Chapter 1: Minthe 1 Minthe
PERSEPHONE’S GREEN EYES SPARKLED WITH excitement, and her long red hair blew this way and that as breezes rushed past her. She was in the mood for an adventure, even if there was only time enough for a small one.
“Let’s go to a part of the Underworld I haven’t been to yet,” she suggested to the godboy Hades as they sailed down through a large crack in the Earth. She was seated behind him on the back of his black stallion. “Maybe someplace with unusual plants?” she went on. “Since we have a few hours to kill, I mean.” As the goddessgirl of spring and growing things, she was fascinated by plants of all kinds.
Like her, Hades was a student at Mount Olympus Academy, where Zeus, King of the Gods and Ruler of the Heavens, was principal. Though Hades was only fourteen years old, just a year older than her, he ruled the realm of the Underworld.
It was Thursday morning, so normally Persephone and Hades would be in classes right now. However, today MOA students had the whole morning free while teachers at the Academy took time to plan lessons. This meant that the two of them didn’t have to be back at Mount Olympus until after lunch.
Hades turned to look at Persephone over one shoulder. They were each other’s crushes, and though he was sometimes dark and brooding, she thought he was super cute with his long, curly black hair, flashing dark eyes, and fine straight nose.
“Works for me,” he replied, raising his voice to be heard over the wind as they flew ever downward and deeper below the earth. “Minthe has been asking me to stop by. You could come with.”
“Who’s Minthe? Girl or boy?” Persephone asked. She didn’t remember Hades ever mentioning the name before.
“Girl. A naiad. She’s caretaker of the River Cocytus,” Hades informed her. Naiads were water nymphs that inhabited rivers, springs, and waterfalls. Or even wells and fountains. Anything with fresh water, actually. The Cocytus was one of five rivers that flowed through the Underworld. There were always interesting plants to be found growing near rivers.
“Sure, I’ll go with you,” she replied. She’d only ever been to one of the five rivers in the Underworld before, the one called the Styx. It was the one that the newly dead from Earth crossed to get into the Underworld, ferried there by a crusty old ferryboat captain named Charon.
“Okay. Hot,” said Hades. He grinned over his shoulder at her. “I’ve decided to substitute that word for ‘cool.’ Because the Underworld is actually hot, but in a cool way. Get it?”
Persephone grinned back. “Got it.” Located deep below the Earth, the Underworld was a creepy, dark, lonely, smelly place mostly, but she had grown to love many things about this realm that Hades loved so well.
The two of them had first become truly acquainted in a cemetery, of all places! She’d been relaxing among the gravestones, weaving a daisy chain, when—not more than twenty feet away from her—Hades had burst up through the ground on his black stallion. This guy had been all frowns and troubles back then, but their friendship had made him much happier. Her, too, for that matter!
Just now, Persephone swayed sideways as Hades pulled on his horse’s reins to change the direction they were traveling. The black stallion veered left. Below them, she could make out various features of the Underworld that had become (much to her surprise) endearingly familiar to her by now. Like the misty, marshy entrance near the spot where Charon’s ferryboat docked. And the immense fields of white-blossomed asphodel. Their roots were the main food of the shades, human souls that lived in that part of the Underworld.
Far off in the distance she caught a glimpse of a dark hole in the ground and shivered, quickly looking away. It was the entrance to the deep pit of Tartarus—the awfulest, ickiest part of the Underworld. Only the truly evil wound up being sent down there. Not a place she liked visiting, that was for sure!
“There’s the Cocytus,” Hades said, pointing downward. Persephone studied the river as they rode lower and closer to it. Its waters, dark with mud, moved so sluggishly that they appeared to be almost completely still. As the stallion took them nearer, a rotten-egg smell made Persephone wrinkle her nose. Sulfur. Yuck. The stinky smell, ever present in much of the Underworld, didn’t bother her as much as it used to (and it never bothered Hades). However, here it was particularly strong.
Suddenly two large, ugly vultures with hunched shoulders and sharp, curved beaks flapped past. They clawed at each other, making raspy, hissing sounds as they fought over the right to land on one particular blackened and gnarled tree on the riverbank. From the branches of other hideous and misshapen trees along the river’s edge, the whiny, mournful cries of screech owls drifted upward. Looking at this forlorn spot, Persephone doubted she’d find any plants to interest her. Oh well.
