The Goddess of the grain pulled the comb tenderly through Kore's silken tawny
locks. With careful, loving strokes, Demeter separated the girl's fine hair,
gently moving through the tangles, her nimble, slender fingers caressing each
lock as she did so. She looked into her daughter's eyes in the mirror before
them, a tender smile playing over her lips.
"My beautiful child," Demeter cooed, pressing her lips to her daughter's crown.
"You are more lovely than even myself. You do great honor to the Heavens, my
beloved. I am most blessed to have you at my court, to lead my priestesses in
my honor."

Kore sat silent, her eyes fixed on her mother's in the mirror. "I am
pleased that you see fit to have me at your court, Mother. All that I am have I
gained from you. Yet, if it please you Mother, might I make a request of my
own?"

Demeter's fingers moved deftly through her daughter's hair, weaving her
hair into thick plaits down her back. "Anything, Kore. You are a goddess in
your own right. You do not need my permission to speak your mind."

Kore turned to her mother then, her bright eyes the color of the ocean
just before sunrise, her face flushed. "I have seen my future, Mother," she
whispered. "I have served you as priestess for years, and would otherwise be
honored to serve you for eternity, as there is no greater honor than to serve
the Lady of the Grain. You are most beloved," she said, her adoring face
upturned and honest. "But I have seen my future, and it is not amongst your
priestesses. I have received word from the Depths, Mother. Hades has requested
my company amongst the dead."

Demeter set her eyes upon her daughter then, and a cloud passed over her
countenance. Her face lost its flush, and her eyes became dark and threatening.
"Kore, you cannot be serious! You, the Maiden of Spring, my daughter and
priestess, serving the afterglow of life in the dark and dank of the Depths? It
is absurd, Kore. I cannot even consider such a request."

But Kore's jaw remained firm, even as her eyes and lips softened, her love
for her mother overtaking her. "Mother, have I not been good to you? Have I not
served you with passion and dedication, never questioning you, only praising and
worshipping you? Have I not given all my life to your service, and has this not
pleased you?"

Demeter reached to her daughter, stroking her cheek softly with her
fingertips. "O, my beloved. As I sit before you and look into your eyes, I see
more than myself. I see a blossoming woman who gives youth and plenty to the
world. I see the stirrings of passion that I myself give into every day, for
that is my lot as the Lady of the Grain. But you are the virgin, my darling.
You must rise above the stirrings, for your fate lies in keeping you allegiance
to yourself and no other-save your Mother, of course," she added hastily.
"Would you go against the will of the Fates, my daughter?"

Kore shook her head slowly. "Nay, Mother, as nor will you. But I know
the will of the Fates. Tell me, Lady. You give life to the grain and indeed
all the world-you are the Mother and the caretaker of all that is green and
fertile. But what of your world when the youth gives way to death, when the
green of life turns dark and brown and decays? As life makes its transition to
the Depths where it awaits another womb, would you have me turn my back on the
souls that accumulate there, leaving them in hands of Hades, who knows not the
gifts of love and life as you have taught them to me? Hades cannot foster the
spirit of life in the Great Below, for he himself know not the wonders of life
and growth. He merely harnesses the souls, amassing them in number, but he
cannot teach them of the life that will once again be theirs! He cannot lend
them strength and hope as I can, having been reared under your careful and
brilliant hand. O Mother, understand me when I say that as Maiden of Spring I
have seen your work and glory, and am in awe of it. But know I speak the truth
when I say you will be better served should I travel into the Depths to be with
Hades, to give comfort and solace to the dead who have forgotten how to live!"

Demeter stood abruptly, her anger overcoming her. "I cannot listen to
this, Kore! You are the virgin, the Maiden of Spring! You are to serve me as my
daughter and High Priestess. I do not wish to hear more of this talk about
Hades! If I did not know better I would swear that your mind has been clouded by
the working of that witch Hecate! I will hear no more of this ignorant prattle!
As you do love me, Kore, get you gone before my heart breaks in twain, for your
foolish request has made my stomach churn!"

