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"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.


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.

Harlekin was fair as a maiden, with a blush to match. Women can possess the kind of beauty that was his and still be taken seriously, but not men--or so it seemed to the beautiful youth. Is it any wonder that he chose to wear particolor and play the clown?
This strategy went well for him for a time--being underestimated has its advantages. But when Harlekin decided to become a Rose Knight and serve the forces of Prince Arthur de Sansal in the Kingdoms of the East to fight against the Forces of Darkness, the proctors of the Kingsguard looked at his fair skin and rosy cheeks, at his suit of creamy white and blushing red, and chuckled.
(Not all, of course. There were several who immediately began plotting how to get the lovely young man alone behind an arras or a rose hedge. You may be assured that Harlekin was used to this as well.)
"Perhaps there is some challenge or quest you would put to me, something to test my suitability to be a Rose Knight," he said, not looking at the ones with the greedy eyes.
At that moment, the proctors all sank to their knees and bowed their heads. Harlekin turned to see Prince Arthur de Sansal himself striding across the audience chamber, tanned and tall and fearless. Belatedly, he too knelt in obeisance.
"I have a challenge for the pretty young man in motley," the prince said, stopping in front of him. "Have you ever heard of the Golden Unicorn?"
Harlekin gazed up at the dark-haired prince, so manly, so different from himself. He swallowed a grimace at the comparison. "Yes, Your Highness."
"If you can win her away from the Hill Gardens and back to the City of the Rising Sun, I will knight you as Particolor myself."
The Hill Gardens were set into the foothills of a northeastern mountain range, sheltered from the light of the rising sun. But Harlekin did not approach the retreat of the Golden Unicorn in the morning when the mountains cast their shadows on the keep, and the twisting maze of streets and houses spilling out around it. He approached it at sunset when the last rays of the retreating sun had full range of the open plains to the west. Soft golden light bathed the gentle hills, and the village and gardens nestled in their valleys in richness and contentment.
On his journey, he had heard this was a place of wordsmiths and orphans. There was much that the Golden Unicorn, now the Golden Knight, had wrought.
Then there she was, in her aspect as unicorn, standing proud on a hill above her hold, gazing across the plains at the sunset.
And at him.
Her golden-brown coat caught the light of the setting sun, turning it into a kaleidoscope of red and orange, the colors shifting as the muscles of her haunches and shoulders rippled. She nodded her proud head at him, and the horn on her forehead glowed and flickered. Then she turned and galloped away from her outpost and down the hill towards her keep.
By the time he reached her hold, the sky had turned from gold and orange to the blushing red he wore with his creamy white. When the gates were opened, the Golden Knight was there to greet him, a woman this time. She wore a simple tunic of gold, and her hair was the color of sunset and autumn. Harlekin suddenly knew why the prince wanted her in the City of the Rising Sun; it had nothing to do with her knightly prowess or her good deeds.
He thought of the proctors with the greedy eyes, and he lowered his head.
"My advisors tell me you are called Harlekin and you come from Prince Arthur de Sansal."
Harlekin sighed and looked into her eyes, large and fine and brown like the earth, but with golden lights in their depths. Yes, the prince had chosen well. "Forgive me, Golden Knight."
She blinked and shook her head. "Forgive you? You were sent here to woo me back to the City of the Rising Sun, were you not?"
"Yes, but it was wrong of me to come." He would never be Particolor Knight now.
The unicorn gave him an odd look. "Follow me."
Surprised, Harlekin trailed her through corridors and past tapestries and into a large, darkening garden where the moonlight was turning the last roses of the season to shades of silver.
She sat down on a stone bench surrounded by climbing vines and the sweet scent of flowers and patted the spot next to her.
"You are quite the most beautiful emissary Prince Arthur has sent me yet," she said as Harlekin settled next to her; she smelled better even than the roses all around them, vanilla with a hint of dark earth, sweet and musky.
He nodded. "My beauty is my bane--I'm sure you understand."
The Golden Unicorn gave a whinnying laugh that surprised him. "Did you know that you have the soul of a poet, my particolor youth?"
"Is that better or worse than the soul of a clown?"
She laughed again, shaking her head. "I loved a poet once. He was a little like you. Instead of answering questions directly, you return riddles or questions of your own."
"Sounds like a fool to me."
He could see her one-sided smile in the moonlight, and his virgin heart twisted in his muscled young chest. "With me, you cannot hide behind motley."
Harlekin had no clever answer to that, especially with his heart racing.
She touched his elbow so fleetingly he wondered if he had imagined it. "You appear to be well versed in what it means to be on the receiving end of desire. And do not answer me with a joke or a riddle now."
In that moment, there were no jokes or riddles on his tongue. "Well enough," he replied.
"Why is it you wish to fight against the Forces of Darkness? Do you associate them with the desire that stalks you?"
Harlekin stared at her moonlit profile framed by silver roses. How did she know so much about him after such a short time?
She turned away and plucked one of the nearly colorless blooms, heedless of thorns. "You could stay here, you know. In the Hill Gardens, no one is pursued who does not wish it, and the power of the word is revered. And Knighthood is attained through deed and not from the tap of a princely sword on a shoulder."
Harlekin never returned to the City of the Rising Sun. The Hill Gardens were kind to him, and he tilled them well in his time. I'm sure you are asking yourself if they lost their virginity together, but I am just as sure that it is their business and not ours.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016
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