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Explanations

Hecate, picking sage, lavender, thyme and chamomile in her front garden, saw Kora running, skipping and leaping towards her.

By the time she arrived the girl was so breathless she couldn’t speak.

Hecate’s eyes were sparkling as she hobbled inside with an armful of leaves, stems and flowers, piled them onto the table and poured a long glass of cool water for her panting guest.

Kora waited a few moments, enjoying Hecate’s suspense before starting with: “I’ve been there, up there myself. Mother took me to see Zeus and I met Dionysis too.”

She told Hecate everything that she had seen and Hecate listened carefully.

When the story was told the old woman asked: “How did Fortuna and Nemesis seem to you?”

The question surprised Kora a little. “They seemed very beautiful,” she said. “Like the black and white queens from chess. The same but different.”

The old woman, nodded slowly, as if deep in thought.

Keen for explanations (and for congratulations for her honesty) Kora asked why everything in Olympus seemed to shimmer and shift, especially in the throne room.

Hecate’s answer was strangely business-like. Crisply she said: “It’s because it’s not really in your nature to be in that world. You don’t have eyes for it.” Then the old woman sighed and added: “Besides Zeus knows a disconcerting trick that pull truths out of people. It’s hard to lie when you’re dizzy.”

“But mother did”.

“No she didn’t. She spoke the truth as she understood it,”

Kora felt suddenly uncomfortable. She wanted to change the subject.

“Why did Dionysis ask me to give his regards to Hades?” she asked.

Hecate’s face crumpled into a secret smile. She looked directly at Kora and said: “That is a mystery for you alone to unwind.”

The old woman stood up and started sorting her herbs into piles on the table. Kora frowned. She was clearly not going to get any further with Hecate. She sat for a while and watched Hecate sorting the herbs and stripping the leaves and flowers from the stems, and then she got up and said that she was going to go for a walk and a think.

Hecate hugged her warmly and reminded her to follow nothing but her heart.

 

 

No Ties

Kora wandered away from Hecate’s house feeling confused. She knew that she didn’t want to talk to Demeter. It felt as if there was nothing left to say. The rift between them had been acknowledged. She’d been cut loose. Even when she had been with Hades before she had felt as if she was connected by blood or love or something with her mother. That was why she had been so shocked to find her in such a strange state when she’d got back.

Now that link, that connection, felt like a lie. Her mother was a stranger. She wished her no ill. But she had nothing to say to her.

The ground was scrunching beneath her feet and she noticed that she had wandered off the path between the two houses.

She thought about going to see Narcissus, but decided not to. She didn’t need to be with anyone and she didn’t want to get caught up in a different drama. Her own felt too rich and fresh to be put on hold.

She found that she was just walking, enjoying the sounds and smells of the deepening woods. She had lived near these towering stands of cypress, oak and silver leafed olive trees all her life and yet she’d never wandered alone in them like this. Her mother had so firmly forbidden it that she had almost forgotten that the woods had an inside.

As she walked she felt her step becoming bouncier. Her mood was lifting.

Coming across a crystal clear spring, she took off her sandals and washed her feet.
Grinning at her own authority she set off again, leaving her sandals beneath a twisted olive tree, in a way that would have irritated Demeter.

Walking further, following the babbling stream, she came to a place where the ground level shifted. The stream plunged playfully down a rapid of shiny rocks and the banks on either side were steep mossy slopes. She bent down to touch the velvet surface and remembered rolling down hills as a little child. She lay down on the soft moss and rolled down the slope, giggling to herself all the way and landing breathless in a bracken bush at the bottom. She stood up and pulled a bracken leaf out of her hair. Looking back she saw the shawl that she had put on that morning at Demeter’s command, crisp and white halfway up the slope.

“Too bad,” she thought. “I’m not going back now. Not for anything.”

She walked on, following the stream, pulling the ribbons out of her hair and letting it fall wild about her shoulders.

Soon the trees began closing in again. She felt a thrill of adventure. Maybe the forest was full of dangerous creatures. So what. She was a wild beast too. Her eyes were sharp. Her senses tingled with alertness.

After walking for what felt like hours she came across a small mossy gravestone beneath a towering tree. She sat beside it and read the carved inscription.

It said: The road to Hades leads deep down
No matter where you leave from
No-one should mourn death far from home
The water always leads to him

Kora reached out and stroked his name, and then she leant forward and kissed it. She wondered about going back to the Dionysian temple and diving through the water to him. But she noticed that it was a thought and not a following of her heart. Her heart was in love with the stream. She wanted to follow it, so she stood up and kept on walking.

As she walked the shadows began to grow longer and the glimpses of the sky visible through the canopy of leaves turned scarlet. She smiled to see the flickers of red sky reflected in the singing water.

Beneath the babble of the water beside her she could hear a distant roar. The water not far away was falling. Soon through the fading light she could see a mound of stones and the water disappearing into its mouth. She pressed her ear to the mound and heard the water loudly.

Not yet ready to give up her babbling friend, she started moving stones from around the gap the water flowed through. At first the hungry stream gobbled up the space she made but after a while a window started to appear. She peered inside and saw nothing, so thick was the darkness, but filled with a sense of freedom and play she called out anyway: “Hello down there”.

She didn’t expect a response, anymore than she had expected responses from the frogs she used to play with as a child.

The sight of a flaming torch far off in the underground darkness and the sound of a gruff mumbling voice and shuffling feet disconcerted but thrilled her.

“Hello”, she called again.

“Go away” said the voice. “No place for a girl this is. Go back to your family.”

“I have no family.” Kora replied. Deciding that he sounded more friendly than dangerous, she added: “Can I talk with you a while?”

“Talk?” he said. “With me? ~ No one’s ever asked that before. Who are you?”

“I’m no-one.” she answered.

The gruff voice laughed. “Oh well, I guess you can then,” he said, “I’m used to having no-one to talk to.”

“What happens to the water when it comes through this gap?” Kora asked.

Her new friend answered: “It falls straight down into a still pool, so deep there’s no knowing the end of it. Then its off down the river towards Tartarus, the underground city.”

