The Goddess Legacy
Page 16

 Aimee Carter

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“Hera,” she sobbed, but I ignored her. She’d had her chance, and though she’d known what the consequences would bring, this was the path she’d chosen. I would not show her mercy for it.
“Goodbye,” I said, and without looking back, I walked through the curtains and out of her life forever.
Part Three
The Underworld was colder than I’d expected. Not unbearably so, but I wasn’t used to a world without the sun. Walking down the path to the entrance of Hades’s obsidian palace, I clasped my hands together, partially for warmth and partially to keep them from shaking.
Hades was waiting for me in the throne room, hunched over in his black-diamond throne, as if he were carrying an unbearable load. Hundreds of people—dead souls—sat in the pews before him, each watching him expectantly. For what?
“Brother,” I said, hating the slight tremble in my voice. I stopped in front of his throne. Though he was the one person I would bow to if he asked, I knew he never would. He was not Zeus.
“Hera.” He cracked a faint smile and stood, drawing me into an embrace. It was like coming home. Forget the sun—the coldest pit in the universe would be warm as long as Hades was there with me. I hugged him tightly, only dimly aware of the eyes on us. Let the dead stare.
“I missed you.” To my horror, my voice caught in my throat, and he pulled away enough to look at me.
“What’s wrong? What happened?”
One look at the concern on his face—genuine, sincere, not born out of manipulation or a need for something else—and the dam inside me burst. As I cried into his shoulder, Hades gestured for his subjects to leave, and they all stood and exited the throne room without a fuss. Where they went or why they’d been here in the first place, I wasn’t sure, but I’d never been so grateful to anyone in my life.
At last he eased back onto his throne, taking me with him. I curled up in his lap, not caring that it wasn’t proper or that I was married or anyone who came in would assume the worst. Let them. I needed Hades. I needed a friend.
He rubbed my back, not saying a word. Finally, once I’d cried myself out, I rested against him and took several deep breaths. “Demeter’s pregnant.”
His hand stilled between my shoulder blades, and confusion radiated from him. “Oh?”
“Zeus is the father.”
“Oh.” His arms tightened around me. “Hera, I’m so sorry.”
“Could I stay down here with you?” For the first time in all my eternal years, I sounded like a child. But Hades was the only person I trusted anymore, and unlike the other members of the council, he would never take advantage of my vulnerability. Zeus and Poseidon would have reveled in it; my sisters and the younger generation would have seen weakness. But Hades understood.
“Yes,” he whispered. “Of course. As long as you need.”
“Thank you.” I rested against him, my face buried in the crook of his neck as I inhaled his scent—winter and stone, with hints of a burning fire. It may have taken much longer than I’d anticipated for him to fill his promise, but he finally had. I wasn’t alone, after all.
* * *
I remained in the Underworld for so long that I lost track of the seasons. News came from Zeus’s messenger when Demeter’s daughter, Persephone, was born, and while Hades went up to visit, I couldn’t find it in myself to bother.
Occasionally I met my sons on the surface, sometimes for an afternoon swimming in the ocean, sometimes for an entire week living amongst the trees as we talked. That was the one part about the current arrangement that I hated—missing them. Ares was fully grown now and had taken his place on the council, defending what he thought were my wishes. But I could see Zeus in him, in every step he took, in every word he said, and it was agony.
Hephaestus was quieter, much more reserved, and his limp was a constant reminder of what his father had done to him. I never had to worry about seeing Zeus in him—he couldn’t have been more different from that arrogant, insufferable liar. But his limp never went away, and despite my best efforts, Zeus had claimed a stake in his life, as well.
The more time I spent with Hades, the more I grew to appreciate what he did. Day in and day out, often without rest, he listened to the souls who awaited his judgment. Sometimes for minutes, sometimes for hours, and on one memorable occasion, for well over a day. Usually they talked about their mistakes and regrets, but the more I listened, the more I realized that those weren’t the parts of their lives the dead lingered on. The happy times—family, love, the moments in the sunshine that didn’t seem extraordinary at the time, but remained with them even after death—those were the parts that made them smile. Those were the parts they seemed eager to tell Hades about. Those were the parts of their lives that validated them, that made them feel whole, that gave their life purpose.
I envied them. Even when I was with my sons, Zeus remained with us, tainting everything. My only time away from him completely was with Hades in the Underworld, and I relished it. I remained by his side, leaving only to meet my sons or fulfill my duties to humanity, and there was nowhere else I would’ve rather been.
Occasionally he asked my opinion on exceptionally difficult cases. With him, I wanted to be gracious. I wanted to show him the compassionate side of me that Zeus had so maliciously ripped to shreds. I wanted to show him I wasn’t the ice queen everyone else seemed to think I was. I wanted to be my best.
One day, as I explored the outer edge of the Underworld, I heard footsteps behind me. This was the area where the dead spent all of eternity, and it wasn’t unusual to run across them. Each time I stepped through the rock barrier, the world around me was different, and this time I walked along the edge of an island much like the one where we’d defeated Cronus.