A SEARCH FOR BRIGHTNESS

In the few moments before dawn, when the sky was still a dull grey with bare hints of rose, a bright dot appeared on the horizon. The dot moved across the still, sleeping meadow until it reached the center, and it hovered above the tall, waving grass. Slowly, so slowly, the dot began to take a shape. As the shape was formed, its brightness increased.

With the rising sun, the meadow began to awaken. Birds flew from tree to tree, insects hummed beside a still pool. A far-off splash was heard as a nymph took her morning bath. Wind blew gently through the long, green grass that parted easily for the figure walking across the lush pasture. A black cloud drifting across the blue, blue sky, and a lone tree, large and stately but yet untouched with the green of spring were the only evidence of the harsh winter that had just passed. The first winter.

Bare feet knew no cuts from the sharp rocks beneath them, nor did pale arms feel the scratch of thorns. Invisible wings brushed against a pale face, and a golden head turned towards the warmth of the sun. "Why, brother?" A whisper blew across the field, and lifted itself up to the ears of the sympathetic god, and the sun shone a little brighter.

Eyes the colour of the violets which littered the ground looked around the meadow, looking at the place that had been home for as long as time, and yet hadn't been seen in over a year. A crystal tear formed in the violet depths. The golden head turned to face the blue, blue sky, turned to face glimmering memories of a home long forgotten, a place of splendor seen only once by violet eyes. "Why, father?" The whisper was grabbed by invisible hands, and carried up, up to the blue, blue sky. A distant rumble was the only acknowledgement.

The figure made its way to the still pond in the corner of the meadow. Long fingers dipped in the cool water made tiny ripples on the surface. A glimmering image appeared through the minuscule waves, a beautiful face surrounded by shining, dark hair. Deep, chocolate eyes smiled with love and contentment. A crystal tear escaped its violet confines and dropped to the surface of the pond, distorting the beautiful image trapped within. "Why, mother?"

The brilliant, golden figure stood and turned away from the pond, and violet eyes stopped on a dark hole in the earth near a cluster of flowers. More shining tears spilled as the figure knelt beside the black opening. A hand reached deep into a pocket within flowing silk, and withdrew several small, round objects the colour of blood. A shallow indent was scratched into the ground and the seeds were dropped in and covered loosely with soil.

The bright figure stood, and the golden head once more turned towards the sky. "I will not give up, father." A low voice carried easily across the quiet field.

Persephone brushed the soil off of her hands, and with a backwards glance at where she had buried the remains of the pomegranate seeds, made her way across the meadow that she had once known so well.

*********************

"She can't stay here, Demeter." Zeus looked past his sister, past the small shining child standing beside her, and out at his golden palace. "There is a light in her eyes..." he trailed off, remembering that he didn't have to explain himself. He wasn't sure he could explain his feelings even if he tried. He turned his fierce gaze back on the tiny girl. She stared back at him without fear.

"She is only one small girl. What possible harm could she do?" Demeter pleaded angrily with her king. The consuming love she felt for her only child overshadowed everything else. Living without her child would not be living.

"No." The word was strong and final. Despair threatened to choke the great goddess.

"Will you have me never see her again?" She cried in anguish. The glowing child was silent and solemn beside her mother.

Zeus looked sympathetically at Demeter. "I didn't ask that. I would not deprive you, sister, of Kori's bright laughter. I just can't allow her to remain in Olympus."

Anger and confusion made Demeter's dark eyes flash. "I don't understand why! At least tell me why!"

Growing increasingly impatient, Zeus shifted on his golden throne. "You are asking me to explain myself?" His voice was deceptively low.

"No, milord." Chastised, Demeter looked at the ground.

"Demeter."

Liquid brown eyes lifted to look at him, and Zeus could feel himself caving ever so slightly. "Sister," he said gently, "it has been foretold that Persephone, little Kori, will be the cause of great destruction on your green earth."

Demeter stared dumbly at her great brother. She didn't question the prophesy, she knew that Zeus always spoke the truth. Turning away, she wrapped golden arms around her slim body. She could feel herself being torn in two.

Of all the gods and goddesses on high Olympus, Demeter was the proudest of the beautiful earth. It was bountiful with her blessings, and often she would walk among the stalks of corn, the sun warm upon her dark head, feeling the earth thank her for her devotion.

"She will... destroy... the earth?"

"No."

