My life’s flame is flickering; that candle has burnt brightly, but the wick nears the end. And when I, Ana, the last of Percales’ so-called heroines enter the afterlife, then, my friends, then what will you remember of us?
Percales has much to say about how we stopped the Mycean threat. Yet, despite my pride in what I did for you, I have grown uneasy over the years. For a wall of mythology surrounds we ringbearers and Percales has hewn many a stone.
Tell me, do you remember Danae?
I hear those future words, “Of course. Danae’s the embodiment of Artemis. A legend; she wore a ring of strength that glorious day.”
Yes, she wore that ring, a leader of warriors. And was still wearing it today, fifty years later, when I lit her funeral pyre. Her body more ravaged by arthritis than combat, though she bore many a battle scar.
No doubt today’s eulogies are still in the library; but, oh you should have heard them. Her grandchildren spoke of love; the leader spoke of heroism. Go read them again and tell me, did you expect me, her battle leader, to side with her grandchildren and speak of her as a friend, a mother and a grandmother?
Yet, that was the Danae I knew best; as a girl, a woman, a friend and, yes, a lover. More, much more, than a battle-hero. But always just Danae, wonderful in her way but never perfect.
I know you may frown, thinking, surely, I am kidding or even worse debasing her memory. Of course, others tell you that she could flight an arrow like Artemis herself. But when they go further and imply Danae was Goddess-like in all she did, well then, my friends, then we enter the realm of myth.
Frankly, the only other truly legendary thing about Danae was what her vagina could do to a cock. And you won’t see that written anywhere in the history books.
Look, I know we believe the Gods look favourably on Pergamon. Knowing Artemis has walked amongst us, looking out for us will be a comfort when dark times come. To believe the mythology of Danae as Artemis is to be reassured by that Goddess’s willingness to come to our aid.
But there is an Achilles heel to myth. Look around you and tell me, is there actually a God in your generation?
We both know there isn’t. And, more importantly, the best archers of your generation must believe Danae wasn’t a goddess. For, when the Gods allow dark times to visit again, you will need your Danae as much as we needed ours.
When my time comes, my dying wish for you will be that you understand the reality of we so-called heroines. What we ring bearers, five young women asked by the fates to bear the biggest load in our history, did and didn’t do.
Because, when troubled times come again, as surely they must, the future will depend on you believing that you and those around you can vanquish those troubles.
The shadows deepened as a flock of carrion eaters flew between Pergamon and the face of the autumnal sun. A portend of the darkness enveloping us.
West the birds flew, around the mountain where the river Caicus turns towards the sea. We women, peering into the gloaming from the battlements, knew where the birds were heading. To the neutral lands twenty-six leagues away, where our archers and swordsmen had joined battle with the expansionist Myceans that very morning.
Carrion arrives to feed when combat is done, not to reveal who will taste the bitter fruit of defeat.
A wife’s cry went up from the battlements on recognising the figure emerging out of the shadows. That told us it was Magus, the fastest and most athletic of our generation. And a man who, by all accounts, was very able in the art of love. Though I should point out that I never personally assessed him in that respect.
The elders dispatched a horsewoman to the base of our town and she brought Magus to the main square. He slid from the horse, clearly exhausted, but I confess I found it hard, at first, to avert my eyes from his naked body. Although flaccid his manhood was thick and long, and I momentarily regretted that our amorous paths hadn’t crossed in our teenage years.
In my day, and I hope in yours too, our town was devoted to excellence. Status bought little in the way of reward. However, my father was the town’s wise man, analytical and strict, his only daughter his one known indulgence.
So, I pushed my way to the front and sat beside my father and mother; the sole member of my generation in the company of the elders. And the story Magus whispered in staccato gasps chilled our hearts.
For we had been valiant with many of the enemy vanquished. But they had been victorious and the devastation was total. Our men were dead, lost in defending our way of living. As the life drained from Magus, he spoke the last words my generation of men would say on this earth.
