The Liliad
Chapter 34
Is There A Sister In The House?


The following day dawned bright and clear. The ship sped below the lea of Lemnos, and then it was clear sailing toward the smaller, more easterly island of Tenedos. From there it was a hop, skip and a sea jump to the Phrygian coast, in the land of the Mysians, a mere twenty leagues south of Ilium, the great citadel of Troy. Situated on the Plains of Dardania at the southwestern entrance to the Hellespont, the channel which led to the broad plains of Anatolia to the east and the Black Sea to the north and, beyond them both, to the wilds of the Caucasus, Ilium was the gateway to a land mass of untold size and wonder whose length and breadth dwarfed the Aegean Isles. Control of Ilium’s mighty turrets and bastions meant control of the known world's largest intercontinental shipping lanes and domination of land sources of incalculable wealth. As a pretext or justification for war, the abduction of the Lady Helen of the Dark Cheeks, as she was known throughout the Mediterranean basin, from the River Po on the German frontier to the Nile delta which emerged from the African desert, was a mere afterthought.

As the Amazons put their backs into plying the oars, they took turns weaving, for Lila, the skein of their noble lineage.

Ages ago, the great Queen Myrene and a tribe of her sisters sailed from their Libyan homeland, on the island of Hespera, two hundred of leagues east of modern-day Carthage, to the island of Lesbos, the beautiful isle off the western coast of Phrygia and the great city of Pergamum. There they founded the city of Mytilene, named for Myrene's blood sister, the first city of the known world to have been inhabited exclusively by women. Some of the tribe had been washed off course during the colonizing voyage and had come ashore far to the north where they'd settled a smaller, more rugged island which they'd named Samothrace (below, i.e. off the coast of Thrace). And there the two communities lived and prospered for many sunmarks.

Decades -- eons? -- later (no one could be sure how much time had elapsed but, by then, the Olympians had overthrown the Titans and had imprisoned their giant forebears in the bowels of the earth), Ares became smitten with an unquenchable passion for the warlike nymph, Harmonia. The outcome of this passionate union was their daughter, Otrere (not Yakut’s Oteri), a prized beauty whom many kings courted without success, as Otrere preferred to live chaste, wild and free. She became a favorite of Artemis with whom she hunted and swam and ran naked through the woods far from the haunts of men. Otrere subsequently raised the first temple to Artemis at Ephesus, in Ionia, south of the land of the Lydians, on the western coast of Phrygia, two thirds of the way from Ilium in the north to the Halicarnassus in the south. This temple -- its site long in ruins -- remained, even now, the most sacred shrine of the Amazons.

There came a time when the women of Lesbos, in league with their sisters on Samothrace, went to war with the forces of Dionysus, the youngest and most arrogant of the Olympian pantheon. This war had resulted from Dionysus’ aggressive actions against the Daughters of Myrene on account of their refusal to be ruled by and pay tribute to his minions, the forest-dwelling Bacchantes. The Daughters, badly outnumbered and in full retreat, appealed to Otrere who offered them sanctuary in her temple. The Bacchantes invaded the sanctuary, violated its sacred precincts and slaughtered many of Otrere's suppliants. In the written lore of those early times, this was the first recorded instance of the use of horses in battle as the besieged Daughters, in a desperate move to ward off their Dionysian attackers, rode bravely to their doom. To the later Amazons, it had become a source of pride that their antecedents had invented the cavalry. Otrere succumbed to rage and grief at the invasion of her sanctuary and the bloodletting of her petitioners. With her dying breath, she proclaimed her faithful love of Artemis. From that day forward, enmity reigned between Artemis and the Bacchantes whose Dionysiac cult Artemis despised.

Before the end of the age of the Daughters of Myrene and the death of Otrere, Ares had managed to father a daughter, Lysippe, with Otrere, so that Ares was Lysippe's father and grandfather. The Amazons traced their lineage to Lysippe, the founder of the Amazon nation, and called themselves Thygatroi tí Lysippe, the Daughters of Lysippe. Their queen -- that is, the Queen of their Queens -- carried the blood of Lysippe in her veins, the serum and plasma of Amazon royalty.

