Twilight fell gently over the wood. Purple rays washed over the oaks and beeches, over the lonely dirt road that wound through the trees, almost completely overgrown, and over a slim man striding down the path, a leather satchel slung over his shoulder.
He had a thin face, with a pointed chin and nose, flyaway, upturned eyebrows, and a mischievous glint in his grey eyes. He wore a knee-length white tunic and a bronze helmet—fluttering white wings on either side—perched jauntily on his wispy, flyaway brown curls. His sandals, too, had wings at the heels, and in one hand he held a winged staff, twined with two snakes. Aside from these unusual accessories, he did not look extraordinary—he was impishly handsome, perhaps, but his lean physique hardly bespoke great power.
Yet Hermes was indeed an immortal god, sent to do Olympus's bidding—and while this wood did not seem a likely place for it, he was approaching the dwelling of a goddess.
He rounded a bend and came across a very peculiar house: a bower of slender beech trees arranged in a perfect rectangle, bending towards each other; walls and a roof were woven together from interlocking branches and vines, the foliage and moss overhead just dense enough to keep out the rain. They were not hacked apart and re-assembled, as mortal hands would have done, but evidently grew that way at their mistress' command. Morning glory and honeysuckle vines were twined around the door frame.
Hermes hitched his satchel higher on his shoulder and knocked at the front door.
Almost instantly, it swung open. A tiny girl with a voluminous mane of golden-brown curls stood in the doorway, quivering with glee.
"Cousin Hermes!" she squeaked.
"Hello, Persephone," he smiled. "Is your mother around? I have a letter for her."
"Mama's outside, gardening," she said. "Come inside and sit down."
Hermes never could say no to that cherubic face, with its dimples and pleading round eyes. With a grin, he sat at their kitchen table while the young goddess brought him some ambrosia like a perfect, albeit miniature, hostess. Most gods had palaces brimming with servants, but Demeter had a love for mundane, character-building tasks and self-sufficiency, not to mention living simply.
"I'm supposed to be asleep," Persephone told him in a stage-whisper. "Mama will be angry if she finds me awake." But she giggled mischievously, as if it were a delightfully dangerous thought. Perhaps Hermes had begun to rub off on her, he thought.
"I wouldn't want to get you into trouble," he began.
"I'm not sleepy," she insisted. "I want to stay up and talk. Will you tell me another story, Hermes? Please, please, please? I don't care about breaking the rules if you don't—just this once?"
He chuckled. "A woman after my own heart," he remarked. "You are talking to the god of bending rules."
She did a small skip and led him by the hand to her room, so that he could sit at her bedside while she got under the covers.
"Which story do you want to hear tonight? Theseus and the Labyrinth? Narcissus and Echo?"
"Tell me the one about the Titan War," she begged.
"Again? Your mother doesn't like me telling you that one—she says it'll give you nightmares."
Her look of pleading was almost tragic. She was an exceptionally beautiful child, looking no older than six—but her grey eyes, deep and serious and proud, ruined the effect and betrayed her agelessness. They were the mirror-image of her father's—the only part of her appearance that hinted at her sire. It unnerved Hermes for just a moment, and reminded him that she was, in fact, his half-sister.
"Alright, alright," he sighed. "Let me see…
"Eons and eons ago, before you were born—before I was born, in fact—before the gods lived on Mount Olympus, mighty beings called Titans ruled the earth. It was a dark age. Humans lived like animals, scavenging for food; storms roiled constantly, and chaos and devastation reigned. Kronos, my grandfather, the king of the Titans, was a tyrant that ruthlessly destroyed every threat to his power—so when he heard a prophecy that his son would overthrow him, just as he had overthrown his own father, he did not hesitate to remove this new threat of his own children. Every time one of his children was born—"
"He ate them!"
"That's right. But because gods can't die, all the children just kept on living and growing up in his stomach."
"Ugh!" She made a face that caused him to laugh.
"But eventually, my grandmother Rhea came up with a solution, because she didn't want to keep losing her children. When she gave birth to her youngest son, she tricked Kronos into eating a rock instead, and hid the baby from him until he was grown up."
"Zeus!" she interrupted excitedly, wiggling in her seat. "It was baby Zeus, wasn't it?"
