Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons, looked out at the horizon just as the wheel of Helios’ chariot rose, watching as the light dispersed over the sky, bleeding into a panoply of iridescent pastels. So much potential, she thought, in a world rife with chaos. With her hands folded in her lap, her smile greeted the day, but behind her eyes, the worry of a mother gathered. On this marble bench high on a cliff above the sea, she took this moment of quietude to reflect on what the future would hold.
“O Pallas Athene, grant me the wisdom to understand the world I have not seen in so long. Aphrodite, may my heart be open to those in Man’s World, that they accept my greatest love.”
She knew the gods listened to the prayers of the penitent, and with her daughter’s mission, a first in Amazon history, she needed them to heed her supplications. Warm breezes carried the scent of lilac and rose, mixed with the salty sea air, and in her heart, she knew the gods had heard.
“I knew I’d find you here, Mother.” The lilting voice of a young woman melded with the sounds of the birds above and the lapping waves below.
Nothing is more resplendent than the smile of a mother having set eyes on her child. Not even the sun or moon can compete with that. Hippolyte clasped her daughter’s wrists to her own, their bracelets gently clinking together. She stroked the young woman’s cheek and bestowed the gift of a kiss on her forehead. She invited her to sit.
“This place nurtures me, Diana. From this vantage, I can see the sea below, the sky above, and wonder…”
“About?” Diana’s blue eyes shimmered in the nascent light of day.
“You, my child. You have undertaken a monumental task, much to my chagrin, and now you leave us to bring our message to Man’s World. Is Col. Trevor able to travel?”
Diana nodded. “He awaits us on the Isle of Healing. Don’t worry about me, Mother. Athene and Aphrodite guide my path. Surely, Man’s World can use more wisdom, love, and compassion.”
“Indeed.” She paused long enough to take in her daughter’s face, one that she wouldn’t see for some time. “Do you have questions? Aside from the Isle of Healing or fishing off the shore, you have never left Themyscira. You’ve always been an inquisitive one, though, and I want to know that I have told you everything I can to prepare you for what follows.”
The princess Diana was gazing out at the horizon, as her mother had. Ocean breezes played with her black curls, and the sun shined on her new tiara, the one she earned in the Tournament. Its ruby star, like a fire, glistened, bringing out the pale blue of her eyes. Hippolyte exulted in her daughter’s vibrance and innocence, while simultaneously feeling her heart grow heavy since she knew the violence and selfishness of men. Even though she hadn’t been in Man’s World in millennia, she felt she could offer Diana her lifetime of wisdom and experience.
“I do have a question. How are there babies on Themyscira?”
The queen’s eyes widened and hesitated. “What do you mean?”
“Col. Trevor and I spoke while he was convalescing. He said he had heard an infant crying in the Temple of Healing while he was resting. I told him he must have imagined that, since I had never seen any infants here. I told him that Amazons sculpted children from clay, and the goddesses brought them to life. He insisted. I revealed my own story to him, how the gods brought me to life after you sculpted me on the beach below.” She turned her head toward the shoreline.
Exhaling a slow, deep breath, Hippolyte lowered her head. “I cannot lie to you, Diana.” She paused, taking her daughter’s hands in her own. “You are the only clay sculpture brought to life on Themyscira.”
“I—I don’t understand. Then, how…?”
“Diana, when we first arrived here, on Themyscira, we reveled in our idyllic paradise. We sang songs, wrote plays, pursued philosophy and science. So many of us had been treated like chattel that freedom was overwhelming, and we channeled our energies into architecture, agriculture, literature, and, of course, prayer. Poseidon, at Athene’s behest, gave us three smaller islands, within a day’s travel, to use as we saw fit. One became the Isle of Healing, blessed by Aceso, a goddess of healing, and a daughter of Aesculapios. The second became the Isle of Reformation, a sanctuary devoted to redirection of sisters who felt they had lost their path. It could be a place of silent devotion and meditation, an asylum for those whose sanity had slipped, or, if need be, a place for rehabilitation should an Amazon decide that she would rather follow a darker path. One of destruction or violence.” Hippolyte saw the burgeoning curiosity in her daughter’s eyes.
