Chapter 116:

Ch 115: Isn't that just Persephone

I was Born the Unloved Twin

"Milkies!!!" *slurp*

"Oh no no no my dear little duckie, that's not for drinking. That's Mama's bath."


"No no no my baby. Bath."

It really is, but I see where the confusion comes from. Contrary to what my caught and wiggling little sister may think, the steaming porcelain-coated tub is not just filled with warm delicious drinkable goat milk. We added too much stuff in for that.

Seriously, no one drink this. No, bad Lily, down girl.

It was honestly smelling a little sour but what do you expect from heating all this up? It's fine, yogurt is good for the skin. A bit of honey, sea salt, some concentrated oils, and loads of flower petals right that stench up and turns into the stuff of a luxury spa. A steaming pile of hot rocks kept warm on the brazier to plop in and reheat the bath mix as Mother sees fit.

It is a magic potion and spell, a woman's precious skincare routine. Currently, the giant tub of milky concoction was promising everything from a mild exfoliation and moisturizing effect to something possibly more.

Mother hands over a wiggling Lilyanne to an expressionless maid. She steps up to the tub, stance as determined as an Olympic athlete. But her face, it is her true face with horrifyingly twisted mad expression working in perfect harmony with her pure beauty.

I feel as if it is suddenly night and that lighting shall strike around dramatically at any moment, even though we're inside.

"Oh ho ho with this there's no way darling will be able to resist me. The awful man, after all my effort.... He dares look down on me? ME?! I'll get him this time if not on this trip. Oh! Oh ho ho, ho hooooo!!!"

I'm scared. Mother's serious laugh really really scares me. It's awful.

A small row of straight-faced maids applauds her horrible declaration and villainess-worthy laughter. Some even nod fervently, raining on the praises such as 'of course not, my most divine and glorious lady', 'you are the fairest beyond compare in any land, my lady', and even 'if he does not lose his mind at the blessed sight of you, then he may as well lose his useless manhood my lady'.

"Oh ho ho ho, indeed!" Mother chuckles, hand haughtily raised in the air. "Work, work, errands, work, the pets, work, more work. No more! His mind, his body, all of him. Darling can only lose it all to me! Oh ho, ho ahahahaha!"

The maids cheer with the wrath of a fan army and I am so so so very afraid.

Please, Father....I don't know what's going on or what you've been doing but come fix this. You can be all gross again, I forgive you but just fix this. Mama is too scary!!!

The light candles make the bathroom look more like a sacrificial altar. And her maids in their contrasting solemnity and fervor are the crazed cult members.

When mother's silken robes drop, all goes silent.

The only sound is the low hissing of steam and my own internal screaming. The ripples and splashing as she descends into the murky hot water, sinking her nakedness under the thin veil of flower petals and milk. She sinks in, sighing in deep satisfaction.

Why is bathtime so damn dramatic?!

"Oh my, it is different today. To think adding concentrated milk and honey to my baths would have such an effect? I feel as if my complexion is softer and brighter already." she marvels, splashing the hot water and examining her own already milky smooth skin.

How wasteful. My hard-researched products are being used on my mother's already flawless beauty. How hateful. Save some for me to sell to other rich ladies!

Mother's been inspired as of late. The 'makeover' session forced upon Vincent really enlightened her to try out things of her own. As well as all my not-so-top-secret research items. My skincare supplies! Stolen!

Well, it's more accurate to say they were offerings of appeasement. My servants were more than willing to throw anything that caught Mother's interest into her already vast possessions. What sell-outs.

They would sacrifice me if they could....actually, I'm pretty sure that's what happened.

Curses. No loyalty at all. Not even Abbey could resist pandering to Mother in absolutely every manner possible. They just pulled out the ledger and gave my mother the tour of the entire soap room inventory as if she were the top VIP customer in a store.

Something that my shopaholic of a mother played out perfectly.

I want my stuff back. Or at least pay me for them, that research is priceless. Ahh, my investments.

"Oh are my little babies crying? Do you want to come in with Mama?!" Mother coos, waving over the maids.


Currently, two of them have Lilyanne held down, somewhat distracted with a bowl of flowers. The moment they set her loose, it's clear she will dive right in, mouth open and ready to drown herself silly in bath milk. From an ornate screen divider, another maid in with a platter of refreshments, including some kiddy milk for the greedy spoiled young miss.

