Post-Contest Disclaimers: This is a not-for-profit fan fiction story based on characters from the TV shows, "Xena: Warrior Princess", (Amarice, Celesta, Gabrielle, Xena, Argo), and "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys", (Hercules, Iolaus, Nebula, Gilgamesh). Because of plot line overlaps between these shows, it exists in the classic Xenaverse. All rights remain with the current owners of those productions. A few spoilers are mentioned as backstory, but overall spoilage is minimal. Several characters, (Jason, Ulysses, Talos, Medea, and several gods and goddesses), from Greek Mythology are referred to, but they're public domain. This story was written in response to The Royal Academy of Bard's Challenge #11 premise, and entered in the Best Story in Category 2, for Bards Not Attending BardCon 2004.
"An Amazon Warrior's Tale", by Phantom Bard, © 3/2004. PhantomBard1@aol.com
An Amazon Warrior's Tale
(An Amazon Warrior's Tale)
This is the epic tale of an epic journey, brought to life with incredible adventures and a lively heroic heroine. It's as exciting as the tales about Hercules, (I guess) or even Queen Gabrielle's stories about Xena. This story begins in a faraway country, when a brave Amazon warrior was summoned to take up a quest. The warrior was a guest of a fabled city, awarded the honor of an attendant who offered her the magistrate's hospitality. (Sorta) For two nights of celebration and feasting she (Huh? This has to be the truth? But it's a story!). Oh alright (sigh). It all really started as I was spending my second night in a damp jail cell in Larissa, (or "Walled Town"). Like the name says, it's a paranoid little town with a wall around it, in the Minor Asian Province that the Greeks called Lydia. I've learned that annoying things happen in towns with walls.
The ant-trap bowl of oat hull gruel (Yuck!) that the syphilitic jailer (Ewww!) had doled out for supper wasn't so appetizing, but a real warrior can't complain when she's being held as a prisoner of war. Anyway, an Amazon warrior never complains. In my tribe, an enemy taken in battle would be lucky to survive two days, and even hemlock leaf gruel would seem like the gift of ambrosia. At least I could tell that the water was safe, (after skimming off the mosquito larvae), 'cause algae wouldn't grow in the bucket if it was poisoned (duh).
The war (well okay), the battle, had been fought in the common room of The Stinking Saddle. Later, (in the jail), I questioned an informant who'd been "sleeping it off", and I found out that The Stinking Saddle was always filled with a stinking crowd (Ugh!) of one-handed thieves, cowardly mercenaries, and drunken drunkards. (So it was news to me). That hunchbacked stableboy who'd stabled my horse had recommended it since I'd never been to Larissa before, but within two minutes of entering the place I had to pummel some drunks. They'd been trying to check the muscle tone in my thighs (the women), or the size of my boobs (the men).
Well, you know how it goes. Somehow things got out of hand and the room erupted into a clumsy free-for-all (oops). The mayhem was kinda' fun, but then the city garrison got called out. Alright, I'll admit things were disorderly, but the fire wasn't my fault (nuhhh-uh), just because I tried Xena's fire-spitting trick. I really think the magistrate was just pissed off because, (after The Stinking Saddle burned to the ground), there was no place to keep its guests safely drunk, and he was expecting them to cause trouble. Being new in town, I got blamed, (of course). Anyway, the jail sucked and I'll come back to burn it down later.
I smelled the jailer coming back, (I'd never let a swine like him sneak up on me), so I got up and looked out between the bars. Wouldn't you know, he came right over (groan), leering and giving me that three-toothed grin (Ick!), and said
"Amanice-tart, (that slug never got my name right) ya's gotta secret message from some secret messenger who brought ya a secret message." (Of course they'd all read it). "Yer goin' onna quest, girlie. The magistrate said I's s'posed to let ya out, so here," he pulled a small crumpled scroll out of his codpiece (cringe) and shoved it at me, (it was damp and I gagged), "now take it an' git outta town. We ain't feedin' freeloadin' troublemakers." After thinking hard, he hawked and spat and added, "Ya firebug harlot."
He unlocked the cell and handed me my weapons and stuff. I read the message in the torchlight, (then kicked him in the shin), before he shoved me out of the jail and into the dark. The message said
TO: Amarice of Larissa
FROM: The Committee
Your presence is required in the city of Orlandopolis. Please begin your journey immediately and make your best possible speed to join us.
Attached is a map showing your starting location and final destination.
Now I'd never heard of "The Committee" before, but I'd never really heard of Orlandopolis either. (It's not like I've been everywhere, like Queen Gabrielle). And I wasn't from Larissa. I didn't see how they even knew me, but suddenly my presence was "required"? Still, it was a challenge, and being an Amazon warrior, I couldn't ignore it. In my tribe, a warrior either succeeds or dies trying. (It's a matter of honor). Out here, I was representing my people, and I'd make sure that everyone remembered the Amazons!
The map was scrawled on the back of the note. Well, like any Amazon, I can read maps (Duh!), and it looked straightforward enough. At least it had gotten me out of the jail. So I leaped onto my trusty horse, Glue's Mama, and rode east toward the coast like the wind. I was charging into an unknown adventure, off on an actual quest! I was beginning to feel heroic.
Well, the horse trotted on through the night with me on her back. About twenty miles west of Larissa lay Phocaea, the nearest port, so I figured we'd be there by dawn. At this point, I should probably tell you that Glue's Mama was night-blind. Being half-Arabian, her ancestors' retinas had been burned out by the blinding desert sun, and she'd inherited that trait, along with a dished face and a taste for dates. She was a rare mount, way barrel bodied (wedgies big time) and all of 10 hands high. At night, (with the stirrups a foot off the ground), my hardest tasks were, 1) keeping her from running into trees, and 2) staying in the saddle when my boots snagged on branches or logs. (So she wasn't exactly Argo, but she tried).
I'd actually solved the problem (of her night-blindness, not the wedgies) by rigging a long pole off the saddle that held a lantern in front of her so we could both see the road. It was brilliant, but I had to give it up. Unfortunately, (sigh) the lantern bobbed with every step she took. She'd end up both hypnotized by the bouncing light and launching her cud (Ick!) from the motion sickness it caused. (Okay! Yes, it was pathetic.)
As the candlemarks of darkness passed, the miles fell behind us as they do on quests. Glue's Mama chased the bag of dates hanging from the short pole lashed to her headstall. I looked up at the moon and reckoned that we were right on schedule, though in this country, the moon seemed to move in the opposite direction from what I was used to. Soon the dawn was brightening the sky ahead of us and that's when I knew something was really wrong. Somehow (Aaack!) we'd ended up riding east all night long!
At first I couldn't even begin to understand how such a thing could have happened, but the Hermosa River lay just ahead, and to the south, well, there was Magnesia ad Sipylum, chock full of Romans (Damn!). They were staring at me from the top of the walls and pointing, and yelling stuff in uh, in Roman.
