The field is dark under a deadly rain of arrows.
Sweeping in from the east, the avenging Amazons have fallen now upon Sestos on the banks of the Hellespont where Hero's kin threw her to the rocks.
Antiope holds her bronze shield high over her head as she cuts down her opponents with an unmatched savagery. In the packed melee, her comrades on the hill above the battle are as likely to strike friend as they are foe.
If she were general, they would have ceased fire and joined the fray when the phalanx broke. But she is not general. Not yet.
So Antiope grits her teeth and she fights on.
Her sword is coated in gore and it's sticky in her hand. Plunging into the chest of a man, it catches on something, maybe bone.
Snarling, Antiope plants one foot on the dying man's chest to brace as she rips her weapon free. Not yet resigned to death, he scrambles, bloody hands weakly grasping at the blade. A dull impact against her shield suggests that, meanwhile, she has avoided once more meeting an unfortunate end by way of friendly fire.
A scream – a battlecry – catches her attention, just in time for her to step aside, a bronze-tipped spear narrowly missing her throat. The spear keeps going, keeps going until it impales a man approaching behind her, an enemy almost upon her.
The owner of the spear is a woman, a fellow Amazon filthy from carnage, with a squarish jaw and dark hair and bright eyes. Her armor might be red leather, or it might just be covered in blood. It's hard to tell.
"You could have killed me!" Antiope snaps at the most beautiful woman she's ever met.
"You're welcome," Menalippe shouts as she tears her spear out of the dead man's corpse and turns again towards the enemy.
  
'You could have killed me.'
Antiope spends subsequent weeks worrying there was actually nothing in the world stupider that she could have said.
  
Standing next to her sister in the shade of the colonnade beside the palestra, Hippolyta wonders not for the first time why bravery in battle comes to Antiope so much easier than bravery anywhere else. The way she cowers in the shadows of the training yard, it's almost as if she doesn't want to be seen.
Antiope will simply have to get over this. Queen-general Otrera has already named Hippolyta her successor in the crown. Antiope is a fast-rising star on the field and most expect her to succeed Otrera in command.
Hippolyta will not have a general who is wont to cower. And, as future queen, it is Hippolyta's solemn sovereign and sisterly duty to apply her wits and help her poor sibling.
"You could try talking to her," Hippolyta suggests. She shifts, chasing some vain hope of a breeze slightly to her left. They're both wearing light practice leathers. Hippolyta doesn't like it. It's hot, she's sweaty, leather chafes. She prefers robes.
The fire that fills Antiope when she's reaping men pales in comparison to the white-hot blaze that blanks her mind when she watches Menalippe train, lithe body flowing through martial forms. And so, when she replies, "I can't," she really does mean it.
Hippolyta rolls her eyes so loudly Antiope can hear it even without looking at her. "Then go train with her," the queen-to-be says. "You're the best warrior we have. You can use your body, even if your mouth doesn't work."
This gets Antiope's attention. She turns away from the palestra to inspect her sister. "That's not a very queenly thing to say."
Hippolyta's face flushes. She hadn't noticed her poor choice of words. "Well," she begins, "Hiding over here isn't the behavior of a general." She gives Antiope a light push towards the sunlit exercise yard. "Go!"
  
Menalippe knows the moment Antiope steps out onto the packed earth of the palestra, even though she's facing away from the future general. Antiope has chosen the pause between forms, when Menalippe is at rest.
She's known for a while this moment would come. Hermes has blessed her with the Sight. This moment? She has Seen it.
And oh has she been waiting. She has been waiting for Antiope even before she met her at the battle of Sestos. She met the golden general in her dreams long before then.
That she Saw this moment so long ago doesn't do anything to slow the frantic pounding of her heart in her chest.
She turns, trying not to rush. All things will come. That's the nature of the world. And she's Seen that they'll have time and time enough.
She rushes anyway. The words tumble out of her mouth, words she knew she'd say a year ago, even before she spent a year planning them. What she didn't plan, what she didn't really notice when she Saw this moment is the smile stretching across her face. "Took you long enough."
Antiope smiles back. Though her smile is hesitant, awkward even, it is radiant, brighter, if Menalippe would be so bold, than Aphrodite's.
(She, of course, keeps this heresy to herself. Aphrodite is a jealous mistress.)
Knowing that the woman before her, her general, her future general, Antiope, her Antiope is tongue-tied, Menalippe offers, "Spar with me?"
Antiope answers not with words but with a nod. For the time being, it's her way.
  
