Proserpina looked out over the sea of soft red poppies, rubbing the petals of a fallen bud between her fingers. They would all be dead soon, slaughtered in her mother’s sorrow. Ceres carefully sat next to her daughter, delicately rubbing her back in a comforting manner.
“I do not want to go,” Proserpina muttered in a shaky voice, eyes not leaving the sea of red flowers. “I want to stay here with you, and your beautiful gardens, and sweet fruits…”
“I know,” Ceres empathized. “I wish more than anything that you could stay, my child.” She leaned and gently kissed the top of Proserpina’s head. The younger woman hugged her mother tightly, tears welling over and wetting her face—along with Ceres’ clothing.
“You mustn’t cry,” Ceres told Proserpina, her own eyes watering despite herself. “You are a big girl, and you are strong. We will see each other once again in six months…”
“But six months is so long!” Proserpina wailed. “I don’t want to be away for so long! I’ll miss you!” her grip tightened, like vines around a great tree.
“I know, my dear…” she sang and comforted her daughter until the time came for Pluto to steal away her most prized creation.
They wandered together back to the place where Proserpina had first met Pluto. Where the blooming shrub once stood, there was a large circle that could only be described as looking deep into the eyes of despair. The grass that once grew green had turned to black tar, and any trees that were nearby were scorched and seemed to scream when the wind blew by. There were no more flowers in sight, nothing green, no signs of life. The entrance to the underworld was cold and dead, made completely barren by the horrors of what lived underneath.
Ceres held Proserpina close, whispering words of comfort to the frightened girl. Once again, the ground opened up deep and wide and black, Pluto’s obsidian chariot bucking out of it. “Proserpina, my lovely girl!” Pluto shouted. He pat the neck of one of the horses, calming the rowdy animal. “I have long awaited our time together.” He smiled in a charming manner, but Proserpina was unfazed.
“Yes, Pluto, I will come as you require,” she stated, looking only at her feet, at her mother’s feet. She hugged Ceres one last time. “I love you, mother…”
“I love you more, Proserpina,” Oh, how Ceres was going to miss her child. “You stay safe, and smart. You know what you must do.”
Proserpina nodded. “Yes, I know how to care for myself.” She nodded ad made sure her face was dry. Pluto grabbed her arm and pulled her onto the chariot, seating her next to himself.
“I will see you again!” Ceres called as the chariot disappeared back into the deep, dark hole it came from.
Proserpina held herself, not looking at Pluto or any of the bright, shimmering jewels. She looked at nothing. All she could do was dread the next six months that were ahead of her.
“Did you have a nice time with your mother?” Pluto asked. Proserpina did not reply.
“Are you excited to return to my palace?” Again, no answer. “Would you like to pet Cerberus? He really is a good dog. Very well behaved.”
Proserpina did not pet Cerberus as the entered the large gates. She was not excited to return to the palace. In this moment, she wanted to be left alone. She was angry. At Pluto, at herself, at the pomegranate. Angry that things must now be this way.
Once again, they approached the river. “Here, you could forget all your sorrows, Proserpina, you would be happy.” Pluto once again engaged a false smile, stopping the chariot and gesturing to the cool stream.
“No!” Proserpina shouted. “I would rather be miserable these six months and have time with my mother than forget her entirely, for any reason.” Though her anger did not waver, her voice did. It shook and cracked under the pressure of all her emotions.
Pluto nodded, ushering the chariot to continue. He nearly felt guilty, nearly felt sorry for Proserpina. But not quite. He knew she would give in, he knew she would end up staying with him and being happy here as his queen.
Proserpina, despite all her anger, felt pity for the man who captured her. He was all alone down here in these dark, cold caves. It is so grand, yet he seems so small against it all. The man was completely alone. She wanted, somehow, to make everything right, even for Pluto.
The chariot stopped and Pluto led Proserpina into his grand castle. The white marble now swirled with even more gems and decorations—likely set out to tempt Proserpina into staying. However, she was not stupid.
Pluto sat down in his great black throne, a pretty rose quartz one installed on the right side, just the perfect size for Proserpina.
“Sit, my dear, it is softer than it looks,” he gave another faux smile. “It’s special, just for you.”
She sat, out of curiosity, which of course had gotten her into this mess. “It is. Soft, I mean. It looks hard, but it is comfortable…” she shook her head. “But you cannot buy me into your dwelling. You cannot steal my heart with jewels and gold.”
“I meant only to make you more comfortable,” he replied, sounding hurt. “I know that my palace is not your favorite, I wanted to ease you.”
“Oh…” Proserpina looked around. It was nice… “I’m sorry, King Pluto.” She hadn’t meant to hurt his feelings.
“No matter,” he turned his gaze down the long, empty hallways. It was only a half truth, anyway. He had wanted to make her more comfortable, though his main goal was exactly what Proserpina assumed of him.
Proserpina fiddled with her fingers awkwardly. What to say now? She was here, and would be here a long while. There was not much to do. She traced her hands along the carvings of the pink throne, stone somehow soft against her skin, though it did not dent with her touch.
“Are you hungry?” he offered, knowing that she would be.
“No,” she lied. “I ate before I came here, and I will not eat again until after I leave.”
However, she had not eaten in hours. She had meant to, but she was so upset that she could not bare to put anything to her lips. She didn’t want to risk having to spend any more time here…
“Yes, you are,” he said in a slightly accusing tone. “You are hungry. My servants will bring you food right away.” And just as he said that, servants entered the room with great platers of breads, desserts, and fine meats.