Now, since I can read maps as well as anyone, I can only guess that the mistake happened just as we were leaving Larissa, (groan) when I'd mounted from the right instead of the left. That could explain it. It's a pretty common mistake that almost anyone could make (it is, really ), especially at night. So to apologize I gave Glue's Mama a handful of dates, and then tuned my trusty steed west, towards Phocaea and the coast. Like the great warriors of my tribe, nothing would stop me from fulfilling my quest!
We trotted down the road, making our best possible speed. Towards the second candlemark after dawn, I noticed two things, 1) Glue's Mama was slowing down, and 2) somewhere behind us a lot of riders were following fast. So there I was, probably still over thirty miles from Phocaea, with a horse that had come to a stop and what I was pretty sure were Roman cavalry behind us. In response to my haste, Glue's Mama lay down in the middle of the road. She was shaking and feverish, and I could only curse at that hunchbacked stableboy back in Larissa for poisoning my horse. (I was beginning to hate that town!)
It was only a few moments later that two legionary "ala turmae", or cavalry wings, (about 64 riders), galloped up and surrounded us (Gulp!). While I couldn't understand any two words that their officers said, they eventually found a Macedonian conscript who spoke Greek. Well, he made it clear that being an Amazon (duh), they considered me a possible enemy of the Empire (huh?) and they had decided to, "drag my ass south to Smyrna". Okay, I thought, Smyrna is on the coast. I could live with that. Then he added, "on our way up north (but ) to the provincial capitol in Pergamum, where you can meet the governor's interrogator and jailers." (Gaaaah!)
I guess you can imagine what happened next. I'd just spent two days in Larissa's jail, (unjustly, I might add), I'd ridden all night in the wrong direction, (not my fault, like I said), my horse was pretty lame, and now they wanted to take me to Pergamum by way of Smyrna? Forget that! I was a warrior and I was on a quest! Plus, I was busy and I was getting mad! I'd show them they couldn't just waylay an Amazon on the road and take her prisoner. So I stood up to them all, (yeah) with my sword in one hand and my dagger in the other, slashing and kicking and using every trick I'd seen Xena use. I'd knocked down over a dozen of them before they mobbed me and I was crushed under two dozen dirty, sweaty bodies (Ureech!). I couldn't breath, and a bit later, everything went black.
When I came to it was late afternoon. I noticed to things, 1) that the centuria had made good time, and 2) that I was manacled hand and foot in a tiny, dismal prison wagon. I was looking out between bars again, but this time I was seeing the line of legionnaires stretching out behind me. The ones on horseback were up ahead or back at the end of the line. As we rounded a curve in the road, I noticed that they'd tethered Glue's Mama to the cook's wagon at the rear of the column. Her carcass was dragging at the end of a rope, legs stiff, belly bloated (sniffle). She'd been a good horse, mostly, but now she was dead, with her hide scuffing off on the road and leaving a dark trail behind the chuck wagon. I gripped the bars and stared ahead in melancholia.
Now I must say that I'm glad I didn't have to walk all that way. In my tribe, the warriors are tireless and can cover vast distances, but we walk Gaia's earth in Artemis' forests, not on paved Roman roads. So I didn't really think it was too odd that some of the men were staggering as the column made its way down to the coast outside of Smyrna, early that evening. I only really suspected something was wrong when they started dropping like droppings and not getting up (huh?). What a bunch of wimps, I thought, can't take a day's march down the road.
The officers didn't think it was so funny though. One of them, the Optio, (whose job is to browbeat cowards who try to shrink away from the fighting), started to panic when he tried to roust a fallen soldier. (And he just wasn't playing dead). The Optio went off screaming (heehee) for the physician. Apparently the physician was already cold and dead too. Meanwhile, more and more troops were dropping in their tracks. Most of them seemed to be coughing and staggering. What a sickly bunch, I thought, all eating the same rotten food and living too close together in their castra (that's the Roman word for a camp, from, uhhh, from castrate I think). Myself, I was still more upset by Glue's Mama dying, so I ignored the whole mess. I figured that if they wanted me, they'd wake me, and since I'd ridden through the night, I went to sleep.
Sure enough, I was awakened by the very same Macedonian conscript who'd acted as the translator. I noticed that his face was covered with black pustules (Oh yuck!). He opened the prison wagon's door and told me, "You may as well leave, girlie, they're all dead of the plague probably caught it from those Urguys who came down the Silk Road from the eastern steppes." (My eyes were bugging out!) He reeked of disease. I choked. He added, "I think your horse died of anthrax you can't say that's our fault." And with that, he keeled over dead.
I practically leapt out of the wagon, (being really careful not to touch him), and then I realized that I'd have to take the key ring from his fingers to unlock my manacles (Sooo gross!). Well, I finally managed to pry his hand open with a stick and get the keys. I freed myself then I went looking for my weapons and stuff.
You can imagine that the camp was really eerie now. I mean, Celesta was floating around and she smiled at me (Oh no, no, no!), but according to Xena, she never smiles! It wasn't normal. Meanwhile, there were about 5,000 dead Romans, and another 1,000 lying around groaning. There were dead horses with fluids leaking out (Ewwww!). I dodged Ms. Death and found my stuff in with the centurion's things, including the message from "The Committee". You'd never guess where that was (Ick!), (but I'll give you a hint it was damp again). I also noticed that there were a lot of gold coins lying around, so I took a few of them too, you know, for boat fare and stuff. Now since I didn't want to wait around for Hades to show up, I took off.
All in all, it was a pleasant enough evening though. I left the dead behind and walked the last mile into Smyrna, another town I'd never been to before, and yes, it had a wall around it too. (I remember thinking to myself, uhhh-oh, here we go again). Even so, I was glad it wasn't further away. I can tell you from experience that gold is really heavy, and now my bag felt like it weighed about forty pounds. My spine was getting deformed from lugging those coins, (and I was worried about becoming a hunchback), but since I had no idea how much the passage on a boat would cost, I thought I needed them. So I staggered around Smyrna until I finally found an inn where I could find a meal and a room without finding trouble like I'd found in Larissa. (And yes, I do hate that town!)
At this point I should probably tell you that I don't really know a lot about foreign money. Among the Amazons, it's not usually the warriors who have to trade with the outlanders. (And this should point out just how special Queen Gabrielle is. I mean, she actually likes to bargain with them and spends most of her time among foreigners! Yakut and Otere never leave the northern steppes. Even Queen Ephiny didn't do so well in the outlands. She went off to Thessaly and nevermind). Anyway, the serving wench passed out cold (what the ?) when I gave her one of the gold coins. Her father, (who owned the inn), bit the coin, smiled, and asked, "how many months did I want the room for?" When I told him I just needed it for the night, he brought out a chisel and cut a shaving of gold from the edge, then gave the rest back. Since he seemed honest, I decided to ask him about finding a ship that would take me to Orlandopolis.
As it turned out, the innkeeper had been a pirate, (and I'll admit I should have guessed this because of his eye patch and peg leg). He said he knew a good captain he'd sailed with who would be willing to take me anywhere in the Aegean for the right price. I told him that the price was no object so long as I got to Orlandopolis quickly. Well, he didn't know where the place was either, so I showed him the map. His best guess was three days sailing in fine weather, and the ship he'd told me about was coming into Smyrna with tomorrow's rising tide. If he knew the Sumerian captain, the ship would only dock long enough to take on water and rations, and then it would set sail again on the ebb tide. It was perfect!
