The future will never be the same

Long ago in Africa, in the land that would be called Dahomey–Black Sparta (now Benin), a paranoid king worried about dangers that might threaten his kingdom. In his wisdom, or madness, he sent four teams of his elite warriors, Amazons—one woman and a young girl—in the four directions of the wind. Their mission: report on possible threats to his kingdom.

The years passed. Three teams came back.

They had not found the end of the world, but had returned, prepared to take whatever punishment was forthcoming, so they could die in their own land, among their own people.

They had traveled far, seen much. They told of a vast world with many people and languages and dangers.

They were greeted as heroes.

But of the final one, there was nothing....

The fourth team never came back.

Their families and the Amazons held ceremonies for the safekeeping of their spirits and poured wine to the four corners of the land in their memory. They mourned them and went on with their lives. Eventually they forgot them. Only the griots remembered--and recognized them in the stories that came back to Africa generations later.

It is with great pride and pleasure that BLACK SCIENCE FICTION (FANTASY AND HORROR) tells the story of the fourth team.

Of how they liberated three hundred women and children and tried to fight their way out of the land of the slavetraders.

"It is no little thing to be an Amazon. It is the highest calling of a woman. For we are meant to be weak and gentle. But an Amazon must cut that out of herself. We must make ourselves into iron, learn to move in the night unseen, to move in the day so fast men are dead before they know they are dead."

Delilah, Captain of Amazons

"You are a woman! You have nothing to prove. Kill any way you can. Your only goal is to survive, to accomplish the mission, to win. Win by any means necessary!

"If they are stupid enough to let you kill them, then they deserve to die. Life is not fair. It rewards victory--not bravery.

"We are alone out here. We cannot afford to play by any rules but our own."

Delilah, Captain of Amazons

One was a girl....


She swung around from unbridling Delilah's horse as she heard the three men approach. She'd removed her cloak while taking care of the mounts. She now regretted it.

She hadn't wanted to stop. But Delilah, sitting hunched in her saddle, blanket draped about her, had insisted. They'd ridden late into the night.

"This is good for you," the older woman said, indicating the world about them. "Night is a friend. It protects you, shelters you, makes you invisible. Embrace it and you will be rewarded. It will always give you an advantage."

The land was vast and empty. The road stretched endlessly on ahead, no hint of a village or keep where they might take food or shelter.

Delilah's dark skin and clothes blended her into the darkness so that she would have been invisible except for her teeth and eyes which flashed white from time to time in the black as she talked. Her hair was short, cropped for combat.

At the end of a good day's ride Delilah hated making camp—not that she did that much anyway, delegating almost everything to her. So seeing a ready-made one in the night had drawn her the way rotting fruit draws flies. The ground cleared, the fire already roaring and fresh meat hunted, skinned, seasoned, spitted and roasting. They—no, Cassandra—would only have to unsaddle, feed and groom their horses before they settled in for the night—if they dared. No, they would not. One would have to stay awake at all times lest.... Cassandra sighed.

She had to admit there was a beauty to the night: the crispness of the air, the darkness which matched their skins and seemed to imply they were a part of it, perhaps born of it. The winds that soothed her, banishing the day's heat. The vast vault of stars overhead. Sometimes she just looked up and lost herself in them. Surely the Gods resided up there.

"Maybe they won't want us to stop," she said hopefully.

Delilah snorted, looking at her, running her eyes up and down her young companion's body. Though it was dark and the heavy traveling cloak hid Cassandra, she knew what it concealed.

"Girl, they see you, they'll break out the best bowls and spoons and probably even duck off to shave and wash themselves down there. Just for you."

"Oh, Gods!" Cassandra said, disgusted at the very thought. Men were so tiresome. So one-minded.

She didn't understand: Delilah was attractive in an older woman's way, so why did men rush past her to get to her? She sighed. Perhaps she never would understand such things. Simply knew that it was so.

She exhaled. Would she ever see her land again? Where her ancestors were buried and their spirits roamed? Where everyone was as dark as her and Delilah. To see her father and mother and brother and sisters again. To see those nieces and nephews she'd never seen at all. To find a warrior dark like her to sire her children. She wiped her tears away as they rode in the night. Someday they would find the end of the world or Delilah would admit defeat and return.

It never got this cold there or snowed. Her heart grew sad, for she knew she might never return. Her bones would lie forever in this strange, cold, barren land. Hers and Delilah's.

She had come to the conclusion there was no end to the world. They had traveled far, seen so many strange lands and people and still no end. Always more land, more water, more mountains. The world was far more vast than they had ever imagined. Did it go on forever? It seemed so.

Her young eyes picked the men out easily in the night. The fire of their small camp behind them silhouetted their shapes, cast their faces and bodies in shadow. They were large hulking men, arms big with muscle, swords long and heavy at their sides. Mercenaries or thugs, she guessed. Not that there was that much difference. Most important of all, they were men—and men always wanted one thing from her.

Clouds moved grandly behind them beneath the bright moon.

She looked around into the night. Two women out here alone. Stopping at a camp with three men ... it just wasn't wise. But Delilah was Delilah.

"We hungry and we cold and the dead of night is coming," Delilah had said.

"But three men ... trouble." Her young eyes had long ago picked out the three horses and three bedrolls off the road in a flat area out of the steady wind.

"No, they're not," Delilah said with assurance. "They'll share their fire, give us something to eat and drink."

"You're asking for trouble."

"Girl, I ever ask for trouble?"

She looked off into the night, resigning herself to what would be. Trouble always seemed to find Delilah.

"Okay, ... don't tell them I'm a virgin."

"I won't," the older woman said, but though she could not see it, Cassandra knew there was a hint of a smile on her dark lips. There always was....

The men halted in a semicircle around her and the horse, inside the area she had cleared earlier of rocks and stones. Never leave anything to chance, Delilah had always taught her.

They were silent, studying her, eyes hot and hungry with a need she could almost feel.

"The old woman," one, a big man, barrel-chested, said, hooking a thumb over his shoulder "says you're a virgin."

Cassandra pulled a braid, placed it back out of the way.

"She's not an old woman," she said to set him straight. Maybe, if he had any sense....

The three laughed at that, picturing the bent-over, arthritic old woman who had hobbled to them. True they had not seen her face lost in the cowl, but this one was a lot better to gaze upon. All of her.

She looked past them to where he'd pointed, saw Delilah's hunched shoulders going up and down as she laughed, mouth stuffed with their meat. Cassandra hoped she choked on it.

In the silence, she heard their need-filled breathing. She sighed and cursed Delilah.

"The question is, are you a virgin?" one asked.

She exhaled. As if it made a difference whether she was or not. "Yes, I am."

The three began to breathe deeper, their chests almost heaving. Their hands had fallen to their crotches. They did not see her flush, for she was dark as the night, though from the way the stark whites of her eyes moved, she knew they knew she had noted their movements. And for a moment she was out-of-body, seeing them as they saw her—a seventeen year old girl, five-ten, coal-colored, broad of shoulder, slim of waist, with hips starting to bloom out like the petals of a flower, with breasts and thighs that packed her leather kilt and tunic almost to bursting. A broad flat nose and full lips. A girl of Africa.

The men began to smile and the smiles grew broader in anticipation of what was to come. They licked their lips much as four- legged animals do in anticipation of a meal. She had no doubt as to what their intended meal was to be.

"We were getting kind of bored," one said.

"Yeah, but looks like we've found the night's entertainment." He had wild hair—it stuck up like a porcupine's.

"A defenseless young girl shouldn't be traveling alone—things happen," another said almost apologetically. The youngest. Apologizing, no doubt, for the lesson they were about to teach her.

"Especially to a virgin," one said with a voice heavy with lust. The middle one in terms of age. Cocksure. Confident of his maleness. Of the right of the strongest. And they were the stronger. Three to one. And the one a young girl. Out here. Alone. Defenseless. Except for a sword called Nyrobi and a woman they thought old.

They could have made eye contact but their eyes kept searching over her. The usual male treasure hunt. And she was the treasure.

"Yeah, with a bunch of horny men like us about."

And now they grew serious. Their pants bulging now. End of games, time for fun.

