Hades and Persephone Ch. 03bysushi_taco©
Waiting dormant for untold aeons, the seeds took hold of the gray earth. They burst upward, writhing through soil made alive and fertile only for them. Carefully, the sprouts broke the surface, stretching. One pale leaf appeared after the other as they took their first breath and came to life. Each gasp for air grew a new branch as fragile as the gray flowers above them. They quickened and strengthened; sprouting new life, green, thriving...
The first sensation that Kore could feel was warmth, as she lay with her eyes shut against the dappled flickering light. It had been a dream. The scent of warm olives hung about her. She had fallen asleep in the sunlight, under an olive tree in Nysa, and all this had been a dream. Mother would be there any minute.
But the ground under her was soft; too soft. It bunched in Kore's hands in waves of warm spun wool smoother than any chiton she had ever worn. Her feet lay under it. It was tucked around her breasts.
She opened her eyes. There was no sunlight. What greeted her instead was the light of small oil lamp flames, hundreds of them, each housed in a separate niche in the wall, stretching upward in a cascade of light and perfuming the room with olive. She shifted. As Kore moved she flinched in pain, feeling the heat of the path Aidoneus had blazed inside her. She muffled a sob.
Kore. Maiden. Maiden no more.
Her hand flew over her mouth. All her life she had been Kore. But in the old tongue, Kore meant 'maiden', and as surely as she felt the soreness overtake her center with every movement, she knew she was no longer a maiden. No longer Kore. Kore had burned away in the fires outside Erebus. She was Persephone. What was she, now? Furthermore, where was she?
Surrounding her, walls of solid black marble with fine white veins reached upward to a domed ceiling above the bed, their smoothly hewn surface glowing in the flickering lamplight. The room was at least three times taller than Persephone. The ceiling above her was a translucent white onyx filtering soft light into the room from outside.
At the base of the softly lit dome were intricately carved images of beautiful nymphs playing in the fields, carrying a garland of asphodel. Cascading down from the lower edges of the carved garland, six soft panels of white fabric draped down and pooled on the floor around the bed. The diaphanous panels caught and softened the lamplight, mimicking sunlight through leaves. She traced the panels down to the ripples of black sheets surrounding and enveloping her naked body, then looked back up to the thick base of one of the columns, its fluted edges framing one side of a great ebony door.
A woman sat against the column, her eyes shut.
Persephone gasped and shrank back, pulling the sheet up to her neck. The woman was barefoot, a cascade of selenite beads woven through her red hair. Wispy white curls framed her face, and crow's feet stretched from the corners of her closed eyes. She listened to Persephone, feeling confusion sweep over the young goddess.
"So many questions. You are full to overflowing, poor child. I have answers for you," she said, opening her eyes and lifting them to meet Persephone's. "You are in the Palace of Hades. I am Hecate. Aidoneus asked me to watch over you. Those answers come in a good order, I hope?" Hecate smiled gently. "I must leave you soon, though. Aidon wants to know as soon as you are awake, and I have that news to bring him now."
While the questions to those answers had crossed her mind, Persephone had not yet said a word. She wrinkled her brow at this woman.
"Ah yes— your last question has an answer too. No, I have never coupled with him."
"Stop that!" she snapped, realizing that the woman had been reading her thoughts.
Hecate inclined her head in a slight bow. "As you wish, my Queen."
"What is this place?" Persephone said, looking around the room again.
"This room was created for you long ago," Hecate said, standing from her perch. Persephone gazed around the room once more. This was all hers? What did this woman mean by 'long ago'? Hadn't she just met Aidoneus? She sat up again and winced. Hecate gave her a compassionate smile. "You will heal, and quicker than you fear. Stay here, child, and rest yourself well. The journey through the earthen depths is long and... tiring."
"How long was I asleep?"
"A handful of hours. It's the middle of the day," she said, opening the ebony door.
"But the sun was setting a few hours ago. How can it be daylight?"
"This is the Other Side," Hecate said as she left the room, "we pass our days when it is night above."
Persephone swallowed hard. She was in the Underworld. Lord Hades rules the Land of the Dead...
She puzzled how a place deep under the earth could have any kind of night or day. She covered her body again with the sheet and looked through the opening door as Hecate disappeared from the room. The bedroom opened into a large antechamber, with ceiling and walls of solid, smooth amethyst illuminated by the soft light entering through the columns outside.
