I watch him from the corner of the room where I lurk in the shadows. It is an odd sight to see. My employer, Mr. Hades, has a small smile on his face, humming what sounds like a chipper tune as he prepares two mugs of tea. He places a yellow flower that grows in Elysium into a small vase and arranges it carefully next to the steaming cups. Lifting the tray, he heads towards the library, where Kate has been reading all morning.
“Haven’t seen you smile like that in a long, long time,” I say from my place.
Mr. Hades stops. He is not startled by my voice and presence, though they seem to have materialized from nowhere. He turns to me with a smile on his face. I know that smile. It is a fool’s smile, a fool who is in love. Could it be that he has finally fallen for Kate now that he and Ms. Persephone have called it quits?
“Thanatos. A fine morning, don’t you think?” Mr. Hades greets me, showing off the tray.
“A very lovely morning indeed, Mr. Hades. Are you off to see Kate?” I inquire.
“I—yes, I am,” he admits, slightly embarrassed. “Have you seen her yet?”
“Sometime after the party incident, we talked,” I say, and Mr. Hades nods.
“Staying long?” Mr. Hades asks.
“Not long, still have business out west,” I say.
“Have you thought about what we discussed?” Mr. Hades asks solemnly.
“I have, and my answer is yes, as I said before,” I assure him.
“Was just double-checking, old friend,” he says with a nod, and off he goes to Kate and breakfast.
I watch him head down the hallway, carrying himself as he did in his younger days…his younger days…thoughts of he and Kate and Persephone gather in my mind like storm clouds on the horizon. I hear him begin to whistle an old familiar tune, and the storm of memory starts—Kate, the garden, and the mistake that forged everyone’s destinies. Maybe this was destiny correcting itself.
I felt the night air on my face as I looked out at the landscape, my back to Kate. I made her cry, and I didn’t want to see what I had done.
“I am sorry, Than! Please look at me!” The pleading in her voice made me turn around, my face warm, a high red heat in my cheeks.
“You kissed him, Kate. Kissed him, and I saw you! You kissed Din,” I said again, the accusation spilling right out.
She looked at the floor, arms locked around her slender body. Her hand moved to brush away a tear as she looked up at me. “I don’t know what happened. It just…did. I know this sounds awful, but hear me out. I’m glad you walked in. Glad. I hate that it hurt you, but…you saved me from making a mistake.”
“Mistake?! Are you not in love with Din? Does he not strike your fancy? Hmmmm…and what would strike your interest, Kate? If not I, nor Din, then whom?” I chided her.
Kate crossed the short distance between us and laid a hand on my arm. “No! I’m not in love with Dinlas. I…I can’t be. He’s …not meant for me.” She looks down at her bare arms, and I know what she’s seeing. I remember how she looked in Dinlas’ arms. Not the shock of them together, but the lines of fire etched all over her body, like she was burning from the inside. “I saw someone else…in his future. It’s …it’s not me.”
“Then who, Kate? Who is for you? Tell me, and maybe I can go to Eros for you. I can help. I want you to be happy, Kate,” I said, softening my tone.
I opened my arms, in the hopes she would fall into my embrace. The night held the first hints of the fall chill.
She hesitated only a moment and moved into my arms, burying her head against my chest. “You know you don’t have to make up for what your brother did, right? He’s not your responsibility. You can’t pay the price he owes me for what he did.”
I enfold her in my arms and wings. “This isn’t about him, Kate. This is about you and your happiness. You are coming of the age where young goddesses seek courtship, and their suitors the approval of their fathers.”
Kate settles her cheek against my chest and sighs. She is quiet, which means she’s thinking. Her mind never stills. She takes a deep breath. “There is someone, but it’s a ridiculous notion. Not even worth speaking.”
“Kate, who does your heart desire, for I will see you happy yet,” I told her.
“You won’t laugh? Or think I’m…stupid?” She tilted her head back to look at me. “Because it’s really stupid.”
“Of course not, Kate,” I assured her.
Kate chewed her lip for a moment, lost in a memory, then inhaled, holding her breath then saying the name on a rush of air, “Hades.”
“Mr. Hades? Really? Mr. Hades has captured your eye? This is good! I like this. If he chooses you, then you can stay in the Underworld with us!” I said.
“Than!” She’s laughing, which is much better than the crying. There’s something else, too. She’s blushing and unsure and…utterly lovely. “He’s a King, Than. He wouldn’t be interested. Not if he knew who I was. I’m not exactly among the first choices for a royal marriage here.”
“Regardless, you are still a princess of Olympus! At least let me arrange for you to meet. Mr. Hades can make up his own mind, though I don’t think it will be hard,” I said, squeezing my friend tightly.
