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Terracotta

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.
Once upon a time there was a rust-brown rabbit who lived in an ancient castle. The roofs were gone, the towers tottered, the courtyard was rife with brambles and roses gone as feral as an invading army. The sun shone through the eastern gate of a morning, and he would go out and nibble among the hardy grasses which thrived in the less shaded corners of the parade ground and wonder at the rotted banners hanging from the walls and why the world was shaped so.
One day, a Cream White Knight led a horse through the eastern gate--more an arch, really, hungry as an empty heart and open as loving eyes. It had been many years since anyone had dared to pass, and the rabbit watched, wondering what new shape the world would take now. The horse was beautiful--silvery-gray, with leather accoutrements and a riding saddle chased with silver to match its coat. The knight was a woman, aging but still strong of face, her shoulders high and rolling as she walked, one hand on her sword, the other holding the reins.
She drew an axe, and hacked a path through the brambles under which the rabbit was wont to run and hide when the hawks circled on the winds overhead. The rabbit followed her, for he was curious. He could not remember a time when there had been a knight in this castle, only himself in his long burrow, and the squirrels and rats who were his distant cousins.
The knight looped the reins around some rusty ironwork, patted the horse's neck, and went into the Great Hall. She touched the dusty trencher tables, stared into the empty fireplaces, knelt before a shattered throne, while he watched from beneath a broken bushel basket. She walked the galleries, unseeing, past moldy portraits and tarnished armor and pale vines twisting in through the vacant windows, the rabbit hiding behind rotting curtains and under decaying furniture.
At the end of a long hall was a tower. This gave the rabbit pause--he had some dim, lapin understanding of stairs, but they continued past where he could see. He gazed after her disappearing feet and hopped upward after her, making more noise than he would have liked.
She circled, avoiding dry rot and shattered wood. Still he followed, ever closer, until they came to the highest part of the tower. There stood an old canopied bed, aging silk glowing yellow-ivory in the sun through the windows. No one slept there; there were no miracles here, just a lady knight and a tremulous rabbit.
The knight turned. "There you are," she said, picking him up and holding him close to her creamy surcoat.
She stroked him. "You don't remember, do you, Terracotta? I'm Elina."
With those words, he remembered that he had forgotten, forgotten something important, but even in his memory he did not know what it was.
She kissed his whiskered face. "The war is over now. I had hoped--"
But she didn't finish what she had been about to say. Instead, she carried him down to the courtyard and set him free to race back to his burrow.
"Good bye, my love," she called.
With that, she led her horse back out the eastern gate and rode into the shadows of evening, while the rabbit keened deep beneath the earth and remembered when the banners had been bright and the world had been whole.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

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