She died in the spring. Flowers were just beginning to bloom, though she hadn't seen them, as the last year of her life had been spent on Agamemnon's ship. The sea was unchanging, and so was the sky, so seasons hardly mattered. And cold didn't bother one caught halfway in insanity. The only thing that registered to her about the spring was the growing length of the days. She knew those as well as she knew the lines in her son's palm. As a novice she had memorized the patterns of light and dark down to the last second, and that knowledge, like a dozen other useless things, persisted through her madness.
Cassandra never saw the flowers that spring, unless the bloom of her vivid red blood on the white marble floor of Agamemnon's palace counted. And, after that, the next thing she saw was Hermes, coming to claim her soul.
He looked a bit like his brother, though only a bit. The resemblance was in the lips, the curve of them into a smile, or their tightening into severity. That resemblance made her hesitate an instant, refuse to take his hand and follow him into the Underworld, but it was quickly gone, for Leto and Maia looked nothing alike, and their sons had barely anything in common. And so she took his hand and went to Hades' realm. Perhaps then she could find peace. Surely the visions would be gone, at the very least. There was no future for the dead, and so what could there be for her to see?
Clytemnestra had, in fact, left her a coin for Charon, throwing it on the ground beside her body as she turned on her heel and left. She did not extend the same courtesy to Cassandra's nameless son (though Hermes told her that the unnamed had not truly lived, and so her son would have another chance at life rather than being sent to the Underworld) or to Agamemnon (though Cassandra didn't care about him). She didn't know why Clytemnestra had even cared enough about Cassandra to do so. But that did not matter. At least not any longer.
She kept her eyes on the ground so that she didn't see Agamemnon's soul wandering on the banks of the river. She had gotten quite used to keeping her eyes lowered. It was how Agamemnon had liked her, submissive and broken, and she hadn't had the strength or will to resist. If she had thought about it, she would have hated what she had become in the past year, but she didn't need to think about. Soon she would drink of the waters of Lethe and forget it all. In that could lie any true peace she could hope of having.
One always expects the waters of the river Styx to be murky and brackish, the kind of water that disproves the conception that water can be cleansing. But it was perfectly clear and still, enough that she could see her reflection in it. She didn't look at all the way she remembered herself looking. Her hair was brushed, first of all, and it was up the way her mother always liked her to wear it. Her face was clean, and she was wearing a new, white tunic. She looked beautiful again, and so she looked away from the water quickly. She didn't like to be reminded of Apollo's voice in her ear, whispering. You are beautiful, Cassandra. Can you not understand why I would want you? I wish only to pay homage to your beauty.
Beauty was a curse unto itself. That was one thing she and Helen could both agree on, though Cassandra was so much less beautiful than Helen that it was hardly worth comparing the two of them.
The trip across the river didn't take long. They were soon to the other side and she unhesitatingly stepped out of the boat. Everyone knew that the other side of the river Styx was the final step, the one that could not be reversed, but death had never been one of her fears. She spared hardly a glance for Cerberus, as well. The intimidating trappings around the Underworld were simply ridiculous, as she knew very well that it was simply a holding place for the dead, so that they did not overpower the living. The purposes of the Gods were almost always quite mundane, and humans just liked to give everything a lofty meaning. And the Gods liked to indulge that quaint desire.
She passed then underneath an archway that was more like the entrance to a cave. No hands, whether those of mortals, Gods or titans had formed the caves which were Hades' realm. They had always existed, as long as the earth itself had. And before the earth's existence, when there was only Chaos…those were days that even the Gods could not conceive of, much less precocious humans.
Immediately after passing under the archway, she found herself in a grand room, all of white marble, where three men sat on three thrones before her. Aside from them, the room was completely empty. Instinctively, she knew that they must be the three judges of the Underworld. She looked straight into their eyes, unflinchingly, discarding for a moment the learned habit of looking forever downward. She had looked that unflinchingly into the eyes of Apollo, one of the most glorious Gods of Olympus, and these were only mortals gifted with power. She did not fear them.