“And the third?”
Diana leaned a little closer, her brow furrowed by Hippolyte’s hesitation. The queen’s lips trembled, since she was to reveal to her daughter something she had kept from her—the only secret she had ever kept from her. For something to be so difficult to speak of, Diana thought, was surely a place of sorrow and pain, of shadow and, perhaps, the darkness of the underworld.
“The third… The third island was a place called the Isle of Hope.” Tears followed the contour of her cheeks. “On this island, of the three, one of the most sacred rituals would take place.”
Still, Diana looked with curiosity. Hippolyte walked to the cliff’s edge.
“Where the sun meets the sea, daughter, this island exists. Beyond time. Beyond everything.”
“I’m not sure I understand, Mother. What is this island for?”
“Diana, this is where Amazons go to bring hope to our people. That island is where the Amazons commune with men during a ritual called the Uniting of Souls.”
“With men? I thought we lived here without the need for men? Has everything I’ve been taught been a lie? Do men live here, on Themyscira?” Diana walked over to an oak tree whose branches formed a canopy, and she cast her eyes over a different part of the shore below.
Hippolyte’s pulse quickened. “No. Men are forbidden from ever setting foot here. Diana…” She sat back on the bench. “Diana, men are not wholly evil. I’m not that naive to think that good men don’t exist. These men, however, the ones our sisters participate in this ritual with... Well, they’re different. We have a history. When we lived in Themyscira on the river Thermodon, a tribe of men was on the other bank, downriver a few miles. Before the darkness of Man’s World had overtaken our people, we traded with the men of Gargarea. In fact, many of their soldiers fought alongside us when others tried to destroy our cities. They were the only group of men we trusted, but that took time to develop. Antiope and I met with their leaders, forged an alliance with these men, and then something happened. Our numbers had diminished with the growing battles we had fought, as had theirs—it was a tumultuous time. Blessed Menalippe, may her soul be at peace in Elysium, was our first Oracle, and she saw a vision that showed Aphrodite standing on a bridge, her arms extended to both sides. We took that as a sign that both Amazons and Gargareans should come together, in sacred ritual, and help each tribe remain strong. That was when the Uniting of Souls began. Ten Amazons volunteered for the first ritual. In a separate camp, one shielded by a thick forest, man and woman spent seven days together, learning about one another, finding a mate, and joining in their blessed union under a full moon. No weapons were allowed as a sign of trust and understanding.”
Diana sat riveted, her hands clasped together, her eyes wide with yearning. Then, Hippolyte saw light glisten off Diana’s silver bracelets, the ones forged from Zeus’ aegis awarded to her after the Tournament, bracelets that reminded her of another part of the past.
“When an Amazon bore a male child, he was delivered to the Gargareans. His mother would stay with the Gargareans for a time, feeding mother’s milk. This bond we forged with the men held true for many years. They were the only group of men who had the implicit trust of the Amazons. But, then...” Hippolyte’s face grew pallid. “Herakles and his men arrived and beguiled us. You know what happened after that.”
“What happened to the Gargareans? Did they not come to your aid when Herakles revealed his deception?”
“Yes, they did. Herakles and his army all but destroyed them. Some say it was the madness of Hera. Others say it was jealousy or a desire to weaken our resolve. Nonetheless, after our imprisonment, and the fall of Themyscira, we never saw the Gargareans again.”
For the first time in a long time, Diana saw regret and remorse in her mother’s eyes, but this was the first time she knew this sense of loss was about men. She had always grown up with the understanding that not all men were their enemy, but many of her sisters had shared with her the horrific conditions of their servitude and defilement. A few spoke of having found love with men in their past, but they never mentioned where these men had lived. Some had found companionship with other Amazons, while some had preferred solitude. To hear such a variety of stories from their past had made Diana long to know more, especially when the first man she had ever seen, Col. Stephen Trevor, recently crashed off the shores of their island. Diana touched her mother’s arm, but Hippolyte wasn’t finished with her story.
