| Volume I: Roman Invaders in the Land of the Amazons
Marcus stood at the prow of the vessel, peering into the shadowy mists of the forbidding jungle. He could feel the ship moving almost imperceptibly beneath his feet, barely swaying as it cut through the smooth waters of the river. Behind and beneath him came the splash of the oars slapping into the dark, glassy waters, as the slave crew toiled at their labors, pushing the ship ever onward towards its meeting with destiny.
They had come far, so very far – farther, in fact, than any of their countrymen had gone before them. Though Marcus could not know it – and though history would take no notice of their voyage – he and his men had traveled farther than any others in all of human history. They had discovered a new continent a millennium and a half before Columbus would make his own discovery, a thousand years before the Vikings would cross the same ocean.
He turned to look back at what remained of his fleet. His hundreds of sailors had marched from Rome to the port in Florence, and then boarded a dozen vessels to set sail on a trip into the unknown. Their journey was founded on a legend whispered into the Emperor's ear, a mythical story of a land across a vast ocean, a nation of wealth and riches, populated by a tribe of female warriors. Like every man who'd sat on the throne in Rome, this ruler craved riches and yearned for greater power. The mighty Roman Empire was not enough – and this tantalizing tale of beautiful seductresses guarding hoards of silver and gold was too much for any Emperor to resist.
Marcus sighed as he studied his fleet, wondering for the thousandth time if the legends could be worth the hardship and heartache – if the legends existed at all. He had no idea why the Emperor needed more money or more power, but that lust and greed seemed inherent in the rulers of his people.
Gold and silver were not the reasons Marcus had agreed to lead this expedition; not even the promise of feminine flesh more perfect than Helen of Troy herself had led him to his current state. Instead, it had been the lure of adventure, the thrill of the unknown, the prospect of battle with a new enemy. Marcus was above all else a warrior, crafted in the mold of Achilles, and he lived for the blood of battle. Riches and women could not lure him away from his homeland, but the rumors of the ferocity of these Amazonian warriors, of their unmatched skill in battle, had piqued his curiosity. He had defeated every breed of warrior he'd encountered in the far reaches of the empire, and he'd grown almost bored. These new warriors – even if they were just little women – might be just the challenge he'd been seeking.
Of course, the promise of a share of the booty hadn't exactly hurt. And that promise had made gathering a crew for the ships rather easy; each of the men who survived the voyage would be rich beyond their most fevered imaginings. Even the slaves working below decks had been guaranteed something valuable: their freedom, the richest of all prizes, and a small share of the loot, as well.
Those promises had kept the men quiet as the fleet of a dozen wooden vessels had sailed through the calm waters of the Mediterranean and past the coast of southern Spain out into the rough and uncharted waters of the storm tossed Atlantic. The crossing had taken months. This impossibly wide body of water they'd sailed was almost entirely unknown to Marcus and his navigators – they had just kept heading west, sailing into the setting sun.
By the time they'd reached the coast of this strange new land, the dozen boats of his little fleet had become just five. The rest were lost to the waves and water. Strangely, the crew had not despaired; many of them were not-so-secretly pleased that there'd be less men with whom to share the bounty. Such optimism in the face of grave danger was typical of his soldiers and sailors, and it made Marcus proud.
Marcus had no map with which to lead the voyage. All he had were those whispered rumors and half-remembered legends of a land across the wide waters and a river that dwarfed the Nile itself. His remaining five vessels finally reached the eastern shore of an unexplored land – just as the legends prophesized – and rested in a harbor for a full week as the men feasted on fruits and nuts and replenished their stores.
After the sailors, soldiers, and slaves had recuperated from the long voyage, they began to explore the area. Discovering a tribe of small, dark-skinned natives, they attempted to question them about the legendary Amazon warriors. Communication had been difficult, nothing but grunts and whistles and crude sign language. But if Marcus had understood the village chieftain correctly, the story of the Amazon warriors was far from a mythical fairy tale – these strange, fierce women seemed to actually exist. According to the intricate hand gestures of the primitive natives, the women were indeed real – and they were apparently stunning to behold and rather curvaceous.
