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[Setting: The interior of QUEEN MARPESIA’S extravagant royal tent. It is huge, crammed with valuables from all her many military campaigns — Trojan knickknacks, Persian vases, Armenian carpets hanging on the walls, a bed from China, a Mongolian rug on the floor, etc.]

[With a flourish QUEEN MARPESIA, HIPPOTHOE, MALAPADIA and ORITHIA enter. MARPESIA is still in her shiny armor, though HIPPOTHOE carries her helmet and sheathed sword. During MARPESIA’S monologue SLAVES come forward and undress their queen, hanging her armor, helmet and sword on a wooden mannequin off in one corner.]

QUEEN MARPESIA:
Glory. The white almond is stripped away
from its green husk. Glory. As I wandered

along my city streets — under archway,
through door — I saw nothing that I treasured

more than the Women of the Red Horses;
with their belts spun of gold and their quivers

full of arrows. They were like the Graces,
if the Graces were ever warriors.

Glory. I love my horse-riders. Naked
on their steeds. Naked in battle. Night birds

are not as beautiful as you are — rude,
riding hard, burning down the world. My blood

burns for you. Glory as you ride homewards.
Be man’s nightmare: women fierce, divine, nude.

[LYKOPIS, PENTHESILEA, TECMESSA and THRASO enter.]

QUEEN MARPESIA [to LYKOPIS]:
My worthiest sister! Just this moment I was feeling guilty of ungratefulness. You have done so much for us that it is impossible to reward you as it should be. If only you had done less then perhaps my thanks would match your deeds. [Laughs at own jokes.] All I can say now is that you are owned more than I can repay back.

LYKOPIS:
To serve you is my greatest reward, my queen. It is I who owe you. My duty to you and our sisters is like the duty of a daughter to all her many mothers.

QUEEN MARPESIA:
You are welcome here. By making you Marpesia’s Hallowing I have planted the seeds for an incredible future for you. Please allow me to make sure that they grow. [To PENTHESILEA.] Loyal Lady Penthesilea, you deserve no less than Lady Lykopis. Let me embrace you and I shall give you the benefit of all my heart.

PENTHESILEA:
My queen, if I accomplish anything in this life then know that all the glory is because of you.

QUEEN MARPESIA:
How is it that joyfulness can make me weep? My daughters, sisters, chieftesses — and all those closest to me — I want you to witness that I am bestowing a new title on my eldest daughter, the Lady Malapadia. Today I shall name her the Princess of Potidaea. But that will not be the only honor that I give. [To LYKOPIS.] Your queen asks a favor, let’s go to your castle at Cirra, I wish to have a taste of your hospitality.

LYKOPIS:
Serving you is my greatest joy. I will go now and tell my slaves the good news that you are coming.

QUEEN MARPESIA:
Now I know why Athena has blessed you as the greatest and most worthy.

LYKOPIS [to herself]:
Malapadia is now the princess of Potidaea? To become queen myself I shall either have to step over her or lay down my ambition. Great Hera, hide my pride so that no one can see the terrible desires that lurk within me. If the hand is brave then the eye must be a coward for it always hesitates at what the hand must do to see things done.

[LYKOPIS exits.]

QUEEN MARPESIA [to PENTHESILEA, nodding in agreement]:
You’re right, dear Penthesilea; Lady Lykopis is every bit as heroic and bold as you say. I feel drunk because of her. If it is her duty to lead then it is ours to follow. She is a woman without equal.

[They exit.]

][][

[The slave SHASHGAZ enters, reading a letter. As a warrior-class the Amazons were a single-sexed society; however, off the battlefield, in the privacy of their own lives, it was rumored that many kept male as well as female slaves and lovers. SHASHGAZ is both things to LYKOPIS, a slave that she captured in battle, as well as her lover and confidant. If the She-Wolf is the epitome of war-like female spirit, then SHASHGAZ is a slightly duller, more corrupt, mirror image; muscular, tricky of tongue, highly enjoying his role in manipulating his mistress.]

SHASHGAZ [reading out loud]:
“The Furies met me on my return from my victory in battle. When I tried to question them they vanished into thin air. While I stood mesmerized two of my sisters from the queen arrived and greeted me as Marpesia’s Hallowing, which is precisely how those weird witches saluted me before calling me ’the forthcoming queen!’ I thought I should tell you this so that you might rejoice as well in my incredible future …”

[He looks up from the letter.]

