The Queen's Belt

Vicky is an ordinary 16-year-old girl from Edinburg. Accidentally, she comes into possession of a stone, which leads her to a time portal. Vicky becomes involved in the search for a stolen ancient artifact. Not fully in control of her time travel ability, she takes a chance and travels to a prehistoric world. There she lives with a female Amazon tribe and learns horse riding and archery. But will she find the stolen relic and be able to come back home?

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5. Chapter 5: One of Us

~~When Vicky woke up the next morning, she was not lying on the grass anymore but on a large piece of sheep skin, in a tent, where she probably had been placed by Swaseeia and Serahwe. She sat up and looked around. She saw her two guardians still sleeping beside her.
The sun had already risen. Vicky watched the rays of light slipping in between the drapes of the tent and the dust dancing in the light beams. It was nice sitting in the tent listening to the distant sounds of camp women talking and going about their daily business.
Suddenly Vicky realized that she had forgotten all about her backpack. She dragged it everywhere with her yesterday, but she had no recollection of the events since Khase’s song last night. Vicky turned her head and to her relief saw the backpack behind her.
Vicky’s sudden movement stirred Swaseeia, who woke up and pushed Serahwe in the side.
 “Wagma’s awake,” she whispered.
Five minutes later the two women were fully dressed. They announced to Vicky that after the breakfast she will have to change into some Scythian clothes in order to blend in with the rest of the women in the camp.
“For your safety,” explained Serahwe, “not many locals mess with us. It is better for you to look like one of us.”
The breakfast consisted of some milk, strange to the taste, which Vicky later found out to be that of a mare. She had never heard of anyone milking a mare before and had certainly never tried to drink anything like it. The milk turned out to be very nourishing.
As Swaseeia and Serahwe promised, after the breakfast it was time to change the clothes.
“Let’s go to the river,” said Swaseeia, “we can bathe first. It’s fun.” 
Serahwe agreed and Vicky, whom nobody seemed to ask about her opinion, thought that she had better follow the suggestion of her two guardians, at least until she got a fair understanding of these women’s customs and their way of thinking.
The three started walking across the fields away from the camp, and along the way Vicky saw Swaseeia and Serahwe pick and eat something from the thick layer of grass. She looked down and saw wild strawberries hidden in between the mixture of the dry last year’s grass and the fresh one of this year. The wild strawberries, already mature, gave Vicky an indication of the time of the year: it must have roughly been early summer right now. The berries were a delightful supplement to the breakfast.
Soon Vicky heard the sound of the running water and saw the river ahead. As the three were approaching the river, they were greeted by some of the women from the camp, who were on their way back, apparently from a bathe as well. Vicky noticed that one of the girls, of approximately Vicky’s own age, was studying Vicky. Vicky stared back hoping that the girl would get uncomfortable and look away. Only the girl did not seem uncomfortable at all. It was rather Vicky who looked away first and lost the staring game. 
Vicky noticed that the girl looked like Swaseeia, only she was light blond. Like most of the camp women the girl’s hair was woven into an untidy braid fastened around the head, framing her face. Apart from Swaseeia, the girl also bore resemblance to someone else from the camp, but just now Vicky could not put a finger on who it was.
When Vicky and her two companions walked past the group of women, Vicky turned around and met the girl’s curious gaze once more. The girl was smiling at Vicky. Almost involuntarily Vicky found herself returning the girl’s smile. Vicky was caught in a strange moment of complete and boundless happiness. She plunged into the feeling and couldn’t help herself smiling as she hurried after her two companions.
Serahwe and Swaseeia, who seemed very excited by the prospect of bathing, went ahead. They started to take off their arms, belts and clothes before they even reached the river bank. They kept their loose shirts on while bathing, which Vicky thought strange. The shirts, long enough to cover their bare bodies until their knees, were wet in an instant and became quite see-through. This made keeping their blouses on completely pointless. It was obvious to Vicky that the women were not afraid of showing their bodies, neither in front of Vicky nor in case of some accidental encounter with other inhabitants of these parts. The reason for keeping the shirts on while bathing remained a mystery to Vicky, who decided not to spoil the women’s fun by asking them questions.
Vicky sat down and looked at Swaseeia and Serahwe having fun splashing with water. Then the tumult of water splashes ceased, and Vicky saw Serahwe grabbing Swaseeia who pretended to protest against such impertinence by escaping from Serahwe’s embrace. Swaseeia’s laughing and screams of delight accompanied the game. 
Suddenly Vicky heard a rustle of grass or leaves not far behind her. She turned around and met somebody’s frightened eyes as the rest of the person was hidden behind some bushes and high grass. A moment later the person, who turned out to be a young fair-haired man, sprang to his feet and started running away.  “Wow,” thought Vicky, “good he is scared ’cause I don’t think I am less scared than he is.”
Vicky turned back from the running young man in order to see whether Swaseeia and Serahwe saw him too, and another “wow”, this one aloud, fell off her lips. She realized that Swaseeia and Serahwe could not have seen the boy or anything else right now: still standing in the river, they were kissing.
“They are a couple,” thought Vicky, “of course!” Vicky felt stupid not to have registered the signs which she had observed since yesterday. Just now she understood the meaning of Swaseeia’s conspiratorial smile the night before when she told Vicky that she had never had children.
Swaseeia made a movement as if trying to free herself from Serahwe’s embrace. Serahwe pulled her even harder to herself and started kissing her lips again, then she slipped down to Swaseeia’s neck. Neither of the two seemed to mind being observed by Vicky.
 “Why don’t you come in?” shouted Swaseeia who had to stop Serahwe’s continuous caresses. Serahwe was swimming towards the shore.
“Well, do you want me to just leave your clothes and arms while you are in the water? Don’t you want me to guard them for you?”
“From whom?” asked Serahwe grinning.
“But just now there was a boy, hiding in those bushes,” explained Vicky pointing towards the place where she saw the young man, who by now was completely out of sight on the open horizon.
“What will you do if he wants to steal it?”
Serahwe had a point. Vicky did not know the first thing about guarding, let alone fighting.
“Here, put this on,” said Serahwe, who by now was standing over Vicky, handing her a loose blouse, much alike those which she herself and Swaseeia were wearing.
“Do you always bathe in clothes?” asked Vicky.
“Don’t you?” asked Serahwe.
“No, not really, but then I have never really bathed in a river before,” said Vicky, realizing that she had just confused Serahwe, who indeed looked completely perplexed by what Vicky had said. It was impossible for Vicky to explain to this woman where then she usually bathed. Vicky was lucky that she said this to Serahwe and not to Swaseeia, who would probably have been asking Vicky a million questions by now.
Vicky quickly took her clothes off and put on the blouse and went into the water, which turned out to be surprisingly warm and at the same time quite refreshing in the heat of the Scythian summer.
After bathing, Swaseeia and Serahwe helped Vicky to put on her outfit, which – besides the loose blouse – consisted of some pants of thick cotton, slightly thinner in texture than her jeans. The pants were of dirty grey color, close to khaki, and looser than her jeans. This Vicky considered an advantage in the hot climate of these parts: the cloudless sky promised a very hot day. A corset of thin skin was added to the blouse. A skin belt, strapped by a thin leather band, went over the corset.
Then Swaseeia braided Vicky’s long hair just as the other women in the camp wore it. She was further equipped with a hat, much like Swaseeia’s, only a red one. The only things missing now were a bow, a quiver with arrows, an akinakes and a horse. Otherwise, Vicky looked not much different from any other woman in the camp. Also Vicky’s red hair blended in with the rest of the camp women’s as the majority of the women were either blond or red-haired. Serahwe was rather the one who stood out in the crowd: she was the only black-haired member of the camp as well as the only one who had her hair cut short.

