The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Installment #14: Reconciliation

On earth, Mother was frantic. She had known immediately that something was wrong when she sensed Poseidon’s storm, and her fear had peaked when she realized it was moving directly over my grove. Had Hades and I lingered there for much longer, we would have met her as she pushed her way through to the center of the maelstrom, though Zeus was trying to keep her at bay. However, by the time she reached my meadow we were gone, as were Zeus and Poseidon, who attempted to follow us by other routes. The storm quickly evanesced, and by the time she walked into my grove the wind had died completely and the last sprinkling of rain was trickling down through the trees. The air was thick with water vapor and a fog blanketed the now eerily silent field. My mother could smell the ghosts of Zeus’ lighting strikes, and began to fear the worst. She burst through the tangle of trees and bushes into my clearing, calling out my name though she knew I was not there. She could not sense my presence, but felt the remnants of my distressed spirit which had been there mere moments before. She saw the scorched places on the ground where Zeus’ strikes had fallen. Among them were torn and burnt pieces of my robe. My mother gathered the scraps of ruined fabric to her breast and let out a keening moan that rose to Olympus and chilled the hearts of all who heard it, mortal and immortal alike. The people in the nearest towns heard her clearly and trembled in their beds, already aware that the gods were angry. Mother searched the grove for clues to where I had gone, becoming confused at the array of small, strange plants scattered around the clearing as well as the picked-over clusters of grapes and strawberries. She could tell that another had been here with me, eating, before the storm had come, and she was distressed by the unknown person’s lingering aura. She studied the ground, observing the patterns in the grass that told her where and how I had moved, and how large and quick my companion had been. She could tell from all of this that I had been with a male immortal, very powerful and dark of essence.

She observed the broken and twisted tree branches which had grown quickly and unnaturally, and could see that they had been manipulated by Zeus to hold the other god. She saw that they had been broken. She smelled burned fabric and flesh and knew that I had been struck by one of Zeus’ bolts. Fury rose within her and she began to think of how she would punish him. She followed our movements through the grass and trees to where we mounted the chariot, then followed the hoof prints and wheel marks to where they disappeared, in front of a wide scar in the earth. She knew then that I was with Hades, in the Underworld, and let out another moan. She did not know that I was safe and being well-cared for; she did not even know for certain that I was still alive. She presumed that Hades had deceived me; that he had spoken to me as a friend and won my confidence, only to trap me in his brothers’ storm and abduct me after Zeus’ bolts had weakened me. Our conversation about the humans and the gods did not immediately come to her mind; she thought only that Hades must have coveted me, and that he must have enlisted his brothers to help him take me by force. She imagined me weakened, in pain, and being held captive by a lascivious God of the Dead.

Mother did not know Hades well. She had seen him several times, and had even made polite small talk with him at Olympus feasts, but his withdrawn and gloomy nature made him difficult to befriend. Almost none of the other immortals knew him beyond his reputation for being the dark corner of the party, a heavy weight to which all the dreariness in the room was drawn. Even those who tried to be kind, like my mother, found themselves avoiding him. The few times she had spoken with him she had thought him good enough at heart, but self-centered and snobbishly glum. She forgot those impressions now, and her current rage reached back into her memories and re-colored them with suspicion and wariness. She imagined now that she had always thought him twisted and dangerous, a conniving villain who was always carefully observing others so he could later entwine them in his evil plans. She evil began to conflate him in her mind with Thanatos, who really did have dark fantasies about everyone he saw, which showed plainly on his face. If people rarely spoke to Hades, they never spoke to Thanatos. After the first few feasts, he ceased to even be invited to Olympus, his presence was so disturbing. Mother had certain never exchanged a word with him, and yet now she saw his licentious face before her, which she now convinced herself was Hades’ face, and imagined that she’d had long conversations with him in which he told her, to her shock and horror, the best ways one could kill a young child, or a maiden just come into her child-bearing years, or an old man who could no longer control his own body.

