Panel 6: Truwisa
Penthesilea gains experience as a great warrior and leader. On her return to Themiskyra, a messenger sent by King Priamos petitions Amazon assistance at the siege of Truwisa. Despite warnings from Otrere and the council, Penthesilea decides to go alone as atonement for her crime and to seek purification from the torments of the Erinýes at the Oracle of Apollo. Her sisters insist on joining the queen on her journey and on their arrival they are greeted as saviours by the Trojans.
Otrere eventually was well enough to resume her duties in the city but Penthesilea’s abilities and wisdom had grown. She emulated the excellence of her mother and even surpassed her in some particular deeds. For example, she began to train maidens from an earlier age, drilling them daily in the arts of war. She was soon solely responsible for the defence of the Amazon realm. Penthesilea organised magnificent festivals both to the Goddess Artemis and to Ares who had been long neglected.
Although it was not obvious, Penthesilea was in fact shy, secretive, and nervous by disposition. As a precocious child she had already mastered her physical body and her weapons of battle and so now she learned to focus on the analysis of every move, position and situation. An excellent negotiator, she avoided disputes. When she acted on a decision, she was dangerous and decisive.
Two Scythian youths of royal extraction had been driven from their country by other princes who had tired of their ways. Their names were Ylinos and Scolopitus. They took with them a large band of young warriors and with chariots and carts they raided settlements all along the coast of the Hospitable Sea until they reached the edge of the Thermodon plains. Hearing that the Amazon cities were well-defended and that they could not advance past them, they settled on the coast, riding out from their camps and looting undefended settlements for almost two years.
The tribes living around the Amazons sent messengers petitioning the young war queen to ally with them in battle in return for treaties of peace and a portion of plunder. A child of Ares, at the age of nineteen, and counter to the advice of Otrere and the council who found her too inexperienced, she was determined to lead her first expedition to war. To manoeuvre around politics, the young general organized volunteers.
The Amazons rode out and the Scythian raiders were at last, by a combination of the surrounding people, cut to pieces in an ambuscade. The few wives and children in the camp were taken as slaves but soon relinquished all thoughts of marrying when they realised that it would not be matrimony to live under the men who had conquered them. The queen accepted these women and their children as payment and the captives, happy to have been delivered from vengeance, quickly adapted to Amazon ways and the worship of Artemis.
A year later, Penthesilea and her sisters on nimble ponies, bearing crescent shields, repelled an invasion and continued their campaign against the territory west of the Thermodon, subduing all the peoples one after another as far as Thrace, thus spreading news of their fierceness and competence throughout the world. Penthesilea returned to her native land with much treasure that she wished to dedicate to the building of elaborate shrines to Artemis and Ares. Derimakheia captured her prize, a Thracian named Tilthazeis who had fought valiantly before surrendering, and Ainia, who was already with child, brought Rolistene whom she had captured after killing two of his bronze-helmeted companions.
Penthesilea saw the change in her sisters. The process of transitioning from the condition in which a maid might play with others, use her strong body in physical activities and give no thought to how she looks, to femininity in which she must learn to walk in shoes and long robes and constantly paint and check her face to ensure that her mask is intact, is a harsh one and likely to cause self consciousness. She noticed that the maidens with whom she had been all of her life had to practise femininity until it felt natural enough to create a difference between them and their men.
Observing these human changes stimulated different feelings within the queen. Introspectively she wished to know more about her closest companion. Throughout their childhood, Bremusa had unselfishly met the princess’s needs for friendship, camaraderie and peace, but more recently there had been a quietly emerging desire. The battlefield made them grow closer rapidly for they had similar fears and crises and shared the soldier’s life of damp beds and shelters. Now Penthesilea had noticed that they had begun to cling to each other.
Penthesilea felt strong and excited as she rode fast on her pony. It was only when they crossed the river that her stomach began to turn again in pain and her palms grew damp as she held the reins. She could smell herself now; clean sweat harmonized with the distinct wine-like perfume of her horse.
Her companion’s blonde hair had fallen loose and was tousled from the ride. She measured close to four p?chys (six feet) in height. She had a strong voice and painted her face in fierce ways as if to hide the gentle self that her sisters had known. She was, by now, an experienced archer and swordswoman who had killed many men and could have her choice of prizes.
On this day, for some unknown reason, as they dismounted, Bremusa swept the princess into a long, strong embrace. The princess was overwhelmed as she lost the strength in her legs but, before she could say anything, Bremusa had turned to other preoccupations.
