The smell of death and decay filled the air as those who were cut down in battle slowly began to bake in the hot summer’s sun. Blood covered the village clearing, staining the dirt a deep crimson as it tainted a place that used to hold so many warm and pleasant memories. Now, all it would ever hold was despair. It stuck in their throat and made them choke on their hope, and as a young Amazon of barely sixteen winters finally began to rejoin the wakening world, she found the stench and taste of it unbearable.
The girl squinted against the harsh light of day as her eyes began to focus on an Amazon who cried out as she was backhanded in the face. The blow brought her to her knees and she was spit on, jeered at. Varia’s stomach began to grow sick with fear as a terrifying woman bathed in red barked orders at her army of soldiers, screaming at them to watch the faces. ‘Auction’ was the only word that Varia heard, her blood beginning to pump loudly in her ears as she slowly rose to her feet.
She was terrified. It was her first battle, and she had never killed before. Yes, she had been trained; she had been trained since birth to fight and yet no one had prepared Varia for what it would feel like to make the decision to end someone’s life. There was no choice however, no thought; the second Varia had seen her little sister in the line of Amazons waiting to be collared and herded off like cattle, her hand was wrapped around that dagger.
Stealth had always come naturally to Varia as she was an excellent hunter, but it was the slow part that did her in, in the end. It gave her time to think, time to realize the extent of what she was planning to do. If she had just rushed the monster Livia, perhaps she would have been able to make the kill. But she didn’t, and so she couldn’t. Instead, Varia’s fear and hesitation choked her like a vice, and within a moment she found herself flat on her back with a sword in her face.
This is how I’m going to die.
Livia’s sword rose.
“No, Tura!” Varia cried desperately, watching the girl break away from the line of Amazons to hurl herself towards her older sister. Tura flattened herself over Varia’s form, shielding her body from the monster’s forthcoming blow. Livia’s scowl twisted into an amused smile at the gesture, and Varia could feel her sister tense on top of her, no doubt expecting her death.
“Pathetic,” Livia spat, lowering her sword. But instead of the blow that both sisters expected, nothing touched either of them. Varia opened her eyes, seeing the sword pointed at her once more. “Get them back in line!” Livia ordered her soldiers with a jerk of her sword, prompting two of them to roughly grab the pair of Amazons off of the ground. Varia struggled, but to no avail; the vice-like grips on her arms were sure to leave bruises, and she winced.
“Two less Amazons are two less bags of gold that I need to finance my march on Greece; so I expect all of you to make certain that none of these savages do anything stupid enough to warrant their deaths,” Livia ordered as she sheathed her sword. “And check the dead; I’m not in the mood for any more surprises.”
Varia expected to be hauled into the line of Amazons, but an unexpected hand lashed out then, twisting in the Amazon’s hair as she was brought to her knees. The soldier that was holding her left her to Livia’s devices and the woman sneered, looking positively aggrieved with the realization that it would be more pertinent to keep her alive. “You might think you got lucky, Amazon, but believe me… where I’m sending you, death would be preferable. I hear most slave girls become crippled within a matter of a week, if they’re not too busy getting brutally raped by their masters. It’s not the fitting end I’d like give you, but I suppose it’ll have to do.”
Livia released her as she shoved her to the ground, allowing Varia to tumble into the blood-stained dirt beneath their feet. The Amazon coughed hard as she struggled to breathe, the wind momentarily being knocked out of her by the force of it. Livia was much stronger than she appeared, and that made her all the more frightening.
“Chain them,” the monster ordered, and as Varia was grabbed from behind, she was suddenly thrust into a world that would, in time, shape her into someone she never thought she would become.
The largest slave market was off the shores of Northern Africa, and so that was their destination. The ship was dark and dank, the cargo hold smelling faintly of animal manure and human filth. The once-fierce Amazons were chained to one another against the far wall, unable to bathe or privately relieve themselves during the ten-day journey to Ptolemais. Humiliation took a back seat to despair however, and barely anyone spoke during the trip as they reflected on their failure as a tribe.
They had been beaten, enslaved… they were an embarrassment to Artemis and to the word ‘Amazon’.
