Unmarried Women In Wartime

Ezra Azra


© Copyright 2023 by Ezra Azra

Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons, with Herakles between Amazons courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons, with Herakles between Amazons courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Kalendri and Nezhthra, identical twin sisters, are engaging in intense spectacular practice sword-fighting inside a home that is obviously a poor family's home. The sisters are highly accomplished in sword-play. They stop; sword-salute each other, and flop into the two of four wood home-made chairs at the table. They fan themselves with makeshift fans. They mop their faces with handkerchiefs from the pockets of their dresses. They sip water from cups.

Think we are good enough to join the Trojan army?

Of course. When Trojan men accept we Trojan women know to wield a sword as well as we wield kitchen cutlery.

Our Trojan men? Hah! Perhaps. A million years, from now.

You think? That soon?

Think our progress would have pleased our brother Vestrin?

Absolutely. Father, too. Their weapons in our hands are being used more than ever they were in their hands.

Perhaps we should let up a bit.

No. Not a whit. Our Father taught us, ‘Strike as if you want to break the sword---.’

---for only then will you generate the highest energy deserves to win.’

And so did Vestrin teach us, too.

Let's risk a visit to his grave today? We haven't been in weeks.

Alright. But be prepared for it isn't there.
I know. Barbarian Greek soldiers dig up Trojan warriors' graves for worship rituals."

I so wish we come upon them in the act.

Me, too. I will delight to break Vestrin's sword inside a blasphemous Greek.

There's comfort Father died at sea. No risk of desecration by barbarian Greeks.

I would so delight in cutting into Greek meat.

Me, too.

Your mention of meat is making me hungry.

Cannot remember when last I ate meat.

We should have been vegetarians. Mom was. Why didn't we take after her?

Kalendri, you don't remember? She told us.

She did?

Yes. You and I were born without tonsils during this war. She hadn't eaten meat for years. Mom said that no tonsils was a lucky sign. She said eating meat would grow back tonsils and bring bad luck.

I remember. Sorry, Mom.

And so, forget about killing Greek soldiers for their meat.

Besides, a Greek soldier fights so furiously, he is like unhealthy fast food fighting back.

They laugh, and playfully throw light things at each other.

I think I dreamt of Mom.


Teaching us to swim in the Skamander river.

Kalendri, it wasn't Mom who taught us how to swim. Was Dad. And not in the Skamander river. In rock pools that filled up when it rained. We knew about Skamander, but did not know where it was.

I know all that.

Then why a dream so filled with falsehoods?

I do not know. Why was I born with no tonsils? I don't know. Nobody knows. Anyway, Elizabeth Sneddon our teacher told us dreams are figurative, rather than truthful. So there!

Kalendri smirks. Nezhthra sulks, I've never dreamt of Mom.

You've never dreamt of any one. You're a no-dreams freak, just as we are no-tonsils freaks.

I saw a red Cat on the roof today.

All kinds of weird animals around, ever since those Greeks invaded.

I swear it moved its lips. Like it was talking.

Mom said Cats do not talk because they're bored. They've heard it all so many times before.

Wasn't Mom allergic to Cats?

I think so. Dad, too.

And, yet, none of the children.

We don't know, yet. We've never been near enough to a Cat.

I think this one is a domestic Cat. It sat, and stared at me.

Could be a wild Cat, assessing you for the kind of meat you will taste like.

Do we have anything to eat?

There's that Cat.

That's not funny.

I'm so hungry, that Cat is on the menu. By the way, it would have made more sense if I had been the first to see that Cat.

Why you?

The nickname Vestrin tagged me with?

Heckitty! Vestrin's queen of Cats!

And 'Ahnk-Ezhthra.' Ancient Ethiopian-Egyptian word for Cat."

I'm really hungry. Let's go find that wild fruit tree.

Let's hope it's still around. We have been lucky no one else has discovered it in all these warring months.

Because we've hidden it so well.

It's time we think of planting more. There is no telling just how long this war will last.

The more fruit trees there are, the harder it will be for us to keep them hidden. So far, this far away in nowhere has been our best of luck.

And luckier for a river near the tree.

A river? More like a puddle, dear sister mine. Hunger is weakening your mind. By now, a river would have been discovered.

Let's hope the war does not arrive this far.

