by Ann Regentin
The first time she saw him, he was a black frog sitting on a rock on the riverbank. The second time, he was a black mouse peering at her from behind a stump. Then a bush she was tending grew a black rose and when she picked it, it bled onto her fingers. She took it home, but when she woke the next morning, the vase was empty.
Persephone had been courted before, mostly by her cousins. They were boringly similar in their suits, bringing flowers, jewels and small things in cages, none of which she cared for. All that the earth possessed, she could have for herself. At first, she was kind but then she began to laugh. They were gods, but she was a goddess, daughter of Zeus and Demeter. They had nothing she wanted or needed.
The rose was gone, but a black butterfly settled onto her arm one day, uncurling its long tongue and drinking a drop of her sweat. Then among the water lilies grew before her eyes one black as midnight that made her drunk with its soft, musky scent. She touched it, and a petal curled around her finger. She took a nap in the shade of a strange, dark tree and woke to find leaves falling over her, brushing her face and caressing her neck.
She began to look for him. He did not come every day, only often enough to keep her waiting for him. A black bee lighted on her lips without stinging, the branches of a black sapling brushed her breasts, a black fish swam high against her thighs.
She wondered who he was. She ran through her cousins in her head, but she could not think of anyone with that kind of subtlety. Apollo’s sons were too impetuous. Poseidon’s sons tended to be a bit wishy-washy. Aries’s sons she preferred not to think about at all. Hermes’s sons tended toward practical jokes. All of them, and their fathers, preferred a more direct approach. Who could this be? She wondered, but she did not ask her mother. A black snake wove itself through her arms and touched her nose with its forked tongue. A nightingale landed on her shoulder and sang sweetly in her ear. Then one evening as she was watching the sun go down, the earth cracked beneath her. Startled, she jumped up and backed away as the crack became a chasm, then she watched, stunned, as a pair of huge black horses pulling a black chariot leaped from the gap and settled beside her, breathing smoke and stamping their sparking hooves.
The man in the chariot was even more arresting. He was tall, slim, with skin as pale as the moon. His hair was black. His eyes were black but they flashed like jewels. His armor was black, his cloak was black, the sword that hung at his side was black.
“Hades,” she whispered, stunned.
“I’ve come for you,” he said.
Hades? She had been in awe of him since she was a child. He rarely visited Olympus, but when he did, he radiated authority in a way that the rest of her uncles did not. He was the master of death, which mastered everything else. He alone of the gods was patient, but he could afford to be; all things came to him in time. He had power even beyond that of her father, who could control the sky but nothing else, least of all himself. She had not considered him because she had not considered the possibility that he might be interested in her. He lacked the physical bulk of Zeus or Aries, but one look from those piercing black eyes could silence a room or pin a young girl to her chair, her heart fluttering. She had secretly worshiped him. She had never imagined that he had really seen her.
He leaned down from the chariot and held out his hand. “Come, love. It’s been me all along. Didn’t you guess?”
“No,” she stammered. “I couldn’t…I didn’t think….”
He smiled. “Come here. I won’t hurt you.”
She put her hand in his, and he drew her up beside him. He was much warmer than she expected, almost too warm, but in the chill of the evening, it was comforting.
“You see?” He smiled at her, then bent to kiss her.
It had been him. She knew his touch, his scent. But as the chariot began to move, she panicked.
“Wait! My mother! She’ll be furious.”
There was triumph in his smile. “You will be well out of her reach.”
“But I can’t leave her!”
“You already have.”
And she had. The horses were diving down, fire blazing from their mouths, farther down than she would have imagined possible, through uncounted layers of rock until they broke through into an open field of strange, dark grasses. A groom ran to them, dodging the little curls of flame that drifted from their nostrils, and another man stood at attention beside the chariot.
“Welcome home,” Hades said.
“I can’t stay,” Persephone said. “You have to take me back. I can’t leave my mother.”
“It’s long past time you left your mother,” he said.
“I can’t leave her. She’ll hate me. You have to take me back.” Persephone was beginning to panic.
“If I take you back, she’ll hide you and it will take me centuries to find you again. I don’t think either of us would enjoy that. When you started this journey, you came willingly. By our laws, I can keep you here.”
“It’s useless,” she said. “My mother will come for me.”
“Possibly. But not for a while, I think. First, she has to find you.”
“She’ll find me. She always does, and she’s not going to let me stay.”
“She might find retrieving you a bit more difficult this time,” he said.
“Not if I don’t eat. That’s part of our laws, too. If I don’t eat, you can’t keep me here.”
“Persephone, is that really what you want?” he asked.
“It’s not about what I want. It’s about the way things are. I belong to my mother.”
“Do you? I think you belong to yourself.” He brushed her hair back from her face.
