|Sais And Whispers|
Late in the afternoon, there came a knock on the outer door of Penthesileia's apartments. Ghisella went to the door to find a young Greek woman, dressed in a simple white chiton and brown sandals, with long dark hair flowing most of the way down her back and dark blue, engaging eyes, standing at the threshold, toting a box in one hand and, in the other, a clear glass bud vase that supported the stem of a large, white gardenia.
"May I be of assistance?" Ghisella said as she gazed at the young woman who was clearly not one of the Amazons.
"I was wondering if the Queen was in her chamber," Lila said.
"Is she expecting you?" the attendant inquired.
"No, I'm just dropping by on the chance that Pen... that the Queen might have a brief turn of the sandglass to spare. I've... brought her something," Lila's eyes indicated the box and the vase.
Displeased by the unscheduled call, Ghisella hesitated. "The Queen is in, but, as you don’t have an appointment, I'm afraid she’s unavailable."
"Ghisella...," a warm, purling voice floated out the semi-closed door of the inner chamber, "did someone just come to call?"
"Yes, Your Ladyship," the attendant replied, "a young Greek woman who says she hasn’t got an appointment."
Penthesileia stuck her head out the door and spotted Lila standing by the entrance to the suite. The Queen paused for a long, gazing instant, as she had on the evening at King Priam's commemorative feast for his slain son and heir. Then, in a soft voice, Penthesileia called across the outer room, "It's allright, Ghisella. Please show her in."
Ghisella stepped away from the door, and Lila entered the suite. Penthesileia noticed the box and the vase and, more intently, the slightly hesitant look on Lila's face. Penthesileia crossed the space between them and extended a warm hand. "Won't you come in," Penthesileia said, looking Lila in the eye.
"I didn't mean to impose upon Your Ladyship," Lila said, aware of Ghisella’s presence and feeling a trifle awkward on account of it. "I’d merely hoped to leave a couple of items for you and then to return, if possible, at a more convenient time."
Lila tried not to gasp at the piercing beauty of Penthesileia's eyes, the loveliness of her face and the commanding presence of her tall, slender body nor to call attention to the pounding of her heart which she was sure Penthesileia could hear beating rapidly, its echo no doubt careening volubly off the walls.
"I have a few turns of the sandglass at my disposal if you'd like to come in," Penthesileia said, more aware of the quickening pulse within her own veins than the beating of Lila's inaudible heart. When Lila gave a slight nod, Penthesileia turned to her attendant and said, "Ghisella, if anyone should call in the next little while, please tell them I'm occupied and to try me again later."
Ghisella curtsied with a slight lowering of her eyes, then discretely absented herself to take up her duties -- and possibly to do some eavesdropping -- in a close quoin of the Queen's quarters.
Penthesileia led the way to her private chamber. Lila followed, entering two steps behind. Penthesileia’s room looked much as it had on the day before, except for a large vase of fresh flowers on the sill of the sunnier of the two open casements along with fresh linens on the pallet. A wooden armoire in the corner held Penthesileia's few items of clothing. A writing table was strewn with scrolls and knickknacks. There were no weapons or plates of armor visible anywhere.
Penthesileia closed the door, turned to bathe Lila in a full, admiring gaze and said softly, "I was hoping you might drop in."
"I've brought you something... a couple of things. I hope you might like them," Lila looked for and then found a small table on which to place the box, the vase and the sachet of tea with the two biscotti. "But first things first."
Lila walked up to Penthesileia, looked up into the Queen's cloud-gray eyes and said, "Greet me today as you departed from me yesterday."
Penthesileia looked down into Lila's pool-blue eyes and saw, in their steady gaze, a longing and desire to match her own. "We parted with a word and a gesture," the Queen said.
"Give me back the gesture, then follow it with a word," Lila said.
"So that the arrival may be the reverse of the departure," Penthesileia said.
"As it should be," Lila replied.
With eyes locked one upon the other, the women drank one another's feel and aura and smell. Lila smelled mild and sweet. Penthesileia smelled fresh and scrubbed.
Penthesileia leaned forward, but instead of sliding her thumb and finger under Lila's chin and gently raising that chin to lift Lila's face, Penthesileia placed both hands on Lila's round shoulders, glided them lightly down and below the shoulder blades, drew Lila's body firmly to her own and kissed Lila, not tentatively, but deeply and passionately on the lips. With eyes closed and a long, slow, exhalation wafting up from the depths of her diaphragm, Lila sank into Penthesileia's embrace and lazily, luxuriantly swept her hands and arms up over Penthesileia's wide shoulders and around her neck, feeling Penthesileia's breasts pressing into her chest above the soft protrusion of her own somewhat larger breasts. With a passion equal to Penthesileia's, Lila returned the kiss, parting her full lips slightly and pressing them, with jaw relaxed, into the curve of Penthesileia's well formed lips. A low sound escaped from Lila's throat betokening absorption in and surrender to the object of her sensual devotion. Very slowly, the women's lips parted and their eyes found one another again.
"There's nothing lukewarm in your desire, is there, my dear," Penthesileia spoke softly.
"I think not," Lila said, devouring Penthesileia's off-white eyes with her own immutable blues.
"Good," Penthesileia smiled. "I like that in a lover. No halfway measures."
"Have you had many... lovers?" Lila asked.
