Lady Diana: Knight
A JLA Elseworlds fantasy, Animated Series style.
All characters belong to Warner Bros./DC Comics. This story is not intended for profit.
Two short swords clashed in the arena, and a cheer went up from the crowd. The Spring Festival had begun.
The warriors circled each other, as two women watched above from the Royal Box. The darker one, her hair bound in small braids, leaned over to the taller woman, her curly black hair tumbling over her shoulders.
"Your daughter fights well," Phillipus whispered with a smile.
"Yes," replied the Queen. "You trained her well. She has a warrior's spirit."
They watched the women again, their bronze masks secured to their faces with a thick leather strap, locking swords again, struggling against one another to gain ground.
Finally, the lithe woman, her fiery braid swinging behind her, shoved the other back, forcing her to lose her footing and fall to the ground.
Queen Hippolyta rose to her feet.
"Yield," the warrior commanded, pointing her sword down at the other. Swinging quickly to her feet, her opponent blocked the blow with her blade and answered her defiantly.
They were joined in battle again. The raven-haired woman jumping backwards swung her blade across her as the other lunged. The force of the blow broke the other's sword in half. Hippolyta smiled and took her seat.
Another cheer went up from the crowd as they tossed their weapons aside, and two women ran from the edge of the arena, arming the warriors anew with tridents.
Leaning towards each other with pointed staffs, they began to thrust and dodge the blows of each. Finally seeing an opening, Diana took the advantage, lowering her elbow and driving herself into the other, sending her sprawling this time to the ground.
Artemis growled, reached for her weapon, and felt her wrist trapped. The edges of the trident dug into the ground with a loud thump, as Diana kicked her opponent's weapon out of reach.
Struggling briefly against the trident pinning her wrist, she acknowledged the futility with a nod of her head.
The crowd roared, and Diana glanced up at the Royal Box, seeing her mother standing there, smiling proudly down at her.
She narrowed her eyes, and drew the trident from the ground with both hands, helping the other to her feet.
Both raised their hands as flower petals were tossed towards them from the crowds of cheering women.
"You did well, Artemis," Diana said in a low tone.
"Not well enough," she replied, humorlessly.
They circled the arena, finally standing before the Royal Box. Lowering their hands, they watched as the Queen made her way down the dais towards them, the golden olive branch in her hand.
Both bowed at the waist, and Diana rose first when her mother brushed it lightly against her shoulder. Then, handing the branch to her, they turned again and Diana stepped forward to be praised by the audience.
"It all feels so…hollow…" Diana said, looking out over the ocean as the sun set over it. She watched the seabirds fly out across the expanse, envying their freedom.
"How can you say that?" asked Artemis.
Diana turned towards the woman; both changed out of their short tunics and into the ceremonial garb for the evening's celebration. Already the fires were being lit in the city below.
"Who is it for? Us?!" Diana shook her head and stared back at the other woman.
"It is our greatest honor. One that you have won two years in a row, I might add."
Diana looked back out again to the sea, and gestured towards the waves.
"There is more out there, Artemis. Challenges we have never faced, kingdoms we have never seen…"
"Talking about the Tournament of Men again, are you?"
Diana sighed wistfully and crossed her arms.
"Give up that silly dream, Diana. Your mother has forbid us to participate in their tournaments. They will not allow women!"
She looked over her reflection in the mirror, pulling up her hair past her ears, and turning to the side. Pressing a hand against her chest, she flattened her breasts.
Artemis' words came to her again. "Give up that silly dream, Diana."
Frowning, she looked out her window at the small port, where the merchant ship came to trade goods. Men were only allowed off the ship to unload and then restock, finally to sail away back to their distant land.
Tonight, they would sail back to the Land of Men, and she would be left on the island, to fight ceremonial battles and celebrate empty victories. She felt the twist in her chest, more than ever before. It would break her mother's heart if she were to defy her. Yet she looked longingly over at the sword on her bed table.
Her mind was made up. So they would deny women their right to fight in the Tournament of Men?
Lifting the gleaming sword, she drew it across her braided hair, as it fell in a heavy heap to the floor.
It was easy enough to stow away on the ship at night. She had climbed swiftly along the ropes while they were loading for the trip home, and had hidden among the livestock in the hull. The smell was nearly unbearable, but she was too excited to even think of turning back.
