People often say that the dead look as if they are only a sleep. Looking at the dead body of her mother Selene had to disagree. If her mother were only asleep then her skin, usually dusky colored and warm, would not be grayish and cold. Her lips would be rosy, not pale and bloodless. Her chest would rise and fall softly with the breath of sleep, not lay still and lifeless. Selene wished her mother were only sleeping because then there would be hope of her waking up and ending this nightmare.
When the scouts that had found the queen’s body told her the news, she was frozen by her disbelief. How could she be dead? The strong and bright queen of the amazons who had fought in so many battles and ruled with such strength and grace, dead? There was no reason for her to be dead. Except for the gaping hole in her chest where the knife that ended her life was found. The encampment had erupted into chaos as amazons raced to search the woods for the culprit but nothing was found except for that damned knife, small and poorly made, something a poor farmer would use in his day to day work. A simple farmer could not have killed the queen of the amazons. At least that is what Selene kept telling herself. She was stroking her mother’s head and humming an old Amazon lullaby that had been sung to her as a child when a voice called to her.
“You need to get some rest. You’ve been doing that since they found her.” Selene turned to the opening of the tent and saw her twin sister, Sabeer, enter dirt covered and tired. She entered the tent carrying the scent of trees and sweat.
“I will, I only wanted to be sure that she was ready for the ceremony tonight... did you see that they had cut off some of her hair?” Said Selene pulling a woven cloth over their mother’s body. She stood up and walked over to Sabeer, who was removing her armor and weapons.
“Yes, a few of the others who went out with me found chunks of her hair spread across the clearing. Whoever did this really wanted to humiliate her.” Sabeers face clouded over as she recalled the sight. She sighed heavily and turned to her sister.
“ Could you get that last tie? I can’t reach it.” Sabeer was stretching her arm across her back trying and failing to reach the tie of her leather armor. Selene took the ties and set to undoing the knot. Sabeer always knotted her ties when she dressed quickly and Selene was the only one with enough patience to undo them.
“Were you able to find any trace of the killer?” She asked hopefully as she finished with the stubborn knot.
“No, nothing. The bastard knew what he was doing, covered his tracks well. I did find this, so it wasn't a total waste of time. It must have come off in the fight.” Sabeer reached into a pouch at her hip and pulled out a long silver chain with a large blood red ruby dangling at the end. The necklace caught the light and Selene saw that the silver chain links were crusted with blood.
“Mother’s necklace!” Exclaimed Selene, reaching for the stone. Sabeer snatched it away and quickly replaced the necklace back in the pouch at her side.
“The queen’s necklace.” She said correcting her younger sister. Sabeer turned and walked over to a large basin of water and began to wash her face and arms.
“I know it’s the queen’s necklace, I am just used to seeing it on mother.” Said Selene annoyed. She’d only wanted to hold the necklace that had been her mother’s.
“Don't be mad little sister. I just didn't want you to try and burn it with her. You already have her in her best armor. Good armor that still has a lot of use in it.” Said Sabeer matter of factly. Selene rolled her eyes. Was that really what was important right now? She hated that at times her sister could be so cold, even towards her, even when she needed her.
“The queen’s necklace is a relic that has been passed down from queen to queen since the first queen, Illah. I know our history just as well as you. Besides, what would you even do with her armor? It’s too big for you.” Selene looked over at their mother’s body, a whole foot taller than both of them. Sabeer looked over as well, she sighed and went back to work washing the dirt from her face.
“I know, I wish I had her height. She really looked like a queen... Help me do this, I can’t see if I’ve gotten it all.” She says holding out the cloth to Selene. Selene took it and began wiping away dirt from her sister's face.
“You could just use a mirror.” She said, resenting her sisters commanding tone. Anyone listening would think Sabeer was addressing a servant.
“That’s what I have you for dear sister." She patted Selene's cheek. " Although, I don’t want to look anything like you right now. Have you been crying all night?”
Sabeer knew that she had. As always she just wanted to point out Selene’s weaknesses, even with their mother dead. Selene didn’t answer her, she just focused on wiping away all the dirt she could find. Slowly, she uncovered the familiar face that her and her sister shared. Dark brown, almost black, eyes. Their stern nose and strong chin. They were twins, Sabeer born only minutes before her. There were few in the camp that could tell them apart without speaking to them first. She put down the cloth and looked at her sister. Even though her face was clean there was dirt in her long black hair that would have to be washed out. Looking at the face that was a perfect match of her own she wondered if Sabeer had ever shed a tear in her life. She tossed the cloth in the water basin and sat by the fire.
“Our mother was murdered. I am allowed to feel her death and cry over her loss.” The fire crackled and popped as she stared into it. There was silence as the two of them looked into the flames but never across them and into each other's eyes.
“I have been out since before dawn. I am going to get some sleep, I want to be rested for tonight.” Said Sabeer, stretching her arms over her head and then laying down in her bed. She laid with her back turned on Selene and her grief.
Selene knew that Sabeer didn’t mean to dismiss her pain. She was dealing with their mother's death the best way she knew how. Neither of them expected her to die so soon, leaving Sabeer to become their queen at 18 years old. Selene knew that she was nervous at the idea. She could feel it in everything that Sabeer did and said.
While Sabeer was nervous, Selene was relieved that it wasn’t her. She had no desire to be queen and shoulder the weight of a war that the elders say they have been fighting for hundreds of years.
The war with the kingdom of Durin had filled her childhood with fear and worry. She remembered as a child asking her mother why they kept fighting a war that was started by ancestors that have been dead for so long. If it hadn’t been for the amazons superior strength, magic, and constant moving of their camps, they would have been wiped out by Durin’s larger numbers. Sabeer was inheriting a war and the responsibility of bringing her people through it alive. Selene did not envy her sister in the least, she thanked the goddess for the gift that was being the second born.
She shook herself out of her thoughts and stood to follow her sister's example and try to sleep before the long night ahead. As she reached her bed and pulled up the furs she heard a voice coming from the tent opening.
“Sabeer, Selene, I need to speak with you.” From the sound of it the voice belonged to Telmare, the council elder. Selene looked over to Sabeer, who had always been able to sleep the moment her head touched the pillow. She sighed and walked over to the tent entrance and pulled the flap up.
“Sabeer is sleeping, she needs her rest before the queen's trial. Can this wait?” The old woman's face was serious as usual but just now it also held a look of urgency that she didn’t usually see. “What have you seen?” She asked. Selene had always been curious about the seers in their tribe. They were mages who also had the ability to see into the future although that particular gift varied from amazon to amazon. Some could see big events, some could see only minutes into the future, and others could answer specific inquires that were asked of them if the right circumstances were met, but those were rare.
“No, this is about your mother and it has to be discussed before tonight.” The old woman stepped closer to the entrance and Selene relented, stepping back to let her in. Telmare hurries to seat herself by the fire and nods toward Sabeer’s sleeping form. Selene rolled her eyes. The least the old seer could do was wake Sabeer up herself. Sabeer hated to be woken up. Selene walked over to her sister and gently shook her shoulder then quickly jumped back.
“What!” Yelled Sabeer swinging her arm out at the air where Selene had been standing.
“Telmare wants a word.” She said gesturing to where the seer sat calmly observing the two. There was a look on her face that sent a shiver of anticipation through her spine.
