Written for Once Upon a Fic Exchange 2016.
Footsteps and confident motion, the sense of a presence moving through it; hands that touched its walls in a proprietary manner, but also with affection. These were the first things the Labyrinth was aware of. The Labyrinth knew the one who walked along it; its mind was patterned after his mind, and it remembered the pathways of his thoughts as his body walked the Labyrinth's paths. The Labyrinth remembered how he thought of himself: craftsman, artist, one who builds. And the Labyrinth was his work, the creation of his mind and hands.
I am here, the Labyrinth said silently.
"You are a fine work," the craftsman said, and the Labyrinth could feel his pride and satisfaction in a job well done. "This will be your task: The queen has given birth to an unfortunate offspring, called the Minotaur. He will be brought here soon. You are to keep him here and not allow him to escape. If anyone enters you without authorization, you will lead the intruder to his death. When no one is inside your doors, you will sleep. This is how I have made you."
I will do it, the Labyrinth answered. Already it felt more alert, with the knowledge of its purpose. The Labyrinth watched the craftsman, seeing where he moved through its paths, hearing and feeling his footsteps against the stone as he tested everything the Labyrinth could do. At last he bade the Labyrinth guide him to the entrance. One final affectionate touch, and the doors closed behind him. The Labyrinth slept.
And then, the Labyrinth woke. There was quiet laughter, a child's wavering steps, small fingers trailing against one wall. The Labyrinth peered down at the little girl. Was the Labyrinth to destroy her? That was its command. It shaped its paths before her, gradually guiding her toward a fall into a deep pit.
A man's footsteps, running in haste. "Labyrinth!" The craftsman's voice, sharp with alarm. "Labyrinth, bring me to the child!"
The Labyrinth did.
The craftsman scooped her up, held her tightly. "Labyrinth, this is a princess of Crete, daughter of King Minos. You must never harm her. If she wanders in again, you must send her out again safely."
The Labyrinth looked at the child again, making sure it would know her. The craftsman could feel its acceptance of the order, and his tension eased. "Princess Ariadne," he said more gently. "This is my creation, the Labyrinth. It is dangerous, but not to you." And again a child's small fingers touched the Labyrinth's walls. The craftsman carried her away, though the child twisted back to look curiously at the Labyrinth's passageways. At his bidding, the Labyrinth opened its doors for them.
The craftsman came to the Labyrinth again, with another man by his side and a train of guards in gleaming bronze armor following behind. "This is King Minos of Crete," the craftsman said, though his mouth twisted bitterly. "He is your master, and you are to obey his commands."
The Labyrinth looked down at the king. Gold shone on his head, twined around his arms and his waist; there was more gold dangling from his ears, woven through the threads of his garments. The Labyrinth could feel the craftsman's fear and anger. The craftsman hated this man. Should I kill him? the Labyrinth asked, speaking only for the craftsman's ears.
The Labyrinth could feel the craftsman considering it, the low burning desire for escape and revenge, and then rejecting it. "He has my son," the craftsman said finally, with restrained anger and shame.
The king smiled coldly. "You do well to remember that," he said. He looked upward, raising his voice, though the Labyrinth could hear him quite well where he was. "Labyrinth!"
I am here, King Minos. This time the Labyrinth spoke so that all could hear. There was a slight movement among the guards, and the Labyrinth could feel their unease as they gripped their spears more tightly.
"You are not to harm me, or my family, or those who serve me," the king commanded. "The creature I am about to send you is a prisoner. You are to keep it contained, but not harm it. Soon, I will send you other captives. They are food for this creature. You are to guide them to it, or lead them to their deaths in some other way where it may find them."
I will obey.
The king turned and left, followed by his guards; the craftsman went with them, though he laid his hand once more on the Labyrinth's wall, and he glanced back before the heavy doors closed behind him.
The Minotaur's steps were heavy and halting. Sometimes his horns scraped against the wall. His mind did not feel like the mind of the craftsman, or the king, or his guards, or the child; it was dull and solid, with flashes of anger and pain and distress. Sometimes he had fits of rage when he struck the walls with his horns, over and over. He could not harm the Labyrinth, but the Labyrinth had been told to keep him alive. When he was in danger of breaking his horns, the Labyrinth drew back its walls and made one vast empty space until the Minotaur was calmer.
