Eurydice shivered in her thin shift. Why hadn't she thought to bring something warmer? But it was warm up there where she came from, that was one thing they'd never lacked for. You could whistle in the wind for a decent wage or even a meal in your belly, sure, but heat and dust didn't cost you a penny.
But now here she sat, in the back seat beside the man who'd promised her gold and all the food she could eat until her belly couldn't take any more. Down in Hadestown was the land of honey and milk, she'd heard it, and he'd said it was so, with his dark smooth voice like oil on water. And she'd been so very hungry.
His coach was like him, with its black leather and gleaming metal, and she felt like it'd swallowed her whole. They sped down, down into the dark of the earth. At the gate, the growl of the watchdogs shook the air, black shapes half-glimpsed, with the ruff of their necks bristling and their eyes glinting in the light. Eurydice shrank back in the seat.
The driver stopped, and the watchdogs quieted to the touch of their master's hand. Hades tweaked the ears of one. "Good boy," he rumbled. The hound growled and lowered its head in submission.
The wall of Hadestown stood before them, and they drove through the gates, thick and black and bristling with razor wire. People looked up as they passed, their pale faces turned up like night-blooming flowers, but the coach sped by too fast to make them out.
The coach pulled up. "Well, little songbird. This is my palace." Hades pointed to it with a flick of his thick fingers.
But Eurydice didn't see it--she couldn't look away from him. How would the price be reckoned? She hadn't asked. Would he take her into his bed with its silken sheets and fuck her? Would he lay her there and press her down with that heavy well-fed body, taking whatever price he wanted? She shuddered.
She'd done a lot to keep from starving. Stealing, sure. She'd done that plenty of times. You had to eat, and if people who had food didn't want to share it, then worse luck to them. But she hadn't never sold her body for it. Well, maybe that was just because she'd never yet been hungry enough. And maybe she wouldn't get the choice, now. And oh, Orpheus--but no use thinking of him, now. She swallowed, looking at the heavy bulk of Hades, the glint of his eyes.
He seemed to know what she was thinking, because he smirked at her, one corner of his mouth lifting in a sardonic smile. "Come on then, little bird. Come in and meet my wife."
The breath went out of her. Not that kind of price, then.
He laughed and chucked her under the chin. "I think she'll like you."
And oh, but his wife was beautiful. She was the most elegant thing Eurydice had ever seen: slim, but not like she'd ever known starving, with smooth olive skin that hadn't lost its color even underground. Eurydice wanted to touch her silk dress, run her fingers along it, if she hadn't been afraid she'd get it dirty. And her mouth was red, so red and full and flush with life.
Hades pulled his wife in with a hand around her waist, kissed her on that red mouth. "See what I found, my Persephone. Look at the little songbird I caught up above."
Persephone tilted her head to one side, ran a hand down Eurydice's cheek to her neck. It raised goosebumps on her, that finger. So warm, it was, and she stood still and shivered.
"Lovely," Persephone said. Her voice was low and smooth like dark honey. "But so thin. We must feed her, don't you think?"
"I did promise her a feast," Hades said, sounding amused.
And such a feast it was. She sat down with them at a table, with Hades at the head of it and Persephone at his right side, and Eurydice at his left.
"Now eat your fill," Hades said, and servants began to carry in dishes. Servants! They looked much finer than her, and they moved smooth and graceful, and did not meet her eyes.
But she didn't think of that long, because before her lay the feast: olives, both black and green; soft creamy cheese; bread, not the coarse dark bread she was used to, but white bread with a golden crust, steaming and warm when she broke it. There was rich red wine. There were plump little birds, roasted whole and stuffed with grain, and pork ribs sizzling with fat. There were sweet almond cakes dripping with honey, and every kind of fruit: delicate peeled grapes, oranges that had ripened in the sun, peaches with soft rose-colored skins, and dark red pomegranate seeds.
Eurydice ate. She tried not be vulgar, seeing how the lord and lady took dainty little bites. But she could not help sucking the fat and the honey from her fingers. She needed it, oh, how she needed it.