Pulling open her pouch, she drew out an apple, and them with a small knife, cut a piece off and ate. Then, settling against the hay in a corner, she placed her short sword on her lap and drifted off to sleep.
The small port town was dirty and loud, compared to her own.
She had managed to survive sparingly on the fruit and bread taken from the Royal kitchen over the two-day journey back to the Land of Men.
Waiting until the cover of night, she had slipped back out of the ship, tugging her hooded cloak down over her eyes, and careful to secure her bronze mask over her face.
Passing through the streets, she continued as the hearth fires went out one by one. The night air was warm, and soon the cobbled ground turned to dirt as she reached the edge of the town. Looking down into her pouch, she noticed she only had a small amount of bread left.
Up ahead, trees began to cover the path, and she headed into the edge of the forest, taking up into the trees and settling down to sleep, eating the last of her food.
Waking with a start, she grabbed her sword, and balanced on the branch. Below her, shadows passed in hushed voices. Waiting until they had gone a safe distance, she jumped down and slowly began following them.
Deep into the forest they went, and she stopped to silence her stomach as it rumbled. Up ahead, there was the light of a fire and the smell of warm game filled her nostrils.
Carefully, she headed off the path, taking to the trees whenever she absently stepped on a twig or crushed leaves. It broke into a clearing, and she watched as three men and a woman sat near the fire, carousing and emptying bags onto the ground. Horses were tied to a tree nearby.
The bags were filled with odds and ends. Loose money, pots, clothing, jewelry, pouches. Diana narrowed her eyes. Thieves.
"Please…don't!" came the whimpering anew.
Diana glanced up to see a man dressed in brightly colored clothes, wearing a strange hat with bells jingling on each of it's tri-corners.
"Make us laugh, then!" yelled one of the men, drawing his sword, and pressing it to the hollow of the man's throat.
"Should we just kill him now?" asked the woman.
The clown raised his hands, as though to wave away the suggestion. "I'm just a pickpocket."
"And a poor one at that, to steal from the Royal Flush Gang," said another, jingling his money pouch and laughing drunkenly. "So you'd better be funny."
The clown eyed the rabbit turning on the spit by the fire, and put on his most endearing expression.
"Maybe just a morsel, for a poor, hungry soul?"
Diana rolled her eyes at his audacity.
"Dance!" said one, throwing a rock at him, hitting him square in the chest.
Rowdy cries caused the clown to get to his feet and dance awkwardly around the fire. He circled it, moving disjointedly as the robbers laughed on. It went on until the fire finally died out, and the clown collapsed in a heap on the ground with a sigh, as the thieves drifted off to sleep.
Diana waited until they were all fast asleep, and then crawled down from her tree, stalking slowly into the camp. She had already formed a plan in her mind, determined to bring these men to justice, for whoever would have it.
"What are you doing?!"
The hushed whisper came from her left, and she saw the clown looking up at her in the moonlight. Placing a finger to her lips, she silenced him.
Carefully, she drew from her cloak, tied behind her waist, a lasso entwined with gold. It had been a gift from her mother for her eighteenth birthday. The clown grew silent as he watched it glint in the spare light.
She silently said a prayer to Morpheus to let them sleep on as she wrapped the rope around an ankle of each, circling the fire. When it was done, she went to the horses, carefully caressing them as she untied them from the tree so as not to startle them.
Then, with the lasso in her hand, she threw the rope over the heaviest branch above and wrapped it double around the grip of a saddle. Yelling out a loud "Yah!" she watched the horse charge through the trees.
The thieves awoke with a start, and angry shouts filled the air. The lasso pulled taught, and sent them tumbling back to the ground and then into the air as they dangled from the branch.
A trail of cursing and yells reached her ears as the robbers twisted in the air.
One of them spit at her. She went and left to check on the horse, untying the lasso, after leading the horse around a tree and securing it.
"Had enough?" she asked again.
None of them said a word, staring down at her mask and imposing demeanor with fear.
Securing her lasso back to her belt, she looked back at the robbers tied against a tree with their own common rope. Loot was stacked up against its heavy trunk, evidence of their crimes, their horses set free to return to their masters.
