The doors to the garden swung open, greeting us with the scent of roses and lilies. I released Hekate’s hand and bowed slightly, gesturing for her to enter first. “After you.”
Hekate smiled at me. She seemed…I’m not sure nervous is the word. She walked past me, eyes taking in details I’ve seen so often, I don’t even notice anymore. “I don’t think I’ve ever passed through these doors, Hades.”
“I could count how many people have on both my hands since I built it,” I replied, following her inside. The long hallway was filled with artwork and statuettes, a long Persian rug leading the way through the ground floor. The foyer held a coat and shoe rack, all built from rich, red mahogany wood, similar to the rest of the house. The plants I have placed move slightly with the arrival of a new body, leaning towards us. “Come with me. I will show you to your room.”
It was unusual, seeing Hekate exposed to something new. She took her time following me, keeping pace but keenly observant. It is always fascinating to see what things draw another’s eyes—which paintings made her pause, the statues that earned a touch from her hand. She lingered over a plant or two, smiling, examining the leaves with the eye of someone who knows things beyond common names. She said nothing, merely waited for me to lead on.
The end of the hallway splintered two ways, left and right. I gestured to the left. “My office, the gardens, and the kitchen are that way. We are going this way.” We headed right, passing three doors before reaching a fourth at the end of the hallway. I stepped to the side, the gold handle gleaming. “And here we are. Please take a look. I hope it is to your liking.”
She smiled at me. “It’s a palace, Hades. I’m sure whatever is behind door number four is more than appropriate.”
The room I chose is one of my favorites. I always liked it for the angle of the light, gentle in the morning, enchanting in the afternoon. She continued her careful examination, but I was pleased to notice the smile on her face as she took in the richness of the decor: the crimson carpets atop the parquet floors, the long windows overlooking the gardens and the river, the mahogany coffered ceiling. She paused by the bed, smoothing her hand over the wine-colored damask of the duvet, before turning to lean against it.
“I suppose it will do,” she said, lips curling at the corners. “Of course, I didn’t bring anything with me.”
“You’ve no need. The wardrobe is full, and there is an ensuite bathroom for you that has whatever you need. You have but to ask if you have a wish.” I blinked backtracking. “Desire is perhaps a better word. I apologize.”
Her eyes flickered in the low light of the room, amusement or acknowledgement of my choice of words. I watched her gaze slide over me, then to the wardrobe, and back. “A custom-designed wardrobe catering to my every whim? I’m sure I speak for women and goddesses everywhere when I say, Where have you been all my life?”
She laughed and stood up, inspecting the armoire. I don’t remember what was in there previously—likely nothing—but everything inside it now screamed Witch Queen when she opened it. Leather coats and impossibly high heels. Jeans and more lace than even I expected. Silk and denim. A strange dichotomy. She explored the items on the hangers, several things changing just at her thoughts as she looked at them more closely. She closed the doors and turned around. I could tell she was more than pleased.
“It is to your liking, then? Wait to check the bathroom later—just a recommendation.”
“Well, now I’m curious,” she said, brows arching. “I can deal with a little delayed gratification.”
I raised an eyebrow but said nothing, gesturing for her to follow me once more. I stopped between the three previous doors, pointing to them one at a time.
“This one is my library, and you are welcome there anytime. There are two entrances, on this floor and the second. The door to the left of it leads out to the gardens—I have many doors that do,” I added, before scowling at the last door. “And that is my workshop. Please refrain from going inside.”
“All right, Bluebeard,” she quipped. “Telling the witch not to go somewhere is just going to make her want to look.” Her expression shifted as her eyes met mine, from mirth to reverence. “You have my word. I understand what sacred space means, Hades. I will not violate yours.”
I nodded once and continued with the tour. We stopped by my office first, full of plants and trinkets I had collected over the years. I had never noticed how similar it was to my work office. The first thing she noticed was how it was different.
“Less work, more pleasure,” she murmured. “You like being here. The other I’m not so sure of sometimes.” She paused to pick up an exquisite piece of spectrolite, admiring its flash in the light, putting it down.
“Sometimes, yes. I prefer keeping things strictly business when I am working.” I pointed to the tall glass doors that led outside. “Another garden entrance, and there is a path to the rivers and the reception office.” I glance at her, smiling. “There is no statue in this one.”
She lifted her eyes to mine, a faint flush coloring her cheeks. “Should I ask about the bedroom while I’m at it? Any statues in there?”
I considered her a moment before moving on. “I’ll tell you later.”
I watched my words skip across her cool surface like stones. The ripples were subtle, the disturbance lovely, and gone just as fast. We moved down the hall, passing a large archway but not stopping. “The sitting room is there, TV, books, drinks of all varieties, a bar, and a few other living things are in there, should you wish to distract yourself.” We reached the staircase and headed upwards. The first door on the right was plain, and I pushed it open for her to look inside. A pool table sat in the middle, chalk scoreboards on the left side of the room, flanking a large fireplace. On the right were leather couches and another small bar. “If you fancy a game of pool, let me know.”
She leaned close to me, surveying the room from the doorway. Her smile held more than a bit of challenge as she stepped back. “You might regret that.”
“Time will tell, no?” I grinned at her and carried on. More paintings, plants of assorted nature, and sculptures lined the hall until we reached a large, heavily decorated door.
