Editor's Note

Fiction

Poetry

Nonfiction

Submission Guidelines

Archived Issues

Jo Walton is a professional RPG writer. She's published a couple of short stories in Intermix and is currently working on an almost completed novel.


Dark Planet is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments, please contact her at lusnyde@indiana.edu.

All materials copyright 1996-1997 by their respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).

In Death's Dark Halls, A Dog Howls

by Jo Walton

    I: The Pomegranate Seeds.

    Proserpina, torn between
    love and how she wants to live
    weighs the pomegranate seeds
    in her warm and living hands
    waiting, wanting, choice withheld
    sees that still and silent hall
    deathly hush and pillared dark,
    deeper darkness stretching out
    echoed eaves where shadows hang
    curl and linger, throng and mass
    purposes that haunt the hall
    shades who flit the columned aisles
    bereft of names.

    She's weeping.
    The seeds are chill, counting them
    on her pale palm, clad in white,
    she paces through hollow halls,
    uncertainty echoing
    each footfall on marble.

    Can she live in this half place,
    between the worlds, life and death
    she who is life, up above
    whose steps are flowers in life's realm
    up on the green living Earth?
    In spacious fields, orchard groves
    vines and fruits swelled by the sun,
    she loves the work, done in joy,
    tending planted terraces
    chosing to tame fertile earth
    with hedge and plough, next year's hope,
    plant and gather, pluck and grow
    sunlight on skin, cool air, rain
    the twining green, songs of birds
    her mother's hearth, bright and clear.
    She yearns for it.

    But loves him.
    This is his realm, his domain
    these chill veined floors, pillared halls,
    dark river's tides, shores of death,
    this dark his dark, these shades his
    his charge, his work, what he chose
    (though drawn by lot long ago)
    his world, his cares, these drear dank
    and shadowed halls, these walled ways
    this underworld, death below.
    Between these streams all folk pass
    across the Styx, life to death
    through Hades' realm, then plunge in
    through Lethe, to a new life,
    forgetting self, to choose chance.
    The lingerers must learn here
    not to cling on, to let go
    and start again naked once more.

    He cannot leave, she asked him
    telling the names of earth's joys
    beads on a string, her best hopes.
    He wept salt tears, shook his head
    sunlight hurts him, but his face
    is light to her, touched by love.
    Still on his throne his face set
    he will not speak will be fair
    her own free choice but his eyes
    plead loneliness and matched love.

    Seeing him there her heart moves
    to stay and build life with him
    life in death's halls, together.
    Slowly with use come to care
    for shades of grey for his sake,
    not best of all, but worth it.
    Her heart pounds at time to choose
    the green world or her heart's lord.
    She eats three seeds, starts to choke,
    her mouth filled with death and dust
    his warm dark eyes, concerned now
    his kind hand held out to her
    to take the throne by his side
    she tries to smile, swallows.

    II: The Cornsheaf

    Then from afar, drawing near
    a new sound, plashing of oars,
    Charon is come, out of time
    the dark boat crosses Styx stream
    no freight of souls, not this trip
    a goddess, sure of herself.
    Under the throne, Cerberus
    growls very low, hackles rise.

    Ceres shoes snap on marble
    angry and proud, her daughter
    belongs to earth, must not stay
    in this dark hole, no matter what.
    She marches in, ready for war
    glowing with light, life and health
    no weapons shown, save being here.
    No glance she gives the throne room
    she walks straight in swift and sure
    stands to defy the dark king
    and his pale bride on one throne.
    Presents demands: "The girl back,
    my daughter, please, returned now."
    Straight on to threats without pause,
    "Or the world dies, nothing grows,"
    in jealous pride, "All laid waste
    withers and falls, if she stays,
    end to all life, and all hope."

    Proserpina pales, her choice
    to leave the world, not slay it.
    Vainly she pleads, Ceres smiles
    a tight lipped smile, taps a sheaf
    of gold corn on marble floor;
    "Fool of a girl shall all starve
    and the world die for your sake?
    In the sunshine I missed you.
    I know your heart, what you wish
    you are my kin, must come back
    who could choose gloom and half-death
    when poppies bloom in gold corn?"

    Cerberus growls, three heads raise
    lips peal from three sets of teeth.
    Hades stirs on his dark throne
    "By all the laws of all worlds
    she is my wife by free choice
    she has eaten of death's food
    and so must stay, relent now
    you have your world and we ours,
    she is my queen, no prisoner
    you may see her in sunlight
    as she chooses to go forth."

    A pale gold stream her hair falls
    as her head turns, her lips part
    he grins at her and she laughs.
    Laughter's echoes light the hall
    shades draw closer sensing hope
    the air seems warm, their hands touch.
    Ceres just sneers; "How touching,
    you offer her a few crumbs
    of my hard work, as your gift.
    Not good enough, dead man's god.
    I want her back."