The clown stood next to her, smiling up at her nervously.
"That was great!" he said.
She glanced back at him wordlessly, and headed off down the path again.
"Say," he said, following after her. "You're not from around here, are you?"
"No," she said, careful to lower her voice as she had done before.
"Didn't think so," he said, all arms and legs and mouth. "Guess you'll be needing a guide, then. Don't worry, I work for cheap."
"I will travel alone," she replied.
"Where to?" he said, bounding along beside her.
"The Tournament of Men."
He stopped in the road, and scratched his head. "The what?"
"Tournament of Men," she threw over her shoulder.
"There's no such thing!" he yelled from the distance, cupping his hands over his mouth.
She stopped in the road for a moment, considering this. Stranger in a strange land, she did not know their customs, their names for things, even where to find the tournament.
He took her silence to be an invitation, and sauntered back towards her.
"My name is O'Brien," he said offering a hand. "They call me the Eel, because I always slip in and out of trouble."
Staring back at his hand, she turned again and headed down the path.
"In and out of people's pockets as well. Just be sure you keep to your own." She pulled back her cloak so the hilt of her sword was visible.
"Okay," he gulped, and followed after her.
They journeyed in silence along the road. Diana felt her stomach rumble again, and groaned inwardly.
"Say," O'Brien asked. "Why do you wear that mask anyway?"
"Do you always talk so much?" she said evenly, evading the question.
"Oooh. Some nasty accident, I suppose. Or a battle, no less!" he started. "A stranger from a faraway land comes to avenge his honor in the Tournament of Champions! His face hidden for scars of a time he would rather forget…"
"Could you please be quiet?" she asked.
"Certainly. I have a scar. Got it sticking my fingers where they don't belong, if you know what I mean…"
"Quiet?" she said with exasperation.
"The guy had a mouse in his pocket. More like a rat by the size. How was I to know?"
Diana indulged him as they headed down the road, tuning out his banter as much as possible.
Finally, he quieted, although she suspected it was more from exhaustion than from lack of words. Her feet were beginning to feel heavy and her hunger becoming unbearable.
They stopped at a crossroads, as Diana waited for the clown to figure which direction they would head towards.
"I believe this road," he said, pointing to the left, "leads to Small Valley. The one to the right leads to Lexumberg. That's where the tournament is held."
Heading to the right, they walked for several more miles, before a light shone in the distance, and Diana breathed a sigh of relief. It had to be, it must be, a tavern.
And it was.
Horses were lined up outside of the long building; the smell of food and sound of glasses and plates clinking came from inside. It was almost dark, and Diana felt comfortable venturing inside.
As they made their way in, a man was thrown out the open door landing spread eagle on the ground. He didn't get up.
"Keep yer hands to yerself, bub!" the bouncer said, wiping his hands.
He turned and looked at both of them with his unruly black hair and long mustache, pulled into a smirk. His pale skin looked as though he hadn't seen the light of day in some time.
"Whadd're you lookin' at?!" he bellowed?
Diana looked up at the tavern sign and read the words, "Lobo's Place."
O'Brien put his hands on his hips and huffed. "I've heard of the guy. Used to be a bounty hunter."
"Good for him," Diana said, and walked into the tavern, as the clown followed closely behind her, holding onto her cape.
The tavern was lined with long tables, piled high with food that was being crammed into the faces of a surly crowd. Buxom waitresses in short dresses maneuvered through the room, delivering drinks and plates of food, trying to avoid getting pinched and prodded.
Diana sneered and walked over to the bar, tapping Lobo on the shoulder.
"Whaddaya want!" he yelled.
"A room," she said, lowering her voice.
He narrowed his eyes and stared down at her and then at O'Brien.
"You and him, huh? It'll cost ya extra. I don't go in for the funny stuff."
"Hey!" yelled O'Brien.
Lobo growled down at the skinny man, who ducked back behind Diana's cape.
Diana pulled out her pouch, and tossed a few gold coins on the bar. Lobo's eyes gleamed as his mouth stretched into a wide grin.
"Have a seat!" he said, his demeanor suddenly friendly. He directed them to a small table in the corner and ordered the waitress over. "Give 'em whatever they want, babe!" he said, smacking her behind as he walked away, laughing.
