Hades and Persephone Ch. 08bysushi_taco©
Author's Note: A couple years ago when I wrote "The Devil's Inheritance", I was stunned by the positive reaction I received from readers. Likewise, I am overwhelmed and touched by the response I've gotten for this story. Last month, on a chapter that had very little in the way of sex, I received many reviews, all positive, all invested in the plot. During that same period, Hades and Persephone, Chapter 6: Katabasis held the #1 position on the Romance top list for 23 days in a row. To that end, I want to say thank you to you all. I've gotten several private messages of encouragement to keep this story going, and concern that it would not.
To those folks I say this: don't worry. It is my every intention to tell this tale until it's told. As of this writing, I have many chapters still to go. I am blessed that each one of you reading this has come this far, and thrilled that I can share something that has become an obsession for me. I'm not slowing down or quitting. Chapter 9 is being edited and fine tuned, Chapter 10 is drafted, Chapters 11 and 12 are being written. Each chapter will be released at or near the beginning of each month as regularly as I can manage. Some may come early, some will come a little late. Last month's chapter was late, and for that I apologize. So far I'm looking at a 20 chapter or more story arc, and hope that you to come with me for the whole journey. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Without further ado, here is Hades and Persephone, Chapter 8: Anabasis...
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All eyes turned in Hades' direction. The shadow of a beard covered his face and neck, and a few more of his curls than usual had escaped their bonds. The arm left uncovered by his himation tensed visibly when she looked at him.
Persephone paled, slowly rising to her feet as Hypnos nodded to his king. Her heart beat so loudly she could barely hear anything else. Aidoneus' face was unreadable, and the wall she'd built around herself in his absence immediately rose again. Her only other choice was to cower in fear.
Aidoneus watched hopeful surprise fade from his wife's face and resolve into cold solemnity. He tightened his lips. There was so much damage to be undone. "Hypnos, take Merope to one of the rooms downstairs. I need to speak with my queen alone."
"No," Persephone said, then swallowed hard as his eyes widened. She felt needles poking her stomach and her legs going soft underneath her, but willed her voice to remain steady and strong. "Merope needs to recover, Hades. She endured enough when she was wrongfully imprisoned in Tartarus. I'd at least like to offer my guest the comfort of my antechamber."
She stood tall as Aidoneus took a step closer to her. The voice of a natural ruler. He bit the side of his mouth to keep it from twisting into a smile. "Very well..."
The nymph tried to sit up and formally greet the Lord of the Underworld, but grimaced in pain. "Please. Remain where you are," Aidoneus said, crouching down to where she lay. "You are Merope?"
"Yes, my lord."
"I want to offer you my sincerest apologies. I cannot give you back the last three years, two months and five days. But I come asking for your forgiveness nonetheless, and to offer you a gift."
"Please, my lord, I do not seek your apology," Merope said, lowering her eyes since she could not bow her head to him. She blinked and looked up at Hades. "What gift?"
"I want to offer you what I give to all whom I receive: peace. Morpheus can stave off the nightmares of your mortal life while you sleep, but there is only one way that you will be rid of the suffering you endured in the world above. Allow yourself the privilege of letting go and forgetting."
Persephone listened with her hands clasped in front of her to keep from shaking. His mood and motives were still a mystery to her; his two word response to her defiance could mean anything. She stood back as Aidoneus tried to reason with the deceased nymph. She knew Aidon as her lover and husband, but here she was seeing Hades the King. It struck Persephone that while nearly all saw him this way, this solemn face he presented was her first glimpse into his divine role. It also saddened her to think that this cold, rational, emotionless part of him might be the only one he would expose to her ever again.
"My lord, please don't make me drink from the Lethe," Merope begged. "I don't want to let go of my name, my voice, my very form. My sisters, my mother—"
His voice was monotone but gentle. "Without it, I cannot let you roam free in Asphodel, nor can I let your soul return some day to the world above. As you are, you are trapped. Why do you cling to your mortality?"
"Because, my lord, there is so much I simply don't want to forget. The last twenty years— the span of a lifetime for so many mortals— I would gladly drink the waters to escape. But I was immortal once— one of the Pleiades. I've lived for aeons, my lord. I attended to my lady, the Queen, when she was younger."
