Authors: Chris Anne Wolfe
Before her death in July 1997, beloved lesbian-feminist author Chris Anne Wolfe published two Amazon adventure novels –
Shadows of Aggar
Fires of Aggar.
But these two volumes are only the first half of the four-part Aggar cycle. Chris Anne also published two stand-alone novels – a time-bending romance,
Annabel and I
, and a retelling of Beauty and the Beast,
Roses and Thorns
As her publisher and friend, I was honored to inherit the manuscripts of Chris Anne’s remaining novels, short stories, poetry and songs. These hand-written volumes include both remaining Aggar books –
Sands of Aggar
Oceans of Aggar
– and more than a dozen retold fairy tales, and original fantasy and contemporary novels. In 2012, with help from Rebecca Fitzgerald, Skye Montague and readers from all over the world, we launched Amazons Unite, a publishing house dedicated to Chris Anne’s work and other stories set on Aggar. Only Amazons Unite has the right to publish Chris Anne’s work and we take great pride in that mission. Find out more about Amazons Unite’s efforts to bring Chris Anne’s books to the public and how you can help at www. ChrisAnneWolfe.com
As a storyteller of Valley Bay, I’ve tried to keep my skills of weaving words alive. It’s difficult at times to find the light... the energy... to do this weaving but I know the words keep me alive. History... our herstory... must be preserved. For Valley Bay is no more and the wind howling through forests and ruins still burns my eyes with ash. I know it isn’t real but that doesn’t stop the tears.
“I’ve been hiding in the ruins of the Council’s Keep for fourteen days, but I’ll be leaving at dawn. It’s too dangerous to stay. New hunters come every day, searching for survivors. They’ll kill me if they find me.
“I don’t know how many of our records will survive the purging. I hope someday someone hears my story and remembers once there were Amazons on Aggar. Once we stood with Blue Sights and seers to defend against the Terran invasion and we were rewarded with death and disease.
“It’s been three years now since the Terrans attacked. We thought we’d seen the last of them hundreds of years ago, but it was only a stalemate.
“One hundred fifty years ago, the rulers of the Ramains moved the marauding Clan, survivors of the first Terran occupation, into the north. They didn’t consider the Changelings who already lived there. The Clan and Changelings destroyed each other and the Changelings were all but eradicated. What was left of the Clan hid for generations, developing technologies and sending wayward messages to Terran homeworlds. When they were finally heard by their brethren, they threw us away as we had thrown them away. They helped the Terrans circumvent the forces and defenses of Aggar. They helped them invade.
“The invaders targeted the Blue Sights first. A shower of biochemical warfare, nanobots unleashed into the atmosphere programmed to assassinate anyone with the Sight or carrying the gene. We weren’t able to counter it. It was a massacre. Our sisters and friends dropped dead by the hundreds. Almost all the gifted perished.
“And then the ships descended, as if falling from the sky. I was there when Valley Bay burned. My
… she died when the Council Keep fell. All that’s left of the ancient stronghold is dust and debris, broken rooms and hidden spaces filled with shadows.
“In the end, we were victorious. I suppose. Though it hardly felt that way. Through magic and military tactics we fought back, forcing the Terrans off Aggar but the cost was great. Perhaps too great.
“Our seers are dead now. I fear the Blue Sights are lost forever. Valley Bay is ash and my sisters are scattered. The residents of Aggar have blamed the invasion on the Amazons and hunt us down, trying to remove all non-natives from their brutalized land.
“I hear rumors on the wind. There are sympathetic tribes in the deserts willing to hide the sisters of
. I intend to find them if I can survive the journey. Perhaps some of my sisters have found safe harbor there as well.
“We have been on Aggar now for centuries. My ancestors were born and raised here. I thought we were one people. That we were one with this world. But angry eyes, eyes still mourning, see us no differently than the Terrans that wanted to pillage Aggar for her resources.
“I pray to the Goddesses that this record is found in a more peaceful time. That sisters who come after me will discover these words and be amazed that Aggar – our Aggar – was once so hostile to our kind.”
The music was frenzied with the tin rhythms of shaker bells and tambourines. The pipes, then the fiddles, were lost in a quickening, dizzying, rushing beat that drove the dancer faster and faster. Jacquin’s hair swirled in long ebony tangles, the muscles in her calves and thighs taut as she sprang, her back arched almost impossibly, weaving her body into a living tapestry, tangled and spinning across the desert square. Crimson silks slid across dark, oiled skin, tanned by the sun in a way that betrayed her Amazon heritage, and skimmed across tight muscles and pointed toes as she moved.
