“I doubt you have anything to offer that might convince us otherwise, but have your turn. Speak.”
“Well, I trained the young girls in my tribe back home to become strong warriors. Even my mother, usually hard to impress, admitted I was good at it. I could do this for you, too. And you would pay me only if satisfied with my training and according to the number of warriors I train for each tribe.”
“Sounds fair to me,” Boras confirmed.
“Don’t listen to her, Evandros! Old Boras is charmed by her but you will know better. We don’t need her. There will be no war between our tribes as long as we don’t want to see us wiped out by one another. Besides, we have our warriors trained by ourselves. Why should we trust a stranger who has an interest in weakening us at best?”
Evandros massaged his temples. “Now, who is right and who is wrong?”
Deipyros of Chonar raised his voice. “Speaking for Jason who had to leave earlier and for me, I would advise not to take this risk. It is most possible Zeuxippe is right and we would regret our decision.” Nobody had noticed the old man had gone.
“You fear being overthrown by one woman? Surely you do not trust the strength of your warriors, then.” Boras’ objection resembled a laugh.
“Why not pass this into the hands of the gods?” The man sitting next to Zeuxippe had stood up and held a spear in his hand, the embodiment of self-confidence itself. “I shall challenge her to a fight. If she wins, she may train our warriors. If not, she has to leave our territories at once.”
Zeuxippe was enraged. “How dare you, traitor-”
Penthesilea interrupted her. “That is an excellent idea. Let the gods decide. I accept your challenge.” She turned to the others. “Or does anyone not agree that the immortals know best what to do in this case?” Objection would mean blasphemy.
“So it is. Let it be a fist fight. No blood shall be shed on the Council’s Place,” Evandros announced slightly relieved and waved them towards another place with more space for the fight.
The tall man handed his spear to his bodyguard then turned to Zeuxippe. “Don’t worry. She will never win. I will see to this.” He didn’t doubt his victory for even the blink of an eye and surely didn’t rely as much on the gods as on himself.
Penthesilea examined him carefully. Though not having immense visible muscles he seemed to be very strong by birth and definitely had to be a good fighter. When Evandros gave the signal, he instantly attacked giving Penthesilea no other chance than to throw herself aside in order to avoid his blow.
She ducked and ended up behind him, trying to land a powerful kick in his stomach.
Unfortunately, he was faster than expected even with his much higher weight and managed to evade her kick easily. The woman could keep her balance but was too close to him now. He knew that, too and grabbed for the arms. Realizing this would be the end of the fight and her leaving in shame, Penthesilea grabbed his wrists instead so she could let go of him at least, if need be. Trying to unbalance him she whirled but he barely followed her movement one step to the side. There was no other way.
She let him go, pushing him then caught up and pushed him again with her whole body. Though striking his chest hardly, she would never have succeeded to bring him down if she hadn't fished for his angle with her foot at the same time. Thus ridding him of secure stand, he fell to the bottom obviously startled by the fact that he had been beaten by a woman.
“I think it is clear now that I will not plot against you. The gods do not lie, no matter what some of you may think.” Her breath was still irregular from the huge effort. Did she really just overthrow the tall young king? She would never have bet on it before.
Evandros stood up. “So the gods have decided. Penthesilea, you are allowed to stay and establish your tribe as your mother wished. Train our warriors and join the Council of Nobles as is appropriate for a woman of your rank.” He seemed to be reassured at last. “No leader will do you or your tribe any harm.” A warning glance to Zeuxippe made clear that the Orcheon was already known for escapades.
Feeling the last warmth of the setting sun, Penthesilea rejoiced in her heart and gladly accepted the offer to stay and get known to the other leaders. However, Zeuxippe excused herself almost immediately after the new queen had taken place next to Deipyros.
She found most of the kings approachable at least and Boras by far the kindest one. Evandros refrained from their talk and asked only a few questions but wasn’t as hostile as before. The young dark-haired king didn’t take part in the chat either, probably because he still had to stomach his defeat but she made sure to pay tribute to his extraordinary fighting skills. He was undoubtedly much better than her. Deipyros opened up when he learned that the new queen had met his wife Moira and one of his two daughters. His tribe was very small. However, he had set his heart on it and on his family. She was surprised that except for the two youngest leaders, Serkon and Zeuxippe, each one of the kings had two children but only Evandros and old Jason an heir.
When the Amazon left late in the night she found someone waiting at the Council’s Place entrance.
It was Serkon of Dekanos whom she had beaten, watching her approach with an intransparent gaze.
“Never have I thought a woman to win over me in a fight,” he admitted. “But I have never seen a woman fight like that before either. You truly earned your place in the Council as you do your tribe. Nonetheless, it hurts being defeated in front of the other leaders.”
“There is nothing shameful in it. It was a just fight and with pure force, I would have never won. They know that.” She lifted her clenched fist. “Don’t let it come between us.”
He hesitated for quite a while. “I won’t.”
“Together, we can achieve goals any of us can but dream of on their own. Your strength and my tricks – we would make a good team, don’t you think?”