"Careful," Persephone murmured. "Don't eat too much."
But Eurydice couldn't help it--she was used to snatching all the food she could, and she wasn't about to stop now. You never knew when you'd eat again.
When she couldn't eat one single thing more, she looked up to find them both looking at her, the lady no less than the lord.
"Had your fill?" Hades said.
"Yes, my lord," she said. "Thank you."
"Let's see if she'll sing for her supper, then," he said to Persephone. "What do you say? Would you like her to...sing...for us?"
"I don't have much of a voice," Eurydice said. Though it wasn't her voice they were talking about, was it?
"Oh, I think you do," he said.
Eurydice looked at Persephone, trying to plead with her eyes. Maybe, if it'd been just the lady, she wouldn't fear it so much. But Hades, no, she couldn't bear the thought of him touching her, the darkness in his eyes, the sardonic laugh. She shivered with cold, just thinking about it. Why had she ever left the warmth of the sun?
Persephone's eyes were dark, too, but it was a different darkness. Her full red lips curved upwards, and she said, "No, I think we'll let her go. Songbirds don't sing well in cages, after all."
"Very well, my love," Hades said.
Eurydice stared at him. They'd let her go? Really?
"You think her merciful," Hades said to Eurydice. His voice rumbled deep in his chest like gravel. "You'll find it isn't so--she belongs to the underground as much as I do. But we'll let you go, then, and you'll pay the price another way."
Eurydice drew in a breath.
"Yes, of course," he said, his smile widening, baring teeth. "You didn't think all this would come free, would you? We're not a charity down here, after all."
Ten minutes later, the gates of the palace shut behind her with a solid clang. It was cold and damp. Above her, a black so deep she might forget the stars were ever there, up above in the world she came from. The only light was the lamp over the gate.
"But--where do I go?" she asked the guard who'd taken her out.
"Barracks," he said. "Down the road. There's one for the women on the right hand side, and you can start work in the morning."
"Work?" she asked.
"Look, girl, just go. The bosses will tell you what to do in the morning," he said, not unkindly.
Eurydice went. Persephone had thrown her a cloak as a farewell gift, and she clutched it tightly around herself as she made her way down the road. She was barefoot, and the gravel was cold, and rough even on her toughened soles.
She felt sick to her stomach with the feast she'd eaten, and she hadn't walked more than a couple of hundred feet when she was forced to bend over and hurl it all up, all the rich food her stomach couldn't take, not when she'd gone hungry for so long. The blood rushed to her head, and she panted, her stomach cramping again. She braced herself with her hands on her knees and wiped her mouth. It tasted sour.
Nothing for it but to go on.
There was one dim lamp outside the barracks, and Eurydice knocked on the door. A stout hard-eyed woman opened. "Look, it's past curfew. What are you doing out?"
"I'm new. I was told to go here?"
The woman sniffed. "From the upside, are you? Well, we'll see if you can do any work."
"I can work," she said. It didn't sound so bad, did it? Honest work, and an honest wage at the end of the day. She'd heard this was a good place, after all, and it couldn't all be lies.
"Right, then. Go on in--there should be a spare mattress in there somewhere."
The room was dark, and she stumbled over something first thing.
"Uh?" a sleepy voice mumbled. "Watch where you're going."
She stood still while her eyes got used to the dark, with the dim light shining in through a small window. The floor was covered with sleeping figures on mattresses, and she picked her way between them until she came to an empty one.
Lying there swept in the cloak Persephone had given her, she shivered a little. It was cold, and the cloak wasn't enough, not really. What had she done? There was no getting back through those gates, with the razor wire, the growling guard dogs. The massive wall.
Last night she'd slept in Orpheus' arms. Slept poorly, sure, with her stomach aching with hunger, but twined together, they'd slept warm even under the stars. Laughing, carefree, happy-go-lucky Orpheus, who thought a song could fix their every problem.
And yes, it was true: his voice was like nothing else she'd heard, and she couldn't keep her eyes off him when he sang. Or her hands either, afterwards. But it just wasn't enough. You couldn't live like that, from day to day, never knowing when you'd get any money or food or a roof over your head.
