Daughters of Artemis

Chapter Six, part A: The Sword Comes Home

by L. M. Townsend

Disclaimers: Here there be subtext. J Don’t like it, click general stories.

Aradia watched her Second in Command leave the arena in tears. She fought the impulse to run after her. Instead, she ran the rest of the Tournament. Myrina left, escorted by two sentries to the end of the tree village. She had refused Aradia’s offer to have a healer look at her wound and left without another word. Aradia sighed in relief at her departure. The Tournament ended shortly after that match. All of the Amazon amulets were distributed amongst the contestants - all except Thraso and Myrina. As soon as she was able to leave, Aradia sought out her Second.

“Hey,” she said, entering Thraso’s tree house.

Thraso was sitting at her table, staring down at her hands which were folded in front of her. She looked up, startled. Her travelling gear was packed and sitting on the table before her.

“Oh!” she said. “It’s over then?”

“Yes - after your match with Myrina, the rest of the matches were rather anti-climactic.”

“I’m sorry,” said Thraso, casting her eyes back down at her hands. Aradia sat at the table across from her Second in Command.

“What you did out there was very brave, Thraso,” she said.

“Not really - I got angry,” said Thraso, not looking up. Aradia gently lifted her chin and looked into her eyes.

“Yes, really,” said Aradia. “I know that was hard for you, even angry. You fought your heart for your integrity.”

“She sold out - to Ares,” said Thraso bitterly. Tears sprang to her deep brown eyes and Thraso struggled to keep them from spilling over. “That’s bad enough, but then she just ... expected me ... to take a fall for her! I can’t believe her! How could she do that?”

“But you didn’t, Thraso,” said Aradia.

“How could I?” asked Thraso. “I was fighting in your name and for the glory of Artemis.”

“You are an Amazon - you couldn’t,” said Aradia, simply. “By the way, you forgot your prize.”

“I don’t need - “ began Thraso as Aradia opened her tunic and removed her own amulet, placing over Thraso’s head.

“I can’t take your amulet,” said Thraso looking at her in surprise.

“Yes you can,” said Aradia, firmly. “Please, I want you to. I have Thalia’s - and I have this.” she showed Thraso the silver key which she now wore around her neck on a thin silken cord.

“What is that?” asked Thraso.

“The Sword of Artemis,” said Aradia.

“I - I don’t understand,” said Thraso frowning as Aradia put it back inside of her tunic.

“Neither do I really,” said Aradia, placing her hand over Thraso’s and looking hopefully into her eyes. “But I was hoping maybe we could work for that understanding ... together?”

Thraso smiled slightly and nodded, wiping tears from her eyes. “I’d like that,” she said. Aradia squeezed her hand, then rose. “I see you’re packed and ready - let’s get the rest of them ready to go - I want to be on the road before the sun moves much more.”

“Sounds great - it will be good to get home,” said Thraso looking wistfully about her tree house.

“You built this village, Thraso,” said Aradia, understanding.

“Yeah - but it never felt like home,” said Thraso. She looked at Aradia, understanding dawning in her eyes. She smiled and shook her head. “That’s what Myrina was fighting for - to go home. She said Ares promised her and the rest of the Gorgons safe passage through the Romans back to Hesperia if she would be his champion in this Tournament.”

“She doesn’t need Ares for that,” said Aradia with a frown.

“She thinks she does,” said Thraso. “I guess I just expected her to be an Amazon instead of a Gorgon. I was hurt and disappointed when she showed me otherwise.”

“I’m proud of you, Thraso,” said Aradia. “Insight like that shows wisdom.”

“Not really,” said Thraso. “I’m more disappointed in myself than in her. And tonight, when I’m laying in my bedroll under that vast, empty black night sky, I will be feeling guilt for not helping her. She has no one.”

Aradia looked thoughtful for a moment.

“Perhaps that’s why she’s more Gorgon than Amazon,” she said, feeling the silver key growing warmer between her breasts. “Can you believe I’m only just realising this?”

“What?” asked Thraso.

“The Amazons - Goddess love ‘em - they’re always around,” said Aradia with a chuckle. “Even when they’re not here, they’re here. I haven’t been truly alone since I got here.”

“I don’t think I understand,” said Thraso.

“Because you’ve never been alone - you kept the heart of the Amazon Nation alive, right here,” said Aradia. She went out to the porch and looked over the wooden railing at the Amazons all walking about, preparing for the journey to the old town. “The hub of the wheel, right here.”

“I’m still not sure I’m getting you, Aradia, but I know we better get on the road,” said Thraso, lifting her pack to her shoulder. “Myrina did say that Romans were all over and the road was safe for no Amazon or Gorgon. I’m worried about the others. We have no way of being sure they’ve made it to the old town.”

