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
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
“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
Hecate hugged her warmly and reminded her to
follow nothing but her heart.
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
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
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
“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?”
“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
He was shaking his head. “What have y’gone
and done? I’m not sure I know how to get
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.
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
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
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
“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
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?”
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
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
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
The words, happily said, landed like stones on
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
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
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
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?”
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
He nodded another smile and kept on walking past
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
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
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
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
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’
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Kora then surprised even herself by promising
that she would be back to continue the work they
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
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
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
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
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.”