An idea struck Kora. “If I jumped through with the water would I land safely in the pool?” she asked.

“Well…Yes”, said the gruff voice, “but there’d be no getting back out the same way. The walls are too steep and slippery to climb.”

Kora slipped into the water and found the edges of the hole she had made. It was plenty big enough for her slender body. She drew a deep breath and gave herself to the flow.

The fall was longer than she expected and the water at the bottom colder, but she was pleased with herself as she surfaced. She saw by the light of the torch a row boat not far away, seated in it was an old man dressed warmly in rags, with a look of concern on his face, watching out for her.

He was shaking his head. “What have y’gone and done? I’m not sure I know how to get y’out again.”

Getting out wasn’t really on Kora’s mind. She was determined never to go backwards again. From now on forwards was the only direction she was interested in.

She reached the edge of the boat and the old man helped to haul her aboard. She sat opposite him on a broad plank bench and said thankyou.

“Well No-one,” he said, “Good to be meeting you. I’m Charon, the boat man. Up this way looking for souls who have lost their way, ‘n’r’ havin trouble finding Hades and the ‘elp they need. You don’t look like you need him though. Y’aint dead enough yet, though goodness knows y’might be if we don’t find a way to get y’out again, y’ know there’s naught t’ eat down ‘ere.”

Not wanting him to be worried, but not wanting to say too much. Kora just put on a serious face and said: “It’s alright. I’ll do fine down here, you’ll see.” And remembering the amount of work there always was to be done she added: “Don’t let me stop you working, just carry on, I’ll even help if I can.”

Charon looked a trifle disbelieving. But there was something in her manner that he didn’t feel inclined to challenge. He agreed, but suggested that just watching would be fine, and providing a bit of friendly chatter. He took up the oars and after circling the pool, with his eyes peering into the dark corners, he headed the boat downstream.

At times Kora could see dark sandy beaches stretching into the blackness. At other times the rock closed in close around them so close that they could run their fingers along the wet slippery surfaces. In some places they had to stoop their heads to avoid ancient stalactites or tree roots that stretched down towards them. Their voices echoed eerily and were constantly accompanied by the sound of water drops falling from the ceiling sometimes far above them into the river they rowed.

Kora refused to be brought into conversation about either her past or her future, but she was happy to listen to Charon talk about his long life’s work on the underground rivers. He spoke in hushed tones of the mighty river Acheron that ended in a glorious delta flowing into the vast underground ocean that stretched between the inner shores of Tartarus and all eternity.

The Acheron, he explained, was fed by the Cocytus, a turbulent river fed in turn by three others ~ the Lethe, whose waters when drunk brought forgetfulness, the Styx that circled the whole underworld nine times and the placid Phlegethon on whose still surface they now rowed.

 

 

Papa’s Turn

Demeter woke the next morning thinking of Zeus. No father could have been more absent during the birth and raising of his daughter, and yet he was still Kora’s father.

There was something in the girl’s stubbornness that was like him, something in her that, like him, could be asked but not told what to do.

Demeter had enjoyed her evening at home. She had cooked a spicy dish for herself, mindful that while she loved it, it wasn’t one of Kora’s favourites. It had been one of many sacrifices she had made for her art of parenting. Then she had taken a long deep bath and slept peacefully. Yesterday had been large and strange. Change was in process. She was going to ride its wild tide. She was going to speak with the girl, to apologise, to make peace, to make a new beginning, to accept Kora as a young woman with a life of her own.

With this in mind she stepped lightly out of bed and hurried to Kora’s room and tapped on the door. She noticed as she moved that she had slept so well she hadn’t heard Kora come in. This in itself was a sign of a new trust between them. Demeter was proud of herself for not anxiously waiting up.

She knocked again. There was no answer. She must be sleeping deeply ~ or was it that she wasn’t there? Anxiety gripped Demeter coldly about the throat. She pushed open the door. The bed was smoothly made with the hairbrush lying casually in the centre, where it had landed with a flippant laugh the morning before as they had left the room. Her heart stopped for a moment before she caught hold of herself. She reigned herself in.
She had panicked before. The shame of it burned on her face. She was disappointed. She had wanted the hug of reconciliation. She was puzzled. Where was Kora?

She was last seen in the court room with Zeus. With Zeus. Ahah!
Of course. He was dazzled by her. He would have asked her to stay. He would have wanted to show her off to the others. And Kora, she finally would have realised what her heritage meant. She would have asked him to explain things.

Demeter smiled and imagined the two of them walking together, Zeus pointing out famous landmarks and explaining them with pomp and gravity.
The trip had been well worth it for this result. Even if Hades hadn’t got his just desserts. Kora would surely realise the importance of who she was and she’d come home keen to work as she should.

Enjoying the thought of having a break while Zeus made up for a little of his lost time, Demeter made herself breakfast and went back to bed, to enjoy eating it in comfort.

She sat back sipping her tea and surveyed her nest. She liked it. She liked its shape and its furnishings. It had fitted her and Kora well. Now it fitted her. She pondered living alone in it with Kora living somewhere nearby in a nest of her own. Perhaps Kora would have children and there’d be grandchildren visiting. She smiled at the thought of having a baby to hold.

Her eyes moved around the room. For now she was the only chick in the nest. As she thought of herself in this light it struck her how long it had been since she’d been clucked over and looked after by someone. It seemed like forever. She was always the strong one, caring for everyone else. When she had asked for help it had always been just to enable herself to do more. She hadn’t ever just crawled into someone’s arms and been held. Even when Kora was gone and she’d been screaming inside…there was no one there. No one who cared. She felt lonely and sad. Like a rock poking out of the sea. Always there, always buffeted in the storms. Never supported. She crept back down under the covers. Why couldn’t anyone see how much she was doing? How all these things wouldn’t happen if she didn’t try so hard, if she wasn’t so good at it. Who ever said thankyou?

Her thoughts boiled. She went back to sleep.

She woke again with sunlight steaming through the window and the scent of blossoms filling the air. Nothing was achieved by staying in bed. She got up and dressed and set off to visit Hecate ~ the most nurturing and supportive person she knew, even if they hadn’t talked much lately. For today the work could wait.

