Better to Reign in Hades

Author’s Note: This is a stand-alone bonus chapter that takes place centuries before the main story. It’s set a couple years after The Birthday From Hades.

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“Mom, do I have to go to the palace with you?”

The strawberry blonde goddess was still seated on the bank of Lake Mnemosyne, challenging her mother’s announcement that it was time to leave. I was sorry to see her go. Persephone was the first goddess of my generation that I’d ever met. Well, aside from my sisters. Persephone was practically the same age as us. My sisters and I were eleven months old, and she was ten. According to Mom, that was about the same as humans in their early twenties. I wouldn’t know. I’d never seen a human.

“No, I just said it was time to go because I like hearing meaningless words come out of my mouth,” Demeter replied. “Now, come on. You know better than this.”

“I know I don’t want to meet Hades,” said Persephone, remaining in her spot. “He sounds as boring as the rest of your friends. Can’t I just wait here with the Muses? You can pick me up when you’re done at the palace.”

“Yeah, can she?” I asked both moms.

“She’s welcome to wait here,” Mom offered. “You can let her stay longer if you want. My girls are moving to the surface in less than a month to start their work. They can take her home then.”

“Persephone isn’t allowed to stay away from me overnight until she’s a year old,” said Demeter. “And honestly, I don’t know how you can even consider letting your daughters move to another realm.”

“They’re Muses,” Mom gracefully stated. “Their purpose is with the living, not the dead.”

“I guess we’ll come visit you next month, then,” Calliope tried to shake Persephone’s hand in farewell. Persephone kept her arms folded. “It was really nice to meet you,” Calliope tried again.

“It was nice to meet you, too,” said Persephone, still seated with folded arms. “I wish my mother wasn’t a paranoid control freak so we could hang out more.”

“Persephone, I don’t have to let you ‘hang out’ with girls your age at all if this is how you’re going to talk to me when you do,” Demeter warned. “Now, stand up and come with me. We need to pay our respects to Hades before we leave his realm.”

“You’ll like Hades’ palace,” Calliope encouraged. “We’ve been there lots of times. His throne room has this absolutely epic relief carving of the Battle of Cronia. The figures are enormous. My head comes to their knees.”

“Who cares?” said Persephone.

“Some of them are nudes,” said Erato.

“Ew,” Persephone replied, to Demeter’s relief.

“Point to all the pictures of Hades and ask him if that’s Zeus,” I suggested. “It drives him nuts. He’s a riot when he’s ticked off.”

“It’s not funny, it’s tragic,” said Melpomene. “Hades is nearly as powerful as Zeus, and he played a vital role in the overthrow of the Titans, but no one gives him any recognition. And the mortals think he’s evil just because he rules the Underworld, even though all he wants is to be left alone and to guard the souls of the dead so they can have the same luxury.”

“That could not possibly sound lamer,” said Persephone.

“What if my sisters and I go to the palace with you?” Calliope offered, glancing at Demeter. “That way we can spend a little more time together and you can still pay your respects.”

“I guess,” Persephone relented. She took Calliope’s hand, stood up, and dusted off her skirt. “It still sounds lame, though. Maybe Mom’ll let us wait outside when we get there.”

“You’d better lose that attitude by the time we get to the palace, young lady,” Demeter ordered. “You are going to meet Hades, and I don’t want to hear another word about it.”

“So then she goes, ‘You are not going to marry Hades, and I don’t want to hear another word about it.'” Persephone concluded her story. She was visiting us at the Helicon Museum under the alleged watch of Artemis and Athena. The two chaperones had wandered off some time ago.

“You must be heartbroken,” Melpomene swallowed a sob. “You and Hades couldn’t be more perfect for each other. You’ll never be able to love another man, will you?”

“I’m still surprised and a little disturbed that I love this one,” Persephone acknowledged.

“Alone for eternity because of a guardian’s denial,” Melpomene summarized. “Poets will sing of this tragedy for thousands of years to come.”

“Screw that,” I said. “What’s your next move?”

“I don’t know. I give up on talking sense into Mom. I don’t know what her problem is. Sure, Hades isn’t perfect, but he’s better than any of the guys she’s dated. And you’d think she’d want me to get married now, with Hera being all, ‘Oooo, I’m so awesome, my son is having the first wedding of his generation! All hail me!’ lately.”

“Mel, you think poets will be singing about that tragedy for thousands of years to come?” I smirked. “The son of Hera, lame from the day he was born, once rejected by his mother and now forced, forced by her to marry the Goddess of Love, Sex, and Beauty! With absolutely no regard for his wishes! After all he’s been through, shouldn’t poor Hephaestus at least be able to choose his own bride?” Persephone got a good laugh out of that one, as did all my sisters.

Except Melpomene. “It is tragic,” she mourned. “Aphrodite doesn’t love him. And you know as well as the rest of us that she’s not going to stop sleeping with Ares or anyone else she desires  just because she’s taken a few vows.”

“Yeah,” I acknowledged, holding my mask up. “Great precedent to set for the rest of the Olympians’ children.”

“Why don’t they set the precedent of saying, ‘Screw this, we’re grown gods, we don’t need our parents to make major life decisions for us’?” Persephone scowled. “I mean, come on! Zeus isn’t even Aphrodite’s father. He just gets to decide who she marries because of that stupid rule that he functions as guardian in the absence of a parent.”

“Technically he’s our guardian, too,” Calliope reminded her. “None of us like that rule. But it’s less trouble to work with the existing rules than try to change them, especially when their arbiter is immortal and invulnerable.”

“I told you, we tried that,” said Persephone. “Mom’s not going to change her mind.”

“If one of us got married in this realm, our mom wouldn’t have any legal say in the matter,” Calliope mused. “She’s only a citizen of Hades.”

“How nice for you.”

Calliope looked at me in defeat.

I took the reins. “It’s crazy how simple it is to become a citizen of Hades’ realm,” I commented. “All you have to do is eat food that was grown there. You know that pomegranate tree by Mom’s lake? You could’ve eaten a pomegranate that time you came to visit us, and bam! Your mom would’ve had to leave you there, and then Hades would’ve been your guardian.”

“That’s kind of disturbing,” said Urania.

“Sounds kinky to me,” Persephone shrugged. “You know, if you’re into that kind of thing. Which I guess some people are. I’ve heard. I’m not saying I am. Whatever. This is nobody’s business. And you two,” she said to me and Calliope, “can quit miming at each other. I have actually thought of what you’re trying to get me to think of.”

“Whips and chains?” I asked.

“Eloping,” Persephone smacked me upside the head. We both laughed as she did.

“So why don’t you?” I asked. “You could go through the Springs. Mom would invite you.”

“I couldn’t do that to you guys. I don’t even want to think about what kind of curse Mom would put on you. Even if Helios didn’t see me, it wouldn’t take much for her to figure out I’d used your back door.”

“She has Helios spying on you?” Calliope gasped.

“Yep, ever since Hades sent his proposal.”

“In case you’ve forgotten,” I twirled the ends of Persephone’s stick-straight black hair, “we are theater goddesses. If your only obstacle is a spy, we could give him something to see.”

Somehow “we” ended up turning into “I”. My sisters supported the endeavor, but they all have a much more hands-off philosophy toward their powers than I do. None of them recognized this venture as a legitimate theatrical venue. At least Calliope could appreciate the epicness of the situation, and Erato, the romance. The two of them did finally agree to collaborate on the script.

The job of director/producer, however, was left entirely to me.

The eerie, peaceful glow of torchlight burned over Hades’ cavernous throne room. His few attendants had been dismissed. The only two people present were the Lord of the Underworld and his acting coach. Hades was clothed in an unadorned black robe. A simple iron circlet crowned his long, black hair.

“Let’s go over the blocking one more time,” I directed. “These two chairs?”

“Are chairs,” Hades replied, not sharing my rich imagination.

I sighed in exasperation. “They’re Artemis and Athena,” I reminded him. “Look, blocking is important. If you open the ground at the wrong spot, it’ll swallow everyone up and there won’t be any show.”

“And that would be bad.”

“If you leave Artemis and Athena above ground, they’ll be witnesses to corroborate Helios’ story,” I reminded him. “And Artemis and Athena are…?”

“At those two chairs,” Hades gave in.

“Persephone?”

“Near that,” he indicated a block of wood on the floor.

“Which will really be?”

“An enchanted flower, with a glowing root that I’ll see through the cavern ceiling.”

“Perfect! We’ll skip over the intro for this run-through. Start from where you dismount from your chariot,” I motioned to the block standing in for the flower. “I’ll play Persephone and read the others’ lines. Aaand, action!”

“I have ta-“

“Cut!” I shouted.

Hades let out a low growl. “What now?”

“Your line doesn’t come yet. And where’s your Helmet of Darkness?”

“In my vault where it belongs.”

“Thank you.” I snapped my fingers and the prop appeared in my other hand. “We have to nail the timing, which means rehearsing with the helmet.” I handed it to Hades. “And take these, too,” I snapped up a couple of spears. “Remember, you’ve got to get both Artemis and Athena in one shot. Otherwise nobody will believe one didn’t attack you after the other was hit. On your mark. Helmet on. And action!”

The moment Hades donned the Helmet of Darkness, he became completely invisible, as did the spears he was holding and the block of wood he was standing on. Two spears came flying out of nowhere. They penetrated the backs of the two chairs at which they were aimed.

“Persephone; is she safe?” I cried as Artemis. “It’s Hades! We have to stop him!” I called back to myself as Athena. As Persephone, I ran toward the two chairs. I was stopped in my tracks by Hades’ sudden appearance between me and the chairs as he took off the helmet.

“Hades,” I trembled. “What are you doing?”

“Taking what is-” he awkwardly swiped at my wrist. “Do we have to do this?” he griped, dropping his hand to his side.

“Cut,” I rolled my eyes. “Look, it’s just blocking. I’m about the same height as Persephone. Is it weird because you known me since I was a kid? You can run down to the Asphodel Meadows and pick a cadaver if you want,” I waved my arm in that general direction.

“No, let’s just get this over with,” he grumbled.

“Fine. This time, put a little feeling into it. I’ll start. Action!” I got back into character. “Hades, what are you doing?”