The one seated in the center, who must be Minos, the one among them who pronounced the final judgment on the fate of souls, said, his voice calm and ringing throughout the stone room, "Cassandra of Troy, welcome now to the kingdom of Hades. Your brother Hector, sister Polyxena, brother Trolius and nephew Astyanax await you in the Elysian fields, and your father Priam, mother Hecuba, brother Paris and half brother Deiphobus await you in Erebus. But the question of where your soul belongs has not yet been decided."
She sighed, tired with this discussion – which she knew was pointless – already. "I know that I have done no great good in my life, but I have done no great evil either. Dispense with this and send me to Erebus, where I know that I belong."
"We are not quite as certain of that as you seem to be, Cassandra," said the man on his left, who must be Aeacus, "For you have defied Lord Apollo, one of the greatest of all the Olympians, and defying a God is a great crime."
Cassandra felt anger, and it was the first time in a long while she had felt that sort of emotion rising up within her like a surging flame burning higher and higher. "I have been punished for that crime already, by Apollo himself! For twelve years I have been so punished, and in that time I have seen my family all destroyed one by one, helpless to save them, all because of Apollo's punishment! Is that not enough?"
Aeacus replied, not at all affected by her surge of emotion, "It is not. Suffering during life does not count towards repentance for crimes that can only be atoned for in death."
Her voice was a shriek then, and she could feel her dark hair, by some magic of unlife, falling from its fastenings, becoming matted and blood soaked and tangled again. Had there been a torch in that room of endless intimidating perfection, she would have grabbed it and begun to dance wildly, as she had after the fall of her beloved city. "Send me to Tartarus, then! I will suffer its flames, if that is what you demand of me, and I shall do it without complaint! Break my body a thousand times, send Zeus' eagle to devour my liver, I shall not scream in pain! I will not give any of you, or my beloved Apollo, who claimed to love me, that satisfaction!"
They didn't react, none of them. It was as though she could have destroyed the very earth beneath their feet and they would have been unfazed. Minos spoke again, the eerie calm of his voice serving only to infuriate her more. "We do not believe that you belong in Tartarus, for the nature of your crime is such that we feel that any torment Tartarus could offer you would be unfitting for your crimes. But we are loath to send you to Erebus, especially as we know that to drink the waters of Lethe is what you most desire. And so you present to us a conundrum. We do not know what to do with you."
She was silent, for what could she say to such a statement? Whatever she said would not change their decision. She simply waited, for whatever they would say.
For a moment, the marble room echoed with its deafening silence. And then, out of shadows that she hadn't known had even existed in the room, a man stepped, pulling off a helmet of silver as he did so.
She knew him at once as Hades, Lord of the Underworld, with his helmet of invisibility forged for him by the Cyclops, though he was a God who she had never before met. He wore a black tunic, and a himation of the same color, the latter fastened with a simple silver cloak pin. His hair, which was dark, nearly black, went nearly to his shoulders, and he had a short stubble of a beard, shorter than Agamemnon's. He spoke, addressing the three judges, "I will take her. She refused to obey my nephew Apollo in life, and so she will serve the Lady Persephone and me in death. For it is true that my palace here in the Underworld has gone long untended, for there are few beings who would willingly live here and do the work that is necessary to maintain my home. She will do well for that, and it will be a fitting punishment."
Minos inclined his head respectively. "As you wish, my Lord. So it shall be."
No one asked Cassandra.
Hades gestured for her to follow him, and she noticed, absentmindedly that his hands looked nothing like Agamemnon's or Apollo's, and that they gesture with which she ordered her to come with him was nothing like the one Agamemnon had employed, though he more often had to drag his poor, mad concubine behind him.
She didn't move, but the marble room seemed to melt away around her, and she found herself on a dirt path, winding and curving until it reached a building of black marble, looking like a cross between a palace and a temple, which she could see on a hill far down the path. White poplars were in abundance about it, and she could see a grove of other trees and plants near the building of black marble, and a river a good distance away on the other side, separating from them a large clearing which she could only distantly see, an area that she knew must be Erebus. All her surroundings had a grayish, almost silvery tinge to them, and all the colors were muted, dulled. Her emotions felt dulled as well, possibly with shock (though how could one dead be shocked?), but also with something that she suspected might be returning insanity, not the wild sort which was enamored with dancing flames and sought to imitate them, but the sort that came as soon as the wild sort died down, the one that caused one to feel little or nothing, to be only dimly aware of their surroundings.
