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Black Baccara

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.
Baccara is one of the dark ones from among the ranks of the Rose Knights. She is a pale woman, needle-thin with large eyes dark as bruises. She always goes clad in satin of a color that falls somewhere between maroon and leaf mold. Baccara follows battle rather than leading it like most of her fellows, always in the service of the Armies of the Moon.
Baccara can hear the whispers of the departing souls of the dead. From them she bargains for secrets. And the Velvet Knight always keeps her bargains.
She chanced upon a forest ambush one early winter's day. A man lay dying beneath a massive fir tree, propped up by arrows, his pelvis broken. He held a map case across his lap, and pain was drawn upon his weathered face, already scarred by life and sunlight.
"I am a cartographer," he announced to her, as if they'd met over two bottles of ale in some wayside tavern.
"Of course you are," she answered quietly. "Save your words, friend. God has allowed you very few more."
He smiled through the pale draining of his face. "Words are to be spent, not saved. Like rabbits, they multiply themselves."
After scanning for hidden archers or worse, she crouched before him, tugging the scabbard of her slim blade upward so as not to snag upon the ground should his attackers return. "What happened here? Who were your enemies?"
"Orange," he said, then his breath fled his body. He shuddered twice, but kept his soul behind his teeth a few moments more. "Sun troops... men of one of the damned Rose Knights."
Baccara held her tongue at that. He would soon enough be holding his forever. "They did not take your maps," she pointed out, puzzling.
"The maps are not real." A smile wandered onto his face. "Or maybe they are too real."
The unreality of maps. He was already gone, she realized, but the reality of death had not yet caught him. "Of course." She watched for his soul.
When it came, his soul slid from the map case, which shocked her. Baccara bent to breathe in the foggy tendrils, absorbing for a moment his essence as she had so many before him.
I love, his voice thundered in her head, what cannot be. Then he was gone from her like smoke in a summer sky.
Souls did not flee her power.
She tugged open the map case, pulled out the parchments within.
They were not charts, they were text--messages, or narratives. She turned them over in her hands, then began to read.
They were the story of a life. A woman, a powerful magus in the Armies of the Sun. He had made a study of her, read her works, made of her some kind of secret lover, bound himself to her. Bound his soul to her.
Baccara turned the parchments over. They were warm, blood warm, and almost seemed to pulse.
And the cartographer had bound the magus' soul to him.
She held true power in her hands, the power of love. What she could do, how she could control this distant magus... armies would not resist.
Love.
Baccara saw cities burning, a woman's heart shriveled in the great fires. She held the warm words in her hand, keys to entire kingdoms perhaps.
Then she bent to one knee, laid them on the dead man's lap, and went to gather wood for a bier to burn him and his love upon.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

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