TWENTY SIX - Have You Come To Pity Them
HAVE YOU COME TO PITY THEM?
Orpheus had left the Underworld. Fate had cursed the couple even before they had started their walk back to the surface, but Persephone blamed herself just as much. She had been the one who sent them, the god who had sealed their fate. He had turned around to see his bride, just as she had predicted he would. She could think of nothing else but his hopeful face and the sound of Euridice’s lonely cries. Thanatos was the one who had told her of the mortals once Euridice was returned. She was back in the Underworld as if nothing had happened. As if her lover had not gone to hell to get her back. As if Persephone had not even tried to save her. They were separated by death once again. This time permanently. For a mortal might be able to find their way into hell once, but never twice.
Persephone didn’t think she would ever be able to forget Orpheus’s sad song. Even now it rattled in her memory.
She told herself over and over again that she had tried, that she had done her best. She tried to give the mortals a chance by giving them the same opportunity she was given. No matter how often she told herself this, guilt still soaked her soul. She couldn’t help but feel like she hadn’t done enough. She felt she didn’t help when she should have like she put her own love above theirs. After all, a voice whispered in her mind, that was exactly what Persephone had done. She had prioritized her life with Hades above the needs of those two mortals.
Persephone felt a chill go down her spine at the realization that she had become the god her mother had always wanted her to be, the selfish, power seizing kind. A god who did not care for the lives of mortals. This was not who Persephone was. This was very different from the goddess who had followed the sounds of crying souls into the Underworld, led by her bleeding heart. It was true that death came early to all those whom the gods loved.
Who was she?
What was she becoming?
Was this only the beginning of the evil the fates had spoken of?
They said she was evil, she wanted so badly to prove them wrong, but it seemed they had not been.
Besides the guilt, hate began to creep its way into her mind as she was reminded of the reason she was forced to act. Hate for these faceless gods who were responsible for this tragedy. But ultimately she did not hate them more than she hated herself. For who could be more of a culprit than the goddess who damned the mortals herself. All to save herself.
Persephone began to wander through the fields, black flowers growing wherever she stepped. She needed to be out of the castle, away from the throne room, even away from Hades. She needed to wander the meadows, where she felt most at home. Maybe there -amongst the blooming flowers and the tall grass- she could find herself once again.
She wandered for what felt like hours. Not keeping track of time or the direction she walked, only getting lost in her thoughts. That is until she came to the rushing waters of the river Styx. She had not noticed how far she had wandered until the sound of the rushing waves woke her from her thoughts. She had seen the river many times when she had crossed it to visit Hades. She remembered running and jumping over the wide river, never stopping to study the waters, too focused on her destination. Funny how she always tended to wander to places she was not supposed to go. But it was only during the tour Hades had given her that she had learned its name and its importance.
She took steps right up to the river’s edge. The water lapped at the shore in a way Persephone had never seen. As she watched the waves there was no question in her mind that the river was enchanted. As a goddess, she could smell the power that this river possessed but anyone who came upon this river could also see that it could not only be simplified to waves and tides. The water itself seemed to defy the laws of nature; rushing slow as if ignoring gravity all together then flowing at an alarming speed. She watched the ripples as they rushed the shorelines, splashing and playing along the banks.
Looking downstream she could spot Charon on his boat, loading another load of souls. That was where he was his happiest. A fisherman would never be content anywhere else. She made the mistake of looking past the lapping waves of the river towards the banks of the opposite side. The land of the living. Earth. Her past. Where she might have been trapped but at least she never hurt anyone. Orpheus was there too, somewhere, also trapped in his own way.
The clear water looked oh so inviting. Enticing even. Taking one step closer she lifted her foot and let it hover over the river. She was daring herself to wade into the water like she once would have as a girl. She had to remind herself that she was not a girl any longer. But even as she tried to deny it she could feel the small girl of dresses and flower-crowned braids that every woman had buried deep inside of them; waiting to run, waiting to dance, waiting to wade into crisp clear rivers.
Suddenly a voice came from Persephone’s right “Goddess,” she quickly turned and saw a woman dressed in long wet linen walking along the river bank. Her dress seemed not only to float down the river but to also disappear under the waves. The woman was beautiful in the most striking ways. Her long white hair blew in the wind, loose curls untamed and unruly. Every part of her seemed to flow and an unseen current of their own.
“Hello.” Persephone greeted the woman, surprised. She had been so distracted by the lapping waters she had not heard anyone approaching.
“I would advise not taking that step.” the woman motioned down to the river bank. “While the river can kill humans and cannot, in fact, kill an immortal goddess, the feeling is quite uncomfortable.” swiftly Persephone took two steps back from the deceiving river.
“Thank you, I was unaware.” It had looked so inviting but she had not known how dangerous it truly was.
“It is no problem, many are unaware of its special properties. But then again not many try to touch its waters.” the woman smiled warmly at her.
“I was only curious.” Persephone tried to defend herself.
The woman laughed “I don’t think I’ve ever met a curious goddess.”
“No, I doubt you have.” Persephone agreed, “Truth be told neither have I.” Persephone laughed. It was true that while Persephone had met many goddesses through meetings with her mother there were few that had a curious mind. There were intelligent, scheming, and intriguing women on mount Olympus but she could not remember one who was curious.
“If I may you are so much more than a goddess.” the woman said, “You are now, our queen.”
While Persephone might not have known who this woman was, she certainly knew who Persephone was. Oh, how much has changed. “Just as I am curious you are outspoken.” Persephone smiled, “How do you know who I am?” she asked.
“My queen the humans might not have erected a temple or statues in your honor but when they die they do not speak of Zeus’s storms or the valiant wars of Aries. They speak of young days when they were in a field of flowers with a pretty girl, of warm summer breezes, of the flowers their children picked for them. They sing of those beautiful days only the goddess Persephone could have crafted.” the woman spoke eloquently, letting the words float over her tongue before finding their way to Persephone.
