The Spring Equinox had come, and with it, my time to return to the surface. There was much I had left undone in the Underworld when I left, but I had faith things would be handled as they should.
Like the excursion with Selene, there was much that I had been looking forward to when I came home, but the most pleasant surprise was seeing Hekate. Our paths had interwoven many thousands of years ago, before I lost my heart to the love of darkness, before I stepped foot into the Underworld and became Persephone. There had always been my best friend and older sister, Hekate. So afraid to let her go when I went, I had begged her to come with me.
Now, I felt a sigh rise. Those days were behind us as well.
I stood in the lounge watching her leave, the tendrils of our conversation coming back to me. Over tea and whiskey, we had spoken of who we had been, and what had become of us now. She told me of the losses she had taken from the Titans attack. We spoke of the divorce and my parting from Hades. She had asked me if it was worth it, and I had replied it was.
Just these few moments shared in the lounge made me nostalgic for when we had been young. When she and her mother came to Olympus for shelter, and how we had bonded as friends when Asteria left. My lips curled in a smile as those times came flooding back to me, times I had not thought of in such a long time: when we were carefree, no responsibilities, when Hekate was The Bright One, and I was only the Spring Maiden, Kore. As I washed the cups a particularly poignant memory surfaced.
# # #
I was bored. Hekate should have been here half a turn ago. I wondered what was keeping her. It could be anything: Atë distracting her, an errand for Father, Hera…gods I hoped it wasn’t that.
Like I summoned her, Hekate burst through the door, cheeks flushed like she’d been running. She gave me a smile that told me it wasn’t Hera.
“Sorry, I’m late, Kore,” she breathed. “I was reading in my tree and lost track of time.”
Hugging her I smiled. “It’s okay. I have not been waiting long.” I turned to fall in-step with her as we moved towards the deeper garden. “What was it this time? Philosophy? Or Astronomy?”
The garden of Olympus was an extravagant sprawling plot of land. With hanging plants, succulent flowers and towering trees, I spent much of my day moving through the paths, it was a place two young goddesses, like Hekate and myself, could find time to get away from the cacophony of family life.
“Neither, actually,” Hekate said, blushing. “I might have accidentally picked up Clio’s diary in the library. Might have. Can’t prove anything, of course.”
“Of course.” I couldn’t help the smile that crossed my face. “So. Is there anything good in there? For. You know.“
Hekate opened her mouth and shut it quickly as mother entered the room. She gave me a quick shake of her head and flashed Demeter a grin. I needed to tell her to be more subtle. Mom’s not an idiot.
“Good morning, Dem,” she said, peering at the plate of cakes in my mother’s hand.
“Good morning, Hekate. Kore, where are your shoes?” I could feel her eyes on me as I looked down at my bare feet. Hekate waited until momma turned around to kick her shoes off and out the open door, like she never had them on. She winked at me.
I shrugged in response, I didn’t remember where I took them off. The sigh from momma was enough to make me shrink in embarrassment. “Never mind for now. Here. Sit.” She placed the tray on the table. “Hekate, you look too thin. Have you been eating?”
“I eat,” Hekate said, rolling her eyes, but she sat down faster than I did and grabbed one of the sticky-sweet buns momma knew she loved.
“Hmmm,” Momma clucked in disapproval and looked at the two of us, “And what are you two planning for today?”
Before Hekate could respond, I answered with a mouth full of cake, “Walking around the garden. And maybe wandering around the palace for a while. It’s too pretty to be inside.”
Hekate licked her fingers and sneaked an almond from one of the other cakes. Momma gave her the look. It didn’t affect her the same way it did me. She just grinned and Momma melted. I wish I knew how she did that. She said it’s because she’s not really her daughter. That she’s no one’s daughter. I don’t think she knows how much Momma loves her.
“Come on, Kore. Let’s go before everyone lies down for the heat of the day.” Hekate kicked her leg over the bench and gave Momma a quick hug, grabbing one more cake before darting out the door.
It was only a moment before I was running off behind her, after stopping to give Momma a hug as well.
“Do not get into trouble!” I heard her call after us.
Hekate waited just long enough for me to clear the doorway before taking off toward the woods. She’s fast – almost as fast as Artemis – and I had to push myself to catch up. I wondered what we looked like from the palace balconies, streaking like nymphs through the field. Hekate’s hair trailed behind her like a wild black flame. I’m sure mine looked the same, but honey-bright in the sun.
Hekate hit the forest’s edge and leaped a fallen log like a deer. I heard her laughing, encouraging me to keep up as she wove between the trees. We always came this way. It was a shortcut to one of the oldest gardens on the mount, one almost no one remembered was there. My favorite flowers grew there.
My lungs were burning as we finally reached our destination. I was never able to match Hekate in a foot race, no matter how hard I tried.
“That was fun,” I said between gasps of air, “I think you have gotten faster. Have you been practicing without me?” My eyes twinkled with laughter.
She was breathing hard herself, leaning heavily on her knees. She looked up from behind the curtain of her hair and gave me a grin. “I was going to say the same thing about you! I could hear you behind me. Artemis would be proud.”
Hekate straightened, smiling up at the sky. She curled her toes in the soft grass and took a deep breath. Then, she gave me a wicked look and took off her tunic. The color crept into my cheeks until I was as pink as the lilies blooming around the edge of the clearing. Hekate spread her gown on the ground and laid down, luxuriating in the sun on her skin.
Never as brave as her, I joined Hekate in the grass, laying back to watch the clouds, my head near hers. I always wanted to be just like her: brave, smart, daring, but I felt shy and shrank away from those things. She never judged me for it. Like negative images of each other, we lay in the grass staring at the sky above us.