For the rest of the day, they avoided each other, only exchanging eyes flickering back and forth as they tended to the work in the camp. In the evening they met again and walked together. Bremusa spoke of how she had always been unsure of her acceptance by others because of her physical stature, her different hair colour and features that were apparent only to her, such as a slightly asymmetric bite and a prominent nose which widened at the bridge. In fact, Bremusa had been tall and attractive since she was a girl and her qualities had only been refined since she became a woman. She also expressed remorse for her deeds of the battlefield and admitted that she had cut down many who were simply unprepared in the wrong place.
Penthesilea spoke of some minor details of her administrative responsibilities, but soon the conversation drifted toward the dark thoughts that returned night after night to steal sleep from an increasingly fatigued war queen. She told her that she no longer knew what ailed her body and had begun doubting her beliefs and questioning the goddess’ darker intentions. She admitted to Bremusa that she was envious of Ainia and that it made her feel quarrelsome and incompetent as a woman.
That night in bed, Penthesilea was stirred by being near Bremusa as she lay with her head so close to hers. She already loved this maiden who had always been a special person and wonderful friend. They had both confessed physical attraction to each other as children and even spoke aloud that they might be for each other. Tonight their bodies began to think for them, pulling them closer, but Penthesilea could not act, uncertain of whether Bremusa, in deep sleep beside her, shared similar feelings.
The next morning felt more comfortable, like the way they had always been. They spent the day together planning a triumphant return to the city but that night their bond was complete. It was warm that evening and Bremusa lay there, her strong and healthy body wrapped in a thin layer of linen, her eyes and mouth demanding, but Penthesilea restrained herself for fear of clumsiness. She loved and trusted the sound of the maiden’s reassuring voice as she confided how happy she was to be close to home. Suddenly she turned around to face the queen and whispered, “How do you feel right now?”
After a pause Penthesilea said, “Warm.” At those words, Bremusa confessed that she wanted them to hold each other and to feel that they were able to do that. The thought of an embrace made Penthesilea hot with desire but she shyly responded, “I think we can do that.”
Bremusa sighed, “I want to touch you.” She moved her body toward Penthesilea. Her hand touched the queen’s fox-coloured hair and stroked backwards. Fingers felt like feathers on skin and a warm sweet breath drifted over Penthesilea’s face. Then a knee touched her thigh and currents moved up her back and down between her legs. As Bremusa’s lips found her forehead Penthesilea felt a tremble. She released a nervous breath to which Bremusa responded, “Am I improper? Do I upset you?”
“I am nervous,” replied Penthesilea, “but please do not stop. I have dreamed of you for such a long time.” Bremusa moved closer, turning sideways, face-to-face, her arm curving around the back. Penthesilea trembled again, happy for once and content but mostly weak from desire. Then kisses invited more and more as hands explored the warmth that they had found. Fingers ran along backs and down thighs and received caresses in return. Lips passionate and sweet met and explored bodies until they shook from happiness. Sweet words of softness were exchanged over and over as they held each other and fell into Morpheus’ spell.
By her twenty-second year, queen Penthesilea was chaste, wealthy, renowned and the undisputed leader of an army of experienced warriors. Because of her kindly disposition, her sense of justice and her beauty she received from all her subjects the greatest approbation.
Athene guiding the spear of Deiphobus pierced the side of Ares’ beloved Ascalaphus but the thunderstrokes of Zeus forbade Ares’ return to the fields that surrounded Truwisa. The war god was growing wearied and restless and his thoughts turned again toward Themiskyra, for the sacrifices that Penthesilea had offered were not enough to appease the depth of vengeance endemic in Ares. He again called for Alecto, Megaera and Tisiphone to intervene for the sororicide of his daughter Hippolyte. The Erinýes’ power grew as they approached Penthesilea for they were born of such a crime, being sprung from the blood of Ouranos, spilled by his own son Kronos.
They stayed with the queen day and night in visions of her dead sister and in the sound of screams of unborn children scattered as blood sacrifice. An agonizing pain within her abdomen interrupted her concentration and made her unable to eat. She was gradually getting thinner and paler as she took no rest and found little counsel, for the wrath of the grey ones could only be placated through the purification and atonement of eternal darkness.
It was at this time that the herald arrived at Themiskyra with an appeal from the great King Priamos of Truwisa. The petition was brought to the council of the Amazons by Queen Penthesilea who proposed to travel with a small group of sisters as an ambassador to negotiate the terms of Amazon assistance.