That night I slept in a real bed for the first time in almost a moon. I'd been on the road for twenty days just getting to Larissa (I hate that town), sleeping on the ground before winding up in the jail for two nights. After that, I'd spent a night in the saddle, and the next day in a cage. Sometime during the night, the innkeeper snuck into my room and stole the gold. When I woke up the next morning and found it missing, I armed myself and went downstairs, (Grrrr!) ready to thrash anyone I could find.
Imagine my surprise when I got to the common room. I found the front door still bolted, the inn empty, the hearth cold, and my bag sitting untouched on the very same table I'd eaten at last night! (And I'd recognize that bag anywhere! It's made from a whole goat skin with the legs sewn together for the shoulder strap and the head still attached. The pelt has distinctive markings that I'd memorized after many nights of using it as a pillow on the road, and I'd see the stupid grin on its face in my dreams.) All the coins were still inside its belly. So I think I stood there with my mouth hanging open for a hundred heartbeats before I realized it could be a trap. I listened and didn't hear a sound anywhere. I turned in a circle and saw no movement. There was no one sneaking up on me from the kitchen, no one hiding behind the bar, and no one crouching under a table. Now, some strange things had happened to me over the past few days, but this was right up there with the strangest. Eventually I did notice someone's hand lying on the floor just inside the kitchen. I tiptoed towards it with my sword and dagger ready to draw blood. The hand didn't move.
Imagine my surprise when I got to the kitchen. I could see that the hand was attached to an arm, and that the arm was attached to the rest of the body. Well, wouldn't you know, it was the innkeeper! (And I'd recognize that peg leg anywhere!) He was stone dead, and his skin was covered with black pustules (So disgusting!). I guess he must have met those Urguys from the Silk Road too, or maybe it was from biting that coin. Anyway, the inn had turned out to be a plague house. I decided I should probably get out of there really quick, so I took my bag and my weapons, and I fled toward the docks. I figured I'd wait around and meet the Sumerian captain and negotiate my fare. That was my plan.
Now at this point I should probably tell you that I don't really know much about epidemics. (I may be cynical, but I'm not clinical). I'm a warrior, not a healer. In my tribe, Amazons don't live all packed together in fetid hovels with their livestock in the kitchen and their excrement floating down the streets (Ewww!). We don't have Urguys (or any guys) running around, and we certainly don't have a Silk Road. The last time there was anything like an epidemic was when half the village tripped out after a cook served amanitas by mistake. Everyone played shamaness that night, having visions and speaking in tongues that sorta stuff. So what I was going to say was that, when I walked through Smyrna and saw mobs of looters, Celesta, and all these dead people lying around, I wasn't sure if that was normal there or not. I mean, I'd certainly seen a lot of people dying from the plague recently, but was that normal? I wasn't sure. All I knew was that I wanted to get out of Lydia, (or Ionia whatever), as fast as this Sumerian's ship could sail.
Well, there were already a couple of ships were berthed at the docks, but they weren't going anywhere, burned down to the waterline like they were. Even I could see that. So I found a quiet spot and sat down to wait. A warrior has to be patient that's what Xena always said, though I actually prefer to bust heads, ya know? Well, while I waited I fought off stray looters, slicing, kicking, and punching, until they finally decided that I wasn't worth the trouble and they left me alone. A couple of candlemarks passed, during which the city became increasingly quiet. By noon it was peaceful, and by a fist past the zenith, the city was downright silent. The only sound was a big black flag that someone had raised on the flagpole, snapping in a lively breeze.
It was about that time that I noticed a ship on the horizon (hopeful smile). It was making for Smyrna under full sail, and I could tell it was a fast ship. I'd guess it came within two furlongs of shore before it began to turn away for some reason. Well, let me tell you, I jumped up and started franticly waving to the crew! The last thing I wanted was to be stuck in Smyrna, even though it had settled down. I was yelling and gesturing like a lunatic as I ran up and down the dock, and when they only stayed their course, I realized that Id have to do something dramatic to make them come to shore. The first thing that crossed my mind was to signal them with a fire, so I set steel to flint and lit a torch.
Now just like me, they could see the burned out hulls and that black flag, but with me waving them in with a torch, maybe they put two and two together and came up with five. Anyway, the ship turned to port and set her topsail to gain a little way, and slowly, she inched in towards me. Of course it was at that point that Celesta and the last band of looters in the city had to arrive, hoping to rob me or maybe just have a little fun. (Soooo irritating!) I mean, here I was trying to lure the ship in so I could get out of town, and these slugs had to show up right then. I was steaming! I laid into them, screaming and hacking and showing no mercy! I threw the torch and it caught one of them on fire. He ran into the harbormaster's warehouse and set the whole building aflame! It was all old dry timbers and roof thatching. How brilliant! It went up like kindling, being filled with wool, oil, flax, and flour! What a sight! The flames must have been a hundred feet high, and there I was in front of it, fighting all alone against a mob.
Well, that worked better than anything I could have planned. No one can resist ogling a disaster. The ship raised full sails and leaped towards the docks. Before I'd cut my way through half the crowd, there were a couple dozen pirates fighting alongside me! (Wow!) They were really brutal! I mean, heads rolled, along with arms, legs, and other body parts. Celesta floated around solemnly doing her "touch of death" act. It was great! The other great thing about that fight was that their captain actually joined in.
By now I guess there's no question that I'm an Amazon warrior, so I was used to seeing a woman commanding a war party. I could pick out a leader in the blink of an eye in the midst of battle. Well, sure enough, the captain was this long, tall, ravishing, gorgeous, (yum) beauty whom I later found out was the Sumerian! In the heat of the fighting she walked right up to me and looked me in the eye (gulp). (I was weak-kneed and my heart was racing). She had this flirtatious manner and a combination of a wicked smile and flashing eyes that froze me right where I stood. She casually flicked a dagger into the throat of a looter who had gotten behind me and then said, "You're an Amazon. I never knew your people to sack whole cities so far from home. Is this a vengeance thing or can anyone join in?"
I could barely find my voice to answer her, but I said, "Ummm I uh don't even know these people, but most of them are dead. Help yourself to whatever you want just get me out of here when it's over."
So I wasn't thinking. I'll admit it. Even heroic Amazon warriors have lapses from time to time. She took my words as an offer I couldn't refuse, so later, after the fighting died down and her men had loaded up some chests of gold and jewels, she was glad to take me along. I guess in the end, we both helped ourselves to each other's uh carnal parts. Well, that was mostly in the privacy of her cabin (smirk), but it was part of the adventure, right? I mean (wow) she kept me up at night, wide-eyed and squirming and stuff. I decided that I really liked sailing, and I even thought about becoming a pirate for a while. But then there was that message from "The Committee", and there was my quest, so in the end, I got them to sail for Orlandopolis.