Ares and Lysippe, in turn, had five children: Tanais, the eldest, a son, and then four daughters; Antiope, Melanippe, Hippolyte and the youngest, Penthesileia. Many sunmarks intervened between the birth of Antiope and her younger sisters, but, in the manner of gods and their offspring, the elder maintained her youth as the younger grew and matured.

Because Tanais had scorned marriage and had aspired to the freedom and purity of his mother, Lysippe, Aphrodite put a spell on him and caused him to fall in love with his mother. Driven mad by his carnal desire for Lysippe and knowing that he could never possess her, Tanais, in shame and anguish, drowned himself in the River Thermidon where the family dwelled in the north of Pontus, the heavily forested range of north-central Anatolia, east of Phrygia and west of the Hittite kingdom, situated at the mouth of that wide, meandering river whose delta empties into the Black Sea below the Scythian plains of the southern Caucasus.

Grieving for her lost son and refusing all consolation, Lysippe threw herself, body and soul, into the monumental labor of building the city of Themiscyra at the mouth of the Thermidon, the great fortress of the Amazons. Lysippe was aided in this work by the remnant of the Daughters of Myrene who'd survived the massacre at Otrere's shrine to Artemis. To reward them for their labors, Lysippe permitted them to settle permanently at Themiscyra where they became the first Amazons proper, the name being a misnomer based on the mistaken belief, current among Hellenes and Phrygians, that these women, to better their fabled skill as crack archers, severed their right breasts from their bodies (a-mazon, without (a) breast) so that this fleshly impediment might not hinder the drawing of the bowstring.

Utter nonsense, the ladies informed Lila. Besides, some of them, like Ephiny and Elana, were left-handed. Nonetheless, the name stuck and had now become an emblem of pride.

Lysippe's half-sister, Ares daughter, Molpeidia, surnamed Oiorpata (i.e. Manhater), became the greatest Amazon war queen and godmother to Antiope, Lysippe's eldest daughter, whom Molpeidia had loved as dearly as though Antiope had been her own child. When Theseus was Crown Prince of Athens, he'd led a raid for plunder deep into the Phrygian heartland, all the way to the legendary City of the Amazons, where he beheld and was at once smitten with Antiope, said to be most beautiful woman in the known world prior to the advent of Helen of the Dark Cheeks. For her part, Antiope was equally smitten with the dashing, young, redheaded, Athenian prince. They trysted under starlight in the rushes of the Thermidon whereupon Theseus, carrying out the scheme which he'd devised behind Antiope's back, abducted her and brought her to his native Athens to reign with him as his queen. Torn between love of Theseus, despite his underhanded cavil, and love of her Amazon sisters and their homeland, Antiope lived her life at the Athenian court, joy and longing commingling in the chambers of her warm, open heart. She and Theseus had a son, Hippolytus, whom Theseus hoped would become his heir.

Infuriated by the forcible seizure of their crown princess, Molpeidia and the Amazons of Themiscyra, in league with an army of Hittite mercenaries, marched on Athens and laid siege to the city, advancing to the very gates of the Acropolis before, in one of the most decisive and hard-fought battles in the history of the known world, the Athenians prevailed against the combined Amazon-Hittite forces, driving them back at a terrible cost to attacker and defender alike.

The carnage on both sides was devastating. At their fateful meeting below the walls of Athens, enraged that Antiope, though never having ceased to love her sisters dearly, was nonetheless determined to remain with Theseus and their son in spite of the fact that the Athenian women held her in contempt for being "a low-class, uncouth Amazon," Molpeidia flung her spear with deadly accuracy and slew Antiope, the first of only three instances in which an Amazon had shed the blood of another Amazon. Upon hearing the news that her beloved sister had slain her beloved daughter, Lysippe, like her mother, Otrere, perished of a broken heart, having lost the two eldest of her five children. The Fates thus spared Lysippe the pain of having to witness the loss, in quick succession, of the next two.

Molpeidia then took her own life, and thus ended the career of the greatest Amazon warrior prior to the coming of Penthesileia to the Plain of Scamander and the walls of Ilium.