Though she doesn't much control her visions, Menalippe has done her best not to dwell too much on the ones that find her and Antiope entwined.
Considering the situation, it hasn't felt terribly polite. Or honest?
Dreams are one thing. Seeing the future is somewhat different.
So she tries to tamp down on those particular visions and she waits.
Thankfully, it's not too long after Antiope musters up her courage to approach Menalippe in the palestra that she also musters up her courage to show Menalippe how little politeness matters to her in bed.
Menalippe takes this as permission to indulge and Antiope takes Menalippe's smug grin during particularly boring council meetings as an invitation to truancy.
(Antiope has far more experience than Menalippe in this. Already having Seen how much Antiope would enjoy teaching her body to her, Menalippe has never expressed much interest in anyone else. It's a queer thing, living life in the present).
  
Hippolyta grows incredibly bored of listening to Antiope brag about how well her mouth works.
  
When Otrera falls assaulting the walls of Laurium with all its wretched mines, Antiope and Menalippe are there, fighting back to back to defend their queen's body. Antiope fights with shield and sword and Menalippe holds their foes at bay with her flashing spear.
Otrera was as a mother to Antiope. To Hippolyta. To all their people.
It was golden Otrera who first lead them from their birthplace at the mouth of the Thermadon on the banks of the Axeinos. She took her people, her Amazons, shaped from clay and animated with the lost souls of the murdered, west. She gave them purpose for their second lives. She forged them into a scourge upon men. She lead them. She protected them.
She avenged them.
Screaming, Antiope plunges her sword into the skull of an Athenian soldier. It slides through the gap in his helmet left for his eyes and then stabs out the back of his head, parting bone and bronze. She rips it free and turns it upon another unlucky foe.
She will slaughter them all.
Beside her, Menalippe moves with an effortless grace, ducking, spinning, lashing out, killing.
The fury that Antiope feels in her breast is no less than the rage that Menalippe exacts on the men who come to cut them down.
When the battle is done, when the armies have parted and the dead are being counted, Antiope kneels over her queen. Her hands are empty, sword and shield having fallen from their limp grasp. She has no strength left for arms.
Menalippe kneels beside her.
Menalippe sets an arm around Antiope's shoulders.
"She will be remembered," Menalippe says. "She will be remembered as a great queen and a great mother."
Antiope's lips are dry. She has not had water since the battle began so long ago. Her head rings with exhaustion and dehydration. She has no tears in her, but her voice breaks as she speaks. "How do you know?" she asks. "Have you Seen it?"
Gentle, Menalippe pulls Antiope towards her, so that Antiope now rests against her shoulder. She has not Seen what will become of Otrera's body, or of her legacy, but she has Seen this moment and so she knows what she must say. "You will remember her."
  
At Hippolyta's behest, Antiope leads the Amazons rampaging all across Achaea and Elis and Arcadia and then storming down into Laconia.
It is a successful campaign, to say the least. By the time they reach the barracks of the Spartan slavers, they are rich with the spoils of war and glutted on the burning life that is battle.
  
Hippolyta is Queen of the Amazons and Antiope is her general.
Watching Antiope fret, pacing back and forth in the courtyard of the Lakedaimonian palace, Hippolyta wonders if perhaps they've gotten the roles wrong. For all the contemplation that her sister engages in, Hippolyta thinks Antiope quite queenly. Or, she would if she didn't know what Antiope so fretted about.
"She's waiting for you, I'm sure," Hippolyta offers. Seated on the low wall of the courtyard cistern, she is, in a word, regal. Her lavender chiton shimmers in the evening light and her hair shines like gold. She drags her fingertips lightly across the watery surface of the pool and she watches the ripples spread.
"She's always waiting," Antiope says, turning on her heel and pacing back the way she just came. Her boots tramp aggressively against the stone pavement. "That's what happens when you See the future."
"She might appreciate not being kept waiting quite so long," Hippolyta says in reply. Nearly full, Selene is bright far overhead. It would be a lovely night if Antiope's fussing weren't so loud.
Reaching the end of her track, Antiope is all a clatter of bronze as she turns back around again.
"Probably," Antiope grunts.
Hippolyta sighs a sigh heavy with the disappointment of a monarch. She knows that that's as much as she'll get from her sister – and, she thinks, she has more pressing matters to attend to than Antiope's completely unwarranted anxiety.
  
