Hades and Persephone Ch. 02bysushi_taco©
Kore touched the gentle flowers growing around her and shifted the coloring of her dress to a soft white, mimicking the color of the blossoms. Asphodel... she tried to remember where she had heard the name.
She had only ever seen asphodel growing as a gnarled black weed. It was one of the few plants her mother would rip out of the fields wherever she had seen it. Kore had always done the same. She had never seen it bud and blossom. The white blossoms were veined with crimson, six petals with bright filaments bursting from the center and ending in deep red anthers. They were beautiful and foreign.
The man in her dream returned to her thoughts. She shivered at the idea of kissing him again, of tangling her fingers in the jet black curls of his hair. She picked one of the small flowers from its dark stalk and wove its stem around a lock of hair, her russet waves matching the red veins of the flower. She smiled and walked from plant to plant, picking one from each, and expertly wove them into a crown, placing it atop her head.
And you will be my queen, Persephone.
She wanted to change her gown to something more womanly: lengthen it, cover her knees and legs in sumptuous wool, and drape a soft mantle over her shoulders, but resisted the temptation. Her mother did not approve, and would insist that Kore keep her youthful short chiton.
She wondered what he would like to see her wearing. Kore pictured him kissing her neck as she wore a beautiful burgundy chiton, but her imagination quickly turned to him untying her cincher with a flick of his wrist and pushing the gown off her shoulders to hold her against his body, as he had in the dream. Kore blushed, fairly certain that if she asked him what he wanted to see her in, his answer would be 'nothing at all'. She leaned onto the bark of the great oak tree, remembering his hands stroking her body, both of them naked under its sprawling branches.
"Persephone," she said quietly, remembering him whispering her true name, his lips grazing her neck.
She felt the same coil tighten in her belly she had felt with him last night, the same sensation she felt at the Eleusinian wedding. Kore crossed her arms over her breasts and closed her eyes, wanting him to appear to her again.
I am sparing you the agony of a husband who lords himself over you, then breaks his oaths and your heart.
Her mother had said she wasn't to marry. She was just Kore, the Maiden of the Flowers, not a queen, not his queen. These thoughts were dangerous. She felt ice wash over her. Demeter! Her mother would arrive any minute; they were to spend the morning together preparing the fields of Eleusis for reaping. She heard the familiar rush of barley, and looked around, wondering how she would explain the new color of larkspur that had appeared overnight.
"Coming, Mother!" She blanched for a moment and tried to push the dream from her mind before stepping out of her room. She would meet her outside. Maybe she wouldn't notice the changed flowers. Kore took a deep breath and put on a bright smile.
"Are you ready yet?"
Kore skipped out of the bower. "Good morning!"
Demeter's own smile quickly turned to horror when she saw her daughter. "Where did you get those?"
"Get what?" Kore said, confused.
"The asphodel! Where did you find these poison weeds?!" she said, snatching at one of the flower in Kore's hair.
She ducked out of the way as Demeter tried to pull at another. "Mother! What's the matter with you?! They started growing this morning in my—"
Demeter cupped her hand over her mouth with a gasp, not giving Kore time to finish her sentence before she ran into the shrine.
"Mother, why are you— Mother!" Kore stumbled in to find Demeter on her knees amidst the newly grown flowers, tearing them out root and stalk.
Demeter turned around to look at her daughter. Her eyes were stained with tears, and her voice became a whisper as she looked around wide-eyed and pale. "He was here."
Kore turned as white as the flowers that were withering in her mother's clenched fist and swallowed hard. "Wh-who was here?"
"Do not lie to me! Did he hurt you?"
Kore's eyes started to water. "No, Mother, there was no one here. No one hurt me. It was just a dream. I woke up surrounded by these pretty white flowers."
Demeter grew angry, her eyes flashing, her voice low. "If that monster laid a finger on you..."
Kore blushed at the memory of his fingers, then felt her voice catch in her throat, tears spilling from her eyes. "Mother, please! It was just a dream. I saw someone in it, and then when I woke up— I told you— I was just surrounded by all these flowers."
Demeter stood up and took her by the wrist and marched out of the sacred place. "Dear child, you are no longer safe here," she panicked, her voice wavering. Kore heard the rushing of barley around them. Her mother prepared to transport them away, as she did when she visited the great mountain.
