Published on 2011/04/24

A Stony Gaze

M.A. Kindred

Lyka stood in the courtyard beside a hulking, half destroyed, statute. She brushed adhesive over the end of the sculpture’s broken off arm. The arm was upraised with a sword in its grip and looked ready to do battle, with or without the rest of its body. Lyka reached up to feel along the side of the arm’s owner until she found the hollow where the arm was supposed to connect. She affixed its arm back into place. The sculpture had been a magnificent thing to behold before it was damaged. It was a great creature with the body of a man, the fangs of a tiger, the wings of a bat extended as if in flight, and the sword of a champion clenched in its clawed grip. She held the raised limb firmly in position while it dried. As she did so, she heard the stone boulder that served as a door to her new home roll aside, followed by the patter of feet over cobblestone.

“I never took you for the artistic type,” Stheno commented.

“Thank you for letting me set him up here,” Stheno came up beside her to admire the work.

“I don’t mind dear, it is quite lovely.”

Lyka addressed Stheno’s original statement, “You’re right by the way. As an Amazon, I didn’t have time for creative arts. The art of war was an all consuming business.”

“Sounds restrictive, how do you enjoy the freedom you have here?”

“Very much,” Lyka assured her.

Stheno caught the words unspoken and gave them voice, “You miss your old way of life, though. That’s understandable.”

“I’ll always miss my home and my warrior sisters, but…” Lyka turned her blindfolded face in Stheno’s direction and smiled.

“I like my life here with you and Euryale. You are my new sisters and I am forever grateful to you for adopting me.”

Several months earlier, Lyka stood by the sea with Queen Hippolyte and two other Amazons. The day was gray - gray sky, gray waters, gray mood. The four Amazons watched as a group of soldiers and a messenger from Athens rowed their boat closer to land.

“Take one step onto our isle and it will be the last thing you ever do.” Hippolyte yelled in warning. The men stopped rowing and, after a moment, a messenger stood in the gently bobbing boat and called out to the women.

“Queen Hippolyte! I bring a message from Lord Laertes. He says that the year he gave you to consider his marriage proposal is spent. I am to return with your answer. Will you have his hand, or will you choose to suffer the consequences of refusing him?”

“Wasn’t the disappearance of his last messenger answer enough?” Hippolyte muttered to her companions. “Pride ill fits a man. Laertes wants the prowess of being the first man to wed an Amazon, and the Queen no less. Does he also hope to gain our fealty in the process?”

“My Lord has instructed me to remind you that we will release a beast as fierce as the chimera on you if you choose to reject him.”

“I have a better answer, Herald.” Hippolyte called back. She pulled out her sword, took a half step back and tilted her arm back. She flung the sword at the Herald. It flipped through the air in a hypnotizing arch and severed the Herald’s arm before he had the sense to move. He screamed piercingly and collapsed backward into the water writhing about. Lyka and the two Amazons beside her used the time while the men were distracted by Hippolyte’s sword to rush to the boat and slit the throats of the five guards that accompanied the Herald.

Hippolyte waded out into the blood tinted water and caught hold of the remaining man. She pulled his face close to her own and hissed, “I trust Laertes’ will indeed send a fearsome beast to plague us. My spies have informed me that your soldiers believe that Laertes does indeed control a mighty monster with claws that drip venom. But Laertes made the mistake of waiting so long for my reply. All the while we have been preparing for battle. Let him send his beast. We will feast on its flesh before coming for his head.”

Hippolyte picked up the Herald’s arm which was floating not too far out of reach. She unsheathed a knife and carved the words “Burn in Tartarus” into the limb. She pushed the limb into the Herald’s functioning hand. “Give that to your king if you make it back to the mainland, which is doubtful.” The man cursed and whimpered.

“Be silent!” Hippolyte commanded. “Or are you a blubbering babe? Pain is honorable and wounds should be treasured. They make you stronger. Look at my sister Lyka. Her eyes were mutilated only a few months ago, yet she has not said a word of complaint and still is able to slay a man faster than thinking. You can tell Laertes about her, as well. Let him know that even our injured can overwhelm his men. We are Amazons! Mightier than the warriors of Sparta! Superior hunters blessed by Artemis!” She grabbed the messenger by the hair and threw him back into the boat one handed.