The black stallion landed them on the riverbank with a gentle thump. Hades slid from the horse’s back and then gallantly helped Persephone hop down too. Standing on the bank, she stared through a layer of sulfurous fog into the depths of the foul and lifeless River Cocytus.
“Ew,” she murmured, coughing and cupping a hand over her nose. “What kind of nymph could possibly stand to live in this yucky place?”
“Um… me?” said a sarcastic voice. Persephone gasped and glanced around. Slowly, a beautiful girl about her age materialized out of the mist. She was standing in the shallows of the river before them, a foot or two from its bank. The girl was slender, with long, gorgeous moss-green hair. She wore a filmy white gown that, though pretty, seemed just a little too big for her. Its hem was damp and swirled around her ankles in the watery sludge. (Um, ick!)
However, she and the part of her dress above the river’s waters had magically become dry and sludge-free the moment she rose from it. Persephone wished this girl hadn’t overheard her “yucky place” comment, but she obviously had.
“Hey, Minthe. What’s up? I got a message that you wanted to see me?” said Hades. He looked quizzically from her to the river as though trying to figure out if there was some sort of trouble here that he needed to take care of.
Clasping her hands together at her waist, the nymph smiled warmly at him. “I’m so happy you came!” she gushed. “But who’s this?” she asked. She extended a hand with ballerina-like grace in Persephone’s direction, accidentally flinging drops of muddy brown water toward her.
At least Persephone assumed it was an accident. She took a step backward to avoid being splashed by the muddy water. For a fraction of a second, she thought she saw a malicious look flash across the beautiful nymph’s face. But then the girl sent a fake-looking smile her way.
“I’m Persephone,” Persephone said quickly. “And you’re Minthe? Nice to meet you.”
Minthe crossed her arms and nodded, shooting her a long up-and-down look that wasn’t exactly welcoming. “I’ve read about you in Teen Scrollazine,” she said at last, referring to the news-scroll that was mega-popular with practically everyone of school age in Greece (and beyond). “You’re the goddessgirl of spring and growing things, right?”
Whether Minthe approved or disapproved of her and her goddessgirl title, Persephone couldn’t tell. “That’s right,” Persephone replied, nodding and offering her a friendly smile. “Hades was just telling me that you, um, live here and take care of this river?”
“That’s right.” Minthe stuck out her chin as if daring Persephone to comment again on the dismal state of the River Cocytus. Which she never would have done to begin with if she’d known that Minthe would overhear her, of course. Everyone at MOA knew how much she didn’t like hurting others’ feelings!
Persephone’s eyes flicked to Hades, hoping he’d say something to ease this uncomfortable conversation. However, he had temporarily tuned them out and was busy talking softly to his stallion while leading him over to nibble some grass on the riverbank. Ordinary grass, by the looks of it. Certainly not a plant to excite her interest, unfortunately.
“Cute chiton,” Minthe commented, her eyes running over Persephone’s salmon-colored dress. She didn’t normally wear pink, but Aphrodite, whose favorite color was pink, had convinced her that the color suited her. And she’d been pleased to discover it really did.
“Thanks. I got it from the Immortal Marketplace on a shopping trip with my goddessgirl friend Aphrodite last weekend. Do you know it? The IM? It’s located halfway between Mount Olympus and Earth. Lots of immortals hang out there.”
“Nope. Must be nice, though,” Minthe muttered. “Unlike you, nymphs like me are only considered minor goddesses. We aren’t free to wander where we choose. I have to make do with hand-me-downs from shades.”
So that’s why her gown doesn’t fit quite right, thought Persephone. To her ear, this nymph sounded kind of bitter and maybe a little angry about her life here. Yet she didn’t seem to be trying to improve it. At all.
Glancing over at Hades, Minthe caught his eye. She swayed gently side to side, causing the hem of her gown to disturb the sludge around her again. With a coy smile she said to him, “Not that I’m complaining. If I weren’t in the Underworld, I’d never get to see you.” She let out a breathy little laugh. “You could visit my river a little more often, though.”