She'd had to do it, hadn't she? Well, she'd made her bed and now she'd have to lie in it.
Eurydice finally dropped off, from sheer exhaustion if nothing else, but it felt like she'd only slept a minute or two before a loud voice woke her.
"Get up, there! Time for work. Don't laze around!"
Eurydice groaned, sat up, and rubbed at eyes that felt like they had sand in them. Damn it, she was still exhausted. All around her, women were getting up, grumbling like her, but getting dressed and ready.
"You! You're the new one, right?"
Eurydice looked up to see the stout woman from yesterday. "Yes."
"Well, we'll get you some gear. You'll need boots, and something more to wear. And a pick, of course."
She blinked. "All right." It struck her that she didn't know what the work would be, down here, but she supposed she'd find out.
The boots she got fit all right, and seemed stout enough. Besides that, she got a pair of trousers and a shirt, both obviously worn by someone else before, but still whole, and a pick-axe. Perhaps this all came with the job--she hoped so.
The woman seemed to know what she was wondering. "Don't think you're getting this for free--it'll come out of your pay, if you don't have any money. Which your lot usually doesn't." She sniffed.
"Thank you, ma'am." It seemed best not to provoke her.
"Well, of with you now, so you don't miss the train."
It turned out to be an actual train, with people cramming into the open train cars, men and women both, lit by lanterns, their faces shadowed. Eurydice jumped up into one car, and stood there while the train wheels squeaked to life with the sharp smell of heated metal and they were off. "Where's the work? Where are we going?" she asked a woman beside her.
The woman raised her eyebrows at her. "You new?" Her clothing was worn out and torn in several places.
"Well, we're going down."
"We're already in the underground, aren't we?"
"Sure. But every year it goes deeper. We follow the gold, and there's none left up here."
She gave a sound that might have been a laugh. "Don't you even know what we're here for? Gold. We mine the gold for Hades."
And the train was going down, for sure. She'd lost all sense of direction but that: the brakes squealing, the hairpin turns, all going down, down, down into the darkness.
The train ground to a stop, and the crammed bodies began to get out, the movement transplanting through the living crowd until it reached her, and she got out, steadying herself on the cold metal of the train car.
"Right! You fill these cars up," a voice shouted, and she followed the tide of people. It didn't look like gold, what they hauled back to the train cars. Not that there was much light to see by, but it just looked like rock to her.
"Is this really gold?" she asked the man beside her.
"Sure," he said, wiping the sweat off his brow. "But it's gold ore, not gold outright. You got to do something to it, melt it down, to get the gold out."
"Oh," Eurydice said. Somehow she'd imagined the gold running in butter-yellow veins through the rock, shining in the lamplight. She snorted at her own dreams. Might as well have imagined the gold coins falling right into her hands.
It was back-breaking work. Before long, the skin of her hands was sore, and her shoulders ached with it. She started taking less of a load, and trying to dawdle a bit on the way back.
"Hey, you!" a guard shouted, shoving at her. "Do your share!"
Eurydice bit her lip. She didn't think talking back would help her, and she picked up her pace a bit. But then she saw one of the other women glaring at the guard.
"Don't let him get to you," the woman muttered at her when they'd gotten out of sight of the guard.
Eurydice impulsively reached out to squeeze the woman's hand. "Thanks," she said. Just a word of simple human decency, but it meant so much. It almost made the load lighter. Almost.
On the next round, she happened to glance up, and saw, of all things, a bird cage hanging up there from the damp uneven rock. A songbird sat in it. She stopped and stared. It wasn't singing--who would, down here?--but it sat there, drab and brown and preening its feathers with its beak.
The person behind her bumped into her. "Hey, what's the hold-up?"
"What is that? The bird? Why's it down here?"
"Oh, that? That's to see if there's any mine gas down here. The bird would die first, if there was." He shrugged. "We'd die, too, probably, but it's something."