After wading back to land, Hippolyte ordered the two Amazon warriors apart from Lyka to return to their main camp. “Tell our sisters that when his men do not return, Laertes will release his beast. It will most likely be brought here by the end of the week. We will stay on the island and allow them to come to us here. We have the advantage of knowing the terrain inside and out. Tell them to prepare for the inevitable flood of Athenian soldiers that will arrive along with the beast. Laertes knows that when warring with Amazons, it is total war or not at all.”

Hippolyte waited until the sounds of their rustling faded before turning to Lyka. “Lyka, the year you spent navigating the outside world on your own has made you a resourceful fighter. Even without your eyes you are one of my best warriors. Your sense of hearing, smell, and balance are uncanny.”

“Thank you, My Lady.”

“As we’ve discussed, it will be primarily the two of us fighting whatever nightmare Laertes sends. I will announce to everyone else to concentration their efforts on the soldiers.”

“My Lady, I assure you I can handle the beast alone.”

“Don’t be such a glory hog. But, I suppose you deserve the chance to face it one on one. No one else has given up more for this war then you have.” Hippolyte gently ran a finger over the black cloth covering Lyka’s eyes, the apologetic expression on her face lost on her unseeing companion. “But I will monitor your fight. If you become too injured, I will step in. I will not have you lose your life over a feud with the likes of the Athenians.”

A few days later a scout shouted the alarm. The Amazon’s took less than an hour to prepare for battle. By the time the Athenian boats could be seen from land with a naked eye, the Amazon army was hidden in the foliage at the edge of the shore and along the rocky cliffs hemming in the beach. Every woman was dressed in light camouflaging clothing and armed to the teeth with swords, spears, shields, axes, ropes, nets, maces, and more. Lyka stood close to the front of the ranks next to Hippolyte and Camellia. Lyka could tell from the faintest smell of leather and the soft sound of buckles clinking that Camellia had at least five knife punches strapped around her legs. The women closest to the front all had bows in hand. Javelins and catapults were ready to be operated farther back by the less experienced women. The infants, the elderly, and the sickly were left in the care of a small handful of able bodied Amazons way back in the main camp. Traps encircled the main camp as an extra precaution, should any man break through their ranks.

Hippolyte rarely needed to give orders. During battle, every Amazon was a foot soldier. Tactical knowledge was evenly dispersed. Seldom did any two Amazons disagree on military matters. Every able bodied woman trained eleven hours a day for war. Group training was stressed to the point of extremity, until the movements of one’s sister were as recognizable as your own. Amazon’s fought as one entity as effortlessly as they fought individually. But Hippolyte made an announcement for good measure all the same.

“Do not worry about giving away our position. As soon as they are in range, shot. We are nearly invisible among the trees. Let them come to us. They will not know what hit them.”

Lyka listened with all her attention. She could hear the boisterous sound of men counting as they rowed. The eagerness in their voices was tangible. “They are overconfident in the victory of their beast.” Lyka whispered to Hippolyte.

Hippolyte took a quick gulp of air. “Almighty Athena, but what a fearsome creature he is!” She whispered to Lyka. “He’s standing on the foremost ship. Their keeping him chained. He towers over even the tallest soldiers. He has everything the rumors said he would, wings, fangs, and those deadly looking claws.”

Lyka heard the sound of arrows being knocked and pulled taunt. Athenians were known to burn their own ships when they entered enemy territory. If there were no boats, there was nowhere to run and the army would be left with only two options, victory or death. It was a good motivator for the Athenian soldiers. It was also an excellent opportunity for the Amazons. As the men lit their touches unaware of their immediate danger, the Amazon’s released their arrows in unison. Yells from the beach erupted as men were slain or wounded. “They’ve unchained him.” Hippolyte muttered urgently. “Follow me.”

The men left off burning their boats and charged forward to meet their concealed adversaries in the trees. But the unchained beast stood stoically taking in his surroundings. Arrows were fired at him but he evaded them with simple and swift steps.

