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Swan Lake

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 The university career has been replaced by a small software localization business, and the Black Forest by the parrots of Bad Cannstatt.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.
Swan Lake
Swan Lake was not always a Rose Knight. Once she was a princess who had ruled over a vast demesne. As a princess, she had no need of swords for her battles. She just smiled, speaking her way through walls and gates and brambled pits to talk the very monsters from their lairs, soothing the raging ocean, humbling the proudest men. She strode the world wrapped in laughter and a charisma that could stun stone idols.
She could have had the world at her feet. But war--and love--were her downfall.
"I worry," the Princess said one evening over a clearwater beer and a plate of lamb sausages. She shared her words, and food, with one Marcel, a Rose Knight of middle years long in her service.
Marcel licked his fingers, cleaning off the tangy grease. "Good," he said with a grin, then reached for more beer.
She laughed, a rising cackle that caused traffic to pause outside the window of the inn. "Good? You think so little of me that you wish me worry?"
"No." He cut into another sausage, glanced at her with twinkling eyes the color of a mountain stream. "If you had no worries, you would pine for lack of focus. Your worries allow you to be happy."
"Such insight. You should be at court." She stabbed a finger toward him. "Worry me this, my knight. What happens when your heart's desire is achieved? Who do you become?"
"Ha." Marcel poured her some more beer. "What happens when a fine meal is eaten? Are you ever hungry again?"
"You're twisting words," she grumbled. "That's my work."
It was his turn to laugh. "Why do you think I can abide with you time and again? We spin together, neither ever quite mastering the other. Be honest. There are few enough who can keep pace with you."
That drew a smile from her. "No."
"So. You worry. Have you achieved your heart's desire? What is this wondrous thing?"
"Perhaps." She stood, pacing the little room to the window overlooking the street, then back to the door. "Though it pains me to even think so. Desire has divided my heart, and dividing it, conquered it."
"Division is just multiplication by another name."
She whirled fast as the sword she rarely carried, though with a sparkle in her eyes. "And a man is just a fool by another name."
"So what has become of your heart?"
She moved back to the window, her face moody and dark as a summer storm. Someone shouted at mules in the street below. "Some man moved into the thickets of my love when I was not watching carefully enough. I did not want him there, but now that he is, I find I cannot let him go."
"So you are in love. This happens from time to time, I am told."
"I am not free to love him," she whispered, so low he barely caught the words. "You know my situation, my oaths at court, my betrothal in distant Hy Rugosa. But I am not free to refuse him, either."
"A pretty problem." Marcel set down his knife and mug to regard her flowing blonde hair, her muscled legs, the fall of her shift across her back. "Who is this mystery lover?"
Her answer was a long time coming, and the words were longer still in following. She showed him the light of her heart there in that rented room, and burned her mark upon him. In return for the light, he showed the Princess the best of who she was, and who she could be.
This is how the future Rose Knight won and lost her greatest battle--Marcel was hers forever after, and she his, her strength surrendered and increased in one great movement. His fire burning in her made her all the more powerful, and the knowledge that her fire burned in him made her all the more gladsome.
In other days and times they might have made no further mention of the business, suffering in separate silence, but for a time they had the occasional chance to celebrate each other in the odd moments of their years.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, January 23rd, 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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