It is quiet here. I am alone.
Away from the sweet sighs of souls remembering their time under the sun.
I know nothing of living under the sun. I have always lived in the twilight.
It is cold here. Dark. Although, the walls give off their own light when I am happy. This place is mine and all that is in it belongs to me.
I have known little of warmth, or laughter, or light. I suppose that is why I took her, laughing in that field. But we are not there yet.
I have always done my duty. Done what is right and just. I have never chased after nymphs so that they had to become a tree or a reed to escape me. I have never been capricious. I do my job. I weigh the hearts of those that my nephew brings me.
And by the weight of their deeds, I judge them. Oh, I have my assistants. Minos, Rhadamnthus and Aeacus. But the final responsibility is mine.
I create the punishments for the guilty. That is easy really. People create their own Tartarus. I do my best to weave the Elysian fields. That is harder. What do I know of Paradise?
My father ate me when I was a minute old. Not for me a mother's trick. Switching a baby for a rock.
I think he knew. I mean, how could he not. A baby tastes nothing like a rock. Or least, so I imagine, never having had a child, much less eaten one.
But I think father knew that mother had spirited Zeus away. I think that he knew that no matter what he did, we were meant to be. Not that that stopped him from eating us. One by one. Just as nothing could stop us from springing from his newly opened stomach, fully grown.
Odd to think I spent my childhood in my father's stomach. Perhaps that is why I rule the underworld and not the sky.
Then again the others were right there with me and it did not seem to change them. I hear that excuse a great deal actually. My father or my mother did not love me. The gods made me do it. I am not responsible. But that is not how I judge the dead and that is not how I am.
I could not be my brother Poseidon, lord of the seas. Everything always changing. A 100 wives, a 1000 children. I need the earth. The steadiness. The dark. I just had not realized how much I longed for the light, shining in her hair.
Where to begin. At the beginning, I suppose. But it is already too late for that. The middle then.
I had been looking for something for some time, but I did not know it. I would visit my brother on Olympus and watch them pull away from me. Not that I am ugly. Unlike poor Hephaestus, I am not lame or crippled. But as they say, black hair, black eyes, black heart.
It is just that I do not smile much. My humors are odd. I do not laugh or dance. I do not play a musical instrument, much less invent them.
That is why I do not visit the other gods much. Why I never saw her before that day.
I was going somewhere. I do not remember where. Odd, how I can remember other things so clearly.
The sun was hot and bright and high. The dirt smelled rich and full, pregnant. The earth of my land never smells like that. I am told there were many women in that field. The sirens. Her handmaidens. Apparently, they were singing. I did not notice.
She was away from the others, random blobs of women in white chitons. She ran across the field. Well, skipped really. There were flowers everywhere. Red, yellow, white. Her skin was sun kissed. I think you call it that. It shimmered with pollen and all the gold of the earth. Except all the gold of the earth is mine. And she was not.
She ran towards me, or so it seemed. Towards the river really. She stopped to smell the flowers. Narcissus transformed for her pleasure.
And I knew that all I had to do was take her, like all the other gods are forever doing. Everyone is doing it. That makes it right, right? It was as if a madness had seize me. As if I would accept that sort of reasoning from any mortal who came before me.
But I was not thinking about that. I was watching her let the mud ooze between her toes. Feet that had never worn shoes. I watched her smell her flowers, revel in my nephew's light. As I reveled in her light. Watching her watch the world through eyes green for growing things.
So, I grabbed her. Easy as that.
Drove forward with my golden chariot and my fine black horses. Reached over and picked her right up.
Her skin was so soft. Like...would it be wrong to compare it to a peach? Cliched, I know and nevertheless true.
She did not even have time to scream before the earth, my earth, the one that lies beneath nature, swallowed us up.
Down. Away from the sun.
She trembled in my arms. I tried to smile reassuringly at her. That is hard to do when you have just kidnapped someone that you do not quite know what to do with. Zeus would have known. Poseidon. Apollo. Pan. They are always doing that sort of thing. But as I have mentioned , I am not the sort to play those sorts of games. You only break things.
We came to the Acheron, the river of woe. No wonder no one wants to come here.