“Agree.” He hesitated again. “So we’ll see us tomorrow at the drill ground, I assume?”
“I’ll be there.”
“Be careful. You haven’t won the warriors over yet and some of them are much more difficult to convince than a couple of kings.” Watching him leave the Amazon gave in thoughtfulness. Could he be the ally she so desperately needed along Boras?
As soon as she had arrived at the Council’s Place, Penthesilea searched for familiar faces but spotted not more than two: Boras, blond leader of the Borathion tribe and rude queen Zeuxippe. The place itself was located in a dry area and nourished most of the few plants in the surroundings, probably because of the water basin in its middle. Five men and a single woman sat around the basin, only two of them having discovered the arrival so far.
Penthesilea decided not to delay the encounter with the other leaders and so headed straight to the two men in the middle, assuming they were the highest-ranked ones and therefore the first to be addressed.
When Zeuxippe spotted her, the queen’s gaze became hostile and followed her along with those of the other rulers, only Boras showing some kindness. A grim silence laid over the men. Worst of all was the one sitting next to Boras who Penthesilea thought most likely to be the leader of the kings. He glared at her as if she had just revealed a knife to murder him.
“Great kings and queen”, she addressed him directly following the unwritten laws of courtesy. “I am Penthesilea, daughter of Thestia and princess of the tribe of the Warrior Goddess deep in the eastern woods. As the oldest, my sister Xanthippe inherited the throne when our beloved mother died so I left my home with her consent to start a new tribe. Arriving at these lands, I found them beautiful and fertile and large enough to nourish many other tribes. Therefore, I come to you and humbly ask to be given permission to settle down and establish a tribe, as my mother wanted me to.”
The leader was not at all pleased by her request.
“Do you call it humbly to build a house and then come us? Shall we only give our approval to what you already did? If you were eager to live here in peace, you would have sought our counsel first or joined one of our tribes in the first place, princess.”
“Evandros, though your words are true you should abide by the protocol and introduce you first. We’re addressed by a princess, after all.”
“Why don’t you take that part?”
“Gladly, my friend.” He turned to Penthesilea. “As you know, I am Boras of the Borathions. This is Evandros, king of powerful Arythions and leader of our council. Then, queen Zeuxippe of Orcheon and Serkon, ruler of tribe Dekanos. And at last, Deipyros and elderly Jason ruling minor tribes Chonar and Vauros.”
“Thank you, king Boras. As to refer to your earlier accusation, king Evandros, I admit it has not been the best decision I have made so far. I am very sorry for this. But I thought it more secure being able to lock my slave up and then come to you without bothering you with his presence. Besides, I did not know where to find you, then.”
Evandros seemed even more enraged than before. “You can try to explain your mistake but that does not make you appear less ignorant.”
“I understand your reasons, princess, though it does not make them better. We should forgive her since she didn’t mean to disrespect us on purpose.” Boras spoke in her favor.
“By the grand God of the Sea, Boras! You should not support her. You swore allegiance to me as did all of you.”
“And not all of us have forgotten.” Zeuxippe stood up in order to say something. “I met her the other day and she was nothing at all polite to me. Even tried to question my slave about me who, to her loss, was too loyal and didn’t give in.”
Boras raised his hand. “You might change someone’s mind in your behalf, princess, if you made an offer what to contribute to our living together. We must work closely with one another since the plague, you know? Otherwise, neither of us could survive.”
“That’s treason!,” Zeuxippe shouted, already seated again.
Lot: "Ruin" by sacred70
Pose by akuiyumi
Eventually, both got angry.
“You shall hear it: I’m Zeuxippe, daughter of Rheia and great leader of tribe Orcheon.”
“Never heard about it,” Penthesilea stated even though she knew this was extremely rude. But the other woman had nothing to hold against and avoided her.
“Actually, someone was shouting my name over there.”
“Unfortunately, I have to leave you to see what they want. Please, feel free to talk to my slave if you have need to. Loneliness must be awful indeed.” A deliberate grin stole on her face mentioning Penthesilea’s non-existent tribe.
“Someday you’ll recognize disrespecting your own kind leads to anything but trouble. Actually, we should ally against the men. That would be wise.” She didn’t mention the person Zeuxippe pretended had shouted her name. There was none.
“Be thankful for me lending you my slave. He’s my favorite so I expect him to return safely. I still require his services.” Zeuxippe left amusedly but Penthesilea fought hard to contain herself. Evidently, the slave was worried because of his queen leaving him alone with a stranger. Penthesilea closed her eyes to control her anger.
“Don’t worry. I would never touch anything that belongs to her. How could she dare to talk to me like that!” The slave got frightened, realizing she expected an answer.
“Well, eh, I don’t know.” Even after thinking about punishing him for that obvious lie she decided he would be of more use if she questioned him.
“Come on, you must know something if you truly are her favorite!”
“Would you ever confide in a slave, my lady?”
“If he had my trust and I liked him – why not? Take my advise and tell me what you do know and I’ll decide whether that will do.”
