When Diana looked back upon this day, she would remember many things: the way the sun beat down upon her where she sat, perched on the highest branch of the largest olive tree jutting out from the cliffs of Themyscira. The laughter of the women beneath her setting up tents and stalls for the Chará festival. The gardeners hurriedly sweeping leaves from the pathways and trimming the last of the rosebushes surrounding her palace home. This was also the day her life would completely change forever.
Of course, at the moment, Diana had no idea of the danger that lay in wait for her a few short hours later. This particular afternoon, she craned her neck, searching the horizon for the ships that would soon arrive. Time always felt like it slowed down the more she looked forward to something, but she couldn’t help feeling excited about this week. Her best friend, Sakina, was almost here. Visitors were rare on Themyscira. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta, had created their nation as a safe place, far from the world of men and all their war and strife. The women who lived on the island were here, in part, because they did not wish to be found.
The Chará festival was the one exception to this rule. In a little while, their island nation of jagged cliffs, stone temples, and sweeping seaside vistas would fill with the most esteemed women in the world: leaders, artists, welders, carpenters, and fierce warriors from distant lands. As always, there would be no men—they were strictly prohibited on Themyscira. Diana had never met one in her life.
Her mother would stay busy in meetings with world leaders for much of the week, but Diana loved exploring the tented stalls to try out the latest technology in steel plate armor or to gaze in wonder at the pottery and paintings artisans had brought with them from around the world. Last summer was the first year Sakina and Diana were allowed to take part in lessons offered by experts in their respective specialties. Sewing, welding, woodwork . . . The girls tried them all. Diana remembered the wooden dolls with the matching lopsided grins they’d carved—she still laughed any time she saw the creation resting on her bedroom shelf.
A battle cry sounded in the distance. Diana glanced at the grassy coliseum shaded by a grove of olive trees at the island’s center. Columns with marble statues of the goddesses Athena, Artemis, and Hera gazed down on the Amazon warriors who, with swords drawn, were finishing the last of their martial arts lessons before the festival was to begin. A familiar wistful tug pulled at Diana’s heart as she watched the women swivel and twirl with their weapons like graceful dancers in silver and bronze plate armor. More than anything in the world, she longed to train alongside them.
Just then a bird trilled near her ears.
“Mira!” Diana exclaimed. The creature was blue as the ocean, with gold-tipped wings and a ruby-red tail that fanned out like a peacock’s. She belonged to Sakina. The bird served as their messenger, shuttling notes to and fro while the girls were apart.
The bird settled on Diana’s lap and blinked her silvery eyes. At night they shone like beams through the dark skies; the girls had had many adventures through the island’s forest last summer with Mira’s eyes shining the way. Diana smiled. If the bird was here, studying the horizon with her, it meant that Sakina’s ship couldn’t be too far behind.
Diana looked back at the island. A flash of gold glinted in the distance. Her eyes widened. It was Cylinda and Yen, the newest warriors to arrive on the island. They wore red metallic masks and gold plate armor, which meant only one thing: they were headed to the island’s edge to guard Doom’s Doorway. The plain concrete barrier separated Themyscira from the sinister Underworld, ruled by the god Hades. The Amazons were tasked with the important duty of guarding it and keeping the creatures and lost souls who were meant to stay within the Underworld from escaping.
Scrambling from the tree, Diana swept down the stone steps etched into the cliff, past the women setting up a weaponry display beneath a white tent, and over to the two warriors.
“What are you doing?” Diana demanded once she caught up to them.
“Hello to you, too,” Yen replied. She tucked a strand of dark hair behind her ear. At six feet tall, both Cylinda and Yen towered over Diana. “Heading to the door. We’re relieving Lisbeth and Kajol.”
“But it can’t be your turn already. You were there last week.”
“The queen asked for volunteers,” Cylinda said.
“What about the festival?”
“Everyone wants to attend.” Yen shrugged. “We figured as the newest, we should be the ones to take an extra shift.”
