Advertisement
Remove
Settings

“Someone will remember us
I say
Even in another time”
-Sappho


It was a beautiful day to go hunting.

The woods in the Valley of Artemis weren’t inviting to strangers. It was like the animals knew. They knew who belonged and who didn’t. The Huntresses of Artemis didn’t like travelers trudging through their sacred forest. We only allowed our own within the trees. Outsiders always came to poach, which was infuriating. When I hunted, I didn’t go after Artemis’s sacred deer. Anyone who dared to cross Artemis was foolish.

I wasn’t from around here. Every few years, my clan of huntresses traveled from Lesbos to the Valley of Artemis in Arkadia, where one of the sacred hunting grounds dedicated to our goddess was located. There, we gathered with clans from other islands, to hunt for Artemis’s sacred white stag. It was said that whoever was swift enough to fell the stag would be welcomed into Artemis’s personal retinue of huntresses.

The Arkadian woodlands were as lush as the fertile plains that rolled between the hills. The grass blanketed the forest floor in vivid greens, with speckles of red, yellow, and pink from wildflowers. Birds sang their lovely melodies, perched in the leaf heavy branches, occasionally flying from tree to tree. A few forest creatures scurried about, minding their own business. They paid me no mind. They knew I meant them no harm today.

I’d been coming here for over a decade now, since I was eight years old. Back then, I simply stayed around camp to help with chores and other things. I was too young to go out with the huntresses. But when I turned twelve, I finally was allowed to join the hunt. That very same year, I got separated from the hunting party and found the elusive white stag at a spring, drinking the water.

Even now, seven years later, I could remember it clearly—the largest stag I’d ever seen, with at least ten points on his velvety antlers, with a pelt as white as snow. I’d been so shocked to actually see him that all I could do was stare. The stag had looked at me, his dark eyes oddly intelligent as he met my awed gaze… until Akantha and Berenike found me, scaring him off.

Akantha had been genuinely shocked that I had seen Artemis’s sacred stag. Out of our clan, she was the only other person who had seen it… though I had no idea why she chose not to join the Hunt at Artemis’s side. To this day, it confused me. I’d been much too young to leave the clan to join Artemis, so I remained… but Akantha insisted that I had gained the goddess’s attention.

But Lesbos had been my home for as long as I could remember. I knew I hadn’t been born there; the clan had told me that much. Left as an infant, all I’d had with me was the necklace around my neck and a buzzard hawk watching over me.

Even now, Erinys, my hawk, soared above, keeping an eye out for this evening’s dinner—or maybe the stag. We had a… unique bond. Akantha always said she was a gift from Artemis… perhaps a spirit sent to watch over me and aid me in my endeavors. I wasn’t sure why she would do that, but I was grateful. Who understood the gods?

I paused, crouching down in some bushes. I took a moment to close my eyes, synching with Erinys. Immediately, I began to see through her eyes. She flew above the forest, circling, searching for a gleam of brown with her keen eyesight. But even with her eyes, I couldn’t pick out anything large enough to contribute to tonight’s feast.

This was inconvenient. Where were all the animals?

I pulled back, returning to my own body.

Fine… We’d just have to do this the hard way.

Carefully and quietly, I emerged from the bushes. I continued along, following the game trail that had been worn into the dirt from both deer and huntresses over the years. As obvious as it was, it was the quickest way through the forest. I moved methodically, staying low to the ground as I searched for tracks… which there were plenty of. But all of them were days old, like deer were avoiding this area of the sacred hunting grounds for some reason.

I meandered through the forest for ten, maybe fifteen minutes, getting closer and closer to the heart of the woods, where the shrine of Artemis sat. The mountains loomed in the distance, towering above me. But I found comfort in the wilderness.

And that’s when I saw it—trampled bushes and ferns, large paw prints in the dirt, claw marks carved into the bark of a tree. Signs that a bear had passed through here.

A bear wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but… It would add a unique flavor to dinner. I might even impress some of the huntresses from other clans if I managed to take it down. Plus it’d be nice to get a new pelt for the altar back at the temple in Mytilene.

I followed the tracks.

I sensed Erinys swoop in closer, drawing nearer to me, just in case. As good of a shot I was, there was no guarantee I’d kill a bear with one arrow. If not shot through the head or heart, an animal could take hours to bleed out… and bears were fiercely resilient beasts. I couldn’t say I’d ever wrestled with a bear, but that was a feat only Berenike could achieve. I most definitely was not strong enough for that.

