A Halloween Story by Phantom Bard
Disclaimer: "First Principals" is a work of fan fiction based on characters from the TV production Xena: Warrior Princess and as such entails some copyright infringement. It is the author's sincere hope that the owners of the intellectual properties involved have a sense of humor and will forego legal actions. No profit will be made from the posting of this work. All copies created for personal use must contain this disclaimer.
The characters Prima and Secunda are the property of Phantom Bard and they exist in the context of backstory first created for the "Clonefic" series. This story is intended for open-minded audiences. Creative criticism and general feedback are welcome. Written for Halloween 2006.
Author's Note: The timeframe of this story is based on 'real' history and my previously posted story "Clonefic 3", which was in turn based on the 6th season Xena: Warrior Princess episode "Send in the Clones". If some characters and backstory seem different from the TV series, therein lies the explanation. Consider it Alternate Universe.
"That they encamped there is certain, and may be confirmed by the names that the places thereabouts yet retain, and the graves and monuments of those that fell in battle…For indeed we are also told that many of the Amazons who died were buried there in the place that is to this time called Amazoneum."
-"The Life of Theseus"
(as quoted on the frontispiece of "Last of the Amazons" by Steven Pressfield, ©2002)
Late-October; the season brought Marieve an unsettled feeling. The Shamaness of the Southern Tribe of the North American Amazon Nation had seen great changes in the past year, and they had stemmed from this same night a year before. On that last night of that month her queen, Renée, the seventh of her line, had abdicated her office. Abdicated hell…she disappeared with a ghost!
On that night a page of Amazon history had come alive right in their midst. Shamaness that she was, if Marieve hadn't witnessed it all with her own eyes she would scarcely have believed the story. The ghost of a Roman era warrior of the Amazon Nation had returned from the dead to claim the heart of her soulmate, the reincarnation of Queen Hope, daughter of the Poteidaian warrior-bard Gabrielle, the soulmate of Xena of Amphipolis, the notorious Hellenes' Bane and Destroyer of Nations.
That it had all happened during the first visit of a troublesome pair of outsiders had been even more unexpected. That these two were the grand-nieces of Melinda Pappas and Janice Covington, and therefore the living descendants of those historic soulmates had been an even more amazing coincidence. Coincidence, hell…it was nothing less than Fate! The Moirae are still spinning their webs and we are all caught in them, up to our necks! That the incidents of the past Halloween had left the strangers in charge of the nation wasn't even comprehensible. Somehow Gabriella Covington had become Queen of the Southern Tribe, and her soulmate, Serena Pappas her Queen's Champion. The tribe's collective head had been spinning for the past year and the adjustments weren't finished yet. At times the two acted like the iconoclastic 21st century teachers they'd been trained as, and then in an instant, they were the embodiment of traditions and values over 2,000 years old. At those times it was like being in the presence of the original Xena and Gabrielle, c. 44 BC.
Yet Marieve had to confess, she'd felt something unnatural brewing beforehand last year. In many a past year her queen had insisted on waiting by the entrance road to their compound whenever a sighting of the Ghost Warrior had been reported. But last year they had received news that the duo of Covington and Pappas had opened a martial arts school and were teaching proprietary techniques that their grandaunts had learned from scrolls they'd unearthed over 60 years before. It had been a potential disaster.
In 2005 the shamaness had felt a nexus approaching. Already the Ghost Warrior had been sighted. When the report had come in that Pappas and Covington were descendants of Xena and Gabrielle, her apprehension had only increased. Seeing them for the first time had cemented her suspicion that this would be no ordinary Halloween. Serena and Gabriella were the spitting images of Xena and Gabrielle, whereas Queen Renée had been a spitting image of Gabrielle's daughter, Queen Hope.
Almost at once Marieve had been ordered to confirm the relationship between Gabriella and Queen Hope. In her ritual vision she'd been shocked by the appearance of both Gabrielle and her daughter. And they had claimed Gabriella in no uncertain terms. Hope had all but ordered the tribe to treat Gabriella as a queen, and for the shamaness, this was equivalent to a confirmation of the coming succession. But the actual meeting on the road had shocked her, even with the foreknowledge of her vision.
The Ghost Warrior had appeared as expected that Halloween night. Queen Renée and Serena Pappas had been approached by the apparition and the ghost had addressed the tribe's guest as Strategosi! She had begged her commander's leave to discharge her service, and during a possession by the spirit of the Destroyer of Nations, Serena had granted the ghost her freedom to pursue her heart. So finally Queen Hope, having been reborn for a time as Queen Renée, and Secunda, the ancient Guardian of the Amazon Nation, had come together as soulmates after over 2,000 years.
The following uproar, predictable as it was, had not threatened anarchy. Largely because of the late queen's forethought the unorthodox succession had proceeded as smoothly as could be expected. Gabriella Covington had become Queen Gabriella and Serena Pappas had become her Queen's Champion. Continuity had been preserved and the tribe had survived intact. Later, in subsequent visions, Marieve had celebrated the joy of her late queen, for Hope/Renée and Secunda had achieved their bliss at last.
But this year new visions had come upon Marieve, all in the last month, and these were upsetting. She had been visited by the spirits of Gabrielle and, of all persons, the Warrior Princess herself. At first Marieve had been very nervous. Xena had been the daughter of War, the Hellenes' Bane, the Destroyer of Nations, and vaguely hinted at, maybe something even more deadly. She had been the mother of Livia. She had slain tens of thousands. And she had never been an Amazon. But compared to the manifestation that had possessed Serena Pappas on the road the past Halloween, this Xena seemed almost…reasonable. She still watched over her descendants and her soulmate's tribe, and for that reason she had requested that Marieve convey to her new queen and Queen's Champion, certain aspects of history that she claimed were important. Her smug grin after her refusal to divulge her news had irritated the shamaness no end.
Trust me, Marieve, Xena had said She shamaness had looked to Gabrielle, but the spirit of the bard had only shaken her head and smiled.
So it was that tonight, as darkness seeped across the celestial vault from the east, but the western sky still held the afterglow of Helios' passage, she had drawn the soulmates aside for an audience she'd requested at the prompting of the spirits.
Marieve ushered her royal guests into her domain and shut the door. The room was awash with smoke, sage mostly, and Gabriella grimaced. Serena actually coughed and fanned the air in front of her face, then gave up with a groan. The shamaness directed the pair to sit on a bison skin in the center of the room. She sat herself down facing them on a lynx pelt. Both lay within a circle of symbols drawn on the floor in blood.
Gabriella couldn't believe that the shamaness had actually managed to kindle a smallish ritual fire on the floor! The smoky air was all too reminiscent of her first experience with vision quests and the familiar bison skin almost triggered the headache she'd suffered that day. With a sigh she took her seat and then fixed her attention of Marieve. This had better be good. She checked her pocket for the packet of Tylenol caplets and then realized that she had nothing to wash them down with. Just perfect!
When Serena and Gabriella were settled, Marieve threw a handful of powered herbs onto the fire, creating a cloud of smoke so acrid that it brought a taste to their mouths akin to the bitter aftertaste of absinthe. Then she picked up a small drum and began beating out a slow rhythm with a curved stick. Gabriella wrinkled her nose at the stench and Serena gagged. Marieve prompted them with a sharp nod of her head and all three of the women stared into the fire. After a few moments the shamaness began a chant, satisfied to note that her own voice seemed distant to her. She checked the blank stares of her guests and nodded to herself, and then she focused and concentrated on calling the spirits. This had better be good.
The three felt their consciousness expanding and the room darkened in their peripheral vision. The air grew warm, causing them to begin perspiring. Slowly they became aware of sounds beyond the drum beats and the chanting. Softly they heard running water and lonely footsteps. Faintly they smelled the scents of dust and pines. Then their vision abruptly brightened, forcing them to squint. Suddenly they were someplace else, someplace vaguely familiar where they had never set foot in their present lives.
It was a bright Thracian summer's day, complete with oppressive heat that followed the tall walking man down a narrow cart track like a hungry dog with a touch of rabies. A flip of the traveler's head slung a spatter of sweat from his shoulder-length hair, but even that scant relief didn't forestall a forearm swiped across his brow. Through narrowed eyes he squinted at the darkened stain painted onto the leather bracer that encased his forearm. A momentary expression of disgust crossed his features, high brow, straight nose, and strong jaw, before a wry grin shaped his lips. 1,400 years old and here I am sweating like an ordinary mortal…pig.
"Hey Dad, couldn't you have done something about this?" He called out, asking the rhetorical question with a quick glance up at the cloudless sky. His voice alone disturbed the stagnant air as he added, "Hey Mom, how about a little breeze?"
A self-deprecating chuckle escaped him. Far too late for answers, or anything else now. Ahhh well, I guess I'm on my own…again. Casting his eyes to the road ahead he continued on in his tireless stride and another mile passed beneath his tall boots.
Now the way wound beside a lazy river on his right, shallow at this season, but still wide. Past a bank partially curtained by willows, the water's surface sparkled with undulations that hinted at hidden boulders in the streambed below, while testifying to an active current despite the low volume. Both the river and the road were bending west in a lazy curve, with cliffs receding on his left, as he walked south. He knew that ahead, past some three and a half miles of scrubby brush and trees lay the shore of the Mare Aegaeum, as the Romans called it these days, but his goal was a lot closer. Just shy of two furlongs down the road stood the walled, backwater trading polis of Amphipolis.
Been a while, he thought, and this may be the last time. In another day or two there'll be no reason to come this way again. After a few moments' pause for the birth of this new train of thought he muttered, "Honestly, I don't know which was stranger…meeting you again after all that time and having to keep the knowledge to myself, or falling in love with you again. Or maybe it was having you walk out both times and watching your heart cleave to another. Hard to believe we couldn't make it work even with two chances. Still, I'd have thought that once was enough, even in a lifetime like mine."
Another quarter-candlemark brought the big man within sight of the bridge that spanned the river, carrying the trade route east from Macedonia into Thracia. Wains rolled across the heavy planking, wooden wheels creaking on wooden boards two fathoms above the water. Just downriver past the bridge stood a wharf whereat four barges of shallow draught were taking on or unloading cargo. Amphorae of wine and olive oil, bales of cotton and wool, and casks of salted meats were the most recognizable goods he saw. He swept his eyes from the barges back up to the bridge and followed the traffic crossing to the nearer shore. From the bridge a road led up onto a causeway toward pale sandstone walls. It passed through a tall gate and into the city of Amphipolis.
A contingent of Roman sentries stood guard at the threshold, but their vigilance was questionable. An officer sat in the shade of the gate, obviously dozing. Four of his men leaned on the shafts of their pili, helmets in the crooks of their arms, passing a jug of water, (or more likely watered wine), while engaged in an animated conversation. A few civilians passed through the gate without comment from the soldiers.
A glance up to the parapet spanning the gate brought his eyes to pause on a military standard. VII Macedonica, 3rd cohort…one of Octavian's old legions. Back in the day she never would have let them anywhere near Amphipolis without a fight. Pompey and Julius learned that the hard way in '63. Well, I heard that she got along better with Octavian. I guess what's meant to be will be. Things had changed a lot since his last visit sixty-three years before. It was now the 6th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar…20 AD.
"Can I get you some water?" Dark blue eyes dwelt lovingly on the old woman lying abed, but sentiment didn't replace the watcher's native capacity for critical observation. She's breathing easier this afternoon…in fact she looks peaceful. Not bad for someone the physicians said should have passed away 5 months ago…not bad at all for someone who died on one of Caesar's crosses 64 years ago and then lived to be 116.
"No thanks, Lila…I'm fine," the reclining woman said. Her voice was weak but hinted at the velvety tone of years gone by. She closed her eyes for a moment as she inhaled deeply and then met the younger woman's eyes again. "I know I've never been good with words, but I couldn't have wished for a finer granddaughter. Ya can't imagine how proud you've made me. Don't ever forget that I love you."
"I…I know," Lila replied, the shudder in her voice a rare thing from the warrior who's mother had once been the Bitch of Rome. Yet she was a grandmother herself now, 64 years of age and a retired Imperial Ambassador. "I wish my mother could have been here with you." But Eve had passed away at the age of 79, eleven years before.
"Me too," Xena whispered. And I wish you were still here with me, Gabrielle, but I'll be seein' ya again real soon. At least I won't be leavin' ya alone when I go now. I woulda liked to've seen your granddaughters again. It's been a decade and more since I last saw the retired twin Queens of the Amazon Nation. It's your great-granddaughter who's rulin' there now, Gabrielle, Queen Antiope III.
Lila reached out and took Xena's hand in her own and gave it a tender squeeze. She was surprised at the firmness of the return grip and looked back into her grandmother's eyes. A slight grin curled one side of the old woman's lips.
"Ya know what I'd really like?" Xena asked softly.
"Anything you want, just ask…"
"I'd like a can of ice cold Classic Coke," she answered with a grin.
At the confusion on her granddaughter's face, the old clone chuckled. After 64 years she still remembered the taste of her favorite 21st century soft drink. The only other souls in this time who would've known what she meant were gone to their graves; Secunda in 4 BC and cloned Gabrielle in 7 AD. A somber look came over Xena's face. Here at the end I'm the sole survivor. When I'm gone the Greek language'll lose a few words, at least for a couple thousand years anyway. Coke, clone, Camaro, cruise missile, scramjet, Pepsi, The Conqueror…hmmm, maybe just as well, I guess.
For a while the two women lapsed into a comfortable silence. The rays of the afternoon sun crept across the smooth boards of the floor and Xena's critical eye reported just past four candlemarks after the zenith. The progression of light from the window was as foolproof and familiar to her as the shadow on the sundial downstairs in the courtyard of Cyrene's Inn. A few more minutes passed before the hurried scuttle of little feet on the hall stairs made the two perk up.
"Anara," Lila muttered with a tender smile. Always in a hurry.
Xena listened a moment longer.
"Cyrene," she murmured in disagreement.
A moment later a 4 year old girl tip-toed into the room, having remembered to slow her headlong rush just after passing the threshold, an earnest and contrite look on her face. Both of the adults smiled in greeting.
"What's the hurry, little Cyrene?" Xena asked while stifling her smirk of triumph.
Lila rolled her eyes, wondering yet again for a moment at her grandmother's infallible ability to recognize her twin great-granddaughters by their footfalls. It was just one of her 'many skills' and a part of her very real mystique…a part of her legend.
Lila couldn't begin to guess just how many secrets Xena still held. She sometimes wondered how much knowledge, how many tales, and what unique experiences would die with her. Of course there were the stories that Lila knew, scrolls and scrolls of them written down by grandmother's beloved Gabrielle, but as a girl she'd heard many more that weren't preserved anywhere and were already fading from her memory. Gods and monsters and strange lands far beyond the horizon populated those incredible adventures. That not-so-distant time had seemed like another world. Lila shook her head and then focused on her granddaughter's answer to Xena's question.
"A big man's downstairs," the girl reported. "He's asking for you, Gram'ma Xena."
Xena cocked a brow and then asked, "Have ya ever seen him before?"
"Nope," Cyrene answered with a shrug, "but he said you did."
The aged warrior's brows knitted in curiosity.
"That could be a lot 'a people," she mused. "What's he wearin', Cyrene?"
"A yellowy shirt an' brown pants, an' brown arm guards with silver an' big red gems on 'em."
Lila looked at her granddaughter in confusion, but Xena nodded.
"Ya got a good eye, little Cyrene," she praised. "Did he have sleeves on his shirt?"
"Nope," the girl said with certainty, adding, "and he got a big belt, but no sword."
To Lila's surprise, Xena smiled broadly and told the girl, "G'wan back down an' tell him to come on up, please. He's an old friend alright an' I'd like to see him."
Little Cyrene nodded to Xena, and as she turned around to hurry back out of the room, they heard her mutter, "he don't look so old."
"No, he wouldn't," the dying Warrior Princess said softly to herself, "he never did."
Then, as the girl's footsteps accelerated in the hall, she called out the child, "Don't you run on the stairs, Cyrene," and Lila was surprised at the strength of command still in the old woman's voice. The fading footsteps obediently slowed down.
When Lila turned back to look at Xena, she saw the ghost of a smile on her face. Curiosity prompted her and she couldn't help but ask, "Who is he, grandmother?"
At first Xena didn't answer because she was deep in thought, but then a twinkle returned to the older woman's eyes. She had a secret to enjoy.
"Actually he's a distant relation, a half-brother to my father, an' we have some history," she offered. The momentary pout of frustration on her granddaughter's face was funny and oddly satisfying. "We go back almost 90 years."
Xena's comment made the younger woman's jaw drop open in surprise. Now Lila expected to see a well-preserved man on his last legs, perhaps assisted by a grandson or great-grandson, and hobbling on crutches if not being carried on a litter. There was no way she expected the tall, robust man who entered a few moments later. Indeed, when Lila first saw him she took him for a body-guard or a trusted servant, for he appeared almost unnaturally athletic and certainly no more than 30. He was also ruggedly handsome and his bare arms attested to the solid muscularity of a warrior. Lila saw that he wore heavy bracers, but as Cyrene had said, he bore no sword on his belt. A servant then, Lila decided, for a body-guard would have been armed. My grandmother's friend must be a man of wealth and importance. She checked the hall, gazing past him out the door to look for his master, but she saw no one.
The big man had given Lila a glance and then turned his attention to the bed. He carefully hid his surprise at finding his fellow warrior so aged and instead smiled broadly in recognition. He could still see the woman she had been.
"My old friend," Xena said as the man approached her bed. She had matched his smile with one of her own and her sky-blue eyes twinkled. "It's good to see ya again."
The man had offered his hand and the two clasped forearms in a warrior's greeting as Lila looked on in complete surprise.
"Xena," he said softly, "It's been too long. I'm glad I arrived in time."
"So am I."
Then Xena glanced over at her granddaughter, silently urging her closer.
"I'd like ya to meet my granddaughter, Lila," Xena said, and after a pause she completed the introductions with, "Lila, this is my old friend, Herakles."
The man offered his hand and Lila grasped his forearm in greeting, though for several heartbeats she was wide-eyed and shocked to silence from learning his name. By the Gods, he's a son of Zeus! But the stories say he died over a thousand years ago!
"I-it's an h-honor to m-meet you, Herakles," Lila finally managed to stammer out.
"And I'm honored to meet you again, Lila," the big man said with a warm smile. "The last time I visited Amphipolis you were a baby in your first year."
Lila nodded. There was really nothing she could say. Like most people, she had no memories of her first years of life. Still holding her hand, Herakles continued.
"I've heard that, like your grandmother and her partner, you also served the late emperor as an ambassador."
"I was appointed to that office when Xena and Gabrielle retired. That was in the spring of 3 BC. Xena and Gabrielle relinquished their offices on the passing of Queen Hope. I served as Imperial Ambassador to the Amazon Nation under the rule of the twin Queens Asteria and Aristomakhe"
Herakles nodded. That tradition of service to both the Amazon Nation and the Empire had continued with Lila's daughter Terreis, named for the Amazon Queen who had befriended the soulmates prior to the birth of Xena's daughter Eve. Now it was Eve's granddaughter, Terreis of Amphipolis, who acted as Imperial Ambassador to the Amazon Queen Antiope III, Gabrielle's great-granddaughter. The present day connection between the Amazons and Xena's family seemed to have become a constant, Herakles thought, and that was fitting, but it had not begun with Xena and Gabrielle.
"I'm glad Emperor Tiberius has chosen to continue the policies of Augustus Caesar regarding the Amazons," he said. Then turning back to Xena, he added, "they still fear you, you know."
Xena closed her eyes for a moment, remembering why. I have secrets still.
The Roman Empire had tried to assault the Amazon Nation more than once, but that had been decades ago, in her own time. It had come to a head in 58 BC with Brutus' assault when Queen Ephiny had been slain and Eve kidnapped. In response, Xena had enflamed the army of the Amazon Nation, leading them in the slaughter of the legions of Pompey the Magnus, whom she'd personally beheaded. Afterwards she had sworn an oath of war, for nothing would stop her from recovering her daughter from her greatest enemy, Gaius Julius Caesar. Twelve years of mayhem had followed, in which Xena and Gabrielle had practically single-handedly caused the deaths of 86,000 Roman soldiers. They had finally succeeded in liberating Eve in 46 BC, but what Herakles spoke of had come later.
The original Xena had died at Caesar's hand, crucified in Rome with her beloved Gabrielle on the Ides of March in 44 BC. The Xena who lay dying in Amphipolis now was a clone from a far distant future, deadlier than the original, but the Xena that Herakles knew as the Guardian of the Amazon Nation had been an enhanced clone of herself, the superlative warrior Secunda. And of Secunda had come strategies and a style of fighting so deadly that the Nation had never again been threatened by Roman legions.
I have so many secrets to take to the grave.
"I gave 'em plenty of reasons to fear me," Xena murmured at last, "an' scaring the Romans into peaceful relations with the Amazons is one of my best achievements."
Herakles chuckled. This was the Xena he had known; a master warrior unafraid to act. Sometimes results did justify means, but it was dangerous ground, acting as judge, jury, and executioner. It required strength, honor, conscience, ethics, and above all, a good heart. He'd been doing it for centuries himself, but he'd had to learn how. Before learning that lesson he'd been a pawn of the Olympians…their avenger and attack dog.
He shook his head to dispel those thoughts. He had a few questions for his old friend and it appeared that this was the last chance he'd ever have to ask them. He also had a few things to tell her, and this was the last chance for that too. It took him a few moments to compose his mind, but at last he spoke.
"You were a busy woman, Xena, but a fair resolution and a lasting peace are worthy goals no matter what effort it took to achieve them. I'm glad you succeeded so well. I've heard a few stories about it and a few things have always caught my attention."
Xena quirked a brow, her trademark expression of curiosity, urging Herakles to speak his mind. At this point in her life there was very little she wouldn't tell her old friend about her past campaigns. Now she wondered what the big man would ask.
"I remember hearing some stories about the defense of the Amazon homelands back in '31, when Antony was moving his troops to meet Octavian at Actium. They said that you were there and your daughter Eve too, but I couldn't believe you would have left Amphipolis with all those legions passing through the Stryma Vale. The stories told of ghost warriors, invisible fighters who slaughtered Antony's legionnaires with impunity. For decades afterwards there were stories about you guarding the Nation, wielding twin Chakrams and moving too fast to see. Now exaggeration aside, what caught my attention was the fact that while you were fast, you were never 'too fast to see'. You'd never used more than one Chakram, and that was a Combined Chakram, not the plain rings the stories told of…and you never disappeared."
Xena regarded Herakles in silence, digesting his words. Lila sat silently beside her, unsure of what to think. She'd heard some stories too, but they'd been from the years before her time and she'd always regarded them as just stories grown bigger than life…a part of Xena's legend. Finally Xena sighed.
"The reason I'm asking this is because I've seen it before," Herakles said softly, "not the twin Chakrams, but I have seen you move to fast to see, and I've seen you disappear."
Lila gasped in shock at the big man's words. What he claimed was surely impossible. Her grandmother had been regarded as the greatest warrior of her time, but to disappear? To move too fast to see? She glanced back and forth between her grandmother and Herakles and saw no jest or humor in their faces. They were both completely serious. A chill passed down her spine.
"When?" Xena asked softly, almost as if she were afraid to hear an answer she already knew. "Where?"
Herakles sighed. By not denying his claims outright Xena had all but agreed to them.
"It was over 1,200 years ago now, along the southern coast of the Pontus Euxinus" he answered.
Before he could continue Xena shuddered and closed her eyes, suppressing the strength of her reaction. She had never forgotten the one they had left behind at Aulis, for like Secunda, that clone too had been piece of herself. Prima….
While Secunda had spent long solitary months guarding the Strategos Hypatos'ivgrowing army, Secunda's identical sister had accompanied Xena in the opening of her war of conquest in the future world that she had destroyed,. And when Xena had finally enacted a plan to redeem that world's fate, it had been Secunda's identical sister who had remained behind in a distant past, for her duty had been to assure the outcome of the Strategos' plan. Neither Xena nor Secunda had ever seen or heard of her again. She had been sent on a mission from which there could be no return, but her success had been felt on every day since. The very least that Xena could do now was to hear whatever she could to honor that warrior's life and service, and with the indomitable will of a god's past Favorite, she would forestall even her own death to do so. The position she had held as commander demanded it.
"How did you find her?" Xena finally asked in a voice choked with feeling. She had to know, now that obtaining that knowledge had become possible.
Herakles looked at his old friend carefully, surprised by the raw emotion evident in her voice. The memories were powerful for him too. He took a moment to compose his thoughts and his eyes became distant, searching back across the long years of his life, back to a time of war, back to a time when he had not been the man he was today.
For all his strength and the immortality conferred upon him by his divine blood, he had been used by the gods and by his fellow men. He had done celebrated deeds and become a legend in his own time, but that man had eventually learned that there was much more to living a good life. He had learned enough to change his whole outlook, his whole mode of conduct, and to do that, he had found it necessary to publish the fiction of his own death so that he could make a fresh start. It had been centuries before he'd even been able to reclaim his rightful name. In the lost time that he was preparing to revisit now, he had learned what it really meant to be a hero.
Over a background softly lapping of waves the inky night's humid sea breeze tousled the flames of a thousand campfires dotting the Troad shoreline. Unsteady shadows of men and gear flickered against the hulls of almost 700 ships drawn up on the surf-washed sand. The army of the Achaeans was bivouacked for their assault on Ilios, but the war had stalemated. Indecisive combat had flared off and on for the last ten years. Many champions had fallen on the plain before the walls of Priam's city. Many warriors had shed their blood and many songs had been composed in their honor, but no resolution to the conflict could be seen. After a decade the Achaeans still held the same toehold on the beach that they'd taken in the opening days of the war. Now frustration was rife in the ranks and bickering was ubiquitous in the camp. The relationship between the leaders had degenerated until many soldiers expected that the infighting between the surviving kings would rage no less bitterly than that between the Achaeans and the Dardanians. It was a case of too many masterful personalities too close together for too long, and with too few victories to brag about. It was mid-spring, 1251 BC.
On the far left flank, furthest upstream and nearest the Hellespont, a ship stood somewhat apart. Around a fire beside it sat a company of warriors speaking quietly and drinking wine. The rows of shields leaning up against the hull bore the episemavof a cresting wave in white on a blue-green field, the emblem of the Isle of Ithaka.
A little inland from the company sat two warriors, each holding a cup. One wore a cuirass of gilded bronze, marking him as a king. The other was a woman with a long sword sheathed on her back and wearing a full-body kataphractesvimade of a fine-woven black material. Two emblems it bore, a seated lion in gold on the right shoulder and the blood red Sigil of War on the left collar. The two were arguing in hushed tones about the war. Their disagreement was long-standing, but mutual respect had kept them from more heated discourse…that and necessity.
