“Kore, my child
so tender and mild,
dance while flowers sing praises to you . . .”
And dance Kore did. Spinning to the beat of springtime. The springtime of the year and of her life. As she turned and jumped, she saw her family gathered about her in celebration of her eighteenth year. They sang and clapped as she brought in the new season with movement and joy, as she did every year. The long winter was leaving the land, and the rebirth of spring could be felt all around. Her dance welcomed the burgeoning life back into the land. The balance between night and day was complete.
One figure, however, did not participate in this celebration. Oh, he was here, to be sure. Yet Kore wondered at the dark, brooding man who stood off to one side alone. While she knew he was raptly watching her dance, no smile crossed his face. Then, as she went into the final turns, he was gone.
Kore finished the welcoming dance; breathing hard with the effort and the life it brought her. All around her, family cheered and lifted their cups to toast the new spring. Her bare feet carried her lightly over to where her uncle was just delivering a punch line that had Ares howling with laughter.
Hermes saw her approach and opened his arms to her. Kore welcomed the warm hug, then asked the question that burned inside her.
“Uncle, who was the man in the long coat by the door? He was watching my dance, but he left before I finished.”
Hermes grinned his toothy smile. “Upset that you didn’t enrapture every male in the room, my dear?”
Kore punched his shoulder playfully. “Is your mind always in the gutter, Hermes? No, it’s just that I don’t think I’ve ever seen him before. He seemed so cold.”
“Ah, that’s just Hades. He’s never one for parties, especially as winter leaves the world. He doesn’t know how to have a good time.” Hermes reached for a full glass. “I’m surprised you hadn’t seen him before, Kore. For certain he’s seen you.”
Kore spun away from her examination of the room. “What do you mean?”
“He’s been at every one of your birthday parties in the last decade.” Hermes took a long pull of mead. “A fine eye for beauty, Hades has. No appreciation for life, though.”
Kore thought hard to remember the dark face and hair, the hard cheekbones, the brooding eyes. Glimpses of old celebrations told her he’d been there. Why had he struck her so tonight?
Hermes cut off her train of thought. “Don’t pursue that one, dear Kore.”
“What?” Kore wrinkled her nose at the thought. “You’re getting daft in your old age, Uncle. Why would I even be interested in him?”
“It’s that look you just had when you were trying to remember Hades. I’ve seen that look on young women’s faces many a time . . .mostly when I’ve put it there.” Hermes chuckled. “It means nothing but mischief.”
Kore rolled her eyes. “Give me some credit. There’s more life in a morgue than in those eyes. And he’s obviously not as interested as you think, dear Uncle, if he doesn’t even stay to watch me finish my dance.”
Kore spun in a whirl of clingy, blue silk. Then stopped and winked at Hermes. “He must be as dead as those he watches over to not stay for that.”
Hermes laughed out loud and wrapped an arm around Kore’s shoulders. “He must be at that, lovely girl. I’d no idea I’d taught you so well.”
As Kore danced in the mist above the roar of the ocean, she was free and secure in herself, joyful in her movements. The longest day was here, and she felt the strength of Apollo’s steeds in her limbs. Kore’s dance welcomed the warmth of the sun upon the earth.
This eighteenth year was a year of promise, her mother had always said. So far, Kore had found it so. While she knew of the pleasure of the flesh and had learned well from her family the ways of people in the world, she was untouched in her deepest core, sufficient unto herself.
A figure in shadow stood at the edge of time watching Kore dance, as he had done for many years now. His long coat blending into the green darkness of the forest, Hades was troubled.
Hades watched Kore dance and pondered his fascination with the girl growing quickly into womanhood. A desire to possess crept into his cold heart. To possess the essence of springtime and . . . something more?
He shook his head. It was only the shortness of night making him think in such a way. Stepping back through to his demesne, Hades pondered these thoughts.
Kore stopped in the middle of her dance as a chill ran up her spine.
Had that been a form in the trees just down the hill? Hades again, it must be. Why did he always leave before her dance finished? Shivering once, she resumed her motion and continued the long dance of summer.
The wind blew cold as Kore stepped once again upon the cliff. Crashing waves below welcomed her as she prepared to dance away the summer. A summer filled with flowers and suitors, yet Kore was disturbed this evening as she began her motions.
