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Risks of Trust and Honor
by Richard Carter Jr
adapted from the on-line tale A Tale of Terreis and Ephiny
I begin with praise for the Helicon sisters. These
daughters of Olympian Zeus, leader of the Gods, fill me with
songs of adventure and of friendship. We are a lucky lot
who find themselves touched by the Muse's kiss.
I sing too in praise of the chaste goddesses, the
huntress and the warrior of the flashing eyes -- the goddess
whose magnificence inspires the heroes of this tale.
I sing of Terreis and Ephiny...
Tension hung in the air of the Amazon camp. A pact of
peace had been negotiated, but they were still surrounded by
their enemies. Although they had settled here for many
months, it was still a new land for the women warriors, now
situated in Aetolia, on the fringes of Thessally -- the home
of the Centaurs.
Like much of the peninsula, the landscape was strewn
with low, young mountains just beginning their billion-year
lives. Overgrowing these rocky buds raged a dense woods
filled with the stores of nature that had fed the Centaurs
for centuries uncounted. Edible flora abounded if you knew
where to look, and game was plentiful. Deer, boar, oxen,
and a menagerie of birds and other small creatures supplied
meat for any trained hunter. And hunters there were -- the
most fearful being the prides of lions that periodically
culled their take from the bounteous wares.
The Centaurs, descendants of the children of Centaurus
and the Pelion Mares, fearful in their half-man and half-
horse appearance, were skilled hunters, and lustful
creatures who didn't easily accept the appearance of the
band of Amazons into their country. The women warriors were
known everywhere as fierce fighters whose skill and tenacity
was likely an equal to their own.
Centaur pride nearly ruled the day when the Amazons
first arrived, but a series of early skirmishes attracted
the attention of the most powerful Centaur, Tyldus the
Great. He was preparing for a battle with a great army led
by a woman who fought like the Harpies in a bad mood.
Though the fight was in Corinth, many days travel from the
Amazon interlopers, Tyldus feared of fighting wars on two
This wisdom ultimately saved his race from slaughter,
but it did come at a price. He ceded a large area of the
woods which had been over hunted to the Amazons; the
Centaurs retained all of the fertile valleys and meadows, as
well as those woods still lush with game. This suited the
Amazons. They were extremely skilled at using the trees
when they fought. Since the legs and hooves of the Centaurs
were ill-equipped for battle above ground, this thick woods
that the Centaurs considered to be a hindrance for battle
was an ally for the Amazons, and would always give them an
advantage against any intruder, be it human or Centaur.
Tyldus' decision was not a popular one, but in war leaders
must sometimes make unpopular choices for the benefit of
Melosa, the raven-haired queen of the Eagle-head line
of the now Western Amazons understood this burden well. A
little over a year before, she was enjoying her life as one
of the most highly ranked of warriors. Many believed that
she might one day rise to become queen. One tragic day
changed those happy fantasies into a grim reality.
Deiranda, the young Amazon Queen, died on a hunt. In a
sense, the Amazon way of life killed her. She had become
queen following the death of her late mother's sister, who
had been the queen. It was not an unpopular choice. She
was young, and after a series of short-lived monarchies, the
Amazon nation was ready for some stability. Deiranda was
intelligent and thoughtful. The Amazons were certain that
she would be a wise ruler. She did have a serious weakness
in that she was not a skilled warrior. It wasn't that she
didn't strive to be, but that she lacked a certain essence
within her to be alert, focused, and instinctual. She knew
that in the course of time that this deficiency would lead
to her downfall, so she took every opportunity to learn and
enhance her skills. It was during her participation on a
hunt where the Fates decreed that this queen's reign, too,
would be a short on.
While on the trail of a group of boar, a small patch of
briers separated the young queen got separated from the main
party. Because of the injuries being done to her by the
long and sharp thorns of these treacherous plants, the would-
be huntress didn't take notice of a more malicious attack
A slumbering snake had been surprised by her approach
and struck out. Its death wielding fangs found their mark
all too well. They plunged eagerly into a vein. Within
minutes, the Fates drove away the queen's senses. Her mind
became a fog, and she was unable to call out for help. When
the fog cleared, she found herself in the company of the
ferryman whom all who pass from world to world must meet.
Because Deiranda had died alone, she had not conferred
her Right of Caste. Without this transfer of rank and
honor, a required tradition especially among the higher
ranked Amazons, there was an emptiness at the throne. After
the dead queen's body had been properly sent to the gods on
the pyre, the Amazons would have to decide among themselves
who would be the next leader of their nation.
Unlike races such as the Centaurs, the Amazons held
close and honored the gifts of learning and reason they had
received from the Gods. These gifts could have allowed for
a reasoned method of succession that might be considered
worthy of an Athenian. However, being a warrior race, ruled
by Ares and Artemis, the Amazons took it upon themselves to
decide the matter as tradition dictated: by force of arms.
The camp quickly aligned itself into two armies. At
the head of one army stood the wiliest of the ruling caste,
Hippolyta. Though a slight woman, her skill with weapons
and the martial arts was not questioned. The title of her
line, the Lion-huntress, was well earned and greatly
respected as it extended back into the dark past before even
the reach of the oldest of Amazon stories. She was helped
by the strongest of the martial caste, Lysia. No one knew
more about the warring arts than this honey-haired Fury.
The second army was no less strong. At its head stood
Arlora, the assumed successor to Deiranda's throne; not
because of blood, but because in the entire nation, hers was
the heart and soul that was most certainly Amazon in every
way. Her hair honored Ares in its color, and bore also a
shock of white echoing the flash of the beloved weapon of
aegis-bearing Zeus. As with Hippolyta, her skills were
beyond reproach. By Arlora's side stood Melosa. There
never was an Amazon more honorable or as protective of her
race. No one could remember another who had been as
successful in securing Amazon security -- not only as a
leader of soldiers, but also as a skilled diplomat.
Though Hippolyta's army had the lion's share of
experienced warriors, Arlora's army made up for that lack
with a greater number of young soldiers eager for victory.
When the great battle was met, youth and experience made no
difference in determining what the Fates had already
After six days of fighting, a spear pierced Arlora's
chest and settled the matter. With their leader mortally
hurt, the rest of the young army threw down their arms, as
was the Amazon way in this matter. Before she crossed over
to the other side, Arlora offered Melosa her right of caste.
