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Papagena

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.
Papagena was born on the Borderlands, between the sere landscape of the south and the orange plains to the north, a child of two homes, and when she chose to become a Rose Knight, her allegiance was to the plains as well as the desert, to the fertile land of Osverio as well as the harsher but warmer beauty of the Desertlands.
She did not wear only one color. Some said her loyalties were divided, but she was true to both, orange and yellow, fighting with an ancient heart for both armies, giving the strength of her sword arm when the orange knights went to battle and the strength of her shield when the yellow knights needed to defend Sandbridge from intruders. As with all of the Rose Knights about whom the tales are told, Papagena was her own agent, free to go where she would and fight with whom she chose, living off booty and the pay from the campaigns in which she fought. Nonetheless, most Rose Knights fought for only one army.
Papagena went a different way.
She had a small house in a village on the Borderlands, and when she was there, free of battles and armor and her surcoat with its striking blazes of yellow and orange, she tended a riotous garden, full of the flowers from which the Rose Knights took their names. Or perhaps the roses were named for the Knights; no one knows for sure. It could also be that it was a little of both, as these things often are. Those who knew Papagena from the battlefield did not know her here, quiet and calm among the perfume of so many different blooms, her hands soiled with dirt rather than blood. Papagena wanted it that way. She had chosen the life of a knight, she believed in defending the lands she loved, but she could not always wear the armor and fight the wars.
One day, she was trimming a cream-colored rose with an orange blush on its edges (she had a weakness for multicolored roses). She leaned back on her heels to admire a particularly perfect bloom just beginning to unfurl, when she heard a sound she had never wanted to hear in her peaceful village, her sanctuary.
The clop of heavy hooves accompanied by the rattle of chain mail rapping on metal--the sounds of a knight approaching.
She rose and dusted her hands off on the smock she wore for gardening. The knight, whose surcoat was the orange of the plains to the north, stopped at the gate of her simple house and dismounted, removing his helmet and tucking it under his arm. She recognized him from battles fought side-by-side and back-to-back, but apparently he did not recognize her.
"Is this the residence of the Rose Knight known as Papagena?" he asked.
She gazed at the scarred and lined face of her comrade-in-arms. "What would you want with her?"
Before he had a chance to answer, the sound of a galloping knight approaching from the south could be heard.
Yellow.
To her surprise, the orange knight drew his sword--orange and yellow had never been at odds before.
"Stay your weapons!" she called out. "What is this all about?"
The yellow knight pulled up in front of her modest cottage in a flurry of dust and removed his helmet without dismounting. "Mistress, the army of the Desertlands needs your help against a new threat from the north."
She saw the orange knight glance quickly at her in surprise before he returned to glaring at the yellow knight.
"Threat from the north?" the orange knight said. "It is the Desertlands who have allied with the Summer Lands against their northern neighbors!"
Papagena could not listen. For her, it was not a matter of who was right or who was wrong, it was a matter of her own heart. The time had come that she had long feared--she was being forced to choose.
She glanced at the yellow knight. "You must be mistaking me for someone else."
The knight blinked and shook his head, examining her face more closely. "But--"
"The lady who lived here is dead, perished in a plague which swept this village this winter past. Now leave us. We want none of your wars here in the Borderlands."
At the mention of plague, the two knights glanced at each other, their expressions very different. The orange knight remounted and they bid her good day, departing to the north and the south, to fight their battles without Papagena.
Soon thereafter, the roses in the little garden began to go wild, covering the cottage and the fence which had separated Papagena from the choice she could not make. Tales drifted to the Borderlands of a particolored knight who would serve no army longer than a single campaign, and that only in small battles of skirmish and defense, staying far away from the wars which stretched on for years and weeks and days.
And so there was a war and Papagena did not go. Would there had been more such knights, with loyalties divided; the war might never have been.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

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