“Meet? M-Meet Hades?” Her voice was threadbare. She was hiding something. “Do you…do you think he would come?”
“He would if I explained that he had caught the eye of a royal daughter of Olympus. He would be flattered and most intrigued and would agree to meet with you, my dear raven-haired maiden.”
She looked off into the distance for a moment, then took a shuddering breath. “I don’t want him to know who he’s meeting. I…I want a fair chance. I want him to want me for me. Not because of who my father is. Or who my mother isn’t. Or because of…”
Her words trailed off, dragging her back into some hidden thought. I waited, knowing she’s trying to find her courage. It’s in there. I knew it was. She didn’t.
“Ok, Than. Go talk to him. Tell him I want to meet him. There’s an old garden at the foot of the mountain on the western side. That one where Hermes used to spy on everyone because you can hear everyone talking on the terrace if the wind is right?”
“Yes, ah, yes, I know that place!” I said, getting excited, but refraining from telling her that Mr. Hades and I take moonlit constitutionals there some nights. I didn’t want to freak her out.
“No one goes there anymore, but Kore and me. It’s private.” Kate’s eyes were bright as she looked up at the moon. It would be full tomorrow. “Tell him I’ll meet him tomorrow at moonrise. That seems like a fair place to meet a King. Neither day nor night, not his kingdom nor mine. But not a word of who I am. Understand?”
“Then, fair Kate, I will deliver your message to Mr. Hades.” I smiled, and with that she kissed my cheek and left me on the balcony. I watched her go. She seemed to glow in the moonlight as if happiness was pouring from her aura. She padded along on her bare feet until she was in and out of my view.
I closed my wings around myself, and when they opened, I stood before The Palace of the Underworld, Mr. Hades’ home.
I knew I would find Mr. Hades in the Weeping Orchard tending to his trees and their forbidden fruit. I needn’t say anything. I merely stood, and he slowly stopped what he was doing, turned, and faced me. His face broke out in a small smile, and he gave me a nod.
“Thanatos,” he said.
“Mr. Hades,” I greeted him. “I have news for you, sir.”
“Do you now?” He straightened, brushing himself off.
“I have been asked to deliver on her behalf. I will have you know that you have caught the eye of a royal daughter of Olympus, and she wishes to meet with you.”
Nerves got the better of me. I was going to do a lead-in, but it’s too late now. Mr. Hades did seem interested, though. I licked my lips, which had gone dry, and waited to see what he had to say before I continued.
“Who is it?”
“She forbade me to speak her name. She wishes your first meet to be without titles. Just you and her,” I said.
He rubbed his jaw, eyes boring into me as he rolled it around. “Where does this royal daughter wish to meet?”
“The garden by the base of the mountain, the one you and I sometimes walk in, tomorrow at moonrise. She will be waiting for you there,”
The shadow of a smile fell over his face, and Hades nodded. “As you say, Thanatos. I will be there.”
“Splendid, Mr. Hades. I shall go and inform her.”
I took my leave with a curt bow of my head and returned to Kate with the wonderful news. This really was going to work out well, my King and my best friend together. I get the best of both worlds. I felt happy, almost light as a feather, as I left the Underworld and rose up from the shadows in Kate’s chambers in Olympus. It’s been long enough now that she knows the change in the air when I’m near. I gave her a moment and, sure enough, she turned around.
“That…that was fast.” Her face fell. “He said no.”
“As a matter of fact, he said, pick out something lovely to wear and meet him tomorrow night in the garden.”
Kate’s hand came up to hide her smile. “He did not say that. He wouldn’t. But he said yes?”
“He said yes. The lovely thing to wear was my suggestion, Kate. So you look nice for him,”
“I always look nice!” She tried to glare at me, but the smile on her face ruined it. She grabbed my sleeve and dragged me over to her closet, throwing it open. “What should I wear, since you’re so full of suggestions?”
I found something that was black and elegant that would fit her just right, without making her look a floozy. A young woman must remain prim and proper no matter the occasion.
“He will fancy this, Kate,” I said, handing her the dress.
She held the dress up and bit her lip. “It’s so…so…”
“So right. It’s Mr. Hades’ favorite color. It will attract his eye. Trust me,” I said, smiling.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” she mumbled, blushing, then flicked her eyes up to me. “You’re sure?”
“Very sure, Kate.” I remained smiling.
Kate clutched the dress to her chest and drew herself up tall, tossing her hair back over her shoulder. That radiant smile warmed my heart to see it on her face.
“I suppose if I want to be Queen of the Underworld, I might as well start dressing like her.”
I nodded in agreement. Then the death chimes called me away, and I would not see her again until the garden and the twist of fate that was yet to come. In a cloud of black smoke and the flapping of my wings, I left her.