Fire dancers, members of her Tribe clothed in hand-spun silks and crafted leathers, moved in time with her, creating a solid ring of light, the flames licking the air, warming Jacquin’s skin, infusing the evening with the scent of ash and sweat. Jacquin lost herself in movement, the world fading until it was nothing but flame and rhythm, the sand coarse and light beneath her bare feet, and the tension in her body.
She didn’t notice as the crowd gathered or faded, the audience a blur of merchants’ colors and clapping hands, smiles and eyes wide with awe. She didn’t hear their cheers. She simply closed her eyes and spun, her arms stretched high over her head, reaching out to the sky, gold and orange like cactus blossoms as dusk fell. Her heart pounded behind her ears, leaping in time with her feet, beating a steady rhythm against her ribs, pulling the beat of the drum circle deep beneath her bones. She was one with the music, one with the night. Dancer. Amazon. Tribe.
In an instant, the light of day faded to darkness, eclipsed by an oncoming vision. A deep chill settled into her skin, the scent of dust and musk – of constant travel – flooded her nose and mouth. A warrior woman, tall and silent... a silver glow from the brim of her hood to her booted toe. A sword shimmered in her hand as she swung, the blade slicing through the air as Jacquin recoiled in fear.
Jacquin’s chestnut eyes blinked – startled. The present returned. She was still, resting on her knees, her back arched so far her hair was a rippling pool on the desert floor. The crowd was applauding, laughter tinged with amazement. A few coins thudded across the ground like shattering starlight.
So – she had completed the dance.
Jacquin fixed a sparkling smile to her face, masking the disoriented feeling that always followed a vision, and rose with a spin, like a flame bursting to life. The acrobats and sword dancers were moving into the circle, their bodies lithe and agile like serpents. Her sisters were collecting her coin. Her part for the evening was done.
Khalisa greeted her with a thick blanket and pulled her further from the performers toward the rows of wagons where the Tribe lived. The temperature was dropping rapidly as night spread across the small desert town of Oasis and the beads of Jacquin’s sweat were turning cold; the scraps of ribbon and string that covered her breasts and hips were not worn for warmth.
“You danced a vision again, didn’t you?” Khalisa pressed, rubbing her sister’s arms through the blanket. Another of their Tribe hurried past, a lithe youth with deep amber hair, handing a mug of brewed tea to Jacquin with a quick grin.
Khalisa slanted a look at her sister; it was half teasing, half serious. Sometimes Jacquin did not leave her visions behind when she left the dancing.
“I’m fine.” Jacquin’s elven-slim brows lifted with sudden mischief. “Since when do you have such an interest in another’s visions? Or did my feet lose time while my mind wandered?”
Khalisa laughed and spun her sister to face the crowd. “Since I’m wondering if that one there has taken your fancy? You seemed to be using him for your focal point.”
Jacquin pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders, her lip curled in a subtle sneer as she looked him over. Fine jerkin and breeches. A solid ruby ring on his finger. “Only his coinpurse.”
Khalisa chuckled, low and husky. “I had my attention on other charms.”
“You’re too brazen with men, sister. You’re a descendant of
Khalisa laughed, her fingers squeezing her sister’s shoulders through the blanket, the tension in her hands betraying her excitement. “Your fascination with the Amazons is making you dull. Do you think he’d share my bed tonight?”
“Of course. He came here looking for
“Jacquin!” Khalisa blushed at the slang term used to objectify the women of the desert tribes. “Why would you say that?”
“It’s how he sees us.”
“Don’t be a hypocrite. You’ve shared a bed with more than a few merchants’ daughters. Do you think it’s only men who come here to be seduced?”
The sandy-haired merchant moved aside. His grin took on a knowing, good-natured quirk, and he nodded to direct his companion’s attention toward the sisters.
“Maybe your bitterness will fade when you see his companion,” Khalisa murmured impishly. “She more your type?”
Jacquin turned her attention and a wicked grin tugged at the corners of her scowl, smoothing it into something almost feral.
The woman was lanky with a short cap of honey-blond hair. She met Jacquin’s bold stare and then blushed brightly, backing a step away and out of sight.