That night Eurydice was bone-tired. She ate the food that was ladled out to them (docked from their pay, of course). She supposed it was all right. A feast, she would've said, before she'd eaten at Hades and Persephone's table. She tasted bile in her mouth, thinking of that feast.
She slept like the dead that night.
Next morning, the boss-woman's voice woke her and she scrunched her eyes against the sudden light. It was all to do again, the back-breaking work, and this time with her whole body sore from the day before.
You could do more than you thought you could, Eurydice learned. After a while the aches just seemed like the way things were. She learned the names of her bunk-mates, learned which ones would give you a helping hand and a smile, or keep a look-out for when the bosses were cracking down extra-hard, and warn you. Most were decent folks. Some were petty, or would try to get more than their share, or would tell on you if you slacked off. But not many were like that.
Still, the work filled her world. There wasn't any space left to think, and Orpheus seemed so very far away. He was up in the sunshine, somewhere. She barely remembered the sunshine.
"Hey, you coming along to get some moonshine?" one of the other women asked her, after they ate one night.
"Moonshine?" The moon seemed very far away, too. Or maybe she meant the other kind of moonshine. Of course she did.
"I heard the Lady's setting up shop tonight. Down by one of the warehouses."
So after lights-out they sneaked out, between the warehouses full of gold ore until they got to one where light and music stole out between the cracks. Inside it was warm and smoky, with a press of people, still grimy from the workday, but so was she, so she didn't care.
And there she was, the Lady--behind the bar, handing out drinks. Eurydice couldn't take her eyes off her, she looked so fine. Hair black and glossy, cut short to end above her smooth neck. Slim, and elegant, and her mouth curved as she smiled and looked over the crowd. Eurydice held her breath, but the Lady's gaze just slid right over her. She wasn't nothing special, after all.
"Thinks she's something," one of the women with her muttered.
"I'm sure not turning down her drinks, though," one of the others said.
They elbowed their way through the crowd to reach the bar. The Lady did see her, then, and she leaned in close. "Songbird," she murmured. "So you're here."
The others looked sideways at her, and Eurydice felt herself flush. She didn't want to be singled out. But the Lady remembered her, after all.
"Today the Upside's coming Down," Persephone said, smiling. "What's your poison? Sunshine or moonshine?"
"Sunshine," Eurydice whispered, thinking about the summer heat, and how she missed it, after all.
"Sunshine it is," Persephone said, pouring something in a glass for her. "On the house." She poured for the other two as well.
Eurydice lowered her eyes in confusion and took a sip, just for something to do. And oh, but it was like sunshine: strong and sweet and warm. She took another sip, hungry for it, drawing it out. She looked up, to catch the Lady looking at her, something wistful in her eyes.
"Thank you," she said.
"You shouldn't thank me," Persephone said with a wry smile, and turned away to serve someone else.
"You know her?" one of her friends said skeptically.
Eurydice shook her head. "No. I surely don't. She just...saw me when I first came in from the Upside. Didn't think she'd remember."
Later, when they'd gone back to the barracks for some sleep before the next workday, she dreamed. She dreamed of the Lady under the sunlight, in the green grass of spring. She kissed Eurydice on the lips. The dream melted away when she woke, leaving only the sweet taste of honey in her mouth.
There was a riot a few days after that.
Eurydice didn't see it start, but she heard about it afterwards, that it began with someone being short-changed on the ore they'd brought in. The scales weren't fair, they said. She could believe that.
She didn't see much of the actual fighting, either, but they called the guards away from her barracks, and she and some of the others got into the kitchen while they were gone. Eurydice went to sleep that night with a full belly, at least.
The next day, she heard that someone over in the next barracks had got their arm broken in the fighting, and that he'd been taken away. Couldn't work with a broken arm. They whispered about it, when the guards didn't hear. What happened to him? Some said he got sent to the Upside again. Some whispered that he was fed to the hounds. They'd heard them howling in the night, at the gates.
When Orpheus came, she only knew about it when they sent for her. Down in the mine, guards moved among the workers, asked people's names, made their way finally to her.
"Eurydice," she said warily, when they asked her.
