The First Return
“Not now my love. I can’t. I have
important work to do.”
The words were like sharp ice on her warm heart,
hard and persistent, painful.
How could anyone say not now to love? Love was
the most important thing. It was the point of
existence, the one thing worth seeking. What was
more important than love?
As she waited for him to come back to the shadowy
chamber that was their sanctuary her mind wove
a trap even more insidious. She loved him. Therefore
he was lovable. Therefore he was wise. Therefore
he was right. Therefore there was something even
more important than love. But she couldn’t
feel it as a force compelling her heart to something.
Therefore she was lost, or incomplete, or unwise
or something else that she didn’t want to
be…she didn’t want to know about it.
She paced and wailed and yearned for friends who
would pass her time away, eat her life so that
she couldn’t feel the yawning cavern of
the something that she didn’t have.
Down there in his world there was no escape from
him. Everything was attached to stories he had
told. Everyone she met had something to say about
him. She wore his shirts and lay around on the
bed she shared with him, waiting for him to come
home so that her life could proceed a little ~
while he was away her heart didn’t beat
~ she was paused, poised waiting. Without him
she had no energy at all. She couldn’t even
She could feel her own pathos building, her strength
diminishing. Until eventually she rose, like a
ghost, from the bed and floated out of the room.
Like seaweed that has lost its footing, she followed
the currents of her deepest whims out along dank
corridors, around whirling pools, and gradually,
eventually, up the through the dark water she
had descended through so long ago.
The garden of the old Dancer’s temple was
Still wet she walked down the mountain path.
The old woman’s house looked sleepy in the
mauve dawn. The crescent moon and the star beside
it hung like jewels in the silent sky.
The world looked different, the overpowering
lushness was gone, the few things that she could
see though the morning mist seemed stark and bare
~ raw to the bones. It felt good. It was how she
A graceful coil of smoke rose from the chimney,
to tell her that there was life within, and that
she was welcome.
Her arrival seemed somehow expected.
Seeing her in the doorway, the old woman smiled
and nodded, reached for a second cup and placed
it on the table beside the brewing tea pot.
Time murmured in its sleep.
There was so much but so little to say.
“Tell me about love”, the girl said.
The old woman smiled and shook her head.
“The question is too big my dear ~ the
answer would be too simple, it can’t be
“Oh,” she paused and then asked:
“how is mother?”
Pouring the tea Hecate said: “Your mother
is sad and worried. She has grown older and felt
many feelings. It hasn’t been easy for her.”
Kora squirmed uncomfortably and asked: “Is
she angry with me?”
“Of course, but also frightened and angry
with herself and the world ~ you’ve seen
outside how she has changed.”
Kora smiled sadly and said: “I thought
it was just my eyes that were different.”
The old woman chuckled, deeply and heartily:
“Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is. Perhaps we
are all changing with you.”
“I LOVE HIM WITH ALL OF MY SOUL”
~ Kora suddenly declared.
“Then why are you here?” Asked the
cruel wise woman, not twitching an eyelid at the
extremity of the statement.
“Because…because I couldn’t
Thinking thoughts she hadn’t been bold
enough to have before Kora fumbled for words:
“Because I was turning into him and forgetting
who I was and he, I think he had already forgotten
who I was, if he ever knew, I think he thought
I was just a part of him, I couldn’t speak,
I couldn’t take him from his work. I couldn’t
breathe ~ I was dying, I love him so much, I think
my heart is still down there, it doesn’t
feel like it’s beating in my chest anymore,
I think it’s gone.
Do you think it could be, am I dead?”
“You don’t seem to be dead to me.
I imagine that it will be a long while before
Atropos cuts the thread that Clotho and Lachesis
are spinning and twisting for you.”
Kora shuddered. She had met these three strange
dark women in the world below. They had watched
her with eyes that reminded her of eagles, sharp
Clotho, the youngest, who turned the spinning
wheel that seemed to spin several hundred threads
at once, had been the friendliest. She had listened
when Kora, lonely and bored, had sat and prattled
about the wise things He had said, and about the
handsome curve of his shoulders and the firmness
of his lovely muscles. She had nodded and smiled
and agreed that He was truly a wonderful being.
Lachesis had smiled too, but hers was different.
She was calculating. As she sat and wound the
threads around her palms and elbows making glistening
bundles, she seemed to be lost in thought. Her
steady gaze made her seem distant and uncaring.
Kora could have forgiven her for this and enjoyed
the company of Clotho, if Atropos had not always
been with them.
Tiny, ancient and wrinkled with bird bright eyes
she said nothing at all. She was always either
rubbing a stone against the blade of her glistening
sheers or clipping them in the air, in a way that
made Kora feel quite unsafe. She seemed like a
madwoman, so deeply lost in her own world that
there was no point in speaking to her. Sometimes
Lachesis would catch her attention though, and
in an oddly ritualistic way the three of them
would suddenly start singing, an eerie but beautiful
sound would fill their dark chamber as if the
earth itself answered their song. Clotho would
watch as Lachesis held out the thread she was
winding and Atropos, like an eagle striking would
Some days this odd ritual happened every few
minutes, on other days it was quieter. Kora had
noticed that on days when Atropos was hacking
many threads, her Hades returned home from work
especially drained and weary.
Hecate saw Kora shudder. She smiled and said:
“So you met my old friends. How are they
Kora was puzzled, but this time she saw through
the old woman’s trick of asking three questions
at once and smiled back.
Looking Hecate in the eye she answered: “I
can’t tell you how they are now compared
with how they may have been at other times because
I don’t know them well enough. Clotho was
spinning, Lachesis was twining and Atropos seemed
quite mad with her shiny sheers.
But I would like to know how you know them, why
you call them friends and what their work has
to do with my life?”