“Strike,” he gasped, “Strike now or all is lost.”
The most profound sadness gripped the assembly. Unusually for him, my father took my hand seeking comfort, comfort he returned to me. For his sons and my brothers; for my husband, the father of his grandchildren. And for the rest of the three hundred, our menfolk whose bodies we now knew were at the mercy of carrion in the neutral lands.
I looked up over the barely comprehending crowd to dusty snotty-nosed children, boys and girls, playing and yet not playing in the oil lamplight. You know our tradition is the way of the warrior and that every Pergamon generation to date was trained in the battle arts.
Though only our menfolk fought and then only after siring children. Those urchins were now fatherless and my heart was broken. I grieved for my husband, my brothers and my friends. The boys I had fought with, teased and indeed fucked were no more.
Well not fucked my brothers I should point out, and not all the other boys; just an appropriate number to make a well-considered choice about my husband.
Only my mother and I heard my father whisper, “We are all on the precipice of catastrophe.”
The received wisdom nowadays speaks of me being struck by divine inspiration. I imagine that legend still circulates. Believe me, I would have noticed the Gods lending a helping hand; the truth of what happened next is much more prosaic.
My father’s words left me numb, staring vacantly into the distance. Yet sufficiently aware to see a young girl savagely kick a young boy. And with that kick, I pondered Magus’s last words. To this day I believe they were a direct message from our men to their womenfolk.
Instinctively, I spoke to the tearful assembly, in a louder voice than I had intended; spoke before I could talk myself out of it. I know scholars tell you that the four words were inspirational, compelling and complete. But to me, it was just the obvious thing to say, “We women will ride.”
Despite what Percales says, those words weren’t met with acclamation. The silence lingered awhile and I feared I had misjudged. But, then, from the back of the assembly, Harmonia of all people yelled, “For once Ana is right. We must ride.”
But when I looked at my father, he seemed suddenly older, uncertain. More so when Cynara called out, “Power without wisdom is not a power worth having.”
With all she subsequently achieved leading our city, it will be difficult for you to imagine how judgemental we were of Cynara. Shunned, a strange lone creature, not exactly one of us as she had chosen not to marry. Reputedly a creature of the night, she apparently read long into the lonely hours while we rested after taking our physical pleasure.
Some said she conversed with the gods. Her only intimate was the town’s herbalist, renowned by those who cooked, but whispers suggested his herbs were used by Cynara in altogether different ways.
Yet my father always had time for her and even now with her pointed disrespect he wearily asked her the meaning of her anger.
Unexpectedly I saw an indomitable spirit. “I am angry at you my leader and the leaders before you. Angry that you have forsaken our traditions. Angry that you talked about excellence and didn’t act with excellence in mind.”
“You heard Magus before he died, the battle was close. Close, leader, and yet you did not allow all our best warriors to go into battle. Close, leader and your daughter’s husband did not have Danae, the only person his equal, if not his better, at his side.”
“It has been ever so, Cynara,” my father said.
But Cynara, having studied ancient records, told another tale. The gods had endowed us with rings of power, strength and wisdom. Apparently, in the dawn of our civilisation women and men had, depending on ability, shared them. But over time a tradition developed where only men wore them. Even the azure ring of wisdom, which wasn’t as strongly battle-linked hadn’t been worn by a woman these many centuries.
“You have forsaken our traditions,” Cynara concluded, “I claim the ring of wisdom in the name of our founding mothers and fathers. Your modern thinking has failed us!”
My father waited for what seemed an age before replying, “Cynara, if you take the ring, you must serve. There can be no exceptions.”
“I agree,” Cynara said. “Ana’s call to arms is the last roll of our dice. But not injudicious. For generations, girls have trained alongside boys, and the moment to rely on those skills has arrived.”
I don’t know how you now farewell warriors. We had a long-established ceremony carried out in the Temple of Athena under the watchful eye of the Goddess and the names of the dead, the ones who had gone before us defending our way of life. I hope you do the same.