The wedding goes as smooth as any great event ever did.
Menalippe plans everything. She's been Seeing and she's been planning the day for a long time before Antiope rolls over in their bed one morning and asks, voice heavy with sleep, if Menalippe will be her wife.
Menalippe picks a day when it will not rain. She plots the marriage procession's path such that it avoids the broken oxcart blocking the main road through Corinth. She arranges for exactly enough food to fill their guests and to feed the alms-askers come to their feast.
Marriage among the Amazons is not unheard of, but it is not so common that the rituals form a well-worn course.
The both of them offer sacrifice to the gods together. They give two great bulls. Pungent smoke rises from the bloody altar to the heavens. They ask each of the Five, the goddesses who gave life to their people, to bless them and their union.
They do not cut their hair. Neither of them has been a virgin for some time. Aphrodite is, after all, one of the Five.
They bathe separately but they walk together to Hippolyta's house. Their sisters sing to them and their Queen wishes them well.
When they go to bed, they find that gamos has changed little. Menalippe's mouth is hot on Antiope's neck, her breasts, her fingers, her everything – and Antiope's hands travel her wife's body, well-mapped terrain, and her fingers find Menalippe's center and she labors to make up for causing her love to wait for so long.
  
Hippolyta orders the smith Pallas to forge a crown and then she gives it to Antiope to give to her bride.
It is a work of art, gleaming steel and bronze and gold shaped to evoke the crown that Antiope wears as Hippolyta's sister and general. It is strong and it is delicate and it is almost as beautiful, in Antiope's view, as its intended recipient. It matches, as well, Menalippe's armor.
There is awe in Menalippe's eyes when Antiope presents the crown to her.
"You've Seen it before," Antiope says, tone made light by her wife's joy. Wearing a light green chiton, she is kneeling on the white flagstones of their courtyard. It's nearly midday, but they are cool in the shade of the main house. Kneeling in a courtyard seemed the proper way to give such a gift. Sometimes, though never in front of anyone but her wife, Antiope is prone to dramatic whims.
"To See isn't to feel," Menalippe replies. "Will you put it on for me?"
Antiope obliges her wife's request, and then she obliges her wife a great many other ways.
  
Shaped from clay the Amazons are long-lived but not timeless. Years pass and Antiope and Menalippe and Hippolyta and the rest age in the world of men.
But this is good, Antiope thinks.
She would like someday to be old with her wife.
Laugh lines, subtle, have made their mark on Menalippe's face now. In time, they'll deepen and she'll be all the more beautiful for them.
  
The war of the gods comes and it goes.
Hippolyta gathers their people. It is time, she says, to leave men to their world. Crown on her head and half-god daughter cradled in her arms, she leads them to great ships on the Argolic shore.
Hippolyta strides across the long pier that bridges land and sea. She crosses a gangway onto one of the ships in the fleet that will take them to a land made for them by Zeus. To hide them. To protect them.
Her Amazons follow her, carrying their possessions on their backs, keepsakes of the world of men. Their bronze armor glitters in the morning sun as they take their places at the oars.
The air smells of salt and warm seaweed.
Antiope would stay. She burns to stay.
This world, this world of men, is the only world she has ever known. It is full of life and of fire and of laughter and of sorrow. It is a world of violence and of peace. It is a world of sharp joys and ever-changing fortunes. The static paradise that Hippolyta promises sounds like no paradise at all to Antiope's warlike soul.
There are many among the Amazons who feel the same.
There are other lands. There are other gods. Artemis suggests the lords of the shifting sands to the south would take them, surely. Penthesilea says the men of Troy would welcome their arms. Camilla suggests the far-off Latins would not scorn martial aid.
But in the end, these Amazons who would remain in the world of men turn to Antiope, to their general, as they linger on the shore.
And Antiope would remain. But.
Menalippe stands on Hippolyta's ship. Dressed in her red leathers, she stands waiting.
Antiope shoulders the pack of her belongings and takes herself out along the creaking wood pier and across the gangway to join her wife. The others follow her.
That night, as the waves rock their ship, Antiope and her wife lie side by side on the deck. It is summer and the air is thick and warm. "You've seen something," Antiope murmurs.
Menalippe's answer is soft but heavy with the weight of a thousand years. "Yes."
The pain in Menalippe's voice – it's like nothing Antiope has ever heard from her love and it scares her. It makes her hold Menalippe tight, to protect her, yes, but also in fear.
Whatever Menalippe has seen, it has hurt her, will hurt her, and Antiope can do nothing to stop it except follow in her wife's wake, offering of herself.
  