“After we liberated ourselves, with Aphrodite’s aid, we defeated Herakles and his army and were given this island as our refuge. Once we had settled, some of our sisters had felt that yearning for children, but without men, that was impossible. Many prayed to Aphrodite for succor, hoping that the goddess of love would ease their emotional burden somehow. It was around that time when I felt the yearning inside me.”
Smiling, Hippolyte cupped Diana’s chin. “For you. While on that very beach below, just before a glorious sunrise, I sculpted a child, a child that I had known from a different lifetime, out of the clay of paradise. With the blessings of the gods, my love, and a drop of my blood, you stirred, and I brought you back to the city to share you with your sisters.”
Diana also smiled, tears trickling down her cheeks. “I love hearing that.”
“We should probably return for our first meal.” Hippolyte gathered her robes.
“But—I have questions. Please, Mother. Besides, I’m not that hungry.” She grinned as she had since childhood when she wanted something from her mother, her eyes wide.
“Very well.” Hippolyte laughed. “I suppose I can indulge your curiosity. What did you want to know?”
“Well, didn’t other sisters sculpt children once they heard you had? I’ve always believed—”
The queen shook her head and closed her eyes. “But, many tried. They saw the possibility exist, since it had happened for me, and they would spend hours, even days, forming their statues. They would bring them to Aphrodite’s temple and pray for life. Some would become so driven that they would lie curled next to their statue for weeks. The temple priestess would bring them food, but they wouldn’t eat. The cries of longing echoed throughout the temple, and some nights, I could hear the wails of the desiring in the palace. I needed to intervene on their behalf. They were my people, and I loved them dearly.”
Diana shook her head. “So, you’re telling me that our sisters do not have statues of their daughters brought to life—”
“I will explain that. Allow me to continue.”
“Very well. What could you do for these sisters? Surely, was there no Amazon magic—”
“Of course not. I wouldn’t dare explore our ancient texts for a way to circumvent the gods’ will. I needed to honor these Amazons, these women. On another remote spot by the northern shore, we built a garden. On marble plinths, each wishful mother placed her statue. I explained to each Amazon individually that this garden would be for them to commune with their daughters, to respect that relationship. Aphrodite herself had blessed the garden, and thorny vines grew around it that would only part for an Amazon whose statue stood there. In this way, these statues were given sanctuary. In the meanwhile, I counseled these women. Their yearnings for motherhood were strong, but not even I could intervene with what the Fates decree.”
“How horrible. Why have I never seen this garden?”
“How would I have explained this to a little girl who had never known playmates of the same age? You have always been a symbol to our people, Diana. Your divine birth, by my hand, was destined because you are meant to be… more. I have always known you had a grand destiny, but it wasn’t until a man entered our lives that I knew what that destiny would be. Besides, the garden isn’t for all. Not every sister knows of it.”
“What you’ve told me still hasn’t explained the infant crying.”
“I am getting to that. Our sisters continued to sculpt statues, and the garden grew. It was then that Menalippe dreamed of that which would help our sisters—the purpose of the Isle of Hope. Part of her vision included a startling revelation: not all of Gargarea had been lost. Aphrodite had gathered those men who had either lost their loves or who felt disenchanted with the ravages of society and offered them a place where they could grow and learn as well as find the peace they wanted. She created an island where they could live in harmony with the natural world and have the divine protection of the gods.”
“They live as we do? They are male Amazons, then?”
“Perhaps in spirit, yes, daughter.” Hippolyte smiled. “Being truly Amazon, however, is a sacred trust we have with the gods. Our mission, something I learned after your recent victory in the tournament, is to bring a message of peace, love, and compassion to all of humanity.”
Diana frowned. “The Gargareans cannot leave their island? I don’t understand…”
“My child, they can leave, but they prefer their solitude, not wanting—not yet, anyway—to venture into the outer world for fear of being corrupted by their modern counterparts. But, I digress.”
