Home > Wonder Woman: Warbringer (DC Icons #1)

Wonder Woman: Warbringer (DC Icons #1)
Author: Leigh Bardugo

“Draw nigh, come through the press to grips with me, so shall ye learn what might wells up in breasts of Amazons. With my blood is mingled war!”

—Quintus Smyrnaeus, The Fall of Troy

You do not enter a race to lose.

Diana bounced lightly on her toes at the starting line, her calves taut as bowstrings, her mother’s words reverberating in her ears. A noisy crowd had gathered for the wrestling matches and javelin throws that would mark the start of the Nemeseian Games, but the real event was the footrace, and now the stands were buzzing with word that the queen’s daughter had entered the competition.

When Hippolyta had seen Diana amid the runners clustered on the arena sands, she’d displayed no surprise. As was tradition, she’d descended from her viewing platform to wish the athletes luck in their endeavors, sharing a joke here, offering a kind word of encouragement there. She had nodded briefly to Diana, showing her no special favor, but she’d whispered, so low that only her daughter could hear, “You do not enter a race to lose.”

Amazons lined the path that led out of the arena, already stamping their feet and chanting for the games to begin.

On Diana’s right, Rani flashed her a radiant smile. “Good luck today.” She was always kind, always gracious, and, of course, always victorious.

To Diana’s left, Thyra snorted and shook her head. “She’s going to need it.”

Diana ignored her. She’d been looking forward to this race for weeks—a trek across the island to retrieve one of the red flags hung beneath the great dome in Bana-Mighdall. In a flat-out sprint, she didn’t have a chance. She still hadn’t come into the fullness of her Amazon strength. You will in time, her mother had promised. But her mother promised a lot of things.

This race was different. It required strategy, and Diana was ready. She’d been training in secret, running sprints with Maeve, and plotting a route that had rougher terrain but was definitely a straighter shot to the western tip of the island. She’d even—well, she hadn’t exactly spied….She’d gathered intelligence on the other Amazons in the race. She was still the smallest, and of course the youngest, but she’d shot up in the last year, and she was nearly as tall as Thyra now.

I don’t need luck, she told herself. I have a plan. She glanced down the row of Amazons gathered at the starting line like troops readying for war and amended, But a little luck wouldn’t hurt, either. She wanted that laurel crown. It was better than any royal circlet or tiara—an honor that couldn’t be given, that had to be earned.

She found Maeve’s red hair and freckled face in the crowd and grinned, trying to project confidence. Maeve returned the smile and gestured with both hands as if she were tamping down the air. She mouthed the words, “Steady on.”

Diana rolled her eyes but nodded and tried to slow her breathing. She had a bad habit of coming out too fast and wasting her speed too early.

Now she cleared her mind and forced herself to concentrate on the course as Tekmessa walked the line, surveying the runners, jewels glinting in her thick corona of curls, silver bands flashing on her brown arms. She was Hippolyta’s closest advisor, second in rank only to the queen, and she carried herself as if her belted indigo shift were battle armor.

“Take it easy, Pyxis,” Tek murmured to Diana as she passed. “Wouldn’t want to see you crack.” Diana heard Thyra snort again, but she refused to flinch at the nickname. You won’t be smirking when I’m on the victors’ podium, she promised.

Tek raised her hands for silence and bowed to Hippolyta, who sat between two other members of the Amazon Council in the royal loge—a high platform shaded by a silken overhang dyed in the vibrant red and blue of the queen’s colors. Diana knew that was where her mother wanted her right now, seated beside her, waiting for the start of the games instead of competing. None of that would matter when she won.

Hippolyta dipped her chin the barest amount, elegant in her white tunic and riding trousers, a simple circlet resting against her forehead. She looked relaxed, at her ease, as if she might decide to leap down and join the competition at any time, but still every inch the queen.

Tek addressed the athletes gathered on the arena sands. “In whose honor do you compete?”

“For the glory of the Amazons,” they replied in unison. “For the glory of our queen.” Diana felt her heart beat harder. She’d never said the words before, not as a competitor.

