Seeds Prologue


Demeter entered the cavern and stopped, heart thudding, skin tingling with the surge of terror that shot through her as she met her sister’s eyes.

“Sit, Demeter.” Hera gestured to the chair across the table from where she sat. “Surely you wish to rest yourself after your exertions with my husband this day, especially considering your condition.”

Demeter ignored the proffered seat, but her hand crept over the mound of her pregnant belly as though to hide it from Hera’s gaze. Demeter flicked her eyes around the dim cavern, taking in the mounds of her possessions: the baskets of carefully hoarded food, the rickety wood and leather bedframe, the few gifts Zeus had given her to ease the burden of her time in the mortal world. All, save Hera’s presence, was as Demeter left it when she emerged that day to lay with Zeus in the meadow outside the cavern. Yet there was a trap here. Demeter was sure of it.

“Sit, Demeter.” Hera snapped.

Moving slowly, eyes roving over Hera’s face, Demeter lowered herself to the chair.

“I took the liberty of putting out refreshment for us.” Hera lifted a jug of wine and poured some into both goblets on the table.

Demeter looked at the wine and the bread. Poison, she wondered. Yet Hera poured the same wine into both goblets. Anything Hera put in the wine to harm Demeter would also harm Hera. The bread? Again, no. The coarse, dark loaf was one which Demeter took from the barbarian Siculi in Castrogiovanni, or Henna, as they called it. It was whole. The crust hadn’t been broken. But somehow, there was a trick here.

Demeter looked once again at her sister. Hera’s ice blue eyes were blank, impenetrable. A small smile played about her mouth.

Hera gestured to the table. “Eat, drink, Sister.”

“I insist as my guest you precede me.” Demeter said.

Hera inclined her head, took up her cup and drank from it.

After a long moment, Demeter lifted her goblet and peered into it. It looked to be only wine and nothing more. Demeter sniffed at it, took a sip. The wine tasted of anise and perhaps a touch of fennel. Unusual, not unpleasant and certainly not poisonous. She tipped the goblet and drank.

Once her thirst was slaked she put the goblet back on the table, considered Hera and then asked, “How did you find me?”

Hera’s smile widened for the briefest of moments before her face took on an aggrieved expression. “That does rankle doesn’t it, Sister? So much wasted effort. Tell me, how long did you and Zeus seek this cavern? I don’t imagine it was easy to find, but the residue of power that lingers here did cloak the beacon of your Godhood from me most effectively. Did this place belong to a Titan or a power even older do you think? Perhaps the Siculi know. Did you ask them?”

Demeter gave a curt shake of her head, the blood of shame rising in her cheeks. The only time she spent in the Siculi village was under the cover of night, sneaking from hut to hut, taking those things she needed to survive.

“Ah, not friendly with your barbarian neighbors, I see, but they did serve their purpose.” Hera’s gaze lingered on the rough Siculi woven tunic which Demeter wore as she continued, “No word of a Goddess among them ever passed the lips of the Siculi for they, not knowing of the Olympians, wouldn’t recognize you as one if ever they saw you. That was well thought out, for I did listen among the Achaean people who worship us for such rumors.”

Shaking her head as though mourning all those months of fruitless searching Hera continued, “But spending all this time in your mortal form to hide from me? Your fear of me must be great indeed to take such a drastic step at such a time. A pregnancy in a mortal body is no easy thing.”

Demeter thought of the purple weals on her breasts, hips and belly where her skin had stretched and broke, thought of the constant ache in her knees and back, thought of the way her stomach and throat burned each time she took food or drink, thought of the past month of nearly sleepless nights, tossing on her bed, trying to find a comfortable position for her unwieldy body. Tears of self pity crowded into Demeter’s eyes. She looked away before Hera could see them.

Hera tuttuted softly, “And all for naught for I found you out anyway; a simple matter of joining Helios on his daily journey across the sky. I kept my eyes on the ground and here in that lovely little meadow outside your,” Hera waved her hands about, “abode. what should I see, but my dearest little sister running into my husband’s arms.”

Demeter wiped tears from her still leaking eyes. Such fools she and Zeus were. After all their careful planning how could they not have foreseen such an easy method of seeking them out?

Swiping her tears on her tunic, Demeter watched as Hera broke the loaf of bread into two pieces and then nudged one toward Demeter. When Hera retracted her hand one of the fat serpents twined about her wrist dropped to the tabletop with a thud and a hiss. Demeter recoiled.

