This story was written for the ASSM Easter-fest, and although there are no adorable bunnies or dead biblical characters, we feel that it is an Easter story because it deals with the origin of spring. Comments will be appreciated, treasured and loved.
It wasn't a loud sound, the distinctive screech of the owl in the distance, but it sent a slight chill through her shoulders as she reached to pick the white blossom from the tree. She tucked the flower behind her ear, burying it in the gentle folds of her hair. As its fragrance surrounded her she tried to shake off the small feeling of foreboding that the cry of the bird had laid like a nest egg in her belly. She turned and scanned the field behind her, looking for her mother.
Demeter's voice echoed softly across the waving grass. "Sephone! Where are you? Persephone! Come on back dear, it's time to move on!"
Perhaps it was guilt that gave her the shiver, Persephone thought. When the owl had screeched, Persephone had been daydreaming again, looking through the trees, making up stories about people who didn't have a goddess for a mother. Her dedication to her mother was so strong, even daydreaming seemed to be unfaithful. She quickly forgot the story she was weaving, leaving the fictional princess to come up with her own escape. Sighing softly, the young maiden stroked the rough bark of the cherry tree with her delicate hand, thanking the tree for its flower before she turned to go.
"Sephie! Now please, we don't have all day!"
"Coming mother," she called, wishing the tree a fond farewell as she let her legs carry her through the grass and back to her mother, her companion. She was also fleeing from her daydreams. As much as the world held temptations for her, she was too terrified to reap them herself.
His dark eyes watched her as she ran. He allowed himself a small smile as he absorbed the sight of her legs working beneath her skirt. The gossamer fabric floated around her thighs giving him just a tease of the lightly tanned flesh beneath. She ran easily, smoothly, appearing almost to fly across the grass. She reminded him of nothing more than one of her own butterflies, flitting from blade to blade, flower to flower. This maiden offspring, this creature of delicate wings and flowing mane, this perfect being would be his.
He stepped away from the tree, and had any casual onlooker been present it would appear that he seemed more to pull out of the bark rather than move from behind it. Such was his nature. The rough covering of the trunk matched the deep bronze of his skin, and it was difficult to discern from a distance where one stopped and the other began. But as formidable as his presence was, as overpowering as he appeared in the flesh, he moved with a grace known only to the gods. The fluidity of his motions brought to mind the flowing of melting gold, or perhaps molten lava; the empty space he left behind, the feeling of absence that was palpable when he moved betrayed his divine origins.
As he began to stride through the waving grasses, he gave the impression of leisure. There was a casualness, a summer laziness about his pace. Only if one was privileged enough, or foolish enough, to be near him as he walked would one see the muscles ripple under his skin, the set of his jaw, and the intensity of his gaze. All of which betrayed the purpose behind this seemingly innocent stroll. Not once since she had turned her back to the tree had his gaze left her. Even now, as the last image of her floating hair disappeared over the rising mound of the earth, his eyes never faltered. He didn't rush because he had no need to hurry. She would come to him when it was time. All things came to him in time whether he desired it or not.
Persephone felt, rather than saw, the presence behind her. Whipping her head around, her hair flying around her face like the wind, she knew that she 'almost' saw whatever it was watching her. She could feel the renewed presence of dread deep in her stomach, as though the owl had again passed over her on silent wings, temporarily blocking the protective warmth of the sun; leaving her with the unpleasant knowledge that all was not well in the world.
Her mother's hand on her shoulder brought her back into the safety of their world. "'Sephonie? Darling? Are you okay? Something's troubling you." Demeter's voice was kind, nurturing, and reassuring to the young girl.
"No, mother, I'm fine. It was just a passing feeling. It's gone now." She spoke firmly, to reassure herself as well as her mother.
"Well, then, dear. It's time we move on. We have a long ways to go before dark if we're going to check on the progress of the fields. Must not dawdle. We have obligations, you know."
Persephone fought back the impulse to roll her eyes at her mother's chiding. "Yes Mother, I know. Crops to oversee, weather to watch, blah, blah, blah."