Still with some hesitation, Hades clumsily grabbed my wrists. “Taking what is mine.” The block of wood could’ve delivered the line more convincingly, but I wanted very much to get all the way through the scene. I snapped my fingers. Prop handcuffs appeared on my wrists.

“You know what Mom said. We can’t be together. You know what she’ll do when she finds out.” Then I switched to my Athena voice. “Demeter will hear of this,” I faltered. Then Artemis. “We’ll see to that,” I gasped.

“Silence,” Hades said in monotone. “I have taken this woman-“

“No you haven’t,” I hissed in my own voice.

Hades gingerly put his arm around my shoulders. “I have taken this woman,” he started over. “She is my own, and none can take her from me.”

“A stiff breeze could take her from you,” I whispered through my teeth.

Hades took hold of my handcuffs and pulled me toward the spot for the chariot-block. “Pick me up,” I directed. He ignored me. I went limp and collapsed. “As your director, I order you to pick me up.” He continued dragging me by the cuffs. “Pickmeuppickmeuppickmeup.” Too late. We were at the block.

“Cut,” I said. I stood up and snapped my handcuffs off. “That could’ve been worse, I suppose.”

“You don’t have much of a concept of chain of command, do you?” Hades remarked.

“I have an excellent concept of that concept. It goes like this. Director — that’s me,” I raised my upturned palms, “everybody else — that’s you,” I lowered them. “Look,” I said, “I just want this to work, okay? You know Helios can focus up close on anything he wants. He’ll have a perfect view of the show. You can’t look like you’re acting. And I don’t understand why it’s so hard for you to act like you mean what you’re saying, because I know you do.”

“Yeah; big, bad Hades,” he snarled. “This is what I do. Pop out of the ground and drag innocent women off to my evil lair. Which I absolutely didn’t put in the depths of the earth to keep people out of.”

Actors. So sensitive. I didn’t give a damn about Hades’ image problems. I did, however, want more than anything to wring the performance of a lifetime out of him. So I said, “I hate Zeus’ court.”

“And I should care because?”

“The whole thing’s so fake,” I continued anyway. “It’s all bright and shiny and heavenly and perfect, but Zeus is just…I don’t know, sociopathic? Everyone’s scared of him. And he’s such a perv. I can’t stand being around him. I would never work with him one-on-one like this. And I would certainly never help someone I cared about run away with him. My home is in Zeus’ realm and, as long as humans need to laugh, I don’t see that changing; but sometimes I miss having a king I can respect. You know, to the extent that I respect anything.”

“What in Tartarus did that have to do with your stupid show?”

Good grief. “Do you want Persephone?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Do you want any other man to have Persephone?”

“I wouldn’t wish her on anyone else, and I designed Tartarus.”

“Then let’s get your ass in gear and kidnap that bitch before someone beats you to her.”

A backhand across the chest knocked me flat on my back.

“Excellent!” I cried as I hopped to my feet. “That’s the kind of attitude I’m looking for! Now, from the top. On your mark, and, action!”

The day was upon us. Artemis, Athena, Persephone, and I were in an idyllic meadow in Artemis’ hunting grounds. Flowers in every color of the rainbow were scattered all over the place. I checked the sun’s position. Right overhead. Perfect.

“Places, ladies,” I directed. Persephone bumped into me and nearly knocked me over. I couldn’t blame her. I was invisible. Being friends with a passive-aggressive smith who was sick of his mom’s fuss over his impending nuptials was, it turned out, a very useful thing. It had only taken Hephaestus a week to reverse engineer Hades’ helmet of darkness and make a smaller, lighter, prettier one for me.

Persephone sat down next to a flower that was the only one of its kind in the meadow. Nearly a foot in diameter, its iridescent petals shimmered a thousand shades and hues in the sunlight.

“Ready?” I asked her quietly.

“As I’ll ever be.”

“Good. Action!” I called. Nothing happened. “Artemis, let’s go.”

Artemis was silent and motionless.

“We rehearsed this,” I reminded her.

She stood in place, hand on her bow, eyes darting back and forth between the source of my voice and the overhead sun. Her lean, muscular legs were shaking. Stage fright, I realized. My invisible forehead fell into my invisible palm. “Athena,” I cued.

“I can’t remember my line if she doesn’t say her line.”

“You’re the goddess of wisdom and strategy. Make something up. Improvise.” Oy. Actors.

Athena raised her shield over her head with one hand and drew Artemis against her with the other. “So warm for this time of year, isn’t it?” she smiled. The shield was blocking both of them from Helios’ view. Athena’s steady shield arm wavered just enough to make sure the reflected light caught his eye.

“Um, yes, it, is.” Artemis’ tongue stumbled, but unseen by her audience, she could at least remember how to use it.

“I’m just sweltering in all this heavy armor,” Athena lamented. “Will you take off my scabbard?”

“What good will that do?” Artemis queried, evidently wondering if Athena really was suffering from sunstroke.

“Just unbuckle it and throw it aside,” Athena persisted, still holding Artemis under the shield. Artemis awkwardly complied.

“You’re right,” said Athena. “That didn’t do much good. Try my helmet.”

“That makes more sense,” Artemis agreed as she lifted the shining, plumed helmet from Athena’s head. “Apollo has a theory that most of the body’s heat escapes through the head.” She tossed the helmet over her shoulder. I dodged it.

“Interesting hypothesis, but I’m not sure it’s right,” said Athena. “Can you reach the buckles on my cuirass? Careful, it’s heavy.”

When the cuirass hit the ground, I swear the sun stopped.

“Oookay, I’ll just look at this flower,” Persephone reacted. She glanced at me with uncertainty.

“Go,” I ordered. If Hades wasn’t at his mark, I’d bind him in Tartarus myself.

Persephone turned to the flower. She stroked its petals in a steady rhythm. The center, then the petals, then the leaves, and finally the roots burned bright red.

The ground began to shake. Persephone jumped back from the burning flower. Athena lost hold of her shield and fell on her back with Artemis on top of her.

“Wrong mark!” I reflexively waved my invisible arms. “You two, get up!”

“Twisted my ankle,” said Artemis, her head resting on Athena’s bare décolletage.

“Stubbed my pinky toe,” Athena excused herself as she stroked her poor fallen comrade’s shoulder.

They were saved from my wrath when my attention was diverted to a loud, sudden crack in the ground. A chasm gaped where Persephone’s flower had been. Grass flattened in parallel lines. A single spear flew over Persephone’s head and skewered her entangled bodyguards, pinning them to the ground.

“Persephone; is she safe?” Artemis finally remembered a line. I hoped she was remembering to use her painkilling powers on herself and Athena, too.

“It’s Hades! We have to stop him!” Athena cried.

Persephone ran toward the goddess shish kabob. But just before she reached her friends, she stopped and stumbled backward. It looked as though the air broke her fall. Hades’ right arm materialized behind her as he took off his helmet with his left. I watched from behind his chariot, which had been visible since he’d dismounted it. Hades stood resplendent in his full royal armor. His eyes bore down on the goddess in his arms with all the desire, all the passion, all the triumph that he was about to fulfill.

“Hades,” Persephone breathlessly delivered her line. “What are you doing?”

Hades tightened his grip on his captive. “Taking what is mine.”

This time I believed him.

I snapped my invisible fingers, and a pair of cuffs appeared on Persephone’s slender white wrists. “You know what my mother said,” Persephone pleaded, struggling in vain against Hades’ obsidian-covered chest. “She’ll never allow it.” Pause. “Will she, Athena?”

“Oh, yes. I mean no,” Athena responded distractedly. “Demeter will hear of this.” There was another unscripted silence. Athena flicked Artemis’ thigh.

“Right. We’ll see to that,” Artemis recited what, thankfully, was her last line. She slapped Athena’s cheek with her fingertips. Athena giggled. I made a mental note to never ever work with either of them ever again.

“Silence,” Hades roared. His voice resonated across the meadow and shook the surrounding trees. He hoisted Persephone off the ground and declared to Artemis, Athena, Helios, and anyone else who might be listening, “I have taken this woman. She is my own, and none may take her from me.”

Satisfied that Persephone was putting up a convincing fight, I jumped into the chasm, floated to the ground inside the cavern below, and took my helmet off. Hades and Persephone followed in the chariot. The chasm closed behind them once they’d cleared it. Hades snatched my helmet and made it disappear. “That’s mine now,” he said.

“We’ll talk,” I replied. I snapped Persephone’s handcuffs off. Once her hands were free, she grabbed a handful of hair on each side of Hades’ head and shoved her mouth into his. The two of them melded into a writhing, black-haired, faceless monster. “Um, okay, people,” I waved my arms, “we’re not home free yet.”

“As Lord of this realm, I order you put a sock in it,” Hades moaned.

“Demeter can still get her back,” I reminded him. “Unless your tongue counts as the food of the Underworld. Let’s get this show on the road.”

“Oh, shut up,” Persephone took her face out of Hades’ neck long enough to say to me. “You already lost your virginity.”

“With Hephaestus,” I muttered.

“She’s right,” Hades conceded with great displeasure. “We’ve got to make the transfer. Thalia, food.”

“Is it in the chariot?” I asked. “I didn’t see it.”

“It’s not in the chariot because I didn’t bring it,” he growled. “I thought you could’ve done at least that much.”

“At least? I directed and produced this whole thing!”

“Not that well if you couldn’t even work out who was bringing the most important prop,” Hades said.

“Teleport us to your palace and you can get the food there,” I directed. “Here.” I snapped the handcuffs back on Persephone’s wrists. “In case anyone sees you.”

I grabbed Hades’ arm. In a flash, we three were in the throne room. The four guards averted their eyes in a mixture of discomfort and confusion. “You,” Hades pointed to a random guard. “Fetch a plate of food from the kitchen, anything you can find. Be quick about it. The rest of you, leave.”

“Start the ceremony,” Persephone ordered as soon as the three of us were alone.

“Hades, you’re on,” I cued. I’d written a modified script for the occasion based on the one Hera had written for Hephaestus and Aphrodite’s wedding.

“Persephone, do you consent to be given to me?” Hades haltingly asked in place of the bride’s guardian.

“I do,” said Persephone.

“I’m not saying the next part,” Hades glared at me. “The writing sucks.”