Persephone turned to the delicately carved ebony chair and raised table next to the bed. She gathered the sheet around her and slowly walked over to the chair, seeing a length of fine black cloth with a gold braided belt folded over it. Beside the garment, a necklace and two brooches were laid out for her. The golden jewelry was set with rubies, fire opals, and garnets, and it glowed even in the gentle light. The gems were arranged in the same shape as the fateful narcissus she had picked in Nysa before the earth cracked open beneath her.
Persephone wrapped the sheet around her and picked up the necklace with shaking hands. She raised it to her throat and watched as jewels cascaded perfectly across her collarbone and the top of her breasts, as though the necklace were designed to fit only her. She looked up and saw her reflection in a long mirror of polished hematite. The sheet slipped from beneath her arms and fell to the floor, and she stood staring at her naked form draped with blood red jewels. She shuddered and unclasped the necklace, nearly dropping it on the table. Persephone picked up the sheet and pulled it around her, feeling more naked than she had ever felt in her life.
When I take you as my queen, Persephone, your crown shall be every jewel in the earth. Every ounce of its wealth will be your adornment...
She sat back down on the bed and shuddered. Was this how the Eleusinian woman had felt after her wedding? And was she even married to Hades, or had he merely enjoyed her in the dark of Erebus outside his bonds? There was no ceremony. Tears fell on the sheet she clutched at her breast. She lifted the black cloth in her hands, buried her face in it and silently wept.
Persephone felt a hand stroke her shoulder, and looked up to see Hecate. She sobbed aloud, leaning her head onto the woman's hip.
"You burn in many ways, many places, dear child, I know. It will be no worse, and then it will pass, and you will heal," Hecate said, stroking her hair.
"—Ill prepared you for what to expect of this day, and fought the Fates too long trying to prevent it."
"Expect? None of this was supposed to happen! I— one minute I was— I was with him, and he tells me he will come for me tonight, then— then I picked a flower and— and—" Words disappeared as tears ran down her face and collected on the soft folds of Hecate's peplos. The woman stroked her hair silently, letting her cry. "My mother was coming back for me! He could have waited at least that long. I didn't even get the chance to tell her or say goodbye! She doesn't know where I am," Persephone said. "I don't even know where I am."
"You are with me." Persephone looked up to see Aidoneus standing in the doorway, his forehead etched with pain from listening to her sobs. A plain black tunic covered his chest, and a heavy dark gray himation was slung across it from his right hip over his left shoulder, where it was fastened with a gold etched asphodel brooch. His hair was bound back with a simple gold band. Three rings with enormous red stones glinted on his left hand as he motioned for Hecate to leave.
She narrowed her eyes at Aidon and looked down at Persephone once more, petting her hair. "I'll return if you need me," Hecate said, and bowed her head as she stepped away, "my Queen."
Aidoneus watched Hecate leave; confused by the way she glared up at him when she passed by. He slowly walked over to Persephone and sat beside her on the bed. Her skin glowed in the lamplight. She wiped her tears away, trying not to look him in the eye. They stared ahead in silence, Aidon searching for the spot on the floor Persephone seemed to be watching so intently.
"I couldn't sleep either," he finally said. Sleep never came easily for Aidoneus under any circumstance. But restlessness and strange dreams had plagued him in his own room until he finally gave up on sleep and waited for Persephone to wake. He ran a hand down her shoulder, cautiously trying not to touch her too much. Seeing her wrapped in the bed sheet, her back and bare shoulders exposed to him, started to inflame him. He had heard her cry out in pain in the dark of Erebus. He needed to get them out of this bedroom.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she whispered.
"Tell you what?" He stood to face her.
"You said your name was Aidon. You are Hades," she said aloud. "Why did you lie to me?"
He swallowed. "I prefer to be called Aidoneus; Aidon for short. Hades means too many things. It was the name my father gave me. It is the name the mortals give my realm," he said, kneeling in front of her and lifting her chin to face him. "It's a name that would have lost you to me."
The sadness and fear in her pale eyes cut through him like a knife. "Don't you think I at least deserved to know?"