“Oh, can’t this wait? I’m sure we will have plenty of time after queen's trial to discuss whatever it is.” Sabeer rolled back under her covers, Selene cringed. Telmare's face was tightly pinched, as if she were trying to keep from insulting her future queen. Their mother would never have spoken to the elder that way. Not the best way to start your reign, sister. Selene thought to herself as she smiled apologetically at Telmare. The old woman's face remained pinched, then she took in a breath, and her features relaxed.
“If it could wait, I would not be here now. As it is we are running out of time and there are many things to discuss. So I will just tell you; your mother came to the council some weeks ago and told us that in the event of her death she wanted Selene to succeed her as queen.”
Sabeer sat up. She looked at the old woman with disbelieving eyes and the old woman looked back, clearly pleased with her reaction. Selene, opposite to her sister, sat down, she suddenly felt very heavy. There was silence as Telmare let this news sink into the minds of the two astonished girls. Finally Sabeer broke the silence with her voice like a razor.
“What do you mean? She never said anything to me about this.” Sabeer stood and took slow measured steps toward Telmare, her fists clenched.
“She was the queen, she didn’t have to tell you anything. However, she did say that she would discuss it with you both. Obviously, she never had the opportunity.” Said the old woman. Telmare made no effort to her pleasure at Sabeer’s anger. The two had never gotten along well.
“But Sabeer is first born." Selene said in a shaky voice. " The council would never have agreed to that.” Selene looked at her sister who nodded and looked to Telmare.
“They did, the queen made very convincing arguments.” Answered Telmare.
“Arguments that I want to hear from the whole council instead of you, hag!” Spat Sabeer.
“You will, they wanted to tell you both of your mothers decision but I convinced them to let me do it alone. I thought I would spare you the embarrassment of sharing this reaction with the entire council. If you are ready we can go now.” Telmare stood and walked out of the tent. Sabeer made to follow her but Selene took her arm before she could.
“Wait, Sabeer. Try to keep calm, we have to listen to…” Selene began.
“Keep calm?” cut in Sabeer. “You’re about to be handed my birthright and you want me to be calm?” Sabeer's voice was hot as her temper climbed. She pulled her arm out of Selene’s grip and stepped back glaring at her.
“I am only saying that we should try to keep our heads until we know what is happening. We don't have a lot of time to think of a solution so don't waste it by throwing tantrums.” Selene was hurt by the anger she was getting from her sister. She didn't understand where it was coming from. After all it wasn't her idea that she be made the queen. Sabeer looked her in the eye and for a moment she calmed. Then she looked behind Selene at the shrouded body of their mother. Suddenly Sabeer's face was swallowed by her anger.
"She is handing it to you, something I was trained for my whole life. What have you ever done to deserve it?" With one last glare for Selene and their mother Sabeer turned and followed after Telmare. Stunned and offended by her words Selene watched as her sister walked away. It was clear that Selene would be considered the one at fault in all of this.
"I don't understand this, it's insanity!" Sabeer was pacing the floor of the council tent shouting obscenities and interrupting everyone who spoke. They had been there for nearly an hour and still Selene felt that nothing had been properly explained. She understood Sabeer's anger, it even made sense that she would be angry. The true insanity was that she wouldn't listen and she wouldn't let anyone speak. Selene's patience was nearly gone. Sabeer was ignoring that this also changed her life in ways that she hadn't wanted or expected. Instead of listening she was throwing a tantrum like a child. Normally, Selene would stand and leave when Sabeer got this way, considering the circumstances, she knew that would no longer be an option for her. She felt trapped. She looked at the faces of the six women sitting in front of her and was surprised to see them looking back at her, expectant. Telmare most of all. The old woman's eyes moved to Sabeer and back, one of her eyebrows arched as if to say 'It's not up to us to stop this' Selene glanced over to Sabeer who was frantically waving her arms in the air, yelling, and then back to the Council. She took a deep breath and knew what had to be done next.
"Enough, Sabeer. We are getting nowhere with you screaming like a child every time someone says something that you don't like." said Selene standing and facing her sister. She could feel her stomach tense as she said the words but she went on.
"We need to hear what the council has to say and once we have then we can decide what, if anything can be done." Sabeer stared at her with her mouth open as if looking for a response but was too surprised to find one. It was not that Selene had ever lost an argument with her sister, she had just avoided being in one as much as possible. Sabeer did not like to lose at anything and she hated being wrong. If you were foolish enough to have been caught in an argument with her, it could last for hours. She would yell, call you names, and in the end if you happened to be right she would smile smugly as if you're brain had somehow been damaged and repeat how wrong you were again. Sabeer always had to have the last word, even if it was wrong. Selene learned that it was just easier to say nothing and move on. Unfortunately, this situation would have to be different, Selene would have to be different. Sabeer's surprised face settled into a scowl and then into a glare. Selene kept her face blank as she met her sisters gaze.
"Thank you Selene." Said Delyth, the healer. Sabeer looked as if she could breathe fire but she let the woman continue. "As I was saying, the queen came to us with a plan; We've been fighting for too long. Few of our next generation know what this war is about or even care. Our numbers are diminishing and our gifts are manifesting later and weaker than before. If we continue on in this war, we will lose. The queen knew this and so she sent a messenger to the king of Durin to..."
"Surrender!" Yelled Sabeer throwing her hands in the air and shaking her head.
"To meet with him and establish a peace. He responded positively and agreed to meet with her." Said Ohma, plainly irritated with Sabeer. The general and warrior had been friends with the deceased queen and did not like how her eldest daughter was behaving.
"Yes, that I believe we understand." Said Selene resting her hand on Sabeer's shoulder when she saw that she was about to begin shouting again. It was something she had seen their mother do many times and she was surprised it worked. Sabeer took in a deep breath, shook her head and let Selene continue. "It's the part where the queen made me her successor that we are having trouble with." Said Selene, trying to be as respectful as possible since Sabeer insisted on rudeness. Sabeer jerked her shoulder and Selene let her hand fall.
"The queen felt that if peace were to be achieved, you would be the best candidate. Sabeer is too hot headed as she has made very clear to us tonight." Said Telmare glaring toward Sabeer who was glaring right back. Selene ignored them as the word peace had filled her head. She had never known peace in her whole life. She had killed her first enemy at the age of 10 and the number of men who died at her hand had steadily risen with each year that passed. They could have peace and her mother believed that she, Selene, could get it for them. What would that be like?
"Selene would present as a weaker queen! The king of men would cheat us and then kill us once he has what he wants. She has never even wanted to be queen. She wasn't raised to it like I was. The amazons have always had their strongest warrior as their queen and I have proven that I am that warrior! " This outburst from Sabeer is what finally pulled Selene out her own thoughts. How could Sabeer say that about her in front of the council? Selene had never in her life challenged her right to rule or insulted her in public. Yes, they have had their fights in the past but they were sisters, it was expected of them that they would fight. She was angry that Sabeer would resort to saying such things about her when Selene had only ever supported her. Here their mother had left them a chance for peace. She had wanted to achieve this peace herself, and Selene felt a strong need to get it for her and her people. She hadn't intended to accept the nomination if she could help it, but that was when she had thought she would have to lead her people in this never ending war. Now with peace as a real possibility she had no intention of refusing the role of Queen. Sabeer would just have to accept it.
"Sabeer, I am sorry that you feel that way. It's true that I have never wanted to be queen but we have also never had a chance for peace. It would be foolish of us to throw away this opportunity. Our mother wanted this future for us." She looked at her sister and reached out her hand. Hoping to convey how sorry she was that things had to turn out this way with the simple touch. Sabeer looked at her outstretched hand, she didn't take it. Selene lowered it and took a deep breath. She kept her face blank, no need to show Sabeer her disappointment. She would only see it as weakness.