At this point I should probably tell you that I didn't really know a lot about pirates. What I learned was that, 1) they're really image conscious, and 2) they drink a lot. When I came aboard, the crew really seemed to like me. I guess it didn't hurt that as far as they knew, I'd single-handedly conquered the city of Smyrna and then shared the booty with them. After that, they knew that Amazon warriors are fierce, deadly, and generous to their allies. (But, since they didn't want to embarrass me with obvious hero worship, they claimed that they liked me 'cause I was young and I didn't wear much). (The image thing!)
For days they guzzled down wine and staggered around, singing really badly about how I'd slaughtered the whole population of Smyrna. The fact that I was spending a lot of time in private with their captain didn't hurt my reputation either, since her last lover was a nervous man named Iolaus, who's the companion of Hercules! Well, then I told her that my queen is the companion of the Warrior Princess, who had once been "associated" with the hero himself. That seemed to impress her, and though she'd never met Queen Gabrielle or Xena, she knew their reputations. Xena had actually been a fellow pirate once, so they had this mutual respect at a distance, (though in private, I think she believed that Xena was a little obsessive in the old days, plowing under whole cities and such).
Well, the ship sailed across the sea, skimming over the waves while enjoying fair weather and friendly winds. We were making good time, though I managed to lose track of the actual days. It probably had to do with spending so much time in the cabin, on my back with my legs in an elevated position over the captain's shoulders. I guess she was also a healer, since she claimed that it was good for the circulation. Like I said, I'm not really clinical, but I believed her 'cause I felt my heart pounding every time. (I also noticed that I was sleeping a lot afterwards). Anyway, one day she told me that she thought I was really healthy, and then she asked, "So how long can you stick around, and were you actually going anyplace?" I may have gawked at her.
I finally found my voice, (which had become really hoarse from all that screaming), and I reminded her that I needed to get to Orlandopolis as soon as possible. She seemed to wrack her brain for some time before smiling and telling me that she'd let me know when we arrived. I asked her if she could find out where we were and how much longer we'd need to sail. She winked at me, got off the bunk, put on my leathers, and went up on deck to ask her pilot about our course, speed, heading, wind direction, soundings, weather fronts, sightings, (yadda, yadda, yadda) and some other nautical type stuff I didnt understand. After she went topside, I heard hooting and cackling from the deck. Why the heckling, I wondered? She looked really good in my clothes. They showed a lot of skin. Then I think I dozed off.
At this point I should probably tell you that I don't really know a lot about navigation at sea. To me, the sea is mostly water and it looks pretty much the same in all directions. Sailors follow the sun during the day, and at night they follow the stars. Obviously it's different from following the stars on land. I did learn two things, 1) drunken pirates aren't very good sailors, and 2), it's really easy to go in circles at sea, (and if you don't believe me, just remember that it took Ulysses twenty years to get back to Ithaca from Troy). It seems that something similar happened here.
When the captain returned with her news, she woke me and sheepishly admitted that her crew had been drunk and seeing double for two weeks (TWO WEEKS?). During that time they'd managed to circumnavigate the island of Chios (huh?), some said three times, others claimed as many as five times (OMGs!). I checked my map and saw that Chios is just six miles off the coast of Ionia (Grrr!) and only fifty miles from Smyrna (Ack!)! Of all the stupid even if I'd been drunk, I could have crawled that distance in a week! The captain assured me that it was because the pilot had been seeing twice as many stars as she did while sober and had played it safe, keeping the coast within sight. Unfortunately, it had been the coast of an island. My jaw hung open.
She shrugged and said, "Relax. At least they didn't hit the shoals."
I said, "But 'The Committee' ordered me to make my best possible speed to Orlandopolis ." (sigh)
She said, "Well, Hon, it's not like you could have walked or ridden there. We're pirates. You were on the high seas at our mercy. They really can't blame you."
Well, her reasoning made sense to me. I didn't know this "The Committee" from the Senate of Rome. They'd addressed the message to "Amarice of Larissa", and I wasn't from Larissa, (and I hate that town), so I asked her, "Can we sail for Orlandopolis now so they don't think I'm completely lazy when I get there? I'm an Amazon warrior and I don't want to make my tribe look bad. You know how it is like how you have to be a dignified leader to your crew."
She gave me the most understanding smirk and assured me that some of her crew were actually on their feet, and tonight when the stars were out they'd sail west towards the sunset. Well that made sense to me, especially when she lifted my knees over her shoulders to give me another treatment. Then she was muttering more nautical stuff, like about how wet it was, (the waves?) lapping, (geysers?) squirting, a man in a boat, surfacing for air, and going down with her hands that sounded ominous but I really couldn't make it all out clearly.
That night I went up on deck for the first time in, what, two weeks? It was a beautiful night, and sure enough, the moon that had been waxing in Smyrna was waning now. A couple of deck hands were lurching as they crawled around on the deck, but the mainsail was set and catching a nice breeze. The pilot was asleep at the wheel, holding our course steady. I checked the stars and noticed that we were, in fact, headed west. Chios was falling behind us in the distance. So far so good, I thought.
To be honest, the captain tried her best to explain lassitude and longitude, but they must have been Sumerian concepts and they remained alien to me. It really boiled down to never being sure of the ship's position east/west (huh?). So how did anyone ever get where they were going, I wondered? Well, the captain had a plan! We'd sail west until the ship reached Euboea, then follow the coast south until we got to the passage between the mainland and the island of Andros. Once we got there, it would be simple to sail south until we reached "that cartoon mouse-head island" where the city of Orlandopolis was. I guess it made sense in a roundabout way. (At least it seemed like something the crew could handle).
I should have known better! Sometime after we went below deck, the pilot must have keeled over in her sleep and dragged the wheel several thousand points off-course. When she came to, she was faced down on the deck and the rudder was following the currents. By morning we'd only known that we were somewhere south of where we were supposed to be. In other words, we were lost at sea! At least the crew was too drunk to panic.
Well, the good news is that the Aegean Sea isn't really all that big; it just seems that way when you're lost in the middle of it (groan). The bad news is that the Aegean Sea is chock full of islands, and since no one's sure of their east/west, you can never be sure of which island you're approaching until you land and ask a native. Adding to our problem of being lost was that all through the next day and night we were completely fogged in. It was pee soup (?), the captain said, and you couldn't see a yard past the prow. Well, we were in the middle of the sea, right? There wasn't anything there but more water, right? The only thing that made me nervous is that I noticed Celesta (uh-oh), floating along by candlelight and following the boat! I think she smiled.
I checked the lookout. Sure enough he was draped over the railing of the crow's nest, passed out cold. A moment later the ship lurched and bucked as we ran aground! The impact pitched the lookout head over heels into the air. Someone cried, "Look out!", and we covered our heads as he crashed to the deck. The man twitched in a death spasm and muttered, "Land Ho!", right before Celesta came over and took him away.