"Only one," Penthesileia said.
"Only one? In all your life?"
"Then you've been very stingy."
"Or not very desirable."
"You? I'll show you how desirable you are," Lila reached up to kiss Penthesileia with a furious passion of arms and lips into which Penthesileia permitted herself to be drawn and submerged.
"I think we'd better sit down, my dear," Penthesileia gasped when Lila finally released her. "My panties are getting quite wet."
Penthesileia led Lila to the divan. No sooner had they sat down but they exchanged a third, deeply sensuous kiss, their tongues emerging from between their teeth and lips to caress one another gently and slowly. This time Penthesileia let go a low, languid sigh. With their fourth kiss -- more relaxed and interpenetrating -- Lila slid her open palm under the fabric of Penthesileia's white peplos where, above the belted sash, she felt the stiffened nipple of a small, bronze breast. So excited was Lila by the exquisite touch, feel, smell and taste of the woman who'd awakened in her a depth of desire she'd never previously experienced that she touched that lovely breast more roughly than she'd intended as she heard Penthesileia say sweetly in her ear, "Not quite so hard, my dear. A little more gently if you please..."
Lila drew back. "Forgive me. I didn't mean to be so intrus... I believe I'm getting a trifle giddy"
Penthesileia leaned a bit closer to press her breast more fully into the palm of Lila's hand. "Stay with it, my dear. A slightly lighter touch.. Otherwise, you're doing just fine."
Lila's hand gently cupped Penthesileia's breast as the two women kissed again, this time joining in an embrace, neither frenzied nor shy, that felt as though it could have lasted forever.
When at last they separated, Lila started to say something but Penthesileia shook her head as she reached up and softly ran her fingers through Lila's rich hair and down along the back of Lila’s skull, then softly drew Lila's cheek and forehead down to rest against her breast and collarbone. There they sat snuggled together wordlessly as Penthesileia brought her other hand up to smooth Lila's cheek as Lila's free hand slowly and tenderly caressed Penthesileia's exposed breast.
The nipple on Penthesileia's breast stiffened to rigidity. Her breathing became deeper and began to come in slight starts. Her eyes closed. Her voice made soft moans. Her hips jutted slightly forward. Catching the updraft of Penthesileia's rising passion, Lila's breathing also came more quickly as her lips once again sought Penthesileia's lips. This time their arms clenched as mouths battled, each seeking to outdo the other in the conquest of its target. Soft mutual moans blended and then elided into a long, lathery groan as Penthesileia reached inside Lila's sashed chiton to cup and then sweep a feather-light hand over the mound of Lila's nipple-stiffened breast.
"Oh, Lila...," Penthesileia swooned, "by the gods, you are exquisite..."
"Hold me, touch me, shape me to your will," Lila whispered into Penthesileia's ear.
Lila's nipples came fully erect at Penthesileia's gentle caress, and, for an instant -- or an eternity -- Lila's body contracted to a single point of excruciating desire at the tip of the nipple which Penthesileia, with loving attention, claimed as her own. And then, her consciousness flooding back in on her, Lila reached again for Penthesileia’s breast and, with attentions equally tender, brought that lean, lovely, curved breast straining to a round, yearning perfection.
Once more, the flow of passion ebbed to a series of lighter, more gently communicative kisses, caresses and sighing embraces. They paused to gaze into one another's eyes that were now lit with the bright glow of a mutually reinforcing light. All was here and all was now: what need was there of earth or sky in this infinitely spacious outpouring of joined hearts?
I've been met and mastered. Never did the taking of me feel so rich and right.
"I'm soaked," Penthesileia reclined against the back of the divan, trying to catch her breath. "You?"
"Drenched," Lila gasped.
Penthesileia sat up, placed the palms of her hands on Lila's soft, round cheeks, smooched her soft, puffy lips, gave her a tight hug, loosened her grip, looked at Lila with a twinkle in her eye and said, "I've got an idea. I'm a size or two larger than you are, but since it appears we won't be going anywhere for a while, why don't we climb out of our wet things and slip on something dry and comfortable. I've got a few things hanging in that wardrobe over there. Care to try one of them on?"
"Get into one of your dresses?" Lila said.
"One of my shifts, yes," Penthesileia said. "We might feel refreshed if we got changed."
"Allright," Lila said with a half smile.
"I'm longer-boned than you are," Penthesileia said, "but you're a little meatier. I think you'll fill these out very well. Just be careful you don't trip on the hems if they drag on the floor."
Penthesileia got up from the divan and went over to the armoire. She grabbed the round wooden knob and opened the door which swung toward her on small, squeaky hinges. Four garments dangled from four wooden hangers whose necks looped over the round top of a thick, wooden dowel: two peploi, one of them blue, one long himation and the plain, white, sleeveless chiton with its short, pleated skirt in which Penthesileia usually dressed.
"Put on the blue one. I haven't seen you in blue," Lila called. "Besides," she smiled, "I have a reason for asking."
"Allright," Penthesileia called back. She grabbed the back of the chiton she was wearing and hauled it over her head, letting its weight slip the rest of the way down her arms to fall at her feet. With a fast, graceful sweep of her hand, Penthesileia slid her panties down the length of her legs and stepped out of them to stand nude in front of the armoire.
