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"The Dream of Penthesileia"

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Penthesileia and Ares

TW: This chapter includes depictions of warfare and physical violence.

In her dream,
     Penthesileia
wears unfamiliar bronze armor
     in the Trojan fashion
     and leads a host to war.

"Ride, Penthesileia, ride!"
     booms a voice in the sky.
High above,
     flame-bearded Ares
     races the wind
          on a thundercloud steed with lightning eyes.

"Father,"
     Penthesileia breathes.

Her sire's presence
     brings strength
     brings power
     brings a feeling
          that weapons can no longer touch her.

Penthesileia races forward
     surrounded by her Amazon companions
     surrounded by their Trojan allies
to meet the charging Achaean horde.
     A collision!
Bodies, chariots, and horses
     crash together,
          tumbling onto the black soil.

And then comes swift-footed Clonie,
     who trades slashing blows with Oilean Ajax.
          Her blade
               slips past the left greave
               to bloody his leg,
          His blade
               evades her shield
               to bloody her arm,
     and they dance,
          spraying each other with red droplets.

And then comes flame-haired Polemousa,
     unhorsed by a spear to her mount's flank!
          She tumbles,
     comes up on her feet,
          and faces her attacker
          with determination
          and a bronze knife to the man's chest.
And so Idomeneus drops into the dust,
     and a hundred cities of Crete
          will require a new king.

And then comes battle-scarred Derinoe,
     plowing through the Achaean throng
     with an axe in each hand.
A blow glances off the helmet of Diomedes
       and he stumbles,
           disoriented,
     into the path of Trojan Prince Deiphobus,
        who ends his life.

And then comes far-throwing Evandre,
     who tosses a javelin
     through the armored belly of Teucer.

And then comes clever Antandre,
     and applies plasters
          to the wounds of Clonie
while Oilean Ajax,
     untended,
          drains his Locrian blood into the soil
          from a dozen open wounds.

And then comes motherly Hippothoe,
     in single combat with war-scarred Nestor
          while Nestor's son,
          Antilochus,
               stands back at the father's request
               to learn a lesson from the master.

"In fighting an Amazon,"
     says Nestor,
"the key is to take full advantage of a man's greater endurance
     and the longer reach of a man's arms,"
          and between sword clashes
          he adds,
"If if she speaks,
     ignore her,
          as the gossip of women will be the death of a man."

Antilochus,
     on the sideline,
          takes careful notes.

"Foolish old man,"
     says Hippothoe.
"My arms are as long as yours,
     my advice twice as valid,
          and by the panting of your breath,
     your endurance for fighting
          doesn't match
     your endurance for drinking and storytelling."

A mighty slash!

Nestor extends his sword point
     past his target,
     too far to the side,
          and throws out his back,
and Hippothoe
     neatly chops into his neck.

Antilochus shrieks and cries,
     "Father, no!
          Gods, take me instead!"
And so he falls,
in the next moment,
     not in place of his father 
     but at his side.

And then comes dark-eyed Harmothoe,
     on silent toes,
     and with an unassuming blade,
     in an unseen hand,
          opens the throat of Menelaus,
          eliminates the claim on Helen,
          ends the Achaean cause for war,
          and melts back into the chaos of battle,
               all without ever being seen.

And then comes good-hearted Alcibie,
     who dies
          but not before killing a dozen men
          and composing in her head
               a song
          that would have been forever repeated
               if only she'd lived to sing it aloud.

And then comes horse-taming Antibrote,
     who brings a spare mount to Polemousa
          and joins her in a spree of carnage.

And then comes the hunter Derimacheia,
     who dabbles in the battle
          long enough to slay Sthenelos and Meriones
     before heading back
          to help prepare the Trojan victory feast.

And then comes cunning Thermodosa,
     with Odysseus in range of her spear
     but
in a moment of distraction,
the tricky son of Laertes
     escapes!

Thermodosa pledges to follow his twisting-turning Ithacan heels,
     day after day
          for months,
          for years,
          for however long her quarry flees,
and Trojans and Achaeans alike
     know that Odysseus will have no safe homecoming.

And then comes glorious Bremousa,
     targeting Great Ajax
          the brightest star
          in the constellation
          that trails swift-footed Achilles.

Bremousa and Ajax,
     Ajax and Bremousa,
like two towering trees in a forest of saplings
     they vie against each other
          until Bremousa slips a spear
          past the tremendous shield,
          past the silver breastplate,
               the armor that's not quite strong enough,
          piercing the skin
               and drawing out the guts
          and then,
     more like a tall tree than ever,
Ajax falls with a crash
     to the rocky plain.

Penthesileia
     bursts with pride
     at the prowess of her companions.
But in her turn
     she locates Achilles,
          his shining god-crafted armor
          a match for the Amazon's own,
     and with smoke curling from her nostrils,
     and with flames roaring from her breath,
     and with muscles bulging under her skin,
     and with power surging through her body,
the war-mare, Thunder,
     carries Penthesileia,
     and her double-headed axe,
          against the dreaded foe.

Achilles
     jumps from his chariot,
     spear in hand,
and Penthesileia,
     seeking a fair fight,
     dismounts her horse.

The warriors circle each other,
     oblivious
to the raging battle all around.

He is as large as a house,
     thinks Penthesileia.
He is as solid as a bear,
     this Achilles,
     this bane of Priam,
     this killer of Hector,
     this son of a sea-nymph.

"Who do you think you are
     to come against me?"
he roars.

"I think
     that I am Penthesileia,
     and that I am your doom."

The axe turns away a spear thrust.
     The spear turns away the axe.

Ares,
     covering the sky,
          roars his encouragement.

The axe
     shatters
against Achilles's golden shield.

The spear
     shatters
against Penthesileia's bare skin.

The two contestants grapple,
     a wrestling match for the ages.
"I must admint, you are very pretty,"
     says Achilles,
     from within her hammerlock.

"You are even prettier,"
     says Penthesileia.
"But I have pledged to kill you
     to free my sister's spirit,
     to dispell the Erinyes,
     to move forward with my obligations
          to rule over my tribe."

     Their eyes lock
          and Penthesileia
     sees something
         deep within
     twin black pools
         as Achilles
     breathes his last breath
         and Penthesileia
     feels a longing
         for something
     that's been forever lost.

And then the Achaeans retreat.
     And then the earthen bulworks fall.
     And then the fast ships burn.
And still Achilles lies,
       broken and dead
            at Penthesileia's feet.

The Trojans
     gather the last of the enemy forces
               together
          like sheep before a slaughter.

And Ares,
     god of war,
          laughs with joy
     at the exploits of his daughter.

"This has to be a dream,"
     Penthesileia remarks.

The war god roars,
     "Olympians do not send dreams.
          We send omens!
     And to you,
          Penthesileia,
          pride of Scythia,
     I send my promise,
          as surely as your father now stands by your side,
          that you shall know victory over the Achaeans.
     And as proof against your lingering doubts,
          I will leave you with a gift
          at the coming of rosy-fingered dawn."

The war god gestures
     to the east,
     to the purpling sky over Mount Ida,
where the golden sun of morning
fails to rise.

The war god frowns.
     "Dawn is delayed,
          but my gift shall remain timely."

"Another omen?"
     Penthesileia asks.

"An unrelated matter
     occupies the keeper of the Ethiopian Gate,
but you, Penthesileia,
     will shine with your own light,
          even in the absence of the sun,
               and you can count on your father
               to keep the promises he makes."

The dream fades
     and the Amazon war-mistress
          awakes
     as do the other Amazons,
     as do the Trojans,
     as do the Greeks,
to a morning without a dawn.

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