Photo Art. Created from a base picture taken in 2008 when the Moon, Jupiter and Venus were seen together in a planetary conjunction which produced a smiley face on one day, and a frown the next. I added the smaller stars in ps, dodged and burnt, then added several layers of textures and art techniques to give it the appearance of a painting on canvas.
This image was made to accompany a 3600-word written piece called ‘A-Mazo’. The short story is as follows…
My name is Leica, and today I am, for the first time, writing down the story of my life. I was born into a great tribe of warriors known by many as the Amazons. I am the oldest of four sisters, Camaracai, Shandra, Melefin and myself. We are the daughters of Aeanala who, apart from our queen, was the most powerful warrior of her time.
Aeanala taught my sisters and I well, not only did she teach us to fight ferociously, but she also passed on her knowledge of the world. She did her job so well that we have all proven ourselves to be adept on the fields of battle. It has even been said that if the royal family should ever peter out, our line would be the one chosen to rule our race.
But now I sound as though I am bragging, and that is not my intention. I wish only to pass on the knowledge of my line. It is a long and complicated story, so I will start once more… from the beginning this time.
For many lifetimes, we have shunned the male of our species, only meeting with them once a year, and only because it is necessary to preserve our race. It is better that way; it’s the reason that our race has thrived. Men are ruled by their emotions, but we allow only our brains to govern our actions.
I knew nothing about my father as I grew up, our daughters never leave our community and any man who dares to enter our village is killed immediately. I only knew that occasionally Aeanala would grow larger in her stomach, and that sometimes the gods blessed us with a new baby. I knew nothing of men or boys until my fourteenth year.
In my thirteenth year, the coming of my blood signified that the gods thought me strong enough to become a woman. For a year I was prepared for my initiation into the halls of the warriors. I was encouraged to mutilate myself regularly; a small cut here, a tattoo there. It was all to prepare me for the pain that I would experience… but no amount of self-mutilation could have prepared me fully.
Exactly one year later, I became a woman. All of the warriors in my village assembled to watch and to offer assistance, had I needed it. I was bathed and dressed in my initiation robes, the ones that I have proudly kept sealed in a chest carved by Aeanala herself. My right breast was covered in a foul-smelling salve that I was told would save me from infection, and I was given many mugs of a mind-numbing potion.
On the ground beside me lay my sword, the one that I had crafted with my own hands. It had never been used, and so the jewels on the sheath and the untarnished silver of the blade glittered menacingly in the firelight. The first blood to stain an Amazon’s sword was always to be her own.
When I felt that my mind was numb enough, I lay my right breast over the blood rock, a large flat rock that was stained with the blood of the hundreds of Amazon warriors that had completed the ritual before me. I took up the sword, placed it over my breast and pushed down with all of my strength.
The pain was tremendous, despite the effect of the potion, but I did not cry out. I bit my lip until it bled, and for a moment I was sure that I would faint, but the moment passed leaving only the pain. I cried silently as I gathered up the folds of my robes and held them tightly to the wound in order to stop the bleeding.
It took a long time for the blood to stop flowing, but I am proud to say that I remained awake for the whole time. It was hard, but whenever I felt weak, I looked at Aeanala’s face. I could see a great pride reflected in her eyes, and it gave me the strength to carry on.
As the bleeding stopped the pain lessened, or perhaps I just became used to it. I continued with the ritual, rubbing salt and more of the salve into my wound. Once the other warriors were satisfied that I had sufficiently sterilised my wound, I salted my severed breast in order to preserve it. It was only then that I was permitted to rest.
It is necessary for all Amazon warriors to sever their own breast before they can become a woman. It’s crucial in battle that we be able to draw the string of our bow quickly. Our ancestors found this almost impossible, so they began the practice of severing the breast on the side that they drew their bow; hence the initiation ritual.
