by Charlotte H. Lee
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Demeter exhaled in a rush and sank into the heavily cushioned chair. Another dead end. Before her pilot’s couch, the vast sweep of space taunted her. Persephone could be anywhere. Demeter cursed her brothers loudly, hoping they were listening. She wasn’t even sure who she was angriest with: Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon had all played in this equally.
Her sisters Hera and Hestia hadn’t helped much either, damn them anyway. No word, no aid, nothing. Although in Hera’s case, it was a relief to not have to put up with any snide remarks. Despite Hera’s beliefs, Demeter hadn’t chosen to bear a child, let alone Zeus’s. At least he’d left her alone to raise their delicate baby girl as she saw fit. She could expect the same from Poseidon this time around.
Demeter stilled her mind and let it drift with the solar winds. It was hard, so very hard, to concentrate with her newest child’s growing awareness twinning with her own. Frustration with Poseidon brought her crashing back into her body. Of all the misguided idiocies! He may find it easy to cast off a child when given a replacement, but she couldn’t. Demeter cursed him again, a long string of foul fates heaped upon his doltish reverence for their brothers.
Well, as satisfying as it may be to imagine Poseidon’s eyes being eaten from the inside out by Tintavalian shearworms, it wasn’t going to get her any closer to locating Persephone. She leaned forward to slap the entry shutters closed over the viewport. Closing the shutters at least kept her from seeing the stars laughing at her.
Leaning back into the chair, she took up the rhythmic breathing she’d learned from Mnemosyne, stilling her mind enough to separate her soul from the one developing in her womb. Persephone was out there, waiting to be rescued from low-browed Hades. Really, did the toad genuinely believe that a girl as beautiful in spirit as Persephone could love any creature as twisted with envy and jealousy as he?
The most Demeter had gotten from Zeus when she had first appealed for his help was a ridiculous lecture on charity. Her senior brother had ended his pompous lecture with an expression of hope that perhaps Persephone could influence Hades into being a more charitable soul. Zeus had actually seemed to believe his own sun dream that Persephone’s kindness and loving spirit would soften their brother’s unquenchable rage and endless quest for power. Moron! Imbecile! Demeter ground her teeth, and forced herself away from the spiral of anger and bitterness that always ended in profound grief and bottomless despair.
There, just below the first layer of space was a familiar scent: thyme and narcissus. Persephone! Smoothing away a flash of excitement, Demeter flowed along the plane until she came upon a warmth. It enveloped her, drawing her in, soothing her bitter tears.
Kind, warm, loving and gentle: that was how Helios had always been to her. Demeter ever followed his lead, just steps behind him to give herself to life where it struggled, moving on when it flourished in the endless cycle she rejoiced in. Around and around the universe she had followed him, letting him show her where spring was needed.
This time, Demeter was not content to follow. This time, she would push to catch up to him. The life of the gods could be a lonely one for those who took their gifts seriously, and the life of a Titan lonelier still. Helios would share time with her, Demeter knew it.
Reluctantly she turned away from Persephone’s enticing scent and touched Helios. He would wait for her, he said, his co-ordinates streaming to her ship. Hope flared in her breast, and she opened her eyes. Demeter rested a hand on her swelling belly, promising her full attention to the growing babe soon. With a gentle touch on the panel before her, the shutters swept open again. This time, the stars were singing encouragement. Demeter’s lips parted in anticipation and she leaned to her panel to plot her course.
* * *
“Demeter,” Helios said, raising his hand to clasp her welcoming one, and pulled her into a gentle embrace. “I have missed you.”
It was enough to set off the tears that always hovered at the back of Demeter’s eyes, and she let herself sob on his shoulder. Her weeping left a damp patch on his silken ship suit, but he didn’t seem to mind. Finally, he pulled away from her, hands resting lightly on her shoulders.
“You promised me a meal fit for a god, and I hope you understand how high you’ve set my expectations.” His kind smile, set in a deeply lined bronze face, crinkled the folds around eyes of such piercing blue that it was easy to understand why mortals thought him to be all-seeing. He wasn’t really, but it was impossible to hide anything from him if he decided to look. His dark hair was brushed back in soft waves to his shoulders, its grey streaks the only sign marking him as a Titan rather than a god.
“I did and I do,” Demeter said, drawing in a deep, and only slightly shaking, breath. It was good to be with him. She’d forgotten just how good it was. Centuries it had been. “The vegetables are from my own garden and the wine hand-picked by Dionysus himself.”
“Sounds enticing, my dear.” Helios tucked Demeter’s hand into his arm and let her lead the way to the dining cabin. The clatter of pots and pans drifted out the open hatch door, the smell of roasted lamb and apricots wafting up and down the corridor.