***

“Honourable members of the council, descendants of Lipoxais, Arpoxais and Kolaxais,” said a lean tall man of about forty addressing six others, roughly of the same age. The man’s face, although in its most part hidden by the abundant facial hair, had pleasant features, revealing the amiable disposition of its owner.
“We gather today,” the man continued, “because Tletu has brought this council some news. Tletu, what news do you bring?”
 “Honourable Oloros and members of this council,” began a handsome fair-haired youth, “the young men who stole our barley and our sheep are not young men.”
 “How can this be, Tletu? We saw them. They do not have one hair on their faces. They must be very young,” answered Oloros raising his eye brows in bewilderment.
“They are young but they are not men,” explained the young spy.
“What do you mean? What are they then, Tletu?” the man had now a perplexed expression on his face.
“They are women,” answered Tletu.
A murmur of confused male voices and chuckles filled the tent.
“Silence,” commanded the only dark-haired member of the council with a grim face, “they cannot be women. They dress like men. They look like men. We saw them hunt – they hunt like men. We fought them – they fight like men.”
“Honourable Kimerios,” said Tletu who felt offended that his word had been questioned by the council, “have I ever given this council a reason to doubt my word?”
“Tletu is right,” said Oloros, “If Tletu says they are women, then this is what they are.”
“But we have to demand some proof of his word,” insisted Kimerios.
“My only proof,” said Tletu, “are my own eyes. Today, when the sun has not yet reached its zenith, I have seen these women bathing in the river. There can be no doubt that they are women.”
Another wave of murmur rolled across the tent. The members of the council went quiet again when a tall red-bearded man stood up and raised his hand.
“Honourable members of the council, we need to decide what we do,” he said in a deep voice, “we can expect that these women will continue stealing from us. Knowing what they are, we cannot fight them off the way we have done so far. What do we do?”
“Honourable Abrotonon,” said Oloros, “I agree. We don’t want to fight these women, but they are beautiful and strong. I propose that we offer them to be our wives.
“But why do we need these women when we have our own? These women do not seem to be virtuous and gentle as ours,” argued Abrotonon.
“Yes! Besides we don’t know what their belief is,” argued other members of the council.
“I agree,” shouted Oloros in order to quiet the new wave of murmur, “we must find out whom they worship first. But I still claim that we need these women: if we mix our strength with theirs, together we can produce giants!”
“I agree! Yes! I agree!” yelled the other members of the council, except one. Kimerios sat quietly and looked even grimmer than before. He finally stood up and raised his hand.
“I don’t agree,” he said calmly, “these women may be strong, but they are not as strong as us. We can defeat them and take them as our slaves.”
Once again the confused murmur filled the tent.
“Honourable Kimerios,” said Abrotonon breaking the murmur with his loud voice, “there is no doubt that we can defeat them. Yet they are worthy opponents: if we fight them, we are bound to shed blood and lose lives. Why go through such risks when we can achieve our goal by peaceful means?”
“Mark my words,” said Kimerios, “they will never accept marriage.”
“Let the council decide whether we send emissaries with peace or with war. But first, Tletu,” said Oloros turning towards the youth, “you will find out what you can about these women.”
“Yes, honourable Oloros,” answered Tletu.

