Even as she helped build Queen Derimachea’s funeral pyre, Conori felt as if in a dream. Denial, shock held her more than grief. Their Amazon Queen was dead, not from battle or disease. At forty-two turns, she did not awaken that summer day.
Derinoe, the Queen’s Second, had discovered her lifeless body – calling frantically for Forest Tribe’s Healer. “Doris. Bring her now.”
Pushing back long strands of red hair, she remembered that exact moment. The communal breakfast was being served. Large dishes with meat, eggs, vegetables, bread and fruit where placed on a long table. Smaller tables with sitting logs were a short distance away.
Several Amazons were leisurely walking from wood and thatch huts that surrounded the camp to their meal area. Conori was hungry, filling her plate, and eating some Stone Bread directly from the serving dish. Diana, the Amazon who organized camp activities and meals, was about to scold her for it.
Doris hurried from her Healers Hut. At fifty-five turns, she was the oldest in the Tribe, but she was nimble. Her Tribe watched her bound up the steps… graying hair bobbing wildly with her strides. The meal was now forgotten.
Gathering around the Queen’s Balcony, shocked whispers were traded as Diana also entered the Hut. Close to fifty Amazons waited, not knowing their world would soon change… going down a darker path.
As they waited, Conori heard forest birds as early sunlight lightened the trees. She could smell their campfire, and feel a slight breeze on her skin. Moon Lake, still half in forest shadow, beckoned from a short distance north.
Derinoe stood on the balcony and looked over the Tribe. Her short, blonde hair was slightly clinging to her face. Holding up one hand, she held their full attention. “Our Queen Derimachea has died and joined our sisters in Artemis’s paradise.” The Tribeswomen all began talking, gasping, even shouting all at once.
Holding up both hands, Derinoe again brought silence. “There appears to be no reason for her death. Our Healer is with her now. Remain calm. As her Second, I ask you to be strong. We will mourn her as a Tribe. Go to your huts for now. I will call on you once more is known. Go now.” Derinoe’s voice carried an edge of authority, and no one spoke in response.
Hearing her words, the Tribe moved away, angry and stunned. Conori turned, running into Cylene, a woman crying quietly into her hands. Cylene tended their gardens, planting and harvesting food crops. As Conori stepped back, mumbling an apology, Cylene moved forward and buried her face against Conori’s shoulder.
Conori awkwardly held her. She felt shy around this woman; her beauty affected her that way. She was 32 turns of age, with flowing long black hair, green eyes, and a contagious laugh. Mischievous, she was known for practical jokes throughout the Tribe.
Protis, a Warrior who wanted Cylene for her own, gently separated Cylene from Conori. “We should do as Derinoe has ordered. She is, after all, our new Queen.” Protis stared into Conori’s eyes, her tone almost challenging her to argue. She considered Conori her main rival and Derinoe’s as well.
Flushed with anger Conori’s gaze turned deadly. Cylene moved in-between them. “You are right, Protis. I was overcome.” Cylene still fought back tears, but her voice was calming. “We should all go and prepare our mourning. Thank you Conori for providing some solace.” Cylene’s intervention softened Conori, and she left for her hut.
Going inside, Teneis, her best friend since childhood, was already there. The two women shared the hut since both were single. Teneis was angry, and sharpening her short sword with hard strokes. “Conori, our Queen was without sickness. She ate with us last night. Someone has killed her.” Conori removed her battle leathers, leaving on her soft cotton tunic underneath.
“We will find out more, once Doris has finished.” Conori said, hoping this was in fact true. Teneis stopped scraping to listen, resuming as Conori unlaced her boots, and reclined on sleeping furs. Both had guard duty the night before, so they could use some rest.
Conori closed her eyes, but her mind wouldn’t allow her rest. Teneis lowered two thatch window shutters, cloaking the room in darkness, and put away her sword. Returning to her chair, she sat in the dark. “You should try to sleep my friend. Protis will make sure we build the pyre later.” Teneis grunted in response, keeping her thoughts to herself.
Now, as their day turned to twilight, Conori stacked wood for their Queen’s funeral. Wood branches were cut four feet long, and placed next to one another, until the row extended eight feet. The next row repeated, with the wood stacked in another direction. When the pyre was completed, it would support their Queen’s body almost ten feet from the ground.
She had not seen their Healer Doris, or heard any news. Warriors Teneis, Akantha, Athtar, and Elonia worked alongside her as well. No words were spoken as they focused on their task.
Protis, acting as Derinoe’s Second, directed their activity. She was Derinoe’s closest ally in the Tribe, and a fierce warrior. Even in sparing practices she fought to win, no matter the cost.
Clearly, Protis would enjoy her power before Derinoe was Queen. “Very good Amazons. Go and eat now. The Funeral ceremony will begin at nightfall.” Under the watchful eye of Protis, the five warriors left for the communal eating area.
Out of hearing range, Conori turned to the others. “Has any one seen or heard from Doris?” No one had. “She has not left the Healers Hut since mid-morning” Elonia added, stopping as the women faced her. “I think she is acting odd…even for her.”
Conori didn’t like it. They needed to see Doris. Smiling slightly, Conori turned to Athtar. “Is that your new dagger? Can I see it?” Beaming as her latest toy was noticed, Athtar said. “Yes, but have care. It has a sharp edge.” Athtar carefully extended it - handle first.
Conori admired the blade, catching faded sunlight on the steel, before cutting open her own forearm.
As the women watched Conori’s blood stream down, dripping from her fingers, Conori shook her head. “I must be more careful. Doris always tells me so.” Teneis smiled at her friend. “I will take you there, so you do not lose your way.”
Entering the Healers Hut, the pungent smell of ointment and bitter potions was overwhelming. Only Healers could tolerate it for long. Looking around, Conori and Teneis found Doris sitting in the dark. Using flint, she lit a candle as they entered. “Conori…what has happened?” Conori took a chair, and stuck out her bleeding arm. Doris examined and cleaned the wound. “This will need some stitches. Hold this against it.” Doris pressed a bandage on the wound, and had Conori take over.
Doris obtained her needle and thread from a cabinet. “Doris do you trust us?” Conori’s eyes sought the Healers, who finally returned her gaze. “Yes. I trust you both.”
“What happened to our Queen?” Conori lightly touched Doris’s arm. The two women maintained eye contact, not speaking for a few moments. “I wish I knew”. Doris said softly. “I could find no reason for her death. I have seen healthy women, and men, die for no reason. She had no marks, no signs of wound or poison. Her face was at peace.” Doris dropped her eyes, but then caught Conori’s again. “But I am not at peace. I have no proof Conori, Teneis that she was killed, but my heart tells me she was.”
No one spoke as Doris began stitching the cut. Teneis was standing next to a window. “Someone comes” she said softly, as she opened the door.
Diana and Shaman Stonychia entered; two tribeswomen remarkably different in every way. Diana, always proper and formal, was respected and well liked by everyone. Shaman Stonychia wore heavy dark markings on her face and body, feathers and necklaces made of animal bone, and talked of dark arts as the real power to embrace. She openly worshiped Ares, God of War, calling Artemis an inferior god.
Derinoe brought her into their Tribe one turn ago, and she was feared by most of the Amazons.
Both women watched Doris stitch the wound. Conori met Diana’s inquiring eyes. “I was distracted cutting wood for our Queen’s pyre. It is not a serious wound.” Diana’s face was concerned. “You are too careless Conori.”
Lighting another candle, the Shaman walked close to Doris. “A very sharp cut. Your wood axe has a fine edge I see.” Stonychia’s eyes were dark and piercing. “But our fine Healer will make it right.” Conori calmly returned the Shaman’s gaze, showing no emotion. Moving across the room, Stonychia placed the candle on a table. “Our Queen’s burial ceremony will begin when you can join the rest of the Tribe.” She left, without saying another word.
Watching her leave from a window, Diana uttered what they all thought. “I hate that woman. She is evil.” Turning to the others, she added “You did not hear me say this. Doris are you done with your patient?”
“Yes Diana. Conori I want to recheck this wound in the morning.” Conori agreed. “I will be here. Thank you Doris.” Standing up, she added “Let us go pay tribute to our Queen.”
Derinoe addressed her Tribe before lighting the pyre. “We pay homage to our Queen Derimachea. She will always be praised for leading us to our destiny – our home within this forest. I am honored to follow her lead…making our Amazon Tribe the most feared, the most powerful in the world.” Some cheered this final statement. Conori and Teneis exchanged a stony look.
It was well known their Queen fought recently with Derinoe; not supporting any plans of conquest, killing, or robbing local villages to spread their fame. It was rumored before her death that another, probably Conori, would be made her Second.
It surprised many, four turns before, when Derinoe was favored by Queen Derimachea. Although Derinoe was older at 40 turns, Conori was more respected as a Warrior by their people. She had, however, been close to Sea Tribe’s Queen Hypolyta, which many felt threatened Derimachea just enough to place Derinoe as her Second.
The Queen’s pyre was ordered lit, and flames engulfed it, shooting over twenty feet into the night sky. Shaman Stonychia started her incantations to Ares for vengeance, and Artemis for her blessings.
Doris stood next to Conori. “We pray to Ares now?” Disgusted, she would not watch. Conori started to reply, until she noticed Protis standing close enough to listen. No, I will not give you the satisfaction of my answer, Protis.
The sad ceremony ended as the pyre reduced to smoldering ashes. Per tradition, the Tribe would mourn her until the next full moon, when Derinoe would be declared their new Queen.
Conori and Teneis returned to their hut. Conori sat at their table…deep in thought. Teneis was unsettled. “She means to use our Queens death as a war cry, just as the Amazons of old. A past we left behind. And many support her in this.” Teneis ran her fingers over her short dark hair, a habit that showed her irritation. Pacing their small hut, she reached both sides in seven strides.
Conori looked far away. “Not everyone. We do not, and there are others who do not.” Teneis sat down next to her. “So what is the future for our Tribe?” Conori untied her long red hair, letting it fall on her shoulders. “I do not know.” Conori faced her friend. “We support her for now; see if our fears come true. If her rule is unworthy I will challenge it.”
Teneis looked relieved and worried at the same time. “She will use Protis as her champion to defeat you in battle.” Conori was a skilled warrior, but no match for someone as ruthless as Protis. Conori smiled. “We do not challenge until you deem me ready Teneis. I am skilled with a bow, but other weapons need your instruction.” Teneis relaxed, realizing they had a plan.
Within an hour, all was quiet throughout the camp. Shaman Stonychia had removed her ceremonial leathers as Derinoe entered her dark hut. Without a word both women kissed passionately – pulling and clawing each other. “Our reign begins Queen Derinoe.” Stonychia said huskily, biting her neck as Derinoe arched in pleasure.
After being pronounced well by Doris the following morning, Conori was surprised to find herself restricted from guard duty. Protis had assigned her to Diana for the next three days to “recover from wound”. Teneis told her of the schedule change, a heavy scowl on her face.