“Have a little faith,” said Aradia, feeling giddy for some reason. “They did. But there is more danger on this journey than Roma. Be sure of that.”

“Like what?” asked Thraso, alarmed. She could think of no greater danger than Rome now that the Kaskans were gone.

“I don’t know - just be prepared for anything,” said Aradia.

Arynë looked about at the Amazons as they prepared to make the climb to the old town. Warriors had already unpacked ropes and other climbing equipment. The morning was cold and after a night out, sleeping on the ground, Arynë noticed some of the elders leaning more heavily upon their walking sticks. After her exertions the previous day, she could empathise.

“Well, Princess - sorry, I mean Arynë, how do you propose to that lot up there?” asked a warrior approaching.

“I’m not sure, Anaea,” said the girl. “What do you think? Mhari made the climb a ten-day ago. Perhaps the others are just capable.”

“Not after spending the night in this chill,” said Anaea, shaking her head. “Even I’m stiff and I’m less than half as old as most of them.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” said Arynë, frowning.
Anaea chuckled and slapped her on the shoulder good-naturedly. “Multiply that by every day for as old as those women are and you’ll have a pretty good idea how they’re feeling right about now,” she said.

“Okay,” said Arynë, thoughtfully. “How about this - we send two platoons of our strongest warriors up first - that way, they can make sure the coast is still clear. Then we rig the ropes into some kind of ladders or nets or something and carry them over the roughest bits?”

“Pretty good - but they won’t have it,” said Anaea. “They are still Amazons, after all.”

“Well, of course they are, but ... oh, I think I see what you mean,” said Arynë as she saw several of the elders pulling ropes and other gear out of their packs. “Well, they’re not stupid - surely they can see the sense of not climbing when we can all help them.”

“Sure they can, Princess,” said Anaea, laughing. “I wish you luck - the elders are a fractious lot when you get their backs up. I’ll get the warriors moving. We’ll have a couple of platoons in place by mid-day. By then maybe the elders will be a bit less stiff.”

Anaea left to organise the warriors as Arynë sighed and made her way over to Mhari.

“Are we ready, Youngling?” she asked Arynë with a smile.

“Not yet - a couple of platoons are going up first - to scout around and then to help everyone else up,” said Arynë, pointedly.

“Ah, I see,” said Mhari, her eyes twinkling. “You think older bones are more fragile.”

“Aren’t they?” asked the girl.

“Of course they are,” Mhari declared. “Unfortunately, so are older egos.”

“That’s what Anaea was saying,” said Arynë, troubled. “What do we do, Mhari?”

“We argue and fight until the old hens see the reason behind being carried up the mountain,” said Mhari, drily.

“There has to be a better way than that,” said Arynë. “The warriors will be in place by mid-day. I have to find a way to convince them by then.”

“Well, I’ll do all I can, Child, but by mid-day, the older bones will be a bit less stiff and the older egos just the opposite,” said Mhari.

“Can they make the climb?” asked Arynë.

“Probably, but it isn’t worth the risk, just for pride - if the warriors are willing to carry me up, then by Artemis I am willing to be carried,” said Mhari.

The Amazons milled about until Anaea sent the signal that all was clear in the lower town. The rigged up ropes into ladders and slings and Amazons began the climb. Arynë hung back with the remaining warriors until it was time to bring up the group of elders. Most opted for the ladders, but one or two did allow themselves to be hauled up in the slings, including Mhari. She stood by Arynë, waiting until all the other elders were safely up in the lower town.

“Wish me luck, Dear,” said Mhari with a kiss to Arynë’s cheek. The young woman sighed with relief as she watched Mhari’s ascent, then gasped. The anchor rope was dragging over a sharp outcropping and the strands began to fray, then snap.

“No!” Arynë screamed as suddenly the old shamenki fell. The girl ran to her, clambering down into the grassy depression in which Mhari fell.

“Mhari, are you alright?” she asked as several of the warriors who were waiting until everyone had made it to the lower town followed her.

“Fine, Child,” said the shamenki, struggling to sit up. “Fortunately, the ground is soft here - I think we used to grow our grain in this field.”

“Blessed Artemis, Mhari,” said Arynë, only somewhat relieved. “Did you hit your head or anything?”

“No, but I am quite certain that my hip is broken,” said the older woman.

“Okay,” said Arynë, taking a deep breath. “Let me get some help - we’ll have to rig a litter and pull you up that way.”

“Alright, Child,” said Mhari, lying back down to wait.

Arynë turned to the warriors.

“We need to get some of the branches from the trees over there and make a litter,” she said.

“We’ll need to immobilise her first - we can’t risk that broken hip being jarred or moved about anymore than necessary,” said one of the warriors.