Let's not rely on hope. We have to start to plan about that cave home in the mountains Father used to take us to, before the war.

We haven't been there since the war began.

Since Mother died before the war.

I don't think I could find the way.

Mountains can't be hard to find. Once there and safe from war, we'll take our time to find the cave.

And what if someone else is there?

If someone else is already there, that means we won't have trouble finding it ourselves.

Shhhhh! Listen! They remain motionless as they listen.

Kalendri, whispering, A horse?

Nezhthra, whispering, Galloping this way?

Soldiers! Let's get out the back!

Wait, until we know which way they are coming from.

She hurries to the front door, and opens it a little.
Nezhthra, you're opening the door?

If it is closed, they'll kick it down. Go, open the back door. Then let's go out the window in the other room!

Kalendri heads one way; Nezhthra the other. They stop when they hear a voice calling out from outside.
Kalendri! Nezhthra! The Sisters look at each other. They speak in unison, Horsin?

Kalendri, excitedly, That voice I'd know were I stone deaf!

They hurry to the door. Before they get there, Horsin pushes her way in, carrying two large heavy bags, playfully scolding them, Do not just stand there. Help me.

They help her carry the bags to the table. Horsin is dressed as a man. She wears a cap. When the bags are on the table, Horsin hugs Kalendri and Nezhthra in turn.

These bags! So heavy!

What ever's in them, Horsin?

Horsin replies, while unpacking the bags on the table.

Food. Eat. Do not mind me. I can't stay long. The food in boxes, eat today, tomorrow. The rest is army food. Will last for weeks.

The sisters select items and eat at the table. Horsin goes to the door and closes it.

Do not leave doors ajar, good people. There's a war going on, you know. The back door?

Kalendri, while eating, sitting at the table, It's closed. Thanks, Horsin.

Horsin sits on a chair at the table. She takes off her cap. She sips from a small bottle she takes out of her pocket.

Nezhthra, while eating, You are an angel, Horsin. We can't thank you enough for all of this.

The both of you are more than welcome. Last best friends this war has left me.

How did you come by all this food?

I do not care. I am too famished. I'm so grateful, Horsin.

The Royal Palace.

The sisters stop eating and stare at Horsin.

I work there, now.

They look at each other for a second before shrugging and returning to eating.

Since when?

About a month.

Won't this much food be missed?

Not at all. King Priam has decreed poor people get free food. The problem is, poor people are so hard to find during this idiotic war.

That's not because we poor people have grown wealthy, Horsin.

It is because we are running from the war as far away we can afford.

The second reason I came here, is to give you some good news.

Wide-eyed, in unison, The war has ended! We won!

Sorry. Not that good; but close enough. She lowers her voice to a whisper, There is a plan to save civilians from the war. I think, but I'm not sure, it is Princess Cassandra's plan.

Kalendri, quizzicly, whispering, too, Princess Cassandra? She they say is mad?

Insane or not, it is a chance poor folk like you and me are given for us to flee this war.

Nezhthra, whispering, Why are we whispering?"

Horsin, whispering, We are whispering because the plan is for the ears of only people who are poor. The Princess is allowed to freely mingle with the poor because King Priam has declared she is insane. While she is mad, she does not need attendant guards. That makes it easier for her to keep her secret.

Horsin, does anyone know why the King, her own Father, says she's mad?

I don't know. My guess is because the Princess freely tells everyone that, Apollo, god almighty of the glorious sun, repeatedly requests her to be the mother of his child, he guarantees her will be a son.

Horsin rolls her eyes. The sisters, not pausing their eating, stare at her wide-eyed. Horsin continues, conspiratorially, The Princess claims she has repeatedly refused Apollo's love because she does not want to be a mother in these times of war.

Nezhthra, That's my girl!

Kalendri, To hades with all the gods, I say! She bites into some food to energetically punctuate her spoken thought.

I'm with you, sister. To hades with them! Horsin raises her bottle to them, and takes a swig.

Horsin continues, Princess Cassandra choosing the company of only people who are poor, her Royal family sees as certain proof she is insane. Greek soldiers on the battlefield stay far away from her. I'm one of those selected by the King himself, to secretly help implement Cassandra's secret plan. The two of you can qualify.

Kalendri, Can qualify? We are already poor! We qualify already, Horsin!

There is one other thing.

