Buffy the Vampire Slayer does not belong to me, nor does Highlander. The only profit I gain from writing this story is writing experience.A/N:
I have always been intrigued by the story of Dido, the founder of Carthage. She always struck me as an unusually independent woman in the midst of powerful men. In many ways, she reminds me of what Buffy might have been, had she been born in another place and time – thus the inspiration for the Dido Chronicles
. Historical Notes:
First of all, I am not well versed in ancient Phoenician culture, and what is presented here is equal parts research, conjecture, and creative license. Also, dates and other measurements have been given in American standards to facilitate the understanding of modern readers. (For example: although a pre-historical tribe wouldn’t understand age in terms of the passage of 365 day years, I still refer to Buffy as 15, and likewise time passes in hours and months, etc.)
Dido’s name isn’t actually Dido. Dido is a nickname of sorts, Phoenician for “Wanderer” or “Vagrant.” Her real name is Elishat or Elishet in Phoenician, or Elissar or Elissa in Greek. I chose to use Elishet, for its resemblance to the modern Elizabeth.
There are several versions of the Dido tale. The first, which is considered the historical version, is the one that I am choosing to use. This version places the founding of Carthage approximately 50 years before Homer wrote about the Trojan War, to give you some idea of place-in-time. The other version is the one made famous in Virgil’s Aeneid, and will be ignored for the purpose of this story.
--Tyre, 815 B.C.
Elishet looked over at her younger brother with a sense of unease. Ever since their father had announced that they were to be joint heirs, Pygmalion had been acting oddly. They had never been terribly close, but there had never been this level of tension between them. She wondered what sorts of schemes he was coming up with to gain more power. Not that she could really blame him – she had her own set of schemes.
Beginning with their uncle, whom she had married last week. He was a good man, the High Priest of Melqart, and had always been fond of her. It made sense to her, both as a woman and as a Princess, to take him as her husband. It also helped that he had resources available to him that her brother couldn’t touch.
“What is bothering you, little brother?” She didn’t like being the first to broach the subject, but it would be better to call attention to it then to feel his eyes on the back of her neck.
. I am just so overcome with joy that you are finally properly married.” The venom in his voice was glaringly clear, especially to someone who had been as well trained in politics as herself.
It had always vexed him that she was treated with as much respect as a man, and it didn’t help that she was more intelligent than he. While he still relied on his mother for advice, Elishet had gone out and gotten a husband with power almost equal to that of the king – and
she was now to be co-ruler of Tyre.
Pygmalion was understandably mad with jealousy.
It would have been even worse had he known that she was also a better warrior, but fortunately – or unfortunately, when the occasion arose that she wished she could beat him into the dust – their father’s open-mindedness only extended so far. A woman could learn mathematics and politics alongside her brother, but to learn the use of a sword…
And wouldn’t it just shock them to learn that she was already more proficient at the weapon than any of his soldiers. Well, no matter. She was determined to live out this lifetime armed only with her wits. Already she had learned more than she had ever dreamed.
Few men were willing to teach a woman about science and mathematics, philosophy and rhetoric, reading and writing. Her father, or the man she had claimed as her father, was one such rare man.
When she stepped forward claiming to be his daughter by one of his lesser wives, a woman who had died while visiting her homeland, he had taken her in with very few questions. She had quickly made herself indispensable to him, impressing him with her wisdom and charm, her grace and her beauty. It had been an easy matter to convince him to allow Pygmalion’s tutors to teach her as well.
Her introspection lasted only long enough for her to gather her patience.
“He is an excellent husband, is he not?” she crooned, giving her brother a nasty smile. “You should follow my example, dearest brother.”
Pygmalion’s lip curled into a sneer, just as she had hoped. He was so easy to goad, it almost made her feel bad. Almost, of course, being the key. Head held high, she breezed past before her brother could think of something subtle enough that it couldn’t be taken as an insult.
Elishet returned to her husband’s palace for some time alone. She was in a reflective mood, and those were best weathered out in the relative privacy of her personal chambers, where her swords and her slaves could keep her company.