So it is only one calm maid that steadily steps forth. The one holding me. Oh, woe is me.

"Thank you Noemi. Oh there there my Rosalia, that's my good girl. Don't cry. Mama's here."

My money!!! I'm not crying of all things but how can I not feel the loss and pain?! I don't want a bath, I want money! Give me a bathtub filled with gold and money!

The maid Noemi removed my precious bag and outer layers down to a simply kiddy chemise. She lowers me in gracefully despite my hiccuping frustrations. All the way until I'm buyout in Mother's hold. Not that it's really necessary. There is something even more buoyant and supportive floating right below me.

Don't look down, it's nothing I haven't seen before but don't look down Rosa girl. Ah, what troublesome things. These womanly weapons of personalized mass destruction are really too lethal.

"Is the water too hot my dear? Hmm?" Mother splashes the water gently down my back.

A child's skin is sensitive but I shake my head in honesty. This temperature is fine though the steam is a bit uncomfortable to breathe through. Very bad to cry through. But the water is soothing.

"No Mother."

"My my my isn't this nice? It smells so nice~" mother sighs into the water, her hand playing with some floating flowers. She picks a whole one, playing with it into my hair.

"Hmm not quite red, but yes this color does suit my darling. Isotta, make sure to get more of these tones in the cloth imports the lord is sending."

"As you wish my lady."

"Madolina, remind me. Is there anything further to see with the packing? Any matters left to attend?"

"All is done and seen to but for the day of your departure. Please rest easy and relax my lady."

"Yes, this bath mixture is quite relaxing. I can hardly wait to try them all out." Mother chuckles, accepting a chilled goblet of citrus-and rose-infused water. I guess that makes it tea?

Either way, this is too luxurious. Damn rich people.

But I suppose I'm one of them now.

It's easy to see where Rosalia's demanding expensive tastes came from. Just look at this shit. While it's not Gable's magic fast tap, my home has scarily good plumbing for this world. Something that a young Rosalia didn't even realize was not the norm outside any of the family properties.

For years, she thought she was being mocked and insulted whenever visiting elsewhere outside, and a wooden barrel of hot water was presented for her baths. Especially on those forced trips to see the stupid prince in the north.

Damn it, how was she supposed to know that rustic shit was supposed to be top of the line outside of spa houses? It was basically a wine barrel and a shower curtain! Nobles have all sorts of supposedly clever ways to undermine and plot your authority and reputation. What was a 'countryside' noble girl supposed to think when every day I normally have taps and actual bathrooms?

The old man may be crazy but he's a crazy good builder. A cheat. Thank you very much, Grampa for the blessing that is indoor plumbing I can enjoy my whole little life. Not even some foreign royals have baths this good and convenient.

Only the best of the best will do for a Ventrella woman. Isn't that obvious?

"Milkies! Mama. Lily wanna play in flower milkies too. Mama!" Lily cries, her drink only half finished.

For good reason, no one releases her. Especially with the way her mouth opens and drools at the tub.

"Oh but my Lily dear, can you stay good like your big sister and not drink the bath water?"

"Uh-huh!" Lilyanne vigorously nods her head, loose curls bobbing around.

Drool still seeps from her mouth as she eyes what must look to her like a giant fancy saucer of milk. The pretty flowers float around with streaks of essential oils. Given her past history of eating dirt and trying to eat little boys, I say we can't trust her.

"Hmmm my little rose, does this feel nice~"

"Yes, Mother."

"So nice and clean yes, soft and fair. Not at all for drinking or eating?"

"No, Mother. It's a bath and you filled it with salt and oils. It doesn't even smell edible, I'm three not stupid."

"Oh ho ho, that's my smart little girl. See, we keep our pretty little mouths closed in the water." Mother partially dunks me partly for a demonstration to my younger more impressionable sister. Only up to my neck, the water line grazing my chin at most. For her own amusement, she does this a few more times.

Dunk in dunk out, a little bouncy bounce. Ah, I feel so infantized.

"Isn't this fun?" Mother chuckles, face dazed in squishing my chubby little arms.

".....yes Mother."

Like hell, I'm risking my own life by denying her. I'm so vulnerable like this. She could drop me, drown me, or even hug me in her naked bosom. Oh, the horror!