“Oh, okay,” said Arynë, biting her lip as the warriors took over, first immobilising the shamenki with branches and ropes, then building a litter and rigging it securely to lift Mhari up the steep incline into the lower town.

“You next, Princess,” said one of the warriors.

“I can climb it,” said Arynë.
“I know, but this is faster and she’ll be wanting you close, Little Sister,” said another of the warriors.

“Alright,” agreed the girl. She allowed the warriors to tie the ropes into a kind of sling and hoist her over the sharp rocks and steep drop-offs. Arynë made the ride with her eyes closed most of the way until she felt her feet bump the ground and several of the warriors already in the lower town untied her. Arynë thanked them and ran to Mhari’s side.

“Mhari, are you alright?” she asked, worried.

“Don’t pucker your brow so, dear - it isn’t becoming,” said Mhari, smiling at her. “I’ll be fine. Just get me to my house so I can be comfortable.”

“Of course,” said Arynë, signalling to two warriors, She directed them to carry the litter up the steps to the upper town.

“In a minute - we haven’t got the all clear from the scouts yet,” Anaea told her.

“What are they doing, walking through every building up there?’ asked the girl impatiently.

“As a matter of fact, yes,” said Anaea.

“We are Amazons - surely we can handle any threat ourselves - let the women go up and check out their own houses,” said Arynë. “We can’t let ourselves be scared and hide behind our warriors for every little thing.”

“You’re right,” said Anaea nodding in approval. “Well spoken, little sister. But I will check the shamenki’s house for her myself, alright?”

“Yes, of course,” said Mhari, smiling. “Since I am a trifle incapacitated at the moment.”

“Yes, of course,” said Arynë nodding as Anaea ran up the steps to the upper town.

“Mhari, why don’t you stay in Aradia’s house with me - just until she gets here?” asked the young girl.

“Still afraid of ghosts?’ said the shamenki with a chuckle.

“Yes, but I’m more afraid that you’ll be a ghost if you are alone right now,” said Arynë, troubled. “I’m so sorry - I promised Aradia I would watch out for you - I let you both down.”

“Oh, Great Mother in Heaven!” exclaimed Mhari.

“What? Are you in pain?” asked Arynë, worried.

“Yes a very great deal, but that is not the point - this isn’t your fault - that was a brilliant idea, with the ropes Child,” said Mhari. “If you hadn’t carried those you did, there would have a lot more injuries. I think Aradia will be very proud of you.”

“But you got hurt, Mhari,” said the girl.

“Child put that right out of your mind - I will be fine,” said the shamenki. “Just as soon as I get settled in.”

“Alright, Mhari,” said Arynë. “But will you stay with Aradia and me - just until you’re well?”

“I will stay with Aradia and you until Aradia comes - then you will come over and help me out every day in my house until I am able to get around again,” said the shamenki. “I didn’t come all this way to live with others. I am coming home - and that means my home.”

“As you wish, Mhari,” said Arynë with a sigh.

Anaea joined them then.

“Mhari, we’re going to carry you up the stairs - if you have anything in your herb pouch to help you with the pain, I suggest you take it now,” she said. “The stairs are in good shape, but it may still be rough trip up.”

“Just make it quick,” said the shamenki, closing her eyes.

“Alright,” said Anaea, signalling to a group of warriors. They hefted the litter up on their shoulders and started up the stairs. Arynë followed. The carried the shamenki to the queen’s house and gently set her before the cold hearth.

“The beds are in pretty bad shape - rodents and bugs, you know,” said Anaea.

“Yeah, but Hekau will take care of that for us,” said Arynë. “Hey, where is Hekau?”

“The cat?” said Anaea, frowning. “I don’t know - she was in the lower town a few minutes ago. She’s around.”

Arynë nodded. “Okay - in the meantime, I’ll get some wood for the fire,” she said.

“We can do that for you, Princess,” said another of the warriors. “We’re already bringing your packs and bedding up from the lower town.”

“I can get the packs and things,” said Arynë, frowning.

“They’re already on the way,” said Anaea. She winked at Arynë. “Get used to it, Princess - we’re home now. Things will be getting back to normal for us, but your life will never be the same again. No one here has forgotten that it was you who killed Yarg. Defeating the Kaskans is what has allowed us all to come home here.”

“It wasn’t like that,” said Arynë, quietly. “I’m not really a princess. I’m just Arynë ...” And I’m still not even sure I want to be an Amazon, she finished the thought silently.

“I’m only telling you how the Amazons feel,” said Anaea. “You’ll get used to it in time.”

“If you say so,” said Arynë, doubtfully. “Does everyone have a place to sleep tonight?”

