From the siege of Tyros, Eurydike of Makedonia sent home cloaks of shell-purple and pearls as ruddy as an ocean at sunset, one for each wife and a third for her husband. It was nearly summer and the remains of Palaityros were an army camp instead of a charcoal waste of alleys, its cisterns full again and its shoreline strewn only with the rubble she had asked for, each fallen building another foothold on the sea. Morning and dusk, she walked the earthworks that the beach had become and stared out at the walls of Tyros, limestone cliffs rising like a reef against the boat’s-eye blue of the sky. Aphrodite’s star burned at her shoulder, keeping pace with her soldier’s stride.
She was not a tall woman; she was broad-shouldered for her height, deep-chested from crying to be heard above the clamor of battle, her breasts and ribs were scarred pale under their linen and bronze and her hair was the carven red of carnelian. She had outlived five of her father’s wives and two of her half-siblings and when she was fourteen she had killed a queen of her mother’s people, knee to knee in the tall grasses with her horse all but foundering under her, someone else’s blood sticking the spear in her hand and her braid soaked black with sweat. Her father had drunk her victory in raw wine and cried her as good as a son, but her mother had only smiled when the girl she had trained in wrestling and swordplay returned from campaign a blooded soldier. Her hair was fairer than her daughter’s, twisting like the bronze of the torc she still wore against her throat; she had not laid it aside with her marriage, like her name. We lead our own armies, Birkenna’s granddaughter. We make our own campaigns. Her father’s death had started Eurydike fighting; she had not ceased in the years since. And the army followed her, as they might have followed her mother once from the hills around Lynkesta. At Tyros they broke like the sea around the city’s rock, but a daughter of two warriors knew there was more to war than bodies hurled onto blades, arrows hissing the sky dark, the screaming of horses and men. She studied the strain of rope, the heave of blocks, the fittings of burst foundations and blackened walls. Her engineers worked tirelessly and so did she, lamp-smoking nights and sea-flaming days.
After the first month, she began to dream.
She was used to the dreams of battle; sometimes she still woke herself screaming, though no man from Makedonia called her coward for it and none of the women who had come from her mother’s country, either. Now she dreamed of a woman with breasts the color of fired clay and hair blacker than siege-pitch, a collar of lotus flowers — beaten gold and lily-blue — chiming about her throat. She was naked and the hair of her body was an owl’s feathers, softly armoring her groin, but her feet were hidden in a whiteness of breaking foam, as if she cut through waves like the prow of a ship. Out of her upraised palm shone an eight-pointed star, like the sun of the Argeadai. A good omen, Eurydike thought at first, but then she was no longer sure. The woman said nothing, did nothing except watch from her dark, luminous eyes, like the night at the back of the moon. Her free hand held odd things, small as the illusion of mountains or cities seen far off — the horned curve of the moon, a sleeping dove, a horse-headed warship with three banks of oars. A shadow flattened against the tent wall behind her, lion-prowling, sphinx-couched. Eurydike woke to the smell of old, drifting smoke and the noises of soldiers at exercise and walked out to view her causeway, slowly etching her name across the sea.
Letters came, from Barsine at Ekbatana, from Roxšana at Baxlo, from Kleitos at Pella, the black-eyed father of her child. She answered them all with love and impatience; she had never stopped wishing she could take her consorts on campaign with her, like generals, instead of leaving them behind as governors. Even her first, political marriage, to the only man she trusted not to unseat her in her absence — half-Illyrian like herself, half-wild the court said; she had seen only that he was ambitious and trusted the same in her where the rest of the Companions saw a barbarian in trousers, horse-tailed and headstrong as her black, bucking mount — had warmed to fondness, especially when he wrote of young Philip’s progress. A sweet boy and a quick one, for all that she had not seen him since his first months of life, unafraid of horses and men’s loud voices talking. She had expected a daughter, to breed true like her mother, but perhaps there would be time when she returned from farther Asia, when she had seen how far the world reached and whether she would ever touch its limits. World-encircling Okeanos, the dawn-burnt lands of Eos. Her gods had always been Makedonia’s, Zeus with his eagle and Artemis Kynago, the maiden hunter. For her mother, she offered to the Rider, with his short flying cloak and his boots that never touched ground. Someday she would chase the sun until it burned to the earth of a land she had never seen and be happy; until then she wrote to her Persian wife of the claimants after Dareios and her Baktrian wife of the security of the Rock and her Makedonian husband of the health of their son and the care of her sisters. The Tyrians sent fire-ships. She wrote to the kings of Arados and Sidon and Kypros, sailors all.
