ONE - Majestic and Magnificent
MAJESTIC AND MAGNIFICENT
The music bounced off the marble floors creating an elegant atmosphere throughout the palace. Persephone had guessed the men creating the beautiful music must have been demigods. This assumption was mostly because they looked like mortals but had the gift of music only a god could have given. She had watched them, entranced by the beauty they created. Persephone had always been interested in mortals, ever since she was a child. It was the lives they lived, so drastically different than hers, that had always fascinated her. A simpler life, one Persephone, a goddess raised on nectar, could never understand. Humans only lived for a short time and yet they acted like it did not matter. Maybe it was due to Persephone’s godly lineage or the gold blood that flowed through her veins that made her unable to understand how they savored such a short wonderful life.
She looked around the imposing room of Olympus and noticed the decorations that had been put up for the occasion. There was gold decadence in every corner of the already striking hall making the light shine and reflect whenever it was touched. As it would have been expected, there was no expense spared on Olympus, everything was made to be as majestic and magnificent as anyone could dream it would be.
There was no point in being a god if you did not live like one.
Persephone’s mother, Demeter, did not usually bring her along to these types of gatherings as they got too unruly for her taste. But every year she would come to this banquet, it seemed this night was different. Her mother never debated the fact of Persephone’s attendance, it was always a certainty that Persephone would come. On this particular occasion, the gods had thrown this party to celebrate the solstice. It was a celebration of the end of the year but Persephone’s mother acted like it was a celebration for her. Although Persephone always thought it was eccentric of her mother to claim this holiday as her own, she now understood this was what all the gods did. She watched the room as each god and goddess put on a show of sorts, showing off their power and prestige. She laughed as she watched Apollo walk-in shirtless, clearly showing off more than his powerful position.
Her mother was only doing what any other god was expected to do; to gloat, to boast, to drape themselves with power until all those around them believed it as truth.
When they had arrived at Olympus her mother had shuffled her around the room, making introductions and showing her daughter off. She had been nice and had talked with the women for some time and while they were all pleasant and acceptable the goddesses had nothing in common. She much preferred to watch the proceedings from a corner. From her seat, she could observe all the gods, not only the ones her mother allowed her to meet. The ones that were forbidden from her were always the ones that piqued her interest the most.
She watched as Aphrodite finally made her much-anticipated entrance. As she entered the hall every eye was drawn to her. Persephone could bet not many gods noticed Ares had accompanied her, attached to her hip, with a jealous look in his eye. Persephone’s mother had always talked about Aphrodite in a loathful way. She spoke of Aphrodite’s vanity and foolishness as if it brought a bad taste to her mouth.
To grow up with tales of the goddess of love framed as life lessons or warnings should have turned Persephone against the beautiful goddess. Her mother’s tales should have turned her against Aphrodite but they only seemed to do the opposite. Instead, Persephone grew to admire her, more than she cared to admit. Aphrodite was everything Persephone was not. Everything she could never be. Aphrodite always seemed to own whatever room she walked into. She was bold and strong, and people noticed her and envied her. And in the world of gods, this meant everything.
Seeing her walk through the open doors to the main room Persephone knew she was not wrong in her assumptions. It was clear Aphrodite’s beauty had become her power. And her power, while underestimated, was a force unlike any other the gods on Olympus had seen. She knew that the goddess of love was not one to be crossed.
She dressed to be noticed as if to blend in was to sign her own death certificate. While some might have whispered that her outfit was a costume or a mask, she walked like she could not hear them. Her heels clicked on the tiles which created an echo that cascaded down the hallway, alerting everyone that she had arrived to grace them with her presence. She acted as if all eyes were on her, strutting through the corridor as if everyone had come to watch her walk. It was not ego, it was nearly a fact. All eyes watched her, and she knew she had them all captivated.
Persephone stifled a laugh as she watched Zeus drop his drink as she walked by.
Everyone seemed to watch the power couple, that is except for Hephaestus. Technically he was supposed to have walked in with Aphrodite as he was her husband, but Aphrodite’s lustrous affairs were not a well-kept secret. Or not one that was ever meant to be kept. He must have known, yet still, he did not care, and as Ares touched her thigh he did not watch, he did not even look annoyed. It would have been perfect except for the fact that while Hephaestus ignored the couple, Aphrodite’s eyes were on him.
