Usually, when I am feeling overwhelmed, I take myself to one of my sanctums scattered within the Underworld – or topside – and let my mind work through it that way. Sometimes, I only need to sit in silence. Others, I practice sparring, or I compose music. At this moment, right now, I am beyond any of that as this mystery unravels at my feet.
It was Hekate. That was her secret: it was always supposed to be Hekate. It was she who was meant to be in the gardens, not Persephone. I did not know where to train my eyes first. On my former wife, or my new love.
“Eros, you-you shot us? Why? To what end?”
I hated stuttering, but I was at an utter loss, another rarity. The last forty thousand years, she had been there right before me, and all of that changed on a dime. We had arrived back at the beginning.
Eros’ lip twitched as he swept Clio into his arms, his wings snapping outwards. “Who knows why I do the things I do?” And with that, he launched himself into the sky and took off. My mind and emotions are a darker whirlpool than Poseidon could ever create.
“Thanatos,” Persephone’s voice cracked beside me, “I…I would like to go back now, please.” She took a long shuddering breath, not meeting my eyes. “I do not belong here. This is not for me.”
“Seph!” Hekate cried out. Thanatos had moved towards Persephone, pausing when the Witch Queen spoke up. His eyes darted between the two women. “Please, that’s not what I wanted.”
“How can I live with myself? How can I stand myself after what I have done to you?” The pain in Persephone’s voice was like listening to a fawn dying. “After all this! What I did, what I turned you into?” Her voice dropped, filled with remorse. “And I begged you. Begged you to stay in your torture.”
I felt no better about it. She had made this a part of herself, of her duty. Her broken words from the party echoed back: Destroyed myself for duty. I watched Hekate cross the space between her and the Iron Queen, reaching for her hands.
“Seph, you didn’t know! This is why I never said anything, because I knew you would feel…this.” Her voice was raw anguish, pulling at me. “What was I supposed to do? Tell you? You were in love. Both of you. How would that have helped? You talk about not being able to live with yourself? Do you think I could have lived with myself if I had deprived you of that?”
I tightly clasped my hands behind my back to help steady myself as tears flowed freely down Persephone’s face, grasping Hekate. “It wasn’t meant to be me. I hurt you, and now I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know how to handle this.”
The queen I had once known was being washed away before my eyes, leaving a young goddess broken. Truth is never easy. A kingship is filled with these, whether we want them or not. They are necessary, sometimes as an evil, but necessary. Today’s revelations swept Persephone out to sea, and there was nothing I could do about it. And…I was not sure if I would, even if I could.
“Maybe it was meant to be you,” Hekate said, her voice quiet, resigned. “For whatever reason, what happened, happened.”
I took a slow breath. “Did someone tell you to come that night, Aghapimenis?”
Persephone’s face was raw as she finally turned to face me, shaking her head. “No one. I just wanted to be away for a little. Hekate and I always came here. It’s our place.”
The Moirai knew what they were doing, always. I have never questioned that. Today, I wondered how long it had taken them to weave this particular pattern into the tapestry. I slid my hands deep into my pockets to stop them from trembling, my eyes drifting between the pair. Hekate’s gaze fell on my face, but her words were for Persephone.
“Nothing I have said here changes anything. You met. You fell in love. You got married and ruled together for a thousand thousand lifetimes. All of that was real, Seph. The only thing you didn’t know was where I stood in relationship to all of it.” Hekate lowered her voice to barely more than a whisper. “And how could you? Because I chose to say nothing.”
I met Hekate’s gaze. “This is what you meant at the party, is it not?”
Hekate looked between us, silent for a long moment, then nodded.
“By the time I understood everything that had happened, I had two choices. Speak and know I would ruin your happiness, or stay silent and take the chance that it would not ruin mine. Then Seph asked me to stay. And you wanted me to stay, too, for her sake. I said yes, not wanting to lose everything I loved.” Hekate dropped Seph’s hands and looked away, ashamed. “But… I wasn’t strong enough. I meant it when I said I would stay. I just didn’t know how hard it would be. Having everything that I dreamed would have been mine right there, always just out of reach. So, I made a choice. To keep my promise or to keep my heart. Duty won.”
I rounded on Thanatos. I wasn’t angry, but my disbelief that one of my closest friends would have kept this from me the whole time was…well, disbelief.
“Thanatos. You knew, and you didn’t tell me? For what reason?”
“I didn’t want her to turn me into a dog…again,” he said with a shrug, then gave everyone a formal bow, turned on his heels, and departed. I watched him go until he was out of sight.
Hekate bit her lip and tried not to smile.
I swiveled to Persephone, searching her face. For what, I did not know. I hesitated a moment before taking the Iron Queen’s hands in mine.
“Persephone. You must understand what I am going to say to you.” I started, rubbing a thumb over her knuckles. “An arrow may have started us, but you must know that all the years we were together, even in the end – even now – I care about you. My nephew’s meddling does not change that.”
