- Introduction and Coffee
- Why does Starbucks Coffee… um… maybe you should just read it.
- Why can we walk past beautiful artwork without noticing it?
- Calliope Jones and the Writer’s Cusp
- Why is the sky over Los Angeles that particular color of yellowish grey?
- What’s the real deal with gasoline prices?
- The Songs of Books
- Why do some people stay on the train past the end of the line?
- The Arrogant Writer and the Beached Mermaid
- Why do we get spam email that’s complete gibberish or random sentences from books strung together?
- Why does alcohol produce hangovers, and why doesn’t it produce hangovers consistently?
- Dog Reincarnation
- The Princess and the Wyverns
- Manannán mac Lir and the Isle of Ninjas.
- Why is there a disconnect between Art and Industry?
- Why are there Suburbs?
- Why do people check the time on mobile phones instead of watches?
- Prosperina: A Mythology of the Modern World Holiday Special
- Mythology of the Modern World: Aren’t I Just Ripping Off John Hodgman?
- Where do babies come from? I mean, really come from?
- The Souls of Toys
- The Fruit Fly and the Nymph of Time
- Why are the ideas of things scarier than the reality?
- Time Zones and the Witching Hour.
- Ball Lightning, Missing Socks, Drawer Crud and the Protectors of the Hearth
- Why do things break right as their warranties expire?
We have returned, with a special myth. It’s also a long one, to warn — though I don’t think people will complain. Unless, of course, they do. People find the time to complain, sometimes.
This is a holiday special, though the holiday in question is somewhat vague. I don’t think we can call it Christmas, or Yule, or even Agnostica. I think it’s just ‘winter,’ since this is after all a myth about winter. This is a special, in part, because it steps away from the normal mission of these our myths of the modern world.
This is, in short, a recognizable myth to a lot of you. A myth of the ancient world. But I like to think that the retelling makes it a bit modern in other ways. And if it’s recognizable, I also like to think there are ways that it isn’t.
It concerns the changing of the seasons. Which sometimes means the changing of autumn to winter. And sometimes means changes of another kind entirely. It’s called Prosperina.
I hope you like it.
And yes, this should mean we’re back. Thank you for your patience, all.
A Mythology of the Modern World Holiday Special
Eric A. Burns
Her name was Prosperina. Or perhaps it was Proserpina. Or Persephone. Or Libera or Kore. It all depends on who you speak to, really. The important thing is she was young, and she was vibrant, and her parents were loaded, like a lot of pretty young things in a lot of cities.
And like a lot of them, she wasn’t terribly happy with what was after all a pretty privilaged life.
Oh, she knew she didn’t have it that badly, really. She knew she wasn’t hungry, or poor. She had a roof over her head. Sometimes she admitted to herself that she had a lot more than almost everyone. She was a goddess, after all, and that’s not nothing.
But it’s hard, sometimes. Especially when your mother is Life itself.
Her father was the King of the Gods, at least at that time. In more modern times, my understanding is they’ve experimented with various systems. But back then they liked Kings, and he was actually pretty good at it. But he was a womanizer at best and he didn’t really do birth control so he had a lot of kids running around. Prosperina was just one of them, and one he didn’t have to worry about. Not with her mother.
Call her mother Demeter, or Ceres, or Kabeiriia if you will. It doesn’t matter, really. What’s important is she was Life itself. Growth and abundance. The good harvest — or the bad. Without her, there was no living, no warmth, no green things, no nothing. And that’s a pretty good racket to be in, if you think about it. She was rich, and powerful, and used to getting her way. Prosperina was her eldest daughter, and she knew exactly what Prosperina was going to do with her life. What job she would have, what part of the family business she’d help take care of, all of it, really.
It was a small part, really. Prosperina’s mother didn’t want to overburden her eldest (and, everyone knew, favorite) child, and there were so many important details to look after as it was. Really, it was easier for her mother to just take care of them herself. Which is the problem with dynastic businesses where everyone involved is immortal. You never actually die off or retire, which means the next generation never takes over.
As a side note, why did Paradise Island even need a ‘Princess’ Diana, since Hippolyta was never going to die or even get bored with the whole thing anyway? Also, where did their textiles industry come from? But I digress.
This state of affairs went on for several decades. Which is also important to bear in mind. At the time this whole situation went down? Prosperina was somewhere around retirement age in a human. But when you’re immortal your age is less a function of time and more a function of definition. And right then, Prosperina was defined by ‘daughter,’ not by anything she did. So she remained a young woman.
Oh, there was that fling with Adonis, but that led to issues, and Prosperina’s mother put her foot down. And that meant no more dating, period.
So yeah, Propserina was as prosperious and fortunate as her name implied. Still, she wasn’t exactly happy about it all, and it’s hard to fault her for that. So she took to wandering the back alleys and streets of the city, finding the right bars to hang out in. The clubs her Mom wouldn’t be caught dead in. It is also safe to say she wrote self-absorbed poetry for a while, and used her share of black eyeliner. Not during the planting season, obviously. There was too much to do then — she was involved in the planting, even if everything she did was superfluous. But during the growth of the summer or the harvest of autumn, she was at loose ends. And then of course planting came again.