"Where are we going? Olympus?" Kore said, following her.
"You are in even greater danger there. We are going to the fields of Nysa. Pallas Athena and Artemis Alphaea, the virgin warriors, will watch over you."
"But what about the harvest?"
"It can wait. They all can wait," she turned to Kore, brushing her tears away as the stalks of barley wound into the silver filaments of the ether, opening a pathway over land and sea. "I don't know what I would do if I lost you, my child."
Kore clenched her jaw silently and looked down, hiding her anger from Demeter. She wanted to see him again, and hiding in Nysa would make that impossible.
* * *
"Your Excellency, I simply did what you asked of me." Even in the Underworld, the Lord of Dreams stood in shadows, his face hooded, his blind eyes veiled.
"Morpheus, I asked you to send me to Persephone so that I could introduce myself to her as her betrothed. Not to have us meet in the dream world naked and embraced!" Hades Aidoneus felt his frustration rise. White-hot memories of holding Persephone shuddered through him unbidden.
"I manifested what was in your heart of hearts. My world is not the waking world. You just can't walk into it with expectations of—"
"You saw us together!"
"I see all the in the dream world. Do you really think I just sat there and watched both of you through the night? And honestly, Aidoneus, what I did see was relatively tame. For Fates' sake, I have to preside over Thanatos' dreams, and let me tell you—"
Hades narrowed his eyes at him, his silent anger filling the room, palpable enough to be felt by Morpheus.
"Aidon, truthfully—" he said, stepping out of the marble column's shadow, "How you came to her, what you saw, what you did— all of it was of your own making. I am not responsible for the desires of your heart, and I will not be the focus of your anger over it. Those feelings are yours to contend with."
Aidoneus shifted uncomfortably between the wide arms of his ebony throne. He had arrived in the dream unclothed, holding her thin arms, his body pressed against her back. Morpheus had given Aidon the choice of appearing to Persephone in false form, or as himself. But the way he had come to her in the dream, the way he had felt when he was with her, the words he had dared to speak to her, were almost as unfamiliar as she was.
Morpheus felt the Lord of the Underworld's anger relent as Aidon retreat into thought.
"If that is all..."
"Yes; go, my friend. You need to prepare for tonight, and I've kept you long enough."
Morpheus drew out a thin gray arm and wrapped his black cloak around him before disappearing into mist. Aidoneus stood up and descended the stairs of the olivine dais. The room was still, and his footsteps echoed through the empty hall as he made his way to the torch lit terrace outside.
Its view swept out over the river Styx, silently flowing broad and dark across the fields below. He felt the cool air of the Underworld wash over him and sighed, leaning on the balcony edge. Aidoneus dug his fingers into his temples and closed his eyes. Next to the terrace was a waterfall that flowed upward along the cliff, its roaring cascade of water feeding the rivers of the corporeal world above. The sound of the falls and the cooling mist that rose from it usually gave him some measure of peace, but it couldn't soothe him now. The Lord of Dreams was right.
He took the golden arrow out of his robes and held it in his hand, turning it over. This small thing had only scratched his palm, and now her face was everywhere in his mind, awakening potent and dangerous feelings where there had been none before. He thought only about her flower-strewn hair, her pale arms and small breasts. The gentle curve of her hips. Her legs. The warmth between them.
He pulled himself away from the balcony and walked back in, still clutching the arrow. Persephone had been only a name to him— the daughter of Demeter who was to be his queen— but was now made flesh, a woman. He had not expected to arrive in the dream world and find himself holding her so intimately, his body readily responding to the closeness of hers. All rational thought had vanished the moment he looked into her eyes...
He would throw this cursed arrow headlong into the river if it weren't so dangerous— if he didn't already know the powerful consequences it had for him, and the unknown feelings it could bestow on others.
"Lord Hades," a rich female voice said.
He turned to see a woman wrapped in a dark crimson peplos and cloak. Her long red hair, loosely woven through with a silver ribbon, cascaded down her back. Round selenite beads adorned the crown of her head, sweeping down to hold a silver half moon charm over her forehead. Hecate. Her bare feet were tucked up underneath her as she sat on the base of a column in the corner of the great chamber. Aidon's breath hitched. "Have you found her?"
"The field from your dream was Eleusis. Demeter's and Persephone's worshippers reside there."
"I will go to Eleusis tonight, then."