When the island - Themyscira - breaks the horizon, Antiope thinks that she has never before seen a more beautiful prison.
When the Amazons have all gathered on the beach, Hippolyta orders the ships burned.
  
Some nights, Menalippe does not sleep well.
And so, Antiope does not sleep.
Antiope feels her wife tossing and turning, cold sweat beading on her brow, body tense with what Antiope recognizes as fear. The sheets twist around her, trying to bind her down until she kicks them away.
A hundred years ago (two hundred? three hundred?), Antiope learned that, press as she might, she can neither cajole nor force stoic Menalippe to share whatever haunts her dreams.
All she can do is pad quietly to the windows of their small bedroom and open them to let in a cool sea-breeze in hopes it will offer some comfort that she herself cannot. And then she returns herself to bed and tries to hold her wife, to give some reassurance by touch.
The dreams began even before they departed for Themyscira, but, still, Antiope blames this false paradise. In this place there is nothing to take Menalippe's mind off of whatever it is that she Sees. There are no battles here, only endless training. Out of boredom, the Amazons who still would be warriors spend their time developing increasingly elaborate combat tricks, far beyond anything that, in Antiope's opinion, will ever be practical.
In the endless training, Antiope finds purpose. Without the training, or without Menalippe, she would have nothing in this false paradise.
War will one day come. (She tells herself this to keep some sanity in the bleak world of Themyscira). She must not become soft. She must remain vigilant. If her watch is a hundred years, then so be it. If her watch is a thousand years, then so be it. If her watch is eternal – if her watch is eternal then she will rejoice at eternity's end.
Her watch is not without purpose.
This, Menalippe has promised her.
A promise, in turn, is nothing without faith.
Antiope has faith.
Antiope trusts Menalippe with her life. If she should die walking a path Menalippe has chosen for them, then she knows she'll die well and she'll be able to hold her head high in Hades.
But in the interim, if Menalippe thinks that she shields Antiope from whatever darkness it is that she Sees, then, well, she doesn't.
Antiope holds her wife as her wife dreams of the future and Antiope knows that something is coming.
  