On this night, it was raining in the city, which made her eyeliner run just a touch. It was midsummer, which meant she had nothing to do. The word had gotten around about the whole Adonis thing, so Prosperina couldn’t even find a one night stand to save her immortal life.
It was a hole in the wall, in a bad part of the city, though there was really no danger to Prosperina. Everybody had to eat, or so they said, and everyone knew her mother was insistant. And besides, she was a goddess, and not that many people were stupid. Still, she kept to herself and tried to keep people from figuring out who she was. She went into the bar and she wandered to the back. She slipped into the end booth. Up on a stage that was little more than a stoop, a man in a white suit and hat plucked a banjo from behind sunglasses. He sang in a voice well acquainted with cigarettes. He sang of death and the blues, and Prosperina drank a Long Island Iced Tea.
Few people know the peninsula was named for the drink, not the other way around. But now you’re one of them, so feel good about that. But I digress.
She sipped her drink. The man on the stage crooned into the old mike. “I want to be seduced… let a woman talk to me suggestively… wanna know that she’d like me to be with her tomorrow morning — drinkin’ hot jasmine tea….”
“Story of all our lives, huh?”
Prosperina glanced over at the table closest to her. A man was sitting there, a tall beer and a whiskey set in front of him. He was handsome, if you liked that kind of thing. His hair was somewhat unruly. And his coat was black.
“I wouldn’t know.” Prosperina said, and took out a cigarette. She held it to her lips, and the man leaned over to light it. She breathed in deeply, and exhaled with a long breath.
“Cloves.” The man wrinkled his nose. “Smoke enough of those, you’ll sound like Leon up there. What’s your story, anyway?”
Prosperina shrugged. “I’ll let you know when I’m told the next chapter.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, your mother can be quite a bitch.”
Prosperina arched an eyebrow. “Not many people get away with calling her that.”
He shrugged. “She’s nothing to me, friend.” He took the shot, then followed it with a long pull off the beer.
“Hard drinker,” Prosperina said, shifting to watch him.
He shrugged. “A beer and a bump. Nothing big — a poor man’s Boilermaker.”
She smirked. “In five minutes you’ll be calling it Texas Tea. So who are you, anyway?”
He half-smiled, nodding to the waitress, who nodded back and went to fetch him more liquor. “Dis Pater,” he said. “Or just Dispater. Friends call me Dis.”
Prosperina grinned. “Dis Pater? Rich Father? You sound like a pimp.”
Dis shrugged, grinning.
Prosperina leaned forward, propping herself on her arms. “You sit at the big boy’s table. Major sphere. The Dead, right?”
Dis chuckled. “Death. The Underworld. Wealth. I’m also a mean hand at debugging crufty source code.”
“Is that why you’re not worried about insulting my mother?”
He shrugged. “Nothing to me. The Underworld handles its own food.” He half-smiled. “That seems to appeal to you.”
Prosperina took a drag off the cigarette, breathing out the clove smoke. “It doesn’t break my heart.”
Dis’s smile grew smug. “Why don’t you join me, and let me buy you a drink?”
Prosperina leaned back. “Why don’t you join me, and let me buy you one?”
Dis chuckled. “I wouldn’t say no.”
In the background, the singer growled. “I might demur politely, falter slightly, if she starts to fondle my knee… but I’m relatively certain I’d compromise if I know me… I want to be seduced, I want a woman to talk to me suggestively — I want to hear her say she’ll be with me tomorrow morning, drinking hot jasmine tea.”
Dis spent a lot of his time in the Underworld, of course, but when he was up in the city, he and Prosperina spent a lot of time drinking in a lot of dives. They got to second base a few times, especially in dance clubs, but even if Dispater had nothing to fear from Prosperina’s mother, there was no good reason to tempt fate. He’d heard the rumors about the Adonis situation too, after all.
“So what the Hell are we doing?” he asked finally, leaning back on a rooftop looking at the night sky.
“Smokin’ a joint and staring,” Prosperina said. “If you want to try something, I don’t think there’d be a thing over it, tonight.”
“No, what are we doing?” Dis rolled onto his side, looking at her. “I mean, is this a thing, or am I just the guy you vent to because no one else would understand?”
Prosperina breathed out blue smoke. “Don’t be like that,” she said. “There’s nothing to be done.”
“You know, other people have relatlonships.”
“Other people aren’t me.”
“So that’s it? You’re done? She won, and you got nothing to try?”
Prosperina turned to look at him. “Where do I go, huh? What do I do? Where do I stop being her daughter? How do I get out from underneath that?”
Dis looked at her. “That depends. How much do you like me?”
“You clean up pretty well.”
“Not good enough. Do you love me?”
There was a pause.
“Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, I love you.”
“Enough to marry me?”
She stared. “What?”
“Do you love me enough to marry me?” Dis laid back, looking up at the sky. “I’m serious here.”
“Yes,” she said, softly.
“Then you have an option.”
“Marry you? Trade being a daughter to being a wife?”
