Part Three

The battlefield is not a place for a woman, later civilizations would agree. Women are faint of heart, weak of limb, and generally prone to limitations surpassing all they could possibly bring, which isn't much to begin with. Women cannot possibly do anything useful in a war, which is why men should fight and women should stay at home to tend the children, reap the harvest, and provide an open-armed welcome to their menfolk when they return, whether in victory or defeat.

Women, modern feminists would argue, have more of a right to fight. Sharper instincts, lither bodies, and the strange use of adrenaline. Men, they would point out, cannot fight as swiftly or as surely when wounded – the adrenaline released slows their minds and bodies. Women's minds do not dull with pain, for they are engineered to survive the most brutal pangs of childbirth, and the adrenaline from the fight only makes them swifter and stronger.

Is either view entirely correct?

Are women meant for war?

This was not a question in Atlanta's mind as she strode forward through the rising sun of the third day of the sixth month of her sixteenth year, strode onward to battle and bloodshed, to what meant almost certain death whether she survived or died, to something that she had no experience of, to a destiny already designed by the gods and woven into the loom of the Fates.

Atlanta did not question anything on this bright day, not her abilities, not her resolve, not the prowess of the Spartan army, and most certainly not the deeds of the man whom she was bent on destroying. She knew she could, she knew she would, and she knew that the Prince of Athens deserved to die like a dog in payment for the death he had given her brother so many years ago.

Old wounds still fresh, avenging arm of the gods, she strode forward, helmet glistening in the near-dawn light, back straight, and armed in the glory of war for the glory of Sparta.

She thought of nothing as she marched, for all her thoughts could bring her pain.

Warriors, she knew, did not flinch from pain, but the wise man did not seek it out either. Pain is a useful thing for teaching, for harnessing, for using as a weapon, for enduring to bring strength to the pained, but forcing oneself through it brought only misery and despair, and misery and despair are the twin arms of weakness that grab at a warrior's throat and cut off his breath even as he fights to stay alive through his pain.

Pain, Atlanta knew, was not a thing to be sought. And so she did not seek it, focusing her mind instead on the state of her armour, the readiness of her sword, the forms of attack that she should expect, the crushing weight of a mace and just how to slither out from under it, the proper way to hold a shield, the rhythm of the march.

The memory of a lullaby wound its way into her thoughts, blending seamlessly with the cadence of her steps, and she ruthlessly crushed the image of her mother as it rose in tandem with the song.

Her mother's face, sinking into the sea of Atlanta's thoughts, shifted in a mist to a laughing, smiling face that she knew, with strong white teeth, burnished bronze skin, and black curls that gleamed in the sunlight of her memory. The flowers of the Elysian fields rested around his neck, and this thought of her brother in the place of heroes comforted her. It was she who would send him to his final resting place, she who would revenge his death and thus free him from his long wanderings in the Underworld, she who would perhaps join him this day.

She smiled grimly, facing forward, marching smoothly in step with the men flanking her.

The sun rose over a field bristling with spears as the Spartan army came to a halt, facing their longest rivals and bitterest enemies, the armies of Athens.

Blood and sweat and dust.

These are the things that war is made of.

Not glory or honours, as the Spartans think.

This truth flashed in Atlanta's mind as she struggled beneath the onslaught of the cream of Athenian youth, the boys who she could beat easily one by one but who, as an army, as a group, she would fall to.

She cursed her own foolhardy cockiness and ducked under a spear. The boy – for he was little more than that – who had aimed it was carried forward by the power of his lunge.

It is interesting what you note when the world slows, interesting how in the heat of battle time stretches to its limits, letting you see the tiniest details. Atlanta saw a rivulet of sweat inch its way over a perfectly sculpted cheekbone, over cheeks flushed with heat, to drop into a shoulder burned red with blood and sun. She saw golden curls, each one falling in a soaked spiral, plastered to a forehead smooth as alabaster and to a neck that was graceful and slender. She saw one blue-green eye wide with terror, and, as the beautiful face turned slowly towards her, another blinded with blood flowing hot from a deep cut ranging from golden hairline to golden arched eyebrow. She saw an aquiline nose broken, and soft, full lips parted in a scream whose sound reached her ears as time increased its speed and the child fell past her. His chest was bare and red, some liquid, some the colour of one not accustomed to the sun, and it heaved with the laboured breath of one not used to exertion as his small body thudded to the ground, stained white kilt fluttering with a softness not right for war.