Marcus knew he might have misunderstood the native creatures, but he didn't think so: he knew lust in a man's eyes when he saw it, and this little dark people clearly lusted after the Amazons they described. But they just as clearly feared them, too. Motioning with his hands, the native chieftain had mimicked fierce swordplay and firing volleys from a boy – it seemed the Amazons were equally skilled with either weapon, and equally eager to use them.
When they were ready to sail again, the downsized fleet headed south – because the natives had pointed in that direction. In less than a day, they stumbled upon the mouth of a mighty river, indeed so vast and wide that it dwarfed any river Marcus had seen before. It bore the name of the Amazons they sought and it was the pathway to the Amazonian kingdom, if the legends were right.
They'd been traveling up river, slowly, for three days. Staring at the jungle-covered banks of the river, staring for some sign of these legendary women. Marcus had posted watches on both sides of each vessel, with orders not to take their eyes off the dense green forests.
He needn't have bothered.
On the morning of the fourth day, it was the Amazons who found them.
Without warning, a flurry of arrows flew from the jungle on the starboard side of the fleet, slapping into the wooden hulled vessels. There were so many arrows that they blotted out the sun. Half a dozen sailors were fatally struck, some of them falling into the water, food for the hungry, lurking crocodiles.
"Sir, we're under attack!" blurted a young captain, Marcus' second in command on the flagship.
Marcus looked at him without emotion. "I can see that," he said. Several arrows impaled themselves on the deck of the ship, right at his feet. Marcus barely flinched, trusting his armor – and the Gods above – to protect him.
"Your orders, my lord?" the captain implored.
"Give the signal for the ships to group together and move towards the port side of the river. Raise the sails and make haste!" Marcus commanded.
In moments, the order was passed to the other commanders with waved flags and semaphores. The ships moved into formation with military discipline, quickly outdistancing the arrows from their unseen enemy.
As they sailed around a bend in the river, the hidden warriors let lose a deep-throated howl that chilled Marcus' blood. It was a distinctly feminine victory cry.
It seemed they had found their quarry.
Another league upriver, the Romans discovered an inlet on the starboard bank. The water was shallow, the beach wide and sandy. On Marcus' order, all five ships dropped anchor just yards from the beach. The water was only chest-deep, and the men jumped over gleefully, happy to be on dry-land for the first time in days.
Marcus called together his officers and quickly drew up a plan. It was the height of simplicity: they would form the men in ranks, circle behind where the archers had fired upon the ships – and destroy their enemy.
The men formed quickly, shields and swords ready, the slaves helping them slip into their armor. Marcus bellowed an order and the lines of Roman warriors began to march forward.
And stopped in their tracks.
It seemed that before they could find the enemy, the enemy had found them.
Three young women stood on the trail before the Romans, glaring up at the tall soldiers with fierce defiance. They were still adolescent girls, none of them yet eighteen years old; the tallest among them was dwarfed by the shortest of the Romans.
Yet they stood there, unafraid and unbowed by the mighty armor of Rome.
The girls wore no armor, just simple tunics made from a single piece of thin fabric. The material clung to their young, nubile forms, revealing tantalizing hints of their young flesh.
The men had been aboard ship for months; the only women they'd seen had been the natives on the coast – who were nothing at all like these young, ripe, tender lovelies. Marcus looked at his men with a stern warning glance, certain for a moment they would mutiny in the face of this seductive temptation.
Marcus took a step forward, hand on the hilt of his broadsword.
To his surprise, the smallest of the girls spoke to him. Her accent was foreign and strange, but she spoke in perfectly clear Latin.
"Are you the leader of these men?" the girl demanded haughtily.
"That I am," the warrior responded. "I am Marcus of Rome, traveler of the high seas and slayer of all that have dared oppose me. And who might you be, little girl?"
Behind him, several of the soldiers chuckled. A glance from Marcus silenced them.
"I am Leila, Princess of the Amazons and emissary of my people," the girl replied, her pale blue eyes still glowing with fierce pride.
"Was it your people – these "Amazons" – who fired on my ships?" Marcus demanded.