Queen Otrere tried to reason with her daughter. “The siege of Truwisa has brought many heroes to that place and throughout the world these half-gods have elevated the values of war and placed them above domestic concerns. They have left women and children who will never know their fathers to fend for themselves. The principal guarantee of our freedom has been autonomy. It is not our custom to be engaged as mercenaries for that leaves us open to subjection. The battle at Truwisa has been of Agamemnon’s design. He lies to the Achaean kings who, under threat, yield all decision-making and thinking power to him alone. Common sense is suspended for the sake of security and the war continues in the direction he wishes. Any questioning of Agamemnon is said to ‘give aid and comfort to Priamos.’ If we march to Truwisa, we cede our power to such kings and replace the rewards of labour with dreams of plunder. Should not the moral life of the Amazon nation be bound to two virtues only: concern for our sisters and willingness to sacrifice? With such a campaign all social needs of our city will become secondary to the conducting of war where all other realities vanish. We have considered and declined such adventures many times.”
Penthesilea turned to the queen and the council and spoke in a careful and eloquent voice, “It has been easy to approve of war when it doesn’t happen in our own city. Amazons have been careful to not face that reality by finding the invaders before they are upon us. Our battles have been almost diversionary spectacles and demonstrations of our skills. We have reduced risk through preparation and observation. We know our neighbours and our land. Campaigns of ambush and surprise have left many raiders, from the east or from the west, defenceless to the accuracy of our arrows. This battle is different, however, for the city of Priamos guards the Hospitable Sea and has allowed no civilised army to ever arrive at the gates of Themiskyra. If Truwisa falls we become easy prey to the might of the Greeks.”
Amynomene, a warrior of considerable experience, asked for permission to speak. She turned to Penthesilea and said, “I have fought many battles for Queen Otrere and I have supported and fought in your campaigns on the coast and to the Bosporus but I must speak. The environs of Truwisa are unknown to our scouts and I have heard that on this venture we will not be facing raiders wishing plunder but battle-hardened armies led by princes like Odysseus, Ajax and Achilles. These half-mortals adhere to values foreign to us. They show no fear and hold to no morals. You will not be greeted as ambassadors but as women and savages. Priamos mourns his son Hektor, leader of men, who fell to the wrought spear of Achilles. He is desperate and defenceless for he now petitions ‘women’ and ‘savages.’ This is a dangerous journey. I implore the war queen not to go to a place where gods appear as warriors, where allies can become foes and where even Ares is denied satisfaction.”
The council, in agreement, voiced their decision to Otrere. The queen spoke. “This community cannot afford to support the war queen in this venture.” She continued, “It is true that as defenders we have had an advantage over attackers and we have had much experience in defensive war. If indeed there were a siege of Themiskyra and our sister cities, we have the means to strengthen our position. We know how to protect our people while making the invader vulnerable.
“Now I will speak of what awaits us in Truwisa. We are Sauromatae. Throughout our history our relationships have been with people of the east. Our invaders have also come from the east and we know their tactics well. We have not had relations with Hellenes except as traders until recently, when Thracians, scattered after the death of King Rhesos, wandered to the Thermodon plains. It is true that our victories pushed them back to the Bosporus and brought back many treasures but we also learned that their ways are foreign. Our warriors have never faced an organised Danaan army led by men like the Argives or the son of Peleus. At Truwisa we will find a killing field stripped of defenses and populated by treachery. We will ride there as naïve and vulnerable maids. Do not misconstrue fear or lack of skill from my words but understand that wisdom dictates that Truwisa is clearly not our battle.”
But Penthesilea, determined to tame the defiant war god Achilles, central to all that she had heard on this day, imagined that she would either put an end to his dreams of immortality and bring him naked in a cart to Themiskyra, or die at the siege. She spoke in a quiet measured tone, “Sisters, I do not beg for approbation nor do I wish to bring misfortunes to this city. I have decided to go alone for rituals of purification offered by King Priamos at the oracle of Apollo. I ail in body and disposition for there are grey spirits who, even as I speak, seek their amends.”
The council could not deny this wish and agreed that the war queen could go with sufficient guard and provisions provided by the city. Penthesilea thanked Otrere and the council but declined their offer of protection.