"What do I need to do?" She said turning her back to Sabeer and facing the council.
"Exactly what you have done. Now that you have accepted, you will just need to present yourself at queens trial as the queens successor." Telmare spoke quickly before Sabeer could interrupt. She stood, her eyes growing wider with each word spoken.
"Once the trial is over we should send a messenger to Durin's king to let him know about the queens demise and that a new queen has taken her place, one that is also interested in peace." Said Selene.
"Wait." Sabeer's voice was low and dangerous. “Nothing has been decided. I am still first born."
"Actually, sister, things have been decided and as you are no longer the successor you are no longer needed here in this meeting. Please leave. I will speak to you in our tent once I have finished here." Selene said calmly as if talking to a child. It both hurt and pleased Selene to say this to her sister. It hurt because some part of her did feel as if she were betraying her and it pleased her because she felt it was her revenge for all of the things that Sabeer had said about her. She kept her face calm and blank however as she looked Sabeer in the eye.
"This is a mistake. You'll see." And with that Sabeer left. Selene watched her go and took a moment before she turned back to the council. Sabeer would be furious with her and she didn't know where she would even begin to repair the damage done. However, that would have to wait. She had responsibilities to attend to
"Is there anything else that I need to know?" She asked.
"Yes, two things in fact." Began Telmare as Selene seated herself in the queens place.
“ As Delyth said before, our gifts are manifesting later and weaker with every new Amazon child. One of our seers has been able to confirm the reason for this." She said ominously. There was a scoff from one of the council members. Selene hadn't seen who it was so she gestured for Telmare to continue.
"My niece, Nenasea, has the ability to see into the past as well as the future. With this ability she has been able to see that the first of our ancestors brought here to this land were in possession of an enormous amount of power." Again there was a scoff. This time Selene was able to see that it came from Katan, her mother's body guard. Former body guard.
"Katan, you have something to say and I would rather hear that once then hear you scoff a third time." Said Selene with a disapproving look at Katan. The shadow warrior met her gaze and sat up straighter.
"I don't disagree with the idea of peace, Selene. But I do not believe that we should up and leave our home based on the ramblings of Telmare's lunatic grandchild." Said Katan crossing her arms.
"Let's refrain from insulting anyone till I have all the facts." Said Selene turning again toward Telmare. The old woman looked ruffled by Katan's words. " What does she mean by leave our home? Has Durin made this a requirement?"
"No, they did not. This is something we can discuss after you have been crowned queen. It's enough for now that you know that it may be a possible outcome." Said Telmare with what Selene was sure was relief.
"I see, in that case I will go. I have a queen's trial to prepare for." Selene stood to go when Katan's voice stopped her.
"Your mother and the council have agreed that your sister should not be queen but I am still not sure that you are the one to replace her. I didn't say this while Sabeer was here because I didn't want her to think that I supported her. Honestly, I have never seen anything in you that would make a queen. Until tonight I never even thought of you as anything but another warrior. Don't expect everyone to support you." She said from her spot, she was lounging in her seat giving Selene and appraising look. Selene could tell that Katan was going to be a problem but she had spent her life dealing with Sabeer and Katan was nothing compared to her.
"Then I suppose I will see those who do not support me at queen's trial." She said giving Katan her own appraising look and left.
When Selene reached her tent Sabeer was nowhere to be seen. She sighed and prepared to sit with her mother till the sun went down.
Selene sat with her mother till she heard the drums signal that the sun had begun to set. She took one more look at her mothers face and stood to get ready. She washed her face with water from the basin and found the items that Sabeer had laid out for her own use in the queen's trial and was glad that she hadn't thought to take them. There was the red war paint that she would have to paint on her face and arms, their mothers dagger and the robe she was to cover herself with until her mother's pyre was lit. As she dipped her fingers into the red paint she heard someone enter the tent behind her. She turned hoping it was Sabeer coming to offer her support and maybe forgiveness.
"Shouldn't you be done with that by now?" Came the voice of Selene's best friend Leala. Selene stifled her disappointment and held out the paint pot to Leala.
"Yes, which is why you will need to help me. Who told you?" Asked Selene.
"Who do you think? Your loud mouth sister has been yelling to Valeen about it, her tent isn't that far down from mine. I have been meaning to move it since those two became lovers. Anyway, the whole camp should know by now." Leala took the paint and drew a crescent moon on Selene's forehead. A symbol representing the goddess that her mother had marked her with at her birth. "You'd think she would be the one doing this."
"No, Sabeer is hurt. She feels that our mother and I have betrayed her. If there was more time then maybe..." Selene let the words trail off because she wasn't sure if they were true. Would Sabeer change her mind if she were given more time?
"Well I think it's the best thing your mother could have done. Sabeer is selfish, self centered, and a huge b.."
"She is still my sister." Selene said cutting off Leala. She knew well that Leala could go on insulting Sabeer if she were given the chance. The two had never gotten along. Since the time Sabeer had tried to bully Leala when they were children. That was the day Sabeer learned that no one bullied Leala, not even the Amazon princess.
"Yes, she is Selene but you and I both know that you have done more for her than she has for you in your life. Starting with you pretending that you were weaker and slower than she is. It didn't fool anyone but her. Anyone who has ever seen you fight seriously knows that you out match her in every way. It's about time she realizes it." Said Leala as she began to paint symbols down Selene's arm.
"That's not why they chose me to be the queen's successor." Said Selene slightly annoyed. She knew Leala meant well but she was always embarrassed when this subject was brought up.
"Of course not! You have a million other qualities to recommend you for the job over her. You being the stronger warrior is only the tip of the mountain. I just think that if you had shown her how good you were sooner your mother wouldn't have waited this long to name you her heir."
Selene rolled her eyes. She'd had this conversation with her too many times to count and she always told her the same thing.
"I did it because it made her feel better to be the best of us two." She said hoping this would end the conversation.
"No, you did it because you didn't want them to know how good you were and make you queen. Now look, I'm getting you ready for the queen's trial. You didn't change anything by hiding." This was what Selene was hoping that Leala wouldn't say. She said it every time this subject came up and she was right. "What changed your mind? I heard Sabeer yelling that you went along with the council."
"I can't go into it now and I don't have all the details yet, but there is a chance that we can end the war. I may never have to lead us into battle." Selene heard the paint pot fall to the floor. She looked up at her friend to see her look of shock and relief. Ever since Leala's older sister had died when they were younger they had both shared the same hope: That one day the fighting would stop and they would never have to attended the funeral of another loved one. Selene couldn't get emotional now, not with what she had to face ahead. She picked up the paint and placed it in her friends hand giving it a small squeeze before letting go. Leale nodded in understanding.
"Have you thought of a strategy yet?" She asked, taking Selene's hair in her hands to braid.
"No. Queen's trial is unpredictable, I can't think of strategy until I see who steps into the circle."