Our tribal name comes from the ritual. Many years ago an enemy began the practice of referring to our tribe as A-Mazo, which means “no breast”. This name does not completely describe us because we do still have one breast, but nonetheless we have proudly adopted it. Our tenacity in war, combined with the fact that we are strong enough to cut off our own breast seems to strike terror into the hearts of our enemies, and that suits us just fine.
Anyone who can’t complete the ritual is considered to be unworthy of continuing their line, and is strictly forbidden to bear children. This way, only the strong can reproduce, ensuring that our race remains both powerful and brave. As Aeanala watched me complete the ritual, it was plain that she was delighted. Our line would continue on through me.
Twenty days later, after the salt had cured my severed breast we completed the ceremony. I placed my blood-soaked robes inside the chest, along with the mug from which I had drunk the potion, a small chip from the blood rock, and my preserved breast. The chest was passed along a line of warriors, each of whom uttered a blessing for my success as a warrior. This done, I sealed the chest with wax and it has never been opened since.
I sometimes think of my breast and I imagine how it would look, whether it would still be full and round, or shrivelled and dried out. But I will never know. My chest will remain sealed for all time; I would kill anyone who dared to open it. Despite all the spoils of war that I have accumulated, that chest always has and always will be my most prized possession.
That year, the year that I became an Amazon warrior, was the first time that I accompanied Aeanala to the village of men, but I was forbidden from taking any of them as a mate. Being my first year as a woman, I was judged too young to be able to choose a suitable mate. I could only go along to watch and to learn.
I would not participate until the time that I chose a man good enough to be my mate for life. Although a man is only good for reproduction, having the same mate for life ensures that we know who has fathered our children. Our offspring would have been weak, perhaps even deformed if we chose a mate from the same line.
Upon arriving at the men’s village, I met my father and two brothers for the first time. Aeanala explained to me that my brothers had come from her body, just as my sisters and I had. She told me that my father had helped to produce us, and briefly explained how. She made it clear that I could choose any other man in the village except for these three.
She told me that I would have to choose carefully. If the man I chose produced no children, or if he was killed in battle, I could not choose another, so I was offered much advice on the matter. I should choose a strong man; the stronger he was, the longer he would live, and the more children he would produce. Aeanala also suggested that I choose a pretty man; it was common knowledge that ugly men only produced sons.
Sons are of no use to us so we strive to produce as many daughters as possible. I would keep all daughters, but any sons would be returned to their father the same night that they were born. At the time I accepted that as a fact of life. I had never known any other way, so there was no reason for me to argue our greatest law.
It was four years later that I finally chose a mate. By this time, both Camaracai and Shandra had also become women. Camaracai had chosen her mate the year before and this coupling had produced a beautiful daughter. However, it was Shandra’s first year as a woman, and so she was forbidden from participating, just like the rest of us had been.
The men had prepared the usual feast in preparation for our visit. The food and drinks had been set on long tables in the centre court and as the first of our warriors entered the village, soft music began to play. Those of us who had already taken mates disappeared soon after the festivities, but the rest of us stayed behind, mingling somewhat shyly around the fire.
I had seen Garran before; I’d even spoken to him several times over the last couple of years. He was a little older than I was, his hair was dark and his eyes were a clear blue… the colour of the sky. He wasn’t exactly pretty, he wasn’t even particularly strong, but there was something different about him that I liked. He spoke softly and he didn’t show off in front of us like the rest of the men in the village. He would simply sit quietly by the fire, only speaking if someone else started the conversation.
This night I watched him, and I saw that he was watching me too. I knew that Aeanala had hoped that I would take a stronger and prettier mate, but it wasn’t her decision to make. I was a woman after all, and I had proven myself to be a cunning strategist and a mighty warrior. Hippolyte, our queen, had even rewarded me with command of a garrison of warriors, an impressive feat for someone my age. Aeanala would simply have to accept my decision.
After a few mugs of the local wine, I excused myself from Shandra’s side and went to sit beside Garran. We spoke about many things and by the end of the night I was sure that I wanted him as my mate. In the morning we went to Aeanala and I told her of my decision. I could see her disappointment as she looked Garran up and down, but she gave us her blessing. She trusted that my judgement was usually good.
