Almost two years later, I've decided to re-write this story, Of Sheaves and Spirits, after realizing I was still fond of the idea (I had initially only written a few beginning chapters). I know there have been numerous re-tellings of the Hades and Persephone myth, but I will try my best to make this one as original as I can, with the incorporation of another myth, Orpheus and Eurydice. The story does not begin with the abduction of Persephone, but with Persephone before she became the beloved of Demeter- not her daughter at all and not bearing the name until later. If you can, I appreciate constructive feedback. Thank you.
------Of Sheaves and Spirits
Chapter I: Preparation
I carried my torch into the chamber with a sullen expression: narrowed eyes and a scowl blatant on my lips. The fires, burning from crosswise pieces of wood fastened with rushes to the torch staff, made my cheeks warm and my eyes hot and irritable. I lowered the cursed thing and sighed into the smoke, my fingers curling at the clasp of my tunic when I saw her sitting on her stool, blinking into her bronze mirror; she was my sister, Andromeda.
Andromeda was as beautiful as Aphrodite, the servants whispered, with honey-coloured hair and marble skin. If it cursed her to use such a comparison aloud, I would have said so many times for the jealous goddess to hear- but I, a girl of eleven years, was too proud to admit my sorrows. Helice, a serving woman in our house, hovered over my sister with her gnarled fingers, combing my sister's hair over her ears and temples then tying it back with a ribbon. This simple arrangement displeased Andromeda, and she swiftly pulled the ribbon from her hair and bade old Helice to begin again.
"Bring the light to me, little sister," Andromeda summoned to me softly, though the squinting woman who twisted her hair into ringlets did not utter a complaint at the dimness. Helice burned her fingers on the hot clay cylinders and did not bite her lip; Andromeda yelped when they so much as brushed her pretty scalp. I stood behind the crone, bitter behind my flame.
I was angry because my sister was to be married and I was not. My father was cautious in choosing a suitable groom: a man from a household as wealthy as his own. Father offered him a handsome dowry of jewels, animals, clothes, and other fine things. He offered a sacrifice to Hera, patron goddess of marriage, and Zeus. Andromeda sacrificed her childhood playthings to Artemis and did not play with me after that. But that was not why I hated her. I hated her because she was older; I hated her because she was beautiful.
Helice dressed her before morning came. After sweet-smelling oils were rubbed into her palms and feet, Andromeda was fitted with a fine, white chiton fastened at both her shoulders with bronze clasps. The cloth was gathered and tied neatly about her waist, the length of it past her knees. I, who wore the short dress of any maiden, felt the sting of childish longing in my eyes.
"Ianthe," Helice croaked, "fetch the lamps and set them on the table."
"Yes," I answered, reluctant to obey the requests of a serving woman.
"And hurry," Andromeda added crossly, "I want to be ready before tonight."
"Dawn has not even arrived yet," I remarked, "and all other lights are dim."
"You carry your torch like a blind woman carries her walking stick. Navigating through Hades, Ianthe? Are you still fearful of the dark? There is a light enough from the lamps and no need for your torch- ow!" Helice was not afraid to scold a mocking tongue- even if it was Andromeda's.
But I dared not grin in the presence of either of them; I stole away to my task with as much haste as I could muster with unwilling feet. I kept my flame before me, for it made the shadows flee and guided my wary steps.
"It will be your turn soon, little one," Helice said upon my return. I did not like being called 'little' and I scowled at the term much to Helice's silent reprimanding. She was fitting bands of copper and cold around Andromeda's wrists, ankles, and around her neck. A gold coil, tipped with the head of a snake embedded with a tiny, green jewel between its slanted eyes, was wound around her arm, from shoulder to elbow- like a priestess and her serpent, I decided.
I drew away from this dull preparation and fuss, wondering if my mother had a desire to be included. But she was ill, I reminded myself wearily, with fingers that quivered more than Helice's crooked own. She would have noted my quiet observing and idleness and ordered me to occupy my lazy hands with her weaving.
I blew out my light when the light of morning came. I sat upon Andromeda's bed, pulling the edges of the woollen covers across my bare knees scabbed from playing rough games in the street with my brothers. I let my eyelids droop lazily to a close, resting my heavy head upon the plump pillow.
"Ianthe, my cosmetics," Andromeda's water voice splashed into my ears, and I cursed her for disallowing me my slumber and begrudgingly went to find her small, wooden box of kohl and powder.
It seemed hours until Andromeda deemed her face perfect enough, even in the cloudy reflection of her mirror. Her hair had been fixed into ringlets at the front, with longer curls down her back, and fastened with ribbon and smooth bone pins. Helice fitted a veil over my sister's nymph face and bade her to sit and wait.
"Will I go to my mother- so that she may approve?" Andromeda asked, sighing impatiently.