She waved away the slaves who immediately came to attention upon her entrance.
“Stay out of my bed chamber,” she instructed them mildly. “I wish a fresh bath to be ready when I come out, with fresh clothing laid aside.”
They bowed and acknowledged her instructions, but she didn’t wait to see them carried out. They were her
slaves, after all. While one or more of them was certainly being paid to keep an eye on her, none of them would disobey her direct orders.
Closing the door of her inner chamber, she carefully removed one of her jeweled swords from the wall. It was a wonderfully crafted weapon; perfectly balanced and wickedly sharp. It was also extremely pretty, which allowed her to openly claim it. Men always assumed she had it mounted on her wall to be admired.
Any man who stumbled into her chamber now would be shocked. Elishet began the slow, steady rhythms of a sword dance as she allowed her mind to wander over the past.
Her first death took place when she was fifteen.
In her village, Eshe was the only woman her age without a husband and a brood of children. In fact, Eshe was the only woman without a husband, period. Even those women who had been girls only months before were all married.
She had received no offers when she first became a woman at 12, not even for a position as second or third wife. She hadn’t really expected to, of course – she was ugly, and no man wanted someone so obviously singled out by the spirits. All the other women of the tribe had smooth, beautiful dark skin. The men had glorious black hair and proud black eyes.
And then there she
was, with her sand-colored skin and sun-colored hair. Everyone knew she was spirit touched, and no one wanted to risk angering the gods by taking her as their wife. Or at least that was their excuse. Eshe knew better.
The summer before she turned sixteen, Eshe was approached by the Shaman of her tribe. He told her that the gods were calling her elsewhere. Scared and alone, she begged and pleaded against her fate. The Shaman had taken some pity on her, enough that he had allowed her a week to say goodbye, but in the end she was sent away.
For weeks she followed no particular path. The Shaman told her to follow the rising sun, but with no experience tracking or navigating, she could only follow his instructions in a vague, general sense.
It was enough for the gods.
Eshe stumbled on three men and a girl not much older than herself. The girl was tied to an altar in a cave, the three men gathered around her in fierce debate. She wasn’t sure who was more surprised at the encounter, herself or the men. They had stared at her with undisguised awe, which should have been her second clue to run – the first being the other girl tied like a sacrifice in a cave.
“A spirit,” one had murmured. “A good sign!”
“A girl,” another corrected, though his eyes were hungry.
“An Immortal,” the last stated, voice heavy with desire.
Then she tried to run, but the men caught her and brought her back. They tried outwardly to be gentle to her, but she knew that nothing good would come of this. She wondered if this was why the Shaman sent her away, to be used in a sacrifice.
When she dared to asked them, they hastened to assure her that it was not really a sacrifice. No one would leave the world. She noticed that they did not say no one would die – did they mean to trap her or the other girl in this world as spirits? The very idea terrified Eshe. Finally the men deemed that the stars were in line. Both girls were secured in the cave and the chanting began.
And then her world went black as a spear was shoved through her heart.
Elishet smiled faintly at this recollection. As traumatic first deaths went, hers wasn’t so bad. She had always known she was different. Her light skin and hair marked her as an outsider despite having a mother and father within the tribe. While she couldn’t claim to have expected being thrown out, in hindsight she could see that it had always been looming. She was lucky that way. Unlike many immortals she knew, her
kin-betrayal happened before her first death, and she wasn’t forced to deal with the two together.
Having a spear shoved through your heart by a stranger was fairly straightforward. As soon as she had seen the way they tied up Sineya, she had known that she couldn’t escape with her life. What she hadn’t been expecting was the second chance.
And what a second chance it had been!
She gasped as the spear was plunged into her heart. Pain engulfed her and carried her away on wings of blue lightening.
She turned, almost as surprised to find that she still had a body as she was to hear the voice.