My mother began to weep as she imagined me chained to a bed somewhere in darkness, in agony from my wounds, cold, wet, and alone, until a dark figure entered my cell and came to me. She forced herself not to let her mind go beyond that point, and knew she must reach me immediately. She took herself to the only entrance to the underworld she could remember, but found it sealed so tightly that even her strongest concentration of power could not open it. She pounded on the invisible gate between the worlds and screamed for me, but was met only with silence. Her next thought was to go to Olympus, even though she suspected Zeus and Poseidon were accomplices in my abduction. She had a small hope that perhaps the storm had been an effort to stop Hades, not aid him. When she reached the Mount, however, she found that Zeus was not there, and none knew where he had gone. She told Hera what had happened, being careful to leave out any mention of Zeus and Poseidon, and collapsed into a chair, not knowing what more to do. To her anguish, she realized she must simply sit and wait for Zeus to return. Hera brought her warm ambrosia and she drank, then tried to devise how she would speak to Hera about the matter.

Hera sat across from her with her own cup of ambrosia and waited for my mother to speak. Mother knew that she must not imply that Zeus was guilty of aiding in my abduction, but Hera knew well enough that it was a possibility. Mother had always pitied Hera for her unfortunate situation, but privately was disgusted by her complaisance and passivity in her marriage. Mother saw Hera as a woman who allowed her husband to take advantage of her, disrespecting her and other women in his self-serving ventures. Everyone knew that Zeus was not faithful to Hera and that his exploits were decisively dishonorable, but no matter how much the other goddesses curled their lips and turned their noses up at his vulgar activities, the gods would laugh and congratulate him. Hera played along with their games, laughing at Zeus’ stories and bantering with the other gods as they made coarse jokes. She insisted that it didn’t bother her when others made sport of her relationship and unfaithful husband, but Mother knew better, as did most of the other goddesses. She claimed that if she made light of it, the subject would blow over and Zeus would love her more for being “free-flowing” as she called it. Mother insisted that if a goddess let her husband disrespect her in such a manner as if it were no consequence, it would lead to greater hardships for all women later on. She said that men would become accustomed to doing as they pleased without regard for their wives, and eventually would come to expect that all women, whether they be wife, friend, sister, or mother, should do only what was pleasing to them.

Mother had been careful to keep her sentiments to herself or between close friends only, but her opinions could be read plainly on her face, and as a result she and Hera had never been close friends. Hera had taken offense that Mother thought she was weak-willed and wrong for being accepting of her husbands’ infidelity, and there had always been a genteel chill between the two. However, at the news of my abduction and injury, Hera’s heart softened to Demeter and she reached out a hand to comfort her, stroking Demeter’s arm reassuringly. To my mother’s surprise, Hera was the first to speak, and her words were untainted with false concern or hidden meanings, but rang only with truth and honesty.

“I know that you suspect my husband is involved in your daughter’s capture, and I can’t blame you,” she said simply. “I know that he does not account for the will of others when he takes action. I know that you have long criticized me for this and that you think me complicit in his ways.”

Demeter was shocked to hear such a confession from Hera, and for the first time in years she felt real sympathy for the goddess. “Hera…” she began, trying to console her even as her own heart was wracked with grief.

“Please, Demeter, do not waste your pity on me. You have troubles enough of your own. As I said, I know he may have helped Hades take your daughter. I know that it may have even been his idea. He has spoken many times of finding a wife for Hades; he thinks it would ‘liven him up’ as he says. But I want to promise you this,” said Hera firmly, looking my mother in the eye and grasping her hands between her own, “I will not allow him to keep your daughter from you. I know I have put up with the abuse of myself and other women before, but I make a vow to you now that I will not abide this offense. I swear to you, on my own great powers, that I will do everything I can to return your daughter to you, and may the fates themselves have pity on Zeus if he tries to defy my will.”

My mother grasped Hera’s hands in return, the tears flowing freely down her face now, and thanked her. “Hera, I am sorry I ever thought ill of you,” she said, “and I thank you for your vow. Oh, I do thank you!”

My mother threw her arms around the goddess and they embraced each other for several minutes, as the room echoed with the sounds of my mother’s frightened sobs.

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