Title: Fearless, Golden
Fandom: Mary Renault - The King Must Die
Two strong, dangerous, beautiful women. Chryse, Hippolyta, others discussed.
Summary: In the time of the Amazon, Chryse recalls a time before.
Warnings: Some violence, some het, some nudity.
With Thanks To: rabidsamfan for beta reading
Disclaimer: These characters and the mythical personages they are based upon are not mine.
Laughing breathlessly as she gained the crest, Chryse threw herself over the little ridge and rolled down into the shade beside the King's Amazon. Hippolyta laughed gaily, tossing her golden limbs wide across the soft grass, the silver rope of her hair flung out above her head. Too winded for words, Chryse nodded in avowal of Hippolyta's victory, tipping upon her back so their heads lay together like young girls gossiping. For a moment they rested in the willow's rustling shadow, beneath a sweet fresh breeze just tinged with the bloody richness of the hares they'd shot, as Chryse's own blood surged with life in movement as it had not since her year in the Bull Court.
In thanks to her hostess, Chryse sighed, "it is good to run out beneath the sky." Breathing in sharply, Hippolyta leaned up on one arm, her gaze intent and grave, and Chryse waited as the green scent of growth rose around them.
At length Hippolyta said, "I thought Amyntor takes you hunting."
"When he can, or rather, could." Chryse stretched to feel her body's tautness, the ease after all the sweeter. "But he has little leisure, and then there is our son. The last time we went..." On their return they had discovered Chryse's brother Phantos chivying the baby's nurse, and he'd rounded on them, reviling them both as unnatural as Chryse strained to stay Amyntor's hand, until Amyntor bade him leave rather than strike him.
"Was it then you gained this scar?" Hippolyta pointed boldly to the mark that all ostentatiously ignored save Amyntor and the remnant bull-dancers, the ragged blemish on Chryse's cheek. Her eyes gleamed with interest, and Chryse's heart rose in her chest. At last, one who would understand, beyond those who had been there.
"Not then; this was the final gift of our bull." Chryse touched it as she spoke, the rough seam curving along her soft skin.
Hippolyta nodded as one warrior to another, and Chryse felt the memory of warm sand beneath her instead of cool grass, felt years and motherhood slip for a moment away. "So it does bear more than a common tale. I saw as much."
Chryse nodded in return, the roar of the Bull-court like distant surf in her mind. "It was our second-last dance, when the Minotauros poisoned our bull Herakles..."
Clinging desperately to Herakles' horn, Chryse looked up through the whipping golden strands of her hair. Her feet scrabbled uselessly on his spume-slimed jowl, her arms burned with strain like fraying cables; Theseus's hair streamed above her, his shoulders straining with his grip as he strove to throttle Herakles with his legs. The pursuing Cranes panted and screamed, the watching crowd rent the air with shrieks, but all Chryse paid heed to was the bull and the barrier he bore them towards, death in curved wood and the thudding beat of Herakles' frenzied hooves.
Their bull was not himself, maddened and murderous, his steam acrid and stinking. Herakles had been almost their friend in his way, sometimes seeming to take a sluggish pleasure in the circling dance of youths and maidens round him, but this day he'd bellowed in rage and battered his gate, he'd shot at Theseus like a Titan's missile. Now he bucked and snorted as if no bull-dancers weighted him, his every footfall jarring Chryse to the ends of her fingers. Gripping the horn anew she thought, 'This is it at the last, this is my end,' foreseeing her fall beneath the pounding hooves. A flash of black flared beyond Theseus, a teammate's tossing hair as they loosed or fell, and even as her hands slipped from the horn's curved smoothness Chryse clutched it tighter, life streaming through her fingers like handfuls of water.
"Chryse!" Her name cut through the din; Phormion ran beside, reaching out just as her fingertips lost all purchase, and she tumbled through streaming air into his arms. Herakles' flank hit them like a boulder; Chryse felt a burning slash and the wind of his hoof across her face, heard Phormion grunt as his arms tightened round her, as they rolled away across the dusty floor of the ring.
A distant crash sounded, the shrieking rose higher. Chryse coughed, splayed across Phormion's tossing chest; as soon as her shaking arms would bear her she pushed herself up, still gasping after her wind. Though his eyes were shut and his brow creased with pain, his grin shone bright in his dust-smudged face. Chryse smiled back until she saw her own blood drip upon his breast.