“Do you think it will be like this forever? Momma feeding us, running through the gardens without a care?” I wiggled my toes feeling the cool breeze across them. I heard her sigh.
“I don’t know,” she said in a quiet voice. “I figure at some point, Father is going to want us married.” She looked back at me and grinned. “The way I see it, we need to have all the fun we can, while we can.”
She rolled over onto her stomach, kicking her heels lazily back and forth in the air. “It’s different for you, Kore. You have a mother. I mean, I have a mother, wherever she is. I think I’d rather go forward than back. Have adventures instead of endless rounds of feeling like I’m tolerated by everyone.”
The sentiment was very real in her voice, I knew she felt out of place here, that it always seemed as if one or another of the older gods were looking down at her. And don’t get me started on Aunt Hera.
“Momma will fight Daddy on that. Until you came, I never got out of her sight. I could not go anywhere unless she was with me. Momma loves you as if you were her daughter, too. But…,” I shifted, putting my hands behind my head like a pillow, “not everyone feels like that. I know it seems like it, but I really don’t think it’s true.”
Hekate traced a slender finger through the grass between us, looking uncomfortable. It’s been a subtle change, the way emotions unsettle her. I suppose if I felt like I wasn’t wanted, I wouldn’t want to feel that either. She gave me a sudden smile and rolled over, stretching, arching her back, her hair falling away from her bare breasts.
“Well, if your momma were to see us right now, she’d be back to not letting you go anywhere,” she purred, grinning. “You should take that off and join me. You’re a terrible friend, letting me get into trouble by myself.”
“Well. No, I don’t want you to have all the trouble alone.” I laughed and shimmied out of my tunic, laying it on the grass. I sighed as I laid on my stomach, feeling the warmth of the sun along my skin. “There. Now I am sharing in the trouble.” Though I was feeling brave, I still felt the heat on my cheeks as I blushed. My nervous laughter soon turned into a fit of giggles.
“So, tell me, Kore.” I heard the mischief in her voice before the question made it out of her mouth. “Which of the Three Kings would you wish to have walk into this garden, right now?”
My eyes flashed wide as I looked at her, but I giggled anyway. The Kings had been here for a council meeting just a few nights ago. Momma called me away early. Hekate wasn’t happy about that.
“Hekate!” I blushed, my ears turning as red as a rose. “How could you ask me that!?” Nervous, I chuckled and hid my face in the grass.
“I didn’t say it wouldn’t be awkward! Tell me anyway.”
“Hades is dark, serious, mysterious. Always in control.” I buried my face in my hands and laughed. “Poseidon is distant. And aloof. So. Hades maybe? But I would die! Shrivel up and blow away on the wind in embarrassment. What about you?”
“Well, Father is right out. So, that leaves Poseidon and Hades.” Hekate was lost in thought, her fingertips tracing her lips, eyes bright and far away.
She took way too long to answer after putting me on the spot. I guess my sudden flash of bravery was to blame for what I said next. “Well, who do you think is better in…well, you know.”
Hekate snapped her head toward me, surprised at what I just said. By Gaia, I’m surprised at what I just said. Not that I would admit that to her. For once I wasn’t the only one blushing. It was too good.
“I think Poseidon would be…wild like the ocean in a storm, powerful like a wave cresting, gentle like the rocking of a boat when seas are calm,” she smirked at me, “and fucking crazy.”
Another fit of giggles overtook me, as I tried to shake the mental images from my head.
“Absolutely crazy.“ Rolling over onto my back, I looked up at the tops of the trees arching over us. “So, is that your answer? Poseidon?”
Hekate narrowed her eyes. “I didn’t say that.”
“Oh, I see,” I said with a grin. “Do go on then.”
All I heard for a brief moment was the rustle of the trees, then Hekate’s voice, as soft as the wind. “I think Hades would be…intense. Primal. Intoxicating. Like hearing the darkness call your name and all you want to do is answer it with your body.” The spell-like tone of Hekate’s voice dissolved into nervous laughter. “I suppose who I pick depends on whether I want to drown or suffocate. Either way, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to breathe.”
My mind wandered for a moment. Thoughts of darkness, the roar of the ocean and even the grandiosity of our father swirl about. Shaking my head to clear it, my eyes twinkled with mischief, the questions bolstering my bravery, “So, what about the others? Do you think Ares is as intense as he is on the battlefield?”
My question sparked something in Hekate’s silver eyes. “You know he is. Have you seen how he moves? It’s like…like watching a tiger you want to eat you!”
Biting my lower lip, I nodded at her analogy, “Have you seen him working out without a shirt on? I thought I was going to combust when I walked around the corner into that.”
Hekate laughed, deep and rich, to balance my bell-like giggles, another way we balance each other. “You know they’re sparring today? I overheard Apollo and Artemis talking in the hallway before I came down. They had their arms and were making a wager. Like they always do.”
“Hmmmm.” I looked over at her, raising an eyebrow with my next question. “Are you thinking what I am thinking? It could be fun and educational.” I jerked my head in the direction of the palace and smiled.
Hekate stood, in a graceful, fluid movement, and pulled on her tunic. Following suit, I slipped my tunic back over my head, shaking my hair out, still wild from the run. Hekate combed a hand through her hair, trying to tame her raven tresses, then bent down and picked a pale Narcissus flower, reaching up to tuck it behind my ear. She bent and gave me a kiss on the cheek and a grin that meant the best kind of trouble.
“You know me. I’m all about being educated.”
Returning her smile, I slipped my arm around her waist as we headed back in the direction of the palace, laughing with mischief and not a single care in the world.