- cover art by Suzanne deVeuve. All rights reserved.
In This Issue
Excerpt from Stories They Told Me
The following excerpt is part of a narrative
from the third voice in the novel. It takes place
in the area of the Black Sea, 3500 BCE and attempts to explore the origins
of the Amazons
The Tiniest of Seeds
At the village, I began to teach other women to ride-those of us who had been planning our exit together. We worked in secret and gradually, so as not to be noticed. The young ones were the easiest-forming a relationship with the horse quickly. I led them on visits to our new home. We journeyed there two at a time to begin the task of setting up shelter, planting seeds to sow at our first harvest there. The plan was to leave in the next warm season. We became impatient. It seemed too long. We knew, however, there was still much to be done.
We learned to steal horses. Slowly, and one at a time. If they thought only some of the women left, especially the difficult women, they would not care. If they knew we had taken horses, they would come after us for sure. We took them at night so that it seemed they were escaping.
Before I left the village completely, there was one thing I still had need to learn-something I myself had never been schooled in-metallurgy. This was a sacred art that I had not been called to perform. I knew we would need weapons, that we would not be complete upon the horse until we were armed.
Long ago I had been schooled in the art of clay baking. My mother was a potter, as had been her mother before her, and she had passed that sacred teaching to me. It was the mothers before them who first discovered metals hidden within the clay; shiny flecks cooked to smoothness in their fiery pottery ovens. It was those mothers who refined the craft of softening hardened rock into thick liquid that could then be pounded into shape, into strong, sharp tools, sharper than anything we had known.
Before they came, before I came to know the horse, I spent my time working soft warm clay into rounded, open wombs in which to contain Her. I sat, satisfied, humming songs to myself as I painted swirling whirls and spirals-eggs electric with Her presence-onto rounded female forms. Before they came, I worked beside my mother, our fingers sinking into deep clay, in the workshop below the temple where I would go often to offer Her my best work.
When they came, the within me grew wild and restless. The workshop could no longer hold me. I began to create only horses, clay horses running, sleeping, standing-painted horses on vessels-women riding horses, until I stopped going to the workshop altogether.
"Why do you not come and do the work you were chosen for, the work the village needs you to perform," my mother said to me one day upon meeting me on the path to the stable.
"I have a different job now, mother," I said, avoiding her eyes, for I knew that I had abandoned her. "I am busy with other things."
"It is an insult to Her to turn your back on the gift She has given to you. An insult to me," she said, lowering her tone.
"Mother," I said, whispering at the utterance of words such as these, "I no longer find Her in the work with the clay. Not as I once did. I now find Her in the wind that rushes through my hair as I ride the wildest of horses, in the heat between my legs as we gallop, by the river's gentle bend and the tall tree encircled with stones. I must go to the place where She leads me, Mother. I must follow Her call."
She eyed me suspiciously. "I know," she said, "that you are planning to leave."
"You must know that it is no longer safe here. Please, mother, you must come with us."
Her lips were pursed but there was water staining her eyes, which looked toward the village. "I wish to see this tree," she said, "this place by the river's bend."
I took her hands into mine. "First," I said, "I must teach you to ride."
* * *
I approached the village smith at his workshop. I asked him to teach me his craft.
"Only men may learn it," he said.
"It is women who discovered it," I said.
"Do you think I do not know that?" He said, pounding hot metal thin with a hammer and shaking his head. It was enormously hot inside this smelting hut. He was sweating. Dirt clung to his bare chest. He put down his hammer, took a piece of cloth from the bench and wiped his face. "I only wish to protect myself from danger," he said, throwing the cloth back down onto the bench. "They will not tolerate me teaching you."
"Then don't tell them."
He snicked a laugh and smiled at me. The smile contained tenderness. "Why is it that you wish to learn?"
"I and some others, we are leaving. This is a skill we shall need, yet none of us possess."
"Where are you going?"
"I cannot say."
He looked down at his work, then out the window. "Leaving," he said, "leaving is a good idea."
"Leaving is the only option," I said.
He looked at me. Sadness covered his face. I began to perspire. He returned his gaze to the window. "Not here," he said. "You must not be here."
"I know a place," he said, approaching me, the metals he worked, mixed with the juices of his body, gave him a strange metallic smell. "There is a cave," he whispered, "a cave behind yonder hill. It is a small cave with a hole in the side of one of the walls."
"I know the one."
"There. Meet me there." I looked into his eyes. The fire reflected within them. "Tomorrow."
"I must go now," I said, backing away. "It is too hot in here."
He walked me to the door and stood in it, filling it with himself, as he watched me walk away.
* * *
"The first thing you must learn," he said to me the next day when I met him at the cave, "is how to remove the metals from the places in which they are found." He had cleaned himself. His hair was tied back into a long mane of deep browns and auburns. In the morning light, I noticed specks of green in the browns of his eyes. The heat, the fire was still there upon him, pulsing in waves from his body; revealing itself in the deep creases that lined his dark face. He was dressed in clean trousers and a soft, wool blouse. He carried with him a large, leather bag. "We shall walk together to the places where She gives forth."
"We need not walk," I said, "I ride."
"I have seen you ride," he said. "I, however, do not ride."
"You shall ride behind me."
I helped him onto the back of my horse. He held me tight around the waist. I turned to face him. He hid not his fear. "It is all right," I said. "She is a good horse."
I put my hand upon his that held me around my center. We rode slowly. His hand, warm within mine began to relax, my center melting to molten liquid beneath the heat.