Demeter picked an armful of flowers on her way to Hecate’s house. They were tall, bright and glorious in yellow, purple, red and orange tangled together. She was greeted at the gate by the hounds who barked madly and then, at her biddling, sat quiet and obedient on the pebble pathway wagging their tails.

The wooden door of the cottage was wide open and flowing through it was the strong smell of a herbal brew. Demeter called out to Hecate, who hollered a hospitable welcome from within. The old woman was stirring a pot on the stove and sprinkling yet more herbs into it. As Demeter settled herself at the table and started filling an empty jug that stood on it with her flowers, Hecate explained that the pungent brew was for her aching bones. “The gravity here plays havoc with ‘em,” she grumbled.

“Dear Hecate, you need to take better care of yourself,” said Demeter, instinctively giving the advice that she most needed to hear herself.

Hecate smiled ~ one eyebrow arching skywards. Demeter paused and heard her own words. She smiled as well, used to being caught out like this by her old friend. “I think I’m going to have go at it myself. It’s time, I can’t keep on going like I have been.”

Hecate was listening.

Demeter went on, talking as she poked flower stems into the jug, “I made a start on it and it felt good. I cooked for myself last night. Not just grabbing a bite to eat. I really cooked and it was beautiful, and I went to bed early, just because I wanted to, not because of work today, or after working so hard I was shattered. It was so different from how it was being alone before, last time she was gone.” She shuddered at the memory and then realised that she had started mid-story.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m chatting on and I haven’t told you what happened. Kora wasn’t home last night because I took her up to see Zeus yesterday, and I left her up there, with him. It’ll be good for her, he’ll help her to find her path…”

Hecate’s eyebrow rose again, her bright black eyes fixed on Demeter’s face. It was enough to make Demeter catch her breath, she didn’t know where to look. Feeling nervous she twirled a flower stem in her fingers and tried to explain herself better. “He is her father after all, and she must get a sense from being with him that all of us have a role to play and that we all have to settle down to doing whatever it is that we’re best at. She just seems so lost. She doesn’t want to do anything, she is hopeless at making things grow, considering how much I’ve taught her. It must be either laziness or rebellion and I don’t know which it is. She just doesn’t want to do anything.”

Hecate took her pot off the stove, sat down at the table and remained ominously silent.

Demeter ran out of words and shoved the flower she’d been toying with into the jug. She fussed over the arrangement in silence and then, finding a thread of thought she added: “Honestly ~ I’m relieved. I didn’t know what else to do with her myself.”

Hecate picked up a sprig of leaves from the table and smelt it. “Tell me about yesterday,” she said gently.

“Well”, said Demeter, with harshness and well-rehearsed vitriol in her voice, “You know how she was taken from me before. Don’t you get defensive. I know it was an act of cruelty by Hades. I didn’t tell Zeus about it when it happened because I didn’t know where she was. It didn’t occur to me that Hades could be so dark and twisted. Deceptive yes, but not so utterly evil. I guess it also didn’t occur to me to ask Zeus for anything, because I never have. When she came back and told me what had happened, I didn’t run and report it then, even though I knew Hades had crossed a line and something needed to be done. I waited because the villagers needed my attention. I had work to do. I waited. I waited until yesterday and then I did what had to be done. The balance needs to be held. The underworld is there to receive and the idea that he can come and take what he wants from the land of the living is repulsive.

“He can’t be left unpunished for what he did. It’s bad enough that he steals the souls of the sick, the weak and the wounded from this beautiful world to populate his dark and gloomy empire, but to lay his hands on a girl in the full bloom of youthful health, that cannot be allowed. No one is safe with him roaming about like a rampaging thief.

“I know that he listens to no-one but Zeus, so I went to Olympus and took Kora with me ~ as evidence.” Here her voice changed key and softened. “The strange thing was that when Zeus turned his fiery eyes on Kora’s soul and asked her what had happened, she denied it all. It was so strange. We all know what happened. I didn’t understand at first how she could deny it.”

Hecate reached over and took Demeter’s clenched hand in her own. Warmly held by the old woman’s gaze she continued: “Perhaps I still don’t understand.”

There was a small pause and then her harsh voice said: “I think that she said that she had gone by choice, which would mean that Hades had drugged or enchanted her ~ which in my mind is just as bad or worse than taking her by force.

“Or perhaps she meant that she didn’t go at all. Maybe it was all too much for her and she’s let it slip away out of her memory.” Again she shuddered before continuing. “Either way, I’m glad she stayed up there. She’s bound to learn something useful, and in the meantime I can stop worrying about her. I know she’s in safe hands.”

So saying she took a deep breath and started tidying up the leaves and bits of twigs left from her flower sorting.

Hecate sat still and looked troubled.

“What are you going to do in the meantime?” she asked.

Demeter drew in a deep breath and tried to turn her attention on to her self and her own feelings and needs. It felt strange. She didn’t often focus so intently on herself. “I don’t really know,” she confessed, “I haven’t been very happy lately, not for quite a long time. Of course there was huge joy and relief to see Kora safe, but since then I’ve been so busy and I’m not as strong as I used to be. I felt so bad about letting everything go so badly, and it reminded me how much I’ve always hated Hades. Before she came back I was just a desert inside, and before she went well, I wasn’t really happy then either. I was tired even then, working too hard, trying to please everyone except myself. I can’t actually remember the last time that I did really do something for myself.”

She shook her head, reminiscing about the time before Kora went away. “I was always going to find more time to spend with Kora, but I didn’t manage it and then it was too late. She was gone. If only I’d been more attentive, been more of a mother when she needed me, then he wouldn’t have been able to take hold of her like he did.”

Hecate snorted and narrowed her eyes to twinkling slits.

At first Demeter refused to be derailed: “I know I should have been there for her, but I know that I couldn’t be. My work is important. I take my responsibilities seriously. I take pride in doing what I do more than just well, I do it very well. But that attitude cost me Kora. It’s costing me myself. I’m trapped in it but I feel like I just can’t keep on doing it anymore. Not now, not after all this has happened.”