Melantho called to them as she ran over, her voice shaking, her eyes round when she saw Chryse's wounded cheek. Beyond them Amyntor's voice rose in curses and Minyan lovewords that once would have made Chryse blush, a year and a life ago; she looked towards him as she tipped herself off Phormion and Melantho heaved them both upright.
Waving clenched fists, Amyntor stood close by Theseus, beseeching him to keep his feet; Theseus swayed like a sapling in high winds, and Chryse's heart battered against her ribcage. A year in the Labyrinth, three seasons in the ring, and not one of the oath-warded Cranes had died. Would this be the day to end their run, the day they'd lose their King?
Melantho shivered, biting her finger's tips, and Chryse wound her arms round her as Phormion leant upon them both, as they watched mad Herakles spin and hurtle towards Theseus defenseless before him. They all three shook together, trembling leaves in the storm as the bull ring wheeled round Theseus, his chin lifted, his face calm as if he heard a god's distant voice. They clung to each other as Herakles pitched over, foaming and twitching, crashing in the dust to lie finally still.
All the Bull Ring stood in silence, seemingly all the world, for one long frozen moment before the cheering began.
"A tale indeed," said Hippolyta, her voice deep and hushed; Chryse lay back, watching the drifting dappled clouds through the waving branches, remembering a different sky. "And yet..." Hippolyta sat up, tallying on her slender fingers. "So your bull was dead, and was not the great quake the next day, the fall of the House of the Ax? Or do I remember wrongly?"
"You remember aright." Chryse looked up at Hippolyta, the Sun behind her turning her hair to lustrous radiance, shadowing her puzzled face so that her grey eyes shone all the more keenly. Then Chryse recalled her own words, and laughed at herself. "When I spoke of our last dance I meant the battle of the Throne Room."
Chryse had expected her Amazon friend to share her jest, but for a moment the keen grey eyes narrowed further, her fine silvery brows drawing down till Chryse might almost fear. Hippolyta's gaze was turned inwards, a memory of her own reflected in her eyes; then she smiled with the young and cheery look which had fooled Theseus' elder barons into thinking her a mere sweet princess, that would have belied her might but for what Chryse knew of how dangerous strong-handed women could be. "You danced your battle," Hippolyta said with warm familiarity, and now Chryse saw herself reflected as she had been, a fearless golden maiden with sharp bronze in both hands. "Fitting for bull-dancers."
"It was how we had learned to face death." Chryse remembered the wine-and-incense scented dark, the heartbeat-pounded pause before the leap. "It was what we knew."
The tide of warrior fury had borne Chryse onwards with the rest, singing and shouting amidst the freed dancers and the vengeful Cretans, coursing as one behind Theseus who led them to their revenge and their reclaimed honor. All through the underground mazeways of the Labyrinth she'd thought only to keep with her fellow Cranes amidst the tricky paths and the darkness, following their leader as through scores of dances. It was not till she stood watching the red light flicker on Theseus' cheek as he peered into the Throne Room, her boots sticky with spilled wine and her nose itching with incense, that the surge of god-borne fury left her to her own single mind like driftwood swept upon a shore.
As she waited in silence, Chryse's idle thought turned to the Goddess-on-Earth, Theseus' intended, whose deep-gazing eyes put Chryse in mind of her mother's. All at once she saw herself as her mother might see her, half-clad in loin-guard and boots and favorite jewels, bronze daggers clutched tightly in each hand; she stood poised between Telamon and Amyntor all rigid at attention, so still they minutely shivered, ready to leap on the next breath. She saw herself, all but naked, scar-faced and primed for battle like an Amazon; just beyond her Thebe and Pylia stood together, shoulders touching, breasts dappled black with enemies' blood. Chryse saw herself amidst her grim teammates, and for a moment she quailed, heart fluttering in her throat like a netted songbird. What was a gently born maiden of Athens doing playing at war? What place had she here?
But her next breath steadied her, even as nothing befell. No god smote her with a warning of impiety; none of her team-mates eyed her askance. She stood a part of them, seven youths and seven maidens who had for a year faced death with empty hands, weaponless save art and grace and their shared oathtrust, who had become what even the soldier lads might not have dreamt and the gently reared maidens surely had not. The girls no less than the lads had earned their honor, and would live it henceforth.