She motioned toward her hip where Nyrobi hung, her two pigtails swinging at the movement.

"Not defenseless," she told him. All of them.

They laughed, throwing back their heads. One had to lean against another to keep from falling down. His feet danced in the dirt with the humor. The third wiped the tears from his eyes.

They did not know the sword was named Nyrobi, that it had been forged and tempered in the land of the Saracens, whose eyes had lit up with profits every time they'd looked at her and Delilah. They did not know she had made Delilah proud in the land of the slavetraders, did not know of the desperate battles they had fought there.

She watched until they finally quieted. Their eyes still feasted hungrily on her. The uneasy silence grew.

"Might as well get started," one said finally. His hand reached for her breast. "Teach you a lesson."

His hand never made it.

She knocked it aside, planted her feet and went into a crouch and threw a short punch, the power of her body behind it as her shoulder traveled in the direction of the blow, into the man's crotch, as she had practiced ten thousand times under Delilah's guidance.

He fell as if he'd been hit over the head by a boulder.

"Bitch!—" the one next to him cursed, seeing his companion down and unmoving in the blink of an eye. He rushed at her, swinging a big fist at the side of her head, intending to knock her out or stun her.

Then they could take their vengeance.

And their pleasure.

But Cassandra wasn't there.

She flowed like water around a rock around him, winding up at his side, facing his profile. As his head swivelled to her and he saw her dark unforgiving face looking at him, he realized he was defenseless and off-balance. And at the same time that he did, she left-hooked into his gut, her shoulders and hips following through in the direction of the punch, putting the entire power of her body into the point of the blow.

"Never do anything half-assed," Delilah had taught her. "Throw every punch as if your life depends on it."

She grunted with the effort of the punch, her teeth clenched.

The man bent double, the back of his neck exposed. Her right arm fell like the wrath of the Gods. Her wrist, encased in a heavy steel band, did the damage. He dropped forward on his face, joining his other companion, out cold.

A blade rasped free of its scabbard. The third man grinned at her cruelly, eyes gleaming with anticipation. "I'm going to cut you for that. And then we'll have our fun. You will remember this night." He caressed the words and his tongue stroked his lips. His eyes rode up and down her body so she would have no doubt of his intentions.

Cassandra let her empty hands open. "I was only defending myself. Delilah taught me to react without thinking."

He laughed. "For what I have in mind, you won't have to do any thinking. And then my friends." He chuckled. "We'll take turns ... all night long." The tip of his sword wove a design in the space between them.

He had been inching forward as he talked, narrowing the distance until he was within sword-reach. She never stopped watching him. He acted as if he had done this many times—herded young girls. He was dreaming of what he would do with her. And looking on, enjoying himself doubly so. Anticipating making her acquaintance.

Cassandra relaxed, stood up from her defensive crouch. "We will be on our way—Delilah has eaten and warmed herself."

The man shook his head ominously. "Girl, you're not going anywheeeeeere!"

He lunged—swinging low, intending to cut one of her legs and cripple her so she would still be good for what he intended.

Once again Cassandra flowed like water, moving to his left faster than he could turn or pivot so that his shieldless, weaponless left side was bare to her. As she moved, Nyrobi seemed to leap out of its scabbard into her palm and it swept up and as part of the same upward motion, tucked itself in under his chin. She drew her arm back, the whole move so fast and fluid he did not see it—like the tongue of a snake—but much much swifter. He did see the spray of blood. His blood. It filled his field of vision as it spewed out. And he knew he was dead.

As Delilah had told her: "If they pull sword, kill them! Don't think about it. No mercy. No hesitation. Just put them away! If you must go to the Gods, go there with the blood of your enemies on you!"

Cassandra watched him fall.

She held her sword in two hands as she had learned in the land of the yellow men, alert for another attack. Quick to battle, slow to relax, Delilah had taught.

There was no threat.

She sighed. She checked the other two—still down, wiped her blade clean and sheathed it. Anger flared in her. She turned, looked at the fire, at Delilah. She stalked toward the woman.

The older, but not old, woman's ebony face was greasy with meat. She wiped her mouth with a rag as Cassandra stopped across the flames from her. Now that the fire had warmed her, she threw back the cloak. The device of an Amazon captain glinted in the light of the fire.

"You told them I'm a virgin!" she accused.

The wind howled softly about them and quieted.

Delilah shrugged helplessly. "It slipped out."

"It's dangerous!" Cassandra said.

"Yes!" Delilah said, nodding emphatically. "For them!" And she laughed until she tore out another mouthful of the well-roasted meat.

Hi. John Faucette here.

If you want to read this and the other stories in the comfort of your bed or lounge chair or get this for a friend or loved one, you may order below.

I hope you're enjoying the story so far. If not, tell me why. Use the email address below.

For those of you who aren't into fantasy under any circumstances, you'll find horror and science fiction stories listed in the Table of Contents. Hopefully, you'll find some that you like.

For those of you who will continue with Cassandra and Delilah after this interruption, you're in for a real treat. If the ending doesn't make you get up and yell, nothing will. Good luck.


The other was a woman.


"Have you word of them?" the old griot asked when I stopped before the museum entrance to check the address in my notebook.

"What?" I asked, having no idea who he was referring to.

"Cassandra and Delilah."

I knew of no one by either name and told him so.

He shook his head. He started to turn away, but his sadness and the names intrigued me.

"Sir, who are Cassandra and Delilah?"

He turned back and began his story.

First, let me say, I'd watched Henry Gates Jr.'s magnificent Africa documentary on PBS. And I remember the goose bumps I'd felt when he showed young girls dancing with spears, recreating an ancient ritual of Amazons.

Until then, I'd not known Amazons had originated in Africa. Still, though that image continued to echo in my mind, I consciously thought no more of it till that day in Africa when the griot came up to me and asked if I had word of Cassandra and Delilah.

As an African American, I'd gone on my own voyage of discovery, seeking to learn more of the land of my ancestors. Even so, I never expected to hear the tale of the two Amazon warriors—Cassandra and Delilah. The old man saw the doubt in my eyes and led me into the large modern museum.

In a special section, many photos of drawings and actual drawings hung on the walls. The first he led me to was an enlarged photograph of a painting of an assembly of Japanese warriors. It was done in a style of incredible detail. But most fascinating was that center stage, towering over them, stood two jet black women.

"A Japanese businessman on a tour brought it here. It was a treasured item of his family. He thought we might want a copy," the griot explained.

I moved closer to the photo, my eyes eating up the two proud women, bows upright on one shoulder, shields on the other, swords hanging at their sides.

"Cassandra," he said, pointing to the taller, slimmer, younger one. She wore her hair in braids. God, she was beautiful. He pointed to the blade at her side. "That was Nyrobi—fashioned in the land of the Saracens—finest steel of the day."

I simply stood and looked on in stunned awe.

He pointed to the next. She was broader, much older, though still shapely, still attractive. Her hair was cut short on the sides, in what today we call a fade.

"That was Delilah, Captain of Amazons, her mentor."

When I asked why the King would send women on such an obviously dangerous mission (even though they were Amazons, elite warriors, part of his personal guard), he answered, "The king's advisers believed men would arouse too much animosity among other men and being men, take insult too readily and would not walk humbly."

He smiled at that, as if at a good joke.

"Why do you laugh?" I asked.

"If there was anyone who did not take an insult readily, it was Delilah. And where other women might walk humbly, Delilah did not. She was a blooded warrior, had killed over three hundred men in battle, was the King's champion. She did not feel she had to walk humbly before anyone."

I nodded at that. I could understand then why they would send her. "But why did they send such a beautiful young girl on such a hazardous journey?" I asked, still mesmerized by Cassandra's beauty.

Again the griot smiled.

"That was a joke on the men of the empire as it was back then. Delilah was thirty-one and Cassandra eleven when they set out. Why those two?

"At her age Delilah had already raised a family and for that time was entering old age.

"Cassandra was tall and very awkward for her years. She was an Amazon-in-training but many despaired of her. Her arms and legs were too long. She was all elbows and knees and shoulders—and eyes and cheekbones. Clumsy and ugly. It was a suicide mission, so with one-cast the Amazons were getting rid of a warrior growing old and a young one who was a poor prospect.