Well, the ship was tilted up on a beach and we weren't going anywhere until morning (sigh). The captain posted guards along the railing but wouldn't let anyone off the ship until they could see better. (Mostly they were still seeing double). The crew just shrugged like this happened all the time and kept drinking. The moon had set, the tide was ebbing, and the ship settled into the sand. Morning was only a couple candlemarks away, so I gave up and went to sleep.
At this point I should probably tell you that I don't really know much about being shipwrecked. In fact, I'd never been on a ship before this trip. The pirates lived on their ship and they were always wrecked, so for them, I guess this was normal. When dawn came, the fog burned off and the day began nice and sunny. The ship was beached in a sheltered cove, a perfect grounding really, and the captain praised her crew as they wobbled and cheered. She left a few guards draped over the railing and the rest of us went off to explore the island. Hopefully there would be someone around who could tell us where we were.
"And then we won't be lost anymore!" She said happily. I grinned. Her logic seemed sound.
Well, we walked down the beach for a while, noting how narrow it would be at high tide, and eventually we rounded a headland. You can imagine our surprise when the first thing we noticed was a huge statue of a man, standing further down the beach. Now who would have built such a thing and then left it here to form such a crust of patina? The pirates muttered that he must be made of bronze, and if so, then he might be worth breaking up and melting down. We made our way closer and realized just how big he was. Even if the pirates could figure out how to topple him and break him into pieces, his weight would sink the ship. I'd walked around him and finally noticed a hole in his ankle. It was corroded but still open, so I looked in. Now I could see that he was hollow and empty inside and I could hear my breathing echoing up his leg.
I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled, "Surrender now or I'll kill you all!"
The words rang out metallic, all garbled and echo-y, and really, really loud! All the pirates fell on their faces and started wailing in despair, (because they were still really drunk).
The captain smacked me on the back of the head and said, "You're desecrating Zeus' gift to Europa, Hon (well, huh?). This is Talos (who?), the bronze man that attacked Jason and the Argonauts. You're probably standing right where Medea was when she let the ichor out of his ankle and killed him."
So I was standing where the ichor had run out? (Ewwwww!) Ichor was sometimes called the "blood of the gods", and all I could think of was that, like them, it was undying! Well of course, no sooner had I thought this than a hand rose out of the sand and grabbed my ankle (Aaaack!)! I'm sure they heard my scream in the Parthenon! The captain grabbed my arm and franticly tried to drag me away. The hand held fast, and as she pulled, the body attached to it rose out of the sand like it was being pulled up from a pool of water!
My eyes were bugging right out of my head. So were the captain's. The pirates had passed out cold in shock.
The creature (yikes!), who was made entirely of sand that had been brought to life by the ichor, plucked off some seaweed and a stray clam and said, "Please, you've got to take me with you and teach me everything you know. You can't leave me here. I was born to do so much more. I want to be a warrior, just like you."
I joined the captain and her pirates and passed out cold in shock.
I came to sometime later, groggily asking, "Where am I? Where am I?"
I looked around and the Sandman said, "On a beach on the island of Crete." I passed back out.
After those experiences, and the reactions of other people when they first saw the Sandman, it was pretty clear to me that the Sandman brought sleep! It's also probably why there's that grainy stuff at the corners of your eyes when you wake up. (Doesnt explain the drool though). Personally, I was so astonished that I just nodded "yes" to his request. He was overjoyed to leave Crete and join us. We weren't lost anymore, and we'd added a member to the crew. It was a good day for everyone. It also meant that in the pee soup we'd somehow sailed right past "that cartoon mouse-head island" (groan), because Crete was due south of it on the captain's map.
Meanwhile, back at the ship, high tide was entering the cove. The water level was rising and lifting the ship off the sand. By the time we got all the pirates conscious, walking, and back to the ship, it had floated free and was standing off shore as if it had never run aground. Everyone cheered. (The captain looked as if she'd expected this all along). Only the Sandman seemed unhappy.
"What's wrong?" I asked, as most of the pirates began swimming out to their ship.
He looked at the water between the boat and the shore and said, "If I try to swim, I'll just fall apart. I tried getting off this island that way once and I was washed up scattered. It took me years to pull myself together." Well, how depressing!
Now I had to think. I mean, I'd pretty much promised him that he could come along. In my tribe, a warrior always keeps her word or dies trying. (It's a matter of honor). Besides, I liked the idea of having a sidekick of my own. It meant that I really was a heroic Amazon warrior just what I'd always wanted to be. The problem was that even if I'd had a really big sack, all that sand would have weighed more than I did. Swimming to the ship with it was out of the question. So we sat on the beach, trying to figure out how to get him over to the ship. By now the pirates were crowded along the rail, yelling at me to hurry up.
The captain shouted at me and I shouted back, explaining the problem. She rolled her eyes.
"Amarice, that's what we have a skiff for," she said, before adding, "duhhh". (So, okay! I told you I didn't know very much about pirates or being shipwrecked sheesh it's not like everyone knows about sea stuff).
The pirates cackled and jeered but she sent the skiff over. The Sandman and I got in with the rowers and rowed back out to the ship. It almost seemed too easy, but next time I meet someone with a ship, I'll suggest it. Once we were back onboard, the pirates raised the sails and set a course headed north.
The ship sailed on a fair wind that night, and after another "treatment" from the captain, I stood at the rail and watched for land. Though I tried to maintain a stoic warrior's demeanor, I was excited (grin). After all my adventures I would finally reach "that cartoon mouse-head island", and then complete my journey by meeting "The Committee" in Orlandopolis. I'd also be able to finally discover if they'd really sent the message to the right Amarice, (since I'm not from Larissa and I hate that town). That night, the sea was like grape juice seen in total darkness. Overhead there were uncountable stars that we were counting on to guide us. The moon had waned down to a sliver, ("Selene's Squint"), that wouldn't have lit a candle, but speaking of which, I noticed Celesta (uh-oh) tagging along again. This time, she winked at me and waved (gulp!)!
Around the third candlemark past sunset we neared the island of Thera, (a no-count volcanic pug of an island about seven miles across), that we were bypassing to the west. Well, you know how a cup of water looks when it's sitting on a shaky table in the middle of a bar room brawl? The surface breaks up into all these little tiny wavelets, endlessly vibrating but too small to slosh. That's how the sea started to look. It was kind of interesting, but the crew started acting really nervous. Much to my relief, Celesta floated off towards the island.
Now at this point I should probably tell you that I don't really know much about seismic events. I mean, yes, I've heard stories, and I've even felt minor tremors during cattle stampedes, but I was nowhere nearby when Mt. Etna erupted. (Though Queen Gabrielle once told me a story about being trapped underwater in an upside-down ship. It seemed like a strange way to travel, but she's the queen). Well, everything started to feel edgy, like the world was holding its breath. The air was charged the way it is during a thunderstorm, but there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Then this deep eerie rumbling started that you could only feel at first. It got stronger and there were a few hard thumps. The captain dashed up on deck in a panic, the first time I'd seen her like that. She looked at the sea, looked at the island, and said
"Let's get the hell out of here. We're probably all going to die, but we may as well turn the ship away from the island."
The pilot was so nervous she asked, "Which way is that?" And started flapping her hands.
