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Florence de Lattre

She was just a girl in the Armies of the Sun, Florence de Lattre. She would have been ordinary, save that her skin was a shade almost mauve--causing the military doctors no end of distress, solved only by dread incantations of dermatitis pigmentosa and much jabbing of needles--and she always smelled faintly of flowers.
Roses, to be precise.
Despite her name, Florence de Lattre was English. Despite her country, she spoke German like a native. Despite her languages, she served in the Armies of the Sun, those thinspread defenders of reason and human purity in a world gone to moonlight and lovers howling in midnight gardens.
(It had been true, once, that people walked the Earth under both daylight and star light, with traffic signals and street lamps to guide their way amid the armor of ordinariness. But this was no more, as any child could tell, that had not yet been stolen by boggarts or perhaps feyshot. The weapons of the Armies of the Moon were no less terrible than those of the Sun. Just different.)
Florence believed in one thing with a passion: the perfectibility of purpose.
It was a strange passion, but since her first halting steps beneath the pear tree in the garden of her birth, Florence had always craved a higher purpose, a Great Work in her life. When she grew old enough to understand why decent folk barred their doors at dusk and hung their armored shutters with silver and garlic, she knew she would find her Great Work in the Armies of the Sun. Her father had been a war planner for the forces of reason, her mother a logistician (who had ceaselessly wept from a broken heart, but that is a different story), and so she grew up infused with and strengthened in this purpose.
If only she had not been such a sweet rose, Florence de Lattre, the silver-eyed servants of the brilliant night might never have come for her.
They were tall and silver-skinned, moving as if they had too many joints in their limbs, though when they paused frozen like a butterfly on a pin, she could not have counted more than one elbow or knee in its proper place. Their eyes were narrow and gleamed like thorns.
"Come with us," they whispered in a single, shared voice, susurrating like wind over a frozen lake.
"No," she said, trying to fight her way clear of the web of dream. Everything reeked of roses, and her mother's distant sobbing echoed even from an old, weed-grown grave.
The servants gathered her up and stepped through the Doors of Spirit to a place that was white as bone and warm as breast milk. The Moon waited there, lounging on an ormolu throne, eating pickled eggs.
"So, child," said the mistress of the night armies. "You have come home."
Florence struggled. Though no hands held her, she could not walk away, nor raise her arms to strike. "I serve reason, in the Armies of the Sun."
The Moon laughed. "Listen. You are different. Beauty beyond reason, that their doctors hate. Smelling of life. You are one of us, changeling in reverse, misborn into the houses of the sun. Nightfire is your fire. Do you not feel its call?"
"No," Florence shouted. "This is not my Great Work."
"Ask yourself this: why did your mother always cry?"
For that, Florence had no answer.
It is not the role of soldiers to win wars or lose them. They fight when told, and die when told. Commanders and politicians declare victory and go home. The Mauve Knight was a little warrior, in the greatest war since the snake and the angel fought over windfall fruit in the Garden at the Morning of the World. She was misborn, a woman whose greatest parts were unknown even to herself until a choice was thrust upon her.
Did she follow the Moon's chantry into the hidden corridors of the heart? Did she return to the Sun and fight the good fight of sweet reason? I cannot say. Her choices were her own, elastic as a kiss, bittersweet as love. Perhaps the Mauve Knight's Great Work was to dwell in both houses and so end the war as an ambassador to herself.
Or perhaps like her mother before her, she cried each night.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, April 27th, 2016


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.

- Jay Lake and Ruth Nestvold

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