"That's her," one of them said, taking hold of her arm. What did they want?
"Where are you taking her?" one of the other workers said, taking a step closer to her.
"None of your business," said the guard, shoving the other woman away. "Get back to work, now."
They dragged her off, took her up the long way from the bottom of the mine, up to Hades' palace. And there he was: her Orpheus. Their eyes met across the wide polished floor, and she drank in the sight of him like he was the sun itself. He stared back at her, and in his eyes she saw how thin and pale and dirty she must look to him.
"Well, then," Hades voice rumbled behind her. She started, turned around. She'd hardly seen he was there.
"Here she is, your little songbird. Take her; she's yours," Hades continued with an expansive gesture.
What? They were just going to let her go?
Orpheus looked confused, too, but he covered it, bowing his performer's bow. "Thank you, Lord."
"On one condition," Hades said, his voice low and smooth. "You'll have to trust me. Don't turn to look behind you. She'll be there, but you can't look at her."
Orpheus' brow furrowed, as Hades held out a paper and a pen. "Sign it."
He did, and Hades took the paper back, smirking. As if he needed a piece of paper to get what he wanted.
He waved his hand at Orpheus. "Start walking. She'll be right behind you."
Orpheus gave her one last desperate look--they'd hadn't even talked to each other--and started walking, slowly.
Hades leaned down to hiss in her ear. "Whatever you do, don't say anything. The hounds will be there, watching. If you do..." He let his voice trail off.
Eurydice glanced around him, at the Lady, tried to plead with her with her eyes. What was going on? The Lady was watching them, her lips pressed together.
"Hades--" she said, stepping towards them.
"You've done quite enough already," Hades said, his voice a warning. The Lady shut her mouth.
"Now go," Hades said, pushing Eurydice towards the palace door. Eurydice went.
Orpheus was ahead of her, walking slowly, and she caught up, then kept carefully behind him.
The guards let them through the gate in the wall, and after that, the hounds began to pace them silently. She glanced behind once, caught a glimpse of dark fur and teeth, and then turned forward again. Nobody said she couldn't look behind, but she didn't want to.
"Eurydice?" Orpheus said. "Are you there?"
She heard the hounds padding behind her, said nothing.
"Eurydice? He said I couldn't look, but there's nothing says I can't talk to you, right?"
No, nothing. But she couldn't talk back. Goosebumps rose on her neck, and she wanted to walk faster, except then she'd overtake him.
It seemed like it took forever, that long walk up the train tracks with the hounds breathing behind her. Orpheus kept talking, and Eurydice clenched her teeth at at the way he sounded, more and more desperate with every switchback of the tracks.
And he turned to look, at last. Of course he did--he'd always needed her like that, needed her to smile at him in the audience, needed her touch and her words and her reassurance.
Damn him. Eurydice stared at him, at the betrayed look on his face as the hounds surged up to separate them as neatly as sheepdogs divided a flock.
"No!" he cried.
Eurydice said nothing. She thought she could almost see daylight up there, at the end of the tunnel. She almost didn't know what was hardest to lose: Orpheus, or that warm sunlight on her skin. It made her angry, that she was betraying him in her heart like that. Well, he'd betrayed her. Why couldn't he have held out just a little bit longer? Why?
The walk down again was long, and her feet hurt.
Everyone in her barracks knew what had happened, more or less. Talk got around.
"Some singer he must be, to get the boss' heart soft like that," one woman said to her.
"He is," Eurydice said.
"'Course, the boss wouldn't really let you go, would he? He rigged the game."
Eurydice shrugged. "I guess so."
"But at least you had a shot at it. I heard it was the Lady got him to do it," another one said.
The first one scoffed. "She's as bad as he is. What, you think just 'cause she sells us some moonshine now and then, she's on our side?" She shook her head. "Living it up in that palace, eating peeled grapes or something."
There really had been peeled grapes at the feast in the palace, Eurydice remembered.
"Oh, come on. You think she has a choice, really? You think he doesn't keep her there just as surely as he's keeping us?"