Lysippe’s third child, the lively, outgoing Melanippe then became queen at Themiscyra, a ray of light and some small measure of consolation to the community for the pain and sorrow of its recent losses. Everyone loved Melanippe. With her sparkling, upbeat personality, she had the knack of making the sisters laugh and rejoice in the thousand daily doings of their common life. Her sunny disposition bucked everyone up, even the most dour among the laggards. Melanippe believed in her sisters’ ability to rise to the level of the best that was in them and was thereby able, by the sheer force of her buoyant spirit, to help others believe in themselves. Her short reign was a happy interval in a sequence of events whose unfolding lay far beyond the power of the Themiscyran Amazons to alter or control.

Melanippe was also an excellent horsewoman. Her example and influence was instrumental in the formation of the mounted Amazon horseback units which, in the age preceding the invention of the saddle and the stirrup, were the rival of any brigade of charioteers save the thundering scourge-riders of the Scythian outback, one of whose latter-day chieftains, Borias, was well known to the ladies who were rowing toward the port of Tenedos that day, and to none better than the Warrior Princess, a horsewoman of some accomplishment in her own right.

Melanippe chose her younger sister, Hippolyte, to become queen of the growing number of Anatolian Amazons even as she chose her cousin, Tarandel, to become queen of the smaller yet expanding number of Greek Amazons, the designation "Greek" meaning, for Amazon purposes, the Amazon communities being founded in Attica, Argos, Mycenae and Thessaly. Tarandel's daughter, Melosa, was subsequently appointed queen of the fledgling Macedonian Amazons. So, in the chain of Amazon command, Macedonia was subalterned to Greece which was the lesser vassalage, compared with the Anatolian Amazons, of the Themiscyran Amazon suzerainty. But this chain of command was consensual and non-authoritarian, Melanippe being prima inter pares but never in an overbearing or autocratic way.

Lila broke in to ask the obvious question: why wasn't Penthesileia, the youngest sister, made queen of the Greek Amazons given that Hippolyte, the third sister, was chosen to become queen of the Anatolian Amazons?

Indeed, there had been much speculation on that topic. Penthesileia, like Melanippe, had been a bright and lively adolescent. Yet she appeared to lack ambition or any inclination to assume the onus and regal status of queenship. She seemed to have no taste for the prerogatives of power and command. She rode beautifully. She hunted with the best. She ranged about the fields and meadows, learning everything her mentors could teach her about herbs and wildflowers. She played the lyre. She chanted threnodies. She made exquisite craft items and centerpieces. Bath oils and skin lotions had been her specialty. And interior furnishings: she knew how to choose, even how to make them. She served Melanippe as her chargée and then her ambassador to any number of foreign courts but had no care at all when it came to her personal advancement. The born assistant, Penthesileia seemed to delight in her subordinate role.

Despite her beauty, which was legion, the equal of Antiope, some said, Penthesileia had no beaux of either gender and seemed, on the surface, indifferent to affairs of the heart. Oh, well, her Amazon sisters said, she takes after her grandmother, Otrere, in that respect. Perhaps she'll spend her days as a protegée of Artemis, romping over hill and dale, revelling in the hunt, bathing in pristine pools under the peppery spray of thundering waterfalls, with nymphs for friends and nereids for companions.

Like so many of the Themiscyran Amazons, Penthesileia adored Melanippe and blossomed in her company. The thought of parting from Melanippe to become queen of a distant Amazon tribe filled Penthesileia with dread. Let me stay close by your side, sister, snug and warm and feeding on the nectar of your sunshine -- appeared to have been Penthesileia's attitude. Her loyalty and attachment to Melanippe was never in question.

But rumors had begun to circulate, in Themiscyra and eventually elsewhere, to the effect that Penthesileia's relationship with her sister, Hippolyte, was a rather different matter. There were hints of stormy scenes and passionate cries in the night and tears of recrimination alternating with soft, smiling words of affection and an intimacy of body and spirit which those who'd been closest to the two women said was nigh onto unbearable to behold. The two sisters, they said, seemed to hold one another in thrall, to know exactly what the other was thinking before either had spoken, to know the precise place and pressure where a look or a touch would bring, in its wake, waves of pleasure or breakers of pain. Each sculpted the other, it soon became plain, with the ravening tools of sensual love.