"I wanted you to know me: Aidon. The person I am; the man who is your husband. If you had known me only as Hades, Ruler of the Underworld, would you have let me hold you? Would you have kissed me in our dream last night?"
Persephone turned away and blushed, heat rushing into her as she imagined Aidon caressing her, his hands running along her skin, and his tongue parting her teeth, as they tasted each other. The heat flashing through her started to lessen the pain at her core. She cursed her traitorous body. "That's not a good excuse. You lied to me."
"Hades is also the name your mother would have used to turn you against me; to lie to you about me."
"She only told me your name and your title once, and said that the mortals cannot call your true name above ground. She never said anything further about you," Persephone said, narrowing her eyes at him. "Maybe she should have. And do not speak ill of her; ever. You stole me from her."
His mood darkened as she unknowingly mentioned the woman who had shattered all his careful plans. Aidon had prepared everything— he would appear to her in the living world just before sunset, ferry her across the Styx at dawn when his kingdom was at the apex of its beauty, and gently guide both of them when they consummated their marriage that night. Demeter and her madness were the reason he had been forced to abduct Persephone and hastily couple with her in the first place. "She doesn't own you."
Persephone stood up in a flash of anger. "Oh, so you own me, then?"
Aidon came up from his crouch to rise in front of her, standing a head taller than Persephone. Calm dark eyes stared down at her. His hands moved gently to her shoulders, dancing over her hot skin. She shuddered, inadvertently dropping the clutched sheet and revealing herself to him. Aidon inhaled sharply before he averted his eyes, trying to look anywhere in the room that wasn't her inviting body.
He turned back to her and stared directly into her eyes and nowhere else. "You may be my wife, but no one owns you, Persephone."
"Then let me go home."
"This is your home."
"You know what I mean!"
Aidon released her shoulders and turned away from her. Persephone gathered the sheet around her again and sat down on the bed. With his back still turned to offer her privacy, he spoke again. "It isn't that easy. One cannot just cross the River here and go back to the corporeal world."
"You flew me here; you can fly me back."
"If I do, then we may never see each other again!" he pleaded with her. Aidon thought about all the other ways Demeter could separate them forever. He softened his voice. "Your mother would— she already did too much to prevent our union."
"Then why am I even here? Who says we're even married?"
Aidon turned and looked her in the eye. "Your father."
She creased her brow, thinking of Zeus—the distant and powerful god she hadn't seen since she was a young child. "At least take me to my mother so I can tell her what happened."
"Persephone, I cannot—" he stopped and sat next to her again, moving her long hair over one shoulder to stroke her back. He fought to keep calm. "I can't surrender you to Demeter. You're my wife; I need you here."
"I am your prisoner."
He pursed his lips and stood up, walking to the door. "Please get dressed," he said with a backwards glance. "As long as we're both awake, I might as well show you some of your new home. Our home."
Persephone watched him leave and looked back to the folded black fabric on the chair. She slowly wrapped it over her body, then fastened the cloth at her shoulders with the brooches before winding the golden ribbon so it girded her waist and wound under her breasts. She pulled at the fabric, draping it around her slim curves into an elegant chiton. Persephone looked down, sumptuous layers of fine black cloth cascading from her hips to her feet. She decided against wearing the necklace.
Outside in the long hallway, Hecate stood next to the door, her arms folded and an eyebrow raised. Aidon glared back at her. "What?"
"I am not the Oracle at Delphi, Aidon, but next time, perhaps, you will trust that I don't need to be in order to give you a clear foretelling. She was not glad to awaken to me. You were in her heart, and you should have been beside her."
"I had my reasons."
"She is alone here—"
"She has me!" He spat at her.
"Now, or soon? Last night, certainly. But not this morning, when she needed you," Hecate said quietly.
"I couldn't stay with her. If I was tempted again so soon, I— I wouldn't have been able to..." Aidon was afraid of what he might have done to her, what little control he would have had if both of them awoke in the same bed. He had barely been able to control himself in her room just now when the bed sheet fell from her breasts and exposed her to him.
Hecate watched each unfamiliar emotion dance across his face. She gave him a pained smile and shook her head. "How little you know about women."
"I think you've made my lack of experience abundantly clear to me over the last two days," he said through his teeth.