“I’ve been watching you since you were a girl. You have so much in you, so much you can do, but Demeter won’t let you grow up. She keeps you tied to the earth even though there is nothing there for you. It’s time for her to let go.”
“It’s not that simple.” How could he be so dense? “You don’t know my mother.”
“I know her very well,” he said grimly. “That’s why I never came to you directly. The second she found out, she would have turned you into a tree or locked you away somewhere.”
“That’s why I have to go back. If she finds me here, she’s going to do something even worse.”
He sighed. “Persephone, you don’t need to be afraid of her. You’re not a child anymore.”
“I am to her.”
“Is that what you want?”
Funny, no one else had ever asked her what she wanted. Mostly they tried to figure out how to extort what they wanted. She was not used to wanting things.
“My mother wants me back. If you won’t take me, I’ll wait for her.”
“As you wish. In the meantime, I have everything ready for you. Come and see.”
Her apartment had been carved out of the rock itself, living rock, not the dead crust that crumbled into soil miles above her. It was cool and smooth under her hand and rang when her bracelets brushed it. There were lights, strange ones that gave no heat, only glowed softly.
The table was set with her favorite foods. The bed was covered in the softest, lightest blankets and curtained in lush velvets. There were dresses of the finest fabrics, costly jewels spilling from their boxes. There were many rooms with everything she could possibly want. When he had shown her everything, Hades cupped her chin in his hand, kissed her softly, and left.
She lay down on a bed that was much too large for her, thinking. Hades. Her mother was going to be so angry. She had never gotten over her son’s disloyalty in preferring his father and she would brook no such betrayal by her daughter. The fact that she had gotten into the chariot would bring her mother’s full wrath down on her head, a circumstance she preferred to avoid. Demeter’s rages were terrifying.
The only way to redeem herself now was to wait and not eat. If she ate, it would bind her to the underworld and Hades would be within his rights to keep her indefinitely. Her mother would find her, of that she had no doubt, and when that happened, she had better be ready to go.
In the morning, when she heard the door open, she half-hoped it was Hermes sent to fetch her back or maybe even her mother, but it was Hades carrying a tray.
“Good morning, my love. Will you eat with me?”
“No,” she said.
“Nothing?” He broke a piece of bread, dipped it in wine, and touched it to her lips. She bit them hard against the taste. He smiled and kissed the crumbs from her mouth.
“As you wish. Come with me. I have some things I want to show you.”
“Come with me and find out.”
In his world, it was always twilight. Outside her door was a garden of strange plants unlike anything that grew in the sun, with leaves and blossoms that glowed softly around her ankles. She gasped with wonder and knelt among them. Their colors were subtle and luminous.
“What are these? What are they called?”
“They have no names,” he said. “I left that task for you.”
She looked up at him, startled. She could name them? But she would have to take time to learn them, and then her mother would come.
“No. I’m sorry.”
“As you wish. Come.”
He took her arm and lead her through the garden. Her apartment was part of a palace set deep in the earth itself, a labyrinth of courtyards and galleries. On all sides there were marvels: statues carved of a single crystal, fountains like flowers, paintings, sculptures and tapestries unlike anything she had ever seen. Some of it was almost familiar but some of it was strange and even weird. She would come back later, if he let her.
When they reached the gate, she caught her breath. His kingdom was a cavern so vast that it had a horizon. It had villages, fields, farms, all populated by the dead. The underworld had its own denizens, many of which were strange to her. A trio of gigantic bats or flying crones screamed overhead, slashing the air with their whips. She gasped and clung to him, terrified.
“What are they?”
He held her, smoothed her hair.
“The Furies. They have just hounded to death a man who murdered his children because he believed his wife was unfaithful.”
“What will happen to him?”
“I haven’t decided yet. Something unpleasant.”
“What about his wife?”
“She killed herself. Their youngest was only a baby. It was more than she could bear.”
“What will happen to her?”
“Would you like to see to her? She’s still frightened and she’s not sure where she is, but her children are waiting for her. If you like, you can take her to them. I think she would find you far more reassuring than me.”
Was that what he had in mind for her? She would have the power to grant people their fondest wishes, to reunite them with those they had thought lost forever. It was an intoxicating thought, but she would not be here very long.
“I can’t. You know I can’t.” She pulled away from him reluctantly.
“As you wish.”
They spent the day in a village of souls. Free of the confines of their bodies, people were peaceful in ways they rarely managed in life. There were children playing and when she asked to join in their games, they smiled and made room for her. People lived and worked here, but without the desperation and uncertainty of earth. They knew at last what they were meant for. They sang when they were not silent and spoke only when they needed to.
When he took her back, his tray had been replaced with even more tempting delicacies.
“Will you eat with me now?” he asked.
“No.” She would wait for her mother.
