When I was a child, I heard the Roman traders speak of a goddess called Artemis, a young girl huntress with deadly bow and arrow. I scoffed at their awe. How could a girl, I wondered, practically a child, strike fear into the hearts of men, armed with a single bow and a quiver of arrows? Surely the might of men with their swords and spears was equal to the power of such a goddess. If the gods have no power, then why should we serve them?
And yet, as I saw her rise from the swamp, a living breathing Artemis, I understood. There she stood, her long, dark hair in tangles around her face. The dirt that streaked her skin and clothing seemed insignificant compared to the light that encompassed her. To my travel-weary, grief-sick eyes, the incandescence seemed to come from within her, a burning light to incinerate her enemies. She had no armor, only the tunic that outlined her womanly frame.
I saw her the moment after the kill, and her eyes were deadly. There was no mercy in their inky depths, as if she was judge and executioner alike. Never before have I known such terrifying beauty. Surely Mishil herself cannot hope to equal it, for her treachery is ever evident in her pale smiles. No, this beauty was terrifying in its sheer, unsullied purity.
Heaven does not grant faces like hers to men. Only women, with their unchainable power, are allowed to possess such elusive weapons. We men are chained to earth, with our sturdy frames and simple minds. But her face is like a banner. In battle, one glimpse is enough to bring strength to limbs that can fight no more and courage to my fainting heart. Always, my body sees my enemies, feels their movements, perceives their intents. I am a soldier. But my mind is fixed upon her face, sometimes remembering, sometimes seeing.
Can they not see that no man could ever make me so angry? No man's insult could pierce the armor of my heart like one disdainful look from her. In the past, I have punished and subdued many men, my anger subordinated to my desire for truth, excellence, order, or integrity. It is only when I look down at her, kneeling before me, that my anger threatens to overtake me. The desire to conquer the unconquerable rages through my senses. I punish myself as I punish her, realizing with every pulse of my throbbing blood that I have been conquered by the one I tried to subdue. Men are like gold. We shine, but we are easily bent and broken. Women have wills like iron.
And yet, I carried her. Once the fire inside her had turned to ash, I placed her on my back and carried her to safety. She needed me. I am no fool. I know that goddesses need us, else no one would remember them or bear witness to their greatness. I know now why men speak of Artemis in whispers, why they pledge their lives to the idea of her. She is a woman, the most precious and terrifying thing of all.