For a moment, he hesitated. “It’s not much, I fear. The queen’s great-grandmother was driven here for reasons unknown to me. In those days, they were not much appreciated by the tribes who already lived here and were much more powerful than today. Her ancestors had a pretty hard time to get accepted but most of their tribe was wiped out by bad harvests and illness.”
“You keep quiet about your queen’s matters, slave – what’s your name, in the first place?”
“It’s Protego. Truly, I can’t tell you any more about the queen.” He was too loyal – or too afraid – and wouldn’t say another word.
“So return to your creator, Protego. Surely she misses you already.” She turned on her heels and headed to the little water hole to look after Haimon and his fish. Protego gazed after her, not knowing whether he had said something wrong.
He had indeed. Now, she had a starting point and would try to find out why Zeuxippe’s great-grandmother had left her home tribe. It couldn’t be any honorable reason because the other queen kept it a secret from her.
Suddenly, she saw the red-haired priest adept wait for her under a tree, halfway to the water hole.
“My lady, don’t be angry with queen Zeuxippe because she was rude to you. She has a hard stand among all those men here and can’t stop fighting for her voice to be heard.”
“You speak kind words of her, priestess. But she had better to look for allies than to make new foes, then. Who are you? I remember seeing you but we were not properly introduced.”
The young woman’s voice was soft and warm like rays of sunlight breaking through a cold morning’s air.
“My name is Chandra of Arythion. But I know who you are, my lady, as I overheard your talk to the Borathions’ leader, Boras. I hope you will forgive me for this.”
“Nothing to forgive. You stood next to us, so you had to hear it.”
“Thank you, my lady. May I give you an advice? If you plan to settle down here you should talk to the Council of Nobles. It consists of the leaders of all tribes in this area. You could make friends there or at least prevent some of them from becoming enemies, as Zeuxippe will speak up against you anyway.”
“Thank you. I will heed your advice. Where can I find this Council of Nobles?”
“They will meet tomorrow in the early evening, at the council’s place.” Chandra described the way and they parted from one another with a hearty goodbye.
The next day, Penthesilea’s fate was to be determined.
Having her hut, Penthesilea decided to finally meet some of the other rulers. As she had lived from her rare provisions of the journey and some food they had collected in the environments she took Haimon with her in order to stock up. Still, she wasn’t sure she could leave him alone without locking him up in the slave quarters. They were going to a place she had heard of as neutral territory where members of the different tribes could meet without trespassing.
Gladly, she sent the slave to catch some fish, rejoicing in the thought of having some fresh meat for breakfast in the next morning. He seemed to enjoy his new task. Undoubtedly, it was much easier than building a house all on his own.
Once having analyzed her environment Penthesilea spotted a pair of women and decided to engage them in a conversation. Allies, preferably female one, would be very helpful in the task to establish a new tribe.
A woman in a beautiful dress introduced herself as Moira, wife to the leader of tribe Chonar and priestess of the Bright Goddess. The younger woman was her daughter, Morgana. Penthesilea instantly liked both of them, as they were nice and easy to chat with.
However, soon she excused herself and gravitated towards the next group of well-dressed people. The spokesman, king Boras of tribe Borathion, had blond hair and a long beard and was kind too, quite the opposite of his wife, actually. Maybe Niara’s function as a priestess of the God of the Sea had went right to her head. It was easy to tell she was evil on purpose. Yet, she had no influence because she was bound by marriage. Both Chonar and Borathion seemed to be tribes ruled by men.
“So you serve two men.” Penthesilea would have her revenge. “Your husband and the god. How noble of you.” The frosty gaze Niara shot her wasn’t noticed by her husband.
“My, that was a good one!” He started laughing while his wife turned to torment a young red-haired woman, priest adept to the Bright Goddess. So the Amazon learned at once that there was no harmony between either the deities nor their priests.
Again, she went on to speak with the next pair standing aside of the others.
When she arrived, the woman turned only half the way, openly disrespecting her.
“Leave me alone,” she said in a tone indicating she was used to command.
“While I can see you’re a queen,” Penthesilea responded, “you should ask people for their name before you fly in their face.”
The woman folded her arms. “Who are you, then?”
“I’m Penthesilea, daughter of great queen Thestia, descendant of the Goddess of War herself. May you now be so kind as to tell me your name, too?” Turning pale at the illustrious ancestry of the other the womans’ eyes widened.
One moment later, she regained control.
“Well, daughter of Thestia, you will soon come to know that here it is not a name that counts but the woman behind it. My tribal sisters and I have managed to survive in a land ruled by men. I doubt you having neither the courage or strength to do so.”
“You doubt me without knowing me at all? That’s not wise.”
“Surely, as you’re here without a companion you can’t be a queen. And if you aren’t, you won’t survive long among those men.”
“I’m about to become a queen. Soon, I’ll have a tribe of my own and we’ll be kind to strangers to allow them to join us.”
“Anyone will ever join you.”
“We’ll see by time, queen who doesn’t want to reveal her name. It must be a low one.”