The Myths of the
Divine Astarte 5
I spent the next day in the library of the palace. As I read one of the books, one of the women of Astarte entered the hall, and walked to my side.
"The Goddess waits for you at the palace gate, Warrior."
I rose, and closed my book. I followed the woman thru the hallways of the palace leading to the gate of the palace.
I found Astarte standing at the entry wall of the throne room.
"Come with me, my darling,"
I followed Astarte outside the palace. She lady hurried down the steps leading into the courtyard.
A large chariot was waiting for us in the courtyard. The three horses of the chariot were held by two grooms. A charioteer was holding the rains.
The queen jumped onto the platform. I followed her.
"Onward!" Astarte shouted. We raced to the gate of the courtyard, and down the processional way leading to the city gate.
We soon reached the gates of the city. The gate was standing open. The Goddess gestured, and the charioteer passed thru the gate.
We halted outside the gate. In the distance I could see a line of people walking towards the city.
We waited until they were within hailing distance. Astarte dismounted, and walked to the front of the chariot. I followed.
The line of people stopped. One of the women came forward.
"Hail, Immortal One! We come as supplicants, seeking shelter."
"I welcome the people of the hills to the City of the Moon! How have you fared?"
"The hills are alive with enemies. We are all that remain alive of your people." The woman fell to her knees.
"We grant you shelter in these dark days. Follow me into the city." The queen returned to the chariot. It turned in a circle, and returned to the gate. We proceeded down the way, followed by the long line of hill people.
We made our way to the palace. The guards led the people to the fountains along the sides of the courtyard. The people dipped pails into the water, to quench their thirst.
The queen gave orders to the guard for the care of the people.
* * * * * * * * *
On the next day, I was summoned by Astarte at midday. Three of the ladies of the Goddess led me to one of the great halls of the palace. I walked to her side. She gave me her cold hand. I raised it to my lips.
The Queen embraced me, biting my neck gently.
"The leader of the people from the hills will give me their thanks today, warrior."
Three of the royal guard stepped forward, trumpets in hand. They raised the horns to their lips, and gave a long blast with their instruments.
A group of warriors appeared at the entry way of the hall. Following them were a line of men and women dressed in new tunics. They glanced at the gold embossed tables and chairs, and the resplendent warriors in bronze on guard.
The people were led by an older man with white hair. Two young women walked at his side.
They advanced to the Queen, and bowed.
"You are welcome, men of the hills. Your people have served me for many years - your tribute comes each year to my city."
An older man with white hair stepped forward.
"We salute you, Immortal One. The enemy grows bolder. They raid our hamlets, they burn and slay. We came in fear to your walls."
"Come, you shall take food and drink. You are welcome in my city."
We walked to the table, and took seats. Trays of steaming food were carried to the table by serving girls. There were rare delicacies of all sorts, and many sweetmeats.
I sat at the side of the queen. The people of the hills sat on the other side of the table.
"Partake of the food, and drink the wine we have set before you."
I took up a loaf of bread, and tore it in two. I ate some of the warm bread. The tribesmen began to attack the food. Their daily fare was bread, olives and roast mutton.
The Queen turned to me.
"The people will stay in the city until the enemy will be driven back. They will be given a compound in the Eastern Quarter. Their bondsmen will be placed at work in the gardens outside the walls."
"The young men will be trained in weapons. They will learn the crossbow."
At the end meal Astarte rose, as the table was cleared. The lady ordered her women to take the older man, and the girls, to a chamber to the side.
"The man is called Saerpetan. The girls are daughters of his sister. They are called Kayla and Ama. We will hear his reports."
We walked to the chamber, and entered. The room was filled with small tables and chairs. Astarte took a seat at one of the tables. I sat beside her.
Saerpetan and the girls were seated opposite to her by the court ladies.
"You are welcome, Guardian of the South. For many years you have served me. You have been driven here by our enemy. When did the attacks begin?"