She gaped as the light cleared enough for her to make out the features of the man standing before her. Why, he was as light colored as her! Even lighter, in fact. Her skin was golden brown like the sand, but his was white like the clouds. His hair was the silver of an elder, but his face was as fair as a boy’s. He was obviously a spirit – did that mean the tribe was right? Was she a spirit too?
“No,” he answered, smiling slightly as he answered her unvoiced questions. “You are not a spirit, precisely. A being… displaced, we shall say. An Immortal. You will live forever, my dear, for as long as your head stays attached to your shoulders.”
She gaped. How ridiculous was he? First he said she wasn’t a spirit, and then in the same breath said she was!
“No,” he sounded a bit impatient. “Not
a spirit. A woman with a choice.”
She was dead. What kind of choice did a dead person have? To roam the land as one of the rumored demons? To be a vengeful ghost on her tribe? To proceed on to the afterlife?
“None of the above,” he informed her. “Look, child. You will wake up in a few minutes with no harm done beyond having died. You can go on your merry way, living out the violent, brutal lives of your fellow Immortals. Or,” he made this sound very promising, “you can agree to act as the Anchor in the shamans’ spell.”
So the shadowy men were shaman? She wasn’t terribly surprised. But since when did the subject of the spell get a choice in the matter?
“Since the spell was too big for those who attempted to cast it. You know about the demons that roam the land.”
It wasn’t a question. He could obviously read her mind, which meant that he knew everything that she knew – and thus knew quite well that she had once seen the truth of the rumors with her own eyes.
“The shamans are attempting to create a warrior who can combat these demons. They hope to tie the Primeval forces to the life force of a young woman so that she becomes a living weapon. She will have the strength to battle the darkness. This is within their abilities. The problem lies beyond that. We, the Powers That Be, wish for this line of warriors to continue on. No one warrior can possibly bring about eternal Balance in a single lifetime.”
And what did this have to do with her? And why couldn’t they just make lots of warriors themselves? Why not train the men? It made no sense to make a woman into a warrior when they were so unsuited for the task.
“I’m getting to all that,” he snapped. “A woman is necessary because of her ability to house another life force within her – and a woman is just as suited for this task as a man. Remember that she will gain
the strength necessary. We cannot make many warriors because we are bound to uphold the Balance.”
She understood Balance. Everything in the life of the tribe was about Balance; about birth and death, sun and moon, summer and winter.
“Good. This is similar in principle.”
He still hadn’t told her what this all had to do with her.
“Simple,” he replied. “We want you to be the Anchor. Your new friend Sineya will be the Champion and you will be the Anchor. You will share her strength and power in return for our use of your body to house the forces and pass them on to the next girl.”
That didn’t sound so bad – except there was Balance to consider. So far it seemed as though she gained much for nothing, and that was hardly in keeping with his earlier statement about the importance of Balance.
“Sharp girl,” he approved. “To understand exactly what will happen, you must understand what you are. Immortal unless decapitated. Among the Immortals, there is a Game. Each Immortal attempts to behead the others in order to gain the ultimate prize and, so they believe, rule the world. When one Immortal kills another, their life forces combine and the winner gains the knowledge and power of the defeated.”
It sounded gruesome.
“It is,” he agreed. “If you are our Anchor, we can hardly have you go around courting a friendly beheading. If you say yes, your Quickening – your life force – will be removed from the Game. Other Immortals will be unable to sense you, and you will be unable to sense them outside of the senses you will gain as the Anchor.”
That sounded like another plus, as far as she could tell.
“It’s not that great,” he cautioned her. “An Immortal gains strength and power through the Quickening. You will never be as powerful as another who lives as long, because you will be limited to your own experiences and the experiences of your sisters.”
Maybe it was because she didn’t fully understand, but it still didn’t sound bad to her at all.
“You don’t understand. If you are not strong enough, you could easily be driven insane by the death knowledge gained from countless women fighting and dying in an endless war. And that isn’t the end of it,” he continued softly. “In order for you to be Anchor, we must open your womb.”
She stared at him. What was he talking about? Her womb had been open for years.
