Only seven years old, she hadn’t yet learned not to jump at her father’s voice. His frowning face had descended on her out of the confusing bustle of the foreign guests in the villa, their bright skimpy clothing and babble of voices. Her father, handsome and stern, eyes glinting in the way that meant trouble as she cringed after dropping and breaking her plate, food soiling her party dress. But then another man had swooped down—brown-baked skin, dark eyes crinkling with laughter as a white grin flashed beneath his long bandit mustache—big hands grasping Ariadne and swinging her up.
“Little Kri-Kri! Oof, not so little now!” Uncle Demetrios chuckled as he lowered her.
“Big enough to start behaving like a lady, Ariadne.” Her father scowled. “You shame us.”
“I’m sorry, Father.” She looked at the floor, turning to go.
“Use your eyes, brother! She’s pretty as a young goddess. A fine strong girl, and time enough later for taming her.” Her uncle’s hand on her shoulder eased Ariadne toward the edge of the room.
Her father shook his head and returned to his guests, letting her go. For now.
Demetrios gently squeezed her shoulder and turned her to face him. “And you thought I wouldn’t come?” He raised his shaggy eyebrows. “I had to bring your gift.”
“Something very special, very old. Now where did I put it?” He patted his many pockets, frowning and shaking his head, finally pulling out a polished agate and examining it slowly through his jeweller’s lens. Ariadne shifted from foot to foot in an agony of apprehension as he shook his head again, sighing. Mournfully he put the stone away. “No, that’s not it. I must have forgotten it.”
Ariadne bit her lip, trying to hide the disappointment.
“Wait.” He snapped his fingers. “Maybe. . . .”
His big rough hand reached out, touched her ear, and reappeared, filled with blue light—glittering, sparkling, water and fire. He kissed her cheek in a brush of smoky smells and whiskers, dropping a crystal into her hand.
She gasped and stared at the clear sea-blue stone, perfect facets etched with a maze of serpentine lines enclosing designs of a flying fish, a bull’s horns like the fabled Minotaur’s, a crescent moon.
“Uncle?” She looked up in disbelief.
“Our secret.” He winked. “Who knows, maybe it belonged to the original Ariadne. See these lines, like the thread she gave that blockhead hero to find his way out of the labyrinth? Study it and work on your stonecutting, maybe a Demodakis will match the ancient ones yet.” He pulled out his amber worry-beads, rattling them in quick flicks as he turned to rejoin the adults.
She stood gazing at the deep blue crystal filling her palm with cold fire.
Somehow she had escaped the party and her father’s stern eyes, had climbed to her refuge where she could be alone in the heat and silence. The grotto below the cave opening was a cauldron of light, the one live branch of a twisted olive pointing a shadow finger at Ariadne. She shared this place only with the wild goats, the kri-kri as her uncle called her, and their herd leader appeared now atop a boulder, staring at her as his horns carved out a blue slice of sky.
Ariadne swung herself up and over a rockfall to hunker in front of the cave entrance. It was only a narrow gap of darkness, partly blocked by fallen stones, flanked by the ancient carved guardians of the winding passages she had once followed until she’d almost lost the thread of light.
She crouched between the marble faces, letting her heartbeat slow. The sunlight like X-rays laid her bare to her bones, laid the mountain bare to its stones. She narrowed her eyes to slits, let her Ariadne-self melt out of her face so it would look as smooth and almost-erased as the ancient carved guardians. She was stone, hewn from the earth, stretching roots into the heart of its cool shadows.
A loose pebble clattered, dropping through the pooled heat. The goat, still watching, shifted his hooves restlessly. He moved across the grotto, then picked his way up until he stood before the girl, yellow eyes like the ancient god’s staring close into hers. She crouched motionless, caught in the spell of something she couldn’t name. A silent hum swelled inside her, mounted into a perfect, unbearable pitch as she opened her palm to let sunlight ignite the blue gem.
Light—but it was somehow music—burst through her, blinding sapphire and silver dazzles. She gazed unblinking into the blue-sparked depths of the carved crystal as the music poured through her, vibrating down her spine and humming into the rock beneath her, following a vein of connection far below.
Light danced in the facets, and the designs of twining serpents came to life. Music shimmered crystal-bright all around her, inside her. No, she was inside the music. Inside the gem. Shifting mirrors of lights and tones, looking out through glittering angles, looking out through the magic. And the music telling her how, where. Something sprang open in a rich outpouring flood and she was tracing the secret geometry of dazzling light-gem-music deep inside the crystal, treading its tilting dazzling paths, fearless, into the hidden ways of the maze.
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