My mistress is a queer duck. She is made Marpesia’s Hallowing but says that she will be queen. But how can she be queen if the queen still lives? She is too full of the milk of human kindness to strike out violently. She wants to be powerful, Lykopis certainly doesn’t lack in ambition, but she doesn’t have the sadistic streak that these things call for. The things that she does are because she thinks that is what makes a warrior, yet she still wants what doesn’t belong to her. For all the years that I’ve known her, my mistress has been afraid to do what necessity demands. So be it. Hurry home, Lykopis, so that I can coax. After all, the Furies and the gods both want you to be queen.

[A SERVANT enters.]

SERVANT:
The queen is coming here tonight.

SHASHGAZ:
Quit your jibber-jabber! Isn’t our lady with the queen? She would have told me in person if such a thing was happening so that I could prepare this eyesore called a castle.

SERVANT:
I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. Lady Lykopis is coming. She sent a messenger ahead who arrived so out of breath that he could barely speak.

SHASHGAZ [half to himself]:
So … yes, go and take good care of the boy. He brings curious news.

[The SERVANT exits.]

SHASHGAZ:
Benevolent Zeus! The Amazons’ wretched goddesses must not think very highly of Marpesia to allow her to spend the night under my roof. Hear me, you murderous spirits, fill me from head to toe with deadly brutality! Thicken my blood and clog up my veins so I won’t feel remorse, so that no human compassion can stop my plan or prevent me from accomplishing it. Come, impenetrable night, cover the world in the darkest hell-smoke so that my knife can’t see the wound it opens, and so that the gods can’t spy through the darkness and cry, “No! Stop!”

[LYKOPIS enters.]

SHASHGAZ:
Marpesia’s Hallowing! By the prophecy you told me I too can see your glorious future. Seizing it is only a matter of time.

LYKOPIS:
My love, our queen is coming here tonight.

SHASHGAZ:
Indeed. Tell me, when is she leaving?

LYKOPIS:
Tomorrow, or so I’ve been told.

SHASHGAZ:
Then tomorrow will never come. Your face betrays strange feelings, my lady, and people will be able to read it like a book. In order to deceive them, greet the queen with a welcoming expression in your eyes, your hands, and your words. You should look like an innocent flower, but be like the viper that hides underneath the flower. The queen is coming, and she must be taken care of. Let me handle tonight’s preparations. What happens tonight shall make you the greatest Amazon the world has ever known.

LYKOPIS:
We must talk about this.

SHASHGAZ:
When you see her you must look innocent because if you look guilty then you will arouse suspicion. Leave all the rest to me.

[They exit.]

][][

[Setting: A different part of the castle. The stage is half in shadows, with the glow and noise of a celebration off-stage being the only lighting. SLAVES appear, carrying dishes of food into the large banquet hall. LYKOPIS, fleeing the festivities, enters the empty stage, standing half in shadow as she speaks.]

LYKOPIS [to herself]:
Marpesia has been here all day, so why does my heart still tremble? If murder could be forgotten the moment after committing it then it would be best to get it over with quickly. If the murder of the queen swept up everything, preventing any consequences, then murder would be the be-all and end-all. For that I would gladly put my soul at risk. But for crimes like these there are still punishments in this mortal world. The queen trusts me. I am her war-sister and her subject, and I am her host. But how will history see me? Marpesia has been such a humble leader, so free of corruption that her virtuous legacy will speak for itself when she dies, as if angels were calling out the injustice of her murder already. Pity, like a horrible newborn monster, will ride the wind to spread news of the bloody deed to everyone. My sisters will shed a flood of tears that will drown the wind. I can’t urge myself to action. The only thing motivating me is ambition, which makes fools rush ahead into disaster.

[SHASHGAZ enters.]

LYKOPIS:
What news do you have?

SHASHGAZ:
Our queen has almost finished her last meal. Why did you leave the dining room?

LYKOPIS:
Has she asked for me?

SHASHGAZ:
Don’t you know that she has?

LYKOPIS [flustered]:
We can’t go on with this plan. The queen has just honored me. I want to enjoy these honors while the they’re fresh and not throw them away too soon.