“Immortals are barren,” he told her bluntly, and she felt a stab go through her.
Children were everything in the life of a tribe. She couldn’t have children because she would live forever? That was terrible! She would rather have children and die of old age then live many years and never be given a baby.
“There’s a reason Immortals can’t have children.” The man’s voice was grave. “Imagine, if you are able, that every baby you have dies within moments of its birth. And this happens over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. And what child wants to grow old while his mother looks young enough to be his own child? It is heart pain, child. Heart pain that will never go away. And it will be your heart pain if you agree to this.”
If she did this, then she could have children! Her heart swelled, but he only looked at her with pity. That angered her, but she couldn’t do anything about it. Instead, she wondered whether there were any actual downsides to this agreement. So far it all seemed perfect.
“Hardly perfect. But these are the terms. Do you agree?”
“Yes,” she spoke aloud, using her voice for the first time in their conversation.
It came out dry and cracked, and she opened her eyes – she hadn’t realized she’d closed them. They opened on the cave, where the three shadow men stood gasping in front of her. Beside her, Sineya growled low in her throat, a feral sound. She found herself echoing it, and with little effort she pulled herself free.
“Run,” she told the men, as Sineya dropped into a crouch beside her. Despite their obvious exhaustion, they obeyed.
Elishet finished her sword dance and moved smoothly into a new one. It hadn’t taken long for her to discover the downsides of her so-called gift. In the beginning it was fine. She had Sineya, her sister, and together they slaughtered the demons. But the villagers were frightened of them and would not let them stay.
The two sisters were feral creatures, hunting the demons with a single-mindedness that neither could explain. And then, three years after their rebirth together, Sineya was killed. Elishet remembered the moment quite clearly, and it stood out in her mind as the first of many.
Eshe felt Sineya’s death with an acuity that made her wish that she was dying too. Seconds later, she felt a pull to the north. Without needing to be told, she knew that she had a new sister. Immediately she began journeying in that direction.
Barely halfway through her journey, she felt the death of her new sister. Shocked, she stopped dead in her tracks as the girl’s death-knowledge seeped into her brain.
Her name was Mahdi. She had become a woman three nights before Sineya’s death, and two of the village boys had begun courting her. Then the spirits had touched her in a way that Mahdi couldn’t understand. In desperation, she convinced the shaman to allow her to venture on a spirit quest. Alone and confused in the desert, it was a simple matter for the demons to overwhelm and slaughter her.
Eshe was devastated. Mahdi’s death woke her out of the feral fog that had characterized her time with Sineya. Mentally awake and full of anguish, she felt for the pull of her newest sister. She was desperate to prevent the tragedy from happening again.
To her dismay, her new sister was even further south than Sineya’s hunting grounds. Unless her new sister was incredibly luckily – and so far that did not seem a character trait present in their quickly-growing lineage – the new woman would be dead long before Eshe could reach her.
In fact, Eshe thought, if she tried to go to each new demon slayer, she would end up wondering aimlessly through the desert for the rest of her existence.
Scared and lonely and heart-sick, Eshe did something she would never have dreamed of doing before becoming the Anchor. She called on the gods to answer to her for what they had done.
The Spirit appeared almost immediately, but while she had been bold enough to summon him, she was not prepared to make specific demands. Instead, she petitioned him, begging for some way to help the newborn demon slayers.
“You have twice received death-knowledge,” he told her. “And you have felt two births. You and the - what did you call them? Demon slayers? I like that. Anyway, you share an essence with the Demon Slayer. It isn’t a strong enough connection to allow you to speak mind-to-mind, but it is certainly enough to share knowledge subconsciously.”
He refused to be more specific or to tell her how to accomplish this sharing, but she had always been wiser than her years. When her third sister died five days later, Eshe pushed aside the heart-pain to capture the feeling of sharing
, hoping to recreate it. When she felt the birth of her fourth sister, she attempted non-physical contact.