“It’s legal,” I said. The writing most certainly did not suck, unless one had no understanding of comedy. “I guess you could release Cronus for a few seconds and let him say it. I’ll bet it’d mean the world to him to witness the wedding of his firstborn. Firstmade. Firstwhateveryouwere.”

Hades rolled his eyes in disgust. “Hades, do you consent to be given this woman?” he asked himself. Then he answered himself, “I do.” Addressing Persephone again, he said, “As your guardian, I give you to me, that together we may create a home and a family with honor. Thalia, quit that damn giggling and hand over the rings.”

Doing my best to suppress my amusement, I handed over a matched pair of iron bands as ordered. Hades and Persephone exchanged them.

“All right, we’re married. Go away now,” Persephone said to me.

“I still have to see you eat something,” I reminded her.

“Make her leave,” she ordered her husband.

“You do have to eat something, or your mom can come here and have the whole thing annulled,” Hades reminded her. “Besides, you’re too skinny.”

“I will beat you with a stick,” she threatened.

“Looking forward to it.”

Thankfully for my ears and my mind’s eye, the guard showed up with a plate of food soon thereafter. Hades took the plate and sent the guard away. He then proceeded to take a pomegranate, peel it at a ridiculously slow pace, and tease his still-handcuffed bride with one seed at a time. After three seeds, I decided I’d fulfilled my duty as a witness. Actually, it might have been four. Or six. I lost count. “I’m leaving through the Springs,” I said. “Let’s hope Helios doesn’t notice.”

“Go away,” said Persephone.

“Gladly.”

When I got back to the Museum, Athena, Artemis, and Apollo were there with my sisters. Artemis and Athena were lying stomach down on cots while Apollo was sitting between them, fussing over bandages that were wrapped around their upper torsos. “Thalia,” Artemis quickly greeted me. “Look who found me in my hunting grounds with a spear in my back.”

“You had a spear in your back?” I gasped. “How did that happen?”

“Sh, don’t talk,” Apollo comforted his sister. “You need to let yourself heal.” To me, he said, “Hades did this. They were guarding Persephone and he took her.”

“You’re not going to do anything stupid, are you?” I cautioned.

“No,” said Apollo. “Artemis should be fine by this time tomorrow. Calliope’s already made arrangements for the three of us to stay here overnight. And having experienced the pleasure and dignity of Demeter’s rejection myself, I can’t say I blame Hades for what he did.”

Uh huh.

As soon as I thought he’d be comfortable leaving his patients, I invited Apollo to join me elsewhere on the grounds for a private chat. “Well?” he asked me once we were safely out of the Museum’s hearing range.

“You’re not planning any kind of secret revenge, are you?” I asked. “I know you’re one of Zeus’ most powerful children, but Hades is a son of the Titans. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“I don’t like seeing my sister get hurt,” said Apollo. “But in this case, it doesn’t look like she did. She wasn’t in any pain, and she’d already started healing herself when I took the spear out. She’ll need to rest overnight to give her heart and lungs a chance to return to normal, but I don’t anticipate any lasting damage. It was almost like she knew the blow was coming,” he gave me a curious look. “But she couldn’t have, of course,” he apparently dismissed the idea. “She can outrun a spear. I can’t imagine what would have motivated her to stand there and let herself get run through if she knew she was in the line of fire. By the way,” he smoothly changed the subject, “did you have a nice swim?”

“It was awfully warm this afternoon.” I glanced at the western sky. “Nice sunset, isn’t it?”

“I could do better.”

The sun had barely disappeared from the sky when Artemis and Athena heard Demeter’s enraged summons. Apollo told them to stay put and went to Olympus himself. It was hours before he came back to the Museum. When he did, he told Artemis and Athena that he’d bought them a night’s rest.

Artemis and Athena did visit Demeter first thing in the morning. They came back to brief me as soon as the inquisition was over. One of Hades’ minions had already brought word that Persephone had married Hades and eaten food from his realm. The magnitude of Demeter’s rage was as predicted. That of her sorrow was much greater. Hera, livid that Persephone and not Hephaestus had now become the first of our generation to marry, wasn’t speaking to Demeter. Demeter’s mental state was in no way improved by her best friend’s snubbing. She had declared to the entire Olympian court that she would go to the Underworld herself and bring Persephone back.

But Hades had gone above and beyond my directions in covering his bases. He had issued a decree that no citizen of his realm could grant an invitation to Demeter. “I don’t know what he was thinking,” said Athena. “It would have been better to let her come, see them married and Persephone happy and willing, and get the whole thing over with. It’s not like Demeter can take her now.”

“This can’t end well,” said Melpomene.

“It hasn’t ended yet,” I said.

Hades wouldn’t recall his decree. Persephone sent word herself for Demeter not to come after her. This just made Demeter more angry and worried. Her whole realm felt her distress. Crops froze, flooded, and dried out. Trees withered and rotted. Meadows fell barren. The seasons’ clock was broken. The air burned one day and froze the next. A month of nonstop flooding preceded two of total drought. Mother Nature’s mood swings brought disasters that Greece had never seen before. Livestock and wildlife alike suffered many casualties, and before long, the human population followed.

That finally got Hades and Persephone’s attention. Hades has never relished war or famine or anything that causes a huge influx of immigration to his realm. It’s a logistical nightmare. Expansion, housing, resource distribution, processing, paperwork, etc. His new co-ruler was finding the experience at least as distasteful. So, about six months after their wedding, Hades and Persephone granted special permission for my sisters and I to invite Demeter to their court.

Demeter teleported all ten of us to Hades’ throne room before Calliope even finished delivering her invitation. The wedded monarchs sat enthroned and crowned side by side, cool and unaffected. Hades was dressed as he had been on his wedding day. Persephone’s hair was still black and straight, and her eyes still surrounded with kohl, but her gown was the pale blue of a spring morning.

“How could you betray me like this?” Demeter demanded as soon as we’d materialized. “You were my friend!” she shouted at Hades. “Out of all our creators’ sons, you were the only one I truly thought of as a brother.”

“You mean the only one you wouldn’t sleep with?” Hades replied, unmoved. Persephone glared at him. “Not like I ever wanted to go there,” he assured his wife.

“Can we make this quick?” said Persephone. “There’s a mountain of paperwork waiting for me and my husband, thanks to your latest flood. By the way, Paperwork Mountain is Tartarus’ newest natural wonder. It’s where we send the bureaucrats. Thanks for the inspiration.”

“It was all her idea,” Hades boasted.

“My flower child is inventing tortures for the damned now? What has he done to you?” Demeter cried.

“He’s let me be myself for once in my life,” said Persephone. “I never was your sweet little flower child. That’s who you wanted to believe I was. This is who I am, and where I belong.”

“I’ve seen this among the humans,” said Demeter. “A captive growing enamored with a captor.”

“Mom, I wanted to go with him,” Persephone insisted. “Do you really think I couldn’t have found a way to escape by now if I didn’t want to be here?”

“I’m sure you think that now,” said Demeter. “It’s not your fault he’s brainwashed you, sweetheart. Please, come back with me. Spend some time at home, and you’ll begin to see things as they really are again.”

“You’re the one who can’t see things as they really are,” said Persephone. “I. Love. Hades. I love him. I loved him for years before we got married, before he even brought up marriage.”

“Really? Because I don’t remember you ever saying anything of the kind.”

“Don’t you remember a year after I met him? You said you’d never let me date any of the gods on Olympus. I said I didn’t want to anyway because they were all morons. And then I said Hades didn’t seem like a complete tool.”

“In what universe was I supposed to interpret that as ‘I love Hades and I want to spend eternity with him’?” Demeter groaned.

“Don’t feel too bad. It was a couple decades before I figured it out, too,” her son-in-law comforted her.

“In the universe where you know your own daughter,” said Persephone. “I don’t know, maybe I could have tried to be a little…”

“Remotely understandable?” said Hades.

“I was going to say ‘pathetic’,” said Persephone. “But what if I had? What if I’d told you back then that I was in love with Hades and I wanted to marry him? What would you have done?”

“I would have talked you out of it before you’d had a chance to develop this psychotic obsession,” said Demeter. “Did you give any thought at all to what kind of life you’re going to have here? What kind of life your children will have?”

“Children? What children?” Hades panicked.

“No children,” Persephone reassured him. “And, yes, I have thought about it. A lot. Life here has turned out to be about how I imagined. It isn’t perfect, but it sure is a better fit for me than the Olympian Court.”

“I don’t believe you,” said Demeter. “Come back with me. Give yourself time to remember. I know Hera will annul the marriage if you want.”

“I don’t want that! I will never want that,” Persephone protested. “I married Hades of my own free will because I wanted to be married to him. Because I love him. I have always loved him. I will always love him.”

“You mind staying around a little longer?” Hades interjected. “I’m not used to hearing this crap completely insult-free.”

“Oh, shut up. You know I love you, you moron.”

“Forgive me if I’m still a bit incredulous,” said Demeter.

“What do I have to do to convince you that I want to stay here?”

“Come back with me,” Demeter persisted.

“Fine,” said Persephone. “If that’s what you need, I’ll go to Olympus with you.”

“Sure, leave me with the paperwork,” Hades complained.

“I’ll be home in six months,” Persephone promised him. “That ought to give Mom enough time to rebalance the seasons.” To Demeter, she said, “I will visit you every spring and come home to my husband every autumn if that’s what it’ll take to convince you that this is my home now.”

“Like I’ll take you back,” said Hades.

Persephone kissed him. “Like you’ll have a choice.”

So that’s how it’s been ever since. At the Spring Equinox, Persephone comes to visit her mom, and at the Autumnal Equinox, she goes home to her husband. The seasons come and go like clockwork as long as Persephone does. She claims she and Hades enjoy the breaks from each other. I believe her. But I know they enjoy the reunions even more.


The Little Muse, or, Enchantment Under the Sea

Author’s Note: This is a bonus chapter set centuries before the main story. The Muses still live at the Springs of Helicon with Calliope as their de facto leader.

________________________________________________________________________

“Calliope,” I spoke into the darkness, “have you been listening to a thing I’ve said?”

“Yes, you want a mermaid costume with a trident,” Calliope whispered back. “That’s fine. You don’t need me for that.”

“No, not a costume, I want to shapeshift into a mermaid because I’m dating Triton,” I corrected her in frustration. And she wouldn’t have to whisper if she’d just go invisible like a normal goddess. “Remember how he was chatting me up after we performed at Poseidon and Amphitrite’s hundredth anniversary banquet?”

