Author's note: I've always had a fascination with Greek mythology, it's been years. I've never been interested in writing my own though until this one which was my final writing piece at the end of college. I guess I'm just interested to see what everyone thinks about it.
The stone floor was cold but Persephone remained where she was, cross legged between two ornate thrones, her eyes fixed on something Hades couldn't see. She was looking through miles of crushing stone to the fields of Sicily. It would be early morning there, she thought, the small wild daisies turning their faces to the first rays of Helios' chariot. By the time the sun set she would be there once more. In the Underworld, time had less meaning. A muscle twitched in her cheek but her eyes stayed on the spot of the wall, between the two tapestries Hades hung for her pleasure. One showed Hera's garden, the tree laden with golden fruit. The other a meadow, at the foot of Mt Olympus, with wood nymphs bathing, and braiding their long dark hair. On one knee Hades waited, his cupped hands filled with rubies as large as grapes. Agamemnon could not have had finer in all his strongholds. They caught the light of the torches, mounted on the walls to make the chamber as bright as day for her. The red gems cast an unnatural light on his jaw line. He waited like a statue with his black eyes on her face, offering the rubies. Their bright colour drew her eye. And then to his hands: so large holding the gems, and so strong on the reins of his black chariot, looking even darker against the little white daisies. His hands had been like a vice too, around her wrist.
"Why don't you take them?"
The gems cascaded from his outstretched hands as if they were worth no more than grapes, or those pomegranate seeds. Those that fell on the lush rugs, all the way from Persia, past Troy, met the ground without a sound. But those that fell to the exposed stone clattered and bounced in an arc around Persephone's feet. They were bare, as were her pale shoulders. She shivered slightly and her folded hands tightened. Her clothes were suited to the mild sunshine of Sicily and she refused the gowns Hades offered her. On a tall stand, was a black robe, so encrusted in rubies and onyx that it may have stood by itself. Complete with an equally gaudy headdress, it stood spectre like, taller than Persephone. Beside it was a pair of thrones wrought from black marble, one which had never been used. The fanciful design, carved in, suggested a climbing rose but it lacked a blush of pink to bring it to life. The finest work of Hephaestus was a poor comparison to the roses which adorned Persephone's bower in the living world. Her neck was still but she tightened her jaw and did not look at Hades. When he rose, he loomed over her but his hands remained clasped firmly behind his back. He was not the enraged god of lightening, or of blood.
"You know you may go anywhere, the Underworld is open to you as my wife, even as far as the Styx, but have a care to avoid my audience chamber, you may see things you shouldn't."
"I am not your wife. I never agreed to this." Even to the god of death, her voice sounded cold.
The river Styx flowed strongly, black waters smooth but with a deep current. Charon pulled at his oars, and it was fortunate shades weighed next to nothing, else the decrepit boat would be sent spinning down the river like a leaf. Persephone stood poised at the very edge, just short of the water. Her toes curled on the black rock and she brought her arms around herself. Across the river, the incline was steep, leading back to the living world. There a few straggly juniper bushes grew, clinging to the crags in the rock. They were the only plants growing in the Underworld, and she was glad to see even them. There were juniper bushes in the meadow she played in, before Hades came after her. She followed the ferryman's shaky progress across the river. He looked as if every stroke might be his last, but he would continue at his task until the Styx dried up and the Underworld was laid bare to the sunshine.
Though the cavern roof was far above, it seemed closer. The faint light her skin and hair radiated was swallowed quickly by the blackness that characterised the Underworld. She followed the course of the Styx for no reason other than it gave her some purpose, and the sense of movement alleviated her impatience, at least a little. Her stride and her gestures were impatient, and she looked upwards often. The Styx flowed blackly, here it was shallower and chattered over dark stones. Even the moss that grew on them was a dull grey brown. She almost wished for the chamber Hades prepared for her; at least the gaudy tapestries and gems were not grey.
At the head of the Styx the great bronze wrought gates stood wide open. But it was a mockery. Shades slipped through the gates, some in pale shadowy robes that would have once been heavy with gold thread and others in little more than their skin. They kept to the left and pressed themselves against the wall under the watchful eye of Cerberus. Though the gates stood open, they were shut to shades leaving the Underworld as mercilessly as if they were closed and barred. Cerberus was a worse deterrent than a lock as big as a man's fist. The dog's eyes gathered the light to them and glowed softly like Persephone's own gown. They looked misplaced in the black face. She stopped short of the reach of its chain. The dog growled softly deep in its throat, sounding akin to the muted rumble of the Styx further down where it went over the falls, past Tartarus. In vain, she scanned the gateway for Hermes, but there were only the translucent souls shuffling onwards.
In his audience chamber, Hades called the next petitioner. She was a mortal woman in rough linen, belted only with plaited grass. Dropping to her knees before the god, she held still to the body of an infant. Her hands were speckled with blood from the sacrifice of a black lamb. Hades could feel it on the altar of his temple among the beech trees.
"What is it you ask, mortal?"
To her ears, his voice was like stones grinding against each other. Hades knew what she would ask before she formed the words; he would hear the same plea several times a day. Yet her sacrifice gave her the right to say it. With trembling hands, she held the child's body up to him with her head bowed. A stray drop of blood trailed down the inside of her wrist and stopped by her elbow.
In the doorway to Hades' chamber, Persephone paused at the sobs of a mortal woman. Her hands tightened and her mouth grew hard, and she was ready to confront Hades for his mercilessness. If he would not help the woman, she would. It was time she showed her face as the Queen of the Underworld, with powers over death to equal her husband's. Poised in the doorway, she listened.
"Thank you, thank you, you are surely more powerful and generous than Zeus himself," the mortal's words were almost incoherent.
"Have a care how you name the gods," Hades rumbled, but behind his dark beard, he smiled.
As Persephone watched, Hades swooped down from his black wrought throne to touch the child on the forehead with his sceptre. The woman's arms tightened further around her baby, and she watched the god as if he were going to take away the blessing he had just bestowed. But he had one more to give.
"For your dedication, your son will have talents the gods envy. Give him a lyre, and none will be able to resist him."
From the doorway, Persephone glanced at her dark husband. She would not have thought his face were capable of expressing such tenderness as he basked in the thanks of the mortal woman. For a moment their eyes met, and Hades' narrowed with anger before the heavy carved doors swung shut of their own accord.
Hermes added a rare light and colour to the drab underworld as he found his way to the chamber where Persephone waited. She sat with her hands folded neatly like a child. Even Hades couldn't bar the way for the messenger god, had he thought not to keep his end of the bargain. Wings on his heels slowing, Hermes landed on the cold stone floor and tapped the butt of his staff three times against the cold rock. It made a clear, sweet ringing.
"It's time," he said.
"I thought you'd forgotten me down here," she said, leaping up to follow.
Hades' hand caught her arm, as strong as the day she met him.
"I'm going, and even you wouldn't break your word to Zeus." She stuck her chin out.
"It's my duty as a husband to see you out safely."
Hades' voice was not as rough as she expected, "We'll take my chariot."