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Fantasy Nights

Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but now lives in Pittsburgh. Her short stories have appeared in Analog, F&SF, Interzone, Lightspeed, and several Year's Best anthologies. She has won the Elgin Award and the Rhysling Award for her poetry, and, in August 2017, had 119 haiku in Science, one for each element of the periodic table. She has an antiquated website at marysoonlee.com.
Knight
I was barely fourteen, the eighth of the eleven princes my father had amassed between his five wives. When Sir L invited me to view his butterfly collection, I naively believed I'd spend the evening admiring swallowtails and fritillaries. Instead I was taken aback (and in several other notable orientations). Suffice it to say, he used his lance a lot.
Dwarf
Rather more circumspect following my lessons from Sir L, it was two years before my next encounter. A delegation of a dozen dwarves arrived at court, and I found myself fascinated by their swan-white beards, their strength mismatched to their stature. What they lacked in size, they made up for in quality. Short but sweet.
Prince
Charming.
Unicorn
Not all of them want maidens, but all are horned, horny, haunting. Rider or ridden, no way to rid yourself of that craving. A taste like iced white wine. A wanton wildness. No mercy, nothing of kindness.
Sphinx
Questions, questions, questions. Did I like her tail? Did I prefer her to the unicorn? Did I prefer humans, hers to hims, possession or submission? When, finally, I asked her not to pry, she switched to riddles. What has a single eye, but cannot see? Which two sisters give birth, each to the other, in turn? Never a dull moment, nor a quiet one.
Elf
Plenty of quiet moments. The elf lord elegant, exquisitely graceful. A present I lusted to unwrap. Yet, unwrapped beside me, his swordsmanship brief at best. Still, he had other gifts. From hawk to sparrow, every bird came willing to his hand. The notes from his harp conjured the river's rush, the horse's gallop, the autumn wind.
Sorceress queen
One hour her wings formed my feathered bed, the next I had a tiger by the tail. Paws, claws, fingers, fins, fur, soft, slick, sharp. Purring, growling, hissing, howling. How she had me under her spell. How I begged to stay on at her court. How her cloud-pale eyes darkened to storm when she discarded me.
Dragon
Once burned, twice shy.
Orc
Hardly a companion I'd have chosen. Squat, lumpen, his skin coarse, his voice hoarse, his stubby fingernails filthy. He found me near death: robbed, bruised, bleeding. No horse, no gold, no weapons, no guards. Neither proof nor memory of my name and rank. His rough hands that bound my wounds. His strong arms that carried me to his cave.
He braved the villagers' contempt, bought me bread, goat cheese, hazelnuts. Helped me eat. Laid bluebells and honeysuckle by my side. Laid a wolf pelt over me at night. Shy. Hesitant. Waiting through the weeks while I slowly stitched together my past. Waiting for me to shrink from his touch. Waiting for me to leave him.
I have not left. Cherished, I learned, at last, to cherish.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018


I find it hard to write humor, but this short piece has several attempts at it. As well as it being hard for me to write humor, it's also hard for me to know whether it has succeeded. Of my attempts here, I am partial to the one-word pun of the "Prince" section. I'm also glad that I ended up pairing the narrator with an orc, rather than a more traditional romantic companion.

- Mary Soon Lee

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