Two days after my father’s nodded consent, we three hundred women lined up to swear the ancient oath. Naked, for nothing was allowed between our souls and the chalice containing the rings of power, strength and wisdom.
In turn, each woman genuflected, kissed the base of the chalice, recited the oath. Taking the five rings, we kissed them one by one thereby swearing allegiance to the five who would wear them.
I had been in the temple twice before watching my husband and his colleagues trothing in this way and had been overwhelmed by the emotional power of the ceremony. And now it was, unexpectedly, my turn.
As the chalice journeyed up the line of warriors, my stomach knotted. For I, standing a step away from the assembly with four others, would be the last to receive the chalice.
Who would wear the leadership rings seemed preordained for us. There was no argument, no canvassing; the decisions on battle command had been toyed with and tested in the playground and the academy over the years, and the judgement of our peers was as rapid and final as it had been for our menfolk.
Once the chalice reached our end of the line, Cynara, who would bear the wisdom ring, prostrated herself in front of the altar and recited the traditional words of acceptance, which ended, having invoked the Gods and the company, with four words, ‘thy will be done.’
My father slid the azure ring of wisdom onto her finger and she did what she had promised, namely by kissing the other four rings she accepted the leadership of those who would wear them.
Cynara then asked Danae, Larisa and Harmonia to accept the rings of strength. The three women prostrated themselves in front of the altar and Cynara slid the red rings onto their fingers, while they testified to the Gods and the company that they subjugated their will to the defence of the greater good.
Then the four women kissed the blue ring of power and, kneeling in turn, held out their hands so I might kiss the rings on their fingers and thereby acknowledge their right and duty to lead under my direction. And the contrast in my relationship with the four could not have been more apparent.
The diminutive Cynara held my gaze before I took the knee to kiss the wisdom ring. Her eyes seemed like deep pools, neither challenging nor threatening me. Rather they conveyed a rare depth of understanding. In truth, we weren’t all that close then. She was always the library girl whereas I was pushing physical excellence at the academy.
Danae, the most accurate archer of our generation, would command the hundred archers. The respect in her and my eyes was tinged with the deepest sadness. For the five rings had twins. As I stooped to kiss her red ring of strength, my mind was at the ceremony a few days earlier when the leader of the men had stooped to kiss her ring’s twin which nestled on my husband’s finger.
As I straightened, Danae broke with protocol and put her arms around me. I only cried once publicly and it was then in the arms of the woman who, apart from me, knew my husband best. They had competed all their lives and competed hard. And while they were clearly the best two archers of my generation, my husband respected Danae for being a fraction more accurate.
Nothing in my life has ever evaporated wretchedness as quickly as Larisa’s dazzling smile. And, as always, I grinned back and stooped to kiss the red ring that signified leadership of one of the two groups of swordsmen or more accurately swordswomen this time.
Our bond had been strong since we were young, best friends, and although I wasn’t that frequent a lover of women, we were each other’s first some moons ago. But our friendship had intensified after marriage as our husbands had also been best friends and occasional lovers all their lives. The four of us had raised our children together and there was no one in the temple that day who I would rather have spent time with.
Harmonia would wear the other ring that signified the leadership of swordswomen. That she grudgingly accepted this as second prize was obvious. Her eye contact was brief and filled with attitude. She certainly had the ability, but I knew my father thought her attitude a weakness. But as a fighter and battle leader, she had the potential to be inspirational and, despite our rocky relationship, I didn’t begrudge her that leadership.
Perhaps Percales’ greatest myth is the notion that Pergamon was saved by the heroic love Harmonia and I had for each other. At that time all of Pergamon knew of the bad blood between us, and heroic loathing would have been a more appropriate word choice than love.
So, with some difficulty I confess, I made my lips linger longer on her red ring. Given our turbulent history, I wanted to signal to the company and to her that I would abide by tradition and respect her leadership.
