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Death of a Maiden

Kore was born on a Summer Solstice. She would die on the Winter Solstice. Kore grew up knowing this. It never affected her. After all, she is a goddess and goddesses do not die.
At least she hoped.
For a time, she spent her days in the forests of her mother and the nights staring at the skies of her father, though she didn’t know they were his. For a time she was happy. She was young and carefree and oh so naïve. She was not unknowledgeable, however. She knew the songs of the lark, the trails of the wolf, and the story of the earth.
What she didn’t know was the cruelty of a marriage goddess cursed with an unfaithful spouse. (Her mother knew, and hid.) The whispers of the nymphs to Zeus, the danaids to Poseidon, the dryads to her mother. In time she would learn all this and more. But for now Kore frolicked and played among the dappled sunlight and trees and was at peace, while her mother worried about from afar.
One day, a man approached Kore as she danced with a danaid. The danaid had been giving Kore a watery kiss when suddenly she turned to water and Kore was left alone to face this stranger.
“Who are you?” Kore asked with all the bravado and confidence of a child. She very nearly stomped her foot. “Why are you here?”
“Don’t you recognize your father?” the man asked, smiling. Somehow, in a way not yet known to Kore, that soft smile looks cold and cruel.
“No,” she said flippantly, refusing to let her fear show. Instinctively she knows that would be a fool’s move.
Before the man could get another word out, her mother appeared. The earth itself flinched when Demeter saw the man.
“Zeus,” she said coldly, “What brings you to my domain?” Her face had pressed itself into a cold line that Kore didn’t recognize and didn’t want to.
He simply gestured to Kore.
Demeter harrumphed. “I don’t recall debuting Kore at Olympus. Nor do I recall inviting you to my domain to my daughter.”
“It’s been too long,” Zeus said, carefully avoiding the question. “Bring her tonight. I hear Dionysus has a wife.” It was not a request nor was it friendly gossip. It was a demand with information to sweeten the vinegar.
Demeter harrumphed again. This time it was to mask how easily she gave in. “We’ll be there.” She nearly asked him how his wife is. She bit her tongue so hard it bleeds.
For Kore that day was the last she was a child. For Demeter that was the last day her daughter was truly hers.
Demeter, for the first time in many years, dressed Kore. She plaited her shimmering bronze hair, so long that even braided it fell to Kore’s knees. Gold jewellery was carefully chosen to make Kore’s dark skin glow. Demeter draped a golden chiton spun from spider’s web and silk on her daughter for what feels like the last time.
Kore didn’t entirely understand all this pomp and worry, at least not yet. She had been sheltered by her mother and kept hidden from the rest of the pantheon for fear of the wrath of Hera. Kore did understand, however, her mother was afraid. And for the first time in her life, Kore truly was afraid as she stood in front of the gates to Olympus.
“My daughter,” Demeter said somberly, “You are beautiful. I can only hope it will prove to be a blessing, not a curse.”
“Mother,” Kore whispered, a tremor creeping into her voice, “I am afraid.”
“Good,” was Demeter’s only response.
The gates were opened by golden statues. Hand in hand, the two walked into Olympus. Kore’s senses were immediately assaulted. Perfume, the sickly sweet scent of fruit, and fragrant smell of grilling meats hung in the air. Music was being played, and mortals draped in colourful scarves danced wildly to it.
“Demeter,” greeted a man in a short white chiton and golden sandals adorned with wings. “This must be your lovely daughter, Kore.” He reached for Kore’s hand, and after kissing it, introduced himself, “I am Hermes, the messenger and the protector of thieves and travellers.”
“Isn’t that a bit contradicting?” Kore said impulsively, “Thieves and travellers don’t exactly get along, do they?”
Her mother nearly hissed at Kore, but Hermes merely laughed. “True indeed,” Hermes grinned, “Suppose that says something about the god who protects them. And don’t worry Demeter; your daughter will do wonderfully in these circles.”
And she did. Kore knew just what to say to all the Olympians. She charmed them all with her smiles and wits. Kore, after all, is a very clever girl.
