Unusual Harvest

Demeter mourning Persephone by Evelyn de Morgan 1906
Demeter mourning Persephone by Evelyn de Morgan 1906

“I’ve come to love the silence,” she thought and immediately felt surprise. When had that happened and how was it even possible?

She, who would give everything in the world for just one more hour of her daughter’s laughter, how could she have come to relish silence? She remembered the squeals of delight which echoed off the palace walls and bounced up and down the scale of glee. She remembered also the hasty whispers of innocent secrets, the growl of tantrums, the breaths of wishes now left unfulfilled. Oh to hear any of those sounds again instead of all this – nothing! How had she come to love the silence?

Perhaps she had grown weary of the sound of weeping. Her own tears flowed silently. But the cook, the dove-keeper, the maids and footmen, the coach driver and the stable boys – even the palace guardsmen all wept loudly and long. When she could stand it no longer she sent them out again, searching. No matter that everyone had searched for days and days after the girl went missing. No matter that she had sat in her window night after sleepless night crooning all the old familiar lullabies in hopes that somehow her child would hear and follow the sound home. No matter, no matter, no matter. Searching was all they had left. So search they would.

It was the end of the following day, just as the all-seeing Sun was dipping towards his bed, when she saw the shadow of a young girl on the edge of the forest. She stared at it for too long before she realized what it was and turned to question the Sun. He had nearly disappeared before she turned back and watched the story play out in shadow form – Persephone picking narcissus, the ground opening and Hades riding forth in his midnight chariot. His shadow seemed darker than all the rest and as he sprang from the chariot and wrapped his arms around the girl it appeared as if he were the forest itself, entangling the girl in his branches. Demeter could not help a startled groan when the tree-man plucked Persephone’s shadowy form from the hillside and carried her down below the earth. Then the Sun set and all was dark, the story finished.

At that moment Despair walked beside her for the first time and she gave up wanting to live.

She had already departed her body when something began to tear inside it. A surge of feeling without a name washed over her. It was stronger than memory, stronger than regret or fear. She recognized it as the pulse of an enforced loss, delivered by the wrenching away of that which she held most dear. And nothing in the world mattered any longer.

She began walking and as she walked the earth died around her.

Grass shriveled, leaves dropped sullenly from the trees and entire fields of crops withered where they stood. Vegetable gardens and beds of flowers became lush with decay and the bubbling streams and giggling brooks grew silent and dark. She did not notice.

She went into the Palace of the Gods and she shut the door behind her.

This is part two of a retelling of the Persephone and Demeter myth which I started last week. You can find the first part – and a brief explanation – here: https://splendidsass.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/six-little-seeds/

Six Little Seeds

persephone-jpg
She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen the stars. Sometimes, when she was trying to forget all she had left behind, the memory would bubble up unbidden: a night sky that once stretched above her for as far as she could see, the flicker of stars twinkling hope.

She sees herself there now, a small figure standing between the ocean and the forest, gazing upwards at the emerging stars. Here is the palace of the gods over which the mountains rise in graceful beneficence. Here are the lush fields and flourishing forests, providing both home and sustenance for all the creatures who walk the land. Here also is the constant push and pull of the sea in all of its blue serenity. There is such peace in these memories of home.

In this place – no, in the memories of this place – lie everything which means happiness to her. In the calls of birds and the echoes of their music; in the tang of both salt air and pine trees as well as in the taste of cinnamon and pomegranate and honey.

From outside the palace by the sea she hears her mother’s voice calling her name. Deep night falls inside the castle as she snuggles close beside her mother, drifting into sleep. She will remember this later when trying to keep herself alive: falling asleep one last time in her mother’s warmth beneath the open window, in the light of the stars.

She wakens early to accept her fate on a day misty with spring. There is a hint of lilac in the salt air. Her mother sleeps late and so she eats alone at the little table in the kitchen under the watchful eye of the cook.

I’m going to the cove to play with the naiads,” she tells the older woman who sputters a protest ending in a chuckle.

Down the hillside she runs, past the koi pond and the garden which bursts with tiny new green shoots and onto the sandy shore of the cove where her friends wait, splashing in the salty spray sent up by little waves.

By midday the sky has opened a little; a thin sun shines; clouds skim. She decides to return to the palace for the midday meal and promises the naiads to return soon after.

When she climbs the hill she sees a glimmer of white on the edge of the forest and wanders closer in hopes of finding narcissus to gift her mother.

As she approaches the patch of flowers something rumbles from deep in the earth, a sickening sort of grinding and then everything lurches wildly, whips back, lurches more wildly still. The trees start flinging themselves to the ground and she turns to flee, to dive free onto open ground and clutch it, as if riding the back of a whale. Time elongates. Three minutes become a lifetime.

When the jolting ends a rift has swallowed a widening V of ground which disappears into a dark cavernous hole. And from the depths of that dark hole spring forth two black horses pulling a midnight chariot carrying a dark rider from the underworld.

He sits opposite her now, these many months later.

No light, no light in your bright blue eyes,” she thinks as he presents her with a bowl of fruit. Her favorite, a pomegranate, rests on top.

Be sure to eat the seeds,” he urges. “They are eternally special.”

The above is my retelling of the beginning of the Persephone myth, written for the Speakeasy Prompt at Yeah Write.  Unfortunately I missed that deadline while searching for the perfect image to accompany the story.  When Christine suggested I post this in the Moonshine grid I jumped at the chance. Be sure to visit Yeah Write Speakeasy to read all the great stories which followed the same prompts that inspired this story.

For those not familiar with the myth here is a thumb nail version:

Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest. One day while she was playing, Hades, Lord of the Underworld, saw her and fell in love with her. He took her away to his underworld kingdom and although Demeter searched and searched she could not find her lost child.

Broken-hearted, Demeter wandered the earth, until the all-seeing Sun revealed what had happened. Demeter was so angry that she withdrew herself in loneliness, and the earth ceased to be fertile.

Zeus realized this could not continue and sent a messenger down to Hades to make him release Persephone. Hades grudgingly agreed, but gave Persephone a pomegranate. When she later ate of it, it bound her to the underworld for one month of the year for each seed which she ate. The other months she was allowed to stay with her mother.

While Persephone was in Hades, Demeter refused to let anything grow and winter began. Each year when Persephone emerged from the underground, life would return to the world.