"The attacks began last month, My Queen. They came at night in bands. They burned first one hamlet, then another. We could do nothing. We gathered what we could, and fled."
"My ministers will take care of all of your needs. You will return to your home when the enemy fades before us."
"I wish to reward your service, Saerpetan."
The Queen gestured to one of the officers of her guard. He spoke to one of the court women. She walked to a table along the wall, and returned with a velvet pillow. She walked to the side of the old man. Another woman joined her, and took a heavy gold chain from the cushion. She placed it around the neck of the old man.
"You may return to your people. Your girls have found my favor. I would have them stay here and serve me for the present, My Lord."
The two girls exchanged glances.
"The girls will attend you, warrior," The Queen said. "They are fair, and belong in the palace. They would not be happy herding goats."
The girls were young. Their skin was a deep brown. The sun of the Empty Quarter was hot and relentless.
The two girls had spent their lives under the sun. Straw caps would have given them some protection, but all the people of the hills would have been darkened by long years of exposure.
The Queen rose. "I leave you now."
Saerpetan rose also, and bowed deeply.
The queen walked from the room. I followed her out of the room.
* * * * * * * * *
Astarte called me to her apartments the next day. I entered her chambers to find her alone in a room full of chairs and sofas. Soft music was playing.
I left my sandals at the door.
The lady was seated at a table. She rose from her chair, and kissed me on the cheek.
"I need your service, warrior."
"My Queen," I replied..
The woman cast down her eyes for a moment. "You must visit the men from the hills. I need them trained in the use of the crossbow."
"Very well, My Lady."
I placed my hand on her flank. "How many men are to be trained?"
"Bands have been coming in almost every day. Perhaps two thousand."
I placed my hand behind her back, and drew her close. Her skin was smooth and soft, but cool to my touch.
"Come warrior, wine."
She walked to a table, and poured liquor into a glass. I approached her as she bent, and placed my hand on her waist.
She turned, and gave me a glass of the drink. I sipped it. It was a sweet cordial.
The woman sat on a high cushion, crossing her legs. I sat beside her.
"Will your warriors train the men?"
"Yes. They will go with you, and start the training as soon as the men assemble."
I rose from the cushion seat, and knelt before her.
"Do the crossbows use a pulley?"
"Yes. The bolts will pass thru armor."
I began to kiss her legs.
She moaned softly.
"You will need to leave in a few hours, my sweet lad."
* * * * * * * * *
I took my leave of the Lady, and returned to my apartments.
I bathed, and armed myself with my sword. I also donned a coat of mail.
I went to the palace square to find a line of chariots waiting for me. The chariots were followed by a line of carts. I raised my sword in salute to the commander of the chariot force.
"On your command, My Prince," The commander returned my salute.
I stepped forward, and leaped onto the platform of the lead chariot.
"Forward," I told the charioteer. I raised my arm, and pointed forward. The chariots line began to move forward.
The charioteer lashed his three horses, and we sped forward.
We drove out of the gate of the square. We headed down the street, toward the quarters of the hill people.
We soon came to the gate of a large compound. I stepped down from the chariot, and walked to the gateway. I was joined by the commander of the force, and a body of his warriors.
I found Saerpetan waiting inside, with a large force of young men.
I saluted him with my sword, raising the hilt to my eyes.
"Good day, My Lord. I come with the greeting of the Goddess. She commands that your young men be given the crossbow."
"Good day, Commander of Legions. We will gladly bear the crossbow at the royal command."
"We bring you weapons and mail. Our warriors will tell you how to use the weapons. We will leave officers to assist you in the days ahead."
I nodded to the officer in charge. He called out a command.
Our warriors began to file inside the compound. Their arms were full of crossbows and bundles of bolts. They were passed out to the men of the hills.
Targets of straw and wood frames had been set up by the men of Saerpetan.
I took one of the bows, and attached a wrench. The great crossbow was drawn by circular sweeps of the wrench. I drew the cord, and placed a bolt into the bow.