Hecate smiled and stood up to make tea. Stuffing fresh leaves into the pot she said: “Sounds like a magnificent crossroad to have come to.”

Demeter laughed, remembering all the other times in her life that Hecate had told her that she'd reached a crossroads. Times that now, in retrospect, marked the sparkling turning points in her passage through life. “You and your crossroads”, she said, “You should be called Queen of the Crossroads.”

Hecate parried with: “If only we all learned to recognise them as we came across them and to appreciate them for the opportunities they bring then there’d be much less angst in the world, and you well know it dear Demeter.”

The morning breeze washing in through the open doorway mixed the fragrances of the medicinal herbs, the flowers on the table and the steaming fresh tea. The women discussed the different aromas dancing together as they slowly drained their cups, refilled them and drank again.

As Hecate returned to the stove and the sink to strain her stewed potion, Demeter declared decisively: “I need to go looking for something, but I don’t know what it is. I can’t carry on like this anymore. I’ve needed to go or to change something for a long time, I can see that now, but I haven’t been able to do it before. Not until now, now that she’s with Zeus and I can go without worrying.”

She sat back and smiled. “That’s what I’m going to do. It’s the path I’m going to take from my crossroad.”

Hecate smiled and let the moment breathe. When she had finished separating the boiled leaves from the valuable liquid, she returned to the table and said: “I think it will be very good for you. One rarely finds anything unless one is looking for something. I believe that Kora set off on such a mission when she left this house yesterday afternoon.”

The words, happily said, landed like stones on the floor.

Demeter, on hearing and understanding them, raised her knees to her chest, wrapped her arms about her legs, head down, perched, curled up on her chair she hid her face while a storm of emotion raked through her soul. She rocked and shook and sat still and quiet. When she finally raised her face it was streaked with tears.

“I should have known he’d be useless,” she said bitterly. She felt drained beyond reason. No-one else it seemed had a clue about what was going on for her. Was it too much to expect a father to take even such a small amount of responsibility for his own daughter, to understand what she needed, to help the child’s mother to cope?

Then she was angry. Angry with Zeus for not being the father he could have been. Angry with herself for stupidly imagining that he’d changed. Angry with Kora for not knowing how much she wanted to make peace with her and to hold her and to be her friend and to figure a way through all their problems together.

She thought about being angry with Hecate for waiting so long to tell her that Kora wasn’t with Zeus, that she’d come down from Olympus and been here and then gone off again somewhere…probably no one knew where. But Hecate was now her only ally, and she wasn’t sure she could cope with being any more alone.

Then she was frightened. Frightened for Kora. She could be in danger. Frightened for herself, she didn’t want to go cold and hard on the inside again. She was frightened for the villagers, she didn’t want their children to die…and she didn’t know if she could feed them all with her heart so sick with worry.

She felt like a frightened child herself. She looked at Hecate. The old woman didn’t look frightened. She was smiling warmly. “Kora will be fine,” she said. “She’s strong and clever. She secretly knows her way, like you did at her age.”

Demeter looked hard at her old friend. She had been angry with her last time Kora had gone, because she hadn’t been worried sick like she was herself. Then, with Kora coming back, she’d been proved strangely right. She looked so calm this time, and she was Hecate, the one who often knew strange unknowable things, perhaps she was right.

But that wasn’t the point. Kora was gone. After being left with Zeus she was gone. Why hadn’t he taken care of her? By failing to take care of Kora he was failing to help Demeter herself. It wasn’t fair. It was an insult.
“How dare he? ”, she whispered. “He is not going to steal my crossroad with his stupid selfish negligence.”

The sweet smell of change wafted through the tiny cottage and Demeter, standing up and assuming her full royal proportions, said: “Hecate, can you send a message to Zeus for me?”

The old woman nodded.

“Tell him”, said Demeter, “to get my daughter back to me safe and sound and soon, Or Else.”

“Or else what?” asked the old woman.

“Or Else I Quit”, said the Earth Mother.

Hecate stood and found a piece of parchment on one of her shelves, a dove quill, a pot of ink and a small beautifully carved crystal oil lamp. She wrote quickly in strange characters on the parchment, whispered a prayer over it, lit the lamp with a stick from her stove fire and burnt the parchment over its tiny blue flame. As the last piece turned to white ash she looked up at Demeter and said: “Done. Shall we have lunch inside or out?”


 

Demeter’s Journey

Back at home, after lunching with Hecate, Demeter felt restless. She didn’t want to sit and wait. She had sent her message. She didn’t expect it to be taken seriously at first. She knew that he knew how hard she had worked to recover from the last horrible shock, the coldness and fear that had frozen her ability to do what she had always done and should have continued to do.

She knew that he knew that she took pride in her work and that she would not want that kind of thing to happen again. She knew that he knew that she loved the land and the people and that nothing except madness itself could keep her from protecting and nurturing them.

She shuddered at the thought of the hungry children. The thought that she had caused their hunger terrified her. The burden of her responsibility was heavier than it had ever been, since she had realised that it involved not only doing what came naturally to her, but also bearing the weight of not doing it, if ever she couldn’t.

The thought that they could have all ended up in Hades’ halls revolted her. She even suspected that Hades might have plotted the whole thing, in the knowledge of her devotion to her daughter, just so that he could lay claim to some young innocent lives. She shuddered again at the thought of the darkness.

She knew that she needed to be strong in order to get Kora back from there ~ if that was where she had been lured. She needed to resist doing what came naturally to her. She needed to frighten the villagers, the earth and the heavens. She needed to force Zeus to act. She knew it would take every bit of royal blood in her veins to succeed, and that for Kora she would give that blood.

Sitting still at home she felt vulnerable to her usual routines. It was too easy to absentmindedly take up her sewing, to become involved in making something and then to make something for someone else that would lead to her being seen as helpful and working. Focussing on what needed to be done, she decided that travelling to somewhere else would help her to remain strong in her resolve, and help everyone else to realise that she was changing the game that they were all playing.

