“I was thinking that tomorrow you could come with me as I perform my duties,” Demeter told her daughter with a smile as they had sat down for dinner.
Persephone smiled at her mother. Following Demeter around as her mother made the flowers bloom and the food sprout from the ground had been one of her favourite things to do, when she’d been a child. If Demeter had been in a particularly good mood she would even teach Persephone how to get nature to do her bidding.
“I’d love that!” Persephone cheeped, filled with gratitude that she was once again above ground, where the sun shone and the flowers bloomed.
“And then afterwards Artemis has agreed to come watch you so that I can go talk with your father.”
Persephone’s smile faltered. “Watch me?” she repeated. “Whatever for?”
“Well, it’ll just make me feel safer, dear. Considering what happened the last time that you were alone.”
“I wasn’t alone when Hades took me,” Persephone argued. “The nymphs were with me.”
“And they were clearly incapable of doing any good.”
“Mother, that’s not fair. Hades is the Lord of the Underworld. Of course they couldn’t stop him. And he can’t come get me. It would go against his agreement with Zeus.”
“I just don’t trust him. I’d feel safer if you were with me or Artemis.”
“Mother, I will be here for five months. I can’t be with you or Artemis every second of every day.”
“Don’t be silly, dear, of course not.”
Persephone sighed in relief.
“I’m not going to let you go in five months. I’ll find a way to circumspect the agreement, I promise.”
“Mother! How can you say that after you have just complained that you fear Hades will do the exact same? I fear that he will only honour the agreement if you do, and I simply cannot lose my months above ground. I have five months, mother. Please don’t do anything rash that will make be lose them. If Hades can keep his word, surely you can as well.”
“Don’t be silly, Kore. The idea of that… that thing keeping his words is just ludicrous. It would be ridiculous to expect otherwise.”
Biting back a retort, Persephone took a deep breath. It was true that Hades had kidnapped her, and that he was generally considered the villain of the Gods, but whatever evil deed he did, he never tried to conceal it.
He hadn’t pretended to kidnap her for anything but selfish reasons, and every time that she’d begged to return above ground, he’d rather unceremoniously turned her down. Hades was a bad man, a selfish man, but he was not a deceitful one. He was honest if nothing else.
“Mother,” Persephone said slowly and deliberately. “Please think back. Can you think of a single instance where Hades has lied or not held his agreements? Even the mortals’ stories states that if you can trick a promise out of Hades, he will be bound by it. Why should this promise be every different?”
Demeter smiled benevolently at her daughter as she leaned forward to gently pad Persephone’s cheek. “My sweet daughter,” she told her. “You have always insisted on only seeing the good in people. A naïvety that I have done my best to protect. I am pleased to see that he at least have not succeeded to take that from you. Though I must insist that you make an exception for that thing that calls himself your husband. Hades is vile, and every pleasant thought are sure to be taken advantage of. I simply cannot stand the thought of that man tricking you with lies and material temptations.”
Persephone frowned. She couldn’t argue against the part with the material temptations. It was clear to her that Hades brought the many gifts, which he bestowed upon her, in a pathetic attempt to buy her forgiveness. But he’d never lied to her. Not even once.
And Persephone was painfully aware that she wasn’t sure if she could say the same about her own mother. Demeter had often hidden things from Persephone, who had to forcefully remind herself that her mother had always done so with the best intentions of heart.
She wanted to tell her mother that she wasn’t as naïve as Demeter thought, that she wasn’t a little child, but knowing how earlier such conversations had gone, she simply took a deep breath and decided to change the subject. She would talk about flowers. Her mother always felt pleased when Persephone talked about flowers.
Except today the only thing Demeter wanted to talk about was Hades.
At first the stories were fascinating. Her mother had always been overprotective and refused to tell Persephone any stories, which she feared might hurt her ‘natural sensibilities’. Now, however, Demeter was desperate to make her understand exactly how much of a monster Hades was, and so she told her stories that she never would have dreamed of telling otherwise.
