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“Look up!

Orpheus does, fingers stopping abruptly on the frets of his guitar, melody in his mind suddenly falling away. Hermes is staring at him with a sour look on his face that Orpheus has come to know means disappointment.

“There’s a storm coming on,” the god says. “And your girl is alone.” His expression softens. “I know you can see how the world could be, but now you have to live in the one that is.”

His voice cracks. “Eurydice?”

Hermes nods toward the door. Orpheus runs out into the storm.


It’s brutal and cold, and Orpheus has barely eaten anything all this time he’s been working on the song; he’s just about to collapse of exhaustion when he hears his name being called. He runs to her against the harshest wind he’s ever felt until Eurydice is in his arms, shivering.

“It’s gone,” she tells him, voice trembling. “Everything we have—my coat, the supplies—they’re gone.”

“We need to get inside,” he says, but they’re both succumbing to the cold, fast, and it’s getting darker every minute that passes. The wind howls in their ears, and for a moment Orpheus thinks he hears voices, singing in eerie harmony. But Eurydice buries her head in his chest and he sees home in the distance, so he keeps walking and doesn’t look back.

Hermes is gone by now, called to bring the train back up top. Orpheus lays Eurydice down by the fire and covers her in as many blankets as possible. The flames are dying down, he realizes, and there’s not much firewood left. He looks at Eurydice again. He almost left her to die out there, all for a stupid song. Who was he to think that he could make spring come again? Who cared about the way the world could be? 

This is how it is.

The storm settles down. Orpheus looks out the window and sees a lone figure in a slate black duster walking down the road. Mr. Hades, he thinks, heart leaping into his throat. The god stares at him the same way he had stared at Eurydice on the train platform.

Orpheus slings his guitar over his back and goes out to meet him. “How much will you give me for this?” he says, gesturing to the guitar.

Hades raises an eyebrow. “What would I want with a lyre?”

“I’ll do anything,” Orpheus says. His knees are beginning to buckle under him. “I’ll work in the mines. I’ll work on the wall.”

“Son, you wouldn’t last a day down there,” the god drawls.

“Then I’ll sing,” he croaks. “I’ll sing for your workers to keep them in line. I’ll sing for your wife, to keep her underground. Please…” He glances back at the house—really more of a shack—where Eurydice lies by the dwindling fire. “I can’t let her starve.”

Silence. Then, a quirk of the lips—not really a smile, but the gesture of one. “I suppose I could use a canary.”


Barely awake, Eurydice hears Orpheus come back in from the cold. “Who was that? Mr. Hermes?” she murmurs.

Orpheus pauses, unsure of himself, before answering, “No. It was Hades.”

The shock gives Eurydice a new shot of energy, just enough to bolt up and stare at her lover. “Hades?” she repeats. “Why would Hades be here?”

Slowly, he makes his way over to sit beside her, laying the guitar against the wall. The fingers of his right hand are curled around something Eurydice can’t quite make out. “He was recruiting,” Orpheus says. “Looking for more workers.”

He opens his hand. Four silver coins lie in his palm. It’s more money than either of them could scrounge together in months. Not enough to last them through the winter, but enough to buy two tickets to Hadestown.

Eurydice shrinks back a little, settling deeper into the pile of blankets he had wrapped around her. “Orpheus…”

“Mr. Hades said I could work for him and Lady Persephone and sing for the workers. It would raise morale, he said. You could come with me and work in the factory, and Mr. Hades would provide for both of us.” His gaze flickers over to the last few embers of their fire. “We wouldn’t have to worry about the wind, or the cold, or going hungry. But I wouldn’t go without you.”

He extends his arm out to offer her the coins in his hand, like the time he’d offered her a bouquet of torn-up newspaper or a flower that blossomed from the power of his voice.

A draft comes in through the thin walls of their house. Even under her blankets, she shivers. It’s so cold. It seems like everywhere she goes, the wind follows. But it can’t follow her down there.

“I’m coming,” she says with a nod.

“I’m coming with you,” Orpheus says, smiling.

