Chapter 13: With Euris in Hades
by Ivy Rangee
21 Dekembris 3037
Fifth Day of Saturnalia
Feast of the Winter Solstice
The White Poplar Forest
Queen Persephone's Garden
Alex stared at Euris as he brought his hand to his stinging cheek - that strike would leave a mark. Euris always did pack a punch. After her letter, he'd expected a happier reception.
"Well, human," laughed Lady Hecate. "That went well."
At her amusement, Lady Hecate's familiars commenced circling Alex.
"Lady Hecate," called Queen Persephone, her tone imperious. "Take your pets for a walk in the garden. They seem restless."
"Truly, Euris, it is I, your husband," said Alex, kneeling before her.
"No, no, no, demon, you are a pretender. You look nothing like Alexander … Your eyes tell it all, so stormy and bitter," sang Euris to an off-key melody only she could perceive. She stood, turning in circles as her honey-red hair flew around her. "You will not trick me again … no, no, no! Not again." Saying this she covered her eyes, refusing to look at him.
"So I resemble a demon; you never did mince words," he growled bitterly.
"Alexander," whispered the Queen of the Underworld from somewhere behind him. "Remember your goal."
Alex turned to Ourea, pulling strength from her gaze. Being a demon had its advantages; he would use them. Taking a deep breath he turned to Euris. "Pinky, it's me." Using a childhood nickname, Alex spoke in the Yokujin battle language. "You are correct when you name me a demon, but I am your demon - Lexi."
"Lexi …Lexi…" she muttered over and over again as Alex pealed her hands from her eyes. "No, demon, you have got his face all wrong! This face is bitter, ruthless, haughty."
"It is me, Alexander," said Alex, gently. "I am not the person I was, but I am still your husband."
"No, demon, Alexander never had a scar." She gazed at him, reaching up to touch the mark that lined his face.
"I was injured during the peace mission. I am Alexander."
"Prove it!" snarled Euris. "You will not defile my Alexander."
"Do you remember the poem you gave me at Dionysia's engagement party?" asked Alex, trying not to react to her hard words, though as usual she was right about him. The man that stood before her had defiled the dreams of the youth she married ten years ago.
"Yes … mostly," she said, her chin quivering as she wept. "Say it. The last stanza only."
"Take me to mountain hot springs
Undress and swim with me.
Lie back; view constellations.
Tell me stories no one's charted.
Please take me."
As Alex tried to sing the last line of the poem, Euris joined him, her voice so weak and wavering, that Alex was brought low by the suffering it betrayed.
"Alexander …it is you!" wept Euris, as he pulled her into his arms. "Are you dead?"
"I have not been so lucky," he whispered, biting his lip so he would not weep. "Though I have tried my best."
"Has your life been difficult? You look so worn out," she said, returning the embrace.
"No," replied Alex, smoothing her disheveled hair. He tore a long piece of linen from his funeral shroud, wiping grime, perspiration and tears from her face. Though un-groomed and haggard, he thought her more beautiful than ever.
The two fell into a deep kiss, embracing and weeping as they whispered each other's names. After a time they drew apart, and stared each at the other, locked in reverie. Alex could not pull himself away though he knew their time ran short. He had longed for her for ten years, and he would not interrupt this bliss with exposition.
Lovely as she was, Alex felt Euris must be disappointed by the man who stood before her. She had confused him with a demon; not surprising, hard living exacts heavy payment. Indeed he knew his appearance to be much altered. He had noted the alarmed looks of family, friends and acquaintances after long absences. But, after all, what did they expect; seeking death requires a great deal of effort.
As if reading his mind she said, "What a beautiful and fascinating man you have become."
"No need to spare my feelings, Euris. It is you who are beautiful."
"I spoke the truth, Alexander, you mustn't talk of lies before Queen Persephone!" screamed Euris, her mood suddenly altered. "Liars pay a harsh punishment!"
Unsure of what had set her off, Alex stared at her, as she launched into hard-edged, hysterical laughter, pushing him away with all her considerable strength.
"Truly Euris, you are little changed."
"Well, I suppose the appearance of the missing changes little for those left behind." She stood and limped to one of the adamantine columns.
"What do you mean?" asked Alex, following her. He took her arm to aid her.
"Lady Hecate conjured me from your memory."