She told Persephone about the war against the titans, and how Hades had been a monster as he raged and killed. She told her how he’d torn limps apart, and how he coloured the ground red with blood.
They were frightening stories indeed, but Persephone wasn’t as fragile as her mother liked her to belief, and it excited her to finally be able to hear the stories that she’d always been denied. Silently she thought that Zeus and Poseidon had surely also killed a lot of titans, though perhaps not as many as their older brother. This was not a thought that she shared with her mother.
Demeter told Persephone stories about little children, whom Hades had killed, and lovers he’d torn apart, and Persephone made the mistake to comment on it.
“But mother, he’s Lord of the Underworld. Of course he separates the mortals. It is his duty just as yours is to bring the earth to life. He isn’t the one who decides when people dies. That’s up to the Faiths. He merely decides where they shall go.”
And so Demeter told Persephone stories about Tartarus, and how Hades took great pleasure in torturing the poor mortals.
And perhaps these stories would have frightened Persephone, and horrified her, except that Hades had already told her about Tartarus. And so she knew that it was only a place for the worst of sinners, where they were being punished for the evil deeds they’d done when they’d been alive. She wondered how Hades decided who deserved Tartarus.
He had often offered for her to join him when he went to the throne room for his judgements, and she’d always spitefully refused. Now she wished she’d gone with him at least once. It must have been enlightening to watch. Maybe she would go once she returned.
Demeter told stories about torture and rape and murder, but Persephone couldn’t help but wonder if these stories weren’t just her mother’s musings. Hades was a selfish man, but she couldn’t imagine him murdering a small boy in order to drink his blood, or to kill young, pretty women before the Faiths had cut their threads, and threaten them with Tartarus if they wouldn’t give their bodies to his pleasure.
After all, at least according to Hades himself, he’d never desired another woman as much as he desired Persephone herself, and except that one time with the pomegranate seeds then he’d never even forced a kiss upon her.
According to Demeter he was only bidding his time, but Persephone couldn’t imagine for whatever reason. She’d been with him for months now. Surely he would have gotten tired of waiting by now? Why would he wait for that long if he’d planned to force her all along?
The more Demeter talked, the more confused Persephone became.
Hades was an evil man, that much was clear in Persephone’s simple view of the world. Even with the excuse of Eros’ arrow in his heart, he could have still merely watched her from a distant, pleased to see her happy. But he’d taken her, forced her into a marriage that she had no desire for, all for his own selfish reasons. He wanted to own her, and Persephone wanted to be free.
Still. She supposed he wasn’t monstrous. Evil, yes. But not the anomaly her mother was making him out to be. He never killed for amusement, never forced the unwilling for pleasure. He was a bad man, but a man nonetheless. A man, who was desperately in love with her. A man who must have grown awfully lonely in his millennia alone underground.
Persephone forced the thought out of her head. No, her mother was right. What Hades had done was inexcusable, and she wouldn’t let her new found pity for him make her think otherwise.
And yet, as she lay in bed later that same night and listened to her mother’s heavy breathing, she couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking about in that moment.
Was he thinking about her? Did he already miss her as he had said that he would?
Was he lonely?
It was good if he was, of course. He deserved it. At least that was what Persephone told herself.
She wondered if he ever felt bad for what he did to her. She wondered if he had any regrets.
“He’s a bad man,” she reminded herself in a whisper. “Not being a monster doesn’t make him good. Being honest doesn’t make him worthy of trust. He’s an evil man, and I hate him.”
But even Persephone herself could hear that the conviction in her voice had been stronger the many, many times where she had said the same words to Hades himself.
I hate you, she had screamed, and he had calmly told her that he’d expected nothing less. He’d seemed unsurprised, maybe even resigned.
She supposed he wasn’t a temperamental man either.
She just had to remember that it didn’t make him a good one.