By: Umair Mirxa

Andromeda put down her pen, pushed the stack of documents away, and rose stiffly from the chair behind her desk. The steak sandwich on her coffee table, left unattended and half forgotten, had gone stale hours ago. She wrinkled her nose at it, arched her back in a long stretch, and walked over to the window.

The knock on her door nearly inspired a scream of frustration. Her eyes stung from reading through hundreds of pages, and her wrist was sore from taking the necessary notes. She had worked all morning, with barely a break, and she was still behind. It was the curse of her profession. No matter how hard or long she worked, the pile of documents on her desk never seemed to shrink.

"Enter," she said, grudgingly straightening her posture and turning toward the door. The day ahead of her promised no time to rest, and for an instant, she regretted the hours she'd already spent working.

"My lady," said Malaeka, her apprentice, curtseying as she entered the study. "The delegations from Hathor, Freya, and Tethys have arrived. Representatives from Morrígan have been seen on the road and will reach the city presently. Your presence has been requested in the court room."

"How long?"

"An hour, my lady. It should give Morrígan's ambassadors time enough to rest and be refreshed."

"Good. Do me a favour, and find me something to eat, please. I am ravenous."

"What shall I bring you?"

"Anything fresh that is not a sandwich. Take the one on the coffee table with you, and have it fed to the griffins. At least, it won't be wasted."

"Certainly, my lady," said Malaeka with another curtsey.

Andromeda observed her apprentice for a moment, appraising the girl's slender form with a smile as she bent gracefully to pick up the sandwich, and holding it at arm's length from her wrinkled nose, made her way from the room. A long, heavy sigh escaped her as she turned to look out her window again.

From her vantage, Andromeda could see where the front courtyard met the acropolis' main gate, flanked by its watchtowers. Past the gate, a paved brick road leading up to the citadel wound its way down the rolling green hill and disappeared into the city of Themis. Far in the distance, beyond the strip of forest on the city's northern borders, were the docks, and the Bay of Artemis. A ship lay perpetually in anchor off the coast to mark the spot from which Artemis had first espied the land on which Themis now stood and envisioned a new capital city for her people.

Surrounded by lush forest on all sides, Themis was the youngest city on the planet, Hestia. In deference to its founder, the Lady Artemis, who bore a great love for the wilderness, the city had been planned and built so it seemed to grow out of the forest itself. The exquisite architecture of its buildings had required tonnes of wood in addition to carved stone, and yet, no living trees had been cut down. Born and bred on Hestia nearly three centuries after the first humans had appeared on it, Andromeda yet believed with all her heart that even Earth couldn't boast of a city quite as beautiful.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a second knock on her door, and then captivated by an entirely different sort of beauty. Malaeka had returned, carefully balancing an overladen tray.

"I have brought you shawarma, kotopita, and kladdkaka, my lady," she announced, arranging pots, platters, and flagons on the coffee table. "You also have fresh orange juice, and a steaming pot of coffee."

"I wasn't aware I was hosting a party," said Andromeda with a chuckle, moving to her desk and separating a sheaf of documents from the rest. "The shawarma would have been enough. I'll have it with some orange juice, please."

"You need to eat, my lady. You have a long day ahead."

"Haven't I asked you to drop the formality, and simply call me by name?"

"You have. Many times, my lady," said Malaeka, wilfully ignoring her and seeming utterly unabashed for it. "Do you need those papers delivered?"

"Why, yes," said Andromeda, shaking her head with amusement. "Yes, I do. See these into Lady Katelyn's hands yourself and tell her I expect her discretion. Once you're done, meet me in the court room."

"I am to attend the council?"

"Indeed," said Andromeda with a warm smile, her heart skipping a beat at the excitement she saw in Malaeka's eyes. "I think it is a great opportunity for you to learn, and I do believe you have earned it."

"Thank you," said Malaeka, trading the food in her hands for the papers in Andromeda's, and then gave her a deep curtsey. "Thank you so much, my lady."


Andromeda made her way through the citadel, her thoughts torn between her gorgeous, young apprentice and the council to which she had been summoned. She could well imagine the reaction if those thoughts were to be revealed at court. There were many, in Themis and beyond, who had never forgiven nor forgotten her meteoric yet unprecedented rise to the rank she had achieved.