“Not really,” said Calliope, still facing the object of her attention rather than the sister conversing with her.

“Well, he was, and we’ve been on a few dates since then.” Not that she’d been around to notice my absences. “I wasn’t expecting much, but he’s actually pretty cool. You know, not the spoiled narcissist I figured Poseidon and Amphitrite’s son would be.”

“Apollo is Zeus’ son and he’s a nice guy,” Calliope commented.

“Yeah, his boyfriend thinks so, too,” I dismissed the subject. “Can we get back to my boyfriend? My gorgeous merman Prince of the Seas boyfriend? I’ve never been with a merman before. It is amazing. And what color would you say Triton’s skin is? Teal? Turquoise? Cerulean. That sounds literary, doesn’t it? But that doesn’t have any green in it. Aquamarine! No, that’s more pastel.”

“Too inhuman for my taste,” Calliope replied in a dreamy tone that made me want to gag.

“Whatever, I’m the one dating him. Which is my point. I’m not a sea goddess. Besides the water pressure, trying to walk around on the ocean floor gets awkward and annoying after awhile.”

“Love can overcome anything,” was Calliope’s cheerful conclusion.

“Love’s a pretty strong word, but I like hanging out with him, and it’s been so boring around Helicon lately.”

“I hadn’t noticed.”

Because you’re never there anymore, I thought. But saying so would have strayed from my point yet again. “Triton invited me to stay at the Royal Court with him for awhile,” I continued my story. “I think it sounds like fun. It’ll be a nice change of scenery. But living there would be a lot easier if I had a mermaid body.”

“Ask Mom,” said Calliope, who knew as well as I did that only a child of the Titans could alter our shapes. My cruel mother hadn’t given me the power to change my own shape. In fact, she’d deliberately withheld it. You’d think she thought I’d go overboard with it or something. Crazy woman.

“I’m not asking Mom,” I said. “You know how excited she gets when she thinks one of us is finally going to give her a grandchild. I’m not asking Hades, either. Word might get back to her.”

“You don’t want to ask Poseidon, or Zeus,” Calliope advised.

“No kidding,” I said. “Or Hera. I don’t think Hera knows she can shapeshift us. Best to keep it that way. I thought about Demeter, but Poseidon might still be a sore subject for her. You think?”

“Definitely,” Calliope agreed. “Not Helios or Selene, either. Helios is temperamental, and Selene is just creepy.”

“I guess that leaves Hestia,” I concluded.

“I think she’d be safe,” Calliope agreed. “Good luck.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Come visit me sometime.”

“I will as soon as I can get away,” she promised. She gave me a hug. “Wait a minute.” She stepped back, still holding my arms. “Does Apollo know you’re dating Triton? What does he think about this?”

Oh, yeah. Apollo couldn’t stand Triton. I’d completely forgotten that. “How is this Apollo’s business?” I replied.

“I suppose you don’t have to tell him, but he’s like family. Hasn’t it come up in conversation?”

“What conversation? I haven’t even seen Apollo in months. He’s in full-blown infatuation mode with that mortal dude.” To be fair, this did seem to be Apollo’s most functional romance yet. I’d met Hyacinthus a couple of times. Nice kid. Pretty, too. I might have tried to steal him for myself if I’d thought it remotely possible.

“It’s sad how some people just forget about everything else in their life when they fall in love, isn’t it?” Calliope lamented.

“Yeah, tell me abou- Holy Fates in heaven, what is that ungodly noise?”

“Shh, it’s called snoring,” Calliope giggled. “Isn’t it the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen?”

“It’s darling,” I replied. “I don’t want to interfere with your enjoyment, so I’ll be going now.” I left Calliope as I’d found her, standing over King Oegrus’ bed, watching him as he slept.

I met Hestia alone in her quarters the next morning and put forth my petition. “I have no idea how long this thing with Triton is going to last,” I emphasized, “so I am not looking for a permanent change.”

“Of course,” Hestia understood. “I can change you back when you want.”

“What’s your price?” I asked.

“I’m a simple goddess with simple needs,” she said. “I can’t think of anything you could give me that I don’t already have.”

“Please, My Lady, let me give you some token payment,” I persuaded. I wanted to have a payment set in stone so Hestia couldn’t come up with a random favor at some random time. Not that it seemed like a thing she’d do. Still, it would be wise to cover my bases. “There has to be something I can give you. I’m an entertainer; what about a private audience? Speech writing? I’m a great writer. I can spice up a divine decree with a few jokes for you.”

Hestia thought for a moment. “What if I could do that myself?” she proposed.

“I’m sure you could if you wanted to,” I kindly replied. I felt bad. Hestia was one of the sweetest, kindest, most reasonable goddesses alive. There were many compliments I could ascribe to her, but “funny” just wasn’t one of them.

“That’s a very sweet lie,” Hestia smiled modestly. “But you know as well as I do that I have no such ability. That’s something you have that I want. Your sense of humor.”

“I’d share it with you if I could, but I can’t.”

“I’ll do the work. All you have to do is consent.”

“Sure,” I agreed. I’d seen gods and goddesses grant each other abilities before. It sounded painless enough.

“And I’ll give it back if and when I revert you to your original form,” she added. “It’s only fair. Come to my bathing pool.”

I followed Hestia and, at her direction, undressed and sat in her sunken marble pool. She crouched on the ledge behind me and placed her hands on my shoulders. A white light blinded and stunned me.

When I could see and feel again, I was a mermaid. My tail was a silvery shade that sparkled every color of the rainbow when I turned it in the light. Moving in the water was effortless. I pulled myself out of the pool and confirmed that the lower half of my body was now useless on land. This was why all my dates with Triton had been in the sea. We’d talked about him getting legs and staying at Helicon for awhile, but he had too many responsibilities to leave his court for long. In fact, it was becoming obvious to me that Triton did most of the real work in governing his father’s realm.

“Have your terms been met?” I asked Hestia.

“I was just contemplating the irony that you’re about to embark on a fish-out-of-water tale,” she chuckled, immensely pleased with herself, “so I suppose they have been.”

I wasn’t at all sure that Hestia was now in possession of a sense of humor. At least, not a very good one. But if she was happy, I was happy. And if she took it back and this thing with Triton didn’t last, it wasn’t the end of the world. So I gave Hestia my most profuse thanks and teleported to Poseidon’s underwater palace.

Triton was thrilled to see that I’d taken him up on his offer. He showed me to some guest quarters he’d taken the liberty of preparing for me. The bed was the same kind as his: a huge silken fishing net that could be drawn closed from the inside so the occupants wouldn’t float out the windows in their sleep. My net, however, was made of rainbow-colored rope while his was blue.  The whole room was decorated with bright, unearthly colors inspired by the local flora and fauna. A huge anemone growing in the middle of the coral ceiling gave light to the room.

Triton had to get back to work, so he left me to get acclimated. I like boyfriends who work a lot. I mean, sure, I like spending time with them and everything, but I like time to do my own thing, too. At the moment, my own thing was exploring Poseidon’s palace. So as soon as I finished snapping my stuff into the ample storage space provided, I set out to do that.

The palace was a little smaller than Zeus and Hera’s, but a little bigger than Hades and Persephone’s. It was patterned after a starfish, with five wings, and built out of coral and volcanic rock. My room was at the tip of Triton’s personal wing, right across the hall from his bedchamber. He was working in the business wing, reviewing plans for a proposed new city and ascertaining that its placement relative to the nearby existing cities wouldn’t create conflict for anyone involved.

His father, meanwhile, was in the throne room at the center of the palace formally accepting tribute from a number of his principalities. I caught a peek as I swam by an open door. Poseidon and Amphitrite sat side by side in thrones made of giant abalone shells. Poseidon’s indigo hair and beard were the only features he shared with Triton. Okay, they were both ripped, too. But Poseidon, like his wife, had normal-colored flesh and was bipedal. Amphitrite paled next to her magnificent husband. Her face, figure, and coloring were so similar to Aphrodite’s, yet her shy, modest demeanor rendered her virtually invisible. I decided to move on down the hall. I couldn’t handle watching Amphitrite smile in quiet complacency as Poseidon directed a number of new concubines to the harem behind the palace.

After a bit of wandering, I made my way to the stables, saddled a seahorse, and set off  for a ride through the vast anemone gardens. The sidesaddle took a little getting used to, but the seahorse had a nice gait. And she glowed. I decided that, when I got home, I must have a glowing pet that I could ride.

I hadn’t gotten far down the riding trail when Amphitrite came upon me by another path. I politely slowed my mount to let hers catch up if she so desired. Apparently she did. “Your Majesty,” I bowed my head.

“No need to be so formal,” she smiled. “Please, call me Amphitrite. I miss hearing my name.”

“As you wish, Amphitrite.” Kiss-up much? Um, yeah! I didn’t know how long I’d have to live with these people. No sense making it harder for myself than it had to be.

“You’re Triton’s new mistress, aren’t you?” she conversed as she urged her seahorse forward at a pace comparable to a walk and invited me to do the same.

“I suppose you could use that word,” I allowed. But I wished she wouldn’t.

“You and your sisters seem like such nice girls. I’m glad he chose one of you.”

“Thank you.”

“It suits you,” she observed, “the mermaid tail. I shifted to one myself for awhile, but Poseidon never noticed. I suppose it’s not the same when it isn’t on a real mermaid.”

“You deserve to be noticed,” I said, not to flatter her, just stating the obvious. And Poseidon had noticed her enough to marry her and emotionally shackle her to his side for eternity.

“I have more than I deserve already,” said Amphitrite. “I’m Queen of the Ocean Realm, Goddess of the Seas, the wife of a handsome, powerful god, and the mother of two wonderful children. What more could I ask for?”

I didn’t have an answer to her rhetorical question. I had a nagging feeling that I should, but I couldn’t pinpoint why. “You should be proud of your children,” I said at last. “Triton’s the nicest god who’s asked me out in ages, and I haven’t spent much time with Rhoda, but she seems to take after you.” I stopped myself from saying after her mother just in time. Rhoda truly is Poseidon’s daughter, but her birthmother is Aphrodite. We all pretend to have forgotten that. Rhoda looks and acts more like Amphitrite, anyway. We think Amphitrite and Aphrodite are sisters, but no one, including either of them, knows where the two goddesses came from or who their parents are.