Aidoneus glanced back and made eye contact with Persephone. She merely nodded at him. Her heart thudded in her chest once more as he rose and moved away from the nymph. Persephone could feel the air sparking between her and her husband as he walked to stand beside her. The final scorching minutes of their last encounter played out in her head in inescapable detail, and frissons of longing and fear coursed through her when his hand accidentally brushed her arm. She was certain Aidon felt her shudder.
"If you drink from the Lethe," he said to the nymph, "you won't be utterly obliterated. Part of who you were will always remain— the parts that give you the most peace. But the pain will be gone."
"Merope," Persephone said, "What is it that you want? If you will not join the souls in Asphodel, what would you have us do?"
"I don't want to forget everything about Sisyphus until I know that justice has been done."
Persephone looked to Aidoneus. He tilted his head toward her. At least for now, she was able to read his face: he was telling her to do what she willed. Merope continued to resist drinking from the Lethe— was there a way to spare her that fearful loss? She inhaled and sighed a long breath before reaching her decision. "You attended to me in life and served as a companion for me. When you fully recover, I will gladly have you as my maidservant."
The nymph smiled and tears of relief welled in her eyes. "Thank you, my queen."
"And I will understand if you change your mind— when you change your mind," Persephone continued. "Because eternity in the Underworld is a long time to hold onto your memories of the world above."
Aidoneus winced as though a needle had been driven through his center, wondering if that was directed at him. He closed his eyes for a moment, out of view from her. He would let Persephone go if she asked. If she wanted to return to the world above, if that was her sincere wish, he was willing to do it for her happiness. Nyx and Hecate be damned. He would still protect her. It didn't take much to imagine himself wearing the Helm of Darkness and visiting the world above to watch over her from afar, much as it would pain him to do so. Hades was certain that fear of his wrath would keep her safe from the appetites of the Olympian gods.
Merope looked to the balcony as a black-winged man carrying a curved sickle alighted and walked in from the terrace. Her breath hitched. Thanatos felt her fear and followed her eyes to the blade in his hand. He leaned down and placed it against the wall. All eyes came to rest on him as he readjusted the pin of his chlamys to sit high on his right shoulder.
"You must be Thanatos." Persephone smiled, noting the resemblance between the brothers.
"I am. And forgive me, my queen," he said falling to one knee, his wings spread low, his head bowed. "My duties in the mortal world delayed me."
Hypnos went to stand next to Thanatos as he straightened, then glared at him. He hated it when his twin was late. Thanatos nodded at his brother with a serious glance that let him know his reasons were genuine this time. Mostly genuine, he thought. Eris had been an unforeseen detour.
Persephone found the resemblance uncanny. They were identical but for the opposite coloring of their hair, eyes and wings. Even their subtle mannerisms mimicked one another.
"Thanatos," Merope said, curiously. A smile curled his lips. "You are Death? But I remember seeing you the night you reaped me from the fire. You don't look now as you did then."
"To be fair, my lady," Thanatos said, folding his arms across the front of his chlamys and cocking his eyebrow at her, "neither do you."
They smiled at each other in silence. Thanatos admired her curves under the blanket, taking her in from head to toe, leering as one of his wings lifted.
Aidoneus cleared his throat and narrowed his eyes at him.
"What?" he said, wide-eyed, folding the wing back again.
"Nothing," Aidoneus said grimly. "Try to make sure it stays that way."
Thanatos rolled his eyes.
"You are such a whore," Hypnos said under his breath as he grinned.
"Oh, you're one to talk." Thanatos said aloud, clicking his teeth together. "What was your plan to find Sisyphus again? Your... connections with the stable master or the keeper of the andron? Or was it the cook's nephew?"
"We'll see when we get there," he replied, his grin turning sheepish.
"Ah," he said knowingly to his twin.
"Thanatos," Persephone said with her arms folded across her chest. She could feel Aidoneus' eyes boring into the back of her head. "I assume you've had a chance to come up with a plan since you spoke with your brother this afternoon?"