The old woman sipped her tea and leaned back
in her chair, well satisfied with the girl’s
“Once upon a time,” she began, “when
the world and I were both much younger, I lived
up above on Olympus. Like all young girls I worried
that my friends were prettier than I was, that
I would never be noticed and never be loved and
that without love my existence would mean nothing.
Fear of that nothing gnawed away at me and made
me do a foolish thing. I stole from Hera a pot
of rouge, because I had convinced myself that
a rosy glow on my cheeks and lips was all that
stood between me and my destiny.”
“Was it?” Kora interjected.
The old woman chuckled. “The rouge held
the seeds of my destiny for certain, but not in
the way I expected. The theft was discovered,
(because I was not a good thief) and I was banished
to the realm you’ve just returned from.
“Then you know Him,” Kora gasped.
Rounding onto the subject she thought she wanted
to avoid with a quickness that made her flinch
The old woman nodded and savoured the last drops
of her tale.
“I do,” she said. “But he wasn’t
there when I arrived. Only the three ancient sisters
were and the shades, drifting like clouds of dust,
stumbling and weeping and sometimes by sheer luck
falling into the waters of forgetfulness and finding
their way to the light.”
Kora gasped with horror at the prospect. She
had seen enough to be able to imagine the unmanageable
sadness of the place without Hades and his hall.
Hecate paused for dramatic effect and then continued.
“I realised then that sometimes and for
some people, there are things to be done that
are more important than rouge or love. I stayed
there for a long time. A long time alone with
my friends the three sisters, and the shades.
Then there came others who were banished like
I was and gradually the place changed a bit. The
gates were built, and Charon began rowing the
dark rivers, finding the lost ones and offering
“There was talk of a hall too, but I was
too weary by then. I was almost a shade myself.”
Kora’s eyes caressed the ancient face and
she wondered how long she had been old. “What
happened?”, she asked.
Hecate drew breath and delivered her punchline.
“He came,” she said. “He came
and took the burden from me. He left his family
up on sunny Olympus and took over. He told me
to spend some time in the light. He banished me
from my own realm and made it his.”
“That was when I came here,” she
She watched Kora smile for a moment and then
continued. “You asked me as well about what
the three sisters have to do with you. Well let’s
“Clotho, I imagine you liked, because she
is something like your mother, births and beginnings
are always so much easier than endings. Dear Lachesis,
is one of the few who doesn’t hold that
preference, or if she does she doesn’t show
it. ‘Tis she though who measures the time
we have and when for each of us it is up. And
Atropos cuts the thread…”
Kora, seeing in her mind’s eye the nameless
dead filling the vast hall, felt suddenly sick.
Atropos was the murderer who filled the hall and
Lachesis helped. They were to blame for Hades’
weariness, for the death of the love. She felt
an intense loathing brew in her belly and rise
up through her heart, darkening her face. How
could gentle Clotho sit there with them, weaving
threads for them to hack, what a dark traitor
she must be?
Hecate reached over and stroked Kora’s
young wrist and clenching fist.
“It is difficult work that they do my dear,
even Zeus recognises the strength it takes.”
Drawing strength from the old hand now holding
hers she tried to put aside her own feelings and
to see through older eyes. She thought about Clotho,
about her smiles. She couldn’t see any treachery.
Holding the image she felt a surge of love for
her gentleness. And the Clotho in her mind seemed
to be thanking her for the lightness her gossip
had brought to the dark chamber. Kora moved her
mind on to Lachesis, and saw that her distance
could be seen as a struggle with the urge to judge.
She forced herself to look at Atropos, and saw
beauty in the blade and courage in the hand that
held it, she saw again the souls of the dead as
balls of light, returning to the source for renewal.
Then the eye of her mind was gazing into the
basket by Clotho’s feet. She had seen it
so many times but never noticed it. Inside the
basket was light so pure it filled her with awe,
she saw Clotho’s hand dipping into it, pulling
it up towards her wheel and she saw the glistening
strands forming and dancing together, flowing
through and around the hands of Lachesis. Then
the cutting, the balls of light, the basket and
the weaving, the measuring, the cutting and the
She sat quietly for a long time, pondering. Hecate
saw the silent process begin, and quietly busied
herself about the kitchen.
When Kora finally stood and stretched herself,
Hecate put the kettle back onto the stove and
reached out a loaf of fresh bread.
By the time the teapot was refilled and the bread
buttered, the day seemed to have properly begun.
Real sunlight was streaming in through the open
door and the mist had cleared, revealing a landscape
starker than anything Kora had ever seen.
Holding her steaming cup in both hands and looking
out at the bare trees, Kora knew that she needed
to see her mother. For the first time since she
dived into the pool, it struck her how worried
Demeter must have been.
Hecate read the expression on her face and said
that Demeter was likely to be home in bed, as
she often spent the nights out walking.
“Hmmm,” thought Kora, “not
like my mother”, and she herself tasted
a pang of worry, chased around by fear and regret.
Suddenly in a hurry, she put down her cup, thanked
Hecate and ran down the verandah steps, leapt
over the low garden gate and raced along the path
to the house that she grew up in.
The thing that shocked Kora the most was not
that her mother had fretted ~ or that she had
laid waste the beautiful land. It was the way
that her skin had changed.
She tried but she couldn’t quite exactly
remember what it had been like before she left.
The picture that came to her of her mother’s
face at the lunch table on the day that they had
argued about Narcissus was blurred. In her memory
it kept slipping and merging with the face that
had smiled over her as she nuzzled a warm breast
and the face that told bedtime stories and the
face that sternly warned her not to wander into
the forest alone.
The face with strange thin papery skin that she
saw before her now seemed to belong to a different
woman. A woman she loved but had never met before,
a sad and frightened woman who had been through
a horrible ordeal. A woman who needed help.