In water, however, she's much more careful in her usual hold. I rest comfortably when I'm not being actively played with. It's been years since this woman gave birth to me but she still squishes my fingers and toes with sparkling fascination. As if they were the paws of a pet cat, little toe beans. Squish squish squish.

Since I've been trapped and incapacitated, my eyes roam about her personal bath. From the imported artisan-carved marble to the meticulously glazed tiles and embedded gems. Shelves of carefully organized bottles of oils and bath salts, from her own collection rather than anything stolen from my research rooms. Low glowing golden lamp carved in the likeness of clamshells sits firmly attached to the walls, but aromatic candles still light the room. A closed-off wooden sauna room but a few paces away. A nearby fountain shaped as a much larger clamshell, glazed in a pearly luster, creates a small cold pool to rinse off in.

It's really leagues ahead of what is common among the nobility in these times. At least for their personal quarters.

When Mother leans back, allowing me to rest free against her, the maids get to work applying a powdery paste on her face, shoulders, and upper arms.

"What's that?" I ask, not recognizing the product as one of my own.

"Oh ho ho this little thing? I've heard around and from a little bird that the powdered peels of pomegranates are good for beauty and wanted to switch up from the usual orange peels. Somehow that infuriating father of yours heard and sent me amphoras of the stuff. It's even more than the time I was looking for pearl powder."

"Oh. I see."

"That awful man had such beautiful pearls the size of papa's fists ground and shaved down in front of me!"

While that does sound like Father, something bothers me.

Is it the peels? No no, I recall those being natural beauty items in any world. The use of orange peels is quite common in my household and territory. Used from household cleaners to a lightening beauty paste. Why not another fruit?

Mother is already quite beautiful in her natural state. But it's many women's passion to be even more lovely or maintain their youth and beauty. Even Rosalia wasn't immune, orange peels, pearl powders, and imported creams from the capital and ports. She bought lots of things for herself and any of her... needed subjects.

An unfortunate thing that Rosalia was rather insecure about despite the gorgeous genetics passed down to her was skin tone. She wasn't as fashionably pale as Lilyanne.

Nor was her hair as light and fluffy? It bordered the line between blond, which was the most attractive and must-have shade at the time. I swear Lilyanne must have dyed it further. I recall it was all the rage for young noble ladies to apply all sorts of formulas and idly laid there in the blazing sun, covered up except for their hair, till it bleached their heads as close to blonde as possible. Due to competition and unreliable products, one would often hear scandals about how this or that lady suddenly had a head of green hair or who died of a toxic scalp infection.

Hahaha, what amusing tales. Er I mean, how sad and horrible. It's really hard to trust the products going around in this world.

Looking back on it now, wasn't my sister's paleness just a sickly pallor?! You know, the kind of pale that dying people have?

While Rosalia was as careful as any noblewoman, at least she went outside. Lilyanne was more of the cooped-up sheltered type. Thus she had the untouched skin of a weak white eggshell. Practically colorless except for the pretty pink blush that might have had a lot of help from rogue.

For some odd reason, she always got unreasonably mad when I asked about her hair. Guess she didn't want to be called out even by her own sister.

Looking over to the healthy chubby little toddler that she is now... it's scary to think about that future.

Meanwhile, my mother down here is looking like a mythological goddess in the bath. She isn't the current trend of corpse pale but after all her careful skincare routine, it's as soft and milky as a child's.

I would know. I am one.

"Mother is already very pretty. You don't need to do all this?"

Father will love you even when you're but a sickly shadow of yourself. He will love you despite it all, when all the softness and color drains from your weak body due to the curse of bad health, not because of it. I would know.

I was watching. I have that bad habit.

"Ohohoho my baby, you're so cute! " Mother coos, squeezing me in her arms.

Maybe it's because they're young, younger than my memory ever allowed me, does it seem like they're more in love. Happier. Healthier.

But hey what do I know? I'm just a not casual enough viewer.

"Rosalia, Lilyanne, my babies are so cute. Just the cutest little girls! When Mama was little, she could only dream to be so cute." Mother sighs as if she bit down on something sour. "If left to your grampapa, you wouldn't ever turn out as bad as I was....your papa would never call me cute or pretty back then."


"He called me all sorts of cruel things. The worst part was that he was perfectly serious about it as if he was saying the sky was blue or that water was wet. AH no, mercy for a maiden's delicate heart...In turn, I had no mercy for his then delicate bones...."


