Hero, the Amazon: An Historical Romance [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Sam Bonnamy
eBook Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
eBook Description: Love, Adventure, War and Survival! They're all in this breakthrough new historical romance, based on meticulous research, by Sam Bonnany set in Bronze Age Crete. The proud, independent Hero, a captured Amazon warrior, is sold on to a wealthy merchant where, she encounters some of the less pleasant aspects of life as a slave. After the merchant's sudden death his nephew, Aito, inherits Hero with his uncle's estate, and takes her into battle with him. The two begin to fall in love, but before they can speak of it, Hero is taken captive. Determined to rejoin Aito, she organizes an escape and fights her way to freedom and a dramatic change in fortune. Reunited with the man she loves, the pair discovers they have made powerful enemies among the mighty Phoenicians and face death at their hands. Even the gods seem to be against them as their love, courage and faith are tried to the utmost when, fleeing their enemies, Hero and Aito are caught up in the greatest natural catastrophe of the ancient Mediterranean world!
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, Published: 2006
Fictionwise Release Date: January 2006
5 Reader Ratings:
The lengthening evening shadows brought no respite from the oppressive heat of high summer in Crete. Market traders, journeymen, idlers, housewives and slaves made their dusty way home through the narrow streets of Knossos. Children played in alleyways, while in the whitewashed stone and brick houses slaves and housewives boiled water for cooking. The smell of evening meals began to fill the slight breeze that washed warmly over a young slave as she hurried home with a large amphora of cool well water. The red earthenware jar, decorated with paintings of leaping dolphins, was balanced easily on her head, leaving her hands free. Like most of the slave women, the girl wore a short white linen loincloth in the Egyptian style, the schenti, worn by women workers and slaves. Her only other item of clothing was a pair of leather sandals, her adornment, a broad leather belt.
There were not many slaves in Crete, but this particular young woman was noticeable because she stood a head taller than even the men, and therefore many a gaze followed her along the street. Despite her broad shoulders she moved with a fluid grace in her naturally long stride, and was beautiful to look upon. Her expression was grave, accentuated by a fine straight nose, but her dark eyes shone with intelligence, and when she met an acquaintance, the gravity dissolved into a smile of good white teeth. Her black hair was plaited and fell over her straight smooth back, where the slanting sunlight highlighted the muscles tautened to balance the heavy clay jar.
It was half a month since the longest day, and less than a hundred paces ahead the air constantly shimmered. As the palace came into view, the shimmer made the good solid stone walls waver as though they were doomed to fall into ruin. The slave girl reflected that long ago, many generations before her time, the great palace of Knossos had fallen victim to an earthquake. Yet such was the wealth and organized power available to civilized life that it had been rebuilt in even greater splendor. It was now a greater palace than that of the never-forgotten King Minos.
The girl turned into a quieter street, then took a short cut, a narrow alleyway between blind walls. It was like walking through a smith's forge. The air was almost unbreathable, and she would not have gone that way had she not been in a hurry. She was not the only person in the dusty, heat-parched thoroughfare, however, for halfway along, round a slight curve, was a group of youths. They were of an age to be still wearing the hairstyle that civilized society demanded of young people, heads partly shaven with the stubble dyed blue, and long locks sprouting from side and forehead. They had been to the temple to see the bull-leaping, watching young men and women challenging massive steers by somersaulting over their horns in celebration of the goddesses of nature and fertility. Still highly excited by memories of the spectacle and the singing, dancing and music that accompanied it, they had a leather wine bottle that one of them was just drinking dry as the girl hurried along. They blocked her path.
"Let me pass, please, my masters," she said, but they laughed and stood firm, grinning up at her. One of them groped drunkenly at her breasts, leered, and put his head between them, blubbering his lips. Although her whole body recoiled, she made no attempt to stop him, for a slave should know her place. She merely gritted her teeth, lowered the amphora to her shoulder, and repeated her request.
"Who's this, then?" grinned the leader of the pack, a well set-up youth of about seventeen with a handsome face and fashionably long side-locks. Since most Cretan men wore only a kilt or even a loincloth, it was difficult to tell whether these youths belonged to the wealthy class or not. But the leader's speech proclaimed wealth and position, and the girl immediately knew him as one of what she and her friends despised as the rich dolts who could find nothing better to do than make nuisances of themselves with humble folk. She answered, however, carefully and respectfully, trying to keep the contempt from her voice as she looked down at him.
