Η Τιμή του Βαρκάρη
“Damn, those needy souls.”
“Welcome back, my Lord...my Lady. ”
A frail-looking man dressed in a pitch-black cloak greeted them with a deep bow. His voice was coarse and hoarse, making Persephone shudder as he spoke.
The Goddess of Spring could see a few strands of white hair sticking out of his hood, confirming that she had indeed an old man in front of her. This, of course, did not mean that he was not powerful or wise since in order to gain a position of power in the Underworld you have to be anything but weak.
“Persephone, this is Charon, the Underworld’s ferryman”, Hades introduced her to the elder man.
Now that he had actually introduced him to her, Persephone realized he was indeed a ferryman. He was standing alone in a huge black boat, which was barely seen in the pitch darkness of the Underworld. If there weren’t the few scattered torches that lit the world of the dead with their glittering flames, the Goddess wouldn’t be able to see even her own nose in this blackness.
The cloaked figure of the ferryman was clutching with his weak and thin hands that almost looked bony, a huge and heavy wooden paddle, which he used to direct the boat onto the invisible waters of the river. It was decorated with humans’ bones, making a shiver of fear run down Persephone’s spine. Although she knew Hades would protect her from anything, this didn’t make the ferryman’s appearance any less intimidating.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, sir.”
She smiled politely, encouraged by the fact that her God seemed to know him well enough.
“The pleasure is all mine, my Lady”, Charon bowed his head in acknowledgment to the young Goddess.
The God of the Underworld jumped into the ferryman’s boat gracefully, before he helped his lady to climb into it. Persephone took the hand that he offered to her and carefully managed to get herself into the strange boat. Sitting close to Hades in one of the many seats, Charon began rowing the boat through the endless river.
“Hades...“, she murmured wrapped in his warm hug.
“Yes, my sweet”, he kissed her forehead.
“There is something in the water”, Persephone said in a quiet voice.
Indeed, something was moving in the dark waters of the river, passing around their boat without disturbing them. Black figures were floating in the river, silently crying for help. Persephone could hear their prayers to the Gods, but she wasn’t so sure if the Gods could hear them down here. Their prayers were filled with despair, which the Goddess of Spring could feel in the deepest parts of her soul, but she did not know how to help them.
“They are the dead souls that couldn’t make it to the other side of the river. They fell into the Acheron in their tries to reach the other side and remain trapped in him until this day.”
Persephone looked at Charon in bewilderment, not expecting him to give her the answers she was looking for. She opened her mouth to question him further, but Hades bit her to it.
“Acheron is the name of the river we are passing through right now. It flows from the world of the living into the Underworld and is one of the main entrances to the world of the dead”, Hades began to explain to her.
“Charon is responsible to transfer the souls of the dead that Hermes brings to the Underworld from the side of the river to my kingdom, so that they can be judged and move forward to the afterlife”, he finished.
“And why are there trapped souls in Acheron’s waters?“, she asked after Hades’s explanation.
“You see, my Lady, in order to transfer the souls from one side to the other, I ask of them of a small price. It’s my reward for doing this job for so many centuries”, Charon chuckled as he moved the paddle in the water.
“What kind of reward?“, Persephone wondered curiously.
“Just a coin -a greek obolus”, he answered her honestly.
“The Greeks have many burial customs, my love. One of them is to place an obolus inside the mouth of the person, so he can pay the ferryman of the Underworld. If the person can’t pay Charon, he is not able to transfer the soul to the other side of the river. Sometimes, people don’t place a coin on purpose -they want to take revenge on the person, so it cannot pass into the afterlife.”
“But that’s so unfair! What if someone is too poor and doesn’t have a coin? Or dies and nobody finds him in order to bury him?“, Persephone asked Hades.
He gave a sad smile to her and kissed the inside of her palm.
“The law is hard, but it is the law.”
“But you are a God and a King! There is surely something you can do!“, she looked at him with pleading eyes.
“That’s why I cannot do anything, my sweet. I may be a King and an ancient God, but that does not mean I can do whatever I want. I have to honor the law in order to keep the balance that is needed. There are rules that even the Gods have to follow or else the world will burn in chaos.”
Persephone sighed, knowing that she couldn’t argue with him. The more power you gain, the more responsibilities you have. The world’s balance between the world of the dead and the living wasn’t a game, where everyone could do whatever they wanted.
The consequences of breaking the divine rules could be catastrophic for everyone, Gods and mortals alike. Hades knew much more about this fragile balance than she ever could, so she had no right to interfere in his work, no matter how unfair things seemed to her.
“So, the souls that can’t go on the other side are all trapped in the waters?“, she asked another question.
“Well, Acheron is also known as the river of pain because of this fact, and therefore, is the most well known from the five rivers of the Underworld. But no, not all souls are trapped in it. Only the ones that were desperate enough to try to swim to the other side. The rest of them wait on the shores of the river for a miracle to happen”, Charon explained to the young Goddess.
“You said there are five rivers in the Underworld?“, she furrowed her eyebrows.
Hades chuckled at her words.
“Nothing can go unnoticed from you, my sweet, can it?“, He shook his head at her confidentiality.
“No, you can’t hide anything from me”, she proudly said, giving him a pointed look.