"Yes, it was—my father." And yours, too, if your mother were only honest with you, he thought. "When Zeus grew up, he realized what a mess the world really was, and he thought to himself, 'I could do a better job. I could fix this.' But he also knew he couldn't do it alone—the Titans were too strong, and there were too many of them! He needed the help of his brothers and sisters."
"Like my mother!" Persephone piped.
Hermes pretended to be stern, crossing his arms over his chest. "Who's telling this story, young lady?"
She pressed her lips together meekly and folded her hands in a show of obedience.
"But as you said, yes, your mother Demeter did help—and his brothers, Poseidon and Hades, and his older sisters Hestia and Hera. Zeus gave his father a magical concoction that caused him to regurgitate all his children, one by one, giving Zeus the army he needed."
Persephone shuddered, but did not interrupt.
"They fought the Titans, and the Cyclopes made weapons for the three brothers, to help them win. For Poseidon, they made the Trident; for Hades, the Helm of Darkness—and for Zeus, a powerful weapon that exploded the top off of Mount Etna and hurled Kronos straight down from his throne. Do you know what it was?"
Not certain whether this was an invitation to interject, she said hesitantly, "A lightning bolt?"
"Exactly. You should be the one telling this story."
"I like the way you tell it," she said shyly.
"Alright, alright—where was I? Oh yes, Kronos was dethroned. And then, to make sure he could never come back again and take the world back, they cut him into a thousand pieces with his own scythe. They locked him and the other Titans up into a vault in a great big pit—and now we call that pit Tartarus."
Persephone's eyes were wide. "And then what happened?"
Usually, Hermes just left it at 'the gods won.' He had never continued with the rest of the story—often because Demeter shooed him away by the time he reached that point.
"Well," he said slowly, "at first the gods didn't know what to do next. Zeus had led them through the war, so it seemed like he should be their leader now—but it wasn't his birthright. He wasn't the oldest brother."
"Who was, then?"
Her eagerness was almost sad—she knew so little about her own family that any information she could extract was of the utmost interest to her. Demeter rarely spoke of the other gods to her, no matter how much she pressed her mother. Looking around guiltily for any sign of her, Hermes said, "Most of the gods don't like to speak his name."
She frowned and cocked her head to the side. "Why not?"
"I'm getting to that. So the three brothers decided to draw lots, to divide up the world between them fairly, as Fate would have it. Poseidon, the middle brother, got the sea. I think that suited him just fine—he never was terribly ambitious, but he still had plenty of power and autonomy, and he is just as unpredictable as the ocean.
"Zeus, the youngest, drew out the longest stick and received the sky as his domain, becoming the King of the Gods.
"Which left the eldest brother with the Underworld, the Land of the Dead, to rule over."
"So why don't people like to speak his name?"
His voice grew very quiet and ominous. "Because he is the Master of Death, the punisher of evildoers, the fearsome judge of all souls. If the mortals must refer to him, they simply call him 'he whose throne is darkness,' and there are no temples or altars to him, save among the darkest of cults, because they fear him too much."
"Are you afraid of him, Hermes?"
"Well…" he hedged, "not really. Hades is…intimidating, perhaps, but he's just been given a bad lot—literally."
Her eyes were alight with morbid interest. "Have you ever been to the Underworld?"
"Sure I have—I'm the messenger god," he said, straightening up proudly. "I've been pretty much everywhere."
"Is it scary?"
"It's…not exactly an inviting place, you could say," he sighed. "I suppose I'd be bitter, too, if I were stuck down there and banished from Olympus."
She tilted her head to the side again in childish curiosity. "Banished? Did he do something wrong?"
He ruffled her hair playfully. "You ask all the right questions, Persephone—you ought to take over for Zeus one of these days."
She giggled. But then her face smoothed, and her sigh of longing was surprisingly adult in its sadness. "Tell about Mount Olympus, Hermes. Please?"
His mouth twisted sympathetically. "You've never seen it before, have you?"
Suddenly, another voice cut into their storytelling—a stern female voice.
"Persephone! I thought I'd told you to go to sleep hours ago!"
A stout, maternal-looking goddess, in a homespun wheat-colored gown, stood in the doorway, arms akimbo. Her skin had been freckled and tanned by many hours in the sun. Her dark brown curls were drawn up severely into a knot on her head, and her usually-inviting, motherly demeanor had morphed momentarily into austere disciplinarian.