"Ah, but it was really unfair how cute he was, no matter what. So unfair!" Father even alive? You know what, I just won't think about it. Problem solved.

"My lady, I'm sure you were an unbearable beauty as a child."

"No, Papa left me to roam about in mud and blood. Darling was painfully right for thinking I was a wild beast...." Mother waves off the praises of the maid on the left.

"My lady, even the Lord was a young boy once. And they are quite mischievous, unlearned in how to treat the fairer sex. Many a schoolboy is a great bully to the girl they like."

"No, darling didn't even know I was a girl.....for the longest time..." Mother sinks lower down, away from the maid on the right.

"My lady is a priceless gem beyond worth and compare. Merely undug and unpolished to the heavenly treasure you are. Even the cute young misses would not be so loveable when buried in mud...or cheese" wisely praised the older maid working on adjusting Mother's tied hair, making sure the pomegranate face mask is applied cleanly.

Something about it still bothers me. Not the paste specifically, it's not like it's toxic lead-filled white makeup or anything. Something Father and Alfonso would never allow to cross through the territory's trade borders or even in our capital mansion, no matter how fashionably popular it got. But something about it...

I stare too long, for Mother waves and allows the older maid, Madolina, to plop a stick of the paste right on my nose. It smells clean and mild, not much like anything but the pleasantly added rosewater and lemons, a common mix in my own usual baths. Not like I would expect...

"...Pomegranates. Father sent you....pomegranate this season."

"Mama! Lily too! Lily's turn! Rosa no fair!"

"Oh my, does my little Lily promise to be good and not go drinking things she shouldn't?"

"Yep yep! Lily wanna play with mama too!"

I stay limp in my thoughts, going along with the maids’ gentle hands as they switch me out for Lilyanne. Wrapping my wet form in a fluffy towel after rinsing me clean in rose water.

Am I overthinking things?

But I catch the reflection in a nearby pool of clean water. Candlelight highlighted the amber glow of my eyes, and red coming through on my growing head of hair. I see not the soft unassuming beauty that is my mother but something sharper, even on the face of a young child.

No, of course not. This is the father I know. A man worth fearing.


"Is the young miss curious?" the maid drying me off asks.

Noemi does her job perfectly, from wrapping me up to seating me down for a refresher. A cup of cold beauty water like Mother's instead of the milk Lilyanne stuffed herself on. When she mixed in a spoon of pale reddish powder and honey, I find the taste to be not unpleasant.

"The whites are bitter to the taste, so the lord sent them separately. The instructions were written that drinking powdered peels are good for the throat, the heart, and even to cleanse of toxins. Safe even for children." she describes, more to Mother than to me.

"How marvelous" Mother sips her goblet, her other hand keeping a giggling Lilyanne from diving down. "Darling always strives to learn the strangest but most wonderful things."

There's nothing I can do, is there? Nothing.

Does it even matter? Rosalia was no saint. Far from it. I can't judge, I share the same blood as that man. Everything we do will benefit us in some way. There are no useless endeavors, no bad investments. No mercy to our enemies.

"Rosalia darling, what's wrong? You're being oddly quiet over that."

"...Nothing Mama." I blink up.

I look at the beautiful visage, in a room that must cost more than what thousands of people could ever earn in their lifetime. At my beautiful mother in her luxurious bath and the silly stupid little girl that would get it all in end. All this wealth and beauty.

It wasn't easy to get here, and it will be even harder to protect. I know that personally. Nothing is ever gained without effort. Nothing is ever easy, not really. It's a lesson I've bled over.

"I know my little troublemaker. What is it now my love? You're looking awfully hard, it's how your Papa or Grampapa get around a problem they can't yet solve."

"Am I like them?" I gulp.

I don't know why and chug down the rest of my cup. Not anxious for an answer at all. There is no answer. Anything Mother says will be empty air, sweet talk. She knows nothing, they all know nothing. I'm not even actually a child of this house. It will all go to Lilyanne.

"More than you want to be, I know my sweet. I know."

No, you don't. You don't know anything. You live in a dream as beautiful as yourself. You don't know what I've done, everything I've done.

Lily knows nothing and she gets everything. She always gets everything.

And then she'll die.

Pathetically. Because nothing is ever easy. Not even for perfect little Lilyanne. It will just take a while, a very long while. Past this childhood, past years from now. Time ticks so slow, it feels so long, and yet I don't want it to end.