That year, to my disappointment, I gave birth to a son. Aeanala told me that it was Garran’s ugliness that had produced the boy, and she only allowed me to hold him for a short time before bundling him up and taking him to his father.
When she returned she told me that Garran had accepted his son proudly, but that he had shown a contemptible weakness by shedding a single tear of joy. I was grateful that Aeanala hadn’t seen him cry before our coupling. If she had, she would have forbidden me from seeing him at all. Our race spurned such a weakness, and Aeanala made it plain that she didn’t understand why I had chosen him.
The next two years I gave birth to two more sons, both of whom were taken immediately to Garran. He was a wonderful father, immensely gentle and kind, but despite this, or maybe because of this I became very fond of him. I found that I would look forward to our yearly visits. I had become attached to my sons too, much to Aeanala’s dismay, but she never tried to discourage me from showing them affection. Perhaps she understood how greatly I felt the absence of a daughter.
Finally, in my twenty-first year I was blessed with the daughter I yearned for so badly. Her hair was the same colour as mine, but she possessed Garran’s clear blue eyes. I named her Collea and sent Shandra to inform Garran. She came back with a gift, a small statue of a girl, made of wood. Garran had carved it, somehow knowing that this time I was carrying a daughter.
Over the next few years, Melefin became a woman and she also chose a mate. She produced a son, but she was killed in battle before she could produce a daughter. By this time Camaracai had two daughters and Shandra had one. Shandra took Melefin’s death particularly hard and she too fell in battle shortly after. Aeanala took Shandra’s daughter into her home and raised her as her own, as is our custom.
Collea grew into a lovely girl but she had inherited her father’s greatest flaw… his gentleness. She tried her best to learn how to be a good warrior, but she was hurt easily and she was often ill. I began to worry that she wouldn’t pass the initiation, so I hoped that I could carry another daughter. Over the years I gave birth to a total of six children, five sons and Collea. After that I dried up for some years and no matter how hard Garran and I tried, I could bear no more children.
It was in Collea’s tenth year that I finally carried my last baby. To my delight it was another girl and I named her Tarishin. Sadly, she too was sickly, and she died before her first year had ended. After her funeral I went to Garran and we cried in each other’s arms.
Later Aeanala and I argued about it, and soon I received word that Garran too, was dead. I suspected that Aeanala may have been responsible, but I never asked her about it. I had, after all, broken several important laws. I had gone to Garran at the wrong time of the year, I was beginning to care for him too much, and I had showed my weakness to him. Because of Garran I had ignored the laws of our tribe, so Aeanala was well within her rights.
With Garran dead, my reproductive days were finished and Collea was the only chance I had that my line would not be extinguished. With the coming of her blood I trained her hard. By the time of her initiation I was almost sure that she would succeed.
Collea did pass her initiation, but only just. After severing her breast she fainted briefly, but she recovered before anyone else had noticed. In hindsight, I think that they simply turned a blind eye out of respect for me. Perhaps it was because I was a great warrior; maybe it was just because they knew that I could have no more daughters.
It doesn’t matter why they allowed her to succeed, but I wish now that they hadn’t. Collea was killed in her first battle, and I was left alone. All I had was the knowledge that she had fought hard before she had fallen. Collea had bravely saved the life of the queen’s sister, Melanippe, and although this news filled my heart with pride, it was of little comfort to me.
Collea’s death hit me harder than anyone else’s, even little Tarishin’s. Partly, I think, because I had known Collea longer, and partly because Garran was not there to comfort me. I remembered how he had held me after Tarishin’s death and I cursed myself. If it were not for my weakness he would still have been alive.
With Collea dead, I accepted the fact that my line was finished. I threw myself into battle, the pain of my loneliness only increasing my strength. I was incredibly successful and was in much demand to assist in preparing the other warriors’ daughters for their initiation into the hall of warriors. I helped many of them to become women, including the daughters of my sisters. It helped me to focus my thoughts, but it also made me think more about the loss of my own daughters.