With great solemnity, Melosa accepted it. This was no idle
acceptance; it carried with it a great cost. Banishment
forever from the land of the Amazons was the price a
defeated challenger was required to pay, and this payment
was customarily made by death. By accepting Arlora's right
of caste, Melosa also accepted the responsibility of
honoring the punishment due to Arlora.
In an act of great generosity and respect, Hippolyta
only forced Melosa into exile. She also allowed any Amazon
who wished to leave with Melosa to do so.
A number of the younger Amazons chose to go, as did
several of various ages and skills with strong ties to the
newly banished queen. They numbered less than thirty, but
if the Gods looked favorably on them, they might be able to
create a new land of Amazons.
Melosa was happy that her younger sister, Terreis,
chose to join her, as well as Arlora's daughter, Ephiny.
Terreis and Ephiny were like sisters. Melosa was certain
that Terreis, though younger by several years, would wisely
aid Ephiny with coming to terms of not only her mother's
death, but of their exile.
Melosa also counted herself blessed by the Gods that
Eponin had also chosen to take the new path. Though not
much older than Ephiny, Eponin was who many Amazons strove
to be: a gifted warrior who could remain unaffected. It's a
rare gift to not only be skilled in the ways of weapons and
of teaching, but also to cease being a warrior when being a
warrior is not needed. Eponin had that gift. Outside of
the martial side of her life, Eponin was relaxed both in
mind and body.
The trip to this land of the centaurs had been
remarkably uneventful. The reputation of the Amazons
preceded them. While that kept them safe while they
traveled, it also forced them to travel long and far. Their
passage was safe only if they continued to move on. Had it
not been for the centaurs being distracted by other matters,
this Eagle-head band might never have found a home.
Still, Melosa worried. Peace is never easy, but peace
surrounded by enemies is hardly peace at all. But this was
not a night to be worrying about such things. There was a
more important matter to tend to: Terreis' anointment
The anointment ceremony was a defining moment in the
life of an Amazon. Until it was complete, no woman could be
counted as being in the Amazon nation. Though filled with
rights and sermons and the usual trappings and celebrations
of a solemn ceremony, the anointment ceremony was little
more than the Amazon nation, as represented by at least one
Amazon from the royal line, conveying its right of caste to
No one was ever counted as an Amazon who did not
possess the soul of an Amazon, and who did not freely accept
the honor being offered. Many times an initiate would fail
to meet the stringent tasks required to prove themselves
worthy; not one in two thousand women who tried (and who
weren't born of an Amazon mother) could measure up to Amazon
standards. There were tales, thought to be apocryphal, of
women who turned down the honor after the intensive
training. Melosa hated even the existence of these stories.
To her, it was unthinkable that any woman asked to be an
Amazon would turn down the privilege.
In the central area of the Amazon camp, a bonfire
blazed. To the pulsating sound of energetic drums, ten
Amazons in their full glory danced around the fire in honor
of the Gods. The remaining Amazons chanted a mesmerizing
mantra that was said to lure the specter of Artemis into
their midst. Unlike the ceremonies held by men to do honor
to one of their own, the Amazons did not sample special
drink nor herbs to achieve a heightened state of reverence
and revelry. Being women, and with other Amazons, was
enough. Their trust and belief in each other was
As with a flame blown out by the Gods, the drums and
the dancing ended in a heartbeat as Melosa approached
Terreis. Heads bowed in respect as Terreis knelt at the
feet of her queen.
Melosa spoke the traditional words, "The Amazons offer
you the life and protection and honor of becoming one of
them. What will you give them in return for their gift of
loyalty to you?"
Terreis rose to look Melosa in the eyes. "I offer my
blood and my flesh and my life."
With a pleased look on her face, Melosa drew a long
blackened dagger from the scabbard at her waist. "Prove
Terreis dropped her chiton and stood free before
Melosa. "The blood in this body is Amazon. The flesh of
this body is Amazon. The life of this body is Amazon. Take
what you will for the glory of the Amazons."
With the practiced skill of having performed this
ceremony over a hundred times before, Melosa took the point
of the dagger and removed a small circle of flesh, about the
size of an Athenian drachma, from Terreis' right breast.
Terreis never flinched. With great solemnity, Melosa took
the circle of flesh still pierced on the knife's point with
her to the bonfire. The quiet droning of the mantra began
again, but slower and more reverent. Melosa said, "Great
huntress, Artemis, we Amazons now count among us the woman
Terreis. Great warrior Ares, accept this offering from our
Melosa plunged the knife with the flesh into the middle
of the fire.
Ephiny approached Terreis. In the firelight, her
golden curls more nearly matched the color of Terreis' own
locks. Ephiny held out her hands. Terreis clasped Ephiny's
wrists in the grasp know throughout the world as being one
of friendship. "Welcome, Amazon," Ephiny said. "Here."
Ephiny presented Terreis with a teardrop of amber
necklace that had been a gift from her mother Arlora at her
own anointment ceremony. "Eph..."
"Shh. Take it. My sister."
Terreis broke with strict tradition, and hugged Ephiny
before letting her move off. Next in the procession was
Eponin, the coal-haired warrior. As before, they clasped
wrists while Eponin said, "Welcome, Amazon." From Eponin
she received a magnificently carved war staff.
One by one the Amazons welcomed Terreis into their
sisterhood. Each gave her a token, but unlike the special
gifts given to her by Ephiny and Eponin, the remainder of
the gifts were tokens that each Amazon reserved for
anointment ceremonies with little more than symbolic value.
Slowly, the celebration grew. The drums began again,
as did the dancing. Songs of joy burst forth when the
spirit deemed them appropriate. Once her wound was dressed,
Terreis joined in the celebration as vigorously as the rest
of the Amazons.
Melosa called Eponin over to her. "Get the sword."
Without a moment's hesitation, Eponin quickly walked to
a special tent. Inside it was a sword forged and crafted by
Hephaestus himself. A number of these swords were made at
Artemis' request, and given as a gift to each of the royal
lines of Amazons. The sword had no equal in the world of
man. It gleamed with the brightness of Olympus itself. Its
edge would cut through all obstacles, even through chains
forged by the hands of the worker god. No force would
damage it. It was a gift that was prized and respected by
the Amazons, and known only to themselves. Or so they
Eponin rushed back to Melosa. "Where's the sword?"
"It's not there."
Melosa's face blanched as this stunning news hit her.