Part of Kora wanted to pull the sad woman to
her heart and to hold her and sing to her, to
stroke her hair and to tell her that everything
would be alright. She wanted to reach out like
Hades did to the troubled souls below ~ but she
She couldn’t because there was a lead weight
sitting on her heart. It seemed to be blocking
her ability to speak as well as to move about.
Demeter was sleeping slumped in the big soft
chair in the corner of the sitting room when Kora
came in. Around her were several piles of things.
Her weaving and a mass of tangled strings waiting
to be sorted out, several used cups and dirty
dishes, unopened books, shoes and more. Kora had
never known her mother to be so behind with the
dishes, or so surrounded by mess. She had never
seen her mother with unwashed hair.
Kora sat and watched Demeter sleeping and eventually
waking. At first Demeter hadn’t believed
that Kora was real, her daughter returned ~ and
she had angrily accused her of being a vicious
Kora took her hand in her own though and the warmth
of her touch convinced the pale Demeter. Slowly
and carefully the older woman stepped back from
the edge of madness. Her body shook with sobs
and waves of relief flooded through her. She pulled
her daughter close and held her while the winter
of her soul melted away in gushing torrents of
raw love, anger, relief, love, hate, love and
Kora submitted to the grasp, with an uneasy sense
that something about it was horribly wrong.
She wasn’t her mother’s baby returned.
The baby was dead. She was here instead. Looking
out from Kora’s eyes was a stranger that
Demeter had yet to meet. A stranger that she had
only recently met herself. A stranger she wasn’t
sure that she liked or trusted.
The ears of one of her faces could hear Hecate
laughing. The eyes of the other face were fixed
on Demeter's pale and papery skin.
She had no idea about how to begin to say what
she was feeling and so she sat quietly and answered
her mother’s questions with as few words
as she could.
“I’m back…I’ve been away….I
was in the underworld…yes with Hades.”
Kora flinched a little at the mention of His
beautiful name, the love, sorrow and pain twisting
Demeter saw the flinch, she grasped it. It was
relatively solid. Hades ~ flinch ~ Hades ~ flinch.
The bastard. He had stolen her, he had taken her,
frightened and abused her. It was horrible. He
made her baby flinch at the very mention of his
name. He had turned her into this cold and distant
girl. Her pain and relief, her weary joy, the
embarrassment and shame all suddenly resolved
themselves into something clear and distinct,
something that she could act upon.
Outrage bubbled forth like lava. She rose like
a tidal wave and strode across to the open door.
“I’ll get you for this,” she
swore, spitting the molten words at the ground.
When she turned around she was somehow back in
herself, but not in the usual way.
It seemed to her now as though she had never
liked him. She had always found his fascination
with death disturbing. His avoidance of the meetings
was obviously a sign of arrogance and deviousness.
She had long suspected that he was jealous of
her life on the beautiful hills with the flowers
and fruits and the living people and the beautiful
child. Now he had sunk so low into disgusting
depravity that he had stolen from her the thing
that she loved the most.
Ahhh blessed fate that had returned the child
to her unharmed. But curses and bitter vitriol
for pathetic Hades who had been so vile.
He was undiluted evil but he was no match for
her anger. She would be taking action, clever,
calculated, effective action. She would have justice
and revenge. She’d take her time and think.
She’d take pleasure in doing it well. But
for now Kora was back. The child needed breakfast.
Kora was writhing inwardly. She could see the
anger in her mother’s face. It seemed to
be giving her life, life that she seemed to need.
But there was something disturbing about it. Kora
silently prayed that the memory of her blissful
moments would not be spoilt by simple questions.
Her love and her own anger wrestled in her heart,
locked together in confusion they blurred her
Paralysed by the moment she sat still, eyes fixed
on a jar of dead flowers on the cluttered table.
Demeter, suddenly mechanically animated, was
in the kitchen clattering about ~ her maternal
urge to prepare food had returned and she mumbled
“poor darling…how dare he….the
fool…” and other such things as she
brewed tea and rustled together some nuts and
currants and crackers.
Kora’s confusion deepened as the day brightened
and the full extent of the chaos in the house
was revealed in shafts of dusty light. Understanding
and accepting what needed to be done she opened
the curtains and started picking up dishes and
cups and carrying them to the kitchen. She put
the books back onto the shelves and took the dead
Demeter returned from the kitchen and silently
joined her. When the house was returned to its
clean and homely self, they smiled at each other
and slipping into an old routine they went to
their respective rooms to wash themselves and
change their clothes. They then sat together on
the sunny step and brushed each other’s
long hair, while sipping tea, eating and laughing
about the antics of a butterfly dancing about
the stark dead garden.
As Demeter’s laughter rang out buds appeared
on the withered trees and crocuses pushed up through
the dark earth.
To Echo, running up the dusty dry hill towards,
them they seemed to be a picture of happiness.
Her favourite mother and daughter reunited.
Echo had sprinted the last part of the distance,
after seeing first the blossoming trees and then
the two of them together.
She had been coming to check that Demeter was
all right. She had become so worried lately about
her state and the welfare of the land and the
She grinned and shouted and hugged her friend
close and her reckless joy was contagious. Soon
they were dancing around the garden together like
they did when they were young.
Demeter smiled as she watched them, and her dark
desire for revenge rumbled like an avalanche in
Kora couldn’t wait to tell Echo all about
Hades and his kisses and his broad chest and shoulders
and how wonderful it felt to be in his arms…but
she knew she couldn’t do it while Demeter
was listening. She realised that she could never
admit that all this pain had been her own doing.
The magnitude of the secret scared her.
Echo was adamant that they must go down to the
village all three of them immediately. Kora and
Demeter were both too confused to have plans of
their own and didn’t know what else to say
and so they followed Echo and enjoyed her speculation
about how amazed people would be.