"Well, my queen," he said with an uncharacteristically warm smile, "I think that my brother and I, if my queen will permit it, should stay here and question your honored guest. There are rumors that Sisyphus can now travel short distances through the ether. If he can, we will need to work fast. Hopefully, we can take him by surprise."
"I need you to bring Sisyphus to judgement. Quickly," Persephone said, stepping toward him. "Without harming any of the mortals, if at all possible. Find him and bring him before us so he can answer for his crimes against Merope and his sins against my husband."
Aidon swelled with pride and felt a faint flicker of hope— the first he'd felt in days.
"We'll find him, my queen. He's made quite a spectacle of himself already. Our best hope is that he won't even see us coming. Because if he does, he could be halfway to Illyria before we can catch up with him again," Hypnos responded. He leaned down to Merope. "Are you rested enough to answer a few more questions?"
The nymph nodded, still mesmerized by Thanatos as he smiled at her. The three were soon embroiled in a conversation about the palace's hidden passageways.
Persephone turned around to face Aidon. His demeanor was taciturn, his lack of expression completely hiding his intent from her. "Yes?"
"May I still speak with you in private?"
She bit her upper lip and glanced back at the double doors leading to her bedroom.
"Not there," he said. And certainly not with these three on the other side of the door. No matter how this resolved, he didn't want a spectacle made of it— especially not in front of their new guest. Looking around the antechamber gave him an idea as to where they should go instead. Aidoneus offered her his arm. "Would you care to walk with me?"
Persephone gingerly took it. Both of them nodded to Hypnos and Thanatos as they left the room. She swallowed hard and tried to keep her hand from shaking as it rested in the crook of his elbow. It was the first time she had touched him since her hand connected with the side of his face three days ago. He remained silent. She guessed that he was either as apprehensive about seeing her as she was him, or he was quietly devising an appropriate punishment for her and wanted to have Persephone alone to carry it out. Perhaps he thought she would make a scene. Nothing she could guess was much comfort, and the uncertain silence between them made it worse.
Her eyes were cast down and followed the mosaic tile on the floor to where it ended at the threshold. They stepped through an open doorway and heard the drumming of the falls. A long open hallway stretching across the cliffside, its columns carved from the granite itself. Torches flared along its length and Persephone could hear the waterfall on the other side of the palace grow louder. The normally dead air become more lively as they approached the rushing water and the breeze that blew across her face was soothing and reminded her of a cool evening in the world above. But there were no stars here. The darkness beyond the hallway was all encompassing.
"Where are we going?" she said, already knowing the answer. She had felt him approach her room from this hallway many times and guessed that his chambers must be at the other end.
"To the antechamber outside my bedroom." He stopped. "Is that alright with you?"
She paused for a moment, trying to read his inscrutable face in the flickering torchlight.
His eyes darted away from her. "If that's too much to ask right now—"
"No, it's— it would be good to have some privacy," she said. "Can we stay here for a minute? I've seen this hallway from my room, but I've never walked it."
They both leaned against the stone ledge, side by side in silence. He stole a glance at her every so often. The jeweled brooches he'd given her weren't there. Instead, she wore simple golden pins to hold up her chiton, which was a rich burgundy tonight. No asphodel flowers crowned her head. Instead, she'd braided her hair back and wound it into a chignon with a simple ribbon that matched her dress. Even so plainly adorned, she was the most beautiful creature he'd ever seen. He ran his hand over his rough face and thought about what a frightful vision his sleep-deprived, neglected person must be to her.
Finally Aidon could stand their silence no longer. "I have something I want to show you."
She held her breath and turned to him. Aidoneus withdrew a single blossom from the folds of his himation and held it out for her examination. The center was a mass of tiny golden anthers and its petals bloomed in a brilliant shade of red, even in the low light. She gently took it from him and turned it over in her hand, her thumb tracing the edges of each of the six waxy points that lay behind the soft bloom. "Is this what I think it is?"
"So they did flower," she let a smile spread across her face. For a brief moment, her fear was forgotten. She thought about Aidon holding her in the grove the first time they recognized the trees for what they were.
"And you were right about what they are," he said, cautiously smiling at her reaction. "We grew pomegranate trees in the Underworld."
"We—" She startled and looked up at him slowly. "Wait; Aidon, we only... We're just dreaming about these, aren't we?"
