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Liane

Ruth Nestvold and the late Jay Lake, both multiple award-winning authors, wrote these tales together. Please check out other tales in their series at Tales of the Rose Knights. Seek out their works elsewhere, as well.
Liane
About 1200 words
Liane had no multitude of names, only one, a simple first name, as sinuous as she. Like her name, she came from simple stock, a village schoolteacher and his tailor wife in the hills of Osverio. Growing up in the schoolhouse, with the sound of languages dead and living filling her days, hearing the history of the Wars of the Sun and the Moon from the time she could listen, Liane could easily have taken over the duties of schoolmaster with very little training.
But her father's tales of the Rose Knights had infected her. There was glory there, and poetry, and even a little tangible magic, much more than in a quiet life in the hills of Osverio.
It is said that wanting a thing enough goes a long way in making it true, and thus it was with Liane. She trained in arms with an old soldier who had chosen their modest village to retire from the wars, and when he declared her fit, they traveled together to the City of the Rising Sun.
Although she found the stories of her childhood exaggerated, knighthood was a great improvement over life in a sleepy mountain village. She sparred and stood watch and patrolled with her companions, and in the evenings they caroused in the taverns. The Moon and her minions were far away, and glory was a memory of the past. Liane's fame as the Copper Knight went no farther than her own little circle, but she had her friends, her strong sword arm in service of the Sun, the bustling city, and a life she enjoyed.
And the Princess Alexandra.
The Moon does not always fight on the battlefield. Her ways are intricate, her province the imagination and the dark night of the soul, doppelgangers dream walking, and the phantom half-seen in a shadowed mirror. Liane was trained in arms, not in recognizing manipulation or resisting temptation. The Moon saw a weakness in this slim, passionate Copper Knight, a chance in her to tip the balance of power towards intuition and inconstant madness over the steady glare of reason.
And so Liane came to her fame, if not her glory.
Liane formed one of the personal guard to Princess Alexandra. Her duties went beyond guarding the princess, however--many a night she spent in the princess's chambers rather than outside the door. They both knew Alexandra would have to marry someday, as princesses must. The knowledge left Liane tossing and turning at night, transforming her dreams to nightmares. Thus, without knowing it, she was easy pickings when Julia began to walk beside her.
Julia too was a Rose Knight, her stature tall and straight, and her color as pale as old vellum. They talked of their training and the positions they had held and the prices demanded by the swordsmiths of the City of the Rising Sun--in short, the life they both lived.
Eventually, Liane told Julia about Princess Alexandra.
Julia took another swig of beer and wiped her mouth on the arm of her tunic. "And she will not run away with you?"
Liane shook her head, miserable. The tavern was dark and loud and full of smoke, but it was preferable to the clean halls of the palace where she was too close to the princess and too far.
"And what if you stole her away?" the pale knight said lightly, running one finger through the sweat beading the outside of her glass.
Stole her away? That was unthinkable. "What are you suggesting? I could never do that."
The Vellum Knight shrugged. "Just thinking out loud."
After more beers, they staggered home together to Liane's room, and for a few hours, she found some respite from resentment.
But Julia's thoughts had become her own, mixing with her dreams and her desires.
"What has happened to you?" Alexandra asked one morning, her hands locked behind her head, as sunlight streamed through the windows of the royal chambers, setting the blushing pink of her flesh ablaze.
Liane traced the swell of one perfect breast with the back of her index finger. "What do you mean?"
Alexandra rolled on her side, dislodging the finger. "You're somewhere else in your mind these days. Where are you?"
Stealing you away. But no, she couldn't. "Wondering where I will be when you find a husband."
"At my side, of course, among my personal guard." The princess smiled, and Liane's decision was made.
Alexandra had readily agreed to go off alone with Liane north of the city walls for a private ride, just the two of them. Except they wouldn't be alone for long; Julia waited in a stand of trees to help her spirit the princess away to the wild hills of Osverio.
The princess's laughter echoed along the path as they rode, while her purple damask silks glinted like jewels in the sun.
Then Julia rode out in front of them, long lance balanced on the front of her saddle, blocking the way.
Alexandra pulled up her mare. "Liane, banish this intruder!"
Liane didn't move.
The princess glanced from her to Julia, her lips growing thin as she understood.
Before there could be any recriminations between them, nightmares darkened the bright afternoon sky, screeching and crying and howling, real now as hawks winging over a cowering coney. The horses reared and bucked, and the princess screamed, losing her seat. The figures of nightmare swept Alexandra up before she could hit the ground, carrying her away into the heavens and disappearing like a vanished thundercloud.
Liane twisted in her saddle, looking for any sign of Princess Alexandra, anything at all, but she was gone as surely as night.
"Where is she? What did you do to her?"
Julia shrugged. "Whatever became of the princess you did yourself."
"I did not call those monsters out of the sky!"
The pale knight gave her a pitying smile. "But you called me, created me--I am your Juliane, Liane."
She stared at the other knight, tall and slim, pale where Liane was bronzed by the sun, with eyes that knew the Moon's secrets.
Liane--Juliane.
"You are my moon-self." She felt dead inside.
"Yes."
Without another word, Liane whirled her mount around and headed back to the City of the Rising Sun.
After confessing her crimes before the prince's justice, Liane was drawn and quartered and her head displayed on a pike at the northern gate of the city.
Her nightmares visited her corpse regularly, darkening the northern sky even on the brightest summer day, but they did not bring back the princess. Moon's light illuminated her face at night, until the skin rotted and fell away from the bone. After that, the only one to still visit her was a Vellum Knight, a pale ghost of jealousy and passion, a knight with a strange resemblance to the treasonous Liane, rotting on the northern wall.
And so Liane came to her fame--as the knight who gave up the Sun's princess to the Moon's minions and set wars in motion once again, more fierce than any ever seen before in the lands of Hy Rugosa.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

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