|Playing with Fire
Author: Blackpen Enaru PM
The real story of Hades and Persephone. There was no kidnap, rape, or marriage. Queen of the underworld? More like wrongly held political prisoner. From Kore's perspective. Prequel/sister story to She Who Destroys the Light.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Adventure - Hades & Persephone - Chapters: 4 - Words: 21,973 - Reviews: 11 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 9 - Updated: 05-06-11 - Published: 12-19-09 - id: 5593607
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Hermes stared at his feet as he handed me a summons to Olympus. Even the leather wings on his footwear were drooping.
"This isn't an ordinary summons, is it? This is as good as a warrant for my arrest."
He met my gaze. "Will you flee?" I knew he would not stop me if I were to do so.
"I will go with dignity."
As if on cue, Athena burst through the doors. "But you cannot go like that!" she panted. "You look like a criminal!"
I glanced at my unkempt robes and ordered my attendants to bring me a change of clothes.
Athena waved aside the plain linen chitons I usually favored and opted for something more form fitting with flowing layers. "White," she instructed. "She must appear to be an innocent maiden who has been wrongfully accused."
"That is what I am," I muttered.
I reached for my favorite diadem, which featured dangling diamonds and platinum spirals. When I caught Athena's eye, I sighed and chose a simple gold band instead. I even draped a sheer veil over my hair to follow the current fashion for divine ladies.
"You look lovely," Hermes said awkwardly.
Athena inspected me critically. "You look like the last person to commit treason. I must go now, or I will be missed."
When Hermes and I arrived at Olympus, he led me to the Chamber of Three Thrones, where Hades, Zeus, and Poseidon presided over important matters. I thought it was rather fitting that it was called the "Three Thrones," as if Hera and Amphitrite were not queens in their own right.
While Zeus seemed distinctly uncomfortable, Poseidon had a self pleased smirk on his face. So this was his revenge for my tainting his beloved kingdom.
Most of the pantheon was waiting for us. Mother looked awful, as if she had not slept in weeks. She must have known about the arrest beforehand. Her protest died on her lips when Poseidon gave her a meaningful look. Every nymph, satyr, centaur, river god, and minor deity that must have ever graced the earth was present on Olympus, craning their necks to witness a rare event.
I raised my voice to be heard over the whispers. "I am Kore of the Fourth Generation, Great Granddaughter of the Heavens and Earth. I am here because of a summons."
Hera's face was haughty and blank as always, but the way in which she clutched at the golden feathers on her bosom revealed her true feelings.
Amphrithite seemed more peeved. The salt had affected her kingdom as well, but nymphs are quick to adapt.
Zeus closed his eyes wearily. "Recant your heresy, and all will be forgiven," he offered. "Deny the existence of atomos, and accept the sole truth of the elements."
I stared at the stone ring on my hand, then at Prometheus, who was standing amongst the crowd of earth creatures. My heart wrenched at the sight of my mother's hopeful face. It would be so easy to present a facade of submission. But what of the humans who believed in me? I could not abandon them at the first tribulation.
"I have committed no heresy," I said quietly.
My audience burst into an outcry but Zeus' face was unreadable. Poseidon smiled maliciously.
"Treason!" someone spat. "Treason!"
Hades knocked his goblet off the tray. "You silly girl!" he shouted. "Do you not see? Without the elements, we would lose our power, our entire civilization would perish like that of the Indus Valley! For the sake of personal fame, you would destroy the last rays of hope for mankind."
"I do not profess to be a ray of hope," I replied stonily. "But you are most certainly the darkness."
The king of the gods rose from his throne and walked up to me. He held my chin as he scrutinized my face. There had been a time when I would have been delighted at this attention. I had once wanted nothing more than for my own father to take the slightest interest in my affairs. However, he was forever a stranger to me after his unforgivable crime.
"You have my eyes," he said finally, as if it were the first time he had noticed.
I jerked my head away. "I wish I did not."
He leaned closer and whispered into my ear. "I am your father. I can easily make this all go away."
It was so tempting. What was left but my pride? That, and the mortals. "No," I whispered back. "Demeter is my father and mother."
Zeus threw his head back and laughed. "I did not think you would dare return to Olympus. Strangely enough, this is the proudest moment of my life. My own flesh and blood, defying me. Citing my own principles." He returned to his seat and waved his hand.
Hephaestus lumbered forward with a pair of spiraling golden manacles. My hands shook so badly that he had to grip my arm to hold me still. As he clapped them on my wrist, I felt the strongest and most useful of my powers drain from me. I watched the god as he locked my restraints. Poor, plain Hephaestus, he made lovely metalwork to make up for his ugliness. Among the mortals, he would have been somewhat handsome, but on Olympus, he was a brown weed.