"I belong to the household of Quadaso, sir, a handmaiden of his wife the potinía Ariadne."
"That right?" slurred the youth. "Well, my mum's a greater lady than Ariadne, 'cause we just got piped water in. What part of the world you from? You're not Cretan. Too tall."
"I'm from Pontos."
"I'm from Pontos," mimicked one of the others. He made a lunging grope at her. "Wonder how Pontians roast, guys?"
"Hang on," said one. "If this is the handmaiden of Ariadne--"
"So?" grinned another. "Kato's mum's the lady Daiquota. Daiquota Potinía."
The group closed in. The girl's heart, already racing, began to pound. She knew what roasting meant--gang rape. Surely they wouldn't dare, not before dark. Yet the alley curved in a way that kept the middle stretch out of view of anyone passing at either end. She glanced about for help, but there was no one except the jeering gang holding her arms. The dolphin amphora fell and smashed, and she was thrust into an alcove, while one of them clamped a hand over her mouth, and another tore at her schenti.
The one holding her mouth swore loudly in pain as she bit him. Her knee launched a powerful blow into his groin and he doubled and fell. The one who had ripped her schenti partly away got her elbow hard in his ribs and stumbled off gasping for breath. The girl reached behind her and pulled something from her plait of hair, something small that gleamed as she held it to the throat of the youth still holding her other arm.
"Let go!" she said, and jabbed at his face without actually striking. He leapt away, releasing her and leaping further away as she threatened him again. The gang leader, the one who had had her elbow in his ribs, swore as he recovered his breath and drew a knife of his own from his waist.
"Diwo!" he shouted at one of the gang hovering about twenty paces away. Diwo made no move toward them. The youth swore violently.
"I'll take her myself." He turned to the girl, his face flushed and his breath quick. "It's death for a slave to draw blood on me."
The girl coolly looked him up and down and her glance took in his knife.
"That's only bronze," she said calmly, her heart no longer pounding. "Let's see what my iron can do against it, shall we?" and met his clumsy slash with an expert parry. He swore and rushed in again. The girl knew it was a capital offense to strike a freeman, even if she only wounded. She sprang from his slash, parried two more blows, then saw Diwo creeping back. One or two more of the gang were returning. She was outnumbered and could die at their hands if she didn't do something about it.
One of the gang shouted to his leader, "Kato! Leave her! Come away. She's dangerous."
Kato ignored that and, with a stream of oaths, struck at her again and again. She kept him off until his nervous friends were almost within reach, then, seeing no other way out, she flicked her blade in, sliding it along his arm so that his own knife spun away, and he howled and ran back out of her reach, clutching his arm where a red thread trickled from the hair-like cut she had skillfully inflicted.
She kept her guard up, but the gang was broken. Some fled one way, some the other, while the slave wondered how she would face her mistress. She had felt no real fear during the skirmish, for she knew that with her knife she could successfully defend herself. But she feared what her mistress would say. She knew she could have killed the lout, but she'd controlled her blow to draw only the slightest blood. She might die for what she'd done, but her mistress was powerful in Knossos and would surely see her handmaiden's point of view. There was, in any case, no escape for a slave. Her very manner of dress proclaimed her lowly status and prevented her from running away. Gathering up the broken pieces of the amphora, she resumed her journey home with the sinking sun, reaching the back door to the main courtyard with mouth dry and heart thumping. She kicked off her sandals at the door and entered. The porter's eyes widened when he saw the shards of the amphora.
"Hallo, Hero, had an accident, have you?"
The girl brushed past him, tears forming in her downcast eyes as she made her way to the stateroom where her mistress would be.
The potinía Ariadne, still extremely attractive in middle age and without a gray hair in her head, drew her eyebrows together in the way her handmaiden dreaded. She was wearing the court costume favored by ladies of quality, a multi-colored, long cylindrical hooped skirt and cummerbund. Her tailored open-fronted bodice lifted and displayed her magnificent bare breasts to their greatest advantage, while her high fez-like hat made her look almost as tall as the young handmaiden.