SHASHGAZ:
My lady, where I come from being called “womanly” is an insult; and yet when I am here I find that you have somehow tuned it into a word of honor. So tell me, were you drunk when you seemed so eager just moments before? Have you spent too much time with the Greeks and woken up green and pale with fear as their women do? From now on this is what I’ll think of you: afraid to act the way you desire. Will you take the crown you want so badly, or will you live as a coward, always saying “I can’t”? You are womanly, my lady, just make sure that the word isn’t spoken as a curse.

LYKOPIS:
Please, stop! I dare to do only what is proper for a warrior to do.

SHASHGAZ:
“Proper?” If you aren’t a warrior, then what kind of beast were you when you first told me you wanted to do this? When you dared to do it, that’s when you were a warrior. The time and place are good, but it seems that they’re almost too good for you.

LYKOPIS:
But if we fail?

SHASHGAZ:
The greatest Amazon in history shall not fail. When Marpesia is asleep I’ll get her two bodyguards so drunk that their memory will go up in smoke through the chimney of their brain. When they lie asleep like pigs, dead to the world, what won’t you and I be able to do to the imprudent Marpesia? All that the heart craves.

LYKOPIS:
Once we have covered the two servants with besotted blood and used their daggers to kill, won’t my sisters believe that they were the criminals?

SHASHGAZ:
Who could think it happened any other way? We’ll be grieving loudly when we hear that our queen has been assassinated under our own roof.

LYKOPIS:
I’m decided. I will use every muscle in my body to commit this crime. Go now, be the slave that Marpesia thinks you are and I shall be the friendly hostess. I will hide with a false face all that I know sleeps in my false, false heart.

[They exit.]

][][

[Setting: Another part of the castle. PENTHESILEA enters with her daughter, PHOEBE, who lights the way with a lantern.]

PENTHESILEA:
How’s the night going, my girl?

PHOEBE:
The moon has set. The guard hasn’t called the hour yet.

PENTHESILEA:
The moon set at midnight, right?

PHOEBE:
I think it’s later than that, mother.

PENTHESILEA:
Here, take my sword. Selene is being stingy with her light. I’m tired and feeling heavy, but I can’t sleep. Merciful Gaia, keep away the nightmares that plague me when I rest!

[LYKOPIS enters with a SERVANT, who carries a lantern of her own.]

PENTHESILEA [to her daughter]:
Give me back my sword. [Calling.] Who’s there?

LYKOPIS:
A loved comrade.

PENTHESILEA [relaxing]:
You’re not asleep yet, my dear lady? The queen’s in bed. I would be too, if I could sleep.

LYKOPIS:
Forgive me. We were unprepared for the queen’s visit, as you know; we weren’t able to distract her as well as we would have wanted to.

PENTHESILEA [laughing]:
Everything’s fine. I had a dream last night about the three Furies. At least part of what they said about you was true.

LYKOPIS:
I don’t think about them now. But when we have an hour to spare we can talk more about it … if you’re willing.

PENTHESILEA:
Whenever you’d like, my love.

LYKOPIS:
Rest easy in the meantime.

PENTHESILEA:
Thank you, Lykopis. You do the same.

[PENTHESILEA and PHOEBE exit.]

LYKOPIS [to the SERVANT]:
Go and tell Shashgaz to ring the bell when my drink is ready; then get yourself to bed.

[The SERVANT exits.]

LYKOPIS [dazed, to herself]:
Is this a dagger I see before me? Its pommel points toward my hand. [To the dagger.] Come, let me hold you. [She grabs at the air in front of her without touching anything.] I can’t hold you but I can still see you. Fateful apparition, isn’t it possible to touch you as well as see you? Or are you nothing more than an illusionary dagger, a phantasm from my fevered brain? You look as real as this one. [She draws out a second dagger.] My eyesight, like my nerves, must be failing. I can still see you, dagger; I see blood splotches now, all over your blade and handle, that weren’t there a moment before. [Blinks in confusion.] Ai! There’s no dagger now. It’s the murder that I’m about to commit that’s making me think I see one. Let half the world sleep and be deceived by nightmares. Furies are offering sacrifices to their goddess, Nix. The hard ground does not listen to the direction of my steps, but while I stand here Marpesia still lives. Too much thinking cools the mind and dulls the blade.

[A bell rings off-stage.]

LYKOPIS [as if waking from a dream]:
So be it. The bell commands me. Don’t listen to the tolling, Marpesia, for it is the voice of Charon, ready to lead you down to hell.

[LYKOPIS exits.]

][][

[SHASHGAZ enters.]

