At her feet the leaves began a dance as they flew threw the air in tiny whirlwinds. These were her silent partners – her friends. Same as the flowers that swayed back and forth in their endless waltz of blossoms and new life springing from the ground. In her world, the sun is always shining, even when the rain falls, you can see him peeking through the clouds ready to play with the flowers again. As she walked she noticed something odd happening. The ground before her began to turn brown and the grass began to recede back into the earth. Feeling the ground vibrate she watched as it stirred and cracked.
A hole opened up in front of her. Kneeling down curiously, she peered into it. There was nothing- just a damp, empty orifice. Confused, she got down lower,placing her head below the ground level, turning it to the side so that she could hear better. “Hello, is anyone there?” she asked the darkness. Silence.
Something slimy touched her cheek and she jumped back, screaming. In moments she was under a giant dog who was licking at her face, pulling on her dress and barking. She raised her arms to shield her face and calmed down, instantly. “This can’t be right? How can it lick me, bark, and pull on my dress at the same time? This must be an illusion. Maybe those red capped mushrooms aren’t so great for lunch, but they sure are tasty!” she thought.
“Cerberus!” roared a man and the dog was off her in a flash. He rolled on his back, whimpering, barking and howling, all at the same time. “Wait, What?” she said, abruptly sitting up. Her mouth gaped at the sight of the three headed dog still on his back in obvious submission. The man ran to her side, holding her hand “Are you alright? Did he hurt you?” he asked, worried. She recoiled at his touch. No man had ever laid a hand on her before. “How dare you touch me!” she yelled. “I’m- I’m so sorry.” he stammered.
She rushed to her feet and began to run. “Wait! Don’t!” he warned but it was too late. She was on the ground again, Cerberus having knocked her down. “Down Boy!” he roared again, reaching her side in seconds. “I’m so sorry!” he apologized. “What is wrong with you and your dog!” she sneered, sitting up then pulling the grass out of her hair. “Can I please help you up?” he asked. “No, I’m going to sit down for a few minutes, he really knocked the air out of me.” she complained. Looking sheepish, he called out to the dog “Cerberus, Bad Boy!” The three heads reached into the air and howled. She covered her ears “Alright already, mutt!” she yelled at him. He quickly stopped and took a few steps towards her. The man raised his hand, stopping the dog.
She swatted his hand down “Its alright” she said. “He just startled me, that’s all. I actually like dogs.” She made kissing sounds at him and he ran to her, immediately plopping on his back looking for belly rubs. “Oh no, you don’t! Remember how you just pushed me down?” she chided the dog. He began to whine and nip at her dress. “Alright, alright!” she laughed, rubbing his belly and scratching behind all six ears. “You’re just a giant puppy, aren’t you “she cooed in a baby voice. The man silently watched her playing with the dog and couldn’t hold back the giant grin on his face. Not wanting to disturb them, he sat there quietly.
Forgetting he was even there, she found a stick and threw it “Go fetch” she encouraged. The middle head grabbed it, while the other two fought to take ownership. “Be nice, or I won’t play with you anymore!” she threatened. He quickly rushed back to her dropping the stick, hopping around and barking in merriment. She threw it again and this time, the heads worked together to bring it back. Again and again, she threw the stick, laughing as the heads figured out who would carry it back to her. Tired and a little out of breath now, she sat on the ground realizing that he was still there, looking at her.
“What are you looking at!” she said, brow scrunched up. He immediately began laughing at her displeasure. “Who are you?” she said. He gathered his robes and stood up. His introduction would also mean his departure so he was already prepared for her response, in his mind. “ I am Hades.” he said. “Cerberus, let’s go” he called and the dog obediently ran to his side. He walked in the direction of the hole, dragging his feet.
“Wait! “ she pleaded. “Where are you going?”. “Home.” he answered, sadly. “Why? I’m sorry if my attitude was off putting, I don’t really get to see or talk to anyone and I am always wary of strangers, my mother is super strict. Please, stay… If I offended you, I’m sorry” she said, placing her hand on his arm.
