TWENTY THREE - The Living Amongst The Dead
THE LIVING AMONGST THE DEAD (2,542)
Curiosity raced through Persephone’s mind as she hurried down the corridor. She had so many questions she needed to be answered but one stood at the forefront of her imagination, waiting and demanding to be answered. When the passage opened to a garden at the center of a courtyard, she did not even slow down as she normally did. Nothing seemed to be able to get in the way of the goddess’s curiosity. Not even the innocence of blossoms.
Her steps carried her right to the doors of Hades’ office. Instead of waiting to see who was currently inside, she threw both of the double doors open. This had become her new normal. In the beginning, she was careful not to interrupt Hades during one of his many meetings. Meaning she would carefully open the door or knock and wait to be answered. Now, she had begun to learn that being a queen came with its own set of privileges. One of them being she could interrupt any meeting, and Persephone had used this privilege quite thoroughly over the last couple of months.
Hades didn’t seem to have a problem with it and in fact, he seemed to enjoy his wife reveling in her new position. He always seemed to be pushing her out of her comfort zone and cheering her on in every decision she made. Every time he watched her grow into her new position he would greet her with open arms as if it were perfectly normal, as if he himself had known she was capable all along.
Even she had started to see many changes in herself develop within the last few months. Months were a bink in the eye of a god but still, they were fast becoming her most cherished memories. That was why the changes she did see seemed so dramatic to her. They were never anything someone could have seen from the outside but she had begun to be quite good at spotting them. They were moments when her mother’s voice began to drift backward and she herself took a step forward.
This was one of those moments.
Without waiting she opened both doors without a care and without a second to wait. Hades was alone in his office, standing to the side of his desk looking down through one of his windows. He glared back to see who had welcomed themselves into his office but relaxed when he saw it was her. At last, his face relaxed as his unhappy scowl turned into a slight smile while the rest of his body stayed tense. She knew him well enough to recognize the stress that was now occupying his mind. She had suspected nothing else of him.
“I heard a man has come to the Underworld,” she spoke to him, her voice echoing across the space between them.
“Already?” he asked, shaking his head, “I thought I could keep it quiet for a while longer.”
“I am not surprised that the Underworld is abuzz with the news, the living do not often venture into the land of the dead,” she replied. It had not surprised Persephone that the news of the new arrival had spread through the Underworld like wildfire. Her words were true, as far as she knew no living mortal had made their way into the depths of hell while still alive. She could not imagine why one would even try. As far as she could gather most humans were afraid of their own death, haunted by their mortality.
“He has come for a soul.” Hades enlightened her.
“A soul?” she asked Hades. She watched as he turned around fully to face her and ran a hand down his worrisome face.
“He claims it is his wife and that she was taken from him too soon,” he explained, sounding slightly doubtful.
She knew there had to have been more to the story to bring Hades such stress. If it had been so simple he would have turned the mortal way, locking him from the Underworld until his day came for him. She continued searching for answers, “Well, what do you say?”
“I say that her name never appeared on any of our lists,” he said shaking his head, “The fates did not foretell her death.”
“How is that possible?” Persephone asked him, not understanding how a soul could find its way into the afterlife without a foretelling from the fates or an escort from Thanatos.
Hades only shrugged, “It can happen from time to time, but is still extremely rare. Most mortals have a date and time that will be their end. The dates are given to us by the fates and Thanatos or Hermes are sent to retrieve the soul and bring it here.” Hades told her. She already had a rough idea of how soul collecting worked from talks with Hades but she was still a new queen, unsure of what she knew. “Very rarely there is an incident that causes a soul to be taken early. An incident, not even the fates foretold. Clearly, this is what has happened to the soul in question.” he reasoned. She watched him, no longer talking to her but seeming to be talking the problem out to himself. His troubled eyes seemed to still be worried about something he had not yet said.
Walking up to his desk she sat on the corner so she could be closer to him. Slowly she brushed her hand up his arm to get his attention back again, “Hades?” she asked.
“Humm?” he asked, startled out of his thoughts. She gave him a look, asking him what was bothering him, they needed no words for him to know what she wanted. Sighing he sat down in his chair and moved forward so he now sat between her knees, “Most of these incidents can be traced back to a god or goddess intervening in the lives of mortals. But even then it is rare for the mortal’s fate not to be foreseen. Even more rare for the mortal to be an ordinary girl.” he explained stress dripping from his words as his hands rested on her thighs. She could tell he was still distracted. She watched as he turned the problem over and over in his mind. Something he was very good at, but now she watched as it consumed him. She had heard his unsaid dilemma, the accusation he had not wanted to say.
“Why have you not given him back his love?” she asked him, it had seemed like a simple solution to a complicated problem. Certainly, if the mortals were no longer in the Underworld it would no longer be their problem.
Hades shook his head, disagreeing immediately, “If I am right, then I’m afraid I cannot.”
“Why?” she asked him curiously.
“I’m afraid this is a trap,” he told her, looking up and watching to see her reaction. Usually, he tried to hide things like this from her, wanting to protect her from the ugliness of his position as king of the Underworld. Usually, it took much more for her to pry problems out from him, but not this time. This time he did not mince words or hid facts. He was blatant.
She did not know if this was a good or bad sign.
“Why would it be a trap?” she asked him.