I sighted the bow, and pulled the trigger. The bolt hit the center of the target with a loud thump.
The men of the hills also drew their bows with help from the men of the palace guard.
When they were ready, they began to loose their bolts at the targets set up at the side of the yard.
The men were placed in companies of one hundred men. The leaders of the clans, or their sons, were named as captains.
They were told by the trainers how to care for the arms, and given cases for the weapons. They were also given helmets, coats of mail and new tunics.
The crossbows were very powerful. The bolts would be able to penetrate heavy mail. The men were able to use the bows with little difficulty.
In each company one of every three men was armed with the pike. They would serve as a wall to protect the men with crossbows. Men in the rear ranks were given the duty of drawing the crossbows. They would pass them to the men in the fore, standing behind the pike men. This would allow a steady rate of fire.
In a few hours I took my leave of the men of the hills, and returned to my chariot.
* * * * * * * * *
The two girls from the hills attended me in the coming days. They were brought to my rooms by the palace women. The girls had been given new tunics.
Their duties were simple. They served me wine, and cared for my clothing and possessions. They spoke the same language as the people of the City of the Mirage. I practiced the language with them.
I gave them a simple explanation of my presence. I told them I came from a distant land. I fled from the enemies of my king into the desert. I became lost, and was saved by the people of Queen Sassamon.
The two girls were pleased to live in the palace. They enjoyed the fine food they shared with me, and liked to play in the pools. They were modest at first, but soon became bolder. Once they were freed of the control of the elders of their clan, they came to enjoy their freedom.
On the second day of their entry into my service, we joined Astarte in the pools. The two girls were disrobed by the palace women, with much chattering. They joined us in the pools.
They were pleased by the cool water, very new to the people of the dry hills. They soon became playful.
After our swim, I joined the goddess for a massage. The two girls were shown how to massage us by the women of the palace.
After a time, I had the girls climb onto the tables, and rubbed them down myself with fragrant oil. Astarte enjoyed the show, smiling at the modesty of the tribeswomen.
I turned my attention to the Queen. Her skin was cold, unlike the soft warmth of the girls. She was much taller than they, her face and form had the perfection of a marble statue. Her skin was deep olive, her hair long. She had a voluptuous figure.
Kayla and Ama were shown by the palace women how to braid the hair of the Queen.
After her hair was finished, the Queen wrapped herself in a towel.
"Come girls. We shall go to the apartments of your Lord. We shall make him happy"
* * *
In the days following the arrival of the hill people, the goddess was apart from me for long hours. At the evening meal of the third day the Lady turned to me, and spoke softly.
"My brother is driving the people away from the hills. He drives them from the river valleys in the waste lands. I will not wait for him here in my city. I will not allow him to destroy the tribes. I will lead my squadrons out. We shall raid his forces."
Astute took me to a hall filled with arms. Row of spears and shields lined the walls, tables bore swords and helmets. There were coats of bronze mail.
I selected a coat of mail, a heavy sword, and other arms and harness.
The helmet I selected was of a strange alloy, very light and strong. I selected a coat of bronze, with trim of gold.
The next day the slave women helped me to garb myself with the armor. When I was well caparisoned for war, the women led me to the courtyard.
The courtyard was filled with the troops of Astarte. Chariots were being readied, with troops climbing aboard.
After I had watched the formation of the chariot regiment, Astarte walked thru the doorway of the palace. She walked to the top of the staircase, stopped, and raised the spear she was bearing.
The charioteers stood at attention as she approached. They gave a cheer when she raised her spear, and clashed their weapons against their shields.
She looked at me.
"We go to wars today, Champion Mine!"
A chariot gleaming in gold and emeralds drove up to the base of the stairs.
The queen walked down the stairs to the chariot. I followed. The lady walked to the rear of the chariot. I walked to her side, and lifted her onto the platform of the chariot. I leapt up beside her.