He sighed, and placed his hand on hers, “Persephone” he breathed. Surprise covered her face, as she hadn’t introduced herself to him yet. “How do you-” she began but he interjected. “ I have observed you for years. Every spring you make the flowers grow, and play with all the newborn animals of the forest. I hear you sing with birds and watch you run with them as they take their first flight into the sky. I’ve watched you nurse plants that hand trouble growing, bloom bigger and better than the rest. Your love is poured upon the creatures of the earth as they live and thrive from your bounty… It’s just so incredible to see. You are the most beautiful being in all of creation.” he turned to her, touching her face with his fingertips.
“Kiss me” she challenged. “I don’t dare!” he responded. “You are much too young for me, and your mother would have my head cut off to rot in the earth for worms to eat. I only wanted you to see me, and get to know me. As King of the underworld, every living thing fears me and I didn’t want you -.” “Everything but me” she said, throwing her arms around him.
“Persephone, why-” it was her turn to interrupt him. Stepping back to look him in the eyes. “I know what I said when you touched me after Cerberus was on me and here I am asking you to kiss me when we have said all of three words to each other, which is confusing. I know I stayed away from you the entire time I played with your dog. I also know that this is the first time I’ve seen you, meanwhile you have been watching me for years . I am also aware of how strange all this would sound to everyone else and yet, it brings me immediate comfort to know you were there all this time. So I will ask you again, please, kiss me.”
His brow furrowed as he mopped his face with his hand, sighing deeply. “ I want nothing more than to honor your request” he replied. Grasping her shoulders he drew her closer and planted a kiss on her forehead, then pulled her into his embrace. Kissing the top of her head, he pulled away from her. “ I must go, my love. Your mother approaches.” he turned and whistled for the dog to follow and hurried back to the opening in the ground. “Seriously!” she shrieked with her arms thrown into the air, “this isn’t over!” she warned. Looking over his shoulder, he gave her a toothy grin before jumping in the hole which rapidly closed over him. She placed her hands over the dirt and healed it, restore the greenery.
“Persephone! Are you all right? What was that?” her mother questioned, out of breath. “I’m fine Mom” she sighed. “ What was that?” she asked again, this time with more emphasis. “Nothing, Mom! It was the wind and the leaves! See!” angrily she pointed to the east and the leaves swirled up. “What’s the matter with you?” Demeter probed. “You’re acting really strange all of a sudden.” “Actually, yes. Something is bothering me.” Persephone retorted. Demeter quickly changed her tone “what’s the matter my dear, please, tell me” she encouraged softly unaware of the rage her daughter was about to unleash.
“ First of all, why do you always have to check up on me like this? I’m working, you know, the job you gave me, not one that I chose for myself either so if you have an issue with me in the woods, that is your fault. Secondly, why will I stay like this forever, a maiden, never to marry? Really?! “
“Persephone!” Demeter cried “No, Mom. Wait” Persephone continued. “ I think it’s selfish how you have me all to yourself. I haven’t even been to Olympus before. You know, Olympus, where we are all supposed to live! Instead, we are stuck here on Earth. Sure I love the animals and the plants but I have no one to talk to, no friends at all, not even the other maidens, I can’t stand this any longer! “ she screamed, shaking with rage. The tears ran down Demeter’s face in what seemed like a never ending stream,consumed at first by sadness and then her own rage took over. “How dare you!” She bellowed. “How dare you speak to me, your Mother this way!”
“It’s not like I have anyone else to practice social etiquette and conversation on!” Persephone threw in. Demeter unscathed by the comment, continued “ I have protected you for hundreds of years. Kept you away from and out of the eye of leering Gods and men and this is how you behave? Do you know what they want from you? Haven’t you learned from so many of these so called maidens and the Goddesses themselves on Olympus who have been used and mistreated? You know nothing of these worlds! Do you just skip over the naked and disfigured bodies of women you see left by men here to rot?” she prodded. “Well! Do you?” she hollered. “No, mom, you know that.” Persephone answered quietly.