And so, when Hades began to walk again, this time down the long path, she followed him.
Once inside the temple/palace, which had sparse furnishings, aside from a jug of dead flowers here and there, she looked him straight in the eye, as she had looked at the three judges and said, her voice expressionless. "What shall you do with me now? Shall you have me pull up my skirts and lie down here on the floor so you can have your pleasure with me? Or will you take me to your bedroom first and take me there, where you ravished Kore, Demeter's daughter, and turned her into your cold Persephone?"
He shook his head, that God known for silence, and handed her a rag. "This place is thick with dust. I would that you would clean it for me." His voice was quiet.
And so she did.
Perhaps a week (how could she tell, without the cycles of Helios and Selene to tell her of the passing of days and nights?) passed until she did anything else for him but clean. His fingers curled around her wrist once (which had surprised her, because she had thought that she had substance no longer, but she supposed that, for Gods, anything was possible) and held it tightly for a brief instant, stopping her from her work, but that was all. In that moment she had felt her breathing (pointless breathing, that was only a contraction of the lungs now, doing nothing) speed up, and she had been afraid. But he had let her go, and she had gone back to the monotonous relaxing work that seemed never to be over, hands shaking briefly, but only briefly.
It changed, though. Such things always do, and that existence of constant, undisturbing drudgery, and his stillness when he was there and not away in the rest of his kingdom, administering souls, could not last.
He did take her, and in that he was like all the others. Unlike Agamemnon and Ajax in that he waited some time to do so, but like Apollo in that, for he had waited years before even kissing her. He took her not on the floor or in the bedroom, as she had asked him mockingly, but on the stone table where, no doubt, Persephone had sat and eaten her six pomegranate seeds. He was unlike them all in that, for Agamemnon had taken her always on the same animal skins on the cabin of the ship, and Ajax had thrown her down on the stone of Athena's temple. Apollo promised to deflower in a bed of poppies, but he never had a chance to do so.
He was rough, not gentle at all, and in that he was like Apollo, who had kissed her gently even when she fought the kisses, but like Agamemnon and Ajax, who cared nothing for her comfort. But he was unlike Agamemnon and Ajax in that his roughness was deliberate, not a lack of consideration. He cared about her pleasure too, as Apollo would have, and that was more than she had had from Agamemnon or Ajax.
He was silent too, which was yet another thing that made him different from all the others. She had always been silent, except for with Ajax (when Ajax had raped her she had screamed desperately until her throat was raw, hoping that someone would come, but her family and friends were all dead, and Apollo didn't hear her), and the complete silence made the whole thing tolerable, almost enjoyable for her. For the first time, Cassandra knew what it meant to lose oneself in pure physical sensation, without any complications.
It was only afterward that she felt disgusted with herself, and wanted to hide away and cry. Instead, she kept dusting, and decided that it didn't matter. She had denied Apollo because she had actually loved him, and knew that to let their relationship become a commonplace mortal one would cheapen it intolerably. But she didn't care about Hades, not at all, and didn't detest him as she did Agamemnon. So, what was the harm in succumbing to this, how could it possibly destroy her further?
They had a while like that – she knew that it must be many months, because it was spring when she had died – before autumn came, and Persephone returned home.
She came in a white tunic, bordered with bands of green, and she had flowers in her, and held bunches of them in her arms, as many as she possibly carry. The first thing she did as she entered the palace of black stone was to replace the dead flowers with the fresh ones she held.
Persephone embraced her cold, dark husband then, the sun-gold of her hair and skin contrasting startlingly with his sallow complexion and dark hair. But he buried his face in her hair, as though he could still smell the sunlight in it, and whispered something to her. She laughed, like the young girl (maiden, Kore) she still was. Cassandra felt jealousy for a brief moment, because Persephone could still go back to the sunlight half the year, still bask in it, dance in a field of flowers, and had done so while Cassandra's skin was as sallow as Persephone's husband's and her eyes had grown used to darkness.
As much as she would never have admitted it, she missed Apollo.
After a few seconds, Hades let go of Persephone and gestured to Cassandra, who stood in the background, silent, waiting. "My dear, this is Cassandra of Troy. She will be serving us, as atonement for crimes she committed in life."
