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.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Installment #8: Meeting

I froze for a moment, unsure of what to do. He was a god, and a powerful one at that. His footsteps had appeared out of nowhere; a human I would have heard slowly approaching for an hour or more, even in my meditative state. I could feel his presence and the weight of his power as he approached. I could not run; he would overtake me. I could not hide; he would find me. There was nothing to do but stand and face him. My only hope was to convince him that rumors were rumors; that I had not said and done the things that people spoke of, that my words were only in jest, that I was a foolish child, that I needed to be lightly chastised and taught the proper ways. My stomach churned just as it had that night in the stream, and I felt the urge to retch. My pulse increased and my breathing quickened. I tried to breathe more shallowly to disguise my distress, but felt lightheaded. The footsteps grew closer; he would be here in a moment. If I were going to convince him of my innocence, I would have to pretend that I didn’t know anything was wrong. I would have to greet him cheerfully. I pressed my palms into the earth again and focused. I was a goddess, surely I could control my own body. I breathed deeply and drew power from the earth, taking in the sweet scent of the moonflower. My pulse returned to normal and my insides calmed. I took one last deep breath, composing myself, then stood to greet the god as an honored guest.

At the moment I expected him to appear in my grove, the footsteps ceased and I heard nothing for a moment. He had stopped on the outside, and I could not even see him through the thick brush and collection of tree trunks. Surely he knew that I was aware of his presence. Should I acknowledge him? Invite him inside? Wait until it addressed me? Uncertain, I stood with my hands folded in front of me, my form arranged in a pleasing composition to welcome him. I heard him shift his weight from one foot to another. What was he doing. He cleared his throat, then addressed me through the leaves and blossoms.

“Excuse me, mistress,” he said with unexpected formality, “I apologize if I have disturbed you, but I wish to ask your permission to enter your grove.”

“Of course,” I said quickly, my voice coming out a bit more frantic than I would have liked. “Of course, my lord, please enter.”

I watched the leaves closely, wondering who would appear amongst them. I had not recognized the voice. It was somewhat deep, but sounded strangely uncertain. It had strange undertones that immediately caused two simultaneous reactions within my living viscera: one was comfort, the other was terror. I saw black curls, eyes so blue they could only belong to a god, and a soft jaw. His skin was pale, and the moonlight made it seem even more so. He wore a black robe, and stillness descended all around him. He was beautiful, to be sure, but if not for the strength I drawn from the earth, I would not have been able to stand my ground. As it was, I retained my composure and stayed rooted to where I stood, my jaw locked, my eyes wide, as he approached me. Though his face was lovely, and I could swear I saw kindness in his eyes, I knew instinctively who he was. He was Hades, God of the Underworld, most fearsome King of the Dead. His power was rivaled only by that of Zeus and Poseiden.

Through my fear and amazement, I was shocked that this was happening. They had not deemed it necessary to even hear me speak; they had taken the words of gossipers as proof enough of my disloyalty, and had sent Hades himself to collect me, to take me down to the underworld, where I would either die or be imprisoned, cloistered in solitude, separated from the rest of the worlds by endless layers of stone and darkness. I wanted to weep, to plead with him to take me at least to Olympus first, so that they could hear my case. After all, I was not simply a human, I was not even a nymph or dryad or a mere immortal; I was the only daughter of the great goddess Demeter. I was a goddess of the earth, surely they must acknowledge me as a citizen of the Pantheon. I tried to speak, but my throat closed on itself. I expected him to grab my wrist, or thrust me into unconsciousness with a look, but instead he did what I had least expected. He bowed to me. Perhaps he felt he owed me respect, even if I was a condemned traitor. I was somewhat warmed by his act. He straightened, then looked at me for a moment, as though he were uncertain of what he was doing here.

“You are Persephone, most revered and beloved daughter of the Mighty and Good goddess Demeter?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied, confused by his flattering greeting, as well as his uncertainty.

“I am honored and delighted to meet you. I am Hades, God of the Underworld. I have come to address a matter that I’m sure has been distressing you for the past few days.”

My confusion gained force and became a maelstrom in my mind. Why was he honored to meet me? Why was he acting with such humility and reverence?

“I am honored to meet you as well,” I said politely, “Though I am afraid I cannot share in your delight, considering the circumstances.”

Hades looked downcast and his brows furrowed with care. “Yes,” he said, “I should expect so. That is why I have come. I come to you to make amends for the wrong I have committed against you.” He lowered himself to one knee as he spoke, and I could bear my bewilderment no more.

“I’m sorry…” I said slowly, remaining careful not to incriminate myself, “I’m afraid I do not understand you. What wrong have you committed against me?”

“My mistress,” he said, his voice shaking, “It was I who disrespected you with my intrusion.”

“Your intrusion? You mean a moment ago? When you entered my grove?”

“I apologize for that as well, mistress, but I was previously speaking about the first time I intruded on you.”

“When was this?”

Hades fell silent, as if he were unsure of the answer.

“My lord, please,” said becoming too frustrated to remain calm, “please tell me directly why you came. Your words confound me, and I am afraid I cannot understand your meaning.”

He paused a moment more, then straightened. “I wished to apologize formally,” he said, “for entering your meadow unannounced tonight and encroaching on your lands. I realize that my sudden appearance must have caused you a fright, as it necessarily does all living creatures. I am sorry to have disturbed you, and to have brought my dark presence into a place where you are creating life. I hope I have not sullied myself too badly in your eyes.”

“You… you are forgiven,” I said, still utterly baffled. I did not know if I should feel relieved or not.

“I thank you sincerely,” he said, “you are exceedingly merciful.”

He turned to go. I should have let him leave, as I was apparently out of danger, but I had to know for certain that his visit was unconnected with my treason.

“Wait!” I cried. He turned swiftly, his blue eyes looking into me, through me, and I wondered if he could read my thoughts. It was foolish to keep him here any longer, but I had to know. “So you simply happened upon my meadow by chance, and wished to apologize?” His response was slow.

“Yes…” he said, stretching the word out delicately.

“You were not… sent?”

“No,” he said, looking perplexed by my question.

“Oh,” I said. “Well… thank you for your visit, and your thoughtfulness.”

He bowed to me once more and turned to go. He had almost left the grove by the time I comprehended that he had no knowledge of my crimes, and niether did anyone else. He had encountered me by chance, and he seemed kind enough. Perhaps this meeting had been arranged by the fates for a reason.

“My lord!” I called, approaching him on the edge of the grove, “Is it true that the fates reside in the underworld?”

“Yes,” he replied, “Though I rarely see them. Their dwelling is far from my palace, and secluded from the rest of the world.”

“I have been interested in the fates for some time,” I lied, trying to think of a convincing way to justify a request for meeting them, “I wonder if you could tell me about them.”

He did not look annoyed at my question; rather his blue eyes seemed to brighten, and he did not hesitate to reply. “Yes,” he said, “What would you like to know?”

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