Nezhthra, Uh-oh. Why don't I like the sound of that ‘one other thing’, Horsin? Both sisters stare at Horsin.

Horsin, Married couples only.

The sisters look at each other.

Kalendri, Then, that is that. We will never qualify."
Nezhthra, Horsin, dear, it's not that we do not want to qualify. This war has made unmarried men so scarce. There has been none in sight in months and months.

As long as you are open to the possibility, there's hope. A soldier injured in the line of duty, is free to choose to leave the army. A Palace worker, like me, easily can get this information for you.

Kalendri, Hah! Some choice we have. To free ourselves from war we must get shackled to a cripple. Sister mine, express a thought. Please!"

Nezhthra, to Horsin, Once a couple reaches freedom far from Troy, they can dissolve their marriage?

Horsin, Of course, O bright one of the family. But don't let that intent be known; not even to your crippled intended.

All three exchange satisfaction with the intended subterfuge.

Kalendri, And just where away from Troy will we married poor escape the war?

Horsin, Where Greeks and Trojans are mere words. The land of Parthia.

Nezhthra, Parthia? I vaguely remember that name.

Kalendri, I've never heard of it.

Nezhthra, Far, far to the East at the ends of the World, towards the Tigris River?

Horsin, Yes. I repeat, O bright one of the family. It's claimed a settlement already has been started there. A town the Princess named in memory of her Mother's Mother. Nineveh.

Kalendri, It's claimed? It is not certain, then?

Horsin, In my position as a servant, nothing can be certain. We chosen few among the Palace workers get instructions by written notes found in our pockets. We can't be certain, even, that Princess Cassandra is indeed the founder of the Movement.

Written notes?

Uh-huh. That's why we are so few. Most workers cannot read or write. I'm sure most of the nobles cannot. King Priam sometimes says things make me think he's proud he cannot read and write.

Kalendri, Everybody in our family could, and can.

Nezhthra, And we're still waiting for the benefits. It's now been months since we had anything to read.

Kalendri, And longer, a need to write anything.

Horsin, On my next visit, I'll bring you books to read, and means for you to write. We are being sent out more often to find poor people now that Prince Hector has died in battle.

Nezhthra, Prince Hector's dead? When did that happen?

Horsin, By all the gods, good friends, it's been weeks.

Kalendri, If the heir to Troy is dead, there goes Troy. That much I know.

Horsin, Kalendri, many Trojan warriors have been performing mighty deeds, unnoticed in the shadow of Prince Hector.

Nezhthra, facetiously, Now that Prince Hector's gone, does that affect our husband chances?

Horsin, It cannot make them easier.
I gave up long before Prince Hector's death.

Horsin, you were selected as a helper. Ask to be exempted from being married.

Horsin, You've read my thoughts. But just in case. I'm planning other options.

You care to share?

Horsin, Not just yet. When something works for me, I'll definitely share with both of you.

You are a good friend, Horsin.

The only friend still cares enough to visit us.

Best of thanks to both of you. But don't be hard on others, Nezhthra. These are times in which we best be selfish for our safety, more than what we would normally prefer to be.

Horsin, you walked this far, alone?

Kalendri, I rode my horse this far, alone.

Kalendri and Nezhthra look at each other, wide-eyed.

Nezhthra, The horse! We quite forgot the horse!

Kalendri, to Horsin, We heard a horse galloping this way.

Horsin, smiling, My horse, and me.

You own a horse?

I ride it; but it isn't mine. It's Palace issue. Thoroughbred Trojan Horse.

The Palace issues women servants horses?

Yes, but only since the war is not going well for Troy. There is serious shortage of military-age young men.

Wow! Can we get jobs---

---and horses?

Of course. There are more jobs available than can be filled, at any time, since men are in such short supply.

I'll take whatever job that comes with my own horse.

Me, too. I'll clean outhouses, even. There is an outburst of laughter.

Okay, but, please don't state that on the application form.

Where do we get the application forms?

The Palace. But don't come there. I'll bring you forms within a day or two.

Thank you, Horsin. You're so true a friend.

Yes, so very true a Trojan friend, Horsin.

And so have you two been to me. Here, I have something for the both of my best friends. She reaches into her pocket and retrieves two necklace chains, each with a figure of a horse at the end. She hands one to each. They are overwhelmed.