"I can't put up with these bouts of jealousy, Penthesileia," Hippolyte raked her sister over the coals on one occasion. "Can't you take a lover? There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of sisters who'd give their right breast to lie with you for a night -- or a lifetime."

"Make use of our sisters as surrogates? Is that what you're suggesting?" Penthesileia replied.

"No," Hippolyte sighed and looked away, "of course not."

"What are you telling me, then?" Penthesileia said. "To leave you alone? To steer a wide berth of you?"

"No, that's not what I want," Hippolyte had shaken her head.

"Then make up your mind," Penthesileia retorted. "To want me only when you want me… It isn’t fair to keep me dangling on a string."

"I have responsibilities that you've chosen to forego," Hippolyte snapped. "I can hardly spend my days catering to your needs. I'm afraid it's going to have to be catch as catch can from now on."

"Then take me with you when you go," Penthesileia approached Hippolyte. They were both tall, straight-postured daughters of Ares. Penthesileia was darker and more slender. Hippolyte's auburn hair flowed in lazy ringlets most of the way down her back. Penthesileia's black hair, straight and a tad coarse, dropped to an inch or two below her shoulder blades. Hippolyte's eyes twinkled a cold, dark, demanding blue. Penthesileia's eyes were ineluctable.

"I can't do that," Hippolyte said. "Melanippe needs you here."

"Melanippe can find a substitute," Penthesileia said.

"Not to hear the way she praises your talents to the skies," Hippolyte said.

"Melanippe is kind and dear," Penthesileia said. "Cloudy though I am, her sun constantly warms me. I would hardy leave her lightly."

"There's no need for you to leave her at all," Hippolyte said.

"I'll be the judge of that!" Penthesileia spoke sharply. "And I'll judge of that when I've heard, from your lips, that you no longer want me by your side and in your arms."

"And with my lips," Hippolyte breathed softly. Then, emitting a slight growl like a lioness contemplating a hunt though not yet famished enough to stir, Hippolyte reached out her arms, seized Penthesileia by her straight, bony shoulders, drew her forcefully to her lips and kissed her passionately.

Penthesileia was equally passionate in her response.

"That's what my lips have to say," Hippolyte said. "That's the nation they aspire to rule."

"Then take them as a conqueror and bear them away as your slave," Penthesileia answered.

"I can't," Hippolyte said. "You'd unthrone me."

"Never!" Penthesileia responded. "Your throne would be my bower."

"Not that way," Hippolyte said. "I meant that to nurture discipline, one may have to suppress desire, make sacrifices, learn to do without."

"Throw me over for a crown," Penthesileia hissed. "For a worthless piece of golden junk."

"It isn't worthless, Penny," Hippolyte had said. "It's an obligation that masters our will and humbles us and makes us worthy servants to things larger and more important than ourselves. You've yet to realize that."

Penthesileia had come, in time, to see that Hippolyte had been right. By then, a double tragedy had struck, and Penthesileia had had her queenship thrust upon her willy nilly. Given her preference, Penthesileia might have spent her life brewing afternoon tea for and chatting amiably with her sister, Melanippe, and, at night, licking the taste of wine off the lips of her sister, Hippolyte.

Ares had begun to pay court to Hippolyte as he'd courted Hippolyte's mother and grandmother before her. For love of Penthesileia, Hippolyte had abjured Ares' advances, not succumbing even to the seduction offered by the jeweled belt of Hephaestos, the most precious bauble in the known world, worth as much, on the world's currency exchanges, as all the towers and terraces of Themiscyra with the daub and wattle of Anatolian huts and Macedonian cottages tossed into the golden pot for good measure. Then came Herc in pursuit of the belt for Admete, King Eurystheus' daughter. The covetous king wished to present the belt to Admete as a splendid wedding gift. Here was the chance to unload this unholy trinket, and Hippolyte gladly seized the opportunity, going so far as to bring the unwanted item to Herc herself.

