Hybrid Fairy Tale #17:
Persephone and the Late Moth
by Ruddigore Lee Redt
Just after Hades brought Persephone down to the underworld, she got free - or perhaps her new lord let her run away. She ran and ran and ran, up and up to the huge cave that serves as the entrance to Hades’ kingdom. But Charon wouldn't let her cross the river, for none may return from Hades back into life. Then Persephone noticed a flock of moths at the cave entrance. They were trying to escape the sudden winter outside and take shelter in the cave.
And suddenly Hades was there. Big and black in his robes and cloak. “Let warmth enter my kingdom,” he said, laughing harshly. And, so saying, he raised his hand and a fire ignited on the far side of the river. One by one, the moths dove into its flames and perished. But Hades just guffawed, saying, “Now there will always be moth souls in my kingdom, for the amusement of my pretty little wife.” He disappeared again, still chuckling to himself. And Persephone wept because she felt responsible for the deaths of the moths.
She stayed and watched for a day and a night. By then, all the moths had perished in the flames, and their souls hovered before the River Styx. Charon, despite his master’s wishes, tried to keep their souls from crossing farther into the realms of the dead, but he cannot stop a thing that can fly over the water.
Finally, when Persephone was sure all the moths were dead, she sighed and prepared to leave. The last embers of the fire died. But, as they did so, one last, small moth flitted into the cave. Persephone called to it, “You have arrived too late to perish in the flames, but you can come down with me and live among the dead.” And the late moth came along with her as she walked back toward her chambers, resigned that she would never be able to leave Hades’ kingdom. And sure that the kingdom of the dead would claim the earth because her mother had turned away from the living things of the world in her grief.
Persephone saw the Late Moth from time to time, and she was glad to have been able to save it. But her life with Hades was very cold, very boring, and very onerous. One day, she stumbled across a table laden with food. She looked at the breads, the sweetmeats, the venison and lamb. Her mouth watered, and she was suddenly so hungry that her stomach growled at her. And, though goddesses have no need to eat, she felt that she would love to have a feast for herself, miserable as she was.
And the late moth, who had held back when he saw the cave full of flames, held back again. And regretted it forever. When he finally realized what the goddess was doing, he dove and spun around Persephone, yelling, “Eat not of this food or you will never have a hope of escape.” But it was too late. For she had already lifted one of the fruits to her mouth and taken a single bite. And one of the seeds slid down her throat.
The rest you know. How Persephone was rescued by Hermes at the behest of the Lord of the Mountain but has to return every year because of the seed she ate. But she never blames the late moth. She knows he has to live with his choices, just as she must live with hers.