I held my shackled wrists to the light. "They are beautiful," I told him.
He looked at me, startled, and kissed my hand. "I am seldom appreciated," he murmured. "I will remember your kindness."
"Have her stripped of all signs of status," Hades snapped. "I will not take a decorated prisoner." He held his arm out at me and turned to the crowd. "Behold Kore, she has been judged a traitor!"
Most of those assembled responded with either exuberant cheers or half hearted protests.
"History will be my ultimate judge!" I cried.
"History will not remember you," snarled Poseidon. I sucked in my breath. I feared that this may be true.
At the king's prompt, Hermes chokingly began to read off of a tablet. "By the divine decree of Zeus," he started. "All mention of the heretic Kore is hereby banned…"
My loyal attendants dabbed at their tears as they reluctantly lifted the diadem off of my head. My veil was the next to be removed.
"All likenesses of her being are to be destroyed…"
When my Oceanid pulled the golden ring off of my right hand. I almost wished she would take the iron band as well, it felt unusually tight.
"All praises to her shall be silenced…"
The nymph who knelt before me hastily kissed my foot as she pulled off my sandal. Her unspoken grief was sadder than a siren's song.
"Any violation of this shall be heresy of the highest order."
"That, too." Hades made a sharp gesture at my purple girdle. Everyone froze. Someone's cup clattered to the floor. By denying me the right to wear purple, Hades was disowning me as a goddess as well as a member of the family. Poseidon looked simply delighted. Apparently things were going even better than he had planned.
"I am a goddess by right of birth, you can never take them from me." I struggled to keep my voice from shaking.
Hades scowled more deeply. "Since she has forsaken the gods, she will not touch the sacred color reserved for the gods." I raised my chin a little higher when my soon to be jailor yanked off my girdle and tossed it to the ground. With a wail of dismay, Cyane, a dearest friend of mine and my mother, fell to her knees and collected the garment. She wept like a spring as she pressed it over my mother's trembling hands.
To replace my diadem of gold, Mother came forward and placed a crown of pomegranate blossoms in my hair. "You are truly my daughter," she whispered. "I have no regrets about atomos."
I smiled for the first time since I had arrived on Olympus.
I gave Hades no struggle, I climbed into his chariot with dry eyes and a jaunty step. For a fleeting moment, I thought the journey to the underworld resembled a perversion of human style matrimony. I was in white, heading to a prison where Hades would be my ultimate master, and flowers were thrown at my feet by my feminine supporters.
Hades guided his chariot straight into a stable, a part of the underworld I had not seen before.
When we walked outside, I gaped in horror. What an eyesore! His palace was a clearly botched attempt at multiculturalism. Red pagodas abruptly became white marble pillars, which in turn stood next to towers with onion shaped domes. Ferocious creatures snarled from golden walls, pointy spirals jabbed at the sky, and vast brick arches stretched across random corners. I thought I even saw the top of a pyramid. It was as if architects from very distinct parts of the world had each claimed a piece of the palace and started building without collaborating with anyone else. The entire structure was clashing and hectic.
Various signs read "Please pardon our dust while we remodel," or "Caution, construction zone," with arrows pointing up. I hardly felt like I was underground, rather, at the gaping mouth of a vast cave. Half of the ceiling was normal blue sky and the other half was like the top of a cavern, complete with stalactites and stalagmites. People on very high ladders were painting the rock canopy with bronze to imitate the celestial dome of the upperworld. I could see at least three suns hovering in random spots in the sky. So this was where Apollo kept his spare chariots.
Cerberus, the little monster, came running up to Hades, wagging his dragon tail. One of his heads growled in my direction while the other two panted at Hades adoringly. Meanwhile, the people of the Meadows stared curiously, I supposed it wasn't often that their king personally escorted anyone to the underworld.
"This is- the new gardener," he explained.
I bristled. Taking care of the harvest is much more complicated than- gardening.
To my relief, a servant showed me to a rather garish but very comfortable room in the palace. I presumed Mother's intervention was the only thing that had kept Hades from throwing me in Tartarus as he had promised he would.
The spirit, which was as solid and healthy looking as I, hovered (not literally) at the doorway. He cleared his throat. "The master ordered me to tell you- this is the room that is the farthest from him and he sincerely hopes to never see any hint of you."
"If he doesn't need me, no point in staying," I replied cheerfully.
Of course, I found that all the exits were sealed to me. I sighed. It was worth a try.
