As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity.
The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live timber
Burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning.
– Homer, Iliad (VI, 146-149)
I honestly didn’t think I had another story of Aella in me, at least not this year (if you don’t know who she is, I suggest you first read “A Decent Boldness“, “A Haughty Spirit”, “Glorious Gifts“ and “Wise To Resolve“, in that order). But as I pondered what I would write instead, I happened to look up from my desk and lo and behold, there she was across the room from me – sitting on the divan, leaning on her sword with her cloak of honor about her shoulders, and dripping rain from the storms of centuries upon my rug. “Stop dallying, girl,” she said to me, “hasten thou to write down my story for all who have ears to hear.” When I indignantly replied that I was no girl but a full-grown woman of as many years as she, the reply came, “I lived and died over five thousand years before thy mother’s mother was born, thou soft-handed tart, and no daughter of Pandora with as few scars as thou hast would be counted as a grown woman amongst my people.” Far be it from me to argue with an ancestor who had come so far to pay me a visit, so here is her story just as she told it to me, minus the outlandish profanity.
Oh, they pretend to be deferential enough; it’s all “honored one” and “general” and “good dame” out loud, but I see the impatience in their eyes and the half-hidden smiles as I strap on my sword, don my cloak and place my helm upon my head. I can almost hear their thoughts; they believe that no matter what my prowess in directing troops may be, I am too old and battle-weary to make good account of myself in personal combat any longer. But that is because they are too wet behind the ears to understand that age and wisdom will always overcome youth and strength, and one day perhaps I’ll have to show them by knocking one flat on her pretty face.
And what’s so important about this reception, anyway? It’s not as though I haven’t met a hundred merchants seeking to trade in our land since I was appointed Keeper of the Port. And it’s not as though this is anything other than a mere formality; a captain who couldn’t present the proper papers or other tokens of good faith would already have been turned away without an important official having to go out in the rain. It’s just a lot of damned foolish ceremony; give me a good honest battle any day, and Hecate take all this rigamarole. Well, at least I have a chariot with an awning, while my impatient bodyguard are forced to sit on horseback exposed to the weather; age and rank do carry some privileges, after all, though the price be aching joints and poor sleep. And at least the road to the wharf is paved, so there is no chance of my conveyance becoming stuck and delaying my return home in time for luncheon.
How now, what’s this? The ship bears the painted sails of Crete, whence none have come since before the last war made our waters more dangerous than they cared to brave. Dare I hope this ship will bear a letter from my dearest friend Phaedra, whose face I have not seen since before my young attendants were born? Would that it were so! To read her words and hold in my hand papyrus that she had sealed with her own would be the next best thing to kissing her again and feeling my heart lifted by the sound of her voice. Already I can see the multicolored skirts of a Cretan woman, standing on the quay beside a tall young man; perhaps she bears the letter I have longed to see for so many years. As I approach I see that she is hooded against the rain, and bears a bundle beneath her cloak; perhaps it contains precious papyri that she cannot risk getting wet?
Now my chariot stops, and I hear a hubbub among the guards; it seems that the young man has specifically asked to meet me, by name rather than by my title of office. By all the goddesses, can I dare hope? Though I have never laid eyes upon him before, his visage is familiar, and though he wears the clothing of a man of Crete, he speaks haltingly in the Amazon tongue as one might who had not used it in many years. And when the guards announce my arrival, his face beams and his voice breaks with emotion as he calls me his mother. Some of the bystanders laugh, others seem shocked or even offended; for no Amazon claims her sons after she hands them over to their Scythian sires, and no Scythian man would be foolish enough to expect his Amazon mother to acknowledge him. But all of their voices grow silent as I step forward to embrace him, and the soft rain from Heaven disguises the tears upon my cheeks as he introduces his wife and places my infant granddaughter in my arms.