The queen's trial dated back to the death of the first queen, Illah. A tradition that was then carried out at the funeral of every queen. A pyre would be erected to burn the fallen's body, the smoke carrying her spirit to the afterlife. The queen's named successor would light the pyre and wait silently meditating inside a circle drawn in red sand around the burning remains. The fire would be lit at sunset and anyone who wished to challenge the queen's successor for her right to rule would step into the circle to be judged by the queen's departing spirit. At dawn the amazons in the circle would then engage in a battle to the death, with the victor becoming queen. If an Amazon stepped out of the circle before or during this fight for any reason then she would be killed by the amazons watching nearby for challenging the queen. Stepping into the circle is not something any Amazon would do without thinking it through. Selene had been afraid for Sabeer when she thought of her being obligated to participate in the queen's trial but now she wondered if Sabeer would do the same for her.
Sometime in the middle of Selene's thoughts Telmare had entered the tent and sat waiting for Leala to finish painting the last of the symbols on Selene's chest and back. When she was done Selene stood and faced the old woman.
"Do you understand the rules of queen's trial?" Asked Telmare calmly.
"I know this will be hard for you. Your mother always knew that you hated to kill if you could avoid it and she respected the high value you placed on life but the price for peace is blood. Anyone who steps into that circle tonight will kill you if they can. Not all of them will agree with your mother plans. You may be the only chance we have." Continued Telmare.
"I think Katan may join the fight. She hasn't said anything but she doesn't agree with the councils plans. She was your mother's friend and her shadow guard. Can you kill her?" Telmare was looking at Selene in a way that made her feel as if the woman could read her thoughts. Before she could answer Leala cut in.
"Of course you can beat her! I'm the best shadow guard there is and you've beaten me loads of times." Selene began to laugh but then saw Telmare's serious and unnerving face.
Selene thought about what she had been asked. Katan was a shadow guard, which meant that she had the rarest gift of all the amazons. She had the ability to travel through the shadows. It was an ability that was coveted by many amazons and obtained by few. The amazons who showed the potential for it as children were put through test after test until they were ready to make their first jump or risk being lost in the shadow world, forever. It was a risk that they faced every time they used the ability because shadows shift and change so quickly. Selene had shown that she had the potential but the queen hadn't allowed her to train in it. So Selene trained as a warrior instead, the most common of the Amazon abilities, but she was the best. Having the potential to be a shadow guard meant that she was faster than most amazons and as a warrior she had trained to take advantage of her superior strength and agility. This was due to the magic that all amazons possessed. When the magic manifested in an adolescent Amazon a seer would test them to see what potential their magic held. They would then choose and train to develop these gifts by either becoming seers, shadow guards or warriors. Selene thought back on her training and all of those times she had beaten Leala. She looked at Telmare and gave her the answer she was looking for.
"Yes, I can kill her." Said Selene accepting what fate and her mother had decided for her.
"Then it is time to begin." Said the old woman.
Selene and the members of the council carried the queen's shrouded body and placed her on top of the pyre. They were in the center of the Amazon encampment and Selene was not surprised to see that amazons from other camps had made their way to be present at the funeral of their queen. She looked to see if her sisters face was among those present and was struck by disappointment when she didn't. She kissed the tips of her fingers and laid them on her mothers forehead this was the last time that she would see her face.
"I'll do my best to make you proud." She said before stepping down. She walked over to Telmare who was waiting with her mother's dagger. When she reached her the old woman raised her hands for silence and the drum that hadn't stopped since the sun had begun to set fell silent.
"Our great queen has fallen! But in her place she has left a daughter to rule and guide us, Selene." At her words the crowd began to buzz with chatter. Those who didn't know of the change were easy spot with their surprised faces. Most of them began to look around for Sabeer. Selene wondered if any of them would step up to challenge her now that they knew she would be queen. Telmare waited for silence before continuing. She held out the queen's dagger to Selene in her up turned palms and spoke again.
"Stand in the circle and be judged." Selene took off her robe throwing it down at Telmare's feet and took hold of the dagger hilt. She then turn to Delyth who was standing next to Telmare holding a torch.
"Light the fire and be judged." Selene slipped the dagger into her belt at her waist and took the torch from Delyth with a nod. As she stepped back two younger seers came forward and began to pour out the red sand where she had been standing. They walked away from each other as they poured sand in opposite directions to form the circle. Selene walked slowly toward the pile of wood that held her mother and held the torche's flame to it. She fought back the tears that threatened her and took a few steps back as the flame ignited. Again she heard the sounds of drums as they began to beat once more. Selene stood with her hands clasped behind her back and watched as her mother's body was consumed by the flames. As Telmare had warned her Katan had stepped up to the circle. She was stripping off her armor as no one entering queen's trial was allowed anything but a dagger. Selene watched as the older woman finished and stood there clad only in her dear skin pants and top. She placed a dagger on her hip and entered the circle. There were cries of "Katan" as the amazons acknowledged her claim to queen's trial. A smug smile slid easily across the shadow guards face. Selene couldn't believe that her mother's close friend would be so willing to kill her and clearly she wasn't conflicted by it. She wondered how her mother's spirit would judge Katan for what Selene felt was a betrayal to her dying wish. Katan must think that her mother would have approved of her in some way and Selene began to wonder if there might be some truth to that thought. Katan had known her mother since they were children and as her body guard had spent much of her time with the queen. She quickly pushed that thought from her mind. If her mother had thought that she would make a better queen then she wouldn't have named Selene as her successor.
The night passed with no one else stepping into the circle. There had been times when Selene thought she saw another Amazon step up to the line and consider entering but they always turned away. She didn't know if it was the thought of fighting her or the thought of fighting Katan that kept others from entering or maybe they didn't think that she needed to be challenged. Perhaps, they even thought that she was a good choice for their new queen.
The amazons sang and danced around the circle to pass the night. Several times Selene met the eyes of another of her people and they would give her nod or smile and continue with their tribute to their late queen. She was supported, even if her sister was not here to even if she was angry, her people would support her. Selene felt that was all she needed to know that she could do what was needed. She would protect her people and fight for their interests. She watched them all night long. She wanted to burn them into her memory so that if she ever wondered why she committed to this she could think back on this night and remember. That was if she had the opportunity to look back on this night. She looked to Katan whose face looked concerned as she watched the amazons. Selene watched those who passed by Katan and saw as some spat at the amazons feet and called her names. Selene hadn't even considered that as something they would do to those who chose to challenge her. She wondered if it spoke more to their approval for her or their dislike of Katan. If Sabeer had come would she have spit at my feet, thought Selene.
Slowly the dancing lessened and the crowd grew. Glancing at the sky Selene could see the subtle changes in color as the sun threatened to rise. She inhaled deeply and felt relief as she thought that soon this ordeal would be over. One way or another.
She began to think of strategies to defeat Katan when she heard murmurs from the amazons surrounding her. A group of them parted and she heard the amazons shout "Sabeer" and looked up just as her sister stepped over the red line and unhesitatingly into the circle. Selene's mouth fell open, filling with words she knew that she couldn't speak till the trial was over. Her mind was in a frenzy. Sabeer had stepped into the circle knowing full well that only one of them could leave the circle alive. Selene met the eyes of her sister and she couldn't describe what she saw there. Sabeer's eyes were trained on her but they were blank as if she wasn't looking at her own sister. They were dressed similarly in deer skin leggings and a deer skin top that was bare at the shoulders. The only things to show the difference between them was the sun symbol painted on Sabeer's forehead and the ruby pendant hanging from her neck. That was meant as an insult. She didn't step into this circle as a challenger, she stepped in as the heir. The singing, dancing, and drumming had all stopped. There was complete silence when Leala yelled "Bitch".