The siege was nearing its crisis when the dream changed. Again she saw the woman with a star in her hand and the sea at her feet, but now she smiled at Eurydike and came forward from the wall as if she stepped down from a great height; tonight she held a lioness in her palm, small as a clay charm, curled in sleep. Her voice was friendly, as conversationally Makedonian as the broadest hill tribe Eurydike had ever hunted boar with. She said, without honorific or greeting, “Kynnane.”
It was not that no one called her by that name anymore; it was the name she had married her husband under, fast-moving and vicious in the struggle that followed Philip’s assassination, and she had told it to each of her wives in turn, more of a gift on their wedding night than a ring of amethyst or chalcedony. It was an Illyrian name and she held to it as dearly as Audate, Birkenna, Etuta. No one since her mother had said it so plainly, as if she had never taken a regnal name and sealed it, like a true queen of both her countries, with blood. She said without surprise, knowing now who she had been seeing all these sea-lashed, stone-breaking months, “Astarte.”
There was more of a hiss and a hush in the name when the goddess repeated it: ‘Aštart, Ištar, tide-swell and sting of sand. “So you would take my city. You would take Ṣur as well as Ṣidon, Arvad, Gebal. You would take the sea from it.”
“Your city holds the throat of the sea. I have no surety of Persia so long as it is not mine — so long as it fights me, at least. Sidon and Byblos knew not to.”
“So much more your loss.” If the goddess were a human woman, Eurydike would have said the look she gave then was the first move in a seduction: not the shyness that invited pursuit, but a frank meeting, appraising and approving. She had met few women of such directness. Two of them she had married. “I know you, Kynnane, Audate’s daughter, how you will deal with my city. I know what became of your brothers.”
She had never flinched when reminded, but she could still see them sometimes in dreams, curiously and facelessly, the dark hair and the bronze-bright. “Then you know the danger of rivals. Even a man half-witted from poison can be propped up in front of a crowd who will acclaim him over better contenders because his name is right. Even a city whose empire has collapsed around it will shine like a beacon to those who would fight for its memory.”
Swift as a sword-cut, the goddess said, “And do you want always to be fighting for memories?”
Beyond their lamps and embroidered hangings, the walls of the tent were filled with shadows. Eurydike could see her life moving among them, from the silhouette of a thin girl with a bow on the back of a colt to the ringing sword of Olympias’ murder attempt to the strange trampling charge of some great beast or war machine, blotted out in a moment by the serpentine sweep of a shore curving away to the rising sun. The goddess whose name in her own cities was ‘Aštart was shorter than Eurydike as a woman stood, but there was no looking away from her as she met the other’s eyes. Her smell was the heat of lions and the watery cool of lotuses, sweet sea air and burning juniper, salt-sweat musk, and blood. Karchedonian Tanit, Eurydike thought dizzily, was a goddess of sacrifice: child-bones, ash in clay vessels. For all the Phoinix-red in the Middle Sea, she would not hand over her son. She wanted to reach for her sword-belt and rip out the goddess’ throat, with her hands, with her teeth if she had to. If she turned into stars for it, like the ill-fated lovers of Zeus, she wanted to fuck.
“I will not give you Ṣur,” the goddess said, somewhere distant beyond the pounding of Eurydike’s blood. “You will have to take it, but you will not take it stone from stone like Ušu, nor will you throw down its people in chains and the cries of the dying. You will take your armies eastward and I will not go with you, but you will meet enemies worth the joining of battle and lovers worth the joining of bodies and you will never hold all the land that passes beneath your Daryllos’ hooves, but you will see it as far as the Eastern Sea. All that lies under the morning and the evening star is my domain. When you turn back, it will not be for loss.”