“I am proud of them,” Amphitrite smiled. “I’d love to have more children someday, but Poseidon says two are enough, and I suppose he knows best. Do you ever think of having children?”

“Not really,” I admitted, not wanting to give my boyfriend’s mother false hope. “But my friend’s daughter-in-law is pregnant, and she and her husband say I’m not getting out of being a godmother this time.” Amphitrite laughed at my comment, which I thought was strange since it wasn’t particularly funny. But who was I to question the queen? “This is going to be their ninth and, according to them, last. My sisters are godmothers to the other eight.”

“Who’s the expectant grandmother?” Amphitrite asked. “I’m afraid I’m quite out of the Olympian social circles.”

“I always forget Epione’s mom’s name.” I usually forget Asclepius’ mom’s name too, but that’s deliberate.

“No, your friend, her mother-in-law.”

“Oh. My friend is her father-in-law, Apollo.”

“I’ve only met him a few times,” she pondered. “I was rather friendly with his sister Artemis before my betrothal, though. Did you know I once considered joining the ranks of her huntresses?”

“I didn’t!” Though I did know they’d been friends.

“Yes. I liked the camaraderie, but I decided the forest life wasn’t for me. Too rugged. So then I considered pledging myself to Hestia as a vestal virgin.” I was noticing a trend.

“Do you remember what it was about Poseidon that made you think, ‘I want to be with this man forever’?” I asked her.

“Has anyone been able to answer that question?” she laughed. “I don’t know. Maybe the way he wanted me made me want him, too.” Or, as rumor had it, a love spell.

“Surely he wasn’t the only one.”

“Artemis did tell me that quite a few huntresses went into mourning when I decided not to join them,” she winked.

“What about you?” I asked, hoping I wasn’t overstepping my bounds in doing so.

“I don’t even remember what I liked before I fell in love with Poseidon,” she said with a contented sigh. “He’s all I can see now, all I can think about.”

“And you’re happy with him?”

“Of course I am. Who wouldn’t be?”

For the next several weeks, Amphitrite and I spent our midmornings together. We rode sometimes and we walked sometimes. We always talked. It was nice in a way. She was pleasant company, and I got the feeling that she didn’t have many friends at court. I told her she should visit me and my sisters on Helicon sometime, but, oh, no, she couldn’t leave her dear husband for so long.

That was the frustrating thing about our blossoming friendship. Listening to Amphitrite talk about her husband was pretty much the gender-flipped version of listening to Hephaestus talk about his wife. I can’t stand watching people I care about let other people hurt them over and over. And at least with Hephaestus I could cope by firing off snarky commentary in my internal monologue, but with Amphitrite, my inner snark seemed to be bound and gagged.

There were other things to occupy my days besides being Amphitrite’s confidant. Rhoda invited me to hang out and gossip with her and her courtier friends sometimes, the palace had a fantastic library, and I could always keep myself busy with my art. Having a mermaid body was a fascinating new challenge as a costumer.

And of course there was Triton. He worked crazy hours during the day, but he always had time for me at night. Sometimes he’d open his skylight and we’d lay in each other’s arms for hours, sometimes talking, sometimes saying nothing, watching the creatures swim by. One night we were visited by a cloud of tiny glowing jellyfish. It was like being caught in a shower of stars.

It was a good life I was leading at Poseidon’s court. But the longer I stayed, the more I felt it wasn’t my life. Even more troubling, I felt like I wasn’t me. I smiled, but I didn’t laugh. I never caught on when Triton would tease me, and I was always at a loss as to how to tease him back. Rhoda and her girlfriends grew less and less tolerable to me. Their insipid dialogue hurt my brain. I couldn’t understand it. The Olympian courtiers often seemed to be using their craniums to store nuts for the winter, but I usually managed to derive some pleasure from mocking their stupidity.

One afternoon I was hanging out with Rhoda and her girlfriends, trying desperately to imagine I wasn’t. One of the girls was new. She was a bipedal sea naiad. I decided to be a good sport and give her a chance. Then she started things off by bragging about a recent trip to Olympus on which she’d slept with Zeus. I attempted meditating.

I failed. This girl was damaging my calm. “…And Hera never figured out it was me — lame, right? she’s such a loser — so I got to hang out in the women’s rings. I’m glad I never had to sit at Hera’s table. Hestia is such a bitch!”

“Hestia the hearth goddess?” I asked.

“Duh, like there are so many goddesses named Hestia. Yeah, she had some smart-ass thing to say about anyone and everything. The Olympian goddesses think she’s a riot, but none of them can hang on to a man, so what do they know?”

“Hestia is probably the nicest goddess on that cloud,” I defended. “And slandering any of those goddesses doesn’t speak well of your practical intelligence.”

“You probably haven’t been to Olympus,” she patronized. “You should go sometime. You’re not hot enough for Zeus, but maybe one of his sons? Ares’ll take anything. Not Apollo, though. I tried it. He’s a fruitcake.”

“He is in a committed, monogamous relationship with a man,” I said. “He’s also been in committed, monogamous relationships with women.” Monogamous and committed on his side, anyway.

“Man, can’t even decide if he’s a fruitcake or not!” she cackled.

I grabbed her arm. “Call him that one more time. I dare you.”

“What are you so scared of? I’ve been with Zeus. No one can hurt me.”

“Want to bet?”

I teleported the two of us to a river in a forest. Beside the river was a rustic, empty campground. “Do you still think calling the gods names they did not choose for themselves is a good idea?” I warned her.

“I’m Zeus’ lover! I’ll say whatever I want about whoever I want. Apollo’s a f-” she shouted, but she was cut off by Artemis’ sudden appearance by the riverbank. Artemis is good at leaping out of nowhere.

“What about my brother?” Artemis demanded, fitting an arrow to her bow. “Do you really want to finish that sentence? Think carefully.”

The future Mrs. Zeus not only finished the sentence, but threw in a rather graphic clause suggesting specific activities which might improve Artemis’ temperament. Actually, putting arrows through idiots improves Artemis’ temperament. In this instance it improved mine as well.

“I recognized her,” Artemis observed the body. “She was hanging around Olympus all weekend. I did her a favor by taking her out myself instead of waiting for her to moon Hera or something. Hey, why do you have a mermaid tail?”

“Long story,” I said, resting my elbows on the riverbank. “Listen, this might seem like a weird question, but has Hestia seemed any different the last several weeks?”

“Only if you’d call becoming a fountain of witticisms different.”

“Of course I’d call that different.” What a weird thing to say. “Say something funny,” I requested.

“I’m not very good at being funny,” Artemis shrugged. “People always tell me I have no sense of humor.”

“Was that it?” I asked.

“I’m done with this conversation.” Artemis picked up the corpse and hauled it downstream out of sight, presumably toward her funeral pyre spot.

I teleported to Hestia’s pool and summoned her there. “What is it?” she asked me when she’d arrived. “Are you having any trouble with your mermaid tail?”

“I’m having trouble with telling jokes, getting jokes, taking anything un-seriously, laughing at idiots, laughing at anything at all, and generally not praying to the Fates to make me mortal.”

“But you agreed,” said Hestia. “I’d give you a mermaid body and you’d give me your sense of humor.”

“You didn’t tell me I wouldn’t have one anymore!”

“I specifically said your sense of humor,” she reminded me, “not a sense of humor. Ironic, isn’t it? A theater goddess who can’t take direction?” she laughed.

“Well, I can’t live like this anymore,” I protested. “I want to switch back, even though I know it means giving up Triton. If things go on like this, I’ll end up leaving him anyway.”

“Do you remember how Hera would light up whenever you came to visit? The way you could always make her smile? Not the forced smile she wears when she’s holding court, but the real one? Remember how Athena and Artemis would dangle bait in front of you, waiting to see what delightful thing you’d say next? Remember Aphrodite’s insults, which, though they seemed cruel, at least showed that she knew you existed? And remember the way you always knew just how to put her back in her place? All of that is mine now. I’m not giving it up. I need it more than you do.”

“I’m the Muse of Comedy!”

“If it means that much to you, you could always take it up with Zeus.” She laughed at her own suggestion, which I took to mean that she’d intended it to be funny. I thought it just sounded absurd. She knew perfectly well I’d do no such thing.

“Isn’t there any way I could convince you to change your mind?” I pleaded.

“None,” said Hestia. “Don’t look at me like that; I’m not being cruel. You can still go home if you want. There’s a spring right next to your Museum.”

“How can I go home? I’ll be completely useless!” I didn’t even bother to stop myself from crying. “I can’t be the Muse of Comedy with no sense of humor!”

“You should have thought of that before you made the trade,” Hestia replied, unmoved.

“But I didn’t know what I was doing!”

“That isn’t my fault,” said Hestia. “Now, I’m afraid I have to ask you to leave. I’m supposed to meet Hera and Demeter for lawn darts.” She left me alone with little choice but to obey her request.

I spent the rest of the day in my quarters at Poseidon’s palace. I didn’t feel like doing anything or seeing anyone. Eventually Triton knocked on my door. I let him in.

“You’ve been crying,” he noted with concern. “Is something wrong?”

“Do you like me?” I asked.

“Of course I do,” he pulled me into his arms. “We all do. Mom was just saying the other day how nice it is to have someone she can talk to.”

I held him and started crying all over again. “I don’t like me,” I sobbed. “At least, not the me I have to be to stay here. Triton, you’re a great guy, and I really, really like you and everything…”

“That sentence never ends with ‘So let’s stay together forever,’ does it?” he laughed grimly as he held me a little tighter.

“Probably not,” I acknowledged, feeling that my lack of understanding for his laughter was just proving my point.

“One more night, and I’ll help you pack in the morning?”

“One more night,” I agreed. “Can you give me a minute? I want to say goodbye to your mom, and I don’t want to drag things out tomorrow.”

Amphitrite was, as I’d anticipated, in her private quarters. I explained the situation to her and tried to keep the tears to a minimum as I did. She understood. “Let me talk to Poseidon,” she offered. “It would be nothing at all for him to reverse Hestia’s spell. She’s the least powerful of his creators’ children. I imagine he could even get your sense of humor back and leave you a mermaid if you still want to stay here.”

