A cat pent up becomes a lion/ A woman in chains a warrior.
ACT I, SCENE I:
[TIME: Three years after the fall of Troy where the great Amazonian queen, Penthesilea, was slain on the battlefield while defending the city, along with many of her chieftainesses. As a result the Amazon tribes, scattered up and down the Black Sea coast, are now in disarray, confused and fighting among themselves for power.]
[SETTING: A stunted landscape lost in a dream; fog and black volcanic rock. Ruins of a mighty fortress, APHRODITE’S CASTLE, appear.]
CHORUS [singing off-stage]:
See? She trails her claws through the long moonlight
streaks; all that remains of those who denied
a wolf her ambitions; haunted tonight
by the ghosts of those who perished inside.
A scene of carnage born of desire.
A scene not fit for anyone who thinks
she still has honor; a wolf’s empire
crumbled. A riddle that even the Sphinx
could not answer. Lust: never changing now
or all throughout history. Why? Answers
puddle under our knees, fill our wide, dumb,
gapping mouths; we shall drown not knowing how
to read. Foolish hubris; as if slaughter
or war brought anybody’s soul wisdom.
[Sound of the wailing wind over the rocks and mist. 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.
ACT I, SCENE II:
[An all-female battle camp, as depicted in the Greek Amazonomachies. Chaos of war raging nearby. QUEEN MARPESIA (“She Who Snatches”), in full armor, sits with her daughter, MALAPADIA (“Death Song”), as well as her personal bodyguard, HIPPOTHOE (“Imperious Mare”), her general, PYRGOMACHE (“Fiery Warrior”) and a number of CHIEFTAINESSES at a council of war.]
AMAZON CHIEFTAINESS #1:
Shall we go out to meet the challenge, my queen? Or do we return to Aphrodite’s Castle and barricade ourselves up in there?
[Long pause while the QUEEN MARPESIA contemplates and her AMAZON CHIEFTAINESSES look nervously on.]
AMAZON CHIEFTAINESS #2 [speaking her mind]:
We must confine ourselves to the castle. Striking at an enemy bent on victory will only bring greater injury to our women. First, we must post sentinels at the edges of Aphrodite’s Labyrinth, divide our enemy’s forces by luring them into its maze. Then we can then kill as many as we can. Later we can withdraw and barricade ourselves in our fortress. That would be my strategy.
QUEEN MARPESIA [unsure]:
What about our rations and supplies?
AMAZON CHIEFTAINESS # 2:
We can survive three months … sucking down gruel.
[Suddenly a wounded and bloody comrade, ANDRODAMEIA (“Subduer of Men”), dragging herself off the battlefield, enters.]
QUEEN MARPESIA [rising in alarm]:
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 chieftainess who fought to keep me from being captured, mother. Lady Androdameia, my brave sister! Tell us news.
ANDRODAMEIA [half-blind, gasping and gory]:
My queen, my sisters, for a while I couldn’t tell who would win. Like two drowning swimmers, the armies clung to each other … 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 took the Red Stronghold, killing all inside. It seemed that the fickle Fates were with her. Caught unawares, fire ravaged the Southern Fortress.
What about the Eastern Fortress?
The East Fortress had no time to prepare itself.
Tell me about the Western Fortress?
Fighting like a woman possessed, West Fortress commander, Lady Penthesilea, redeployed her warriors in a counter-strike.
Ai! What of our Northern Fortress?
The Greeks and Antimachos together weren’t strong enough to take that. Lady 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 chieftainess!
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 bastards in heaps upon 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 (“She Who Judges”) enters.]
Mother, it is your most loyal warrior, Lady Tecmessa, who 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, my queen, I come from where the Spartan flags once flew over our land. Our soldiers were exhausted, in disorder, and fell into confusion the moment this new threat took to the field. But, still wearing her blood-splattered battle-armor, our brave Lykopis met the Spartans as if she were the Goddess of War’s only lover. She broke the enemy’s charge and drove them back across the border.
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 against raise their cowardly hands us, from now and forever.
“Sic semper tyrannis.” The cravens of Sparta will never again wage war against us. Lady Pyrgomache; take your Amazons to Red Stronghold and secure it. Reinforce our borders. Then bring Lykopis and Penthesilea to me. I wish to thank my sisters myself.
[They all exit.]
ACT I, SCENE III:
[Thunder over a wretched moorland; in the far distance lines and lines of volcanic hills rising from the ground: APHRODITE’S LABYRINTH. The three ERINYES enter.]
ALL [their strange, oblong skulls wavering in the dusk]:
Captured goddess, her sword blades and poppy
seeds. I was down in the market. I’ve seen
how amethyst dire 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?
ACT I, SCENE IV:
[SETTING: Deep within APHRODITE’S LABYRINTH. A heavy rain falls in the foothills along the coast of the Black Sea. Gloomy, supernatural, shrouded in fog, their sides are so steep that they are impossible to climb, with canyon walls so narrow riders are forced to ride in single file to cross through them. LYKOPIS and PENTHESILEA enter on horseback; 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.
[They ride off. Thunder and lightning. Soon they find themselves back at the spot they just had just left.]
Ahh, this is … the very path where we just stopped.
Indeed, there are our hoof marks in the mud where we just passed.
This is mystifying. Isn’t this Aphrodite’s Labyrinth?
Ai, without a doubt.
The castle must be very near. We have wandered these hills for hours … and we’re still lost. Ludicrous.
[The rain falls even heavier. LYKOPIS takes an arrow and fires it at the heavens. Suddenly disembodied laughter is heard all around them.]
Hear that? There’s evil afoot. Look at the horses. They’re frightened out of their wits.
PENTHESILEA [grimacing in pain]:
What manner of god or beast would be out in this misery?
[They wheel their horses about while the hills continue to laugh. Suddenly they come upon a ghost-like hut.]
What is that? How can such a shack be hidden here in this maze?
I have no idea. It does not appear to be made by human hands. Perhaps it is …
[The bewitched rain and laughter suddenly stops. LYKOPIS and PENTHESILEA dismount and approach the hut. The ERINYES sit in front of the hut, each turning a spinning wheel.]
PENTHESILEA [seeing 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 of clay or phantoms that fell from the sky? Speak, can you understand me? Speak!