Dis snorted. “That’s what you call being Queen of the Underworld?” He looked at her. “Beyond how I feel about you, I need help. I need something more than I can give. Things have gotten too complex. I need something — someone who I can trust and who has the authority to whip things into shape.”
“What sort of things?”
“Infrastructure. Health and human services. Not to mention food distribution.”
“The dead eat?”
“The dead eat their food, yeah.”
She frowned, taking another hit. “So… you’re saying you’d make me a partner?”
“And I’d have work? Real work? Important work.”
She looked at a star, high in the sky. Bright enough to cut through the smog. “Do you love me?”
There was another pause.
“Yeah,” he said. “I love you.”
“Okay then.” She half-smiled. “But getting out will be a problem. We go to the transit authority, people are going to want to know why I’m leaving town. Someone will call one of my mother’s cronies…..”
“Yeah. And I don’t think you’ll fit in a diplomatic pouch.”
She snorted. “Not without a serious diet.”
“It could be a nasty scene.”
“And that’ll be the end.” She looked back up.
“You’re an adult,” he said. “More than an adult. You’re a goddess. You make your own choices, Prosperina.”
“I know. But she’s too powerful. And she won’t listen.”
He nodded. “Hrm. Can you leave the city on your own?”
“It’s summer. I could go on a day outing with some of the nymphs.”
“To Leucippe Meadow? By the IHOP on Route Sixteen?”
Prosperina snickered. “Will we get pancakes?”
“Nope. I’ll pick you up there.”
“And then carry me off to a booty call?”
She blinked. “No?”
“I’ll bring you down to the Underworld, but we’ll take our time to court. You can get to work, get yourself established — decide if you like me beyond rebelling. And if you do….”
“Then we’ll see.”
“Yeah. We’ll see.”
The nymphs were happy to go with her to Leucippe Meadow. They were moderately vapid creatures — some nymphs have depth, but these didn’t aspire to that. “–so cute,” one was saying. “I swear, he gives me a look and I just melt.”
“Prossey, tell Aglaope she’s insane,” Peisinoe said. “That guy’s just gutter trash and she should know it.”
Prosperina shrugged. “Maybe, but if gutter trash makes her happy, who’s to say she’s wrong?”
“We are,” Thelxiepeia giggled, and the others — even Aglaope — giggled with her.
“Yeah,” Prosperina said. “Of course.” She was wearing a white dress belted with a flowered belt, walking and waiting.
“Guys,” Peisinoe said, frowning. “Do you hear something?”
“Like a rumble? Or an Earthquake?” Thelxiepeia was frowning. “Guys… maybe we should get back. It may rain or–”
“I’m not going back,” Prosperina said, softly.
“Oh Jesus, I do not want to get rained on,” Agalaope said. “Come on, let’s get the car and–”
“I’m not going back,” Prosperina said, more loudly.
There was a moment’s shock.
“Wait… you mean… you… you don’t care if you get rained on?” Peisinoe said, softly. Trying to talk herself into it.
“I mean I’m not going back. If you guys want to leave, feel free.”
“Wait. Wait wait wait. You’re running away?” Thelxiepeia said. “Oh God Prossey! You can’t do that! I mean… I mean…” she looked around, fanning the air with her hands in panic.
“What do we tell your mother?” Agalaope said, the panic contagious.
“I don’t care what you tell her,” Prosperina said. “Tell her anything. It doesn’t matter any more.”
“That’s not fair!” Thelxiepeia shouted. “She’s going to blame us! It’s easy for you — no matter what you do she’ll just haul you back home, but she might give us wings or beaks or–”
“Guys!” Peisinoe shouted. “That noise is getting really loud!”
And with a crash and a roar, a gigantic car burst from the ground and thundered down State Route Sixteen. It was a black Cadillac Eldorado with the license plate ETNA on the front. Sleek and finned, like from the fifties, it rumbled with pure black horsepower as it thundered down the road towards the girls.
The nymphs shrieked and ran back, cowering at the edges.
But Prosperina just unbuckled her belt, and tossed it aside. It landed in a nearby pond. She skinned out of the loose dress. Underneath, she wore a white tank top and cutoff jeans. She scooped up her backpack and waited.
The Caddy pulled alongside her. Dis was sitting in the driver’s seat.
“Goin’ my way?” he asked, half-smiling.
“God, I hope so,” Prosperina said, and moved around to the other side of the car. She climed in, tossing the backpack into the back seat, and the car thundered off.
“You sure we can’t pick up where we left off,” she asked as the car plunged into a ditch and then down into a cleft in the very Earth.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I want to too, but we need to let this grow.”
Prosperina snorted. “You have no idea how sick I am of growing things.”
“Then you’re headed in the right direction.”
For six hours, they drove deep into the Earth. They stopped for McDonald’s on the way, of course, but it was Cleftway Service Plaza McDonald’s, so it was way expensive. But finally the car pulled out into a huge cavern, and Prosperina’s eyes went wide.
The city was magnificent. Carved in all directions from the stone itself, with stone spires and building reaching up sometimes thousands of feet, not just close to the cavern roof but sometimes forming a pillar with it. Electric cars whizzed by and the shades of the dead moved from place to place, and a soft white light seemed to suffuse the area. There were plants down here too. Black things, with pale berries, and trees that reached up with thin branches and dark leaves. It was eerie, and it was beautiful.
