The restless air clung to the world, choking every living being with an uncomfortable and sickly warmth. The trees, suffocating within the humidity, longed for the relief of passing breeze to shake them from their agony. The forest hung meekly beneath its oppressor as the morning sun rose further in the sky, adding to the painful circumstances. He birds held their notes, unable to sing through the thick atmosphere, and huddled in the shade to escape the heat. No sound disturbed the preserved discomfort, save for the rapid breath of a young woman (bent over in the underbrush) who was panting and gasping to pull in the hot air. She wheezed, clutching her burning chest and rolling in the dry dirt. A twig snapped near her as loudly as a roar of thunder, shattering the silence and alerting the suffering woman to the danger that surely accompanied the sound. She tumbled further into the bushes, forces her protesting body into motion.
Just as she had successfully concealed herself, three men burst into the forest. They stood mere inches from her hiding place; their boots crept menacingly closer. She fought her torturous pain and the frequent desire to scream out and suffer the consequences. One of the trio, frustrated and worn out, pleaded in vain, "Lets just go back... the Amazon girl is gone." She turned her head in order to get a good look at the man whos impatience might just save her life. Through the numerous leaves an clumped branches, she caught a glimpse of the tired thug. "Ah, come on!" He grabbed a second mans shoulder and urged him in another direction. "Weve got the gold, whadda we need the girl for?" He grinned, his missing teeth and grisly jaw reminding her of her fear. She bit her tongue and clenched her fists until she was sure theyd bleed from the pressure of her nails digging into her palms. She shut her eyes, mildly hopeful that the three would just disappear, engulfed by the overpowering heat.
The third man was not listening to the others; his eyes shifted back and forth over the trees until they settled on the bush the woman had taken shelter in. Her eyes opened wide in shock as he stepped closer, his eye brow raised in curiosity. "Whats this we have here?" He crouched a breath length from her head and pushed part of the bush apart with a harsh motion. "Ah ha!" He plucked a small berry from the mass, popped it into his greedy mouth, and munched, squirting juice onto the ground. He stood up, wiping the ooze from his mouth and grunting happily. "Heh...Lets go. Shes long gone by now, if she knows whats good for her." His companions nodded I agreement before heading eastward, leaving the shaking woman still safely tucked away in the fruitful bush. Her heart threatened to break free and leave her body; its pace shook her rib cage with violent tremors. Gingerly, she allowed her hands to open at her sides and tiny trickles of blood seeped from her self-inflicted wounds. The air seethed through her teeth (making a sharp hiss sound) as she shook her hands, slowly returning circulation to the startled appendages. Her hair was matted to her perspiring forehead, her eyelashes stuck together, and her throat was caked with dry mucus. She coughed roughly and spit out what little good moisture she held; her lips were chapped and reddened. The footsteps grew quiet in the distance and she began to think herself to be alone.
With tentative caution, she forced herself to sit up. Her swollen hands squeezed the earth and shot pain through her bones, the jolt slamming her to the ground again. "Maybe Ill just wait here a minute." she whispered to herself, grimacing as tears cascaded over her cheeks, taking dirt and sweat with them. It was then that she became aware of the growing ache in her stomach, hunger that had carried over from the evening before, that made her feel even weaker. She touched her stomach, willing it into silence. Her head rested against the sticks and pebbles, the dust coated the strands of her hair and filtered into her already struggling lungs. She groaned, writhing and miserable, desperate to get out of her situation. She knew the men had gone, but the fear still lingered over her.
Her throbbing fingers progressed to her pockets where a small bulge made her momentarily forget her pain: a small pouch, black and soft, slipped out into her open hand. The action caused her to wince, her eyes shutting in an attempt to block it out. She flipped the pouch upside down and tugged at the strings, pouring the contents out and scattering them onto the ground. Her left arm, less damaged by her flight than the other, propped her torso up so that she could examine her prize.
"Mmm hmm..." She counted twice and her injuries faded slightly. Chunks of gold and jewelry, mixed in small clumps, glimmered and sparkled as she tossed them about. They fell in her hands and she ignored the sting as they filled her grasp. The payoff (It seemed) was well worth the complaints of her limbs and the laboring of her chest. Her eyes were wide, dazzled by what shed been able to regain. The entire tribe had failed where she alone had succeeded, and the joy filled every part of her.
Her happiness was short lived; the pains returned like ghosts, striking at her with increasing fervor. She had no choice but to remai there until the waves subsided, allowing her to swim out. It felt like death, lying there in the partial shade and splintered rays that punished her sight. She sobbed, her muffled cries mingled with exhausted laughter. "What a way to start the day..." The sarcasm was nothing if not warranted. He let her mind drift to how shed ended up there, in her difficult situation, starting with the latest hours over her life. "Why did I steal this back again?" She watched the glowing gold and jewels with intense thought. The past voices began to fill her head as she was reminded of her motivations.