“Kore.” The voice was like water dripping on metal, its harsh notes
disrupting her dance. Kore stopped as a cold wind swept over her. A moment before it had been her, the ocean, and the wind. Now the form of shadows that was Hades intruded upon her moment.
Off balance but unafraid, an odd feeling stirred within her breast.
“Lord Hades,” Kore began, as she curtsied to the lord of the dead. “To what do I owe this honor? Do you wish to dance with me?”
Hades’ eyes sparkled in the dim light. “I do not wish to dance with you, lovely Kore. I wish for you to come to my home.”
Taken aback, Kore stood straight and shook her head in disbelief. “What? How can you ask such a thing? You don’t even know me.”
Hades stepped toward Kore on silent, leather-clad feet. “I have watched you since you were a child and have grown to love you. I am no longer content to wait. Will you come with me?” He held out one long-fingered hand to her.
Kore’s mind raced with his words. How could this man just ask so bluntly? Yet, she realized she was considering the offer. “My dance is not complete.”
“Then finish it.” And, so saying, Hades stepped away from her, into shadow, leaving just enough space for her to move freely on the cliff.
He thinks he gives me permission, he thinks he is in control. But I’m not so certain of that. I wonder if he has seen all of my dances? Kore thought.
With that, Kore began to dance again, but now her movements spoke a different language, one of challenge, of desire. Her movements invited his presence, yet he stood away. Hades’ indifference inflamed her, and her motions welcomed him more and more clearly. Yet still he stood at the edge of the circle until she was finished.
Panting with effort, Kore looked at Hades, and wondered how he could resist her. He stepped forward and revealed his face for the first time. Eyes like sapphires, pale skin flushed with emotion, mouth framed by a dark beard, lips marked red where he had bitten them to keep from crying out. Kore looked at Hades and desired him.
“Will you come with me?” he asked after a long moment.
“What are you offering me,” she said quietly, “that I should go with you?”
“Offering? I can only give you what I have—a fine mansion, jewels to adorn your loveliness, everything that is mine shall be yours.”
“Where do we go?”
“Where your mother would not want you to; a city filled with steel and stone.” Hades’ eyes pierced deep into Kore’s. “Will you live always in her shadow? Or will you seize your own destiny and come with me?”
How can he know? Kore wondered. How can he know of my secret thoughts, my desire to be free of her? Aloud she said only, “I am my own woman.”
“Are you?” Hades’ voice was barely a whisper, yet it echoed in the chambers of Kore’s heart. “Do you come with me willingly?”
She answered him in the only way she knew Hades would accept, and the sweetness of her lips upon his stole the breath from his soul. As the force of Hades’ long-chained emotions swept over Kore, she struggled for breath, torn between the pressure of his lips and the shaking of her own body. Panting, they looked at one another and, as one, moved swiftly down to his car.
It was dark . . . the way ahead lit only by the cold, blue lights of Hades’ car. The tunnel’s tiled walls echoed the engine’s low roar.
Kore knew the tunnel must end, but she couldn’t shake the feeling of being buried in a tomb under the river. The fear grew until she felt Hades squeeze her hand gently, reassuringly, as though the heart and mind connected to it knew her thoughts and understood.
They emerged suddenly into streets crowded with cars and people. Bright neon lights pushed away the autumn evening. Kore had never seen so many people in one place before, crowded in by the artificial cliffs of skyscrapers.
As Hades drove them toward the city’s heart, traffic and pedestrians moved instinctively out of his way. Not that anyone seemed to notice the matte black car, just that some ingrained desire to avoid death moved them.
Kore watched the people through the tinted windows. Their eyes were dull, their limbs moving mechanically. It was as if all the joy of living had been drained from their hearts.
“Are these the dead?” Kore finally asked.
Hades thought for a moment. “Yes. They just don’t know it yet.”
Kore shuddered and turned back to the window. The buildings came to a sudden end, replaced by an immense park. Even this failed to brighten Kore’s mood, for the trees had already shed their leaves and the grass was brown.