The most beautiful place that Prosperina had ever seen.
It is safe to say, in these times long past, that Prosperina loved Dis Pater, the Wealthy Father, who also goes by other names. But her first love was the great city of the Underworld. The moment the goddess laid eyes on it, she knew this was the place that was meant to be her home. The place where she would make her mark.
The place where she would not be the daughter of the Fertile soil and bounteous harvest. The place where she would not even be the wife of the Lord. It was the place where she would be Prosperina, the Lady of the Underworld, who sat upon one of the twin basalt thrones and rendered wisdom and judgment in measure.
And next to her, Dis smiled slightly. He knew she was the right — the only choice. For his queen, for his wife, for his partner.
The car climbed one of the ramps and took the side bridges, and drove high over the city, heading for the garage and a new life. Or afterlife, depending on how one looked at it.
“This is amazing,” she said, as she looked over her quarters. “How… how did you do all of this?”
“My basic labor pool is the dead. They have all the time in the world and plenty of reason to want something to do.” Dis smiled a bit more. “It is an equitable relationship.”
“I guess so.” She reached for a glossy, deep red apple. “This is just–”
Prosperina blinked, looking at Dis. “Huh?”
Dis walked over, scooping the apple up. “You can’t eat the food of the dead,” he said. “Especially the fruit of the dead. It doesn’t fuel life. It fuels death.”
Prosperina cocked her head. “What does that mean?”
“If a living mortal were to eat any of this food — even the tiniest bit — it would destroy him. Kill him instantly. Render even his shade weak for years.” He held the apple cupped in his hand. “For a goddess, it is taking in the substance of Death, of the Underworld into yourself. Part of you would die — even as a Goddess. Every bite would infuse its death essence into you, until finally your divinity itself crumbled and you died. Even a single bite would tie you to the Underworld. Too much, and you could never leave, even if it didn’t kill you.” He looked at her. “There would be… other effects, as well.”
Prosperina arched an eyebrow. “So what do I eat?”
“We’re importing food. You’re not the only one down here who needs to eat the food of the living. We’ll keep you well stocked.” He smiled a bit, and took a bite of the apple. It seemed to snap as he bit.
“It seems like you can eat it,” she said, smiling a bit.
“I’m Death, remember? Food of the living, food of the dead? It’s all good. Sometimes, I like to sauté them together — let them fight it out.”
Prosperina giggled. “I’ll bet you do.”
Dis smirked, looking at her.
“You giggled. I think the City of the Underworld agrees with you.”
Prosperina grinned. “I think you’re right.”
“Settle in first, or get to work?”
“Let’s get to work.”
And so they did. Prosperina settled in with the staff, working most directly with a Chthonic deity name of Hecate who knew secrets ranging from ancient magics to how to convince the Food of the Living vending machine on the 433rd level to give up free Snickers bars. Prosperina also got to know the various shades and other spirits of the dead — to meet the damned and the blessed, and see where each lived and the rules that governed them both. She learned that the tunneling and shaping of the stone never ended — more people died each day, passing across the River Styx through the front gates, in what was then called Psychopomp Docks but which would have other names over the coming eons. She learned about public services and utilities, and how to be firm but fair to those teeming tenants of the world beyond the world.
But of course, this story is not just about Prosperina. After all, we have mentioned Prosperina’s mother often enough that you know she couldn’t be kept out of the story for long. You see, she figured out early on that her daughter was missing. What she could learn from Peisinoe, Aglaope, and Thelxiepeia just made her upset — they didn’t know who had ‘taken’ Prosperina, and they hadn’t tried to intercede. So, as they had worried, she did indeed transform them, remaking them into sirens, winged and beautiful with voices that lured, in hopes that the goddess’s daughter would be lured out — or her kidnapper, anyhow. Later, after the sirens were left to their own devices, they became a rather dangerous menace to navigation. Still later, they would become a moderately popular pop music act. You can figure out which one if you think about it. I’ll wait.
That’s right — them.
Anyhow. The investigation involved many divinities, and sooner or later they worked out where Prosperina might be.
However, during this time… well, all was not well in the land of the living.
Prosperina was in a meeting when it came to a head. “–outline the water reclamation system,” she was saying. “Why we need a sewer for the dead isn’t quite clear to me yet, but I’m willing to accept it. Dale, put together–”
There was a knock on the door frame. Prosperina looked up. “Yes?”
It was Hecate. “Sorry,” she said, a slightly feral smile on her face. “There is someone here to see you.”
“They can wait,” Prosperina said. “We’ve been working to get this ready.”
“He is from the King of the Gods,” she said, her smile not slipping. “And from your mother.”
Prosperina stared for a long moment. She then looked at the shades around the table. “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” she said. “Someone get everyone coffee. None for me — your coffee would stunt my growth.”
The goddesses stepped into the receiving room. Dis Pater wore formal attire, as did the Messenger. “Lady Prosperina,” he said, bowing formally. “I bring the greetings of your father the King of the Gods, and of course your mother, the Lady of the Harvest.”