“No need to enter, but this is my room, should you need to get me for an emergency or some such. It is directly above yours.”
Hekate laid her hand on the wood, tracing the raised carvings. The look she gave me was dark and warm, like her voice. “I promise not to disturb you unless I’m desperate. How’s that?”
“As you like, Hekate.” I kept my face passive, wondering if she knew the implications, and then realizing she did. We headed back downstairs to the front doors and stood on the steps. I turned to her, hands in my pockets.
“My home is yours. Please feel free to explore. I will not tell anyone you are here, as discussed. Did you need anything from me?”
She looked at me, crossing her arms, seeming uncertain what to say. “I…don’t suppose there’s anything else. I’m sure you have things to do. Don’t let me keep you.”
“I am unbothered, and at your disposal.”
She smiled and looked at the gardens, biting her lip as she considered how best to make use of my invitation. “Eventually, I’d like something to eat. For now, show me something…unnecessary to me, vital to you. Let’s start there.”
I gazed out towards the reception center. “ .” I headed down the stairs and into the thick of the gardens. The flora was thick and heavily scented, bright and whimsical, yet graceful and stalwart. Even the thinnest of grass could carry a mountain in my gardens. I led her to the center where a large lake sat, and on the shores was a gazebo made of white marble. It stood out against the heavy greenery, lily pads drifting near the base. I followed the low steps up, a path I had tread many times before, and waited for her.
“I meditate here.”
It’s the longest distance between us since we arrived. She stood unmoving, seeming more still for the movement of life around her. Her face was calm, as still as the surface waters of the river nearby, but her knuckles were white at her sides. When she realized I was looking, she pressed her palms against her thighs, smoothing her skirt down. The look on her face wasn’t pain, but more the memory of it.
“Hekate? What’s wrong? Have I said something?”
A breeze stirred her hair, causing her to reach up to tuck a length of it behind her ear. She started towards me, slowly, reluctantly. “No. Of course not. I just…remember the first time I saw this place.”
I watched her curiously. “When was that?”
“When you ran off with Persephone.” She stopped at the base of the steps, looking up at me. “I’m sure you don’t remember. You were…rather tangled up by then.”
“…Hekate?” I walked down the steps and stopped before her. “Please, explain.”
“All right.” She took a deep breath and faced me, arms crossing over her chest. “The side of the story you don’t know, then. Seph and I were close, and I’m sure she at least told you that. In the weeks leading up to you bringing her Below, she started avoiding me. Because she was meeting you. And then, she was gone.”
Hekate’s eyes drifted away from mine, out over the water, farther.
“Demeter came to me, begged me to help find her. Something in what Demeter said clued me in. She said she could no longer feel her daughter on the surface, and the plants had stopped speaking Persephone’s name. I knew…the garden where you met. I found the flowers she dropped when you startled her. It was nothing more than a hunch, but straight and true as…as an arrow.”
Hekate walked past me down to the shoreline. “Thanatos is the one that taught me to bend myself between the Above and the Below. Did you know that?”
“He taught me when I was younger, back when I was running with the Pack. Sorry, I mean, him, and Dinlas, Hypnos.” She took another breath, tensing. “It was easy enough for me to get into the Underworld, so I snuck in your back door. Not that I didn’t get caught. I, uh, wasn’t as careful as I am now.”
“Your sentries intercepted me just north of where the Reception Office is now, and brought me here, as an intruder. And I found Persephone. Here. In your arms.” Her laughter sounded forced, like her story. “Don’t worry if you don’t remember it like that. As I said, you were a little preoccupied.”
This story pulled at me a lot harder than I thought it would. I leaned against one of the pillars, watching her. “You sound as if this was a bad thing? What am I missing in this narrative, Hekate?”
“Everything changed that day, Hades. Seph was my closest friend. And now, she was with you. The future I imagined…we…would have…shifted. Finding her here, with you…I mean, there was nothing I could say. Who would begrudge their best friend happiness?” Hekate looked up at me, face a mask of control. “And then she asked me to stay. And I could tell you hoped I would, too. For her sake. So…I did.”
I moved to her side, hands in my pockets, and watched the waters move against the shore. “What does Persephone being with me at the time mean to you, Hekate? I still feel like I am not being given the entire story. But I will not press you.” I glanced at her. “That is not why I asked you to come here. If you wish to elaborate later, I will listen. If not, it is your story, not mine.”
“It’s been so long since I told it, I don’t even remember how it goes.” She looked away, tracking the flight of a heron winging its way from the shallows. “Besides, it doesn’t matter, does it? I’m here now.”
“Very true.” I offered her my hand once more. “Come with me.”
She warily took my hand, and I walked her up the steps to the railings that looked out over the lake. The light, though not sunshine, sparkled across it, and you could hear the leaves rubbing against one another. I watched her carefully. “Not so bad now?”
Hekate leaned against the railing, her slender hand still sheltered in mine. She closed her eyes, listening to the hush of this place, a song I knew well. “It’s always been beautiful here, Hades. Don’t think I don’t remember that, too.”
Her answer worried me, but I did not want to pressure her—not when she just arrived, and under the idea that she was to restore herself. I squeezed her hand once and turned to leave the gazebo. “Let’s get you something to eat, Witch Queen.”