“Yes,” said Anaea, nodding. “We’re six to a house for now, but after we rebuild the fortress in the lower town, we’ll have a lot more space.”

“You really think you can re-build that pile of rubble?’ asked Arynë.

“Of course - the foundation is of stone and it’s still in place,” said Anaea. “The bricks can be soaked, re-formed and re-used. We have the craftswomen here and as soon as we clean out the kilns, we’ll be ready to go.”

“Sounds like a lot of work,” said Arynë.

“Nah, not if we all pull together,” said Anaea. “We can have it ready to move in by the next full moon, weather permitting.”

“When will you start?” asked Arynë.

“Soon as the craftswomen get the kilns fired up - why, you want to help, Little Sister?” said Anaea.

“Sure,” said Arynë. “You said if we all pull together, it’ll be less work, right?”

“I sure did,” said Anaea, smiling and putting an arm around Arynë’s shoulders.

“Arynë,” said Mhari from the litter. “Go find your friend Momi and go exploring - Anaea, I’m sure we can find a couple of warriors to escort the girls, right?”

“Of course,” said Anaea, releasing the girl.

“Mhari, I can’t - “ began Arynë.

“Go!” Mhari ordered. “Just be back before sundown.”

“Alright, Mhari, if you’re sure,” said Arynë, turning to leave.

“I am - can’t breathe with you hovering over me,” said the old shamenki.
“I’ll just go assign some warriors to - “ began Anaea starting to follow the girl out the door.

“Wait a minute - would you mind going and bringing Alkaia to me here?” asked Mhari, for the first time allowing the terrible pain she felt to show in her eyes.

“You want Alkaia? The - “ began Anaea, concerned.

“Yes, please,” said Mhari, closing her eyes, wearily.

“Of course, Mhari,” said Anaea. “Let me just get a fire started for you - “

“No, you’d better hurry, Anaea,” said Mhari, quietly.

“Damn! Of course I will,” said the warrior leaving her.

Mhari lay on the litter, immobilised, but still in agony. She had heard the bone crack when she hit the ground and knew that something was broken. She only hoped her old friend Alkaia could help. Alkaia was one of the elders. She had begun training in Ephesus to be a priestess, but had to cut that training short when the city of the goddess fell to the Persians. Still, she was the closest thing to a healer besides Mhari herself the Amazons had.

“Damn is right,” said the shamenki, grimacing in pain. She saw Hekau enter the house through the window. “Ah, there you are. Your young mistress was looking for you - have you come to keep me company, then?”

The cat meowed and lay down next to Mhari, gently pressing her warm furry body next to the old woman’s and began to purr. Mhari felt a sensation of warmth begin to spread throughout her body as she stroked the cat’s long, soft fur. The shamenki drifted off to sleep.

That was how Anaea and Alkaia found her later when they entered the house. Hekau arose, stretched and left her soft sleeping place atop Mhari’s chest. She walked over to the hearth, looked pointedly at Anaea, then began to wash.

“I guess the cat wants a fire,” said the warrior with a chuckle. “Let me get that going.” She left the house to gather some wood and returned to see Mhari sitting up, Alkaia next to her, shaking her head.

“You old fool - you just sprained your back,” said Alkaia, pulling Mhari to her feet. “Hurts like all four of the hells, I know, but you’ll be fine a couple of ten-days. Anaea, after you get that fire going, will you bring water down from the cistern for some tea? Going to be a cold night.”

“Of course,” said Anaea. “It’s going now, so I’ll bring some skins.” Sensing the elders wanted to be alone, she left swiftly and dawdled on her way, checking in with the sentries she had posted earlier.

“What is all this foolishness?” asked Alkaia as she helped Mhari into a chair before the hearth. “It’s that girl, isn’t it?”

“What do you mean?” asked Mhari.

“Too much coddling on her part,” said Alkaia shaking her head as she tucked a shawl around Mhari’s lap. “You need to teach her that age does not detract from the Amazon Spirit.”

“It isn’t coddling,” said Mhari, gently slapping Alkaia’s hands away. “She’s always been very respectful, even in the village.”

“Yes, Silas did very well with her in that respect,” Alkaia said, taking the chair across from the shamenki.

“Silas did very well with her in every respect,” said Mhari.

“Yes, given the circumstances,” admitted Alkaia, grudgingly. “If only the Kaskans had never come.”

“But they did,” said Mhari.

“Yes, they did, indeed,” said Alkaia, shaking her head. “But if they hadn’t, how different things would be. The lost potential of that child ...”

“What do you mean?” asked Mhari.

“I mean, who she is - or rather could have been,” said Alkaia.

“We don’t talk about that,” Mhari warned. “She is who she is - Thalia’s daughter and Aradia’s protégée.”