And then, prostrated, I recited the most sacred words of all which ended with, ‘I am not worthy but thy will be done.’ Cynara slipped the one ring of leadership, kissed by the entire company onto my finger. Dark blue, its twin had been presented only five days earlier to the leader of the men, and I felt entwined with the legends of the past as it nestled, heavily, on my finger.
Once the elders departed an air of melancholy surrounded the company. That we three hundred warriors were alone is still I hope unprecedented in our history. In previous ceremonies, wives had spent the night in the temple and the resulting loving consummation was in many cases the penultimate act of love of a Pergamon warrior.
My mind went back a few days to when my husband had sought me out after his ceremony. It felt so needy and lustful. Every feeling was intensified; his familiar smell, the way his kisses always had a follow-up little after-kiss, the scratch of his stubble on my inner thighs as he licked me heavenward.
Despite the three hundred copulations going on around us, all I could focus on was him. He turned me onto all fours, held my hips and impaled his cock deep into my wet pussy. Just taking me and fucking me with even greater vigour than usual.
And in a moment that will always remain fresh in my mind, he exploded in me for what I hoped, vainly as it turned out, wouldn’t be the last time. As his joy, as well as his seed, seeped into me, I was overcome by a second ecstasy.
Love seemed like a thing of the past, and I was uncertain about what to say to the warriors I now led. But then I caught Danae’s eye and her smile told me what should happen next.
For after my husband and I had made love, Danae, having made love to her husband came over to mine. She put her arms around his shoulder, looked into his eyes with an intensity that smouldered. And she surprised me and him by kissing him passionately. My surprise at the intensity of the kiss was nothing compared to how stunned I was at the effect it had on him. His penis hardened short minutes after depositing his seed in me.
I am sure sex won’t have changed that much over the years. When one is young there is a joy in sex for its own sake. That of course lasts but later on, love dominates. Lust and love, I had experienced both. But that night in the temple I saw something else. Danae gave herself to my husband as a warrior, with him on his back and her breasts swaying, their eyes locked and she impaled herself on his cock.
It seemed as she slid down his erection, that she was sending her power and her skill to him, reinforcing the power and skill of the only man she would have considered an archery equal. Warrior joining with warrior to boost him for battle.
So now, absent our men, I realized we women should use our bodies, if not to make love, then to join and yoke ourselves as warriors. But, always inclined to overthink, I had a dilemma; who and how does the leader fuck on battle-eve?
As I pondered, another scent, not the male mating scent, more pomegranate than musky, began to permeate the temple. I saw Harmonia look at my breasts and that instantly clarified my thinking. Leader with leader would boost my spirits and power on battle eve. Then Larisa, noticing Harmonica look away, just shook her head and smiled.
I don’t know how familiar you are with sapphic sticks, they had only recently been traded between Pergamon and Lesbos. But from experience, I knew Larisa’s vaginal walls were well up to the task of gripping the bulbous end tightly.
But I understood why she chose to glance coyly at me from under those long eyelashes as she twisted the bulbous end into my pussy. Larisa wanted the company to see that, as I was the leader, I was the women to whom submission was made. Our private silly grins after I kissed her, recognised that as the charade it was.
She symbolically touched herself to show she wanted to be taken; then, on all fours, presented herself to me. As I slid the pleasure stick into her slick vagina, the only thing that betrayed my lack of control was Larisa’s giggle, fortunately muffled as she pressed her face into a cushion. Even fifty years later I am a little ashamed to admit we faked our orgasms.
Something I then made sure we rectified as we lay side by side. Eyes locked, our fingers mirrored each other; simultaneously curling and sliding in and out of our wet pussies, stretching our velvet walls. The women around us temporarily faded from our minds as our thumbs slapped each other’s pleasure buttons until we came together in a monstrous ecstasy.
A sisterhood was born that night. We knew that the next day many of us might step into the afterlife, so we fucked like there was nothing after tomorrow. Only Cynara stood apart. Her daemon would not, she declared, work if her virginity was lost. She went into a trance and communed with the gods, as we warriors joined and then slept.