Together, she and Eponin returned to the tent. Inside, the
chest which held the sword was open. Its contents empty.
Melosa sniffed the air. "I smell a male."
"But who would dare.?"
"That's a question."
The Amazon celebration quickly quieted as Melosa
returned and told them the news. "Amazons, the sword of our
line has been taken. A man has violated our domain and
taken what is ours. We need to avenge this crime, take back
what is ours, and impose justice. Who will volunt--"
Melosa was firmly interrupted as the entire camp
noisily volunteered to go after the thief. As they quieted
down, Melosa said, "I thought so. But the party must be
small. Our place in this new land is not assured, and we
can't let ourselves be weakened even after such a loss.
It's very possible that our enemies committed this act to
make us an easier target."
Terreis stepped forward. "Then I should go."
Melosa was proud and a little surprised. "You? You
don't have the experience to take on such a challenge."
"You've just made my point." Terreis paused, waiting
for Melosa's prompting. When it didn't arrive, she
continued, "I'm the least experienced warrior here. In a
battle, now, my presence or absence wouldn't make much of a
difference. However, if I am one day to become queen, then
I will have had to have proven myself to the Amazons of
being worthy of that trust. I can only achieve that through
the deeds I perform. What better start than to retrieve the
sword of Hephaestus?"
Melosa replied, "You are brave Terreis. I have no
doubt that any Amazon would gladly fight with you by her
side. But you are right. You are inexperienced. Ephiny!"
Ephiny stepped forward. Melosa continued, "Ephiny, do
you think that you can find the sword?"
"Yes." Then glancing at Terreis, "But a pair of
Amazons would have a better chance of success."
Terreis piped in, "Someone to watch your back."
Melosa stared at Ephiny, "Ephiny, you are a good
warrior. You can teach my sister a lot. Make sure she
learns. You set out in the morning."
Both Terreis and Ephiny bowed their heads in
The young warriors started out on their quest at dawn's
light. A few suspiciously well-placed footprints indicated
a western direction, and lacking any other clues, the pair
started their journey with their backs to the rising sun.
Not knowing what they would face in the coming days,
Terreis and Ephiny chose to equip themselves efficiently,
but sparsely. Other than weapons, they each only carried
with them a sleep roll, a coil of rope, a waterskin, and a
pouch with preserved food. They each carried a knife and
short sword. Fleece-haired Ephiny chose to carry with her a
crossbow as well as a fighting staff adorned with a
fearsomely carved eagle's head given to her by her mother in
happier days -- it was Ephiny's first weapon. Terreis, not
yet as skilled in archery as her older companion,
substituted throwing darts and a whip for the crossbow, but
likewise carried with her a fighting staff -- not as ornate
as Ephiny's, but no less effective..
Their clothing was generally unremarkable. In addition
to the traditional leather garments favored by the Amazons:
boots, skirt, halters, and gauntlets; they also wore what at
first glance appeared to be capes. In fact, these leather
drapes, which seemed more textile than leather in touch and
appearance, could easily be tied to form a hooded half-cloak
that would help to ward off the weather, and when stretched
its full length, could be a warm cover at night.
An easy quiet accompanied the women as they walked
through the moderately wooded countryside. Their pace was
very comfortable owing to their need to keep an eye out for
any clues which might divulge the whereabouts of the
cowardly man who had stolen the Amazon's precious gift.
Terreis took her turn at the lead, but the majority of the
time Ephiny's more experienced eyes were the ones scanning
the new ground before them.
Sometime after midday, Terreis said, "Thank you."
"For inviting me along."
"Melosa did that."
"Then let me thank you for giving her the opportunity."
The pair walked in silence for several more hours.
This was something that suited Ephiny well. She much
preferred action over words, but was adept with either.
Though she spoke sparingly, she spoke plainly and directly,
her words often going straight to the heart of a matter. To
many, those who preferred the niceties of platitudes and
diplomacy, her tongue seemed harsh and cold. Her Amazon
sisters equated her economy with strength of purpose.
Ephiny was no diplomat. She was a true and loyal friend --
not only to the Amazons, but also to any whose strength and
abilities she respected. Like all Amazons in this regard,
she would unhesitatingly put herself in harm's way, and lay
down her life, if her help was needed by someone who was
As Apollo's chariot neared the end of its daily course,
Ephiny stopped. She thought she saw something. With
Terreis following, she moved through the thinning woods to a
stream. There, in the perpetually damp soil was the imprint
of a sword which had slipped off the nearby rocks. Close by
were the eroding but unmistakable signs of a large-footed
man who had stopped for a drink from the stream.
"It's our sword," Ephiny said with surety after
examining the imprint closely.
"It looks like he went upstream," Terreis offered.
"The Sun's getting low. We'll camp here tonight."
That's all the needed to be said. These strong and
able young women didn't have time to discuss what they
needed to do. Every Amazon, almost from birth, was taught
how to survive outside of a village. Ephiny went out in
search of some game. Terreis, being the youngest of the
party, gathered firewood -- her throwing darts at the ready
in the event Artemis ushered a small creature her way.
Fortune found both hunters that first night. The true
flying arrows of the golden tressed virago struck down a
young hare and an otter. Her flaming haired companion's
darts found their mark in a pheasant hen, which also
rewarded her with a clutch of eggs. That night both
warriors slept with full bellies.
Day after day, Terreis and Ephiny forged ahead on their
quest. They followed every hint of a trail that the thief
had left. But as each day went by, it was clear that the
scoundrel was outpacing them as the clues became harder to
spot due to the ravages of nature on the evidence. After
little more than a week of tracking, the trail ended.
The thief was skilled. His direction constantly
changed. Four days into their search, Terreis thought that
the trail's general western direction would help them. But
the thief suddenly turned south for a day, and then turned
to the northeast for several more days before they
Terreis and Ephiny were now in unfamiliar country. The
night after they'd lost the trail, a tense silence grew, but
neither Amazon spoke. When the new day dawned, Ephiny rose
first and quickly made ready to break camp. "What are you
doing?" Terreis asked sleepily.
"We have to pick up the trail," Ephiny replied.
"We're not going to--"
"We have to leave before the trail gets cold," Ephiny
interrupted with more than a little annoyance in her voice.
"We're not going to continue to let this man control
us," Terreis continued. "He's been playing us for fools,
and we've let him do it."