The charioteer turned to us
"All honor to you lady. All is ready."
"Forward, my regiment!" Astarte raised her spear.
The chariot of the Queen raced forward thru the gate of the courtyard. The chariots of the regiment followed us. We followed the grand way, leading to the gates of the city.
We passed thru the open gate of the wall of the city. We followed the road leading into the wasteland for more than an hour. We approached a line of hills to the north.
The chariot slowed, and drove the great road. We headed toward the line of hills at a slower pace.
The chariot passed between two of the rocky hills. When we reached the other side of the hill, I could see a wide ravine leading down into a green valley, with a stream running thru.
The regiment descended the ravine, and followed a trail winding along the side of the river. As we rode followed, horns sounded from the sides of the valley. We could see signs of movement in the trees to our sides. Once I caught sight of a great beast, moving rapidly thru the trees.
"Gazen!" Said the queen.
We followed the trail till we came onto a plain with scattered patches of brush and trees. In the distance I could see a number of low stone buildings. We halted until the squadrons deployed into a line facing the structures.
The queen raised her spear, and the line raced forward. We rode across the sandy plain, slowing as we neared the buildings. Our chariot came to a halt. The wings of our line continued forward, halting on the flanks of the complex.
The walls of the structure were perhaps six feet tall, and made of stones fitted together without mortar. We had stopped opposite a wide gap in the wall, serving as a door. A cobbled path led to the building.
Astarte gestured with her spear, and we rode up to the gap. We were followed by two other chariots. I turned to the queen.
"My lady, you should remain with the main body. I will go forward."
"No, I will come with you, My Champion," She commanded.
We had entered a large courtyard, and faced another wall, and gateway. The courtyard was vacant, except for piles of stone tumbled from the rough-hewn walls. One of our chariots rode forward to the gap in the wall ahead. One of the warriors leapt onto the ground, and walked toward the gaping entrance.
He drew his sword, and advanced into the room beyond. We heard a shout from the man, and a series of howls. A dark form appeared in the door.
"Gazen!" The queen hissed.
Our charioteer raised a horn at his side, and blew a long blast. We raced forward, followed by the other two chariots. The creature in the gap ran forward. It was followed by others of its kind. The creature howled in pain, and halted. A bolt from a crossbow had struck the creature, and was buried deep in its middle.
Astarte drew her bow, and loosed another arrow. I threw a javelin from a rack at the side of the chariot. There were howls of pain. A mound of bodies was forming in the front of the entry gateway.
One of the creatures reached the side of our chariot. I grasped a war axe from the rack, and struck the creature, nearly cleaving its skull in two. The warriors in the chariots continued to loose arrows and cast javelins.
Chariots from the force we had left outside pulled forward, and appeared at our side. Arrows began to pour into the creatures rushing thru the gap and into the field. Astarte screamed an order. A body of men from the chariots began to form a line. The men were armed with pikes and war axes. I leapt down, and joined them.
The line began to advance towards the door, pushing the creatures back. The creatures were falling before the rain of arrows, almost blocking the door.
The creatures were still pushing thru the gateway, but in fewer numbers. I stepped forward, striking down one of the animals with my axe.
Another of the beasts rushed at me. It raised its arm, to tear at me with its claws. I caught its arm with my axe. The forearm of the gazen flew from the stump of the upper arm. Blood gushed out, as the creature howled. The creature sprung at me, in spite of its wound. I struck the creature once more, and it toppled to the side.
I moved forward, advancing towards the gap. I was followed by the warriors to my rear. The creatures gave way under the rain of arrows. I climbed over jumble of bodies piled in the door way, and leapt into the room beyond.
The body of the first warrior lay inside, covered in blood. I swung my axe at one of the gazen that rushed at me. One of the warriors jabbed at it with a pike. The animal fell to the side.
We pushed forward, forcing the gazen back with our pikes. Two of the warriors grasped the body of the fallen warrior, dragging the body back thru the gap and into the field beyond.