She needed her departure to be noticed and surprising. She needed to be missed. She smiled at the thought of it. After working so hard for so long without giving a thought to it, she suddenly wanted more than anything else for the villagers to see her leaving and to cry out, “Don’t Go. Don’t leave us alone”. She told herself that she wanted this so that their cries would pierce the walls of Olympus and be heard by Stupid Zeus who would then get Kora back, but a small creature in her heart stretched and purred at the thought and smiled dreamily, knowing that appreciation would give her the strength she needed to carry on.

With a head full of plans she gathered together a small bundle of things. A bowl, a knife and a spoon, a blanket, a thin but strong rope, a few fabrics that could be worn as clothes or used as towels or sheets, a needle and some thread, a tinder box and a small cooking pot.

Then she had a long hot bath and a long deep sleep in her comfortable bed.

In the morning she woke feeling excited, free and powerful. She dressed simply in travelling robes. She tied the bundle in a cloth so that she could wear it comfortably on her back and she chose from the beautiful trees in her garden a garland of flowers for her hair.

Bidding farewell to her house, she closed the door behind her and set off towards the village, so that she could be seen departing on her journey.

The morning glistened. The moist air kissed her cheeks. Her feet crunched the fresh grass as if it had never been touched before. Looking behind herself she noticed the usual trail of flowers. It had followed her all her life, except in the bleak days when Kora had been gone and her heart was screaming. She loved the flowers. She had never even thought about how she could stop the trail that sprung to life in her footsteps, but now she did think about it, and how changing it would show Zeus what she was doing. She had no idea how to do it. As she walked she experimented with telling them not to appear. They became smaller and more delicate but continued to mark where she’d been.

Pondering this she arrived at the rock pool that was Echo’s home. Something about it seemed different. There was usually a sort of meticulousness about it. A beauty in the arrangement of the water lilies, lotus blossoms and rushes that sang of harmony, but didn’t look at all like human hands had been involved in the process. It was something that nymphs seemed simply able to do.

Demeter looked around the pool for Echo. She wasn’t home. Looking around she was reminded of the pool years ago, before the day when heavily pregnant with Kora, she had sat down to cool her weary feet and had seen Echo, then only a little child nymph, chasing a tiny frog through the lily pads. The water had been thick with green weed and clogged with the husks of old bull rushes.

Demeter had asked Echo where her parents were. She didn’t know, she said she didn’t have a home so Demeter had waded in and helped her to clear the rushes so that the water could flow through clean and clear and so that she could make this pool her home. Demeter had also set about the pool a stand of fruit trees so that the child need never be hungry.

It seemed like many years ago. Since then Kora and Echo had become such good friends, Demeter felt tenderly concerned for Echo. Where was she? Why was her pool looking troubled?

She stood a while wondering before concluding that the answer, whatever it was, wasn’t here by the water. Demeter turned to go and saw Echo, not far away. She was perched on the top of a large rock, looking down towards the village. Demeter started climbing across the smaller stones surrounding the large ones to reach the young nymph, who saw her approaching and smiled and waved absentmindedly.

Demeter got as close as she could in her travelling robes and slippery sandals.

Echo was almost naked, only a tiny slip of a weed-like fabric covered parts of her slim white torso. Her slender legs were covered in scratches, as if she’d been running through bushes. Her long hair was tangled and matted in places, the flowers that had been set into it were withered and drooped.

“Are you all right?” Demeter asked.

“Yes, sure ~ I’m fine ~ really”, answered Echo, a little uncertainly. “I can’t come down right now though. I have to sit up here to see him every morning. He walks past this way, on his way up to the old temple ~ sometimes he has some books with him.”

Now Demeter felt uncertain. “Who comes? Is it Narcissus? Do you meet with him here?”

Echo blushed. “Yes ~ it is Narcissus.” She closed her eyes as she spoke his name as if savouring the flavour of it in her mouth. “He doesn’t speak to me though.” Her voice trailed again into dreamy uncertainty. “I don’t think He even sees me here. But it doesn’t matter. Love is such a powerful force. It makes life so much better, even if it’s only one way. I feel so good when I can see Him, so good that I can feel the air touching my skin. It’s just Love. I don’t need for Him to do anything…”

Her dreaminess worried Demeter. Her appearance worried Demeter too. “But where have you been Echo? What have you been doing? Why are you dressed like that?”

Echo’s eyes were on the road. She barely seemed to have heard Demeter, but she answered, “I’ve been with Pan. He says he can make me forget everything, even Narcissus. He says that I should. But I won’t ever forget. How could I forget what Love feels like? Nothing else matters”.

Demeter wasn’t comfortable perched on the rock she was sitting on. She wasn’t comfortable with the things Echo was saying. She wasn’t comfortable with the thought of Pan helping Echo, she knew him all to well. His methods, his madness and his whole-hearted appetite for nubile bodies. Echo needed real help, but the help she needed wasn’t easy help to give. It would take time, real love and nurturing. Demeter caught herself thinking about how she could help Echo through this. It had to be done. Echo was like a daughter to her. A daughter. Her own daughter needed her though. Her own daughter needed her to do nothing. Nothing for anyone, not even Echo. Demeter searched her soul, was she capable of not helping Echo?

She looked up at the beautiful tragic figure perched on the rock. She was smiling dreamily, watching the road. Demeter stepped down from the rock she was on. “Take care Echo” she said. “I have to go, I’m going on a journey for a while, look after yourself well until I get back. Be careful about what you offer Pan and his friends. Come to dinner with me and Kora when we get back.”

Echo’s eyes didn’t leave the road. “See you then”, she said, “he’ll be coming any minute now.”

Back on the path to the village Demeter shuddered. She had known that she would face challenges, but that one had felt very harsh and sudden. Her heart throbbed. She loved Echo, but knew from her talks with Adele that Narcissus’s spell was a hard one to break. She knew that helping Echo would keep her from her journey. She weighed Narcissus and Hades against each other in her heart and judged the latter to be more sinister.

She watched her sandalled feet walking on the path from Echo’s pool to the village. Watching and listening, she heard the sound of other feet. She looked up and saw a young man walking cheerfully towards her.