Even half-deafened with desire, her mouth dry and her skin flicking like a fly-plagued mare’s, Eurydike felt her mouth tighten in her war-smile, the moment when calculation abandoned itself to the chase. “And what must I give you in return? Take you as my third wife, leave you here to govern Tyros? It was difficult enough for my generals to accept Roxšana at first, and they could see and hear her.”
“No.” The goddess’ own smile was a lioness’, without cruelty or pity. The star’s eight points glimmered and ran like water in her hand. “You, Kynnane. You love men and women; you love contending and war. You are fertile as a flood-river and restless as a wind across the Axšaina. You have mothered and murdered. You are the lover I want from this war.”
In the waking world, down beyond the cresset-fired shore, Eurydike heard the waves beating against her causeway, the isthmus that had not existed when her army was celebrating the Peritia in rainy winter. She said, “I can take your city without you. It’s mathematics, no more. Pyntagoras of Kypros has sent twenty and a hundred warships.”
“Yes,” said ‘Aštart, “of course,” and nothing more.
It was the month of Loios now, full summer. Cicadas sang from the rocks. By mirror-flashing sunlight, she watched the red and blue sails fill the bay, the bronze beaks of the galleys churn the faience-blue water to streaking foam beneath their painted eyes. By the shadowy lamp-flutter of dreams, she studied the face of a goddess whom she would have begun to love if she were a mortal woman, bargaining for her city with an alliance that was no affliction to either of them. She had never heard, in plays or philosophy, that the immortals were safe to love.
Tonight the animal sleeping in ‘Aštart’s hand was a sphinx — male as in Persia, its mane and beard blue-black. Eurydike said carefully, “Will I cross Asia without you?”
“You have come this far without me.”
“Will I come home from Asia without you?”
“With or without me, a woman lives only so long.”
“Then I will die, whichever choice I make — to raze your city to the sea or let it lie safe in your hand, along with myself.”
“The sea will take you, in the end. The sea of salt or the sea of sand, the sea of forgetfulness and the sea of time.” For a moment the goddess’ eyes were empty as a toppled statue, her palms cracked ochre. The sphinx’s shadow looked like a larnax, lid open, awaiting its bequest of ash. Then the tent walls rippled with a sea-wind; the lapis inlays of the flowers around ‘Aštart’s throat gleamed like phosphorescence on the silky black sea-swell and she looked like a living woman again, or near enough that Eurydike could look at her, potent and perilous as dusk and dawn. “I cannot make you unperishing” — the heroic word, aphthita. “I would see more of you before then.”
“Then, yes,” said the woman who was Kynnane to her lovers and her mother’s shade, Eurydike the third of that name in Makedonia. She thought of the painted walls of Pella, the mosaics of the Persian court, the snow tanging the air of her wedding night with Roxšana, Barsine offering to Anaïtis at her shrine in bronze-belled Damaskos. Tall Kleitos in his bridegroom’s wreath of myrtle, younger than his Amazon of a bride. “Yes.”
Moon-crowned, lion-flanked, the goddess of the Phoinikian sea-cities gazed down from the height of temples and towers; she came to Eurydike’s brows and the nearness of her mouth set fire running beneath the woman’s skin. There was nothing in her voice but truth, more than anything mortal could speak. “I am not kind to my lovers.”
Her lover said without boasting, “I am,” and the goddess ‘Aštart laughed.