“I thank you, Master Logios,” Prosperina answered, for in this, the Messenger was acting as the master orator, not the thief or the lord of boundaries. “When you return, please convey my regards.”
“Ah,” Logios said, “but you misunderstand. This is a rescue mission, Lady Prosperina. I am here to save you from the man who stole you from the sunlight and your mother’s boon presence.” The clever lord’s eyes twinkled with amusement.
“Then you may convey to my mother and the King that I came here of my own free will,” she answered. “At the same time as you convey my regards.”
Logios laughed. “Very good. Very good!” He looked at Dis Pater. “Lord of Hades, you do find a way to make the most interesting enemies.”
“And the most interesting friends,” Dis Pater said, his fingers steepled. “But come, Dolios. Let us dine before you return with your news.”
“It will not be received well,” the messenger said. “They have made it very clear and very public that the pure and kind, warm and loving daughter of our Lady Harvester has been stolen away. There is no room in that for a daughter who wants to stay where she is.”
“That is their problem and yours,” Prosperina said. “I’m happy here.”
“I’m sure you are, Lady,” Logios said. “But the people above aren’t happy. Your mother has withheld her beneficence. Absent it, the fields grow barren. The air is cold. Ice falls, and ice crystals blanket the fields in white powder. Nothing is growing up there, Prosperina. And eventually, all of mankind shall starve.”
“Then someone needs to force my mother to grow up,” Prosperina said. “This is where I live now. I won’t go back to be her favorite pet.”
Logios half-smiled. “As you say, Lady. I will convey your message. I should expect a response, were I you.” He looked at Dis Pater. “Old friend, surely you will see the need.”
“Not terribly,” Dis said, his own slight smile on his face. “Our world has all the food and warmth it needs, quite without the Lady Harvester. I’m sure the world above is an unhappy place right now, but all that means is we’ll have to step up construction efforts to accommodate all the deaths. In the end, you might be put out of a job but I won’t.”
“And were it just I out of a job, then perhaps that would be the end of it,” the messanger said, his smile growing ever so slightly. “But though your kingdom is your domain, old friend, you are not alone in this world. You too have responsibilities. You too must be accountable, and come to reckon.”
“Well then,” Dis said. “I guess we’ll see what response you have for us, won’t we?”
“So you say,” Logios said. “So you say.”
“You’ll have a meal before we go?”
“I’m afraid not. This is an issue that is at least somewhat pressing, and I need to beat the major cleftway traffic. The Styx/Lethe Bridgeway is a bitch if you get caught in rush.”
“We’re working on it.”
“I’m sure you are. Lord. Lady.” He bowed, and then was gone, as swift and silent as a thought not spoken.
The two looked at where the messanger of the gods had stood.
“Well,” Dis said softly.
“How do you think this will play out?” Prosperina asked.
“That depends. If your mother is willing to destroy the planet out of grief–”
Prosperina snorted. “Try spite. Or a denial or reality.”
Dis shrugged. “Like I said. If she’s willing to destroy all of humanity, then we’re going to have everyone on our asses.”
“The other gods?”
“The gods, the spirits, the nymphs, the personifications. Everyone.” Dis looked at her. “There are… logistical difficulties in fighting a war against the entire massed force of creation.”
“Would we win?”
Dis’s lips quirked into a small smile. “Unquestionably. But as the messenger so dutifully reminded me, I do have responsibilities.”
“Yeah.” Prosperina looked down. “We all do.”
It didn’t take long for a response to come. Dis Pater was summoned to a meeting of the full assembly, the high table of the Gods. Prosperina didn’t pretend that was a good sign. But before he left, for the first time since they had descended into the underworld, she kissed him. And she watched him leave, driving his Eldorado. It made a statement, or so Prosperina was told.
She was sitting in the dining hall when the messanger returned. He was flanked by Hecate, who seemed unusually somber.
“Master Logios,” Prosperina said, softly.
“I bring the greetings of your father the King of the Gods, your mother the Lady of the Harvest…. and the assembled Lords of Olympic Creation, Kore Maiden of the Planting,” Logios said in response.
“Does that include the Lord of the Underworld?”
“He is in the assembly, Lady. And it is the assembled forces and the will of the King I bear now. And it is a will that may not be appealed, nor denied.”
Prosperina nodded, rising. She walked over to the tables where the food was laid out. It was buffet style. On one table there was the food of the living. Meats, cheeses, breads, vegetables and fruits — not to mention Aeacus’s underworld-famous three alarm chili. On another, there were the dark fruits and foods of the dead. Glossy, shimmering with secrets and the quiet places. Blackened meats, dark, rich breads and broths, roots and tubers, the glistening, hauntingly beautiful fruits of the underworld — and not to mention, Aeacus’s underworld-famous four alarm chili.
Aeacus always claimed, for the record, that the dark meats of the dead made vastly better chili, and besides shades were willing to have way hotter habaneros in their food.
Prosperina paused at the food of the living. “Would you like something, Lord?” she asked. “It’s really quite exquisite.”
“The King of the Gods has decreed that the world and humanity is more important than the desires of the Lord of the Underworld,” Logios said.
