Chapter 18 - To The North
The sun shone brightly through the open-air windows of Queen Hippolyta's stateroom, where she was occupied with the day's business. Lady Cyanna and General Philippus were also present, the three of them sitting around her ornate marble desk; the topic of discussion was the training of the visitors from Man's World.
"How is their health, Cyanna?" Hippolyta inquired. "I trust they are not unduly strained by our physical regimen?"
"My assistants and I are monitoring them regularly," Cyanna replied. "They are adjusting very well, much better, I confess, than I expected. They are doing even better than the last group, even though we have intensified the training. No doubt, it is our healthy climate and natural diet that agrees with them."
The Amazon Queen nodded. "I am happy to hear it. I am informed that the food of Man's World has deteriorated shockingly. Too many fats and sugars, and other unhealthy foods, created in man's factories."
Cyanna nodded in agreement, and laughed. "However, our yourte still has not found favor among any of them!"
Hippolyta smiled and turned to Philippus. "And how are they progressing in their martial training?"
"Excellently, Majesty. All of them have spent time in the arena, and they all demonstrate great skill, even though they are not equal to our warriors, of course."
"Even Miss Lane?" Hippolyta raised an eyebrow.
"Yes. I must admit I was not impressed with her at first, but she has shown the greatest improvement of them all. She has had the least prior training, but she has demonstrated a natural ability with the xiphos."
"Very good. Then I believe we should advance them to the next stage of the training. Also, I would like to see them taught the use of the eight-footer." Hippolyta referred to the long spear of the Amazon, consisting of a hard wood shaft topped with a two-pound, razor-sharp steel tip.
Philippus nodded and then cleared her throat slightly. "Lois has been asking when she may have an audience with you again."
"Yes...of course. I shall see her, all in due time," Hippolyta seemed noncommittal about setting down a date, and Philippus speculated that she was putting it off, for some reason of her own. Yes, Philippus thought, the Queen has her own plans for Lois Lane.
The Bodyguard Ismene then appeared in the doorway. She bowed respectfully.
"My Queen. The Princess Diana and the man Kal-el are here and await your audience."
Hippolyta saw Philippus stiffen at the mention of him, but Cyanna only shrugged. She rose from her chair, and they all followed suit.
"That will be all, my friends. Cyanna, Diana will see you afterwards for her daily examination," Hippolyta nodded towards Ismene. "Send them in."
Cyanna and Philippus bowed and departed, leaving Hippolyta alone in the room, giving her a moment to prepare herself.
Hippolyta took a deep breath. The presence of such a man in close proximity to her still filled her with misgivings, even though she had to admit that Kal-el had always behaved impeccably in her presence. Yet, the past was never truly past, for any Amazon of the first generation. Diana should have known that, having endured the Iron Rite, like all Amazons after Hippolyta's generation, but perhaps living in Man's World had irreparably altered her perceptions. Yes, it could have happened.
Hippolyta felt a strange mix of emotions: on one hand, disappointment and anger at her daughter for ignoring her Amazon heritage (marriage, of all things!), but on the other, pride, too, for her daughter clearly had not transformed into the submissive woman she'd feared would happen once Steve Trevor took her away to Man's World. Thanks to the strange yet wonderful information technology she now owned (given to her as a gift by Julia Kapatelis, Vanessa's mother) she'd learned of Diana's exploits with the Justice League, and how she was looked up to as a positive role model for girls and women, and feared by those men who hated independent, strong women. It puzzled her. For a moment, Hippolyta wondered if she could be wrong...
Hippolyta tightened her fists. No, she reminded herself. Tradition. Tradition was what bound the Amazons to their sacred island, and to each other. Break one link, and the whole edifice would collapse. That could not be allowed to happen, no matter how appealing the temptation. It had happened once before, and they were all nearly destroyed. Still, in her deepest heart, she could not condemn her daughter for what she had done with Superman. Hippolyta had experienced it herself, once daring to lay with Zeus, in order to conceive a child, but once that was done, he had gone his way and Hippolyta hers. There was no break with their tradition. So it was, and must be, for their people to survive. She must crush her doubts, and press on with her plans.
So, silently, Hippolyta waited for her daughter and her husband to appear. She composed herself, forced a pleasant expression on her face.