As they walked and ran and skipped and smiled
down the hill the bare ground turned to green
and flowers red, orange, yellow, pink, white and
violet flowed in their wake, brightly visible
to the village below, so that news of their coming
The people of the village, who had been sick
with hunger and worry, were more than just happy
to see Kora back amongst them. They laughed and
cried with bitter relief.
Kora saw, with the tender eyes of both her faces,
women clutching their thin children and weeping
with joy. She saw the wrinkled faces of fathers
blinking back tears. She smiled at them and was
shocked and sickened by what had occurred.
The first spring
The next few weeks saw the hills and grounds
all around the village returned to lush prosperity.
The dark earth was first dotted with specks of
green that persevered and became shoots that in
turn put forth buds and blossoms in every colour.
The tall and graceful cypress trees and the majestic
oaks that had been stripped bare by the harsh
winds dressed themselves in leaves of such pure
green that they shone like jewels against the
gentle sun and clear skies.
Waxy yellow crocuses clustered together and playfully
tumbled down banks and hillsides. Marigolds, asphodel
and daisies clambered towards the sun dancing
with excitement. Scarlet poppies, fragile as butterflies,
flew like kites above the tangle of grass and
blossom. In shady patches magenta hyacinths and
dreamy blue day irises filled the air with heady
perfume. Even the old wise olive trees, bent and
hollowed by passing time, luxuriated in a soft
cover of creamy blossoms
A happy rhythm drove the days, the food was excellent
and the company, on the surface, seemed cheerful.
In quiet moments Demeter plotted the case she
would be putting to Zeus, and Kora sat on the
hillside with Echo weaving daisy chains and talking
about her time with Him. She even shared the sacred
details of their most intimate passionate moments,
the salty fragments. As she spoke the feelings
flooded back into her limbs and the warmth of
the sun on her skin felt like the blaze of His
Some days it seemed clear to her that the only
sensible thing to do was to go back to Him and
to force Him to look at her and to understand
what she needed. Some days she yearned for the
earth to open up beneath her and for Him to ride
up on his great chariot and sweep her up into
his arms and ride away with her forever.
But then Echo would remind her of her mother
and the way that the village children had nearly
died. The heavy weight in her chest grew heavier.
She was numb with pain and sorrow. Unsure of which
reality was real, she couldn’t act or think.
Gradually the realisation sank deep into her
bones that she was back and she was stuck and
that the time she’d spent away had been
nothing but a blissful holiday. It was just a
memory, a phantom, it had slipped from her grasp,
it was gone. He hadn’t come looking for
her with his chariot, therefore He hadn’t
really loved her. It had just been a delusion,
a childish mistake. She was back and it was her
duty to keep her mother happy, her heavy, grey
duty. By doing it she kept the land fertile and
the village alive. It seemed to be her destiny.
It didn’t matter how miserable she was,
as long as she was there the world seemed to work
as it should.
She looked down and realised that she had just
torn a daisy apart.
She dropped it quickly so that Echo wouldn’t
see it and changed the subject by asking about
“Oh him…” said Echo sadly smiling,
“He is beauty itself, but I don’t
think he loves me.”
Kora pressed for details.
Echo said that she had heard one day that he
had refused an invitation to dine with Ameni,
and that she had visited him and asked him about
Narcissus, she said, had said that he didn’t
love Ameni and that it would therefore be wrong
to mislead him by accepting the invitation.
Echo, overjoyed that Ameni was not going to win
her prize and thinking that she was being clever,
had then issued an invitation herself. Narcissus
had smiled at her and shaken his head. Echo had
been struck with such sadness that she had lost
her ability to speak to him and hadn’t visited
A tear rolled down Echo’s cheek, her heart
convulsed and she sighed. Kora leaned over and
kissed her smooth white brow, stroked her silky
hair and held her as she wept and wept. When the
storm had passed she was like an empty shell.
“I am nothing,” she said. “He
is everything. I feel everything for him. He sees
me and feels nothing.”
Kora wanted to argue, she wanted to explain what
Narcissus was really like but she was gripped
by a fear. Perhaps Echo would hate her for succeeding
with him, for befriending him. She didn’t
know whether Narcissus could or would ever love
Echo. His ideas about passions and his dedication
to his questions were so strange she didn’t
know if he could make Echo happy, even if he did
love her. Echo seemed to need someone more content
and less troubled.
Wondering how to say this, Kora admitted to herself
that she didn’t really understand him. She
didn’t understand Hades either. The two
friends held each other, taking comfort in each
other’s confusions and painful longings.
Finally, Echo sighed a deep sigh and said: “Pan
keeps on telling me that I should forget about
him, but I can’t…”
“Pan!” Kora was shocked. “He
probably only wants to have you for himself, and
only for a little while at that. My mother always
warned me to stay well away from him. She always
said he wanted only one thing. She says he mates
like the animals do.” Hearing herself speak
she secretly cringed. Since when did her mother’s
Echo looked even more miserable. “At least
he thinks I’m beautiful and he comes to
talk to me and takes me places.”
Kora didn’t want to argue with Echo, or
to upset her any more, but her curiousity was
tingling. “Where does he take you?”
Echo stopped looking so forlorn. “There’s
a dark little glen in the forest beyond the village
where it gets pitch dark except for the moonlight
bouncing off the tall white cypress trees. The
mist swirls around and there are huge rocks that
the satyrs climb with their drums and lutes and
they play wild music that isn’t allowed
in the temples. They dance and there are other
nymphs who go and we all dance until we can’t
stop and we’re lost in the sound and flying
through the stars. We don’t know where we
are and then we wake when the sun’s already
up and sometimes we’re curled up on the
forest floor with Pan and the satyrs all of us
together. We creep home, so tired and with aching
muscles, and we pass the villagers who are halfway
through their day’s work. It’s fun.
You should come sometime.”
