Ahead, in the darkness, she saw a beam of daylight streaming down from a skylight cut in the stone ceiling. The smell of the monster was strong; he had been here recently.
The prisoner followed her timidly into the lighted area, carrying a rake and a large, two-handled metal tub.
"Don't worry," Ariadne said quietly. "It wouldn't lead us here if he were still around." The frightened man looked down at the thin cord that she casually let slip between her fingers and thumb as she walked through the maze. "Here we are," she said. "Give me the jug."
The man drew closer, but then stood trembling. Ariadne reached into the tub herself and took the water jug.
"Go ahead and clean up while I tend the flowers," she said quietly, walking into the light.
"There, and there," she added, pointing to the scattered bones and shreds of goat skin on the sand.
Somehow, having a specific task seemed to help the petrified man overcome his fear. He began raking while the princess picked dead leaves and withered blossoms from the flowers growing in a large clay pot.
She didn't know whether the monster cared for flowers, but he didn't eat them and he didn't destroy them, and it made her feel better to have flowers there. She poured some of the water into the flower pot, then put the jug down on the sand.
She lifted a freshly killed goat from the tub and placed it next to the jug. Now that the tub was empty, the man began filling it with the mess he had raked up.
Each day, her thread would lead Ariadne to a patch of light in the dark tunnels where she could tend the flowers and leave fresh food and water, while a terrified prisoner cleaned up whatever mess the monster had left behind. The skylights all looked the same, and she didn't know how many of these lighted areas were scattered through the twisted pathways of the great stone maze called the Labyrinth.
It was a large number, however. Some days, the thread would lead them to spoiled food that had gone untouched, for, in this huge, twisting maze, even a hungry monster could not find every place where food and drink had been left for him. Other days, the garbage they found was dried and old.
Today, it was fresh, and the poor man helping her seemed convinced that the monster was just around the corner, ready to spring upon them.
The princess felt sorry for the prisoners. They were not violent or dangerous, or the king would never send them off alone with his daughter. Some were petty thieves, others were smugglers.
All were terrified when they found themselves sentenced to help Princess Ariadne tend the Minotaur. Often, they begged to spend a year in the jail, rather than two days working in the Labyrinth.
It would be easier if she had the same helper every day, she often thought.
It wasn't that she had to teach them the job: Nobody had to be taught how to clean up the sandy floor of the maze. But she spent a great deal of time trying to calm them down and convince them that there was no danger as long as they didn't wander away on their own.
It was simple enough: She would place the spool by the door, step back and say, "Take me inside, please."
The spool would vibrate as the thread uncoiled its way inside so that she could follow it to the space it had picked out that day.
"It never leads me to the Minotaur," she would promise her helpers, but they always hung back, terrified of meeting up with the flesh-eating monster, half-bull and half-man.
Ariadne looked around the area. "I think we're done for today," she said, and the prisoner eagerly picked up the tub to follow her back out. It was his second day in the maze; tomorrow, he would go home with a story to tell.
But nobody ever came away from the Labyrinth with much to tell. That was why King Minos would not let anyone but Ariadne enter the maze more than twice: A clever worker might begin to memorize the twists and turns, or to make little maps and learn the secrets of its design.
Even Ariadne did not know her way past the first few turns. She followed the magic thread each day, and, though she sometimes recognized a few places in the maze, she couldn't have found them on her own. It was simply too complicated and cleverly made. Nobody could ever find a path through the Labyrinth, and those who tried ended up finding, instead, the Minotaur, and death.
Ariadne and her helper came at last to the entrance, and the prisoner nearly ran out into the sunshine.
The princess looked down at the spool on the ground and said, "Thank you."
The spool vibrated and spun, rewinding the thread from deep inside the Labyrinth. When it was finished, Ariadne picked it up and put it in the woven bag that hung from her shoulder.
"And thank you," she said to the prisoner, politely. "If you would just take that around to the trash pile, you can dump it out, turn in your tools and then be released." She smiled at the man. "Good luck. Thank you for your good work."
He stammered out a grateful reply, then started towards the public dump.
And so Princess Ariadne, daughter of King Minos of Crete, had once more completed her daily chore of caring for the horrible flesh-eating monster, the Minotaur, son of King Minos of Crete.
Next Week: The Children of Minos
text c. 2003, Mike Peterson - illustrations c. 2003, Marina Tay