Lila's jaw dropped and her mouth began to water. Penthesileia was lean and muscular, not a trace of flab anywhere on her body. Her legs were long and lithe, her backside round and tiny, her waist as flat as a tray, her breasts small with a slight upward curve, her shoulders broad, her neck slender, her face... gorgeous. Her black hair, the texture of a horse's tail, hung loose past her shoulders, bound by nothing but the very thin, golden string of seven miniscule diamonds that she wore on the crown of her head and tied behind her ears. Yet her skin was perhaps her most striking feature. It was deep bronze, the color of rich, creamy milk chocolate and no body hair to speak of except for a sparse and compact dusting of black furze at the narrow of her crotch, the sight of which made Lila's hand and tongue vye quietly with one another for the honor of being the first to arrive at and pay homage to that holy, beautiful spot.
Penthesileia threw on her blue gown and turned to face Lila with a smile. "Meet with your approval?"
"Quite," Lila said. "I'd say you're the most beautiful creature I've ever laid eyes on if that weren’t a gross understatement."
"You're very sweet," Penthesileia smiled warmly. "You'd also be doing your own self a gross injustice. Come, let's get you changed."
Lila got up and went over to stand next to Penthesileia. "May I?" Penthesileia said as she reached for the sash on Lila's chiton.
"Yes, I'd... like that," Lila said.
Penthesileia gently undid the sash and opened the chiton to expose Lila's belly and breasts. Then the skirt fell away to reveal the rest of Lila's body. Penthesileia stepped up and, placing her hands on the band of Lila's undies, she slid them slowly down the curves of Lila's legs, gently feeling the flesh of Lila's thighs and calves as she stripped off the panties.
Standing nude in front of Penthesiliea, Lila's eyes, looking up at Penthesileia's eyes, were lit with the deep blue fire of in-drawing love. Her arms, breasts, belly, hips, legs were more round and full than Penthesileia's, her muscle tone not nearly as taut. Lila's wider, fuller crotch was very soft and burgeoning with a thick, dark, tufted mound that blossomed upward nearly to her belly button. The skin on her arms, neck, cheeks and at her waist above the belly button was shaded with soft, dark down. Penthesileia gazed at the fullness and receptivity of Lila's lovely face and sensuous body, and her juices again began to flow.
"Would you like to take me now?" Lila, in the nude, said softly to Penthesileia's adoring gaze, and then her own gaze drifted toward the pallet in the corner.
"Oh, Lila...," Penthesileia exhaled, "oh, yes..., more than anything. But let's not do everything all at once, though gazing at you now, your beauty leaves me hardly any will to resist. And yet... before we take that leap... there are issues to be resolved... for the both of us."
Lila gazed at Penthesileia with a soft half-smile. "Say the word and I'll go lie down and you can come into me."
"I want you, Lila. Very much," Penthesileia said. "Keep faith with that desire for just a while longer. Can you?"
"Yes, of course," Lila continued smiling.
Penthesileia kissed Lila again and then again as Lila melted softly into the Queen’s arms. "I’m leaking again, and here I've just gone and changed my dress," Penthesileia jovially lamented.
With a tremendous effort of will, Penthesileia reached for her white peplos and helped Lila into it. Lila's body was discernible beneath the light, gauzy material, the dark portions of her body in clear contrast to the lightness of her skin.
With a bright, twinkling grin, Penthesileia twirled several times in a circle, her lean, graceful, bronze arms flying free in blue puffs of short shoulder sleeves. She ended her spin at the west-facing casement whose afternoon sunlight, flooding the courtyard, washed the interior wall of the chamber in hues of deeply burnished gold.
"Oh, Lila," Penthesileia exclaimed, "this place is so magnificent: this castle, these walls, that courtyard, the many leagues of avenues, parks and squares, and this perfect suite of rooms with its cozy chamber just for me to share with those who've blessed me with the gift of their presence... It's good to be alive. And to have someone special with whom to share that life, someone to devote oneself to, someone whom one might, in time, come deeply and devotedly to love."
Penthesileia turned around to seek out Lila with her gaze. "Lila, come here. Stand by the window with me."
Lila went over to the window. Penthesileia put her arm around Lila's shoulder and Lila put her arm around Penthesileia's waist. The two of them looked down into the courtyard and said nothing for several turns of the sandglass. Then, without looking at Lila, her eyes still following the jerky movements of several sparrows that flitted up and down on the corniced ledge of the roof line, Penthesileia said, "I can't say that I believe in love at first sight. But I do believe that souls can recognize one another in the instant of their meeting, above and beyond the sexual chemistry which their meeting may encompass. So I do think there's the possibility of love taking shape and beginning to grow when two such potentially connected souls meet. Do you think so too?"
"Yes, I do," Lila said. "I think my sister and Xena experienced such a meeting. I think their souls quickened to one other the instant their eyes met. The seed was planted. Then came the watering, the tending and the growing."
Penthesileia turned to look at Lila with a face filled with the seed-look of love. "If there were only time, Lila, I think I should like to court you and see if such a seed might grow for us. I think I should like it if you were to court me. Of course, your parents might have something to say about that."
"No doubt they would," Lila laughed and tightened, by a little, her grip on Penthesileia's waist.
