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My Writings Selections from my Work Amazonia
Queens of the Amazons .. Orthia's Story Another taste for those who's appetites were wetted
Chapter Eight Our arrival with fresh meat was welcomed with greater joy and thanks than we expected but then I have never experienced a siege where no doubt you soon tire of stockpiled rations. King Priam himself even came along to thank us personally and invite me to join him and his nobles for the evening meal where I could join them in sampling the meat we’d brought. Meanwhile he assured me that our horses would be well looked after and we would have our own quarters in a wing of the palace. From the look of consternation I caught on his chamberlain’s face I imagined that would mean turning out the current occupants, not something that worthy seemed to look forward to. As it transpired, by the time we’d stabled and fed our mounts and arrived with a guide left for that purpose, we found ourselves on the second floor of a small separate wing of the palace with no trace of any previous lodgers. We settled ourselves into the rooms provided which included a small one for my own use. Once the women were settled I gave permission for them to go forth and explore the city. Except for my personal companions, none of them had seen such a great town and, from the awed comments, I could not but smile at all they would see. For that reason I warned them that we were guests here and that they should, on no account, react as they would at home. I spent a little time explaining how they would see slavery in all its’ forms but that they must ignore it. They should also ignore any ribald comment they might hear concerning themselves. With their promises and faith in their discipline, I let them go. I’d seen it all myself and had no desire to experience the fleshpots of the city again. As I recalled my first sights of the prostitutes and how very insistent they were, I wondered how my women would manage; warrior women seemed to be something of a welcome rarity in their lives. But the bazaars would truly interest them. The last time I was here, you could buy anything; from carved jade elephants to your mother-in-law’s poisoning. Once they had left I decided to rest. I knew from my previous visit that the Trojan court’s idea of a meal would last well into the night and include not only various courses of food but entertainment of all kinds. I was tired enough from being in the saddle for over a day and night that I feared falling asleep over my platter. Not a good impression for our allies to get of our nation! I awoke to the sounds of my women returning. And nothing would do but I go see all that they had bought or traded for. I was surprised to see all they had and how little they had paid. I had to think that the siege had brought a new economy to Troy with revised values. Most valuable had been the spices my women had brought to make the journey rations more palatable. What they did for dried beef would work as well with trapped rats. As we all admired the purchases of each, one at a time, and discussed what they had seen, we were interrupted by a servant bringing word that he would take my women down to a room where food had been prepared for them. Once they were settled he would return to take me to the royal apartments. I told Leone that I gave over command to her until my return. I kept Kay with me though, explaining she would be my personal servant and server this night. True to his word, the servant soon returned but had to wait while I finished my toilet and dressed myself in the Greek himation I’d brought along for such occasions. As befitted my rank, and it was good to remind my hosts of that, it was edged in purple to denote my royal lineage. Then I had Kay arrange my hair, for that was truly the main reason I’d kept her by. She had a way with hair and I’d warrant that the final result would achieve the desired effect. As Pentasilia and my mother’s ambassador I had a position to uphold and, useful as it was to remind the Trojans of our martial fitness, it was important to look the part of a royal princess in a society that set great store in their social hierarchy. Despite the delay, I found I was by no means the last to arrive although the king was already present. He received me graciously and bade me sit beside him. In the end it was his son Paris and his new bride, Helen, who were the last arrivals. I had not previously seen Helen although she was the spurious pretext for this current war. She had apparently run away from her Greek husband for Paris. Although Paris was handsome enough and pleasant as I’d found him the last time I was here, I couldn’t help but compare him to Arta and found him lacking. I quickly thrust that thought from my mind and instead let my thoughts compare him to his late brother. Hector, had been a different type; a respected warrior and statesman, who’d always treated me with warmth and respect. Where Paris was affable enough, Hector’s empathy had always been genuine. Neither was Paris the war-leader Hector had been; Priam must feel his loss at the hands of the Greeks keenly. As I said, Helen’s so-called abduction was the excuse they used but we all knew the true cause was the Greek lust for Troy’s power and trade. Paris brought over his bride and introduced us. Together they made a fine pair, somewhat empty of original thoughts but pleasant enough. Priam though was a very astute man with an iron will. I had to wonder at what he thought of his heir. That he was fond of him I doubted not but I felt he’d have wished for the stronger hands of Hector to pass the reins to. We spoke during the meal of how the war progressed and our plans for the future. Priam declared “You see Pentasilia; this war is beggaring the Greeks. While they stand before our walls their substance vanishes, others like the Phoenicians take their trade, their farms lie fallow and their herds are stolen. Yes it costs them dear. Soon they will see the first of their numbers withdraw. They must know by now that our walls are too strong and we do not starve. The word of your exploits in fetching us cattle will dishearten them further. I give it but days.” I answered “I trust you are correct in your reading, my lord, but surely they too have hurt Troy.” “Pah! that is but paltry, within