Warrior Oigme, a Protis protégé, was placed with Teneis. Conori and Teneis exchanged a knowing look. We must threaten her somehow. I doubt she is concerned for my well-being.
Conori reported to Diana, keeping her thoughts to herself. “Diana, I am too weakened to guard our camp. What do you have for me? Washing perhaps?” Diana smiled at her. She liked this woman.
“We could use the help of a brave warrior. Cylene is harvesting in our orchards. Even one handed you could be useful.” Conori bowed to her. “I will go forthwith and supply my one hand to the task.” Both laughing, Conori left to retrieve her white mare. I should ride in my weakened state. Walking is too dangerous.
Riding through apple trees ten minutes from camp, Conori saw Cylene carrying a basket with fruit. She was a beautiful woman. Busy with her task, she did not notice Conori. This day she wore pants and a cotton tunic, her hair tied back behind her. Not unlike Conori’s style of dress, although she wore forest blending green. Conori had never seen her in anything but a dress, and soon knew why. Cylene was climbing every tree, shaking branches individually, and holding a basket underneath.
Cylene knew she was coming. Earlier from a tall apple tree her white horse was easy to see –approaching the orchard path. She smiled to herself. I can talk with her alone, with no interruptions, and no Protis. She had tried for over a turn to attract Conori’s attention, but failed each time. Complaining to her friend Euope, she had given up until this opportunity came along.
“Are you going to just watch me, or is this not warriors work?” Cylene met her eyes and smiled. Conori returned the smile. She has eyes in back of her head.
“I am sure I am not equal to your task. Perhaps I should protect the orchard from invasion, so no one steals the apples.” Cylene tossed an apple at Conori, who caught it with her injured arm. Taking one bite, she dismounted giving the rest to her eager mare.
“What would you have me do Cylene? I am yours to command.” Conori completed her second bow of the morning, as Cylene giggled at her. “And I have no one here to witness this…no one will believe me. Warrior Conori taking orders from a peasant girl.” Cylene swung down from a branch, still holding an empty basket. Walking in front of her, she stood there a moment, and handed her the basket.
“I will shake the branches, and you must catch them as they fall. They should not hit the ground.” Conori dipped her head once in acknowledgement, accepting the basket.
The task was easy enough, until Cylene deliberately shook branches farther and farther apart. Conori could not catch them all, as Cylene laughed at her efforts. Soon, Conori’s mare followed, waiting to retrieve apples that missed the basket. Laughing too hard to breathe, Conori gave up, collapsing on grass blanketing the orchard.
“I have defeated you then.” Cylene was beaming from a high branch. “Yes. I surrender to your mercy.” Conori replied, still trying to catch her breath. She was enjoying this, and couldn’t remember the last time she laughed this way.
Cylene joined her on the grass with a food basket. “I have food other than apples. Bread, goat cheese, and dried venison.” Conori was hungry and helped herself. “You eat a lot of food.” seeing the large portions.
“I knew you would be here.” came the reply. “I was with Diana when Protis placed you in her hands. I sentenced you here, after Protis left.” Diana smiled when Cylene suggested it. She often played matchmaker within the Tribe, and could picture them together.
Cylene looked very pleased with herself, eating some goat cheese with her fingers.
Conori smiled, thinking how angry Protis would be, seeing her here like this. Many believed the two were intimate, but Conori saw no evidence of it. To her, Protis wanted to be, but Cylene did not.
Cylene studied her face. “Protis does not own me. She would like to, but I choose to remain my own woman. We have not been together and will never be so.” Cylene was serious in tone and expression, her voice slightly raised. “She has a darkness about her that repels me.”
Watching her, Conori understood what she meant. Still, her status with Derinoe placed her in a position of power. “She is the new Queen’s Second. Chosen to replace her as Queen some day.” Conori said this evenly, with no emotion. She had looked away, but Cylene turned her face to meet her eyes. “Do you think I care about such things?” she asked simply. Conori had no chance to reply as Cylene kissed her, a light kiss but a meaningful one.
The shock on Conori’s face made Cylene laugh. “I believe I have surprised you. Let me try again.” This time the kiss was deeper, and returned by Conori. Emotions dormant since leaving Sea Tribe kindled in both women, and longing for more was strong.
Cylene pulled away gently, not breaking the kiss but lowering the intensity. Finally she did stop, meeting Conori’s eyes. “We need to harvest apples for our Tribe.” Her voice was husky and short of breath. Conori leaned in to kiss again, but Cylene jumped to her feet. She offered a hand to help her up. Conori took it but didn’t let go. Instead, she placed it around her and took Cylene into her arms, embracing her.
“As you command” she whispered, starting to kiss her neck. Cylene backed away leading Conori to a tree. “It is your turn to climb the tree”. Conori caressed her face with one hand before climbing into high branches. Cylene exhaled. She already wanted her very badly. But she enjoyed this time too much, and waited so long, to rush things now.
Late afternoon Conori and Cylene rode her mare to their stables, pulling a cart loaded with apples. Still in disbelief, even with Cylene’s arms around her, Conori felt pleasingly dazed. When did Cylene start caring for me? She’d been told she ignored the obvious, that she was attractive and desirable. It simply was not something that occupied her thoughts.
Cylene was also lost in her thoughts. I must tell Euope – I finally have Conori’s attention. Conori helped her down as she also dismounted, removing the saddle and bridle. Cylene then kissed her again. “Thank you for guarding our orchards Conori. I am sure they will be safe until your return tomorrow.” Conori smiled at this, still shy when she looked at her. “I hope other warriors are not needed. I enjoyed this day.” Cylene drew her into an embrace. “So have I. Do not forget, I require your help for two more days.” Cylene backed away mischievously, pulling her cart behind her.
Conori playfully leaned against a stable fence, as Cylene’s laugh faded away. Two more days. I am already in knots. But she was happy, in spite of being in mourning, Derinoe, Protis, the future of her Tribe. She had been single since leaving Sea Tribe, and escaping a bad relationship there. Cylene was an unexpected happiness that she welcomed, and needed.
From the communal area, Protis watched Cylene pull her cart into their food hut. Surely now, being their Queen’s Second, might impress her. Cylene turned as someone entered, expecting Euope or Diana, but finding Protis instead.
She wasn’t unattractive to look at. Her light brown hair was neck length – trimmed closely to her face. Athletic, her muscled body was pleasing to the eye. But she had almost a cruelness in spirit. A dark feeling that Cylene abhorred to her core. Only the Shaman disturbed her more.
“Cylene, your orchards will feed our Tribe for months. You have a magical spell on them. A spell hard to resist.” Protis was braver in her flirtation, making Cylene very uncomfortable. “Our forest is blessed with good soil, with Artemis providing her blessings.” Cylene moved to leave, but Protis blocked the doorway. “I want you Cylene, as I have wanted no other. I will worship you if you let me.” Protis had a hungry look, predatory in nature.
“I do not care for you that way. Please let me pass.” Chyrese dropped her eyes, trying not to show her fear. Protis lifted her chin, refusing her attempt to look away. “I will kill anyone who dares even look at you. You will be my woman.” Cylene angrily pulled her chin away, ready to fight Protis if she had to.
Thankfully, Euope opened the door. “Oh Protis, I was looking for…” she turned to Cylene, “Looking for Cylene. Yes.” Protis glared at her. “Then you have found her.” before irritably leaving, slamming the door.
Both women exhaled, and Cylene sagged with relief. “By the gods Euope. You have good timing. Protis would not let me leave.” Euope nodded. “I saw her come in. When you did not leave I knew you had a reason.” Euope was a good friend, not as pretty in face or figure, but full of heart. They shared a hut together, divulging secrets and at times giggling for hours.
Now grasping Euope by both arms, Cylene could barely contain her excitement. “Today was the most wonderful day Euope…I must tell you.” Cylene did so, with Euope gasping throughout.
“I can barely wait for the morrow. She has been in my thoughts so long. It is almost not real.” Cylene could still feel their kisses, Conori’s arms around her. Closing her eyes, she let the memory take her.
Euope shook her friend lightly. “But what of Protis. Would she kill Conori?” Cylene’s look became serious. “We must be careful. I think Conori will understand this as well.” Cylene did worry though, knowing Conori would challenge Protis if need be, regardless of the possible outcome.
Teneis was almost angry when Conori told her of the orchard, and Cylene. “So I had to spend my day with Oigme, who worships Protis as a god, while you collect apples and kiss Cylene. Artemis must hate me.” Teneis shook her head, and at last smiled widely.
“I did not know she cared for me Teneis. That is the truth.” Conori appeared baffled, and flushed with color. She never sought relationships on her own, so when someone expressed interest it always surprised her. Teneis crossed her arms, sarcastically nodding. “It is the long red hair. I must grow mine as long. Paint it somehow. I should at least cut my arm.” Both women laughed, sharing a pleasant moment.
Three white cats watched their master, Sea Tribe’s Queen Hypolyta, acting very strangely. From a comfortable sunny windowsill, their heads moved in tandem with her strides. At mid-day, they usually shared a nap on her canopy bed in another room. This change in routine was not welcome and did not bode well for a timely dinner.
Pacing her chamber, she clutched a scroll announcing Queen Derimachea’s death. Although their parting four turns ago had been painful, Hypolyta accepted it as natural growth for the Amazons. The Sea Tribe was too large, and Derimachea was anxious to rule.
Those who sought adventure, or a change, went with her. Hypolyta hated to lose Conori, a warrior she admired for her wisdom and beauty. Conori was escaping from Aete, a woman who betrayed her, not seeking another ruler. It still stung her pride that Conori would not stay at Sea Tribe.
And Derimachea had been her Second. Such betrayal cut her deeply at the time. Over the last four turns, she had recognized the need for it. Sea Tribe was happier, and scrolls from Derimachea told her Forest Tribe thrived as well.
But now this. Died in her sleep. I do not believe it. She remembered Derinoe, a woman with beady brown eyes she never did like. She was Second … over Conori? Hypolyta continued to pace, her long braded dark hair swinging back and forth. Short but stout in figure, her presence was always commanding. She easily had the energy of much younger Amazons.
Close to fifty turns, she was also fit enough to travel. “Barkita,” calling her Guard Captain nearby, “Bring Warriors Tara and Alexiares. I wish to travel to Forest Tribe.” Noticing her feline admirers with a sigh, Hypolyta stroked all three. “My lovelies, your mother is taking a journey. You will have my bed all to yourselves.” Their purring offered little solace, but brought a smile anyway.
Later that evening, Tara complained to Warrior Aceto, her best friend, at their tavern. Unlike Forest Tribe, Sea Tribe had a busy port and catered to outside visitors as well as their Tribe. Merchants or Traders could use their tavern, store, and combination hostel and food establishment. They were limited to these areas by constant Amazon guard, and disturbances were seldom.