So Chryse told herself, and her fluttering heart eased, her feet settled on the calmed earth that had so lately rocked and tossed, her daggers rested in her palms like they'd grown there. She breathed and felt a different god's hand gently enfold her, felt herself no longer angry or vengeful but tingling like the first stirring of dawn with an exultation to match the flights of her best leaps. It was with such a lifted heart, such a calm soul, that Chryse sprang forward amidst her teammates when Theseus waved them on.
"Ay-yi-yi!" she cried as Theseus whooped his war-call, raising her blades high, watching the celebrants scatter screaming and the hapless guards lumber to face the new threat. Theseus leaped into the pit, their true King matched with the false Minotaur; the Cranes spun about the guards, laughing and calling, knowing each other's minds and movements as in the bull ring. As for a year they'd danced round death so they did now, dodging the feints of bronze spears, darting in to harry with their shorter weapons, weaving confusion with the mazy pattern of their feet.
A flicker caught Chryse's eye even as she whirled, blinding one guard with the flash of her hair; Amyntor leaned forward in a thrust, driving another enemy back, opening his side to a guard whose spear-blade glittered as he shortened his grip for the stab. Chryse dashed as ever to a teammate's aid, aiming for the soft place beneath the guard's shoulder, and drove in her dagger, the shock of impact jolting up her arm.
It was no greater than the shock of landing when she'd caught herself on her hands, on the bull's back or the practice floor, and she held fast, twisting her blade even as hot blood spilled over her hand. The guard tried to strike her with his elbow but she curved herself out of reach, he tried to turn his spear towards her but he was already faltering, blood surging from him like a dam breaking. Chryse swung up her other dagger, all the strength of the year behind her hand, and slammed it through leather armor, flesh and bone, into his chest to the hilt.
The man's eyes bulged in his pale face, his mouth opened without sound as he sank to his knees. Chryse skipped back, wrenching her daggers free, and his life fled him in a great gout of blood as he fell upon his face at her feet, as his last breath bubbled forth and he died.
Hippolyta's low whistle of praise was better than a thousand paeans, and Chryse's face flushed with pleasure even as she rolled to hide it in the cool grass. Laughing softly, Hippolyta reached to turn her back again, one hand on her shoulder, the other capturing her wrist with careful softness. "So these gentle hands took their man," she said admiringly, gathering Chryse's hands between hers palm to palm. "But then, I ought not to wonder at the valor of a bull-girl."
'None else would credit it,' Chryse thought in bittersweet delight, thinking on how her family had enwrapped and coddled her on her return, on how Hippolyta's friendship now was like flexing long-disused wings. Instead of giving these thoughts voice, she turned her hands to wrap them round Hippolyta's, matching the Amazon's strong grasp.
Presently, Chryse said, "I found bringing forth a life a more worthwhile act than taking one."
Hippolyta's lips parted, but then she shook her head, smiling again. "So I can feel." Releasing Chryse's hands she went on, "Still, you have also fought beside your beloved. Did that bind you first, or was it dancing the bull together?"
Chryse thought on it. Amyntor had ever been her comrade of like mind, honorable and admirable; she'd relied on his strong arm and well-paced wisdom, as had they all, and thought him handsome in a distant burgeoning way. She had been young in those days, needing few kisses from her fellow maidens when the flight of a leap bore her higher than all other pleasures.
Or so it had been, until the festival on Naxos.
"Not either," Chryse said slowly. "I do not know... how much has the King told you of the rites on Dia?"
Hippolyta's lips pressed into a flat line, her nod a short head-jerk. "Some, and more by his silences."
Chryse mused a little while on the shape her tale should take. "The day we spent there unraveled some love-matches, but for Amyntor and I it was our first avowal."
Chryse leaned over the basin in the soft morning light, watching the water still until her reflection wavered into sight. Golden hair, warm ivory skin, and the jagged pink seam along her cheekbone. She had formerly been accounted beautiful, all Athens had wept when the Cretan lot fell upon her, and all the Cretans had cheered and sung her name in the bull-ring. Now Chryse looked upon her scarred face and wondered for a chill and aching moment what beauty was left her.
Then she pushed back from the basin, straightened and stood. She still had her courage and her honor, the love of those who had seen and had lived by what she could do. She was still herself, and when Pylia and Nephele came up laughing to link their arms in hers she laughed with them and danced to the feast, their joy catching in her heart like a bright flame.
