The Queen and the Hero
by Tala Bar
“Heroes and Heroism”
appears in this issue.
|part 1 of 2|
Let me tell you a little story about a country of women whom some people call Amazons, and about a man who happened to arrive there.
“My Queen,” announced the Guard — she was a tall, strong woman, with wide shoulders and muscular arms and legs, permanently wearing a light metal and leather armor — “there’s a man at the gate claiming to be a Hero; should we let him in?”
“I don’t think we’ve had a Hero passing by for at least a couple of years,” commented the Queen. “Does he look as if he is really worth the bother?”
“I’d say he does, “replied the Guard. “I’ve never seen such figure of a man, although my predecessor as Guard says she saw one not unlike him; but that was at least twenty years ago, before your time on the throne.”
“All right, then, let him in and bring him before me, so that I can take a look and appreciate his worth.”
“Very well, my Queen.” The Guard bowed, turned and left the palace, while the Queen began talking to her Advisor.
“What do you think, Aunt? Is it a good thing to do?”
“We can’t make a decision without looking at him, my Queen, so you could not have judged differently. I hope, though, he is really worth it, because the blood of our people seems to have been thinning lately, and we do need some new heroic genes.”
The Queen and her Advisor were sitting in the large Audience chamber of the Palace, listening to a string of requests, petitions and demands from her subjects, who were all women of all ages, appearances and professions. It was a lively scene, in which the Queen found delight in meeting her subjects face to face; for although she was highly revered as befitting the ruler of the country, she was also loved for her easy-going personality, and for the love she had had for her people as well as the severity that a mother sometimes needs to show her children.
When the Guard left to fetch the Hero, a hum started spreading over the crowd, every girl and woman speculating on the happy news of a man, a would-be Hero, coming for a visit. The occasion merited at least consideration, if not yet celebration, as they did not know what shape this person would take.
It was the custom of that country to hold occasional meeting sessions with males from neighboring tribes for the purpose of propagation, but they had not seen a hero for some years now, and the news soon rushed throughout the City, with many curious and interested females gathering in small groups to make sure of what they had heard.
After a short wait, the Guard returned to the Palace leading the man behind her. She bowed before the Queen again and presented the man, then turned and left the palace.
For a few minutes the Queen and the Hero stared silently at each other. The Hero saw before him a magnificent figure of a woman magnificently dressed as a queen, sitting on a magnificent throne. Her hair fell in black locks on her shoulders under a band of silvery crown set with some brilliant blue, yellow and red stones; below her high forehead and above an aquiline nose sat a pair of large brilliant silvery eyes that pierced his soul with their sharp look.
These eyes were looking now at what seemed to be a magnificent figure of a man dressed as shabbily as she had ever seen any man dressed. A lion skin was thrown on his shoulder, but it looked old and moth-eaten. His loins were covered with a leopard skin, a little less old and decrepit, but certainly not as shining beautiful as it would look on the live beast. Otherwise his body and feet were bare, and his skin dry and tanned almost to look like leather. The hair on his head had grown long beyond his magnificent shoulders, and looked unkempt as if it had not been washed or combed for many days. With his beard also grown and not very clean, it was difficult to see what his face looked like. He was carrying a large club, which he leaned lightly on his shoulder, and he was looking at the Queen with fierce dark eyes. The Queen was disgusted.
She pressed a button, which rang a bell that was heard all over the palace. To the Housemaid that came to her call, she said, “Take this beast to one of the guests’ apartments and make him as presentable as possible. I don’t want to see this creature until after he had been properly cleaned, his hair and beard cut and trimmed, and his body covered with decent clothes.”
* * *
“So,” asked the Queen, “how is our guest doing?” She and her Advisor were sitting now in the Queen’s private chamber, taking a break from her arduous task of the morning Audience. The Queen was reclining on a comfortable couch, nibbling at all kinds of delicacies served to her on a silver dish. The old Advisor was sitting opposite her on a nicely carved wooden chair, and her favorite Daughter sat on the carpeted floor, leaning on lovely embroidered cushions.
The Daughter giggled. She was a small, dark girl with laughing eyes, and the Queen gave her a sharpish look because she was not sure how reliable the girl was in what could develop into a state business. “What is it?” she asked.
The Daughter straightened up into a sitting position. “I happened to see him naked as he was stepping out of the bath, My Queen,” she cleared her throat. “There must be a lot of enjoyment in his body...”
“Oh?” the Queen uttered. She could not lie to herself about her entertaining some similar thoughts, even before she saw him completely naked. “Would you...”
“He could be a bit of a handful, on my own,” the girl admitted; “I wouldn’t mind having some company with me to share him between us.”