My sister’s daughters had all become skilful warriors when Aeanala was killed. She had been ill for some time but had wanted to die a death befitting a warrior of her stature. Although she was too old and slow to fight fiercely, our queen agreed to allow her the dignity of dying in battle.
Before the battle Camaracai, all of my sisters’ daughters and I took it in turn to hug Aeanala to our hearts. We watched her die on her enemy’s sword, but none of us came to her aid; we would have died ourselves rather than curse her with that final indignity. Afterwards we carried her body for many days, until we could bear her into our village to a hero’s funeral.
Now I am coming to the end of my tale. The sun will soon raise itself over the horizon and I am feeling very tired. My hand hurts and my candle is very low, but I will not stop until I have written down the whole of my story.
Several weeks ago we fought side by side with a man who has, it turns out, put our race in great jeopardy. He is a Greek warrior named Heracles; a man of great beauty with a war record to rival the greatest of our warriors. It is said that although his mother is a mortal, his father is a god, and has passed to his son the strength of a bear.
Hippolyte became fascinated with Heracles and wished to take him as her mate. Heracles used this knowledge cruelly against her and tried to steal her symbol of power, a sacred girdle of gold and jewels. Hippolyte was enraged when she discovered his treachery and banished him. She should have killed him immediately, but because of his god-like beauty she was unable to bring herself to do it.
Heracles returned ten days later with a mighty army, coming in the night to attack us. Amidst the confusion many of our number were slain, including the last of my family. Camaracai and her daughters died side by side, but Shandra’s daughter fought on for a little longer. She had always been stronger, perhaps because her own mother had died so young.
So now as I sit here, I am greatly saddened, knowing that I am the last of our line to live. My family all died well, and it fills me with pride that our tribe remembers their names in song alongside the many other great warriors of our past. This is of some comfort to me, but it doesn’t lessen the pain of their deaths… or the shame of my weakness.
For the first time I was seriously injured in the battle, and the queen’s sister Melanippe, bravely stood guard over my unconscious form. It was her duty to repay me for the actions of my daughter, but it was also her undoing. Heracles’ army surrounded her and stole her away, leaving word that she would only be returned to us if our queen surrendered her girdle to him.
My body has healed now, so tomorrow I will go into battle once more. Hippolyte has asked me to accompany her on a raid on Heracles’ home in Crete. Our laws will never allow her to part with her girdle, so we are to mount an attack in order to rescue Melanippe from Heracles. I intend to kill him with my own sword, if only to avenge the deaths of my family, but I am not so sure that I will be among those returning home.
I will fight fiercely, as Aeanala has taught me to, but my spirit has been weakened and this time I am sure that I will fall on the field of battle. But I am not afraid to die, for I am ready to meet my family and travel with them to the next world. If I fight well, the gods will allow me my heart’s fondest wish. I already know what I will ask for; I wish to have Garran by my side for the rest of time.
But now I have forgotten why it is that I have started to write this account of history. I want to preserve the memory of our line in the only way that I now can. Although our tribeswomen pass our names on for many generations, there are no more of our children to remember us, and I fear that eventually we will be forgotten.
After I finish here I will take this paper, wrap it in a goat’s skin and bury it deep in the ground near my daughters’ graves, along with my most precious chest. If I return I will dig them up, but if I fall I hope that someone, perhaps when I have been gone for many years, will read my story and remember us.
If you happen to be that someone, I would ask that you do one thing for me. It is our custom that we sing the names of our fallen to the fullest moon, so that she may fill our dreams with their memory. Will you do that for me? Will you remember our names to the moon?
*Top Ten in
Pink Panther Magazine group’s ‘International Womans Day – Writings only’ challenge – 12 Mar 2010
!* Dark Cabaret ! group’s ‘One for the WRITERS!’ challenge – 25 Mar 2010