“No, please, I don’t want to bother him,” I said. “And in any case, I do need to get back to Helicon. Talking to Hestia reminded me that I’m a Muse. My place is with the other Muses in the realm of living, oxygen-breathing humans. Maybe I can’t inspire comedy anymore, but I’m still a theater goddess. I’ll find something I can do.”

She hugged me and kissed me on both cheeks. “I’m sure you will. Best of fortunes to you.”

I did spend that one last night with Triton as promised. It made me wish it wasn’t my last, until I started thinking about spending one more day with Triton’s family. I drifted to sleep with my head on his sea-blue chest and tried not to think about it.

“Feel any different?” Triton asked me when I woke up the next morning. I was still in bed, and he was floating beside it.

“No,” I sighed. “My decision is final. Trying to change my mind will just make things harder than they have to be.”

“That’s not what I meant,” he laughed. I kicked reflexively as I felt fingers tickling my foot.

Wha-?

My old body was back. There were both of my bipedal, tan-colored, land-goddess  legs, looking the same as ever. I rushed to open the net and got myself horribly tangled in it in the process. Triton laughed at me. I laughed with him. I laughed even harder at the realization that I was laughing and that I knew why.

Packing took a lot longer than I had planned.

But we both knew it had to be done. After I’d collected the last of my things and made myself presentable in a regular dress, Triton and I shared a long kiss goodbye. “I hope you find someone who’s cut out to be a sea princess,” I told him, brushing a lock of indigo hair out of his face. “Or prince, maybe?”

“Just princesses,” he laughed. “And I hope you find someone with whom you can be the best Muse of Comedy that you can be. That sounded awkward, didn’t it?”

“A little,” I laughed with him. “It’s okay. I have a thing for awkward. And, yeah, I know that sounded even worse. I’d better get out of here already.”

I stopped by the throne room on my way out to say a quick formal goodbye to Triton’s parents. “Thank you again for your hospitality, Your Majesties,” I said with a deep curtsy, reveling in my regained ability to execute one. “And,” I added with a meaningful look at Poseidon, “thank you for making it possible for me to return home.”

“You were never a prisoner,” he replied, seeming a bit offended. Amphitrite took his hand.

“She thinks you changed her shape back,” she explained.

“I did no such thing!” he said to me. “Why would I do that?” he said to Amphitrite. “You know I never interfere in Triton’s love affairs.”

“Yes, dear, we know,” Amphitrite stroked his arm.

“My apologies,” I bowed my head. “You’ve been a very gracious host. I couldn’t ask for better.”

“Come again sometime,” Amphitrite invited.

“Thank you. You’re welcome at Helicon, too, My Lady.”

“I appreciate that, but my place is in my own kingdom,” she smiled. “You understand, don’t you?”

“I do,” I nodded. Though I wished that, before I left, there was something I could give her, something to make her life a little bit happier.

Just before I turned to leave, I saw Poseidon abruptly face his wife. “Trite,” he observed, “is that a new gown you’re wearing? It’s lovely on you.”

Amphitrite lit up like a dark sea bursting with luminescent jellyfish. “You noticed.”

“So who did change you back?” my goddaughter Aglaea asked me. She was growing so fast. How old were humans at this size? Eight? Nine? She’d probably be an adolescent by the end of the month. I wondered if she’d be too cool to hear my stories the next time I saw her.

“I never did find out,” I said. “I asked Hestia, but she said it wasn’t her, and that she never told anyone about our deal. I don’t know who else it could have been.”

“Maybe Artemis told someone,” Aglaea suggested.

“But remember, all Artemis knew was that I had a mermaid tail,” I reminded her. “And she said the only person she told was Apollo.”

“Did you tell Apollo the whole story?” Aglaea grinned.

“Yes, and he laughed at me and told me how silly I am,” I grinned back.

“I’m glad he laughed,” she turned serious again. Aglaea could be a very serious child. “He hardly ever laughs since his boyfriend got killed.”

“Yeah,” I nodded. “I’m glad he laughed, too.”

“When I grow up, I’m going to help Dad invent a cure for death,” Aglaea resolved.

“I’ll bet you will,” I replied. Although she was a promising performer, her interests were clearly in the sciences.

“Do you ever wish you could’ve stayed with Triton?” she asked. “Like, that you could’ve been a mermaid and kept your sense of humor and stayed there to be a sea princess?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I miss him sometimes, but I guess if the Fates had wanted me to live in the sea, they would’ve made me a sea goddess.”

“I thought your mom made you.”

“It’s complicated.”

“That’s what people always tell me when they don’t want to answer my questions.”

“That’s right.”

Aglaea pondered these things for a few moments. “Why did packing take a lot longer than you thought after you got caught in the net?”

“Triton had to help me get untangled.”

“It shouldn’t have taken that long.”

“It’s complicated,” I told her.

“You had sex, didn’t you?”

“It’s complicated.”

“I know what sex is. I read about in my parents’ medical books. It’s not complicated.”

“Oh, trust me, it’s very complicated.”

“When you woke up back in your regular body, were you naked?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Come on, you can tell me!”

“Aglaea, have you talked with your parents about what you’re reading in their books?”

Apollo’s disgustingly innocent sun smile beamed at me from Aglaea’s face. “It’s complicated?”

The Birthday From Hades

Author’s Note: This is a stand-alone episode set centuries before the main story. The Muses still live at Helicon, and Apollo, one of the Nine Olympians, lives at the Royal Court and works in Zeus’ pastures.

________________________________________________________________________

“How’s the new God of Herding these days?” I asked Apollo, having just materialized by his sheepfold. He nearly fell off the stone fence he’d been sitting on.

“Don’t do that!” he laughed.

“So?” I asked, climbing over the fence to pet the lambs. “Is the job getting any less awful?”

“It is,” he replied. “It’s numbed my soul so much that I no longer feel the agony of boredom or anything else.”

“It’s not that bad,” I chided him as I pulled a fuzzy little black lamb into my cross-legged lap. “Who’s a cute widdle girl? Isn’t she teh cutest ittle ting? Oh, yes she is! Yes, she is! You wuvs your Auntie Thalia, doesn’t oo? Yes, oo does.” The lamb bleated back at me. Apollo rolled his eyes in derision. “Aw, give Auntie kisses,” I rubbed the lamb’s cool, velvety nose against mine just to irritate him.

“You’ve gotten that desperate since Hephaestus dumped you?” Apollo smirked.

“We mutually made that simultaneous decision,” I corrected him. “You know it’d been heading that way for awhile. At first I thought things would be weird, but actually, hanging out with him feels less awkward than it did before we broke up.”

“Is that why you’ve been spending more time here and less at the forge with him?”

“He likes being inside at work all day, I like being in a million different places doing a million different things,” I stood up, still holding the lamb. “One of the many reasons we’re better as friends.” I waved the lamb’s tiny hoof at Apollo. “Say hi to your daddy,” I cooed at her.

“Do not call me that creature’s ‘daddy’,” Apollo ordered. “I’ve never copulated with livestock, which is more than I can say for others in my,” he hesitated over the next word, “family.”

“I suppose tortoises technically aren’t livestock,” I teased him.

“That was different. I was the one in animal form. I left her human. And nothing happened.”

“Nothing happened because she dropped you and ran away screaming.”

“No, because I wasn’t trying to sleep with her.”

“But you were trying to get her to hold you,” I demonstrated by cradling the lamb against my bosom. “No need to be embarrassed. It’s not your fault you didn’t know tortoises aren’t cuddly.” I didn’t want to be laughing. Okay, maybe I did. Just a little bit.  And suddenly I felt the urge to smother a lonely, naive tortoise with hugs and kisses. Huh. That was weird.

“Some girls like tortoises,” Apollo turned his attention to the mark his staff was making in the dirt.

“Of course they do,” I said. “I like tortoises. But if I’m going to pet one, I’m going to have it on the ground next to me. And if it puts its face in my chest, I’m going to get it away before it bites me.”

“Alright, we’ve established that I’m no expert in what girls like,” Apollo laughed.

“You should’ve consulted me. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m sort of a girl-type creature.”

“Okay. What kind of presents do girls like?” he asked with studied randomness.

“Depends on the girl,” I replied, feeling a surprising twinge of – what was this, exactly? Must be protectiveness, I concluded. In spite of the fact that he’d caught up to me in age over a decade ago, Apollo was like a little brother to me. Of course I’d have a critical interest in whatever girl he liked. Yeah. That made sense. “Is it anyone I know?”

“I don’t want to say,” he demurred. “You’ll just laugh.”

“Most likely. Suit yourself. But at least tell me about her.”

“Well, she’s snarky,” he began. “Very snarky. She’s got this really dark, sarcastic take on everything.”

“I like her.”

“You do,” he confirmed. “You’re pretty close to her, actually.”

“Oh?” I started getting a bit worried. Was Apollo crushing on me? This could be a problem. He was such a sweet kid. I’d feel terrible if I had to break his heart.

“She can be kind of intimidating,” he continued. Intimidating? I’d never thought of myself that way, but, yes, I supposed my combination of charisma, talent, superintelligence, and raw sex appeal could be rather unsettling to an inexperienced youth.

“Is she a goddess?” I asked.

“Yeah. She’s – now, I don’t want to sound shallow – but she’s very, very beautiful. Incredibly beautiful. Like spring’s first flower, or the rainbow after a hailstorm, or the sunrise after the winter solstice.” As he waxed poetic, his eyes shifted away from me and his cheeks flushed. I followed his gaze. Had his eyes always had that curious blend of wisdom and naiveté, of quiet strength and subtle vulnerability? I’d never noticed. This was going to be harder than I’d thought. He took a deep, nervous breath. “I might as well tell you,” he said. “Please, promise you won’t laugh at me.”

“I won’t laugh,” I assured him, feeling nothing but sympathy and compassion. A bizarre instinct told me to take his hand, but I didn’t want to make this any harder for the poor little guy, so I resisted it.

“It’s…” He took a deep breath and let it out. “It’s Persephone.”

Oh.

Well. That was a relief. And, in hindsight, not much of surprise. Persephone was considered the most eligible bachelorette on Olympus, though “eligible” was a relative term since Demeter wouldn’t let any would-be suitors get near her. “You want to get her something special for her birthday tomorrow,” I deduced. Good luck, kiddo, I thought. Twenty-four hours is more than enough time to think of something special.