"Well, I don't fancy myself a homewrecker, and I'm not out to steal anyone's virgin daughter," Penthesileia said. "I'm an Amazon queen with a very deep row to hoe."
With that recollection, the expression on Penthesileia's face became somewhat troubled, even slightly morose.
Lila intuited Penthesileia's sudden shift of mood and, gently prodding her away from the window, said, "Come over here. I have something to give you. Something I think might go nicely with your blue shift."
Lila made Penthesileia sit down on the divan. Then Lila picked up her treasures from the small table near the door and brought them over to the long, low table in front of the divan on whose shiny surface she set them down.
Penthesileia gave Lila a puzzled look.
"Open them. Start with the box," Lila said.
Penthesileia pried the lid off the box, undid the soft rice paper, reached in and pulled the scarf out. Her coral-pink eyes grew wide with surprise. "Why, this is... it's lovely. It's a scarf. A very thin, light blue scarf with bits of silver glitter... Lila, where did you get this? It's... priceless. It's beautiful."
"At one of the shops near the telesterion. I did some busying about one of the market squares today," Lila said, pleased that Penthesileia seemed taken with the selection.
"But this... you mean this is for me? To keep?" Penthesileia set the scarf down on the cushion between them and gave Lila a look of deep appreciation.
"It's just a token," Lila said. "I'd've bought you diamonds if I'd've had the dinars."
"Oh, my," Penthesileia sighed. "But this must have cost you plenty. Oh, Lila, you shouldn't have spent your few dinars on someone so unworthy of your affections. You should have spent them on yourself."
"I spent them on whom I wished," Lila said. "It gave me great pleasure to pick that little present out for you. And the gardenia: white and sweet with summer fragrance. That should be your flower, the symbol of your beauty."
Lila lifted the gardenia out of its bud vase and, taking it by the bulb, she held the flower up to the side of Penthesileia's head just above the ear.
"White petals on jet black hair and creamy, bronze skin the color of light milk chocolate tinted a trifle reddish in the light," Lila said, admiring the contrast. "If I had a pin, I'd pin this on you."
Penthesileia reached up to cover Lila's hand with her own. "You'd dress me in flowers and silk," Penthesileia said. "And I should wear them to please you. And would you make love to me then?"
"Oh, yes; endlessly," Lila said, withdrawing the flower and setting its stem back into the vase.
"Then I should wish you to dress and undress me at your leisure," Penthesileia smiled.
"And I should be pleased to begin at once," Lila placed her hand on the side of Penthesileia's neck and drew one of the puffed sleeves of the shift Penthesileia was wearing down over her shoulder to make her look like a flamenco dancer.
Penthesileia's eyes closed with an inbreath of light excitement. "And I should be happy to entrust myself to the care of your loving hands," Penthesileia murmurred. "I'm feeling quite carried away. And you, Lila, look awfully flushed in the face."
Lila smiled a mildly embarrassed smile. "I've never been kissed before," her eyes looked down at the open box whose shriveled rice paper was now broadly looping over its edges. "Nor have I ever kissed anyone," Lila looked up. "You're the first."
Penthesileia sat back on the divan and gave Lila a serious look, almost a frown. "No," she said, "truthfully? Never? Not once?"
"Not like that," Lila said. "Not with the feelings I'm feeling for and from you."
"But there must have been men -- and women -- who've desired... who've approached you," Penthesileia said.
Lila shrugged. "My friend, Alexis, and I have... looked at each other on occasion. If Lexie had taken the initiative and been a bit assertive, I'm not sure how I might have responded. She's very attractive, and I suppose I’m somewhat enamored of her. But there hasn’t been the kind of pull between Lexie and me that I’m feeling with you. Not the depth of connection. Lexie's in love -- infatuated more like -- with a boy from our village; and, not a week ago, when we were being held hostage by the warlord whom I’ve mentioned, the day I was nearly raped by one of his goons, I was very much taken with the young man who’d been tending to our wounds. I wanted him to leave the warlording life and settle down in or near my village."
"But he didn't take you up on the offer?"
Lila shook her head. "Not twenty-four candlemarks later, he was dead."
"Dead? How? What happened?" Penthesileia's slate-gray eyes grew wide with concern.
"Xena killed him."
"Xena... killed him? Because you were attracted to him?"
"It was an accident. Xena had just defeated Latrinus, the leader of the gang, and was about to march him off to the jail house. In desperation, he called for Septix... the young man whom I’m describing... to run and bring him a sword that was lying on the ground nearby. Septix obeyed as he'd been trained to do. He grabbed the sword and went rushing into the makeshift ring, intending to hand the sword to Latrinus who was down on his knees, disarmed and defenseless at that point. He ran up behind Xena who had her sword out. It was pure reflex. Xena thrust behind her and skewered him with the blade before she knew what she was doing."
"The young man didn't know not to charge a warrior from behind when she's got her sword drawn? And Xena of all people."
"Apparently he didn't, and his mistake cost him his life."
"Lila, I'm terribly sorry."
"Don't be. He chose his own path. He could have left that life long before the day that Lexie and I showed up -- as I now seem to have left a certain kind of life behind myself." Lila looked at Penthesileia's face and marveled at the mystery of it. "A life that I'm not likely to return to whether or not I go back to my village when this war has come to an end."
"You're thinking of new possibilities, then?" Penthesileia said.