“She looks awfully young–” Khalisa mused warily. Her eyes, however, were still plainly glued to the man. “Sibs do you think? Or are we about to walk into something unpleasant?”
“She’s not young,” Jacquin corrected absently. A very small, very pleased – slightly wicked, smile grew on her narrow-chinned face.
Something in her sib’s voice caught Khalisa’s attention. She peered over Jacquin’s shoulder, looking more closely as the woman ventured back into view. This time the woman managed to withstand the sisters’ scrutiny, but there was something about her blush, her shy eyes, her lack of bravado that captured Jacquin’s interest.
“You’re right,” Khalisa conceded slowly. “Not young at all. Merely that ‘always do right and be a good little merchant’ sort of girl.”
“And they are sibs. Look at the set of those eyes – those straight noses.” Jacquin turned, sliding the blanket from her shoulders and dumping it back into Khalisa’s hand. From Khalisa’s own belt, she untied a flat, folded pouch of aromatic soaps and herbs Khalisa sold in the Oasis market. “And I’ll bet the whole family is the very ‘good little merchant’ type.”
“I can’t tell if you plan to bed her or steal her money.”
Jacquin rumbled a deep throated purr, her gaze seeking the woman in question. Her fingers fastened the small pouch to her hip by a slender thread of silk. “I would never steal from her. But her brother…”
“Jacquin! You wouldn’t! I told you I fancy him!”
“I’ll read for him. Or trade with him. Then he’s yours.”
“And the sister?”
“The sister…,” Khalisa drawled slow, smiling yet slower, “Well, that’s up to her, yes?”
Their laughter rang low, their brown eyes sparkling with mischief.
The music played. The drums had been left dormant, exchanged for softer pipes and strings as night settled over Oasis. Jacquin felt her pulse match the tempo again. Her feet, delicate yet strong instinctively stepped into rhythm even as she walked. The air was crisp, the scents of sand and wind mingling with the darkly sweet spices from the soap at her waist. The audience was happy, their joy and wonder about to turn to reckless abandon.
Jacquin smiled at each visitor as she passed through the crowd, beaming at the children cheering as they held hands and spun across the desert floor, sending waves of sand into the air like a dust devil fighting for life. She glanced longingly at the lovers, holding each other close, her crimson velvet gown pressing tight against his gold-embroidered tunic, seeking the lines of each other’s bodies through the cloth. She nodded a warm welcome to the old man, bent with age, his arms and legs covered by thick sable robes to keep out the oncoming cold, his dark eyes kind and deep. He lived in the town proper, but he came to watch her dance every night. He had never told her his name.
Jacquin’s smile curled into a delicious invitation as she approached the young woman she’d spied before. The woman – undoubtedly the daughter of a traveling merchant – turned to spy Jacquin’s approach and in that instant everyone else – the audience, the woman’s leering brother – seemed to disappear.
Jacquin felt the breath catch in the younger woman’s throat as if it was her own, could see the emotions tangle like the woman’s wind-tossed hair in the stranger’s green eyes – fear, lust, wonder. But the music captured her in its rhythm – held her bound still in Jacquin’s unspoken vow... in the magic of the enchantress.
Jacquin smiled, the corners full mouth pursed and her eyes beckoning, extending a slim-fingered hand. “Tell me, child, have you ever had your fate read in the cards?”
Jacquin ran her hands over the tattered, worn, cards. She knew every line, every crease, their scent as deep and musty as ancient books, and with just as much history. The designs and symbols had been faded even when they’d been passed to her; the images were drawn from the records of the Amazons, held and cherished by the Tribe.
She turned one card with a graceful twirl of her wrist, the click of the cards echoed through the large, round wooden wagon built from silverpine trees in the far north. The light from a half dozen lanterns, the panels made of glass stained burnt orange and scarlet, bathed the carvings of eitteh, sandwolves, mountains and sunlight etched into the ceiling and walls by Jacquin and Khalisa as children, proof the wagon had been a family home before Jacquin had started using it to swindle ignorant strangers. “The sandwolves. A profitable business venture awaits.”
“We’re meeting with a patron in less than a fortnight. Do you see it going well?” The young tradesman, who had introduced himself as Tristan, leaned over the cards, searching Jacquin’s face for answers, his eyes wide with belief and naiveté. His sister, Dani, stood on his left, Khalisa on his right, her arm draped over his shoulders.