"So, Hero," she said, "you were attacked by youths. That much is clear. But why on earth did you use your knife?"
"To save my life, ma'am."
"Surely you could have simply threatened them and made your escape?"
"Perhaps, ma'am, but..."
"Well? But what?"
"My people don't run away, ma'am. We fight."
"I should never have given you that knife," said Ariadne, half to herself. She turned away and paced the lamplit stateroom. Brightly-painted frescoes covered the walls and for a while she contemplated her favorite, a landscape with deer and swallows lit from the windows by the last rays of the setting sun.
Meanwhile, Hero, stood with bowed head, the picture of shame. Her mind was in turmoil. She had acted according to her instincts and the training she had received in childhood among her people, the Amazons of Pontos.
A scene from her early youth came to mind, a battle against the Achaeans, an advance by the Amazon cohorts, the fourteen-year-old Hero in the fourth rank, fully armed with sword, spear and shield. Arrows from the Achaeans peppered the Amazon ranks. Women fell, some screaming, others dying in stoical silence.
Ariadne turned back to her handmaiden. She possessed the type of dignified beauty which improves with age, and as she slowly approached Hero, the last rays of sunlight flaring on the colored bands and the gold and silver threads in her dress, she was like a goddess. Ariadne was immensely powerful in the locality, and when she exercised authority people jumped. She was a well-respected figure in Knossos, and Hero would not have been surprised to have been struck by lightning from the eyes of her mistress.
But the anger was reserved, not for her handmaiden, but for those who had attacked her.
"My dear Hero," she said, "you realize that by striking a freeman you've condemned yourself to death?" She shook her head. "I seem to be having a run of bad luck with my handmaidens. Kitane dismissed and sold for stealing, and now you..."
Hero nodded, unable to speak. Her mistress took her hands in hers and smiled up into her tearful eyes.
"But don't forget my sister Kapatija is high priestess at the temple. Together, we have a lot of influence in this town. From what you've told me, and from what I know of you, I believe you. You thought you were in mortal danger and acted to save your life. However, that will not save you from the death sentence. I know the boy's mother will certainly press for punishment, but I think Kapatija and I, between us, can influence the Minos to commute the sentence to banishment to another part of the island. We can but try, so dry your eyes and don't give in. You're always reminding people you're an Amazon, so act like one."
"Thank you, ma'am," said Hero.
"Now," said Ariadne, "I have a more practical problem."
"The dinner party, ma'am."
"Yes. I'll send someone for another jar of water. You'd better stay out of sight tonight. Take over from Karadowata in the kitchen. She will wait on me instead. The potinía Daiquota is supposed to be coming, but I don't expect her now."
The potinía Daiquota, mother of the injured Kato, did not appear at Ariadne's dinner party. She sent neither explanation nor apology, and two of her particular friends also absented themselves. News of the incident had got abroad, and, although no one mentioned it, the usual sparkle was missing from among the guests, despite the lavish menu, which included limpets, octopus and tritons among the sea-food dishes, and some beautifully roasted kid in the main course. Ariadne's husband, Quadaso, quietly voiced his unease to his wife afterward.
"A feud with the house of Daiquota?" said Ariadne. "Surely not, my dear. The Minos will settle the case. My great fear is that the girl will be sentenced to die among the bulls. But my sister will appear in court and speak up for her."
The trial took place within three days. The court of the Minos was held in the throne room of the great palace of Knossos. Hero had never been inside the palace, with its fifteen hundred rooms, but she tried not to be intimidated by the thronged courtyards, the bustling corridors, the grim sentries and the armed escort who took her through a stone passageway floored with white gypsum. It echoed even to the soft pad of their bare feet, as they went up some steps and into the hall of state through a door used only during trials.
The hall was vast and high-ceilinged, but brightly illuminated by large windows and a light-well in the roof. The pervasive heat of day entered through the windows and drifted out through the light-well. There was no relief from the overpowering air and even early in the morning the officials were sweating and wiping their faces. The sunlight threw bright rectangles from the windows onto the imposing wall frescoes. They were of a salutary nature, showing the virtues of city life. Paintings of wealthy-looking citizens going about their business covered the walls, framed by austerely simple painted borders. The floor was paved in more dazzling white gypsum shot with dark and intricate veins, and the furnishings were sparse and designed to impart a sense of solemnity to the court hearings. Hero was brought to the center of the room where all could see her. Opposite her sat the Minos himself, an imposing figure occupying a gold-covered throne mounted high on steps.
