La sangre de mi matriz cubriendo la carretera está;
las patas de mi hija echan fuego de alquitrán …
The blood of my womb is covering the road;
the legs of my daughter throw black fire …
— “Marbella’s Song,” from Quevedo’s Dream of the Skull [17th century, Spain.]
[Time: Three years after the fall of Troy where the great Amazonian queen, Penthesilea, fell while defending the city, along with many of her warrior-sisters. As a result the Amazon tribes, scattered up and down the Black Sea coast, are now in disarray, confused, fighting among themselves for power.]
[Setting: Crickets chirping on a muggy evening. Roll of distant thunder. Sound of heavy bodies moving through a cane field. Pause. Suddenly the ERINYES, the Greek Furies, enter. They are monstrous, female chthonic deities of vengeance. Homer called them, “those beneath the earth who punish all blood oath breakers.” They are ALECTO (“the unnamable one”), MEGAERA (“grudging dislike”), and TISIPHONE (“vengeful destruction”), the stuff of nightmares.]
When should we meet next? In the bloody rain or at the height of the thunder and lightning?
When the din of the war has fallen silent or when the battle has been won? I care not.
Then it’ll happen when the sun sets upon this blood-dim tide …
… and the stars speak through the infernal machine. So! Name the place.
In an open field? In the shadow of a hanged-man strung up at the crossroads? In the ashes of Troy? I care not.
Wherever we go we shall meet the She-Wolf, Lady Lykopis.
So it begins. Fair is foul, and foul is fair. We shall meet again in mist and war-torn air.
[An all-female battle camp, as depicted in the Greek Amazonomachies. Chaos of war raging nearby. QUEEN MARPESIA, in full armor, enters with her daughters, MALAPADIA and ORITHIA, as well as her personal body-guard, HIPPOTHOE, and a number of commanders. They meet a wounded and bloody comrade, ANDRODAMEIA, dragging herself off the battlefield.]
Who is this bloodstained ghost? Quick, fetch my surgeon. We must save her; perhaps she can tell us about the rebellion.
MALAPADIA [stepping forward]:
This is the chieftess who fought to keep me from being captured, mother. Androdameia, my brave sister! Tell us news.
ANDRODAMEIA [half-blind, gasping and gory]:
My queen, sisters, for a while I couldn’t tell who would win. Like two weary swimmers, the armies clung to each other … like bodies dragging each other down through the dark depths. The depraved rebel, Antimachos, who sided with Achilles at Troy, was supported by soldiers from Attica, and it seemed that the fickle Fates were with her … but not for long. The Greeks and Antimachos together weren’t strong enough. Lykopis, who deserves the title of She-Wolf, laughed at the fates, the rebels and the Greeks. She slaughtered her way to deceitful Antimachos, who stood shocked and mute before her. Then our brave sister split the traitor from jawbone to belly and left her corpse on the battlefield, to be picked over by carrion crows.
My dreadful war-sister! My praiseworthy chieftess!
Nevertheless, my queen, in the same way that violent storms often appear out of nowhere so can the tide of war turn. As soon as we left those Attican soldiers in heaps on the field the Spartan king saw his chance to attack us with reinforcements.
No! What befell our terrible sisters, Lykopis and Penthesilea?
Those that we call mere warriors bathed in our enemies’ blood. They put the ten-year war at Troy to shame. Lykopis and Penthesilea fought the new enemy with even more violence as before …
[Before she can finish, though, ANDRODAMEIA crumples from blood loss.]
Sister! Take her to the surgeons.
[ANDRODAMEIA exits, helped by attendants.]
Her words, like her wounds, bring us all honor.
[TECMESSA and THRASO enter.]
Mother, your most loyal warrior, Lady Tecmessa, approaches.
Odd, she looks like she brings you a strange tale to tell.
Great Hera blesses us all!
What news do you have, sister?
First queen, I’ve come from where the Spartan flags once flew over our land. Our soldiers were exhausted, in disarray, and fell into confusion the moment this new threat took the field. But, still wearing her war-battered armor, brave Lykopis met the Spartans as if she were the goddess of war’s only lover. She broke the enemy’s charge and now we have just return, triumphant.
Great joy! Great joy, indeed.
So now, false Leonidas, the Spartan king, wants a truce. We told him that we wouldn’t even let him bury his dead until he went to the temple of Athena and swore on his worthless testicles that his people would never raise their cowardly hands against us, for now and forever.
Sic semper tyrannis. The cravens of Sparta will never again wage war against us.
[They all exit.]
[Thunder over a wretched moorland. The three ERINYES enter.]
Captured goddess, her sword blades and poppy
seeds. I was down in the market. I’ve seen
how dire amethyst shivers; red, bloody
cinnamon flickers. The heart of a queen
can be broken. It was her wings. Rainbow
feathers. Hera’s terrible tongue, wrapping
around the girl’s clit. Caught in afterglow
and a blood-soaked bed; they caught her, coming
the way the gods come. Down in the market
I found her. Shorn of her wings; tied in chain
while men bargained for her. Let gold-silver
damn you when you call a goddess a slut;
when you kill a queen. Who will explain
why the She-Wolf is now a Queen killer?
[LYKOPIS and PENTHESILEA enter. Both are wounded, blood-stained and exhausted to the point of hallucination.]
LYKOPIS [with a grievous cut across her scalp, causing blood to run into her eyes]:
I have never seen a day that was so fair and foul.
PENTHESILEA [with the broken shaft of an arrow sticking out of her shoulder]:
It hurts. Three handkerchiefs are inside me. This makes the fourth. [She sees the ERINYES] Great Gaia! What are these wild, alien monstrosities? They look like the nightmares that the gods have when they dream. [To the ERINYES] Are you living creatures or phantoms? Speak, can you understand me?