***

“Come, you’ll meet my horse,” said Swaseeia excitedly.
Vicky thought it funny that Swaseeia chose this expression: she spoke of the horse as though it was a human being, a person rather than an animal. Vicky picked up her old clothes still lying on the grass beside the river, and the three started back for the camp. 
On their return to the camp, Vicky had just the time to pack her old clothes into the backpack, which she had left at Swaseeia’s and Serahwe’s tent. Before she put her jeans into the backpack she took out the little bag with the stone. She put her arm into her backpack and fished out her key strap, unfastened her house key and dropped it back inside. Then she attached the little bag onto the strap, put it on her neck and hid the bag inside her blouse.
 Swaseeia was already outside the tent with a mahogany horse beside her. Vicky’s materialization from inside the tent obviously stirred the horse, which made a sudden start backwards with a grunt. Vicky knew the horse’s reaction all too well from her lessons at the riding school: the ears drawn back and the active tail were signaling that the horse was not willing to connect with Vicky on any level.  Vicky was already used to that she had this effect on horses.
“Ptru,” Swaseeia made a soft nicker sound to calm the horse. “You have a smell of a stranger,” she explained to Vicky. “Sturakos,” Vicky heard Swaseeia pronounce the horse’s name, followed by the stone’s translation: “The strong one, this is Wagma.”
The horse seemed to respond to what Swaseeia was saying. Sturakos obviously understood very well what was said.
“She is your friend,” continued Swaseeia. Her soft yet asserting voice had the desired effect on Sturakos, who seemed considerably calmer now. Swaseeia, on the other hand, seemed unconvinced.
“You are tense,” she informed Vicky, who was unaware of the fact, “he senses it. Come, we walk together. Let him follow us – that way he feels safe. If you are to ride him, he needs to get used to you.”
Vicky and Swaseeia followed by Sturakos walked through the camp until they reached its outskirts with vast endless steppe stretching in all directions, except to the west where a string of mountains restricted it.
“Here,” announced Swaseeia as she stopped, “we practice here. You and Sturakos have to bond.”
“How?” asked Vicky, “what do I do?”
“Well, you confuse him. You are uncertain and afraid of him, and he feels it,” explained Swaseeia. “You need more confidence. Listen to yourself.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” thought Vicky.
As if able to read Vicky’s mind, Swaseeia immediately responded: “Become aware of your worries and sorrows,” she explained. “A horse responds to your feelings,” she continued, “you cannot bond with a horse when you yourself do not know what comes from inside and what from outside.”
Swaseeia sounded almost like a priest reading a piece from the Bible.
“I still don’t understand what I am supposed to do,” said Vicky desperately.
“Sturakos is uncertain. You worry inside. You express to Sturakos that it is your worry he senses. Sturakos reads off what you signal to him with your movements.”
Vicky heard all that hundreds of times at the riding school: how horses are much faster than humans at reading the body language, how they do not like being sneaked at but like you to be honest about your intentions and such like.
“How am I supposed to do that?” asked Vicky still perplexed.
“Take a deep breath,” instructed Swaseeia, “and now one more. Relax. Think about what worries you,” said Swaseeia while the horse made another nervous snort.
“Do you have like uhm… treats for him?” asked Vicky.
“What treats? Why?” asked Swaseeia.
“Well, to reward him for the correct behavior,” said Vicky surprised that she had to explain such basics to her teacher.
“No. He has to accept you as you are, not for food. Look at him and wait a bit, but not too long, or he will get suspicious. When he gets curious, he’ll approach. Stroke him on his nose – he likes that.”
Vicky started to list the worries her head was filled with. There was still grief over grandpa’s death; there were also other worries: she was away from home, in a new and uncertain place full of potential dangers, and she did not even know when, how, or if she would ever get back home again.
She looked at Sturakos. As if by magic, the horse looked much calmer now. Just as Swaseeia suggested, Vicky’s awareness of her concerns signaled something to Sturakos, and the horse stepped towards Vicky.  She followed the rest of Swaseeia’s instructions and stroked its nose.