The stairs creaked as two men descended into the hold, their faces contorting in disgust as the smell hit their nostrils. “Should’ve given them a fucking bucket,” one grumbled. “To hell with what the Commander said. I don’t want to be the one that has to clean the piss and shit off of them to get them ready for Auction once we dock.”
“Go against her if you’ve got the stones then, Marcellus, but I rather like my head attached to my body,” the other said before grabbing a molded loaf of bread out of the bag and tossing it towards the women chained to the wall. Like starving animals, they began to grab for any piece they could get. “Disgusting,” he noted, watching them. “They really are savages, aren’t they?”
Rage began to rise up in Varia’s chest at the man’s words, but her hunger overrode anything else as another loaf was tossed her way. It had been at least three days since they had last been allowed to eat. She grabbed it, splitting it in half before giving the other part to Tura; even amidst her starvation, she still remembered her little sister. After their mom passed a couple years back, Varia was all that Tura had. Even if she couldn’t look out for her in the way that she wanted to now, she could at least do something. Anything.
They were given water after they were fed, but it wasn’t ever enough. Varia always felt like the back of her throat was dry, and she had to cough to clear it a few times after the soldiers had left. When she stopped coughing she heard a soft sniffle though and looked over to see Tura wipe the wetness from her cheeks as she looked down into her lap. Varia’s heart clenched in her chest, feeling awful that she wasn’t able to protect her; what kind of Amazon was she if she wasn’t even able to protect her family?
“Tura…” Varia breathed sadly, bringing her hand over to cover her sister’s knee. It was the only comfort she could give her in this place, and even that fell flat.
“What’s going to happen to us?” Tura asked, her wide eyes that were once filled with so much innocence, now growing darker as they were robbed of their light. A part of Varia wondered why it took Tura so long to voice that question, but perhaps it was the fear of the answer.
“I don’t know,” Varia answered honestly, hating herself for not having all the answers. Once, she used to relish venturing into the unknown; the thrill of not knowing what was coming next excited her. Now though, all that seemed to be on the other side of Varia’s story was fear and heartache. “We’ll be sold into slavery, at the very least. That… that bitch needs us to finance her invasion, and money seems to be all we’re worth to her. I think right now though, the best we can hope for it a merciful owner, or if we’re really lucky… a very stupid one that will be easy to escape from.”
Tura swallowed hard, nodding her understanding. Then, quietly – almost barely above a whisper the words were so soft – she asked, “…Do you think we’re going to die?”
Varia’s heart broke.
“No,” she told her strongly, grasping onto her sister’s hands as she held them tight. “We’re Amazons, Tura; some of the strongest warriors this world has ever seen. Wherever we find ourselves at the end of the journey, we will get out of it. I promise you,” she finished passionately, giving her sister a reassuring smile as she gently tucked a piece of hair away from the young girl’s face, “this is not the end of our story.”
“Don’t lie to her like that, Varia.”
Varia’s head snapped around, a glare etching across her features as she stared at the woman who dared to shatter a little girl’s hope. “I am not lying to her,” she seethed, infuriated that that kind of negativity was trying to seep into what little hope they all had left. If they allowed thinking like that to flourish within them then it would corrupt their hearts and leave them to rot.
Varia couldn’t think like that. She wouldn’t.
“Look at where we are, you stupid girl,” the woman, Hedda, snapped. She pulled on the chains that bound her wrists, making them clank against the wooden base of the ship. “The fierce Amazons, beaten and enslaved by a bunch of Roman soldiers. We no longer bear our tribe name, no longer have our honor. We’re slaves now; believing anything but is foolish and cruel.”
“Hedda!” their Princess, Marga, exclaimed forcefully. She should be Queen now, as the one who came before her was struck down during the battle with the Romans. Without the ritual though, she was still just their Princess, unable to grasp the destiny that was meant for her. “Unfortunate as it is for the rest of us right now, you still bear the title ‘Amazon’. Despite what you may believe and despite how shameful it is that you’re so quick to give that honor away, no one can take that from us. We may have been bested in battle, but that does not mean that we’re not strong. I agree with Varia; this is not the end of our story.”
