A distinguished visitor, part six

There were no peaceful walks in the garden for a while, nor visits from her ladyship in the north. Given a choice between lashing out at his subjects and servants or sequestering himself where he could harm no one, Hades chose the latter, in the form of long chariot rides where he wearied the horses as well as himself. He appeared in the throne room only when it was absolutely necessary. Sometimes he sat for long stretches by the mouth of Tartaros, staring at the huge black plate that sealed it and wondering what would happen if he lifted it off.

At last he broke down and wrote his own letter, addressed to Hekate. It said only, “Tell her she is welcome, if she will come home.”

He did not receive an immediate reply. Time passed and he refused to bother reckoning it. It was on a day when he had gone back to the gardens, at last, that he heard an unfamiliar chariot approaching, occupied by two women: Hekate and his wife.

Hades stood by the garden gate, watching as Hekate slowed the horses, stepped down from the chariot, patted the horses as she passed by them, and offered both hands to the mantled figure who had ridden with her. His heart ached to see his wife alight clumsily, leaning on the other goddess’ hands. They approached him together, Hekate’s arm around Persephone, who was wrapped in purple from head to foot.

At last Persephone bared her head and looked at him. “My lord.”

Her face was thinner but her shape fuller, unless the mantle deceived him. Her eyes looked sore and bruised. He wanted to take her in his arms. Instead, he bowed deeply. “My lady wife.” And held out his hand.

A brief eternity passed before she took it. Her small hand was cold and weak. Hekate nodded and turned back to her chariot as he led his wife into the gardens.

He sat down on a bench, hoping she would join him. He thanked Fate that she did, even though she kept some distance between them. He tried to think of something to say.

“The gardens look neglected,” she said finally, in a tiny voice.

“Their caretaker was gone. The plants have missed you.” So have I, he wanted to add.

Persephone shifted inside the purple mantle. He thought she was rubbing her belly, in the way of all pregnant females of every kind. “I needed some time to myself.”

“Of course. Understandable.”

“And I wasn’t sure if….” She bit her lip, glanced up at him. Her mouth was trembling, and he wanted to kiss it in reassurance.

“If I would still want you?” It was the wrong thing to say, or perhaps the right thing. Persephone began crying, silently, but rocking back and forth on the bench as the tears went on. And on.

He feared that putting his arms around her like a husband would only hurt her. So instead Hades, lord of the underworld, receiver of the numberless dead, went down on his knees before his wife and clasped her legs like a supplicant.

“Dearest wife. I do not blame you. It is not your fault. My anger is for… the deceiver who outraged you, not for you. I only want you to be well.”

Her weeping slowed a little, and he made bold to reach up and stroke her hair. “I thought we were getting on well together, after a difficult beginning. I fear now that I have lost your affections forever. But please, however you feel about me, allow me to take care of you, and of your child. Let it be my child, too. Our child.”

She raised her face from her hands, as tear-stained and blush-blotched as any mortals. Her eyes searched his. And she threw her arms around his neck and wept afresh.

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