Diana and Kal entered soon after. They both looked rather serious and quiet, and were dressed quite presentably: Diana in a soft, wine-colored peplos, Kal in a clean white chiton, which looked to be made of the same material as Diana's dress, instead of the coarse wool he had worn previously. Perhaps she had actually sat down to weave it herself, Hippolyta would not be surprised. A crown of laurel weaves would have not looked out of place on his head. But the first thing she noticed was that they were holding hands.
Of course, she had heard that they had been arguing. That came as no surprise to Hippolyta, who knew Diana's temperament from birth. Undoubtedly, part of her inheritance from her. Privately, Hippolyta had wondered how this alien man would deal with an Amazonian temper. She had wondered how Steve Trevor would deal with it. The fact that he was not with her daughter now, suggested that he could not deal with it. Of course, she had not dared to hope that this Kal-el would be the same, and it seemed that they had patched things up, after a fashion.
"My Queen," Diana murmured as she bowed, formally. Kal-el did too, but only the perfunctory bow, Hippolyta noted. A stiff-necked man, Hippolyta thought, for all his previous show of deference. He looked as if he had just swallowed a dose of strong medicine and was trying to keep it down. They both did. She knew the reason why, of course.
"My dear moon and stars," Hippolyta stretched out her arms and Diana dutifully stepped forward embraced her mother in the Amazonian fashion, grasping elbows. "How are you feeling?"
"I am well, mother," Diana replied. "I am a little nauseous sometimes, and always hungry!"
"I was the same. The little one within you?"
Diana smiled, a little. "I feel her thriving within me."
Out of the corner of her eye, Hippolyta saw Kal shift, uneasily. Hippolyta turned her attention to him.
"And you, Kal-el? How are you faring? You have done so well here, helping out in the city."
"I am fine, thank you, your Majesty," Clark replied, his voice strictly formal.
"Oh, do not go all cold and formal, both of you! Philippus is not here, nor is she eavesdropping, I assure you! Please, have a seat. You too, Diana."
Hippolyta fetched a jug of red wine from a nearby table, noticing how reluctantly they took their seats. Ah, she could see how much effort Diana was putting into behaving herself!
"The two of you are getting on well?" Hippolyta asked as nonchalantly as she could, pouring both of them wine into two small cups.
"Yes," Diana said calmly. "We are." The tone of her voice suggested there was no doubt about it. Hippolyta choose to look pleased.
"I am glad of it. It is not on the list of 'royal duties' but often I have had to intervene personally when one or two of the Bodyguard became involved in impossible relationships. Oh, the tangled drama of it all!" She handed the wine to Diana and Kal, who looked at his as if it might contain poison. If only!
As she expected, Diana did not take another second longer in getting to the reason for her visit.
"Mother, about your decision to send Kal to the North..." Diana began hesitantly, glancing quickly at her husband.
"Kal is willing to go. But he has something to say first."
Hippolyta nodded. Yes, she had expected something of the sort. She looked at Kal, who seemed quite restrained to her. He drank his wine quickly and began.
"Queen...Hippolyta...I told you when I first arrived here: I'm only here to be with Diana, not to cause any trouble for you or the Amazons. Now, I've done everything you asked me to. So...I won't refuse now. I'll go to the north, or wherever you tell me to go."
"On one condition," Clark added firmly. Hippolyta's eyes flashed, and he noticed it was just like whenever he told Diana she couldn't do something, like break Hal Jordan's arm, or exercise in the nude...outdoors. No doubt she wasn't used to being given conditions, he guessed correctly. Well, that was going to change right here.
"I will return when Diana is ready to give birth, whether Lois is here or not. In seven months. That's it. Then," he added firmly. "We are going back to Man's World. Together."
Hippolyta's face was expressionless, and Clark couldn't tell if she was displeased or not. Diana was sitting silently beside him, trying not to fidget. He gave her the faintest squeeze of her fingers, and she stilled. Finally, after what seemed like a very long silence (although it was only a second or two), she nodded.
"Well then, that's settled. Of course, those are entirely reasonable conditions. You will leave immediately, and Vanessa Kapatelis will escort you to your new home. I've already arranged a place for you to stay. It's a farm, much like your little landholding in Smallville. It should make you happy."
Staying with Diana will make me happy, Clark thought. He was surprised though, that Hippolyta hadn't protested.
"Where, mother?" Diana abruptly asked, her eyes narrowing.