Chapter Text

Hermes meets them on the platform, solemn-faced. The look of disappointment he had given Orpheus the day of the storm still lingers in his eyes. Doubt gnaws at the edges of Orpheus’ resolve. Maybe it’s too soon to leave Mr. Hermes, to leave the world above. He remembers the god’s warning, the day he’d brought the train up from Hadestown to bring down Lady Persephone: the wage is nothing and the working’s hard; it’s a graveyard in Hadestown

As if he can hear Orpheus’ thoughts, Hermes places a hand on his shoulder. “Do you really wanna go?” he asks in a low voice.

Orpheus turns to look at Eurydice, who is staring at the point where the railroad tracks disappear into a cavern under the earth. The wind plays with her hair; she brushes it out of her eyes and meets’ Orpheus’ gaze, and all doubt melts. “With all my heart,” he tells Hermes, not taking his eyes off her. “Wherever she is, is where I’ll go.”

“What about your song?” the god asks. “What about making spring come again?”

Orpheus shakes his head. “I almost lost her because of that song. I need to be someone she can depend upon.”

“A’ight,” Hermes says. “Time to go.” And with that, the train whistle blows.


The inside of the train compartment is nicer than anything Eurydice had ever seen. Smooth red leather lines the seats, and an empty crystalline decanter rests on a mahogany minibar in the back—Persephone must have drunk it dry on her way down. As Eurydice and Orpheus shuffle in, Hades’ voice rumbles, nearly making Orpheus jump out of his skin.

“Young man.” He is standing by the door that connects this compartment to another. He nods his chin in Orpheus’ direction. “I’ve got a commission for you. Due as soon as we get to Hadestown.”

“I, uh, I dunno if I can do that, sir. I, I don’t write that quickly—”

“Why not? You have your lyre. You have your muse with you.” He turns his gaze on Eurydice for the first time since Persephone left. Eurydice had almost forgotten how it felt to be stared at by those ice blue eyes, fixed in the god’s gaze like a butterfly pinned to a board.

Orpheus bows his head. “What do you want the song for?”

“A rally. To remind the workers why we build the wall.”

“Does it have to be right now?” Eurydice said before she could stop herself. “He hasn’t eaten—we haven’t eaten anything but scraps in days.”

The corner of his mouth twitches. “Very well. Nobody sings on empty.” He grabs a radio device from its receiver on the wall and speaks into it, words booming into every compartment in the train. “Send two portions of food to the coach. Something substantial.”

He hangs the radio back on the receiver and addresses Orpheus again: “You have two hours.” Then he slides the door open and disappears into another compartment of the train.

 Eurydice looks at Orpheus, and he’s shaking. “I can’t do it, Eurydice,” he says, sinking into one of the seats. “I can’t.”

“Of course you can, poet.” She sits beside him, letting him nestle up close to her. “You just need to eat and to clear your head.”

An attendant brings them two trays laden with soup, sandwiches, and warm mugs of some hot drink—Eurydice doesn’t really care what, as she scarfs it all down as quick as she can. Orpheus picks at his food, eyes darting about wildly. He’s still shaken by what Hades said.

Suddenly, the soup spoon falls out of his hand and clatters against the bowl. “Why do we build the wall?” he asks, breath coming fast and shallow. “He does it to guard all his riches, but what about us? What does the wall give us?”

“Safety,” Eurydice says, placing a hand on his shoulder. “And… and opportunity. For a better life. That’s why we’re on this train, remember? We get a chance at a better life.”

“But why build a wall?” Orpheus pressed. “Why divide the rich from the poor? What are we trying to keep out? What are we keeping in?” He starts rocking back and forth, eyes squeezed shut and mouth murmuring frantic melodies.

“Orpheus!” she calls. His eyes snap wide open and he scrambles for his guitar, and Eurydice sighs in relief.

The song comes in fits and starts. The words are plain and the tune dark and moody. The first song Orpheus played for her made hope blossom in her chest. This song crushes it under the hard heel of reality. Eurydice wonders if that’s how Orpheus feels—crushed and resigned. More worried about safety and security and practicality than being alive.

The Orpheus she knows is gone, Eurydice realizes. Something has died inside his soul.

Chapter Text

Persephone hates the rallies. Hates having to stand there by Hades’ side, looking out at the sea of workers and seeing the hollowness in their eyes. Hates the sound of her husband’s voice as he shouts every word like a general commanding an army. Hates not being able to do anything about it but smuggle in some scraps of the world above and drink for six months—or seven, or nine—until she can leave this hell. Gods, what she wouldn’t give for a drink right now.

