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Their first mistake was letting me choose the task.
These proud suitors
Sons of kings and conquerors
Star-touched and god-born
these heroes dreaming laurels upon their brows,
their bronzed shoulders gleaming with imagined glory.
I chose the track to be my battleground—
a footrace on hard-packed red earth
beneath a blazing sun.

Their second mistake was letting me set the terms.
They want just to want, take just to take.
Coffers overflowing with coin and spice,
Myths littered with the names of maidens saved, brides won.
I chose the freedom to want, to take, to be
more than diversion, than challenge,
than prize.
My story in history.
Their crowns laid at my feet.

Their third mistake was letting me compete at all.
This low-born girl
Daughter of borderlands and wilds
Friendless and nameless
without the certainty of grand auspices taken by
vapor-veiled oracles at the mouths of yawning caves.
I chose to break my chains and defy those gods
who would have me play their
thrice rigged game.

One fairest fruit to bring nations to war.
Two nectar-ripe taken as Labour performed.
Three made of gold to catch a warrior maid,
to siphon the wind from her unparalleled pace
to weigh down her spirit, and bind
her unruly mane
her hand to an unwanted marriage, the
vanity of a man who prayed.

I choose to make my own claim and bend
my life like the wanderer’s great bow,
the huntress’ crescent,
my will an arrow.

So when the trumpets blare and the starting ropes drop,
they’ll only see the flash of my earth-dark legs,
a cloud of nightshade hair, and
those damned apples I brought
tumbling in my wake.
I’ll snap sinew,
cleave meat from bone
Burn up my lungs and
ignite my blood
until I am

Storm-born
Quick as thought,
Bright as a jagged
Bolt.



Alice is a Taiwanese-American poet whose work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Liminality, Polu Texni, and Through the Gate. She loves magic, myth, and women who persist. She hates running. You can find her online at Girl On The Roam (girlontheroam.wordpress.com) or perennially on Twitter @kangaru, chatting about books and superheroes.
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17 Jul 2020
Strange Horizons is now accepting fiction submissions for our Mexico Special issue, which will be published at the end of November 2020!
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