The hallways and passages of the Underworld twisted and turned, labyrinthine in its architecture. Without her guide, Hera would soon be lost among the denizens of the dead.
“It’s much larger down here than I thought,” Hera said, trying to strike up a conversation with .
“The space suits our purposes. Our numbers grow daily but never dwindle.” The girl never stopped walking as she spoke. When she pointed out a feature or landmark, it was with a brief gesture and explanation as they passed it. This was not the guided tour Hera had been expecting.
“How long does it take to learn all the passages?”
“I don’t know. There are passages and rooms still unexplored by many of us. Father gave over portions to be ruled by faithful servants. We have limited knowledge of the paths in their chambers as they have limited knowledge of our tunnels and chambers. There are far too many for any one person or deity to know.”
“Doesn’t your father worry they might turn on him? They could plot and plan against him and he’d never know.”
“Unlike you, Father inspires trust and loyalty in his ” Hera ignored the biting remark.
“How can he be so sure? Anyone can pretend to be loyal to get what they want. Once they get it, what use do they have for the one who gave it to them?”
“Because if they overthrow my father, who will they trust enough to serve them? Trust must go both ways or it ceases to exist. Without trust, a ruler cannot reign fairly and justly. They become tyrants who inspire fear.”
“Fear is good. It keeps your subjects in line.”
“True. It will create fear in your people, but fear will also turn on you. You fear for your throne, your kingdom and your life. What you provide to those below you, they provide in turn for you. It is an important lesson my father taught me.”
“Your father is a fool. He could have so much more, yet he fears to go after it.”
“It is not fear that keeps him here, but commitment and duty. His responsibility to all of the souls is more important to him than his own happiness. Keeping chaos at bay and performing his duties makes him happy.”
“Your father is a strange deity. No wonder he ended up down here. Duty and honor are words we use on mortals to get them to do our bidding. Such things don’t apply to us.”
“That is your view. Father’s is different. If you don’t mind me making the observation, his way appears to have worked better for him than yours.”
“Maybe for a little while, but over the long term it will wear him down. At some point he’ll learn and see things the way the rest of us do.”
“Perhaps. Although should that time come, it wouldn’t be for many more years.” stopped walking. There was nowhere else for them to go. In front of them was a river, the water dark as ink. No ripple moved through it and no current pushed waves up on the bank. It shone in the gloomy light, a darkened mirror.
“This is the end of our journey this way. In front of us is the River Styx, which only the dead may cross. Let us return to Mother and Father. Dinner will be ready.” turned, walking back the way they had come. Hera gazed out across the water, making out the lone figure of Charon, ferryman to the dead. Far out across the river, he his boat and its passengers on their final journey. Even his motions caused no movement on the water.
The return trip brought them through tunnels Hera was certain they hadn’t traversed before. If she lost her guide, she wouldn’t be able to rely on memory to find her way back. The different routes had been planned on purpose, keeping her from learning her way around.
Running water sounded to their right. The River Styx hadn’t made any sound, so this must be another source of water for the underground kingdom.
“Tell me, , what runs alongside us to the right?”
“The River Lethe. Its waters help the dead forget their pain. I carry a vial on my belt when I assist Thanatos in our duties. The relief it brings the dead helps ease their transition into our realm.”
“Interesting. Do the souls need to drink of the river’s water for its powers to take effect or do they simply need to touch it?”
“The water must be imbibed. The touch of it leaves nothing more than a cold sensation, an impression of something lost but nothing more.” The throne room came into view, its interior brightly lit for the occasion.
“Thank you, . Your tour has been most informative.”
“I hope you learned about more than our realm’s structures during our walk, though I fear this is not the case.”
“My dear, everything you’ve said has been…enlightening. Shall we join your parents at the table?” Hera placed a hand on hip, guiding her across the chamber. The younger woman broke free from Hera’s touch, but it was too late. Concealed in the palm of her hand was the prize Hera sought. As long as the girl didn’t miss it too soon, Hera now held the key to taking over the realm of the dead.
“Sister, come sit by me.” Hades indicated the large wooden chair beside him, at the other end of the table from Persephone.
“Thank you, but I would prefer to sit by your bride. Have some time to talk away from men. The two of us never manage to have time to speak, just the two of us. Besides, it will make it easier for me to know what is safe to eat.”
“As you wish.” Hades returned to eating, his daughter taking the seat declined by Hera. At her end of the table, Persephone gave her husband a look of bewilderment and anger. Hera was the last being she wanted to sit next to at dinner.
“I should thank you for your hospitality. Both you and Hades have been more than gracious hosts.”
“You’re welcome in our home any time.” The reply passed through tight lips trying not to scream. Persephone knew she needed to be a good hostess, but the nearness of the other goddess unnerved her. Hera was up to something and it wouldn’t result in anything good.
“Again, I thank you. The spread you have is marvelous. I never thought the food down here would be so varied and wonderful. It is no wonder you were tempted by that pomegranate all those years ago.” Hera picked over the trays laid in front of her, loading cheeses and olives onto her plate along with fruits and cuts of meat.
“All the food comes from the surface. It is the only food we serve while I am down here so as not to accidentally lengthen my stays.” Persephone poked at her her appetite gone.
“Wherever it comes from, it’s lovely. Wines, too? Why don’t I pour us each a glass and we can raise them to ourselves? A drink to friendship and more visits together?” Hera took Persephone’s cup before she could protest and filled both their cups with rich red wine. In the girl’s, she tipped some of the contents of the vial she stole from . Persephone’s attention had been on her plate and she missed the goddess’ addition.