Kora grinned at the thought, but Demeter’s
warning or not, she wasn’t sure that she
trusted Pan ~ although something about it did
sound good. She didn’t have to decide right
now, so she simply leaned over and hugged her
As the shadows grew long Kora walked home ~ worried
about Echo and thinking about Narcissus. What
was it that he had said about love and energy
and hunger? Was it true, or was it just the strange
logic of a strange boy?
She reached back and found snippets stored in
her memory, off cuts of a conversation long ago.
“The innocence and simplicity of love and
passion. People have forgotten how to live comfortably
with them.” Kora frowned. Had she ever been
comfortable? She reached for another bit. “It’s
not love, it’s just a hunger for energy”.
There was something else though, something stupid
or strange that he’d said. She was almost
at the front door before she found it. She sat
down on the step to roll it around in her mind
for a while, to claim it for her own. He’d
said: “Energy that I have lots of because
I don’t spend it chasing others.”
She thought for a moment about what he might
have meant and then blushed at the thought that
flashed across her mind. Chuckling secretly to
herself she stood up and walked inside. Demeter
was decorating the evening meal with flowers.
Kora poured two cups of water and sat down at
The double-edged blessing
Kora had always believed in honesty but now she
took to lying.
She had to, in order to be able to visit Narcissus.
Sensing a disturbing emptiness deep within her
oldest friend, Kora knew that Echo would have
felt hurt and maybe betrayed or jealous if she
knew that Kora’s friendship with him was
growing and deepening in a way that her own wasn’t.
And Demeter, if she knew, would probably have
blamed him for everything that had happened.
So far neither of them knew of the part he had
played in the story. All they had heard was that
Kora had spoken to Hecate and then vanished to
Demeter’s relationship with Hecate had
cooled since Kora’s departure. Demeter and
many of the villagers knew that Hecate had once
lived in the underworld. It was a long time ago
and had seemed to be almost irrelevant and forgotten
before, but now there were whispers in the village
of what they had started calling “the abduction”.
Whispers that grew from the seeds of information
that Demeter had let slip into the ears of the
women who sometimes sat with her. Whispers that
crept from the news-hungry mixed company in the
market place to the thoughtful ears of craftsmen
standing in doorways. Whispers that Hecate had
aided and abetted the sinister crime.
Hecate herself seemed quite content with the
state of affairs. She was making jam by day and
cheerfully painting pictures of shadows by night.
Most of the villagers thought she was mad. She
didn’t mind. She liked being left alone
most of the time and Kora and Narcissus provided
her with company when she wanted it.
Sometimes the three of them sat around her wooden
table drinking tea and sharing tales of the underworld,
that Kora and Hecate had been to, and of the world
above that Narcissus loved and Hecate had grown
up in. When they were together like this it seemed
that the world made perfect sense, it had three
layers and those with enough faces could see them
It seemed that life was only difficult for people
who could not appreciate that things could be
looked at from different perspectives.
Destiny was one of their favourite topics. They
argued about what it meant. Narcissus and Kora
believed in a sense of universal order but rebelled
against the idea that every move they made was
pre-ordained, every word scripted by a cosmic
hand. Believing that they were in control, they
still liked the idea that there was something
they were meant to do. Once Kora had argued that
just as bees were meant to gather honey she was
sure that there was something that she was destined
to do. Hecate tackled her saying that she was
describing entelechy not destiny. The word stopped
the two youngsters in their tracks. They rolled
it round and explored it before agreeing that
in describing the unfolding of potential it was
what they meant when they talked about destiny.
Hecate was gracious in her victory and provided
thick slices of cake.
Over time and through these heartfelt but playful
debates, the dull ache in Kora’s heart softened
and her dazed sense of lostness receded as she
applied herself to learning as much as possible
from her friends. Defining herself by their mutual
interests she came to know better the stranger
that she had become.
One day she arrived at Hecate’s house to
find Narcissus, looking puffed and disheveled,
sitting at the table showing the old woman a beautiful
It had been given to him by one of the beings
in the land beyond the clouds.
He had been there through a dream ~ actually been
there ~ for the first time, not just watching
the others who were there.
Excited for him, Kora joined Hecate hanging on
He had fallen asleep under the huge oak tree
in the temple garden and woken beneath an identical
tree in the bright land above. He realised he
was there because the temple wasn’t ruined
at all, it was in its prime and sparkling in the
Feeling almost overwhelmed with awe, he had walked
to the statue of Dionysis in the courtyard and
bowed down to say a prayer of thanks.
As he did so, the statue had come to life. Dionysis
stepped lightly down from the podium and laid
a gentle hand on his shoulder.
Looking up Narcissus had seen a face scarred
with smile lines and bright eyes that twinkled
and curls of dark hair that played like mischief
in the light breeze.
Narcissus’s face shone as he spoke about
Dionysis and the gentle music of his voice and
the reassurances that he had offered promising
that whatever difficulties may arise, all would
be well in the end. After they had spoken for
a while a beautiful woman wearing a white robe
had come into the temple garden. Narcissus had
seen her before often walking hand in hand with
another woman, almost identical except that she
wore a black robe. Dionysis had greeted the woman
in white enthusiastically, as if she were a friend
who had been expected. He had told her Narcissus’
name and she had gazed on his face as if she was
searching for something. As she looked at him
he felt himself burning with a feeling that was
a mixture of complete pain and complete pleasure.
Then she had looked away and wordlessly asked
him to tell her his purest and most secret wish.
He had searched his soul, his heart and his history.
A door within his dream had opened and he had
seen himself as a babe cradled in his mother’s
arm. She was a water nymph as lovely as a waterfall
in a silent forest. He saw her smiling over him,
bathing him in moonlight and feeding him on nectar.
The vision shimmered and he saw himself as a laughing
toddler with her dancing around him, singing to
him about beauty and weaving flowers in his hair.