Just as she had done before, Proserpina turned away. “I do not want any of your tainted meals!” She shouted, anger rising up in her once again. Her hands became fists by her sides. “I know you, Pluto! You want me to stay here, but I will not! Your foods smell good, but I know better! They taste of slate mold and rotten apples, I’m sure of it! Why won’t you leave me be?” with that, she stood and left, running through the corridors to her bedroom and locking the door.
This room was now filled with ruby roses and lapis lavender, crystal flowers and small gems decorating the entire place. Before it had been bare, with nothing but the black-sheeted bed, and she could have imagined it to be her room back at home. Now it gave her no such comfort. It was too full, and even the bed now dazzled. She lay down to sleep, though the hunger in her stomach did not allow her to rest.
In the days that followed, Pluto tried desperately for Proserpina. He gifted her flowers, offered her refreshments, spoke gentle words to her—but nothing settled in. She was still angry, still thinking about the mums and baby bells and snapdragons that were dying in her mother’s tears. It was not until she had stayed a month that she began to calm again.
As she sat alone in her rosy throne, Pluto came and sat in his black diamond.
“It’s lonesome in here by yourself, isn’t it?” he prompted. She nodded silently. “I feel that way a lot. All the time, actually. I am alone, and I have no one.” He struck up more pity inside her.
“You have me,” she muttered, feeling empty.
“No,” he scolded, his tone startling her. “Proserpina, I have stolen you. I have you here, yes, but you hate me for it.” She opened her mouth to speak, but he stopped her. “I remember when you told me you love me. I also remember that you were a prisoner then, as you are a prisoner now. That the kind of love a prisoner has for her captor is not the kind of love I want. It is not true. It is based on fear, hatred, and longing to be away but having no escape.”
Proserpina had nothing to add, for he was exactly right.
“So, my dear, I ask this of you,” he pulled up her face and looked deeply into her eyes. “Would you stay here with me, truly? Would you give yourself time to learn true love for me? Would you drink my water and eat my food and cure my lonely heart?”
“I—” she began, but again he cut her off, pulling a round diamond from his pocket. He set it in her hands, allowing it to roll along her soft fingers. It was completely clear, no imperfections anywhere on it.
“Marry me. Be my wife, Proserpina. Love me forever. Let us be happy, always, together!” This time, his smile was hopeful, and genuine. For once, he was entirely and completely honest.
“Pluto…” she whispered, holding the diamond tight. “King Pluto, I mean…”
“You will be queen. If you say yes, you will be queen. And you will rule beside me, as equals. You will own all the jewels you could ever hope for. You can call me whatever you’d like,” he urged, taking her hands in his.
Proserpina began to cry. It was clear to Pluto that they were definitely not tears of joy. “Pluto, I want my mother!” She pushed the diamond into his hands and pulled herself away from him. “I do not care for jewels! Why is it all so hard for you to understand? I am sorry that you are alone! I truly am! But jewels don’t mean anything for me! Flowers and void of beauty if they do not smell and grow and live! Nothing in your world is real or breathing! I want to breathe and be warm and grow things! I do not want your life, Pluto!” Tears rolled fiercely down her cheeks, nose and eyes bright red. “You want a wife, but I am not the wife you want! No, King Pluto of the Underworld,” she twisted his name harshly, “I will not marry you!”
He looked down to the floor. (note to self for editing: she is now standing and he is kneeling.) “I understand.” He stood and held the diamond out to her. “Keep it. I’ll leave you be.”
“…what?” She asked, confused.
“Keep the diamond, show it to your mother. A token of peace from me to you,” he clasped her hands around it.
“I have five more months here…” she shook her head slightly. “I’ll lose the diamond.”
“Are you daft?” he asked her with a slight chuckle.
“I don’t underst—”
“You’re going home. You aren’t happy here, and seeing you unhappy only adds to my own sadness. You are to leave and never return.” He folded his hands behind his back.
“Really…?” she asked in disbelief. “You’re letting me go…?”
“Yes,” he answered simply. “Today. As soon as Quicksilver arrives to speak to me.”
“Thank you…” she whispered, pulling the tall man into a genuine hug. “Thank you so much!”
Soon enough, they were back to the world were Ceres resided. “Mother…?” Proserpina called out.
She whipped around. “Proserpina?” she ran to her daughter and embraced her. “You’re back so early! What happened? Did you sneak out?” She held her shoulders.
“No!” She shoved the diamond into her hands. “Mother, he let me go! I’m free, I get to stay with you! Always!”
“It’s true,” Pluto came up behind Proserpina, squinting against the sun. He put a hand up to block it. “I’m so very sorry about everything. She doesn’t have to come down to me ever again.”
“What’s the catch…?” Ceres pulled Proserpina closer.
“The catch,” Pluto began, “is that she needs to be happy. That’s what I want, that will make me feel better until I can find a wife. Keep her happy, Ceres.”
Ceres nodded gratefully. “I don’t know how I could ever repay you. I was so wrong about you, sir.”
“No, you were right,” he nodded. “There are selfish reasons behind even this. Just take her. I’ll be going before I burn up, now.”
Proserpina waved until all traces of the man were gone, until the hole in the ground had closed back up. She hugged her mother and they cried for hours.
Proserpina and Ceres revived the lands, and everything was warm and good.