The further I went, the more I realized we were approaching the spring. And not just any spring—a spring sacred to Artemis. This spring was in the center of the woodlands, where all the animals came to drink. This was where I saw Artemis’s sacred stag. I hadn’t been here in years.

I paused beside a tree, glancing down at the tracks again. Wait a second… I crouched to get a closer look.

There were… two sets of tracks here. One set was obviously the bear’s. The other set was human—and barefoot, at that. That was… odd. Bears were aggressive and territorial, yet this one was traveling with a human? And they were headed for the spring.

I needed to be cautious. What was going on here?

I proceeded carefully, keeping to the bushes and trees. I watched where I stepped, making sure not to accidentally snap any twigs under my sandals. I moved silently, until finally, the spring came into view. I stopped dead in my tracks.

A bear was there, all right. Monstrously huge and thick with deep brown fur, it sat by the water’s edge. The spring itself was fairly large, with a rocky shore surrounded by a rainbow of wildflowers. A crumbling statue of Artemis sat in the center, tilted to the side on a pedestal that had been worn away by the crystal clear water flowing up from the bedrock. But that’s not what really caught my attention.

What really caught my attention was the woman sitting next to the bear.

Yes. A woman.

She had to be in her early twenties. She had long, curly red hair braided back; the sunlight that seeped through the trees gave her hair a fiery appearance, radiating a golden aura. Her skin was darkened with tan, confirming she spent a lot of time outdoors. Even at this distance, I could pick out some scars.

Dressed in hunter’s garb, she wore a leather strophian underneath a green chiton. The chiton was fastened in place with a silver fibulae. A dark green sash was bound around her waist, securing the chiton so that the uncut fabric draped down towards her ankles; but it was jagged and rough, shorter on the left side and her right side was bare. And she was barefoot, like the tracks I found earlier.

This… was weird. I nocked an arrow, just in case.

The bear turned towards her. It lifted one of its meaty paws and swung at her.

I panicked.

I fired the arrow. It dug into the bear’s shoulder. It roared in pain. But its claws never struck the woman, who immediately jumped to her feet. I realized now that the bear hadn’t even had its claws out, as it stood up, dropping down to all fours.

Malaka! What the fuck?!” The woman unsheathed the kopis bound to her belt, rage burning in her brown eyes like a forest fire. “That’s my brother!”

...Wait, what?

Brother?!

I didn’t have time to think. I barely had time to block the incoming blow with my bow.

I heard a sharp cry from Erinys above, as she swooped in to claw at the woman’s face. The woman screamed in pain, raising her sword to swat away the hawk with the flat side of her blade. Erinys screeched, jerking back out of the way, talons tangling in the woman’s hair.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the bear move. I dodged to the side just in time to avoid being flayed by the massive clawed paw coming my way. Erinys screeched again, pulling herself away from the woman to get the bear’s attention off of me. She clawed at its head, avoiding its eyes but doing enough to agitate it. The bear swiped at her, but she agilely dodged the blow, drawing it away from me.

But the redheaded woman was on me. Again, she slashed at me with her kopis and I blocked with my bow. Any sense of rationality rushed right out of my mind, replaced with panic.

Was this really happening?! This lady honestly considered this bear her brother… And was attacking me because I shot him?! It was common for huntresses to have animal companions, but I’d never seen her before in my life.

Unfortunately for me, this woman was insanely fast and strong. She shoved me back, trying to knock me off balance. I managed to catch myself. I didn’t want to fight. I wasn’t a warrior, like this woman clearly was. I was just a hunter.

“Wait!” I blurted, before she could come at me again. “I didn’t know!”

The woman hesitated. I took that as my chance.

“I had no idea, okay? I was just out hunting.” I raised my hands to gesture that I meant no harm. “I thought your, um… brother was attacking you. You have my sincerest apologies.”

The woman didn’t move at first, narrowing her eyes at me. Then she finally lowered her kopis. Now that she wasn’t on guard, I let myself relax. I could finally really look at her and assess the situation.

She was taller than me by several inches, built muscular, yet lean. Though nowhere near as broad or bulky as Berenike, she was still quite impressively fit. She was clearly meant to use speed to her advantage. Her fiery red hair still seemed to glow from the sunlight, like she was radiating divine light—like she was a hero sent by the gods. Her brown eyes were impossible to read, as she appeared to scrutinize me with the same intensity as a hunter assessing her prey.