    "But Mother,"
    she says at last, "I ate them,
    my lord's right, I want to stay
    by my own choice, and live here.
    Let the world be, I love him."

    "What do you know of love's taste
    the honeyed wine of true joy,
    you're a child still, I know best.
    You ate three seeds, spit them out,
    and we leave now, the boat waits."
    She reaches out one swift hand
    to snatch the girl off the throne
    and a dog's jaws snap and close
    on Ceres arm, red blood flows,
    but falls not far, the shades rush
    shroud her in dark, lap the blood
    take solid shapes, memory
    stirs in their eyes as eyes form.
    Ceres recoils, has fed them,
    now they are there and will speak
    in thin bat-voices, longing.

    "Chrysothemis was my name,
    I saw such death, such blood fell,
    my father slew my sister
    then my mother struck him down
    my brother and my sister
    killed her and both fell then.
    Revenge? For what? We're all dead,
    and I as well, it's no good,
    hear me Great Queen, walk your path
    as she walks hers, let her go."

    "I was a queen, my lord fell
    my son slain, city burned
    and then a slave, bore more sons,
    sorrow and pain, they died too
    now I am here, my name lost.
    What will you then, to cause harm?
    Children are grief, let her go."

    "A warrior I, in North lands,
    lived past my time, saw all die
    he vanquished me, let me live
    to bear his son, whom he killed.
    I give up grief, even my name,
    let her be free, let her go."

    "Lady, I died a king's death,
    wed to the plough, my folk thrive,
    a noble end, on I go,
    passing through here heard your words
    consider us suffering
    up on the Earth, we weak men
    a sacrifice you might make:
    put by this grief, let her go."

    "Ah life is sweet, blood is life,
    now I am dead, blood is sweet.
    I think I was a mariner
    sailed far away many seas.
    Take up your joy where it falls
    and do not bind what goes by,
    she made her choice, let her go."

    The chorus rises: "Let her go"
    Cerberus' snarls scarcely heard
    above the clamour, the dead,
    the whirling shades reaching out
    for life, for blood, for memory
    for breath to speak one last word
    swirl, and are gone to darkness,
    off to Lethe, off to life.
    Ceres steps back, blood all dried.
    Hades sets a gentle hand
    upon his dog's far right head
    Cerberus slumps by the throne.
    Proserpina, in the calm,
    holds her mother's gaze and says
    "I have eaten, I will stay."

    "Then nothing grows. I don't care
    to sacrifice my one child,
    if you are here, they'll join you
    all folk be shades whirling through
    born just to die with no food."
    "Mother, you're mad."
    "I mean it.
    My grief is great without you."

    Hades' slow voice. "A compromise.
    Half her time here, half above."
    "Then half the time crops will grow."
    "Is that enough?" he asks straight.
    Proserpina shakes her head
    slow tears fall, then draws breath
    Ceres, smiling to herself,
    is startled when the girl speaks.

    "My father taught, long ago
    that with our power comes a trust
    to use it for people's need
    the good of folk and not harm
    and though they don't understand
    to harm them not by our whim.
    They are our kin, and our charge
    and we, as they, are bound by fate.
    This is your whim, let me go."

    Uncertain now the first time
    she bites her lip, not all mad,
    on that dark throne the two shapes
    slip hand in hand and wait words.
    At last she speaks: "One third, then!
    One third down here, this dark hell
    condemned to this, my poor child,
    the rest with me, the green world
    stops still and waits without you."

    Hades then bows, and his queen
    stands tall and straight and steps down
    setting the day she comes back
    a cool exchange, they touch not.
    Their eyes speak what words can't say.
    The boatman rows, looking back,
    Ceres serene with a smug smile
    she knows her own and hoards it,
    and the set-faced queen of hell
    the world she loves turned to pain.

    III: The Road to Hell

    The growing world green and fair
    until summer when she leaves
    and all scorches without her.
    She picks sad flowers in green fields
    her mother asks now and then
    in plaintive tones without thought
    why she works now so very quiet
    when before songs were joyful
    dismisses all her answers.

    Proserpina counts the days
    till she can leave the tilled earth
    beauty she loves, trees and streams
    sunshine that falls on branches
    borne down by weight of red fruit
    to walk among dark dread halls
    where her heart lies with her lord.
    And when she comes, time is short
    for Ceres' spite never stops
    the growing things bake and droop
    and hunger comes up above
    their days of joy far too brief
    all measured time, a high price,
    time ticks by the pillared halls.
    They meet and part, meet and part
    in joy and love, together.

    And while she walks, sorrowing
    flowers at her feet, through fair fields
    she sighs and stops, her face falls
    this is not home, no longer
    her mother's spite poisoned all,
    the flow of life, and love's flow.

    Far down below in dark halls
    a dog howls from three throats
    his master's lap weighed with heads
    the king of death strokes six ears
    waits like stone for her return.

THE END