Later, alone with her mother and after Penthesilea had voiced her wishes, Otrere asked for a truthful explanation since they had always shared thoughts. After waiting for what felt like hours, her heart sinking lower with each passing second, Penthesilea turned to her mother with anguished eyes and said, “The Erinýes steal my sleep and strength. Divine Artemis guides me to her twin, Apollo, who resides on the plains of Truwisa. Do not cry, mother, for my motives are not of suicide. I possess the invulnerability of chastity and am of Ares, equal to man. I wish only to be freed of these torments. If, however, after my period of veneration, it should happen that I find a prize suitable for an Amazon queen, I will bring him home.” She smiled, “I have seen the changes in the eyes of my sisters Derimakheia, Ainia and Antibrote and I wish a daughter and grandchild for our household.”
The queen remained calm and kept herself from crying in front of Penthesilea. She reiterated her point of view and tried to get her daughter to reconsider but observed that a decision had been made. Penthesilea’s words broke her mother’s heart for she wished to hug her daughter and never let go. Otrere kept her composure but later, when she was alone, she began crying and could not stop, for of her five children, there remained only Penthesilea.
The queen desired happiness for her daughter and would do anything to that end. When she withdrew as queen she had hoped that Penthesilea’s new responsibilities and position would change her. Her daughter quickly became a victorious war queen and there had been no signs of discontentment and so her decision came as a shock. Penthesilea was hurting her mother, who had given her life, helped her grow and mature, provided for her and kept her safe. Otrere only wished for a few more months of her time, after which her daughter would have the rest of her life to do as she wished.
After Penthesilea had decided to go alone to Truwisa, her sisters insisted on joining her so that they would march as a regiment. Touched by their allegiance she addressed them, “Most men tend to be sceptical of our commitment on the battlefield but we are a race of women who want to fight for our way of life. The prospect of women warriors has always been used as an argument against us because death at childbearing age has always been a possibility for the children of Ares. But we must remember that the enemy is weakened by their myths and assumptions about what we do in battle, what we are not doing, what our capabilities are, and what impact we have. We hear this rhetoric repeated as an excuse to vocalise every misogynist and paternalist stereotype. Be reminded that when we are not called upon to die in battle it is one more reason cited to uphold patriarchal values. In all societies, the old, the young, the infirm and the dependent are sheltered from fighting. We know that a military leader rightly has more credibility if she has seen combat and it would be impossible for the inexperienced to exercise leadership over the battle hardened. Common men should be well prepared when they face us in combat. We first appear as flirtatious prey, amenable and weak, so that a man will allow us to come near, then suddenly the ground falls under him as he feels the nauseous sensation of an open wound.
“Our mothers established a city at Themiskyra because their husbands did not protect them. Conquered and raped, forced to be concubines by their enemies, they escaped by their own power and decided that from that moment they would live separately from men. We are armoured with our skills in warfare and it is with this ability that we can meet the needs of our children.
“Amazons have never fought for honour, conquest or the spoils of war. We are fearsome soldiers but never forget that we alone can give immortality through birth. Ours is fundamentally a maternal society and the main objective of our participation in any battle has been procreation. We take men by conquest, in part to retain autonomy and more so as a symbolic gesture to those who by their nature desire to prevail over us through charm or force.”
The dark-eyed war queen spoke to her sisters, “We are all saddened by the words: died after waging a battle. Waging a battle sounds like a wasteful way to pass the last moments of life. We are asked to fight to stay alive and to defeat the enemy and then our bodies become the battlefield as we are assaulted with weapons that deform and debilitate. We are asked to imagine our arrows destroying the enemy as if to enlist the aid of the gods. On a battlefield, living is put on hold in order to wage war. But, what is war? War is death, yet we spend our whole lives battling this inevitable foe. We are all born and we all die. I do not presume that we should not try to live as long and as well as possible, using whatever means are available to us, but if we are to live, we must live well, whether we are in our homes or on the killing ground.”
Penthesilea continued, “Perhaps we find vitality in the wages of war, a camaraderie while fighting death. Perhaps it provides us with a purpose. Let us now assume that death is not a failure, but a transition. Let us accept that everything that happens in our lives has some instructional value, some meaning. Let us take life as the opportunity to learn lessons that we will need in our next world. Let us believe that life is all about facing challenges with curiosity, and excitement, knowing we cannot fail. Then when we come to battle, we will recognize it as a lesson with something to be learned. We do not learn from helplessness, but from challenge. What could make us feel more helpless than the fight against death? What better challenge than the opportunity to find meaning?”
With these words the Amazons prepared for the battlefield where the great kings of the Hellenes were assembled in siege. Queen Penthesilea was to ride out with her sisters, each one a princess, hot for war and battle hardened, each renowned, and yet willing to serve. Klonie was there, Polemousa, Cleite, Derinoe, Euandre, Antandre, and Bremusa with Hippothoe, dark-eyed Harmothoe, Alkibie, young Antianara and Thermodosa. Ainia, Derimakheia and Antibrote dressed in battle clothes and left their young daughters to join their comrades. All had fought with their queen and now had chosen to be beside her at Truwisa.
It took time to prepare provisions enough for the journey. Food had to be prepared, packed and stored in bags. Weapons had to be fabricated and the horses had to be gathered and prepared for travel. The nights would be extremely cold in the mountains and they required sufficient clothing and fuel for their camps. The Amazon regiment was accompanied by handmaidens, groomers responsible for the extra horses and other servants, even some men, who had volunteered with hopes of freedom and fortune. All of the company had to possess training in the Greek manner of fighting and use of the hoplon and were bound to their allegiance to the queen and her sisters. Together, they were over two hundred with eighty horses.
Cleite, who had been given the responsibility for the Cypriot merchant ship they had chartered to bring the Amazons back to Themiskyra, had sailed a week earlier with a small group of warriors. The land march to Truwisa took a circuitous route to avoid disturbing the Scythians they encountered as they made their way across Anatolia.
Penthesilea wished to avoid accidental skirmishes that might impede their advance. Except for the few places her messengers had determined to be appropriate for trading tools for food and water, they tended to camp on barren ground. Although the land they rode across had been cultivated for thousands of years, a decade of cold and drought had forced farmers to abandon many areas to dust and the wind. They also passed near many protected valleys and woodlands, green from the nearby streams that irrigated them. These were the places that they desired to avoid.
The city of Truwisa had been built before the beginning of time after the flood at a fertile place overlooking the Hellespontos. People had lived there even before the Danaan had rebuilt the citadel. But now as the Amazons neared the city the land became increasingly sparse, stripped of timber and vacant of crops, nor were there animals of any kind. These were signs of the presence of a rambling encampment. Penthesilea began considering the thousands of soldiers who had already lived half her lifetime in this sterile place. She thought of their women waiting for news while their hoplite husbands lusted for women and base plunder even as arrows pierced the linothorax. Yet, throughout her childhood she had only heard about the heroes, the gods and stories of noble battles, but most of all, she had been fascinated by Achilles, cunning and cruel in his ways.
By the time that Penthesilea entertained joining the conflict at Truwisa, it was well known that the father of savage Neoptolemus had, in his youth, lived among the daughters of Lycomedes. To the copper-haired queen the tale portended the murderous darkness of the son of Peleus.
It was told that, seizing an appropriate moment while in the household of Lycomedes, lovely-haired Thetis asked of her son, “Is it too hard a thing, to pretend to dance and join hands in sport among these maidens if only to save your life?” Charmed by his mother he abandoned his earlier resistance to the idea of pretending to be a maiden, and with a sly and sidelong glance he refused the maiden’s clothes with less certainty. His mother wrapped a peplos around him and softened his stalwart neck and lowered his strong shoulders, and relaxed the muscles of his arms, and tamed and ordered his uncombed hair, and set her necklace around the neck that she loved so dearly. Then, with him dressed in an embroidered skirt, she began to teach him how to walk and speak with the modesty of a maiden. Such was the picture of a goddess as she transformed her son from a youth to maiden. Achilles did not complain much for even in his manhood it excited him that he could possess as much feminine grace and charm as the daughters of Lycomedes.
For Queen Penthesilea, beauty practices and femininity were not essential properties of being a woman. That a man could be a more ardent exponent of femininity was clear to her as well. Dressing as a woman is exciting to the man who seeks it because it represents subordination and satisfies an unnatural desire to be submissive with a partner. But a woman does not choose femininity, for it is thrust upon her with her first menses. She is feminine because of her physical nature and the position that she assumes, often by force, in the household. This aspect of femininity is not a fantasy as for a man but rather the hard work required of those who have been deemed to hold a lower status.
Deidamia, and she alone, had learned in stolen secrecy the manhood of Aeacides that lay hidden beneath Achilles’ show of a feigned sex. Initially she thought that her sisters knew, but kept it discretely quiet, for when Achilles, rough as he was, stood amid the company of the maidens, and the departure of his mother rid him of his bashfulness, and even though all of the girls gathered around him, he chose Deidamia as his friend and slyly assailed her unsuspecting innocence. He followed her around, and persistently looked towards her.
Now he clung to her side zealously and she made no attempt to avoid him. He teased her with light garlands and a thyrsus and showed her the sweet strings of the lyre that he knew so well. He repeated the gentle measures and songs of Chiron’s teaching, and guided her hand to let her fingers strike the sounding harp. As she sang he made a conquest of her lips, and bound her in his embrace, and praised her amid a thousand kisses. With pleasure she learned of Pelion’s summit and of Aeacides, and hearing the exploits of this youth was spellbinding and wondrous to her to the point that she sang of the marvels of Achilles in his very presence.
Deidamia in her turn taught him to move his strong limbs with more modest grace and to spin out the unwrought wool by rubbing with his thumb, and repaired the distaff and the skeins that his rough hand had damaged. She marvelled at the deep tones of his voice, how he shunned all her sisters and pierced her with his too-attentive gaze and at all times hung breathless on her words. Now he prepared to reveal the fraud, but she like a fickle girl avoided him, and would not allow him to confess. Even so and counter to his mother’s instructions, the young prince of Olympus gave treacherous kisses to his sister, after all he was still her brother and she thought no harm, until the reverence for their common blood gave way, and the sister feared a lover’s passion.
In the darkness of the night, content that the unstirring silence gave timely aid to secret deeds, Achilles gained her by force, and with all his vigour strained her in a real embrace. She filled grove and mountain with her cries, but the train of Bacchus, dispelling slumber’s cloud, deemed it the signal for the dance and on every side the familiar shout arose and Achilles once more brandished the thyrsus and said, “What are you afraid of? I would never have endured this dress and shameful clothing, had I not seen you, sweetest Deidamia, on the seashore. It was only for you that I agreed to this charade.”
Achilles continued with his assault. “Why are you still crying. You have been made the daughter-in-law of mighty Ocean and will bear valiant grandsons to Olympus!”
The princess was horror-struck at such dark happenings. Although she had borne suspicions and shuddered at his presence, she had also nurtured a secret fondness for godlike Achilles. What could she do? If she spoke to her father she would ruin the reputations of both herself and her lover. She would be excluded from her position and household and he would in all probability suffer untimely death? And despite her anger and terror, there remained in her a trace of her burgeoning love for him.
So she bore her grief in silence. She cleaned up after the crime and made her handmaiden reluctantly swear to secrecy. She concealed the rape and the swelling womb and the burden of the months of ailing, until Eileithyia, seeing that Deidamia’s course was now fully run, helped deliver Achilles a son.
As the regiment came closer to Truwisa whole cities appeared as chaotic clusters of tents. Chariots and wagons were filled with people seemingly indifferent to her passing. In this strange place the queen was simply another client, as this assembly owed its existence to the conflict. Here anything that was necessary for an encampment as large as any city in the world could be provided. Perversely built on unproductive land far from the bounties of the sea, they nevertheless had plenty of fish, grain, livestock, wood, weapons and tools. The impermanence and lack of humanity in this place was disconcerting to the queen.
It was here, where one could not identify Trojan or Greek, east or west, that Penthesilea decided to rest and to feed and water her entourage. It was here that she would plan her strategies and prepare her sisters for their entrance to Truwisa. Having nothing remaining that might have been useful to trade with, all was paid for with the gold that she carried. The vendors seemed entirely satisfied and accustomed to this practice.
The next morning they advanced through the settlements lateral to Truwisa. From a distance they could make out the shadows of the city that stood guard over the passage between the west and the east. Truwisa was surrounded by walls the height of trees, built of stone and covered with clay brick the same colour as the earth from where the city rose as a hill. When seen from the sea, one could imagine that it was indeed a place where gods could live and battle, so different from beautiful but modest Themiskyra with its grassy mounds and wooden gates. This city was surrounded by a great moat, carved out of the rock itself, perhaps a thousand steps wide. An invader would have had to pass through the moat at the mercy of Truwisa’s archers to get to its inhabitants.