Speak, if you have tongues. I would call you sisters but I’ve never seen anything as weird or wild as how you present yourselves.
Commander of the Northern Fortress, Lady Lykopis, we honor you: Sparta’s Bane
Eh? You know of me?
Ai. From this day forward the world shall call you, “Marpesia’s Hallowing”!
We honor you, Lady Lykopis! Imminent queen over all of Aphrodite’s Castle!
LYKOPIS [incensed, unsling her bow]:
How dare you! Cease your jesting.
Why show us your cheek when our words must be joyous to your soul?
[LYKOPIS draws back her bow as if to kill TISIPHONE.]
Cheek? Heh. I already know that I defeated the Spartan king, Leonidas. But why do you call me “Marpesia’s Hallowing”? It is a title none have held for a hundred years. For me to be the queen that is impossible … that is treason! There already is a queen that I love and that I have sworn a blood oath to … to protect.
MEGAERA [chuckling horribly]:
Mortals are so strange … they are terrified to look into the bottom of their own hearts.
PENTHESILEA [to LYKOPIS]:
Wait. Though these may be spirits of earth they would not joke with your arrow poised at one of their naked breasts. [To the ERINYES] Sisters, 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 splutter like a maiden before her first battle … but you have yet to say anything to me. I do not beg for favors … I’m not afraid of death … please; tell me of what will come.
ALECTO [turning her terrible, eyeless head toward PENTHESILEA]:
Come? Ai, Lady Penthesilea, commander of the Western Fortress … henceforth, you shall be commander of the Red Stronghold. We honor you!
Phoebe’s mare and fortune, welcome, we honor you!
What? What do you mean by this?
Lady Penthesilea, your daughter shall be queen over Aphrodite’s Castle, even though you will not be.
You will be lesser than Lady Lykopis but your future will be greater.
You will not be as happy as Lady Lykopis … but your future will be much happier.
We honor you, our ladies, Lykopis and Penthesilea!
[The ERINYES rise as one and in a whirlwind disappear. LYKOPIS and PENTHESILEA, despite their wounds, rush forward but find that they are alone. They begin searching the area and come upon a giant heap of bones, skeletons in Trojan armor, etc. Getting quickly back on their horses they exit.]
ACT I, SCENE V:
[SETTING: The vapor thins as LYKOPIS and PENTHESILEA leave the hills and enter a wretched moorland. In the distance APHRODITE’S CASTLE can be seen through the mist.]
Ah, there’s the castle. Finally free of that labyrinth … come, sister.
LYKOPIS [touching her hand to her bloody head]:
No, wait. My exhaustion is … terrible. My armor weighs heavily, I am sorry … I need to rest.
PENTHESILEA [gently touching the arrow shaft]:
Ai, it is a wonder that you and I even survived. Shall we rest?
[They dismount and flop upon the ground.]
I’m numb. These last two days feel like a dream.
I can’t help but feel that this is already a nightmare. Our encounter with those monsters may well have been a terrible portent of things to come.
Aren’t all portents terrible? They say that our dreams show us our most depraved desires … and yet, who would not dream of ruling over Aphrodite’s Castle?
It seems that your daughter shall certainly do that.
No, it is you, yourself, who shall rule.
[They laugh, despite their exhaustion and pain.]
But first, I must become Marpesia’s Hallowing.
Perhaps then I will be commander of the Red Stronghold as well.
TOGETHER [still laughing]:
TOGETHER [becoming serious]:
But yes? … But no? …
LYKOPIS [startled, as if waking from a dream]:
What? What did you just say?
Ah, what did you say?
Sister … what if I do become Marpesia’s Hallowing when we return … and you are given command of Red Stronghold …?
[They clamber to their feet, gaze at APHRODITE’S CASTLE in awe, then at themselves and exit.]
ACT I, SCENE VI:
[Setting: The interior of QUEEN MARPESIA’S personal chambers in APHRODITE’S CASTLE. 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 and MALAPADIA enter. MARPESIA is still in her shiny armor, though HIPPOTHOE now 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.]
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.
[Now dressed in her royal robes MARPESIA and all exit.]
ACT I, SCENE VII:
[SETTING: The great hall of APHRODITE’S CASTLE. Lanterns are lit on the walls. All of QUEEN MARPESIA’S AMAZONIAN CHIEFTAINESSES are at attention. PYRGOMACHE enters, leading LYKOPIS and PENTHESILEA through the ranks of women.]
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.
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 [takes a glorious sword from a waiting attendant, presents it to LYKOPIS]:
You are welcome here. By making you Marpesia’s Hallowing and the new commander of the Southern Fortress I have planted the seeds for an incredible future for you. Please allow me to make sure that they grow. [To PENTHESILEA, handing her a similar sword.] Loyal Lady Penthesilea, you deserve no less than Lady Lykopis. Let me embrace you. You are now the heart and soul of the Red Stronghold.
[ LYKOPIS and PENTHESILEA glance at each other, amazed and unsure of this turn of events. With their new swords raised high they exit together through the ranks of their fellow warriors.]
ACT II, SCENE I:
[SETTING: The courtyard of the much nobler SOUTHERN FORTRESS. Time has passed. Villagers bring in a great harvest. Three of LYKOPIS’S WARRIORS laze in the heat of a warm day.]
Delightfully peaceful; I’d call this paradise.
Yes, anything is grander to the discomfort of life in the north.
Life can always be improved.
Fine fortune for we who serve … our Lady must be well satisfied.
If only she didn’t consort as much as she did with that Shashgaz. [Shivers.]
Ai. I have always said it is unnatural and foul, but our lady follows no one’s council save Shashgaz. I suppose it was only a manner of time before she took her slave to bed with her.
Unnatural is the word for it, I —
[The WARRIORS fall silent, rise and bow when LYKOPIS, now wearing the rich robes of a noble, enters silently. She moodily stares at them and then exits.]
ACT II, SCENE II:
[SETTING: A room in another part of the castle that opens upon a courtyard. SHASHGAZ and LYKOPIS enter. As a warrior-class the Amazons were a single-sexed society; however, off the battlefield, in the privacy of their own homes, it was rumored that some 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, male-mirror image; muscular, tricky of tongue, highly enjoying his role in manipulating his mistress.]