It is Menalippe who pushes Antiope to train their niece.
"You must," Menalippe says. She says it urgent but soft, for they are leaving the palace and Hippolyta's hearing is especially keen when her daughter's fate is at issue. Even crossing the white marble plaza at the base of the great staircase up to the queen's seat seems almost too close. But the iron is hot now and so Menalippe must strike. She has only so much sway with her general against the commands of Hippolyta.
Before the potent combination of blood and duty, even gamos falters. And to change the mind of one who has lived so long is no easy task. It will likely be the work of years.
When Antiope scowls, she looks just like her sister. It's the flint in her eyes, the set of her jaw, the way her nose scrunches slightly. "I must not," she says. Her voice is not soft. But she doesn't follow her parry with a riposte and she issues no order to end the conversation.
So the door is still open.
They turn a corner, leaving the open plaza for a broad street. Their leather boots, reinforced with bronze, clang against the stone pavement. Menalippe's cloak whispers about her. No one looks up from their daily work at their passing. War has never touched Themyscira's shores, but warriors are a common sight in every precinct.
By right, in any procession Antiope should precede all but her sister.
Menalippe strides forward, setting the course and setting the pace. The street is no place for what must be said and the iron is cooling. She must hurry and she must blow life into the coals. "She has been a child for a thousand years," Menalippe says. "She cannot remain a child forever." Farther now from the palace, her voice is sharp.
Antiope says nothing but to her wife, that nothing sounds like very loud brooding. Deafening, really.
They turn another corner, then another, then another – they keep walking, keep winding their way through the white city of Themyscira until they come to a familiar door. Clean wood planks and functional brass bindings, the door's only ornament is a crudely drawn picture of a warrior killing a hydra. It sits at knee height for an adult, which is to say, it sits within perfect finger-painting reach for a child.
Hippolyta, queen, lives surrounded by gold and the trappings of splendor.
Antiope, general, lives reasonably. The house she shares with her wife has but three rooms. One room is for eating and for greeting visitors. One room is for them. The last room is for all their armor and weapons.
Within, Antiope goes to her favorite seat at their small table. There, she collapses in a clatter of bronze. She sets her elbows on the table and props her chin on her fists. She continues her thunderous brooding.
Menalippe takes two goblets from their pantry and fills them with watered wine. She puts one before her wife and the other she keeps for herself as she sits down beside Antiope at the small table.
Neither of them drink.
"You've Seen something," Antiope says.
It wasn't a question, so Menalippe doesn't answer.
Antiope rubs her fingers against the cool bronze of her goblet. The metal is smooth, dipping and rising according to the blows of the hammer that made it. One side shines, reflecting the light of the afternoon sun streaming through the open window. "Hippolyta is her mother," Antiope says. "Hippolyta should train her. When she decides Diana is ready."
Menalippe crosses her arms and leans back in her chair. Like Antiope, she stares at her undrunk wine instead of her wife. "Hippolyta doesn't have the heart," Menalippe says. "She isn't strong enough for this task. It must be you."
Antiope's sigh seems to go on forever because she is stalling. She takes her crown, pulling it carefully free from her hair, and sets it down on the table. She slips calloused fingers into her hair, running them along her scalp from her forehead to her braid. The result is a mess. It's rare, though, that her hair isn't a mess. She lives as much on the training grounds as she does in their house. Finally, she grunts. "Maybe."
That, Menalippe knows, is quite a lot of ground to give and it will be the most ground Antiope will give today. And so, Menalippe returns to waiting.
  
When she was young, before the Amazons departed for Themyscira, Menalippe thought that her visions were a blessing. All Cassandra's foreknowledge and none of her curse.
The visions are not a blessing.
Where Cassandra's words fell on deaf ears, Menalippe says nothing.
It's better this way, she thinks. She hopes. She tells herself she believes.
She trains, every day, and she trains others. To the Amazons who would call themselves warriors still, sweat is as a second skin. They push themselves relentlessly day in and day out, going through the motions of war but rarely spilling blood. Should an Amazon fall, there will be no more.
Some things, Menalippe has found, she can change. Years ago, in man's world, she could foretell bad weather and ambushes and avoid rockslides in the mountains.
Here in timeless Themyscira, she can do far less.
But if it's possible to change the future she sees now, she will find a way.
  
No campaign is ever won in a day.
Antiope is resolved not to be conquered in a day either.
She's already failed, somewhat, however. To go into battle thinking that one will lose is to have already lost. And oh does she know that she will lose against her wife.
She trusts Menalippe to steer her right. And that trust sabotages all her resistance.
She's the one who brings the matter up again some years later.
They sit together in their weapons room, oiling their armor. The scent of metal is a familiar comfort as Antiope forges onto uncertain ground. "We don't have any weapons on this island small enough for a child," she says.
"Not even your sister has given an excuse with so little merit," Menalippe replies.
"We could live here in peace forever," Antiope offers. She sets down the pair of greaves she has finished with and lifts up her favorite shield. It is not her favorite because it is her sturdiest or her lightest or her most decorated. It is her favorite because its dented face has saved her life more times than she can count. No shield made for her in Themyscira can lay claim to such a legacy.
"In man's world, Rome is falling," Menalippe says.
Antiope's brow furrows. She picks up her oil cloth and rubs at some dirt. "Rome?"
"When we left, it was a village on a single hill," Menalippe replies. "And then it was the largest empire the world had ever seen. And now it is falling."
"Men," is all Antiope has to say to that. She tries to sound dismissive, but, even if she doesn't understand its origin, Menalippe's worry is her own. "They are weak. They are petty. Greedy. Violent." Since she can't mask her worry with dismissal, she tries anger.
Menalippe reaches out and clasps Antiope's forearm. "That's what He said."
Antiope doesn't pull away, but she does shift her weight in her seat. "So did Otrera," she murmurs. She changes the subject inelegantly. "And you'd have me train Diana for what end? So that she can go out into their world and be like them? Die? Like them?"
Menalippe lets go of Antiope's arm and returns to her work on one of her spears. "Mortals die," she says softly. "Diana is not a mortal."
"Neither are we," Antiope says.
Menalippe's silence is decidedly uncomfortable.
  