A little water splashed as I drove across the river. I do not need the boatman. I could see Charon's face as we crossed. He was surprised. And why not? I never bring women home.
She jerked as the water hit her face. And she spoke. Her voice was low and soft and what did my goddess of the spring say, "Take me back."
And even though I was just beginning to realize just what I had done, all I could do was shake my head. There was nothing that I could think to say.
Past the gates adamantine. Over the plains. We came to the gates of my home. My dog came to greet me, us. Three heads and three times the drool. He is just a great puppy really. He jumped on the side of the chariot. It swayed under his weight. He is quite large.
She stiffened a little. And so my first words to my lady were, "Do not worry, he will not hurt you." and to my dog, "No boy. Down. Cerberus. No." And because he is mine and a good boy, he stopped.
I let go of her then. Where was she going to go? She pulled away from me. Looked me straight in the eye. Why did I ever think green was a soft color. Rocks can be green too. "Why have brought me here?" and then a little lower. "Take me back. My mother will be worrying."
I did not have the words for what I wanted. It was too bald. Too stupid. Better to preserve the fantasy for a little bit. So instead I was cryptic, "Follow me. I have something to show you." I started towards my gate. She did not follow. I gestured. "Come on."
One perfect brow arched. Just so, "I'm not you're dog."
"No, he is too heavy to carry." and for some reason I smiled. I said I have an odd humor. I also said I do not smile much, but she brings out my smiles.
"True," she said. And she walked in front of me as if she were going to lead me into my own house. "Well," she cocked her head to one side. The little wretch. Almost half my size. I smiled some more. Probably like an idiot.
The gate opened to my touch. My house knows me. I led her down the great hall. Past the throne room where I weigh the souls of the dead. Past the portrait room with its pictures of my brothers and sisters. My mother. And, yes, my father. Down into the black tower's stair well. Each room lighting as I entered. Darkening as I left.
We came to the door at the bottom of the stair. The door opened at my touch. We stepped into the room and the walls lit with the light of a thousand candles reflecting on my treasures.
I am the god of the under earth. The god of wealth and gold and jewels. I have a great deal of treasure.
I took her through my treasury. Past cups and rings. Scepters and crowns. Past things of gold and silver and bone, for I am a god of dead things too. Up a small dais to where I keep my best things. My favorite things.
My helmet of invisibility, a gift from my nephew Hephaestus. A braided ring, made from my mother's black hair. My crystal through which I can see all the world, above or below.
We stood there in the heart of my country, my city, my palace, my home. My heart.
"I am Hades." I said. It seemed like a good place to begin. She just stood there. So beautiful. So warm. "I rule all of the under earth. The dead come to me when they die." She just stood there looking at me straight in the eyes. Waiting. No wonder. I was not making much sense. Perhaps, I should just get to it. I thought. Well, I was not actually thinking much.
"Be my Queen and all that I have, all that you see will be yours." As soon as I said it, I wished the words back. Too late. All wrong. Too quick.
She kept looking at me. She was so small. So resolute. "No." and then. "Take me back now."
Part of me knew that that was that. Story over. And part of me thought, "Here she is in the center of my power and not afraid."
I thought, "Yes, of course. Forget I mentioned it." What I said, was "No. Be my Queen. Rule at my side."
She took a step back. "You don't even know my name. You know nothing about me."
"True. What is your name?" I tried not to sound desperate. Pathetic. Insane. Too late.
"No. You can't make me give you anything of me. Now take my back." Her hands clenched into fists. I think that she was more worried than she was letting on. But she did not stop looking at me in the eye. There are not many who can. Who will.
"There are no secrets from the dead, you know." She just shook her head. "Follow me then." And when she hesitated. "You are still smaller than my dog."
She sighed and followed me.
I took her back up the stairs. You do not think that I took her home do you? No, of course not.
My mind was on fire for her. I say my mind because that is the way that I am. If it only took beauty to win me, well then dead Helen would be my Queen.
So, I led her up to the top of the tower. To my room. As always, the door opened at my touch. She stepped through the door and stopped. I think it was the bed that got her attention. It got my attention. Definitely the bed.
Again that resolute look. "I'll fight you. I won't give in."
