It is 1 a.m. Your mother pulls the book out of your grasp and you yell for its return. “Μην επιμένεις!" They are the same words you are scolded with again and again. Curiosity. Stubbornness. Insistence. You are taught that these are the traits that will lead you to strife when you are grown. And you must avoid such a thing. At all costs. So, at night, when the lights are switched off and your thoughts tick over and over and over, there is no comfort lying beneath the mosquito-net canopy of your bed. You burn with it. Passion. Restlessness. You need to move.
You want to know all that there is to know. You want to taste the world. You want to see its riches. You want to discover for yourself if the things that you hear, if the stories lifted from the heavy volumes of history are true still. You want to know mankind with every beat of your heart. You are seven years old, lying on a cot that is too small for you. It is all that your mother can afford. You hear the bustle in the Athenian streets below from your high rise apartment. The city is still awake. The windows are wide open to let in the cool night air. It is the height of summer and you want to peel your skin off. Your mother whispers a good night and kisses your cheek, settling in next to you.
The ceiling is low, but you close your eyes and you can see the stars behind them. The constellations that you know, that you have memorised. The sun god. Golden and beautiful. He shines high and proud. Boastful, really. You turn onto your side and see the holy icon of the Virgin Mother that watches over you. The relief shines with the reflections of night-time lightscapes. Protecting you. You wonder if the saints and the gods know one another. You bite your tongue in penance for thoughts so blasphemous and will yourself to sleep. Eventually, you succumb. Your eyes close and you dream. You do not know yet that in the morning, your mother will not wake.
The sound of wings, and a steady hand reaches forth to pluck a golden bow-string, loosing its arrow with a master's skill. The bird falls to the earth with pierced breast. It is dead. A second bow surrenders an arrow and another bird falls from the air. It is not so precise. The creature contorts in agony at the feet of the skilled archer, squawking and squealing.
The proud woman kneels, her doe-skinned boots pressing into wet earth as she observes the struggling bird, her brow furrows and she reaches out a hand. With quick fingers, she ends the creature's torment. Her expression is stern, as is accustomed to her now. It has been a long time since her belly has heaved with the thrums of laughter, since the lines on her face were carved deep with mirth. There are clues though, lingering behind clear blue eyes. They are kind eyes. There was once a time when this face used to smile every day.
But not today and for good reason.
“Come here, Diana," Antiope says, her voice low and authoritative, outstretching the same hand to usher you - her protege - to her side. Suddenly timid, you take a small step forward, watching the Amazon with clear intention, apprehensive that your tutor might find fault in you if you look to move too suddenly. You attempt to pace yourself and notice that she is still holding the bird. Her palm cradles its head, fingers brushing at the feathers of its breast, with your clumsy arrow shaft splintered at its side. Dark crimson blood wets the woman's fingers and extends out toward the wing of the dead passerine.
Her hands treat the creature with care, her fingers moving now to the arrow, breaking it with force and removing it from the bird. You hesitate, watching her method, startled when the bird twitches. For a fleeting moment, you are hopeful that it is still alive. Unharmed.
“Did I not tell you to come?" she says, but she does not draw her eyes over you, her voice is still hard. It is a warning now and you oblige, stopping short at her side. The woman finally looks up, eyes finding yours and leading your gaze back to the animal. It is still a fledgling, without all of its flight feathers. It's short life cut shorter by your carelessness.
“You did not remember your lesson," she starts, but her expression does not change. "What was done wrong? Can you tell me?" The question is asked simply. It hangs in the air for a moment and you feel your face flush with heat. You know that it must be burning red, betraying you. You fall to kneel by her side, your sandals upturning grass and sodden earth, observing the lifeless bird. You want to reach out, to stroke its plumage, the guilt brews inside you.
I am not worthy, you tell yourself.
“Aim," your voice is small. Your tutor says nothing. You clear your throat and begin again. “Aim. Not just the arrow, but of its purpose. To— to kill swiftly, without inflicting unnecessary pain," Your own answer does not entirely convince you, your thoughts searching for words of more significance, something more poetic - and your skin begins to prickle with the anticipation of the rebuke when you find nothing. Will you be scorned? Will she tell your mother? Will she cease your training, when it has barely even begun? Her eyes are too hard to read.
The Amazon lets her gaze flicker over you a moment, moving one hand to her knee. “Hunting is a skill and the bow is your tool, but you cannot forget why you do this. All beasts must hunt for their food, but Amazon and Man are the only creatures that do so with the knowledge of its cost. You must always ask yourself: What does it mean to take a life? What does it mean, to keep yourself clean? When you take another creature's life, you must honour it. A clean kill does this, since it does not allow suffering. But your arrow may not always strike true and if so, you must act swiftly to ease the pain of suffering. It is a cruel trick indeed to forget. This is why we do not hunt without purpose and never with greed. It is why precision is so important. Do you understand?"
You can feel tears welling behind your eyes. The shame hits you deeply. You cannot bear to look at her directly, but she will accept no less. Your voice disappears as you look over the bird once more. You manage a nod. You do not see that her expression changes, coloured now with compassion. Antiope does not tell you, but she is proud that this is your reaction. Remorse should always follow the loss of life.
“I understand," You answer.
They did not ask if I wanted to be born, and I thought that they would sing me lullabies.