It wasn’t too soon before the first few suitors arrive- less than a year. Her mother had always feared the onslaught, and she warned Kore, who merely brushed off her mother’s worries. She had a plan. She had used that year well.
First to arrive was Apollo. Kore knew he only wants her for his trophy shelf- to be something pretty and not much else. She sent him away with a flower- a hyacinth. His grief forced him away- the wounds of the heart take time to heal. Too much time. He would return too late.
Next to arrive was Hypnos. He wasn’t, and still isn’t a major god, and therefore already knew he wouldn’t be a much of a contender. Kore knew she would only be a wife to him as long as she granted him the power he lusted after. She sent him away on a near impossible quest. He wouldn’t return in time.
Third was Hercules. Newly a god, Kore knew he only wanted a pretty bride to replace his old one. She sent him away to find her a jewel made from fire. He returned with time to spare, so she sent him to find Hypnos. That one took care of him, at least until it is too late.
More came, and soon enough, they all blurred together. Not a single one of them was suitable.
Kore announced she would be making her decision at the Winter Solstice. She, then, had three days to find a husband, or a plan to avoid one.
She knew the best plan would be to declare herself a maiden goddess. Kore also knew it’s not the ideal plan. She didn’t want to be an eternal maiden. But the problem was Kore doesn’t know what the ideal plan is. She did know she was not going to be someone’s trophy. She would take a husband as his equal or she would not take a husband.
Kore needed to find a place to think. But where would the gods dare not go? Suddenly a plan formed in her mind. She knew exactly where she was going to go.
Kore strolled along the river. The day is beautiful and idyllic. Birds sang above her in the treetops. Flowers bloom and fill the air with sweet perfume. The sun is shining brightly, leaving her feeling warm and content. Pity where she was going she wouldn’t see it.
She kept walking and walking and walking until she came to a large rock formation with a jagged cut. She looked around. It wouldn’t do if anyone saw her now. Once the coast was clear, Kore took a deep breath before squeezing through.
And she began falling and falling and falling.
Air whistled in her ears, reassuring her she was still alive. Too soon that one comfort was snatched from her; the whistling soon slid away, leaving nothing but an eerie silence far too loud to be safe.
She landed hard on her ankle, the bone cracking unpleasantly. She rolled it, and upon finding it unbroken or perhaps healed, stands up. It is too dark to see much, but the sounds were a relief from the agony of silence. She could tell she was next to a churning river, dark and filled with souls. The River Styx.
Even a goddess cannot cross the river with risking losing their soul, their existence to the river’s depths. Kore didn’t need to walk far across the rocky, sandy beach before she comes across Charon, the ferryman.
He, at first, refused to ferry her across. But once she told him about how she would jump in the Styx and her mother would raise hell, he changed his mind. Hermes really was right.
The ferry ride was long and dull, further lengthened by the knowledge that once she is across she will be safe. The water ebbed and flowed, splashed and moaned. After an hour, an eternity, a moment of sailing, the ferry bumps up against the docks.
As she carefully left the boat, the ferryman gave her with a warning- the god of the underworld does not take kindly to the living in his domain. She already knew that- in fact her plan depended on it. Charon’s warnings only cement her resolve, she thought as she trekked away from the docks and closer to the looming castle.
It’s strangely beautiful here, if one discounted the Fields of Punishment, where souls’ screams chimed the hour. There were trees and wildflowers -asphodels, of course- everywhere one looked and the sky may have not been stars or puffy clouds, but the misty heights were eerily striking.
The Underworld was a tricky place and soon she found herself lost. She could no longer see the castle; she was lost among the wandering souls who are trapped in the Asphodel Meadows for all eternity. She wandered for what feels like hours feeling more and more hopeless until she came across a river where souls screamed and wailed- the Acheron. Feeling the weight of its laments dragging her heavy bones down, Kore collapsed next the river. Her eyes drifted shut as she felt the howling water soaking into her chiton.
