect love. I will leave this place. I will build a new temple. Theseus alone will worship there. Theseus alone will receive my blessings.

I have killed the Minotaur. Ariadne uncovered to me the mouth of its foul lair. The tunnel twisted and branched so dizzyingly that I would have lost my way were it not for the skein of thread. And when at last I found the beast I thrust in my sword and it fell dead before me.

Before I thought it must be a fearsome monster, but now that I have so easily slain it I see it is a pitiful thing.

I have never been more perfectly content. The sea spray and the salt wind tangled in my hair as we sailed for an island far from here, where the two of us could live together forever in peace. The stars overhead sang the sweetest song they had ever sung, and nestled in his arms I fell asleep.

I had to leave Ariadne behind. As we passed across the ocean Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry, appeared to me and said, “What does this mean? Do you not know that this woman is my wife?”

I swore to him that I did not, and begged him to show mercy on me. I told him how things had fallen out in the city of Knossos and he nodded sadly. “You are not the first to fall victim to her charms. She is a promiscuous little strumpet, and her heart is never true to one man for very long. Be glad you did not let her deceive you any further.”

So I left the both of them on an island on the way, and made my way back to Greece, all in all, counting myself very fortunate in the whole matter.

My heart breaks like the thunder. My tears fall as rain. My Theseus is gone and I am all alone. How can I live in this world any longer? How can I endure the worship of these foul, deceitful mortals?

I tried to bring them harmony. I tried to give them love. But they would have none of it.

Let them have their pride. Let the rivers run red with their wars. Let them choke on their deceit.

I am broken. I am empty. I am desolate.

All for the sake of love.

 

 

 


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albertAlbert Berg: Albert was born in the swamps of Florida and quickly developed a gripping writing style by wrestling with crocodiles. You never know what you will get from Albert, be it sentient paper products or religious squirrels, but you do know that behind the flash there will be a well thought out story that will make you reflect on your own life.  Albert is the author of The Mulch Pile and A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw.
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5 Comments

  1. This story is a pretty little thing. I wish I remembered more of the original myths. I know you said that Theseus may not have told the whole truth but without the background knowledge I can only assume it is about the fight with the Minotaur or how he made it through the labyrinth.

    Al’s prose is always beautiful, especially when he is writing about antiquity. The diction becomes more elegant, poetic. I’m not sure it will be enough to win the contest, but it will definitely get some votes.

  2. Pretty much what Tony said.

    The prose is damn near perfect here, with the tone catching enough of antiquity to take me there and the emotion hitting hard enough to cause me pain. To the point where the opening lines stand out to me as being too casual and not on point. Actually not the opening lines, but the opening four words. A repeated phrase like that struck me as not very Greek. Maybe that’s me.

    I forget a lot of my mythology, I remember a lot of it too, but I forget most of Theseus. I remember him “cheating” at the maze by getting help in the form of string to find his way back out and a blade to defend himself with. Actually I’m not even sure he got the blade from outside, it was possible that they were just let loose and expected to die of hunger or Minotaur even if they were armed.

    There was a nice little bit in the middle where the maze is Ariadne and Theseus solves her, sexy and touching and playing with the prompt in a pretty dazzling way.

    And then the ending, Ariadne’s overt condemnation of the world while struggling to find a way to redeem her own choices. Hard hitting and wonderful.

    I just got a little confused here and there. The fourteen kids from Greece would be killed, right? But Ariadne talks about how they’d become members of their society. I can’t remember enough to know what to believe.

    I don’t know if requiring your reader to know a myth inside and out in order to understand your story is a good idea, nor do I know if the depth that allows you to then build by adding a layer onto the original will let you win the arena.

    I just know I always love it when it’s Albert’s turn.

  3. A retelling and retooling of the Theseus vs Minotaur myth should almost be the lazy option for a prompt about mazes. So Al puts the work in to make it stand away from being just another update.

    The prose flows. I like the two points of view, which helps elevate the story.

    I don’t have much to say, really. It works, it’s good, it feels right. I enjoyed it.

  4. I hate to be that guy, but I found this really dry. No need to try so hard to be literary.

  5. Really beautiful story. True to the Greek Myth and very elegantly written. Poignant. Nearly wept at the end. The emotional honesty of this story won me over, also – obvious talent.

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