"All the more reason to find him quickly. I'm more
experienced. I think I know better what we--"
With a surety Ephiny hadn't heard from Terreis before,
the red maned warrior interrupted, "Not this time, Ephiny.
Be quiet and think."
Ephiny was stunned. Terreis continued, "This man
obviously has a plan. He knows he's being followed, and
he's using it to his advantage. He knows we have no plan
other than to track him. So he leaves us a clue here, a
clue there. Why?"
"He's leading us somewhere. A trap."
"And he's got us so turned around that we don't know
where we are."
With that, Ephiny stopped looking like she was going to
bolt at the slightest provocation. "So, what now?"
"I don't know. What if we stayed here for a few days
Ephiny considered this. "That's an idea. If he
notices we aren't following him, he might double back to see
"Or," Terreis chimed, "he might continue on to his
ultimate destination. Then at least he'd be in one place.
What do you think?"
"I think I know why you keep winning at 'Gods and
Fates'. You're cunning."
"And you're very skilled. Together, how can any man
Ephiny pulled out her sword. Terreis asked, "What are
"We might as well be productive. Protect yourself."
"Can't we wait until after breakfast?"
With a flash of anger, Ephiny thrust forward and made a
superficial cut on Terreis' upper arm. Terreis rolled out
of harm's way and grabbed her sword. Indicating the line of
blood on her arm, "What's this?"
"There's no wait until later. You fight when it's
Ephiny charged her younger opponent. Though less
experienced, Terreis was no amateur with a sword. She was
quite capable of defending herself. Ephiny, however, was
better by several levels of skill and technique. It wasn't
until after midday when the pair stop their duel. Though
both were tired, Terreis was especially exhausted. She
wolfed down her share of the leftover game from the previous
night. Ephiny started in on her again, this time with
fighting staffs. The exercise continued non-stop through
Unable to stand any more, Terreis was asleep before the
sun had completed its unerring path. Ephiny sat with her
back against a tree not too far from Terreis. The day had
been satisfying. Terreis had shown herself well. But
Ephiny still worried. Terreis had never been tested. She
hadn't yet seen terror in the eyes of her victims. She
hadn't had to overcome the terror in her own heart when
death was only a missed reaction away. But she listened to
Terreis because she had to. Even though younger, Terreis
was now a blood princess of the Amazons, and as such her
station was higher than Ephiny's. It was reassuring that
when Terreis did impose her opinion, it was wise. Terreis'
mind was keen where Ephiny's arm was strong. While Terreis'
strength would improve with time, Ephiny knew that her own
wisdom would always pale in comparison. Terreis would make
a good queen someday, and that irritated Ephiny just a
Before Arlora's death, Ephiny had been where Terreis
was now. An Amazon princess, and the next in the line of
succession should anything happen to the queen. But Arlora
giving her right of caste to Melosa had changed that.
Though Ephiny knew in her heart that her mother had made the
choice as a true Amazon would -- considering the needs of
the group before the ego of one person, it still gnawed at
her that she was now only a soldier.
Looking at the innocent face of her companion sleeping
in the light of the just started fire, Ephiny couldn't feel
jealousy. Terreis had felt Arlora's loss almost as keenly
as Ephiny. Though Melosa assumed Terreis' guardianship
after their mother died, in a fierce battle against the
pride of griffins sent against them at the request of
Aphrodite following the massacre of men at Haasikkor, Melosa
was usually engaged in her considerable responsibilities.
Arlora took Terreis in as a second daughter, and Ephiny
reveled in having a little sister who looked up to her.
No, Ephiny didn't begrudge a moment of good fortune for
her best friend and little sister. Terreis had a gift that
would one day make men's hearts quake, and have legions of
Amazons standing at her side in terrible solidarity.
Ephiny knew that she would always be the first in line
to offer her sword to Terreis. Perhaps this was how it was
meant to be. The Fates didn't act capriciously. Though she
briefly entertained the idea that as her mother had given
her right of caste to Melosa, so too would Terreis give it
to her when the time came; Ephiny knew that Terreis had the
heart of a leader and would do what was best at the time.
Ephiny then realized that it was the idea of being in the
royal line that she didn't like giving up -- and that's why
it was important for her to now accept the fabric of her
life that the Fates had woven.
As she banked the fire for the night and laid down for
sleep, she once again looked at the peaceful form of Terreis
lying across the fire from her. One day that innocent young
Amazon would be queen. Ephiny would do everything in her
power to ensure that.
That night, Ephiny slept easier than she had since her
mother had died.
When Ephiny woke, Terreis was gone. She almost called
out her name, but noticed the twig, broken first one way and
then another, sticking in the ground next to Terreis' bed
role. That was one of the Amazon codes -- an intruder might
Terreis examined the hoof prints near a tree in the
woods. The depressions weren't yet full of water from the
moisture-laden loam, meaning that the horse and its rider
weren't too far off to catch if she had reason to chase
them, but they did have a significant lead. Terreis
sheathed her sword and walked back to camp.
Before breaking from the woods, Terreis whistled an
"all clear" that sounded remarkably like an owl. When she
reached camp, she found that Ephiny had already prepared for
their departure. "Well?" Ephiny asked.
"Someone on horseback. I think they were just passing
"We should be moving."
Terreis casually started donning her travel gear.
"North," Ephiny replied.
"Why not? I figure since we don't know where we're
going, it doesn't matter how we get there."
Terreis couldn't help a chuckle. "You can be so
profound at times."
Terreis started walking north, leaving Ephiny stunned.
Ephiny hadn't intended to be profound. She had just stated
As at the start of their quest, Terreis and Ephiny
followed their noses in almost total silence. It was the
Amazon way. When entering a potentially dangerous
situation, you drew as little attention to yourself as
possible. Though they traveled under the forest canopy, and
occasionally on wagon paths and roads, they couldn't ignore
the feeling all prey mammals shared: that they were being
watched. Amazons had a saying, "If you think you are in
danger, then you are in more danger than you think."
Terreis and Ephiny maintained their caution, which was
wise. A pair of eyes WAS watching them. Before long, there
would be more.
Eponin waited until she had reached the Amazon camp
before collapsing. She was bruised and had several deep
cuts to her arms and torso. Still, she had the strength
within her to run the ten miles from the outskirts of one of
the Centaur's camps back to where she was lying now.
Ebony-blessed Govana, one of the few Amazons not born
of an Amazon helped Eponin to her tent. It was fortunate
for Eponin that Govana was the strongest in their camp, for
Eponin didn't have the energy to help herself.