Persephone smiled, an open, uncalculating smile. "Hello, Cassandra. Welcome to our home."
Cassandra tried to smile, but she hadn't tried purposely to smile for years, and it took too long. By the time she did it, the moment was over, and she had faded away again. "You should go dress," Hades was telling Persephone, "Cassandra will go with you to help you. We'll have dinner afterwards." He kissed her then, a brief, chaste kiss, unlike any of the times he kissed Cassandra.
Persephone kissed him back like a dutiful wife, and then beckoned – still with that innocent smile – for Cassandra to follow her. She did, and they soon came to a room that Cassandra had never entered before, not even to clean. It was nearly as sparse as the rest of the building, with only a bed, a wooden chest and a dresser. On the dresser there was a messy pile of jewelry, a bronze hand mirror, and a vase, with dead flowers in it, just like those in every other room. On the top of the pile of jewelry was a silver necklace, with some sort of gem hanging from it. Persephone sighed. "He'll want me to wear this," she said to Cassandra, as though wearing the necklace was an unendurable fate, "Could you help me put it on?"
Cassandra nodded, and took the necklace from Persephone, fastening it gently around the girl – goddess' neck. She was suddenly reminded of doing such things for Polyxena years and years ago, Polyxena who even now probably was laughing and smiling in the Elysian Fields. But she pushed away the sudden, ridiculous nostalgia and stepped aside. "It's beautiful," she said quietly, almost in a whisper, hoping that it wasn't too presumptuous of her to say that.
Persephone picked up the mirror on the dresser and examined herself in it, seeming uninterested in her reflection. "His gifts always are. But they're cold, and they don't mean anything in the end." Suddenly and startlingly, Persephone hugged Cassandra, just as if she was a child. "Oh, Cassandra, it gets so lonely down here. Hades is wonderful, of course, but when there's no one else but him…I'm so glad that you're here now, so glad."
Taken aback, Cassandra didn't have anything to say. She said nothing, and that seemed to be the right course of action, as Persephone turned to the wooden chest and took out a black tunic from it, which she handed to Cassandra, pulling off the white tunic she was wearing. After a brief pause when Cassandra – who was unused to this – realized what she was supposed to be doing, Cassandra put the black tunic on Persephone. Then Persephone went back to the dresser, replacing her flower garland with a silver circlet, and the dead flowers in the vase with her final bunch of fresh ones.
Then she left, and Cassandra followed her.
She went to the dining room, where the sight of the familiar stone table sickened her, because, despite herself, she cared about this frail goddess of death. This time, though, it was set with a feast. There was every sort of food imaginable, and, amidst all the other dishes, several baskets of pomegranates. Hades was already seated at the head of the table.
Persephone sat down, looking quiet and diminished, her golden hair paler in contrast to the black of her tunic. She didn't smile openly, and, though she ate much of the other dishes, she didn't touch the pomegranates. Cassandra stood to the side of the table, watching. The dead didn't eat.
The couple left soon, to go to bed together, and Cassandra cleaned up the dishes. The next day (if it truly was the next day, which she wasn't sure of), she went with Persephone wherever the goddess wished to go. That day, it was Erebus. Amongst the many wandering souls, she saw her mother, her hair black again, though it had been all white when she died. Cassandra broke her near constant silence to call out to her, but she didn't turn around. No doubt she had drunk of Lethe, and achieved the oblivion that Cassandra had been denied.
Persephone talked to many of the souls, holding their hands, comforting them. They listened to her, because she was so kind and beautiful that they couldn't have done anything but listen. They cried sometimes, because of her kindness, which was something no one else bothered to show to them.
When they came back, all the flowers, carefully put in the vases throughout the house, were dead. Persephone refused to look at them.
A long time passed like that, Cassandra as Persephone's silent companion, until spring came, and Persephone left again, changing from the black tunics she always wore in the Underworld back into the white one she had arrived there in. The day after her departure, Hades threw her down on the stone table (which was always empty when Persephone wasn't there) and took her again, kissing her as he never, never kissed Persephone.
That was the way things continued forever, Cassandra playing the role of Persephone's maid in the autumn and winter, and of Hades' concubine in the spring and summer. And, every year, Persephone's flowers wilted before Cassandra had a chance to look at them too closely.