"But Cassandra soon entered womanhood and the skinny body filled out with muscles, the awkwardness became grace and the unpleasant features, the foundation of a beauty you can clearly see even with your Western eyes."

I nodded. I certainly could see it. No blonde hair, blue eyes there. No thin lips. A smoldering black beauty beyond belief. Toni Braxton, Halle Berry, Vanessa Williams—eat your hearts out. This woman would have blown you all away.

"I think Delilah knew why she was sent and that was why she was so touchy about her age."


The old man smiled again, nodding. "Touchy."

"How do you mean?"

"There is a tale Cassandra would tell when they stopped for any period of time—since we have had a number of sources for it. There was no television back then, so they told stories around the campfires at night to entertain each other.

"True or not, who can say? But it certainly served as forewarning to anyone who might bring up the older woman's advanced years in an insensitive manner. The story might be true, for it also shows clearly Delilah's sense of perverseness."


"In the West you call it the trickster, the troublemaker, from the Euro pantheon of gods, Loki. That was Delilah." He nodded proudly.

"Please," he said, when we parted the last time, "look for them. Mother Africa sent two of her daughters out long ago on an impossible mission. From the stories we hear, we know they tried to obey their orders. What happened to them, we don't know. Did they fall on some far battlefield or die enslaved in some distant land or freeze to death in a mountain storm?" He shook his head sadly. "We don't know. But mother Africa would like the bones of her daughters to come home. We are proud of them!"

I nodded in turn, tears blurring my eyes; I was proud of them too.

And so it is that I have journeyed about the world following in the footsteps of the two called Delilah and Cassandra. They passed through many lands, fought in many battles and small combats. Somewhere out there someone must know of what happened to them. Please contact me or the editors of this publication.

This is the story the griot told me, the one Cassandra told around campfires of what happened when a young warrior made the mistake of referring to Delilah's age in an unthinking manner. A lesson even to men of my day who do not realize how sensitive women can be about such.

The Griot's Tale:

Cassandra and Delilah

In the time when the world was young and nations had yet formed, a captain of Amazons was assigned the mission of traveling to the end of the world and bringing back knowledge of potential dangers to her land. Her name was Delilah.

A young apprentice warrior was ordered to accompany her. Her name was Cassandra.

This is one of the many tales that have come back of the two.

From atop the hill the two women sat their horses and watched the pale men below unsaddle and groom their mounts.

"You see their hands?" Delilah asked.

Cassandra nodded. "What of it?"

"So big!" Her eyes glittered at the pleasure of seeing men with such big ones.

Cassandra rolled her eyes, sighed. "Is that all you think about?"

"If you weren't so determined to stay a virgin until we get back home, you'd know what a joy a man with big hands is." She stretched her legs from the horse's sides and wiggled her butt—a move that made Cassandra look away.

Delilah laughed.

"So I'll marry a man with big hands," she said, thinking to shut her up. She pretended to study the boys airing out the keep they would apparently be staying in.

"Okay—but you know what they say."

Cassandra looked at her. "What?" she asked cautiously.

"The more, the merrier!" Delilah said. She grinned in her face.

"Oh, Gods!" Cassandra said, exasperated, and trying to hide her embarrassment.

"Come on," she said, urging her horse into motion, "let's go say hello to those boys."

The horses, aware of the others, were eager to go.

"Delilah!" she called after her as she rode away.

The Captain of Amazons stopped her horse, turned it and looked back at her. "What?"

"There's twenty of them!"


"It's not safe—they look like thugs."

Delilah shrugged. "Just young boys out having a good time hunting."

"What if they jump us and—"

She waited. "And?" she prompted when Cassandra didn't continue.

"Rape us. Gang rape us."

Delilah's eyes lit up. "You think they would?!" She grinned, clearly delighted at the possibility. "That would be so nice of them."

"That's disgusting."

Delilah nodded. "That's what makes it so much fun. Well," she said, turning her mount, "I'm going down and get acquainted. You can skulk around here if you want. Means more big-hands for me."

She watched her ride down toward the large one-room keep, clearly a winter layover place. She shook her head to herself and against her better judgment kicked her own mount into motion. She could not leave her captain to ride into danger alone.

* * *

When Cassandra awoke, she was tied full-length to a table, having no idea how she'd gotten there. She tugged at the ropes binding her hands but couldn't budge them. She raised her head and looked past her black-nippled breasts down the length of her naked dark body and then at the young boys—red, blonde, brown and black-haired—surrounding her, eyes agleam. She shook her head in despair. Damn Delilah!

"Bar the door!" the young boy in charge—eighteen, maybe nineteen—ordered. "Put out the wine and food, build that fire up. We're going to have an all-night party!"

The boys yelled their agreement and set to like worker ants, bringing out food and wine that had been stored away, putting cut wood on the fire.

Where was Delilah?

Someone moved into her field of vision and patted her bare shoulder. Delilah.

"Delilah—cut me free!" she whispered.

The older woman frowned. "Why!? Girl, you're about to cross over to the other side—the fun side."

"I don't want to cross over! I want to save myself for my husband."

The Captain watched the boys bustling around, in a rush so they could get on to the fun part.

"Who knows when we'll get back home. Our orders are to travel to the end of the world and report what we see. We got a long way to go."

"I'll get pregnant."

"I already had three by the time I was your age."

"I hate you!"

Delilah shrugged. "I'll have to remember not to turn my back on you."

"Please, don't let them do this to me." She tried to fight her tears, hating herself for showing such weakness. An Amazon warrior wasn't supposed to cry.

"In the east they say when rape is inevitable, you might as well relax and enjoy it. So relax, enjoy."

"This is sick!"

Delilah smiled. "The sick have more fun. Now, remember to relax. If you're all tense when they start, something could get torn or you might pull a muscle or dislocate a socket. As a matter of fact, let me find some lubricant. You don't want to be dry when they start—men or boys just don't understand the concept of foreplay."

Delilah swung around, looking for oil. The boy in charge came by. She grabbed him by the arm, pulled him close, looked into his young smooth face with peach fuzz on his chin and cheeks.

"Yes, Ma'am?" he said; his voice was soft, courteous.

"Isn't that nice, you're going to gang bang my young friend here, but you're respectful to me." She turned to Cassandra. "Isn't he nice?"

Cassandra clenched her teeth and strained against the ropes ... but couldn't break them. She let her head back down on the table, resigning herself to her fate.

"Can I help you, Ma'am?"

"The girl's all set up but I was wondering about me."

He cocked his head, shook it slightly as if unsure of what she was referring to. "You? What do you mean?"

"Are you going to put me on the table when it's free or set me up somewhere else?"

The boy got the meaning. He frowned as if she'd said something unpleasant. "You're old enough to be my mother," he explained.

Cassandra closed her eyes and shook her head, but her tears turned to those of relief. Despite her position, she couldn't help laughing silently.

"I misheard you," Delilah said. "I could have sworn you said I was old enough to be your mother."

The boy, being young and foolish, was blunt. "Yes, Ma'am, that's what I said."

Delilah bent her head, brought a hand up, massaged her brow as if she had a headache. She looked up at the boy, into his eyes. She enunciated each word clearly. "How old is your mother?"

"If she were alive, she'd be thirty-eight."

"Since I'm forty, I'm actually older than your mother," she concluded.

"Yes, Ma'am," he said as if that settled everything.

"So you're going to do this young girl here but you can't be bothered with an 'old' woman—older than your mother—is that right?"

"Yes, Ma'am." He blinked. In the time his eyes were shut, Delilah's hand closed on his knife, pulled it free and shoved it into his throat. He opened his eyes and looked at her. She pulled the knife free so his blood sprayed her, for it was good luck for an Amazon warrior to go into battle covered in the blood of her enemies. He tried to say something but the light in his eyes died. Delilah grabbed the hilt of his sword. His falling pulled it free of the scabbard with a loud rasp.

"Tell the bitch I said hello and she should have taught you some real manners."

Heads swung around at the sound of the sword freeing itself, the body hitting the floor, eyes opened wide at the sight of her covered with the blood of their leader. The boys reached for their own blades.

