“She’s so…. Puny,” Phitha scrunched up her nose in an air of disgust as she looked down at her cousin. Being a mighty six years of age she was of course superior in every way to the small and rather pale bundle that her mother insisted would one day be her Queen. Why, she looked far to sickly to even make it to childhood let alone adulthood. Phitha wouldn’t even start on her opinions about the strange taint of hair colour the poor child seemed to have been cursed with by the very gods who had brought her to life. Phitha pitied her aunt. Hippolyta must be dreadfully ashamed of the child the gods had delivered her.
“She’s a baby, silly,” Hippolyta’s laughter was pure, beautiful music. Music that had been lacking from their small queendom, and sorely missed, for a long time. Some of the older warriors who had known the Queen before the War had said that she had lulled men into death with her voice alone. Her songs simply willed them into a sleep that they simply did not wish to rise from. That her aunt had laughed at her observation, one because it was entirely true and two because it was such a rare sound, startled Phitha into looking up from her deep scrutiny of the future Queen of the Amazon’s.
Hippolyta certainly did not look as though she was disappointed with her gift. In fact Phitha had noticed a distinct change in her since Diana had come to them six months ago. Firstly it had had an obviously impact on her physical appearance. It was impossible to deny the rumours that she was descended from the fabled beauty Helen of Troy. Her skin simply glowed. It was as if the pure love she felt for her child pulsed through her blood, lighting her from within. Phitha would label it a weakness if it was not for the fact Hippolyta’s sharp mind had returned with her legendary beauty. The drilling and training of the warriors had been stepped up, the women pushed beyond their limits. New ideas flowed like a raging river from her mouth in regards to new battle strategies, new building techniques, new ventures and projects that would benefit the entire queendom. It was as if her mind had simply been away all these years. This truly was the woman who had challenged the gods themselves and won. A woman who had returned to them due to a tiny, vulnerable child.
Phitha still was not impressed.
“Well when will she be able to do things?” Phitha prided herself on the fact she had been walking and swinging a wooden battle sword by the age of one and a half.
“When she is good and ready,” Hippolyta bent down and plucked the gurgling child out of her crib to cradle her against her breasts. Frowning, Phitha was about to question such a cryptic response when her own mother placed a quelling hand on her shoulder. Antiope shook her head so slightly that the action would have been overlooked by anyone but her daughter.
“You will have someone to play with soon enough,” her mother’s soothing voice did nothing to ease her concerns. For she knew her mother, knew that she shared Phitha’s fear. Yes the queen was better off for the arrival of Diana and the city was flourishing and spreading at a rate that hadn’t occurred since the Amazon’s were first gifted their island, but she was also now the weakest she had ever been. For now the Queen had one mortal, easily exploitable weakness.
“Yes, mother,” for Phitha did not play, as did none of the other children here. Her mother’s words carried a request: that Phitha guard the queen’s weakness with her own life. And Phitha would do as her mother asked her to her last breath.
There was no quicker way to put an end to a quiet family moment than those two words. All three women, for Phitha considered herself a woman at the wholesome age of six, looked up at the intruder on their private moment. Within the doorway stood Myrto, one of Hippolyta’s four personal guards. She wore the traditional armour of Grecian warriors made from the unique metal that the Amazonians had discovered on the island. The armour had been treated though, so it bore the colours of the royal guard: blue and gold. When the three women of the royal bloodline turned their attention to her she snapped her booted heels together and gave the formal salute, by closing a fist over her heart. Hippolyta’s gift was a smile so pure that Myrto thought her heart might burst with the love she felt for her Queen.
“What is it Myrto?” Diana had drifted peacefully into sleep so Hippolyta gently placed her back amongst the plush cushions and blankets.
“There has been a problem at the mines, Your Highness. It looks like one of the tunnels has collapsed.” Now this was a woman Phitha could admire and respect. She did her duty.
“Were there any casualties?” Antiope was already moving towards the doorway, eager to be doing something that her practical talents were more suited for. Emotions and family were always Hippolyta’s strength. Hipployta was also moving, though there was a slight hesitation before she left her babies side.
“A few minor injuries have been reported so far, but we have not assessed the full damage, nor accounted for everyone just yet.”
“Phitha stay with Diana,” Hippolyta and Phitha looked at Antiope with surprise. Hippolyta had clearly wished for her sister to have given an altogether different command, perhaps insist she stay with her daughter. Phitha on the other hand had very much wanted to go and survey the damage herself. Both women gave Antiope a look that remind her they were indeed all related. She allowed herself a small smile of amusement.
“Phitha is more than capable of looking after her cousin, Sister-Mine, until we return. We need to ensure our people are well and the job is done how it needs to be done.” Hippolyta’s shoulders slumped at the chastising, because she was right, her sister with her practical mind. For a moment she had nearly put her own selfish desires above the needs of her people. Phitha on the other hand straightened her back and planted her feet shoulder width apart. The stance of a warrior: of course she, the best fighter at the age of six, could look after a mere baby. With another small smile, Antiope left the room with her sister and Myrto.
