by Charlotte H. Lee
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
A pause, and the door slid open revealing Persephone, rumpled and rosy-cheeked from sleep. She wore an ivory silk robe belted at her waist, her rich auburn hair wisped free from its thick plait. Demeter raised her arms wide so that her darling girl could hurl herself into them.
Demeter stood waiting. Shock froze her limbs into place. Persephone only stared at her, a complex play of emotions chasing across her face. Confusion, disappointment, delight, worry, rebellion all took their turns, though none were content with just a single turn.
Slowly, Demeter’s arms dropped to her sides, her stomach a pit of ice and her mind just as frozen. How could this be? She had come to rescue the girl. Persephone should be rushing to her, ecstatic and weeping, knowing that her mother, who cherished her daughter beyond belief, had searched the universe for her, refusing to give up despite the Olympian pressure to accept her loss.
Pain of a kind Demeter had never known spread outward from that icy pit in her middle, dwarfing anything she had ever felt before. The struggles she had endured, all for nothing. Her daughter didn’t want her mother anymore, Demeter realized.
Persephone licked her lips. “Mother,” she said. Moments ticked past while they stared at one another. Finally, Persephone stepped back. “Please, come in.” Dumbly, Demeter stepped into the cabin, her heels sinking into lush blue carpeting that stretched across the expanse of the chamber. Vivid paintings of landscapes from a dozen planets adorned the sitting room walls. Rich ebony furniture piled with red velvet and white silk cushions dominated its centre.
Demeter swallowed hard, her mouth as dry as desert sand at midday. She stumbled to a couch and dropped into it before her knees could give out. How could she have been so wrong? Hades was right. Her daughter was no longer her companion for life. Bereft, Demeter couldn’t stop the tears that flowed down her cheeks, and she hid her face. How could she go on? Persephone had been her centre, her reason for being for hundreds of thousands of years. Now, she had nothing. Loneliness pressed in on her, engulfing her in a despair so profound she’d only imagined she understood it before.
“Mother, please. Please.” Persephone’s voice broke through the roaring in Demeter’s ears, and she lifted her chin to meet her daughter’s gaze. Those grey eyes, so like hers — warm, kind, but stronger than any alloy Hephaestus had ever created — were watching her, deeply concerned. Persephone perched on the couch beside her, slipped her arm around Demeter and pulled her close. “Mother, I love you and nothing can ever, ever change that.”
A sob caught in Demeter’s throat, threatening to burst the dam. So many times she had sat with Persephone like this when she was a girl. So many tears over dying pets and skinned knees she had wiped from her child’s cheeks as Persephone was now wiping away her own.
“You want to stay,” Demeter said, amazed at how normal her voice sounded. It should be as broken as she felt; instead, it was only a little flat. “Here, with Hades.”
Persephone wanted to stay with that foul excrescence. Already he was twisting her into something dark. There was a shadow in the girl Demeter had never seen before. Living here so close to Death had changed something in Persephone over the decades. Demeter had taken too long to find her.
She should have gone to Helios much sooner. This was all Demeter’s own fault. She had derided Hades for his pride, but it was her own that had robbed her of the light that had once shone in Persephone’s eyes. That light was gone now, sucked away by the immense gravitational pull of the singularities hiding this dead planetary system.
“I want you to stay, too, Mother. With me. With us. Hades is not who you remember. He’s changed, Mother. He’s grown up.”
Demeter stared at Persephone in horror. “Stay here, at the end of the universe? What has Hades done to you? You have lost all touch with reality, girl.” Demeter sprang to her feet and turned to back away from the stranger on the couch, hands spread protectively across her belly. “How could I possibly surround myself with lifelessness when my purpose is to create life?” She paused, drawing in a deep breath to deliver the final sting. “How could you?”
Persephone dropped hurt eyes to her hands, clenched together in her lap. Never had they spoken harsh words to each other. Once the words had left Demeter’s lips, the pain in Persephone’s eyes chipped a hole in the ice at Demeter’s core. That hole would be her undoing, she knew.
“There are worlds here that need life. They need you as much as I do, Mother.” Persephone raised her eyes again, and brimming tears threatening to loose themselves. “We began with one world, but Zeus wasn’t satisfied with that. He had to have more. He always wants more! Why? Why can’t he be content with what he has?” Persephone sniffed and dragged a knuckle across a sharp cheekbone glittering with new tear tracks. “Hades wants no more than what he has here. He’s tired of Zeus demanding more and more, never letting us rest. More and more mortals fill the universe, and all it has accomplished is more noise! Aren’t you tired of it, Mother? Don’t you want an end to Zeus’s mania?”
Persephone drew herself up to stand tall, her shoulders back and chin high in defiance. “Hades is building this place as a new Underworld. I am helping him. I want you to help us, too. I want you to help us build a new Blessed Isles. Create an Elysium that would give good people the tools they need to return to life and do better than they did before. I want see all of humanity enter the Blessed Isles. I want you to create a paradise for the living, here where we can keep the living safe from gods who foster darkness and chaos.”
Demeter backed away still further, hands raised up to ward off the words she didn’t want to hear, shaking her head in disbelief. She jumped, startled, when a chime sounded. She turned to face the opening door. There stood Hades, dressed in a simple cream spun linen shirt tucked into tightly woven trousers dyed the colour of ripe olives, brown robes abandoned. Curling ebony hair was pulled back into a clasp at the base of his neck, emphasizing the hard, square line of his jaw. His grave, black eyes held her grey ones while he waited at the threshold.
Persephone invited him in, and his eyes released Demeter’s as he crossed the cabin to greet the girl. The tenderness with which he took Persephone’s hand to kiss it did speak of a side of him Demeter had not seen before. This was not the god who had tormented her as a child.
He held Persephone’s hand against his arm when he turned to face Demeter. For all that he was her brother and a god as powerful as Zeus in his own way, yet he stood by Persephone’s side as if he were an errant child determined to get through a scolding unscathed.
Demeter closed her eyes, her shoulders slumping. The child within her kicked, and she rested her hand on her belly. She sent the child gentle thoughts, calming him, and thereby calming herself. She opened her eyes again to see the couple, leaning together, their eyes glowing with their shared love. There was nothing to be done in the face of it. The kidnapper had won his prize.
Demeter turned to leave, but stopped when Hades called to her, “Demeter, wait. Please. You have every right to bear me ill will. I was not kind to you, and I deserve your anger. I understand and accept that I have no reason to think you would grant me your aid. All I can do is ask.
“Persephone loves you, and misses you dearly. Please stay. Please stay and help build a paradise for all of us. Help us build a place where the Olympians can come to live out eternity away from the incessant battling of the great houses.” He took a step forward, the entreaty in his eyes as strange to her as if he had sprouted another head. “There are planets and moons enough here at the end of space for us to live in peace, and the black holes are deterrent enough to keep the other houses away.”
“Please, Mother,” Persephone said, crossing to take Demeter’s unresisting hand in her own. “It would break my heart for us to be separated again, and we do need you so much. We have a noble purpose, you must see that.” The plea in Persephone’s grey eyes cracked the ice in Demeter’s core, expanding the chip to a chasm.
There were worlds enough here that she would be busy. But not so busy that she could only return once or twice in a millennium. If she were to stay, she could visit each world and keep each one from falling prey to the messes Ares and Hephaestus made in her absences. She could keep the mortals from turning away from nature and destroying the planets she’d so lovingly planted with life. She’d lost so many planets — places she no longer went because rival houses had taken what she had done and perverted it.
Demeter nodded slowly, her voice and eyes solemn. “I will try.”
Copyright © 2018 by Charlotte H. Lee