Authors: Sasha Summers
For the Love of Hades
© Copyright Sasha Summers 2013. All rights reserved
Editor: Candice U. Lindstrom
Cover Art: Jeannie Ruesch
Crescent Moon Press
1385 Highway 35
Middletown, NJ 07748
To Allison Burke Collins
& Angelyn Schmid,
Thanks for swooning over Hades.
Hades glanced at the lily propped atop the mantle. The blossom was bright white against the black silk to which it was pinned, light against the darkness. He reached up, tracing one petal with an unsteady finger. He saw the tremor, cursed it, and clenched his hand, drawing back from the flower as if it had burned him.
Turning abruptly from the fire, he made his way to his chair and sat heavily. There was a sweetness to his burden, but it was no less a burden.
He leaned forward, rested his elbows on his knees and covered his face with his hands.
What had he done? How could he make amends now that his heinous act had been hidden so long? Using his powers to aid a mortal would seem trivial in comparison with the offense he’d committed against Demeter. Against Olympus.
And yet, he felt whole.
The raw emptiness that he’d held at bay, for nigh on an eternity, no longer threatened to consume him. Having her here, with her constant laughter and endless conversation, had changed his world irrevocably.
If not for her, he would have remained bitter and angry. He would not have interfered at Cyprus. He would never have thought to champion the mortal, Ariston…
“My lord.” Her soft voice interrupted his thoughts.
He lifted his head from his hands, surprised.
Persephone stood, beauty to behold, watching him with wide green eyes. In the blazing firelight her hair glowed copper, warm and rich. Her face, normally alight with smiles and laughter, was drawn. Was she not fully recovered? Or did the tension between them tire her as well?
His voice revealed nothing. “Persephone.”
Her steps were cautious, but she made her way to him. “Aphrodite?”
So she had seen Aphrodite. “Has gone.” And she should have gone with her fellow Olympian. He should have insisted she do so. He swallowed against the lump in his throat, ignoring the tightening in his chest.
“I thought as much.” She stood so close he could see the front of her tunic. The fabric trembled, thundering in time with the rapid beat of her heart.
Was she disappointed? Was she ready to leave him… his realm?
She should go. She should have gone weeks ago. He knew it was right. Yet knowing it did nothing to soothe his agitation. He clutched the arms of his throne, clinging to control.
“I’ve not asked you for anything in my time here.” She paused. “Have I?”
He shook his head once. No, she’d seemed happy, though he had little knowledge of true happiness, he supposed
His gaze found shadows beneath her eyes and a tightness about her mouth. He was a blind fool.
Have you been miserable?
He could not ask the words aloud, fearing her answer.
Her voice was no steadier than her pulse. “Nor would I trouble you now, if my need were not so great.”
“What is it?” he asked. His voice sounded harsh to his own ears.
She sank to her knees, glancing at him with an almost timid gaze. Her hands lifted, wavered, and covered his hands. He stiffened, stunned by her actions. She touched him… He swallowed. The feel of her hands upon him squeezed the air from his lungs.
“Show me mercy. Show me the same mercy you’ve bestowed upon the mortal… the soldier Ariston.” Her hands clasped his tightly.
He would not reach for her, he could not. No matter how he might want to.
“Have I been cruel, that you feel the need to beg for anything from me?” His words were a harsh whisper. She shook her head and he continued, “Then why do you kneel before me?”
“It is a selfish request, one that may turn you from solicitous to,” she paused, her cheeks growing red, “… sickened.”
Was it possible for him to feel so towards her?
He stared at her hands, wrapped about his. He would not meet her gaze. He would not reveal his damnable weakness to her. He could not risk losing himself in the fathomless depths of her green eyes. “Ask me,” he murmured as his traitorous eyes sought hers.
She drew in a wavering breath, ragged and labored. Her whispered words were thick. “My lover… Release him. Release the man who loves me, please.” Her eyes sparkled, mesmerizing him while his heart, so newly discovered, seemed to shudder to a stop once more.
Persephone assessed the blackened tree trunk. Patches of white, bleached and fragile, peeked through the charred bark. She bit her lip. Was she too late?
She hesitated, her hand wavering as she pressed her palm against the pine tree. Her heart steadied, her chest lightened. She spoke with feeling. “I feared you’d left me, old friend.”
The pine spoke, its musical words for her ears alone.
She listened, before answering, “I have no answers for you. Why do men lose sight of the majesty that surrounds them every day? How can they forget that the world is not theirs alone to conquer?” She teased, “They are foolish, perhaps?”
The pine was not appeased. It was wounded, beyond the injury man’s arrows and fire had caused. It felt betrayed.
Persephone felt the weariness, the hopelessness, within the tree and sighed. She must cheer it for her healing to work. “I would see you strong and hearty.” She pressed both hands against it. “I would hear your branches creak in the wind, for it is the sweetest song. Watching your limbs grow heavy with leaves and fruit fills me with pride.”
The pine tree was silent.
“Do not deprive me of my joy, I beseech you,” she pleaded gently. “Let me help you. And while I work, you can tell me a story. You know how fond I am of stories.”
