“Making friends already?” Hades asked. I looked at him in mute appeal, and he grinned. “Persephone, allow me to introduce you to everyone. You’ve met Moirae, I see.” At my nod he continued. “This is Charon, my ferryman; Thanatos, God of Death; his twin brother Hypnos, God of Sleep; and Aeacus, Rhadamanthus—”
“Call me Rhad,” he interjected.
“—and Minos, my judges,” Hades finished.
I nodded as each man stood in turn. I knew some of the names from Latin class but seeing them matched up with actual faces was unnerving.
“And this is my—” Hades broke off and cleared his throat. “May I present my wife, Persephone.”
I moved to stand as they had for me, but Hades put a firm hand on my shoulder, keeping me in place. They all bowed then returned to their seats. People dressed in white robes served the food. I wondered if they were the people who drank from the Lethe. Dinner chatter began on the far side of the table, seeming to revolve around Charon recounting his day on the ferry.
I stared down at the white tablecloth, trying to remember which of the silver utensils I needed to use for the first course. A silver plate was placed before me with a fried pink oyster mushroom served with grapefruit. It was topped with an orange nasturtium blossom.
“So . . . ” I turned to Moirae, who glared daggers at me, and quickly turned back to Hades. “Uh, what did you do today?”
He looked surprised by the question. “It’s barely been an hour since I last saw you.”
“It’s called small talk,” I snapped. “You should try it some time.”
He sighed. “Fine. I spoke with Hestia about your history lessons, arranged for you to begin self-defense lessons with Charon—”
“What?” Charon piped up from his end of the table. “When did that happen?”
“Just now,” Hades said around a bite of chicken. “I’m multitasking.”
“Why does she need to learn self-defense?” Aeacus asked.
I popped the flower into my mouth, savoring the spicy flavor. I wondered how they’d known I was a vegan. Everyone had something different on their plates. Maybe it was just a cool Underworld trick, like the rooms decorating themselves.
“You’re going to have Charon teach her?” asked Thanatos. “He won’t be able to shut up long enough to teach her a single move. I’m way better at self-defense.”
“Not everyone can kill someone just by touching them,” Hypnos pointed out.
“You’ll be busy guarding Persephone any time she leaves the palace.” He looked at me. “You’re perfectly safe in all but the public areas of the palace. Only certain souls can enter the living quarters. Just stay out of the public sections, the ballroom, the front lobby, the banquet hall, and the court room, unless either myself, Cassandra, or Thanatos are with you.”
“Hah!” Thanatos laughed at Charon. “You may be the self-defense guru, or whatever, but I’m the one people want around if there’s any real trouble.” He looked at Hades. “I’m going to need to recruit more Reapers to cover my shift.”
“What?” Cassandra snapped. “You have too many Reapers already! One of them nearly killed Persephone today.” She saw my eyes widen and sighed. “Fine, not nearly killed. Gods, you deities need to learn to appreciate a good exaggeration.”
“I’m well aware of what happened this afternoon.” Thanatos yawned. “And since my Reapers are banned from the living quarters, that means I have to distribute the list. If I’m also expected to act as a guard, then I’ll need more Reapers to keep things moving smoothly.”
“And last week?” Cassandra asked. “What was the reason then?”
“You guys won’t believe who I met on the ferry today,” Charon said from his side of the table.
“Who?” Minos asked.
“Okay, you guys remember that movie with the . . . ”
I didn’t get to hear the rest of his sentence because Thanatos drowned him out. “More people are dying every day. I need help.”
I shifted closer to Charon, but couldn’t hear him over Cassandra.
“Bull! You only had a handful of Reapers during the plague!”
“And maybe a tenth of the population,” he retorted.
“How many do you need?” Hades asked.
Cassandra sighed loudly and sat back in her seat. Heads shook around the table, and I caught more than a few amused grins. Cassandra seemed to be the only one who was bothered by the Reapers.
“You get fifty. And keep them out of the palace, would you?”
Thanatos grinned and took a bite of his steak. I studied him closely. He wore black robes, grim-reaper style. His dark hair was pulled back from his narrow face. His dark eyes met mine from across the table and I gulped, staring hard at the soup before me. I didn’t want Death shadowing me. I glanced at his twin brother, Hypnos. He looked just like Thanatos, only his robes, eyes, and hair were grey. Not old-people grey; more like the color of smoke.
Charon laughed. “Give us a week, Thanatos. Persephone will be able to kick your bony ass across the Styx.”
The table erupted into cacophony. Everyone was talking over everyone else, adding wagers and jesting with each other. Lethians deftly ducked between the dueling deities, serving the main course. A plate of corn-filled phyllo tulips and eggplant topped with tomato sauce was put in front of me and I took a nervous bite.
“You’re on!” Thanatos replied. He gave me a devilish grin. “One week, Persephone.”
“That’s okay,” I squeaked. I didn’t want to go hand to hand against Death.
No one heard me. Hades’ eyes glittered in amusement. He gave me a look that said see what you started? as plainly as if he had spoken.
