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.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Installment #17: Hospitality

My eyes darted around almost frantically as I followed Hades through Hypnos’ remarkable house, trying to take in every fascinating detail. We were walking too quickly; I wanted to stop and examine every strange vase and odd painting, every exotic couch and polished end table. I had never felt poor in my home; we always had everything we needed in abundance, and after all, Mother and I were goddesses. We had always been content to live close to the earth, and our home was furnished with wood, which had once been a live, growing thing, and retained an aura of warmth even after it had been hewn and nailed. I felt like a peasant gaping and Hypnos’ extravagance, but it never occurred to me to be self-conscious about my obvious wonderment. I supposed that as a visitor in a foreign land I was allowed to be surprised and amazed at the things I saw. I ran my hand across the top of a red couch as we passed it, feeling the rich thickness of velvet for the first time.

We passed through an enormous front room with high ceilings and an elaborate candelabra, then through a series of progressively smaller rooms, each decorated mostly in white but with different accent colors, and each containing several plush chairs and couches gathered around a low table. It seemed that his house was designed to entertain many people at once in small groups, and I envisioned Hypnos drifting from one room to the next, floating into one party and leaving for another as soon as he got bored. In many of the rooms there were cushions from wall to wall, the floor piled thick with carpets and large pillows scattered artfully about, as if the entire room were meant to be one giant bed. In one room I glimpsed, out of the corner of my eye, what I first took to be a woman lying on a long white pedestal. I stopped in my tracks, startled to see someone so suddenly in what appeared to be an empty house, but then realized she wasn’t moving. Her eyes were closed and her hair fell in beautiful wisps around her peaceful face. The folds of her robe looked as though they were arranged by an artist, falling over her hips and then down over the edge of the pedestal, reaching almost to the floor. The long, undone robe left her left shoulder and breast exposed, and I realized that she must be a statue, and felt foolish for having thought her real. I supposed she must have been made with some kind of magic that gave her the illusion of life, for her coloring looked incredibly accurate. I wanted to go over and touch her, to see how the effect was accomplished, but Hades noticed me lingering and called to me.

I ran to catch up, eager to reach Hypnos and ask him about his magnificent statue. We finally entered a room that ended the twisting chain of interlinked chambers, and Hypnos was already lounging on a couch, waiting for us. There was a black door on the wall opposite where we had entered, which I assumed to led to Hypnos’ private chambers. Hades and I each sat in one of the four huge plush chairs facing Hypnos.

“Welcome,” he said. “Please, help yourself to some tea.”

I hadn’t noticed anything on the table as I sat down, but now there was a white china pot surrounded by matching white cups. “Tea?” I asked. I had never heard of it before, though it seemed obvious now that I had shown my ignorance that it must be some sort of drink.

“You’ve never had tea before?” said Hypnos, raising an eyebrow.

“No,” I replied simply, thinking him rather rude for taking what I perceived to be a disdainfully incredulous tone. “What does it taste like?”

“It depends on the tea,” said Hades. “But mostly it is slightly bitter, and it is served hot. I drink it often in my palace. I would not, however, recommend the tea Hypnos serves.” He cast a hard look at Hypnos, who returned him with a sneer and a roll of the eyes. The tea service disappeared.

“He really is no fun at all,” said Hypnos, looking at me. “I wonder what it is about him that you find intriguing.”

I blushed slightly, then grew a bit more angry at his continuing audacity. To my annoyance, I could not think of anything to say in return.

“Well, in any case,” he continued, “It’s good to have you here. The underworld is rarely visited by goddesses, especially by one with such ties to the earth as yourself. You’re the goddess of flowers, right?”

“I cause blooming things to grow, yes,” I said, still ruffled.

“Wonderful,” he said. “Perhaps you could brighten this place up a bit. The entire world here is just so… bare. I always wondered why Hades didn’t try to do more with it.”

“I think it’s nice,” I said, “It’s quiet and serene. On earth everything is in constant motion.”

“Yes, I must admit I like the peace and quiet also,” he said. “It’s simply the dull dreariness of the place I have a problem with.”

Hades was glaring somewhat fiercely at Hypnos by now, but Hypnos made an obvious point of not looking at him at all.

“I must admit,” said Hypnos, “When Hades first told me of you I was surprised that I did not already know you better. I have seen you on Olympus during the feasts, but I have never grown intimately acquainted with you. I know most of the goddesses quite well.”

Hades sensed lascivious tone to his words and started grinding his teeth, but I heard only geniality, and warmed to him slightly. “I usually stayed near Mother when we went to Olympus,” I said, “She didn’t like for me to speak to the other gods and goddesses much. She said their lives were very different from ours.”

Hypnos, for reasons unknown to me, grinned at Hades before answering.

“I see,” he said. “I suppose you’re very close to your mother, then?”

“Yes…” I said, remembering her for the first time since I’d awoken in Hades’ palace. My brow furrowed as I realized that I hadn’t spoken to her in a few days, and she had no way of knowing where I was. “Actually, I think I had better try to contact her,” I said. “She’ll be wondering where I am.” I turned to Hades, expecting him to offer some means of communication.

“Well…” he began, seeming unsure of what to say, “I doubt it is safe for you to go back to earth just yet, but I could try to communicate with her in the same way I do Zeus and Poseidon.”

“They’re the only ones he ever calls to,” Hypnos interjected.

“That isn’t true,” snapped Hades, “I call upon other gods and goddesses when it is necessary. Just a few months ago I contacted Aphrodite.”

“Concerning a pair of dead lovers who brought their case before you,” added Hypnos. “It’s always business with him,” he said to me.