The tree argued, refusing to be mollified.
“You’re wrong. I don’t know
of your stories.” She stroked the trunk, wincing as bits of the scorched bark broke free beneath her hands. “Yours are the very best stories…”
The tree spoke again, rejecting her ploy to pacify it.
flattering you shamelessly…” She laughed, touching the naked trunk with careful fingers. She closed her eyes, willing her strength into its core. Bark formed, thickened and hardening beneath her fingers. “If you do have a story, I would hear it. Then I will sing to you.” She continued to move her hand in long strokes, sealing and healing the angry gashes left by the warring mortals. She’d heard the pine’s story before, but listened anyway. The language of the trees was fluid, carrying her along its lyrical current.
“Your stories fill my ears and heart with delight. Thank you.” She stepped back, the healing, and the story, complete. “What song would you hear?”
The tree always asked for a song, the same song. It was the pine that had taught it to her years ago, patiently. And she treasured its gift to her.
She sang, in a tongue no longer spoken, using words she scarcely understood. She sat on the tree’s thick roots and leaned against its trunk. This giant pine tree was older than her fathers, older than the Titans. And it was whole once more, because of her.
When the song was done, the tree thanked her.
“You’re welcome,” she answered. “It is my pleasure to give something to you, old friend.
will never forget you. You are a treasure.”
She rose, stepping around its base with care. She must head home. If her mother learned how far she’d wandered…
A man stood, regarding her warily.
His form was muscled heavily, his chiseled torso slick with sweat. He wore only a chiton, draped low around his hips. It, like the rest of him, showed signs of toil under the hot afternoon sun. His hands… they were red, bloodied.
His gaze would not hold hers, yet she sensed no threat in him.
Better to be sure.
She stepped back, pressing her hands to the tree trunk once more, seeking answers. The tree’s quick response eased her.
“Are you hurt?” she asked.
He glanced about him, his lips parting then closing.
She paused. The tree had told her this man was safe. She would not doubt her friend, no matter how imposing the man was. But there was a gravity to him… a weight that drew her in. In truth, she’d never seen a man like him, nor felt such a presence. She swallowed.
His skin was pale, lacking the golden kiss of the sun. His hair, blue-black in the afternoon rays, was thick and curling, caught back with a leather tie. His face was hard, rugged and angular… He was beautiful. If a man could be called such.
He shifted, the muscles in his calf and leg rippling in the sun. She swallowed again. There was no doubt this man had the strength to be most dangerous.
His hands clenched, drawing her gaze back to the blood that marred his pale skin. “Are you injured?” she asked, softer this time.
One black eyebrow arched as his guarded gaze met hers. “You speak to me?”
She nodded slowly. “Of course.”
He seemed nervous. Or confused? Perhaps he’d suffered a blow to the head. Hermes had told her a fierce blow might disorient a man. She frowned. It would explain the blood on his hands.
His jaw tightened, the muscle bulging.
She stepped forward. “Are you wounded?”
It was her voice that reached him first. Such a calming serenade would ease those souls newly sent to his realm, he had no doubt. But he did not seek out the songstress until he’d carried the last body, a seasoned soldier, to the shelter of the tree line.
When he found her he could do nothing but stare. Her form and face captured his attention so completely that he forgot grime and blood stained his chiton and dirtied his hands.
She was an immortal, he had no doubt. She glowed vibrantly, almost blinding in the sunlight. Her every movement was echoed by her aura, the pearly cast a faint ripple in the air.
But he did not know her.
She smiled at him, a sweet – if somewhat nervous – smile.
He frowned, confused. A comely woman, immortal or no, should not wander unaccompanied. Not when Greece faced such an invasion. He’d heard her speaking to someone, surely she was not alone. Whoever it was made no move to reveal himself.
He stared about him, seeking out her companion. “Are you alone, lady?”
She did not answer, so he turned to her once more. Her green eyes were so brilliant he found it hard to hold her gaze… such green eyes, so lovely.
She glanced sidelong at the tree, but said nothing.
His eyes searched the tree, staring up into the branches. He froze then, understanding. His gaze bore into hers, his anger swift and sudden. He’d stumbled upon a secret meeting, between lovers. He’d heard her song and knew the words well. She’d sung of love. And promised never to forget him… Such a promise, given so eagerly, convinced him that she must be here with her lover. Her coward of a lover hid, leaving her alone.
She blinked, the line of her throat tightening as she swallowed.
He was staring. Why was he staring? He stiffened, his muscles going taut and hard.
“Your injury?” Her head tilted, her gentle features growing concerned. “Did you hit your head?” She moved closer to him.
She was too close, was coming even closer. He frowned, willing her to stop. Instead, she reached up, as if to touch him. He stepped back, stunned, holding his hand before him.
“Your hands.” She pointed, blinking when his gaze met hers. “You’ve blood on them,” her voice was soft, wavering.
His voice startled even him as he spat out, “It’s not my blood.”
A slight furrow creased her brow, her eyes going round. “Oh… Well,” she ventured. “Good… that’s good.” She smiled, seemingly well pleased, and rattling him all the more.
