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Marie-Luise Marjan

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.

Sun and Moon are both avatars of Heaven, their armies carrying on the eternal war between light and darkness. Night struggles with day, day battles with night, and so it will be until the stars are ashes and the world rusts to silent cold. Their banners are borne into battle by the Rose Knights, but even among the shadow wars and battles in the brilliant light, some Roses transcend what lies around them.
The White Knights were long the most feared of all the martial orders in the Fire Mountains, but few still remember the name or the fate of the Rose Knight who led them so mercilessly for many years. It was during the time when skirmishes between the Armies of the Sun and the Armies of the Moon grew to be more than a battle for people's hearts or the dominion of the sky--when troops pursued each other across forests and wastelands, when kings and princes put their fortunes in legions instead of art, weapons instead of silk.
Marie-Luise Marjan was a child of four points of the compass, sun and snow, mystery and logic, and although she fought, she had no reason to take sides. Her mother's tongue was German, her father spoke a nearly extinct Semitic language. When she was a young girl on a sunny island, tight in the embrace of the ocean and far from the wars of the Rose Knights, she wanted to be a musician, wanted to sing and play the tambour and charm people with rhythm and song, contribute to the joy in the world of light she knew.
But then the Rose Knights brought their war to her peaceful island and took away everything she loved.
They landed at Eastrock Beach, just north of the little harbor where wise-eyed fishing boats spent their nights keeled over on the sand. The knights came in half a dozen longboats, crewed by Northmen held in generation-bond to pay for wars long forgotten. No less cruel than the Rose knights, those crews, but as devoid of honor as a mast tree or a rowing bench.
So while the fine men and women in their surcoats knelt and prayed and made sacrifice to one or the other of the lights of the sky, their grease-bearded crewman sped through the town with torch and sword and spear.
Marie-Luise's mother pushed her into the loft of their harborside cottage. "You will be safe here," she said in her language, but Marie-Luise knew the lie in her mother's voice.
When her parents stepped outside with garden shovel and kitchen knife in hand, she pressed aside the thatch and watched them struck down with no more care than a child might kick over a daisy. She watched when the knights walked through the town a few minutes later, stepped over the cooling corpses as if they were no more than forest logs. She watched as the Northmen looted and fired the cottages.
Only the smoke and embers drove her out into their waiting arms. By then they'd tired of their killing and their rapes, and were counting the younger ones into coffles.
Thus Marie-Luise was one of the lucky ones--she was made a slave rather than a corpse. She was shipped off her peaceful island to the mainland as cargo, to a strange city she'd never heard of to be among people she'd never known.
Without love, there was no room for song in her life. Without the sea surrounding her, it did not matter what path she set out on.
Marie-Luise found herself in the City of the Rising Sun, an enormous port on the eastern coast of a vast continent, a great landmass where the sea was often far away. She cared little, and if she missed the voice of the ocean, she did not admit it, even to herself.
Something in her stance or her height or the proud tilt of her chin caught the eye of the proctor for the Kingsguard, trolling the slave market for recruits. Once again, Marie-Luise was one of the lucky ones: with her perfect complexion, cream white with a hint of blush (which she had inherited from her German-speaking mother), so different from the other southern island slaves in the market, she would surely have been snapped up by one of the brothels lining the port if the proctor had not found her first. And while some girls who ended up in the brothels went on to become madams in their own right, buying and selling young girls just as they had been bought and sold in their youth, many more caught the diseases brought by sailors and traders, and died young.
But the Kingsguard had priority, and it was to the Kingsguard Marie-Luise went.
First she had to prove herself worthy in one of the prison-schools where the girls chosen trained to be soldiers. Marie-Luise was older than most when she was sent there, but she was strong and quick, and there was never a question of whether she would reach the height of the iron post by her fourteenth year. After she completed her training, she was recruited for the Order of the White Knights fighting for the Kingdoms of the East.
Marie-Luise Marjan did not come to war willingly, but when she did come, her cleverness and cruelty were legendary. Before she was twenty-five, the Cream White Knight led a host in the service of the Armies of the Sun. Her heartlessness made her successful; she had lost love long before her virginity, and with nothing to care for, her purpose in battle knew no constraints.
The end of one long, dry summer, her legion was pursuing a host from the Armies of the Moon across a landscape of dreams and nightmares. Trees bent down like forgotten promises, empty and shriveled. The craggy branches scraped a sky that was darker than it had any right to be, far darker than a day without hint of night, a day with the sun high in the sky. Marie-Luise looked around her, wondering if they were in the Moon's territory, wondering if they would be lost here, entrapped by the powers of darkness. But the hosts of Sun and Moon continued their flight, locked together in the joint goals of enmity.
Perhaps the mad flight of the Armies of the Moon towards the sea was calculated, perhaps it was chance. Be that as it may, when the two armies came out of the forest of weeping willows and ancient magic, the ocean was spread out before them, blue-green and vast, stretching as far as the eye could see. The Cream White Knight halted on the crest of the hill, staring at the waters, listening to its music, the soothing rhythm of the waves crashing against the beach. Those she commanded halted as well, gazing at her curiously.
And then Marie-Luise Marjan began to sing.
While her dumbfounded army looked on, the Cream White Knight dismounted and laid down her weapons. Still singing, she pulled off her helm and her white surcoat, unbuckled her mail hauberk and slipped out of it, laying her armor and the color of her allegiance on top of the weapons. The soldiers behind her were too surprised to stop her.
The last anyone saw of the Cream White Knight was her slight figure, baggy with padded undercoat and leggings, walking into the surf, her song filling the hot summer sky and blending in with the music of the ocean.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, November 9th, 2016
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