“I have no intention of talking about it,” said Alkaia. “It just saddens me that there is no one left alive to train her as she should be trained. Leilë was the last Amazon priestess. It’s a shame that a girl with her heritage and talent will be a warrior.”

“Arynë is no warrior,” said Mhari, shaking her head.

“She killed Yarg,” argued Alkaia.

“That was a fluke,” said Mhari. “You and I will have to train her and that’s all there is to it.”

“Mhari don’t be a fool - I don’t have the knowledge to train a priestess - and what little I did have, I’ve forgotten,” said Alkaia.

“You said yourself that Leilë was the last Amazon priestess,” said Mhari. “There is no one else. And we do have the scrolls.”

“You do?” said Alkaia, her eyes wide. “Wherever did you find them? I risked life and limb to carry those through the Persian lines, but I haven’t seen them since I gave them over to the old priestess for safekeeping.”

“Aradia found them below the altar in the Temple - she’s had Arynë and her little friend copying them for a while. By now I should imagine that the girls have read through almost all of them,” said Mhari.

“Blessed Mother, but that’s wonderful!” said Alkaia, her eyes shining.

“So, with the scrolls, do you think you could train an Amazon priestess?’ asked Mhari, her own blue eyes twinkling.

“By the Sword of Artemis, I would certainly like to try,” said Alkaia. “When do we start?”

“We already have, my dear friend,” said Mhari, chuckling. “Or should I say Arynë has already begun her training?”

“Yes, having read the scrolls will certainly help,” said Alkaia, relieved. She looked to the shamenki and smiled. “We’re really doing it, aren’t we, Sister? We’re really going to re-build the Nation, one Amazon at a time.”

“Oh, yes,” said Mhari, wistfully looking off into the distance. “We’ll begin it, anyway.”

“What do you see, Mhari?” asked Alkaia, softly. She recognised the look as the beginning of a trance.

“It will be long in coming, but the Amazons will rise again,” said the shamenki. “We won’t live to see the great glory days to come, but we will be part of bringing it about.”

“And that is enough, my old friend,” said Alkaia, gently patting Mhari’s hand.

Just then, Arynë and her friend Momi came into the house.

“Mhari! You’re up!” the girl cried with delight. “Oh, and there’s Hekau!”

She set down a basket she had been carrying and went first to Mhari, kissing her cheek, then to her cat. She picked up the tabby and cuddled her.

“What’s in the basket, Youngling?” asked Alkaia.

“Pomegranates,” said Momi, lifting one out of the basket. “There’s a whole grove of them in the lower town. The warriors promised to keep the trees even when they re-build the fortress.”
“Pomegranates and hazelnuts,” said Alkaia, shaking her head. “Well, we won’t exactly starve.”

“Actually, the women who worked the fields before answering the call back said that much of our grain crop is still growing wild,” said Arynë. “So eventually we’ll have bread as well. And there is still plenty of game - in fact, I was going ask if I might go out and try for a rabbit for the stew pot?”

“No, Child,” said Mhari, her eyes clearing. “It’s too close to dark. The days when our younglings could gad about at night are gone, alas.”

“They will come again,” said Alkaia, nodding.

“Hm, in the meantime, the pomegranates will add a nice break from the journey bread,” said Mhari, looking at her old friend sharply. “You may hunt tomorrow if you wish, but only if a warrior goes with you.”

“How long do I have to have a babysitter following me around?” asked Arynë, glumly.

“How does forever sound?” said Aradia, entering the house.

“Aradia!” cried Arynë, running to her guardian.

“Hey, what’s all this?” asked the queen, nodding towards the abandoned litter still on the floor.

“That was my fault,” said Arynë, looking at the floor. “Mhari was hurt.”

“Nonsense,” said Mhari, rising from her chair to greet Aradia with an embrace. “I’m fine.”

“Hm,” said Aradia, looking around her house. “It’s cosier than I remember.”

Anaea came in with the waterskins. “Oh! My queen - how did the Tournament go?” she asked, surprised to see her.

“Don’t ask,” said Aradia, shaking her head. “Just be glad you weren’t there.”

“Damn Gorgons make trouble?” asked the warrior, her eyes narrowing.

“Nothing Thraso couldn’t handle,” said Aradia, setting her gear down on the table next to the basket of pomegranates.

Alkaia arose. “Well, I’m off,” she said. She looked around. “It’s good to be home.”

“Yes, it is,” said Aradia. “It’ll take a bit of work, but I think once we’re all settled, things will be good here.”

“Indeed they will,” said Alkaia with an enigmatic grin to Mhari as she left the house. “Come, Momi, walk me back to my house.”

The girl waved good-bye to Arynë. “See you tomorrow,” she said, following the elder out of the house.

