Youre the tribes Princess! Of course. That would explain why you give the orders around here. Im sorry, Shiria said. She could definitely sympathize with Hanai on the point of losing ones family. Were you insulted by the name she gave you?
Hanai began to laugh as she remembered her first days among the Amazons. Oh, let me tell you. I thought she was being mean until I found out her mother was named Hanai as well.
Without thinking Shiria reached out and took hold of a lock of Hanais auburn hair. Its just you have an accent Ive never heard before, and Ive seen women with red hair but yours is so dark. Its almost as red as as
Blood. I know. My little sister once told me my eyes were as pure as Jade. For a moment Hanais voice caught at the memory of a family she no longer had.
Where is your sister now?
You are just full of questions arent you? The words came out sounding harsher than Hanai had intended but this didnt seem to bother Shiria at all. Perhaps a life of slavery could do that to one.
I didnt mean to sound so harsh.
Not at all majesty. I understand.
Majesty brought another laugh from Hanai. Please, just call me Hanai. My sister and I were separated when the slavers took me. I havent seen her sense. I imagine shed doing well though. Now, are you ready?
To lead the children to the Northern Forests. Vashana and I have to lead my sisters into battle. One of our young sisters named Marga will help you. She knows these forests like the back of her hand.
I think youre just afraid Ill get hurt, Shiria said, though she wasnt offended. Shed long since forgotten her fighting skills, and theyd never been much to begin with. I understand.
Youll become a great warrior one day Shiria. Youll make Queen Vashana proud.
With that, Hanai was off. She would soon face the most important battle of her life with a ghost from her past. Though the battle would not merely be physical. It would be a battle of the heart, and one both opponents will lose.
Queen Vashana and her adopted sister Hanai rode side by side through the dense foliage of the forests they were prepared to die to protect. Vashana was the youngest Queen in Amazon history and this was her first major battle, but she didnt seem the least bit concerned. Whether or not that was good or bad was still a debate up in the air for Hanai.
My Queen, you dont seem very nervous.
Vashana began to laugh, which put on a good face for the other sisters. It wouldnt do for them to see their queen afraid. She leaned in to Hanai and whispered so only she could hear.
Were sisters. Call me Vashana like you always do. I hate that title, My Queen.
Hanai felt a giggle struggling to work past the nervous butterflies in her stomach. I know. Youd better get used it girl. Youll be saddled with that title for a long time to come.
I hope. Listen, Hanai, Im going to try talking with them first. Maybe Ill be able to discover what is going on. If talks fail, were going to have to force them into the forests where the tables will be turned to our favor. If I die, you will take over as Queen immediately.
Dont talk like that. Youre not going to die-
Listen! Vashana said sternly, cutting off Hanais objections. You have to chose a successor. I have set up a chain of command that names fifteen successive Queens, starting with me, going to you and so on. They are all aware of my battle plans as thoroughly as you are. Here.
Vashana handed her a small scroll with a list of thirteen names. She chose the sister that would succeed her should she fall in battle as acting Queen. How Hanai hated war or anything associated with it. All it ever served to do was to rob people of the ones they loved. She handed the scroll to another sister to show the warriors who would become Queen should Vashana and she fall.
Vashana studied the outline of Hanais exotic face. We didnt get along at all when Cyane first brought you home. I thought you were so wimpy and whiney until I found out what happened to you. Im sorry for all the cruel tricks I played on you.
Hanai didnt like the way her sister was talking but she decided to allow it to pass. For now at any rate. All past sins as children are hereby forgiven by order of Hanai, Princess of the First Tribe. That official enough for you sis?
Vashana tousled Hanais auburn hair then planted a kiss on her cheek. Some of the warriors behind them giggled but the sisters ignored them. Who knows when they would have a chance to enjoy a sisterly moment like this again?
I love you Vashana.
I love you to Hanai. Till the end. They held up their hands and clasped them in a pact that nothing would separate on this day.
Hanai looked deeply into her sisters eyes. Till the end.
Livia, Lycus and Cadmus leaned over the most recent map of the area Lycus had made on his last scouting trip.
I managed to get this far, Lycus said, running his finger along the base of a mountain. To the east were treacherous hills, to the west a great river cut through the valleys and cliffs that led to the more civilized reaches of Greece. All of the northern forests on the map belonged to the Amazons and it had been colored gray, signifying that he had been unable to scout the area.
How many warriors did you spot? Cadmus asked. He had to struggle to keep his mind on the work at hand instead of his son who was back in Rome under the care of a slave girl hed never even heard of before. Lycus had commented on several occasions that he needed to keep his mind on the battle or he would never see his son again.