Selene kept her eyes trained on Sabeer's face. What was she thinking? What was she feeling? Was her mind swimming with a thousand conflicting thoughts? Selene's thoughts and question were like drops of water falling into the ocean that was growing between her and her sister. What could be done? Nothing, there was no walking out of the circle unless you were the only one left alive. Selene heard Telmare's word's from the tent as if the old woman were yelling them at her "The price for peace is blood". But who's? Hers or mine?
The sun rose golden and bright over Sabeer's shoulder and Selene knew that she was out of time. Sabeer had made the choice for both of them. Selene looks away from her sister to what is left of her mother's burning pyre. She can feel tears well up as she looks back to Sabeer, whose is no longer blank but angry and streaked with tears. The sound of drumming begins again signaling the beginning of queen's trial and Selene pushes her thoughts and concerns away faster than she thought possible. Katan wouldn't wait for them to solve their family issues to begin. Selene glanced her way just in time to see her leap into the shadows. Anticipating that Katan would target her first she quickly jumped up into the air to avoid the grasping hands that rose up from her shadow. Landing inches behind Katan, she grabbed her by the roots of her white blond hair and dragged her half out of the shadow. Selene raised her knife above her head ready to strike when Sabeer appears and lands a kick to Selene's ribs throwing her to the ground. The moment Selene's fingers release the woman's hair she is gone and Sabeer's dagger lands in the empty sand. Selene gets to her feet her knife in the reverse grip, eyes searching for shadows. Sabeer, mistaking Selene's concentration for distraction lunges towards Selene, fist clenched aiming for her face. Selene deftly steps to one side taking hold of Sabeer's outstretched arm as she does so. She uses Sabeer's own force against her pulling her forward slamming the hilt of her bald into Sabeer's jaw. Disoriented by the blow Sabeer stumbles and drops her knife. Selene quickly picks it up and stares back into Sabeer's disbelieving eyes. That is the moment Katan chooses to appear, rising up behind Selene, her hands reaching to draw her blade across her throat. Selene throws herself backward into Katan, knocking the shadow warrior off balance enough for her to slip out from under the knife. Selene then kicks Katan's legs out from under her. Sabeer, having regained herself reaches into the burning pyre pulls a stick with the tip still burning and as Katan falls, landing on her back, She brings the stick done into her eye. Katan screams in pain releasing her grip on her knife and bring her hands up to her ruined eye. Wasting no time Sabeer picks up Katan's dropped knife and stabs her twice in the heart. Katan's screaming stop suddenly, her body going limp. Selene watches as Sabeer gets to her feet, covered in soot and blood. She feels passing relief at not having to kill their mother's friend before she remembers what comes next. Selene makes up her mind on what to do next. Gathering her courage she resolutely takes a offensive stance, making the first move. No, Sabeer made the first move by walking into this circle.
Selene lunges forward and to the right in a feint. Sabeer moves to defend her right and Selene adjusts slicing into her left fore arm. Sabeer pulls away moves behind Selene landings kick on her lower back. Selene falls landing hard on her knees losing one of her daggers as she tries to regain her balance. She can hear Sabeer's foot steps coming up behind her. She quickly spins herself out of the way, grinding her knees painfully into the dirt. She stands and faces Sabeer in time to block a kick to her chest. Sabeer growls in frustration and moves into attack again. Selene bobs in and out of Sabeer's attacks landing a few hits of her own. She lifts her leg, landing it square into Sabeer's chest and uses it to push her back hard. Again Sabeer growls in anger.
"How long have you and the queen been planning this?" She asked beginning to circle Selene.
"I didn't plan this Sabeer, if you had stayed to talk with me you would know that." Responded Selene moving carefully. She knew that Sabeer was only talking to try and distract her but she wanted to hear what her sister would say.
"You think you're better than me. You always have. Even when you've never beaten me at anything in your life. Some how you convinced our mother that you were better, enough betray me!" As she screamed the last words Sabeer lunged. Selene dodges the attack easily.
"No one has betrayed you, Sabeer. Our mother wanted a better way of life for us and our people. One where we don't have to fight for our lives daily. She knew that you didn't understand that. Look at you, you let your anger rule over your mind and now you are here trying to kill your own sister." Selene made no move to attack as she let her words hit Sabeer. She wondered if she could make her understand.
"And you? Aren't you here trying to kill me too?" Asked Sabeer with a dangerous edge to her voice. Finally she shakes her head. "It doesn't matter. Soon you'll be dead and things will be as they should have been, as if you never existed." The look in Sabeer's eyes was all the confirmation that Selene needed to know that the relationship she thought she had with her sister was nothing but a lie. She could see that Sabeer had every intention of killing her for the throne that she truly believed she deserved. In the course of two days her life had changed. Her mother was gone, she was the new heir to the amazons, and she lost the only family she thought she had left. She looked at her sister, saw the anger and even something that looked like hatred that had filled her whole body. Selene was tired and sad. She had also had enough of this, it was time to end it.
"It's time you learned who your sister really is." Was all she said before she spun striking Sabeer in the chest with her elbow, knocking the wind out of her. She pulled her elbow back again and struck it into Sabeer gasping mouth. Sabeer falls dropping her knife and reaches her hand to her bleeding face. She manages to regain her breath and sees her knife lying inches from her but before she can reach it Selene kicks away and out of the circle. She gets to her feet shaking with rage. She changes tactics and throws punches and kicks at her younger sister forcing her back to the circles edge. Selene neatly dodges them all. She catches a kick aimed at her head and yanks hard on Sabeer's leg throwing her off balance. Sabeer recovers, her eyes becoming as wild as her attacks. She screams hands grasping for Selene's throat but not finding it. Instead Selene hits her in the stomach, hard, bringing her to her knees coughing and sputtering.Selene calmly walks behind her, takes her by the hair and lifts her knife to her throat. The amazons cheer and begin stamping their feet waiting for the killing blow but it doesn't come. Instead Selene silences them all with a look unlike any they have ever seen on the face of their queen. A hush settles over them and anticipation fills the crowd.
"Our late queen chose me to lead our people, not because I am the strongest, but because she believed that I could lead us into a new era. An era of peace, something that none of us has ever known. Telmare says that the price for that peace is blood, but I say that there has been enough Amazon blood spilt, enough to pay for a thousand years of peace. I do not want to begin my rule by staining my hands with the blood of my sister. I have proven that I am the stronger one and that I am worthy to rule. Now let me prove that peace is possible by sparing her life." Every mouth was silent, every eye on Selene. Never had she felt as powerful as she did now.
" I will give you the choice Sabeer." She said pulling her sister to her feet by the hair careful to keep the blade of her knife to her throat. Selene hated to do it but a show of force was still needed to make this work. "Prove your allegiance to me by serving as one of my guard or..." She pressed the knife's edge to Sabeer's throat, hoping that her point was being made without her having to say it aloud. The crowds anticipation rose again as they all waited silently for Sabeer's answer. When she doesn't someone starts to chant choose. The word drifts from Amazon to Amazon as each begins to chant it over and over again.
"Choose!" They shouted, fists rising in the air and feet stamping at the ground. Selene could feel that Sabeer was losing her resolve.
"Choose, Sabeer." Whispered Selene.
"Guard." The word rasped it's way out of Sabeer's throat, quiet and almost a whisper. The crowd hadn't heard it over their chanting.
"So they can hear you, Sabeer." Said Selene with a yank of the hair she still fisted. Sabeer had to let go of her pride.