She sent the girl dreams, giving her a sense of her purpose by giving her the death-knowledge of Sineya, Mahdi, and Kaipra. It was not enough by itself, but at least the dreams would give the new Demon Slayer an idea of what was happening to her until Eshe could come.
And so, for the next thirty years, Eshe traveled. She found her sister and they hunted together. When her sister died, Eshe sent death-dreams to the next woman, found her, and taught her to kill.
Then a woman from the village of the shadow men was called.
They found her before Eshe could and seized her for their own. They trained her according to their own knowledge, isolating her from anything that might distract her from her purpose. While she was not feral like Sineya, the shadow men treated her as though she were.
Cut off from the village, her only human contact came through the men. She threw herself into slaying until she might as well have been Sineya herself, though she lacked the instinctual understanding of the Primeval forces that had made Sineya so effective. Eshe wept for this sister, but could not approach her without risking capture by the shadow men.
After that, the shadow men and their descendents began looking for the new Demon Slayers. Nearly half the time they reached the newly-born before Eshe could. After a while, she stopped trying.
By then, she had been the Anchor for almost two hundred years. She had experienced the awakening and the death of nearly that many sister Slayers. Even though the women that she found usually lived longer than those taken in by the shadow men, she found that she no longer had it in her heart to seek them out. She still sent them dreams, helping and encouraging them as best she could, but that was all.
Eshe finally understood what the spirit man had been talking about when he cautioned her about the heart sickness.
Elishet smiled while she swung her sword in a graceful arc. In the end, everything had worked out. The shadow men, who called themselves Watchers now, had perfected their ability to find and train new Slayers. They had begun finding girls before
they were called.
It seemed that, as it grew older, the Slayer essence came to prefer a certain type of woman – usually one as alike to herself as possible. It didn’t require
anything more than a healthy mind and body, a proximity to demons, and the start of the moon cycles – and even then it really only needed the last one – but if given the choice between two girls, it was easy to predict which would become the new Slayer.
Her sisters usually lived at least a year now, and some made it as many as four or five. The record was seven years and three days. And while the death-knowledge was still painful, she’d had thousands of years to get used to it.
And what a time those years had been! She had watched the world expand around her, geographically and intellectually. The first time a Slayer had been called on another continent, she had been flummoxed. It amazed her and thrilled her, filling her with excitement. What would happen next? What could people imagine next? What lay beyond the horizon?
She continued to move around, staying mostly in the area around the Mediterranean Sea. Her last two decades had been spent in Greece. Near the end of her stay there, she met Xanthippe, the woman she would later claim as her mother. Elishet waited for twelve years after Xanthippe’s death, then journeyed to Tyre to present herself as the King’s daughter.
She liked being a princess. It suited her. And, more surprisingly, so did the marriage she now found herself in.
Oh, she had married before, of course. Some were marriages of convenience, when society balked at the idea of an unmarried woman, and these husbands were quickly forgotten. A much smaller number of marriages had been for love, and here she could name every partner, every lover.
She had even given children to three of her husbands. Three sons and a daughter. All had lived gloriously, and all had themselves died childless. Warriors they had been, all of them. Even her daughter, who had been called as Slayer at 12 and survived an incredible 7 years.
But her true love had been for a man called Achert. She had loved him passionately for their 35 years of life together. Of all her lovers, he was the only one to know everything about her, both her Immortality and her status as the Anchor. She bore him a son, the only one of her children who had lived beyond 20.
What surprised her about her marriage with Sychaeus was that she loved him. She had expected a marriage of convenience, in which she felt fondness for her husband but nothing more. To her surprise, her marriage was turning out to be far more meaningful.
During their 6 month long betrothal, she had begun to love the man she had agreed to marry. By the time their wedding night arrived, she had fallen hard and fast. She found herself as passionately in love with this strong, calm, intelligent man as she had been with Achert at the beginning of their relationship.
It wasn’t even the intensity of her emotions that surprised her – it was the speed with which they came on. As far as she was concerned, a year long romance was love at first sight – and that was how she felt about her new husband.