I tried to conjure something, anything, but my palms only glowed momentarily before making a pathetic fizzing noise. On my second attempt, I managed to create nothing but a single leaf. I tossed it aside with disgust. It would be little defense against Hades' many guards.
I did not know why he had so many soldiers. Who would want to invade his kingdom? Doing so would require tolerating his obnoxious company, and he could not be killed.
His sentries eyed my every move and made me feel self conscious about the blossoms that still adorned my head. When I returned to my chambers, I placed the circle of flowers into a basin of cold water to extend their liveliness. I wanted to hold on to Mother's gift for as long as possible. I figured the blooms would live for a few weeks at the most, the buds would go longer.
During my first meal in the underworld, I found myself sitting across from Hades, which was highly unexpected. I suspiciously eyed the roast meats dripping with sauce and fat, the fresh greens piled high on cold plates, the fluffy sweets, and the sparkling glasses of wine. I was certain that he had a motive for joining me for supper; he would delight in watching me suffer the effects of his tainted sustenance. I longingly watched everyone else as they reached for platters filled with breads, cheeses, and all sorts of colorful delicacies that I had never even seen before. Many of the dishes were Greek, but I could not identify some of the tempting cuisines.
My stomach grumbled insistently when my eyes fell on a leg of lamb. It smelled wonderful. Since all the food was served on common platters, I reasoned that my ostentatious host could not have done anything to it without poisoning the rest of his guests. I filled my plate with moderate portions with a little of everything and cautiously took a bite of the lamb.
Nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. The tender flesh did not fill my mouth, the smoked flavor never reached my tongue, I felt no warmth although the rest of the cut was steaming on my plate. I tried some grapes, sipped the wine, bit off a chunk of olive, but everything disappeared the minute it passed my lips!
"Is it not to your liking?" Hades asked innocently. "You have stopped eating."
"I am full already," I choked. May you crawl up a mule's anus, I thought. I would not give him the satisfaction of begging, screaming, or crying. I excused myself and walked away with as much dignity as I could muster.
I stopped bothering to show up for meals because every morsel I attempted to eat always turned intangible for me. However, this did not seem to happen to anyone else. When my mother came to visit, she seemed quite pleased with my accommodations, my relative freedom, and even complimented the grand banquet that was provided. I made no complaint about my own ghost food, she would only get upset and curse the earth or something. I feigned satisfaction for everyone's sake.
Besides, this was a matter between Hades and me. I would resolve it my own way. Every night, I called upon the Muses to give me inspiration for the most fitting revenge. The usual curses of shriveling testicles, rape by dogs, and shredding skin were too good for him.
Before she left, Mother spoke to me in private. "I know that this is a rather peculiar arrangement, but you will be safe here. No one will ever be able to hurt you." Except Hades himself, of course.
"How can anyone hurt me? I'm immortal."
"That is precisely what I'm worried about."
I was starving. If I could not escape, I would have to gain my jailor's trust and establish rapport.
I wandered through the section of the palace where the servants told me I would be most likely to find their master. All the windows were adorned with jagged little leaves that released a cool, refreshing scent that was hauntingly familiar. I found my captor in a massive library where scribes were poring over tablets in all different languages. I slid closer to him in what I hoped seemed like a friendly gesture.
He did not look up from his work. "It is she who destroys the light, although she deludes herself to be the beacon of hope for mankind."
I pretended to not hear the insult. "Hades," I forced a smile. "Why do you hate me so? Must we always be on bad terms?"
He bristled. "Do you not remember? A long time ago, you turned a dearest lover of mine into a plant!" He shook a sprig of green leaves in my face. "Menthe!" he shouted. "You did this to my Menthe!"
Oh. That. It all came back to me. The nymph had annoyed and teased me, something about my messy hair. If I had known Hades was so fond of her, I would have been more discreet when transforming her.
I spoke rashly before I could stop myself, it was a habit. "It never occurred to me that you had lovers. How much did you have to pay them?"
He did not say much to me for the rest of the night. Mostly he just glared. I skipped dinner once again, I did not think it would be worth a try.
If I could not soften him up, perhaps I could go for his pride. "You are a great king, you command the largest army in Greece, or under it, rather. Why do you care if the world must be built off of the elements or atomos?"
Hades held his arms out as a pair of spirits washed him in front of a gawking audience. Even the little monster dog yipped and splashed around in a tub of his own as another set of attendants tried to scrub his fur. Apparently it was a privilege to be invited to witness the king's weekly bath. I had been told that the highest honor was being permitted to disrobe him as he retired for the evening.