When she woke up, she was lying in a stranger’s bed wearing a man’s chiton. She sat up, taking in her surroundings. The bedroom was luxurious. The hangings were silk and impeccably woven. The bed, oh how to describe its comforts, was huge; Kore felt dwarfed by it all.
The wide doors creaked open, and a man entered, carrying a tray with a bowl on it. He was silent as he placed it on a table next to her, and as he left, Kore noticed he was a touch too transparent to be alive.
A few moments later, another man entered. He was clearly alive, clearly a god. He was pale as death and wearing a chiton of pure white. His red hair was tied back with a few strands escaping, as if it was done absently. “Hello,” the man said, hesitantly, “I am Hades, god of the Underworld, and, I’m sorry, but I don’t recall your name? You do look familiar.”
“I am Kore, goddess of spring, daughter of Demeter,” she replied, trying to sound stronger than she felt. The lamenting river had taken its toll on her. “Why am I here?”
He seemed put back. “You nearly drowned in the tears of the Acheron. If Thanatos hadn’t returned when he did, you probably would have faded away into nothing.”
“What day is it?” Kore interrupted.
“The eve of the Winter Solstice.”
She’d nearly run out of time. “Can I leave?”
“Unless you’ve eaten a pomegranate, yes,” Hades said. A plan grew in Kore’s mind.
“There is something wrong, isn’t there?” Hades continued.
“What makes you say that?”
“No Olympian visits me unless they need something.”
“I am no Olympian,” Kore said, her voice just on this side of a snarl. “My mother may be one, but I would die before I became one.”
“Oh,” Hades echoed sounding more than a little melancholy, before seeming to regain his composure and continuing. “I had always wanted to be an Olympian but my brothers forced me here, and out of Olympus.”
“I was always told you wanted to rule the Underworld, even named it after yourself,” Kore said, before she can stop herself.
“I never wanted this,” Hades said, gesturing out the window, “I’ve changed it, changed it into something that could be called beautiful. The Fields of Punishment, the Judges, I could never alter.” He gazed wistfully at the horizon. “It’s a strange thing. We all wanted power, but none of us were ready.”
“Well, I do need something,” Kore said, carefully choosing her words. “I am expected to marry. None of my suitors are to my liking.”
“Why?” Hades seemed to be choosing his words just as carefully.
Kore paused. “I want to be an equal. An equal in power, in love, in everything. And if I am to be perfectly honest, none of them could give me that. And if I stay an eternal maiden, I am trapped. Trapped with my mother and trapped with my oaths.”
“Forgive if I took this the wrong way, but I can offer you an equal position,” Hades said oddly businesslike considering the topic. Or perhaps perfectly businesslike considering those involved. “You would be the Queen of the Underworld.”
“Not your queen?” Kore asked.
“No, you would be equal in power, perhaps even superior, though I can’t promise we’d be in love,” Hades agreed, “But I will stay faithful if that’s what you mean.”
“It’s a deal then,” Kore said smiling, and Hades smiled too and it is the opposite of Zeus.
“So it is.”
They cannot marry, though, without the approval of Zeus. They began that night, pausing for neither sleep nor meals.
Hades enlisted a dead weaver to create a gown worthy of a goddess for his bride. Kore picked as many pomegranates as she can. Hades called his charioteer and told him, that for the first time in nearly a century, they would be going to Olympus. They stayed up until dawn, or at least the closest the Underworld gets to a dawn.
Kore dressed carefully after they ate. The dress Hades had made wasn’t a normal chiton. It was made of an odd material, and was gold and red and black with embroidery and lace. When she looked in the mirror, Kore didn’t look like a maiden. She looked like a queen, and a Queen of the Underworld at that. Hades had been smart when he had the dress made- no one could deny she is powerful when she looked the part.
When she came out, Hades was waiting in the chariot. He was dressed differently. His chiton matches hers; it was black and red and gold. His red hair was braided and an obsidian crown was perched on his head. He looked the part of the King of the Underworld. “Shall we?” he asked, bowing slightly, “Queen.”
Kore smiled, and accepted his hand up into the chariot. The charioteer flicked the reins and they were off. They moved so fast that the world around them was blurred. Kore blinked tears from her eyes. Wind whistled in her ears.