"GUARD!" She shouted and the amazons quieted. "I choose the guard, now let me go." Sabeer struggled but Selene did not let her go. Instead she walked forward pushing Sabeer towards the circle line. She wasn't going to take any chances, she felt Sabeer dig her feet in as they reached the edge.
"I chose, now let me go!"
"Not yet, I want you to remember this. Remember that I had your life in my hands and I spared you but that is it sister. Challenge me again and I will kill you." The words were cold and hard and her voice sounded different to her own ears. Was this the voice of a queen who meant what she said? Sabeer's muscles were tense and her heels dug into the ground. Selene knew what she had to do, there could be no question as to who won this fight.
"UACH!" Sabeer screamed in surprise as Selene drew her knife along the side of her neck. Not hard or deep enough to kill her but enough that it would leave a scar. Selene released Sabeer's hair and kicked her hard enough to send her to the ground and across the line. Sabeer landed hard and amazons moved backwards and away from her. She pushed herself up and raised a hand to her neck, it came away covered in blood. She stared at it and then looked up at Selene, still standing, still in the circle.
"The scar will remind you." Selene kept her eyes on Sabeer's until she stood up and pushed her way out of the crowd of cheering amazons. When she could no longer see her Selene raised her fist in the air and stepped out of the circle as the amazons greeted their new queen.
Three weeks. That is the amount of time it took for Selene's life to become unrecognizable. After the queen's trial things had moved quickly. Messages were sent to the king of Durin informing him of the change in the amazons leadership. His answer expressed his regret at the late queen's passing and assured them that he was interested in meeting with the new queen to discuss the peace that he hoped they both wanted. Messages were passed back and forth until it was agreed that the amazons would bring a small group of representatives to the king's castle where the peace talks would be held. A meeting was called with the leaders of the tribes to better assess the state of the Amazon nation as a whole. All the while her people watched her. She was never allowed to leave the camp alone even though she and the king had agreed to a cease fire. She wished for the life she used to have, second daughter to the queen whose only responsibility was to be a good solider. She had no idea how Sabeer handled this level of constant attention. She wished that she could at least ask her sister for her opinions or advice but that door had been closed to her when Sabeer moved out of their tent.
It didn't surprise Selene that she left. She knew that her sister had to discover who she was if she wasn't the queen and Selene had to discover how being queen would change her. She only wished that it was something they could do together. She would spend the few spare moments she had in her tent thinking of the times she had spent there with her mother and sister. Now she was there alone with the weight of a nation.
"Storms coming." Came Leala's voice from somewhere inside the tent. Selene rolled her eyes, she should never assume she was alone. The first thing she had done for herself as queen was to appoint Leala as her body guard and her best friend took the job seriously.
"It was sunny outside a few minutes ago." She said as she rose to her feet and began to slowly turn listening for where the shadow warriors voice was coming from.
"I was referring to your face. You scrunch it up when you are thinking of unpleasant things, like your sister." The voice moved to the far corner of the tent near Sabeer's abandoned cot.
"Is that why you are here watching me from the shadows? I remember asking you not to do that." She answered her friend before redirecting towards a large shadow beneath a table piled high with tributes given to her by amazons seeking her favor.
"And I told you that I will only follow orders that will not keep me from performing my duty." Came the disembodied voice. Selene slowly crouched low beside the table. She studied the shadow carefully before plunging her hand into it like water and pulling up Leala by the ear.
"Ouch! Let go, you promised you wouldn't do that anymore." Said Leala pulling herself completely out of the shadows and rubbing her ear while Selene laughed.
"I'm sorry but what threats were you guarding me from under the table?" She asked crossing her arms over her chest. Leala stopped messaging her ear and straightened placing her hands on her hips.
"I'm glad you asked, I was trying to get a better look at all these tribute gifts. You never know what someone could hide in them, a hex or maybe even poison." Leala took on a mock serious tone as she began to rifle through the items. She picked up a dagger sheathed in finely made leather with an equally fine belt and pouch. "This is obviously hexed, I'll have to take this to examine later." She said securing the leather belt on her hips.
"There's also some very nice armor and spiced wine." Said Selene walking up to the table.
"No, you're smaller than I am, the armor won't fit but that spiced wine does look suspicious."
" I thought you would say that." She watched as Leala uncorked the wine skin and took a long pull from it.
"Oh, that is good. I would let you have some if it wasn't so dangerous." Leala sat in a low chair by the fire and took another sip of wine. "You've gotten some nice things. Do you think the tribal leaders will bring you something as well?"
"Telmare says that they will but most likely they will wait to present me with anything until they have decided that I am 'worthy'. Whatever that means. I hate that I have to keep proving myself." said Selene, inspecting a fur cloak.
"Well whose fault is that?" began Leala, opening the new leather pouch. " You've never made any effort to prove yourself to them before. You were happy to let Sabeer walk around camp as if she were a gift from the goddess. It's time you came out of her shadow and show them who you are. Did you know there was dried meat in this pouch?"
"Doubtless it's poisoned as well."
"Almost certainly." Leala took a big bite of the meat strip in her hand and washed it down with more wine. Selene watched her friend as she leaned against the table.
"I don't want being queen to change me and I don't know how to be the queen without it changing me." Selene looked at the ground as she said this.
"I know, but that is exactly what you agreed to do by stepping into that circle and giving Sabeer the thrashing she deserved. You have a lot on your shoulders. Which is why I think you should put on that fancy new armor of yours and take a sip of this wine, which is not as poisoned as I thought." Selene took the offered wine with a smile.
"Why would I do all that?" She asked before raising the wine to her lips feeling it warm her insides.
"Well..." said Leala standing and stretching." First, the wine will help calm you. I've never liked it when you brood this much and second, the armor will help you feel more... queenly. At least I think it will. If anything it would make you look more like the queen when the other leaders get here."
"No armor, when the tribal leaders get here I want them to see me as I am."
"You could at least get the queen's necklace back from your sister."
Selene groaned and covered her face with her hands.
"I'd forgotten about that."
"I could go and get it for you. I haven't had the opportunity to let her know what I think of her and this would be the perfect pretext." Leala cracked her knuckles and jabbed at the air.
"No, I want to her to bring it back to me as my sister. If I send you or go myself... I think that would be the end of our relationship. She would think I was just trying to humiliate her further."
"It's not like she doesn't deserve it. I've lost track of all the times she has done the same to you. You always defended her but now you can't let her get her own way anymore.
Selene closed her eyes. Leala didn't understand the relationship between them. She had tried to explain their connection more than once. Sabeer was her twin. They had come into this world together and been together every day since. When they were children they would sleep wrapped in each other’s arms. She knew Sabeer's moods without having to look at her. Things had changed when their mother died. It was as if someone had cut the link between them. For the first time in her life Selene felt alone.
"I can't talk about this again. I have too many things to worry about right now, all of them more important than some necklace." Selene stood and straighten her leather britches and top. Leala made a face and held her hand up as if to say 'fine'. Selene nodded once.
"Well, I was only supposed to be in here for a moment. I'm sure the council and the tribal leaders are wondering where I am."
"Oh just tell them you had some poisoned wine." Leala said as she melted into the shadow at her feet and appeared again at the tents opening, holding it aside for Selene.
"Shall we?" Selene smiled and walked out of the tent with Leala close behind her. She felt a twinge of sadness knowing that Leala had never let go of an argument so easily in the past. This was just another sign of how much her life had changed.
