TWENTY SEVEN - The Cost of Salvation
THE COST OF SALVATION
Eventually, after her meeting with the river Styx Persephone made her way back to the castle. She returned with higher spirits than when she left. While she still felt the fate of Orpheus and Eurydice weigh heavy on her back, she also felt a spark ignite within her knowing that tonight she would put some good back into the world.
When she stepped into one of their many rooms she was greeted by an awaiting Hades. She couldn’t help herself but barry herself deep within his arms. It was a relief to see him still looking at her with love and not blame. She loved him even more for it. She had been worried he would hold resent for what had happened as her imagination had told her he would. Hades, whispered an apology, blaming himself for putting her in the position he had. Nothing she ever did would make her worthy of his love. He held her as she collapsed under the pressure of the day. No tears dropped but she felt them hiding behind her eyes. Hades only whispered comforting words to her as they sat alone in their room.
They spent the night alone together, speaking in hushed tones as if it was only them in the whole wide world. As if the ‘i love you’s’ shared between them were still secrets. They spent most of the night in bed discussing whatever matter came to mind. And yet when the day’s trial came up all that was shared was apologies and silence from both sides.
Although their history told them they should have been, gods were never well accustomed to tragedy. No, something about the pride of being immortal allowed them the belief nothing bad could ever touch them.
They should have known better.
Soon the sun had set and the stars had found their place within the sky. Hades had long ago fallen asleep, not eager to lengthen the tiring day by even a minute. She had waited until it was late into the night until she got up to leave. Standing over the bed she watched as Hades peacefully slept, not a worry on his mind. If she executed this correctly he would have nothing else to worry about. He felt guilt in leaving him here and in not telling him but she knew this was the only way. So, after fitting her darkest cloak over her nightgown she slips out of their room and into the night. She softly crept out of the palace and out past the garden as swiftly as she could. It was dark now but she still knew the way. Her feet followed the sound she knew to be the river Styx. Leaving the castle and leaving Hades in the darkness.
She was so eager to reach the forgotten she had not noticed when she had already arrived instead she ran until she had to stop immediately or else fall into the river. Once again Persephone found herself at the edge of the river Styx. She looked down the river only to see faithful Charon on his way back from unloading a fresh load of souls into the Underworld. Glancing the other way she saw nothing but the empty and ever-expanding Underworld. There was no goddess Styx. Immediately Persephone began to worry. There would be no plan if she could not get across the river.
“You have returned.” she heard the goddess’s voice echo into the night air and felt her beating heart ease. Tuning behind her and away from the river’s edge, she saw the goddess Styx walking from land towards her rivers lapping waters.
“As have you,” Persephone said in question wondering where a river goddess had to go.
“Yes it seems we both have found our way back.” the clever goddess answered.
“Do you often leave your river unattended?” Persephone asked her.
“Only if it is an enticing offer.” the goddess smiled sideways at her. Persephone saw her eyes sparkle in a very familiar way. Hades made her own eyes dance in the same way the goddess’ in front of her was.
She did not have to be Aphrodite to know The goddess Styx was in love.
“And what pray tell would that offer be?”
“Ever the curious goddess you are.” Styx laughed looking up towards the bend in her river. Persephone followed her eyes and saw another river bend towards the Styx, almost meeting the edge of her river before moving on downstream. It was a red hot looking river with steam coming off the top of it. She knew immediately it was the river of Phlegethon. The river of fire. “As you returned to your love so did i.”
“The Phlegethon?” Persephone asked, not meaning to offend her newfound friend but simply to find out why the goddess would make such a choice. Styx while always cunning and mischievous seemed kind and not the type to fall for such an unholy river.
Persephone then smiled knowing exactly what it was to love something, or someone, that all else hatted. Many had made the same assumptions of her and Hades, as she had made of the river gods. She had loved Hades for his hands, the way they were coarse and rough towards everyone else but fine and soft when it came to her. How wonderful; how strange. She wondered if this is what Styx felt as well.
“Yes, are you surprised?” Styx asked dipping one toe into her waters as if testing the temperature then quickly stepping in with both feet, wading out deeper. Unlike before, when she had been walking atop the waters, she now allowed her feet to sink below the crisp waves. Persephone wondered if she was cooling herself.
“No, only impressed,” Persephone answered. “I did not think many could tame flames like that.”
“Not many have.” the goddess agreed, watching the steam rise. She then looked at Persephone not with a sad look but one that certainly resembled one. “His love is not the same as the love you receive.”
Persephone’s heart sank with the meaning of her words, “How so?”
