None of woman born, coward or brave, can shun his destiny. – Homer, Iliad (III, 120-121)
If you’re unfamiliar with Aella, I strongly suggest you read the previous chapters in her story before proceeding with this one; they’re listed & linked in the introduction to last year’s episode.
Since I live alone, it was both startling and disorienting to be roused roughly from sleep by someone shaking me. But when in response to my groggy queries, I heard a less-than-familiar voice say, “Wake up girl, for I have need of thee,” I sat bolt upright and strained my eyes to make out the figure looming over my bed in the dark. The meager light filtering in from the front windows glinted upon metal, and I soon realized my nocturnal visitor was clad in ornate armor; she carried a helm under her arm and a sword with jeweled hilt hung at her side.
“Aella?” I asked.
“Show some respect, child,” she said gently. “Though I am not wont to stand on ceremony, it would behoove thee to address an honored ancestor with something more than her common name.”
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled; “you did wake me up from a rather sound sleep. Would ‘grandmother’ do? We’ll be here all night if I have to list all the ‘greats’ which should precede it.”
She laughed, a strong but weary laugh that seemed to come from someplace deep inside her. “Aye, it will do. Dost thou always awaken so sluggishly? What if enemies attacked in the night?”
“It would make little difference; my enemies are cowards who always attack with overwhelming force. They fear a fair fight.”
She was not impressed. “Any descendant of mine should be ready to at least give a good account of herself in battle. Her enemies should long remember how dear a price they paid for their victory over her.”
“I’m sorry, honored grandmother. Though I am a warrior in my own right, I’m afraid you would not recognize my battlefield as such.”
“So I am told. Yet thou hast shown tremendous courage.”
“Well, that’s what some people call it. It’s really just tremendous stubbornness.”
She laughed again. “Then it is certain thou art of my blood, for my excess of pigheadedness was also lauded as courage both in my day and after it.”
“I’ve wanted to ask you about that for some time, but you’re not exactly easy to reach. I’m guessing the legends about Amazons and Scythians settling in Galicia have a basis in fact?”
“Aye. My son and his wife were unable to adapt to Amazon culture, and I was unwilling to let them return to Crete knowing full well I might never see them again. So I recruited a group of colonists, Amazons and Scythians both, and we sailed toward the setting sun and settled north of Tartessos.”
“I seem to remember that you hated sailing.”
She shrugged. “One does what one must.”
“Yes. We all need to do things we hate and fear to accomplish the goals that are important to us.”
“Aye, child, that we do. But make not the foolish error I did, of thinking that thy destiny is thine to command. Thou hast a task to perform, and thy course was charted for thee by the blessed goddesses long before thy birth, even as mine was. We are but the tools by which they accomplish their goals, which are not for the likes of us to divine.”
I replied quietly, “I like to think I have free will.”
She laughed once more, a soft chuckle tinged with pain. “I, too, enjoyed that belief.”
“And what of Phaedra?” I asked, trying to change the subject. “Did you ever see her again?”
“Nothing could have stopped me save the goddesses themselves; had I been told she was dead I would have battled my way down to the Styx to find her. Her ships carried our colonists forth, and kept us supplied until my death.”
“Ah, that. Well, truth be told, child, I’m here because thou hast need of me.”
“Oh. Will the coming years be that difficult?”
“I am no soothsayer, granddaughter; I know not what lies in store for thee. I know only that I was sent to remind thee of who and what thou art, to admonish thee not to forget the warrior blood that runs strong in thy veins, and to tell thee that though I lack the wisdom and learning to understand thy struggle, I am filled with pride for thy steadfastness and refusal to surrender. Thou hast done well, and I am certain thou wilt continue to do so. Because if thou should dishonor my legacy by cowardice, I swear by our common ancestresses that I will return and beat thee to within a hairsbreadth of thy life.”
“Thank you, grandmother. I think.” She smiled, and laid her hand upon my shoulder, and then she was gone, leaving behind nothing but the weight of her millennia-long shadow upon me.