Even Hades had to smile.
The short sleeves of her simple, well-worn dress, revealed the developed arms of labor’s constant bedfellow. Her face, lined with dignified wrinkles and crowned by short, curled gray hair was a portrait of defiance to the vanity of Olympus. Not so unusual, as many gods preferred a more “down-to-earth” appearance, she was still more pleasing to behold than Hephaestus.
Demeter invited him to sit down. “I’m so glad you came.”
The chairs and table were unremarkable, domestic, factory made. Unlike the gazebo with its smooth marble floor and ceiling of clear glass, vines growing straight from the ground, forming intricate railings and windows that overlooked the vast gardens surrounding them. Flowers of every color grew from the walls, testifying to the dramatic flair of all gods; no matter how human they pretended to be.
All of her servants were busy tending to the orchards, groves, and fields. Out of respect to her, Hades didn’t balk at pulling out his own chair, doing so without his powers.
A wonderful blend of herbs and spices danced together within the teapot, creating the most sought after beverage in all the pantheons. If musical instruments produced an aroma, then his nose was the front row seat of an opera as she poured the cups. Sweeter than nectar and ambrosia, more celebrated than mead, more invigorating than jade juice––even Hermes slowed down for a cup of Demeter’s tea.
Demeter sat down, offering him a plate of sugar cookies. He took one and found it to be quite tasty.
“I didn’t know you baked,” he said.
She smiled. “A worshiper in the 21st century brought them to my temple. She came all the way from the Bronx.”
“How wonderful.” Hades would also have worshipers in the Future. “Now lets get to the part where you tell me what you want?”
To her credit, Demeter had the decency to appear offended.
“I only wished to see you, Hades. How often do I see you these days?”
“A sentiment that would mean something if you didn’t have access to the Elysian Fields.”
She tsked, and sipped her tea, but the pretense vanished once the cup was back in the saucer. “It’s my daughter.”
“What of her?”
“She has… lashed out.”
Hades concealed a weary sigh with a sip. Was she dragging it out to entertain him, or was she really that distraught? It was hard to tell, but there was no use in being impatient.
“She tells me that Minthe was ‘asking for it’,” Demeter continued. “I have no way of knowing whether or not she’s lying. And in her current state, I can’t get the truth from Minthe, either. Zeus is outraged.”
Hades raised a brow. “It’s not like Thunderbutt to get so uptight over a nymph.”
“It may have more to do with the fact that I imbued the mint leaf with nutritional properties, to save her from the Stone Garden.”
Hades chuckled. Nymphs only required a semblance of worship to remain alive, but to most gods they were like hamsters to mortal children. Zeus couldn’t care less about one more tea leaf in the world, on the other hand, Minthe was a bit of a fluffer. Persephone probably just broke Grandpa’s latest chew toy.
“I sometimes envy mortals,” Demeter said, after a long pause. “They have twenty years in which to try and guide their children. Persephone appalls me with her actions, causing harm to another for no reason but blind jealousy.”
“Jealousy?” Hades scoffed. “If Persephone approached Paris, the contraceptives of the Future would be known as Helens.”
Demeter finished her tea. If there was any alarm, she concealed it well as she refilled both of their cups.
Hades took another sip, this time checking the ingredients for any sign of trickery. Demeter wasn’t prone to such foolishness, but he had been quick to defend Persephone. His lips had never been so loose. Nothing in the tea was amiss, so he relaxed while she fixed him with a contemplative stare. She baited her trap well, but even if he confirmed her suspicions, there was nothing she could do. Not without waging a war that even Zeus and Posiedon combined couldn’t hope to win.
“I have invited you here, because I want to offer you a wife,” Demeter said.
Of course. War wasn’t her way.
“Persephone has her own worshipers. Her ichor is strong. For how long, I can’t say, but if she is bound to you then your shared powers will increase.”