Halfway along the length of the park, Hades turned the car and entered the courtyard of an obsidian palace. He shut off the engine, and they got out into the chilly autumn air. Dark spires rose on all sides, but few lights were inside. The flagstones were bare and cold under Kore’s feet as she took in the sight.
In a swirl of black leather, Hades turned to face Kore. “Welcome,” he said. A lock of hair fell forward to cover ocean deep eyes as he bowed deeply. A wry and crooked smile touched his lips, “Welcome home.”
A short, gray man came forward from the mahogany doors and bowed deeply to both. “Master. Mistress.” The man stood again in the dusky light. “The room is prepared, may I take you in?” With a brief nod from Hades, the man turned and began toward the entrance.
Kore followed Hades and the man through shadowed halls, the only light provided by an occasional tall window letting in the gloom from outside. No pictures adorned these walls. No braziers provided light and heat. The palace was utterly lifeless, as befitted the king of the dead. Kore was saddened by the lonely story the walls told.
The majordomo stopped before a door of dark wood like all others. He opened it, then bowed while stepping away. Hades walked into the room, turned back to Kore and said, “This, my dear, is your room.”
After the cold solitude of the rest of the palace, Kore was stunned by the difference. Tall lamps stood in each corner, giving light to walls painted the color of early spring moss. A hearty fire crackled in the fireplace under a painting of the sunset upon her cliff. The only piece of furniture in the room was a tall, posted bed draped in a gauzy fabric Kore could’ve sworn was captured mist. Firelight danced across the ocean-blue silk on the bed, like the sunset depicted in the painting.
Watching the wide-eyed stare with which she took in the room, Hades was pleased. He waved away his majordomo and waited for Kore to finish her inspection. Then Hades opened his arms to her, and they lost themselves in the ever-present night.
Kore wandered the dim halls as she had every day for the last few months. The silk of her gown made barely a noise on the glossy floor. Whenever Hades was away, the heaviness of the house hung over her like a shroud. As Yule approached, the weight grew even more.
He came to her often enough, but Kore felt Hades distancing himself from her. There was a certain evasiveness whenever she tried to talk to him. While gifts came regularly, his presence was what she wanted more than anything. Finally, Kore told the majordomo her feelings. For the briefest moment, a glint of life returned to his ageless eyes. Then he sighed deeply and motioned her to a place beside him on the marble bench.
“I do not know what to tell you, Mistress.” The majordomo began. “Other than you’ve stayed much longer those who’ve come before, and this disturbs the Master.”
“But surely that isn’t so. Hades is a god!” Kore said. “He must have consorts of much longer standing than I.”
The majordomo shook his head. “No, Mistress. The Master knows only how to possess, not share. And the only things he truly owns are the dead.”
Kore chewed her lip as she pondered this answer. The majordomo watched in silence as a gleam of determination grew in her emerald eyes. She turned back to the majordomo and said, “Hades told me I was free to use his accounts?”
The majordomo nodded. “All that is his is yours, Mistress.”
Smiling, Kore placed a hand on the gray man’s shoulder. “Call a cab for me please. I believe I’m going shopping.”
“As you wish, Mistress.” The majordomo stood, bowed once, then departed.
Sitting in the cold, stone bench, Kore quickly created her plan. “Hades may be lord of the dead, but I’m certainly not ready to become one of his subjects.”
Kore was glad the fire was finally starting to warm the main hall. It was as if it had to fight off a thousand years of cold to be felt; yet it had begun. She reached up to add another crimson bow to the evergreen tree.
A familiar voice behind her said, “Does Hades have any idea what you’ve been up to, young lady?”
Kore smiled and turned toward Hermes as he continued.
“I mean, really! That tree isn’t even close to dead yet. What will the neighbors think?” Hermes grinned as Kore grabbed him in a tight hug.
Stepping back, Kore asked, “How did you find me?”
“Your Aunt Kate said she saw you and Hades hop into the mortismobile after your little performance.”
Kore blushed slightly. “She saw me at the equinox?”
“Oh, yes,” chuckled Hermes. “She gave me quite a description. Taking lessons from Aphrodite, are you?”
Her flush went crimson at Hermes’ toothy grin. “Well, I might’ve learned a step or two.”
Hermes laughed. “Maybe you’re too apt a pupil, dear Kore.” His laughter died as the smile left his face. “I have a message from your mother.”