“What did Alkaia mean by that?” asked the queen.

“I’ve no idea,” said Mhari, sitting back down wearily.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” asked Aradia, kneeling next to the chair and looking at the shamenki with concern. “What happened, anyway?”

“It was my idea,” said Arynë, quietly looking down at the floor. “I had the warriors rig up the ropes to help the elders over the worst part of the climb. One of the ropes broke and Mhari fell.”

“But it’s just a sprain - I’d have had a lot worse if I tried to climb it myself,” said Mhari, smiling at the young girl.

“Well, I think that’s a brilliant idea, Arynë - how did you get the rest of the elders to go along?” asked Aradia, rising to her feet.

“I - I don’t know - they just did,” said Arynë, shrugging.

“Oh, no they didn’t,” said Mhari, chuckling. “This youngling had those old hens tying rope ladders, then she had warriors stationed along the cliff tying anchor ropes to the elders as they climbed - those who were foolish to refuse the sling ride, that is.”

“I - I just wanted to make sure they all made it without hurting their pride,” said Arynë. “They are still Amazons, after all.”

“Well, if we don’t make a queen of you, Arynë, at the very least, we’ll have an excellent diplomat on our hands,” said Aradia, smiling. “Come on now, I’m hungry. Anaea, come out hunting with me.”

“It will be my pleasure, my Queen,” said the warrior, smiling. They left the house and Arynë began to put the water on to boil.

“Can I make you some tea, Mhari?” she asked.

“That would be very nice, Arynë,” said the shamenki. “Then why don’t you light some lamps?”

“I don’t think Aradia has any,” said the girl, doubtfully.

“Well, look about before it gets dark. There’s lamp oil in the packs,” said Mhari.
“Okay,” said Arynë, going to do as Mhari bade her. She went into the largest bedroom and looked around. There was a large square, clean of dust where the chest Aradia had emptied to carry the scrolls had sat for the last decade. In the room were several other chests and a wardrobe. Arynë decided to check the trunks first.

She began rummaging through one of them, then jumped back with a squeak as she put her hand into a nest of baby mice.

“Ew, ick!” she said, wiping her hand on her trousers, though there was nothing on that hand. She could still feel the squirming naked little vermin, though. “Hekau, where are you?” she muttered eyeing the chest with a look of disgust.

“Hey,” she heard and looked up at the window. It was open just a crack and Arynë went to it and opened it all the way.

“Julisa! What are you doing here? How did you get away from the Graii?” asked the girl.

“Long story. Listen, the Sword of Artemis is in that cave - the Graii are guarding it, but it’s there,” said Julisa, climbing in through the window and brushing the grime from her clothes.

“You need to talk with Aradia,” said Arynë.

“No,” said Julisa, shaking her head. “Aradia doesn’t trust me. It has to be just you and me, Arynë.”

“Are you crazy? No way,” said Arynë.

“Arynë, listen to me,” said the other girl. “You wounded that thing - no one else could get a hit in - doesn’t that tell you something?”

“Yeah - I’m lucky to be alive,” said the girl. “There’s no way I’m going back there, Sword of Artemis or no Sword of Artemis.”

“Hey, fine,” said Julisa, shrugging. “I just thought since you’re the one who lost it in the first place, you might want to be the one to get it back. You know that no matter what Aradia tells you, she’s going to be mad at you for losing it until it’s back where it belongs.”

“Arynë!” Mhari called from the other room.

Arynë froze.

“Make up your mind Arynë,” said Julisa, hands on her hips.

“I’m coming Mhari,” Arynë called back.

“What’s it going to be?” asked Julisa.

“Wait here a minute, will you?” said Arynë, grabbing a clay lamp from the small table beside the bed.

“I can’t,” said Julisa. “I can’t be seen here - the Amazons will kill me. After what Myrina did at that Tournament, all Gorgons are fair game to the Amazons - but you could change that, Arynë.”

“How?” asked Arynë.

“Bring back the Sword of Artemis - don’t you see? It’s the only way to make the Nation whole again,” said Julisa, pleadingly.

“Arynë, what are you doing?” Mhari called.

“I - I’m looking for lamps,” Arynë called back. “Alright - meet me in the Temple at moonrise.”

She ran out of the room before Mhari could come looking for her.

“Oh, I’ll be there alright,” said Ares, dropping the disguise. The god threw back his head and laughed as he faded from the house.

Daughters of Artemis

Chapter Six, part B: The Sword Comes Home

by L. M. Townsend

Arynë ran back to Mhari with her one clay lamp.

“This was all I could find,” she said, breathless.

Mhari frowned. “Why are you out of breath, Child?’ she asked.

