She was supposed to be a boy.
After four boys, her father wanted to name her Asterion after the late king who had raised him as his own son. Her mother had cooed at her stardust hair and wanted to name her Asteria. King Minos had shook his head and named her Ariadne.
"She is the grandchild of gods," He said. "Her name should mean the same."
So she became Ariadne the blessed. Her elder siblings being Androgeus the strong, Acalle the beautiful, Catreus the determined, Deucalion the clever, Glaucus the sweet, and Phaedra the loyal.
Queen Pasiphae gave her husband a smile and stated, "We can name the next one Asterion."
"Or Asteria," King Minos replied with his own smile. These were the days when he smiled easily. "I won't mind either way."
Isolation was Crete's greatest strength.
While the Athenians had their philosophers ponder and their artists paint and the Spartans had their armies bleed and conquer, the Cretans sung and danced. Their songs weren't that of lyres and harps but the rhythmic beating of drums and the clashing of shields. This was their tribute to the birth of Zeus whose cries had to be masked from his Titan father. They no longer played their music to hide but to be free as their men and women, old and young, rich and poor danced together.
They all danced on the golden floor that King Minos had created for his youngest daughter. And Ariadne the blessed was spun in circles by her older brothers, Glaucus gave her sips of honeyed milk, her hair braided by her sisters, as their parents looked on contentedly. These were the days when happiness was as sure as the sun. And all the cities of Greece looked on from the distance.
They were Crete and they needed only themselves.
Glaucus was the first death.
Sweet in nature, sweet in words, and sweet of taste, Glaucus the sweet deserved his name. He was the most beautiful of her brothers with blonde hair almost as fair as hers and light brown eyes like the honey he liked so much. It was Glaucus who fed her cups of warmed honeyed milk to help her sleep at night as Acalle sang her old Phoenician lullabies. And it was Glaucus who was the most patient with her when she would cry and throw a fit.
Their mother loved him best. And they did not begrudge her. Glaucus was the calm, soothing wind to his brothers' temperamental storms. He was the boy that should've been named Asterion.
Maybe Glaucus was loved best by the gods too. So he laid dead at the age of eleven, honey still sticky on his fingers and the youngest prince of Crete was rewarded by the gods. People did not die from bee stings after all. The Queen was hysterical at the loss and it took all three of hers sons to pull her away from the body. The sun shone longer for hours as he watched his daughter grieve.
And King Minos could no longer stand the taste of honey.
The royal family of Crete kept a secret - no god could set foot on the island.
They were not quite sure if it was the work of Zeus or a leftover enchantment from the time of the Titans, perhaps by Rhea, but Cretans merely prayed to the gods. They could not build temples as no god would appear. Even Poseidon, whose domain surrounded them, did not go near. Only Zeus who left his pregnant lover at their shores had ever been seen.
When Acalle had told them she was pregnant by a god, they wanted to believe her. It could've been clever Apollo lulling her with the music of his lyre or Hermes stealing her away with his silver tongue. It was an easier untruth to swallow and digest. It was easier to accept than having to tell Phaedra she saw Catreus sneaking out of Acalle's room one night. It was better for all of them than to admit that the twins had always loved each other more than they were allowed.
"We can name him Asterion," Acalle suggested, standing strong despite her brittle voice. "No one has to know but us."
King Minos frowned and turned away with a brisk, "No."
The reminder of the son he'd never had still burned him as the Queen no longer permitted him to her bed and refused to let him take lovers. Circe had taught her sister a thing or two even if Pasiphae will never be as powerful a sorceress. The horror of his dead mistresses was still talked about among the servants who had let the tale spread among the common folk. The humiliation was not making the King any more gracious.
"You have to leave," He declared. "Get on the next ship and out of my sight."
Catreus shouted in defiance to the point his brothers had to restrain him. "You cannot do this!"
"I can do what I want!" The King retorted. "I am still the king and while I live, you must obey my order!"
"You are no king of mine!" He finally was able to break free and Androgues and Deucalion looked stricken. "Neither, are you my father."
The King only met his impassioned words with a cold stare and replied, "Then you may leave as well."
They left in the middle of the night, the sea breeze cold and fluttering their skirts. Phaedra held Ariadne's hand and cried quietly as the twins bid them goodbye for the last time. Acalle looked so much like their mother in that moment, before the loss of Glaucus, Acalle the beautiful as they would always remember her. And Catreus the determined was by her side, braver and taller than they'd ever seen him.
She remembered a tale her grandmother once told her back when she was very young about souls who were reborn as twins and she tried to understand. Acalle and Catreus, the beautiful pair with their dark hair and blue eyes, hugged and kissed them all farewell. Their ship sailed away into the dark unknown.