“On some days when the weather is warm and the tides are high, he will return to my shores. But other times,” Styx stopped, letting her meaning float between them. Still, Persephone saw the look of love fresh in the goddess’s eyes as Styx watched his river flow. “It is enough for me. But not what you and the dark lord share.”
Persephone nodded knowing she was wrong to compare her and Hades to Styx and Phlegethon, it seemed they were not alike. Hades’ love for her never wavered, and her love for him could never be put out. This she was sure of. “No, I suppose it is not,” she mumbled her agreeance. One thing had been made clear when she had talked with Hera when it comes to the love of gods, there are very few honorable men to pick from. Even fewer down in the Underworld she assumed. But she did not think Styx would be one to settle. No, she did not see that in her eyes, instead, she saw a restless spirit. Styx truly loved Phlegethon and for that Persephone felt saddened for her.
Her mother had taught her well that even love can feel like a trap.
“I am very sorry Styx,” she said simply to her, there was little else she could say.
The goddess only smiled laughing at Perspheone’s saddened expression, “Do not be, he is the river fire god. It burns bright and untamed. His love is quite the same, it burns higher and higher, then all at once, it will be gone. I would not ask him to change for that is who he is.”
“You are as kind as you are outspoken.” Persephone smiled graciously.
“That is quite the compliment, my queen. Though I doubt you have come to pay such a compliment.” Styx said in such a way it reminded Persephone of the task she had put off for long enough.
“No, I suppose I have not.” she shook her head. She would start tonight.
She knew Hades would hate it if he knew she was here. She had never seen him angry with her but she guessed he would yell and scream. Her plan was to tell him eventually, but not until she had some experience under her belt and had successfully done this multiple times. Then she would come to him and show him it could be done. That goodness did not have to be sacrificed for happiness.
Persephone was reminded of what Hades had told her; if anyone in the Underworld were to find out it would undermine their rule. It would cause chaos. It would be disastrous for their reputation. She did not want to hurt him, far from it, she wanted to keep him from any harm. But this, her own act of goodness, this she needed to do. It would be worth the risk.
If she could keep this from him for only a little while then she could see some success in her future. But could she trust Styx to keep the secret between them? Although she saw no other choice but to trust her. “But first, i must have your word. If I am to do this you must keep this a secret for me.” Persephone said, her eyes trained on the goddess in front of her.
The goddess nodded and held up one hand in an oath, “I swear on myself that I will never tell a soul or a god for that matter. You can trust me, my queen.” Styx promised.
Naive or not Persephone believed her.
“Good, then we can start tonight.” in hearing her the goddess Styx bounced with excitement. With a sweeping motion, the rushing waters stilled to her action and then split down the middle.
It was much deeper than Persephone had thought, reaching well over her height. Before stepping foot into the riverbank, Persephone noticed the thick mud that lay within the riverbed. Thinking fast, she knew she would have to return soon and knew Hades was far too observant to not notice mud dripping from her previously clean shoes. Working fast she quickly discarded them at the edge of the bank. She was glad she did too because once she took one step into the mud she immediately sank. She heard a giggle come from above her only to look up and see the goddess Styx floating atop the surface of the water watching her.
Still, she made her way forward never afraid of a little mud. She found herself taking careful steps afraid of the wall of deadly water that surrounded her on both sides. She was careful not to waver or touch them, afraid of the consequences. Styx followed her by balancing on the edge of the wall of water.
As she made her way across the river she thought over her plan, or what was shaping into one. She would have to move fast as to not stay on the wrong side of the river longer than she had to be. This meant she would have to make a decision as to who she would pick as quickly as possible. She did not think she should take more than one or two as it was her first time, preferably any children or innocent ones. She knew it was naive of her but she found herself believing the mortals were all once worth saving. She liked to think there were valid reasons why each and every soul found their way onto the beach.
This was the part of herself she was trying so desperately to save. The part that could never be evil.
But she also knew enough about evil and enough about life to know there were evil men who had done acts even her imagination could not fathom. Because of this, they had been sentenced to death without the proper passage tole. She could only imagine these souls were desperate enough to do anything to leave early. Anything. That was why she had decided to come at night when it was dark, so they would not see the river parting and could not see her coming.
Once she had climbed out the other side of the riverbank she noticed them all grouped together around fires, some talking, others sleeping. They were hard to make out but she knew to stay away from the harder looking individuals, the men who laughed drunkenly together around fires of their own.
Off to the corner, she noticed a mother and her child huddled together against the cliff wall. It was beautiful to watch the mother softly stroke her child’s hair. But Persephone reminded herself to move swiftly. She took steps closer, hiding amongst the shadows.