"No." I said and I left the room. I asked the door to lock. It almost did not know how.
I went down to my stables. I pondered things that I could have said and done. Unsaid and undone. Too late.
The straw made me think of her hair. If I were a proper god like Zeus or Poseidon, I felt that I would have been lying tangled in that hair right then. Of course, if I were a proper god, I would have married my sister and by that time have had numerous nymph and mortal and immortal concubines.
I laid down in the straw. It smelled of growing things. It made me think of her. I slept a little
Around midnight, Charon brought her to me. Wet and dripping. Cold. She shivered. I gave her my cloak.
She had tied my sheets together and made a rope. Climbed out of my window. And since Charon has the only boat, she tried to swim the river of woe. She made it half way. Half way not far enough. She would not have drowned. Gods cannot drown really. But there are things at the bottom of the river. She was lucky that Charon saw her and brought her dripping to my stable.
Hair flat around her head in clumps. Eyes red from the river. White and shivering in my cloak. Needless to say she was beautiful. As I have mentioned, I am strange.
I am also, not one for words. I nodded my thanks to Charon and took her back to my room. This time, I locked the windows and went back to my stable.
Now I should explain that I do have spare rooms. But they would have been a little too close to her room. My room. Anyway, the stable was nice. Warm. Full of horses and Cerberus, who loves me, wheezing through three mouths.
The next morning, I went to her room. She was trying to pry open the window with my fruit knife. Then she tried to stab me. But it was my knife and it knew me. The knife jerked up and she lost her balance, hard. She glared up at me from the floor.
"Are you done?" I asked.
"For now." She said. I held out my hand to her. She did not take it. She stood up on her own.
"Follow me then." and this time she did not argue. A step. Maybe. I knew that I was deluded. I did not care. We walked to the stable and then out one of the gates in my chariot.
"I don't suppose you are taking me home?" she said. I just looked at her. "Didn't think so."
I drove out across the wide waste lands. Across meadows asphodel and out onto the Elysian fields. There the souls of the good wandered through yellow fields of wheat grass and late blooming flowers. The trees were red and gold. Occasionally a leaf would shiver from a tree and drift to earth. The air was full of sighs. The sky whirled with the glowing mist that is the roof of the underworld.
I took her by the hand. Her hand in mine. Soft.
I pulled her down from the chariot and into the field. I said, "These are the Elysian fields." I waved at the people, the trees, the grass. "Be my Queen and wander through your fields with the souls of the good."
She looked around. "Your flowers have no color. The grass is dead. The trees are going to sleep. My mother could do it better."
Which meant her mother was Demeter, goddess of Nature. "So show me how I am doing it wrong. Show me, show the deserving dead what Paradise should look like."
She looked at me a moment. Looked at the quiet murmuring dead. She rubbed her cheek with one hand. She knelt down and picked up a bit of dirt. Let it fall through her fingers. Kissed one of the flowers.
I wished I were a flower. But I have never been much good at that sort of metamorphosis.
She was ignoring me. Concentrating.
She ran her fingers across the tops of the grass. Then she reached up and pricked her finger on the broach of her chiton. A quick twist of the hand in the air and I could only watch as the color spread out from her in a wave. New grass grew amid the old. Pushing it away. Flowers grew lush and abundant. Even the trees bloomed white and pink and green. The air smelled full of life.
"It is beautiful." I said.
"It's still not right." she said. "There's no sun in the sky. Just a sort of mist." She held her arms out into the light. It was pale on her skin. "Growing things need the sun." She looked me in the eyes. Again. Always. "I need the sun." She shook her head. "Let me go. My mother can't make it spring without me."
"Be my Queen and make it spring here."
"No, they've lived their lives. I need to be with the living. In the light."
I considered offering to make the sky brighter, but that seemed like a bad idea. So, we stood in my fields, her fields now and we walked a bit. We did not speak or laugh. We just walked. I day dreamed that she was my Queen. That we might kiss among the flowers. Wend grass through her hair. Dust our skin with pollen.
We came to the river Lethe, where the souls gather on the banks, waiting.
The trees here were still in winter. She had only performed a little magic and this is the center of my forest. The center of what this place is. What I am.
