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"Mother!" Persephone rolled her eyes and flipped her long, honey-colored hair over her shoulder. "I'm not a child anymore!" She fingered the delicate golden heart dangling on a thin chain between her breasts, frowning as she opened the locket. It contained some magic Hephaestus had forged for her mother, with images of her and Demeter on either side. Persephone didn't want to seem ungrateful, but this was too much!
Demeter just smiled at her daughter and continued to separate the wheat from the chaff with quick, deft movements. "I know, darling. I just worry about you. Mothers worry. It's what we do."
"Don't you trust me?" Persephone crossed her arms over her chest.
"It's not you I worry about." Demeter's eyes narrowed just slightly as she gazed out the open window into the bright summer sun. "It's them."
"Them?" Persephone turned her head to look across the field, not at all recognizing the lurking monsters her mother clearly perceived. She just saw flowers and trees and a world full of brightness and exciting possibility. "Do you mean ... men?"
"Men." The older goddess spat the word, tucking a white-blonde strand of hair behind her ear, leaving golden pieces of wheat there. "They are never to be trusted. Men only want one thing."
Rolling her eyes again, Persephone went to the window and leaned against the ledge with a sigh. She had heard this lecture too many times to count and knew it by heart. Demeter spoke, but the young goddess didn't listen. Instead, she stared off into the distance and dreamed about faraway lands, handsome strangers, and daring adventure. The chain around her neck was supposed to keep her safe from the hands of men, but Persephonewasn't so sure she wanted to be kept safe. Fingering the heart, she wondered what magic made it work.
She tuned back into her mother's voice: "...even your own father, Zeus himself, has taken maidens at his whim. You are my only daughter, Persephone. You can't understand how precious you are to me."
Persephone gritted her teeth and closed her eyes for a moment, glad her mother couldn't see her face. Then she had a thought. "What happens if I lose it?"
"It's an unbreakable chain," Demeter explained. "Hephaestus promised me it would keep you safe."
"But how does it work?" the young goddess insisted, turning the heart over in her fingers.
"It's imbued with a mother's love." The older goddess approached her daughter, wrapping her arms around her waist from behind and resting her chin on her shoulder. "Do not seek to test it. I promise you, it will keep every man who seeks to defile you at bay."
Just what I need, Persephone thought as her mother's lips pressed her cheek. Yet another restriction on my freedom. She had never been with a man and, thanks to her mother, hadn't had the opportunity to meet many of them. Still, the ones she had chanced upon had struck her as ... very interesting.
Of course, she couldn't tell her mother. Instead, she turned and hugged Demeter, kissing the older goddess' dry cheek. "Thank you, Mother. I'm supposed to meet Artemis and Athena in the meadow."
Demeter moved back and let her daughter go, still smiling. "I'd tell you to be careful ... but I don't have to any longer!"
Persephone didn't answer as she shut the door behind her and started walking down the pathway into the woods. Beyond the thick huddle of trees, she knew Athena and Artemis would be waiting. Maybe she should talk to them about it. They might have some deeper wisdom to share.
She found herself so lost in thought she didn't notice the hand reaching out to tug at the back of her robe. Turning, she found herself face-to-face with a man.
"Ah, there is the delectable Goddess of Spring!" His voice rumbled low in his barrel chest, and his smile lined deeply at the corners. His salt-and-pepper hair and beard showed his human age clearly. "You will be pleased to make my acquaintance, young Persephone. I am Pirithous, King of Lapiths, Argonaut extraordinaire!"
"You startled me!" Persephone took a step back, her hand at her throat. She wasn't used to people coming so close to her mother's cottage. Demeter's refuge remained hidden from human eyes, a secret to the world of men. How did he find me and how does he know my name?
"Your father has told me a great deal of you." Pirithous smiled warmly at her, reaching for her arm. "There is no daughter of Zeus more worthy of my attention, so I hear."
Hesitating, Persephone glanced back and no longer saw her mother's home and knew Demeter couldn't see them, either. She touched the necklace at her throat and wondered how it was meant to protect her. Surely it would let her know if this man meant her harm.
"I am meeting friends." She nodded toward the field up ahead.
"You will love my kingdom." He went on as if she hadn't even spoken. "We are a fertile land, and I am a rich king. There are plenty of fields of flowers for you to pick, of course. When you aren't ... otherwise occupied." His smile widened and he looped his arm through hers and began to walk. She stumbled after him, trying to keep up. "I had hoped to talk to your mother as well, but I couldn't resist telling you first."
"First?" She glanced up at him, puzzled.
"Yes." He slowed his pace to match hers, looking down at her. His eyes brightened and crinkled at the corners. "Persephone, you are the most beautiful daughter of Zeus. Certainly the most captivating and the one whom, you will be happy to hear, I have deemed the most worthy."
"Th--thank you." She flushed, swallowing hard. "Worthy of ... what?"
"This is a lovely trinket." His thick fingers reached over to touch the locket around her neck. "But not nearly as beautiful as you, my dear." Looking down, Persephone frowned at the necklace. It's supposed to protect me? Do I need protecting from this man? "My own dear wife, Hippodamia, has passed on..." He sighed, his pace slowing even further as they made their way down the tree-lined path toward the field.
"I'm sorry to hear it."
"Yes, well, it leaves me wanting a companion." Pirithous stopped, taking both of Persephone's small hands into his. "And I find myself wanting you. There is none so worthy of my attention as you, goddess."
She blinked at him, still not understanding. He can't possibly mean--
"I came here today to ask you to be my bride, Persephone." He looked as if he were bestowing a great gift upon her, his chest puffed up, his chin proud.
Oh by the gods, he can't be serious! She stared, open-mouthed, and then--she couldn't help it--she laughed. The bright sound carried far. She covered her mouth with her hand to keep it from escaping, but it was no use. The thought she should marry this old man! Nothing short of someone telling her the world was round could have proved more ludicrous to her!
"I'm sorry..." Her apology disappeared in another gale of laughter. His face had turned a deep shade of red, his eyes narrowing to slits. "Forgive me. I didn't mean to offend you. It's just ... just..." She burst into another fit of giggles.
"Do you believe yourself too good for me, young goddess?" His kind face turned into a terrible sneer. Persephone's laugh faded and she took a step back, bumping up against a tree as he advanced. "I may not be a god, but I am a king, and I more than deserve a wife who is the daughter of Zeus!"
"Please..." Persephone could back up no further, her back pressed against the trunk of the tree. Pirithous tilted her trembling chin up with his hand, his eyes blazing with hurt pride. "I didn't mean to--"
"You will be mine." His mouth crushed down on hers. Persephone struggled in his grasp as his meaty tongue forced its way past her teeth.
She beat at him and cried out in desperation, "Help! Mother!" Suddenly an incredible heat glowed against her chest and a blue flash burst from her locket. Pirithous flew backward from her with a cry of both pain and rage, clutching his heart. His shocked eyes met hers, and they both looked at the small bauble hanging from the chain around her neck. It now glowed blue around the edges.
"My mother gave me this." Incredulous, Persephone felt its heat when she lifted the locket in her hand. "For protection."
"I will have you!" His face twisted in anger as he struggled to his feet. When he lunged for her, they both saw the white-blue arc flare out from the necklace, strike him, and force him backward. She didn't wait for him to get up. Lifting the hem of her robe, she ran for the open field ahead.