A decent boldness ever meets with friends. - Homer, Odyssey (VII, 67)
Tartessos. By Theia, what a dump.
I suppose it was my own fault; I should’ve known better than to trust Derinoe. She was always restless, constantly talking about leaving Amazonia to see Man’s World before being tied down with children and a farm. Besides, she pointed out, in peacetime there wasn’t exactly any way for us to distinguish ourselves as warriors, which meant that we’d either be stuck tilling our mothers’ fields or having to endure the back-breaking labor of clearing new land without slaves, since we had neither war in which to capture them nor money with which to buy them from the traders. And though I couldn’t argue with any of that, something told me that signing on as mercenaries to fight in a war at (literally) the edge of the world probably wasn’t an idea which came straight from Metis. Yet I ignored my misgivings and let Derinoe fill my head full of stories about the Silver Kingdom and the riches we were sure to win.
So now I’m stranded among barbarians with neither money nor food nor knowledge of the gibberish they speak in this benighted land; Derinoe and the others are all dead, and I haven’t the faintest clue of how to get home even if I cared to endure months of travel on one of those awful galleys (a method of transportation so dangerous and uncomfortable only a man could’ve invented it), which I most certainly don’t. Riding the whole way would be out of the question even if I had a horse, because all I know is that Amazonia lies in the direction of the sunrise and that nearly every nation between here and Colchis is hostile; though I trust my skill with sword and bow, I also know the difference between confidence and suicide.
If I were still a girl I would cry, but I’m a grown woman of seventeen and our goddesses expect Amazon warriors to have courage in the face of adversity. I can’t just sit here feeling sorry for myself and dwelling on my misfortunes; I need to take stock of my assets. Let’s see; my wounds are quite minor, my helmet and shield are undamaged and my sword is vastly superior to any of the crude excuses for weapons I’ve seen in the past few months. My bow is in good condition and I still have (six, seven) eight arrows before I have to start hunting materials to make more, which won’t be easy in a city (assets, now, not liabilities!) And I have the protective talisman my mother gave me before I left. Oh, and when fighting men I have the advantage of surprise because they expect me to be as soft and useless as these frail Western wenches.
But that’s about it. And I’m hungry now. I can hear the noises of the marketplace from here, and though I’m sure I could probably steal a melon or a loaf of bread I won’t disgrace Amazon honor by stooping to common thievery; I’ll just have to hike out of the city and carefully stalk some game. That’ll give me food for at least a few meals, assuming I can find something bigger than a rabbit or one of these filthy sea birds that foul this whole city with their noisome droppings. There now, that’s a plan at last, thank Metis! Now to figure out which is the quickest way out of town; I think if I follow this large and well-travelled road from the marketplace I’m bound to come to a gate sooner rather than later.
How now, what is that racket? Even in a place where people habitually shout at one another, that sounds like trouble. Well, it won’t hurt to take a look and…NO! I know these people’s ways are different from ours, but this just can’t be right; this girl is no warrior, yet a man beats her as one would beat a dog who had stolen sausages. By Themis, I cannot ignore this! It’s over in an instant; the drunken fool never hears my approach, and before he can strike the terrified girl twice more I lay him low with a sharp blow to his head from the edge of my shield. As he collapses to the ground, his victim’s eyes grow wide and she looks back and forth from him to me as if she doubts the evidence of her senses.
Within moments, I am surrounded by other women, chattering like a pack of squirrels in their incomprehensible gobbledygook. They’re pointing at my weapons and looking at my fallen foe, and though I can tell from their inflections they’re asking me questions I just shake my head and hold my arms wide in exasperation. Suddenly, out of the meaningless sounds I hear a few recognizable words; they are spoken in the tongue of Crete, whose people come often to our land to trade! I immediately turn to the woman who spoke them and let her know that I understand her. The others quickly grow quiet, and she says that the women are grateful to me for saving their friend and that they wish me to stay for dinner.
As my interpreter conducts me inside, she tells me (I think) that her education enabled her to guess my race, and she asks how I came to be so far from my native shores. I explain as best I can in my limited command of her tongue, and she repeats it in Tarshi to their captain, to whom I have been presented. Before long we eat, and though the Cretan woman tries to explain what kind of place this is, and why the man was assaulting the hapless girl, I am not quite sure that I understand. There is no word in the Amazon language to name this place or the trade of those who live here, and when she eventually gets me to understand that men pay these women generously just to mate with them for an hour I decide that the men of the Outer World are all quite mad. But mad or not, I exclaim a prayer of thanksgiving when the Cretan, on instruction from her captain, offers me employment here as a guard at a wage five times that I was promised as a mercenary!
Later that evening, my belly full, I do my best to learn a few words of their babble while on duty in the atrium, watching the women’s customers come and go; only once are my services needed, and even then my scowling presence is enough to cow the fat little man into what I take to be an apology to the woman he had apparently threatened. The Cretan has apparently been assigned to teach me, for she remains with me all night and patiently explains (through constant repetition and rephrasing until I understand) some of the strange things that men pay the girls for beside mating. She even tells me that tomorrow I will be paid a bonus equal to half of my daily wages if I agree to whip a customer as one whips a disobedient slave, in other words to hurt but not injure. Obviously I must not understand correctly; I’m sure I’ll grasp it better when the time comes. But one thing is for certain: in spite of herself, poor Derinoe set me on the right track after all. In a few years I will be able to return home far wealthier than most women my age, without having to live in filthy camps or face death every day to accomplish it.