Hades and Persephone Ch. 01bysushi_taco©
She looked skyward and blinked back tears, determined not to have them fall on the infant's head. If Demeter shed tears, who knew what terrible consequences her sorrow would have on the newborn child?
The ten-year war was nearly over. Father Cronus was cast into Tartarus along with the other Titans, monsters and demons of the old order. Her child was safe, here at her temple in Eleusis. All the children of Olympus were safe.
Her heart was broken. She had been his first and his love, their child born to rule in peace or in war. But as her belly grew, Zeus Olympios turned his attentions elsewhere. Hera Akraia had not captured his heart; she'd captured his critical alliance with the priestesses of Samos and the Furies. She had convinced several of the Titans to join with the rebel god Zeus. Her actions had sealed their victory and earned her the position of Queen of Olympus.
And with that, Demeter was forgotten. She was left to tend the Earth while her brother gods divided the firmament, the waters and the other side. The infant was oblivious, happily gnashing at her breast. Demeter pulled her breast away and coaxed the infant to suck droplets of ambrosia from her finger. She smiled, enjoying the grip of her daughter's tiny hands and staring into her wide, pale eyes.
The soft voice of her servant Cyane interrupted her.
"My Lady," the nymph said, "Th-there is someone here to—"
"Hades Aidoneus," Demeter said to the looming figure behind her. Demeter hid her breast behind her red chiton, brushed back her long blonde hair, and brought the swaddled infant to her shoulder.
She looked up at him; his dark eyes peered at her through the slits in his golden helm. The black plumes of the crest were stiff and caked, the helm and plate armor stained with the blood of ancient gods and monsters. The edges of his charcoal and crimson tunic were frayed underneath, and his great black cloak was torn and flecked with blood. Cyane bowed and departed quickly.
"Deme," he said, removing his helm and roughly shaking out his hair, "We're on more familiar terms than that. I was— am— your ally. Please, I am Aidon to you."
"Not any longer. I will not have that familiarity with any of you. Keep your war and your scheming to yourselves. I'll have no part of it."
"But you did. Just as all of us did," Aidoneus said, standing over her. "Deme—"
"Address me by my proper name, my lord."
"Fine. Demeter Anesidora," he said, deliberately chewing on the words, "the war is over. I'm sorry everything did not turn out the way you hoped."
She looked away from him, her green eyes filling with tears again.
He continued, "This war didn't turn out as I had wanted either. When we cast lots to divide the cosmos, I received rulership of the Other Side. I, the eldest. Do you really think I fought for the privilege of having Cronus and his pantheon of monsters haunting my doorstep?"
She shouted at him, "Your pains are nothing! What I have lost—"
"Enough, Demeter. Do you really want to be with him? To marry him? In just the past year he has had more lovers than I have fingers. Leto... Themis..."
"STOP IT!!" She screamed, jerking away from Aidon's hardened eyes. "Stop it." The wind howled abruptly outside, and the baby squalled, balling her tiny fists. Demeter held her closer, gently cradling her head with her arm. "You scared her." She turned back to Aidon, glowering.
He waited silently for her to calm the child. As he listened to her cries, something heavy and unfamiliar settled in his chest. The baby was pale, her hair darker than her mother and father. Aidoneus shook his head then straightened, "About Persephone—"
"Her name shall be Kore."
"Zeus decided to name her Persephone. And given her name, her future power, and the part she will play—"
Demeter looked away from him. "She is not to marry. And certainly not to someone as hard-hearted as you."
He recoiled, then drew himself up and narrowed his eyes at her. "When she comes of age—"
"She will remain with me," she said, but her voice wavered as she spoke. Demeter's eyes grew wide and pleading. "Aidon, please; she's all I have left." She looked down at her baby girl, who was now murmuring softly as she drifted to sleep.
"We had a bargain," he said, growing impatient. "I rallied the Netherworld against the Titans and their servants. The war would have been lost without me. She is part of the oath that both of you swore to me."
"There is no longer a 'both of us'," Demeter cried. "He has taken that... that... bloodless, brainless, conniving—"
"Careful...," he said quietly, his teeth on edge. Love and loss of love were not his province. He didn't understand matters of the heart any more than he could understand childbirth or the movements of the sea. "His choice of queen has nothing to do with our pact."