As she crept forward out of the darkness the woman noticed her presence, startling slightly, and tightened her hold on the child in her arms. “Please don’t be frightened,” Persephone whispered, trying her hardest to look as comforting as she could. “i am only here to help.”
“Help?” she asked, clearly skeptical. Help did not often come to the forgotten.
“Yes, You and your daughter,” Persephone said, smiling friendly down on the woman. “How much longer do you have?” Persephone asked, broaching the subject carefully.
The woman did not answer immediately but instead watched her, trying to understand her reasoning. When she spoke it was soft and despondent, “A hundred and twenty-seven years.” although the woman spoke the truth there was still a question on her tongue.
Still, Persephone pressed on, she knew the woman would not want to relive her curse but Persephone had to know. Had to be sure she was the right one, someone worthy of rescue. “Why are you not in Elysium?” she asked.
“Why are we all?” the woman laughed knowing the obvious reason was known to all. They had no way to pay for passage.
“Your clothes are fine, surely someone could have paid your way.” Persephone pointed out the women’s fine dress and a beautiful bracelet on the girl.
Immediately the woman covered the trinket, “Please, we only wish to rest.”
Sensing the mother’s unrest, Persephone lowered herself onto the dirt so they could speak face to face while still keeping a safe distance, “I am only here to help you.” she repeated.
“It has been a long time since someone offered me help.” The woman’s eyes were cautious but to her surprise, she continued to speak, “I died in childbirth, as did my daughter. We never met while with the living but here we have been reunited.” she smiled down at her sleeping child, “When my husband saw it was a girl he was distraught. He wanted an heir. He buried us in fine cloth and poured wine for the gods making a great show of giving the appropriate sacrifices. Except he never visited us and he did not give us passage,” Persephone heard the truth in the woman’s words and saw the spite in her eyes.
Her heart broke for the woman and her child, pouring out for the woman’s trouble. She could not imagine a man so cruel as to not allow his own wife and child an afterlife. In another life, her mother might have matched her in a loveless marriage but this is something far past her imagination.
She would make sure he was punished.
Searching her mind she could find nothing she could say to ease her pain, accept her offer of transportation into the afterlife. “That is a very sad tale.”
“As all of ours are. Yet, still, we wait.” The woman nodded, “pain is of no value here. You cannot pay your passage with tears.”
“What if I can take you there?” Persephone asked her.
The woman looked confused knowing there was no way for her back into the land of the living and no way into the Underworld. “To where?”
“Elysium,” she told the woman whispering the word.
“How?” the woman laughed at the suggestion, knowing it to be impossible. Hades did keep a tight grip, nearly unbreakable, on his kingdom.
Persephone moved the hood of the cloak that had covered her face, allowing the flicker of firelight to fall on her face. She saw the woman’s eyes grow large once she had seen the glow coming off of Persephone. The glow of an immortal. “I am not a soul, I am not bound to this side of the river Styx,” Persephone explained. Without hesitation the mortal mother bowed her head, dipping low. Persephone reached a hand out lightly touching the woman’s arm, telling her there was no need to bow.
“You are a goddess.” the woman stammered.
“Yes, and i only wish to help you and your daughter.”
“Who are you? Let me know so i can pray for you even in the afterlife.”
She shook her head knowing she could not share her identity. No one could know it was her. She would have to continue in secrecy. “I am a minor goddess, you would not know me.”
“If you do this, what can I do to repay you? I have nothing.” the woman asked desperately.
Persephone smiled. This had been the only part of her plan she had known for sure. She had seen the mother’s eyes shine when spoke of her daughter’s birth and watched as she hesitated to tell Persephone the story, guarding their lives’ story closely. There was nothing the dead treasured more than the truth. The truth of their lives and of their deaths. In those truths they held themselves. “Your story will be your payment. I know how much it must have pained you to tell it. Your truth is payment enough.” Persephone said to the woman in front of her.
“That is it?” she asked. No doubt wondering where Persephone’s kindness could have come from. She had lived a life of great pain only to be ended by a cruel man. Persephone didn’t think she had experienced much kindness just for kindnesses’ sake.
“Yes,” she nodded, “You have nothing but who you are to give, and tonight you have bared your soul, your everything, to me. There are very few who are capable of this. I thank you.” Persephone smiled kindly at the woman. She counted herself lucky to have been entrusted with something as precious as this woman’s story. It had been clear the woman did not tell it to just anyone.
“No thank you!” objected the woman loudly. She then glanced at her little girl who stirred in her arms. “You have saved us.”
