Chapter Thirty

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When Demeter finally let me go back to bed, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. My dreams were filled with whispers and cave openings, but even in my sleep, I never stepped inside. I had no desire to find out what waited for Persephone in the Underworld.

Sunlight was streaming through the window when I woke, and I realized that Demeter had allowed me to sleep in. The house was empty, but the fire on the hearth crackled brightly and there were fresh yellow flowers in a mug on the table.

I sniffed the flowers, smiling at the warm scent, and took a slice of the thick rye bread that had been left out. I figured Demeter hadn't stayed angry for long, or she wouldn't have left me breakfast. Munching thoughtfully, I looked around the simple room.

The two mattresses were against opposite walls, leaving the space free in front of the large stone fireplace. The floor of the cottage was unstained wood, swept clean by the broom that leaned against the doorframe. A round hunk of cheese sat next to the loaf of bread on the table, and I broke off a piece. It was salty and sharp, and better than anything I had ever tasted at home.

There was a shelf of old books near Demeter's bed, and I crossed the room to take a closer look. Leather-bound volumes of Homer, Ovid, and Apuleius took up most of the top shelf. I picked up a copy of the Iliad and flipped through it, but the text was strange; I wondered if it was printed in Greek.

The second shelf held rolls of parchment, and gingerly I unrolled one. The parchment was brittle and old, but the scroll didn't crumble in my hands, and in a moment I was looking at an old map. It looked hand-painted, and it was probably at least four hundred years old, because there was only a vague lump on the left side of the map to represent North and South America. I pulled it closer to see if I could make out any of the tiny writing that covered the continents.

"I'm glad you are awake." I spun around, terrified that Demeter had caught me hunting through her things, but instead of a goddess, a young boy with dark, curly hair stood in the doorway, smiling at me. His grin was infectious, and I smiled back at him as I replaced the scroll.

"What would you like to do today, m'lady?" His words surprised me; clearly this boy knew Persephone, but she hadn't mentioned any kids to me. For a moment, I was at a loss.

Before I could speak, however, the boy had crossed the room and taken me by the hand. As he pulled me out of the cottage, he rattled off suggestions for the day. "We could watch the men thresh the grain, or we could walk to the orphanage and bless their gardens. Or maybe we could go into the city, and pretend to be rich mortals with bags of money, and then laugh when the shopkeepers try to charge us!" He giggled impishly, but then looked quickly up at me. "Of course," he intoned solemnly, "I would never do anything dishonest. I serve the ladies of the harvest, and they want me to be good and kind." The words sounded like he'd repeated them many times, but his broad grin hindered the seriousness of his words, and I laughed.

"Isn't there some way we can go into town and still do good?" I asked him, liking the idea of seeing more of Greece than the airport and the fields around Demeter's house.

He thought for a moment. "I suppose we could go to the farmers' market, and bless the wares there."

"Weren't all the farmers here last night to receive a blessing?"

He looked at me strangely, and I felt foolish and exposed. "You know they weren't. Every year, fewer and fewer folk bring their harvest to you and your mother. You told me so yourself, just last week."

I thought quickly. "So I did. I just wanted to see if you remembered what I had said."

He nodded eagerly. "You said that the old ways are not remembered because people think they can survive without magic."

I looked at him sternly. "And do you think we can survive without magic?"

The boy shook his head vigorously. "Never! Without magic, how could I do this?" He conjured up a toy, a small wooden frog. It sat on his palm and he tapped it solemnly with his index finger three times. The frog blinked its eyes, and croaked.

I laughed and clapped, impressed. The boy hadn't brought the toy to life, but he'd used a trick I hadn't seen before to animate the wooden figure. I leaned forward, curious, and the frog froze.

"You're very good at that."

"I've been practicing since you showed me last fall. I finally got it right!" He beamed up at me proudly, and I felt a twinge of guilt for taking this moment away from Persephone. My guilt was quickly replaced with joy that I was here, in Greece, watching a child do magic when I could have been in North Carolina, fighting Rochelle for my life. I drew a deep breath and sighed happily.

"We don't have to go to town," the boy said. "If you are tired, mistress, we could just walk in the field."

We headed away from the house, leaving it and the cave behind. "No, I'm not tired. Why don't you tell me a story?" An idea had formed in my mind, and I hoped I would be able to figure out who the boy was without asking.

He skipped eagerly beside me. "What kind of story? One about the gods?"

I laughed. "No, tell me a story about you. Tell it to me like it is about somebody else, like a great storyteller." Maybe he would tell me his name, at the very least.

"Well," he began thoughtfully, "once there was a boy named Dennis. He was a naughty little boy; his mother was always telling him so." I laughed, and Dennis frowned at me sternly. "Please don't interrupt, m'lady."

"I'm sorry. Go on, Dennis. Tell your story."

At least I knew his name. We were passing through the vineyard, and the morning sun was already baking the earth. I felt warm and content as I listened to Dennis talk.

Dennis continued, "His mother was a Witch-woman, and she learned her magic from Dionysus. She named her son after her patron."

I glanced down at the boy beside me. If his mother was a Witch, that might explain his magical abilities. But what was a devotee of Dionysus doing running around the fields with Demeter and Persephone?

Dennis looked up at me and winked. "But the boy grew up with a liking for other types of magic, and it wasn't long before a great lady found him outside her window."

"Which great lady found the boy, Dennis?"

He looked up at me and smiled. "It was your mother. I was listening to her cry after you had journeyed back to the Underworld—" He broke off and frowned. "You made me mess up the story!"

My heart contracted with grief for Demeter, but I ruffled his hair playfully. "But you know the best storytellers make their audience wait to hear the end of the tale. I will wait, and when you are ready, you can finish the story."

He smiled up at me, and for the first time I realized what it might have been like to grow up with a younger brother. I grinned at him.

"I'll race you to the hill." The words had barely left my mouth before he was off like a shot, running up the hill. I started to run after him, calling, "Dennis! That's not fair! Don't cheat!"

He laughed and slowed down, letting me reach the hill at the same moment.

"It's a tie!" I called jubilantly.

He shook his head. "No, m'lady. There cannot be ties between gods and men. You win, again."

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