"Marriage is Hera's province, and I'll have no part of it. Not for me, and not for Kore! I swear on the Styx that no Olympian god shall have her. No one shall destroy her as he destroyed me!"
Now that the lots were drawn, Aidoneus was no longer an Olympian. Demeter in her grief and anger had forgotten that. He moved to correct her but decided against it, pursing his lips together. "For my part in the Titanomachy, when Persephone comes of age, she is to be my queen and consort and rule the underworld by my side. You cannot change that."
She glared up at him, tears staining her cheeks, saying nothing. Hades shook his head and turned his back to her, walking to the door. "Do not think to see me again until that time", he called out behind him. "None of you will see me. If you are going to swear off the Olympians for her sake, then so will I."
"Kore!" Demeter called again, "Kore?"
"Over here, Mother!" Kore stood up in the sheaves of barley to wave Demeter over, then crouched down and poked her finger into the soil. Dark green leaves shot out in every direction, and she circled her wrist upward, raising a stalk out of the earth. Drawing her fingers together, she stood slowly. The stalk crept toward her lifting hand. She splayed her fingertips wide and a purple blossom sprang from the thorny stalk.
"Oh, Kore, if you plant a thistle in the barley field, someone might accidentally prick their finger," she said, watching her daughter.
"Wait..." Kore said, smiling, "Just watch."
From the barley, a fiery copper butterfly flew to the plant. Its tiny legs clung to the blossom. Demeter smiled. The warm breeze shook the barley and thistle on the fields of Eleusis.
"You see? I saw her wandering lost in the barley and decided to make her a home. You don't mind, do you?"
"My clever, sweet girl, of course I don't." Demeter gave Kore a hug. The butterfly folded its wings, fed and content.
Kore clasped her hands behind her back. "So... the meeting of the Olympians is today..."
"Yes, it is. I planned on leaving shortly. Minthe will keep you company."
"I wasn't asking who could keep me company, Mother. I was wondering if I could go with you this time." Kore raised her eyebrows and grinned.
Demeter's face fell. "I cannot watch over you there. You've seen what a rage your father can get into, and some of your cousins are not to be trusted."
They watched the clouds gathering around Mount Olympus, Zeus's thunder cracking the northern sky to call the twelve Olympians to court.
"I'm the first born of the cousins and have only been to the Mount once, Mother," Kore pleaded. "And that was aeons ago; when I was too young to really remember it."
Demeter's lips thinned. "Sweet child, I promise you can come with me someday... But not today."
"That is my final word," she said imperiously.
Kore folded her arms and turned away. "Fine. Someday."
Demeter squeezed her daughter's shoulders. "All right, Kore. Next time the gods assemble, I will take you with me."
Eyes lighting up again, she turned to her mother with a shocked smile.
"If," Demeter continued, "and only if you promise not to speak with Hermes or Apollo."
"Really?" she smiled, knowing that she could find a way around Demeter's restrictions.
"Yes, child." She turned to leave as another rumble of thunder rolled through the plain. "I must go. Minthe will keep you company by the river."
"I'll see you around sunset," Kore called out after her as Demeter disappeared into the sheaves of barley. She turned back to the thistle, watching the butterfly rest on the thorny stalk before it flew off toward the pasture. Kore danced after it down the pathway.
* * *
"I still don't understand why she doesn't join us," Hephaestus said, pouring another glass of ambrosia for Demeter, "She works far too hard."
Demeter smiled thinly at her nephew, "She's... shy. Kore prefers the fields and the flowers. She's remarkably talented. You should have seen what she created today."
Hephaestus went on, ignoring his aunt's nickname for his cousin. "I'm not arguing that her flowers aren't lovely. What I'm saying is that she is doing the job of a nymph, beautifully to be sure, but not what she was born to do. She might not be at ease in court, but I'm here, and... well, look at me!"
Demeter shared a strained laugh with the crippled Blacksmith. Twenty aeons had healed old wounds. She had watched Zeus fall for woman after woman, human and immortal alike, and seen Hera's face age with each passing dalliance. The Queen's obsession had become revenge and petty jealousy. That could have been her. As much as she had hated to admit it, Aidoneus had been right; at least about that part.
Demeter had worked all her life to keep Kore away from the advances of the other immortals. The sons of Zeus were no better than him, wantonly taking every nymph and mortal they came across. Kore would never have to suffer any heartache brought about by them.