The vision faded and he felt the chill wind of
the city his father had taken him to. His father
was a wealthy man, who took him away from the
gentle forest to learn about trade. In the city
he was schooled, trained and educated in the ways
of the human world, but they rasped like sandpaper
against his soul. His mother, pining for him,
had faded and drifted away. As a young man Narcissus
had left the city to search for her. After years
of failure his search became a difference quest.
Now he was looking not only for her, but also
for the answer to the question she had left him
with, the question about beauty, why it mattered
and what to do with it. Asked for his deepest
wish, he thought about his mother. She had wished
beauty into him. For her he wished for this beauty
to find a glorious purpose.
Fortuna had then taken from a belt around her
own waist a sword in a jewel-encrusted scabbard
and she had given it to Narcissus, saying that
he could use it either as a weapon or a gift.
Narcissus wasn’t sure why, but he had been
surprised by her solemnity. Perhaps it was just
strangely contrasted against Dionysis’ impish
Dionysis turned to him and said, “Wait
here” as he walked the woman back to the
Narcissus had sat down by the temple pond and
had seen below the water the ruined temple and
his own body asleep by the tree. As he watched
himself he felt himself being drawn down through
the water. The World warped and spun and then
he awoke beneath the tree with the sword beside
him. He had tried to go back to sleep to get back
to Dionysis but he couldn't.
He looked into the pond and could see the temple
above with its statue white and glistening, as
it had been when he had first arrived there.
Then he had run all the way to Hecate’s
Kora’s eyes sparkled ~ at last something
really interesting had happened. She had been
starting to think that this world was the dull
shade and the world of Hades was the world of
colour and drama.
Hecate, drew a deep breath and her face looked
serious. She examined the sword and said in a
tone that contained all her age and wisdom: “A
gift from Fortuna is a double-edged blessing.
Think well about what to do with it.” Then
her face softened and she smiled and ruffled his
hair and said more gently, “I know you will
though, it’s in your nature to be careful,
too careful sometimes.”
The sun was shining as Demeter and Kora set off
up Mt Olympus together.
There was a jubilant bounce in Demeter’s
step. She had been planning this little excursion
ever since the strange morning of Kora’s
return, when she had first heard that Hades had
laid his grubby hands on her daughter.
It was time for justice.
Kora’s step was more cautious. She didn’t
know why her mother had decided that now was the
time to take her up the mountain. She hoped that
it meant that Demeter had finally noticed how
mature and responsible she had become. She was
looking forward to meeting the Great Ones at the
high table ~ her father Zeus and her uncles and
aunts. She had always known of them, and known
that her blood and theirs was somehow the same,
but she hadn’t really been curious to meet
them before. Now, since hearing Narcissus and
Hecate talking and laughing about them, she was
excited, both about what might happen and about
the time she would have telling them about it.
She was half tempted while her mind was on this
tack to ask her mother some questions about them,
but she didn’t want to run the risk of chattering
too much and letting slip something that would
give away that she’d been seeing Narcissus.
The secret weighed her down and stilled her tongue
and reminded her of the heavier darker secret
that she sincerely hoped would not be prodded
or poked at the meeting up the mountain.
She shuddered at the thought and repeated Hecate’s
advice like a mantra ~ “Obey your Heart,
Obey your Heart, Obey your Heart.”
All the same at the thought of it she was half
tempted to turn and run home, or better still
all the way to Hecate’s house, or better
still all the way back down to Hades.
At times she was sure that He was missing her.
She had even taken to wondering about what had
happened from his point of view. She decided that
she had been quite harsh on him. He had a kingdom
to run after all, and he was right not to neglect
his duties, like stupid Demeter had done.
Perhaps what he needed was help.
This thought had struck her one day while she’d
been trying to help her mother.
She had been doing her best to coax some seeds
to sprout, not much seemed to be happening though
and she was beginning to feel that the exercise
was silly. Walking to find a fresh patch of ground
to try again on, she had found a small bird that
had fallen from a nest. Its tiny pink body was
broken and bloody and its pulse was failing. She
held it in her hands and wished its spirit a swift
journey home. As she did so she saw a tiny spark
leave its breast and soar skywards.
She’d then made a little nest for the broken
body in the earth and covered it over.
She’d looked up to see Demeter frowning
over her. She would have excitedly told her about
the flight of the bird’s spirit but the
icy look silenced her. It was bad enough that
she couldn’t make the seeds sprout. She
decided to save the story for her friends.
Kora remembered once saying that she would never
keep a secret from her mother. They had seemed
like the best of friends, but now that seemed
like a long, long time ago when she was very,
More and more secrets were being added to the
pile of things that they couldn’t talk about,
leaving awkward silences where there used to be
conversation and leaving strange gaps in the logic
of the conversations that they did attempt. Kora
felt a sob rising in her chest. She took a deep
breath and pushed it down. It was hard living
like this. She loved and admired her mother more
than anything and now she pitied and thought she
understood her as well.
She was now a good two or three steps behind
her mother, on the rocky slope of the tall mountain.
She hurried to catch up so that Demeter wouldn’t
suspect her concerns. Her face felt like a clay
mask. She hoped it wouldn’t break and reveal
the tangled mess that she really was.
It occurred to her as she climbed that she had
absolutely no idea what was going to happen.
Demeter had announced at breakfast that it was
time to for Kora to meet Zeus.
There was a hardness on her face as she said
it. A glint in her eye.
Kora had tried asking why. Demeter hadn’t
said much, just that things would at last be sorted
“What things?”, Kora had pressed.
“You’ll see.” Answered Demeter,
with cutting finality.
She then proceeded to tell Kora exactly what
to wear and how to tie her hair.
Baffled, and slightly excited at the whiff of
destiny that seemed to be in the air, Kora hadn’t
argued. She had put on her crispest white robe,
tied her hair close to her head with a dozen tiny
ribbons and wrapped a fine white linen shawl,
so soft and fine it was almost translucent, demurely
around her shoulders.
