None of us truly know our own strength until it’s tested. And the two greatest tests a person’s strength can face are “Weariness” and “Loneliness”. Each unto itself is hard enough to persevere through but the presence of both working in tandem is one of the most daunting trials a mortal’s sense of strength can undergo.
From the very start of this epic tale, our heroine has had things far from easy. Through no fault of her own, she became the target of the goddess of Beauty’s divine retribution. She then was informed her self-sacrifice was required in order to appease the gods followed by the two people whom she trusted most not only blatantly lying to her, both were more than happy to betray our leading lady for their own material gain. Worst of all, the one time she experienced true love, it was ripped away from her just as quickly as it had unexpectedly took place.
It must be mentioned these expenditures of strength all took place well before our heroine was taken prisoner and burdened with the four near impossible labors imposed by her relentlessly cruel mother-in-law.
And all were dealt with completely and utterly on her own.
As we have consistently seen, Psyche’s travails during her time in the Underworld so far have not only been harrowing, they’ve also been physically demanding to the utmost. At this point in her journey not only is the girl on the edge of being physically spent, she also is dangerously susceptible to the powerful force that is the influence of both weariness and loneliness working together in unison. For it is when we are weary that our guard is at its lowest, allowing even a seemingly kind stranger to be misperceived as an attentive friend who has our best interest at heart.
We now return to our heroine as she is escorted into the Palace of the Underworld by none other than the Queen of the Dead, herself.
Psyche was still heavily panting after nearly being devoured by the beast which guarded the Palace of the Underworld, the 3 headed dog Cerberus as Persephone assisted her to stand once again. Truth be told she was rather taken aback with the Queen’s perceptive abilities.
“My dear girl, you are with child! You shouldn’t be exerting yourself like this. But then again, I’m sure my dog Cerberus didn’t give you much of a choice.”
The Queen’s voice was pleasantly lighthearted and made Psyche feel at ease and comfortable, yet her eyes were of a entirely different nature altogether. Even when Persephone smiled, her eyes were hollow and unchangeably sad as if filled with a most resolutely fixed melancholy that could never be fully reached, let alone consoled. A bit of time would pass before Psyche would observe that the Queen’s mournful eyes also never blinked, staying open much like a doll’s would.
With one hand bracing the girl’s shoulder and back and the other held interlocked with hers, the Queen helped Psyche up the ruby encrusted steps which led to the black lacquered Palace of the Underworld. As they entered the castle’s vast entrance hall, the Queen introduced herself in a most disarming yet endearing way:
“Where are my mancners? Allow me to introduce myself. I am Persephone, mistress of this place and the lands surrounding it. And you are?”
Psyche was slow to respond so unaccustomed was she to being shown such mannerly attentiveness. “They call me…..um, Psyche, my lady”.
“Welcome to my home, Psyche.” the Queen said warmly. “It is truly a delight to make your acquaintance as well as have your company, since as I mentioned earlier the Palace hardly ever receives visitors. I can already tell how well you and I are going to get along – just like sisters. In fact, I dare say we reversibly look as such.”
The Queen’s powers of observation once again were quite keen. Psyche couldn’t believe how alike in feature they were but where her hair was a rich chestnut color and her eyes a diaphanous blue, Persephone’s hair was a luxuriant deep black and her eyes were of the same dark, pigment-filled quality. Beside the difference in hair and eye color, both women were of identical height, weight, and facial structure. Even their age appeared to be nearly exact.
“Persephone, Queen of the Underworld” by Kinuko Craft
Despite being so personally congenial, Psyche felt humbled by the Queen’s regal nature with her bodice of precious jewels and bracelets of pure gold. Persephone’s hair unto itself was a marvel to behold with its plaits being interwoven throughout the platinum rings of her multi-tiered crown and ending as pipe curls befitting the most well-crafted korai statuary.
Psyche deferred to the Queen as she bowed before her while stating her purpose “I come as a representative of my mistress, the goddess Venus.”
To which Persephone rolled her eyes in response as she sighed annoyingly saying, “And just what exactly does the battle axe of Beauty want now?”
