I am posting this with some trepidation. It is:
- a completely unedited first draft
- of the opening scene
- of a story I just conceived of this evening
- which may or may not be continued.
But it was written as part of my 31 Days of Fiction, so here it is.
Hades will point out, if given the opportunity, that he is not the god of death. He does not kill or take life; that job belongs to Thanatos. Admittedly, Thanatos works for him, but that was not always the case.
He is also, technically, not the god of the dead. He is, technically, the god of the underworld. He’s the lord of the place where the dead mostly end up, but it didn’t have to happen that way. Actually, he is the brother who drew the short straw and got the job nobody wanted, with the awkward two-pronged sceptre. He’s rather embarrassed, nowadays, by cartoons of “the devil” and his “pitchfork”.
Hades and his brother Poseidon have this in common with one another, and not with their big brother Zeus: A god should stay in the office. If somebody looks for you where you are supposed to be in charge, they should be able to find you there. Poseidon, therefore, tends to stay in the oceans, and Hades stays in the underworld. Poseidon comes to visit Hades not infrequently; they are both concerned with the drilling for oil that has obsessed the mortals for a little while now. But Hades rarely leaves his domain. He realized a long time ago that most of his fellow immortals did not consider him good company. He is not a party sort of god.
And so he is often lonely during those months when his wife Persephone visits her mother and her mother’s relatives. He used to become what they now call a workaholic during those months. Being the lord of the underworld and the host of the dead requires a good deal of work, especially when one has become accustomed to sharing the load with one’s spouse and then the spouse takes a three-month vacation. But when arrangements are made, they can be hard to change, especially when they involve mothers-in-law. And so Persephone leaves, and Hades tries to keep busy.
The first time Hermes announced her arrival, he was surprised. Hades does not surprise easily. Hermes himself looked a bit surprised, despite being dressed in his grey psychopomp outfit with the waterproof boots. “You have a distinguished visitor, lord of the shadows. A goddess from the far north.”
Hades shifted on his throne. “A visiting goddess? From the north?” He frowned at Hermes. Hermes spread out his hands. “Well then, guide of souls, show her in.”
As soon as she entered the throne room, Hades recognized her. He had heard tales, of course, as no doubt she had heard of him. She walked with her chin lifted, limping steadily along as if Hermes was not by her side, ready to offer his arm. Hades stood up to greet her, in respect for one who was not only a goddess, but a guardian of the dead like himself.
“Greetings, your ladyship, guardian of the northern dead.”
She cocked her head at him, turning her good eye toward as might a bird that had been blinded on one side. He had no doubt, however, that her empty eye socket saw just as well as the piercing dark eye still set in flesh.
“Hades. I thought you could use some company.”
Her voice was soft, a raspy whisper that seemed to form just inside one’s ear rather than crossing a space between bodies. It made him feel… ticklish.
“I take it you do not stand on ceremony, Lady Hel.”
The right side of her mouth joined the left in its perpetual smile. “Nor sit upon it, lord of wealth. May I take a seat?”
He nodded, and before he could summon a servant or lead her to a more private chamber, she limped forward and dropped gracelessly to the steps of his throne. Not knowing what else to do, Hades sat down beside her.
The goddess Hel resembled a young woman of serious mien, pale-skinned, with long black hair, thick and straight, dressed in simple clothes of black, grey, and white. Thus the right side of her body. The left side of her body was as an exposed skeleton, fleshless and scoured white, with patches of scruffy hair clinging to the bare skull. Her gown and apron draped over breast and bone equally; she clasped her hands casually in her lap.