"Its worth over ten thousand dinars if we get it to the right people." He had said, crouched in the darkness. Shed watched for several hours, hidden by the low and thick trees near the campsite. The others had gone and only two men had stayed behind with the treasures. "Goddam Amazons...Think they run the world. Aught to know their place." The one had said in passing, the other just nodding as he spoke. Shed grown angry with his casual arrogance and became close to killing them both, but she had been given orders to wait for the others. Seconds before she was ready to launch herself on them without re-enforcements, she became aware of a strange sound coming from behind her. It sounded remarkably like screaming. She had turned to see her fellow Amazons running for their lives from an ambush of the bastards and (before they had the chance to catch sight of her) dashed towards the camp and knocked out the two watchmen with a series of quick blows from a daggers end. She snatched the pouch from the arrogant thug and rushed to help her people. She looked all around her, but saw only a few scattered Amazons from the back, running back to the village. She had (inadvertently) been abandoned.
Panic had swept through her as a few of the vagrant men wandered back towards her and their unconscious associates. She had tried to hide some where but they saw her. She ran, but there was no escape. The hands a few men had grappled her and pushed her to the ground. The spit at and kicked her mercilessly as she wriggled on the ground in pain and screamed. They had laughed, which only made her more angry, and she devised a way to save herself as she was taking the horrible blows. Her one leg jutted out and sent one of the men sprawling, taking three others down with him. She rolled to the left and was able to get up before they attacked her again. The tips of her fingers grabbed at a piece of fire wood and she swung with all her might at the on comers, crashing the log into each unlucky mans skull. She dropped the weapon and ran as best she could; her ribs had been bashed in fairly well. It took a good few minutes for the others to recover and come in pursuit of her; hopefully it would be enough time for her to put some distance between them or to find another Amazon to help her.
She had pushed herself beyond her limits, to a level she never knew existed in her, before she had collapsed from the heat and the pain and thrown herself willingly to the ground. The bush had been all that could protect her, as all the Amazons had gotten away uninjured and none were slow enough for her to catch up to in her weakened state.
"All that just for this?" She examined the items again and gazed into the canopy of leaves over her head. The men had given up the hunt, but that would not stop them from stumbling upon her in passing. And once they found out she had the gold... She tried not to think of what would happen then. The sun was almost directly over her and she stirred; only a few hours lay between her and capture. The scouts would come back from town and all hell would break loose. If she couldnt find strength by then, it would be over. "Oh Athena..." She fingered a small pendant wrapped around her slender neck. The image of an owl was carved into the silver plate which hung from a thick, black chord. It was odd; she felt no connection to Artemis like the rest of her companions. Oh, what it had taken just to get that pendant! She smiled, remembering how long it had taken to carve it, how many times shed started over again.
Her eyes were gently closed, the lids settled over her sight to allow her solitude from the environment for her prayer. "Athena..."she said aloud, her words enough to speak of her turmoil to the hidden force to which she cried. "Athena..." she repeated, over and over to enforce her hopes. Her thoughts again drifted to her past. "We have to get it back...at all costs." The words came back through her repeatedly and the volume of her prayer increased with each pass. "Athena....Athena...Athena...Athena...." "Eris, where have you been? Weve been worried sick about you." "Athena...Athena...Athena...Athena...." "Just on a walk, dont worry" The words invading her memory troubled her; she didnt want to remember. "Look, Im sure Xena and Gabrielle will come back." "Its not even about them!" "Then what is it about?" Her heart was racing against her thoughts and neither seemed willing to lose. "Nothings wrong!" "Just talk to me, Eris. Talk to some one!" "No!" She couldnt tell if the screams were coming from her memories or from her own lips, but she smacked her hand to her mouth to stop them no matter where they had originated. The thoughts had stopped but she felt even more confused when they were gone.
The world came back to her only in slow motion; everything was grey and blurry. In the air in front of her, she could make out the form of a bird flying towards her. Looking at it hurt her head so she closed her eyes and waited for it to pass by. She had remained still for what seemed like eternity before opening her eyes again to see the bird swoop upward and alight itself on the bush over her. It appeared to be an abnormally large grey owl, perched and staring at her, with a parchment crinkled in its beak. "Athena?!?" Eris sat up, unaware of the shooting pain all over her body. The parchment floated from the owls open mouth, coming directly to Eriss out stretched hands. She gazed at it in wonder, flipping it over in her hands and barely touching the fragile paper. When she looked up to question the deliverer, the owl had already taken flight. All she saw was the shivering of branches and spiraling leaves heading for the earth. "WAIT! ATHENA PLEASE!" She pushed out her hands as if to urge the owl back to her, grasping the air and nothing more.
Disappointed, she flopped back to her original position the letter resting in her lap. It felt warm through her skirt and spread a strange sensation to the very tips of her fingers and toes. The pain in her traveled with the warmth and flowed away with each exhale and new breath.
She gasped as the last remnants faded. Her legs were crossed, her arms rested across her knees, reminiscent of a meditation position. The letter, vibrant and still warm, looked up at her from her lap, glowed invitingly. She cautiously shifted her hand, amazed at the lack of pain in the sensitive digits, and touched the fragile parchment. She felt a flash of warmth again, stronger than the pleasant one that relieved her just seconds before, and she pulled away. With a deep breath, she took it up with both hands and searched it for a name or a seal to identify its sender but found none. The seal was simple and black, an arrow pointing upwards to the sky. It was unfamiliar to her.