Some gods replenished their staff from whatever planet they were nearest to when their mortal servants died, but Demeter preferred to keep whole families. This dinner recipe had been handed down for over nine hundred generations. Even Zeus couldn’t boast that kind of devotion among his followers.
The few mortal children whoi left would raise the most beautiful temples to her and supply the best of everything to Demeter’s stores when she visited. Their careful husbandry of the land was a devotion they taught to all the native tribes, and that planet’s agriculture would flourish. She had come to regard all those human children as her own, Persephone only first among them.
It pained Demeter when her obstreperous nephew, Ares, stuck his big nose into her children’s business. After she got Persephone back, it might be time to school the reckless boy. She’d been hearing about salted fields too often, and that would need to end or the incessant pleading of the humans would drive them all mad. Why Zeus let the fool boy sabotage their own operations mystified her almost as much as why the pompous ass had given Hades permission to steal away her sweet girl.
When they reached her well-appointed dining cabin, Demeter allowed Helios to hand her into her favourite chaise. She noticed it needed recovering, and a vindictive thought of covering it in white horsehair crossed her mind before she banished the fantasy. Helios was here, and it was past time to get herself out of her own head.
“I trust you’ve heard what Hades has done,” Demeter said, broaching the subject with characteristic bluntness. She accepted a glass of white wine proffered by a page barely into puberty. It was well watered in consideration of the child she now carried. Even watered, the wine was aromatic, though it did smell far stronger than it tasted. She studied Helios, trying to read anything behind those forever affable eyes. No luck, though; the light he shed only ever went one direction: outward.
“I have,” Helios said, taking a glass of red from the boy and sitting across from her. His gaze stayed on her, not speaking until the page had withdrawn. Not that it would keep the rest of the onboard staff from knowing every word spoken within minutes. Adorable creatures, humans, but their rate of chatter astonished her still, even after four hundred thousand years of having them around. “And I know the longer you spend in this search, the more concerned Zeus becomes.”
“Let him be concerned. It’s his fault it happened at all!” Demeter snapped. She closed her eyes tightly, and reopened them to give him an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, Helios. He refuses to tell me where to find her, or to instruct Hades to return her. Whatever repercussions result from his decision are his own responsibility.” Demeter waved a hand. “He did not consult with me, nor ask Persephone her wishes in the matter.” She sipped her wine, cocking her head and narrowing her eyes at her cousin. “What do you know?”
Helios leaned back on his chaise, sipping his wine, his eyes focussed on some distant sight. “How much attention have you paid to the competition between Zeus and Jupiter?” He brought his gaze back to Demeter, eyebrows raised while he waited for her to sort through rumours and gossip.
“Only that the Romans are getting stronger, bolder, and gobbling up more and more of the market share,” Demeter admitted. According to Zeus they were parasites, but personally she thought he considered any rival god house to be beneath his notice. It would be the end of Olympus, in her opinion.
“Yes, they are. And it’s due in large part to this search of yours. While you search, Ceres plants more Romans. You know humans, they breed like rabbits.” Helios’s gaze lingered on his glass, admiring the deep claret wine. “The other families are keeping pace with them. Odin’s get are everywhere now. The Celts are spreading, too. It’s getting harder and harder for me to find a planet to seed. And lately when I do find one, you are not where you need to be, and one of the other houses dogging my heels seeds it instead.
“Soon there won’t be any new planets left, and Zeus is starting to feel the pinch. The Romans are learning to trade, the Vikings to plunder, and the Celts to farm. The only good thing out of all of this is that the Egyptians are also losing their toehold.”
He snorted. “They aren’t losing their market share to us, though. It’s being split amongst the smaller houses who hunger for more. There is even rumour of a new god, so jealous he allows no siblings to sit with him, only minions. He’s taken tens of planets, building market share at the expense of all the big houses.”
Demeter stared back at him, her spine stiffening. “You want me to give up, too.” She would not let him see how his betrayal hurt. She had always counted him as an ally. One of the few of her peers she could trust throughout the universe. Only her children could she be sure of, it seemed.
“No, Demeter, I do not want you to give up,” Helios said, shaking his head. His eyes were sad, and she felt a stab of guilt for doubting him. “I will help you get your daughter back, even if I have to go behind Zeus’s back to do it. I am not willing to risk the demise of this house just for the sake of Hades’ pride.” If anyone could understand what it was to lose a child well-loved, Helios did. “I will give you the coordinates for where Hades is hiding Persephone.”
Demeter leapt from the chaise, dropping her wine glass to shatter on the floor, and threw her arms around his neck. This time her tears were of joy rather than pain.
* * *
Copyright © 2018 by Charlotte H. Lee