Zeus was sprawled on the carved marble throne, leaning on his elbow toward Apollo. His laughing baritone carried over the chatter that filled the hall. "...as a bull, I tell you!" He grinned and gestured lewdly. Apollo threw his head back and guffawed.
In a blur of motion, the Messenger flew through the white portico columns that stretched across the hillside of Olympus. Hermes alighted and strode forward, gripping his caduceus with white knuckles. He leaned down and whispered in Zeus's ear.
"Impossible," the Ruler of the Sky's voice boomed across the room, "He's coming here?"
Demeter felt a vise grip her heart. It couldn't be. No one had seen him outside his realm since the end of the war...
The stark white chitons and himations of the golden-skinned Olympians fluttered against their bodies as a cold wind blew through the throne room. A river of black smoke flowed into the hall, startling all but one. Demeter stood her ground, fists balled in anger.
He walked out of the smoke clad in the dark grey robes of the Fields of Asphodel, his long, curling black hair pulled back with a simple golden band. Aidoneus surveyed the room. This court is more revelry than rule, he thought, a social club in the sky for the deathless ones. His influence had been gone for too long— perhaps irretrievably. Hestia took a step back, her eyes wide as she drew her veil over her face. Artemis whispered in Athena's ear. Aphrodite sneered and took a step back toward Ares, who puffed up his chest. Apollo raised a golden eyebrow.
Demeter stood imperiously in the middle of the hall before bowing to the Lord of the Underworld with the others. Aidoneus could feel the hate rising off of her, and felt himself transported back to the last night any of the Olympians had seen him outside his realm.
He approached the throne and bent down on one knee. The room grew silent, every eye transfixed.
"Lord Zeus, Queen Hera, I have journeyed far from my realm to claim what was promised to me during the Titanomach—"
"NO!" Demeter cried out. The room collectively gasped, then filled with chatter. Aidoneus remained where he was, not even glancing back at her.
Hermes slammed the end of his caduceus three times on the stone floor as Zeus bellowed, "Silence!"
After the roll of thunder subsided, Demeter grew calm, well aware of whom she was speaking to. "Lord Hades, you cannot have her. She is sworn to no one but her worshippers, the fields, and me. Lord Zeus, how is your daughter supposed to tend the young shoots and flowers if you send her away with... him?"
"Demeter," Zeus sighed. He had loved her once; intended to make her queen until she proved her ineptitude in the Olympian's struggle to win the war. "Persephone was promised to Hades. She is a woman now and has been of age for centuries. It is long past time for her to leave you."
"I will not simply hand over my only daughter to the Lord of the Dead. I will turn the world upside down before I allow her to leave me." She bowed toward Zeus and raised her arm to her side. A field of barley rose around her and she disappeared into the thick of the blades. "I have spoken."
Aidoneus finally rose and looked around the room, insulted and embarrassed. He started to turn when a soft rumble emanated from the throne. "Aidon..."
He looked back up at Zeus and strode toward the dais. "You must make Demeter comply."
Zeus looked out at the gathering of gods. "Leave us, now. All of you!"
They watched until each of the ten remaining Olympians disappeared, returning to their provinces.
Aidoneus turned again to Zeus. "Persephone is due to me. You and Demeter swore her to me on the banks of the River Styx."
"Demeter will never agree; she's too stubborn."
Aidoneus clenched his teeth, "Well then, what do you suggest?"
"That's it?" he said, raising an eyebrow.
"My consent is all you need to marry her. You want her? Then it's done. She is yours. Find Persephone and take her."
"I can't just... have her. What do you expect me to do? Turn into a swan? Rain down around her in a shower of light?" he said mockingly. "Those are not my ways."
"Aidon, I know," Zeus said, shaking his head. "You are too reserved and somber for that. So much so that you make it impossible for yourself to seduce her outright."
"Well, that's very reassuring," he said, stung.
"I'm not giving you an impossible task, Aidon. Your kingdom commands more than just the dead; you can find ways to her that are closed even to me." Zeus shifted on the throne and rested his chin on his hand, knotting his brow. Then he smiled. "I may have something to help you along... Eros!"
Aidoneus looked up at the pillar behind the dais to see the winged youth take aim. He caught the golden arrow just in time and winced, his hand clamped around its head, inches from his heart. He opened his palm and saw the parallel wounds from the razor sharp edges close themselves. "Was that really necessary?!"