“Our mother would be ashamed to see you so revile an emblem of her worship, Demeter.” Hera said, one corner of her lips curving upward. “Though this I imagine . . .” Hera gestured at the small set of cow horns made from gold which graced the crown on her brow, “. . . is a symbol you would gladly take from me.”

“It should have been mine.” Demeter leaned forward, eyes narrowed. The serpent on the table struck out. Demeter flinched back as Hera took up the snake, stroked it and then set it gently on the cavern floor.

Hera came upright, ripped off a great hunk of bread and dipped it into her wine. “Eat, Sister, eat.”

Still wary, Demeter took up her bit of bread, but didn’t put it into her mouth. She hadn’t failed to notice that Hera, while giving every indication she meant to, hadn’t eaten the bread.

With that damnable smile still playing about her lips, Hera said, “Great Mother Earth, the Goddess Gaia gave a share of her worship and power to each of her daughters, one of which was our mother Rhea. As Rhea’s eldest, I received the largest allotment of power that comes from her worshippers. As second born, Hestia received her portion. You, as the youngest, received the smallest amount. All proceeded as it must according to the natural order set out by Chaos himself. You know this is the way of things and yet you say you have a greater right to my crown than I?”

Demeter set her half loaf of bread aside, noticed how Hera’s eyes lingered on it as Demeter said, “Gaia’s power should never have been diluted as it was. Shared amongst the Titanesses it lost some of its potency. Spread among us, who in turn must give a share to our daughters, it grows ever weaker. Had Chaos foreseen such a thing he surely would have ruled that all of Gaia’s strength remain in the hands of one worthy descendant. I should be that descendant, Hera. You see the affinity I have for the green and growing things put forth from Gaia’s flesh. I am strong and hale and Zeus, the most powerful of Gaia’s male descendants, loves me. My body was built to bear his children. Yours was not. For proof of that you need look no further than that malformed thing produced by your loins only a year past. It was so hideous Zeus plucked it from you and flung it from Olympus.”

“You dare to taunt me with Hephaistos’s birth?” Hera leaned forward and gripped Demeter’s forearm. Demeter gasped, winced and yanked her arm out of Hera’s hand.

Hera resettled herself in her seat, but her eyes were heated with a malevolency that bordered on madness. “For those words, Demeter, I say that one day you too shall feel the pain of having your child wrenched from your arms. That you shall have no way to know if it is cared for or if it weeps in vain for the comfort only a mother’s arms can provide.”

Demeter forced a laugh from her throat, but the shaky sound was far too weak to convey the indifference Demeter meant it to. Still she forged on, feigning the haughtiness that garbed her sister like a robe. “I have little power now for few mortals worship me, but my babe is safe within my womb. When our son is born Zeus will make me better known among the mortals and bid them venerate me. Then my power will far surpass that which you now have. Your threats carry no weight with me, Hera.”

Hera laughed and hers was neither weak nor shaky and the ringing merriment in it chilled Demeter. “Are those the sweet words he used to lure you to his bed, Sister? Think, Demeter. Why did he not put the mothers of his other sons in my place if all he sought was a fruitful womb? Truly you see nothing of the fears that pluck at my husband’s mind. If you had, you would know his promises to you are empty.”

“What do you mean?”

“Far too many of the mortals worship our brother Poseidon. Poseidon hopes to use the power his following gives him to make himself ruler of the Gods in Zeus’s stead. Zeus will do nothing to disturb the tenuous balance of his reign until the situation is resolved. Zeus needs my power to bolster his until he has drawn more worshippers than those who turn to our brother. Can you not see that in asking him to provide you with followers of your own you hinder instead of help him in his intentions?”

Demeter hissed, “And can you not see that aiding him in his aims drains you and me and our sister Hestia of our power? Those who go to his temples turn from the worship of the Mother Goddess on whose worship our power is based. They will never venerate us for ourselves so long as they seek boons at his door. Are you so mad with love of him you would squander all our mother passed on to us and fling away all that we could draw to ourselves?”

Just then, the dull ache in her lower back that had plagued Demeter all day intensified. Its cruel, clutching talons sharpened as they reached around, grasped her lower abdomen and then swarmed up her stomach. Demeter gripped the edge of the table, her knuckles bloodless, white knobs. Sweat broke out on her brow as the ache climbed, climbed, then held at a finely tuned pitch of agony. Catching sight of Hera’s assessing eyes, Demeter bit back the moan that crowded against her lips Finally the pain released her, but slowly, as a lover reluctant to leave his lady’s bed. Demeter slumped in her seat, gasping in relief.

“Your babe comes, Demeter.”