“To whom do we give praise each day?” Tek trumpeted.

“Hera,” they chorused. “Athena, Demeter, Hestia, Aphrodite, Artemis.” The goddesses who had created Themyscira and gifted it to Hippolyta as a place of refuge.

Tek paused, and along the line, Diana heard the whispers of other names: Oya, Durga, Freyja, Mary, Yael. Names once cried out in death, the last prayers of female warriors fallen in battle, the words that had brought them to this island and given them new life as Amazons. Beside Diana, Rani murmured the names of the demon-fighting Matri, the seven mothers, and pressed the rectangular amulet she always wore to her lips.

Tek raised a blood-red flag identical to those that would be waiting for the runners in Bana-Mighdall.

“May the island guide you to just victory!” she shouted.

She dropped the red silk. The crowd roared. The runners surged toward the eastern arch. Like that, the race had begun.

Diana and Maeve had anticipated a bottleneck, but Diana still felt a pang of frustration as runners clogged the stone throat of the tunnel, a tangle of white tunics and muscled limbs, footsteps echoing off the stone, all of them trying to get clear of the arena at once. Then they were on the road, sprinting across the island, each runner choosing her own course.

You do not enter a race to lose.

Diana set her pace to the rhythm of those words, bare feet slapping the packed earth of the road that would lead her through the tangle of the Cybelian Woods to the island’s northern coast.

Ordinarily, a miles-long trek through this forest would be a slow one, hampered by fallen trees and tangles of vines so thick they had to be hacked through with a blade you didn’t mind dulling. But Diana had plotted her way well. An hour after she entered the woods, she burst from the trees onto the deserted coast road. The wind lifted her hair, and salt spray lashed her face. She breathed deep, checked the position of the sun. She was going to win—not just place but win.

She’d mapped out the course the week before with Maeve, and they’d run it twice in secret, in the gray-light hours of early morning, when their sisters were first rising from their beds, when the kitchen fires were still being kindled, and the only curious eyes they’d had to worry about belonged to anyone up early to hunt game or cast nets for the day’s catch. But hunters kept to the woods and meadows farther south, and no one fished off this part of the coast; there was no good place to launch a boat, just the steep steel-colored cliffs plunging straight down to the sea, and a tiny, unwelcoming cove that could only be reached by a path so narrow you had to shuffle down sideways, back pressed to the rock.

The northern shore was gray, grim, and inhospitable, and Diana knew every inch of its secret landscape, its crags and caves, its tide pools teeming with limpets and anemones. It was a good place to be alone. The island seeks to please, her mother had told her. It was why Themyscira was forested by redwoods in some places and rubber trees in others; why you could spend an afternoon roaming the grasslands on a scoop-neck pony and the evening atop a camel, scaling a moonlit dragonback of sand dunes. They were all pieces of the lives the Amazons had led before they came to the island, little landscapes of the heart.

Diana sometimes wondered if Themyscira had called the northern coast into being just for her so that she could challenge herself climbing on the sheer drop of its cliffs, so that she could have a place to herself when the weight of being Hippolyta’s daughter got to be too much.

You do not enter a race to lose.

Her mother had not been issuing a general warning. Diana’s losses meant something different, and they both knew it—and not only because she was a princess.

Diana could almost feel Tek’s knowing gaze on her, hear the mocking in her voice. Take it easy, Pyxis. That was the nickname Tek had given her. Pyxis. A little clay pot made to store jewels or a tincture of carmine for pinking the lips. The name was harmless, meant to tease, always said in love—or so Tek claimed. But it stung every time: a reminder that Diana was not like the other Amazons, and never would be. Her sisters were battle-proven warriors, steel forged from suffering and honed to greatness as they passed from life to immortality. All of them had earned their place on Themyscira. All but Diana, born of the island’s soil and Hippolyta’s longing for a child, fashioned from clay by her mother’s hands—hollow and breakable. Take it easy, Pyxis. Wouldn’t want to see you crack.

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