Both warriors were drinking their second ale. “I am told to plan her trip to Forest Tribe, but I am not to go. And she leaves Alexiares in charge.” Tara was fuming. “Have I not earned her trust, either here or riding at her side?” Aceto said nothing, wisely letting her friend vent.
“I know I am young in her eyes, but I am the best warrior. We both should be going with her.” Aceto nodded, trying to ignore a tavern waitress waiving at her. Not now Zerynthis – later. Tara finished her ale, and ordered another. She wished her Queen had appointed someone, even if it was Alexiares, as her official Second. For four turns, she left the position open, not making any decisions.
“Perhaps Hypolyta needs you here, just in case.” Aceto offered, not knowing if this comment would help. Tara stared at her friend, and then looked away. “I would rather go as just a warrior.” Tara was starting to calm down. “That is what I am best at.”
Aceto watched her friend thoughtfully. She fears you fighting with Protis again. Especially now. Before Protis left Sea Tribe, Tara witnessed her ‘training’ other warriors, sometimes causing serious injuries, and confronted her. Their battle with staffs was still talked about, and was Protis’s only known defeat. Tara openly threatened Protis afterwards. She would not hurt another Amazon unless she intended to challenge her again.
Queen Hypolyta expressed disapproval once she heard of their fight, but Tara was idolized by most of the warriors. She also found her Queen spent more time with her after the episode, almost as a mentor.
Aceto offered a solution. “My friend, you need some lovely female distraction. Zerynthis knows several women ready to swoon at your feet.” Tara heaved a sigh. This was always Aceto’s answer. “No Aceto. I am not good company today. Enjoy yourself – I have babbled enough.” Aceto frowned but dropped the subject. Tara was beginning to tire, and after she left the night was for romance.
Throwing her arm over Tara’s shoulders, Aceto squeezed her close. “Next time, I want to hear yes.” Tara lifted an eyebrow at her friend. “I will always consider it, but no promises.” Aceto laughed. “That is all I can ask!”
The apple orchard was becoming Conori’s favorite place. Her mare loved it as well, hunting for apples as Conori dismounted. The morning sun was already bright and cloudless. It would be very warm again by mid-day.
Cylene greeted her warmly, with embrace and kiss. “I feel so safe now my warrior.” Her dimples showing as she smiled. “But I must confess. I do not feel like picking apples.” Conori took her hand as they walked through the trees.
“Then what should we do Cylene? I am still yours to command.” Cylene laughed, but then turned serious. “We must talk of Protis, but you must hold your anger.”
Conori stopped, turning to face her. “Enlighten me.” Her voice was already dangerously low. Cylene told her what happened in the food hut, holding Conori firmly with both hands on her arms. She felt her go rigid, saw her face flush with anger.
“Stop Now” Cylene pleaded. “This is our time. I tell you this so you know we must be careful around our Tribe.” Her eyes stayed locked with Conori’s. She had to make her understand this.
Conori could not control her anger. “So I should hide behind you, for fear of her?” Cylene put both hands on her face. “If you want us to continue, yes, for now.” Conori pulled away, angrily striking a tree with one fist. She asks too much of me.
Cylene moved in front, lowering her hand and pulling it to her. “I do not trust her to fight you fairly, and our Tribe needs you. I will not put you at risk over me. I will go to Diana if need be.” The kiss that followed was almost bruising, as Conori still felt her anger. Rather than discourage it, Cylene drew her in more. She felt her very core burning with desire.
Breaking the kiss, Conori looked into Cylene’s eyes. “I am sorry. I am angry at Protis, Angry I can not help, that we must hide…” Conori did not finish her thought. She tried to walk away but Cylene would not let her. “I know. For now, except for chosen friends, we should be careful. Do you agree?” Cylene’s eyes pleaded with her, and waited for an answer.
“Only if you talk to Diana” Conori said, making her own condition. Cylene smiled. “As you command my warrior.” Playfully adding “It will be done before the next sunrise”
As Cylene kissed her face, Conori felt her anger subside. In a way, this fit her plans with Teneis as well. As much as it hurt her pride, her fighting skills did not match Protis. Now she had even more reason to seek instruction.
“Come with me. I have something to show you. A special place.” Cylene led her to a mountain formation next to the orchard. From a distance, even standing close by, nothing appeared special. Large boulders, shrub, rocky terrain adorned the hillside.
Cylene weaved around the boulders until leading them both within a cavern. Lighting a candle with flint revealed an interior of crystal, fools gold, and jade. The flames light danced over the walls, reflecting natural beauty at every turn and crevasse. Conori had never seen anything like this. “You are the only one I have brought here. Not even Euope knows of it. I do not want it disturbed, so it is always this beautiful.”
Running her hand gently over the crystal, Conori noticed a sitting area of furs, and a food basket. “You have come here often.” This surprised her. Cylene seemed to crave companionship, always laughing with her tribe. Finding she enjoyed solitude, even in this beauty, was unexpected.
Cylene smiled. “I think I have wine. I will see.” She sat to check the basket, and Conori settled beside her. Filling a goblet, she handed it to Conori. “We will need to share. I only have one.”
Conori drank, and then offered it to Cylene, who was studying her. “You have questions for me.” Conori did… amazed how this woman could read her very thoughts. “Yes. Why are you alone? Single.” Cylene laughed, again filling their goblet.
“We have more in common than you know. My heart was broken in Sea Tribe, which is why I left. I was with Lykopis, who betrayed me with Aete. Your woman.”
Conori shook her head. “She was a fool then, and knows this very well now.” Conori had not known who Aete seduced, but was thankful she did not care. “You have seen no one since that time?” Conori was still surprised at this, if it was true.
“No one my warrior. Although I have tried to get your attention, but you would not look at me. Why?” Cylene started to kiss her around the face. Light kisses. “Because…you were too beautiful.” Conori abandoned the goblet as both women kissed passionately.
“Must I cover myself with mud to please you?” Cylene gasped, as Conori kissed her neck. “Perhaps” was Conori’s reply, as they reclined on the furs. They made love there, lost in each other.
Inside the Queen’s Hut, Derinoe returned the salute from Ktesippe and Varia, two Sea Tribe messengers. “Queen Hypolyta wishes to meet with you. She has asked me to return with your answer.” Nodding at Ktesippe, Derinoe unrolled a sealed scroll.
Sea Tribe grieves the loss of Queen Derimachea. I await your word to arrive and personally offer our friendship during this time. If permission is granted, I will come with five from our Tribe as an escort.
“Please tell her we are honored, and Sea Tribe is welcome. Protis, send two of our warriors with these messengers as an escort.” Bowing, the women left the Queen’s Hut. Shaman Stonychia watched this exchange unseen from the bedroom. Now standing beside Derinoe, she caressed her back. “She seeks information not found on your scroll. You can use this to your advantage.” Derinoe was thoughtful. “She is a nosey old crone, but I will tell her what she needs to hear. I will seek her wisdom during this time of grief”. The Shaman smiled. “Very well my Queen.”
An hour before Communal dinner, Cylene returned to camp. Walking alone, she felt almost giddy with pleasure. They had made love several times, even bathing together at a secluded area of Moon Lake. She knew it would be like this, with her, but it seemed dream like.
She had wanted to wait. Enjoy the flirtation and courtship of early romance. But her desires for Conori made that impossible. In the end, she had seduced her, although the warrior surrendered very willingly.
Now, she sought Diana. Finding her helping prepare the meal, she told Diana about Protis. Diana was enraged. “Derinoe must know of this. Her behavior is not welcome in our Tribe. I will speak to her.” Diana stormed off, her pace loosening strands of hair from her bun.
After Diana left the Queen’s Hut, Protis was called in by Derinoe. Protis, saluting as always, could see she was angry. “You need to decide what pleases you more Protis, your title as my Second and successor, or if Cylene means more to you. I will release you from your obligations.”
Protis was stunned. “She is just amusement my Queen, nothing more.” Derinoe stood directly in front of Protis. “She does not wish your attentions. Have I made myself clear?”
“Yes my Queen.” Protis replied, knowing somehow she would repay Cylene for this betrayal. Derinoe dismissed her with a wave of one hand. “Get out of my sight. I want to hear no more of this.”
Teneis could tell during their evening meal that emotions were high. They all heard of Queen Hypolyta’s pending visit, but that wasn’t what caught her attention. Conori and Cylene were flushed and beaming, though carefully not at each other. And Protis was clearly angry, but not meeting anyone’s eyes.
Sitting next to Conori, Teneis elbowed her in the side. “Conori, apple orchards agree with you but you must look solemn. You are too happy.” This was said as a whisper, even though no one was close by. Conori had noticed Protis was upset, and knew why. “Teneis. You are a good friend to me. I hope you feel the same.” Conori was serious, meeting Teneis’s eyes. Embarrassed she nodded. “I live to keep you out of trouble, and yes I value our friendship.” They both exchanged a warm glance.
“But if you even look at Cylene I will strike you myself.” Teneis warned. Conori looked at Protis instead, content to watch her upset. “What is Cylene doing Teneis?” Conori took a drink of wine. “She is laughing at Euope and Doris, and Athtar. I must caution her as well.”
Teneis picked up an apple, and walked to Cylene’s table. Displaying the apple, she whispered into Cylene’s ear. “I am a friend, and you are too happy. Trust me in this.” Teneis bowed as if complimenting her, and took a bite of apple.
Cylene nodded, as if accepting a compliment, and busied herself eating food. Teneis, you are a true friend to us both. Cylene and Conori exchanged a glance …brief but powerful for them both. Teneis walked back to Conori, who put an arm around her. “We should spare with staffs after this meal, so you can practice striking me.” Teneis smiled in reply.
After the meal, Conori and Teneis walked to the sparing area. Staff, wooden swords and daggers were kept close by for such practice. Each taking a staff, they began to strike and defend their staffs. Conori was good, but Teneis clearly better. When Teneis could have hit a damaging blow, she tapped instead, telling Conori what she should have done.
Several Tribeswomen watched, and soon other warriors began to practice as well. Athtar loved to spar, and soon Elonia was fending off her blows. Cylene, Doris, and Euope watched from a distance.
Protis needed to release her anger and picked a target. “Teneis, I would like to spare with Conori, to see if she has improved.” Teneis responded quickly. “She is still injured and I was being careful.” Teneis handed her the staff.
Cylene held her breath - visibly tense. Whispering in her ear, Doris calmed her. “Cylene warriors spare all the time. You must relax.” Cylene smiled weakly at Doris, pleased she had another ally.
Protis and Conori began to hit staffs. Simple exchanges and each blocked the other. Soon, however, the blows were full force. Conori held her own until Protis did a foot sweep she invented, swiftly bringing Conori to the ground. This would have ended a normal spare, but Protis followed with a vicious strike to Conori’s face. The force drove her backwards and she rolled instinctively to prevent another blow.
“No Cylene” Doris held her arm in a firm grip. “I will go and check her.” Doris left and Cylene took Euope’s hand and squeezed it.
