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unravelling

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Ariadne has a brother who is a secret, who is a monster. She does not know he is a monster yet: for that is the secret, and she does not even know he is her brother, for that comes later. She has heard the howls at night, of course, but it is a very long intuitive leap from mysterious noises to minotaur, so she is to be forgiven for not figuring it out sooner.

What she does know is that her mother cries sometimes, when she thinks Ariadne is asleep.

Ariadne's mother is a queen, because Ariadne's father is a king, which makes Ariadne a princess.

Ariadne knows she is not a very good princess - she climbs too many trees and tears too many dresses, has too little patience for tapestries and two left feet for dancing.

She is a very good climber, however. She is up a tree right now - the tallest one on the entire island. From here she can see out beyond the sea, can almost make out the silhouettes of distant lands. She has lived on this island ever since she was born, and has always wondered what it would be to leave – but wondered in an aimless sort of way, as a philosophical question rather than a practical exercise.

She does not know where she would go, knows no place other than this.

"I like being up high," says a voice. "You can see the whole world from up here.”

She looks down, startled. There is a boy in her tree, peering up at her from the branches beneath. She does not know his name yet. She knows his face though - she saw him last week, standing behind his father. His father is an inventor and he came to the court a few weeks ago, although she does not know why. This might be her chance to find out.

“I know you,” she says. “You’re the inventor’s son.”

The boy puffs out his shoulders. “I am,” he says. “My name’s Icarus.”

“I’m Ariadne,” she says. “This is my tree.”

“It’s a marvellous tree,” he says.

“Thank you,” she says – and then, she decides to ask him about something she has been wondering for weeks. “What is that?” she asks, pointing to the outlines of corridors and stones and half-walled structures she has peering “It looks like a maze.” She’s fairly sure it is a maze, although parts are walled off so that she cannot just solve it while looking at it. It is made of wood and shrubs and stones, strange concentric circles and designs, and imposing walls.

She hopes it is a puzzle. She loves puzzles – has always been good at mulling things over, piecing things together.

They both peer down. Ariadne can almost see a shadow moving at the centre of it, although that could just be her imagination.

“It’s a labyrinth my father built for the king. It’s more secure than any locked room, and my father has the key in his head,” Icarus says proudly.

She peers at it with new curiousity. “What’s kept inside this labyrinth?”

“A secret,” says Icarus grandly.

She looks at him accusingly. “You mean, you don’t know.”

Icarus flushes. “I do know! I just can’t tell you.”

“If you knew, you’d tell me.”

“I can’t,” says Icarus, and he sounds sullen.

“Fine,” says Ariadne, shrugging, because the sun is shining and she has better things to do today than unravel the secrets of this mysterious boy. “Do you want to race back to the palace?”

She is higher up the tree than Icarus, but this is her tree, and her feet are nimble, and she is the first one to touch the ground, her blonde hair streaming behind her as she runs. Icarus is close at her heels, but she reaches the palace first, turns to him laughing.

She decides that Icarus will make a fine friend for her, even if he does sulk sometimes. Perhaps tomorrow they can climb some more trees, and she can coax some stories out of him, about other cities he must have been too.

Ariadne asks her mother that night what the secret is, at the heart of the labyrinth, and her mother does not answer – just goes very white, as if Ariadne had hit her, and after that Ariadne is sent to her room while the king and queen confer in hushed voices. Her mother cries again that night, and again the next morning.

Ariadne does not see Icarus after that – he and his father are taken away the next day to a tower. She asks her mother why they had to go.

Her mother tells her to stay away from both of them, not to listen to a word they say – they are traitors and liars and madmen.

A few months later, Ariadne is sitting in the courtyard of the palace, playing with her new kitten.

A door bursts open, and she sees Daedalus heading towards her – and he certainly does look mad, his beard is ragged and his clothes are dirty. He smells of musty rooms and candle wax.

“Hello,” Ariadne says, for she is always polite. He does not answer.

“You always need a spare key,” he mumbles to himself, and Ariadne thinks to herself that perhaps her mother was right, Daedalus must be a madman.

His eyes focus on her. “Can you keep a secret?” he says, urgently.

Ariadne nods, because she can.

He picks up the skein of thread her kitten is playing with, and presses the end into her palm. “This is the secret to the labyrinth,” he says. “When he comes, tell him that.”

“Tell who?” she asks. Her kitten pounces at the other end of the thread, teasing out its length.

But Daedalus is not paying attention, she can tell - his gaze is fixed on something beyond her, and his eyes are alight with something akin to hope. The guards come rushing out then, to take him back to the tower – as they force his hands behind his back, he winks at her. “Remember,” he mouths, and then he looks up into the sky again, with those bright eyes.

She turns around to see what Daedalus was looking at, but all she sees is a bird.