Rather than answer her, the captain grabbed the wheel and spun it, bringing us about and heading northwest, towards the mainland. The ship heeled onto its new course and the panicky crew raised every sail they had. Some of them even stood around in groups, holding up the corners of blankets they'd stretched out. There wasn't really anything I could do to help, so I kept an eye on the island of Thera, which was quickly falling behind us.
As we made our way away, that rumbling I mentioned a few paragraphs back kept getting louder. The sea was getting choppier by the moment. Some of the pirates were actually praying to Poseidon or covering their eyes, while the rest had started drinking in earnest. The Sandman walked up and asked if I'd seal him in a barrel and then lash it between two empty ones so that if the ship broke up, he'd have a chance of floating to shore someplace (huh?).
"Sure," I said, figuring that it would give me something to do.
We'd just passed between the islands of Pholegandros and Sicinos when the island of Thera blew up (like, woah!)! I mean it! The whole island literally went up in a cloud of fire and ash that would have put Selene's eye out (if she hadn't already been squinting). If Hephaestos had slammed down his hammer hard enough to break his anvil, the sound wouldn't compare with how loud this was. The whole place was crowned in a cloud of dust, lit red from underneath. Big glowing pieces of the island shot way up into the sky! There we were, probably thirty miles away, and boulders were landing all around us as if we were in the middle of the bombardment of Corinth! The same pirates who'd gleefully hacked at the mob in Smyrna were now cringing, whimpering, and gibbering on the deck, stricken absolutely speechless with fear. (I was actually embarrassed for them). The captain yelled, "Duck and cover" (as if that would do any good). She had this resigned look on her face, tossing up her hands and shaking her head sadly at the incredible destruction. Finally, she whispered to me
"This is the fun part. It'll get nasty later." (Gulp!)
Well, I'd never been near a volcanic blow out before, but I did notice two things, 1) that the explosion was the dramatic part, but 2), the tsunami that followed was the really destructive part. After most of the island had been thrown up into the air, (and had later come down in pieces all around us), the shock waves were off and running. There were shock waves in the earth, in the seabed, and in the water. It felt like Atlas had dozed off and dropped the world! We could see landslides on the islands of Pholegandros and Sicinos! Now, more about the tsunami. At first, I noticed that the ship was beginning to slow down, even though the sails were still bellied out full by the wind. Then the ship actually started to get sucked backwards towards Sicinos (what the ?)! Seeing this, the captain asked me if I'd seal her inside a barrel and then lash it between two empty ones (OMGs!). When I just gaped at her, she shrugged and suggested
"Then let's go back down to the cabin and fuck. It's probably the last thing we'll ever do and I can't think of a better way to go." (Aaack!)
I honestly contemplated panicking and doing something dramatic, but I couldn't decide on what. Then I remembered that in my tribe, a warrior never gives up, even when the odds seem hopeless. All that stuff seemed so far away, but I gritted my teeth and bolstered my resolve. From somewhere deep inside I tapped that reserve of courage that defines a warrior. I said
"How about a quickie right here on deck? You think maybe we can fit into a barrel together?"
Well, we couldn't both fit into a barrel. In the end, we settled for a crate that had been stowed on the foredeck and securely lashed down. It was damp and pretty tight inside (hee), forcing each of us to grip the others knees with our elbows. All in all, it wasn't such a bad arrangement though kind of intimate actually. We were still inside the crate when the tsunami hit the ship from behind and actually sent it flying! It must have been quite a sight, but by then we were both screaming, so we missed it. (Maybe next time).
Okay, now I honestly don't know how far it was from where we were hit to "that cartoon mouse-head island". I could guess that the distance was something like fifty miles. Splashdown was near the mouse's left ear, (the right one when you look at it on a map). The ship crashed into the shallows like some lump of gristle spat from the mouth of a Titan (Yuck!)! I think the crate disintegrated around us, since when we came to, we were stark naked and lying in the midst of a pile of shattered boards. The mast was down, with fouled lines and sails shrouding everything. The deck was shivered, the hull was sprung, and it was just dawn. The ship had come to rest in a lagoon about four feet deep, so everything but the hold was still above water. She would never sail again, but all considered, we were really lucky to have survived!
The captain and I poked our heads out of the wreckage and saw land about ten feet off the port bow. There was a really nice looking beach with a sign that said, "Welcome To That Cartoon Mouse-Head Island. Orlandopolis Is Fifteen Miles That Way." (Underneath the lettering, a picture of a pointing cartoon hand gave the direction to the city). Some of the pirates were already lounging on the sand. They'd dragged the Sandman with them after hauling his barrel ashore (grin). The others were a little ways up the beach under some palm trees, surrounding a peddler's stand that said, "Information". I noticed Celesta hovering there with her candle, but she seemed bored so maybe no one had died. I was hopeful.
Shortly later, (after finding our clothes), the Sumerian and I went ashore (I would have said, "came ashore", but that was later). She was dressed for dry land swashbuckling, in matching black leather pants and vest over a ruffled white shirt. I was dressed for heroism like any Amazon warrior, carrying my usual accessories of sword, dagger, and goat skin bag full of gold. The captain, seeing that her ship was a total loss, had filled an Arabian carpetbag with gold and jewels she'd plundered somewhere and decided to come with me to Orlandopolis (Yes!Yes!Yes!), "To be a busybody". She told her pirates to enjoy themselves on their "shore leave", and we left the shore. Someone had pounded a hastily made sign into the sand that said, "Visit The Pirate's Cove". (The Sumerian's crew had already started running their first scam). The Sandman tagged along behind us as we walked past the information peddler's stand.
For an information peddler, he sure asked a lot of questions! Who were we? Where did we come from? Were all those people pirates? How had we made the ship fly? Where were we going? How long would we stay? Was that a Sandman? Then I realized that he was asking all this stuff in order to sell our information to the marketers here on "that mouse-head island". I found it irritating. In my tribe, nosiness is handled with discretion since no one wants to be meddlesome. Finally I told him that I was here by accident, and if he wanted to know more, he'd have to ask the Sandman. So the Sandman talked to him. I listened for a sentence and found myself yawning. It was so confusing and boring that in minutes the peddler had dozed off. Like Queen Gabrielle, the Sandman could use words as a weapon! We'd make a deadly pair! He shrugged and grinned and tagged along as we walked, following the sign towards Orlandopolis.
So as we walked, the captain and I talked. I asked, "Are you really from Sumeria?"
She rolled her eyes and said, "Yes."
I was encouraged by her answer, so I asked, "Why did you become a pirate?"
She said, "Ever been to Sumeria? No? Well, you wouldn't fit in there any better than I did, and I had it better than most women. I just wasn't born for the cooking, cleaning, and breeding routine especially since it always comes with a domineering husband in Sumeria. So I became a pirate. You know, because I wanted to see the world, be a leader, have some adventures, maybe find real love and satisfy my heart."
Before I could think better of it, I said, "That's why I wanted to be an Amazon (Oops!). Uh, I mean ."