"So I'm supposed to be sorry for her, sleeping on silk sheets while we're down here working for hardly any pay?"
Eurydice shivered. She'd had that choice, and she'd said no. Of course, she hadn't known exactly what she was choosing between.
She thought she'd still make that same choice, though.
Eurydice heard about the plans for the revolt before it happened. It spread in whispers in the cover of night, in the barracks. Sometimes down in the mine during the workday, too, when the guards were away. She didn't know all of it, just bits and pieces, and she didn't know if anyone did know it all, though there must've been plans for a long time.
It began with a deep, rumbling boom that shook the ground beneath them.
"Oh, the idiots," the woman beside her said.
"They blew the gate?" another one said.
"Yeah, must be. Sure hope it doesn't bring the whole mine down."
Eurydice looked up at the ceiling. She had to fight down panic before she could listen to what else was going on.
"Come on," someone was saying, tugging at her sleeve. And then they were all running, not towards the gate, but towards the palace. Where were the guards? Eurydice couldn't see any--maybe they'd gone to the gates, maybe someone else was fighting them somewhere.
People had whispered about the palace, about all the money Hades must have there. The money that should be theirs. Eurydice agreed, sure, but she wasn't going to stick her nose out for it. Not with all the guards around. But now here she was, running with the others. The woman beside her grinned at her, looking crazy, or happy, and Eurydice felt an answering madness rise inside her. She ran, out of breath and with her heart pounding, and strangely elated.
At the palace, people were already fighting with the guards. Nobody could be in charge of this chaos, not on either side: someone lying on the ground, a guard, with dark blood on his head; a man turning, too late, to meet a blow, and falling; a woman using a shovel to beat at a guard who was already down. Everything sharp and clear, in bits and pieces.
"Hades! Hades! We want Hades!" people were shouting. There were a lot more of them than there were guards.
A guard came near her; she ran. She didn't have a weapon.
"Hey, the back door is down! Come on," someone she half-knew shouted beside her.
More confusion inside. Corridors, rooms, people running past them with loot: golden plates, velvet clothing, food, bottles of wine. Some looked like they were drunk, or maybe that was just the excitement. Some of the looters had guard uniforms on.
A band of men who looked like they had a purpose strode past. "Hades is gone!" they said to her group. "We can't find him anywhere!"
"We haven't seen him either," one of the ones with her said.
Eurydice ducked into an empty room, to catch her breath and to get away from all the noise and confusion. She leaned her forehead against the cool door, closing her eyes.
A noise behind her, and she startled, her heart pounding. She'd thought the room was empty!
For a long moment, Eurydice met the dark eyes of the Lady from the wardrobe where she'd been hiding, and neither of them moved.
"Are you going to turn me in?" the Lady said at last, quietly.
Eurydice opened her mouth, closed it. She thought of what people had said, about the Lady being as much to blame as Hades. Well, maybe not as much, but if Hades was gone, people might want someone else to blame, and it could turn ugly. She held the Lady's gaze, thought of the sunshine she'd swallowed down.
"No," she said, or tried to say. Her throat was dry, and she cleared it. "No," she said again, stronger. "But--where's Hades?"
The Lady shrugged, a small tired movement of her shoulders. "He wasn't here when the mob came. I don't know where he is."
She might be lying, Eurydice supposed. But she didn't want to think so. "Doesn't he want you with him?"
The Lady shrugged again. She didn't look so fine anymore, not like a high lady. She looked like anyone, even though her clothes were still fine and her skin wasn't roughened with work. Some of the surety was gone from her face, leaving uncertainty instead.
"Come on," Eurydice said, without thinking too much about it. "I'll help you out of here."
The Lady took a breath. "How? People will recognize me."
"We need to get you out of those clothes. People won't look twice at you then."
"All right, then." The Lady seemed to gather her wits. "The servants' quarters. Maybe I could find something there."
Eurydice remembered the fancy servants who had served at the feast. Well, she supposed there must be kitchen servants as well, and people who swept the floors, and so on. "Stay here," she said. "I'll go get some clothes."