Demeter smiled indulgently at her daughter. She remembered what it was like to be young and to feel as though the world existed only here and only now. Sometimes she would watch her daughter float through life, bringing Spring to whatever she touched, and Demeter would be brought back to her own youth. The carefree times when immortality meant being young forever, not simply 'being' forever. "Let her have her time," Demeter told herself. "Let her enjoy her youth and the comfort of not knowing the darkness in the world." She tugged lightly on the young maiden's arm, directing her into the movement of the wind, letting the breeze guide them to their next destination.
Persephone followed her mother willingly, watching the earth around them change as they passed. Spring, Persephone's time, was moving quickly into Summer and the crops would soon need tending. Her mother would be busy overseeing much of the activity, although the reaping of the harvest wasn't technically her position. So many jobs melded into each other, and things moved much more smoothly when the Beings simply worked together and ignored so many of the petty territorial arguments that were always threatening to boil over. The biggest advantage, of course, was that Persephone would be granted some leisure time of her own, and there were always wonders to discover. Maybe this summer, she would actually go exploring for them.
As they approached their home, Demeter motioned to her daughter. "Dear? Didn't I see some of those wonderful elderberries ripening behind the house? Go gather some. They'll be wonderful after dinner."
Persephone strolled between the bushes, gathering the ripe berries in the hem of her skirt. As she pulled the fruit from the branches, she could feel the newly ripe globes strain against their skins, threatening to burst at the slightest touch. She brought one to her mouth, savoring the feel of their shade-cool tautness against the warmth of her lips. With just a hint of pressure, the fruit erupted between her teeth, bathing her tongue with its sweetness. Her eyes closed as she enjoyed the simple pleasure of the treat, her lids fluttering lightly, her lashes brushing across the creamy skin beneath her eyes.
A cry wrenched involuntarily from her throat as her arm brushed against his rough skin. His voice was low, and she wondered at first if he had actually spoken out loud or if he had spoken directly to her soul.
"You've been waiting for me." It was just like that. A statement, not a question or an accusation, just a simple recitation of fact.
Without thinking, she nodded slowly. The voice was so confident that it demanded an answer before she could wonder who was doing the asking. An excitement bubbled within her, recognizing that she had been waiting for - something - and now it was happening.
"You know, don't you, that there's so much more than what she's shown you." He nodded towards the house she shared with her mother as he spoke. Again, he wasn't asking or seeking confirmation. It was as though he was reminding her of something she had forgotten. "She kept you shielded from the rest of us. She's kept you locked away in your world of flowers and beauty. But you know that your cage, gilded as though it may be, is still a cage."
She wanted to protest, to defend her mother against the accusations this, this, person was making, but she found herself unable to speak. His voice was like a mountain slide, threatening to bury her with their strength of conviction. The words pulled from her throat. "My mother loves me. I... I can't stay. The fruit, dinner..."
His voice flowed through her like heat moved through the air. Not the gentle, healing warmth of the sun, but the crackling heat from the flames. "Yes. Go. I'll wait."
And as suddenly as he had appeared, he was gone.
Demeter was worried. Her daughter had been "off" for a number of days now. At first she had shrugged it off to the fickle moods of young adults, but it had gone past that. Her daughter was clinging to her mother at every waking moment. She liked to believe it was due to a renewed fondness, but she was too wise to convince herself of that. She could even pinpoint when the change had happened. Since bringing in berries three evenings ago, Persephone had done little more than wander around the house, occasionally poking the embers of a dying fire or aimlessly rearranging a bouquet of blossoms, long past their prime.
Persephone sat at their small table, absently pulling segments from a ripe blood-orange. The glistening pieces lay uneaten on the wooden surface; beads of juice stained the maiden's fingertips with their sticky sweetness. Without speaking, she pushed her chair back, seemingly oblivious to the screech of the legs against the wood floor. Demeter moved to intercept the girl as she headed to the door, wanting to offer comfort to whatever was bothering her daughter, but changed her mind, choosing to let her go. "Perhaps the air will clear her head," the concerned mother thought. "Getting out has to be a good sign, I don't think she's been out of the house in days."