"Again you press this plan of yours, and as ever I feel it ridiculous," the king told the warrior. "Old Priam is no fool. He would never fall for such a gambit."
"He need not be a fool to take the counsel of foolish advisors, my Lord. It's happened before. The wishful thinking of those within the walls shall make them see what we show them. If you can convince King Agamemnon to accept this plan we shall finally have victory." A wry grin followed, and then the observation, "We've little left to lose."
"We would almost certainly lose those secreted within…so few against the whole of the city," the king said. A twinkle in his eyes belied his grim words. If they continued as they had and didn't try something so outlandish they would all certainly die slowly, say, over the next ten years. "…and with no chance of reinforcement or retreat."
"Not necessarily. Surprise is a most valuable weapon and I will be among those inside. If they fail, I shall die with my plan. My conviction that we shall succeed is such that I would willingly gamble my own life along with any who accompany me."
"So you've said, Prima, and all else you've predicted in this war has come true. I should believe you. The Sigil of Ares you wear and your prowess in battle speak of some divine gift that you enjoy. Have you seen a vision? Did the God of War speak to you of this?"
"I have the benefit of many visions, King Odysseus, and the defeat of Ilios is one."
"And you really saw them fall for this giant wooden horse you urge us to build?"
"Just as I saw the deaths of Hector and Achilles, Paris and Ajax, I have seen the sack of the city. Once again I ask you to speak to Agamemnon. It's been ten years, Odysseus; don't you want to go home?"
The King of Ithaka sighed and drained his cup. He looked over at the strange warrior who had become his most trusted confidant. She was the only woman at arms in the camp, a last minute recruit from Aulis whom he'd accepted to fill a birth at the oars left by a soldier who'd died of dysentery. She'd begged him for the chance to go to war. His men had thought him crazy for accepting her until the fighting had started. Afterwards they hadn't dared to speak against her. None of them had ever seen one so sure in combat, wielding her unusual sword and her ring-blade, but never a shield or a spear. Around her the bodies of vanquished enemies fell like wheat before the scythe. Arrows they had seen bounce off her form, and when she needed to, she moved faster than anyone thought possible for a mortal. Some had whispered that she was more deadly than Achilles, and like him, blessed by the gods with invulnerability. Now she had outlived him.
For many years Odysseus had believed her blessed with divine favor. She had the audacity to wear the personal symbol of the God of War. But more than this, she was deadlier than anyone he'd ever known, to his eyes more beautiful even than Helen, and she understood battle tactics and strategy like a crafty veteran general.
Ten long years he had fought beside her and she was still a great mystery. Her name was Latin but she claimed to be a Thracian, and both locales were barbaric. Yet her peerless weapons came from neither place…indeed from no place save perhaps the forge of Hephaestos himself. Her woven armor had to be the work of Athena's loom for it never showed any wear.
He shook his head. She believed whole-heartedly in her plan and she was willing to stake her life on it. What more could he ask of any warrior? And she was right about one thing; for the last ten years they had failed. Morale was at an all time low, but Agamemnon would never give up this war. They really did have little to lose.
"Very well," Odysseus finally said. "In the morning I'll talk to Agamemnon and put forward your plan. Either you'll get your chance to die or I'll be laughed off the beach."
"I've had plenty of chances to die, my friend. Let's win this war and then leave this wretched land. I can smell the sea and the rotten Scamander every moment of every day. I yearn for fresh air and wooded valleys, fishing off Thasos and wandering the Stryma Vale, mountain streams in Thessaly, and even snow."
Odysseus looked at Prima in surprise. She had never waxed poetic like that before.
For a moment she maintained a straight face and then she broke out in a chuckle. The King of Ithaka shook his head at her jest.
She said, "I'll settle for another cup of wine."
"And I shall remember this as the night I lost my wits and let myself be convinced to make a fool of myself before my overlord."
In the firelight ice-blue eyes gleamed with satisfaction. At last the completion of her mission had moved a step closer. Wiley and worldly, King Odysseus had become her friend. She hoped that history would remember him for suggesting this tactic to Agamemnon, but she knew he would always be more widely remembered for his journey home. Still, she felt fond of this king.
"Say rather that on this night you have learnt again that to conquer, sometimes one must capitulate."
After some moments the King of Ithaka broke eye contact with her and looked inland, into the night that shrouded the besieged city. When he spoke, it was softly.
"You really believe that this plan will work, my friend?"
"I know it will work. I have foreseen it."
She had answered with such absolute certainty that a chill had swept up his spine.
"Then I shall propose that I go with you…inside the horse. Agamemnon will be much more likely to give his blessing if he sees me willing to gamble my own life."
Prima's brows knitted in surprise, and though he was still looking away, he could feel the question in her glance. Why volunteer, my friend? You have much to lose and much to live for. Yes, they knew each other well. He answered her unasked question.
"Someone has to be in charge."
And I had always thought that you were tricked into leading the mission by Agamemnon! History should recall your part more truly, my friend.
Strangely, having finally made up his mind, Odysseus felt more at ease than he had in years. In fact he felt as if he could enjoy a night's sleep. He thought it a good omen.
Many years later, lost at sea and alone, he recalled that never had he been so bewitched by a fellow soldier. But Prima's plan had worked flawlessly and Ilios had fallen just as she'd said. He still wondered what had happened to her afterwards, for she had left the Achaean armada after the sack of Ilios and had chosen not to return by sea.
"There's a nation here that I need to help…a people who lost their queen in this war."
At the time he'd thought she'd meant the Dardanians, but upon later reflection he came to believe that she'd been referring to the Amazons, the only allies of the enemy whom she'd refused to oppose. Queen Penthesilia had died at Achilles' hand and the treatment of her body afterwards had been despicable, though great effort had been expended to cover this up. Indeed when Achilles had stripped her corpse of its armor for plunder he was smitten by her beauty and he took her nude body into his tent for a night before turning her cadaver over to Diomedes who threw her into the River Scamander. At least the Dardanians had recovered her body and given her a proper funeral pyre.
Odysseus thought that if any warrior in the Achaean army were due the testimony of history, it should surely be Prima. After all, it had been her strategy that had brought the final resolution to a decade of bloody fighting. Along with the men who had gone with her inside that wooden horse, he had seen her almost single-handedly win the gate, slaughtering any who stood against her. From the moment they'd burst from hiding she had been a whirlwind, and then she'd disappeared! One moment she'd been with them; the next moment she was gone. But the bodies had continued to fall, and they'd marked her trail to the great west gate of Ilios. Yes, she certainly deserved renown more than he, for here he was, ship wrecked, cursed by Poseidon, and lost at sea. He had no doubts that in a generation, no one would remember his name.
But Prima's road led not to fame. Instead history remembered Akhilleus and Ajax, Agamemnon and Hektor, Priam and Menelaus, Paris and Helen, and Odysseus. Still, the cloned warrior had accomplished half the mission her Strategos had laid before her and she was content with her achievement.
After leaving the burnt ruins of Priam's city behind, Prima had made her way east. For 3 weeks she'd traveled the southern coast of the Propontus, and coming to the Bosporus Thracius, she had passed onto the coast of the Pontus Euxinus. There the stories of the people she sought were more current and more precise. Instead of 'go east to the land of the endless plains', she heard, 'follow this coast for 50 days to the mouth of the River Thermodon and then turn south until they take you.' So she had continued past fishing villages and nomad camps, past herders and their flocks, upsetting many and dispatching a few bandits along the way. Largely she'd kept to herself for most fled from her dark and threatening visage and some cried out that a daemon walked the land….an unquiet spirit of retribution liberated by the war. She didn't need the drama and those people had nothing she wanted. She had her directions and she had her mission.
On her 48th day Prima was indeed taken by the people she sought, however that statement might be considered misleading. It was mid-morning when she heard the faint sound of many hoof beats at a gallop and the cries of many riders. The clone hastened to the crest of one of the many rolling ridges inland from the coast and the elevation gave her a vantage point over a sweeping valley that had opened up to the south. Down in the lowland a chase was in progress and it took les than a heartbeat for Prima to register the gravity of the situation. Passing before her a furlong downhill, a party of horsemen was pursuing a trio of riders.
Prima watched just long enough to be sure that this was a race to the death. The three riders were female warriors bristling with weapons. They bore crescent shaped shields of painted rawhide, gorytoi, grosphoi, and one carried a labrys. Each wore a short sword sheathed at her belt. Two rode less than a horse length apart, while the third trailed them by two horse lengths. From over 200 yards, the clone's superb eyesight reported the desperation on the women's' faces and the determined look of the men who gave chase. She counted four two-man chariots and eleven more riders in pursuit. Save that their shields were oblong they were armed much like their prey. Cimmerians…
As she watched, the lead man sent an arrow after the fleeing women. It leapt forward in a low ballistic trajectory and lodged itself in the hindquarters of the trailing woman's horse. With a squeal the animal faltered, stumbled, and fell, tossing its rider. To her surprise, Prima watched the airborne woman tuck and roll, losing her aspisxi and grosphos, but recovering to her feet in full stride. Excellent reactions…superb conditioning.
The unhorsed woman called out to the two riders pulling away from her and they turned in their saddles. Both slowed their mounts. One began leaning into a sharp turn, intending to return for her sister, but the running woman clearly gestured for her to maintain her flight. The gap between them and the pursuing men closed further.
For a moment indecision ruled the turning rider and Prima heard the running woman call out again. Even from a furlong away, she recognized the tone of command in her youthful voice. The rider wavered a heartbeat longer, but then with a shriek of rage, turned back to follow the remaining rider. She caught up and then both kicked their horses to top speed. Then the runner stopped and turned to face her pursuers. She planted her feet firmly and drew the bow from her gorytos. In a moment she had knocked an arrow.
The clone took it all in with a moment's glance. She saw the woman's long, pale hair, lighter than her tanned skin, flowing free in the breeze. She noted her evenly balanced stance and the perfection of her form as she drew her bow. She heard the shouts of the Cimmerians as they closed on their quarry, and a final scream of defiance and heartache as the two women galloped away from their doomed leader. She saw the thrashing of the wounded horse biting at the shaft lodged deep in its buttock. Prima took it all in, but her decision to act had already been made. Only her shadow racing downhill at inhuman speed crossed the coarse grass.
In the early 21st century the shamaness Alti had mistakenly created clones of Melinda Pappas and Janice Covington from DNA in hairs recovered from the Tomb of Ares in Macedonia. Knowing no better, she had programmed them with the memories of the original Xena and Gabrielle. She had succeeded in recreating one of the most lethal duos in all of ancient history, but now those spirits inhabited bodies deadlier than the originals. In the end Alti's acts of hubris had been rewarded with death.
Cloned Xena and Gabrielle had escaped into the bewildering modern world, and there they had met a divine enemy whose machinations had cost Gabrielle's clone her life. In doing so she had liberated the Destroyer of Nations, and driven her to war. To fight the army of a goddess and ensure her own subsequent conquest of the world, Xena's clone had created a cloned army. There were 8,000 exact duplicates of herself and a pair of 'specials' who could radically outperform her. With them she had laid waste the world and become The Conqueror.
A furlong could take a mortal athlete perhaps 20 seconds to run. Prima was faster…much faster. The genetic enhancements she had been engineered with allowed her to run a mile in under 90 seconds, but in a flat-out dash she could cover 100 yards in a hair over 3 seconds. She closed on the lone archer faster than the pursuing horsemen.
During the six and one-half seconds it took Prima to cover the 220 yards to the woman, the clone saw the lead rider draw a second arrow from his quiver. She saw him fit it to his bowstring, and as he drew, she saw the standing woman fire. She saw her arrow fly. With the clarity of one who registered information faster than any person who had ever lived she clearly saw the impact. The arrow took the rider square in the chest, lifting his mount's forelock as it passed, and pitching him from the saddle. She heard the roar of anger from the man riding to his right, and she saw him draw his own bow. She watched the speed with which the woman brought a second arrow to her bowstring and knew the man would fire first. And as he rode down on the lone woman, his shot would gain the speed of his mount added to the speed of his bow. Unless he was an unexpectedly poor archer his arrow would find its mark just as the woman released her second shot. It was simple physics. Prima saw that the woman was doomed.
So it was that Prima played her trump card. The man finished sighting his target, and his lips curled in a grim smile as he held her at arrow point. The sound of his bowstring releasing was joined by the warbling whine of an unknown projectile moving at blinding speed. It was the last moment of mundane reality for the Cimmerians that day.
In the next instant the shards of the rider's arrow exploded a dozen yards in front of him, and even as his horse balked in fright he caught a single glimpse of sliver streaking toward him. Then something as heavy as a discus slammed into his chest and crushed his sternum. The impact lifted him from his saddle, and in an airborne moment, he saw the head of the man to his left flung up into the air. As he hit the ground a scream rang out from behind him, accompanied by a clang like a grosphos ricocheting off a bronze aspis. Then just before the chariot that had been following him ran him down, he saw a female figure in black appear in front of their quarry.
Now the Cimmerians, like any folk of the great eastern steppes, believed in spirits and daemons. In their open homelands such apparitions rode the winds and slipped though the night. They howled and cried and shrieked, but usually went unseen. To meet one would mean death, and all nomadic people knew of men found cold and dead without a mark on them…found with an expression of abject terror frozen on their faces.
So when a female figure black as night loomed up out of nothing between them and their prey, when they saw their arrows bounce off that devil with no effect, and when they saw the whistling ring that had brought death to four of their own return to her hand, they knew without a doubt that they were in mortal danger from a supernatural force. The woman they had intended to kill or make captive enjoyed daemonic protection. Her peoples' magick was stronger than their own and they would die if they didn't turn away. To them, it was simple physics. Like their fallen brothers, they would be doomed.
When the black daemon drew a long silver sword from behind her back and stalked fearlessly towards them, they turned their mounts and fled. They didn't even stop to collect their dead, for every one of them could feel the malice rolling off that advancing figure. They could feel how much it would relish slaying them, how strongly it sought their deaths. And it had long been known that a soul taken thus by a daemon might never escape its killer. Just like the scalps that they themselves took as battle trophies to render the vengeful spirits of their vanquished enemies impotent against them, such a powerful and hate-filled daemon could constrain their spirits forever by possession of a talisman. Here they chanced not the death of a pain-filled moment, but eternal servitude to their slayer. The woman they'd pursued wasn't worth it…not nearly.
When they had dwindled into rising dust and fading hoof beats, Prima turned to face the woman she had saved. She found herself staring eye to eye with her down the shaft of an arrow pointed at her heart. The woman was every bit as scared of her as the Cimmerians had been, and for much the same reasons. Prima detected the faintest of trembling in the hand that held the string taut. Such tremors were not fatigue in such a proficient toxotès, not while her body was still awash with adrenalin. All Prima could think was, by Ares, she's young.
The last thing the lone woman expected was to be spared by the black daemon. She had seen the Cimmerians' arrows bounce harmlessly off the daemon's body and she knew her own arrow would have no more effect. She realized that she was helpless and her helplessness felt far more terrifying than what she'd faced as her enemies had charged to ride her down. Standing a fathom in front of her was, not the death of a pain-filled moment, but rather the loss of her soul forever. And being thus lost, she would never find her way to the Land of the Dead where the spirits of all the fallen Amazons gathered. She bit her tongue to focus herself with pain. This daemon's eyes are so blue…blue as the cloudless skies…blue as forever. Surely I am lost. Despite being a warrior and a princess, a whimper escaped her and she added humiliation to her fear.
The daemon stared down the arrow into her eyes and calmly replaced the ring-shaped weapon on her belt. She didn't break eye contact for many long moments, and with each moment, the Amazon felt the strength of her resolve fade. This daemon feels no threat, no hurry, and no uncertainty about what will happen next. She knows I am at her mercy. I have no hope of escape…no deliverance from this fate. A-and I am so scared. Why am I to be denied a warrior's death? Why am I to be parted forever from my people? Why me? A single tear escaped and trickled down her cheek. To her humiliation and fear she added shame and hopelessness. She was still several moons from marking her fifteenth year.
In an act of resigned capitulation she lowered the bow and relaxed the tension on the string. Her arms dropped, holding the useless weapon before her, and she forced her eyes away from those twin blue pools of eternity. She scanned the daemon's face, taking in her arched brows, surprisingly delicate and expressive, and perfectly delineated. A straight nose, distinct cheek bones, lips neither puffy nor thin, and an ever-so-slightly dimpled chin…so beautiful!
Huh? The Amazon shook herself. She had very nearly fallen under a spell and she had found it almost pleasant. Here was a danger greater than any she'd ever known and greater than any she had supposed. For a moment she had been full-willing to meet her eternal fate…and enjoy it! This daemon holds the powers of Hypnos. She could bind my spirit in service without even killing me first! It was absolutely horrifying.
The black daemon moved and the young Amazon watched in fascination as she sheathed her sword with a deliberate and fluid motion. It drew her eyes away from the daemon's face so that they raked across her figure. She was tall and lithe, yet her body was well developed and toned beneath her black hide. Strong shoulders and full breasts narrowed to a flat tummy before widening to her hips and long sculpted thighs. Both her arms and legs showed superbly defined muscles. She's proportioned like a goddess…in fact she's absolutely stunning! In a tribe of thousands, this woman would stand apart for the perfection of her face and form. Many warriors would vie for her attentions and the one she chose would be envied like a queen, for such a lover would turn every head she passed. Even I would trade my future crown for her heart.
Having thought it, the young Amazon was shocked and horrified. Without realizing it, she had accorded the daemon the status of a mortal woman…and more than that, a mortal woman of surpassing desirability. A woman so enticing as to incite the lust of a princess who had not yet taken her first lover. My gods, I shall die anointed with my own arousal!
With a shiver she began to understand just how lost she was. Surely her eternal death was only moments away and yet here she was daydreaming about her killer becoming her lover! The fantasy was so seductive, so compelling…and despite everything, it felt so right. This was a huge conflict, something truly inexplicable. In her heart lust vied with mortal terror and it had come upon her in a moment, supremely exciting. She was so absorbed that she didn't even notice the growing rumble in the earth. While the daemon raised a sculpted brow and cocked her head to listen, she stood frozen in silence, waiting with both apprehension and anticipation. It was only when the rumbling graduated to thunder as hippikon topped the ridge she'd been fleeing towards that she tore her gaze from the daemon and took a glance over her shoulder.
Under a rising cloud of dust the thunder faded. A hekatontarchia of the Amazon cavalry reined to a halt just over the crest of the ridge. At their head sat a tall woman wearing a slender circlet of gold binding her lustrous dark hair. Her left arm was hidden behind a black, crescent-shaped aspis emblazoned with an indistinct red episema. Behind it her hand clutched a grosphos held upright at an angle against her thigh. Her sharp, dark eyes flicked over the scene in the valley below.
Upon seeing this woman, the young Amazon immediately bowed her head. Prima surveyed the scene in a heartbeat, making the actual count of the mounted warriors at 113. Including their war queen…very good. The cavalry began to advance at a fast walk.
"Who is she," Prima whispered to the young woman she'd just saved. The clone had remained motionless where she'd stood.
"S-she is our q-queen," the young warrior stuttered, utterly shocked that the daemon had spoken. At the same time she felt a stab of jealousy. The daemon was showing interest in another woman…one of the few in the tribe whose will could supersede her own desires. She stared at the daemon but saw no spark of interest further than a dispassionate appraisal of the newcomers. It gave her a moment's boldness and she offered, "H-her n-name is Hippolyte."
The ice-blue eyes snapped back to her own, leaving her feeling as if she were falling.
"She is my elder sister," she blurted out, as if the words had been forced from her.
And with that, the young Amazon felt a thrill as Prima's eyes widened a hair and focused even more intensely upon her. Now rather than feeling as if she were falling into the sky, that sky seemed to be rushing down upon her. It left her terrified and exhilarated at the same time. Almost, she forgot the approach of her queen.
"Quickly, warrior, what is your name?" Prima hissed.
The urgency and command in that question brooked no hesitation in answering. The force of will behind that voice was as self-assured and authoritative as her queen's.
A raised eyebrow.
Lost in the blue of eyes deeper than the sky, the young princess could only nod 'yes'.
In another handful of moments they were surrounded by a thicket of grosphoi and knocked arrows above a solid wall of horse-flesh. From that encircling wall of hippikon Queen Hippolyte looked down on her sister and the clone. Sharp of mind and eye, she was not for a moment fooled by Prima's uniform. She read the insignias. Rather than a daemon, the queen saw a female warrior, strange, certainly foreign, but not supernatural. Where her sister and the Cimmerians had over-estimated the 'special', Hippolyte now erred on the side of under-estimation.
"Who are you?" She demanded. "Whom do you serve?"
Prima looked the queen directly in the eyes, showing neither fear nor deference. If violence began she knew she could slay every warrior present using moves from the training exercise The Smashing of the Wheel. When she answered it was in a clear voice evincing neither challenge nor submission.
"I am called Prima. I serve the Strategos Hypatos, and through her, Ares, the true God of War," and with a nod to the faded episema on Hippolyte's aspis, she added, "As do you."
Angry murmuring grew amongst the surrounding warriors. Their queen served no one. Rather, she lived to rule the tribe when conflict threatened. The undercurrent of protest rose until Hippolyte raised a hand for quiet. Obedient silence ensued, but it was a tense silence. Antiope looked from her sister to her savior.
"She saved my life, my queen," she said quietly.
For what seemed a long time the queen stared down at Prima and Prima stared back undaunted. Refusing to lower her eyes was considered in itself, an affront to many of the gathered Amazons and the tension in the circle of warriors rose again. Horses shifted, sensing the disquiet of their riders.
"What do you seek in our lands?" Hippolyte finally asked.
Without hesitation, Prima answered, "To join your tribe."
Despite their queen's earlier 'suggestion' of silence, the Amazons broke out again in vocal objection. It went on for some moments before the queen stood up with her feet planted in the belly band of her saddle.
"Enough!" Hippolyte proclaimed. "My sister's word is enough for now. There are many questions, but you all know that our tribe has accepted outsiders before. And for those of you who forget, my foremother Lysippe, founder of Themiskyra, was the granddaughter of Harmonia and Ares. The God of War blessed our people in the beginning. Though we also worship Artemis now, do we not still sacrifice to Ares before we ride to battle? The symbol upon my shield is his sigil, and this stranger wears it as well. Bring a horse for the princess. We return home."
Three months later beneath the 8th full moon of the year, Prima stood in a fire-lit circle in the center of the Amazon city of Themiskyra. The beating of a hundred drums split the soft night air. After showing the tribe that she had learned the ritual dances and reciting the oath of fealty to the queen, only one ceremony remained before the clone was fully initiated as a warrior of the tribe. Any other woman would have been flush with pride. For Prima, it was no more or less than she had expected.
Among her first imperatives in becoming an Amazon had been acquiring a horse. 'An Amazon isn't an Amazon without a horse, Prima,' the queen had told her, and so she had gone out that afternoon, alone and with only a rope. When she'd returned that evening it had been with a pale mare, a large and powerful horse that already seemed to obey her. The Amazons were surprised that the Thracian, who had arrived on foot, seemed to know horseflesh. But for Prima, programmed with a lifetime of Xena's memories, there was nothing the tribe could teach her of horsemanship. She'd ridden into the city that evening without bit, bridle, or saddle, the rope still encircling her waist. Prima had told no one that she'd actually run the horse down on foot, exhausting it and taming it in a quick contest of wills. Thereafter she had let it roam the city untethered and called it with a whistle. And to the Amazons' consternation she'd named it for an enemy polis; Argo.
"She is not like us, my queen," the old shamaness Polydora had warned moons ago, "and that will be both a good and a bad thing. Her presence here will usher in a time of change, but her loyalty will never be questioned." It had been enough for the queen.
Now Hippolyte herself came forward holding the ceremonial dagger, and though her face was somber, her eyes smiled at the newest Amazon. Over the last three moons the queen had learned much about the clone and had come to esteem her. Saving the life of her sister had been a good start to the relationship. Prima's consummate skills and battle prowess had cemented her respect. There seemed to be nothing the foreign warrior couldn't do. She learned faster than anyone Hippolyte had ever known, and at arms, none could match her. And the young princess was obviously smitten. Hippolyte allowed herself the hint of a grin at this. Her sister followed the soon-to-be warrior around like a puppy; indeed the princess idolized her and Prima treated her with respect and friendship. Had I prayed to Artemis for the perfect protector for my sister, I could not have asked for more.
But another blessing had come to the tribe of late. Night after night the queen had heard the same report from the sentries. All quiet, my queen. The herds are still. For the last season no assault had threatened the tribe. No raiders had drawn near their city and no hunting parties had been attacked. It was almost as if Prima's coming had inaugurated a safety net for her people, like an invisible and protective hand that could only be the blessing of a god.
The times were good, her rule was stabilizing, and now at last perhaps she could contemplate the revenge that she'd dreamed of for the last twenty-six years. If only Penthesilia hadn't gone to Ilios…if only she still lived. Ahh my beloved friend, I never blamed you for my mother's death. It was a horrible accident but still only an accident. The gods toyed with your fate, but I know you always loved her. She would never have demanded your atonement… your sacrifice. You were an aunt to me, you were my sister's protector, and you were my most trusted advisor. I will always miss you.
Queen Hippolyte was actually Hippolyte II, and she was her mother's daughter. Upon taking the queen's mask she had also taken her mother's name in honor of a reign cut short by a freak hunting accident. In the swirling upland fog Penthesilia's grosphos had flown toward a mountain stag…and instead struck down her queen, her sister. A grieving and divided tribe had named Penthesilia queen as tradition dictated, but she had been a scarred woman, ruled by remorse. Instead of governing the tribe she had sought to join her sister in death and the war at Ilios had offered her a convenient death in battle. There she had died childless in combat with Achilles and her niece had succeeded her.
Now it was her victim's daughter who approached Prima with the ceremonial dagger. She looked the clone in the eyes and gave her a warm smile as she raised the new warrior's bare left arm. Gone was the black woven kataphractes; tonight Prima wore the leathers of an Amazon. The drumming stopped abruptly. The full moon stood directly overhead.
"Artemis, watch over us! Bless what we do!" The queen cried out. "Tonight a new warrior is accepted into our tribe! Tonight a new sister joins our family. Tonight Prima of Thrace is dead. Tonight Prima of Themiskyra is born!"
Without hesitation Hippolyte drew the blade across Prima's upper arm in a single quick stroke, leaving a shallow diagonal slash the width of a palm that seeped blood. The clone never flinched. She was silent and she showed no pain. Then she raised her arm. The drums boomed anew in the Anatolian night. The crowd of Amazons cheered. And Prima moved another step closer to the completion of her Strategos' mission.