weeks we’ll be as strong as ever and those that sat watching will feel our wrath. But those who stood by us and aided us, we will remember with kindness. We know of your troubles with the Phrygians and they will know the weight of Troy’s displeasure. Without them and the Greeks your whole strength can be focused on your enemies from the East, the Cimmerians and Armenians. Troy will pay its’ debts!” That was exactly what my queens had sent me for so I replied “My lord king, I thank you for your good wishes and your promise of aid. As you would help us then, in turn, may I offer my women should a need occur whilst we remain with you.” The prince, who had been listening, turned at that and declared “Pentasilia, that would be marvelous; I have ever wished to see the famous bows of the Amazons at work. Often we sally forth from the North Gate to fight with those of the Greeks who would meet us. Not a full battle you understand but a joust to allow our champions to show their prowess. Maybe tomorrow we could take your women and go forth to show these Greeks?” That wasn’t what I’d had in mind but I could not unsay my words so I had to agree to his proposal. As soon as I could, I sent Kay back with word to Leone of what we would face on the morrow. I would at least have my women prepared. My foolishness quite ruined the rest of the evening although I was determined not to show it. So I sat through the courses of fare brought before us and watched the jugglers, magicians, the dancers and musicians and all the other entertainments that regaled us. I spoke with Priam and Paris and answered the questions of Helen who was fascinated by the lives we chose for ourselves. But ever in the back of my mind was the commitment I’d so foolishly allowed myself to make. The evening finally drew to a close and I allowed myself to be guided back to my room. There I found both Kay and Leone. My head was spinning now that I could relax and I needed Kay’s help to undress. While I prepared for sleep Leone assured me that our warriors were ready and willing to take to the field that coming day. Seeing my state she told me to get a good night’s rest for they would need my leadership. With that she left, taking Kay with her and I quickly lost consciousness. The next morning I woke with one of the worst headaches I ever could recall. I realized that Kay was in the room as I came to awareness and she thrust a cup of some concoction into my hands and wouldn’t allow me any freedom but to drink it. Whatever it was, and I never want to know, it tasted worse than last year’s lees from the grape harvest. But it worked, probably because my head feared a repeat. I found Kay had polished my armor and sharpened my sword. My bow and a quiver of arrows were laid out. Seeing them, I recalled with chagrin the commitment I had made. If I hadn’t, the entry of a servant with word from the prince would have brought it back. Paris would await us at the North Gate within an hour, would we be ready by then? I sent the servant back with my assurance and went to collect my women. Before we left I had Leone and I double check the arms and equipment of each of the women. Once that was done I allowed all to drink sparingly against thirst but insisted on no food for bowel wounds fare best on empty stomachs. I’d have liked to go mounted but I had already risked my women so I was reluctant to risk our horses for a foolishness of mine. Instead we marched, attracting much attention from the Trojans we passed. Paris was waiting at the gate with a number of nobles all dressed for battle. Seeing us he smiled and told his nobles that today they would see just how true were the stories of our prowess with the bow. I’d have liked to have shown him directly how well we could hit a target, preferably his belly. But that was hardly a diplomatic gesture and despite his condescension, I professed our readiness. He then spent a few moments explaining to me what to expect. It became obvious that this was all a game to these nobles. They’d come out and taunt the Greeks and if the Greeks felt like playing they’d challenge each other to individual duals. If not, the Greeks would call up javelin throwers and force the Trojans to retreat under a barrage of missiles. No doubt the Greeks did their share of goading. So I finally perceived Paris’ purpose, he wanted my women to counter the Greek javelin throwers. I felt even less like cooperating as I learned this. For us Amazons, war was not a game but something we undertook with reluctance and accepted as a necessity for survival. The problem was that, not only had I given my word, but that our reputation as warriors would suffer. That reputation, won through the blood of our women, served as a deterrent to many would be raiders. I could not afford to diminish that! So it was that I took out our women behind these vainglorious fools for what I considered an unnecessary bloodletting. Once we were out on the plain before the walls, the Trojans, watched by crowds of the curious from the walls, began calling out to the Greeks. Their warriors, hearing the calls edged towards us. Once the two sides were within earshot there began a series of challenges, fueled by jeers and derision. I noticed that most of the challenges were coming from the Trojan side. I thought the Greeks seemed quite content to let the noble youth of Troy make fools of themselves. Eventually, the Greeks grew tired of the yelling and called up the javelin throwers. The Trojans retreated as the throwers advanced, leaving us with a clear target. I gave Leone the nod and she called the time as arrows were taken and knocked, bows drawn and released in unison. Then, as the actions were repeated, cloud after cloud of sharp-shafted missiles flew into the Greek javelin throwers. Within seconds they were in retreat, dragging and carrying their dead and wounded back to their lines. This victory was cheered by our hosts; the nobles with us on the plain and the crowds lining the walls. As that died down, the Trojans started again with catcalls at the Greeks, this time with gestures. A change came over the Greeks then. Their oft repeated dismissal of the Trojan challenges had been flung back in their faces. Now several stepped forward and in their turn issued challenges at our Trojan youth. Before anything could come of that, a tall golden-haired