She looked at me for a moment and then a sly grin crossed her face. She said, "I'll tell you a secret if you tell me one." (Gulp! Uhh-oh no, no, no, do not want to go there.)
When I remained silent, she added, "Never mind, I'll just tell you mine. It's like this. You see, Gilgamesh (gillfish?), the King of Sumeria, is my half-brother (huh, she's a princess?), but he's into this evil cult and it was such a drag at home that I kind of ran away. I've been back since, but I hate it there. I just know something awful is going to happen one of these days, and far from trouble is the best place to be."
Geeez, and I thought I had problems (sigh). She's a runaway princess who ended up as a pirate 'cause her brother is into devil worship and she'd end up as a marriage slave to some pigheaded husband at home. That sucks. Well, I figured the least I could do is tell her that
"I was born on a grist farm and my parents wanted me to be a gristle farmer's wife but I always wanted to be an Amazon warrior so I ran away to the forest when I turned fourteen. That's where I found these weapons after a battle. I heard the fighting but I was scared and I couldn't make myself move until it was over and everything got quiet. I discovered an Amazon who'd been ambushed and wounded and when I found her she thought I was one of her sisters and made me swear to avenge her. She was the first real Amazon I ever met and I wanted to honor her for thinking I could have been an Amazon too 'cause that's what I'd always wanted to be. I guess she gave me courage so I took her to the healer made these clothes just like hers and searched for her attackers for five moons but never found them but I did find Queen Ephiny's tribe. I've been living like an Amazon ever since and the Amazons believe I'm an Amazon now and mostly I've even convinced myself." (gasping for air and commas)
The captain was just staring at me while I tried to catch my breath after breathlessly gushing out that confession. (I'd never even whispered it to myself before that). Well, I was probably wide-eyed and staring back like a deer caught in the torchlight. I figured that she'd laugh at me for being a phony and leave me there, thinking I was a kid.
Instead she said, "Well, Amarice, you had me fooled. If the other Amazons are like you, then they're brave warriors that I'd be proud to know besides, I thought you were older, honest."
Now I guess this isn't very heroic, but what she'd said made me feel so good that I actually cried.
Meanwhile the Sandman was fidgeting at a respectful distance, but after I got myself under control and the captain and I started walking again, he continued to tag along like he'd been doing before. Now I don't know what it is about confessions, but it seems like if one person starts, then everyone has to unload. After a few dozen paces, it was the Sandman's turn. He began with
"You know, in the long run my hope of becoming a warrior is hopeless. I mean, making something out of myself is hopeless too because I'm really just sand animated by Talos' ichor, and eventually sand turns to dust." He paused for a moment; maybe he was reminiscing? He continued with, "Every time I move, my grains rub together and wear down a little bit. I think I was a rock once, and before that I guess I was part of a boulder that was part of a mountain that was part of an island." (I found myself stifling a yawn).
The captain rolled her eyes, then turned to him and said, "Yes, and ?"
"Yes," he agreed, "and I'm pretty happy, for a pile of sand (ha) I mean, but deep down I feel this melancholy because I know that this life is only temporary. Sometimes I just want to give up and go back to being part of a beach. The sun's warm, the water was nice in that little cove on Crete, and it was peaceful. The lagoon back there is pretty nice too."
"We're all going to die sooner or later," I told him, (thinking, duhhh!), "but most of us don't really have a choice. It's either live, or lie down and die. Since we're certainly going to die eventually, that leaves living in the meantime and trying to be happy doing it. The thing that makes life good is having a dream to chase. She wants to be a pirate, I want to be an Amazon, and you want to be a warrior. Go with it."
"Okay," he said. It was the most boring personal confession I'd ever heard.
We continued walking for the rest of the morning, chatting mostly about things we'd done and places we'd been, that sort of stuff. I was happy since it was a nice day (ahhh), I had a new friend and lover (mmm), I'd acquired a sidekick (uh), and I was getting closer to fulfilling my quest (grin). Pretty soon we were catching glimpses of a city in the distance. Between the palm fronds and tree trunks, we saw the highlights on many sunlit buildings. Finally we stopped on a slight rise, (all the land here seemed pretty flat), and I climbed a tree, (being uncharacteristically shameless about displaying my legs on the way up). As for the view, I gave as good as I got. From up there I saw the roofs of dozens of large buildings, hundreds of smaller ones, and no surrounding wall! It was probably no more than a half-candlemark's walk from where we stood. I was so happy that I flipped out of the tree and landed with a bounce. We started walking again.
At this point I should probably tell you that, although I'd been traveling through mainland Greece for a year, I didn't really know a lot about the islands off shore. (After what happened with Thera, I wasn't in any real hurry to find out more either). Orlandopolis is on "that mouse-head island", and it was another strange land with its own strange culture and its share of strange customs. Here's what happened next, and how I lost my new sidekick when he "went native".
I'd been looking towards the city of Orlandopolis from up in the tree and I hadn't really noticed what was in the opposite direction. So okay, I'll admit that was my mistake, but I was focused at the time, and there's nothing to be done about it now. Had I checked, I would have quickly seen a strange landscape (and it was really strange!). There were gently rolling greenswards with cropped grass and undulating perimeters. Peasants were trudging along them with wimpy looking clubs that I later learned were used for whacking these little dimpled balls they would find lying around. (Personally, I think they were crazier than Orestes). Well anyway, it definitely wasn't normal. The captain had never seen anything like it either, even in Sumeria.
So all of a sudden, right out of nowhere, one of those dimpled balls flew out of the trees and nearly brained the Sandman! It ricocheted off the trunk right next to him, bounced twice, and came to a stop on the path. A sling missile, I thought. Romans! In a heartbeat the captain and I drew our swords and searched our surroundings for the ambush! Then we heard several voices approaching. (Ahhh-ha!) A patrol! We hid, intending to turn the ambush against them. When the patrol broke cover and came out on the path, we saw it was only a group of peasants with skinny clubs that you couldn't beat an egg with. What could they possibly have been thinking? As we watched, waiting for the best time to strike, they discovered the ball. One peasant was jubilant, the rest sneered at her and pointed back the way they'd come. They discussed "playing it where it lay" or penalty strokes. She'll get the lash, I thought, and it serves her right. Finally they came to a decision (foreigners are weird), and the peasant pocketed the ball. Then they left.
We followed, figuring we'd track them back to their camp and tally their troop strength, then report the invasion to the militia in Orlandopolis. Well, they walked through the trees until they came to that weird landscape I mentioned a couple paragraphs back. The peasant took the ball and set it down at the tree line, and as the others feigned attention, she whacked it with her club (huh?). It sailed over the grass, right into a sandpit. The other peasants howled with laughter.
Well I suppose that to me, sand is sand, right? I mean, yes, some sand is tan and some is white. In some places it's clean and in other places it's filled with dirt and debris. This sand was white, clean, and lay gleaming and smooth in the midst of rich cropped grass. I suppose that to an animated pile of sand, it was a thing of beauty (go figure)! No sooner had the Sandman seen it than he took off running towards the pit. In an embarrassing lapse of judgement (oops), I started after him, but the Sumerian grabbed my arm and hauled me back lest I reveal our position. We watched and waited, fearing that they'd fall on him like savages and slay him at any moment.