It's a morning after one of Menalippe's bad nights.
Antiope has dark circles under her eyes.
On the horizon, the sun is rising.
Antiope hasn't slept all night. Menalippe is waking.
Antiope turns so that her chest is against Menalippe's back and she can wrap her arms around her wife. "Do you want me to train Diana?" Antiope asks.
It takes Menalippe a very long time to answer. And when she does, the answer is quiet, "No."
"Must I train Diana?" Antiope asks.
This answer comes faster and, though quiet as well, Menalippe speaks it with conviction. "Yes."
Antiope has been planning her words all night. But still she hesitates.
Menalippe lets her have her time.
They're on Themyscira. They have all the time in the world.
"If I train Diana, will you tell me what scares you?"
  
Antiope knows it's not fair to her niece that she's so angry as she shows the girl how to move, how to hold a sword, how to fight.
But it's not fair that Antiope will never grow old with her wife.
Life isn't fair.
Antiope smacks the sword out of Diana's hand. "Don't doubt!" she shouts.
In Diana's eyes, there's fire. There's anger. But it's the anger of determination. The will to succeed. It's not anger at Antiope, just as Antiope's anger is not for Diana.
Antiope's anger is for the world. Is for the gods. Is for the dead gods. Is for the dead gods whose curse so haunts Menalippe even a thousand years after their temples have crumbled to ruins and to nothing.
Diana gets up and tries to find her guard again.
Antiope sweeps her feet out from under her.
"You must be stronger," Antiope snaps.
She doesn't know if she's talking to Diana or to herself.
  
Hippolyta's horror upon finding her daughter training with her sister is far too visceral for Antiope's tastes.
It reifies what she would rather remain an abstract dread.
Antiope argues her case well. Far too well for her own liking.
And when regal Hippolyta relents, another piece of Antiope's heart breaks.
She does not tell Hippolyta of her wife's prophecy. She would prefer to spare her sister from the slow death that haunts her. A part of her wishes that Menalippe had continued to spare her as well. But they are stronger together and she cannot stand that her love bore the burden alone for so long.
  
Diana grows older.
The visions grow more insistent.
What time Antiope does not spend training Diana, Menalippe takes for herself.
In all their years, the living ones in the world of men and the ageless ones of Themyscira, she has never kissed her wife with such desperation.
  
Antiope strikes Diana's crossed bracelets and the resulting blast sends her flying.
Menalippe is by her side in a second.
No no no no no-
"Be still, you're bleeding," Menalippe says. Her voice is hollow. Wooden. She's heard herself say these words a thousand times. She says them now against her will.
"Diana!" Antiope shouts.
No no no no no it's all going so fast it's all out of control-
  
Antiope sees it in her wife's eyes.
Numb, she pushes herself up off the ground. "Battle positions, everyone," she shouts. "The eastern gate!"
Even as all the other Amazons scramble for weapons and horses, unquestioningly obeying their general, Menalippe stays by Antiope's side.
In an instant, Hippolyta is there, eyes filled with anger. "You Saw something," she says. Her voice is carefully controlled fury. She's ignoring Antiope, focusing entirely on her sister-in-law. "You Saw something important and you didn't tell me. Your Queen."
Menalippe's jaw is set stubbornly, but she says nothing.
"What have you been hiding?" Hippolyta demands. She advances now, closing fast.
Menalippe doesn't need Antiope's protection, but Antiope steps between them anyway. Menalippe, she knows, will grant her this last chance to love. "It's better that you didn't know," she says.
This does nothing to blunt Hippolyta's rage. "We'll speak when this is over," she snaps.
"Of course," Antiope lies.
As Hippolyta storms off the field, Menalippe steps forward, nearer to her wife.
They have so little time left. So Menalippe doesn't wait. She's done waiting.
She kisses her Antiope.
They had thousands of years and it wasn't enough time.
They could have a thousand more, and it still wouldn't be enough.
Nothing would ever have been enough.