Horsin continues, The last of trophies Prince Hector raided from the Greeks. Three horse charms. Pure gold. The third. She shows them the one around her neck.

Here, let me do the honours. She goes to each, and puts the chain around her neck. She kisses each on the cheek. She goes back to her chair.

You say Prince Hector took them from the Greeks. How did you come by them?

Soon after Hector's cowardly assassination by Achilles, King Priam rid the Palace of all trophies Hector raided from the Greeks. In anger, some were flung into the fire; others to the floor. We workers picked up stuff for days and days.

The King flung away pure gold?

We say it's gold. We do not know for certain. You know those invading, Greeks. A bunch of crooks and liars.

And cowardly murderers.

They killed our brother.

Horsin raises her bottle of liquid, and swigs a toast, Crooks and liars. Murderers! Degenerates, to boot!

They probably think that of us. Remember, someone wisely said that ‘War is hell.’

Nezhthra, with theatrical flair, ‘Bellum est infernum!’ The others cheer, clap.

Horsin, A mystery thing about these trinkets we discovered is that they exert magnetic pull on each another.

Magnetic gold?

A sure sign they're not gold, Horsin.

Perhaps. As fake as everything that's Greek in Troy. We servants in the Palace played hide-and=seek. The persons wearing them located one another right away. At night, in total darkness.

Kalendri, Of real value when we have to run and hide in times of war.

If ever this war scatters the three of us, we'll easily find one another.

Horsin, those powers will be really tested in this shack. We haven't afforded to buy oil for lamps, in months.

Horsin, indicating the charms, A small but real comfort in these troubled times, my dear friends. Wherever you two are, I'm sure to find you if you are wearing these Greek horses.

Kalendri, Let's hope the time comes soon we'll always be on our own Palace-issue Trojan horses.

Even if it's to and from a Palace outhouse. Gentle laughter.

Have the two of you heard about Lady Cressida?

Any ‘Lady’ is too uppity for us to know, Horsin.

I know I've never heard of her, Horsin.

Diomedes? Prince Troilus?

Nope. Nope.

Just a minute. Prince Troilus? Warrior Prince? Prince Hector’s brother?

Yes. Younger brother to Prince Hector. Heir to King Priam's throne now that Prince Hector's dead.

Kalendri, Good gods! I am that ignorant? Hey, hold on! Diomedes! I've heard that name. I remember wondering what an unusual Trojan name.

Unusual to you, sister mine, Trojan you, because it is not Trojan. It is Greek!

Horsin, with a theatrical curtsey, O brilliant one, my many thanks to you.

Kalendri, mumbling as she eats, Yeah, yeah. They're all Greek to me, anyway.

Horsin, in good humour, Careful, Kalendri. Confusing Greeks with Trojans makes you seem a spy. A Greek spy masquerading as a Trojan.

"My sister a spy? That'll be the day I eat a horse. Trojan or Greek.

Everybody laughs; Kalendri, eating, chokes somewhat.

Well, sisters, it has been fun, as usual. Now, for me, it's back to the Palace and to hard work. One last tasty morsel for you to chew on. Rumor is, Troilus, Prince and heir, he is secretly in a romantic affair with a Commoner.

A common Commoner?

A Prince consorting with a Commoner?

Horsin, Uh-huh. To both questions.

Kalendri, I love you ever and forever, Horsin; but Troilus being a prince, let us not gossip.

Not even Palace gossip?

Nezhthra, That's an oxymoron, Horsin.

Kalendri, Nezhthra, eat. This might be our last supper.

Nezhthra, Is certainly our first in months.

Kalendri, This is good food, Horsin, even if it's Palace leftovers.

Yes. Thank you.

Horsin, Uh-uh. Not leftovers. Straight from the Palace pantries. Not stolen. I'm one of many volunteers taking food to poor Trojans, remember?

Kalendri, When we're accepted, that's the work for us.

Yes. Food delivery by Trojan horse.

Horsin, getting up and heading for the door. Puts her cap on. The sisters get up, too.

I have to go. The very best of luck to both of you in finding men to marry.

The best of luck to you, too, Horsin.

Thanks for coming all this way to let us know about Princess Cassandra's Parthia. When we are riding Trojan horses, we'll extend our search for Trojan husbands far and wide.