When Eurydike of Makedonia took the impregnable island of Tyros, she was bleeding from an arrow in the shoulder and her right hand was numbed to the elbow from a stone-thrower’s glancing shock; her sun-stamped shield was pitted from scalding sand and she had leaped from the siege-tower like Kapaneus over the walls of Thebes, her soldiers were already saying. But she had not burned the city, though there was smoke enough rising in the narrow streets from fire-arrows and naphtha-flares, nor had she let her army, tight-wound as catapults and sick with their seven months’ siege, run loose on the surrendering Tyrians like dogs after the sack of Troy. She was Eurydike who led them from victory to victory, asking of them no risks she would not take herself; they listened to her. Between the shining gold-and-emerald pillars of Melqart’s temple, she offered a ram with fleece as blue-black as a sphinx’s beard to the fire endlessly burning on the altar. For ‘Aštart on her sphinx-winged throne, she performed the same honor, left-handed with the knife; she wrenched the animal’s head back herself all the same.
Afterward she remained on the akropolis, her Makedonian hair wreathed with glittering laurel; still braided for war. The densely built mazework of streets she looked down on was still choked with fallen masonry, stairs and walls splashed with stone-dust and blood. She knew how bitterly the king and his family thanked her for their lives. Once she might have stayed longer among them, to see if a daughter or a son met her eyes frankly, sealing peace with more than swords and stylos. From the scant night before the sea-battle and the breaching of the walls, she had woken with an intaglio of owl’s feathers printed everywhere hands or mouth or thighs could touch, the tastes of sea and salt on her lips. In the clear springs of Palaityros, slender petals unfolded like a hand to the sun, dawn-blue lotus were growing.
Kynnane touched her good hand to her throat, to the leaf-gold torc she had had fashioned after the capture of Pelion. To the darkening sea and its agate-white lines of waves, she said quietly, “We make our own campaigns.” ‘Aštart’s star burned at her shoulder, rising east.
Sonya Taaffe’s short fiction and poetry can be found in the collections Ghost Signs (Aqueduct Press), A Mayse-Bikhl (Papaveria Press), Postcards from the Province of Hyphens (Prime Books), and Singing Innocence and Experience (Prime Books), and in anthologies including Aliens: Recent Encounters, Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction, The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry, People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, The Alchemy of Stars: Rhysling Award Winners Showcase, and The Best of Not One of Us. She is currently senior poetry editor at Strange Horizons; she holds master’s degrees in Classics from Brandeis and Yale and once named a Kuiper belt object. She lives in Somerville with her husband and two cats. She says:
I dreamed of reading a classical history in which Tyre was besieged not by Alexander the Great, but by his sister, a world-conqueror in her own right, who identified herself with a warrior goddess instead of Zeus. Awake, I jotted down more or less that sentence for future reference; I thought I could perhaps transpose the concept into flash. It turned out somewhat longer.
The fact is, Alexander had a sister who was trained for war: Kynnane or Kynna, daughter of Philip’s first wife Audate — called Eurydike after her marriage, after Philip’s mother — was half-Illyrian and raised according to the customs of her mother’s people, where women were full participants in politics and war. According to the second-century rhetorician Polyainos, the young Kynnane famously accompanied her father on campaign against the Illyrians and herself killed their queen, Kaeria, before routing their army. Once married to Philip’s nephew Amyntas (later executed by Alexander), she raised her daughter in the same tradition, military training included. Both of them are strange, serious contenders in the Wars of the Successors. Kynnane brought an army with her when she crossed into Asia to find Philip Arrhidaios, Alexander’s half-brother and nominal successor, and marry him to her daughter. That same daughter Adeia — who later took the name Eurydike, positioning herself as the next generation of the dynasty — twice swayed the Macedonian army to her side and only failed the third time because she was facing Olympias, Alexander’s invincible mother. She did marry Arrhidaios. They both ended up dead, but so did pretty much everyone in the Argead dynasty, so the degree to which Kynnane and Adeia succeeded in their bid for empire, especially starting as far from the center of power as they did, is really not small change.
Nonfictionally, the way in which Audate and her descendants — grandmother to granddaughter — retained their Illyrian identity within Macedonian society fascinates me, especially in view of the political freedom it entailed. Authorially, if any sister of Alexander’s had a place in the history I dreamed, it was obviously Kynnane. Alexander the Great had three sisters who lived to adulthood. Only one of them raised an army.