Kiss of Tragedy by Stephanie Van Orman
The Wedding Scene
Persephone chose a white silk gown and white slippers that laced up her shins. The dress fastened over one shoulder while the other shoulder remained bare. She used a pair of sapphire clips to hold the fabric in place; one on the shoulder and one on her back to give the dress some shape by pulling the silk tight around her waist. Then the nymphs finished her hair and they left the tower together.
On the hillside, Persephone and the two nymphs of them picked great handfuls of blossoms and laughed happily at the brightness of the day, at the fun of being free, and the melody of birds that rang from the trees.
“If you had a husband, lady, what kind would you like?” Raidne asked Persephone as she handed the goddess a peach.
Persephone sat on the soft blades of grass and spun the peach around in her hand until it slipped from her fingers and rolled away. “Well,” she said, thinking of these things for the first time. “I realize my choices are few. There aren’t many gods who could be my husband.”
“Would you like Apollo?”
“Perhaps in time. As for human men, I don’t really care for them, but one might do for a time if I should get lonely. If that were the case, then the choices are almost endless.” She paused to consider. “I’d like dark hair, almost black. Maybe brown eyes to match. Beyond that, I really don’t know what I want. Perhaps I’d like kindness because I don’t like anger.”
“None of them are the same, and all of them are a bit like animals,” said the dark-eyed nymph.
Persephone picked a large blue flower with a head so large she needed two hands to hold it properly. “I don’t know much. It feels like I’ve lived in this quiet world forever and the sun... how I adore the sun! I feel like it doesn’t matter if I have lovers or husbands or children or anything as long as I have that sun shining down on me. But, is there any place where it doesn’t shine?”
She breathed blissfully and lowered herself onto her back. The earth beneath her felt perfect. She closed her eyes and focused on it, but then she started to feel something strange in the ground—a rumble. It started out as little more than a quiver, but soon the dirt was jolting in heavy thrusts. Persephone sat up and tried to rise to her feet, but she was thrown onto her knees.
“What’s going on?” she shrieked, completely unprepared for anything so unexpected. Separate from the quaking hillside, her whole body trembled in fear.
The nymphs didn’t answer her but clung to trees and screamed louder than she did.
Then the ground before her began to split and the earth ripped open spewing red volcanic spray. The flaming liquid rolled down the hill as the hole grew and gaped. She was going to fall in if she didn’t move. Paralyzed by fear, she could hardly move an inch, but she forced herself backward. Then, just as suddenly as it started, the earth stopped shaking and Persephone put a hand to her breast.
It was over.
Seconds passed and a gash in the earth remained large and flowing with lava, like a bloody wound in a man’s chest. The nymphs ran toward Persephone and threw their arms around her seeking comfort from her even though they were her servants. She put one arm over each of their shoulders to show that she realized they were upset, but said nothing. She did not know how to respond. They said they would help her run away if something terrifying happened, but instead, they had protected themselves without worry for her.
Beneath their feet, the ground began to rumble again, but this time it was pulsing and rhythmic, like the pounding of horses’ hooves. The pounding became louder and louder until the gleaming pool of molten earth suddenly erupted. Shattered rocks and lava flew in all directions, and up out of the earth burst two massive horses pulling a chariot.
There in the rain of flames and rocks, stood Hades. His face and arms were streaked with ash and sweat. His white hair hung free below his armored shoulders. On his face was the expression of a man who utterly refused to be denied. In the chaos of stamping horses and shrieking nymphs, he saw nothing but Persephone.
She stared back at him in amazement. What had he gone through to break through to Olympus that way? She marveled at him as she clung to Raidne and Teles.
His eyes were a curious mixture of heartlessness and determination as he stared at her. “Come with me,” he commanded, proffering his soot-stained hand.
“No,” she whispered, a tremble rocking her body.
His eyes did not move from his goal as he tied the reins around the corner of the chariot, and stepped down. Reaching into the chariot, he produced a long riding whip and approached the three women.
“Nymphs, get away from her now,” he said chillingly.
There was no need for further threatening. Hades, merely standing there with a whip was enough to send the two fleeing the scene like leaves blown in an autumn wind.
Persephone calmed her nerves and sat still. “What are you doing?” she asked. “My mother told me she declined your request.”