They have two thousand warriors lined up along the tree lines. Their Queen is among them. She is asking for negotiations.
Livia began to laugh. How perfect. The Amazons two thousand to her ten thousand. Theyre so hopelessly outnumbered the Queen herself is out begging for mercy. I agree to negotiations, and when she gets here Ill kill her. Nothing would throw them into confusion faster than losing their queen before the battle even started.
Cadmus and Lycus both shot glances at Livia as both men saw the same arrogance in her now that theyd seen in Damen and Acastus before theyd helped Livia bring down the former commander of the Alpha legion. This was not a good sign.
Livia, Lycus said, standing up to formal attention. It would not be wise of you to underestimate these women and assume your forces are greater than theirs. They let us see two thousand warriors, but for all we know their forests could be infested with them. They could have fifty thousand warriors-
Livia cut him off, angry that he would even consider that she would underestimate the enemy, which is exactly what she was doing. Are you insinuating that Im too arrogant?
Thats exactly what he was doing but of course he wasnt going to say that. No sir. Im just offering you advice from my years in the field. Isnt that what your officers are for?
Livia studied the map again, ignoring his question. To answer it would be admitting he was right, and her arrogance had grown too much for that. A full frontal assault would be ideal, but of course its also foolish to put all of our eggs in one basket.
Livia turned the map in their direction. The cavalry will stay in front. The archers will divide into three, taking the eastern hills, the main front and the western attack. Send foot soldiers to traverse the eastern hills and artillery will attack by water. Well set their forests on fire and flush them out.
Set the forests on fire? Cadmus didnt know if he liked that idea or not. What about the men in the eastern hills?
It will be a controlled fire and hard to start with all the rain weve had in this region lately. I dont really need flames, just smoke to force them to fresh air. Well keep the flames close to the waterfronts as much as possible. If we can kill off their cavalry we stand a good chance of defeating them. Regardless of how many warriors their trees may be infested with. Im staying here with the cavalry and to lead the front line. Cadmus, you will lead the attack in the eastern hills. Lycus, you will attack by water and start the fire in the west. You have your orders, now leave me.
Cadmus and Lycus saluted and exited the tent as they prepared to put her orders into effect, but the two men were unsatisfied. Did you see her? Lycus said, mounting his horse to gather his men. Shes just as arrogant and Acastus.
Hopefully shes just as smart as Damen, Cadmus added. He too mounted up and the two men rode off in opposite directions. Cadmus hoped Livia knew what she was doing in this battle. For his sons sake.
Vashana, Hanai and the other thirteen warriors that helped organize the attack had their own battle plan in mind. As Vashana and Hanai watched the enemy gather below them she noticed one important detail that her sister Linara, returning from her mission to give Livia the message the Queen wanted to open negotiations, only served to confirm.
Theyre led by a woman. She is prepared to meet with you on the battlefield for talks. Linara took up a position on Vashanas left and watched as a small, feminine figure came out to the battle front.
Well? Linara asked. Arent you going to go?
Of course not, Vashana said. Romans never negotiate. Not since the days of Julius Caesar anyway.
Then why did you have me tell them you wished to negotiate?
Linara didnt sound irritated, only curious. She was a fast learner and she had a thirst for knowledge that rivaled Hanais. It was one of the reasons Hanai had chosen her as her successor should she die in this battle.
Because, Hanai said, Vashana wanted to get a glimpse into the character of her opponent. An honest Roman male warrior would not have even considered negotiations. It would make him seem weak. This woman leader is different. Shes willing to do anything to win. Even something as dishonorable as lying.
I see, Linara said, nodding her head in understanding.
The Queen spoke up now as she watched the Roman Legion separate. She wanted her sisters to hear how she thought so they could better understand the decisions she made.
They have ten thousand brothers. We have nine thousand sisters. They are on foreign land. We are on home soil. Were both led by women. What would I do if I were their commander? I would divide and conquer. If I couldnt divide I would force them out into the open. Look there.
Vashana pointed to the soldiers marching into the eastern hills. Theyre sending archers and foot soldiers into the eastern hills. Those flaming arrows will set the trees on fire and force us west. And look there.
Vashana pointed to the soldiers heading west with the artillery. Theyre carrying firestarters. No doubt they plan to set the western part of the forest on fire.
Hanai picked up on Vashanas thinking. That will force us out. Right toward the Cavalry.