"Let her sleep today," Helice said, "so that she may follow your husband's chariot to his father's house."
"I can smell the feast," I offered, idly examining myself in Andromeda's mirror.
"I will comb your hair now," Helice murmured, pulling the edges of my garments so that I would sit at her feet. My hair was long- dark water spilling down my back. I longed to wear it ribbon-bound, but Helice delighted in combing it across my back.
"Do you think my husband will be pleased with me?" Andromeda asked hesitantly, the first trace of nervousness seeping through her translucent veil. "Will he think me beautiful enough?" But I scowled again, because Andromeda knew she was beautiful enough.
"He will be too drunk with wine to notice," Helice replied bluntly. "But I will give you a gift- though they may be presented to you upon your arrival." The old woman reached into her servant's tunic and pulled out two crude bundles. Andromeda snatched them from her fingers excitedly, despite their sordid appearance, and prodded at the frayed edges of the cloth.
"Shall I unwrap them now?"
"Do what you please."
There was a sesame cake in the middle of one cloth and a small, ripe pomegranate in the center of the other. I watched enviously and ignored the hungry snarl of my stomach; I did not understand the purpose of such gifts and craved my own for reasons other than my hunger. I watched as Andromeda lifted her veil and nibbled the corners of the cake and found the juice and seeds of the pomegranate through its thick, reddish skin.
"For a fruitful bed," Helice mumbled, pressing her lips hastily to the bride's shrouded brow.
"Do you not have a present for me?" I interrupted, demanding and grasping Helice's shift for attention.
"You are not getting married," Andromeda laughed. "Ever," she added. "For my dowry is far too grand for Father to afford the same for you."
"Andromeda, you will shrivel this fruit with your proud words- Hera might curse your boasting, and your wedding bed," Helice said seriously. She was a superstitious woman who carried the wooden carving of some unnamed goddess in a pouch around her neck and murmured counters at every supposed bad omen. "You are grown and your sister is small," she continued, "so smile at her envy, for she wants what is yours and knows that what you have is great."
"I am not jealous!" I persisted through my teeth. But I had felt my skin prickling with envy since my sister's wedding bath.
The men and women, though placed to eat on separate sides of the room, dined together before dusk in my father's house. An array of slaughtered animals decorated the tables; fruits, cheeses, breads, olives, and wine were plenty. I dipped my bread into the olive oil and gobbled it greedily under my weary mother's gaze. She peered at me through reddened eyes and lowered her chin into the folds of her chiton.
"My daughter, what am I do with you?" she sighed, smoothing my hair with greasy, pale fingers. "I might not live to eat at your wedding feast- to see you reach fifteen years… you must be married before then… I will speak to your father…"
I ignored my mother's subsequent comments and ramblings concerning my marriage prospects and listened more intently to the musicians before the hearth. They sang ballads and merry songs alike or played rousing tunes upon their flutes and strummed bards' stories upon their lyres. One of the minstrels, a young, handsome man who unstrapped the lyre from his back, threw up his hands as if to recite a bard's tale.
"O child of Demeter!" he proclaimed, his voice clear and unaffected by the wine goblet he set at his feet. "O child of Demeter!" he repeated loudly, plucking a stirring melody after his words for effect. He continued:
Beware the affections of Hades and the wooing of The Styx.
Be warm to Earth and cold to Death.
Beware the wrath of sheaves and the embrace of spirits.
The house fell silent as his voice faded dramatically. My father arose, thinking this ranting man had spoken ill of his eldest daughter when he had been looking at me- I was certain of it. But the foolish minstrel evaded his face reddened by wine and rage. His voice was mournful, lamenting a dirge as if the crackle of a pyre not hearth sounded behind him. The man's melancholy tone cracked into an alarming wail that fell hard upon the stone floors of my father's house; it seeped between the strewn rushes, into the cracks and the crevices in the stone, and across our chilled hearts. He said more:
Beware; your children will be stillborn
For none are born alive there
In Hades where the dead still die
And wail their tales of woe.
"Silence!" my father bellowed, throwing his goblet at minstrel though it rolled into the hearth. "Get out of my house! I will not hear of Hades this night- no, but Hera, you others, sing of Hera and Her blessings! Get out, you talentless worm! Give me your name first so that I may warn others of your perverse manner!"
"My lord, I am Orpheus," the man answered humbly, bowing his head and securing his lyre to his back once more. "I will go."
I felt my mother's weak hand upon my shoulder. I turned to face her, almost fearfully, almost wondering why she should look to me and not my sulking sister. My mother's eyes were dull stone and tearful; her skin bore a deathly pallour.
"It is almost dark!" my father's voice boomed not long after. "We must go outside and meet the other party. The chariot is waiting and the streets await our procession."