“I don’t care what Demeter declined. Everything on her tongue tells of her contempt for my existence and her ignorance of what I stand for. In protecting you, the goddess of fertility, her understanding of my purpose is left so carefully blank. Either she doesn’t understand our joint function, or she intentionally ignores the necessary balance of the universe for her own selfish purposes. You are a symbol of birth, and yet you have been kept away from the bed chambers where you would learn your purpose. Demeter commands your realm in your stead in order to keep you a virgin. She is determined to stop you from learning of me and my ways. No more! They will hide you from me no longer. We were meant to be together as lovers, and you will learn what death is.” He bent and offered her his hand again. “Take my hand or I will drag you into Hell by your hair.”
Persephone shivered. She couldn’t do it.
When she didn’t obey, he did as he threatened and took her ringlets in his stained fingers and jerked her to her feet. She cried out. She had never felt pain before. He looked in her distorted face and slipped his arms around her, so he carried her with her knees over one arm and her back in the other.
“I’m such a beggar,” he said sardonically. “I can’t even carry through on my promise to force you cruelly. Understand that if you continue to disobey me, I will not stay a beggar.”
He dropped her into the chariot and took up the reins, lashed the horses and drove them back down into the earth. Persephone was jostled back and forth in the chariot. Her hair and clothes were soiled in the ash and heat as they journeyed back down through the rock and fire that had been so inconspicuous under the carpet of Mount Olympus a moment ago.
Eventually, the long tunnel ended and Persephone and Hades came to a great cavern. The horses landed on a small outlet beside the underground river Styx. Persephone looked around, but she couldn’t see much. It was dark, and she could sense strange animals clinging to the rocks of the ceiling. Their screeching sounded in her ears and she felt afraid.
Hades stepped down from the chariot and without saying a word hauled her out by her wrist. Now she looked like him, smeared in ash and sweat, her curls unwinding, and her throat and nasal cavities burnt dry.
A boat was waiting in the black water with a strange, huddled figure piloting it. Hades made no introduction but threw her on the floor of the boat face down and took a seat at the stern. It was a large curling seat with comfortable cushions large enough to seat the two of them. The cloaked creature pushed away from the riverbank and they began floating downstream. The horses huffed and snorted, but Hades didn’t even look back at them.
“Do you want to sit beside me, wife?” Hades asked as he looked down at her.
After their feverish plunge into the earth, the moist cavern was cool and refreshing. She was unable to oppose him before, but now, she felt she had the power. After all, her mother had rejected his proposal. “A husband of mine would never treat me as you have done,” she said.
“Oh? If you feel I have mistreated you, then you have Demeter to thank for that. I tried to do things her way and was thwarted. Now we do things my way. I’ll repeat myself. Do you want to sit beside me, wife?”
“I’m not your wife,” she whispered.
He narrowed his eyes curiously. “Painful. You are painful. Get up. Take your clothes off. I want to see what you look like without that seductive silk.” He looked at her expectantly. “Undress.”
“No,” she cried.
“Charon won’t look at you. He knows who his master is... unlike you.” Then he hesitated a moment, before he said, “Now that I think of it, you haven’t paid him.”
“What?” Persephone gasped. She didn’t know what he meant. Why would she have to pay for anything? She wasn’t a mortal making a deal with a god.
“You need to give him a coin for the journey,” Hades persisted, propping one of his legs up on the upholstery. “Give him that sapphire clip on your shoulder. Then he’ll get his tax, I’ll get my view, and you won’t get thrown head-first into the River Styx.”
She reached behind her and removed her back clip and slid it into Charon’s outstretched hand without turning to look at him. Her dress billowed and lost its shape, but stayed on.
Hades shook his head darkly. “Your romantic appetite leaves something to be desired. You won’t even let me make our marriage even slightly enjoyable for you, will you? The story would be told best if you could say, ‘He was so hungry for me he couldn’t even wait until we reached his bed-chamber, he ravished me in the boat.’”
Persephone felt her stomach roll. “That isn’t a story I would tell.”
“Considering your frame of mind, your story will be much less alluring for the audience,” he said insolently.
The boat rocked on, steering its way through the ripples of water. Occasional lights traveled along the shore. Not fireflies, or flames, or stars, not even the reflection of tiny shimmering rocks. Instead, the way was lit by dead souls, lost and wandering. And the goddess, Persephone, was strangely worse off than the dead, in the boat of Charon with the Lord of the Underworld dying of lust.
