The thing no one mentions at the end of an epic book, where the hero accomplished great deeds in a land of magic and wonder, is that once they go home everything’s changed and home doesn’t feel like home at all.
Everything seems dull and mundane after braving trolls and slaying dragons. And the hero will keep trying to make sense of their world, of why it’s changed, only to realise they were the one who changed and the entire world was remade in their eyes.
It took Sarah years to come to that conclusion. Years where she went through her days studying literature, trying to recapture the magic of the Labyrinth in ancient tomes and flowery language penned to entice long dead lovers. Years of playing lady #3 or baker’s wife in drama class - she who had once vanquished a king.
And now back in her father’s house, fairy tales and dolls banished to a tight corner of her room, making way for books upon books critically analysing other books, she felt the weight of all those stories, all those lives long ago lived and returned home and – now she knew it for herself – unfulfilled to their last.
Irene was glad for the help now that Toby was 5, and her father was genuinely happy to have her home. And for all the time he’d spent clutched in the Goblin King’s arms Toby was a surprisingly normal child, obsessed with a cartoon called Darkwing Duck and delighted that Sarah didn’t contradict him when it came to his belief that animals could talk and fight for the greater good.
She contemplated pursuing a master’s degree as she took her daily walk to the park, her steps slow and patient as Merlin, now old and frail, struggled to keep up.
It was beneath the dappled light filtered down from the canopy of leaves above her as she laid under a great tree, Merlin dozing at her side, that Sarah would dream.
Sarah would dream of what-ifs.
Sarah would dream of the strength she possessed as a young girl, the strength to best a Labyrinth and fell a king.
Sarah would dream of that furious hot power coursing through her veins, the taste of magic and blood like hot embers on her tongue.
Sarah would dream.
And Sarah would hunger.
The last time Sarah went into the Labyrinth she had made a wish.
But that wouldn’t do now, for wishes had power and a beggar entered the Labyrinth as a supplicant.
She had left as a conqueror, she wouldn’t go back as less.
So she took to her books for she had learned it well: she may not have the power of a Goblin King, but women since time immemorial had had power of their own, as maiden and mother and crone.
She was not quite any of them, no longer a maiden, not yet a mother, while her life blood was slow and ready for the end in her veins like the crone, who she was also not.
But perhaps that was what being a woman truly was: being all and none at the same time.
Through heavy tomes and dusty libraries, with hasty scribbles like spiky thorns she noted down what power was. And thus armed she searched through the earth from which life grew.
She looked into the musty places in which moss gathered.
She looked into the decay from which mushrooms grew.
She looked through the patterns the frost left with its sharp freezing talons.
She looked through the crooked black branches of the trees, reaching to the sky like arthritic fingers.
She looked at the prey and hunter, the new life so easily taken, the hot blood so easily spilled.
She looked into the dark fog of the night, the deepest shadows, and the emptiest silences.
And she found her way back in.