A thin, lithe figure rushes through the trees as quick as the birds of prey that roost within their canopies. Her movements make little sound as two feet flit past the branches.
If anyone was there to witness my movement they would see little more than a breeze pressing against the trees, and even if they could see the entirety of my figure they would not recognize me.
They would never even know me.
I lunge from the tip of one branch and roll into a crouch as my small body hits the forest floor. My piercing gaze cuts through the air and I carefully analyze each and every detail surrounding me, taking in all the trees have to offer.
I know of the hawk several feet above me, perched at the edge of its nest staring down at me with the eyes of a silent killer.
Since that fateful day when I had first been taken I have aspired to be like the bird.
Out of nowhere another figure appears, a blur, right in front of me.
“Too slow,” a woman’s voice critiques.
“If you ever expect to escape let alone kill him, you must move more quickly and attack as soon as the opportunity arises. No later.”
I stand up, rolling out the tension in my shoulders and glaring up at the figure.
“I’m ready,” I argue stubbornly, though the evaluation of my progress echoes inside my mind.
I know there is much to learn before I will stand even the merest chance at escape, but even that knowledge does not keep the need to rush at bay.
The woman shaking her head in front of me, however, does.
“You are not. And you know it.”
I cross my arms, not quite pouting but my appearance could probably fool a stranger. I’ve been training for years upon years, waiting desperately for the approval of this woman before making my move, and I can’t help but feel annoyed regardless of the fact that I know she simply speaks the truth.
If it wasn’t for this vexing curse I would have simply walked out of the colossal oak doors waving a finger at the enraged figure behind me.
As it stands, that isn’t currently possible.
“Perhaps a few more seasons of training once you have returned,” the woman enquires, though her tone implies she already knows my opinion of this suggestion.
I scoff anyways, turning away and grabbing for a low-hanging branch, swinging up and away from her.
When I land on a thick branch I turn to look down at her with a scowl, wrapping my course fingers around the limb as though, by that simple grip, I can somehow escape tonight.
“Do you think I could get away this time?”
She stares up at me, expressionless and yet somehow filled with a sort of motherly compassion as well.
“Your mother would not approve of that Kore,” is her simple reply, but her avoidance gives me knew hope.
Hundreds of years have flown by and I know better than to cling to the false hope a Goddess can give through her lack of vocal response.
At times I feel the urge to give up this self-employed mission.
My ‘home’ is not so horrid a place that I have not managed to find some source of contentment within its walls. I simply wish to return to the world I grew up in.
The world I only see for a few months out of the year.
I look down at the woman who has trained me every spring and feel a sadness bloom within my chest once again at the sight of the snow-covered ground she stands on.
I have hardened my heart to most things, but this sorrow is something I cannot control.
“It will be tonight,” she says, speaking the despairing words that have echoed through my heart since I had woken to the sight of the blanketed hills.
“I will wait for him,” I finally acknowledge, though a part of me wishes I could take back the words and find some other way, any other way really, to escape my fate.
An unwanted fate thrust upon me by a lonely, lustful God.
“He will never harm you Kore,” she repeats for the hundredth time.
As usual, the words bring not even an ounce of extra comfort. I already know he would never hurt me, but it is not pain I am afraid of.
“You know I don’t care for that,” I state simply, not meeting her eyes.
“I can protect myself well enough from his court, it is what else he cannot ever give me that makes this… arrangement so desperately upsetting.”
When I finish and finally meet her eyes, their dark depths swallow me with the sorrow I know is held within the depths of mine.
“He may someday be able to give that to you,” she argues calmly.
“You must open up to it first though.”
She has always sympathized with my distress, but at the same time this is not the first time she has reminded me of my own fault in it.
My own father wouldn’t help me in his hopes to save the man who had kidnapped me.
I duck down at the thought as though it is tangible, climbing up a few branches to ease the discomfort. As I get closer to the top of the tree I hear that same voice call from below.
“Come down before you hurt yourself,” she orders, though I sense the humor in her statement.
When she had first begun to train me she hadn’t understood my love of the trees. Though I hunt similarly to her now I have always preferred to travel through the branches of mine and my mother’s own creation instead of stalking my prey on the ground.
As I climb back down I think again of my father and his reaction to my plea for help.
He had done virtually nothing for a daughter who, apparently, he would rather abandon than risk the anger of one of his most powerful allies.