Yes, Vashana said. Or deeper into the forest and South into strange lands. We cannot allow our home to be burned. Linara, take the three thousand sisters in the western valleys. They will probably attack by water. Whatever you do, sink those ships. Use our artillery to rain fire down upon them. Hanai, you will take two thousand of our sisters and attack from the trees. Whatever you do, dont allow them to set the eastern hills on fire. We need that land for our cattle to graze there. Go.
Linara and Hanai set off to carry out Vashanas orders but Hanai stopped and turned back to her Queen. Youll be left with only four thousand against her six thousand.
Yes. But if she wants to fight with me, shes going to have to come into my home to do it. If she has any sense shell know she doesnt stand a chance in our forests.
Hanai rode back into the trees where the bulk of their warriors were hidden and led them toward the eastern hills while Vashana exercised one attribute Livia didnt possess: Patients. Vashana pulled her visible sisters back into the trees to wait. Vashana hoped Livia would become inpatient and attack, and when she entered the forests, she would lose.
Hanai didnt know why but whenever men attacked them they never did think to look up. Not that it would do them much good. Every Amazon warrior was camouflaged to look like her surroundings, but even more, they knew how to blend with nature without the aid of paint. When they were in the trees they were practically invisible, painted or not.
Now Cadmus and his men had entered those trees. Spread out! We need to start the fire and get out as quickly as possible.
No sooner had he said this did he hear an odd sound that reminded him of a crow, but he couldnt locate any of the black birds in the trees. His first instinct was to pull his men back, but that would only be met with criticism from Livia.
This is a mistake, he thought, his eyes searching the forest for the enemy, and though he could not see anyone he knew in his gut they were surrounded. The Amazons had to have had more than two thousand warriors on their side, and by coming in here he may have committed suicide.
The quiet was eerie, the only sound being that of his men stepping on twigs and dry leaves as they spread out into the forest. He watched the archers disappear into the thick of the foliage to start the fire before they retreated to return to the main battleground and their commander, Livia. They would take out any Amazons they saw along the way, or so was the plan.
The crow sound came again, and this time he saw the source of the sound. It wasnt a black bird, but an auburn haired angel of death flying through the trees and coming straight at him. Suddenly his men began dropping like dead flies as arrow after arrow rained down from the trees, followed by thousands of screaming Amazon warriors. In seconds nearly every man in sight was dead and they had yet to kill one female warrior. If they all died without taking these women down Livia would be short three thousand men, and the Amazons would be short very few.
As he fought with the warrior who was obviously their leader, he was surprised by her skill. She didnt have much in the way of arm strength compared to his, but she was amazingly agile. She ducked and dodged each blow he tried to deal out to her with ease until she almost looked like she was dancing and he was her unwilling partner.
In the corner of his eye, Cadmus could see his men losing horribly to these skilled warriors, and he knew that he wouldnt make it from these trees alive. He was proved right only seconds after this thought when his opponent drove her sword deep into his chest. Cadmus fell to the ground, mortally wounded, and the last thought on his mind before death claimed his soul was a simple and heartbreaking one.
Hours passed and Livia still saw no sign of smoke. Something wasnt right. The forests should have been burning by now, and that Amazon Queen had retreated too quickly. Livia appreciated the other womans wisdom for not coming to the camp, for Livia would have killed her first chance she got. But why werent the trees burning?
Her mind drifted to Cadmus as she waited. When he returned she would begin her efforts to seduce him. If she had his heart she would have a very formidable ally in her climb to power, just as Ghita had said. Plus she wondered what he would be like in bed. Ares was still the only lover shed ever known, and she wanted to change that as soon as possible.
Just as her patients was beginning to wear thin a soldier from front called out to her.
Rider approaching commander!
From her mounted position she could see over the heads of her men and the soldier whod called out to her pointed east. Cadmus came riding for her, full speed, but there was something wrong
It didnt take her trained eyes long to see he was dead. The Amazons had killed him and tied him to his horse to return to camp. Livia didnt know what emotions to expect, but devastation was not one of them. Her heart felt as if it had been ripped from her chest and she was filled with a rage shed very rarely known.
Alpha legion! She called out. She had no doubt that Lycus had either met or was meeting the same fate. Well she wasnt about to sit here and allow those savage bitches to humiliate her and her precious Alpha Legion this way. Attack!
Lycus hated traveling by boat, but since he had his orders to set the western hills on fire he really didnt have a choice but to take the river close to Amazon land. His instincts told him something was not right. Perhaps it was the deathly quiet of the hot afternoon that bothered him, perhaps it was the fact that he knew setting the trees on fire could cause a fire that no one would be able to get back under control again that bothered him. Either way he could feel his skin crawling. This mission had failure written all over it, and everyone could see that but Livia.
Alright men. Its time.