The party continued as more and more gods began to arrive. From the shadow of the column behind her, a figure appeared that surprised her. She placed a hand to her chest, to try to steady her beating heart. When she saw it was only Hecate, the goddess of magic, the two goddesses shared a knowing smile. Neither Hecate nor her said a word to each other, nor did they expect each other to. The two had become quite close over the centuries but if her mother ever found out, Persephone certainly knew she would never see the goddess again. Instead, they smiled at one another as Hecate went off to play her usual tricks. They both knew they would soon see each other again, only then would they be able to talk as they so wished to.
The reason Demeter was so disgusted with Hecate was that she had chosen to live in the Underworld instead of on earth or Olympus. If there was one thing her mother hated above all else it was death. Anything that touched death seemed to sicken her. So while Hecate might have never wronged her mother she was still just as tainted as if she had.
If she hated Hecate for only dwelling in the Underworld, Demeter despised the god who ruled it, Hades. He was the ruler of the Underworld and god of the dead. For this alone he was off-limits to Persephone.
But she had never been the daughter Demeter had wanted her to be.
While her mother hated Aphrodite there were some gods she hated so fiercely she did not even allow their names to cross her lips. As her daughter, Persephone was expected to hate these gods just as passionately and most importantly to never ask why.
As the night lingered on she could not help but catch glimpses of the god of the dead. The mysterious man she had been forbidden to meet. The one no one expected to see on Olympus. Except for her, she had waited all night for a glimpse of him. And now that she knew he had arrived she longed to run to him. The god of the dead. Hades. But she could not, no matter how badly her feet ached to run towards him. At least not while there were so many prying eyes to watch their every move. For now, she clung tightly to their small meetings; the flash of his dark cloak around a pillar, the echo of his dark laughter, and the fading scent of mint.
There was nothing she could do to stop these feelings, nothing could quench her thirst. He was the one god she was forbidden to speak to. Demeter brought her here to showcase her, to prance her around, and show off her beauty, her wit, her brilliance. It was expected for her to mingle with the gods, even encouraged, to let them know of her intellect, her usefulness, and most importantly remind them from where her power stems from; her mother. But there had always been an understanding between the two goddesses, that there would be no flirting or unseemly behavior for whatever Persephone did reflected right back to her mother. Some gods she could not talk to. Forbidden to meet. Unfortunately, that included the god of the dead. To be seen with him would be seen as a scandal. Demeter wanted her daughter to remain the pure maiden she had sold her as. Untouched by ugliness and death.
What Persephone’s mother did not know was that the two god’s paths had crossed many times in the past. The fact he was forbidden did not stop him from being the only one she wanted to see tonight. She held onto that thought; whispered promises of a secret meeting and dreams of a day where they would not have to hide from her mother any longer.
This had been her secret for a millennium.
If she must blame anyone she would blame her mother. For on lonely evenings when Demeter would leave her unattended she had a habit of wandering. In the beginning, her goal had been to sneak into a human village. She wanted to sit on a mountain top and watch the daily mundane life of the mortals. If she closed her eyes tight enough while hearing the children’s laughter she could almost dream herself a human.
That was how the myth started; her stumbling around in the woods, only aided by the fact she had never been that far away from home before. What she stumbled across was much more than what she had expected.
First, she heard them, the cries of the dead, even though she hadn’t known that then. The fates themselves could not have laid out a more intricate trap, for there was nothing more tempting to a curious goddess. She felt pity for the souls; the same lovely creatures she had grown to love and adore had found their end. To a god, death was the saddest thing of all. She had wanted so badly to calm their worries. She had wondered if a flower would soothe their cries as it soothed the cries of a baby. With curiosity on her side she went in to investigate, and what she found was far from what she had imagined.
Her first impression of the Underworld was its comforting warmth, like a summer night. Even as a child she had preferred night to the day. She had always enjoyed sitting out in a meadow after sunset, under the star-speckled sky, listening to frogs and crickets. Darkness had always soothed her. It softened the sharp edges of the world and toned down the too-harsh colors of the day. With the coming of twilight, the sky always seemed to recede while the universe continued to expand.
That night was only the beginning. Each time after that she seemed to wander closer and closer, farther and farther into the realm of the dead. Until she had found herself quite comfortable being in the very center of the Underworld.
