Each breath burning her throat, Penthesilea raced along the path.
Its roughness didn’t trouble her the least, all the more though her long skirt. All too soon, she realized that that sort of clothing was made for staying at home, covering legs and ankles chastely. Not so much for a chase. It entwined around her legs, robbed her of the usual moving space. Prevented her from reaching a less exhausting, steady pace.
A quick look over the shoulder affirmed her suspicion. The pursuers caught up incessantly. Hastily, she gathered up the dress and cursed foolish Serkon’s idea who had never been forced to bear the disadvantages of womens’ long clothing.
“Stad! Stop!,” a deep voice hollered in her back, “Stad!”
Three warriors were enough to overpower even the best fighter, even more so when they were better equipped anyway. Keeping to run was risky, but staying mere suicide.
Curses and orders took turns to be thrown her way. She didn’t listen to any of them, concentrated on her feet instead. Tried to maintain a regular breath.
Then, suddenly, the most dreaded sound of all mixed with the others.
Dull hammering, approaching fast. Chill horror ran through her veins.
A horse’s hooves. Almost panicking, she scanned the surroundings for a safe way into the woods but the same image presented itself everywhere: dense bushes, brushwood, stones and roots setting traps for the unwary. Rough terrain, making bushwacking impossible.
Undoubtedly, the Westerners would be much faster in the woods they lived in anyway. And without a skirt.
Another glance back. Although the sound swoll, the horse still wasn’t to be seen. But the other warriors came closer and closer.
In the end, she already knew they left her no choice.
Not if she did not intend to die with her back pierced by a spear. Heart in the mouth, spluttered snatches of a prayer escaped her lips as she begged the Goddess for a safe return to her two young daughters and expecting provider.
Then, she stopped.
And turned around.
Centered all her attention on the three men who meanwhile slowed down themselves.
Her hand didn’t shake any more as she drew the bloodstained dagger for the second time that day.
While her muscles tensed in expectation of the fight, a sudden calmness embraced her. Her opponents might outnumber her but still, face-to-face fight was well-known territory, was what she excelled in.
Watching the pursuers approach, her subconscious mind already alarmed her. The others would wait for the mounted reinforcement’s arrival. They would try to keep her occupied and vulnerable toward the horseman’s quick and powerful attacks.
If she was lucky, he only had a short-range weapon.
And after that... nothing but fight. Fight for her life, for seeing her daughters again. For long days on the drill ground. For careless evenings in Serkon’s palace. For never-ending debates and heated discussions in the Council.
For everything that was close to her heart.
The Westerners had arrived and lined up threateningly, barring her way back. Only moments separated them from chaos.
Louder hammering, increasing until it claimed all the space between the trees.
A giant, brown head appeared in the bend, followed by flying legs and a massive body.
At the same time, the warriors began to make their assault with a terrifying war cry.
Penthesilea ducked the first blow, another one, parried the last and held on with grit teeth while the sword creaked nastily while sliding over the shorter blade.
She held them at bay. Tried to. But even the shoddiest sword still had a wider range than a dagger. They didn’t even take a true stab at disabling her. No doubt that they aimed at catching her alive, questioning her about the dead in front of their village. And as long as none of them made a severe mistake, the Amazon was left with trying to avoid their weapons.
Until she would tire.
For them, it was indeed that easy.
The first warrior sneaked behind her back while she was occupied with his two comrades. There, he led a half-hearted attack. They had surrounded her already, advancing from three sides now.
Had her situation allowed any distraction, she would have sent another prayer to the immortals. To any of them.
Instead, one of the men in the corner of her eye backed off slightly. As the first confusion had left, Penthesilea barely had the time any more to jump aside. And still, the air pushed aside by his sword let the short hair at her neck stand on end. So close, so close...
Breaking the shock with both hands, her mind noticed two things at the same time. For one, that she was outside of the warriors’ circle and secondly, that the horseman let his mare turn several steps away.
Wasting not a single moment with thinking, her raw hand grasped the dagger more tightly.
And she ran.
Toward the horse that had finished the turn.
It was driven onward.
The horseman swung his weapon back to receive the approaching enemy. In the last moment, Penthesilea stopped and sidestepped him.
She managed to get to him from behind since the distance had been far too short for him to gain full speed. While he counterbalanced the power of the strike that had hit nothing but air, Penthesilea pulled at his arm with all her strength.
Held back by the additional weight, the horse came to a stop before knocking her off the feet. With a thud, the Westerner plummeted onto the hard soil.
It had been felt ages since her training but once learnt, horseback riding was something one didn’t forget.
Swinging her leg over the animal was as natural as turning it while fighting off the angered warriors.
In the end, she could barely grasp that she was about to escape. The horse was nervous, bewildered by the unfamiliar woman at its back but still carried her out of the pursuers’ reach.
An arrow whizzed past her head as she almost believed herself safe. She dared a last glance back. An archer had finally arrived at the site and fired the last shot at her while his countrymen cursed and blamed each other.
He wouldn’t be a danger for her any more.
And yet something in his face, his entire demeanor was familiar to her.
Maybe it was the hatred openly displayed in his posture.
It wasn’t but until the sun had set and twilight enveloped the alien world around her that Penthesilea brought the mare to a stop. Knees shaking, it was everything that she managed to arrive at the bottom safely before sinking against an old tree.
Following a sudden urge, she curled up, finally left defenseless against the freshly welling tears.
She sat there for a long, long time until darkness had taken over.
Poses by neutralsupply, beverlyallitsims (here and here), MrsRacooney, simquin, Natalia Auditore (here and here), maretabuniketa and aoihana2510
Extra credit to Severinka for the horses and beverlyallitsims for the saddle