Zeus laughed, "We shall see."
* * *
The moist soil under her feet gave way to blades of grass and a host of flowers with each step. Kore moved her hand over the barren earth at the banks of a winding stream and watched as bright green shoots appeared in her wake. A twirl of her fingers grew the gentle buds upward as she raised the flowers from the ground.
The river naiad Minthe watched attentively. Her nymph attendants had been in awe of Kore's divine abilities since she began to show mastery of her arts around the time of her flowering.
"More larkspur, my lady?" said Minthe, "I doubt your mother would want even more in this field. Why not something else?"
"I'm feeling... uninspired right now," she said, annoyed by Minthe's constant attention and her high-pitched voice. She made a strand of larkspur and wove them about her wrist, then a strand around each of her ankles, contrasting the white blooms against her short sage green chiton. Kore looked down at her bare pale legs, the fabric ending at her knees. She wanted to wear the longer belted dresses of a woman, and to wear her russet brown hair braided up in a beautiful chignon.
Minthe saw Kore drop her gaze and sigh. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing..." she lied, looking to the storm raging around Olympus. While she had begged her mother to let her come today, she was now glad that Demeter refused. The dark clouds and lightning did not lie. There must have been a terrible disagreement today. She squinted to see what looked like a wisp of smoke trailing away from the mountain.
The sweet sound of pipes in the distance caught her ear, and she turned her head to the west. A plucked string from a lute answered the pipes and grew louder, closer. She heard laughter. Kore stood up and started walking toward the music.
"Lady Kore, we mustn't. It's the mortals. Your lady mother forbids us to go near them."
Kore giggled. "The way you talk, they sound like monsters! Honestly, Minthe, we have nothing to fear from them."
"I cannot stray from the river, my lady, please..." Minthe implored her. Her immortal spirit was rooted to the riverside, vulnerable anywhere else but here.
"Then stay. I'm going to see what they are doing," she said quickening her pace.
"But your mother—"
"I won't tell her if you won't," Kore called out behind her. Minthe nervously wrung her hands before disappearing into the grasses in a flash of green.
Kore ran toward a grove of venerable oaks and peered around the thick trunk of a tree. The villagers from Eleusis were casting white flowers into the wind around a tent they had erected in the clearing. From under a white cloth emerged a man and woman smiling at each other, followed by one of her mother's white-cloaked priestesses. They paraded around the tent with other guests who circled them at a small table. She saw two small corn cakes alongside barley effigies of Kore and her mother that were draped with vibrant flowers.
She smiled in realization. It was a wedding party!
The woman wore a long orange dress and a crown of laurel and olive. The man, bare shouldered and tanned, fed a cake to the woman. The bride picked up her cake and gave him a bite. Kore watched them kiss as the crowd cheered again.
Kore clapped her hands together along with the host of friends and family. From her hidden vantage at the edge of the clearing, she felt a tinge of loneliness.
She watched as the couple entered the tent at the behest of the Eleusinian priestess, kissing each other, their friends cheering them on lasciviously. A short, red-cheeked man poured barley beer, and the guests passed ceramic cups to the renewed melodies of lute, pipes and tambourine. Kore focused her hearing on the hidden lovers in the tent and crept into the clearing to get closer to the wedding party, casting a glamour of invisibility over herself as she approached.
Through the swirling music and dance she heard a cry from the woman. Was she hurt? She found herself in the middle of the revelers as they danced about her and drank barley beer, close enough to see through the fabric of the woven tent. The man lay beside the woman on the cushions, his hand trailing down her neck to her breast. When his fingers reached its peak, he gave her nipple a little pinch. As she cried out once more, Kore looked at her face. She was smiling and curling her body against the man. He took the stiffening tip in his mouth and proceeded to kiss her breast as he reached through her legs and gently moved his fingers through the thatch of hair between her thighs.
She watched the woman buck and gasp, her hands caressing the chest and shoulders of the man. Kore felt something deep within her start to tighten and coil, making her suddenly very aware of the place between her thighs. She watched as the woman turned and grasped at a part of the man, unseen to Kore, the woman's hands moving in long strokes. The man's face contorted in a strained sigh as he moved over the woman, kissing her on the lips and pushing her hand away from his groin.