Every now and then, one of the souls would step into the river. Duck under the cold icy water and as they rose again, with a long sigh, they would dissolve into the stream.
"What are they doing?" she said. She sounded horrified. I wondered if she had ever seen ice or snow.
"They are going into the river Lethe to forget. That way they can be reborn. Clean. The ones that wait are not ready yet.
"So, the dead don't stay dead."
"Nothing stays the same. No one has to stay. No one has to come. Souls want order. Judgment. An afterlife. Even the souls in Tartarus can leave when they are finished with it."
She smiled sadly. "So, the only prisoner here is me." and she went back to the chariot and would not walk anymore.
We went back to my house of gates and walls and spires. We stood in the courtyard and I looked down at her. Her chiton was very dirty now. I wanted, well, I wanted many things. But I wanted her to have the best. So, I took her to my store room, less grand than my treasury, but still large.
One end was full of cloth. Wool and linen. Silk from Chin. Cotton from Araby. Colors solid and patterned. "Pick whatever you would like."
She shook her head, "You can't buy me with a bit of cloth."
"No, but your chiton is the worse for your dip in my river."
"But the chiton is mine." I remember how I felt when she said that. Like a needle in the heart.
I had my servants lay a great feast in my banquet room. All of my guests assembled. I always have guests. People always want something from the dead.
I sat at the head of my table, with Springtime (I had taken to calling her that) at my side. I offered her the sweetest of wines, the savoriest of meats. But she would not eat a thing from my table. She knew that if she ate my food, she would have to stay.
Now, I wish that at this point in the story that I could say that I only kept her for three days or seven or nine. That I soon let her go. But I did not. Every day I took her with me as I did my work. Every day I asked her to be my Queen. And every day she would look me straight in the eyes and say, "No," and "Take me home."
She ran away. Got lost in the Elysian fields. Singed herself in the river of fire. Would not tell me her name. Refused all of my gifts. She took off her beauty and put it in a box. I did not know women could do that, but they can. She thought it would matter, but it did not.
I loved the way she moved. The way she would rub her cheek with one hand when she was thinking. I loved the way she talked. The way her mind worked. Because she couldn't not talk. She would try. She would sit silent and resolute at my table. Walk quiet at my side. But then she would see something that interested or amused her. And she would ask questions or make comments. She would forget herself and then we would talk, sometimes for hours. Sometimes, she would begin to laugh and then she would remember. Be quiet and resolute again.
I loved every minute of every moment that I spent with her. Which was part of the problem. Because I knew it was wrong. How could I not. And yet, I did not let her go.
My servants fell in love with her also. She made every room that she was in more beautiful by being there. And although my servants were mine and would not, could not, say anything, they looked at me reproachfully for making Springtime sad.
I took to wandering the halls of my home at night. I asked the rooms to remain dark as I walked. And because my house loved her too, I think it understood.
I could not sleep for more than a few hours at a time. My face grew gaunt. You would have thought that I was the prisoner. But I was not and I knew it.
After awhile, even the dead began to reproach me with their looks. They would come before me, starved and pale because Springtime's mother had taken the life from the world. Would not make the crops grow or the animals fecund. She kept the world above dark and cold. Wept rain and hail and snow. And the people were dying as mortals will when there is nothing to eat and the North wind is allowed to go where he wants.
I told myself that it was not my fault. That I was not killing the world. That it was Demeter's choice to abandon her job. That I was doing my job.
Sometimes, I would scry in my crystal and watch Demeter wander the world, searching. Watch the wind blow on a world that had never known winter, only spring and summer.
It became harder and harder to judge the dead. How could I judge them when I knew myself to be guilty. How could I help the souls in Tartarus purge themselves, when I could not help myself. Although, I could have helped myself. I just did not want to.
And time passed. And I knew that soon, let it be tomorrow, not today...that someday I would have to let her go.
And then one day my nephew Hermes came to see me. Trickster when he was a day old. Thief. Messenger. The only one who visits me because he brings the souls of the dead to my kingdom.
