The Grieving Gardens were extraordinary, if I do say so myself. I’d planted them many years ago with my own bloodstained hands. I’d walk through the fields and water them with my tears. But those were the old days of hardships, self-doubt, and sorrow. I was beyond that now. I’d grown above my suffering, and so had my gardens. Save for fire or sword, they would not be cut down, nor cease to bud. I’d made sure of that.
Today, these gardens flourished amidst the sparse sunlight and drank in the darkness. Their roots lapped up the mists that perpetually crept upon the grounds of the realm. They thrived because they’d learned they did not need comforts to sustain them. They did not even need a pair of loving hands to cradle them when the winds came. The gardens lived on because their god-given purpose compelled them to, and their purpose was given by me.
I’d created them to comfort the broken. Those still living were not the only ones to grieve the dead. The dead grieved the living, too. People who were separated from the ones they loved. Lost and unaware of what awaited them next or what was to become of them. Oh, yes, the dead needed beauty to soften their fears. They needed hope to sustain them. So, the roots of the Grieving Gardens ran deep and strong.
Nonetheless, I’d worried about this precious place while I was away. Some would say the Underworld is an impenetrable place. There is no entrance, save the boats, and no exit, save eternal destruction. But I know from experience, troubles can come to all realms, given enough time.
I removed my riding boots and stepped off the hard, unforgiving ground of the valley. The instant I felt my bare feet sink into the cool soil, peace washed over me. With each step, seedlings emerged behind me, and glowing amber buds sprouted about my ankles in their distinct, ethereal light. I approached a rose bush and reacquainted my fingertips with its flowers. The velvety petals practically reached out to my fingertips.
I breathed in the pleasant perfumes surrounding me and moved to the next bush, then the next, careful not to miss any along my stroll or fail to appreciate their unique aromas in the way only a spring goddess could.
Trickles from the fountain statues serenaded me as I meandered through the blooming trees. Then, the sound of laughter broke through the splash of the waters. Children’s laughter.
I turned and saw two visions, a boy and girl, bright and beautiful. They raced along the fields and through the gardens, ducking behind and around trees. I knew what they were the moment I saw them.
Dead was such a cruel-sounding word to describe the beginning of eternity. Maybe because it sounded so final, but in truth, death was anything but final. It was just a means to begin again in the Underworld. Under my supervision, I suppose. As Queen, I share dominion, though I don’t credit myself often.
My biggest influence here was to plant the Grieving Gardens and others like it. I enjoyed creating places where the innocents could gather and live in the peace that their souls deserved. We had mortal heroes here, after all. Mortal warriors, kings, queens, poor, slaves. None of which deserved to live in gloom forever.
And the ones that did? Well, they weren’t in my department. I never had the stomach for torture. Justice, yes.
I watched the children gallivant across the green and throw themselves onto a carpet of white daisies. Their joy was infectious. Carefully, I stepped out from behind a pomegranate tree to smile at them and wave. The moment they saw me, they paused, their eyes going wide in surprise. I picked two pomegranates and approached slowly.
“Hello,” I said, kneeling in the daisies’ wake. They rustled in the gentle breeze and tickled my bare feet and shins. I offered the fruit to the twins. “I’m delighted to see you two enjoying my gardens so much. Will you come back to play tomorrow?”
The twins reached out and took the fruit shyly.
“Thank you,” said the boy, then he shared a look with his sister. “But, we are searching for our mother. We don’t know where she is. We came here, and she didn’t.”
“I see,” I said and frowned. One would think that after being acquainted with the dead so often, I would not be surprised when I came across a sad story. Perhaps I’m too sensitive. Either way, I’m glad for it. I would rather share in these mortal’s pains than coldly pass them by.
“But maybe we can come back and play when she gets here,” the little girl suggested. I smiled sadly.
“That sounds like a lovely idea,” I replied. The girl smiled too, then she took a step back, startled, her eyes darting between me and something behind me.