Conori rose rapidly to her feet. Other warriors protested immediately, and Conori held back Teneis with one hand, wiping her bloody face with the other. Nodding to Protis, she offered a compliment. “I have never seen such a trip move. Please show me how to do that.” Protis was flattered as other warriors pressed in and demonstrated the move. Conori gestured Doris away. “I am fine” and smiled at her. “You can check me on the morrow.”
Practice was soon over, and Teneis walked with Conori to their hut. “I should have blocked her blow. I was not expecting it.” Conori touched her arm. “No. Others need to see this. And I need to learn her tricks. It went very well.” Teneis didn’t like it but nodded. “You are right, but I will not stand by and let her kill you.” Conori chuckled at that. “Spoken as a true friend Teneis, thank you.”
The following morning, Cylene rushed to Conori’s side as she dismounted. “Are you well? I could not sleep after what I saw.” Cylene started to cry as Conori held her. “Nothing is wrong. I have a sore lip and nose, but it will heal.” Conori kissed her even though it was uncomfortable. “Do not worry. She has one less trick she can use now.”
Cylene looked at her steadily for a moment, as if reading her very thoughts. “You mean to fight her some day.” Conori was truthful with her. “I must prepare if I need to. If our Tribe needs me to.”
Cylene held her, her sense of humor returning. “Does this mean you should save your strength and rest alone?” Conori took both of her hands and kissed them. “It means I must tire myself completely to build my strength. I need help in this.” Both soon entered their cavern, forgetting all else except each other.
After some time, both women were satisfied, at least for the moment. Conori was on her side, propped on one elbow, going over Cylene’s body with her fingertips. Cylene caught her wandering hand. “If there were awards for bringing pleasure you would win my warrior.” Conori kissed the side of her face. “Does this mean I must seek others to receive it?” Cylene laughed. She had not realized Conori had a good sense of humor.
Opening her eyes wide, Cylene also rolled on her side, her face nuzzling on Conori’s. “If you have strength left, after I am satisfied, perhaps you should.” Conori smiled at this, doubting it was possible. “Maybe you are the one who should have others.” Cylene looked playfully reflective. “I should think on this, you may be right.”
Conori rolled on top of her, pinning her hands above her head with her own. “This is your last day to command me Cylene. What is your desire?” Cylene groaned as Conori trailed kisses on her face, neck. The need to touch her was strong, but Conori held her hands firmly. “I command this never ends.” Their eyes locked as Conori released her. Freed hands ran through her red hair, before capturing her mouth with a passionate kiss.
At dusk they started walking back to camp, leading the horse and cart only half full. Both walked slowly, not wanting their time to end. “Maybe I should cut my arm again” offered Conori, trying to lift their spirits.
“I could become a warrior. That way I can at least strike you with a staff.” countered Cylene. Conori took her into her arms. “I have no defense from you. It would not be fair.” The kiss that followed made both breathless.
After the evening meal, Teneis took Conori to a forest clearing a mile from camp. Two staffs had already been placed there. “I have a counter move for the foot sweep.” Teneis had been thinking it through. “Either a fast strike to the head and stepping back,” Teneis demonstrated against a tree, “or a step forward striking the face or chest.” Teneis drove the end of her staff into the tree.
Both women practiced full strength for several minutes. Teneis brought up Sea Tribe. “Queen Hypolyta should arrive tomorrow. You and I are on guard duty again, away from where she enters camp.” Conori smiled, already glistening with sweat. “We have a night shift” Teneis added, almost missing a block. Her staff improves already.
Conori paused for breath. “Hypolyta will not sleep until she sees you or I…this I know.”
Teneis nodded, and then pointed to some trees. She had arranged a surprise for Conori.
“We have admirers.” Hearing a giggle, Conori turned and saw Euope and Cylene. Euope giggling and Cylene looking intently at her.
Teneis took Conori’s staff. “I thought we were safe from intruders here” Conori narrowed her eyes at Teneis. “You are a good friend indeed.” Embarrassed, Teneis leaned their staffs against a tree.
Cylene kept her eyes on Conori as the warriors walked towards them. She does not know how desirable she is, even now. Conori moved to kiss without an embrace, her sweat still wet on her skin. Cylene pulled her close, not caring at all. Teneis gestured to Euope, and the two left them alone.
“I will ask Artemis to bless our friend Teneis. She thinks of you almost as much as I.” Cylene had received a scroll with a drawn map, showing the area they would be. Conori kissed her forehead. “I am the one who has been blessed Cylene. I know not why.”
Cylene’s hand touched her face. “Dearest woman, we can not stay long. Protis was with Derinoe when we left. Soon she will prowl through camp.”
As light hearted as Cylene’s words were, anger was Conori’s response. Instead of lashing out, she took Cylene in her arms. “There will be a day Protis will regret ever leaving Sea Tribe. This I promise.” Cylene didn’t answer in words, just held her close, hoping that day didn’t cost her Conori as well.
Rejoining Teneis and Euope, the women returned to camp unnoticed. Teneis was complimentary with Conori. “You have improved with your staff. We will plan on adding Athtar, and maybe Elonia to our practice sessions.” Both women entered their hut, and just in time. Protis was walking through camp. Conori watched her pass through a window. “Teneis, I must practice with her as well, and I must lose.” Teneis stiffened at that. She realized the strategy Conori was using, but she could suffer injury as well. Conori looked at her friend. “Do not worry Teneis. We will prevail.”
Queen Hypolyta and her Sea Tribe Amazons arrived at Forest Camp at midday. They were greeted by Forest Tribe with cheers and respectful salutes. Derinoe herself took Hypolyta’s bridle, saluting as she did so. “Great Queen of Sea Tribe, our greetings to you. You honor us during this time of sorrow.” Hypolyta returned the salute after dismounting, not believing a word Derinoe said. “Greetings Derinoe. Thank you for allowing our visit. You have beautiful lands. Your camp is impressive as well.”
Derinoe was pleased with her words, and toured Sea Tribe around the camp, ending with the huts they would be using. Diana had three fully prepared with food, drink, and clothing for their visitors. Derinoe pulled Hypolyta aside as they reached it. “Good Queen, please rest for a few hours. Once you have been refreshed, I wish you to meet with our Healer Doris. We will talk of our Queen’s sudden death. I also seek your counsel as her Second.” Hypolyta dipped her head in response.
Derinoe retired to her hut, with Protis joining her as well. “I think you have impressed her my Queen. Seeking her counsel is an excellent plan.” Derinoe nodded but paced her hut, already planning her words for Hypolyta. Turning to face Protis, “I need you to tell our Shaman to stay away from camp. I do not wish Hypolyta to see her.” She could just imagine Hypolyta’s face, seeing Stonychia and her worship of Ares.
Protis soon entered Stonychia’s dark hut. Even though midday, her hut was deeply covered in wood and shrubs. A candle was lit, revealing Stonychia without heavy make up, her brown hair worn down her back. She looked like a normal, beautiful woman.
She wore a revealing leather shirt, open almost to her navel.
“You bring word from our Queen, that I am to stay here, do you not?” The Shaman filled two goblets, offering one to Protis. “Just until our Sea Queen has gone. You still have her favor.” Stonychia moved closer as the women drank their wine, much stronger than Protis was used to. “And what of your favor, Protis?” Her hand started a fiery trail along her outer thigh. “Is there nothing I can do for you?”
Protis needed no further encouragement. Finishing her wine, she threw the goblet and took Stonychia into her arms. The kiss that followed was hard, which both women enjoyed. Stonychia pulled Protis in closer, rubbing her body on hers.
“Shaman, what do you want?” Protis groaned, knowing she would not stop no matter the answer. “A woman who will not hide me, that wants all I can give her. A woman who wants to rule.” Protis lifted Stonychia and carried her to her sleeping furs. No more was spoken in words.
Queen Hypolyta and Barkita returned to their hut. She had met with Derinoe and the Healer Doris. Both explained what happened the day Derimachea died. The Queen knew Doris was a good Healer, and believed what she said.
“Barkita, her death was black magic. A woman of 42 turns does not die without warning. Doris would not recognize it for that.” Barkita usually stayed neutral, but inside she felt her Queen was right.
“I do not trust Derinoe my Queen.” Barkita stood with her arms crossed, wishing they had stayed at Sea Tribe. Hypolyta nodded, and then raised one finger. “You must give Diana a message from me.”
Conori and Teneis returned from Guard duty, well after communal dinner with Sea Tribe, to find Diana inside their hut. “Queen Hypolyta wishes to see you both. She is inside my hut.” Conori smiled. “Thank you Diana” and both let immediately.
Hypolyta would not allow their salutes. She embraced both women as daughters. “Praise Artemis that I find you both well.” Hypolyta then frowned as she touched Conori’s face – still swollen from Protis’s staff. “I am well. It was a sparing wound.” Conori and Teneis nodded at Barkita, who returned their greeting.
Hypolyta motioned for them to join her at a table. “Tell me what has happened Conori, from the beginning of four turns ago.” Conori did, including how Protis had raided local villages to steal want they wanted – under Derinoe’s orders. “This caused a rift between Derimachea and Derinoe. It was rumored that Derinoe was being removed as her Second. Then she died.”
“A convenient death for Derinoe.” Hypolyta offered. Conori gestured with her hands open. “We have no proof of misdeed.” Everyone was silent for a few moments, watching the candle flicker and burn.
Hypolyta shifted in her chair. “What is your plan Conori?” Conori stood up, and walked across the room, then faced her former Queen. “If Derinoe’s rule is what I fear, I will challenge her. Her use of black magic does not change that. This may mean I battle her Second Protis as her champion.”
“Conori, she can be defeated. Tara did.” Hypolyta looked away. Perhaps I should have brought her. “As far as black magic, you must do your challenge when it is not expected. So no time can be used to prepare it against you.” This was good advice, with both Teneis and Barkita nodding in agreement.
Conori took Hypolyta’s hands with her own. “Great Queen, thank you for your support. I had feared once I left Sea Tribe we would no longer be friends.” Hypolyta chuckled in response. “Dear Conori – no one ever gets rid of me that easily.”
The following day, Queen Hypolyta spent a leisurely day at camp. She did spend some time with Derinoe – “helping” her with issues of rule. She gave advice on her ceremony, which would be in two weeks. Finally feinting tiredness, Hypolyta withdrew to her hut.
Before retiring, she told Derinoe that she would return to Sea Tribe the following day, now that she knew Forest Tribe was in capable hands.
Entering her hut with Barkita, Hypolyta was anything but tired. “The day Derinoe’s rule is over we will have a celebration. Make sure we leave early on the morrow. I need sea air to clear my head of her.” Barkita laughed, as relieved as her Queen they would soon be home.