"Then you are not truly Euris?"
"Euris … Euris … Euris," she sang, pealing his fingers from her arm. "Is she all you think about? She is bad … very, very bad, indeed. Why are you here, Alexander?"
"To find you."
"You should forget me."
"That is not possible."
"You must leave me alone. Go away! Go away, idiot!"
"No," growled Alex. "Never!"
"You really are blind. I betrayed you, Alexander – in so many ways," giggled Euris, in a mad, agitated way. "You are so earnest by nature; it was just too easy. And you … you remained true to me – like the naïve, changeling bastard, you are."
"Euris, why?" asked Alex, stung.
"Everyone always made fun of you – bastard child of an Enclave slut and a fallen noble. And I did too." Euris pointed at him, laughing and weeping at the same time.
"But you married me."
"Because Dionysia and the rest wanted you; I had to have you. I have to win at all costs. That's what I am, Alexander. Superficial, narcissistic, jealous, manipulative, cruel." She said this descending into complete hysteria.
"Why are you saying these things, Euris? They are lies." Alex grabbed her arm, but she twisted free.
"Oh you will hate me, Alexander. Yes – yes, you will. And you will be justified, for I lied to you. And the punishment for liars is so severe."
"I love you, Euris," he whispered, kneeling on the top step of the red garnet temple. "I always will; if you betrayed me, then I must have done something to deserve it."
"But the boy, you bloody idiot, - the boy, the boy, the boy!" she screamed. "And the lie …"
"In the hierarchy of lies it must be the worst, for I have paid dearly."
"Euris, I honestly don't know what you are talking about."
"How can you be so obtuse?"
"You would not be the first to observe that. Tell me, now! What lie?" said Alex, sinking into a seated position.
"The lie of omission."
"Euris, come here! Sit by me," said Alex, so deeply weary, he bowed his head. In truth, he felt a strong desire to lie down and die; after all, he was already in Hades – death now would save him the trip. But he couldn't leave Euris in her current state, so he tried once more. "Rest in my arms – let me calm you. Remember how you used like to that? Then you can explain to this bloody idiot what you mean by the boy."
Euris gazed down at Alex, sobbing with such intensity that Lady Hecate's familiars emerged from the garden to stand beside her. Hecuba pressed her head against Euris' leg as if offering support, and Gale, the ferret, placed a giant paw on Euris' foot as if to comfort her, all while they glared at Alex.
"Please, Euris, trust me. Sit down," asked Alex, tapping the smooth, red rock.
Euris collapsed beside him, joined by Hecate's familiars who rested their chins on her leg as they watched Alex intently. Gazing back at the creatures, he pulled her close, reciting an old song his teacher Lord Zoi had forced him to memorize long ago. "A hundred flowers blossom in spring; a thousand brightly colored leaves stir in autumn; one fresh breeze ripples a summer night, while in winter millions of snowflakes drop like feathers."
"A hundred flowers blossom in spring …" whispered Euris, her eyes on Queen Persephone's garden. "You used to sing that to me."
"So I did."
"Tell me more."
"Are they all jewels?" asked Alex. "These droplets of white dew – beads have fallen on the autumn fields, to be strung on the threads of spider webs."
"Just one more …" asked Euris, resting against his chest as he brushed his hand lightly over her hair.
"When nightingales sing in the sweet purple iris of the fifth month, I am mindful of the warp on which we weave love's pattern."
Euris kept requesting just one more, and it was his good fortune that Alex had been forced to memorize many poems from the Kokinshu at his teacher's behest. His child self had complained bitterly to Lord Zoi about the uselessness of putting ancient poems to memory, but now he blessed his old sensei. The poems, with their wisdom, had calmed his wife, bringing her slowly to her senses even as it sent the Hecate's familiars into a deep sleep as they stretched out across the cool red stone floor.
After Alex had recited his entire repertoire, the two sat in silence punctuated by an occasional snore from Gale. With Euris nestled in his arms, Alex breathed in her scent, resting in that peace they had always shared. After a while she turned to him, looking directly into his eyes. He could see she edged toward tears once more.
"Don't weep anymore, Euris, whatever's wrong is my fault. Please forgive me; I am so sorry. I should never have allowed you come with me into the Grand Stream."