There were two entrances to Hades’ buried castle in the Underworld. One opened to the river Styx and the other opened to the road that led all the way to Mount Olympus. A human soul would always arrive by the riverboat, past the three-headed dog, Cerberus, and into the great hall. Persephone had entered the Underworld the way dead souls do.
The great hall was a circular room with vaulted ceilings and many, many doors lining the walls. From the oversized throne, souls were judged. The doors lining the walls did not lead further into the palace. Each door led to eternal consequences. Some souls went through a door where they would find relaxation after a hard life, some would review their life, some suffer, some exalt.
As Hades and Persephone approached the throne, Hades sat her down on it. The back of her head flattened the plush black velvet with a thud.
“Unlike your position on Olympus, you will have to work here. You’ll find it exhilarating, I’m sure,” Hades said lazily. “I have a gift for you. It’s a crown for you to wear as you sit on your throne.” He put out his hand and immediately something circular shimmered into position. She had never seen a god conjure something before and she looked at him, stunned.
The crown was a circlet that was very strange to her. On Olympus, her crown had been laurel leaves of carved gold. What Hades showed her was a crown made of black feathers.
Hades set it on her head with reverence and took her hand. Lifting her from the throne, he said, “For us, there is only one way out of this room.” He took her to the middle of the circle and opened a trap door in the floor. A winding staircase led downward.
At the bottom of the stairs was a parlor lit by a soft blue light that reflected on the ceiling by intermittent pools of water.
“This is where I greet any god who comes to visit. They don’t come often, but a good show is put on for them when they do come. Almost everything in this room will burn without diminishing: the chairs, the sculptures, the steel plants, the walls. Some of them like to feel like they’re visiting Hell, so I put on a show for them. The rest of the rooms aren’t like this.”
The next room was almost completely taken over by an enormous bath. It had bridges across the water and pedestals with statues of winged gargoyles. Hades led her straight across to the next room.
It was a library, but it was more than three times the size of hers at home. There were more metal plants and tiny trees, but these ones had real fruit dangling from them. Beside them were basins on pedestals that resembled her birdbaths, but were filled with a dark, sticky liquid.
“It’s chocolate. Have you ever tasted it?” Hades asked.
“You’ll love it. Dead humans bring the best recipes with them. No ambrosia down here.”
Persephone was beginning to be mildly disturbed by his palace. It was like hers, so exactly like hers that she wondered if he made it that way especially for her. She was also worried about what was coming next. She was eyeing the two doors in front of her.
“You know what’s behind that door, don’t you?” he whispered, inching up behind her and stroking the side of her arm. “They’re both bedrooms. That one is for whores and that one is for wives. You choose.”
“I don’t want to see either one.”
“But I want to see you. I want to see all of you.” His lips curled and Persephone knew it was the end.
Persephone numbly felt the cold silk on her naked back. She heard the faint sound of crunching in the background. She kept her eyes shut tight and tried not to think of anything. She didn’t know if she had been slammed through the door intended for whores or the bedroom intended for wives. She only knew that her back had broken through one of them and she had been sprawled against cold sheets with the coldest god of all on top of her.
Grabbing a sheet that had been kicked aside, she covered herself but felt no warmth.
She had tried to fight, but the more she fought, the more pleasure he found in it. He had loved every second she squirmed, scratched, kicked, and shrieked. Now she lay exhausted and broken as her pearl-like tears streaked down her temples and welled in her ears.
“Open your mouth,” he said, almost sounding kind. “I don’t mean to be cruel to you, not after that. I just needed to make it clear to you that this is how we were meant to be together. Open your mouth,” he said again and Persephone, tired and sick at heart, did as she was told.
He had been peeling a pomegranate and inside her mouth, he slid six kernels. She bit down on them and the juice flooded her mouth. Hades bent, sealing her lips with a kiss and, though she was unaware of it, that was their wedding.
Author's Notes: Thanks for reading! You just read the wedding scene from 'Kiss of Tragedy' by Stephanie Van Orman. You can download the whole thing for free from Barnes and Noble, KOBO, Smashwords, AppleBooks, GooglePlay, and DriveThru Fiction.
About the author
I write novels like I am part-printer, part book factory, and a little girl running away with a balloon. I'm here as an experiment and I'm unsure if this is a place where I can fit in. We'll see.