SHASHGAZ:
The drunken slaves and their red wine have made me bold. The same liquor that knocked them down has fired me up. Listen! Quiet! That was a shriek owl hooting farewell like the bells they ring right before an execution. Lykopis must be killing the queen. The doors to Marpesia’s chamber are open. Her slaves make a mockery of their jobs instead of protecting her. I drugged their cups, leaving them floating somewhere between the living world and the shadow realm of death.

LYKOPIS [from offstage]:
Who’s there? What is it?

SHASHGAZ:
By Zeus, I’m afraid the servants woke up, and the murder didn’t happen. For us to attempt murder and not succeed would ruin us. [He hears a noise.] Listen to that! I put the servant’s daggers where Lykopis would find them. She couldn’t have missed finding them. If Marpesia hadn’t reminded me of my own dead mother when I saw her sleeping, I would have killed her myself.

[LYKOPIS enters carrying two bloody daggers.]

LYKOPIS [shocked]:
I have done the deed. Did you hear a noise?

SHASHGAZ:
I’ve heard the crickets crying all night and an owl scream.

LYKOPIS:
An owl? When?

SHASHGAZ:
Just now.

LYKOPIS:
As I entered?

SHASHGAZ:
Yes.

LYKOPIS:
What’s that noise? Who’s sleeping in the second chamber?

SHASHGAZ:
Orithia.

LYKOPIS [looking at her bloody hands]:
This is a sorry sight.

SHASHGAZ:
That’s an ill-advised thing to say.

LYKOPIS:
One of the guards laughed in her sleep, and one cried, “Murder!” and they woke each other up. I stood and listened to them, but then they said their prayers to Athena and went back to sleep.

SHASHGAZ:
Sisters Malapadia and Orithia are asleep in the same room.

LYKOPIS:
One guard cried, “Great Hera save us!” and the other replied, “Murderer!” as if they had seen my hands stained red with blood.

SHASHGAZ:
Don’t think about it too much.

LYKOPIS:
But why did they call upon Hera if they did not know the horror I had just committed?

SHASHGAZ:
We can’t think about it. If we do, it’ll drive us crazy.

LYKOPIS:
I thought I heard a voice cry, “Sleep is dead! Lykopis has murdered sleep.” Innocent sleep. Sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest and heals hurt minds. Sleep, the feast and the desert; the most nourishing balm.

SHASHGAZ:
What are you jabbing about?

LYKOPIS:
The voice kept crying, “Sleep is dead … Lykopis will sleep no more.”

SHASHGAZ:
Who said that? Why, my fearful warrior, you let yourself think about things in a cowardly manner. Go get some water and wash this blood from your hands. Wait. Why did you carry these daggers out of the room? They have to be found there. Go take them back and smear the sleeping guards with the blood.

LYKOPIS:
I … I can’t go back. I’m afraid even to think about what I’ve done.

SHASHGAZ [grabbing the daggers]:
Cowardly woman! The dead and sleeping can’t hurt you anymore than shadows on the wall can. Only children are afraid of shadows. If Marpesia bleeds I’ll soak her slaves’ faces with their queen’s blood. We must make it seem like they’re the guilty ones. [He exits.]

[A sound of knocking from offstage.]

LYKOPIS:
Where is that knocking coming from? What’s happened to me? I’m frightened of every noise. [Looking at her hands.] Whose hands are these? [Laughs.] They’ll pluck out my own eyes. Will all the water in the ocean wash this blood from my hands? No, instead my hands will stain the seas red, turning the deep green into a scarlet tide.

[SHASHGAZ enters.]

SHASHGAZ [holds up his palms]:
My hands are as red as yours now, but I would be ashamed if my heart were half so pale and weak.

[The knocking is repeated from offstage.]

SHASHGAZ:
I hear someone knocking at the south gate. Let’s go back to our bedroom. A little water will wash away the evidence of our guilt. It’s so simple and yet you’ve lost your resolve.

LYKOPIS [dazed]:
“My resolve”?

[Knocking.]

SHASHGAZ:
Listen! There’s more knocking. Put on your nightgown, cover your breasts. Snap out of your stupor.

LYKOPIS [dully]:
I’d rather be in a stupor than think about what I have just done.

[Knocking.]

LYKOPIS:
Terrible Lady Nix, wake poor Marpesia with your knocking, only you can now!

[They exit.]