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Roseraie de l'Hay

In the steep-walled country of Hy Rugosa, where the women guard their swords and the men guard their tongues, dwelt a daughter of the fey named Roseraie de l'Hay. She had been born to gentility, armored in beetle carapaces and twinkling magic while still in her willow-wood cradle, and grown slowly in the manner of the fair folk into a woman of subtle beauty and profound power.
Her face was an apple, sweet and round, with just enough lines that one might believe she had stories to tell. Her laughter was a summer storm on the high peaks where giants throw lightning for sport and ghosts howl for heaven. She was lithe and quick, supple as a spring otter, graceful as an autumn leaf spinning out its last dance from branch to earth. And still she had her power, the lacquered armor of the Magenta Knight--which was her war-name--and the needle-thin fey sword called Promise.
In short, Roseraie de l'Hay was a woman no man could pass without looking twice, but more dangerous than armies. A danger to heart and soul as well as to body.
Now there dwelt in Hy Rugosa a tribe of the Oldest People. These were gnarled little men who worshipped smoke and drew dark-limned images on cavern walls, coming to trade furtively at the edge of market towns or on the grassy verges of the fey hills. To the Oldest People everyone else, fey and human alike, were just so many chattering, chaffering children.
But it happened that Roseraie de l'Hay came upon a child of the Oldest People being tormented by wolves of the two-legged sort. She was walking, with only a leather jerkin sewn with lacquered steel for armor, dressed otherwise in a flowing muslin skirt and her generous smile. Promise stayed at her hand as always.
She found five fey-born lads of various ages surrounding the small, hairy child, hurling taunts, sticks, and stones with equal verve. Roseraie drew Promise and flicked the needle tip to make the singing-death war call of her folk. The lads turned to face her, saw the sparkling gleam of Promise, and believed in their fates. Or perhaps knew that their fates believed in them.
So Roseraie de l'Hay gathered up the crying child, who was no larger than a sack of flour, and carried it on her left hip while keeping Promise ready in her right hand. Eventually she came upon three women of the Oldest People keening by the bank of a stream.
"I have something of yours," said Roseraie de l'Hay.
"Nothing have you," muttered one of the women. The Oldest People were never much for speech, and less so for the new, liquid tongues which had spread like fire among the folk of the wide world.
The Magenta Knight set down the child, who had by then taken comfort from the sway of her hip and the rhythm of her laughter and quieted.
"Ours no more," said the Oldest People woman after taking a deep sniff.
"Children are children."
"Take and go."
"No." Promise quivered in her hand, but Roseraie de l'Hay did show the women their fates, even though the Oldest People were not hers to judge.
And they stared, the most ancient power in the world and the newest, eyes meeting as the sun westered and the birdsong changed and the stars peeked out one by one.
Finally under a ship-bellied moon the child began to whimper from hunger. "I have no milk," Roseraie de l'Hay said quietly.
A woman tilted her head to the Magenta Knight's slow patience and took the child to her breast. In a swirl of mist and leaves, she and her sisters were gone, leaving Promise ringing Roseraie de l'Hay's fate.
The Magenta Knight heard the song, smiled briefly, and headed west, following the setting sun away from Hy Rugosa and into a life she might never have otherwise known. In her wake, for years to come, were left tiny stone figures, little forest goddesses with a likeness to her to remind the people who she had been.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

Author Comments

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.

- Jay Lake and Ruth Nestvold
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