But just as suddenly as they started they stopped, grinding to a halt just in front of the gates to Olympus.
Kore smoothed her dress as she delicately stepped out the chariot. Hades offered his hand and she took it. Just before they pass the gates, Hades stopped her. He tucked a curl, presumably pulled free during the ride, behind her ear. Together they walked into Olympus hand in hand. Kore wasn’t afraid, not this time.
The Olympians were all here, sitting in their thrones. All goes silent when Hades entered. A long agonizing silence that stretched the limits of what silence is, or at least what a sane silence is, before it was shattered.
“Kore!” Demeter cried, “He has returned you!” She practically leapt from the throne, sprinting forward to pull her daughter away from Hades and into a tight embrace.
Hades didn’t even move to speak. He simply cleared his throat, and allowed Kore to have the floor.
“He has not returned me, Mother,” Kore said coldly, as she wrenched herself from her mother’s grasp. “I have come with him. We have come to be married.”
“No,” Demeter gasped, “What has he done to you? Apollo, see if he has poisoned her!” Apollo sighs.
“Hades,” Zeus said, “Have you tricked Kore?”
“No, he has not,” snapped Kore. Hades shrugged. “Now, can we marry or not?”
“I forbid it!” Demeter shouted, “I will not let my daughter marry the dead!”
“You cannot, Mother,” Kore said, ignoring the ‘marrying the dead’ comment. “The King of the Gods is the only one who can and not even he can stop has already happened.”
“Hades, what did you do to her?” demanded Demeter.
Now Hades spoke up. “I have done nothing to her. Perhaps you should be asking what Kore has done to me.” He smiled at her.
Aphrodite sighed. “So romantic,” she said. “Zeus, let them marry.”
“Fine, fine,” Zeus said, “You can wed.” He waved his hand absently. “Do it here, in the Underworld, wherever.”
“Zeus, you mustn’t do this,” Demeter insisted, “Please, let my daughter return.”
“I cannot, Mother,” Kore said, “I have eaten a pomegranate of the Underworld, and now will never be content living anywhere else.” Hades looked pleasantly surprised.
“Why are you doing this Hades?” Demeter pleaded. “Have I slighted you?”
“I have done nothing,” Hades repeated, sounding almost bored, “This is Kore’s will.”
“If you leave, with my daughter, Hades, I will flood your realm with the souls of mortals,” Demeter threatened, “I will leave the earth bare and the fields fallow. Nothing shall grow and all shall die.”
“Mother!” Kore protested, “Don’t you want me to be happy?” Her protests went ignored.
“Fine,” Zeus said, “She shall stay in the Underworld for half the year, and with her mother for the other half.”
Demeter crossed her arms. “Fine,” she said, “but for those six months my daughter is dead, so shall the earth be.”
Kore looked as if she may protest but thought better of it, and only said, “Then I must return to the Underworld with my husband.” She stalked out of the Olympus with Hades in tow.
“The nerve!” Kore fumed, once they were safely in the chariot. “How dare she!”
Hades sighed, and said to his wife, “Dear, she is just being overprotective.”
“No, no,” Kore snapped, “If she was overprotective she would see how this is a better alternative. Demeter just doesn’t want me to have power. She wants me to be hers forever.”
“That sounds like Demeter, Kore,” Hades said, as the charioteer snaps the reins attached to nothing and they speed off to the Underworld.
They arrived in mere moments and Kore stumbled out, almost drunk on the glee that rose to take the place of all anger she had.
She sighed and smiled and said, “We should celebrate!”
“We should,” Hades agreed amicably.
“You know, Hades,” she said, “To rise up, one must die first. And to keep this position I need to rise up.”
“What do you mean, dear?” Hades asked.
“What I mean, love,” she said, “is I need a change. After all, a maiden cannot be the Queen of the Dead. Only a destroyer can. Only Persephone can.”
“Persephone,” Hades grinned, “It’s far more suitable. How long have you been waiting to use that one?”
“For as long as I have wanted to be Queen.”

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