Chapter 3: The Fighting Lesson
"You are not fast enough blocking my blows, Kern. It is almost as if you are hesitating." I instructed.
Although exhausted and covered with sweat, he smiled. "I don't want to accidently hurt you, Deidra. I would not hesitate if this were a real fight."
As his words registered I felt a surge of anger. My Amazon instincts kicked in and I threw two consecutive punches without warning. I was pleased to see that he managed to block both, but was still hesitating. Of course he had no way of knowing that I was not finished.
I twisted my body and kicked one leg out from underneath him. Off balance and startled he fell backwards and I leapt forward drawing my dagger. I frowned at the expression in his eyes - confusion mixed with fear. Time stood still as I straddled his chest and held the blade to his throat.
"Is this real enough for you? Because you hesitated, I now hold your life in my hands. If I were the enemy, you would be dead." I saw the light come into his eyes as my words sunk into his mind.
"I see your point." He admitted.
"In the future you will train like your life depends on it. Is that clear?" I said harshly.
"Yes. I promise." he replied in a somber tone I had ever heard him use before.
"I am an Amazon warrior. Never hesitate when fighting me." I added.
"I will remember that." He said seriously, but then ruined it by smiling and asking, "Can I get up now?" I took a long slow breath and stared down at him as if considering the request; then I smiled back. Swiftly I rose and reached down to help Kern to his feet.
"Do Amazons train with other Amazons with such intensity?" Kern asked as he reached for the water skin hanging on a nearby tree.
"But training so hard, don't you hurt each other? I mean - accidentally."
"I have had too many bruises to count and my sister Amazons have managed to break my arm once and crack my ribs twice." I replied.
"You almost sound proud of your injuries ." he spectulated.
"I am proud of my skills. I have caused ten times more injuries to others than I have taken. I am an Amazon warrior."
"Indeed you are." He replied a boyish hint of mischief in his eyes. As he handed me the water skin, he pondered, "I wonder who would win in a fight between an Amazon and a raider."
I took a long cool drink as his words drifted in my mind. I knew the answer instinctively. "The Amazon would win, because, just like you, the raider would hesitate. Amazons fight to win, so never hesitate."
"This is a side of Amazons I did not anticipate."
"How many Amazons have you known?" I asked with a chuckle. It has seemed like an innocent questions, but Kern's response told me otherwise.
Suddenly his face was contorted with resentment. "Too many." He spat and then turned and walked toward the spring. For several moments I stood there stunned. What had upset him?
"I'm sorry if I upset you." I offered softly as I caught up with him at the spring. He had removed his shirt and was splashing cool water on his overheated body. Back in Amazonia I would have done the same, but with Kern present the idea suddenly made me uncomfortable.
"I am afraid my experiences with your sister Amazons have not been as agreeable as our time together." He explained. When I said nothing, he continued, "You are the first Amazon I have ever seen in the daylight or even had the opportunity to talk to."
"I don't understand. How can you say you have known too many Amazons, if you have never even spoken to one of my sisters."
"It is not uncommon for the daughters of Hera to seek out the Sons of the Earth to help with their procreation needs. I have only met Amazons under those circumstances." The simple statement of fact felt as if I have been kicked in the chest. I didn't understand why I would have such a strong emotional response.
"I have heard of such things. I didn't know my sisters really, … I mean I thought they were just … stories."
"You're telling me that you have never sought out a man from another sect to father a child."
"I have spent the last five years completing my Amazon training. There was very little time for procreation."
"I see, and now?"
"I follow the rules of the Amazon order. I participate in the Great Hunt in order to procreate." I responded defensively suddenly feeling like I was back in my Amazon training.
"Once a year is not particularly good odds, if you really want to get pregnant." Kern responded in his usual flippant tone.
I did not find the subject funny. "I have participated in three Great Hunts since I came of age. Hera will see that I become a mother when the time is right." I informed him.
"I don't think Hera will have anything to do with your getting pregnant, Deidra." He said in sarcastic tone that I found vexed me.
"There is no need to be sacrilegious." I huffed. This time I was the one to stomp away in anger. Kern followed me.
"Deidra, wait. Please. I'm sorry." He called after me, but I did not stop. I realized he was running to catch me when I heard his voice just over my shoulder. "By Demeter, I swear I did not think before I spoke and am deeply sorry for insulting the Amazon ways" he said earnestly. "I understand that each Olympian sect has its own rules and beliefs. We live in peace, because we accept each other's differences. Forgive me." This time I stopped and turned.
"Perhaps I took offense too easily. I have never discussed Amazon procreation with an outsider – much less a man." I explained. I found that my anger was gone and for the first time I saw Amazonia as an outsider must see us. " I guess from your perspective our method of obtaining children seems too … uncertain."
"Perhaps you should participate in the Bonfires with the daughters of Demeter. It happens with each full moon and would significantly improve your chances of a pregnancy." He suggested.
"Amazons are allowed to dance around the Bonfires of Demeter?"
He laughed. "Sometimes there are more daughters of Hera dancing around the fires than daughters of Demeter. It is not done in secret. If it were forbidden, then surely the Amazons would be more discrete."
"I suppose." My mind conjured the images of dancing and mating by moonlight and I was shocked as my body flushed in anticipation.
"So you will think about participating ?" I was snapped out of my daydream, uncomfortable at Kern's words. I shook my head but otherwise ignored his question. I didn't know what to say.
After a minute of silence he added, "Now you are the one hesitating, Deidra. There is no reason not to join the Bonfire. You are pretending to be a daughter of Demeter."
"I am not hesitating. I just prefer the familiarity of the Great Hunt. I know almost nothing about the Bonfires of Demeter. How could I participate in something I know so little about."
"What do you want to know?"