“You don’t understand. The Chará festival is incredible,
” Diana insisted. “You can’t miss your first one!”
“The bazaar does seem like fun,” Cylinda said. She slid her mask from her face and looked wistfully at the stalls. From where they stood, the many tables extended beyond their line of sight. In a few hours they would be filled with weaponry, artwork, and clothing from around the world.
“It’s not just the bazaar,” Diana said. As recent arrivals, the two women were still learning how to battle and fight. “There are classes and workshops on all sorts of things. Aunt Antiope is teaching a sword fighting masterclass this year. You know the kita hold you’ve been working on? She’s doing a whole day of lessons on it for the visitors.”
“Lucky for us, we’re not visitors.” Yen smiled. “We’ll work on it once we’re back from our duties. Sweet of you to be concerned, but there will be other Chará festivals in the years to come.”
“Take notes for us?” Cylinda asked. “Especially on what the most popular weapon is these days. Yen and I have a bet going.”
“The most popular?” Diana scoffed. “It’s better to focus on what the best
weapon is, and that’s easy.” She walked to the weaponry table and lifted a bronze sword.
“The butterfly sword? I thought you’d point out the Limina.” Cylinda cocked her head to the side. “The jagged edge on that one is three times as long.”
“That’s the problem with it: it’s too
long. The butterfly is lighter than any other, which keeps you fast on your feet.” Diana lifted the sword and flung it skyward. It twirled like an acrobat. Diana grabbed it and sliced an X
in the air.
“Point taken.” Yen raised her hands and laughed. “We don’t ever want to be on your bad side.”
“Diana.” A familiar voice interrupted them.
Diana lowered the sword. Her smile faded. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta, approached the three of them and crossed her arms. She wore her usual golden dress paired with golden plate armor, her blond hair swept up as it always was, and a mixture of exasperation and disappointment in her bright blue eyes. This was usual, too.
“She was only showing us her favorite weapon,” Yen hurriedly said. “It was completely innocent.”
“It always is,” her mother said.
Diana walked back to the table and set the sword down. Her mother didn’t say anything more. She didn’t need to. They’d had the conversation so many times, Diana had practically memorized it. And yet no explanation her mother gave ever made any sense. How could Diana live among the Amazon warriors, the fiercest fighters in the world, and not be allowed to train beyond the basics? The frustration burned inside her.
“Are you ready for duty?” her mother asked them. “You both did an excellent job last time.”
“It’s an honor to serve.” Cylinda beamed.
“The door’s stayed shut as long as I’ve been alive,” Diana insisted. “Maybe they could leave their post for a little while today. An hour or two, just to take a peek at the festival.”
“It’s our responsibility to guard the passage to the Underworld,” her mother said. “And as dull as it can feel sometimes, preventing a problem is less troublesome than fixing one.”
“Update us on everything when we return?” Cylinda ruffled Diana’s hair. Diana nodded and promised she would, and Yen winked as they left to report for duty.
Once the warriors were out of earshot, Diana swiveled to her mother.
“You didn’t have to embarrass me in front of them,” she said. “I was only holding the weapon.”
“And twirling it in the air. Diana, you’re not supposed to handle unfamiliar weapons, especially those specialty ones on the table.”
“But did you see me with it?” Diana insisted. “Both Cylinda and Yen were impressed.”
“Be that as it may, you are not equipped to use it.”
“Then maybe it’s time to let me train,” Diana countered.
“Diana.” Her mother sighed. “Not this again.”
“Why not? I’m twelve. Not two. It’s about time I’m allowed.”
“You have trained plenty. Your aunt taught you all the basics, and you even have a weapon of your own.”
“This lousy sword? It won’t hurt a fly.” Diana gestured to the silver weapon sheathed at her waist. She’d decorated the hilt with emeralds a few days earlier, but it didn’t change the fact that it was still an unremarkable sword. “Besides, I want to know more than the basics. How can I live on an island of Amazons and not be a warrior?”
Copyright © 2020 by Aisha Saeed. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.