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Persephone Sinks Back Into the Earth

A couple of years ago, as the spring equinox approached, I wrote a short piece about Persephone digging herself out to get the season going. Today is the autumn equinox, and I've finally written a corresponding piece about her descending back to the Underworld. There. We now have a pair of equinox bookends.

I should note that these two vignettes do not feature the same Persephone and Hades that I've written about in Persephone's Orchard. The Persephone and Hades shown here are more magical and more connected to the seasons, have a much more tentative marriage, and in general are more like the gods in the myths. Enjoy, and happy equinox!

AUTUMN

Persephone treads the forest path alone. Twilight is falling earlier now, just after dinner, and the air is turning cold. She glances at the jewels on her rings and sandals, but so far they aren't lighting up to brighten her way. They haven't sensed the Underworld and Hades yet.

She has said goodbye to her mother for the summer, which is always sad for both of them, and the poignancy has radiated out into the world. A cold wind blows at her back and shoots through the forest. It desiccates green leaves, turning them brown and red and yellow and sending them swirling to the ground. Good thing she and Demeter snipped all the frost-sensitive herbs this morning and hung them up in the kitchen to dry.

Over the past six months, they've also banished apple blights, blessed grape arbors and wheat fields, celebrated the birth of lambs and calves, and attended about a thousand and one harvest festivals. Honestly, Persephone's sick of making fresh grapevine wreaths for her head every day. Switching those for one sturdy jeweled crown, which needs no maintenance except the occasional quick polish, is fine with her.

She has hung up her sundresses in the closet in her mother's house, with a sheet over them to keep the dust off, and sachets of this summer's lavender among them so they'll smell nice. Today she's wearing a new wool Underworld gown she made last week, white with a cute pattern of purple and black bats on the hems. It felt too heavy and thick when she put it on tonight, with the evening sun still warming the windows. But now that the wind's picking up and the night's darkening, she's shivering and wishing she had made a warm hat to go with it.

She reaches the giant oak tree, which is now only a looming black silhouette in the twilight. Its acorns crunch under her sandals, and its wet fallen leaves blow onto her feet, chilling her bare toes. She kneels down and then stretches out on her back, gingerly, wincing at the slimy, dirty bed she must lie in. The Underworld itself isn't so bad; it's these transitions that are the worst part.

The half moon shines above her, pale and distant through the branches. Waiting and shivering on the ground, she murmurs goodbye to it, and to the brightest of the stars, which are beginning to sparkle in the indigo sky.

Just as she's wishing she could see the full splendor of a winter night someday, snow under her feet and stars above, the freeze begins. Frost forms on the leaves and spreads out like a spider's web on the ground around her. The wind blows harder and icier. Acorns and twigs fall, bouncing off her face and body. She closes her eyes and complains, "Ow!", but stays still, pressing her hands down into the dead leaves.

The wind piles more dead debris on top of her, and now, when she opens one eye for a second to check, her jewels are glowing on her rings and sandals, lighting up the leaves that fall to cover them. And she is not only being covered, she is sinking. The rocks obey Hades, and they are opening beneath her, parting just enough to let her slip down, inch by inch. The absolute worst part comes: the dirt and rocks close over her head, and she is buried, and still sinking.

She wriggles to speed up her descent, her held breath building up like fire in her lungs. And just as she feels a spark of panic and thinks she must breathe even if it means getting centipedes in her mouth, it's finally over: a slab of rock shifts under her and she breaks free and falls, in a shower of dirt and pebbles.

He catches her, and sets her on her feet. She gasps in her breath. She still has her eyes shut tight, dirt all over her lashes and lips and nose, and reaches out blindly for the cloth. He hands it to her, pre-dampened with water, and she wipes her face. The smell of the cave fills her nose: clean dank stone. The damp cloth smells like dried cloves; it's probably a dish towel from the pantry she's stocked in the Underworld. She insists on keeping spices and herbs around to cook with, for wintertime treats like stews and hot drinks.

She's still shivering, but at least the wind is gone. Down here there's never wind or frost. It's always the same cool temperature. Reliable; she'll say that for it. Even cozy sometimes, in its way.

Persephone opens her eyes, finding her husband's familiar face in the light of a torch resting against the wall. She leans up to kiss Hades delicately on the lips. He has an extra cloak ready, worn on top of his own to keep it warm, and now he takes it off and drapes it around her.

She clutches it close. "Thank you."

"How was your summer?"

"Not bad. Yours?"

"Same as ever."

"I'm ready for a warm bath," she remarks, starting down the tunnel.

He picks up the torch and walks with her. "The spiced wine's started over the fire."

"Ah. You remembered this time." She touches the cave's wall. In response, a clump of bioluminescent mushrooms sprouts out of a crack in the rocks, glowing pale blue. They spread, sending a streak of companions up and down the wall. She can't do much with living plants down here, without the sunlight to help, but it's something.

Hades smiles at the little mushrooms. "I've missed those." He slips his arm around her, drawing her close against his side. "You do light the place up."

Coming from him, the remark is startlingly sentimental. But then, she thinks, she doesn't usually show him much other than pride and politeness either. If he can learn a new trick now and then, perhaps she can too.

So she leans on him as they walk, and says, "It'll be nice to sleep in tomorrow. No sun waking me up too early. I like that about autumn."

He strokes her arm in agreement, and they descend toward their palace.

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
laffingkat
Sep. 23rd, 2013 01:51 am (UTC)
Oh, I like that. The reserved but thoughtful and sweet interaction between Persephone and Hades seems fitting, and many of the little details remind me of some of the things I enjoy about this time of year. Although now I'm thinking I might need to make some spiced wine this evening!
mollyringle
Sep. 23rd, 2013 03:00 am (UTC)
Thanks for reading! Spiced wine is worth it just for how it makes the house smell. But it wouldn't feel right to make it in the summer. Much like gingerbread. Bring on the autumn recipes!
(Anonymous)
Sep. 23rd, 2013 04:42 pm (UTC)
I like this Molly! Are we just left hanging? What happens next?
mollyringle
Sep. 23rd, 2013 06:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Well, I figure they go about their Underworld duties, and the marriage slowly improves, and in spring she returns above ground and the whole cycle repeats itself... these vignettes don't exactly have a lot of plot; that's what my novels are for. :)
archersangel
Sep. 25th, 2013 05:11 am (UTC)
very nice. i like part with the mushrooms.
mollyringle
Sep. 25th, 2013 04:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading! I love bioluminescence. Did you know you can get a glowing mushroom kit on Amazon? - http://www.amazon.com/mushroom-Growing-Habitat-Terrariums-Vivariums/dp/B0070C8AIU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1380126858&sr=8-1&keywords=glow+mushrooms

Just found out about that recently. Believe me, I'm tempted.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 9th, 2017 05:31 am (UTC)
Test, just a test
Hello. And Bye.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )