Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours Presents…
The Queen of Warriors
By Zenobia Neil
Alexandra of Sparta vowed her sword and her heart to the goddess Artemis. And the goddess blessed her. But no warrior lives at peace, and soon, Alexandra loses her title, her troops, and all she holds dear, including the man who holds her heart.
“The goddess cannot break the curse,” the priestess said. “But if you wish, I will ask Hecate to open the gate. Then you may speak to the one who cursed you. Then you can beg for forgiveness.”
Alexandra was not one to beg. She did not fear living men. But Hecate, the triple-headed goddess, the keeper of the crossroads, the goddess of witches—Hecate—the name was like an ice-cold blade on her naked flesh. Yet Alexandra had traversed all the way from deep within the heart of Asia Minor to come here to Ephesus. She had expected the great temple of Artemis to be her destination, but she had been summoned to this cave shrine of Hecate.
She would see it through. “I seek only one of the dead. Will others cross the gate?”
The priestess grinned, exposing her broken teeth. “That depends on your crimes, warrior woman. If those you killed lay unburied and haunt the land of the living, longing for vengeance, they may come through as well.”
“Can they harm me?”
“They are merely shades. It is for you to account for the lives you’ve taken.”
Alexandra lifted her chin. “I regret not a single one of the men I killed, only the deaths I failed to prevent. For those I repent, and for those I am willing to pay, with my life if need be.”
“It will not be that easy.” The priestess withdrew a dagger from a sheath on her waist. The sacrificial blade was short and dark, bronze instead of steel, and had been forged long ago. “Your people know the goddess yearns for mortal blood, as do the shades of the dead. Take this and give them what you will.” She handed Alexandra the dagger, hilt first. “Though I can see you are shrouded in sorrow, it is not your time to die yet. Don’t cut too deep.”
Alexandra approached the black goddess stone on her knees. She raised her left arm, whispered a name, and cut her wrist so the blood began to flow.
The priestess drew a circle around Alexandra and the stone. She pulled a pouch from her robes, uttered an incantation, and sprinkled an herb over the lamps. Soon the scent of myrrh and honey mixed with the iron smell of Alexandra’s blood filled the cavern.
Once the gate to the Underworld opened, the priestess left. Shades of fallen warriors filled the sanctuary, shouting oaths no louder than the wind. Alexandra stared at them, trying to find a familiar face. Though she had lost enough blood to swoon, she swayed on her knees, her back straight, and spoke loudly to the shades.
“If I killed you in battle, you died honorably. If it shames you to have been killed by a woman, know I am not any woman. I am of Sparta—any of my countrymen would have dispatched you just as quickly. Go from this place now, drink from the River Lethe, and find peace.”
The shades did not leave, but they quieted. Her skin prickled with gooseflesh. It was not only fear. Despite the smoke and flames, the temple had grown cold.
One shadow who had been silent all along now grew strong on her blood. Though still transparent and dark, it gained form.
Suddenly able to see the shade, tears came to her eyes.
“Beloved,” she said, her voice breaking, “forgive me. I did not mean it to happen. Tell me what to do. I will give you my life if you wish it.”
The shade gazed at her with a mixture of love, bitterness, and vengeance.
Vishanti, the shade said, the sound no more than a whisper. I cursed you in love, and only by love or justice can you break the curse. You must right the wrongs you have done and face your deepest fear. Return to Rhagae and pay for your crimes.
Alexandra swayed on her knees and brought her hands to her face, allowing herself to sob only once. She had planned to return to Sparta. After all this time, she had been about to journey across the sea, to finally go home. But it seemed the gods had other plans for her.
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The Queen of Warriors