Is your heart resolved?
No. I dreamt an evil dream, one enticed by demons. But I have decided to ignore everything the spirit world whispers to me. It is preposterous to wish that I were queen of Aphrodite’s Castle.
Do not call your dreams preposterous. Any warrior who takes bow in hand would dream of such treasures.
No. I prefer to remain here in the south. I will serve my queen loyally. I wish to savor the peaceful life, now that I am loved.
You are not loved.
What if Penthesilea should disclose the prophecy you were told to our queen? If that happened we should not survive. You know, of course you now, that Marpesia would surround this castle with her army, jealous of the threat you pose to her authority. My Lady, you have but two paths ahead. Remain here and patiently wait for Marpesia to discover the truth and have you executed, or assassinate her first and become the queen of Aphrodite’s Castle.
Slaying the queen would be high treason.
Did not Marpesia come to her own rank by slaying her predecessor?
No, no, that only happened because the queen at the time doubted Marpesia and ordered her death. Marpesia trusts me. She treasures me.
Only because she does not know the depths of your own heart.
My heart? There is nothing in my heart.
That is a lie.
Ludicrous. I am … perfectly content with my lot at the Southern Fortress.
Indeed? Even if that were true, do you think Marpesia would trust you, once Penthesilea informed her of the prophecy?
What? Penthesilea is … Penthesilea is my beloved friend from childhood. She is incapable of betrayal.
To rise in this world parents have been willing to kill their daughters, sell them into slavery, break them in the most horrible ways possible … you know this is true. It is a degenerate age. The only way a woman can escape a life of toil and misery is to be stronger than those who wish to enslave her. I cannot help wondering if Penthesilea, seeing you as an easy way not to be linked to the prophecy, has already informed Marpesia?
Shashgaz, my love, do not speak of this again.
[LYKOPIS rushes out into the courtyard. ATTENDANT #1 enters at a run.]
ATTENDANT #1 [bowing]:
I’ve just had word. There are three hundred warriors from Aphrodite’s Castle lurking in the woods. They have assembled in silence.
ATTENDANT #2 [entering and bowing]:
News for Lykopis, Lady of the Southern Fortress.
What is it?
My Lady, Queen Marpesia approaches.
LYKOPIS [calling out her WARRIORS]:
Women, form up your ranks! Form up your ranks! Fall in!
[There is a general commotion as armed Amazons rush on stage and begin to form ranks.]
My lady, there is no need for that. Our queen is out hunting secretly and has asked for there not to be an official reception.
[Distant voices crying, “Open the gates! The queen is here! Open the gates!” LYKOPIS gives SHASHGAZ, who has been standing in the shadows, listening to all that has been said, a worried, meaningful glance then rushes off to meet her queen.]
ACT II, SCENE III:
[The great hall of the SOUTHERN FORTRESS. QUEEN MARPESIA sits with her retainers and CHIEFTAINESSES. PENTHESILEA and LYKOPIS enter and bow.]
My queen! Well done on your bountiful kill.
No, no, the hunt was only a pretext so that I may deploy my warriors to attack that bastard Leonidas. His behavior is indefensible, despite the oaths that he swore. For tonight I shall quarter with you here while my forces secretly fortify our border. Then we shall attack when opportunity permits. Until then … not a word to anyone.
[LYKOPIS’ SLAVES enter, including a very passive SHASHGAZ, bringing cups of wine to all the noble women present.]
QUEEN MARPESIA [tasting the wine and finding it marvelous]:
LYKOPIS [bowing once again] :
I elevate you both in recognition of your courage. Lady Lykopis, you shall take my vanguard out to win glory for us all. Lady Penthesilea, you shall be commander of Aphrodite’s Castle in my absence.
LYKOPIS and PENTHESILEA [together]:
[They stand and exit.]
ACT II, SCENE IV:
[SETTING: LYKOPIS and SHASHGAZ’S private chambers.]
Shashgaz, my love, now your suspicions must come to an end. Our queen trusts me. Do not slander Penthesilea or Marpesia; that is how the evil spirits are able to talk through you.
Evil? No, I cannot agree with you.
Yes, doubting is evil. Listen; the queen places her trust in me above all others. That is why she gave me the rank of vanguard commander, why she made me her Marpesia’s Hallowing.
The vanguard commander is vulnerable to the enemy on every side she turns. Marpesia is a harpy. With easy words, she cheats you of Aphrodite’s Castle. Instead she sends her right-hand. See? Penthesilea is now out of danger playing the easy job of being guard. She casts you, the one she wants out of the way, into danger. No one will think badly of her if you fall in battle. From the heights of her castle Marpesia will laugh as she watches you get filled with Spartan arrows like a pin-cushion.
No! What you say is too horrible. These are my sisters … my blood. None of them would betray me.
My mistress, what madness are you speaking? Ever since Penthesilea fell and the tribes have fallen into fighting amongst themselves, what is the worth of a blood-oath from an Amazon? Did not Queen Kleoptoleme put all her chieftainesses to death for thinking that they were planning to usurp her? What of the twins, Okypous and Polemusa, who sold half their warriors into slavery in order to keep their throne safe? I know you are brave and noble and would do anything for a sovereign that you could trust, but Marpesia is one that you cannot — you should not — trust under any circumstance. Tonight we are holding a feast in her honor and you know what you must do, but even now your face betrays your feelings, my lady, and people will be able to read it like a book. In order to deceive them you should look like an innocent flower, but be like the viper that hides underneath the flower. Let me handle tonight’s preparations. What happens tonight shall make you the greatest Amazon the world has ever known.
ACT II, SCENE V:
[Setting: Later that night in 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]:
My queen 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. 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.
What news do you have?
Our queen has almost finished her last meal. Why did you leave the dining room?
Has she asked for me?
Don’t you know that she has?
We can’t go on with this plan. My queen has just honored me. I want to enjoy these honors while they’re still fresh and not throw them away too soon.
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 on your desires. Will you take the crown that you want so badly … or will you live as a coward, always saying “I can’t” when the Fates give you an opportunity. You are womanly, my lady, just make sure that the word isn’t spoken as a curse.