Psyche was so caught off guard by the Queen’s candor, she couldn’t stop herself from emitting a spontaneous snort of laughter. After regaining her composure immediately there afterwards, she then stated in as serious a tone as she could muster what Venus had told her to request, “While tending to her son who was gravely wounded, my mistress’ allure has become compromised. She asks that you impart a portion of your beauty ointment so that her illustrious looks like no other on Heaven and Earth be revived once more.”
Persephone crossed her arms as she scanned Psyche up and down with her eyes. “I see.” the Queen flatly said before a long, pregnant pause. ” And what do I receive in return, oh representative of the great beauty Venus whose beauty is not so currently great?” Persephone asked sardonically. “May I say how gracious it is of your mistress to make demands of me by sending a servant who doesn’t even offer a customary token of thanks before my presence.”
Mortified at the humiliating predicament Venus had intentionally put her in, Psyche lowered her head with her eyes to the floor and responded in shameful embarrrasment, “I know not, my lady.” Then much against her intentions, Psyche swallowed hard before suggesting a possible solution which involved the last thing she ever wanted to do, “If….it…. please the Queen, I could venture back to my mistress and retrieve a suitable offering to present for your Grace’s approval.”
Persephone’s brow lowered as she smiled saying, “So it appears the servant is willing to face deadly peril she is already well familiar with just to redeem her mistress’ blatant lack of manners. Are you sure you are the underling, my dear, since your actions are far more noble than those of your lady.”
Perplexed and blushing, Psyche said nothing. Persephone continued, “It is by your regal nature and nothing else that I shall comply to your request.”
Psyche genuflected in humble thanks stating “I am indebted to you, most gracious Queen.”
“Arise, noble Psyche.” Persephone then chuckled. “After all, what are sisters for if they can’t share their beauty products among each other?”
But the pleasantries were brought to a sudden halt by what the Queen said next: “And as your sister, rest assured I would fulfill that position far better than either one of those two greedy hags that once were your siblings who just recently made their way into the borders of my kingdom. Those two miserable wretches deserved to hack each other into bits, wouldn’t you agree?
The girl stood slack-jawed, too stunned to respond to the Queen’s effrontery since she was only just then being made aware of her sisters’ demise. Not waiting for a response, Persephone exited the Great Hall. She returned some moments later, holding within her hands an ornately crafted box which she presented to Psyche.
“Give this to your mistress. And upon doing so, fail not to mention the Queen of the Underworld recommends she learn some manners befitting of a goddess since no amount of beauty ointment will ever improve such unsightly behavior if left unaltered.”
Psyche bowed her head and slowly curtsied in gratitude as she accepted Persephbox.
The Queen’s tone then changed from one of intense derision to what at first seemed to be lighthearted and carefree, “You must simply be famished from all that exertion and doing so for two no less. Join me to dine – my newly found sister.” Persephone said as she once again made her way to exit the Great Hall.
Psyche’s thoughts froze. Fully aware her purpose for being in the Queen of the Dead’s Palace wasn’t merely for a social visit, Psyche tried to recall the things she was told NOT to do while in Persephone’s presence but the details had slipped from her conscious mind, she was so overwhelmed. Oddly enough, the fog which heavily hung over the girl’s focus was immediately lifted upon hearing the Queen mention a particular word as she casually strolled further down one of the Palace’s long vestibules – “Pomegranate”.
“Tonight’s meal may not sound like much yet is quite tantalizing none the less.” the Queen’s voice echoed enticingly from further down the hall. “Pomegranate seeds so abundantly ripe, they remind me of the ones I partook of upon first arriving here.”
Hearing the Queen make mention of the desert fruit known for its ruby red ripe seeds, Cupid’s words of warning suddenly could be heard from within Psyche’s mind:
“Know that whilst in the Underworld thou must not willingly partake of any comforts. Persephone will most surely invite thee to dine with her, decline any food or drink she offers, as well as seat thyself on her floor. Remain focused and be not distracted or thou shalt never return nor see the light of day again”
“My apologies, Madame,” Psyche quietly said as she hurried down the hall to catch up with the Queen. “but I’m afraid I must decline your invitation.”
Persephone stopped abruptly upon hearing the girl’s refusal, as she exclaimed “What?!” with a most unmistakable tiger-like growl. From the shadows of the dimly lit hallway as the Queen turned to convince her otherwise, Psyche could have sworn the whites of Persephone’s eyes had completely disappeared and that the Queen’s smile had altered to reveal two long fangs protruding from the upper corners of her mouth, as if she were a cobra poised to strike.