Relief filled her. "But you said--"

"She will be the cause of great destruction. I do not know how." He became brusque. "Hermes will take her away. To a meadow. A meadow full of flowers and sunlight. You may visit her as often as you wish. But she is never to leave that meadow."

Demeter knew that Zeus had said all he was going to say. "Yes, milord." She bowed her head towards the golden throne, and then turned to the silent child beside her. "Come, my darling." She took Persephone's small hand, and turned to leave the throne room.

"One moment, sister." Zeus spoke again.

"Yes, milord?"

"Bring the child to me."

Demeter led Persephone to her great father. The tiny girl reached up to him, unafraid. He lifted her onto his lap.

"Small Kori," he spoke softly, his black eyes losing some of their fierceness. "Such a golden child. You will not lose any of your brightness, my Kori, my child." Eyes the colour of violets smiled up at him. "Your shine will rival that of the sun's. And may you always live with laughter, tiny Persephone. May you never lose your golden laugh."

**********************



There was a flash of light at the opposite end of the meadow, and the flutter of winged feet was heard. Persephone looked up, and her laugh was carried to high Olympus. She raced across the field on her long graceful legs, her golden hair flying like a banner behind her. A crooked grin snaked its way across the hand some face of the black-haired god as he held his arms open for the girl to fly into them.

"Brother!" she squealed in delight. "You came!"

"I said I would, star, and you know that I never lie!"

Persephone laughed again, and the birds laughed with her, carrying the sound to the heavens.

"Did you bring it, my brother?"

Hermes reached deep within the folds of his tunic, and with drew a tiny model made of gold. "Hephaestus made it especially for you, 'Seph, like he said he would. Divine Olympus, all in gold."

Persephone took the model from Hermes, and gazed at it raptly. "Thank-you, Hermes. You know that I don't remember living here. It is such a beautiful place! I wish that I could go back." She ended sadly. Raising luminous violet eyes to Hermes, she pleaded with him. "Just for a day, an hour, a minute!"

Hermes looked uncomfortable, and sad. "You know I can't do that, shining star. You have to stay here."

The world was silent for a moment before Persephone turned away from her beloved half-brother. Her eyes looked out at the flower- covered meadow that had been her home for as long as she could remember. "I hate it here!" She said softly, but Hermes felt the force behind her words. "I'd do anything to leave this wretched meadow!"

Hermes placed a hand on the girl's shoulder. His green eyes were full of regret. "'Seph, nothing can be done. The word of Zeus is law. Be content."

She walked a few steps away from him and his hand fell to his side. Birds sang in the warm afternoon sunlight, which turned Persephone's hair to spun gold. She turned once again to face him. "I have been, Hermes. Very content. But now I feel trapped. I feel caged here in my meadow."

Hermes didn't want to say, "you are", and he looked away for a moment so she wouldn't read it in his eyes.

"Enjoy your gift, shining star, I promise I'll be back again soon."

"Must you leave so soon!" Persephone cried.

"Yes. It would not do for your mother to find that I've been bringing you gifts. Especially gifts that make you want to leave the meadow."

"It wasn't the model, Hermes, I've--"

Persephone was cut off by another sudden flash of light. The great goddess Demeter stood before them, and Persephone quickly hid the model in her gown, realizing how angry her mother would be if she saw it.

"Hermes, what do you look so guilty about?" Demeter demanded of the young god.

A crooked grin appeared suddenly on his face, and his green eyes sparkled. "What would I have to feel guilty about, milady?"

And with his winged sandals creating a breeze against their faces, he was gone.

Demeter turned to her beloved daughter, who, for the first time, didn't throw herself into her mother's arms. "Kori, what was that all about?"

"Nothing, mother." Persephone turned away and started across the field, knowing full well that her mother would follow. "My brother was just visiting me. After all," she continued bitterly, "you know that I can't visit him." She looked longingly at the sky, and her mother frowned.

"What kind of silly nonsense has Hermes been filling your head with, Persephone?" They came to a halt beside the still pool in the corner of the pasture.

Persephone made an impatient gesture. "Nothing, mother." She sat down on the soft ground, and the golden model of the home of the gods rolled out of a fold in her gown. Demeter picked it up.

"Where did you get this?" She asked evenly, turning it around in her hands.

Persephone closed her violet eyes. "Hermes gave it to me. I asked him to. Hephaestus made it."