"She's no longer there," Hecate said calmly. "I can see their thoughts... You'd think Demeter would be more careful. If she is traveling through the ether, I can find them."
"Why did they go?"
Hecate closed her eyes to look into the ether. Within its hidden world she saw feelings, hopes, curses, the past, the future, the present, all flowing together in a chaos she alone could interpret. Hecate searched for Demeter and Persephone and tried to pluck the first coherency she could grasp. A smile crossed her face. "Did you plant asphodel in her shrine?"
"No," he said, confused, "I— Wait; is that a euphemism for something?"
Hecate opened her eyes and snickered quietly. "No, my lord. I was being quite literal. I saw asphodel flowers, your own sacred blooms, growing where she sleeps. That made me curious— perhaps you had her, and wanted to make it known? In her dream, are you sure you didn't—"
"Dishonor her? No. I almost..." That part he remembered very clearly. Aidon swallowed, then gritted his teeth together. The memory of nearly losing control before she stopped him welled up through him. He turned away. "What is happening to me? I can't stop thinking about her; it's as if she's possessed me."
"Aidon, this is a new sensation for you; do not fear it, or fear the confusion that it brings," she said calmly. "You have only begun to glimpse how powerful these feelings truly are. Love is why most mortals call upon my priestesses. They work magic with my gifts, spells that can swell the desire of men and gods alike, giving them furious passion powerful enough to make them rend their own flesh."
"Zeus's little winged demon poisoned me!"
"And what a sly little monster he is, isn't he? Drawing forth your greatest desires with his arrows..." She watched as he narrowed his eyes at her, the words ringing true. "I assure you, Aidon, there was no poison on that arrow. The wound Eros made only broke the lock on your heart and set free what was waiting inside."
He put the arrow back into the folds of his robe. What was waiting inside... Aidon didn't know which prospect disturbed him more: that this had opened up in the first place, or that these feelings had been roiling under the surface unseen for aeons. "If Eros opened that door, then you need to close it, Hecate."
"So soon, Aidoneus? You've seen this treasure— tasted it, I dare say— and you'd have me shut it away again? I wonder why would you ask me to do this."
"Because this was supposed to be simple. Ordered," he said sharply, pacing the stone floor. "I've received what was due to me for my part in the war. She's already consecrated to me— I have my queen, and we will rule together. All I had to do was take her and be done with it. Now it's been complicated by these... desires... to—"
"To win her? To make her love you?"
He thinned his lips and turned away from Hecate.
"Your influence here is great, but not all souls bend to your will. Not even your own, hm? Our destinies are mysterious, Aidon; they are woven with threads we do not always expect to see. Even if you don't trust the weavers, you may be certain that they weave with a pattern in mind."
"The Olympians don't have to contend with this! Their adoration lasts only as long as their lust. Where are these 'mysterious weavers' for them?"
"Aidoneus, look..." she said, motioning to the inverted waterfall outside. "The rivers of their world don't flow like ours. Our ways are not their ways. This is Chthonia; the Other Side."
Hecate closed her eyes once more, her mind prodding and exploring the ether, searching for signs of Persephone.
Aidon thought about the flowers growing where they lay together in the dream. He couldn't have grown a weed from the richest soil if the safety of the living world depended on it; Persephone had brought them to life herself. But why out of all the flowers did she choose his? He had taken great pains to conceal his identity to her.
"Oh, I see," Hecate said, her eyelids fluttering as she followed the trail of thoughts emanating from Persephone. Her silent smile turned into a light laugh. "She grew them while she slept, from the seeds you planted in her dream. Your true nature may yet be shrouded to her eyes, but another part of her knows you very well indeed." Hecate's gaze darted to his face.
Then Hades did something he had never done before in all his ageless years. He blushed.
"And every larkspur in existence, which for all the ages have been white, are now crimson, purple and pink? Hades Aidoneus, whatever did you do to her?" she said in a singsong voice, a wide smile on her face.
"Enough!" He looked away from Hecate.
"I daresay you did enough, indeed." Hecate smirked, until she felt confusion wash over him. Her face softened and she spoke gently. "Why feel shame, Aidon?"
"Because I'm not supposed to feel... alive! Look around you. These foolish passions have no place here!"
Hecate silently walked across the floor to him and reached out a hand to his forehead. "What you feel for her is not as far outside our world as you think. Open your mind."