Demeter raised startled eyes to Hera’s face. “No, it’s not time. It can’t be. Not yet. Zeus is supposed to bring Hestia to attend me. I am to labor in my Goddess form to spare myself the fullness of the pain.”

Hera shook her head, mouth drawn down in sympathy, but her eyes glowed with satisfaction. “I can understand your desire to do so and will not impede you. Change if you wish. Now I have found you out there is no purpose in maintaining this disguise.”

Demeter looked away, muttered, “I cannot. Zeus bound me in my mortal form so I could not transform and alert you to my whereabouts.”

“Ah, Demeter, you start out poorly indeed if you mean not to be controlled by my husband when the power you seek is yours at last.”

Demeter opened her mouth to make some sharp retort to Hera’s words. Then, she closed it, afraid if she spoke the trembling in her voice would betray the terror she felt at the impending birth. On Olympus Demeter had heard the prayers of mortal women as they gave birth. Their petitions flew upward, born on wings of desperation and pain. They tunneled into Demeter’s ears; thousands of voices croaking in agony, shrieking with pain, begging for death so that they might be spared the travail. Demeter had no illusions as to what labor in a mortal body entailed.

Demeter longed to do as the mortals had, to sob out her fears, to cry to the sky that she could not do this, to beg Zeus to forget all the angry words she heaped on his head earlier that day and return to give her aid. Only her sister’s presence stayed Demeter’s tongue.

“Here, Sister, eat of this bread. It will give you strength as you labor.” Hera proffered the half loaf which Demeter still hadn’t eaten.

Demeter struck it away. “Finish what you came to say, Hera, and then leave me in peace. I will not break bread with you.”

“And I will not leave until you do so.”

Demeter straightened a bit, lips compressed, eyes narrowed and crossed her arms over her breast.

“Very well, then I will speak until you so tire of the sound of my voice that you will do anything to ensure I absent myself.”

Demeter opened her mouth to respond, but all that came out was a ragged gasp. The pain swarmed up from down low again, seizing her entire stomach in its relentless grasp. Demeter didn’t know if the agony came from within or without, only that she longed to scream with it and her sister’s eyes were too sharp, too knowing on her face.

Hera began to speak. Demeter tried to force herself past the pain to focus on Hera’s words. She still hoped to discover the true reason for Hera’s presence.

“Power is a strange thing, Demeter.” Hera said. “Some is simple, such as our God touch. I have the power to make a mortal woman’s womb as barren as Olymus’s peak with the slightest of touches. Zeus can call up the clouds and clash them together. You have the ability to bring a plant to life or condemn it to death with a brush of your fingers. This you will always possess no matter how many of our mother’s followers Zeus takes to himself or whether you are in your mortal form or not. It is the gift given to you by virtue of your Immortal birth.”

Hera’s words weren’t significant, only things Demeter had known all her life. Perhaps Hera truly did mean to speak mere nothings until Demeter conceded to her demands. With the pain dictating her actions, Demeter wasn’t sure she could outlast her sister’s determination.

At this thought, the agony ratcheted up another notch and Demeter slumped forward, a whimper escaping her clamped lips. Sweat poured down her face, plastering her hair to forehead and cheeks.

“Eat and I will aid you, Demeter.”

Demeter shook her head.

Hera continued, “Unlike our God touch, some power is complicated. There are rites, rituals that must be performed just so in order for the power to work as its wielder wishes.”

Words, words, words, nothing of importance, all things Demeter knew. Caught between the irritation of Hera’s gibbering and the agonizing demands of her own body Demeter felt as though she might go mad. She turned her focus inward, clutching at her sanity by blocking out Hera’s words. Her sister’s voice droned, meaningless, past her ears.

“Rites require so much time, so many things: shared blood, easy enough when those involved in the rite are close relations, siblings perhaps; an infusion of herbs, such as, oh say, anise, fennel, angelica root, prepared in a specific manner over a certain amount of time: sometimes nearly impossible requirements such as the Immortal on whom the rite is worked remaining in their mortal form for the time it takes the Immortal performing the rite to complete the ritual. Olympus’s inhabitants know, when in their mortal form, they are bound by Chaos’s laws and must suffer as mortals do. So what God or Goddess would be fool enough to remain in such a fragile, tortured shell for such a long time?”

Hera paused, then brought her face close to Demeter’s, regarding Demeter with a kind, almost pitying, expression. “Eat the bread and I will lift the bonds my husband placed on you so that you may change.”