The Lady bit her lip and nodded. "All right. Thank you," she said.
Eurydice got the directions and went, dodging more looters. The servants' quarters were mostly abandoned, and nobody looked twice at her when she ran back with a bundle in her arms. She passed the kitchens, grabbed some food and a cloth to carry it in: a loaf of bread, not the fancy kind they'd eaten at the feast, but darker bread for the servants, and a round cheese, and some dried figs. The floor of the kitchen was sticky with sauce and something else, spilled on the floor.
"Here," she told the Lady, thrusting the bundle of clothes at her. The Lady glanced at her, then set her jaw and began to strip out of her fine clothes. Eurydice looked away, only glanced at her enough to see glimpses of her smooth olive skin.
"Ready," she said, straightening. In the drab clothes of a kitchen worker, she still looked like herself.
"You should cover your hair," Eurydice said, taking the shawl she'd brought and wrapping it around the Lady's long black hair, so that it shadowed her eyes. "Better. Come on, let's go."
"To the upside," she said, without thinking. "I'm not staying down here--I want to see the sunshine again." The roof of stone weighed down on her, even inside the palace.
"I do, too," the Lady whispered.
And they went.
The wall wasn't just cracked, it was broken wide open, and a steady stream of people were picking their way through it. Stone rubble and razor wire were strewn around it, from the explosion she'd heard earlier.
Eurydice wondered where the hounds were, if they'd been blown up, too, or if they were still here somewhere. She shivered. They started up the long track to the upside, dark now. The lights up there had blown with the explosion. But some people had torches, enough to see by, a little.
It had been late when the riots started, and Eurydice was bone tired, the dregs of her earlier excitement making her feet drag like lead. She couldn't walk all the way, not like this.
The Lady, beside her, was stubbornly keeping up, but Eurydice could tell she was flagging, too. Nobody had known her, not in her servants' clothes.
"Want to stop for the night?" she asked.
"Where?" the Lady asked.
"Just--by the roadside, I guess. I think we're pretty close to the upside, but I can't go on much longer." She'd taken a blanket from the palace when they left, for warmth.
They found a little alcove that hadn't been taken by anyone else yet, and Eurydice spread the blanket out and lowered herself down to the rocky floor, wincing at the ache in her calf. She'd hit it somehow. There was a group a bit further up, a man and two women. They had a fire going, from railroad ties that they'd pulled out from under the tracks. The faint flickering light fell on the Lady's face. She looked drawn and tired.
Eurydice got the food out, broke the bread, and they ate hungrily. The man came over, hesitated, then asked. "You got some food to spare?"
Eurydice looked up at his face. She thought she knew him, a bit, from her shift, though she wasn't sure. She nodded, tore off half the loaf of bread. "You got a knife, I'll cut you off some of the cheese."
He took one out, and she did. "Thanks," he said. "You can share the fire, if you want."
It was cold, and Eurydice did want, but--they might recognize the Lady. "Thanks. We got blankets, though."
"All right." He went back to the other group.
After they ate, they lay down to rest. The stone floor was cold and uncomfortable, though there was enough blanket to go underneath them and over them both, if they pressed close.
She felt the strong beating heart of the Lady, felt her warm breath. Somehow she hadn't thought of her like this, like just another body you could touch.
"Where do you come from, Lady?" she whispered.
The Lady shifted against her. "No, don't call me that. I'm Persephone."
"Persephone," Eurydice whispered. "Where do you come from?"
Silence, and Eurydice thought she might not get an answer. Then, "The Upside."
"So does everyone."
"I suppose." Persephone glanced over towards the fire, then came closer, put her mouth by Eurydice's ear. She could feel Persephone's breath against it as she whispered low. "I wasn't always--his lady. My mother is a farmer. Her name is Demeter. She has a big farm, and grows things like grapes and oranges, not just grain and potatoes. She sold food to Hades."
"And Hades saw me in the garden, and he wanted me like he wanted the fruit. I was—young. Not that I'm old now, but this place doesn't let you stay young. And I came with him."