Kore rose from her place then, her heart heavy, her body numb and foreign
as she moved from her mother's chambers into the spring fields. She knew it was
a grave request, and her mother had every right to be angry and saddened. Kore
has never left Demeter's side, and together they had fostered such beauty, such
lush life as the earth would never have known without them. They were the envy
of all of the Heavens, their beauty unparalleled, and Zeus loved them both well.
Kore suspected somewhat bitterly that had she made her fate known to her father
instead of her mother she would already be showered with gifts and well wishes,
riding a noble steed into the Depths to be the bride of Hades. Such is the
power a daughter has over her father-he cannot deny her any whim, and her own
father was no different. Yet her love for her mother was too great to be
betrayed by a plea to a doting father. Manipulation was not in Kore's blood.
She wanted her mother's blessings, and it pained her that Demeter would not give
them to her.

She moved through the field, her skirts treading over the thick green
grass and the newly budded flowers. Her bare feet felt the life beneath her,
and her entire body pulsated with its vitality. She breathed in deeply, taking
into herself the very soul of the world, and was at once full of joy and sorrow,
for all of this beauty she beheld would one day pass into the Great Below,
without her gentle hand to nurture it. Anguished, she fell to her knees, her
face buried in the soft flesh of the Earth, her tears falling to the fertile
ground.

The wind blew then, a gentle zephyr that barely rustled the virgin's
skirts, and within that wind Kore heard a voice. It was dark and gruff, but a
woman's voice, and Kore recognized it immediately, as it has spoken to her
before. It was the voice of the Sister of the Thread, Lachesis, who had
delivered to her the vision of her own destiny. "Rise, Kore," the voice said
solemnly. "You must not weep. Have you forgotten that we Sisters do weave your
future? You are not at your mother's beck and call. You are a goddess in your
own right-you need not subvert your will and destiny even to her. Even now,
your mother kneels, calling to Atropos to alter your fate. But it will not be
so. So dry your eyes, Kore, and be joyous in your calling. You will travel to
the Underworld tonight. Make your peace with you Mother. Go."

But Kore stood defiantly, her hands clenched, her jaw set firmly. "I
cannot enter her chambers now, good Lachesis. She has treated me as an infant,
and though I love her well, my dignity cannot abide it. Let her come to me when
I am upon my own throne among the dead, and let her ask me for my forgiveness."

The Sister of the Thread laughed, her cackle unseemly and wicked in Kore's
ear. "It is your decision to make, child. If you do not wish to see your
Mother again before you leave, so be it. Go to Hades. He waits for you in the
Great Below."

Kore wrung her hands fretfully, shaking in the grass. "Sister Lachesis,
what am I to do? I know not the way into the Depths! What need has a Maiden of
the spring for direction into the pit of the Earth?"

No sooner than the words fell from her lips that a great chasm opened
before her. It gaped at her like the mouth of a great beast, and from the
crevice Kore could hear the desperate wailing of the dead below. Her heart
ached for them, to remind them that in their death they fostered life, and that
they too would live again. The chasm at her feet was dark, and cold poured
forth from it, grasping at her throat with icy fingers. Aghast, Kore stepped
back, eyes wide with awe and fear. The voice of the Sister of the Thread echoed
in her ear once more. "Hades awaits you, child. Bridle your fear, and step
into the shadows, for this is what your fate demands."

Kore held her breath, shaking with trepidation, and set foot for the first
time along the path that led to the Great Underworld. The chasm closed behind
her, the Earth swallowing her up, taking the young virgin, the daughter of the
Lady of the Grain, deep into the pits where Hades awaited her. Though her fear
was great, she let her feet guide her down the winding stone spiral stairway
into the Great Below. The cold engulfed her, winding its great icy arms around
her body, holding her close. She shivered, alone, cold, and afraid, guided only
by a calling in her belly to rule beside a god who knew nothing of the world
above.

