carcinogen: (Default)
thief! jackal! ([personal profile] carcinogen) wrote2010-10-05 07:27 pm

fic: iron queen (greek mythology)

Iron Queen
Greek mythology; Persephone, Demeter, Hades, Cerberus.
1200 words.

Cerberus says: Goodbye, Miss.

Cerberus says: Goodbye, Miss.

Cerberus says: Why does Miss go, and where?

A wise question, or else an ignorant one. Head-on-the-left has always been a strangely two-faced dog that way.

Persephone puts her hand on his great nose. The skin is cold as cobalt, smooth as snake bellies in winter wind. She looks at Head-on-the-right and then Head-in-the-middle. Their regal faces are dipped in shadow, politely concealing their distaste for the sour-scented gown she is wearing. It clearly agitates them, but Demeter sent it down to her so Persephone feels she must wear it on the ascent. Oleander petals and maple leaves wrap up her body, trembling perpetually on the verge of rot. This is her mother’s idea of a joke, perhaps.

“You must keep an eye on things,” she says. Hearing this from herself, she realizes that she does not know how to answer the question - why, where - and hopes to avoid trying altogether.

We keep six eyes, Head-in-the-middle assures her.

On things, Head-on-the-right agrees.

Head-on-the-left remains still under her palm, keen to her deflection, unsatisfied. He does not growl or cough, but he does not say anything bracing either. Scars from the chains held by Hercules still ring his powerful neck and his eyes gleam silver on his occasional glimpses of the future.

“I will be back again,” she says.

Silver-eyed Head-on-the-left says: Yes.

“You are good,” she tells him.

Cerberus says: Yes.


Persephone thinks of the first time she had passed the worldly threshold, pulled to the dusty gates of death by hissing black horses strapped into a team. If she remembers correctly - and she is certain that she does - Hades had stood very close but never touched her; he had stepped from the chariot and let her follow as if it was her own idea; and he had pointed to the great, pearl-toothed dog looming before them in a darkness like no other she had ever experienced and, with startling gentleness, he said: “The one on the left. Temperamental. You intrigue him.”


Not intentionally, Persephone spends a great deal of her summers dealing with the dead. Of course this is an open facet of being the child of harvest, daughter to the season counter. Lives are seeds whose stalks grow tall for reaping. Some are cut, and some do the cutting. No decision of hers can change this and she has never thought to lament it. As a steward of the living world, hers is a hand that moves nothing at all. Lives travel as they are meant to do, set on their circular paths by gods of much older times. They do not need to be shown the way. In fact it is Persephone’s guess that they exalt the gods not for direction but for company; worshipers never have to feel alone. Having seen and felt and breathed the underworld, Persephone is learning the value of companionship. Hades is isolation perfected, even under the watch of immortal sentinels and a sleepless king. It is guarded but unlooked for, a country of the vanished. It is always going from the world.

All summer, she tends dying animals because they come to her. If they are afraid, it is not a fear of her, and Persephone feels no sadness as their mortal threads are cut. She knows that she will accompany them more closely than even Demeter can manage. She knows that, in a season’s time, she will see them again.


As autumn turns from red to brown, Demeter’s disposition darkens the early evenings and pulls a sleeve of fleshy colours over the clean slope of the moon. Prime sacrifices cool at her feet and she brings the first frost early; her priests have yet to learn what kinds of death affect her displeasure. Though she does not mention her anger, Persephone notes it in the smell of fallen leaves and the chill of the wind. She thinks it is too much, it is unfair. The oldest gods always did slights far too personally.

“Mother, with respect, everything dies. It never offended you before. Changing your mind about where the dead go makes you judge the supplications too harshly. I wish you wouldn’t.”

Demeter, framed in sunlight filtered through the hands of the forest and a thousand years and a thousand more. Demeter looks at her daughter narrowly. “You defend him, which is bad enough; but worse, you speak like him now as well.”

“No,” Persephone says, “I speak like the dog.”

Storms flash across Demeter’s throat.

“He speaks like the dog, himself,” Persephone continues. “So if I speak like him, I speak like the dog. Cerberus did come before many of us, Mother; you know that.”

“Cerberus hasn’t said a word since making the pact with Hades.”

“You haven’t spoken to him since then,” Persephone says. “That’s all.”


In the underworld Persephone does not feel as though she has a real function. The dead do not need a queen. For that matter they hardly need a king. She spent her first summer on the surface wondering what resolute thought finally made Hades spirit her down to his citadel in the stony roots of the earth. So the next time she returned to it, she asked him.

“I decided to steal you from the fields,” he told her, “because I could not steal the fields.”

We are what we were made to be, Demeter always said. In the time when all she knew was being warm and happy and empty of wanting, Persephone had thought this was a reassurance. Remembering it in that moment only made her a little sad. Responsibility is an easy burden to bear when you were made to be the corn maiden dancing in the sun or the king of the gods with a palace reaching to the clouds. She spent her time below tending the gardens of glass trees that grew every fruit imaginable, learning to play all the instruments invented by mortals, and bribing Charon with raw gemstones to make crossings for paupers. Small accomplishments somehow feel more grand than anything she had ever done with her life before and Hades often watches her, serene rather than satisfied.


Ascending to the golden circle of daylight and her mother’s open arms, Persephone blinks as pollen catches in her eyelashes. The air is full of it. Flowers open at the touch of her shadow. She says: “What if I was made to live with the dead after all?”

Demeter’s embrace hardens around her; she goes as still as a tree.

“Wouldn’t that be strange,” she replies.


Cerberus says: Hello, Miss.

Cerberus says: Hello, Miss.

Cerberus says: Did Miss safely find her way into the world?

One after another, she strokes three pointed noses, she makes eye contact, she answers: “And back out.”

Yes, Head-on-the-left agrees. They say that is the way of her.
consectari: (go left)

[personal profile] consectari 2010-10-06 01:24 am (UTC)(link)
Very well done. An interesting take on the story.
daxion: (weeping angels)

[personal profile] daxion 2011-02-26 01:45 pm (UTC)(link)
That was gorgeous.