Hades tapped his chin with his forefinger in the comical manner of cartoon characters. It was a gesture he often used when the damned begged for mercy, and he rarely had a chance to use it elsewhere.
“And you get her off your hands and Zeus off your back. Very convenient,” he said. “Your offer is enticing. But what are you offering for a dowry?”
Demeter almost slammed her cup down. “My daughter’s hand in marriage isn’t enough?”
“You’re offering me a spoon full of frosting. You haven’t baked a cake.” Hades leaned back, crossing his arms. “It amuses me how you attempt to sweeten the pot by offering me the residual power from her worshipers when mine comes from an infinite source; the dead and the dying. For the eternal banquet I can give her, you think I would be satisfied with table scraps?”
A cloud blocked the sun, alarming some of the gardeners, who cried out. A few of the gardeners could be heard, crying out in alarm. Hades feigned a long, contented sigh, as if the shade were a welcome relief, while Demeter fumed.
Finally, she asked, “What do you want?”
“Your worshipers,” Hades said, bluntly. “Living. Breathing. Vibrant. ”
“You have your temples.”
“Mere scraps, again. If they’re not dead or dying, or tending to one or the other, then they’re trying to talk to the dead. Do you understand how little power I can draw when I have no control over their fate while they’re alive?”
“I understand all too well,” Demeter replied, through gritted teeth. “You complain often enough.”
“Well, here’s your chance to shut me up.”
Demeter brought her temper under control and the clouds dissipated. A cheer rose up from the garden and Hades chuckled.
“What do you have in mind?”
“Winter. Long, cold, deadly winter. Let nothing grow while the world is covered in ice and give all that struggle to understand that I am the cause of this. Six months.”
Demeter shook her head.
“Zeus will never allow it. You may have your winter for one month.”
“One month is worth the tea and biscuits alone,” Hades said. “But you have a rambunctious daughter to betroth and I think that’s more to the tune of five months.”
“But the mortals need time to harvest. You’ll be drawing power from me as well, don’t forget that I’m her mother.”
Hades shifted in his chair, looking past Demeter at a field of potato plants.
“Very well,” he said, throwing his hands up in mock defeat. “Three months of winter that will not go quietly. Some years, it may seem to go on forever. And as a gift to my new mother-in-law, I will allow them honor you with decorations of evergreens. That’s my final offer, Demeter.”
Demeter sighed, and considered his offer in silence. He finished his tea and took another cookie. Then another. He offered her the last one and she refused. They really were tasty. He resolved to find the name of the bakery and offer Sisyphus a furlough to go and buy a box.
When it seemed like she would refuse, Demeter waved her hand. A servant appeared, carrying a strange little fruit, which he offered her. It had a reddish-violet skin, with a strange little crown that made Hades laugh.
“Is this a subtle way of telling me where to stick my offer?” he asked.
Demeter accepted the pomegranate and dismissed the servant.
“Persephone is quite fond of these,” she said, passing it to him. “This is my blessing. You must use it to bind her to you.”
“I’m not new at this.” Hades manifested a lancet and pricked his thumb. He pressed it to the fruit and willed his blood to pass through the skin and permeate the seeds. Then he stopped the bleeding and stood up. All around him, the flowers began to wilt. Servants cried out when the clouds returned and rain began to fall.“Pleasure doing business with you.”
Hades picked up the fruit and strode into the garden. The light sprinkle became a drizzle, flood waters rose, killing off the growth as Demeter’s servants fled her domain. In good time, she would show mercy, and all of this would be repaired.
He found her at the edge of the garden, sitting on a bench that might have come from a tag sale or an auction. Her umbrella was unnecessary. The rain avoided her as it avoided Hades. She looked up, sensing his approach, and smiled.
“She took it well,” he told her.
Persephone giggled, tossing the umbrella to one side, jumping to her feet to throw her arms around him. He nearly dropped the pomegranate as he returned the affection. No mind. It didn’t have the seed she was after.