Chapter 1: another wayward son, waiting on oblivion
Hades remembers being swallowed. Sometimes, he can't help but think he's been swallowed again.
Hades remembers being swallowed. His father’s mouth, wide and ravenous. Being pushed into the darkness, watching the light from above disappear, leaving him alone in the belly of the beast with only the flickering warmth of his sister beside him, the only tenderness he would know for many years to come.
Hades made the mistake of telling Zeus about it once—Zeus, who just showed up one day in a burst of electricity, tinging the air with a metallic taste, and beckoning them back into the light. Zeus had laughed. Kronos did not swallow them, he said. No one could survive that, not even a god. He shoved you somewhere dark and cramped and kept you locked up where not even mother knew what had happened to you. You and Hestia and Poseidon and not me.
Because, of course, Zeus had rescued them. Zeus had killed Kronos. Zeus would marry Hera, the queen of the skies, and they would build a shining city for the gods up in the clouds. Polished marble, gold filigree, mirrors everywhere to reflect the bright beams of sunlight.
I drew the best of the lots, fair and square, Zeus had sworn. But the ones who tell the lies are the solemnest to swear.
Temperamental Poseidon took the sea. He built a fleet of ships that carried a whole nation on their backs—divers and whale hunters, raiders and roamers whose breath stank of salt when they sang their shanties.
I didn’t want the sky, anyway, he had said, but beneath him, the waves churned and frothed.
Hades was shoved back into the darkness. The caverns beneath the earth were far more spacious than the place he still thought of as his father’s belly, but Hades couldn’t help but think that he’d been swallowed again, this time by something bigger and hungrier.
But he would show them. He would take what he got and dig and dredge and drag the depths of the earth until it was the best kingdom of them all. And his heart began to thrum. The gears of his mind began to grind. He struck up a chant—a simple tune. A steady beat.
Oh, keep your head, keep your head low…
Chapter 2: queen of flowers, queen of fields
Kore's secluded life is interrupted the sudden appearance of workers building a railroad track on her mother's land.
When Kore was a young girl, she asked her mother if they could visit Olympus up in the sky. Just once, to see what the city was like. Her mother furrowed her brow and said, “No, baby girl. It’s a harsh world out there, and the gods are even harsher.”
She wasn’t wrong. Kore had been told countless stories about Zeus, who had conquered the sky and the heart of its queen, her mother’s sister Hera. How he withered the mountains down with storms so he could build skyscrapers instead, glittering, shard-like buildings that cut into the clouds like razor blades. And then there was Poseidon, rough and rude as the seas he ruled, master of steamships and stolen goods. The pirate king took from the land and gave nothing but saltwater back.
Better to stay with her mother on the fertile earth, to live simply and humbly alongside mortals whom her mother had taught to farm. Better to lie in fields of flowers, soft beneath her heels, and breathe in their sweet scent instead of the city smog.
Her mother never told her about the eldest son of Kronos—or if she did, it was only to tell her that no one had seen him in ages. He was the king of shadows and shades. He belonged underground, with the dead, and no mortal ever spoke his name.
Then one day, the pounding of pickaxes and hammers floated up from a mouth of a cavern near the town. Louder and louder the clashing grew, and soon iron spikes pierced the earth, pinning down a set of railroad tracks. The workers laying the tracks wouldn’t talk to anyone, focused solely on the task at hand. Something about the look in their eyes, the way they kept their heads down—it was like you could see right through them.
They were shades, Kore realized, and she ran to tell her mother.
Demeter was furious. “It ain’t right and it ain’t natural,” she would mutter over and over again. She marched on down to the tracks herself, but the shades ignored her as they had ignored all others, never mind that she was a goddess, queen of the amber grain. She demanded to speak to that upstart Hades, but the god stayed underground where he belonged.
Kore wondered if he ever got lonely, down there in the dark.
Chapter 3: the taste of nectar upon his lips
Demeter is on the war path. Hades decides it is time to negotiate terms—and so he sets foot in the world above.
Demeter was on the war path.
Hades supposed the conflict was inevitable, given their respective domains. She gave fertility to the earth, growth to the crops, life to everything green above the ground. He ruled over the underworld, where everyone but him was dead, and mined the glittering gold and gems that lay deep beneath the earth’s surface. It was only natural that they would clash.