The envelope then opened of its own accord and startled her. "What is this?" She thought, as the letter unfolded and offered it words to her. She hastily read the first few lines, her suspicion of the letter being drowned in the contents. She could hardly register it all at once; she read and re-read each piece one at a time before moving on to the next. When she had finally championed the entire text, she sat back and released a long sigh, thinking on the tremendous information she had just assimilated. Her fingers found their way to the letter and she couldnt help but peak at the words again. She scanned it a few more times before setting the letter on the ground, generally satisfied and believing that it was authentic. When her mind finally began to register it all, she could say very little but managed to sputter to herself, "No Way..."
The door opened with a squeal and she sneaked in unseen, closing the massive door behind her. The ground was cold, a remarkable change from the congested heat of the day. Her feet made soft smudging sounds as she progressed along a lengthy patch of ground into the main part of the village. It was sad to her, remembering the building of the gate to protect them. Yet, even she was sneaking in through it now. Where were the guards?
She heard movement to her one side and followed it, hoping it was someone she knew. The form came towards her in the dark and threw up a staff. "What are you doing in the village of the Amazons!" She struck at Eris, unable to recognize her in the darkness. Her first instincts were to counter and attack, but she dodged and spun to the left. She pivoted and took the girls staff from her. "Its me! Eris!" The girl gasped and stepped back to see her in the moon light. "Oh by the Gods!" She came closer to her and mumbled her apology. "Guess its a good thing that Im not so great with a staff yet, huh?" Eris handed her the weapon and ushered her towards the huts. "Eris, everyone has been looking all over for you." The familiar words rang a little loudly in her head and she hushed the girl. "I know...but thats because I was getting back this."
Even without seeing it, she knew Eris held the gold pouch between her fingers. "Eris! You did it?!? How didnt they catch you?" Eris laughed and pocketed the pouch. "Oh, but they did." The girl was in awe and riddled Eris with rampant questions. "How did you escape? Were you hurt? Did someone help you? Did they hurt you?" She grabbed her arm "Are you injured, Eris? I can help you!" Eris laughed a little inside and then quieted the girl again. "Im fine. Dont worry..." They entered a hut and sat down on the rug. "Is everyone else out looking for me?" The girl nodded, her dark features evident in the light. She was small and a bit scrawny. She had a bright face inside the dark black ringlets that framed it and her eyes were an amazing green; Eris watched her and smiled. "Hmm...Whats your name?" It was odd for her not to remember a name in their small tribe, but she asked any way. The girl grinned at the chance to speak. "Mieoki" she said immediately. Eris pondered, it was a strange name for an Amazon.
Mieoki noticed her expression and explained.
"I was taken by slave traders when I was very young. They sent me to the eastern lands and changed my name....I dont remember what it was anymore." Eris nodded and sympathized. "I understand...How did you get out? The Amazons dont stretch out that far." The girl cringed a little and Eris relented "Im sorry... You dont need to explain." Mieoki sat up a little more and answered anyway. "I was taken by a warlord named Borias and he...made my life comfortable in ways...but hard in others." The remembrance was blazing in her eyes; she turned away. "Dont go any further Mieoki, its alright." "And then, whe..when we got close to the port one day...we were going to leave and...I ran..." She hugged herself and Eris hurried to her side, wrapping her arms around her gently. "Its alright...its alright." Mieoki shuddered and dismissed her, "I know...its behind me now." She straightened up and spoke more formally, her voice full of faltering pride. "Im an Amazon now."
The door of the hut flew open and a few Amazons scrambled in and slammed it shut again. "Eris?" A few of them recognized her and leapt to see her more closely. "By the Gods, weve been looking for you! Those men have been swarming all over the place. We thought theyd gotten you..." The speaker hugged her tightly and rubbed her shoulders. "Either way I thought you would have been gone by now." Eris pulled herself from another Amazons embrace to address her. "What do you mean by that?" She looked hurt and a little shocked. "Well, the letter that came. The queen....she told us you were leaving us. Thats why we were searching for you. We wanted to make sure you got out okay." Eris looked at her blankly and shook her head. "I dont think Im leaving Daini..." The woman put her hands on Eriss shoulders again and assured her otherwise. "Eris, your place is not here with us! You will always be an Amazon, no matter where you go, but your fate is elsewhere."
She embraced her again and grabbed her hand. She whispered to her softly, "It is the will of Athena..." The words flooded her mind with aged ones that had all but disappeared: "You worship who you want to Eris. Athena is a goddess to us...we just feel more for Artemis. There is nothing wrong with being different. Youre a true Amazon, and we will always love you for that." She smiled mildly, forcing back tears. "Come on, those guys are to close to the village. Weve got to get you out of here." Eris took her offered hand and got up. Daini turned around the room and spied Mieoki in the corner.
"Mieoki, go to the stables and take Thela out. Grab one of the emergency food bags and a water flask. You know where they are, go." Eris protested, but was not quick enough to grab Mieoki as she left. Instead, she pulled Daini closer and whispered to her. "Daini...I cant take Thela. Shes the best horse you have." Daini shook her head and refused to listen. "Yeah, but none of the rest of us can ride her..." She laughed this and pushed Eris towards the back exit. Mieoki had already made her way to the stall and was busily pulling things from the shelves. Daini thrust a pack into Eriss chest and helped Mieoki put a saddle on Thela. "All your things are in there." Eris held the pack, slightly confused. It was all moving to fast.