Lyka and Hippolyte moved across the rapidly vacated beach. Hippolyte stayed back a bit as she had promised. Lyka moved forward slowly, listening. She adjusted her grip on her halberd and took her stance. She focused in one the beast’s rhythmic breathing pattern. The pattern was interrupted by a swift exhale and Lyka reacted instantaneously. Bracing herself, she raised her halberd to parry what sounded like a sword as it whistled through the air. Having expected the beast to lash out with its claws, she misjudged her distance slightly for the parry and was forced to duck. The beast’s next strike came towards her on her left. This time her block was strong and her retaliation even more so. She lunged forward, slashing obliquely across the creature’s midsection. She felt flesh tear. Her opponent remained silent, which disconcerted her. When the beast lashed out with its claws for the first time, Lyka was again thrown and had to recalculate her blocks to adjust to the beast’s varied striking range. His next moves were far more advanced and Lyka was forced backward to avoid his blade and claws.

Lyka reached a conclusion, ‘He underestimated me before. That’s why I got a strike in. I won’t be so fortunate again.’ She dropped and rolled out of the way as the beast swung at her head with a clawed hand then followed up with a descending strike with his sword. Lyka got to her feet and dug her halberd into the sand. She flicked the blade upwards as the beast approached, sending a cloud of sand granules into his face. She heard him take a heavy step backward and swipe at the air. She took her advantage as his eyes watered to go on the attack, but he dodged well despite the temporary setback. The combatants continued for several impossibly long minutes, neither gaining any ground. Each had managed to damage the other to some extent. Lyka felt blood trickle down her forehead where the hilt of beast’s sword had struck her and an aching bruise from a kick she hadn’t managed to evade. ‘I have not fought a sole adversary for this long in years. He fights as well as an Amazon.’ Lyka though in equal parts delight and frustration.

Lyka heard the beast shift his weight and knew that she had only a half second to get a good strike at his forward flank while there was still an opening. She lunged eagerly, but in her haste, tripped over a piece of driftwood. As she collapsed, she heard a loud rustle that she assumed to be the sound of giant wings unfurling. Winded, Lyka’s recovery slower than usual. As she lay on the ground trying to quickly get her bearings, Lyka heard Hippolyte moving forward and unsheathe her twin blades.

‘No!’ She thought, ‘This is my battle.’ Lyka reached back her knife wielding hand and sliced through the knot that kept the blindfold around her eyes. Having gone months without opening her eyes, the brightness caused Lyka to gasp. Her eyes burned, but necessity forced her lids apart.

She could hear the beast’s wings beat directly above her. Lifting her head, she focused her sight on her opponent for the first time. He was humanoid, built like Adonis. He was bare-chested. She saw that the slashes she had gouged into him bled but did not look as deep as they had felt when she pierced him.

‘Holy Hera, what is his hide made of?’ She thought. The sun light split through the grey clouds at his back and shone through the skin of his unfurled wings making the membranes appear red and causing the veins to stand out. Her gaze swept up to the sword he had raised above his head, then swung back down to his face. She saw that his eyes were golden brown and she was momentarily struck by their intelligence. When their eyes met he roared.

It was the first sound she heard him utter and it was deafening. The Athenian soldiers nearby had probably heard it too, some would be no doubt be making an appearance shortly. The monster’s eyes changed from golden brown to stony gray. Steadily his face and neck began to turn to stone too. Lyka didn’t have time to stare in fascination as his wings became chucks of stone. She rolled aside quickly as the statue plummeted to the ground. His arm and head broke off and his left leg cracked into several bits. Lyka didn’t lord over her victory, for as she predicted the Athenian soldiers nearby had been drawn to her opponent’s roar. Lyka heard them crash back through the trees onto the beach. Hippolyte gave a whooping war cry. Lyka turned around and saw a mass of men surging forward – too many to count in a split second. Hippolyte was greatly outnumbered.

Luckily, most of the men were absorbed by the sight of what was once their champion. Lyka sweep her gaze over the stunned men, catching each one’s eyes. They froze in place, a horde of stone soldiers. Meanwhile Hippolyte had killed two of the three men she had engaged. She had the third on his back ready to polish him off.

“My Lady!” Lyka yelled. Hippolyte spun around swords ready and teeth bared, thinking that Lyka had yelled to warn her of a sneak attack. Seeing nothing she turned back towards Lyka. Lyka shut her eyes quickly. “Please spare that one a minute. I have some questions for him.”