“Now, explain”, she demanded, wanting to know more for the strange world that was appearing in front of her.
“There are four more rivers in the Underworld -Styx, Lethe, Phlegethon, and Cocytus. The last river is also known as the river of wailing because it is where all the murderers are thrown in and it is said that they are wailing from his punishing waters.”
“I’ve heard of Styx before...I think my mother had made an oath on Styx?“, she murmured.
“Yes, all the immortals are making their oaths in the name of Styx. It’s the bigger river of the Underworld and circles it seven times. It gives immortality to whoever touches her waters -she makes him invulnerable”, Hades nodded.
“But why on Styx?“, Persephone asked curiously.
“Styx, the Goddess of the river was the daughter of the titan Tethys, making her also a titan. However, she sided with Zeus during the Titanomachy, so he declared that every oath must be sworn upon her for her choice to go against her own people.”
“I see...what about the rest of them?“, she wondered.
“Lethe is the river of oblivion and forgetfulness. The souls drink from her waters in order to forget their earthly life and move on in their afterlife. Only when the dead have their memories erased, there is a chance for them to reincarnate.”
“What about Phlegethon?“, she asked him.
Hades’ eyes darkened and the silver color of them turned into an icy steel color.
“Phlegethon is the river of fire, my lady. It’s the only one that flows into the depths of Tartarus, and it is said that this is where the murderers who have regretted their actions are thrown into to burn. They stay there until they beg their victims enough in order for them to forgive them”, Charon explained.
Persephone didn’t know what else to say. The world of the dead was much more complex and dangerous from the world of the living. She realized that she knew only a handful of things for the Underworld, but she was intrigued by this dark and strange kingdom, which was ruled by the God of her heart. She was curious to learn more about Death’s kingdom and she was sure that Hades could give her all the answers she needed.
“Your kingdom is so complicated, yet so intriguing”, she told him as she gazed into his silver orbs.
“Does that bother you, my love?“, he asked her, nervous about her answer.
“Does it make you scared?“, he continued.
“No”, she answered honestly.
Hades looked at her in disbelief. He was sure that the Underworld could intimidate even the toughest of Gods such as Ares and Zeus himself. Hermes had visited his kingdom so many times since it was part of his job, but never felt comfortable in its cold atmosphere and utter darkness. So, how did the Goddess of Spring, the woman who only lived under the sun’s warmth and light, did not fear his realm?
“I am not scared, Hades. I am...curious and intrigued. All my life, I have only known the flowery fields of my mother and the sunlight of Helios. This is a drastic change of scenery for me, but it doesn’t mean that it is a bad change either.”
Hades gave her a bright smile and kissed her forehead lovingly, pleased with her reaction.
“Besides, I am not alone here...I have you.”
She blushed at her words, but she wanted to be truthful to him.
“I know you won’t let anything hurt me.”
The God of the Underworld narrowed his eyes at even the thought of her harmed. There wasn’t another place, where she could be safer than in his realm. He was the King after all and he would be damned if he couldn’t protect his love in his own kingdom.
“Over my dead body will anyone dare to harm you”, he said through gritted teeth.
The Goddess of Spring giggled at his words, making him raise a questioning dark eyebrow.
“You are immortal, Hades...Gods can’t die!“, she smiled at him.
“My point exactly!“, he murmured darkly, giving a protective kiss on her forehead.
Suddenly, the boat stopped moving as it reached the other side of Acheron. Charon had reached a small dark dock, before stopping all the movements of his paddle. Bowing down at the two Gods in front of him, he said his final goodbyes.
“I can only bring you this far. This is your final destination”, he announced to them in his hoarse voice.
Hades thanked him and with a final nod, jumped gracefully from the boat as he had done so many times before, his dark robes flying around him. Persephone stood up and took the bony hand that Charon had exerted to her in order to help her climb off the boat. Taking a firm hold of his larger hand, she briefly looked at the colorless white eyes of the ferryman.
“It was a pleasure meeting you, Charon. I hope we will see each other again soon”, the young Goddess gave him a bright smile.
She had taken a liking to the strange dark man, although he looked dangerous and terrifying. He had been nothing but polite to her and even helped her understand the Underworld as much as he could.
She guessed that she shouldn’t always judge someone from his appearance, because what is inside is always what matters the most. She hoped to see the wise old man soon since she had enjoyed their conversation and his company.
“Oh we surely will, my Lady. I have a feeling that your presence here will become permanent soon enough”, he gave her a hidden smile.
Persephone looked at him confused but didn’t comment anything to the ferryman’s mysterious words. She climbed off the boat and buried herself in Hades’ warm embrace.
Hades bid him farewell as the ferryman gave a last bow to them.
“Goodbye, my Lord...and welcome, my Lady, to the Underworld!”
And then he disappeared with his boat in the dark waters of the river, letting the couple alone at the dimly lighted dock.
End of chapter 16!!
Title Translation: “The Price of the Ferryman”
Styx is also known as the river of hatred, because of its deity self-hate. Achilles was dipped in the waters of the river by his mother during his childhood, acquiring invulnerability, with exception of his heel, by which his mother held him. The only spot where Achilles was vulnerable was, therefore, that heel, where he was struck and killed by Paris during the Trojan War. This is the source of Styx’s self-hatred.
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