"Daini" she called to her, pulling the black pouch from her pocket. "Its all here" She threw it to her and she held it up by the strings. She turned it over and dumped its contents into her hands. As she saw each piece fall into her palm, she grew more excited and amazed. She plucked a single piece from the pile and looked at it in the low light. "Eris, how did you ever get it all back?!? You even got the rings!" Eris blushed and prayed that the night would hide her face. The string of the pouch looped around Dainis index finger and the pouch swung slowly. Eris scratched her head as Daini continued. "Now I understand why Athena has done what she has for you. You will be greater than all of us someday, Eris." She smiled and suddenly knew her embarrassment was more than evident; she stepped towards Thela and mounted the horse with a good swing.
"Well do our best to keep them at bay for your escape." Eris was worried for their fates more than her own and watched Daini nervously as she left. "Good luck Eris." With that and a final wink, she departed. Mieoki went to follow moments later, but the sound of men and dogs told her to stay put. She sprawled onto the floor to avoid being seen through the windows of the stall. Eris jumped off Thela and slipped next to the door frame. She peered out a small crack and watched the party come near; the fear from the underbrush rushed back to her. A hunting dog bounded into the clearing and her line of view. "Shoot!" She crawled back to Mieoki and wrapped her arms around her. "Theyve got hunting dogs. We dont have much time." She heaved her to her feet and they pushed their way through the dirt and hay back to Thela.
"Oh no, the fruit!" The sack of food Mieoki held was torn at the bottom; she held it closed and cried to Eris. "What will you do?" Eris listened as the sound of dogs barking outside and the men yelling grew threateningly close and shook the air around them like an earth quake. Eris swiftly threw herself back onto the horse and put out her hand to Mieoki. "Lets go." She was stunned and just stared at her hand. "Mieoki, lets go!" She was becoming fearful; there was no time for freezing. "Mieoki, Ill have to ride out with you and drop you off when were a safe distance away." "No..no, I have to stay." "Youll die if you stay!" Eris wouldnt wait for her to be murdered so she grasped her hand and threw her over the back of the saddle.
"YA!" She kicked the horses sides and they burst from the stable, the bit and reigns hap-hazardly caught as they rode out and chocked Thela as she fastened them. Thela broke the stable doors with her front legs, shattering the wood, splintered pieces flying at the unfortunate men closest to the small building. The torch light burst around them; Eris pushed Thela as much as she could, unable to offer mercy to the beast. One of the gang members chased after them, shooting an arrow after the riders. The air was sliced, the arrow head cutting through and reaching its target. Eris breathed as the tip cut into flesh, blood trickling into the atmosphere. Mieoki cried out, grasping her screaming shoulder, and collapsed over the rear.
The sky tore open before them, the horse reared frantically, and a few vagrant arrows soared far off course. Eris touched the then unconscious body and urged the beast to the edge of safety. The calls and screaming wood became a memory behind them as struggling limbs scrambled over the ground. Eriss lungs burned as if on fire; the reigns flickered sharply. The earth vanished beneath galloping hooves, a blur to her tired and strained eyes. A low moan behind her replenished the tortured muscles; the port couldnt be far.
"Hold on Mieoki....Hold on..." She wouldnt risk looking back despite the miles she was steadily putting between herself and the threat of piercing metal. The shaft and tail swung sickly from the bleeding arm. She turned away from the sight, a sickness welling in the pit of her stomach. She feared what could be on the notched head buried in her bicep that (perhaps) was spreading through her vulnerable body. "Eris?" Mieoki moaned through her haze, not really knowing if she was there or not. "Youre gonna be okay." Eris kicked Thela in the sides again, the haste adding to her climbing worry. "Youre gonna be okay.
The time passed painfully as Byzantium vanished, giving way to the port towns on the edge of the Black Sea. They sliced through the outskirts and cut a path to the docks by force. Thela dashed and darted over benches and people alike to reach the ships before dawn. Peasants scattered and cursed at them as they went by, taking little care as to the damage they did in their progress. Soon, though, the docks poured out before them and Eris spotted the ship that was described in the letter.
"Sir! SIR!!! WAIT!!!" Eris shouted desperately, waving the envelope in the air and pulling the reigns tight. A long, brown ship yawned into the sea and rocked as crewmen yanked the ramp on board. The captain watched as a young woman on a speckled horse jumped frantically about and raced towards the ship. The seal glimmered off the envelope, flashing fire light into his eyes. He waited giving no sign of recognition, and watched the Amazon girl work. Eris clutched a chunk of the fabric hanging loosely off Thelas side, braced herself, and bucked her hips. Thela broke into a sprint and left the shaking wood behind. The air slicked back her mane and whistled in her ears; Eris closed her eyes and prayed to Athena.
She felt a sudden thud and opened her eyes to look at the bewildered crewmen who had just barley escaped their landing. Eris spun the horse round and glowered at the unamused captain who was descending from the upper deck towards her. He removed the broad hat that shaded his face to reveal a sullen, emaciated man with a deep scar along his right cheek bone.