"If things were different... if you weren't bent upon a certain course of action..., I would follow my heart where -- and with whom -- it might lead."
"Do you really mean that?"
"Without a qualm."
"If things were different," Penthesileia picked up the scarf and draped it around her neck, then tied the ends in a loose bow: light blue scarf and shift in exquisite contrast to the pure bronze color of her smooth skin, "I should most likely return to Themiscyra with my Amazons. There's much to be done and not a great deal of time to do it in. And I should ask you to take a moonmark out of your life, perhaps two, and return with me to see how things might evolve between us."
Lila thrilled to hear Penthesileia say that. "I've... brought something else," Lila glanced at the sack on the table, trying to reign in her emotions. "Something we can dive into right now if we like."
Penthesileia took out the tea and biscotti. "You’ve brought us a treat, you little dickens," Penthesileia smiled. "I'll go put the water on this instant."
Penthesileia leaned over and kissed Lila sweetly on the cheek, then sprung to her feet and went to light the fire in the little brazier with its grill and kettle. "And then," Penthesileia called over to the divan where Lila had remained seated, "we have one or two things to discuss."
While the water hissed and the kettle creaked, Penthesileia, preparing the tea, was full of questions about the daily rounds of Lila's life at home: the recent experience with Latrinus and the motivating factor of her decision to accompany Gabrielle, Xena and the Amazons to Ilium. For her part, as they sat and sipped their tea and nibbled their biscotti, Lila was equally full of questions about Penthesileia's life as an Amazon princess and, following Melanippe's tragic death, an Amazon queen.
"The Queen de la Queen as I first heard the Felafel Man refer to you," Lila said, setting her mug down on the low table in front of the divan where the two women were sitting close together, their knees nearly touching.
"I know. I'm aware of the term. Silly, isn't it?" Penthesileia set her mug down as well. "Those were wonderfully good biscotti. Could you taste the anise?"
"Mm, yes," Lila nodded.
They seemed relaxed, lounging on the divan in their light, see-through peploi, their legs now drawn up under them, their faces mere thumblengths apart, both clearly absorbed in one another and enjoying this pellucid interval in the warmth of the other's affectionate regard.
"My mother was a remarkable woman, Lila," Penthesileia said, her elbow propped on the top of the divan, her long, lovely arm placed behind her, its hand supporting the back of her head, fingers buried in the lush sweep of her long, black hair. "Not only did she bear five children and raise four of them to be queens, she oversaw the building of a great city and managed to organize a mass of headstrong and often unruly women into a warrior society with a coherent set of values, rules and a well-defined way of life."
"Were you very close, you and your mother, when you were growing up?" Lila said.
"She passed from this life when I was in my teens," Penthesileia said. "And the funny thing is that even though we never spent much time together, I never felt neglected. I admired her but, more than that, I felt that I deeply mattered to her. I felt that what became of me – and my sisters – was truly important to her. I had three older sisters, each one exceptional; yet, even so, I didn't feel lost in the shuffle. It's difficult to explain. Our mother had a talent for making each of us feel that we counted. And yet I don’t recall her being terribly strict. I had a great deal of freedom. I didn't realize how much freedom until I was a good deal older and had to shoulder a larger share of communal responsibility."
"And you never harbored a desire to be queen?"
"There was never any expectation that I’d be queen. It wasn't anything that formed a part of my consciousness or influenced my upbringing. When Theseus made off with Antiope -- and when Antiope had decided to remain with him -- she was still very much our queen. We never ceased to think of her as our queen. She was the eldest. She was born to be queen. But when she died -- when our Aunt Molpeidia murdered her outside the walls of Athens -- the crown fell to Melanippe as the second daughter. And Melanippe rose magnificently to the occasion. We were immensely proud of her, all of us. She'd had no preparation, no notion of what it might mean to be a queen. Our mother died when Melanippe had been queen for several sunmarks, and I think that Mother went to the airy vaults of Claw Mountain well pleased with Melanippe and the rest of us. The Amazons were enjoying a huge growth spurt and, truth to tell, we were getting a bit big for our bloomers -- our feathers and leathers, I suppose. Melanippe reigned us in, and a good thing it was that she did. She wouldn't put up with swelled heads and the spectacle of Amazons strutting about, thinking we were the... queen's pajamas, I guess you might say."
"Where does Hippolyte and the belt come into the picture?"
"Well, that's a whole ‘nother story. More tea? I think there's still some hot water in the kettle."
"I've had sufficient, thank you," Lila smiled. "These biscotti really hit the spot, didn’t they? I'm so glad you were here and could make time for us to be together."
"I am too," Penthesileia returned Lila's smile. "Our numbers, as I say, were increasing by leaps and bounds. Think of it, Lila: scattered, though affiliated communities of Amazons doing everything that communities composed of men and women do. Living independently. Enjoy the blessings of freedom. And we had one significant advantage over most other communities. We held our property in common, shared everything from food and tools to soap and toys as nearly equally as possible. The boys went back to their fathers at birth, but the girls remained, and we grew up as sisters. A community of sisters. The idea caught on all over Pontus and Phrygia, especially here in Ionia and south of here in Lydia. We were slowly becoming a federation with headquarters at Themiscyra and a royal line that ran from Harmonia through our grandmother, Otrere, to Lysippe, our mother, and then to us girls.