The craftsman did not come to the Labyrinth again, and the Labyrinth did not know what had become of him. No one spoke to the Labyrinth or called its name as the craftsman once had. When guards entered, it was only long enough to shove the prisoners inside. The Labyrinth could feel their fear. The Labyrinth did as it had been commanded and guided the captives to the Minotaur, and then sometimes they screamed. The Minotaur itself could not speak, but only bellow. The Labyrinth carried out its task in silence.
The Labyrinth did not count time. But one night there was a new presence within it, not a guard or a prisoner. This one was not afraid, and the Labyrinth could feel her bright curiosity, the hands of a half-grown girl pressing against its walls. She was not supposed to be there, and so the Labyrinth guided her deeper into the maze, confusing the paths behind her, and it made the passage she walked through grow narrower and narrower until it was impossible to go back.
The girl turned abruptly. "Who is there?" she demanded. She seemed more indignant than afraid. "My mother is an immortal daughter of Helios, the Sun. You cannot hide from me." The Labyrinth knew her, it realized suddenly. It had been given a command about her, long ago. Though the craftsman was gone, the Labyrinth remembered all of his words.
It is I, the Labyrinth said.
She gave a laugh of delighted surprise. "You can speak! I thought I dreamed it, when I was a child. I am Ariadne."
I remember. You are a daughter of King Minos.
"I am. And the monster in the maze is my brother, though I have never seen him. What will you do with me now? Will I be lost here, forever and ever?" She seemed more intrigued than afraid.
The Labyrinth let its walls slide apart and smoothed the stone floor beneath her feet, making a high arched passage for her to walk through in comfort. You may walk here if you wish, daughter of Minos. I will not harm you. I will show you the way out when you wish it.
"Will you? Then I will come and walk here sometimes. I can slip away, and my father won't know." She hummed quietly to herself as she walked the Labyrinth's paths, and she patted the door on her way out. The Labyrinth felt the silence more when she had gone.
True to her promise, Princess Ariadne returned, whenever she had the whim to walk through the ever-changing maze. "Labyrinth, Labyrinth!" The Labyrinth knew her voice, her light footsteps that moved through its passageways.
I am here, the Labyrinth said silently.
"How fares my monster-brother?"
He is well. He is contained. He is hungry.
"My father says they will feed him soon."
Yes, the Labyrinth agreed. As always, the Labyrinth watched over Ariadne as she wandered, and took care to keep her away from anything dangerous.
The Labyrinth did not count days or nights, months or years. It knew when someone entered or when someone left. Sometimes young men and maidens were sent into the Labyrinth, and the Labyrinth did as it was bidden, guiding them to their fate. Sometimes, they tried to find their way out. Sometimes they wept, or pleaded. The Labyrinth heard their prayers, but it never granted them, except when they prayed for death.
I am here, daughter of Minos. The Labyrinth still knew her at once, though she had grown taller and her voice was no longer a child's.
"How fares my monster-brother today?"
He is well. He is contained. He has eaten.
She did not ask after the captives.
The Labyrinth did not count time, but once again there were prisoners, seven young men and seven maidens. But now the Labyrinth could feel something odd running through it, a sensation where none should be. A thread, though the physical form itself was nothing without the sun-bright power twisted into it. The Labyrinth should not allow it. It could sever the thread easily, leave the one who bore it wandering hopelessly or guide him into the jaws of the Minotaur.
"Labyrinth, Labyrinth," Ariadne's voice called.
What is it, Ariadne?
"Allow it, Labyrinth, please. Just this once. He is my love. Let him go and return safely."
It was the Labyrinth's duty to guide the young man to his death; so the stern king in gold had commanded. But Minos had only ever spoken to the Labyrinth as a master commanding a slave. Ariadne had been kind. She pleaded now, her voice heavy with tears.
He will be safe, the Labyrinth said.
"Thank you," Ariadne whispered, "oh, thank you."
She did not ask after her brother.