Chapter 2 Excerpt
Apasas 1675 BC
I dug deep into the sandy gravel heaped over the remains of my father’s body, the song of mourning still damp on my lips. I clawed into the earth until a shallow indent formed just over the place where Father’s heart would be. A space sizable enough to place his gold arm piece, a spiral-shaped snake with ruby eyes. He always wore it coiled around his bicep in honor of Rhea. And for Lyra, my mother, the only woman he’d ever loved.
I rubbed the jeweled eyes and smooth, gold circles that once wrapped around his arm, longing for his warmth. Now it was cold and empty, like my heart. I let it fall into the dusty hole in the earth. Its ruby eyes dulled to black.
Weary from grieving, I drew my dagger from my belt and gripped its handle in my fist. Holding the bronze blade to my left forearm, I pressed the tip into my flesh until blood appeared and sliced a thin line across my arm, deep enough to draw pain, but not death.
I switched the blade to my right arm and let it bite into my brown flesh again. Blood trickled into the pockets of my elbows, down my arms, and into the dirt impression. My liquid heart pulsed, dripping over the gold, jewels, and dirt.
I sniffed back tears, hung my head, and whispered, “Father, I miss you. I don’t know what I’ll do without you . . . but I will honor you. I will protect Amma, our family, and our people, as you protected us. And I will avenge your death. I promise, Father. I will remember all you’ve taught me of the warrior’s way until I see you and Mother again.”
I pressed my hands on each cut and stared into the cleft of dirt, watching the last drops mix into the earth. Heavy tears turned to deep sobs. I bent over and wailed into the quiet earth, calling into the darkness for answers.
“Why, Rhea, Goddess of Earth and Sky? Why? I want my father back.”
Grief tore at me, then lifted me into a turbulent gust of pain and rage, raising me to my feet. My fists beat at the air. My voice screamed in the wind until heavy sorrow released and collapsed me to my knees again.
The numbing silence of death parted, the noise of neighing horses filling my ears in its place. I brushed away my tears and dipped my fingers in the wet earth, then smeared a spiral, beginning on my left cheek, over the bridge of my nose to my right cheek, and continuing down to my chin and up again, ending at my right ear. The Amazzi mark of life. I traced another straight line from my forehead to my chin—the Amazzi mark of mourning.
My stained fingers reached to brush the snake’s ruby eyes once more, and then I pushed dirt back into the hole. Lifting my weary body to stand, I whispered a blessing across the grave pits, echoing against the stone slabs.
“May the White Mare of Peace carry you to our mothers and grandmothers, Father. I will see you there soon.”
1672 BC Three years later . . .
From the rooftop of my home, I watched morning blush pink and orange over the city of Apasas. The Aegean Sea rolled in waves of blue and green against the canvas of sand. Another late summer sun crawled over the rocky cliffs and crept through the streets, waking those who still slumbered. I climbed down the ladder and paced the hall, passing the door of my room, until I reached the center of the house, the hearth room. Fingers of sunlight scratched the stone-edged window and sparked the cold, dark hearth of our Amazzi home.
“Good morning, Amma,” I called through the hall. I joined my grandmother, Malika, by the cook fire and leaned down to give her a smile and a kiss on the cheek. Amma is our word for Grandmother and Mother, an honorable name for a woman to be called as soon as she bears a child.
Amma combed her fingers through her gray-capped brown hair with her left hand and stirred a cold green soup of herbs and mare’s milk in a large clay pot with her right. She dripped honey over the surface, swirled the golden liquid in loops, then dropped the honeycomb back in its bowl.
I grabbed a cup of water sweetened with lemon and dodged my cousins, who were racing for their portion of the morning meal.
“Good morning, Myrine. Are you taller today than yesterday?” Amma asked.
“Must have happened overnight.” I shrugged my shoulders and tore off a piece of dark bread from a fresh-baked loaf.
“You remind me of your mother—tall, and so funny.” Amma gave me a smile and rolled her eyes while she spooned soup into wooden bowls. “I made your favorite this morning. I thought it might help keep you cool today.”
Amma handed me a bowl of the green, frothy liquid. I kissed her cheek again and took a seat at the wooden table in our eating room. I slid the oak bench back with my foot, enough to angle my legs underneath and settle my bottom on the seat beside my two cousins. Maybe Amma was right; I was getting taller. I thought I was the tallest Amazzi warrior in Apasas. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be, but height had its advantages. I brushed aside the dark brown braids that fell from the crown of my head and slurped the soup loud enough to get the children to giggle.
“Will you make it to the harbor this morning? I have more vases and pots finished,” Amma asked, interrupting our laughter.
“I will for a short time, but General Ikippe is calling an early training, so I must be at the fields,” I answered.
“Yes, the earlier, the better. I’ve forgotten how smothering leather vests can be. Those shields are heavy enough after a long practice in this heat. Make sure you eat and drink well. The sun will drop you to your knees if you don’t.”
“I will.” I tipped the bowl to my mouth and swallowed the last drips of the cool soup.
Amma sat down beside the children. She glanced at Zoe, her niece’s youngest daughter, while pulling bits of straw and grass from the hair of Leon, Zoe’s brother.
“Zoe, when you’re finished, take Leon to his father so he can practice riding before it gets too hot for the horses. Then you may work on your bow with your mother.”
She brushed the dust from Leon’s brown face and covered his head with a leather helmet. “Hurry, now.”
Both children grabbed a piece of bread and dashed through the portico, scattering a flock of rock doves from the walkway.
“Here, you’ll need this.” Amma handed me a linen pouch stuffed with smoked fish and fig cakes.
“I’ll be home after morning practice.”
“I’ll be at the temple today, there is a stomach sickness in the air.”
“Keep it there, please. I don’t have time to get sick right now.”
“It’s one family. I think they drank bad wine. Nothing to worry about.”
I gathered my horn bow and quiver, leather greaves, and vest, and slung my water and food pouches over my shoulder. The glare of the summer heat beating on the sandstone paved street greeted me as I cleared the doorway. Across the walkway, a black stallion snorted a greeting and nodded his head.
“Come on, Kadir. Time to train.”