"You are the friend of the warrior woman?", he asked, a voice of depth and tortured past wrinkling the words. She nodded, disgusted and intrigued by his grotesque appearance, but remained silent. Deep red life was dripping from her legs and bathed Mieokis arm. She dismounted and dragged her companion from the saddle. "Your friend...she is hurt." Again, she remained quiet as the nearest man took Mieoki from Eris and walked up to the captain who examined the wound. Eris observed him, watching like a hawk. The captain whispered to the carrier and he nodded, heading into the lower decks. The captain stepped towards Eris and put out his gnarled hand. "Olen. And you?" She dismissed his hand momentarily and resisted the urge to spit at him. "You saw us, I know it." He laughed and retracted his hand. "Yes, but I had to be sure you were her. I cant just be taking random Amazons on my ship." She flashed the letter at him and glared. "This wouldnt have been enough for you?!?" She tucked it back into her belt and headed after Mieoki.
"Im Eris. That girl is Mieoki." She halted at the first step down and turned to him, summoning all the courage in her and a fairly intimidating expression. "Youre taking us to Orlandopolis but it doesnt mean we have to see each other." She went to leave and added, quietly, "At all...." She tossed a pouch to him and he plucked it off the deck. The blue velvet held a few glints of metal and jewel. "Your payment, Olen." She pushed down the guilt and sneered at him, attempting to dispel her feelings onto him. "Enjoy it..." She slipped down stairs, ready to wait out the entire trip alone in her room.
The stairs stopped abruptly and led to a suffocating hall, doors parallel to each other only a few feet or so apart. It was unnecessary to search through the rooms; one door was already open and lamp light streamed out onto the floor. A long shadow disrupted the glow, moving back and forth with the swaying ship. A scream pierced her ears and she pounded the wood, careening into the room. She slammed into the man leaning over Mieoki and fell to her, holding her up. "Are you okay?" "Hey! I was helping her!" The arrow shaft was on the floor and a hot poker was simmering next to it. Mieoki was unconscious again (undoubtably from the excruciating procedure) and her head lulled in the crook of her arm. The light spattered across her cheek and hid her eyes in the shadows. Eris hid her face from the man and held Mieoki tightly.
"Its okay..." She was unsure if Mieoki could hear her or not, but the low murmurs were comforting to her in her embarrassment. "Shell be out for a bit." The man crouched next to her and checked the wound before getting up to leave. "You get some rest too."he said, apparently not taking her reaction to heart, "Weve got a long trip ahead of us." He rapped on the door frame and slipped out, rubbing his head gingerly. Eris kicked the door shut behind him and cradled her new responsibility. How was she going to get her home? She hadnt planned on taking anyone with her. She hadnt even planned on venturing from Byzantium. She had become content where she was, gotten over the issue of Xena and Gabrielle, and made a good life for herself. It was the first time shed been able to think on the circumstances and she was becoming home sick already.
The blanket was crumpled around the bed near her; she pushed Mieoki up on it and pulled the blanket around her as best she could before crawling in herself. The steady swaying soon sent her to sleep, but her dreams were dark and troubling. The fear of what was to come and what might never be plagued her. Her body seized and shook as fearful images of death and manifested anger that were undistinguishable blurs across her consciousness. The gentle fee of the ship faded in favor of the frightening flashes in her mind and she screamed, ripping herself from sleep. She had wailed aloud right out of her nightmare and was afraid shed awoken her companion, but she was still asleep beside her. Pain crackled in her chest with the strange sounds coming from outside of the tiny room. She didnt know how long she had slept, but it appeared to still be night through the port hole. She propped up uncomfortably on her palms which made her wrists ache with weakness. She swung her feet over the edge of the bed and brushed away the hair from her face; her lungs heaved air in and out and she cringed in discomfort. The sea air was not the best for her.
The floor creaked as she tip-toed out of the bed, transferring her weight slowly over the boards. The door opened almost silently (to her relief) and Mieoki continued to sleep, her face in an expression of slumbering peace. She caught site of the dried blood on the sheets before she could creep out into the narrow hallway. Sounds washed over her as she turned out of the room and her boots dipped into a small pool of water. It was raining.
The volume increased tenfold once she crossed over the edge of the stairs and the scene made parts of her dream become resurrected. "Put that sail over and down!" Men were scrambling around each other; yells came from all sides and water splashed all around them. Her head whipped around the ship: An immense black cloud loomed overhead, light screeched across the frothing water and blinded her temporarily. Waves were encroaching on the sides of the ship with increasing ferocity as each new crash dispersed water over everything.
"LAND!" A cry spiraled down from the eagles nest and all hands fastened to some part of the ship. The entire ship jerked at random, sending people and objects flying across the deck. Eris spun, her hair slicked over her brow and covering her eyes, and ran towards the lower decks. She gasped and suddenly felt light; se was weightless. Everything was warm around her and the world faded away...
Feeling seeped back into her consciousness and she felt herself call out through the bitter taste in her mouth. "Mieoki?" Her head was aching. She spat and blood choked her; she called again. "Mieoki!" Sand wrapped around her body and foam cloudy her sight. Water was every where. Eris knelt, trying to understand what was going on, where she was, what had happened. A sickness ran up her throat and hot liquid drained from her lips. "Oh, by the Gods..." She wiped the vomit away and collapsed into the water and sand.