“Yes, Hypnos, I have an important job to do. I am the authority over ever soul in the underworld, it is a position that requires careful attention.”

“As I always say, I think their un-lives would be greatly improved if you ever tried to take pleasure in anything. I think that if your mood would lighten they’d be more likely to receive a favorable verdict.”

“I try to be just, not play favors.”

I was growing impatient with their bickering. They traded barbs openly as if they had forgotten I was even here, and my question was still unanswered. I now felt an urgent need to speak with Mother, to make sure she knew I was alright, and to explain to her that even though two of the god-kings were angered at my blasphemy, the third sided with me and would set things right.

“Excuse me!” I said, a little louder than I meant to, “I would like to know how I can contact my mother.”

“Well…” said Hades again, trailing off and looking to the side.

“‘Well’ what?” I asked. “You said you communicated with Zeus, why not with Demeter?”

“I do not know how to connect with your mother,” he explained. “I have never done it before. I do not know what her mind feels like, or how to reach out to it. I would have to simply send out an open call.”

“What if you just went to her on earth?” I asked. “I know I cannot go yet, but you could. Zeus and Poseidon cannot harm you.”

Hades chuckled. “They probably could, eventually. But you’re right, I need to go speak with them in person anyway. On my way I will visit your mother and tell her what has happened.”

“Ask her to come here,” I said.

“What?” exclaimed Hades and Hypnos together, both looking alarmed.

“I said ask her to come here. I cannot go above, and I want to see her. Besides, I have no doubt that once you tell her where I am she will want to see me herself.”

“I… uh… um… okay,” stammered Hades.

“What’s the problem?” I asked, growing agitated with him. “Why is that such a troubling request?”

“It’s just not often that I have a goddess as great as your mother visit my world,” he said.

I smiled at his compliment and tried to reassure him. “Well, I visited, didn’t I? Why not my mother?”

“I don’t think she’d like it here.”

“You didn’t think I would like it here either, and I find it agreeable enough. Different, yes, but agreeable.”

“Yes, your reaction was a surprise to me… but I fear that your mother may already have her own ideas about my world. I don’t want to distress you, but I doubt she would be happy to know that you are here with me.”

“She must be misinformed,” I said simply, “Once she meets you for herself and sees your world firsthand, I’m certain her opinion will change.”

Hades and Hypnos exchanged commiserating looks that I did not understand.

“It will be fine,” I said firmly, “You’ll see.”

“Very well,” said Hades, “I shall leave immediately.” He rose from his chair and then looked at me expectantly.

“What?” I asked, not understanding what he wanted.

“I’ll escort you back to my palace,” he said. “You can amuse yourself there until I return.”

“With what?” I asked, “Getting lost in your endless black corridors? No, thank you, I’d rather stay here with Hypnos.” I turned to him and put a bit of honey in my voice. “You will keep me company, won’t you?” I asked.

“I’d be honored,” he said in an amusing tone of affected gratitude. Hades frowned, but realized there was not much he could do about the situation.

“Very well,” he said grudgingly. “I hope he does not bore you too much.”

“If he does, I shall turn him into a pansy,” I said cheerfully.

“Already done,” said Hades, grinning. Hypnos ignored him and looked at me in genuine wonder.

“You can do that?” he asked nervously.

I shrugged. “Maybe,” I said. “I’ve never actually tried it before.” I doubted I could really turn a demi-god into a flower, but I really hadn’t tried before, and I was always learning new things about my powers.

“Hypnos, may I have a word with you before I go?” asked Hades

“Of course, my lord,” he replied in his character of mocking veneration.

“I will try not to be gone too long,” Hades said to me as Hypnos left the room ahead of him. Without bothering to mask his words, he added, “Don’t trust him,” and then followed Hypnos out of the chamber.

When they had reached the base of the stairs and were standing in the faded grass, Hades turned to Hypnos and looked at him with the greatest severity.

“Hypnos, I promise you, if you do anything—”

“Yes, yes I know,” interrupted Hypnos. “If I harm her in any way you’ll boil me in oil or something, right?”

“If you harm her, if you frighten her, if you play with her mind, if you cast her into sleep against her will, if you do anything against her will, if you seduce her—”

“Hm, worried, are we?” teased Hypnos. “You don’t seem very confident in her fidelity.”

“She has nothing to be faithful to,” muttered Hades, “We barely know each other. She has taken no oath.”

“But…” Hypnos prodded him.

“But I care for her, and you know that. You are a scoundrel, and you prey on whomever you please without care. I saw you practically licking your chops in there…”

“Calm down, Hades,” said Hypnos dismissively. “She’s all yours. I want you to be happy, remember?”

“In hopes that I’ll ‘lighten up,’ as you say, and be more likely to bend rules for you.”

“Yes,” admitted Hypnos, “My reasons for desiring your happiness are almost entirely selfish. However, that should only reassure you all the more that I do genuinely desire it, and that you should not be suspicious of me. I will keep her happy until you get back, and I promise you I will not touch her.”

Hades released a sigh of relief and nodded to Hypnos. “I’ll leave her in your care, then,” he said reluctantly. “Remember,” he added, “Boiling oil.”

“The image is fixed in my brain,” confirmed Hypnos.

“Right. I won’t be gone long,” said Hades.

“Yes, yes, just go already,” said Hypnos, tiring of Hades’ drawn-out farewell.

“Fine, farewell,” he said, then disappeared from the plain.

“Farewell,” said Hypnos, then turned and began to walk back into his home, a devilish grin growing slowly on his face.

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