She walked for what seemed like ages, the wailing of the dead growing
louder in her ears. Just as she began to fear that she had made a mistake, and
had half a mind to turn on her heel and run headlong to her mother's breast, she
ventured upon the great throne of skulls where Hades himself was seated, tall
and magnificent. She gasped at the sight of him, for though she had seen him at
Olympus before, never had she seen him in how own element. He was positively
radiant, his blue-black hair tumbling in unruly curls over his shoulders, his
shapely, aquiline nose perched elegantly above a full, crescent mouth. Silver
eyes that pierced like daggers shone from underneath a formidable brow, and Kore
could not help but lower her gaze. He was beautiful, a glorious gem among the
black decay of death.

"Kore, sweet Kore," Hades purred, rising to greet the young goddess. He
clasped her hands in hers, and Kore felt a wave of inexplicable coldness and
shock tear through her body. She gasped, her eyes filling with tears as she
looked in Hade's eyes. "I fear I've made a grave error, my Lord," she
whispered, a single tear falling down a pallid cheek.

But Hades drew her near, wiping away her tear gently. His voice was heavy
and deep, but unexpectedly kind. "I know you are afraid, sweet Kore. It must
take great courage to travel to my realms, leaving your warmth and mother
behind. But take comfort that here, as my Queen, you will teach the dead of
life, and teach me as well. I desire your company, sweet Kore. But if you do
not wish to be here, I do not hold you prisoner. Only the dead are confined to
my kingdom."

Kore pulled away then, shaking her head, a small smile creeping over her
face. "My mother forbid me this journey," she began, her eyes moving slowly
over the horrific terrain, the stone that protruded from the earth like the
mangled skeleton of a soldier killed in battle. "I have fear in my heart, Lord
Hades, this I do not deny. And even now as I look upon you, at how handsome and
refined you are, and how kind you might be if you could ever learn to love, I
know I will never love you. Do you still wish me here, to be your Queen, when
your bed will ever remain empty?"

Hades shrugged then, his great shoulders sloping, a wary expression
overtaking his features. "I hear the hollow screams of the dead, and their
suffering is music to me. It is all I know. I know nothing of your world save
what I hear on the rare occasion I appear in Olympus, and your happiness is
foreign to me. I know only that when I look upon you, I understand that the
cries of the dead ring morbid, and I wish to bring them solace. Perhaps you can
silence them. I know what is in your heart-the Fates have spoken of it to me.
And so I offer to share my throne with you, as I cannot stand in the way of your
fate. You are beautiful, my Kore, and I would be honored if you would grant me
the joy of looking upon you, even though that pleasure also brings me pain."

Kore sighed heavily, but she knew he spoke honestly, and his frank words
comforted her somewhat. At least he would not be unkind to her. The shrill
screams of the dead rang loudly in her ears, and Kore stiffened against them.
"Very well then. I shall join you here in the depths, and I will teach you and
the Dead about growth and life, if you will have me. But I will not marry you,
good Hades, and I cannot share your bed. I am still the virgin, and I must
remain independent. That, too, is part of my fate."

Hades said nothing, but nodded his acquiescence. Silently, he bid her
follow him into her chambers, and Kore quietly obeyed.

Months passed, and Kore toiled tirelessly, teaching the cycles of life,
death and rebirth to the souls who occupied the space of the Great Below. Not a
moment passed that she did not share their pain and suffering, for she began to
understand that in death, even knowledge of what is to come does not still the
pain of separation from loved ones. The souls of humans mourned their wives and
daughters, mothers and fathers, and the spirit of fruits and grains longed for
the comforting caresses of the burning sun. Kore was heavy with their grief,
knowing that she could never quiet it, and yet she was comforted in the
knowledge that her presence brought some small glimmer of joy in the abyss of
the Underworld. Even Hades, who was as cold and empty as ever, looked kindly
upon her when he saw her crouched with the graying souls of children from above.
His smile touched her heart, and she longed to touch him, to share her warmth
with him, but she knew that she could not, for in giving herself over to him she
would tear the fabric of her own fate.