"Do not apologize," she murmured, touching his face. "You always take the blame, but you could never have stopped me."
"No! I am to blame."
"Alexander, there is something I withheld from you. When you hear it, you will hate me. But I cannot hold it alone any longer. I was pregnant on that day; I should have had the sense to ground myself. Flying that mission was an utterly selfish act."
"I know, Euris. Marius told me, after I returned from the Grand Stream."
"Where is the child?"
"I don't know. He vanished."
"He vanished?" Alex swallowed hard, biting his lip to keep from screaming at her. He had to consider Euris' fragile condition. "We must find him."
"I can't remember what happened … My memory is full of holes, but I do know he was born at the Guild Stronghold."
"When?" Alex worked to keep the hard edge out of his voice.
"I'm not sure… there are no seasons there. But it must have been five or six months after the mission."
"You saw him?"
"Yes … I think he stayed with me when he was little."
"I think he has no name."
"But then how did you call him?" Try as he might, he could not keep the harshness from his voice.
Euris looked at him, her face contorting into the very image of the mask of tragedy as she wept. Realizing his stupidity, Alex kissed her, whispering comforting words. "We'll name him now, Euris, so I have something to call him while I search for him. Do you have a preference?"
"Yes. I do. Tamon." The quest for a name lightened her countenance as she wiped her tears away.
"Tamon? After the founder of the Yokujin Clan?" asked Alex, surprised. "Why not after Marius?"
"No, he is Tamon." Euris said this with firm resolve.
"How do you know?" Alex was pleased to see something of her old self show through.
"I just do."
"Well you are his mother; I defer to you. Tell me, what did he look like?"
"We'll find him, Euris. Do you remember when you saw him last?"
"He was just walking. She threatened to throw him into the sea …"
"I could not remember what she wanted to know, and they took him away in a star. He screamed for me…"
"What happened to him? Try to remember, Euris."
"I'm trying…" said Euris, getting up and walking among the flowers. Alex watched her as she went from blossom to blossom, breathing in their fragrance. "I've missed true flowers; at the Guild Stronghold they are false and cruel."
Alex let her be; he did not have the heart to press her. But he would begin the search for the child the moment he returned. At that thought, Euris stopped and turned to him. "She sold him on the surface."
"How do you know that?" asked Alex, gently.
"Not all Guild members have forgotten their pledge of fealty to House Bassianus."
"Where on the surface?"
"I don't remember the name of the place, but I remember we went there once as Imperial Messengers. Were we Imperial Messengers?"
"For a little while. Was it the Enclave?"
"Enclave …yes, the place where you were born. We flew there, but you were grounded …"
"The Emperor's Enclave?"
"There's more than one?"
Alex smiled; he'd start with the Emperor's Enclave. "You must have called him something, Euris. What do you think it could have been?"
"The only name I can remember is Alexander."
"I'll find him, Euris."
"I have wronged you and Tamon. I never should have kept his existence secret. I see my foolishness so plainly in retrospect."
"The same applies to me; I see so plainly in hindsight. As your husband I should have been aware of your pregnancy. That I wasn't speaks volumes; I was so self-absorbed."
"No, Alexander, I am at fault," said Euris, resting her hand lightly on his arm. "While serving my sentence in Tartarus, I saw my failure. There is nothing as sharp as the keen edge of never-ending, deep regret. Knowing you have injured an innocent and can never make it right, no matter how much you suffer."
"You underestimate me; regret is the territory I inhabit," replied Alex, placing his hand over hers. "When the operation failed, Marius confronted me, making plain my flawed judgment in allowing you to fly navigator on the mission. Because I'm an idiot, I didn't understand him. He'd specifically assigned you to the mission. In a fury, he seized me by the neck. If not for my obvious ignorance, he would have strangled me, and I would have happily let him."
"Alexander … I was always so sure of myself … I never listened to anyone. Always believing I knew best."
"I'll not lie to you, Euris, when he explained his anger, I raged at you for excluding me while confiding in your father. But, as I considered how you behaved prior to the mission, I knew I had failed my responsibility. I should have known. Your condition was obvious. You were right to call me a bloody idiot."
"I kept my symptoms hidden from you; you would have never let me go if you had known. All I could think about was the glory flying that mission would bring me … How utterly selfish."