"It's very hard my flowers, to want to be seen for what you are and not the after image your father left behind. Your mama is very sorry then, for loving someone who casts such a marvelously tall shadow. For making that your papa, I would know...Hmmm."

"Shadows scarwy mama?" Lily asks, clutching at her mother.

Yes, shadows are very scary things. But it's every scarier when they're gone. I really do wonder just how my sister lived without me. All the way to that end.

"No. No, they're not my darling. They're a little scary yes, but so very safe to me. I can't imagine any other men in my life, scary or not. Let alone one I pick. No one else will ever do."

A very touching scene, if her face wasn't covered in paste.

Lilyanne makes an ooohing sound, which means she understood absolutely none of that. Yep, I have a lot of work to do.

"So there's no way out. Is there, Mother?"

Underneath the mask, she gives me a strange look and smile. It oddly gives me the same feeling as the crazy old man, when he goes in circles saying things that could but don't mean anything. When he finds something amusing but is too lazy to do anything about it.

She sips at her goblet and I see it as the wine always in Grampa's hand.

"No. But there's no need to get out of anything. My flowers just need to grow." she taps at Lilyanne's nose, "flowers don't compare, they just grow and bloom. Grow up tall and strong, and you'll cast your own shadows. Hmmm, just not too strong..."

Sometimes, Mother scares me. Not just from the face mask. Before it was when she laid sick on her bed, by Lilyanne's feverish side, waiting by the window for someone, anyone, to come back to her. Anyone except me that is.

"How nice it is to be young."

I heard her murmur once, under the wave of her fan. Hiding a smile that I'm sure would just feel eerily too much like Grampa's.

I remember I was sore that day, from riding too long on horseback just the day prior because I foolishly insisted on keeping up. I remember how my fingers were still wrapped up and stinging beneath my riding gloves. I remember my guts roaring in pain, feeling weak but too exhausted to try and have another tiresome meal. Having vomited out everything after that day's physical lessons. Fencing or dance, maybe both, mixed with those annoying etiquettes- it all looks like a swirling blur in my memory.

A dark hole in my gut, a gaping hunger that would never be sated.

"Keep an eye on her, Alfonso," her voice carried, sweet as a canary, "I already have one weak child. We can't, no. We 'won't' do with another. No matter what my husband... 'spoils' her with. Unacceptable, am I understood?"

I ran. I might as well have stabbed that hole into myself. I expect nothing and I still am disappointed.

An old story.

"Aaaand, that's enough now duckie!" Mother holds Lilyanne up high, smacking her little back to make her cough back up the bathwater.

"Waaaaah not yummy!" Lily spits and sputters, flower petals spewing from her open mouth.

"What have we learned today my dear?"

"Waaaaaah!!! Waaaaah!!!!"

"Oh, my precious, most wonderful beautiful gift from the gods and goddesses, seed of my beloved, if you keep crying with your lovely mouth so open won't more soapy bath water get in? It was awfully bitter wasn't it hmm?"

Mother, not at all threateningly oh no, lowers Lilyanne down slowly. Something that causes the toddler to hiccup even more tears and cries, but ultimately puckers her bitter lips closed. Even using both her small hands to cross and block her mouth.

"Oh ho ho, that's my girl! We learn from our mistakes, even if we were clearly warned against it~"

Ahhh how scary.

The now good little child is rewarded with a rinse of water, a slice of cheese with a grape, and a comforting bounce cradled in Mother's arms. All before Mother hands Lilyanne up and over to the maids.

With a twitch of her finger, a maid refills her goblet with something that is very much not water while another drops steaming hot rocks into the tub, reheating the milky water. For no good reason at all, a maid showers the tub in a rain of fresh flower petals. Somewhere in the unseen background, someone starts playing the lute in a relaxing spa-worthy melody.

God damn rich people.

"Now then, what else is on my other girl's scary little mind?" Mother asks, almost lazily.

I don't dare have an outburst, not a reaction at all. I'm the scary one? Excuse you- er um, no of course not. I would never be so rude and stupid to stand up to Mother. Scary. Too scary. I may have done shit as Rosalia but somehow it's not even comparable to this one delicate lady?!

After all....why else would someone like Father marry her? He's not normal either! Ahhhh scary. Too scary.