“I’m also trying to clear my schedule to teach you about your abilities.” Hades smiled wryly. “And I’ve still got to prepare for Brumalia. You’re keeping me busy.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be any trouble.”
He chuckled. “Don’t apologize. It’s a welcome diversion.”
“Then thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, seeming pleased.
“Well, since no one else is asking,” Charon called from the end of the table, “I suppose it’s up to me. Hades, when did you get a wife?”
Everyone laughed. “You miss everything.” Cassandra snickered.
“Damn those needy souls,” Charon joked, sliding an easy grin my way, his gray eyes twinkling. “So what happened? Hades sweep you off your feet?”
“You could say that.” I glanced at Hades. I wasn’t sure what I was allowed to disclose.
“See, I had this vision—” Cassandra began.
“Always visions with you,” Thanatos groaned.
“—that Persephone was in trouble. So I calmly told Hades—”
“If by calmly you mean bursting into the throne room shrieking like a banshee,” Hades teased.
“I do not shriek,” Cassandra said indignantly.
“Yelled, then.” Rhad’s white teeth gleamed against his midnight-dark skin.
“Whatever. Anyway, Hades took off—”
“Since when did you have visions about the living?” Hypnos interrupted.
“Two living deities were involved,” Cassandra said. “These days that’s unheard of.”
“Two?” Minos asked, stroking his gray beard. “So you must be . . . ” He trailed off, looking at me speculatively.
“Goddess of Spring,” I supplied.
There were murmurs of approval from around the table.
“You’re a new one.” Hypnos sounded intrigued. “How old are you?”
Cassandra smacked him over the head. “Heathen!”
“Back to the story,” Charon said impatiently. “What was happening topside?”
Hades took over then, recounting the story dramatically. Anytime he made himself sound too heroic Cassandra put him in his place. I looked around the table with the fresh realization that this group wasn’t just a collection of souls or subjects but a trusted inner circle.
“Well, Persephone, it’s great to meet you.” Aeacus straightened his dark robes.
I nodded at him. “Thank you.”
“Don’t you worry any about any demigods,” Charon said. “Anyone who comes down here with the intent to do you harm will regret it.”
“Ah yes,” Cassandra teased. “Charon could do something really helpful, like hit them with an oar.”
“Hey! I’m the self-defense guru! Remember?”
“He could always talk them to death,” Thanatos said.
“Cassandra could shriek at them.” Hades snickered.
I laughed despite myself. For the rest of the meal, Charon grilled me about life among the living. I was surprised my voice wasn’t hoarse by the end of the meal.
In honor of Labor Day, I’d like to make a shout out to the unsung heroes of the Underworld. The people who keep it running. So today, I’m going to honor the judges of the Underworld.
Aeacus: In life, Aeacus was the son of Zeus and the demigoddess Aegina or Europa depending on the source. He may or may not have ruled over an island of ants that were turned into people (very long story) depending on the source of the myth. Aeacus ruled an island named after his mother and was by all accounts was a just and fair ruler. He even settled divine disputes.
Apollo and Poseidon asked Aeacus to help build the walls of Troy, which would later fall at the hands of his descendants. His grandkids were Achilles and Ajax. His great-great-great to an exponential degree descended was Alexander the Great. At least Alexander claimed that anyway.
Rhadamanthus is son to Zeus and Europa, brother to Minos (and by some sources Aeacus). In life he was a king, depending on the source he may have been married to Ariadne (more on her later). There was some tension between him and Minos over the rule of Crete, but no one could deny the island was governed by an excellent set of laws. Rhad was known for his unbreakable integrity.
Literature hasn’t been terribly kind to poor Rhad. Keats called him old, Yeats called him bland, and Eliot used his name as an insult. I can kind of see why. I did TONS of research on every character I pulled into Persephone. There wasn’t much to find on this guy other than he was honest.
Minos was the last of the three judges of the Underworld. He was also a child of Zeus and Europa, and a king just like this brother(s). The similarities between the siblings end there. Minos ruled Crete. Every year Minos chose nine girls and nine boys and send them to the labyrinth to be eaten by the Minotaur.
Funny story, that Minotaur. See once upon a time, Poseidon answered Minos’ prayers and sent him a beautiful white bull with the catch that he had to sacrifice it. Minor sacrificed an ugly bull instead. So Poseidon got mad. He asked Aphrodite to make Minos’ wife fall in love with the bull. Nine months later, a Minotaur was born. Horrified and embarrassed, Minos begged Daedalus to construct a labyrinth the Minotaur could never escape from.
Then he imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus so they could never reveal the secret of the labyrinth. More on them later.
Minos was known as the most ancient king to utilize a navy. He also has kind of split personalities. In half the myths he’s a just fair king, in the other half he’s feeding children to the Minotaur. There’s a timing issue as well, he ruled in two very different times depending on the source you read. Most researchers believe there may have been two Minos’, but the stories got combined much like the two Aphrodite’s.