Begrudgingly he closed Persephone’s door. He did not wish to part with her, but he knew it was too soon. He longed for the days when they would whisper sweet nothings to each other as their bodies entwined, their limbs inseparable and indistinguishable from each other. One day they would participate in such endeavors.
“Hades, who is that girl?” Hecate approached him as he locked Persephone’s door, taking one last moment to linger in future memories yet to be made.
“Persephone, I brought her here to marry me.” She was just as he imagined: full of life and love. She was always dancing, joyously, with her multitude of flowers and trees bowing to her. The sunlight, all at once, radiated from her skin as she absorbed it. He could not picture a woman more suited to his tastes and desires than she. She would be his goddess. She would bring life to the Underworld. She would all at once rule over death and life—with him at her side. He would know her love and feel her life.
“And did you ask her to marry you?”
Disgruntled, he looked to Hecate. She was tall, taller than Persephone, with brilliant red hair, midnight-blue eyes, and ebony skin. She was a creature of the dark, much like himself, but she was a torch in the night: her spirit shining resiliently, rebelliously against the dark. In many ways, she was his greatest confidant. When the politics of the court derailed him, she would speak reason. He knew she could do the same with Persephone, help her see the beauty in the underworld, help her see the beauty in him. If anyone could convince Persephone, it would be Hecate.
He responded to Hecate’s inquiry. “I have permission. Zeus and I negotiated the details. Persephone’s and my marriage is above reproach.”
“‘Zeus and I’? What of Demeter?” He looked away from Hecate’s rich blue eyes. She spoke again, realizing the truth he did not want to speak, “She doesn’t know, does she?”
“And what of her? Zeus’s decision over-rules any input that Demeter could possibly have. Persephone is mine now. She is my queen.”
Hecate reached out a tender hand and touched his forearm. “Hades, you cannot treat people this way. Demeter is the only being Persephone has ever known.”
He sneered, pulling his arm away. “Enough! While you are here, I need you to smooth things over with Persephone. Make her come to accept this, to accept me and my love.”
Hecate’s fingers lightly covered her mouth, her eyes wide. “She was less than receptive, I imagine? This isn’t entirely unexpected, considering her mother. She has never known men. Once Demeter finds out—,” he cut her off.
“Demeter will be unable to do anything. By the time she knows, we will already be married. I can guarantee that.” He would be sure nothing disbanded his marriage to Persephone. She would consume the fruits of the underworld and partake in the marriage bed, consummating and validating their marriage. No one would be able to take her from him, of that he was certain.
“And what of the girl? She is just supposed to marry you, without objection? Hades, we have known each other for a great deal of time. I have always provided excellent council. Please, reconsider this. It cannot end well. Persephone will never be happy here. You must know this, recognize this. She is a creature of earth and sky, not of caves and eternal darkness.”
He ground his teeth. “It is up to you to make sure she is happy, that she comes to want this place. Not mine. Do what you do best! Guide her!”
Hecate’s demeanor changed instantly, her cool reason shifting to fiery rebellion, “You know that is not how my powers work. It would be like saying you simply steal the souls of the living down to the underworld. Your job requires much more subtlety. I provide council. The decision is ultimately theirs.”
He calmed his nerves and ran his hands through his hair. “You will convince her.”
She raised her chin. “I will do no such thing.”
He leaned forward, grabbing her arm, “You will. I am your Lord, your King. You live under my domain and you will do this for me.”
None could inspire a greater ire in him than Hecate and of all people, he hated being so aggressive with Hecate, but too much relied upon her cooperation. He saw tears welling in her big blue eyes. He remained unaffected. She pulled her arm from his grasp, “Fine! I will ‘convince her’.” She sniffled and wiped the tears from her eyes. “You know this is wrong. She should make the decision on her own.”
He stifled an angry sigh, trying to contain his frustration with Hecate. He pointed to Persephone’s door. “She is in there. Keep the door locked. Help her prepare for tonight’s festivities.”
“Tonight? I cannot convince her in a few hours to marry—to marry,” she paused, looking up at him, her eyes wide and eye brows curved in, searching for a word she dare not say.
He grit his teeth. “To what? Marry me? To want me? Am I that unappetizing a subject?”
“I am sorry Hades. I meant to convince. To convince her to stay, here, in the Underworld.”
“Go do as your told.”
She bowed and he marched off. He had much to prepare and to do for this evening. There was a great feast in which his entire plan hinged upon. Everything must be perfect.
She sat in silence. No birds sung. No crickets chirped. There was no rustling of animals or bugs in the grass. No wind whispering to the trees. It was if an eternal night were upon her. No stars or moon lit up the sky. She could feel the coldness of the earth close in around her and it’s slow progression as it formed mountains and created new earth for woman and man, beast and god to walk upon.