“No?” He dipped his finger in a rich sauce and smeared her lips with it. She could smell it, it was wonderful, but she reached for a cloth to wipe it off.
“No,” he said again, and he tilted her face up and kissed her.
His mouth was as warm as his hands and her knees felt weak. He wrapped both arms around her and suddenly she was hungry, hopelessly hungry, she was dizzy with it. Her mouth opened and his tongue plunged in, the taste of the sauce on it driving her mad with longing. For a moment, she nearly gave in, but then she broke free of him and stepped back “My mother will never allow this,” she gasped.
“Your mother isn’t here.”
“She will be.”
He smiled. “Perhaps.” He bowed and left her.
He came for her every day, if there was such a thing as day or night in his twilit kingdom. Everything here was new to her. He showed her veins where jewels and gold pulsed, alive, unlike the dead offerings her cousins had fished out so far above. She saw the punishments he meted out to those who had committed terrible crimes, saw the rewards to those whose virtue had been great. She saw new souls come in, some bewildered, some frightened, some glad, some incredulous. She met Cerberus, who licked both of her hands and her face at the same time, and Charon, the sour-faced ferryman greedy for his coins. He gave her the run of his labyrinthine palace. Every lost work of art was here as well as some that would never be created in the upper world. He had the books that had never been written and the stories that had never been told. She spent time among the dead learning their secrets, only to find that they weren’t secrets after all.
She was hungry, so hungry, but she dared not eat. Demeter would kill her over and over again if she did. Every night he tried to feed her. Every night, she closed her mouth until his lips touched hers, and then she held onto him for a while, trying to feed herself on the strength of his arms and the taste of his mouth. Every night, it became harder to push him away and more painful each time he let her. Whenever she said no, he said, “As you wish” until she wanted to scream. His patience was unendurable. If he had simply forced her, as any of her cousins might have done, she could have hated him in peace. But he would not. Instead, he stepped back, bowed to her and went. Why didn’t her mother come? Maybe in the upper world, in the sunlight, in the absurd antics of her amorous cousins, she could forget about him. But then she remembered a snake, a frog, a bee, a rose, and knew that she could not.
One day he did not come for her at all. She wandered through the underworld but she did not see him, nor had anyone seen him anywhere. She sat in the watchtower by the palace gate looking out over his kingdom, wondering where he could be. Had he gotten tired of her? Was he bored with her rebuffs? What would he do with her now? Send her home? Now that it seemed possible, she found the idea unappealing. She had nothing to go home to. Her mother must miss her, but her mother’s attention was smothering. Demeter thought that children, like plants, should stay where they were put and do what they were told. Her father by far preferred making children to raising them. Her cousins would go chasing after wood nymphs, who were far more pliable than she. No one needed her there. A single tear raced down the end of her nose and fell onto her skirt.
She waited until she was exhausted, then went back to her rooms. Supper was set out and for once, she was tempted. Her hunger was a dull, constant ache. It would be nice to just eat, but now it would mean nothing. He would send her away in any case. She got into bed, crying softly. She didn’t know what she would do in the morning or if she would see him again.
She woke very slowly, uncertain of what disturbed her, until she realized that he was there, lying beside her, not touching her, just gazing at her face, his breath hot against her cheek.
“I’m sorry, my love,” he said. “I didn’t mean to wake you. I just wanted to see you before I slept.”
“Where were you?”
“I was needed above. It took longer than I thought. I’m sorry.” He looked exhausted and worried.
“Oh.” She nearly started crying again, this time out of relief. He had not tired of her. She did not trust herself to speak, so she said nothing else, only looked at him.
“Dare I hope that you missed me?” His hand went to her face, caressing her cheek. “I missed you, Persephone, I missed you terribly.”
Still, she said nothing. This time he did not try to feed her, he simply kissed her and she had no will left to resist him. Her arms went around his neck and she sighed into his mouth. He groaned and rolled her beneath him, the weight of his body pressing her back against the bed. She reveled in the heat of him. He would not send her away. Even her mother had never been so patient with her, nor had ever offered her so much. There was a place for her at his side; for the first time in her life, she was needed.
He undressed her gently and looked at her for a while as she lay stretched out before him. The air was cool but his hand was warm as it ran over body. Even now, he was patient. Then he got up and she thought for a horrible moment that he would leave her like that, but he picked something up from a shelf and sat down beside her.
“I brought you this,” he said. In his hand was a pomegranate, its skin deep red. They were her favorite. How had he known? She opened her mouth, the habitual protests tumbling out before she could think, but he stopped them with his hand.
“Hush! Lie still.”