That was how he had found her, sitting in a meadow, in the very heart of his realm. He later told her of how he had followed a path of flowers that had bloomed within her every step. From then on nothing was quite the same. She frequently visited him while learning to gradually stay longer, risking more of her mother’s wrath. He did not always come to see her but as her visits became more frequent so did his. They would walk along the paths that littered Hades’ realm and talk about the Underworld and life above. He would tell her stories; The ones no one ever told to fragile flower goddesses. Gods like him did not usually socialize with small goddesses like her but for some reason, he did not seem to notice. When they spoke he never treated her like a child or a nymph as many had done in the past, but instead was interested in what she had to say and would listen to her every word.
That is what had first drawn her to him.
One particular day in mid-summer he had led her closer to his castle than she had ever been before, right up to the dark stone walls. Here, he told her, was a garden at one time. As he spoke she began to notice they were standing in the center of a mostly dead estate. She could see how at one time it was beautiful and expanded further than she could see. Flowers and leaves were long gone, but the roots and faint lines of a path were still visible. He had reasoned that he never had the time or the talent to plant something as beautiful as she could. So he had asked her if she would like to have a garden all her own. She remembered feeling giddy at the prospect of growing something from nothing. To have something all her own.
She had given him no mind as she immediately bent down to lay her palm against the dead soil. She closed her eyes and felt life grow from her into the ground. It spread out from where they stood, growing into an expanse of trees, shrubs, and all of her favorite flowers. That was when she first felt it; The beating. It had come from the ground. At first, it had felt like a heartbeat, as if her hand was on his chest, feeling his own heartbeat. When she looked back up at Hades he was smiling. It had been the first time she had ever seen him smile.
“Do you plan to turn the Underworld into a greenhouse?” he had asked her jovially.
“Everyone deserves something beautiful to look at.” she reasoned with him as she felt the grass grow between her toes.
“I could not agree more,” he replied with a gravel voice. Suddenly Persephone had felt the beating again but this time within her own chest.
From then on she began to come directly to her garden to build and rebuild it each time. She began to become particular and obsessed about getting her garden just right. This was where he would meet her and would sometimes watch her work or would sometimes request a flower he was partial to.
While she was always nervous she would be discovered by her mother, her stays began to become longer and longer. She would tell Hades she needed to come so often so he did not kill off her creation. But soon it began to become apparent she was no longer coming for the garden. Some days she would not grow a single bud.
This was how they had spent a millennium. Until their friendship became more than her periodical visits, until it became more than a friendship.
In the early years, he tried to send her diamonds and all the pretty trinkets he could find. He would leave them hidden behind trees and under rocks where he knew she would find them. But what would a flower goddess do with a ruby? Her unamusement of his wealth seemed to make him even more persistent. Soon they were forced to allow Hermes to know their secret if only for the reason so they could send each other secret letters in between her visits. It seemed with each visit and each letter their love grew past anything either of them would have imagined. Something that would have stunned even Aphrodite.
Even though she loved him and he loved her, it was not so simple. It was never simple when it came to the love of the gods. They had to keep their love a secret. If anyone found out about them it would have been a disaster. A love affair amongst the gods was no small matter.
That was why she could not run to him tonight as she so wished. She knew they had to stay apart if only for the night. They had been doing well, however hard it might have been. All she could think was that she needed him. She needed his arms around her, needed him to kiss her, and whisper that they’d find a way to be together.
If only it was possible.
She’d glanced around all night, wishing for a flash of his face or a glimpse of the hands she loved and missed so much. But when she did finally spot him she was instantly concerned. In a place like Olympus, with the nectar poured and echoes of thunderous laughter, he should have been having a good time, and yet when she saw him there was not a smile on his face. Not like when he was with her. Perhaps he was thinking of her as well.
He had always been a marvel to her. Different from all others. To the rest of the world, he always seemed alone and distant. But when she looked at him, she saw a thousand empty rooms; in each one, there he was, strangling a ghost. It crushed her to see it, the man she loved, the one who could bring a smile to her face with only a memory, seemed broken. It made her feel utterly helpless.
But she would be lying if she said she didn’t find this beautiful. There was nothing quite as stunning as the heavy knuckled hand of a man who spent his life beating demons into the ground but when it came to her his touch was feather-light. A man who had nothing but soft touches for her.