"Nothing Mother. Nothing at all."

"Impossible. Your rosy little head is always spinning, oh I do so worry about you copying those bad habits."

"I'm sorry Mother, I can't turn off my brain. There's no option for that. Also, I fear I may end up ...drinking soap instead of making it."

Properly wrapped up, Lilyanne next to me starts stuffing more fruit and cheese into her mouth. As if to wipe the lingering taste. She eats so quickly that she accidentally misses, getting a chunk of cheese up into her nose.

The future heroine. A face so beautiful, a girl so graceful and good that she'll bend a harem of high spec. men to her every whim and unintentionally an army of worshipful admirers. This ideal perfect woman is in her infancy years and she's still eating with cheese stuck in her nose.

You really don't want two of that, mother. Best to leave my head the way it is, villainess material or not.

Mother sighs and a well-practiced maid, showing none of the cooing concern or softness that our nursery maids have for Lilyanne, take a handkerchief to her little button nose. Then proceeds to strongly pat my sister's back till she blows it back out.

Sometimes the memories of the past and the reality in front of me are just too much of a contrast. Ah but if I think back with a clearer mind, if I put aside the haze of insecurity and contrasting feelings from the original, wasn't this girl always a messy airhead?

.....yes, yes she was.

It was annoying as it was useful. So easy to distract or play her into doing something. The only problem...was everything else.

"Mama? Lily wants a story." she sniffs, snot freshly wiped from her face and already distracted.

Ah, the whims of a spoiled little princess are unpredictable as ever. She's only so small now, with the wants and needs of any toddler, but I shudder to think of how she'll be in a few years with the harem under her control. Ah, I really don't want to deal with that circus again. There's already too much to deal with.

"Oh? Another story my Lily dear? What kind shall it be today?"

"A luuuuuuuuuuuve story!"

I facepalm. My whole life's a major problem thanks to her love stories, specifically her own. It's pathetic how I'm tied to this.

Mother hums in thought as if to decide which one of the many basic romantic tales to amuse Lilyanne with today. The only problem is that most of Mother's materials are either gossipy talks from other noblewomen's tea parties or tales from travelers and troop members that should never be repeated to children. She thinks and thinks, sinking herself down into the water until she's fully submerged, washing off the mask and paste.

"Mama's got it!" she splashes up suddenly.

For no good reason at all, my hands move to cover Lilyanne's eyes. It's just instinct. Maybe I should have covered my own. Ahhh what dangerous weapons, how do they stay that bouncy at her size without supportive clothes? What are those proportions? Plastic surgery doesn't exist in this world so everything is all-natural? This is just unfair.

"Today's story-"

"Luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuve storwy!"

Hey....can I just leave? Maybe go wack Father with an amphora of some of that pomegranate powder? It's for a good cause, I swear.

But Mother's maids are not only much more observant than my own, but they're also scarily organized. During the time I wasn't paying attention to my surroundings, a folding screen surrounded Lily and me, preventing any subtle escapes.

At least my water cup has been refilled....thanks, Noemi.

"Yes, today's looooooove story shall be a tale of the gods."


Oh, come on. I'd boo and throw grapes if that wouldn't get me punished by Mother. I can only throw them into my own mouth.

"A long time ago, long before the seasons were set, there was a god. The youngest of three brothers. Then the world was split into three, one claimed the skies, another our sea, and the eldest, who burned the longest, held the earth and all that lies underneath."


"Listen to all the story quietly and politely Lily." I stick a whole pitted fruit into her mouth...we're working on it.

"Hmmm not quite. For Dis was the lord of all the land down under."

So Australia? Does Australia even exist here? The map of the world must be all different. No worries, I popped grapes into my own mouth. No weird commenting here.

"Gems and jewels, gold and all precious matters and metals. He was a rich god-"

Oh now we're talking

"-the wealthiest of all for everything will one day come to the earth and into his hands. Everything. The fertile earth, the world deep down under the crust, where bones lie to rest in the end. Dis was the Lord of the underworld."

Awww what good is money when you're dead!? How is this a love story?

"For all his riches and power, he was...a lonely god. "

Oh no, I see where this is going.

"Hidden. The land of death and riches scares many, for it cannot hold life. It cannot keep flowers, not till death. Then it keeps it forever."

Lilyanne whimpers and I stuff another grape into her face.

