Letting Go

Demeter felt the chill from the underworld come over her as she stood outside the cave that led to Hades realm. Shadows seemed to reach for her, and a dark dread grew inside her as she watched Persephone stroll in the sunshine through the bare fields. In the past, her daughter would have danced, would have been singing in joy at being reunited with her mother. But now, she walked slowly, her lovely voice silenced.

"What have you done, Hades?"

He moved as close as the shadows would let him, and she felt the gripping cold of non-life. "I have done nothing. Time--time has wrought this."

Demeter moved away from him, just enough to make the cold stop, not enough to give him any more power over her life than he had by holding her daughter hostage for three months a year. She turned her eyes back to Persephone, whose manner may have changed, but her effect was still the same. Green shoots sprang forth as Persephone walked; trees breathed a sigh of relief as their lifeblood moved freely again. Soon there would be flowers in this field--Spring had returned; the mother-daughter reunion was complete.

So, why did it feel incomplete this time?

She heard a low sigh and glanced at Hades, still standing in the cave entrance when he should have left immediately after delivering her daughter to her. It was what he had always done in the past. But her daughter had never kissed him goodbye in the past, either.

Demeter closed her eyes, but the memory replayed anyway. Persephone stepping up to Hades--he had not grabbed her, had not yanked her to him and forced his kiss on her. It had not been a quick kiss, either, but a kiss of lovers, of a fully realized woman saying goodbye to the man whose bed she shared.

The kiss had been Persephone's choice. She had come back this time with her innocence tarnished, had not drunk from Lethe's forgetting waters so that she would not have to relive her three months in the underworld.

Why had she chosen to not drink?

Hades was watching her daughter with a look of such longing Demeter wanted to strike him. Then Persephone turned and gazed back at Hades with the same look.

Demeter felt as if she had been struck. "She loves you?"

"So it would appear." He turned to look at her. "This disturbs you?"

"It repulses me." She felt her stomach clench at the thought of Persephone happy in her brother's dark and bitter realm.

"She is not you, and for that I am fortunate."

"Up here, on the surface, with her maidens and flowers and sunshine, she will have her life--her true life--back, and then we shall see if she is eager to return to your damp and frigid shade."

"You have spent so little time in my realm, sister. What do you know of it?"

"I know she deserves better." She could feel the old anger, the rage and despair that had turned the fields sere and barren when she had wandered the world looking for her lost child. "You stole her from me."

"I could take her body, but her heart is hers alone to control." He moved closer, and Demeter repressed a shudder. He was her brother; they had sprung from the same womb, had lived in Cronos's gut with the others until Zeus had rescued them. But Hades disturbed her, he was everything she was not. Death to her life. Gray to her brilliance. Emptiness to her plenty.

She tried to pull sunshine and warmth around her, tried to project it back on him, to make him fall away, back into his shadows and endless night.

"She will not return happily."

"That remains to be seen." He smiled. A sad smile, half wistful, as if he hoped what he'd said was the truth. For a fleeting moment, Demeter almost felt sorry for him.

Then he turned and walked back to his kingdom.

Demeter walked away from the mouth of the cave and hurried out to where her daughter waited. Small birds made crazy circles as if celebrating the return of the Maiden.

"They love you," Demeter whispered.

"And I love them."

Demeter did not mean her sigh of relief to escape with such force.

Persephone turned to stare, her eyes harsh and glittering like coal--a mineral of Hades' realm. "I love him, too."

"Yes. I guessed that was the case." She touched her daughter's hair, noticed that the light brown strands had turned darker, nearly black. She had thought it was only a trick of the shadows at the cave entrance.

Persephone leaned into her hand. "I have missed you."

"Have you?"

Her daughter gave her a sweet smile--the first since coming out of the darkness with the God of the Dead. "Of course I missed you. How could I not?"

Demeter smiled in relief. "What would you like to do first, now that you're back?"

In the past, Persephone had chosen to lounge in the foothills of Olympus, letting Demeter braid her hair and tell her all the gossip she'd missed. Or to play in the sea with Poseidon's dolphins as seabirds wheeled overhead singing a paean to her return. Or to run with her maidens, coaxing flowers from the ground by the power of her smile, the tinkling bell of her laugh.

"There are so many places I have never been," Persephone said, drawing Demeter close to her, arms linked--the way equals walked. A way they had never walked.

"You have been to all the beautiful places," Demeter murmured, trying to free her arm, to wrap it around her daughter's shoulder and pull her close. Persephone should nestle. She should be protected.

Her daughter resisted. Her grip was as relentless as death itself. "I would like to visit some of the other places."

"Other places?"

"The ones you've kept from me. The ugly places." Her smile was the sweet smile of years before. Her eyes, though, gleamed like black diamonds under the veil of newly dark hair. "You have sheltered me."

Demeter studied her daughter, tried to find the sweet, innocent maiden in the woman who stood before her, dark eyes glittering. "I did what any mother would do."

"I know it was for my own good. But it ends now." Persephone looked up, attention diverted by the call of a crow--a bird she would never have noticed in the past.

"Where do you want to go?"

"I would like to visit a battlefield of my cousin Ares--he brings so many to our realm."

Demeter swallowed hard.

"I would like to see Hecate's world of sand and dust, of snakes and scorpions. And Eris--I should like to make the acquaintance of the goddess of discord."

Demeter felt something inside her dying.

Her daughter--the goddess of life springing forth--must have realized that. She pulled Demeter to her, hugging her fiercely and laying kisses on her neck. "I love you. More than you will ever know." She let go. "But you have to allow me to be who I will be. I'm not your little girl anymore."

Demeter thought she could hear Hade's cold laughter. Then she realized it was Persephone, laughing at something only she could see in the far distance.

"There is so much to learn, Mother."

And then she was gone. Running away, a streak of green marking her passage as she headed to the dustbowl that was Hecate's realm.

Demeter took a deep breath. Her daughter was home.

Her daughter who she no longer knew.

For a moment, she mourned the old Persephone, the maiden who'd drunk happily of Lethe's brew, who'd wanted nothing but to forget her life as Queen of the Underworld.

Then Demeter let that Persephone go.

Following the path of green, she set out to get to know this new woman her daughter had become.