As Eponin was taking a drink from a water skin Govana
had retrieved from a shelf, Melosa entered. "Queen Melosa,"
Eponin said and tried to rise; but her body refused to obey.
"What news?" Melosa asked.
"The Centaurs are gathering about five leagues from
here. They will be setting out for Corinth at the full
"What happened to you?"
"A sentry ambushed me just as I was coming back."
Eponin paused for a moment. to regain enough strength to
finish. "There's no sign of him left. I made certain. For
all they know, the Gods took him."
"Well done. I'll send in Cassara to tend to your
Eponin could only nod and sag back into her bed. Now
that her mission was done, all her tortured body wanted to
do was rest and heal.
A fortnight of methodical searching had yielded no
clues to Terreis and Ephiny. They were getting tired and
frustrated at their lack of progress. They questioned as
many people on the road as they could, but learned nothing
new. Though they came across many villages, most turned
them away -- such was the reputation of the Amazons. Only
one village welcomed them and gave them hope that their
quest would not be a futile one.
The village was nothing special -- just a stop on the
road for travelers. They were no threat to any one, and
hospitable to all, as was the Greek custom (which strangely
didn't seem to be applied to Amazons, but then they were
considered by many to be foreign trouble makers -- and truth
be told, that perception held a large nugget of truth). But
these were dangerous times, and part of a great army that
was heading south had decided to take advantage of their
hospitality. They would not kill women or children or any
man who would not raise a weapon against them. That being
the case, no man did. That the army was true to its word
was correct only in the strictest sense. No one in the
village was killed, but most of the men were badly beaten,
and many of the women had been ravaged. The entire town had
been striped clean of everything useful, valuable, or
edible. All the villagers had left when the army departed
were their lives and their homes.
Luck was not with this village. That army had been
gone for less than a week when a pathetic warlord descended
upon the town. Though his band's numbers were small, they
were more than a match for the defeated villagers. That is
until a pair of young Amazons crossed their path.
Normally, Terreis and Ephiny would have ignored the
pillaging of a village (such as it was). But on this day,
as they approached the town, a young mother ran to them,
begging for help. She dropped to her knees and then fell
dead some ten feet from the warrior women, an arrow still
vibrating from having snaked between her ribs and finding
its new quiver in her heart. Two hundred paces away a
filthy excuse for a soldier lowered his bow and laughed --
until an arrow snaked between his ribs and found a new
quiver in HIS heart. He fell with a satisfying thump.
Ephiny lowered her crossbow and pulled out her sword.
"Come on," she commanded, and rushed into the village. With
no hesitation, Terreis followed.
The red-haired princess had never before fought in a
battle where the stakes could be fatal. She was not yet
counted among the Amazons when the great battle of
succession had taken place. Since then, it had only been
training with other Amazons.
This "army" did not impress her. With less effort than
a good practice, Terreis and Ephiny repelled the woefully
overmatched bullies who had tried to exact a second rape of
the village. But the damage done was terrible. Eight men,
three woman, and one child had been killed before their
saviors had arrived on the scene.
For the remainder of the day, while the villagers
prepared their fallen for the journey to the underworld,
Terreis suggested that she and Ephiny hunt for the village.
Though Ephiny would rather have continued on, she knew that
her companion's innate compassion wouldn't allow her to
leave so precipitously. Their astonishing gifts of three
boar, two deer, and one great ox were received with great
thanks and relief. Though the food wouldn't last long given
the number of mouths to feed, it would be a salvation from
the hardships that were to come with rebuilding their lives.
In exchange for their great kindness, the village
elders related a prophesy they had once been given by an
oracle of dubious gifts. The seer had prophesied that the
village would be twice destroyed, and that they would be
rescued by those who loved Artemis. That part they all
remembered well. But the prophesy also included
instructions on where to send their saviors, and that was
less clear. While they all agreed that the direction lie to
the east, they couldn't remember if the final location was
to go through the mountains and end it the woods, or to go
through the woods and then finish in the mountains. Most
thought it was the former.
Thankful to have gotten any clue at all, Terreis and
Ephiny left before nightfall. They would miss the coming
celebration. Had it been that night, they might have
stayed, but it was scheduled for the following day as this
night was a night for respecting the dead.
And so it was that two days later Terreis and Ephiny
found themselves lost in a maze of meandering valleys caught
in the stand of young mountains. Because of the height of
the young peaks, the sun set much earlier than the pair had
expected, and before they could backtrack to a more amenable
spot, they were engulfed by the shadows.
"Did you see that?" Terreis asked.
"I think I saw a pair of eyes reflecting behind that
pile of rocks."
"Maybe you did. Follow me," Ephiny said before taking
off down a narrow channel they had just passed.
"Ephiny, wait. That's a blind canyon!"
But Ephiny had already disappeared. Terreis had no
choice but to follow. When she reached Ephiny, she saw that
walls of rock surrounded them on all sides save for the way
they entered. "Ephiny, what are you doing? We're trapped."
"This place has open ground for fighting, and very
little cover. The sky still has enough glow for us to see.
We have to fight now." Ephiny said as she dropped her staff
and drew her sword.
Terreis also drew her sword and asked, "What if they
wait before -- ?"
An unearthly roar echoed through the valleys,
interrupting Terreis. This was joined by a second, and then
Terreis and Ephiny stood back-to-back waiting for the
attack to come. They could hear the heavy shuffling steps
of three beasts entering the canyon. Ephiny fired a blind
shot from her crossbow, but heard the arrow clatter against
the rocky walls. The glow from the beasts' eyes constantly
marked their positions. The trio circled their prey.
"Well," Terreis whispered, "do we wait or do we
Ephiny was just as frightened and uncertain as Terreis,
but since hers was to be the voice of experience, she
couldn't betray her lack of confidence. "Do you have one in
front of you?"
"Get ready. Tell me when it's in front of you."
Long moments passed. "Now," Terreis said.
"ATTACK!!!" shouted Ephiny as she darted in between the
two beasts closest to her -- screaming a terrible war cry.
Terreis immediately took Ephiny's direction, and
charged the beast she had targeted. Her war cry had more
force since it was tinged with terror.