“Do you not see their Mother’s begging for help, setting out into these woods hoping and praying to the Gods for mercy, offering anything so that their daughter’s live in some way, shamed as she will be, but alive. I don’t want this for you, ever. This is why you will remain with me for all of time, or until we are forgotten.” Demeter exhaled loudly. “Im sorry my daughter, I am doing what I feel is right, please understand.” she hugged Persephone who was also now crying they both stood there for a few minutes until they calmed down. “What if he proved to be a good man” Persephone whispered. “There are no good men, daughter, that is the end of it. We will discuss this no further, come along.” Defeated, Persephone followed her Mother home in silence.
The spring, which ushered in the summer as the cycle has been for eons continued without a care about her feelings. Persephone was angry at the flowers who bloomed and turned to the sun, their eternal lover. She grasped at a few and tore them from the ground, throwing them. Only to watch them take root and grow once more, her gift, mocking her pain. She realized that although they loved each other, they could never actually be together. The sun would send its love on warm rays of light while the flowers would bloom, seed and produce even more flowers for the sun to dote on. She was like the flower, and Hades was the sun.
Persephone hadn’t heard a single word or sign from him in months. “He must not want to see me again” she said to herself. “He seemed really scared of my mom, and for the God of Death to be frightened, it means my mom has some kind of reputation out there”. “He thinks me a child, even if I am several hundred years old, but what is that to an elder God who has been alive for thousands. He wouldn’t kiss me either, though he said he wanted to. What does that mean? Are we just going to be friends, is that all there will ever be between us? He called me his love though. Was that to placate me in some way? We seriously only met once and I’m a wreck. I wish he were here. Kicking a rock around she sulked through the forest, as she had done every day since her argument with Demeter, repeating the same questions to herself over and over again.
In the distance, she heard barking. “The men must be on a hunt” she sighed deeply. Moving towards the thicker parts of the forest, she could still hear the barking and it sounded as if it were getting closer. Walking faster so as not to be seen by the humans she hid behind a tree, afraid- her mother’s words echoing in her mind. The silence broke in an explosion of three dogs howling. Her heart , now a lump in her throat, raced with fear and anticipation. They drew closer still, she could hear their breath being pushed out of their noses as they tried to acquire her scent. Hearing rustling of leaves and their panting as they searched, she plastered herself against the tree, terrified and frozen still, unable to look.
The hair’s on the back of her neck stood up as she heard a low rumbling growl turn into a deafening howl right behind her. She clenched her eyes shut and held her breath hoping they would leave her alone when plop! At her feet on his back whining loudly was Cerberus. Jumping with glee she threw herself on top of him “Come here you big old puppy!” she squealed. Cerberus licked at her face, covering her in slobbering kisses. She began crying and she scratched behind all of its ears. “I’ve missed you so much” she said to him, burying her face into his chest. He pushed her down and laid across her body, whimpering in response acknowledging her feelings. He nuzzled her neck and they laid there for a moment in blissful reunion.
“Did you miss me at all?” she heard him say. Opening her eyes and sitting up, she looked around but he was not there. “Please” she implored. “Let me see you again.” In the distance a mist appeared and then suddenly he was there. She stood up and took off running. jumping into his arms he twirled her around and kissed her, finally. She melted in his fiery embrace. Feeling his excitement pressed against her she tensed up but would not break the kiss, she loved him, that much she knew. The rest, well, the rest she would figure out.
He put her down and they stumbled, both drunk from the kiss, shyly looking at each other. “My love” he smiled. “How much I’ve missed you…” Persephone threw her arms around his waist, burrowing her face into his chest while Cerberus barked and yipped for attention. “Where have you been?” she said, into his robes.
