The first time I remember entering Amazon land, I was twenty years old. My name was slowly spreading outside the provinces of Rome, gaining notoriety as I conquered territory after territory for my empire. At the time, I was Livia, the future wife of Augustus Caesar and fierce commander for the country of Italia. My countries' people called me the Bitch of Rome. The Amazons were soon to find out why.
As the commander of the Roman army, I was tasked with not only protecting Rome and her people, but preserving Roman values. This meant destroying any citizen who dared oppose Roman principles, and imposing those same principles onto any and every neighboring nation. As the adopted daughter and future wife of the emperor, Roman principles meant appeasing me personally. Any religious group that didn’t believe in or respect the power of my gods, I found ways to persecute their practices, making their entire belief systems practically forbidden. Any political movement that grew to oppose my power, I threatened or assassinated their leaders, until all that was left was a nation of citizens too fearful of me and my emperor to dissent our rule. When I wasn’t oppressing my own people, my army was capturing land and overthrowing non-Roman governments. Soon, I thought, being Empress of Rome would mean being Empress of the world.
As the territory for my empire grew, the name Livia infected all those who heard it with the fear of my young and reckless cruelty. I didn’t always kill for capital gain, or even for my empire. I killed to protect my ego and secure my legacy. If someone posed a threat to me, disrespected or challenged me somehow, I would slash their throat like Zeus throwing lightning onto a cockroach. I lived for that look in someone’s eye as they realized the last thing they were going to see in their entire life was my unconquerable body standing above them, smiling and wiping my blade. As other leaders of the Empire drank wine and partied in the name of Bacchus, I got drunk off the fear of others and devoted myself to Ares, the God of War, in every way I could.
The military training I received as the child of a Roman leader gave me an edge over other young soldiers in the Empire. I was a killing machine before I ever reached adulthood, and my physical vigor paired with my still naive head quickly made me an object of interest among older, more powerful men, including even the man who raised me and the God of War, himself. I considered it a sort of fun chore to entertain both men, enjoying the power and influence my associations with them offered. As my relationship with Ares grew, however, his power and influence over me grew beyond what I could have ever imagined. I worshipped him, his wisdom, his power, and his seeming care for me. Ares was my lover, mentor, and protector. When he suggested enslaving a powerful tribe of Amazons, any moral concerns I had over killing without cause was pushed aside to follow my God whichever way he led me. Enslaving the Amazons, Ares told me, would let me “watch the name Livia spread all over the world.” The thought was intoxicating. Even more intoxicating was knowing that the great God of War was helping me spread my name, aiding in my quest to become one of the most feared women in history. So I gathered my troops and marched into Amazon territory.
The Amazon sisters were the first people I killed in absolute cold blood. In all my acts of oppression on my homeland, I had never murdered without some noteworthy threat from my victim, either physical danger or the risk of losing the respect of my empire. The Amazons posed no peril to Rome nor to myself, and there was nothing to be gained by occupying their land. Before becoming a commander, I had always respected the Amazon Nation. Between my time with Roman politicians and the Roman military, I would be lying if I said I never spent a night wishing I had been born with Amazonian blood and raised in a sisterhood of warrior women, instead of an empire of male dominance.
The Amazons were far from the last of the innocent lives I took, but my crimes against them haunt me more with each passing day. There are only a few moments in one’s life that determine who they grow into being. My entrance onto Amazon land that day thrusted me onto a path of utter wickedness, one I only recently walked from.
After a brutal attack on the Amazons’ home land, I captured almost half the sisters of that tribe and brought them onto my ship. The esteemed warlord, Gurkhan, was known for taking women as wives against their will, especially women and girls deemed to be “exotic” and rare. I sailed to North Africa hoping he would be my highest bidder. The amazons turned out not to be the type of exotic Gurkhan or any of his slave-holding cohorts desired. They were too fierce, too strong-willed. They weren’t suitably domestic for the taste of rich and powerful men. When I went to auction them off, the sisters spat in the faces of their bidders. They cursed at any man who looked lower than their necks and swore the wrath of Artemis onto any who dared touch them. Every bid was withdrawn. I couldn’t make a single profit.
The men began laughing at me; told me I knew nothing about what a man looks for in a wife. “I can show you what makes a good bride,” one old, drunk voice whispered over my shoulder. I’ll never forget the feeling of his dry, cracked hand pushing under my breastplate onto the skin of my breast. I elbowed him in the face before he could get his fingers to my nipple, but other men looked to me in similar sentiments.