Ephiny's plan to draw off two of the four-legged
specters so that Terreis would have an even chance was
successful. Almost too successful. She could feel the
fiery breath of her hunters close on her back. She swung
back with her free arm and luckily hit one of the attackers
in its face. It hesitated. Now that Ephiny had a moment of
equality in numbers, she stopped and turned. The second
beast thundered its approach and leaped for Ephiny's throat.
Ephiny prophesied the attack and dropped to the ground. As
the murderous beast leaped over her, she plunged her sword
deep within the furry bosom of the minion of death. It
landed hard upon the rocky earth and skid to a stop. Fire
no longer issued forth from its nostrils. Had there been
light, Ephiny could have seen the look of surprise frozen in
the marauder's eyes.
The other beast was charging, and Ephiny no longer had
her sword. She leaped up into the air, and landed on the
back of the still hunger-crazed terror.
Terreis had been told that in order to be a warrior,
she would have to overcome the terror in her own heart. She
had known fear before, but it had been nothing like what she
was experiencing now. Though she always understood that she
could die at any time, she had never been face-to-face with
the fact of it. She was now standing opposite a huge shadow
with eyes that glowed like embers, whose breath was as hot
as a blast from a forge. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears.
Her breath was short. She was having trouble moving easily
and smoothly. Everything around her was moving in slow-
The shadow leaped at the Amazon, and Terreis was
suddenly shocked that the attack was so quick, and not in
slow-motion at all. She raised her sword and spun in order
to strike while avoiding the charge. The stinging metal of
her sword hit its mark, and a trail of crimson briefly hung
in the air before falling in drops to the ground as the
The beast still had much life within it. The notice
Terreis' sword had just delivered served more to anger it,
than to incapacitate it. Claws slashed at Terreis, but her
training was finally starting to take hold, and she used her
practiced agility to stay ahead of the beast and plunge her
sword into the massive body.
But while she was more nimble, she wasn't faster. The
ferocious monster before her was larger, more skilled, and
better armed. A giant claw-strewn paw flashed out. Though
the young Amazon was able to avoid the knife-like weapons
lunging for her head, she wasn't able to avoid the heavy leg
they were attached to. Terreis fell to the ground, her
senses lost to her for a time. If a savior didn't appear
soon, the beast's teeth would finish the job its club-like
limb had begun.
Though Ephiny had seen and admired the battle Terreis
had been waging, she now greatly feared for her best
friend's life. She was able to goad her beast into a charge
toward Terreis' would-be diner, and ram her beast into the
other, stunning both. Using the momentary lull, Ephiny
dismounted and grabbed Terreis' sword. It was still warm
and sticky from the courageous attacks made by her
Ephiny charged both beasts, whose surprise caused them
to make a fateful mistake: they raised their heads to get a
clear view of the woman. This exposed their throats.
Ephiny was experienced enough not to let such an opening go
by. As she ran by the great and massive beasts, she cut a
deep gash into each of their bodies, severing their
windpipes as well as the arteries that fed their single-
minded brains. It took several moments, but soon the beasts
fell and the world was caught in a profound silence.
Ephiny ran over to her fallen princess. Though Terreis
breathed, Ephiny was unable to rouse her. It was too dark
to see how badly hurt Terreis was. There also was no wood
to build a fire, and their position inside of a blind canyon
left much to be desired.
Ephiny removed her own clothing and wrapped it around
Terreis in an effort to keep her warm. Ephiny next gathered
together all of their weapons. Retrieving her sword was
time-consuming and an effort, but they couldn't afford to
leave anything behind, especially a valuable weapon.
With their gear collected, Ephiny hauled Terreis' limp
body onto her shoulders, and she carried her and all of
their gear out of this mountainous deathtrap back to the
safety of the woods. She soon started a fire and examined
Terreis' wounds in the light.
Except for the swelling blow Terreis had taken to the
head, none of the remaining scratches and cuts posed any
threat at all to the young princess. Ephiny sat by the fire
throughout the night with Terreis in her arms, trying to
keep her warm and to comfort her.
Melosa was beginning to become concerned about the pair
she had sent to find the thieving male who had stolen the
sword forged by Hephaestus. That they had been gone for
some time was disturbing. Where Amazons were involved, it
was not normally a cause for concern. But these were not
The Centaurs, dangerous neighbors in the best of times,
had grown more agitated than usual. From what they could
gather from the nearby camps, Melosa's scouts reported that
the battle the Centaurs were fighting in Corinth was
apparently not going well. Rumor had it that at least a
fourth of the army had been killed in a magnificent battle
that after nearly a week was still raging against an as-of-
yet unnamed woman warrior leading the greatest army the
world had ever known.
Melosa's healers were even now tending a Centaur who
had staggered into the Amazon camp. He wore deep festering
cuts all over his body, deep spear wounds dotted his flanks,
and one of his hooves had split. Added to that, the man-
beast was half-starved and almost dead from thirst and
exhaustion. Ordinarily, Melosa would have let the Centaur
die where he fell. Instead, she decided to take a chance to
offer an olive branch of peace to her rancorous neighbors.
She'd heal this Centaur and use that as a gesture of good
will that the Amazons wanted nothing but peace with their
Now that his wounds had been cleaned and dressed, and
his thirst slaked, the hapless soldier appeared to be
Terreis sat alone in a flat meadow as all of the Gods
glided past. First Artemis and Ares, then Athena and Apollo,
then the rest of the pantheon until Hephaestus, the God
whose work she was trying to retrieve, brought up the rear.
She tried to call out, but she couldn't speak. She tried to
rise, but she couldn't move. Behind her came the roar of a
beast a thousand times more terrifying than the one she had
fought. She was not able to turn to face it, but was
severely jolted as each one of its steps pounded the earth.
Now it was quiet. She could see nothing but the
meadow. From nearby she could hear humming, but she
couldn't see from where it was coming. Arms gently wrapped
themselves around her body and she felt safe.
In front of her appeared a monster with teeth a foot
long, claws as long as a woman's leg, lightning shooting
out from its eyes.
Terreis jerked out of Ephiny's arms as she woke up from
her mind's ramblings. She fell to the ground like a pouch
full of beans. Though Ephiny was very happy that her friend
had survived her injuries, she wasn't one for emotional
displays. "You're awake," she remarked, matter-of-factly.
Terreis head was pounding. "What?"
Seeing that Terreis' eyes weren't focusing, Ephiny was
a little concerned: "Are you alright?"
Terreis sat back against a tree and nodded carefully.
"I guess we won?"