“Y-you’re Lady Persephone!” she gasped, her eyes shining in awe. I turned to look at what caught her attention and saw my statue perched on the nearest fountain. I raised my brows, impressed at the girl’s perceptiveness. It wasn’t often children these days were aware of the ancient gods and goddesses.
“I am. And what’re your names?” I asked.
“I’m Lila, and this is Luke,” the girl said. “Can you tell us about our mother? Do you know where she is? Is she alright? You are the Queen of the Dead, right?”
I nodded. “I am, but my powers are conditional. I am not omnipresent…I only know of the dead who live here in the Underworld,” I explained. If their mother were here, I would have known it immediately, so the fact that she wasn’t made the task of finding her a bit more tricky. More time-consuming, anyway.
The disappointment on the twins’ faces was palpable. I looked down, frustrated at my inability to help them. Perhaps I’d been away too long. I’d forgotten how to keep my empathy in check. There was a time when I wanted to assist every mortal who approached me. I’d overwhelmed myself, drained my energy, and drained it even more when I stubbornly refused to stop, despite being cautioned multiple times against it. Giving of my time and efforts came so naturally to me. I’d seen no harm in it. At least, that’s how I used to be. I had eventually learned how my generosity could be used against me. And there was never enough that I could do to satisfy the needs of the mortals. Nor the immortals.
Still, looking into the faces of these children, my heart longed to help them, to do something kind for someone again.
“There’s a small chance I may be able to find out,” I said. “I can’t promise you any answers, but I can try.” The hope that blossomed over the twins’ faces was enough to afford me some peace of mind. I wasn’t letting them down entirely, at least.
I turned my gaze to the palace in the vast beyond. It sat upon a precipice so high that I could still see it from this distance. A light emanated from a window on the top floor, like a star in the night sky.
Perhaps it was time I took a quick trip to the mortal realm. I required no permission, and if I returned quickly, my absence would hardly be noticed. Besides, it would be for a just cause. I already knew no other immortal being would want to assist me with so small a task. They wouldn’t believe it worth their time, considering just how many mortals lived here. I would have to find Lila and Luke’s mother myself.
“Follow me,” I said. I turned, and the twins trailed after me deeper into the garden, where I led them to a grove of lovely pomegranate trees.
“May I know your mother’s name, please?” I asked the children.
“Melanie,” they replied in unison. I nodded, then gestured with my hand to the nearest tree. “I need you both to think of the last time you saw her and take each other’s hand. Luke, take mine. I’m going to touch the tree like this.” I set my hand gingerly upon the bark.
“Okay,” Luke said, scrunching his eyes shut. Lila did the same.
“Have the memory locked in there?” I asked.
“Yes,” Luke said.
“Yeah.” Lila nodded.
“Good.” With the touch of my fingers to the bark, the tree began to creak.
“Shhh,” I hushed. The tree continued to creak, and gradually the bark peeled away from the middle of its trunk until the wood itself was warped apart. It formed the threshold of a doorway, and my face shone back at me from its portal entrance. The twins gasped.
“That’s so cool.” Luke pointed.
“Where’s it go?” Lila asked.
“To your mother, hopefully,” I replied. “Come back here tomorrow, and I’ll tell you what I’ve been able to discover, if anything.”
Luke and Lila both nodded. I gave them a warm smile and then stepped toward the portal.
“Persephone!” I’d already stepped halfway through the tree’s portal entrance by the time Lila’s small voice reached me. I turned to see her sweet face through the dimensional ripples.
“Thank you!” she called. It was all I needed. Entering the mortal realm for the first time in decades would be worth it.
Taking a deep breath, I made that final step.
My bare feet touched down onto blazing hot cement, and my soles burned instantly.
I cursed and stumbled across the busy street, narrowly missing the front bumper of a Ford Focus. Its horn blared at me until I found a safe patch of grass on the sidewalk. I breathed deeply until the pain finally ebbed away. It wasn’t until I set my aching foot back down that I realized I’d leaned against a fire hydrant for support. I removed my hand quickly. How undignified.
“Gods help me,” I grumbled.