by Gheorghe Săsărman
Translated from the Romanian by Monica Cure
*** Editors’ note: With this tale, we continue our series of publishing the missing entries from Săsărman’s groundbreaking 1975 urban fantasies’ cycle. The original collection of imaginary cities was censored in Communist Romania, and appeared in various states of incompleteness in other languages, incl. translated into English by Ursula K. Le Guin. We are grateful to Monica Cure for her faithful translation of the remaining pieces of the puzzle, hitherto unavailable in English language. For more information, read the introductory note to Motopia, the first entry in the series. ***
—Who’s there! Antiope snapped, bolting upright.
She thought she had heard the padding of footsteps on the marble flagstones; the noise sounded again. She grabbed a torch from its stand and moved forward a few paces. Who dared to defy orders and enter, in the middle of the night, the palace? Just what were the girls from the gateway guarding? Right as she was about to call the guards, the intruder showed himself from between the pillars; instinctively, she put her hand to her hip, forgetting that, before going to bed, she had put away her sword, belt and all. Their eyes met in the flickering torchlight. Her heart suddenly struck by Eros’s arrow, the feared queen demurely lowered her eyelids.
—How dare you?… she struggled rather unconvincingly in the vigorous arms which had lifted her into the air, as if she were a child, making her feel the ground slip from under her feet.
Until that moment, she had never suspected that she could be carried in this way, rocked almost imperceptibly, but still dizzyingly, by a virile torso bursting with strength, and set down afterward, with such natural ease, in her fragrant bedding. The pointless question which had remained on her lips from the initial second left her, along with any thought of resistance. How this disturbing young man had managed to reach her chamber no longer interested her in the slightest, nor how he had successfully made it through a citadel as well guarded as that of the Amazons, on whose streets a man had never stepped until then.
Defeated without a fight, Antiope surrendered to the pleasure of discovering love, with whose complete arsenal her people had been so uselessly and unsuspectingly equipped until then. As only a perfect warrior could, she deployed—as if she had known then since always—all the snares of the art of loving and being loved: the fiery wide-eyed gaze; the mischievous glance, shot from beneath eyelashes; the fierce, suffocating embrace; the delicate caress of fingertips; the chaste kiss on the forehead; the tender kiss on the eyelids; the shy kiss on the cheek; the guilty kiss in the palm of the hand; the perverse kiss at the base of the ear; the long breathtaking kiss, with bloodied lips; the greedy kiss; the weightless kiss, like a shadow, like a memory…
The passion unleashed by the game stole her last ounce of lucidity. She whispered invented names for her unknown groom, she called him, she desired without knowing, without being able to put into words that state of excruciating expectation that had reached a paroxysm, which tortured her as not even the most terrible wound could have. The closer she felt him, the more intense that state became, driving her mad. The unexpected scream which started from the base of her throat, from the bottom of her chest, or maybe from deeper, was not so much a cry of pain—an unknown, unrepeatable pain—as it was a sign of the flesh’s victory over the barren tradition that had subjugated the city of virgins until then.
Alarmed by the piercing scream, the Amazons on guard duty rushed in, and seeing their queen writhing and moaning, speared the one holding her captive under the weight of his body before she could make the slightest gesture of resistance. And by the time Antiope roused herself, they had snatched the dead body from the profanatory embrace and dragged it into the square, to the entrance of Artemis’s temple, where they intended to let it rot. The unhappy queen, however, stole the corpse one night and secretly buried it.
She futilely tried afterward, even at the cost of her reign, to break the androphobia of the Amazons, to end the barbarous custom of invading neighboring citadels and kidnapping girls—whose right breasts the Amazons would later cut off so that once the girls became warriors they could more easily wield the shield and spear—in vain she proclaimed love, the union of woman and man, which had been destined by nature from the beginning as the fulfillment of life. Not even the miracle—never before seen in Virginia—of maternity had the power to convince the adamant ascetics. Cast off the throne, pelted with stones and banished from the citadel, fate refused Antiope even her final consolation: her child was born a girl!