“Open your eyes, Marga!” Hedda shouted, too lost in her own despair to see any other options. “We’ll all be slaughtered if we try to raise a hand against Livia and her army; look at what they already did to us!”
“Yes, perhaps if we were foolish enough to go up against the Romans, we would be slaughtered,” Marga agreed, which at least made Hedda lose her retort for a moment. “We let her sell us,” she decreed, using her leadership as Princess to give them a direction; to give them hope. “Getting away from slave traders will be much easier than trying to get away from a platoon of Roman soldiers, especially on a ship with nowhere to run. When we escape and regroup, we will build our tribe strong again. We will avenge our fallen sisters one day; that I promise.”
Most Amazons nodded their heads at their Princess’s words, feeling the strength and conviction behind them. Varia was among them, feeling a renewed sense of hope that maybe this wasn’t the end after all. She had promised Tura they would get away, but even as she had said it, she hadn’t felt it. She hadn’t believed it. Now though, looking at the fire behind Marga’s eyes, Varia finally felt a sense of hope she hadn’t thought she would ever feel again.
They were Amazons, and they would survive this.
Varia gasped hard as ice cold water was thrown directly in her face, making her shiver and cough as she tried not to breathe any in. Apparently, this was the soldiers attempt to ‘wash’ them. They were stripped of all their garments on the deck of the newly ported ship, but the embarrassment of their nudity being on display for any to see was overshadowed by the desire to finally feel clean again, even if this barely constituted. Varia scrubbed at any part of her skin that her chained hands could reach, trying to get the layer of dirt and grime off of herself.
“There’s a slim market for Amazons,” a man told Livia, who’s lips were starting to purse into a thin line at the news. “They tend to be… a little too feisty.”
As if on cue, one of the Amazons spat at the soldier who had thrown water on her, causing the man’s hand to connect with her cheek before he kicked the inside of her knee, bringing the woman to the floor.
“I said watch the faces!” Livia screamed at the soldier before she turned around, her hands slamming on the railing of the ship, making the newly arrived man jump in unease. “I did not come all this way to hear your excuses, Tobias! You will find a buyer, or it’ll be your head I bring back to Rome in exchange for the gold you promised me!”
“I… well, that is—I… Commander, I didn’t think you were going to bring me—” the man stuttered, clearly feeling blindsided by being brought Amazons instead of peasant girls. One sideways look from Livia shut him up though and he swallowed hard, shuffling through his papers as he tried to find a solution that didn’t end with his head on a stick. “We—we may be able to make a deal with Borgus the Brutal. He seems to enjoy beating his slave girls to death; I heard he goes through at least one a day. He might like them on the feisty side; I’ll send word to him immediately to see if he’s interested.”
“See that you do. And make it quick; I don’t want to have to be in this cesspool of a market any longer than I have to be. The stench here is overwhelming,” Livia told him, causing the man to scurry off as quickly as though his ass was on fire. “Marcellus!” she shouted then as she turned to one of her soldiers who was still in the middle of ‘washing’ the Amazons. “I told you to clean them, not throw water on them and hope that it does the damn job! No one’s going to want them if they stink like animals, so use that useless head of yours, get out the soap, and scrub!”
For a moment, it actually looked like the soldier might argue with her; after all, it was he who had been complaining a few days back that the Amazons had been left in this condition in the first place. That urge disappeared though, the look on Livia’s face seemingly fierce enough to ward off those who would argue with her. Marcellus’ face soured, but he answered dutifully with, “Yes, Commander…”
Livia pulled aside what looked to be her second in command then and said, “If we can’t find a buyer, then we sail back to Rome and dump them overboard. We can make the gold some other way.”
Fear gripped Varia’s chest at those words, and as foreign hands began to hold her down and scrub in places no soldier should ever touch an Amazon, for the first time in her life, she found herself praying to become a slave.
Their bodies had been wrapped in loose fabric, the ‘clothing’ meant to only cover their modesty and not much else. Sex appeal would sell them, Marga had noted bitterly, as slaves around these parts were not just used for labor, but for pleasure. Varia had recoiled at the thought; she was still pure from another’s touch, and she couldn’t fathom sullying herself for the twisted pleasure of another. Virginity had never much mattered to her, but she had never believed it would be violently ripped from her before either.