"Why?" Demeter's low voice was filled with anger, and fear.

"Because I know I'll never be able to return there, and I wanted to see it, if only in a model."

Demeter was stung by the bitterness in her daughter's voice. "Are you so very unhappy here, then?" she asked softly.

"No," Persephone sighed, not wishing to hurt her mother. "But lately... lately I've wished for..."

"For what?"

"For something else. For something more."

Demeter was determined to free her daughter's mind from the urge to leave the meadow. "There is nothing more, my darling. You have here all that there is."

"Then why do I feel so... discontented, mother?"

She looked around at her world, at the tall grasses waving gently in the morning breeze, at the bright sun reflected in the still pool. Behind them, a squirrel raced up a pine tree, and scolded them from high above.

Dark brown hair softly framed Demeter's beautiful face. Her eyes were worried and stubborn, but kind. "I honestly don't know why, Kori. The word of Zeus is law, you know that. But I will speak to him."

"No, mother. Don't risk his anger for me. I will be fine. This discontentment will soon pass." Persephone smiled at her mother, the brightness of the sun rivaled by that smile. Demeter smiled back and placed her arms around her beloved child.

"Would that I could do something to ease your unhappiness, Kori."

"I know, mother. But this unhappiness is mine to work out on my own."

************************

The sun shone bright down upon her as it did on every other day. The birds still chased each other through the blue sky, and their song still carried across the meadow. Nothing was different, the world still appeared the same. But Persephone felt a tension in the air, a sense of expectancy, as though the heavens were holding its breath, waiting for something to happen.

Shaking her head, trying to rid herself of this fanciful image, she made her way to her favorite spot by the pond. As she watched her reflection, she brushed her golden hair, and the sun envied her her brightness. A black squirrel, made tame by familiarity, ran over her legs, and she laughed, the sound filling the meadow, and rising up to the clouds, where great Zeus sat and frowned. He too, felt the tension.

Persephone blinked her eyes. Something was different. Her forehead furrowed as she looked around, trying to discern what it was. Her eyes lighted on a small bunch of flowers that she had never seen before. They were tiny and white, with beautiful yellow centers that reminded her of the colour of her brother's winged sandals. She walked slowly to them, mesmerized, and bent down beside them.

She reached out her hand to pluck one of the beautiful blossoms, but before she touched the flower, a great roar was heard from inside the earth. A huge, gaping black hole opened in front of her, and she stumbled back in fear. The roar increased as a figure dressed all in black slowly rose from the center of the hole. The shining girl stared in horror at the figure, whose absolute blackness seemed to drink in the light, making the area surrounding him darker than Persephone's worst nightmare.

When he stepped towards her, she shrunk back. She thought about running from him, but knew instinctively that she wouldn't be able to get away. Persephone couldn't bring herself to look any higher than his chest, which was directly at her eye level. She was too frightened to look up into his face.

"Who are you?" Her voice was small and it shook with her fear. "And what do you want from me?"

"I am Hades." He replied, his voice sounding like it came from deep within him. "I am the king of the Underworld. And I have chosen you for my bride."

"No!" Persephone looked around wildly but could see no escape. She turned back to face the dark king, and her eyes finally lighted on his face. His hair was as black as night, his eyes darker still. Although the day was warm, he was dressed from head to foot in fine black cloth, and Persephone felt cold air escaping from the gaping hole behind him. He was as handsome as Hermes, but he didn't smile.

Curiosity pushed aside a little of her fear. "Why me?" she asked hesitantly.

"Your light, Persephone. I desire your brightness."

She looked at him in surprise, and noticed that he radiated darkness where she radiated light. And her light was being diminished by the force of his darkness. Her eyes widened in confusion, and renewed fear.

"Come, Persephone, we shall return to the underworld. We shall return to my kingdom."

"No!" She cried. "I still don't understand!"

Hades finally smiled, but it was frightening in its bitterness. "Mine is a dark kingdom, and a lonely one. Your light shall make it less so."

He caught her up in his arms, and before she had a chance to scream, they disappeared down the hole, which closed as quickly as it had opened.

The meadow was still the same. There was no evidence that there had ever been a disturbance. Birds still sang their songs of spring, and the wind still blew through the long grasses of the field. But on the far side of the pond, green eyes blinked, and the sound of wings filled the air for a moment, before all was silent once more.