Demeter looked at Hera out of eyes dull with pain. The trick couldn’t be in the bread. It was Siculi bread, untouched by any who even knew of Hera’s existence. And yet, Hera was so insistent about Demeter eating it.

Hera reached forward, smoothed the sweat soaked hair back from Demeter’s brow. “Eat, Demeter, and then I will aid you.”

Wanting to believe the compassion that softened her sister’s face, Demeter turned her gaze on the chunk of bread on the table. She looked at Hera once again, then raised the bread to her mouth and crammed it in.

Demeter swallowed hugely and, reaching for Hera’s hand, choked out, “I did as you asked. Now lift my bonds, so that I can transform.”

Hera drew back, plucked the bit of bread out of her goblet and resettled herself in her chair. “In a moment, Sister. My rite requires one final thing; to break bread with the Goddess on whom I performed it.”

Hera’s words penetrated Demeter’s haze of pain, falling into place with a click, like a spindle falling to the floor at the end of a length of finished thread. What had passed between them today had all been part of some rite. Its purpose Demeter could only guess at, but she knew it boded ill for her. Demeter lunged forward, the bones and tendons of her hand taut with desperation, just as Hera dropped the dripping gobbet of bread into her mouth.

Demeter looked down, eyes wide, lips trembling. She retracted her hand, placed it over her left breast where a queer sensation pulsed and then spread. A thin, golden filament spun out from between her fingers and flowed toward Hera. Hera lifted her hand, palm up and open and the thread spooled into it.

Hera smiled and then exhaled a long soft ‘ahhhhhh’.

Demeter snatched at the strand, trying to catch the precious essence and put it back into her chest.

Hera cried out. Demeter lifted her eyes to see Hera’s face twisting, her eyes filming with agony. With her other hand Hera gripped the wrist of the hand Demeter’s Godhood poured into as though she meant to dam the flow.

Demeter was confused, for it was her loss and Hera’s gain, yet she felt no pain, only a cold, ever expanding void in the center of her being.

Hera clawed at her arm, then her chest, shrieking. ”It burns. Get it out. It burns.”

Demeter felt numb, unable to move as the chill in her chest and belly spread outward to her limbs. The only heat that remained was the small spark of her babe’s life as the child fought for entrance into the world.

Hera finally ceased raking her skin, worried for a moment at her forearm and then the deep-etched lines of pain in her face receded. Demeter reached out once again, with no real hope, and clutched at the last wisp of her Godhood just as Hera’s hand closed on it.

In that instant Demeter saw something bleak and hopeless on her sister’s face. Then, Hera’s lips quirked. One eyebrow soared onto her white, unlined forehead and her blue eyes chilled again. “In eating the bread, you did as I asked and so I will repay the courtesy. I will leave you in peace, dear Sister. I wish you luck in your mortal life. You will have need of it considering the impending birth of your babe.”

As Hera turned to go Demeter surged to her feet and flung herself at her sister. Before Demeter’s hands could close on Hera, pain lanced Demeter’s belly. Demeter cried out, curled over her gut and fell heavily to the floor of the cave. She rolled, back arching, hands scrabbling in the dirt, tears squeezing from under her tightly closed lids as the contraction had its way with her.

You, Demeter called out in her mind as she writhed, it’s your doing that I lost my light, my warmth and if I die here that will be your doing also

She felt hands on her then and slitted her eyes, a plea for help clawing its way up her throat. Demeter clamped down on the words when she saw it was Hera. She was down on her knees, one hand on Demeter’s arm, the other on Demeter’s taut belly. Hera’s face glistened with moisture, but Demeter was sure it was the tears in her own eyes that made it look as though Hera were crying. Demeter closed her eyes, turned from her sister. A moment later Hera’s hands slid from Demeter’s body.

When Demeter next became aware of something other than the agony in her belly, her eyes rolled around the cavern seeking aid. It was empty. Hera was gone. There was no help to be had here. The village of Castrogiovanni, less than a half day’s walk, was far beyond Demeter’s means to reach. She would die, the babe within her taking what little spark of life remained as it struggled to escape her body. Soundlessly, Demeter’s lips moved, begging, as so many women in childbirth had begged before her, to die quickly and be spared the worst of the pain.

She heard a scuffling coming from the cavern’s depths. Demeter turned her head toward the sound and saw, with her dim mortal eyes, coming toward her out of the dark, the silhouette of a hunched, misshapen creature. Demeter screamed, tried to scramble away, wondering why, of all the prayers the Gods ignored, her unvoiced plea had been answered. As the creature lurched toward her, lifting its twisted hands, Demeter hoped that this death would at least be swift.