So she sang with her fellow Cranes, dancing up the mountainside, drinking sweet air and sweeter wine. They danced in a blooming orchard amidst white petals like falling snow, pouring each other mouthfuls dark as blood; Chryse spun with Phormion and Theseus, kissed Thebe and Pylia, felt the festival warmth run in all her veins. Afloat on wine and exaltation, Chryse danced onwards with her friends to the sunny mountain heights where the sea met the sky and all the world glowed gold and blue; finding even brighter glints round her feet, she scooped up a handful of snow, cold and white in her hands. It melted at her touch, clear water shining as it streamed away, and she laughed, thinking, 'so brief is life, so bright, and we must catch hold of all the joy we can.'
"You sound merry, Chryse," she heard, and saw Amyntor before her, his eyes shining below his strong dark brows, his skin gleaming bronzen in the mountain sunshine. She saw herself in his eyes, her new height, her fuller breasts, her face now a woman's; 'next he will see my scar,' she thought, flushing with heat as she turned her face aside, but he reached and caught her, his strong hand gentle on her cheek, and turned her to him again.
Chryse looked up as Amyntor ran the pad of his thumb the length of her scar, end to end, his smile warm and sweet and full of desire. "Lovely Chryse." he said, his chest warm and firm beneath her hands. "Valiant as the Huntress of the Moon."
They stood now beneath the Sun, light pouring over and through them, and Chryse shook her head, pressing her face into his touch. "I would not stay ever a maiden," she told him, and when he kissed her he tasted of wine and sun-heat and all she had given but distant heed to until this moment.
At length they sank down together in the shadowed wood, dark boughs their canopy, soft dry leaf-litter their bed. Amyntor murmured low and deep, soft words like kisses, kisses like heated wine, his lips on her cheeks and throat and breasts till her pale skin flared like the dawn, fire rising in her blood. Enfolded in Amyntor's strong arms, Chryse felt a woman's pain and then the pleasure that lifted her from herself like the call of a god, like the flight over the bull; flame catching from flame, he joined her in delight, fingers cradling her scarred cheek as they kissed long and sweetly. At the last, her head resting over his heart, her hair spilled across his skin, listening to his breathing settle, Chryse smiled. Amyntor's warm hands curved to her body even as he slept, and in his hold she felt herself his now, and beautiful.
In such peace she slept, until she woke alone.
Hippolyta had taken Chryse's hand again, and now she squeezed it hearteningly. "Would you like me to thrash him?" she asked, her voice light.
Chryse's breath caught a moment; then she laughed, from her depths up to the sky. "Oh, no, thank you, no," she said at length, wiping her streaming eyes. "Oh, no, no need. Amyntor made it up to me, in the end. He made it up to me well." Not least when Phantos had sneered how fortunate she was to win a suitor with her beauty spoilt, and Amyntor had proclaimed her scar a "prize of honor", unfurling his fist with difficulty, closing it tightly round her hand.
Hippolyta nodded, laughter dancing in her eyes, and Chryse smiled wide as she went on, "Besides, as his wife should I not be honor bound to thrash you in turn?"
"You might try," said Hippolyta; they laughed as one, brows together and hands clasped, and Chryse was glad all over again, for the King, for Athens, for herself, that Theseus had brought home this bright warrior lady.
Hippolyta glanced past Chryse's shoulder even as she heard the footfall; they sat up, dusting grass-blades from their hair, watching the crest, and Amyntor peered over smiling at them before he clambered down.
"Ah, here is your man," said Hippolyta, loosing Chryse's hands to offer Amyntor a salute. He gave it back as he stood before them, soldier to soldier, then pressed fist to breast as he bowed, a noble to his queen. Hippolyta's grin flashed, and she sprang to her feet lightly as any bull-leaper might have. "Shall we return to mine?"
Hippolyta was off then, up the ridge too fast to follow, not that Chryse was in any haste. She gave Amyntor her hands and he pulled her up into his arms. "A good hunt?" he asked cheerily.
"Oh, yes, our kills shall feed all the palace." Chryse smiled as he laughed, laying her head on his shoulder.
"Well done, then." Amyntor set his hand softly on her cheek, his thumb brushing gently along her scar. "Well done, my valiant wife."