The damnable urge to smile found him, though he pressed his lips flat. He’d no time for such distractions. First the souls wandering in the meadow, now this… this vision. He could delay no longer. Zeus had summoned him, had summoned all the Olympians, a rare event. And yet, he was here, staring at this peculiar girl, far from the Council Chamber.
“How did you… What happened?” she floundered. “Whose blood is it?”
Enough. He would ascertain that her cowardly lover was, in fact, hiding here and leave her under his protection. His eyes traveled over the tree, inspecting its mighty branches before searching the meadow again. “Are you alone?”
Her gaze followed his, her curiosity evident to see. She lifted her hand, shielding her eyes as she inspected the meadow. “Are you seeking someone?”
He sighed, exasperated. But her face stopped his sharp response.
Her green gaze lingered on the meadow. The bloodstained, flattened grass stood eerily still, too matted to sway in the warm afternoon breeze.
“You are a soldier.” She glanced at his hands then stared up at him. “Were many lost?”
He saw the furrow of her brow, heard the sorrow in her voice, and answered gently, “Not many.”
“Did you… Was it horrible?”
His eyes searched hers. “Horrible? Is dying for the sake of glory and honor horrible?”
“No, oh no.” She shook her head. “But surely the fighting itself is neither glorious nor honorable?”
Her insight surprised him. Beauty was not her only asset, then.
She paused, uncertain. “I… My apologies. I’ve no knowledge of war or battle, glory or honor.”
Yet she understood the truth, the travesty, of it. “No?” he asked curiously.
Who was she?
She blinked, swallowing as his eyes swept over her face.
His voice was hard. “I ask again, are you alone?”
She shook her head, staring at her feet.
“I am not,” she said slowly.
His lip twitched. There must be considerable objections to this lover, then, beyond his spinelessness. Why else would she protect him so? “Who were you speaking with?”
A baying howl filled the air, startling her. He bit back yet another urge to smile and turned, whistling once. His hounds raced toward them, their silken bodies undulating through the waving grasses. In an instant, they were at his side.
Hades watched her stoop to greet his hounds, astounded. She reached out her hand, welcoming the large animals with a guileless smile. The youngest stepped forward to sniff her hand. “Hello,” she whispered, rubbing the hound with dainty hands and graceful fingers.
He swallowed, tearing his gaze from her hands. “Will you answer my question?”
She glanced up at him, still smiling over the dog. “I’m not alone.”
“As you’ve said.” He was torn. Should he laugh or shake her? Was she testing him? He took a deep breath before asking, “
were you speaking to?”
He watched, fascinated by the color that bloomed in her cheeks. She stared at the hound, then the tree. “A… a friend.”
He sighed, not bothering to hide his mounting frustration. One word from her, a straight-forward answer, and he could be about his duty. If she would not tell him, he would find them. He moved, the hounds following. But he found no one as he circled the massive tree trunk, though his eyes searched every shadow and shrub.
“Where is this companion?”
“Not so much a companion as…” She paused, blushing again.
. His eyes swept over her.
. He all but snarled, “As?”
She sighed, looking utterly defeated. “The… the tree.”
He could not have been more surprised. “The tree?”
“Yes.” She met his eyes, nodding. “This one, this glorious pine, is very old, you know.”
This was the most peculiar conversation he’d ever had. His carefully blank expression gave way as true bewilderment settled upon him. Even as his gaze bore into her clear, green eyes he wondered what she’d say next. “Is it?” he asked softly.
“It is.” She nodded, warming to her subject. “Older than most of the Greece we know, shading the Titans…”
“The Titans?” he interrupted, unable to stop himself.
“Even Titans need shade on a day such as today.” Her smile grew. “Before the Gods overthrew them, they wandered these plains. The mountains, there.” She pointed, her eyes roaming the horizon as she continued, “They were taller then, jagged and rough, as was the world. Man had yet to settle or thrive, the beasts were new and skittish. So the Titans would come here, to its green grass and young trees, and dream of what was to come. It was a more peaceful time. Or so I’ve been told.”
He watched her closely, enthralled by the sincerity in her voice. She believed what she said. To hear her, to see the wistful look upon her delicate features, he might believe her too. “Peaceful?”
She nodded. “It was a very long time ago, before the Titans grew greedy, before war with the Gods, before man sought power… A long, long time ago.”
He glanced at the tree. That she spoke of a tree, not a lover, pleased him. “Are you a nymph?”
“No.” She shook her head. “My attendants are. Nymphs, that is.”
He regarded the tree in silence. He’d thought not. She was too gentle, too guileless a creature to be a nymph.
“It’s a lovely tree.” She placed her hand on the trunk, stroking its bark with a satisfied smile. His lungs tightened. “The loveliest pine in all of Larissa, perhaps all of Greece. It will shade travelers, bring joy and comfort, for years to come,” she added.
He marveled at the smile upon her face. He’d never seen such adoration. And yet she clearly held deep affection… for this tree? “Who are you, lady?”