Persephone raised her eyebrows. Was this girl flirting with Hades? Sure sounded like it. She felt a flicker of annoyance. But if Minthe was flirting, Hades didn’t seem to notice. There was a touch of impatience in his voice as he asked, “So, was there a particular reason you wanted to see me today? Some problem?”
“Just wanted to chat and hang out a little,” Minthe replied sulkily. “It gets lonely here sometimes, with only the vultures and screech owls for company.”
Persephone’s annoyance instantly morphed into sympathy. She certainly wouldn’t want to be bound to this ooky river. Or to any one location, for that matter. Students at MOA were pretty much allowed to roam as they pleased, as long as they attended classes and kept their grades up.
A flash of irritation passed over Hades’ face, but then he pushed back a lock of dark hair that had fallen over one eye, and sighed. “Sorry. I’ll try to come by more often. It’s just that I usually have a lot to do, and—”
“Oh, I totally understand,” interrupted Minthe. “Your job here in the Underworld is so much more important than mine. It’s a big realm and full of troublemakers. Plus you’ve got your studies at Mount Olympus Academy.” She smiled wistfully. “That’s a place I’d give anything to see.”
Persephone shared a look with Hades. Minthe seemed to be angling for an invitation from him to visit MOA.
He shrugged, shifted from one foot to the other, and stared at a dragonfly flitting along the surface of the river. A strange-looking fish poked its spiky head up and gobbled it down before sinking again. Glub, glub.
“Sorry, Minthe. I can’t take you there,” he finally told her. “Only Zeus can issue invitations to visit the Academy.”
“Oh, I get it, no problem. So you’ll ask Zeus about it, then?” she enthused. “Thank you so much!”
“Um…,” Hades mumbled, sounding uncomfortable. Somehow she’d managed to twist his words to try to manipulate him into doing something he’d had no intention of doing.
When he gave no reply, Minthe glanced over at Persephone. “I read in the scrollazine that you’re BFFs with Aphrodite and Artemis. And with Zeus’s daughter Athena, too, right? And you all go to MOA and live in the girls’ dorm there together?”
Persephone nodded. “Um-hmm.” She didn’t tell Minthe that she’d actually gotten one detail wrong. Persephone didn’t live in the girls’ dorm, but off campus with her mom, Demeter. Still, she did do sleepovers in the dorm from time to time, especially on the weekends.
“Lucky you. MOA must be sooo cool,” Minthe said mournfully. Wow, this girl just kept on hinting, despite what Hades had explained about Zeus being the only one who could invite her to the Academy.
Hades cleared his throat. “We, uh, better get going, Minthe. Nice seeing you, though.”
“You’ll come again soon?” Minthe responded in a pleading tone of voice.
“If I can,” Hades promised. “But maybe you should try to make some other friends around here in the meantime. Maybe talk to some of the shades?”
“Oh, what a good idea! You’re so smart,” said Minthe, clapping her hands.
Huh? Is she being sarcastic? Persephone wondered. There was no hint of sarcasm in the nymph’s voice. Still, surely Minthe must’ve thought of befriending other Underworld residents before. She must only be trying to stroke Hades’ ego, Persephone decided. But he didn’t seem to get that. She wished he would. Then maybe he’d speak up and just crush this nymph’s crush right now!
Moments later, he and Persephone mounted the black stallion and soared into the air. “Phew,” said Hades when they were some distance away. “Minthe’s a sweet girl, but she can be kind of needy sometimes.”
“Sweet?” Persephone echoed as they flew higher. “Uh, yeah, I guess.”
She’d hardly use “sweet” to describe the nymph. The words “pushy” and “annoying” seemed like a better fit. She would have been ashamed to admit it aloud, but she was glad Hades had some negative feelings about the beautiful girl.
She did feel a bit sorry for Minthe too, though. She hadn’t thought about it in a while, but she and Hades and their friends were actually really lucky to get to attend MOA and travel wherever they liked. She and her BFFs—Athena, Aphrodite, and Artemis—had even gone to Egypt once all by themselves! That was another way she had it better than Minthe. She had friends. Great ones. Minthe was all alone. Hades was right to suggest that she try to make friends in the Underworld, but making new friends could be hard.
Sometimes Persephone forgot to appreciate just how lucky she was. Right then and there, she vowed to be more grateful for all that she had.