Cloaked Revenge – Chapter 2

Posted: March 19, 2016 in Uncategorized
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“He is very happy.” Demeter said quietly to her daughter as they watched Adonis playing quietly in the garden of her villa. His shoulder length hair of the lightest blonde shone in the afternoon sunshine as he ran along joyfully playing soldiers with a stick as a sword that he brandished threateningly to his invisible assailants.

“I know mother,” Persephone replied, “ but this child means the world to me and if he became upset because of our petty quarrels I would be distraught. Things are already very strained between him and Hades as he is not his biological son and any more animosity may destroy the child. Aphrodite trusted him into my care when he was just a baby and I have watched him grow over ten winters into a strong, beautiful child. I do not wish to fail my closest friend but most of all I do not want to fail him as I feel as close to him as I would my own child. His welfare is my upmost concern and if I ever had to choose between them…”

“Well, I hope you would choose wisely. Adonis is just a child, Hades would do well to remember that.” Demeter interrupted quickly as she picked up her glass from the ornate metal table between them and took a small sip.

“I am well aware of your feelings for Hades but, after all these years, you must accept my decision to marry him.”

“Decision, what decision? He kidnapped you and forced you to marry him.”

“He did not force me to do anything, I fell in love with him. Do not look like that mother, a scornful face ruins your elegance.” Persephone replied to her mother who was rolling her eyes in contempt. “I am a grown woman and I have made my choices.”

Demeter turned away contemptuously as the conversation always rekindled buried sorrow. She was a woman of exquisite beauty who radiated the splendor of a thousand springs, with its fresh aroma of fledgling plants and the promise of prosperity and health. Her long brown curls fell lightly down her slender back and her youthful glow never waned, always renewed as the skies turned clear and the frozen ground melted. She was the Goddess of Harvest and she gave men the promise of life, of a world reborn after the harshness of the cruelest winter.

“Persephone, you have a visitor.” A young girl, no more than twenty years old, stood on the steps of the house. She wore a simple green tunic tied loosely at her waist with a delicately braided golden belt, the excess falling freely to her side.

“Who is it, Corinna?” Persephone asked, grateful for the interruption to the conversation.

“It is Pirithous, he says he has an urgent message for you.” Corinna replied, her delicate hands clasped nervously together. She has only been working at the estate for a few months and she was yet to earn the Goddess’ trust, something most sought after amongst the handmaidens. Demeter’s villa offered the most esteemed employment in all of Mount Olympus and she was a respectful, generous employer.

“Thank you, take him to the library and I will be there presently.” Persephone replied.

“You need to be careful young lady,” Demeter waited for the girl to leave before speaking. “People are already bandying accusations about this man and if Hades found out you were seeing him behind his back you will cause yourself much despair.”

“I asked a favour of him and he has returned to provide me with the information he has uncovered. No romantic notions lie in my heart for him. Pirithous is a friend, nothing more.”

“And how does he feel; does he share in your desire to be, as you say, friends and nothing more?”

“I cannot control one’s feelings, I can only be responsible for mine own. I am married to Hades and there is where my heart lies.” Persephone rose from the table and made her way towards the house.

****************************************

 

Acheron watched as the green and blue flames licked around the blackened logs, moving to each in turn as if tasting the sweet smelling pomegranate wood before disintegrating them into burning cinders flickering like stars in the dim candle light. A flake of ash whisked its way into the air, its glow distinguishing as it fell on Acheron’s bare arm. The room was hot but it wasn’t just the roaring fire that created the intolerable, claustrophobic heat that made the man struggle for every breath. The entire world was filled with a cloak of airless warmth that squeezed around his body making every step a challenge and forced a layer of sweat to ooze from every inch of his skin. Although his athletic body was usually filled with stamina and adrenaline, in Hades’ chamber he felt his eyes getting heavy and he moved away from the fire in attempt to catch his breath.

“Please sit young sir, your constant meandering makes me nervous.” Hades said ushering Acheron to the large, oak table. As he sat in the grand dining room still dressed in his thick robes, the god seemed unperturbed by the temperature as he poured himself a large glass of wine.

“I’m sorry sir, but I am not used to the climate yet and I am struggling to adjust. Please excuse my fidgeting.” Acheron replied as he moved closer to the dining table.

The table stretched the entire length of the room, which was larger than most men’s entire abode and reached up further than Acheron’s eyes dared to venture. The wooden clad walls, which at first glance appeared sparse, were actually filled with intricately carved designs and dotted between them were images of men; one stood halfway up a steep incline and another was shrouded by a large bird like creature. At the head of the table hung a painting of a woman, bathed in a glow of orange sunshine and sitting on a meadow of rich green grass and small wild flowers. Acheron found himself unable to tear his stare away from her deep blue eyes, mesmerised by her kindly beauty and happy exuberance.

 

“I see that you too are lost in her charm.” Hades said, snapping Acheron away from the painting. “She is my wife, Persephone, and many men, like you, have become enchanted with her.”