“Oh, there were these baby mice - they startled me,” said Arynë, not meeting the shamenki’s sharp eyes with her own.

“Were you bitten?” asked Mhari.

“Oh, no - they were just - icky, you know,” said Arynë, carefully pouring the lamp oil from the small flask into the clay lamp and lighting the wick.

“Very well, why don’t you take that one and go look for more - I know Aradia had more than just the one,” said Mhari, shaking her head.

“Well, they are made of clay, Mhari - maybe they got broken,” said Arynë.

“Arynë, will you please just go and look,” said Mhari with an exasperated.

“Alright,” said the girl with a sigh. She picked up the lamp and went to a smaller bedroom next to the largest. She couldn’t help but peek to see if Julisa was still there, but wasn’t surprised to see the other girl had left.

In the smaller room, there was only one chest at the foot of the tiny bed.

“That’s weird,” said Arynë to herself. “That’s like a little kid’s bed.” She shrugged, assuming that it must have been there from before Aradia became queen. Maybe it was Aradia’s bed when she was little, the girl thought, opening the chest. She looked very carefully before putting her hand inside of this one.

Finding no “beasties”, she began to gingerly move things around. The trunk was filled with baby clothes, everything from swaddling strips and moth-eaten little blankets to toddler-sized little trousers and tunics. At the bottom of the trunk, under a stack of diaper cloths, Arynë found her. She pulled the doll out of the trunk, gazing at it in recognition.

“Julisa,” whispered the girl. Until this moment, she remembered nothing of her life before Silas. Now she was assaulted by a barrage of images from her past. “No!”

Arynë saw the faces of both Aradia and her mother, Thalia leaning over her cradle, smiling at her. She remembered wearing some of the clothes she had just handled in the trunk and sleeping in this little bed, her doll Julisa tucked in close beside her. She remembered crying in her uncle’s arms for her mother as Thalia rode off, blowing her a kiss.

“I - I saw her die,” Arynë whispered, still gazing at the doll. In a flash, Arynë remembered being very tiny in her bed in Silas’s house, waking up from the nightmare of Yarg killing Thalia, screaming. Her uncle couldn’t comfort her. It had taken old Mhari and her nasty-tasting brews to settle the little girl back down to sleep. After that, Arynë remembered no more of anything that had happened to her after she came to live with her uncle.

“Arynë, the lamps are in the - oh, you found your old doll,” said Aradia, poking her head into the room. “I can’t believe we left that behind. You never went anywhere without her. What was it you used to call her?”

“Julisa,” Arynë whispered, never looking away from the doll.

“That’s right,” said Aradia, nodding in remembrance. “How funny that ... Arynë, are you alright?”

Arynë turned and Aradia saw tears streaming from the girl’s eyes.

“I saw Yarg kill my mother,” she whispered.

“No, Arynë, you couldn’t have - you were miles away, in Silas’s village,” said Aradia, going to her and kneeling beside the girl.

“I thought it was just a bad dream, but it wasn’t, was it?” said the girl looking up at Aradia, her eyes pleading for the truth.

“No, it wasn’t,” said Aradia, drawing the girl close to her. She looked back into the past, re-living it all over again as she told the girl the story. “The scouts reported that the Kaskans were marching. We knew there would be trouble, but we never expected ... well, anyway, we took you to Silas to keep you safe.”

“Why me and not the others?” asked Arynë. “The other children were just hidden in the forest. Why was I taken to the village?”

“We had our reasons,” said Aradia, her eyes narrowing. “We never expected the Kaskans to go to Silas’s village - I don’t even know how they knew to look for you there.”

“Why were they looking for me?’ asked Arynë.

Aradia was silent for a moment. “I guess you’re old enough to know it all, Arynë,” she said finally. “Come on - Mhari can tell you better than I can.”

The two arose and made their way into the common room where Mhari was lighting the clay and bronze lamps she had found in the kitchen.

“Ah there you are - oh, dear!” said the shamenki, seeing the doll still clutched close in Arynë’s arms. She sat quickly in her chair before the warm hearth.

“Yeah,” said Aradia, guiding the girl to a chair before pulling a third chair close to the other two. “Mhari, we need to tell her.”

The shamenki nodded slowly, then closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair. “Yes, it’s time - Alkaia and I were just discussing this today,” she said.

“What?” asked Arynë, her eyes sharp and bright with more unshed tears.

“When you were born, the priestess Leilë said that you were to be her successor,” said Mhari. “She told your mother that you were to be the ‘salvation’ of the Amazon Nation, but only if you lived long enough and completed your training as a priestess. And according to Leilë, the chances of that were very poor.”

“Why?” asked Arynë.

“Maybe she foresaw her own death,” said Aradia with a sigh. “There is now no living Amazon priestess in the whole Nation.”