"Pick her up. Ill get the other one." Eris heard voices around her; she had no idea how long shed blacked out. Time, in essence, had become lost to her. Days could have gone by but she would know no better than if shed just fallen to the earth from the sky. Her connection to reality was only temporary and became misted by the sand and water; she slipped back to the odd, weightless feeling again. "Lets go." The three women who were scouring the beach had rescued Eris and Mieoki from the water and pulled them further ashore. Their clothing was ornate yet functional: dark colors and earthy tones melded with their bodies which varied in color from olive to pure white. Smooth muscle barely tensed as they drew Eris from the ground. They mumbled to one another excitedly as they recognized their similar garments. The two rushed back to the third who was taking care of Mieoki. "Arta, this one is definitely an Amazon."
One of the women (presumably Arta) spoke sharply to the others as they dragged Eris further. "Well take her to Tamala with the other one." She mentioned nothing of the comment about her being an Amazon. The girls saw the other girl and seemed puzzled. "She looks like an Athenian priestess... but shes young." The other nodded, agreeing with her speculation. Arta ignored them both and continued her instructions. "The horse we found... its probably hers too. Lead it up and well throw them both over it." She picked up Mieoki and headed towards Thela, who was turned about in the sand, confused and frightened.
The younger girls tried to hide their joy at their findings. "That one", one said, pointing at Mieoki, "She has the markings on her forearm. She has to be a priestess." They smiled at each other and caught up with Arta. The sky still bore down angrily over them with threats of further rage. The two Amazons didnt notice the danger, they were lingering on thoughts of the two strangers.
"Arta, what if shes...you know..." Arta dismissed the inquiry, deferring to the imminent return of the storm. "Tamala is waiting and these clouds..." she breathed deeply and turned to them, stopping momentarily, "Wed better hurry." Her companions masked their disappointment (though not well) and shared the load of the girl in question. They whispered to each other along the way, not needing the path they had traveled on since birth. Eris swung between their arms; Mieoki was over Artas shoulders. Her arm was saturated by salt and blood had permanently colored the skin below the wound. Thela came willingly as they threw Eris and Mieoki over her back, feeling safe in seeing her master. Elephant leaves hung like blankets over the tree branches and stuck to them all as they walked beneath the jungle ceiling.
Deep inside the wild, the rain did not come. The stretched trees blocked the droplets with their broad arms and drank up the excess passively. A gate way flowed open as if by magic and the two new Amazons stepped in front of the party. "Arta?" One seemed to recognize her. She nodded and gestured towards the miniature caravan with her right hand, nearly letting Mieoki fall off the horse with the motion. The other guard tipped to one side in order to look past Arta and at the foreigners. "Them?"she asked simply. Arta pushed through the two women and opened the gate. "Im taking them to Tamala." she said it as a statement of fact; no one would dispute it. The signs on the unconscious women sent the guards minds reeling with ideas as to who they were. "Is it her?" One ventured her question directly to Arta, but received no answer. She had already pushed her way into the village, leading Thela with an aggressive will and strong hand. Smoke was drifting from the largest square hut, which was inside a circle of smaller sporadically organized ones. There were windows on each side which (at that moment) were blocked with thick wooden slabs latched to the outer walls. Arta pounded on the door, not waiting for any response before stepping back and letting the huts occupant come out.
"Who is it?" The impatience in the barely feminine voice struck them all hard; she was angry. Arta re-situated Mieoki on the saddle and answered. "Weve returned from the coast. There were two women...and a horse." she peered at Eris and added, as if an after thought, "I think one is an Amazon." The door swung open with these words, the cold wind tore inward. Through the door way stepped a large, gruff woman. She was comparatively beautiful, but her mass was enough to offset the balance between beauty and brawn. A thick, long, brown cloak swayed around her, much to warm for the humid weather in Byzantium, but well suited to the present chill.
"Where?" she asked, her eyes darting nervously. "Where is she?" The two women next to the horse trembled uncontrollably, all of their Amazon disciplines vanishing as the broad woman pushed Arta out of her way to look at Mieoki. "Shes a priestess of Athena, doesnt mean she is one of us. Thela shifted under the weight and Arta reluctantly pointed to Eriss swaying body. "She.." She pulled her from the saddle, heaving her to the ground. "She is the one, my queen." Tamalas eyes in fearful amazement at the sight: hanging braids, gently crafted leather and integrated metal with damaged (but recognizable) feathers. But this didnt give proof. Tamala knelt and looked at the body as Arta turned her over. Her chest, partially exposed, bore the mark of Athena etched into the right breast. "By Artemis and Athena..." She stood quickly and moved herself a few feet from the body. She tucked her hair behind her ears, a few free curls swaying in her face, and bit her bottom lip until it was bright red. Her hands shuffled over each other fretfully; she wiped some perspiration from her brow.
"This still isnt certain." she assured ( more to herself, really ) the others around her. "We wait until she wakes up before...doing anything rash." Fear coursed through her as she gave her orders. "Take them to the extra shed, bring some skins and mats." An Amazon behind her protested softly to such treatment. "Tamala, I will give my dwelling for the...,"she chose her words carefully, not wanting to cause trouble if she could avoid it, "for the visitors..." Tamala looked her over quickly but was unable to really give it much thought. She simply nodded in her direction and Arta headed towards her. A nearby watcher shook her head and whispered to her friend, "This wont be good." The procession followed the woman in a somber line to one of the huts. All eyes were on the troupe; everything was silent.