"When I am king," Androgeus declared, "The tale they will tell is Acalle was loved by Apollo or Hermes, whichever god they please."
Deucalion asked, "And Catreus?"
"He became king of a small city," Androgeus smiled, continuing. "Those will be the stories they will tell."
Phaedra let out a sweet sigh.
"What lovely stories."
For years, the Games at Olympia had tempted Androgeus ever since he'd heard of them and year after year he'd pleaded to his father to let him compete only to be refused.
"It is in honor of Zeus," Androgeus reasoned. "How can I not pay tribute to my grandfather?"
King Minos looked ready to refuse him again but Deucalion was able to talk him into letting his brother go. Maybe the King had been in a good mood or Deucalion's clever words helped change his mind but the story will be that Androgeus was going to compete in the Games and win. He sailed off towards the sea with a smile and the sun in his golden curly hair and that will be her last memory of him. The next time she will see him is covered in cloth as his body burned on the funeral pyre.
They rarely saw the Queen anymore as she locked herself mostly in her rooms. They would only see glimpses of a pale figure with messy blonde hair. Grief had taken their mother's beauty with cruel abandon and she seemed to love nothing else but wine. So it had surprised her when her mother went to her room one night and sat on her bed, stroking her white blonde hair with too-thin fingers.
"You're a woman now," The Queen said. "I feared this day would come."
The first of her moon blood had finally arrived and she'd cried to Phaedra who was the only mother she had anymore. She didn't dare knock on her mother's door.
"Long before you were born, your father wanted to be king," The Queen continued, as if lost in a dream. "I loved him so I asked my grandfather for help. He sent us a white bull, the most beautiful bull we'd ever laid eyes on, and King Asterion chose your father to rule instead of his brothers."
Her fingers tightened and grasped into her white blond curls almost to the point of pain.
"But there was a price for this victory," The Queen frowned. "When my youngest child came of age, I was to sacrifice her to the ocean."
Ariadne kept still, staring up at her mother with wide eyes.
"We thought to sacrifice the bull instead. Your father slit the poor thing's throat and his hide was stained crimson." She sighed. "But it's not enough. As I count my children, I know I have offended the gods."
The Queen's fingers passed over her brow. "Or maybe it's punishment from Hera for your grandmother escaping retribution."
Ariande grasped her mother's too thin wrist and with fear blooming in her belly, she asked, "Mother?"
The Queen's eyes were the clearest they'd been in years.
"I will not lose any more children."
The honeyed milk reminded her of Glaucus' sweet smiles but the magic was bitter, sharp and wrong and Ariadne screamed into the night as her bones and flesh remade themselves. Phaedra cried and screamed at their mother. Deucalion ran for Daedalus. And the King stood by the doorway of her bedroom and smiled.
Some said Androgeus' death was an accident and some said it was intentional. All anyone knew was the loss of Androgeus was the final break in the King's sanity and he wanted his due in blood. Fourteen youths, untouched and barely shedding the skin of childhood were to be sent to Crete every nine years to be sacrificed. They called it the Minotaur, the half-beast and half-man creature at the center of the labyrinth. The impressive prison was built over the once-loved golden floor and anyone who entered it never came back.
King Minos had Daedalus design the structure before having him imprisoned in a tower with his son. The Queen was back to locking herself in her rooms, ignoring the pleading from her children. Phaedra had begged to be let into the labyrinth and the King had laughed in her face.
"Foolish girl," He said. "Do you want to be its next meal?"
Phaedra had never hated anyone more.
"It is my sister."
"Yes, our little blessing from the gods," He smiled and it was anything but kind. "To feast on the blood of our enemies."
She was no longer Ariadne the blessed.
She did not remember much anymore and it was a kindness. Most times she awakened in pools of drying blood, surrounded by bones and rotting flesh. Her skin felt caked and sticky with blood and grime and her hair, the once beautiful white blonde, looked almost black. She liked to sleep and pretend it was all a dream, the fading swirling patterns of the golden floor as her bed.
Sometimes, her siblings would join her. Androgeus with his torn chest would tell her stories about heroes and monsters. Catreus with his slit throat would smile as Acalle with her hollowed up stomach would sing lullabies. Glaceus with his sticky fingers drenched in honey would pet her hair.
When she would hear screams, she would sleep and pretend she couldn't hear. Even when they pleaded and cried, she could not hear. She wrapped her ears in cotton wool until it was over but it was never over. Perhaps, she was Ariadne the cursed.
She had a new guest. There was Icarus with his boyish smiles and deep laugh that used to sneak into his father's workshop with her when they were little. When they got older, Icarus would stare at Phaedra longingly and her sister would pretend not to notice. He sat beside her now with feathers on his skin.