The sun caught the tips of his glistening hair. His arms swung loosely by his side. His steps were strong and easy. His body was a picture of balance and harmony. Demeter caught her breath. He was so beautiful, walking simply and cheerfully in the crisp morning.

Recognising him as Narcissus, knowing how Adele felt, worried about Ameni and Echo, angry at his strange sullenness in response to her plea for help in her search for Kora, suspicious of his motives, she flinched. The two pictures of him didn’t seem to fit. He seemed too happy, too much in love with the morning. His elegance suggested wisdom and grace. There was a spring spring in his step, his face was turning up towards the sun, drinking blissful gulps of the soft light.

The swiftness of his stride brought them to the point of passing on the path. He turned to her as he walked and smiling broadly said: “Good morning, a truly beautiful day is it not?”

Demeter, still trying to fathom him, answered simply: “Yes it is, good morning to you too.”

He nodded another smile and kept on walking past her.

She almost wished he had paused and that she could have spoken more with him and perhaps unravelled some of his mystery. She felt a little left behind, a little sad. He hadn’t been rude. He had been on his way somewhere. He simply hadn’t stopped for her, to ease her hungry curiousity. She drew a deep breath. She supposed that there was nothing wrong with the way he had walked on. She wished even that she was better at being like that herself, given that she was on her way somewhere as well.

With these thoughts swirling through her mind she passed through the village, aware that the women drawing water from the well saw her passing, in her travelling robes with a bundle tied to her back. She felt them watching her walk away, and almost heard them wondering if and when she’d be back. But they didn’t run after her and beg her not to go.

She followed the valley between the two mountains for most of the morning before turning to walk up into the foothills of Mt Helicon. As she waded through sunny patches of waist deep heather, under olive trees dressed in blossoms like morning clouds and through shady patches of wine-red cyclamen flowers rippling in unison in the soft breeze, she felt her worries leaving her. She thought about the way that the plan she had made about doing nothing until Kora was returned had actually given her a freedom she had never known as an adult. She was now walking away from her past, away from her responsibilities, away from everything that told her how she should be.

Birdsong called her onwards and she felt her step begin to bounce and her hands begin to swing by her sides. Miles passed beneath her feet as the day warmed and she took off her outer robe and packed it in the bundle so that her bare arms could taste the sunlight as she walked.

She drank clear fresh water from mountain streams and ate ripe fruit she found growing.

As the day drew to a close she settled by a stream and made a fire. She gathered some bracken to sleep on, dug some wild roots and gathered herbs to make soup. As she lay down to sleep beneath the stars, weary from the walking and warmed by the simple meal she was happy with the choices she had made. She thought about Kora and wondered where she was. Could Kora have chosen to go to Hades? Demeter admitted a sliver of possibility into her heart, but Zeus would have to fetch her back, Demeter would have to know for sure that it was choice. Cradled in her firm resolve she slept deeply and well.

 

Going in Deeper

Kora, wrapped in a soft blanket, slept in the boat. She’d been lulled into slumber by Charon’s voice, explaining in detail the characters of river after river and stream after stream, his words flowing like warm water through her weary head.

She woke when the tone of his voice changed sharply. “Ahoy there,” he called. “You there. This is the ferry y’ll be needin’. Jus’ wait by the bank, I’ll bring her in.”

Charon turned and saw Kora starting to sit up. “You stay put,” he said sharply, “and cover your eyes. There may be things that aren’t pleasant to see.”

Kora ignored him and sat up. She could see a small group of shades, on the bank of the river. They were like people, except that they weren’t solid. They could have flown across the water if they’d known that they could, but they didn’t. They moved slowly and sadly. They were frightened and confused. This group looked like miners. They were dusty and they wore torn and dirty clothes. One of them had a crushed chest, another’s legs were broken. Perhaps some stones had fallen on them.

Charon stepped out of the boat into the shallow water and dragged the craft up onto the sandy bank.

Three of the miners backed away looking terrified of him. The fourth, the oldest looking, stood his ground but looked worried. Charon beckoned them to the boat. The
old miner shook his head, and held out his empty hands.

Charon shook his head back. “Forget about that crap with the coins,” he said. “It’s nothing but an old priest’s tale, told no doubt to swell their coffers and to make my job all the more bloomin’ difficult. Jus’ get in the boat and I’ll row you across…nothin’ to it.”

The miners, gradually came forward, and Charon seated them in the boat and pushed off. They barely seemed to notice Kora as she sat quietly wrapped in the blanket. Charon rowed straight across the river to the opposite bank and helped the four shades out again, giving them instructions to follow the river until they came to the bronze gates of Tartarus where Aeacus would meet them and give them further guidance.

As Charon pushed the boat back into the water and stepped in again, he was muttering: “Stupid bloomin’ coins, what d’they think I’m gonna do with ‘em down ‘ere.”

As time passed they rowed through more of the great rivers, Charon talking, Kora, listening and resting a lot at first. Impressed by her ability to survive in the underworld without light or food Charon relaxed and revelled in her company. He told her many stories about the metal city of Tartarus, forged out of the cold stones and the billowing ash found on the vast and dusty underworld plains. He told her about the warrior Aeacus who had come shortly after Charon himself and who stood by the gates of Tartarus to keep the living from entering in search of loved ones who had died.

Then as she became less tired, she started learning to pull the great oars, and to steer the boat ~ enjoying feeling the strength in her arms and her back. She sometimes thought about Demeter, and wondered if the world above was going to waste again. She was determined not to turn back though. Demeter was a Queen, she told herself, what happened to her land was her responsibility, not her daughter’s.

At first Kora just watched as Charon spoke to the shades and urged them to come forward and to accept a ride in the boat. Most he succeeded with. Only once did she see a shade flee back into the darkness. Charon had shrugged and said: “Obviously not ready to come yet.”

Kora sat quietly while the shades were ferried across and given their instructions to follow the river to the bronze gates.