"You don't know what it was like, Kore," he replied. He almost sounded friendly. "Atomos may be unusable for the time being, but the elements have always been closely tied to divine authority. The veterans of the Titanomachy will always dislike any change in that status quo, as irrational as it may seem. You weren't there when Zeus castrated our father. Any of us could suffer the same."
The words just slipped out before I could stop myself. "I don't know why you are so worried about losing your manhood. By the way you act, one would think you had lost it already."
To his credit, nothing exploded. At least not literally.
I tried to salvage myself. "What I meant was, you don't have to obey Zeus all the time, you are powerful enough to make your own decisions once in a while."
"He freed me from my prison, it is a debt I cannot forget," he shouted. He swore and waved his assistants away.
I smiled. Although it defeated my purpose, it gave me satisfaction to make the usually poised Hades lose his calm. I leaned forward and put my hands on the rim of his tub. "You hide in your underground kingdom because here, you are king. You avoid Olympus because there, you are second to Zeus."
"He is my brother. I cannot turn against him!"
"And I am your niece!" I cried indignantly. He just stared at me incredulously. "On both sides," I added defensively. His courtiers tittered sycophantically. Even the dog howled with laughter.
I lamely called him a son of a Macedonian goat and a three-legged sow.
"That would make either of your grandparents a Macedonian goat and a three-legged sow."
Not surprisingly, the food stayed as immaterial as ever.
I longed for news of the upperworld so I wearily trudged to the banks of the Styx, where many souls were waiting in line. I wanted to hear their stories before they drank from Lethe and lost all their memories.
"Tell me, what do they say of the goddess Kore," I demanded. "What happens on the living earth?"
A listless soul in rags barely raised his eyes. "The earth lives no longer, it has died with Kore."
"What of Demeter?" I cried. "Why can't Demeter amend this?"
"She is trying, but her despair is great since she senses that of her daughter."
I sank to the ground, overwhelmed and furious. Why was Hades letting this happen? "I am Kore!" I declared, as if it would make a difference. "I live, nothing can kill me."
"They call you a traitor," came an angry voice. I stared at the speaker with astonishment. He wore a crude red sash over his tunic. "They say that that your arrest was a farce. You betrayed our cause when the Rich One offered to make you his queen. You curse the earth deliberately to attain more souls."
"Lies," I whispered. "If I were queen, I would not be as close to death as any god can be."
Made forlorn by the news, I retreated to my chambers. I was suffering from hunger and thirst, and yet Hades was having another one of his bacchanals. I could hear the yells and music from all the way across the palace. I did not mind the drink in moderation, but there were times when Hades made Dionysus look the god of grape juice.
I curled up in my bed, clutching my empty and aching stomach. I would have given my godhood for a drink of water. The walls began to swim before my eyes and I could swear that the flowers on my table were making fun of me. The narcissus, the sacred blossom of Hades, was laughing the hardest, shaking its petals and leaves. I pulled it out of the vase and tore it apart, screaming with fury. When I closed my eyes and opened them again, everything was still once more. I thoughtfully stared at the sticky mess in my hands and the Muses finally blessed me with an idea. I raised my arms and called upon the Erinyes, the goddesses of vengeance. "Alecto, Megaera, Tisiphone, I beseech you. I am Kore of the Fourth Generation, Great Granddaughter of the Heaven and Earth. I bear a rightful wrath against Hades, that vile chicken's toenail.
"Let him suffer whenever his sacred narcissus is separated from Gaia. May his hand be compelled to restore each stem that has been parted from the earth. I curse him."
I dropped my arms and began to giggle. What a lovely little curse this was. I rolled out of bed and half skipped to the Elysian Fields. I spotted a narcissus in a meadow and plucked it as an experiment.
Almost immediately, Hades came sprinting towards me, looking confused and irritated. He muttered darkly and took the flower from me. I smiled as he clumsily tried to repair the severed stem. He finally glued the pieces back together using some sap. He turned to leave but bent over again when I picked another narcissus.
"Stop it," he said crossly. He looked bewildered as ever.
His agitation added to my giddiness. I darted away from him, laughing madly like a small girl. I ran through the fields, picking narcissuses and flinging them left and right. That should teach him to starve me. He panted as he raced after me, pathetically collecting the flowers and tucking them back into the earth. His heavy robes flapped behind him, his sleek hair was in disarray, and he was constantly bending over in the most undignified position. Many of the souls gathered to stare at this spectacle.
When I grew out of breath and could no longer ignore the ache in my side, I tired of this sport. I paused and inspected the damage I had done to the almighty king of the underworld.
He was draped in gleaming white with silver patterns. Minus the grass stains, I thought his attire looked quite nice, but better suited for a goddess.