“Very well, then,” the Queen concluded, turning her mind to other business. But in the evening meeting she commanded to bring the Hero to her presence before going in to dinner.
* * *
He looked very different now, even more impressive being clean and trimmed, wearing a light garment of brilliant colors that went well with his figure. She could see now that his deep, dark eyes had a violet tint to them, and they were set at a good distance on both sides of his strong, straight nose; his mouth shone wide above the beard cut short, his hair fell in golden-brown waves over his shoulders, and his shapely feet were encased in well-formed sandals. He sent a straight look at her, aggressive enough to feel like a clear attack on her person.
Her silver eyes did not flinch. “So,” the Queen said, “and why do they call you a Hero? Is it that you are out to conquer women, or do you have another prey in mind?”
His laughter rolled from wall to wall in the Queen’s private chamber. Then he spoke for the first time in her hearing, and his voice was booming, as much as he tried to suppress it.
“Preying on women is unnecessary, Queen, they flock to wherever I am whether I invite them or not. I hunt game and I fight enemies as chance has it, I am not particular.”
“Indeed!” she said softly, suppressing the quickening of her heartbeat. She felt her cheeks begin to flush, took a deep breath to suppress her stirring emotions. After a short while she said, “Will you join us for dinner? We serve enough food to fill up the most heroic belly.”
“With pleasure, Queen,” he said and bowed his head, “I haven’t eaten anything substantial for the last three or four days, it’s beginning to press on my stomach.”
“You won’t starve in this place, I promise you,” the Queen said as she rose from her chair and made a sign for her company to follow her. The Advisor talked to the Hero, putting him in charge of the Daughter to lead him to the dining hall.
The atmosphere at dinner was a mixture of noise and silent intervals, unnaturally loud laughter and breaks for wondering wishes. The Queen talked little while her Advisor conversed with the Guard and other officials; the Hero had on both his sides two of the Queen’s Daughters, who kept him well in food, drink, questions and answers. At last, the Queen rose to retire in the company of her Maid, and the company broke for the night. But before they left the Palace, she called her favorite Daughter into the bedchamber.
“I want to hear your report about the Hero’s behavior in the morning,” she commanded.
“My Queen,” said the Daughter as she reported before the Queen in the Audience chamber in the morning. She seemed freshly washed and dressed but with telltale red eyes from the lack of sleep.
“I can see you did not allow yourself enough sleep last night,” the Queen said pleasantly. “Was it worth it?”
“My Queen,” the girl repeated, “he deserves royal treatment, I vow!”
The Queen smiled. The girl had cheek, but she was a genuine enthusiast and she could not fault her. “We’ll see. Run along now about your business.”
The Queen called the Hero to her presence. She looked at him closely but found no particular trace for his night’s effort. He must have been used to such exertion, she thought, having again to calm her racing heart.
“Hero, I hear you merited some attention last night, so I’ll tell you what. I felt at dinner the lack of something that could be a nice addition to our table. It is now the season of the autumn hunt, and there is a great big boar roaming our fields, eating up our crops or crushing them to the earth. Would you do us the favor, if you feel like it, to join our Huntress in going to catch that beast, both to release us from this nuisance and supplement our table?”
“My Queen,” the Hero said with reverence, “just to pay for your initial hospitality, day and night, I would do it.”
The Queen’s Daughter giggled, every one knew the very dangerous animal the Queen had meant, whose capture had been on the agenda of the Huntress for some time now. If the Hero would take a hand in doing it, then he really deserved his title. The Huntress was then called in, and the Hero saw before him a medium size woman with a slim, agile body dressed in a short skirt, and long, shapely legs with her feet encased in light leather sandals; she carried a bow and a quiver of arrows on her shoulder, and her whole figure told the Hero of a person commanding both strength and swiftness. She bowed to the Queen, signed to the Hero, and they left the Palace together.
* * *
For three whole days nothing was heard from the Hero and the Huntress. On the evening of the third they appeared before the Queen, who had been told of their advance and came to sit on her throne in the Audience chamber. They came in, carrying the boar’s carcass on a strong branch between them. Everyone in the room could see that the Hero was limping, an ugly red gash had appeared in his calf. But both he and the Huntress were glowing in spite of the utter fatigue enwrapping them.
“My Queen,” the Huntress said, “the Hero acquitted himself gloriously and deserves any prize you can give him.”
“Would you be that prize, Huntress?” the Queen asked and the woman nodded. “Come to me in the morning, then,” she added, dismissing them as the kitchen crew came in to claim their treasure.
In the morning, the Huntress came before the Queen and claimed, “My Queen, I promise you a generation of huntresses if the Hero stays with us a few more months.”
“Very well,” the Queen agreed, “but do not take him all to yourself.”
Copyright © 2006 by Tala Bar