We arrived at the place between two hills where She offers herself in rich streams of minerals. He set his bag down and extracted a long pick. I watched as he inserted his tool into Her, as She gave Herself to him in rich dark copper. At other places, he showed me how to determine which rocks contained Her, to chip away at the hard wall of stone, forming workable clumps which we would smelt, freeing the copper hidden within them.
"Now you," he said, handing me his tools, heavy and foreign. What he had made look easy, for me was extremely difficult. I struggled, became frustrated.
"It is difficult at first," he said, "but you shall become accustomed to it. Your hands are strong. They match your will. That is all you really need."
He took me to a streambed. He taught me how to pan and dredge for tin. "The tin is hard to come by," he said, stooping and bringing up a pile of black dirt into a clay bowl which had small holes in the bottom of it to allow the water to spill back through it. He sifted through the remaining dirt, extracting large clumps of hardened black rock and showing them to me. "Sometimes," he said, "I use arsenic to harden the bronze. I am not going to show you that way. I want you to use tin to harden your bronze."
Back at the cave, he taught me how to build my own smelting oven deep into the earth. "The hole," he said, making a small opening in the back of the bottom of the oven, "there must be an opening. Through the opening will be released the slag. The copper will be left within."
He stacked within the small oven layers of charcoal and the pieces of ore we had mined. Then he lit the fire and covered the oven. With his foot pushing on a small leather pump inserted into the side of the oven, he fanned and fanned the flames, stoking up the fire until it became so hot, he removed his shirt and the stone released the copper in a gush of steaming hot liquid.
This, he then took and reheated, purifying it more. Some he took in a warm, semihardened state and hammered into shape. Others he cast, pouring a steaming, white, liquid mixture of copper and tin together to form bronze.
"I used to work only with copper," he said, "but these new people, they have a taste for bronze."
I watched him moving quickly from fire to floor with a heated heap of copper to pound with his hammer. I watched his face, serious and focused, his lips, pouting as he worked. I watched his hand, skilled and quick with the hot metal, his arms quivering from the stress of the work. I enjoyed this, this watching him work. There was something profoundly comforting in observing this act of creation.
In the extreme heat, combined with the intense effort it was taking me to learn this skill-something I was not naturally inclined toward-I began to lose my will.
He could have let me. He could have let me sit there watching him, allowed me to melt into another piece of workable material for him to form into any shape he wished. He could have let it happen. I was not aware until it was too late. But, he didn't. He saw what was happening. He would not allow it.
He began to force me to work. "It is only certain people," he said, " who can tolerate such heat without melting. You must stand tall, strong to the heat, Sadie. You must not allow it to reduce you."
He pushed me, every time I was exposed to the heat, presenting me with chore after chore. "You must learn this," he said; leading me out of the cave when I was overwhelmed, to take in a breath of coolness, to harden me back into shape. "You cannot go out into that world without this skill."
He ceased to work, began only to watch me pound clumsily against softened metal, pour liquid rock into a cast I had made, my arms moving involuntarily in staggered, jerking movements under the weight.
"It is the heat," he said, "the heat which transforms. Fire which alters. Only with fire may we change things." He took a cloth from the belt around his waist and wiped my damp face with it. "You posses this element within you," he said. "It is good. "You will need it. You must be careful, however, because you are made of fire, so you are especially vulnerable to it."
I looked at him, he who had pulled me out of the flames, yet left me intact. "Why do you do this for me?"
"I do not do it for you. I do it for us, our people, our village. Do you think I like these barbarians?"
"What will you do?"
"I have not yet decided."
* * *
y skills improved. Alone, I mined for minerals, built the fire, transformed stone into liquid heat, pounded soft metal into a hardened, sharp-edged sword.
"You no longer need me," he said to me one day and smiled. It was a crooked smile, its right side higher. A smile I had come to look forward to.
"How can I ever thank you?" I asked, touching the sharp edge of the blade I had only just formed.
He came and stood himself before me so that his chest touched the cloth of my dress. "Take me with you," he said into my face, in a voice so innocent, so full of need and longing that it took my breath away.
"I cannot," I said, there was a galloping in my chest. "It has been agreed. Only women. I thought you understood that."
"I thought by now you would see that I am not one of them."
"Of course, I know that," I said, touching his chest with my hands. "I am so grateful to you. There is so much that you have done for us, more than I ever could have expected. I have also grown very fond of you." I sighed, collapsing a little. Then I remembered the burning in the women's eyes when they talked about the men. These strange and different men, at whose hands so many of them had already suffered, still bearing the bruises they had acquired when they were forced to share themselves against their will. How could I explain to him the torment this was having on us as women? The distrust that now permeated every encounter with men?
"I cannot allow it," I said, looking at him. "In spite of my feelings for you."
"You cannot leave me here, Sadie," he said. He held my face within his hands. I allowed him to kiss me. His warm mouth encompassed mine; a furnace deep with leaping flames. I felt myself surrendering within, the 'yes' beginning to form within me. I felt the opening that wanted to happen, to let him in, to merge together into something other, something new. But the 'no.' I needed the 'no.' The 'no' was what sparked the fire, what fanned the flames. "I cannot," I said, breaking away from him, from his strong, confident embrace.
"Sadie," he said, "even if you do not allow me to join you, let us at least have this."
"I cannot," I said, backing away from him. "Don't you see," I repeated. "I cannot."
"No, I don't see," he said.
"I cannot feel this way about you. This opening, this spreading of my being that wants to happen. I cannot allow it. It will ruin everything."
"Nothing has to change," he said.
"But everything will," I said, pounding my fists against my chest. "Inside. Inside. I need, more than anything, this cool, hard shell I have grown."
From Stories They Told Me © 2003 by Theresa C. Dintino. Submitted by the author for publication in MatriFocus. All rights reserved.