He dug his thumbs into the thick rind and tore it open, juice spilling like blood over his pale hands. The seeds lay like rubies trembling in the soft light. He dug one out, placed it carefully at the base of her throat and then kissed her there, taking the seed into his mouth. The second one went between her breasts and he lingered, inhaling the scent of her. The third went on her nipple and he had to catch it quickly before it fell as she hardened at his touch. He played the seed over her with his tongue, licking and sucking until she moaned with pleasure. The fourth went on her other nipple and his hand cupped her breast, leaving a red stain. She reached for him, tangled her fingers in his hair, holding onto him.
The fifth seed went into her navel. He took his time fishing it out, but his hands were strong and urgent on her, leaving smears of sticky, red juice over her belly and thighs. None of her cousins had done more than kiss her, but she wasn’t afraid of him. She was hungry, so hopelessly hungry she thought she would faint with it. He was driving her slowly insane with desire; he ruled her now as surely as he ruled the rest of his kingdom.
When he set the sixth seed between her legs, she cried out frantically and then nearly choked as his mouth closed over her. His tongue traced every fold, probing and exploring before he settled on her clit, making a happy noise deep in his chest as she arched into his face. He stopped too soon. She was hysterical now with need as he stripped off his tunic and stretched himself over her. She had not really touched him, he had not given her a chance, and now her hands ran over his chest, his waist, the curve of his ass, everywhere she could reach. His cock, heavy and unfamiliar, was the warmest part of him. Could she really take him? He slid one finger into her, then another, and she wanted so much more that she knew she could.
“Hades,” she begged, “please!”
He entered her, opened her; he was heat and delight. She cried out in sheer joy, tears streaming down her cheeks. She wrapped herself around him, all but climbing him in her greed for more, but he only settled inside her, not moving. She was frantic. How could he do this? She whimpered at him, but he only smiled and kissed her.
He still had the seeds in his mouth. He passed her one with his tongue. She hesitated and he pushed a bit deeper inside of her. She was happy here with him, happier than she had ever been. How could she have possibly thought she could say no to him indefinitely? Could she really go back her mother now? He was right. It was time she made a home of her own.
She bit, and her mouth filled with flavor. The juice, more than a single seed could possibly hold, ran down her throat and the sharp sweetness brought tears to her eyes. He gave her the rest, and with each one, the gnawing ache in her stomach eased until she felt like he had fed her a feast. Only then did he begin to move, fucking her, slowly at first and then harder as his patience finally gave way. He rolled them both over, pulling her down onto him, grinding his body into hers until she came, not for the first time ever, but for the first time like this. Then she collapsed onto him and he held her tight and groaned as he exploded inside her.
They were still sleeping when Hermes burst through the ceiling. “I’ve come for you, sister,” he said. “Your mother has been frantic. Sorry, uncle,” he added, grinning maliciously at Hades. “Your time’s up. Get dressed, Persephone. You’re going home.”
She started to protest, but Hades only smiled, and then she saw the scarlet fruit in his hand.
“How could you!” Demeter was livid. “How could you do this to me? If you could have held out for one more night….”
“If it was that important to you, why didn’t you come for me sooner?” Persephone demanded.
“I tried,” her mother said. “I tore the earth apart looking for you. When I realized where you were, I went to your father, but he had been there first and asked for you. Your father agreed, thinking he had already come to me. Not likely! He knew I would never consent to give you up so he went behind my back. I’ve been fighting your father non-stop over this, only to find that you’ve undone everything. Ungrateful brat!”
“Well, Mother, I had to leave sometime.”
“Why? And why to him of all people? He’s the god of the dead. He lives in a cave. What could he possibly offer you?”
“Come visit us and you’ll see.”
“Never!” Demeter spat. “I will not set foot in that ghost-ridden hole of his.”
“Then you’re not going to see much of me.”
“Oh, yes I will! Your father said I could have six months and I intend to take them.”
“Mother! You can’t!”
“Oh, yes I can! You will spend six months with me if I have to chain you to a tree.”
“All right then,” Persephone said. “But I am queen of the dead now. Every month you make me stay, everything you grow will wither and die, every root, every branch, every leaf and every flower. Don’t think I can’t do it.”
“Don’t you dare threaten me! I’m your mother!”
“I am not your little girl anymore. If you force me to stay with you, there will be a price.”
“He will not take you away from me!”
“He already has.” Persephone turned and stamped her foot hard on the ground. Immediately, a fissure opened and grew until she stood on the edge of a yawning chasm.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Demeter said, aghast.
“Home to my husband.”
“You can’t! You’ve been gone for weeks already.”
“I get six months with him and six months with you. His six months just started. We have some catching-up to do.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“I’m entirely serious. Goodbye, Mother.” She stepped off the cliff, thinking as she fell about what she would name his plants.
Copyright © 2003 Ann Regentin.
All Rights Reserved. May not be re-printed in any form without express
written consent of the author. Do not copy or post. "Persephone's Hunger"
first appeared in print in The International Journal of Erotica.
Ophelia's Muse Established 05.01