"Theres not much room, as you know." The young lady stuttered happily as she led them into her home. She suddenly took on a formal air as they passed over the thresh hold. "I wont have Tamala treat her like a prisoner. Shes...well...we assume." "We assume nothing." Arta barked at her, the first words she had attempted since entering the home. She recoiled, seeing the unconscious woman as more important than her own safety amongst the Amazons. "Dont you get like her, Arta. Youre not destined to die." Arta cringed at the words and lowered Mieoki to the bed mat. She rose, her head down, a dark expression on her face. "Youd do yourself and us all well to bite your tongue, Danlia." Her fists were clenched and icy sweat slipped across her knuckles. "We dont know anything until they wake up. We know nothing yet." She sat in the middle of the floor and stared at the ground as if to collect her wandering thoughts there. The others were filing out of the room to take Thela to the stalls.
Danlia and Arta watched their guests sleep; Danlia wondered mildly what Arta was thinking of her. "I dont want to fight..",she murmured in honesty, "I just...." She sighed and sat next to Mieoki on the bed mat and crossed her legs. "I just dont see how you can dispute it." She flopped her hands into her lap and waited for some sort of response from Arta, but she was interested in conversation. Her fellow Amazon laid on the floor ( a good distance from both of the strangers) and pulled a blanket over herself. Danlia rubbed her ankles together, frustrated with the antisocial woman in her home. "When do you think they will wake up?" She sent out the question half-heartedly in hopes that it would spark a response. Arta faked sleep and ignored her question. Danlia, resigned to her silent fate, curled up on the ground nearest Mieoki and stared blankly at the ceiling. She tucked her arms behind her head as a pillow and listened to the steady breathing of the foreigners. Arta tossed on the ground, obviously uncomfortable, but unwilling to get onto the mat. Danlia fought actually fought her sleep but soon gave in; the day had been hard for all of them and maintaining the village in the storm had been just short of impossible. Arta, too, soon succumbed to the comforting arms of sleep.
The smoky haze had not lifted when she awoke from her blank dreams and into a world more unfamiliar to her than then peace in her dreams. She sat up and searched the room for Mieoki. Her back ached a little from the unsupportive mat underneath her, but she was alright. Mieoki seemed better than before; she smiled. Two women laid on the ground at her sides and both seemed in a deep sleep. She eased her way out of the bed and over to Mieokis side to rouse her.
"Mieoki... Mieoki...Come on, wakeeee wakeeee..." "Mmm..Mmmph.." She turned on her side, not wanting to get up. She probably still thought she was in the bed of the ship that now lay splintered on the ocean floor. Eris was curious as to who the women around her were. They looked remarkably like Amazons...
"Hey, youre awake!" Danlia rose and bowed before Eris. She laughed at her until she realized she was completely serious. "Danlia!" Another woman ran into the hut and glanced at Eris and Mieoki suspiciously before giving her news. "Danlia, Tamala had taken ill. They dont think shes going to make it..." Danlia shook Arta violently and forced her to get up and listen. "Arta, Its Tamala." Her eyes filled with tears and she got up without hesitation, leaving Eris and the others alone. Danlia and the other girl locked eyes and understood each other. "Come, Amazon. You are to meet your destiny soon."
Eris obediently followed her (partially in curiosity, partially in fear of retaliation if she refused) and yanked Mieoki up with her. "Hey hey!" she sputtered as she was forcibly taken from her comfort zone. They all ran in a strand towards the main hut. A gathering of women were already crowded outside and in the first room, but Eris was dragged past them, still hanging on to Mieokis wrist.
"Oh Tamala..." Arta fell to her knees at the sight of her queen, laying on her broad oak bed, not stirring as she placed her hands over her chest. The healers were standing near the bed as Arta addressed her. "Tamala... they are awake. We will be alright. The new queen will protect us." Eris felt the room close in as they all looked to her when Arta spoke. Arta continued though tears and sobs. "Well be alright, Tamala...you have fulfilled your destiny." Tamalas eyes were barely open, but she summoned enough strength to speak, but Arta had to lean closer in order to hear her. No others heard the whisper of her dying breath, but the words she spoke sent Arta running from the room in heavy weeping. The others motioned for them to leave; Eris gladly led the way. Mieoki was terrified as it was the first person shed ever seen pass away before her eyes.
As soon as they had exited, the entire congregation of women flowed to Eris. They bowed before her and she stood back, confused and a little scared at their actions. "All hail the new queen!" Many of the Amazons bowed, but some stayed up. One of the non-conformists spoke up against their acts of adoration. "How do we know fro sure that she is the one of the prophecy?" Eris looked to find the woman who had spoken and directed her question to her. "Excuse me, but what are you talking about?" She sternly looked back at Eris and answered from her memory as if she were reading from a text right in front of her. "And the storm shall swallow the carrier of the one and she will be brought to us. The queen shall pass on to allow us to be brought into the new era...." Eris watched her and all the others become quite serious. What could she do? She had no idea where she was or who they were...and she began to doubt he chances at ever reaching Orlandopolis.
"We will have the challenge!" An uproar of agreement spread rapidly through them all and Eris again had to have the situation explained. The girl who had answered before saw her expression and helped her again. "In the prophecy handed to us by Athena, the new queen would be able to kill the champion of the village in a one-on-one battle. If you can do that, you become queen." Eris balked at the idea, seeing an easy way out. "Actually, Id rather hand it down to the person who rightfully deserves it." All of the Amazons seemed to view her comment as a disgrace and Eris soon retracted it. "But, I will do as Athena commands." The woman seemed happier, but not completely satisfied. The hours to come would be filled with the blood of at least one soul and decide ( in many of their minds) the fate of them all.