Hades finishes his speech and clears his throat, drawing Persephone’s attention back to her husband. He beckons to someone in the wings, then turns back to the microphone and says, “Now, this is a very special young man, come all the way from up above to sing to us.”

Persephone’s breath catches in her throat. No.

Orpheus steps onstage, thin and pale as a sheet.

Hades steps aside, closer to Persephone, and smiles at her. Not maliciously—almost sweetly, in fact. She stares back at him, brow furrowed. Why?  Why is Orpheus here? What’s going on? What did Hades do?

Following behind Orpheus like a shadow is his girl, Eurydice, with an expression like a wild animal, wide-eyed and terrified. She gives Persephone a pleading look just as Orpheus begins to sing.

The poet’s voice is captivating as always. The boy has a way with words, rhythm and rhyme coming as naturally to him as breathing. The steel and stone walls of Hadestown echo the plucked notes of his lyre, amplifying the sound. “Why do we build the wall?” he begins. “My children, my children, why do we build the wall?

Horror sets in as Persephone listens to the poor boy sing. Hermes’ boy, the poet who once raised his cup to the world we dream about, now echoes Hades’ words, steps in time with Hades’ step, with a kind of resigned desperation that breaks Persephone’s heart in two. A moment later, indignation begins to swell. How dare he. How dare he take that bright boy and twist him into this.

Hades reaches for Persephone’s hand, but she rips it away and storms off. He follows her, tries to place a hand on her shoulder. She claws her fingernails into his arm until he pulls away.

“How could you?” she growls. “How could you force him down here? How could you make him do that?”

“I didn’t force him into anything.”

“Like hell you didn’t.”

Hades grits his teeth. “I thought you would be pleased. You like the boy and his songs. I brought him here for you.”

“Don’t you dare try to make this ‘for me’!” Persephone jabs her finger at Hades. “You made him part of your propaganda machine. You’re exploiting him for your own benefit!”

“The boy was going to starve,” Hades hisses. “Him and his girl. She’d nearly died out in the storm. He came to me looking to sell his lyre, I offered him something better. They chose this.”

“A choice made in desperation ain’t a real choice.” She crosses her arms and turns her back on him, sick at the sight of his face. “Tell me they haven’t signed the papers yet.” Silence. “Tell me!”

Nothing. Hades is gone.

Persephone closes her eyes and lets out a sigh with the intensity of a scream. Then she turns around and heads back toward the rally, back toward Orpheus and Eurydice. She has to get to them before Hades does.


After Lady Persephone leaves and Hades follows, Orpheus sinks to his knees, guitar strings clanging as the instrument hits the floor. Someone is calling his name, but he doesn’t hear. The sounds of pickaxes and hammers and infernal machinery echo in his brain, even though no one is working—all the workers are at the rally, watching Orpheus break down.

“Poet,” Eurydice tries again. “Come on, love. Get up.”

Persephone approaches them, dark eyes full of indignation. Her face falls when she sees Orpheus on his knees. “Oh, chickadee,” she says with a soft, sympathetic cluck of the tongue. “What happened to you?”

“We lost everything in the storm,” says Eurydice, not meeting the goddess’ eyes. “I was… I nearly froze to death, and we were running out of firewood. It scared Orpheus, bad. He went to Hades and begged him to take us in.”

“Did you sign a contract with Hades?”

Eurydice bites her lip. “I didn’t, not yet. He did.”

Persephone crouches down next to Orpheus and gingerly places a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Orpheus?” No response. Persephone grits her teeth. “Help me get him up,” she tells Eurydice. “We’re going somewhere Hades can’t touch him.”

“How is that possible? We’re in Hadestown.”

Persephone can’t help but smirk a little in self-satisfaction. “A lot can happen on the factory floor, when the foreman turns his back,” she says. “What the boss don’t know, the boss don’t mind.”

Chapter Text

Orpheus drowns in sound. The rhythmic whir of machinery, the hollow ring of pickaxes, the grunts and labored breaths of workers pushed to exhaustion. “Eurydice?” he calls out, but he can barely hear his own thoughts, never mind his voice. He shrinks a little. “Doesn’t anybody hear me?”