But Hades was not without compassion. He sensed her desire, and was
himself prohibited from engaging her, though he looked upon her with great
passion. What began as a mere desire for companionship and perhaps a secret
stirring of lust had given way into blooming love and affection, and these
emotions were almost crippling to him. But he would never violate her, or rob
her of her fate, for he was noble, if dark. Still, as time passed and the spark
between them became increasingly difficult to ignore, Hades knew he had to have
her, to satisfy her desire and his own. And to that end, he sent for Hermes.

Hermes descended into the dark promptly, curious as to the state of
affairs between Hades and his Queen. "There is much talk of this union on the
Mount, Hades, though we are all careful to keep Kore's whereabouts from her
Mother. It would pain her too much," Hermes sighed. "Some say Kore has
violated her place as Maiden. The Earth is dying, you know, as Demeter mourns
Kore's absence. As she sits with you, teaching and comforting those that are
already dead, her world mourns her. If you had any heart, Hades, you would
release her."

Hades turned on his heel, his rage exploding like wildfire. "Is that what
the talk is on the Mount? That I have cuffed her and brought her here like a
savage? Do they also say that I have tied her to my bed, ravaging her every
moment, spilling my seed within her as she screams out in pain? They would do
better to cease such idle gossip, for it is their own musing that tarnishes
Kore's reputation, not any action taken here! See for yourself! The Lady is
happy."

Hermes peered around Hades's great form, and saw the Spring Maiden
kneeling amongst the shadows, smiling, and he lowered his gaze. "I apologize,
Hades. I mistook gossip for truth. She does seem happy here. Why have you
sent for me?"

Hades looked a moment at Kore, his eyes softening and he turned to Hermes,
a look of pleading upon his countenance. "I seek life from the world above.
Life that I can share with Kore. What still lives above that I can share with
her? Fruit? Grain? Something with seeds-this is a dire request."

Hermes furrowed his brow a moment. "They eat pomegranates above. Their
flesh is unstomachable but their seeds are ripe and fleshy. I daresay your lady
would find such a gift heartening."

Hades nodded, his eyes bright and hopeful. "I can only hope. Would you
do me this favor and bring me a pomegranate?"

Hermes nodded. "I will do this for you. I shall return." And in an
instant, he was gone.

The time it took Hermes to bring the pomegranate to the underworld seemed
an eternity. Hades paced nervously, hands clasped behind his back, watching
Kore from the corner of his eye. Kore knew he watched her, and she too looked
upon Hades when his back was turned. She knew something concerned him, though
she did not wish to disturb his thoughts with her inquiry. And besides, these
days, she desired to speak with him less and less, lest her eyes and voice
betray her affection. She did not want him to misunderstand her desire for
giving in.

Kore turned her attention instead to the spirits gathered around her.
They were growing stronger under her care, and she could almost see color
returning to them. She smiled at them, feeding them her youth and splendor, and
they responded in kind with stirring and gentle whispers-so much better than the
nasty wailing they were wont to do. Just as she was lulled into silent
conversation with the recently arrived spirit of a spruce tree, Hades appeared
at her side, a gentle smile spread over his generous mouth.

"Kore, might I have a moment of your time?"

Kore stood quickly, following Hades into his own chambers. She had never
been there before, and she was suddenly struck with a mixture of fear and
excitement, and disturbing thoughts swam through her mind. Does he plan to take
me against my will? And if he does lay me across his bed . . .would I take him
of my own volition anyway?

Hades took Kore's hands in his and squeezed them gently. "Gentle Kore,
you have been good to me. You have served the Kingdom well, and every moment I
am honored at your presence. In the time that you have been here, I have grown
. . .to love you. And you have grown to love me. Silence now," he said as she
opened her mouth to object. "I do not ask you to forego your fate. I only ask
you one small favor. To accept a gift from me."