She had only ever known the light of the earth, this shadowed world was foreign to her. Her room possessed no windows and was lit with torches, candles, and a furnace. It seemed that there was no natural light in this world. More than anything, that terrified her the most. Just this morning she had felt the sun’s rays upon her flesh—there was not a sensation more glorious than bathing in the light of the sun. The sun was the life-giver. She was in a world that the life-giver did not touch, where the death-bringer resided. Who would ever want to persist in such a space?
She contemplated her kidnap. Had she dreamt the whole thing up? The soreness in her ribs and her dried tears proved otherwise. The destruction of the forest had terrified her. There was great destruction with no renewal. It was not part of the violently beautiful cycle of life. It was unadulterated death. The trees and grass and flowers screamed from the agony of their death. Remembering their pain brought tears to her eyes. She could have never imagined such coldness. Nothing deserved such a fate and she feared such a fate was hers.
A knock echoed through her room and the door creaked open. Her heart beat fast against her chest. Not him, not again. She hid beneath the blankets on the bed, feigning sleep.
“Hello?” A quiet, womanly voice called. Persephone evened her breath. She did not want to talk to anyone who persisted in this dark abyss.
She cringed, closing her eyes shut as she heard light footsteps on the cold stone floor.
“I promise I have not come here to harm you and I know you are not asleep. So don’t bother pretending.”
Persephone threw the blankets off her head. “Then, leave me be.”
The woman had fiery red hair; she carried a torch and was clothed in a lavender purple chiton. She was so regal with her hair swept up neatly into a loose bun. The woman placed the torch in an opening on the wall. She smiled ruefully before sitting on the edge of the bed. Persephone sat back, pulling a pillow into her arms.
“Either you can deal with me, or you can deal with Hades. Which would you prefer?”
She looked at the woman, disheartened. “Neither, but clearly life does not offer my preferences as options.”
The woman spoke evenly, with clasped hands. “You’ve been cast an unfair lot, but there are others who suffer worse than you. Hades is a wealthy god; he can give you many things. Grant you many desires. He loves you. He will see to it that anything you might ever conceive of wanting, you will have. How terrible could that truly be?”
Did it matter, if it still wasn’t what she wanted? She was unconvinced that she should tolerate the presence of a being just because he might love her and want her and give her anything she might desire. He still couldn’t give her what she wanted, and even if he could, she wasn’t sure she would still want it. Regardless, this woman only had one intention: to convince her. She would not be so easily swayed.
“I understand. You are here to entice me to stay. How unsurprising. My mother did just the same. She had armies of little minions following me, watching me, and constantly trying to persuade me, all under the guise of friendship and my best interest. A sincerely valiant effort on your part, but I have since withstood years of badgering and still did not choose what was picked for me. I will only do the same again.”
She wanted to be rid of this woman, but the woman made no indication of leaving. She sighed, drawing the pillow closer to her chest.
“Then what would you choose?”
Tears welled in Persephone’s eyes, what would she choose? What fate seemed determined to not let her have: freedom—the sky, the stars, the sun and the moon. She would have the heavens if only she could escape from both Hades and her mother—and if only her father would take her. “What does it matter, now? There is no escape.”
The woman raised a brow and tilted her head, unconvinced. “Do you doubt that you will be free of Hades?”
“Even if I were to be free of him, my mother, when she finds me, will insist that I return to her garden. This place is no different from where I came: from one box to another. The garden just has better fauna.”
The woman sighed and looked towards the furnace, watching the flames dance. “Then all you want is to be free? You are too heartbreaking for words.”
She sniffled, her lip quivering. “Who are you?”
The woman said nothing for a moment and the fire crackled. “My name is Hecate. I am a goddess of the crossroads and it is my duty to help those at a crossroads make life-altering decisions.”
She snickered. “You are supposed to help me? And I am supposed to trust you? Per who’s recommendation? Hades? You are just like the nymphs in my mother’s garden. Please, just go away. You have nothing to say that I want to hear.”
“You have every right to be cynical. Your mother locked you in paradise and hell rose forth to thieve you away. You are the product of rape. And you will never be allowed to tread where you wish to walk. I am not like the nymphs in your mother’s garden. I am a goddess, in my own right. I am not so weak-willed as to be incapable of inspiring the ire of the God of the Underworld. I will do what I can to help you.”
She was sick of chaperone friends. At least in the garden her poppies wouldn’t betray her feelings to her mother. She had learned from an early age that the nymphs were not to be trusted. Thelxiepeia had been her closest confidant, they were inseparable, climbing poplar trees and bounding through Mana’s fields of harvest. When they were almost no longer children, she had revealed to Thelxiepeia that she wanted to cross the boundary. A wanderlust entered Thelxiepeia’s hazel eyes and soon after, they had made plans to run away from the garden. However, Thelxiepeia had a change of heart or mind, if she ever genuinely was convinced to leave the garden, and told Mana of their plans and no crossing was ever made. Thelxiepeia’s primary loyalty was to Demeter. Ever since, Persephone mostly kept to the gardens and left the others who dwelt in Mana’s garden to be on her own. It was lonely in the garden since Thelxiepeia’s betrayal, but necessary for her to never trust any of those nymphs again. Ultimately, when pressured, nymphs will always side with the god to which they are pledged. Even parts of the garden conspired against her—like how the wind would always carry her back to Mana’s temple, but there was no wind in the Underworld to carry her back. And, above all, and under no circumstances would she trust Hecate.