“I won’t ever lie to you, ever. Your Mother called a council meeting and all the Gods were ordered to attend. She was trying to root out who had influenced her daughter and threatened to take action if she found out who was responsible. I don’t want to cause issues between you and your mother so I did not speak out. We hardly know each other and I am not sure where you stand. So I am here today to ask, what do you think about all of this?” he explained.
“ There is a cave nearby that the humans use to sleep when they are tired. No one is there now, can we go and talk awhile?” she asked “Of course, lead the way darling” he motioned. They walked hand in hand for the first time before the entire world though no one was looking. She skipped and pointed to all her favorite plants and animals while Hades looked at her with loving eyes. Finally reaching the cave, they entered together. Persephone was the first to speak. “Not a terrible place to live. Think we could ever have a home together?” she blurted. Pulling the veil over her face to hide the deep red of her flushed cheeks she said “I’m so sorry, I don’t know why I just say whatever is on my mind. I’ve only ever really talked to my mother.”
“Take that off your face” he chuckled. “No.” she pouted. “I am so embarrassed!” “ look at me.” he said softly, tugging at her veil. She let it fall and looked up at him with wet , round eyes. “Tell me, what you want. Just say it and don’t be embarrassed.” he encouraged, catching her tears and licking his fingers.. Was that just a random thought or is that something you think you want?” he asked her.
Feeling his genuine interest and his desire to know, she took a deep breath and exhaled. “Alright.” she conceded. “ Yes, I meant what I said, and yes It is something I want. I have been thinking about this ever since we met. I know we don’t know each other at all and our age difference is vast, but does it really matter? I understand that it may seem like I’m rushing into things or letting my mind run away with ideas but the truth is, so much time has passed and the answer is still yes. I get such a strong feeling from you and I feel the pull of your love through the earth. I don’t know how to explain it but it pulses within me, like a second heartbeat. I would prefer to die than continue living apart from you. I don’t know what to do. What do we do Hades? My mother will never let me out of her home.” she grieved.
“The only way we could be together in peace would be for you to make your home in the Underworld with me. Your mother can be angry but she has no power below the surface, not even Zeus wields power there, I alone am sole ruler.” he comforted. “ I would never be allowed to visit the surface again, should her threat prove to be real and the Gods seek to honor her request but I have never been attached to this world.” he shrugged. “Could I ever return?” she squeaked. “As long as you were not in any danger, I don’t see why not?” he said simply. Her face contorted and the tears began to fall again. “This isn’t fair!” she cried. “Why is it one or the other? She won’t see reason either, I know she wont. I tried to tell her how I felt and she quickly cut me off to remind me that I will never leave her side so there was no point to the argument.” she confessed. “Hades, if I went to the underworld, would I have to be dead?”
Concern crossed his face “ What are you saying? I am not dead and yet I am King, I rule them but I am not one of them. You would be my living, breathing, beautiful Queen.” wiping the tear stains from her face, he kissed her gently. “We will figure this out my love, there is no need to decide our fates today.” pulling her into his chest, he pet her hair, comforting her. “Let’s make this our home” he suggested. Looking at him puzzled, she raised her eyebrows. “Hear me out. Let’s meet here once a week until the end of next summer. This way, we can get to know each other and see if this is something that will work. Then we can take on Zeus and Demeter.”
Without a second thought, she agreed. So it went that they met once a week in the designated place where they talked, laughed and got to know each other’s quirks and personalities. Cerberus stood guard in case of any interference, Human or God. The time passed in an instant for them.
Persephone walked to the hole that Hades emerged from every time that he visited her. She had to make sure the land was restored so that Demeter would never find out, it was his tell. The God of the Underworld brought death to the surface and all knew this. “My love” she said, holding his face in her hands. “ Tomorrow, I will meet you here instead, when the sun begins to dip below the tree line, I will be here.”
