Fantasy Historical Fiction

The Gardens of Omorfia are a cursed, beautiful solitude, and they will stand for all of eternity. They were once home, as much as you can call it that, being such a cruel reminder of unbelonging, to a myth still untold. They now grow in the space in between everywhere and nowhere, situated right outside death. They hold memories of confining sadness, short-lived loves and most naturally, the cursed, beautiful Omorfia herself, trapped in the solitude.

Omorfia was a sweet young girl born to the lush, vivid countryside of Ancient Greece. As she grew into an elegant young woman, the local people praised her beauty, often comparing it to being like a grove of blossom trees or a patch of flowers – the highlights of a warm, plentiful springtime. She was only ever truly content in her little garden, sitting there from sunrise to sunset tending to her plants and fashioning bouquets for everyone she knew. Many heroes were captivated by her looks, wishing to marry her one day. The Mortal Persephone is what they called her – Persephone, the goddess of spring, flowers, vegetation; whose loveliness was said to have all the Olympians captivated. Despite being with good intentions, it attracted the attention of a being with quite the opposite.

Persephone was known in mythology for having a mother with a fierce love and protectiveness of her daughter. A mother who searched far and wide, causing droughts and famine in search when Persephone was kidnapped by the Lord of the Underworld, and caused the harshness of the seasons named autumn and winter when Persephone spent her half of the year with her husband, and the warmth and sweetness of spring and summer when she was back in Olympus. Demeter did not treat those kindly who she thought were disrespecting her daughter, be it refusing to give hospitality during her search, or claiming to have greater beauty than Persephone.

Demeter did certainly feel kindly to this nickname, to the comparison to the goddess Persephone, who’s splendor far exceeded what a human could ever possibly possess, or to Omorfia at all. She cursed her: made her unable to belong in any world, mythological or mortal, so that her story would not be told and the heroes that loved her because of her likeness of the goddess could not win her love. She felt it fitting to give the mortal the true irony of her nickname – for, you see, the name Persephone really means something far from the pretty innocence of narcissus flowers and pomegranate trees.

Demeter cursed Omorfia with the touch of flowers. Like the King Midas, whose touch of gold had contrastingly been intended as a gift by the god Dionysus, everything Omorfia touched would turn into a plant.

She was made immortal, but not a goddess. Her own touch turned her hair to a cascade of vines and blossoms, her eyes became framed by long lashes of forget-me-nots and daisies, and she weaved her own clothes from plants. Her garden was made to grow, expand in size, split to make more gardens, all interconnected like the Labyrinth – because the larger the place, the higher capacity for loneliness.

Omorfia was not bound to her gardens, but she often chose to stay there, rarely venturing out to see her family; she watched them grow old and grey from a distance, rising towards an end she would never meet. All who ventured into her garden were fated to die there, only finding it in its magical whereabouts if they were on the verge of death itself. Occasionally a hero who had failed in his quest would stumble into a gorgeous, fruitful field of carefully tended to flowers and trees; he would collapse, the face equally gorgeous to the garden swimming into view above them like a glimpse of Elysium before his soul travelled to the Underworld to await judgement. The hero would die shortly and painlessly, but insignificant to myth because of his failure, just out of reach from Omorfia’s arms - arms which ached so dearly for physical contact.

When this happened, Omorfia would take pity on the sweet hero, admiring his bravery and unbelieving of his failure. She would turn his corpse into a flower, or a tree, and gently plant them in her patch. She never missed a death – her gardens would always make sure she was there to watch the light disappear from another pair of beautiful eyes. She was there when each family member slipped away, and too turned them into plants in bittersweet memory.

When the last of her family passed on, they also took her only connection to the mortal world, and left her with no reason to venture from her lovely solitude. Demeter had planned this – she had not imprisoned her by magic, but by another, much simpler force. Omorfia had the power to go about causing mass destruction if she wished, turning other mortals into flowers and turning items of both great importance and unimportance to trees planted in her garden out of bitterness for what she couldn’t have; that was the true irony of her nickname, the Mortal Persephone. Persephone, which means “bringer of destruction”.