"One day, in the busy busy work, oh they're always busy, of a god, Dis came across a flower that would change him forever. He fell in love."

My sister swoons in her towel and I can't roll my eyes far enough. For god's sake, she's three!

"In a meadow, the loveliest flower of them all bloomed. Prosperina was the daughter of a powerful goddess. Ceres, who rules over the harvest, and green life on earth. With it came the power of life. Life sprouted in her hand and the land blossomed at her feet with every step. The god who had everything will have everything, did not have love, and for the first time and only time. He fell."

You know I feel this classic tale would be a lot more effective if Mother wasn't naked in the tub. But hey Lilyanne seems to like it.

"Besotted, the god begged his brother the god of the skies to help him. For he knew Ceres would never bless her daughter to descend to the underworld in union. And so the gods plotted and came up with a plan."

I don't like the lesson this is teaching Lilyanne! No bad Lily! Stop sparkling!

"One day, when the time was right, Ceres descended the earth with her darling daughter. While Ceres worked, because work is all the might strong people like to do- work work work, off to another foreign land. Oh, it's all very important yes, saves so many people. Such a hero. Ahem, and thus left Prospina to play, accompanied by her friends the nymphs."

"What are neemps?"

"...Like the water fairies in the picture book Lily."

She accepts the answer and continues listening to Mother's tales.

"They had great fun in the way they often do. With pearl and flower wreaths, the beauty of two worlds. But a flower caught Prosperina's eye. A spring flower so lovely she must leave her friends to follow and pluck. And that was a flower planted and plotted by the gods. So strong and deep was this flower that Prospina must heave and pull. She must have wanted it so to keep going and pull she did. Till it unearthed, and the land broke. From there a whole new world emerged."

"Whiskers!" Lily gasps, remembering an entirely unrelated story.

"There are two ways this tale goes my loves. One. A blazing black chariot, covered in riches and built with all things fine and magnificent burst forth pulled by strong steeds beyond our realm. Oh, your father does love his horses, how many more does he need? Oh, oh ahem, no this mystical chariot was from the underworld. The sudden show frightened poor Prospina, rooting her to her spot. Till he, divine as a god, beautiful as death and gold could be and more...took her!"

Lilyanne nods as if in perfect understanding, which is hilarious given her little toddler face and the fact that I'm sure she's imagining the wrong characters here. Does that make Lukas Persephone in this?

"In another....she walks down. Down the hole to meet who the fates had always foreseen. She walks into love, slowly, then all at once, she falls."

Great now mother is swooning. This is where she gets it from!

"In the first telling, Dis abducted young Proserpina, taken away from her mother and all that she's known. Her pitiful cries hardly sounded out for it happened all so fast and down they descended. Either way, they fall deep into the dizzying pits of the underworld, where she was to be wed and made wife. To be crowned his eternal queen of the night."

Bad Lily, stop swooning and giggling. No! Mother, what are you teaching her?

"When Ceres returned, and could not find Prosphina on any surface, the goddess raged as much as she mourned. Raged and raged, turning the nymphs to sirens and the land to dust. Scouring the earth, Ceres left all her godly duties to search. Left life and heart, left the people to suffer for she suffered so, in the loss of a daughter named Proserpina. That is the love of a parent for a child and so the earth grew barren, crops withered and nothing could be grown. Death had come early for them all."

You know mother is actually not so bad at this storytelling thing. A little overdramatic but hey that's what people generally like.

"All the mortals could not take it, and neither could the gods. They came together, with the god of the skies, to beg the truth and for Dis to return the maiden, his taken wife. Lest the world perishes in anguished hunger. Dis, that beautiful lonely god, so smart but so foolish in love, without the sense to show it, with no one ever to show him.... agreed. But this my dears, was not the end."

Hey uh, I'm sensing some bias in this retelling. A bit of projection for someone very very shady.

"To love....sometimes means to let go, and so he swore with a smile. To release the young goddess back into the light. But to eat was to accept, and those who ate the food of the underworld were bound to it. Some say she was tricked, some say she was tempted to sin, others could say she was so terribly...hungry. Before any mere gods but her own could stop her, Prosperina had taken to her lips-"

Mother shakes the jar of pale pink powder, swirling it ominously. From behind the tub, a maid makes more steam rise while another presents Mother with a refill of wine and pomegranate powder.

"...but a few measly clotted seeds of a split pomegranate!"