Hippolyta finally gave a slightly smile, just a slight upturn of her lips. "I would prefer that it remain...confidential for now. It's a bit of surprise, but one I'm sure Kal will enjoy it."
Hippolyta stood up and automatically Diana did also, making Clark react instinctively (his parents always taught him to stand when a lady did too, but then they never knew any Amazon Queens). "Diana will be fine here, and you won't need to worry about Lois. She'll be kept busy! "
"Another thing," Clark added quickly. If anything happens with Diana. I also want to know, right away!"
"Of course, of course," Hippolyta said absently. "Now, if you both will excuse me, I must see to your departure." Like that, she swept out of the room, leaving Clark and Diana alone, again. They looked at each other, each thinking, Well, that's over.
"Does she do that often?" Clark asked. "She could have the Batman thing down pat."
"All the time," Diana muttered. "Afterwards I would go to my room, or run away to the jungles. But now," she shrugged helplessly. "I am trapped here."
"So, that's that then," Clark put his cup down on the desk. "I always wanted a farm again, but I didn't want it to happen like this!"
"Look at it this way," Diana half-heartedly tried to cheer him up. "At least you won't see me get fat!"
"But I wanted to see you fat," Clark protested. "I wanted to be with you every single moment of this! We're never going to have this moment again."
"I know Clark, I know. Believe me, I would prefer to have you here beside me…but the important point is, you will be here," Diana grasped his hands tightly, and smiled, although it was forced, he could tell. "Clark, I will be all right! This is my home, no harm can come to me here."
Clark looked at her sharply, then he pushed it out of his mind. She was right, of course. Surely, nothing could happen here, but what Vanessa had told him...
"What we talked about the other night," he said, lowering his voice. "Are you sure? That's why I want to be here, when the baby is born..."
Diana suddenly looked uncomfortable. "I swear to you Clark, on my honor, I do not care whether this child is a girl child, or a boy. It is yours and that is all that matters. I didn't have any say in Amazon customs when I grew up, but I am not a child anymore. I will do what I want."
For a moment, Clark heard the old Wonder Woman in her voice, and it reassured him...for the moment.
She threw his arms around him tightly, squeezing him as if she feared to let him go.
"I won't let anything happen to our baby, girl or boy, I swear it! You will see your child!"
"In seven months," Clark said firmly, in an unmistakable voice of steel. "I will come back! There won't be any power on Earth, or Themyscira, that's going to keep me away!"
"Seven months, then," Diana whispered. "Not a day longer. You will come back to me, my husband, or I shall fetch you back myself."
The two stood there together, in the empty stateroom, for a long time.
A few hours later, Clark met Vanessa, dressed in full royal livery including helmet and cloak, behind the Palace, where she was loading a two-horse-drawn cart. The rear of the cart was loaded with packages and royal dispatches; Vanessa would be making stops in Amazon villages along the way - Clark dourly realized he was just another one of the deliveries. He didn't realize he would be traveling like this, like a passenger in a stagecoach in some old Western movie. He could have made the trip (to wherever it was he was going) in a few seconds, carrying the wooden cart with him, but Hippolyta had still forbade him to fly, anywhere. This was how Amazons traveled, the old-fashioned way, by horse or foot, and he wasn't going to be any different, apparently. Still, he suspected it was also because she didn't fully trust him, even now.
"So, this how we're getting there? How…quaint."
"Yeah, like something out of the 1800s, huh? Real retro!" Vanessa said, not catching Clark's sarcasm. She was back to her usual bubbly self, after their late-night talk. "It takes some getting used to! I once proposed the idea of the bicycle, but they acted like it was some kind of demon-possessed machine of death," She shook her red curls. "Change won't happen overnight here."
"They could use some change," Clark muttered. Vanessa looked sideways at him, now hearing his tone.
"It does happen. Just...depends on the right moment, I guess. But you'll like the trip, even though it must look really boring for you! I can tell you more about the Amazon folkways," she added, knowingly. Clark nodded. He had to learn as much as he could, despite his dissatisfaction with the whole thing.
He climbed up on the seat next to her, not exactly sharing in Vanessa's enthusiasm, but he was relieved he was traveling with her, rather than with some sour Amazon guard.
"Can't you tell me where we're going?"
"I have orders not to tell you until we actually reach it, but you'll like it, trust me!" Vanessa winked at him. Clark wondered about that.