He told her, "I am dead now."
"Take me with you?" She almost pleaded. "I want to be dead too."
He shook his head.
He never visited her again.
She awakened screaming, unable to move as she's tied down. A boy she doesn't know is carving into her flesh with a sword. Her voice was the deep screeching of a dying animal as he carved deeper into her as if he wanted to split her in half. The twine should've been to flimsy to keep her still but it held like metal chains.
It felt like days as he continued to cut into her before he pulled her out by the shoulders, a slip of a girl being ripped from the skin of a beast, an unnatural birth. She is covered in blood and he looked exhausted, Deucalion's sword by his feet. He smiled at her gingerly, looking younger than he should be for a hero and picked up the sword again. He moved to her old flesh and cut of its head, a gory trophy.
He said to her, almost as an afterthought, "I hope you don't mind."
They follow the trail of twine back to the entrance of the labyrinth. Phaedra hugged her in a tight embrace, crying and stroking her bloody hair. Deucalion stared at the Minotaur's head in Theseus' hands and nodded.
"It is done."
Theseus asked, "When you are king, will you be like your father?"
"When I am king, I will be anything but like him," He said, taking his sword back. "When I am king, the story they will tell is that you defeated the Minotaur and Ariadne helped you."
They got on the Athenian ship before dawn as they needed to be as far away from the island before the King noticed. Deucalion hugged his sisters their final farewell. The last of Minos' children would never see each other again and they had a difficult time letting go. Theseus stood by the dock and waited almost impatiently.
"When you are king, you will be known as Deucalion the clever," Phaedra declared with her sad smile. "A king Crete can be proud of."
"And when you are queen, we shall dine in each other's halls and remember the names of our siblings." He returned. "We will remember the times when we were happy,"
Phaedra shook her head in exasperation.
"I will never be queen."
"You should tell Theseus that, dear sister."
Ariadne could only smile and remember this moment with a full heart for the rest of her days.
Theseus' adoration for Phaedra was as sure as the sun. The girl who had enchanted the ball of twine to be unbreakable had captured his heart without trying. Ariadne could not blame him as Phaedra the loyal deserved his deference. She thought her sister deserved a hero even if Phaedra didn't think so.
"I am the daughter of Minos," Phaedra argued. "Your people will never accept me."
"You will be marrying me, not my people," Theseus sometimes spoke in a way that reminded her of Catreus and his impulsive tongue. "They will make do. I have made my choice."
Despite herself, Phaedra accepted his love and Ariadne feared for her. Remembering their debt to their great-grandfather, to Hera, to whatever god wanted them all dead. Maybe it was Thanatos himself that merely liked to collect all of Minos' children. And Ariadne knew that a part of her will always be the creature in the labyrinth, even with its head now rotting on her father's throne as a gruesome gift.
She thought it was a kindness to make sure her sister would be happy so as they slept, lulled by the gentle waves of the sea, she stepped off the edge of the ship and offered herself as payment.
Maybe great-grandfather considered the debt fulfilled with all his dead descendants or the blood she'd spilled as the Minotaur was enough or maybe he just pitied her but she washed up ashore on an island with the sun watching over her.
The greeting made her look up into a handsome face, prettier than any man she'd ever seen. Eyes like violets and hair as dark as the night sky, he crouched over her and tugged on one of her white blond curls. She stared at him and said nothing. She was still more creature than girl and had forgotten how to talk.
He asked, "What is your name?"
She struggled to form the syllables of her name but failed. Unperturbed, he continued to play with her hair.
"It is alright," He continued to smile at her. "We have time."
The god of wine was beautiful in the ways only the divine were. Her time as the creature had thought her how to recognize other monsters though despite the prettiest masks. He drank wine that reminded her of the blood of the children she'd killed. She'd drunk blood like wine for years.
He'd laughed when she'd told him.
"We are matched then," His eyes were bright with delight. "Monster and creature."
He kissed her then and she let him. He tasted like wine and blood. If Phaedra the loyal deserved a hero then Ariadne the cursed deserved a monster. And gods were the worst of monsters.
Despite his words, Dionysus also liked the girl in her, the one that had danced on a golden floor with reckless abandon. It was easy to forget how he'd once been part mortal too. She'd told him the story of her birth and the boy that should've been named Asterion and he made her a crown made of stars. She could stare up at the night sky and trace the patterns.
"You are Ariadne the blessed." He declared with all the softness of the mortal boy that once was. "And you will be my wife."
He offered her a cup of wine laced with ambrosia and his words became true. This was the story they will tell. A hero killed a monster. A princess was abandoned on an island and a god fell in love with her and married her.
"No," She told him. "I am only Ariadne now."