I looked over at Kern. He seemed to seriously be waiting for me to pose a question, so I asked. "The Great Hunt allows for anonymity. I don't suppose the Bonfires are like that?"
"Unlike the masks of your Great Hunt, the women and men of the Bonfires can see the person they couple with, however, most Amazons try to mate with multiple men during the ritual to avoid knowing the identity of the father."
"How do you know all this?"
"We Sons of the Earth do our part to populate both the lands of Demeter and the lands of Hera." He said in an acerbic tone that startled me.
"You mean you have participated in …"
"In both the Bonfires of Demeter and the Great Hunt of the Amazons. Yes. Too many times." He said with a sharpness to his voice I was not used to hearing.
"You weren't given a choice about participating, were you?" I asked softly as the reality of his words became clear.
"Some of my brothers consider it an honor to be chosen to mate with strangers as part of the fertility ritual."
"But you don't."
"My first Bonfire was when I was 13 years old." He began. The light I was used to seeing in his eyes faded as he travelled back to a distant and I suspected unpleasant memory. "They came for me in the middle of the night and pulled me from my bed without an explanation. They poured a strange tasting liquid down my throat that made me feel things I didn't understand. For a while I thought they were dragging me into the woods to kill me. Imagine my relief and shock to arrive at the Bonfire and realize what was really happening." He paused and frowned, "I can't even remember the faces of all the woman who coupled with me that night."
"I thought all the men who participated in the rituals volunteered. They always seem so… eager."
"They are drugged to make them eager. It would defeat their purpose being there, if they were unable to perform."
I took a deep breath. I suddenly need to ask a question, but I was so afraid of the answer. I finally stammered, "Did the Amazons drug you as well? I mean during the Great Hunt."
"How many men have you hunted down during the Great Hunt? Have any of them ever been less than willing to mate with you?"
"I never thought about it …"
"How about you, Deidra? How can you look down upon men all year long and then suddenly be driven with sexual desire during the Great Hunt?"
"Have you ever wonder about the feast you attend just before sundown? Surely you suspected that the wine is laced with herbs that make everyone less inhibited and arouse sexual desires. The Amazons drug not only the men in the Great Hunt but the women as well."
"I can't believe that…" but in my heart I knew he spoke the truth. I had always wondered about the surreal quality of the Great Hunt. The drugs would explain how women who normally abhorred men could suddenly become so aroused. My legs were suddenly weak and I crumpled to the ground in horror. Kern fell to his knees beside me.
"I'm sorry, Deidra. I shouldn't have said anything. I didn't mean to upset you."
"I didn't know. I should have."
"There is no reason for you to have known."
"You are an outsider to Amazonia and a male, yet you know more about the Great Hunt than I do."
"Please forgive me. I didn't mean to upset you. You are the first Amazon who has ever seen me as a person rather than as a tool for her use. I wouldn't want to …"
"I have never been ashamed to be an Amazon before."
"Don't be." There was a long pause. "At least your sect does what they do in order to survive - that I can understand and forgive."
"You are making excuses for the Amazons."
"Never. I am serious . Do you know I was once borrowed by a cohort of priestess-trainees from New Corinth? The future pristesses of Aphrodite practiced their sexual lessons on me for almost a week. I had to sleep for three whole days to regain my strength." He said in a tone so serious that I was tempted to believe him.
The image of strong, muscular Kern being held down and groped by the small, slender daughters of Aphrodite suddenly struck me oddly funny. The image was like a crack in a damn that held back all my anxiety and frustration. A quiet chuckle escaped my lips before I could stop it.
"Are you laughing at me?"
"No, of course not, I just …" but another chuckle escaped. He looked at me for a moment and then grinned mischievously. Suddenly we were both laughing uncontrollably. Like two silly school children we fell on the ground laughing until tears of joy spilled from our eyes.
"If that story is not an exaggeration, Kern, then you had more sex in a week than I have had in my entire life. If it had been me, perhaps I would be a mother by now." I managed to say when I recovered from our laughing fit.
"You really want to be a mother." He asked.
"Every night I dream about the daughter I will have someday."
"What if it is a son?"
"I will have a girl." I whispered as an old terror filled my heart. "It has to be a girl. If it is a boy, … I won't be allowed to keep it."
"Would you throw it into the sacred flame of Hera to insure your next child will be a girl?" he asked quietly. I looked over at him angry that he could thing such a thing about me, but the haunted look in his eyes cooled my ire.
"That barbaric practice is no longer tolerated in Amazonia. We do not commit infanticide." I said quietly. As I suspected my words eased his mind and the sparkle in his eyes returned. "We return the male children to the sect of the father." I informed him.
"But not to the father?"
"How can we, when we do not to know the father. We leave them in a village of the sect of their father. That is the best we can do."
"Do you ever wonder what happens to the children you leave behind?"
"They are raised by foster parents and become part of that society."
"Not always. In Eluysia for example the unwanted boys are taken to the orphanages and raised to become Sons of the Earth. Do you know what that means? I may not a child of Demeter; I may the son of an Amazon."
"Your father at least was a follower of Demeter."
"Was he? Surely the Sons of the Earth have been used by Amazons for centuries. It is likely my father was the unwanted offspring of an Amazon as well."
"By the Goddess, you may be right."
"The cycle continues generation after generation. Every time a baby boy is left for the orphanage in the village I can't help but wonder if he could me my son. You at least will know the child you create. I am left forever to wander."
"I don't know what to say. I …" I tried to say through the tears welling up in my throat.
"You don't have to say anything. It is not your fault, Deidra." He said softly.
"I have been raised to put the needs of the Amazon nation above my own, but that is my choice. They don't give you a choice. That is cruel."
"Now do you at least understand why I want to leave this place?"
"I think I do."