We followed the two men, jabbing at the gazen as we backed out the door into the field outside. Once we were outside the gap, we were able to hold the gazen at the front of the gap. The creatures fell under the arrows, filling the gap with their bodies as they fell.
The attack slowed. I returned to the chariot, and Astarte. We could hear cries from outside the courtyard, from the plain outside the building.
"We must withdraw!" I yelled.
"Wheel!" The queen screamed out. I returned to the line of warriors. The chariots wheeled, and began to advance to the gateway of the courtyard. The line of pike men began to back slowly to cover the rear of the chariots.
As we pulled back the gazen began to fill the courtyard. Their numbers were few, and they continued to fall to the bolts still coming from the chariots. The chariots began to drive thru the gateway into the plain outside the structure.
After the last chariot had passed thru, the warriors on foot followed. The chariots outside had formed a square, with pike men to the fore, and the bowmen firing from the chariot platforms.
We advanced to the square, and joined the line. The plain was covered with the bodies of the gazen. The creature continued to rush at us, falling to our arrows.
I returned to the chariot and the queen.
"I have called for another regiment." She said. "We will wait here, then withdraw to the city. We are low on arrows. We have no more javelins."
The warriors had taken the wounded and the bodies of the dead to the center of the square. The pike men stood guard around the perimeter of the square. The archers stood at the ready.
We could see groups of gazen moving in the plain, and in the trees. We waited in the square as the sun began to move toward the horizon.
We heard the blast of a trumpet. We answered with a blare from our own horns. In a few moments the lead chariot of the second regiment appeared on the trail from the forest.
We mounted our chariots, and formed a line, advancing to meet the relief force. The new squadrons raced forward, and formed up at our rear. We saluted the men of the second line of chariots, and wheeled back up the road, and into the forest.
"They will hit us from the trees, on the road back," Astarte told me.
The first attack came as we neared the entrance of the valley. We heard a trumpet call the rear of our line. Howls filled the air. We continued forward.
We had formed a rear guard of pike men. They prevented attack on the rear of the chariots as we advanced.
We continued to move toward the mouth of the valley. As our chariots advanced, I saw a mass of the gazen moving forward thru the trees on the side. A line of pike men followed the chariot of the queen on each side. Men with crossbows filled the chariots near us.
The gazen rushed at the chariot of the queen. They were met with a volley of arrows. Those that reached our line were met with pikes and axes. One of the gazen pushed thru the pike men, and came at us, howling. The creature had been struck with many arrows, and was mad with pain. I met it with a blow of my axe, almost severing its neck.
We continued along the road, cutting thru the attacking gazen. We formed a square in the desert outside the valley. After a brief rest, we deployed into a line, and rode toward the road leading to the city. The gazen did not attack in the desert or on the road.
* * *
We soon entered the gates of the city.
As we rode thru the streets leading to the palace, I questioned Astarte.
"Did the gazen build the ruined city?"
"Long ago they ruled the land. They were once clever, and saw them selves as more than beasts."
"Do they hide in the hills because of fear of men?"
"They fear the hunt. But they have forgotten the wisdom they gained over 10,000 years. Now they are like the lions of the desert. They gather in the old city and tell tales of the past."
"Why are they led by men?"
"My enemy has promised them return of all the land. All the men of the cities will die."
* * * * * * * * *
I was called by the Queen to the royal apartments the next day. I found her seated at a long table. She bid me to be seated. Her ladies gave me a glass of wine.
"We have caused the enemy to be angry. They have forced the power gates. My brother grows stronger."
"When will they attack?"
"They will be fast. They will strike before we can repair the gates."
She rose. "Arm yourself. I will prepare the guard of the city."
She came to me, and kissed me.
"This will be a great victory for you. The first of many, you will gain great renown."
"My sword will serve you, My Lady."
I returned to my apartments. Kayla and the rest of the women helped me to lay out my arms.