“That we know of,” said Arynë. “Maybe all the Amazons didn’t - or couldn’t answer the call when it was first made.”

“Maybe,” said Aradia, doubtfully.

“So how was I supposed to save the Amazons?” asked the girl.

“Who knows?” said Aradia with a shrug. “You were just a baby at the time - a cute one, but still, just a baby.”

“Really? You thought I was cute, Aradia?” asked Arynë, grinning.

“Yeah, you were cute,” said Aradia, returning the grin. “But cute doesn’t win wars.”

“I’m not a warrior,” said Arynë, quietly.

“No,” Aradia agreed.

“You didn’t believe the priestess, did you, Aradia?” asked the girl looking intently into Aradia’s eyes.

“No,” said the queen, shortly.

“Then why did you hide me with Silas?” asked Arynë.

“Thalia believed her and you were everything to her,” said Aradia, softly. She gazed into the fire, crackling in the hearth. “And she was everything to me.”

“And now?” asked Arynë.

“Let’s just say, there’s more evidence for the theory than against now,” said Aradia with a sigh.

“Like what?” asked Arynë.

“Like the fact that you killed Yarg - which has allowed us to return to our ancestral home,” said Mhari, softly.

“There has to be more to it than that,” said Arynë, to no one in particular.

“For now, that’s enough,” said Aradia, rising and stirring the pot. “Who’s hungry? Anaea and I got a rabbit and this should be just about done.”

“Oh, I am,” said Arynë, brightly. She went to the table and took a pomegranate from the basket. She cut into it. Bright red juice flowed across the table, and Arynë was mesmerised by it. “Looks like blood.”

She watched the pattern of juice form into a face - the face of the girl Julisa, and suddenly Arynë knew how she was save the Amazon Nation.

“I have to bring them together,” she whispered.

“What’s that, dear?’ asked Mhari.

“I, uh, have to wipe this up,” said Arynë, cleaning the juice from the table. “These things are really messy.”

She cut three pomegranates and handed two of them to Mhari and Aradia. Aradia ladled up some rabbit stew for all of them and they sat down to eat.

“So, what happened at the Tournament, Aradia?” asked Mhari.

Arynë watched Aradia’s face with interest.

“Oh, well, nothing much,” said the queen with a shrug. She spooned another mouthful of stew in before continuing. “Poor Thraso - she worked so hard, only to have Myrina spoil it all.”

“How did she do that?” asked Arynë, almost breathless with anticipation of Aradia’s reply.

“Well, she waited until the last possible moment, then challenged Thraso - in the name of Ares,” said Aradia, swallowing her stew.

“Ares? Why Ares?” asked Arynë, frowning in puzzlement.

“According to Thraso, Ares promised the Gorgons safe passage back to Hesperia through the legions of Rome if she would enter the Tournament as his champion,” said Aradia. “But that’s not the worst of it - she expected Thraso to take a fall so she, Myrina, could win.”

“But Thraso didn’t, did she?” said Arynë.

“Of course she didn’t,” said Aradia, setting her empty bowl down. “Thraso is an Amazon, with honour and integrity - unlike the damn Gorgons.”

“Why would Myrina think that Thraso would do such a thing for her?” asked Mhari, calmly.

“Thraso said there was some ‘history’ between them,” said Aradia with a sigh. “That and the fact that Myrina is a Gorgon who couldn’t possibly expect anyone to act any way other than she would herself, I suppose.”

“But Ares only said she had to enter the Tournament, not win it - isn’t that what you said, Aradia?” said Arynë, gathering the empty bowls to wash.

“Yeah, Thraso never said anything about Myrina having to win it - and Myrina, when she declared the challenge said she was ‘pledged to fight the Amazon champion’ - not defeat her,” said Aradia. “Curious.”

“Maybe she was just testing Thraso - to see if Thraso would do it or not,” said Arynë, thoughtfully.

“Hm, maybe - but the bottom line is that Thraso did the right thing,” said Aradia. “No Gorgon is to be trusted.”

“What if they - ?” Arynë began, troubled.

“Ever, Arynë - remember that,” said Aradia, sternly. Then she softened. “Leave those for the morning. Come on - we’ve all had a long day - and tomorrow promises to be longer. We have a lot of work to do.”
“No,” said Arynë, shuddering. “We have enough vermin to fight - I don’t want to tempt them.”

She washed up the dishes, taking her time as Aradia and Mhari lay down to sleep. By the time she was finished, the women’s breathing had deepened and Arynë knew they were asleep. She grabbed her sword, tucking it in her belt, and her pack from beside the door, taking care to place her doll inside, then slipped silently out of the house.

Chapter 7

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