Jill slowed her horse with a tug of the reins, scanning the sweeping plateaus and long shadows of Anatolia. Here, on the plains of Turkey, Europe became Asia, and the past met the present. This primordial earth once cradled the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Ottomans, and after them, their faded legends. If Jill was right, it also hid in its hills the forgotten history of The Amazons.
"Hurry," clipped Consu. The Kurdish girl glared back at Jill from under a mop of knotted, black curls. The eleven-year-old was both feral and formidable. She was an ideal guide, raised roaming the lands as a herder. She knew the land: its barbed, yet edible plants, its shade and shadows, its quiet perils.
The unlikely pair had found each other in Ankara. Consu promised to get the determined, if disoriented, American archaeologist to an obscure landmark in exchange for 2,000 lire. There, Jill was convinced she would find the proof she needed to redeem her disregarded research, and defy her critics. Consu would earn a month's wages in a few days.
"Come on," chided Consu. The girl had no patience for Jill's long reflective pauses. To Consu, riding across this land was a form of trespassing. This territory belonged to the dead.
Jill spurred her palomino forward, up a rocky foothill. Bleak cliffs hovered overhead, signaling that woman and girl had made it to the Northern Anatolia mountains that separated the plains from the Black Sea. It was here Jill would find her prize.
"Keep your eyes on the trail. This land is cursed," reminded Consu, curtly. She had said as much when she agreed to the two-day ride to the North Country.
Jill smirked. The jaded academic no longer believed in curses, but she liked that Consu did. Children should believe in curses, if no one else.
"You don't believe me," observed Consu.
"No, I don't. Curses are pure fabrication, made up by the ancients to ward off grave robbers," retorted Jill. "There is something strange about this place, though" she admitted.
Jill's gaze fell back on the eerily empty lowlands they had crossed. Over thousands of years, the soil had turned sandy and the earth too barren for farming. The air here even smelled fallow, like ocher and ash and dried up roots.
As the woman and girl continued a harrowing climb upward, a gust of wind blew up, stirring Jill's restless mind. She looked back again at the steppe below. It was not always as it was now. After all, it was across these very plains the rogue female rough riders of lore, the Amazons, once roamed. Legend says they hunted by celestial navigation and fought with weapons forged by Ares himself. Clad in hides and furs, they dipped their arrows in venom and drank from the charred skulls of their enemies. They proved that ancient women defied the confines of the domestic and engaged in war. Lead by Penthesilea, their Queen; they sought only their freedom and "Kleos Aphthiton," a "beautiful death."
How lovely the idea of death being beautiful. For Jill, death wore a grimmer guise. Death was encroaching, not sudden. It was the silent tragedy of lost memories, a furrowed wrinkle in the brow, a tremor in the hand, the blank stare of her father looking back at her as she fruitlessly searched, in his glassy blue eyes, for some sign of recognition.
Jill remembered the first time he forgot the name for eggplant. Then, what color the sky was. "The shade darker than red," he kept saying, over and over. He meant purple.
Jill called her father "Carl" now. It was easier than calling him "Dad" and seeing him grope at past shadows of a once-doting little girl, or a starry, bygone career in academia — a career that had inspired Jill to become an archaeologist herself and reach for the answers he could never quite grasp — a search that led her from the ivory towers of New England to this far corner of the ancient world.