Derinoe was gleeful. She had feared Hypolyta would extend her visit until her celebration. Seeing Protis talking with some warriors, she called to her Second. The two women walked the camp, away from others. “Everything has gone well. The Sea Queen leaves tomorrow.” Protis was relieved. “Good. I grow tired of her. She is why I left Sea Tribe.” Derinoe knew that was not the reason. Protis wished to escape Tara, the only one to ever defeat her in battle.
Looking at her Second, she noticed scratches and telltale marks on her neck. Our Shaman has seduced you as well. It made no difference to Derinoe. She used everyone for her needs, and as long as they were met, nothing else mattered. Still, she would need to watch for any betrayal. Protis did have her own ambitions.
Conori and Teneis rose at mid-morning, and learned Queen Hypolyta had left early that day. This had been part of their discussions, so Derinoe would be at ease. But Conori was still saddened to know she was gone. Her presence had been welcome.
Teneis put an arm around her shoulder. “We have no duty today, Protis is escorting the Queen to her lands…perhaps you should visit the orchards.” Conori became joyful, already walking towards the stable. “But we will spare this afternoon before communal meal – with Athtar and Elonia.” Teneis called this out as Conori was already 20 paces away.
Cylene had finished picking the last of their apples, sorry to see the end of harvest. She had other duties as well, but she loved these trees most of all. Sitting in high branches, her view of forest and Moon Lake was breathtaking. She thought of her time with Conori, and missed her as well.
Lost in thought, hearing her voice startled her. “So you can be caught day dreaming…perhaps of other warriors you can beguile with your charms?” Cylene smiled, lowering herself from the tree as Conori dismounted. “You have found me out. I stay here to plan my attacks well in advance.”
They embraced, kissed. It had been two days since they last touched. Conori told her Hypolyta had left, and was being escorted by Protis. “But I must return before evening meal. Teneis wishes others to beat me with their staffs.” Cylene laughed at her joke, but it made her nervous as well.
The day was going to be warm. The sky was clear blue with no clouds. “We should ride your mare to Moon Lake, to relax before your battles.” Conori was already mounting, offering Cylene her hand and stirrup. “I can think of nothing better.” Conori said, feeling Cylene’s arms go around her. “Oh I can my warrior. Have you forgotten?”
Riding towards a secluded area of the Lake, Cylene decided to remind Conori of her touch. Leaning forward she trailed her hands along Conori’s legs, following the crease of her black pants. Conori tried grabbing her hands, but she needed to use her reins and Cylene soon pulled them away and started again. Conori brought her mare to a gallop, the only way she could make Cylene keep her arms wrapped around her. Reaching the lake, Conori had the mare go into the water.
When the water reached their knees Conori held onto Cylene and pulled them both into the lake. Laughing, and now splashing each other, they played like children as the mare left for grazing. At last Conori pinned her arms in an embrace. Their kiss became hungry as both now clung to the other. Wet clothes were soon discarded, and love making began in earnest.
Later, the two women enjoyed holding each other – weightless in the water. Conori spun Cylene in a slow circle. “What are your thoughts my warrior?” Cylene tipped her head sideways, curious to hear her answer.
Conori smiled at her, shaking her head back and forth. “If I give you everything, there will be no mystery. I must keep you wondering.” Cylene responded by softly biting her nose. “You deserved that…and more” Cylene softly kissed her, and then drew her close. “I am afraid there is no mystery to me, is there?
Conori had a funny reply until she saw Cylene’s eyes, brimming with tears. “No, do not cry. Please do not.” Not knowing what was wrong, she held her close. “You must promise me that you will be careful Conori. The thought of losing you…we could run away – return to Sea Tribe.” These last words were said rapidly, a pleading look on Cylene’s face.
“I can not run away from our Tribe. How many will suffer if Derinoe stays in power? And Protis? I can not leave. Even for you my love.” Conori did indeed say the word love, one she had hoped to avoid. Not because she didn’t believe she loved her, but because she knew she did.
“I love you Conori. I am sorry…” Conori silenced her words with a kiss. Placing both hands on her face, Conori looked deeply into her eyes. “Never be sorry if your words are true. I love you as well.”
They held one another, until laughter from across the lake drew their attention. They could see other Tribeswomen enjoying a swim, themselves unseen behind several boulders.
“My dearest warrior. We must return you to Teneis so she may beat you with a stick.” Conori pretended to look serious. “It is a Staff, not a stick.” Cylene pulled their clothes from a boulder – already dry from the sun. Both women reluctantly put them on and rode towards the stable.
Timon was as frightened as he could ever remember, not just for himself. His son, Thadeous, was in danger as well. He had heard of Amazons, most had, but he thought the Black Forest was open land. They had traveled there to hunt for venison, only to be captured as poachers. He did not fight, or try to flee, when one Amazon struck him with a staff.
He decided to seek their mercy instead. Now, they were being walked into their camp, hands bound, and a secret place he knew they should not see.
Conori was practicing her staff with Elonia, with Teneis close by, when they arrived. The rest of the Tribe gathered as Protis and Athtar, returning from escorting Queen Hypolyta, brought two men into camp. The older man, maybe 40 turns, was still bleeding from a head wound. The other was young at 17 turns. Shouting from the Tribe brought Derinoe, and Protis acknowledged her Queen. “I have captured two poachers on Amazon land. They claim they did not know it was our forest.”
Conori looked at both men, who were not evil in appearance or demeanor. They were obviously poor, and terrified. The oldest man went to his knees. “Great Amazons, please may I speak.” Derinoe stepped forward. “Go ahead.” Both Conori and Teneis moved closer to hear.
“My name is Timon. This boy” nodding to the younger man, “Is my son Thadeous. We are farmers from Gargarean. I did not know we were on Amazon land. I wished to show my son how to hunt. Please, any punishment should be mine – he is but a boy.”
Derinoe smiled at him. “A noble plea Timon. But he has also trespassed by following you. And now both of you know of our camp. Your life will be forfeit, and your son our slave until death.”
Shocked gasping was heard throughout the Tribe. This was severe punishment for a minor offense. Diana stepped forward. “Derinoe, this is too harsh. Word of this will spread, and we will be driven from this land. Would it not be wise to release them, so they may tell others of our mercy?”
Several tribeswomen agreed with Diana and voiced their support. This angered Derinoe, who moved directly in front of Diana. “Do you challenge my rule, Diana?” She appeared ready to, and drew a large breath.
Cylene closed her eyes. She knew what would happen next.
Conori stepped forward, and Teneis moved with her. “I, Conori, challenge your rule. You are unfit to lead our Tribe.” Almost the entire tribe moved behind Conori, showing their support.
Derinoe was surprised, not by Conori, but the other Tribeswomen. It was too late to back down. “Very well, at sunrise…” Conori held up her staff “No Derinoe. The challenge is now. This farmer and his son go free.” Shouting from the Tribe clearly supported Conori – Timon’s plea had reached their hearts.
Leaning over, Protis spoke to her Queen’s ear. “Appoint me your Champion, and I will kill her now.” Derinoe would have preferred more time, but Protis could easily handle Conori.
Derinoe placed her hand on Protis. “As you wish – it will be now. Protis will be my Champion. Protis – you have choice of weapon, and location.” Protis picked up her staff – holding it in the air. “We will battle on the fallen tree at the gorge – to the death.”
The location was a dangerous one. The gorge dropped over 100 paces to a rocky bottom. The fallen tree crossed over it, but it was not stabile. One Amazon met her death just using it to cross over. Teneis sickened at the thought of even trying to fight on top of it.
But Conori knew she had no choice. Walking with Teneis to get her battle leathers, Cylene joined her and took her hand. “I could not let him die, I simply could not.” Both women knew this. “Conori, you must stay low to keep your balance,” Teneis was already thinking it through, “Wear soft leather on your feet – so you can grip.” Conori nodded, now inside their hut she reached for moccasins of deer hide.
Diana entered the hut, tears on her face. No one had seen her this emotional. “Conori, do not do this for me. I will apologize to Derinoe. Remove your challenge.” Conori stood, now fully dressed for battle. “Diana, I do this for Forest Tribe. We are not murderers. I would be ashamed if I allowed Derinoe to rule. To kill that man.” Diana understood, dropping her eyes in sorrow.
Cylene cried softly as she held Conori. “Do not lose my warrior. It has taken me so long to capture you.” Cylene cradled her face with both hands. “I love you.”
Conori smiled into her eyes. “I love you Cylene. No woman has ever made me happier.” Conori and Teneis left the hut, with Diana and Cylene close behind.
The two men were dragged over to the gorge, and then tied to a tree. Everyone from the Tribe would witness the challenge, including those who would guard them. Timon prayed to every god he knew for Conori’s victory, which would also be theirs.
He noticed the Shaman within the Tribe. He knew her, and her black magic. Stonychia. She had been cast out of their village and replaced by a good Shaman, though he did not know her. His eyes followed her as she spoke with Derinoe.
“You should have waited – given me time. I can not help this way.” Stonychia had good reason to be concerned. If Protis lost, Derinoe would as well. She would face exile. Derinoe stared into her eyes. “If Protis loses, make sure Conori loses as well. Do you understand?” Stonychia’s hand went to a small bag of powder on her belt. “As you will.”
Conori reached the gorge, and looked at the fallen tree. Several branches were still on the trunk, making it a trip hazard as well. Teneis grabbed her arm. “Know this; if you lose I will make my own challenge. Before you celebrate paradise with Artemis – wait for me.” Teneis was serious, and Conori knew she would avenge her death.
She hugged her friend fiercely. “I could think of no way to enjoy paradise without you good friend, but I hope it is not today.”
Taking her time, Conori walked onto the tree. It rolled slightly with each step, causing her to use the staff for balance. Protis smiled. This will be easy. She vaulted onto the tree, pushing with both feet so it rocked even harder.
Conori was ready for her. Bending her knees, she moved with the tree’s motion. Smiling now, she twirled the staff – gesturing to Protis to come ahead. Both staffs met with force at head level, and parried as each woman looked for a weakness. Protis kept pushing to rock the tree, occasionally throwing Conori off balance.
Derinoe watched the contest with amusement. This is almost too easy for Protis – she is playing with her now. Stonychia wasn’t so sure – keeping her hand at her belt. The Tribe was quiet…the only sounds heard were staffs striking, and wood scraping, snapping as the women moved in battle.
Cylene clutched both Diana and Euope with death grips…not wanting to watch but unable to turn away. She prayed to Artemis at the same time. Conori must win, for our Tribe. Not just for me.
Protis stopped rocking suddenly, and moved quickly with a foot sweep. Conori countered as Teneis had taught her – stepping back with a head strike. She connected strongly, putting Protis off balance. Temporarily. But first blood had been drawn…Protis wiped it away with disgust.
Advancing, Protis returned several strikes to Conori’s head, making contact. Conori tripped backwards – only a tree branch prevented her from falling over. Slightly dazed, she stayed seated as Protis advanced. She would end this now. Her staff raised high, she didn’t plan on Conori going in-between her ankles with her staff, and then twisting to one side. With one of Protis’s feet off the tree, Conori pulled sideways on a branch …rocking the tree strongly.