"Well, we're all set to go. Did you want to wait to say goodbye to Wonder...Princess Diana?"
Clark shook his head. They had both not wanted to have that emotional moment out in the streets. "We already said them. Let's just go."
Some of the Amazon Bodyguard gathered to watch the departure. Among them were Illythia, Selene, and Penelope, and a few other Amazons from the city. All except Selene were whispering among themselves. The usual gossipy nonsense, from what Clark could overhear, but Selene approached him, directly; surprised, they stopped talking and gaped.
Even more to their surprise (and Clark's), she stretched out her hand to him, and grasped his elbow; Clark returned the greeting, realizing what it meant: the comradely gesture of equals. He was touched.
"I will look after the Princess," Selene told him. "Of course she can look after herself, but..."
"I understand," Clark nodded in gratitude. "Thank you, Selene."
"Strength be with you, Kal-el."
"You, also, Selene!"
"You will need it with the Getai!" One of the Amazons onlookers shouted out, and the others broke up laughing. Vanessa clicked her tongue, and the horses began trotting briskly away, taking them away from the Palace. Clark watched it, looking through its stone walls, but though he tried, he could not see Diana, at all, but he did not stop trying to, until they were out of sight.
From within the Palace, high above the street below, as she had done a month earlier in a different manner, Queen Hippolyta watched the wagon carrying Vanessa and Kal-el depart, moving gradually out of sight. The Lady Eurydike approached to stand next to her, watching the scene also.
"So, you have succeeded in setting them apart. Though, do you think it will make any difference?"
"It is a beginning," Hippolyta said serenely. "Now that she is no longer under his influence, she will begin to come back to us and see reason."
"She is back with us."
Hippolyta then glanced severely at her old companion. "You know what I mean, Eurydike! This...man, bonded together with her…you know as well as I do, that can never be! Not if she expects to be Queen here one day."
"Perhaps she doesn't want to be Queen."
"She has no choice," Hippolyta's voice was flat as she turned her attention back to the wagon, growing smaller in the distance. "She cannot spend all her life in Man's World. This is her home, and when I am gone, she will rule here. But I must make sure she is not corrupted by their ways before that can happen."
"But what corruption is there, Hippolyta? I admit I too, looked for it in Diana after her return. I see that she is the same Amazon when she left."
"Then you must be as blind as old Nya Nyanga the gatekeeper! Was she the chattel of a man? Was she pregnant? No, it was I who must have been blind, to let her depart with Trevor! Now, look what has happened!"
Eurydike heard the anger, but underlying that, the pain, in her old friend's voice. She blames herself for this, she thought.
"Diana made her own choices."
"So now we must make ours, so we may avert disaster."
"I thought you didn't believe in old Menalippe's prophecies..."
"Hades take the prophecy! That is not what I care about. I care about the life of my daughter! As long as she is with him, she will never be what she can be, what she is meant to be! She is destined for greater things than as some man's wife!"
"You will only drive her away further with your plotting," Eurydike said. "It is too late for that, now. This is not wisdom."
Hippolyta stiffened. Even from a member of the High Council, this was insolence. "No, Eurydike it is not too late. Once her child is born, then Diana will see sense."
"If it is a girl. And...if not? Do you think Diana would actually allow-?"
"She is my daughter. She is an Amazon," Hippolyta said flatly. "She will do her duty. We talk no more of it."
"But my Queen-"
"I said, we will talk no more of it. Dispatches are already being sent to the Getai. What's done is done."
Hippolyta turned and left the narrow window, leaving Eurydike alone, and deeply troubled. The Amazon councilwoman couldn't help but feel that the wheels of destiny were already turning, but not in the way the Queen imagined, or in ways that any of them could expect...or control.
AN: Plot is thickening, but very, very slowly, as usual. Thank you readers, those of you who have stuck with this fic this far :) At this rate, the Justice League movie will be out before this fic ends! But many things are afoot for our couple, can they face them without each other? What did Vanessa reveal to Clark? What scheme does Hippolyta have planned? I know many readers dislike her already, but be prepared for exponential dislike!
As always please read and review!
Hope you all are as eager to see Man of Steel as I am! Hopefully Ch. 19 will be out before then or right after, either the chapter where Clark reaches his destination (what could it be? Another character introduction) or Batman-centric again.