Demeter had known, however, that Omorfia never would. Gods had lived millennia even then, watched countless civilizations rise and fall, become ruin for the next to build on. Humans were predictable – they still are. They changed things, but they hardly ever changed themselves, no matter how much they thought. They had a natural instinct to keep danger away from others, an inability to hurt their companions but an absurd willingness to hurt themselves instead, whether emotionally or physically. They would keep danger away from others even if the danger was themselves. Omorfia accepted the sad beauty of tending to her gardens for infinite sunrises and sunsets, every item or animal or human becoming just another plant in her garden with the merest touch.

It was when Omorfia was pruning her assortment of roses in one of her favorite gardens when a new hero appeared in the field dying of a dragon claw wound after attempting to retrieve the renowned Golden Fleece. Turning away from the array of pink, red, orange, she managed to get to the handsome soul a minute or so before it would slip away. She caught a few words, treasuring the sound of human speech like a mother might do for her baby. She kept her hands close and gathered information: the hero told her of his quest, humbling his bravery against the sleepless dragon guarding the grove that held the Fleece. Omorfia felt immense admiration for the hero, and lightly caressed his face as his eyelids began to flutter like a trapped butterfly, preserving his dying form as an iridescent black rose. After seeing countless brave ones attempt the most dangerous of tasks, she had decided to try one for her own.

Omorfia could touch very few things that weren’t plants. The earth was one – it was too large, too primal. Great bodies of water as well, like the rivers that ran through some of her gardens which she washed in, sending only a flittering flow of petals from where the current rushed past her skin. And certain magical objects – objects like the Golden Fleece.

Locating the grove by the lingering trace of approaching death, Omorfia slipped easily past the sleepless dragon by turning it into a cypress tree. She gathered the Fleece quietly, and managed to return to her gardens unnoticed. The mystical healing powers that the Fleece bore were enough to heal the fatal wound on the hero and pull him back from the closing grip that would have tugged him away; and change him back from the black rose. The two fell in love: the Golden Fleece had also healed her curse and awarded her with the brilliance of physical contact, and she was mortal again.

When Demeter found out about this, she was furious, and tormented the hero with dreams of a forthcoming evil that would kill him and consequently his new love. She tricked him into thinking it would be wise to return the Fleece to where Omorfia had found it – there was no danger in it anymore, as the dragon was trapped as a tree. Then the two of them would be safe. The hero, drunken on love and thinking illogically, did not think of how if the Fleece healed his form as a rose because he had not died before he was turned, it would undoubtedly heal the dragon’s form as a tree because the Omorfia had not slain it beforehand. As he placed the Fleece on the reaching branches of the cypress tree, the dragon appeared and slit his throat with one sharpened claw.

One ungainly, weakened step took the hero back into the beautiful gardens, but not the one where Omorfia slept unknowingly on. When Omorfia woke to find her lover gone along with the Golden Fleece, she was struck with despair. She searched her many acres of land, still growing magically despite the lifting of the curse, but to no luck. Demeter made sure she never did find the one where her brave one’s broken body lay to rot forevermore on the soft grass, though it was not difficult. Not even that long since she had began looking, her despair grew to such an extremity it left her paralyzed and forgetting how to breathe. She crumpled, her legs giving up and love breaking through her chest: a singular thorn of a rose had pierced her heart. A black, iridescent rose.

It was not the same one, no. That had disappeared when her hero had resurrected, but that was not what Omorfia thought when she died, a mortal in her gardens, not cursed by magic but by sorrow. She thought that her love had betrayed her, broken her heart in more ways than one.

She did not realise that after so long Demeter was still watching over her. Demeter, who had grown the rose, the last thing Omorfia saw.

Omorfia’s gardens and her myth are mostly unknown. But they did keep growing – they still do this day. A couple have come close to the mortal world and have been found. Think of a field where blood was shed, and now poppies grow, row on row.

Demeter felt it fitting to give Omorfia the true irony of her nickname. Omorfia meant, and still means, "beauty" in Greek. Persephone Omorfia. Bringer of Beautiful Destruction.

Oh, and how beautiful destruction can be.

August 31, 2023 21:58

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