His title was derived from the most celebrated king of Crete, dead for many centuries. He was about forty, dressed in the usual male costume of starched kilt with a cylindrical codpiece worn beneath. His chest and arms were bare, but a sleeveless garment worked in gold thread covered his shoulders. His head was bare, with his hair worked elaborately into long side locks. As Hero was brought before him, he rested his elbows on the huge arms of his throne and looked impassively at her. Ariadne and her sister stood to one side of Hero, one in full court costume and the other in the regalia of a high priestess. Kapatija was attended by two young priestesses carrying bronze snakes and smoking censers, symbols of priestly power.
At a distance stood the sullen Kato, his arm neatly bandaged, and a woman whose face flushed with anger at sight of the tall young handmaiden. Like Ariadne, she was dressed as a potinía, the warm stale air cloyed with the scent of the perfumed oil glistening on her full bare breasts. These drew the gaze of every man in the court, and not a few women, for a corset lifted them high as they heaved with apparent emotion, while a tight cummerbund emphasized a tiny waist. Only the stern Minos fixed his eyes on Hero.
The trial commenced. Kato's mother, the potinía Daiquota, launched into a tirade of accusation against Hero. Her son was innocent. The slave should have submitted. It was only a bit of fun, after all. Slaves were used to it.
"But, Daiquota Potinía," interrupted the Minos, "your son Kato has appeared before minor courts at least twice, has he not?"
"Only for petty delinquency, Minos," answered Daiquota. Her breasts heaved again, and the Minos turned his gaze away. He had a reputation for passing fair, if stern, judgment, and he was damned if he would let even a potinía, be she never so attractive, influence him in that way. Women exercised a great deal of power in Crete, running the households while the men ran the navy. In Mycenae, part of the Hellene nation across the sea, the women had no power. The Cretan women enjoyed freedoms their Mycenaean counterparts did not, and they had adopted a style of dress which emphasized their fertility and their role in child-rearing. In the opinion of the Minos, they frequently used this costume to exert undue influence on their menfolk. Although the Minos did not in the least mind the display of female flesh in the streets, he found it unnecessarily distracting in court, and he wished more potinías and lesser ladies would follow the example of some of the older matrons, and wear a translucent bib under their bodices. Slaves, like the accused, went bare-breasted too, but that didn't matter.
He brought his thoughts back to the case in hand. Ariadne stepped forward to speak. Everyone, including the Minos himself, unconsciously sat up straighter or drew themselves up a little. The potinía and her sister were, after all, direct descendants of the Ariadne, the celebrated heroine.
"Minos," she said in a sweet, clear voice which deceived the Minos not at all, for he knew she was perfectly capable of razor-sharp thinking, "Minos, I speak for Hero of Themiskyra, my handmaiden."
"Hero of where?" interrupted the Minos.
"It's a town in a country to the northeast of Macedonia," answered Ariadne. "There, Hero was brought up as an Amazon. The Amazons are a race of warrior women who are trained to fight rather than run away. In defending herself against a wholly unjustified attack by young men who should know better, my handmaiden was quite rightly concerned to preserve her life."
"She's just a slave!" protested Daiquota.
"Daiquota Potinía," said the Minos, "may I remind you this is a court of law? Ariadne Potinía has the right to speak for her slave, who cannot speak for herself. Kindly let the potinía continue."
The potinía did continue. She spoke eloquently of Hero's character, her fortitude, her bravery on the field of battle, where she had been honorably wounded.
Hero's thoughts returned to that battlefield. Deadly arrows were whistling among the Amazons, thumping roundly into shields, whacking flatly into unprotected flesh. The woman in front of Hero fell dead. Hero leapt over the huddled body to fill her place in the line as the charge sounded and the troops broke forward, screaming a chorus of ululating war cries. Amazon battle cries always panicked an enemy who had not heard them before, and these Achaean troops were no exception. Many of them were raw young lads who had anticipated an easy victory against a mob of hysterical women. The shock of contact halted the charge for only an instant, then the Achaeans turned and fled, and the Amazons were through, spears flying into the enemy ranks.
