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It was the usual perfect day in Demeter's gardens in the Kingdom of Olympia. Birds, multicolored and with exquisite voices, sang in every tree. Flowers of every sort bloomed and breathed delicate perfumes into a balmy breeze that wandered through the glossy green foliage. It would rain a little after sundown, a gentle, warm rain that would be just enough to nourish, but not enough to interfere with anyone's plans. The only insects were the beneficial sort. Troublesome creatures were not permitted here. When a goddess makes that sort of decision, you can be sure She Will Be Obeyed.
Now and again a dramatic thunderstorm would roar through the mountains, reminding everyoneeveryone not a god, that isthat Nature was not to be trifled with. But it stormed only when Demeter and Hera scheduled it. Everyone had plenty of warningin fact, some of the nymphs and fauns scheduled dances just for the erotic thrill of it. Zeus enjoyed those days as well, it gave him a chance to lob thunderbolts about; and the other gods on Olympus would be drinking vats of ambrosia and wine and encouraging him.
Meanwhile, on this perfect afternoon of this per fect day, in this most perfect of homes in the center of the most per fect of gardens, Demeter's only daughter, Persephone, stood barefoot on the cool marble floor of the weaving room and stared at the loom in front of her, fuming with rebellion.
There was nothing in the little weaving room except the warp-weighted loom, and since you had to get the light on it properly to see what you were doing, you had to have your back to the open door and window, thus being deprived of even a glimpse of the outdoors. It was maddening. Persephone could hear the birdsong, smell the flowers, and had to stand there weaving plain dyed linen in the dullest of patterns.
Small as the room was, however, Persephone was not alone in it. There was a tumble of baby hedgehogs asleep in a rush-woven basket, and a young faun sitting on the doorstep, watching her from time to time with his strange goat-eyes. There were doves cooing in a cornice, a tumble of fuzzy red fox-kits playing with a battered pinecone behind her. Anything Persephone muttered to herself would be heard, and in the case of the faun, very probably prattled back to her mother. Demeter would sigh and give her The Look of Maternal Reproach. After all, it was a very small thing she had been tasked with. It wasn't as if she was being asked to sow a field or harvest grapes. It wasn't even as if she was weaving every day. Just now and again. Yes, this was all very reasonable. There was no cause for Persephone to be irritated.
Of course there was, but it was a cause she really did not want her mother to know about. Persephone wanted to scream.
She had the shuttle loaded with thread in one hand, the beater-stick in the other, and stared daggers at the half-finished swath of ochre linen before her. Oh, how she loathed each. Not for itself, but for what it represented.
I love my mother. I really do. I just wish right now she was at the bottom of a well.
Persephone took the beater-stick and whacked upward at the weft she had created. Of all the times for her mother to decide that the weaving of her new cloak had to be done
this was the worst. In fact, the timing could not possibly have been worse. She had spent weeks on this plan, days setting it up, gotten everything carefully in place, managed to find a way to get rid of the nymphs constantly trailing her, and now it was ruined. Stupid Thanatos would probably drive the chariot around and around a few dozen times, forget what he was supposed to do and head back to the Underworld; he was a nice fellow, but not the sharpest knife in the kitchen. Well, really, how smart did you have to be to do the job of the god of death? Just turn up at the right time, escort the soul down to the Underworld, and leave him at the riverbank for Charon. Not something that took a lot of deep thinking.
And poor Hadesoh, wait, Eubeleus, she wasn't supposed to know it was Hadeswould spend half the day questioning him until he finally figured out what had happened. It had to be Thanatos, though, that was the only way this would work. Otherwise, things got horribly complicated.
She wasn't supposed to know she was going to be carried off to the Underworld, just as she wasn't supposed to know her darling wasn't a simple shepherd. She was supposed to be "abducted" by "a friend with a chariot." But she had known Hades for who he was almost from the beginning, and given that her darling was Hades, who else would drive his chariot? Not Hypnos, that would be incredibly foolhardy. Certainly not Charon. Minos, Rhadamanthus or Aeacus? Not likely. First of all, Persephone had the feeling that the former kings and current judges intimidated Hades quite a bit, and he wasn't likely to ask them to do him that sort of favor, never mind that he was technically their overlord. And second, she had the feeling that he was afraid if one of them did agree, he might be tempted to keep her for himself. Poor Hades had none of the bluster and bravado of his other "brothers," Poseidon and Zeus. He second-guessed himself more than anyone she knew. That was probably another reason why she loved him.
Of course, Hades didn't realize she knew the other reason why the abductor had to be Thanatos, because he didn't know she knewwell, everything.
We can set it up again, she promised herself. It wasn't the end of the world. She was clever, and "Eubeleus" was smitten. Even if she hadn't met all that many menthanks to Mother she could see that. His feelings went a lot deeper than the lust the nymphs and fauns and satyrs had for each other too; the way he had been so patient, so careful in his courtship, spoke volumes. He was willing to be patient because he loved her.
And she was smitten in return. She didn't know why no one seemed to like the Lord of the Underworld. It wasn't as if he was the one who decided how long your life would be that could be blamed on the Fatesand he wasn't the one who carried you off; that was Thanatos. He was kindit was hard being Lord of the Dead, and if he covered his kindness with a cold face, well, she certainly understood why. No one wanted to die. No one wanted to have everything they'd said and done and ever thought judged. No one wanted to leave the earth where things were lively and interesting when you might end up punished, or wandering the Fields of Asphodel because you were ordinary. And everyone, everyone, blamed Hades for the fact that they would all one day end up down there.