The first shade she spoke to was a young woman, weeping uncontrollably because she had died in child birth and hadn’t seen or held her babe, or said goodbye to the husband she loved. As they sat in the boat together Kora’s heart wept too. She assured the young shade that love was stronger than the breach between life and death and that they would feel her love although she wasn’t with them. Charon, seeing the shade listening to Kora, sat quietly, and let the girl take her ashore and tell her how to find the gates.

As Kora climbed back into the boat Charon saw a slight glimmer of light flickering about her. The next group of shades they came across were soldiers, the victims of a war. There were perhaps a hundred of them, with bloody wounds and missing limbs. Some of them, who’d gone to war with coins in their pockets, just in case, crowded forward and hussled Charon. As the boat drew into the shore Kora stepped out and walked to the back of the group. She walked towards to youngest and most frightened shades, her hands outstretched showing that she meant no harm. She explained to them that Charon needed no payment and that he would come back for them, after he had rowed the others across, and that they would then walk a little way further to the gates where Aeacus, would meet them and take them in to the great hall where they would meet kind Hades himself.
As she spoke they stopped crying and cringing. They stood a little taller and waited patiently for Charon to return. When he did they knew what to do, and the trip across seemed peaceful and somehow beautiful.

When the last of them had set off towards the gates, Charon noticed that the glimmer around Kora had grown stronger. She was softly glowing. The soft light prompted him to stop calling her ‘Miss Nobody’ as he had done since they’d met. Instead he named her Persephone, and he explained that in the old tongue it meant ‘light bringer’.

As more miles of river passed beneath them they worked more often as a team. Kora was the comforter, the explainer, and Charon rowed the boat. The ease of their companionship was infectious, and the shades drew strength from the meeting more so than ever before. As Charon rested from the burden of having to coax and shepherd the shades, his voice and manner became less gruff, he smiled and laughed more easily. He also drew strength from sleep while Persephone rowed the boat through gloomy cavern after gloomy cavern, looking for shades in need of a ferry. Whenever she found some she’d wake the ferryman and together they would guide the dead to the halls where they would find renewal.

She, in turn, slept while he rowed. She woke, on one occasion from a dream-filled doze to hear Charon speaking, almost nervously: “Well, y’know, many things ‘appen and there could be any number of reasons why for som’it like that.”

A gentle but firm voice answered: “But they have hardly seemed to need me at all, they’re already becoming lighter by the time they get to the halls. They aren’t weeping or trembling, they know where to stand, what to do. Something has happened somewhere, Charon. Something very beautiful…”

Recognising the delicious timbre of his voice Kora sat up in the boat.

Hades’ face broke into the surprised smile that she remembered so well from her first descent, and she felt her own face glowing back. Her heart singing.

Kora watched his eyes register ~ first surprise, then puzzlement, then an idea and finally understanding.

He looked across at Charon, who was holding his ancient breath, wondering how his act of harbouring the mysterious girl would be judged by the Lord of the Realm: “Was it Kora?” Hades asked, “Has she been speaking to them?”

His tone was gentle, full of love and awe. Charon smiled and blushed. No blame had been mentioned. “Aye, it was her.” He answered. “Magical with it she is too.”

Charon chuckled as Hades waded in to the dark water and picked up the lovely young woman. Settling her down on the sand, he bowed to her and offered thanks ~ adding that he should have guessed that it was her work he was seeing.

Kora, so surprised and flattered was almost speechless, but the part of her that had been working with Charon had learnt to speak carefully and knew what to say. She curtseyed and said it was an honour to serve those in need.

Charon in the meantime was scratching his touselled head. “Kora…” he was muttering “Kora, should ‘o guessed I s’pose. Kora. Eh. Well, well.”

Looking younger and less comfortable than Charon had ever seen him. Hades blushed and asked Kora if she would let him show her the rest of the city. Kora looked to Charon, and asked if he minded her leaving. The old boatman shrugged, grinned and nodded, shifting on his feet and still muttering in surprise.

Kora then surprised even herself by promising that she would be back to continue the work they had begun.

Draping the blanket around her shoulders like the kind of shawl her mother used to wear, she held her head proudly and offered Hades her arm. He linked his own through it and they began walking pace by careful pace together.

Her heart trembled and threatened to desert her. She could feel his strong arms calling her like a magnet and she almost abandoned herself and curled up tiny and kitten-like inside him. But the memory of something held her. She couldn’t see it clearly but she knew it was there. It was a cautiousness that hadn’t been there last time she was with him. She offered thanks to it and concentrated on walking, beautifully pace to pace with him. He felt so warm beside her, her arm was melting into bliss. She tried to glance at his face but she couldn’t see his features clearly, she saw a dimple belying a secret smile though, and something warm and lovely in his eyes. Time and space danced. She was his mother holding his arm to give him strength. He was small and frail, needing and loving, but also mighty and powerful, her brother matching her moment for glorious moment. Their touching skin also remembered something else ~ the passion, the man-woman, earth-sky magic they had kindled once before.

As they walked their breathing deepened, they were silent, they were busy feeling. Step by step by step they slowly relaxed. Her royal poise softened. Their fingers reached out slowly to touch, kissing softly fingertip to fingertip until their palms tenderly embraced, lifeline to lifeline.

 

The Goat Herd

Demeter wandered for several days through the olive and cypress-covered foothills of Mt Helicon. Regaining, as she did, an ability to listen to her body. To rest when it was tired, to eat when it was hungry and to run freely when it was stirred by joy or passion.

To amuse herself during the long afternoons she set about, with patchy success, learning how to control with her mind the trail of flowers that always followed her. It led her to ponder how it would be to be normal and mortal and like everyone else. It was something she had never contemplated before. She’d always been different, odd, unusual, special, for so long that she’d stopped even noticing it. But now she wanted to be able to have a new set of experiences. To access secret pockets of emotion within herself that only another person in unguarded conversation could open for her.

One afternoon as the sun was setting and her mind was idly hungering for company, she heard the sound of a pipe being played. The music was soft and lilting, like a dialogue between a breeze and a stream. It was sensitively played on a simple reed flute. Demeter, timid, feeling suddenly young and awkward, almost blushing, tiptoed towards the sound and the player.