Not all the Achaeans ran. Hero confronted a burly veteran who tried to snatch at her belt then swiped at her with an ax. The nimble young Amazon ducked and thrust her spear into the armpit of her opponent, who went down. She drew her bronze sword and ran on, following her comrades, then suddenly a whole battalion of Achaean reserves crested a slight rise where they had lain hidden, and, discharging volleys of spears and arrows, bore down on the Amazons. The Amazon line halted, broke, and began to fall back. At that moment an arrow struck Hero in the thigh. She stuck her sword into the ground and stooped to pull out the arrow, gritting her teeth and tugging hard.
Hero's thoughts returned to the courtroom as Ariadne walked across her line of vision and bowed to the Minos.
"And that concludes my case, Minos," she said.
"Is there anyone else to speak for the accused?" asked the Minos.
Ariadne's sister stepped forward.
"Your Holiness," said the Minos.
"Minos," said Her Holiness Kapatija, "I wish to add my voice to that of my sister. Hero the Amazon came to the temple four years ago when she was twenty years of age. She served as a temple slave for three years, after which I sent her to work for my sister."
"Why was that?" asked the Minos.
"Her diligence in performing the temple duties was of such a high standard that when my sister needed a new handmaiden, I thought immediately of my Amazon."
"She was a temple slave?" pursued the Minos. "Do you mean a temple prostitute?"
"Not at all, Minos. Hero could have served as a holy prostitute and serviced worshipers at the shrine of fertility, but she preferred to perform other duties, and in fact, she learned to read and write."
The Minos looked at the slave in astonishment. To read and write! He himself could not do that, though he had slaves who could. The girl, then, was valued by these two potinías. He listened with close attention as Her Holiness gave a clear summary of Hero's good character.
"How did the accused become a slave?" the Minos eventually asked. "Was she a prisoner of war?"
Hero recalled her capture. She had pulled out the arrow and staunched the flow of blood with a strip torn from her battledress. As she straightened up, two strong hairy arms seized her round the middle. She immediately jabbed hard with her elbows and reached for her sword, but her assailant whirled her away and tightened his grip, despite her kicking at his bronze greaves with her hobnailed combat boots. At a distance an Amazon battalion, their shields at the ready, faced imminent attack. Her own mother, Thebe, blood-spattered from head to foot in her armor of a commanding officer, caught sight of Hero's predicament and yelled, "Hero! You dropped your sword. Now free yourself. Or be disgraced forever and no daughter of mine!"
Hero's last sight of them was a swirling melee of axes and swords as the Achaeans attacked. At the same moment, a blare of trumpets signaled the onset of the Amazon cavalry, who swept between her and her mother's battalion, smashing into the Achaeans. But Hero's captor carried her away, and the shame of that last call from her mother stayed with her. She had dropped her sword to bind her wound when she should have pulled out the arrow and ignored the flow of blood.
In the sweltering courtroom the high priestess told the Minos what she knew of Hero's capture. She stressed the Amazon's bravery and trustworthiness. The Minos thanked her. He had heard all the evidence, and now he must make his judgment. He looked at the three potinías.
Daiquota was still heaving her bosom and distracting the court officials. She had had plenty of time to compose herself, therefore this histrionic performance was obviously aimed at him. Her Holiness Kapatija, on the other hand, although bare-breasted herself, had a true sense of what was fitting. She had given her evidence of the girl's good character and had in no way attempted unseemly influence on the court. Her two acolytes were comporting themselves in a truly dignified manner, symbolic of the power of the Great Mother who looked on all human activities. As for Ariadne, well, a lady of her lineage would never put herself in a compromising position, especially in a case like this where so much depended on reputation.
Above all, here was an opportunity to curb the excesses of young louts roaming the streets. Slaves were well treated in Crete, and they should not lose the right to defend themselves. Yet the girl must not go unpunished. There were laws respecting the position of freemen and slaves, and to be too lenient could release the rampant bull of license. He came to a decision, leant forward in his seat, and began to pronounce judgment.