Now, Varia found she very much cared.
“Borgus will take them,” Tobias told the Commander, looking relieved on his own behalf. Apparently, he seemed quite attached to his head, even though Varia wished she could rip it from his shoulders right now. She had hoped for slavery, yes, as it beat the alternative, but Borgus did not seem like the type of master they would survive either. She was angry, she was frightened, and it made her feel weak. “He said he would find great sport in breaking an Amazon tribe.”
“Good. You just spared your life, Tobias,” Livia told him, condescendingly tapping his fat cheek as she passed him, assessing her goods for one last time.
“There is… ah, something else, however,” the man squirmed, looking uncomfortable with having to bring this up to the woman, as he no doubt wished to just have their business be concluded so he could be on his way. Livia turned sharply towards him, and Tobias swallowed. “Gurkhan has expressed interest in two of them.”
“Gurkhan? The man who takes slaves as his wives?” Tobias nodded and Livia looked a little intrigued by the prospect. “I heard he pays well for those he buys. Which ones is he interested in?”
“That one,” Tobias responded, pointing at Varia. The Amazon’s eyes widened in surprise. “And that one.”
Tura. Finally, Varia felt as though she could exhale the breath she was holding. Neither she nor her sister would be subjected to the brutal whims of Borgus, but would live in a palace as wives of this Gurkhan. Surely that would be much easier to escape and maybe, just maybe, Varia would be able to keep her promise to protect her sister after all.
Livia’s expression darkened. “No,” she told Tobias, causing the man’s eyebrows to shoot upwards in disbelief. “Tell Gurkhan he can have the child, but that one,” Livia spat, pointing at Varia, whom she apparently still held a grudge against for attempting to kill her back in the village, “is not for sale.”
“What?” Varia exclaimed before she could think better of it, causing the soldier behind her to bark at her to be quiet as he hit the back of her knees. The Amazon to crumpled to the floor. Her hair falling in front of her eyes, Varia cried out as she hit the deck with her fists, feeling lost and helpless. The soldier told her to shut up again as he grabbed a fist full of her hair, pulling Varia’s head up so she could look defiantly into the eyes of the woman who would surely destroy her life.
“I’ll relay your message, but I don’t think Gurkhan will be pleased with only getting half of what he asked for.”
“You can’t do this!” Varia screamed at Livia, not caring about being taken away from Gurkhan’s life of luxury for his slaves, but being taken away from her sister. In the end, that was far more important. She had promised Tura she would protect her, but she couldn’t do that when she was dead; and after this unexpected outcome, Varia was fairly certain that that was the end that Livia had planned for her. “She’s my sister, you can’t separate us; she’s just a child!”
Livia however just looked amused by her outburst. Compassion, it seemed, did not exist within her.
The Commander turned then, ignoring Varia’s pleas as she addressed Tobias. “Gurkhan will accept my counteroffer or get nothing at all. This conversation is over; take all the slaves you need to trade to market. I’ll be leaving right away.”
Tobias inclined his head politely after he had handed Livia the gold which was promised from each trader. “It was a pleasure doing business with you, Commander.”
“As always, I’m sure,” Livia responded dismissively as she turned from the stout man and replayed her orders to her soldiers. “Leave the others in his possession. Take her,” she directed, pointing at Varia’s crumpled form on the deck of the ship, “with us.”
“No!” Varia screamed as she was handled roughly by two guards, unchaining her from the binds that connected her to all of her Amazon sisters. She tried to fight against the men, but she was either too weak from malnourishment, or they were too strong. “Tura!” she yelled helplessly, seeing her sister’s wide and frightened eyes amidst all the other women who would be carted off in the opposite direction.
Varia felt sick. She felt frail and she felt helpless and no matter how much she tried to remind herself of Marga’s words and the hope that they had instilled in her down in the cargo hold of that ship, Varia knew in her heart that that would be the last time she would ever see her little sister.
Because she was going to die today.