“Yeah,” he said. “It has to be something really thoughtful, you know? Something that says, ‘I care about you as a person’.”

“Something that would set you apart from Ares?”

“How did you know?”

“Please, everyone knows Ares has a thing for her. I wouldn’t worry about it, though. She hates his guts.”

“What about the rest of him?” Apollo muttered.

“If she wanted it, she would’ve taken it by now. Ares doesn’t exactly play hard to get.”

“Well, Persephone’s been acting more receptive than usual lately.”

“Really?” It had been almost two months since I’d been to Olympus, excluding Hephaestus’ shop. Had things really changed, or was this just the delusional observation of a guy with a crush? “How so?”

“She’s friendlier, kind of flirty, even. Not just with Ares, with all of us,” he said. “Otherwise I wouldn’t even go there. To be honest, I wasn’t sure she liked men. I mean, she spends a lot of time with Athena.”

“She likes men,” I confirmed, then chastised myself for doing so. I hoped Apollo wouldn’t ask how I knew that. I’d sworn not to tell anyone that Persephone had been in love with one particular man for years. I only knew because my family and I had been there when she’d met the guy. “Artemis spends a lot of time with Athena, too,” I tried to change the subject. “Do you ever wonder about her?”

“That’s different. They’re best friends.”

“Okay.”

“So, what do you think?” he persisted.

“About what?”

“A present. I really want to make a good impression. I have as good a chance as any. Maybe better since Demeter likes me better than Ares.”

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to get his hopes up, but I couldn’t break my promise to Persephone. “Just be you,” I managed, ashamed at having resorted to such a trite platitude.

“That’s brilliant!” Apollo grabbed my shoulders and kissed me on the cheek. He said some stuff after that. I don’t remember exactly. I just remember the distinct feeling that I should get out of there before things got any weirder. I made some excuse that I also don’t remember and teleported to Olympus to investigate.

Once there, I decided to stop in and say hi to Hephaestus before I sought my ultimate goal, Persephone. As fate would have it, Persephone was in Hephaestus’ workshop with Athena. Demeter hardly let Persephone out of the house unless either Athena or Artemis went along as a babysitter bodyguard.

“So, you think you can take a little time off for my party tomorrow?” Persephone asked Hephaestus. No, she didn’t just ask. She coaxed. Teased. Tantalized. Flirted. Yes, that was the word. Persephone was flirting with Hephaestus. The way she leaned over his work table at just the right angle, the way she let her silky strawberry blonde curls fall beside her porcelain face, the lilt of laughter in her deep, provocative voice…yep, she was flirting with him.

I wondered if he noticed.

“Um, by, the, yeah, it, they, I can, sure,” he stammered. Yes. He noticed. “Thanks. I, I mean you’re welcome. Wait, you didn’t say- I’ll be there.”

“Thanks,” she half-smiled in grim amusement. He was silent.

“You can tell her she’s welcome now,” Athena prompted him.

“You’re welcome. Ha- have a nice day. Oh, um, Athena, I still need to give you your spear.”

“I’ll get it,” Athena protested, clearly worried about the current state of Hephaestus’ dexterity.

“No, I’ve got it,” Hephaestus insisted. Without leaving the stool he was seated on, he telekinetically floated the spear to Athena’s reach. I breathed in relief at the lack of damage along the way. “You know,” he told her, “your armor is terrific — I mean, Zeus created it and who am I to criticize Zeus — but I’ll bet I could mod it for you. I mean, sometime. In the future. If you wanted me to. I see potential for more mobility without sacrificing protection.”

“You’re a guy who’s capable of making armor,” said Athena. “Sure. I’ll come by and look at your specs sometime. For now I want to get Baby home so I can go back to kicking Ares’ butt.” Persephone glared at her. “Now, don’t pout, or I’ll tell Mama,” Athena admonished, playfully swatting Persephone’s slender, shapely backside.

“I’ll tell Artemis,” Persephone deadpanned. Athena blushed, fell silent, and left with Persephone in tow.

“Hey, Persephone,” I called after her, “can I come by and see you when I’m done here?”

“Sure,” she said. “Maybe if we’re really good, Mom’ll let us play in my room without the grownups watching us!”

When they’d left, I turned my attention to Hephaestus. “So, I guess you’ll be at Persephone’s feast?” I observed aloud.

“I guess so,” he confirmed as though he didn’t quite believe himself. “I should get her something, don’t you think?”

“I would,” I said. “In fact, I am. But I’m not telling anyone what it is.”

“Jewelry,” he said, more to himself than to me. “Bracelets? Earrings? Necklace?”

“How about an anklet?” I suggested. “She’s got great ankles.”

“I – I wouldn’t…I…didn’t…”

“It’s okay,” I said with reassuring laughter. “We’re friends now. I don’t mind.” I was surprised by the fact that this was true. Until we’d made our breakup official, I hadn’t realized just how much I’d been thinking of Hephaestus less as a boyfriend and more as a friend.

“Do you really think she likes me?” asked Hephaestus.

“I think she doesn’t dislike you.”

He sighed as he began a sketch. “I don’t stand a chance with her, do I? I know she can do better. She deserves better. Someone who can get around a stupid workshop without a stupid cane, for one thing.” I started to say something, but then I decided that since I wasn’t his girlfriend any more, these issues were no longer my problem. “Do you see Persephone as more of a gold or a silver type?” he asked me.

“No idea,” I shrugged.

“You want to see what Ares is giving her?” he asked, his voice simmering with ridicule. He telekinetically rummaged through a line of hanging armor, selected a piece from the back of the line, and brought it to us.

It was the front part of a bronze cuirass. The female equivalent of a muscle cuirass, to be precise. For those of you who aren’t armor buffs, a cuirass is the “shirt” part of a suit of armor, and a muscle cuirass (the kind preferred by Ares and his men) is modeled after a naked beefcake torso. They tend to be extremely detailed.

muscle cuirass

A dude's muscle cuirass. See? Extremely detailed.

This cuirass was as detailed as any I’d ever seen, only it was an absurdly idealized female torso. And by “absurdly idealized,” I mean perky molded knockers about three times the size of Persephone’s real ones. With nipples. Which looked very, very cold.

“Wow,” was all I could say.

“It goes without saying that Ares designed it himself,” Hephaestus disclaimed with a subtle smirk. “I’m just the humble smith. It’s my job to provide exactly what the customer wants, right?”

“Right,” I grinned. “I’m sure Persephone’s going to love this. I cannot wait to see the look on her happy, happy face when Ares gives it to her.”

“Ares ordered a shield and a spear to go with the cuirass, and I still have to finish the back of it,” said Hephaestus, “so I’d better get back to work. Nothing like last-minute orders.”

“Have fun,” I laughed.

Apparently I was still on Demeter’s approved playdate list, because she did leave me alone with Persephone. “So, what’s up?” I asked once Persephone closed the door.

“The sky? The clouds? Olympus?” she shrugged. “Everything but the damned Underworld?”

“Are you saying you and Hades are over?” I took a seat on the couch next to her.

“Technically Hades and I never were Hades and I,” she replied with forced nonchalance. “We never outright said we were a couple. We just kind of had this secret weird long-distance understanding. But we never outright declared that he’s my boyfriend and I’m his girlfriend. I mean, what are we, mortals? I’m free to host an orgy with every god on this mountain if I want to.”

“And Hades?”

“I guess he never told me he wasn’t going to see other people. And I never told him I didn’t want him to.”

“Whoa. You mean Hades is dating someone? Hades?” Hades is pretty hot, and he has that whole king of his own realm thing going for him, but I was shocked by the idea of him voluntarily seeking out companionship.

“Does ‘dating’ mean ‘naiad-banging’ now?”

“Sometimes.” Okay, it made more sense now. Companionship had likely sought him out. Hades may be the ultimate misanthropic introverted loner, but he’s still a guy. “How’d you find out?”

“He wrote me. Actually, I’m surprised you didn’t know. Calliope’s been taking letters back and forth for us since you guys moved to Helicon.”

“I knew she was, but Calliope’s good about confidentiality.” That traitor. To think I once called her my sister.

“So she brings me this letter from Hades, and he’s telling me about this woman who’s moved in with him! At first I thought, ‘Alright, slow down, maybe he doesn’t mean it like that.’ So I wrote him back for clarification.”

“And?”

“And he did mean it like that.”

“Was that when we had that earthquake?”

“Yep. I hope a square mile of ceiling landed on his bed while they were in it.”

“You and me both,” I said. “Did he give you any kind of explanation? I mean lame, pointless excuse?” I quickly corrected my grave error.

“He said – get this – he said he didn’t know I was still into him. Can you believe that? Yeah, like I wrote him all those damn letters because I wanted an inter-realm pen pal so bad. And like I care about his damn problems because I’m so interested in the minutia of everyone’s damn lives. And I just go around baring my soul and sharing my deepest feelings with anyone and everyone because that’s the kind of warm, open person I am!” She picked up a vase and hurled it against the wall.

Demeter rushed in without knocking. “Honey, are you alright?” she fretted as she knelt by Persephone.

“I’m fine, Mom,” Persephone stood up and walked away to pick up the pieces. “It was just this stupid vase.”

“We were talking about how men suck,” I said.

“Glad everything’s okay,” Demeter relaxed. “You girls have fun. I’ll be with Hera and Hestia if you need anything. Thalia, say hi to your mom for me the next time you see her.”

“Will do.”

As soon as we were alone again, Persephone threw the pieces of broken terra cotta into the fire pit to watch them singe. “I don’t understand how he didn’t know,” she said to no one in particular as she stared at the blackening shards. “It makes sense that he’d move on if he thought I’d forgotten about him, I guess, but I don’t know how he could think that.”

“I know. I mean, with all that ‘soul-baring,’ how you felt about him was in there somewhere, right?”

Silence.

“Persephone?”

“Well, what in Tartarus was I supposed to say?” she ranted. “‘Oh, my love, my darling, every moment without you is torture!'” she mocked in a high-pitched voice accompanied by dramatic gesturing. “‘Everywhere I look, something reminds me of you! Would that I were by your side, holding your pale hands, pressing your irresistible lips to mine! Each night I lie alone, crying myself to sleep, longing for your presence that I might make sweet, sweet love to you! Kissy-kissy, your adoring widdle Persie-face.’ Can you see me saying any of that crap? Me?”