Delilah pulled loose her cloak, gathered it in her free hand and threw it to the floor. The device of a Captain of Amazons glinted but none recognized it on her chest. She was far from the mother continent and that first group of women warriors after whom all others had been named. She looked over the roomful of young boys—now only nineteen of them. She smiled. They recognized the smile. It was the one Death wore when he came to visit.

"My name is Delilah," she told them as calmly as sand through an hourglass. "I am a captain of Amazons. I tell you this so you can tell the Gods who killed you when they ask. Today is the last day of the rest of your lives because now you die."

A boy who had been practicing pulling a bow turned and let fly. She didn't bother to move. Her sword knocked the shaft aside. She feinted left, moved right, plucked a knife from the belt of a startled boy, pivoted and threw the knife. She ran the boy she'd taken the knife from through before he could move.

The boy with the now useless bow looked down at the thrown-knife protruding from his gut and shook his head in disbelief. He had suffered a death wound and though he stood and lived and breathed, he knew was dead.

"Cut me free!" Cassandra called.

Her look was intense. "And share the fun?!" Delilah asked, her lips drawing back from her teeth. Her eyes gleamed with anticipation. "Not today!" Raising her sword in the two-handed grip taught her by the samurai, her eyes filled with a blood rage normally reserved for a real battle, she advanced on the poor boys.

Their faces etched with horror, they watched her come. They'd never seen a woman like this. From her stance and the way she moved, they knew she knew what she was doing. Nor had they ever seen such intensity, such purpose. The air stank as bowels eased out. But they didn't have time to be embarrassed. Some plucked desperately at their weapons, others scrabbled at the barred door but could not open it in time.

Several of the braver ones moved to meet her. But she wasn't there. She was behind them and they fell. Those who were still standing knew they wanted no part of her.

But they had trapped themselves in here with her.

When all were dead or dying, Delilah, drenched with their blood and gore, headed for the door and effortlessly lifted the beam aside. It thudded loudly on the floor.

"Cut me free!" Cassandra called again as the angry woman was about to go through it.

The Amazon captain turned and threw the knife retrieved during the one-sided slaughter. It severed a strand of the rope binding Cassandra in place. She continued the turn and pushed through the door.

Emerging into the sunshine, she threw wide her blood-coated arms and screamed, "Delilah, Captain of Amazons here! Anybody else want to tell me I'm old enough to be their mother!"

And now SCIENCE FICTION (FANTASY AND HORROR)'s keynote fantasy story:


Dedicated to:

Angela Lewis


Robert Joyner

for their enthusiasm of the preceding two stories which led to this longer work.

"Whoever makes war on women and children, makes war on me!"

Delilah, Captain of Amazons


It was kind of incongruous—the griot with thousands of years of remembered stories and the modern museum in the modern African city so different from the way most Westerners picture Africa. Unusual sights everywhere for Western eyes.

His was a kind old face. It was clear he was at peace with the world at the end of his days.

"The time of the griots is coming to a close. There will be no one to take my place, so I must tell the tales," he said, indicating the tapedeck, "and they will be transcribed." He smiled sadly. "It is the new way. Africa must go with the new."

The Benin capital is a modern city, reminiscent of many European ones, a legacy of its conquest by France. Robes and dashikis mingle intimately with suits and T-shirts. Sounds of a modern city drifted in to us.

Before it was called Benin, it was called Dahomey. Black Sparta. And before that called many things and ruled by many kings over thousands of years. A long history most of us Westerners, especially we African Americans, know nothing about.

I was here because this is the home, the birthplace, of Amazons, those fierce female warriors whose legend had spread to many a land. The last of them fell fighting the French in the 1800's, unable for all their courage and skill to overcome the machine guns and bombs of the invading French army.

The noise outside died away. We settled in to listen. Bright-eyed little boys and girls surrounded me, come for this tale of the two most legendary of the Amazons of the land that would be called Black Sparta.

They sat on the floor, legs crossed, heads leaning forward, eager to hear the latest tale.

As he began to talk, I pictured the two as I'd seen them in the photographs of paintings and drawings sent to this homeland of Amazons: Cassandra, young and beautiful, and Delilah, aging, tough, determined. She always looked you in the eye. Amazons believed it was the best place to find treachery—or what an opponent was going to do.

The hair under her arms was thick and dark. A strong square jaw. Hard unrelenting eyes—like those of a predator cat. Her face seemed as if she were always angry.

"For those of you who were not here for the beginning, let me recap," he said.

"Long ago in this land there was a mighty empire, ruled by a paranoid king who worried about dangers that might threaten his kingdom. In his wisdom, or madness, he followed the advice of his wise men and women and sent four teams of his elite warriors, Amazons—one woman and a young girl—to the four directions of the world to report on possible threats.

"Three teams came back.

"They had traveled far, had seen much and finally given up and returned, saying the world was so vast and they wanted to die in their own land, among their own people, whatever the consequences.

"All were greeted as heroes.

"But of the last team ... Cassandra, warrior apprentice, and Delilah, Captain of Amazons, there was nothing....

"They waited for them.

"They never came back.

"Those who knew Delilah knew she would never abort a mission. She would accomplish it or die.

"There was talk of sending another team after them, to tell them to return home. But it was never done. The king died soon after and it was assumed they were dead. The Amazons, with their families, held ceremonies for their fallen comrades, poured wine on the earth for their spirits, mourned for them and went on with their lives.

"Years passed .... In time they forgot about the fourth team.

"But we griots never forget—and so when generations later these tales began to come to us from far lands, brought by travelers, of two magnificent African women warriors, we recognized them: Cassandra and Delilah, trying to fulfill the mission, seeking the end of the world.

"And we lovingly gathered in every story of the two.

"This particular one is called The Last Battle."

As he recited it, the faces of Cassandra and Delilah appeared before me. And those tight magnificent bodies.

* * *

"In the land of the slavetraders, in an area of varied terrain on the outskirts of black Africa, having thwarted many efforts to capture and enslave them, Cassandra and Delilah came across a holding area in which women like them and their children were penned up like animals.

"They destroyed the overseeing force and liberated almost three hundred women and children and headed back to their Af rica."

The griot sighed and shook his head. "It was an impossible undertaking. But Delilah no doubt saw it as a chance to steal the meat from the jaws of the slavetrading dogs.

"And a great challenge. Perhaps the greatest ever. And she loved challenges. And she was perverse.

"They successfully fought off repeated attempts by slavecatchers and bounty-hunters to recapture the slaves. But the terrain was against them and their luck ran out: a force of cavalry overtook them in open country. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. No defenses.

"And so this is the story that has come back to us—how the two Amazons made their stand. It is called 'The Last Battle."

I saw moisture glitter in his eyes.

I nodded sadly. I could feel their dismay. After so much fighting and heartbreak, after the years of travel and all the strange lands and things and people they'd seen, it would all end. I could imagine them watching the cavalry come and knowing there was little they could do except fight to the death.

And so, with a great deal of heaviness in my heart, I sat and listened, with the tapedeck relentlessly turning, as the old griot told of the time, so long ago, two African women, far far from their homes, made their stand against cavalry.

May their souls rest in peace....


Stretched out atop the incline, Delilah and Cassandra squinted into the distance, taking measure of the riders, the mounts, the weapons of the cavalry force riding toward them. They watched them come across the dry land dotted with clumps of colorless bushes and ragged patches of grass for a long while. They rode straight, without hesitation, without doubt.

"Regular troops," Cassandra said, only an effort of will keeping the despair out of her voice.

They came leisurely—for horsemen. They knew the terrain, knew they chased women and children and two Amazons. That there was nowhere for them to go, that they could not outrun them.

"They pay us a tribute," Delilah said.

Cassandra made a face; it was a tribute she could have done without. She looked back at the scattered debris that was the two hundred and more women and children they had rescued and were guiding to freedom. Or had been. She shook her head; no way they could escape the cavalry. The land flat, barren, stretched away, vast and empty around them. Nowhere to hide. Nothing with which to build defenses. No place to make a stand. Even scattering would do them no good. They'd be ridden down, herded back. Only one hope: beat them in battle.

