A distinguished visitor, part seven
Hades did not press for his wife’s company. He was grateful that she dined with him, walked with him in the garden, and listened to him talk of inconsequential things, though she neither ate nor said much. She permitted a touch of his hand or a salute of his lips but slept and bathed apart, hiding her body from him like a virgin. As her load grew larger, the rest of her seemed to waste away. How proud his brother would be, no doubt, to see his daughter burning up her strength carrying his child!
One day as he was walking by the Styx, watching the ferry weave back and forth and trying to decide whether he wanted to go for a ride, she came to him and put her hand on his arm. “Send for Hekate,” she said, and her fingers tightened hard on his flesh.
Hekate was sent for and arrived at speed, her horses panting and sweating. Hades stood aside, feeling both useless and helpless, as the elder goddess took Persephone aside and spoke to her in private. He was relieved when Hekate returned.
“Her labor has not yet begun, but it shall, before the moon sets. She is in your shared bedchamber; go and talk with her while I order a room for her lying-in.”
Obediently he hastened into the palace to speak with Persephone. She looked pale, and thinner than ever, except for the mound of her belly under her shift. At once she pulled at the covers, fretfully, but Hades took her hand in his and drew up the covers himself.
“Rest easy, dear lady. Hekate is preparing a room for you, and everything will be all right.”
She would not look at him, but at least she let him clasp her hand. “I am frightened, my lord.” Her voice was barely audible. “I cannot imagine the child born.”
Neither could he, as it happened. Persephone, holding his child, smiling and crying with relief? He pictured her dead and cold as any mortal. “Hekate will be with you, dearest.” It was the most comforting thing he could think to say.
Persephone started to say something, then shook her head, tears spilling down onto her cheeks. He could guess what she didn’t want to say: That her mother would not be here, nor Artemis who midwifed her own brother, nor any of the companions of her maiden days, only Hekate, an infernal goddess attended by chthonic spirits.
Hekate returned then, accompanied by servants bearing a litter. “Your chamber is ready, my dear. Can you get up and walk, or will your lord husband carry you?”
Persephone managed to get out of bed and walk to the litter by leaning on her husband’s arm. It was little comfort that she accepted his help when she looked so weak, so frightened. Hades looked keenly at Hekate, but she did not notice, her gaze fixed on Perspehone. He was not sure whether he clung to his wife’s hand or she clung to his, only that their hands slid apart and he felt terribly alone when the litter-bearers carried her away.