She wasn't sure where she was going, but Persephone was suddenly positive that she had to leave. She had felt the confines of her mother's house so clearly this morning; she just had to get out among the trees. Perhaps the cause of this fidgeting could be found among the greens and browns of the leaves flittering with the breeze. As she stepped into her forest, she could feel the wind pulling her, tugging her along the path, deeper into the forest.
As the shadows lengthened, the world around her was abruptly brought back into sharp focus as He appeared before her. Although he was leaning almost casually against the bark of a maple to the side of the path, Persephone knew that she could not be more unable to pass him had he been standing in the middle of the path, spanning its width with his powerful body. She stopped and stared, forgetting her home, forgetting her mother, forgetting even herself as her body reacted to his.
He gazed into her, and his eyes met her soul. As though stricken dumb, Persephone could do nothing more than stare, absorbing the sight of his body into hers. She felt herself drawn to him; the pull from her center was as irresistible as the pull of the moon upon the tide. Silently he held out his hand to her and she found herself wrapped in his grip. Although he held her lightly, she felt no urge to pull her wrist from his fingers. Rather, she felt finally as peace, the restless movement of her muscles relaxed. This is what she was seeking.
"Come, fly with me." His voice reverberated in the ears of the young goddess as the world around her began to grow less real. She felt the trees begin to melt and their roots beneath her feet began to roll, undulating like gentle waves lapping against the shore. The sounds of the forest, once so familiar and beautiful to her, gave way to the strange music of hollow winds and shifting currents. The dirt beneath her bare feet, always firm and reassuring, changed to the rough rubbing of hewn boards, planks separating her from dark water threatening to wrap around her narrow ankles. Her eyes were locked in his, but she knew without stopping to let her rational mind see her new surroundings, that she was no longer a part of the world she had inhabited. She knew that she was in his world now, and only with him would she be safe.
"What you see here may frighten you, but it may also answer those questions you have within you. What you see will open those doors within you and give you an understanding of that darker part, that desire you have but have yet to admit."
She nodded dumbly, knowing that he spoke the truth. She had seen the shadows left behind by the passing of the sun, and she had recognized their power and their beauty.
He continued, pausing only slightly to let her gaze drift to the waters below them and to the dark figures, she knew not if they were plant or animal, which dotted the shore. His hand held hers, and her fingers tightened their grip around his palm. Her pulse fluttered in her wrist, and he could feel the desire course through her body.
Her ears heard only his voice, surrounded by the angry music of the wind blowing through her hair. This was not the world she knew. This was not the world of the friendly breezes playing hide-and-seek in her tresses. This was a world of the primitive in the soul and the empty spaces between the stars.
The small wooden craft bumped lightly against the shore, and he stepped easily onto the ground. His hand still held hers, and she was pulled gently behind him from the boat. Once she stood beside the water it gradually became clear to her. She knew where she was, and she knew with whom she was traveling.
Her mind screamed at her, warned her to flee as images flashed through her mind. Stories her mother told her in her youth. Stories of darkness and warnings. This was Hades.
"This is a world untouched by your mother," he said. He reached up and plucked a fruit from a tree. "Here, taste something that your mother never grew. It's just a pomegranate, but you'll find the flavor much more enjoyable than in the other world."
Persephone held the fruit in her hand amazed that she didn't feel the slightest bit of connection with it. It was liberating. This fruit would grow, flourish and die without any influence from her at all. It might be sweet. It might be sour. Persephone wouldn't know until she tasted it. The idea was tempting, but she gave it back to him.
With no small effort, she found her voice "Thank you, but I know a little about your world," she said reluctantly. "I know that if I consume anything of your world, than I shall stay forever."
He smiled. "Your mother taught you everything you needed to know to stay in her world, and yet she neglected to teach you much else."
She sat there in embarrassed silence while he simply watched her. Persephone was worried that she had insulted him, but she didn't know what to say. She tried to think of what she knew about people, but then realized that it was nothing. It made her feel very lonely.