In many ways, the breath–taking vista from her study's window had defined her path in life. She had been delivering letters on her mother's behalf when she had seen it for the first time. It was the room's previous occupant, the Lady Zuleikha herself, who had told her she could see it every day for the rest of her life if she so desired.

The next day, at twelve years old, Andromeda had become apprentice to the Grand Royal Historian of Hestia. Anyone and everyone with whom she shared the news in her excitement over the following days had mocked her. The daughter of the Mail Warden could never ascend to such an honoured title, they said. The Lady Zuleikha had simply taken pity on a poor girl, they laughed. She would never amount to more than a glorified servant, they insisted.

Over the next twelve years, a young Andromeda had proven them all wrong. She had mastered all six languages spoken on the planet and memorized every recorded detail of Hestia's history for the past three centuries.

Each evening, once she was dismissed by her mistresses, she would spend long hours labouring over mathematical problems, treatises on Hestian politics, law, finance, and trade, monographs on the different religions and cultures of both Earth and Hestia, and dissertations dealing with a dozen other subjects, including physics, anthropology, botany, zoology, geography, warfare, astrology, and navigation across the oceans and the stars.

The Amazons, Valkyries, and Samurai who trained her in the martial arts boasted of her prowess in stealth and combat and claimed they had never before been blessed with such a student. She would rise early each morning, and train with sword and bow and horse before reporting to the Lady Zuleikha for her daily duties.

Andromeda had learned everything necessary for a historian to know, excelled at every task required of her, passed all the tests she was put through with flying colours, and she had done it all better and faster than the other, high–born apprentices.

It was, therefore, a matter of little surprise to most, and of great envy to some, when in the twenty–fifth year of her life, and with the blessing of Queen Bathsheba, the retiring Lady Zuleikha had anointed Andromeda her successor, and the youngest ever Grand Royal Historian of Hestia.

Now, as she entered the court room ten years later, Andromeda wondered what Lady Zuleikha would say if she were to discover her former protégé's hopes of taking her only daughter for a lover.


The court room of the acropolis of Themis had been designed to comfortably accommodate a crowd five hundred strong, yet there had barely been room enough to stand when Andromeda walked through the doors.

Each visiting ambassador had brought a retinue larger than expected, not willing to be upstaged by another. Not on the most important day in Hestia's history for nearly two centuries. Not when the entire royal family, all the realm's nobility, and every woman of rank and riches were gathered together under one roof.

Andromeda weaved her way through, bowing and curtseying so often her back had begun to ache by the time she arrived at the raised platform upon which sat the throne. She bowed to her queen, the princess, and to the Royal Council of Themis.

"Ah, Lady Andromeda," said Queen Bathsheba, grinning widely. "How fare you today? One hopes you are excited and well prepared on this momentous occasion."

"I am, Your Majesty," said Andromeda with a deep curtsey. "By your leave?"

Dismissed with a casual wave of the hand, Andromeda took her designated place to the left of the platform. Her eyes roamed until they alighted upon Malaeka, whom she summoned to her side, and her knees nearly buckled at the dazzling smile she received in response.

"Observe carefully everything you see today," said Andromeda, leaning toward her apprentice and breathing in the intoxicating perfume of her skin. "Listen closely to all that is said, and pay attention to what is left unsaid. Commit every little detail, even the slightest gesture, to memory."

The ambassadors from Morrígan arrived ten minutes later. They were the only four males of either species, human or Hestian, present in Themis – given leave to enter the city due to special circumstance. They were also the first of their gender to ever step foot inside the acropolis. If and when males were ever allowed in Themis, they were usually restricted to certain sections of the lower city.

Distracted more than she had ever been before, Andromeda found her attention wandering as formal banalities were exchanged. For once, she cared not at all about matters of state.

She felt certain, the more she thought about it, that the Lady Zuleikha would not disapprove of a relationship between Malaeka and her. Even if critical at first, she could be persuaded to give her blessing. The old lady still commanded a lot of respect at court, and Andromeda could ill afford her as an enemy. Perhaps if she asked for Malaeka's hand in marriage?