Kore frowned and went back to trimming the tree, almost breaking a branch while tying a bow to it. “What does she want?”
Hermes stepped over to the roaring fire and warmed his hands. “She misses you.”
Kore’s shoulders fell as the defiance left her. For months she’d lived in this cold, stone mansion. No matter that she’d hung bright, springtime paintings or added color to the walls. Whatever she did, the meadows and hills of her home pulled at her heart.
“I miss her, too.”
“She wants you to come home. She wants you away from this cold place.”
Kore sighed. “Not yet.”
Hermes’ angry glare felt like a hot knife in Kore’s back. “Why ever not? What can Hades possibly give you to keep you here?”
Slowly, Kore turned toward Hermes and looked into his quicksilver eyes. Bright tears shone as they rolled down toward her chin.
Quietly, Kore said, “I love him, Uncle.”
Yule dawned bright with snow on the ground. Kore liked how it softened the hard lines of the city. Looking out across the park, she could almost imagine being back at her home near the forest. Turning away finally, she walked toward the main room.
Hades was standing in the middle of the room when she arrived. As she watched, he turned in place, taking in the room’s transformation. Evergreen boughs donned the stone mantle over a roaring fire. The gold candelabra in each corner held lit green candles, warming the room with light and the scent of bayberry. On the dining table, centerpieces of holly and mistletoe sat on snowy cloth. Finally, a huge evergreen dominated the far side of the room, decked in red ribbons and white candles.
Eventually, Hades saw Kore in the doorway watching him. His face was unreadable.
Hesitating briefly, worried that she’d angered the dark lord, Kore stepped over to Hades and took his pale hands in hers.
She looked into his sapphire eyes for a moment. Were they somehow warmer today? Then said, “Shall we exchange gifts?”
Hades bent over Kore and kissed her on the lips. Then smiled and pointed to a package wrapped in brown paper by the tree. “You first,” he said.
Kore walked over to the gift and knelt down beside it. Looking questioningly at Hades, she bent to open the box. She lifted off the top and looked inside, only to see what seemed to be a lily plant.
“Pull it out. It looks much better in the light,” Hades said.
Reaching in, Kore thought it was much heavier than it should’ve been. Then she realized it was made of spun glass. Turning the flowers in the firelight, Kore could see the lilies were exquisitely detailed, even down to the veins on the leaves. So lovingly recreated were they that Kore almost could smell their heady scent.
“They’re beautiful,” Kore said.
“I’m glad you like them. It took forever to find a craftsman to do such exacting work.” Hades smiled at the glow on Kore’s face as she turned one of the flowers in her delicate fingers.
Then Kore placed the lily carefully into the vase and stood. To Hades, it seemed she was steeling herself for something, setting her shoulders back and lifting her chin. She walked to him and took his hands.
Looking into his eyes, Kore said, “I’m afraid my gift will seem a poor one in comparison, yet it is the most precious thing I have to give.”
Hades was confused. He’d known for weeks that Kore was planning this, yet nowhere in the accounts did it show what she’d purchased. However, here she was, looking at him like she was about to give him the world.
Kore took his hands and placed them on her chest, still clasping them. She took a deep breath, let it out slowly, then said, “Hades, my love, I give you my heart.”
They stood there for an eternal moment, looking at each other. Then, slowly, Hades pulled back his hands, turned, and walked away.
Hades strode down the hallway, silent as death and cold as a winter storm. The rare March sunlight did nothing to heat the chill exuding from his body. Without knocking, he opened the door and stepped into Kore’s room. It was as the majordomo had said. A single bag lay open upon the bed as Kore quietly filled it with a few things from around the room.
“What are you doing?” he asked. Kore paused briefly to look at him and then resumed packing.
“It is nearly spring, and I miss my mother. She has asked that I return and I feel the desire to do so.”
“But why?” Hades was confused. “Have I not treated you well? Have I not given you everything you desired?”
Kore sighed deeply, then walked to Hades. One delicate hand caressed his cheek as she looked into his icy eyes.
“No, my love. You haven’t. You can’t give me the one thing in the world I desire. Therefore, I must leave.” She brushed his lips tenderly, then went to close her bag.