The women were excited. They had seen the power of Astarte. They could not believe that the city was in danger.
I returned to the apartments of the Queen. I found her inspecting her own arms.
"Immortal one, I come to ask leave to mount the wall. Perhaps I will see signs of the enemy. I also want to visit the compound of the crossbow force."
"My court ladies will take you to the battlements. You may see signs from the circuit towers."
I bowed and returned to my apartments. I was soon joined by two of the court ladies.
I decided to take Kayla and the rest of my attendants with me to the wall.
The women sent by Astarte led me to the front square. There were chariots and a coach waiting for us. I climbed on the chariot, and we rode forward.
One of the court ladies told me our destination.
"Signs of the invader have been seen from the east towers," She said.
"To the east then."
We halted in a square near the city wall to the Eastern Quarter. I left the chariot, and waited for the coach. I helped the women down, and then turned to the wall. A long ramp of stairs led to the battlements.
We followed the ramp upwards. The wall was very broad, so that chariots could pass one another. We went to the entrance of a high tower along the circuit.
We climbed a circular set of stairs leading to the top of the tower. At the top of the tower, I walked to the battlements.
I searched the horizon, looking for the enemy.
One of the women cried out.
"Look!" She said, pointing to the left.
I looked to the horizon to the left. I was able to make out clouds of dust. I could also make out a line of chariots moving to the west.
The ladies chattered gaily. They were like spectators at a drama or sporting event. I pulled Kayla to me, and gave her a tight hug.
"The battle will be soon. The people of the city will fill the walls to watch the show."
"The men of the hills will go forth, My Lord."
"I will go to their compound after we leave the tower."
Ama, the other girl of the city came to me. She pulled me down, close to her and kissed me on the cheek.
"My Lord, take this token with you." She gave me a red scarf. I tied to silken cloth around my neck, and kissed her.
"I will wear your favor in the coming battle, and in the days to come. You shall remain at my side, little tigress."
* * *
At the base of the tower, I helped the ladies back into the coach. I watched them ride down the street, then mounted the chariot.
The chariot drove to the compound of the people of the hills. We halted at the gate, and I found Saerpetan waiting, on word from the Queen.
I greeted the elder, and gave him a strong embrace. He asked me inside. I found the compound filled with squares of men. Some of the men were armed with pikes, to hold off attack while the crossbow men fired into the enemy ranks.
I passed the ranks in review, stopping to examine the crossbows of some of the men.
After the inspection, I told Saerpetan of my visit to the wall - and that he must be ready for a call to battle.
* * * * * * * * *
On the next day, I rose to find myself alone in my rooms. I took a shower, and dressed. I chose weapons, and armed myself for the morrow.
As I paced the floor, the door opened and the queen walked into the room.
She embraced me, and kissed my cheek.
"Warrior, today is the day of testing. I am a prisoner here, in my city. My enemies have followed us. I wish for you to lead my chariots forth, and vanquish my foes."
"Very well, we shall sally forth."
The woman laughed, and led me into a hallway. At the end of the passage was a large double door. Inside the room was a large armory, filled with swords, spears and war axes.
I selected weapons, a helmet, and a hauberk. The ice maiden took a bow from the rack. The arrows were gold in color, and seemed to glow dully. The helmet was decorated with gold and gems, as was the hilt of the sword. The helmet had a tall blue plume, with a mail skirt for the neck and lower face.
The ice maiden took a bow from the rack. The arrows were gold in color, and seemed to glow dully.
The goddess then led me into the throne room where I had first met her. She walked out the front door, and went to the top of the stairs leading to the courtyard.
I followed her into the square. A chariot was waiting for her. The chariot gleamed with gold and rubies. Three horses of jet black pulled the chariot. Five warriors stood next to the chariot. They drew their swords and raised them in salute.
We walked to the rear of the chariot. I lifted the woman and placed her onto the platform of the chariot. I climbed up behind her. The driver turned to us, and bowed from the waist. He wore a heavy chain of mail, and wore a helmet.