In the following weeks Prima acquired duties and privileges, and gradually she forged a place for herself within the tribe. Even before her initiation it had become apparent that she was a prodigy at arms. In fact she was all but unbeatable using any weapon the tribe possessed. On the practice fields many warriors had challenged her in sparring, wanting to take the measure of their new sister. Prima had defeated all comers. No matter how fast or how fiercely the Amazons attacked, to the clone, they moved as if they were underwater. All she needed to do was move that fraction of a heartbeat faster. But beyond her speed, the Amazons soon realized that the Thracian warrior commanded fighting skills they had never seen before, and many they had not believed possible. Sometimes Queen Hippolyte came to view the sparring and she was impressed. The stranger would be a valuable addition to the tribe. And always in the background Antiope watched, transfixed with curiosity and a growing desire. She wondered, how could a warrior fight so flawlessly?
In a lost future, the clone had been created to outperform the gods themselves, for the Strategos Hypatos had planned her campaign to eliminate every advantage that divinity conferred. She had negated the disparity between herself and her enemy by cultivating superior warriors, fitting them within a superior command structure, and providing them with superior weapons. No other mortal had done so much in preparation to wage a war, and no other mortal had succeeded so completely, for no other mortal had stood a heartbeat from ruling the world. And having become The Conqueror, no other mortal had abdicated that position for her soulmate and the Greater Good.
Here in the ancient world Prima had allied herself with small kings ruling small kingdoms. By contrast to her Strategos, her creator, even Agamemnon had been no more than a petty tyrant. And she herself, while regarded as a superior warrior by the Achaean army, had never allowed herself to show her full potential. Even in her final battle within the walls of Ilios she had held back. The wholesale slaughter she could have unleashed in Priam's city would have been unimaginable to her peers. Indeed they would have regarded her katalepsis as nothing less than divine rage. Prima would have had fame, devotees, temples, and a kingdom of her own to rule, but the clone had a mission rather than ambition and she was still a soldier in an army that wouldn't exist for another thirty-two centuries.
Even before her initiation into the tribe, Prima began to perform her duty. She had gone to the training field at dawn each the morning prior to the ceremony. This was a peaceful time, Eos' time, while Helios still lay below the eastern horizon but lit the clouds with purple and rose. On these early mornings Prima usually had the field to herself. So she conducted her personal practice with the sword and Chakram.
First came the Euzonos drill that her Strategos had learned from Mithridates VI in the early years of her own apprenticeship as a warrior. Prima moved at her own full speed, performing an exercise that would take a mortal warrior fifteen minutes in only five. Her body was a whirlwind of motion, her blades glimmering ghosts whistling through the still night-chilled air, moving too fast for a human eye to follow. With the blessings of her contrived genetics, Prima was unique in this time and place. She was both more and less than any woman ever born, but in combat, she was more gifted than the Goddess of War.
When she completed the Euzonos drill she immediately moved to the three signature exercises of her Strategos. These she had carried in her memories, implanted complete in her brain in a matter of hours, and recovered on a cliff overlooking Amphipolis as she spied on the practice of her creator. As Prima had watched, her skills had awoken full-blown within her. On her second performance she had outpaced and outperformed their author, the Destroyer of Nations, the woman who had been the greatest warrior of her age. In all of history only one other warrior could claim to be Prima's equal…the one created to be her counterpart, closer than an identical twin, the one who was her 'near-self'. That warrior had her own mission and was now separated from Prima by twelve centuries. They would never meet again in this world.
The Annihilation of the Line, The Smashing of the Wheel, and Katalepsis. The first allowed a warrior to destroy a hoplite or legionary battleline single-handed. The second exercise provided the techniques to overcome surrounding enemies no matter what their number. The third fighting form taught nothing less than the Spirit of Battle, that controlled and uncontrollable viciousness whereby a warrior became an untouchable and supremely destructive force of nature. In the still dawn Prima slipped into the state of no mind. She moved by reflex, for she knew the strikes and parries, the turns and flips as second nature. She saw every killing stroke as though they hewed real flesh. When she had watched her Strategos, these three exercises had taken forty-five minutes. She had performed them at her own speed in fifteen. Then she had gone on to improve on them, making the hundred kills simulated in Katalepsis using seventy-six fewer moves.
On the morning after her initiation, her first as a full-fledged Amazon warrior, Prima's practice exhibited the same flawless grace and unbridled fury that she had shown from the start. It was a demonstration of mastery that no human would ever attain and that no human could defend against. At the speeds Prima moved, the human neural arc didn't allow for the registration and processing of visual information fast enough to make a response. It was only on mornings like this, or in the dead of night when she was alone, that Prima let herself exercise her full potential.
When she was finished she sheathed her sword and clipped the Chakram to her waist. She took deep cleansing breaths to settle her spirit after the exertion of such unrestrained aggression, and then she stood still letting her senses expand to take in the minutia of her surroundings. It was only then, with an unoccupied mind open to the subtle signs of her environment, that the clone heard the soft footsteps of one retreating in stealth. She turned her head to pinpoint the source even as it faded to silence. It came from the verge of the fig orchard, a dozen fathoms to the south.
Prima made her way to the spot where she had heard the footsteps. In the leafmould between two gnarled fig trees at the border of the orchard she saw the partial imprint of a sandal and a rounded mark in the soil where the watcher had knelt on one knee. Caught on the bark of the nearer tree were a few strands of pale hair. The clone freed them and held them in her hand. It was what she had waited for.
Blonde…long and straight. Gabrielle. Antiope. Is it not ironic that all I am and all I have known began with a couple strands of hair in Alti's hand? Now it begins again as it did once before…in the Pallene of Chalcidice. I wonder, will the princess ask me to teach her all I know?
When Prima returned to her hut she found the princess waiting there for her, and this was not an unusual thing. Often the teen would await her idol and they would walk together to the dining hall for the morning meal. In that time the princess would ask about Prima's past battles and her homelands. Although she absorbed everything that the clone told her it was really just an excuse to accompany the warrior who had saved her from certain servitude or death.
The princess could still see that day in her mind's eye. She believed that she would still see that memory with crystalline clarity on her deathbed. One moment she had been desperately knocking an arrow as she fought down her fear. The next moment she had been watching her enemies fall and a warrior unlike any other appearing as a shield before her. Then the attackers' arrows had bounced off Prima's form leaving her unharmed. She would never have believed it if she hadn't seen it with her own eyes.
Antiope still ascribed supernatural status to the beautiful foreign warrior. Just looking at her made the young woman's heart speed up and made her palms sweat even as her mouth went dry. The effect she'd felt in those first moments when they'd met had not diminished. If anything, it had grown stronger. It was just the type of reaction she had always expected to have if confronted by an immortal, though she'd always expected that immortal to be Artemis…or maybe Aphrodite. It was yet another bit of evidence that the clone was special.
Prima was exotic. After all of Antiope's questions she had remained an enigma, for there were some things she would not speak of regarding her past. She named no place of birth, no parents or siblings, and no recollections of her youth. Antiope had no information with which to compare herself to her heroine at a similar age. She was an Amazon princess, but she was almost fifteen and not too old to engage in fantasies that a goddess had come into her life. On this morning, the first for as an Amazon, she had seen all the proof of this fantasy that she needed to cement her long-held belief. Prima had moved too fast to see!
"Prima, you know my queen favors you to be my protector," Antiope said out of the blue. The clone looked at her with an eyebrow quirked, urging her to continue. "It's traditional for a trusted warrior to look out for the well-being of a princess when she's young…not that I can't take care of myself." The princess looked up at the warrior through her lashes, allowing herself a grin.
"I will always look out for you, Antiope," the clone said. "I am already your protector."
Antiope nodded. It was true, but she wanted to make it official.
"Now that you're a member of the tribe, my sister can appoint you to that position. It's regarded as an honor, and I can't think of anyone I'd rather have… you know, watching my back."
Now it was Prima who nodded.
"If the queen commands it, I will be honored," she said, allowing herself a grin.
"The position comes with responsibilities, you know," Antiope said seriously, stopping their walk and turning to face the cloned warrior. Prima tilted her head, curious. "A protector is also a tutor," Antiope explained gravely, "especially at arms and in matters of warfare and survival, and she usually becomes a primary advisor when the princess becomes queen." The princess stopped and laughed at that, as if mocking the pretentiousness of her statement, but then she grew serious again. "But before all that, she is a friend."
Prima regarded the princess, lithe and compact, with straight pale hair falling halfway down her back, bright against her tanned skin. The Amazon summer leathers barely covered her maturing body, still bearing a layer of youthful softness over the hardening muscles of a warrior. Her forest green eyes were open and trusting, her manner earnest, and if still a bit naive, not ignorant of the realities of her way of life. Prima could see the woman she'd become in a few short years. My gods, she's so much like the Gabrielle that the Strategos first met, save that she is younger still. No wonder my Strategos fell for her immediately. There is the same feeling here, the same spark of connection, yet Antiope is not Gabrielle. How can this be?
The war at Ilios had taken ten years and the clone was now 36 years of age, eleven years older than Xena had been when she'd first met Gabrielle. Gabrielle had been 17 then, just over two years older than Antiope was now. Amazon war queens tended to be short-lived due to the hazardous nature of their position. With the blessings of her genetic heritage, Prima would most likely outlive her young princess. The relationship of soulmates and lovers seemed to infringe on the clone's visceral prohibitions when the age difference was so great, regardless of what her other feelings might suggest. But Prima could be a friend and protector, and she had always intended to be a teacher.
"If the queen commands it, I would be honored to be your protector, Antiope," Prima repeated, "but whether or not it ever becomes official, I will teach you what I can and I will always be honored to be your friend."
She said this gazing into the green eyes of her princess and she watched those eyes become moist before a blink cleared them and Antiope seized the clone in a hug. Prima was momentarily alarmed by the surge of protectiveness that arose in her at the contact, and at the flaring of desire that loomed behind it. It is as I suspected. The connection is there! It is real!
Antiope's training began that afternoon. On the practice field the two took a place apart from the other warriors and Prima introduced the princess to the Euzonos drill. While the Princess was highly proficient for her age with the bow, she had been only average with the sword. In the following weeks the exercise strengthened her arm and improved her coordination. In half a year she had moved on to The Annihilation of the Line and other warriors had taken up the practice on the sidelines, having seen the vast improvement in their princess' skills. In a year Antiope attained proficiency in The Smashing of the Wheel as well. Her idolization of her friend and protector drove her to almost constant practice. It became apparent that rather than being average at arms, the young princess was truly gifted. She had just needed the right motivation.
Hippolyte was ecstatic over her little sister's growing skills. Antiope was rapidly eclipsing the technical abilities of much older warriors. Prima too was more than satisfied with her improvement. In fact she was extremely curious.
She learns as quickly as Gabrielle did under Xena's tutelage. It is yet another proof. But what is the connection between Antiope and Gabrielle? I feel that this is important.
For two more years Prima intensively tutored Antiope. She taught the princess the arts of the spathè, the grosphos, and even skills with the toxon that the tribe hadn't imagined. When the teen finally hit three targets with one drawing of her bow, the other warriors on the training field cheered. The young woman who might one day lead them in battle had surpassed them in skill.
During those same years Prima also taught Antiope the tactics and strategy of war. The clone knew the capabilities of large cavalry forces like the army of Themiskyra, for she had the benefit of 32 centuries of military history locked in her memories. But there was another gift the cloned warrior tried to give her youthful princess. Prima was heir to the methods that had made Xena the Destroyer of Nations, the upstart warrior from a backwater polis in Thrace who had risen to challenge all of Greece as the Hellenes' Bane. From the 8th moon in 1251 BC, Prima spent two years sharpening Antiope's mind. She tutored her in the lateral thinking and flowchart method of event prediction that Xena had learned from Mithridates. She spent hours on the Eastern philosophies of Chin and Indus. After all, she knew that Gabrielle had absorbed those skills. Why not Antiope?
It was the 9th moon in 1249 BC and Prima was riding with two other warriors on a night patrol of the northern border. These two were the sisters of her triad, a social group peculiar to the Amazons of that time. A triad was made up of three warriors unrelated by blood, who formed the primal unit of tribal organization. The members were usually romantically involved, but over time they became as close as birth sisters, for in times of war their lives might depend on the implicit trust of their bond. Normally the members of a triad were of similar age, but in this case the arrangement had been altered by request and decree. Prima's triad included the esteemed warrior Molpadia, and the young Princess Antiope.
The inclusion of Antiope two years before had resulted from the princess' heartfelt request to her queen to be allowed to join with the older and more experienced warriors. She had developed a full-blown crush on her savior and had come to worship the ground the clone walked on. For her part Queen Hippolyte had agreed to the arrangement because it would allow Prima to safeguard her sister in the war of revenge that she was contemplating.
Prima and Molpadia were both honored to have the young princess as the third sister of their triad, for both understood the honor they were accorded by including a royal. But both had also understood the inherent deficiency the sixteen, (almost seventeen), year old junior warrior saddled their triad with. She was not expected to be their equal in battle for many years but she was already the equal of many older warriors. What she lacked most was practical experience.
Prima, of course, could barely believe how perfectly fate had provided an arrangement that served her mission. Indeed she had discerned the blessing of her patron god in this and had felt that an expression of thanks was in order. The night that Hippolyte had agreed to Antiope's request, the clone had slipped out of the city. Twenty-three miles to the east she had stalked and slaughtered a party of eight Cimmerians and then offered their blood and flesh as a sacrifice to Ares.
Now on the night of their patrol the moon was hidden by clouds remaining from a fierce afternoon storm and the rolling land was dark. Pockets of scrubby forest broke up the landscape, providing many places to hide. The three Amazons moved carefully, maintaining silence and watching every shadow. They had ridden some 12 miles east from Themiskyra, into land that was sometimes contested, but more importantly, that stood close to the coast. Here lay a sheltered cove with good anchorage below steep cliffs that rose to the Amazon lands. Before the war in Ilios it had been used by raiders to hide their ships within striking distance of the mouth of the River Thermodon. It was the same place that Herakles had landed when he had come to fulfill his 9th labor. It was a place the Amazons knew and watched carefully.
After tethering their horses, Prima, Molpadia, and Antiope approached slowly from the west, carefully searching every shadow and hollow of the land above the cove. If mariners had landed ships below, they would most likely post a watch atop the bluffs overlooking their landing site. It had been so in the past. The Amazons expected that such sentries would be hidden where they could both see anyone approaching and signal their shipmates below. So Prima and her companions spent half an hour silently creeping forward. Though they expected to find no one, their discipline guided their actions.
That discipline proved to be of great value that night, for both Prima and Molpadia eventually spotted a pair of sailors lurking in the underbrush a couple fathoms back from the cliff's edge. They were ensconced near the head of a trail that climbed up from the beach and could watch both the surrounding land and the cove. The Amazons' first glimpse of the sailors came when one broke cover to wave 'all's well' to the shipboard watch. It was good timing and luck; the men were so well hidden that it took the Amazons several minutes to determine for certain that the first man wasn't alone.
Now when they were sure that the sentries numbered two and only two, Molpadia suggested a plan to take them at unawares.
"They're pirates, most likely," she said, "for they certainly aren't armed as soldiers and traders seek ports to trade in. These two are hiding in the brush like bandits intent on keeping their presence a secret. If they're not pirates, then they're invaders, I wager. Let's give them a test. Let's see how they greet a native."
Prima and Antiope listened closely and agreed to her plan.
A quarter hour later the two men saw the silhouette of a herder in a cloak leading three horses on the ridge above their position. The figure was a good twenty fathoms distant and gave no sign of being aware of them. They hunkered down and waited in silence, hoping the native would pass by without spotting them. Molpadia's eyes narrowed as she watched them watching Antiope.
They neither hail nor report a stranger. Secrecy is more important to them. No good do they seek in this land. Very well. A secret learned and kept secret is a surprise turned against the plotter.
Having thus immobilized and silenced their prey, Prima and Molpadia moved forward in stealth. They positioned themselves five fathoms off to the men's left with the trail head between their positions, and there they knocked arrows and drew their bows. Uphill Antiope lingered, counting the three hundred heartbeats the triad had agreed on, and then she continued on her way with the horses, finally moving out of the men's sight. They had just allowed themselves a sigh of relief, believing themselves undiscovered, when they were shot in the throats. They fell dead in the same silence they'd maintained in their last moments of life.
Prima and Molpadia moved forward quickly and examined the bodies. Antiope joined them a short time later and crept to the edge of the cliff. There she looked down on the five ships beached in the cove. They were sturdy vessels of fifty oars with eyes painted on their prows, and in the faint moonlight she marked the emblem of the Medusa's head on their sails. She called her two sisters over and Molpadia hissed in recognition. Prima too knew that symbol from her time at Ilios. Athenians!
The triad returned from their patrol and immediately reported to their queen. Hippolyte came from her lodge having shocked herself to wakefulness, her hair still wet around her face from a quick dunking in cold water.
"What have you to report?"
"My queen, we have spotted five ships in the eastern cove," Molpadia, the ranking member of the triad answered. "They are Athenian ships."
Hippolyte took a deep breath and asked, "Have they debarked and set a camp?"
"Not as yet, my queen, and they seek to keep their presence a secret."
"We saw only two sentries ashore, my queen," Prima reported, "and they were slain in silence."
"Their bodies will not be found," Molpadia added, "and we were not seen."
Antiope only nodded in agreement. The queen hadn't questioned her.
Hippolyte made no further comments, nor did she ask for more information. Instead, she dismissed the patrol and went back to sleep. The next morning she was up before dawn making plans.
Helios was still low in the eastern sky when a company of three dozen Amazons crept up to the edge of the cliffs overlooking the cove. The company was under the command of Oreithyia, the queen's second and, (with Glauke), a member of her triad. They had taken a long and indirect route, bypassing the lands to the west and approaching from far to the east of the trailhead where Prima and Molpadia had slain the two watchers the night before. Early as it was, the blinding glare of Apollo's disc hid the warriors from the sight of the shipboard lookouts. The Amazons noted that a party of Athenians had come ashore to secure the beach and that a half-dozen more now held the trailhead. These were armed with aspis, doryxix, and spathèxx and stood a wary guard in a wedge formation.
On the beach below the five ships had been pulled up so that their hulls were grounded in the sand. Sailors, (who were also soldiers, for no one aboard escaped duty at the oars), stood about in groups chattering and sometimes pointing at the ships, sometimes pointing up the path. Though most of their shields were still hung at the gunwales above their rowing benches, a few men carried their arms. The Amazons took it all in, carefully memorizing every detail they could. Though they were riders and most knew little of ships, it wasn't long before they noted that one ship had listed onto its right, (starboard), side and a group of men were working at carpentry on the port side of the hull. The same ship's rudder had been removed and lay on the beach, encircled by another work crew.
Oreithyia watched the workmen carefully. Even she, hostile to and distrustful of men and mostly ignorant of seamanship, could see that their labor was no ruse. One of the ships was crippled and the small armada was beached for repairs. Whether they had greater intentions or whether their presence had been dictated by fate alone, she couldn't tell. She had her suspicions of course, but no proof of any ulterior motive. The situation left her dissatisfied.
There was a bad storm yesterday afternoon and I would not have enjoyed passing it upon the water. So it could well be that these men only came here in desperation and sought secrecy because of their vulnerability, for surely even they would be loath to abandon their comrades if attacked in a strange land. They would be wise to fear the Cimmerians, for I count their number as barely two hundreds. They would be wise to fear us too.
It is possible that Molpadia and Prima slew those men last night in error, even though what they saw seemed to show evil intentions. In their place I would have done likewise. Well, we will watch until noon and then I must speak to my queen.
The work continued with the thud of hammers and the rasping of saws. A meal was eaten. The guards at the head of the path were relieved in shifts. One group made their way down the beach and engaged in informal wrestling contests. Some fished with nets in the shallows. Only once did she see a robust man in gold armor appear on the deck of the finest of the ships. His shield bore the device of a great bull subdued. He looked over the work in progress and issued orders to several other men who answered by bowing and scurrying off. It was evidence of a strong chain of command, nothing more. At no time did Oreithyia see military exercises, drilling, or any sign of the disciplined conduct of an invasion force. Oreithyia shook her head in disappointment. The Athenians were certainly soldiers, but they didn't seem to be on a campaign.
When Helios reached the zenith Oreithyia sighed and passed the word that half the company was to return to Themiskyra with her while the other half continued the watch. Shortly after noon she and her warriors slipped away to the east, rejoined those detailed to watch the horses, and began their ride back home.
As they rode Oreithyia watched the land, her tribe's land, the land she'd lived in all her life. The softly rolling hills were beautiful to her, green with summer grass and spreading wide under an endless sky. Here the horses grazed in luxury, bright eyed and intelligent, fearless and loyal. Here her people rode with the whistling wind. Few things were dearer to her than the feelings of freedom and speed, of riding a tireless mount across miles of open land with the wind blowing back her hair just as it blew the waves of grass passing beneath her feet, the slight chill of sweat from the blazing sun drying on her skin.
Dear too was the knowledge that she protected all that. With her grosphos, labrys, toxon and all her skill, cunning, and experience, she was committed to preserving the Amazon way of life. She would slay any enemy without hesitation or remorse. With her queen and Glauke, the other two members of her primary triad, she had good reason for such intense devotion and patriotism.
The three had been impressionable young girls when five ships had come to them out of the western sea. In 1277 BC the Amazon tribe had been approached by the demi-god Herakles and his small army. He was then engaged in servitude to his cousin Eurystheus, the King of Mykenae, to make restitution for slaying his own wife and children in a fit of madness. Like most such stories there were mitigating circumstances; divine intervention not the least of these, but from the Amazons no excuses could win any sympathy.
Genial and personable at first, the demi-god had requested a royal audience and the Amazon Queen had granted it, but before any negotiations could begin he and his men had gone on a rampage, demanding the heirloom Cuirass of Ares, an emblem of royal status that many past queens had worn in functions of state. They had fallen upon Andromakhe and her entourage, slaying her and stealing the golden 'belt', a symbol of divine patronage and national pride. Every Amazon present had been killed. By the time this was known in Themiskyra and the army had ridden to the ships, Herakles had cast off and fled upon the sea.
Betrayal, murder, and cowardice were the only impressions Oreithyia had of the Achaeans, whether they came from Mykenae, Argos, Arkadia, Tiryns, or Athens. She half-wished that she had joined Penthesilia fighting for the Dardanians, simply because they were opposing the Achaeans. Shipwrecked or not, the present five ships felt like a threat to Oreithyia. Try as she might, (and in truth she didn't try very hard), she could see them as nothing else.
We should follow Molpadia's example and kill them all, for a dead Achaean is less trouble than a live one. Besides, we still owe them blood and our memory is obviously longer than theirs, else they would not have come. Yes, the prudent thing would be to burn their ships and embattle them. That cove is like a bowl holding them captive. We could shoot every one of them from the cliffs and let Hades or Hekate sort them out later.
She was still thinking similar things when she and her company rode back into the city. They were met near the gate by Hippolyte and Glauke. The queen had been watching for their return while her triad sister had been checking the time by the sun. The riders dismounted at once and Oreithyia prepared to give her report, but the queen silenced her with a glance and dismissed the others. She then gestured for Oreithyia to follow her, and with Glauke, they retired to hold a private counsel in their lodge.
In great detail Oreithyia told her triad sisters all that she had seen. She described the work being done on the ships and the count of their enemies. She gave her impressions of their readiness, and finally, she gave her recommendations.
"My queen, it our first opportunity to avenge our late queen," Oreithyia said. "They are all but helpless for their backs are to the sea and their ships are beached."
"One at least cannot sail," Glauke said. "If we attack now they will stand and fight rather than overcrowd the remaining ships. They cannot launch them quickly anyway, for unlike Herakles, they have not remained at anchor. They sit upon the beach like fish in a pond waiting to be speared. I too feel we should not waste this opportunity."
Hippolyte remained silent, thinking over the reports. She had no doubts that her warriors could exterminate every soldier in the cove, and they could do so with minimal casualties. But it would not achieve her objective. It would be vengeance, true, but only a cheapened vengeance. Rather than retaking the Cuirass of Ares and exacting revenge upon their true enemy Herakles, they would merely be slaying convenient foes, most of whom had been but children when the Achaeans had committed their transgression against her people. Their blood would flow but it would not repay the debt. Her grandmother Queen Andromakhe would not be avenged.
"Call Molpadia's triad," Hippolyte ordered.
In under a quarter hour Molpadia, Prima, and Antiope appeared, and after bowing to their queen, they took seats at the meeting table.
"What do you know of Athens?" Hippolyte asked Prima. The foreigner's knowledge might come in handy now, though she had never spoken of Athens.
"My queen, Athens lies some 5 miles inland in the southwest of Attica. The city center stands upon a steep highland, but spreads out upon the surrounding hills. It is served by the port of Piraeus. The population stands at some 160,000 and is guarded by a citizen army of almost 20,000 under the command of an elected Strategos. The polis is governed by a king, Theseus son of Aegeus."
Her report had been concise, informed, and delivered with the same bearing that Prima would have used in presenting material to her Strategos at a synedrion for the Destroyer's army. Hippolyte nodded in appreciation.
"Who commands the five ships in the cove?" Her question was directed to Oreithyia who had observed the landing site.
"A hyparchos with gold kataphractes and kranos, and an aspis bearing the episema of a bull," Oreithyia answered.
"Was he of sturdy build, with a short, full beard graying faster than his hair?" Prima asked. Oreithyia nodded in agreement with the description. Prima turned to Hippolyte.
"My queen, this was no mere hyparchos Oreithyia saw. These ships are almost certainly commanded by Theseus himself. The episema on his aspis is the raging Marathonian Bull which he slew in his youth. This is a royal mission, either of discovery or trade, perhaps both. Theseus fancies himself a hero, a doer of great deeds and an explorer of far lands. He was one of the few Achaean kings who did not go to Agamemnon's war at Ilios, for he himself once abducted Helen in her youth. But he did send his son Acamas, who accompanied Odysseus and myself in the great wooden horse."
For a moment the clone fell silent, reviewing her memories.
"My queen, it is said of Theseus that on the night King Aegeus impregnated his mother Aethra, daughter of King Pittheus of Troezen, that she was also loved by Poseidon. It is commonly believed that this gave Theseus some divine inheritance of prowess, but it also makes him a second cousin of Herakles through his father. Alternatively, Herakles' mother, Alkmene, was the daughter of Lysidikes, the half-sister of King Pittheus, and so Theseus is also the first cousin of Herakles through his mother."
At her revelation the group fell silent and the queen closed her eyes.
It can be no less than the hand of fate that delivers thus to me the kin of my greatest enemy. Surely this is a sign. At last our people have the means to avenge their late queen and recover that which was stolen. Theseus shall lead us to Herakles!