Her eyes closed and she spoke to him in the three voices of her aspects, the Maiden, the Woman, and the Crone. He closed his eyes as her fingertips moved to his temples. Aidoneus felt her reach further from where her fingers met his skin, touching the deepest parts of his mind, restoring order to his thoughts, soothing him. He breathed out as the chaos and confusion that had plagued him since he awoke was given shape and form. Feelings gained sigils and signifiers through her intervention. Need. Purpose. Longing. Desire. Rapture. Lust.
"Love," the voice of the Maiden said.
"I never thought that word."
"You didn't have to," the three voices answered.
Hecate watched the maelstrom of thoughts flash through his mind. The past. The feel of her soft skin, the press of her naked flesh, their mutual need. Hands running through hair, lifting, entangling. The present. Cypress and wind; fire and union in the void.
The future. Red flowers clinging to a tree that rose from the field of gray, branches twining through others' branches. Red, ripe fruit hung on interlocked boughs. Radiating out from the tree came soft grasses and flowers that spread over immeasurable ground. Hecate imparted in three voices what she saw. "Embrace and cherish these visions, Hades Aidoneus. They belong to both of you."
Aidon opened his eyes. Hecate was again seated on the column base as though she hadn't moved at all. In all likelihood, she hadn't.
"You need to feel her again and know that she feels you— don't you, Aidoneus?" Her voice was once again singular.
"Yes," he whispered hoarsely. "Yes, I do."
"I will search for Persephone for you," she said, and closed her eyes. Silence filled the room, and Hades stood still, waiting. A moment later, Hecate spoke of her vision.
"Nysa," Hecate said, reaching into the earth goddess's mind from afar. "She's sheltering Persephone in Nysa."
"The fields of Nysa?" Aidon shook his head in partial relief. "If I can count on Demeter at all, it's to not think anything through when she's angry," he said under his breath.
"It's too early for dreams; don't bother waking Morpheus. You must go to her yourself, but Demeter must not see you, or sense your presence at all. I'll send you in the wind this time."
"How will I find her?"
"You won't have to. She will come to you."
* * *
Demeter and Kore emerged from the blades of barley into a rolling grassy meadow surrounded by groves of trees, each grove sacred to a deity. Nysa was the eternal field of the gods, and Kore's home as a child. She had played with her friends here. Persephone remembered Ares swinging a wooden sword against the grasses under the watchful eye of Hera. Little Apollo once brought her a fistful of small daisies and recited awkward love poetry, to her mother's great consternation. Athena and Artemis ran with her in the field and played games of knucklebones by the creek. When Kore flowered into womanhood, her mother abruptly took her from their company and she hardly ever saw them again.
She heard her cousin Artemis call to her from the edge of the valley. She jogged toward them with her long, sandal-strapped legs. Artemis wore a quiver of arrows on her back, its leather strap holding her short white hunting chiton against her body. The virgin huntress' honey colored hair was short and simple, coiffed into a messy chignon at the base of her neck. She waved a hand to them as she ran.
Kore waved back, then turned to Demeter. "How long do I have to stay here?"
"Until I know for certain that you're safe. I will tend the harvest alone this time." She held Kore close and kissed her on the cheek. "They will look after you, my child. Do not leave the meadow. Do not talk to anyone or anything while I'm gone."
Kore watched her mother vanish into a rush of barley, bound for Eleusis. The virgin goddesses were younger than her, but looked older, having already fully taken on their divine roles. Although she felt a faint twinge of envy, Kore was thankful to see them. Artemis, athletic and sun flecked, bounded over to Kore and gave her hug. "Finally we get to see you again!"
"Arte!" she embraced her back. "I wish it were under better circumstances."
Fair-haired Athena stood up from the grasses next to them, and finished reading a short scroll before rolling it up and stashing it between her breasts. She adjusted the plate armor that held her flowing peplos in place and joined their conversation. "We will make them better," she said. "And don't worry. Arte and I have scoured the entire plain. You're safe here."
Kore smiled thinly to hide her feelings from Arte and Athena. That meant the man from her dreams wasn't here and would most likely never find her. She absently picked the last remains of the asphodel out of her hair. Her mother had cowed her about the flowers throughout the journey to Nysa. "What were you doing before I arrived? Can I join you?"