Please, stop! I want to do only what is proper for a warrior to do.
“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.
But if we fail?
The greatest Amazon in history shall not fail. When Marpesia is asleep I’ll get her guards 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.
ACT II, SCENE VI:
[SETTING: The door leading to the private chambers of QUEEN MARPESIA. Three PERSIAN GUARDS sit at vigil before it. Two MAIDS enter.]
PERSIAN GUARD #1 [issuing a challenge]:
PERSIAN GUARD #2:
We are the queen’s personal guards. Do not walk any further. That way lies the queen’s sleeping quarters. No one may approach her.
I do not seek her quarters. I come to air the sealed chamber.
PERSIAN GUARD #3:
What sealed chamber?
It is the place where the wife of Antimachos, Lady Teisipyte, took her life. No scrubbing will cleanse the bloodstained floor; so the chamber has remained locked until a soothsayer can be called.
PERSIAN GUARD #2:
Why open the room now?
Our honored Queen Marpesia sleeps in our Lady’s chambers, consequently she must sleep the night here.
PERSIAN GUARD #1:
I thank you for your labors. You may pass.
[The two MAIDS bow and exit.]
ACT II, SCENE VII:
[SETTING: The SEALED ROOM. In one corner there is a terrifically large bloodstain. It looks fresh. The two MAIDS enter, carrying lanterns.]
Most peculiar. Though my mistress has waded through endless mires of dead, these blood stains never fails to chill my spine.
MAID #2 [looking around]:
Of course, this is dog’s blood, the blood of the wife of a traitor.
[The two approach the supernatural blood stain. Pause. Suddenly a raven shrieks from off-stage.]
MAID #1 [unnerved]:
Gaia curse it, even the birds cry ominously tonight.
ACT II, SCENE VIII:
[SETTING: LYKOPIS and SHASHGAZ’S private chambers.]
You accuse me of doubting. Yet even I cannot help but trust the prophecy. Open your eyes and look for yourself. Each part of that prophecy has come to pass without the slightest help from you. Queen Marpesia herself has placed herself into your very hands. If you let this night pass, such an opportunity will never come again.
However … under what pretext can I commit high treason? In any case, all her women will turn against me.
Though Marpesia claims to trust you, she’s left Pyrgomache’s women to guard her. This is our good fortune. We’ll quench their thirst with a sleeping potion mixed in wine. As her guards dream, you shall slay Marpesia, and denounce Pyrgomache as the murderer to her own women.
[The same raven call as heard in the SEALED ROOM.]
What do you hear in that bird’s cry? ”Will you risk the world?” So it sounds to me. From your stronghold and Aphrodite’s Labyrinth you may yet aspire to the world. The cry is from heaven.
[Enter the two MAIDS.]
MAID #1 [to LYKOPIS]:
Your sleeping quarters are ready, my lady.
Good work. How did you leave the Marpesia’s guards?
With swords poised they maintain their sleepless vigil.
Indeed they do. Let us offer them some wine, then.
[SHASHGAZ crosses the stage and brings out a large clay jar full of wine. He silently hands it over to the MAIDS. They exit with it.]
ACT II, SCENE IX:
[Setting: A dark hallway. PENTHESILEA, half-drunk from the evening’s celebrations, enters with her daughter, PHOEBE, who lights the way with a lantern.]
How’s the night going, my girl?
The moon has set. The guard hasn’t called the hour yet.
The moon set at midnight, right?
I think it’s later than that, mother.
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 SHASHGAZ, who carries a lantern of his own.]
PENTHESILEA [to her daughter]:
Give me back my sword. [Calling.] Who’s there?
A loved comrade.
You’re not asleep yet, my dear lady? The queen’s in bed. I would be too, if I could sleep.
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.
Everything’s fine. I had a dream last night about the three Erinyes. At least part of what they said about you has come true.
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.
Whenever you’d like, my love.
Rest easy in the meantime.
Thank you, sister. But we seemed to have lost the way. Can you send your slave with us? I don’t want to get found wandering the halls at odd hours.
Of course. [to SHASHGAZ] Please take my honored guests — sister and her daughter — to their chambers. Then you may turn in for the night.
[PENTHESILEA, PHOEBE and SHASHGAZ exits.]
[LYKOPIS glances up and down the dark hall that she finally finds herself in. She is dazed, haggard. She turns to exit but swings back with a horrified cry.]
LYKOPIS [frightened, pressing herself against the wall]:
Is this a dagger that 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 a ghost dagger, a phantasm blade 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.
ACT II, SCENE X:
[SETTING: LYKOPIS and SHASHGAZ’S private chambers. SHASHGAZ waits patiently. Suddenly LYKOPIS enters carrying two bloody daggers.]
LYKOPIS [dumb, in shock]:
I have done the deed. Did you hear a noise?
I’ve heard the crickets crying all night and a raven scream.
A raven? When?
As I entered?
LYKOPIS [looking at her bloody hands]:
This is a sorry sight.
That’s an ill-advised thing to say.
One guard cried, “Great Hera save us!” and the other replied, “Murderer!” as if they had seen my hands stained red with blood.
Don’t think about it too much.
But why did they call upon Hera if they did not know the horror I had just committed?
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.
I … I can’t go back. I’m afraid even to think about what I’ve done.
SHASHGAZ [grabbing the daggers]:
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.]
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 and in a sing-song voice.] “They’re not hands,/ their claws, a wolf’s paws,/ they’ll pluck out my own eyes.” [Presses her fingers to her eyes, leaving long red streaks down her face. Pause, full of dread.] Will all of the ocean be able to wash this blood from my hands? No, instead my hands will stain the sea red, turning the deep green into a scarlet tide.
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.]
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.
Listen! There’s more knocking. Put on your nightgown, wash your face, cover your breasts.
LYKOPIS [still hasn’t moved; gazing in shock up at SHASHGAZ]:
Terrible Lady Nix, only you can wake poor Marpesia with your knocking now … only you can calm her raging soul …
Act III, Scene I:
[Setting: The courtyard of the SOUTHERN FORTRESS. Guards stand at the doors leading to the outside. LYKOPIS enters, freshly dressed, clean and looking rested. With a nod from her the guards open the outer doors. PYRGOMACHE and HIPPOTHOE enter.]