"And then things began to catch fire in Anatolia and in parts of the Grecian isles, even in Attica and Mycenae. If only Antiope had lived to see it. That's something I deeply regret, that our sister never lived to see the movement begin to spread its wings in Hellas. Amazon tribes sprang up here and there, mainly in the south. But repression quickly followed. The culture of the Hellenes, as of course you know, is patriarchal. Nor is it matrifocal as it is among the One God people. There are women's mysteries and celebrations, to be sure; the bacchanalia and your thesmophoria, but tribes and communities of independent women, networked with other such tribes and communities, united not primarily by culture, language or ethnicity but by gender, such societies have never gone over well in Hellas, despite the Amazons’ Afro-Hellenic origins.
"Melanippe needed someone who was skilled in organizing and sustaining these disparate and sometimes beleaguered communities, someone who could incorporate them into the main body of the Amazons located in Pontus and Phrygia even as the Samartians in Scythia were busily fathering large numbers of third generation Amazons. Who better to call on than Hippolyte who'd come along so brilliantly, who'd shown signs of having first rate leadership skills. So off she went, first to Anatolia, then to Hellas proper. And when the Macedonian settlement came into existence -- our newest line -- Melanippe called on Tarandel, our cousin and Melosa's mother, to take up the reins."
"Why not you, the remaining sister?" Lila said, inching over on the divan to snuggle comfortably against Penthesileia's breast, taking Penthesileia's free arm and looping it around her own shoulder whereupon Lila, after planting a gentle kiss on Penthesileia's hand, began absently toying with Penthesileia's responsive fingers.
"Frankly," Penthesileia said, folding Lila more snugly into her embrace, "I hadn't exhibited the qualities that might have made me a good choice; and, also quite frankly, I wasn't remotely interested in shipping out to the wilds of Macedonia to take charge of what I supposed, at the time, was a bunch of wild and slovenly girls who might never have read a scroll or gone to see a dramatic performance at a telesterion. I suppose I was a bit of a snob and took a great deal for granted in those days. I'd had a wonderful upbringing and I dearly loved to dabble. I enjoyed cultivating beautiful, delicate things. To tell the truth, I was a bit of a dilettante. Arranging things. That's what I was good at. I had an instinct for arranging flowers, rooms, gardens, parties. I'm a fairly decent gardener. I can get any number of flowering shrubs to grow. And, of course, I trained in the martial arts. We all did. I became fairly adept in the use of several types of weapons. You see them lying about over there?"
Lila gazed across the chamber to the far corner under the sill of the less sunny of the two casements. A pair of small farm implements sat unobtrusively on a round table next to which, on the floor, in a leather scabbard, lay Penthesileia's sword. The twin implements, traditionally used for harvesting sheaves of grain, had long, lightweight, conical blades with sharp-tipped points and a dagger-style handle with curves at either end of the hilt.
"Those look like Gab's sais," Lila said.
"That's exactly what they are," Penthesileia said. "Adapted, from their original use as baling hooks, for the purpose of deadly fighting at close quarters. Most of the weapons we use -- the sword, the spear, the nunchuck -- began as items of farm equipment. Ironic, isn't it, that tools designed to support life so quickly become the objects whose function is to extinguish life. So, to sum it up in a nutshell, I wasn't much interested in the queenly life. What I was interested in was being my sister's concubine."
Penthesileia looked down at the somewhat disturbed expression on Lila's face and, across her own face, there spread a slightly wizened smile.
"If you'll tolerate my being a trifle sardonic in this one instance, this particular topic, which I see no reason to dodge, seems to be the leading item of curiosity that people unfamiliar with the Amazons seem to have difficulty assimilating. What kind of a person would engage in something as apparently perverse and repulsive as seeking to become her sister's lover? What kind of a monster would consent to share her bed and body with her nearest kin? What kind of gross, unnatural misuse of nature is that? Even for sisters whose father, being a god, also happens to be their grandfather and great-grandfather, making the women in question not only sisters to one another but aunts and great aunts? Enough of a monster, I suspect, to get one banished to the fringes of the known world or, like Antigone, shut up in a cave and left to die before she’d hung herself by the cord in the sash of her own chiton.
"Until I was well into my teens, Lila, I had come into meaningful contact with no more than a dozen souls. Shortly after puberty, we Amazons were marshaled together and shipped off to the Hittites to live, for a moonmark, in a makeshift village isolated from the rest of their community. Halfway into our moontime, we were given, for a night, into the rough or tender embraces of the man who’d been selected to father our child. He did his duty and we returned to Themiscyra. If the child was a daughter, we kept her. If it was a son, we returned him to his people. All we had for contact -- for love, warmth, affection, friendship, the bright light of caring companionship -- was one another. We'd heard, of course, that men and women lived together as what were called husband and wife. We knew that the Hittites did. But we had no experience of that life. Our bonds -- emotional and physical -- formed naturally with one another. And Hippolyte was everything I could have wanted to be: lovely, graceful, charming, giving -- humble, Lila; truly and genuinely humble -- and extremely loving.
"One night -- I hardly recall what we were up to, probably playing a prank on Prothoe, our hunting mistress -- a group of us were horsing around, wrestling by the campfire. Hippolyte, who was slightly taller and more lithe than I am... What's that, you don't believe it? That someone could possibly be taller and more lithe than I? You're sweet and very silly. Well, to be sure, Polly was.