But over time the moat had been conquered and the Greeks had built bridges and all kinds of contrivances that had rendered Truwisa’s first defence irrelevant. No longer serving its initial purpose, the cavity was filled with shelters and tents so that each of the Greek commanders could witness the famous battlefield that had now become a staging place for blood sports. Behind the tents and further toward the waters there was a settlement that looked as permanent as Truwisa itself. Some houses had been built of new bricks while most of the others were wood structures that unlike the villages to the east followed the patterns of an organized community. One could even distinguish the decorative styles of the different tribes that had gathered here. Penthesilea assumed that the camp must have been laid out on the foundations of the Truwisa that had once existed outside of the citadel.
After the death of Hektor, who was the pillar of Truwisa, who was left to lead the nobles of the city? Hektor’s corpse came back to the city, after Priamos, the king of Truwisa had set aside pride to beg for the return of his son. Penthesilea and her sisters approached the city as the Trojans were still lamenting over the loss of their champion.
As the queen entered the empty area between Truwisa and its surrounding settlements there was an impatient silence that contrasted with the babble that she had encountered up to this point. She could see that she was being observed from all directions.
The queen’s heralds had informed her that although the silence of truce was more tiresome to those gathered here than the commotion they had grown used to, the death of Hektor had also assuaged most of their blood lust. Some of the commanders had already begun preparations for withdrawal and there were negotiations everywhere. She looked around and told her sisters to wait as she wished to ride alone towards the shore. Because the strait was about fifteen minutes away, Bremusa refused to allow her queen to ride unaccompanied for fear that an undisciplined arrow would find her alone. Insisting, her partner argued that it would be useful to possess an extra set of eyes, to which the war queen was in agreement.
The Amazons rode away from the larger group toward the west, precipitating discussions and speculation from the camps. They rode down from the citadel and through the muddy salt marsh until they arrived at the pebble beach. Penthesilea could see in the distance, towards the Aegean Sea, masses of ships of many different colours, almost pretty the way they were decorated with drying garments and banners. She could also see the smoke from the cooking fires of a settlement more permanent than it should have been. The air smelled of salt and fish, quite different from the river of her home. From their perspective the ships continued endlessly towards the horizon of the sea.
Her horse was uncomfortable on this land that bred the insects that served as another barrier to invasion. This was not a place where the queen would choose to remain for so many years. She looked across and saw the low hills of the eastern shore and imagined the people quietly tending their animals, cautiously oblivious to the events that were transforming a world. She turned her horse and the Amazons made their way up the slope, this time in a gentle gallop. Penthesilea smelled the smoke from the seaside fires and could faintly detect the ritual of roasting lamb.
“I don’t understand why they are all still here,” said Bremusa from her mount. “How could they all pretend to be fighting for this Helen of Sparta?”
“I have chosen Truwisa because it is certain that I will die, if only to appease the Erinýes. But you, my dear Bremusa, and our sisters are here for a much more noble adventure and you are great warriors who can succeed at this task. These men follow the wisdom of their leaders who are most certainly not here to defend the aging daughter of King Tyndareus.”
“Look at this place,” the queen gestured, “it is the passage from one way of thinking to another. He who controls this place decides who may use it for conquest or trade. Our city does not conform to the Achaean way of life. If Truwisa falls, then too falls our beloved Themiskyra, our way of life including the love that we share and the protection of Artemis. But to make all of this simpler, we choose Truwisa simply because godlike Achilles is our greatest adversary.”
“There is no one on this earth who is more beautiful than you, my queen,” said Bremusa as her heels nudged her horse forward, “and I will die for my love before anyone comes close to you.”
As she rode, Penthesilea reflected on Helen, who to the young queen was nothing but a foolish wager. How could anyone but the idiot Paris judge for the apple T?i Kallist?i? How could the great King Agamemnon be so greedy for power as to have sacrificed his innocent daughter Iphigenia? And Helen of Sparta, now late in her fourth decade of life, where does she come into the story? What do the gods think at this point and what punishment are they planning for all of those gathered here?
The queen knew that her warriors were the most beautiful women on the dark earth but now she began to wonder about love. She had loved; her dear sister Hippolyte whom she had by mischance slain and of course the raging Bremusa who was always by her side. Could it have been anything other than love that made the most beautiful of all mortals desert her most noble husband and sail to Truwisa, with never a thought for her daughter of nine years and her dear parents?
Now was this the same corruption that kindled in her heart for swift-footed Achilles, deadly in his lack of empathy, unfaithful both to men and women, comfortable feigning maidens yet godlike in his lineage. These thoughts grew and changed in the queen, transforming into sharp and deadly weapons of rage. She felt melancholy as she approached the city.