Not easy.

They would have to fight on open ground.

She looked back at the approaching force, counting. "One hundred."

On foot, maybe, with the land in their favor, maybe. Here, just too many. No way they could do it. Not unless the Gods helped. Chances of success, slim. If not impossible. Well, take it one thing at a time. So Delilah had taught her.

It was a beautiful sight—shields, javelin heads, burnished leather and accoutrements glinting brightly in the sun.

Delilah noted her look and nodded. "Men put on a good show."

Cassandra smiled bleakly, caressed the hilt of Nyrobi, enjoyed the feel of the ground beneath her. She turned on her side and studied the older, but not old, woman's ebony face. Noted the fierce eyes studying the advancing cavalry. The determination in them clear. A study in darkness. Her dark skin and clothes would have blended her into the night so she would have been invisible except for her teeth and eyes flashing white from time to time. Her hair was short, cropped for combat. Determined. Deadly.

They both wore leather clothes. Though thin, they were warm and lined with fur and chain mail. Metal fixtures sewn in place for decoration and partial protection. On the front of Delilah's vest, smudged so it would not glint, was the insignia of an Amazon captain.

Noting the thick muscular thighs, she never understood: Delilah was attractive in an older woman's way, so why did men rush past her to get to her? She sighed. Perhaps she never would understand such things. Simply knew that it was so. And now was not the time to think about it.

"Cassandra," the griot had said, pointing to the taller, slimmer, younger one in the photo of a painting that had come from Japan. She wore her hair in braids, held her head, her chin up—doubly proud. Proud warrior, proud beauty. The lips were so full and soft-looking. God, she was beautiful. Long dark arms taut with muscle.

"Delilah was thirty-one and Cassandra eleven when they set out. At the time of the Last Battle they were thirty-six and sixteen."

The Captain of Amazons was broader, and though much older, still shapely, still attractive. She reminded me of the actress Angela Bassett. Her hair was cut short, in what today we call a fade.

A depth in the eyes of experience, an indication of how far they'd come, the things they'd seen, the dangers survived. The square set to the jaw, a hint of the dedication, the determination in her.

Bodies honed to perfection, they looked so alive. Even though it was just a painting, I could feel their energy.

* * *

The wind howled softly about them and quieted.

The distance was too great to see the eyes of the cavalrymen. Yet. Delilah had taught her: You see the soul, the determination or cowardice of a man in his eyes. Elsewhere too, but there most of all—and the chance to kill him. When he blinked.

If she could see into their eyes now she believed she would see determination—because she'd found men fought hard to keep others in their power. They would fight hard to get these women and children back. A fortune to the slavetraders, never mind the feeling of owning others. And never mind the pain and misery that would be visited on the women and children and their offspring for generations to come.

She touched Nyrobi's hilt again. They would have to go through her. And The Captain. That would not be easy. Delilah had taught her well. Many a big, arrogant warrior had been cut down by what they considered a young girl.

She kept quiet, knowing Delilah was thinking of how to handle them. She also studied the ground, the variation between this spot and that. Resigned herself to the coming battle.

How quiet here compared to the jungles where she'd been born. The wind blew so freely, seemingly whenever it felt like it. Sometimes dry, sometimes wet. A bright blue sky overhead. The air was so clear. You could see so far. Danger could come from anywhere at any time. It kept them alert—ready to react swiftly to any peril. It was a level place. One could see clearly in all directions. Far ridge line of hills, leading to mountains. Too far. They would have to fight here.

She herself would never have chosen such a spot.

They'd expect to ride up and take them captive. She looked back at Delilah. How would she counter that? Cavalry. Numbers. She shook her head to herself. It did not look good. She marveled at how calm Delilah looked, pursing her lips in thought as if it was just another battle.

As if sensing her questions, she said aloud, "They will come and they will be arrogant. And they will be mad. They will want to capture us and make an example. Mass rape. Torture. They will want to teach us a lesson: women don't fight—and no one frees slaves."

Cassandra nodded, said nothing. What could she say?

"So we want to make them madder—so they'll ride us down."

Cassandra shrugged. Better than mass rape and torture.

The Captain of Amazons nodded at the distant force. "We're going to have to teach them a lesson."

She thought of how comforting it was at night to sit and hear her Captain's voice out of the darkness, to be aware of the hard muscular body, the broad shoulders, the keen eyes, the ready smile and the killing intensity that was hers in battle.

And again she let herself admire the beauty of the older woman's face. It was not a beauty men cared much for since they always rushed past her captain to get to her, but she saw it. Most women did not age so well. The Captain did. She hoped she would when she was that old. And felt guilty about thinking of her as old.

"Well," Delilah said, moving back from the hilltop, "I would have chosen a better place to have our final battle. But the Gods in their wisdom have decided for us." She smiled, her teeth flashing white, matching her eyes, in the darkness of her face.

Cassandra nodded. She wasn't so sure about that 'wisdom of the Gods part;' she too would never have chosen such a spot.

Delilah's eyes glittered. The Captain of Amazons was most alive when danger threatened. Cassandra sighed to herself—if only she could have that love of battle. She was okay once she was in it, but she didn't have that anticipation.

Was she meant to be an Amazon? She missed.... No, she did not want to think of what she wanted, dared not let herself dream or think of a time when she would not have to fight.

"Come on!" Delilah said and they went down the incline until they could stand without being seen by the horsemen, then raced toward the slaves who had halted and were waiting as they saw them rushing at them.

Delilah turned to Cassandra, her eyes narrowed. "They want war, I will give them war!"


They overtook one woman staggering along, clearly almost at the end of her resources. Cassandra hurried to her.

"Here—let me," she said, taking the little bundle from the woman. Tears streaked her dark face as she let her take it. Behind them they had left too many graves of those who had simply not had the strength or desire to go on.

Cassandra cuddled it to her and felt a warmth fill her. To have one of her own.... The thought made her sad. Chances were she would die today....

"What's his name?"

The baby stirred. The little face, scrunched up, eyes tightly sealed against the bright light.

Cassandra shielded it from the sun. The eyes opened and a little hand reached out. She took it and smiled at the little within the big. The baby smiled at her, happy, content. She caressed the small limbs, the tiny body.

"His name is Jali," the mother said.

"Jali, Jali," Cassandra whispered.

The eyes moved around at the sound of her voice.

She kissed the baby, held one of the tiny fists in her own. Her breath caught. Her eyes filled. And for a moment she hated Delilah and the king who had sent them, but most of all she hated those who would make them slaves. And she stopped and turned and looked off to where they were ... coming. Ordinarily she was not as bloodthirsty as Delilah, but for now she was. "I wish we could kill them all!" she whispered.

Delilah looked at Cassandra's peaceful, then sad face as she cradled the baby in her arms, rocked it ... smiled at it, tickled its chin, as they walked.

"Isn't he cute?" Cassandra asked, showing the baby to her Captain. She hefted him in her arms, hugged him tightly.

Finally the mother came and held up her arms for him. Cassandra was reluctant to let him go ... but settled him back into the woman's arms and watched her trudge away to join the other women.

"Yes, he is cute," Delilah said, "and he'll be a slave if we don't beat them."

"Go! Join the rest!" Delilah ordered the other stragglers.

They hurried on, kids stumbled along, holding onto the rags and robes of their mothers. Dark limbs and dusty feet and legs. Large sad eyes. Some cried with hunger. Food was rationed strictly. It had to last. And the water. Many were thirsty.

Cassandra licked her own dry lips.

They looked so tired. Before, they couldn't let them stop. They'd had to keep moving if they were to have any chance of getting away.

They looked at the Amazons, silently begging for help, but knowing there was only so much they could do. Kids wailed, babies cried.

The main body of women stopped as they came up.

Cassandra saw the worry and the fear in their eyes, for themselves and their children. Haunted eyes that saw nothing good in the future. Mothers held older kids close as they looked at her and The Captain, eyes pleading for good news.

Bigger girls, not yet women or old enough to have any of their own, helped with the babies, spelling the mothers carrying them. Or they and other women who did not have kids, carried those whose mothers had been killed by the slavers when they tried to resist being taken back. The slavecatchers had taken out their frustration against her and Delilah on the women and children who could not defend themselves.