“Did you ever even sign a letter, ‘Love, Persephone’?”

“What kind of pathetic loser do you think I am?”

I was quiet for a moment. “What’s the man-stealing whore’s name?” I ventured as soon as I thought it was safe.

“Minthe,” she spoke the name with scorn. “Isn’t that the dumbest name you’ve heard in your whole life?”

“It’s definitely in the top ten,” I agreed. “Hey, you mind if I give you my present early?”

“Why not?” was her apathetic reply.

“You know how, as a theater goddess, I can do stuff like this?” I snapped my fingers and my hair turned blonde. “And this?” Red. “And this?” Blue. “And this?” Pink.

“You want to give me a fashion show?” She was unimpressed.

“No, I want to give you a makeover,” I said. “I can do this stuff to other people, too. I’ve been practicing with my sisters. You’ve always said you wished your hair were darker, and I know your makeup is how your mom likes it, not how you like it. Tell me what you want to look like, and I’ll make it happen.”

A faint glimmer of interest appeared in her countenance. “I like black.”

I ended up spending the night with Persephone so we could work on her look for the feast. I sent Calliope a message through one of Demeter’s attendants so she wouldn’t worry about me. It sure would be handy, I considered, if the Pantheon had one person whose job was delivering messages.

At noon, everyone gathered in the banquet hall for Persephone’s feast. The Nine Muses were there, not to be confused with the Nine Olympians, all of whom were in attendance as well. Poseidon was there as Demeter’s date. Apparently they were on again. The presence of both Zeus and Poseidon, two of the three ruling gods, made Hades’ absence particularly conspicuous. I don’t think anyone really expected him to be there since he almost never leaves the Underworld, but I was sure Persephone was thinking of it.

Persephone’s makeover did not go unnoticed. I was proud of my work. Her hair was now jet black and stick straight. Thick black liner surrounded her eyes, and steel-colored powder shadowed them. Her lips, without any help from me, stood out blood-red against her bone-white face. And her gown was so black that it threatened to suck in all light within a yard of its wearer. So different was Persephone’s new look from yesterday’s springtime princess that I’d wondered if the Three Stooges would be a little turned off by it. It had the opposite effect.

“You – man – whoa,” Ares articulated on behalf of his brethren.

“Tell me about it, stud,” Persephone winked.

“Persephone!” Demeter abandoned Poseidon and jumped to her daughter’s side. “You behave yourself, young lady.”

“Why don’t we open presents?” Calliope suggested. “Who wants to go first?”

Ares, Apollo, and Hephaestus instantly started a shoving match, in which Hephaestus lost his cane and his balance. Apollo and Ares landed on top of him. “Let’s see,” Persephone contemplated under her breath. “Rebound, Manslut, or Babyface. Ba- Apollo,” she called aloud. “You first. What’ve you got?”

Apollo speechlessly presented her with a harp-shaped package. She took the paper off and, lo and behold, it was a harp. “This is really nice,” Persephone smiled. “Maybe you can play it for me sometime.”

“One of the Muses can play it for you,” said Demeter.

“I could teach you how to play it,” Apollo found his tongue. “That’s part of the present, sort of, I mean, if you want to, you know.”

“Aw, you’re so sweet,” Persephone squeezed his hand. “I’ll bet you’re a great teacher.”

Demeter stepped between them. “Artemis knows how to play the harp, too, doesn’t she?”

“W-well, yeah, she does, but-“

“I’ll bet she’s a good teacher, too,” Demeter dismissed him with a pat on the back. “Who’s next?”

“Hephaestus,” Persephone invited. Hephaestus, who had finally picked himself up from the bottom of the dogpile, came forward. His limp was exaggerated, as it usually is when he’s nervous. He let the thick, velvet pouch under his arm float up to face level. The pouch fell away to reveal a gold necklace set with about a square foot of multicolored jewels, impressively suspended in midair. Everyone looked on in awe as the sunlight on the necklace sent out a blinding rainbow of sparkles in all directions.

“That’s incredible!” Persephone praised. “Can you put it on for me?” she requested with a come-hither smile. Demeter accompanied it with a stay-thither glare. Hephaestus compromised by floating the necklace to Persephone’s décolletage.

But the second the metal touched her flesh, her smile gave way to an expression of absolute pain and a long, agonized scream to match. “HOT!” she managed to form a word as she flung the necklace away. “Ah!” she cried again as she shook out the hand that had touched it. Faint, intricate burn marks decorated her ivory chest.

“What were you thinking?” Demeter berated Hephaestus as he tried to pick up the pieces of the now-broken necklace. “Was this some kind of sick joke?”

“I thought it would be completely cooled by the time I got here,” he apologized. “I had so much work today that I barely had time to finish it. I brought it straight from the forge.”

“Well, maybe you shouldn’t have brought it at all,” said Demeter. “My baby could be scarred for eternity now!”

“It’s already healing, Mom,” Persephone rolled her eyes. “And you know I’ve been wanting a tattoo anyway.”

No tattoos!

Persephone subtly turned her head to me and mouthed, I have one.

“My turn,” Ares declared. “Minions, bring it in.” Six of Ares’ soldiers entered, carrying three cloth-covered objects two by two. The first pair unveiled a spear.

“Cool,” said Persephone. “Maybe I’ll take up hunting.”

“Yes, that would be something nice you and Artemis could do together,” Demeter encouraged.

The second pair of soldiers unveiled a shield. In the center was a crest with the letters A and P intertwined. “Enhanced ability power. Nice,” Persephone admired. Hephaestus and Apollo high-fived each other.

“No, it’s for-“

“What’s the last one?” Persephone cut Ares off.

“This last one’s the best,” said Ares. “It’s awesome. You’ll want to thank me for this one over and over again, if you know what I mean.”

“No, you’re a master of verbal subtlety,” Persephone replied. “Let’s see it.”

We all saw it.

“It’s great, isn’t it?” Ares grinned. “Want to try it on? I’ll help you with the buckles.”

Persephone stared. “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FRIGGIN’ MIND?”

“Well, don’t look at me; he made it!” Ares quickly pointed to Hephaestus.

“According to your specifications!” Hephaestus protested.

“I don’t even know what that means!”

“I don’t ask for much,” Hera told her BFF with a frustrated shaking of her head. “All I want is for my sons to get through one event without making me ashamed to be their mother.”

“You have five children,” Demeter comforted her. “It’s easier when there’s just one.”

A dark-clad naiad passed the squabbling siblings and knelt before Persephone, holding a long, rectangular box. By her hair and clothes, I recognized the naiad as native to the River Styx, one of the natural wonders of the Underworld. “Mnemosyne sends this to you with best wishes, My Lady,” she said.

Persephone took the box. I looked on in curiosity, as did my sisters. Apparently they had as little knowledge of Mom’s gifting plans as I did. In the box was a bouquet of white asphodels bound with a black ribbon. I leaned in to peek at the note:

I think it’s your birthday. Here.
– Hades
PS, Naiads are fickle bitches. Who knew, right?

I couldn’t tell what Persephone was thinking. I’m not sure Persephone could tell what she was thinking, either.

“What lovely flowers,” Demeter admired. “Let me see the note.” She grabbed it before Persephone, dumbstruck and motionless, could stop her. “‘Happy Birthday to Spring’s fairest flower. May your heart’s desire find you. Love always, Mnemosyne.’ Well, isn’t that sweet? You’ll have to write her a really nice thank-you note.”

I made a mental note to have Mom teach me that spell.

A week later, I was hanging out with Persephone in her quarters when Demeter came in to check on us. We were sitting cross-legged on cushions with stationary scattered all around us. “How are the thank-you notes coming?” Demeter asked as she knelt beside us.

“Great,” said Persephone. “Thalia’s been a lot of help.”

“I wish she’d help you get your hair back to normal.”

“I like it black, Mom.”

“Alright, I’m sure this is just a phase,” she said, more to herself than to her daughter. “Can I see your notes?”

“Here’s the one to Mnemosyne.”

Demeter took the note and began to read aloud. I trembled a little, fearing the worst if I failed this test. “‘Dear Mnemosyne, How appropriate that the Goddess of Memory would remember my favorite flower. The bouquet is arranged in a vase in my room. Mom charmed it to stay alive as long as I want. Sincerely, Persephone.’ That’s a very nice letter, honey. I’m sure the rest are, too. I’ll get out of the way and let you finish them.”

“I can’t believe that worked,” Persephone laughed in relief as soon as Demeter was gone.

“Hey, it’s me,” I grinned. I couldn’t believe it, either. “Want me to take the note back to Calliope now?”

“Sure. See you later.”

“Later.”

When I got back to Helicon, I took one more look at the note before I sought out Calliope.

Who knew?? Only everyone who’s ever dated one. And in case you can’t get this through your stupid Helmet of Darkness either, I friggin’ love you, you friggin’ moron.
-Persephone
PS, I liked the flowers
.

Reader, she married him. But you already knew that. What you might not know is that, when Minthe found out Hades had gotten married, she had a change of heart and decided she wanted him back. Persephone told us the story the following summer while she was visiting the land of the living. We were all lounging around the Helicon throne room, sipping these citrusy, sugary drinks she’d made.

“Hades said he’d handle her,” she said, “and I was like, uh huh. Right. No chance in Tartarus. So I went to the palace gate to meet the bitch. Can you believe she had the nerve to tell me to my face that Hades deserved her because she was hotter than me? Please! She’s a naiad. I’m a goddess. Do the math.”

“Probably too much to ask,” said Urania.

“Naiads are terminally stupid,” said Melpomene. “They’ve inspired more tragedies than I can count.”

“These drinks are amazing,” said Terpsichore. “Sorry to interrupt the story, but you have to leave the recipe with us.”

“Yeah, I love the flavor this sprig adds,” said Euterpe. “And it smells so good. I don’t think I’ve seen it before. What’s it called?”

Persephone rubbed a tiny green leaf between her fingers, looking far too pleased with herself. She dropped the leaf and gleefully crushed it with her heel.

“It’s my own creation. I call it ‘mint’.”