“Can I have a demonstration?”
Hecate turned her head, mulling over the question. “A demonstration?”
“Help me. If you truly are different, then prove it. Do something to actually help me. Inspire the ire of your Lord, as it were.”
“Are you certain that you wish to instigate his fury? He will not always be so patient with you.” Hecate clasped her forearm and ran her hand over it gently. Persephone shuddered at the thought of Hades’ rage, she remembered how coarse he had been with her. The soreness in her ribs, the bruises that were likely forming across her skin.
She took a deep breath. Better to risk his bruising, than to live in fear of it every day. “The goal is to not be around long enough to try his patience.”
“So be it,” Hecate rose from her place on the bed. “Tonight, Hades plans to adorn you in the finest silks and gems. He plans to leave you dripping in gold. He will present to you the wealth and glory of the underworld. He will lay out a feast, unlike any you have ever seen or could have imagined, at your feet, filled with exotic fruits and beasts. He will do all that he can to seduce you with his riches and power. He will try to intoxicate you with smells, sweets, and mead. Above all else you must not drink or eat from this feast, or consume anything of the Underworld.”
“Why? So that I will die of thirst? Starve to death? That is not freedom, at least not a freedom that I want.”
“There is an ancient law that no god can overturn and that all are subject to. If one partakes in the fruits and meats of the Underworld, one must reside in this place for all eternity. Once one has consumed the food of this world, one is a creature of the dark, forever.”
“Forever?” To never see the sun again? To never see Mana? To never meet Zeus? To never gaze upon the stars again? She had spent her entire life in the garden, how could she commit to another land forever? She wanted to be free to see the world for herself.
“You will never be able to leave.”
The consequences for something so innocuous were severe. Regardless of whether or not this was true, she would be sure to be very careful of anything presented to her in the Underworld. This place was a cage and Hades was only waiting for her to stumble deeper into it and lock her inside.
“How do I know what you say isn’t a trap? It’s not as if I have very many other sustenance options. Am I supposed to hope that Hades will release me before I starve to death?”
“Not at all. I don’t believe he would do that, regardless. Even if you are dead, you would reside here, with him.”
“What a terrifying thought. I might be stuck here, dead or alive.” She shuddered. This world was not a place she wanted to stay. The more she learnt, the less she liked.
Hecate heaved a heavy sigh, her shoulders shrugging. “There is no way you can know whether or not what I say is true. Hades will be unpleased with me revealing this to you.” She paused. “How about this: do not tell Hades that you know this law, but refuse his food and hospitality, and everything about him. See what, of all things, he tries to force upon you. If it is food and drink, then you know I am not lying. If it is clothes, or jewels, or some other such thing—at least this evening—then you know I am lying.”
She raised her brow, “What if Hades just has wonderful food and feels it is the Underworld’s best foot forward?”
Hecate chortled. “Says the daughter of Demeter. Do you truly believe a world without light would possess the most delectable foods of the earth? Besides, if I know Hades, and I do, he knows what you truly desire and he will try to offer it to you. But not tonight, tonight, his goal will be to force you to stay here forever—unbeknownst to you. Then, he will persuade you to want to stay here. Hades is not a gambling god. He enjoys assured victories.”
“Fine. Let me, for a moment, believe that what you say is true. I am mortal. I cannot survive without food and drink. I will die. What am I to do?”
“I will bring you food, from the outside.”
Instantly, she became concerned. She could not trust Hecate. She would not trust Hecate. Having to rely upon her to keep her from being trapped in the Underworld would be to fall to madness.
“Why? What could possibly motivate you to work against Hades?”
Hecate looked to the cold ground, unable to look her in the eye. “Your mother is one of my dearest friends. The idea of what Hades has done to you is, well, foul to me. I told him that this was not the way to treat someone, especially the being he wishes to spend the rest of eternity with. But as I said, he is not a gambling man. He will do what is necessary to further his own ends. I apologize for his behavior and I will do what I can to help you, as limited as my help may be.”
She shook her head. “I’m not convinced that I can trust you.”
“I don’t see that you have any other choice.”
And she knew that she didn’t. Hecate won this round and Persephone knew this was a game, one that she didn’t know the rules to or who was even playing. The most terrifying part of it all was she was the prize to be won and the judges were skewed in her opponents favor.