She stared at him for a long moment, scrambling to get up, handling his oversized spear poorly, before he was felled by a vicious kick. A sword flashed in the sunlight, the rays glinting off of it to blind her. She reached to parry before she realized that it was not meant for her, and looked down as a perfect blonde head with one blue-green eye glazing in death rolled to rest its bloody neck on her ankle.

She started, looking up at his killer, and the man smiled crookedly. The battle raged around them, but his eyes of molten copper held hers as he laid a muscled hand on her shoulder, arm gleaming in sweat and trickling blood not his own.

"It gets easier."

His voice warmed her body, and his hand on her shoulder sent tendrils of heat to her long-cold heart. She felt warmth rising to her cheeks, and knew that her flush was not due to the sun, nor was it entirely due to the battle.

He was gone, though, and she forced herself to think of other things.

Kindness was not something she needed.

She wanted anger.


And lots of both.

She spun around on her heels in the blood soaked dirt and sent her sword slicing sharply into the heart of another soldier, ripping his life from him as he stood gaping at the carnage of the boy at her feet. He feel with a sickening thud, eyes open in shock, limbs splayed on the dirt, his own short sword tight in his sinewy hand. His bronze body, rippling in the sun with rivers of moisture, went limp as he breathed on last, bubbling breath, blood dripping from the corners of his mouth and then flowing faster through half-parted chiselled lips.

Atlanta spat on his weakness, and then turned to face the shadow that had fallen on her with a speed that came from long hours in the ring with men twice her size.

His back was to her, muscles rippling beneath skin of burnished gold, his shoulders broad and the dip in his lower back filled with dewy beads of sweat that dripped onto a white kilt already soaked in dark red blood. Legs that were pillars planted firmly in the dust, light hairs covering them in rough, sandy curls. Arms that swung an iron sword with resolution, the tendons playing advance-retreat under flushed skin.

His helmet covered all but one dusty curl, and it was the helmet that set Atlanta's mouth in a firm line of hatred and sent her eyes blazing with combined anger and pain.

The helmet of the prince of Athens weaved and dodged the blows from whatever soldier he was engaging, and Atlanta recognized it from her nightmares.

Zeno of Athens grunted with the force of Cletus' fist, using the upraised arm as an opening in which to thrust his already stained sword, but the Spartan was faster and parried with his own sharp weapon, drawing blood as he scratched the tip across the prince's outstretched hand.

Zeno laughed and spun around, dancing out of the way or Cletus' renewed thrust with more grace than was fitting for a man of his size, and the sound threw Atlanta off guard, as did Cletus' grunt of pain as Zeno's sword found it's target in his shoulder, slicing skin and ripping muscle with one cruel, cold sound.

Blood spurted up, staining Cletus' bronze beard with red, and he staggered a little, but did not drop his sword or break his stare, grinning like a madman as blood seeped through his teeth from where the pain had made him bite his tongue.

Atlanta's rage boiled over.

She threw her helmet from her head and stripped her breastplate and kilt from her body. She tossed down her shield and advanced with sword in hand, looking like she always did on the training grounds, confident and ready, poised and graceful as a hunting cat, deadly arrow of the gods, bent on revenge.

Cletus laughed.

"I always knew, before I died, I'd see Atlanta coming for me. Every time I fought that demon I thought she'd kill me. I guess she's finally coming to get her revenge for all those things I said about her frightfully attractive body. Give me an honourable death, prince, so that the ravings of this lunatic do not place me in disrepute among your armies."

The prince stopped in his onslaught, checking his action economically to look at the girl.

"Cletus, go get that looked after. This one's mine, for Argos."

It was the first time she'd said his name in so many years, even to herself, and she began to tremble with suppressed rage and the pain of loss.

Zeno turned to face her, his easy laugh chilling her to her bones.

"Vengeance is so Greek. It transcends city-states and civil codes by being in all of us. And it is not for a girl to be in battle. Run away before you get raped by some lusty, battle-crazed soldier, run back to your mother. I do not want the blood of a woman on my hands today or any other day."

Cletus was backing away slowly when she answered.

"I am the goddess Justice, and who are you to defy my right to your blood, oh prince of Athens?"

His smile settled into a calculating look before he brushed sweat from between his eyes, and then it broke again.

"Well, then, goddess, let us see if you can fight with mortals."

Author's Note: And cliffhanger. I couldn't figure out how to write the battle scene, and I may just leave it out entirely. This is essentially a nothing chapter, but at least I know what I'm doing now. One more and an epilogue. Again, let me know what you think. This one…bugs me more than the other two.