The Lady gestured at the city wall. We rushed forward thru the gate of the palace wall. The chariot wheeled outside the gate, and raced down a broad street. We soon neared the wall of the city. The driver halted at the wall. The Lady said a few words to the charioteer. He spurred the horses toward a long ramp leading from the street up to the top of the wall.
We reached the top of the wall. The top of the wall was wide, with room for two chariots to pass. The chariot went at full speed along the top of the wall.
The sky grew dark as we raced forward. The sky filled with dark clouds. Peals of thunder filled the air. Flashes of lighting darted down in the distance. We road thru a gate in a great tower, and wheeled down a curve in the great wall.
The Lady lifted her hand. The chariot slowed and then came to a halt. I jumped down, and lifted the woman to the surface of the roadway.
The Lady walked to the parapet. A line of chariots was coming toward the city wall. A mass of horsemen rode at their side. When our foemen neared the wall, the chariots veered to the right. The horsemen went to the left.
The lead chariot came forward, halting within hailing distance. The massive chariot was dark in color. A tall man in mail stood beside the charioteer. He removed his helmet, and leaped to the ground.
The tall man walked forward a few steps. His hair was black, and done in tight curls. He wore a beard, also curled. He wore a coat of mail.
He looked up at us.
"Sister, open the gate to us. You need only to bow to me - and kiss my ring. The warrior shall die quickly."
"You have raced to your death, brother."
"My blood will cause a race of warriors to arise, Lady."
"Then go back to your city in the South. The desert shall belong to me once more. You grow weak without me at your side. Flee, Brother"
"I will take your city, Lady!"
"You will find your death here. The bodies of your men will feed the ravens. The dogs of my city will feast upon them."
The demon drew his sword, and pointed it at me.
"Send your toy out to meet me, then!"
The man turned, and raced to his chariot. He returned to the line of chariots to his rear.
The lady turned to me. She drew me close, and kissed me on the cheek.
"We shall meet them outside the gate," She said. "They will die this day."
"Fate shall decide," I replied.
We returned to the chariot, mounted, rode to the ramp leading to the street. We rode thru the street, and entered a large courtyard.
* * * * * * * * *
The large courtyard was filled with chariots, each containing three men. One of the men held the reins. The other two held short spears, swords and bows. The men raised their swords and spears in a silent salute. They then clashed the weapons three times against their shields.
One of the chariots drove forward, and wheeled to the side. The chariot was larger than the others, and pulled by four horses in line, side by side. It gleamed with gold, and had a red pennant on a post to one side.
I stepped from our chariot, and helped the woman down. A man stepped forward and took the reins of the empty chariot. We walked to the larger chariot.
We walked to the rear, and I helped the Queen onto the platform. I climbed up beside her.
The driver turned to us, and bowed. He did not speak, and his eyes seemed not to focus on me. A large gate lay at the opposite side of the courtyard. I drew my sword, and pointed to the gate.
The driver used his whip to drive the horses forward. We raced forward, down the metallic surface. The others chariots followed. We followed the road to the main gate of the city, and out to the plain. The chariots formed a line following me as I raced into the plain.
On the horizon, I could see a cloud of dust, and another mass of chariots. As they drew closer, they deployed into a line, facing us.
We formed a line with our chariots in the centre. Our horse was deployed on each flank. The crossbows were on the left, our foot on the right.
Once more, I drew my sword, and we raced forward, followed by the other chariots. The enemy lines also began to race forward. Astarte drew a bolt from a quiver on the side of the chariot, and fitted it to her crossbow. She raised the crossbow, and loosed the bolt. Bolts began to fly from the other chariots.
The enemy closed with us. I grasped a javelin from a holder on the side of the chariot, and cast it at one of the foemen. He plunged backwards, the spear in his side.