Protis fell… dropping her staff to the gorge below. Now holding onto a branch, she dangled into space…the branch beginning to snap with her weight. Conori moved flat on her chest, bracing herself as she extended a hand. “You are defeated Protis. Take my hand.” Protis responded by pulling her dagger. Hanging on with one hand, she tried to stab Conori with the other.
Moving out of reach, Conori tried to reason with her. “If you yield Protis, you will live.” Protis tried to swing her leg and climb back on. She would not yield. With a final crack, the branch splintered into pieces dropping Protis to her death.
Conori rose to her feet, the Tribe already cheering her victory. Derinoe was stunned, her hand resting on her short sword. If the Shaman kills her, I can regain control. She would of course kill the Shaman, to avenge Conori, and regain the Tribes favor.
Timon watched Stonychia reach into her bag, and begin moving towards Conori, now climbing off the tree. “The Shaman” he screamed “She means to attack you.” Warned, Conori spun away as white powder hit her face. Falling, she was unconscious before hitting the ground. With a cry of rage, Teneis ran her short sword through Stonychia – killing her instantly.
Cylene and Diana rushed to Conori, who appeared to be in deep sleep. Doris came with water, flushing Conori’s face to remove the powder. “Do not touch her face or any area with powder” Doris continued pouring water over Conori’s hair and leathers, which did not awaken her.
Now holding a bloody sword, Teneis advanced on Derinoe. “Draw your sword. I challenge you now.” Knowing she had no choice, Derinoe pulled her sword and dagger. They fought for several minutes, until Teneis stabbed her through the mid-section. With a dying effort, Derinoe stabbed Teneis in her side with the dagger. Teneis again used her short sword – leaving it inside Derinoe as she fell. Holding her side, Teneis turned away and walked back to Conori.
Struggling against his bondage, Timon pleaded with Athtar. “I can help, release me please.” Athtar cut him lose, and Timon went straight to Teneis. “I know another Shaman. Give me a horse and I will bring her.” Teneis turned to Elonia. “Go with him so he can bring help.” Soon, Elonia and Timon galloped away from the forest.
Hearing someone talking in soft tones, Conori opened her eyes. She was in the Healers Hut, on a soft bed. Cylene sat beside her, now smiling. “You have returned my dearest one. You have slept for two days.” She gently kissed her forehead, thanking the gods for their blessing. Conori returned the smile, but squinted in obvious pain.
Doris sat beside her. “How do you feel?” Conori answered with a croaking voice. “I feel like someone is hitting me with a stick.” Cylene laughed at her joke, taking and kissing her hand. Doris offered Conori a drink, one of her bitter potions. “Ugh – that is horrible. I thought you were a Healer.” Doris chuckled as she made her drink more.
Hearing laughter, Diana entered the hut. “Praise Artemis. Our Queen has awakened.” Conori looked startled, realizing she was in fact Queen. Cylene beamed at her. “And I am the Queen’s woman. To do as you command.”
Conori smiled, still feeling very weak. Diana saluted her properly, and then gestured outside. “You must tell Teneis to rest. She has been tearing the camp apart – destroying all traces of Derinoe and Stonychia. She is wounded but will not let Doris treat her.”
“If I must suffer from healing,” fixing her gaze on Doris, “So must she. Bring her here.” Conori sat up, and Cylene moved some pillows behind her.
Teneis entered, looking worn and haggard. But seeing Conori smiling at her, her relief was obvious. “So, you are waited upon by this beautiful maiden,” gesturing to Cylene as she bowed, “While I work on our camp. Nothing changes.” Conori held out her hand, and Teneis took it. “My Second, you truly do understand.” This brought more laughter, until Doris began cutting away Teneis’s tunic.
Teneis started to protest, until Conori’s hard stare brought silence. “Sit Teneis, our Queen has ordered you treated.” Doris held up the knife. “And if I need to tie you down, I will.” Teneis sighed. “Very well. But no potions.” Conori laughed. “I should have said that my friend.”
As Conori recovered over two days, she learned that Timon had indeed saved her. He brought the Shaman Eriya, who knew how to treat Stonychia’s powder. His warning shout prevented a lethal dose, putting her into a deep sleep instead. “And what of Derinoe, Stonychia?” Cylene, who rarely left her side, fed her some soup. “Teneis killed them both. Their bodies joined Protis in the gorge. Teneis has made it clear anyone supporting Derinoe should leave our camp. Oigme has fled.” Protis’s warrior protégé was lucky to leave alive, and she knew it.
“I have something for you my Queen.” Cylene smiled warmly – she was still getting used to her title. She showed Conori a necklace of weaved leather, with a piece of jade carved as a running stag. “I had help making this. The Jade is from our special place.” She put it around her neck as Conori’s fingers admired the jade. “This will be my emblem, so I am always reminded of my dearest love.” Cylene lightly kissed her, only to have Conori draw her in more passionately. Both soon breathless, Cylene held her close. “You kiss well my Queen. What are your commands for me?”
Conori cradled Cylene’s face with both hands. “Love me forever, and I will do the same.” They did not hear Teneis enter the Healers Hut, now blushing with embarrassment as she watched them kiss. “Ahem….should I come back my Queen?” Conori shook her head, and stood on her feet. “No, I want to see what you have been doing in camp.” As Conori rested, she heard sounds of logs being cut and placed. Only today had Doris given her permission to walk around the camp.
Walking with Teneis on her right, Cylene holding her hand on the left, Conori soon viewed Teneis’s construction project. The Queen’s Hut had been totally redone. The balcony extended around the entire hut, and it had been elevated five paces from the forest floor. “Come inside” Teneis said, eagerly leading them up the steps.
The Hut had its own meeting room at the entrance. “I had the sleeping room placed through another doorway, so this room is always available.” Teneis had maps of their lands on the wall, and a writing area with scrolls already prepared. Even Queen Hypolyta didn’t have this fine a room. “You honor me Teneis. I am without words.”
Cylene hugged Teneis, and then kissed her lightly on the lips. Blushing bright red, Teneis backed away into a wall. “I will leave you to …see if you want something changed…” Teneis left quickly, before Conori could even thank her.
“I think she is afraid of me. What have you told her?” Cylene cocked her head to one side, and crossed her arms. Conori crossed the room to stand in front of her. “The Truth. That you have me at your mercy, and I wish no rescue.” Cylene laughed – backing away from Conori’s embrace. “That is good you told her that. I do not want her mad at me.”
Cylene walked into the sleeping room, and again Teneis had planned it very well. A double bed with sleeping furs, table and chairs for meals, two large storage areas for clothing. Wooden pegs on one wall held weapons and battle leathers…ready for use. Conori noticed clothing already stored for her, and Cylene as well.
“I believe I am to stay here…” Cylene looked over Conori’s shoulder, now circling her waist with both arms, “If I want my clothes.” Conori turned and hugged her close. “You must stay. It is my first command.” No further words were spoken as they moved to the bed. Their lovemaking was slow and tender, with no need to rush.
Queen Hypolyta spun in a circle laughing with glee – raising Conori’s scroll above her head. Tara and Alexiares both smiled – obviously good news. Barkita entered the Queens chamber, wondering if a Healer was needed.
“She is dead. Derinoe is no more. Conori defeated Protis” Hypolyta looked at Tara, who smiled even wider. “And Teneis killed Derinoe when Conori was attacked.” The three warriors crowded together to read the scroll, as Hypolyta continued to dance. “She will be made Queen at the full moon. Not Derinoe.”
Hypolyta seized Barkita by her shoulders. “We will celebrate her victory. Send gifts. We will invite her for another celebration here, in her honor, before the weather turns.” Joyously, The Queen filled four goblets with wine. “A Toast, my Amazons, to Queen Conori of Forest Tribe.” All raised their glasses in salute.
Two riders from Sea Tribe arrived at Forest Camp four days later. They brought two additional horses packed with gifts; robes of silk, wine, tapestries, gold candle holders. The gifts were almost endless in number. The entire Tribe watched Conori unpack the items, shaking her head in amazement. Sea Tribe Warrior Alexiares handed her a sealed scroll. “The mares are yours as well. Both are with foal due in Spring. Our Queen wishes to celebrate your reign before the winter – she asks that you send back a date.”
“Well, I should be Queen first, before we plan a celebration.” Conori was humbled by Hypolyta’s tribute. “Please stay with us this night. I must write an answer to your good Queen.” Conori had Diana collect the gifts, knowing many would end up inside her hut. Diana would feel that was proper. She kept only one item, a hair brush decorated with sea shells. She had seen Hypolyta use this herself, and it was a special token from her.
After communal dinner, Conori began composing a scroll to Hypolyta inside her meeting room. Cylene sat across her table staring without meaning to. She loved seeing her preoccupied, so she could admire her, love her.
“You are not helping me with my task.” Conori lowered her quill, pretending to be cross. Cylene decided to play along. “Very well my Queen. I will leave until the morrow.” She rose quickly from the table but Conori was faster…blocking her exit.
“Is it that easy to leave me Cylene? What woman have I given my heart to?” Conori’s hand caressed her face, seeing her eyes swimming in tears. “One that can not believe how blessed she is … to love a woman such as you.” Tears of happiness trailed down Cylene’s face as she kissed Conori, the scroll forgotten until the morrow.
Forest Tribe appointed Conori their Queen five days later, with the full moon. The celebration lasted all night, with Teneis even over indulging in drink. Timon and his son Thadeous had been invited – a rare tribute to a man. Conori thanked him personally, which he politely refused.
“Queen Conori, you saved my life first. I am thankful I could return our debt. Although my son…” pointing to him dancing with several Amazons, “I think would like being an Amazon slave.” Both laughed as he circled a bonfire, thoroughly enjoying himself. Conori smiled. She liked Timon …he was a good man.
The next three turns were happy and prosperous for the Forest Tribe. Friendships with local villagers repaired the evil reputation brought by Derinoe and Protis, although any who trespassed or poached were punished. Escaped female slaves, or women seeking a new life joined the Tribe. No woman was turned away. Conori was a firm and fair Queen, and very much in love with Cylene.
It was summer, and Cylene was away in her orchards harvesting apples. Rising before most in camp, she kissed Conori as she slept. “Sleep well my beloved.” She whispered –leaving their hut. But Conori was awake, having planned this day for some time.
Eating communal breakfast with her tribe, Conori was nervous, only nibbling at her food. Diana and Teneis both noticed, and knew why.
At moments like this, Diana spoke with Conori as a woman, not a Queen. “You seem nervous. Do you doubt Cylene loves you?” Conori looked shocked. “No Diana. I do not understand myself today. I am almost afraid to ask her.” Conori pushed her food away – wondering if she should wait for another day.