She felt the weight of Nyrobi at her hip. She did not have Delilah's bloodlust for battle, but she was ready for the one to come. She wished it would not be, but if it did, she too had a debt to settle.

She saw The Captain's eyes tighten, saw her hands ball. Saw the anger in her eyes—and knew those who hunted them would pay for the pain the Captain of Amazons felt.

A huge-breasted woman was suckling two babies at once. She took up two more when they were full. Cassandra smiled at them. Touched them tenderly. Lingered in contact as if hating to let go, but knowing she had to. There was a battle coming.

She kissed one tenderly, then the other. She looked at the woman's nipples in their mouths and wondered how it would be to have her own suckling at her breasts. What would it be like to give birth, to carry a life inside herself for nine months? To have sex with a man.... She sighed, wiped a tear. Now she never would know.

"Hopefully they will have a life of their own," she said when she rejoined Delilah.

"They will," Delilah said. "That's our job. They want to fight Amazons, let their mothers weep for them!"

They looked into each's other's eyes. It was in their hands. No words could say that more than the looks in their eyes. Each knew the other would do her best.

* * *

Delilah addressed the women, told them what she wanted, the dimensions. The women and bigger children started digging immediately.

She supervised as they dug, her voice ringing out.

"You can rest when you're dead! Dig!"

Or slaves, Cassandra thought.

She and Delilah kept looking at the three boys they'd left to keep them informed of the cavalry's progress. So far, no alert. Good, the more they could do, the better.

She labored beside Delilah, plunging captured swords into the firm but not impossibly so soil. Behind them, boys and girls scooped out the dirt as instructed.

"The ground here is level, clear," Cassandra pointed out.

"We want them to come to us. Otherwise, they might be cautious. We don't want that," Delilah said, smiling.

"What if they are cautious anyway?"

"They are men—they will use force and strength instead of their brains. They think we are just women. They will, despite all those we've killed, take us lightly. They will be arrogant. That will be to our advantage.

"They'll come, not delaying, but not hurrying, intending to finish it. The key is to make them mad. When men are mad—they don't think. Then it's easy to kill them."

Cassandra nodded. Delilah always had a trick. But would the time come when she had none? Was this it?

The hundreds of women and girls bent over, babies clinging to their backs or hanging in slings under them, digging with captured knives and swords. In their hands the weapons were better for digging. These women were not Amazons and were ineffective for fighting—especially against professional cavalry. There were a few shovels captured from downed slavecatchers and bounty hunters. Even some of the bigger children were put to helping.

Many of the mothers sobbed and cried as they dug. Still, they did not ask questions—they dug. They knew the fate of them and their children rested with the two Amazons.

"Dig! Dig!" Delilah shouted repeatedly, not letting them slacken. She looked in the direction of black Africa. Out of sight. So far. Safety. But unattainable. They must fight here. In the open. Outnumbered. Against mounted warriors with shields and lances.

Well, they were not Amazons because it was easy.

From time to time one of the two looked at the hill, expecting the cavalry to crest it at any moment—before they were finished.

A boy lay on his stomach peeking over the top, his head in a hollowed hole so his silhouette wouldn't protrude above the smoothness of the hill top. He would let them know, but it was the two Amazons' nature that they did not rely on the boys alone—not for something so important and critical.


The boys signaled. Delilah ordered everyone to finish up. She inspected the ground and directed touch-ups here and there, then allowed the women and children to take a short rest.

"It will have to do," she told Cassandra. They also took a break. When might they have another chance?

They sat and adjusted their sandals, relaced them.

The girl with the wineskin approached. Cassandra grimaced, remembering what was in it. Delilah pointed out the spot she wanted it put. The girl set it down there, but kept staring at it. Cassandra had heard how the men had repeatedly raped her; she understood why she kept looking at it and nodding with satisfaction.

Delilah ruffled her hair, picked it out, noticed Cassandra looking, smiled. "I want to look my best." She looked up. "The Gods are watching."

Cassandra rebraided her pigtails.

They oiled their bodies, getting rid of the dust. Their dark rich forms showed clearly. It would also keep anyone from getting a good grip on them. They enjoyed the moment, perhaps their last one. Finally they stood. Delilah inspected her, nodded. "You have done well."

She took off her insignia of a Captain of Amazons, polished it and pinned it back. It did not matter now if it glinted in the sun.

Cassandra calmed herself, tried to relax though she drew no comfort from Delilah. Face, body, like a statue. At night The Captain slept so peacefully, no turning or tossing or waking until finished. Slept as the dead must sleep. Awoke refreshed, ready to kick butt. Hands steady. She was always that way. Nothing bothered The Captain.

Cassandra looked at the flowers, the rocks, thought of the cavalry approaching. Lances upright, the heads gleaming. Well ... it was in the hands of the Gods now.

She examined her feet.

"You okay?" Delilah asked.

Cassandra nodded, looking her body over. "A few cuts—nothing to slow me down."

"Good." Delilah looked at her own leg wound—a gash on the left calf.

"And you?"

"Likewise, nothing to slow me down." The Captain of Amazons looked off to where the cavalry had finally appeared. "We're going to kick some butt today."

Cassandra nodded, said nothing. What would be, would be.

Delilah nodded as if coming to a decision. "Let's kill them all."

And Cassandra had to keep from laughing and crying at the same time.

Just then a little girl with a long narrow face and big eyes came and stood in front of Cassandra, staring up at her. She had often followed her and Delilah or looked at them from afar.

"Tafra!" her mother called.

The little girl made an annoyed move with her shoulders and continued to look up at Cassandra with wide eyes. Shy yet curious. She reached out a hand cautiously as if she might be hot or a magical being. She touched her, patted her softly as if to satisfy herself that Cassandra was real and put her hand back at her side.

"I want to be like you."

Cassandra smiled. "Keep growing. And learn all you can. We don't know things like the animals. We must be taught, and we must practice what we've been taught. Find someone to teach you. Work long and hard—you will become good." She looked at Delilah who stood watching them, listening. "The harder they make you work, the better you will be. The Gods help those who work hard.

"If you do that, you can be anything you want to be." Cassandra nodded in affirmation.

"I want to be an Amazon."

Cassandra shook her head. "Amazons...," her voice caught, "die young."

The little girl turned and pointed to Delilah. "She's old!"

The Captain of Amazons started, hand moving automatically to The Night. She halted the move and glared at the little girl, teeth bared.

"She is the Captain," Cassandra said. "She has never stopped getting better, now she is so good no one can kill her."

The little girl's eyes opened even wider in wonder, searching Delilah frankly as if to discover if such was true.

"But she doesn't like little girls who call her old." Or men. "She eats little girls she doesn't like." And kills the men.

The little girl moved back partially behind Cassandra and peered at the Captain of Amazons.

Delilah growled and made like she was going to come after her. The little girl jumped and ran away, squealing.

Cassandra smiled after her.

Delilah scowled. "Old!? I'm getting better!"

The sky was bright blue. The day hot but the wind was cooling. Cassandra stretched her shoulders. Curled her toes, massaged her legs for the ordeal ahead.

They breathed deeply, filling up for the time when they would strain to get enough air and there would be no time or chance to breathe. They loosened their limbs, warmed the muscles.

She sat on a rock and looked about at the world, the ground, the sky, the women and children that were now their responsibility. She understood why Delilah had gone against the odds. She raised her head and spoke softly so her voice would not carry.

"Hear me, oh Gods. My name is Cassandra, Amazon warrior- in-training. As Delilah says, I shall try to come before you covered in the blood of our enemies."

She nodded. "I will try.

"All I ask is that you do not allow me to disappoint her. I try. I know that I don't always please her." She bowed her head. "I will do my best. Take our spirits when we fall. Let me die well. Let Delilah's end be quick and without pain. I ask the same for me ... but what will be, will be.

"We tried to fulfill our mission, but the world is so big. Tell our King, we went as far as we could." She nodded, fought the tears, failed. Wiped them, sobbed once and raised her head. She was an Amazon, and there was a battle to fight.

