He should have gotten lost. That is the point of a labyrinth, after all. I didn’t chose to live in the center of one so people could just walk straight up to my door. Oh, sure, it’s not quite impossible to find me, and the smart or desperate or those who are simply good at mazes do find me, sometimes. But they have to look, and they get lost. This man walked through the maze as if it was any old road, never taking a wrong turn or running into a dead end. I wondered if he had a map, but as far as I knew there were no maps of my labyrinth, and even if there was one, he’d have to look at it sometimes. It’s not an easy maze. There’s no possible way he could have memorized it.
It took him less than twenty minutes from entering the maze to reach my door. I watched him through a tile on my floor, which functions as a magic mirror but is less expected. I would hardly enchant something so usual as a mirror, and the tile has the added bonus that I can stomp on it when I see something I don’t like.
I didn’t like how easily this man was navigating my maze. I stomped on him several times, and set up a few more barriers just in case he did have a map, but they didn’t stop him any. I briefly considered adding a couple extra walls so he was completely surrounded, but as annoyed as I was, my curiosity stopped me. I wanted to know how he did it.
He paused at my door. I was glad of that. My door was a mirror, and had no handle or knocker on the outside. From inside, the mirror was a window, and I turned away from the tile and watched the man through the door. He knocked, but I didn’t go to open it. I’m not in the business of making things easy for people.
He knocked again, and again, then went around the house to look for another door or perhaps a window. He found nothing. I have windows, of course. They simply can’t be seen from the outside. The man returned to the front and knocked again, harder. I began to think he’d break down the door. He stood scowling at it, until suddenly his face lit up and he reached into a pocket and pulled out a scrap of paper and some charcoal and scribbled something and held it up to the window.
It read, Please let me in.
So I did.
“No, I’m just some peasant who happens to live in the center of a labyrinth.”
“Sorry, I just wasn’t expecting you to be a woman.”
“And I wasn’t expecting you to be an idiot.”
“I didn’t mean it like that. It’s only, the person who told me about you referred to you as he.”
“I can take whatever shape I want, of course, but yes, I’m a woman. I didn’t call you an idiot because I was offended, but really, what kind of fool goes looking for me with excpectations?”
“You’re right. And I probably am an idiot.”
“Not really, considering how well you managed to get here. How exactly did you manage it? And who are you?”
“Sorry. My name is Steaquild, and I am a desperate man. As for the maze, I poured a puddle of paint at the entrance last night. You must not have noticed it in the dark.”
“And you followed my footprints in.” It was clever, so I decided to hear him out. “Why are you here?”
“I’m in love. She loves me as well, but... it’s rather a stupid story. The woman I love happens to be a princess. And her father happens to be an ass. So he set three tasks that must be accomplished before he will allow anyone to marry his daughter. They’re impossible tasks, of course.”
“Of course,” I agreed. “What are they?”
“The first is to untie an impossible knot.” He took out of his pocket an intricate knot nearly the size of his fist. “It has no ends. I don’t just mean they’re inside it, there aren’t any at all.”
“Then how was it tied?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why should I help you?”
He looked at me, and I could see the desperation in his eyes, but he answered, “It might be amusing.”
He was right, but I almost refused anyway. People can’t expect me to solve their problems for them, especially not when they come to me and ask. But the knot was impossible! How could I resist?
“Is there a deadline?”
“Come back at eleven,” I told him.
I spent the rest of the day working at the knot. It was fascinating. It was also futile. At ten thirty, a few of the coils were a little looser, but it was nowhere near being untied. So, I found a ball of string, played around with it a little to make it look, at least superficially, like the knot, and put a little magic on it to fool anyone who looked closely. I hid the real knot in my pocket; I wasn’t done with it yet.
When Steaquild returned, I showed him the ball of string. I didn’t tell him it was a ball of string. “See, you just pull this coil here,” I touched what was actually the loose end of the string, “and the whole thing will unravel. You should wait to untie it in front of the king.”
“How can I trust you? What if I pull the string and nothing happens?”
“You can’t trust me, of course, but surely you knew that when you came to me for help.”
So Steaquild took what he thought was the knot, and left, and the next day he returned. He looked grim. “I untied the knot. Thank you. But the second task really is impossible.”
“To travel backwards through time.”
“He specified backwards?”
“He said travel through time, so I waited a few seconds and said I had. He wasn’t amused, and added that it had to be backwards.”
“Do you know what to do when something’s impossible?”
“Go to you?”
“But… I can’t cheat. It wouldn’t be honorable!”
I forbore from telling him that he already had. “Steaquild, are you the only one competing for the princess’s hand?”
“No…. But I’m the only one she loves!”
As if that mattered, though I sensed it was true. “And do you really think all your rivals will act so honorably?”
“You came to me. If you wanted to win honestly, you should have asked someone else. Of course, anyone you asked would tell you it's impossible. How much do you love this woman?”
“How do I cheat?”
“How are you supposed to prove you’ve traveled backwards through time?”
“He didn’t specify. He knows it’s impossible. I’d have to have serious proof, for him to believe me. For anyone to believe it, really.”
I thought for a few minutes. “Did I mention I can take whatever form I want?”
“You’re thinking of pretending to be some historical figure I brought back from the past.”
“Not a historical figure, you could have just gotten an impersonator.” I led Steaquild outside, and turned into a brontosaurus.
Steaquild gaped at me. “That should do it.”
He led me back to the castle. In my dinosaur form, I was to big to get inside, but of course, everyone rushed out.
“I have traveled back through time,” Steaquild announced. “I was not able to stay long, but I brought this creature as proof. It will most likely not be able to remain in this time for long, but you can see that I have been in the distant past.”
Everyone gawked at me, of course. I let them, until I got bored. Then I disappeared, and was back at home.
Steaquild returned the next day. He was grinning. “It worked, of course. And I don’t even need to cheat on the next task.”
“So you don’t need my help?”
“Only as proof. The task is to talk to a god.”
He had accomplished that, all right, but I almost refused to give proof, just because it would be funny if the task he’d actually accomplished was the only one he couldn’t prove. But I decided it would be even more amusing to go along with it. So I went back to the castle with Steaquild, in my own guise this time, or at least the one I was currently using. I put a little glow around myself, just to be obvious.
The king received us in his great hall. “I am honored to present Kimlkal, the Trickster god.”
The king’s jaw dropped, and a great cry of excitement came up from behind me. I glanced over; it was the princess. I turned her into an okapi, and her father into a donkey, and Steaquild into a platypus, and the rest of the audience into crows, because I like crows. Well, I had to prove I was a god, didn’t I? And it was only temporary, they’d regain their normal shapes in a few hours.
I went home and fiddled with the impossible knot.