At dawn the next day a party of Amazons appeared on the cliffs above the cove. They approached the guards at the head of the descending path in friendship. Queen Hippolyte spoke to them in greeting.
"My scouts have reported your difficulties to me in Themiskyra. What aid might we offer to you, for your patron goddess is sister to ours?"
The men regarded the Amazons with wonder. Only a few tales had come to Athens of the beautiful queen and her fearless fighters at Ilios. Besides these there were the older stories of their ill-fated dealings with Herakles. For the most part the Amazons were unknown, but their reputation as warriors was esteemed. The commander of the guards sent a man down to the beach in haste with a message and bowed to honor the queen.
"Noble Lady," he said, "we are indeed in need of aid, having insufficient timbers to repair our storm-damaged vessel. I have sent word to our king with your offer. Certainly his reply shall come quickly. We are honored by your kindness, daughters of Artemis."
Hippolyte smiled, considering the man's epithet of 'Noble Lady' rather amusing. She thanked the guard captain for his words and followed the progress of the messenger with her eyes. The runner fairly flew down the path and then charged across the beach to the ships, attracting the attention of the men working on the rudder. He had only been aboard the king's ship for a few minutes when Theseus himself charged up onto the deck, trailing a handful of lieutenants. He stared up the cliff to the trailhead and locked gazes with Hippolyte, acknowledging her with a dip of his head. At the same time his second-in-command surveyed the Amazons. His eyes locked with those of Prima, standing in the rank behind her queen. For a moment his jaw dropped in amazement and then he spoke hurriedly with his king. Theseus listened and then turned his gaze upon the clone as well. At the top of the trail, Prima addressed Hippolyte.
"My queen, the man to King Theseus' right is his son, Acamas. He has recognized me."
Hippolyte glanced at the man that Prima had indicated and then turned to the clone.
"Do you foresee trouble from this, Prima?"
"Not necessarily, my queen," she said softly enough to avoid being overheard by the trail guards, "we were allies at Ilios and fought together in the final battle. Perhaps it will increase their likelihood of trusting us."
"Excellent," Hippolyte said, "then maintain your 'friendship' if your duties allow, but for now I think your presence would complicate this first meeting."
The Amazons had expected the King of Athens to send a party uphill to welcome them, but being who he was, given to flaunting less royal privilege than most monarchs of his time, he motioned his son and another officer to join him and then he made his way up the path.
He reached the top quickly and without noticeable exertion. His men couldn't have claimed the same inexhaustible energy. He immediately bowed deeply to the queen.
"Queen Hippolyte, I am honored by your presence and thankful for your offer of aid. Your kindness honors us and your patron goddess."
"King Theseus, as Artemis' sister Athena has shown you favor my people offer you welcome and are proud to assist you. I have heard some tell of your civil reforms in Athens. While your ships are being repaired you must tell me more about your inspirations."
The king invited the Amazons down to the beach where they could speak at their ease and Hippolyte accepted his hospitality, leaving a detail at the trailhead and taking only her personal guard as a show of good-faith. Prima remained atop the cliffs with the detail, for the queen thought it best that she not be more visible among those who might have known her before.
During the afternoon the Amazons brought a number of tree trunks down to the beach, and while the Athenians sawed them into planks, the Amazon Queen and the King of Athens spoke at length about their realms under a canopy that had been rigged on the beach by the sailors. Refreshments were served and a selection of local delicacies were enjoyed. The diplomacy proceeded cordially throughout the day. In the evening, the two groups parted and retired, the king to his ship and the queen's entourage to Themiskyra. Both considered the day a success.
Over an evening meal of roasted boar, a gift from the Amazons, King Theseus spoke with his son and the captains of the other four ships.
"You seemed upset earlier, Acamas," the king asked, "what disquieted you?"
"Father, among the queen's warriors was one whom I am almost sure fought at Ilios."
Theseus looked questioningly at his son.
"I had heard that all the warriors who came to Ilios with Queen Penthesilia were slain."
"It was so, but this warrior fought on the Achaean side. In fact, I fought beside her in the wooden horse that Odysseus convinced King Agamemnon to build. She was among his warriors from the start and she was among those who opened the gates."
The king stared at his son in astonishment.
"If she fought for the Achaeans and the Amazons fought for the Dardanians, then why is she here?"
Acamas could only shrug. He had never known Prima well, and though he had heard of and seen her prowess in battle, he hadn't spoken to her today. Her appearance with the Amazons now was as confusing to him as to his father.
"Her name was Prima of Thrace. If it was truly she that I saw today, then I can tell you that she is deadly beyond the measure of our soldiers. Many at Ilios compared her to Akhilleus, but she survived where he did not. Many believed her blessed by the God of War. She wore his sigil. I would not want to oppose her in battle. I will also tell you this, father. What I saw the night we sacked Ilios has haunted me ever since. She moved inhumanly fast. Her enemies could not defend against her and I would swear that she disappeared from sight. After the deaths of so many heroes at Ilios, I know of only one man who might withstand her."
To his father's questioning look, Acamas gave a name.
In Themiskyra, Queen Hippolyte was holding a similar council.
"He is a silver-tongued bastard," Molpadia declared, "much like Herakles before him. He is too fair-spoken and too hospitable to believe. Do the Achaeans not treat their women as brood-mares and servants? Is Theseus not a king? I do not trust this man, my queen."
Around the table Glauke and Oreithyia nodded in agreement. Prima and Antiope were silent. Old Polydora the shamaness was the next to speak.
"My queen, though your quest for vengeance is just, there is disquiet in the spirit world. Perhaps it is the use of the kinship between our patron goddess and theirs that taints this campaign. Perhaps it is the duplicity inherent in bringing it to fruition. Some cause lays a dark shadow over our plans. I do not say they will fail, but I will say that events will follow their own course to an unseen end. I am nervous, my queen."
Hippolyte nodded, taking the words of the old shamaness seriously. Long before the Amazons had come to Anatolia and worshipped the Goddess of the Hunt they had delved deeply into the spirit realm of the Steppes. They still acknowledged the wisdom learned in those times. They saw no conflict between their spiritualism and the worship of the gods, just as both nets and spears could be used for fishing.
"Prima, you knew the Achaeans best," the queen said. "What do you feel after our first meeting with this Athenian king?"
For a moment the clone made no answer. She was examining dual lines of thought and running the results through a cascade of tests to discern the probabilities of future events. Like the shamaness, she didn't care for the results of her investigation.
"My queen, at this time Theseus is both well-intentioned and suspicious. I feel that he has no designs against our people, but his son has no doubt told him of my presence. For Theseus and Acamas it is a cause for wariness, seeing me here, aiding those who lately opposed their brothers. At Ilios I was instrumental in gaining the Achaean victory over the Dardanians. Now I am a member of a tribe that stood as allies to those same enemies. Acamas will be worried about my potential actions should our peoples become hostile. If I were him, I would recommend that my king call for aid."
Hippolyte considered Prima's words carefully before deciding her course. What did she do at Ilios that would so scare Acamas? Why would he feel that the presence of one warrior merited a call for aid? They are two hundreds well armed. Why would he fear her so?
"It would be vexing and untimely if additional aid was to come to the Achaeans," Hippolyte said. "I am sure that Theseus has many allies. Perhaps it would be better to blunt their suspicions. Tell me, Prima, did you speak with Acamas today?"
"No my queen, I did not."
"Then tomorrow you shall. You must convince him that you pose no threat to his company. In fact, it would be good if you were to demonstrate your reason for joining the Amazons. When you go tomorrow, Antiope will accompany you. Speak as a friend with your old comrade. Allay his suspicions, Prima. Present yourself as the tutor and protector of the princess. Let Acamas see that you are a teacher in this time of peace."
Antiope controlled the rolling of her eyes, but Prima dipped her head in acceptance of her queen's orders, though she had serious reservations. Both knew that most of Prima's tutoring involved the arts of war. Both doubted that showing Acamas and the Athenians that the clone was teaching a future Amazon ruler her personal skills at slaughter would ease their minds. Still, it might be wiser to reveal some of the truth rather than allow the men's suspicions and ignorance to breed wild speculations and fear. If Antiope's presence with Prima on the morrow forestalled Theseus from sending for reinforcements, then all the better.
The next day the queen's entourage again visited the Athenian ships, and this time, Queen Hippolyte introduced to Theseus and his officers, her sister, the Princess Antiope, and with her, her tutor and protector, Prima.
With this confirmation of his suspicions, Acamas felt his stomach tighten. One of the deadliest warriors he had ever known stood before them, and this time, only a single prior day of friendship balanced a past that could turn the Amazons against them. Though the women had been nothing but helpful, the last Achaean to visit them had been Herakles, and he had slain their Queen Andromakhe and stolen from them a treasure. More recently it had been the Achaean Akhilleus who had slain their Queen Penthesilia and then violated her corpse. At the first opportunity he sought a word with his father.
"Father, there is now no doubt that this Amazon and the warrior I knew at Ilios are one and the same. This situation is fraught with the possibility of disaster. I urge you to send word to Herakles seeking his aid. Even a day's hesitation may mean our end…indeed it may already be too late."
Acamas had noted that throughout the morning, his father had had eyes only for the beautiful young princess, something that had surely been noticed by the queen. Acamas knew that Prima had definitely noticed as well. She had scowled at Theseus while his attention was riveted on Antiope and then banished the expression in an instant. The look had chilled the younger man's blood, yet he could hardly admonish his father and king.
Theseus had shaken himself, sharpening his mind when he heard his son's warning. Acamas was truly scared and that in turn made him nervous. He looked around the beach. His men outnumbered the Amazon party by almost five to one, but no more than a quarter of his men had their weapons within reach, whereas all of the three dozen Amazon warriors were heavily armed and most were close to the ships. He knew there were another three dozen women atop the cliffs armed with bows. When he viewed the situation as a general rather than a diplomat he saw that it was the perfect setup for a slaughter. In that moment his blood ran chill.
"Send three men to find my cousin," Theseus told his son. "I believe that the potential you see is real, though I still hope friendship will prevail. Still, let us not take unnecessary chances."
"Father, it would be best if I were to go," Acamas said. "I can find Herakles and gain his confidence quickly and none know better than I the danger that we're in."
Theseus weighed the possible attention the absence of his son might draw against the absence of three men who might not effectively convey the threat. Three common soldiers would not be taken as seriously as Acamas, and his cousin had been acting out of character of late. Theseus nodded in agreement with Acamas' suggestion and the younger man went below deck to prepare for a desperate mission. The King of Athens returned to his guests with apologies for his absence.
That evening back in Themiskyra, Oreithyia, who had remained atop the cliffs, spoke urgently with her queen.
"This afternoon I saw ten men go around the headland of the cove to bathe, but only nine returned, my queen."
Hippolyte looked at her in alarm.
"The missing man is none other than Acamas, son of Theseus," Prima added. "I noted his absence afterwards and he did not reappear before we left."
"Where could he have gone?" The queen asked.
"Nowhere that I can't follow," the clone replied with certainty. "He has a seven hour lead at present. I can track and catch him by midnight."
Hippolyte looked carefully at the clone. Her claim was almost impossible to believe. The best trackers and scouts in the tribe would probably be lucky to catch up to the man in a day. It is already two hours past dusk. She would have only four hours to find his trail and then overtake him. But Prima met the queen's eyes with absolute assurance. For some reason she couldn't fathom, Hippolyte believed.
"Very well, Prima. Find him and if he intends to bring harm to the tribe, slay him. Molpadia, you will assume the duties of protector to the princess."
Prima nodded once and then got up and left. First the clone returned to her hut. She needed to make only a few preparations and then find her horse.
Later that night Acamas looked up at the moon, three days on the wane from full and high in the sky overhead. He was moving quickly but quietly along a cliffside path west of the mouth of the Thermodon. He reckoned that he had made good time…almost 35 miles in ten hours. By dawn he would reach the trading port of Sinope. There he could trade silver for a horse. Once mounted he could make much better time to the Bosporus Thracius.
After the crossing it would take him only five days to reach the recently built city of Abdera on the coast of Thrace. That city had been founded by Herakles to honor Abderus, a fallen lover to whom he had entrusted the carnivorous mares of Diomedes following his capture of them during his 8th labor for King Eurystheus. When the youth had been found trampled and partially eaten, the demi-god had been consumed with melancholy and had literally built a city on the site to host athletic games dedicated to his deceased lover. In all, Acamas figured it would take him less than two weeks to meet with Herakles.
At that same moment Prima awaited the fleeing man on the darkened outskirts of Sinope. Beside her, Argo cropped grass and whiffled for attention. The clone was becoming impatient. Having watched Acamas struggling along the cliff path two hours before, she had assured herself of his goal. There was really no other place he could be headed. She had traveled that route herself but two years before and seen nothing but herders and bandits between the port city and the Thermodon. She had ridden ahead, figuring her chances of discovery were lessened by not dogging his footsteps. Now she periodically checked the path by lowering a goggle-like filter over her left eye which extended her vision into the infrared. So far she had seen only the heat signatures of animals.
To her left the faint sounds of breakers were muffled by the lowering cliffs and a thicket of trees. A soft humid breeze wafted the scent of the inland sea to her nostrils. Overhead the moon was westering; midnight had passed. Prima knew that Acamas' path left the woods just thirty yards to her east and joined a pair of wheel ruts that passed for a road. She knew that Acamas would have to pass her position and she hoped he made good time. In the darkness she was invisible. By the light of dawn she would become a menacing shadow.
For the first time since finding the Amazons, Prima was wearing the uniform of the Conqueror's army. The 21st century technology built into it allowed her to disappear from sight, but her shadow and her horse would remain visible. At the very least, a laden Amazon warhorse without a rider would draw attention. And probably thieves as well. I shall leave a trail of slain bandits from here to wherever Acamas leads me, as though I needed such trail markers to find my way home.
Apollo's chariot was still hidden by the horizon when Acamas finally staggered from the woods. He stood at the verge of the trees and carefully surveyed the landscape. He had made it to Sinope just before dawn while the road was still empty. For some time he lingered to catch his breath. He was exhausted. During the last 15 hours he had covered almost 65 miles, much of it by jogging along a precipice in the dark. He failed to notice the pale mare partially hidden by the undergrowth near the tree line to his west. With a last huff he left the path and walked out to the road. He could sleep in the saddle after buying a horse.
To his immense irritation it was mid-morning before he left Sinope. Finding a passable horse for sale in a city that catered to sailors wasn't as easy as he'd hoped. Still, he had finally struck a bargain with a stableman who had a beast and needed coin. At least it's a riding horse and not a draft animal, Acamas thought as he rode west out of the city, though it would never run a race again in this life. It would, however, follow the bag of oats he'd rigged to dangle in front of its muzzle and allow him to doze for a few hours. He pointed the beast west along another cart track and fell into a stupor.
For a week Prima followed Acamas west, watching as he walked or trotted along dirt roads, dozing on horseback during the day and nodding off by his campfires at night, his spathè clutched in his hand. He would often jerk awake and stare out into the surrounding night, then toss another branch onto his fire before returning to his state of half-sleep. Had Acamas known that he was actually in no danger he could have rested soundly. Still needing to discover his errand, Prima guarded the man carefully, slaying all who approached his camps with evil intent. This went on for three hundred miles.
At the crossing of the Bosporus, Prima had to allow Acamas a half-day's head start. She had no doubt that she could catch up to him again in Thrace, but she couldn't chance being seen by him at the only ferry north of Chalcedon. Since that ferry ran only three times a day, she was forced to wait for the ferry crossing after him. Her greatest worry was that he would take the last ferry of the day, requiring her to wait for the following day's first run, and then find him dead, slain by robbers in the night.
But Acamas reached the crossing at noon and took the second ferry and the clone took the third. She was back to her sentry duty as he dropped into a troubled sleep by his fire that night. So the pursuit went on for another five days, and as Acamas had expected, after a total of 12 days, the clone found herself approaching the walled city of Abdera just in time to see her quarry pass through the gate. She breathed a sigh of relief. Now at last the wretch can get a night's sleep undisturbed and I shall join him…figuratively, of course. Prima had slept no more than 18 hours in the last dozen days.
The next morning Prima waited in the shadows of an alley as dawn brightened the sky. She had slept from dusk to dawn and finally felt fully rested. Now she expected Acamas to leave the inn he'd stayed at any moment and she intended to follow him to whatever destination he sought in Abdera. She sensed that the end of her mission was at hand.
As she waited a group of runners passed her. They were naked, in the manner of the games at Olympia, breathing hard from their efforts, and they looked grimly determined. Less than an hour after dawn and already they're out running as if they were being chased. Judging by their sweat, they've been at it for a while. Only serious athletes train so intensively. A moment later Acamas walked out of the inn, stretched, squinted at the sun, and then walked off down the street in the direction the runners had gone. Shortly later, Prima followed.
From the street Acamas turned onto a larger avenue running through an agora, or marketplace, in the city's center, and with his unseen shadow, he followed it to a gate in the northern wall. From there he made his way to a complex of athletic fields, reaching a stadium heavily populated with contestants and spectators. As Prima watched, he approached a covered platform hung with garlands and bunting. After arguing with a pair of guards, he was waved forward by a tall robust man seated in the shade on a carved chair. The clone was shocked. Save that he was bearded and his hair was a medium brown rather than black, he looked exactly like her patron god Ares. The two could have been twins.
Prima stood staring as Acamas spoke vigorously, using many hand gestures, while the unknown man remained calm as he listened. She carefully surveyed the platform seeking clues, and what she saw left her shocked. Beside the man's chair on a wooden stand were displayed a lion pelt and a club. Herakles…it can be no other. Damn it!
With a groan she turned away and retraced her steps to the cheap inn she'd slept in. Prima was seething. She intended to slay Acamas later that morning. I should have snapped his neck on the path before he got to Sinope. Killing him now would be no problem for her, but in the meantime, she had plans to make.
An hour later Prima returned to the stadium. She was naked save for a narrow band of linen binding her breasts and a pair of sandals. She carried only a suede drawstring sack. At the entrance she argued with the game master, and then set the sack on his table.
"Here is my donation for the benefit of the polis. Enter me in all the events."
The game master looked into the sack and gasped. It contained thirty gold coins minted in Ilios. Though he would have preferred to take her to bed, her icy stare and the weight of the money in his hand convinced him to write her name on the rosters. 'Prima of Thrace', was an unknown contestant, but more remarkably, a woman. Though for some obscure reason known only to himself Herakles had not banned female participants from the Abderan Games, (as they were at Olympia, Delphi, Nemea, and Corinth where women were not even allowed as spectators), it was still unheard of here. It would be over five centuries before the Heraia, the games for women, would be inaugurated at Olympia.
By noon Prima's presence was known to all. She had already won two foot races, the stade and double stade, and now she was returning to the stadium with an embarrassing lead at the head of a pack of marathon runners. She crossed the finish line to dead silence. It had been the same following her two prior victories. For the third time she approached the platform where Herakles awarded her a wreath made from an olive branch. Of all the men present he alone smiled at her and offered sincere congratulations on her victory.
Seated beside him, Acamas looked gravely ill. He was shaking, pale, and sweating. When he furtively met the clone's eyes, she winked. When she withdrew to prepare for the next event, the ekebolon, or javelin throw for distance, she heard him speaking so urgently to Herakles that he seemed to be having a seizure. Prima allowed herself a smirk. Perhaps I shall not have to kill him after all. He may simply collapse from shock.
In the final round of the ekebolon Prima stood behind the foul line shading her eyes with her left hand. In her right she held a standard 6 foot long, iron-tipped javelin made of elder wood that weighed a hair less than two pounds. A hundred yards downfield the spectators had gathered in a crowd enclosing the landing area. The longest throw thus far had fallen at 72 yards. Prima waved them to the side and waited for them to move away. Then she walked back from the line and prepared to throw.
The clone had Xena's memories, and the Destroyer of Nations knew weapons. In her years before waging her war of conquest in the 21st century, she had spent time absorbing whatever she could read. Among her interests had been the modern use of ancient weapons. She had discovered that most applications were either in entertainment or sport. Now Prima remembered something her Strategos had read in early 2001, that in 1956 a man named Felix Erauzquin had developed a revolutionary style of throwing the javelin. Of course Xena had been compelled to try this method, for she had cast a javelin or two in her original lifetime. She'd always found the solid impact in an enemy's body very satisfying. Prima remembered every day of her Strategos' life prior to her own creation in 2004.
Six yards back from the foul line Prima set her initial footing. She grasped the javelin overhand, but held it out to her side with the point facing the direction it would travel. In this somewhat awkward 'spread winged' position she raced forward three strides, accelerating inhumanly to become a blur of motion. Two yards from the foul line she crossed her right foot in front of her left, rotating her body counterclockwise and launching herself into the air. Her shoulders and arms trailed her torso in the motion, her left arm crossing in front of her stomach, her right twisting behind her back. She let her body twist like a spring winding up to store energy in her spine.
The rotation was fast, nearly double the speed of a normal human athlete spinning in preparation to launch a discus. When she was again facing the field, she whipped her right arm forward, her shoulder loose and her arm straight. The rotation of her airborne body plus the rotation of her shoulders added speed to the sling-like effect of her sidearm motion and she launched her cast upwards into the air with a shout.
The silence that had greeted her previous wins held as her javelin sped through the air. The faint whistling of the airborne shaft was joined by Prima's faint grunt as she landed and regained her footing. Almost 21,000 pairs of eyes followed the javelin's flight. 70 yards out it was still 60 feet above the ground. 80 yards, then 90, the crowd at the field's end watched it whiz by twenty feet overhead. The crowd's silence continued. They were so still that the solid 'thunk' of the iron tip embedding itself in the earth 120 yards downfield could be heard, followed by the sharp snap of the elder wood shaft.
For what seemed like a long time there was no reaction. Then a single pair of hands clapping broke the silence. Prima's eyes followed the sound. Beneath the awning of the covered platform Herakles was on his feet, his hands slapping together in tribute, a smile upon his face. Though he was the enemy of her people, the clone dipped her head to acknowledge the demi-god. If nothing else, the son of Zeus was not above applauding another's achievements. Sportsmanship…fair play; in her estimation they were generally useless attributes on the battlefield, but they appropriate for these games. Just as a good soldier displayed discipline in wartime, a good citizen displayed grace in times of peace.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw the two other men who had made it to the final round of the ekebolon engaged in a conversation. A moment later they shouldered their javelins, nodded to her in concession, and walked off the field.
Through the waning day Prima achieved similar results. Soon it was only in boxing and wrestling that the other competitors sensed they stood a chance. But these two events were the most warlike, and in matters of war, no normal mortal could overcome a clone that had been bred to overcome a goddess. She was simply too fast, too strong, and too well trained. When the games closed for the evening celebrations, Herakles came forward and presented her with an invitation to the closing ceremonies.
"Never have I seen such a complete triumph, Prima of Thrace," the demi-god said. "The city of Abdera would be proud to have such a victor light the sacred fire on the altar of Athene Abderus."
32 centuries hence, Prima would hold the blade of the deicidal Chakram of Day to the defeated goddess Athena's throat. She would be instrumental in winning her Strategos' victory over the Goddess of Wisdom and Warfare. But in this time, with the Sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis only a dozen years in the past they were not yet enemies. Tonight I shall light a sacred flame for my greatest personal enemy, the patron protector of my peoples' greatest enemy. What an irony!
"It would be my honor to accept," the clone replied.
The procession had brought a flame from the stadium to the temple to rekindle the sacred altar flame. Prima had cared the torch with Herakles striding along beside her, wrapped in his trademark pelt flayed from the Nemean Lion. For a hide going on forty years of age it was in reasonably good shape, the clone thought. For her part, after leaving the stadium Prima had hastily sewn together some cloth she'd bought in the market, applying her superhuman speed as a seamstress with a needle and thread. She'd managed to create a short dress that draped from one shoulder and fell to mid-thigh. The result was that the demi-god hadn't taken his eyes off her for more than a few heartbeats.
Now after the ceremonial responsibilities were complete the celebration began with a banquet in the public space before the temple. Musicians played and a bountiful feast was served. Wine flowed freely and soon the citizens enjoyed both sated bellies and addled heads. Prima sat on a dais next to Herakles amidst the leading citizens, sipping wine and watching the festivities.
"Now that things have settled down somewhat, perhaps you could tell me about yourself, Prima. I am quite curious, for you have not been seen before and yet you won every competition you entered," Herakles said. "Will you tell me where you come from?"
What the demi-god thought was a simple opening query was one that Prima could not answer truthfully. In this time there was no America and no cloning lab outside of Ulan Baatar. Xena's polis of Amphipolis hadn't even been founded yet. Given the situation Prima did the next best thing. She lied.
"I was born on the coast of Laconia, just west of the mouth of the River Eurotas."
"A Spartan woman?" The Eurotas river valley inland was the site of Sparta.
"My father was a hypomeioon. He had no sons. In hopes of raising the status of my family I joined the warriors of King Odysseus of Ithaka and fought at Ilios. I have not returned home since the death of King Menelaus."
Herakles nodded in sympathy. Prima's story explained much. In Sparta everything revolved around the army. There was no navy and the people of the coasts were looked down upon. She had left home and sought combat to prove her family's worth. No doubt the feelings of inferiority that had dogged her from childhood had also driven her to excel. He also made the assumption that she was traveling at her own speed, returning from Ilios to Laconia, and taking time to experience some adventures in between. It gave him an idea.
"Prima, though I don't know you well, I know the reputation of King Odysseus. He is an honorable man. If you fought in his following at Ilios then I must presume that you're also an able warrior. It seems that I may have need of such skills. My cousin Theseus may be in trouble."
Despite a mind that processed information faster than any human ever born, for a heartbeat the clone could only stare at the demi-god. By the gods what jest do the Moirae plan now? In a moment he will ask me to join him for his return to Themiskyra with the possibility of fighting the Amazons! This is just too rich.
Before Prima could make any reply, Herakles stood and called out across the gathering, gesturing for a man to join them. The clone followed his line of sight and sure enough, the subject of his summons was none other than Acamas. The man had been lurking some distance away, probably spying on them the whole evening.
"Your cousin Theseus is Theseus King of Athens?" She asked to fill the gap in their conversation. Predictably Herakles nodded 'yes' to her.
"Just today I received word from his son Acamas that he is beached in a cove east of Themiskyra" Herakles told her. "One of his ships was badly damaged in a storm and he is making repairs. The Amazons of that region have given him aid, but he has become wary. Acamas has recognized one among their number whom he claims is a deadly warrior, the most deadly he has ever met. Now he fears that the Amazons may turn upon Theseus and his men, and they would surely be slaughtered. You see, the Amazons have no love of Achaeans, and I fear that it is my own past actions that are to blame."
Prima was holding her breath as Acamas slowly made his way closer.