Well, when the peasants finally realized he was there, the Sandman was already upon them and believe it or not, every single one of them passed out cold in shock! It was the bravest thing I'd seen in a while, charging them like that, and the Sandman wasn't even armed. He'll make a fine warrior, I thought, he's fearless, just like a Celtic Beserker. Except I think he didn't even notice.
The Sandman ran right past the fallen peasants. He didn't stop until he was standing alongside the sandpit. I was up on my feet by then, but all I could do was blink in confusion. He was lowering himself to one knee, and in impassioned sincerity, declaimed something like this
"Oh, never have I been blessed by the sight of such purity, such immaculate pulchritude (is that actually a word?), such a graceful slump why surely your visage commemorates Aphrodite herself. Oh, Cupid, pierce me with your arrow, that I might know bliss through my devotion to such an ideal refinement of grit (he's got to be kidding!), and the divine symmetry of your every grain. Welcome me unto the slope of your bosom and accept me as a slave to the love of your depression. You enchant me, dearest beloved. Let me share my ichor (Ewwww!) with you for all eternity, until dust do us part!" Well, while beauty may be judged by the beholder's eye, that was still the most boring and campy declaration of love I'd ever heard (hee). Gag me now!
I didn't hear the reply (rolls eyes), but it must have been sufficient, since, without even a word to us (humph!), the Sandman leapt into the sandpit and sank out of sight! He just disappeared below the surface, in the reverse of how he'd risen from the beach on Crete while hanging onto my ankle. I have to say that it was one of the more incredible things I'd seen that candlemark! For all I know, he's still there, and maybe he'll be there forever, or at least until someone mixes him with clay to make bricks. (Remind me to ask Xena if she felt a bit strange those times when Gabrielle took off and left her). We stood around and stared at the pit. Then the peasants started regaining consciousness, so we retreated into the trees and finally continued on our way.
Soon the path widened into a road. The trees thinned out and finally ended in a cleared space. Ahead of us, past a towering midden pile, the city started with the shacks and hovels of a poor neighborhood, but that quickly gave way to grander buildings lining wide avenues. We'd finally reached Orlandopolis (just like a garish sign there said)! We passed market stalls, homes, and shops, and all of it seemed pretty normal. I noticed statues though, depicting that cartoon mouse, so I figured these people worshipped vermin (crazy foreigners!). At the gateway to the city's center, some guards stopped us and asked us where we were going, since we were laden with treasure and weapons. I showed their leader my message from "The Committee". That made them perk right up (grin). Suddenly they were serious and treated us like honored guests. One of them found a sheaf of parchments in the gatehouse and brought it out. They pored over the information and finally matched my note to an entry on a list. Then they consulted a map. In the meantime we waited, staring around at what we could see from the gate.
"So, Amanice-girlie, you and your friend are here for the BardCon," the leader of the guards said, (getting my name wrong just like the jailer in Larissa). We looked at each other. The note hadn't said anything about why I was told to hasten to Orlandopolis, just to get there as fast as I could. Before I could answer him, the Sumerian leaned in and whispered in my ear. She said
"So they brought you here to help them con some bards. This might be fun, but most bards don't have much besides their words, and conning them is usually a waste of time. On the other hand, what have we got to lose?" She gave my ear a discreet lick that made me shiver and then she grinned. I guess I agreed mostly.
"Uhhh, yeah, we're here for the Bard Conning," I told him, and smiled nervously.
"Okay," he acknowledged, perhaps a bit skeptical, "then I'm s'posed to give ya directions to the Waldorfus Astorian Inn. There's a room reserved for you, and someone there will give ya more information. Have fun at the BardCon and enjoy your stay in Orlandopolis. If ya have time, you might try that Pirate's Cove attraction (Ack!) over in the Disney Park." He hawked and spat.
I took the directions, but I still hadn't made up my mind if I should to go to this Bard Con and help "The Committee" con a bunch of bards. I mean, my queen was a bard and I'd been conning her all along but still, I'd traveled this whole way, and at least it sounded like an adventure.
And one thing I learned from my queen is that at the end of a scroll, you're supposed to say
Disclaimer: Glue's Mama lived up to her name during the making of this scroll, though she was granted a short reprieve outside of Smyrna.
Return to the Academy
Phantom Bard, Brooklyn, N.Y., March 14, 2004
This story is an Academy Challenge #11 Contest entry in Category 2
Author's Note: This story stars Amarice, (played by Jennifer Sky on "Xena"), and guest stars the Sumerian pirate Nebula, (played by Gina Torres on "Hercules"). Although the TV shows didn't reveal this, the two had a lasting, on again off again relationship in the ancient world, and were reincarnated much, much later, (in 2525 AD), as Cleopatra and Hel. Personally, I think that Gina loaned the Cleo name to Jennifer, after having used it once as an alias on "Xena". At least she'd given it up in time to avoid being bitten by an asp.
The supporting cast includes the equine talent, Glue's Mama, (a transvestite role played by Tony the Pony, the "Other Italian Stallion"), the Sandman, (played by the Boogie(Woogie)man from "Nightmare Before Christmas"), and a crowd of extras, (mostly drunken local slackers that the producers dressed as pirates), who doubled as dying Romans and looting mobs in Smyrna. Also, a minor credited speaking part was written in as a double role of Jailer of Larissa/Guard Leader of Orlandopolis, but now I can't find the actor's name on my cast roster anywhere. (I bet SAG will have a fit). Anyway, he botched Amarice's name in both roles and during every take.
About Amarice the injured Amazon she met in this scroll shortly after running away from home almost certainly survived. She was probably just being fatalistic when she asked Amarice to avenge her. (A stout blow to the head can do that). Had she actually died, Amarice would probably have been given her right of caste as her assigned avenger and she'd have been a real Amazon by the time we meet her in "Endgame". She found and joined Ephiny's tribe about five moons after running away from home, (which she claims was when she turned fourteen). This, (coupled with Xena's comments on her youth in "Endgame"), leads me to suspect that she was a precocious minor of about 14 or at most, 15 summers then. Although morality was different in the ancient world, her age, coupled with the goings on in Nebula's cabin aboard ship, explain why this scroll never became an episode in the TV series. (It's also why Nebula didn't want her name appearing in the text). Additionally, although Amarice could have covered a lot of ground in five moons, I suspect she was originally from Macedonia or Thrace, not too far from the Greek Amazon village. She may even have been from rural Thessaly, (there is a modern city of Larissa in Thessaly, about 30 miles south of Mt. Olympus), but she was almost certainly not from Larissa in Asia Minor. During a later interview, Nigel asked her the name of her home village. Amarice said that she'd been slated to marry a spud who made Perdicus look like King Midas, and that he, (Nigel), could drop dead before she'd tell him anything else. She did, however, provide the message and map of her journey that goes with this scroll. (See below).
And I can too read maps! Here's where I went and how I got there! ~Amarice