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Diabolo Hawk and the Dragon

These days, American author Ruth Nestvold writes mostly science fiction and fantasy. Formerly, it was academic articles, but then she decided to give up theory for imagination. The university career has been replaced by a small software localization business, and the Black Forest by the parrots of Bad Cannstatt. She lives with her fantasy and her family and her books in a house with a turret and spends much of her free time among her roses in a garden on the outskirts of Stuttgart, Germany.

She has sold stories to numerous markets, including Asimov's, Strange Horizons, Scifiction, Gardner Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction, and several anthologies. Her novella "Looking Through Lace" made the short list for the Tiptree award and was nominated for the Sturgeon award. In 2007, the Italian translation won the "Premio Italia" for best international SF novel. Her "Big Fat Arthurian Fantasy" Flamme und Harfe ("Flame and Harp") appeared with Random House Germany in 2009, and has since been translated into Dutch and Italian. The English original was published as Yseult: A Tale of Love in the Age of King Arthur in 2012.

She maintains a web site at ruthnestvold.com.
Diabolo Hawk and the Dragon
"What's with the monkey?" the graying knight asked, his words slurred from several pints of McMenam Inn's finest ale.
Diabolo Hawk slid into a spot on the bench next to the other patrons, while Sun King chattered and hopped on his shoulder. "This particular monkey is also a survivor of the destruction of Glamis, as I am, and we haven't parted ways since."
"Glamis?" a man on the other side of the table echoed. "I thought she was a Rose Knight in the Armies of the Moon?"
Diabolo nodded. "She took the name of her former home after it was destroyed by the Armies of the Sun. I was her sworn knight, and now I search for the legendary dragon's treasure in order to restore her to her former glory."
A gasp went up from a nearby table. Diabolo glanced around, but all he saw there was the buxom young barmaid wiping spilled beer off an empty table.
"A pint?" he said, hoping she wasn't too absorbed in her cleaning to notice his order. He turned back to his companions. "I heard tell the last dragon's lair was in these parts. Is it true?"
The young tinker beside him shrugged. "My grandfather used to tell stories of dragons, but I've never seen one. I think they're a thing of the past, myself."
Now this was something new. Usually he was told there were dragons in the woods just past the next town or just over the next mountain range. No one had ever just sat there and said there weren't any.
"Harry's got the right of it," the tailor agreed. "Dragons used to be a problem here around Hillsborough, but not for twenty years at least."
"And don't forget the dragon slayers," the grizzled knight who called himself Suaveolens said, shaking his head.
Harry chuckled and elbowed the knight in the ribs. "Like you, old man?"
Suaveolens grimaced. "Unfortunately, I never had that honor."
"Did you ever actually see a dragon?" Diabolo asked, head tilted to the side and one eyebrow raised.
"Unfortunately, I did have that honor." Suaveolens rolled up the sleeve of his tunic, revealing a mass of ridged and scarred skin in angry shades of red and purple and brown. "My fellow knight did not survive the incident."
In the silence that followed, the barmaid deposited Diabolo's pint on the table with more force than necessary, sloshing foam over the edge. "Sir Knight."
Sun King stood up on his shoulder and began chittering wildly. What was with the damn monkey? Or the shapely barmaid, for that matter?
Diabolo ignored them both and turned back to Sauveolens. "Can you take me to where you saw the dragon?"
Dragon or no dragon, the Crimson Knight still had to pay for ale and food and lodging, and so the next morning found him in the village square next to the statue of some local hero during market. Diabolo Hawk stood in the crimson rags of his former surcoat and told a tale of bumbling enemy armies while Sun King aped their leader, jumping from shoulder to shoulder, stealing hats and throwing them everywhere, causing riotous laughter and chaos.
Near the end of the recitation, he noticed the belligerent barmaid nearby, lurking at the edges of the crowd. Could he tame her? She might well be worth the effort, with those curves that fought to escape the confines of her bodice.
When the story of incompetent war leaders was over, he called Sun King to him and stood just so, petting the monkey's coat. A hush fell over the crowd.
And he told them a story of Glamis, her tragic life and her courage, her ability to reinvent herself despite all that had befallen her. When he was done, many a cheek was no longer dry.
Even the vixen from McMenam Inn was rubbing the corner of one eye with her knuckle. But before Diabolo could fight his way through the crowds and test the results of his words, Suaveolens caught the sleeve of his tunic.
"Where are you off to, Hawk? I thought we had arranged to meet here?"
With a sigh of regret, Diabolo watched the swaying curves disappear through the crowd and then turned to the old knight who claimed to have failed in slaying a dragon.
Together they rode out of the village and past farms until they came to the foothills of the Fire Mountains. "They call this the Dragonwood," Sauveolens said.
Diabolo shrugged. "Do you know how many Dragonwoods I have seen on my travels?"
Sauveolens laughed. "I can imagine."
The path they rode grew dark with trees and craggy with rocky outcroppings and hints of caves, and Diabolo had to admit that from the feel of it, this Dragonwood was more likely to be the real thing than any he had ever visited before. Perched on his back, Sun King began chittering nervously.
"Shhh," Diabolo said, reaching a hand up to calm the trembling animal. "We are looking for a dragon."
"But you won't find one."
Diabolo turned and stared. It was the barmaid from McMenam Inn, mounted and wearing boiled leather and chainmail, sword in hand and lance strapped across the rump of her war horse, her long red hair streaming down her shoulders.
Sun King was jumping up and down on his shoulder and screeching wildly, his nervousness transformed into panic. "What are you doing here?" Diabolo asked, ignoring the monkey.
"Preventing you from finding the dragon."
Sauveolens shook his head. "Why would you do that?"
"Because he is old and can no longer fight--it would be beneath your dignity to slay him. Besides, the treasure is a myth."
"How do you know?" Sauveolens asked.
The barmaid-turned-knight raised her chin a notch. "Would I be waiting tables in a bar if there were a treasure?"
Various stories of the dragons Diabolo had heard on his travels were coming back to him now, how they could take the shape of humans and sire children on women. He had always written it off as yet another fairy tale, but with this barmaid-turned-knight facing him down, those stories began to look very different.
"He's your father. The last dragon."
Her chin went up even farther.
Sauveolens laughed out loud. "Shi-it!"
Sun King continued to screech, pulling Diabolo's long hair now for comfort. Cursing under his breath, Diabolo disentangled the monkey from his hair and took it into his lap, holding it tight to keep it from causing any more hair loss than it already had.
"What are we to call you, dragon-daughter?" he asked once he had the monkey under control.
"My name is Candella."
"While I would have appreciated the chance to see a living dragon, I find I do not have the heart to do battle with your father, Candella. I hope you will forgive us for wanting to slay him? The ambition was one of ignorance entirely."
At his words, tears of relief began to stream down her cheeks.
In the weeks that followed, Diabolo Hawk had the opportunity to actually see a dragon after all: a dragon that wheezed with age, no worthy opponent for a former Rose Knight.
Candella might not wear the shape of a dragon, but she had a dragon's flaming heart. As the weeks turned to months, Diabolo realized that she was the true warrior, and he was the true bard, meant to tell her tales.
He would never again be a Rose Knight. He knew that now, and there was no regret.
But on occasion he still told tales of Glamis Castle, and the princess who had become a warrior.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, January 16th, 2019


Ruth Nestvold and the late Jay Lake, both multiple award-winning authors, created the world of the Rose Knights together. Please check out other tales from their world at Tales of the Rose Knights.

- Ruth Nestvold

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