“I’m not very hungry or thirsty,” Persephone said when Hera returned her cup.
“Nonsense. We must drink to us. This wine is much too delicious to waste.” Hera lifted her glass and motioned for the other woman to do the same. With a sigh, Persephone picked up her glass and together they drank.
A glass clattered to the floor and Hera smiled over the rim of hers.
“Oh. What’s happened to me? Where am I?” Persephone put the palms of her hands on her forehead and rocked back and forth in her chair.
“My love? Is something the matter?” Hades stopped eating and stared at his wife. Her eyes traveled up, seeing him at the far end of the table, and widened.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
“Persephone? What’s wrong?” Jumping from his chair, the heavy seat falling over in his haste, Hades ran the length of the table and grabbed Persephone’s hands. She yanked them away, screaming and pushing him back.
“Get away from me. Go.”
“It’s me, my love. Don’t you recognize your own husband?”
“You’re not my husband. I would never marry you. I don’t belong here. Let me go.” Persephone broke free from Hades and went to run, only to realize she didn’t know where she was. Doorways opened all around her. All of them led to dark tunnels she couldn’t see down. Unable to get her bearings, she backed up against a wall. Sliding down to the floor, her body convulsing with sobs, Persephone huddled, trying to make sense of her surroundings.
“What have you done to her?” Hades’ voice thundered through the cavernous space as he grabbed his sister by the shoulders and spun her, still in her chair, around to face him.
“Done? Nothing. Clearly she isn’t as happy down here as you led us all to believe.”
“You lie!” Hades pressed his face into hers, the heat from his breath warming her neck.
“She’s erased her memory. Water from the River Lethe.” straightened, holding the cup Persephone recently dropped. “There’s still some residue clinging to the cup.”
Hades took the cup from his daughter, a faint chill creeping up his fingers where they touched the water. He turned, shoving the cup into Hera’s defiant face.
“Is this your doing? Poisoning my queen? Is this how you repay our kindness and hospitality?”
“No, this is how I get what I want.”
“What can you gain by taking away Persephone’s memories? All you have done is terrify her and anger me. It has not changed my stance regarding the war you wish to wage above.”
“It might if I were to tell Demeter and Zeus you made Persephone drink the water yourself to try and make her forget her life on the surface. You wanted her to stay forever with you, but the plan backfired.”
“I would never do such a thing.”
“Going to be tough for you to prove that. It’s your word against mine. Oh, and Persephone’s, but I don’t think she’s going to be a very reliable do you?”
“You bitch.” Hades slammed the back of Hera’s chair into the table. Against the wall, Persephone whimpered.
“Resorting to name calling? And violence? Come now, I thought you were better than that.”
“I will tear you apart, limb from limb, and let you sink into the River Styx for all eternity.”
“Such threats. But, yes, please do keep them coming. After all, you want to impress your wife. Show her what a big, strong, brutal man you are. I’m sure that will win her back over.” Hades let out a scream and turned his back on Hera. She had won. After everything he said and all he had done, she managed to find his weakness and turn it against him.
“I want her back.”
“We can work something out. I’m sure Zeus will be more than willing to restore her memory if I ask him nicely. We can tell him there was a mix up with a water pitcher. Or she fell and slipped into the river while on a walk. So many excuses we can come up with, if you help me.” Hera stood behind her brother, one hand on his shoulder.
“What do you want?”
“An army. I want all of the souls you reign over to join with me.”
“What kind of army would that be? The dead don’t fight. They have no motivation. They simply exist.”
“The dead can’t be destroyed by mortals. They are the perfect soldiers. As they kill our enemies, our own numbers will grow.”
“How do you propose to make them fight? The souls of the dead float around aimlessly. No purpose or direction to what they do.”
“I will give them incentive. Have them ready in three days’ time and I will have the means of making them warriors.”
“If you promise to return Persephone to me, I will do as you request.”
“Good. I will see myself out. Remember, not a word about anything that happened today or our deal is off and your queen will be lost to you forever.”
“I will keep my end of the deal. You best keep your end.” Hera made no reply, disappearing down the tunnel she arrived through. Curled up on the floor, Persephone watched her go, springing to her feet suddenly as the goddess vanished from sight.
"Take me with you. Please don’t leave me here.” Hades wrapped her up in his arms as she tried to run past him. She struggled against him, the palms of her hands slapping against his chest. “Let me go. Let me go.” Her struggles slowed and she dissolved back into tears. approached her parents, sadness overtaking her beautiful features.
“This is my fault. I never should have told her about the River or my use of it. I will go and secure Hypnos’ help. Allowing her to sleep during this time would be best for us all. Less despair for us when she doesn’t recognize us and less trauma for her.”
“Thank you. A peaceful sleep will alleviate her terror. Until things are set right, dreams are her only friend. Please don’t blame yourself. Your mother didn’t trust her and neither did I. If we followed our instincts, this would not have occurred. Go, quickly and fetch Hypnos. I don’t wish for your mother to suffer longer than necessary.” bowed her head and headed towards the chambers where Hypnos resided. Behind her she could hear the echo of sobbing. Sobbing born of terror and the frantic sobbing of wanting this nightmare to end. It was the only time she ever heard her father’s cries. She hurried down the path, hoping for something to soothe her parents’ anguish.