Did she come of her own free will, Eurydice wondered, or not? Of course, she'd gain now by making it seem like she wasn't on his side at all and never had been. Eurydice shook her head, to try to get the thought out. This tangled suspiciousness, she didn't want it. She wanted to believe her.
"What?" Persephone asked, at her movement.
"Did you love him?" Eurydice whispered.
Silence, again. At last, Persephone shrugged. "What does that mean? I loved him. I didn't love him. At least I could spread a little sunshine even down here in the mine. But my mother didn't approve. She had a lot of influence, among the other farmers, and she got it so that I had to come back half of each year, or they wouldn't sell the food to him. And that half year--I needed it. It was how I stayed alive down here, how I could do even the little that I did."
Eurydice could feel all the places that they touched. She was warm, there, like the sun was shining on her, and she didn't even mind the hard stone floor underneath her. She held her breath, curled her fingers around the curve of Persephone's waist to hold her closer. And Persephone settled into her with a sigh.
"And you?" Persephone asked. "How did you end up here?"
"Maybe not so different from you, really. He talked to me, and he told me things were different down here, that it was the land of plenty. And I was hungry."
"Of course you were," Persephone whispered.
"Tell me about where you come from," Eurydice said, wanting to think about something else. "Tell me about your mother's gardens."
"She grows grapes," Persephone said, her voice low in Eurydice's ear. "They hang in dark heavy clusters when they're ripe. You can fill both hands to overflowing with them, and when you put one in your mouth they'll burst with a sweetness you can't imagine when you're down here."
Eurydice made a small noise of longing, and her hand tightened around Persephone's waist.
"I'll take you there, when we get to the upside. The farm is in a valley, like a cup between the hills. The sun shines down on it like honey. I used to climb the fruit trees when I was a child, sitting there among the white flowers in the spring, among the fruit in the fall. The peaches ripen in the sun, blushing with the heat, and when you stroke them with your hand, they're soft and warm, like skin." Persephone's hand came up to touch her cheek.
And Eurydice turned her head to kiss her, tasting sunshine and warmth in her mouth. They sought the warmth in each other, finding it with hands, lips. The taste of Persephone's skin was sweet and salty both, and her breasts filled Eurydice's cupped hands.
The people over by the fire, she thought. They'd hear. But the fire had gone down to embers now, and it was almost dark.
"We'll be quiet," Persephone whispered in her ear.
Making love with Persephone was like spring coming to the land, waking her to the things that she hadn't known were gone. She'd been living day to day, her body falling into numb sleep only to wake to work and more work. But now she was thawing, and it was almost painful. She moaned into Persephone's neck, shaking with her touch as it bloomed into pleasure almost too much to bear.
Persephone stroked her hair, murmuring something soothing in her ear, and they lay there, clinging to each other in the darkness. Eurydice slept, and dreamed of sunny gardens.
Eurydice woke, cold and stiff. She tugged the blanket around her and rolled over, confused, then sat up, blinking.
Persephone was gone. Light filtered down the tunnel, lighting the railroad tracks and the telephone wires and the sharp edges of the rock. It was morning on the Upside, and she could see the opening up above.
She hunched in on herself, pulling the blanket close. Tears stung her eyes, and she fought them back. What, she'd thought the Lady would take her along to her mother's farm where she could live in the lap of luxury, eating peaches? Right. Like that was something that happened.
Well, she couldn't stay here, could she?
She dragged herself up, feeling all the aches and pains from the day before. The group nearby, the ones who'd had the fire, nodded to her. She recognized one of the women now--she'd been in her barracks.
"Aren't you Eurydice?" the woman called to her.
"Where's your friend? The one from last night?"
Eurydice shook her head. "She left. I didn't really know her, anyway."
And wasn't that true.
"Well, you're welcome to stick with us, if you want."
"Where are you going?"
The other woman shrugged. "We'll try to find some work, I guess. Can't get any worse than down there."
"I'd love to find a plot of land," the other woman said. "Grow myself a garden."
They followed the tracks out, a group of people among many others, ragged and hungry and tired. The sun was shining on the land. It was spring.