When the messengers arrived there was confusion in both the Greek and Trojan camps. As a young man the noble Priamos had participated in the defence of the Phrygians on the day when the Amazon women came as men’s equals. The Phrygian men with their swarming horses, the people of Otreus and Mygdon, whose camp was spread along the banks of the Sangarios with young Priamos, were not enough to defeat the glancing eyed Achaeans. But on this day, noble Priamos could not clearly determine the enemy as these Sarmatian savages made their way towards his city. But Queen Penthesilea had made her choice for she had already broken her laws and displeased the gods, having chosen the brave Achilles as her most valuable prize.
Trojans were cheered when the war god’s child of Parthian race and her brave sisters chose the city. Her face shone with a glorious and terrible beauty. Her smile was ravishing but ruthless eyes shone a dark metal blue.
All of Truwisa celebrated when they realised that despite past agonies inflicted by the Amazons, Penthesilea was allied with besieged Truwisa and so it appeared that all was to be forgiven. After all that Priamos had suffered he was strangely overjoyed to see this terrible and dangerous queen.
Priamos welcomed and honoured Penthesilea as a daughter to her home after having returned from a far country. He gave her costly gifts, and pledged more, so that she might save the Trojans from imminent doom. She in return promised, as no man ever had, to slay Achilles, conquer the Argives, and burn their ships.
Penthesilea told Priamos that she had come from the country of Eos to seek atonement for having caused the death of her sister Hippolyte. She told of the constant cries of the Erinýes and how she wished to go to the Temple of Apollo where she might find peace.
Queen Penthesilea was immediately guided by Polyxena, the king’s daughter, to the sacred place where she was permitted to offer sacrifice and perform rituals, for she too was chaste and pure as was required by the gods. To complete her purification Priamos quickly made all of the arrangements for the great feast that was demanded by Apollo. The son of Zeus was invited to his throne by a table facing Priamos. With him sat Artemis and Aphrodite and next to them sat Hermes. A place had also been set for the war god, who appeared pleased with the occasion. At the centre overlooking all was Zeus. For the sacrificial table, the Trojan princes offered a ram and a ewe and Aegeslion, who was a landowner in the country of Truwisa, alone offered a large bull to be sacrificed on this day, for it was a great gift that the Amazons had come to rally the Trojan multitudes. The war chiefs offered cheese, honey, anointing oil, wheat and sweet resinated wine. The priests, acknowledging Apollo’s generosity, gave two young goats from their herd.
Priamos sat at his table with Hecuba, daughter of Dymas, on his right and to his left, in an honoured place, sat Penthesilea with Bremusa. To her left sat Laodice, the most beautiful of Priamos’ daughters. Paris was seated with Helen, to his right Aeneas. Wise Anthenor sat with Theano, Helenus sat beside the widow Andromache. With them were also Cassandra the priestess, Deïphobus, Polites, Hippothous, Agathon, Medesicaste, and Polyxena as well as Klonie, Polemousa, Derinoe, Euandre, Antandre, Hippothoe, Harmothoe, Alkibie, Antianara, Thermodosa, Ainia, Derimakheia and Antibrote. The princes, allies and chiefs sat with their families along with the priests.
The bull, two goats, the ewe and ram, with gilt chains as collars, were led into the courtyard. The priest with a bronze knife uttered the words of offering to the seated gods and cut the animal’s throats with swift precision. The beasts were then slaughtered with axes by the attendants and following the normal practice the offal and cleaned bones were cooked on an altar with the oil, grain, cheese and honey so that the gods might have food to eat. Small drinking bowls for Apollo and the other guests were filled with wine, for it was customary for them to feast and sit among mortals. They accepted these gifts for it was decreed by Zeus that all feasting and burnt offering was to be done in his presence.
After the rituals, the rest of the meat was brought to the tripods and bronze spits, along with thirteen rams, two ewes, fourteen goats, eight pigs, two fatted pigs, two cattle, two calves and one deer. Every table was heaped up in baskets of bread in the home of Priamos as well as throughout the city, where grain, olives, peas, lentils, figs, pomegranates, dates, almonds and walnuts as well as resinated wine and beer were given to all the people so that they too could feast on this day. Then as the food was roasted by the princes and their Amazon guests or boiled by the many attendants, the invited mortals and gods drank wine with grated cheese and discussed matters as they feasted deep into the night.
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