* * *

Delilah picked out the hundred largest boys and girls and assembled them, forming them into ranks in front.

"They're too small to fight," Cassandra pointed out.

"I know, but we don't want them—" she lifted her chin toward the cavalry "—to think they can just ride in and take us. This will give them something to think about." She arrayed them and their captured weapons to form a phalanx before her and Cassandra.

"Remember," she said, addressing them, "at my command—and not before—fall back behind us. Understand?!"

They nodded, wide-eyed, afraid, but proud. Cassandra looked at their little bodies and faces as some of them looked back anxiously. They would not be of much help.

Delilah addressed the women and remaining children. "When you speak of this, you will call it The Last Battle. Tell them two Amazons fought here, against odds, against cavalry, in the open.

"And if it should be so, tell them Delilah, Captain of Amazons, and Cassandra, Amazon warrior, fell here!"

The women cried and the children.

"Go now!" Delilah said.

They didn't move, they stood like they were lost, not knowing what to do.

"Run! Run!" Delilah screamed. "Scatter! We will hold them."

Hold them? Cassandra thought. They would be overtaken, rounded up, taken back for rape and a life of serving others and having children that would be wealth for their owners.

She watched the living carpet of women and children move away from them. So pathetically slowly. She fought her tears.

Hold them?! If only it were true. They could not hold the cavalry. They would kill them or be killed by them. But no way they could hold them. But they were Amazons. Amazons did not count the odds.

They scattered, running for their lives and freedom, fear on their faces and bodies, knowing they had so far to go and that they could not outrun the slavecatchers. It all depended on the Amazons. Two. Against many. In the open. Against cavalry.

They scattered like debris into the land, running. To nowhere. However far they could get, it would not be far enough.

"Run! Run!" the mothers said to their children. And they ran. Clothes and rags flapping. Little feet scurrying. Mothers clutching desperately at little hands.

Her eyes picked them out. The mothers and daughters and sons. The young and the old. They were all beautiful. All worth fighting for.

She could not help smiling at them. She hoped they would live and be free and not be slaves.

She looked at the approaching cavalry.

"It couldn't be simpler," the Captain of Amazons said, "us or them."

They had come so far. Done so much. Learned so many things. Surely the Gods would not let them die now. In the shadow of the homeland.

She stood and watched until Delilah pulled her away.

* * *

"If you should fall," Delilah told the boys and girls as they faced her, "tell the Gods you stood with Amazons. They will honor you. If you live and go back home, tell your children and their children, you fought with Delilah, Captain of Amazons, and Cassandra, Amazon warrior!"

"Yes!" they chorused, many nodding, their eyes big and round, scared, but proud to be given the chance to stand with Amazons.

They stretched again, bending from side to side, front to back.

Never had they had to take on so many in the open. How could they? But Delilah didn't seem worried. But then she never did. She always had an answer.

They took their places, standing apart, perhaps three body lengths. As one they drew their blades.

Nyrobi and The Night.

"Are you ready to die?" Delilah asked suddenly....

The question was unexpected. The Captain of Amazons had always seemed to think she was invincible. Certainly acted like it.

Cassandra looked at the cavalry coming. Shook her head. Delilah had never asked such a question. Did that mean there was no hope? That this was indeed their last battle?

She was ready to die now. There was no way they could change anything. It would be what it would be.

Maybe that was how and why The Captain slept so well. Her course of action decided, nothing would change it. They would find the end of the world and then go home. They would fight the cavalry today. They could not surrender or run or hide. So why worry about it? Sleep well, fight well, die well.

Cassandra nodded and was thankful her back was to everyone, so no one saw the tears.

"There is no end to the world," she answered. "I think it goes on forever. If we are to die, then it is only a question of picking a place. This is as good as any."

Delilah nodded, seemingly satisfied with the answer.

"We will see the ones we left behind and those who went before us," Cassandra continued.

Delilah nodded again, wiped her hands on her thighs. "You have your last knife?"

Cassandra pulled it from between her breasts where it hung on a leather thong for easy access.

It was short, wide, with a broad handle. Not good for much except very close-in fighting or to take out the last enemy ... and for killing oneself if there was no chance to die fighting. For a woman warrior, being captured could be the final indignity.

The Captain fingered her own suicide blade.

Cassandra always felt apprehensive before a battle, but once she was in it, she forgot everything. That singleness of purpose, when everything flowed smoothly, when she saw how to kill, how to move, would come over her. It was like being in a dream. She knew Delilah also experienced it, but the Captain of Amazons never seemed apprehensive or nervous beforehand, simply sure that she would do what was needed to win ... no matter the odds, the weapons.

She looked at the cavalry.

"They keep coming."

They had killed group after group that had come to retake the women and children. But there had never been any hope for them; those who would own others would never let them go.

"We'll keep killing them," Delilah said. She looked at The Night, seemingly drawing comfort from the long silvery length.

They stood ready, relaxed, easy.

They could see them clearly now. Big men. Little. Fat, skinny. Some very young. A few old, grey-haired, pot-bellied.

Her nose wrinkled in disgust. Loud, smelly, rough men she had no desire to be near.

At least soon many of them would be dead.

Men always thought they were superior. Time and again, she and Delilah had proved them wrong. She looked forward to doing so one last time.

She looked back at the terrain into which the women and children had gone trying to escape. Too far to go if they were to be free. She looked back at Delilah.

Delilah returned the look and shrugged. They had done their best. Sometimes you can't win.

Though there had been other times when she'd thought that way, and they had survived. Delilah, till now, always won.

"Gods, I love killing them," Delilah said. "If I should fall, I'll leave this world happy."

Cassandra stroked Nyrobi. Her only comfort now. That and her Captain. Them against cavalry. Outnumbered. But they were Amazons.

Cassandra smelled the wind. So empty here.

Let me die bravely. Let me die like a Amazon. If I should fall, let Delilah be proud of me. I have tried so to be like her. I never will be. There is only one Delilah, Captain of Amazons. But at least I can make her proud of me.

"I know you wanted to have a child."

Cassandra did not deny it. She nodded sadly, thought of the babies being carried or running on little legs alongside their mothers.

"Life isn't always what we want it to be," the Captain of Amazons said. "But you have a brother and sisters and many nieces and nephews. Your line will go on. There will be other Cassandras and you will watch and be proud of them."

Cassandra smiled. She could recall the faces of her brother and sisters ... even after all these years. She would have liked to have seen them before....

"And other Delilahs," she said.

The Captain of Amazons nodded and smiled. "I watched my daughters grow up. I have not seen my gran—" She stopped and looked off and shook her head as if at the idea that she was probably a grandmother many times over. She looked back along the route they'd journeyed, looked at the men in the distance, coming steadily, relentlessly.

"Let them come!" she whispered, fist tightening about the hilt of The Night. "Let them come!"

Cassandra said nothing but she smiled. She'd seen Delilah like this before. It would be a terrible day for the cavalry. They'd made her Captain think of all the years she'd lived and the family she'd left behind.

They'd pay for that.

As for herself, she fought not to weep for the babies, the children she would never have.

* * *

His bones ached; he hadn't ridden a horse so far or so fast in years. The insides of his thighs were rubbed raw and every bounce hurt. Those black Amazons would pay for his discomfort. He looked forward to that.

He stroked his beard and, to forget the pain, thought of the look and feel of naked bodies. Naked black bodies. He loved the smell of women and the touch of their lips and flesh on and around his.

"We want to take them alive," he reminded the cavalry commander.

"We will," the man said, not bothering looking at him. "Only two of them." He sniffed. "Women."

"They're Amazons—they've killed everyone that's gone after them."

"Scum, rabble. This is a professional force of one-hundred men.... Against two women? We'll take them alive. Then...."

He fell back into place. He hoped the officer knew what he was doing. There were only two, but they fought like an army.

Until his men were replaced, he had to pay outrageous rates for independents or rely on the military. Cheaper, by far, even with gifts, to use the military and allow the men to sport with the women. Not that many virgins remaining anyhow except among the very youngest and that would change when they caught up with them. He'd already sampled the most desirable; now the cavalry men would have a go at them and the rest.