********************

Cold air rushed through barren fields, and the sound of mourning was heard for yet another who had perished from lack of food.

The earth was no longer green and growing. Great Demeter had stopped blessing the harvests, and now no new plants appeared through dry soil.

"She is gone, Zeus, and until she is found... I will keep searching! I shall not rest until my child is returned to me. I shall not stop searching until my Persephone is found!"

Zeus rubbed his eyes as his sister whirled and stormed from the throne room. He didn't even think to become angry with her for not waiting to be dismissed from his presence. His tiny Kori, gone. And he, the greatest of all gods, didn't know where to begin looking.

Nor would he look, he decided, straightening himself in his throne. Persephone was her mother's responsibility, and his responsibilities were too many, and too important to push aside to look for the girl. Still, he'd ask Hermes to keep a look out for her.

*******************

Persephone wandered through the dark halls of the palace, and pulled her wrap tighter around her. It was icy cold in the great kingdom beneath the earth, and she longed to feel the warmth of the sun on her skin.

The wedding was to take place in a week. She had been down in the underworld for several months, and she had seen the king only once in the entire time she'd been held captive. She'd been given jewels and fine clothes to wear, and beautiful objects to amuse her. But Persephone wasn't happy. She spent her time trying to find her way back, but never got further than the thick forests around the castle, where it was always as dark as night.

"There is no colour here." She thought miserably, "everything is black, or grey." She stopped near a window that looked out on the dark forest, and she could hear the sounds of the souls wailing. Shuddering, she moved on, not realizing that she left a tiny wake of light wherever she went.

Still wandering, she aimlessly pushed open a heavy door at the end of a long hall, and found herself in the great throne room of Hades's castle. The dark god himself was seated upon an ebony throne. Persephone's eyes widened, and she shrunk back against the wall.

A sigh was heard from the direction of the throne, and he motioned to her. "Please, come in, Persephone. You are welcome anywhere in my castle, including the throne room, where you shall soon preside with me."

Persephone said nothing, and moved no further into the room. Another sigh reached her ears.

"You have nothing to fear, Persephone." The voice was sad, and she looked up in surprise. "You are not to be my slave, but my queen. You shall rule this castle, everything in it is yours."

She didn't speak, and moved no further into the room.

"I have given you everything I can think of, and yet you still aren't happy. Tell me what would make you happy, what would make you smile, what would make you laugh your golden laugh? What is it you desire, Persephone?"

"My freedom, milord."

Hades looked fierce, and dark, and sad. "I'm sorry. That's the one thing not in my power to give"

Persephone turned and left the throne room.

*******************

"Then you shall go and fetch her at once!"

"I'm afraid it's not that easy, milord." Hermes looked slyly at his king. "Your brother claimed her for his bride, and by law--"

"I make the laws, Hermes."

"So you do, milord."

"How long have you known of her whereabouts?"

"Not long." Hermes lied blandly.

Zeus rose and descended from his throne. "Demeter has been making everyone miserable with her wailing about her daughter. And the earth is slowly dying because nothing is growing, and nothing has grown in over a year. If we bring Persephone back, everything will return to normal."

"Will it, milord?"

"What do you mean, Hermes?" Zeus turned and narrowed his eyes at the young god.

"I don't think Hades will give her up easily. And law is law."

Great Zeus sighed deeply. "I suppose I will have to take my brother into consideration." He paused for a long moment, thinking. "So be it then. Go and fetch the girl, Hermes, and return her to the meadow. And then bring her mother to me. I have decided how to solve this dilemma."

********************

Her misery was evident in every step she took. The brightness that shone from her had faded in the bleakness of the dark castle. Hades watched her, and cursed his darkness, cursed the dismal life that chance had caused him to lead.

A bowl of odd-coloured fruit sat on a side table in a hall near the throne room. Persephone looked at it with curiosity. Nothing had captured her interest until now, until her eyes had fallen on the fruit in the bowl. Being immortal, she ate only when she desired to. She wanted the fruit in the bowl.

The skin was hard and rubbery, similar to an orange, and when she ripped off a section, drops of juice fell to the table, juice the deep red colour of blood. Tiny, red seeds fell from inside the fruit, unlike anything she had ever seen before. She picked up one and placed it on her tongue. She smiled.

Her fingers and lips became stained with the juice, and with every seed she ate, she could feel her spirits lifting. As she raised her hand to her mouth, her eyes glanced up at the walls of the hallway. The seed fell from her hand to the table. The walls were gold.