We passed thru the enemy ranks, then wheeled and halted. The enemy chariots also stopped. Warriors from each side leapt from the chariots, and drew their swords and axes. The enemy wore conical helmets, and scale armor.
The men did not cry out, the only sound was the clash of arms. The queen and other archers continued to loose arrows at the enemy.
A group of men in the conical helmets rushed at our chariot. I jumped onto the ground, and slashed at the first warrior to reach us. He fell, without a sound. A body of our own men came to my aid. The enemy was outnumbered, and began to be cut down. They made no effort to flee.
I backed away from the line of our men, approaching the chariot. Astarte was holding her bow, watching the combat.
"Their attack is wavering!" She called.
"Their bodies litter the field!" I answered.
There was a blast of trumpets. I looked to my left. Soon I heard loud howls fill the air.
"Gazen!' The goddess cried.
The beasts were soon crashing onto our line. Our men used their spears to hold them back.
A cry arose from the ranks of the enemy. The enemy had rallied. They came rushing forward once more.
The guard of the queen circled her chariot. A party of the enemy broke thru our line, and rushed the chariot.
I slashed at one of the men, bringing him down. His place was taken by another of the enemy. We traded blows. I thrust at his side, cutting thru his mail.
I heard a cry from Astarte.
I turned, and saw a tall man in dark mail. He carried a war axe, and carried a shield with a gold inlay boss. He ran, and swung at me with his axe. I turned the axe with my shield. We traded blows, with axe and sword. The warrior was strong, and caught my shield with a fell blow. I stumbled, and regained my feet. I heard Astarte call out.
The man stopped, and looked over his shoulder. Astarte loosed an arrow at him. The shaft entered his neck. He seemed to feel no pain, and there was no blood.
I stepped to the side, and stabbed at his side with my sword. The blade went in deep, and I twisted it, and pulled upwards. He sank to his knees.
I brought down my sword on his neck, and his head fell to the side. There was still no blood from the open wound. He started to get to his feet once more, his head held at a sharp angle.
I drew my dagger, and tackled him. He fell backward. I pulled up his hauberk, and plunged my dagger into his side again and again, until all movement ended.
I looked about me. Our line was holding, the enemy and the gazen continued to come forward in parties, seeking to break thru.
There was no retreat.
"Forward!" Cried Astarte.
Our line began to push forward. Bands of the enemy were surrounded, and the enemy cut down without mercy. The howls of the gazen slowly died out.
I walked to the chariot of the queen. Blood dripped from my blade and shield. Astarte smiled at me.
I climbed back into the chariot, smeared with the blood of the fallen god, brother of Astarte. The Queen took off her helmet, and embraced me.
"Warrior, you have conquered!"
* * *
The next day I returned to the field of battle. Te bodes of the enemy were being stacked in heaps by the people of the city. Their weapon were stacked in another pile.
Trenches were being dug as their grave.
Other men were building stacks if wood. These would be the pyres for the body of our own fallen. In a few days the battle would be marked only by piles of earth over the trenches, and the ashes of the pyres.
* * * * * * * * *
On the morning set for my departure, I rose and dressed in my desert robes. I was joined by Astarte. She was nude, her heavy breasts were bare before me. She carried a gold dagger.
"Warrior, you have freed me from my captivity. I give you this dagger, with a ruby at its base. When you have need of my chariots, draw the dagger and call out."
"But come, there is one last service that you shall do me before you ride." She placed her cold hand on my cheek, and touched my lips.
* * *
I placed the hauberk and helm in my saddle bags, and belted my sword to my waist. I walked to the front of the palace, followed by the Queen.
The sun was high in the sky.
At the foot of the stairs, a pale horse was waiting for me, its saddle empty. Astarte embraced me. Her cold lips kissed my neck.
"You must return in one year, Warrior, and await my pleasure. I command it." She drew back, and looked me in the eye. "Know that I bear your child, warrior."
"The child will be beautiful, Goddess."
I mounted the horse, and rode forward into the desert.
* * * * * * * * *