Percales’ description of our battle is masterful. He praises my key strategic decision to order Harmonia to retreat, thereby causing the enemy to over commit and take heavy losses in the last flight of arrows from Danae’s archers. He acknowledges Larisa’s instinctive decision to put herself and her best warriors between the enemy’s two groups of swordsmen and so buy Harmonia the time she needed to drive through the enemy’s weak spot and take on their leader in single combat. He calls Harmonia the greatest fighter in Pergamon history, for besting their leader and sending the enemy into disarray.
Yet two things are missing from his record. Accepting that I should not save my best friend from how the battle evolved was the most gut-wrenching decision of my life. For fifty years I have questioned if there was another way, yet everyone reassures me there wasn’t one.
Secondly, Harmonia’s body language totally bristled when she retreated. Yet she turned and saluted me with her sword when I ordered her to charge. The prowess of the enemy leader should not be underestimated, and Harmonia fought like a woman possessed. Despite what Percales says, her victory was narrow.
I will not speak of the men’s killing fields. In the days since their battle, our menfolk’s lifeless bodies had been ravaged by carrion. That and their bloody wounds rendered them barely recognizable. The stench was putrid, and more than one woman vomited as we laid out their body parts for what I trust is still the largest funeral pyre in Pergamon’s history.
One hundred women joined our menfolk in that final resting place. I personally set Larisa’s body between both our husbands, linking in death those I loved the last two times the temple bid warriors adieu.
Legend has it that I spoke inspirationally before lighting the funeral pyre. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is horror in death no matter how heroic, I felt wretched knowing my husband’s baby blue eyes had been pecked out by carrion.
Cynara saw my distress and spoke briefly, promising the lifeless that their sacrifice would change Pergamon for the better. A promise that, as you know, she more than fulfilled.
We returned as heroes, yet our losses made that the hollowest feeling. The elders had the children sleeping in the temple, thinking companionship might assuage grief. Not for me, I just wanted to be alone.
But, pouring a cup of mead that second night back, an unexpected visitor had me sighing. “I haven’t got the energy to niggle, Harmonia.”
“Don’t want to argue anymore,” Harmonia said, helping herself, uninvited I might add, to the mead.
She wouldn’t catch my eye but raised her cup towards me. “All my life I’ve been angry at your easy run, knowing I’m the better woman. I was wrong. You didn’t lead because of your father. You led because you could best wield the ring of power.”
I was stunned, barely comprehending that Harmonia, fucking Harmonia, with whom I had squabbled all my life, thought me the better woman.
Throwing the mead down her throat, she nervously stepped forward, her face inches from mine, a position which usually presaged an almighty argument.
Not this time. There was a sadness in her eyes, as she whispered, “And you rose above my petulance and trusted me when it mattered most. Even let Larisa sacrifice herself to give me a better chance.”
“Cynara told me, that, as I wasn’t Athena, I couldn’t decide who lived and died.”
Harmonia giggled. “Athena has a cult of virginity. I’ve always known you weren’t that Goddess.”
I laughed, the first time in a week. “That’s true. You know I’ve always admired your skills. Just hated how we always fought.”
“I’ve never plucked up the humility to tell you what I really think. Even in the temple, possibly my last fuck on earth, it was you I wanted and I couldn’t begin to say it.”
“Me? Really. Oh.”
Her soft lips grazed mine, her arms shaking nervously as they went around my waist. “In the temple, Larisa surprised me by showing me who you are. Will you trust me again, Ana?”
“You think after all our fighting and squabbling, I’m really going you submit to you?”
Harmonia squeezed my arse and, with a look of unadulterated lust that was almost evil in its intensity, she whispered, “I’m just going to take you. So, you won’t have to think too hard about it.”
And, whatever logic might have said, that look triggered me and I felt that familiar craving. Surrendering, my need to be right trumped, my mouth opened and her tongue deliciously penetrated and swirled with mine.