Good morning, sister and noble madam.
Good morning to both of you.
Is the queen awake?
She commanded me to wake her up early. [Laughing.] I’ve almost missed the time she requested.
I’ll bring you to her.
I know the problems of accommodating her is both an honor and a trouble, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a trouble just the same.
Nonsense. Any “trouble” that we enjoy is not really trouble at all. How did you sleep?
The night has been chaotic. The wind blew down through the chimneys where we were sleeping. People are saying they heard cries of grief in the air, strange screams of death and terrible voices predicting catastrophes that will usher in a new miserable age. Some people say that the earth shook and a raven cried and cried all night.
Odd. Follow me. [Leading them across the courtyard.] This is the door. [She sees the three PERSIAN GUARDS, still drugged and unconscious, with wine glasses and the earthen pot sitting in front of them.] Wait — what is this?
PYRGOMACHE [rushing up]:
Check the queen!
[HIPPOTHOE, LYKOPIS and PYRGOMACHE exit.]
Horror! Horror! Horror!
[HIPPOTHOE, LYKOPIS and PYRGOMACHE enter, shocked, distraught.]
Oh, this is beyond words and beyond belief!
Under my own roof! Betrayed!
The worst thing imaginable has happened. A thief has broken into Hera’s temple and stolen all that was good and glorious from it.
Wake up, wake up! Ring the alarm bell. Murder and treason! Penthesilea and Malapadia! Wake up! Get up, get up, and look at this image of Armageddon! Sisters! Get up from your beds as if you were rising out of your own graves, come witness this horror. Ring the bell!
[A bell rings. PENTHESILEA and MALAPADIA and several CHIEFTAINESSES enter.]
Has something happened?
Only the foulest deed our tribe has ever faced.
The queen has been murdered.
Who did it?
[The three PERSIAN GUARDS groggily attempt to rise.]
LYKOPIS [before anyone can stop her, rushing forward and killing each with her sword]:
Act III, Scene II:
[Setting: The next day. QUEEN MARPESIA’S body is being prepared for funeral. PENTHESILEA has hurriedly returned to APHRODITE’S CASTLE. In another part of the SOUTHERN FORTRESS, MALAPADIA and PYRGOMACHE meet in a deserted hallway.]
Sister and aunt, why are we keeping quiet? The two of us have the most to say in this matter.
PYRGOMACHE [worried, glancing around]:
Why are we staying in a place where danger will be waiting to strike at us from anywhere? Let’s get out of here. We haven’t even begun to weep yet … but there will be time for that later.
Ai. I’m putting myself in Great Hera’s hands, and with her help I plan to fight against this plot that caused such treasonous murder. I’m going to Delphi.
I’ll go to Tripolis. We haven’t yet encountered that danger, and the best thing to do is avoid it entirely. Let’s get to our horses. There’s good reason to escape when there’s no mercy to be found at home.
Act III, Scene III:
[SETTING: Out on the wasteland between APHRODITE’S CASTLE and the LABYRINTH. LYKOPIS enters, leading her troops, hunting for the princess and the general.]
Find the traitors! Find the assassins. Pyrgomache is our enemy. Where’s Pyrgomache? She was nearly ours.
My lady, she fled to the castle with the princess.
What? To the castle with the princess? Great Hera! Aphrodite’s Castle is in Penthesilea’s command now. If she admits those two … admitting those traitors insults our queen. Give chase. We must capture them!
Act III, Scene IV:
[SETTING: At the outer gates of APHRODITE’S CASTLE. MALAPADIA and PYRGOMACHE enter.]
Please bring Lady Penthesilea to the gates! Marpesia did not die tragically by drunken guards or Leonidas’ spies; it was at Lykopis’ treasonous hand. I, Pyrgomache, fought my way back to this castle with the princess under my protection. Open the gates!
Open the gates.
[The gates remain closed. No indication that anyone inside is even listening.]
PYRGOMACHE [panic in her voice]:
Lady Penthesilea! Lykopis will be here in moments.
Open the gates.
Penthesilea, how dare you?
[LYKOPIS and her troops enter.]
There they are! Strike them, my Lady! Kill the traitors.
No, hold back.
[MALAPADIA and PYRGOMACHE exit.]
We cannot move until we understand Penthesilea’s allegiance. With Marpesia gone, Penthesilea may try to usurp the throne herself; then Penthesilea would become our next enemy.
[HIPPOTHOE, leading a royal honor guard, enters, carrying QUEEN MARPESIA’S coffin.]
What is this?
HIPPOTHOE [stepping forward]:
Lady, if Penthesilea refuses to open the gates for the living, then we must approach bearing the Marpesia’s coffin. There are too many traitors in this tribe, I wish to cut out all who refuse to yield.
LYKOPIS [striding up to the gates and shouting]:
Open the gates! Queen Marpesia returns! Open the gates! Lykopis will enter, guarding the Marpesia’s coffin.
[Slowly the gates swing open, as the funeral procession approaches. PENTHESILEA meets them at the gates. LYKOPIS and her childhood friend embrace. As they enter, sound of slaves crying off-stage.]
What happened to the queen’s lady?
Telepyleia has taken her life. She could not bear to see an enemy occupy the castle. Surely the evil spirits prophesied the truth. With Marpesia gone King Leonidas will surely attempt to conquer our lands. He will come in force. You alone, sister, have the strength to defend this castle. I will argue the justice of this before the Council of Tribes. I say this only as a compliment, but we need a brutal queen if we are to survive.
Act III, Scene V:
[SETTING: A tower in the fog-hidden APHRODITE’S CASTLE. A month has passed and LYKOPIS has been made queen. Rumors of war against the SPARTANS can be heard everywhere. Several of LYKOPIS’S WARRIOR stand guard, peering through the murk.]
Where is the border from here?
At the foot of those mountains, see?
From this height, it seems that we hold almost nothing.
Kingdoms can always be expanded upon.
Unless the Fates have a say in the matter. Poor Lady Penthesila, first she is the commander of this castle then she gets demoted and sent back to the Red Stronghold, without even complaining. That is the true warrior spirit.
Act III, Scene VI:
[SETTING: In the courtyard of the RED STRONGHOLD. PENTHESILEA and her daughter, PHOEBE, enter.]