“Is everything alright? He inquired, worried that she was holding something from him. “Nothing is amiss. Summer will end the day after tomorrow and I must prepare, making sure all is ready for the Spring.” reassuring him with yet another kiss. “Until tomorrow my dearest.” he took his leave and descended, swallowed up by the earth.
The sun was making its descent across the sky. “Mother!” Persephone called out. “I forgot to wake the berries, I must go or there will be no fruit this summer, I won’t be long.” she said walking towards the door. Their relationship had been strained since the argument and Demeter stopped checking in on Persephone while she worked. “Alright child, please hurry, the night will be upon us soon.” Running back from the door, she hugged her mother tightly and kissed her cheeks. “Don’t worry” she smiled, and left.
Persephone rushed through the forest while the birds helped to dress her , whisking her into the air so as not to get dirty. She wore a white gown, trimmed in silver and wore a veil of gossamer silk. When she reached their meeting place, squirrels ran up her body to place a crown of flowers on her head and a bouquet at her feet that she quickly picked up and waited for him.
Hades emerged in his best robes, perfumed and wearing his crown of bone. In one hand he held a pomegranate, and in the other, he held a box. Both of them gasped then began laughing when they saw each other. “I was going to surprise you” he began. “I hope I’m not being too forward” she said. “So does this mean you will be my Queen?” he asked. “Yes my lord, I accept.” she smirked. “I have but one request on this, my wedding day” she added. “Name it, and it’s yours.” he affirmed. “I will make my home in the Underworld with you, giving myself to you completely, but I still have a job to perform, and I don’t want to leave my mother forever. I wish to spend part of the year with you and the rest, here with her, bringing in the spring and the summer.”
Sighing he nods. “ I will miss my wife immensely but if this is what you want, then I will agree.” placing his gifts at her feet, he holds her hand. “Are you ready?” he asked, one more time. “Proceed” she breathed. He removed the flower crown and placed it gently on the ground. Lifting her veil to see her face, he beamed with joy.
Hades bent down and opened the box to reveal a jeweled bone crown. “A proper crown for the Queen of the Underworld” he said, while placing it on her head. Using his dagger, he snipped a piece of her hair and a piece of his placing each into a glass vial attached to a necklace. He placed the one with his hair around her neck. She followed his example and did the same. “This is so that when you miss me, you can touch it and be reminded of my love and that I await your return.”
He reached down again, this time, cutting open the pomegranate. “This is the fruit of the dead, once 12 seeds are consumed, a soul can never return to the living world without being born again. You will eat six.” he commanded. “Six?” she questioned. “Yes my love, 6 months will be spent with me and the remaining 6 will be spent here on this plane.” she took the seeds and ate them. Finally, he lifted the two rings left in the box. Cutting his forefinger with his dagger, he looked at her hand and she stretched it out to him, knowing it was her turn. Cutting her forefinger and pressing it to his, he says “ Our blood combines to become one, as we will in this holy union.”
The silver rings had openings at the top that he squeezed several drops of his blood into hers and she into his. “When it is time for you to return, you will feel the ring pulse and know that I wait for you, here to bring you back. Should you wish to return home at any time, press this ring to your heart and call out to me, I will be here in an instant.” closing the tops, he placed it on her hand, and she put the ring on his finger, sealing their pact, and their lives together. “I will love you for all of time” he whispered into her mouth, kissing her fervently. Whisking her off her feet, the ground opened and he stepped in. “Let’s go home” he said. In the distance she could hear howling and thought it was the wind in the trees as the night had fallen on them. The surface closed over their heads as their new journey began.
“Persephone!” she screamed. “Where are you?” running through the forest, Demeter knew something was wrong. “She was saying goodbye to me. I can feel it, she is gone! But where did she go? Where could she have gone? Who would dare-” in her ravings she spotted the flower crown and the pomegranate next to the patch of dead earth. “Hades!” she stomped on the ground, willing him to hear her. “Zeus will hear about this, mark my words! You will pay for this!”
To be continued…