 

“I meant nothing…I mean…I apologise if I have offended you it’s just, I’ve never seen such a bewitching beauty.” His attention was once again drawn to the image and he became aware that his jaw was dropping as his eyes widened to absorb more of her allure.

 

Hades laughed at the young man as his natural desires overcome his manners. “I am not offended but I will if you do not address your expression.” Acheron snapped his teeth together but still found himself unable to look away. “I used to spend hours watching her in the meadows, surrounded by her close friends and I vowed then to make her my wife. Of course, her mother Demeter was not overjoyed with the relationship; as the Goddess of nature and fertility she cast the world into eternal winter until she agreed to return to the Earth.”

 

“My Grandfather used to tell me folk tales as a child about the years the land laid barren, not a single stem growing in the dusty soil. Many people lost their lives through drought and starvation but I never realized it was just a family dispute that destroyed generations.” Acheron replied with an air of condemnation.

 

Hades chose to ignore this affront and continued with his story. “Fortunately my brother, Zeus, was able to sway her mother’s mind and agreed to let her stay with me for half of the year. Of course, without the nurturing power of Persephone, the Earth falls once again into darkness while she resides in the underworld and a harsh winter covers the land but at least I can lie in the arms of my true love once more. She is there now and man can once again bask in the warm sunshine and fertile lands that my vegetation goddess provides for you.” He smiled broadly with joy at the thought of his wife and closed his eyes as if to capture her image in his mind.

 

“It must be difficult for you. I am yet to take a wife and now, it looks like my opportunity may have waned.” Acheron joked, trying to quell the uneasy feeling that arose as the God revealed the intensity of his relationship.

 

“You are yet a young man and many a handsome maid resides in the meadows. You may still find your consort but come, let us not dwell on maybes, we should eat before this great feast gets cold.” Hades gestured towards the table that was now laden down with more food than Acheron had ever seen in his life.

 

Whilst they had been talking the room had been filled with a large array of huge dishes containing enough food to feed a hundred men. Enormous platters were heaving with strange meats sitting on a pool of multi-coloured juices. Bowls of freshly baked rolls, great wooden slabs covered with an array of cheeses and vast jugs full of red wine were laid out, designed to be no more than an arms length away no matter where at the table you were seated. Adorning high metal stands, making it difficult to see across the vast table, were exotic fruits from distant lands, and Acheron marveled at the sight, as the weird colourful shapes fascinated his unworldly mind. Standing proud in the centre of the table was a roasted black boar; its razor-like tusks still protruded menacingly from its mouth but it stared vacantly at the man. Acheron wondered, as he cast his eyes over the steaming mountains of meats and breads, if more people would be joining them but there were only two places set.

 

“Please, eat.” Hades said, grasping a huge leg dripping in a thick, syrupy sauce. “These are particularly good, a cinnamon bird. Very sweet and succulent.” He took a generous mouthful and ate greedily oblivious to the sauce dripping from the side of his mouth and coating his usually white beard with a bright orange hue. “I said, eat.” He repeated, more sternly.

 

Acheron obeyed and, without looking, scooped up a selection of meats with a long pair of ornate metal tongs and placed the food carefully on to his plate. He tore off a small piece of dark brown flesh from a hunk of meat of unknown origins. A green, gelatinous liquid oozed out of the succulent morsel and dripped down his fingers and, with trepidation, Acheron placed it into his mouth. His tongue instantly exploded in a carnival of tastes, his saliva glands tingling frenziedly as the sweet and blissfully tender meat dissolved effortlessly. Without waiting to swallow he snatched a larger piece and thrust it into his still chewing mouth, relishing the unfamiliar flavours that were dancing on his tongue.

 

“It seems you are enjoying that! It’s drakon meat, a colossal serpent that lives in the depths of the lakes, but probably the most delicious creature to reside in the underworld. Mighty hard to catch, especially with its numerous rows of jagged teeth and deadly venom. However, Charon is very adept and he never seems to disappoint me.” Hades replied before washing down his mouthful with a gulp of red wine.

 

They sat and finished in silence, Acheron sampling everything on the menu until his stomach was fit to bursting. With a heavy sigh he leant back on his chair and let out a satisfied groan. “I can eat no more or I fear I will explode.” He laughed. “Never have I sampled such wonderful food and I thank you for your hospitality. However, you asked me here to discuss your offer and I am keen to hear it.”

 

Hades smiled at the eagerness of his dinner guest. “Such directness from one so young in years could be considered disrespectful but I will forgive your blunt manner. I am sure word has reached the living world of my wife’s indiscretion with the man known as Pirithous. My reputation, as you must understand, cannot stand such a slur and I need to reinstate my status with men and gods alike. I cannot be seen to allow such behaviour from my own wife.”

 

“I said I would not kill.”

 

“Kill? Oh no, I love my wife dearly and would not wish her such a terrible fate. All I ask is that you take something that is beloved by her, a keepsake you might say. I will return it in good time, but not before she has apologized for her transgression.”