PHOEBE [in heated conversation]:
Mother, as I have said already, I am grateful for these honors–
Yet you complain?
No, I air no grievances. But I refuse to trust evil spirits’ prophecy. That is crazy.
Crazy? I saw it clearly with my own eyes. As for my sister, my dear Lykopis, the prophecies have been fulfilled.
Mother, such reasoning only makes sense if you yourself are possessed. The spirits have tricked you into fulfilling their own prophecies, not yours, and now you believe they have come true. Is that wisdom?
Believe what you want, child. However, those same spirits said that you would become queen of our tribe. I’ve never wanted the title myself for I do not have the stomach for the kind of dirty dealings a woman must undertake to be a sovereign. But now that Lykopis is queen and you after her, then perhaps the Amazons will finally enjoy peace.
Act III, Scene VII:
[SETTING: A lavish banquet hall. QUEEN LYKOPIS is entertaining her guests. The chairs at the table reserved for PENTHESILEA and PHOEBE are empty. LYKOPIS is upset and drinking heavily to mask her nerves.]
Where can Lady Penthesilea be?
Our queen is vexed by such rudeness.
Ai. Such impudence is unlike Penthesilea.
[HIPPOTHOE stands and performs a swift Grecian dance, then begins to entertain by reciting a poem.]
Terrible goddesses, hear and attend. The very same tale foretold in ancient legend. Queen Anaea, conqueror from the Thermodontine tribe, named a city after herself and her tomb lies there. It was she whose devilish appetites served her traitorous schemes; yet when her warriors murdered her in betrayal their royal treachery only brought their own ruin. So it came to pass–
That’s enough! Enough of your damn, boring Homer …
HIPPOTHOE [quickly bowing]:
[HIPPOTHOE returns to her seat. There is a long pause while LYKOPIS gets drunker and drunker, scowling at everyone in front of her. Suddenly the GHOST OF PENTHESILEA, naked, bloody, hair undone, bone-white, appears in her chair.]
LYKOPIS [terrified, jumping to her feet]:
Damn you, Penthesilea! [Shocked.]What are you doing here? [Runs across the room to the great alarm of her other guests who can’t see what she sees.] Be gone, damned ghost, be gone!
My lady! [To the guests.] Great ladies, I beg of you, please calm yourselves. Our queen drank too much. [Starts to laugh as if his mistress’ behavior was a prank.] Lately, she is often this way when she has had too much to drink.
LADY #1 [angrily]:
The cheek of it! A slave telling us what is the matter?
I say let’s make a castrati out of him and see how he sings.
LYKOPIS [slowly sitting back down, staring at her guests]:
Forgive me, sisters. I’m terribly drunk. [Pause.] What’s wrong? [Angrily] Will you women not take a drop with me?
[Once again LYKOPIS goes back to her scowling. Suddenly the GHOST OF PENTHESILEA reappears. LYKOPIS staggers to her feet.]
There she is again! [Throws her cup at ghost. Runs to grab her sword. Guests jump to their feet as she swings the naked blade around.] If you accuse me draw your sword and fight! I’ll murder you once again! [Slashes angrily at the empty air above PENTHESILEA’S chair. Turns wildly upon her guests.] All of you, get out of here! Be gone!
[The guests, shocked, all bow and exit. Soon LYKOPIS and SHASHGAZ are alone.]
Well done. Brilliant. The greatest Amazon, her ambitions set on the world, terrorized and undone by phantoms found at the bottom of her wine cup. [She turns, sees a shadowy figure, the ASSASSIN, sitting quietly in one corner, holding a box tied with string.] Who’s there?
ASSASSIN: [approaching, setting the box down in front of LYKOPIS]:
My queen, I bring Lady Penthesilea with me … [Begins to open the box.]
Only one? What of her daughter?
I wounded her, but she escaped, clinging to her horse.
What? She escaped?
Forgive me, my queen, I have no excuse.
[SHASHGAZ exits, smirking. LYKOPIS, in a fit of anger, kills the ASSASSIN. She walks, dazed, over to the table where her helmet and sword rest. Stares at them.]
Fool! [Begins to laugh madly.] Fool.
[GUARD #1 rushes in.]
GUARD #1 [entering]:
My queen, a messenger from the North Fortress.
What? [MESSENGER #1 enters and bows.] What is it?
Leonidas’s men swarmed our border. They are taking the North Fortress. Pyrgomache leads the vanguard, swearing vengeance.
MESSENGER #2 [entering]:
My queen! The Western Fortress is surrounded! Penthesilea’s daughter commands them.
MESSENGER #3 [entering]:
The Southern Fortress is lost; our enemy has joined forces and approaches the Eastern Fortress.
Call up all chieftainesses still loyal to their queen. Let the traitors strike as they may, I will not yield one bloody yard.
Act IV, Scene I:
[SETTING: The outer gates of APHRODITE’S CASTLE. A great wind blows, causing the GUARDS to seek shelter next to the wall.]
A fierce wind blows as if to shake down the castle to its foundation.
These foundations already tremble, without need of any wind.
Today, even chieftainesses and fortress commanders, who once paid court, are hardly seen.
Let sleeping dogs lie.
Two chieftainesses, whom our queen doubted, were forced to take their lives.
Hard to believe it was Leonidas’s spies that murdered Penthesilea.
I’ve heard tell that Penthesilea’s daughter has taken shelter with Leonidas. Only a fool would side with her father’s enemy.
They say even Pyrgomache and our last princess have pledged themselves to Leonidas as well.
What will come of all this?
I heard a guard of the watch say that she saw a pack of rats fleeing the castle grounds.
They always say, “Rats flee a house before it burns down. “
Hera! The wind!
Act IV, Scene II:
[SETTING: The same lavish banquet hall LYKOPIS used to entertain her guests. Now it is a council of war. Unlike QUEEN MARPESIA’S war council in the start of the play, there is no signs of hope in the faces of the AMAZON CHIEFTESSES gathered here, just grim determination to fight until the last for their queen.]