Hippolyte explained how the Amazons and the Gargareans could meet on the Isle of Hope where they could carry on their tradition of love and childbearing. Not all Amazons participated, and those willing were picked by lottery every ten years to take the sacred journey to the one place where Amazons could spend time with men. Precautions were taken so that no Amazon participant who was daughter of a Gargarean would ever commune with a member of her male family. Over time, an Amazon might bond with a Gargarean, and if she were selected, she would choose only him for the ritual. It was another form of monogamy that they embraced, and it provided a deep connection that would provide offspring.
“Mother, how is it that I have never seen a pregnant Amazon?”
“On the far side of Themyscira lies a village, one protected by mists, and those with child live among each other. I visit from time to time, but Epione, our chief healer, and other healers who live there oversee their care. We provide them with food and sustenance. When an Amazon nears the birthing time, she is taken to the Isle of Hope where she gives birth in the company of the child’s father.”
This was the first time Diana had ever heard her mother use the word ‘father’. It sounded foreign to her but it made sense to know the other half of the partnership. Hippolyte noticed how Diana continued to smile that gentle smile she had when she was absorbing new knowledge. It gave the queen hope that Diana would indeed be the best choice for her mission as she would be in a new place and assimilating new information soon.
“If the child were male, he returned with his father to Gargarea after spending time with his mother, bonding. They would decide a name together, and when the time came, both father and son would return home. If the child were female, she would come here. That would be why Col. Trevor heard an infant’s cry in the temple. That child in particular had been stung by a bee and needed special care. She’s all right.” Hippolyte laced her fingers together and pressed them against her forehead. “I’m sorry for keeping this from you. I wanted to wait until you were older, but I suppose that time has come.”
Hippolyte embraced Diana, and both felt each other’s heartbeat pounding. This was one of the rare moments where mother and daughter had spoken this openly. The queen’s responsibilities, coupled with Diana’s growing independence, made it more of a challenge for them to have quality time together.
“Why don’t the mothers and daughters live among us? Surely, like me, they would flourish with a sisterhood surrounding them.”
“Diana, some of our sisters are unable to bear children. It is the thread that was spun for them. After living as long as we had together, I saw them languish and withdraw when a newborn arrived. The Council met, and we deliberated on how best to help the Amazon nation. An idea emerged to have a special village where mothers and daughters could live, for a time. Some felt it would isolate them, but others felt it would give mothers and daughters time to bond. We weighed all sides, and the Council decided that mothers and daughters would live in a village until the child reached an age of understanding. The mother would determine that, but it was usually no earlier than five years old. Then, mother and daughter would return. Those who didn’t originally agree found, in time, that it worked out for the best for all. When you saw these younger children, you probably assumed they were born like you.”
Diana’s expression softened. She appeared to be taking everything in stride. She reached out and touched her mother’s hand. “Mother… did you ever…?”
The queen giggled. “Oh, by Athene, no. If the Fates had wished it to be so… but, my motherhood took a different path.” She tugged Diana’s ear, something she would do when Diana was a child.
“Have you ever been to Gargarea?”
“No. Gargarea has protections like Themyscira. They value their culture as we do ours. If it is meant that men step foot here, or Amazons go there, then the gods will deem it so. I believe both cultures feel things as they are work well.”
“So, until then, we have the Isle of Hope to bring our peoples together.” Diana smiled. “That actually makes me happy. I thought I would be upset or shaken by this, but our sisterhood has been living the way it needs to for its survival. I have also learned that men have remained a part of our culture. I suppose that leads me to ask… have any Amazons or Gargareans ever gone into the outer world together?”
Hippolyte stood, her pale lavender robes teased by the breezes. “Diana, let us return.” She took her daughter’s hand.
Diana knew from her mother’s tone in those four words that that discussion would be for another day. She didn’t know if her mother would relay a story of abandonment or departure, or perhaps one of regret that none had even dared to leave. She would have to wait, though, until a different time.
• • •
A week passed, and Diana had much to do before her departure. She would need to say farewell to her closest friends as well as meet with the Oracle. Amazons, when the realization that their princess would soon be leaving them for an indeterminate period, kept her occupied with horseback riding, sparring, vibrant discussions, and swimming in an inland pool, a place Diana had loved to visit ever since she was little. Col. Trevor spent his days in the Temple of Healing talking with Diana, and each asked the other questions about life in his or her respective culture. At night, Diana would stay up in the Temple of Aphrodite, praying. Kneeling between the braziers, she would spend hours, preparing herself mentally for the journey she would soon make to the outer world. Before she left Themyscira, however, she wanted to see one thing.
