Hel remained in the land of Hades for some time after the birth of Melinoe. Hades found her presence reassuring, and so, very shortly, did Persephone and Hekate. Hades caught up on his backlog of work while Hel and Hekate tended Persephone and the baby. The three goddesses were often talking when he stopped in to visit his wife and child, in that passionate and serious way that some gods (and men) believe goddesses (and women) cannot. Persephone recovered quickly from the difficulty of the birth, thank Ananke, and little Melinoe grew with divine swiftness. As the child thrived and Hades took pains to show his acceptance of her, dandling her on his knee, Persephone seemed more and more pleased by his visits and eager to talk with him.
In little time as mortals reckon it, Melinoe was toddling and babbling, and Hades indulged in taking her into the throne room and showing her off to his servants and subjects. Persephone had not resumed her usual work as yet, but she was quite well enough to dress as befitted her station and appear with her husband and child. Hel had asked several times if they wished her to leave, and they had pleaded sincerely with her to stay, so she was present when the thing happened that Hades and Persephone least expected.
Hermes entered in full rig and saluted the thrones with his staff. “Hail, Hades, you who welcome many! Hail, Persephone, queen of the underworld! Hail, Hekate, triformed, fierce, howling! Hail, Hel, daughter of Loki and Angrboda, mistress of the northern dead!”
Hades handed Melinoe off to Hekate, who led the child out, and rose to acknowledge Hermes with a bow. “Welcome, Argeiphontes, Psychopompos! Do you escort a guest to our palace?”
“I do, dread lord. The daughter of Rhea and Kronos, the sister of Olympian Zeus, the mother of Kore who is called Persephone, most noble Deo, seeks entrance here.”
Persephone gasped aloud. Hades gulped and hoped that no one noticed. “Lead her in that I may give her welcome.”
Hermes exited, restraining his usual speed for dignity’s sake, and returned followed by a tall figure wrapped head to foot in deep violet. Hermes stepped aside, bowing, to let her approach the thrones; only when Persephone began to rise did the goddess stop and uncloak, one hand held out.
“Daughter.” The goddess’s low and resonant voice made the whole throne room ring. She was arrayed in her finest garments, embroidered richly with figures of wheat and poppies, with gold adorning her throat and arms and dangling from her ears. She was far more terrifying to Hades than his odd-eyed, soft-spoken visitor from the north.
Demeter came to the throne, holding out her hands. “The child. Let me see him.”
Hades opened his mouth, but his wife forestalled him. “My child is a daughter and she is mine, not yours.”
Demeter looked, for a fleeting moment, dismayed. “Let me see her, then.”
“Why should I?” Persephone stood up. On the top step of the dais, she was taller than her mother. “Where were you when I cried out in agony? Where were you when I needed help in my pains? I called for you, mother. I needed you. And you didn’t come. Now you want to see my daughter, you want to take her away from me as you took Demophoon away from his mother, you want her heart to belong to you! It’s not going to happen, mother. You have come too late.”
Demeter actually took a step backward. “Kore…”
“That is not my name!”
Now it was Persephone’s voice that made the stone of the great hall throb and ring. For a moment, all stood poised like a great rock on the edge of a cliff: Would it fall and crush everything below it? Just as Hades was about to speak, again, he was forestalled. Hel stepped out of the shadows.
“Give the child to me.”
Everyone stared at the northern goddess. Demeter looked utterly confused; she had not known Hel was there.
“I know what you want, Demeter,” Hel said. She smiled her disconcerting smile. “You want a champion who can overthrow Zeus, as Zeus overthrew Kronos and Kronos Ouranos. You want a chlid of your choosing on the throne of the cosmos, fed at your breast, shaped by your stories. But the time is not yet come.”
She turned to Persephone. “When you are ready to wean the child, lady, let her be fostered with me. I will care for her kindly; I think your husband will vouch for that. She will be hidden, protected… but my gates will be open to your messenger, and to the two of you.”
Persephone looked at Hades. He nodded; Hel must have known, all along…. Persephone reached for Hel’s hands and took them. “Let it be so, then. My midwife, my husband’s trusted friend, you will be my daughter’s foster mother, for as long as there is need.”
Hel bowed over Persephone’s hands and released them. She turned back to Demeter. “Lady of the grain, do you wish to see your daughter’s daughter? Or did you only wish to claim your champion?”
Demeter hesitated before answering. “I would like to see my granddaughter.”
Hel nodded and vanished behind the dais. She returned with Hekate, the two of them leading Melinoe between them.
Demeter stifled a noise. Melinoe was neatly dressed in a little black gown, with white ribbons in her dark hair, and a necklace of garnets that looked, Hades thought, like the pomegranate seeds by which he had wooed Persephone. She walked very well, though she did not speak much yet. The right side of her body remained jet black, and the left side milk white; her wide eyes were a clear and brilliant grey.
Hekate and Hel let go of her hands. Melinoe toddled forward, heading straight for Demeter. She climbed the steps of the dais to stop at Demeter’s feet, small hands clutching at the goddess’ full skirts, and looked up at her grandmother. “Deo,” she said, softly but clearly.
Demeter clapped a hand over her mouth. After a moment, she stooped, sinking down onto the steps to meet the child eye to eye. “Melinoe. You know who I am?”
“Deo,” the child affirmed. “Ya-ya.”
Hades turned away his face as tears spilled down his mother-in-law’s cheeks. “Melinoe,” she answered. “Mikrokoritsi.”
The child wrapped her arms around her grandmother, who embraced her in return. Unnoticed by anyone except perhaps Melinoe, Hel smiled.