And then, like the distant howling of the wind, three otherworldly voices answer:

—They can hear.

—But they don’t care.

—Nobody has a voice down here.

Orpheus recognizes those voices. The day he saved Eurydice from the storm, he thought he heard voices on the wind, singing dissonant harmonies that undercut the melody he had been chasing for so long. He tries to sing it again, to comfort himself and focus his thoughts—he would always sing when the world was too loud and bright and made no sense—but the notes catch in his throat. His muscles tense.

“Why can’t I sing to myself anymore?” he asks, voice rising to a frantically high pitch. “I always could before.”

—The patron pays—

—the tune is called.

—The piper has no choice at all.

His eyes widen. “I can’t sing unless Hades tells me to?”

—You signed his contract, didn’t you?

—Exclusive rights to every word.

—He owns you now, little songbird.

Orpheus’ breath comes fast and shallow as he tries to sing something, anything. He opens his mouth and nothing comes out.

“I have to go,” he finally says hoarsely. “I have to leave.”

—And what about Eurydice?

The question makes his whole body grow cold. Eurydice. He can’t leave her here. But would she really follow him into the cold and dark again, after he promised to provide for her and failed twice? Who was he to lead her out when he himself had made the deal that sold them both to Hades? Who did he think he was?

—So, what was that song again?

That’s why we build the wall,” Orpheus sings, and despite the fact that he’s trapped, it still brings him some relief. His music isn’t gone completely. “We build the wall to keep us free.

The three voices intertwine into a haunting harmony. Saw that wheel up in the sky, heard the big bell tolling. A lot of souls have got to die to keep the rust belt rolling. A lot of spirits gotta break to make the underworld go round, way down Hadestown, way down under the ground…

 


 

“Well, this is a damn mess.”

Eurydice glances across the bar at Persephone, who is currently downing another drink as she watches Orpheus rock back and forth in his seat on a nearby chaise. The goddess had brought them to her speakeasy, hidden in a storage shed overgrown with dead leaves and vines that made it look like it hadn’t been used in years. “I told Hades I wanted to grow a garden. Told him maybe it’d make my time down here bearable, he gave the go-ahead ‘cause he thought it would keep me down here longer,” she told Eurydice. “Ain’t nothing that grows right down here, not with all the heat from the foundries and those damn industrial lamps and all the rocks and stones in the ground. By the end of the year, I’d supposedly abandoned the project. Just another failed attempt at workin’ on our marriage. But really, I was building this.”

The place reminds Eurydice a little of Hermes’ café, where she and Orpheus first met—a shelter from the harsh world outside, a little dusty and dim but with an atmosphere of camaraderie. A place for Persephone and the workers to drown their sorrows and reminisce about the good old days, or what little the workers remembered of it. It seems that signing a contract with Hades and working on the assembly line wears away at your identity until you’re nothing more but just another worker. The thought of it makes Eurydice worry about Orpheus, who had signed his contract on the train right after playing his wall song for Hades.

“He can’t hear me,” Eurydice says, gaze falling to the floor. “It’s like when he was working on the song, up top. You called his name and he wouldn’t answer.” A thought stirs. “The song. The song could wake him up.”

“Do you know the song?”

Eurydice shakes her head. “Only a little part of it. He wasn’t finished yet, but he sang a little bit to me when we first met.”

She approaches Orpheus, careful not to move too suddenly. “Can you hear me, Orpheus?” Nothing. She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes.

La la la la la la la…” Silence. “La la la la la la…”

Slowly, Orpheus’ muscles relax. His eyes focus on her face, and he whispers, “It’s you.”

“It’s me.” She smiles, tears welling up in her eyes. “Orpheus.”

“Eurydice.”

“I don’t know how the rest of it goes,” Eurydice says and places her hand on his cheek. “Sing it for me, poet.”

Orpheus recoils from her touch, instantly tensing up again, and stares down at his empty hands. “What’s wrong?” Eurydice asks. “Orpheus?”

He just shakes his head, over and over and over again. Finally, he speaks in a cracked and hoarse whisper. “I can’t.”