Diana looked at her thoughtfully. “Blood Bonding is an important step, a serious one, and I think you should ask her today. If you delay…you will go through this again.”
The ceremony united two as one. Conducted by a Shaman, it had magical ties that bonded one to another in thought and spirit. Only the Tribe Queen could allow it within a tribe. Conori needed no such blessing, but she sent a scroll to Hypolyta, who approved whole heartedly in her union.
Conori nodded. Diana was right – it must be today. Diana placed her hand on Conori’s. “I will pack a food basket for you. Go to her. Tell Euope to come to me.” Euope spent her days working with Cylene, so the two women remained close friends.
Riding into the orchard, she was seen easily by both women. Conori wore a simple green tunic, just like three turns before. Both women saluted, but Cylene was in a playful mood. “Euope, our Queen is making sure we are working and not swimming in Moon Lake.” Cylene looked down from a high branch, as Euope giggled in response.
Conori dismounted, allowing her mare to search for apples. “Diana has put me to work here, and Euope …she seeks your help back at camp.” Euope bowed; still giggling…she knew something was going on. Cylene had discussed blood bonding recently, wondering if Conori would ask her.
“Very well my Queen. I will go to her.” Euope winked at Cylene and left. Conori held up a food basket. “I have honey cakes, cheese, and venison from breakfast, which you missed today.” Cylene smiled at her. She is nervous – her eyes will not meet mine.
Climbing down from the tree, Cylene stared intently at Conori, a slight smile on her lips. “It seems not long ago – I offered you food here. And you stole my heart away.”
Conori caressed her face with one hand. “But it was you that planned my ambush and captured me, and I am captured still.” Both women kissed as Conori dropped the basket to embrace her. After a few moments, Cylene pulled back still holding her, but enough to see her eyes. “If you have come to seek release, you have failed beloved.”
Finding her courage, Conori spoke from her heart. “I love you as no other. It is my deepest wish to blood bond with you.” Cylene smiled as tears filled her eyes. “My dearest woman…this is my wish as well. I love you more than words can say.” The kiss that followed consumed them both – passionate yet tender at the same time. Taking the basket, the apples were forgotten as both women entered the cavern, just as three turns before.
The bonding ceremony was held three days later. Shaman Eriya, having joined the tribe when Conori became Queen, started the ceremony after communal dinner. Using a ceremonial knife, Conori and Cylene cut and joined their left hands, as the Shaman sought blessings from Artemis in ancient dialect. The mood was festive and joyous… and their celebration lasted several hours.
Teneis knew it was time to move their camp. Although the tribe still had food from their own livestock of goats and chickens, venison and rabbit were in short supply. It was time to relocate and allow their forest to recover its balance.
Conori and Teneis poured over their maps. They needed livable land, a fresh water supply, and seclusion. Both missing communal dinner, Cylene brought food into the meeting room. Conori felt her loving thoughts as she entered, and returned them as well.
Their blood bonding, now two turns old, was strong. When close together, they could talk without words. Even at great distance, when Conori once twisted her ankle painfully, Cylene knew and had Doris prepared to treat her. Each could not imagine life without the other. Their closeness was complete.
Teneis pointed to an area on the map. “This area west needs to be scouted.” Conori agreed, helping herself to some food, and smiling at Cylene. Thank you beloved. Conori’s thoughts always caressed her, just like a physical touch. Cylene’s response was immediate. Thank me later my dearest. Do not grow tired.
With effort, Conori returned to her task. “I think we should go on the morrow. I would like to see it, and return by communal dinner.” This was Conori’s first camp move, and she wanted to plan it well. Teneis concurred. She needed more than a day, but for a first look it would be good.
Opening a piece of bread, Teneis placed meat and vegetables inside, and ate it with her hands. “Four of us will leave at morning light. Early.” Teneis added, finishing her meal. “I will leave you then…to …rest.” Teneis said the last words playfully. She could feel her friends had other plans as well.
Teneis rose, and Cylene kissed her lightly on the lips. “Take care of her Teneis, or you must replace her in my affections.” Embarrassed, Teneis was, however, used to her teasing. “And that would be bad?” she asked, as all three laughed in amusement.
After Teneis escaped, Conori took Cylene in her arms. “I think you enjoy kissing Teneis, and my Second now wants to replace me.” Cylene laughed in response, her thoughts flooding Conori with affection. “She is dear to me, and I do tease her, but she is not you.” Cylene trailed her hands over Conori as both moved to the sleeping furs.
The next day was successful. Conori, with Teneis, Athtar and Justal, arrived at the location by mid-day. It met their most basic needs of plentiful game and fresh water. The Warriors caught fresh trout from one of two nearby rivers, and feasted.
Teneis stamped out their cooking fire, already picturing the placement of camp huts. “I will come back for a few more days, to make sure all is right.” Conori nodded, knowing it would make the move smoother if Teneis planned everything well.
Preparations and building began in earnest within ten days. Before it could be inhabited; food huts, the Healers hut, and stables would need to be in place. The Queens hut was also a priority, at least for Teneis. Trips back and forth were common with Diana frequently coming – Cylene usually with her to help.
The new camp was finally ready when Conori’s world was shattered. She was going through her new hut with Teneis, even bigger than before, when sudden pain shot through her head. Dropping to her knees, she cried out suddenly…holding her right temple.
Teneis placed her in a chair. “Conori. What is wrong? Should I bring Doris?” Her Second was in a panic and holding Conori with both hands.
The pain was gone quickly, but so was any connection…any awareness of Cylene. “Teneis, something has happened to Cylene. She is gone from me.” Conori appeared dazed; confused, “She is gone.” Teneis called for horses – helping Conori to her feet. “We leave now to find her.”
Both left at full gallop, meeting Justal on the way. “My Queen You are needed at the Healers Hut.” Arriving and entering the hut, she knew before Doris held her that Cylene was dead.
“Conori, a bee stung her horse. It reared. She fell and struck her head on some rocks. She died instantly.” Doris was crying as she released her. Diana sat by Cylene’s body, also crying quiet tears. “I saw it happen Conori. She did not suffer.”
Conori moved to Cylene’s side. She looked peaceful as if in sleep. “My beloved – you must not leave me. I beg of you. You must not leave me.” Conori broke down and wept in agony, taking Cylene into her arms. Everyone grieved with her, unable to find solace in this loss.
Cylene’s funeral pyre was held that evening. Conori was held by Diana and Teneis as she watched the flames leap into the night. “How does one live without a heart?” Conori asked no one, as Diana grasped her arm even harder. After the fire consumed her, Conori filled an urn with her ashes. Returning to her hut, Teneis stayed at her side…unwilling to have her face darkness alone.
The following days went by in a blur. Conori soon sickened, despite Teneis and Diana caring for her constantly. Doris brought her into the Healers Hut, using potions to make her sleep. She refused food when awake, so Doris fed her strong broth when sleeping.
Teneis completed the camps move, taking Conori by litter to the new Healers Hut. Once there, she held Conori up as Doris gave her broth. “Conori has lost the will to live Teneis. There is only so much I can do for her.” Doris cried silent tears – something she did frequently now.
Something snapped inside Teneis. She was filled with anger. “Doris – leave the hut. No one enters until I leave. Do you understand?” Doris had seen Teneis like this one time – when she advanced on Derinoe. She started to protest but Teneis lifted her by one arm and threw her out.
Lifting Conori by her tunic, Teneis slapped her forcefully. “Face me Conori – Face Me.” By the third strike, Conori seized her hand, eyes angry. “You will talk to me Conori. Why did you fight against Derinoe? Why. Tell me why.” Conori tried to sleep, and Teneis hit her again. “Why did you battle Derinoe?” Teneis shouted these words – demanding an answer.
“Her rule was evil. She was going to kill Timon.” Teneis locked eyes with her. “Yes, it was the right thing to do for the tribe. Is that so?” Conori nodded, fully awake now. “And now Conori, our tribe still needs you. You are turning your back on us. You abandon us.”
Teneis let go of Conori’s tunic. “We are Amazon Conori. We are Warriors. We do not die for fear of living. It is a coward’s way.” Teneis started pacing the room, running her hands through her hair. At last, she sat down beside Conori, her tone soft. “Answer me this Conori. Would Cylene wish you to die because of her death? Would she be honored by it?” Teneis’s words reached her, not ending sorrow but giving her reason to live.
Conori sat up, feeling the room spin. “You are right.” Conori rubbed her face, trying to clear her head. “To live without her will be hard my friend.” Conori’s eyes gazed weakly into space.
“You live for us, for your tribe.” They shared a few moments in silent understanding. Teneis walked to the doorway. “Diana, bring food, goats milk.” It was a shouted command that many heard, and took as a good sign. Doris and Diana entered both carrying food – relief etched on their faces.
Everyone ate. Conori small amounts under Teneis’s watchful glare. Within two days Conori was well enough to use her new hut, thankfully free of Cylene’s memory. Teneis stayed with her, making sure her recovery was complete.
On the third night, Teneis pressed a scroll into Conori’s hands. “You must write to Queen Hypolyta. She threatens to come here unless you say you are well.” How Hypolyta knew – she didn’t ask. Smiling softly, she could see the Queen impatient, pacing for word from her. “I have also scheduled us for guard duty, so others may trade in the villages.” Teneis almost had Conori go with them, but didn’t yet feel she was strong enough.
Conori coughed deeply, almost a sign that Teneis was correct. Conori pulled two chairs from her table. “Before I write our Sea Queen, I have words for you.” Teneis seated herself. Perhaps I have assumed too much – placing my Queen on guard duty. Conori moved her chair to face Teneis.
“I owe you so much my friend. My very life. How do I repay you?” Conori’s eyes were filled with tears, making Teneis’s water as well. Conori embraced her, hugged her close. “I have never had a friend such as you.”
Teneis wiped her eyes…angry at herself for the display. “My Queen, you lead us to greatness as Amazons. That is how to repay us all.” Conori knew she would say that. She would find a way to reward Teneis …somehow.
Sounds of galloping horses interrupted them both. Grabbing her battle leathers and bow, Conori left her hut, Teneis at her side. She recognized Alexiares from Sea Tribe, with Justal providing an escort. Strange – Amazons usually do not ride alone. Alexiares looked worn – she had obviously ridden non-stop to reach them.
“Queen Conori, I bring urgent word from Queen Hypolyta.” Now handing her a scroll. “Our tribe has a great sickness – we need your help.” Many Amazons, including the Healer Doris, heard these words and pressed close. “Come inside Alexiares. Doris, Diana come as well.”
Conori read the scroll. It was from Tara. Queen Hypolyta and most of Sea Tribe were sickened, with fever and stomach pain. Many, including their Healers, had died. She pleaded for help – seeking Doris, medicines, any help Forest Tribe could offer.
“We will send help on the morrow Alexiares. How many are sickened?”
“Over one hundred. Those not yet sick are over-burdened with those who are.” Even Alexiares looked slightly feverish. Seeing Conori’s gaze she shook her head. “I am tired, not ill. I can ride on the morrow.”