Speak, if you have tongues. I would call you sisters but I’ve never seen anything as weird or wild as how you present yourself.
We honor you, Lady Lykopis! We honor Spartan’s Bane!
We honor you, Lady Lykopis! We honor Marpesia’s Hallowing!
We honor you, Lady Lykopis! Forthcoming queen!
PENTHESILEA [to LYKOPIS]:
My sister, why do you look so startled and afraid? You have already blessed our Queen Marpesia with such victories as will be sung for a thousand years to come. [To the ERINYES] If you are from the gods, if blood-hungry Athena sent you to watch us win honor on the battlefield, then you greet my war-sister with honors and talk of a future so glorious that you’ve made her blush like a maiden before her first battle; but you don’t say anything to me. I don’t beg for favors and I’m not afraid of death; tell me of what will happen.
Creature of clay, we honor you!
Phoebe’s mare and fortune, we honor you!
Lady Penthesilea, we also honor you!
You will be lesser than Lady Lykopis but your future will also be greater.
You will not be as happy as Lady Lykopis but your future will be much happier.
Your daughters will be queens, even though you will not be one.
We honor you, Lady Lykopis and Lady Penthesilea!
[The three ERINYES rise up as if to depart.]
Wait! You only told me part of what I want to know. Stay and tell me more. I already know that I defeated the Spartan king Leonidas. But why do you call me “Marpesia’s Hallowing”? For me to be the queen is impossible, it is treason, for there already is a queen that I love and that I have sworn a blood oath to … to protect. Why would you speak words that you know are sacrilegious? Why do you stop us at this forsaken waste with prophetic words that can only sew discontent? Speak, witches, I command you.
[The ERINYES vanish.]
The tar pits at high noon have bubbles that break the surface from deep below and burst, leaving nothing behind. These phantoms must be like those bubbles, I thought them real until they revealed that they were nothing more than trickery and sulfur.
“Trickery and sulfur.” They melted into the air. I wish that they had stayed …
PENTHESILEA [groaning as the arrow in her shoulder suddenly reaffirms itself]:
Ahh! Sister, look at us. We’ve been through too much and lost too much blood this day to say that what we just witnessed came from a calm mind.
LYKOPIS [still in a dream]:
But … your daughters will be queens.
No, sister, you will be the queen.
And “Marpesia’s Hallowing,” too. Isn’t that what they said?
PENTHESILEA [falling to the ground, faint]:
I … think. Who’s this?
[TECMESSA and THRASO enter.]
My sisters, we have found you! Our queen was exultant to hear of your triumphs and conquests, Lady Lykopis. She was shaken to hear that on the same day that you fought the traitor Antimachos you also fought against the army of Leonidas, and that you beat those Greek bastards, slaughtering everyone around you.
Ladies, our queen sent us to find you, to give you her thanks and to bring you both back to her.
Lady Lykopis, since you saved your sisters and all our tribes, chief of our chieftesses, you shall be known from now on as “Marpesia’s Hallowing.”
Pox and Pluto! Are you telling lies?
Lady! I … don’t understand …
Please, forgive us. We are fresh off the battlefield and have been dribbling our vitals in every footprint we’ve left behind. The heat, the blood loss, the killing … it has made us a bit mad. Take us to our queen, Lykopis salutes you.
[The four begin to walk off stage. As soon as they are without ear shot, PENTHESILEA grabs LYKOPIS and whispers in her ear.]
Sister! Hold, I beg you. Those furies told us nothing short of treason. “Marpesia’s Hallowing” has many meanings, for good and evil. We must forget what we’ve been told.
But it’s just like they said … and the best part is still to come. Aren’t you hoping that your daughters will be queens one day?
But this whole thing is queer! Evil is tempting but it can only lead us to our destruction. [Turning to TECMESSA and THRASO] Sisters of Hippolyte’s Sash, a word with you, if you may.
[TECMESSA, THRASO and PENTHESILEA move off to one side.]
LYKOPIS [to herself]:
So far Great Athena’s bloodhounds have told me two things that came true, so it seems that I might one day become queen. This temptation doesn’t appear to be an evil thing, but can it be good? If it’s evil then why was I given the name of the queen’s protector? That is a title not used in these last two hundred years … but if it is a good then why was I told that I would be queen? There is but one queen, my darling Marpesia; and for a new queen rise only means that the old one is dead … Great Hera, that is a thought so horrifying that it freezes my cunt and makes my heart pound inside my breast!
Look at our sister, our dear Lykopis … she’s in a daze.
LYKOPIS [still to herself]:
But often the Fates throws chance to the ones who least expect it. Perhaps all I must do is stay dumb and mute and victory shall simply fall in my lap? Was that not how Hercules beat all nine of my sisters? Was that not how Troy fell? I care not, just give me a sign.
Our sister is not use to meaningless titles. She is a warrior first; gathering up fallen Spartan heads is the best glory that she can find. Pomp and circumstance like “Marpesia’s Hallowing” only confuses things. For some of us titles are like the wild bulls in the pasture; they are arrogant until you break them.
LYKOPIS [still to herself]:
Hera, give me strength! I cannot see the future. One way or another what’s going to happen will happen.
PENTHESILEA [coming over and embracing LYKOPIS]:
Sister, we’re ready when you are.
LYKOPIS [as if waking from a dream]:
O! Forgive me. I have been dazed after shedding so much blood today. It was terrible and I’ve been distracted. Kind sisters, I won’t forget the trouble that you’ve taken for me every time that I think of this day. Let’s go to the queen. [Turning to speak in PENTHESILEA’S ear] Think about what happened today, I beg of you, and when we’ve both had time to consider these divinations, pray, come to me.
Of course, my love.
[They all exit.]