But this was not a visit. That day he had a message from my brother. The message said that Zeus, King of the Gods, Ruler of Olympus, Lord of the Sky and Air, Thunderbolt had decreed that I should release Persephone (her name was Persephone) daughter of Demeter.
Or what, I wondered? He will throw thunderbolts at the dirt. He cannot reach me here. Perhaps, he will not invite me to family dinners? Go to war with me? I have my own armies and my defenses are vast. I know where the Titans are kept and I live closer to them than he does.
For a moment, I imagined myself at the head of an army storming the gates of fair sunlit Olympus.
For a moment, and then I looked in my nephew's eyes. My nephew who always smiles, who was not smiling. And I knew that I would not. In the end, even madmen must be true to their natures.
I told him to wait in the room that I keep ready for him. For my house has many rooms and many guests. People always want things from the dead.
That night I had a simple table set in a room that overlooks my garden. On it were simple foods: bread, cheese, water, seeds, and fruit.
And I had her brought to me in her gray chiton that was once white. Her beauty in a box. Her cheeks pale for lack of the sun. And we ate in silence. Or rather, I ate and she watched. For she would never eat anything from my table. Never take any gift that I tried to give her.
I looked at her. Memorizing her face, as if I could ever forget her. All the water in the Lethe would not be enough.
The food was like lead in my stomach. So, I stopped eating, gathered my courage and began.
I wish I could remember what it is that I said, but I cannot. The words tumbled out, one after the other. Burning my throat and eyes.
Not because I wanted her forgiveness, though I needed it in my bones, but because that is what the person that I am had to do. What is right. Just. Because it belonged to her, like her freedom, like her green eyes.
My own black eyes were full and hot, but I did not take them off of her face. I gave her the ring, braided from my mother's hair. Not to wear as my Queen or wife, but because I wanted her to have it as a remembrance of her time beneath the earth. I hoped that because it was my mother's and not mine, that she would take it when she left.
She held it in her hand. Turned it over and over. Looking at it. She rubbed her cheek with one hand, thinking.
She put the ring on her index finger. It was dark on her hand. Then she let that hand drift through the bowl of seeds, around the lid of the flask of water, over the rough surface of the bread. She picked up a pomegranate and cut it open with my fruit knife. And she picked out six seeds. And then she looked me in the eyes and she ate them. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.
Now I am not a quick thinker. Slow and deliberate as the earth. So, you will have to forgive me if I say that I did not quite understand what she had done. She smiled at me, a little watery because she was also crying and all I could think was that she had smiled at me.
She shook her head and said, "Idiot." And then she came around the table and pulled me down. And then she kissed me. Butterfly kisses on my eyes. Pomegranate kisses on my mouth.
I am afraid at that point, I could not think at all.
Sometime later, we stopped. We were sitting. I do not remember sitting. She was in my lap. Her arms around my neck. A couple of strands of her long golden hair were caught in the wool of my tunic. I let them go.
She put her hands on either side my head and said, "Now you know that I have to leave. The world above is dying without me. It needs the spring. And I couldn't be me if I didn't do what's right."
I nodded. If this was it, well it was certainly more than I deserved.
And then she laughed at me, the imp. "Don't be so solemn, lord of the dead. I'll come back. When the world has had its spring and summer, when I have seen my mother, then the world can have its fall and winter too."
I did not really believe her. No one wants to come back, but I said, "When you come return, Charon will ferry you to me. The doors will open at your touch. The lights will come on when you come into the room. And when, you leave, the lights will go out again."
She cried a little more at that and we said a great many silly things like sweet, and love you, and forever. Then she got up and she cut off a lock of her hair with the fruit knife. And I took her down the stairs to where Hermes was waiting. I did not watch her leave. I went down to my treasury, the heart of my kingdom and wove her hair into a ring.
And so I wait, as I wait every year. I can weigh the souls of the dead with an easy heart again because I know myself.
I wear her ring on my finger and I sit in the dark and I wait.
Sometimes, I see her at gatherings. But on Olympus, we do not speak. The light is too harsh and bright. It hurts my eyes.
Instead I wait, as my kingdom waits. For the sound of her quick footsteps on the stair. For the golden flash of her hair. For the warm smell of her skin. For the soft feel of her touch. For the return of spring.