"What did you do to the Amazons, Herakles?" She asked, very curious to hear his explanation. His words had seemed to show remorse.
Herakles sighed and the look of regret on his face was unmistakable.
"In the years of my youth I was repeatedly tricked and afflicted by the gods," he claimed. At Prima's curious look, he said, "No, not the Eumenides, but rather Hera herself. To this day she has never forgiven my father for his affair with Alkmene and my conception. She caused a madness in me so that I slew my wife Megara and our children. She afflicted me again during my 9th labor for my cousin Eurystheus.
I had come to Themiskyra in peace and met the Amazon Queen Andromakhe. She knew me and wanted my seed, hoping that her children would partake of my divine strength. I wanted something of great value from her as well. Eventually we agreed that when her third daughter was born of our union, she would cede to me the Cuirass of Ares, for this had been demanded of me by Eurystheus. She felt that she was getting the better end of the deal."
Here Herakles sighed again. His memories were obviously painful. There was no hint of boasting in his voice, for the coveting of divine parentage for a monarch's offspring was very common in those days.
"It was common practice for a queen to take a man to create an heiress, but it would be rare for her to have any depth of feeling for him. In the short time that we spent together, Andromakhe and I fell in love. I had not felt such devotion for a lover since the loss of my wife. We enjoyed a scant two weeks of bliss together. But then Hera tricked me. She came among my men in the guise of a sentry, crying out that the Amazons were attacking us. At about the same time she had appeared to the Amazons, crying out that we had killed their queen. In a short time both horrors came true."
Here the demi-god paused with sorrow etched upon his face for yet another love lost through the machinations of his step-mother. She was the Goddess of Marriage and it seemed that she intended to deny this sacrament to her husband's illegitimate son. When he resumed, there was a thickness in his voice, and though it was short of hitching, there was no question about the depth of regret he lived with.
"Aboard our ships my men and the Amazons in Andromakhe's entourage became alarmed at the news and it wasn't long before the fighting began. The queen and I rushed out on deck and witnessed her warriors falling. She tried to stop my men; we both tried to stop them, but in the confusion one of them ran her through with his sword.
I was crushed and I crushed that man's skull with my bare hands for killing her. Then I carried her lifeless body to the shore. I was still with her lamenting our parting when my men saw the approach of torches and I heard the thunder of hooves. For the sake of the lives of my men I cast off, leaving my dead lover on the beach with her slain sisters."
There had been far more to the story than what she had heard through Oreithyia's hatred. Prima had been created to redress a conflict with a goddess, and unlike Herakles, she had won. Now she felt a deep sympathy for the man most hated by the Amazons. Before she could reply Acamas arrived, finally drunk enough to have found the courage to confront the clone.
"She's the one, Herakles," Acamas slurred while standing unsteadily before them and pointing at Prima. "She's the one who fought alongside us in the horse, but she's an Amazon now. Somehow she followed me here. You have to stop her."
"You're drunk!" Both Herakles and Prima exclaimed with the same breath. The demi-god was outraged by the conduct of this guest to another guest. Prima was merely stating a fact, not searching for an excuse. She was disgusted with Acamas' conduct for it was unbecoming of a soldier on an important mission. No clone in the Destroyer's army would have thought of acting thus in her wildest dreams. She was tempted to snap his neck on the spot.
The son of Theseus was still standing with his arm outstretched, pointing at Prima. Slowly his words sunk through the shock of his outrageous behavior and Herakles looked over at the clone.
"Is this true?" He whispered.
"It is," Prima said evenly. She was answering the son of the King of the Gods but her icy glare was pinned on the son of the King of Athens. He was wilting by the moment.
"She's going to kill me!" Acamas shrieked. The celebrants fell silent.
Around them the throng turned to watch the incident unfold. Dozens of wine-glazed eyes stared at the trio like vultures. It was Prima's voice that broke the tense silence.
"Acamas, I could have killed you on any of the last thirteen days and nights," she stated in an evenly controlled voice. "Instead I watched over you at each of your camps and kept robbers from taking you as you dozed over your fires. I needed to discover where you were going after you snuck away from your father's ships, and to do that, I needed to keep you alive. Believe me Acamas; the Amazons distrust you as much as you distrust us."
For all the shocking revelations of the last few minutes, Herakles resisted the urge to make any snap judgments. Instead he regarded Acamas, but his lips had curled in a grin at Prima's words. Finally he shook his head and addressed the clone.
"Prima, while Acamas is in the city of Abdera he is under my protection. Slay him outside the city if you must. As for you, you are the champion of the games and are free to go about in peace so long as you choose to stay. As is done at Olympia, all conflicts rest while the games and their ceremonies are celebrated. Do I make myself clear?"
"You have my word, Herakles," Prima said softly with a nod of affirmation.
"And you, Acamas, go find a place to sleep and we'll talk in the morning," Herakles said. Acamas nodded vigorously in agreement and staggered off in great relief. He was still alive for the night.
Prima took another sip from the cup she'd forgotten until that moment. Beside her Herakles sighed and drained his own cup.
"Prima," he said, "from your conduct tonight and what Acamas has told me of Ilios I can think of no other warrior I would rather have at my side, but I don't suppose I can ask you to oppose your people on behalf of his father." He canted his head in the direction that Acamas had gone.
"I will not oppose my people at anyone's side," the clone said, "but I must wonder if opposition is a necessity. Tell me, Herakles, whatever happened to the Cuirass of Ares?"
The big man shook his head at yet another memory that saddened him.
"As required, I presented it to Eurystheus, King of Mykenae, for his daughter Admete. She was a spoiled brat of a princess who wanted the golden 'Belt of the Amazons' simply because her father could get it for her. I doubt she ever wore it; in fact I hope not, for she certainly hadn't earned the right."
In his mind's eye he could still see that short gilded armor encasing the midriff of his beloved queen. How the light of the ship's lamps had played across the reliefs gracing its front from just beneath her breasts to just above the triangle of her womanhood. The sculpted musculature on its abdomen had been no more defined than that of Andromakhe herself. Its idealized feminine curves had been no more alluring than her own. And to think that it had come unearned to that self-centered pig of a girl.
For along time the two sat silently thinking. Herakles saw again the possibilities lost. Prima thought along avenues leading to the future. No act of contrition could return Andromakhe to life, but perhaps there was a way to mitigate the undying hatred of her people for the Achaeans. Perhaps the vengeance sworn to by her queen could be reduced in its severity. At the very least, Theseus would not be held liable for the sins of the past.
"Herakles, your cousin Theseus is indeed in danger. So great is the distrust of the Amazons for the Achaeans that even now our queen plots revenge upon you. Theseus is a pawn in that plan. But there may be a way to undermine this tower of hatred."
The demi-god turned sad but hopeful eyes to his guest.
"Do not go to Themiskyra. Instead, go to Mykenae. Return the Cuirass of Ares."
Prima rose to take her leave, but as she stood she reached out and clasped the shoulder of the man who her people hated above all others. I would hate to have to slay you, son of Zeus, but if we meet in battle, then one of us will surely die. She gave the comfort of her touch to the grieving demi-god, her enemy, and that feeling caused him to close his eyes in silent thanks. It was not absolution. That blessing was not Prima's to give. But for these warriors it was a voluntary link between two hearts that for a moment superseded their hostility with something more basic, the desire to offer comfort to another human being, and it was all the more poignant because neither of them was fully human.
It was the night of the new moon. On the beach the Athenians were enjoying a subdued celebration. In two weeks, with the help of the Amazons, they had completed the repairs to their ships. The last of these had been floated that evening and now all five vessels stood at anchor in the shallows. They could be underway in minutes when the order came.
Theseus was still worried about the possibility of the Amazons attacking, but he was much more concerned with the desires of his heart. Each day either Queen Hippolyte or Princess Antiope had come to visit. On those days when the queen arrived Theseus enjoyed her company, for she was a wise ruler after her peoples' fashion, fearless, responsible, and visibly beloved by her subjects. They spoke as one ruler to another and Theseus was growing enamoured of the freedom of Hippolyte's people. There were no conniving senators, no scheming merchants, and no covetous relatives in her realm as there were by the dozens in his. But on the days when Antiope arrived his heart soared.
She was young, much younger than he, but she was radiant with the natural beauty of her youth. She had such vigor and health. The same fearlessness that marked her older sister graced her as well, and with it a growing wisdom not yet constrained by the harsh discipline of rule. Unlike her crowned sibling, Antiope could still laugh.
And oh how he loved to hear that sound. The great Theseus, the hero of many tales, exterminator of brigands from Troezen to Athens, slayer of the Marathonian Bull and the Minotauros, freer of the sacrificial youths on Krete. Sixteen years before he had even kidnapped Helen for a bride. But now he was smitten with the Amazon princess and he saw her face in his dreams. Even before he had realized how strongly he desired her he had been trying to win her heart; trying to make her laugh. He had never been as happy as when her dour tutor Prima had disappeared.
That thought gave him pause. Prima was the one of whom his son Acamas had warned him. She had not appeared at the cove since the day after his son had left on his errand to Herakles. Perhaps he should have been more concerned, but there was little he could do. Aid had been sent for. By now Acamas was far away. The Amazons were still friendly to his men. And his heart was consumed with a new love. Though his ships were seaworthy and some of the men were anxious to be away, he would stay one more day.
Theseus laughed to himself at that thought. He had said those same words to himself the night before. He had known that the ships would be ready to sail this afternoon and he could have ordered them to sea on the evening tide, but he had chosen to linger.
Alone in the dark he thought about a possibility. It was one he had used before and it had worked, but he had made a single mistake then. Helen had been twelve when he'd abducted her and so he'd chosen to leave her in his mother's care for a couple years to ripen. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Leaving her with her parents for two more years would have meant a difficult competition for her with every other suitor in the Achaean kingdoms. The daughter of Leda had been ravishing even as a girl. To his eyes, Antiope was no less desirable.
Now he had no co-conspirator such as Pirithous to aid him. The poor bastard was probably still literally stuck in Tartarus for having attempted to kidnap Persephone from Hades. Theseus stroked the patch of scar tissue on the back of his thigh that still reminded him of being stuck to a similar chair until his cousin Herakles had pulled him free. He'd left a patch of skin the size of his palm behind, so a part of him was already in the land of the dead. When he thought about it, partnering with Pirithous had been a bad decision. The younger man had been a loose cannon and worse, a loser with poor luck. He was better off without him.
But could he make an abduction work? After some thought he had no doubts that he could. All he needed to do was convince Antiope to board his ship. Once onboard he would sail for deep water far from shore. His men could easily slay the Amazons unlucky enough to accompany her. And Prima, the warrior his son had so feared, was nowhere to be found. Absent her, he was optimistic about his chances for success. The Amazons had no ships and could not give chase. In less than three weeks he would be back in his citadel on the Acropolis of Athens, enjoying his new mistress.
The next day it was Queen Hippolyte who visited, and the day after, both she and her beautiful sister. But on the third day after completing the repairs of his ships, the princess arrived alone with a bodyguard of a dozen warriors. As in the past the king entertained her beneath the canopy erected by his men on the beach. By now both his men and the Amazons were accustomed to mingling and a slight loosening of tensions had occurred.
The day was bright and warm. Only a few clouds sailed in the sky. But there was a fine breeze for sailing and the tide was stilling. By the hour after the noon meal it would be running to the ebb, drawing anything along the shore out to sea. Theseus made his decision. Today would be the day.
"Princess, our stay has been very pleasant despite our damaged ships, and my men and I have you and your sister to thank for that. It could have been much different…much more difficult."
Antiope smiled to acknowledge the king's kind words. Over the last couple of weeks she had spent much time conversing with him and had come to believe that, Herakles aside, this king was not nearly so worthy of distrust. He was a generous host, not only to her and her sister, but to their warriors as well. Food and drink he shared with all, his own soldiers and theirs. He explained that it was part of the institution of democracy, a philosophy of social equalization that sought to diminish the ills of class distinctions and insure the dignity of all. It was a charming idea, but perhaps better for city people than hers. Today they had dined and talked at length about horse breeding, a topic she knew much about. He listened to her seriously and treated her like an equal, which she found impressive in a man, though her experience with men was extremely limited.
"Yes, it has been an unexpectedly pleasant stay," Theseus said, "but our ships are repaired now and my men feel the call of home. The weather is fine for sailing in this season. I believe that tomorrow we shall bid your land farewell and sail for Athens."
Antiope looked at him. Though she had always known he would leave, the actual time had not been mentioned until now. At least he would remain long enough to say his farewells to her sister. As if he were thinking the same thing, he spoke of that next.
"I hope that tomorrow your kind sister will visit. I would be shamed to leave without bidding her thanks for all her help. I feel that we have found friends here in this wide land, and friends unlooked for are always a blessing."
Antiope nodded again in agreement. Theseus looked at her with a more somber expression, almost sad, the princess thought.
"I suppose I shall not see you again after today," the king said, "and I shall long remember you, Princess. Perhaps in some year to come I shall be able to return, and perhaps I shall find you a queen. Then we shall reminisce about this day and about how fate brought us together in friendship in our time of need." The king paused to glance up at the cliffs and then out to sea. "A beautiful day in a beautiful country."
"Perhaps someday we shall meet again, King Theseus," Antiope said, "and perhaps one day I shall even sail in one of your ships. Though no queen of our people has yet done so, the thought has grown to interest me as much as scare me."
Theseus smiled at her words. Here was a young woman with an intrepid spirit, who both honored tradition and could embrace new experiences.
"Though we cannot sail without finishing our preparations, I can offer you the chance to stand aboard one of the ships and feel how the waves move the deck. Aboard, almost one can feel the life blood of Poseidon's realm, how it moves as a living thing, almost as a great beast breathing." Again the king looked out to sea and he smiled. "Today the beast sleeps peacefully, I think." He looked to Antiope with a smile of good humor on his face.
The princess looked out to sea as well. She was not at all comfortable with the idea of sailing, but she was intrigued with the idea of standing on the deck of a ship at anchor. Yet the nearest ship stood no more than a dozen fathoms from the beach, a distance she could easily swim if necessary. In the cove, the water at that distance was probably no more than a fathom deep. Like the first time she had sat upon the back of a horse, she felt the thrill of a new experience laid out before her.
"If it is truly possible and would cause no delay of your preparations, then I would indeed be curious to stand aboard a ship," the princess said with an impish smile.
"A visit aboard this afternoon would cause no delay in our preparations," the king said. The two of them looked over to see a boat carrying water kegs being rowed out to a more distant ship. Another boat was returning. There were men on the beach and several activities underway. A couple rowboats were beached nearby as well.
After finishing the cups of wine they'd poured, Theseus stood and gestured for Antiope to join him.
"Let us bring some of your escort along, shall we? There's no reason for the reports of this adventure to cause your sister any nervousness." He shaded his eyes with a hand and looked carefully at the nearest ship. "I can see a dozen aboard there," he told her as he pointed to the deck. "How many would you like to accompany you?"
Antiope could see sailors working on the ropes for the sail and she could see others on the deck. There didn't seem to be more than a quarter of the ship's compliment aboard and so she opted for parity.
"A dozen would be prudent," she said with a smile, "and then my sister will have no grounds for complaint."
With that she called out four names and those four brought their triads to make twelve. They formed up in two lines behind the princess and Theseus and the group made their way towards a boat. Another dozen Amazons were to remain behind on the beach.
"Now only eight can go at a time, and two should be my men to row," Theseus explained. "So we can send six ahead in the first trip and then you and I and another four next. The last two can come in a third trip. Will that be okay?"
As Antiope was nodding her agreement one of Theseus' men came up in haste.
"My King, we are ready to test the new rudder."
"Very well, Captain," Theseus replied, "but have two other ships sail in close parallel to bracket your ship so that if you have any trouble they can tow you back to shore."
The man nodded and then hurried to a rowboat, gesturing for several other men to join him.
Antiope gave the king a questioning look.
"We have to check to see if that new rudder will swing like the original one did, so he's going to make a short test cruise around the cove" Theseus explained. "I such cases it's wise to have two other ships accompany him just in case he gets in trouble." The king sighed as if it was all nothing but a troublesome bit of procedure, but then he smiled and tried to explain more to the princess. "We had to reuse the nails holding it all together," he confessed, "and they may have been weakened when we bent them straight again. If some of them were to snap, the new rudder could come loose."
He offered her a smile and Antiope returned it. The king seemed both concerned for the welfare of his men and willing to take a moment to explain things to one who knew little of ships. It was yet another case in which the king showed how thoughtful he could be.
Antiope stepped into the row boat and sat on the plank bench. Four other Amazons joined her. Six of her escorts were already aboard the ship and she could see sailors pointing out things on the deck to them. She settled as the men began to row, looking to her left where three ships were slowly pulling away from anchorage, the repaired vessel and its two flanking vessels. On the beach to her right the remaining six men were loading boxes of supplies into the last row boat. Nearer to her point of departure, the dozen Amazons who were to stay ashore were watching her progress carefully. As she raised a hand to signal that all was well a smile crept onto her face. She was at the beginning of a new experience.
The men rowed the boat gently to minimize the rocking. Antiope watched the men on the beach loading the last of the boxes into the other boat. Her Amazons were still watching her closely. She turned to see the ship they were approaching and saw her six guards at the railing watching her approach. Beside them sailors stood watching the approach of their king. Then they had arrived. A sailor lowered a rope and one of the rowers tied it to the prow of the rowboat.
Theseus climbed up from the boat using a net on the ship's side as a ladder. It was only about eight feet to the railing and Antiope thought it easy as she started upwards right behind him. Her four guards followed, and last, the two men who had done the rowing.
"Princess, come forward with me. I'd like you to see what it's like looking out from the bow of the ship," King Theseus called out. He was making his way forward and Antiope moved to join him. Behind her the ten Amazons who were on board followed. None of them noticed that the rowboat was being lifted from the water.
Antiope and her Amazons stood in the bow of the ship where it narrowed to the prow. Painted on the hull below them were the eyes that watched over the ship's course.
"It looks like the new rudder is working well, so far," Theseus observed, directing their attention to the trio of ships slowly moving out from the shore. He turned to the Amazons and said with a beaming smile, "We have you to thank for that, my friends."
They watched for a while, noting that a rowboat had reached the fifth ship and it was being raised from the water by pulleys and stowed at the stern. Antiope took a quick glance back and saw a similar boat dangling from lines at the back of the ship she stood on. It was still dripping wet. They must keep more than one per ship since the one we rowed out on was still in the water. She couldn't see it now for the curve and height of the hull. When Theseus spoke to her again, she turned back and looked out across the open water beyond the cove where he was pointing.
"There lies the width of the Pontus Euxinus. It is very wide and would take us three days to cross in good weather. It is larger than the Aegean Sea that lies to the west. In all the world, only the Mediterranean Sea is larger."
"It is surely very wide as you say," Antiope remarked absently, for though she had often seen the sea while standing on the shore, somehow it looked different from the deck of a ship that had traveled those waters from afar.
She closed her eyes and sampled the scents on the sea air as a breeze rose to brush back her hair. Beside her the other Amazons were likewise transfixed by this new experience. When she opened her eyes again she looked forward and saw that the three ships moving together to test the new rudder seemed no further away than they had been some minutes ago. For a moment it struck her as odd, but then Theseus was speaking again.
"Ahhh Antiope, if only you could see the wonders on the open sea, when Apollo's chariot is high above making every wave atop Poseidon's realm sparkle like the widest field of diamonds, and all of them dancing to the same tune. Clouds sail in the heavens above and their shadows accompany the ships on their course while porpoises leap beside as if in a race. I believe that at such times I feel a freedom much akin to that which your people feel while galloping on horseback. On the sea, one has the excitement of danger, but the skills to survive bring us home…most times anyway." He chuckled softly.
Antiope sighed in contentment. The king's descriptive words painted a picture in her mind; one of freedom unlike what she knew on the steppes, but not a thing unimaginable to her.
"Perhaps someday I shall see just what you describe, Theseus," the princess said. "It sounds like a sight well worth the effort to experience, though I also think that I should rather feel the familiar rhythm of a horse beneath me than these waves."
Indeed the motion of the ship had increased and was now noticeable to her.
"Perhaps you shall see just such," Theseus said. And much sooner than you may think.
The distant sounds of shouting drew her attention, but it was muffled by the creaking of the hull and the breeze and the lapping of the water. Antiope looked around. The trio of ships was still ahead of them, no closer and no further than when she had last looked at them. The fifth ship was also still at their side some sixty feet to her left. It was only when she looked back at the shore that she felt horror. The beach was now more than twice the distance it had been when they had boarded. On the sand her remaining warriors were gesturing and shouting, but most disturbing of all…they were alone. None of the Athenians remained. She turned to Theseus in time to hear him shout an order.
"Pull! Row for the open sea!"
Antiope jerked around and looked down the length of the hull. Sure enough, half the men had taken their seats at the benches and now they began to raise the oars. The other half were now armed with spears and they were moving forward.
"Prepare yourselves, Amazons," she heard Molpadia yell, and her ten warriors drew their swords and stood in a circle around her.
Antiope drew her own dagger and wished for her bow. They were outnumbered by twenty-five to ten. The first of her guardians fell beside her. Theseus had drawn his sword and run her through from behind. He slashed and parried as two turned on him, but then his men engaged the other seven. With spears against swords the Amazons began to fall. Antiope saw her loyal escort being slaughtered and her rage rose within her, driving her to use what Prima had taught her. She snatched a sword from a fallen sister and began The Smashing of the Wheel. Men died but more replaced them. When Antiope next looked around, only she and Molpadia were left standing.
"Save yourself, Sister," she called to her triad mate. The older warrior shook her head to refuse, but as she once had during the horse chase when she'd first met Prima, Antiope made her request a command. "Molpadia, I order you to withdraw. Find Prima! Come for me!"
And as before on that day, the warrior wavered for a second. As Antiope opened her mouth to repeat her command, Molpadia shrieked a bloodcurdling war cry of hate and frustration. The raw force of that sound carried a rage that froze the men around her for a heartbeat. Then the warrior took three strides, leapt to the railing, and with a last look back, dove overboard.
A heartbeat later Antiope stood ringed with spears. She could slay more men with the skills Prima had taught her, but could she slay them all? She had practiced diligently for two years and she had already slain three, but in the slit-second that she had to decide she realized that no, she could not. She could not be sure of slaying so many of them that she could win her freedom. With a wisdom that came from the clone's teachings more than her own experiences or traditions, she realized that the Athenians had acted to abduct her, not to kill her. Tactically, her best choice was to stand down and survive.
Molpadia had escaped. The warriors on the beach had witnessed the crime. Soon Prima would come for her. Her protector would never rest until she was free again. With that thought for comfort, Antiope dropped her sword. Theseus came forward into the ring of spears and took possession of it. For a moment he looked at the blood on its blade and then he looked into her blazing eyes. Rather than reveling in his conquest, he appeared tired and sad.
"I am sorry, Princess. My heart has overcome my honor. Your people now have yet another reason to hate and distrust my people. I only hope that in time you can forgive me."
Antiope looked back at the King of Athens. She looked down at her fallen sisters.
"Ask your forgiveness of them," she said, gesturing to the bodies of her Amazons.
Two days later the five ships passed the Bosporus Thracia. None aboard noticed the rider galloping her pale horse east from the ferry. If the rider marked the ships sailing west she gave no sign, nor did she slow her pace. Prima and her princess were moving in opposite directions. The nearer the clone drew to home, the longer her road became.
"I saw her afterward, you know," Herakles softly told Xena as she sighed and let her head fall back against the pillows, stretching her neck. "I saw her more than once."
Xena had barely moved for the last hour and facing to the side all that time had made her old muscles stiff. She closed her eyes for a moment to rest them as well, but when she reopened them she fixed Herakles with her ice blue stare. Seated in a chair across the bed, Lila hadn't moved during the big man's story. In fact, she'd barely breathed.
"I guess you know the history and the legends of the Amazonomachia as well as I do, Xena. I'm sure Gabrielle read everything that still exists on the subject."
Xena's clone nodded in agreement. Gabrielle, Janice Covington, Melinda Pappas, and Harry Tasker…even the original Xena had known the tale by heart.
"When Prima returned to Themiskyra it was still in an uproar. Molpadia and the Amazons from the beach had reported the abduction of Antiope to Hippolyte. The queen was livid, but she was also haunted by guilt for having sent her sister among Theseus' men. She had seen the king's attraction and she had used that attraction to keep him accessible. She had hoped take him prisoner and then force his men to return to Athens with demands for the ransom of the Cuirass of Ares. She had also hoped to demand the head of Herakles, the mortal enemy of the Amazons. But all those plans had fallen apart. Theseus had struck first."
The demi-god shook his head. How often had he seen hate rebound to become the bane of the hater? How often over the years had he seen the wages of his own deeds spiral out of control? He had tried to make restitution. He had been plagued with guilt. It had been his own actions that had precipitated the war that had diminished the people of the woman he had once loved. To this day they had never recovered. In seeking to be absolved of a crime he had been manipulated to commit, he had laid low an entire nation.
"Molpadia agitated for war and Queen Hippolyte II hardly needed to be convinced. The army of Themiskyra was mustered and joined by sister tribes from Lycasteia north of the Euxinus. They rode west and met others who held ill-will or some grudge against the Achaeans, or who simply sought plunder. By the time the armies joined in Thrace, they numbered over 70,000 strong. These tribes had traded and fought, or raided each other and made peace for hundreds of years, but now they were all united in their hatred of Achaea. They swept over the lands of Macedonia, Thessaly, and the kingdoms of Phthotis, Trachis, Locris, Boeotia, and Attica, finally reaching Athens in mid-1248 BC. By then it had been almost a year since Antiope's abduction.
In the van of the army rode Prima. While the queen had a war to direct for the sake of royal blood and national honor, Prima had a personal duty to exercise. She was the sworn protector of the princess and she was Antiope's triad sister. She was her friend. But beyond these reasons, she was half-convinced that Antiope had some connection to Gabrielle, and for that reason, she could not fail to rescue the princess."
Xena nodded, understanding how strongly duty had driven the 'specials'. A long time ago in the future she had created Prima and Secunda with just such imperatives. Once given a mission, neither of them would have spared any effort to achieve victory. Each was an unstoppable force once they had been unleashed. It was a wonder that Athens still stood and the dying clone was very curious to hear a firsthand account, for there had been many gaps in what history recalled and many questions that had never been answered.
When Herakles continued Xena shut her eyes and concentrated on his words. She forced herself to see and feel what he described. Like the 'specials', who had once been implanted with her memories, she now sought to implant herself with theirs. Where did you go, Prima? What did you do? How did you plan and execute your campaign to gain the eventual victory? That I existed, that Gabrielle existed; these lives prove that you were successful. What did you discover all those years ago?