A gray horse appeared, running towards them along the shore. When the horse reached them, her host tenderly patted the huge creature. It was twice the size of the wild horses in the fields near her home, and the muscles rippling beneath its flanks could gallop effortlessly over mountains. The man swung lightly onto the horse grabbing a thick handful of the horse's black mane. Persephone felt a moment of fear when she thought he might leave her.
Without a word, he bent down and scooped her up. She almost struggled but relaxed when he sat her in front of him. His arms wrapped around her slender body and locked together at the horse's mane. His chest was a solid wall that she leaned naturally into.
"Daughter of the Above, let me show you my world," he intoned. Persephone felt her heart accelerating until it matched the rapid gate of his steed.
Demeter was beginning to panic. Although she trusted her daughter's instincts, and she knew that Sephonie was immune to the physical terrors of the mortal world, she admitted to herself that her daughter had been sheltered from the more tantalizing facets of immortality. As she searched the trees and woods of which her daughter was so fond, Demeter could feel a shift in the air around her. She felt an empty place that was her daughter.
A stillness fell across the trees, silencing the leaves on their branches and sending the small animals to their hiding places among the great roots. Demeter could feel the anger begin to boil within as she slowly became certain of her daughter's location. There was only one realm in which she had no hold, in which she had no control. Her one and only daughter, her reason, her inspiration was with Demeter' brother, Hades.
In her anger and fear, Demeter paid no notice to the sudden chilling of the air.
Persephone never expected to hear music here. The chords were slow, mournful and intricate yet, there were flashes of hope. She listened to the musicians with Hades, and she never let go of his hand as the music languished in the darkness.
It was another surprise in a day full of surprises. Or has it been a week? There never was a sun, and yet there was never completely darkness. Persephone felt like she had been here forever and at the same time she felt like she was too late in her arrival. Why had she taken so long to come here?
The musicians were playing faster now, and from somewhere a wind blew through the grass in which she and Hades were sitting. The river was behind them and his horse was grazing quietly beside them. They were sitting at the bottom of a hill; the musicians were sitting at the top. Persephone couldn't help notice Hades had elevated the entertainers over the entertainees. She had a hard time imagining her mother letting mere mortals have a place of honor above her.
Persephone sighed as the music ended.
"I know how you feel," Hades said, not for the first time today. "I find that death adds a new dimension to a musician's art. Once they see that my realm holds no pain for them, they loose their most primal fear. It frees their creativity and makes them alive for the first time."
"Alive in the realm of the dead?" Persephone asked. "If I hadn't have heard their music, I wouldn't believe such a thing possible."
He smiled at her, genuine warmth behind those dark eyes. He placed her hand on his chest, and Persephone gasped at the power of the heart she felt beating there. "Do you consider me a dead thing?" he asked.
"Never," she breathed. She had never met anyone more alive. For that matter, she had never felt more alive.
Still holding her hand to his chest, Hades pulled her towards him with his other hand. His fingers wound in her hair, guiding her yet also demanding. He didn't need to demand. Persephone went to his lips willingly and once there, his heart pounded even harder beneath her hand. The force of his throbbing heart frightened her for it matched the roaring that she too was feeling.
They kissed, not quite like a man and a woman and not quite like a god and a goddess. It wasn't a kiss from the Lord of the Dead to the Daughter of the Bounty. It wasn't a tentative, innocent kiss between two lonely children. It was a perfect kiss, and a kiss that changed the world forever.
The kiss lead into another kiss, which lead into another and another until Persephone was drowning in his lips. She pulled back, gasping for air. Her gasps turned to small hisses through clenched teeth as Hades cupped her breast through her gossamer gown. His touch was gentle but unyielding. Her back arched, and she pressed her chest to his hand, offering to him more of herself than she ever intended, than she ever knew possible.
He took her offering. His hand massaged her breast and his mouth descended to her solid nipple. Through the sheerness of her gown, she felt his mouth on her skin. Her hands went to his back, fingers digging into granite-carved shoulders as his mouth teased her. The gown was wet where his mouth tasted her; the cloth was so thin she could feel the sharpness of his teeth as he bit at the fruit of her breast. Yet still, the cloth wasn't thin enough.