“Then why does he not order my mother to restore fertility to the world?” Prosperina replied.
“He has. She won’t. And he has no means to force her.”
“But he can force Dis Pater to give me up?”
“No.” The messenger looked somber. “In the end, he can only decree. And it becomes a question of who blinks first. Of who sees the broader picture more than their own desires.” Logios picked up a slice of melon from the table of the living, and took a small bite. “This really is good,” he said.
“Dis Pater has dominion over the Underworld,” Prosperina said. “No one can take that from him.”
“No one can, and no one has,” Hecate said, smoothly. “But consider, my Lady. To the King was given the Sky. To the Lord of the Seas the depths and waters. To our Master the Underworld and all that lies within. But the King was granted dominion over the whole, specifically so he could adjudicate in disputes of this nature. If our Master were to challenge — to refuse to accede… it would not simply be this dispute that would be broken. It would be the covenant. The peace. Eventually, that leads to war between the Gods themselves.”
“And to the end of humanity, and in the end that is too high a price to pay for your wishes or happiness,” Logios said, not unkindly. “We all have our duties.”
“So. In the end my mother gets what she wants because she will willingly destroy the entire planet if she doesn’t, and somehow that becomes Dis Pater’s responsibility instead of her’s. Is that what you’re saying.”
“That is indeed what I am saying,” the messenger said. “Sometimes, we have to compromise.”
“We do. She doesn’t, apparently.”
Prosperina sighed. “So,” she half-whispered. “You’re here to take me back.”
“I am, Lady.”
Prosperina turned. One of the accents of the table of the dead were asphodel flowers — a bloom and herb that the dead prized greatly. There were rumors that Aeacus simmered his meat in the herb when making his chili. The vehemence of his denials seemed to confirm those rumors.
“Lady?” Hecate asked.
“Dolios,” Prosperina said, smoothly, now using the epithet of the schemer and planner, the thief — not Logios the messenger, nor even Diaktoros the courier of the Gods. “The core of all this trouble and all this pain is my mother, yes?”
“Yes, Lady?” the thief answered. The timbre of his voice had changed. He knew that Prosperina had a plot, and though it might cause the end of humanity itself, the swift thief of the Gods did so love a good plot.
“And because she is stubborn, and because everyone else can compromise, she doesn’t have to compromise. Yes?”
“Oh yes, my Lady.”
“That’s what I thought.” Prosperina looked at the bloom… and then let her eyes play over the fruit and food of the dead. “I think….”
“Lady?” Hecate asked. She sounded… anticipatory. The ancient power didn’t know what was happening, but if the thief loved a good plot, Hecate just loved when authority’s plans got screwed over.
“I think it is time my mother learn what it’s like to face a situation she can’t out-stubborn.” Prosperina’s voice was soft. She was glad Dis Pater was away. If he were not, the god would certainly protest, and he could be so reasonable — even while being so contrary in other ways — that she might even have listened.
The two other deities said nothing. Prosperina looked over the fruit, before smiling and reaching her hand out. A glossy, magenta/black pomegranate, still in the skin, sat plump and ready, heavy in her hand as she lifted it. Perfect.
“Lady…” Dolios’s voice trailed off. He understood. It was, in the end, a scheme.
“I love pomegranate’s flavor, don’t you?” Prosperina said, her voice still soft as she worked open the peel and husk. Her hands were delicate but strong, as befit a planter. She did not even burst any of the seeds.
“Yes, Lady,” Hecate said in a hush, as the sweet seeds, the tiny fruits of the dead within the peel were revealed.
Prosperina looked at them — the normally dark purple fruit rich and almost black. This was food to sustain death, not life. There was no mistaking it.
She did not hesitate. She plucked a single seed, and slowly slipped it between her lips. She bit down, and felt the skin of the fruit burst, the juice’s rich dark flavor spreading over her tongue, the seed crunching on her teeth. She swallowed, her eyes closed, and she felt it flow into her, and become a part of her… felt that hint of death, of the end, of destruction and dust that no god ever need fear willingly spread, touching each of her cells. She shivered as her nature and the new element warred, and inevitably colluded.
She took a second… and then a third… the others were not the seminal experience of the first, but they deepened and strengthened this new bond. And she knew then, as she had the third spread through her, and her bones and blood became chill, that if she had twelve seeds — just twelve seeds of this one pomegranate — that would be enough. She would be given all into death, and her divinity would fail, and she would be nothing but a shade, of no use to Dis Pater, and the world would die at her mother’s hand.
Very well. That gave her a limit.
In the end, she chose six. They were heady and potent, and she felt them working on her insides, their nature flowing through her veins and changing the air in her lungs and seeping into her spine, her bones, her brain. She closed her eyes even as they clouded, and when she reopened them, six seeds now a part of her, she saw the world slightly differently. She looked at her hands, and saw that her skin had become more pale — not wan, but almost like she had become harder. Like marble. The marble of a tombstone or memorial, or a statue raised to remember.
“I’m cold,” she said, in a voice filled with whispers. “Fetch me some robes.”