"Euris, we both erred. Let's put our guilt and grief aside for Tamon's sake. He must be found, and then I'll come for you."
"But how, Alexander?"
"Leave that to me."
"I must make one more confession before you waste your life any further because of my foolishness," said Euris, removing her hand and turning away.
"More? I don't care. Whatever it is, I forgive you."
"It was I who forced Yukino into concubinage."
Walking to the edge of the adamantine temple, Alex bit his hand to control his anger. Euris fell forward, her head touching the floor as she keened pitifully. At that heartrending sound, Alex relented; she had suffered enough, and he kneeled at her side, holding her as she wept. He hadn't come all this way to cause her more harm. Besides he was no angel himself. "Yukino was never a threat to you."
"But I desired you so desperately."
"You have me; I'm yours."
"I wanted exclusivity; it took me months to get pregnant, while she walked around the Enclave all fat and beautiful, carrying your child. I knew you would insist on making her your legally bound concubine when you found out so I arranged her disappearance."
"Queen Persephone, may my wife and I walk among your wildflowers?" asked Alex, in a full kowtow.
"When we were first married," replied the goddess, who, by the sound of it, hovered above them. "Lord Hades built this sanctuary for me to lessen my homesickness. I would be delighted to see lovers walking among the flowers. Follow the little sand path at the foot of the stairs."
"Thank you, Only Begotten One." Alex stood, helping Euris to her feet. "Let's walk together, Euris - like we used to at the academy."
Euris nodded, as he took her hand and led her down the steps. They walked arm-in-arm while Euris wept.
"You must regret marrying me," she said, finally breaking the silence.
Alex stopped to embrace her, resting his cheek on her forehead. "Euris, I love you. You are my wife. It is you I wished to marry. Whatever there is to pardon, I forgive you," he said.
For a moment they both wept, holding each other tightly. Alex and Euris: childhood playmates, comrades in arms, friends, lovers, husband and wife, parents. In the netherworld of Hades, these memories flowed silently between them, and it was then Alex realized the scope of his error.
Overcome with remorse for the selfish prayer he'd composed in his ignorance, Alex broke the wordless communication. "Euris, I too have a confession, and this time it is you who will hate me."
"After your disappearance in the Grand Stream, I thought you dead. I lost courage; for I knew the fault lay entirely with me."
"Stop, I don't want to know."
"I must explain, and you will listen." He took her by the shoulders and pushed her back so he could look her in the eye. "I fell apart. One day, drunk, and at the end of my rope, I resolved to end my life. But before I did, I composed a prayer to Lord Hades. Believing my death imminent, I asked him to hold you in Hades until I could join you. Then we would drink from the River Lethe together."
"Gods you are such a romantic, but I don't understand. Why confess this?" asked Euris.
"Your father stopped me, and, by the time I sobered up, I had forgotten my prayer, but Lord Hades did not."
"I still don't understand. What did you do that was so wrong?" She smiled and ran her fingers over his lips.
"Hush, Euris," admonished Alex, pleased to see her smile, though he knew before he finished speaking it would vanish and he would face her wrath instead. "In order to grant that prayer, Lord Hades bound you to Tartarus. He had no other way to stop you from drinking the Waters of Forgetfulness. Each time Delphine puts you to death, he holds you in the pit until she yanks you back to life. You never belonged in Tartarus; it is my fault you have suffered so much torment. My intent was to join you, not harm you. Had I known I would have…"
"Alexander, you did nothing wrong," corrected Euris, her smile softening. "I deserved every moment I spent in Tartarus for the evil I have done."
"You did not; yours were the sins of youth. You have overpaid," cried Alex. "You are playing the martyr. You know how I hate that."
"If you rescind your prayer will I be freed from the pit?"
"Then, if what you say is true, and I have overpaid, will you help me?"
"I came to Hades with your totenpass to do just that, but Lord Hades forbids the initiation in his domain. The only option is to rescind the prayer, but I cannot do it."
"The gods know, I do not deserve your mercy, but I beg you, say the words of release."
"No!" shouted Alex.
"Can you find it in your heart to let me go? Please, Alexander … I cannot bear any more."
"If I do; I'll lose you to forgetfulness…or worse. But there is a way out of this, Euris. We can be together, if you can hold on a little longer. I shall find you at the Guild Stronghold and set you free."