The gentle notes led her around an outcrop of lichen-mottled rock to a secret enclosed little valley with steep sides. A stream emerged from a crease in the mountain’s skin and flowed through the rich flowering ground between the rocky slopes. A contented flock of mountain goats were dancing on the rocks and grazing on the grass and blossoms. She smiled at the sight of them and then saw the piper, sitting on a stone near the edge of the stream with dark hair tumbling around his shoulders, a simple tunic, bare legs and feet touching the water. His arms were strong and tanned arms and his beautiful hands were holding the pipe.

Drawing a sharp breath and frowning with concentration she stemmed her flower trail, and started making her way down the rocky slope, uncomfortably aware of how inelegant her progress must have looked to the piper below.

The smallest goat in the clearing was the first to see her. It bounded over and sniffed at the hem of her robes and then maaa-ed loudly. Its mother followed it over and sniffed and called out and then another and another of the goats came to her. Before she was halfway down the perilous slope Demeter was surrounded by bleating goats all keen to smell and taste her robes. Their cries called the piper’s attention away from the setting sun and the magenta sunset clouds. Laughing good naturedly at her predicament he bounded, as easily as a goat, up the slope and gently but firmly asked the flock to give the lady space. Then he offered her his hand and helped her down onto the loamy grass of the valley floor.

As she arrived on the even ground, he introduced himself as Trip, the goat boy. Demeter looked puzzled. “I live with them,” he explained, “they give me milk to drink and they let me cut their wool to spin and weave”.

Demeter had never heard of anyone (except Pan) living this closely with animals and this far from other humans before. She smiled at the thought.

Trip was looking at her waiting for her to introduce herself.

She smiled and lied: “I’m new here. I was taken from my home by pirates but I escaped. Now I’m free. My name is Summer.”

Trip continued to chatter politely. He invited her to join him for a meal, and because they were so far from anywhere else, he invited her to sleep in the cave that he had made his home, gallantly offering to sleep outside beneath the stars himself.

Demeter felt strangely blessed by his courtesy. She couldn’t remember the last time that anyone except Hecate had cooked for her. Her heart pounded. She sensed that her adventure was turning a corner that she could not yet see beyond. She was at last doing something unexpected, she didn’t know what would happen next. She wasn’t in control and she didn’t want to be.

She sat on the soft grass and watched him build a fire in a circle of blackened stones. He had a cooking pot not unlike her own and he filled it with stream water, vegetables and herbs, just like she had been doing each night since leaving home. While the meal was cooking he called to a shaggy she-goat and milked from her a jug of fresh warm milk

Watching him, she noticed the downy hair on his cheeks. She guessed him to be just a few years older than Kora. He was handsome certainly but young, still full of idealism and vulnerability, too young and hopeful for her to feel passionate about. Perhaps her days of feeling passionate about men were over, she didn’t know. She knew though, watching Trip cook that he was a blessing and a friend, perhaps he would teach her to be young enough to look at other men with steamy eyes. She smiled quietly delighting in the possibilities that lay before her.

Trip catered for and entertained her with an air of elegance and refinement that gave away the casual secret of his origins. As the fire flickered Demeter teased from him the story of his family. His father was King Celeneus from Eleusis, a village not unlike the one near Demeter’s home. Like all the lands around about it responded to the waves of energy that Demeter put into her own little village. When strawberries grew in Demeter’s village, strawberries grew in Eleusis. When the people were at peace in Demeter’s village, the people were at peace in Eleusis and everywhere.

Over the glowing embers of the fire, as the moon shone silver on the backs of the sleeping goats, Trip spoke about the fear that had clutched at the hearts of people when the plants had stopped growing. Suddenly the people had known hunger and they had been powerless to do anything about it. He had seen them huddle together and become selfish and mean, he had seen them forget their friendships, hoarding rather than sharing the small amounts of food they found.

He said that this had frightened him more than anything else, and so he had left the village and wandering across the hills, eating roots and seeds. Travelling alone he had found the goats hungry, cold and miserable. He built fires to keep them warm at night and when there was nothing left that was green he dug roots and washed them in the stream so that the goats could eat them.

Then when the world turned to flowers and fruit again he had gone back to the village but found that the people there were still full of fear, hoarding the food that they found in case the growing stopped again.

Demeter, still hiding behind her secret identity, asked if he knew why the world had gone cold. The boy frowned and shrugged. “There were many stories,” he said, “most people think that it was something to do with Kora being stolen away, by Hades I think, and kept captive and tortured and that Demeter was searching and searching and so she couldn’t do what she usually does. Then I don’t know what happened. Maybe Kora escaped and came back.”

Demeter sat silently looking into the coals.

Trip continued. “The sad thing is that it should have made people realise how much Demeter does for us. It should have made us grateful and generous like she is, but it didn’t. It made them scared and angry. That’s why I’m out here again. So I can be grateful in my own way.”

A tear rolled down the side of Demeter’s nose. Part of her wanted to hug and be hugged by this boy. This beautiful boy who understood. Her heart cracked open with gratitude. But even in her moment of bliss, she was reminded of the harsh demands, the heavy burden, she had carried. She didn’t want to have to go back to working, working, working. She just couldn’t. She wanted to make a little paradise just for him and to let the rest of the world shrivel up again as punishment for its stupidity and ingratitude.

How dare they be angry with her when she was grieving? Why were they so pathetic and dependent anyway? Why couldn’t they grow their own food and leave her in peace? The idea rang like a bell in her mind. Why couldn’t they? Why shouldn’t she give them the gift of growing? The idea rolled sleek and tasty in her world of possibilities. Zeus would be furious. He hated the idea of the humans learning to be self-sufficient, because it made them less like animals and harder to control. It led to ideas. She tucked the notion into a pocket of her heart to ponder more tomorrow.

She wiped the warm tear on the corner of her shawl and said: “I’m sure Demeter would be very moved by what you said. It must have been a difficult time for her.”

The goat boy smiled up at the moon. “We mustn’t forget how beautiful everything really is,” he said. “It is the most important thing, being thankful for it all.”

 

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