Luka’s ears told her that Hippolyte had shuffled back slightly and re-sheathed her swords. Lyka approached the panting man. “Do you see what I’ve done to them?” Lyka motioned to her left where the stone soldiers and the beast lay.

“H-how is it possible to be both an Amazon and a Gorgon?” He choked out, wisely keeping his eyes downcast. Lyka carefully replaced her blindfold; she couldn’t have the man turning to stone by accident, yet.

“I ask the questions. If you answer me well, I will entreat My Lady to let you live. I’m not doing this for your benefit, but for my own satisfaction. If you are spared I want you to run. I want you to run and yell to what’s left of your company what’s become of Athens’s great beast. I want you to make it back to your boat, row back to your home, and tell your king about me. You let him know exactly what kind of monster the Amazons have on their side. ”

If the man nodded or gestured his ascent Lyka didn’t know. “My Lady, what emotion does his face speak? Not rebellion, I hope.”

“He’s too scared for words.” Hippolyte said, a patronizing sneer in her voice, “Poor lamb.”

Lyka returned her focus to the fallen man. “When I fight a worthy opponent, I like to know a little about him or her. What was the creature you brought to our island called?”

The man muttered something Hippolyte couldn’t hear but Lyka could.

Aggravated Hippolyte ordered, “Speak up.”

He began again, “I don’t know. No one does. It was captured in Gaul. We never bothered to ask its name.”

‘It could speak then.’ Lyka thought. She remembered the gleam of intelligence in the beast’s brown eyes, the calculation of each of its movements, its calm silence during battle. Dumb brutes didn’t keep so silent or wield swords. It had been a being as sentient as any human, but no one had the decency to give it a name. ‘Gaul was it? I was there for a time. I know bits of the languages from that area. I suppose I’ll name him myself.’ Lyka told herself.

“If you captured him and brought him here in chains. How did you get him to fight for you and not turn on you?” She asked the soldier.

His answer was more verbose then with the previous questions. “The king offered it what it wanted in exchange for its help. It asked to be released from prison and made a citizen.” The man’s mouth curled into a sneer at the thought. “As if Lord Laertes would really made good on that promise,” he laughed mirthlessly. “Can you imagine the pandemonium it would have caused if that animal was allowed to walk freely in the streets? Maybe it is good that the thing is dead. Now it can’t make a liar out of our king.”

Lyka considered slaying the soldier herself. Her anger boiled. “That thing, as you call it, was trice the man all the rest of you weaklings are.” She kicked him in the side causing him to groan and roll over. “He’s answered my questions, My Lady. Is he free to go?”

“Yes, be gone scum.” Hippolyte commanded. The man scrambled to his feet and rushed down to the boats without a backward glance.

That evening, after the Amazon’s victory celebration, Hippolyte sought out Lyka’s company. She found her sitting alone a little ways from the main camp. Lyka was roused from her daydream as she heard Hippolyte approach.

“I’m glad to see you are resting and allowing your injuries to recover.” Hippolyte took a seat on the ground across from Lyka and rested her back against a tree. “I haven’t had the chance to really talk to you about what your travels through the world were like, with all the war preparations.”

“I told you all that mattered, My Lady. I went to Sybil, the oracle, who told me that the way to defeat the Athenian’s creature was to enlist the help of the two remaining Gorgons. Not knowing where the Gorgon’s lived I travelled aimlessly for months until I reached my wits end. Out of desperation, I climbed up Mount Olympus. I climbed as high as I dared and called out to Zephyrus, the gentlest of the winds, pleading for help. He came, thank Persephone, and actually agreed to carry me to the Gorgon’s home in the mountains.

I stood with a hand over my eyes in the courtyard in front of their cave and shouted again. I yelled to let them know I was an Amazon. An enemy of men. I had little to fear since I had heard stories on my travels of their hatred of men, a hatred that rivals our own. Their younger sister Medusa was raped by Poseidon in Athena’s temple and decapitated by his son, Perseus. I kept my eyes covered in case they decided to grant me an audience. For days I repeatedly called out to them.

Finally, a veiled woman rolled back the stone covering the cave entrance and bid me leave. She said that she and her sister weren’t interested in the world’s affairs. I refused and she seemed impressed by my dedication and eventually offered me her assistance. She told me that several years ago she and her sister had gone out into the world to recover Medusa’s head. She said that they kept it in their possession, but that they would not be parted from it. Instead she asked me to prove my worthiness by giving my own eyes in exchange for Medusa’s.”