Hades’ arms dropped to his side, his mouth hanging open. “What?” He demanded. “What more could I possibly give you?”
Not bothering to turn, Kore replied, “Your heart.” Then she picked up her bag and walked past him to the door.
Under the arch, she paused. “The lilies I leave to you. For on this day, my birthday, I wish to give you a gift. I only hope that you look upon them fondly and remember me.” And with that, Kore was gone.
Spring passed into summer unnoticed by the lord of the dead. Hades wandered the dim halls as he had every day for the last few months. He looked at the bare walls and remembered how they looked before he’d told the majordomo to put everything into storage. It hurt too much to see the bright pictures and remember the life that so briefly took residence in his house.
As always, his feet had carried him to Kore’s room. Even though she was gone, Hades still thought of it as such. He stood outside staring at the door for a minute before finally opening it and going in.
This was the one place he couldn’t bear to change. The walls were still springtime green, the painting from the cliff still hung over the now cold fireplace. And on a table by the bed stood the vase of glasswork lilies.
Hades walked slowly over to vase and pulled a single lily out. Turning it in his hands, he wondered if it were the same one Kore had held so many months ago. As the dim light played upon the leaves, Hades remembered laughter and color.
A single tear fell upon the lily’s petals and slid into its depths.
With the shortening of the days, it was once more time for Kore to dance summer’s journey into autumn. Upon the cliff again, Kore’s mourning was palpable. For the first time in her nineteen years, Kore knew the sadness of death.
As she spun and dipped and turned, a chill touched her bones with that sadness. Though she knew the source, Kore ignored it and continued her dance. Only after the last turn was finished, did Kore look up to see Hades watching her.
Catching her breath, Kore sat upon one of the stones and waited.
Hades walked quietly to her. In the glow of sunset, Kore could see the lines carved into his troubled face. Still she waited, though her heart ached to touch his cheek and ease the creases away.
Looking over the cliff and into the sunset, Hades said, “For an eternity I known only the cold touch of the dead. In my own way, I was happy with my position. Then, the impossible happened.”
Hades turned to Kore, falling into the sea green eyes like a drowning man. “For the first time, someone has taught death the tenderness of love. What I thought would be a pleasant diversion, turned into something much more. Something that I cannot ignore.”
“So I’ve returned to you, but with a different offer.” Hades knelt at Kore’s feet. From inside his jacket he pulled a small, black, velvet-covered box, opened it, and held it before her. Inside was a gold band with six blood-red rubies set around it.
“Kore, you once offered me your heart. If that offer still stands, then I give mine in exchange. For the cold inside my breast is no longer for lack of emotion. It is due to the loss of your love.”
Kore gasped as the sunset caught the stones, making them glow with a deep warmth. It was as if they could hold the summer sun inside, safe from the winter wind. Kore felt as if she’d been set adrift in a hurricane.
Slowly, as if a thousand years of thought stood behind each word, Hades said, “I love you, Kore, and I want you to be my wife.”
Gathering herself, Kore pulled the ring from the box and stared as it continued to radiate the sunlight. Sighing softly, she reached out and lifted Hades chin.
“My love, I too was changed by you. I realize now that my place is here, to dance the passing of the seasons. I have a duty to carry also, and I do not belong to the cold city when the warm seasons come.”
Kore paused to let her words sink in, then continued. “My offer is this, dear Hades. As there are stones in this ring, so shall there be months I spend in your house. I will come to you each year after I’ve danced the parting of summer, and return here to welcome spring back to the world. If you can accept this, then I shall gladly become your wife and partner.”
Hope returned to Hades’ stormy eyes. He took the ring from Kore’s palm and placed it upon her finger. Hades kissed her hand and, raising his eyes to hers, said, “I came here expecting nothing. Half of each year is more than I ever could dream for.”
Standing, Hades led Kore from the cliff toward his car. As he opened her door, Hades said, “You drive a hard bargain, my lady. Could it be you’ve had lessons from someone?”
Kore kissed Hades’ cheek and grinned. “Life is a hard teacher, but Hermes is a better one.”
And so it was, that death learned to laugh at life.
~Written by Lisa Mc Sherry and Daniel Myers