He stared back at her, his face softening as he shook his head, "No. We didn't just dream about them."
"But how..." She said, her stomach fluttering in shock and delight that this was even possible.
"I don't know. No one knows. Not Morpheus, not Hecate— even Lady Nyx had no idea why this happened when I brought you here," he said quietly. He had to ask, to confirm his suspicions. "Do you still see them in your dreams?"
"Infrequently. For only an—"
"—an hour at a time or so?"
She paled, her breath hitching. "How did you know?"
"Because I've barely been able to stay asleep for that long since—" he looked away from her, not wanting to bring up their fight just yet. He hoped this distraction from that inevitable conversation could continue just a bit longer. "When I did sleep, I dreamed of them."
"This is impossible. I can't grow anything down here, and believe me, I've tried."
He cupped her hand from underneath, holding it and the blossom aloft. "This is proof that you did; that we did. For me to do such a thing on my own is impossible— here or in the world above."
"But..." she started, "that's not true. After you came to me in Eleusis, my shrine was covered in asphodel. You left the flowers for me when I awoke."
He smiled. "As much as I would have loved to have done that for you, I wasn't the one who grew them. It was you."
She looked up at him in disbelief.
"Persephone, my intention that night was to introduce myself to you as your betrothed husband. I didn't anticipate, much less plan on, arriving in the dream already embracing you. And from your reaction, I don't think you expected to see me that way either."
That's not necessarily true, she thought, chewing on her lip. Persephone drew her hand away from his and felt heat wash over her from her stomach to her face. "Aidon, I visited a mortal wedding that day in Eleusis. It was the first time I'd ever witnessed... what happens between men and women. That night I had gone to sleep thinking about it, wishing to dream about what it would be like with— with my husband."
He fought to suppress a smile. She had brought them together intimately. But in truth, he had too, though the desire had been buried in his heart, disconnected from his conscious mind. "When we came together that night, something happened. Something... unexpected and beautiful, honestly— and it carried itself with you when I brought you here as my wife. The pomegranate grove should not be possible. Those trees are alive— well and truly alive, and every other thing growing in the Underworld is not."
"How do you know?"
"Early this morning I went to the grove, and underneath a fallen petal I discovered living soil, new shoots of grasses— things that haven't existed in the Underworld since Chaos formed it. I don't know what to make of it, but—" He turned away from her again and stared out into the darkness. "I honestly hope to reconcile with you, and maybe we can find those answers together."
His clumsy earnestness finally revealed to her what she had been seeking behind the mask he'd worn all evening. Her fingers tapped on the ledge once more before she leaned away from it and stepped back from him. "Th-that is my hope as well. Maybe it would be wise for us to— to speak in private?"
Aidon turned and offered his arm once more. "Our destination is... acceptable to you?"
"Well, what could be more private than your own antechamber?" she said quietly as she held the flower in her hand. "I haven't even seen your quarters."
"No," he said with a brief smile. "You haven't."
She placed her arm within his and walked, thinking about the first dream they shared. When we have each other, it should be in the proper place— in my own bed, after I've claimed you. His last words to her the night they met suddenly felt like ice pouring down her back. Perhaps he was going to assert his rights to her after all. Maybe that was what Aidoneus meant by wanting to reconcile with her. And here she was encouraging him.
He pushed open one side of a heavy ebony double door. The wood surfaces were intricately inlaid with gold in the shape of the great poplar tree that stood at the palace entrance. A stylized meandros of sapphire and lapis lazuli flowed like a river at the base of the door underneath the poplar tree. They walked into the dimly lit room and Aidon closed it behind him. Persephone shuddered, trying to let her eyes adjust as the latch clicked into place. The same elaborate design was inlaid on the other side of the door.
He licked his suddenly dry lips, looking up at the design as he took the Key of Hades off his left hand. Aidon wanted to be alone with her— without the constant throng of voices from Asphodel and Tartarus. He spoke quietly. "I've had a lot of materials to work with over the aeons and created most of the palace, but I'm not half the craftsman that Hephaestus is when it comes to shaping metal. He gifted these doors to me a few centuries ago when I—"