Our eyes first met in the shade of the grailtrees, fading sunlight filtered through a sea of blue and green. A shy exchange of names, Fliss for Terth, a coy acknowledgment that something had fundamentally changed in our lives. Love is not so quick for all people, but for us it was instant and immediate, a realisation that we’d stumbled on and beheld its truth with no need for months of painstaking contemplation. From that day on we felt bound to each other. But there are formal matters and many hoops to be delicately stepped through, leaped through and bounded around.
At first we’d meet on sunny afternoons, later on drizzling evenings, occasionally by moons’ light. We gave each other gifts, tiny chimeras that we’d handcraft for days. With my fingertips I softly blended mouse into bird to give her a present that would flutter about her rooms. She gave me a little beetled lizard. A delight! We worked our hair and features into complementary versions of the same person until even our friends and family struggled to tell us apart. Giggling, we’d run off into the woods and pretend we were each other.
We told each other stories of heroes and romances through the ages. Of famed Glowain and his endless quest for the girl he saw from the bows of his ship as he went off to war. The horror of that realised contact and having it torn away! We lay on blankets tossed out on the forest floor, idly blending plant-life into new forms and replanting them to see if they’d grow. Made jewellery from gemstones and the carapaces of insects. We did all of the things that young people in love do.
At last it was time to be tested. Our courtship was sincere and loving, and those things are necessary, but not sufficient for a lifetime together. We have customs, and rituals. On a bright hazy summer’s day we were guided to the labyrinth by our families. To even seek to enter the labyrinth’s gate is worthy of celebration and the day began with food, continued with games and would persist while we underwent the ritual and returned.
The labyrinth is old, much older than our towns and villages. Some say it has always been here, that our most distant ancestors discovered it and that’s when everything changed for us and we became the people we are now. Fliss went in first, with a laugh and a backwards wave. I waited, eyeing the twisted stones that mark the boundary between this world and the next. The stone wasn’t carved, it had been pushed and pulled into its shape, toffee-soft then allowed to set hard. After a few minutes, during which Fliss had disappeared into the gloom, replaced by silence, I was allowed to enter.
In just a few steps, the outside world fell away and the darkness became absolute. I’d been told to expect this but it was still alarming. I should be able to see the bright day outside, but it was like it had never been day here. I shrugged and gingerly moved forward. As if sensing my decision, light swelled up from the ground – a hundred thousand dusty points of light lit my way. The luminance only reached my waist, leaving everything else in utter black. Unless I started turning around, there was no reason to fear being lost – there was only one path, the path of love and all I had to do was follow the same route that Fliss had taken. Follow her, as I fully intended to with my heart and my life.
I hastened, keen to be with her once more. Even these minutes apart had been too many. It was a bit silly, as these feelings can be in the extremities of darkness and excitement, yet still suffused my being. It felt like we walked for hours, and no matter how I sped up I didn’t catch any sight or sound of Fliss until I reached the heart of the labyrinth. The narrow hallway I’d followed abruptly ended, emptying into a long oval space. The light grew higher here, showing the shadowy undersides of the twisted rock that wrapped and wove in intricate knots all around the space. Across the sandy floor, in the centre of the labyrinth’s heart was a long table. Fliss rested, leaning on it with both hands splayed for balance, one foot extended off the floor in a stretch. I felt a greeting rise in my chest, but this didn’t feel like a place for speech. Fliss saw me and smiled broadly. I went to her, laid my hands in hers and we embraced. We held each other for an age, sat on the table, eventually lay together, and exhausted, rested.
While we slept our souls entwined, knotting our hearts and minds together, completing the work we’d been doing ourselves with gifts and intimacy. In the darkness our sense of each other extended, a proprioceptive web that encompassed our united shape. At length, we woke, and followed the path that led out of the oval chamber back to the world.
We entered as two, but left as one.