The waitress grinned at them, O'Brien eyeing her assets approvingly. Diana kicked him under the table, making him jump, and ordered them food and a lager each. O'Brien watched the waitress saunter away, rubbing his bruised knee.
"What was THAT for?!"
She didn't answer, and instead looked around the tavern, noticing that some of the eyes had turned in their direction. Unwanted attention. Looking away, she turned back to O'Brien as something caught her eye. A glint of boots set on a table in one darkened corner lined with shining dark armor. A pair of eyes shone back from the shadows, locking with hers.
The waitress returned, and placed the mugs on the table and a plate of food. Her eyes lit up as Diana paid her with gold, and she quickly looked around and shoved it into her bodice, saying a whispered thank you.
"You shouldn't flash that around here," said O'Brien, lowly.
"So it seems."
She glanced back at the corner where the armored man had sat, but he was gone. Eyes searching the room, she found he was nowhere in sight.
O'Brien was tipping back his glass for the fifth time that night, and talking non-stop to the waitresses that surrounded him. Diana quietly drank her lager and excused herself, heading up the stairs with Lobo to the sleeping quarters.
As they reached the door, he pushed it open on its heavy hinges and sniffed.
"You sure smell funny, for a guy."
Diana ignored him, shoving her way past him into the room, and slamming the door shut behind her.
Downstairs, O'Brien decided that his bladder needed a break. Stepping outside, he stumbled out the front door of the tavern, whistling to himself and heading around the corner.
He stood against the building and looked up into the sky.
"Hello, moon," he said with a slur, "Hello, stars. Hello…URK!"
The gauntlet gripped him around the neck, and turned him, shoving him against the wall.
"Hello, Eel," said the man, leaning into the shadows, but still concealing his face.
"D-do I know you?" the clown stammered.
The hand released him, and he sank to the ground. O'Brien's eyes followed up the length of the man, over his midnight armor, up past his broad shoulders and to the helmet masking most of his face. The two ornamental wings atop it were a dead giveaway.
"Oh," he said. " You."
"Where's the information you promised me?" snarled the man.
"I was, just, um…getting it?" O'Brien said, weakly.
"No you weren't. Who are you swindling now?"
O'Brien slowly rose to his feet, a puzzled look on his face. "Actually, I dunno. Never got his name. Plenty of gold on him, though."
The gauntlet was around his throat again, lifting him off the ground and pressing his back to the tavern's side.
"Impossible, but you're more stupid than I first thought."
"The guy saved my life, okay?"
"Put him down!"
They both turned their heads and looked to see Diana staring them down, her sword pointed towards the dark knight. He dropped O'Brien without a thought, turning towards her.
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you."
"Go about your business."
He pulled a long sword out of its sheath and pointed it towards the ground before him, wresting both hands on the hilt.
"That's exactly what I was doing. What's your business with The Eel?"
Diana took a step towards him, refusing to answer. Something about his casual demeanor irritated her. O'Brien began to slide against the wall towards her, and stopped when the knight pressed a lever in his gauntlet with his forefinger, and launched a dagger from it.
"Enough!" Diana yelled, and charged him.
Pulling his long sword from the ground, the knight blocked her attack with a crash of metal against metal. Diana tested her strength against him. He was strong, but she was stronger.
Backing away, she looked for a weakness in his armor. Quickly, he sheathed the long sword and began to pull out a short sword from his other side as Diana charged, catching him off guard, and forcing him to swing around to evade her.
Ducking, he let her weight carry her through and spun behind her, grabbing her around the neck in a chokehold and gripping her sword arm.
Diana tested her leverage, and then leaned forward, throwing him over her shoulder. He landed in a crash of armor on the ground, but was soon on his feet again. A thin smile stretched over his countenance, which Diana couldn't read as maniacal or amused.
He drew his short sword out, and charged her, as they blocked each other's attacks, each matching the other blow for blow. Diana was actually breaking a sweat, as his fervor was weakening, his movements becoming slower. Dropping his hand to block a low offensive, Diana flipped his sword around and out of his hand.