He withdrew from his pocket then a single pomegranate, ripe and red,
beautiful and supple. He held it before Kore, and her entire being lit up from
within. It was the only live thing she had seen in months, and she shivered
with pure bliss. "For me?" she breathed.

Hades split the fruit quickly, revealing the tender seeds within. "Lovers
are usually blessed with the ability to mingle their flesh," he said quietly,
eyes down turned, looking at the pomegranate. "We are lovers, you and I, though
we can never lie with each other the way lovers do. But if you will accept this
gift, accept these seeds as though they were mine, it can be as though we shared
flesh, as my seed will be within you."

Without hesitation, Kore gripped Hades tightly as he gently lay the seeds
in her mouth, tenderly, one by one. He kissed her softly as she savored the
sweet, delicate fruit, and she kissed him back, the sweetness permeating her
body, and she was filled with Hades in the only way she could be. They clung to
each other, Kore eating the seeds as Hades fed them to her, enjoying their
closeness for all that it was, and all that it could be.

Lost in their own ecstasy, they did not hear the Earth split, as Zeus and
Demeter descended upon them.

"Stop this this instant!" Demeter bellowed, her voice echoing through the
Great Below. Kore gasped and pulled away from her love, her eyes wide with
amazement and fear. "Mother!" she gasped, embarrassed and bewildered. "What
business have you here? How did you find me?"

"Hermes told us he had seen you here. I could hardly believe it. I never
thought you would have gone against my will! My daughter! What have you done?"
Kore looked from her mother to Zeus, her eyes wet with tears. "Father,
you must not bid me leave. You mustn't!"

Zeus looked kindly into his daughter's eyes, and looked to Hades. He
sighed heavily. "You have been gone a half year, girl. The Earth decays and
grows cold. I understand your destiny, my sweet. The Fates have made it known
to me. But I cannot let the Earth die while you comfort those that are already
dead."

Kore burst into tears then, shaking with heavy sobs. She buried her face
in Hades's chest, and he held her, comforting her. Then he spoke solidly and
evenly. "She is mine, Demeter. She has my seed within her."

At this, Kore stopped crying. She had not considered it before!
Demeter's face paled, and she looked with terrified eyes to her daughter. "Is
this true?"

Kore considered the half-truth briefly, and decided that a half-truth was
as good as a full truth, and she nodded. "I do," she whispered.

Zeus laughed heartily, clasping Demeter around the waist. "What folly!
They have defeated us, Demeter! I respect the laws of my fellow gods, and if she
has his seed, she is his. But there is still the issue of the dying Earth. Will
you rise, Kore, for the remainder of the year to give back to the Earth what you
have taken from it? Will you give a half year above, and a half year below?"

Kore considered the request a moment. A half-truth was, indeed, only a
half- truth, and perhaps it would be better that she only gained half the glory
of a full truth. Had it been a full truth, she could stay with Hades a full
year for eternity, but as hers was incomplete, so should she stay with Hades
only half a year.

"I will do as you ask, Father," she said, and she felt Hades heave a deep
sigh beside her. She kissed Hades then, sweetly and gently, her eyes soft and
pleading. "I will be back, my love," she breathed. "I will never leave you.
But I must tend to the Earth that needs me. I will never forget the dead, or
the love that you have taught me. I will return."

And she ascended to the Earth as Persephone, full of the seed of Hades,
the beginnings of death. She tended to the Earth faithfully, lovingly, serving
her mother as her priestess. But as she tended to life, so did she feed it
death, for there cannot be life without death. And even now, she continues as
the ever-virgin, the Maiden of Spring for half a year, and returning to the
Great Below the other half, when darkness grows and the sun shrinks. But just
as the souls descend to the Depths to await rebirth, so too does Persephone wait
for the growing of the sun to bring life and green back to the world.