“Yes, Lady,” Hecate said, and Prosperina could hear adoration in her assistant’s voice. In this moment, Hecate would be her friend forevermore, and it is said that devotion lasts to this very day, in this very modern world.
The robes were comfortable and warm. And wearing them, Prosperina’s transformation seemed complete. She had been lovely before. She was beautiful now. Regal. And her eyes glittered, reflecting things only she could see.
“I am ready, Diaktoros,” she said to the messenger. “Let’s go. I don’t want to get stuck in midtown.”
And the messenger led her to the Acura he’d parked in one of the upper garages, and the two drove up, into the light. And Prosperina smiled as she looked at her city — her beloved, beloved city — because she knew that she would be back.
“–has happened to her!” Mother’s voice was shrill, and she slammed her hand on an end table as she shouted.
The surgeon of the Gods was a good looking man, with a warm smile and demeanor that made him something of a playboy. It was hardly his only job — he was a musician on the side and also had something to do with the sun not going out. It’s complicated. But right at the moment he was there as a doctor, and he wore the white coat to prove it. “She ate some of the food of the dead,” he said, smoothly. “It’s a part of her nature now.”
“So she’s half dead?” Mother demanded.
“No. She’s not any dead,” the doctor said, soothingly. “But her nature has changed. She is now balanced between the upper and under worlds, perfectly. In order to survive, she will need to spend equal time in both places. Otherwise, she will weaken and she will die.”
“That wasn’t a request!”
“And that wasn’t a refusal,” the doctor said. “I’m not saying I won’t heal her. I’m saying I can’t heal her. Her nature has changed. There’s no cure. There’s nothing to be done for it.”
The King of the Gods looked at the two, then walked over to Prosperina. Dis Pater stood nearby. He wore a slight smile, though Prosperina had seen pain in his eyes when the Lord of Hades had realized what she had done. Well, as much as she loved Dis, she hadn’t done this for him. “Hello, daughter,” he said, quietly.
“Hello, father,” she answered. Her voice was rich. Cultured. Maturity was in her bearing now. “You haven’t called me daughter for a long time.”
He chuckled. “Well, you know. When your children number into three digits–”
“Three digits,” his wife snorted. She was not a fan of his freewheeling ways. “Try four.”
“I understand, father,” Prosperina said. She smiled a small smile. “You’re not happy with me.”
“It doesn’t matter if I am or if I’m not. Why?”
“Why? Why?” Mother’s storm had been turned towards the pair now. “I’ll tell you why! It was him!” She stabbed a finger at Dis Pater. “He couldn’t get what he wanted, so he poisoned her!”
“It wasn’t poison, mother,” Prosperina said, with a slight smile. “It is just… a different kind of nourishment.”
“Besides. You know I’m innocent,” Dis Pater said. He seemed… amused. Almost distant. “I was up here, with you.”
“You planned it! You…” she whirled, a finger stabbing at the messenger. “And you! Did you see her do this?”
“Yes, Lady,” the messenger said. He was enjoying this. “I and the Lady Hecate were on hand when your daughter chose–”
“You tricked her,” Mother hissed. “Do you hear me! You tricked her! This monster kidnaps her — rapes her–”
“Mother, stop this. We haven’t been intimate. We won’t until we go back. After the wedding.”
“Oh yes,” Prosperina said, rising. “He courted me. I accepted. We are to be wed. And if you keep this up I won’t invite you.”
“This is unacceptable! This is all unacceptable! If it is not resolved, then there shall be no break, no relief, no crops or food or life for–”
“Oh shut up,” the King snapped. “I’m sick of this childishness.”
Mother was shocked into silence.
“You demanded we find her. We found her. You demanded she be returned. She’s been returned. We’ve done everything you asked. Now you’re demanding what — that we undo time? That we change what is to something else? Get it through your thick head — there is no going back from this. And if you withhold your blessings from the world now, I swear by the River Styx and by the blade I slew my father with you will come to a reckoning for every life lost! Do you hear me?”
Mother stared at him. “He–” she started.
“Dis Pater complied with your wishes. He is not culpable now.” The King turned to the doctor. “What does this mean?”
“The Lady Prosperina must spend half her time in the Underworld, from this point forward. She shall spend half of each year in that darkness, and half in the light. Otherwise, she cannot endure.”
“Perhaps I shall alternate weeks,” Prosperina said. “That should keep everyone happy, I should think. It will give me a chance to get my work done–”
“No,” Mother snapped. “I swore an oath you all heard. Every minute my daughter was in the Underworld would be a minute my blessing was withdrawn from the Earth. I could not break that oath now if I wanted to! I will not break that oath now! She has been abused and I will see justice!”
“She has been abused?” Dis Pater asked. “Or you have? It’s hard to be thwarted, isn’t it?”
“You think you’re so clever,” the goddess snapped. “I will spread the world. I will tell all who can hear what has been done. This crime will echo through the ages — this kidnap, this rape of my daughter shall become a part of the enduring legacy of the ages! And the trick — the hideous trick you and this Hecate and this thief have done–”
“Fine, mother,” Prosperina said, rising smoothly. Her robes added dignity to her. Her movements were graceful. And as she approached her mother, all in the room could see she hadn’t just changed in nature. Where she had seemed girlish, even after decades, she was now a woman. All the more beautiful. And as strong as her mother, and able to look at her on eye level.