The Underworld was not the most pleasant place to live, unless you were remarkable in some way. From what she understood, on the rare occasions when she'd listened to anyone talking about it, Hades didn't often get a chance to spend time in the Elysian Fields where things were pleasant he mostly got stuck watching over the punishment parts. If he was very sober, well, no wonder! He needed a spot of brightness in his life. And she would very much like to be that spot of brightness.
Besides being kind, and patient, and considerate, he never seemed to lose his temper like so many of the other gods did. He was also quite funny, in the dry, witty sense, rather than the hearty practical joking sense like his brother-god Zeus.
She had started out liking him when they first met and he was pretending to be a shepherd. And as she revisited the meadow where he kept up his masquerade many times, she found "liking" turning into something much more substantial rather quick ly. They'd done a lot of talking, some dreaming, and a fair amount of kissing and cuddling, and she had decided that she would very much like things to go straight from the "cuddling" to the "wild carrying-on in the long grass" that the nymphs and satyrs were known for. But he had been unbelievably restrained. He wanted her to be sure. Not like Zeus, oh, no! Not like Poseidon, either! They'd been seeing each other for more than a year now, and the more time she spent with him, the more time she wanted to spend with him. Finally he had hesitantly asked if she would be willing to defy her mother and run away with him, and she had told him yes, in no uncertain terms whatsoever.
He never seemed to have even half an eye for anyone else, either. And not many males paid attention to little Persephonethough it was true she didn't get a chance to see many, the few times she had been up to Mount Olympus with her mother, she might just as well not have been there.
It would have been hard to compete for the attention of the gods anyway. She wasn't full-bodied like her motherface it, no one was as full-bodied as her mother except Aphrodite. She didn't make men's heads turn when she passed. By all the powers, men's heads turned when just a whiff of Demeter's perfume drifted by them! Aphrodite might be the patron of Love, but Demeter was noticed and sought after just as much. Zeus even gave her that sort of Look, when he thought Hera wasn't watching; Poseidon would always drop leaden hints about "renewing the acquaintance."
Not that she noticed. She was too busy being the mother of everything that wandered by and needed a mother. Demeter, goddess of fertility, was far more of a "mother" than Great Hera was. Hera couldn't be bothered. Demeter yearned to mother everything.
Oh, yes, everything. As Persephone grew up, she had resigned herself to being part of a household filled to bursting with babies of all species. Fawns and fauns, nests full of birds, wolf-cubs and wild-kits, calves and lambs, froglets and snakelets, mere sprouts of dryads; if a species could produce a baby and the baby was orphaned, Demeter would take it in. Very fine and generous of her, but it meant that even an Olympian villa was filled to the bursting, and Persephone shared her room with whatever part of the menagerie didn't fit in anywhere else. She might have a great many playmates, but she never had any privacy.
Or, for that matter, silence.
Demeter sailed through it all with Olympian serenity. After all, she was a goddessgranted, a goddess of a tiny Kingdom, one you could probably walk across in three daysbut still, she was a goddess, and a goddess was not troubled by such things.
Her daughter, however
Her daughter would like a place and a space all her very own, thank you, into which nothing could come unless she invites it. Is that so much to ask?
The fox-kits had gone looking for more adventures, but there were still four of the foundlings here in the weaving room, ensuring she didn't have any privacy. Not counting the hedgehogs, the faun was still in here, now there was a nymph sorting through the yarn to find something to use to weave flower crowns with, and there were a couple of sylphs chatting in the windowsill, for no other reason but that the windowsill was convenient. Unless, of course, Demeter had sent them to keep an eye on her. Persephone threw the shuttle through the weft again, trying not to wince at the noises the little faun by the door was making, trying to master his panpipes for the first time.
If Demeter had her way, Persephone would be the "little daughter" forever. Though nearly twenty, she'd aged so slowly that her mother was used to thinking of her as too young for any separate life. She'd never be alone with a male, never have an identity of her own. There was no doubt that Zeus himself was infatuated with Demeter, though he would never say so to his wife, nor probably even to Demeter herself. After all, Demeter was in charge of marriage vows, so she would take a dim view of that. But that was why it was no use complaining to Zeus. He would just pat her on the head, call her "Little Kore" (Oh, how she hated that childhood nickname!) and tell her that her mother knew best.
And Hera would take Demeter's side too, as would Hestia. Aphrodite would probably take Persephone's part, if only for the sake of mischief, but having Aphrodite on your side was almost worse than having her as your enemy. Whatever Aphrodite wanted, Athena would oppose. And any god who wasn't infatuated with Demeter would still side with her, because she controlled the very fertility of this Kingdom. No god wanted to risk her deciding that nothing would grow in his garden
or that his "plow" would fail to work the "furrow" properly
The loom rocked a little with the vigor of her weaving, the warp-weights knocking against each other as she pulled the heddle rod up and dropped it back again and beat the weft into place with her stick. She hated the loom, she hated standing at it, she hated the monotonous toil of it, and hated that although her mother considered it to be a proper "womanly" task, she was not considered to actually be a woman.
She luxuriated in her grievances for a good long time, until she had actually woven a full handbreadth of cloth. But she could never hold a temper, and once she started losing the anger, what Hades called her "clever" self came to the fore, and she found herself thinking
But on the other hand
Oh, the curse of being able to see, clearly, both sides of everything! That was why she could never stay angry, no matter what, no matter how aggrieved she felt. And no one knew Demeter better than her own daughter did.
Could she really blame her mother for wanting her to stay a baby forever? Every single baby creature that left this household, Demeter watched go with sorrowful eyes. Sometimes she even wept over them. She hated losing them, hated seeing them go out into the dangerous world, even though their places were immediately taken by yet more foundlings. After all, the dangerous world was why they were foundlings in the first place.