"This is crazy Eris! You dont owe anything to these people. They may be Amazons, but they are not our people!" Mieoki tried to convince Eris not to fight, but she could do nothing to stop her. She had already been fitted with new clothes and a set of weapons to take on the champion of the tribe; there was no turning back. Eris pulled her wrist guards up and looked at Mieoki sadly. "Mieoki...I have to do this...it... I have too." "But why?!?!" she asked, almost yelling at her. "Why?!?!" Eris grabbed her and kissed her forehead gently, calming her down. She pulled a piece of crumbling paper from her belt and gave it to her softly. "This will explain everything, Mieoki." She looked at the paper and could find no words as Eris left, possibly for the last time.
The sound of the Amazons chanting came to ears and light flooded her vision with faces and masks. A ring was set up and a small woman stood inside. The room began to sway and the Amazons chanted as she entered the ring, parting two woman on the inside of the circle. "Make us proud Arta!" Some of the women stood behind the champion who was glaring at Eris with a strange mix of fear, anger, and relief. She seemed ready to die. Eris pulled a dagger from her boot and waited for Arta to attack, but she merely circled. She used the end of the dagger to punch at her stomach, each blow finding its mark easily. She took out her legs in one swing; she laid on the ground and did not attempt to rise. Eris waited for her to get up, to counter or at least defend herself, but she would not rise. The defecters were crying "Its not right! Its not a fair fight!" and assured they would refuse the results of the match. Eris counted twice over in her head to ten before going after Arta. Finally, she drove with her blade nearest Artas heart.... but stopped. Arta had made no attempt to move. The match was fixed. She wanted to die.
Eris threw down her weapon and commanded her voice be heard. "I wont do this!" she cried, "I will not kill an innocent woman!" "But it is Amazon law!" Many of the Amazons protested and the ring shrunk around her as if to intimidate her into fighting. "No, listen!" she commanded again, "I have come from Athena!" All voices hushed and they allowed her to speak. "I come with words of Athena.." she sighed, lowering her volume. "You dont have to kill anyone to find your savior and new queen. Because shes.." "Right here." Mieoki stepped into the ring and took up Eriss dagger. With it, she cut her left arm deeply and drew the blade up to her chin. There was no blood. "I am your new queen." She said gently, helping Arta from the floor. "But..but she said...when she died..." Mieoki grabbed Arta and spoke out to the tribe. "Tamala told you that you would see death before life." She gasped; the crowd was in awe of her knowledge. She continued on as they hung on her every word. "But the death you will see is not one of blood shed..." she drew the dagger and emphasized that she could not be harmed unless she wanted to be, "But one of rebirth." She threw done the dagger and her arms shot out at her sides. She tilted her head back and light poured from her like water from a fountain. The form of the young girl vanished, engulfed by the light, to reveal a firm woman with brown hair and piercing eyes. An owl perched on her forearm and a shield hung on her back. "Athena?" Arta moved towards her and dared to touch her face. She took the touch gratefully in exchange for the purifying heat that flowed freely from her.
Arta stood back and watched as light bathed her as well, taking the pain of her soul from her. Athena turned to the Amazons, her people and a part of her, and allowed her owl to fly off an land next to Eris. "This woman has brought me here to you, but she is not your queen!" Eris watched in amazement as Athena looked into each of their hearts at one glance. The room was full of a wonderful warm light and Eris could not dwell on how she had discovered Mieokis identity. It was simple to her, the words slipping back: "a warlord named Borias..." She would never have known that name otherwise; he had never kept women around except for Xena. The rest had come to her in pieces but it had come none the less. The fact that shed never seen her before in the village, the speed at which her wound healed, the amazing fact that they and Thela had survived the storm and landed here...it was to perfect to be coincidental. Athena seemed to hear her thoughts as she walked over to her side. The wings of the owl blocked the light from her eyes and allowed her to see only Athena. She felt a warmth and heard her voice in her head.
"Go now, Eris. You have begun the salvation of the Amazon nation. You have well earned your reward." Her face began to blur and Eris reached out for her as she had desperately reached for the owl so long ago. She flew from her and darkness came to Eris again, but this black environment was not the cold nothingness she had experienced before. It was soft and gentle with her, life a dark blanket carrying her to some place where she could be happy. The sweet feeling lingered on for what seemed like only a few seconds when she opened her eyes to let the world back in. The blanket released her into the world, a flurry of feathers and light coming out all around her and into the air.
"Good bye Eris.." She heard the angelic voice leave her mind and she did not fight it; she felt so peaceful... She opened her eyes to see the owl flying away into the trees, leaves and swaying the tell-tale signs of her departure. Eris spun in a circle before looking all around her. She knew for sure where she was, but that did not matter. A bold sign hung just a few meters from where she stood, hanging over what looked like the gate to a city. She read I excitedly and rushed towards the gate. A young man with flowers thrust a daisy into her hands as she ran and she threw him a dinar (from where, she did not know) and he yelled after her happily, "Welcome to Orlandopolis milady! Enjoy your stay!"
Return to the Academy