I released my tunic which puddled at my ankles. Turning I walked, well maybe strutted, to the bedroom. Reaching the door, I glanced back, locked eyes with Harmonia, and said, “Well I like cock and with no more to be had, I hope you have bought one of those sapphic sticks.”
Harmonia untied her tunic and smiled salaciously. Naked, except for the pleasure stick that jutted prominently from her luxuriant pussy. “Unlike you, I do know how to use this.”
And she did, her control was Larisa at her best, to be honest.
With me on all fours on the bed, Harmonia gripped my hips and slid the tip of the stick into my slick folds, just penetrating my opening. Smacks of her palm across my arse cheeks had me whimpering, my pussy oozing as Harmonia reached forward and wrapped her hands in my hair.
My head snapped back and she drove the stick deep, stretching my suddenly wet velvet walls and causing me to scream. She paused for a while, waiting, my frustration growing.
“Say it,” she whispered.
“Please fuck me, Harmonia.”
And she did, relentlessly pounding and stretching my liquifying pussy, her sweat dripping onto my back. I lost myself in pleasure as she slammed the stick deep and hard into me until I, followed by her, exploded in orgasm.
“Wow,” she said, as I snuggled into her arms.
“We should have done this years ago.”
“Both too stubborn, I guess. You’re mine now though.”
Her palm stung my arse. I giggled and added, “Okay, guess I am.”
While Harmonia and my love didn’t, as Percales asserts, save Pergamon, it did give meaning to our post-battle lives. Together we finished the child-raising task, ours and Larisa’s too. And kept an eye on Cynara, ameliorating her occasional impractical ideas, and thereby assisting her to change Pergamon in ways that I hope still make your lives better.
As that victorious day sinks deeper into the mist that naturally envelops the past, so memory is eroded by imagination. Percales himself speculates that something altogether more mystical occurred on battle-eve.
He sees significance in the first woman receiving the ring of power in the Temple of Athena. It is not enough for him that I drew inspiration from the sacred place of the patroness of heroes and warriors. Nor that the Goddess reputedly favours those who use intelligence and strategy rather than rely on the raw force of war.
Rather, Percales implies that apotheosis occurred that night; my humanity transmogrifying to embody Athena herself. Never mind the cult of sexual modesty and perpetual virginity surrounding that Goddess, a reputation I neither merit nor want.
I do trust that, once we ringbearers have gone, another of Percales’ myths doesn’t reappear. He speculated that, while the company slept, Cynara brewed a magical concoction of herbs and an apparition of the Goddess materialised to empower us five after we imbibed that potion.
One difficulty in writing about living legends is that they will turn up at the library to correct the record. I have rarely seen Harmonia as angry, and she publicly denounced Percales for this idiocy. “As if,” she said, “we would on the eve of the most important day in our lives, forsake our training and sup from an unknown cup brewed by someone we, at that point, simply thought of as weird.”
Yet over the years, I guess we ringbearers have with our shrugs indulged the Goddess myth. Partly for the sake of Larisa’s children who found comfort in their mother being called the embodiment of the goddess Nike. And partly as the next two generations bumped into Danae, Harmonia and I around the town, and there was nothing like seeing our humanity to dent the notion we were the Goddesses Artemis, Hera and Athena.
Yet the legend of what I did that day grows taller by the decade. As does the myth that I became Athena to save my people. I hope this record has shown you that I am as human as you.
Do believe that the Goddess looks out for us; I do and it helps. But don’t put me on a pedestal that takes me out of your reach. We ringbearers are less like goddesses than you imagine. And you are more like us than you fear.
Circumstances may ask you to rise to whatever challenge fate has in store for you. Don’t rely on the Goddess. Don’t rely on heroic love. Rather, look inside yourself; for there you will find that a hero awaits.
Copyright © All right reserved. All stories and poems are written by CuriousAnnie and no portion, in whole of part, can be borrowed linked or reproduced without my expressed written consent.