The rest was Hera and history.

When word of Hippolyte's demise and the treachery which had taken the lives of her courtiers had reached Themiscyra along with news of the Bloody Ride which had wrecked vengeance upon every male Greek within a hundred leagues of Otrere's shrine in Ephesus, Themiscyra was wrapped in shock broken only by wails of grief and cries of rage. Penthesileia had been inconsolable.

Melanippe had to shortchange her own grief to tend, out of the goodness of her heart, to Penthesileia who sought, successfully, to keep Melanippe from learning about the obsessional nature of Penthesileia's relationship with their murdered sister. So far as Melanippe ever knew, Penthesileia's pain and rage at the loss of their beloved sister was an expression of grief at the loss of a close fraternal attachment, nothing more. Revenants of Antiope reared their head from the unsealed crypts of memory. Along with a hatred of all things Greek, save their Greek sisters, there came upon the Amazons a morose foreboding with respect to their uncertain future. Would the princes and prelates of the known world, not to say the common folk, long permit a nation of women to survive and prosper, many of those women having never been acquainted with a man until the very night when, by arrangement, he'd come to plant in her womb the seed of the next generation?

Hoping to cheer her sister up, Melanippe proposed that she and Penthesileia, in the company of a few of their closest friends, take themselves on a boar hunt, it being rutting season and the male boars that much more likely to give their whereabouts away by their musky smell and guttural growls. At first Penthesileia couldn't cope with the idea. To do anything at all in the wake of Hippolyte's murder seemed a travesty.

"Oh, Mel," Penthesileia moaned, "the only thing I want to do is lie down and die."

"You can't give up, Penny," Melanippe urged. "Polly wouldn't want you to. Do you remember the first time I got you up on Polemistis?"

"The high-spirited Arabian you rode when I was little," Penthesileia said.

"Do you remember how he threw you that first time?" Melanippe said. "What did you do when Polemistis threw you on your first time out?"

"I got and got back on," Penthesileia said.

"So that he knew you meant to ride him, and he never gave you any trouble after that," Melanippe said. "Polly would want you to ride and hunt -- and live. Come on."

As she'd done so many times in the past, Penthesileia trusted Melanippe to lead her in the right direction which, on that particular day, had been to the woods above the bank of the river near its egress into the sea. The hunters, armed with spears and short swords and one of them carrying a net, had fanned out in the brush where, they had reason to believe, a wild boar was hunkering down in anticipation of their attack. The light and life and excitement of the contest began to bring Penthesileia a little ways back to the land of the living, and she was temporarily able to draw the screen of grief aside, like twin curtains parting from the windows of her eyes. But enough tension and anguish remained to unsettle her concentration and to cause the connection between her eyes and hand to misjudge, slightly but fatally, the force and direction of her spear as she let fly in response to a thunder in the undergrowth and the sharp cry, from one of the hunting party, "He's yours, Penny! Take him!"

The boar came trumpeting toward Penthesileia, bent only upon escaping his pursuers. As he passed within mere footlengths of her position, Penthesileia cast her spear. But on this occasion, the maid who'd rarely missed her target, whether winging a weapon on the hunt or arranging the flowers in the lazy susan on the palace's banquet table, threw slightly wild, and the deadly spear found its huge, pointed tip, the iron honed sharper than a rose's thorn, embedded not in the flank of the fleeing animal but in the heart of her pursuing sister.

A second catastrophe burst hard upon the first. A fourth and final sibling gone and this time by her own sister's hand. Her guide and friend and motherly presence; her encourager, her confidence builder, her cheerer-upper. Felled in a freak accident before anyone realized what had happened. There was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth and rumors flashing like nighttime torches on the summit of Mt. Ida far to the west on the ancient road to Ilium, speculation to the effect that the Blood of Lysippe, like the House of Atreus on the Argive mainland, lived, for some inexplicable reason, under a curse. And what might one expect, it was whispered in the pubs and on park benches and in quarries and taverns, when one's mother was also one's grandmother and sister and when sisters themselves became lovers.