As if her thoughts had summoned his attention, a knock came on the door of her inner chamber. She sheathed her sword and replaced it on the wall. Smoothing out the carefully wrapped silk of her dress, she turned to face the door.
“Enter,” she commanded.
The door opened to reveal one of the slaves that had been a wedding gift from Sychaeus. The slave bowed low, keeping her eyes on the floor. Behind the girl she could see one of Sychaeus’s personal slaves standing demurely by the door.
“Mistress, your husband requests your company.”
“Very well,” she agreed. “I will be along shortly.”
She had no intention of skipping the bath that she had ordered drawn. Sychaeus wouldn’t expect her to come directly, or his slave would have said as much. Her slave bowed low, then retreated to confer with Sychaeus’s slave. His slave nodded, bowed to Elishet, then left.
Elishet strolled over to the steaming water and held out her arms. Immediately a new slave was there, gently disrobing her. A second took the jewels out of her hair, allowing the long yellow waves to spill down her back. She could have disrobed herself, of course, but she was enjoying the luxury of being a wealthy lady. Her last lifetime had been spent as a basket weaver.
She stepped into the hot bath, and gave herself completely over to the tender ministrations of her slaves. They washed her skin, then rubbed her with sweet smelling oils. One girl, a Greek whose name she could never remember, was specially trained to work with Elishet’s hair. While an older woman washed Elishet’s fair skin, the Greek washed her hair.
After the bath, which was over more quickly than Elishet liked, the women began to dress her. The Greek began piling her hair up, teasing it into artful curls. The other slave began to drape the light pink silk over Elishet’s body in attractive folds and waves.
When they were finished, Elishet looked herself over in the sheet of polished silver that had been a wedding present from her father. She looked impeccable, light and refreshing. Sychaeus would be pleased.
“You look lovely, my dear,” Sychaeus smiled as she sauntered through the door to his chambers. He held out a hand to her, and she moved over to take it.
“Thank you,” she smiled, allowing a hint of a blush to color her cheeks. He liked her innocence, and she took care to always give him what he liked best.
Sychaeus was a handsome man. He was 43, an old man by most standards, but still a child to her. Tall and wiry, Sychaeus towered over her by more than a full head. He had long black hair with thick silver streaks at the temple, and a smile as guileless as a little boy’s.
Shyly she turned to look out the window toward the king’s palace. She could feel his warmth to her left, a quiet well of strength and serenity that had impressed her from the beginning. Sychaeus was a good man, and a good husband.
“How is my brother?” he inquired softly.
Elishet grimaced. “Not well. I doubt he has more than a few days left. You should go to him,” she added, gently squeezing the hand that she still held.
“I know,” he sighed. “I’m just not sure that he wants to see a High Priest right now.” While he’s on his death bed
was left unsaid, but not unheard.
“Perhaps not,” she shrugged, then turned to look up at him through her lashes. “But his brother? I know my father, Sychaeus, and I know you. You should go to him.”
“My beautiful Elishet,” he sighed, reaching up to stroke her cheek. “Always trying to help others.”
“Will you go to him?” she pressed. Despite being the Immortal Anchor for a line of female warriors, Elishet still had a heart, and she was still quite capable of love. Even knowing that Sychaeus would die and leave her heart sick, Elishet found herself loving this man. She wanted him to be happy, and he wouldn’t be happy if he didn’t visit his dying brother.
“I’ll think about it,” he told her, hand dropping back to his side.
She knew that conversation was over, and let the subject drop. For the rest of the evening, they kept their topics light. They dined together, walked together, and then went to bed together.
Three weeks later, King Belus II died.
Elishet was Queen.
And Pygmalion was King.
dun dun dun duuuuun. Next chapter will be more of Elishet/Dido’s story. There may be a few flashbacks to Eshe’s life in later chapters, but now that you have my version of the Immortal/Slayer dynamic, that story fades into the background.
Let me know if you have any questions, and I hope you enjoyed my work.