Ephiny gave Terreis some willow-bark tea she had
brewed. When she finished, Terreis said, "I'm sorry I
wasn't more help."
"You did fine. We survived a tough battle against
"Give me a man, any day."
Terreis' comment made Ephiny look at her friend with
great surprise. Terreis continued, "They're much easier."
With a smile, Ephiny repeated, "You're alright."
That day was spent as a day of convalescence for
Terreis. Because the injury was more severe than either of
the women thought, Terreis easily slipped back and forth
from her sleep-like state to wakefulness. She didn't become
delirious again, but these lapses always brought Ephiny's
concern. She well remembered a close friend of her mother's
would had suffered a bad head wound after a battle. She,
too, drifted back and forth from consciousness. One
important difference that Ephiny was clinging to was that
during that time when her mother's friend spoke, she always
sounded drunk; her speech was slurred, and she wasn't always
very coherent. When Terreis was awake, she sounded fine.
Just a little tired, which was understandable given the
experience of the previous night. So, for the rest of the
day, Ephiny hovered near where Terreis rested, hoping that
no emergency would arise.
Late the next morning, Ephiny woke with a start, and to
the smell of roasting meat. She saw Terreis checking some
vegetables near the fire where two skewered squirrels angled
over the embers, broiling. Terreis looked up, "Good
"Good morning," Ephiny deadpanned. She hadn't expected
"The meat is done, and the roots are cooked. I figured
we might as well have a good meal before setting out again."
"Are you up for it?" Ephiny asked as Terreis handed her
one of the rodents.
"We've wasted too much time," Terreis evaded.
Ephiny dined on the meat with great gusto. Nothing
could flavor a meal a well as hunger, and she hadn't eaten
in at least two days. Terreis ate heartily as well. From
the streaks around her mouth, Ephiny suspected that the
rusty-maned one had discovered some blackberries. Her
suspicions were confirmed when, after the meal was over,
Terreis unexpectedly gave her two handfuls of the sweet
They had been trundling through the woods for several
hours when Terreis began to think that maybe setting out on
the road so soon hadn't been the wisest move on her part.
She felt dizzy and nauseous, and her hands and feet were
starting to tingle. "Let's rest for a moment. I'm a little
tired," Ephiny said.
"Ephiny never gets tired," Terreis thought to herself.
But her friend was very observant, and she was thankful for
Terreis sat heavily on a fallen log, and leaned back on
a nearby tree. Her face was ghostly pale, and she was
beginning to feel a little chilled. Ephiny didn't like the
looks of her friend. They might have to make a camp here.
"I'm going to see if there's some water nearby," Ephiny said
before disappearing deeper into the woods.
Terreis just sat where she was and rested. She ate
some of the fatty and sugary travel food she had with her
for emergencies. It was going to be a long day, and she
needed all of the energy she could muster.
Ephiny found a clear stream not more than three or four
hundred paces from where she'd left Terreis. She put down
her staff and knelt down to fill her water bag, and then she
froze. At the water's edge were fresh hoof prints.
Immediately her sword was out in one hand, her staff was in
her other, and her eyes were searching. Whoever was here
was being stealthy, and that meant they were a threat.
Carefully and quietly, she followed the signs of disturbance
away from the stream. The undergrowth made tracking
difficult, but Ephiny was better than most. Sometimes a
gift can be a curse, and so it was when Ephiny cleared a
thicket, and found herself not ten paces away from Khores: a
strapping Centaur in his prime with his bow drawn and an
arrow aimed straight at Ephiny's heart.
Ephiny froze. She quickly evaluated her situation, and
easily concluded that it was bad. Very bad. There was
really no option other than to go for the trees. She took a
quick step toward the Centaur and issued a war cry to
startle the man-beast before turning quickly to her right.
Terreis heard the cry. Ephiny was in battle. Training
and instinct wiped all fatigue from her body. She freed her
sword and raced in the direction of Ephiny's call.
Two steps was all Ephiny managed before she stopped
when an arrow planted itself deeply into the tree Ephiny
had planned to scale. With as much courage as she could
muster she sheathed her sword, turned, and faced the Centaur
who already had another arrow set to fly. The shaft buzzed
the air as it darted from the bow and struck its target -- a
lock of Ephiny's hair, which was now pinned to the tree.
Ephiny taunted, "Not much of a shot, coming from a centaur.
You should have killed me when you had the chance."
In a flash, four hooves moved the archer to within
arm's reach of Ephiny. As she swung her staff in defense,
she was felled by a mighty blow from the heavy right arm of
Khores. Ephiny fell unconscious to the floor of the woods,
missing her senses and the one lock of hair still stuck to
Khores leaned down to see what damage had been done to
the woman. Except for a tickle of blood dripping from her
now cut lip, and a few drops spilling from her nose, she
appeared to be in decent enough shape.
A faint rustling broke Khores' concern as in one
movement he turned and nocked a new arrow onto his bow.
Once again, the hunting point of his projectile was trained
at the heart of a sword-wielding Amazon. "Move away from
her," Terreis spat.
"If I wanted her dead, she'd be dead," Khores replied.
"She surprised me. If you'll let me go in peace, I will do
so as well." With that, he relaxed his draw on the bow and
Terreis was confused. She didn't know a lot about the
Centaurs, but their reputation said that they were savage
beasts. Even the truce they shared in their new home was
borne more out of necessity of the Centaurs to be strong on
another front than it was a gesture of magnanimity. "You
don't talk like any Centaur I know."
"Do you know many?"
Terreis responded only with stoic silence. One of the
first adages taught to Amazon children was, "Never reveal to
your enemies what you don't want them to know."
"My name is Khores. Please, lower your sword. I'm not
threat to you."
"Move away from her, first."
With a look of slight embarrassment over his
thoughtlessness, Khores quickly moved away from Ephiny,
allowing Terreis to get to her side. Terreis quickly
examined her, and saw that she'd only been knocked out.
Terreis sheathed her sword, but kept film grip on her staff
if the need arose. "My name is Terreis."
"Terreis. What are Amazons doing so far from home?"
Terreis paused for a moment to decide if she should
take a chance and tell him. He might have information that
they needed. It wasn't something Ephiny would approve of,
but then again sometimes Ephiny's methods weren't as
diplomatic as they could be. "We're looking for a thief.
He stole something from our village weeks ago, and we've
been tracking him."