"You have indeed seen the power and accuracy of our arrows," Leila answered.
Marcus angrily drew his sword. "Then you must answer for the deaths of my men!" he bellowed, preparing to charge and slaughter the young waifs.
"Stay your hand, warrior!" Leila commanded in a voice far more powerful than one would have imagined coming from her slender form. "I come in peace, with a message from my people. You Romans do honor a truce, do you not?"
Reluctantly, Marcus sheathed his sword. "What is your message?" he demanded.
"You have seen the power of our bows, warrior. If you attempt to defeat us in battle, you may win ... but many of your men will die."
"They are not afraid to die," Marcus growled. "And Roman legionnaires have nothing to fear from little girls." He paused. "Nevertheless, we will hear your message."
Leila smiled, and for the first time Marcus felt uneasy. There was power in that smile, the sweet siren song of seduction. He felt his courage waver. No man on Earth could weaken Marcus' determination, but that innocent face, the promise of untold pleasure in her eyes ... it was almost more than he could bear.
And it was clear that the young girl was aware of her power.
Her smile grew wider. "Marcus of Rome, we offer a wager of sorts. Rather than make war with each other, we offer our greatest warrior to face your mightiest champion in solitary combat. Should we win the day, you will leave our lands forever."
"And if – when – our champion defeats yours?"
The girl cast her eyes downwards. "Should that happen, we will surrender to you. You may do with us what you will."
Marcus didn't know if the girl understood the double entendre in her message, the promise of sexual ecstasy and utter submission, but his men certainly did. He could hear them muttering behind him, and he could feel his own sudden arousal.
He turned to his most trusted advisors, warriors almost as experienced as he. Both men met his gaze, and nodded.
Marcus turned back to Leila. "We have a deal, young princess."
Leila's two companions smiled and giggled, clapping their hands excitedly. Without a word they rushed forward and grabbed Marcus by the hands, pulling him forward.
"What is this?" he asked.
Leila laughed, and the sound was like magical music. "We are taking you and your men to a banquet feast, to fill your bellies before the battle begins."
Marcus frowned, wondering if this was a trap. But his men had heard the offer. To refuse would invite a revolt among the soldiers and sailors.
Finally, he nodded. "We will follow you."
And the platoon of Roman soldiers followed the half-naked young girls deeper into the jungle, watching as they skipped happily ahead.
It was a short march, just a mile or two from the bank of the river. The men, with Marcus leading them, crested a hill and looked down into a clearing. What they saw took their breath away.
Hundreds of the Amazon girls were sitting and standing in a semi-circle, waiting for them. An array of foods had been laid out, fruits and berries and salted meats covering blankets and tables. But it was not the food that left the Romans stunned.
It was the Amazons themselves. All of them – each and every one of them – were beautiful beyond compare, like nothing they'd seen in their previous travels. And they were all so very young; as far as the eye could see there was nothing but scantly clad teenage flesh, brazenly on display. None of the girls seemed to be older than 20. Most seemed closer to 15. They all wore tunics similar to those worn by Leila and her comrades, simple sheaths of clothing that clung to their bodies, revealing lush hips and pert breasts, nipples clearly visible against the thin fabric.
The tunic left little to the imagination. Each time one of the Amazons moved, her flesh jiggled underneath the thin cloth. The men stared, slack-jawed, hunger all but forgotten.
They were suddenly consumed by a very different sort of hunger.
Marcus noted that many of the girls wore short swords at their sides; others had bows slung over their shoulders and quivers of arrows on their backs. Despite their youthful appearance, they were clearly warriors, and they stared at their new enemies with steely gazes.
But it was not yet time for battle.
"Come, let your men enjoy the feast before our champions do battle," Leila urged.
Marcus nodded, and signaled to his troops. The men let out raucous whoops of joy and flooded into the camp, grabbing food and drink in both hands, mesmerized by the beauty that surrounded them.
Leila herself approached Marcus.
"Come, Marcus of Rome. Sit by me," she whispered softly.
Marcus was helpless to refuse. Besides, it would have been impolite. And after all, he was hungry. The girl's sensuous body had – almost – nothing to do with it.