"In that way the two of you are well matched. The river before you flows wide and wild. You can swim out alone, and be swept away by its currents," she said looking up at him, "or you can build a boat together."
* * *
Wherever she stepped, the grass withered and died. Hoary frost covered the fields of Nysa, each shocked blade of grass sparkling with ice under the waning full moon high overhead. Cloaked in indigo, her lustrous copper blonde hair newly streaked with brittle strands of white, Demeter carried a torch in her hand and cried out on the wind. Her voice was thin and hoarse, her words torn and scattered by the howling gales that whipped around her as she walked.
Demeter walked into the valley away from the sacred groves that stood on the hilltops. Rivulets of tears were dried on her face.
"Kore! Where are you?"
She had to be somewhere. Demeter cursed Athena and Artemis, and then cursed herself for trusting Kore with Zeus's virgin daughters. When she had arrived in Nysa at sunset, both had told her they thought Kore was already with Demeter.
They were lying to her. She could feel their lies.
"Kore!!" Storm clouds moved across the surface of the moon and the only light Demeter had now was her torch. She looked frantically around her, hoping against hope that her daughter would come running out of the darkness and into her arms.
She tripped forward, falling over freshly uplifted earth. The clouds parted again and Demeter saw a great scar running through a small stone circle filled with trampled flowers. She could see the gaping outline of the earth where it had been pushed apart from below. Her eyes watered as she surveyed the ruined remains of the secret garden her daughter had planted as a young girl. "No..."
Demeter stumbled to the widest part of the crack in the center of Kore's garden and fell to her knees, her eyes brimming with fresh tears. "No! My Kore!"
She beat her fist on the cold ground, as the mortals did when they wanted answers from the dark god. "Hades! Hades Aidoneus, I know you can hear me!"
There was no answer.
"Hades!" she yelled, beating the ground with each word, "Cold-hearted ravager! Return her to me at once!" She opened her bruised fist, clenching the earth, fingers sinking into the upturned dirt. Tears fell down her face again and she shook, sobbing. "Aidon, please! You could have had anyone. She was all I had left..."
She looked skyward and wept, the wind churning around her as dark clouds rolled across the firmament and blotted out the moon. Lightning arced in a fan across the base of a cloud. "Is there nothing you cannot take from me? I've only ever asked you for one thing! And still—"
"We swore..." his voice answered her on a soft rumble of thunder.
Lightning illuminated the field and the trees, their leaves shriveling and falling to the wasted ground. Demeter pulled herself to her feet. "And you swore yourself to me, long ago! How can you answer for that?"
A loud boom split the air as a bolt crashed to the ground, its force nearly knocking Demeter off her feet once more. Zeus stood in its wake, his brilliant white himation wrapped around him as a cloak and hood against the icy wind.
"I couldn't take you as my queen, Demeter. The earth did not yield any help against the Titans, and you did not seek aid outside your province."
"You know I tried," Demeter cried to Zeus. "Gaia would not help me."
"No, indeed. Instead, she spit out Typhoeus, who nearly destroyed us all. The Titanomachy would have been lost if I had taken so weak a consort for my wife."
"It didn't mean you had to stop loving me!"
"We settled this aeons ago, Demeter!" he turned his gaze away from her and spoke under his breath. "You would not want me for a husband as I am now, anyway."
The truth stung her. "Yet you couldn't leave me one thing. Just one reminder of how much you once loved me!"
"Is that what our daughter is to you? A token of my affection, to be preserved forever in sentimental reflection? The toll on her was too great, Demeter. You sought to keep Persephone an ignorant child forever."
"Childlike innocence was her nature—"
"IT WAS THE ONLY NATURE YOU GAVE HER!!" he yelled, the sky cracking with blinding light.
Demeter fell to her knees in fear, her head bowed. "Mighty Zeus—"
"Do not interrupt me, woman!" he bellowed, the thunder rolling and echoing through the hills. "You taught my eldest child nothing! I did not choose to keep Persephone ignorant to her divine destiny. But because of the love I once bore you, I allowed you more leeway with our child than I allowed the mothers of any of my other children. Including my own wife!"
She was weeping. He had loved her once. Zeus placed a hand on Demeter's shoulder as she knelt, shaking in front of him. He knew her; anger was not the way to appeal to her. Her once golden hair was turned white with grief. The storm calmed.