Moving to kick his right leg out from under him, he grabbed her foot, as she pushed off of him and flipped away. Just as he was reaching for his long sword, she used all of her weight and shouldered him against the wall, raising her short sword to the only vulnerable place on his person: his neck.
He raised his chin, looking down at her as the sword pressed into his skin.
"This is finished," she said, through short breaths.
His eyes glanced down, and Diana's followed, seeing the tip of the blade from his wrist pointed at her ribs. Taking a deep breath, she released him and pushed away from him, as O'Brien fell into step behind her. The dagger slid back into his gauntlet, as he retracted the trigger.
"Where did you learn to do that?" he asked.
"Do what?" she asked, wiping the sweat dripping down her neck from beneath the mask.
"The way you threw me. Where did you learn it?"
"My people are warriors. We are taught as children."
O'Brien was watching them back and forth in aggravation.
"He was trying to KILL ME!"
The knight narrowed his eyes, turning towards O'Brien, who quickly put up his hands.
"Okay, maybe not kill me, but hurt me a little."
He forgot O'Brien and turned back towards Diana.
"Who are you?"
"I am to compete in the Tournament of Champions."
The knight started laughing, raising her ire again.
"I don't think so," he finally said.
"And why not?!" she said angrily.
"Because you're not a man."
Diana woke in the morning to find O'Brien staring at her with blinking eyes.
Taking her free hand, she put her palm to his face and shoved him away from her, sending him to the floor.
"I can't believe it," he said, grinning from ear to ear.
"What? That I am female?"
"No," he said excitedly, rising to his feet. "That I spent the night in a room, with a GIRL!"
Diana rolled her eyes, and rose from the straw mat, heading for her robe, as O'Brien kept muttering to himself.
"Wait till I tell mom…"
Tossing the robe over her tunic and securing it with her belt, she opened the door carefully, peeking out into the short hall.
"Time is being wasted," she said to O'Brien, as he followed her down the steps and to the bar.
Lobo was polishing glasses, muttering as they appeared on the ground floor.
"Hey!" he said, brightly. "Howz about another night at Lobo's Place?"
Diana tossed a few gold coins onto the bar, and turned away. O'Brien stopped before Lobo and stuck his finger out at him.
"Remember that next time you try to throw me out."
Lobo growled and O'Brien ran after Diana, never looking back.
They walked down the lonely trail toward Lexumberg. Diana admired the hillside, which became rolling and greener the further they'd walked. She had never seen such tall trees before, and the rise and fall of the landscape caught her breath.
"This place is beautiful," she said.
"Not so beautiful as you," O'Brien answered, his eyelashes fluttering.
"Nice try," she replied curtly. "How far are we from Lexumerg?"
Her words trailed off as the sound of horse hooves clattered across the dirt road. Diana grabbed O'Brien, and ducked behind one of the trees, watching the rider stop. She recognized his boots.
"I know you're there," he said.
O'Brien tried to pull her backward as she stepped into the light, and faced the dark knight.
"What do you want?"
"I don't often travel with companions," he said. "But I think we can help each other."
Diana shifted and stared back at him, crossing her arms. She thought of the fact he knew she wasn't a man, mask or no.
"And how do I benefit?"
"You teach me to fight," he began, "I teach you how to act like a man." Pausing, he looked back at the trees for movement, recognizing the form of O'Brien cowering in the trees. "And I won't strangle Eel. For now."
Diana walked toward him, and extended her hand, as she had seen O'Brien do earlier.
"What do I call you?"
"The Bat Man," he answered, taking her hand.
"On account of he sucks people's blood!" yelled O'Brien from behind the trees.
"I'm headed for Lexumberg as well," he said, ignoring O'Brien.
Diana gripped his gauntlet and shook.
"And what's your name?" he continued, with a hint of mirth.
"My name is Di…Dyanisos."
They continued their path, with the clown riding on the Bat Man's horse, and the two warriors walking next to each other.
"What do you intend to find in Lexumberg?" he finally asked her.
"I wish to compete in the Tournament of Champions, and prove that a woman is man's equal."
"If you can pass for a man, that is," he followed.
"And what do you intend to find?" she asked.
She looked over at him, finding him lost in thought, peering towards the road ahead as they marched down the dusty path.
"A ring," he said, pausing. "I'm looking for a ring."