Horsin hugs each of them in turn, and opens the door to exit. She quickly closes the door and turns to them, and whispers.

Almost forgot. Have you heard the rumour there's a Greek spy working undercover in the Palace?


Horsin, And working with a Greek General. Might even be his wife.

Nezhthra, We don't get even ordinary rumors, being this far away. That rumor's far away not ordinary.

Kalendri, Particularly rumors concerning Greeks.

Horsin, Spread it around. The more who know, the more likely spies are caught.

She opens the door, and pauses, Do you have a red Cat?


But there's a wild one hangs out around here.

Nezhthra, You saw it, Horsin?

Saw it? It was sitting on your doorstep when I arrived. The beastie hissed at me and spooked my horse!

On our doorstep? It's not our Cat.

Glad to repeat it, Horsin. Not our Cat.

This might have been its home before our time.

This hasn't always been your home?

No. We've been here only months. Our parents owned a place near the City before the war. We had to flee.

We ran for days. We came upon this run-down place. Overgrown with bush and bugs.

Sorry. I haven't known any of this.

Blame the war.

Anyway, that red Cat spooked my pure-bred Trojan horse. I have a mind to kill the beast.

The red Cat or your Trojan horse?

Horsin, you are our friend; that Cat is not. Go, kill it. Eat it; for all we care."

Just share some of the meat with us.

Yes. It looks well-fed.

You have my promise. When I come again, fat-cat fillet's on the menu.

All three laugh. In the midst of the fun, Kalendri, in puzzling fun, Horsin, do you have tonsils?

Nezhthra is mortified; through her teeth, Kalendri!

What? It's a harmless question. Nothing to do with this stupid war all around us.

Horsin, to Kalendri, Tonsils? Which ones, Kalendri? There are six, at least, spread over four kinds.

She revels friendly in her pedantry. There's Adenoidal, also known as Pharyngeal or Nasopharyngeal. One Tubal. Two Palatine, known also as the Faucial tonsils. And there's that whole collection known as Lingual tonsils growing out the tongue's root.

Teasingly pleased with herself, pretending to expect applause.

Nezhthra, looking sternly at Kalendri. Thank you Horsin. Satisfied? She turns to Horsin and softens her tone.

Sorry about that question, Horsin. We were born without the two tonsils at the back of the mouth. Kalendri has always felt that makes us lesser persons.

Horsin, with a smile, Kalendri, to the contrary, best friend! The both of you are the very best of persons in my life. There is absolutely nothing lesser than either of you.

From outside, loud neighing of a horse.

My horse! Must be that Cat! Again! That's it! I'm killing it!

Horsin dashes out the door. Nezhthra and Kalendri hurry to the doorway to see her off. They wave goodbye to her. They close the door. Kalendri returns to sit at the table. She slumps her head, face down, on her forearms on the table.

I'm sorry, Nezhthra. I had no control. It just tumbled out of my mouth.

Nezhthra pulls up a chair, sits next to Kalendri, and puts her arm around her sister.

Nezhthra, softly. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been so harsh. Your question took me by surprise.

There is a long silence.

Did Horsin say we could be helpful catching spies?

Spies caught by us? What a laugh? I see a spy, I'm skedaddling the other way.

And don't you dare leave me behind.

They start packing away the food on the table.

Horsin did say Nineveh?

Princess Cassandra's  Mother's Mother's name.

Seconds of silence. Nezhthra looks at, and fingers the horse charm at the end of the chain around her neck. She speaks softly.

I feel ungrateful.

About what?

About feeling uneasy I'm wearing this Greek horse.

It could be gold. Worth more than all we've ever owned. And we have twice as much. With these, we can afford to buy our way to Parthia. We don't need husbands nor Princess Cassandra's Nineveh.

Softly, Kalendri, these horses are from Greece. First ever Greeks to enter Troy.

Seconds of silence. Kalendri takes up and looks at her necklace-horse.

Kalendri, softly, And brought into Troy by Prince Hector, the greatest of Trojans.

A long silence.

Nezhthra, pensively, softly, Kalendri, eventually, our Troy will fall. And when that happens we will not be safe, though this far from the City.

Kalendri, It's hopeless. It has been more than months we've seen possible husbands. She notices her sister has a slight smile on her face. What?

Nezhthra, We have been looking in wrong places, sister. 

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