Hippolyte waited for Lyka to finish her account, “Yes, you’ve told me the major events, but you have not said what it felt like, to be out there, away from our reclusive island.”

“I missed having my sisters’ company.”

“Was there anything worth experiencing?”

“Everything was worth experiencing. I felt the fear of the unknown for the first time. I tasted foods I cannot describe. Meats other than the fish we catch or the limited foul we raise. I had the luxury of wearing a lovely cotton dress for a while after I impressed a rich village housewife by saving her from a drunkard one evening. I stayed with her family for some time helping the women keep house and go to the market. I found my repulsion with her merchant husband melting as I saw how he would bring her home a peach, which was her favorite fruit, everyday. I saw their carefree children and their friends play a game in the streets at sunset of trying to catch each other’s shadows…”

“Would you mind if you had to go live in the outside world?” Hippolyte gently interjected.

“Is that what you wish?” Lyka asked after a long minute.

“Lyka… watching you in battle made me realize how dangerous you are.”

“That was the point, I thought.”

“Yes, but not only to our enemies. Don’t think I don’t trust you. I know you are responsible and can keep your eyes hidden so as not to harm us, that is not the issue. You see, I thought that once you gained the Gorgon’s eyes we could use them as a last resort in battle. But I’ve found myself imagining us using your power right now. We could walk into any of the surrounding nations and take them over. But such power is disastrous. You must depart from us. If you stay, we will all begin to rely on you too much, rather than in our own abilities as warriors and as a sisterhood of unified fighters. I cannot let our society became lax and over confident, under one woman’s protection. It would be the death of our way of life. Stay with us a few more days to celebrate our triumph and to mourn our losses, then, I will help you travel and get settled in wherever you decide to go. I’m sure I’m not the only one who will wish to accompany you as well.”

Lyka knew that goodbye was inevitable, but to hear Hippolyte dismiss her felt worse than a physical wound. She was glad that her blindfold was back in place. It would be much harder for Hippolyte to see the grief she knew was on her face. Lyka turned away slightly to obscure her face more, just for good measure.

“That is good, though I am sorry that I cannot escort you to Athens and put Laertes in his place. I had not planned on staying here much longer anyway. I know that my eyes are too much of a concern even without the problem you mentioned. I’m glad you trust me not to harm anyone, but I don’t. I could make any number of mistakes; for instance, I could take off my blindfold when I think no one is in the room, only to glance out the window, straight into the eyes of a sister walking by.

Hippolyte could think of nothing to say, so she remained quiet. Lyka continued.

“When I found the Gorgon’s, I promised them I would live with them on their Isle as a surrogate for Medusa once I helped defeat the Athenians. They demanded it really, in repayment for their help.”

Now it was Hippolyte’s turn to feel unreasonably hurt. “That’s something you’ve omitted for a while, when did you plan on telling me?”

“Now.” Lyka said simply. Hippolyte let it go, deciding not to tarnish the moment with her anger.

“You will be welcome to visit us. You will always be our sister.” The words, ‘But it won’t be the same,’ hung oppressively in the air, smothering conversation temporarily.

“I figured out a name for the beast I fought. I’ll call him Gargoyle. I pieced it together from words I picked up in Gaul during my travels. Though I can’t remember what any of them mean.”

“I think it sounds fitting.”

“Will you do me a favor?” Lyka asked.

“Well…” Hippolyte pretended to think about it. “Of course, if it’s within my power.”

It is. Will you help me collect the pieces of Gargoyle? I want to take him with me. I’m sure the Gorgon’s will think he’s a lovely garden accessory.” Lyka smiled unconvincingly.

“I know.” Hippolyte put a hand on Lyka’s shoulder. “Even though he was male, he was a brilliant warrior, one that deserved respect. The Athenians barely treated him like a living being. He gave his life for undeserving people. I am angered at the injustice as much as you are. So, yes we will help you take him with you.”

Lyka nodded in thanks, further words unnecessary.

M.A. Kindred is a creative writing student who plans on majoring in Biology. When not indulging in the fanciful, she enjoys seeking out the small adventures in everyday life.