 

“You wish to seek revenge on your own wife and make her beg for forgiveness, yet you say you love her? I would venture that such an act is an attribute of a weak willed man, not a powerful god. Besides, she is married to the most prosperous of all the gods and has no limit to the wealth she can obtain. What could possibly be so close to her heart that would cause her such distress, unless…you cannot mean her ward, Adonis, who Aphrodite left in her trust? He is but ten years old and that is a despicable proposal for even the god of the underworld.”

 

“You are very strong willed young Acheron, no other man would dare be so forthright with me and I am encouraged by your candid manner. This afternoon, on the banks of the river, I saw something in you; a courage that far outweighs your tender age of 25. Am I right in thinking you are a military man?” Hades leant forward on his chair, his great status becoming obvious as he placed his hands on the arms of the chair.

 

“I spent many years in the army fighting for my country but no, I am not a military man.” Acheron replied.

 

“How can you have served but not be a military man? It does not make sense; a soldier is a soldier for life.”

 

“My time as a soldier was a proud one. I fought alongside good men, brave and honest people like my brother, who would defend you to the end. However, I soon learnt how corrupt the officers were, believing the rules they laid down did not apply to themselves. Such a man, intent on his own greed and gratification, killed my brother but he spared no thought to the wife and child he left behind. I sought revenge for his murder and, it is those actions that led me here. Therefore, although I died a soldier, I take no pleasure in calling myself a military man.” Acheron bowed his head shamefully. “I apologise if my honesty offends you.”

 

Tension filled the room and neither man spoke. Eventually Hades broke the silence. “To become a soldier you swore to honour the Gods but, by turning your back on your allegiance you disgraced yourself in the eyes of Zeus. Charon was correct, maybe you would have been more suited to punishment in Tartanus.” Hades paused, considering his response. Although he was usually renowned for his loyalty to his fellow gods he felt this man could not be punished for his actions as he himself had felt the power of grief, which can destroy a man. “However, I understand that your actions were born out of devotion to your brother and, for that, I admire your bravery. Love can drive a man to do terrible things when common sense is shrouded in hatred. I sympathise with your predicament and I pardon your indiscretions.”

 

“With respect sir, have I not already been judged by Minos? I do not look for your forgiveness for I do not feel any guilt. I came to your abode to hear your proposal so continue or I will take my chances on the banks of the river Styx. I am not afraid of my destiny.” Acheron spat the words through clenched teeth, his anger seething throughout his rigid body.

 

Hades rose to his feet with a start, a redness filling his cheeks and he thrust his hands out in front of him. A glowing ball of blue light shot from his fingers tips and rocketed across the table hitting Acheron squarely in the chest. The man was thrown backwards, exploding the chair he had been sitting on against the wall. Acheron was left in a crumbled heap on the stone floor and only the quiet groans that escaped from his lips told he was still alive. “I am Hades, God of the Underworld, and you will respect me you impertinent, ill-nurtured excuse for a man! I took pity on you and offered to help you but instead you ridicule my good nature. I ought to throw you into the depths of Tartanus for your incivility and take delight as the gulls peck at your still beating heart.”

 

A sickness swelled in Acheron as his body reeled from the powerful blow. He had pain but his head was too confused to locate it and, instead, he remained still in an attempt to keep his supper in his stomach. He became aware of a shadow falling over him; the flickering light from the candles began to disappear and darkness fell around him. Muffled voices from afar began to reach his ears but he could not make out what they were saying. Was that a woman’s voice he could hear? Surely not, they had been alone all evening.

 

“Stand up.” Hades sneered as he stood over the man, his large frame blocking the light from the room. Acheron stumbled to his feet still clutching his side. “It appears you have been saved twice today and you should be very grateful that my daughter, Melinoe, heard the commotion and begged for your freedom. However, I feel I have sought assistance from the wrong man and I will get my guards to take you back to Charon to fulfill your destiny. Either go to the Meadows or walk the banks for a hundred years, the choice is your own but you shall never darken my doors again.”

 

Acheron tried to take a breath but the pain from his broken ribs stabbed into his already winded lungs. He spoke, his voice wavering but purposeful. “Sir, I apologise for my coarseness but if my tone sounded disrespectful it was only due to strong desire to fulfill my own purpose. Before my brother died he revealed something incredulous about our parentage and I have to find him to learn the truth. However, I should have considered the great power of my companion and curbed my tongue. Please, bid me to do your request and I will do my upmost to serve you my lord.”

 

“How can I now trust you?” Hades was suspicious and he knew he should throw this man to the crows but his instincts felt a connection with him.

 

“Trust is an asset that is earned sir, not an achievement gained from such a brief acquaintance. However, I am a trustworthy man, that I can guarantee, and am a man of my word. More than this though I am a man in need and that can make even the most dishonourable person true when a greater desire is at stake. On the banks today you saw a man who could assist your needs, am I not still that man despite my contemptible disposition?”

 

With a large sigh Hades responded, his voice now brighter but the dark undertones still broke through the playful mode. His lucid tongue had revealed his plot and, despite his desire to cast this man aside, he was now party to his design. This man, with his quick tongue and fearless nature, would need to be kept close. “I fear we have got off to a bad start, our tempers are frayed as can often be the case when one consumes too much red wine.”

 

 

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