Selene stood outside of the council tent for moment and took a deep breath. Leala laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
"Let's get this over with." She said reaching her hand to the tent flap. Suddenly the tent was thrown open and Selene was face to face with Sabeer. Her twin stiffened in surprise and the two just stood watching each other. Selene was sure that all of the things she had been feeling would show on her face and Sabeer would see that and forgive her. Instead the silence between them began to feel like a living thing, growing and pushing them father apart. Sabeer screwed her face into a sneer, pushing past Leala. Selene turned to watch her leave and saw as Valeen, Sabeer's current lover, approached her with a questioning look on her face. Sabeer simply held up her hand to kept the girl from speaking and rushed past her. The look of hurt that passed over Valeen's face was familiar to her. She continued to watch Sabeer when she heard a cough. She turned and saw that Telmare was standing inches from her face. Selene took a step back, she had never liked having people so close to her and the Telmare was no exception.
"Hello Telmare." She greeted her dryly.
"Sabeer was trying to convince the council and the tribal leaders that making you queen was a mistake." Said the old woman in a flat tone.
"I can't believe she would do that."
"She did do it. You allowed it to happen by arriving late. The leaders are not impressed with your decisions so far. They want to know why someone who so clearly opposes your reign is still alive. Somethings which I myself asking you for some time. I have yet to hear a satisfying answer."
"Enough! We've discussed this and I will not change my mind." Selene pushed past the old woman and into the tent full of the tribal leaders and elders that made up the council. All eyes were on her as she took her seat before them, Leala standing behind her. She was never one to argue and she has a feeling that this meeting would bring nothing but arguments. She nodded to each of the leaders in turn.
"I apologize for the delay. These past few weeks have been busy as you all know." Selene adopted the tone of voice and posture that the she come to think of as her queenly persona. She sat with her back straight and her head held high. Her words expressed apology but her tone said that she was the queen and she could have made them all wait longer if had chosen to do so.
"Of course, my queen. I understand that your transition has not been an easy one." Said the woman to Selene's left. She smiled when she saw that it was her old tutor. The woman who had taught her to shoot a bow and arrow, Myra. It had been several years since they had last seen each other. Myra had been given her own tribe when she had saved Sabeer from an enemy arrow. Thing timing was convenient for all because Morel, Myra’s son, was coming of age and although men were allowed to visit and stay for time. No man was allowed to live in the Queen’s tribe.
"Yes." Selene wanted nothing more than to confided everything to Myra but was aware that all the other women in the room were staring at her, some with disapproval on their faces.
"I know that some of you are surprised to see that Sabeer is still alive. Let me make it clear to you all now that I do know our customs and that I understand the difficulties that may arise from keeping her alive. I will also remind you that she is my sister, my twin, a bond that none of you will ever understand." She said leveling her gaze on those present. "I have already made my decision regarding Sabeer and I do not plan to change my mind. Now I believe that we all have much more important things to address. Such as the meeting we have planned with the king of Durin." When she finished speaking she glanced at those in front of her and saw that a few of them had nodded accepting her choice. She was quickly learning that if she presented herself as unmovable then they would not challenge her
"Yes, the meeting with the king has been arranged. All that is left is to choose those who will be going to the palace with us. The King has agreed to allow 12 of our number into his kingdom and has offered us rooms for the duration." Came Telmare's crackling voice from Selene's right.
"Good, I would like to take six from our own tribe and one representative from each of the outer tribes. The representatives should have knowledge of their tribal numbers and needs. Choose them well. I cannot negotiate your needs if I don't know what they are." The amazons all nodded in agreement. Selene noticed more than one of them glancing at Telmare expectantly.
"Is there something else?" She asked turning to Telmare. The old woman's mouth had gone ridged, her wrinkled face taking on a reluctant look.
"Yes, my queen, there is something that you are not aware of. Something that only the queen and the elders are told." Selene felt the hairs on her neck begin to stand. She had never seen Telmare so hesitant to speak. Concern filled her as she waited for her to continue. What could she have to say that would make her this way? The old woman reached into her pocket and palmed an object. Selene watched as gnarled hand hovered over the table for moment and released the item. The tent was quiet as everyone in it waited for Selene to react.
"The queen's necklace." She said barely managing to keep the surprise from her voice.
"Yes, Sabeer was wearing it when she arrived and Ohma relieved her of it before she left." Said Telmare in what Selene heard a as reproachful tone. She was judging her for not retrieving the necklace herself. They all were. Anger flared inside her. Who were they to judge he actions or decisions? They did not know the burden that was placed on her when her mother had made her the heir. Now the hope of Sabeer coming to her senses and returning the necklace of her own free will was dashed. The breach between them stretched by miles. Selene reached out her hand and took the necklace by the chain. She held it up watching the ruby catch the light.
"I hadn't considered this trinket important enough to waste my time on. I am already the queen, whether or not I wear this necklace does not change that. We are not like the women of Durin who wear such things to make themselves more pleasing to their men or to show their status. We measure or worth in strength not in jewels." Normally these kinds of declarations were met with cheers but an uncomfortable silence filled the room. A few of the elders even looked embarrassed for her.
"You do make a valid point my queen. However, this necklace is more than just a trinket. It is our history." Selene looked at the necklace again. She couldn't remember her mother ever saying anything about its significance other than being given to every queen since Illah. Telmare took the necklace, cradling the ruby in her palm and continued.
"Queen Illah was a very powerful Amazon. She had been blessed with each of the gifts; warrior, seer, shadow. Something that has not been seen since her time. She was able to use her gifts to write our history within this gem, so that we would not forget why we fight. Now it is equally important that you know of our origins if you are to understand the true importance of this peace. Your hand please." Telmare held out her hand with the ruby resting on her palm. Selene could feel the eyes of those in the room on her as slowly she placed her right hand over top of Telmare's. Telmare smile approvingly and reach out her other hand placing the palm on Selene's forehead.
"It is time for you to see." Came the seers raspy voice as the room around Selene slowly turned black and then disappeared.
Images, flashes of a life, colors, and smells. All these things flooded into Selene's head with the force of a rushing river. She felt lost and disconnected as the all the information struggled to organize itself. She felt as if she had begun to spin faster and faster falling into someone else's life. Suddenly, it all stopped and she heard a voice speak from the darkness that surrounded her.
Long ago our people lived in peace and seclusion on an island far away. We believed in kindness, love for all life, but most of all we were trusting. Our happiness was complete so we had no desire to explore the world around us.
A whole world came into focus. People wondering about an island paradise. Children ran past where Selene stood but they could not see her. The voice continued.
If we had ventured off of our island perhaps we would have learned that the world was full of people who were not like us. Who valued other things, such as power and fortune.
One day, a boat arrived carrying a strange people, men who we welcomed with open arms. It was immediately obvious that these men were different from our own. The men of our tribe were open and nurturing. Often they would be the ones to care for the children, while the women of our tribe tended to the important day to day chores. Our women were stronger, taller and all were born with magic. These new men were hard and mysterious. Some among them even had magic of their own.
Selene watched as men disembarked from their ship. Groups of them coming to the island on small row boats while the ship sat anchored, bobbing slightly with the waves. Their armor and manner of dress was old but very clearly from Durin.