“I do not wish to be the lover of Hell,” I say at the thought, snapping more temperamentally than I had meant too.
“That’s not fair,” she responds, as calm as ever.
“He has done nothing to harm you all throughout of these years. In fact, he has done nothing but strive to gain your affection other than a few random bouts of naivety or timidity, and you cannot exactly blame him for that. You are his first, Kore.”
“And if I get my way, I won’t be his last.”
She shakes her head at me disapprovingly, but I already expected that response.
Dropping down the stand in front of her I cross my arms and raise my chin in defiance.
“You can’t give up on me,” I state rebelliously. “You promised.”
She stares down at me in silence before turning away.
“I will see you in the spring,” is all she says in response, or at least that is all I expect to here.
Just before she disappears into the shade of the trees, her silver bow slung over her back menacingly, she turns back towards me with a smirk.
“If you try harder to open up to him throughout these next months.”
My mouth drops in surprise at the statement, as I have not ever known her to make deals as her brother once did for me, and because of the shock I do not have time to respond before she leaves with one final statement.
“You might find warmth through this cold winter in his arms if you would simply try.”
It takes several minutes before I am able to move from my spot, shock and confusion muddling my thoughts until the thin watch at my wrist reminds me of the time, and of what I have always considered my doom.
* * *
I shove a few more shirts into the back of my old, leather suitcase, spitefully thinking that this time, unlike the last several times I have returned to what I must consider my temporary home, I will force him to allow me into my own clothing.
No more pretty dresses and illogical heels.
No more frills and curls.
As I finish unplugging everything and closing each individual door tightly I hear a firm knock on the front door to my small cottage.
I would rather stay in this small, quaint shack of wood and brick than return to the castle awaiting me.
Walking to the front door I see the shadow of his dark silhouette, cast onto the small porch outside in a way that reminds me of how tall he is.
He will not intimidate me.
When I finally open the door I find myself stunned by his appearance, as always.
It doesn’t matter how hard I have tried in the past, after months of his absence I cannot help but be dazed by his presence and apparently this time is no different.
He is beautiful though.
A softly chiseled jaw relaxes at the sight of me, and two blue, crystalline orbs stare down at me quietly as he takes me in.
His agile, muscular form can be seen through the thin white shirt he wears under his dark jacket, and though he looks relaxed there is a tension to him that makes me think of a bird in a cage, desperately waiting for release.
That’s my role, I think grudgingly, though a small part of me squeals happily at the sight of him.
Though it is considered polite to greet a guest and maybe even invite them into your home I make no move to say “hello” or allow his one step close to my home away from him.
He stares pointedly at my hand on the door as though trying to point out my rudeness, but I simple smile up at him in spite.
Finally, with a sigh, he looks to the suitcase in my hand and grabs it.
“At least you are here this time,” he mutters.
His dark hair whips in a sudden wind and a grin makes its way to his face. He leans past me and grabs the other bag I have with me, allowing his arm to press against mine in a way that he, somehow, makes intimate.
“Hello darling,” his honey-sweet voice envelopes me as his breathe sweeps past my cheek, and I scowl in response to the havoc it wreaks within my body.
It doesn’t help that he has a strange accent melted into that deep tenor.
He tells me it comes from years of dealing with thousands of different cultures and races but I’ve always thought it was just because he knows how attractive it is.
“Dear,” I say distastefully, making sure to put enough malice in my voice for him to hear.
“It is time.”
I nod, shoving past his form and stepping out onto the stone that lines a small path leading from my door.
The trees surrounding the house seem to lean toward me in sorrow, weighed down by winter in a way that mimics my own emotional state and that I am just as helpless to change.
I’ll be back, I think unhappily.
His dark form passes me on its way to a large carriage, but I stay still for a few more moments, staring out at my creation and hoping for the day I will be able to stay here, forever in peace amongst the nature I so often crave at night through winter.
He calls for me, saying that we have to hurry before the gate is shut, not needing to remind me of the consequences I would face for getting him stuck up here, on earth, for an entire night.
I may crave earth and her beauty, but his home has the same call to him and I am not to hinder his return.
Climbing into the carriage I look up at him and grimace at the scar from the top of his right cheek to just above his collar bone, remembering my part in its creation and feeling an ounce of guilt cover the disgust at returning to my personal prison.
“6 months,” he says quietly, ignoring the pity on my face and taking my hand.
I fight the urge to pull away.
“6 months of being present within the court as my Queen, Persephone.”