"And one night, when we were wrestling by the campfire, Polly and I, she pinned my shoulders to the ground. Feigning compliance, I caught her off guard and quickly turned the tables on her, flipping her over and pinning her to the turf just as she’d pinned me. So there I was, plunked on top of her, my body smothering hers, my elbows forcing her arms flat against the ground so that she was unable to move. And when she cried foul and tried to wiggle free, I laughed and teased and told her what a silly goose she was and then I said -- I swear, Lila, to this day I don't know what came over me when I said this, from what part of my being it have come bubbling up -- but I told Polly that I wouldn't let her up until she kissed me.
"'Penny, for goddess' sake,' Polly protested as she writhed beneath me. Maybe it was the writhing, the feel of Polly's magnificent body squirming under mine, rubbing rhythmically against my breasts, my belly, my crotch that made me say to her, 'I mean it. I won't let you up until you kiss me.'
'Oh, allright, just to humor you, then,' Polly fussed and then gave me a peck on the cheek. And that, I suppose, could -- should -- have been the end of it. But for some reason, I shook my head and told her that I meant a real kiss. On the mouth. Then Polly looked up at me and something about her face at that instant or maybe it was the look on it -- if you think I'm pretty, Lila, you should have seen Polly; long, light brown hair, rolling and flowing down her breasts which were about the same size as mine, rather small, and a face to make the stars come out at night and shine half way through the day; a raging beauty my sister was -- anyhow, something about the look on Polly's beautiful face, perhaps a combination of annoyance and attentiveness, triggered something in me, and I leaned down and kissed her passionately. I think she must have been blown away. I'm sure she had no idea what had just hit her.
"Then I let her go. She got up, dusted herself off and wandered away without saying a word. I was about to chase after her, to tell her that I was sorry for the stupid thing that I’d just done and that I had no idea what had just gotten into me, which was true, but the mood of the encounter had suddenly changed. Something held me back. The simple truth was that I wasn't sorry for what I’d done. I was sorry that I'd startled and imposed upon her -- that I truly was sorry for. But I wasn't in the least sorry that I'd kissed her."
"And you became... lovers some time after that?" Lila said, twining a strand of Penthesileia's hair around one of her own pliant fingers.
"No. Well, yes, but not right away," Penthesileia said. "The tenor of our relationship changed after that. It became somewhat darker, more moody and embroiled. More formal in some ways. I could joke and act silly with Mel, and we could do everything from spar with our swords to sit quietly and sew together. Mel would talk to me about our mother and the mess that Antiope had gotten herself into and about all sorts of things like how the Amazons were springing up like dragon's teeth all over Hellas and the Anatolian peninsula and whatever thoughts may have entered her head. I enjoyed spending time with Mel. I could sit and listen to her rattle on for candlemarks at a time and not get bored. She was a straight shooter, extremely alert and well-informed, had a curious, active cast of mind, and you could tell she was cut out to exercise a very beneficent influence on the growth and development of the burgeoning Amazon federation – thank goodness for that.
"With Polly, though, things were much more, I don’t know... subterranean. It was as though the two of us could read one another's minds, as though the borders between us were in constant flux, shimmering and ill-defined. I could tell what Polly was feeling, and she could do the same with me. I could clam up and sit in my chair or in my spot around the campfire as button-mouthed as a rag doll, and Polly could fill in all the blanks. A random gesture, an eye movement, a slipped stitch, a slight wavering of the sword in my hand -- or the sai -- it hardly mattered. Polly could read me like a scroll. When two people share that kind of non-verbal intimacy, Lila, the energy between them can become very intense. Boundaries can be difficult to maintain. Souls can become entwined and begin to merge. Who am I? Who are you? Who are we together? Maybe that kind of bond between blood sisters makes those sorts of things that much more intense and difficult to resolve. I don't know. But something had to give. A dam had to burst. Something had to release that pent up energy. And finally it did.
"When, at last, we connected in a physical way -- the Corybantes had come to Themiscyra; and, on that wild, euphoric night, we’d danced ourselves into near-oblivion until we were exhausted and ecstatic -- it burst upon us like an explosion. 'You bitch!' Polly, screamed at me, utterly enraged. 'What have you done to me?! Have you had a sibyl cast her spell on me?! Have you somehow entered me silently like a succubus or the way our father, Ares, seems, sooner or later, to enter all of us, impregnating us with the next generation of whelps in his litter?! I've become obsessed with you!' Before I could even think to reply, Polly grabbed me, hurled me down on her pallet -- I guess we must have been inside her hut when this happened -- tore my feathers and leathers off, ripped my panties to shreds and fucked me 'til I didn't know whether it was day or night or what season of the sunmark it was."
"She raped you? Your sister did?" Lila sat up in alarm.
"She drove me to sensual heights that I never knew existed," Penthesileia coaxed Lila back down to her warm, beckoning breast. "Stars exploded. Entire nebulae. Wave after wave. I thought I was going to die. I came so hard that I bit my tongue and made it bleed. Later on, when it came my turn to do the same for Polly, she thrashed so violently that her knee banged into the wall, nearly cracked open, and she was limping on it for nearly a week afterwards. And the wall got it worse than Polly did, believe me.