Staring up at me mutely, Persephone nodded, then took a breath, trying to regain some composure. She slightly squeezed my hand, and I could feel how much strength it was taking her to hold herself together. “I understand. It doesn’t make it any easier right now. But I understand. I think.”
“I know, Aghapimenis.” I glanced around for Thanatos. “Would you like me to leave it at that for now? We can speak later if you like.”
“This was never my intention. I never wanted either of you to know. Forgive me for keeping the secret, and for not keeping it well.” Hekate backed away slowly, shaking her head as she turned to leave.
Holding her free hand out, Persephone waited, not looking away from her sister, and not letting go of my hand. Hekate looked at the garden path, trying to decide whether to stay or go. With a long sigh, she lowered her head and turned around, returning to take Persephone’s hand.
“I made a wish at the party that night. And those words are no less true now than when I said them. There is nothing I want more than the two people who mean the most-” Persephone’s tears interrupted her words as she forced herself to continue, voice shaking, “than the two I have loved the most to find happiness. And if they choose to find that happiness in each other, then my wish is a good one.”
Persephone placed our hands together, drawing hers out from between them. Smiling through the pain, she kissed Hekate, then glanced up at me and laid her hand against my cheek.
“I love you both. Be happy.”
Turning away, she picked up her fallen hat and straightened, her body tight with the effort of holding herself together. She looked back and gave us a final smile, then called for Thanatos to take her back. Summoned, Thanatos wrapped his wings around her and departed, leaving Hekate and me alone.
I gathered my thoughts. Or as best that could be done right now. “What made you pick Skía as your name? Why not tell me your own? We were young. It wouldn’t have made a difference.”
“Because you were a king? Because I was nothing? Because you caught me and I needed to save face? Because it was the first move in a game we’ve been playing for thousands of years? Who knows why we do anything when we’re young?” Hekate pulled her hands from mine and stepped away, turning her back on me.
“You were more than nothing, Hekate.” I stepped around her, forcing her to face me. “We have been playing a game I knew nothing about. Not the stakes, not the players. Nothing.”
“And now that you know?” Her voice rose, the power in it stirring the air around us. “Tell me, is it better? Are you happy? There’s nothing between us anymore. You got what you wanted. And the price is every bit as horrible as I told you it would be. Seph is hurt, broken, doubting everything she loved and knew as real. For what?”
The flames flared brightly in her eyes and were instantly shuttered, her irises becoming black as the void. She stood there in her bare feet, looking up at me, staring me down.
“What do you mean there’s nothing between us?” I couldn’t believe she would think that. “Do not put words into my mouth, Hekate.”
“The secret, Hades! The goddamned secret! That thing you kept saying was between us? How can you be so…so…”
Hekate let out a sound of utter exasperation and started pacing. I heard a distant rumbling of thunder behind her words as the branches of the trees began to twist in the wind.
“I don’t know what I was expecting. You seem so observant, so intelligent. How many clues did you need, King? In the end, I still – still – had to have Clio paint you pictures for you to see it.”
She prowled around me, anger, pain, and bruised pride braided into the whip of her tongue. The storm around her was not the only thing on the rise. The accusations she flung at me summoned the sleeping force of my own anger. The ground shifted slightly beneath my feet, and I folded my arms hard. This would be resolved today. No more dancing around.
“I may be able to spot a lie a continent away, Witch Queen, but who was the one who kept this to themselves all these years? What clues should I have gathered from talking business with you? Was I supposed to be omniscient to your goings-on?”
“I’m not talking about the thousands of years you spent with Persephone. I’m talking about the last few months between us. Think, Hades, and think hard. How many clues did you have? Shall I number them for you?” The wind lifted her hair, tangling it in a dark nimbus around her face as she bore down on me. “The toast I made at the party to Eros and Clio, about the cruel tricks of Fate. The talk at the gazebo my first day in the Underworld, when I told you finding Persephone in your arms changed everything for me, that that moment made me who I am.”
She stepped closer to me, lightning crackling on the edge of her tone.
“My wager at our chess game, that I wanted you blindfolded. Did you ever stop to wonder why that? And then, when I paid the price of our bet and made you swear an oath not to touch me, what did I say to you? Swear the strongest oath you know. Sound familiar, King? Even my dog, Hades! Her name is Skía!”
A crack split the ground between my feet, and I straightened up, taking a long breath to push down the geyser that was waiting to happen within me.
Hekate pressed a finger to the center of my chest. “You want the truth? Here it is. Skia was the perfect name for that young goddess that kissed you in the garden that night. Because all this time, I have been as close to you as your shadow, and not once did you open your eyes.”
Like her hand was on a button, I felt myself starting to boil over, fueled by the fire of her words and everything that had happened tonight. Only now, it was no longer just anger flowing through me, through my magic. It was pure hunger. Not trusting myself to speak any further on the subject at the moment, I turned away and shot a portal open.
And before she could speak, I stepped through to home.