The men feasted as they'd never feasted before, gorging themselves on exotic fruits of a thousand flavors, sampling meats from beasts they'd never encountered before, until their bellies were full to bursting. As the men satisfied their hunger, the lithe young girls mingled among them, pouring their glasses full of sweet berry wine.
But that wasn't all they were doing. As Marcus watched, the girls – dozens of them, maybe hundreds – were cautiously, carefully, but very obviously working to seduce his men. They were all so young, so fresh and ripe, so sweet, that the men could do little to resist their charms.
What these angelic creatures were doing was subtle – but not subtle that Marcus couldn't see the devious genius of their plan. It was a touch here, a laugh there, a shared whisper. As the men began to finish their meals, their attention turned to the young wenches serving the wine.
And Marcus could see that if he didn't act soon, the beautiful young creatures would soon have rendered his men useless as warriors. As Leila and her helpers knelt beside him, feeding him grapes and keeping his own goblet full of intoxicating wine, Marcus could feel his own iron-willed discipline weakening. Leila smelled like summer wildflowers, and her gentle touch, her bare leg brushing against his muscular thigh, was impairing his judgment far more than the wine.
Marcus shook his head to clear his thoughts.
"What is wrong, my lord?" Leila whispered, her breath soft against his cheek.
Marcus grimaced. "I know what it is you are trying to do, evil little woman. And it stops now!"
Marcus stood and bellowed a command. His sailors and warriors glared at him, on the edge of open disobedience. He pulled his sword from its sheath for the second time that day. "Any man who refuses my command will taste my steel," he growled.
The men moved, still slowly and reluctantly, far too slowly for the usually diligent and disciplined Roman soldiers.
But at least they were away from the temptresses. For the moment.
As the men formed ranks, Marcus turned to Leila. "Enough of this drunken debauchery, little girl. It is time to settle this, and time for you to begin your new lives in bondage. Now bring on your champion!"
Leila looked up at him with a mischievous twinkle in her pale blue eyes. "And who will be fighting for the Romans, my lord? Who will be your champion?"
Marcus raised himself up to his full height, towering over the girl. At almost half a foot past six feet, Marcus was a giant among men of his era. Even among the Roman soldiers, few stood tall enough to look him in the eye; the little waif was almost two feet shorter, her head barely up to his mid-chest. He growled once more, baring his teeth and clenching his muscles, veins and tendons standing out like cords of iron.
"I will fight for my army, young one. No go find your champion. Go find a grown up for me to do battle with, while I prepare to slay your warrior," Marcus said in a low, dangerous voice.
He stomped over to his warriors. With a snap of his fingers, several men sprang from the ranks to help Marcus adjust his armor. His sword was quickly polished to a high sheen, his leather-padded steel armor tightened, his crested helmet strapped under his chin, his copper shield buffed so brightly it shone like the sun.
When he turned to face the Amazons, he was a terrible, awesome sight, the mightiest of warriors from the greatest military power the world had ever seen.
He walked into the clearing where the banquet had been set. The other soldiers quickly broke ranks and surrounded him, eager to find a good vantage point to watch the action.
But there was no champion to face him.
Just the young girls, the dozens of young Amazons, seated quietly on the colorful blankets they'd set out earlier. Only Leila stood there, looking at him. She wore no armor. At her side, she had only the short sword she'd worn earlier. All that had changed was her tunic: while the other girls still wore the pale lime green that seemed the standard uniform of the tribe, Leila had changed into something soft and pink, almost peach in color. The cloth was, if any thing, thinner than the other tunics, almost entirely transparent. It was shorter, too, barely falling below the gentle curve of her taut, supple bottom, barely covering her sex.
Emotions raged in Marcus' heart, his sudden lust competing with his angry fury. He felt himself stiffen – and felt himself weaken, as desire threatened to overpower his discipline.
But he was a Roman soldier, a champion born of heroes. And he was the master of his own desires. Even before a beauty as delectable as this.
He drew his sword, pulling it from its sheath with a wicked metallic shriek. "Enough, girl, where is your champion? I tire of this!" Marcus was eager for battle, his blood boiling.