To compound the cruelty, harsh gossip and even outright accusations began to dog Penthesileia's steps as she went -- or was led -- in a daze, in the midst of attendants and fellow mourners, where she found herself, for the first time in her life, truly and deeply alone.

"The Queen is dead, long live the Queen!" she heard the torrid cry and felt a circular piece of golden junk being lowered onto her scarcely apprehending head. The rumor mill began churning out the story, laughably moronic to those who knew her but still quite credible to those whose opinions were shaped by innuendo and gossip, that Penthesileia had faked the accident and had purposely killed Melanippe -- assassinated her sister -- so that she might ascend to the throne and rule as queen. And with Hippolyte removed from the scene -- so complex, they said, were the malign workings of internecine palace intrigue -- Penthesileia now assumed the mantle of Queen de la Queen of all the Amazon queens, the appointment of regional and local queens now being her sole provenance. Not a bad rise through the ranks for a fourth daughter and a fifth child. Knock 'em off one by one 'til there's no one left to seize the reigns of power but you. Smart, slick and cagey.

At night, alone in a chamber whose wisps of extinguished candle smoke mimicked the burial shrouds of the dead, the points on her golden crown gathering cobwebs on the shelf or rack or bedstead, on whatever random surface it happened to land when she'd carelessly tossed aside, Penthesileia whispered to the invisible servants of Hecate who might have come to mock or mourn with her, "Annie, Mel, Polly... should I come to join you now? It would be so easy. Just a little potion that I know quite well how to mix and stir. Mom and Grams each died of a broken heart. Why should I be spared that fate? Let it end with me: the Blood of Lysippe clotting on the hard marble floor, running in a rivulet from the potty in the W.C."

Ares came to console his daughter-granddaughter in the night.

"You swine, how dare you approach me! Get out of my sight!" Penthesileia erupted. Ares turned tail and did his powdery, vanishing number. But in doing so, he'd given Penthesileia a gift. Let the gossips chatter. Her queenly office had been thrust upon her willy nilly. Unlike the hit and run god of war letting himself into a lady's chamber at night, intent only upon satiating his unquenchable lust, Penthesileia wouldn't simply up and vanish when confronted with the harsh consequences of blind, insensate fate. Someone had to rule -- and to rule well -- and if it wasn't going to be Antiope or Melanippe or Hippolyte, it would be her, the sole survivor, and she would rule for them all. Hauling herself by her own gutstrings up from the pit of depression, she would somehow rise, white-knuckling it all the way, to the grand stature of her office.

And by the gods, she had. Turning her attention to the art of ruling a nation, including the tedious unpleasantries and myriad annoyances and vexatious wasting of precious time that seemed to be a monarch's lot in life and which constantly weighed on her spirit until she wanted to throw in the towel and go live like an anchoress sworn to penitent silence at some chaste goddess' holy shrine, Penthesileia had begun, stone by stone and post by beam, to rebuild the structure of institutional, Amazon life. She made key appointments, delegated crucial tasks, set up frameworks of accountability, held sisters' feet to the fire of service to the community and the welfare of the nation.

Once she'd formulated goals and objectives and timetables in which to accomplish them, Penthesileia had shown herself to be relentless in their pursuit. She'd brought the glimmerings of order and the flickerings of discipline to an enterprise which, for all its vision and valor, had lately begun to gather moss and atrophy. Like her or not, both friend and foe agreed that this was a queen who knew how to stay a course. The Amazons had needed a steady hand at the wheel of command, and it looked like they'd gotten one at last.

For all her administrative talent and organizational skill, Penthesileia was a realist about the future of the Amazon nation and about the scope of her own limitations. A glorious future did not await her sisters; and, painful as that fact was to contemplate, she wouldn't retreat from the knowledge of it. The known world was shrinking and becoming more interdependent. The power of kings was on the rise and with it their arrogance, cupidity and lust. The sun of the Olympian gods was beginning to set. The Trojan conflict would be the last campaign in which their petty, spurious agendas would play a significant part. The earth would soon belong to its pokers and plodders, its wheelers and dealers. A race of women warriors -- and warrior princesses of which she, too, was one -- was becoming as anachronistic as local warlords looking to fund their retirement plans with the proceeds of stolen plates and dishes from a small town's pottery shop.