“Prossey,” Mother half-whispered.
“If you are going to curse the Earth every time I’m away, then clearly we must plan for it. I will spend half the year in the Underworld. There is no choice about that, and the sooner you accept that the less embarrassing this will be for everyone.” She looked her mother in the eye. “I will leave after the Harvest. So all of humanity must learn to prepare — to plant more in the spring, tend better in the summer, and then harvest well, because as I leave your curse will take the fields and plants. The trees will sleep, their leaves shriveling and falling. The land will go barren, and ice and snow will fall. And then in the spring, not long before the planting you have always insisted I help with, I will return and so too can your blessings return. And I shall remain until the harvest comes once more. Will that satisfy you? Or must the world die and you be outcast before you accept that sometimes you don’t get what you want?”
Her mother looked at her daughter — at the woman before her. “You are my daughter,” she whispered.
“Yes. But I am also the Queen of the Underworld, given equal rank to the man who will be my husband, and I will brook no more disrespect.”
Mother’s chin raised up. “I will tell everyone what has happened.”
“Tell them whatever you like, Mother. It won’t matter in the Underworld.”
She looked her eldest daughter in the eye. And finally, for the first time in Prosperina’s memory — indeed, for the first time in any of their memories — she looked down, and turned away. “Fine,” she said. “Half the year above, half the year below. The Harvest shall become autumn in the wake of your passing, and then winter will descend. And spring will only return when you do.”
Prosperina nodded. “Very good. Now. I am back, so I expect spring and the planting can begin. Yes?”
Mother looked back. “My blessing is restored to the world,” she said, sadly. “For this year, anyhow. But it will fade as you do.” She snorted. “I should have let you have Adonis.”
Prosperina smiled. “I’m happy enough that you didn’t. I believe we have taken up enough of these good peoples’ time. Dis Pater, may I see you out?”
“Of course, my dear.” And he took Prosperina’s robed arm, and they stepped out of the room.
“We’re getting married?” Dis asked, as they went out of earshot.
“Of course,” Prosperina said, half-smiling.
“Shouldn’t we, you know, have had a proposal or something?”
“We did.” She nodded towards a building they had gotten high on the roof of, what seemed a lifetime before. “You asked me if I loved you enough to marry you. I said yes. I asked if you loved me. You said yes. Now I’m calling in that debt.”
“Semantically, that wasn’t a contract. Just a question.”
“Semantically, your people like me more than they like you. Do you really want to piss me off?”
“No.” And they kissed.
And this is where the story ends, more or less. As she threatened, the Lady Harvester spread the tale far and wide — the tale of a Lord of the Underworld who kidnapped and raped her pure daughter, carrying her down into the underworld. The story of how during that time, her daughter, the Kore, the Maiden, refused all food and drink until the Gods forced her return, but the canny and lustful Lord of Death tricked her — with the help, some say, of Hermes, and others say of Hecate — into eating some seeds of a pomegranate. Now, her daughter was the Queen of the Underworld, and half her life was spent in darkness, but the Lady Harvester grieved so during those times that the world itself became cold and barren, until her daughter was once more returned to the light.
That may seem unfair. But these things aren’t always fair, and as we have said before, everyone must compromise. Neither Prosperina nor Dis Pater overly suffered by the popular version of the story. When heroes attempted to ‘free’ Prosperina, she was more than happy to trick them and punish them for their hubris.
And yes, Prosperina was forced back up into the overworld every six months, but during those times she found herself content. The planting was no big deal — it never was, since her Mother had given her the duty as make-work. And she could continue to do her work for the Underworld even in the sunlight, working through couriers and dispatches. Dis Pater visited often, and the rest of the time Prosperina was accorded the respect of a Queen of the Underworld, an equal to her husband and partner. She went robed at all times now, for she was often cold, but her beauty was only magnified by her position and her maturity.
Over the centuries, she and her mother reconciled, of course. And eventually her mother grew content with her son in law as well. The curse remains, of course. As the Harvester herself said, such curses do not end just because we want them to.
But none of this changes the excitement — the hint of girlishness still existing — that Prosperina feels when the harvest draws to a close for another year. For she knows that after six long months of exile, she gets to return to her beloved city, to look at its beauty, to see the shades who have come to adore her, to sit upon her basalt throne, twin to her husband’s, and to once again know she is where she most wants to be.
So when the autumn comes and the air becomes crisp, and we sip cider and watch for the first snows… take a moment and consider Prosperina. As we get the coldest and most brutal parts of the winter, know that Prosperina is at her happiest, and know that she will give up her contentment come the spring so that we all might be fed for another year. And as I write this, having seen the first winter storm of the year hit my town, I raise my mug of something warm and feel joy for the woman who has gone home, and I invite you to do the same.
Oh, if you want to know why the Southern Hemisphere’s winter comes during our Summer? That’s simple. It’s the Coriolis effect. Everyone knows that. Hush now. Daddy needs his medicine.