He'd come along to see he didn't lose any more slaves. Large groups of men sometimes got carried away, not realizing women were of flesh and blood and valuable commodities when undamaged.

He'd heard tales of these Amazons. They had to be exaggerated. Women warriors? Women were small, soft, weak, slow, stupid, cowardly, good for work and pleasure only. They couldn't stand up to a man.

Maybe they were eunuchs.... But whatever they were, today he would see how they stood up to hot irons and amputating saws.

His manhood grew as he thought of the things he would do to them. You had to make examples of such women ... lest others get ideas.

He moved his horse out ahead, hoping the cavalry would go with him. They didn't. They wouldn't let him dictate the pace. Soon enough they would overtake them and start rounding them up and herding them back. A thankless job except for the fun they'd have with them. Spoils of slavery.

Plus, anticipation was almost as much fun as the actual thing. They would have days with them. Let them get thirsty. It was amazing what women would do for water ... for themselves and their children. He grew yet harder and moaned—they would teach these women and they would pass the message on.

A pound of fear....

He slowed, let the column of cavalry catch up with him.

"The young one's a virgin—the older woman says." Perhaps that would interest the officer in picking up the pace.

"If she is, she won't be by the time we're finished with her."

"She's a real beauty, shapely."

"We'll see."

He sighed, gave up, went back to daydreaming. He saw the young one naked, tied down, legs spread.... And when he finished, he'd watch as the troops had their turn. He'd seen such men rape women before. Sometimes the women never walked again. Often they died. Sometimes they never stopped bleeding from the front or the back. A fitting end to women who presumed to be warriors: used as women until they were dead or forever ruined.

He grew even harder as he thought of the spectacle of sex and torture, drawn out for weeks. If they were as tough as he'd been told they looked, maybe more than a month.

The officer was right. No hurry. Just women and children. And two Amazons—who'd wish they were dead many times before they were finished with them.

* * *

She couldn't allow herself to be taken alive. Eventually she'd be a slave, never to call her life her own. But first they would torture her, a lesson for others. And their own pleasure. Better to die fighting.

She felt for those mothers powerless to protect or defend their children or themselves. Not their fault they hadn't been taught to fight, but had been raised to be victims. She took a deep breath. What were they supposed to do when those who were to protect them failed?

She couldn't help standing straighter. She and Delilah would fight for them.

And it was as if the older woman sensed her thoughts, for she nodded.

She paused for a moment and stroked the blade, felt the smoothness, the sharp edge, the hard steel. Listened to the sound of it as she whipped it through the air. She took comfort in the hard feel of Nyrobi's hilt, the way it filled her hand. The way it seemed like an extension of her arm.

"A warrior takes pride in her weapons," Delilah had told her over the years. "They are your life and your death." She stroked the blade as the voice of The Captain came back to her. "Love them, worship them, take care of them."

She kissed her fingers and rubbed the tips along the metal.

"And they will take care of you. They rely on you to keep them in shape and you rely on them to keep you alive and well. It is a marriage that both sides must respect."

She had cleaned and oiled the blade every night, seen to its sharpness. Forged and tempered in this land of the Saracens, whose eyes had lit up with profits every time they looked at her and Delilah. She smiled; she had made them pay dearly in that most precious coin: blood.

She looked around, her eyes drawn by attractive clusters of rocks, marveled at little insects and small animals. She liked to watch the clouds—she saw so many things in them. Right now the sky was so blue, so beautiful. The clouds so white.

She let the air ease in and out of her lungs, ran her fingers over the leather of her scabbard ... thinking. She pulled a knife taken from a dead slavecatcher. It was half the length of Nyrobi which had been fashioned after the Japanese katana, but to her specifica tions. Where the blades of the yellow men were single-edged, Nyrobi was double. She could cut forward and back, coming and going. She looked beyond the weapon at the clouds, admired the sky. She smiled. It was so pretty.

"Stop mooning, girl!" Delilah said.

Cassandra started, put the blade away and nodded.

"No, go ahead—moon. It's the last battle. We shall go to the Gods covered with blood."

Cassandra shook her head to herself. Delilah didn't like it when she daydreamed, said it displayed a lack of desire.

"But I do what you say," she'd complained years ago when she'd been twelve, not long after they'd started out. "I try hard."

Those unrelenting eyes had looked at her. "Follow me," she said finally.

She led her to a nearby river.

"See that water?"

Cassandra had nodded. "Yes."

Without warning Delilah grabbed her and threw her in. Before she could come to the surface Delilah clutched her hair and neck and held her under the water. She'd fought hard. Struggled with all her might. She remembered how much she'd wanted to get away, to breathe—and couldn't. The grip of the Captain of Amazons had been like iron. Finally, just when she thought she was going to die, she'd let her go.

Coughing, sputtering, half drowned, she had looked at her Captain with fear and a question in her eyes.

"Did you want to breathe?!" Delilah demanded.


"Did you want to breathe more than anything else?"


"Was there anything else that mattered? Anything else you wanted to think of?"


"That is desire! Intensity! I don't want you to 'try.' I want you to have that same desire when it comes to fighting and training. Kill! Kill! It must be your entire being—your only goal. Train, fight the same way you wanted to breathe! You will win simply because the other doesn't have it! If we are to survive, I can't have you mooning around and just 'trying.' Understand!"

She had nodded.

"Second place in battle is unacceptable!"

She'd understood what Delilah wanted, but she'd never gotten that intensity. She'd learned and studied and practiced. She was good—Delilah had not allowed her to be anything less. But she'd never gotten that intensity of purpose that clearly drove the Captain of Amazons in practice and battle. And now.... What she had would have to do.

* * *

Delilah sighed, sorry she'd said anything. The battle not far off and Cassandra stared at clouds and birds. Who was she to say it was wrong? Too late now. Still, it was better to have her mind on the coming fight.

Cavalry. They would try to take them alive. For entertainment. Torture. She and Cassandra had released their slaves and killed those who'd come to recapture them.

Professional cavalry. They'd got serious. Had come to realize two Amazons were a force to be reckoned with.

She fingered the scar on her chin. A sword tip had opened it long ago when she'd been but a teenager herself. She remembered the pain. If she had not jerked back as fast as she had.... The memory of it had made her faster and stronger. Battles go to the fast, the strong, the cunning. She intended to win. Always. She fingered the scar again. She could not afford to be slow today.

She had watched Cassandra fight. There was a beauty in her movements, a grace and efficiency, an incredible perfect combination of skill, speed and ingenuity. She had learned a lot watching the girl. So, for the Gods' sake, let her daydream. She had earned the right and today they probably would both fall.

* * *

They moved to five ranks of twenty across. A beautiful sight. Even if they were the enemy. If she lived, Cassandra knew she'd always remember this.

Delilah grinned. "Couldn't have choreographed it better!"

Cassandra nodded. Perfectly aligned. Showing off.

A gust stirred Delilah's hair. "A wind. Good, it will cool us."

"And them," Cassandra said.

"They won't need it. We will be doing all the work—killing them!" She looked down at her feet. "The sun is high. No shadows."

No advantage to either party.

They stood and waited.

"If we die, we will die well," Delilah said. "We will bring honor to all Amazons everywhere. They will tell of this battle a thousand years after we are gone. It is in the hands of the Gods."

Cassandra nodded.

What Delilah had in mind seemed like so little, so useless against the mass of men and horses coming toward them. Just the two of them ... except for the hundred biggest boys and girls. They were still but children, with spindly arms and legs. She and Delilah towered over them.

In the distance, they saw and heard the amusement and laughter of the men. Two women and children! A joke.

Good. As long as they were busy laughing at them, they would not notice the ground.

Delilah squatted several times. Shook her limbs. Squinted at the approaching riders. Adjusted her clothes and weapons for comfort. Moved her head from side to side.

Cassandra did the same. They would need a maximum effort to win. Delilah removed her earrings.

The older woman looked quite beautiful with them. If only she did not look so angry all the time, eyes glaring, jaw set, Cassandra thought.

The calm was upon her now. How many times had they been outnumbered? Fought against odds? They had always won. She nodded to herself. They would win now. Somehow. They were Amazons.

Hi. John Faucette here.

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