"Without a great deal of success, apparently, " Khores
replied under Terreis' glower. "I take it that this thing
that was stolen was valuable?"
"Let's say that we'd like it returned."
"Do you know who the thief is?"
"We know he's a man. And he has large feet."
"Ahh. I do believe that you are looking for
"Be wary of him, little one. He's a son of Hermes, the
trickster. It is a long tale, and I'm not gifted in the
arts of the bard. Suffice it to say that he lost favor with
Artemis long ago, and she has sought every opportunity to
make his life miserable. In return, he has sworn vengeance
on the goddess, and tries to hurt all who worship her by
taking items that are valuable or sacred."
"You seem to know a lot about him. Do you know where
"No, I don't. I've lived in this woods alone for many
years. I know every bush, every tree, every blade of grass
by heart. So, I do know that he does not hide here. But, I
will help you find him."
"What will it cost us? Centaurs aren't exactly known
for their generosity."
Ephiny stirred a little. The effect of the Centaur's
blow was wearing off.
"Consider this a fair exchange. This aching wound of
Hermes' passion have been a nuisance to the Centaurs as
well. We respect the skills of the hunter goddess, and have
on occasion born the brunt of this thief's revenge. So, I
will get word to you if I should learn where he is. If you
find out where he hides, I ask the same in return."
"And how will we get these messages to each other?"
"Simply return to these woods. I will find you."
"How can I trust you to keep your word?"
"You don't know a lot about Centaurs, do you? We may
be a fearsome race, but we are also an honorable one. I
swear on all that I hold dear, my family and friends and
weapons, that I will be true to what we've discussed."
The Centaur extended his hand. As Terreis took it in
cooperation she said, "I give you my word that if we learn
of this thief's whereabouts, you will either learn of it
from us, or learn of his demise by our hands."
With that, Khores made a quick turn and galloped into
the thickest part of the woods, disappearing to eye and ear
in only moments.
Ephiny finally woke and reached for her sword. "Where
"He's gone. Are you ok?"
Ephiny stood up quickly with an air of frustration. "I
was so stupid. I should have gone up in the trees the
instant I knew something was wrong."
"Then he'd have shot you because he couldn't punch you.
You'd be dead."
"That might be better than being humiliated. Next time
I see that damn Centaur, I'll skin him."
Terreis smiled. "I'm glad you're feeling ok. Let's
get our gear and keep on moving."
Terreis started walking back to where she had been
resting. Now that Terreis had her back to her, Ephiny took
the opportunity to let her guard down a little and
acknowledge not only her residual fear, but also the pain
her face was in. That one punch hurt more than any blow she
had received from an Amazon's staff. She had new respect
for the strength of Centaurs -- which would be useful next
time they fought. She would not be surprised again.
It seemed that the Gods were against Melosa.
Rhokin, the Centaur they had helped, was even more
injured than previously thought. His right hind leg had a
clean fracture, and it had to be immobilized for two weeks
before it was strong enough to even attempt walking. During
that time, he mostly kept to himself -- doing little more
than eating a banquet of food every day.
Melosa tried talking to the beast on several occasions,
and was greeted by an obvious irritation. While Melosa knew
that the Centaurs and the Amazons distrusted one another,
she was unprepared for the misogynist attitude of his
species. Apparently Centaurs felt that females were of
little use other than for breeding, and then only if they
bore sons -- for male-children would be breeding Centaurs
while female-children would be killed because their
sterility made them useless. It was little talked about,
and unknown to Melosa, but the Centaurs were the kings of
the female slave trade. All of the best prizes found their
way past Centaur buyers.
The day Rhokin's splints were removed, the nightmare
began. Cassara had entered the Centaur's stall with two
young Amazon novitiates. She removed the splints that had
been supporting the leg, and tested its stability. The
novices watched at a distance away from Cassara, but within
reach of the centaur. That was their fatal mistake. As
Rhokin stood up, he grabbed each of the young women and
quietly snapped their necks while also pinning Cassara hard
against the wall of the stall. The man-beast apologized for
the "stumble", and Cassara believed him to be sincere. When
she moved away for a better look, she saw the bodies of her
fallen helpers. Before she could issue a warning, Rhokin
had her by the throat. He stripped Cassara and ravaged her
here, where she had for two weeks tended him as a healer.
Once his tension had been relieved, Rhokin opted for
escape. He knew it wouldn't be easy. It was still
daylight, and he had to carry this Amazon with him. Her
scent told him that she was prime for breeding, and he
wouldn't miss out on the chance and prestige of having a
Centaur son born of an Amazon. Besides, though he could
stand, he couldn't walk without a great deal of pain
shooting from his hindquarters all the way up his spine --
he might need her as a shield to compensate for his lack of
His assessment of the situation had been correct.
Though the barn was close to the woods, and to the outskirts
of the village, there were Amazons everywhere. He hadn't
gotten ten steps from the building with his bruised and
naked hostage before a warning cry echoed through the woods.
He was soon surrounded by fifteen Amazons. The ten with
staffs and choboes he didn't worry about. The three with
swords and the two with drawn bows were a much bigger
concern. Amazons might only be women, but steel was steel
whoever wielded it.
Melosa strode to the scene and appropriated a bow and
arrow from one of the Amazons, and aimed the fletched
projectile at the Centaur. Rhokin countered by holding
Cassara in front of him, applying great pressure to her neck
-- even a sneeze would offer enough force to snap her neck.
Melosa warned, "Rhokin, you have a choice. Either you can
release her now and die quickly, or you will die the most
painful and slow death we can devise."
"I don't think you understand. If you don't let me go,
I'll kill her."
"No you won't," Melosa flatly replied. "Release her
Rhokin's reply was to slightly improve his grip.
Cassara was able to gasp, "The life of this body is Amazon."
Melosa let fly her arrow, which plunged into the
healer's heart. Cassara fell limp in Rhokin's grasp. As
she lowered her bow, Melosa replied, "I have taken what was
necessary for the glory of the Amazons."
Rhokin dropped the dead weight of the naked woman. His
eyes were wide with surprise and fear. "You are all crazy."
"And you are defenseless," Melosa said before turning
back to the village.
On that cue, the Amazons staged their first assault and
almost effortlessly broke each of the Centaur's four legs.
He fell to the ground in immense pain. The Amazons were
true to Melosa's word. It took almost a day before Rhokin
died, and never once was the grip of pain released from his