The ground they were walking on was becoming
smoother and the air thicker.
Then they passed through the mist gate that protected
the hallowed halls of Olympus from mortal eyes.
Kora’s eyes drank in the columns of bright
air, the monuments of thought, the sculpted dream
trees and the fountains of ideas. She smiled at
the sight of gardens and courtyards, half glimpsed
behind pillars and ornate structures but her exploration
was curtailed by a sharp right turn into a moonstone
labyrinth. As Demeter led her through the complex
maze of curved and convoluted pearly white walls
she tried at first to remember the path taken
but then gave up as the list of lefts and rights
blurred in her mind. Eventually the corridor they
were racing along opened out into room like a
giant upturned bowl with a throne near the centre
and an audience around the edge and a space for
them to stand before the throne where all eyes
could see them.
The whiteness of it all dazzled Kora. She could
see, seated high on the central throne, a strong
and muscular man with pure white skin and blazing
blue eyes ~ she supposed, from his resemblance
to the statues she’d seen, that he was Zeus.
His eyes seemed to burn through her, to see not
only her skin beneath her clothes, but also her
bones and her soul.
While she looked at him the rest of the room
seemed to swirl and fall out of focus or existence.
She wasn’t sure which.
She tried looking away but when she did the room
seemed to flicker and fade and she wasn’t
sure that she wouldn’t fall over.
She realised after a while that her mother was
speaking. Speaking to Zeus. She was dizzy and
struggling to understand the vanishing room but
she caught fragments of phrases ~ ‘brutal
abduction’, ‘against her will’,
‘terrorized and traumatized.’
She tore her eyes from Zeus to look at her mother,
and saw that she was shaking and crying.
Next she heard a voice booming within her own
mind ~ as if her conscience had been given the
ability to speak. It was asking: “Is this
She looked at Zeus again and realised that it
was he who had spoken, as she locked eyes with
him the room stopped moving but her mother beside
her seemed to vanish.
She felt as if she was completely alone with
her destiny in her hands and no one supporting
Her stomach churned. Time hovered. The dark secret
inside her rumbled like a hungry beast. She hadn’t
expected this. There was no way she could hide
or think of a clever response.
She closed her eyes and pictured the face of
Hades, as he had looked up and seen her falling
towards him and smiled.
She opened her eyes and saw nothing but Zeus.
“Is it true?” The voice asked again.
“Were you taken?”
Obeying her heart Kora said: “No, I wasn’t.”
Zeus didn’t blink or flinch.
Inside her head the voice boomed: “Were
you harmed or tortured or held against your will?”
Again she said: “No I wasn’t.”
Relief was starting to flood through her body,
the dull weight of the secret had started to lift,
when suddenly her cheek was burning. A slap. She’d
been slapped. Her mother, Demeter, had slapped
What? Why? Her mind swam free of Zeus’s
whirlpool gaze. She found her mother’s face.
It was glaring at her and she was shouting.
“What are you saying you stupid child?
This is no place for games.”
Kora struggled to understand, the room pitched
“What?…what mother? No, not games,
it’s true. I told him the truth. I love
Hades…” and she would have gone on
and let the whole secret out but Demeter cut her
short with “Don’t be a fool Kora.
I know you far better than you know yourself.
This cannot possibly be true.”
She felt as if she’d been slapped again.
She didn’t know what to say or do.
Then the voice of Zeus spoke again. “Go
home”, it said. “There will be no
punishment. Be happy with each other.”
Demeter swept out of the room. Kora watched her
go and then bowed humbly but gracefully to Zeus.
She felt somehow enormously grateful and despite
Demeter’s distress she felt lighter and
happier for having told at least part of the truth.
She wasn’t afraid. She had followed Hecate’s
advice and her confidence in the old woman’s
judgement was complete.
Kora stepped out of the bowl shaped room and
found herself in a long white corridor. Then she
remembered the labyrinth they had come through
to get to the room.
Completely sure that if anything was going to
get her through the labyrinth it was going to
be either luck or fate, rather than memory, she
set off. Around the first corner, she met a man
with a face scarred by smiling. Her heart leapt.
From Narcissus’ description she recognised
him as Dionysis. He bowed to her gallantly and
offered to escort her to the misty gate.
Kora tried to pay attention as she walked with
Dionysis but she was rattled by what had just
happened and not sure that the gardens weren’t
flickering and sliding about in ways that gardens
shouldn’t. As they walked he pointed out
people and places. He showed her around the seductive
gardens she had glimpsed on her way in, each was
more luscious than the last, draped with flowers
of different colours, lilac wisterias, radiant
yellow marigolds, trailing jasmine like starbursts,
and roses full of colour and heady fragrance.
In one garden they saw two women playing chess.
Grinning wickedly Dionysis called them the terrible
sisters, Fortuna and Nemesis. He said that they
loved to compete with each other. Fortuna giving
excessive luck and Nemesis averting disaster by
countering with balance.
At the gate he kissed Kora’s hand and told
her to give his best regards to Hades next time
she saw him. She smiled and blushed and thanked
him and ran down the mountain. All the way to
The empty nest
Demeter ran down the mountain in a daze. She
was sure that she had a gaping wound in her heart
and that a river of blood was flowing from it.
She was almost surprised when she looked down
and saw the clean fabric of her dress.
She looked behind her and saw though that the
flowers in her wake were dark red. She paused
and sat on a rocky outcrop. Her eyes fell on a
soft patch of moss and she glared at it, watching
it turn under her gaze into a twisted spiky weed
with poisonous berries.
Part of her was horrified at what she was doing.
Her whole life had been about being good and nurturing
and she was boiling with hate and bitterness.
What had happened?