"Ah—beg your pardon, Demeter," Hermes said, standing abruptly. "I was just telling her a bedtime story. It's my fault."
Demeter cast her daughter a disapproving look, but Hermes added, "She's just a child, Demeter. Let her have a little fun."
"Childhood is about learning productive habits, such as going to bed and rising early," she said sharply, "and building useful character traits, such as obedience to authority. Besides—I'll thank you to stay out of other gods' parenting styles."
Hermes flushed a little, but nodded, feeling this was a conversation he would rather Persephone not overhear. He cast an apologetic glance back at the young goddess as he exited the room with Demeter.
"Straight to bed with you, young lady," she said behind her, before shutting the door. "Tomorrow I'll see to your punishment—don't think that I will forget."
Hermes thought for certain that Demeter was going to lecture him—or at least make a snide remark about his being the patron of troublemakers—but instead she just sighed and rubbed her temples. She looked weary.
"Hermes, I understand what you are trying to do," she said quietly. "You're my friend, you want to give her a positive male figure in her life because her father is absent. And don't mistake me—I am not ungrateful, it's just…"
"I'm not the sort of role model you want for your daughter?" he asked dryly. "God of thieves and all that?"
Demeter winced. "You know I like you, Hermes, even though I disapprove of everything you represent."
He laughed. "Even medicine?" he said innocently.
She rolled her eyes. "Leave healing to Apollo, I say."
Hermes chortled with her, but inside he was pondering. It really was none of his business, of course, but he felt a twinge of sympathy for the young goddess who was growing up under such an overbearing mother—but also for the mother who could not stop worrying, who was determined to keep her daughter close to her forever. Persephone had been born over a century ago—and while time passed differently for immortals, he had never known a goddess' childhood to last so long. It was her mother's influence, he knew, keeping her juvenile indefinitely. A shame, really, because she was wise beyond her years…and when she grew up, it was obvious that she would be bewitchingly lovely…
But Demeter brought him out of his thoughts.
"Was there a reason for your visit? You're generally too busy for many social calls."
"Ah—yes—just the invitation to this year's Solstice Meeting, to remind you that it's tomorrow." From his leather satchel he handed her a folded parchment envelope, Zeus' eagle stamped into the wax seal. "The other gods seem to think that, since you spend so much time on earth, you must lose track of the time."
"Thank you, Hermes," she said, a look of faint annoyance crossing her sunny face.
"I don't blame you, you know," he muttered. "If I could get away from the petty feuding and drama for centuries at a time, I would. The trouble is, I always seem to get stuck in the middle of disputes—go tell Zeus that I'm not speaking to him—tell Hera that's fine by me—et cetera."
Demeter chuckled reluctantly. "I don't know why we even bother with an annual meeting—nothing ever changes on Olympus."
How very wrong she was.
***Author's note: I'm sorry it's been soooo long since I've updated anything on Fictionpress, but this first year of college has been crazy. I've got my first job, which is keeping me rather occupied as well, so needless to say I haven't been writing as much as I should. But I'm hoping that my writer's block is starting to dissolve now! Yay!
Anyways, I realize that I'm not exactly the first person to write a Hades/Persephone novelization, so I was hesitant to write this story at all. I've been writing and re-writing bits and pieces of this story for years, never really satisfied with it and constantly re-doing it. But then a strange thing happened: I had a dream about Hades and Persephone (no joke)—I got to see their palace, and Elysium (the way I'll describe it in the story is the way it was in my dream), and Hades was played by Anthony Hopkins, ha ha! As weird as it sounds, it made me feel like I was meant to write this story, that my subconscious was telling me not to be so afraid about it not being perfect. I know it's been done many times before, but I'm going to put in my two cents.
The title of this story also came from my dream, so if it sounds a little silly or melodramatic, that's why. Maybe I'll change it later if it gets to people too much, if I can think of a better one.
Whew. Sorry I'm rambling. I hope this way of introducing the story was at least a little different. I've always liked Hermes as a god, and I'm trying to develop side characters in this story as much as possible, without adding too many pointless plotlines.
It's been a long time since I've done much writing besides my new Greek mythology blog (which is actually really fun to do!) so I can't make any promises about punctual updates. I promise that I will do my best, however. Hope you enjoy what I've got so far, anyhow, and I'd be happy with any feedback you've got for me, any comments, complaints, questions, etc…