There is a split in the Amazon camp. Queen Kaia, the narrative heroine, considers the continuation of the war with neighboring male armies to be gravely dangerous for the Amazon tribes. The war party, led by co-ruler Elara and the violent warrior Axelia demand engaging into a decisive struggle in order to gain control over whatever has been lost in the previous wars.
Up until recently Elara and I had done a good job of ruling together, with her in charge of our army and defense and me taking care of the rest of it, making laws, arranging schooling for the children, maintaining the villages. There had been bumps but we had done right by our tribes. Now, we sit on different sides of our largest crisis yet and factions are forming amongst our people... Danais gives me a sympathetic look, then stands.
- You need a break from thinking about this. Come spar with me before breakfast.
- I really don't.
- Whether you want to or not, it will do you good.
She is right. The stress of this is tying my muscles in knots and my thoughts have not been clear in days.
- Fine. I will meet you at the training ground.
I walk from my chambers to the training ground with my head held high, my stride lose and my expression neutral. All eyes are on me, however discreetly. I can feel the heat of stares but pretend not to notice. There are already a number of women at the training grounds when I arrive. A handful of children are being taught sword handling by Ceneias, Elara's right hand while archers practice shooting at targets to the North of the clearing. There are a couple of pairs sparring with swords and staffs and a few doing solo drills. The air is charged with aggression and filled with the sounds of metal clanging, wood hitting and the thwack of bows snapping. Danais has not yet arrived. I go the weapons hut to armor up, taking a shield, breastplate and a pair of bracers from the selection of training armor. It is all equipment that is tarnished or slightly damaged, not good enough for battle but fine for practice.
- Good morning my Queen.
I turn as Axelia steps into the weapons hut and begins to pick out some armor for herself.
- Good morning, Axelia, I reply, my voice as coldly polite as hers was.
- Looking for a sparring partner?
- I am waiting for Danais.
Axelia nods. Something unreadable passes across her face.
- I would be happy to help you warm up while you wait.
There is a challenge in her offer. I shouldn't. But I want to. I know that I can take her.
- I thank you for the offer.
Axelia finishes putting on her armor and we go outside.
- Ready? - She asks.
I nod and pull my sword from the scabbard at my side. She does the same. We raise our crescent shaped shields to rest beneath our chins and circle each other, both of us looking for an opening, neither of us giving away anything. I thrust out my sword. She blocks it with her shield, the impact sending a tremor up my arm. She smiles coolly at me and brings her sword up, high and sideways towards my head. I block it with my own sword and push back with all my strength, throwing her off balance and giving myself an opening to strike her in the side. Her armor protects her from serious injury but the impact hurts.
Now we're really going at it, thrusting, parrying, matching each other move for move. I know that eventually I will wear her down because though we are matched evenly for skill I have more endurance. A crowd gathers around us, cheering and urging us on. I try to block them out while Axelia's moves become flashier as she tries to impress them. Slowly I begin to gain the upper hand, blocking all of Axelia's attempts and opening her guard for several blows before she can regain it. Frustration and fury fills her eyes and she fights back valiantly but in vain. Her moves become desperate and I decide to end it before she elevates this from sparring to a battle. She thrusts her sword at me, straight on and I meet it with my own, pushing her arm backward and sideways. She lets out an angry cry as her sword falls to the grass under our feet. Glaring at me she stoops to pick it up. When she rises I extend my arm. She glances at it, then turns and stalks away. The crowd around us is silent, the exchange not lost on them. We all watch Axelia stalk away in silence.
- My Queen, Danais says, stepping from the crowd and drawing me away from it by the elbow, - what were you thinking?
- I know I shouldn't have, not with the way things were but...
- You knew you could beat her and you wanted to do it. I nod, feeling shame wash over me.
- This war is creating ugliness in all of us.
- Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone, Danais says - That ugliness has been there all along and this war is just bringing it out. I know how you felt just now with Axelia but you can't give in to that.
Axelia felt all eyes on her as she strode back into the weapons hut. Laughing eyes she was certain. Especially Kaia, her Queen. She pushed her way through the heavy wooden door and began stripping off her armor, throwing it carelessly down on a pile of red-painted arrows and breaking most of them. Anger seethed through her as she relived the humiliation Kaia had handed her today in front of their tribe. It wouldn't take long before the visiting members of the Royal Council heard about it as well. This from the Queen who was afraid to go to war. This war needed to happen if the Amazons were every going to recover all they had lost. It was too bad that Kaia couldn't see that. Elara could and was ready to lead them into battle but Kaia stood in her way and would remain standing there, unless something happened to override her. Like an enemy attack A grin formed on Axelia's face as she contemplated that. It would be simple really, she could orchestrate a small attack on one of the outer watches and Kaia wouldn't be able to deny them their war...
I am awakened at first light by a loud banging on my door. Even as I am sitting up, Elara is rushing in.
- Soldiers are just beyond our boarders - she says breathlessly.
I rub my eyes and stare at her, wondering why she has woken me to tell me this. It is not news, there have been soldiers at our boarders for moons now.
- They are marching for us - she adds.
That gets me out of bed quickly. I may not want this war but I will fight it now that there is no choice. Elara waits as I hastily dress and we hurry outside to where our village has gathered in the courtyard. They are ready to go. Elara and Ceneias begin issuing orders to those who will be fighting and I get the younger girls, the ones who aren't ready for battle yet, to help me gather bandages, herbs and other supplies for a makeshift hospital closer to the battlefield. When word comes back from the wall that their archers have launched the first wave of attacks we are mobile, half of us heading out to meet the approaching army and half of us going East to attack the army from the side. I am with the group that is going to attack from the side, along with Danais. We are being led by Ceneias who instructs us with grim calm.
By the time we get into position, the battle will already have started. Many of our village will already be dead. The sounds of the battle reach us before it comes into sight. The air is filled with the clash of swords, the cries of men and women vocalizing pain and victory, the whinny of horses and the whistling of arrows flying through the air. The tension mounts as we draw closer. Adrenaline begins to course through my veins and I loosen my sword from my belt. We stop just before the edge of the tree line. As we wait for our command I turn to Danais, who is beside me and hold out my arm. She clasps it, holding firmly as our eyes meet. This may be the last time we see each other.
- Ready. Attack!
Ceneias gives the order and we burst forth from the trees with a war cry that stuns the soldiers closest to us into momentary paralysis. That gives us enough time to get within striking distance before arrows start to fly. If we're going down at least we're taking some of these soldiers with us. I cut down two men with ease, they are tired and I am fresh but I know that soon my energy will start to flag as well. The constant clashing of swords creates a ringing in my ears and after a few moments I am nearly deaf. My vision becomes tunnel-like so all I can see is the enemy in front of me. I lose track of how many men I injure or kill but for every one that falls two more pop up in his place. And it's not like I have gotten this far unscathed. My arm is bleeding heavily and my chest hurts where I was kicked. Most likely I have at least one broken rib. Bodies from both sides fall around me. Anonymous soldiers and friends. I try not to pay attention to them but my throat tightens when I step over Axelia's still form and tears prick at my eyes when I see Danais cut down in front of me. With an angry cry I strike savagely at the advancing soldier, pushing his sword out of his hand and quickly drawing my own across his neck. He goes down with a gurgled cry. I turn to face the next attacker and colors explode in front of my eyes as pain shoots through my skull. My balance wavers and I go down on one knee, turning my head in time to see a soldier bringing his sword down onto me…