"The Amazons and their allies encamped on the Areios Pagos and besieged Athens. The outer wall was quickly breached and the hippikon wrecked havoc in the city streets, driving the defenders back in a bloody rout. Finally they held all of Athens save only the Acropolis, and then they came to the gates demanding the return of Antiope…"
In the early evening Prima gazed at the gates of Athens. Twenty-five feet in height and made of stout oak timbers banded with iron. They were set in a palisade wall of stone blocks that topped them by another fifteen feet. If I stood here with the Conqueror's army these gates would already have fallen and those inside would be dying of a hundred plagues, but now we must breach them and we have no engines of siege. As at Ilios, a frontal assault will stalemate.
Around her were gathered the greatest warriors of the Amazon tribe. Queen Hippolyte had come to rescue her sister, the Princess Antiope, and she had brought the strength of Themiskyra. Fresh from battle and seeking blood were Molpadia, Glauke, Oreithyia, Andromakhe, Aristomakhe, Klyemne, Ekhephyle, Hippomakhe, Amynomene, Doris, Alkinoe, Euryleia, Kreousa, Deinomakhe, Pyrgomakhe, Eumakhe, Antianeira, Laodoke, Areximakha, Melousa, Okyale, Xanthippe and ten thousand more. Behind them stood the armies of the east, another 60,000 strong. Within the walls cringed the remnant of the Athenian militia, barely 15,000 warriors.
Prima eyed the rocky heights, the strong wall that guarded the only approaching road up to Theseus' citadel, and what she could see of the buildings atop the Acropolis. She leaned over to speak softly with Hippolyte.
"My Queen, as at Ilios it will be a long and bloody siege, for only time will drive the men of Athens from the safety of their walls."
Much as she hated to admit it, Hippolyte had to nod in agreement. The defenders had little reason to march out, for they had great stores of grain and natural springs within their fortress. She looked to Prima for suggestions and was shocked by what she heard. The clone's tone of voice chilled her blood.
"Tonight under cover of darkness I will infiltrate the stronghold and rescue your sister. I am sworn to do this as her protector and the princess is a sister of my triad. I should go alone for secrecy's sake, but I will take one other with me…Molpadia still feels shame for having lived when her princess was taken captive. She is also my sister and I would offer her this chance to either conquer or die. At the very least I shall wreck slaughter on our enemies who hide within the safety of their walls, just as I did at Ilios."
What did you do at Ilios? What more could you have done than what I saw this day?
The queen felt a shiver of fear, a feeling very nearly alien to her. The ice blue eyes of the warrior beside her were colder than any she had seen before…inhumanly so. During that afternoon's fighting in the city streets she had ridden close to Prima and she had seen what the warrior was capable of. She had watched over forty men fall beneath her sword and Chakram in a display of cold-blooded mayhem worthy of a goddess or a myth. Few slew so many in a lifetime, and she had done so in an afternoon. The warrior had caught arrows and batted others aside. She had even caught a javelin that had been thrown at her queen, and then slung it back to impale the thrower.
Hippolyte looked up at the sheer cliffs and the tall rampart. The mission that Prima proposed seemed impossible and yet for a second time she believed. She was the queen and this superlative warrior was hers to command.
"Very well, Prima," she said. "Tonight you and Molpadia shall invade the fastness of our enemies. May Ares bless your campaign."
Bless my campaign… In a far distant future the 'special' had stood for her Strategos and sacrificed to the God of War…and Ares had accepted her holocaust. He had appeared before the Destroyer's army and given her the kiss of his Blessing.
The clone nodded to her queen and beckoned her triad sister. Molpadia followed and together they withdrew to the rear where tents were being erected to house the army.
"In the name of the Destroyer of Nations, with the Blessing of the God of War…Victory or death!" She whispered. In her memories she heard those words shouted by her true sisters on the day that Ares blessed the Strategos' army. And as she had on that day, she believed in her destiny.
Ten thousand fires ringed the Acropolis and the subdued din of the bivouacked army filled the smoky night air. Clad in black cloaks, Prima and Molpadia walked among their sisters receiving words of encouragement and good fortune. Beneath her cloak Molpadia had painted herself with a mixture of tallow and soot, blackening her skin, while Prima wore the uniform of the Conqueror. They chose a place to the south-east, facing the sheerest cliffs where the encircling camp was least dense, a place furthest from the watch fires and the attention of the Athenians overlooking the Amazon camp on the Areios Pagos, and there they disappeared into the night.
It was a slow and difficult ascent for Molpadia, but she persevered with grim determination, placing her hands and feet exactly where Prima had gone before. A yard at a time they moved upward, free climbing in silence like shadows on the limestone wall. Crowing the natural precipice above them stood a foundation of limestone blocks thirty feet high. Above that, over a low parapet, was the backside of the Temple of Athenos Polias, the city's patron protectoress. All together it was a climb of 455 feet.
Doggedly they proceeded until after almost an hour Prima slowly raised her head and took a careful look over the parapet. A guard had just marched past and was turning the corner around the nearer corner of the temple. In a moment he was out of sight. With the strength of her left arm she vaulted the low stone wall while with her right she drew her sword. Molpadia heaved herself over just seconds later and for a moment stared out in wonder at the encampment below. Then she too drew her weapon and followed Prima.
They slunk through the night keeping to the shadows. In silence they slew six sentries as they made their way towards the largest building, the building that could only be Theseus' citadel. From the roof flew his pennant of the subdued bull and the entrance portico was ringed with guards. They watched for a time and saw what they could only believe was a sign. Into the window of a high room in the tower a figure with bright golden hair moved to look out over the city. She clasped the sill and leaned out to look to the sides. It was without a doubt Antiope.
"Stay here and remain hidden," Prima whispered. "Come forward when the entrance is clear."
Molpadia looked at her in surprise, but her surprise graduated to utter shock when Prima lowered a strange glass over her left eye and vanished. She had to force herself to stifle a gasp and remain silent. And then the killing began.
Thirty feet away a man fell and before he was still on the ground six more were dying. None had even drawn their swords. The door to the tower was hauled open and light streamed out from within. A guard was dragged outside to his death on the portico. Molpadia heard the snap of his neck before his body was flung clear of the doorway. A moment later Prima reappeared on the threshold, her sword bloody, and beckoned her forward. Molpadia ran to join her on shaking legs.
"By the gods what are you…" Molpadia began to ask, but Prima silenced her with a hiss.
"Wait the count of five and then follow behind me. Slay any who come after us," she ordered. She lowered the filter over her eye and disappeared again.
"How shall I follow one I can't see," the Amazon whispered.
From the air right in front of her face came Prima's voice.
"Follow the blood!"
Then the door flew open and a war cry shook the air. In the vestibule just inside the door men turned in shock. Prima was upon them in a heartbeat and the killing started. On the count of five Molpadia entered and slammed the door shut. Before her, the bodies of guards lay strewn upon the floor. Across the room more were dying. She slammed the bolt to lock the door and charged towards the fighting.
For the Amazon it was the strangest fight she'd ever been in. More than once she lunged to impale an enemy only to have his head hewn clean off before she could make her thrust. Out of thin air came Prima's exasperated voice.
"I said, follow me and slay any who came after. The ones ahead are mine."
Up a long flight of stone stairs they broke down a door and entered the high chamber where they had seen Antiope appear at the window. The princess was there clutching a sword. Beside her stood Theseus, also armed. As Molpadia cleared the door, the king's sword flew from his hand. Then Prima reappeared. She held the king at swordpoint.
"My Princess, we have come to liberate you at last," the clone said.
The princess dropped her sword and leapt into the clone's arms. Seeing this, Molpadia came forward to guard the king.
"Prima, is there any reason to leave him alive?" The Amazon asked. She was itching to hew the king's throat. To her surprise it was Antiope who answered.
"Spare him, Molpadia. He is the father of my child."
It was only then that the two Amazons noticed the cradle standing in a corner of the room, and from it came the cries of a babe newly woken from sleep. Theseus turned to the infant, for the first time with fear on his face.
"You may slay me in vengeance, for by your code I deserve no less," he said. "But I beseech you as one warrior to another. Spare the life of my son."
Prima looked into Antiope's eyes as she held her in her arms. The princess was sober and seemed far more mature than a single year should have conferred. Maternity had brought her quickly to womanhood.
"You may not slay him in vengeance for he is my husband, and you will spare the life of our son. I command it."
Both Prima and Molpadia looked at her with even greater shock.
"When this becomes known, your sister and her allies will lay waste this polis," Prima whispered. "They will leave not a single living thing. You know this, Antiope."
For a moment the princess wavered. Prima could see the shadow of uncertainty in her eyes and the hint of the girl she had been.
"You must return with us, my Princess," Molpadia said desperately. "You must forsake this thief of your affections and reject this forced marriage. You are an Amazon and a princess. One day you will be queen. Leave this son with the people of his father as it is our tradition to do. This city life is no life for a rider of the steppes."
Antiope sighed. What they said was true. Under the circumstances her sister was required by honor and law to avenge the abduction. Either she had to return to her people or Theseus and the people of Athens, including her son, would be slain as enemies.
"Come with me now," Antiope said to her rescuers. "I must speak with my sister. Theseus, stay here with Hippolytus." At the quirked brow of her protector, she explained, "I named my son for my queen and sister."
"Antiope, I shall accompany you to the gate with our son so that no harm comes to your sisters. If you wish, I will wait within the city."
Shortly later the people of Athens were treated to the astonishing sight of their king walking beside his foreign-born wife, neither bearing arms. Instead the king carried the infant prince. Walking with them as bodyguards were two armed Amazons. When they reached the gate Antiope briefly kissed her husband and then held her baby. A tear rolled slowly down her cheek. This was goodbye.
When the gate opened the queen's entourage was already waiting. Antiope, Prima, and Molpadia walked out of the walls and down to the waiting Amazons. There Queen Hippolyte greeted her sister with a tight and thankful hug.
"Our princess has returned," she announced to wild cheers when they reentered the Amazon camp. "Let our thirst for vengeance be satisfied with the deaths of the 6,000 slain this past day and with the destruction of the outer city. We have recovered what was stolen from us and paid back that crime with blood. Are you satisfied, warriors?"
The great cry that went up in answer left no doubt that the tribe's blood lust was sated and they were ready to ride for home. All would have been well, for even the Lycasteian Amazons would have withdrawn with them, but the Thracians, Cimmerians, and the other warriors of the steppes, the Skyths, Gitae, Phrygians, and others who had come for plunder were not satisfied. They were not ready to return home. Yet without the Amazons, they were poorly equipped to assault the walled city.
When the decision to withdraw became known the following day their frustration and rage turned against those whom they blamed for the loss of the treasure they felt had almost been in their hands. The Amazons found themselves outnumbered and forced to confront an unexpected enemy at their backs who blocked their route back to the Pontus Euxinus. They would be forced to fight their way home.
In the first clashes many Amazons fell. Many more of their enemies fell besides. Prima and Molpadia guarded Antiope with their lives and at each engagement they cut their way free of the fighting, allowing their queen and many others to follow in their wake. But during the last engagement in Attica, Hippolyte was slain and Glauke with her, and so the rule of the Themiskyra Amazons passed to the wife of Theseus, the seventeen year old Princess Antiope.
At her coronation when some raised their doubts, she told the council, "I slew three upon the ship before I was abducted and so won the right to mate as is our tradition. My son will be a prince and a king in his time." And the protests were silenced.
The road seemed dauntingly long and the attacks against their column continued without mercy. It seemed that each night word was passed that some other beloved and long known warrior had fallen. Most of these could not be prepared for the afterlife, nor given proper funeral pyres while the Amazon host was fleeing through strange and hostile lands.
It was one of the sorest points among the Amazons that even the body of their dead queen had been hidden at night in an unmarked cave and the entrance hidden in hopes that the Cimmerians or Skyths wouldn't find it and take Hippolyte's corpse for a trophy of war. The bodies of the queen and Glauke had been interred by Oreithyia, their only surviving triad sister, with the aid of Prima, Molpadia, and Antiope. No others, even among the Themiskyra Amazons, knew the last resting place of their queen. This was so that no warrior could be tempted to reveal that information, either by a bribe or under duress of torture. Then the Amazons moved on, for they had a long journey ahead and more would die the next day.
The bloody retreat continued for five moons. The Amazon army was first broken into three unequal corps. Enemy tribes continued to assail them at every opportunity and by the time the lead company reached the Bosporus, the once great cavalry had been reduced to struggling bands of a dozen here or a score there. So many horses had been lost or stolen that most of the riders had only the mount under them.
Word had outpaced the Amazons and the ferry was held against them by enemies. It was two weeks before enough Amazons had gathered on the Thracian side to launch a successful attack to take control of the ferry. The cavalry began crossing while fighting still raged behind them. Those who crossed first breathed a sigh of relief. Winter had arrived but they finally had a respite from pursuit. Those left behind sought to reach the ferry, or if that could not be, then to do such damage to their foes as would buy a few hours for their sisters. It was obvious that the last riders would be stranded after the ferry made its final trip and was sunk.
Now predictably Antiope and her protectors were among the first to cross the Bosporus. They were saddened by all the losses their people had endured. Most recently they had lost contact with Oreithyia. She had been riding with their company one evening. They had not seen her the next day. They had not seen her since.
In the lands south of the Pontus Euxinus winter had arrived. The air was dry and chill. Rations were scarce. But having crossed the Bosporus at last, the Amazons finally had the breathing room to hunt. They would not starve. Still, many warriors were weakened or wounded and the dying continued. And all those who had escaped Thrace felt the loss of friends and lovers and the guilt of survivors.
So it was that at last during the first moon of 1247 BC the first veterans of the Attic War returned to Themiskyra. They staggered home defeated, with little more than their lives. For weeks a few more would ride in each day on dying horses, or on foot. The count was so low. Antiope expected more each day and went to the gate too await them, but rather than swelling in numbers, they trickled to a halt. By the second moon a week had passed with no arrivals.
We left as 10,000. We return as 600. By the gods, we are done.
Months passed. It seemed that the pursuit had trailed off after the crossing of the Bosporus. No raiders came against the much reduced tribe. No traditional enemies appeared with demands for tribute. Perhaps their enemies had gone home to lick their wounds too. Perhaps in the end all the survivors hoped for was to survive.
"Now it is time to rebuild, not the walls and towers, but the herds and the ranks of warriors," the old shamaness Polydora told her young queen. "Through all the days of your reign this will be your mission…to assure the survival of the Amazon tribe."
So it was that Antiope worked to revive the strength of her nation. Warriors were taken in from outside the tribe just as Prima had been, for the invasion of the west had sparked the imaginations of many women and girls. These fled oppressive homes or servitude, ran away from parents' plans, or followed the desires for freedom that led them east to become Amazons. The herds were increased through foals and colts born to the breeding stock, and by fresh mounts captured from the wild. Slowly the Amazons began to recover. In the labor of rebuilding, the years slipped past.
During the 10th moon of 1244 BC Queen Antiope celebrated her 21st year. It was the 4th year of her reign and she had the distinction of being the youngest Amazon to ever hold the allegiance of the tribe as War Queen. One night in the queen's lodge she'd inherited from her sister, she spoke to Prima, her protector, her triad sister, her friend.
"You came to us in my 14th year and the first thing you did was save my life. You were a mystery then, and you were a warrior like no other, stronger, faster, and fiercer. Just as you were first in prowess, you were first in beauty…certainly so to my eyes."
The queen looked into the twin wells of blue that had first captivated her as a terrified teen 7 years before. She could still feel the hastening of her breathing and the throbbing of her heart.
"At first I thought you were a daemon," Antiope said when she continued, "and I feared that I was to lose my spirit to you forever. I felt myself falling into the depths of your eyes. Yet you were no daemon. You joined our tribe and became my protector. You became my friend and my sister. Then two years ago I finally succeeded in joining with you as a lover. Now that which I first feared has come to pass. I have lost my spirit to you forever. I find I neither fear nor regret this, Prima. Never did I dream of falling so, but having fallen, I would celebrate the loss of my heart."
Antiope spent another moment staring into the endless sky within her lover's eyes. Nothing in her life had ever felt so right.
"Prima, will you officially join with me as my mate? Will you stand with me and declare our love before the tribe? Nothing in this life would make me happier."
When she had first come to Themiskyra seven years before the princess had been a young teen. Now she was a queen and a grown woman. But Prima was 43, an age when a warrior of the tribe was on the verge of becoming an elder. Though she still had some reservations about their relationship based on the great difference in their ages, these had become overshadowed by the feelings in her heart. For Antiope, Prima felt a depth of connection she had only known before when the 8,000 clones of Gabrielle had appeared on the battlefield following the slaughter in the Strymon Vale. It was the ingrained recognition of a soulmate.
Over the last seven years the clone had become convinced that Antiope and Gabrielle shared some link, and she'd admitted to herself that her heart had reacted by recognizing that link. Despite their ages and the fact that Gabrielle wouldn't be born for almost 1,150 years, joining with the young queen as her official mate felt right.
Insure the Fall of Ilios and train the Amazon Queen Antiope. This is your final mission, Prima. Set history right. So her Strategos had ordered before turning her loose at Aulis in this ancient time.
Since then the clone had engineered the Fall of Ilios and she had taught Antiope the skills that had allowed her to survive and become the youngest Amazon War Queen that her peoples' history would ever recount. She held her last mission to be complete. Prima considered herself discharged from the Conqueror's army and free to pursue her own desires.
"My Queen, my sister," Prima began, "…my friend and lover. I would be both happy and proud to join with you in any manner you desire. My heart is complete in your love."
For another decade Prima and Antiope were inseparable. In that time the position of Queen's Champion was first created, for in 1238 BC Antiope was required to defend her rule against two simultaneous challenges. But their happiness and the welfare of their tribe were fated to take a downturn.
In the late spring of 1234 BC the enemies they had left behind at the Bosporus Thracius in 1247 fell upon the recovering tribe. A mixed force of Cimmerians, Skyths, Gitae, and Phrygians numbering 25,000 assailed the 700 Amazons of Themiskyra and the city fell with great loss. Barely 350 Amazons survived to retreat to the inland fortress of Kapru Kale. There they prepared to make a last stand.
"The days darken for our people as with the falling of night, and again it falls to you to shepherd the survival of the tribe," the old shamaness Polydora told her queen. "You will witness the coming of our twilight."
She turned to Prima and gave her a long and penetrating look before the spasms of a wracking cough overtook her. When she finally recovered she continued.
"You could inflict such losses upon our enemies as to make them fear us for countless generations," the crone told the clone, "for you are as you first were, something more than a woman, but less than a goddess. Yet there is now another mission that must take precedence. It will not save the tribe, but it will enrich our culture in days far ahead.
One comes to Sinope in contrition and he bears a token for the compensation of his debt. Only you can go to him and recover what was lost. Through him you will become the instrument of our late queen's victory. Only you can give our late queen her proper rites, for the two are linked. In Athens she will be honored by her enemies."
The shamaness had served the tribe for over 80 years. No one doubted her words or her wisdom. Polydora was feared by many, but she had been a constant presence through many upheavals. Now she had astonished her queen and the clone once more and both of them stared at her in silence. As they watched she gave a soft gasp. Her eyes rolled up in her head and she keeled over on her side stone dead.
They buried Polydora in the sepulcher beneath the fortress the next morning, and then the queen and her lover prepared to take their separate roads.
"Our enemies will besiege you here and starve you out to your slaughter," Prima advised her queen, "so to survive you must flee into the mountains. Go west though the highlands to the coast of Lydia. Go while the weather remains warm. I will search for you there when I return."
"I wish you could come with me," Antiope said. "Our road will be harsh and our tribe will suffer great hardship. But you have a hard road too and I wish you good fortune. Honor my sister and then return to us, Prima. Return to me."
The clone nodded and then wrapped her young queen in a tight hug. Again she felt the fierce protective instinct well up inside her, but she would be heading away from her beloved. Their lips met in a deep kiss that was filled with sorrow. This parting came at the worst possible time, for each of them would be long in danger and no safe haven would await their return.
Prima watched the start of the Amazon migration, and when she was sure that they were on their way unopposed, she vanished and made her way due north towards the coast. On her way she slew over two hundreds of her enemies whom she encountered on the road to Sinope. At such times she would briefly appear in her uniform before the wounded, terrifying those survivors with the menace of her presence, and giving rise to tales of black daemons and malicious spirits. If Prima couldn't make them fear her tribe, then by the gods, she would make them fear the land.
In Sinope Prima searched the port and the city for a remarkable stranger who would fit Polydora's prediction. She found him in the agora on her third day there, examining a fishermen's catch.
"Herakles," she said, coming to stand beside the big man. "What brings you east?"
The demi-god spun towards the sound of her voice and faced the clone. His surprise swiftly shifted to joy.
"Prima! By the gods I'm glad to see you. Come, we must speak in private. I have important news."
Herakles ordered food and wine delivered to his room at a comfortable inn. There he and Prima spoke at length. The son of Zeus had been down many roads since the clone had left him in Abdera fifteen years before.
"After you left I spent a long time deep in thought. I decided that whatever danger my cousin Theseus found in Themiskyra, I bore the chief part of its cause and was due the chief part of the blame. Yet despite his present danger I could not compound my prior acts with new ones. I refused Acamas' request for aid. I decided that even though Hera bore the blame for the death of Queen Andromakhe and her warriors, it was up to me to undo as much of that legacy as I could. So at about the same time that Theseus sailed past the Hellespont on his way to Athens, I set out from Abdera for Mykenae.
The trip took me two months for I made many stops along the way. Still, before the Amazons rode to invade Athens I had crossed the Isthmus into the Peloponnese. Soon I came to Mykenae. I found that the cowardly King Eurystheus was long dead. His daughter Admete had become a rabid zealot and had left Mykenae for Samos. She'd become the chief priestess of a cult worshipping Hera, who's certainly not my favorite goddess. The Cuirass of Ares had been completely forgotten, left in the palace treasury since the day I'd brought it."
Prima shook her head angrily. Forty–three years before, the whims of a princess and the malice of a goddess had cost Queen Andromakhe her life. It had cost Herakles the life of his lover and the friendship of a nation. Just to think that the treasure reaped from all that heartbreak had been valued so little as to trivialize the lives lost and the chances diminished. It made the rage rise in Prima's heart.
"The royal court at Mykenae honored me, being the son of Zeus and all that," Herakles said with a wry smile. "Even so, I remained in the city for months before I mentioned the Cuirass of Ares. In fact it was only after the coming Amazon invasion was reported that I broached the subject. I told the Regent that the Amazons were coming for vengeance. He said that such vengeance was centered on Theseus, for the kidnapping of Antiope had become widely known. I agreed, but then I warned him that long ago I had delivered a treasure stolen from those same Amazons to his late king, and being that they were long in memory and already so close by, (with 70,000 warriors no more than 60 miles east across the Isthmus), perhaps their bloodlust would overflow from Athens onto Mykenae.
The Regent was horrified. Mykenae and its allied sister polis of Tiryns boasted only 22,000 warriors. So the Regent and I searched the treasury and we soon found the Cuirass of Ares. It was still wrapped in the same bolt of linen, just as I'd delivered it. I told the Regent that I felt compelled to return what I'd taken from the Amazons and that perhaps I could buy the safety of Mykenae with the same act. With great relief and a cynical chuckle he agreed. In fact he hastened me on my way."
While he'd been speaking, Herakles had opened a bundle that lay on the sleeping pallet. He unrolled a sheet of linen and there before them lay the golden armor of the Amazon Queens; the legendary Cuirass of Ares. Prima looked at it with curiosity. As functional battle armor it was lacking, but as the focal point for a ceremonial costume it was dramatic. The Amazon Queens had worn it as a symbol of divine patronage, for it had originally come from the hand of Prima's patron god. Her hand strayed to the blood red Sigil of War decorating the left collar of her uniform. That same symbol had been worked into the decorative bas reliefs on the cuirass.
Herakles stood beside the clone and gazed at the Cuirass. In his mind's eye he saw it once again beneath the lamplight in the cabin of his ship. It had not been the object that had captured his attention, but rather its enhancement of the woman who wore it. The ceremonial armor had embellished and accentuated the figure of the Amazon Queen. It had been a nice accessory when donned by the woman he'd come to love. With a blink it was just an empty shell of beaten gold again, valuable only for the metal in it.
"Prima, would you take it to the reigning Amazon Queen? Will you tell her what really happened back then? Will you let her know the truth, that I am not the enemy of her people?"
Prima heard the requests and regretted that they were impossible. The reigning Amazon Queen was on the run with what remained of her tribe and possessing such a treasure would only make her a greater target. Besides, Polydora had spoken of another more fitting destination for the Cuirass of Ares. It should go to the queen who'd sought it; the queen who'd gambled her tribe on avenging its theft and lost.
"Herakles, I cannot take it to the current queen."
She held up a hand to forestall the man's protests.
"Better that it lie with the queen who sought its return. Its recovery would mean far more to her spirit than to the current queen," Prima said. Then she sighed and confessed that, "It may be a long time before the tribe has the power to protect and display this relic. In the meantime, let it lie hidden in the care of she who most valued it."
After considering her words the demi-god nodded in agreement. The most troubling aspect to him was that despite his efforts, the Amazons would remain bereft of what he had taken from them. His act of restitution would not be consummated. Still, it was the best resolution he could foresee. There was still no way that he could approach the Amazons himself. He needed Prima's help and so he had to accept her plan.
"I will ride with you then, Prima," Herakles said.
The road from Sinope to Attica brought many unwelcome memories to the clone. Riding down a road with Herakles, she would suddenly come upon a copse wherein she had watched a sister die, pass a creek knowing that it had been the last sight a wounded warrior had seen, or pass a field and recall the carnage it had once hosted. The ghosts of the Amazon retreat haunted her for three weeks and 400 miles.
Northwest of Eleusis in the shadow of the Parnes Mountains, Prima led Herakles to a sheltered outcropping well off the road. There they dismounted and she shoved aside a heavy boulder and dug away the soil and groundcover that had grown there over the last 14 years. Beneath the outcropping the clone revealed a narrow space, and from that hidden crypt she gently brought forth the bodies of the fallen Queen Hippolyte II and the queen's triad sister, Glauke.
My queen, I have returned for you as I promised. Sister in arms, I take you with your queen, to guard her in death as you did in life. Together you will come at last to the Land of the Dead and there you can commune with your ancestors.
Herakles watched and helped as he could, but until the two bodies were wrapped for burial Prima would not let him touch them. Thereafter they each bore one of the fallen across their saddles and they made their way southeast towards Athens.
Now the people they met in the countryside, the farmers in the olive groves and the shepherds with their flocks, bowed their heads as was the tradition when a funeral procession passed. The big man they thought a great warrior, while the woman dressed head to foot in black might well have been the Priestess of Persephone.