There remained only one thing left to accomplish as the final gesture of the Blood of Lysippe to set a future course for the Amazons in a world that would neither welcome nor value them. What the Amazons would need, down through the ages, whether they identified specifically as "Amazons" or thought of themselves as something else, whether gathered together in sisterly communities or isolated amidst the cares and woes of the world, alone and wondering if there might be others on the earth like them or were they simply queer and weird misfits living our their quota of days in life's cloaks and closets: what her sisters needed now and in the future was an icon or image, a myth, a heart of brightness to keep the dream and hope alive during the long, dark, loveless times. And it fell to her, as the Queen de la Queen, against her will and despite the deepest promptings of her nature, to be that burning, faith-inspiring brand.

To set the jewel in the crown of memory and inspiration and, incidentally, to prove to sceptics and believers alike that her heart was open and that, from them, no secrets were hid, Penthesileia aimed to do the deed that would, in the annals of her nation, redeem the blood of Antiope, Melanippe and Hippolyte at the fountain spray of her own blood and so close the circle that had opened, eons ago, when the first "Amazon" had sailed from the shores of oppression and corruption to seek the rip and wrack of life's truer if more dangerous tides and currents in lands shaped by their will and tilled by their hands. She would meet the living embodiment of that oppression and corruption in battle and, by the shedding of her own blood, she would shrive the shed blood of those whose blood sacrifice had kindled a lamp of hope and had thus led the illumined way further into the darkness of a sacred, reclaimed night.

To Ilium, then, and the honor of a good and well-earned death. She had meant to go alone, simply to arrive and carry out her mission. She would leave it to the nation to choose a successor or not to choose one at all, the era of queens perhaps coming to an appropriate end. But twelve of her sisters and closest advisers had stepped forward to pledge their fealty, even to the threshold of an untimely death. Clonie, Evandre, Derinoe, Derimachaeia, Bremusa, Thermodosa, Alcibie, Polemusa, Antandre, Antibrote, Hippothoe and Harmothoe: these were the twelve that rode with Penthesileia to Ilium to step from life into glory with the sister who, accidentally and then only reluctantly, had become their queen. Penthesileia was deeply touched by their devotion and begged them to reconsider. There was no need for them to take this drastic step. They could form a council of twelve when she was gone and then midwife a nation in transition as its mentors, advisers and guides. But no, their queen would not make the final sacrifice alone. Besides, there were too many Argive invaders that badly needed slaying before the Amazons' time would have come.

"So you set out to get Hippolyte's belt and bring it to Troy to show Penthesileia that Ephiny wasn't being disloyal to the Amazons by having a baby with Phantes and being friends with Herc," Lila looked at Gabrielle and Xena, the ladies now lounging on the foredeck in the angular rays of the sliding, orange sun after having rowed the afternoon away.

"That and because we mostly we just wanted her to have it," Gabrielle said.

"To pay her tribute," Xena said.

"That's all it was?" Lila said. "Just so she could have it? Excuse me, Xena, but did you just say that you were going to pay tribute? To a queen? You?"

Xena nodded.

"That you would pay tribute... Wow," Lila said.

Xena smiled. "I've had my own tiffs with the Amazons."

"The soul of understatement," Velasca muttered, leaning against the gunwales and running her finger along the blade of the breast dagger whose sharp edge she'd just been whetting with a damp cuttlestone.

Lila looked from Velasca to Xena to Gabrielle and then to the other Amazons. The ship had cleared Lemnos’ outer banks and was now running the straight road to Tenedos. Expected time of arrival: the wee candlemarks of tomorrow morning when navigating to the docking slips in the harbor would be easiest. At that point, the troupe would have to figure out how to get over to the mainland and the broad plain of the Scamander, the teeth of whose bloody mouth were the limned guard towers of Ilium.

"I guess there's no peace in the valley yet," Lila summed up what she took to be the group's prevalent mood.

"But there does seem to be a truce in effect," Xena said.

"Truces are good," Lila nodded.

The others, including Velasca, nodded too.

Continued - Chapter 35
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