figure stood forth and raised his right arm. The noise died down and Paris whispered to me that this was Achilles, a great hero amongst the Greeks. Every time a Trojan had accepted a challenge of his they were carried from the field. He was reputed to be invulnerable. Achilles called out across the ground that separated us, “Ho there Trojans, I see you have decided to hide behind the skirts of women. Maybe they are more man than you are. Why not fight your own battles? Come, would any face me?” Despite the taunt, which I saw had thoroughly annoyed the Trojans, none stood forth. It appeared that all respected this warrior’s prowess too much to take up his challenge. On the Greek side, too, all were quiet, waiting to take their cue from their hero who then switched targets. “You woman,” he called out to Leone, “perhaps you are man enough? You seemed happy enough fighting from a distance; how about something a little more close and personal?” That had the Greeks laughing and I could see Leone boiling so I called out to her “Leone, settle down. The dog’s just barking to hear the sound of its’ own voice.” That brought his attention to me. “So the top bitch can yap too. I see you wear a sword. Can you use it? No, it must be for show and no match for mine; perhaps we might try a duel with my other sword.” Again the Greek laughter! I should have followed my own advice to Leone but instead I replied “Certainly not yours, for I hear from the boys in the stews that I would be sadly disappointed.” That caused the Trojans to laugh out loud in their turn. But its’ effect on Achilles was different. He drew out his weapon and snarled “Then bitch crawl back to your kennel and whine, unless you dare face me in combat. You Amazons are just pretend warriors, little girls who, because they can shoot a bow, think they are as good as men. Go home to your knitting and stop pretending you have the right to a warrior’s respect!” I’d done it again! I’d talked myself into something I couldn’t back away from without lessening the repute of my nation. Should I back down, let the insult go unpunished, then more challengers would follow, encouraged to think the Amazons had not the courage to stand firm. So, instead of replying, I strode out to close the gap. As I walked out, I heard Paris call “Orthia Pentasilia, hold back, this man is the most feared swordsman in this war. I beg you, my Lady; my father will never forgive me for getting you into this!” I turned back for a moment to tell him, “Fear not my Lord Paris, I have already faced the greatest of all swordsman and learned from him skills that will serve me well against such pretenders as this Greek.” I continued then as Achilles also advanced. I won’t say I wasn’t scared for I was. But I did have confidence. It was hard to imagine Achilles as a swordsman to match the like of Arta and, no matter the anger at our parting; I could acknowledge my debt for the skills he had taught me. As we came together, Achilles took time to look at me and observe, “You are a tall one, and well built for a woman. Maybe this will provide some sport after all.” “Well Greek, are we going to chat like old men reminiscing their lost youth or shall we get down to business?” With that we crossed our swords and began the dance. Within a few passes we had each other’s measure. I had to acknowledge that we were well matched, he had less skill than Arta, close to the equal of mine although I had to give him the advantage of strength; but I was the faster. He drew back, telling me “Woman I am surprised, you are better than any Trojan I have met. Better than any other Greek for that matter. This could go on for a while but in the end you will tire. So why don’t we end this now while you are yet unwounded and let me take you back to our camp.” I knew he still underestimated me; I would not tire as easily as he thought and I counted on my speed to cause him to expend energy fighting shadows. If anything I expected him to be the one to tire. So I answered, “No my Lord, instead perhaps you should surrender yourself to me, I am sure my women might be able to make some use of you. It would be a pity to see your blood soak the grass here.” The duel continued then, with both of us aware that one misstep or error could be the end. We fought on, each in our own style; I, fast striking like a snake and springing back, he, ponderously hacking, seeking to wear me down with the weight of his blows. We kept at it for longer than I would ever have wanted. No longer did we attempt to talk, needing every ounce of energy, every breath for our strength and concentration. Sweat flowed down my face, half blinding me, my hand was slippery on the sword’s grip threatening to disarm me and my breathing labored. After so long without a serious blow, it was Achilles who drew first blood, a scratch that traced a line along my left arm from shoulder to elbow. It looked worse that it was and my women and the Trojans drew breath while cheering came from the assembled Greeks. But that proved to be his undoing, for he thought he had me; maybe he thought me weakened or possibly dismayed. Suddenly, believing he had victory in his hands, he went on the offensive, completely oblivious to defense. I was forced to back but, instead of retreating in pain and fear, I was allowing him the opportunity to expose himself. It just took four or five wild swipes for me to see the opening I wanted. He had swung his shield wide to his left to deflect a blow from my sword and was slow to recover, placing all his concentration on an attempt to skewer me on his own point. Missing, that served to swing him further off balance. Before he could recover, I side-stepped, dropped and thrust low cutting into the tendons below his calf, where he was unprotected by the greaves he wore. He dropped his sword, suddenly too heavy for nerveless hands and staggered back. A great groan came from the assembled Greeks, followed quickly by cheering from the Trojans behind me. I stood panting, legs suddenly weak as I relaxed, not daring to move lest I fall. Achilles sank to the ground staring at me, unable to fully comprehend what had happened. Two Greeks ran forward, hands empty to show they were no threat, and supporting their fallen hero, bore him from the field. The Greek host then turned and walked back to their camp in total silence.