“It’s not you, it’s me, Sturakos,” said Vicky feeling a desire to hug the horse’s huge neck. “You are a good horse,” she said, and then turning to Swaseeia, she asked: “Can I hug him?”
Vicky had not noticed how she herself started to use “him” when talking about the animal.
“Yes,” answered Swaseeia, “you do what comes natural. It is the best way to bond with a horse.”
Vicky hugged Sturakos, who nickered softly in her ear.
“He greets you,” said Swaseeia, who seemed very satisfied with Vicky’s achievement.
The next hours were spent on teaching Vicky other techniques of handling a horse, moving over to teaching her how to mount and dismount Sturakos. Back in Scotland Vicky had been attending the riding lessons for over a year now. She was aware of that she did not make much progress in this area of her interests. Now she knew why: She never had established this special bond with a horse before. Nobody had demanded nor taught her to do it, at least not in the way that Swaseeia taught her to establish it.
Of course she had learned some things about horses, but at the riding school there would often be interruptions from other pupils who usually were much better than Vicky at handling horses and who wanted to show off their skills.
Vicky did not know how much time she spent training with Sturakos. Here, not being stressed by time pressure or by criticism, Vicky learned that a horse would not respond to the desire of control over it, but that instead there had to be established a mutual respect between a human and a horse. Once the respect was there, the horse did not need to be controlled. Vicky felt Sturakos’s movements, and the horse felt Vicky’s: it felt more like dancing with the horse than like riding it.
Perhaps because Swaseeia along with the other women in the camp rode their horses from dawn till dusk, the animals were more accustomed to humans and did not require the treats, which Vicky considered necessary for handling and training horses. Sturakos turned out to be a very confident horse, and by the end of the day Vicky learned its preferences enough to earn the horse’s respect. 
Vicky was carefully riding Sturakos without a saddle trying not to fall off. Sturakos went slowly round in circles led by Swaseeia when Vicky heard the sound of another horse approaching. Galloping on a black horse, Serahwe hurried towards Swaseeia and Vicky.
“Khase asked to see Wagma,” said Serahwe explaining her unexpected arrival.
“But I was supposed to take her to Éroros Oqos,” protested Swaseeia. Swaseeia’s last words were translated to Vicky as “eagle eye”.
“She’ll have to meet her tomorrow then,” Serahwe answered turning to Swaseeia.
Since Serahwe referred to “eagle eye” as “her”, Vicky concluded that this Éroros Oqos must have been a person, but nobody she had heard of so far. The prospect of meeting Khase sounded more appealing to Vicky as she expected Khase to teach her to operate the stone, as Skeleiei implied when she invited Vicky to join the Scythian women.  Still, this new person seemed intriguing.
“Who is this Eagle Eye?” Vicky hurried to ask.
 “She is to teach you to shoot arrows and spears,” answered Serahwe mounting her horse again to indicate that there was no time for talking, “Hurry!”
Swaseeia and Vicky mounted Sturakos and were soon approaching the camp. Vicky noticed that Swaseeia did not lead the horse into the camp, but made it trot carefully along the outskirts, until Vicky saw a high tent glowing like fish skin in the sun. As Sturakos was trotting closer to the tent, Vicky saw that it was glowing from a distance because it was scattered with numerous metal plates and coins reflecting the sunlight. 
As she approached the tent, Vicky felt the talking stone inside her blouse become warmer. She already got used to that the stone was constantly warm since she came to Scythia as it was translating every word exchanged with the women in the camp. Nevertheless, now the stone was getting as hot as it had been when she had entered the time portal at the museum.
As the horse reached the tent, Swaseeia stopped it, dismounted and helped Vicky down. When Vicky’s feet touched the ground again, for a moment she felt dizzy: She felt it almost strange to feel the earth under her feet again.
“Go inside,” whispered Swaseeia pointing towards an opening on the front side of the tent. The fact that Swaseeia whispered disturbed Vicky. She felt insecure and unprepared for her first meeting with the Shamaness.
“What do I say? How do I behave?” she whispered back to Swaseeia.
 “Behave like you did with Skeleiei” answered Swaseeia almost pushing Vicky towards the tent.
“Right,” thought Vicky, “in other words, ‘be yourself’.”

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