The realisation her mother had tricked her into wanting to stay dawned on Phitha a few minutes later. In a way it was a lesson – Antiope always said that Phitha’s pride would be her undoing. Muttering a few words she had heard the older warriors say after a particularly hard hit during training, she stomped over to the crib and peered into it once again. Her second analysis was along the same lines as her first: what was all the fuss about?
“Princess Phitha.” Surprise made her voice higher, but Phitha would know her anywhere. Phitha had made it a point to know all of Hippolyta’s personal guards.
“Alkyone,” Phitha turned around, her hands clasped nearly behind her back. “You just missed my aunt, Myrto just told them about the cave in at the mine.” Alkyone’s eyes flickered between the six year old and the crib. The movement was very small, but Phitha was reaching for the blade she wore as a clip in her hair. Children weren’t technically allowed to wear armour and carry a weapon until they were 16 years of age, but Antiope had brought her daughter the hidden blade for her birthday just gone for her own protection should she need it.
“I came to guard the Princess Diana.”
“That’s ok, my mother had left me in charge of my cousin. You may go.”
A beat of silence.
“I would, and I am sure the queen would, feel more at ease if one of her guard were to be with the princess.”
“Then you may wait outside.”
Another beat. Another flicker of Alkyone’s eyes between Phitha and the crib. About to speak again, Phitha was interrupted as the guard sighed. It was one of those sighs adults often gave a child when they did not quite understand something. As if apologising but patronising the child at the same time.
“I am sorry for this. You were not meant to be here, an oversight on my part, I apologise. But alas you are here, and alas,” the figures of the two remaining members of Hippolyta’s guard – Charis and Philomela – appeared to flank their leader. “You are in the way.”
To give her credit, Phitha was in fact one of the best six year olds the Amazonians had ever had the blessing to have within their ranks. She would have given the more maternal warriors a run for their money most certainly, but it was not the maternal Amazonians she was facing. It was three of the most elite fighters within the population.
They moved with the fluidity of a group who knew one another’s every flaw and every strength. They worked as a unit in such perfect formation Phitha had to admire them for it. However, she had the element of surprise on her side: they only saw her as a six year old. She flicked open the blade she had concealed in her hand and swung low at the soldier to her left, using her lack of height to her own advantage. The woman – Charis – let out a yelp of surprise as Phitha drew the blade across the back of the woman’s right knee. It was the surprise more than the pain that hindered her for a minute, but it was only a minute that Phitha needed in order to take advantage of her. As her injured knee gave way, and Charis went into a kneeling position on the ground, Phitha drove her blade into the back of woman’s neck with all the strength of a six year old. The blade was not long enough to be lethal, but it was long enough to cause annoyance to a trained warrior.
However, now she had no weapon.
Diana began to cry as Phitha backed up against the crib. Charis was incapable of spouting anything but blood from her mouth, but she was recovering from the shock of the attack enough to shakily stand on one leg. It would take more than a comb blade to keep one of the royal guard done, but Phitha felt a rush of pride at seeing so much blood. Blood she had spilt. Blood that coated her hands and should have probably revolted her, but that she simply glorified in. Her surge of hubris was short lived as the two, armed and well trained warriors, rushed her. With no weapon she would have to resort to hand to hand combat, but the well-aimed kick towards Alkyone’s ankle was quickly avoided and she soon found herself simply hurled off her feet and held in the air like a child.
God she hated being reminded she was a child.
“You fought well, Princess. You will go to Hades and be welcomed into the Heroes Hall,” Alkyone’s words were meant to sooth the fear of death in what must have been a terrified child. But Phitha merely spat on her face in a gesture that reminded her of exactly who her mother was. She almost felt a little less guilty for killing her: no child of Antiope would fear death, she would embrace it like an old friend.
Diana’s crying had become a wail as Philomela carefully lifted her from her crib: the tenderness of the action completely at odds with the intentions they had had with coming here. Phitha felt something cold and hard in her heart as she watched the guard raise a blade to her defenceless cousin and realised she was feeling failure for the first time in her life. The absurdity of such a realisation was actually amusing. She had made her peace with death, but failure was so new she was not entirely sure how to deal with it other than laugh and shut her eyes as the blade of Alkyone kissed her neck.
But it wasn’t the silence of death. It was the silence caused by the absence of a sound one expected to hear. Like the crying of an infant child in the throes of death. Phitha slowly opened her eyes, her curiosity of such a silence having won out – even if it meant seeing her failure in the very physical form of her cousins mutilated body. Her eyes widened in shock.
Sound thundered into the room at the same time as the powerful bolts of lightning. Alkyone behind her screamed as the volt of electricity hit her arm so close to Phitha’s head she could actually smell her own hair burning. Philomela dropped the child as her mouth opened in a wordless cry that would forever echo in Phitha’s ears for eons to come. Being so close to the origination of such a powerful force, her body held together for what must have been painful seconds, before her body gave out and turned to ash. But Diana didn’t fall. She seemed to be suspended at the centre of the light show. Her chubby little hands were balled into tight fights from which roared forth the power of a god. Her eyes were no longer blue but the type of white one would associate with the centre of a sun, and they rested on Phitha.
For a moment they simply regarded one another.
“Perhaps,” Phitha said cautiously as she surveyed the guards, or what remained of them, before returning her attention to the six month old with the powers of Zeus. “I underestimated you.”