It was only when they had reached the outskirts of the city that they were stopped. A company of the Athenian militia halted them and demanded whom they bore to funeral.
"It is the bodies of my late Queen Hippolyte and her sister, the warrior Glauke whom we bear to their rest in Athens," Prima told them as she dismounted and handed her reins to Herakles.
At her words the soldiers began muttering in surprise, but their captain had fought in the battle when the Amazons had overrun the city. He remembered the slaughter and the terror. To this day the Amazons were still his enemies.
"Amazons!" The captain exclaimed. "By what right do you bring the enemies of Athens to the city they would have plundered? Athens only stands now because of their defeat. I remember the war. Many of my comrades died in that slaughter. I will not allow you to proceed. These bodies should be confiscated as trophies, not interred with honor. This outrage must be known to King Theseus!"
He signaled a soldier to return to the city with a report and then motioned his men to surround the pair. Prima and Herakles found themselves ringed with spears.
It was with a palpable sadness that Herakles watched the clone dismount and move away from the horses. Already he could feel the rage building within her. Slowly, with the deliberate grating of steel against hard leather, the Amazon drew her sword.
"Hold, men of Athens," he said, "I am Herakles and your patron goddess has often guarded me as well. A fight now is unnecessary. Await the words of your king."
The men wavered then, recognizing the lion skin that draped the demi-god and the long, heavy club he bore. Many of them had grown up listening to the tales of his deeds. But the captain was unmoved for he was ruled by his anger.
"The command of my king will determine the manner in which these trophies are disposed of, but that you will surrender them is not negotiable. Now set those bodies on the ground and withdraw. That's an order."
But Herakles sat unmoving with Glauke's body across his saddle while Prima stood protectively before Argo who bore the body of her queen. Three dozen soldiers stood around them in a gauntlet of spears and shields.
"I would not ask you to raise your hand against your brothers, Herakles. I only ask that you stand firm in your resolve. Leave the rest to me," Prima whispered. Then to the captain she said, "Stand down and move aside. I would come to your king to beg a boon owed by blood. Oppose me at the risk of your lives, for I will slay you all as surely as I did I in the streets of your city fourteen years ago when we were at war."
"If you wish to continue the war, Amazon, then it will be you who falls this day," the captain replied, "for you stand surrounded, two against three dozens."
In the next few minutes Herakles witnessed a fight that he would never forget. The clone moved forward and her first stroke took the captain's head. In a heartbeat she had flipped over the soldiers in front of her, slashing their throats with her sword as she passed overhead. The others turned their spears towards her, quickly reforming their ring, but now he and the horses sat outside it. They attacked and the clone moved against them using techniques from The Smashing of the Wheel. No matter how vigorously they fought she countered them, and then she sped up, moving faster than any living warrior could. Her assurance and mastery were beyond the realm of mortal prowess. The son of Zeus couldn't believe what he was seeing.
When two dozen remained Prima paused for a heartbeat. She raised one hand and then before their eyes, she vanished. From that moment until the last man fell barely two minutes passed. It was as if an invisible hand slaughtered them with the touch of death alone, for her blade moved too fast to see. Though rents appeared in their armor and their bodies jerked from thrusts and slashes delivered with surgical precision, the blows came too quickly for a single warrior to deliver. All those killing strokes…so fast, Herakles thought. No god or hero had ever wrecked so much mayhem in so short a time.
When the last man lay dead on the ground, the clone reappeared amidst the carnage. She wiped the blood off her weapon and sheathed it. Then with unnatural calm she returned to her horse and mounted. After taking a few deep breaths to reclaim her soul from the influence of the katalepsis, she looked over and gave him a wan smile.
"Come, let us ride to Athens," she said.
Herakles could only nod to her and nudge his horse into motion. Acamas told no lies though I didn't believe him at the time. At last I understand his fear. My cousin Theseus would surely be dead now if she had been present when he abducted the princess. But how did she move so fast, and how did she disappear? Is she the daughter of a god? She wears the Sigil of War. Is she a daughter of Ares as the Amazons are reputed to be?
They had ridden another half hour when they were met by a larger force of Athenians. This time it was no captain of the militia who commanded them and that was good. At the head of two hundreds rode King Theseus and he held up a hand for them to halt when he saw Prima and Herakles approaching. Then to their surprise he dismounted and came forward alone to meet them.
"Prima," he said, recognizing her from the war and his time in the cove before that. Then he nodded to the demi-god. "Herakles, I am surprised to find you in this warrior's company. You bear burdens. Are these the bodies my messenger spoke of?"
Prima looked down at the king. He looked older, as though the worries of his rule weighed heavily upon his heart and had aged him.
"King Theseus, we bring the bodies of Queen Hippolyte, your wife-sister, and Glauke, her loyal warrior. We bear them to Athens for safe burial in ground upon which they once conquered."
To the surprise of the demi-god and the Athenians the king nodded gravely.
"It shall be so," he announced for them all to hear, "and a tomb shall be built upon the land where they once set their camp, for only because of her mercy and her army's withdrawal does Athens stand today. Despite the crimes done against the Amazons, Queen Hippolyte removed her army when her sister returned. She could have continued the siege. She could have remained until Athens fell and then slaughtered all within, but she did not. Instead she honored the surrender of the prize she sought and then fought all those who would still have attacked us. From her nobility came the destruction of her own people rather than the extermination of ours. We owe this queen a blood debt and by the gods the men of Athens will pay it."
Before he had completed his impassioned rhetoric the men in his riding were nodding their heads in agreement. Prima and Herakles smiled.
In the months that followed a tomb was indeed constructed near the Agora and the Temple of Gaea, just downhill from the Areios Pagos to the northwest of the Acropolis in Athens. In later days this tomb was called the Amazoneum and was sometimes mistakenly believed to be the Tomb of Antiope, but the wife of Theseus was not buried there. Instead, it originally housed the remains of her sister, Queen Hippolyte, and the queen's loyal triad sister, Glauke. In later years an additional wing was built to house other recovered bodies of Amazons who fell in Attica during the war and the retreat.
It was late in the winter during the 2nd moon of 1233 BC when Prima and Herakles stood with King Theseus inside the newly completed tomb, and they prepared to lay the Amazon Queen to rest. The clone had arrayed the queen's body in the Cuirass of Ares, whose return the queen had sought to the ruin of her people.
"Here now, my queen, you shall find your rest. May your spirit make its way to the Land of the Dead and dwell there in honor. Your quest is achieved though your vengeance has failed."
"Queen Hippolyte, I find I must hold you blameless for your hatred of me," Herakles said. "I wish there was some way that you could have known the truth. I loved Andromakhe. I never wished your people ill. We were tricked by the hatred of my step-mother, Hera. Returning the Cuirass now is all I can do to make amends. Wear it well and come to your ancestors in honor, arrayed as a queen. Instead of vengeance and death, be content with victory and friendship."
King Theseus looked on in wonder at the golden armor adorning the corpse of the woman he had once known in peace and war.
"Once you showed me friendship, and even if that friendship was tainted by an ulterior motive it has been repaid in kind, both good and bad. Afterwards you showed my city mercy. For that you have my thanks. May none disturb your rest," he proclaimed, "and may the golden Belt of Hippolyte remain here so long as Athens stands."
One by one they filed out. The last to leave was Prima and she left as an Amazon warrior, not a daemon. Afterwards they closed the tomb and sealed it with stone.
Now in the months that had passed during the construction of Hippolyte's tomb in Athens the clone and the son of Zeus had become close. As an Amazon who had slain three enemies in battle, Prima had won the right to reproduce and she exercised this right. But whereas she approached her mating with Herakles as a duty to increase the Amazons, Herakles had fallen head over heels in love with the beautiful clone. This was not to say that she had no feelings for him, but she had always known her mind and her duty, and in her heart she knew that Antiope was her soulmate.
In the fall of 1233 BC Prima took her leave of the demi-god, for she could feel new life within her and she sought to return to her people before that life made travel impossible. She had marked three cycles of the moon without her flow. Herakles had known this parting would come sooner or later. Despite his love for the dark warrior, he too knew the score for she had never lied to him about her circumstances and where her heart lay. So he accompanied her as far as Abdera, and then she went on alone through Thrace.
Along the way she found it necessary to fight more than once. The native tribes were still her enemies. As often as they offered battle she came upon them with slaughter. The clone left a trail of dead in her wake to avenge her sisters who had fallen during the retreat from Attica, but finally the rebuilt ferry at the Bosporus Thracia stood before her. So amazed were the ferrymen to see an Amazon that they actually accepted her fee and provided her passage without incident. In the 10th moon of 1233 she set foot again in the coastal lands of the Pontus Euxinus. Then, rather than riding east to the River Thermodon, she made her way south along the River Sangarius, passing through Bithynia, and seeking the remnant of her tribe.
Prima rode along the lowlands at the feet of the Anatolian Plateau. At each settlement she came to she asked after the women warriors and she was met with a frustrating lack of information. No one had seen them. The few who had heard any rumor of them knew only old tales of wars fought long before.
For a month Prima rode on, finally reaching the Aegean coast near Miletus in Caria. She had found no clue concerning the whereabouts of the Amazons. In frustration she turned back, following the coast north towards Ephesus and Smyrna. All through Lydia she rode finding nothing. When she came to Phrygia she turned inland, not wishing to encounter the surviving Dardanians scattered by the sack of Ilios.
Another month passed and Prima made her way to Cius. She was just south of the ferry crossing of the Bosporus where she had started her search two months before. In desperation she turned east in the first week of 1232 BC, following the edge of the highlands again. Now she rode fast but with wariness, for these were the lands from which her tribe had been driven little more than a year before. The land lay empty, still, and silent. She saw evidence of the passing of a large army, wagon ruts, encampments abandoned, dwellings burnt, stream banks collapsed, the latrine pits and piles of refuse from their mess, and fields cropped bare by their horses.
Three weeks of travel brought the clone to Kapru Kale, but the fortress was empty. There was no sign that it had been occupied since Antiope left with the remains of the tribe. Another week's ride led her to the ruins of the city of Themiskyra. She found it deserted; no surprise there. The Thermodon River rolled endlessly to the sea but it was silent to her, yielding no clues about where her people had gone.
Prima was now ending the sixth month of her pregnancy and it was time to leave. With the greatest sadness she turned Argo west and made for the Bosporus. She was 56, an unheard of age for bearing a first child, and though her genetic makeup gave her many advantages she wanted to take no more chances with this pregnancy.
In the third moon of 1232 Prima came to Abdera, and though Herakles was gone, the city provided her a respite and a peaceful place to give birth to her child. On the Ides of April she bore a healthy daughter whom she named Almakhe, Mighty Warrior.
Although Prima had been unsuccessful in finding her soulmate and her tribe, she had one source of hope. Long before, on a hydrofoil boat passing down the Mozambique Channel with her Strategos, she had felt the presence of the 8,000 clones of Gabrielle. The sensation had been a tingling that drew her from the cabin up onto the deck. There she'd stood until her superior senses pinpointed the direction where it originated, though at the time she hadn't known what it meant. Now, though there was only one Antiope and she was not truly Gabrielle, Prima felt a presence at the threshold of her awareness, a visceral confirmation that her soulmate lived. It was far too faint to lead her in any direction, but it was there. Somewhere Antiope lived, and if it was her fate, someday Prima would find her. In the meantime she would hope for information and raise her daughter to be an Amazon.
In Abdera the years passed quickly, or so it seemed to Prima. The clone watched her daughter grow and undertook the duty of training her. At some times Herakles returned to Abdera, especially for the games every four years, but often too at other times when no call for help drew him elsewhere. When the demi-god was present Prima enjoyed his company. When he was absent she went about her business. There was no pining or longing on her part, simply a warm friendship reinforced by mutual respect.
In 1223 BC the clone was 66 and her daughter was 15. It was the wonder of the city that Prima could keep up with her, for Almakhe had inherited the clone's appearance and genetic advantages and much of her father's divine strength. She as well known in Abdera, for her mother had dominated the games until she was near 60, an astonishing athletic career which her daughter continued from the age of 14. Yet unlike the other popular young girls in the polis she expressed no interest in finding a mate. She was an Amazon without a tribe. Given her preference she would spend the days roaming the coast or the highlands behind the city, and it was in this way that she made a startling discovery.
It was a summer afternoon when Almakhe charged into the home she shared with her mother, and perhaps it was fate that on that day Herakles was present too.
"Mother, father, you must come with me…now!"
Prima looked at her daughter with great curiosity. Such urgency was completely out of character. Herakles rose and came forward immediately. Having lost a family before, he was almost compulsively attentive to his daughter. Prima joined them more slowly.
"What are you so excited about?" She asked.
But Almakhe would say nothing except that they had to hurry. That alone made Prima delay long enough to strap on her sword and clip the Chakram to her belt. Then the parents followed their daughter out of the city in haste.
When they had followed a path some miles up into the highlands Almakhe gestured for them to slow down and maintain silence. She slipped from tree to tree as if stalking a beast, and so Herakles and Prima followed as if they too were hunting. After leading them through the woods for another quarter hour she stopped and pointed downslope into a small valley.
It was Prima's unnaturally sharp eyesight that allowed her to be the first to recognize their quarry. Beside a stream that ran along the valley floor crouched a rough temporary camp of lean-tos and pit fires. After watching for some moments she could just discern movement. The camp was still occupied. Then she had to blink to assure herself that she wasn't watching phantoms. At last she sat behind a tree and breathed deeply with her eyes closed.
Herakles could see nothing as yet but Almakhe watched her mother in surprise. She had discovered secretive foreigners in the woods nearby and she wasn't sure if they were friend or foes. The situation wasn't one she felt comfortable exploring alone. Too well trained to voice a question, she knelt next to her mother and gave her a questioning look.
Prima would only gesture to herself and Almakhe, make walking motions with her fingers, and then point to the strangers. She signaled Herakles to remain in hiding. Then the mother and daughter slowly and quietly moved downhill towards the camp.
Silent as they were they were seen before they reached the bottom of the hill and Prima caught the arrow a sentry sent towards her. She immediately dropped it and stood in full view. Almakhe stood with her and then stared in amazement at the circle of archers who rose from the leafmould and dropped from the trees. When they were surrounded Prima looked at the warriors and then called out to them.
"My greetings sisters," the clone said. "It has been long since I left you at Kapru Kale. Now I rejoice to see you well. I am Prima, protector and triad sister of Antiope, and I would greet your queen."
For a long moment there was indecision on the faces of the sentries, but then they parted at a softly whistled mimic of a birdcall. Between their ranks strode two women, an elder warrior and a younger blonde wearing the narrow gold circlet of an Amazon queen.
"My sisters," Prima said in a halting voice, "my Queen."
"That was the last time I saw them," Herakles told his dying friend. "They never returned to Abdera, even for their belongings. When she found Antiope and Molpadia, Prima took our daughter and she rejoined the tribe that day. I think she had always hoped for that. She had trained Almakhe as an Amazon. I never heard of them again."
Xena's clone breathed a deep sigh and she let her upper body relax on the pillows. In the last quarter hour it had become impossible for her to feel her feet.
The story the demi-god had told filled in many questions she'd long held about her 'special'. Prima, you succeeded more fully than I'd imagined. No only did ya fulfill the two parts of the mission I gave you at Aulis, but ya insured what I couldn't've foreseen. I could not have hoped for a finer soldier.
"You know, Xena, when I first met you I thought I was seeing Prima again," Herakles said. His voice was wistful and his eyes seemed distant, shrouded in memories. "I thought that somehow you had lived through all the years since I'd last seen you outside of Abdera and that we had crossed paths again. But I soon realized that you didn't know of Prima's life or of our daughter and that you were someone new. It didn't stop me from wanting you as much as I'd wanted her."
He grinned as he returned to full awareness of the present and the nature of his deathbed confession. Even though it wasn't his deathbed, he could see the effect of his words in the blush on Lila's face. Xena only gave him a tender smile.
"In any case I wanted you to know these things before it was too late. I never understood how I could have met you twice in one lifetime, no matter how long it was, and then find that you weren't the same person, but a perfect duplicate instead. I couldn't believe I'd fallen in love with you twice and lost both times."
Xena grinned at her old friend. For Prima it had been Antiope first and last. For her it had always been Gabrielle. It was probably better that Herakles would never fully understand how he had met two clones of Xena in such radically separated times. There was no reason for him to know and it would bring him no solace. Now she had all the information she needed to fill in the missing facts that she hadn't known were missing.
So Gabrielle's lineage came through Antiope and King Theseus, while mine began with my own clone and you, my friend. Only later did Ares add his contribution. No wonder Gabrielle seemed so special to me even when we first met in the Pallene. Both our souls recognized a link that'd been created in the time of the first great heroes. Now I finally understand a little more of our fate. I can't wait to tell Gabrielle!
"I guess that now you have a message to send to your Amazon friends," Herakles said softly. "I just wonder if now is the right time."
For a moment Xena had to think about what he meant before she understood. The Roman Empire ruled now and Athens was part of the Imperial Province of Achaea. No, she decided, it was not the right time. When she reviewed her knowledge of future history she realized that the proper time would be a long time in coming. The Empire would rule until the disintegration of the Amazon Nation. Athens would not be safely available for many centuries to come. The tribe was still not strong enough, nor would it be for many centuries. Whatever future had developed from her actions, she had no knowledge of it. She could only watch and wait. With a sigh she shook her head.
"Do me a favor an' say nothing 'bout this to anyone," she asked. "The time may come, Herakles, but I don't think it'll be for quite a while. Let's leave sleepin' dogs lie."
He nodded in agreement with her. Being an immortal he would be around for a long time, and he resolved to keep an eye on Athens. No one would break the promise Prima had made to her queen.
"Well, Xena, I guess that's it," he said as he rose to his feet. He took another long look at her and offered his forearm in a gesture of parting. Guess it's just about the end and I don't think I'll ever see your like again. On the other hand, life's long and who knows, it's happened before.
Xena took his forearm in a warrior's farewell but then to his surprise, pulled him down for a hug. With his head next to hers she whispered, "I'll be seein' ya again someday, I think, but you can be sure I'll be someone else then, so don't make any assumptions."
She gave him a smile as they parted; a secret to last a thousand years. Lila wasn't sure what to think so she simply came around the bed to offer the big man a warm parting.
"I've enjoyed meeting you Herakles, and I hope it won't be the last time you come to Amphipolis," Lila said as she clasped forearms with him. "Don't stay away another 63 years. I doubt if I can wait around like she did."
They laughed and Lila ushered him out into the hall, then walked him down the stairs to the common room.
"If you're hungry just ask the cook for food and drink," she offered. "Tell him it's on the house."
With a smile Lila left him at a table and went back up the stairs. When she reentered Xena's room she saw at once that she had missed her grandmother's passing. The old warrior was dead, but that self-satisfied smile was on her lips again, this time forever.
I guess any more secrets you carry will just have to go with you, Xena. You were a stubborn old goat, but damn it, I love you.
The smoke was stifling in Marieve's chamber but she could tell that the vision was coming to an end. She was beginning to see the outlines of things in the room again, while the room at the inn of Amphipolis was fading. A few more heartbeats and…
Gabriella began coughing a she sat up straighter on the bison pelt. Serena was rubbing her eyes and batting away the smoke. The shamaness sighed and rose to her feet. She moved to the wall beside the door and flipped a switch controlling the exhaust fans. The air began to clear immediately. When she returned to her queen and queen's champion she sat down and gave them a sober look.
"My queen, I guess you understand what the vision had to say," she said. "It was pretty literal this time. In fact I'd say that in my experience I've never had a vision so linear. It was like a story, but then what should we expect from a spirit whose soulmate was a bard?"
Gabriella and Serena nodded to the shamaness. It was a treat on an order that they had never imagined. They were self-taught masters of the ancient scrolls their great-aunts had found. They were the last living descendants of the Warrior Princess and the Amazon Bard. They were also the last living descendants of their mentors, Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas. They were living a reality that had only been a subject of study for the archeologists, but like Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas, the lore contained in what had come to be called the Xena Scrolls was a Holy Grail. Now they were gifted with information from far beyond the grave that constituted the greatest Halloween treat of all time.
On December 25th, 2006 AD they stood amidst the rubble of the Agora of Athens. Just to their south stood the Areios Pagos, crowned with a bare limestone outcropping where Saint Paul had preached a sermon in 51 AD. To the southeast the much more familiar Acropolis rose like an up-thrust fist of blue-gray limestone, crowned with the world-renowned ruins of the Propylea which stood as the gateway to the high platform. There the stark columns and walls of the Parthenon, the Erechtheum, and the Temple of Athena Nike oversaw their efforts as they had the endeavors of mankind for the last 2,400 years.
All around the modern soulmates, fragments of marble blocks glinted snow-white in the brilliant afternoon sun. The precinct had once been a neighborhood, but the buildings had been torn down in the 1950s when an expedition from the American School of Classical Studies obtained permission to level the area for study. Gabriella and Serena were glad of the head start for their dig, which centered on the Amazoneum, a structure many believed to be only a myth. Even so, their grand-aunts' reputations and the seemingly endless funding they boasted had convinced the Hellenic Ministry of Culture to grant them permission. It had been the fastest planned expedition in memory for almost no background research had been needed. The principals had already seen what they sought.
On this day, Christmas Day, (and the dig's progress had been timed for this), Serena and Gabriella had completed the actual excavations. To the astonishment of the expedition's official inspectors their efficient crew of a dozen women had gone directly to the spot and removed only thirty-six cubic meters of overburden before revealing a sturdy but rather small limestone façade. Today they were ready to break the seal on what was obviously a door.
Around the margin of the door slab the crew worked with chisels to break the mortar seal, until around noon they heard the distinct hiss of an ancient vacuum filing with fresh modern air. Another hour of struggle saw the intact slab eased out of the post and lintel threshold and onto a wooden pallet.
At the queen's order the crew retreated from the excavation around the entrance and took up positions around the lip of the hole. They traded their tools for swords and waited like sentries or an honor guard. Accompanied only by her champion, the reigning Queen of the North American Amazon Nation clicked on a flashlight and stepped into the darkness of what she knew to be the Tomb of Hippolyte. She let her eyes adjust to the dimness after the eye-squinting brightness of the afternoon sunlight.
As expected there was only a minimum of polychrome decoration. The tomb had been constructed quickly, with no time for the decorative carving of bas reliefs. The air smelled of dry dust and it was only slightly musty after having been sealed for the last thirty-two centuries. Gabriella's eyes swept the restricted space. Two marble blocks had been placed side by side, each showing a seam that spoke of base and lid. Combining their strength, the soulmates slid the left-hand coffin's lid to the side.
"Glauke," Serena whispered, and the two bowed their heads in respect. The skull fracture bore mute testimony to the crushing head blow that had killed the ancient warrior as she stood and fought in her queen's defense.
After some moments of silence they moved to the right-hand sarcophagus and slid its lid aside. Within it the body of Hippolyte was girded in gold, her head resting on a pillow of folded black fabric. The soulmates again bowed their heads in homage.
Afterwards no chances were taken. While their warriors stood guard over their privacy, the two removed the Cuirass of Ares and Gabriella put it on. Serena took the black pillow and unfolded it to confirm her expectations. The uniform was wholly unchanged from the day it had been set there. Perhaps it was even still functional. For a moment she fingered the blood red Sigil of Ares on the collar, and then she began to strip off her coveralls.
"Grave robber Covington strikes again," the tall brunette chided her soulmate in an expression of sad irony.
Gabriella sighed at the epithet that had haunted her great-granduncle, Harry Covington.
"Yes, I suppose so," the blonde admitted, "but these do not belong in a museum."
New Years Day saw the transfer of the human remains to the Ministry of Culture. Many congratulations were traded between the officials and the two archeologists, and plans were made for subsequent co-operative studies. Eventually an academic paper would be published, announcing the discovery of physical evidence of the Amazons and their previously regarded mythical Attic War, the Amazonomachia. Perhaps someday evidence of the similarly regarded Centauromachia and Gigantomachia would also be found.
In the Ministry's property registration office a researcher offered particularly warm words. The tall, robust Greek man seemed especially happy with their finds, offering a disturbing wink when he reviewed the manifest of artifacts for the final time. At last the tribe is strong enough to protect itself and care-take the treasures of its heritage. It has been many a year, Xena, but you were right, it came to pass at last and now I'm seeing your like again. Now let's see what the future brings.
As the New Year opened the modern soulmates boarded their tribe's private Gulfstream III and watched the landscape of Athens pass below. Under her conservative street clothes Queen Gabriella wore the Cuirass of Ares. The tangible symbol of the God of War's patronage of her people had finally passed to Antiope's descendant from the lineage of Andromakhe. Beside her Serena Pappas wore the uniform of the Conqueror's army under her baggy jeans and Henley. Initially she had been surprised at how perfectly it fit. In her pocket was the headpiece with its single goggle-like filter. It was the proof of the special nature of the first Amazon Queen's Champion's unique origins.
Prima had existed, Serena thought. The previous year they'd confirmed that Secunda had existed. Those discoveries whispered at a tremendous intellectual quandary. If two such superlative 'Xenas' had once lived, then where had they originally come from? Their technology was more advanced than modern achievements in some respects. Where had such technology been developed? And could they believe the cryptic hints contained in the recent vision?
Serena closed her eyes and exhaled. Thinking through the possibilities taxed her mind. When Gabriella's fingers wrapped around her own she tightened her hand and then shifted it so that their fingers intertwined. Just like our hearts and souls. Perhaps we are as much an integral part of life's design as anything the ancient gods created. Perhaps it is our fate to exist in many different times and places. After all, the Amazons need a queen and the queen needs a champion. She smiled at that. Through all the changes of history there is a thread of continuity built into that warp and weft. It's almost enough to make me believe in the Moirae.
As the jet climbed to its cruising altitude the modern soulmates relaxed. History passed like the scenery below, but history continued to be written. Someday it would recall the repatriation of the penultimate heirloom of the first Amazons and the evidence of a dark and enigmatic future. But one thing it would confirm was that the bond between the dark warrior and her soulmate was a recurring constant unamendable by time. And that was a good thing. The challenges that duo had been created to address were also constant. The world would always need heroes.
Strategos (Gr.), the commander of an army or navy.
Asteria and Aristomakhe (Gk.), both named for earlier Amazons, Asteria translates asOf the Skies, while Aristomakhe translates as Best of Warriors. The original Aristomakhe fought in the Attic War. The original Asteria was the 6th warrior slain by Herakles in single combat during his 9th Labor, the taking of the Girdle of Hippolyte.
Pontus Euxinus (L.), the Black Sea.
