This story is by Emily Currie and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Persephone always knew when the witch Hecate was trying to make contact with her, for her raven would appear at her windowsill, begging to be let in.
In the House of Hades, letters were rarely written to Persephone for Hades preferred his obedient wife to make no contact with anyone outside the halls of the Underworld. He had explained to her in many ways that the world beyond their door was too dark and dangerous for an innocent Goddess such as she. He reminded her how no man or God could be trusted. No one was safe. Man eating beasts roamed the lands. Chimeras cherished the meal of any being, whether that be human flesh or God. Fallen women with the talons of eagles preyed upon the innocent and the vulnerable, and demonic creatures existed that no sword could kill. Persephone knew her husband was not lying to her about these frightening atrocities. She had seen the paintings of the monsters her husband had fought and imprisoned. She had traced his battle scars that marred his flesh.
“The world beyond the walls of Hades is treacherous. Monsters will devour you if they can. Trust no one.”
There was another peck at the window.
The Chthonic Queen rose from her black furred throw. Clad in nothing but the rich gold of her husband’s robes, Persephone made her way to her window. She raised a small white hand and hesitated. The bird came once a year for her birthday. Each year Hecate would offer Persephone a majestic gift. They were gifts Hades confiscated before Persephone could truly appreciate them.
“That flower could be toxic. Do not inhale it. That perfume may cause you harm, do not wear it. That make up could disfigure you, do not touch it. Those foods might permanently damage your body, do not eat them. My Queen, you are delicate. The world beyond my walls are toxic. I wish to protect you. Remember, a gift from any God but me is always cursed.”
Persephone knew her husband was currently away on business. There were problems at the Ministry of Hades that could not be ignored. This gave Persephone ample opportunity to be devious if she so wished.
And yet the Chthonic Queen hesitated. “Hades is trying to protect me by containing me, however Hecate is no enemy of mine. She is known as the protector of women.”
Persephone had a choice. Both choices were bad in their own way. To agree to the will of her husband meant she existed only to obey his command. But to agree to the will of Hecate meant attracting danger to herself, and inviting the realm of the unknown into her world. Fear and excitement quivered in the heart of the young Goddess. Her pulse began to quicken at the thought of accepting such a dark and forbidden gift of magic.
Persephone was trying to decide upon the lesser evil. Which gift would she prefer for her birthday? Safety in the chains of Hades’ will, or independence in tribute of Hecate’s expression of womanly freedom? The Chthonic Queen felt her lips twitch upwards. Hecate, the notorious, unorthodox Goddess of dark magic, who roamed the Underworld naked, on the back of a gigantic white spider. Not even Zeus dared to tame the wild Goddess.
The raven pecked at the window once more.
Persephone paused. Her hand remained frozen against the coloured glass.
There was a knock at her door.
“My Queen, may I enter?”
Persephone turned away from her window and made her way to the door. She opened it and peered down to eye her red robed handmaiden, who obediently offered her a black envelope decorated with an all too familiar elegant script.
“Is that?” Persephone paused. Only Hades sent letters using black material. She curiously opened the letter and read the contents inside.
“To the one I own, I wish to offer you a gift. A gift only a God can give. One hundred of my most dearest bulls bled out in the name of my Chthonic Goddess. They will all weep life, the most precious nectar I can offer you. They are all waiting for you in my Gardens. The ceremony will begin the moment you enter.
I will return to you when the business at the Ministry of Hades has been concluded. I am currently managing a problem with a wayward Titan, who has decided Tartarus is too tame a prison for a monster of his magnitude. I believe he needs a visit in the river of fire to cool him down.
I will return when I can.
Enjoy your birthday.
Persephone felt her face droop. She slowly lowered the letter in her hand.
“Are you ready my Queen? Hades has arranged a monumental celebration of death in your honour.”
The Chthonic Queen offered a weak, brittle smile at her handmaiden. “Can you please give me a moment? I have just woken up.”
“Of course milady.” The handmaiden bowed. “I will be just beyond the door when you are ready to visit the gardens.”
Persephone closed the door and frowned. “My husband, the only gift you can offer me is death.”
The Queen found herself returning to the window. “Have you come to offer me death too little bird?”
Persephone unlatched the window open and the raven flew in, a majestic creature of jewelled eyes and midnight feather. It swooped around her head, once, twice, before curiously landing on her shoulder.
“Caw,” the raven crooned, raising one of his little talons to reveal a rolled up piece of parchment tied to his leg. Persephone untied the scroll from the raven. She carefully unravelled the parchment, and was bemused to find a little vial inside containing a strange, opaque pink liquid. Ignoring it for a moment, Persephone began to read the cursive loops of words that belonged only to the Queen of Witches.
“Born to hate you and silence you…
Born to manipulate you…
Born to control and kill you…
I know how you feel, and what you fear.
My dear Persephone…
Drink from the vial I have attached to Besmircher’s ankle.
This is my gift to you…
Child of Demeter.”
“To consume poison from a crazy witch, or to celebrate my birthday with bloody sacrifice? Which is the worse choice?” Persephone’s grip tightened around the vial of pink liquid. Death or madness? Containment or freedom?
Which choice is the lesser evil?
When the King returned to the House of Hades, he was most perplexed to find one hundred golden bulls still roaming in his gardens, very much alive. ‘What is going on?’ He went up his stairs, to freeze at the sight before him. His beloved Queen, laying naked on the stone floor, giggling like a drunken fairy who had enjoyed too much ambrosia at a Bacchus party. Hades warily eyed the empty vial beside his wife. He picked it up and sniffed it, silvery eyes narrowing in suspicion.
“I did not offer you this gift.”
“I know. The raven at my window did,” Persephone hiccupped softly.
“A raven offered you a gift?” Hades raised a gloved hand over his face. Could his day get any worse? Underneath his dark gloved fingertips, the Chthonic King groaned. “I see. So I destroy one crazed monster at the Ministry while another monster grows inside the House of Hades.”
“I am no monster dear husband,” Persephone cooed, rising from the floor to glide towards the stoic figure dressed in black. “I merely tasted a gift you have always denied me. Freedom.”
In the eyes of his wife, Hades saw the same deranged monster he battled in the Ministry. A monster that needed beheading. He snarled inwardly. Hades had no patience to deal with any more monsters today.
“Get. To. Bed.”
“You can’t tell me what to do Hades. It’s my birthday.”
Hades did not negotiate with disobedience. He reached out and grabbed his wife’s naked shoulder. The moment his cool touch swept across her flesh, winter melted back into summer. Persephone found herself transported inside her old bedroom of her Mother’s home.
“Until you transform back into the angel I once desired, I will not allow you anywhere near my kingdom. Sober up and shut up witch. Nonsense is unbecoming of the Queen of Hades.”
“But I thought you preferred me in chains, as do all men,” Persephone sighed softly, laying back on her childhood bed full of stuffed unicorns, a tempting dichotomy of innocence and sexual deviancy.
“Witch, sober yourself,” Hades snapped, fading away into a pale mist of thick, silvery smoke.
In the Dark Forest, the naked Queen of Witches stood before her cauldron of dark magic. The mysterious contents inside revealed the results of her meddling. She glimpsed Hades’ tormented expression in her gurgling concoction, and she howled with laughter.
“Happy birthday my Chthonic Queen. Happy birthday.”