Courting the Underworld


“Darling, seven millennia is old enough for a taste! I had my first at six!”

“She is not ready. The ambrosia is too potent for her young spirit.”

Persephone plucked at a peony, watching the petals float down, disappearing before they hit the ground. Her mother Demeter was facing off against Aphrodite (again), the women nose to nose as they argued about something that was none of their business. Persephone rolled her eyes.

“Every deity has tasted it. Why should Persephone be any different?”

“Because she is my daughter!”

“Darling, relax.”

“Demeter, I understand your concerns,” Hera interjected from where she lounged on an ornate divan. Persephone didn’t hold her breath that the wisdom would be listened to. “However, don’t forget we live outside the mortal concept of age and time. You spend too long in the mortal realm.”

“As does darling Persephone. Let her loosen up, taste our nectar. It could do wonders for her love life!”

“That’s my concern.”

Love? No thanks. Persephone had heard countless stories of the affairs and escapades of her fellow immortals, and how they treated the poor souls in the mortal realm. If that was love, she’d rather keep a bargepole between them. Her gaze drifted to the table laden with ambrosia. Golden nectar gleamed in crystal goblets, unattended and tempting.

A reprieve from listening to her family argue over something so ridiculous on the other hand, was quite welcome. She edged her way around a column, towards the table.

“Lighten up, Demeter! Love is life.”

“Persephone, what do you have to say?”

Persephone winced, turning back to the goddesses. “Mother, you know my feelings on this.”

Her mother’s lips pursed.

“Come now, Demeter. This is a party! Let’s not get into a fight. Now, I happen to know—” Aphrodite interrupted, guiding Demeter away.

“Indeed, we have more pressing matters to discuss.” Hera rose from her seat, joining Aphrodite in distracting her mother. Once it was clear her mother was suitably distracted, Hera glanced over her shoulder and winked.

Persephone smothered the giggle that threatened to bloom and headed to the refreshments table. She slipped her shoes off, tiptoeing across the marble floor.

On the highest tier, several chalices of the drink stood. This close, she could see tendrils of mist ascending from the divine liquid, small bubbles bursting forth. Persephone grabbed the chalice and clutched it close to her chest.

Now to get away and consume her prize. Trying to appear nonchalant, Persephone stepped into the grand ballroom, blending into the crowd. She glanced around the opulent room, looking for any deities that might inform her mother. Tall marble pillars lined the room, etched with scenes from myths and legends, and providing suitable hiding places. Gilded braziers provided a warm, flickering light that cast dark shadows perfect for hiding in.

Moving from pillar to pillar, Persephone took in the beautiful costumes and sparkling jewellery on the divine guests. Amongst the major deities she knew, there were hundreds of minor gods and nymphs. And, of course, the mortals. So many mortals unaware of where they were. Snippets of conversation reached her as she passed through.

“Did you hear? Zeus has taken a new lover.”

“Hera will be furious when she finds out.”

“Have you seen how big her—”

Persephone turned away, nose wrinkling. Nearby, Dionysus regaled a group of enraptured satyrs with an animated tale, arms flailing. One beckoned her, but she declined, moving around another pillar, heading to another antechamber.

Her heart sank as she spotted a rowdy group near the centre of the room. Mortals sprawled on sofas, laughing too loudly, moving too clumsily. Their eyes were glazed over from ambrosia, their cheeks flushed and chitons falling from their shoulders.

In the centre sat her father, Zeus, a jewel-encrusted goblet in hand. He whispered in the ear of a pretty young woman, pulling her onto his lap and nuzzling her neck. The mortal giggled, caressing his bearded cheek.

A flare of anger burned in her chest. How dare her father behave so, without a thought for propriety or his wife’s feelings? The other gods ignored the display, but Persephone couldn’t tear her eyes away.

The ambrosia in her hand warmed. She glanced down at it. The sweet drink would loosen her up, but was it worth it? Persephone thought of her mother – always so cautious, so repressed. For all her desire to rebel, Persephone baulked at the thought of losing control. Only…

What harm could a small sip do? Before she could overthink it, Persephone raised the glass to her lips. The liquid shimmered gold. She shut her eyes, ready to savour it. But before the ambrosia could touch her tongue, a large hand clasped around the glass, wrenching it away.

Persephone’s eyes flew open. A tall, imposing figure stood before her, dressed all in black. The colours marked him as one who dwelled in the realm of the dead, but his garb was embroidered with silver thread that glinted in the candlelight. His face was pale yet handsome, with dark, penetrating eyes that scrutinised her.

Persephone drew in a sharp breath. Without breaking eye contact he lifted the glass to his lips and downed the drink. As he swallowed, the liquid illuminated his throat, a bright gold against the shadows.

“My Lady Persephone,” he said, bowing crisply.