"You are a god of the underworld," I sneered. "Why do you not wear black?"
"You are a goddess of the harvest. Why do you not carry a sheaf of grain in your anus?"
"It is not harvest season, since you are complicit in letting the crops die."
He raised a sandaled foot and wriggled his toes. "If you were but to kiss my feet," he jeered. "I would feed you anything you'd like. This I swear upon the River Styx."
I turned around and bent over. "If you were but to kiss my behind," I retorted. "I would feed you your own words. This I swear upon the River Styx."
For good measure, I tore out an entire handful of narcissuses.
Later, I spied Hades poking and prodding at his beloved flower. Finally he gave it a sturdier, stockier stem so it would be more difficult to pick. My hands itched to tear it into a thousand pieces.
I suppose I could have bullied him into letting me eat again, but I was too proud. If he did not want to feed me, I would not take his food, and I would never grovel at his feet. I do not think he ever learned the real reason why he would forever feel compelled to keep his flowers intact. The fool would be forced to appear before every maiden in spring.
As I sat on the floor of my room, I examined the crown of flowers I had worn during my descent into the underworld. All but one pomegranate blossom had withered away. Even so, its petals were droopy and wrinkled. I plucked it out of the water.
"You were but a tight bud when we came to this prison," I said aloud. "And now you have bloomed, but I only wish you would turn into a fruit." I closed my hand over it but found myself holding a red gourd.
I stared. This transformation should not have been possible. I was virtually powerless, since I wore Hephaestus' manacles. When I had cursed Hades, I had invoked the magic of the Erinyes, not my own. The only possible explanation for this miracle was that the flower had originated from a seed planted in my mother's own gardens. Since it belonged to the living earth, and had been tended by my closest of kin, it heeded my command, not that of Hades. Perhaps it was even possible that Hephaestus had fiddled with my manacles at the last minute, leaving me with just enough magic to channel when it was in dire need.
A living fruit. My jailor was not here to bewitch it. I broke it open and stuffed one of the halves into my mouth. The seeds were neither fresh nor filling, but I bit at the gourd until there were only about six seeds left. I carefully tucked these away to plant later.
"The earth will live," I said breathlessly. Then I shook my head. "My newfound habit of launching into monologues is rather unsettling!"
I went deep into a remote forest in the Elysian Fields and buried three seeds. I poured water from the Pool of Lethe over the earth. "Arise, Tree of Life Worth Living," I commanded. A beautiful sapling sprung out of the dirt. I tentatively plucked a pomegranate and sampled the seeds. They were bittersweet, juicy, and solid. I sighed with relief.
I used the remaining three seeds to plant the Tree of Knowledge Worth Having. I gave it water from the Pool of Mnemosyne.
In order to perpetuate both life worth living and knowledge worth having, I took great precautions to send off a letter that could not be seen by Hades. I had written:
My dearest mother,
I bid you to not grieve my incarceration in the underworld, it is a fate that is easy to tolerate and a small punishment for the grand crime of seeking new knowledge. I know why you chose to turn away from atomos, and I cannot say that I would not have done the same. However, for the sake of humankind and my own sense of duty, I ask that you perform a simple task on my behalf. In a cave in Enna, the one where you used to take me to play when I was younger, you will find 861,945 lead tablets, on which are inscribed my exhaustive findings on atomos. I beg you to scatter these sheets to the winds, so they may eventually fall into human hands. Atomos is my gift to the mortals as well as yours, they may do as they please with it. It will be theirs to use for their own purpose and enlightenment, whenever they are ready to accept it. If you should heed my request, I shall be ever joyous. Together, we would be the deliverers of a second fire, one that is fueled by hope and cannot be extinguished by earth or water. I do not think my tale will survive, but with your help, our gift of atomos will make its mark upon human existence.
Your loving daughter,
Thousands of years later…
The bard was blind. He told a story of kore, beloved daughter of Demeter. Stolen by hades while picking flowers with the oceanids in the fields on enna. Lost her girdle and flowers in the struggle. Cyane turned into a spring. Demeter wept, Poseidon captured her in her vulnerable state. Kore ate six seeds of a pomegranate, had to return to her husband 6 months a year. Cause of winter and fall. By the time she was rescued, the maiden was tainted. The name of Kore, which meant maiden, was no longer appropriate. She was crowned Queen Persephone, she who destroys the light.
Thousands more years later…
On aug 6, 1956, the united states for the first time in history used the atom as a weapon. Three days later, they did so again. The great goddess wept like none other ont hose days. Nonetheless, it is said that she maintains her faith in humankind, although humankind does not stay faithful to her tale.