The birds were loud that morning. Ariadne opened one eye a slit, viewing the lush vegetation of Naxos. Did the blasted birds have to celebrate the day so early? Apparently so.
She rolled over with a sigh and pushed the woven blanket off. It was a warm, sunny day with a brisk breeze--a good day to hang the blanket to air and wash the meager clothing she had created for herself in the last year.
Naxos was a beautiful place, a fitting exile for a princess, she supposed. Ariadne laughed at the pampered life she'd once had. A daughter of Minos! A princess of Crete! "Ha," she barked at the clear, blue sky, startling a family of birds into hasty flight.
"A princess!" Of course, that had always been her problem. Ariadne was simply a princess, not the princess. She had never been the princess.
When Theseus had come to her father's kingdom, Ariadne had not known he was the prince of Athens. She saw a wealthy man, a beautiful and fearless man, a man unlike any she was like to have on Crete.
With her sister Phaedra around, no man was interested in Ariadne. If only the pampered toy had married, perhaps one of her lovesick throng might have glanced Ariadne's way. Phaedra, however, would not deign to simply choose a husband. She was like to taunt the men endlessly, raising the stakes of her affections until some fool set the stars at her feet in homage. By then, Ariadne would be an old woman.
When beautiful Theseus boldly offered himself as a sacrifice to the Minotaur's labyrinth, Ariadne saw her chance. She sent for Daedelus and bribed him for a way to allow Theseus to escape the deadly maze. That her actions were treason affected her not. Anything was worth escaping Crete and having a life away from Phaedra.
Hiding herself in the rough cloak of a commoner, Ariadne approached the prisoners with food. The guards looked through her, as they usually did with commoners who came to care for the offerings to the Minotaur. She found her golden man in private rooms and offered him a simple trade, the secret of the labyrinth for his promise to take her back to Athens as his wife.
"Who are you that you have such knowledge?" he asked her in hushed tones.
"I am the younger daughter of Minos. Do you accept my bargain?"
His eyes glittered in the near-darkness of the room. "You have my vow. Hide yourself away on my ship and do not show your face until we are away. We set sail immediately after I best the trap. What is the secret?"
Ariadne explained the string Theseus must tie at the entrance and play out behind him as he moved. His fingers brushed hers as she gave him the ball of string to hide within his clothing.
Theseus touched her face and drew Ariadne to his body to kiss her. With words of thanks and love, he had taken her maidenhead in his darkened room. Theseus was a gentle lover, erasing her pain with wave upon wave of pure bliss. As Ariadne left him, he gave her a momento off his person, his embroidered sash, to prove to his men that she was coming aboard under his protection.
Ariadne went to the docks with a small pack of her belongings and the sash before Theseus even set foot in the labyrinth. She knew her father would not miss her presence with his jewel at his side.
For almost a day, Ariadne paced his quarters, afraid that Daedelus' plan had failed and she would be denied her promised husband, her gentle lover. When the cry went up that Theseus had boarded, Ariadne longed to run to him, but she had to remain hidden as he ordered.
At last, she heard his voice in the corridor. "...the princess of Athens ... all the wealth you could imagine..."
Ariadne threw open the door but stopped short of throwing herself at him. She stood frozen in shock. Phaedra was on his arm.
For a moment, no one spoke, though Phaedra's face was set in a smug smile that announced her perceived victory. Ariadne raised the sash to him wordlessly. It was a plea, a question, perhaps of his honor. Surely, Phaedra could not take this from her, too. Theseus had given his word. He took her maidenhead.
Theseus looked from one sister to the other with a pained expression. Ariadne knew then. He was weighing his vow to her against his longing for her sister.
"I will go," she decided, reaching for her pack.
At least with Phaedra gone, Ariadne might still have a happy marriage with one of the broken-hearted men her sister left behind. Better that than holding an unwilling man to a vow he made to the wrong sister in a dark room.
"It is too late," Theseus breathed. "We have already cast off."
Ariadne nodded. "I will expect to be returned to my home as soon as we safely reach Athens. In the meantime, I will remove my belongings from your quarters if you would direct me to ones of my own."
Theseus looked at her in surprise and bowed his head. Apparently, he'd expected Ariadne to be more like Phaedra. Would that he knew what he was asking for behind that golden visage he desired.
"As you wish. I have suitable quarters for you."
Ariadne sighed. The quarters had been small but comfortable. She should have been suspicious after Phaedra's visit, but Ariadne had been ill from the rough seas and sick from the enormity of her error. And so, the subtle intimidation her sister had used had escaped her notice entirely--until later.
In retrospect, it made perfect sense to Ariadne. Phaedra had not wanted her to return home to Crete. If their father ever learned the truth of her shame, Minos would use the incident as an excuse to speed his armies to Athens. His real reason would have been the death of his Minotaur and the loss of his jewel, but his younger daughter's disgrace would have been a reason that the people of Crete would have appreciated and rallied behind.
Ariadne had not seen it at the time. Such was her folly. When Phaedra had approached her with promises of a marriage to one of Theseus' male relatives for the heartbreak she'd endured, all Ariadne could think of was the laughing stock she would be if she stayed in Phaedra's shadow. Her sister would see to it.
When the ship pulled in to Naxos to change the black sail for the white that would announce Theseus' survival to his father, Ariadne had leapt at the chance to set foot on shore and escape the endless rocking of the decks beneath her feet. The sweet wine Phaedra gave her had soothed Ariadne and lulled her to a deep sleep.
She'd awakened with a head she would have begged a swordsman to separate from her body and her new life on Naxos. Drugged! The wine had been drugged, and the ship had been long gone before she'd woken from it.
Ariadne had found crocks of wine and oil, a sack of grain, two knives, and a bit of meat. Her own belongings had been stowed in the pack she'd taken to the ship with her--including the hateful sash Theseus had given her in return for her innocence.
She still wondered if the supplies were gifts to ease Theseus' conscience or the pity of one of his men for the wrong done her. Surely, Phaedra had not begged for the kindness shown her discarded sister.
Ariadne had wondered at the time--why had they had not left her the foul black sail, for all that Phaedra had cursed what it would have meant for it to sail home to Athens? Ariadne supposed that its value had simply outweighed her own in the end.
Surviving on Naxos was not difficult, once Ariadne taught herself the skills she needed to survive. Her play at learning to weave tapestries when she was a child was a good beginning to learning to weave loose nets of wool thread from the spinning top she carved--though it took more than her share of cut fingers to learn the skill of carving. She had seen servants set snares in her life. In truth, Ariadne had spent more time with servants than her equals. It took her only a few weeks to discover the correct way to construct and arm a trap. It was amazing what a few weeks without meat could accomplish in teaching a person to overcome obstacles.
The fish she caught in her woven nets were plentiful. Fruits grew wild. Rabbits were often caught in her traps, and a herd of wild sheep grazed the slopes of the central mountain and provided easy meat on occasion and a fine source of wool. There was a cool stream of fresh water below a waterfall and pool that seemed designed by the gods themselves. The weather was typically fair and the seas calm.
Despite her lack of companionship--or perhaps because of it, Ariadne's time on Naxos had been the happiest time of her life. No other inhabitants meant no sour looks for her dark features, so different than Phaedra's golden presence. It meant no comparisons between them and no pained looks like the one Theseus had cast at her when he realized she was not his imagined prize.
Ariadne wiped away a bitter tear and laughed aloud as she made her way to the waterfall to bathe. "He traded a vain, useless flower for the strength of the oak that saved him," she murmured, not for the first time. Ariadne often wondered if Theseus knew how foolish she found his choice.