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Smooth Angel

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.
Smooth Angel came out of the uttermost east, across the great Sea of Grass into the lands of the Roses. She traversed the farthest kingdoms, crossed the Ivory Mountains by hidden passes, and descended through Hy Rugosa, already arrayed as a knight with her pale banners the color of the first orange of sunrise. Her armor was lacquered in the manner of the Sallow Men of the Sea of Grass, and her horse had stripes never before seen by the breeders in the West. It was as if she had ridden across the world.
She met the Sun's Viceroy on the road outside Fenixtown. He rode fast, without his courtly array, just a hard-eyed company of soldiers and three lesser Rose Knights, bannermen of the knight Snowfire. They were dressed and geared for rough travel.
The Sun's Viceroy pulled his mount to and raised a hand to stop Smooth Angel. Stop she did, for politeness and curiosity.
"Greetings, knight. I do not recall your banner." The Viceroy spoke with the iron courtesy that only a man of absolute power can summon, his voice smooth, though he failed to introduce himself or his party. "Do you follow the Sun or the Moon?"
Smooth Angel rested her right hand lightly on the hilt of her longer sword. "Neither. My banner shines equally in starshadow and daylight. Who are you to ask?"
The Viceroy's men stirred at this base insult to his dignity, but his raised hand remained palm open. "One who follows the Sun, as all right-thinking men do. What is your purpose abroad in the Sun's lands?"
"I seek Sister Ocean, and the fate of the fabled Rose Knight Marie-Luise Marjan." Marie-Luise Marjan was a rising goddess in the land of Smooth Angel's birth.
The Viceroy closed his eyes a moment, and took inner counsel, perhaps with his conscience, perhaps with his sense of strategy. When he opened them again, his smile had freed itself to play across his lips.
"Pass, then," he said. He nodded at her sword, her spear slung to one side of her traveling saddle. "I have no doubt of your puissance, of course, but 'ware armies, for there are battles afoot."
"My thanks, Sun-follower." Smooth Angel nodded. "Walk in the light you serve." Without waiting for dismissal, she pulled her mount's reins up and rode onward to the muttering of the hard-eyed men.
She followed the rivers to the southern ocean, crossing through checkpoints and battle lines and feasts and haunted forests alike. Her banner was unknown, her mien open without challenge or weakness, and so she was suffered to pass. Smooth Angel never did draw her sword, though she bandied words a few times with others.
In the end, she found the sea.
Sister Ocean spread before her, blue-green as a lover's eye and vast as the heart that beats in the center of the world, stretching to the horizon and beyond, enclosing the island of a goddess's birth. Smooth Angel halted on the crest of the hill, staring at the sea, listening to its music, the soothing rhythm of the waves crashing against the beach.
Here was the place where Marie-Luise Marjan, the Cream White Knight, had laid down her weapons and walked into the ocean-womb, vanishing from the sight of the world.
"I come bearing a truth," Smooth Angel announced to the curling tide. There were hidden watchers behind her--neither Sun nor Moon would let a freelance Rose Knight wander across battle lines without being followed by hard-eyed men or their soft-footed counterparts from the Shadow Battalions. She knew they listened.
"This is my truth," she continued. "Sun and Moon both stand in the darkness that wraps the world. They rise from the Sea of Grass and across the mountains, and each descends into Sister Ocean to have their sins washed clean. They are mirrors of one another, siblings in light and darkness. Love should bind them, not blood and contest."
The willow forest behind her swayed with the heresy, while the hidden watchers loosened blades and uncapped the points of secret darts, the little snicks and clicks audible upon her hilltop.
Smooth Angel released the catches and buckles, and dropped her armor to the grassy hilltop. She loosened the saddle girth and stripped her gear from her mount. Standing in her linen undertunic, she stroked her horse's neck, whispering quiet pleasantries until it nickered, nudged her chest, and wandered away over the grassy dunes. Then Smooth Angel took up the shorter sword with which she fought in her left hand, sliced away her undertunic until she stood skyclad before the westering sun, and reached across her shoulder to make the cuts she had practiced for years.
The last copper light of the setting sun was like a twin to the moon rising in the east. The angel rose, a bloody-winged bird with trembling hands and boot-callused feet, spiraling above the wave-washed shore as the hard men and sneaking shadows stepped from the willows to gape like the children they had never really been. A horse galloped along the waterline for the joy of it, spray rising. The sun glowered, the moon sulked, but they were united in that moment by the broken-backed angel who staggered over the ocean toward the stars in pursuit of a drowned goddess.
Smooth Angel never came to ground, but the love she spilled behind her like blood left a spray of flowers across the dunes, which healed and brought peace to many over the long years.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

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