One night, after her prayers, she flew across the island to where her mother had intimated the location of the garden. Her gift of flight from Hermes was still new to her, something given after she became the champion of Paradise, but she managed to find the path. She knew she was getting closer because of the thorny shrubs that flanked her. The thistle-covered wall of vines would not let her pass, and when she tried to fly over them, they grew to cover the garden. She sat against a tree, staring at the plant-covered entry. She felt a gentle touch on her shoulder and opened her eyes; she had fallen asleep.
“Princess? What are you doing here?” One of her sisters knelt before her.
“My apologies, Alcippe.” Diana yawned. “I—I was curious about the garden. My mother told me about it.” She let Alcippe help her up.
Alcippe shrugged and giggled. “For a moment, I thought…”
“Oh, dear gods no! Haven’t I given my mother enough to worry about?” Diana laughed with her sister Amazon.
“Would you… would you like to come with me? Into the garden?” Alcippe smiled, telling Diana that this was a genuine invitation to see what lay beyond the thorns.
“Are you sure, sister? I mean, am I allowed?” Diana took Alcippe’s hands.
Alcippe led Diana down the path and the vines receded, revealing a meadow that ended at a cliff overlooking the ocean. Jutting from various points were marble plinths or small columns, atop which sat some of the most striking sculpture Diana had ever seen. The sun peeked over the horizon, and the new morning light cast a newness upon the garden. Birds chirped all around, and butterflies meandered from one end to the other. Flower petals lay as a carpet on the garden floor.
“By the gods…” Diana whispered as she walked up to one statue of a small child, the clay arms toward the sky. The mother had carved the hint of a smile. Even with no training or skill, each woman had sculpted the most striking statues, each one formed with love and desire. Innocence and beauty overwhelmed Diana, and she broke down. Another statue was of a child who faced the sky, her arms wide open. By the time she reached Alcippe, Diana had seen about two-dozen statues, each unique in style and grace. The young Amazon faced a clay statue, a girl sitting, a butterfly on her finger. The curls, hardened and unmoving, had been formed with care. Diana lowered her eyes; surely, they had moved her heart.
“This is your… daughter. Forgive me.”
Alcippe took Diana’s fingers and used them to trace the arms of the statue, letting Diana’s finger follow the curve of the child’s cheek.
“I sculpted her a year ago. I had waking dreams about a child for months, and I awoke one morning by the sea, the gods having guided my hand. In the sand, I saw her. I felt the presence of Aphrodite with me. I brought her here, to be with her sisters. Her name is Melousa.”
Diana brought Alcippe’s hands to her cheek.” This is the most precious thing I have ever seen. Thank you, dear sister.”
Alcippe and the princess walked back to the city together. Diana told her mother of the experience, and rather than being upset at her daughter, Hippolyte embraced her, telling Diana that she had been truly blessed since not even the queen herself had seen the garden itself. Surely, the gods had wanted the Amazon princess to see it. In the days that followed, Diana learned from her mother that a group of Amazons would be heading to the Isle of Hope. She asked who was going, and when she heard Alcippe’s name, she squealed in delight. Hippolyte told her that not all Amazons became pregnant. Diana didn’t care. She knew that, if nothing else, Alcippe would always have the sculpted child as her own; she had lived with only the statue for so long. Unfortunately, Diana needed to depart with Col. Trevor before she could see Alcippe and the others off, but she said she would return as soon as she could.
On the morning of her departure, another radiant sunrise greeting the contingent of Amazons with their queen and princess. Diana had donned her ceremonial armor, the standard she would bear into Man’s World. Holding Col. Trevor in her arms, Hermes appeared and instructed her to follow him. With a farewell to her mother and sisters, Diana took to the skies, smiling as she thought about the prospect of a new world to experience. Col. Trevor lay sleeping in her arms, and she pondered what his world would be like, and if she would have the chance to speak with him again. Her mission had begun the moment she won the Tournament, and she wanted to bring hope to the outer world.