“Don’t be silly, my dear.” the Queen replied with the impatience of a flustered parent. “You need your nourishment and I dare say, so does your child.”
“But…. I am so…. clumsy, my lady.” Psyche said as she desperately thought of an excuse not to dine. “To be sure the vibrant juice of the pomegranate seeds would stain not only my hands and face but every thread of my clothing as well .”
“Nonsense. A clumsy person would have never made it past my dog Cerberus and survived.” The Queen said dismissively as she led Psyche into a luxurious parlor decorated in rich silks of fuchsia and maroon.
The parlor seemed straight from the pages of the “Arabian Nights” with its massive throw pillows and cushions strewn about the room and the unique scent of patchouli mixed with the sweetness of burning incense. The grandeur of a large table befitting a Great Dining Hall was replaced with a more intimate setting of a table for two. But the immense opulence that was missing with the absence of a castle’s proper sized table found its outlet in the two chairs which framed the desk sized furniture.
Each chair was made from the most dense ebony wood that was ornately hand carved with masterful likenesses of angels, gargoyles, and demons. Both chairs’ backing practically reached the parlor room ceiling with their spiraling spokes and were polished to such meticulous perfection even the oil lamps which dimly illuminated the room brightly glimmered from the pitch black wood of each seating piece’s reflected surface.
At first glance Psyche thought they had mistakenly entered the Queen’s drawing room since these regal pieces of exquisite furniture were far better suited being called “thrones” versus mere chairs.
Lifting her long flowing robes around her arm, Persephone regally walked into the parlor and began to seat herself upon the chair that was furthest right. As she turned herself to sit, Psyche immediately noticed the Queen’s eyes had become entirely black as the fangs she had imagined earlier were now exposed in plain view. With her unblinking eyes fixed on Psyche’s, Persephone majestically lowered her outstretched hand in the direction of the other chair as an invitation for the girl to be seated.
A voice then emerged from the Queen’s throat. One that growled with the resonance of a large wild beast that was neither female nor in any way human.
“SIT…. AND …. EAT.”
Each word slowly and separately reached the girl’s ears as if skimming across Time itself. The Queen’s command echoed and reverberated over and over as Psyche felt her legs begin to walk towards the chair despite her mind urgently protesting in vain.
Stunned by Psyche’s strength to resist her sorcery, Persephone breathed in deeply and proceeded to voice a demand so powerful, its sound was deafening:
Psyche could only moan as the force of enchantment which pulled her body against her will grew ever stronger and became impossible to resist. The Queen’s words repeatedly ricocheted so violently throughout the parlor, the walls shook from their hypnotic power.
Psyche was brought to her knees. As tears began to stream down her face, the girl closed her eyes. She was so weary of the endless cycle of suffering that was her life that succumbing to the dark goddess’ witchcraft and fully letting go seemed her only choice.
But suddenly from within the midst of the chaotic din which surrounded her like the ocean could be heard a different voice from a remote far off distance. A voice that commandingly said one simple word – “FIGHT!”
As her free will began to fully dissolve from within Psyche’s third eye emerged her husband from the mist but this time not alone. In his arms Cupid held a child. The most beautiful child Psyche had ever gazed upon – a precious little girl.
As her husband drew ever closer, he gently kissed the child’s forehead. Much like the man who held her, the slumbering baby had hair the color of honey and ripe wheat and her cherubic face closely resembled Psyche’s as when she was a young girl.
“This is thy daughter, my love.” Cupid said as he closed his eyes while embracing the sleeping child even closer. “Thou must live for her and defend her right to enter the world.”
A surge of energy then exploded throughout Psyche’s body and emerged like a lioness protecting her young. An energy that unto itself silenced the cacophony of Persephone’s magic for it was the most powerful force throughout the known Universe of a mother fighting for the life of her child.
When her eyes were finally able to open, Psyche was shocked to discover being in front of the vast doors of the temple which served as both her mother-in-law’s house of worship and her own prison chamber of indentured incarceration.
Brad Kronen’s book “Love in the Stars” published by Llewellyn Worldwide, Inc. is available for purchase at your local book seller or online at amazon.com at the link listed below.