She didn’t know. She felt broken. She didn’t
The child who had been her child was someone
else. If she knew Kora at all she knew that she
wouldn’t, she couldn’t lie to Zeus.
If she knew Kora at all she knew that she must
have lied to Zeus.
She stamped on the rocky ground and hoped that
rocks fell from the ceiling of Hades’ wretched
Why? Why? Why had he cropped up again now? She
hated him for doing what he might have done. She
hated him for being dark enough to have done it,
even if he didn’t. She hated him for making
a fool of her even though he hadn’t.
And worst of all she hated him for the strange
connection he might have with Kora.
Her Kora. She shuddered at the memory of her
holding and burying the tiny bird, with a smile
on her face and rapture in her eyes. It was so
much like him when they were children. She used
to blow on the eggs to make them hatch and he,
he’d almost be glad to find the little things
injured on the ground. Demeter felt the old hot
tears burning her eyes. She had always hated the
thought of the sunless, dark world. She never
wanted to go there ever. She never wanted the
little birds to go there.
A small bird with smooth grey feathers and beetle
bright eyes landed by her feet and tried to pick
a berry from the twisted plant.
Demeter shooed it gently away. It hopped back
and looked her in the eye.
She smiled at it and said hello.
She wasn’t far from the place where Kora
had buried the little bird. She wondered if this
was its mother.
“There’s no point looking for your
baby,” she said. “She’s gone
and she isn’t coming back.”
The little bird held her gaze and nodded.
“Your nest must a feel empty without her,
little bird. I’m sorry. It must be hard
for you not knowing why she jumped like that.”
The bird tried again to pick the berry. Demeter
waved it off and pulled up the plant. She crushed
the berries against the rock, they left a dark
red stain, but at least they wouldn’t go
to seed. It struck her as she stood up to head
back home that she had never killed anything before.
Demeter paused at her own front gate. She knew
what was inside. She knew Kora wasn’t home.
She didn’t want to be home alone. It occurred
to her that she didn’t know where Kora was.
“What’s new?” she thought, as
a wave of anger washed through her. “If
she can keep a secret that big, she’s probably
full of lies.”
The wound in her heart threatened to tear open.
She turned and walked down towards the village.
Breathing in, breathing out, breathing in, breathing
out. Deliberately noticing the dew drops on the
leaves and the fruit on the vines.
At the well beside the village she saw Adele
drawing water. Adele waved and called “Good
Demeter returned the greeting and asked how Adele
was keeping, and how was Ameinias?
Adele ran her hand through her hair and looked
to the sky. Her voice trembled for a moment before
a dam inside her burst and she released a torrent
of pent up fear. Sobbing as she spoke, she tersely
explained that he had now decided to be a philosopher
so that he could win the heart of Narcissus. The
boy, she said, hadn't slept more than two hours
a night for months. He had first had to take lessons
from the priests because his reading had not been
so good, and now he was reading and reading into
the night every night. He’s also stopped
eating meat because he thought that it “lowered
his mind” and he’d declared that he’d
never be a warrior despite his talent and his
training because it was “a demeaning occupation”.
She was scared for him. All his life he had been
planning and training to be a warrior and now
he was changing path. She knew him. She knew he’d
never be a good philosopher.
“He loves to win too much,” she said.
“It’s a good thing in a warrior and
a bad thing in a philosopher….and his body
is wasting away. He used to be a fair match for
his brothers, even though he’s the youngest.
Now they can push him over like a stalk of grass.
I dread what will happen if they rush off to a
war. If he goes too he’ll be killed for
sure. If he doesn’t he’ll seem like
a coward and the shame of it will kill him.”
Demeter reached out and took Adele’s hand
in her own. The two women sat down on the stone
bench beside the well. In the silent space between
them understanding hovered like the smell of fresh
baked bread. They both drew strength from it.
Feeling the warmth, Adele continued.
“There’s something else too. I was
gathering asphodel roots by the river the other
day and I heard Ameinias talking to Echo, the
nymph. I wasn’t hiding. It’s just
that he didn’t know I was there. It was
horrible. He was teasing her, saying “a
nymph who thinks she’s more likely to win
a noble heart than a fellow philosopher ~ you’re
going to have to be something more than a pretty
Adele shuddered: “I’ve never raised
my children to be like that. Poor Echo. It’s
bad enough that she’s been ensnared by Narcissus.
I felt so sorry for her. Why would Ameinias say
that to her? Is this what Narcissus is doing to
him? I wish I could help him.”
Demeter felt sorry for her too.
Adele went on. Some people, she said, thought
that Narcissus was part nymph, which would explain
some of his oddness perhaps ~ not that what he
was doing was forgivable. If he had made Echo
happy though they would have borne him no ill
The chatter continued rounding always on Narcissus.
It made Demeter uncomfortable, after a while.
It occurred to her that Kora had been oddly silent
on the topic since she returned.
Changing the subject she asked about Adele’s
Back on firmer ground Adele brightened: “The
eldest got married two months ago to a beautiful
girl, so sweet and talented and she’s now
expecting a child. The other is learning from
a visiting master how to make fine weapons….”
The prattle continued cheerfully for a little
while before closing in again on the itch in her
soul. “If only Ameinias was not under this
spell he could be with the master as well. If
only that wretched Narcissus had chosen a different
village to haunt….”
Demeter’s mind began to wander. “If
only that wretched Hades, had chosen someone else’s
daughter to tempt and lure and cajole…”
She shuddered at the thought of Kora and Hades
She stood up and looked down into the well. Drawing
up a measure of composure she said. “I know
it is difficult but you must tend you own hearth
Adele. Let Ameinias make his own choices. His
life is his to lead.”
Hearing the wisdom in her own words, she turned
to go home. It occurred to her to ask Echo around
for a meal, but the Nymph wasn’t home, so
she continued up the hill alone, and thought about
what she would most like to eat.