• • •
Less than a year passed, and Diana flew back over the ocean, eager to see her mother, her sisters, and her home. She had much to tell them about her experience, how she had been dubbed ‘Wonder Woman’ by the press, and how she had seen so much: the goodness in the hearts of men, the technological advances, and the wealth of knowledge that would augment the Amazonian understanding of how far humanity had come. Of course, she also had memories laden with shadow and melancholy, of the despair of humans across the globe. As she touched Themysciran soil once more, she felt a pull toward a part of the island she had only seen that one time.
The path to the garden looked the same as when she last saw it. With new eyes, she reached out to the brambles that blocked her way.
“Great Aphrodite…” She covered her heart. “I bring love and compassion to those who live an eternity in stone. I have seen the children of Man’s World, how they laugh and smile, how they play, and how they bring happiness to all those who look upon them. Please let me bring blessings to these children of hope.”
Western zephyrs teased her curls, bring her the smell of the sea and roses and lilac. At peace in her heart, mind, and spirit, Diana remembered the day she saw Alcippe, and the way she was moved. As if that memory were the key to a goddess’ whim, the thorns moved to clear the path. The statues were as she remembered, although two were missing from their plinths. Diana’s questions would go unanswered. She turned to see the statue Alcippe had borne of her two hands, the curves of the stone, the child’s chin and eyes. Then, she heard what sounded like cracking stone. Diana looked closer at the statue, and what was one small crack became many, splintering through the stone. Tears poured from the princess as she witnessed this horrific moment, and then, what she had dreaded came to pass—the statue began to crumble.
Then, something unthinkable happened. As the pieces fell, they became flower petals and floated to the ground. The stone butterfly that had rested on the statue’s hand came to life and fluttered off. A few seconds later, all that remained of the statue were petals on the garden floor. Stunned, Diana ran from the garden, unsure of what she had seen, and headed for the palace.
By the time she reached it, a small group was heading away from the palace on horseback. Unsure of what was happening, she followed in flight. The contingent of Amazons arrived at the shore, boarding a boat. Diana knew where they were headed, but she had no idea why. She hadn’t seen such a flurry of activity in a long while. She arrived before them and landed by the temple’s entry.
“Princess! Come quickly!” A healer gestured, and they ran into a chamber of the temple where a woman lay on a bed. Diana’s face lit up.
“Alcippe! Praise Aphrodite! What—”
Before Diana could ask anything, Alcippe unfolded her arms and there rested an infant girl, suckling at the Amazon’s breast. Diana sat on the bedside, and Alcippe took her princess’ hand, placing it gently on the infant’s head.
“Princess, this is Melousa.”
Diana broke down in hysterics, and she couldn’t stop. Two healers stepped up to see to her, but it was Alcippe whose touch calmed her.
“Diana, what’s wrong?”
“I—I went to the garden and saw your statue. It—It became… I thought...” She pulled Alcippe’s hand to her cheek.
Alcippe smiled. “Oh, sweet Diana. You didn’t know. If an Amazon takes part in the ritual of Uniting of Souls, should she bear a child, the statue… well, you saw. It’s all right. It’s all right.” She squeezed Diana’s hand.
“Would you like to hold her? I have a little time before I leave for the village.”
In Diana’s arms, the infant girl gurgled and cooed. The princess held out her finger, and Melousa held on. Even for a relative newborn, she had a strong grip. Diana laughed. She kissed Melousa’s forehead and handed her back to Alcippe.
A touch on Diana’s shoulder made her turn. It was Hippolyte. Mother and daughter embraced.
“This child, like you, is the true hope of Themyscira.”
Hippolyte and her daughter returned to the main island, and Diana had much to tell about her adventures. However, nothing would surpass the day she met Melousa.
CLICK PLAY to listen to a text-to-voice telling of this story by "Emma," a British female voice. Since Emma is not real, her voice doesn't have inflections, but it's nice to listen to as you read.