She was shaken by what the woman said. Never before had she heard anyone, besides Hades, talk of her importance. It was always her mother’s greatness that echoed halls. To know that the mortals knew of her, that they appreciated her, that they would remember her even in death, touched her greatly. “They do?” she asked. She had often wondered what she had ever done to be worshipped as a god.
“Yes, I hear them whisper goodbyes to their past lives as they cross my shoes.” the woman said, referencing down to the river. Only then did Persephone notice the woman was standing in the river, yet was unharmed. She had been blinded to the fact that her dress had not disappeared beneath the waves but became the waves. She was the river.
“Are you the nymph of the river Styx?” she asked.
“No, my queen, I am the goddess Styx and this is my river and the river is me,” she answered simply. How stupid Persephone felt as to not have known this from the beginning. This was her empire now and she felt foolish not to have known one of the most important river goddesses.
“I’m very sorry.” she immediately apologized, knowing what it felt like to be mistaken for a nymph. “Forgive me I am still getting acquainted with this world.”
“It is no blunder, my queen. Not many know of me.” the goddess kindly brushed off, “even fewer come to visit my shores.” the goddess said sadly, her voice filled with an empty sadness, but only for a moment before that thought was washed away and she focused on Persephone once again. “If I may be permitted can I ask you something?”
“I believe I owe you that much.” Persephone nodded.
“Many have crossed my shores to travel to the afterlife, but in all my time I do not remember a single soul traveling the other way.” the woman said instead of asked.
“As I told you, I am a curious goddess,” Persephone said simply. Styx seemed to know there were other reasons hiding underneath her curiosity and waited for Persephone to answer her unasked question. “I wondered here on accident,” she confessed.
“Everyone finds me eventually.” the goddess agreed with a shrug. “But from here there is nowhere further to go while still standing in the Underworld.”
“Yes, I suppose you are correct.” Persephone agreed. She looked out over the river and to the further shoreline. There stood off to the side a camp of huddled mortals. She knew them immediately as the Forgotten. While Hades had drawn up plans and had implemented new laws that would help the forgotten, she had been unable to get them out of her thoughts. Just more names to add to the list of those she had failed. Instead of getting in line for Charon’s boat, as all the other souls did, they seemed to wander aimlessly until they settled in for the night or made camp. They were the empty souls of what they once were. 200 years would do that to a soul.
So close to the afterlife but still out of reach.
Styx must have followed her gaze and seen Persephone watching them. After a moment she asked, “Have you come to pity them?”
“I do not have to come to your shores to feel sorrowful for them. Persephone let a sad laugh escape her throat, “Why don’t you let them cross your shores?” she asked even though she knew what the goddess would say.
“The Underworld has many laws you do not know yet.” the goddess reminded Persephone, in a way that did not sound harsh or unkind. “It is forbidden to allow them across. I am sworn to lord Hades, and of course you now as well. A god or goddess much more powerful than I, would have to demand this of me.” the goddess said smirking at Persephone knowingly.
“You are outspoken aren’t you.” Persephone laughed knowing exactly what the goddess was inferring.
“I have said nothing,” Styx said in defense.
“You mean me,” Persephone replied. Knowing that the goddess was referring to herself. It seemed that if Persephone wanted something fixed all she would have to do was to ask.
“I mean nothing,” Styx said once more. “I am simply an outspoken river goddess speaking to the curious goddess of the Underworld. I mean nothing more than to answer your questions, my queen.” the river goddess said, her smile gleaming.
“Along with being outspoken, you are also clever,” Persephone observed the goddess. Persephone knew she must do it, knew she had to help the forgotten no matter the consequences. No matter how much Hades would hate the idea. She had known it would be something she would do ever since the day she first saw them and learned their fate. She knew Hades would hate her, he would argue with her and lock her away for her own safety if it came down to it. That is if he found out. She did not want to keep things from him but she saw no other way. “Tell me Styx, if i asked you to allow me to cross, what would you say?” Persephone asked.
She knew if her plan was to have any success then she would first have to cross the river. She now knew the river to be dangerous and she herself would be unable to cross. She also knew Charon was fiercely loyal to Hades, not that he wasn’t to her as well, just that if it came down to it he would tell Hades and not feel any guilt.
One way or another Hades would find out, this she also knew. He was a smart god who observed better than most. He would notice her absence or her wet dress. One way or another he would learn about her treachery.
She would have to tell him. Soon.
But for now, this second, it can be her secret.
“I would split my river in two to allow you to cross. You are my queen. Your word is law.” Styx said happily while drawing an x across her shoulder in a promise. Could Persephone trust Styx? The two goddesses had just met and she knew nothing about her. All she knew was she had no other choice if she wanted to free the Forgotten.
She would have to trust the river goddess.
The fates floated in from her memory as they often did now. She remembered their promise of evil and how it would eventually end in her demise. She remembered Orpheus’s sad song and how she had led them into destruction for her own selfish gain. It had begun. She could feel herself begin to change. But her fate was still her own and knew there had to be a way to change the course that had already been set. A way to at least set it off a century or two. She was still good, she had it within herself to do some good for those mortals.
If she could not save herself then she could at least save them.
“So what are you going to do my queen? Should I make a path for you to cross?” Styx asked in response to her silence. Persephone hesitated, watching the water once more lap upon the shore.
She knew Hades would be looking for her, worried about her disappearance. If she was going to hide this from him she would have to come back at a more convenient time. She would have to come back tonight and carry with her as many souls as she could.
“No, not now, but i will be back tonight,” Persephone promised.
“Then I will await you here,” Styx replied with a slight bow.