LYKOPIS [to her silent AMAZON CHIEFTESSES]:
Cowards! Whimpering men! It has been two hours since I called council. How can we meet this attack? [Long pause.] Ludicrous! Enough with you old women. What do I need the advice of cowards for? Little monsters who quake and pale under fire? [Great roll of thunder and lightning. This gives LYKOPIS an idea.] Bring my horse! My horse!
Act IV, Scene III:
[SETTING: The ghost-like hut in APHRODITE’S LABYRINTH. The three ERINYES with their spinning wheels sit in front of it.]
By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.
Who do we have here?
Ai. Is this not the queen of Aphrodite’s Castle?
Riding far from home on the night when the enemy comes a’knocking.
Damn you. Answer me plainly. Is it true Penthesilea’s daughter will be queen of Aphrodite’s Castle?
So I see that you have finally come to the end of your path.
You have done well.
You have done well.
Damn you. Tell me. If you have the power, prophesy the result of this battle.
You may set your fears to rest.
Until the very trees of Aphrodite’s Labyrinth rise against Aphrodite’s Castle…
… you will not be defeated in battle.
LYKOPIS [amazed and raving as if struck mad]:
The trees rise to attack? [Laughs.] Such a thing is impossible. Which means, I will not be defeated in battle? But what of this impossibly? We are cut from tin and uncertainty. Soldiering on and that sick joke. That sick joke. That. Same token. I don’t want to live or die. I am unfit for both. See? See? I am like the high mountains that sketch out the sky. Catch a fire; wretch that I am. Off hand I’d say that all jokes are sick. On hand it’s hard to see rebirth as an inheritance. Even if we could do it. I just don’t want to be yoked, ox. Soldiering on.The Earth understands. Lady Hera, weep for me.
Act IV, Scene IV:
[SETTING: A field with a great host gathered, ready for war. War drums and the sound of horses and soldiers. PRINCESS MALAPADIA, LADY PYRGOMACHE and PHOEBE enter.]
PYRGOMACHE [addressing the troops]:
Heed this. The Aphrodite’s Labyrinth is nothing but a spider’s web. Do not let the hills lure you in. Avoid the all trails save the one I will lead you on. If all goes as planned tomorrow evening we shall have the head of the traitorous she-wolf hanging on a spear outside my tent.
Act IV, Scene V:
[SETTING: The courtyard in APHRODITE’S CASTLE filled with warriors. LYKOPIS, having returned, receives bad news.]
What? My troops hidden in the maze have withdrawn? Cowards! The chieftainesses who lay in wait withdrew without firing a single arrow?
Pyrgomache knows the hills. We cannot entrap her.
[LYKOPIS considers this for a moment, then runs across the stage and climbs up to a tower. Stares down at her waiting troops and begins to laugh.]
Amazons, I was thoughtless … [Addresses all present.] Sisters, hear me. In battle, the final victor takes all. Skirmishes mean nothing. Take heart. I, Queen Lykopis, demand your trust. On no account shall I meet defeat in battle. If you do not believe me then I’ll tell you why. This happened when I still commanded the Northern Fortress. As I returned to the Castle after destroying Antimachos and her mutiny, I saw three evil spirits in Aphrodite’s Labyrinth. According to their prophecy, I would become Marpesia’s Hallowing, and later, queen of this Castle. Behold my fate. The prophecy foretold my destiny precisely. Today I spurred my steed back into the Labyrinth to ask the spirits of my fortune once more. Rejoice, sisters. No one will defeat me, though heaven descends and the earth buckles up to touch it. The spirits told me, until the trees of Aphrodite’s Labyrinth rise to attack our Castle that I shall never be defeated on the battlefield. Women! Amazons! Sisters! Tell me. Do trees attack? [Her troops all laugh. LYKOPIS joins them.] Those of you, the ones who trust in my fate, raise your swords and follow me! [Her troops cheer her on as all exit.]
Act IV, Scene VI:
[SETTING: Night. The watch tower at APHRODITE’S CASTLE. The guards are on edge.]
Can’t see a thing.
Hey. What is the enemy plotting that allows them to work without a single torch?
GUARD #3 [hearing the sound of distant hammering]:
What can that be?
No doubt they’ve abandoned their attack to build defenses.
Act IV, Scene VII:
[SETTING: The next day. LYKOPIS and her AMAZON CHIEFTESSES sit, waiting. The air is oppressive. Long pause.]
Even the formidable Pyrgomache has no power against these legendary fortifications. The attackers can see nothing inside the castle. Yet we have a bird’s-eye view of them. If they do attack us, let them draw near and then shower them with arrows.
[Alarmed, LYKOPIS strides across the courtyard to her private chambers. A NURSE greets her at the door.]
NURSE [bowing miserably]:
[ LYKOPIS stares in horror. SHASHGAZ is on his hands and knees, frantically trying to clean his hands in a bucket of water.]
It won’t come out. — What an awful bloodstain. — No matter how I wash it, why won’t this blood wash away? — It reeks of blood even now. — Why can I not clean this blood from my hands? —
LYKOPIS [rushes right up to him, shouts in his ear]:
SHASHGAZ [as if he were by himself]:
What is the matter with this blood? — The stain will not leave my hands. — No matter how many times I wash and wash again, — still these hands reek of blood —
LYKOPIS [grabbing at his hands, knocking the bucket away, shouting again]:
SHASHGAZ [goes on rubbing hands together]:
This awful stain of blood —
My queen! What shall we do?
I’ve almost forgotten what fear feels like. There was a time when I would have been terrified by a shriek in the night, and the hair on my skin would have stood up when I heard a ghost story. But now I’ve had my fill of real horrors. Horrible things are so familiar that they can’t startle me.
[Suddenly the sound of battle reaches LYKOPIS’S ears. Clearly torn between staying with SHASHGAZ and confronting the enemy she rushes into the courtyard. Her troops are fleeing in panic.]
Fools! Why this confusion as victory approaches? Quiet down. Quiet down, I order you!
A CHIEFTAINESS [pointing in horror]:
My queen! The trees, the trees of Aphrodite’s Labyrinth!
What about them?
The trees have left the hills and are attacking us!