I left the market in a rage, stopping only to punch a few slave-traders as they jokingly reached for my body, slurring things like “I’ll put an auction on you any day, sweetheart.” Ares laughed as I brought the Amazons back onto my ship.
“No takers, huh?”
I didn’t look at him as I yanked the Amazons back on board by their shackles.
“Oh you’re not mad at me, are you?” He chuckled.
“This was your idea,” I said, then ordered my soldiers to sail forward.
“Don’t blame me because you’re no good at making a sale,” he said.
“There was no way to convince them,” I said. “They wanted nothing to do with Amazons. They want women they can break and overpower. They’re sick and perverted. They’re-”
“Men?” Ares said, laughing again. “What did you expect? You want to rule this entire world and you can’t even handle a room full of rich drunks thinking with their dicks? Get a hold of yourself, Livia.”
He snapped his fingers and was gone from the ship, disappearing before I could defend myself or accuse him of misleading me. As we travelled out of the region, I made the coldest decision of my life up until that point. I was worse than a self-serving, power-hungry commander.
I threw the Amazons overboard my ship, their shackles still clasped over their hands and feet. The screams lasted only a few moments before being muffled by the deep waters of the Mediterranean. For the first time since I was a child, I felt no pride or contentment in conquering a fierce opponent. The Amazons had been no threat to me, and there was no dignity in taking the lives of women bound in chains. But for the first time, I also felt no guilt or sadness in the murder of defenseless victims. I made the decision to turn away fully from whatever compassion and mercy still lived inside me. From that day forward, I left any remnants of a moral conscience behind as I turned my attention to the search for absolute power. This is what turned me into a monster.
Almost nine years have passed since that unforgivable incident, and I’ve spent the last two trying to atone for all of my wicked misdeeds. The Amazons have shown me mercy in the two trips I’ve made onto their land since. Theirs and many others’ ability to forgive my inexcusable past has made my path toward goodness and peace possible. There only two people who have helped me more: Eli, my one God, and Xena, my mother. Like me, my mother choose a path of light and love only after overcoming darkness and crushing guilt. Her patience and love for me brought me into the light of God and away from the sins of my past. Though she is now gone, I know her memory will stay with me always.
Two years later, I was on my way back to Amazon land, traveling with Gabrielle, my mother’s faithful partner. Looking at her, I was reminded of all the good my mother had done for this world. Before meeting Xena, Gabrielle was a young, naive village girl, writing fictitious tales of adventure in her hometown of Potidaea, wishing she could have stories of her own. After years with my mother, she did, and many at that. The scrolls Gabrielle wrote of their time together were so near and dear to my heart. Having spent the first 25 years of my life without my mother, reading stories of her adventures inspired me on my own path when I felt so lost.
Gabrielle was also inspiring to me. She was no longer just a young poet from Potidaea. She was a strong, brave, and wise warrior herself, taking all the lessons she learned from my mother and using them to help others. Even with her many experiences in violence and war, she was a beacon of light and hope, always believing in the good of man and the power of peace. It was no wonder she was one of the first disciples of my God. Without Gabrielle as well, I’m sure my path into the light of Eli would not have been possible.
“She would be so proud of you, you know,” I said to her. She forced a small smile and looked to me with unconvinced eyes.
“Thanks, Eve,” she said. “Just wish she could be the one to tell me that.”
For a while after her death, the ghost of my mother stayed beside Gabrielle, coaching her through battles and keeping her company at night while she dealt with her newfound loneliness. Gabrielle said it was the only thing that put her at ease with Xena’s passing. As time went on, she was visited by Xena’s spirit less and less, hearing her only when she desperately needed encouragement. One night, she heard a soft voice whisper, “Thank you,” as she drifted to sleep. It was the last time she heard my mother.
By the time Gabrielle found me traveling in the East, her spirit was hollow. I saw her from across a village in Samje, but I knew even from far away that she was barely hanging on. Her head sunk low, her shoulders slouched, and as she came closer, I could see the area beneath her eyes had darkened like someone was draining the light from her.
I had known weeks before of my mother’s passing. My eastern journey as the Messenger of Eli started in Chin, a land not far from Jappa, where my mother was killed. Along with the news that Xena had been beheaded in battle, something that pompous warlords loved to laugh over in taverns, I heard legends of a new warrior, The Battling Bard of Potidaea, who had inherited the chakram of the Warrior Princess and continued her fight for the greater good. Gabrielle was being heralded as a hero, one that brought hope to those in need of a brighter and more just future. Though I missed my mother greatly, I knew her memory would live on as long as people like Gabrielle were around to inspire others with her greatness and bravery. When I realized Gabrielle’s own light had begun to dim, I knew she couldn’t continue on her journey as she had been; so I joined her on a trip back to Greece where she could rejoin the Amazon nation and settle in as their Queen.