The fruit placed in her pocket and then forgotten, Persephone wandered down the halls that she had become so familiar with. But she recognized nothing. What had been black and miserable was now bright and gold. The constant wailing of souls had changed in her ears to sweet songs. She no longer felt cold, and dropped her fur wrap to the floor behind her, not stopping.

Finally, she reached the throne room and pushed wide the door. Hades sat on his high throne, but in Persephone's new sight, he had ceased to look dark and foreboding. Stunned by this new vision of him, she failed to notice the other figure in the room, which turned green eyes on her.

Hermes grinned to himself as Persephone walked through the door. He could see now why Hades was so determined to wed her. In the year since Hermes had seen her last it seemed as though her brightness had increased, and a golden glow followed her, lighting the dark castle. The shining Persephone knelt in front of the dark king, her golden hair falling forward, covering her face. "Milord, I would be honored to become your queen. I am truly sorry that I have been so rude in the past." She looked up at him, and the light in her face caused him to smile. She laughed her golden laugh, and Hades could feel the entire castle growing warmer, as though the sun had decided to shine on it. But then Hermes stepped forward, and Hades frowned again.

At his frown, Persephone looked quickly around. "Hermes!" She didn't race to his arms as she had done before, but rose gracefully and placed both her hands in his. "I'm so glad you came." She looked around and her eyes saw colour and light.

"You must return to your meadow, Persephone." Hermes started to lead her away. "Your mother has been very distressed at your disappearance."

Persephone pulled back. "But I don't want to return! I want to stay here." She looked in desperation at Hades, who looked back at her helplessly.

"Mine shall always be a dark and lonely kingdom without you, my Persephone."

"But it's not dark! Look at the light! Look at the colour! Hermes, can't you see the colour?"

Hermes frowned. "Black and grey is all I see, shining star. You're the only light in here."

"No! There is colour! There is!"

"Not without you, Persephone. Not without you."

Hermes took hold of her hand, and led her from the throne room, where the dark king stared at the black door.

*******************

"She ate some pomegranate seeds."

"No! That isn't enough! Zeus meant a banquet! What are a few seeds? They are nothing! My daughter can't be banished for eternity because she mistakenly ate a few tiny seeds!"

"She ate food of the underworld, Demeter. Did I state that a certain amount had to be consumed? One seed, or five, or five thousand, it matters not. Persephone is to be returned to Hades."

Demeter glared at her brother, and also at Hermes, who was the one who brought the distressing news. "I still think it is unfair. If my daughter is not returned to me, there shall be no more green plants on the earth, and all shall die. Living without my glowing Persephone is not living!" And with that, Demeter spun and stormed from the throne room.

"She will make everyone's life miserable." Hermes observed.

"Yes." Zeus agreed. "But I have made my decision, and my decision is final."

"Perhaps, milord, you might rethink that decision."

"My word is law."

"Oh, I realize that, my liege, but perhaps giving in to Demeter might be easier than having everyone bear her constant misery." A crash was heard from the other end of the golden palace, and Hermes winced.

"You may be right, Hermes. Call Demeter back in here, and tell her that I have reconsidered. But I haven't totally given in to my sister. Persephone shall still spend four out of every twelve months with Hades in the underworld."

"Demeter will still not be pleased. She will most likely wail and storm about when her daughter is with Hades."

"Then we will let Demeter storm. I think her earth can survive four months of barrenness a year."

*********************

Sunlight filled the meadow with Persephone's return, and the birds sang cheerfully at her sudden appearance. Persephone looked at the pomegranate tree beside the pond and smiled. She didn't have to stay constantly in her meadow since Zeus`s final decision concerning her fate, but she always chose to return here. She sat down beneath the tree to await her mother, who always arrived in the meadow soon after Persephone came back from spending her four short months with Hades.

A soft thud was heard as a pomegranate dropped out of the tree and landed beside her.

With a laugh that echoed through the tops of the trees, Persephone turned and picked up the ripe fruit. Ripping through the tough skin, she dug out a handful of seeds, staining her fingers as she had done so many years before. She fed the black squirrel who climbed down out of a nearby tree to sit by her. She fed the birds who swooped down to greet her. But she didn't eat any of the seeds herself.

For then she might be forced to stay in her meadow again.



THE END