Far off behind the mother, Persephone noticed a group of men had turned towards them. She suddenly regretted removing her hood. They did not stop their staring as she watched them begin to whisper amongst themselves. She prayed the dark lighting had hidden her glow from them. If they knew her to be a goddess they would certainly come for her.
“If we are to leave then we should go now.” Persephone stood up holding out her hand to help the woman stand. The woman quickly followed her lead standing to her feet. She gently woke her daughter allowing her to stand on her own but still held a tight grip on the girl’s hand.
Once Persephone covered her face the women made their way towards the river. She let the mother and child walk in front while she glanced back one last time to the group of men not far off. They still watched but not as intently as before. Turning her back she followed the mother and daughter towards the river Styx. Immediately she noticed there was no sign of Styx yet the river still remained parted, quietly rippling against itself in the dark night. She assumed Styx had no desire to be seen by a mortal, dead or not, and was hiding away from any prying eyes.
The woman stood silent, overcome from the sight of the parted river that had once separated her from her peace. Persephone rested one hand on her shoulder, trying her best to reassure her. “Do not let the walls touch you,” she warned, taking the first step down to the river bed. She watched as the mother followed her but her daughter was stopped.
Panic washed over the mother’s face as she turned towards her daughter, “We must keep moving darling.” Persephone noticed the mother’s soothing voice as she looked lovingly at her daughter. Before she could stop herself she felt a touch of jealousy.
“I can’t.” the girl spoke sadly.
Persephone tried to appear as reassuring as she could but she knew they were taking too long and she could see one man stand from the circle. If they were going to leave they would have to leave now. “You will be safe here, i promise.”
With her words, her mother tried to pull her hand to usher her forward but the girl stopped once again. “I cannot pull her.” the mother said to her worriedly.
Coming closer to the girl she could see she was frightened. Persephone offered only what she could to the young girl, a friendly smile. “Come with me,” she said once again standing with an open hand. Once the young girl took hold of her hand, Persephone made a move to pull her along as her mother had but once again the girl could not be moved forward.
Desperately Persephone looked behind her and caught the eye of the smirking Styx as she made the simple movement of her fingers rubbing two coins together. Payment. The mother might have made a payment but the child had not.
Persephone lowered herself onto her knees so she would be on the child’s level. She had never talked with a mortal child but she had to believe a frightful mortal girl acted the same as a frightened goddess. She knew a trusting and friendly smile does wonders to still a worried heart.
“Hello, What is your name?” she asked.
“Adelpha.” the small girl whispered.
“Well, that is a beautiful name, Adelpha.” Persephone grinned when the girl offered her a small smile. “My name is Persephone,” she told the girl hoping her mother had not heard her name. If she had, Persephone had made sure to use her new name given to her by Hades not her birth name, hoping the news had not yet reached the dead’s ears. “We are on our way to Elysium, do you know what that is?” she asked. The girl nodded but only slightly.
“It is where my father is.” the girl said. Persephone swallowed, she would not argue with the girl but her father certainly did not escape judgment without punishment. And if he had Persephone would see to it he was sent to the fields of punishment never to leave.
“It is where you and your mother will be happy and safe, forever,” she promised the small girl. “But first, the Underworld must be paid.”
“Gold?” the girl asked. Persephone shook her head.
“No, before the boatman took a taste for gold he expected an even finer payment. Do you know what that was?” she asked, watching the girl shake her head. “Secrets. Do you have a good secret? Something no one else would know?” she asked, holding onto the girl’s small hands.
She watched as the girl looked unsure, looking between Persephone and her mother. Persephone knew they did not have the time for her to be hesitant. She knew the girl was unsure of trusting a woman she had never known but if she did not make the payment there was a chance they would be found.
Suddenly the girl leaned forward to whisper into Persephone’s ear, her soft lips whispered words that broke Persphone’s heart all over again. “When i dream I dream of the sun.” she wondered if this girl had lived long enough to see a sunrise. She felt her heart crack even more.
Swallowing hard she gathered the strength to smile, “That is a good secret. You are a very brave girl.”
This time when her mother grabbed her hand the girl was able to move forward and into the Underworld. They walked swiftly through the darkness watching carefully not to touch the walls of water. Once again it seemed Styx had disappeared not wanting to be seen.
Threw the darkness she began to see the ending of the riverbed. When they reached the part that began to lead upwards towards the surface and out of the river she turned to look back and sure enough they were still falling behind her. She smiled knowing they were so close. Turning forward she took the final steps towards dry land. But glancing upwards she saw something more than the darkness she expected.
Watchful eyes she knew very well.