Strategos Hypatos (Gk.), a supreme commander; cloned Xena's military title when, (as the Destroyer of Nations), she subdued the world and defeated the Goddess Athena with her cloned army to become The Conqueror.
episema (Gk.), a design painted on a shield to identify its bearer or a civic affiliation.
kataphractes (Gk.), suit of armor.
Bosporus Thracius(L.), the Bosporus Straight.
gorytoi (Gk.), an archer's bow case/quiver, plural of gorytos.
grosphoi (Gk.), javelins, plural of grosphos.
labrys (Gk.), a double-edged battle axe.
aspis (Gk.), a shield.
toxotès (Gr.): an archer.
Hypnos (Gr.) Greek God of Sleep, and perhaps not appropriate for an Amazon of that
period, but wtf, consider it author's license.
hippikon (Gr.): cavalry.
hekatontarchia (Gr.): a military unit of one hundred
katalepsis (Gr.): battle fury.
euzonos (Gr.): light infantry.
Pallene of Chalcidice: the westernmost of the three peninsulas of the Greek region of
Chalcidice, which lies southwest of Thracia and southeast of Macedonia. In ancient
times it was the site of Poteidaia.
dory (Gr.): spear.
spathè (Gr.): sword.
toxon (Gr.): a bow.
synedrion (Gr.): a military staff meeting.
hyparchos (Gr.): an officer.
kranos (Gr.): a helmet.
stade, double stade (Gr.): measures of distance equaling the length of a stadium,
roughly 200 and 400 yards respectively.
hypomeioon (Gr): a Spartan lacking full rights as a homoios or 'peer', but still subject
to the military service obligation. A second-class citizen.
Eumenides (Gr): The Furies; Alecto, Megaera and Tisiphone, three goddesses of the
underworld charged by the Olympians to bring madness and persecution upon those
judged guilty of certain crimes. Also called the Erinys.
"Clonefic" Appendix 1 (Titles of TV episodes in Italics) From "Clonefic Pts 1-3" © 2003, 2004 by Phantom Bard
The Journey of Soulmates
Xena and Gabrielle's Timeline
(As reported by the Clones to Dr. Ray Fell)
100 BC Gaius Julius Caesar is born in Rome.
97 BC Xena is born in Amphipolis, on the border of Thrace and Macedonia.
90 BC Callisto is born in Cirra, on the north coast of the Gulf of Corinth, near Delphi, in Phocis.
89 BC Gabrielle is born in Poteidaia, at the narrows of the neck of Pallene, the western most peninsula of Chalcidice.
80 BC The warlord Cortese's army attacks Amphipolis. After their defeat, Xena is driven from her home, estranged from her mother, and blamed for the death of her brother. She begins a two-year apprenticeship under Mithridates VI, the King of Pontus.
78 BC Xena takes command of an outlaw army, having deposed their leader, and transforms them into a pirate force. She sacks Cirra and many other coastal towns on her way towards Corinth, where she is forced to withdraw after a protracted stalemate.
77-73 BC Xena encounters Caesar for the first time, holding him hostage during the sack of Thasos. The Roman navy rescues him and Xena rues the decision to stay her hand and not execute him when she had the chance. Caesar defeats Xena's pirates. They become enemies for life. With her forces in shambles, she accepts patronage from the God of War, becoming known as the Favorite of Ares. She travels through the eastern steppes, as far as Chin, regrouping and forging a new army. During this period, Xena is first called the Destroyer of Nations. For another three years she leads her growing forces in mayhem, eventually becoming such a threat that she is finally defeated by an uneasy coalition of Athenians, Corinthians, and Greek and Roman mercenaries.
The Early Years (72-70 BC)
(These 3 years were Gabrielle's most active as a writer.)
"Sins of the Past" (72 BC) The meeting of soulmates, Xena is 25 and had already been a warrior for over 7 years, the last 5 as a warlord commander. It had been about a month since she'd left her defeated army when she rescued Gabrielle, who had barely turned 17. She was ignorant, idealistic, but also loyal, feisty, and most surprisingly, literate. Within a year, Xena teaches her the nerve pinch and basic staff fighting techniques. (Note that the word "Sins" in the title reflects the Christian ethos of the modern translators. Gabrielle's clone stressed that the ancient Greek word she'd used could be more accurately translated as "Dark Deeds". It was a vernacular expression, where "dark" was synonymous with "bloody" or "violent", and didn't carry the implied moral judgement or condemnation of the word "sins". This relates to the bard's presentation of Xena's past history as a warrior, from the attack of Cortese to their meeting outside Potidaea.)
"Chariots of War" (72 BC) Xena and Gabrielle assist a Thracian settlement in repelling a warlord's army. To break the siege of the settlement, Xena resorts to coating hogs and cattle with pitch and bundled straw, and then stampeding the livestock into the enemy lines after setting them afire. These flaming "chariots" introduced the bard to the horrific necessities of war, and the understanding that her soulmate would do whatever was required to save the settlers. It was her first real introduction to being forced to choose the lesser of two evils, a demand they jokingly came to refer to as the "Greater Good". Gabrielle notes that the battle was followed by a victory feast of BBQ'd pork and beef.
"The Greater Good" (72 BC) The soulmates deprive the warlord Talmadeus' army of supplies with a plan to demonstrate a farming village's resolve with a controlled crop burn. The army was threatening the city of Abdera, but without food, the army would fall apart. Somehow the burn got out of control and destroyed all the crops. The army disbanded, the city was saved, and the farmers starved. The Greater Good was served. The episode, "The Greater Good", made from this scroll was almost unrecognizable.
"Callisto's Predations" (71 BC) This scroll became two episodes, "Callisto" and "Return of Callisto". It should be noted that Perdicus was Gabrielle's cousin, NOT her husband, and that at Gabrielle's urging, Xena spared Callisto's life an unprecedented second time. Callisto was tried and imprisoned for 20 years on Shark Island.
"Is There A Physician in the Stockade?" This scroll was originally a manual of Xena's battlefield medical techniques, and was written during the Mitoan-Thessalian Conflict. Sections detail first aid, triage, surgery, bone setting, and herbology. In addition to giving rise to the episode, "Is There A Doctor In The House?", this scroll includes an anecdotal story that became the core of the episode, "In Sickness and In Hell". Note that there was no word for "doctor". Healer, physician, and butcher were the applicable contemporary terms.
"Hooves and Harlots" (70 BC) Note that the actual scroll was as much a history of the Amazon and Centaur cultures as a chronicle of a dispute with a neighboring warlord. It was during this dispute that Xena's son, Solon, (age 5), was actually killed. We are given a rare account of the rage of the Destroyer of Nations. Elements of this history appear as background in several TV episodes, including, "Hooves and Harlots", "Adventures in the Sin Trade 1 & 2", "Lifeblood", and "Orphan of War". For her defense of a wounded Princess Terreis, Gabrielle is made an honorary friend of the Amazons.
"When In Rome" This scroll tells of the origins of the struggle between Julius Caesar and the Warrior Princess. Julius Caesar's ransom and defeat of Xena's pirate army is included as background, while her revenge, achieved by freeing Vercinix and arranging the execution of Crassus, is presented as current. It gave rise to the episodes, "Destiny", "The Quest", and "When In Rome". (Note that some scholars believe Xena's actions were aimed at avenging the death of the rebellious gladiatorial slave, Spartacus, a fellow Thracian, who died at Crassus' hand in 71 BC. This goal is as valid as that of freeing Vercinix or destabilizing the Roman leadership by breaking the First Triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus.)
Xena and Gabrielle's first trip to Chin (70-69 BC)
(Over a year of traveling, the trip was, in part, a measure of expedience, putting the soulmates beyond the reach of Julius Caesar and the vengeful Romans.)
"The Kingdom of Lao" (70-69 BC) This scroll became the episodes, "The Debt 1 & 2". Xena assassinates Ming Tsu to honor an old alliance, securing the rule of the House of Lao. Gabrielle first uses the Sai in battle and they become one of her favorite weapons.
"Bad Rye" (69 BC) This scroll was greatly dramatized and became "The Furies". Xena and Gabrielle had been back in Greece for barely 2 moons, and Xena was still suffering debilitation from ergotism, when they were recalled to Chin. (Ergot poisoning, caused by a fungus growing on rye because of wet weather, was relatively common in their time).
Xena and Gabrielle's second trip to Chin (68 BC)
(Most of 1 year traveling)
"The Dragon and the Phoenix" (68 BC) This scroll gave rise to the episodes, "Purity", and "Back in the Bottle". Recalled to Chin, Xena captures Ming Tsu's son, Ming Tien, the "Green Dragon", (age 22), and turns him over to the Laos, who execute him for breaking the peace with his black powder army. The restored peace of Chin is the reborn "Phoenix".
"Giant Killer" (68 BC) Written on the road, this scroll begins with a short history of giants, during which Gabrielle recounts a legend that became the episode, "Giant Killer", and continues with an adventure that became "A Day in the Life". It probably also inspired the anecdotal scene with Gabrielle and the blind cyclops that was inserted into the episode, "Sins of the Past".
The Birth of Eve (12th moon, 68 BC)
(Xena is 29 and Gabrielle is 21)
"The Blood Shamaness" (late 68 BC) Immediately follows the soulmates' return from Chin. This scroll tells of Alti's reappearance after 8 years, again threatening the Amazon Nation. Still obsessed with forcing Xena to assist in her plans for destroying the Amazons, she attempted to steal Eve's soul during Xena's pregnancy. The episode, "Them Bones, Them Bones" was based on this scroll. It was left to Gabrielle to actually defeat Alti, after Queen Melosa was mortally poisoned by the renegade, Valesca. At this time, Gabrielle was named a full sister and Amazon Warrior, by the newly crowned Queen Terreis.
"The Dirty Half Dozen" (67 BC)
"In Sickness and In Hell" (66 BC) Gabrielle writes of the plagues and diseases the soulmates had encountered during their travels. Among these we can recognize malaria, yellow fever, small pox, dysentery, leprosy, influenza, bubonic plague, tin and lead poisoning, acromegaly, chrondistrophic dwarfism, Siamese and parasite twinning, tuberculosis, gonorrhea, typhus, cholera, and several types of food poisoning. Note that the title of this scroll was borrowed for the title of an episode based on content from the scroll, "Is There A Physician In The Stockade?"
"Past Imperfect" (66 BC)
Xena and Gabrielle's trip to Indus (65-63 BC)
(Over 2 years, during which Carthage falls to a plague, probably Yersinia pestis)
"Paradise Found" (65 BC) Gabrielle and Xena learn yoga techniques and a new system of pressure point attacks from the Tibetan mystic and holy man, Ai-den. The techniques compliment the famous "nerve pinch" that Xena had learned years before in Chin. It is believed that these methods predate and predict the later Chinese system of fighting called the "Poison Hand".
"Karma" (64 BC) The events of this scroll, actually a travelogue of the journey to Indus and a record of the philosophies they encountered, became, after great embellishment, the episodes "Devi", and "Between the Lines". Xena and Gabrielle meet Eli and again defeat Alti, this time in spirit form.
"The Way" (64-63 BC) Xena is purified by her acceptance of the Way of the Warrior, under the guidance of a spiritual teacher in Indus. It is during their return to Greece that she is able to take possession of the Chakram of Light and combine it with the Chakram of Darkness. This material, much modified, is the basis for the episodes, "The Way", and "Chakram".
The Middle Years (63-58 BC)
(5 years of relative peace that began in war end in tragedy)
"The Best Day" (Summer Solstice, 63 BC) This scroll includes the material that became both "A Good Day" and "Amphipolis Under Siege". Xena engineers the destruction of Caesar and Pompey's eastern armies outside of Amphipolis. The combined Roman casualties are estimated at over 40,000. Xena had returned home with Gabrielle and 4 ½ year old Eve, hoping for a semi-retirement in which to raise her daughter.
"The Play's the Thing" A self-deprecatory piece by Gabrielle, telling of the fiasco arising from her attempt at theater production.
"Crusader" (61-60 BC ?) This scroll tells of the warrior, Najara, seducer of the Roman Governor of Pergamum. She had so bewitched the weak willed governor with her ambition and delusions of supernatural invincibility, that he had begun the secession of Pergamum from the Roman Empire. Her crusade was to supplant the Roman pantheon through forced conversion, and create an empire dedicated to an ancient and bloodthirsty monotheistic faith, the worship of Ba'al. It was her use of captured Greek sailors, (fishermen and traders from Thracian coastal villages in particular), as human sacrifices, which prompted the soulmates to become involved. Staying ahead of soldiers dispatched by Pompey the Magnus to depose the governor, Xena and Gabrielle track down and battle Najara. After finally dealing Najara an incapacitating wound, the soulmates left her in local custody for the arriving legions. Charged with sedition, piracy, and heresy, Najara was executed for her crimes following her trial and conviction by a Roman court in early 59 BC.
The Birth of Hope (10th moon, 60 BC)
(Gabrielle is 29 and Hope was not the rape-spawn of a demon or evil god)
"Lifeblood" (60 BC) Xena and Gabrielle return to the Amazon Village for the birth and christening of Gabrielle's daughter, Hope, who receives her Right of Caste. They find that Queen Ephiny had succeeded Queen Terreis in 62 BC.
"Succession" (59 BC) Xena and Gabrielle confront and kill Mavican, Callisto's would-be successor, sparring partner, and disciple, who had escaped from Shark Island in 60 BC after studying there under the "Warrior Queen" for 10 years. It should be noted that for several years, Gabrielle had been as deadly a fighter as Xena, and inflicted Mavican's fatal wound with her sai.
Caesar's Kidnapping of Eve (58 BC)
(Xena is 39 and Gabrielle is 30)
"Endgame" (Vernal Equinox, 58 BC) This scroll tells of Caesar's revenge. On his orders, Brutus attacks the Amazons, knowing Pompey is nearby. Queen Ephiny is killed, and Eve, (age 9), is kidnapped. In the power gulf, Xena takes temporary command of the Amazon army, slaughters Pompey's legions, and personally beheads him, believing that he, not Caesar, was responsible for Eve's abduction. At the same time, Gabrielle leads a war party to recover Ephiny's body and rescue Amazons taken prisoner by Brutus. She was almost successful in killing Brutus as well, a lost opportunity the soulmates would be thankful for years later on the Ides of March. Only weeks later, Caesar sends a gloating message explaining how Brutus' troops had dressed in Pompey's uniforms for the kidnapping, and that Xena's rage had removed his greatest rival for power in Rome.
The Bloody Years (58-47 BC)
(Most of these 12 years were spent trying to free Eve from Caesar)
It is during this time that Gabrielle trades her sais for a pair of Amazon short swords, the blades of which she has lightened by "ventilation", removing windows of metal to leave the blades "skeletonized". The resulting whistle when slicing through the air becomes a fearsome trademark of the "Amazon Bard".
"One Against an Army" (58-47 BC) Xena declares war on the Roman Empire with the objective of recovering her daughter from Caesar. Although this scroll contains the story of Xena's defense of a high pass, that battle was only one of many, fought over a dozen years, against the Roman army, not the Persians. Over the years, Xena was credited with causing destruction equivalent to over five Roman legions in Greece, two in Italia, one in Gallia, and one in Germania; including auxiliaries and mercenaries, a total of over 86,000 soldiers. This includes the Roman casualties of "Endgame", but not those of "The Best Day". (The Battle of Thermopylae was fought in 480 BC, over 400 years before Xena's time).
"Queen Marga" (58 BC) Documents the short reign of the Amazon Queen Marga, and provided material that became "Coming Home" and "Dangerous Prey". Note that Prince Morloch was the leader of the hostile army, while Ares and the Erinyes never appear.
"Queen Varia" (57-54 BC and 46 BC) Documents the beginning of the reign of the hotheaded Amazon Queen Varia, and the 3-year war against Helicon. It provides material that became, "To Helicon and Back", as well as relating Varia's later "Oath of Blood", the Amazon Nation's vendetta against Livia, that served as the background for the episode, "Path of Vengeance", which occurred after the rescue of Eve.
Note 1: (52 BC) Callisto escapes from Shark Island Penal Colony and temporarily disappears. At some point after this time, it is suspected that Callisto made her way to Asia Minor and took possession of the Chakram of Night, which she used in her attack on Xena in Rome. This weapon turned up millennia later in Ares' tomb and was seen there by Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas. It was the rumor of Callisto in Rome that had brought Xena and Gabrielle out of semi-retirement for their last adventure).
"The Abyss" (48 BC) The events of this scroll were probably also dramatized to become "The Price" and "Daughter of Pomira", as well as the episode, "The Abyss".
The Rescue of Eve (46 BC)
(Xena is 51, Gabrielle is 43, and Eve is 21)
"The Eternal City" (46 BC) Regarded by scholars as the continuation and culmination of the scroll, "One Against An Army", it contains the story of the rescue of Eve, now known as Livia. To free her, the soulmates infiltrated Caesar's Palace in Rome and arranged the decimation of three cohorts of Praetorians within the city. Xena and Gabrielle spent almost all of their remaining lives on the run, undoing Caesar's influence on Xena's daughter. By this time, Xena had been named First Enemy of the Imperium, with the price on her head growing to 6 million denarii.
"The Ides of March" (44 BC) Begun by Gabrielle in a Roman prison, and completed by an unknown author after the crucifixion. Xena was 53, Gabrielle was 45, Callisto was 46, and Caesar was 56, on the Ides of March, 44 BC. Xena and Gabrielle were executed on the same day as the assassination of their archenemy Gaius Julius Caesar. The unknown author attempts to claim that they all died within moments of each other, in different parts of the city of Rome. Only Callisto survived, and her fate is not recorded.
Note 2: Eve and Hope both survived their mothers' deaths. Eve lived in Amphipolis while not on the road continuing Xena and Gabrielle's work. In 39 BC she was able to avenge herself by killing Brutus. She became a well-known warrior and hero, hunted by Rome, until she was granted amnesty and banished from Italia by Augustus Caesar, in 27 BC. In return, she foreswore carrying on her mother's war against the Empire. The agreement was one of mutual convenience, as she was 40 and had two children by that time, and Augustus was in the process of securing his rule. Unlike Xena, Eve lived to retire and raise her family at her grandmother's inn. Eve and Hope were never more than acquaintances, as Hope was only 2 when Eve was kidnapped, and 14 when she was freed. By that time, Livia/Eve was regarded as an enemy of the Amazon Nation. Hope exceeded Gabrielle's status as an Amazon Warrior, while living fulltime with her tribe. At the age of 18, she earned the grade of Master Warrior, upon achieving her 25th kill in battle. At the age of 19, Hope became War Queen of the Greek Amazons, following her challenge and defeat of Queen Varia on the summer solstice in 40 BC. Using that position to honor the relationship between her own mother and Eve's, she declined to prosecute Varia's "Oath of Blood", and the Nation's vendetta against Livia/Eve was laid to rest. Almost nothing further is known about her.
Note 3: Deadly Xena and Gabrielle were both hunted by Rome, but because of the personal enmity between Xena and Caesar, it was always the Warrior Princess for whom the Empire reserved its greatest hatred. Over the years, (with Gabrielle's help), Xena was involved in the deaths of something in the neighborhood of 156,000 enemy troops, 40,000 in "The Best Day", 86,000 during "One Against an Army", and 30,000 in Chin, primarily in "The Dragon and the Phoenix". Figures on deaths during her years as a warlord are sketchy, however best estimates place the total at something in the neighborhood of 12,000 to 15,000. A conservative total would count 170,000 dead over the course of her career. For purposes of comparison, Hannibal Barca is credited with the destruction of about 85,000 legionnaires and allies in three major battles, (Trebbia River, Lake Trasimeno, and the Plain of Cannae), within three years. In the American Civil War, about 185,000 men were killed in action or died of wounds. Another 186,000 died of diseases associated with the war. Civilian casualties are unrecorded.
April 27, 2000 (AD) Cloned Xena and Gabrielle escape from the clandestine lab of Alexis Los Alamos, (Alti), in City of Industry, California.
September 21, 2000 (AD) Dr.Janice Covington, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Archeology at the University of S.C. passes away after a third stroke. Ray, her colleague and one-time graduate teaching assistant had introduced the soulmates to her on June 2. She had used her old contacts in the underworld to provide personal identities for the clones, who settle down with her in Columbia S.C., in the old Pappas family house. Janice makes Serena Pappas and Gabriella Covington her heirs, and the inheritors of the Pappas estate. The clones learn the truth of their origin.
April 30, 2001 (AD) The cloned soulmates travel to New Zealand and confront Lucy, Renee, and Rob on the set of the final episode of the TV show, Xena Warrior Princess. They learn the secret of how the show was conceived and confirm their suspicions that an old influence is again active in the modern world. (End of Part 1)
June 1, 2001 (AD) The clones open the Columbia School of Martial Science. Their first students are the Columbia, S.C. police officers, Marcus Lewis and Alexander Williams.
September 13, 2001 (AD) Gabrielle wins the Women's Division of the 23rd National Open Full Contact Martial Arts Championships, to honor the soulmates' fallen student, Marcus Lewis, who was killed in a hijacked plane on Sept. 11, in Stony Creek Township, Pennsylvania. On the same day, Xena foils a bio-terrorist hostage situation in Quantico, Va., which initiates the clones' contact with the FBI's elite Hostage Rescue Team.
September 16 to October 14, 2001 (AD) The soulmates serve as guest instructors in unarmed combat to the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team, at the FBI compound in the Quantico Marine Base, Quantico, Virginia. They have also drawn the interest of a covert government agency, the shadow organization, Omega Sector. A team led by agent Harry Tasker investigates them, while at the same time forestalling investigation by other government intelligence agencies.
November 2, 2001 (AD) The Columbia School of Martial Science is attacked by clones of Callisto and her disciple, Mavican. Those clones are defeated by Xena and Gabrielle and then tracked when they flee by agents of Omega Sector, who subsequently contact the soulmates about a covert mission.
November 7, 2001 (AD) The clones are recruited by Harry Tasker to join in a mission to neutralize a secret DOE cloning facility near Atlanta, Georgia. During that mission the Destroyer of Nations is reborn. (End of Part 2)
November 8, 2001 (AD) The clone of Elainis of Mycenae attacks the Columbia School of Martial Science. Because of that battle's outcome, the Destroyer of Nations accepts the Blessing of the God of War and embraces her ancient heritage. Serena Pappas disappears and the Pappas estate is taken over by Artiphys International, a subsidiary of the DON GROUP, Inc., an investment consortium ultimately headed by Kori Polemos.
November 10, 2001 (AD) The Destroyer of Nations claims the Chakram of Day.
March 28, 2002 (AD) Mass cloning of Xena's army begins in two locations. The initial work had already been completed over the previous three months.
June 1, 2002 (AD) During the first successful flight test of a scramjet engine in Woomera, S. Australia, a speed of Mach 8.6 is achieved.
September 11, 2002 (AD) Athena opens her war by proxy. The United States attacks Iraq and Afghanistan with air strikes, which include the use of nuclear weapons. Days earlier, a covert war had begun using engineered bioweapons to cause epidemics in North Korea and the Sudan. The combined death toll eventually tops 3 ½ million.
September 12, 2002 (AD) The Destroyer of Nations is successful in enlisting the leading theoretical researcher in nanotechnology, and isolates him with a support team at her lab in Yokohama. The DON GROUP has invested extensively in Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, providing the Destroyer with a manufacturing base and technological assets in Japan.
December 2003 (AD) Athena's forces release an engineered plague in Beijing. The death toll eventually climbs to 27.5 million.
April 1, 2004 (AD) Two genetically enhanced clones mature to the point that they are able to escape the primary lab site and join the Destroyer of Nations.
January 5, 2005 (AD) As expected, Athena destroys Xena's primary cloning site.
March 2, 2005 (AD) The refitted Miss Artiphys puts to sea.
July 6, 2005 (AD) The chiliarchoi join the Destroyer of Nations.
October 14, 2005 (AD) The Argo puts to sea.
December 2005 (AD) Athena's forces release an engineered plague in Europe.
December 6, 2005 (AD) The strategos opens her war with the release of plagues.
December 18, 2005 (AD) Neutralization of the US and Russian North Atlantic Fleets.
December 30, 2005 (AD) Destruction of USAMRIID and the Hanford, WA site.
January 1, 2006 (AD) New Years Day attacks destroy the Mediterranean cities of Athens, Rome, Tel Aviv, and Alexandria.
January 2, 2006 (AD) Destruction of London,Paris, Brussels, and Berlin with Mach 8 cruise missiles.
January 17, 2006 (AD) The Persian Gulf oil reserves are struck and neutralized.
January 18, 2006 (AD) The "SecondPhase" is complete and a migration begins.
March 2, 2006 (AD) The Destroyer of Nations' army emerges from the mirror site.
April 12, 2006 (AD) The Destroyer of Nations lands her army at Kavala in Macedonia.
April 22, 2006 (AD) The Destroyer of Nations successfully defeats Athena's armies in a three pronged preemptive counterattack.
May 5-7, 2006 (AD) The Destroyer drives Athena's army from their camp in Macedonia.
May 15, 2006 (AD) The Destroyer of Nations draws Athena's army into battle at her selected location in the Strymon Vale. She defeats them decisively but refuses their surrender, preferring to leave them demoralized.
May 22, 2006 (AD) The Destroyer of Nations annihilates Athena's army in a final battle and captures the Goddess of Wisdom. The Destroyer of Nations becomes the Conqueror, but circumstances cause her to postpone completing her subjugation of the modern world.
June 6, 2006 (AD) The Conqueror abdicates her position and leaves the modern world.
Addendum On June 6th, 2006 in the altered timeline, Xena the Conqueror, accompanied by two "special" clones, her soulmate, and her prisoner, Athena, traveled back in time to correct the problem with fate that had begun with the events at the Sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis. Afterwards, one "special" clone, (Prima), remained behind to insure the fall of Ilios (Troy) and the training of Antiope, while the other accompanied the Conqueror, her soulmate, and their prisoner back to Xena and Gabrielle's original time period. The "special" clone (Secunda) went to Rome to avenge the soulmates by slaying Callisto and recovering the Chakram of Night, and then took up her mission in the Amazon village. After releasing Athena, cloned Xena and Gabrielle made their way to Amphipolis, returning there two days after their crucifixion in Rome at the hands of Julius Caesar. They resumed the goals of original soulmates' lives, the reform and retraining of Eve.
In the corrected timeline, Serena Pappas and Gabriella Covington lived the lives they had originally been fated to live, as the grandnieces of Melinda Pappas and Janice Covington, not as clones created by Alti. In the corrected modern world there would be no plot for world domination by Athena, no resulting rise of the Destroyer of Nations, no cloned armies, and no worldwide destruction. Fate returned to its intended course, allowing two teachers, descendants of the warrior and the bard, to free the last souls who had been caught up in the altered timeline of Athena, Ares, and the Conqueror.