Jacquin ran the remaining stack of cards between her fingers, tapping the edges absent-mindedly with short, filed nails. “The hour is late, my young friend, and your session has ended. Perhaps you should be getting to bed?” Jacquin lifted a single, slender eyebrow, her gaze fixed on Tristan’s coinpurse, now less than half the weight it was when he’d entered.
“Of course he wants to hear more,” Khalisa insisted, sliding another coin across Jacquin’s table, where Jacquin palmed it and added it to the growing pouch at her waist, the money kept out of sight so as not to alert her customers to how much they’d spent.
Even when she fancied Jacquin’s mark, Khalisa prioritized her dedication to her sister over a tryst. She dispensed the merchant’s money amid a tangle of kisses, whispers, and praise so genuine Tristan never realized what was lost. Of course, Jacquin was an expert at baiting, speaking vaguely enough to make every promise relatable, hooking her prey just as time was running out, urging more questions and more gold with each tale.
She grinned gently at her sister. Who said they were stealing? They worked hard for their pay. Perhaps it was time to give her sister what she wanted.
“Indeed. Your efforts have not been lost on your future patron. You will soon see the fruit of your labors.” Jacquin expertly palmed the deck, finding the thin card with the corner worn into a smooth curve the same shape as her thumbnail. She pulled it from the deck with some light slight-of-hand, revealing an image of two women embracing, one with hair like a thick, ebony cloak, the other an Amazon with close-cropped golden hair. “The lovers. You are marked for passion tonight.”
Khalisa moved closer with each word, laying a gentle kiss across Tristan’s cheek, her bare skin brushing his arm, the smell of her perfume, like desert flowers and rich spices, and silken hair encircling him. He was already won over. He was barely listening to Jacquin anymore.
As Jacquin watched her sister exit the wagon with her new lover, Dani sat across from her. Her wide eyes were unsure, her thin lips pursed with an unspoken question. “Will you read my fate next?”
Jacquin turned slowly to the young woman, meeting her attempt at boldness with a slow smile. “The cards aren’t for you,
Dani. Have you ever had your palm read?”
Dani blushed lightly as she slid her arm across Jacquin’s table, slowly uncurling her long fingers to reveal her palm. Even without touching it Jacquin knew her skin was smooth, unused to hard labor. Jacquin had never trusted a woman with smooth hands. But it wasn’t trust she was after tonight.
“Are you really an Amazon?”
Jacquin smirked at the abrupt question, Dani’s face an open book.
“What have you heard about Amazons, Dani?” Jacquin traced her fingers over the lines of Dani’s palm and fingers, lingering over sensitive places with the lightest touch. Dani’s blush deepened, her skin darkening to a deep cinnamon with desire, but she didn’t attempt to remove her hand.
Jacquin cautiously lifted Dani’s hand to her mouth, running lips and teeth gently over the lines of her fingers, her eyes never leaving Dani’s face.
“I just… I didn’t know Amazons were dancers, too. The stories… they’re all warriors.” Dani’s voice was soft and breathless.
Jacquin grinned against Dani’s skin. “There are all kinds of Amazons. Warriors. Explorers. Healers. Diplomats. And yes, dancers.”
“You’re a beautiful dancer.”
“You’re a beautiful woman.”
Dani’s skin was as dark as Jacquin’s, her heart pounding in her wrist beneath Jacquin’s lips. Her skin was warm and familiar with the scents of spice and warm tea. It was a blend Khalisa used in her soaps. Still, hiding just beneath the scents of Jacquin’s home was a scent that refused to be overpowered, one of forest, of cold and pine and damp earth. The smoothness of her palms, the old calluses on the tips of her fingers that only belonged to a well-trained player of a string instrument, the clean taste of her, even after a night in the desert all wove the story of Dani’s life beneath Jacquin’s tongue and hands. Dani’s skin was far more intoxicating than her delicate face and wide eyes.
As Jacquin’s lips nipped toward Dani’s wrist, her senses were suddenly assaulted by a vision. The wagon disappeared, replaced by a dark void, thick and endless as no night, no cave, could ever be. Dani stared up at her in shock and terror, a glass arrow protruding from her chest, blood seeping through her fine, white linen nightshirt. The earthy scent of her skin had soured, replaced with the smell of fear. Of death.