Ludicrous. A coward’s delusion. If you are lying, you’ll hang alive until you die of pain and hunger. How can trees move? [Rushes to the tower, her WARRIORS pause in their retreat to stare at her. She peers out into the fog. Dimly a line of trees can be seen moving forward. LYKOPIS is speechless. Turning to her troops she shouts.] What is this? Hold your positions! Do not yield. Return to your positions. [Nobody moves. Suddenly an arrow, shot by one of her own WARRIORS, strikes the wall near her.] Cowards! I see it now. You’ll murder me and offer my head when you surrender! [An arrow strikes her in the belly. LYKOPIS cries out.] You traitors! [More arrows are fired, blocking her escape. Another strikes her. Then another.] Murdering a queen is high treason!
Who killed our Queen Marpesia?
[More and more arrows strike LYKOPIS. She has become a pin cushion. Finally a single arrow lodges deep in her throat. Her troops back away in fright as she approaches. She tries to draw her sword, staggers and falls to the ground. Dead.]
Act IV, Scene VIII:
[SETTING: Fog rolls in, replacing the landscape back to its original stunted wastes as seen in the first act of the play; fog and black volcanic rock. APHRODITE’S CASTLE returns to ruins.]
CHORUS [coming on-stage, singing]:
See? She trailed her claws through the long moonlight
streaks; all that remained of those who denied
a wolf her ambitions; haunted tonight
by the ghosts of those who perished inside.
A scene of carnage born of desire.
A scene not fit for anyone who thought
a queen had honor; a She-Wolf’s empire
crumbled. A riddle that even the Sphinx
could not answer. Lust: never changing now
or all throughout history. Why? Answers
puddled under our knees, filled our wide, dumb,
gapping mouths; we all drowned not knowing how
to read. Foolish hubris; as if slaughter
and war brought any sister her wisdom.
Let’s put faces on my heroes, the women who have dedicated their lives to making this miserable world better. Cathay Williams (September 1844 – 1892), a soldier, the first African-American woman to enlist in the United States of America. I have been told not to be ashamed of my military, that the My Lai Massacre, and all rapes and mutilations by Americans are a distant part of history …
… but Goddess Damn All Rapists, they are not.
For all my sisters who enlisted, who dedicated themselves to making the American idea better; for all those women and men who’ve been hurt, raped and killed by their fellow soldiers …
… you have been, you are now, and you will ever be my heroes. For now and forever. I can only give my blessings, for what that is worth, because you are braver than I will ever be.
reaching for our ancestors: everyone has a killer grandmother in their family; the sort who would burn down empires just for fun.
Sister mine—what she calls liberation
is just one more example of lapis
red extermination. You are captain;
you’ll fight with Penthesilea at Troy. Princess
Ainia ordered you to spare no one;
so what makes you different from Achilles?
I have been lost in mist, grayish brown, dun
light let me sooth-say from papyrus. Please,
sister mine, listen. Do not be martyr,
warrior or her fool. Be the wild night’s mare.
Gallop to me. Ruin is not for you.
Let me wash your feet in saffron and myrrh.
Troy and Princes Ainia will fall—Swear
that you won’t, too. Please, swear that you won’t, too.
For the background of the picture I used an ancient Greek pot showing the Fall of Troy.
Princess Ainia was an Amazon who was the personal enemy of Achilles. Due to this, she brought her forces with her and fought against the Greeks at Troy. Her name means, “Swiftness.”
Queen Penthesilea was the daughter of Orithia and the god Ares. She was known for her bravery, her skill in weapons and her wisdom. During the ten year long siege of Troy she killed many Greek warriors, including Machaon and the Achilles the Greater. Her name means “She Who Compels Men to Mourn.”
The men fled to the coast with their meager
flocks. We had cut them off from the marshes
and mud of their homes; springing down from fir
hills and scrub oak tangles, carrying axes
and cow-hide shields. Bremusa and Aello
led us. The men had worshiped swamp phalli
and called warrior women a hollow
myth, our Amazonomachy a lie.
So we came down; cleft in the hills, the slope
between tree and tree. We called, O be swift,
drove them from their waddled huts and cast down
their gods, creatures of leaf-mold and earth. What hope
was there against those blessed with martial gifts
except to flee down to the coast and drown?
In Greek mythology, Amazonomachy was the portrayal of the battle between the Greeks and the Amazons. Many of the stories and legends portrayed were that of Hercules’ 9th Labor, which was stealing the girdle from Queen Hippolyta; as well as Theseus’ later rape and kidnapping of Hippolyta. Another famous myth is that of Achilles’ battle against Queen Penthesilea during the Trojan war.
Aello was one of Hippolyte’s body guards. She was the first to attack Hercules when he came for her queen’s girdle. Unfortunately, Hercules wore the lion skin he had acquired during his 1st Labor, making him untouchable. Aello was thus killed by Hercules. Her name means “Mother Whirlwind.”
Bremusa was an Amazon who was one of Queen Penthesilea’s twelve companions at Troy, where she fell in battle. Her name means “Raging Female.”
“Any woman can be a hero, but few heroes can be an Onna-bugeisha. To be a true warrior you must follow the qualities Empress Jingu dictated: loyalty to one’s lord or lady, honor unto death and unselfishness, a readiness to sacrifice one’s own for that of others. What samurai is courteous to all? What lord is kind to those weaker than himself? Men are raised at birth to be vainglorious and as a result they will never know the Way, Bushido. Remember that these qualities are the signs of a true Onna-bugeisha as our lady wrote down, a warrior and a hero.”
— from Angelique Ange’s history, “Onna-bugeisha: les mères de bushido.” (translated from French, out of print, Paris, 1977)
I can trace the scars on her shoulders, thick
as my finger, grotesque tattoos that wrap
around each arm. I can kiss her lithic
muscles making her tremble. She could snap
my spine like that. She has killed thirteen men
like that. When I play with her softest part,
that part I will not name, that talisman
you call a lifetime of love, my dear heart
blooms. It’s not words but other’s secrets
that that I won’t share. When I light her lucky
strike she bucks, gushes like a volcano’s
blow, clamping my face in place. Her ringlets
tease my nose. I love her, from her forty
sword hacked scars to each of her missing toes.
This is a rewrite of a poem I posted back in March.
Medb: Old Irish Gaelic name, meaning “intoxicating blood-lust.” In mythology, this is the name of a warrior queen of Connacht, the wife of Ailill.