Heat rose in her cheeks. Should she greet him or berate him for his presumptuousness? Before she could decide, he turned on his heel and disappeared into the crowd, still clutching her glass.

Persephone watched him go, teeth bared. Who did he think he was, swaggering around like that? Persephone balled her fists, ready to follow. She would not be patronised. Not by him, not by anyone. She had her fill of that from her mother.

But as she moved to walk away, a hand gripped her elbow. Her mother.

“My dear, what has you looking so cross?”

Persephone bit her lip, flushing. He would have seen her mother approach. He had saved her from Demeter’s wrath. It didn’t stop her from wanting to confront him, but her ire was someone settled.

“It’s nothing, mother.” Persephone smoothed the irritation from her face. She allowed Demeter to link their arms together and lead her further into the grand hall. “Merely seeing Father with the… guests.”

“During these celebrations, it’s best to avoid thinking about your father. It’s what the rest of us do.” Demeter patted her hand. “Come, my dear; let’s take a turn around the hall.”

Demeter led them through the crowd, exchanging pleasantries with different gods and goddesses, but Persephone paid them no mind, searching for the man. She finally spotted him by a marble column, obscured in the shadows. Their eyes met, and he raised a glass towards her.

A thrill ran through Persephone, and she looked away. Who was he? Why did she want to know?

“Mother, who is that? The one that looks like he’d rather be anywhere else?” Persephone asked the next time her mother stopped talking.

Demeter turned where she pointed, the smile dropping off her face. “Hades, your uncle. I’m surprised he’s ‘graced’ us with his presence.”

Persephone studied him. The Lord of the Dead. She had heard rumours of his stony heart and brooding nature but had never spoken to him herself. She doubted she had even seen him.

“Does he not enjoy the celebrations?”

“Hades has always been… aloof. His temperament has shifted to reflect his realm.”

Persephone glanced between her sombre uncle and her father, the boisterous and lusty Zeus. She could see why Hades avoided such gatherings.

“He seems lonely.”

“Do not let his solitary ways fool you, child. Hades rivals your father in cunning and danger, if not surpassing him. He belongs to darkness and death, not to our world of light and life. Do not allow his lustful gaze to fall upon you.”

She knew nothing about this man, but few deserved to be compared to Zeus. Before she could think more about it, a delicate hand gripped her shoulder.

“There you are my darling!” Aphrodite drew Persephone into an embrace. “I’ve been searching everywhere for you.”

“Aunt Aphrodite.” Persephone wondered if the goddess had already forgotten they had been speaking mere moments ago. Given the way she wobbled, it was likely.

“Tell me, has anyone caught your eye tonight?” Aphrodite asked with a playful wink.

Demeter clicked her tongue in disapproval. “Please, Aphrodite. My daughter has no time for your frivolous.”

Aphrodite waved a hand. “Posh! There is nothing more important than love. Isn’t that right, Persephone?”

The orchestra spared her the need to respond, playing once more. Aphrodite clapped in delight.

“Come, let’s find you a partner. The night is still young.”


“This is a masque. She needs to have fun. No, no, I refuse to allow your protests.”

Aphrodite dragged her into the crowd, lost in the mass of bodies. Watching the couples dance, Persephone’s mind drifted back to Hades. She imagined his strong arms around her. Their eyes locked as they moved together.

Persephone craned her neck, trying to spot Hades among the swirling couples. Where had he gone?

“Keep up, my dear!” Aphrodite called over her shoulder. “Plenty of handsome options to choose from.”

“Mm-hmm,” Persephone said, not paying attention. She moved automatically through the steps of the dance as she scanned the room.

There! A flash of dark robes disappearing around a pillar. It had to be him.

As the music swelled, Persephone made her excuses to Aphrodite and left. She hurried through the crowd, pushing past gods and mortals alike. The air grew thick with the smell of ambrosia and lust. Still, she pushed on, picking up her pace. She had to find Hades before her mother found her.

Rounding the pillar, Persephone stopped short. The space was empty, no sign of Hades. Her shoulders slumped. Had it just been her imagination?

No. There was a door at the end of the hall, ajar. Persephone stepped out onto the balcony, the cool night air hitting her face. She could see the sea far below, the moon reflecting off the waves.

A lone figure stood on the winding path descending from the palace. Hades.

She watched him approach a shimmering portal at the edge of the cliffs. He paused, tilting his head to the side. Then, slowly, he turned, facing her. For a heartbeat, across the vast distance, their eyes met. An instant later he turned, stepping through the portal, and vanishing from sight.

Persephone sighed, turning back to the lit path leading to the throne room. The lights seemed brighter now, the laughter louder, as if Olympus itself were rubbing Hades’ absence in.

But even surrounded by such warmth and opulence, her thoughts were with the other god. If fate didn’t bring them together again, she would do it herself.

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