[Po]: 80.At the Summit
Felia turned sixteen the day she climbed to the summit of the mountain separating the territory of the Amazons from that of the Gargarensians. She and the fourteen women accompanying her had been preparing for the journey since midwinter, but many of them felt the strong fear upon them that day. Fewer than half their number had attended these rites before, and only the Priestess Dianysia could claim visiting the summit more than thrice.
The band of warrior women came in sight of the camp that would be their home for the next two months. Felia tightened her grip on the reins, seeing at last the cause of her fear: men.
“How can we be expected to mate with them? They’re so ugly!” Felia said. Lyrica, her friend and sparring partner, took her hand with a charitable pout. Felia felt like turning her horse around and wending her way back to the foothills, but she knew it was far too late for running. She was an Amazon, a formidable woman. There was nothing to fear from these men, as foreign as they were to her. They too only wished to breed.
Felia sat taller on her horse and took a discerning look at the Gargarensian men. They milled about the camp with timorous glances at the approaching women, scurrying out of the way of the horses. They were all as young as she was, Felia realized. Not one was past his twentieth year, she thought. Many were tall, some short, and all were hairy. The gossip among the Amazons always spoke of the hairiness of men, and of the lack of teats. Their faces were soft and unscarred, and several looked oddly familiar to her. Their backs were too broad and their legs too stout. They lacked the grace and serenity of women. They were inferior.
Once within camp, the women dismounted and handed the horses off to eager men. Led to a nearby stream, the mounts were content to drink and graze.
Priestess Dianysia raised her voice above the murmur of the crowd. “Once more we come to honor the great goddess Artemis. Once more, we gather our two separate people in order to guarantee fruitful and flourishing societies. Once more, we cast off our identities and become simply woman and man. Once more we put aside our differences and become one people until our purpose here is fulfilled. We are no longer the warrior or the farmer, the archer or the goatherd, the huntress or miller. We are united, Woman and Man, divine tools, to do the will of Artemis!”
Felia’s heart stirred at the declaration, so much like the rally to battle that always made her blood run hot. With a fierce grin, she threw back her head and let out a wild, wordless battle cry. Lyrica echoed it, and within seconds, the air was swelling with the lusty voices of war. It felt good to let the pent-up tension go free.
Breathless and filled with intensity, Felia watched excitedly as Dianysia and one of the men spilt the blood of a sacrificial goat upon the altar at the center of the camp. The Gargarensians, apparently stunned by the women’s aggressive display, hung back from mingling with the Amazons after the ritual ended.
The Amazons separated into comfortable groups, with friends seeking each other out and pairing off to pitch tents and arrange makeshift homes for the next few months. Naturally Lyrica and Felia bunked together. They worked quickly to square away their meager belongings, then joined the others around a freshly built bonfire as dusk settled into darkness. The men and women kept to opposite sides like separate lids of a great eye, the fire a dancing pupil. Nyx was gentle to them; the night was balmy and a multitude of diamonds spanned the great ocean of sky above.
Felia laid her head on Lyrica’s lap and allowed herself to relax in the grass. She studied the fire as her friend traced gentle fingers through her hair, the softly murmured conversation around her soothing. Someone raised a flute and began to play an earnest tune. A harp joined the flute, and a tabor tapped out a gentle rhythm, punctuated by a soft rattle. It was a familiar song, a paean to the great goddess, and Felia hummed the melody. A high, sweet voice that belonged to plump Tippa resonated in the night. A subtle basso rumble toned the harmony, winding about and buoying the exultant song. In her mind’s eye, Felia saw sylphs and fauns cavorting through the flames in a pantomime of the blessed battle-dance that was the right of all warrior women dedicated to Artemis. She could feel the presence of Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt and the moon.
Take heed my contemplation,
Listen to the way of my devotion,
Daughter Most High of Olimbos!
Before you alone will I kneel,
My pledge you will know before any,
O Artemis, in the moonlight
I will look only to you,
My reverence is yours forever!”
Felia’s gaze slid between the flames and rested upon a laughing, apple-cheeked young man seated across the fire from where she lay. His eyes gleamed in the light, his teeth flashing as he guffawed at some unheard joke. He looked right at Felia, still smiling.
“What do you think about that one?” Felia asked Lyrica, rolling her head back to look her friend in the face.
“He is as likely as any, I suppose.” Lyrica shrugged. “He has pretty hair, although it is much shorter than I prefer. His laughter sounds like the braying of an ass.”
“I have heard the same said of Dionysus!”
“Ah, but he is a god. What is adored in a god is simply appalling in a mortal man.”
“What makes you think this man is not Dionysus himself?” Felia grinned.
“If you were a god, would you want to masquerade as a Gargarensian? It would be far too demeaning! Then again, what better way to bed an Amazon?” Lyrica laughed at her own wit and stroked Felia’s cheek. “What are you going to do about the man? He is staring at you.”
“Must I do something about him? Look at how bold he is, for a man!” she watched him circle the bonfire moving toward her, and a knot of disgust formed in her stomach. She was Amazon to her core, despising men as weak and ineffectual creatures. Truth told, she would rather sever the man’s head than lie with him. She only had one reason to mate with a man, and that was in order to please Artemis. Felia would much rather hold Lyrica than any man. But he was coming to her, ignorantly usurping her role as rightful aggressor. She was determined to do as her goddess wished, but she didn’t have to enjoy herself. She would simply try to view the Gargarensian as Dionysus incarnate. That might work.
He arrived before her, and she could see that his bright smile was a mask for his nervousness. He knew he trod on the line of propriety. Before he could speak, Felia gestured toward the tents with a snarl. “Ours is the blue one. Wait there, and make yourself comfortable. We will not be long.”
Felia stood, pulling Lyrica up beside her. It was going to be difficult to lie with the man, but maybe Lyrica could ease things a bit. Grasping her friend’s hand, Felia glanced up at the full-of-the-mo
Artemis looked back at Felia and smiled in encouragement.