As we walked toward camp, I looked to Gabrielle. Physically, she was stronger than I had ever seen her. The months after Xena’s death had propelled her into a life of even harder fighting. Without my mother around to take out tougher enemies, Gabrielle was left to handle every nasty warlord and criminal on her own. This forced her to get tougher, faster, and more determined than ever before. I imagine, as well, that Xena’s death pushed her into fighting more frequently. I know a thing or two about using battle as a distraction from your own thoughts and pain, and I could see so much pain in her.
But underneath her hardened muscle, there was a woman breaking apart in mourning. The once spirited bard, hungry for enlightenment and eager to share a human connection with anyone, now walked through life half alive, barely making it from battle to battle. In our entire journey from Samje back to Greece, I seldom heard Gabrielle speak about anything more than how far we were from our destination and where our next stop should be.
“She’s with you, Gabrielle,” I said as we walked onto the border of Amazon lands. “I know it.”
I didn’t know it, but I knew Gabrielle needed something to hold onto as she journeyed into her new life without her best friend. I also knew that I couldn’t stay long to settle her once we reached the Amazon camp. While my crimes against the Amazons had been forgiven, and I was no longer banished from their lands, my presence among them was not in favor of much of the sisterhood. I could be pardoned for every crime I had ever committed, change my name from Livia to Eve, but I could never fully wash away the blood that stained my hands or heal the pain I’ve caused. Coming onto Amazon lands, expecting the women to look into my eyes and remember how I once nearly destroyed their proud nation, would just be waking trauma best left asleep.
As we walked further, I allowed my head to fall lower, looking only to the ground as we pushed toward camp. Keeping a low profile, I thought, would be the most respectful thing I could do. Bring Gabrielle into the camp, ensure that she’s well and safe, then leave before bringing attention to myself. Perhaps I would make a visit to one Amazon, the one who pardoned me from execution, to express my undying gratitude. No matter how far from Greece and Rome I travelled, she was on my mind always, both for the shame and guilt I felt, and the respect I held for her willingness to forgive.
“Eve, look,” Gabrielle said after a few moments. I brought my head up, thinking we were close enough to see some of the huts of the village or maybe a few Amazons hunting. What I saw was smoke reaching high into the sky, above the trees and coming from directly ahead of us, in the Amazon village. A second later I began to smell it.
“C’mon,” she said.
Gabrielle began sprinting ahead and I followed. I couldn’t imagine what was going through her head now. The Amazons were a family to both Gabrielle and my mother, but they were constantly under attack from warlords, empires, or bratty wannabe-empresses seeking power and fame. A fire could have erupted at the Amazon village for any number of reasons, ranging from a brutal attack to some planned ritual. I knew that Gabrielle’s swift sprint toward the camp didn’t mean the Amazons were surely in danger, but Gabrielle couldn’t risk it. She had lost Xena, she wouldn’t lose her sisters, too.
As we ran up to camp, it was obvious no devastating attack had taken place throughout the village. The buildings and homes of the Amazons stood sturdy and undamaged, though no Amazons could be seen in or around them.
Gabrielle stopped running and looked around.
“It doesn’t look like there's an attack,” I said.
“No,” Gabrielle said, turning her head from left to right, hoping to see some sign of life among the huts. “But where is everyone?”
“It’s probably some Amazon ritual,” I said. “Those can involve fire sometimes, right? Why don’t we go check the village center.”
Gabrielle nodded. I hoped she would realize her fears were irrational, and that there was no reason to become overwhelmed with worries; but she grabbed her sias from her boots and clutched them tightly before walking further through the village.
On our way through the deserted-looking camp, the smell of smoke became stronger. I knew the smell well, though it was always hard to describe. It was like a mixture of feces, rotting meat, and a sweet perfume. Since I was nineteen, I had never been able to get this smell completely out of my nose. It was always hiding there, tightly clinging to the hairs of my nostrils, just in case I ever forgot.
I looked to Gabrielle as we entered the center of the village. Her eyes welled up with tears as she dropped her sais and cradled her head. Ahead of us, the Amazons stood circled around a burning pile of their sisters, watching as the smoke blackened the sky above them.