Conori nodded. They did need her as a guide. Conori faced her tribeswomen. “We need anyone who can help Doris, support women, and warriors. Everyone must ride, and be able to move quickly. Teneis, you and Justal remain here, with just enough tribeswomen to guard our camp. Diana, you remain as well. See to Alexiares and tell our Tribeswomen of our plans. Go now.”
Everyone left except Teneis. She admired how quickly Conori responded to this emergency. She was, however, not going to be left behind. “I go with you on the morrow, even if you make Elonia your Second. You need me for rebuilding should we burn their camp.” Teneis was firm in her tone, knowing she was right. Conori paced her chamber. Usually a Queen’s Second assumed rule in the Queen’s absence. But Teneis had a point, and Elonia was more than capable to act as Second.
“Very well. We should speak with our Tribe.” Conori addressed her tribeswomen from the balcony, telling all of Sea Tribe’s emergency, and their plans to respond. She explained Elonia’s role, and why. Everyone was accepting – except a few who had to stay behind. Conori explained their camp needed guarding as well…this was also important. Satisfied, the tribe moved swiftly to prepare for the morrow.
Conori packed a traveling bag with clothes. Without seeking it – her hand touched her jade stag necklace. Holding it in her hand, she remembered how Cylene had given it to her, remembering her words, touch, kiss. A single tear trailed down as Conori draped the necklace on Cylene’s urn. Beloved, I pray to Artemis you know how much I love you, and always will. Help us save Sea Tribe beloved. I ask for your help.
Over Seventy Amazons left Forest Camp at dawn. Doris had filled their only wagon with medicines, food, and other supplies. They could not move quickly, however, so Conori with several others rode ahead at a faster pace. Teneis was ordered to stay with the wagon, and she reluctantly complied.
Riding through the night, Conori, Athtar, Euope, and eight others reached Sea Tribe. Their village had clearly been devastated. As dawn flooded a normally active community, it appeared deserted, and dead.
Conori quickened their pace towards the Queen’s palace – knowing it would house the most Amazons as a hospice. A few Sea Tribe Amazons were standing outside, including Tara, obviously with fever. She saluted Conori as she dismounted.
“Queen Conori, we are honored by your arrival. Especially in this time of sorrow. We know of Cylene’s passing.” Tara didn’t know what else to say. She remembered Cylene – a woman of beauty and great sense of humor.
“Thank you Tara. We have more help coming in the next day. I leave my Amazons here at your direction. Can I see your Queen?” Tara directed another from Sea Tribe to take Conori to Queen Hypolyta. Conori walked through the palace interior, now filled with sick Amazons. Hypolyta was in her bed chamber, also used by other sick Amazons. Conscious, she recognized Conori immediately.
“Conori – No. You should not have come, but bless you for coming.” Hypolyta grabbed Conori’s hand in a firm grip. “We heard of Cylene. I am truly sorry. She had a sparkle in her eye, that one.” Hypolyta’s energy now exhausted she slumped into the sleeping fur.
Conori squeezed her hand. “I will grieve her loss my entire life, but nothing would keep us away in your time of need. What caused this – do you know?” Hypolyta tried to sit up, and then changed her mind. “The only thing we have in common is the water. Our Well. But it appears fine.”
“Rest now my Queen. Your tribe will be cared for.” Conori left the chamber. Seeing Euope, she told her not to eat or drink anything from Sea Tribe, and to pass this on. She soon found Tara, and pulled her outside. Conori made her sit, seeing her slightly weave on her feet.
“Are the animals sick as well?” Tara nodded, trying to focus her eyes. “The young and old ones did sicken.” Conori called to Athtar. “Remove all water from use. It must be boiled. Only boiled water should be used for drinking, or bathing.” Conori started a cooking fire, filling several large pots with water. Athtar and Tara soon added more water…allowing it to boil for close to thirty minutes. Washing all containers, they were refilled with cleansed water and given to the ill.
Tara sought Aceto, ill as many others, and forced her to drink water. “You seek to drown me. Please, use your sword instead. I wish a warriors death.” Aceto was only half kidding, she hated being this ill. “You will not die my friend. Too many women would grieve over you. Our Tribe would be no more.” Tara washed her face, and around her neck. Moving on, she prayed to Artemis their tribe would recover soon.
Conori and Forest Tribe worked caring for others until darkness and exhaustion took over. Finally collapsing on her own saddle as a pillow – she had given up her blanket – Conori slept deeply, and dreamed.
Cylene beckoned to her. They were again in the orchard, bright and warm. The trees were full of fruit, waiting for harvest. Conori ran to her, but Cylene kept moving away. Always out of reach. Conori begged …Please beloved …do not tease me so. I need you now.
Laughter filled her ears. Cylene’s laugh, floating from a secret place Conori could not find. She looked for their cavern, but could not leave the orchard. The trees blocked her path…crowding in closer…branches catching her tunic.
Conori sunk to her knees, tired of this game, wanting Cylene in her arms.
A cold wind blew through the orchard, swirling her red hair in disarray. Clouds now blocked the sun. Apples long dead hung on withered trees, which would never bear fruit again.
Conori drew a dagger. It was the same one Protis had tried to kill her with. She turned the blade in her hands. Could this end her pain?
A familiar hand took her arm. Brought her to her feet. It was Cylene, not the one who ran through dead orchard, but her Cylene. Her eyes full of love, dressed as she did the day of their bonding.
“Beloved. Do not be fooled by evil. My love is with you always – it has never left you.”
She could feel Cylene’s touch, even her kiss, and held her close.
“Take me with you. I wish to stay with you.” Conori pleaded, not caring about anything else. She was just a woman after all…someone else should lead the Amazons.
“Dearest woman, you must save Sea Tribe, and in the future, you will save Forest Tribe as well. Trust me when I tell you this. We will be together soon, and always. I love you my beloved.” These last words echoed through Conori’s mind, waking her gently as a caress.
It was early-morning, and Teneis, Doris, and over fifty Forest Tribe Amazons had finally arrived. Conori had slept only five hours, but the dreamscape had given her strength. Cylene had given her strength. She could still feel her, and her love was supporting her now. Thank you beloved.
Doris did indeed suspect the water, knowing that wells can turn with little warning. Her potions helped immediately, relieving nausea and allowing some recovery.
Within two weeks, Sea Tribe was able to function on their own. Teneis had closed their old well, and found another fed by an underground spring. Hopefully, Sea Tribe water would never again be a concern.
Queen Hypolyta, now fully recovered, hugged Conori to her. “I will not forget this Conori. You have saved both of our Tribes now. Artemis will tire of hearing your name praised, and grow jealous.”
Conori laughed at this. Both women walked to Conori’s horse. “We have helped each other great Queen, as Amazons should. Thank you also for allowing Euope to stay. She has a sister here, and with Cylene gone…”
Hypolyta took Conori’s hand. “Any from Forest Tribe are welcome as my own.” Both women hugged again. “Stay active in your Tribe Conori; it will help ease your pain. And I want regular scrolls from you or I will invade and stay a month.”
Conori mounted, still laughing, and saluted the Queen. “May Artemis bless Sea Tribe always.” As Conori and Forest Tribe rode away to cheers, Queen Hypolyta gestured to Tara as she entered the palace. Tara met her inside the throne room, wondering if she had done something wrong. Seeing her Queen walk in front of her, Tara straightened to full height.
“I was very ill Tara, as many were, but not so ill that I do not know who saved Sea Tribe. Had you not sent word to Conori, our tribe would have perished.” Hypolyta now unfurled a blue cape – showing it to Tara. “Please honor our Tribe by being my Second.”
Tara knelt on one knee as her Queen attached the cape around her neck. This was the greatest honor she had ever received. “I will serve you my Queen, until my last breath.” Hypolyta smiled at Tara. She is young but her heart and mind is strong. “You will serve our Tribe – the Amazon Nation. There is a difference Tara.”
The warrior rose, trying to seek understanding from her Queen. “If I should become incapable, evil as Derinoe, you would need to displace me.” Tara moved to object, which Hypolyta silenced with one hand. “Tara, you will know what should be done. That is the trust I have in you.”
Tara was unaccustomed to emotional displays, but she hugged Hypolyta never the less. “Please teach me, great Queen, everything I need to know. So I can make you proud.”
Hypolyta cried at this. She had chosen well.
Conori kept their return pace slow. The tribe was proud of their Sea Tribe rescue, but exhausted as well. Conori’s thoughts kept drifting to Cylene. Beloved – are you enjoying Paradise without me? When can I see you again?
Her life would be so different now – focused on the Tribe. Thank the gods for that…she was alone but needed.
Teneis rode alongside her. She could tell her thoughts were on Cylene. “We should stay this night at Sea Tribes border. Cross over the grassland in the morning.” Conori acted as if waking from a dream. “Yes my Second. Next to that last river so we can water the horses.” Conori touched Teneis’s shoulder. “I am glad you came my Second. You were right to insist.” Teneis smiled at that. “Thank you my Queen.”
They rode in silence for several minutes. “Teneis, after we have rested a few days in our camp, there is something we need to do. Just you and I.” Teneis was curious, but one look at Conori told her not to ask. “As you wish” was her only reply.
Three days after returning to Forest Camp, Conori had Teneis prepare their horses. After the communal breakfast, they rode to the apple orchard – Conori carrying Cylene’s Urn in a careful grip. Dismounting, Conori led Teneis inside their cavern.
Teneis was awestruck as Conori lit a candle with flint. ‘This is amazing. I have never seen such a cave.” She lifted a piece of Jade and white crystal, turning it over in her hands. Conori explained how they came here. It was their special place.
“I want to leave her ashes here, and seal it closed.” Conori’s eyes sought Teneis’s for understanding. “She wanted it untouched and she would like it to remain like this.” Teneis understood, carefully replacing the jade crystal. She knew Conori honored her by showing her this cave. “Then we will Conori, to honor Cylene.”
Placing the urn on the sleeping furs, Conori touched them one last time. Beloved I will miss you until Artemis brings us together again. Leaving the cave, the two warriors created a small avalanche that covered the cave completely. Teneis brought their horses, and prepared to mount. Touching her shoulder, Conori handed her the jade crystal. “I have my stag necklace from Cylene. I believe you should have this from her as well.”
Emotional displays were rare for Teneis. But this time was an exception. She embraced her friend. “Let us return to our tribe Conori. They need us.” Conori hugged Teneis fiercely, her friend meant more to her than she could express. “Yes my Second. We need to thank Artemis for our blessings.” The two warriors returned to camp, united in friendship, and the Amazon way of life.
Four turns would pass and both Tribes grew and prospered. Passage of time healed Conori’s heart, but not enough to seek another. Fate at times steps in, and someone comes that brings change. Her name was Janye.
( The Trilogy continues with Janye’s Song )
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