Still, he thought his railway was a relatively inoffensive initiative. Yes, it was loud and filled the sky with smoke, but it gave the shades of Hadestown work to keep them occupied, and it would expedite the import of souls into the underworld and the export of luxury goods—the gold and gems and coal and oil that Zeus and Poseidon suddenly found so very valuable—to the world above. It was the herald of a new future—one in which the underworld was no longer so isolated, the darkness no longer so absolute.
Demeter, however, declared it an invasion of her domain. She was a formidable opponent, too—provoking weeds to wrap their thick tendrils around the iron railway tracks or slip into cracks in the concrete and break it apart. She could not stop the singleminded focus of the shades, who kept working despite these interruptions, but she could certainly impede their progress, forcing them to repeat the same task over and over again without getting nowhere.
It was getting to be a real problem. There was only one way to deal with it—negotiate terms with Demeter. He would not simply acquiesce to her will, but surely a compromise could be reached. A business deal of sorts. So he set out walking up the railroad track and set foot in the world above for the first time in ages.
It was not difficult to discover the location of Demeter’s residence on earth; he simply had to ask the mortals of the nearby farming village. They had cowered at his sudden appearance and imposing manner, as was to be expected; the bravest among them asked why he was building the railroad. “To make us free,” he said simply. “Now where is the goddess Demeter?”
Apparently, the goddess lived on a farmstead just outside town with her daughter, a girl called Kore. So she had a family, Hades thought grimly. Yet another difference between them, for Hades always walked alone. He briefly wondered if he could use the child to his advantage, convince Demeter that his project would create a better future for her daughter. He was already forming the argument in his mind when he found the garden.
The scent hit him first—the scent of wildflowers, wafting toward him on a gentle breeze. He felt the warmth of the sun settle on his shoulders. Pollen floated in the air around him. And a young woman who had to be Demeter’s daughter stood there, alone against the sky.
He had been expecting a child. A brat. Not a fully-grown goddess in her own right, and especially not… this.
There were no words to describe her. There were no words for the way that Hades felt.
So, without even realizing it, he opened his mouth and he started to sing.
And that is when Kore turned and saw him.
Chapter 4: in the garden where we met, nothing was between us yet
"Come Home with Me," Hades and Persephone version.
The lord of the dead was standing outside Kore’s mother’s garden, and he was singing. His voice was so deep it could only be described as subterranean—she could feel its rumble in the ground beneath her bare feet. Hades was pale-skinned and pale-haired, wore darkened spectacles and a plain black duster. It was strange to see such a colorless figure in the middle of the lush greens and bright flowers of the garden.
His voice faltered, cut off. He held perfectly still—as if he were afraid of her, for some reason. Had he mistaken her for her mother? The king of the underworld would be justified in fearing her—Demeter’s rage was a force of nature. She had fought and held her own against both his brothers. Now she had turned her wrath on his railway and his workers. What would she do to him if he found her in his garden, staring at her daughter?
Kore stared back at him for a few silent moments, then sang back to him—a melodic response to his unspoken question.
Another variation on the song. Another response.
Finally, Hades spoke. “Who are you?”
Kore smiled playfully. “The girl who’s gonna marry you.”
Hades started, taken aback by her boldness. “Are you always like this?” he asked.
Kore laughed and took a few steps toward him. “Yes. I’m—”
She cut herself off, deliberating what to call herself. Gods had many names, some unspoken. The Furies, for example, were never called such by mortals, who instead spoke of the kindly ones, and Hades himself was called wealthy one. Kore meant maiden, and that was how the mortals knew Demeter’s daughter. But her true name was—
Was that a smile on the wealthy one’s face? “Your name is like a melody.” He frowned. “But why are you named destruction-bringer?”
“Why is the lord of the dead a singer?”
His gaze shifted about nervously. “I’m not usually like that.”
“You’re not like many men I’ve met,” Persephone said. Moving closer, she asked the question that had been on her mind ever since she saw the shades working. “Why build this railroad line?”
“The world is changing with the times,” he said. “Up above, you need oil and coal. I need a steady stream of souls.”
“What about springtime? Need that, too?”
“Then take me home with you.”
Hades turned away, irritated. “Why would you want to be my wife?”
“Because I’ll make you feel alive.”
She reached out, hesitantly, and slipped her hand into his. His hands were cold. He started to pull away, then stopped, feeling her warmth spread into his fingertips.
He smiled, a lopsided sort of grin. “Alive,” he said, teasingly over-enunciating the word. “That’s worth a lot.” He pulled her hand up to his lip, lowered his shades, and stared at her with bright blue eyes. “What else you got?”