“I am surprised to see you here, so far from your own lands, lady.”
Hel shrugged a bony shoulder. “I have good and trustworthy servants who will keep my domain for me while I am away. And I do not often roam.” She looked around the dim and rather dusty throne room, then back to him. “Nor do you, I think.”
“No. I am not everywhere welcome.”
“Yet you ventured forth to seize a bride.” She shifted, clasping her mismatched hands around equally mismatched knees. “I confess I was baffled when I heard that a lord of the underworld desired a wife.”
He had heard that the gods of the north and their people were subtle and keen. He had also heard that they were shamelessly blunt and forthright. This goddess who was neither alive nor dead, who seemed neither a maiden nor a wife nor mother, appeared to be blunt, yet perhaps she was more subtle than he could guess.
Wrong-footed, baffled by his guest, Hades told the truth. “My brother Zeus, lord of the gods, importuned me to wed her. And I was… lonely, and so I yielded.”
“What were lord Kronion’s reasons for wanting you to wed the daughter of Demeter?”
In truth, Hades had asked himself that over and over again. He did not for an instant believe that Zeus wanted him to be *happy*. He had believed, until he was disillusioned, that Demeter desired a match for her daughter and that he was, as mortals said, a good prospect. He was the lord of wealth, the shepherd of the shades, the guardian of the seal upon Tartaros. He made quite a respectable son-in-law, for a mother who wished to see her daughter wed.
Demeter, apparently, had not wished so.
He had not given himself the chance to question how his marriage benefited Zeus and Zeus’s rule. And while Zeus was always generous, he gave no gift without an advantage to himself.
Again Hades found himself telling his unexpected visitor the truth. “I do not know. But there must be some benefit to him in this arrangement.”
Hel nodded slowly. “I have no partner, lord Hades. I rule alone and uncontested. I could perhaps steal myself a husband and bend him to my will, unwomanly though that would seem.” A faint glimmer of mirth lightened her rasping whisper. But I am not lonely. And you, a wedded lord, are lonely.” Pressing her hands upon her knees like an old woman, Hel got to her feet, followed by Hades.
“I will take my leave of you now, lord of the cypress groves. I hope I may call upon you again.”
“Please do,” Hades said, and was astonished to hear genuine desire in his voice.
“Then I shall leave you with one question, lord Hades. When she is not by your side, where is your wife?”