Andromeda's first marriage had been the one great failure in her life, and she readily accepted all blame for it. Forever devoted to her work, she had rarely, if ever, paid attention to her wife's needs and concerns. Any physical intimacy between them had been all too brief and sporadic, and non–existent for years now. Would it prove a point of contention for the old lady?

Her wife, Cassandra, having taken many a lover to bed in Andromeda's absence, would certainly not object to a divorce. Surely, the queen would grant it too, for was the matriarchy on Hestia not founded so her denizens could enjoy just such liberties?

Three centuries ago, twelve goddesses from half a dozen pantheons had gathered together twelve hundred women from every known race, culture, and religion on Earth. In their ranks were warriors including Amazons, Valkyries, Samurai, scholars and scribes, farmers, artists, minstrels, healers, scientists, smiths, and artisans skilled in every craft imaginable. Two hundred men, as well, were chosen – those who possessed honour, strength, and virility.

Together, they boarded six gigantic Viking ships prepared as space–faring vessels by the goddess Freya and journeyed to the stars in search of a new home.

Three long Earth–years it took before they finally found a planet both suitable and desirable enough to settle. Hestia they named it, in honour of the goddess of hearth and home, and slowly subjugated the local population. The first three cities they conquered and renamed them Hathor, Freya, and Tethys. A century later, Themis was established and replaced Hathor as the capital city for humans. The goddesses thereafter withdrew from all mortal affairs and retired to a shrine dedicated to them in Tethys.

Women ruled supreme in all matters of the human empire on Hestia, and a queen had been elected from amongst the mortals even when the goddesses held sway. The men from Earth and all subsequent male descendants were stationed in a village outside Freya. They were chosen mostly as mates for reproductive purposes only, though women who so desired were free to marry and live among them.

The aboriginal people of Hestia had been allowed to live freely, govern themselves, and even trade with the humans after the initial wave of conquest. Peace had reigned for nearly two centuries before a rebel Hestian faction had risen in revolt, and perpetrated raids against Hathor and its surrounding farms and villages. The war had lasted for almost two decades, and had won the humans another Hestian city which they now called Morrígan.

The rebellion's leaders, the ambassadors from Morrígan, had arrived to offer their surrender and the keys to their city, and to sign an everlasting peace treaty with the humans. It was the first expansion of the human empire since the founding of Themis.

Andromeda had been summoned to court so she could, in her role as the Grand Royal Historian of Hestia, bear witness to the events and record them for posterity. She wrenched her thoughts back to the present and off Malaeka, and with a stroke of immense luck, did so just in time. "Do not move from here," she whispered tersely in Malaeka's ear, pulling her behind a pillar.

The rebel leaders had all knelt before the queen as one when Andromeda saw movement from the corner of her eye. She had been trained to always be aware of her surroundings, and to notice immediately any anomalies in her environment. In three swift strides, she was upon the Hestian trying to sneak his way through the crowd.

There was the flash of a dagger, a loud scream, and then a desperate, gurgling sound. It was over quicker than it had begun. The assassin lay dead in a pool of his own blood at Andromeda's feet, his throat slit open.


Andromeda walked down the streets of Themis, hand in hand with Malaeka, taking in the sights and sounds of the festival. It had been a week since Morrígan's surrender. The rebel leaders had been executed for treason three days ago, and their decapitated heads even now decorated the city's walls.

"What did mother say?" asked Malaeka, turning around suddenly to face her.

"She told me she loves me," said Andromeda, a smile dancing upon her lips as she pulled Malaeka closer. "She said I can court your affections with her blessing."

"What of the queen? I will not be a kept woman."

"I wouldn't dream of it. The queen has graciously agreed to grant me a divorce, and with your mother's permission, I can finally ask: will you marry me?"

The Grand Royal Historian of Hestia dropped to one knee in the middle of the street, holding up a ring for her young apprentice.

"Why, yes," said Malaeka, laughing and crying at once as she wrapped her arms around Andromeda's neck and pulled her into a deep, long kiss. "Yes, I will marry you, my lady."



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