This woman, whoever she was… was both beautiful and deadly. She was someone who looked like they just stepped out of the Trojan War—a fiercely competent warrior who had met the gods and lived to tell the tale.

The tension between us was palpable. One wrong move... and I was sure she’d stab me.

“Sent by who?”

There was no point in lying. “The Huntresses of Artemis.” Plus, I was wearing a crescent moon circlet that only those said to be chosen by Artemis were given. It hid the silver upside down crescent moon-shaped mark on my forehead, which Akantha always said was a mark from Artemis. “I’m not sure if you noticed, but we’re currently staying on Artemis’s sacred hunting grounds.”

She stiffened, something dark flickering in her eyes—but it was gone as soon as it came. “...You’re a huntress?”

“Yes.” I cautiously lowered my bow, wondering what that intense emotion had been. “But you were at the shrine… Only we know about it.” I looked at her curiously. “Are you a new huntress? I’ve never seen you before.”

Maybe it was a foolish question. Maybe it was a futile wish, but-

The woman stood up straight, but her posture remained rigid, like she was trying to make herself even more intimidating. It was clear that she hadn’t relaxed. At least she wasn’t trying to kill me anymore.

But she turned towards her ‘brother’ who had stopped attacking Erinys. There must have been a silent exchange between them, much like how I communicated with Erinys. The bear dropped down to all fours and padded over to sit beside her.

“No,” she said flatly, now examining the arrow protruding from the bear’s shoulder. “Not anymore.”

Not… anymore?

Artemis was perhaps one of the most spiteful goddesses out of the Olympians. She did not take well to being betrayed… which was why there were so many stories of the poor fools who dared anger her being turned into animals… or worse. But she loved her huntresses and her followers as her own family. The only way to truly turn Artemis against you was to break the vow every huntress swears to her—the vow to forsake the company of men.

It wasn’t like we weren’t allowed to be friends with men—but any romantic or sexual relationship was forbidden. Contrary to popular belief, Artemis did not hate men; she had befriended more than one on occasion, only for something to go horribly wrong. But for many of us, this was easy. The Huntresses of Artemis, along with the Temples of Artemis, often became sanctuaries where women who had no interest in marriage, or even men for that matter, could seek refuge. Many of the huntresses I grew up alongside had lovers who were fellow women. Many others simply had no interest in sex or children. But regardless of where on the spectrum a woman falls, Artemis accepts her.

But if this woman, whoever she was, had broken her vow to be with a man… She was lucky that Artemis hadn’t turned her into a rabbit or something.

Disappointment twisted in my belly. That was… unfortunate. Truly unfortunate.

But in the end, it was none of my business. There were more important tasks at hand.

“Do you need help with that?” I asked, gesturing to where the arrow stuck out of the bear’s shoulder. I felt Erinys perch on my shoulder. “I truly am sorry…”

“No.” The answer came out sharp and blunt, as she turned her back to me. “I can handle it myself. Don’t you have to go run back to your goddess?”

I couldn’t help but stiffen. “I’ve never met Artemis. But neither have you, I’d wager. You’re still human.”

The woman didn’t look up as she broke the shaft of the arrow in half after one try. Gods… Only Berenike could do that in one go. She was strong. With those muscles, she could probably break me in half.

“I would rather be a bear.”

I immediately felt guilty for taking a jab at her. Something bad must have happened to her to wish such a thing… Artemis may not have punished her, but there were other horrible fates in the world. Fighting the urge to sigh, I lifted my bow up over my shoulder. Erinys took that as her cue to return to the sky in a flurry of wings.

“...Well, good luck,” I said. If Artemis hadn’t turned her into some beast… there must be a good reason for it. “May the moonlight continue to shine on you, huntress.”

With that, I finally turned my back on her and walked away. I slipped off the game trail, looking for more signs of tracks. The bear explained why all the prey had run away… I needed to venture to another part of the Valley.

I returned my focus to the hunt. But I knew I wouldn’t be getting that mysterious redhead with the bear for a brother out of my mind for a while.

Advertisement

Support "Lost Heroes: Atalanta"

Fiction
Index
Next
Chapter
About the author

lunaerys

  • New York

Bio:

Achievements
Comments(3)
Log in to comment
Log In

Log in to comment
Log In