“Persephone, the trail is still fresh on every god’s mind. Never before had Olympus been split like that. Now the whole of Olympus is watching us, waiting for a sign of weakness to show. Waiting for the opportunity to take what is ours. If I let them go we would be seen as weak and abiding. We would also be breaking a cardinal rule sent from Olympus, the same place that had ruled over our trial. To break one rule would break them all. Not to mention the fact that every human would demand their loved ones back. It would leave us defenseless, and that is what they want.” he explained to her, laying out his deepest worries.
“They? Who would do this?” she asked. Immediately after the words left her mouth she remembered Poseidon in the halls of Olympus. She remembered how he reeked of seaweed and how he wished to stir trouble. He did not get his fill of chaos in the trial, at least not to the extent he had wanted. She hated it but she began to wonder if it could be the god of the seas plotting against them. She still had failed to tell Hades of their encounter and knew telling him now would only add to his worry. Instead of solving the problem, it would simply add to his stress. In a time in which he worried he could be losing her all over again, her news would only prove to make him more possessive. Besides, she still did not know Poseidon’s true motives.
Hades stayed suspiciously quiet. Being the quiet and calculating god he was, he chose not to answer her question. He made no move to speak an accusation but instead, he simply did not look away from her. He too had his suspicions.
Still, she pushed forward, advocating on the mortal’s behalf. Always weak when it came to forbidden love. “Hades, you of all men must know what it is to be separated from your love.”
Her words must have struck him because he looked startled by her comparison. Clearly, he had not compared Persephone with this mortal’s stolen wife, that is until she had drawn it out so plainly. True in many ways they had been separated by more than the line of mortality.
“Yes, I do understand. But Persephone it is this man’s love or my own. I have promised I would protect you and that is what I will do. I gave you my word,” Hades said earnestly, “If I give him back Euridice it would invite our own end. That I cannot allow.” he said while holding both her hands as she sat in front of him.
“Then let me do it. Surely they could not condemn you for my actions,” Persephone said looking for any loophole she could find. Often she had been referred to as a nymph who knew no better. Even now after the trial, she knew this was still how she was being portrayed. They could not blame the god of the dead for the actions of a girl.
“Yes they could, and that is exactly what they will do. I know Olympus, there is not a truthful bone amongst them. They are looking for weakness; In you and in me. Waiting for the perfect time to strike and to seize.” Hades said, standing up from his chair while still standing between her slightly parted legs. His face was still painted with stress as he spoke of their possible end yet still she watched his eyes glance down to her lips as he took a step closer to her. “Unfortunately this also means you will have to be present when Orpheus is denied his request. You will have to help carry out the judgment. To keep up the image you portrayed at the trial. They must only see us as a united front.” he told her. As his fingers ran down her cheek softly, she could feel their electric path.
She imagined images of her and Hades sat in their thrones looking down on the mortal. She imagined what his pleading words would sound like and his disappointed face would look like as he would be escorted out. She remembered the evil the fates said would consume her and wondered if someday this would be an easy choice for her. Somewhere below her conscience, she welcomed that type of ignorance. How blissful it would be not to worry for anyone else.
Was this only the beginning of her descent?
“Give them a chance.” she pleaded with him one last time. Though she tried to convince herself otherwise she knew herself to be selfish. If given the choice she would make the same decision Hades was making. She would always choose him. If she needed to damn a soul then so be it. To be with Hades she would. But Hades had been swallowed by death for too long, he no longer saw hope in the same light she did. She knew she would always have to be the strong goddess she needed to portray while in public, that would always be her fate. But while in private she would always fight for the ones she could save. “What is the point of being a god if you cannot help the helpless?” she asked.
Helpless. She remembered all her failures, all the times she did not reach out to help when she should have. All the times she was so afraid of her mother’s actions she stilled her own. And even most recently, the forgotten. They still sat on the other side of the river bed. Alone and cold, waiting for their afterlife. Since the dinner with Hades, she had not lifted a hand to help them.
He shook his head once more, every time he did it seemed to weigh heavier on him. “I cannot, you know this.” He told her, His usual strong face cracked and she could see how sad he truly was.
“We were allowed a chance to plead our case and we found a way to fight for our love,” she reminded him, caressing his cheek the way she always did. “Give them a chance, if their love is meant to be then they will conquer, just as we did.” She felt compelled not to let this issue become what the forgotten had. No, this was one mortal she had to save.
“And how could I do this?” he asked her with what looked like a suggestion of hope in his eyes.
She had felt so sure this was the right path she had not noticed her lack of a plan. She had no idea how to give these mortals the life they wanted, while also not endangering Hades and her own happiness. Above all, she could not allow danger to come to the Underworld, not because of her and her bleeding heart.
“Leave it to me,” she promised, hoping that with time she would think of something.
He thought this over only for only a second before kissing her swiftly, “Ok, if you think you can do this,” he agreed, it warmed her heart that he trusted her with something of this magnitude, without question. It still shocked her that he believed in her this much.
She swallowed hard under his watchful eyes, “I will.” she promised.
“It must not make us look lenient to the laws of the gods,” he reminded her.
“It won’t, I promise,” she swore.
“Ok my love,” he said, kissing her gently on the forehead. “We will see him in the morning,” he told her, letting her know she did not have much time. Now she understood the stress she had seen before on Hades’ face. Now she felt all of it on her own shoulders.