Do thou restrain the haughty spirit in thy breast, for better far is gentle courtesy. - Homer, Iliad (IX, 315-317)
Last June I published “A Decent Boldness”, in which I introduced Aella, a young Amazon warrior of the mythic past; the story proved so popular a number of readers requested a sequel. Well, the Muse has finally inspired me with another of her adventures; if you haven’t read the first story yet, I urge you to do so before proceeding with this one because it’ll make a lot more sense that way.
Hecate take me for my damnable overconfidence!
Phaedra wanted to go by ship, but I said no, I hate the cursed things, and though your home be on an island I want to make as much of the journey safely on land as possible. My four years at the brothel had allowed me to earn not only wealth, but also knowledge; once word of my presence got around Tartessos a group of kindly scholars began to frequent the place, and I was as interested in learning from them as they were from me. When I heard that the ancient homeland of my people lay just on the other side of the Pillars of Herakles, I yearned to visit it before returning to our modern domain on the eastern shores of Tethys; and truth be told, had I not had that excuse I would have found another to avoid being cooped up for weeks in close quarters on a frail thing of wood with a lot of rude, smelly men.
I convinced her to ride with me as far as Rehoboth or Graea, where we could surely book a comparatively-short passage to Crete; I painted a lovely picture of riding along beaches, eating fish and crabs from the sea with the good wine and cheese we brought along, sleeping beneath the stars and sharing laughter and kisses away from the prying eyes of crowds. I dismissed her concerns of dangerous beasts and even more dangerous tribes, boasting of my ability to defeat man or lion. Eventually she agreed, and the first two weeks were just as I promised.
And now here I lie, gazing helplessly into the barbarian camp where my dearest friend awaits rape, slavery and perhaps torture, and it’s all my fault! Why did I leave her alone while I explored those ruins? My time in the soft city has dulled my wits and clouded my judgment, and I forgot that in the wilderness there is too much danger to leave a girl like Phaedra for long without a vigilant sword at her side. Damn you, eyes, for these annoying tears! I need you clear that I may assess the situation, hopeless though it may be; I doubt even Queen Myrina and her honor guard could slay so many men without being overwhelmed. So if Amazon steel will not serve me, perhaps a warrior’s cunning will; Metis, inspire me with a plan!
What’s this? Though I did not see her brought hither, my time in Man’s World has taught me enough to know the chief will have claimed her for himself, and there is some kind of ruckus at his tent. Though their babble is as strange to me as Tarshi once was, an argument sounds the same in any tongue…and one that ends with a sword through the gut is serious indeed. But what could spur a leader to kill his own man so abruptly? Did he attempt to steal treasure? Ah, I know; he attempted to sample treasure, or at least the chief thought he did. Phaedra is very beautiful, and he wishes to keep her all to himself; though there are already many women in the camp, her fair skin and shining grey eyes make her unique. And that gives me an idea; may my ancestresses forgive me, but I can think of no other way.
First, I must prepare our escape; would that I could find and extract Phaedra as easily as I locate our horses among these inferior nags! The rest of the camp is at dinner, and the guard is inattentive; may Themis be more merciful to his soul than his people were to my friend. If I leave the paddock gate open, some of the horses may wander away now and bolt if any commotion starts, and that will mean fewer pursuers. Fortunately, this terrain provides plenty of cover behind which to secure our mounts. My helm, shield, breastplate and greaves need be packed away, and my sword, bow and quiver will hang from the pommel securely enough; my face, my wits and a long dagger strapped to my thigh will be my only weapons this night, and my mother’s talisman and the grace of the blessed goddesses my only armor. They have already granted me one boon: though the barbarians stole woman and horses, they missed our packs where we had wedged them between rocks to protect them from the blowing dust.
Now for the hard part: though it is a good thing Phoebe will not rise for hours yet, it means having to find what I need in the dark. Ah, this isn’t so difficult after all; this flimsy gown Phaedra insisted I bring to present myself at her mother’s house is so much softer to the touch than my other clothes, I can find it with my fingers! If only the rest could be so simple. I’ve been watching the way the women of the brothel behave for four years now; have I learned enough to imitate it? Best to test it before entering the lion’s den; here’s another guard looking for the one I permanently relieved of duty a little while ago.
Quiet, my heart! Cease pounding so, or he will surely hear! The dagger is within easy reach should my attempt at seduction (what a strange word!) fail. Now to step out where he can see me…no, mustn’t strike a defensive stance! He must think I’m just as useless as the women of his tribe. He’s suspicious; of course he is! He isn’t an idiot! This is transparently a trap, and surely no sane creature could…sheath his sword and approach unarmed, mumbling barbarian gibberish. A smile and a beckoning finger…and he joins his comrade on the shores of the Styx. Perhaps my plan may work after all; it seems that any possibility of coupling with a woman causes these men of the West to completely take leave of their senses.
Still, there’s no need to test it more than is necessary; my stealth will carry me to the leader’s tent with far less chance of failure. Slit one more throat, dodge two women, hide for interminable minutes behind some jars while a group of children tarry before dispersing…then wait while a sentry moves on, and here I am at my destination. I can hear Phaedra’s voice; the chief apparently knows enough Cretan to suffice for trade, and she is trying to negotiate herself out of the situation by promising a reward if he returns her to me. He seems to find it funny; has she told him I’m an Amazon? It’s impossible to tell.
I want so badly to rush in and cut the dog down where he stands, but I’m no fool; as a chieftain he will be at least my equal in fair combat, and the melee will surely draw his guards. No, this has to be done with finesse…so I let the guards think they’ve overheard me, and pretend to be frightened (o, the humiliation!) when they “capture” me, crying out loudly enough to ensure the leader hears as well. When he steps out, I catch his eyes with as smoldering a look as I can manage…and he takes the bait, ordering his men to bring me in.
Phaedra’s eyes go wide in horror, but that lasts only for a moment as I rush to her in unfeigned joy and hug her tightly, slipping my dagger from beneath my skirts and placing it between her thighs. She starts slightly, and I whisper “You’ll know when” before allowing myself to be jerked around roughly by our barbaric captor. What follows is the hardest battle of my life; I have to force down my loathing, compel myself to keep smiling, to keep chatting, to somehow subtly convince him that his lust for me is greater than his lust for my beautiful friend…to succeed in a form of bloodless combat I have never before attempted.
Victory! Astarte be praised! The fool at last imposes himself on me, pushing me back upon the bedding to enter me; I distract him with a great cacophony of moans, encouraging him to ever-louder noises himself while beckoning to Phaedra for my blade. He dies with a shout indistinguishable from his other bestial noises, and I roll him off of me in disgust. Shush, my love; we must needs flee in haste and utmost silence. It is the work of a moment to slide under the back of the tent, and apparently Nike is satisfied with the four men I have already sent her this night, for we meet no more on the way to our steeds. The sun is high before we dare stop for a short rest, and has set again before we make a hidden camp far above the shore. But my exhaustion and saddle-soreness, and the cold fare on which we must dine, are all made bearable by the admiration in my dear friend’s eyes, and the songs of praise that pour from her lips until I drop off into a well-earned sleep.