"There was blood everywhere, Polly’s and mine. We lost our maidenheads to one another that night. Being royal daughters, we'd been spared from having to service the Hittites or, later on, after Antiope's abduction, the Athenians. And for some moonmarks after that, we couldn't get enough of one another, Polly and I. We'd steal away at odd candlemarks of the day. We'd meet up in obscure places at night. Once we did it at a council meeting. We were sitting crosslegged next to one another, and it was dark inside the hut and smoky with sage and wheatgrass, and we'd all just been bathing in the hot tub, and Polly had two fingers stuck way up inside me and then she stuck a third one in, all the time rubbing my clit with her thumb."
"And what did you do then?"
"Tried not to moan too terribly loud when I hit my orgasm. But in the end, I became insatiable and that, I believe, was my undoing, that and the fact that Polly was needed elsewhere for the sake of the greater Amazon good. It may sound strange, in light of what I've just been telling you, to hear me say that I think Polly was the closest thing the Amazons have produced to a saint -- alongside my mother and Cyane who was martyred -- but I truly believe that I'm not exaggerating. Even saints -- especially saints -- have their human sides, their quirks and follies and wild bouts of irascible temper.
"But it wasn't mad sexual desire that drove me to the point of nearly worshipping Polly. There was so much more to our relationship than that. I think I venerated her because I was privileged to bear -- and not always pleasantly -- the brunt of some of Polly's dark side, so that others, who were less intimate with that part of her, could reap the greater benefit of her many gifts of kindness, compassion and inner light. I adored her, Lila. And then, feeling spurned, I scorned her when she broke things off with me because, so she said, I'd become too demanding. I’m sure she was right. I wish I could have seen that then. Perhaps I might have taken myself in hand."
"You wanted her, though. You looked up to her. In retrospect, would you say that you loved her?" Lila looked into Penthesileia's eyes whose color had taken on the hue of the light blue scarf now tied loosely around her light, golden brown neck.
"I don't know what to call it: love, obsession, compulsion, a desire to lose myself by merging into the object of my need or, perhaps, my fantasy," Penthesileia looked into Lila's unchangeable eyes and smiled. "But then came Ares and the belt and Hercules and the Bloody Ride and all the changes that have gradually been marginalizing us and slowly bringing the Golden Age of the Amazons to a close. My life closes the loop. Of Lysippe's five children, I'm the only one left. I might wish things were otherwise, the more so now that I've met you, but even the gods on Olympus have fairly well seen their day. The conclusion of this war will be the beginning of the end for them, and I think that some of them may even realize it."
"You don't see yourself as the one who might lead the Amazons forward into whatever their new incarnation might be?"
"I don't see how I could. No, Lila, the Amazons must work out their destiny in fear and trembling. I do need to speak with your sister and Xena, though. There are some loose ends that need tying up."
The two women sat together a bit longer in cozy silence, each slaking the thirst of her heart with the generous outpouring from the oasis-heart of the other. Penthesileia quietly stroked Lila's hair while Lila ran a gentle hand along the smooth curve of Penthesileia's cheek, dropping her fingers, now and again, to caress, with the lightest touch, the long slope of Penthesileia's lovely neck. At length, Penthesileia turned slightly on the divan to bring the front of her body more into line with the front of Lila's body. Then, with both hands, Penthesileia reached around Lila’s shoulders and took Lila in her arms, drawing Lila into a long, quiet, deeply sensuous kiss. Lila dissolved into Penthesileia's embrace and, in the instant, gave herself, body and soul, to the Amazon queen who was now discovering, in Lila's responsive embrace, a kind of gentle, accepting love -- or an invitation to a love -- that she'd never known existed.
"I’m afraid it's time for you to go. For now...," Penthesileia stroked Lila's face and then forced herself to separate from Lila's breasts, arms and aura.
"Until...," Lila said softly.
"Tomorrow night at the panatheneia when the Corybantes will be here to officiate," Penthesileia said. "I have meetings and conferences to attend tomorrow, but I'm going to make every effort to drop in, for at least a little while, when the action gets underway. They're a pretty wild bunch, as you'll see."
"I'll be there waiting for you, then," Lila said.
Penthesileia walked Lila to the door of her chamber as she'd done on the previous afternoon. Once again they kissed and embraced.
"These are difficult days, Lila," Penthesileia stroked Lila's cheek for the final time before they parted. "My life -- by my own choice -- is no longer my own. I may have many faults and shortcomings. I've been selfish and willful and haven't always pulled my weight. I'd even go so far as to say that I may have been spoiled and relatively pampered when I was growing up. But I'm not -- and I never have been -- a faithless lover. That you can rely on, my dear."
"And you may likewise rely on me," Lila took Penthesileia's hand and held it to her heart for one last turn of the sandglass before easing out the door to the mildly disapproving gaze of Ghisella, Penthesileia's attendant, who, putting dyo and dyo together, could pretty much gather up the thread of what had just been going on behind closed, royal doors. "Oh, just for the record and not to contradict you," Lila cast a quick glance at the pair of sais that were sitting on the little table near the window, "but I don't believe that your sister -- or any woman on earth -- could have been or could possibly be more beautiful than you are..."
|Continued - Chapter 47|
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