We did not speak their language but we welcomed them just the same. Our tribe had never seen anyone like them. Everyone was eager to be hospitable and please our guests. The following night we held a feast in their honor. Our most skilled mages performed their best tricks. Women grew entire trees from seeds in their bare hands, some performed the dance of shadows, and I, the leader of my tribe and most powerful of us all, showed the captain of their ship his future. I should have known what would happen next but the images in his mind meant nothing to a trusting fool. That night, they struck. They drugged the wine they had brought from their ship as a gift. It weakened us considerably, making our minds to foggy to piece together simple thoughts. They killed most of the men and they tied up the women. We were carried onto their vessel and stowed down in the deep. I do not recall how long we were there. The mages came down regularly to administer more of the drug they had given us on the island. When we were finally on land again we were placed in cages and taken to what I would eventually learn was a slave market. There we were sold.
The women were chained together in groups of 5 or less. They sat in their cages huddled together and took in their surroundings as best as they could, their eyes glassy and unfocused. Selene watch in horror and disgust as two men reached into one cage and dragged out a tall beautiful woman with long white hair and dark olive skin, Illah, the first amazon queen. Selene was unsure how she knew this. But she had never more sure of anything in her life. She watched as the slave traders forced Illah to her feet and she swayed drunkenly as they pulled her onto the stage by her bound wrists. Selene had never seen an amazon so helpless before.
I was sold, like the rest of my people. I was naive enough to think that the kind man who had taken me away from the slave market was some kind of savior. I had no concept of money or slavery and therefore no way of understanding in my drugged haze that I had been bought not rescued. I awoke several days later, washed, and warm. I was in a large bed in a beautiful room full of things I had never seen before. For the first time, I was feeling true curiosity about this new world and all it wonders. The man I assumed had saved me arrived and he treated me kindly. He taught me his language and the ways of his people. Eventually, we fell in love. One day he explained to me that he was the leader of his people, their king. I had always known that he held a high position by the way others had treated him so this was no surprise to me. What did come as a surprise was when he asked me to marry him and become his queen, which I gladly accepted. He gave me many gifts, gowns, jewels and a necklace of silver and ruby that was my favorite.
Guests arrived from far and wide to come and celebrate our marriage. It was while we were greeting our guests that I saw the first of my people. I hadn't seen any of them for nearly two years. For the first time in my life I knew what rage felt like as I saw that not all of them had been as lucky as I. The girl I saw was thin and ragged, with a thick chain around her neck that connected to other chains encircling her wrists and ankles. She was sweating as she struggled to lift wooden crates out of her master’s carriage. I reached out to help her but my lover and soon to be husband stopped me with a touch of his hand and shake of his head. Again, I did not understand, I was tired of not understanding. In the following days, I wandered the castle in secret using the magic of shadows to move unseen. I located more of my people, spoke with them if I could, and learned of their situations. The chains they wore were designed by mages to mute their powers to keep them for being used against their masters. I heard stories of women who had fought against their captors and died for their troubles. My rage grew more and more with every injustice endured. I decided that I would put a stop to this. If I married the king his people would be mine and mine would be his, he would have to help us. When I reached the door to his royal chambers, I heard voices. I used the shadows to hide myself in his rooms while I listened to him speaking to a group of men, the captain who captured me and my people among them. They spoke of the demand for more slaves like the women from the island they had found. Our magic was useful to them, if the slave proved cooperative. We were beautiful and strong. Our ability to grow crops rapidly with our magic would prove beneficial to their people. I heard reason after reason, as these men tried to convince the king to send ships back to my home and steal the women that remained. My heart broke as I heard him agree. That was when the dam that I had built up inside myself to contain my anger broke.
I saw the captain standing there with a cat like grin spread across his face. I became one with my fury, I flew from the shadows and stole the blade hanging at his side.
Selene watched open mouthed as the Illah flew like a whirled in and out of the shadows. She could see that she was untrained with the sword but her magic and strength made up for her lack of skill. Selene doubted that she would be able to hold her own with someone as gifted as Illah was.
It happened quickly, the blade combined with my strength and ability to dance through the shadows turned me into a force. Before I knew it all of them lay dead at my feet. Covered in their blood, I stood before the man who claimed to love me. He said nothing because he knew why I had done it. We stood there looking at each other for a moment. Blood dripping from the tip of my sword. I could not bring myself to kill him because I loved him. So instead I left, taking with me all of the slaves in the castle. Most of them were not even my own people but they had the same look of despair in their eyes. That was enough for me to see them as mine. We fled into the woods where I nursed them all back to health. We destroyed the chains subduing my peoples magic and I taught them to use their power as I had the night I freed them. Some of the other slaves had experience with swords having been forced to be practice dummies. We trained and grew in strength, constantly moving our camp so that we would not be discovered. I led raiding parties into the nearest towns and villages stealing supplies and freeing slaves for our cause. Soon we were a tribe with soldiers who attacked the slave markets and freed those who were stolen from their homes as we were. The King sent his soldiers and we killed them. My people had become hard. Durin had taught us all to be wary and I had taught us to be strong. I refused to take a husband or a mate. Never forgetting how falling in love with a man from Durin had nearly cost the freedom of so many. The women from my homeland followed my example and soon the Durin soldiers began to call us 'amazons'. Our numbers were fewer but our magic more than made up for that and we were on equal footing. The fighting continued and eventually slaver ships stopped coming. The King had banned slavery. I was not foolish enough to believe he had done this for me, He did it for himself and his people. Each slave ship was full of more soldiers for our cause. I knew that no matter what happened we had to keep fighting. To avenge those we lost, to right the wrongs done to us. I fought until I could no longer carry my sword. I chose the strongest woman of my tribe to replace me as the leader, queen of the amazons. With the last of my magic and my dying breath I engrave our history into this jewel, the color of blood. To remind every queen that comes after why we fight.
The world faded away once again and when Selene opened her eyes she was back in the council tent, her head spinning. She felt chilled and saw beads of sweat covering her body. She sat silently as she tried to make sense of what she had just seen. Telmare turned her palm over and closed Selene's fingers over the ruby that rested there. She couldn't bring herself to look at it. Before, the necklace had reminded her of her mother, now it only reminded her of a centuries old betrayal.
"Do you understand what you have seen?" Asked Ohma, the general of the Amazon army.
"Yes, I believe I do.” Never before had she heard the story of her people with more detail. All she had known of their history was that Durin had tried to enslave them and because they were strong they fought back. She took a deep breath as she tried to organize this new information. She felt Illah’s anger still lurking in the back of her mind. Along with a feeling of sadness and heartbreak. She pushed these feelings away as best she could.
“What I don't understand is how it is relevant to what we are trying to achieve now."
"You saw how powerful Illah was? That she and the others could use all of the gifts?" Selene nodded still dizzy. Telmare handed her a cup with a foul-smelling tea in it and urged her to drink.
"We believe," began Telmare " that all of the amazons who originated from the island possessed powers like Illah. Once they began to breed with the freed male slaves the blood line became diluted as well as the magic. This resulted in what we have now, amazons with the ability only to use one gift. Strength, Sight, or shadow." Selene nodded as she gulped down the hot tea. It scorched her throat and down to her stomach but her mind felt restored and slowly Illah’s presence began to fade.
"Our magic was our advantage in the early years. I remember my mother was worried that the tribes were reporting an increase in casualties."
"Yes, our superior magical abilities compensated for our lack of numbers. However, our magic is growing weaker. If this war continues, we will eventually lose." Telmare finished leveling Selene with a serious stare.
"We are negotiating for peace because we have to." Said Selene. She was awed at all this information. It was almost too much. She wondered briefly how Sabeer would have taken it if she were in her place.