More steam rises. A few maids in the background control the lighting by turning it on and off. Lilyanne gasps at it all but I just want to know when they coordinated this. Oh god, how did they turn the lights red?!

"And so for each seed she ate, was a measured month Prosperina was to stay in the underworld where her throne awaits. Her return to the surface brings forth spring and summer when our mortal lands ripen and burst with life. The long contented walks across lands with her dearest mother and the mortals thrived. But should the day come to your end, you will see her again, as your queen. For Proserpina takes both, life of her birth and death cannot part a goddess and her darling."

"....Is it over?"

"Yaaaaaaaay! And dey live happiwy ever after! And they have Lily and Rosa and we eat lots of-"

"...Please tell me it's over. Mother please."

Lilyanne and the maids all applaud to my mother's delight as the lights turn on, all while I scratch my head. This world sure shares a few similar myths and tales in my world. But importantly I'm still mystified over the fact that the lights can change colors. When did that get installed?

It's been more than long enough for a soak and the senior maid Madolina ushers mother out of the bath. The rest flanked to rinse and spritz her off at the clamshell fountain. Her robes are ready and then they're off to complete that glamorous beauty routine for the night.

My sister blabbers happily while mother moisturizes at something of a vanity, a patient dazed smile plastered on her face at Lily's cuteness. But I can see as she slowly winds down, tired out from...nothing. She did have a cup of warm milk and a story?

"Did you like the story, Rosa? You always run off somewhere when Lilyanne asks for one. Maybe papa already told you that one, oh he does know too many."

"It was don't think she was kidnapped then? In the two tales? You wouldn't say there was another if you only believed in one."

Mother releases the pins and ties in her hair, allowing it to cascade and flow down. In the low light, it shines something deeper than brown or flickering gold. I think of the flowers in her gardens and courtyards. I think of the jewels she has stuffed tight in drawers upon drawers in the maze that is her closet. I think of why I always unreasonable fear her, in any life, for any reason.

I think there's a lot I don't know about everything, everyone, and it scares me.

"....the world has many voices, and they will tell a story however they like my Rosalia. In the may hear many stories you won't like. About us, about you." mother sighs, clapping her hands lightly in calling.

I patter forth, unobstructed by any maids in her obvious call. While the maids work on her hair, she pulls me up to her lap and focuses on brushing mine. It's not very long, due to my age and all the accidents and cuts that it went through. Mother's brush goes through it smoothly, though the curls stay mostly in shape.

"Do you not like the stories they tell about you?" I ask, trying not to dwell on if Rosalia ever had this much attention. This much gentleness.

It's a bitter bottle I don't want to open. One I don't have to, not yet. I'll toast to that ghost one day, and shoot it down straight. But I can't yet. I'm not anywhere near ready yet. It will send me into toxic shock, it might even kill me. So not yet, let's not think about it yet. All I can do, for now, is give myself time.

"It doesn't matter my baby. There are too many, nothing but hot lifeless air. What matters is the truth you make yourself. It's okay not to know it all, despite what your father may make you feel. Ahhh that awful man, looks what he's done to my cute daughter. Making her think so hard. "

She pokes at my brow, smoothening it out with a bit of rose water and cold cream.

This is the part that really scared me when Mother of all people seems to read what I know I haven't said out loud. She sounds kind of like grampa when it happens and I can't take it.

I really don't know what to make of it. It's not just scared that I'm feeling, but it's too much to process just yet. A wine I really can't have, mother's eerily watchful eye over me.

"Pomegranates. I was thinking about pomegranates earlier. "


Scary, all that I do know is that she's scary. And if she scares me this much....what does she do for her 'darling' husband? This isn't me, I'm not doing anything obviously. I'm only three.

"They're....Amar's favorite fruit."


Her grip on me suddenly tightens and I gulp for my life, not daring to look up at what may be reflected in the mirror. I've seen enough scary expressions of mother today. Let's keep it at that.

"Uh huh, he ate so much he got sick. Isn't that funny? He doesn't even get sick when he eats poison. But... where did he get them from? Can you ask papa? He got so many peels at this time of year."

The brush stiffens and still in my hair. I try not to sweat.


Ahh scary, too scary. It's too scary and nothing even happened yet!

Can I leave yet? Can I just go now? No?

Of course Mother....


Bonus:- next chapter