"No, Alexander! I do not wish your death."
"I will place the totenpass around your neck and pronounce the words of initiation. Besides, it is I who will put an end to the Guild." He said this with total confidence.
"I cannot condone it; you do not have to die."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I must do this for many reasons." Alex turned his back to her, continuing down the sandy path.
"I am hanging on by a thread," called Euris, following him. "I cannot promise you that I will survive many more of the Maestro's experiments. Besides, you owe me nothing; I wronged you, Alexander. I am the wretch who betrayed you. Let me drink the waters of Lethe." She caught up to him, grabbing the bandages of his shroud. "Anyway, it is Yukino you love; make a life with her."
"Damn it, Euris; you are my wife. It is true I love Yukino, but our bond goes deeper; it pains me that you cannot understand how I feel. When I die it is you I have pledged to walk beside, and it is not Lethe from which we will drink if I have my way."
"There is nothing I desire more than dissolving into eternity with you; your offer tempts me, but remember I live between life and death," she said, walking through the flowers to face him. "There is no guarantee you will find me at the Guild Stronghold."
"But I must try. And you must hold on, for when I fasten the totenpass around your throat and speak the words of freedom, you will be released."
"Thank you, Alexander, but please hear me out. I'll not waste this second chance. This time I'll be truthful and unselfish. I'll redeem myself. You have a choice: you can die, or you can live a long life. I beg you, forget me and choose the latter; give up this foolish plan. Find Tamon and then find Yukino and her child; they both long for you just as Tamon and I do. Do this for me."
"Euris… I found Yukino long ago."
"You knew I betrayed you? But why did you let me confess?"
"Yukino never revealed the author of her misfortune," said Alex, forlorn. "I had no idea you were involved."
"She never told you what I did to her?" Euris' face betrayed her shock.
"Does that not prove how vile I am and how worthy she is?"
"It only proves you regret your mistakes." Alex did not want to look at her; he knew what would come next.
"I beg your forgiveness," said Euris, gently, holding his arm.
"No Euris, it is you who must forgive me."
Euris stood before Alex, holding his hands in hers, the same way she had on their wedding day. She looked solemnly into his eyes and said, "I am deeply sorry for every wrong I ever committed against you, likewise I forgive you all."
Alex bowed his head, suddenly overwhelmed at the magnitude of Queen Persephone's boon – a chance to make things right with his wife. Euris was right; there was no way to know how much longer she would survive the tug-of-war between life and death. If he failed his quest, she would most definitely pass away given Queen Persephone's command that he rescind the prayer. This very well might be their last meeting; he too must make the most of it. He bowed his head as if in prayer and responded, "And I also."
"Face in the shadows as always?" Euris laughed. For Alex, it was both delightful and heartbreaking to hear. His heart constricted as he realized he might never hear that joyful sound again. Raising his head, he looked into her eyes and smiled, but she already showed the first signs of slipping away.
With urgency, Alex knelt before her, holding her pale hand. "Are you sure release is what you want?"
"Please forgive my weakness," wept Euris.
"We have already forgiven all; I will do as you wish. But I vow I shall place the totenpass around your neck and with all my love whisper the words of initiation into your beautiful ear," he said this not sure he could make good on his promise to relinquish her.
"We will meet again, so do not mourn any longer." But her voice seemed to come from far away.
"Yes, Euris, we'll meet again. I will make sure of it."
Euris began to fade into flowers, but her eyes remained distinct, and Alex did not look away as he prayed:
"Lord Hades, I pray you most fervently,
Rescind my prayer.
Release the one named for the East Wind.
Let her roam freely throughout your domain.
For too long have I held her fast.
Though I would willingly die, she bids me live.
In her compassion she forgives my selfish will.
And, what is most miraculous, she loves me still.
In recognition we shared extraordinary moments.
May she find courage and peace,
And, with my blessing, should she choose it,
May she walk with calm to the River Lethe
And drink without fear the Waters of Forgetfulness."
With his final word, Euris disappeared completely. Alex knelt in that darkening garden, her loss an intense pressure bearing him down. Without a doubt he'd never done anything harder.
The poems Alex recites to Euris to comfort her come from the Kokinshu, except for the first on which is the reworking of a Zen koan.