The glorious gifts of the gods are not to be cast aside. – Homer, Iliad (III, 65)
Every June I’ve published a story of Aella, a young Amazon warrior of the mythic past; the first one was “A Decent Boldness” and the second “A Haughty Spirit”. And though you might be able to enjoy this one without having read those, you’ll probably understand what’s going on a lot better if you get to know the lady’s previous history first.
Asteria send me guidance tonight, for I am afraid.
I who alone of this living generation travelled West to the very end of the Earth, bathed in the waters of Keto and returned to tell the tale; I who walked in the ancient places of our people, rescued my dearest friend from the hands of barbarians and protected us both from the beasts of the wilderness; I who lived among strangers for five years and brought much of the learning of the Outer World back to the Motherland: I am more frightened than I have ever been since earning the title of warrior. For tomorrow, I must face the Council of Elders, thirteen grey old veterans of battles fought before my mother was born, and defend my conduct before them.
But for the life of me, O Blessed Goddess, I cannot fathom why what I did should have shocked the others so. True, it was a new idea, but what of that? Why was I brought home through so many dangers if not to share the knowledge and the ideas of our sisters across the sea? Harmothoe says my mind was addled by my time in Man’s World, but she’s simply jealous because I returned from my journey with enough wealth to buy a farm and enough slaves to work it, while she’s stuck toiling on our mother’s place. I offered to lend her my slaves this winter to clear new land, but that won’t win her the respect and admiration I’ve enjoyed since my return, nor an invitation to visit the Queen’s palace next month so that I can tell her of my adventures. Of course, if the hearing goes against me tomorrow I may see her sooner than that, though as a prisoner rather than an honored guest.
And all this fuss over something so completely stupid. Are not health, strength, beauty, wisdom and skill at arms gifts of the goddesses? And are we not to use those gifts to improve our places in the world? Don’t the more beautiful and distinguished among us have greater choice among the Scythian men at the Spring Festival? After all, our Princess Penthesilia is the daughter of their King Arius, not of some lowly tradesman; our Queen sought out the best sire available when she was ready to bear the child who would succeed to her throne. And though I am not of noble blood, yet my company was highly sought by the men this year for the same reason my Amazon sisters have sought it since my return: though men and women differ in many ways, we all love a good story and many of both sexes seek to borrow prestige by association when they cannot win it for themselves.
But all that attention was a mixed blessing; with so many men competing to mate with me this year, how was I to choose one? I’m no mere girl to be impressed by a handsome face, and my experience in Man’s World taught me that many a great athlete is also a great fool. I thought on this as I watched the games and partook in the feasting, and it occurred to me that the best approach would be a practical one. After all, our motives for mating with the Scythian men are wholly pragmatic in the first place; it stands to reason a pragmatic means of choosing a mate is in order as well. And one can never have too much wealth, so what could be more sensible than simply announcing that the man who gave me the most generous gift would be the one who could lie with me? I thought it was a wonderful idea, and the men responded with enthusiasm; the winner gave me six snow-white kine and an equally-beautiful bull. But to hear my sisters, one would’ve thought I had drunk myself silly and puked on the banquet table. The next day it was the talk of the town, and by the end of the week…well, here I am.
Goddess, I suppose You know all this already, but it never hurts to summarize; besides, I want You to understand how I saw the matter. Mother says I’ve disgraced our family, and Aunt Laomache says it just goes to show why Amazons shouldn’t associate with outsiders any more than is strictly necessary. Granny is the only one who was helpful; she says what this demonstrates is that long periods of peace aren’t good for us, because when there isn’t anything real to fret about people make a big deal out of nothing, and in the absence of an actual enemy they invent imaginary bogeys to get worked up about. She also said that the council only summoned me to shut up the prattlers, and that if they were truly concerned I would be spending the night under guard rather than lying in my own bed. Also, Elder Dioxippe is Granny’s best friend, and Granny told me that she had talked it over with her and at least several of the Council were equally unimpressed with the gravity of my so-called sin; she predicted they would direct me to apologize to my family and sacrifice one of the kine to Astarte, and that would be the end of it.
I certainly hope so, but I can’t help worrying. And that’s why I’m praying about this to You instead of Themis or Metis; there’s no justice in this situation, it seems like thinking logically is what got me into this fix, and perhaps divine inspiration is what’s needed to get me out. If my punishment is as light as Granny thinks it’ll be, I’ll make a special gift to You; I think I might have conceived by the generous one, and if it’s a girl and I name her for You, she will be a constant reminder of Your grace.
And also of the fact that most people have no respect for pragmatism.